For the misfits living in a paradox, you are not alone.


August 2013

Be Positive!

Introspectively and in retrospect, this nation began its journey with capital, baffled identities, ill political maneuvering, death of intellectuals, plight that came from natural disasters..the list goes on! Some would say 42 years should have been long enough for the wounds to heal but what about the ones that strike us down continually on a daily basis in the guise of corruption, treason, derailed govt regulations? And despite all that it is being said that Bangladesh “is one of the fastest growing developing countries”, “has made remarkable progress in declining child and maternal mortality”, “8 million Bangladeshi overseas workers in more than 155 countries, who remitted over $14 billion in 2012”, “is one of the world’s leading exporters of ready-made garments, ranking second in the world after China”. Let’s take a moment to contemplate the positive progress we have made so far, because to be honest, we could do with a bit of positivity right now! “
This pronounced statement above was the result of my positive-ranting (yes there is such a thing, only in my books though, I too often wonder if I do not have a biological defect!) resulting in a facebook status back at that time, at the end of February, when an apparent positive affair called the ‘Projonmo Chottor’ made me witness things I had neither heard nor expected in the history of this nation – Bangladesh! These two simple words, together, produced a platform that put forward a belief, resurrected an emotion in every single Bangladeshi, which at least our generation, the millennium, who had grown up only been regaled with tales of heroism from 1971, was suddenly awarded with an extraordinary opportunity to be a part of! All those hundreds of movies(when one thinks about a Bangladeshi movie or drama serial, you can only see visuals of 71!) that we had been watching ever since we were born, all the brilliant anecdotes recounted by our mothers and grandmothers so often that they came alive in front of our eyes and suddenly all those pent-up emotions revealed like a bare wound, in public, to be critically assessed, by those two really simple words! Those, couple of months, were tough I must admit.
I must also admit that I did not expect any specific outcome out of the movement from the beginning. Yes, even an overly emphatic optimist as myself! It was not like I did not want our lives, or the lives of the citizens living in Bangladesh at the time, to experience something as brilliant as the stories depicted so often on celluloid: a raging war, arrival of a messiah and a happy ending. As much as I enjoy an unhealthy dose of a Bollywood flick every now and then, even I am more realistic than that! Sometimes I blame these unrealistic portrayals in cinema for raising our expectation bars so high that real life cannot cope with it!
What did we expect? Suddenly a hero was going to descend from the seventh heaven, okay, let’s say from amongst this bunch that founded the chottor, fight our battles, awaken us from this nightmare that we call life here and basically rescue us while we stand on the sideline, all safe and secure, under the protection of our family names and inherited power and only contribute to the war cry? Sorry but I just smiled out of grief and I believe all the thousands of heroes that once made our blood boil, from celluloid to real life, from William Wallace to Bhagat Singh, all just ganged up on me and smiled the most derogatory smile I have ever seen! Battles are not won that way, fights are not fought that way and life, my friend is not that easy, they say. Some things can only be achieved the good old-fashioned way!
It would be fair to say I did not mind the effect that Projonmo Chottor was able to create – a reason to unite, stand together – and I would risk sounding like a broken record if I repeat all that I had said back in early February 2013. I did absolutely jump on the bandwagon, locally and overseas, virtually and in real life, I debated in my sleep over sweat and blood! But it was not in the hope of seeing sunshine, no, because I believe the only place capable of producing sunshine is not somewhere we can spot outwardly, but lies within the deepest wells of our soul, in each of us. It lies with our core belief. And that belief had moved mountains centuries before us and is still capable of doing so! Then why does the human form this energy takes distract us? Why do we doubt in our own individual power to change this world?
In a matter of a few months I witnessed families drifting apart, friends turn foes, couples breaking up – I must admit these were astounding feats! Never before had I seen this country or its countrymen displaying such deep-rooted, brash emotion towards anything other than that, which concerned their bread and butter. It was impressive. We can argue through our teeth over why and hows and also who was behind the ‘show’ but the motion was a success from the go!
The sad part, personally though for me, lies in the fact how a dark eerie shadow seem to lurk behind every Bangladeshi citizen in the form of this negative energy. If it was the Treta Yug or epoch, when Lord Rama lived, I would have vouched it was the work of the evil Asuras! Because it is not just in matters related to this nation that we are negative about – it is anything and everything! Say you pay a compliment to someone within the earshot of another, within seconds the eavesdropper would feel the need to make up some story to make the person spoken about sound horrible! The Asuras may have lost in the Tetra Yug but alas, the presence of the evil still lives and will only be defeated once and for all when each of us, individually and intrinsically, delve into that well of power and declare war! A war against everything that is wrong in our backyard, in our vicinity and a war against everything big and small we have been silent about for so long!
A messiah has arrived – can you see? It is YOU.

Come let’s discuss Men!

