Author Archives: Keya

India: Feminism and After

16 Aug 17
Keya
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In the 80s I was going around doing street theatre protesting against patriarchy and championing for the equal rights for women. I had decided in my mind that all women are friends and all men, the opposite of that in the patriarchal traditional society I lived in. Of course life is not as simplistic. . . I found at the time several men among actors in the play and viewers of the street theatre who were as passionate about equal rights. Later, as life went along I realized not everything is black and white. Truthfully, patriarchs could be well educated young men in cities who try to kidnap and rape, as it happened with Varnika Kundu. Or it can mean any male. And all too frequently, it can mean a woman, particularly an older woman.

And such anomalies pop up all the time. For instance, my son is a true feminist, my aunt is not. This shakes my belief that women will always support other women. I have found bonding and a united approach among women in their 20’s and 30’s.  And every time I see it, I rejoice silently. It seems that I was right all my life in my belief. But then along comes an encounter with an older woman and I am shaken in my belief. Like my aunt when confronted by the Varnika Kundu news item quietly muttered, ‘she was asking for trouble for being out that late.’ Hence the Cinderella allegory. If one analyses the Cinderella story, good girls don’t fly in the face of male social order by staying out late wearing fairy clothes. Men make such comments as do women of a certain age.  Ironically such older women may work in the sector of women’s study but are deeply antagonistic towards women on the whole. Particularly when it comes to younger women, such women may or may not admit they agree with the men in upholding the Cinderella allegory. By and large such older women say they are helping girls in general when they echo the male dictum – ‘don’t go to such and such localities, don’t stay out after dark, don’t wear this or that.’ The admonitions and bans by these women are in fact more extensive than those of the male counterparts. Ironically the same older women frequently make a study of gender issues.

Traditionally one hears of mother-in-law, sister-in-law confrontations with the new bride of the son of the family. This is borne out by TV serials and /or movies. Girls are permitted to wear tamer versions of the bad girl clothes, till they marry. Traditional clothes become their clothes of choice along with the traditional behavior patterns after marriage. And traditional domestic strife over the son of the family is a theme so common that it becomes a bore. This might be seen as the tussle for power in the family. The more traditional families may still subject themselves to such power plays but the bride is now fast becoming friends with the sisters–in-laws. However the mothers in the traditional families … they compete for the affection of the son by means fair and foul; such as preparing food that he prefers, shoving  his baby pictures on to him and do such things to ensure she remains in her position. In nontraditional families, even if the two family units live apart, the psychological warfare between the older woman and the younger one continues in a subtle manner. This warfare is conducted more by the older woman than the younger one. This may consist of criticizing the bride for being not traditional enough or too traditional. I have heard a mother-in-law complain bitterly about how the son’s wife idolizes her own mother.

I have heard that women are their own enemies. Is it competition, such as trying to get the attention of a male – in a version of the male bar brawl? I think we have some years on the Feminism front to contain same sex aggression. And it is the younger women who are showing the path to a happier co-existence. In fact, why just women? Men too are marching to a different tune, at least the younger men. So, viva la difference and viva ‘I aint Cinderella’ movement.

Seventy years we are independent, but women are still treated as unequal citizens. But as I was saying just yesterday, despite politicians we Indians are beating a progressive path. At least young Indians are. Especially the young Indian.

Aam Junta

19 Dec 16
Keya
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aam-janta

 

 

I should hire out my mind to those who conduct polls. Because if anyone instinctively reflects the aam-janta mood, view and opinions; it is I. When Modi started the demoniac demonetization phase – I stood up and applauded and more fool I. Like the rest of poor Indian fools, I thought all right, someone has made an effort to curb black money, counterfeit money and corruption.

 

Now, it is only a few days to go for what Modi had claimed to end the dharm-yudh or the 30th December end date, yet the cash crunch continues. Where oh where is the gain that husky voiced enabler of cleanliness had sworn will be there after a few days of pain? Where is the much vaunted gain? The queues outside ATMs show no signs of thinning. Few are the ones who wish to enjoy their celebration, for money is just not available. Of course, there are the pals of the BJP stalwarts who continue to celebrate their extraordinary lives with vomit inducing show of wealth. On the whole in cities, movies, restaurants, malls or theatre/ dance shows have fewer audiences; business is down – really down. In villages people use daily transport – on credit, markets sell – on credit, overnight performances have just gone off the social calendar, no more shows whether religious or social. I am not an industrialist, but I fear that Industrial well being is no longer possible; I hear from industrialists that it will take at least another five years to recover – if they at all recover.

