Saturday, August 22, 2015

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

I picked the book because I am interested in Persian history and wanted to educate myself. I should have gone by the lead instead of the name. Subtitled The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, it is a back handed paean to Greek ideals and achievements, in particular their stand against a Persian advance in unabashedly jingoistic terms. It is obviously well researched and I came off with a clearer understanding of Mediterranean geopolitics in fifth century BC but the devil is in the perspective. 

What troubles me is that when Mr. Holland characterises the Trojan War as the first battle between Europe and Asia or represents ancient Greco-Persian battles as a stand off between all that the Western world purports to stand for today and a despotic and powerful empire of the East- not to or from the East,  mind you - he does not simply delve into harmless tribalism to win a readership. He is race-mongering. Sure, the medieval Islamic world, which comprised of large chunks of the erstwhile Achaemenid empire, adopted a Persianate culture and in that place and time Europe's  renaissance theme of claiming kinship with ancient Greece made sense. But the reality is that Ancient Greece was culturally and geographically closer to Ancient Persia than to Northern and Western Europe, the bastions of Western civilisation today. What connects Greece to England is not culture or habits but race. By appropriating a freedom loving Athenian democratic model as a western ideal  - never mind the monarchies that dotted Greece, the slavery, the socialised subjugation of women - Mr. Holland is in fact indulging in white chest beating. Not cool.

I thought. 


The eastern border of the Achemenids 
But the author does pull you along in the sweep of his narrative. There may be inaccuracies in his presentation - India is scooped into the Persian fold on the basis of lost border territory thousands of miles away from the city of Pataliputra - but the distortion (besides having a breezy aspect to it, a line quickly snuck in here, a passing mention there, all adding to the effect,
Persian empire - parts of Greece and nothng beyond the Indus
some may say,) is done through implication or exaggeration and not through a brazen manipulation of facts. So Athenian idealism and Spartan obduracy are depicted as the face of Greek resistance in Persian Fire but the book also informs us that the Greek King of Macedonia and the Greek Queen of Artemisia sailed for the Great King Xerxes, that the Thebans of Greece fought alongside Xerxes, that Argos,  the land of Agamemnon - the Greek general in the mythical Trojan war - thwarted the Spartans all the time, and last but not the least, that the Athenians had nominally submitted to Darius I at one point. 





Xerxes
The book has the heft of truth. The slant is affectionately amused, pro Greek-resistance and European. The understatement is all British.  If I were white I think I would have loved the book. But from such books spring execrable movies like 300 where Xerxes of Persia is portrayed as seven feet tall with a nose ring! Do you think Xerxes above could be shown as the one below?


Xerxes in 300 (he is the one on the right!)
I think the Greco-Persian conflict was not an ultimately admirable revolt against a remote master by cute crazies from a far flung outpost.  The Greek civilisation was as advanced  as the Persians; their conflict would have been a natural power struggle. They were organised differently which gave them specific advantages and vulnerabilities.

And the book got me thinking  

Unification seems to have been a starting point for empire building. However what I found admirable in the Greeks was strangely their ability to collaborate and cooperate. It is amazing that the Spartan King Leonidas made his stand against Xerxes in Thermopylae, miles away from his native lands, while the Athenians led a combined Greek Navy off Artemisia and then Salamis. The Greeks for all their squabbles united  in order to preserve their way of life and their sense of being a distinct people. A sense of self was crucial to their ability to withstand predators. 

At a practical level, this self identification seems to have bypassed Indians - not once, in the face of wave after wave of marauders from the North West was it thought important to secure the passes that led through the Hindukush into India. Like Hotel California, India has invited the world to check in (and perversely not allowed them to leave). And the few instances of collaborative stands - the Rajput confederacy against Babur led by Sanga, the 1857 first war of independence against the British East India Company - have ended in spectacular failure.  Are we too divided to appreciate who is a foreigner and who is not? More troubling still, is this self identification, code for racist ideology? Ancient Indian texts refer to preservation of Dharma ("the" way of life), purity of race (the horror of miscegenation),  the idea of the mlechha (barbarian).  But as India became a potpourri of nations and races, this sense of self as separate and worth preserving warped into a casteist divisively supremacist and irrelevant ideology that could not recruit the energies of her people into a single unified force.

