Mumbai Girl Speaks

I love Mumbai for many reasons but one of major reasons is that I can be out at anytime of the day without worrying about security. Somehow, many of my friends who’ve lived in different cities especially up north say that Mumbai is designed for the independent woman.

I’ve explored the streets of Mumbai at every odd hour of the day. I’ve lost track of time thanks to an engrossing conversation on the Shivaji Park katta at 4 am. I’ve walked alone after sundown and if some guy tried acting funny, all I’ve had to do is confront and create a commotion, a handful of friendly Mumbaites have always rushed to help. That’s the beauty of this city. Every person is your friendly neighborhood hero.

Every once in a while though you see how some guy or a group of guys acted smart. Be it the indecent behavior at Gateway or the New Years Eve fiasco at the Marriott last year, these instances almost always end up with fingers pointing to the girls. ‘They were skimpily dressed,’, ‘They spoke rather brashly’, or ‘they were rude and dressed suggestively’. Are you kidding us? It’s like a murderer saying, ‘He irritated the shit out of me, so I just shot him.’

No matter what clothes I wear, nobody has the right to behave in such a disgusting manner. I want the freedom to wear what I want to. Wearing a salwar kameez will not help keep these pervs under control.

Why am I writing this? Recently I saw a man sitting right under my house and something about him was strange.  As soon as I walked past him, the guy started to walk with me and suddenly came real close and tried to talk to me. My instinct caused me to yell at him. He didn’t stop walking behind me. He actually followed me to a cab! I got in the cab and got on my way. See the other thing about Bombay is that you have to go on and get to work. Bombay doesn’t wait for anybody, not even for a girl who’d like to beat up a puny little guy who was unnecessarily following her.

Saturday mornings are beautiful. I wake up slightly late and laze around a little before heading out to walk in Parsi colony. At 7 am the place is swarming with fitness freaks, but at 9 am on a sunny Saturday morning, there’s just about a handful of people. I like my solitude (yeah so nobody laughs when I break into a momentary jig to ‘Desi Girl’ on my iPod). But lately five gardens is sort of a psycho central. I keep an eye out for any funny things especially since some git tried to grab my phone and run.  The weirdo who’d tried to talk to me, was actually standing at the corner and followed me for an entire round before I walked too fast for him and got home. The next day the same guy is waiting under my building.

I’d screamt at him, given him angry stares and yet the guy kept following me. Time had come to tell Dad and then a police complaint was made. The guy was new to Mumbai and apparently couldn’t deal with the culture shock. But is that an excuse to be acting all weird? He probably didn’t mean any harm, sure, but does that mean you tolerate someone following you around? Do you continue to tolerate a freak who tries to talk to you even after you have scream at him?

Does a culture shock disillusion you from identifying the appropriate from the inappropriate? How many times are we going to discount these guys for their lack of respect for women? Whether they are in a culture shock or they suffer from humungous egos, nothing justifies acting odd with a woman. And we Mumbai girls will not let these losers dictate the way we dress or the time we get out. We will hunt you guys down and kick your ass- Mumbai style!

Mother?! India?!

I am a woman, I am Brahmin,I am Maharashtrian, I am Hindu, I am Indian, I am human. It doesn’t matter who I am or who you are. All that matters is if you are a human being sensitive to the world, to the good or bad, to the right or wrong. If your blood doesn’t boil when you see injustice, if your heart doesn’t cry when you see suffering around you or if your soul doesn’t itch to do something about the things falling apart, don’t read this post…
The Orissa government has finally asked the state crime branch to investigate the rape of a nun- Hindustan Times, Mumbai, 4th October 2008.
On August 25, a 29 year old Catholic nun was allegedly raped by a fanatic Hindu mob and paraded through the streets shouting Bharat mata Ki Jai- TOI, Mumbai, 4th October 2008

I am shamed, disgusted and appalled. You consider you country your mother and you think you have honored her by raping and humiliating a woman? Disgusting. What disgusts me more as a woman citizen of this country is that the police refused to help the victim and delayed investigation. It took 38 days of violence, protests and lot more for the State to decide that there was a disgusting crime committed and that the police officials who failed to protect or bring justice to the victim needed punishment.
Why did it take them so many days? Because there has to be a detailed report, a lot of letters that shuttle around and a lot of press before action can be taken. I am not convinced by Mr. Naveen Patnaiks’s assurance that the culprits will be duly punished, for obvious reasons. If he keeps his word, great but I still think it would make very little difference to this situation in the long run.

