Sunday, 12 January 2014

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mirror, Mirror.....

With all that is happened in the last few weeks as we grapple with the India we now live in. We now know, that we cannot just blindly rely on the status quo to protect our mothers, sisters and brothers whether its from sadistic monsters with rods who ride in buses or the ones who hide behind uniforms and use their lathis on its unarmed citizens. It is imperative to look at the current state of affairs and sift through carefully what the world is mirroring back at us .

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
Edward Murrow

It’s a time for deep self- reflection. The easiest thing to do is to point at the perpetrators, the incompetent lobbyists, corrupt politicians or the misogynist cops or the impotent machinery that is OUR government today.
I’m not denying that the fault lies with them but for every finger that points outwards at them, there are that many that point at us.
 This incident is not the first or fifth or the ten thousandth one of violence against women in the last so many years.It is one of millions that are happening even now all over our country, as thousands of protestors are right this minute marching to Juhu and Jantarmantar.
How did this get so far?
Who is to blame? 
Politicians? Cops? Law makers? 

Whether we like it or not, these people have been put in power because someone voted for them.
We have tolerated and stood by while they have drafted & implemented archaic laws that defy logic or justice.

This level of violence from rapists like these or inertia on the part of the authorities has not risen out of nowhere.
What we are seeing today is the culmination of a mindset, cultivated & engendered over decades that sees and treats women as the inferior gender, as the disposable section of society that no one wants and are considered a “bhoj” or liability.
Perpetuated by Bollywood fims, B grade advertising and Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi type of TV shows; that portray women as pawns & accessories, commodities to be traded and negotiated over.

Why, in the second largest democracy in world, do women still have to fill in their father's or husband’s name on any legal form as proof of identity? Men are not asked to put their mother’s or wives name down first to prove their validity.
The alarming rates of female infanticide and still widening chasm in the female to male ratio in India is proof about the value our nation assigns to its women citizens.

The ridiculous comment about  “dented and painted women“ made by the MP from Jangipur and the subsequent PR smooshing over by  the party involved, is a frightening window into the archaic, sexist  mindset of the people who make up our government and to whom we look to, to make our laws and protect us.

“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
Mahatma Gandhi

So as we look at them, we must also look within and ask ourselves 

What kind of cinema do you watch and support?
Are you a proponent of those Bollywood masala films where the guy pursues the girl by teasing her on the road, grabbing her, singing her a love song till she gives in?

What are the advertisements that have your attention?
Are they like the one where the young cool dude frightens away the fat aunty by showing her is propensity for violent driving on his phone? Did you find that amusing? If that was your mother needing a ride home, would it still be funny?

When you see a woman on the road or in a club or in your office who doesn’t conform to your idea of what a woman should be?
What do you think in your head?
How do you talk about her with your colleagues or friends?

How many families do you know off, where women are slapped around by their husbands or in laws or asked to pray and perform special rituals to ensure the birth of a boy?

Do you have the image or statue or Yantra of any of our Devis in your home, car and office?
What does that really mean to worship the Goddess?
Are Lakshmi, Durga and Kali mere idols for worship or are they facets of Divine Feminine that live inside all of us, men and women, waiting to be excavated, arrogated and embodied!

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

So lets march to Jantar Mantar and boycott Republic day and show our solidarity through verbal & written protests but let us also self reflect in to how we have all been complicit in this discrimination against women; in the way we see, think, feel and talk about gender issues.

Only by taking responsibility for our part in being bystanders to the policies and laws that have allowed for such gross injustices in the past, can we hope to move forward towards creating governance that we can actually trust.

For the change we are fighting for on the roads, in our buses and in the mindset of those who run our country must first start with us, in every area of our own lives.

 From A Tryst with Destiny by Jawaharlal Nehru

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams.”

