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The Lone Cry


Stories from BLF 2017 – 1 

The sessions sounded more political than literary this year. The topics had been discussed threadbare on TV, in print, on social media and of course, gatherings in the friends circles as well. But hearing it straight from the stallion’s mouths would be something else, I thought. The final session as usual, was the most sought after. R. Jagannathan, Makarand Paranjpe, Suketu Mehta, Manu Joseph, Sagarika Ghose and the Kanhaiah Kumar. Moderator Harish Bijoor set the tone and Prof. Paranjpe started in his erudite style.

There was only one tone to the whole festival until then, that of right bashing. The alternate voice had been missing, and I was eagerly waiting for the next person’s views, not because I endorsed his beliefs. I was sure an entirely different vie would definitely come from the Chief Editor of a right wing publication. He started in an even voice and took up the current hot topic, of whether to stand up or not. What he said was what many of us thought as well, isn’t this the same judge that endorsed this imposition last year? How can they change their opinion so fast and to an entirely opposite view?

Then came the punchline,
“Considering that it’s an all men bench, they don’t even have the excuse of the mood swings of PMS.”

The whole audience, well almost the whole audience, laughed. Including women. No one thought this was out of place. A so called thought leader, openly making fun of something so personally feminine.

Don’t you have mood swings on those days, one might ask. Don’t you get cranky, another might. Oh yes sir, I do. I feel tired, so much so that I don’t even have the energy to get up from my bed, cranky, ready to fight, snarling at everyone in sight, and maybe even pick up a fight or two. And I know it is getting worse as years go by.

But sir, it is never an excuse. No sir, never. It is a reality. For millions of women, some of whom you would know and many you would not. It is a stark reality, over which we have no control, none whatsoever. We can only wish we had. But. It is never an excuse, at least for the sensible ones I know. We drag ourselves up, maybe pop a pill or two and go about as if nothing is wrong, even when everything is. Literally. We might make some mistakes, make an error of judgement or two. But sir, we own it. It is never an excuse. No, sir.

I was immediately reminded of the previous day’s discussion on trolling. From personal experience, both Nidhi Razdan and Sindhu S (from Asianet who was mercilessly trolled for her so called remarks against Durga) had mentioned something in common – the blatant sexism and misogyny of the right wing trolls. Of the viciousness of it all, of the sheer crassness of their thoughts. Well, the apples do not fall far from the tree, I guess. I’ve always believed the culture of an individual is decided mostly by her parents and of an organization by its leaders. And I realized my belief hasn’t let me down.

What worries me most is the total acceptance of something so sexist. It is so ingrained in men and women in equal measure that no one sees anything amiss, not even those among us who go through it month after month, year after year.

The laughter died down. And something escaped my lips. Some might call it booing. It was spontaneous, a war cry that came right from depths. Of my heart and soul.

And I was alone. Frighteningly so.

(image courtesy – images.fineartamerica.com)




Anointed, adjudged
From the time thoughts were born
Determined, Invincible
Protector, Nurturer

And so we did
Showed a face
With no tears
Nor a grimace
Oh, but we’re used to it
But that’s life
There’s so much more to do
Ssshhh…lest more followed
Not us, never.

And we marched on
Screaming silently
Crying without tears
Holding everything in
Smiling in a straight line
Hearts wrenching inside
For we are the strong ones
The indomitables

Eyes moulded into steel
Souls into iron
Calluses fed our hands
Lead seeped into our feet
Before we knew
It was all a myth
Wrought to keep us chained
The strong woman
Who takes in all
Without even a whimper

But you know what?
Wars are not for us,
We don’t want to win
We just need to breathe
Unanoint, let us be
Real, Unmyth.



Oh Gabriel,

I was just a a girl

A naive one, at that

You knew it, didn’t you?

Mother of God, you said

And blessed am I, you added.

Dreams of angels playing harps

Shattered by Herod’s armed ones


Bed of roses I looked for

And a manger lay in wait

Shepherds for courtiers

Donkeys singing hymns

Three kings came and went

Gold, Frankincense and myrrh they brought

Of the first I know not

The other two, burnt and spent

The child born of me, was never mine

Yet a mother, I had to be

Agony of a son gone missing,

What would you know of that?

Three score years with me

And a man  he called abba

Life was but a chimera

Of that we knew not, yet


Of a son lost,

What would you know?

He cried for the world, wiped their tears

Did he  see the drop that refused to fall?

