Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Twenty four hours later, my computer is good as new. All essential software installed, Windows updates installed and all files and folders completely intact. Boy, am I proud of myself! May I pat myself on the back for it. I am not a techie, far from it actually. But, I am gifted with the ability to wriggle out of the most inconvenient situations (ex. my computer crashing) with a lot of effort. So, it is done! And I am so thrilled that I managed to get it up and running without any major mishaps. Maybe I should have been a techie after all. ;-)
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Now, on with it. The one article that drew my attention was on the position of women in Islam. This particular article talks of the relationship between the veil and rape. It claims that a "rape epidemic" is sweeping Europe and that a direct connection between rape and Islam is irrefutable. It goes on to demonstrate, using the words of Imams and scholars, that Islam exhorts men to rape women if they are unveiled. What the hell? No thinking individual, irrespective of his knowledge is Islam, will believe that claim for a single minute. No religion, however conservative, would call upon pious men to rape women for the sin of exposing their hair. This article is only one among many that claim that Islam is inherently anti-women and that the civilised Christian world must rise in protest against it.
This is where I started raising a series of objections. First, Islam's interpretations are given by Imams and scholars, most of whom are men. Second, the Koran in itself may have undergone mutations over the centuries (don't quote me on it, I am only guessing). Third, most of the people who criticise Islamic practices are Christian and tend to continually refer to the Bible as proof. Most people would agree that the Bible was not translated into English and other vernacular languages until the 8th Century. By then, the original Hebrew Bible went through many transformations. It was inaccessible to the lay public for centuries and the Catholic Church had complete control over its interpretation. The position of women in the world's major religions is far from satisfactory. The Catholic Church still refuses to accept birth control and abortion that can empower women in more ways that one. Hinduism and its offshoots gave way to atrocious practices such as Sati. Women in Hinduism have long been treated as second-class citizens. A widow was forced to shave off her head and wear plain white, no matter how young she was, until the 1960s. The Christian Church, both Catholic and Protestant have been far from egaliatarian in their treatment of women since the Middle Ages. I don't know much about Judaism and so will not comment on the treatment of women by the Jews. The point is, women have always been treated as second-class citizens by every religion. Most of the time, the fault lies, not with the religion texts themselves, but with the interpretation of these texts by priests and clergymen, most of whom were men.
Why then do we take the moral high-ground while discussing women in Islam and pretend that it is the only religion that treats its women badly? Why do we demonise Islam and denounce it in intellectual conversations while turning a blind eye to the discriminatory practices that exist in our own religion. To me, that is simple hypocrisy. The problem is never with religion. It is with the people who practise the religion and interpret it to suit their personal interests. If we must protest, we must protest against all discriminatory practices in all religions and stop demonising Islam. But then, that's just my opinion. Maybe it is simply a politically-motivated campaign rather than a serious criticism of the status of women in religion. I do not know. Any answers are welcome.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
A friend of mine told me about a friend of hers, who is coming to France from Greece. This friend had a tough time figuring out the meanings of road signs in Athens because all of them were in Greek. Random thought: Maybe this is what people mean when they say "this is all greek to me!" Anyway, that made me think about the situation back home. As far as I have seen, sign boards are largely bilingual in Chennai. I cannot say the same about Bangalore or Bombay. I remember trying to recollect my Hindi numerals, rather desperately might I add, in Bombay because someone told me to take bus number 63 and I could not figure out how the hell the numerals 6 and 3 are written!
Anyway, this is fast becoming a pointless rant because I have been on this post for so long that I forgot what exactly I wanted to say. Not to mention that I am being extremely random today. Maybe it is a product of the euphoria produced because I am going back home!!
