Category Archives: Inclusion

Learning to Like a Small Town : Adventures in Trichy

 

This year, i moved to a city in Tamil Nadu, Tiruchirapalli. Its not really a small town. Its one of the major cities in the state. Its a huge trading centre. But in my head, it was very much a small town. It was also a bit of a come down because as a Tamilian, I was going back to the heart of Tamil Nadu. I started thinking where I lived would no longer be exotic. I would no longer try to understand other people’s cultures, their world views. Because everyone would be just like me.  Never mind that I have never lived in Tamil Nadu and actually have a very poor understanding of Tamil culture. That my understanding of Tamil culture was limited to an elitist brahmin culture and Tamil Nadu had much much more to offer. But for me, Trichy just didnt seem exciting enough.

And the food. I had lived in Ahmedabad, which I thought was foodie paradise. What could trichy offer other than Idli or dosas. ANd I dont even like eating them. Definitely not at hotels. How could my food devotee image survive in Trichy.

I tried my best to think positive, but I came here with deep misgivings. Maybe it was good I had those misgivings. It made me overcompensate in trying to find joys in Trichy. So I am now going to start a little series – of little things I love in this city. Its my gratitude journal for this place. For people who know me, you will not be surprised to see that most of these little joys are to do with food. But beyond that also, Trichy continues to surprise me.

My First post on this series will soon come up : Trichy Special Paruthi Paal (cottonseed milk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Feminist Audit

According to most people, feminism has made me a raving, ranting, over-analytical, hyper-sensitive WOMAN. But I have thoroughly enjoyed filtering all my experiences through the philosophy of feminism and seeing how so much of our social behavior is shaped by expected gender roles. One of the most delightful pastimes which emerged from this was the Feminist Audit of Restaurants, which I started doing. 

Basically, the Feminist Audit was about how the restaurant staff treated you and how this was influenced by what they expected from women. It was specially a lot of fun to do this when I was eating out with my husband (then my boyfriend/friend) and we had an understanding that each of us would pay alternately for the times we ate out. The times when the bills were handed over was hilarious. Here are some extreme cases : 

1. One restaurant hands over the menu to my husband. Worse, whenever I order something (even a roti), the waiter looks at my husband for confirmation as to whether the order can really be taken (I am not overweight or obese, so I can safely say concern for my overeating was hardly the reason to seek this confirmation). Worse, he automatically handed the bill to my husband, and even after he saw me taking the bill, taking out my purse and paying for it, he handed the change back to my husband. Must have thought I was one crazy woman who could not even count the change. 

2. At one super posh restaurant, I am overjoyed after the meal when the ‘bill’ is handed to me. I think that this waiter deserves a big tip, open it to find that its not a bill, but a suggestion form. Bill obviously goes to the male. (Btw, I get the thing about bill going to the male, but why should suggestion form come to the female. Are males not capable of having an opinion about restaurant experiences and stating this opinion). 

Funnily enough these instances have always occurred only in big restaurants. When we are eating out on the roadside, bills are randomly given, I think based on whoever is standing/sitting more closely or whoever has made eye contact at that point of time. 

Anyway, this is just about restaurants. I have found similar attitudes in lots of places. Railway ticket collectors who expect my husband to have the ticket and id, even thought its mostly me who carries it, doctors who, when trying to assess our situation want to know where my husband works, but does not consider asking me that question, travel agents who want details of my husbands bank account when I apply for some visa. It would be extremely irritating, were it not for the fact that the look on their face when the see the woman taking the lead in those situations is priceless. I hope to continue bashing many such social expectations. And to all my woman friends out there, break some more.

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Political Correctness or just sensitivity??

Political Correctness has become one of the most damned phrases in English language. It is taken to mean everything from superciliousness, hypocrisy, pandering to a minority to outright lying. Its cool to be ‘politically incorrect’, but of course we  never stop to wonder how politically incorrect we routinely are in much of our speech and interaction. 

Take an example, Manmohan Singh bashers jokingly call him Manmohini Kaur, presumably to show his powerlessness and obsequiousness to Sonia. But what does this mean, that ‘women’ are powerless and spineless and Manmohan Singh a man, is powerless and spineless and therefore a woman. Today, I heard that he was referred as Shikandi (Shikandi is a warrior in the Mahabharata, but in common parlance today is taken to refer to a eunuch). I saw a post on FB which said ‘Jab Tak Suraj Chaand rahega, napunsak PM tera naam rahega.’Again, does it mean that eunuchs are spineless. Without even realizing it, isn’t there a hierarchy here of the assertive alpha male, and the ‘submissive’ female and ‘gutless’ transgender. I know its a joke, I know we are not expected to over-analyse this, but if jokes routinely promote such stereotypes, what is the message we are giving.  

While on the subject of Manmohan bashing, maybe it is time for his critics to reflect on whether he draw so many brickbats because he, as the elected Prime Minister listens to Sonia, who holds no political office, or that he as a man and as a elected Prime Minister listens to Sonia, who is a woman and holds no political power. This is not to justify any of Manmohan’s or UPA’s actions, I am not politically astute enough to critique it. But as a woman, I am able to pick up the some element of gender bias in this.

Its not just gender, I am sure our everyday language is full of idioms, which, while not intending to be derogatory, paints a negative, or patronizing picture of some group. I have been lucky that I am a member of the majority community in my country, I come from Mainland India and I come from a relatively privileged socio-economic background. Apart from gender, I cant really pick out any of the other stereotyping idioms. But millions of others are not so lucky.  

Political correctness is a jargon, simply put, what it means is that we are sensitive to what other people feel. That if we truly aspire to be a society where people of all castes, religions, ethnic identity can interact as equals, through our words, through our behavior, we constantly reinforce our equality. Not just when we are interacting with people from the other groups, but routines, as a matter of practice, so much so that we are not really aware of it. Its not easy to do this, equality is not an inherent value for any of us. But can we start by reflecting on what kind of impressions- intended and unintended- we convey through our words. Can we stop making ‘political correctness’ a dirty word? Can we stop making people who are aspiring to be ‘sensitive’ feel like they are a bunch of hypocrites?

 

 

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A tribute to the spirit of acceptance and inclusion

Inclusion is a hot word for me professionally. If you are  working in the development sector, words like acceptance and inclusion are part of your daily lingo. We talk of being accepting, being non-judgmental, being inclusive. We want to respect people for what they are, irrespective of caste, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. We have read endless accounts of how gender identity develops in a social world. We want to be totally accepting of people, their choices, their representation of themselves to the outer world. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean any of this sarcastically. Most of you out there, who are going to read this, are all part of that group of people who share these beliefs.

But for me the most inclusive action I have ever witnessed is something narrated to me by a person not on this list. This is my mother-in-law, a person who will come across as a simple, conservative, South Indian woman, comfortable in her home and her home-making responsibilities. She was once telling me that she had a hijra friend back in Delhi, who used to come home during important festivals like Dusshera, Varalakshmi pooja etc for manjal kumkumam (a traditional practice of giving turmeric and vermilion to women on important festival days). My mother in law accepted her friend, not as a hijra, but as a woman. She respected the individual’s choice to become and live as a woman, no matter what she was born as.  Not only did she accept it, she honored her as a woman in the way she knew, an honor she extends to any other woman.

This act of acceptance, from a person, who has not schooled in the thoughts of individual rights, freedom and choices, but who spontaneously accepts it as a foregone conclusion, has given me the conviction, that at the bottom of our hearts, all human beings do respect these values.

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