A TRANSFORMATION OF THE HEART

I dread watching movies that open in a hospital – you know for sure that the ending would either be copiously tragic or unrealistically happy. So it was with utmost trepidation that I attended a friends and family show organized by celebrated fashion designer Vikram Phadnis for his debut directorial venture – Hrudayantar.

Our association with Vikram goes back a whole generation. His parents and my late in-laws were the best of friends, which has continued to the present generation (Vikram and his sister are very close to my wife and sister-in-law), and continues into the next (his niece and our daughter are very good friends). In fact, my in-laws played a major role in Vikram’s parents (both doctors) getting married! As a child, Vikram would keep repeating that when he grew up he wanted to be a part of the film industry just like Jatin Kaka (my late father-in-law). He took his initial tentative steps by starting out as a fashion choreographer and then graduated to being a fashion designer. He soon gained popularity and was a highly sought after designer for most of the top stars from the industry. Vikram initially floated the idea of directing a movie some thirteen years back, and had a script ready for the same. He had even announced his intentions and had spoken to a few stars too. Unfortunately, things did not work out the way he wanted them to, and saw his plans peter out, but Vikram never gave up on his dream. While his fashion designing flourished (he completed 25 years in the industry recently), he always kept the vision of making a movie in the forefront of his creatively active mind. About four years back, he rewrote the story, changed the patois from Hindi to Marathi, signed up some stellar Marathi actors and finally realized his dream – Vikram’s movie released last week to a rousing reception.

As far as the movie goes, the story is something that we have seen in many movies over the years. But the cinematic treatment, character development, direction, acting and most importantly scripting is outstanding, and believe me, I am not saying this just because I know Vikram personally. I have always believed that a good scene is where the dialogues are kept to the minimum and the script conveys the director’s vision – Hrudayantar has many such moments. Well-known actress Mukta Barve plays an ad professional who also manages her home, while Subodh Bhave plays her husband as a hotelier who has hardly any time for his family. They have both given exceptional performances – Mukta’s reaction in the scene where she comes to know about her daughter’s disease is heart-rending, and Subodh in the scene he gives a monologue explaining his perspective of the marriage breaking down is downright brilliant. But the movie belongs to the two child artistes who play their kids (Trushnika Shinde and Nishtha Vaidya) – they are mind-blowing. How Vikram managed to get such terrific performances from these debutantes is something of a wonder. When I asked him about this he was modest enough to say that they are natural born actors (but I know how good he is with kids). Just as their crumbling marriage breaks down completely, the couple are informed that their elder daughter (all of ten years) is a patient of leukemia. The family coping with this devastating news forms the crux of the movie. Dialogues are simple and the conversations feel like normal people discussing matters in their households. For those who do not follow Marathi, Vikram has done the subtitling himself – not a literal translation, but a contextual one which makes it easy to comprehend. For me the highlight of the movie were the scenes where the script makes the actors emote with just their understated facial expressions and restrained hand gestures. The music also ably supports the screenplay by being inclusive and not trying to go for cacophony in the name of exclusivity. Of course, there are a few minor flaws (it is a tad bit slow in the first half), but the overall effect of the movie more than makes up for it. Those close to me know that I rarely express my emotions while watching movies, but this one truly made me choke in some scenes. This movie truly brings about a Hrudayantar – a transformation of the heart.

This one is also a lesson for all married couples who, over a period of time into matrimony, tend to take each other for granted. This movie reiterates the fact that marriage is a complex institution which requires some adjustments, a little bit of compromise, a dash of pacification, coupled with lots of tender loving care (from both sides). The other take for me personally from this is that one should never give up on your dreams – Vikram took thirteen years to realize his! Walt Disney expressed this best when he said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them”. So dear reader, remember that it is never too late to pursue your dreams!

WISER BUT NOT OLDER

I made the annual acquaintance with my birthday last week, and a lot of my well-wishers wanted me to write a blog in celebration. My answer to all of them was that I would convert my divagating thoughts to meaningful words once I sober down after the partying. In between the revelries some random observations (all my own, with malice towards no one) did traipse into my mind, which I have collated below.

Family and friends mean a lot: Going by the blessings and good wishes I received for my birthday, I can easily live up to the ripe age of one million! A big thank you to all for taking time out for wishing me through your messages and phone calls. As I like to say, if I were to count these blessings in terms of coinage, then I am the richest man in the world. And no amount of thanks would be enough for the efforts made by my wife and daughter in ensuring that every birthday of mine is an unforgettable commemoration. I am not very overtly communicative when it comes to expressing love, but they are indisputably the world around which my life revolves.