Laying hands on the sick and sinned,

Did he feel these trembling hands?

Anointed in oil by Mary the Magdalene,

Did he forget a heart that bled for him?


On a donkey, back he came,

Hosanna, shouted the world

The silly heart, it skipped a beat

Jumped in joy for a moment or two

He broke bread with his friends

Turned his blood into wine

Promised them everlasting life

And was betrayed, in return.


Son of God, crowned in thorns

Dragging a cross, whipped on his back

Nailed on a cross, stabbed on chest

Gasping for air, thirsting for a drop

Limbs broken, life escaped

Shattered, he lay across my lap

Gathering him into my arms, I said

Blessed am I among women.

The Princess and the Statue

doe eyes‘Doe eyes’, you call her. But, have you really looked into it, ever listened to what it tries to tell you? Have you seen one that is caught in light at night? You are  not the jungle type, you say? Oh, don’t worry. Just look around. Who said jungle is in the wild? But then, do we even know what wild is any more?

See that crowd? Push your way in, and look around. Do you see those frightened eyes? Yes, that is what I was asking you about. She is still a baby. What do you call a baby doe? A princess? Yes, that would be apt. For, princesses rarely come out of fairy tales these days. But then, let us not digress. Can you see how she squirms, as if caught in a trap? Why doesn’t she fight, you ask? Well, she still doesn’t know what is it that she has to fight against, or whom.  She did not ask for the fight, heck, she doesn’t even want to fight. Was just going about her way, when a pair of horns stopped her . She doesn’t know yet… why stags have horns and why they try to poke her.

Wait, are you jumping out? Can’t stand the crowd, you say? Neither can she. She doesn’t have a choice, though. For she is not a stag. And she doesn’t have horns.

It’s getting dark out there. The eyes start getting wider, the horns are getting closer. Why doesn’t she fight, you ask again. You see, she was taught not to. Would grow horns, she was told. Back then, she was a princess, and princesses were supposed to have crowns of diamonds, not horns. Hardly her fault, you know.

You’ve seen some of them fight, you say? You are right, my friend. Horns rammed inside, some of them do, really.

Now tell me, do you know what they were fighting for and against? No? I will tell you.  Or better still, ask one of her. Even better, ask a few. One will say, against fatigue. Another, against prejudice. Yet another, expectations. And the other, against the pain that is killing her, from dawn to dusk. The reasons  are aplenty. But, there is one that binds them, almost all of them. The fight is ‘for’ something, there they are one. For their princesses, princes too. That they may not have to fight, some day. That they are not shorn off their tiaras and crowns. That their staff is used to guide, not rule.

Yes, they fight, with their tooth and sharp nails. For, they do not have horns, you see.

What about those horns that battle alongside the  eyes, you ask? Oh, them? Poor things. They end up being called hornless. In spite of the strongest ones you might have seen, ever.

The princesses, and what of their doe eyes, wouldn’t you want to know? I will tell you, irrespective. Some of them burned with a fire strong enough to  singe the tips of a few horns.  Then got charred in the process. A few of them folded the lids in, never to open again. And the mass, you cannot miss them, even if you don’t see, look or whatever. Those are the ones that you find all around, resigned, helpless. Even the brightest light fails to light them up. For, they grew up, and got to know. Only in fairy tales, princesses turn into queens, you see.

What of her kin, the horned ones, you now ask? Aren’t they supposed to protect her? The brothers – the real and the rakhi ones?

Neither does she ask, nor  expect them to , anymore.

For, she knows by now.

That they are busy….building statues


(p.s – title courtesy my favorite film maker, the inimitable Padmarajan)

Frightening Silence, Rays of Hope

London to Brighton Veteran Car RunThe  voices that shouted out from the roof tops have fallen eerily silent, the drums that were beaten to death gone into hiding. The tears that flowed relentlessly have dried up and life goes on. Like the perpetrators, the terms also seem to  change according to class , from brutal rape to sexual assault to molestation to error in judgement and finally simmering itself down to a consensual act.

Mr. Tajpal has been  beaten to death and risen to glory by his foes and friends and I do not want go into the details here. The girl’s letter had enough gore in there. Facts and counter facts take their turn, trying to get print and virtual space. My worry is a little more fundamental. Here you have a so called intellectual, a purported crusader against injustice, who will go to any lengths to bring out the real story, and he is caught with his tail or whatever else down, in a crime that is too shameless to even speak about. What makes him so brazen? And what does the incident and the subsequent hue and cry, or rather the lack of it, tell of us as a society?

