Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Life Book

'Tis the season for snow, carols, bell-ringers, gifts....and proselytizers?

M received her first attempt at proselytizing in guise of a 'holiday gift' from a classmate. I had noted before that Z seemed to come from a solidly Christian household, with walls covered with crosses and Christian kitsch art galore on the one occasion that I had allowed M to attend a birthday party there. I thought nothing much of it at the time.

M came back from school the other day, brandishing a bag full of gifts and goodies from her friends, most of which were thoughtfully tailored to her interests, except for this odd little white book.

Z had packaged it delicately in white paper with a gold design, attached a thoughtful gushy note in blue paper about how M's innocent query about some bracelet she sported had triggered this 'impulse to share'. More blah-blah about 'It would be the best holiday gift if M would just read the book over the break, and to be sure to contact her via email with any questions.'

The 'hit back' urge was strong. "What if you gave her the mini-Bhagavadgita as a return present?"  M laughed and said "That might be a good idea." But then I nixed it after thinking, Z would most likely toss it in the trash, so strongly convinced might she be of the absolute rightness of her path.

I skimmed through the book, written in the format of Cliff notes of the Bible, just in more contemporary language, with faux notes in the margins by three or four 'representative' Bible-studying demographics- teen girl, young man with Xtian girlfriend, 'repentant sinner and former jailbird' and 'sceptical' young man. Z had added her own sticky notes in spots. I ached to supply answers to them and pondered the idea of returning the book to her in a gift bag, with my own real notes and answers to her sticky-note questions. I nixed that idea as well.

So now the book sits quietly in a corner of my bookshelf, jostling for space with the latest 'Mahabharata' contemporary retelling and Jhumpa Lahiri. It feels too mean to consign it to the trashcan, so there it will sit, until the next round of clear-the-bookshelf by giving away unread/unwanted books to the Friends of the Library booksale.

And meanwhile, I try to come up with suitable ways to teach M a life lesson that I suspect that she has already learned- how to be gracious to pushy people without giving in to them or their agenda.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Melody Floating in on the Breeze

The iconic rendition of 'Kaatrinile varum geetham', by Carnatic doyenne M.S. Subbulakshmi, of course.

My mother always loves to recount how I loved the song so much as a toddler, that it was among the earliest that I could lisp out in my baby voice, astounding my aunt who had to concede that yes, Suji was indeed singing that song, even as she had barely started to talk!

I had read accounts that said it was based on an older version of a Hindi song, rendered by the inimitable Juthika Roy, and later adapted to become the even more famous 'Kaatrinile', but internet searches to locate the original proved fruitless, until today.

The original version of 'Toot gayi man beena' was sung, not by Juthika Roy, but by a lesser-known but equally melodious Sheela Sarkar, as part of a private selection of songs. Here it is:

'Kaatrinile' is almost a complete lift of the original tune, with some minor changes in the orchestration, as can be seen below.

Does this make the copy less iconic? In my case, it is still the M.S. version which holds a spine-tingling charm, probably the result of it being associated with my earliest memories. But I remain grateful that the original version by Sheela Sarkar has finally seen the light of day and can be acknowledged as a lovely precursor.

Monday, November 18, 2013


What makes a veil so fascinating?

Is it the anticipation engendered in the viewer of the uncovering of mysteries? Is it the untutored charm of a baby waiting for the face to appear behind the hands in the game of peekaboo? What gives the hidden a power that trumps that of the seen?

This morning, as I walked towards the last moon of autumn,  it wobbled large across the dark blue western sky, dropping behind a thin mantilla of tree lace, further dipping behind the burqa of the balsamic pine.

Now you see it, and now you don't.

Then, up again, brilliant, only to hide again behind a thin layer of cloud.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Duck Vijayam

A rather bad pun on 'Digvijayam' (loosely translated from Sanskrit, 'a tour of conquest'), undertaken by kings of old when they set out to subjugate rivals in all directions, also used to describe the countrywide tours of various sages as they visited to spread their teachings.

But here's the giant Rubber Ducky in person, marking the first stop on his U.S. tour in Pittsburgh. He came, he floated, he conquered...

