Saturday, February 10, 2007

The day I became a 'babe'

The other day I felt what it was like to be a woman, and I didn't like it.

A total stranger messaged me on Yahoo, and expected me to respond. I ignored, but the man wouldn't take no for an answer. He persisted with his entreaties and then, finally, asked, 'what's up with you, babe?'

This was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I was angry and furious. So far I kept refusing him with a polite 'no' but this had gone too far. How dare he calls me a 'babe'? How did he simply assume that I was a woman? Or that I like being called a 'babe' if I was a woman? Who gave him the right to talk to me like that?

I blocked him but he kept finding a way of coming back and pestering me or - to be precise - hitting on me. I don't know what gave him the idea that I was some sort of a femme fatale, or that femme fatales enjoy such insane levels of attention. But he was relentless, and I felt.. humiliated.

And then, I realised that many women go through the same - or worse - humiliation on a daily basis. If I felt bad about this man's virtual invasion of my personal space, then, what about all those women who have to endure the leering and catcalls of strange men on a daily basis? Why strange men alone, but aren't there many in offices and social circles who feel it is their divine right to analyse a woman's anatomy in great detail and then fornicate with their gaze?

I know many women who feel uncomfortable walking the streets alone because of the way some men stare at them or hit on them. And there are others who hate going to their offices because of the way some colleagues give them the looks. It's rather sad that women have to go through this kind of ordeal almost daily, and I'm amazed at how some of them have managed to control their fury and not give in to the violent response, which these men deserve.

Obviously, the problem has more to do with upbringing than cultural factors that are usually blamed for such behaviour. Culture is easy to blame if it's the 'other' at fault because it leaves our culture safe from any accusation. Now I don't deny that there are certain cultures that have a deeply ingrained male chauvinism at a very foundational level but that's a whole different can of worms that I'd like to get into at some later day. However, whatever be the culture, I'm sure, good parenting is a more effective method in teaching young boys how to treat girls with respect. It starts young. If children are taught the value of respecting each other, then, they'll grow up with a more wholesome value system when they are adults. They are unlikely to think of women as objects to humiliate but as people to honour and respect. At least, that's what one hopes, but that'd be a worthy goal to pursue.

As for me, I could only look for ways to 'ignore' this pest and he, being a virtual creature, I knew there was a degree of safety because I knew that he wouldn't be able to attack me in real life. But for many women, this kind of horror is not a virtual experience... it is for real. And if my experience is any indication, then, I'd hate to be in their shoes because it's truly scary.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The End?

How do you delete names from your address book?

The obvious answer would be to highlight each of the names and delete them one by one with well calculated precision. But what do you do with names of people - close friends, in fact - who are no more? Is it equally easy to eliminate their names from, perhaps, the last bastion of their remembered presence? Would it be a very cruel gesture that borders on disrespect to their memory?

I never thought I'd ever have to face such a dilemma, but today while sorting out my Yahoo Address Book, I realised I needed to arrive at some decision. It wasn't as if the issue had not crossed my mind earlier, but each time I postponed the matter for the next time because I simply didn't want to press the delete button on some people who mattered a lot while they were alive.

However, today, I could see that my Yahoo Address Book was rather bloated and needed to be trimmed and whipped into shape. It was getting unmanageably and humongously huge and some urgent measures had to be looked into so that it'd be easier for me to have ready access to all the 'important and necessary' addresses and get rid of those that were not in use.

Now it was easy to delete the names of some people whose friendship did not stand the test of time - for whatever reasons - and getting rid of their names did not require a herculean task. It was a piece of cake, really, and more so because there were not many in that list anyway. However, it was only when my cursor moved around the names of those who were deceased that I stopped.

Logically I ought to delete their names from the list because I do not email them or message them and it's unlikely that I'll ever do so again for the rest of my life. But I didn't want to simply delete their names as if they were just names on a list that needed to go because the list needed updating. It just didn't seem right to do that. It seemed rather cruel and heartless and... merciless.

