Archive for February 2009

Service before Self

You guessed it! This one is about my visit to the National Defence Academy. What an experience! Entering the sprawling 8000 acre campus on the outskirts of Pune city is like entering a different world. What I noticed immediately, was the supreme fitness of the people who live here, (Not a spare ounce of flesh-be they equestrian or human) followed at once by a wave of self loathing at my generous proportions.We were escorted around the place by a smiling Naik Subedar, smartly dressed in olive green uniform and beret with a baton tucked under his arm.

The highlight of the visit was of course the tour of Sudan - the regal main building of the NDA. Legend has it that the money for its construction was donated by the Govt. of Sudan as a mark of gratitude for services rendered by the Indian Army during World War II. Within this graceful building is the 'Roll of Honour' - a list of names of all those brave soldiers who have been decorated with gallantry & service awards. Seeing the list of Param Vir Chakra - most given posthumously - was a solemn moment. And naturally, yours truly couldn't hold back the tears.

As we moved out of the building, we noticed a few cadets standing still under the hot midday sun with heavy back packs. When we looked enquiringly at Naik Subedar, he said but one word : Punishment. Punishments at NDA seem to be a way of life. Designed to take the mickey out of you! I was told of 3 types: Run 5 kms with a heavy back pack, run 10 km with a heavy back pack. And here's the best one - the one we witnessed - stand still under the hot sun - with a heavy back pack of course!

Life at NDA is all about rules - some of them are rather quaint. There are these hostels where the cadets live. Apparently, if you belong to one hostel and are passing by another - you cant walk past - you need to take it at a brisk trot - or else face some thrashing at the hands of other cadets who live there. Here's another - cadets never walk, they always march. You're allowed to go shopping at the campus shopping center ( called 'Gol Market' for obvious reasons) only on Wednesdays and Sundays. You cant go alone. You gotta go in groups of four. If you're shopping is done and your group does not have the requisite four persons, you have to wait till it does. No wonder then that a trip to the city is called as 'Liberty'!

The most poignant part of our visit lay in a quiet corner of the massive NDA mess. A remembrance for those soldiers who are prisoners of war - missing in action - a single table, a single rose and an unlit candle to serve as remembrance until they come home....

Before I sign off, I really must put in my two paisa worth of jingoistic nationalism:

These guys - the armed forces - they're phenomenal! Am so proud of them! Tum jeeyo hazaaron saal! (Dammit! I got tears in my eyes again!)

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A Cinematic Experience

I saw this Tamil movie recently - 'Mozhi' - meaning 'Language' or 'Speech'. As the name suggests, the film is about a young girl who is deaf-mute (apologies if this isn't the politically correct reference) and a young musician who falls in love with her.

The characterisation of the female lead in the movie is interesting. Being used to movies where the 'heroine' is this clinging beauty always in need of rescue (usually from her own foolishness), this comes as a pleasant surprise. Here is a leading lady with spunk. Disability notwithstanding, she holds a job as a teacher, paints and even uses her karate to beat up the local drunk. Scorning at pity, she refuses the hero's offer of marriage.

Though to give the hero some credit, he does truly love her and 'wants to share his life with her'. A nice enough bloke who wins you over with his idea of womanhood" well educated, brave and independent - if she is this, then she is beautiful" Oh! Why do these men exist only on celluloid?

What sets Mozhi apart is the way in which the subject of disability has been dealt. Usually Hindi or Tamil movies depict people with disability in superlatives. Either as objects of pity or ridicule. But in Mozhi, the deaf-mute heroine has an innate dignity not usually seen in movies that deal with this subject. She is fully in control of her life, makes decisions and is that rare creature - an empowered woman!

If your apetite to see this movie, has been whetted by this blog post, check it out at your local book /video store. Moserbaer makes Mozhi available to you at the bargain price of Rs. 45!! For non-Tamil speaking viewers, the movie is available with English sub titles. Happy Viewing!

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Beware of Good Samaritans

We went to see a movie last night. The plan was that I would join my husband, (on his evening shift), at his office and from there go to the movie theatre. So, after dinner, I set off for the sub urban railway station, about 1 km from my house.

Just to give you an idea about the neighbourhood - our apartment complex is located in an interior road which connects two arterial roads. The fact that it connects two arterial roads is a rather well kept secret. As a result, the road is less crowded during the day and wears a deserted look at night.

So - there I was, ambling along the path, enjoying the cool evening breeze and savoring the anticipation of watching a movie, when I noticed a car parked on the bend of the road. Having lived alone, in a large city, during my single days, alarm bells went off in my head. And sure enough, as I passed by the car, its occupant, a darkish young man called out: ' Excuse me...'.

Deliberately, I put some more distance between me and the car before turning to ask: 'Yes?'.
'Do you live in XXX Apartments?
' Yes' I replied coldly. Being the only apartment complex on the road, the question rather answered itself.
'Come, I will drop you wherever you are going' was next.
'No thank you.' I retorted, groping for my phone.
' I'm your neighbour' he said, and smiled (evily I thought)
'No thank you. I prefer to walk'. Putting an end to the conversation, I walked away.

This incident is something which most women living in cities might have experienced and dealt with in myriad different ways. Some of you reading this post might think that I took a risk walking down a deserted road at night. What is the alternative? Be a prisoner in my home after sunset?

I had taken measures to minimise the risk. My family was aware of my whereabouts, I had my mobile phone - fully charged, was dressed conservatively and had removed expensive jewellery from my person. And though the road was deserted, the street lights were on and it was fully lit - and for God's sake, cant a woman walk 1 km down the road without being accosted?!

Let us assume, for argument's sake, that the gentleman in question did not have sinister motives. That he was, in fact, my neighbour (though I do not recall having seen him at all). Offers of help, in these troubled times, must be accompanied with full and complete information that will help the 'helpee' establish the credentials of the 'helper'. For eg. 'I am your neighbour' can be accompanied with name and flat number. Simple, verifiable facts!

I doubt this will deter me from continuing with life and doing my own thing. And indeed it shouldnt. I wrote this post to know, from other women, their experiences, thoughts and opinions. And from men - what is your opinion, position, stand on these type of incidents? How can we make neighbourhoods safer for women?

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Apparently any 'ulloo ka pattha' can do this

This is going to be a short one. Consider this. Among this year's Padma Shri awardees are P. Sainath and.....hold your breath....Aishwarya Rai and Akashya Kumar. On the one hand you have Sainath - eminent journalist, profilic writer and (in my opinion) one of the finest minds this country has ever seen. On the other you have - well - an ice berg and a beefcake. One shakes governments with his insights on the plight of poor farmers in India and the others shake their booties.

I am baffled at the selection criteria used by the Govt. of India for this highest of civilian awards. Should Sainath feel awarded or insulted at being made part of a club that also has among, its members a former beauty-queen-turned-bad-actress and a fake sikh?

Apparently any ullo ka pattha can do this. I must check how we are doing on the Bharat Ratna.

PS: I heard that Sainath has refused the Padma Shri. And no, I dont think it was to protest his being clubbed with the likes of the Snow Queen or the Kinng

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