Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another veiled story…

As I tried understanding the debates around the burqa especially in the French context here, I received many valid, well thought out, and legitimate replies – all in one way or the other against the “forced veiling”.

In a country like India, it is heartening to see educated people expressing their opinion, which is for humanity and moderation and balance. However, it is greatly disappointing to wake up to news that reads: Forced to wear burqa, teacher quits.

What is most shocking about this news is that the Students’ Union pressurized the university teacher!

What is happening to the supposedly educated youth in our country?

Why are young minds embracing religious fanaticism with such ardor?

Are they in search of a unique identity because they feel their individuality is threatened?

Has Indian politics created a whole generation of confused and misguided youngsters – rebels without any real causes?

I still remember my childhood days when religion and caste were only chapters we read in our Civics books. In school, I did not know which caste my classmates belonged to.
Through my growing up years, I had Sikh neighbors with whom I used to happily pile on for the Sunday langars at the Gurudwara; I had Muslim neighbors who were differentiated only because of the wonderful language they spoke – aap, bhai-jaan, abba-jaan – music to the ears; I had Christian neighbors who shared rich plum cakes on Christmas; and all of us together celebrated the “Hindu” festivals of Diwali and Holi!

Come the late 90s and early 2000s, as college beckoned, caste based reservations became the talk of the day. Quota seats – General seats – SC/ST – OBC – all alien terms began to invade my vocabulary.

I still remember the day I started filling out my entrance test forms - all of them asked the following disturbing questions:

For the first time I was going to define my identity within a religious institution that had not meant much in my life so far.
Hindu, I wrote. In a fraction of a second, differences based on religion were established between neighbors.

And then the final blow that firmly established boundaries and partitions in once-innocent classrooms.
Select one of the following:
SC, ST, OBC, Others
I was baffled. I asked my dad, what I should fill in.
He said in a matter of fact tone, “Others”.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Sailor’s Cottage

A couple of months back, I happened to visit Odyssey (a leading book store in Chennai) and was delighted to spot the Anchor Stitch Kits.
Those not familiar with these kits must know that Anchor provides great designs that you can embroider using long stitch. They give you the design as well as the matching threads.

Though not a pro at these myself, take my word that they are extremely easy to work with – I first did a design (a cute penguin with an easel) eons back in school and it took me 3 years to complete it – not because it was complicated but because of the lazy procrastinator I am :). The framed work still adorns my bedroom back at my parents’ place.

This time around I thought these kits would work well with my resolve to do something more constructive with my free time, especially over the weekends, instead of wiling it away on the idiot box. So the highly ambitious person that I am, I picked two large ones.

After a good amount of dilly-dallying with little progress made in months together, I pulled myself up. And, yes, the self reproach did work.
Here’s the fruit of my labor, and you bet, I am damn thrilled and proud of myself. Forget the fact that long stitch is child’s play, atleast I did it reasonably well. This design (25 cm x 30 cm) is named ‘A Sailor’s Cottage’ and I love the bright, vibrant colors that make the setting! This colorful work goes for framing this week and then its up on the wall :).

I have the next one (and the larger of the two :() to finish now, but want to take a break from all the needlework. Hoping I can get back to my pencils in the interim!

Friday, July 16, 2010

What lies beneath?

I have been following the various feminist, political, and racial debates that the French proposal for ban on the Islamic full veil or hijab has fanned. Read the latest on it here.

My feelings, stance and opinion remain unsorted and confused. A lot of questions diffuse my attempts at any kind of understanding, and I share them here.
  • Does Islam really mandate the wearing of a veil that covers the face in its entirety? Doesn’t the holy Quran refer to the hijab in its broader sense of modesty and not necessarily a physical piece of clothing to be worn? If it is modesty and social propriety, is a piece of cloth enough to ensure the same?
  • Is the enforcement of the mandate of the full veil a fanatic religious measure to keep women entrapped in the dark shadows of illiteracy and ignorance - do the extremists actually believe that women need to be protected, or hidden, or maybe just put away?
  • Is the proposal to ban the wearing of the full veil in France pro open-faced democracy, and in the interest of the security of the nation, and the feminist endeavor for greater rights and freedom for women?
  • Is the problem with the veil that it covers the full faces and hence poses security threats? Have there been incidents of misuse of the veil by criminals?
  • Is the proposed ban against the institution of secularism? Does it indicate religious intolerance and racial bias of the xenophobic “west”?
  • Do Islamic women see the burqa or the hijab as a cultural identity that empowers them as unique individuals or thwarts their efforts at any kind of progress?
  • Do Islamic women wear the veil out of coercion or of their own free will? Is their will free or conditioned?
  • Is the hijab the only form of expressing religious belief? Why should only women carry the burden of religious identity?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A shot at optimism…

The heat and humidity in Chennai (and Delhi) is enough to put any enthusiastic and cheery person off. Alas, the Indian “garmi” is in stark contrast to the romantic and poetic “Summer” of the west!

Which Indian will talk of summer as:
“Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;”
(Robert Louis Stevenson)

I wonder if the yogic power of auto suggestion – or in more filmy terms – the “aall izzz well” mantra really works…The plan is to list down things that I love about the summers (I better have a long list because that’s the only season in the city where I live – Chennai).

