sakshidayal

Life is not a holiday.

Misogyny, the Trailer

Indian cinema is far from flawless, one of its biggest issues being blatant sexism and objectification of women.

From movies of the 90s like Hum Saath Saath Hain and Hum Aapke Hain Koun, to the item numbers that dominate television screens today, women have been, and continue to be ‘displayed’ and portrayed in a regressive light. The success of films like Queen and English Vinglish, although encouraging, doesn’t take away from the fact that there is still a long way to go, for Indian cinema, and Indian society, before women get the respect and credit they deserve, on screen and in the real world.

Sexism and misogyny is as much an issue across the border, in Pakistan, as it is in India, a fact reiterated by a video that recently appeared on my Facebook news feed.

The video was created by a Pakistani television actor, Faisal Qureshi, in response to Saif Ali Khan’s claim that he had “lost faith in Pakistan, generally”. The latter’s statement was incited by the ban inflicted upon his upcoming film, ‘Phantom‘, in Pakistan.

In the twelve minute video, Qureshi argues against Saif Ali Khan’s statement, and criticises the trailer of Phantom almost frame by frame, unintentionally also revealing his inability to distinguish between a movie and reality by directing his arguments against dialogues mouthed by Khan’s character to the actor himself.

The issue with the video, however, isn’t the fact that Qureshi contradicts the Indian actor, but has more to do with the inherent sexism and apparent hostility that characterises it.

From repeated references to Khan as ‘Sahiba’ and ‘Beti’ that reek of misogyny, to ridiculous justifications for piracy in Pakistan (in a nutshell, Pakistanis only watch Indian movies through piracy so that they can get entertainment without contributing to the Indian economy), the video is crude and senseless.

The saddest part, though, is the fact that all the arguments that are made in the video are based on the philosophy that two wrongs make a right – piracy in Pakistan is okay because Indians do it too, banning Indian films in Pakistan is okay since Pakistani films are banned in India as well- Qureshi goes as far as to deny any similarity between the two countries, comparing their relationship to a fight over property between two brothers, later adding that ‘ched chad’ with India is justified on several grounds.

India is far from a faultless country – we have issues of corruption, sexism, religious extremism, bans themselves are not an alien concept in India. Why talk about Pakistani films when Bollywood movies themselves are often banned in parts of the country, as was the case with Fanna in Gujarat, and more critical productions like India’s Daughter often meet the same fate as well.

But acknowledging a problem, recognising its existence, is a crucial step towards rectifying it.

And that’s exactly what Qureshi fails to do. He ignores the issue of bans on creative productions entirely, and instead picks up the trailer of Phantom, and quickly begins to divert attention from any issues through which it portrays Pakistan in even a remotely negative light by declaring India has the same, and many other problems.

A lot of the statements Qureshi makes in the video are facts – what he says about the existence of cases against Modi, the reality of piracy in India- but the tone it adopts only offends and does little to further his stand.

The continuous prevalence of bans on cinematic and literary productions, because they portray the nation or a particular religious community in a negative light, is the sad reality in both India and Pakistan. It’s one of many problems that plague both the nations, but pointing fingers isn’t going to solve the issue – your mistake isn’t justified just because your neighbour made it too.

Qureshi’s video is easily one of the most sexist, misogynistic, disturbing ( in terms of what it reveals regarding his views on the relationship between Indians and Pakistanis) videos I’ve seen in a while, and I can only hope a small minority of the people in his country, or any country for that matter, support an argument when it is made in so offensive a manner.

Khushi? Nice name ! Waakayi mein khush lagti hain aap.

Let it never be said that Khushi wasn’t a Bollywood movie ahead of its time.

It had nudity.

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It had a towel song, long before Ranbir Kapoor even considered the possibility of one.

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And it had action.

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Lots and lots of action.

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Khushi is a movie about the pyaar “jo jawaan dilon mein paida hota hai”.

It revolves around Khushi, a sober, subdued village girl.

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And Karan, who loves action.

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He also loves his mom, enjoys cornflakes which gives him ‘dum’, and has flowers blooming in his heart.

Which is perfect because Khushi basically lives in a human flower.

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Karan was born in Calcutta, in a hospital where, strangely enough, all the doctors who helped deliver him were white.

