Tag Archives: Me

On Why I Refuse to Dance to Item Songs

They are a rage all over India right now. Go to weddings, parties or any other family events. You’ll see everyone dancing to them. The latkas, the jhatkas and the suggestive lyrics.

Surprisingly for a society which is prude, where women are an indicator of the izzat of a family, where sex is a dirty secret, it is ironic to see men and women dancing to songs which reduce women to objects. Of songs which are a sum of their breasts and butts. Of their sexual availability. Of the sexual prowess of a man. Of a man owning a woman in any way he wants.

And in a case of chicken or the egg, the creators of popular culture say they are a mirror to the society while the society says that popular culture is distorting the old value system. Whatever may be the case, it’s the women who are caught in the crossfire.

An average Indian male who has grown up on a diet of bollywood and pop culture thinks it’s his birthright to pass comments on a woman, sing dubious songs, leer and touch her. In some twisted interpretation of how bollywood heroes always get the girl by these acts, these impressionable men assume the same would hold true in real life too.

At the same time, there are very few references to strong, independent women who might feel offended at such behaviour. There are almost no cultural connects between an urban Indian woman of today with the mainstream cinema or television soaps. There are almost no pop culture or bollywood indicators for most men to draw references that this behaviour is unacceptable. And therein lies the problem.

As women become more visible, negotiating in the public space, challenging them, it leaves men to grapple with changing equations. There’s an interesting project called No Country For Women which throws light on the issue.

But coming back to the point, I detest objectification of women as a sign of progress.

Progress comes with equality and safety of women. And I absolutely cannot understand why sexually explicit lyrics and women in titillating outfits are needed to sell cinema. More than the sexual liberation of the women, it takes the cause back decades.

And that’s why I refuse to dance to item songs.



Filed under India, Me

St. Marks

Where my house used to stand

Is now rubble and dust

How my past has been erased


A mockery of my memories

Has now been made

Bulldozed, dumped into skips


While my friend holds a key

To a green coloured door

That will never open


My laughter, my joy, my pain, my tears

My trials and triumphs, victories and defeats

My oasis bearing witness to it all


It brought me warmth and solace

On cold winter days

On nights furnished with rains


The walls saw my metamorphosis

My bed, table and cupboard too

Holding secrets and ambitions


I hear that a new beast is rising

From the debris of the past

Held aloft by scaffoldings and cement


I sigh in despair but I know

Others will make their memories

Likes the ones I have held on to

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Filed under Me, Poetry

Life in My Hands

Sometimes I wonder
What the lines
On my hands mean

They hide my past
And tell my future

They tell stories
Which I wouldn’t
Want to reveal

They tell of
Struggles and misfortunes
Which are yet to befall

And may be love and life
Which will be well lived

At times they just
Seem like random lines
Drawn on the whim of God

Squiggles, curves, crosses
Faint and sometimes dark

And yet they are meant
To tell a story
Which is uniquely mine

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Filed under Fiction, Poetry

I am a Delhi Woman. Apparently It’s Okay to Rape Me.

According to the Delhi and NCR Police, the equation is so very simple.  A woman who works (sometimes after 8 PM), wears anything except salwar kameez with dupatta, is independent and has male friends is definitely asking to be raped.

According to them, I love to be pulled into a car and have men force themselves upon me. I would (apparently) also get money at the end of it. Obviously, if I was to try and register an FIR, I would be put through a character assasination, asked if the ‘deal’ fell through and then subjected to the two finger test. If by the end of that, I didn’t want to commit suicide, I would be a slut. So, if I thought I wasn’t living in 19th century India or in a Taliban land, I am so wrong.

Every day a Delhi woman steps out of her house, she psychologically gears herself up for scrutiny on all her actions, judged by what she wears and how she behaves.

I have been ‘éve teased’ wearing a salwar kameez and dupatta as I was entering my office complex. And when I was 14, a drunk man grabbed me from behind as I was going home in a bus. There were no breasts to grab at that time. I was 18 when a man felt up my crotch while I was coming from college. I wasn’t asking to be violated. And yet, I felt like I had done something wrong.

Whenever I had to walk, I would not walk on unlit pavement, instead walking on the side of the road which had oncoming traffic. That way no one could come from behind and pull me a car. A can of pepper spray was always in my bag. And whenever I could, I would wear androgynous clothing. I would carry a huge rucksack, making it difficult for ‘gropers’ to feel me up from the back. I would walk funnily with my hands at an awkward angle, ready to shield the front part of my body from men who would accidently walk into me. And then I got a car. I never walk to any place now. I always drive. I don’t use the public transport anymore. That as a Delhi woman was my solution to the ‘problem’.

But the solution obviously needed upgrading when once I had a car full of men follow me in the most secure Lutyens Delhi area, window rolled down, all of them hooting. So now if I work past 9 PM now, I drive back home rashly, going over speed limit and overtaking as many cars as I can. I try to not use an indicator while turning or changing lanes. This is my way of creating an illusion that it’s a Delhi man driving the car. I don’t drive like a girl anymore.

