MEMORIES AT THE TIMES OF COVID 19

Keya Dutt

Gabriel Marquez had written about love in the times of Cholera. So did Thomas Mann. But I am certain there are many love stories of the time, I can’t immediately recall writers who can as deftly touch on love. I can think of a letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald sent to me by my friend Bill Haskett from Australia:

A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, QUARANTINED IN 1920 IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE DURING THE SPANISH INFLUENZA OUTBREAK.

 

Dearest Rosemary,

 

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

 

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

 

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.

 

Faithfully yours,

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

Thanks, Bill.

There are many other crises which record the human efforts at conquering what seems like beyond conquering. One of our authors Bharati Asha Sahay is one such person. The co-author of Stirring Times with her father Anand Mohan Sahay she had told me of the times in Japan in the lead up to and during the time in Japan in the Second World War. Rice was their staple food, but not enough was available so they had to eat the rice starch as the soupy food the Japanese were used to.

The interesting feature of lockdown in India which is now staring at lakhs of Covid cases is the mushrooming of home chefs. My cousin has never been a foodie, in fact she was so careless about food that my mother who watched her own children dig in with gusto would mumble sotto voce ‘go easy’; watching my cousin pick her food. That very cousin tells me now that with WFH (Work from Home) with little or no socializing she thinks of food all the time. Another friend tells me he awakes and before quite opening his eyes he thinks of the menus for the meals of the day; and he has always had a nudge/shrug attitude to what he eats. At least such unhealthy food obsession has led to a new profession.

Good thing alcohol ala F. Scott Fitzgerald is not a matter for fixation. I have lost at least one friend to his fascination with alcohol because I as the secretary of an organization that fights substance abuse helped in getting him admitted to the rehab and of course he emerged from the rehab and he and his family eyed me with high suspicion ever since. Money is in short supply, that which is owed is slow in being met and books are the least popular object, so I personally suffer. But those who love their drinks somehow manage to get their hands on alcohol, notwithstanding expenses. So, what are the new professions besides home chefs that the lockdown has given birth to?

Musicians are having a great time; they record at home and upload their music on channels that permit free download or even paying channels. There have been pretty successful music shows with participants from all over the country. The music is only rock and roll, but I like it. Just as the music gets an open-door-air-as-you-will character during the Covid 19 times, radio too gets a push up. Radio stations have suddenly popped up with interesting shows of creativity, for instance my five years old grand nephew Darshan Chankravarty has done programmes of story telling that proved to be a hit among other five year olds. A number of programmes on anti-suicide counselling began on radio and I was shocked to find many who were seriously depressed if not actually contemplating suicide on the various languages radio channels.

However what has got a real fillip in these times are the web series on TV. I have been having a most enjoyable time watching one web series after another. Cinemas are closed, and we who love watching films are now hooked on TV. My youngest niece Niharika Lyra Dutt acting as Sara in Patal Lok made me incredibly proud as India fell for her charm. I like the freedom of the new TV shows, the professionalism of the actors, and the easy fluidity with which a Bengali becomes a Mallu or vice versa.

I wish politicians will find alternate professions. China has (at the cost of sounding like Trump) satisfied its imperialist passions by starting the Covid 19 and unleashing it the world over then they moved into our Ladakh. They actually designed paddle boat thorny gloves, bats et al to beat up our soldiers without actually firing a single gun. Modi who had not so far back hosted Xi and his wife to a splendid show in Gujarat, as usual resorted to silence. At first. Then he gave a timid response that made us all hang our heads in mortification. Now this man needs a career alternative. Or he should listen to Duleswar Tandi who comes from an even more modest background than Modi and raps about how the Government needs to reply. But I speak not only of Modi and his sycophants but all politicians, including Rahul, Trump and the Russian despot. So while the world fights Covid 19 these politicians fight among themselves and does little to improve the country.

What is absolutely galling is Modi and his BJP party prostrating themselves in front of a very good looking idol of who artists think is Ram and proclaiming this is the new independence day. My father and the many who sacrificed much to the run up to independence would be horrified. As am I and many who I know. How dare they! But they need not be taken seriously… fingers crossed…after all the BJP never fought for independence.

So as they say, stay safe, stay at home, wear a MASK.