All food for thought. Glad I read the book even if I did not enjoy reading it. Go for it if you want a handle on Greek history with some accurate information about Ancient Persia. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

 This is a gritty novel about a bewildered colonel in a rainy Iran, mourning the demise of his family. A howl of bitterness and agony if you will, for what has happened to Iran.

The colonel is a man cashiered from the army presumably because he murdered his philandering wife (high time we corrected that etymological mistake); moreover he had refused to go to the front to fight a war (at the behest of the British, the afterword tells us). The colonel has his flaws and he has his principles. He also has five children with diverse political identities; he is not a man who subscribed to oriental notions of letting children be extensions of the family and community but allowed them to find their own way. Clearly the children were invested with a common bank of passion and principles however, and this legacy has made them dangerous to themselves. They have become the victims of successive oppressive regimes.


One son, a revolutionary with strong leftist leanings has given his life to the revolution but is ultimately reviled because he does not represent the theocracy in power. Another son a pious Muslim and a willing subject of the theocracy, dies at the Iraqi front. A daughter has made a pact to survive by marrying a slimy opportunist but she is not happy either, frightened of the evil spawned by expediency. The oldest son Amir, the eternal fence sitter and intellectual has not been spared either, for all his inaction. He is arbitrarily incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, then extolled for the sufferings visited on him by a despotic regime and invited to join the revolution, but later spat out by the new regime when he becomes expendable. Directionless and unsure, yet unable to reconcile to a neutered existence, he is sinking into a catatonic existence in his father’s basement. Meanwhile the youngest daughter Parvaneh has already reared her revolutionary head, distributing papers and probably rallying opinion against the Iraq war (I rely on the notes and the afterword for this). And for these crimes, she has been hanged at the age of fourteen.


The novel begins with the colonel being summoned in the dead of night to a decrepit office building to collect his Parvaneh’s broken body. The colonel is battling to keep a hold on himself as he is a soldier and appearances are important to him. At first he struggles hard to control the wild grief bursting through him (“…shroud, pick, shovel, don’t forget to lock the gate…” he tells himself, and then whimpers “Shroud, shroud, shroud…”), but as the night proceeds he loses his grip entirely until at the very end he stands naked and shivering not knowing what to do, a man ranting and raving about modern Iran and her bitter history of executing the very men who loved her, debating whether to free his dead daughter’s canary to certain death at the hands of the sleek black cat waiting by the pond or leave it in the cage to starve, to realize that it has already, confoundedly, been swallowed.


 The plot unfolds through interior monologue ­— wild ravings, stark and nightmarish impressions, flashbacks and bitter soul-searching, even an examination of modern Iranian history — presented in a stream of consciousness style. Dialogue interlinks passages of interior monologue and serves to bring us back into the action and take the story forward, though reader beware, the action may well be fantasy conjured by oppressed minds at the end of their tether. It is likely the reader misses or dismisses important information. There is stuff that is repeated and there are deaths announced in passing. (After spending many pages burying Parvaneh, the colonel mentions in one sentence that he has to change for Kuchik’s funeral, as Haddad has told him he died!) The colonel is the protagonist but a sufficient portion of the book is told from Amir’s perspective. The dual POV emphasizes the trans-generational nature of the Iranian tragedy. The setting is a rainy town (the coastal regions I am told by the afterword) – as cold, dank, grimy and awful as the story is. It was very hard reading until enough of the Iranian situation clarified itself for me to start reading it as an allegory. I can imagine this being easy for someone who understands the history of modern Iran. Aparna felt it would’ve been better to read the afterword before and everyone agreed. I was too busy appropriating Verena’s crackers and cheese to object (sorry Verena, I put it in the fridge to keep it fresh; I wanted to send it back with you, but by the time I remembered you had left. Convenient huh? Sorry, but also thank you – we had it on Saturday and it was delicious!).