Chivalry is a concept I have often struggled with. While the vast majority of times, I see women eyeing the ‘gentlemen’ qualities in a man admirably, a notion creep up at the back of my head to contaminate the hunky dory features of an otherwise commendable phenomena. Fast disappearing in certain parts of the world, you still manage to glimpse men volunteering to vacate their seats for their women counterparts, either refrain from or immediately apologise, if apprehended at expressing profanities in a lady’s presence, unwilling to share certain kind of jokes, only considered appropriate out of the ranges of a lady’s earshot. This is an act widely in practice, without the interference of any other disparity such as age or physical location, solely based on gender differences. It is avoidance in fear of ruffling a fragile female façade. It is an epidemic.
It all goes back to the medieval times, a more chivalrous era so to speak, where this code of conduct evolved partly from knighthood and partly from the trend and ideals of courtly love and based on my readings so far had been established with the noblest of intentions – to respect the honour of women! But just like all other ancient customs, the viability of such a tradition in today’s world and perspective is debatable. It poses an important question of whether or not an idea of this nature should be entertained by a group of modern women striving for sexual equality.
In my last post, I have hinted slightly about my sardonic sense of humour being quite un-ladylike and hence widely unpopular. While most often it draws a chuckle or an entertained gasp from the male sector, it almost always draws a frown of annoyance from my women audience. This is solely because it is considered to pertain certain crudeness, unexpected and unsolicited from females. This takes me back to the 3 F’s – fragile female façade – and how the emotional status of a woman is often confused with her physical abilities and there seems to be a need to protect the women psyche as well. Does it remind anyone about any other scenario, where often we resort to using euphemism so not to offend a particular group? Yes, you are right, the only other group is children!
Without further ado, allow me to make my point: in a world where we are so caught up with empowering women and fighting for their rights (quite rightly so), is not there a part of us that neglect the fact that progress can only actualise when all the relatable wheels are in motion together, i.e. empowerment of women alone would not suffice until or unless we spend time trying to understand the male psyche as well.
See, bluntly put, men are the sperm bearers. They are equipped with the biological responsibility to impregnate and as a result quite naturally their sexual drive would be much more active and rash compared to that of females. Why should we hold it against them? If women are not held responsible for their ability to fall pregnant ‘easily’, why should men be humiliated for their natural need to procreate? A man’s more pressing sexual needs is a fact and finding it offensive or denying it is the same as crying over how, as women, are stuck with the childbearing duties! These are natural phenomena and instead of having a war with nature, we should accept what has been given to us, and look to achieve a mutually beneficial balance.
I am a firm believer in the practicalities of human nature. There are certain traits that make us human and surpass time, age and eras – love is still love, hate is still hate and greed is still greed. Generations have had no effect on these traits and they have outlived all others. So when a person is caught lying, he is only acting on the impulses he was genetically manufactured with – where is the surprise element – he is just being human, with warts and all. We spend all our lives in a dilemma, killing ourselves over thwarting the evil in us – an evil whose presence is as prevalent and tantamount as the goodness. Thus, let us not beat ourselves over a slip and accept that we can never become the perfect person because in truth, each of us are already perfect – it is our flaws that make us perfect human beings.
Beginning of this year, when the Delhi rape created headlines all around the world, I remember having an argument with an older female relative of mine, over the popular meme shared on facebook that showed a woman holding a banner that read ‘Do not teach us what to wear. Teach your sons not to rape.’ Her argument against the meme was that we as women could not shun the responsibility of dressing decently. In fact it was vital to ensure we do not attract the wrong kind of attention and to follow it up she said ‘offering a fresh stack of meat in front of a lion and expecting it to walk away responsibly is an act of foolishness.’ I found this comment, especially coming from a female, extremely derogatory (to say the least) and disillusioned merely because our men are not lions and I would like to think we are more than just a stack of meat. Our men will always be expected to exercise restraint from an act of coerciveness because they are not animals – they are human. I think men are misunderstood here, and given a label through incorrect social messages to appear more like an ape – still stuck in phase 1 of evolution. Through such messages from women, we are not only further deteriorating harmony between the two sexes, but also endorsing something heinous as violence.  This is what I mean when I say there is a need for an increased interest into the male psyche from us females before we can hope to achieve a drastic development in this area.
I mentioned in my last post on women power about never wishing to come back to this world as a male and I meant it for more than one reason. Firstly, because of the lack of romanticism in not being the natural hero but also because of the pressure of expectation every man is born with! From the moment they are conceived expectations are embedded into their system: the immense pressure of displaying physical strength – if you are weak you get bullied in school – followed by an inherited form of responsibility whereby the fathers set a certain standard that the successor is expected to equal, if not exceed, as part of carrying the name forward. The pressure just keeps building on – once they are done proving themselves to their families, then comes the wife and children and the expectation mongers constantly cheering or booing in the background – there is never a moment of peace. Women on the other hand, mostly in the South Asian societies, are completely exempt from these responsibilities. This is a form of male discrimination, whereby they experience a sensation of living inside a pressure cooker, both from family and society to prove themselves in terms of being successful and earning a truckload of money and women in our society to a certain extent contribute towards creating that pressure, by taking the nonchalant or borderline flippant role in their responsibilities toward the earnings of a household. The absence of the peer pressure on females automatically adds to the men’s burden! And consequently contributes toward shaping their perception of women in general.
Back in my university years, I remember a female friend blatantly putting forward that she could never ever settle for an unsuccessful man. My question to her was simply this- why was it important? Her response was quite simple too – it was disgraceful for a man not to be successful! The memory of that conversation always make me wonder if some of us are not, after all, a little childlike deep down and perhaps mentally disabled too in certain leadership areas which allow us only to accept successful and powerful men into our lives. But men are expected to look at our 3 F’s (fragile female façade) and accept us for better and for worse. It is perhaps not chivalry then that has survived in the form of displaying honour, but this eyelash-batting, helpless dame-in-distress attitude that still make men vacate and offer that seat to us.


