Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Smile

He smiled at me, and I smiled back. It seemed to be the most polite thing to do. I couldn’t just ignore a smile and walk away. No one ignores a smile. Smiles are meant to be acknowledged or, at least, given a nod. That’s how things are meant to be. And therefore I smiled back…

I don’t remember seeing him before though I may have passed by him on numerous occasions. I’m sure if I’d some vague memory of a previous meeting I would have given him a broader smile. But there was nothing about him that suggested any such encounter. And so, for all accounts and purposes, he was a mere stranger smiling at me.

But for some odd reason I knew that wasn’t the case. It’s not that I remembered him, but it was the way he smiled. It was as if he knew who I was and was simply doing the polite thing by acknowledging my presence. He must have noticed my blank expression but his face didn’t reveal any disappointment in my not remembering him. He just shook his head, smiled and continued doing what he was doing while I walked away.

I turned back and looked. He was busy in his work, and he looked guiltily at me when he saw that I was looking at him. I don’t know what must have crossed his mind, but I waved back to assure him there was no problem. He looked somewhat relieved and wore a more confident smile this time. I was happy, too, because I wouldn’t have liked the man to suffer unnecessary tension because of my second glance.

I was only trying to jog my memory and not trying to find fault with him. But he had no way of knowing that because people in his position are rarely given the benefit of doubt. Or their innocence taken for granted. They are just there to be treated with utter indifference. And whose presence is acknowledged only when things go wrong.

After all, he was only an ordinary gardener tending the lawns while I was the man in suit taking a walk to clear my head. And your guess is good as mine as to who is taken more seriously in this lopsided world in which we live and have our being.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Citi-rant

Someone's gotta say it, and it better be me.

Something must be done about the queue in Citibank's Manama branch. It's not the standing in line that bothers me or the lack of proper space that aggravates me though these two factors do rankle a bit. But there's something else that's really and positively annoying.

I don't know how to put it more gently, but let me try anyway. I can't understand why some people just enjoy standing right behind anyone who's withdrawing cash, peering at their screen and then nonchalantly asking, if everything's ok.

Now if everything was not ok, I would do the rightful thing by contacting support or holler at the security guy and tell him the machine is not working. But do I really need 'help' from someone who's only interest in life is to check my 'available balance'?

If this had happened once or twice, I could understand if you think I'm over-reacting, but this seems to happen regularly especially when there is a long queue... now I don't know if some people believe surreptitiously checking someone's available balance is a fine way of killing time and boredom while standing in line, but hey, I don't like it.

The other day while withdrawing cash I had this man standing right behind me looking very curious, and I had to tell him to back off... he simply stared at me very blankly, smiled like a toad and walked away. Alright, let me clarify. I wasn't very blunt while asking him to back-off but I tried to be cheeky and asked him if the ATM booth was an amusement centre. I don't know if he got the sarcasm but thankfully he did back off.

Anyway, I just had to let off steam here, and I feel a lot better now. Excuse me while I go and withdraw some cash... :-)))

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Second-hand virgin

I don’t know if this qualifies for a heroic deed on my part, but it happened a few years ago and I’m still mulling over the underlying issues that were raised that day. It was an argument with a former colleague, and like all arguments it was quite silly to begin with and quite pointless, too.

My former colleague... well, let’s give him a name, shall we?... perhaps, Rudolph would sound better because that way no one will be able to guess his real identity. Anyway, Rudy and I were talking about long-term relationships and marriage because he thought he needed to talk about these issues with me since I happen to be single and he happens to be married, and well, he thought, I needed to do something to change my single status.

Why my single-status should be a source of concern to a colleague at work is something that I’ll never understand, but hey, that’s a digression.

Anyway, I told Ruddy that I don’t plan on remaining single forever but will only marry if and when I meet someone I want to grow old with, and someone with whom I can talk and not get bored. I thought that was a reasonably good explanation even if it’s me saying so, but Ruddy had to ask another question.

“Will you marry a girl who is not a virgin,” he asked, “or will you even consider a woman who had a serious boyfriend in the past?”

I didn’t think of this as a serious issue, and so I told him, “a woman’s past really doesn’t bother me unless she is still pining for her lost love, but if she is not, then, it shouldn’t matter.”

