The Typology and Psychology of WhatsApp Groups

The Typology and Psychology of WhatsApp Groups

I have a love hate relationship with WhatsApp groups. And the choice between love and hate (psychology) is determined entirely by the nature of the group (typology).

The taxonomy of WhatsApp groups are principally as follows:

1.    Genus Familia: One where you are related to the members of the group. These maybe sub classified into Immediate Family (father, mother, siblings), Extended Family (cousins, aunts and uncles) and Maritalis (spouse and in-laws). Immediate and Extended may sometimes be combines. Maritalis, however, might deserve a genus of its own.

2.    Genus Alumnae: One where the group evolves out of having studied in some or the other educational institution – school, college and beyond

3.    Genus Corporatum: One that emerges on account of having worked with an organisation either in the present or the past.  

Each genus exhibits its own set of behaviours and oddities among the members which, have either retained or chased me away from these groups.

Genus Familia – Immediate and/or Extended Family: This is a great way of staying in touch with your near and dear ones. One gets to experience the intense joy of being wished Good Morning and Good Night at various times during your day, as and when the sun rises or sets in the country where your various relatives live. You are in the enviable position of never forgetting anybody’s birthday and you get beautifully designed festival wishes which you then promptly forward to other groups. Of course you might have to deal with the odd uncle in northern Canada who immigrated a generation ago, reprimanding you for your lack of patriotism, if you ever spoke a word against Hinduism (or is it Hindutva?). Depending on whether you lean left or right (well mostly right), you might get into arguments with a numbskull cousin in the US who thinks that Howdy Modi was absolutely the last word in Indo-US foreign relations. Next level really. This might lead to the rest of the Genus Familia turning on you and precipitate your departure from the group. Peace will reign after this exit. But that is another post.

Maritalis is slightly tricky given the sensitivities involved. The behaviours are pretty much the same. But one has to consider carefully what and how one responds to…say a Swarajya Mag article that is presented in the group as the pinnacle of high thinking. The implications of offending an in-law are grave, especially if the dissenter is female. One usually retreats into silence and looks for opportunities to furtively exit the group. Some members of this group are eagerly awaiting when they can exit the group without it being announced as ‘xxx has left’  

Genus Alumnae: Technology has made it possible for us to remain in touch with classmates and buddies with whom we spent our childhood and grew into adulthood, exploring the vastness of the ocean of knowledge and discovering the joys of learning. Except when you realise that some have drowned in the ocean while others have not touched even a drop. The one that drowned aka The Intellectual, will climb the virtual soapbox, delivering a splendid soliloquy every now and then. Often these are met with awkward silences (oh yes! Awkward silences in WhatsApp groups are very much possible), causing said intellectual to get into a loop where it seems as if they are having a debate with themselves. Or there might be a word-off between those known to be adversaries during their student years, with each taking extreme positions and refusing to yield. Any attempt to defuse the situation might cause heads to be bitten off. There is also the possibility of the group hiving off into other groups of more ‘like minded’ members. I speak here chiefly of groups of graduate school alumni. There are school groups as well. But as I have steadfastly refused to join them, I’m unable to comment. Rumour has it that the levels of stupidity one encounters here are unprecedented.

Genus Corporatum: As mentioned, there are two families under this genus. The group of current employment, where you might be in a group of your team or your department. The overt purpose of these groups is to be connected and keep colleagues informed about goings on in one’s industry. But the real purpose is actually to maintain an ongoing process of high quality performance management by keeping your manager (or any manager really), abreast with how wonderful you are at your job with real time data. There is also the additional advantage of stoking some healthy envy…er…competition among your peers.  

The second type of group are those formed to connect with people who we used to work with. This is a risk laden enterprise. Although you may lay down rules and ask that people not waste your time with unnecessary forwards and political statements, nobody actually gives a fig about rules. You meet once again the person who made the lamest jokes at which nobody laughed and realise that they continue to do so. You re-encounter the school boys who never grew up. You re-acquaint yourself with the fake ones, who rose so high that the ground beneath their feet is not visible to them. And you once again gag at those whose sole purpose in life is self aggrandisement. You relive all the reasons which caused you to exit the organisation and decide to stick with the pleasant memories and quit the group.

There is one more emerging genus. The Genus Apartment Complex. I am a recent entrant to this group and do not have sufficient empirical data to be able to theorise about its psychology.

Disclaimer: This is purely a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person or place or WhatsApp group is coincidental.

