It’s not just one day, Every Day is Her Day

A spin on Women’s Day.

It’s Women’s Day and I can’t keep calm.

Well. Almost, but not quite.

Because my day started with no less than ten “Happy Women’s Day” quotes forwarded blindly (possibly) to me. It progressed with more flaky drama on Facebook, with people lifting quotes off the internet and using done-to-death descriptions of women’s strength, resilience, beauty and more to applaud our kind. There were selfies clicked, and our gender exhorted to climb the proverbial peak, never mind the very next day at least fifty of us would be trolled in the nastiest way possible for demanding men respect our space and our beings and not use their authority to harass us, sexually or otherwise.

I am tired of the one-day ritual that “Women’s Day” has come to be. Of celebrities and politicians who will milk this no end, till it’s back to business and the hard grind of life for millions of ordinary women in this country.

So here’s my rant, in the form of a poem. I hope it speaks to you the way it spoke to me when I finished writing it:

“It’s Her Day”

She is limitless, how can a “day” be enough to define her?
Source: Pexels

It’s that day of the year again
When noises will crawl
Through the air,
Calling her names,
And wrapping her with tags
She is too tired to wear!
Empowered, strong,
Beautiful, and bold
Are the only hand-picked cherries,
She is allowed to hold.

Free cocktails, glittery make-up,
and apparel discounts,
Internet quotes parroted
And tucked in a gold mount,
Stories of moms and sisters
And friends who beat the odds,
Are fed to her year after year
Because,
This is the day,they say
She can rub shoulders with the gods.

Forgotten are her cracked soles,
Playing even dad’s innings 
Day after day,
That’s a mother’s job, they whisper
“So suck it up and play anyway.”

Suppressed, lay her dreams
Her wings tethered to a world
Of their design,
She just topped her school, alright,
But it’s her brother touring
greener pastures, and she is “fine.”

Cubicles, hospitals, schools
Boardrooms and more
Her cries of equal pay
Burn incessantly, till they are cast
Aside on the shore.

She asks for a little rest,
They give her none,
She wants to stop sharpening
Her claws everyday,
And have one less battle hard-won.
She is tired and grumpy
Angry and moody,
Hardly glossy and perfect 
As they forever paint her,
She simply exists as in
Many shades as they do,
But branding her bossy, stubborn
Loud and slutty
is all they can do to taint her.

And so, when This Day rolls
Over to the next morn,
She will don her armour, as always
And prepare to be reborn.
The flowers they sent her
Will wilt away in patriarchy’s din
As she drapes herself for the day,
Over toughened bones and skin.
Readying herself for the next climb,
Yet,
Cool enough to pat herself
For the last one conquered.
She will shrug her shoulders
And sip some wine,
And prop her feet up 
Over the imaginary “line”

Any day of the year she chooses
Because everyday is Her Day.

Happy EVERYDAY to us ladies!

Our mockery of Anant Ambani and why it’s not okay simply because he is privileged

Recently Anant Ambani’s speech at Reliance Industries’ 40th anniversary sparked a series of trolls and articles (some taken down already) mocking the same. While it is funny to look at at first sight, here’s why we need to stop this online bullying and give the likes of him, privilege or no privilege, a chance.

I have a confession to make.

Like everyone else who happened to take a look at Anant Ambani’s speech at a recent Mumbai event marking Reliance Industries’ 40th anniversary, I too laughed my heart out, partaking in the meme fest spreading like wildfire in the online world, while still bitching about it over a glass of whiskey with close friends off the internet grid.

Nastily laughing over how the Ambani scion became the first meme of 2018, as was diligently reported  by Yahoo news as soon as it caught fire on Twitter, Facebook and just about everywhere else.

The admittedly unpalatable expressions, the ‘energy’ just hitting through the roof, the eerily corny lines delivered in a frenzied monologue…I could go on and on and we would still not cover all the points we find funny in this speech.

And we would chuckle over it harder than we have over any other meme in recent times, more so, because it is Ambani’s son after all, and to mock wealthy, privileged people born with a silver spoon in their mouth for their follies is justifiably our way of getting back at this increasingly capitalistic society and a seemingly harmless way to feel better about our own debt-ridden, harried work-laden, tousled, ordinary lives.

