Sunday, October 21, 2012

Freedom at?

Midnight, 1947, August, we awoke while the world slept. We were born in tough times and our history is intricately sewn into the fabric of our nation, our diverse yet united nation, as the cliche goes. We have our flaws and our strengths. We are all different, and that's how we're the same.

What is freedom? Freedom, to me, is a golden trove of coins guarded by the dragons of toil and  strength. Freedom means responsibiltiy. Freedom means doing what is right even when no one is watching. Freedom is taking control and responsibility for your actions, for better or worse.

I am a feminist, as any acquaintance of mine can quickly gather. What does being a feminist mean today? Coming from a bustling metropolis, the image of an equal female Homo Sapiens is as common as the potholes on the road. What more could a woman want today, you ask? Has she not got all the freedom she could never have dreamed off in centuries?

You are right, my honourable reader, she has got more freedom today than her grandmother. She has far more respect in this country than in others. In every industry, her presence is accepted, whether grudgingly or not is another matter. What more can she want?

As you read this, if you feel that, yes feminism is unnecessary today, let me put a little perspective. As you read the preceding lines, did you feel, yes she has enough freedom? Enough respect? There is a problem there am afraid, you cannot actually decide how much freedom, it's really an all-or-none principle.

This post is purely personal, a reflection of my thoughts, some of these opinions are even against those of my close kith and kin, but am fortunate enough to experience that much freedom of expression in this blogosphere. Also, I am talking about my experience alone, I am not talking about the various issues of female foeticide or something I have not seen first hand, these are merely the shackles that bind me.

I have always had questions since I was small. Why? Why? Why? My parents were always patient with all my questions and never said they were too busy. If they found some question awkward or inappropriate, they would divert my attention (which was pretty easy!) , one of the most striking question-answer session surfaces to my mind. My father was expressing contempt at some young girl for coming home alone and late. I asked him, doesn't he always do that? You can imagine how the conversation went, perplexing my eight-year old mind, asking what was the problem if a woman wore no jewellery to attract theives or something?

I am a little more than a decade older and I have a new confusion on the topic. How can a soceity that has such a complex evolution from one of the oldest civilisations, right from Indus Valley, be so corrupt, selfish and unsafe for women? Why are we honed as rubies to be kept away from contempating eyes, locked away from the world, presented at appropriate occassions? Why do we need protection? Why does my father get tensed when I take public transport? Why is our clothing scrutinied by a pseudo-criminal eye before we step over the Lakshman Rekha of our homes? Why are single scientists and entrepreneurs looked down upon with more scorn than their male counterparts?

Why am I always dependent on some other?

I cannot tell someone I will be here at this point in time, It involves a complicated beauracratic process that will do a job-scheduling algortihm with resources, time and priority in question. This dependence irks me. When I went to attend tuition in high school, if it became late, it was the responsibility of my best friend to protect me. A girl's image is to be protected, for society loves whip-lashing its tongue over what it perceives a girl has done wrong, and what's worse blame her parents for it. She shoulders a lot of responsibility and respect but minimal freedom of expression, atmost she can expect a few consoling words from those close to her.

Broad daylight is too narrow.

And I need not even get started on the online arena, online security is the norm. Many girls, even today, shy away from Facebook and other social networking sites altogether. Photos are dangerous. If you have a profile picture and God help you if your photo has 100 likes, you will get friend requests from Pune to Madurai. On an aside, why would I accept a friend request from Naan Kettavan?

What should I do? Should I hide in the deepest dungeons of Snape, attain a society-approven pale colour when I do not allow even light to enter my life? Should I look ugly (more than I am anyway ;-) ? Should I wear clothes that will drive people as far as they would go if they met Pumbaa in the morning?

I want to be the one to walk in the sun. I do not want umbrellas, I do not want bodyguards, I do not want guardian angels. I present myself in a way that commands respect but still hints of an air of approachability. I acknowledge this is a personal line I draw for what I deem presentable may seem modern to others, its an issue that can be debated for hours, clothes. 