I am instantly wary of anyone. I trust no one.

I would love walk down the old lanes of Chandni Chowk one day (without been groped). I would love to go for a jog in a sports attire. I would love to travel on the bus without worrying if some lecherous man accidently touches my butt or breasts. I would love to wear a summer dress when it’s hot. I would love to go to parks and explore historical monuments in my city. I would love to have a late or an impromptu dinner with my friends and drive back home without worrying if I would get there safely or have a male friend drop me home.

The thought that I could get raped, stops me.

People may call my fear irrational and my reactions over the top.  But when the system that keeps the society in checks and balances fails to accept that a woman can be a victim, it is a scary thought. The aggressor is considered right even though he cannot control his urge. So what really is a difference between a male perpetrator of sexual crime and a street dog? Even the dog is better. At least he chooses to mate with a bitch that is in heat.

And although my lament won’t make a difference but saying aloud that a problem exists is a step forward. A woman NEVER asks for it. She never says assault me, she never says – rape me. Even if she is wearing a dress instead of a sari and even if she is drinking wine instead of chai. Even if she is hanging out a male friend or two.

While you are at it, go read an account of a rape victim here.


Filed under India

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Filed under Me

And There Shall Be Light

It is the end of the road and I get down from my car. A cool gentle wind envelopes me and with it, brings the smell of the fishes and the indication that the sea is nearby.

Coconut trees gently sway and ahead of me is a small bridge, wide enough for a scooter to get by. Beyond it are the Sayhadri hills. Towards my left is a four storey building, looking slightly neglected as the paint is peeling off.

A woman wearing a salwar kameez waits for us to disembark and walk towards her. With a smile she welcomes us and informs, “It’s on the fourth floor.” I nod silently, acknowledging her. At the same time wondering, it looks too small for 20 people.

I walk with trepidation, unsure of what I will find there. Will it be emotionally hard for me? Will it make me sad? In my line of work, emotions have to be kept in check, lest they interfere with the story, the facts.

I imagine a dark, depressing unlit corridor, sad faces and emotionally scarred girls cowering as we try and talk to them. My image of an orphanage being one which I have seen in films and assume to be true.

I walk up the stairs with a silent prayer to god and even before I can finish, a group of young girls, smiling, say in unison, “Welcome to our home.”

Bewildered, I acknowledge them as I walk into the lobby. A bunch of girls are huddled in one side of the room, making crafts, bit of coloured paper, boxes of water colours, scissors, paint brushes strewn around. Some of them giggle amongst themselves as we walk in.

Shyly some of them show us the Diwali and Christmas cards, beautiful wall hangings, envelopes and paper bags. Some of them continue without as much casting us a glance. The lady informs us that it’s for a fete they are participating in. “This is the first time they are doing it. I had a crafts teacher come in and teach them how to do it.” It will also help raise some money, she adds softly.

A girl, about 4 years old, smiles at me. She is fascinated by the camera and musters courage to touch it while I take notes. Suddenly she grabs my pen. I decide to rummage for another pen in my bag when she returns it minus the bright blue cap. A little puppy wags his tail and a girl has scooped him up in her arms, showering him with kisses.

I sit in the lady’s office with her husband and we discuss about how and why these girls have ended up here. Their stories are undoubtedly sad and reflect how our fractured society functions. Meanwhile a Labrador nonchalantly enters the room and curls up underneath my chair. Seeing a slightly frightened expression on my face, the lady says, “He’s old. You can pet him if you want.” A spray of water hits me and the husband gets up to close the window. It has started to rain.

We continue talking and are interrupted when a girl comes running. “Mom, your phone is ringing.” She hands her the phone and runs away. I continue asking questions and there is a second interruption. A teenage girls asks, “Mom should I get some tea?” Mom?

After she leaves, the lady tells me, they call us Mom and Dad.

I nod faintly and continue talking. Later we want to interview some of the girls. I ask the lady if we can ask them questions about their families or life in the orphanage. She says, “They all know where they came from and why they are here. Ask them anything.”

To me it’s hard to ask a twelve year old why her family left her there or if her parents are dead and if she misses them. I can’t break their hearts further and worry if my questions will leave an emotional scar.

The twelve year old gives me an encouraging smile as I ask my questions. The first few are the easy ones – as she describes her favourite subjects in school and what she wants to be when she grows up. A pilot, she says in perfect English. The tough questions are asked gently and answered haltingly.

I feel guilty but the deed is now done.

I look up to see a silhouette of a girl perched up on a concrete plank running the length of the large windows, staring out and looking at the sea. I wonder what she is thinking about. Yearning about her family perhaps? It has stopped raining and a cool breeze enters the room.

