Monday, September 29, 2008

What Kind of Friendship is This?

My friend and I , although we love each other can spend hours arguing about just about anything, but today's arguement was an eye opener. She has several prejudices about the Muslim community and I can place no arguement to stop her from thinking that way! She has come to these conclusions as a result of her exposure to her Muslim 'friends' and colleagues. When we were discussing the subtle exclusionist policy that is adopted by even State institutions when she said that the community itself is responsible for its exclusion. It seems that she is organising a seminar and two Muslim participants want to pray twice during that duration and return late while the others are waiting. Then she sites the case of her colleage in Loreto school in Calcutta who used to take an extra 15 days leave due to some relious observance and would insist on this. She sited further cases of nuns of a school being threatened by Muslim goons who forced them to employ their women who, without prior intimation would take leave, or ask for other priviledges on the grounds of religious observations. Then there is the case of a student whose father insisted that she be allowed to excuse herself from class twice in a day to pray during Ramzan, a teacher's house was close to the school and she was granted leave to go there by the sister's grugingly. Now the verdict is - if 'they' are so keen to follow their religious observances then why don't they go to an institution that is organised to fit in their schedule ie a Muslim institution. Thereafter there was the question of the common belief of Hindu alarmists that Muslim men can marry four times and contraception is forbidden in Islam and therefore they will multiply tremendously and finally the Hindus will lose their majority status. I informed my friend that according to the last census report there is not a single Indian male who has 4 wives , there are a few who have 3 but most of them are Hindus. To this she recoiled in horror, the census according to her is no authority since it is a sample survey. Moreover Muslim marriages are not registered hence that is no proof. To which I said that the Muslim marriage is a legal one and hence the Qazi's records would reveal the truth. The Muslim man can go to different different Qazis, said she with conviction. Why would he, said I , when he can legally marry 4? She ignored this, and said, don't I read the newspapers, the Muslims are protesting registration by saying that their religion . How come I have never seen that news item. I have seen Hindus being against registration. In fact many aviod it in the hope of avoiding payment of maintenance in case of dispute. All this arguements to no avail- then she speaks of the refugees from Bangladesh who, encouraged by the West Bengal govt, have chaged the demographic configuration of the borders, helped no doubt by their propensity to marry 4 times on the sly and proliferate due to lack of contraception. I said, you are confusing a border issue with that of Muslims all over India who have been staying here all the time. Then she said how many Muslims do I know, I said I know a few and they all have 2 children. Some have more siblings but so has the Hindus I know of that generation. My dear she said, I know many Muslims and the girls of my generaltion, my friends, have 3 or more she revealed, resting her case. They also can't take criticism, continued she, many people say of Hinduism that they have many gods, but we know that Hinduism has a strong case for the oneness of the devine. True dear but no one is procecuting us for that and what is it but procecution and suspicion if you are counting the kids of your so called Muslim pals and you are scared about changing demography. Well friendship and dialogue is not about partaking of the iftaar feast, which my friend has, but making an effort to break these preconcieved notions and work out how the two communities can truely function in unision for the betterment of nation. We watched 'Welcome to Sajjanpur' yesterday, reveallingly, all the oppressive upper caste nominee for the post of Sarpanch had to do to negate the candidature of a Muslim social worker was to write to the Collector that her husband was an ISI agent! Let me tell you that most Govt officials will believe that of any Muslim, never mind if the man even knows what ISI stands for. The Muslim is always suspect.

Now an incident from real life- the Mr was standing around near his office one day not finding an autorickshaw when it began to rain, a stranger offered him a lift and he took it. After a few moments, the stranger asks- 'are you a Muslim?' -"no" says the Mr, "good" says the guy "for if you were I would not have given you the lift"! Hate is in the air folks, may I have a few stories of love and understanding? Reports of bomb blasts in two cities in Gujarat and Maharashtra has also come in! This is the pits!

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Do We Believe?

