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.

14 comments:

  1. Cannot love this idea enough!
    To tar entire groups of people with a single brush not only does a great disservice to them, but to ourselves as well.
    The world is too diverse and people too complex for all this lumping together business.

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    1. Thank you Jz. When I come across this 'lumping together business', I feel we are, as a race, moving backwards on the evolutionary path. And the scary part is that even the 'educated' folk seem to be doing it these days.

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  2. Hari OM
    ...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.' ... YES! I always maintain that what makes the news is about the weeds which pepper the field of humanity; the fact that the field is cropped with a far greater amount of positive and healthy product is so often forgotten. The every day, the simple, the sweet and the sour also require the telling. YAM xx

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    1. Such a beautiful analogy you've painted with your words Yamini. Your field of positive will bring me hope when I'm in danger of despairing. Thank you:)

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  3. So true and so very well described. This blog of yours needs to be circulated to the masses.You don't see anything good being circulated by the Media.For example today's TOI front page was all about rapes and molestation's and nothing else.You read the papers and you feel that the world and the people in it are beyond repair. I am sure the good covers more area then the bad and need to be given due importance.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Kushwaha. you know I'm always happy to circulate my blog posts:) So will be very happy if this one gets shared.
      On a serious note though, I do feel it's up to us to talk about and highlight the positives -- for the media seems to be focused only on the sensational and that almost always stems from anomalies and negative behaviour--not the ordinary and mundane.

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  4. My daughter spent 5 weeks travelling throughout India a year and a half ago. She exercised normal commonsense rules of travel and loved every single minute of her time in your beautiful country. She came home with glowing accounts of the kindness of people (mum - EVERYONE gives to people in the street, the animals are fed by everyone), the beauty of the cities and countryside and a passionate desire to spend even more time there in the future. You are very right that we are all guilty of painting an entire nation and group of people with a single brush -true for every country and every culture. On a microscopic scale, where I Lived in Toronto for 35 years was also reviled and despised and painted as a lawless, dangerous part of the City - and I happily brought up four kids there. So it is true on a micro as well as a macro level. Thank you for this timely and necessary reminder.

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    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting selkie. I'm so glad your daughter enjoyed her time in India. It's a land of contradictions (like many other lands) and life (as my son says) happens out in the open, on the streets.
      Like your experience in Toronto, we bought our first home in London in an area which isn't on any good neighbourhood list but that's all we could afford at the time. Our children had the most wonderful years growing up there. I couldn't ask for better neighbours.
      I'm unable to visit your site from here. Hope to do so, when I travel next.

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  5. Visited your blog after ages! And what a wonderful post I found! So very true that we tend to overlook the normal and highlight the exceptional- good or bad. Unfortunately the bad sticks to our memory. More positive stories need to be shared. Thank you for planting the thought in our minds.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Ruchita. xx

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  6. Good blog post....thanks for sharing with us....
    Book online bus ticket from Redbus

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  7. Arti, it was so lovely to read this. I came here after months of being away & realize you posted this in August, so I guess we've both been "away". You write so eloquently and it was so refreshing to read a good story about good people. I love that you reminded us that there is no need to live in constant fear of one another, and there are still good people to be found all around the world. Thank you for sharing this story! I'll be sending you an email soon...xo

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    1. Hi Pauline. It's so good to see you here. I'm smiling as I type this reply. Yes, I've been 'away' for a while. Hope you've been well.
      Looking forward to your email.
      Hugs. xx

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