 I feel our eyes would’ve glazed over and rolled back into our heads if we had tried to get the context first. Reading the book, however frustrating it was, made us ready to understand modern Persian history and in that sense Dowlatabadi’s book is very important. Further, given that we had only three weeks to finish the book and despite everyone claiming it was hard reading, all of us finished it and could make the allegorical connections. Mamta was struck by the fact that the name of Amir’s missing wife is purity, a quality that has gone missing for Amir. Everyone got the character of Khezr Javed, the ubiquitous instrument of state oppression who changes garb but remains the same, he whose actions are inexplicable and terrible. I liked the characterization of the colonel’s wife as licentious and amoral, possibly describing modern Iran as the child of incompatible hedonism and righteousness. The colonel’s killing of his wife has been interpreted by many as representing the burden of tribal pressures on Iran despite all the modern thought – our group disagreed with this view. It appears to us that in Iran, the desire to do the right thing has led to men of principle killing the sensual and the human in them, leaving behind their passionate but half formed children, - “fledglings who cannot fly - and a gale blowing.”

 Aparna wondered why Qorbani Hajjaj got so much bad press, he was clearly unsavoury but he was certainly not villain of the piece, the tragedy of Iran could not be attributed to him, yet he received maximum contempt from the writer.  Clearly idealism is extolled over expediency, but is the examination of the ideals not as important as the reviling of hypocrisy if one has to guard against extremism?

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

 It is important and interesting to note that a book like this, although still lying with the censors, has not been banned in Iran, that the author is not being persecuted, at least for now. The story of the author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi is incredibly interesting too, but you can Wikipedia all that. I am very glad I read this book. But I will never look askance again at a non-Indians who do not get Rushdie. Context is all ladies. And for people who would like some context before they embark on the book, please see below and do not sue me, my history of Iran is as follows, (attributions in brackets) 
Cruel Sumerians (Atwood formed that opinion for me)à Persians, Cyrus the great, the Achaemenid empire, the Sassanids (Zarathushtra, Alexander, Indo European language studies, Wikipedia)àArab invaders and the flight of Parsis to India (growing up in India)àadvent of the Turkic tribes (Wikipedia) àMongol invaders (Wikipedia)à advent of more Turkic people (Wikipedia)àSafavid Dynasty (Mughal chronicles, Wikipedia)àNadir Shah (rape of Delhi and the deathblow to Indian sovereignty in the face of Western imperialismàAmir Kabir Father of modern Iran, a progressive Prime Minister who could’ve taken Iran places but was killed (the book)à a period of political uncertainty as imperialistic forces, Britain and Russia in particular, jockeyed  for power in the Iranian landscape. There were patriots, men of fierce principles and integrity like Kolonel Mohammad Taqi Khan, etc. who tried to take the country forward for but who were ultimately taken down, often by whipping up sentiment against them (the book)à a coup by Reza Khan who founded the last dynasty to rule Iran and who might have been Iran’s Ataturk if Iran had been stronger and did not have oil; as it happened British Petroleum controlled everything leading to popular disgust (the book, Wikipedia) à and the overthrow of the Shah followed by the election of the uncompromising Mossadeq who nationalized the oil industry resulting in a paranoid CIA (media, Argo) à engineering a coup reinstating the Shah who was bolstered by the western powers and a secret service outfit, the hated SAVAKS (the book, media, Persepolis)àleading to simmering discontent leading to the àIslamic revolution and the advent of the Ayatollah; helped in no small way by the leftist resistance  (book, media, Rushdie)àtragedy of the Iraq war (Persepolis)àAhmadinejad (media)àMore Benign Now (media).
 