Why then, is my article titled the way it is?

Because each time I clicked on the Youtube link to laugh some more, the hilarity of the speech hit me with lesser intensity with each subsequent click, directly proportional to the warmth and empathy gushing over me when I would see just how proud and elated his mother, Neeta Ambani looked to see her son standing up on stage and facing thousands of people and owning his space – however that might come across to the rest of the world.

Because I recalled, many many years ago, I was that person, braving the stage,trying to come off unscathed by ready criticism and still survive the ordeal of speaking in public. 

No, I am no Ambani, my family isn’t even close to being what can be considered an elite bunch (we will get to that later). But I’ve had to deal with my demons, some of whom paralyze me to this day.

Let me be clear, this certainly features as one of the weirdest speeches I’ve ever heard, mostly in part due to, and predictably accentuated by the trite script handed over to the lad.

Sample these:

“Doston, main apne Papa ki tarah aapko inspire toh nahin kar sakta, par aspire kar sakta hun ki inspire kar sakun.”

“Main aap sabhi se dil ka sambandh banana chahta hun, kyunki, mere liye, dil ka rishta bahut gehra aur lamba hota hai.” (Okay, this one seems like it’s bordering on double entendre, or maybe, I am just too much of a pervert!)

“I deeply respect my parents and gurus. I am deeply religious and God is my constant companion. I also respect every religion and their Gods. I am concerned about the environment. I deeply care about animals and for me, to serve the Reliance family is the most important mission of my life.”

“Your pain is my pain, your joy is my joy, your tears are my tears, your smile is my smile.”

“Reliance meri jaan hai, Reliance India ki jaan hai, Reliance duniya ki zubaan hai.”

Reliance being “India ki jaan” standing factually incorrect as can be verified with most of us Indians here who will willingly hop on to other services if Reliance goes bust;  but this is the point where Neeta Ambani gives her son a standing ovation, beaming proudly, looking around for some encouragement and applause and you can say this is working because Anant smiles back feeling a sense of accomplishment too.

I believe I ended up copying almost the entire speech showing exactly what was off about it (which, ironically, is the whole damn speech); I daresay it almost sounded like those over-enthusiastic prompted speeches delivered in  multi-level marketing seminars. Needless to say, the words are almost barked at the audience and you feel a sinking sense of cringe throughout.

The Ambanis really should have hired someone with a good pair of ears to write this speech.

But does their lack of  foresight warrant this level of mockery and derision of a young, 22 year-old braving an audience of no less than 500 people, evidently speaking in public for the first time?

Although there were plenty of publications that jumped in to send out ridicule-filled articles into the social media space while also quietly taking them down within hours of publication, there were thankfully, some sensible people who thought it was no laughing matter.

Trolling this young man trying to stand up to the intense pressure he in no way asked for, is not only distasteful, but quite pitifully exposes what we, as a society, have collectively become.

Anyone who we perceive as funny, weird, different from, or inferior to us in some way, is immediately trolled. God forbid, if that person has as much inherited money as Anant does, then there is clearly no escape route, since somehow we feel money and privilege blunts the edges of social ostracization faced by these entities and it possibly couldn’t affect the unfortunately ridiculed souls as much.

For one, it seems Anant used to be severely asthmatic and a patient of hypothyroidism, having only recently lost more than a hundred kilos.

Now imagine someone with body image and breathing issues and how hard that person might have tried to be socially accepted.

Health issues or not, disability or not, what makes it okay for any of us to deride this individual whose personal journey we have no idea of? 

In Anant’s case, snap off the wealth and privilege tag and objectively think how hard it might have been for this young boy to socially conduct himself.

A glaring reality would’ve faced him at many points in his life – that of rejection (albeit, sly and less obvious, because he is Mukesh Ambani’s son at the end of the day), that of not being as healthy and mobile as his counterparts, feeling terribly hopeless and helpless for something beyond his control, despite all the money at his disposal.

Now imagine that same person, trying to break out of his shell, follow the path his father took, and make his family proud. Imagine him trying to handle the burden of expectations weighing down on him by virtue of his birth and the millions of eyes hungrily watching him, as he takes center stage and tries to make a mark on his own.