In the five years that I studied in Delhi University I did not encounter a single Muslim classmate neither did I find any Muslim teacher except in the last year of my MA class. When we went for a protest outside the BJP office exactly a year after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, there was no representation of the overtly Muslim people, neither burqa nor skull cap, there was a street play by Habib Tanveer that's all. This subtle exclusionism is the bane of the Muslim community. The Hindus are aware of them but there is distance, the Muslim friends know more about the traditional practices of Hindu homes but Hindus are oblivious to the traditions and culture of Islam. Even us so called secular types know nothing other than that lipsmacking biryani and kebabs are made on Id in our friends' houses which we go to eat. This isolationism and ignorance informs our views about the Muslim community. In Jamia burqa clad girls walk around with girls in jeans, classes comprise of students of all religions and teachers are from all faiths too. This is the true national university. My daughter saw a burqa clad woman for the first time in her life when I took her to Jamia, mind you we had visited quite a few markets including C P and cinema halls with her-nowhere had she seen the burqa. It is not so in the south where women can go about her business in her burqa, it is visible in the upmarket malls and in the narrow lanes of crowded marketplaces.
I had a friend during the BEd days who said she could not take up teaching jobs as schools would order her to remove her burqa! This girl was used to her dress for so many years, leave alone the religious part of it, doesn't it seem like asking a person who has worn nothing but saris to appear at work in jeans? Why can't we accept that there are other cultures present in this country and all have the right of moving about freely-and we don't give a thought to this, we move about content in our freedoms oblivious of the rights of others.
When i heard that the VC of Jamia was planning to provide legal aid to those students of Jamia who were arrested for terror activities after the recent encounter in Jamia nagar I was taken aback. On the one hand the VC claims that the university has nothing to with the activities of the youth captured from the colony near it and on the other hand he is coming out in support of the very same youth. One of the boys were from Arindam Choudhary's IIPM but the man did his best to dissociate himself and the institute by saying that they did not have any inkling that the boy may be up to these activities and there the matter ended. Jamia however, due to the proximity of the encounter site and the religion of the boys, could not brush itself free of this burden. There was a program on CNN-IBN yesterday where I saw one of the Jamia profs speak of the isolation of and suspicion against Muslims- the same feeling of exclusion was voiced by one after another of those who were interviewed. Today in the papers there is news of several fact finding teams (Non government organizations like the Janhastakshep and People's Union for Democratic Rights,PUDR) finding discrepancies in the police's encouter stories. This news is tucked away in the middle pages of the paper whereas the sensational encounter and the other details regarding the personalities of the terrorists made first page news, so did the funeral of the hero policeman who died in the encounter. I know that PUDR is a responsible organization doing good work for many years, a friend of mine is a member and I know she will not associate with inefficient or dishonest people. What is it that they have found? It would be more useful if their findings were properly disclosed, instead of the ramblings of the police. We have TV journalists reporting from outside hotel rooms where the boys stayed and all that inane stuff, get down to it folks- what is the truth you guys? Do you even care? In this light the Jamia VCs decision does not seem strange anymore. Whatever happens the truth must be told, otherwise injustice will occur, already Muslim students are having difficulty in finding accommodation in colonies outside Jamia. One of the values of PUDR as an investigating agency is that it is not associated with any religious group, it must be paid heed to. All said and done I still believe that the VC is taking a risk. Something did happen in Jamia Nagar, the police could not have shot themselves, these guys were definitely armed- but why? If the boys are proved innocent then the VC's stance will be vindicated, if any terror link is established, Jamia will forever be embroiled in it. One of those interviewed said-" The Naxals are also Hindus, we do not hold all Hindus responsible for the violence they perpetrate, why do we do so with the Muslim population due to the activities of terrorists who happen to be Muslims?" the answer is probably the use of religious rhetoric by these guys. What I want to say is that the persons who died in the blasts were not responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid so why kill them and enough deaths have been brought about to avenge that incident- can we move on please? But the fact of the matter is that 90% of educated Muslims identify with India inspite of all the exclusion, they want their freedoms they want to be recognised as citizens of this country who have a different culture which can enrich the composite culture of the nation. They want to belong- so guys on this Id non-Hindus can you please befriend a Muslim family, partake of the joys of the only big festival this community has and really know and understand the significance of it. My mouth has started watering already with the reports of the delicious haleem that is prepared at an eatery near my house. Ah, the bliss of coming to know each other's culture!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hurray! My First Award on My Page Atlast