Gray hair and maturity: The experiences we gain while moseying through life is undoubtedly the world’s best teacher, but a teacher we refuse to learn from. Occasionally I behave indecorously with my wife and daughter (which I regret later), knowing fully well that I am at fault, but it is something that I have been trying to remedy. I persist doing some things which I should avoid (gorging on cholesterol-rich food), while avoiding doing things I should (driving sagaciously on open roads). I still try to out-shout my adolescent daughter in an argument, knowing fully well that she is just a growing girl who likes to express herself candidly. So gray hair is definitely changing me for the better, but has not yet brought the desired level of maturity.

Daughters better in all aspects: In a country where the game of cricket is a religion, the Indian men’s cricket team is unarguably the most overrated commodity. At the same time, the financially restricted women’s team is the most under-rated. I have always believed that daughters are definitely stronger than sons – the past few days have proven that given the same facilities and money, the women in blue can turn our men green with envy. But unfortunately we still pay superfluous obeisance to “boys”, while ignoring the more talented “girls”.

The transmuting social fabric of India: An alarming trend developing in India, where selective protests are being held in the name of one unlawful and deplorable lynching of a young boy, but not others. How can the equally shocking murders of a Kashmiri policeman or the Pune resident (who was only protecting her cat) be any less important? Have we debased ourselves to such a level that we are now playing politics with cold-blooded murders? Similarly, terming anyone with views opposed to your own as “bhakts” or “anti-nationals”, is equally appalling. Our armed forces may not paint themselves in glory for the civil society, but they are the ones who are valiantly trying to keep our borders safe, and for that alone deserve all the kudos they can get.

The disintegrating fourth estate: The media, which should ideally be presenting balanced, analytical and unbiased views seem busy polarizing the country using stories “allegedly” served to them by “vested” interests. A recent example being the confusion and misinformation being spread about the new tax regime. Having studied GST from close quarters, I can confidently say that it is definitely not as complicated as it is being made out to be. If monitored and implemented strictly, it can usher in a new era of tax reforms in India. Similarly, Indira Gandhi is suddenly being hailed as the best Prime Minister our country ever had, and Modi (who has a similar exacting leadership style) becomes a tyrant! Equally laughable are the attempts made to portray the Congress as the one who floated the ideas being now “copied” by Modi. If so, why could they not implement it? After all they were in power for more than 10 years (of course, they were busy looting the country)! The idea of a maturing democracy cannot be based on individuals or dynasties, but on our collective responsibilities. Governing a country as diverse, populous and divisive as ours is not a cake-walk, and anyone attempting to do so does not deserve such venomous vilification.

As I mentioned above, these are my personal observations and not many may agree with me. But unlike some of our celebrity rabble-rousers, I am open to critique. We pretentiously advise our children to clear the clutter in their room, but do we personally clear the clutter that we carry inside our heads? Over the years I have grown wiser (not older) and learned that life does not allow anyone to play catch with it, so don’t waste time fretting, fuming and holding on to your obstinate egos. Let go… move on… smile and spread a lot of smiles around.

THE TRANQUIL READER IN ME

Everyone who knows me will vouch for the fact that I am a voracious reader. As I have mentioned in some of my previous blogs, I inherited the reading habit from my late grandfathers – from both sides of the family. Both were avid readers and exemplary writers, (though their writing was quite limited). If blogs and the internet existed during their times, I am sure both would have been published many times over. I do remember the times when my maternal grandfather used to dictate official letters, while being amazed at the way he structured and worded it. He even had a manual typewriter on which he used to type some of the letters himself. My paternal grandfather would read the Time of India from the first word till the last, and would remember almost everything that he read. Every time we cousins used to announce our class results, grandfather would only be interested in the marks we scored in English!

