Guys.... don't say it!! I have been utterly wicked.... played truant....gone missing. C'est la vie! Not that you were absent from my thoughts. Main, non!! But my short and tres sweet trip to Paris and Montpellier left me ( oui, moi aussi!!!!!!) breathless. The adventure began at the airport itself when my bag didn't arrive. This was a disaster. It was 8a.m. and my hectic press schedule kicked in at 12.30pm. Plus, the launch of my book was the same evening. No bag. No clothes. I had nasty visions of myself looking like a character out of ' Les Miserables' , clad in rags at my own party. Okay, let's not get over-dramatic - clad in travel gear ( jeans and boots ). My husband offered to take me shopping instantly. Good of him. But.... my mean reaction was , "Oh yeah? And where would I get an antique Banarasi saree in Paris??" He did the next best thing - phoned Bharti Mongia of Air France in Mumbai. Two hours later, my bag got miraculously delivered to the hotel. Izzat bachch gayee! Saree mil gayee! Vive La Bharti!!!
You want to know about the rest of the trip.... the launch.... my speech etc.etc. right? RIGHT???? I didn't hear you......
Assuming you love me enough, and are dying to read the dirty details, I shall keep you holding your collective breath just a bit longer. A woman's gotta work when a woman's gotta work. Like right now. Besides, I am on a high.... and it has nothing to do with the champagne.
This appeared on sunday in the Times of India.
I was away in not-so-distant Dubai when Sonia’s Bill was pushed through with a voice vote. I say ‘Sonia’s Bill’ because it will eventually be known as that. Had Madam not bulldozed the Women’s Reservation Bill during this dramatic session, chances are another twelve years may have passed and our daughters would have been agitating for it somewhere down the line. Mind you, I have never been pro- reservations, believing, perhaps a little too idealistically, that focusing on educating our women en masse was a smarter route to take than reserving seats for a few in Parliament. Slower, for sure. But infinitely more worthwhile, if we are talking about a level playing field. Subsidies and quotas lead to a mindset that seeks concessions and favours. I loathe the idea of handouts. Women don’t need patronage. They need opportunities. And those can only come if we empower them via education. Sorry to make this a boring, single point mantra. But one just has to travel a little outside our teeming cities to understand how desperately disenfranchised ‘other’ really women are… and how hopeless it all appears …. yes, despite the historic Bill and the magic it promises to unleash, abracadabra ishstyle.
I don’t want to ruin the party and behave like a wet blanket while the euphoria is still on. But the truth is, we still have a majority of women who don’t have the foggiest idea that their lives are about to get transformed, thanks to India’s fairy Godmother, Sonia. The intentions of Team Sonia are great. But hello! Someone obviously forgot to tell the men about this startling development.
The same day as the Bill made its uneasy passage through the Rajya Sabha, I read a story about a man in Orissa who refused to take his wife ( and the mother of five children ) back after her three day trip to Delhi, where she’d gone to receive a very special award. She is a highly successful mushroom farmer whose name was recommended by government officials for the honour which she shared with a hundred other farmers from across India.According to reports, her labourer husband doubted her character after the trip , and remains adamant about his decision not to take her back .As for the award winner, she is bewildered and apologetic, insisting she had sought her husband’s permission to go to Delhi for the ceremony. Her mushroom cultivation will have to be on hold, till the poor woman sorts out this nonsense with her obstinate husband. What sort of a message does that send out to their kids??
I was on a panel discussion at the Dubai Literature Festival last week, during which this tricky issue ( Women’s Reservation Bill) was raised by the men sharing the panel. When I spoke up about the grim, ground realities and the sorry plight of our women, author and co-panelist William Dalrymple chortled and said he was surprised to note my comment since he’d only met ‘extraordinarily ballsy’ women in India! Wow! Lucky him.But which women was he talking about? Those divinely groomed ladies dotting Delhi’s salons? Mumbai’s soignee memsaabs? Kolkata’s coiffed mashimas? Chennai’s Kanjeevaram-clad Maamis? Or Bangalore’s foxy babes?? Sure. If one restricts progress to urban women professionals, the story looks pretty awesome. Mr. Dalrymple is spot on to label this tribe and describe us ( of course, I include myself) as ‘ballsy’. So we are. So we are. But this isn’t about just us, is it, Willy? And Soniaji?? And it certainly isn’t about the path breaking M.P.s who will make up those numbers and hit that percentage in parliament as and when.We are the well- heeled, well-groomed , supremely privileged few. We’ve always had it good. When was the last time, we sought our husbands’s ‘permission’ for anything? Or went without a meal? But yes, there are those even amongst us who put up with beatings, verbal and physical abuse and a lot else. But those are the choices we make. And eventually live with. This Bill has little or no relevance to our pampered lives. Which, ironically, makes it all the more important .No more tokenism, ladies.
Soniaji was uncharacteristically candid when she asked Lalu about his wife, and pointed out to the Neanderthal man that he himself was the father of seven daughters ( an entire mithai box). Why would he of all people , oppose the Bill?? Because he is Lalu. A politician first, a husband and father next. This is what we are going to be up against, no matter whether that person is a desi politico or a celebrated British author. Mindsets do not change because of a piece of paper.
I wonder about the award-winning farmer from Orissa. What will happen to her from this point on – will she say ‘to hell with you’ to the man who is questioning her character, and go back to her mushrooms? Will her children be taken away from her? Will she be ostracized by her community… other villagers? Will she lapse into depression, stop farming and beg her husband’s forgiveness? Will a modern day version of ‘vanvaas’ and an agni pareeksha be forced on her?
Will someone please tell this woman she is supposed to be ‘ballsy’?
Has anything changed since Valmiki wrote the Ramayana??
You tell me….