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Chronicles of a Sari Wearer : The Colour Purple

In the run up to the International Women’s Day this year, a mail popped into my mailbox. HR was inviting us to celebrate the day by (among other stuff) wearing purple. That made perfect sense. Purple is the official color of International Women’s Day, founded more than a century ago after some 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better working conditions and voting rights.

I was thrown into a quandary. Running through a mental catalogue of my wardrobe, I realized that I did not have any outfit in that colour. Till…wait! There was that gorgeous silk sari that my sister had gifted me for my birthday a year back. Yes. Problem solved. I would wear a sari to work on the designated day.

Now sari wearing plans are easier made than executed. At least for me. It requires meticulous planning, at least 24 hours in advance. The sari has to be matched with the correct blouse and petticoat. And most importantly, the blouse has to fit.

Fit – a tiny three letter word. But with enormous significance when regarded in terms of the commute to work and back and an eight hour work day. It had to show off one’s silhouette perfectly, while also allowing sufficient space to breathe comfortably. Be snug and loose at the same time. A huge ask for an item of clothing, especially for those of us flirting with the wrong side of the body mass index.   

Ever the optimist, I took said sari out of my cupboard, hunted for and found the ‘matching blouse’. Made of the same fabric, it was of recent antiquity, having been stitched just a year and a half ago. So I was pretty sure it would fit in the way that I want it to. Did I try it out to be sure? No. Did I note that the cut was different? No. Did I remember that, unlike my other blouses, it did not have buttons down the front, but a zipper down the side, under my left arm? Of course not.

Imagine my horror then, when, come D-Day, I stepped out of the shower and realized that the blouse could not be worn without assistance. So I hollered for the husband, who, prince among men that he is, stepped up readily to the task. And gave up thirty seconds later.

“The fabric will tear if I pull”

“Hold the ends together and then pull. It won’t tear”

“Turn this side. I need more light. Wait, let me put on my glasses”

Some progress. But there was quite a way to go.

“How long has it been since you stitched this blouse?”

“About a year and a half. Why?”

“You’ve put on weight”

“Do you do this on purpose?! Get some perverse pleasure in pissing me off?”

After much tugging and pulling, the zipper finally slid into place. And left me feeling like a swaddled baby. Barely able to breathe.

Further conversation ensues with the husband.

“I can barely breathe”

“Yeah. Risky”


“Better carry a spare blouse with you”

“And how do you suppose I’m going to take it off without assistance?”

“So what do we do now?”

“Help me get it off!”

More tugging and pulling ensues, till I’m finally free of the torturous blouse. Oxygen floods my lungs. I start breathing again.

“What will you do now? You’re supposed to wear purple”

“Well I like breathing and staying alive”

I finally settle on a blue top and beige trousers and take myself off to work.

When a colleague points out that my outfit isn’t exactly purple, I snap “Well, its purple adjacent!”

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Good bye

Six o'clock. She rose from her desk and started gathering her things. On any other day, it would have involved bagging her laptop, putting her phone and glasses into her handbag, taking out the exact change for her train ride home and a series of cheerful 'bye! see you tomorrows' to her colleagues.

Now there was no laptop to bag. She had handed it over to the IT department half an hour ago. Along with that, the office issued phone. All things surrendered and a 'no dues certificate' signed and submitted.

Done. Complete. It was her last working day here.

She thought back to the last eight years. It was a complete cliche she supposed. But could not help herself.

She recalled her first day at the office. The security had not been briefed and nobody knew that she was a new joinee. Until a very junior looking guy had vouched for her and said - yes, I know. She has joined as the departmental head.

She recalled her first team. Of how hard she had worked to gain their trust and respect. Of the times she had locked horns with some, convinced she was right, and determined to prove her point. She recalled the elation she felt when she 'won'.

She recalled how she slowly learned people's true natures. Some very sincere and hardworking who everybody pushed around and barely respected. She recalled those who knew exactly what needed to be said to impress those in power and stay in their good books. She recalled those that had supported her in her difficult times and those that had made her life difficult.

And she recalled this fondly. No angst. No anger. She knew the nature of organisations was complex. It was the people that made the organisations. And despite some shocks and revelations about people's true personalities, she had generally been happy. She was recognised as one who did good work, was respected as being committed, sincere and reliable. As someone who cared about people around her.

And then the old order changed and yielded place to the new. New roles, new people, new positions. All of a sudden it seemed that she was back where she had begun.