Ha ha ha hee hee tee hee hee and all that sort of thing that a novice blogger does to show her/his pleasure. A pleasure doubly sweet firstly for getting my first award and secondly for finally managing to display it on my blog! As they say 'I'm loving it'.2bs momma I love you and I want to kiss and hug you! As you have noticed I do not have many friends in the blogging world whom I can pass this on to. You are my best pal! I hope in due course of time I will be able to boast of good friends too. I like Alapana, she is reserved but she stands up to be counted the moment I complain that there are not enough comments on my blog, and -nm has said she would like to meet me and so has Usha so there you are...these associations may be developed towards friendships and I want to reach out to others. I'll work on it. By the way the MR made it possible, he copied the image into the computer for me while I had passed out last night trying to put the mite to sleep. I love you too Mr.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vindicating Jamia

Jamia Millia Islamia is not a 'minority' institution spewing fanatics all over the place, please people, find out the facts about this great institution. It was a nationalist university started during the peak of the non -cooperation movement and it was the first university established in Delhi older than even DU. As in the case of every university there are all kinds of people studying there and all shades of opinion among the faculty. I have been a PhD student there for 6years and I continue to be a part of it as my viva is still to be conducted. I am proud to be a part of this university and as I had got a UGC grant I have interacted greatly with the administrative staff. I have also been a student of Delhi University and have expeienced it (both the south and north campuses) completely. Each university has its distinctive character. What is remarkable about Jamia is the egalitarianism, I have seen the students of the north east being isolated and stereotyped in DU but here I got the impression of equality. Atleast that is what I sensed in the Department of History and Culture. The Progressive nature of the university becomes aparent from the nature of the teaching staff specially in the social sciences stream and the faculty here is comprised of good scholars and show a lot of dedication and there is no reservation of the head of the department post for a particular religion.
You will notice that the so called terrorists belong to the field of commerce and electronics, even among the Hindu fundamentalists we can find the greatest support from the business classes. These are the guys who found History boring and hence have no idea of it and therefore are liable to believe anything that is dished out to them as the stuff. It is unknown to them that a dialogue between the Hindu and Muslim religions had begun to form in the 18th century in the form of the common strain of love for the almighty in the Bhakti and Sufi movements. That was before the British in their ignorance forced the two religious groups into water tight compartments and they begun a cold war. We have moved very far off now but in both religions there are more people in favour of peace than this mindless venomous hatred. Every one must do their best to bring about dialogue and a good start would be to find out more about each other partake of each other's festivals stand together in solidarity. We must make the State declare that places of worship just cannot be attacked- it is not done. Although how a BJP government can do it is doubtful for the high point in its political career is the destruction of the Babri mosque- as if any pundit knew the exact spot where Kaushalya went into labour. Most disgusting!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Some Thoughts That were Left Pending.. and Now Holds More Meaning