A few months ago, we had ‘the other’ Murthy facing the firing squad for the second known time. These men are no novices and folly of youth is no umbrella under which they can take cover. Both are stalwarts in their respective areas of professional expertise, at the helm of affairs in their organizations. Spouses who are well educated and successful in their own right  and grown up kids to go back to end of their long days, in an ideal world theirs should be pictures of the classic perfect, happy families. But, the lure of the proverbial apples on the neighboring trees seem to be too strong to resist, in both cases.

Allegations and counter allegations are being volleyed up and down at breakneck speed and I would not want to mull over that here. One thought that refuses to let go and is nagging me day in and night out is, here are two head honchos, who have no qualms about cheating on their family, giving two hoots about their feelings. If they have no second thoughts in their personal life, what about the organizations and the lives of hundreds who work for these organizations? We have the answer unfolding right in front of our eyes, the obvious, arrogant manner in which ‘Tehelka’ is flouting all that they supposedly stood for.

The defensive silence in the first few days was telling. When the culprits are someone whom no one knows about and are those who cannot harm anyone, the furor is deafening. The social media zealots were uncharacteristically mute last week. What were they scared of? Or was it that such an incident was beneath them, after all in high and mighty places  this is the norm? What skeletons were they afraid would tumble out of their own or their friend’s cupboards? The comments, if at all there were any , were mild and meek compared to the vitriolic ones in the Delhi and Mumbai cases.  The slithering silence that shrouds the powerful ones in a protective sheath is more deafening than the loudest of voices. The icons of social causes have retreated to their holes, their true colors shining through irrespective. This telling silence scares me, much more than the act.

In his book ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded‘ Thomas Friedman talks about what caused  the ‘Great Recession

“…was caused in part by a broad-based breakdown in ethics by key players…… It was not the illicit behavior that caused the Great Recession. It was all the stuff going on in plain sight by people who should have known better but suspended their beliefs and values and norms and skepticism to get in on the party.”

Yes, that is exactly what is happening , stuff everyone knows is happening around. The suggestive phone calls that a young widow receives from her boss, the lewd messages that keeps on beeping on the phone of a girl whose only crime is she is good looking, the shoulders that brushes against your chest in an ‘absent minded’ manner, the made up late night meetings, the good natured ‘banter’ that are more overt than covert in their sexual flavor…. the norm in most of the ‘professional’ organizations. You want to grow? Better gel in. There is no male or female divide, as one Ms. Chaudhry has shown us. It is all about power and who is the most powerful. You dare not touch them, lest you are burnt and lacerated. Those on the periphery, watching silently, longing to get in and party along.

Yet, all is not lost. A young girl , at the beginning of her career, who refuses to let go of the principles that her organization taught her, but failed to stand up for…. three young men, who stood by her relentlessly…. a group of young girls who threw away their jobs in support…..an Arundhati Roy…..a Nandita Das …..who voice their opinion fearlessly in a world of incidental intellectuals …. spunky men of value who is not ashamed to call one of their own by the names that they deserve….

They are our hope, the rays that shine through..

Long live their clan and may we raise more of them!

picture courtesy – metstoday.com

What has schools got to do with it?

cryCertain things in life hit you so hard, you become numb for some time. Much has been said and discussed about Nirbhaya and the Mumbai girl. People who know me closely are aware of where I stand on these issues and what my opinions are. Though I actively participate on some of the discussions on Facebook, I have never discussed it openly here. Some times, a small spark is enough to ignite a large fire.

There was a blog past that went viral last week, an apparent first hand experience by soemone on what happened in broad daylight in Manesar, NCR. The post has since been removed, I’m sure the poor guy must have been intimidated by all the attention that it garnered. The gist of the post can be found here. Something that this person mentioned really got me thinking,

“I wonder if any brother, father, friend, and a good person can ever save any girl surrounded by so many people, in this state of mind when they are drunk, full of weapons, roaming around in groups, and UNEDUCATED shouting WE ARE THE SYSTEM. No one can and may be that’s why system is built. And that day it was a reminder, how broken our system is.”

A good friend of mine shared this on his wall on FB and he rightly said,

“Education has nothing to do with it. Have we not seen educated IT crowd using Ma Behen swearwords?”

