Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I AM OKAY WITH WHOEVER WEARS WHATEVER

There are days when I feel like hiding under the bed and never coming out. Most inconveniently the bed is on the floor these days because of the monkey in the house. Today is one of those days.

Facebook has that Pratidin Times ‘news report’ video to show me as soon as I wake up. I ignore it once. It keeps coming. Then I get a few phone calls. Reluctantly I open the video. I want to hide under my bed and never come out.

What is it that bothers some people so much about what others are doing? What is this thing called culture that this super parochial hole of ‘Oxomia jati’ gets churned by so much? Why always only women? Who told you that women is a singular homogenous thing and you can make random general comments about them in media? The questions keep on coming back. I thought I had these answered couple of centuries ago. Or was it medieval period?

I do not want to go to the details of what this reporter had to say about women wearing shorts these days on Guwahati streets. Let him be the one whose knickers are in knots over whether girls wear it for comfort in summers or to ruin whatever is left of Assamese culture after Aircel and Airtel started sponsoring Bihu functions. I wear it because they are damn sexy and easy to take off when you are in the heat. Summer or winter. I also do not want to comment on how bad this report is from the point of view of journalism itself. Subject, content, treatment, form, language, ethics...there is not one thing that is right about this report. It will enter media hall of fame for what-not-to-do-when-you-are-doing-journalism for sure.

I am upset over two things –

1) When will they stop making women the un-appointed head of the culture keeping mission? Every few days in Assam, sometimes a Bihu committee, sometimes some politician, journalists, intellectuals, writers, poets, a nobody or anybody is complaining about how Assamese women are failing to keep Assamese culture alive. As a self-identifying Assamese woman, I really do not remember anybody appointing me with this mission anytime in my life. As far as I remember, they have told me not to get out of the house, not to learn to ride the bike, not to learn to drive the car, not to get too educated, to get married early, produce babies, look after husband and generally keep quiet. No one has ever told me – here, from today you have the responsibility of keeping the lamp of Oxomia culture alight. No I do not remember signing any acceptance letter either. And I have asked around, no woman seems to have done it. Then when and how did we get appointed with this responsibility? Were we asked? Did we say yes? Did we decide on the terms and conditions? What will it really entail if I had to keep Assamese culture alive? If I cut a Kanzeebharam saree into two pieces and make it into a mekhela-sador will it be Oxomia culture? What if I cut a Mekhela-Sador and make it into a half-pant?  I want to know these details of the contract. Will a ‘khati Oxomia’ please tell me?

2) Learn that ‘Women’ or Mohila is not one object. There are all kinds of women in a society – young, old, tall, short, curly haired, straight haired, wavy haired, apple, pear, orange, banana, strawberry, jackfruit, cauliflower and various other fruits and vegetable shaped, polite, angry, smiling, frowning, drowning, swimming, dark, wheat-ish, fair, cooking, hating cooking, educated, not-giving a fuck… did I leave anyone out? So a generalized comment like ‘women today like to wear shorts’ does not hold any water at all. Look at my mother, she is a woman today and does not like wearing shorts at all. Look at my daughter on the other hand. She is a complete monkey and does not like to wear shorts either. In fact she does not like wearing clothes at all. Every time I am trying to put clothes on her, she brings the entire neighbourhood down. (Tips from experienced people on how to overcome this problem is welcome)

Amongst those who like to wear shorts, eg. Me, they come from a varied background too. If I like it because it is sexy, someone might like it because it is comfortable, someone else because it is the only clean thing to wear that day, someone because the jeans was too torn and had to be cut short and someone just to spite Assamese culture. There are these kinds of various serious thoughts and reasons that make a woman chose a pair of half-pants over a mekhela-sador on a given day. What others will feel or think is usually not one of them.  

On a serious note, seriously, when will this reporter, his entire bloody news channel and anyone else who agrees with what the report said understand the concept of individual autonomy and bodily integrity?

