Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Boy Meets Girl - Chapter 3

Friendly Note from the Author: After a long gap, many requests, and some protests, Chapter 3 is finally here! If you haven't already, you should read the Prelude, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 before reading this chapter.

It was 11.30 on a Sunday morning. Varun opened his eyes to a cloudy vision of his room. His head hurt and he felt extremely nauseous. For a moment, Varun could not recollect where he was, what he was doing laying down, or why he felt so sick. The only things on his mind were Priya and a very deep sense of sorrow.

"Godamnit! What happened last night?" Varun said to himself while trying to pull himself out of his bed. He reached for his cell phone, and checked the time. The phone had no missed calls or messages. It reminded him of a time when always found a good morning message from Priya. Varun and Priya had an unsaid understanding. The first one to wake up would wish the other with a romantic message, and it was Priya on most occasions.

"No such luck!" thought Varun while brushing his teeth.

While he tried hard to keep his mind off Priya, he couldn't help but wonder what made him get into such an emotional state the previous night. He thought, if she could get over him and move on with life, so could he. He was a guy, after all. And guys were known and expected to be insensitive and emotionless. Suddenly, Varun found himself thinking with his head instead of his heart. He had to get over Priya and get on with his life. But first, he had to set things straight. He had to end his deal with Priya. Officially. He had to terminate the contract, so to speak.

Varun flipped his phone to type a message.

I nd 2 talk 2 u. Can v meet?

Before Varun could settle down to sip his coffee, his cell phone beeped.

"That's fast!" thought Varun while opening the message. It was a message from his service provider, coaxing subscribers to download ring tones, wallpapers, and other jazz for the upcoming Valentines Day.

"I care a fuck about Valentines day! Do you mind?" exclaimed Varun and threw his phone on the table.

While Varun just about finished sipping his coffee, his cell phone beeped again. This time, it was Priya.

Wht do u wanna talk? Do u even talk? U only fite with me! Am sorry, I hv bttr things 2 do.

Although the tone of Priya's reply wasn't totally unexpected, Varun could see a ray of hope somewhere within it. Turmoil of the sorts waged in his mind. Suddenly, he felt his heart taking over his sensibilities. What he thought was a decision ten minutes back, suddenly felt like the hardest thing to do. With his mind entangled in confusion and heart swaying to Priya's side, Varun flipped his phone and typed a message.

I'm sorry. I prmise I wont fite. V'll talk. Cafe Exprs at 12.30?

With the recent spate of events between them, Priya's new-found attention for Atul, and Neeraj's advice for a better girl on one side and his deep feelings for Priya on the other, Varun's mind and heart played Battlefield Vietnam. While Varun held is temples to soothe the mental anguish and a bad hangover, his cell phone beeped yet again.

Ok. B on time!

Varun smiled to himself. Priya agreeing to meet at Café Express and he knew things were already getting better. He was notoriously famous for being late for dates. Priya often taunted him that with his timings, he would easily turn up a couple of hours late for their wedding. She claimed she would then marry the cutest guy present in the guests.

Smiling again, Varun began dressing up to meet Priya and thought to himself "Can things end where they started? Life always plays these tricks on me! "

While Varun got ready to meet Priya, his mind began replaying the sweet memories of his first date with Priya at Café Express.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On Religion and Nationality

Recently, a Muslim friend of mine presented me with a forestalling thought over a couple of beers. He expressed his anxiety and fear that Muslims in India were a minority and things were going to get worse for them. He said, with the political parties in India adopting the Hindutva philosophy, the future for Muslims in this country was not very bright. He was also quick to point of that although Islam being a religion that professes peace and humanity, many extremist had tarnished the real Islam, bringing it to the fateful state it is in today. He said that whenever there is terrorist activity in any country, the prime suspects are Islamic militants. More than being mere suspects, they are often responsible for the activity. This has lead the world to look down upon Islam and consider it a potential threat to world peace. He also spoke how his US visa was rejected just because his passport had a Pakistan visa stamped on it.

