Friday, October 28, 2011

The other face of kind and loving men

It isn't just husbands who are perpetrators of domestic violence.
As soon as a daughter/sister grows out of her childhood,
she becomes
the repository of the family honour,
An honour so flimsy and so weak
that it requires the protection of whips and steel
and guard dogs, and locked rooms
and watchful eyes that follow her every move.
God forbid that she speak to a male classmate
Even an innocuous chat can be misconstrued
as violating the family's honour.
An inquisition may follow
that leaves her stunned and furious and defiant
and ready to defy such diktats.

The paranoid create what they fear the most
perhaps fearing their own inner demons,
part of their own pasts.
For whatever reason, the girl remains
a prisoner of archaic beliefs,
her mother and sisters too, recruited as jailors
all in the interest of her own future happiness
where marriage to a good boy
(never a man, I wonder why)
chosen by the family is the only acceptable option.

The father whose daughter dares to consider
someone else suitable for matrimony
is devastated.
He cares for his daughter so much,
he cannot let her jeopardise her future
And this doting father, who always but always loved his little girl
thrashes her mercilessly with his belt,
the buckle piercing her skin,
the leather strap bruising her tender flesh.

He is, however, a much kinder man
than the one who gets his daughter's beloved killed
or drives him to suicide
Or threatens him/bribes him
to leave his daughter alone.
Or the brother who kills his own sister
for daring to love.

Guide your children well, dear sirs,
your sons and your daughters........
guide them and teach them and trust them,
and let them go out into the world
Well armed with wisdom and courage
with faith in you, and faith in your love.
Please don't imprison them
in the cage of Family Honour.
It cannot be more precious to you
Than your beloved child.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Diwali

The SRE is abroad, and I'm holidaying with my dear Chacha, Chachi and their family.
It's a wonderful break!
Wishing you all a wonderful Diwali and a fabulous year ahead.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When is violence truly violent???????

The very thought of domestic violence is chilling. It is something that should never happen. And yet it does, in many homes, in all social classes, with varying frequency. My questions here are very difficult ones- does a single act of violence signal the end of a marriage? Should it? What does a couple need to do to be able to go beyond it? Can they? Is physical violence more demeaning than verbal violence that goes on and on, destroying the victim's self -esteem? There are so many many questions, and no simple answers. So much depends on the earlier nature of the relationship, the perpetrator's genuine remorse and horror at his act, the victim's own assessment of the situation....

A few examples from real life, names obviously changed. After a huge verbal fight, Ria is screaming and threatening to jump off the terrace. Amit catches hold of her arms, but her struggles are violent and the parapet is low. She is in real danger. Amit slaps her hard, and she collapses, trembling, in a heap on the floor, not quite believing that Amit hit her. She has, herself, hit him several times, but since she is a woman she doesn't think of it as abuse. Amit feels terrible about hitting her, but feels that he had no choice. What do you think? This relationship didn't last, despite several attempts at rapprochement.

Manasi and Vinay have been married for a while. Manasi was head over heels in love with Vinay, he perhaps less so. After the initial euphoria faded, he lost interest in Manasi. Since they were staying with his parents, the occasional kitchen dispute would occur, and would add up in Vinay's mind as yet another black mark against Manasi. Gradually his disenchantment with her grew, as did the distance. Manasi tried to do anything she could to gain his attention, including going out with male colleagues in the evening and coming home after having a drink or two.
When 'provoked' by this attention-seeking behaviour, his only response was to hit her. When this became a regular pattern, a heart-broken Manasi went back to her parents, and the couple divorced.

Dipti is deeply ashamed that she actually hit her beloved husband when he kept nagging her to drive when she didn't want to. He thought he was boosting her confidence as a driver, but she was exhausted after a long day and just lost control. She shocked herself with her action, and is still contrite about it, though she has been forgiven long ago.

Ramesh has slapped his wife a couple of times, is grieved about it, but feels helpless at times. She will go on and on and on about whatever is upsetting her (usually his mother) and there is no way she is willing to stop. He is ashamed of his actions, and yet does not know how to deal with the situation. Rani does not feel that she has provoked him- she feels that all she wants is for him to listen to her vent without getting enraged. Neither of them feels that their marriage is over, both of them are trying to learn to communicate without anger, although they know have a long way to go.

Mita remembers her father banging his own head against the wall- that would be the only way her mother would stop ranting when she lost her temper. Although he never raised a hand on his wife, the children would be terrified. Was this a violence on his family? He injured himself, but the entire family was pained.

When a spouse deliberately breaks things to express his/her anger- does this count as domestic violence??? The classic stories cover breaking china and glassware and remote controls, TV screens etc., undoubtedly better than hitting a spouse, but nonetheless damaging. The funniest story I heard about this was when a friend's mother was throwing plates and glassware on the floor and breaking them, and her spouse was handing her things to break. Despite her rage, she would calmly put aside the more valuable items, like the Pyrex dishes, and then take the next proffered plate and smash it.

Many of these couples are perpetuating behaviour they have seen in their own childhood. Some of them recall violent physical fights with their siblings in their childhood, which continue with their spouses in adulthood. Adulthood requires us to control our hands and fists, and yet many of us have smacked our children at some point of time or the other. Smacking , slapping, hitting or punching anyone is not desirable behaviour. Nothing justifies it. But surely a single/occasional episode does not/should not signal the death warrant of a relationship in which both partners are willing to learn and willing to change.