Except this time it was different. In the beginning there was work but no team. And when the team came the work she was hired to do was somehow deemed less important. 'You dont have enough work' they said. 'Do this', 'Do that'....pushed around like a pawn in a game of chess. She watched as those in positions of authority did what they pleased. Unchallenged.

She had always believed herself to be one who could speak truth to power. And yet, this time, she felt silenced. It was as if no one was interested in anything she had to say. What she heard, unspoken, but loud and clear - don't ask questions. Just do. Tolerate. In. Silence.

This was not her. What was she doing? Was a paycheck at the end of the month so important that she could turn a blind eye to all those things that were anathema to her? Why was she enduring this tenure of ignominy. Where was her sense of self? Where had she gone?

And so she decided - enough. This had to stop now. No more was she going to tolerate this self doubt and self flagellation. She wanted out.

So here she was today. Saying goodbye. To what, she wasnt very sure. What she knew, loved and nurtured was no longer there. Replaced instead by this being, this beast that was consumed by its own self importance, its own self congratulation in pursuance of its own self absorption.

Snapping out of her reverie, she squared her shoulders, lifted her chin and walked calmly towards the exit. The security knew her this time. They smiled sadly. They knew that she would no longer be greeting them with her sunny 'Good morning!'. As it went in the song, there was really nothing left to say, but goodbye. 

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Europe: A Day In Brussels

We spent only one day in Brussels. Not enough time to feel the pulse of a city that hosts the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Council, and is the most important seat of the European Parliament. But the nature of these hectic, multi city, multi country tours, is a frenetic pace at which sight seeing is accomplished. 

As we walked from our hotel to the nearest railway station, I noticed dirt and grime around me. Public spaces were covered in graffiti. It was surprising because our hotel was in a pretty good part of town, near the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Grand Place. Moreover, I was just coming in from Amsterdam, a place where people could and did, sprawl out in public places just to enjoy the weather. Plus of course the expectation that Indians have of 'foreign' countries being so spanking clean that you can eat off the road. 

This might perhaps explain (although not justify) the horrific bomb blasts that took place in Brussels in March 2016. Violence and terror as a means to express anger and protest is sadly becoming the order of the day. 

Moving on to more pleasant thoughts....

The husband, a rabid Tintin fan, was determined to visit the Herge Museum. In fact, it was the reason why we were visiting Brussels at all! 

The Herge Museum is located in Louvain-la-Neuve on the outskirts of Brussels at 26, Rue du Labrador. It is dedicated to the life and works of Georges Remi the creator of Tintin, who wrote under the pen name Herge. The museum which opened to the public in June 2009, was designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc and cartoonist Joost Swarte. It is a three storey building containing interesting photographs from Herge's childhood, family and working life. It also has rooms dedicated to the various characters in his books - from the major ones - Tintin, Haddock and Calculus to the supporting cast like Nestor and Jolyon Wagg.

Audio guides are available in English and French and are included in the cost of your ticket. So be sure to pick them up from the counter at the reception. There are lockers where you can deposit your bags and walk around freely. The museum is very spacious and airy and not overcrowded with exhibits which makes the time you spend here very enjoyable.

If you are a die hard Tintin fan, don't forget to go to the little chamber where you can take photographs with the characters. You basically stand in front of a camera and digital screen and select montages from the various adventures. The camera juxtaposes you onto that image and you become a part of it! After this, type in your email address on the screen and the picture is emailed to you. This is a great souvenir from the trip. There is also a little cabin where the walls are covered with the cover pages of all the adventures in every language in which it was ever printed. Another great photo opportunity, all free of cost! The downside is that no other photography is permitted inside this museum.  Wifi access is also limited.

A little extra information - if you're in Brussels later on this year, plan a trip to Musee Herge and take a wheel chair tour of the museum atrium. On 3 December 2016, which is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the museum is organising a free wheelchair tour to raise awareness of disabilities. 

Back in Brussels, we walked down to the Grand Place, not far from our hotel. According to Wikipedia "The Grand Place or Grote Markt is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city's Town Hall, and the Breadhouse building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. It measures 68 by 110 metres (223 by 361 ft), and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site." And I must admit that this was the first time I had heard of anything called the Grand Place (said she in a small and ashamed voice).