Now, I completely agree to what he had to say. It is true that Islam has gained itself an image of notoriety and extremism, much to the displease of many level-headed, secular Muslims like him. But I do not agree that Muslims are a minority. May be they are less in number compared to Hindus in India, but they certainly are not a minority. This country belongs to Muslims as much as it does to the Hindus or any other religious community living in this country as Indians. Politicians may preach Hindutva and try other gimmicks to fill up their vote banks. For example, the newly-founded Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, has over 10,000 Muslim supporters in Mumbai alone. And the number is fast growing. Ironically, it was the parent political party, Shiv Sena, which publicly expressed intolerance towards not only Muslims, but all non-Maharashtrians.

This country, with its new-found technical prowess and a secular, neutral, and level-headed current generation, is not a Hindu kingdom. It was founded as a democratic nation, and will continue to remain so, not only officially, but also in reality. People, who call themselves Indians, have to truly believe that they do belong to this country. They should stop living as a minority or guests in this country. Only when non-Hindus truly take pride in being Indians and treat this country as their own, will they progress. Only when the people of a country progress, does the country progress. Take for example, the Bollywood industry. Do Hindus hate watching a Salman Khan or an Amir Khan movie? Or do the Muslims prefer to stay away from an Anil Kapoor movie? No wonder it is a multi-billion dollar industry!

This subject reminds me of a heated argument I had with a Catholic friend during the 9/11 attacks. While I was expressing my hatred towards the Islamic extremists and attacks on a free nation, she turned to me and said, "Whenever there is a religious outbreak in this country, we Catholics will take refuge in the US and UK. Muslims will flee to Arab lands. What you Hindus will be left is only the Indian ocean!"

We live in a modern world that is far removed from religion. It is not the 17th century when religion was a way of life. In today's world, what counts is industrial development, IT industry, oil, and the economic ranking of the country. If you have the money, you are a superpower. If you don't, you are Somalia. What counts is money. Everything starts for money, and ends in money. If not, US wouldn't attack Iraq of the pretext of WMD. Pakistan wouldn't want Kashmir on the pretext of 'freeing' it's Muslim brethren from the evil clutches of India!

What I fail to understand is that how can a religion determine one's nationality or support for a country? Do non-Hindu Indians think they are guests here and their true land is the US, UK, or any of the Islamic republics? Do they think their so-called true lands will welcome them? Would these countries accept a million people just because they follow the official religion of their state? Would they axe their own economy in trying to accommodate their so-called brethrens? In reality, what they really do is treat Indians as second-grade citizens and make them slaves to their economy, regardless of their religion.

On the contrary, India gives each Indian, regardless of his or her religion, equal opportunities and a first-grade citizenship. I know caste systems, riots, and philosophies professed by political parties do shake beliefs, but India as a whole stands by for its people. It is only fair that the non-Hindu Indians realize that this is their country and express solidarity towards their motherland - India.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blank Noise Project: Solution v0.1a

If it's a project, it's gotta have a solution! Here's the beta...

Women have always been victims of sexual harassment on the street. Of late, I have read a lot of such stories - stories of women, recounting their harrowing experiences on the street. From women being molested in public, to strange men feeling up their privates, to perverts masturbating on women commuters at railway stations, there are so many stories out in the open, thanks to the Blank Noise Project - a project that aims to recognize eve teasing as a sexual crime and establish the issue as something that may be normal, but is unacceptable. And many more exist, mostly untold and hidden in the deepest ravines of an affected woman's heart.

Many men and women have made their contribution to the project and shed light on this reality. I don't intend to just make a contribution. I intend to change the thinking and hope to eradicate sexual harassment on the street as such. I know being male, I can only read or listen to such stories. I will never experience it first hand. I will never be able to step into the shoes of a woman who has experienced such a thing. And when I do read and listen to such stories, I can't help but think what women could do to improve the situation and their chances when they become victims.

I also know it is easy to give advice, and even more, to give unsolicited advice. Women may already know of what I think might be a solution. My words may not be worth a penny. Whatever be the case, here are my thoughts that might improve the chances of woman to protect herself from being sexually harassed on the street.

Recognizing the Crime
Eve-teasing or street sexual harassment, is a social stigma. It is a big problem that manifests itself through small incidents that occur to a large number of women on the streets. To eradicate this, what we need is change in our mindset, thinking, behavior, and most importantly social ranking of women.