Yes you have read it right. I did just invent the word in the title. Hence please refrain from consulting the thesaurus or alternatively look away from the more popular google search-bar and let me explain myself a little better! I believe this is the second occasion where I have been guilty of taking the liberty to create portmanteau terms and I only have the excess of creative energy flowing through my veins currently to blame for it. This characteristic reckless display of boldness this time around though has been triggered by a phase, that I am constantly finding myself in, where opposing thoughts collide, creating ample sparks to invite a reactive response to mitigate matters, only resulting in more fervour! I hope to have made quite an impression by this incomplete vague explanation in my first paragraph and to prove the extent to which my audacity has grown, over the past couple of months, I am proud to present my first piece without a disclaimer! (Applause)
Upon returning to Bangladesh and settling comfortably back into the privileged, bourgeois standard of living in Dhaka, I have had the opportunity to reflect on how this city is the perfect paradise for an adrenaline junkie. I mean it – who needs to rely on drugs or invest into an adrenaline pumping recreation when the constant life-and-death reality that surrounds you is more than capable of throwing you into the deepest pits of illusion, consecutively make you disillusioned while providing you with the accompanying sensation of jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute the whole time. The reason I have successfully managed to offend both the city and my particular class, all in the same breath, is because it is not the first instance when I have bitterly noticed the positioning of my own class in this society and the views and opinions it seems to represent and I must say they are not, as one might describe as ‘kosher’ or more relevant in this society’s context as – ‘halal’.
There is no easy way to state the truth surrounding the conformity of this upper-middle-class or as I like to refer to as the ‘unfortunately privileged’ part of the society and the fact to the matter is that the invisible caste system, unassigned by any racial or religious discrimination (as we might observe in the neighbouring countries) which exist amidst the people of the same colour, features and profile in this country is a puzzle. It is a puzzle I have neither been able to unravel nor understand ever since I can remember and it started right from within my own household, where as a child myself and the hired help had never been allowed to occupy the same space at the same time, without clearly defining our individual domains.* The very first encounter with an exception to this rule was when I visited a friend’s house from school and discovered her exceptionally liberal-minded parents allowing their young hired maid to sit at the same table as us and I remember how all the other kids, including myself reacted to it – not with negativity thankfully but with sheer incredulity at such a leap of a break from tradition! The ratio of rational forward thinking people in this particular class – with similar financial means when I was growing up – against the bourgeois was 1:100 and sadly it has not changed much since.
What have we really got against the hordes of the black, brown and yellow that walk the same road as us every day and why can we not for once accept that they are our majority, the driving force of this nation and not the ruling minority that speeds past in their air-conditioned BMWs? When the RMG sector in this country first started gaining momentum and a lot of this apparent ‘lower’ class joined this contemporary stream of workforce, I did not have to venture far to hear comments like ‘look how this boom in the garment industry has affected this lower class! Suddenly their attitudes have changed, their backs straightened, they are looking us straight in the eye!’. This was a clear indication of the fear that I noticed in my surroundings where the supposed upper-class suddenly started to feel threatened as their subconscious stoked their growing concern over the repercussions of an empowered underclass which might ultimately grow powerful enough to compete at the same level as us, even, God-forbid intermingle with our own children and contaminate future generations! I must pause here to take off the figurative cloak that I had draped myself in thus far (to better explain my inherited personal positioning in this class struggle) and would refrain from using the term ‘us’ when speaking of the upper-middle-class from here on, as in the context of this piece, I mentally do not sit within that arena.
In wake of the current Savar crisis in Bangladesh, which by the way had even raised the alarm at the Vatican I hear, I am once again disappointed to discover that this country has been divided into two by even a tragedy of this magnitude. The segregation now lies between the capitalist vs. the idealist, the patrician vs. the egalitarian, the former in both cases presenting success stories based on monetary facts and figures and the latter obviously highlighting the failure in the form of a retreat from human development. What we collectively fail to realise is the number of years and a catastrophe serving as an eye-opener that took us to reflect on the lawless manner in which the upper-class has been conducting all employment transactions with the underclass. The complete lack of regulations and regard in relation to working condition, fair pay, discrimination and foul play exceeds far beyond the realms of the RMG sector alone. It seeps into our homes, in the driving seats of the most chauffeur-driven cars, in our kitchens, on the stools guarding our forts and into the very bane of our everyday existence! The desensitised negligence from the educated section of the society and the vanity from the ‘elite’ is reminiscent of a struggle in a different part of the world long ago – the American civil war and the African-American civil rights movements respectively. Under the current circumstances, we either give rise to an Abraham Lincoln from amongst us or wait for another Martin Luther King to be born out of oppression. Either way, we need to be rescued from this attitude where we see only to make it unseen and feel only to make it unfelt.
Collectively, as a society beyond class and creed, and individually let us exorcise the demons within ourselves and eradicate this gap between the different classes that still exist today before we can hope to achieve anything else and perhaps tilt the scale towards the more rational, progressive and forward thinkers of this country. This can be achieved first and foremost – by growing a conscience. The oxford dictionary describes education as ‘an enlightening experience’ and while you would find many a certified educated person around you, how many do you believe have actually acquired their sensibilities in the true essence of the definition? Let us be enlightened and grow a little more courage and show it by taking some baby steps – like I have by shedding the cloak of disclaimers today just because I did not feel the need to justify my actions publicly just this once – and as a nation develop unabashedly, both monetarily and conscientiously, hand in hand. In a hurry to get to work, let us not forget our morals back home.
*please refer to “labour crisis in the household: truth or myth?” for a related story. 