 

As I was saying, my anger now reflects the aam-janta rage. People are beginning to be enraged at the inability to lay their hands on their own money. And every time I, like all Indians, who hear the husky voiced ‘Mitroan …’ switch off the TV, radios or wherever it is being broadcast. Who knows what other patriotic measures are about to be announced to devastate us poor, so called unpatriotic Indians? Perhaps it is better to swallow whatever new bitter pill is doled out with the morning newspapers the next day.

 

I don’t remember ever hearing or reading of such fake recession in an economy which was poised to take off in a spectacular manner, as it is in India. Yes Venezuela is threatened with the destruction of their Bolivar – but then the state has been diseased for a while. And then there is just about to be Nazi Germany where the economic situation was so poor that cash bonfires became common. But India?

 

We too are gradually getting used to living in a society where the Indian version of brown shirted folk goes about irrevocably curing the unpatriotic by insult and assault. That too is happening. Teesta Setelvad, Shabnam Hashmi, sundry Christian and Muslim NGOs have been told to furnish personal details of their board members and subsequently, not finding anything wrong; their FCRA permits were revoked. Once upon a time the constitution of India had pronounced us to be a secular country where all religions were equal in the eyes of law.

 

I wonder if democracy will survive in India. The opposition is toothless. They could not get a man who is a towering narcissist (just his sartorial taste in pin stripes should tell us that) to spell out what is the gain we are to have in what time in this Demoniac Demonetization Decision. Rahul Baba threatens he will create an earthquake in parliament by speaking of the DDD’s inventor’s personal corruption – but the parliament does not function because all proceedings are stalled everyday.

 

Only one Jay Panda has offered not to take his Rs. 2000/- a day payment for the days lost in stalling parliament. But how many such persons are there in parliament?

We are ruled by the severely differently abled minds, whose morals are jaded and whose every decision is shaped by a think tank whose EQ levels are suspect.

 

Someone had said ‘weep dear country’. – yes, we may have squeezed out every tear drop but Humans, Indians in particular are capable of much before being pushed to rebel. Instead, we laugh and continue electing clowns, because who does not want a good laugh?

 

And by the way, if anyone is interested in hiring my mind, I am giving my views without a cost because I reflect the aam-janta view.

Indian Economy Modified / USA Trumped

12 Nov 16
Keya
one comments

Was it two years ago when we were promised better days? Better days with promised manna from abroad in the form of black money. Then two days ago Modi finally did something to better our chances at living a civilized life. He did what was the real surgical attack, not the Israelite version of it in Pakistan. He suddenly banned the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes. Hallelujah!

 

Like most Indians I was wondering how the parallel economy could be stopped. That the Government could do this is for me and many an Indian a wonderful feat – whatever the motivations.

 

Finally the two years of bragging, bore fruit. People are saying that the real black money is still abroad. Perhaps. But the real black money for me is the money spent by the masters of the game to be seen at malls and other public places who buy impossibly expensive things with cash. It had become so much an accepted way of life that no one looked askance when couple of hundred thousands was spent on an afternoon jaunt to buy anything from art to meals and much else by the way. I felt embarrassed at the money counters when I had to pay my bills legitimately by debit or credit cards.

 

This is besides the fact that counterfeit cash was being used all the time, everywhere. This is particularly specific to not-very-well-to-do sons of the soil who come in from border areas. So some problems yes, to be sure, but a great job done. And those political groups, who are protesting loud, obviously have their ill gotten wealth ready at hand to influence votes. I can’t help but feel gleeful that the economy is Modified.