Mamta wished she could read it in Farsi and that led to an interesting discussion on the use of Anglo Saxon instead of Latin words to denote the fact that the writer has eschewed Arab imports in favour of original Persian words in his writing. But you see Farsi and Latin are closer cousins if you check out the Indo European Family tree, than Farsi and Anglo Saxon are. So to denote purity by using words that have less real resemblance to Farsi may or may not have been a great tactic, but since I do not know the language I will hold my peace. I think I will reread Persepolis now. It is in the graphic novel format with dollops of humour and a woman’s point of view. Makes for a change without changing the subject.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler
 I like Maeve Binchy because she sounds like Anne Tyler. I even like Ruth Rendell before she turns on the hypo horror, because she sounds like Anne Tyler.

There is a core of decency in Anne Tyler’s characters. They are credible, and the muted drama of their inner narrative is instantly recognizable, never mind that her stories are set in Baltimore while I read them sitting here in Singapore.

Anne Tyler puts a fictional family under the magnifying lens in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. What we get to see is tragedy - familial and personal - and perseverance – of people and their families. This is a universal theme, though probably poorly explored by writers who are mostly concerned with individual angst, endeavour or fortuity. The family is often shown as the circumstance around an individual. In this novel, we also get to see the converse.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the story of Pearl and her three children – Cody, Ezra and Jenny. The children’s father ups and leaves one day leaving Pearl to manage as best as she can. They turn out all right but not quite, like all of us I guess. The story is told from the perspectives of the main characters. Certainly, we know what they all think, either through a personal POV narrative or through some confessional piece of conversation. This easy comprehension of motivation and attitudes of family members is believable; Tyler’s style is very effective.

The descriptions are fantastically evocative – a big part of all our lives play out within the walls of our homes, yet until the advance of the blogging generation, literary produce very rarely concerned itself with the mundane details of home life. It either ran outdoors or delved deep into the individual psyche, leaving Anne Tyler to spark to life ‘the mild indoors.’ So we have ironed napkins stacked in a block, the conundrum of whether or not to wash a plastic doily, the act of a lady smoothing out fallen drops of water on her quilt after being helped to a few sips. We also have a mother who rages when she comes back from work to discover the dishes not done since morning and how the rage turns ugly. We see how this woman copes with her life and how the children have been scarred, even debilitated to an extent, but not damaged in a permanent way, certainly not destroyed. We see how the children resent their mother yet look out for her, save up to buy her presents, cannot bear to see her suffer. One has been granted a peek into others’ lives and I suppose the message is to teach us some empathy.

And thus the middle class family dynamic is mined for a study of the Human Condition.  As usual this book takes me to others – the setting of Jonathan Franzen’s “Corrections” is uncannily similar, while Paul Harding’s “Tinkers” looks to be the story of the missing father. Hmm, American settings both. In terms of a middle class family ‘saga’ I rate Kate Atkinson’s “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” better, for it also weaves in history. 


And my favorite Tyler is still “Saint Maybe.” 





Sunday, March 15, 2015

Numayishi Mizaz mein Shairana Andaaz

There was a discussion the other day of Zafar's Delhi and the Nawabs of Awadh. People quoted their favorite poets; there was a sadness for days gone by. Gauri described those times perfectly and I quote her below:

'Those were times of political turmoil, a very weak,inefficient,crumbling administration , a threat of a change in order was imminent and no one quite knew how it would turn out. But what of  the 'adab', the 'nazaaqat' the 'saleeqa' of a tehzeeb that since then has crumbled, the loss of a language that was essentially Indian and yet seems 'foreign' to most Indians now?'

What of? And these couplets rose unbidden to my mind:



Kya mol Yeh Nazakat, yeh tarbiyat, yeh taaleem

'Ke' phir Zamana badal gaya, zubaan badal gayi

Phir masroof raho, vilayati taalim mein,

Yeh hi teri kismet, isee mein teri khushi


Tabeeyat e tawayaf, puraane yaaron pe kya rona

Zaalim toh woh bhi thei, Be-abroo  to ab bhi hum.