It was a dark and stormy night…

 I wrote the central gist of this little piece many years ago, given the title above as the topic of the essay, for a school assignment in year 8 or 9. I was made to stand up in front of the class and read it out loud. It was momentous, especially at that age when the creative part in me sought after any acknowledgement and revelled in applause, while withdrew into seclusion and took a million steps backward at the mere mention of criticism. It was a delicate time and my feelings and opinions raw – fresh out of the oven! I have attempted to the best of my ability to recapture and rewrite the basic story, staying true to the formidable, crude and unadulterated thoughts that occupied my mind at fourteen/fifteen, once upon a time. However, the treatment had undergone unforgivable reparation and wear and tear of age. I have also added a few parts taking recent events into consideration that made me remember this story in the first place. I feel the need for it to be retold. The time is right.

Continue reading “It was a dark and stormy night…”



Continue reading “INFIDELITY”


Now this is a real abbreviation; none of those wishy-washy titles that have been in existence since “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” came on air.  However, I am not too sure whether there is any kind of sequence or interrelation between what each letter represents.  D for dark? H for hallucinatory? A for abstract? K for kindred? A for alien? This is a city of dark, hallucinatory and abstract kindred aliens to be more precise and poses a lot more question marks than I can handle.
I have recently realised how almost all my writings commence with some sort of a disclaimer, if not disclaimers. I mean why should this be an exception! Now getting to the disclaimer bit, I do realise the risk of attempting to talk about the qualities of a city, that too about one that has innumerable facets, most of which is still undiscovered by myself after spending a significant chunk of my life there. However, I still believe the risk is worth taking. You would hardly find any two individuals giving you the same account on a city no matter how similar their stories might happen to be and although my storytelling would not be exempt from any of the clichés that are incessantly associated with this city of ours, it would nevertheless be different.
I can still vividly hear each set of drum rolls that came about in rapid succession that night. With each drumbeat, my heart skipped several. There are certain moments in your life when you blindly wish for something in exchange for almost anything and this certainly was one of mine. Yes, this was that historical night that changed everything for the people of Bangladesh. That dark, dreary night in March when we challenged our fates against the gruelling upper hand of Pakistan; gnawed our way up, stood our ground and declared in a unified clear voice that we would not go quietly into the night, we would not vanish without a fight. Yes, this was the Asia Cup final cricket match against Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Okay, so enough with my melodrama and million apologies for the intended pun but to be quite frank, never before had I felt the entire nation standing united for a single cause the way I had witnessed it that night at the stadium! I was born in December 1985 and quite unfortunate, I believe, that I missed out on that single opportunity of feeling the ferocious passion that brought about this country’s independence 14 years prior. The only glimpses of it’s evidence, a pale shadow of the past can now only be viewed on these rare occasions of a significant cricket tournament.
Bangladesh as a whole really is quite an interesting country to say the least. There are people ruthlessly conning you for minimal gain, taking advantage of you the second you undergo a weak or vulnerable moment, using emotion as a weapon at every given opportunity, at one hand. On the other, people can take you by surprise by doing something totally selfless when least expected! It is a rollercoaster emotional tornado that is unpredictable and without any specific pattern. I have been thrown into this chaos at birth and left at it’s mercy for the first seventeen years of my life and at the end of this span I exited as clueless as the day I had entered. Thus, when I had an opportunity to take a two-month’s sabbatical (both professional and personal) from my usual structured Sydney life, I was face-to-face with an unusual opportunity to explore the city I had left behind.