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Ma-in-law Blues

Keya Dutt

I never thought I would live long enough to witness my son’s wedding. I imagine it is because I lost my mother at an early age and whereas it is the most natural thing in the world to see your child marrying; to me it was not so. Believe me, I would pray to every God known and recorded in history to please keep me alive to witness the event. There is nothing wrong with me I am just a worry bead.

My daughter-in-law Vidya is a Scientist. In a family of writers, actors, filmmakers the sole exception to the rule of the Arts is my cousin who is a Doctor and now, Vidya. Not only is Vidya a Scientist, she has no great love for material things like silks and jewellery; and I just love that. And she is not Bengali, like us. This wedding was an amazing feat of a true Indian affair.

We Bengalis marry in the evenings when the family jewels get an airing, women slap on war paint and admire each other’s possessions in family heirlooms. Vidya being a Tamil, married in the morning. I am not a morning person and I had to be dragged up from bed by my cousin, sisters in law and my nieces, all there to celebrate Neel and Vidya. Of course before I left for Bangalore where they married, I got full blown panic attack and forgot to get all the family heirlooms that needed airing. So sans jewellery, deep gash of lipstick, panda eyes et al, I sat beside my husband in the Arya Samaj tent, fighting sleep, making out one word in ten and whenever people smiled at me, I would beatifically smile back dreaming of when I can hit the bed in the hotel and of course pigging out on the delicious food served by Vidya’s parents. There were forty items for lunch and I could not do justice as I kept thinking longingly of the bed in the hotel. By the evening I threw yet another spanner in the works and refused to dress up and go for the evening party till the kids told me this was Neel and Vidya’s hosting. Yet again I just draped a sari in the rustic fashion and managed to somehow stagger into the garden where they were doing their reception. It was looking so pretty and there were enough fish fries for me to wolf down and cheer up.

The return home to Kolkata was a relief, despite the bad disorganization of taxis and Ubers and Olas. When my new Tamil family and my friends from the world over were due I had recovered somewhat but like a feather I bobbed about saying YES to whoever suggested whatever in the name of traditional rituals. Of course Neel, my son behaved as if we, meaning his birth family were Monsters Inc who Vidya needed protection from and would say a vehement NO to everything we proposed. I don’t know what the traditions were but I was happy to apply whatever anyone suggested. I was lucky the wedding was an Arya Samaj affair, so not too many Bengalee traditions got worked on.

Vidya’s parents and family are strict vegetarians so at home there was vegetarian food cooked separately in the third floor kitchen while the rest of us created mini Auschwitz on our plates gnawing on fish dishes. In the evening was the high point of the festivities. It was my grand nephew’s fifth birthday so we started with him cutting his cake and then his granny just sixty danced with our thirty year old dancer niece. Because Vidya’s parents had made a huge effort to sing Bengali songs, we too made every effort to sing and dance to Tamil songs. AR Rehman to the rescue and we sang and danced to popular Rehman Tamil film songs. And I felt I needed dear Monsters Inc, the very hairy Shah and Mr. Modi present to understand what it is to be secular, to celebrate India as it is meant to be celebrated by our Founding Fathers. But Mr. Modi was busy doing Nero with exotica on gold plated dishes with Chief Orange Head. While the dear hairy one must have been busy helping the Yogi stretch out a gallery of shame of known faces among street protestors and of course, shame (!) the riot in East Delhi.

When will this end? Or will it? Roger Waters of the ‘Brick in the wall’ fame read out the protest verse by Aamir Aziz (if you haven’t heard it go on to YouTube). Yet over 50 were killed while the Neroesque banquet was held some mere miles away. And once again Indian Economics threatened teetering on pre six years blame game. What a shameful phase in our History.

All I can say is we could make up our minds to turn our backs to the violence and wreak vengeance in the only way we can, by seeing to it that all who rule today never return.

And every day in our lives in India we can continue to celebrate being Indian by celebrating our differences. As the wedding where I now realize I was on a high that no high could compare with. I was blissed out in seeing the bliss on my son and daughter-in-law’s faces. I was madly impressed by my new Tamil family and dumbstruck in delight. And most of all I was so very happy being Indian, joyfully and triumphantly partaking in the difference that lay in us belonging to the two different States of our nation.

So to end it I say (to misquote Dylan) ‘mothers and fathers all over this land, don’t criticize what you can’t understand, so just let go and enjoy our differences and marry your kids to those who belong to other States!’

