Tag Archives: politics

Her Father’s Daughter: Shekhar Mehra

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The blurb at the back of the book completely belies what lies inside 215 pages novel. I was taken unaware when I finished the book, waiting to let it all sink in. the blurb reads:

” When a girl child is born into the zamindar family of a village called Veerganj, she brings no cheer to anyone around. She is only just accepted by her family. But little Gayatri has set her rules early: she is not content with mere acceptance . She has taken after her father and demands attention,which she manages to get, and in ample measure. But when the same attention is denied to her as a woman- as a beautiful woman-what does she do? Just about anything. It’s her life after all.”

My first reaction was that it’s a book that must speak of woman’s liberation or a girl’s fight for self. But I was not prepared for what I read between the pages.

No matter how much we try and ignore or try to push it behind curtains or under the carpet, the truth is that the obsolete customs of caste biases, untouchability and the want for male child is very much in existence. It did not quite come to an end, it’s best to say it has been marginalized and forced to retreat from the face of urban India. But they can still be found in remote, far-off villages that are rigid and unbending in religious and social traditions. The Britishers may have left our land centuries ago, but we as a society are yet to fully wake up. In these remote interior villages there are millions of peoples labelled outcastes or untouchables, the lesser human beings. They are subjected to every conceivable form of discrimination. The high castes grade cows and snakes higher than their own fellow beings.

In urban areas it happens under cover of money. The higher castes who would never dream of touching them, are willing to work with them and under them, given the prospect of earning profit, read money. Though abolished by the constitution and the practice punishable by law, it still continues to play havoc with innocent lives.

These people suffered long and are still suffering. They did not raise their voice for the fear of retribution. Their counterparts in cities have survived and some of them are thriving as well. But those in the village never raised their eyes to look up, being employed as labour and menial hands, they feared loss of job and means of sustenance.

The government has set up panchayats for them where they can go for help and address their problems. But little did they know that the same enforcement agencies which should deliver justice have been bought and pockets warmed with money. These agencies cater to the interest of the high castes and are also manned by them. The Utopian dream did not deliver on ground. Poverty, illiteracy, caste system, political interference, factionalism, money and muscle power all grazed the dream flat.

It is under this premise that Gayatri’s story unfolds. She is born into a zamindar family. As a girl child she is unwanted and only just accepted. But she soon wraps herself around her father’s heart displaying the very same traits as her father. She is bold, fierce, independent and assertive. As a child her whims and fancies are brushed aside. Reality of dawns upon her when she grows up into a beautiful woman. Her movements are restricted and it slowly sinks into her what caste biases are. As a girl she has no say in how her life unfolds. Her father is a well known face in the village of Veerganj. To raise his position a bar higher in the society he decided to get Gayatri married to the son of a famous politician with a hold in state capital. The father completely disregards his daughter choice in the matter. Even when Gayatri hurts herself, she is asked to maintain composure and see that she will financially well settled. It did not matter if she like the boy or not. Matters escalate and go out of hand when she seeks help from Ghanshyam, an untouchable. She lets loose a can of worms and opens up Pandora’s box of troubles. Her father’s fury meets no match in deciding her future. Things turn ugly leaving the family disoriented and fractured.

The characters are well rounded and life like. There are no caricatures, rather genuine creation. All the characters have a progression as the book climaxes, no one character remains stolid.

The book is absolutely transparent with respect to how society functions in the villages. The untouchables are cornered towards the borders of the villages. The dark side of the Indian villages is exposed and so is the farce in the name of legislation and justice, namely Panchayats. There is no savior for these people and they are trampled by those with money and power. Shekhar Mehra has given a scathing account of how these people suffer, the tortures, the punishment and the suffering. The author has been true to the village life in depicting the  crude pleasure the muscle power enjoyed while exercising their strength on womenfolk.  Stripping the of their dignity, leaving them stark naked to all eyes, one can easily feel the humiliation and dejection of the people. The simplicity and candour with which Shekahr has written the novel, one would feel as if it’s recounting of a real incident.