I have been meaning to write on the pervading impact of terror on our lives when, even as I was framing my post, the Delhi police shot down two young men in Jamia nagar and lost one of theirs. That is three more lives lost, three able bodies guys who could be employed more fruitfully for the welbeing of humankind. I cannot understand why after being given the gift of life, why these young boys have to opt for death for others and finally for themselves. We are a free country, if your pride is hurt you protest, through media, through free speech, through the legal system, what compels these educated and competent youth to kill? I seriously feel that proper research must be done on the fundamentalist psyche, what makes them oblivious to the basic human value of love and consideration towards other humans, whatever faith they may belong to?
The Mr and I have been watching a lot of films related to communal violence and terror, that are sensitively made and show us the thinking persons view on this matter. I was deeply moved by all these films and feel they reflect the angst of the humanist amongst all of us. The first was Dharm staring Pankaj Kapur in which the protagonist decides that Dharm does not mean intolerance it can only mean love and humanity. Then we watched Amu where Konkona Sen plays a child displaced due to communal violence, and here too, humanity wins. Then there was Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota points to the waste of human life due to terror strikes, next Amir which essentially has the same point and ends tragically for the hero who saves a lot of lives by foiling a terror attack, but losing his own. Mumbai Matinee deals with a lot of aspects related to terror, the helplessness of the police, the suspicion of the public, the psyche of hoax caller, the insensivity of the media, all is well illustrated and presented in a moving manner. Yesterday we watched A Wednesday which is an original take on terror, moving but far fetched-it talks of the common man's rebellion, a violent tit for tat to the terrorist. I feel that is not the solution, when you find a poisonous mind full of hatred instead of curing it you blow it up? I think one has to crack the reason for this ailment in the minds of the youth of this country, why this insecurity why this desperation ? It is like destroying a murder mystery novel whithout reading the end. I really want to know why killing people becomes more important to a software engineer who can live a fruitful life. If he has regard for his coreligionists why doesn't he go to the flood affected areas in Bihar and rescue the poor population for whom it is a struggle to keep body and soul together? Why does he chose the death of others to prove his point which incidentally is still obscure- is he rooting for the resignation of the Home Minister? My guess is that these guys just love to feel the power of killing other beings, they have no religion for religion is always pro life- it was invented so man can live in peace, to make him feel secure, to let him do good- as Pankaj Kapur's character in Dharm says pointing to the carnage in the aftermath of a riot and to the perpetrators of the violence-" yeh dharm nahi hai" (This cannot be religion, the word dharm has ofcourse a deeper connotation in India, illustrated ably by her greatest King Ashoka who a dopted Buddhism, with no protest from the Hindus, mind you, conversion has since become a dirty word).
Terror and communal hatred are two sides of the same coin there has to be a special organization to deal with the two together, a permanent set up which does not have anything to do with the political setup of the country- it must include human rights personnel as well as psychologists and highly trained special police force which knows how to capture suspects without annihilating them or letting them run away. The Delhi police shows that the boys can be found without taking recource to an oppressive law. The police need training and support from all citizens of India. There should be as many websites of communal harmony as that which spread hatred-then only can there be hope.

The other issue is the eternal strife between agriculture and industrialization that is occuring in India relating to the Nano car plant in West Bengal. Now everyone including our own Chief Minister Yeddyurappa has offered to give land to the Tatas to build their Nano plant. Clearly everyone wants industrialization other than Ms Mamata Bannerji. Actually, all she ever wanted was the end of CPM rule in West Bengal and to become the Chief Minister. Everyone in this country wants to become either the Chief Minister and when they have become that they want to become the Prime Minister-refer to Mayawati's speech, people don't want to see me as the PM says she! First do your duty as CM my dear, I say. Of course we also have people who want the PM's post straight away eg our longest PM in waiting -Mr LK Advani- waiting to put all Muslims, Christians, Gays, Divorcees, Matrilineal societies and the modern 'westernized' Indian women in their place (also living together couples, people with intercaste and inter religious marriages, and anyone who dares to digress from what is the ideal Hindu norm according to this geart man and his henchmen-which is half the population of this country- he will be left with Narendra Modi, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and such other misguided souls who will be busy finding discrepancies in the modern day and in the past instead of running the country). Now coming back to Mamata- the poor woman has to eat her words and lose her thunder because all she wanted was to discredit the CPM. She has now potrayed herself as against industrialization and progress a title formerly held by the CPM regime. In her eagerness to oppose the CPM she has forgotten that she represents people who want two square meals a day for which they need jobs. Buddhadeb ofcouse knows what he is doing, defying party lines he even showed himself to be anti-bandh/strikes. So Buddha is true to his people, he was ofcourse put in his place by the party which thinks it is its birthright to protest by disrupting the economic activities of the State for which it sites precedence from the pre-independence days. My dear chaps the country is independent and any right wrested from the colonial regime has no significance now. We have a constitution which states that we are free to persue the economic activity of our choice and to move from place to place in this country, what right do you have to take that away even for a day? Strikes can be a form of protest in a regime which is oppressive and does not allow for any other way of protesting but in a free country where the media is not gagged where anyone can give speeches or go for silent protest marches what is the need for burning buses and stopping trains and closing shops? Anyway feels nice to vent my ire, afraid a sit at home mother of two cannot do much. Sorry for ranting for so long!