Individual autonomy is the idea that every person has the capacity to be her or his own person. Radical isn’t it? It also means that every person applies her or his reasoning, has her or his motivations for decisions they make in their lives. These decisions could be about whether to eat crispy honeyed pork belly or tandoori aloo, whether to study science or arts, whether to wear shorts or half-pants etc etc. What respecting individual autonomy means is that just as you will not want anyone else to comment on your choices in life, you will also not comment on others’ choices.

Bodily integrity is another radical idea that says, that a person has rights over her or his own body and that the physical body cannot be violated. It considers that human beings have autonomy over their own body and have the right to self-determine about their bodies. Violation of bodily integrity is an unethical infringement, intrusive and also criminal where applicable. So suppose I know that you do not brush your teeth in the mornings and hence have really dirty teeth. Also all the dirty thoughts from measuring the length of women’s shorts have given you bad breadth. So, if I point a camera at your face while you are blabbering away about Assamese culture and use it for a ‘how not to ruin your teeth and get bad breadth’ campaign and suggest your teeth be removed, I will be unethically infringing upon your bodily integrity. Is this so difficult to understand?

I am really up till here with these repetitive derogatory talks in Assamese media and sections of society about women, what women do, what women wear, how they behave etc. No, you have lost that one ever since mekhela-sador and gamusas started coming from mills in Andhra Pradesh, since you started taking your children to KFC every excuse for celebration and since Assamese men gave up dhuti-gamusa for the sahebi potlung. Stop talking about women in disrespectful ways. Stop trying to control women’s behavior. Stop restricting women from moving around, doing jobs, getting education, getting property, getting land, participating in governance and politics. Stop violence against women. Stop stopping women from having fun.

I would have remained under the mattress on the floor the whole day. But I thought I need to get out, wear my shorts and go out. We got arrested for that too. But that’s another democratic story.


Today, for those young people who got arrested because they wanted to protest against unethical journalism, whose peaceful democratic ambition to voice their concern got throttled by this police state I just want to say I AM OKAY WITH WHOEVER WEARS WHATEVER. I hope you are too.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Who can I tell


I do not watch TV. To protect myself from knowing what is going on in the world. Ever since Imitha has taken to reading the morning newspaper, I have z class security from any kind of news. There is however no protection from mothers. Mine gives me several missed calls by the first half of one morning. I call back thinking the worst. Are you alright? – I ask anxiously. Her voice sounds tense. She tells me with urgency – Have you heard about Papon’s controversy? I sigh! She proceeds to fill me in with three controversies one after the other. Papon’s, Zubin’s and Zubilee’s. I beg my mother to not pass on worldly inanities to me. Who shall I tell then? – she demands.

Talking about inanities, I have stopped watching Papon’s live shows for some years now because of it. He talks too much on stage and makes one wonder what he is on. I take it as a personal insult when he expresses random un-thought-through political opinions from the self-righteous moral height of the stage. Once he said something about Oxomia and Bangladeshi. And that was the last show for me. So this time he has gone on to say one of the songs he sang during this Bihu should have been the national anthem of Assam. (I do not know the English for Jatio Xangeet).

Quite not-surprisingly Zubeen has gone on to say the same thing. No, not that the song Papon says should be the national anthem but that one of the songs he (Zubeen) sang during this Bihu should be the national anthem of Assam. I never watch Zubeen on stage. Why, just the other day he pulled out a gun at a show and pointed it at the audience, didn’t he?