And here I was hoping to write a villanelle... 



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Batik Rain and Other Stories by Ashwini Devare

‘Batik rain and Other Stories’, Ashwini Devare’s debut collection, is a book with a difference. Six stories set firmly in the mindscape of today’s Global Indian, bringing alive a slice of the great Diaspora and evoking the rhythms of a new community in the making, these stories are different because they are not replete with the received angst of second-generation immigrants – look no further than Jhumpa Lahiri or Chang Rae Lee. Neither are they characterized by the surprised indignation of a privileged person from back home facing negative discrimination for the first time. In real life people cannot allow their pain or frustration to bubble over like it does for Adichie’s Ifemulu, nor do they always have to subside into repressed creatures of suffering. They make their adjustments with grace, and with the support of society – a community of people in and probably off the same boat. Devare’s characters are these people and as a recorded history of a changing people, this book is important.

The stories span a wide arc. At one end is the story “Saroj”, a chronicle really, from past generations, of first time travels, loss, redemption and more travel. At the other end is “On Air”- a modern coming of age tale so universal, the Indian ethnicity of the heroine is irrelevant. My favourite, “Batik Rain”, centres around a family on an Asian holiday; the plot is not complicated but the writer keeps you on edge throughout, demonstrating a masterful control of tempo and narrative tension. I liked too ‘Siem Reap’ for how Devare weaves in a travellers’ perspective that I am partial to – thoughtful engagement with a different culture rather than being a mad box-ticker or a poolside sloucher. “Homecoming” and “Anthem of Guilt” are flipsides of the same coin, and describe to me perfectly, the conundrum of the NRI patriot.

Devare’s writing is informed by her professional training and her experience as a career journalist – this can be a good thing and a bad thing. She has a light touch and we do not have to put up with any authorial neuroses whatsoever. With a few deft strokes of her pen, she paints a very accurate picture of a marriage that helps a man rediscover his roots or another relationship that pulls him away from his mother and motherland. If there is stating rather than showing, it is understated and has the ring of truth to redeem it. However, Devare’s touch is much too light at times – “On air” for example predictably proceeds to a tame end - tortured introspections by the protagonists or fictive plot twists could have helped, but Devare is possibly wary of letting these devices take over her craft.

There is likewise a tendency to step back and give a panning shot of the background and the story up until that point, something that recalls late night chai and chat sessions with frequent backing-ups to understand a nuance, rather than the modern short story form where plot development does the talking, and flashbacks can never be straightforward. I find this refreshing though. Emotion and fantasy are kept tightly in check in ‘Batik Rain and other Stories’ and this might be a weakness, but the effect is surprisingly one of muted grace and integrity.


Devare succeeds in her portrayal of the urban pan Indian identity – a significant departure from the strong provincial flavours of all literary fiction coming out of the country. There is a welcome currency and immediacy to ‘Batik Rain and other Stories’ that should recommend itself to anyone interested in, or curious about the modern Indian dynamic.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ICE ON ME

Raju Maama was our favourite uncle. He was a great story-teller. A wave of comfort would settle over me and my brother when he started in his sonorous voice. Raju told us marvellous stories celebrating the bounty of our Gods – Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Parvathy, except he would say Mahavishnu, Mahalakshmi, Ambal. The way he rolled the appellations in his mouth, the pleasure with which he intoned their names was infectious. “...the Goddess is standing behind all the time, a smile playing on her lips, as he rants and bemoans his fate…”, so the story would go, and we would listen, rapt, knowing that a happy end awaited – all ills would be remedied so that the actors of the story could finally sit down to a celebratory feast like Asterix and the Gauls. And instead of roast boar, Raju would count off every single sweetmeat and savoury known to us, pronouncing Murukku and Badhusha, Paayasam and Puliyodarai with the same relish with which he spoke of God’s greatness. We would remind him to add our special requests to the menu – Mysore Pak and Mixture,  roast potato and onion pachadi, Bajji and Sojji. We could taste the food in our mouths just as well as we could feel God’s glory in our hearts.