We paid our respects to the venerable teacher of quackiness, as he towered graciously over the numerous tinier ducks who waited for morsels of wisdom (perchance bread crumbs from visitors) in his vicinity. He silently withstood the photo-craziness of the mobs gathered to greet him, maintaining the same serene expression, like a true yogi immersed in contemplation.
He attracted an audience of thousands during his short stay, and more than a few who wished to retain him in the city forever. But the Giant Rubber Ducky is a free bird, and cannot be bound in a cage of Golden Triangles.
He left Pittsburgh's rivers this morning, and will soon be paying a visit to his next conquest early next year.

Farewell, Duck, and Au revoir!

And in final tribute, a favorite rendition of the Rubber Ducky song from Sesame Street

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gifts of the Sea

I stood in the water, the foam of the wave lapping gently at my toes. Maybe I should venture out an inch further, choppy waters and possible rip currents notwithstanding...

I dug my feet into the sand, letting the breaking waves wash over my feet again and again. The sea receded, leaving a fragment of  ridged brown and white seashell a few feet away from me. It looked interesting, maybe I should shift from my entrenched position and pick it up to examine its beauties.

No, I didn't want to budge from my comfortable spot. I just wanted to stay there and watch the grey clouds on the horizon as they lightened from the pink of early dawn to the brisk blue-gray of day. The wind blew steadily inwards, and the sandpiper nearby was continuing its tireless tracking in the sand following the ebb of the waves.

But I had thought about the shell, and the sea decided to fulfil my wish. The next big wave sent it crashing towards me. It was now at my feet, all I had to do was to bend down and pick it up. And pick it up I did.

It was fairly heavy and smooth at the edges, tossed about by the waves countless times against the shore. Should I keep it? I could. After all wasn't this the ocean fulfilling a random wish that crossed my mind?

But when the sea gives, it has the ability to take away as well. A superstitious fear beset me. I had been reading all the cautionary tales and flyers about rip currents, how they could snatch the unwary beachgoer from the sand.

I thought no more of it. After a brief last look at the shell, I tossed it out back into the sea. This was one shell that I would not be taking home with me.

Here are some that did make the trip back home with me.  All glittered so beautifully in the sand, and dulled once they were out of their element. But they still remain beautiful, misshapen, holed or not, shaped and smoothed by the waves and sand.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bird Encounter

"Cheep, cheep, cheep!"

The robin ran as it cheeped at me, trying to keep a modest 3 feet ahead of my steps.

A young 'un, I thought. An older wiser bird might have just flown out into the bushes. This was a juvenile, not a fledgling, maybe a few weeks older. "Why are you cheeping at me? Sorry, I don't speak Robinese."

I overtook the robin and continued my steady pace up the road. A small ball of feathers whizzed past me, and there was the robin again, running industriously ahead me, maintaining its original pace.  I froze in place, just to watch what it did. It halted, likewise, turned and started to pick at what might have been a worm, or a dried pine needle on the road.

It looked up at me inquiringly to see if I got the hint. But being a dumb human, I didn't take a cue and attempt to munch on the goodies spread across the asphalt. It attempted to teach me again as I walked on, finally giving up a couple of minutes later, as my strides took me up the hill, and it found new distraction at the base of a bush.

A strange but puzzling encounter. I have never been the attempted object of Robin training before, so this was a first. Could it have been the colors that I wore that morning- a bright red shirt with a touch of white at the neck, and black knit pants? Maybe it thought that I was some kind of a giant baby robin who ran on its two feet instead of flying, and needed training on how to tackle a worm on the ground?

I would love to know what just went on in that little bird brain.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Early Bird

The robin yanked and yanked. The worm was fat and long.Very, very long. In fact, the worm was about twice the length of the small robin. I stopped and watched expectantly for the robin to fly away in short order with its prize.
The minute stretched to two, then five. The robin kept pecking at various points of the worm, tossing it around and dragging it around in the grass. Surely, the robin wasn't wrestling the worm, was it?
A few attempts later, the robin managed to find a weak spot in the worm and bit it, not quite in half. The part it tried to pick up was too long.  I don't know with what idea, but Robin started pulling Worm towards a cover for underground cables, lying flat in the grass. Then she abandoned the idea. (Yes, I think it was a she, based on the size, male robins tend to be larger.)
She went to the other part, and after some maneuvering, managed to wrap the worm in loose loops around her beak.
Now came the hard part. Would she be able to take off and fly to the nest with the heavy loops of worm weighing her down?
She charged up the asphalt driveway, hopping rather desperately in an attempt to get airborne. But the aerodynamics weren't quite right. She paused near the top of the driveway, as I moved past the pine to get a better view of what she would do next.
The lawn sloped steeply away at that point, so she started the downward run, this time finally taking off in a flurry of beating wings, as  the ground fell away below her.