The origin of the Grand Place dates back to the 11th century when an open air marketplace was set up on a dried up marsh near the Fort on Saint Gery Island. By the 13th century, three indoor markets were established - a meat market, a bread market and cloth market - because of which sales carried on even during bad weather. These belonged to the Duke of Brabant. By the 14th century, the area passed into the hands of the local authorities. With the building of the Brussels City Hall, the Grand Place became the seat of municipal power. In a show of one-upmanship, the Duke of Brabant built a large building right across the city hall as a symbol of ducal power. This was built on what used to be the bread and cloth market. It is now known as the Maison du roi (King's House) in French. In Dutch it continues to be known as Broodhuis or Breadhouse.

The Grand Place saw war, destruction and rebuilding over the next few centuries and continued to serve as a market till November 1959. In 1998, it was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tucked away amidst the many souvenir shops, in the by lanes of the Grand Place, is yet another object of art - Manneken Pis or simply Little Boy Pee, a 61 cm tall bronze statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain.
There are many legends and stories behind the statue. Wikipedia claims the most famous one to be of one Duke Godfrey III of Leuven, a two year old aristocrat, who led his troops in battle while hanging from a basket on a tree. He is said to have urinated on the enemy troops and defeated them. A compelling story about the Terrible Twos! The most plausible seems to be one where a wealthy merchant, visiting Brussels with his family, had his son go missing. The search party found the boy urinating in a garden. The merchant had the statue built as a sign of gratitude to the locals. 

An interesting tidbit of information is that the statue is dressed in different costumes every week according to a schedule that is displayed on the railings surrounding the statue. The little boy has an impressive wardrobe and the costumes are displayed in a permanent exhibit inside the museum in the Grand Place. All the work with the costumes is done by a non profit called 'The Friends of Manneken Pis'. 

With that our sight seeing around Brussels came to an end. It was a really tiring day for me, having traveled from Amsterdam and then spent a good part of the day on my feet. It was also cold with occasional rain on that day. By the end of it, I was ready for a hot bath, food and sleep. 

Before I sign off on this post, try your hand at these trivia questions. Leave your guess in the comments section. And I'll provide the answers in about a week's time:

1. Musee Herge is located at 26, Rue du Labrador - what is the significance of this
Ans. Tintin's address in the comic series

2. What is Snowy called in the French version of the adventures?
Ans. Milou

3. How are Thomson and Thompson related?
Ans. They are not related. They are doppelgangers

4. Name Captain Haddock's family home
Ans. Marlinspike Hall

5. What is the origin of the writer's name 'Herge'?
The reverse of Georges Remee when initialled (GR = Herge)

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Flower Power: Keukenhof

Keukenhof is something that Indians would be quite familiar with. Perhaps not by name. But if I showed you a picture, I guarantee that you would immediately know what I am talking about.

I am talking about the world famous tulip gardens of Amsterdam. And if you still don’t know what these are, you either don’t watch Indian films or (as a friend once said of me) ‘you live under a rock!’

Keukenhof, also known as the ‘Garden of Europe’ is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. It is located in a place called Lisse on the outskirts of Amsterdam in 32 sprawling acres with 800 varieties of tulips and nearly seven million blooms. Every year, the gardens see nearly 800,000 visitors and since it opened, 50 million people have visited it. 

The word ‘keukenhof’ means kitchen garden in Dutch. In the 15th century, the gardens used to be part of hunting grounds. It provided herbs for the nearby castle of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainut from where it derives its name. After her death, the ownership of the estate passed into the hands of rich merchants. In the 19th century, the owners commissioned landscape artists Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher, to design the grounds around the castle. In its current form, the gardens were established in 1949 by the then mayor of Lisse.

The purpose of the gardens was to exhibit flowers of growers from all over the Netherlands and thus boost the Netherland’s export economy of flowers. So in that respect, Keukenhof is actually a living and growing advertisement. What a novel and attractive way to showcase and market your products!

Tulips found their way to the Netherlands from the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) in the 16th century. The foundation of the Dutch tulip industry is attributed to Carolus Clusius, a Flemish doctor and botanist. Right from the start, tulips were a huge hit and Clusius's garden was frequently raided and flowers regularly stolen! During the Dutch Golden Age there was a period called 'Tulip Mania' when the prices of tulips climbed so high that they were used as money till the market finally crashed. 

