Monday, April 30, 2018

Loss of Innocence

The loss of innocence in children these days, that the reality song & dance shows are a rude reminder of, is as tragic as it is appalling.

I recall my own growing years. For all that it was not.
At 17-18, I was gender neutral.
In fact, even at 25, I was gender neutral. But I mention 17, 18 because that's when my gender neutrality stands out in sharp contrast with the over sexuality of this classmate I used to hang out with. 

By gender neutrality, I mean, I was not particularly aware of my sexuality. I just felt like a person. I wasn't constantly aware of being female. I was just a person.
I wasn't alive to who was looking at me as I walked about in the college campus or on the streets. I wasn't constantly checking the mirror to see if I looked attractive enough.
I wasn't alive to any attention I might be getting from the opposites. Even if some guys were looking at me, observing me, it was completely lost on me.
If they passed some comment, I didn't hear it because, one, I was in my own world, two, if I did hear it, it must be for someone around me. But not me. Never. So I always thought.

I loved to dress up. I remember those long earrings, a bunch of pearls or crystals, enamel, black metal, but I always dressed for the mirror, for myself, never mindful of how I looked in the eyes of the opposite sex.
What turns on boys, what turns them off, these were subjects as known to me as escape velocity to a carpenter.

I was just a person. Without any special awareness of my sexuality as a female.
As I started hanging out with this classmate, I had this feeling that she was very different. And something about it just didn't feel right.
I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was because my vocabulary those days didn't include the words required to express or conceive adult psyche.

But today when I look back, I know exactly what was behind the way she carried herself.
She had this exaggerated awareness of her sexuality. And she was always alive to how she appeared to the boys around her. I mean, always.

She was pretty and she knew it. I was pretty too but had no clue about it. My parents had kept it a well guarded secret because they thought it was a useless distraction. 

She always painted her face. Even though I would tell her that cosmetics were full of chemicals, her lipstick and eye liner were always on. I mean, always.

She had a collection of suspenders that came with a belt at the waist that you stretched backwards and tied behind.
On days that she wore them, she would ask me every now and then to tighten the belt a little more, so the dress became figure hugging.
At 17, a girl doesn't have much of a figure and both of us were tender and slender, I, a little more than her, but then, she was trying to accentuate whatever she had.

One day she came to college wearing pink jeans and some guys made teasing remarks about it, and sure enough, she wore them again, the very next week. To evoke those comments all over again. She was successful.

She was so alive to the attention she might be getting in the campus, the corridors, even the prayer hall, that she wouldn't miss a single remark a guy gang made, even a hundred metres away.
All along you would think she was in conversation with you, and only later, when she told you about this comment she had heard the guys make, that you realized one of her ears had been tuned to other signals as well.

What was remarkable about the whole thing was that, she was alive to this attention, all the time. And did everything she could to get more of it.

Her gait was a perfect catwalk. Guys commented about it and of course, that had been her very objective.
When I asked her why she walked like that, she said her gait was naturally like that. Really?

We had to introduce ourselves to our new lecturers at the beginning of every academic year.
When her turn came, she would say she loved pets and her collection included a dog, two cats, 3 cockroaches, 4 lizards and five spiders.
By the end of the introduction, everyone had noticed her, and she had become popular, to be sure.

When the academic year came to a close, you could see autograph books and slam books in circulation.
Most of the people just handed blank autograph books or printed slam books available in shops to classmates and friends.
She designed her own handwritten slam book, filled it with all manner of questions meant to elicit answers that would compliment her.
Who do you think is the prettiest girl in the college?
Who do you think is the most popular girl in our batch?
Who according to you is the best dressed?

She would get many proposals from boys. She would act shocked, (though she had seen it coming, even instigated that feeling in them) say no to them and then hang out with all of them trying to 'help them get over her', meanwhile accepting presents and chocolates from them.

During some cultural event, she participated in a group dance. The other girls had either innocent smiles on their face or no expression at all. She was the only one to pout and wear coquettish expressions. Completely novel in those days.