Airborne at last and home to feed the kids!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mourning Doves

Do they mourn? I suppose so.

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to see a pair of mourning doves that regularly haunt my deck putting up a nest on the post holding up the basketball hoops.The weather was too cold yet for impromptu outside games, so I had no fear that a stray ball was going to knock them from the perch.
The parents took turns sitting on the eggs, I never saw the eggs uncovered. Until one day, when there were no birds sitting on the nest, but I could still discern a slight movement. The nestlings had hatched!
For a couple of days, the new parents came and went, as they attempted to feed the babies. But then Mother Nature struck.
After a windy day, followed by heavy rains, I peered out the window the next morning to find the nest empty. No parent pigeons, nor babies were in evidence.
I tracked the nest for the next few days, hoping against hope that the parents might have moved the babies to a less exposed location. But it was unlikely, the nestlings were too young, not anywhere near the 2 weeks or so that would have made them bigger and strong enough to attempt flying.
I still see the doves around on the deck, pecking away at the dribbles of birdseed scattered by smaller birds at the feeder. I hope that they have started to reconstitute a nest, this time in a safer location, and will eventually raise their young ones as spring has finally moved into summer.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Wildlife Central

Today's walk felt like that.

I peeked out of the front window, hoping that yesterday's frost warning had been just a missed call, but the frost glittered quite alarmingly pretty on our neighbor's carefully manicured Scotts lawn. Ours, not so much, a moderately well-trimmed mix of old ryegrass, fine fescue, dandelions and moss. A couple of rabbits grazed happily away just a few feet away from me, albeit with a wall and window between us. One rabbit attempted to sniff the other's rump, and got kicked lightly away, as the first took off into the bushes.
I stepped out of the house about half an hour later, after verifying that the old sheets draped on my deck plants still remained in place. The air was bracingly cold for this time of the year. It's Memorial Day weekend, and there is still a frost warning! What a way to greet the summer.

As I walked past the normal turkey zone, there were two gorgeous turkeys with dark feathers. One was a  large male with a wattle, the other appeared to be a younger male, with a purple blue coloring on the head, and no wattle. The wattled male glared balefully at me as I stopped to watch them, issued a warning call, as it stretched its neck and fluffed its feathers in an aggressive display. It repeated this twice, and I continued on the walk, leaving fighting turkeys to their own devices.

More assorted turkeys here and there, browsing on grass up a hillside, barely pausing to acknowledge the presence of an interested stranger.

Rabbit zone was fairly quiet, no baby bunnies were in evidence yet. I did spot a guardian rabbit sitting on the hillside, watching me cautiously. I have no doubt that the entrance to the warren must have been the almost hidden hole just a foot above where the rabbit sat.

A red cardinal shot across the road in front. It must have been chased off by the other cardinal sitting in the mulch on the other side. 'Tis a time for territoriality and displays, not yet time for the babies and such!

Rounding the corner to get home, a young deer leaped around in classical deer style, bounding gracefully across our lawn and the road to the neighbors. I guess the neighbor's free-ranging labrador may have spooked it (I know, having been 'yelled' at by the said-dog even as I peacefully gardened on my own property.) The dog seems to think its territory comprises all the houses on our side of the street and barks at anyone who infringes. If this continues, I shall have to complain to the township.

