Monday, January 18, 2016

Respect, Sunny!

What an amazingly strong woman! Total respect, Sunny Leone.

I happened to watch the interview this morning. Even as I was watching it, myriad of emotions engulfed me, leaving my angry and helpless in the end. I had to document this emotion so that I get enough drive in the near future to do something about it.

(For those who are unable to watch the video, here is a quick note: Bhupendra Choubey interviewed Bollywood actress Sunny Leone on CNN IBN. He presented the most misogynistic set of questions to the star who was earlier in the porn industry.)

Read on.

In a country,

that reeks of marital rape, molestation, child sex abuse and what not in every nook and corner,

-where people conveniently feign ignorance and say 'oh not in my family, we would rather choose to stay blindfolded monkeys',

-where men are absolutely devoted to their wives and wouldn't lift their heads to see another woman and yet 'Sunny Leone' remains the most googled name,

-where hypocrisy is not just a state of mind but a way of life,

-where infidelity is unheard of in one's own circles, yet statistics reveal a mind boggling number of men and women cheating,

-where generations of women are conditioned to think that only men have a sex drive and worse, do not know what it means to have an orgasm,

-where Indian porn movies 'do not exist' and such stuff is done by the 'bad' people in the West,

-where politicians hold moral high ground yet are ironically caught watching porn during work hours,

-where people debate about capital punishment for rape and yet fail to see where the root cause lies,

it is not surprising that men like Bhupendra can get away after insulting an individual with the most obnoxious set of questions on mainstream media.

I would still not blame or judge these people. The root cause of all the hypocrisy in our society, in my humble opinion, lies in the upbringing. Generations of us, especially women, have grown up to a moral conditioning that expects us to not even talk to the other gender, dress down to not attract unwanted attention, held responsible if the spouse strays, shamed if she strays. The men have it worse - they are brought up by these sexually and emotionally insecure adults. Generation after generation, hypocrisy is being passed on as a genetic rubber stamp.

In a society like India, it takes a lot of courage on a woman's part to stand up for herself. Been there, faced that. For example, when I started my travel company, I was judged left right and centre - how will your son cope? Oh, you will keep travelling all by yourself, huh? Who will take care of your family? Why do you want to do this? In the initial days, I would sometimes let these comments affect me but eventually I realised that trying anything out of the norm will certainly draw mixed reactions and I need to understand how to smile, brush off and keep moving on. The irony is that the woman is lauded if she is going 'onsite' on work, but judged when she takes a break and travel to reclaim her own space.

Considering how difficult it is to deal with these reactions and still stay strong, I can't help but admire this woman's composure through out the interview. Despite the reeking misogyny of the questions, she held her head high and answered them with total honesty and courage - something near impossible to do, especially when one is being insulted and taken for a royal ride on mainstream media. She is probably the most level headed and emotionally intelligent woman I have come across so far.

What she does for a living is her choice. What she chooses to do or how she wants to lead her life is none of anyone's business. If we can give asylum to a convicted bank robber and heroin addict and embrace him whole heartedly as 'Shantaram', why can't we accept an ex-porn star who now wants to enter mainstream cinema? If she acts badly, that's a different thing altogether.

For all those questioning her choices in life - Just ogle at her if you want to, dig her videos up in privacy and leave it at that. If you want to take the moral high ground, first do the impossible - stop watching porn today. Will you or rather, can you? Then, keep your mouth shut.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

One Angry Indian Woman

16th December.

3 years ago, this day changed the course of my life. So unfortunate that it was a horrific incident that had to put the change in me but the anger has still not died. I had sleepless nights most of January and Feb 2013 because of this. A fellow sister, judged, raped by alcoholics and thrown on the streets.

What a world are we living in? Why do we judge so much? Why do we and who are we to moral police anyone? Why is there a dearth of empathy when it costs nothing to show compassion to a fellow human?

I have to vent my anger. In a positive way. Hence this poem. This applies only to those regressive men and women who moral police and I am NOT trying to box everyone in that mould. I have come across some amazing men in my life and my life wouldn't be complete without them. I am trying to be a humanist here, more than a feminist. So I request you to read this, with empathy.
Her death should have a meaning. It should signal some change in the positive direction.

My death deserves a meaning

That fateful night, I was cowering with fear,
Holding on to my life, so much so dear,
Praying for help, pleading for mercy,
As I was being punished, for alleged heresy.

Coy, happy smiles, walking hand in hand
Turned brutally bloody in this judgemental land,
Moral monsters, policing in the dark,
Left me engulfed, in terror so stark

Woman, don't you dare, breach the rule
For your thoughts, are just for us to ridicule,
Stay wrapped up, cross your legs tight,
Don't dare to open up, even when in delight.

We are your world, we are your people,
We are your society, we render you cripple,
Live by the rule, love by the rule
Sit by the rule and stand by the rule.

Oh fellow being, can't you hear me?
I'm as human, blood and flesh as thee,
Same breed of emotions, running in my veins,
Why is it, only I should hold back the reins?