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India

Keya Dutt

It is something I can count on my fingers as being one of the crisis that I have faced as an Indian. One of the very worst that I have witnessed. Today as I write this my rage spills over, it poisons the finger tips it engorges my mind and I feel anger as I have never felt it. This is my India Messer’s Modi and Amit Shah and you will not destroy the fabric of my nation. No, your evil design cannot exist here, you cannot have a nation in which only the Hindu exist. You cannot change the constitution of India. Even if we the older Indian does not put up a fight, the younger Indian, the students of the many universities and colleges of India will not put up with it.

Perhaps if nothing, we have brought our young up well. Or perhaps the young just grew with the best thoughts and ideals, despite us. Certainly, it is despite Modi incorporated. The students have been showing us each day, every hour that this constitution of India AS A BEAUTIFUL SECULAR NATION is not only the pipe dream of Mahatma Gandhi and B.R.Ambedkar. This is not just an impossible dream dreamed by long dead persons but a real belief of the millions of the young who are out in the streets today offering flowers to the very police who have been instructed by their bosses to beat the hell out of those who protest.

How proud I feel of the young students who don’t fear. How proud I am of the students of Jamia Milia who were beaten ruthlessly by those who are to uphold the law in the dark when the lights were switched off and students tried to find shelter in the libraries.

How proud I am of the slip of a girl and the other girls and their professor who were attacked at night at JNU with the same modus operandi, lights switched off, iron rods used to maim, injure and possibly kill while people gathered outside the gate and the police pretended to be upholders of law as they awaited permits to enter the campus.

How proud I am of the people of UP, who despite the terror practiced by the man who dares to wear saffron, slays Muslims, charges them of inciting loot therefore loot their homes to make them pay for the damages in civic life; who still defies the state.

How proud am I of being Indian, despite a government who tries to destroy the very fabric of our belonging and identity.

This is a democracy, if they or the Modi-Shah clique allow our nation to be so.

We are the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic nation as believed in and created by our guiding forces and enforced by the constitution of India.

We shall remain so.

Despite some fly by night governments.

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RAPED AGAIN

Keya Dutt

Patriarchy judges us from birth And our punishment is the violence you see now …

You are the rapist …

(The women of Chile, Santiago)

I was just recovering from reading a news item from USA where an Indian origin girl was raped and murdered because she ignored the cat call of another student, when the latest Nirbhaya 3 occurred in Hyderabad to a vet called Priyanka. It was her faulty scooter that led to her being gang-raped and brutally murdered.

It is a global phenomenon when patriarchy results in rape; listen to the women of Chile, their cry is the appeal to sisters to unite against patriarchy. What is it about the male of the species that they cannot control themselves when they wish to exert their libido? I have seen cats and dogs in heat and seen the males circle the females till they are allowed to mount. No savage attack is tolerated. But what is it about human beings that the males exert themselves, regardless?

In this Hyderabad case, my conjecture is that the girl may have been polite or she may have smiled and been nice to the lorry driver when he offered to help with her scooter, she may have treated him well. In our Indian society generally a male understands one language only or that which is spoken to say, a mad dog. Most men misinterpret politeness as a come-on. I have had it happen to myself or to women I know or hear of. I have often been ticked off for ‘being nice’ and knowing the ways of the Indian male, I have caught myself about to warn others of ‘being nice’. A fairly recent incident comes to mind in illustration of this. A close friend went to an isolated corner of the country as an intern with an NGO. In the course of her stay she was nice to all the males she came across there, particularly one married man with a family who was her colleague in the NGO. The result of her ‘being nice’ was that some months into her work she was almost raped by this man she had drawn close to. When she complained to the head of the NGO, a woman, an inquiry was instituted where to a man all her male colleagues virtually complained ‘she was asking for it by being over friendly’. I assume that was what happened to Priyanka Reddy.

In our Indian society most males see women in three categories. One category is vaguely authoritarian, as their mothers; the second category are the wives, whores and sexual beings; and the third category are for sisters, daughters, etcetera. Of course not all such classifications apply all the time. My aunt who was then in her mid-seventies was once so terrorized by a taxi driver and his lascivious looks at her that poor thing had to stop the taxi, paid off the man and stumbling - walked to safety in the dark, risking a fall. She would easily fall into the first category, but not all men are the same. Yesterday I watched a talk show wherein a sister bitterly complained about her brother’s bossy ways because he objected to her arriving late from work. The brother obviously was worried for his sister’s safety in Delhi the rape capital of India, but she was furious about his objections which is of course a whole other issue but is indicative of the gender war fought at homes.