 

What is happening in USA, though? Friends who are born in the US or have moved there are devastated. I never thought that someone I enjoyed viewing as the buffoon-on-the-TV has actually been elected to be the President of USA. Intelligent friends are seriously considering moving to Canada. Others are saying that this is the man who first began speaking of rigging – therefore, he must have rigged the votes. But I think the most telling piece cam from my fiend Alison who is now in Laos. She says – ‘… this is the Kali Yuga … (when)only one quarter of virtue remains, men turn to wickedness …all creatures degenerate … without exception.’  This is the sort of thing persons who are completely hopeless say to explain their feelings of hopelessness. Never before have riots occurred to protest the election. Never before have American born with Asian fathers and Mexican mothers worried that they may not be allowed back into USA, after their long trip in Asia. Never before, and this I feel strongly about, have women felt shattered the world over that a woman was not allowed to be the President of USA.

 

Whereas one woman, Angela Merkel has taught the world how to demonstrate empathy (and is of course paying for it), by welcoming refugees – another buffoon-on-TV is speaking of throwing out thousands of immigrants / refugees. John Lennon had asked us to imagine a world where there are no boundaries.  The Bauls of Bengal sing of there being no Masters but the Ones. All I can say is please let the Kali Yuga end and we no longer need to be Trumped or Modified.

Freedom

20 Aug 16
Keya
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Seventy years of freedom are too long for many living in the fringes of urban India. There are a few who champion their cause and are arrested, even under the British birthed anachronistic sedition law.

For instance, in Kashmir there is no attempt to talk with the civil society, instead over sixty are killed. In Chhatisgarh the tribals are brutalized over and again. Dalits are beaten, thrashed and cruelly dealt with everywhere in India. In Manipur successive women go on hunger strike for years to remove an aspect of the military might. You are not free to eat what you wish. And certainly not to crack jokes about the Indian holy cows. And Governors are appointed with a skewered conscience who had once been accused of faking documents to ease parking.

A friend who heads a prominent NGO sent me a message on Independence Day to tell me how much she loves her India, but how devastated she feels when she sees the conditions of the villages that she passes in her train to South India. I sent her one of those Independence Day self congratulatory replies on how the villages have improved, thanks to people like her. And later I felt ashamed at my facile comment.

What does improvement or development mean for a seventy year old free nation?

One of my employees rises at three in the night and sets out for work in the city. There are no lights on the road that is still the earth track it was twenty years ago. The Government has instituted several schemes for people such as her to receive cereals at a low price; some of these laws are converted to people pleasing measures as in Tamilnadu where ordinary folk get to eat incredibly cheap cooked food. But for most of India it is the marginally better off who receive such benefits because they know someone in the Panchayat.

Corruption always holds sway at who knows who level.

When such benefit schemes had first started, some responsible non governmental persons suggested to the then Congress Government that volunteers among college students should fan out to the whole of India and check if the benefits were really reaching legit beneficiaries. It was a wonderful beginning that kept things honest, and then as it happens in India, everything fizzled out.

Today, whereas one of my workers trudges through slush to reach a bus stop forty minutes away; another was called home to a neighbouring state to receive his Government decreed pension as an older card holding beneficiary. I was shocked to hear that this man who draws a fair salary was a below poverty line card holder. And it is all because his daughter in law is a Panchayat worker.

The Government has schemes (sometimes in association with foreign NGOs) to give land to those who live below the poverty line. The owners of such land tracts can grow what they need and thus become independent. In my understanding, that is development. However here too greed and corruption crept in. The owners of such land frequently sell their land and return to the city for work, whatever work it may be – because people who are unused to making their land work, cannot be forced to do so and this is where corruption steps in, to find the weakness and spread its roots.

A Chinese traveller/historian Hiuen Tsang (630 AD) had commented at the time that Indians are hot tempered deceitful people. Don’t we know it? I had once proudly said to an American friend, are we not truly free? He smiled and asked back ‘really? You think so?’

Today, I think not. If those who dare to be hopeful are willing to sacrifice much for the freedom to hope and their voices muffled; if the successive Governments behave as the British did in response. If corruption is king and development a distant dream – seventy years is too long to reach true freedom.