By all means punish the culprit, that is the Judiciary’s job. But who’s doing what about preventing such horrific incidents in the future? While the judicial process ensures justice to the victim, there are a couple of things that need attention. First up, these people need education to gain a certain level of maturity and understanding. They need to stop blaming the missionaries for conversion of poor Hindus. Look, your system and your relgion failed to give them their basic rights of food shelter and clothing. If they seek that and more through another religion, it’s their call. We are a secular nation and we are free to follow the religion we want. It is not our place to decide which religion is better nor is it our place to decide whether he missionaries are forcibly converting the poor against their will. If they are being forcefully converted, there needs to be positive action. Torchig missionaries and raping nuns is not the answer.
By the way, no evidence of forced conversions was found in Karnataka. NDTV is flashing that as I write this.

The poor in this country are helpless and there is a passion to seek justice. Certain religious leaders disillusion them into believing that death and violence will bring their religion/country to glory. Wrong. These guys need to be sensitised to understand that their actions cause harm and only harm. They need to understand that there is no glory brough forth by hurting or insulting any human being, religion no bar! If they dig deep into the religion, with the aid of education and ratinale, they can see for themselves that these acts are not endorsed by their ‘supreme’ religion. If there is one thing that these extremists need, its education. They need awareness and they need a lesson in human values. Can we as a country try and do that?
Look at the names that strived hard to make our nation. There are Muslim, Parsi, Hindu, Sikh names. They didn’t see themselves as the representatives of their religion. They fought with a spirit of being Indian and the strived for a united country. They hoped for an independent India, with a better tomorrow for one and all. And they believed it could be achieved. They believed in the spirit of Indianness above everything. Where is that spirit? Why can’t we forget our classifications and move forth?

Why am I writing in this tone, you might ask.I am pained by what’s happening around and even more pained by how indifferent our urban society is to the issues that hamper our growth and development… Move beyond the rise and fall of stock markets, stop obsessing over Obama and McCain and take a hard look at your country. This is YOUR country.

A friend’s update on twitter reminded me of a valuable quote from Mahatma Gandhi: You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

I am an Indian, nothing else matters…

Thank You… For freedom…

61 years ago, the Brits packed their bags and left the Indians alone to mind their business. We celebrate this date in India as the Indian Independence Day.

Stop at a traffic signal and a child approaches you to buy a plastic replica of the Indian tri-color. You buy it in the spirit of celebrating the liberation of your country. Do you notice this child’s ragged clothes or his withered hands? Do you notice how sad it is that this child, who should be studying and enjoying a childhood has a mighty sales target at the tender age of 9?

Moving on… We make plans for the day. Meeting friends, sleeping at home, watch a movie and a lot more. It is nothing but a holiday for a majority of people. They see the parade on the road or catch a few TV shows (which are oozing of patriotism only to raise their TRPs…)

School kids attend the mandatory flag hoisting ceremony at school, run back home to study for the upcoming mid-term exams. ‘It’s so unfair… We are independent now, so what’s the big deal. I’d rather sit at home and finish the history chapters,’ says a student who’s swamped with homework. I want to tell her to jump to Chapter 11 in her history textbook that describes the moment, the midnight hour when Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed freedom into a nation that had been ruled by the British Empire for a century and a half.

But no, she shouldn’t jump to it. She should read through the text and understand how many lives were laid down to get to that moment. She should know about the magnificent lives who strived hard to give us this Independence that is ‘no big deal’ for her.

‘So the Brits were pretty damn mean haan?’ her young mind asks.