And that's the end of today's report from Suburban Wildlife Central, brought to you by Sujatha.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anne Frank Revisited

I noticed a huge uptick in the number of searches landing on my blog post "Anne Frank Uncensored", especially over the past month, and wondered at what could have triggered this sudden (prurient?) interest in her uncensored diary.
Today, the mystery was solved.
Not for the first time, apparently, a parent in Michigan has challenged her daughter's school for prescribing the uncensored version for 7th grade reading. I start to wonder if this is perhaps a cooordinated effort of some sort to protest the choice of  Anne Frank's Diary as reading material, perhaps spearheaded by some group that might have another axe to grind.

The local news reported that Gail Horalek found passages in which Anne muses about the anatomy of her genitals in the book 'pornographic' and upsetting her daughter.
"This particular material is inappropriate for seventh grade students to read, especially without their parents' knowledge, Horalek said.
"It doesn’t mean my child is sheltered, it doesn’t mean I live in a bubble, and it doesn’t mean I'm trying to ban books," she said."
Despite Horalek's assertion,  it would appear to be just the opposite- that if she or her daughter considers the passages in question to be upsetting and pornographic, then her child is sheltered, living in a bubble.
It seems like a bit of an overreaction on her part to protest the book, unless she is miffed that the school district didn't alert her to the passage in question. Would she have been mollified and given permission to read the book if they had sent home a consent form?
It could have been a teachable moment for the mother to explain that such exploration is not unusual, and quite natural, the only horrific thing about the passage being that Anne Frank, who might have lived a normal lifein another day and age, could have kept her hidden diary to herself, instead of it being open to the views and opinions of millions of strangers. This could have evolved into a meaningful discussion of what privacy means, how it is viewed in the historical context of opening up Anne's thoughts to strangers, and what it implies for this hyperconnected world of Facebook, Instagram etc.

Interestingly, Anne Frank's diary is not on the Wiki-list of most commonly challenged books in the U.S., but maybe that status will now change, as more fundamentalist parents get their protests in.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Morning Magic and Auroral Disappointments

A few days ago, avid skygazers were alerted that a possibly sighting of the Northern Lights was in store for Pennsylvania. "Hie thee outdoors at eight o' clock in the evening!" was the command. We eagerly hustled out to stare at a dimming deep blue sky. After standing around for about ten minutes, we decided that like many 'astronomical shows', this one was a no-show.
That's not to say that I have never seen the Northern lights over Pittsburgh.  Maybe a couple of years ago, as I was driving down a little vale approaching my home, a green glimmer lit up the sky above for all of two seconds, and vanished. I looked up the internet that day and it was confirmed.The Northern Lights had come to town on that day, relatively unnannounced, caught in my vision by pure luck.
Yesterday morning, I walked my usual circuit and was treated to the most gorgeous eastern skies that I have seen in a while. Myriad shades of pink, orange, and blue melding together.It was ten minutes of pure enchantment, as the colors glowed, even through the silhouettes of blossoming trees.
I thought of trying to take a photo once I reached home, as the glow continued. I ducked into the house, came out wielding my camera. And just like that- Poof! The magical glow was gone, replaced by dull utilitarian grey blue clouds.
That's the quality of magic, I guess. Try to capture it, and it sometimes decides to vanish.

(Here is the closest approximation that I could find of the colors of the dawn on the web, and the Northern Lights)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When Food trumped Food for Thought

Mea culpa. (Please bear with me and read through to the end for the reason.)

I missed out on an excellent demo because of "Paapi pet ka sawaal".

Revisiting the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana this year after a break of many years ( couple of decades, almost), I took the chance to see if I could land a ticket to the much-anticipated 'rock star' of Carnatic music Sudha Raghunathan's concert at the end of March. It was preceded by a 'Melharmonic' symphony of  young Carnatic singers accompanied by both Indian and Western style orchestral ensembles, punctuated by rather stiffly-played cadenzas in the Western style. This ensured a full auditorium even as I entered to find a spot before the main event following.
The organizers insisted on everyone exiting the theater, waiting in the lobby in typical disorganized Indian-crowd style, to show our tickets as proof we had paid to enter for the concert. Things were getting a bit heated as a crowd about 1000 strong gathered in an area too small to hold them safely. But luckily, reason prevailed and they started permitting re-entry.
The concert itself was very good. Sudha Raghunathan was in blazing form, dazzling with lightning fast korvais, a good mix of mostly familiar songs and the occasional unfamiliars (to yours truly, if not the aficionado audience that included the inevitable gentleman in front who insisted on marking taalam for every song, except the one in Khanda chaapu which had most baffled for more than few minutes.)
Here is a sample of the lighter fare (thukkadas) that she presented at the end, following a rather tediously predictable plea for generous donations to the festival.