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As he grows up, this fact remains in his subconscious, and he develops an obsession with Canada, where he can relive his birth amongst other white women.

But he is grievously injured in a minor accident on his way to the airport.

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And finds himself stuck in India.

He then joins a college in Bombay, where he meets Khushi, in true Bollywood style, in a temple.

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They then realize they study in the same college.

And their best friends love each other.

The best friends being Priya, and Vicky, who go on to give birth to a little boy called Jagiya, and get him married off when he’s a child, because Vicky.

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Clearly the college education wasn’t very good.

In the process of being third wheel to their friends, Khushi and Karan develop crushes on each other.

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But neither of them have the courage to admit their feelings, which means they end up going round and round in circles to avoid the point.

CvXlFScThen, one day, Karan does the unthinkable- he checks out Khushi’s waist.

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And Khushi isn’t very khush about it.

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This abruptly ends their tedious love story.

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Until the last day of college arrives, and they’re both headed back home, when they suddenly decide to come clean, both of them, at the same time.

But they can’t get through to each other’s numbers, because they’re both calling at the same time.

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And they both go to the stations from which the others’ train is supposed to depart, so no Jai Ho.

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It’s only when they board their respective trains that they find each others’ love letters waiting.

Khushi smiles and cries and slobbers, but doesn’t get off her train.

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Karan, meanwhile, pulls the chain, gets off the train, flies down to Khushi’s village, explains everything to her parents, and gets things ready for their impromptu wedding, all while she’s still blubbering in the train.

rCjlO9UBecause who cares about whether Khushi was ready for marriage or not. She liked him, and he liked her.

And, as Beyonce once said, if you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it.

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Welcome to India, Again

You cross the threshold from the aerobridge into the plane, excited to be on your way to India after three months in London and Shanghai, looking forward to seven days of indulging in Indian television, Butterchicken and, the god of food fusion, Indian Chinese.

You show your boarding pass to the steward who directs you to the aisle on your immediate right. You turn, walk a few steps ahead, and find your eardrums suddenly being assaulted by what sounds like the incessant chatter of monkeys.

You feel sick with a sense of déjà vu as you take in the scene before you. The plane is full of your fellow countrymen, which is not surprising considering the destination you’re headed to, but these aren’t your usual, relatively subdued Indian travellers. These are Indian travellers in groups, and that means the next seven hours are going to make Mordor, with its ash and orcs and Sauron, look tempting.

As far as the eye can see, they’re there. Lots and lots of Indian men, screaming to each other from opposite ends of the plane, periodically going to visit their friends seated in other rows, pushing the people who are trying to walk down the aisle to their seats aside, shoving past them, butt to butt for a second, unapologetic, obnoxious.

They want to meet, and greet, and switch seats.

“Yaar tu mujhe wahaan baithne de na.” A man screams. You wonder who he’s talking to, but a second later another voice is heard from seven or eight rows ahead of the speaker, “Arrey baithne de sabko phir tu badalwa lena kisi aur se!” Which elicits the exasperated, annoyed response, “Arrey yaaaaarrr”

You try to ignore the racket and focus on getting to your seat without being molested or injured. Once you settle down at your window seat, you look down your row, hoping to ascertain exactly how bad the flight is going to be. What you see makes you laugh out loud.

The four people in the middle seats in your row are potentially having the worst experience of their lives- each of them, one by one, finding themselves face to crotch with someone.

The crotch owner, who looks like a man in his late twenties, has decided to go visit his friend who occupies the window seat at the other end of the row. But, as most Indians would in other situations, he has decided to take a shortcut, meaning he isn’t one to go all the way to the front of the plane and make his way to the other aisle, he prefers to climb over the people sitting in the four seats between the two aisles, stepping on their feet, falling on their faces, forcing them to behold his concealed assets head on. They look annoyed, but more shocked – too shocked to do anything.

The crotch owner, unaware of the bad vibes assaulting him, steps onto the other aisle, has a short and, going by the laughter, sweet conversation, and then turns around, ready to assault the same four people with his crotch again. But just as he is about to begin his climb (onto the seat occupants’ feet), the man in the corner recovers and tells him to take the long way.

The crotch owner, however, isn’t one to be embarrassed, or bossed about. Unfazed, he attacks the people in another row, oblivious to their wincing as he steps on their toes and puts his crotch dangerously close to their faces, and safely settles down in the seat behind you.

