Sunday, 30 December 2012

Unfinished business

I sit here watching images of what has been going on in Delhi in the last two weeks. The unspeakable horror that was inflicted upon a 23-year old Delhi student, her 13 days of struggle for life and the deplorable politics that ensued at all stages has enraged the country like never before and the outpouring of grief is unprecedented.

But, the irony is that this is not an isolated incident, it is certainly not the first and probably not the last. Some of these incidents make big news and we have public and media outrage, despair, calls for action...Perhaps we have become too quick to brand our events into hashtags: #lokpal #corruption #Damini #Nirbhaya #alltimelow #stoptheshame.....The awakening of 1.25bn people at last! Our own revolution, led peacefully by the youth and complemented by social media (bravo!).

The government on its part, does nothing and remains silent. The sniggering continues, what! after all this the PM could only say "#TheekHai" or worse, some idiotic politician brands the protesters as "dented-painted women" which just shows how bad their mentality is.

But soon people get tired of protesting, the media finds another issue to highlight, the Twitterrati move on to happier topics... No laws are passed, no law enforcement is strengthened, no accountability is restored. The crime, the violence especially against women, the corruption continues..


Because a system as broken as ours, a society as corrupt as ours cannot be fixed by one or two "uprisings" alone. Because believe it or not, we live in a democracy, and democratic governments are not toppled by a candle light march at India Gate (or Jantar Mantar).

So all the calls for action, special sessions of parliament, better laws, better law enforcement will fall on deaf ears. Because the political class knows they are in power and the person on the street is not. News Anchors, social activists and the like can shout all they want on national TV -"has the political class lost sense of ground reality?" "Have they lost touch with modern India?" 

But, I think that the exact opposite is true - modern India has lost touch with politics.

We have always known that India is a land of diversity - there are many languages, religions, cultures, caste, creed etc. However, any marketing guru will tell you that aside from the regional differences, there are also socio-economic segments, broadly: The rich, the consuming class, the climbers, the aspirants and the destitute. These segments are extremely disparate and they sometimes have very little in common between them. 

India is a growth story because the consuming class and the climbers have become a sizeable chunk of the population and are growing significantly. Add to it the so called "demographic dividend" and this creates a perfect opportunity for businesses around the world. But the important lesson here is to know your segment and cater to that segment only. To win over a segment, you might even have to alienate the others. 

Our political class probably learnt this very important marketing lesson a long time ago. And so they play in their little segments based on regional or socio-economic differences. They know they cannot please everyone, so they only cater to people that will actually put them into power. 

You and I, the educated consuming class of the country, the upwardly mobile climbers or even the aspirants - are not the target segment of any politician today. 

Why? Because we don't bother to speak when it actually matters. We don't vote, most people haven't even registered to vote. Because well, who do we vote for? "The candidates do not represent us". "We believe in no one." But then who is our icon, our leader? Will the real youth icons please stand up? 

We need someone to represent us in parliament, to take up our issues, to create laws that matter to us and ensure that these laws are enforced. Our revolution will come from going inside parliament, not by protesting from the outside. 

But is this incident only about politics, bad governance, lack of law and order? No, it is not! The issue is actually much larger, the issue is about how our society treats women, the attitude towards women which manifests itself in many crimes against women. It is hard to talk about all these issues in one go, but let me highlight one particular issue:
Whenever something like this happens, the media is quick to pose the question: why do we disrespect our women, why are women being objectified? Celebrities and Bollywood personalities are quick to join in. But ironically, every Bollywood movie these days has an "item song". Every heroine wants to have a song like "Sheila kee Jawaani", "munni badnaam huee" or "chikni chameli" to her credit. These songs with skimpily clad "hot" woman dancing among 100s of men supposedly from the "masses" and the "hinterland" are constantly streamed onto our TV screens and radio channels. The latest such song has lines to the effect "main murgee ka leg piece hoon, gataka le alcohol se; meree photo ko seene se laga Fevicol se..." Why are we so quick to lap them up and happily dance to them in our weddings and celebrations? But of course that is OK, because it is entertainment and sure pop songs all over the world are provocative, edgy and objectify women... But have we ever considered that some people might be taking this too literally, that their idea of entertainment might be attacking a woman on the street...Have we ever considered that treating women as objects has become part of our pop culture...

The issues go on....but there are no easy fixes and somewhere the blame lies with us.

