Sep 152016
 

I wrote this for She the People, earlier this week

Many years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s, dystopian novel, Handmaid’s Tale. Set around a plausible tomorrow, it looks at a world where fertility has plummeted, and there are a special category of women   who are kept especially for reproductive purposes. As I read the “Politics of the Womb” by Pinki Virani a frightening today began to emerge. Where there are women, whose only value to the world seems to be the eggs that she produces, the uterus that she has, and the womb that she rents.

A riot, in very slow motion, is being engineered on the woman inside her body; to take her apart, part by profitable part.

The slow rampage is in the name of God – for hers is the womb and she shall conceive.

In the name of science – for hers is the hostile uterus and medical evaluation must arbitrate. ……The world over, the combined might of religion and science has converged to martial many a uterus with a child. At any cost; to the woman, to her baby.

The opening lines of Pinki Virani’s long hard look at the surrogacy industry, hits you in the gut, and pulls you into a narrative structure that takes you into the universe of uterus pimp; the woman (who is the walking uterus; IVF clinics that charge, and charge, and charge;  the desperate, would be,  parents who want to have a biological child; and the mad rush for designer babies. Politics of the Womb – The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies is both a behind the scenes look at the new industry that seems to have grown without regulation;  the ethics of such work; and a normative framework for regulation. It is also a manifesto of the rights of the unborn child. Someone has to speak for the child, and Ms Virani makes a very strong case for children born of IVF.

 

The books looks at how expensive  IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment  is being pushed as the first option, on desperate parents, when there are a gamut of other options, that could spare the prospective parents both an expensive bill, as well as physical and mental trauma. There is between 72-80% failure rate per IVF cycle. Less than a third of people who start the IVF treatment, come away with a baby. The costs-  financial, physical and emotional – are seldom publicized or discussed. And, all this in the backdrop of an  industry that sells a myth of fertility, and downplays the medical risks both to the mother and those that may occur to the child. Virani  looks at the data surrounding IVF and birth defects, that leads to children being born autistic, and  with mental retardation. The risk of babies conceived through Ivf or Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is 37% higher than babies conceived naturally. “Collateral damage” says a doctor, on the side effects, and birth defects.

Virani’s anger against the commoditization of the uterus, and its commercialization, is palpable. When she quotes doctors, involved in the baby making business,  she lets their callousness and utter disregard for the woman’s body, and the reproductive process , stay there unvarnished. “What is a uterus, it is like a room. Repaint, redecorate any number of times”’, Virani quotes a doctor saying.

Surrogacy is in the news of late, because of the bill being discussed in Parliament, as well as the Government’s banning of commercial surrogacy. In light of the high pitched conversations around this topic, it might be worthwhile to read the “Politics of the Womb” to look at the issue in a holistic manner.

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(Politics of the Womb; The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies; by Pinki Virani; Viking; Rs 599; Pages 304)

Aug 242016
 

Speaking to The Indian Express, Maneka said, “Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”

I am appalled by the minster’s statement. There are men, and men, and men.

In an extended family set up, where there are other people who can help with the child, or with the mother – i can still imagine what she saying to be true (not really, but i am willing to give her the benefit of doubt). But, in nuclear families, and much of employed India is moving there, new fathers are increasingly playing a role in the nurturing of their new born, bonding with it, helping his wife – who is recovering from the delivery, and so on.

Many moons ago, my father did everything except ‘breast feed us’ (my mother’s words, not mine). I have seen my male friends and cousins do much the same – be doting fathers, cooing over their kids, fussing over their wives/partners, run around and do chores, open the door when the bell rings incessantly, and more. My driver, took time off when his kids were born, to help around the house. I have seen men across socio-economic groups do this. For a man to bond with his family, is important. Part of it is work. the other part is empathy, and sharing, caring. If the minister wants to build a more gender equal society, she needs to throw her weight behind paternity leave.

I think men will be better fathers, if they bond with the new born at a younger age. Better husbands, by looking after their spouses in the post recovery time. Be all round better people, if given the time off to be so. I would rather not have men lie about sick leave for this, but take something that is owed to them as right.

To write off all men as those who will treat “paternity leave” as holiday, is the same kind of gender stereotyping women have been fighting against. As a feminist, as someone who supports gender rights – i can’t but support the right the of the father to bond with his family.

Maybe, the Minister can use her good offices and get TV shows, and ad producers to create positive messages around a new father. And, how he dotes on his new born (and most do). Rather, than write off all fathers are lying layabouts.

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Jun 062016
 

Most mass media practitioners will tell you that classical music is elitist. that it is mean to be enjoyed in rarified atmospheres, with others in their social class. There is a general perception that mass audiences will not enjoy classical music. And, that, ‘mass’ is defined as lower socio economic classes.

54f3d7137fa52ef85622ab2adcead570Like most mass audience assumptions, this is untrue. As children, even as young adults, when we went for concerts – usually open air concerts in various grounds across Mumbai, what you would see is a sprinkling of people across classes – auto rickshawallahs to CEO’s and promoters – sitting next to each other, and just becoming part of the music.

Consistent litigation, and the banning of open air, all night concerts – i have been to one, at shivaji park,  where it began with a puriya (at 7 pm, and ended with an Aahir Bhairav at dawn), – and consistent middle class intolerance with other people enjoying themselves; as well as judicial intervention has led to the mass dissemination of classical, and mass participation, declining. Also, it has led to a decline in innovative solutions for noise pollution.  There are technical ways of limiting sound within a given perimeter. Ban is so bloody binary. solutions are so much more interesting.