As I die here, I long for the day,
When girls like me see the light of day.
Laugh and sing, dance and love,
Without having a dagger, dangling from above.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My tryst with the underworld....

Yes. You read that right. The under world. Under what is the question to be asked. Neither under crime nor under with spirits, but under water!

After all these years of travelling, I finally got to experience what could be termed as one of the most fascinating things to do on earth - diving. The very word used to send shudders down my spine, so much that I let go of a plum opportunity to do shallow beach diving in Lakshadweep, thanks to my morbid fear of water. From there, to getting 13 feet down in the mid Atlantic, I have progressed a bit I should say :)

I was in Bermuda Islands this November as a part of my month long tour in the Carribean and the US. My cousin was planning a dreamy destination wedding at Barbados and I was out there to soak in the sun and witness the beautiful ceremony. The bride's family lives in Bermuda  - that was reason enough for me to travel across a few days earlier, spend some time with them and go around the island. As I started researching about the place, the first thing that popped up was 'Hartley's Helmet Diving'. I was amused.

Helmet Diving is a form of diving that originated in Bermuda and is based on the ancient concept of 'Bell Diving' (Alexander the Great is said to have practised that) . In fact, father of Mr. Greg Hartley who runs Hartley's Helmet Diving, Mr. Bronson Hartley, was the one who pioneered this form of diving In Bermuda. While Scuba is a more serious form of diving, this is more of a fun and an entertaining one - provided one shuns his/her fear of water. I was hell-bent on trying this out, so I went ahead and called them to reserve a place. It was November already - the beginning of  the low season when cruise ships stop arriving at Bermuda Dockyard. However, as destiny would have it, there had been an inquiry the previous day from a group of 5 people and the capacity of the boat was 6! I was all set to dive.

The next day morning, I was at the dockyard much earlier than the reporting time. I was going through mixed emotions -  anticipation, fear, adrenaline rush... phew! Those who fear water can relate to what I was going through. The boat arrived and as I was about to board, the captain threw a challenge at me. He said "Those who are courageous walk into the boat but those who are adventurous climb over the grill and jump onto the boat!" Guess what I chose? The latter. That very moment, all my apprehensions melted away.

The boat took us about 3 miles off the coast to a shallow part of the ocean, the depths varying from 12 to 40 feet. All through the journey, our captain briefed us about the do's and dont's, the marine life and the signals that he would use underwater to communicate with us. We were given wet suits as the Atlantic waters get quite cold by November (Bermuda lies in the temperate region, close to New York unlike the caribbean islands). A ladder was lowered into the waters. 

The captain was the first to go down and once he made sure that the waters were clear of any dangerous and  bigger fish, he signaled us to come down. Laden with weights around our waists, we made our way down the ladder to ocean bed. Just before lowering our heads into the water, heavy helmets were placed on our heads to help us breathe underwater. These helmets were connected to a source of oxygen on the boat and air was constantly pumped into the helmet. 

The moment I went down, I would say, is one of the most fulfilling moments of my life till date. Happy with what I had achieved so far, I climbed down the ladder and jumped down to find land under my feet. I held the captain's hand as he helped me walk on the sea bed. A few of the group members were there before me - I was made to kneel down beside them  and hold on to an iron bar as the captain swam back to bring the rest of the group down. 

It was a gorgeous world out there - I could spot at least five different types of coral, sea anemones, pretty little reef fish and a few bigger ones like the Snapper and the Hog Fish. As the fish swam past us, the captain promptly displayed sign boards to help us identify the species. After about 20 minutes of under sea walking, it was time to click some pictures. We got some pictures clicked with the Hog Fish and the Snapper that lurked around us. All of a sudden, the captain seemed to have landed on an idea. He walked me to a coral formation nearby. As he turned back to fetch his camera, I understood what was going on and insisted on going back with him holding his hand - The last thing I wanted to do was to drift away in the Atlantic.  He then made me hold on to a piece of dead coral. As I held it, I had a funny feeling as if hundred little fingers were tickling my hand. Petrified, I promptly withdrew my hand and went back with the captain. I didn't want a picture with the corals. I just wanted to be safe where I was.

In a few minutes, we walked back to where the ladder was. The ladder stopped midway - so while going up, one had to bend down  and thrust herself upwards to reach the lowest rung. It was an adventure by itself but I wasn't complaining. It was a liberating feeling!

Back on the boat, as I thanked the captain for the wonderful experience, I mentioned the funny feeling that I had under water. He laughed and explained what it was all about. The damsel fish, a type of reef fish lays her eggs on the surface of dead corals. She gets really pissed off when strangers knock her door and resorts to biting and shooing them off. She is a tiny little thing, so even if thousands of them bite at a time, it feels like a tickle!

So if you happen to visit Bermuda or any place that offers Helmet diving, do try it out. It is an experience of a lifetime. If I can do it, so can you!

Here are some pictures.

More from my Bermuda and Caribbean Diaries coming soon...