If you have faint heart and gory scenes of violence and bloodshed make you queasy then do not pick this book. There are many scenes which recount extreme violence, savagery, brutishness and sadism.

 

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Witness the night: Kishwar Desai

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Witness-the-night

Female Infanticide is problem that troubles India since many years. It has deepened roots to such an extent that even education and literacy cannot mar the effects of this crime. Though secluded to some states now, it still poses a serious threat resulting in an imbalanced male-female sex ratio. Girls are killed right in the womb without a second thought. And the hands that perform this dreadful act is not necessarily male, females who themselves have wombs are party to this crime in the name of taking forwarding the lineage. I was drawn to this book because of the cover, which shows a girl half cowering with deep eyes that see to bore through you. So I immediately read the blurb as to see what it holds for me. I was captivated from the start: Durga. A fourteen-year-old girl, found all alone in a sprawling house in Punjab. Silent, terrified, and the sole suspect in the mass murder of thirteen members of her family.  Though hard to digest I was hooked to the story line to know what can drive someone to commit such a horrifying act.

Set in small town Jullundur (Jalandhar) in Punjab, the story is about a 14 year old girl Durga caught in a nightmare, accused of having murdered thirteen family members, and a 45-year-old social worker Simran who is working hard to find out the truth. The story opens with the diary entry of the girl that feels unvarnished, though a confused confession to a crime in which she was involved. The details of the crime are unclear and distorted, but it appears that the girl might have staged her own rape in order to make it look like “someone had tried to hurt me”.

Simran, a fiercely independent and outspoken social worker is given the task to speak with Durga and find out the truth from her. In course of time, Simran realizes that the incident is not as straight forward as it seems. Durga looks like a scared child but she keeps silent  about the incident and seems unemotional about the whole incident. It is up-to Simran to find out the truth on her own. As she tries to uncover the truth, she finds that the relationship of Durga with her family has sinister undertones to it. There are many skeletons in the closet which would be hard to unearth.

The narrative shifts between Durga’s diary entry and Simran. Durga, is sent to a remand home, as she is charged with the murder of 13 members of her family in one night. All of the victims had been poisoned, some had been stabbed and others burnt. Hard as it seems to comprehend how such a task can be done by a teenager, when the coils unwind you do understand the working of a tortured, unwanted and neglected girl child. Despite the lack of fingerprints and no evidence to suggest an outsider was involved, Simran is convinced there is more to the story than meets the eye. She wonders if a man was involved or whether Durga acted in self-defence. She feels that the only reason the case has attracted a blaze of publicity is because of the large inheritance involved. There are many instances of her having to pilot around the police to reach the actual conclusion. Its in many ways depiction of the law and order system that goes silent when blinded by money.

What follows is Simran’s painstaking investigation in which she immerses herself in the corrupted and vile Indian legal and judicial system in an attempt to unearth the truth. What she finds out along the way is often eye-opening. But it’s not until she is forced to confront an entire clan intent on eliminating unwanted females, often before they are born, that she begins to understand Durga’s dilemma.

The book is written from 2 viewpoints, Durga’s and Simran’s. While Durga’s writing is serious and dark , Simran’s is sarcastic and funny at times. Durga’s writing is reflective of the conservative, cloistered and shackled life she has led for 14 years. While Simran’s life shows the contrast in city life where even though a woman she leads life on her own terms and is fearless about it. By juxtaposing these two females, Desai shows the contrast in the existence of the two.

Though an easy read there were many issues I faced while reading. Firstly, I could not fathom the idea of a 14 year old girl murdering her family to avenge her unborn sisters and herself. Such a thought seems unrealistic no matter how many justifications are presented. Secondly the novel is riddled with continual exposition. Almost every chapter has something important to say about the plight of women, the trauma of having achild killed, ways foeticide is done, and so on. The author’s attempts to mould them into the plot is unsuccessful. They seem more like preachy monologues by the narrator than part of the narration. I do truly care about female infanticide, but would have preferred to discover the issues and decided what to think about them for myself rather than have them shoved down my throat, choking me, gasping for breath. I had almost put the book down if the desire to know the reason for the murder had not driven me on.