The four people in my address book who have passed away were very special because they made a qualitative difference to my life. George Ninan was a spiritual mentor who showed me that faith could be integrated in one's professional life without making us look either super-religious or super-crazy. Lina was a friend who knew how to encourage and was someone we could easily depend upon. Raju, my cousin, was one of the very few relatives that I enjoyed meeting whenever I visited Bombay (which was not often) because of his ability to remain in good humour and to express brotherly concern. Samir, a close friend who died in the horrific dhow disaster last year, was always ready whenever a party, movie or a picnic was planned and will always be remembered for being able to strike a balance between being fun loving and upright.

These were people, who in their own way, influenced me to be a little better than what I could be. Their ability to be there no matter what cannot be forgotten that easily. They were friends in the true sense of the term, and their death is a loss I feel even today. These were people who cannot be replaced, and all I can do now is to be a friend to others the way they were to me.

In the meantime, I think, I'll postpone updating my address book because deleting their names would signify the end of something valuable from my life, and I do not wish to do that at this moment. All I have now are memories and the address book, in many ways, was the last communication link I had with them. If I cut that, then, I'll be cutting a lot more than I want to... so I have to wait till I'm ready. And till then, all I can do is wait and wait and wait.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Place Called Lamsheh

Last night I remembered Lamsheh.

It was a country that I'd created when I was six years old, but reality intervened and soon I abandoned it in search of more plausible pastures. I shouldn't have, but I did so anyway because it seemed to be the most appropriate thing to do at the time. And like most appropriate things in life, it was, I must say, a very half-hearted gesture because, for some reason or the other, I just couldn't take Lamsheh out of my mind. It just remained there like a persistent mole.

Lamsheh was an island because it had to be one. It couldn't be anything else. And I didn't want it to be anything else. An island has individuality unlike those countries that are attached to the mainland. An island floats on its own and its borders are not marred by the groveling demands of neighbouring landmasses. Hence, Lamsheh became an island out of sheer necessity because it couldn't be grouped with any other land formation. It just was and became... Lamsheh, a world of its own.

The flexibility of the country's cartography, on the other hand, made it easier to mould its landscape any which way I wanted. A mountain range could be flattened into a beach resort, or a desert could be sprouted with a deep forest cover. Or a river could be forced into the terrain like the way blood vessels rush through one's veins. Anything was possible, and it all depended upon my mood or on whatever it was that tickled my fancy at that point of time. It was exciting as only a sculptor would know while chiseling out a man from a stone.

However, I chose a more tangible canvas for which my toys became my brush. Two of my construction sets became the building blocks of a city that began to take shape from one end of the carpet to the other. I named my capital city Hamilton for reasons I still cannot fathom. My matchbox cars and GI Joe trucks provided vehicular movement through the city while I supplied the sound-effects. Hamilton, also, had an airport and my toy planes - Concorde, KLM and a helicopter - kept it busy and occupied.

Obviously, a country like Lamsheh needs citizens, and I emptied my brother's chess set for this purpose and had all the pawns, bishops and knights moving around the city and interacting with each other like some type of super intelligent lab rats. I made up stories and plots, created conflicts and battles, and engaged all my toys in this epic story-telling that became part history-in-the-making, part fable, and part war zone where I could push the events into more action-packed scenarios.

I was so much into Lamsheh those days that, I remember, I used to be busy writing and planning each and every tiny detail of how I wanted the country to be. Sad to say I've forgotten quite a bit but I do remember one thing, and that is, I intended Lamsheh to be the only country in the world which was to have cartoons on all the television channels 24/7. There was to be no grown-up programmes on the telly, and certainly, no lovey-dovey stuff where men and women go yucky with each other. Sigh. How times change.

I don't why I remembered Lamsheh the other night. I know I can never ever bring back Lamsheh that once existed in my mental geography. That Lamsheh has disappeared with my childhood and has taken with it the naive innocence that once punctuated my world view. If I make a new Lamsheh now it won't be the same because it would be a grown-up world with grown-up issues and grown-up concerns and grown-up stories that frown upon happy endings.

And that was what Lamsheh was all about. Happy endings all the time. Even the worst conflict could be resolved without batting an eyelid. Nothing was too complicated in Lamsheh land, but today, everything seems to be a challenge and a hurdle.

Maybe I need to go back to Lamsheh after all.

Maybe all of us need a little Lamsheh in our lives.

Maybe a Lamsheh could still be created out of what we have today.

Maybe it's possible. Maybe, and I mean, just maybe.