When there are no men to attack and no men to protect and no men to tell you what they decide is the norm for society - women as fair as snow, working as teachers, that day will be my independence day.

Ok, I've been pretty serious all this while and I really doubt many people would have come so far, but if you have, I want to firstly thank you. I am practical, I do not expect this Utopian state in my lifetime. What can I do now to be independent? I hold my head up high. I love pink and Dragon Ball Z. I like Anchor stitch kits and Age of Empires. I like all sorts of things that do not stereotype me a feminist/tomboy/girly-girl. I want to get my license to drive first, I want to stop depending to an extent possible, I want to do so many things. On the bright side, ever since I've joined college, the birthplace of my first brush with freedom, I've been enjoying a different kind of freedom and responsibility which escalated to a new level on this blog. I really think and believe that online is where the next feminist movement will be, and for a change, not by men like Raja Rammohun Roy, but by ordinary average yet relatively empowered girls, my freedom fighters.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Casual Vacancy - Review

The newest J.K. Rowling book released on my birthday and some of my most awesome friends gifted it to meand I couldn't keep my nose out of it until the last page.

First things first, this book is big. It will take time. I started reading Harry Potter when I was 10 and a decade later, legally an adult, I personally cringed in horror in the beginning few pages. It was like a jolt, a Universe that decided to flip 180 degrees, I simply could not bring myself to believe that the same hand that wrought unspeakable volumes of child-like innocence could wield these words.

I ought to have been prepared for it obviously. So I decided I will wipe away my fond memories of Harry, who I think is the best example of a person, for the duration of "The Casual Vacancy". I forced myself to see this in a new light.

What I liked about the book was the brutal face of honesty. It explored complex issues from the eyes of the victim. Racism, child abuse, work stress, secrets, problems, politics, teenage abuse, online abuse, dyslexia, sibling rivalry, urban-rural divide, arranged marriage vs. love marriage, religious tolerance, the list is endless. It was a mini-UK in one. The complexities of the human mind and characters were poignantly drawn out. For the first time, the reader got a glimpse of the story through many characters as compared to simply following Harry.

Barry, a politician of note in a small town called Pagford, dies unexpectedly leaving the casual vacancy. The story revolves around the election and the people behind it. The racing narrative slowly unveils Pagford, scenic, yet steeped in mystery. Children play a significant role behind the scenes. Suddenly, this quaint town, which boasts of few mobile users, is attacked by SQL injections and the website is inundated with posts from "The Ghost of Barry" which reveal truths that Pagford society has swept under the carpet. Parminder Jawanda, the much-hyped Indian character has an underachieving child, Sukhvinder. The story of the mother's campaign is strongly interwined by Sukhvinder's desire to be loved openly by her mother and her inability to confide about the cyber-bullying she is subjected to. Krystal Weedon, a sixteen year old, is also an important child, brought up in questionable parentage, socially outcast, Barry gives her something to strive for, by putting her on the rowing crew. Krystal and Sukhvinder become fast friends on the crew. The other two children, Fats and Arf, I'll let the reader discover who they are.

One character I liked a lot was Kay. Kay is a new comer to Pagford who works against child abuse. She is in charge of the Weedons for a while, unsatisfied with how Terri Weedon is taking care of her son, Robbie, she threatens to take the child away. Krystal intervenes and a special bond is built. Kay is brought to Pagford by Gavin, who both refuses to commit or leave her, which he eventually does later on. In the end when he does try to come back, we see a stronger Kay, saying goodbye.

The end revolves around who wins, who is the ghost, what happens to Sukhvinder's dreams, to many other people I haven't mentioned simply because the plot is too complicated and I don't want to overwhelm this post.

When I read this book, I feel J K Rowling's signature style, that magic of words. I think her work at Amnesty International helped her to flesh out Kay. She makes us stare at the jarring face of reality head on. But the bottom-line is, as complex and myriad the narration was, as connected and cohesive the plot was, there was a casual vacancy in my heart, at the sadness in the story, an overdose of reality, the snatching away of a promise that all's well that ends well. It does end well, not that well, and that is how I felt.