ഒരു വിലാപം

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പതിനാറു കൊല്ലം മുൻപാണ്, സൈനികരോടൊപ്പം ട്രെയിനിങ് ചെയ്യാൻ കൊടും തണുപ്പത്തു ജമ്മു കാശ്മീരിൽ എത്തിയത്. ഐ എ എസ്സ് ഓഫീസർ ട്രെയിനികൾ, ഭാരതത്തിനു വേണ്ടി എവിടെ പോസ്റ്റ് ചെയ്താലും ജോലി ചെയ്യാൻ പരിശീലിക്കപ്പെടുന്ന വേള. ജീവിതത്തിൽ ഇത്രയും ഉയരത്തിലുള്ള, തണുപ്പുള്ള, ഒരു സ്ഥലം ഞാൻ കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ടായിരുന്നില്ല.
അവിടെ ചെന്നപ്പോൾ, വീരനായ മലയാളി മേജർ ജീവൻ ബലിയർപ്പിച്ച ബറ്റാലിയണിന്റെ കഥ പറഞ്ഞു തന്നു colonel.. ഉറി സിനിമയിലെ കഥ… മണിപ്പൂർ പോസ്റ്റിംഗിനിടെ കൺവോയ് പോകുന്ന പാതയിൽ ചതി പത്തി വിടർത്തി കാത്തിരുന്ന കഥ…വെടിയേറ്റിട്ടും, തന്റെ കൂട്ടാളികളെ സംരക്ഷിക്കാൻ മുന്നോട്ട് കുതിച്ച വീരപുത്രൻ…മുപ്പതു വയസ്സിനു മുൻപ് അണഞ്ഞു പോയ ദീപം.
‘അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ കുടുംബം നിങ്ങളുടെ നഗരത്തിൽ ഉണ്ട് കേട്ടോ…പറ്റുമെങ്കിൽ കാണുക…’ എന്നോട് പറഞ്ഞു കൊണ്ട് അദ്ദേഹം നിർത്തി.
‘ശ്രീമാൻ, ഖാന തയ്യാർ ഹൈ!’ അത് പറഞ്ഞു ആഹാരത്തിനു ക്ഷണിച്ചതും ഭാരതത്തിലെ ഇങ്ങേയറ്റത്തെ , കൊച്ചു കേരളത്തിലെ മറ്റൊരു പുത്രൻ.

രാത്രി, സൈനികരോടൊപ്പം ഞങ്ങൾ കുന്നും മുകളിൽ പോയി. ഒരു പ്രകാശവും പാടില്ല, എന്നാൽ അപകടത്തിന് സാധ്യത കൂടും. LOCയുടെ വളരെ അടുത്തായിരുന്നു ഞങ്ങൾ. എങ്ങനെ കുന്നു കയറി എന്നറിയില്ല. എന്തായാലും ഹിമാലയ സാനുക്കളിൽ ട്രെക്കിനു പോയ അനുഭവമുള്ള ഞങ്ങൾ വിരണ്ടില്ല. പണ്ട് കുതിര സവാരി ചെയ്യാൻ പരിശീലിപ്പിച്ചപ്പോൾ,’ കുതിരയെ മെരുക്കാമെങ്കിൽ എന്തിനേയും നേരിടാം’, എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞ ട്രെയ്നറിനെ ഓർത്തു. വെടിയൊച്ച കേട്ടു. തിരിച്ചും വെടി വെയ്ക്കുന്നത് കണ്ടു. രാത്രിയിലും കാണാവുന്ന ദൂരദർശിനി ഉപയോഗിച്ച് നോക്കിയപ്പോൾ, അയൽ രാജ്യത്തിൻറെ സൈനികരെ കാണാറായി. അവർ നമ്മെ പോലെ, സ്വന്തം രാജ്യത്തിൻറെ അതിർത്തി കാക്കുന്നു.

മിലിറ്ററി ട്രെയിനിങ് നല്ല ഉൾകാഴ്ച തന്നു. ഏറ്റവും ലേറ്റസ്റ്റ് തോക്കു കൊണ്ട് വെടി വെയ്ക്കാൻ ഞങ്ങൾക്കും കിട്ടി പരിശീലനം. എങ്കിലും, എനിക്ക് ഏറ്റവും ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ട പാഠം, ഒന്നിനേയും ഭയമില്ലാത്ത മനുഷ്യരെ കാണുകയായിരുന്നു.