Today the Netherlands is the largest exporter of flowers in the world. The Dutch produce 4.32 billion tulip bulbs each year, some 53% of which (2.3 billion) are grown into cut flowers. Of these, 1.3 billion (or 57%) are sold in the Netherlands as cut flowers and the remainder is exported: 630 million bulbs in Europe and 370 million outside of Europe. So the beautiful Keukenhof gardens and the acres and acres of multi coloured tulip carpeted fields surrounding it are not just about aesthetics. It is serious business!! (note: the tulip gardens should not be confused with the tulip fields.)  

Back home in India, Keukenhof and the tulip fields seem to have captured the imagination of Indian film makers (ok, maybe not as much as the Swiss Alps, but still). Both the gardens and the fields have appeared in several Indian films. The one that is most popular among the Hindi film viewing audience is, of course, the evergreen song ‘dekha ek khwab’ from the Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha starrer Silsila. This song is picturised only in the tulip fields and not in Keukenhof. The montage of colours perfectly expresses the euphoria of love. 

Keukenhof appears in another song from the same film – 'ye kahan aa gaye hum'. This beautiful song, is rendered magical by poetry in Amitabh's deep baritone. The lyrics blend in beautifully with Keukenhof's winding paths lined with flower beds along the gently flowing waters of a lake. 

Keukenhof and the tulip fields, both, are also seen in Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog for the song ‘bhanwre ne khilaya phool’. 

The film, as you may know, is about widow remarriage. So, the visual of a plain, white clad Padmini Kolhapure, framed by the brightly coloured tulips, is actually quite metaphorical. 

Down south, the tulip fields appear in the song 'Kumari' from the Tamil film Anniyan. Personally I did not take a shine to the song and in fact found it jarring. First of all, I cannot understand why it is shot in the tulip fields. When one has such a strong backdrop for a song, I feel it might have been better to generally tone down the song. The music does not blend well with the ambiance of the beautiful tulips. The make up and costumes seem loud and out of place. There are these four guys dressed like caricatures running around the lead pair with assorted musical instruments which is frankly annoying. And you can see cars driving past in the distance!! 

The tulip gardens and fields once again make an appearance in a song from the Tamil film Nanban. This is your typical jhatak matak film song and is actually quite dreadful. If I were a tulip in Keukenhof, I would be seriously offended at the ridiculous dancing and bewildering costume changes. I mean....I'm the star of this show. What do you mean by taking attention away from me in this garish and distasteful way?! 

 (Disclaimer: I have not seen either film. I do not have the context in which the songs are set and I do not understand Tamil well enough to get a sense of the lyrics. So please forgive me if I sound harsh. I would also add that Hindi film songs and picturisations in today's YoYo Honey Singh world would probably be equally horrible if not worse.)

Now a bit about my visit to Keukenhof. What a spectacular visual treat! One can't help but feel completely special when one sets eyes on these blooms. But just seeing it with your eyes is not enough.  You need to experience it with all your senses and feel the beauty of the flowers permeate your entire being. I can't explain it. You feel like you've arrived in paradise and you just want to sink into all this beauty and be transported to some place else. The smile never leaves your face!

From Deepa's collection

From Deepa's collection

My advice to those going to Keukenhof:  You must visit the place with your beloved. Hold hands, cuddle, kiss, express your love. This is the perfect setting for it. Take loads of photographs. It would be criminal not to! There are little corners that provide lovely backdrops to take pictures. Little bits of whimsy here and there. Like gigantic clogs or klompen as they are called in Dutch, right in the middle of a pathway, that will make you laugh out loud. Step into them and click away. Walk up the wooden staircase in the windmill and step onto the balcony  You will get a lovely view of the canal and tulip fields that border that part of the garden. Take a boat ride on the canal and you can float past the lovely and colourful tulip fields. 
No crying about no shoes here! (Deepa's collection)

Visit the various pavilions to see a wide selection of plants and flower shows. The Beatrix Pavilion is reserved especially for orchids. The Keukenhof website claims it to be the most beautiful orchid show in all of Europe. The Willem-Alexander exhibition showcases lilies while the Orange Nassau Pavilion shows off how flower bulbs can be used in interior design.  

Orchids at Beatrix Pavilion (Deepa's collection)
The gardens are open every year only during spring, between April and May. In 2017, they are scheduled to be open from 23 March to 21 May. 

Cute displays just made for photography (Deepa's collection)

So if you are visiting Amsterdam, be sure to visit this lovely piece of nature and enjoy a day out among the flowers. 

