Saturday, 29 December 2012

"I want to live."

She died this morning, the young woman who was gang-raped
earlier this month. She died.

Sometimes I forget that I too have been a victim of rape. As
Nilanjana Roy said so beautifully in her blog earlier today,
"There is only so much darkness you can swallow."

(Click here to read Ms. Roy's post, For Anonymous)

I'm not a victim any more. I am a survivor. That girl, in the two
weeks she lived after her rape, she was a survivor too. But I can't
compare myself to her. With her insides ripped to pieces, with
all that had been done to her, in the raw freshness of her pain,
she still said to her mother, "I want to live."

I don't know if I could have that kind of courage. But I too,
wanted to live, and I have been able to. So her message IS
my message, although it took me many years to say it. It's
the message of so many millions around the world - generation
upon generation of women, girls and boys - who have taken
the worst kind of pain, brutality, betrayal, fear and humiliation,
but somehow manage to say, in one way or another, these four words:

"I want to live."

This is the message I'm taking forward with me tonight, into
tomorrow. Not a rant for beheading, hanging or castration.
I don't want my tomorrow to be a day where I respond to violence
with still more violence.

Tonight I lit a candle, in awe of her courage, and in grief for
her unanswered wish and her death, and in grief for everyone
who has known that pain, and for everyone who lives in fear,
and for the little child who still lives within me.

It's not easy to rein in rage, to say yes to justice without saying yes
to violence. To look at a man, any man, and not wonder if he has
the potential to rape. It's not easy, but it's possible. And I think
it's important for my humanity. So tonight, I lit a candle, and
tomorrow, I want to live. With dignity, and non-violence.

Friday, 28 December 2012

There's no Disgust button on Facebook.

Today, I'm seething. Along with thousands of Indians who are learning more and more about the nation's attitude towards the rape of women. By "the nation", I mean our politicians and our policemen, but also of ordinary men - and women - who seem to think there's nothing wrong with it.

So today, all I'm going to do is share this link to a petition, and ask you, my readers, to please click on the link below, sign the petition, and add your count to our outrage, our horror and our grief, in the hope that the media and the authorities will pick up on the numbers and do something substantial to make a positive change.

It doesn't matter where in the world you are, whether or not you are an Indian, whether or not you are a woman. Please sign.

Petition to The President and The Chief Justice of India - Stop Rape Now

Friday, 7 December 2012

What makes Dr Ambedkar "untouchable"?

Yesterday was also the death anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who devoted much of his life to fighting against the concept of caste and untouchability.  I myself haven’t read much of his writing (yet!) but I am already in awe of his prolific output, his obvious intellect and the impressive range of careers he appears to have had in his lifetime.

How on earth anyone can still believe that caste determines worth is beyond me. They have only to read this wiki on him to know they’ve already been proven wrong. 

I would think the only way this man can be considered "untouchable" is because he reached such heights of self-awareness, knowledge and service, that most of us cannot even hope to touch.

Here are some quotations of his that struck a chord with me:

"Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen."

"It is true that man cannot get on with his fellows. But it is also true that he cannot do without them."

"History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them."

"Hero-worship in the sense of expressing our unbound admiration is one thing. To obey the hero is a totally different kind of worship. There is nothing wrong in the former while the latter is no doubt a most pernicious thing. The former is man's respect for which is noble and of which the great men are only an embodiment. The latter is the serf's fealty to his lord. The former is consistent with respect, but the latter is a sign of debasement. The former does not take away one's intelligence to think and independence to act. The latter makes one a perfect fool. The former involves no disaster to the state. The latter is a source of positive danger to it." 

"I feel that the constitution is workable. it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile."


-Dr B.R. Ambedkar

14 April 1891 - 6 December 1956 
(Indian jurist, political leader, philosopher, anthropologist, historian, orator, economist, author, teacher, and editor; chairman of the Indian Constitution drafting committee; )

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Lest we forget.

Today it is twenty years since the Babri Masjid (Mosque of Babur) was torn down. Today is a day to think about all the bloodshed, hatred, fear and division that rose from its rubble, and ask ourselves, why?

Some time ago, I wrote a fable based on this. It's one of my favourite pieces, and I'd like to share it with you again today:


Once upon 2.77 acres of land, people discovered God. Some of the people called Him Rama. Some called Him Allah. God smiled at them all, because only He knew that He was in every name, and that He was beyond names.