My mind says yes and no. I truly believe that it is the British rule that instated the feeling of patriotism amongst us. Before they arrived, we were a bunch of states ruled by Kings, who fought amongst themselves.

The Brits, united these territories, for ease of administration for them, but thus bringing us under one roof. They brought with them modern western education that taught us to rationalise beyond religion. This education created a class of Indians who went on to fight against age-old customs. If it wasn’t for the Brits, individuals like Raja Ram Mohun Roy or Maharshi Karve would have found it hard to fight the staunch beliefs of an orthodox society.

As an Indian woman, I feel grateful to the Brits and people like Roy, Karve and Phule. They fought together to introduce education for women. They helped us come out of the kitchen and see the world. They fought hard to abolish the Sati ritual. Can you imagine jumping into your husband’s pyre, because without a husband your life is invalid? You can’t! So say a small thank you to these guys today.

As a citizen of this country, which is developing at a fast rate, one thinks of JRD Tata who pioneered industrialization in this country. The technology and the know-how came to India, thanks to the Industrial revolution in England.

Our public transport system, our impeccable postal service, the governance, education, has been set up by the British rulers of that time. The systems they installed were good enough to withstand corruption and million other hiccups that an independent country suffers from.

As a journalist, I feel grateful to Mr. Benjamin Horniman. His name has been eternalised in Mumbai with a magnificent garden opposite the Asiatic library. Have a hard look and you will know why this gentleman was important. As a pro-freedom editor of the Bombay Chronicle, he promoted the feeling of nationalism. With his coverage of Jallianwallah Bagh massacre and his propaganda to plan Satyagrahas against the Imperial rule, this man made a monumental contribution in creating the strongest platform to unite all Indians in thought and opinion.

Take some time and try to imagine what life was like before 15th August 1947. And then think of the day today. It’s not just a mere holiday, it’s a day for us to value our freedom. It is a day to remember our rights and more importantly remember our responsibilities as the citizens of a free India. While doing so don’t look at the British era with hatred. They are a huge part of the reason why we are what we are today. What we will be tomorrow will be defined by our thoughts and actions.

Jai Hind…

She…

She was walking down to a place, where she was going to be completely alone. She had chosen that path and was warned but now as she walked, she felt the confidence with which she had justified her path melt away and an unknown fear build up… She was unaware of what was to come, who was to come or where she was to go. She decided to follow the path till she could, but she couldn’t resist looking back, at what she was leaving behind. She kept looking until they faded away; it faded away and then she couldn’t see anything. It was a big black void she was looking back at and then she stumbled and fell. She lay there hurt, waiting for them to come and help her, to comfort, to take care of her, but they didn’t come. She lay there until she knew, she was by herself now and she needed to pick herself up from there. She had to comfort herself. She was the only person for her now. She looked back one last time, at the dark void, where her family was or had they gone… At a life which was hers but was it now? She walks until she sees a ray of light. And she sees something new- a new country, new people and above all, a new life. This is her future, and the fear melts away and the confidence builds up yet again. She knows she can do it without them, because they are miles away-emotionally and physically. And then she breathes in…. That is how freedom smelt….

Freedom smelt just like fresh flowers for a butterfly, it smelt like a new patch of grass for sheep and probably they didn’t even realize how sweet it smells-freedom. To her it smelt like how it smells now. She felt like she had had a blocked nose and suddenly a whiff of fresh scented air had come her way. It felt like that whiff reached every cell of her body and made them feel anew. Freedom was the scent of satisfaction. She had never smelt it before, but it was amazing to identify it by its scent. Its scent can’t be felt by anyone but the one who feels free. Free as a bird to explore new skies, free as a bee to find new flowers, free as a dog to find a new place to hide his bones.

But… The chains binding her, were actually her roots. The roots that made her stand tall and strong. They were the roots that made her and they weren’t gone at all. They were with her. Without them she would be body without a soul, a mind without thoughts and a heart without feelings. She had a new life, she was reborn but this time, she is born with her roots, her values and she is a baby adult…Maybe!