I have often found the only way to be safe is to sound offensively authoritarian. Men are scared of authority. Which is why laws have to be harsh and legal actions against rapists have to be fast tracked. But all that is after the act. How do we then prevent rape?

Education is the only way forward. My son who is feminist feels sex education is the only answer. But proposing that to our parliamentarians is like showing a red rag to a bull. Seven years ago when the brutal Nirbhaya case occurred, Parliament members attacked each other over the question of sex education. Nothing happened. Instead Nirbhaya funds were created to be used by each state, now after the Priyanka case in Hyderabad it was unofficially admitted that most states did not use the funds. Why? Is it because the incidence of cruel and brutal attacks on females ceased? Obviously the priorities changed, states did not think it necessary to take action against males, the focus was the threat, but where was the threat? It is never in your face, it hides behind the apparent innocence of a fourteen year old who turns out to be one of the most brutal attackers among the rapists, playing with her intestines, sodomizing her with pipes and other such inhuman acts. How can a concerted effort be made to target such young adults, other than through education?

It is the home where the females have no voice, where random discrimination is the norm it is here that the brutality that lies in the attack on the females is prevalent. As the women from Chile sing in protest.

And the film censorship board should take account of those films in which it is considered permissible to tease women, to denigrate women. I am against censorship of all kinds. But if there is a censor board, use it, damn it! How long are we women to walk with fear in this the country which is not for us?

As we go into print, I hang my head in shame as the four rapists were killed in what is now becoming common among those who uphold the law – or encounter killing. The police drummed up some story about how the four were taken at the crack of dawn to recover evidence, it was said that they tried to make a run for it and were killed by the cops. It is more of the machismo of patriarchy that is at work here. It is the complete lack of policing that is evident here.

Where do we go, India?

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Our lovable Naru

Keya Dutt

Dear Mr. Modi.

Congratulations.

You are the epitome of he who Gandhi described as the evolving spirit. The Gandhi I refer to is the father of our nation India and not to be mistaken with he who is called so by Chief Orange Top. Dear Naru you began as a politician of the garden variety, but you are evolving to be a great statesman. I tell you friends, watch this space. The more visits he makes to the lands which had once withheld permit to visit, the more he gains in stature. Truly. Now he is to do what he had once, no twice done before, or to become the rock star politician once again. Yes, there he goes hand in hand with other thoroughly disliked politicians, fellow despot. Before him the carrot Naru, dear Naru dangles of course is the electoral strength of the Indians in UK or USA to promise the disliked politicians they will be whitewashed in the future elections till all voters of the brown faced ilk vote for them. Look Ma see how those who immigrated and went to lands faraway to increase their personal wealth; see Ma see how they celebrate their kitsch they call Indian culture punctuated with calls of ‘Modi! Modi’ see Ma, see Naru dance and cutely curtsy, see Naru push the disliked one forward, grinning ear to ear. See Ma, how the moth turns to butterfly and tell all Indians how to bow scrape to the figure Naru created with the help of his fiend Amit Goebbels.

So, the economics is in shambles? How, pray is magician Modi to wave his magic wand and pull up the trillion dollar bunny to jump up the many rungs and perch on the trillion dollar mark? The economy is badly scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of something, anything, to flip up the finances. Poor Nirmala akka is throwing caution to the wind as she regroups the banks so they may creep up to reach a trillion, no, three trillion mark. Look Ma, look at Naru twirling on the pogo stick as he goes ‘Ray!Ray! Nirmala!’ to show us demonetization jaded Indians. Every ten days or so Nirmala akka finds yet another cause to explain the faltering finances. Blaming the millennia for refusing to buy cars and riding app cabs thus breaking down the demand for cars, no wonder the demand for cars has crashed, says Nirmala akka, with knotted brows visibly wondering how the 3 trillion mark be achieved.