Monday, 24 September 2012

Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi- Soaps and the Craft of Manipulation

One of the pre- dominant leitmotifs of my childhood was my father’s dictum on the kind of television and cinema we were exposed to. My mother on the other hand encouraged us to sample everything, exercising the power of choice and discretion. 
Both parents were remarkably liberal in other ways; I don’t remember them being strict about all the usual prosaic tedium like bedtime or report cards. They were however extremely hands on about our education beyond the school curriculum.
We travelled 3 times a year; they took us everywhere be it by boat, bus, car or plane. The focus was always on seeing & experiencing all aspects of the real world. I also remember that there was an unspoken consensus to be honest, to think for yourself and to be your own person beyond the frivolities of superficiality.
I was encouraged to read everything from Munshi Prem Chand, Jane Austen, Asterix & Obelix comic books to Bertrand Russell, the Bhagwat Gita to Ayn Rand and everything in between. There was no censorship, I remember spending most of my after school hours up on the terrace with books from dad’s library.

But when it came to TV and Films my father was a totalitarian; he believed there was a difference between films that entertained yet inspired and the mindless rubbish that was being churned out by the Indian industry at the time.
We could watch movies like Devdas, Mughal-e-azam, Pyassa, Kagas ke phool, Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind etc but anything post the 60s was strictly forbidden.
I watched my first commercial Bollywood movie when I was 17, years after dad passed away, I enjoyed it but I could also see what my father had been alluding to.

This has been a defining influence in who I have become and what I’ve chosen to do; the ability to decide what I expose myself to, what influences and inspires me, it’s been an invaluable gift, this power of choice.

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

For those of you not familiar with the ‘Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ serials ( read

The title had a catch phrase that hooked us,
 the ( Saas) mother in law was once a
 ( Bahu ) daughter in law too and what it presents itself as, is a vehicle through which the daily struggles of the ‘Bharartiye naari’ will be addressed. It was pitched in a way that indicated that this story will hold the answers; to how a woman can better cope with the most challenging relationship in the Indian family dynamic, the one she has with her mother in law. 

The sub plot and the characterization, follow the old formula of creating drama around conflict and intrigue. The scenes are then peppered with elaborate costumes, sensational dialogue delivery and over the top sound effects.

It is however a con, what women don’t get is, that they are being manipulated and subtly brain washed; being made experts in the old ways of being and doing by control, fear, shame and manipulation.

“I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

It worries me, exposing my sisters and daughters to this kind of archaic garbage. There is really no other word for it but GARBAGE.
I believe these soaps have regressed our Indian society back in to the dark ages; instead of focusing on the opportunities that this century has brought us; they focus on the petty aspects of human baseness, moral repugnancy and ratings motivated melodrama.
 There are of course some that are exceptions to the rule, but unfortunately most serials that are being mass produced; are like fast food - taste good but offer little content and even lesser or no nutritional value.

According to the last census of 2011 there are 58,64,69,174 women in India.

It is frightening to see the hidden messages in the characterization and sub plots of these soaps that are being sent out to young women today.

If viewed unconsciously the underlying messages are:-

1.     Power can only come from position and hierarchy and through plotting and manipulation.
2.     Women have to fight amongst themselves to establish their worth and position in the family.
3.     That manipulation, back biting and game playing are the tools for succession.
4.     That there are 2 kinds of women the vamp or the victim; women have to be segregated in to stereotypes and treated accordingly.
5.     Everyone around you determines your worth; you are what people think of you, so as long you pretend to be virtuous on the outside, it doesn’t matter who you really are when no one is looking.
6.     Respect is bought by virtue of position and doesn’t need to be earned through intent or conduct.
7.     Do anything to make everyone else happy even if it goes against your own beliefs or happiness
8.     Suffering in silence, sacrifice for the sake of others and general martyrdom (or the appearance of it) are the mark of a true ‘Bharatiye naari.’
9.     And of course the age-old gold digger’s mantra - marry a rich man for an immediate lifestyle upgrade, better yet make sure you marry the eldest son for complete and total domination.

