Friday, August 31, 2018

A story: Of four women on a road trip in India

"If you need soda or sprite for the evening, please get it when you go to the waterfall." informed the caretaker of the homestay when we checked in. 

It was almost time for lunch. The plan was to explore Elle Neer waterfall before sunset.

The caretaker's  simple and matter of fact suggestion implied that we may be pouring a glass or two of our chosen poison at the end of the day.

So what's the big deal?

Nothing, really. No big deal.

But there's a reason why I'm sharing this here on my blog today.

Let me explain.

Almost a month ago, I read Deepa Krishnan's facebook post of 21st July 2018. Her post was about the "singular lack of multiple narratives about Indian women" vis-a-vis women's safety in India. Krishnan had shared this Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's famous TED talk video focussing on the "danger of a single story" and written, "If you keep telling one story it becomes the defining image of a people." on her post.
Something in those lines nudged me to tell my story, our story: a simple story of four ordinary Indian women travelling from Bangalore to Kudremukha for a weekend to trek, to share dreams and disappointments, to laugh out loud, to make fun of each other, to plan the next rendezvous, to enjoy delicious food, to sip fresh filter coffee in the morning and vodka tonic in the evening, to ask for spicy peanuts to go with the drinks in the evening as easily as demanding (politely, of course) bhajias with coffee. 

Some of you who've read the last para may think: so what's the big deal? Where is the story? 

And therein lies my point. There is no story to spin. Four of us: all women, travelled in a car driven by a woman, found a beautiful home-stay to spend two nights, trekked a bit, got very, very wet under a waterfall, got bitten by leeches, cackled over silly jokes and then travelled back to our homes, lives, jobs, husbands, children etc. --all in one piece without a single man bothering us in any shape or form. 

The roads were Indian and the humans who guided us to step carefully over slushy mud to see a gorgeous horizon or to bathe under a thunderous waterfall were men (yes, Indian)--gentle, kind, caring men. Indian men cooked delicious dosas and prepared hot steaming coffee on demand and served us our food with a smile. 

The humans who sat and chatted on the little porch overlooking the gorgeous green and grey of tea gardens smothered in fog were all men, too: c0-owners of the home-stay called Thengaali. They were happy to receive feedback on how to make their place even more comfortable for future guests from our group of four women. Apu pointed out that they should put extra hooks for clothes in their bathrooms. They nodded and promised they'd get that sorted.

This is the 'other' story--the one that is repeated day in and day out in streets and on roads of India but never ever gets reported. Why? Is it because it's inconsequential? Or, perhaps, it's not spicy enough to sell?

Of course, there are exceptions. There are parts of India where we're less likely to travel like we did from Bangalore to Kudremukha. Those kind of places and areas exist in every nook and city of this world--from Chicago to Birmingham to Jakarta. Common sense should be the first thing you pack when you plan a holiday whether you're a man or a woman. 

There are states in India where the caretaker will not be happy to serve you sprite or soda with vodka--whether you're a man or a woman.

There are men who'll be reading this post and wondering how my husband allows me to go off gallivanting with my girlfriends like this.

There are women who'll be reading this post and wondering the same. Perhaps there will be more women than men. I don't know.

Perceptions and prejudices are part and parcel of the human story. I'm not an expert but I'd say prejudices and perceptions are evolutionary tools that helped us get to where we are today. One perceived danger and avoided it. Over time that perception morphed into prejudice. Or perhaps it did so when we lived as tribal nomads. Thus, helping tribes to keep their own safe against perceived or actual danger from other tribes.

That was then. This is now. We have moved from tents to tower blocks, but we insist to carry those prejudices with us like second skin. 

Single narratives protect and nourish this second skin.

Everything you feel, goes through the pores of this second skin. It becomes your reality. If you don't know otherwise, what you know becomes your truth--you don't question it.

So, the whole point of this post is to present a side of India that doesn't get talked about much: the safe and unbiased side--where men are so comfortable with themselves and their place in society that they have the courage to treat women as an equal and advise them to stock up on soda and sprite before the corner shop up in the hills of western ghats shuts for the day. 

It's become fashionable to call such men feminists these days. I'm married to one such man. He seems normal to me. 

After reading Krishnan's post, I've decided to share examples of ordinary men and women in India who live a life of equality as often as I can. I want to infuse my two pennies worth into the human narrative of the country I was born in.

I'm aware that reporting and talking about men behaving badly is very, very important. I'm aware that drinking alcohol is not a measure of liberty for either men or women. I'm aware that there is a long and arduous journey ahead of us before women can feel truly equal to men--not just in India but everywhere in the world. I may be a dreamer but my feet are firmly grounded in reality. Yes, I'm aware of the stark naked unfairness so many women face every day. 

But, stories that are ordinary and mundane and not anti-men also need to be shared. Otherwise, we are in danger of painting a single 'image of a people.' 

What's your story? Please share instances of 'good' whenever you can, no matter how small or inconsequential it may look.
Leaving you with this cheerful portrait of Ms. Bano (I forget her first name: sorry) who is a Gujjar from Madhya Pradesh. She, along with her family, is hired as a tea picker to work on daily wages on this tea plantation in the Western Ghats.
Enjoy a happy and peaceful weekend.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

a gathering of drops on moss in a liberal democracy


every drop
has her own point of view.
the village of clouds that raised them is a liberal democracy.

even today
when they gather together
on a mossy bench,
they share their stories
the way their rain mother showed them to:

Fearless.

Free.

Un-filtered.

a complete collective
of eclectic points of view.


It's been a long absence from blogging for me. I'd thought I'd take a couple of weeks off after the April blogging challenge and get back to my regular pace in June. But June became July and July turned to August and apart from my short shares on Insta, I haven't written much at all this summer.

It's been a summer of amazing reads and graduations and short trips to those graduations and one to a monsoon soaked western ghats (near Bangalore) where the above two pictures are from. 

I hope you've been well and happy.

Travelling opens up ones horizons, they say, but it also highlights the polarization of thoughts among people who choose to feed on news as their source of intellectual nourishment. If I had my way, I'd put this statutory warning on every news item that peddles the us and them junk: "This is injurious to your and your planet's health." 

It's been a summer of listening and absorbing so far. And if political narrow-mindedness has shocked me for I found it in the most unlikeliest of places: on the lips of an evolved dear friend, some attitudes and stories I've witnessed have made me jump with joy for their open-mindedness and acceptance, even though I found those in unlikely corners too--far away from the city, in the words of ordinary and not very educated men. More about that in my next post.

Have a super Sunday dear readers and I do hope to get back to blogging a bit more regularly and visit all of your wonderful blogs too:)