And look Ma, don’t cry for Kashmir. 80+ politicians there are doing all sorts of bad things, even though we are gradually inching towards the 50 days mark of blanket bans on what we imagined to be our moral right as democratic freedom; the right to free speech, free movement and freedom from fear. No, Ma watch us punish the bad Kashmiris for taking our taxed money and doing bad, bad things which Doval is now trying to stop. O Ma, watch dear Modi grin from ear to ear and promise us a 3 trillion economy in which bad Kashmiris remain cowering indoors go … poof, and now they are gone!

Dear Modi Sir, you are so very nice and kind and I do love your grin as you rap Amit Goebbles on his fatty knuckles not happy that he had suggested ONLY suggested that Hindi be the language of choice in one language India. Dear Sir, will you please stop your obedient One in outing all you discussed in private and setting the nation on fire? I mean what do we do with NRC? I love the anagrams we Indians enjoy I mean does NRC mean national racist count? It is coming to your city as we speak. So do not fear, fear (to quote Shakespeare) approacheth us, right now. Even as Naru twirls in his now sartorial style of bandhgala kurta and shows the world his kind face, his statesman stature; even as he does that which his Amit Goebbels does what his Master desires in private.

And one day soon we shall awake to find we have no democracy, for what is done in Kashmir today, will be so easily replicated in any part of India anywhere.

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Five years old…

Keya Dutt

How did the electorate vote for one single party and leave no opposition? As if the electorate was a five year old, the BJP convinced us that there was no other option or alternative. The reason I did not write immediately about the elections after it was over was I was overwhelmed by the sheer horror of being ruled by one single party with no opposition. It was beyond comment. Like a five year old we Indians are to be the charming child like persons who accepts all that is presented in the Lok Sabha and frighteningly perhaps, given the situation, Rajya Sabha too. Who knows? Maybe the constitution will be changed and no one will or can protest. Because who will listen to the mewling cries of a barely heard child?

What lies ahead for India? Arundhati Roy, the author had said when asked before the elections whether the country is headed for complete anarchy? Her reply had been from chaos shall come order. Wish I was as cheerfully optimistic.

I met this girl in her early 20s recently. Bhavya is her name. She is not an activist. Nor does she belong to any political party; but she is very like what we were when we were her age. Just a home grown believer in our country, India, she is. This in itself was not only surprising but truly reassuring. She told me of how she travelled the length and breadth of this country on trains. She enjoyed the manner in which the topography changed and the temperature and the general attitudinal changes – for instance the quiet nature of those from deep south and the natural aggression of those from up north. Bhavya loved how the foods changed too, the slightly sweet foods of Gujarat to the evil heat of the bhoot jhaloks of Nagaland. But the story she narrated was what put into a word picture of what a number of us worry about – communal disharmony.

Once Bhavya was travelling up from the Deep South. Her fellow travelers were a family of those who we call Tam-Brams or Tamils who are Brahmins and who proudly display their caste signs, from the marks on the foreheads to nose rings on both nostrils and other such flaunting of show and tell themes. Sometime later the train slowed gradually drawing up at a brief stop in an unheard of place. A Muslim couple clambered up, the woman in a full burkha and the bearded man with his skull cap. They rushed to the Tam-Bram family. They hugged, babbling in Tamil at the top of their happy voices, they exchanged gifts and left before the train gathered speed from the brief stop. Bhavya was left wondering on how beautiful is our India, where despite all outward appearances of emphatic difference between Hindus and Muslims we are still Indians at heart.

I loved the story this 20 year old recounted of an incident that occurred despite the BJP, the RSS and the crazed cow vigilantes. It gave me hope, even if I see that not all is as wonderful. Even if I am not a cheerful optimist like Arundhati Roy. How can one be hopeful in a country where one party rules and there is no opposition party of any strength. I am forced to rely on the severely dwindling Congress, the apparently deranged rants of Mamata, the-I will-I-won’t variety of Mayawati’s politics and I can go on and on about how defenseless and fearful I feel. At least I can trust Owaisi to make a din about some issue and he it is who the ruling party still seem wary of. But the divisive nature of BJP is such that cow vigilantism still matches loud voice with ugly cries of singing the praises of a God who is actually known from 10th Century onwards, through Tulsidas for the godly empathy.

Recently a friend sent me a song recorded by Remo Fernandez a person who was once known for his songs that had little to with social consciousness. This song rued the land called India where the fierce hatred of communalism displays itself daily.