Sometimes God tried to explain this to the people, but they could not understand. He tried to tell them through the leaves of trees, and through the songs of birds. He planted His truth in the eyes of every child, and He waited for the people to see it. But they would not look, and so they did not see.

The people, however, did love God. They were fascinated by Him. They adored and feared Him, and they chose beautiful ways to worship Him. They did not all choose the same way, of course, because God had long ago breathed into each of these people the gifts of self-expression and choice. So some of the people heard a hymn to God in the striking of a bell, and some heard it in the voice of a man calling them to prayer.

God heard them both. But in time, another sound started to drown out the hymns He loved. It was the sound of the people, quarrelling amongst themselves as to whose god God was.

God bowed His head and wept. And the people looked up and said, “Ah, rain.”

For a time, they were distracted, and they began to speak of weather and soil and geography. But inevitably, they returned to their arguing. And this time they quarrelled about whose land God’s land was.

“Mine,” said God, whispering the word through the rustle of leaves. But the people could not hear the word over the noise of their angers and their fears.

“Yours,” said God, scattering the word through the songs of birds. But the people were too busy gathering evidence to spare any time to find the word.

“Ours,” said God, shining the word through the eyes of children. But the people kept their eyes fixed, burning with hate, upon each other, and did not notice the word.

Nobody knows the exact day when He walked quietly away from those 2.77 acres of land, and nobody said goodbye, because nobody noticed He had left.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

No Welcome Mat

You won't find one outside my front door.

Partly because my neighbour's cat has a wicked sense of humour, which resulted in my having to get rid of my dear woven Winnie The Pooh mat.

And partly because my new rubber mat stays on this side of my front door. Just because it's washable, doesn't mean I want to tend to that cat's daily outpourings of affection for me.

And partly because, instead of a Welcome mat, I prefer to greet my visitors with this outpouring of my own, perhaps not as welcoming but far more efficient, neatly taped to my front door:

Nazneen Tonse

While you stand staring at this closed door,
Ask yourself, “Should I have phoned* before?”
Should the door open to let you in,
Stop and think, “Where have my shoes been?”

Take off your shoes but don’t settle down,
Wash off your hands of the dirt of this town.
And before you reach out for a nice friendly hug,
Check first, “Have I got a cough, cold or bug?”

Even if your answer to that one is No,
There is one thing you may already know.
I hate hugs and though I’ll say it’s okay,
I’ll be dreading your next visit, hoping you’ll stay away.

Curiosity killed the cat – it’s a shame
It does nothing to people who must do the same.
So don’t read my whiteboard, don’t go through my flat,
You have no good reason for any of that.

If you’re sure that I’m in, but the door’s still not open
You now have the answer to that very first question.
“How rude is that?!” you will possibly ask.
Oh, maintaining boundaries’ a thankless task.

Boundaries matter and though mine may seem tough
They’re important to me and that should be enough.
If you break mine, you’ll see little of me.
If you can’t understand, try psychotherapy.

Or we could simply meet at a different place
Not the sanctum sanctorum that’s my personal space.
If you can put up with my little quirks
I’ll put up with yours, for a friendship that works!

* (my tel no)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Yesterday was Daddy's birthday.

I didn’t know how to celebrate it without him, so I didn’t. I remembered how I’d dig out the same two cards every year and give them to him in the morning, then take them home for another year until his next birthday. He liked it that way. He thought cards were a waste of money and paper, and appreciated my “recycling”. 

One was a funny card, from the little girl that still lives inside me. One was the perfect card, whose lines were just right for him.

All day long, I remembered:  today is Daddy’s birthday. He would have been 86. We would have had a cake of some sorts. He would have worried about my sugar and my cholesterol and my weight and how much I was eating and why I hadn’t stopped cutting my hair so short, and why I still needed to go out for a cigarette after lunch. We would have had our friends over, the ones with whom we have shared so many celebrations over the years once we discovered we had birthdays and anniversaries in common. 

Yesterday was not the same, not for any of us, so our friends had dinner with their relatives, and I had dinner with my mother. She had left over curd-rice from lunchtime, and I poured myself a bowl of corn flakes. We shared a slice of carrot cake bought from a Christmas bazaar. I wondered, but not aloud, if we ought to be celebrating his life in some way, if we ought to have gone to his favourite restaurant and ordered chicken varaval and coin parat’has. If we should have gone over to my sister’s and sat together, talking about all our memories of him:  the happiest, the funniest, the earliest, the best. Instead, Mummy and I sat across from each other at the dining table and ate, quietly. Afterwards, while she said her prayers, I washed the dishes, quietly. After she left, I watched some TV, played a few games of Solitaire on Facebook, and went to bed.

