Yes, a few prizes for finding me in that crowd of CHILDLINE bachchas....
Haaaaash! Back on the blog after what seems like ages! My laptop had taken a chill pill and was comatose for a few days. I was taking it a little easy as well and giving my painful, swollen wrist a chance to heal. Was dying to tell you what I really, really thought of 'Dhobi Ghat' ( tomorrow's post - promise!). I spent a day in my favourite city (Pune), and that disrupted my writing schedule. Ate a terrific meal at the brand new, but largely deserted 'Ista'. Was delighted to meet up with Mumbai Chef Anthony ( 'India Jones' )who rushed into the kitchen and prepared an impromptu feast for the four of us. India's first 'Hermes' store has picked 'Ista' and 'Pune' as a location. That shows one hell of a lot of faith in both!
I spent a wonderful hour- and -a -half at the Strand Book Exhibition. It was for the launch of a very special book - Will Durant's 'The Case for India' ( written in 1930), translated into Marathi by Kalyan Varde ( a labour of love). It is a must read for anybody interested in history and Durant's passionate, power packed tribute to what he describes as 'the greatest civilisation on earth'. The contents may shock and pain the unwary. Most documented histories are suppressed , distorted truths. Here is an American intellectual's fearless version of what the British really did to us - just 68,000 of them in a country of 32 crore people at the time. I hope the book gets translated into all our regional languages so that our children finally learn what my generation was never told - the truth.
This appeared in The Week....
Nothing ‘diplomatic’ about this mess…
Years ago, I had a lady called Binabai working in our home. She was extraordinarily cheerful and good to have around when the children were growing up. Even though she was illiterate, her basic common sense had earned her a doctorate in my eyes. She had a solution for virtually every crisis and most of the time, her advice was sound and sensible. Strongly built and ready to work hard, she was my Rock of Gibraltar, especially on those days when I was low on energy and high on stress. One day she found me sniffling after some silly argument with my husband. She came up close and asked conspiratorially, “Did he beat you a lot?” My sniffling stopped instantly as I whirled around and said, “ Don’t be ridiculous! Beat me?? ME??? Are you crazy?” She shook her head and sighed, “I am not crazy. Men are like that. You are lucky your husband doesn’t raise his hand on you.” I launched into a speech on domestic violence and how crucial it was for all women to be aware of their rights… I lectured her about our laws, the role of cops, various social service organizations that protect victims.” Binabai was unimpressed and far from convinced. She pushed up the sleeve of her saree blouse and showed me a deep scar, “See this? My husband attacked me with a wood chopper… why? Because one of the chappatis I’d served him was burnt at the edges.” before I could react in horror to that, she opened up her hair which was tied in a bun and exposed her scalp, “Look at this gash – another attack with the chopper. This time for not washing his clothes properly.” Too pained and shocked to say very much, I just held her as we wordlessly communicated in the universal language of women – silence.
Binabai’s story came to mind while reading about the ‘wife-beater’ from London – senior diplomat Anil Verma. There are conflicting reports about what really went wrong between him and his wife Paromita, to create such a major diplomatic incident, but clearly something terrible must have happened. Paromita is not Binabai. She is an educated and empowered woman who works for the Indian Railways. If her claims are true, she mutely put up with physical abuse at the hands of her husband because he taunted her by saying nothing and nobody could touch him since he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Amazingly enough, she bought that bogus story and kept mum. Going by some of the reports, the turning point came when Anil flew into a rage over a X’Mas tree sent to their London home by Paromita’s relatives. A rage that made him attack his wife and harm her physically. Make any sense? Either the senior diplomat is a certified psycho, or someone is making up stories. Since he enjoys a minister’s rank and was once the private secretary of Pranab Mukherjee, it is assumed he will receive special treatment, and may waltz away after a token reprimand or two. Paromita who was ‘scolded’ by Rajendra Prasad ( deputy high commissioner) for going public with a ‘private’ matter, is in hiding at the time of writing, and is reported to have fled her Hampstead home with blood gushing down her face. There is an attempt to accuse her of dramatizing this incident since she wants to seek asylum in Britain and stay on. Even if that is so, she is not the one who has committed a crime. No matter what the provocation, if her injuries are anything to go by, Paromita deserves justice and Verma must be punished for his brutality. Will that happen? Will we have the guts to prosecute someone in Verma’s privileged position? Or will pressure be put on Paromita to withdraw the charges in return for a goody bag that includes perks that may sort out her visa issues?
This is but a solitary case that has attracted media attention because of the personalities involved. But for every Paromita whose story of domestic violence gets into the public domain, there are countless others who are forced to ‘shut up and put up’. The standard advice doled out to them is , “Don’t bring shame to the family.” What of those women? Who is there to fight their battle for them? Frankly, no one. So long as our society’s mind set remains stuck and warped, and women continue to be viewed as dispensable, replaceable, recyclable commodities, the Binabais and Paromitas in our midst will have to go to war on their own and pray for fair play or suffer wordlessly and wait for some sort of redemption in this lifetime… or the next one. Whichever way…. it’s a long, long wait and an endless journey with just a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark and narrow tunnel.