Thursday, June 25, 2009

Suppressing Voices!

In my poetry workshop the other night, a classmate asked if I was going to blog about Iran at all. I promised him that I would. The reason I haven’t so far is because the Iran-mayhem has evoked multitude of emotions.

My ex-boss, who I adore, is an Iranian Jew. He and his family fled Iran when the Islamic Revolution took place. They somehow managed to escape from the country and after spending years of nomadic life, across continents, they finally settled down in the US. I have mostly heard voices of trauma and bitterness in his stories. Can you blame him? Indians and Pakistanis, who were affected by partition, still have unhealed wounds from sixty years ago. This is a man, who had to abandon his identity overnight, without a land in sight.

I recently read Iranian author, Azar Nafisi’s memoir, “Things I Have Been Silent About”. In her book, Nafisi talks about life of opulence and decadence in Iran during the Shah’s times. I saw pictures of the author and her mother in elegant, off-shoulder French outfits, in a nation, where women today have to compulsorily wear head scarves. How can a culture be so retrogressive? Nafisi left Iran because she refused to wear a headscarf per the laws of the Islamic fundamentalist government.

It’s awful that Neda Agha-Soltan, a twenty-six year old bystander, was shot in the chest last week when she and her music instructor got out of the car to catch a breath of fresh air as it was hot in her car. Ironically, Neda wasn’t supporting either of the political parties in Iran. What angers me more is that Neda Agha-Soltan was on her way back from “underground” music classes as women in Iran are forbidden from public singing. How can any human or religion deny life’s simplest pleasures like music or dancing to another human being? Doesn’t that qualify for violation of human rights?

Last night I had the opportunity to meet and hear Taslima Nasrin and Ma Thida. Nasrin, a Bangladeshi ex-doctor turned author, has been living in exile since 1994. The Muslim fundamentalists blacklisted her because she is not scared to express her voice. Today, she is banned from both Bangladesh and India. She stands for freedom of thought and equality for women. How is that wrong? Nasrin shared stories of atrocities committed against women in Bangladesh—the ones she witnessed as a doctor. I could feel my blood curdle. Thida, a Burmese surgeon and a writer, was imprisoned for close to six years in Burma because her writings reflected a voice that the Burmese government wanted to suppress. Both these human rights activists might have found shelter in the United States, but they long to go home to fulfill their purpose.

I heard a man, from Swaziland, the other night; he told stories about how men in his country are allowed to keep as many wives as they want. Women aren’t allowed to say a word. Today, these women have all been infected with HIV and in some cases, AIDS. If I understood his woes correctly, these women don’t even know that they have a right to voice.

I am perturbed because, even today, women in several parts of the world are still treated as mute objects. There is no obvious critical mass of people to stop this carnage against them. Educating women is the first step to a better society but empowering women will lead to an equal society. How hard is that to follow?

More until next time.

Copyright © 06.25.2009

“Discrimination is a disease” - Roger Staubach

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Experience of a lifetime

“How was it?” “Tell me about it ASAP!” From friends to family members to a few coworkers, (who know about my writing commitments), everyone has been asking about my trip to Chicago. I was there from June 11-14, 2009 attending Kriti Festival. I was one of the panelists. In a nutshell, Kriti is a South Asian literary festival, which provides four days of non-stop literati adventure.

The festival commenced at the organizer, Mary Anne’s, residence. Scones with clotted crème, varieties of gourmet tea, and interesting group of writers perfectly complimented the gray, English afternoon. I felt I was part of the Jane Austen club. The evening took a South Asian turn at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus where a bunch of us read our works (Rapid Fire Reading) over delicious samosas and mithai. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday revolved around panel discussions, readings, dance and play performances, interaction with gurus in the field, ego boasting by newly acquired fans, further samosa binging, and bonding with peers. Humor, candidness, and experience flooded the rooms.

Listening to people, on panels whose topics I had initially dismissed as uninteresting, was an enriching experience. Lesson learnt: people make panels enjoyable; not topics. The keynote panel was like a jugalbandi between three literature legacies - Romesh Gunesekera, Amitava Kumar, and Bapsi Sidhwa. They each read from the writings of an author they admired and suggested books (My list of good summer read). The name, “V.S. Naipaul” did come up a few times, but the keynote panelists’ egos and personalities remained grounded.