 

Keya Dutt

How soon

27 Jun 16
Keya
one comments

I have been meaning to write for the few who read my blog, but how soon the days pass, how small is the time measured in 24 hours. Meanwhile the drought claimed far too many lives and finally a political decision was made to send water – too late for lives already lost. The Assembly polls came and went and the two women leaders of Tamilnadu and Bengal made a fine point of their generosity while hiding much; and they won.

I suppose much is hidden by many. One of the things I desperately hide is the fact that I had once adventured by being India’s first woman detective. Or so the Press claimed at the time. A detective’s life is dirty, murky and never honest – much like that of the politicians. I spent nine months some twenty plus years ago as a detective, before I moved to publishing and remained there. And I spent the rest of the time trying to suppress, forget, deny the days of adventuring. I became so boring I bored myself. So when Anandana Kapur from Jamia Milia at Delhi researched and discovered me for her film on female detectives, my reaction was an emphatic ‘NO!’ to admitting on celluloid that I was once a detective, walking the wild side.
But Anandana was relentless in her persuasion and I ended up in her film.

During school my father had a transferable job and my mother packed us – meaning her children – up with her wherever she went. Maybe because as children we travelled as widely, perhaps because my mother died early, I learnt to always seek the most from each moment. How soon time travels on, how soon the beloved person leaves us, how soon the wondrous moments move on; so I learnt to squeeze every moment of its value and stored it in my memory chest.

When I shot with Anandana my Pandora’s Box of memories sprung open and memoirs stormed back. I began writing a crime story plot on her sets and suddenly my carefully erected walls crumbled. I remembered all I had experienced, the plots that came to me in dreams that I was too embarrassed to tell anyone of; the quick crime stories I wrote as a result. A life spent in cloaking myself in bourgeoisie saw me author crime stories and novels under a pseudonym – never my own name. Then the secret life went emphatically secret and in fact forgotten, till Anandana came along.

I began writing again and how wonderful it is to iron out all those tweaks of life in one’s mind! The only difference between writing then and now is that the more easily violent is this life in its reality, the harder it is to depict violence in my fiction. But I thank Anandana every time I sit with my writing – for setting my mind free.

The disappointments of life at large – the disappointment in the lack of general enthusiasm for our advances in space science; that of regressive Brexit, those of trafficking and abuse and corruption and environmental negligence come and go. The delights of how genes live on offset the disappointments. Sometimes it seems even 100 years is too short to experience all that life holds out to enjoy. Provided of course nothing is hidden, nothing is busily scooped up and swept under the carpet or locked away in a cupboard full of rattling skeletons to project a bourgeois image.

Marauding Bliss instead

11 Dec 15
Keya
one comments

As the world becomes smaller, the distance between individuals increases – or so it seems to me. No sooner had Paris or San Bernardino happened, we knew of it. We have begun to look askance at strangers; particularly those of a certain skin colour, from certain countries and belonging to certain religions. But life goes on, focused, specialist, one dimensional life of either/or, black/white.

As life goes on two contrary publications are being worked on now simultaneously, at work. We are editing a book on Swami Vivekananda. And we are also due to publish a Bengali translation of Marguerite Duras’ entitled “Priyotom” or the Bengali translation of “L’Amant” or “The Lover”. The Indian Victorian sensibility would be astonished and even offended at our two contrary interests.

Anyone who knows the ways of the world swears that the time is right for concentrated and focused thoughts and studies. I feel guilty in being as interested in the spiritual as in the here and now, physical world. Also, in this increasingly censorious world of ours such unapologetic indulgence in the many facets of life is considered the ultimate dilettante pursuit. But really, I don’t give a damn.

At the end of this terrible year, more and more people arm themselves and decide to align themselves to one cause after another. One disturbing cause is the establishment of a Caliphate with Baghdadi as the Caliph or the head of the Muslim nation that resembles what was in existence one and a half thousand years ago. I may laugh at this madness of them attempting to turn back the clock, but obviously all those who kill don’t share my brand of humour and continue perpetuating tragedy.

