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)