Cultural baggage or simply uncultured- Changing perceptions

A couple of years ago, I was stunned to read that a judge in Australia, let a serial stalker off without a conviction after the offender maintained that his “cultural background” led to his disgusting behaviour toward women. He was being tried for stalking, threatening and intimidating women. The judge agreed with his defence that years of watching Bollywood movies where the “hero” stalks women, threatens self harm if she does not immediately fall in love with him had warped his sense of appropriateness!

photodune-2603408-indian-woman-l-1200x661-620x341On surface it seems like this guy had a hell of a lawyer, who spun a convincing argument and got his client a great deal. But, there is an element of truth in the tale- movies are a great cultural barometer- reflecting attitudes & behaviours, influencing thought & action and often giving fodder to our wishful thoughts. Maybe in a country, where a large part of the population live in poverty,  these celluloid fantasies are an escape from drudgery. And for the young, an aspirational guide- and if this is true, it is bloody scary!

Think of the role models they are getting and in a society where normal friendships with the opposite sex is frowned upon for a large percentage, perhaps films are their only avenue of getting to know 50% of the population.

A whole 3 or 4 generations of Indian film heroes have wooed women by stalking them, terrorising them or threatening them. Some of the most popular song sequences are set around the stalk scenes and to top it all, the “girl” is most frequently portrayed as faking her anger while being secretly happy- A song that comes to mind is Dev Anand’s “pal bhar ke liye koi hamey pyar kar le….”  where he creepily peeks into several windows while Hema Malini is trying to change and as she goes around shutting the 5 million windows and doors she giggles and even starts humming the song!

One particularly disgusting stalk-love tale is a ghastly 80’s movie, Maqsad, where the super rich suitor Rajesh Khanna, stalks poor but gorgeous Sridevi relentlessly, to the extent of turning up in a car of the same color as the sari she wears. In the cult classic Tezaab, the protagonist dupes a girl into falling in love with him and then when she is heartbroken, he turns remorseful and threatens self harm “forcing” her to fall in love. These are a tiny, tiny sample of warped plotlines- there are literally hundreds more along the same vein.

While they give men the wrong game plan to woo women, they give women an even more warped sense of behaviour that is acceptable. Women have been shown to accept and even welcome terrible behaviour, waiting patiently for their man to reform. Rich, beautiful and successful women fall inexplicably in love with hoodlums, unemployed rowdy types- this was typical in all 80’s & 90’s movies. Women with “modern” ideas and behaviours learnt the error in their ways. In more recent movies,  successful and strong women have suddenly lost their independence when they fall in love. Inexplicably many strong female roles turn mushy to ensure the “hero” can come and rescue them from all evil in the end…

And to add to this mix, a whole generation of young girls see the super successful actresses gyrate to ugly “item” songs and do not even recognise that women are demeaned even further with disgusting lyrics calling on men to bite her like a chicken leg, stick to her like fevicol or have their merry way because she’s high on weed.

Where are we celebrating healthy relationships, equal relationships? Where are the role models of acceptable behaviour?

It has been 2 years since the Nirbhaya incident shocked the nation- there were candlelight vigils, songs written about her and a whole slew of stars who ranted about the injustice. But what actually happened, where is the change?

ANSWER: There is none- because until each and every person acknowledges, accepts and advocates equity and respect, there will be no change.

Parents have to teach their sons to respect girls from infancy, treat their sons and daughter’s exactly the same way. Men have to treat their wives, sisters and mothers with respect- demonstrating the behaviour they want to see in their sons.
The legal system has to get its act together and come down swiftly on any infringement. A young man does not go out and rape on day 1, he starts with smaller infractions- punish the small ones and prevent the bigger crime.
And more importantly, the message has to be constantly reinforced, not just when an incident happens.

In the aftermath of the recent Bangalore mass molestation episode, every single celebrity has come out and spoken against it, which is great, but why just now? Why not extol your fans and followers to demonstrate their respect for women at other times? Don’t tell men they need to “protect” women from preying men, tell them not to prey on them in the first place. Tell your fans and followers to not stand by quietly when they see an atrocity- ask them to speak up.


And please shaming does not work- all those images of women stripping and beating men with brooms are disgusting. Lasting social change comes about when the hearts and minds of people are changed. We all need to be part of the change- in small and big ways.

  • Do not employ underage children for home help and work, encourage their parents to educate them. If you can afford to, support them by paying for food or books or help with studies.
  • Support women run enterprises, there are many social enterprises like spice grinding, catering, stitching, floral work that are run by underprivileged women- often going against their families. Buy from them and encourage the work.
  • Ask your driver, office boys or other male employees if they are educating their girls.
  • Do not instil fear in your daughters, by telling them how there are big bad guys out there. Instead teach them how to stay alert and stay safe. Teach them to call out bad behaviour.
  • Call out bad behaviour, do not be reluctant to create a scene if someone heckles or cat calls. Bullies retreat when challenged.
  • Do not tolerate bad behaviour even among friends and family. If some one is nasty to their wife or children or demeaning to women and girls, call them out on this.
  • Don’t be critical of some one helping the women in their families, or tease or joke about them. Cooking and cleaning or child minding are things that need doing, not just by one gender. If you see someone helping, recognise that they are doing the right thing!
  • Support the art world- they are doing a lot in this space and getting the message out!

Hoping that 2017 will bring about the change that is long over due!






India se…..chronicling the invisible bonds

Sea change……lock, stock and barrel

When someone asks me where I am from, I automatically say Delhi. And the minute I land in Delhi, it envelops me in this familiar embrace that immediately gives me  a sense of comfort.

For many people, who have visited Delhi- this will seem quite crazy. The noise, the dust, the pollution, the flagrant disregard for the rules and law by many and the dirt – can tempt some to head straight back in the airport!

