sakshidayal

Life is not a holiday.

Captured or Constructed?

I remember when I was younger, and pictures were about the moments, not the people. They were a way to archive events, to hold on to them forever, even while you moved on.

Now pictures serve a completely different purpose. Like so much in our lives, they’re all about projection, about showing. They’re images, carefully constructed, not captured.

There was a time when the shutter went down, but the picture came days later, by which time the moment had passed and it was too late to take another version, pose in a different way, create a different impression.

That’s not the case anymore, not with the option of seeing a digital version of the picture immediately after it has been taken, creating the ability to improve upon it-change your posture, alter the lighting, smile a little more, appear better.

That’s what pictures seem to be about now-appearance.

With social media taking the spotlight, the focus is on sharing for feedback, for approval, for validation, rather than to provide a snippet of an event for people who actually care. We alter the situation while we’re in it, taking the picture keeping the response we want in mind and, with Photoshop, we continue to alter it even afterwards, so that the end result, more often than not, doesn’t reflect the reality and is only an image laboriously created to garner maximum likes and positive comments.

We now take pictures for others, not ourselves.

I’ve seen people who don’t wear the same clothes at two consecutive events because they know cameras will be there and images will be shared, I’ve seen people who make extra effort to dress well solely for the camera, I’ve seen pictures where people turn their backs to those beside them, regardless of their relationship with them, simply because they photograph better from that angle.

The way we take pictures is changing, the reason we take them is changing, the pictures themselves are changing.

I’ve seen pictures of my childhood, where I stand awkwardly beside my sisters, hands by my side. Now I see pictures of children, their right arm strategically placed on their waist, one leg sticking out in front of the other. I’ve seen pictures of my childhood, where I look funny, my nose is too big or my limbs akimbo, but I’m laughing with my sisters. Now I see pictures of little kids continuously conscious they’re being clicked, ready with well-rehearsed, camera friendly smiles. They look prettier in most of their pictures than I ever did, but I look happier.

Home and Homosexuality

The bridges in London are multipurpose. They are the lifelines of this magnificent city-connecting two banks, providing spectacular views and, for me, inciting reflection on exactly how terribly same sex love is treated in India.

When I first came to London from Delhi, I noticed several stark contradictions between the culture I had entered into and the one I had just left behind, including the attitude towards alcohol, towards public display of affection, towards sex.
The most regrettable of these contrasts, however, hit me while I travelled on a bus across Waterloo Bridge one morning. Looking out my window, I saw amongst the heterosexual couples, a homosexual one-two men, holding hands, kissing.
This was unheard of in India.

I’ve seen men holding hands in India. I’ve seen them as I walked down the street in my neighbourhood in Bombay, and I’ve seen them as I walked to the metro station from college in Delhi. But this wasn’t romantic hand holding. This was heterosexual, disturbing, weird Indian male hand holding.
In fact, the latter time it involved a complex politics of hand holding as well, with three friends walking down the street-two holding hands while the third walked alongside, excluded, until he gatecrashed their party and forced himself between his friends, and all three of them continued on their way, hand in hand, while I walked behind them, bewildered.
But even a hint of non heterosexual hand holding, forget kissing, between members of the same sex, would be enough to bring down the moral police in India, made up of politicians, narrow minded, conventional sections of society, and worst of all, the law.

India is possibly one of the only countries that extends the notion of “it’ll be back in fashion” to the law. Criminalisation of same sex intercourse went out of fashion in 2009, when Section 377 was amended to exclude sexual acts between two consenting adults from its notion of unnatural offences, but its criminalisation returned in the winter collection of 2013, once more adding to the woes of the LGBT community. Although legally it only deals with the sexual aspect of homosexuality, its misinterpretation and misuse provides the basis for regular harassment of homosexuals by the police, and society in general.
Homosexuality has never been popular in India. For every group of people who refuse to see it as a taboo, there are ten who do. In such a situation, the life of a gay man or woman was never a cakewalk to begin with-in a country where most people are still coming to terms with, or more often refusing to come to terms with, heterosexual relationships outside their own caste and community, universal acceptance of relationships outside the dominant idea of sexuality seems like an unreachable dream.

India itself is a country of contradictions. We refuse to accept homosexuality, socially or legally, but we all stream into theatres to watch Dostana, because the only way to handle something we don’t understand is laugh at it. So we pay money to snigger at two straight men while they act out every gay stereotype in the world, but we refuse to accept the actual thing.
While big names in Hollywood come clean about their homosexual orientation, encouraging others to do the same, those in Bollywood only sink deeper into their closets when the topic is brought up, regardless of the status of section 377, which says a lot-if those at the top, who have all the stability, money and fame, fear the repercussions that will follow such a revelation enough to completely avoid it, what chance does the common man stand?

