The Roop-Rekha of Co-existence

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Award winning journalist and writer K.R.Meera has a Midas touch. Whatever she touches turns into scintillating golden thoughts for the reader. This remarkable young woman has won umpteen awards for her brilliant short stories, novels and journalistic endeavours. The latest in her kitty include the Vayalar Award and Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for her ‘Aarachar”, translated  into English by J.Devika as “Hangwoman”. It is a remarkable tale of 400 odd pages, of  a woman becoming a professional “Hangwoman,” and  the narrative is based in early Calcutta. By the way, Meera does not know to read or speak Bangla!

But I do not write to praise how much I enjoyed her ” Karineela,” a sensuous, slithering love story of a dark, blue, serpentine kind! Nor about the blinding colour of desire- yellow! “Mohamanja,” or “Yellow is the colour of longing,” as Devika translated it; which is yet another masterpiece. She explores topics that others leave untouched, and emerges with gems. Those that are sparkling with her own special variety of wit , wisdom and subtle ironical perspective.

The most appealing , to me as her reader, is the fact of her elegant , pithy writing. Sharp and to the point. Nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps I had found some violation of that rule of hers only  in her story ‘Aandhi’, a take on ‘Terigatha’, recollections and writings of  first ordained Buddhist women monks .( Murthy Classic Library Project  has published  a translation of Terigatha by the way. ) I found the story too elaborate , lacking the usual sleight of hand, lacking her gift of brevity.

But today, I write to congratulate Meera on her article about Dr.RoopRekha Varma, the brilliant, fiery intellectual, professor and women’s rights activist- former Vice Chancellor of the prestigious Lucknow University. In her article in Madhyamam weekly, Meera writes about “The RoopRekha of Co-existence ” ( Sahajeevithathinte RoopaRekha; Madhyamam Weekly, Feb 23,  2015 issue).Meera writes about Dr.RoopRekha Varma’s brilliant academic achievements, breaking all records in her graduation and postgraduation in Philosophy from Lucknow University. She did her Post Doctoral studies at Oxford. Meera’s friend, Dr.Piyush Antony, an accomplished woman in her own right and a Unicef Policy officer, had introduced Meera to Dr.RoopRekha Varma. It was in the context of Unicef’s project of reducing gender discrimination by changing curriculum.

Meera writes about the issue of building a gender sensitive, healthy world- how mutual respect has to be taught at child hood and during critical years of growth. She explores Dr.Roop Rekha Varma’s Sajhi Duniya’s efforts to rework on text books – words that  will teach young boys  and girls that it is okay to cry irrespective of your gender! And that their mothers too are valuable members of society, worthy of respect,  who contribute to household economics- whether they work within or outside the house. The new poems and chapters break down gender stereotypes, make children think aloud and teach new perspectives.

For example when Meena sings ‘Mothers cook roti’ , her uncle questions her. ” Why cannot your father cook roti too?’

Meena laughs, ‘Because father is a man!”

” Who cooked roti in the dhaba/eating joint that we went last night?”  asks her Uncle.

Meena admits it was the Dhaba wallah uncle!

“Was the uncle a man or woman?”

” A man.”

” So can roti making be done by men too?”

The little girl ponders on the point.

” Mothers and fathers can cook roti!”

I found it brilliant, especially the Uncle teaching the little niece to break the stereotype.

Dr.Roop Rekha Varma, recounts her struggles to make grown-ups rethink on such issues. When a young man started getting aggressive, asking her to remember the culture that produced great women philosophers like Gargi, Dr.RoopRekha Varma recounts that she narrated the story of how Yajnavalkya silenced Gargi! There was a need to rethink about women’s voices in the past and present!

Till the society and text books teach a child to respect women and men equally, to look at  a person as an authentic human being with potential and rights, a sensitive generation cannot grow. If the societal values and lessons degrade a woman’s body, the crimes against women will continue to rise. To reduce the gap between the strong and the weak, the woman and the man, the haves and have-nots, nature and human kind, new lessons of healthy Co-Existence will have to be taught early. That will reduce violence and crime against the “other”.

Meera concludes about how a smile of a woman, full of self esteem and dignity, can be the most powerful political tool, that will be an indicator of progress in the times to come.

As I put down the article, I felt very fortunate for knowing Dr.RoopRekha Varma. I met her during a seminar organised by the Women’s Studies Department in Bundelkhand University in 2005. When I had spoken about Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the rights of women’ as a leading light, Dr.RoopRekha had gently reminded me of other masterpieces of Indian origin . In 2013, she launched my book on mythological women from a feminist perspective: ” Eternal Women”, which saw light during the Lucknow Literature Festival of 2013.

It felt great to read about a greatly admired intellectual in my own mother tongue. Perhaps, as Gurudakshina, I shall present Dr.RoopRekha ji with a translation!

With gratitude to K.R. Meera and Dr.RoopRekha Varma.

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