Thursday, June 23, 2011

NOT a feminist rant

It has been months since a turbulent period of unrest has been ushered into the history of middle-east politics. The Jasmine revolution which started in December, 2010 in Tunisia and led to the downfall of the President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali's corrupt regime spread like wildfire in the countries of Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and so on. People united by their common goal of attaining freedom from oppression and other democratic liberties, continue to protest despite the violent crackdowns initiated by the army.

Protesters have been subjected to such brutal forms of torture by pro-government forces that many of those instances have landed up in the pages of international dailies, shocking the world beyond measure. Thousands have been shot dead.
In such troubled times, when the future of a regime or a dictator looks bleak and uncertain, women and even minors are being raped and sexually assaulted, to terrify the rebels into submission. If recent news items are to believed, Gaddafi, the Libyan head of state, has been ordering large quantities of Viagra for his soldiers, so that they can carry out his orders of mass rape without any glitches. Despite the fact that the Libyan regime has vehemently denied the charges(well duh!), and that during a war situation more lies emerge from the battlefield than not, the statements by Iman al-Obeidi, the victim of a gang-rape herself, and similar such reports, have atleast established the fact that rapes and acts of violence against women are quite a common method of intimidation used in such situations. A woman's chastity once sullied, the "honour" of the entire family is lost. Nothing is scarier to a man than the burden of a raped wife, daughter or sister.
In countries like Syria, sometimes such victims of sexual crimes, are abandoned by family so as to preserve the honor and dignity of her kin.

Closer home in my state, the Tata Motors-Singur unrest had claimed the life of a 16 year-old Tapashi Malik. She was gang-raped and then later burnt alive in 2006. The perpetrators, as it turned out, were CPIM goons and policemen aided the assault. The incident drew nationwide attention to the crisis brewing in Singur and the Trinamool Congress and other parties wasted no time in politicizing the atrocity and launching a vendetta against the Communists. This was no doubt the quickest way of instigating public outrage and win popular support against the misrule of CPIM.
Presently the 12 rapes within 3 days in Mayavati ruled Uttar Pradesh, seem to have offered the Congress with another glorious opportunity to criticize her rule and brighten their chances for the 2012 Assembly elections. But they seem to have conveniently forgotten about the burgeoning rate of crimes against women in Delhi, where incidents of  'eve-teasing' are as natural as the rising and setting of the Sun.
I could offer similar such examples of war crimes against women in every other nation.
But the point of my post is not to state the obvious. Rather to shed light on the fact that rape is not merely an act of individual violence during a war situation but a tactical tool used for political repression. Women are raped in order to shame an entire community and instill fear in the hearts of civilians.
The actual wrong-doers are seldom caught and persecuted in such cases while sympathizers turn out to be people looking to reap political benefits from such crimes or journalists scouting for sensational stories.

To the more fortunate members of society, such sordid tales are only considered news and statistics, worth being debated on twitter, facebook or elsewhere at work.
But every woman who is falling a victim to this kind of savagery must be just another woman like me, with her own set of colorful dreams and goals in life irrespective of whichever stratum of society she belongs to.

I'm scared to ask the following questions because I'm afraid I won't receive a decisive answer to any of them but....
Hasn't mankind progressed from the days of The Holocaust or the rule of the Soviet Union, characterized by outright denial of human rights?
How long will women continue to be trampled upon just because they're not physically strong enough to protect themselves?

Barbaric habits die hard it seems.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Men who hate women

Never has a book made me experience one too many conflicting emotions side by side. Never has a book managed to infuriate, astound, shock, disgust, terrify yet charm me at the same time.
The international best-seller named The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor(as it is known in Swedish) deserves every bit of the craze and the recognition it has achieved worldwide since its first publication in 2005.
I have about zilch intention of giving away even a brief overview of the plot but for the sake of a review I must. Hence.....

Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist and co-owner of the monthly magazine Millenium who had just lost a libel lawsuit filed against him by the Swedish business tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerström. His reputation at stake, he decides to distance himself from the magazine's management and publishing bodies. Around the same time he is offered a freelance assignment by Henrik Vanger, patriarch of the affluent Vanger family and CEO of Vanger Enterprises, which deals with cracking the mysterious case of his great-niece Harriet Vanger, who had disappeared without a trace 36 years ago. Facing a prison term of about 3 months and no better alternative in sight, Blomkvist decides to take up the job. 
At the same time we're introduced to the other protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year old, introverted, delinquent-like woman whose outward physical appearance replete with piercings and tattoos, repel most people she comes in contact with. An ingenius hacker who is also blessed with a photographic memory, she has the ability of digging up little-known yet vital information about public figures and documenting them with uncanny precision. She is assigned to do a thorough background check on Blomkvist by an aide of Henrik Vanger's. Eventually in the chain of events, she comes to work as an assistant for Blomkvist and helps him solve the intriguing case of Harriet Vanger and uncover a long chain of gruesome murders and aggravated sexual assaults against women spread throughout Sweden in turn. 

To be honest, it is impossible to summarize an explosive novel like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in a paragraph or two. It will merely serve as an insult to the genius of Stieg Larsson, who has masterfully crafted a story out of the lives of Swedish corporate honchos, sexual sadism, misogyny, investigative reporting, journalistic values with a little bit of love thrown in as well.
Hence it is a book you must read no matter how much you cringe at the graphic detailing of some of the crimes depicted. In any case you'll be compelled to read on as the mysteries continue to deepen till the very end.
Going by the writing style, Reg Keeland's translation seems to have managed to capture the underlying darkness of the story. I can only imagine how Larsson's original narration must have been like.

There's a multitude of characters in the book and almost each one of them have been portrayed meticulously through their action or inaction. But none of them stand out as much as Lisbeth Salander's does. 
A victim of a violent sexual crime herself, she exacts retribution from her perpetrator in the most fitting way possible without having to resort to the law in which she doesn't place any faith in. Lisbeth is someone who'll hit back even harder and take control of a situation rather than be intimidated.
She is socially awkward, incapable of developing long-term relationships with people or trust anyone, possibly due to the nature of her abnormal childhood years. She is perceived as a mentally retarded, repugnant woman by most and her inner brilliance always goes unnoticed. But then again Lisbeth is not one to care about what other people think of her. 
It is possibly because Blomkvist deals with her like he'd deal with any other normal human being, that Salander finds herself  unable to treat him with the same calculated coldness she had always shown towards others.
Coming to the fallacies of the book, I must admit I couldn't find any. I was a bit surprised to find a mild love story angle developing towards the end as love is always an unnecessary baggage in thriller novels. However I understood the author's need to humanize Lisbeth, or atleast offer her some sort of a balm to cast a calming effect on her tormented soul which she skilfully conceals underneath a mask of stoicism. Nothing more apt than love to achieve such a purpose.

With the help of an inherently macabre theme of sexual violence, Larsson has tried his best to make the readers comprehend the brutality of a crime like rape or sodomy. And this seems to have been the main purpose of this book, given that Lisbeth's character has been named after a girl whom Larsson witnessed being gang-raped as a young boy.
All in all, the book deserves a 5-star rating in my opinion. 
Thank you Stieg Larsson for deciding to publish the novels, otherwise the world would've missed out on one of the greatest trilogies in the mystery/thriller genre ever written.


Saturday, June 11, 2011


Not having read her debut novel, I had no expectations whatsoever from Preeti Shenoy's "Life is what you make it".So when I took it up, my mind had been a completely blank slate with no pre-conceived ideas about her writing style.

The book begins on a melancholy note where our protagonist, the 21 year-old Ankita, is seen as a helpless patient at the doors of one of the nation's top mental health institutes. It is here that Ankita, the narrator, begins recounting the incidents that had brought her to such a pitiable condition at present.