But for me, Delhi is where I get the greatest sense of anchor. The city where I was born, where I grew up- where my parents lived. The connections so strong, that many times when it rains in Melbourne, I can close my eyes and imagine the monsoon rains in Delhi and smell the earth and almost taste the jamun fruit!

20161215_060249Earlier this year, my parents decided to move out of Delhi. There was no one reason for the move, but rather a motley collection of factors.

For many who know our family, this was quite momentous. My parents both have lived in Delhi for most of their lives, my mother coming there in the early years of Independence as a child and my father as a young man in his early 20’s. They  were married on the streets of Hauz Khas, quite literally- my grandfather had a shamiana erected on the main road for the ceremony. I grew up in Hauz Khas, with my cousins across the road and around the corner. When my parents decided to buy their own home, it was in Delhi they bought- it never crossed their minds, they may one day want to return to the South, where their ancestral roots were.

So, why move? For many families, the dilemma that my parents faced, comes at one time or the other.

And I do believe our parent’s generation is perhaps the last generation that will face this 20161205_103010decision largely unprepared. With many families having one or two children, often settled overseas, the question “who will look after the parents” slips by. When the parents visit regularly and children make trips back to India often, it does not seem to matter. But as the parents get older, little things can get annoying, the trials of living in a huge metro, with largely indifferent services- it can be very isolating and get you down.

Delhi, sadly has lost its smaller town sense of community- mega apartment complexes with every luxurious amenity in sight, except perhaps a sense of belonging. The old “culony” where everyone knew everyone has given way to people in a rush. New money has meant that people are now impatient and intolerant of anything that loses them time or money. The pollution levels just add to difficulties.

And even more sadly, a teeming metropolis and the national capital has not planned for an ageing population. Most of the older DDA constructions, an absolute sea of SFS, MIG and other dwellings do not have lifts. In fact, most of the apartment complexes which came about in the late 80’s don’t have lifts, when they are 2 or 3 storey. Parking in most of these blocks is now a nightmare. They were designed for possibly 1/4th the number of vehicles that need accommodation. While public transport is greatly improved with the extensive metro, peak times are still impossible for older people to get into.
Other soft services like catering, medical and therapeutic are hit and miss. If you have had established decent relationships you will be okay, otherwise …..

After a few years of active retired life in Delhi, it was clear, the stresses of living here are just not worth the benefits.

20161214_155931As my parents scouted different places to “settle down” Chennai & Coimbatore came up as options. In true to form style, once my parents decided, they moved swiftly, booking tickets to visit both cities and scouting out retirement villages. For our part, my brother and I did our homework and booked guest houses so they could explore their options.

And even more swiftly, 2 days into their stay in Coimbatore, they had found an apartment they liked in a retirement village and 5 months later they packed up their 47 year long life together in Delhi into a container and moved right across the country.

Like many other things my parents have done, they managed their move alone as well. 20161213_093031When I arrived in Coimbatore, it was to ostensibly help them unpack and settle down. But much of what was needed had been done by them. My assistance was in the main practical and getting things done faster by paying outrageous bakshish!

But what struck me was that, even after 60+ years in Delhi, with few visits to the South, my parents slid into life here, pretty easily. The people felt familiar and the culture more welcoming. And most critically, the concept of retirement living is much more accepted and expected in the South of India, than in the North. The sheer number of retirement homes in Coimbatore alone are staggering, with infrastructure keeping pace. There are different styles as well, catering to different tastes that people have. Some are focused on supporting a quieter retired life, with a focus on spiritual side, quiet life. Others have badminton courts, swimming pools, gyms and spa treatments. Some are way outside town, within fields and others in the city.

The medical facilities are geared to manage elder care, with most signs advertising regular diabetic, cardiac and neuro checks and offering services at home or annual packages. Small shops sell diabetic cookies and tour operators advertise comfortable travel for older people. The service staff too seem to appreciate the income stream elder care and retired living brings, most happy to assist…

And most importantly, driving in Coimbatore is infinitely less stressful than driving in Delhi. Every time we thought of our dad, driving on Delhi roads, it would turn another hair grey, but after a week of him driving me around in this new town20161214_153816, I was confident enough to let my daughter take the wheels and let her drive! Next visit, she has negotiated with her Thatha, to let her have the car, from the time she lands!

A couple of years ago, while researching for my thesis on retirement among 1st generation migrants in Australia,  I found that many of the issues people raised here in OZ were exactly the same ones my parents raised in India-

Retirement living is not moving into the ages old concept of Vanaprastha, giving up all activity other than bhajans or going to pilgrimage or spend time looking after grandkids. People are now spending as much time in retirement as they are in work. Most folks want to indulge in activities they have always wanted to- like travel, watch movies, go to cultural events or take time out to write or take up a new hobby.

For many in my parents’ generation, it has been a newfound sense of independence- they want to be in control of what they do, rather than move in with their children and have a 2nd go at running a home, just 30 years older now. The everyday hassles of running a household, managing home help and organising repairs are the things they want to be rid off. Safety and security are the other key issues, some cities are just not as safe for older people, with many worried they may be victimised if they are seen to be without “younger” people “looking after” them.

Having spent a couple of weeks in Coimbatore, I came back feeling much better. In their golden years, my parents have the safety net of support, everyday hassles of maids and maintenance taken care off. The ability to lock up the house and leave for quick breaks or longer holidays without worrying about telephone surrenders and prepaying electricity. A healthier climate and cleaner air. And nothing made me feel happier, than when calling my dad to let him know I had landed back in Melbourne, he said he and my mum had driven off to get some paperwork from Hyundai, sorted out some bank issues and found an Adyar Ananda Bhavan for lunch! All is well!