Today I remembered the cards again, and searched for them, all the time worrying that I might have ripped them up and thrown them away, sometime over the past year. I don’t remember doing that, but it seems like something I might have done in an attempt at closure:  a way to say to myself that I didn’t need them any more, that I was finished with them, that it was over.Close-the-page-rip-it-up finished.

I couldn’t find them, and I was scared to keep searching in case I never do find them. So instead I sat down at the Internet and read other people’s poems about their dead fathers, and I cried.

Now, after the tears that always seem to wash things clear in my head, I think I will stop looking. He’s gone, and so are his cards. Perhaps one day when I’ve forgotten, and I’m tidying up and not expecting it,  I will open a box and find them, the funny card and the perfect one, and it will feel wonderful. Far more wonderful than if I’d found them today.

(edited 16 April 2014)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Pink is in and whirligigs are go!

Trees bloom in pink at Richmond Park, 13 11 2012
The colour of the day is pink! Noticed this on my way back
from buying sparklers the other day. I took this picture with
the phone on my camera, so it hasn't really done justice to
the breathtaking wave of colour that caught my eye.

I'm not sure Mr. Krumbiegel planted these trees in particular,
but he was responsible for the variety of blooming trees
around this city that dress Bangalore in one colour or another,
all year around. Whenever I look at a blooming tree, I'm grateful to
Mr Krumbiegel for his lovely legacy to this city.

Mahogany tree at the Church of South India graveyard, 13 11 2012
More breaking news - the mahogany tree's "potatoes" have
 split open and their whirligig seeds are ready to catch the next
breeze. I love these seeds, and often collect the ones that fall
on my terrace. If I'm lucky, I catch our building's senior citizens
sitting downstairs on a bench after their evening walk, and
surprise them with a shower of whirligigs from the terrace above.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

That's more like it.

Although yesterday's post has it's value, I much prefer this auto-rickshaw's message to the world.

For those of you who don't understand Urdu or Hindi, that says:

God willing
we will meet again
May God keep you in his care
My fellow traveller

Nice to know that someone feels that way. I'm always on the look-out
for interesting "Auto Backsides"; some get very creative.

For some reason, however, most auto drivers seem to like
decorating their, er, backside, with a dagger dripping blood.
I can only assume it's a silent plea for help and compassion.
It must be hell driving around in that bumpy three-wheeler
all day. I'm pretty sure there's a correlation between the frequency
of dripping-dagger-decorated auto backsides and the vast amount
of Piles & Fistula Clinic signs I see all over the city.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Was fortunate enough to catch this public service announcement
on the back of an auto-rickshaw the other night, after dropping
a friend off at the Indira Nagar bus stand.

Social awareness activist and his moving media

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Dr. Ambedkar Blues (an unfinished symphony).

Every time I go to Nanjappa Circle, I'm bugged by this
 mysterious figurine wrapped in blue plastic. Its contours echo
those of a smaller statue just behind it, which has been painted gold.

All I knew was that these were statues of "Ambedkar". They've
been there forever (well, a year at least). So I turned to my
personal guru and said, "Oh Google! Tell me! Who is this man?
And why has he been blue for so long?" And this is what she told me.
  • Dr B.R. Ambedkar was born into a caste that was considered "untouchable".
  • He was the first "untouchable" student at Bombay's Elphinstone High School and Elphinstone College.
  • He not only got past social and financial obstacles to get a college education in India, but went on to earn post-graduate degrees and doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. And took his Bar exams too!
  • He lost his book collection when the ship it was on got torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in World War I (As a book lover, I deem this a significant tragedy, worthy of mention. The good news is, I read that by the time World War II rolled around, he had built up another book collection of over 50,000 books).
  • He was Professor of Political Economy at Sydenham College, Bombay, where other professors didn't like him touching the same jug of water that they used.
  • He was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of our Constitution.
  • He developed Type 2 Diabetes in his middle age.
  • He campaigned against social discrimination and the caste system and spoke out frankly on many topics that were important to him.
  • He ruffled a huge amount of religious and political feathers.
  • He accomplished a massive workload in his lifetime. 
  • He was a very busy guy from start to finish.
  • He had guts.
  • He sounds very interesting, and though I'm not sure I'd agree with everything in them, I think his essays and books would make for some good reading.
All of which made him, to me, fascinating. I wanted to find out
more about the man hidden behind the blue plastic wraps. And
it struck me - find about the blue plastic wraps themselves.
Back to my guru I went, this time to learn not about the man,
but about the statue/s up at Nanjappa Circle.