For the next seven hours, your co passengers manage to live down to your expectations.

When the flight takes off and the seat belt sign turns off, there is, firstly, a mad shuffle for seat switching. Everyone wants everyone else’s seats, and they have no qualms about making sure the rest of the passengers know exactly which seat they want, why they didn’t get it in the first place, why they want it now, and what happens when they do (sit down happily) or don’t (lots of grumbling and moaning) get their seats.

The real fun, however, begins when the food arrives. The special meals are handed out first, and this befuddles most of the travellers.

“Hame kyun nahin diya khana?”
“Pata nahi, dekh bakiyon ko toh de rahi hai.”
“Poochen kya?”
“Haan, excuse me why are we not getting food?”
Air stewardess patiently explains the concept of ordering special meals, and then gets back to work.
“Order karna padta hai, accha.”
“Uff, usko dekh yaar.” Standing up and looking at a man two rows down, “kitna aaram se kha raha hai.”

When the food does come, a unanimous call for more salt goes out, and for the next half an hour you see people all around you trying desperately to force salt out of what look like almost empty salt shakers, mirroring the action of the shaker as their upper torso moves up and down in tune with the movement of the shaker. The calls for salt are only disturbed by almost equally unanimous calls for buns.

A couple of hours into flight, everyone, mercifully, falls silent. The peace is only disturbed once, by three people in the row ahead of you who seem to be having an animated conversation about something. The only thing you pick up (or rather are forced to pick up) is “tujhe Hindi mein samjhayein ki Chinese mein?”

You guess it’s the former, because the latter is linguistically impossible.

The best part of the trip, however, comes as the curtain to your journey is about to come down, along with your plane. The sign for the seat belt comes on, but the stewardess is delayed in getting to her seat because one of the men in the rows behind you has, somehow, managed to either break or wet the cushion of his seat. She runs up and down the plane, trying to find a replacement cushion or something to cover the wet spot with, but it’s getting dangerously close to landing time.

Realizing this, the victim of the seat, concerned, tells her “It is okay I will manage, you go tie yourself up.”
“Yes sir, I’m so sorry there’s nothing we can do.”
“It is okay, you tie yourself now, it is fine.”
Seeing she doesn’t seem to be heeding to the suggestion, his neighbor, and apparently friend, adds, “Yes you go tie yourself, he will manage, he is Shaktiman.”

Who knew.

A Domestic Dilemma

I decided when I was eighteen that I would never keep domestic help or, to use a more crude term, servants-having someone else do all my dirty work, when the only difference between them and me was in terms of the opportunities I had been lucky enough to have and they had been deprived of, felt wrong.

Now I know better.

I wasn’t brought up with a battalion of servants available at my beck and call, but they were there- washing my dishes, sweeping my floor, cleaning my bathroom.

As I grew up, and realised the people doing my household chores in my home were only a few years older than me, I felt embarrassed and apologetic. It wasn’t as if I spent the day lying in bed while food and water was brought to me, but I did lead a luxurious life in terms of household responsibilities only because these people were available to do my share of the work for me.

I knew I wasn’t superior to them in any sense, just luckier. And I felt as if employing them was misusing that luck, and exploiting them.

But is it?

It’s a give and take relationship, yes. Like any other profession, people do the work, and get paid in return for it, but the money isn’t very much, because manual labor in a developing nation like India is available in plenty, and so very cheap, the usual demand-supply cycle. With the limited income that comes in after hours of physically demanding labor, the people who spend all day working in our homes are able to maintain their own, sustaining themselves and the ones they love.

Were they to lose this source of income, which is what would happen if everyone they worked for suddenly began to feel the guilt I found myself inflicted with, their quality of life would go downhill, and the loss would be their own, as well as societies’.

Money is everything.

With the money that employers pay them, those who have been denied their fair share of opportunities are able to work towards ensuring their children are not deprived of the same. They educate their offspring, giving them the chance to rid themselves of this burden of menial labor, which is the only source of income they found themselves qualified for. With each generation, then, the household betters itself.

Denying those who work as domestic labourers their income would mean denying their children a better life, and society a step forward.

I think the only way to assist them in this endeavour, is to minimise the exploitation they are made to face in the process of earning their daily bread.