Our opinions on most of these issues are similar and I have always believed that education is something that is beyond what you get in schools. It is more of what you learn at home, from observing others, from what you assimilate from the books that you read, the conversations that you listen to, the values that define you, the definition is far beyond its conventional expectation.

One of the responses that he received from an ‘educated’ person really rattled me.

“there is a difference between an IT Guy using Maa Bahan and these people. However drunk an IT Guy is, he can never think of raping a girl, mugging people in broad day light. If you see all the incidents, Nirbahaya, mumbai rape case and even in this case…all the people involved were illiterate…I think the root cause is growing class difference in India. By class I mean their education level and financial status. This problem is not going to go…the mind set of the people needs to be changed and that change can be brought only by bridging this gap which I am afraid going to take ages.”

My reaction was…well….typically me,

” How is an IT guy using maa behen different from an illiterate guy? More shame on the educated ones, I would say. You are sure educated guys do not commit any heinous crime? Or is it that you do not read newspapers? You are right, maybe they do not do it as a gang and not in broad daylight. You knew about a Nirbhaya or the ‘Mumbai – girl’ as you call her. Have you heard about the harassment – both mental and physical – that happens in many a home that is headed by the ‘IT guys’ ? The culprits in these two cases got caught because of that very fact. If it was someone highly connected, do you think they would have been brought to justice so easily? 
“However drunk an IT guy is, he can never think of a raping a girl” , Seriously? Have you heard of date drugs, spiked drinks etc? Are you saying it is ‘these’ illiterate guys who use it?”

I knew there was no point in continuing the discussion when he responded…

“Stop over reacting and first decide which problem you want to discuss…and speak about the solution not about the problem…stop sending your kids to school if you think education has nothing to do with it”

….and I closed it with a short comment,

“If you think education is what you get out of school, I rest my case. Nothing more to say.”

This happened a few days ago, but the questions that it raised still refuses to let go.

What message are we giving our kids and to society at large? That all the problems are caused by a certain section of the society only? That as long as you have a degree added to your name, you are entitled to talk any which way you want, because, “hey, you know what I mean”? What gives me the right to look down on and pass judgement on someone else?

I still believe we got to know about these cases and the perpetrators were caught fast and sentenced because they belonged to this so called lower strata of society. This is not to belittle the brutality of the crimes, not even for a moment. As a daughter, sister, mother, friend and a woman, I cannot even start to think of the trauma that these girls would have gone through. For each Nirbhaya whom we know of, how many other unknown scared girls would be there who are tortured day after day and specifically by the so called educated class? How cases are diluted just because they are either ‘connected’ or the family is scared because it will affect their ‘reputation’? All the while, the culprits still jaunting around free and taunting their victims like this

And what has schools got to do with it?

How do you do it?

chic The fragrance hits you first, as if you are suddenly transported to a heavenly garden full of exotic flowers. The tip of a dainty shoe in the most unusual of colors, slowly peeps out and a perfectly coordinated apparition slowly emerge out of a squeaky clean car in the office parking lot. A sleek laptop bag on one shoulder, a small handbag made of exquisite leather in exactly the same color as the shoes, hanging from the crook of the other arm , a perfect pair of legs clad in spotless linen trousers, a toned upper body shrouded in some kind of ethereal material, a shrug that shrugs itself casually across the shoulders, a face that looks as if it is moulded from the best aromatic wax and oh, that lovely crown piece, the silky hair flowing gently in the breeze with not a strand out of place. Not to forget that light pink lipstick on the pouting lips, the kohl lined eyes that are hidden under that huge Prada shades and a pair of not so tiny diamond ear rings and the exquisite neck piece.

Now, if you can drag your eyes off,just for a moment, take a look at that dusty car that has just tried to knock you down. The door opens all of a sudden, something that resembles a bundle almost falls out, before straightening itself out into a human shape that resembles a pumpkin perched on a pair of drumsticks. A coconut for a head and its husk for hair that is flying frantically in all directions. A pair of brown shoes that has seen much better days, and a backpack that is still trying to figure out whether it is black or grey. “No handbag?”, you ask.”What is that?”, she asks back. Is it a hallucination, you wonder. That’s me, I answer.

Just how do they do it?