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Amsterdam's Red Light District

Even if you know absolutely zilch about Amsterdam, you would have heard about its Red Light District. De Wallen or De Walletjes is one of the most famous tourist attractions of the city. Tourists come here in droves (myself included!) to see women of all nationalities display their 'attractions' in big glass windows illuminated in red light. De Wallen, Singelgebied and Ruysdaelkade, form the Rosse Buurt or red light areas of Amsterdam. 

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and was legalised in the year 2000. But it was not always so. A perusal of the country's history indicates that during the Middle Ages (ie 5-15 centuries AD), prostitution was tolerated as a 'necessary evil' but considered to be a dishonourable profession. In the 16th century, the city of Amsterdam started regulating prostitution. Only the police could keep a brothel. According to accounts dating back to 1413, these were confined to two streets in Amsterdam, Pijlsteeg and Halsteeg. Those who practiced prostitution elsewhere in the city were arrested and their clients fined. 

In the 17th century, however, with the decline of the Catholic religion and rise of Protestantism, the city stopped regulating prostitution. It was outlawed and prostitutes were considered 'evil' and having a polluting influence. Moreover, the implementation of anti prostitution laws was weak and and the enforcers preferred to leave brothels alone as long as they did not cause any trouble. 

In the 18th century, with a growing middle class (possibly due to the Industrial Revolution), public attitudes towards prostitution became more rigid, moralistic and conservative.  The working conditions of prostitutes was bad, with many of them living in poverty, being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and bearing the illegitimate children of their clients. 

In the beginning of the 19th century, when Netherlands was under the rule of King Louis Bonaparte, prostitution was once again regulated to protect soldiers against venereal diseases. Prostitutes were forced to register themselves and undergo mandatory medical examinations. They were provided with a red card which was a sort of work permit. If they were found to be infected with any venereal disease, their red card was taken away and replaced with a white card and prohibited from working until they were free of their disease. 

Later in the 19th century, prostitution came under the purview of the Abolitionist movement (a movement in Western Europe and the Americas to end slavery) that called for the abolition of regulated prostitution in the manner that it was being practiced at the time.  The living conditions of prostitutes continued to be bad or worsen. They were usually under the control of a madam, living under severe debt and with strict control over their mobility. At first the movement targeted only the mandatory health checks for prostitutes but later shifted focus to the exploiters and people who profited from prostitution 

From the late 20th century onwards, a policy of tolerance or gedoogbeleid  was adopted by many local governments. This policy was premised on harm reduction based on the belief that anti prostitution laws would be counter productive and the best way to protect women was to 'tolerate' prostitution. Although prostitution was defined as a legal profession in 1988, it took until the year 2000 for it to move from the limbo of 'tolerance' to getting full legal status. 

The Netherlands is one of the most progressive countries in the world. I recently heard that due to a negligible crime rate, their empty jails are being used to house Syrian refugees! So the way their history, on the issue of prostitution, has evolved, is nothing less than commendable. However, as one of the top three organised crimes in the world, the dark underbelly of this profession is not so easily controlled. The Dutch government has been cracking down and shutting brothels where crime is taking place and I am sure they will have to continue to be alert and active to prevent crime and injustice. 

So what did our trio do on that chilly May evening in De Wallen? After my husband and I picked up our fallen jaws from the pavement and after our eyes had settled back into their sockets, we took a brief tour of the streets of the RLD. I held fast to my husband's hand and hissed a warning of  "Only Looking!" at him. 

I witnessed a gorgeous woman with platinum blonde hair, barge out of the window and threaten to break a man's camera when she caught him photographing her. (Photography is STRICTLY prohibited in the RLD). I looked at the sex toys displayed in shop windows in awe, my mind not comprehending to what use they could be put. I looked askance at a young man (overcome by a smorsgasbord of morality and feminism) when he gawked at one of the girls in the window and said "What a rack!" and then proceeded to negotiate a deal with her for 50 Euro. I smiled at how my two escorts barricaded me against the testosterone driven crowd. I argued that I wanted to visit the museum of prostitution while my husband and his friend dissuaded me. It was only because I could barely feel my toes in the freezing five degree temperature that I gave up the idea. 

I finally came away from the RLD feeling philosophical about the complete commodification of the female form and an economy that is built upon two breasts and a vagina. 

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Museum Magic - Rijksmuseum

Truth be told, I didn't know much about museums in Europe. I knew about the Louvre - of course - Dan Brown made sure of that. But beyond that my knowledge was pretty sketchy. So visiting the many museums that Europe has to offer, was a revelation and an education.