What I discovered in these couple of months perhaps raised a lot of new questions but certainly restored my faith on the three aspects, or pillars as I like to refer to them as, that had withstood time and tide. The three pillars: food, religion and cricket. To begin with the first pillar, I do realise that it should come as no surprise that it is important to the characteristics of any given city, however, with Dhaka it is a lifeline that people tends to hold onto with dear life. Restaurants, cafes and lounges are probably important anywhere but in a city where there is very little or no nightlife for the majority otherwise, they are snares waiting to entangle the lives of people here on a daily basis and takes it to another level of enjoyment that I have personally hardly seen anywhere else. In a city where we all have to return to our families and a hearty home-cooked meal end of the day, it is the opportunity to socialise over a meal that becomes the main objective. Thus the not-yet-married couples throng the cafes, the already married couples have some quality time before returning to parents or parents-in-laws, the exhausted office-goer shares a light moment before facing the reality of responsibilities that awaits home and the school, college and university bound crowd enjoys a moment in peace before the burden of deadlines and assignments set in. Thus, these eat-out joints provide them with not food that is perhaps readily available elsewhere but with a haven, a place in-between, far from reality.
I remember once I was crossing the street in Sydney with a dear friend, engaged in an intense conversation over the presence and influence of religion in that city, and I made an impromptu remark that had more truth to it than I had realised then. Quoting myself: if you want to find God, you will not find him in these streets of Sydney. He will evade you. If you want to find him, you will have to travel back to Dhaka with me to witness His presence and existence incorporated into our very lives. That is where He dwells.
Though it was a casual remark but a few months later when I made my way back to this city, I felt the depth of it once again. God really dwells here. From the moment the dawn breaks and the sweet music of “Azaan” start to send signals to your brainwaves, at first softly, like a hum and then building in tempo to a cry of faith and devotion that calls out urgently to every individual to the peaceful moan in the background during “Esha” that calls it a day in a serene dismissal. Regardless of the level of faith you harness towards this particular religion, it never fails to dissect your day into five parts.  There is a beautiful song by a Bangladeshi folk band that talks about this dissection better than I can ever explain and although hardly any Dhakaitie can relate to the activities mentioned in the song, we can all empathise in true essence. Very roughly translated, the lyrics are as follows:-
In the wake of Fajr, I was busy fighting sleep
Johr was spent in the comings and goings of life
My Asr was at the mercy of my livelihood
Alas, I had no time for prayers
Maghrb was spent in the shed with the animals
With them untied, my life was a mess
Alas, I had no time for prayers
During Esha, my wife cries out we have no rice
And with that cries my child and so does my life
Alas, I had no time for prayers!
Okay, did I not mention it was a rough translation? The words are mostly my own loosely based on the song and mostly inspired by it, but hopefully I managed to make my point.
Because I started this piece with cricket, somehow it seems befitting that it should end with cricket and also perhaps more so because cricket is all I can feel in my veins right now. Reliving that unfortunate match right now, feeling the pain of loosing to Pakistan had perhaps driven me a little mad and I am perhaps loosing sight of what I had originally set to achieve through this writing but in case you find yourself as muddled and in wonderment after reading this as I currently am feeling, then I would not consider this as an entirely wasted effort after all! This is exactly the pot of boiling and confusing emotions that I enter this city with every time and exit almost exactly in a similar fashion – with just perhaps a million more questions and amazement to add to the basket!

Women Power – zindabaad!