Raju waited every day for a miracle – a miracle that would reverse his motor neuron degenerative disease. He was sixteen  when he started to stumble too much on the sports fields. The local doctor prescribed iron tablets and vitamins. When he continued to slip and slide, they went in for a second opinion. This was the early sixties in a provincial town in South India, but the doctor was very competent. The diagnosis broke over the family like a bucket of ice imploding inside of them. A hard cold rock wedged in their insides, to be ignored so they could carry on living and laughing. They did, although my grandfather, rather inexplicably, rowed with his superiors and lost his job, while my grandmother got diabetes and lost her temper forever, my oldest uncle went out to sea and my mother decided she would not write the IAS exams after all. But Raju prayed. When asked if treatment options were available, the doctor shook his head and said drily, “Only a miracle will cure him”. And so Raju prayed, for a miracle that would gather the reins of his body and give it back to him.

Raju was a natty dresser, a good looking boy in a Dharmendra-like fat-nosed way. He did not finish his BA program because there was not much awareness of Lou Gehrig’s diseases or Friedrich’s Ataxia- you could not ask for someone to write for you unless you lacked a hand I suppose - and if your handwriting went all over the place, well, then you deserved to fail. Owing to my grandfather’s continuous lobbying he managed to get a few apprenticeships here and there although it was tough to obtain the “PH” classification. He finally got a job as a receptionist in a Public Sector Undertaking; his main concern in an eight to six day was that he should not  have to use the toilet.

Raju was not wheelchair bound until he turned forty, but he struggled to walk, prompting many to ask if he was spastic, epileptic, if it was polio, and once in Ambala, if he had had too much to drink. We tried to explain, but we were vague about it ourselves. The progression of his disease eventually followed that of ALS, but the onset symptoms were those of Friedrich’s Ataxia – it did not matter, no cures exist for these diseases, and management and treatment options are limited as doctors have very few cases to work on. To create a data base of case histories is in itself challenging outside of the First World – and that is why it is wonderful that the ice bucket challenge has done so much to increase awareness  of a disease that hits you in your youth and then proceeds to rob you of all vitality- your ability to use your limbs, your trunk, your neck and your head. Freezing you in your tracks. 


My youngest cousins had no idea what an amazing raconteur Raju Maama had been. Talking to him had become an effort as his slurring got worse by the day; mealtimes were an ordeal with my aunt or my mother on the wait, ready to thump him back to normal every time he choked while trying to swallow. Inevitably the food turned bland and the conversation banal. 

Many people feel that the ALS challenge was “stunty” that too much water got wasted (and I suppose energy too, for we were not digging up ice from the Himalayas), that it was insensitive to the regions that were thirsty for water, and that people were doing the challenge in lieu of donations which was not great. They probably have a point.

I did it because I think Raju would have liked it. His belief in miracles waxed and waned just as his rages ebbed and surged during the course of his life.  He was more delusional than depressive though, and that might have helped him cope, as did a wicked, little-boy sense of humour. He woud have found the idea of dunking ‘ice water’ on one's head, (that’s what he asked for by the way – it was always 'ice water please') hilarious. It would have made his day. And thousands of them doing it for a disability that afflicted him would have tickled him no end. He was not very high minded, I am afraid, but he struggled everyday and was cheerful and courteous to all.

To Raju Mama who sits in the heavens next to Ambal and Mahavishnu and Mahalakshmi -  some ice water on me.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The F word


Blast from the Past- in which I am all strident and sanctimonious.