The city of Amsterdam is famed for its canals. It is also home to the Rijksmuseum. Apart from the priceless artefacts housed here, the museum itself is of some antiquity. It was founded in the year 1798 as a means of promoting national unity following the establishment of the Batavian Republic in 1795. In 1800 it first opened its doors in The Hague. In 1808 it moved to Amsterdam on the orders of King Louis Bonaparte. In 1885 it moved to its current location.

The museum displays some priceless artefacts. The most famous are paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johanees Vermeer. (Don't worry if these names don't ring bells. The only one I recognised was Rembrandt! But hopefully, you will know more about them after reading this post). Giving below a description of some of the paintings which appealed to me.

The Night Watch, Rembrandt: I knew NOTHING about this painting. When my husband told me we are going to see The Night Watch in Rijksmuseum, I asked him 'what's that'. My shocked husband told me to look it up online. So I did.

Photo source: Deepa's personal collection
The Night Watch is Rembrandt's 1642 painting of the 'Militia Company of District II under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq' The Rijksmuseum site informs us that it was his largest and most famous painting. And rightly so. The play of light in the painting is awesome. In the vast expanse of the painting, light has been used cleverly to highlight the main figures of the captain and his lieutenant. An interesting interpretation attached to the painting  I found in Wikipedia says that "the Night Watch is symmetrically divided, firstly to illustrate the union between the Dutch Protestants and the Dutch Catholics, and secondly to evoke the war effort against the Spaniards. For instance, according to Rembrandt's multilayered design, the taller captain (in black) symbolizes the Dutch Protestant leadership, loyally supported by the Dutch Catholics (represented by the shorter lieutenant, in yellow)."

Photo source: Deepa's personal collection
The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer: OK, so I had never heard of this artist (said she shamefaced). Although the painting is titled The Milkmaid, it is actually of a maid working in the kitchen. Which is why the painting is sometimes also called The Kitchen Maid. It depicts a sturdy young woman, wearing clothing of the time, pouring milk from one container into another. Although this is just an everyday scene, there is something mesmerising about it-the way light shines in from the window on the left and illuminates half the woman's face, the young woman's absorption with her task, the foot warmer on the right with the detailing on the tiles. Personally I found this painting even better than The Night Watch (oops! can i say that?!).

My husband and I have jokingly nicknamed these two paintings as 'watchman' (like the security guards in our apartment blocks) and 'paalkaari' (milk maid in Tamil)

Photo source: Rijksmuseum website
The Threatened Swan, Jan Asselijn: Again, knew nichts about the painting and the artist. This was the first painting acquired by the Nationale Kunstgalerij (the forerunner of Rijksmuseum) in 1880. It depicts a swan fiercely defending her nest from a dog. It has been interpreted as a political allegory of Johan De Witt (a very high ranking Dutch official who was assassinated in 1672 ) defending the country from enemies. Wikipedia says that "Three inscriptions had been added: the words "de raad-pensionaris" (the grand pensionary) between the swan's legs, the words "de viand van de staat" (the enemy of the state) above the head of the dog on the left, and the name "Holland" on the egg on the right." (I really do not recall seeing this).

I'm going to stop here with the descriptions. There was so much more to see and marvel at, that the museum would need a dedicated blog! The third floor was contemporary art (which my husband snorted derisively at) and the ground floor had textile heritage showcasing changing fashions over the centuries There was also a section on the most amazing dolls houses - but I will save that for another day. A Van Gogh self potrait - which  I will not dwell on here as I plan to cover Vincent in my next post.

There is one matter that deserves mention and appreciation. This pertains to the easy accessibility that the Rijksmuseum provides to senior citizens, parents with infants and persons with disability. All the floors were easily accessible by wheel chair and stroller and allowed movement with dignity. Nobody was in anybody's way. If only our own museums and public buildings in India could do the same.

A few points to note if you're planning a visit. You can prebook your tickets (highly recommended). Just visit the Rijksmuseum website for that. Be careful to note the timings and holidays. The museum is easily reached by tram or bus or even bicycle if you are so minded. You will need to deposit your baggage in a locker. Photography is allowed inside the museum although without flash. And, saving the best for last, there is free wi-fi!

If you are in Amsterdam, do take the time to visit this wonderful museum. I promise it would be worth your while.

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