When it is that-time-of-the-year again, you know, that uncomfortable time of the year, heralded by a restless feeling, accentuated by several mood swings and a pang – a pang in my lower abdomen that tends to become a knot of discomfort. It is called the International Women’s Day in my calendar.
For those of you unaware, I have managed to shed off the cloak of disclaimers with my last piece and with this one I intend to take it up a notch, throw a stone at the beehive and risk being stung! All in an attempt to project: the greater good of course.
I have reservations regarding the term feminism – strong, visceral reservations. I may add that I have been branded as an anti-feminist in multiple demographics for my rather crude and often insensitive (guilty!) remarks revolving this school of thought. I did try to be helpful by suggesting an alternative term to those nice ladies out there I had managed to rudely offend in the past, that the term they were perhaps looking for was anti-chauvinist but to no avail. It did not deter them from treating me as their enemy and I am not exactly sure I would be making more friends through this present attempt of mine. My impertinence must be borne one last time here as I unload certain things off my chest and my sardonic sense of humour too would probably not be very ladylike, after all as Oscar Wilde had once blatantly stated ‘Nothing spoils romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.’ Based on this quote, there is nothing romantic about this piece I am afraid.
Let me cut through the rhetoric and jump straight into phase 1 of my assertion: Why are we still changing last names? Actually, let me rephrase. Why are respectable, college-educated, progressive women still fiddling around with their identities? It was in the 1800s that Lucy Stone decided to stand against it as part of her battle for women rights in the U.S. and what had happened to her legacy? We have stoned the living daylights out of it (pun very much intended), that’s what, and this has happened at the hands of the so-called advanced, capable and privileged section of the population, with United kingdom pioneering this motion under their umbrella of common law and the rest of the educated world following suit. The clear evidence that this ridiculous arrangement had been peacefully accepted by majority of women across the world lies in the fact that it is still the norm today and anyone breaking the mould has to rather justify herself.
Women only very recently in most countries have learnt to understand that physical abuse is unacceptable, reportable if possible. Domestic violence or a forceful intercourse (despite being lawfully married) is unacceptable. Only just. Yet women across almost all demography do not seem to see a lack of reasoning behind changing their last names. Why you ask – perhaps because it is all too complicated – even if it is at the expense of their self-respect, at the expense of their individuality and what of the sexist inequality it encourages? Nothing.
Is it really that complicated to imagine a world where a person exists solely as herself and not through her aliases of a mother, sister or wife? The argument or contemplation over the fact that you inherit your patrilineal surname or whether or not your children will be able to adopt it and bear the torch of it in the future comes at a much later stage and is totally irrelevant when it comes to your own identity. Let us focus on one thing at a time. Let us grasp the true implication of the fact that if after all the progress we have made in this world, we still voluntarily change the very first thing about us people reckon with – our name, the truth unfortunately is that we choose this existence and should be willing to accept the associated complexities that come with this choice.
                                        ~~End of Rebuke: Phase 1 ~~
While I leave you to ruminate over the issue addressed in phase 1, I will allow a little break and like to engage you into an interesting story: –
When I hear women today being extremely vocal about the power struggle with their male counterparts or simply speak about a revolution, it always remind me of Digamvari Debi and how she had managed to successfully achieve nothing short of a revolution some odd 189 years ago!
See the Tagore clan’s history spans over more than 300 years. It was one of the most imminent families from Calcutta in colonial India, a key influence in the Bengal Renaissance and produced both men and women who were way ahead of their time. This story is about Dwarkanath Tagore, born in 1794 and more importantly about the woman he married – Digamvari Debi – paternal grandmother of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Digamvari Debi, married at the age of 6, represents a milieu when child marriage, polygamy and ‘sati’ were as real as the fact that women were completely shunned from the outside world and forbidden from even a glimpse at the sun. Their days were spent within the closed private chambers of the house and their sole identity being that associated with their husband or father. In a time and age, governed by a social structure as such, Digamvari Debi accomplished a feat that changed the course of women’s lives in India thereafter.
Anguished with her husband’s philandering ways with meat and liquor, one night she had decided to out-step the social boundaries and witness her husband’s activities at a social gathering first-hand. Her young daughter and a few other female relatives of the house accompanied her to the garden house that her husband had built to entertain guests, where she witnessed, dumbfounded, her wayward husband, sharing a seat with foreigners, male and female – both sahibs and memsahibs – drinking and submerged in an act of debauchery. Upon failing on an attempt to revoke her husband’s waywardness, Digamvari Debi declared her own personal form of mutiny from that day onwards: she refused to share her bed with her husband! Till her last breath, Digamvari Debi fulfilled all other wifely duties except cohabit with her husband. [1]
And this is how, almost 200 years ago; a woman with a fearless mind had silently given voice to her inner rebellion. Moral of this story for me lies in the chunk of her sacrifice, of how easily she could have forgiven her husband and proceeded with a normal conjugal life, that was and normally is still expected of a woman, regardless of the era. How easy it would have been.
All massive upheavals, changes in the course of history have come at a great price, often at the expense of human lives or in the least, a comfortable life. I have not heard of a revolution yet that was simply accepted and given away – a right to one’s existence, identity and self-respect is something that needs to be earned, often with great sacrifices.
                                    ~~Rebuke: Phase 2~~
Since we are on the topic of South-Asian history and heroes, before I delve into phase 2, I would like to discuss an issue that is quite Indian-subcontinent focused.
Why are we still living with our spouse’s parents? Is it tradition or convenience or stroking the male ego that we have a massive talent for? Because if it is only a question of affordability and ensuing reasons about saving money through rent-free means, why is it that I see so many stranded widowed parents of the female, leading a lonesome existence despite having more than one child and their only plausible flaw I can find is the gender of these children! On a scale of fairness and humanity, what kind of a daughter or a person does that make you if you are actually willing to abandon your own parents at their old and ailing age, only because you or your husband are not strong enough to stand against the flow of social norm?
