Saturday, February 13, 2016

Freedom of Expression: Right and Responsibility

Let me start off by saying that I am what many describe as a bleeding heart liberal. If you believe that automatically makes me a “libtard”, “sickular”, “anti-national” or weak, please stop reading now.

I believe freedom of speech and expression – a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian constitution; a luxury people in many, many other countries cannot afford, yet we take for granted – forms the cornerstone of a true democracy. I have also maintained that government meddling in academic debates threatens free discourse. This freedom comes with a caveat. While it gives us the liberty to air our opinions, it also guarantees others the right to express their own opposing views, unpleasant and contentious as those views may sound to us.  Given the diverse cultures, ideologies and people that make the melting pot that is India, there are bound to be differences in opinions. Being open to voices of dissent and respectful of disagreements is the hallmark of an inclusive society.

However, I also believe that these rights should not be taken for granted or misused to spread propaganda that threatens integrity of the very state that guarantees such freedom. Nor should they be twisted to express solidarity to terrorists or preach radical ideology that goes against the interests of the nation. Is it reprehensible to honor men who plotted activities against the state, or to shout secessionist, anti-India slogans, in the name of free speech? I think so. Such actions should be condemned and discouraged, not praised in the name of freedom of expression. On the other hand, we must exercise utmost caution before jumping to the other extreme and calling for interference of the law to ensure punishment of “traitors”. It could be a slippery slope from applauding the arrests and charges of sedition against a few student protestors shouting slogans, to suppressing any dissent by cracking down on anyone speaking up against the government. Far-fetched as it sounds, sometimes “that is how freedom dies… With thunderous applause.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Choices: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Everyone is talking about that video. Everyone is talking about My Choice. Some were having goosebumps watching it, some thought it was ridiculous. After watching the video, listening to contrasting opinions about it, and two cups of coffee, I chose to share my thoughts about it.

I choose not to talk about the “choice to have sex outside marriage”. I’ll just say that I think women shouldn’t go cheating on their spouses, men shouldn’t either. I choose not to talk about the naïveté in thinking that it is one’s “choice to love a man, or a woman, or both”. I’ll just point out that such a view is not very different from the attitude meted out by society to gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals because it believes they “chose to be that way”. I choose not to talk about the irony in advocating the “choice to be a size zero or size fifteen” using a video in which the models appear to be more size zero than fifteen. I’ll just leave it with the thought that if a picture is worth a thousand words, 99 of them painted in strikingly similar airbrushed shades with little variety among them would speak volumes than the voice of one celebrity. However, there are certain things in and about the video I wanted to talk about, and I choose to talk about them now.

One of the favorite weapons in the arsenal of patriarchy, the institution that feminists have been fighting so hard for so long, is gender stereotyping. Patriarchy feeds off of stereotyping and proceeds to oppress women and such a setting then reinforces these stereotypes. Ah, what a vicious cycle! Yet, the video falls into the same trap of typecasting when it portrays who are supposedly women from different walks of life but who all have the same polished, slim and conventional good looks. Sure, there is the odd fleeting image of an old tribal woman with a wrinkled face, but if anything, that reinforces the hollowness of the approach.

It is interesting how most of the choices the video talks about revolve largely around sexual choices. While these are in no way trivial, it doesn’t seem so concerned about choices in other areas of life, more pressing choices that women in our country would like to have. What about the choice of a girl child in an impoverished home who has to eat scraps of leftover food after all her brothers have eaten? One in four girls born in India every year don’t live to see their fifteenth birthday. Yes, you read that right. If she is lucky enough to make it past, what about her choice to get an education? What about her choice to work (or not)? Are we going to talk about whether women have a choice when it comes to wage inequality or household duties? Of course it is the choice of the producers of the video to decide which issues they want to highlight, but it shouldn’t be their choice to misconstrue that as woman empowerment.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lament

Winter asked Mother Nature, "Why did you adorn Spring, Summer and Autumn with all the beautiful colors in the world, and yet wrap me in these dreary garbs? Am I not your child?"
 
Nature said, "Of all my children, you're the only one strong enough to see my grief. And I draped you in white, the purest of all colors, even as I weep."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fire and Water


These walls were a dull gray,
But then you happened;
Together we painted away
'Til they were bleeding red.

'T was brilliant, a crimson shade
Quite a spectacle it made,
But what a mercurial artist love maketh
For, from the mould when dreams are cast
One moment she burns them bright
The next she's dyeing them dark.

You're the music in my ear
And the fire to my desire.
The breeze on my face was you
The twinkle in my eyes were too.

Haze in my eyes fogs my sight
So into the mirror of time I peek
To see the truth in black and white
Alas! that I find isn't what I seek!

All I hear is a melancholic note
And we're the moth and fading flame
A lump of air is stuck in my throat
And tears in my eyes whisper your name.

For all dreams, good and bad
There's but one boon and bane
No matter how sunny or sad
You do have to wake up again.

Even as I lay there broken and lost, this I see:
Like a snowflake dancing daintily
Or a shooting star leaving skies for the sea
So is love, fleeting yet heavenly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stardust


Fret not, fear not
This isn't goodbye;
You and I will meet again
In wings of the Western wind,
And tunes of the November rain
We will be together as we were before
As part, as whole
As one with the universe
Children of the elements we are,
Return to them we must
After all, we are nothing but stardust.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Day

They met on a midsummer morning, the sun shining bright as ever in the sky yet feeling pleasantly warm on their bodies. The meadow was an inviting lush green, the sunflowers just beautiful. They lay down on the grass and talked for hours and then they talked some more. There was never a dull moment. He always had the most interesting stories and she was ever curious, he was fascinated by the little things and she loved to talk about them, and in those conversations, on which nature was intently eavesdropping, they found each other. Exploring the giant caves which bore the name of the ancestors of elephants due to their enormous size seemed just like the thing to do in the noon. Light and warmth had stayed behind while they strolled inside the mammoth structure that testified to the victory of persistence of water over the strength of rock. As the miles went by and the lantern grew dimmer, they marveled about the unique formations sculpted by nature over millions of years. In the darkness, they walked hand in hand until they found light at the end of the tunnel and realized the world, albeit the same, looked different.

Dinner on the banks of Lake Watauga overlooking the Parthenon was a relatively quiet affair, but the fourth of July fireworks on Cumberland riverfront, not so much. If they were savoring the serenity of the hour during the former, they were living in the moment at the latter - pointing at the fireworks, clapping, shouting with child-like glee and wonder. In the moonlight, they kissed. As the stardust settled and the festivities came to a halt, drawing curtains to a glorious evening, they realized the night was still young. They held hands, weaving through the thick crowd, making their way onto the main street. There was a loud noise, more like a gunshot than a firecracker, and then came the avalanche of people running back for their dear lives. She pulled him and herself to the wall and clasped on to him tightly even as he hovered over her protectively as if to save her from the world. It wasn't the world as much as a mad man and his gun firing in all directions that shattered the little world of theirs. One of the bullets went through the back and lodged in his heart as if it knew precisely where all the warmth he radiated came from. He winced and looked at her helplessly, then crumpled to the ground, the ghost of his shielding grip fading away.