Imagine him trying to impress a mighty crowd of socially important figures and at least be accepted as worthy of the baton that has been passed on to him.

I doubt he was thinking he’d swing it from the moment go.

Rather, I believe, he was most likely petrified but knew he had no choice but to make the best use of the chance he had, because sometimes, life presents us with circumstances we must face. 

But just when he had probably started finding his feet in this hyper-competitive, socially glossy terrain, thousands of strangers chose to drag him down and shatter his self-esteem and the tiny morsel of confidence he might’ve gained into pieces.

Think of the rejection and what a blow it might have landed on his still-developing personality.

And now think back to how it felt when you were publicly criticized/mocked/humiliated/shamed for something that’s beyond your control. If you have never been in that position, good job, you’re going great guns in life, but if you have been made to feel like an object of joke even once in your life, even if it’s in a circle of no more than 5 people, do remind yourself how that feels and apply it to this scenario.

Does your hefty bank account step in to provide any solace?

Do the social media likes and comments on your carefully curated posts count?

I guess not because trolling and shaming have a language of their own, universal and non-discriminatory in who they touch and how they affect those who’ve been at the receiving end of it.

Public Speaking, Bullying and why it’s got to stop

I was in the ninth grade when I first got the chance to participate in an elocution competition. Bright and curious, I was the standard poster child for the kid who excelled in academics, knew the answers to pretty much all of the textbook questions and was quite annoyingly called the ‘teacher’s pet.’

I cannot even describe how tormented I used to feel as a child all the way till my teens, slowly crumbling under the weight of the gazillion expectations – flying in from my family, teachers in school, private tutors, and even friends (the kinds who are quick to bring to your notice the high scores of freshly brewing toppers and remind you of how your ‘position’ as class no. 1 is fading out).

So naturally, going by this logic, everybody expected me to make a success of the competition and come out with flying colors.

I remember starting off well and articulate, my best friend in the crowd of at least 100 students sitting in the auditorium hall, nodding her head, egging me on as if to say “Good, keep going”.

I recall being pumped up for five seconds or so before unfortunately catching two students in the row behind sniggering uncontrollably.

And there – just like that I lost the plot. The words stopped tumbling. I froze. Everything look like a vicious mask of black around me. 

No matter how many times the teacher tried to prompt me from the sidelines or my friend nodded her head vigorously, trying to keep my drive going, I could not speak a word further.

That was my first time experiencing extreme stage fright, and though I have unwillingly stepped up on stage numerous times later in life, it has been harrowing, maddening, numbing.

Could I have come out on top in that elocution contest, or at least not embarrassed myself, had those silly guileless teens in the row behind not sniggered the way they did? 

I don’t know, maybe I was a weakling who was desperate for the approval of her peers and anxious to retain the ‘class No. 1 badge’ at all costs and shouldn’t have tumbled down like a pack of cards at the slightest nudge. So I might’ve still have messed up.

But would more eager eyes (minus the sniggering) and encouraging nods have helped my case? Possibly.

Could constant rejection and verbal and physical abuse on the home front have factored in, so much so I couldn’t/sometimes still can’t face a crowd? Definitely.

That’s a lot of skeletons in my closet for a single post, more on that some other day.

But the point is – this constant feeling of trepidation and that dreaded sense of drowning in a black, black hole has since lunged at me each time thereafter – be it during those handful of class presentations back in the university, or that moment when I had to go up on stage to receive an award, or even when I had to face a live audience during my theater days. 

Clinging to me like a stubborn, blood-sucking leech right till this day – so much that

I wish the moment would somehow dissolve into nothingness.

And when it grudgingly does come by, I want it to end like nothing happened.

Turns out I am not the only panic-stricken soul that routinely avoids speaking in public like it’s plague, I have more than 20 million individuals to give me company, if this information trove on Psychology Today is anything to go by.

Surveys don’t exaggerate when they say people like us would rather die than speak in public.

Interestingly, not even powerhouse performers, insightful leaders and speakers of this day and age have been spared by the phobia of facing the stage.