The timeline of the book is set in the 90s and hence we find ourselves in the age of no cell-phones or internet or CDs. We see Ankita, a promising young lady of 18 and a student of St Agnes, sneaking into her parents' room in their absence just for a 5-minute conversation over the telephone with her long-distance beau Vaibhav. She is shown to be a normal college-goer, bright, enthusiastic and the Arts Club Secretary, in charge of co-ordinating and organizing cultural events. It is during one such inter-college cultural festival, she meets up with Abhishek, who instantly falls for her charms and begins to woo her. Initially a reluctant Ankita stalls because of Vaibhav, but at the same time she can't help herself from liking the good-natured Abhi. As she begins a relationship with him, Vaibhav's presence takes a backseat in her life.
Time passes by and at the fag end of her graduation, Ankita makes it to a prestigious B-school in Mumbai, having done well in her MBA entrance exams, but Abhi does not. He insists that they study together at a not-so-reputed institute in Cochin instead but Ankita remains adamant on going to Mumbai. She breaks up with Abhi one morning, drunk on her aspirations of success, only to wake up a day later to the news of his death in an accident.
A guilt-ridden Ankita, blames herself for not having dealt with her lover with more sensitivity but leaves for Mumbai  nonetheless.
A new city instills in her a desire to start afresh as she gets a new high from studying late nights and engaging herself in her coursework completely. But in between the most productive periods, she exhibits reckless behavior, by kissing a class-mate in a cab or dancing on the parapet in a bout of frenzied madness.

Things go rapidly spiraling out of control from this point onwards as Ankita slowly gives into her inner turmoil, and her self-destructive urges surface. Her distraught parents drag her from one psychiatrist's clinic to another but with little or zero results finally ending up at the mental health institution . It turns that Ankita suffers from bipolar disorder, a mental condition where a person goes through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The rest of the book deals with how Ankita is cured of her malady and how she rediscovers what life is all about.

The basic premise of LIWYMI lies in the age-old optimistic philosophy that life goes on. Even when you are down in the dumps, with no hopes whatsoever of recovering what you lost, you still can and possibly acquire even more.
And this is illustrated in the most realistic way possible in the book.

The book has a relatively smooth narrative but then again it takes too much time to arrive at the point. Strangely enough I was unable to feel much empathy for Ankita when she was distressed. She appeared to be downright selfish throughout.

What I disliked the most was her inept handling of her love life. She gets into a new relationship while Vaibhav is clearly left in the dark. She doesn't even make much of an attempt to inform her new lover of Vaibhav's presence either. This is nothing but a mild form of two-timing. 
It's also difficult to say whether she was genuinely in love with Abhi as it seems she got into the relationship, finally giving in to his persistence.
The part dealing with Ankita's recovery appears to be rushed and the difficulties that she goes through do not seem to evoke much of an emotional response, atleast not in my opinion. We get to know very less of the kind Dr Madhusudan, who plays a pivotal role in helping Ankita get over her fears. I wish the author had spent a little more time in fleshing out his character. 
Although full marks to her for pointing out that an MBA isn't equivalent to salvation in life. And that you can strive for excellence in a field you're more comfortable with.
All in all I give it 3 out of 5 stars. As I liked it. 
And to conclude it wasn't a bad read at all.
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Part 4 - Rewind

I've decided to revive the series I had been writing earlier. For some reason I discontinued it, assuming it didn't generate enough interest also 'cause I didn't have time earlier. But lately I've been getting requests on Facebook and elsewhere from blog buddies to continue the story. So here's the next part. Enjoy!
For newcomers, the story so far -  Part 1 - Distance
                                                          Part 2 - Am I a stalker now?
                                                          Part 3 - Catharsis


"How much you got?" I ask her in a mildly apologetic tone, pointedly looking in the direction of the canteen where two guys from my class are engaged in a mini wrestling match over a can of Coke.

I sense her furious gaze on me but I feign ignorance.
After what seemed like years, she looks away and empties out the contents of her purse on the plastic table while I take out my smart phone and play with the touchscreen interface in an effort to appear unconcerned.

"Three hundred twenty-four bucks" she says after a minute.

"I guess that's about enough. You said you got a hundred?"

"Yeah." I look up at her finally with a guilty smile.

"Why are you such a scatterbrain?"
She almost looks like an Angry Bird, when she scowls.
Cute in other words.