Monday, June 18, 2007
I am not an economist and I will not debate the macroeconomic considerations behind calling India an emerging economy. As a student of Security Studies, I am more concerned with the issue of Human Security. And as a student of International Relations, I am more concerned about human development. So, here I am, asking the question I should have asked a few years ago during the BJP's "India Shining" campaign. How far can IT take us when nearly 30% (maybe more) of India's population is illiterate? What do IT, computers and Internet mean to the one-half of India that has no access to drinking water? And finally, how does IT ensure the security and well-being of the citizen, thus bringing into focus the issue of human security?
My immediate response to these questions is that it does not, in fact, contribute in any way to improvement of the lives of nearly 400 millions Indians who live below the poverty line. When I say this, I am not condemning IT or ITeS as unnecessary or pointless. I am simply observing that the money brought in by Indian multi-national companies (yes, they do exist) does not contribute effectively to improving the standard of living of the Indian masses. By masses, I do not mean the middle class and the upper middle class. I mean the real masses who live far away from bustling urban centres. It is easy for us, as Indians, to pat ourselves on the back for the rise of Indian multinational companies, not only in IT and ITeS, but also in other areas like steel, telecommunications and aviation. It is easy also to forget that India still ranks an abysmal 126 out of 177 countries, with a human development index of 0.611, according to the 2006 Human Development Report of the UNDP.
It is important to find out where we are going wrong. Indians often pride themselves on the excellent system of higher education that exists in India. We waste no time in reminding everyone that our IITs and IIMs are comparable to MIT and Harvard Business School. However, we tend to forget that the students of these IITs and IIMs are often from elite, private schools that offer world class secondary education. The HDR says that the combined gross enrolment ratio in primary, secondary and tertiary education is merely 63%. That means that nearly 40% or India's population has never been to school. How does economic development help the nearly 500 million people who have never stepped into an educational institution?
The problem lies here. It lies in the education sector. An emphasis on higher education and the existence of heavily subsidised universities and colleges serves no purpose if 40% of the country's population cannot afford access to the first 12 years of schooling that will help them get into these universities. The fees my parents had to pay during my school years clearly demonstrates this. When I was in Class 12, the final year of school, my parents paid nearly 10,000 rupees ($250) a year. This changed dramatically once I got to college. As I did history in an aided college, albeit autonomous, I paid something like 3000 rupees ($75) including maintenance fee that WCC charged for the upkeep of the campus. I would have paid about 700 rupees (less than $20) had I studied in a government college. At post-graduate level, my entire year's expenses, including exam fee, were no more than 2500 rupees ($65) at the University of Madras. How are people supposed to get to the stage where the government pays for everything if they can't afford the $250 a year for primary school in the first place? Government-run primary schools are so bad that even the lady who works for my mother as domestic help prefers a badly-run private school. In rural centres, the teachers rarely ever show up. In states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, schools are used to host local criminals and/or politicians. How will India ever really shine if primary education is so neglected?
I am not saying that economic development is a bad thing. In fact, economic development is essential to facilitate infrastructure building and education. However, the problem arises when higher education is given preferential treatment over primary education because of flawed government policy. The market in India does its job perfectly well: it creates wealth. The redistribution of the wealth thus created by ensuring access to basic public goods is the job of the government. Sadly, nothing seems to change in India. Every year, the Finance Minister offers sops to the IT sector and the services sector. But, no progress seems to be made on basic issues of health, sanitation and primary education. These are the primary issues that must be addressed if India intends to ever get to the position of a developed country.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The Guruvayoor Temple, in Kerala in Southwest India is one of the most sacred Krishna shrines in the region. It is a beautiful temple, built in typical Kerala style and the idol of Krishna there is one of the cutest I have ever seen. Many families come to Guruvayoor for the rice-feeding ceremony for children. This means that the first solid food given to the infant must be rice and paayasam (a delicious milk-based Indian dessert) from the temple. It is popularly believed that the child will grow up to be healthy and live a long life. So far, so good. According to news reports, Ravi Krishna came to the temple for this rice-feeding ceremony for his kid. And the head priest ordered a purification ceremony on him because he was accompanied by his wife, who happens to be Christian. Naturally, Ravi Krishna was infuriated. I would have been if my religious affiliations were suddenly questioned because I am married to a Christian. He demanded an apology, which was eventually tendered by the temple management. The priest still refuses to apologise because according to him, he was "protecting the sanctity of the temple."