Now that I have had my say I have a confession to make, I have been given an award of 'Blog Friend' by 2b's mommy but I do not know how to display it here! Thankyou 2b's mom, you are an angel, now if you can tell me how to bring the award to my blog then I will be grateful- I love you very much!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Melting Pot That is My Home Cuisine

The other day while I was making dal makhani, aloo posto and a chinese sweet and sour vegetable, I started reflecting on the kind of food I keep dishing out to my unsuspecting family. Here was a pukka north Indian dish, with a pukka bengali recipe with a chinese one. The other day I made sambhar, machher jhol and chilli paneer. I think my Bratty Girl is responsible for this. If I make a full Bengali meal she will not like it, whereas the mite eats everything and specially likes fish and aloo posto, he also has a soft corner for cauliflower. The Brat hates all food but stuff she can just about manage to touch her tongue to is bhindi, karela, mushroom, capsicum and paneer (lady's finger, bitter gourd, you know what, you know what and cottage cheese- this is for my supposed foreign readers, though there is no evidence of any yet, I really liked adventure dad but he seems to be out of business now a days). She also likes some special dishes like dal makhani, sambhar, paalak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese, a north Indian dish), kachha mooger dal (a bengali preparation) and mushurir dal (also Bengali). So I have to juggle all this stuff around and make new combinations every day- she will not touch the stuff more than once even if it is one of her favourites. Tears well up in her eyes if I say that she will have to have the same lentil or vegetable as the one she had in the morning! Thus it is impossible for me to also take care that each dish goes with the other, generally our meals have traces of north, east and south India with a liberal sprinkling of China (or what goes for chinese food in India). The family is not complaining and I do hope jumbling up the many cuisines will not do their tummy any harm.
I am a very bumbling and clumsy cook. I am still figuring out the names of the different pulses. I am still remain confused with the toor dal and the urad dal the two staples of South India I have to remind myself that toor is the sambhar dal and urad the vada dal. Any small thing can make me go crazy, like the other day I found some dal packet saying udid dal and I still can't figure out whether it is a corruption of urad or a different species altogether. In case of doubt I do not buy the stuff. I went completely beserk while searching for the dal for dal makhani, in the recipe it says urad dal with skin. I went to the mall and found kaala dal which I thought was the thing, not being sure I followed an elderly lady made sure she was north Indian and asked her what is the daal makhani dal, she confirmed that what I had in my hand is it! Then I saw a recipe called maah ki dal which got me in a tizzy now is the maah ki dal the same as the kaala dal which is the same as the dal makhani dal which is nothing but urad dal with its skin on? Well, does anyone out there have the answer or what? I am saying more comments on my blog dear people!
Yesterday I out did myself, I was making lassuni dal and I was sure that I had asafoetida stashed away somewhere. I had the impression that it was a white powder, I spent the good part of half an hour murmuring 'asafoetida.....asafoetida...' while rummaging through all the kitchen cabinets, getting up on the chair and checking the farthest corner. I found ajinomoto, baking soda and sundry other things that I had stored away and forgotten all about, but there was no asafoetida in sight. Finally I decided I will buy a pack on the way to the mite's school as it was time to get him back I'll stock the other pack when I find it, I thought. While I was getting ready to leave it suddenly came back to me asafoetida is nothing but hing which is a yellowish crystal like substance which I had kept on the kitchen platform itself. Hail to the great bumbler!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Strange World We Live In