After all the razzle-dazzle, coming at the end of three and half hours, I was desperate for sustenance of the non-musical kind, being gifted with a stomach that demands its dues at frequent intervals through the day. I high-tailed it to the Comfort Inn across the street, hoping to get my dose of thayir saadam and pickle before it vanished entirely into the maws of the hungry crowds. It took about an hour to reach the food counter, after standing in line. I gulped down the food and rushed back as soon as decently possible, hoping that the usual IST applied to the start of a demo of a new musical instrument of which I had heard directly from the inventor. Alas, it was down to the final two minutes of the demo, and all that I heard was a brief thukkada, too short to make a determination of the full capabilities of the instrument.
Here, however, is restitution of sorts to the missed opportunity. Enjoy the sounds of the Chitravenu!
Now that is Food for Thought, indeed.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Drain Inspector

I refer to Katherine Mayo, author of the infamous "Mother India", criticized by no less than Mahatma Gandhi :
"This book is cleverly and powerfully written. The carefully chosen quotations give it the false appearance of a truthful book. But the impression it leaves on my mind, is that it is the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon, or to give a graphic description of the stench exuded by the opened drains. If Miss. Mayo had confessed that she had come to India merely to open out and examine the drains of India, there would perhaps be little to complain about her compilation. But she declared her abominable and patently wrong conclusion with a certain amount of triumph: 'the drains are India'."

What  relevance does Mayo have, after all these years, especially with 'India Shining' as one of the brightest in the firmaments of new economic stars?
Having never read her book before, I finally got around to skimming through it online. There is some hyperbole on par with the travelogues of old (Herodotus, Alberuni, Fahien et al.), fantastical tales and too-broad brush strokes painting people that are far more diverse than simple dismissive statements can suggest.There are  several defamatory statements impugning the manhood of the Indian man.  One could argue that such statements may have arisen from the heat of the moment, especially with the horrors that she had heard of, being perpetrated on hapless Indian child-brides, which would lower her opinion of  both Indian men in general and those 'cautious' elders who went all out to defend the status quo. But there was much truth to what she said of India in that day and age (c. 1925), that still holds true not quite a century later.
Her contention regarding her description and assessments:
"This subject has not, I believe, been presented in common print. The Indian does not confront it in its entirety; he knows its component parts, but avoids the embarrassment of assembling them or of drawing their essential inferences. The traveler in India misses it, having no occasion to delve below the picturesque surface into living things as they are. The British official will especially avoid it--will deprecate its handling by others. His own daily labors, since the Reforms of 1919, hinge upon persuasion rather than upon command; therefore his hopes of success, like his orders from above, impose the policy of the gentle word. Outside agencies working for the moral welfare of the Indian seem often to have adopted the method of encouraging their beneficiary to dwell on his own merits and to harp upon others' shortcomings, rather than to face his faults and conquer them. And so, in the midst of an agreement of silence or flattery, you find a sick man growing daily weaker, dying, body and brain, of a disease that only himself can cure, and with no one, anywhere, enough his friend to hold the mirror up and show him plainly what is killing him.
In shouldering this task myself, I am fully aware of the resentments I shall incur: of the accusations of muck-raking; of injustice; of material-mindedness; of lack of sympathy; of falsehood perhaps; perhaps of prurience. But the fact of having seen conditions and their bearings, and of being in a position to present them, would seem to deprive one of the right to indulge a personal reluctance to incur consequences."
In the current context of Indian media reporting, an epidemic of  gang rapes of women young and old has 'suddenly erupted'.
Only this time, the drain inspectors are largely Indian, with the many gleeful "I-told-you-so" voices added from the popular media in the West, happy to pile on with the general opprobium.
It is good that such questions are being asked, and more attention being paid to the cultural woes of India than before.Whether this will lead to the lessening of such incidents occurring, I cannot say. There are still too many socio-economic factors that would prevent it from happening soon. But the awareness will hopefully cause the cultural change that is needed to move away from such behaviors, even if it takes a couple of generations to achieve it.