What gets my goat, in the middle of being extremely busy cleaning poo these days, is that  big shit is being given to this whole national anthem thing. After lecturing me on why I should renew the Tata Sky connection, mother carries on to tell me that there are fervent panel discussions going on in Assamese TV on this. Some sentimental Oxomias have even burnt Papon’s effigy. Wow! Papon now has joined the lofty club of people whose effigies get burnt. That is really big hey. Congratulations Papon! I digress. Mother insists on sharing details of the whole situation to me. Papon after all is 'like a son' to her. She names intellectuals and artists who are part of these panels. Really now? When Papon makes random comments bordering on communal hatred there wasn't a peep from anybody. When Zubeen pointed a gun at a packed audience, there was no controversy. This could have wiped out a considerable number of culture-loving Oxomias. But no intellectual or artists talked about it. It turned out the gun was fong-kong (South African for fake) but how dare he do that even as a joke? No, this did not hurt the fragile Oxomia sentiment. The whole existence of Oxomia nation instead is threatened because Zubeen and Papon want their own songs to become the national anthem of Oxomia Jati. I say why not? Did not some Oxomia great-man say once – change is constant? Why is it not possible to change the national anthem? Why should we have a national anthem? Why should we have only one? Who chose the national anthem we have now? You have bad general knowledge – mother scoffs me. But my maths is good and I have a win-win solution. I illustrate to my mother -Half or more of the Oxomia people who exist now (not forgetting we do not have a definition of an Oxomia till date) did not exist when the current NA (national anthem) was chosen. If you have to democratically select a NA now, we could do a vote through SMS. How many votes the existing NA would get is a simple answer of two minus two. So Papon and Zubeen wins. On the other hand I think the people who want the NA to remain status quo should do this SMS thing right now instead of panel discussions and effigy burning. Since the Oxomia Jati currently is anyway divided equally into Papon and Zubeen fans they will negate each other out. And even if one dinosaur from last century want the current NA to remain, it will win. The Oxomia Jati should relax and continue getting drunk and breaking chairs at Bihu functions to Papon and Zubeen's Songs. My mother is speechless for a second. Her maths is not as good as mine.

My beef with the Zubilee issue is something else altogether. She, by the way, was not allowed to perform at a Bihu function in Guwahati because she wore a salwar-kameez. The rules, it seems, say one HAS to wear a mekhela-sador to be able to sing. I warn my mother to stop at this point. She pulls out her feminist card and asks me – Why is it that there are dress-rules only for women? I tell my mother she must not bore me with such radical thoughts. Everyone knows one can sing even in a salwar-kameez. Provided one has a nice voice and is trained and practiced. I have never heard Zubilee and cannot vouch for her singing. If the Bihu committee is unaware of this fact, they must have been drunk. I do not want to comment any more on a woman’s autonomy and the right to choose what to wear. These are being rehashed since before the days my mother wore bell-bottom pants. Nor do I want to say anything about why men have no responsibility in preserving or pickling our culture. If culture can be maintained only by wearing mekhela-sador then all decisions about culture should be made by the ones who wear mekhela-sador.  As my duty towards a fellow sister I have already shared her post on facebook. But my beef is why salwar-kameez and why that particular one? Salwar-kameez is one of the most boring attire designed in the history of woman kind. It covers you from neck to ankle and is difficult to take off. In the scale of clothing excitement that gets it a whooping minus 2000 immediately. In terms of appeal one can only look very sisterly (read behenji) in it. And the particular piece of salwar-kameez Zubilee wore that day (she has posted it on FB) is hideous. While I completely agree on what she has to say about no one having a right to dictate her what she wants to wear, I absolutely disagree on her choice of the costume. I think instead of the moral police, the fashion police should have stopped her. Not from singing but from wearing it.

That is why I tell you to dress properly – with mother things have to ultimately turn to me. You also have no sense of dressing. Wherever you go you always look like you have come in your night dress - she chides me. Why are you always telling me all theese ma?  – I defend myself. I think you should stop watching TV too. She sighs in Nirupama Roy like melodrama again – Who else can I tell?  

Here is a nice one from cartoonist Nitumoni Rajbongshi. 

                                                                     
You can check out his work at http://www.cartoonistnituparna.com/ or on Facebook at Cartoonist Nitumoni Rajbongshi.