There are several people who live in luxurious homes and have extravagant lifestyles, but pay their domestic help half of what they should, deny them bonuses on festivals, or are frugal with the amount they hand over; there are others who give them sound monetary compensation for their work but give them psychological hell, confronting them when they take a day off, following them around while they carry out their duties, to find faults and tell them off, or unfairly accuse them of misusing their access to the home and its facilities.

The more money the employers have, the worse the treatment their employees seem to receive.

The more expensive localities go as far as allotting separate lifts for domestic workers from the one the residents and visitors use, or building bathrooms outside the home for them so that their employers don’t have to use the same one they do.

The saddest part is that, most often, those who are the employers don’t even consider these things as a wrong, or consider them at all. They’re so ingrained in our society that they seem natural, like breathing or blinking, done without a thought.

I felt guilty about the kind of life I had as compared to the domestic workers employed in my home, and I still do. But the right way to deal with that guilt, I now believe, is not to stop employing the latter, but quite the opposite.

Employment of domestic help must continue, but more effort must be made to ensure that they are treated fairly and are able to achieve the long-term benefits that this employment could bring them and their families – this means sufficient compensation, humane treatment, and additional benefits (monetary and in terms of food, presents, or second hand items). This can only come with empathy, understanding, and a realisation that the social and financial ‘superiority’ of the employer over the employee, in such a case, is not essentially a reflection of potential or effort, but of luck.

An Education

After spending nine months away from home, in a different country, studying at a university known for its exceptional standard of education as well as its diversity in terms of the backgrounds and nationalities of students, I can safely say that the trick to gaining maximum knowledge and exposure is to have an open mind, not only in terms of approach to academics, but also in terms of approach and attitude towards fellow students.

I remember my elation at being accepted into my course at the LSE, because I had never expected I would. I knew that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I realised right from the start that academically, this would be an entirely new, fairly difficult experience, but I never predicted the kind of exposure I would get culturally, or the level of understanding I would attain of the kind of person I was, and wanted to be.

There were several factors which made my experience as phenomenal as it has been – from getting accepted into all the modules I wanted to study right from when I applied, to being allotted the residence I wanted, in which I ended up with exactly the kind of flatmates I would have liked – neither intrusive nor judgemental, but helpful and supportive, with a mindset fairly similar to my own.

Academically, LSE has been, if anything, better than I expected. But the knowledge I gained outside of books, of nations and societies other than my own, and the one I was residing in, is what, I believe, has made my experience invaluable.

It’s not often in life that you get the opportunity to study in a classroom alongside students from innumerable countries, or to occupy a flat in which your six flatmates are from six different nationalities. Your true failure at attaining the most you can out of the education such a multicultural experience in itself provides would be if you leave the institution with your prejudices and biases against other cultures and countries intact.

It’s difficult, almost impossible, to meet people from backgrounds other than your own without, consciously or subconsciously, having preconceived notions about them. But this isn’t necessarily a drawback if you’re open to altering those notions based on your interactions and experiences. The danger comes when your interactions are based on a desire to mould the other person into the idea you have of them, rather than to mould your perspective based on what you learn.

An essential factor that should govern such interactions, and the opinions or ideas that are birthed through them, is the understanding that difference doesn’t necessarily imply superiority or inferiority. It’s just difference- be it a difference in language, in accent, in diet, or in appearance. There’s no better or worse, and if you depart still convinced there is, your education has only been successful academically (if that).

The real joy of studying at a university like LSE, with a large, diverse group of international students, is in making an effort to interact with and learn about the kind of societies and histories from which the people around you come. If the time is, instead, spent with a limited few, reiterating stereotypes and judgements based on the minimal interaction you may have had with others, it’s an opportunity wasted.

Education at any institution isn’t an education if it isn’t all encompassing. Attaining bookish knowledge is essential, but that’s only literacy. Experiencing the culture of new places first hand, being exposed to the cultures of others, and being open to understanding them without judgement, that’s what makes it an education, and that’s what makes the opportunity the LSE offers truly unique.

My time at the LSE is done, and the quality of what I’ve learned has exceeded my expectations. The year has been enlightening in every sense, and I leave with a wealth of knowledge, attained from my classes, from my textbooks, and, most importantly, from all the phenomenal people I had the good fortune to interact with and befriend.

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