As a young and impressionable kid, I was once gifted a pair of English translations of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, both rendered by C. Rajagopalachari in fluent, easy to understand English. I rapidly read through the various episodes that were relatively familiar, thanks to the pictorial wonders of Amar Chitra Katha stories. But the tale of 'Yavakrida's end' gave me pause.  There was a clear and concise description of rape, which left me with an ominous warning of what not to ever do in terms of walking around alone.
"It was springtime. The trees and creepers were beautiful with flowers and the whole
forest was gorgeous with color and sweet with the song of birds.The very earth seemed to be under the spell of the god of love. Paravasu's wife was strolling alone in the garden near the hermitage of Raibhya. She appeared more than human, in the sweet union in her of beauty, courage and purity.
At that time Yavakrida came there and was so overwhelmed by her loveliness that he completely lost his sense and self-control and became as a ravening beast with lust.
He accosted her and taking brutal advantage of her fear and shame and bewilderment, he dragged her to a lonely spot and violated her person.
Raibhya returned to his hermitage. He saw his daughter in-law weeping, broken-hearted and inconsolable and learning of the shameful outrage perpetrated on her,he was seized with implacable anger. He plucked a hair from his bead and offered it to the fire reciting a mantra."
And retribution in form of a fiend killing Yavakrida ensues, etc. etc.  For all we know, this is a cautionary tale inserted into the Mahabharata to warn generations of young women who grew up listening to this work.

Several years later, I ended up moving to a country where such things do not normally happen (or do they? Probably just in different form, vide Central Park Jogger, who grew up in my neighborhood), and do walk around in the spring, enjoying the flowers and birds. But I try to keep a watchful eye out for the potential attacker, just as a caution from that early memory.
 No oblivious listening to i-music for me. Always be aware and watchful, never let your guard down. Pay heed to the voices of the drain inspectors of the world, starting with the Mahabharata writer(s),  Mayo and others.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Unsilent Spring

Walking through the winter mornings, the one thing that strikes you is the absence of birdsong. The skies are dark, the stars glittering occasionally on clearer nights. The deep blue lightens, but all is silent around you, even as you hear the traffic on the main roads rising as a muted roar.
This morning, walking towards the Big Dipper, I heard a tiny tentative tweet. "Is it time to rise and fly yet?"
"No, not yet. It's just that crazy human who likes to walk in the dark."
The tree tops still maintain their lacy profiles against the lightening sky. The moon is waning, a thinner crescent with the rest of the sphere in deep shadow. The birds start to take up the refrain as I continue to walk, circling back towards home.
I retrace my steps on the last leg. The tweet has now erupted into a full-fledged bird chorus, as more join in on the Welcome to the Dawn. The east is now rosy with promise.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lullabies in La-la Land

When we went to see the "Life of Pi" movie, the starting credits startled me, in a pleasant way. A female voice soothingly intoned the standard motherese type of lyrics lulling her little one to sleep. It was soporific and generic, even as it surprised me that a Hollywood production should use Tamil lyrics in a very prominent spot in the movie. I realized only much later that it was sung by Bombay Jayashree.

It's over a couple of months later, and now we have Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashree , nominated for an Oscar for the best song. It's an honor indeed, that this merited this nomination, even if its chances of winning fall considerably in face of competition from the likes of Adele for the Skyfall song (she has already won the Golden Globe for this, and is the strongest contender for the Oscar). "Pi's Lullaby" might be no more than a tuneful also-ran.

Enter the Irayimman Thampy memorial trust (or as close as I recall the name). They, being good Malayalees 'n'all, decided to carp against the Tamil hegemony represented by the nomination for Bombay Jayashree. I assume that the mellifluous cooing at the start of the film landed upon their ears as unpleasant cacophony, since it wasn't in Malayalam. Cue the accusations of plagiarism against Jayashree, who avers that her lyrics were no more than the outpourings of a mother's heart.