How do I stay afloat on dreams that are the India that my father dreamed of? My father Dhruba Kumar Dutt had been jailed by the Brits and did his graduation from prison, for he and his cell mates had dreamed of a free and peaceful India. RSS who did not have any such dream, in fact they sent a Nathuram Godse to shoot Gandhi because he championed the cause of the Muslims.

That’s why I rely on history. This issue of the Magazine has Shona Adhikari’s article on Bhopal where the Begums ruled. This records a rule of not only (horror of horrors) of women but of Muslim women. There is nothing better to cheer me up than reading this. And proof that everything passes is in the ghost story by Dorothy Sawyer. Of course what cheers me up and immeasurably so is the serial novel Indigo by Paul Teake which bears proof that however awful the present, history has proved that nothing lasts forever. The magazine also carries a translation of a hundred year old recipe from Binapani Mitra. Enjoy.

This issue of the website introduces the first ebook or the first electronic rendition of Tagore’s ghost stories. I hope you enjoy this too.

Even if the present is not exactly the most hopeful, I should continue to hope through this website.

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Elections (Or what a strange world is this)

Keya Dutt

The other day I received a hilarious few lines about a lion king who roared and shouted of his achievements (mostly fake of course) in the five years as the lion king of the animal kingdom. His most trusted aide, an orangutan helps adjust the lion king mask and unwittingly reveal the king was a monkey all along, who often lectured his ‘Mon key Baat’ in hopes of winning another term in office. The writer ends with an apology to all monkeys pleading they don’t imagine the lines were directed at any monkey king, masquerading as lion.

Don’t you wish you had written this? I certainly did. This election season is marked by wits, the witty comments and hilarious sayings by the electorates. Not those standing for elections, though.

For instance Rahul Gandhi jokes that Modi is the Chowkidar of the nation. Instantly Modi and BJP arrange for large rallies of Chowkidars. It is as if the entire nation is being held at ransom because he has been called a Chowkidar. There is no humour in the man Modi, except when he needs to laugh at disabilities, at one of his heart to hearts with schoolchildren Modi chortles at a crack he made about dyslexics. It is shocking how we have allowed this man to rule over us, threaten to change the Constitution, refuse to reply to questions asked beyond the script and what is worst put Indians against Indians by putting religious groups at loggerheads.

It is heartening to see Advani a man in his late years, in fact Ninety One and he who has been pushed aside; refuting Modi’s declared statement that those against the BJP are anti-nationals. But Advani is known for his forked tongue. And his Masjid wrecking.

Why have we put up with the badgering of the BJP without complaining for five years? It is because the Congress did not give us a reliable alternative. The dirty tricks department of the BJP has come up with much to discredit the Congress; the hilarious recent one is accusing the ‘fam’ of corruption. What is ‘fam’? They hope it is the anagram of family (please insert mental smiley’s). But there have been many a rumour about the manner in which the Nehru-Gandhis have been accruing their wealth through generations, not the least of which is the Hindi film villain – ilk Robert (pronounced RAB-ert). But then there are many more skeletons rattling within the loosely locked cupboards of the ‘fam’.

So, where do we stand? Vote for the persons you trust will work for you; forget about the party he/she belongs to. Perhaps a coalition could be a choice.

We should think about preparing lessons for political persons teaching them the Constitution of India, fundamental lessons in honesty and refuse to vote for persons who are in politics for personal gain. Schoolchildren can be selected to teach politicians value education. And remember let us vote for only those who have a sense of humour.

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Pulwama – Kashmir

Keya Dutt

I shocked myself in reacting with vengeful thoughts after Pulwama. It is true that we Indians are reacting just as we did on 26/11 when the Taj hotel in Mumbai was attacked by Pakistani terrorists.

I was horrified by my thoughts. But then, just as we are wont to, we forgive ourselves for our uncharitable thoughts. Yes, the public memory being short, vengeful actions began to lessen; other news items came up for our edification, despite groups trying to keep alive Pulwama.

Then in the midst of all the stories of xenophobic jingoism among raggedy groups with saffron banners and headbands who attacked and threatened all, including persons like Sania Mirza. She has always done more for our country than any of these warring groups who bay at the gates demanding persons with a Pakistani connection leave the country.