That brings me to the reason for my rants. Quite apart from the fact that this incident only became public because the said Ravi Krishna is the son of a hot-shot politician, what infuriates me is the attitude of some people as the sole protectors of the Hindu religion. The regulations of the Guruvayoor temple clearly states that no non-Hindus are allowed into the premises. Not only that, certain types of clothes are not permitted inside the temple. I would not be allowed in if I were to wear a salwaar-kameez (a traditional north Indian dress). I would have to settle for a sari or a long skirt. Similarly, men are forced to wear dhotis. Heaven help them if they are not used to it and it slips off their waist!!
While the temple authorities have every right to restrict entrance to the temple, restrictions solely based on religion are simply not acceptable to me. It appeals to my sense of justice and every cell in my brain rebels against the practice. For long, I was told that Hindu temples only restricted entry because mosques did not permit access to non-Muslims. I actually believed that until I realised that most mosques only have rules of conduct within the building itself. Of course, you would be denied entry if you went there looking like the epitome of the Hindu mother goddess. Just like you would be denied entry if you entered a temple wearing a huge cross. That's normal. But, in this case, I find it unjust that a random priest decides on whether a person is Hindu or not. From what I learnt, Hinduism is a philosophy, not a religion. What difference does it make what my certificates say if I believe in it? Why would someone who does not believe in it come all the way to Guruvayoor to feed his child? Is it not infinitely more practical to make your rice and paayasam at home? Finally, who is the head priest to decide on whether I am a believer or not? What gives him that power?
We take pride in the fact that Hinduism is all-inclusive. But, if it is indeed all-inclusive, why do we insist on clinging to age-old, bigoted and meaningless beliefs? It is my personal opinion that temples, being centres of spirituality, should open their doors to people of all faiths. So what if mosques in India don't do it? Who said that religious tolerance and acceptance of the other should be reciprocal. Can't we try to set an example?
PS: For original news item, click here.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
But horror of horrors! My favourite brand of whole cream milk was nowhere to be found. I found myself wondering if I should just go to Champion the next day to pick it up. But, being the lazy girl I am, I decided to look for alternatives. I found this cute bottle with a pink lid. Now, the lid of the bottle of whole cream milk is red. I simply assumed that the colour code had changed and picked up the bottle rather confidently. And what do I find? Marked in bold letters on the bottle are the words, "Lait spécial croissance. Conseillé pour des 10 mois à 3 ans."
Trust me, I was torn between embarrassment, amusement and frustration. Ana cast this amused look at me and said, "Sorry sweetheart! But you are a wee bit older than that." At which my embarrassment and frustration gave way to simple amusement. Why on earth would I want to buy "lait spécial croissance" at the ripe old age of 24? I certainly don't need any help to grow any more. At 5 feet and 9 inches, I tower over most Indian women...and men. The last thing I need is special milk to contribute to any more bone growth.
Anyway, this incident was good distraction after a long, hard day of tests and more tests. Maybe I should think of going to Monoprix more often to amuse myself. After all, laughter is the best medicine!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Ok, ok...let me explain. The discussion was on marriage and it somehow veered off to the arranged marriage vs. love marriage discussion. Someone on that discussion forum actually said that she would lock up her children if they wanted to get married to someone she did not approve of. Honestly, I think that stems from a feeling that your children are your slaves. Parents often forget that their baby has grown and is now an individual with feelings and preferences. Among other things, some of the discussants said that parents knew better because they were more experienced. I agree. But one actually asked me what I saw in my man that I would not find in any other. That really made me....furious...but also terribly sad.