Being Less Vulnerable
Like the predators that can sense fear in their prey, pervert men might actually sense the vulnerability in women. Once the prey is vulnerable, a prospective perpetrator’s job is already half done. Take for an instance, a woman standing in a crowded railway station platform. She tries hard to avoid the gazes from men. She stops 'being herself' and pretends to look 'nowhere'. She cocoons herself and turns a blind eye to the truth that several men are gazing at her, with not-so-friendly eyes. These gazes make her utterly uncomfortable and each passing second seems unbearable to her. By isolating herself, she becomes more vulnerable. While she looks nowhere, a pervert brushes past her, touching her where she hates it the most. She is caught unaware and before she can react, the pervert has disappeared in the crowd. Doesn't this happen everyday?

Being Brave & Bold
Another reason why women fall prey to eve-teasing is our culture. By culture, I don't only mean our Indian culture. Women throughout the world are considered the weaker sex, at least subconsciously. When you agree that you are the weaker sex, you get attention - both positive and negative. While chivalry, respect for being a woman, and being treated in a 'womanly manner' count as positive attention, sexual harassment, eve-teasing, rape, gang-rapes account for negative attention. Chivalry that women love is a classic example of this subconscious discrimination - even among women! Now, if women genuinely think they are equal to men and inculcate such thinking in themselves, they will automatically be a lot less weaker - emotionally and physically. They will cease to be exploitable. In my opinion, the key is to be BOLD and not expect any special treatment for being born a woman. Only then will the exploitation stop.

Being Prepared
Finally, besides being a lot less vulnerable, weak, and exploitable, being prepared for such situations can only be a positive step towards curbing such instances. Being prepared for such situation does not only mean carrying pepper sprays and joining the weekend Kung Fu/Karate class. The preparation has to start from the mind. Only when a woman truly considers herself equal to her male counterpart in every way, will she begin to be prepared to combat street sexual harassment.

So the next time you have men gazing all over you, hold your head up in confidence. Be bold, be brave, and most importantly be alert of the environment around you. When a pervert tries to brush past you, you will be able to slap him instantly. Or even better, move away before he succeeds and give him the "You suck!" look. Sharp, 'I'll-kill-you gazes' back at men do work. At least that's what many women have told me!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Great Mumbai Surprise

Today, Mumbai woke up to a pleasant surprise. Instead of the sun shining brightly like a typical March morning, the skies were full of dark clouds. I woke up to the thunder and lightning instead of my mobile-turned-alarm clock.

Experiencing the respite of the after-summer change in weather, before summer, was quiet an enchanting experience. I rode to work listening to the thundering, overcast sky, with the cool breeze blowing on my face. To match it all, I was in an equally zestful mood that I never even dreamt of on a March day. Doing nothing seemed like the only thing on my mind. It felt so monsoon. It felt so June.

Speaking of June, the zest for monsoon at the end of summer in me is quiet paradoxical. By the end of May, I pray for the rains. I pray for the thunder, lightning, and the first droplets that mark the end of the summer madness. By July, I'm sick of the rains. The puddles of mud, muck, grime, and traffic snarls get me praying for sunshine and respite from the endless showers that the heavens pour down on us. And yet another time, I see the great rules of life in effect. Anything in excess is undervalued. Anything in scarcity is valued, and often over valued. These rules seem to apply to almost everything in my life. And may be in others' lives too.

And such was the effect of the sudden, unexpected, unseasonal pour down today. The cloudy skies and the typical smell of wet soil sent me into a dreamy world. The weather was wet and gorgeous at a comfortable 23 degrees. Everyone seemed laid back. Probably, doing nothing was the only thing on their minds too. Through out the day, the overcast skies presented Mumbai with occasional drizzles, keeping the spirits up and the surprise going.

In the evening, the skies pulled a spectacular show. The dark monsoon clouds hovered low, threatening to pour down at a blink's notice. The sun drew outlines of the dark clouds. Puffy white clouds floated higher up, majestically matching the deep blue sky that formed the canopy for this show by nature. It was a mosaic up there, with all the members of the sky putting up their best show. Just when I thought I was seeing the best, out came another spectacular surprise. A huge rainbow formed in the southern skies, sending cheers among people, known and unknown. All this for a March day, I thought, was truly unbelievable.