Julia Roberts, with a net worth of $140 million used to stutter as a child and was terrified of public speaking. So was world-class investor Warren Buffet who spent most of his college years avoiding courses that required him to speak in front of a class (let’s high-five then Mr. Buffett, since I have done the exact same thing for all of my 5 years in law school).

From being in the shadows to taking the stage for his first sermon at 36, and to being mercilessly compared to his possibly more eloquent father, televangelist Joel Scott Osteen must have dug in his heels and sweated out some intense groundwork, the result of which is there for all to see.

Can you believe this is the same guy? 

 

Holy Christ (or rather, Hey Ram!) even Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led the Independence Movement of a demographic and ethnic mix like India used to fear speaking in public!

Others included in this list are actor-singer Bruce Willis, golf icon Tiger Woods, comedian-writer Rowan Atkinson and many, many others.

I don’t need to gush about their achievements and global impact any more, you see their names pop up and already know what they have managed to accomplish, despite their speech disability, which obviously, was not a permanent scar of some sort and with time was overcome.

So all those humiliating Anant Ambani for the way he spoke at the event, relax people, he is just 22, he has time and a world of opportunities on his side, and irrespective of how he fared in his first grand public appearance at the moment, know that he’s already winning it, because he has started on the journey to glory and success by taking that first big step.

Trust, that everything else will fall in place eventually, because that is how it always does.

The Curious Case of Zaira Wasim

A video of the actress having suffered molestation in the flight has been doing the rounds of late. When it comes to sexual harassment, where do facts end, and fiction/assumption begins? Read on to know more about it!

Disclaimer: I’ve almost picked a side, after dearly hoping it weren’t this way. But then I got a mind, that doesn’t quite agree with the popular, rigid narrative.

A little background

The first time the world was introduced to this 17-year old from Srinagar was a year ago in December when Dangal (under the banner of Aamir Khan Productions) released worldwide.

The rare display of talent and a nuanced performance in a film revolving around wrestling, no less, Zaira Wasim burst into the halls of India’s tinsel town in the quietest way possible, intriguing even the harshest of critics while surpassing the perfectionist Khan himself.

Just so you don’t write the actress off as a fluke or a one-off wonder in Bollywood’s fleeting landscape, she proved her mettle again in the endearingly crafted Secret Superstar ( October 2017), quite literally overshadowing mentor and fellow powerhouse performer Khan.

Since star success is not just reliant on stellar performances alone, but largely dominated by how many bums on seats a movie can draw in, we know Dangal went on to become the highest-grossing Indian movie overseas (a whopping 2000 crores!!) while smashing just as many records in the home country itself! Same can be said for Secret Superstar that went on to become the fourth-highest grossing Bollywood film in the international markets in addition to its commercial success in the home turf, all on a budget of Rs. 15 crore.

This kind of unexpected, massive fame in such a short while and at a tender age as hers; heck, a national award in her debut performance itself is nothing short of magic, and can easily turn someone’s head around. Couple it with a YouTube/Insta/Twitter/Facebook obsessed regular teen’s ambition for rapid fame, and you have an adolescent heading towards delusion and an imminent fall, which could well be just as dramatic as the rise was.

Zaira will have none of it – ‘the trappings of fame’- so to say. At least that’s what I used to believe till a few days ago, till the memory of her recent interview with film critic Rajeev Masand was dominant of the image I had of her in my mind.

Dressed crisply in a white vest and a black-and-white striped jacket of sorts, she shoots off responses like she owns her being, and that entertainment space where she is a mere newcomer, but with a poise and grace unmatched by even experienced artists in this realm. Not one of her answers sounds doctrinated (well, she’s a brilliant actor too, so you never know, but let’s give her the benefit of doubt, shall we?), and not once does she falter, not once does she give away her power, even when Masand asks her a couple click-baity questions ;).

I was truly bowled over….

Until a video of the starlet having allegedly suffered molestation by a passenger on a Mumbai-bound flight did the social media rounds barely a week ago, largely unsupported by facts and necessary evidence – making me question, for the first time, if Zaira indeed was as unaffected by the spotlight as she portrays herself to be.