“It is impossible to build one's own happiness on the unhappiness of others. This perspective is at the heart of Buddhist teachings.”

Whether you live in a metropolitan city or anywhere else, one doesn’t have to look far to see how many women are not educated today. Someone could argue that these serials are just light entertainment, not meant to be taken seriously; but ask the women around you, your cook or your manicurist if she knows about Irom Sharmila or Medha Patkar? She may not them know them but she will know Tulsi from ‘KSBKBT’ !

We are the one of the few democracies in the world to have had a woman leader.
 The rights that we take for granted in India, the freedom of speech, to vote, to practice the religion we believe in, to drive, to dress how we please, to be treated as equal have been hard fought for and even harder won by women just like us.

When I think of inspiring Indian women like the Rani of Jhansi Laxmibai or Kasturba Gandhi, who fought shoulder to shoulder with men in the freedom struggle; come Independence Day, I often wonder what we have to show these women who fought hard for the privileges we take so for granted. I wonder what they would make of women squabbling over scraps in ‘KSBKBT’ serials or the Kareena Kapoor inspired size zero obsession.

 “When you know better you do better.”

We have the ability biologically, emotionally and spiritually to create, carry and nourish a baby in our bodies for nine months. And when we are not carrying a baby that power to create, nourish and transform still exists within us. 

These KSBKBT type soaps teach women to be less than who we are; keeping them far away from who they are meant to be; spirit in a female body, the embodiment of Goddess energy, harbingers of the divine feminine.
The next time you find your young daughters or sisters watching anything that teaches that women have to be less to have more, I hope that you will exercise the power of choice and change the channel.

“It is an unconscious manifestation of the controlling energies that pits woman against woman with an age old goal of divide and conquer. If women are fighting against each other, their true power is diluted. 
When women cast off the controlling energies and work with each other and support each other rather than fight against each other, their ability to create and to manifest is exponentially increased, which is why divide and conquer is so important in a patriarchal society.” – Christine Agro

Monday, 17 September 2012

Weapon of Mass Destruction- SHAME

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 The last I heard those words years ago when I was a child of 7, I cannot recall when precisely or under what conditions.
It is such a simple child’s rhyme but I couldn’t understand it then!
And although I don’t hear the word shame much anymore, along with so many other women living a male dominated society, I experience it every day.

Shaming someone doesn’t really need much, it doesn’t have to be loud it’s a subtle ploy...a smirk here, a timely laugh… a reproachful glare or a disapproving stance.

Make someone feel small enough and soon they will forget who they can be.
Diminishing someone is an age-old weapon to control behavior; it’s completely bloodless, it costs nothing and once done right, rarely needs a reload.

It’s a quite insidious energy like a giant black snake slithering past you in the middle of the night, it doesn’t need to bite you with its venom or show you its fangs, just the fear it evokes by its presence and the potential danger it presents is enough. Its been used for centuries by those who benefit by suppressing talent, ability, power to suit their own agendas.

As an Indian woman in particular, I see it all around me and taste aspects of it wherever I go.

It’s in the little things that ‘seem’ so inconsequential; must wear a duppatta, cover your chest, so men don’t ogle at you. Don’t show too much skin when you step out lest you get pinched, poked, mauled or raped. It’s for your own protection.
The first thing anyone asks of a victim of assault here in this country is
 “ what was she wearing?”.

"The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see."
Ayn Rand

No one ever says to your face that you are the inferior sex, but it’s implied all the time in so many ways. There is a long list of must dos that must be ticked off before we are respected, accepted and loved.
The ideal Indian Nari must….
-       Must maintain yourself; but only expose for your husband don’t be a ‘fast’ girl and show for the entire world to see… tauba tauba!!!
-       Must get good grades; but no need to think for yourself or voice your opinion…( tch tch badey intellectual ban gayi!)
-       Must have a well paying job; but don’t make your own decisions (hmpff these modern girls I tell you, soo selfish !)
-       Must be adjusting – bend over backwards to fulfill everybody’s needs at     
       the cost of your own { chi chi! “log kya kahein gay” ( what will people say)}.

“Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked. This is because most books on witchcraft were written by men.”

It’s a very confusing message we send out to young girls. Our eyes are beautiful but our breasts are not. We must work hard to be beautiful and accomplished BUT we have to earn our right to have an opinion, a voice or any choices or make our own decisions.  

Our boys and men need not be taught how to look at women nor should the laws insure a woman’s safety but we must dim down ourselves so as to keep them from acting on their primal impulses. Nor are they taught that we are the same as them and don’t have to earn our right to be treated with respect or consideration.

"You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won't discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself. "
Geneen Roth

Shame is such a powerful weapon, it has a domino effect, maim one and the rest will submit just from the fear of it. Shaming someone for their choices is emotional violence at its worst.

When a man thinks its ok to pass comments on me on the road,
Or when am asked to cover up for my protection,
Or when am asked to prove my worthiness, because I am born a daughter and not a son
I am compelled to look at the energy behind it.
What is the religious or cultural influence that makes ‘that’ ok?
Is it from the decades of Hindi movies that show men chasing women around trees while they sing love songs? Or from the never-ending advertisements that show us that our self esteem sits in pot of fairness cream, toxic hair dye or in the latest anti aging formula? Or is it from the music videos that objectify women, by showing them little more then a collage of boobs, eyes, thighs and bums?

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, what is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”
Philip K. Dick

So what is the solution?
How can we turn this poison into medicine?
When we start to live life consciously, it stops being about pointing a finger and becomes about finding and healing that which allows the wounding to take root.

My sister says she sees it coming from a deep place of insecurity and lack, this need to make someone else feel small and less. 
I couldn’t agree more but I also see that what makes it possible for someone else to shame us, be it a person or society as a whole, is that we are seeking their approval.
We need someone else to tell us what we wear, how we look, feel or think or do is ok. And in that approval we find our sense of safety and where we belong. But in the seeking of that outside approval we give up our own power.

I think here in the sub continent men are taught to believe that shame really is a woman’s domain, her burden to carry, and her plight to bear. They have been taught to see us as the weaker sex, who has to be managed and handled.

From where I’m standing, the other side of the coin of shame, is Honor.
And like everything else in the patriarchal society we have looked outwards to save ours. Our whole notion of what is appropriate has been handed down to us. We are taught to follow convention and to suppress our own inner knowing.

Wikipedia defines honor as -“ an abstract concept entailing a perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects both the social standing and the self-evaluation of an individual or corporate body such as a family, school, regiment or nation. Accordingly, individuals are assigned worth and stature based on the harmony of their actions with a specific code of honor, and the moral code of the society at large.”
I believe that just like Love is the antidote for Hate, Courage is for Fear then Honor is the one for Shame.

When we understand that our rights are not given to us like some boon earned through penance and suffering but are ours to claim.
When we learn to honor ourselves, gender bias and its associated power games become irrelevant.

“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”
Anaïs Nin

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Zen And The Art Of ..well just .. Being!

“Passion can transform the mind, body and spirit...
Passion can align you with the wisdom of nature and the power of what is in your heart.” JoLynne Valerie

I love all aspects of performance, but my favorite part is when you get on the floor after the first few readings to work on the character.
To start with you have the basic outline in the script, but the fleshing out to make a character “ real” and believable happens when you start working physically with your team through exercises and scene work on the floor.
 The process of bridging the gap between the writer’s fantasy and the director’s vision is the actor’s job.

 I see the Writer is the architect who has designed the house, his vision is the foundation of the house, he lays out the basic plan of action, he answers the where, who, what and when of the story. The Director is like the manager on site; making sure that the plan fits and the building comes up on schedule, encouraging everyone to their best and ensuring everyone is kept happy doing the work. The performers make up the house; the walls, windows, doors, floor etc are the blanks that you the Actor fill in; finding the character through your body, your voice, from your memories and in your emotions.
It’s like this fabulously complex jigsaw puzzle and the clues can be found from the landscape of your life, your experiences, your perceptions or from the way you choose to experience yourself and the world around you.