ജോലി സ്ഥലങ്ങളിൽ, ജീവിതത്തിലെന്ന പോലെ , പലപ്പോഴും ഒരു പാത നമ്മുടേതായി ഉണ്ടാക്കേണ്ട അവസ്ഥകൾ വരും. അപ്പോൾ ഭയം സ്വാഭാവികമാണ്…എന്തും സംഭവിക്കാം! പക്ഷെ അപ്പോൾ എന്റെ മനസ്സിൽ, വീരനായ സൈനികന്റെ രൂപം തെളിയും. ഞാൻ ഇരുട്ടത്ത് തപ്പി തടഞ്ഞു കയറിയ മല ഓർമ്മ വരും. അപ്പോൾ ധൈര്യം തോന്നും.

പിന്നീട് പല ജില്ലകളിൽ കളക്ടറായി ജോലി ചെയ്തപ്പോഴും, ഒരു സൈനികനോ , കുടുംബമോ എന്ത് ആവശ്യമായി മുന്നിൽ വന്നാലും , എനിക്ക് വളരെ പെട്ടെന്ന് അവരുടെ പ്രശ്‌നം പരിഹരിക്കാൻ ഒരു ഉൾവിളി ഉണ്ടായി. ഞാനും, നിങ്ങളും, സുഖമായി രാത്രിയിൽ ഉറങ്ങുന്നത് അയാൾ ഉണർന്നിരിക്കുന്നത് കൊണ്ടാണല്ലോ.

പാരാ മിലിറ്ററി സർവീസ് ആയ crpf , Bsf, തുടങ്ങിയ മറ്റ് ആനേകം പടയാളികളുണ്ട്. അവർ നിശ്ശബ്ദരായി അവരുടെ ജോലി ചെയ്യുന്നു. ആയതിനാൽ നാം സുഖമായി ജീവിക്കുന്നു.

വീര മൃത്യു വരിച്ച സഹോദരങ്ങൾക്ക് നമോവാകം. എന്റെ ജോലി, അതെന്തു തന്നെ ആയാലും, നല്ല മനസ്സോടെ ചെയ്യാൻ എനിക്ക് കഴിയട്ടെ. തുറന്ന മനസ്സോടെ മറ്റുള്ളവരെ, സമൂഹത്തിനെ, പ്രകൃതിയെ : കൂടുതൽ പ്രകാശപ്പെടുത്താൻ എനിക്ക് കഴിയട്ടെ. അങ്ങനെ, എന്റെ കർമ്മങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ടാവട്ടെ നിങ്ങളുടെ ജീവ ത്യാഗത്തിനുള്ള എന്റെ അർപ്പണം!

ജയ് ഹിന്ദ്!

A Word Called Stereotype…

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Yesterday, I attended a school function wherein the children were taught self defence techniques. It was organised by the Red Brigade- a fierce group of women led by Usha Vishwakarma, who train girls to defend themselves.

When I spoke, I called a boy and a girl to play an Association game. Typically one speaks a word, and then the person responds with the first thought which comes to his or her mind.

‘Woman’, I said. The young boy ( this was one of the most reputed schools in the city) responded,’ Someone who works for the household and works for the welfare of the family.’

I did not show that I was stunned. I addressed the girl.

‘Man?’ I asked. ‘ Someone who earns money for the family,’ she answered.

Of course that was material enough to start a talk on ‘conditioning’, gender issues, stereotypes, breaking stereotypes and empowerment.

‘ Can a woman earn money for the family?’ I asked the boy.

He reflected soberly, saw his teachers – all of them women, looking at him- and nodded briskly.

‘ Can a woman become the President of India?’

He thought-probably remembered his general knowledge exams- and nodded yes.

‘ Can a woman climb Mount Everest?’

He thought hard and then said, yes.

‘ Can a woman win a Nobel Prize?’

This time the answer was quicker. Yes.

‘ So can  we think of a woman as not just someone who works for her household and takes care of the family? She can be what she wants to be? She can achieve anything and still take care of her family? She is a human being who has as much potential as a man?’

He looked at me and nodded. It was sincere, I saw that.

By the time I turned to the girl, the kids had caught onto the game.

‘ Can a man take care of his household and care for his family?’

They said in a chorus: ‘ Yesssss’

‘ Can a man be a care giver to infants and children?’

‘ Yes, yes…’

‘ Can a man cook food for his partner when she returns home after a hard day’s work?’

‘ Yes….’

‘ Can we look beyond gender and see human beings for a change? They have equal potential. Let us not restrict them within narrow stereotypes and limit their gifts. Let them be what they want to be. Let us learn to respect the human being beyond the dictates of gender, religion, caste, colour, creed, nationality…’

‘ Yes’, they said.