How the drama unfolded

The video that she shot herself while in the flight to capture the ‘molestation’ does show the accused’s (Vikas Sachdeva) foot hanging loosely by Zaira’s side (not moving though as per Zaira’s allegations); the little footage that we have access to is certainly insufficient to substantiate an accusation as grave as the one made here.

 

 

 

 

Airline Vistara promptly apologized for the ordeal Wasim had to suffer and let the public be known of its PR-drilled stand on the issue stating, “We have zero tolerance for such behaviour”, while initiating an inquiry into the incident, even flying two of its senior team members to meet the actress.

The accused was taken into custody by the police for further questioning, and as many as three charges under the IPC and POSCO were slapped against him.

Sachdeva’s wife, Divya Sachdeva on the other has cried foul at these allegations leveled by the Dangal star, calling it a “publicity stunt”, while offering a possible explanation stating, “His mama ji had passed away and he was not in the right frame of mind. He was feeling very low and asked for a blanket. He wanted to sleep. I am shocked at Zaira’s allegation.” I say Madame, this is not a valid enough reason to behave in this manner-less fashion in public.

But then again she raised some pertinent questions as well, demanding to know “Why did Zaira not raise an alarm then and there? Why did Zaira tweet two hours later? Zaira had her mother for company. Despite that, the two ladies chose not to make any noise, why?” This is a fairly reasonable doubt that has had no responses offered to it as yet.

Meanwhile, Twitter too went berserk over this incident, rushing out in support of the teen actress.

Sample these:

 

 

 

And even as netizens denounced such appalling instances of women harassment even in broad daylight and clamored to have the “culprit” punished, there were some who found the whole affair fishy and reserved their sympathy and encouragement for more “deserving cases” – in not-so-subtle terms.

A look at women’s rights activist Madhu Purnima Kishwar lets us know in harsh, unapologetic language that she isn’t buying any of this.

Even Vikas’s co-passenger came out in his defense, stating that while the suspect’s legs did touch Zaira’s armrest, he had dozed off immediately after being seated and had not misbehaved as alleged by the actress. Apparently, the man had also apologized to Zaira after the plane landed at Mumbai airport, post which the matter was reportedly settled.

What’s the verdict, then?

The last we know, Zaira’s mother refused to file a complaint regarding the alleged molestation on board (I wonder why though).

The latest update states Vikas has been granted bail by a Mumbai court today on a surety of Rs. 25,000. Seems the matter has been laid to rest, for the moment.

As of now, the public remains divided on whether the accused placing his foot on Zaira’s armrest really constituted molestation; I don’t blame the differing points of view offered on this incident, considering the first thing a rational human being (note: I’m not using the word ‘woman’) would first do is to politely ask the passenger behind to take their foot off the armrest.

I’ve done this in countless situations – in theaters, in airplanes, buses – and I believe so have others, before jumping the gun. Nine times out of ten, it has been a lack of basic etiquette that people suffered from, than the malicious intention of getting touchy with a stranger like me. But then, the few instances where I have called out deliberate sexual behavior also add to existing testimony that men do try to take advantage of the crowd, of the naivete of young girls and women, and many a time of their mislaid assumption that a woman can’t possibly draw attention to herself in public because of the shame involved.

The key here lies in discernment of a man’s true intention, a feat women don’t even have to accomplish since they’re already endowed with a powerful sixth sense no mansplaining can defy.

Her claims about the accused nudging her shoulder and moving his foot up and down her neck and back, sound illogical; primarily because it would have to come to someone’s notice at the very least, with co-passengers tightly seated around. I mean, I’m not sure how someone can pull this feat off in the presence of so many people around, the crew included.

And even if someone did dare, I cannot fathom why Zaira or any other girl in her position (irrespective of their celeb status) would not raise an alarm, considering at least some good-natured folks and/or the crew would step in to set the offender right in the plane itself. Having an unwanted strange-looking foot nudge you in your private space and enduring it for a good two hours or so, when you could have called for help doesn’t make any sense to me. Especially, when when you have your mother around!

This is also baffling, considering Zaira as a person does not come across as someone who can be shushed easily, or pushed into a corner where she sees no recourse. For a girl so forthright and self-assured, for someone who seems unafraid to speak her mind, it strikes me as odd that she should wait till the flight landed to make a video about it and cry about how “no one will help us if we don’t decide to help ourselves.”