On March 29th, 2010, newspapers reported that Dr Ambedkar's
statue at Nanjappa Circle had been toppled over, outraging
the Dalit community. (Back then there was only one statue,
made of plaster-of-paris, since stood back up and painted gold).
This statue of his now stands in the shadow of the new
blue-wrapped one. It shall never be toppled again. It now
has his feet firmly encased in cement up to his ankles for protection.

This statue-toppling is the sort of senseless act that normally
leads to communal violence, but fortunately, there was none
(that I know of). The municipal (BBMP) elections were being
held that day, and though there doesn't seem to be any logic to it,
I can only assume that someone intended to benefit from this act
and the feelings it would arouse.

Who did this? We may never know for sure, but the papers
assured us that they were MISCREANTS! A very popular noun
in Bangalore newspapers, another word for "rowdy elements"
or "mischief-mongers"). Or perhaps political party supporters,
as I believe all the major political parties accused their
opponents' supporters - Miscreants! Oh, you Naughty Miscreants, you! -
of being behind this HEINOUS act of GOONDA-ISM (two other
popular words in a crime reporter's vocabulary).

Conclusion: Mischief-mongering miscreants' heinous act of rowdy
goonda-ism was something to do with votes and politics. Nothing
new there.Or perhaps something to do with religion. Nothing new
there either.

Anyhoo. In time, a second statue appeared. The BBMP approved
two Work Orders. One for the construction of a new statue
at the cost of six lakh rupees (Rs 600,00/-), and one for
the construction of a pedestal and ornamental grill at four lakh
rupees (Rs 400,000/-). I looked up their impressive-sounding
"Global Project Management System With Remote Eye Monitoring System" page,
but beyond the Estimated and Approved Cost and the name
of the Chief Engineer, every other entry just reads "0". (That's
a zero, not an oh. Although an oh would work there too, with
either an exclamation or a question mark, as the situation requires).

So no clues as to whether they consider the work finished,
or if they ran out of funds, or anything.

Well, the new statue is up, at any rate. Standing high on its
four-lakh pedestal (and the ornamental grills, let's not forget those.
They could do with some painting, by the way). It might be
a bronze statue, we do not know yet. Those plastic blue wraps
have been firmly affixed to withstand both monsoon and miscreant,
and what lies underneath is yet to be unveiled, nearly two years
after the first statue was toppled.

Dr Ambedkar's death anniversary is coming up on December 6th.
I'm hoping that the long-awaited unveiling will be held then,
a symbolic rebirth. If not, we can pin our hopes on next April 14th,
the day of his birth. And if not then, well, let's just wait for the next
election day to roll around.

Any day now, people. But don't hold your breath. Instead, gaze upon
my really bad photography and read my little poem to pass the time:

Dr Ambedkar, why so blue?
If I was in your place, I guess I'd be too,
Waiting a whole year under wrap
Held in suspense for someone else's crap.

Drs Ambedkar, (for there's not one but two)
I'm sad when I gaze upon both of you.
One year and ten lakhs have gone by so fast.
I'd like to see more of the man who fought caste.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Children's Day.

"To honour children globally."

"To protect children working long hours in dangerous circumstances 
and allow all children access to an education."

"To promote mutual exchange and understanding among children."

"To initiate action to benefit and promote the welfare of the world's children."

"To let students have fun. "

"To consider those conditions in society which affect the lives and future of our children."

"To strengthen children's rights."

"To focus on the practice of sharing, loving and caring as well as honouring our children."

"To emphasise the importance of children in society."

"To give children the opportunity to have fun."

"To create awareness about the significant role of children towards 
the development of the country."

"To observe the rights of children."

"To remind ourselves that children are the future builders 
and developers of the country and the world.

"To enable parents and children to spend the day together, 
and work together to reconcile their problems."

"To celebrate childhood."

These are some of the reasons countries and organisations
around the world have given, for celebrating Children's Day (source: Wikipedia)

How sad that we need a reminder to treat children this way.

Today, India celebrates Children's Day. November 14th was chosen
because it was the birth date of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru,
India's first Prime Minister. He was known as Chacha Nehru
(Uncle Nehru) by the children of his day. (He's also Rahul
Gandhi's great-grandaddy.)

