April 24, 2012

Fasting Spirits

My last fight will be with god himself - Baba Bholanath , she says. I will fight this fight until the last drop of blood is shed. She has been just come out of a seven-day amorone onoshone (fast unto death). For casual labor at the District Hospital - called special attendants. Who are hired by the patient's family, but operate out of hospital premises, supplementing the services of government nurses. For their regularisation is her lifelong crusade. She has been one herself, and was made permanent towards the end of her tenure. Political parties, with whom she has campaigned all her life, are now turning their backs. Reporters covered her dharna, interviewed her all of last week. And no channel, no newspaper spoke of it. It was a fast of waste. An invisible fast. She now waits only to hear from god that he exists in the time of dystopia. Her last and only worthwhile battle.

Hymns for our heroes

They dance at the hour of worship of deities. Nodding their heads, spinning deftly, turning their wrists in anticipation of the feminine grace that will dawn on them in a few years time. Their mothers wait patiently in the wings, worrying about a possible mis-step, a loosened accessory, a melting brow decoration. They have adorned their little ones in flower wreaths, pronouncing their own victory as mothers. They have found the best possible opportunity for their child's newly learnt steps and cultural acclimatisation to be staged. It could be a political meeting, a birth anniversary of a dead nationalist, a call of mirth, outrage or sobriety. Men of letters, matters of statecraft take a break for the joy of these innocent feet. Having enriched themselves with potion of childhood and cultural sacreds, they resume talk of power and struggle. Strengthened by the blessing of dead poets.

April 9, 2012

No Country for Old Man

Feminism – good ole feminism – has been on my mind, since I attended Gloria Steinem’s recent talk at JNU on the abolitionist stance on prostitution. As also the recent collage of rape-exposes on Tehelka. Gloria Steinem said at JNU that for every cordoned-woman that is produced, another prostitute is generated somewhere else. For every virgin, a slut. It has been a while since I read feminist theory, participated in feminist debates. I have even become squeamish in the past few years, of calling myself a feminist. There were too many instances of feminist outrage in the Indian scenario in the past few years, that had a neoliberal rejoicing against the vernacular, boorish man that troubled me. This man does not know the hip ways of sexual approach. He is implicated in shock-and-awe narratives of rape and murder. The urbane, good-liberal could only condemn his unthinking patriarchy, his boorish rampage across the expanding city. Cities like Bangalore and Delhi expand into formerly small-town on agrarian fringes to build idyllic homes for the returning NRIs, expats and triumphant professionals, and landscape, economy, social order suddenly moves around in a kaleidoscope. I was moved by the Tehelka interview of a seventy-something old man, on the fringes of Noida asserting his fragile patriarchy against a social order gone astray. Young people drink and dance and sexuality flows about without the check of marriage and other social control mechanisms on Noida wastelands. He says all the things that patriarchy can say about rape – women who drink are responsible for what happens to them, women who wear skimpy clothes have no morals. Much as these things cannot be tolerated and must be spoken against by women who live, work and struggle to access freedom and safety at the same time in cities, a helplessness struck me to be at the root of this old man’s misogyny. He was crying out not at the vibrant sexualities of boys and girls swooning at Noida clubs, but importantly, against this sudden kaleidoscopic spin in landscape, aesthetic and morality that has made him an obsolete citizen, an obsolete man. We have reached a crossroad in liberal-conservative argumentation, where a demand for an insular social order, selective accessing of the fashionable freedoms offered by capital, are almost laughably irrelevant. These characters of the fringes of Noida are presented veiled Priyanka and Sonia, at the time of elections, as these men are revealed to an abashed Indian metropolitan citizen, and a sad-and-awed Western audience, as the man who will never be modern. Whose political sensibilities will be woven around traditional networks of patronage, whose spoilt sons will roam Noida with no understanding of sexual agency of women, whose mothers and daughters will forever remain numb to fashionable feminisms. By no means am I pulling attention away from the seriousness of the demand to make cities safe for women accessing transport and public spaces. Although, I am worried that perhaps the narrative production in the liberal media that goes into making this point about safety and freedom, contributes to a large network of words, images and action that go to fossilize the Indian un-modern man. One that will never know his table manners or dating cues. In doing so, the popular feminist texts one accesses in blogs and magazines effaces significant new faces of patriarchy that are produced in the world of fashionable freedoms. I find very little written and said of the new patriarchal underpinnings of dating and sexual liberation, and ones that produce a twenty-year-old happy internet stripper. At no point am I arguing for censoring of Bollywood or other media portrayals of sexuality. I am simply pointing towards this constellation of forces that create the peculiarly neoliberal gender-anxiety about body, liberation, hedonism, sexual overstatement, constantly marking the obsolete periphery. The seventy-something was probably pointing to the same thing, except in pointing to the cutout of the Noida partygirl as a metonym, he implicated himself in a string of illiberal sins.