I love India, and since I left it behind, I’ve only loved it more. I’ve often found myself wishing that, as a nation, we would stop trying so hard to blindly emulate the west in our day to day lives-the music we listen to, the fashions we follow, the books we read, the films its ‘cool’ to watch- and recognise the fact that we have so much that is unique, our own, just ours, so much to be saved and nurtured and appreciated. But I also recognise the fact that we have a long way to go until we can be known as a completely liberated, open, accepting society-in the context of religion, gender, sexuality.
But someday, I hope that is exactly what we will be. Someday, I will drive past India Gate, and see two men holding hands, kissing, and no one will care.

Tumse Ek Ladkon Waala Sawaal Poochoon?

According to Hindu wedding rites, when a couple gets married, it means they’re bound together for their next seven births.

Doubt it?

Dont.

Bollywood doesn’t.

Meet Ronit and Isha in their first birth ,

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Born as Rohan and Puja in their second birth,

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And Prem and Sanjana in their third.

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The story of their third birth is told in Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon.

At first , this seems like a movie about father daughter love.

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Then this seems like a movie about the excitement all us Desis feel when a phone call comes from America.

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      Mummy, America se phone aaya hai!

But that’s until Patriotic Prem enters.

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Patriotic Prem is from America, where apparently there are no automatic doors.

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                    Hey! Where’d the door go?

He is a temporary guest in Sanjana’s house, and her parents hope to make him a permanent one in her heart, but she isn’t one to be swept off her feet, though she does enjoy sweeping.

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Sanjana doesn’t want to get married, because she’s a feminist.

She studied in a college where girls regularly threw balls at old men,

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And made profound statements like
“A son is a son till he gets himself a wife, a daughter is a daughter all her life.”
Making all the clowns in the audience go

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But things change when Prem and Sanjana go cycling with the latter’s friends and family on the straightest path in the world,

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            Who needs to steer anyway?

And Patriotic Prem prevents an accident.

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Following which Sanjana promptly experiences pyaar for Patriotic Prem.

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She never doubts Prem’s feelings for her, because he gets her name tattooed on his arm, the ultimate sign of commitment.

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Then Sanjana can resist no more.

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And when Prem doubts her affection, she tells him she loves him, like this

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Proving she’s much stronger than she looks, and ensuring she’s never questioned again.

But then it turns out Prem isn’t the right Prem, because Prem was supposed to be Prem Kumar, the rich owner of Prem industries, and the tattooed man is Prem Mathur, his employee.

Prem Mathur had come in place of Prem Kumar, whose trip had got posponed, but Papa did not know and picked up the Patriotic Prem from the airport, leading to all these Prem related pathetic complications.

Anyway, the right Prem finally arrives.

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And he’s more right than anyone expected-doesn’t drink tea, loves the same poems as Sanjana, has no friends or enemies, and no desires or hopes-what a weirdo, perfect for Sanjana.

So Sanjana’s parents start fixing her marriage to him, because Prem Industries > Prem Mathur, leaving the latter flaring his nostrils, like so

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He refuses to fight for Sanjana, because “Tum par hak boss ka hai”.

But when Sanjana sees him at her engagement, she slaps him, horrfiying everyone, except this guy in the black coat

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Who is more bored than the audience watching the movie at this point, and that’s saying something.

Then Sanjana demonstrates her strength once again, tearing Patriotic Prem’s purple satin shirt as she falls at his feet (that should teach him not to buy his clothes from Sarojini Nagar).

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This reveals the tattoo Patriotic Prem got as a sign of commitment (LOL).

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And Prem Kumar, being the desire-less man he is, gives up his ‘right’ to Sanjana, solving all the Prem related problems.

Patriotic Prem and Sanjana get married, giving her several more chances to demonstrate her strength, like so

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While Prem Kumar continues to publicly profess his love for Sanjana, who claims he is her best friend forever, because back up.

But the story isn’t over, because Sanjana and Prem have another four births to go you guys!

Social Media: A Different Kind of Terror?

I receive breaking news updates on my phone from The Guardian and The Times of India.
In the last few weeks, most of these updates have been about ongoing terror attacks in different parts of the world-Australia, Pakistan, and now France-a rude reminder of the hatred that festers in the hearts of men, a hatred that perpetrators try to justify in the name of faith and religion. But no religion encourages hate, or violence, or cold blooded murder-not of customers at a cafe, not of journalists, and not of children.
This irrational, undying hatred culminates in acts of violence, in chaos, fear, pain, sorrow, and death.
But what frightens me even more is what follows, not in the real world, but in the virtual one.