I have always been in awe of these all lady, not even a bit of tom boy- ish kind of women around me. The first one in my life was my grandmother. Whiter than the whitest ‘chatta’ and ‘mundu’ (a traditional christian ladies wear in Kerala), starched to a stiffness that it could easily replace a school master’s rod and a ‘kavini’ (made of the ubiquitous kerala saree material of much better quality than what we get today), she was a real lady from head to toe. My mother was not as perfect, thank God for small mercies, but good (err…bad?) enough. And the common grouse was always, “why is this girl like this?”. No kajal, forget the bindi, at least get rid of those sack clothes. And I would be like , how dare they look down on my classy khadi-wear?

School days were kind of okay, thanks to nuns and uniforms. College also passed by with friends most of whom were only marginally better than me. Then came the hostel days. That is where I learnt that blush was more of a noun than a verb, mascara was something that you put on your eyelashes and not eat (that it was called mascarpone and not mascara was something that I learnt years and years later) and that manicure was something that was done to your nails and not just how the lush green lawns in Rajendra Maidan looked like. The word gauche must have been invented after someone saw me in action. Then, as now, the saving grace was the book in my hand that branded me an intellectual. Ha!

The less said about the saree days of the CA times. Our sir had this typical notion that girls looked professional only in sarees (now that I look back, what profession was he thinking of, I wonder 😉 ). Obviously he had never tried getting into a private bus in Ernakulam, on a typical monsoon day. Eons ago, if any of you have happened to see a frustrated soul trapped in a drenched cotton saree splattered with mud, twisted in an awkward angle, trying to close an umbrella with one hand, hold on to some huge hardbound files with the other, turning her shoulder like a nagina in a c-grade bollywood movie to keep her hand bag squarely in place and at the same time getting on to a red bus that is ready for take off, I confess, that was your truly, my friends!

The first thing that I did after getting my first real job (which sane person would consider their CA days as a real job, those were days of free lunches and movies) was to throw away all those six yard pieces of torture. Actually, I pretended to be offended at my sisters who confiscated the loot, little did they know what a relief it was not to wind it around me any more. So I started my first job, determined to look very professional. It was cottons again, silk came much later. The salwars were like tents and the duppattas like walls. The hostel mess got their rice from the ration shops, a look at the kanji-water would stiffen even a slouch like me, so just imagine the plight of an ordinary piece of cloth. I use to gape at some of the girls there who looked even more better turned out in the evening than they were in the morning. That lasted till I realized why it was so difficult to get work done from most of them. How can you complete anything when you absolutely had to run to the ‘rest’ room every five minutes to keep your hair back in place and lips back in shape. Time for the next confession. I tried combing my hair thrice a day, that lasted till I lost my comb on the second day. Then I didn’t comb my hair, at all, for three straight days. Yes, I actually went to office for three days without combing my hair, God promise! It must have been on the third day that someone described me as, “Oh, that girl who looks as if she just had fever!”

Then I got married and as a consequence, had a child. What a relief, I could look or not look like whatever I wanted. That blissful period lasted not very long, unfortunately. This time around, I was even more determined. I had Fabindia on my side, no one could beat me now. Those dresses were so damn classy, I could wear it everyday. And that is exactly what I did. Until my BFF at office whispered to me one day, “don’t take me wrong, but please don’t wear these salwars to office anymore, someone told me those are actually holes on the duppatta and not Turkish embroidery”. Okay, I confess, I made up the Turkish embroidery bit. But you get the drift, right?

Next job, lot of women around and all impeccably turned out. There are client visits and we are the ambassadors of our country, our organization, of fellow women and so on. Now cottons have made way for silks, but they still come from Fabindia. The first visit went off extremely well. The girls around oohed and aahed. They just loved the flow of the raw silk top and the design on the khadi silk duppatta and was stumped by my freshly smoothened hair. The heart attack that I got after seeing the bill for pulling the seven and half strands on my head straight was totally worth it. This happiness thing you see, is very transient. It is a very fickle partner, especially when you have to turn out perfect at eight in the morning to attend to a client. House is war zone on school day mornings and I somehow stuff myself into one of those favorite silk dresses with that ‘only you can find these’ kind of duppattas. I reach office, go into the ‘rest’ room so that those strong urges at the most inappropriate times do not happen, hang my duppatta on the hook to keep it safe and…………. the color of my ‘out of the world’ salwar had fallen so much in love with the duppatta that came in from ‘some other world’ that they decided to live happily ever after.

All you exquisite, elegant, attractive, chic, dainty, delicate, polished, stylish ladies out there, save me and pray tell me, how exactly do you do it?