The journalist heroine gives in a piece about the importance of looking good. Based on painful personal experience, her account argues that appearance is our greatest asset. Her editor is surprised and concerned. Leaving aside his soft corner for her, he is worried because the cover article for the week’s issue is the Miss India beauty pageant. He does not need dissenting wet blankets while India joyously celebrates International Recognition. “But no sir,” our heroine replies, “I am not anti beauty pageants, nor am I a feminist. I simply want to delve into the psychoblahblah….”

That is when I switched the TV set off and logged onto the machine..

Did the writer know the meaning of feminism when he wrote that sorry line in the serial? I always thought Manisha Koirala considered herself a liberated soul until I read some interview. “I am not a women’s libber or a feminist”. Why are women so scared of the F word? I am forever coming across women deathly scared of being typecast. Thinking individuals yes. Independent, smart, talented, free, ambitious, can take care of herself - yes. Lovely, gracious, classy- well…is it politically correct to admit…what the hell, yes yes yes. But call a woman a feminist and she sits back and faint frown lines appear on the forehead.

For heaven’s sakes it is not so terrible.

Sure, people get defensive about labels all the time. So you may be against the Pokhran blasts but possibly hate to be called a pacifist; just like a Hindutva supporter does not want to be a communalist. But at times the courage to stand under a label, can give it the legitimacy that it needs.

Feminism is not another word for bra burning. Feminism is giving women their rightful place in society. And if our level headed, competent and successful sisters who are busy enough leading complex lives thank you and  please do not complicate it further, stop and consider it- something that they agree with. It is tough to be part of a movement. But it is the easiest thing in the world to say, “I am a feminist”. It will definitely be an honest statement.

My maid was a good student, but she could not go to school after she got her period. She was married when she was fourteen. Her husband was eighteen. She had her first baby when she was fifteen and almost died in the process. Her husband was unemployed, and she supplemented her father-in-law’s income by sweeping in buildings and clearing garbage. A come-down certainly but it held the family together for ten years, until her man got a job as a unionised bank employee. She still works buildings, gritting her teeth and waiting for the day her son will come up and get her out of her rut. Her husband sits up late in the night drinking with his friends. If Krishna gets upset waiting up for the men, (there are only two rooms in the house) her husband rages and refuses to eat. Indeed he insisted on taking a peg with his multivitamins when he had jaundice. Like Krishna says, ‘Aurat Paon ki Juti hoti hai. (Woman is the slipper on your foot).

Muga’s husband drinks and makes a fool of himself at every party I go to. I am waiting for a woman to do the same.

Taranjit is twenty five and lives with his retired parents. He throws a tantrum if the promised pudding does not arrive. Indian children are very spoilt I know, but what takes the cake is the mother saying the pudding was eaten by the dog. Just what kind of women do we breed who resort to lying to their own children over stupid matters.

Even today the advice meted out by many well meaning parents is not to argue. Living off the son is fine but check out the families where the girl’s parents stay with her. You will be furnished with justifications galore. Not to miss that halo behind the son-in-law’s head.

When I passed out of management school it was different. Now everyone is married and I am shocked at the ease with which men and women slip into traditional roles. What starts as ego and one-upmanship (I will be the best hostess) ends up in a bind. I have not seen a single party where the men do not sit at the bar while the women walk into the kitchen helping out, cribbing about maids and exchanging home-making tips.

Count the number of men who help out in the house. Compare that with the number of women who bring in comparable amounts of money into the house. Check the man’s attitude during his honeymoon when he cannot believe this goddess wants to actually cook for him. Contrast this with his quibbling seven years and two babies later- he is the sole breadwinner, she gave up her job to look after the kids- he cannot handle upuma three days in a row. Sure its tough having upuma day after day, but your wife does it baby. You want eggs, go ahead and scramble them.

I think I am getting carried away and unidimensional, but we live in an unequal world. You may or may not feel it all the time and it depends whether you are all worked up and want to do something about it or not. But surely you can recognise inequality. That is all it takes. Go ahead and say you are an F---ist. It will not bite you.