Monday, March 23, 2009

Lapsing into Seriousness

So, to not be flippant in these parts for a change...

I have an essay in an online magazine called Phalanx which is here

I've been kvetching for a long time about how, while there is an increasingly sophisticated discussion about mainstream art and politics, the space to discuss the alternative seems to be amorphous at best. Blogs about books and literature are an exception - to an extent only though.

So it's quite nice that there are some initiatives that are serious about this other space - like Pratilipi for example, which has been running a series on the Indian documentary along with various pieces on other arts.

After all without a serious, vibrant critical culture, how are we going to make better work?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Arms and the Man (or dinga dinga dinga dinga dee)

Well, when The Man wants to sell Arms he too must advertise - and use all the predictable gender tropes advertisers are accused of, keeping textual analysis academic types in ecstasy for at least a year.

I got this in the email from my friend Sanjay Kak, as a Holi greeting. You cannot fault it for not having colour.



And read more from those who think it deserves an award.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

F-words, F-thoughts


March 8 is women’s day.

I didn’t know this till maybe 1990 when I started working for a documentary filmmaker and through the political activist friends I made in that context, went along to a Women’s Day celebration. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know about it, even though I considered myself a feminist ever since I knew the term. For them all it seemed like such obvious knowledge, 15 August – Independence Day; 2nd October – Gandhi Jayanti, 8 March – International Women’s Day.

But how could I have known? It was not a National Holiday as it had been declared say, in Soviet Russia in 1965. It wasn’t common knowledge, a popular event, in the papers like say Nov. 2nd is (Shahrukh Khan’s birthday – you mean you didn’t know?!). I don’t remember it being observed even in my rather feminist English lit. department in Miranda House (I’m sure they considered it frivolous – or maybe they considered us frivolous and didn’t bother to tell us only).

Now look what a long way we’ve come baby.

Today’s papers are not ignoring women’s day.

Coming out smelling of roses, are DNA and surprise, surprise, the Times of India.
A main lead about a survey that shows economic change does not necessarily make for cultural/political change. 53% of women answered the question – Who should decide what a woman can/can’t do as evening entertainment with: Parents/Husband. There are various other depressing findings in the survey. But what I like about the piece is the title: Women’s lib? It’s a long way off. I like it because it implies women’s lib (although hopefully with a less retro name) is desirable and that’s as close to mentioning the F-thought as anyone gets in the papers today – since they can’t possibly say the F-word, we have to glean the F-thought.

Moreover, they have stories on the inside pages about women and HIV and in the rather standard women breaking barriers section which featured women behind the camera in film work and women entrepreneurs – but more interstingly, a Western Railway clerk who teaches a music class on the local train.

DNA’s lead story on a survey that shows how a male-ordered work environment is crippling women’s psyches and also had stories inside on rallies women can go to, little activist things they can do, along with the usual women achiever things. More interestingly I liked that they tried to ask some questions that were philosophical in nature – Are women power phobic? for instance or looking at how male competitive and hierarchical behaviours may not be the only way to succeed, and sometimes is the opposite as well as some stuff on bad-girl rockers and women and alcohol addiction. All in all I felt the attitude of the DNA issue was a little more interested in socio-cultural structures and tried to understand some experience for women in that context rather than just assume some falsely rah-rah tone.

I’m not of course saying that these articles were great pieces of feminist work. DNA’s recommendation of what men can do for women was fully lame (make her breakfast in bed. Why? Is it her birthday? Why not, go to a rally with her?). But at least for the most their articles were were based on a genuine, earnest approach to feminism, or as they like to call it, women’s experience. If someone at least raises some good question, maybe we can try coming up with better answers.


As always the press seems possessed of a kind of Hindi movie style lakwa mar gaya problem when it comes to finding stories of interesting independent or politically committed work. In their special section the only social activist they managed to muster up was someone from Sewa.

Please yaar. Uth jaag meri behna for crap’s sake.

Meanwhile the Indian Express, that dubious darling of us progressives could manage only a profile of a young stuntwoman. Gee thanks, folks.

Asian Age gave some grudging space to the Pink Chaddi campaign in its piece on young people who make a change.

In Mid-day, Devdutt Patnaik’s always delightful column on mythology featured Devis – but it’s an unorthodox and fun column. With this Mid-day felt they’d done their bit and then resorted to utterly shameful things like asking Deepika Padukone what she likes about being a woman. Some gems;

- when I step out of the house, I realize I am a responsible woman of today and I know what I should be doing or shouldn’t be.”
“I get to dress up elaborately”
“I would say I am glad I ama woman because I can a be adaughter, a wgirlfriend, a wife, a mother, a carrer-woman, a homemaker. In a single lifetime, I get an opportunity to play a range of real-life roles.”

How right Deepika. You go right on role-playing.

Meanwhile HT Café asked some very thin girls called Diana Penty and Lisa Haydon (5’11” and 5’ 10” informed the intro) about being role models (since they’re already models, it would just mean adding one role after all).

They had nothing to say on this matter. Then asked about their ideals -

Lisa (instantly): Angelina Jolie! Many say we look alike.

Later in the interview:

Café: What’s your take on the Mangalore incident?
Diana: What incident?
Lisa: What happened?

Café: A group of girls were attacked (…) for drinking in a pub(…) apparently it’s a sign of loose morals.
Lisa: That’s horrible. I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere in the world. But that may be because of the choice of pubs and I’m mostly in groups.

Yes Lisa, go ahead blame it on the girls why don’t you. HT Café should hang its head in shame – they could have tried a little harder today. Or maybe this is a parody?

Meanwhile Kareena Kapoor, given a chance to ask Sonia Gandhi 5 questions for women’s day asked – “You are always so elegantly dressed! May I ask where you get your saris from?”, as also “Do you like my favourite Italian dish, Spaghetti Pomodoro?”

In between were two questions on eve teasing and property laws.

The thing that annoyed me most of all was how people went on about how the great thing about women is how they are always composed and dignified and calm and well dressed in the face of adversity, cruelty and general assholiticness from other people.

I say – what the fuck?! (on this blog we are not afraid of F words)

I am very sick of this problem with women’s anger. I think more women should get pissed off and fewer should be demure and dignified. I think for all these over dressed, self absorbed, nitwits that have been given space Feminism should be cancelled. Let’s see how they like it.

Oh and also to Big Bazaar – the only one’s to have a genuinely near feminist Women’s Day offer among the cosmetics and clothing bullshit sales. 36 XL sanitary pads (Brand: She) – good thinking. I like that they think of menstruation and aren’t scared to talk about it. However their ad then trills – 6 months of use in one go for Rs.199! Whoever thinks women use only 6 pads per period needs to be struck by continuous PMS (no, dear, it’s not a typo for SMS) for 6 months.

So happy being pissed off this women’s day and on several other days as well.

And for those who are going to ask that mincing question: Well what do you want yaar? Do you want nothing at all instead of at least this something? I ask only – can’t a girl criticize anything around here without instantly being given an ultimatum? A little heated conversation please (no dear, heated is not the same as being in heat, sorry).

I’ll tell you what I do want – I wish there had been one article anytime in the last few years that Women’s Day is in the papers, which told us the history of Women’s Day. This is a day for linking ourselves with all those in any time and any place fought for the lives we celebrate today and it'd be good to remind those who do not know and don't always have the chance to discover it.

Oh and if you think criticize is all I do, it’s often true, when I’m at home - over here. In other people’s drawing rooms, I say other things on the same day.