Inner Laws: a performance in Delhi

Calling all Dilliwallas, and/or those in Delhi this weekend… I have to say, this is one of the funniest plays I have ever had the joy of performing in (and the fact that it is written by the Mother has almost nothing to do with it!). An unabashed delight to watch at one level, with undercurrents of a more subtle, dark humour of the kind I suffered through childhood. 🙂 Since I can’t be there, break a leg, folks. And break the bank for the Red Cross.

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For 2009: we refuse to be enemies?

What an annus horribilis 2008 was. Clinical depression of every kind: economic, political, personal. India was bombed repeatedly – and with precise geographical equity: north, south, east, west. I was in both Bangalore and Delhi over the summer, and missed the bombing of N block market by a couple of hours. Similar just-misses reported in from friends in Bombay, but the overall horror of it all goes far beyond close encounters of the worst kind. Between the escalation of rhetoric on the India-Pakistan front, and the egregious escalation of far more than rhetoric on the Israel-Palestine front, the new year feels shop-soiled and already ready for return. But since I have been accused of growing tendrils of Pollyanna-like optimism in the midst of utter despair, I leave you with an image from an India-Pakistan peace vigil I attended early last month, and a poem inspired by that, and this week’s protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza.

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We refuse to be enemies.
We refuse to use your words, claim your politics,
accept your versions of history.

We will wear our anger like a shroud,
we will hold our defiance like a shield,
we will carry our compassion like a sword.

We refuse to be enemies.
We refuse to believe that hate is justified,
that peace is weak, that conflict is endless.

We will sing across the borders,
we will march across the divisions,
we will fly our peace like a flag.
We refuse to be enemies.

Oh geez, John Cleese!

From the Daily Kos (and elsewhere on the blogosphere), a brilliant poem by John Cleese on Sean Hannity, the Fox(ed) News anchor. (Btw, 86% of Fox News viewers reportedly thought McCain won the second US Presidential elections’ debate; everyone else thought Obama had).

Ode to Sean Hannity
by John Cleese

Aping urbanity
Oozing with vanity
Plump as a manatee
Faking humanity
Journalistic calamity
Intellectual inanity
Fox Noise insanity
You’re a profanity
Hannity

And my own humble response:

John Cleese
terrific tease
always at ease
such a wheeze.
more please?

Do we dream differently?

In the present climate of economic uncertainty meltdown, political hypocrisy and understandable social anger, I thought I needed to cheer myself up – and perhaps you, NotSoGentle Reader. The AWID Forum is a platform for feminists – of all shapes, sizes, sexualities, genders and agendas (!) – that is convened every three years. This time it’s mid-November in Cape Town, one of the beautifulest places in the world, inhabited by some of my bestest friends. However, I am not going for the Forum this year; the first time since the 1999 Forum. One reason is that I need to write this doctoral thesis that I have been promising myself – and others – to finish for the last ten years (aaargh). The other is that I do feel, increasingly, that every now and then, one should drop off the conference junket route (not that I’m on a plane every month, but certainly, every year so far in the last ten) to allow younger and newer – one doesn’t preclude the other – people to experience the energies of solidarity. And the AWID Forum is certainly a space for that energy.

I do feel like I’m missing out on something, though – particularly since this year’s Forum is on the power of movements. But then I think to myself that the struggle is fought every day, in the little moments, all over the world. And that power is shared, as I already know, with countless friends across the world. So perhaps then, just an opportunity to muse on the last Forum and a session we conducted there, based on the book – Defending our Dreams: global feminist voices for a new generation – that we launched at the Forum. Defending our Dreams is arguably the first international anthology of young feminist analyses ever; I’m proud of it, but I’m also proud of this session we did, with a bunch of contributors to the volume. And perhaps my reflections on the session go beyond the moment:

Do we really dream differently? It was easy enough to choose the title of our book – Defending our Dreams – once we had found Gabrielle Hosein’s quirky and questioning poem on feminism, but it was very difficult to judge whether a session at the AWID Forum on our dreams would be interesting at all. We shouldn’t have worried. Putting together a panel of extraordinary young women – articulate and honest – is all the recipe we needed. Five of our contributors, Alejandra Scampini (Uruguay), Indigo Williams-Willing (Vietnam/Australia), Salma Maoulidi (Tanzania), Jennifer Plyler (Canada) and Paromita Vohra (India), sat together to discuss what I, as moderator, had thought were banal, obvious questions: What are the dreams we dream – and how are they different, or not, from those dreamt (by feminists) before? What are the strategies we use that might be different? And where to, from here?

The questions may have sounded banal, but the session felt like magic. Like the others, I too struggle to understand why – how the last session of the day, with people coming in tired and overwhelmed, sitting at the edge of their chairs and at the back of the room (so they could exit quietly and quickly if needed), could have created a little oasis of joy, of reflection, of separately articulated dreams that somehow, wonderfully, fused together to be shared by others in the room, listening to them. Perhaps one reason for the magic was the simple truth we had overlooked in our grand theorising – that ‘dreaming’ is a very powerful word. That we so rarely use its power, both for ourselves and for others. That we are so caught up in the banality of the every day, that we forget we begin with a dream, and that somehow, somewhere along the way, that dream changes in shape and form and colour. Sometimes we even forget – in the cynicism of complexity and the routine efforts of struggle – that we had a dream at all, and that it whispers to us every now and then in quiet, unsuspecting moments.

What were the dreams that were shared? That not just ideology, or strategy, is about the personal being political; that our lives begin and end with the struggles of this truth and its reverse – the political is invariably, always, personal. Whether it was about a feminist daring to say that her dream is to be happily married to a wonderful man and have healthy babies, or about another feminist daring to say that perhaps body shape contributes to feminism (are ‘fat’ women more ‘feminist’???). That the struggles have changed in context over the years, but that our feminist histories have never been intimate enough for us to learn enough from them, or to acknowledge them in ways beyond the academic. We asked our older sisters in the audience: why is that we don’t have histories of the movement that tell us about the little struggles? About the jokes at the end of the day, the exhausted camaraderie at the end of a battle, the imperfections and human-ness of the process? Why is it that we feel we look at history as a series of perfect, coordinated responses to situations – when we know that the truth is sometimes painful, sometimes hysterically funny, always messy?

‘Intimacy’ was a word we used a lot. And ‘relationships’. And we came to the shared vision that grand political change is often about shared intimate processes of relational shifts. How we grow to live freely and well with our lovers, our families, our friends, our colleagues – and how they live with us – is often the longest, toughest journey. And that acknowledging that intimacy of change might make our future journeys easier. We ended with an acknowledgement to the wisdom of the past, while dreaming on. We quoted Gloria Steinem: ‘Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning’.

Celebrating Women’s Day with my family of feminists

So another Women’s Day rolls by. This year, this month, I think it fitting to celebrate the feminists in my life who are special to me, and who inspire me in different ways, at different moments of the year. The past month has been particularly significant for me in terms of the writing of two women in my family, and this post celebrates the sis-in-law, who is also friend, feminista and fun. Some time down the line I’ll write about the mother, who is a little difficult to describe in words, which is why I need more time to mull over her. chuckle.

Anindita won the Toto Funds The Arts (TFA) award for creative writing last month in Bangalore. Both awards in this section went to Bongs in Bengaluru, which is interesting enough in itself, but even more so, as Ani – and the rest of us – saw it, was that the award was presented by Amitav Ghosh. Now if that isn’t a matter for joint celebration and collective swooning, I don’t know what is. 🙂

Anindita’s poetry is archived at her poetry blog, but here’s a taste of her crisp craftsmanship. I chose this one because it speaks of a woman with a history and a future different from ours, of a woman who “bears the hollows in deep places”. Women’s Day is about celebration, but it is also about consciousness, that sharp poet’s eye for life – for a woman’s living – that can otherwise pass us by in a mundane flurry. Thank you for that watchfulness, and your own, bright, particular voice, Ani.