At the other end of this marauding menace are the climate change and the floods that ensue to wreak vengeance on planet earth for destroying our natural resources. I have read that in India it is Kolkata and Mumbai the cities most susceptible, but before the thought can filter through our fossil fuel addled brains, Chennai experienced the most devastating floods. It is said that one of the reasons for such floods is that the swamps and water bodies have been clogged up with bricks, mortar and plastics to build upon. Thus, natural disasters are compounded by human efforts.

It seems that we are indeed approaching an apocalypse as mentioned in the Biblical Book of Revelation or the Hindu and Buddhist belief of Kaliyug wherein all things are destroyed, beginning with the breakdown of the social order and in which of course the universe is said to be torn apart by natural calamities.

If that is so, Swami Vivekananda’s beliefs are that much more relevant now. And truth is, at the individual level, Duras’ self discovery through the body, also makes for a great amount of truth.

So I recommend all to enjoy life in its many facets before it all is torn out of our beings either by the crazed or by this ravaging earth of ours. Till then may we find bliss and Ananda.

What we believe in…

09 Oct 15
Keya
3 comments

Of the entire range of ancient world Epics in the oral tradition, I enjoy the Mahabharata the most. It tells many great tales, is sophisticated, perfect in structure and formatting and is, in my opinion a living breathing story that grows each day. In the towns and villages of India, storytellers still render portions of this Epic and add their own dramatic bit. I have not made a detailed study of the Mahabharata retold by among others, Ashok Banker and Shashi Tharoor; however some literary license must have crept in.

Would the violent and barbaric acts of India today enter the oral tradition, I wonder. Would those who believe they are Hindutvas create new threads of narration? What on earth is this Hindutva? Is it like the repugnant Aghora sect who believes in necrophilia? If believing in Hindutva means bullying, killing then all I can say is – I don’t know if Hinduism sanctions killing. I speak as a Hindu. My being a Hindu stands shamed today.

Fascists do not have any spiritual stirrings. They are blinded by dogma. During the Crusades in Medieval Europe – if the Christians or the Muslims were to be asked why they kill each other – would they have justified themselves by quoting from their religious texts? If the Gestapo were to be asked why they wish to destroy and kill, they would probably quote from their dogma, in justification. Today when the Islamic Nation bends religion to suit their fervour and their fevered killings, they would probably quote chapter and verse from the holy Quran to justify themselves and their acts. So too those among persons who call themselves practitioners of Hindutva, those who beat up and kill not only a poor man from a village in the badlands of North India, or those who kill celebrated thinkers, writers, pursued artists or who bully and target women who wish to live on their own terms – they too will swear this is what Hinduism wants.

Hinduism, as I know it is not this chest thumping fundamentalism. Hinduism is an exacting philosophy and very hard to follow, hence the 33 million portrayals of human emotions/ wish fulfillments in the images of gods, goddesses. In the Sunderbans area I remember there is a Hunter god who looks like a Sahib with some firearm who is a neighbour to the Bon bibi – the goddess of the forests but with some sort of Muslim coloration. Hinduism is the all encompassing, all embracing system that demands that each of us fulfill our individual destinies to reach our own ultimate realization. It is a joyous and generous belief system, as we have known it for centuries.

I have read the Gita, Bible, Quran and Dhammapada and believe that every religion says much the same thing. As the great Sage and Swami Vivekananda’s guru Sri Ramakrsna said ‘Jotho math totho path’ or that there are as many faiths as there are paths to realization. The Bible too says ‘My Father’s home has many rooms’. The richness of religions comes from diversity. But I wish there were no religions if that be the cause of aggression, death and destruction.

I end by apologizing for being so emotional or being all grave and grim. Here’s to joy!

Refuge

22 Sep 15
Keya
one comments

Some of the best Literature in India came from the displaced persons yearning for the homeland they left behind as refugees in India. It is also a fact that it is the refugee in India who made spectacular successes of their lives. But then it is not only India, but a global phenomena.

When I read about the 14 year old Ahmad Muhamad hand cuffed for building a clock and showing it to his teacher of English who reported him for building a bomb, I thought well, naturally the Hungarians will use water canons and tear gas to keep out refugees. Ahmad is the son of an immigrant from Sudan who had run for President in his homeland. Apparently after driving a cab in USA as a refugee he is now starting on a taxi service or something a little more upscale.