The onslaught on rational thought was reminiscent of the early days of BJP and Modi’s rule, when anyone who dared to question a simple fact such as why did Modi and his party spend lakhs to organize Madison garden and other foreign venues for Modi speeches; became deshdrohis. Or anti nationals. Gradually, persons such as I began pulling back on our mind’s reins of offensive belligerence. That may be the reason Pulwama reactions became tempered. We Indians found a surfeit of screaming out our patriotic beliefs becoming a little too noisy.

We remembered our fear to speak honestly in case the troll brigade attacked us. It is not too long ago that we were a divided nation, suspicion ruled the roost. Persons feared their friends if questions were raised. And we hear of how the troll brigades are harassing Kashmiris or those who try to say logical things like poor Sidhu.

Former Heads of Army or RAW expressed how perplexed they were as to why the road the CRPF was travelling on was not properly sanitized, or why were they not flown to Srinagar. Questions were being raised as to why the very successful CRP venture to train young Kashmiris from the Pulwama district in football was suddenly halted when the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti set up their governance. Queries were being made as to why the local Government turned a blind eye to the huge cache of drugs entering from Pakistan and flooding Pulwama.

Nothing distracts better than a good war. The PM of Pakistan, Imran knows that and he gave a ‘we will give as well as we get’ speech. This, after the Saudis gave Billions to them and China as always spread an umbrella of protection refusing to call out Jaish being harbored by Pakistan. And most of all, for an anti war person like myself, what is happening now is frightening. How brave is the widow of a martyred CRPF who has said she is against war. Of course she has been attacked by trolls. But truly, I agree with the widow to ask where does this end? I read that the educated and young in India are completely against war. But can we influence the Government to end war? Pakistan has to return our Jawan and it is time we say that our plan to teach the Jaish a lesson is over. Now can we please return to sanity?

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Raped

Keya Dutt

Women are now emerging from the shadows to speak of the abuse they have experienced, to talk of their hurt, their shame. The #ME TOO movement and the ramifications, here in India began with Tanushree Dutta. Kudos to her for speaking up about a well known actor who had touched her wrongly some years ago. But this led to the conflicting reports in the media of a deeply divided nation, mostly revolving around the delay in reporting the matter. Women live in a man’s world and it is not easy to immediately come out with uncomfortable truths in a patriarchal society. I say so from experience.

Some weeks back my brother Avijit Dutt, an actor, playwright and a stage director, called me from Delhi to clarify a few things to help him complete the script he was writing. It was a script on abuse in childhood. And he took me aback by openly mentioning, what I had thought was my dirty secret. That which I had not come out with at the time or even in the subsequent years, until recently.

As a nine year old I had been raped by a trusted family servant. All I remembered of that incident was the revolting smell of bidis, coconut oil and a hurt between my legs. Years later as I was preparing to be a counselor for the NGO I volunteer with, I went through psychological assessment. To my utter shock I burst into tears when I suddenly recalled that which I had suppressed for so long. The rape. To my horror it was like an old film un-reeling. All the painful details I had suppressed came back to me. I realized why, like any person raped had gone through all the classical symptoms all my life, without understanding why; the anger, the absolute shame, the guilt, the unending rage, the confusion, the lifelong fear, the guilt.

When on top of all that the rapist threatened that he would kill me and my mother if I dared to tell her, I swore never to tell anyone. In fact in my late teens when my mother died of stomach cancer, at the back of mind, I blamed myself.

I was horrified to learn that my brother as a child had also been inappropriately touched by the same man. We don’t usually think boys can be raped or inappropriately touched. But after my brother told me, I thought of the Church abuse and how the Pope requests all Catholics to pray that Satan does not work his evil any more. What does one do if one does not believe in Satan? Over the phone I told my brother I want to kill the rapist. But then I corrected myself. I felt the man ought to be named and shamed so he cannot repeat his abuse.

That is exactly what is happening now. Women are naming and shaming the abusers and the harassers. In the West the boys who had been abused have complained to their Church. But why do the young male actors in India who are abused by Directors not raise their voices too? At least then the social media won’t have messages circulating about ‘No man is safe from #METOO accusers’. Of course they are not safe, because their birth families did not bring them up to respect women and now that some women are finding their voices the men are afraid. Of course the men, who have gone scot free so far, fear that things may not be so easy now that the voices are raising their volume. If men speak of their abuse #METOO need not be restricted to women only.