I personally prefer purchasing printed books (rather than the currently ubiquitous eBooks). I was part of a library a long time ago, but I found that it made more sense for me to buy books and read them at leisure. The smell of freshly printed pages, the thrill of holding the book in your hands and physically turning pages as you read, can never be replicated by its electronic equivalent. Though I am a hardcore fiction fan, I also read other genres, including non-fiction, autobiographies, mythology (Indian and global), inspirational and self-help books, newspapers, and even comics (which are suavely termed graphical novels these days). In fiction I prefer thrillers, murder mysteries, fantasy and sci-fi – I believe that life in general is tough anyways, so a little bit of escapism through such books is always welcome. Thrillers (James Bond, Modesty Blaise, Jack Reacher, Gabriel Allon, etc.) and fantasy (Game of Thrones series, despite GRRM’s wearisome style of character building to move the story forward, Conan the Barbarian, Hobbit series, etc.) are some of my favourites. In mythology I am an avid reader of Devdutt Pattanaik, a modern mythologist who cleverly draws parallels between Indian and world mythologies, subtly drawing the reader into contemplating the similarities while appreciating the differences. In autobiographies the best I have read so far is Mahatma Gandhi’s, “My Experiments with Truth” – a brutally honest self-evaluation, laying bare all the warts and sores that the great man had. Though I am not his biggest of fans, the autobiography is an eye-opener for anyone who wants to understand the man. It also shows how good autobiographies should be written. This is so unlike the recent over-hyped one of a Hindi movie producer / director, which is a contemptible exercise in mediocrity, repetitiveness, balderdash and inanity. But then these are apt adjectives to describe our vacuous Hindi movie industry anyway! One exception is the recent autobiography of the erstwhile leading romantic hero, which I hope to complete soon. I do not have a huge bookshelf with aspirational books kept for show – like you see in most people’s homes. People who like show off such bookshelves have hardly read any of the books on display – this becomes obvious when you ask them exploratory questions about some of these books.

Reading is one habit which I always encourage children to cultivate. This is easier said than done, with many people not really interested in reading tomes. But reading does not mean only books – reading comics (the ones that are meant for children) is a good beginning. There are so many books written specifically for kids these days – take the Harry Potter series (though I am not such a big fan), or better still any of the children’s books written by the inimitable Roald Dahl or Ruskin Bond. A daily reading of the newspapers will be extremely influential in your life. Not that in today’s age of post-truths and half-baked information, reading newspapers is such a good idea, but these are excellent methods of inculcating the reading habit in children, teenagers and adults. Even a studied skimming of headlines would give enough material to keep one updated enough to be an erudite contributor in any discussion on current topics. I sometimes even read movie scripts (as and when I can get hold of them online) to understand the vision of the writer, and then watch the movie to see how the director has translated it onto the big screen. One script I would love to get my hands on is that of Bahubali – it would be didactic to delve into the movie script of India’s biggest blockbuster.

Reading is a habit that opens up phantasmagorical pastures of imagination for children in which they can play to their heart’s content. It enriches and enhances mental growth, while opening new perspectives for a child to indulge and partake in. For children, it throws open doors while adults see only windows that they fear to look through. And you will agree that the good habits you develop in your nonage stay with you till dotage. I would like to end with the quote from one of my favourite writers, George R. R. Martin, which is very apt for all of us – “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… the man who never reads lives only once”.

AN UNDENIABLE EXPRESSION OF LOVE

I had been suffering from a temporary bout of writer’s block. For the past few weeks, I had been toying around with various ideas – I even started writing one on the biggest (in scale and production values) and highest grossing (1000 crores and counting!!!) Indian movie, but there has been so many reams written on this one already that anything I write would pale in comparison. A few topical political issues traipsed into my mind, but slinked away quietly. I have decided to religiously (pun intended) avoid any write-up involving politics, since it invariably gets me branded by pseudo liberals as a “bhakt” – even when presented with sound logic and verified facts. Then a recently hosted get-together for my wife’s side of the family, planted a seed of an idea into my mind, which I nurtured into this.

I am married into a Gujarati family (and extremely happy about it), which at most times is delightful, but at others is certifiably quaint! As per Indian traditions one does not marry an individual but an entire family, which is true in my case too. Fortunately, I am always treated like royalty (make no mistake, Gujarati’s always treat their sons-in-law as royalty), and this accounts for my perennially happy state of mind. Gujaratis, and most definitely my wife’s side of the family, love food – irrespective of whether they are eating or feeding, they just love food! There has never been an occasion wherein I visited a relative’s house and have not been treated to epicurean delights – the starters are always delectable and the main course is always an opulent spread. What we ordinary mortals call dessert is something that runs throughout the course of a meal for Gujaratis – sweets can be consumed as starters, main course… and off course! Have you ever travelled with a Gujarati family? Believe me, neither the mode of transport nor location matters – they carry enough food for themselves, co-passengers, attendants, drivers, pilots, for the denizens of the place they are travelling to… and some more. Gujaratis somehow seem to travel with this perpetual fear of a provender apocalypse. You can rest assured that if a Gujarati family is travelling, the bag with victuals will far outweigh other baggage. A Gujarati family will remain relatively calm if an airline misplaces their luggage, but will definitely go ballistic if their bag of comestibles is misplaced! So if you are in the company of a Gujarati, please ensure that you do not make deprecating remarks against food.