Ruddy couldn’t believe his ears. He thought I had lost it completely, and he became increasingly aggressive as I explained my position. And finally he questioned my manhood because I refused to take a firm stand against women with previous relationships.

I felt this argument was getting to be quite pointless, and wanted to look for an escape hatch and leave my colleague alone with his regressive views. But no, it didn’t end up that way at all because he had to explain his position and that made matters even worse.

He told me that a wife has to be a virgin because a real man must marry a woman who is untainted either physically or emotionally. And if any man does marry a woman with a past it’ll be like purchasing second-hand goods.

It took me a while to digest what he said and then, I told him that it was a load of bollocks. Not a good move because it only made him more furious. My point was, if it’s ok for a man to have relationships before marriage, then, why should such a big deal be made about women? His answer was that women are different because once they lose it they lose it forever, but then, I asked him, doesn’t the same apply to a man because once he’s done it, then, he can never do it for the first time ever again.

What really made me mad was this assumption that women were some kind of a product that must be acquired in its pristine form only. And that this product (for want of a better word) must be seen as a baby-making machine because, according to Ruddy, that’s the purpose of marriage anyway.

I felt sad for Ruddy not because he missed the whole point of marriage, which is lifelong companionship with someone you love, but more so, because he failed to recognize that women are, after all, people with feelings, emotional experiences and their own unique perspectives on life. What a sad life, I thought, if one has to live an entire lifetime without being able to relate with women as the human beings that they are.

But the really sad thing is. . . Ruddy is not alone. There are many more Ruddy’s out there who think along the same lines. It is these Ruddy’s who have given ‘men’ a bad name in the eyes of women everywhere. It is these Ruddy’s who seem to define gender equations… and I think it’s about time we say, ENOUGH!!!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Blank Noise Project

Blank Noise Project is an initiative by a group of Indian bloggers to highlight sexual harassment against women through a blogathon (of sorts). The idea is to get bloggers everywhere to talk about issues related to gender discrimination, sexual harassment and the like. And to ensure that everyone posts their piece on March 8, and send an email confirmation to the Blank Noise project people at their email address. This way, you are extending support to the cause and doing something about it, namely, writing about it

Last year the project was an incredible success because it saw both men and women talking and sharing their experiences. It was an eye-opener to see what women go through, and it was a revelation to find out that cities that were once considered 'safe' were, in fact, not.

This year, the theme is on "Action Heroes", and instead of me explaining what it's all about, I think, I'll post the email I received from them. And I hope many of you will participate -- I certainly will -- and let's do our bit to make our community gender safe.

Blank Noise invites you to participate in an online event-" BLANK NOISE ACTION HEROES"

On March 8 last year (Women's Day), we had a blog-a-thon of stories of street sexual harassment. The blog-a-thon was picked up by bloggers across India, and all over the world. We shared stories we had never shared before, stories we thought we had long forgotten, stories that we had often wanted to bury. We read each other, we linked to each other and we linked back to the Blank Noise Project blog. We were touched by each other's stories, and drew strength and sustenance from the the long, cross-cultural chain of shared experiences.

This year for Women's Day we're asking you to share experiences of times when you were an ACTION HERO and fought back against harassment. Blog about your experience, and let us know so we can link to you on our blog.

When did you flip a situation so you could resist, when did you give back as hard as you got? How did you choose to confront the situation? When did you become an Action Hero?

We hope that this response helps us understand the different strategies women (across age groups, cultures, and countries) have instinctively created to deal with street sexual harassment.

(If you're a male blogger, ask your female friends and relatives about their experiences.)

Here's how to participate:

1. blog your story (as soon as possible, and definitely before March 8!)

2. email the link to your blog post to blurtblanknoise@gmail.com with a subject titled "Action Heroes Online"

3. we will link to you right away!

And don't forget your non-blogging friends and family members -- we'd love to hear stories from your mothers, aunties and grandmothers!

If you're not a blogger, please feel free to email the action testimonials instead. We will upload them on a new blogsite. (WWW.BLANKNOISEACTIONHEROES.BLOGSPOT.COM)


Questions? Email us at blurtblanknoise AT gmail.com.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

Sujata, on behalf of Blank Noise

PS: PLEASE CIRCULATE WIDELY. THANK YOU.