Monday, 7 April 2014

HOME AND THE WORLD: When misogyny from within one's family, rather than the outside world forces to choke the life out of the gutsy feminist.

Dear Reader, it is not easy being a woman. It is even more difficult to be a young woman who is not a significant contributor to the financial standing in one's family...It is also excruciatingly painful to have brilliant liberal and supportive parents but a vile and misogynistic extended family.

My parents have always encouraged me to think for myself and be honest in my dealings with others, yet I ask you Dear Reader, is it really possible to be honest when social conventions force us to be nice to those who clearly hate us and make us miserable?

 In India, family and family values are considered paramount. In a culture that places huge importance in the collective that is the 'Great Indian Extended Family', it is hard to ignore family members who have the capacity to leach every single drop of joy from your body with derisive glances and cutting words. As a 'well brought up young woman' one is expected to show every modicum of civility to them as 'the parent's honour depends upon it'.

It is a frustrating conundrum Dear Reader, why is having a vagina in the 'Great Indian Bourgeois Family' an open invitation to disapproval, constant criticism about behaviour / cooking skills / lifestyle / body / opinions etc? I will probably be embarrassed when I read this post in future, but I have a confession...I know what it is like to feel as low as it is humanly possible. In a culture where a woman's opinions have no weightage or are considered insignificant, I feel doubly frustrated. As hosts, we are taught to be gracious, but being insulted by various family members constantly in front of one's parents as well as behind the scene is excruciating at so many different levels.

As a highly educated feminist, one can't help but chafe under the restrictions, good manners and certain unavoidable circumstances puts one under. Yet, there is another being that lives within this highly educated feminist; the daughter, who feels guilty at causing pain to the said brilliant, liberal and supportive parents who place a lot of store into good manners. By indulging in impulsive, reactionary and insulting put downs that the horrid relatives deserve, I  would only expose my parents to ridicule from their siblings/in laws and lead to further embarrassment. Thus, sadly, in this struggle, the highly educated feminist loses to the daughter.

However, it is important that I share my realisation with you my Dear Reader, cynical though it may seem.... The road to freedom, equality and respect it is still an extremely daunting and difficult one, when our own kin stand in the way, presenting us with debilitating psychological hurdles, that are perhaps tougher than breaking down the walls that society places in front of all of us dedicated to the feminist cause. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Oh Calcutta......Soul city..... City of I love thee!

New Market

Dear Reader, Kolkata on the surface is a dirty, slightly dilapidated, overcrowded city, but it has SOUL...and what a luminous soul it is....One that has survived centuries of the Raj, Riots and the languid indolence of the 'Bhadralok'; the bourgeois snobs, who live their lives entirely disconnected with society......

The heat and humidity are nearly unbearable, to even one such as yours truly, so used to the dusty and torrid embrace of the Delhi summers.Yet Dear Reader, Kolkata still manages to capture you. I love this city. My love affair with this metropolis began at the age of six, when I first came here for a visit. I was one of those kids who would tag along with uncles and aunts and end up visiting places. On that occasion, I tagged along with my uncle, my mother's younger brother who was on his way to the city. Back then she was Calcutta and one of my most poignant childhood memories is crossing in front of the Victoria Memorial at 5 am. The first rays of the sun turned the marble monument into gold, a sight, not many have the privilege of seeing. I remember, my indulgent uncle made the cabbie stop for a while right in front of the gate and in hindsight probably ran up the cab fare to more than it should have been. That was the moment I fell in love with Calcutta.

The Victoria Memorial
Imagine the sight Dear Reader, a looming white marble monument suddenly appearing out of the January mist, and then catching fire and turning into molten gold as the rising sunlight caressed it's white and pristine beauty. For my six year old self  it was an enchanted fairy castle which had appeared out of the mist by magic. I remember how my uncle entertained me and the cabbie with tall tales of fairy princesses, kings, queens, wizards and chariots of fire that he swore revealed the castle's true golden hue as they circled it... It is one of my most treasured memories; we returned that evening and we went around the monument in a horse drawn phaeton. You can well imagine Dear Reader, how special that day was, I truly felt like a princess.

Alas, I am not six anymore, and Calcutta is now Kolkata,  however, I have still managed to retain my impression of the city...A city of princes and paupers...a city of dreams mired in bleak reality. It is mystifying how Calcutta has managed to retain it's unique verve through the ages.

Park Street
One of my favourite places in the city, Park Street stands sentinel to nearly 300 years of history and Calcutta's existence. It is like a faded, unwashed cousin of the gorgeous Regent Street in London, littered with charming book shops and patisseries choc-a-block with government and corporate offices; and yet, beneath all the grime and surprising vines and creepers, you can spy the marble cherubs, the muses and the griffins. The beautiful detail work on the columns and the topmost fa├žades of the buildings, reveal the regal beauty of the architecture of  a bygone era.    
The Standard Life Assurance Building

This Dear Reader, is Calcutta's soul, resilient and charming, like that beautiful and graceful old lady whose features make it apparent of her youthful beauty that refused to fade beneath the wrinkles brought on by age. She is gracious and gentle, commanding respect and full of stories and tales of the past, yet still, her relevance and presence provides a balm to the chaotic 21st century nomad.
The General Post Office Building