Parvati
the migrant’s wife

when the wind comes down from the hills
and palm trees fling their leaves about
like Sufi saints stepped off the edge,

she lies on a mat on the floor,
arms out,

and listens to coconuts falling on the roof
like tough-shelled meteors.

in her, quiet,
is the cry of marauding elephants
grey. heavy. it flattens her.

Parvati, woman of the foothills,
woman of hard hands and bright teeth,
woman who endlessly waits.

woman whose waiting is a wound
that will not let skin
close over it

a wound full of tree, grass, rain
and the smell of mud

woman who bears the hollows in deep places
but feels herself break
with the slow burn, the stench in the night
of things growing old.

Tagged. Tugged.

So Black Mamba tagged me the other day:

Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

I was determined to do this, not only because I like Black Mamba (and I do), but because I had to prove Tabula Rasa wrong; he said BM wouldn’t get a cheep out of me (this childish tit-a-tat has, in fact, gone on since we were about ten. I love it.).

Result: near failure. Not because of my lack of output – though it certainly could be a lot more consistent than it is now – but because I rarely seem to write about anything other than politics and the big bad world outside. Of course, there’s a lot of me in there – the personal is political and vice-versa – but not in ways that are necessarily familiar or familial. sigh. Looking back, I think it was because I was determined, when I started out, not to make this a blog of the kind that led the blog-o-boom: the vicarious exploration of other people’s private lives and lesions. Frankly, I found that sort of blogging both terrifying and self-indulgent. I also felt I had nothing to offer of value online, that could remotely interest a set of unknown readers. Ashwin persuaded me otherwise; a lot of his argument had to do with the description of the blogging community he comes from: the techies. Clearly there was a space for blogging about one’s interests, one’s passions, rather than about oneself.

I realise now that I have – somewhere along the way – gone to the other extreme of the pendulum and am dangling hopelessly from an oblique position of self-denial. I find that many of the blogsters I read, write about themselves and theirs with humour and insight. I kid you not: I *like* reading them! If I don’t see these blogs as self-indulgent, is there possibly space for me to sneak back in a bit of me and mine into this blog? Black Mamba, you didn’t think you’d lead to an orgy of reflexivity now, did ya??

With this long preamble, here’s my meagre offering for the tag.

Family: A bit of a stretch, but to my extended family in Raichur. Also a cheeky aside to my pun-tashtic family (not really a post at all, but wothehell, I love xkcd).

Friend: about a friend in Gujarat, and her struggles with fundamentalisms.

Yourself: a post about ‘being an action hero‘. Also my previous stab at being tagged.

Your love: music and poetry. Unsurprisingly, a post about Gangubai Hangal that conveys both my awe-struck admiration and her comments on caste. And a tribute to Kaifi Azmi.

Anything you like: a whimsical post on Durga Puja and JK Rowling. And a diatribe against the news in India today.

…and I tag those I haven’t tagged before: Anindita (in the spirit of disclosure and familial-ity, my gorgeous sis-in-law who normally tags _me_), Mangs, Lalit and (relatively new) blog buddies: Pranav and Suzanna (whose blog I promised some time ago I would explore, and this is a great way to begin!).

Fat, Feminist and Pink

Hey, so I’m back from a really interesting Multi-Generational Feminist Dialogue, held by CWGL, CREA and Youth Coalition at Rutgers University. Followed by a hysterical performance of Fat, Feminist and Free by Pramada Menon (of CREA) in Noo Yaark.