This matter, in a lot of cases, is actually direr than we think. First of all, there is a similar ‘dilemma’ applicable as is with the surname in phase 1 – my family or his family? I say neither. The whole objective that the institution of marriage ratifies is cohabitation between two individuals with the intention of constructing a home together, not to revamp or re-build someone else’s. Then comes the most common flimsy defence of how it is difficult for a couple to afford to live or have a house on their own. Sounds quite realistic, excusable and pragmatic even, as opposed to my own idealistic argument, does it not? No, not really, I call five aces on that too because where the average budget of a South-Asian wedding ceremony is anywhere between $50,000 to $150,000, a person able to afford that but unwilling to invest the same amount into long-term wellbeing, for me, has already made the choice between a rational lifestyle and one driven by social custom; and the only education her college degree had perhaps bought her is the ability to thwart questions that trouble her conscience and design falsified reasons that would convince herself to believe in something the most instinctive part of her recognises to be completely untrue. If you cannot afford to lead a married life then you should not be married in the first place and least of all be able to afford a luxurious wedding ceremony – I am sorry, it is a two-way street!
The only instance where I perhaps would not hold it against a couple deciding to reside with the male’s parents/family is where the converse is true and one or more of the male’s family members are ailing and in need of constant attention, i.e. a classic dependent situation. In these circumstances it is only human to have those family members closer to you, who are actually in need but it is also essential that if circumstances reverse, the male should be more than willing to accompany his spouse to live with her family and look after them as well! If a man is truly a man, in all the masculine glory of the word, then I really do hope before the end of time he remembers that the root the word has been derived from is: hu-man.
This brings me to address phase 2 of my assertion, which is a little more universal and refers to the general psyche of womanhood and the part of us that wants to be rescued. Yes, this phrase does always remind me of an episode from the pathetic show Sex and the city, which probably stands out as a prolific example of a program that struts out all the deepest and darkest of female vulnerabilities on a plate and the only statement that it does make is that of fashion – I would have to give them credit for that!
Yes we are physically disadvantaged; the doubts that cloud our mind range from our monthly cramps in the abdominal region to being at the disadvantaged end of having to bear the consequences of a sexual experience gone wrong to our child-bearing agonies but then again where is the fun being a hero who does not rise against all odds and has not tasted the bitter sense of suffering, and where is the sense of achievement in a battle that is not often punctuated with small defeats and disappointments? At least being the ‘weaker’ sex has clearly defined our goals for generations! Coming back to the incessant need for being rescued, I cannot deny this myself that there is an embodied feeling of glee being manned by a man, which often become the initial reason for attraction between men and women but that feeling of romanticism should perhaps be strictly held within the proximities of the bedroom – where you should feel free to be thrashed around by your male counterpart and feel completely aroused by it but when it comes to the more serious, decision-making aspect of life, doubts that you are incapable of surviving or upholding a set of belief without it being endorsed by your male counterpart is a complete loss of individuality. So very often I see women in interactions falling completely silent when their male counterparts speak up and what is worse, often echoing their voices because somewhere deep down they actually consider them to be superior. This attitude tends to surpass age, qualification or individual accomplishments in life, for e.g. it could be a couple where both practices medicine, had gone to the same college, had similar grades but the woman still feels the need to consult her partner before voicing out an opinion. Just because you decide to spend your life with a person does not justify you leaving behind your old values, beliefs, orientations and opinions that make you who you are. Thus, from what I have seen, when a woman decides to spend her life with the man of her dreams, she invariably tends to leave behind a lot more than just her maiden name.
It would be completely unfair not to mention a recent social campaign, while I am still on the topic, called MARD[2](Men Against Rape and Discrimination), which had taken a contemporary approach towards upholding women rights, through educating men and encouraging them to raise their voice to drive home the message that women need to be respected. A similar and more implemental campaign in Bangladesh is called ‘The Brave Men’ [3] which looks into targeting boys aged between 12-15 to motivate them to break their silence on violence against women in the community. These are exemplary initiatives and perhaps the only kind of ‘rescue’ and support we should welcome from our men!
I do realise that most of the topics broached here today talk about issues that are quite urbane in nature and the connotations contained is not relevant to the section of the society whose survival is endangered, such as women battling against infant mortality rate, maternal survival ratio, for whom changing their last names is not the option to ponder upon but rather life is. But then again this piece is not aimed at that underprivileged section to comprehend, rather at that particular sector of women who has taken the responsibility and decided to engage themselves in representing these women in crisis. I strongly believe we need to intrinsically become the change we want to see around us before becoming an advocate for it and realise it is a 3-step process: we need to have enough conviction to show we a) want it, b) are willing to fight for it and make sacrifices along the way and c) are willing to work hard enough to earn it.
My feminism is extended as far as the disadvantaged people out there are concerned..and you would notice I say people, not women. Grouping women and children together is offensive to say the least, however, grouping women together, clearly distinguishing them from men, is perhaps even worse. There already exists way too much segregation in terms of race, colour, and geographical boundaries – where is the need to expand the list any further? The only exception here is perhaps sports or anything associated with physical strength where I would take a backseat but that is also where I draw the line. For everything else concerned, our sole identity should be as people, with a common goal of wellbeing. I speak to the group of women out there who engage in the empowerment of others – whose voices cannot be heard – but from where I can see things, it is particularly this group that need to be rescued first! Honestly, how many of you out there are involved in women empowerment as a side project under your husband’s elite umbrella that allow the privilege, and how many are actually there because you have freed yourself already and wish to extend the same favour to the rest of the world? So my endnote to all fellow women out there is simply this – rescue yourself first – you are best equipped for the job and give all those silent heroes watching something real to fight for.