I learn about a lot of news articles and interesting blog posts through Facebook and Twitter. When these turn up on my news feed, I click on the link and make it a point to never ever read the comments that follow the link. But the rare times that I forget this rule, my heart sinks.
Terrorists are the people who act on the hatred they feel, who are guided by their prejudices and disillusions. But they’re not the only ones who instill terror, not for me anyway. Some writers of comments on social media frighten me just as much-the people who, in words if not action, support these acts and argue vehemently with those who openly condemn them; the ones who call for similar action against other communities they detest for no discernible reason; and the ones who encourage the kind of hatred that made terrorists out of common men, those who blame entire countries or communities for a deplorable act committed by a few.
They come under this category-the person on Facebook who applauded the attacks in Paris and called for similar action against Jews, the person on a YouTube video I watched recently who declared Pakistan should be blown up because it’s a terrible place which does nothing except give birth to terrorists, and the person on Twitter who attempted to use this brutal act, in 140 characters, as proof that Hindus are, after all, better than Muslims.
These aren’t terrorists looking to spread their beliefs, or politicians looking for votes, or some random celebrity looking for headlines. These are regular people, people like me, people like you. They could be the people you study with, or the people you travel with on the bus, or the people you met at a party. They may not kill others, but they reinforce the ideals that drive those who do by closing their eyes to rationality and being blinded by hatred and ignorance.
Social media has several benefits-it ensures connectivity, facilitates public action, encourages public debate, but its greatest advantage is its capacity to reveal what people are, to unclothe them even while they’re clothed in the garb of anonymity, to reveal what goes on in the hearts and minds of those so much like me, and you, on the outside, but, hopefully, so unlike us on the inside.
And that’s what’s terrifying-people’s capacity to hate, without cause, without reason, but with every fiber of their being.

My heart skips a beat each time my phone beeps, telling me I have a notification from one of my news apps. Each act of terror reduces my faith in the world by a small amount, but I labor on, still believing, still hoping, because as Samwise Gamgee said, “there’s some good in this world…and it’s worth fighting for”.

To Love or Not to Love?

“But for my bonny Kate, she must with me.
Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret;
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn, 
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything;”

                                                                                           -The Taming of the Shrew

I’ve loved Shakespeare ever since I first read an abridged version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Then l watched a Globe production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, a Shakespeare play I knew very little about, and once the show was over, I was left wondering whether or not to love the play, and consequently, the playwright.
Can you love a play which is all about taming a woman who is everything the quintessential woman should not be- a woman who speaks her mind and refuses to bow down before the man who married her?
But why can’t you?

I loved Disney cartoons when I was younger. I watched ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’ several times, never once realizing that all the women in them seemed to do was chores and wait around for their Prince Charming to come and sing them off their feet.
I mentally devoured every single ‘Famous Five’ book when I was growing up. Then I realized all Anne ever did in it was make boiled eggs and play with her dolls, while her brothers and tomboyish cousin went out and had all the fun.
Even so, I continue to love the Disney Cartoons and Famous Five books.

But I refuse to stand for ‘Twilight’, the biggest offence of which is also that the female protagonist seems to do nothing most of the time except dream of her vampire boyfriend and wait for him to save her when she’s in trouble.
I also, despite enjoying them at one level, detest the basic ideals that films like ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ are based on- wherein women belong in the kitchen, even if they are well educated, and all unmarried women are desperate, malicious, cunning villians.
What is it that makes me despise certain works in cinema, literature or art for the same ideas that, in others, I prefer to overlook or just accept?

I think a major role in these decisions is played by the times in which these books or films were written or made. Art, including literature and cinema, has always been a reflection of its times.

This is why I can forgive Shakespeare for the otherwise offensive premise on which ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is based. This is why I can love Anne despite the fact that she is exactly the kind of girl I never was or wanted to be. This is why I love the older Disney princesses despite the fact that they seem like silly, spineless women compared to what I imagine the modern women of today to be. It’s because these works are a reflection of their day and age that what they portray is acceptable- on a stand alone basis they wouldn’t be, but when seen in the context of the society and culture of their time, they make much more sense and can be forgiven their offences.

And this is also exactly why ‘Twilight’ offends me, because it is based in today’s world. The protagonist is supposed to be a school-girl who youngsters her age would, at some level, connect with, and even so, she seems to belong more in the times of the Disney princesses. She may be educated and have much more freedom, but her core is the same- she’s just another girl who spends most of her time swooning and dreaming of the man she loves, waits for him to rescue her each time she’s in trouble, and who goes a step beyond the Disney princesses by attempting to kill herself when her vampire glitters out of her life- not exactly the ideal inspiration for the girls of today.
Sooraj Barjatya movies, including ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, belong to the same category as ‘Twilight’. They pull women back by several years, once more shutting them up in their homes and leaving them waiting for their to-be-husbands to come home after a hard day’s work so that they can press their legs and serve them dinner.

I loved the ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, I loved the characters, and I loved the coarse yet intelligent humor. But I was deeply offended by the basic premise, and these wounded feelings led to a lot of thought, and to this post, because

‘My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.’

-The Taming of the Shrew

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