But, i digress. One of the reasons why classical is considered elitist, is because we – mass media professionals – like stereotyping our audiences. If you are 16-18 you must be a cool chaser; if you are young, you must want edgy and rude; if you are a guy you must want to watch other guys talk about sex; if you are a girl, you must talk about men, kids and make up. Which tells you why there is such a rate of churn on shows, and why so many films flop. Formula work, till a point that they don’t work. And, in today’s market, most tried and tested formulae are failing.

Unfortunately, audiences are people And, people are complex. And, in a digital world, these assumptions are not just wrong, but to work with them, is suicidal stupidity 🙂

Just as a case in point, here is a video from America’s got talent. Hear the singer (from the second minute) and more importantly, watch the audience. And, note your own reactions to the song. And, tell me, you won’t mind sampling, watching or listening to stuff like this

Laura Bretan sings.

Btw – this is Pavarotti with Nessun Dorma –

i don’t understand a word of what he says, but the music my soul understands.

 

May 092016
 

I am possibly the last generation that grew up with an oral tradition. Our grandmothers, and parents, would tell us stories from the puranas, the epics, and of sages and saints, to inculcate values. I am not quite sure that we, as children, saw them as value systems, they were just good stories. As we grew up, we imbibed those values, and those became the bedrock of our lives – the theist and the atheists in the family.

Among the stories we heard, were why we observe certain days as ‘auspicious’. And, since today is akshaya Tritiya , it seems apt that i put some of my more favourite stories’ down.

The Goddess of Grains and food, Annapurna, manifested herself on this day. As kids we were told, that if we waste food, Annapurna would be sad, and go to the banks of the river and cry. And when she cried, the waters from the rains would dry up, there would be drought. The thought of a goddess crying was so traumatic, that, i don’t think any of us (siblings or cousins) wasted food.

The other story, that has stuck in mind, was that of the Akshaya Patram. The Pandavas receive it as a gift, and it gave enough food for the six exiled members. And, given it’s nature, it would give food till the point that Draupadi, after feeding her husbands, ate. Once Durvasa (the sage with anger control issues) turns up with his followers at the Pandavas doorstep, after Draupadi has eaten, and demands to be fed. Durvasa was prodded by the Kauravas to make the visit. Food is over. And, there is no possibility of food for so many being made ready, in the time taken for the the rishis to perform their ablutions before the meal. Draupadi calls out to her friend Krishna (and I use the friend specifically, because that was the nature of their relationship). Krishna appears, and tells Draupadi he is hungry, and she should bring the Akshaya Patram. He finds a single morsel of grain stuck to the vessel. He eats that left over morsel with immense satisfaction. And, the hunger of the world is sated. Durvasa and his disciples go away, without returning to the Pandavas abode, because their hunger is sated. It was another set of lessons – the first was on the importance of a single morsel of food. The second, that for God, even a single morsel of leftover food, given by those who love him, was as important as all the feast and riches that you could offer.

The story of Sudama and his offering of poha, to Krishna, is another story we heard. We were told, God does not expect great offerings. The poorest person’s offerings, with all devotion and love, is as great (if not greater) than the greatest riches on earth. Even today, while we boil milk, or make food, or eat food – we utter  ‘brahmarpanam‘  (we offer to the universe, what we take from it). I still get goosebumps when i read the story of Sudama and Krishna, and the sheer simplicity of faith and love.

And, the final story is from the life of Adi Shankara (and we are followers of this tradition in Hinduism). The story goes that Adi Shankara is out begging for food (as mendicants did). Bhavati bhiksham dehi,  he would say before each house, and the lady of the house would give alms (food) that would sustain him for one more day. One day, he goes to the door of a really poor woman, who has nothing, except old nellika (amla). Cringing with embarrassment she offers that to him. He is so awed by her generosity, legend has it, that he composed the Kanakadhara stotram, right there. The roof opens up and showers riches in the form of golden nellis (amlas)  on the woman.

This is MS singing the Kanakadhara stotram

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i wonder what kind of stories we will tell to generations that come, about Akshaya Tritiya . Will we tell them about conservation, not wasting, sharing, and thanks giving, or will it become associated for ever with marketeers and sales.

In the Hindu tradition that i was brought up in, Akshaya Tritiya is about sharing, about giving, about thanking the universe for it’s bounty. Somewhere, that has gotten lost in the ‘buy gold’ and consume. I think, as a matter of principle (and just to be cussed), i will not buy anything today 🙂

btw, this post was brought about by this

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May 082016
 

The communication from banks, for just about generations, is save today ‘bete ki padai, beti ki shaadi’. I am not even getting into the implicit sexism of this, simply because stereotypes work in advertising, and this is how India (and much of the world) was structured. Girls got married. The bride’s side paid for the wedding, and the gifts. And, that was that. There is enough and more literature on the financial and peer pressure on the bride’s family to meet up with ‘standards of weddings’, and I am not even talking about dowry.

It impacts all socio-economic groups, and while the amount may vary, the financial load is there. And, this is not an Indian problem alone.  Across most of the world, the bride’s side has picked up the tab for weddings, though that is changing slowly. I know of enough and more instances, where families on both sides have split expenses.

But, saving for a wedding and borrowing for a wedding are two very different things. We have heard of people borrowing so that ‘ apni beti ki shaadi dhoom dhaam se karenge’ and most of those stories have come to a bitter end. Some of those farmers debts that we read about, are also for these kind of expenses (not just crop related) – as, i said earlier – the amounts may be relative, but it is a steep financial commitment.

Therefore when a leading bank puts out communication like this, it makes me see kind of red (to match their logo colours)

 

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In a country, where the pressure on the bride’s family to conform to ‘spending traditions’ is huge – this is a terribly irresponsible advertisement. Even, if there were no pressure, what is the bank suggesting – that the newly married couple start their life in debt for a single day event ?

Far more sensible would have been – we had a simple wedding, and icici helped us use the saved money (at a better rate) to buy a house. #justsaying