Like a school girl, I felt I had earned my headmistress’s approval (flashback to boarding school days in Mussoorie) when Bapsi mentioned that she really liked my name. Ironically, one of the next essays that I am working on is based on the issues I have with my name.  It felt surreal when I got to discuss another one of my pieces with Amitava Kumar. Like Mary Anne mentioned, I too heard confessions of harmless, “Amitava-ogling.” J I am not familiar with Romesh Gunesekera’s work, so I can’t wait to read my autographed copy his first book, Reef.

Anyways, with tons of books, dreams, and memories, when I reached New York on Sunday evening, I was both sad and pleased. Sad because I had bid adieu to Chicago and the incredible bunch of people and pleased because over those four days, I found inspiration for two personal essays, a few poems, and this blog.

More until next time.

Copyright © 06.18.2009

“The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read” - Oscar Wilde


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back from Heaven!

Sorry for no blog posts last Thursday  and thanks for the sweet notes saying you missed my rants. I was in Chicago, at a literary festival, as one of the panelists. I will blog about the event, in details, this coming week as a snippet wouldn't do justice to this spectacular event. In the meantime, if you'd like, browse through for the event details.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mind Your Own Business

We live in an over communicated world where most people feel entitled to an opinion on just about anything. “Have mouth; must speak.” Nothing wrong with expressing what’s on your mind but in a civilized society, there have to be parameters. What happened to “Live and let live?” Two people don’t have to agree on the same issue or feel the exact same way to co-exist in this society. Mutual respect should be enough to tide us through life.

So, where is my sarcasm stemming from? Most of you must have read or heard about the California Supreme Court’s stance on same-sex marriages. Up until now, I haven’t really written about the “trials and triumphs” of the gay community because my blog posts are opinions based on my experiences. I wondered if I would do true justice to an issue that I truly have no real knowledge about. But the California incident made me upset, as a human, and gave me the reason to embrace malignant honestitis, grab my verbal megaphone, and rant.

A simple question: As humans, what is our problem? Why do we feel so threatened by anyone who is different from us? Someone said to me the other day, “But how can two men be together? Yuck! It’s unnatural.” I was baffled both by the candidness and the undertone of bigotry. So, it’s politically inappropriate to bring up “color” and “race” in social settings, but it’s okay to openly condemn same-sex marriage? Why the double standards?

Let’s get real: We all like to believe that marriages last forever, but statistics and real world stories show that a marriage between man and woman doesn’t always translate to “forever and ever.” As an example, look at the divorce rate in America. Research says that forty or fifty percent of marriages might end in divorce if the current trend continues. The divorce rates in India might be lower than America, but it's on the rise. Up until a few years ago, at least for Indians, divorce was something that happened to a friend’s friend’s acquaintance; but today, separations have penetrated our inner circle of friends. So, it’s okay for us heteros to get wedded and then annul the nuptials but not acceptable for same-sex couples to enter into matrimony? Hmm. Why don’t we work on our own lives and save our relationships before lashing out at someone else’s preferences?

According to the religious pundits and the constitution, “Marriage is the union between a man and a woman.” Maybe so, but I am unsure how and why the state or the church get involved in someone’s life choices. Do they tell us heterosexuals whom we can or can’t marry? Do these people, who serve God (in any religion), really hold everything written in the religious books sacred to their heart? If that were the case, we wouldn’t have pedophiles in places of worship. Or what about these cases of schoolteachers raping minors or sports coaches molesting malleable minds?

I have heard a lot of straight guys confess that they are paranoid about gay dudes hitting on them. Talk about being full of yourself. The whole thought process reeks of ignorance and absurdity--and maybe a little sanctimonious. Do these heterosexuals hit on every single member of the opposite sex? I hardly think so. If in the hetero world we are picky about whom we befriend, date, and marry, so why assume it’s any different in the gay community? They too are humans with standards.

If I have my numbers right, as of today, there are six states in America that recognize gay marriages. Is it fair that straight people are entitled to freedom of choice (in terms of matrimony) and the gay community isn’t? My plea is that you don’t have to “get” their choices; just let them be. There are enough aspects of life that we don’t understand (For example, I don’t get the art or charm of smoking) but we go about our day out of respect for humanity. Freedom is freedom and should be the same for all.

More until next time.


Copyright © 06.04.2009

“Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.”- Robert Green Ingersoll