[1] Blair B. King, ‘Partner in Empire – Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India’, University of California Press 1946.

Actions speak louder than Prayers

Before I even begin to make my point, I just want to clarify that this issue is extremely debatable and personal and is supposed to serve as an eye opener as opposed to being offensive and I have no intention to attack any particular race, culture or religion; rather my focus is on the bigger picture.

This is such a taboo topic that I must say it made me wince at the audacity of my own thoughts and logic. Why is it that everyone around us would give anything to glimpse past reality? They find the newspaper insanely mundane because it depicts death, rape, murder- “reality” in other words that is constantly taking place around us. We do not wish to take part in the prevention of any of it and God forbid, be a part of it, so we do not even wish to think about it. What we do seem to enjoy however (which I find quite depressing) is to seek solace and loose ourselves in the realms of unknown and to a certain degree are prepared to do anything for a world full of promises that we, in all honesty, do not even understand.
My attempt is to provide a satirical account of what happens around us in the name of religion rather than ridicule the religion itself. No, religion I have no grudge against, in fact if I am not entirely mistaken, religions spawned all over the world due to a crisis in human nature and in times when all signs of humanity was disappearing from this world. It was a lack of accountability that needed to be addressed and in a nutshell different religions subsequently must have followed depending on the structure of the society, culture, climate and belief with the help of an extremely powerful person being the harbinger of the world unknown. If you come to think of it, it was an ingenuous concept to mould people into acting more responsibly (since all humanly constrictions failed) but the most notable achievement was perhaps the fear that every religion successfully managed to infiltrate into people’s mind. This fear is what we carry in our hearts till to this date.
I personally believe that in this day and age when all major discoveries and inventions have already been conducted there is almost nothing unattainable left for the human brain to perform. Thus, it must only be a guilty conscience that would make people desperate enough to resort to the consolation of a religion! If you know in your heart that you have done nothing wrong, if you have a clear conscience, there would be no need to delve into an unknown future and even if the thought of an afterlife does occur to you, why would you change your current lifestyle in fear of what your actions might result to in the future far away when most of us do not even think about karma in this current life? So the common rationale has become that if I commit a murder today, I go sit in a church/temple/mosque for the rest of the week in hope of being forgiven whereas I would have thought the most common reaction to remorse would be to try and help the dear ones of the person I have killed or if that is too far-fetched, to ensure that no other person does what I did.
There are so many issues that are palpable; we see it happening around us all the time. If good deed is our only objective, we could help improve the standard of living around us, help build a conscience in people to be more accountable, help people in need or maybe just smile at a person to make them feel better! I do not know if it occurs to anyone that it is really selfish that while people are dying around us and needs all the help we can give, all we are concerned about is what would help us go to heaven! My point is, why waste time obsessing over something we know nothing about when there are so many issues around us that could really use a bit of our attention and interest?
Is not the most humane part of being human the fact that we can love? It is such an irrational quality and yet our first and foremost identity that separate us from all other beings. Religions are there to make us accountable but what about our own mind and essentially our feelings – should not that be enough to let us justify our action as adults? If we do something out of fear of ending up in hell, is the intention really right? You cannot stretch a day longer than 24 hours and if out of the 24 hours we spend most of our time preparing for the life after, what is our purpose of being in “this” world? What about “now”?
If our conscience is clear, if we actually believe in ourselves and know in our heart we do not intend to do anything that would harm others, I do not believe there should be any need to conform or succumb to act in the name of religion. There is a fine line between reverence and fear and most of us are on the wrong side of that line. If there is love and not fear in our heart, being religious ought to mean we radiate love all around us, wherever we go we only spread happiness and not brood over our own fate.

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