The opening chapter was shocking and held the promise of an intense mystery and drama, but the intensity evaporates by the climax. Motivations often seemed weak, and there were very few moments that pulled me out of my seat. The book marvels in parts where Desai describes how the girls where killed in earthen pots filled with milk(a cleanser in Hindu rites) or drugged to death, or worse buried alive in the fields behind the house. The incident with servant girls being bought as objects of pleasure to keep the boys tied to the house and not stray out. These give a depth to an otherwise rushed and hurried writing. The ending seems highly unacceptable after all that happens in the book. It seems that Desai after burning herself out of ideas haphazardly gave the ending . The book could have achieved greater heights if the writing and treatment to the sensitive topic was better handled.

Sharing some powerful quotes:

“Most of them I knew were just waiting for a chance to avenge themselves on the world that had robbed them of the one thingy they would never enjoy again, their childhood.”

“The midwives used to take away newborn girls from their mothers, seal them in earthen pots and roll the pot around till the baby stopped crying. Or they would simply suffocate them. Or give them opium and then bury them. For a largely farming community, girls were a burden. A woman confessed to having had seven abortions in the hope of a boy.”

“Tired of the sound of the baby crying, she took some poisonous juice from the oleander flower, mixed it with castor oil, and forced it down the child’s throat. Eventually the crying stopped. The crying had bothered her more than the act of killing.”

” Carefully, Sharda took out a paper envelope from which she drew out a tiny white skeletal hand…This hand was buried in the vegetable plot….Cradling that hand still in my hand, like a precious flower, I gazed out at the innocent-looking field behind our house which…., I  imagined the claws tearing away the flesh from tiny bodies which never had a chance to cry out or draw their first breath……

 

 

Dahan: Suchitra Bhattacharya, Debjani Sengupta (Editor), Mahua Mitra (Translator)

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As a literature student I have been exposed to many books that speak of atrocities against women. But few have struck a chord when it comes to Indian  writing. On a vacation I happened to read the much acclaimed novel Dahan by Suchitra Bhattacharya. Being a fan of Bengali literature I picked up this book while surfing for a read at Amazon. To say the least, I was not disappointed, but the end was disheartening as I felt there was more scope of happening rather than succumbing to the situation. The ending seemed ambiguous leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions.

Dahan is a simple and yet hard hitting retelling of an incident that happened way back in 90’s when Bengal was suffering under the grips of Naxalites. This was a time when virtues and integrity had taken a back seat and the goons ruled the roost. Thus making the whole societal setup unfriendly and hostile for women and middle class. The novel seems inspired by a real-life incident in Calcutta, in which a journalist rushed to the rescue of a woman who was being sexually assaulted by a group of men near the Tollygunj Metro station. Bhattacharya claims that all the characters are fictional . But when one reads the fine lines it seems that she is  trying to make a crossover from reality to fiction while retaining the authenticity the horror of the incident. No where does she happen to dilute the details or lessen the impact of the gory episode.

Dahan revolves around the incident of  molestation of a housewife near a Metro station. She is rescued by a young school teacher who tries to bring the molesters to the book. The young men are arrested on the basis of an FIR filed at the initiative of Jhinuk, the teacher. But they get off the hook due to lack of evidence and the reluctance on the part of the assaulted woman Romita, the housewife to identify her aggressors. She gets little or no support from her conservative in-laws to fight the case, who are more concerned about waggling tongues rather than her self respect. Her husband Palash, who is unsupportive and passive  throughout, implies that Romita had asked for it with her beauty and dressing style, and takes out is aggression on Romita through marital rape. Eventually, the defense lawyer turns the table around for Jhinuk, by casting aspersions on her morality and motives in rushing to the aid of Romita. Her intentions are belittled as asking for five seconds of fame, since no one present at the time of incident comes forward. It highlights the prejudices in the urban, middle-class Bengali society through the tribulations faced by the two protagonists, Jhinuk and Romita. Romita belongs to an affluent family and hence is asked to mask the episode so that family name is not tarnished. On the other hand is Jhinuk, coming from middle class where ideals are still alive, but family pressures makes one bend. But the character that stays with you till the end is the taciturn, idealistic Thammi, Jhinuk’s fiercely independent septuagenarian grandmother.