And I thought of the anthem of our generation ‘Imagine there is no country …no religion too’ by John Lennon. If Assad has been propped up by Western powers, it is they who should be blamed for the IS cremation grounds and killing fields of Syria. And it is only right that these nations should take in those who flee Syria. Or get rid of Assad. And the IS which of course will start a World War.

A new wave of cruel intolerance is sweeping across the world. Be it a bad teacher who has a 14 year old handcuffed or immigrants or refugees attacked at the Hungarian border. Be it a BMC order to ban meat or meat banning in several states of India.

Rabindranath Tagore had exhorted all to open the windows of our minds and allow the winds of change to flow in. Our India had constitutionally declared the celebration of difference. But where was this celebration in evidence when persons are killed because they say idols should not be worshipped? I recently went for my favourite vegetarian meal (I enjoy my vegetarianism) at a place of worship. Before I could enter the lift, the lift man challenged me, ‘Bolo Ram naam’ or to chant the name of Ram. I stepped firmly in and the man was silenced by my refusal to react.

One woman’s meat is another woman’s poison – yes, so it is. But to stop all who enjoy the poison from doing so is another feature of the intolerance that has gripped our world. Be it Hungary or the little boy dead on the beach. Be it teenage dreams handcuffed. Be it meat bans, or thought bans, or freedom to enjoy our freedom … Each one of us must try to end this intolerance and enjoy our differences.

Ancient Greek redux

02 Sep 15
Keya
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I don\t know how the ancient Greeks reacted to Medea especially when it was staged in the amphitheatres with burning torches sending long shadows in the dusk and the masks and stilts creating horror on horror. But now that we are being confronted by another Medea day in and out 24 x 7 for the past one week I can’t help but comparing the fictional Medea with the contemporary woman. Indrani Mukherjea who is alleged to have killed her daughter, allegedly attempted to murder her son and is said to be as powerful as Medea was. In fact she has more power because Indrani does not have the magic and the supernatural assistance of her literary fictional sister.

People who know them personally feel it is her husband who has worked through her for some monetary gain. The media of course is investigating and coming up with weird stories all the time, while Arnab of Times continuously thumps his table and declares ‘India wants to know’! The attack on Indrani Mukherjea is vicious. Of course they are right because if she has done what the Police suspect, she is utterly repugnant, but the attack on her is also repugnant.

It is only last night that some women activists said however rotten is the crime, the attack on Indrani Mukherjea is patriarchal. Women are not supposed to wield the power that did Indrani Mukherjea, women are not supposed to kill, women are not supposed to have as many lovers / husbands.

In the play Medea the protagonist, was of as terrible an attitude, guilty of crimes that goes against human nature (as is Indrani Mukherjea ) as salacious was the attention Medea drew; she was as much a foreigner as Indrani Mukherjea was after displaying filial disobedience by helping Jason and then of course Medea was tossed aside that led her to seek the most terrible revenge. We have not discovered whether our Medea is as consumed by jealousy or whether there is any usurping of power by a younger version or whether the scent of money and grubby greed was her undoing.

But what amazes me is how closely fact mirrors fiction.

Netaji

23 Jul 15
Keya
2 comments

There are two books I published on Netaji. One was the story of Anand Mohan Sahay, who spoke not a word on the man himself but much about all that made Netaji’s reputation in South Asia.
The other book is the perennial seller ‘The Search for Netaji’. When the book first came as a proposal I smiled when the author said I was brave in taking it up. Then came the veiled (and not so veiled) threats to stop the publication. The book sells with no promotion. But what amazes me is that the efforts to keep the book down, continues. So much so that even a net seller (big as they are) suddenly removed the book from its list and refused to say why. O well, child of controversy, the author Purabi Roy, is never surprised at what people do to try to stop its sales. More about her later.

What has amazed me was the purely accidental balancing of perspectives that the two books offer on Netaji. Although one is autobiographical and the hard core academic with a detective fiction like exciting disclosure. One gives us why Netaji was who he was among the Indian diaspora. The other explains why Netaji was so thoroughly vanished but not vanquished from independent India.

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