As always, it would be great to hear your summer hit list too!
  • No. 1 - Raw mangoes - With a dash of red chilli powder and a touch of salt
  • Naariyal paani (tender coconut) – I insist on eating the fattening “malaai” too!
  • Lemon Soda with lots of yummy masala
  • Gola or chuski – the kaala khatta one at the Rajasthan stall at Dilli Haat (Delhi) being the best I have ever had!
  • I am wondering if I should mention ice creams because I can eat them and enjoy them irrespective of the season :)
  • (Gosh I am such a foodie all that comes to my mind is what I can “feed” on! - Summers is a time when weather permits walks - but motivation is another matter)
  • Light, breezy clothes – come to think of it – most desirable and fashionable wardrobes are designed for summers!
  • If I was in school, I would have surely said summer vacation, but, well…
  • Ummm, what else?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sun, Sand and Sea

(Aside: The coincidental alliteration in the last two post titles is unintentional, though I think it makes for interesting captions :).)

This post is an ode (yet again :p) to the much hyped and self-advertised, though well deserved, holiday in California recently.

I have realized that I can never get enough of the sand and the sea (the sun can wait); though, ideally, my allegiance should lie with the hills considering my ancestry is rooted in the Kumaon hills of Uttaranchal. I think I was a born non-conformist :D.
I do not doubt the majestic grandeur of the Himalayan ranges – awe-inspiring, heavenly. And I’d dare not compare it with the blue of the luscious oceanic waters. But the fact of the matter remains that I love the sea and would rather spend a vacation at the beach than the hills.
(Wonder if this had anything to do with my falling in love with a South Indian living in a beach city *wink*).

I can spend a lifetime gazing at the waves – how, at the horizon, waves form a huge, all-devouring monster only to come crashing down at the coast – how the timid waves also make their way through the mayhem to reach the shore – how all the waves recede leaving shells behind while keeping the marine secrets to themselves.

The infinite and eternal quality of the ocean is exalting and intimidating in the same breath. I don’t know if I am secure at the shingle or am losing out on so much that’s happening somewhere in the mystic waters. My life – all these years – where do they stand in contrast to the might of the blue abundance? A drop in the ocean, they say; what worth is nothing but a drop?

It is in the pelagic solitude that I have found both - greatly soothing peace and the deepest of turbulence within.

Leaving you with some images (and emotions, if you can find them) that I have captured at the various “sun-sand-sea” vacations…
(P.S. The only flip side of such a vacation is the awful tan we Indians get – While the rest of the world turns pretty shades of pink and peach, we become brown and black – Am at present under the influence of a reasonably strong sun tan and am doing my best to get rid of it. Will try doing a post if and when I am successful and pass on the tips and tricks!)

Phuket easily qualifies as the best beach holiday destination I have ever had. The colors so rich, the sun so warm, the sand so magnificent. I have a soft corner for white sands.

In India, no better haven for those smitten by the waters than Goa. Mumbai is hardly okay. Chennai is dirty. I have heard the Andamans, Trivandrum and Kerela are beautiful – these are still on my must-see!

California beaches are a lot of fun.

A dockyard at the shore makes a picturesque sight too!

The sea at its sinister best…I am sold to the concept of piers…

Undeniably, the best moments at the beach are the sunrises and the sunsets.
The rich hues pacify the frayed nerves and rejuvenate the senses dulled by the monotony of everyday life.

There’s a long list of places I must go to satiate the water person in me (though I must admit I am not a water sports person – so no snorkeling etc for me) – Hawaii, Miami, Andamans...
Which ones make it to your list?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sights, Sounds and Smells

Has it ever struck you that how people and places can be uniquely identified based on how they look, sound and smell?

Isn't it amazing more in the case of places?
The feeling of the salt in your hair on a beach, the smell of fish cooking from a bengali's house, the sound of the morning aarti bells from a temple, the sight of a whole city lit up in the night!

I have always felt that India is the richest when it comes to the diversity and the peculiarity of the varied sights, sounds and smells. I do not think there exists another nation so pregnant with such sensory stimulation.
And the truth of the fact strikes you the most when you are returning from an alien (read phoren) land :). I am sure my fellow "desis" will nod their heads in agreement (and amusement). The first proofs of this are available at the airport itself.

So, this time when I landed back from my transatlantic vacation - mind warped in the rapidly changing time zones I had travelled through - as I dazed through the ramp, I heard a 4-year ABCD (yes, american born confused desi) kid exclaim in a very matter-of-fact tone, "Now, this smells like India!".
Smart kid, I asserted to the slightly embarrassed parents. It was raining, and the muffled smell of wet cement and an unhealthily moist carpet, familiar to every Indian who has experienced the proverbial Indian monsoons, wrapped the air.

I, almost instantly, realized that actually there has been no other place where I could have landed and proclaimed "Now this smells, sounds, or looks like xyz". I mean you cannot distinguish HongKong and USA at the airport - There is this antiseptic sanitation - you cannot feel anything specific to that place - there are generic expected noises and sights - no smells (which believe me is very pleasant, and no am not complaining about that :))!
Forget the airport, most fast paced cities in the developed and advanced nations look so same - you visit one and then the other and the other and there is this characteristic cloning.

It never seizes to flabbergast me how even the various Indian metro cities still manage to have their distinct characteristics that attack, revolt, and please your senses alternately.
Where else in the world would you land and be welcomed by the smell of bidis from an open construction site (Delhi airport), the shouts of "gents and ladies separate line please for security" (Hyderabad airport), the gentle chiding of the security guys, "madame no need to take out laptop" - so what if the board says so (Mumbai airport), the strong smell of jasmine flowers from the masses who have come to receive a single member at the middle of the night (Chennai airport), and ofcourse, the sight of thousands of black and yellow auto rickshaws and taxis whose drivers in khaki uniforms create a stampede to invite travellers (Chennai airport again)!

My musings were suddenly interrupted by the blackout because of a power cut.

"Welcome to India", many co-passengers joked as we went on to face shortage of immigration forms, soaked luggage, and continued power cuts at the airport, but that is a different story, isn't it? ;)


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