Sure, maybe this time, some action might be taken. Maybe the six men will probably get a death sentence; but that is not the point. The point is that we all know that such events will happen again, that we will have to protest again, but the only way to make these protests meaningful is to not just call for action, but to ACT as well...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

In the neck of the woods

Do you ever feel the need to not incessantly check email, not download a new app, not turn on the TV (which unfortunately is a constant fixture in my house) and just run away..far far from the usual retail therapy outlets..away from the hustle and bustle of city life..far far away. Do you ever feel that the great outdoors, the countryside, the mountains are calling you and you really need to escape.

Well that's exactly how I have been feeling lately and while I would have liked to go away all of Easter holiday, unfortunately that didn't happen and I only managed to do a one night stay in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.

Stratford-upon-Avon! That's no mountains!! You must be thinking..

I know, I know, yes it is part of the Cotswolds, the quintessential English countryside, but for all practical purposes its a little town. Its a town with its high streets littered with the same old chains we see around every neighbourhood - Cafe Rouge, Strada, Pizza Express and of course, Starbucks!

But anyway, this is the best I could get to, so here I was, trying to escape the city, but the city wouldn't leave me alone! So my friend and I sauntered around the park around the little river, looking for the "off-beaten track".

"You are looking at the wrong place, ladies" said the friendly traffic policeman we asked for directions to the "forest"

So we decided to stroll around the manicured lawns next to the river. We were about to give up, when suddenly, we saw a cycle hire. This friend of mine is a dainty lady, so I assumed that she didn't know how to cycle. I just stood in front of the cycle hire guy looking really forlorn and said, oh well, if you knew how to cycle, we could have cycled around....

"You've known me for more than a decade and you don't know if I can cycle or not!" my friend exclaimed..

"Well... I've never really seen you cycle" I retorted.

"I can! and I shall prove it!" and with that she struck a deal with the cycle hire and before you knew it, we were on our bikes.

It was chilly, and the wind swept across our faces as we cycled through mustard fields. Very DDLJ :) All I needed was my prince charming with a cow and a swiss bell...oh Well!

We cycled along the pathways, sang songs like old hindi film heroines and generally wondered how life had become so complicated and how little time we had to enjoy life's simple pleasures.

But sometimes, even an hour of indulgence can make you realise what you are missing and make you feel relaxed and rejuvenated again.

So go re live those simple pleasures and tell me how it felt!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Flamenco Smitten..

I've had two very close encounters recently..they were of the Spanish gypsy variety and took my breath away. While it is very easy to fall in love with all things Spanish, there is something about Flamenco that completely blows you away.

During my recent trip Seville, my brother and I decided to check out a Flamenco performance. Don't go to the touristy ones, be careful about fakes or over-priced trite serenading as art etc etc. Both of us were a little half-hearted in our search for the authentic performance. But I guess, it was meant to be. We literally stumbled upon a little hole in the wall type place, that had special performances by serious art students.

And so we took our seats in a small, squarish room with minimal decoration and soft lighting. The performance began slowly, with a solo guitar performance, followed by vocal and a guitar duet.

Then the lady in black took to the stage, swirling her skirt, clapping her hands and tapping her feet that you began to realise the magic of the music and the dance form. And when the man and woman performed together, everyone in the room was enthralled. They moved so energetically, yet gracefully; in tune with the music, but really following their own beat at the same time.

Back in London, following up on my New Year's resolution of doing more things outside of work, that I came across a Flamenco dance festival in London, so I promptly decided to go.

So last night, I had a different kind of encounter - this wasn't a typical "quartet" type of performance like the one in Seville. This was a theatrical performance, an adaptation of a play, almost like ballet.

My seat was right at the edge of the stage, so I could see the expressions, the sweat on the male lead's hair as he flicked his hair. It also turned out, quite by accident really, that I picked a show by Antonio Gades, one of the most important Flamenco choreographers of all time!

Antonio Gades passed away in 2004, and this performance called "Fuenteovejuna" was being done for the first time since his death! The show was based on a play by noted playwright Lope de Vega and is based on real events in the 17th century.

The performance was simple, the dance was part Flamenco, part ballet and part folk. The really fluffy and dramatic skirts were missing. But the story was compelling, powerful and dramatic.

Overall, turned out to be an amazing evening and quite a historic performance as well. And I am hooked, of course..been thinking about enrolling myself in Flamenco lessons..that's what close encounters do to you!