It’s disconcerting as to why she didn’t try to help herself while on the flight as opposed to narrating her ordeal after deboarding the plane. The best help really would have been to turn around and confront the molester, shame him, even better -slap him, and ensure the passengers and the crew inside take notice and take appropriate action.

Lest my take on this be perceived as an attack on women empowerment and feminism, let me make it amply clear I do not wish to disregard the harassment faced by strong assertive women from all walks of life (circa the Uber scandal that came to light in February this year), and especially by women belonging to the entertainment industry, as has come to surface in the wake of Hollywood’s dirtiest scandal in recent times: the Harvey Weinstein saga.

By no means does being strong-willed, articulate and determined shield a woman in these times from getting sexually assaulted/harassed. Contrary to what one might think, the stakes in reality are higher for women who have tasted success and have been thrown into the glare of the public eye. Then again, this is also why it is so deeply traumatic for survivors to come out with their stories since they find themselves pitted against powerful men, with truckloads of moolah and a litany of connections,and can quite literally on a whim make or break their careers. Shame, guilt, and loss of agency continues to haunt even the most accomplished of women, only to crawl their way out years or maybe decades later.

We know the drill by now – the stakes are high.

And before you think I’m demeaning those women who aren’t as successful and established or have a platform at their disposal for airing their voice, or probably have no such “big stakes” well, I’m not even taking those instances into account, considering we’re talking about public figures here and cant wrap our heads around how bad  it can get for them, even with all the money, power and connections! Is it any wonder the rest remain restricted to simply being read as case studies or as mere statistics?

My point is – Zaira had nothing to lose and yet she did not raise an alarm right where it mattered most – in the flight. She effectively waited for the plane to land and recorded her ordeal, with tears streaming down her face. Not only does it betray the image she has already portrayed of herself in countless interviews this year, but also reeks of misplaced judgment as to what sexual harassment really means, and when you pair all the facts together, well, I hate to say this but it really does seem like a publicity stunt.

No, we’re not burdening her with being the torchbearer of women empowerment but not raising her voice where it did matter the most, but instead slipping into “victim mode” after a whole two hours, puts scores of other women at a disadvantage who might find actually themselves in similar situations but not react at the appropriate time because they feel safer being portrayed as victims and expecting help will somehow materialize; or worse, urge them into taking advantage of the feminism ride and accuse someone genuinely blameless!

Note: before I’m lampooned by people crying hoarse that “she is already do widely known, she doesn’t need to manufacture this kind of fame”, well, let’s not forget human flaws, the age we live in coupled and ambitious, driven youngsters bombarded with numberless opportunities to milk their constant hunger for fame.

In all likelihood, the man probably was sleeping, and at most, he deserves a telling off for sitting in an uncouth manner in an airplane, but definitely not being slapped with such grave charges for ‘molestation’, something he clearly did not engage in.

In this age of Instagram and Facebook fame, even the most innocuous thought/view/statement posted can have far-reaching consequences, some, that a mere two minutes of fame cannot even comprehend. Sharing an experience as traumatic as sexual harassment/molestation needs to be done responsibly, and not because one has a preconceived notion that men, are, across the board, just lusty animals and every accidental touch is an act of transgression deserving to be condemned and punished.

Ladies, let’s also hear the men out. By now we know what good touch and bad touch really mean. Yes, men can be uncivilized and stupid, but to paint them as sexual attackers/offenders in generic strokes goes a long way in defeating what feminism really stands for. Let’s not do that, because if we have honor, so do they. If we have a reputation and a public image, so do they.

Before I sign off on this really lengthy rant, here’s some food for thought. You really want to know how women can and should react if sexually apprehended by men in public? This video here (from more than two years ago) was recorded by a woman on a flight to Bhubaneswar, to shame this uncle who had reportedly tried to grope her through the gap between the seats. She raised a hue and cry. Right there. Created a scene. Made herself heard.

I believe the public shaming might have desisted the old moron from flying ever again.

But I also believe women, at least some of the time, have the power to change the drift of the wind in their favor.