Clearly, these people have no idea what it means to love someone so much that you would go to any extent to be with him. As Pascal said in the 17th Century, "L'amour a ses raisons que la Raison ignore." Anyone who can rationalise the feeling of love and explain why they love another does not really love the person. They are only with that person because it is logical to be with them. Why are we asked to rationalise and explain our feelings for the people we love all the time. I have been faced with this question many times in the course of conversations with family members. "Why do you love him? What do you see in him?", they all ask. How am I supposed to explain it? I love him...period. I don't go into the whys and wherefores of my relationship with Anand. That's because I don't know why I love him. I just do. When people don't understand that, it is because they have never allowed themselves to understand. It is because they have never allowed themselves to fall in love so completely that reasons become irrelevant. I believe everyone can get love like that. You just need to allow it to happen.
That said, I was also angry about another thing. The girl who asked what I saw in Anand that I wouldn't find in another man really pissed me off in more ways than one. The man you love is not a dispensable entity. He is the reason you are fighting tooth and nail with people you love and respect. You love him because he is unique. He is just....himself. Anand may be difficult and unreasonable at times but I wouldn't trade him in for anyone else. I love him for who he is. Warts and all. It is very easy to say that he is not anything special and that you can always find someone better. But the question is this. Is the better person necessarily right for you? And by that logic, only the sweetest, most loyal, best-looking and most intelligent people in the world would ever find love. But, it is clearly not so. People love because their heart tells them to.
That brings me back to what I said in my earlier post on marriage. Sometimes, it is good to throw rationale out of the window and think with your heart. What is this obsession with rationality? Can't a girl be a romantic without people thinking she is insane? Sigh!
Friday, June 08, 2007
Nicola and I must be the rant queens of Sciences Po. Maybe we are too influenced by the French and see the negative side of everything. But, trust me, it is a therapeutic experience. Ranting about the unrealistic expectations professors seem to have about our term papers, about how stupid we were to leave the writing to the last 5 days, about how the coffee in the cafeteria absolutely sucks...name it and we have ranted about it. It is nice to know that there is someone who likes to rant almost as much as I do, maybe even more. On the whole, both of us enjoy our Wednesday afternoon rant time. :-)
But why exactly do I feel like ranting all the time? For the first time in life, I really feel the pressure to find a job. Of course, I can always find something I like to do. But, the question is, will I find a job that corresponds to my level of education? Why do all organisations ask for people with advanced university degrees and at least 2 years of experience? Where do I go for that experience if nobody will give me a job in the first place? To put it mildly, it is frustrating. Maybe I am just pampered. Maybe I am used to getting everything on a silver platter and expect the same this time. Maybe I just need to grow up. At least, when I was finishing my BA, I knew it was only a matter of time before I started teaching at the Alliance Francaise. Two years later, at the end of my MA French, I knew I was coming to Paris. But now? What is the future? What am I going to do? How am I going to cope? Anand tells me I am being paranoid. Maybe he is right. I don't know.
In any case, I know one thing. I am fed up of university. I have been in it for 7 years. It's time I get out and start working in the real world. And I also know that I will come back to school some day. Maybe in a year, maybe in ten. But, I know that I will never really leave school for good. I will come back, either to study, or to teach. I love school too much to let go completely.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Marriage to me is an affirmation of love, commitment and loyalty. It is my way of telling the man I love that I am exclusively his. That there will never be anyone else in this world for me. It is a declaration that I am making a conscious decision to stay with him all my life. Even more than that, it is my way of telling him that he will have to take care of me. Yes, you read that right. He has to take care of me. I am an adult, I know. But I am also a woman. I am not ashamed to admit that I want my husband to take care of me. I want to be able to relax and forget the world in his presence, because I know he is there to look out for me. To me, marriage is not simply social approval of sex and procreation. It is a symbol of love.