Of other girls in the college who were also attractive and had the attention of boys, she didn't have one good thing to say, but many faults to find.

Talking of a boy in the class who was interested in some girl, she said she could get him to fall in love with her(self) if she tried. I said, no, he is devoted to that girl. She said she was ready to take that as a challenge. I said, not interested.
Potential vamp, I thought!

Now when I look back, for a 17 year old, that too 20 years ago, she was over sexed. Already an overripe woman. Mentally.
She had gotten over the teenage awkwardness a little too soon. And also her innocence.
The way she talked, her accent, the way she dressed, carried herself, her body language, facial expressions, all of it was as if she were performing for an audience that was looking on.

What's fundamentally wrong with the whole thing can be summarized in one word.
Right and wrong are all about proportion.
All things - anger, desire, love, lust, ambition, passion,... all have their designated place in the scheme of things.
When any one thing grows out of proportion and becomes all pervading and all consuming in our life, it makes us gross, ugly, sick and morbid.

I mean, this girl - there was not a thing genuine about her demeanour. There was an air of artificiality about the whole of her.
Her talk, her walk, her expressions, her body language, her daintiness, were a never ending performance for an audience that she imagined was watching her all the time.

Years later when I continued to 'feel like a person' most of the time, I realized that this trait, this gender neutral consciousness as different from sex consciousness, was individual and not particularly related to age.
Not only that, but also, that this principle about proportion was true at 17 as well as at 27.
That all pursuits and preoccupations must be delegated to their proper positions in the scheme of things and none must grow out of proportion and occupy the pedestal.
Though, innocence must form a bigger part of us at 17 than at 27.

Recently, some side actress from Bollywood said 'she felt reduced to a vagina' after watching a film about Rajput women jumping into sacrificial fires to save their honour from Islamic marauders.
What made the woman misguided, in fact, pathetic, was that, of all the gross, ugly, vulgar, degraded people and events she is surrounded by, it was the honourable Rajput women that evoked this thought in her.

What should have evoked such response in her but didn't, unfortunately, and more ironically, are a zillion things make up her world, and to a dangerous extent, ours... 
The loss of innocence, the exaggerated consciousness of one's sexuality, as seen in
item songs of Bollywood,...
the reality dance shows where children gyrate like adults,...
the marketing and advertisement machines that sneak in hotties even when selling tissue paper,...
cricket matches that use half naked dance girls in the name of cheerleaders,...
unimaginative undergarment ads that thrust the privates of men and women into your face,...
Plastic surgeries all around to pump up lips, face, nose, thighs, and what not,... 
mainstream movies taking to soft porn,... voyeuristic supplies filling every inch of our entertainment space...
It is these that reduce the essence of a woman to a few blobs of flesh. 
But while all of these are peddled as a sign of liberation, creativity, freedom of choice and such, some perverted notion of freedom makes chaste women, a symbol of oppression ...

Coming back to the subject of my own gender neutrality, just so you don't go away thinking I was a tomboy,...
From the very beginning, I was emotional, intense and deep. I was also philosophical. I must have been seven when I first felt 'poignant'.
I would become deeply attached to people and take longer than all others to get over my attachments. I would write poems. I would savour music and paintings, I would dwell upon lines while book reading and such...
Intense and romantic I was, but there was nothing adult about the whole thing.
Again, there is nothing wrong about being or feeling adult, but while it's most natural and easy to be a body and to feel like one, its difficult to prevent the feeling from clogging your reach to the ache of the heart and that of the soul.

The loss of innocence is a pathetic thing because of this.
In attending to the endless demands of the ego for more attention and that of the flesh for more titillation, the shy voice of the heart, and the dull ache of the soul recede to quiet corners, waiting there forever to be heeded, but in vain, for the path of gratification, whether of the ego or of the flesh, is a dangerous freeway on which, speed is rewarded with thrill and the thirst for more thrill feeds ever more speed.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ladhak & Kashmir 2010 - Day 13 - Srinagar - Shikara Ride on Dal Lake

How many times - ten and hundreds - had we seen the Dal Lake on television! The iconic Hindi song ‘Ye Chand Sa Roshan Chehra’ featuring a very young Sharmila Tagore and Shammi Kapoor was shot on a Shikara on Dal lake. The song ends with Shammi Kapoor losing balance and falling into the lake with a splash.