Dahan literally translates as burning and in a normal scenario indicate a story about Sati pratha, but it is not so. The burning here is of the female soul . She burns in every strata of society and is not immune to oppression. There is burning when she is sexually molested in the middle of a street, she burns when she attempts to help her and is driven to personal horrors, woman burns when her own husband with whom she rests her trust rapes her to avenge himself and his ego. Dahan does not make for feel-good reading. It is an utterly unflattering portrait of the society by large. The novel on reading brings forth a web of thoughts. It is very tempting to cast away the books as another example of a male dominated society. But that would be belittling the work apart from a judgement which is biased and incorrect. Because a society that is male dominated does not easily tolerate a violation of a woman by strangers. Such a toleration goes to  shows a lack of virility of males and the social setting women belong to. This holds mirror to the idea that a woman is a possession, not a person in her own right, where a man claims his masculinity in sexual exploitation of woman.

Thus when a society tolerates this and fails to protect or even avenge the woman, it makes for modern society where people are immune to others’ pain and suffering and are in fact alienated and selfish. They would rather not risk their own security and fail even to seek justice for fear of safety, it creates a society paralyzed by fear of those in power and the internal terrorist elements within the society. When terror begins to reign at street level, and acid along with other weapons are easily available at disposal, the wise keep their own counsel until better times prevail. But then again, someone has to come forward and strike a determined blow at the terror or it would never go away. It is high time the dark curtain of terror and being passive/mute audiences is cast away and we become proactive. We should not need a Nirbhaya to remind us that society together needs to make living safe for women.

 

 

 

 

10 famous telegrams

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Dr Crippen, an American-born homeopath, was one of the first criminals to be convicted with the help of the telegram. Following the murder of his wife Cora at their home in London in January 1910, Dr Crippen and his lover escaped on a ferry to Canada but were spotted by the ship’s captain, who sent a telegram to Scotland Yard just before the ship lost reception. A police officer took a faster ship to Canada, and arrested Dr Crippen on arrival. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison on November 23 1910.

Samuel Morse sent what is thought to be the first telegram, on May 24 1844. Morse sent a message from Washington to Baltimore saying: “What hath God wrought?”

When American author Mark Twain heard that his obituary had been published, he sent a telegram from London in 1897 saying: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.

The shortest telegram in the English language was from the Irish writer Oscar Wilde. He was living in Paris and he cabled his publisher in Britain to see how his new book was doing. The message read: “?” The publisher cabled back: “!”

The first successful flight, by the Wright brothers, was announced by telegram from North Carolina in 1903. “Successful four flights Thursday morning.”

Early on April 15 1912, the Titanic is believed to have sent its last wireless message. “SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. Wa are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic.”

America was spurred to join the First World War after the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram. Berlin sent the telegram on January 17 1917 to Mexico, urging the Mexicans to join the war as Germany’s ally against the USA. President Wilson, who had previously wanted to keep America out of the war, then used the telegram to gain support for American intervention.

American journalist Robert Benchley sent a celebrated telegram to his editor at the New Yorker, Harold Ross, upon arriving in Venice for the first time. “Streets full of water. Please advise.”

Perhaps one of the most famous historical telegrams is one sent by the head of the Navy on September 3 1939. It read simply: “Winston is back.”

Physicist Edward Teller sent a telegram in 1952 to colleagues at Los Alamos about the first hydrogen bomb detonation, saying: “It’s a boy”.

John F. Kennedy used to joke during his 1960 presidential campaign that he had just received a telegram from his father. “Dear Jack: Don’t buy one more vote than necessary. I’ll be damned if I pay for a landslide.”

Courtesy:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/6494297/Ten-famous-telegrams.html