I certainly will blog about the dialogue over the next few days, but in the meantime, I found that Anindita had ‘awarded’ me with the ‘rockin girl blogger’ title… hmm… what it means to be appreciated by your peers (especially your gorgeous sis-in-law). sniff. 🙂

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So I am proudly – and puckishly – passing it on to:

Bint Battuta (who writes a fascinating blog based in Bahrain, but she’s originally from Bengaluru)

Black Mamba (who’s already had things to say about pink, and this will clearly add to her collection)

DYSfunctional Wisdom (my crazy cousin Divya)

Kauntext {}  (a complex look into identity politics in Gujarat and what that means for Raahi herself; again another Bangalorean friend) and

Refraction (Mangs; co-founder of Blank Noise [update: lowly coordinator, says she!] always with a unique perspective on liff, the universe and everything)

The fear of fundamentalisms

Open Democracy has set up a blog for women’s voices to be represented at the G8 summit, called ‘Open Summit: Women talk to the G8‘. They invited contributions (and are continuing to do so, for those who want to share); this was mine, cross-posted here.

Image courtesy Screen Sifar.

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My day (and sometimes night) job is working with police officers in India on issues of violence against women and children; I coordinate a UNICEF partnership with the Karnataka State Police. One of the most critical aspects of this work is, as Anindita so succinctly described elsewhere on this blog, analysing the impact of our socially entrenched gender-based norms. The lack of value for our girl children – and if they’re lucky, for the women they grow up to be – has meant that we have lost, in our female population, the size of a small to middling European country.

But this post is not about genderocide. It is about that and more. It is about asking our governments – particularly the all powerful G8 – that in this context of ‘terrorism’, of an almost universal culture of production and consumption around ‘fear’ and ‘mistrust’, they analyse honestly and courageously their own contributions to a growing set of fundamentalisms: economic, religious, cultural, social and sexual. Women (and children) are often hit hardest by these fundamentalisms.

Identities are complex; we acknowledge that readily but seem willing to sacrifice that complexity for simplified categorisations and easy classification. More than ever, our language of ‘us’ and ‘them’ divides us over and over again, in the conversations we have, the advertisements we watch, the TV series we devour. And our politicians, our priests, our ulemas, our leaders – those who claim to represent us in all our complexity – speak the language of divisions, of fissures, best of all.

A young Muslim friend of mine lives in Gujarat, India. She explores, every day, what it means to be a woman, a Muslim, a young person, an artist, in the maelstrom of fundamentalism that is the Gujarat of today. She struggles with what it means to be a citizen: either of this country or of the globalised world. What does citizenship mean if you live constantly in the shadow of fear? Not just the fear of physical abuse, but worse still, the violence attached to labels? For her, wearing the hijaab is both an act of courage and an unintended performance: she is just never quite sure of her audience or its response.

There is complexity in hate-mongering too. In India, as possibly elsewhere, it seems as though the language of ‘empowerment’ for women has been claimed and reconstructed to mean ‘power’ rather than ‘dignity’ or ‘equality’ or ‘pluralism’. Not all our women politicians are feminist, and not all our fundamentalists are male.

These are not only issues of government. But they are issues for governments; our states are contributing, in no small measure, to these voices of fundamentalisms, of alienation. And worse still: sometimes it is they who create the vocabulary.

Janmadinnada Subhashagalu, Karnataka…

Or in other words, Happy Birthday, Karnataka, it’s been 50 years since you were born. What do I say to a place that’s been part of my childhood and my growing up, but also reason for my growing away? I love you, but that love is mixed with sadness, with disappointment and anger. If only you would be what most in this state (over 50 million of us) imagine you to be – a place of prosperity and joy, of pluralism and peace. Instead, so many of us live unimagined/unimaginable realities, nightmares rather than dreams.

Still, your people wish you a Happy Birthday. Because you might remember then – or at the very least, the people who claim to govern you might remember – that in your people, is your strength.

Here’s a poem I wrote for my friends (and extended family) in Raichur over ten years ago:

I found words in unexpected places
in Deodurg.
In a small stillness among the cattle feet
In sudden murmurings of water
(subdued but brave)
splintering through a vast yellowness.
I found strength
and a terrible humility
in the spurts of laughter
from tired-lined faces.
In the quietness of discovery
I found words
(and a funny sort of peace)
in Deodurg.