"I....err..just didn't check how much......"

"When do you EVER check? You wake up at 10 in the morning, then rush to class like a madman. How will you get the TIME for anything?"

"Huh? Stop finding fault with every little thing I do. If you're that pissed off, let's not go in the first place." I perk up.

"I want to watch the movie today. And I got no free time this coming week or the next one." She softens her tone.

"Stupid effin' part time job." I mutter under my breath.

"Atleast I get PAID unlike a certain self-proclaimed rich boy who forgets to bring enough money with him on pre-planned dates. And stop swearing so mu..." she counters.

"Self-proclaimed? when have I ever bragged about being rich? ..." I cut across.

"Yeah yeah....alright. You are rich anyway. So let's drop this discussion...."

"Well you were the one who brought it u....."

"Alright now let's go......we'll be late." she drags me by the sleeve of my Tommy Hilfiger and urges me to get up.

That's Avni for you. She is always precise, always to the point, always the one in control.
Someone who values the importance of a moment even before it comes into existence. To her, time spent in engaging in verbal duels or casual banter, is equivalent to time wasted.
I wonder how someone as sensible as her could acquire a dangerous addiction like smoking. Good thing she has almost gotten rid of the habit now. My incessant nagging can work wonders after all.

It is a Hollywood rom-com again. Movies I really hate. I'm more into horror, mindless gore and thrillers.
I choose to watch her instead, she is infinitely more interesting to me right now - the way her hand unconsciously digs into the tub of popcorn and makes its way back to reach her soft mouth, the way her eyes are glued to the screen betraying no other emotion but complete involvement in the plot.

Her hair is never in place, seldom neatly tied back in a ponytail. She doesn't use any make-up unless it's an obligatory appearance at a social or formal event.
She doesn't dress impeccably either. The term "casually chic" can best describe her fashion sense. I see her mostly in faded jeans, full-sleeved single-color tees with witty one-liners printed on them and kurtis in muted shades.
No skirts. No dresses.
But even then she is pretty. Undeniably so.

"Stop staring at me...." she says all of a sudden looking at me with the faint hint of a smile.

"Don't want to." I whisper back.

"Suit yourself." She turns her attention back to the movie.
Typical Avni. Unromantic and impervious in key moments.

All of us get into a relationship with pre-conceived notions about love. We have reasons for each one of our actions. Nothing is without a meaning or purpose. We deliberate on how best to behave with the other person, how much vulnerability we can or cannot show. How much to give and how much to extract in return.
But somehow whenever I'm with Avni I feel as if all rules of dating can go to hell.
I've had girlfriends before too. Girls who only saw my credit cards, my "good guy" persona, my designer wear and collection of gadgets. None of them were as rude to me as Avni always is.
None of them would scold me either for being such a slacker. None of them were bothered about the fact that I feel nauseous inside an elevator.
Avni is. She holds my hand whenever we're inside one.
And that is why Avni is much more beautiful to me than any of them will ever be.

"I'm sorry for shouting at you earlier." she says interrupting my chain of thoughts, eyes still on the screen. She goes on to add "That however doesn't change the fact that you're pathetic, Gaurav." matter-of-factly.

I smile inwardly. I want to say so many things right now, but then I'm not as good with words as Avni is.

"Stay with me always."

I open my eyes and try to focus on the only source of light in the dark theatre. While I was busy reminiscing, I seem to have missed about 15 minutes of the action movie I'd have killed to watch 6 months back. Now I couldn't care less about it.
My friends seem to care very much though. They're eyeing a skimpily-clad babe running at top speed with a rifle in hand, with earnest interest.
Memories come back to me more often than I'd like them to. Hurtful ones. And yet I'd rather conjure them up one by one, see them playing out right in front of my mind's eye, and relive those moments of spontaneity again and again.

"Stay with me always."

That's what I had said to her back then. I can't recall whether it had sounded like a plea or a command. All I remember is that she had given me a look full of mild surprise at the moment I said it.

But anyway, that doesn't matter right now. For whatever it may have sounded like, it had gone unheeded in the end.

---> Part 5 - Contact

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