Today, if someone were to fall into the Dal lake or even have its water splashed over them because of someone else falling into it, I would be extremely sorry for them.

‘Ek zamane mein hum iska pani peete the’ said our maajhi as we sat in our shikara gliding over the waters of Dal lake. Now you don’t want to touch the waters, because a thousand houseboats on the Dal lake let the wastes from their toilets into the lake.

So, at long last, here we were, on the iconic Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir! My father said he would like to take credit for it. He had been the one to suggest including Kashmir in the itinerary. Both of us had been to the nearby internet browsing center in Mysore and changed the return flight tickets to Srinagar-Delhi instead of Leh-Delhi.

But then, the disturbance in the valley had erupted again just when we had begun our tour and my dad had had daily visitations of second thoughts about Kashmir. It was I who had said, you may do as you like, come what may, I shall go to Srinagar.

So it was I who deserved the credit but as the shikara glided, we submitted to the pleasant ride and did not argue over the matter.

There was enough time for the sun to set, so the view of the waters around, the shikaras and the surrounding mountains was clear. The water itself was clouded. There seemed to be a swaying forest of miniature plants and trees submerged and in it.

A lone colourful shikara surrounded by blue waters having green mountains in the background was a beautiful picturesque sight. So also were houseboats. While most of the houseboats seemed anchored, some were moving.

Lucky Dawn, Neil Armstrong, Nanga Parbat, Happy Dawn, Mughal Palace, Queen Elizabeth, were the names of houseboats.

The shikara itself is a boat unlike any other. It has its own structure, shape, make, feel and experience that’s unique to it. The inside of it is a seat that’s more of a bed than a seat. You could stretch as much as you want to. the upholstery is colourful, and made of brocaded material of bright and dark colours in combination with gold. There is a roof so you are well covered from the sun and satiny curtains that are ornamental, serving no purpose.

There were vendors on Shikaras around selling all kinds of wares. Corn, Chai, jewelry… If you don’t shoo them away firmly, they will come to you one after the other and spoil your ride. The edge of the water at some places is covered with cup shaped thick looking shiny lotus leaves.

If you take your eyes off the water around you and the world that’s floating on it, you will see the dome of the Shankaracharya temple on the mountain, to the left of the tall tower, only slightly distinguishable from the trees around it.

The colour and character of the water changes with the changing sun.

Our maajhi plucked a flower, not sure if it was lotus or water lily, a yellow coloured flower. He bent the stem of it this way and that and then tore it into two parts showing us an interesting pattern that made it look like a string of corals. You could wear it around your neck, he said.

We cruised close to the houseboats now. They had beautiful, antique looking facades made of intricately carved wood. I would never want to live in one of them. When you visit Srinagar, you could check into a room in a hotel or you could check into a houseboat on Dal lake, more expensive than hotel rooms. Most people fancy this option but they do not imagine the houseboat in anchored in waters of their own waste and that of a thousand others’. Yuck!

Whether or not you ask for it, you are taken to water lanes flanked on both sides by shops selling typical Kashmiri wares - shawls, embroidered dress material, handicrafts, painted pots and jars made of metal or papier mache, and such. I hopped off the boat, stepped into a shop, took pictures and returned to the boat, much to the disappointment of our maajhi who would not earn any commission that evening. That’s one thing that plagues tourism in North India - all of them are out to earn their commissions through you - taking you to this shop or that without asking you if you want to buy. My mind is strongly conditioned to believe that this commission thing is an ignoble, deplorable, wretched business, thanks to the animated anger, disgust and indignation with which my father mentioned the subject whenever an opportunity surfaced.

Somewhere in the middle of the lake was a park on which stood a restaurant, surrounded by a manicured lawn with some flowering plants. The Shikara would stop there for a few minutes. Some more pictures and we were back to our shikara.