Studies show that 43% of all marriages in France end in divorce. The details can be accessed here. The site gives no statistics for India, but one wonders why it is so difficult for people to stay in a marriage. Before addressing that question, is the issue of why people actually get married. While it is true that marriage evolved largely through social roles and had very little to do with love, I would like to point out that we, as human beings have evolved.
In modern, industrialised societies like France, it is no longer important to be married. You can live for years with a person without getting married. But, my question is, if you really love the person so much that you are sure you want to spend the rest of your life with him, what is the problem in converting it to a marriage? Why do we always look for ways out when even a small thing goes wrong with the relationship? I don't believe religion has very much to do with marriage.
True, the issue is social, but it is also highly personal. My opinion may have no statistical, sociological or empirical basis, but I think that somewhere in our subconscious, we are conditioned to associate marriage with commitment, loyalty, love and passion. It may not be true with many marriages. But,I know that it's what I am looking for in my marriage. I want my husband to be committed to me, loyal and loving. That is why I want to get married to the man I love. To me, marriage is a simple extension of the love we share. Sure, we will love each other outside of the institution anyway, but deep inside, I am still conservative. I still believe in making my relationship with Anand "official" by getting married to him. And, a lot of other people feel the same way.
Tax benefits and the like are a huge bonus. That's not why I want to get married. India gives no benefits to those who get married and have kids. And, getting married for that is the worst decision one can take in life. The problem with too rational an approach to marriage is that we are left with no "fair reason" to take that step. Sometimes, it is good to think with the heart and not the mind. Sometimes, it's good to be romantic and propose to your girlfriend under the moonlight over glasses of champagne. Sometimes, it is good to walk up to the altar, tie yellow thread around her neck or exchange rings, or whatever it is that you want to do. It is even good to walk into the office where they register marriages and sign a register declaring her your lawfully wedded wife. Sometimes, it is good to throw reason and logic out of the window and listen to your heart...
But, oh well, I am a romantic...people are free to disagree...
Friday, June 01, 2007
I had a class on democracy in South Asia with Sumit Ganguly, Rabindranath Tagore Chair Professor,
First, about Indian democracy. It is alive, vibrant and fully functional. It may have its problems and setbacks, it may fail in many ways, but it still survives. In that I agree with Ganguly. I have nothing more to add. However, I do have something about to add to the comments that he made about the caste system. Let me warn you, I am going to launch a frontal attack on the caste system and all that it represents. I know I will probably draw criticism because just a few days ago I raved and ranted about how people passed value judgements without understanding the system. But hey! I am an insider. I can say what I want to and I have grown up in it. I face criticism everyday because I have unconventional views on the subject.
Without further ado, let me say that the caste system is simply untenable in the modern world. Ganguly pointed out that one’s caste doesn’t matter in any field except one. And that one field untouched by modernisation is marriage. I could not agree more. I was always told that it is bad to discriminate against someone because of caste or religion. I was told that religion was merely a way of self-realisation. I believed in something, but that did not necessarily mean that everyone else had to. The Muslim way of self-realisation was just as good as the Christian way, which in turn was just as good as mine. But, imagine my surprise, or worse still, my utter disillusion, when the same people told me I could never marry Anand because he was of a different caste. Where did notions of equality go? Is equality merely in words and not in action? Why is it that we have broken the atom, but refuse to break our prejudices? (Thanks to Tamanna for that line. It was very appropriate in this context.) Will caste ever die? Well-educated, upper-class Indians who are egalitarian in every other way suddenly become convinced that endogamy is the best thing in the world when it comes to their daughter’s marriage. Why can’t we, as Indians, break out of our shells and learn to accept people for who they are without asking irrelevant questions of caste and race?
The second aspect of this question is that of gender inequality. It is somehow always accepted that the prodigal son in the
But well, whoever said life was fair? Whatever we do, we must get our hearts and minds out of the 17th century. There is no point in talking about equality if it doesn’t exist in the everyday lives of people. Equality before the law or equal voting rights does not give you happiness. Wholesome and happy relationships with other human beings do.