A key part of the accusations is the usage of the 'mayil- kuyil' combination, also present in the lyrics of Omana thinkal kidavo by Irayimman Thampy.  The problem with that is that the words naturally lend themselves to use as rhyming words, per usage in Tamil songs as well as  as Malayalam. If  one threw a stone into the river every time any poet famous or not chose to use that combination,  the river would be completely dammed by now.

Given the original import of Irayimman Thampy's lyrics, saying that Jayashree's lyrics are plagiarised from those are rather like pointing to a firefly and calling it a star.

I suspect either a case of rather severe sour-grapes on the part of the Irayimman Thampy trust, or just a cheap attempt to cash in on stirring controversy for no real reason.

The song in question itself is unremarkable, and I doubt that it means anything more than a 'cool' but casual outreach by Bombay Jayashree, whose oeuvre in Carnatic music outshines anything that she has sung for films, whether Indian or Western.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Woman Who Wanted to Live

First, not so long ago, in October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, who died begging for an abortion of a much-wanted pregnancy gone wrong, denied it by the power of a state that decrees that the life of a fetus outweighs that of its mother-vessel.

Next, a sad reversal of the title,  Jacintha Saldanha, who lost her yen for life, committing suicide partly over the scorn directed at her inability to distinguish a fake Brit royal accent  from a real one, which ended up in a much publicized radio hoax over the Duchess of Cambridge's hospitalization for severe morning sickness. New reports suggest that she was already battling depression and had attempted suicide before, but that the prank call was a final instigator to her attempt to leave this life. 

Third, the still unnamed Delhi gang-rape victim, called euphemistically by the Indian media 'Nirbhaya' (fearless or brave heart) , 'Damini' (lightning), 'Amanat' (trust or faith). She continued on bravely, naming her tormentors, and averring that she wanted to live on, not just give up as so many victims had done in their despair at justice denied.
( Is the not-naming giving the mass movement against rape and brutalities against Indian women more power?)

The earlier events prompted India-wide concern over her daughters living and working abroad. There was much editorializing and soul-searching going on, along with a faintly self-congratulatory, moralistic turn- If they had been living in India, rather than going abroad in search of a 'better life', they would still be alive and happy, albeit poorer, went the reasoning in many a comment and letter to the editor.

But the brutal gang-rape of a young medical student in Delhi generated a different nation-wide outpouring of revulsion against the violence and the culture underlying it, and endless compassion for the victim. What, I wondered, caused this sudden movement and demands of marching women to 'take back the night', in city after city,town after town, all over India? Why now, when so many others, thousands and millions of suffering women over the centuries, had been ignored or minimized?
Was this an effect of the new media, or was it just, as my friend Ruchira suggests, the last straw on the camel's back?

I think the answer lies in the events preceding and the world-wide spotlight on the three different Indian women. The first two were the precursor to the uprising sparked by the third event. That explains the unprecedented public outpouring and reaction to the gang rape. The pseudo-superiority of  "Women are revered in India", and the glaring truth that worse can happen in India than abroad, was  revealed . Veneration of women in India has been revealed for the shallow veneer concealing a horrid underlying reality.

Ireland responds to the death of Savita by reviewing its laws, perhaps even moving towards a legal amendment that would provide an exception for abortion to save the life of the mother, even counter to the hardline taken by the Catholic church.

In the case of Jacintha Saldanha, the resolution of a repetition of prank calls would likely be decided in the British courts, with charges brought against invasion of privacy. It will just be too late for Jacintha.

What will India do over the death of She-who-is-not-yet-named ? Will they create a law with worse penalties for such incidents? Such a law's deterrent power will depend not on its formulation and penalties, but on enforcement.  Lax enforcement caused by centuries-old cultural biases will not  change anything for the vast majority of the women.

 Each politician should now be called out on misogyny, whether it be a male or female, as is already happening. Each person indulging in such a crime must be promptly prosecuted and sentenced, not to death (which is likely to only ensure that rape victims become murder victims), but to a painful lifetime in prison.  Each victim must be supported and helped build new lives, not subjected to another rape by a prolonged inquisition by the police and judicial system.

Will all this happen? I don't know, but I'm hopeful, in this new year, that it will eventually come to pass, that there will be less and less Savitas, Jacinthas and 'Anamika's.