Usha took over. And gave  realistic illustration of the phrase ‘ self-empowerment.’

‘No attacker will be gentle’, she said.’ So learn how to protect yourself…’.

I had goose bumps as I watched the plucky trainer narrate real life incidents and give tips for survival. Smart girl students, even martial arts trainees, fell and rolled on the ground as the group illustrated the harshness of attacks. Then they were taught the ways to protect themselves. A lesson for both boys and girls alike.

Evil has no gender. Neither does courage.

 

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The Way You Talk About ‘Them’

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Yesterday, I was the chief guest at a girls’ college – where an inter college sports meet was being organised. The participants were holding their banners, in their college uniforms, and were raring to go! I watched the first kho-kho match, where girls (they were from simple, rural backgrounds) were running, shouting, glowing with focus and the thrill of winning!

Then, I was taken to another competition site- where bridal makeup was being judged. A couple of judges from the glamour industry were there and I watched almost 20 young women – all looking nervous and heavily weighed down- sitting pretty-with heavy brocaded dresses and jewelry and loads of makeup on their faces.

For a moment, being a woman, being the mother of two daughters, I wondered on the contrasting messages we often give to our girls!  The girls on the sports field were shorn of makeup, any jewellery or heavy heels- they were running in the sunlight. The girls on the mandap-being judged for their looks- looked literally caged.”We should not underestimate the power of shringar”, intoned a compere. Oh, Lord!

The newspapers obviously highlighted the brides taking selfies- the young sports girls were relegated to a corner with a small photograph- though the event was a sports meet!

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The New York Times reports that Princeton University has apparently banned its prestigious mens’ teams of swimming and diving from participating in the season’s competitions with Harvard and Yale et al- because…! Because, they discovered very lurid, despicable, contemptible comments in their internal written communication about women counterparts of the University’s swimming and diving teams.

Again one is forced to contemplate- if the best and brightest of the world, excelling in the world’s top most Universities, consider women, their own brilliant colleagues studying and participating in sports- as despicable objects for simply “using”, what hope is there for the rest of the world? Can we expect them to respect other women, other men, any differently abled, any marginalised, any “other” with eyes of decency and  a vision of equal dignity?

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I pause at certain paragraphs of Margaret Atwood’s striking dystopian novel – The Handmaid’s Tale. Published in 1985, it eerily recreates a  new world  where  the women are merely “reproductive breeding objects”,  stopped from existence as normal human beings by religious sanction and the powerful system! I am awed at Margaret Atwood’s perspicacity.

How different is the existence of the Yazidi women and girls bartered by IS , and the girls kidnapped by Boko Harem in recent times?

How different is the world view of many sophisticated, grinning , accomplished faces studying in the world’s premier universities?

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Should we teach our daughters to sit heavily bedecked and scared to take a breath, getting judged for their “seductive quotient” or ask them to go out and shine in the sunlight of society?

Pray, what if, even when they are playing sports, all we judge them for is their attractiveness quotient?

Are we breeding handmaids for the powerful and paternalistic society or are we bringing up confident young women, who can stand tall in every field?

To have  men who respect women, damn the Ivy League tag or not, irrespective of whatever creed or religion or category we are discussing, we need mothers who respect themselves and who will teach their sons to respect other women.

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And as for me, I am going to check the ‘side events’  before accepting any future invitations for interacting with young women!

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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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Looking Out

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1.

Looking out

Of the window

I rather like the fact

That I have the time

The love, the peace

To look out

And come back slowly

To my  own self.

Looking within,

I greatly like

The place I am in

Now.

That’s a great deal

Knowing where I

Could have been

Would have been

Should have been

But for a

Decision

To be able to

Stand and look out

Of a window

Fearlessly.

2.

You mix up the earth with your hands

Smile at me, calling my name

I squint at the autumn sunshine

See your kind eyes shining

As they gaze at me.

Holding your wet earth hand,

I rise, I rise, I rise,

Indefatigable as a tiny green

Plant, thriving with fierce spirit

Needing only one drop

Of

Respectful love.

3

Screenplays from an old time

Flash past before my eyes

Stereotypes, anger, suppressed rage

Humiliation, dressing downs, mockery

Love, lust, fear, hatred, envy, loathing

Mixed and merged like a canvas gone bad

With horrible hues

Disgust dripping down like ashen failure

I stop the movie within; hit the mute button

And switch on the Now:

It hums your name, my name,

Ours.

My canvas clears once again

With bright, joyous colours

Of happiness.

My movie script begins again

This time, the lines are written

By my own self respect.

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