For me this is the most exciting part…the excavation!
The journey of discovery is not about the end result but the process you open yourself up to, which holds the opportunity for transformation and growth.

“The body is wiser than its inhabitants. The body is the soul. The body is god’s messenger.”   Erica Jong

We usually do this through theatre exercises, which also include breathing techniques, movement, dance, voice exercises, guided visualizations, improvisations and group games.

As simple and fun as they sound and indeed are, it’s also a rigorous and exacting process, not just physically and psychologically but also emotionally.

To get to the core of your character’s essence and to be able to embody that truthfully, one has to strip away any and all conditioning that interferes with.
For e.g. If you are playing the role of a prostitute that then requires you as the actor to get extremely comfortable in your body. It’s not just a physical thing; one also has to come to terms with any of your prejudices and judgments about the profession or the character’s choices and motivations. The body doesn’t lie, if you are squeamish about sex or sensuality it will shine through and the audience wont believe you.

"Standing here
The old man said to me,
"Long before these crowded streets
Here stood my dreaming tree."
Below it he would sit
For hours at a time
Now progress takes away
What forever took to find
And now he's falling hard
He feels the falling dark
How he longs to be
Beneath his dreaming tree
Conquered fear to climb
A moment froze in time"- The Dreaming Tree - Dave Matthews 

I think one of the greatest diseases in our times is loneliness. The dictionary defines it as “ being without companions”; I don’t mean loneliness in the conventional way.

I see it in the world around me, as this very quite dull ache, an insidious energy that is the motivating force for a lot of people’s ambitions to “Be Somebody” and
 “Get somewhere” to somehow “Be More” by buying and owning more.

It shows up in so many different ways, the endless search for a soul mate, fame, and money, success or even notoriety; in addictions be it for food, drugs, sex, shopping or alcohol.
When I look at loneliness as energy, I see it as disconnect; being disconnected from the fundamental truth of who are, from spirit or source, from the power that connects us to everything, to the earth, ocean, sun and sky.
Its what keeps us feeling empty & isolated, an incomplete fraction looking for that elusive thing that will make us whole.
 One of the ways that I find can fill the gap, the missing piece and the connection is through the arts.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What I love about theatre and (I think this is the reason that in spite of TV, Film and the Internet it has survived) that its real; whatever happens on the stage between you and the audience, you cant fake it, either the piece works or it doesn’t, there is no editing or ‘Photo-shopping’, dubbing, or  ‘special effects’.
In the end it’s you (the team that puts up the play) and the exchange of information and energy with the audience in that moment. No re- runs or out takes. Its all about the here and now.

To be able to generate and deliver that experience all performers have to develop a certain level awareness, transparency and presence.
The key word being – presence, the ability to be fully present in the moment. To be fully who you are, accepting and owning the traits you deem good or bad, in the body that you have; tall or short, fat or thin, using all of your talents and abilities. When I look at some of the actors most admired say Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep or Amitabh Bachan, Ive found that they all have this in common; a certain indefinable quality called charisma, I see this as presence. It’s a level of self-acceptance, mastery in the way of just BEING!

One of the key attributes we work on through group exercises is to remain centered, fully present in your body in the moment. Using age old yogic breathing techniques help you develop the ability to be alert yet calm, connected to your body yet also responsive to what is going on in your environment.

During workshops & rehearsals, irrespective of whether the participants are performers or not, all exercises that focus on learning to be fully present are the ones that I’ve found to have the most long lasting effect for them even after they are done with the workshop.
If there were one thing I could add to the curriculum of every learning institution would be this subject and these exercises. You couldn’t score them on a report card but they would be an invaluable tool for the school of life.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”