I wiki'ed Children's Day and discovered that various countries
celebrate it, at various times of the year. Here are some other
dates upon which people celebrate Children's Day around the world.

January 6th
March 17th, 21st and 25th
April 4th, 5th, 8th, 12th, 23rd, 24th and 30th.
May 5th, 10th, 17th and 27th
June 1st and 2nd
July 23rd and 24th
August 16th
September 9th and 10th
October 1st, 8th and 12th
November 11th, 14th, 15th and 20th
December 5th, 23rd and 25th

I'd like to see people celebrating their children daily. But if
that's too much to ask, then try this:  make a note of these dates
in your calender and celebrate them all.

I did my bit.

Yes I did.  It would have been rude of me not to. Went out and
 bought a packet of sparklers in order to contribute to the air pollution
levels last night. Got a lungful of sparkler smoke in the bargain.

 Okay, I confess. The real reason I bought those sparklers was
for that smile you see in the picture above. My mom's housekeeper couldn't
go home for this Diwali, so we didn't want her to miss out. She lit candles
at my mom's front door, and had a great time playing with the sparklers.
The cough I have this morning was totally worth it.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Festival of Lights

It's Diwali! I liked this festival a lot more when I was younger and immune to the startle reaction of over-loud fireworks. I also liked it more last year, when I did not know that it's a bad idea to make a breakfast of the plateful of home-made sweets my neighbours bring over every Diwali morning.

A garland of marigold at my neighbour's front door (and yes, a leftover Christmas decoration from last year!)

 Diwali is by and large a Hindu festival, although I believe
that Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains also celebrate it (that's what
President Obama said so it must be right!) The Festival of Lights ..
and it is quite a sight. A lot of people will set off fireworks tonight
and tomorrow night - I love going up on my terrace to watch
the rockets being set off from all four directions. Even from
a distance, it's lovely to watch their beautiful explosions
of light and colour. Some are pretty complex (Made In China,
I've heard) and those are the most expensive and the most
ah-inspiring. Tonight, thousands if not lakhs (that's a hundred
thousand to non-Indian currency users) will go up in smoke.

What I don't love about Diwali is the noise created from strings
of little (or big!) red firecrackers or the ones packed tightly and
given appropriately lethal names like "Atom Bomb". These set off
car alarms, drive stray dogs into gutters and pet dogs into
anxiety disorders. They terrify babies and unsettle the elderly.
They make heart patients nervous, and PTSD sufferers nauseated.
And their tattered remains will decorate the streets tomorrow morning,
adding to the already nearly-at-breaking-point garbage problem
that sits soggy and stinking on practically every street corner.

As far as I know, this type of cracker has very little to do with
Diwali. It's the Festival of Lights, right? Not the Festival of Noise,
or the Festival of Make-Life-Hell-for-Everyone-Else. There are
some restrictions set down by the police and/or government,
but these are largely ignored or unenforceable, and fireworks
are sold freely like some seasonal vegetable in large open
courtyard markets set up around the city.

Over the past few years, fireworks sales have been going down,
though, largely due to greater public awareness of the
environmental damage and the nuisance factor. A few years ago,
Diwali morning would be grey and choked. I'm hoping tomorrow
won't be that bad, because as I write this, I don't hear a non-stop
string of explosions that lasts for several hours, as I did say,
five years ago.

I like to think that means more people are showing compassion
for their fellowmen/women/dogs/cats/cows/birds/etc. And showing
respect, not only for their city/nation/planet, but for the festival
itself:  for Diwali.

I read this today, and I thought it was a beautiful description
of what Diwali is meant to be.

"Diwali or Deepavali is the Festival of Lights. On this day, 
Hindus decorate their homes with light, using candles, 
earthern lamps or electric lights.  Light symbolizes the removal 
of inner darkness, as well as the glow of knowledge that can lead 
mankind from illusion and ignorance to an understanding of truth. 
The essence of Diwali, very simply, is a prayer for an enlightened world."

That's from an article The Essence of Diwali by Mark Sharma; if you'd like to read the complete article, click here.

A clay diya with oil and a cotton wick, outside my neighbour's front door.
I think that is such a beautiful concept. What a pretty, simple
and sweet way to remind oneself of the importance and value
of this kind of light in our lives.

I'm not a Hindu, but tonight I am celebrating Diwali. I'm off now,
to place candles at my doorstep and on my balcony as a symbol
of inviting goodness and light into my home and heart, tonight and always.