Monday, October 17, 2011


A bowl of lantana flowers at our hotel in Vizag

Coffee table and kilim, at home

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Recent Reads-The World Beyond

The World Beyond by Sangeeta Bhargava is a beautifully told love story set in Lucknow in the 1850's.
It opens during the Ramzan fast, where the protagonist Salim, (an adopted son of the ruler) and his cousin Ahmed are looking at musical instruments in a shop in Chowk, one of the oldest markets of Lucknow. There they encounter a pair of eyes and hands (the figure being clad in a burqa) , which leave a lasting impression on the young Salim. They do encounter the lady again, and a common love for music, both Indian and Western, brings them together. This involves a large degree of secrecy and intrigue, as there is little or no interaction between Oudh's nobility and the British outside the official world of treaties and negotiations. The home lives of both Salim and Rachael are depicted with great charm, and the minor characters all ring true.
Do check out Sangeeta Bhargava's blog for excerpts.
Wajid Ali Shah has to leave his beautiful city and moves with most of his entourage to Kolkata. (The kingdom of Oudh was formerly protected by the British under treaty, and was finally annexed by them, and the Nawab was exiled to Kolkata). The iniquities of British rule are clearly spelled out. The destruction of a once beautiful city, the cruelty and violence perpetrated by both sides, the brutal attacks on the Residency in which many women and children were also killed, all are depicted vividly. Despite the widespread death and destruction, despair never rules, and in the saddest and hardest of times, the human spirit and love triumph. The book reads easily, with characters that are all too human, and descriptions that bring alive the splendour of the Lucknow of the nawabs. Daima, Chutki, Nayansukh, the ever hungry Ahmed, Begum Hazrat Mahal, the protagonists Salim, aka Chhote Nawab, and Rachael Bristow, the English colonel's daughter, are beautifully delineated.
History comes alive in these pages.
I think I particularly loved this book for its portrait of a city I have lived in and loved, much of which has been destroyed, yet whose past imbues its present with a flavour and a fragrance that is unique to Lucknow.

The blurb reads:
1855, Lucknow. As tensions simmer in the heat of colonial India, a prince of Avadh and an English woman defy their societies' prejudices to fall in love. But in a world where private happiness is at the mercy of wider events, even as Salim and Rachael are drawn closer together, their privileged lives are about to be torn apart. Trouble begins when the British annex Avadh and banish the king. Determined to recover what is rightfully his, Salim seizes the chance to fight back when a small mutiny flares into bloody rebellion against British rule. As unrest spreads across the subcontinent, the ancient city of Lucknow proves one of the most dangerous places to be. Torn between their loyalties to each other, their families and the opposing sides that threaten to raze the city to the ground, can Salim and Rachael's love prove strong enough to rise above the devastation surrounding them, and survive together to a world beyond?

The World Beyond is published in India by Rupa & Co., and is available on Flipkart.

Also published in England by Allison and Busby

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Vishakhapatnam Views

A view from Thodlakonda.

From one of the many parks dotting the beach road

A stream outside the Borra caves

Each coral was at least one foot across

My gallant archer, outside the tribal village museum at Aruku Valley

The SRE and I spent his Puja break in Vishakhapatnam, aka Vizag, a city I had long wanted to visit because of its fabled vistas of both the sea and the mountains. It more than lived up to our expectations. We relaxed, strolled along the beach, lazed, and then, of course, had to have a day of driving in the hills!!!! These were not as steep as the mountains in Darjeeling or Bhutan, but were hill roads nevertheless- not scary, but rather tiring, especially when you encounter lengthy traffic jams both while going to and returning to the beautiful Aruku Valley.
The people we met were warm, courteous, and hospitable. We had only one encounter with Andhra style cooking, a dal fry at a restaurant in Aruku Valley, which was probably the chilli-hottest dal we've ever eaten.

We had a lovely time, and I want to visit many more places in my beautiful country.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Prayer for Non-violence

An initiative to raise awareness about violence against women has been started by a team of bloggers, who had also brought us CSA Awareness Month this April.
Domestic violence, (and other spheres of violence against women) is like a mythical beast that many of us have faced, all of us are aware of, and one which many of us would like to sweep under the carpet and pretend that it doesn't exist. Sad to say it exists, gets huge media coverage, and seems to grow from strength to strength, and yet, even if we know that a woman has been beaten by her partner, we hesitate to even ask her what really happened. She hesitates to confide in any one, neither wishing to be perceived as a victim, nor wanting her spouse to lose face. With repeated beatings, she may even begin to believe that it is her fault. It can even be fatal- many women lose their lives to domestic violence.
Violence per se is a function of the ego, of frustration and rage that knows no boundaries, of physical power over the victim. Violence is perhaps a latent part of each human being, hard-wired into us as a measure of self defence, originating at a point in human history when fight or flight was the key to survival. When, however, a survival mechanism becomes a tool for oppression and subjugation, something is seriously wrong. When violence begins to define a relationship, that relationship is doomed.

I love what OJ has to say:
My brand of feminism, in addition to my personal experiences, does not permit me to only call this Violence Against Women. Hence the sub-title Women Against Violence. And, I fervently hope, men and transgenders too.

Yes, we truly need all humans to be against violence! It solves nothing, and adds vastly to the burden of human misery in the world.

Non-violence was central to Gandhiji's beliefs.
Let it be central to ours as well. Practicing non-violence as a way of life may just transform this often cruel world we live in.
If only...........