Abused children grow up to be abusers themselves; or they are bullied all their lives and believe they deserve the bad treatment. ‘Despicable Me’ is not a patch to what the abused feel about themselves. And the abused are frequently facing abuse in their lives they are physically threatened with violence in words and acts and don’t have the courage to walk away.

Yet what is shocking is that many women are loud spokespersons against #METOO. Is it because the rapists are not just the economically depressed men, as in the case of Nirbhaya? I received a WhatsApp message today depicting an obviously wealthy woman, filmed among her riches threatening women who are in the #METOO movement that such women will create problems in industries because men will not employ any women in the future. Such empty headed patriarchal and insensitive women should shut up.

Meanwhile my brother Avijit Dutt staged his play 9.45 Ki Express Ki Citee which is about Child Rights and child abuse at the Habitat Centre last month.  I request that like my brother other men like him to come out and appeal for justice. My brother’s play was to a packed house and I do hope that many got the message. But what we need is an enraged protest as it happened in the Nirbhaya case. So that awareness and sensitivity increases.

 Rape needs to be outed, however many years ago.

 

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India: Feminism and after

Keya Dutt

In the 80s I was going around doing street theatre protesting against patriarchy and championing for the equal rights for women. I had decided in my mind that all women are friends and all men, the opposite of that in the patriarchal traditional society I lived in. Of course life is not as simplistic. . . I found at the time several men among actors in the play and viewers of the street theatre who were as passionate about equal rights. Later, as life went along I realized not everything is black and white. Truthfully, patriarchs could be well educated young men in cities who try to kidnap and rape, as it happened with Varnika Kundu. Or it can mean any male. And all too frequently, it can mean a woman, particularly an older woman.

And such anomalies pop up all the time. For instance, my son is a true feminist, my aunt is not. This shakes my belief that women will always support other women. I have found bonding and a united approach among women in their 20’s and 30’s.  And every time I see it, I rejoice silently. It seems that I was right all my life in my belief. But then along comes an encounter with an older woman and I am shaken in my belief. Like my aunt when confronted by the Varnika Kundu news item quietly muttered, ‘she was asking for trouble for being out that late.’ Hence the Cinderella allegory. If one analyses the Cinderella story, good girls don’t fly in the face of male social order by staying out late wearing fairy clothes. Men make such comments as do women of a certain age.  Ironically such older women may work in the sector of women’s study but are deeply antagonistic towards women on the whole. Particularly when it comes to younger women, such women may or may not admit they agree with the men in upholding the Cinderella allegory. By and large such older women say they are helping girls in general when they echo the male dictum – ‘don’t go to such and such localities, don’t stay out after dark, don’t wear this or that.’ The admonitions and bans by these women are in fact more extensive than those of the male counterparts. Ironically the same older women frequently make a study of gender issues.

Traditionally one hears of mother-in-law, sister-in-law confrontations with the new bride of the son of the family. This is borne out by TV serials and / or movies. Girls are permitted to wear tamer versions of the bad girl clothes, till they marry. Traditional clothes become their clothes of choice along with the traditional behavior patterns after marriage. And traditional domestic strife over the son of the family is a theme so common that it becomes a bore. This might be seen as the tussle for power in the family. The more traditional families may still subject themselves to such power plays but the bride is now fast becoming friends with the sisters–in-laws. However the mothers in the traditional families … they compete for the affection of the son by means fair and foul; such as preparing food that he prefers, shoving  his baby pictures on to him and do such things to ensure she remains in her position. In nontraditional families, even if the two family units live apart, the psychological warfare between the older woman and the younger one continues in a subtle manner. This warfare is conducted more by the older woman than the younger one. This may consist of criticizing the bride for being not traditional enough or too traditional. I have heard a mother-in-law complain bitterly about how the son’s wife idolizes her own mother.

I have heard that women are their own enemies. Is it competition, such as trying to get the attention of a male – in a version of the male bar brawl? I think we have some years on the Feminism front to contain same sex aggression. And it is the younger women who are showing the path to a happier co-existence. In fact, why just women? Men too are marching to a different tune, at least the younger men. So, viva la difference and viva ‘I aint Cinderella’ movement.

Seventy years we are independent, but women are still treated as unequal citizens. But as I was saying just yesterday, despite politicians we Indians are beating a progressive path. At least young Indians are. Especially the young Indian.

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