Suddenly a cat is thrust in my arms by a girl. Before I can react it has gracefully jumped down. The girl runs after it and I follow them to the living quarters. A big room has 5 bunks beds, each painted in a different colour. Two girls are sitting in a corner and doing their science homework. I hear a woof and turn to find a Dalmatian tied to one corner. A small girl is curled up and sleeping soundly on one of the beds. A big shelf is stacked with many schoolbags and a few girls are talking to each other.

My colleague whips out his camera and we proceed to take photos with 18 girls, 2 dogs, 1 cat and 1 puppy in tow. There is laughter all around. Cups of hot tea and patties have miraculously emerged from somewhere. There is an atmosphere of bonhomie. It almost feels like I have either walked into a boarding school or a family home with lots of children. “Didi, khao naa”; “Nahi, pehle ek aur photo”; I am accepted into their world, no questions asked.

My earlier discomfiture slowly melts away.

While we partake the evening snacks, one of the girls starts to sing for us. Incredulously, it’s an American pop song I sometimes hear on the radio. Her clear soulful voice fills up the room as she sings about falling in love. How do they know English songs, asks a surprised colleague. “Oh, they listen to them on the internet and memorize the lyrics,” the lady replies. But I am just marveling at the confidence of the young girl.

I remember my last words to the lady, “I think you are doing a wonderful job of raising them.” She replies, “I treat them like I would treat my own children. What would I do for them? I would give them the best education and make sure they stand on their feet.” She adds that’s why she decided to never have her own biological children.

Soon its time to leave. My last memory of them is bright, shining eyes, quick smiles and eager faces. Their arms interlocked, the girls gather around us and drop us to our car. Goodbyes take another fifteen minutes as another round of photos is taken, silly origami roses are exchanged, a light banter is conducted. And then its time to say the final goodbye as they keep waving their arms until our car disappears around the curving road.

I don’t know what the future holds for them. What I hope is that they will be able to overcome any challenge which comes their way.


The essay is based on a news story I am currently doing. For more details about the orphanage, check out their website http://www.amchaghar.org


Filed under India

Ekta Kapoor And Gang Needs To Give Way. Now.

My biggest grouse with watching the telly is trying to find fiction programmes which engage me. I automatically gravitate towards English language American or British shows. So if I am in London or New Delhi, I am watching the same shows and probably the same season.

Now, for a younger me, it would be ‘totally cool’ and it would be an indicator of how India is ‘progressing’. Back to the present, I actually feel really pissed off that there are no Hindi language TV shows for ‘people like us’.

English, my second language, is like my mother tongue. I get the American and British humour and most of the references to their popular cultures, the plot lines are intriguing or funny (depending its a drama or a comedy) and scripting and editing is usually tight.

My question is why can’t we have quality programming in our national language? How many urban, English language educated, well travelled, well read young people want to watch Simar Ka Sasural and the likes of such shows?

I, for one, after a hard day of work, don’t want to watch sari clad, pancake layered women moping, scheming or pining for some man or kitchen politics. While the rest of the country progresses, we are stuck with TV shows in 2001 when Saas-Bahu conflicts were the best way to get your TRPs. And what about the really bad dialogues and scripts, shoddy camera work which looks like a shaadi wala cameraman gone creative and stories which urbane people can’t relate to?

We do have an alternative in reality TV shows. Unfortunately every channel has one song, dance and a general talent show. They all look the same to me. I can’t distinguish one from the other. They have, unfortunately, hit upon a formula too. Every week throws up a hero, some tears, a bit of drama, failures and triumphs. If you have seen one, you have seen ‘em all.

Right, so now we are left with those stand up comedy shows which propagate silly or toilet humor, jokes recycled from my childhood days when I used to read Champak and Target and forced laughter (including the laughter track inserted every two minutes). Seriously, would I want to spend my time watch Archana Puran Singh or Navjot Sidhu or whoever is the current judge of the season force laugh at something which is not even remotely funny?

So for people like me, the newly launched youth channels decided that relationships sell. So if I want to watch something which my generation, apparently relates to, I would be relegated to shows like sting operations on alleged cheating partners, devious and foul mouthed young people in Roadies or dating shows on Channel V or MTV. Seriously, who are they catering these shows to?

Last year when Yash Raj Films entered the TV market with some new shows, I silently applauded them. They were TV shows with well etched characters, decent script and plot lines and nifty editing. I used to find time to actually watch some of these shows which I thought were heralding a new era in Indian TV programming. But my joy was short lived when after a season or so these shows disappeared from the screens.

I understand that advertising and other market dynamics work in the favour of the same old soaps and reality TV shows. That out of 1.2 billion people, most tastes lean towards these kind of programmes. But there is a small percentage of people who would like to watch the telly and for once, not watch Star World or HBO but something in our own language.

Why should an episode of Friends be my frame of reference for something? Why can’t it be an Indian TV show? I refuse to believe that there is a dearth of talent in our TV industry, of innovation and taking chances. I am sure there is a small and growing market for new programmes (like there is for non traditional cinema). To the powerful people in those production houses, I just want to say – Get off the Ekta Kapoor and Reality TV bandwagon and do something new!


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