Well folks, the terrorists did it again! After spoiling my birthday for ever the last time they struck in the pre dussehra-diwali period, they have targeted the markets again. The truth is, we are all sitting ducks. Out of the teeming millions that throng markets it is next to impossible for the police to weed out the terrorists and these guys know it! These young boys feel a sense of power, doubtless, at the easy way in which they can gain notoriety. The police are clueless and other than finding out what sort of explosives were used and what vessels they were put in, AFTER the event occurs, they are helpless. This time the guys were also wearing black, they are doing it in uniform and yet nothing will happen! What can happen if stringent laws are passed is that a few innocent chaps who happen to belong to a particular religion will be caught and tortured. I do not claim to know the solution but neither the BJP demands for terror laws nor the watered down approach of the government has satisfied me in any way. There is the lurking feeling that we can be blown apart any time, we and our children are not safe. Never before was death more powerful that life. The finality and inevitability of it never so stark and real. It has become larger than life itself, breathing down over shoulders all the time. Is live so meaningless, then, to be sacrificed at the alter of hatred and religious bigotry and assertion of political superiority. What is all this for, after all, why was religion and God invented in the first place? So that human beings should live.. they shold love each other and enjoy the world they are in, but primarily for the preservation of life. Now, religion is a means to end that same human life. None of us know what happens after death, neither us nor all those saints who have come before us. The saints essentially have taught us how to live on this earth and that is with love and tolerance. It is ironic that their teachings are so contorted that they have come to mean the exact opposite-intolerance and violent reactions. We have slowly become a rigid group of people scarcely able to stand each other having to share -due to the lack of choice-the same planet! Doing one injustice after another upon our fellow beings, thus perpetuating this chain of injustices. This hatred of the other nagates the essence of the Indian culture which is -unity in diversity. After killing everyone who thinks differently, if the fundamentalist finds himself alone with just another co-believer, given time differences will crop up even between the two living beings. So what is the solution-a separate planet for every individual??

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is there a way to get justice?

My domestic help and I rarely have any conversation due to the language problem and I like it that way. She breezes in does her stuff and scurries off and I go on with my life. This situation changed when her daughter gave birth to her second grand daughter. I could sense that all was not well. In spite of the language problem she got accross the all to familiar scenario confronting Indian womanhood. Scarcely had the child been born the husband talking of aborting future fetuses if they were girls. The girl had to wash the clothes of the young one herself and her fingers became stiff as it is quite cold in the coorg region where she stays. After making a few trips to and fro and absenting herself from work for long intervals, Rajamma finally brought her daughter and her two children here. Then a few days later the little one got diarrhoea and she left her daughter and children at her in laws'. But they must have made her life hell again for a few days later she brought them back. My landlord's daughter informed me that here if the woman is unwell she is sent back to her mother's place to get better! She is brought back only when she is fit to do household work! Rajamma used to remain distraught when her daughter was away now she is happy and least her daughter and her children are before her eyes. The husband used to beat her also! I sounded like a lunatic when I told her " tell your son in law that hitting the wife is against the law of the country and so is sex based abortion", she nodded her head. I told her that her daughter should refuse to bear any more children, and I told her not to send her back unless she says so herself. Rajamma said the children do not have warm clothes, I gave whatever clothes I had of my two young ones. She smiled and said the clothes had fitted both the infant and the older girl. That's about all the help I could give. I know there is a domestic violence act in place and a law exists saying that sex based feotal abortion is a crime but how to apply these laws to real poeple. Will Rajamma's daughter be ready to file a case against her husband? She is so exausted just carrying on from day to day that I cannot even imagine her trying to find out the laws in her favour, in this scenario there is only one law that works, that laid down by the husband and his family.
There is a requirement of a network of social organizations that work in the space between the laws and the women for whom they are made. The majority of women who need these laws are totally oblivious to them. My entire PhD thesis is about this basic problem however, even I who has studied about these laws for 5years am unable to help Rajamma and her daughter in a real situation. The son in law will probably spit in her eye if his wife tells him that domestic violence is illigal. Our social order has laws of its own where constitutional and legal assertions like equality and non discrimination makes no sense.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Black Finger!

The other day my aloe vera plant had a near death experience when the pot containing a cactus, which I had strung to the railing above it fell. The poor aloe vera lost nearly all its leaves which I put in a packet and am storing in the fridge till I figure out how I will use them. A few months after arriving in Bangalore, a friend's neighbour told me that it is rather easy to have plants here because the weather is very good and they hardly need any special care. In spite of this I have managed to kill three tulsi plants, one flowering plant and two decorative plants! This record surely makes me the holder of a black finger (the opposte of a green fingered person). Anyhow, I continue to maintain my modest balcony garden and have also managed to get a few compliments too!