Archive for October 2010

Mail or Male?

This is a new commercial of Indian Railways doing the rounds in cyber space. Produced by Nirvana Films and directed by Prakash Verma of the ZooZoo fame. It is a slickly produced commercial and makes use of the classic song 'Rail Gaadi' rendered by Ashok Kumar in the film Ashirwad. Here is the commercial:

Most people I know have liked and enjoyed this video. I did not. Why? The tag line for the video is 'Desh Ka Mail' - with a play on the word 'mail'. Mail could denote the train or, in Hindi, it also means 'meeting' or 'similarity', thereby indicating that Indian Railways actually brings different people together.

The image of a train, to me, is a metaphor. Of different people traveling to one destination. Of meeting as strangers and parting as friends. Of a single thread that connects diverse lives. Except that the human train in this video is devoid of women and children. They have been reduced to spectators.

I am a Railway child. My father was a senior bureaucrat with Ministry of Railways. I grew up in a railway colony. Our social life was structured around the railway club and other railway families. And life in the railways is all about appreciating diversity. In the colony where I lived, our immediate neighbours to the right were Kannadigas, to the left were Hyderabadi Muslims, and in front lived an Oriya family. We moved every 5th or 6th year to a new place, a new city, a new State. My sister and I loved every move, learned new languages and imbibed new cultures.

Having unconsciously learned lessons about inclusion, I cannot stomach this video. The Indian Railways transports 20 million passengers daily. At least half these passengers must be women and children. And yet, like in so many other domains, they have been excluded here too. One comment in youtube questioned "veryyy cool ad .. although i wonder y only males were included as a part of the रेल गाङी ?! :(". The reply to this comment is shocking in its insensitivity "The Ladies compartment is getting ready, gone for a makeover... "

Damn this testosterone driven train for being the metaphor of Indian society!

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Gastronomic Match

Nishi was browsing through online profiles when a chat request popped up. Who was this?

"Age 34, senior management professional in some multinational. Lives in Bangalore"

Hmmm. Nishi had begun to notice the gendered differences in the way these profiles were written. Women dwelled more on their looks: slim, fair, blah blah while men waxed eloquent on their qualifications, jobs and salaries. Showed what society, or rather marriage, expected of them.

Accepting the chat request, Nishi typed in 'Hi'

Social niceties out of the way, Nishi typed in a question about the guy's interests and hobbies.

Hmmm. These chats seemed to be scripted and followed a template. First, the social graces. Hi, Hello, How are you etc etc. Then the exploratory 'Tell me something about yourself'. Then more focused probing. Right now, the conversation was dwelling on food.

'I'm a foodie' said Nishi 'I love to eat and like to try different types of cuisine. My only limitation is that I'm a vegetarian'.

Speed breaker! Oh-oh.

'Vegetarian? But I'm from eastern India'

'Meaning?' Nishi knew what he meant. But she wanted it said anyway.

'I'm non vegetarian' he clarified.

'OK. I have no problems with that' said Nishi with growing irritation. She knew where this conversation was headed.

'But will you cook non vegetarian food'? he asked

'No. But if you want to eat non veg food, you are welcome to cook it yourself or order it from outside'

'Oh? I'm looking for a life partner who has same interests as me. And I would prefer if she is also non vegetarian. It would be difficult otherwise.

Tough Nishi wanted to say. Instead she said 'Well good luck then. I hope you will find a wife whose food habits match yours'

More disillusionment. She had heard of people matching horoscopes. But matching dietary preferences? That had to be a first! Did one really need to use food habits as basis for choosing a life partner? Why this insistence for standardisation? Same caste, same religion, now same food?!

Maybe she was a fool. But she did believe that it was possible to coexist and that diversity made a marriage interesting. It helped you retain your individuality, your uniqueness. Oh wait! The institution of marriage in India demands conformity, especially from women.

At this rate I'll never get married!

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