The other thing that propels my wife’s side of the family out of stupor is Hindi movies. The family’s WhatsApp group is usually dormant… until there is some discussion on movies (or food). Any mention of movies (or food) and the group goes into an unprecedented hyper-active mode, with debates, arguments, recipes and movie dialogues going viral in the group. My grandfather-in-law, his siblings, and most of his progeny were closely involved in the Hindi movie industry. From the current generation, my wife’s niece works in a well-known actor-producer-director’s company, while another relative is an actress (she starred as one of the main leads in a highly celebrated on-going American TV series). A celebrated South Indian movie actor-director-producer and his actress wife, are very close family friends of ours. When we attended a popular Hindi play recently, the director who has also directed movies, instantly recognized my wife (he had last seen her over two decades back). He fondly recollected the delectable dinner parties hosted by my in-laws on their building terrace which he used to attend. In toto, it is like movies are part of their bloodstream – in fact, there was an uncle who used to joke that if you cut the veins of any family member of the late Vasantrai Desai, you would get film reels spurting out instead of blood! Any family pow-wow becomes a virtual hotspot for exchanging movie trivia and salacious gossip about the movie industry (culinary recipes too!).

In general, this is a community that likes to distribute happiness… and if there are some confectionaries to go with it, the better. I have rarely seen a Gujarati who looks dejected (except maybe losers in the stock market). Their immaculate hospitality skills apart (you will never step out hungry from a Gujarati household), their happy-go-lucky attitude towards life, and extravagance in everything that they do, this is a community that works hard through the week (they also happen to be one of the richest communities in India), only to party harder during the weekends. I am lucky that I am now an honorary member of this culturally rich and gastronomically diverse community.

Over the past thirteen years that I have been married, I have realized that my wife’s family is simply expressing their irrefutable love and affection for me through food. And this has actually humbled me to such an extent that I simply gorge on this food – something that has got metamorphosed as the unchecked growth of my erstwhile waif-like waistline!

AN INVETERATE INFATUATION

Professional and domestic commitments aside, I was also working on the topic to write about, which delayed my regular blog. Then a friend suggested something that is saddening while being relevant and topical.

I have this close friend of mine who is quasi-addicted to social media. His morning begins with checking the phone for messages on WhatsApp and Facebook. He sends out good morning messages (along with the thought for the day – which apparently not everyone appreciates), to all his friends on WhatsApp, hits the like button on Facebook posts, before getting off the bed for his morning ablutions. His motive is very simple and altruist – he just wants friends to wake up every morning to a good thought… but the fact is that he has now got used to doing it every morning. No amount of cajoling or persuading by his wife has been able to get him off this fixation. It is not that he does nothing else – he attends to his professional and domestic responsibilities with equanimity, but cannot resist himself from checking his phone for updates every time it pings.

I am sure my friend is not the only one who does this. Social media has permeated into our daily lives to such a large extent that it has now become an intrinsic part of daily humdrum lives. At some level, social media has brought friends closer – I can vouch for it, since it got me in touch with school friends after almost twenty-five years of being incommunicado. But the detrimental effects far outweigh the perceived benefits that social media can bring into our lives. This friend who suggested the topic finds it rebarbative – she feels that it is extremely intrusive and invades the personal space that each individual has around her or him. While opening a delightful channel of communication between friends and well-wishers, it has also opened a Pandora’s box of unrealistic and unsolicited expectations. WhatsApp has the dreaded blue tick which indicates to the sender that you have read the message, and woe betide you in case the reply is delayed. Things have reached such a stage that a delay in responding to messages is now looked at as an offense on the part of the sender, conveniently forgetting the fact that the recipient may be genuinely busy or otherwise occupied. Or better still – honestly does not want to reciprocate (or just being nasty). What is it that transforms a mensch into an unsociable ogre, if he or she declines a reaction to social media posts? If a rejoinder is so imperative, would it not be better to pick up the phone and talk to the person? After all mobile call rates are dropping faster than the credibility of Rahul Gandhi! Social media platforms have created a comfortable divan for us to rest conveniently on, while sending out missives to our friends. We are regrettably retreating into self-made shells that get shattered with the most minor of confutations. Add to this, we even post our emotions and dispositions on social media (some of them downright silly), expecting people to like and comment. How does it affect the world if you had a fight with your spouse, or if you went for a midnight jog, or your cat gifted you a mouse (I kid you not)???

The other ill of social media remains the spreading of rumours and false news. Thespian actor Dilip Kumar (among others) has been an unintentional victim of this rumour-mongering, as he has “passed away” an innumerable number of times as per social media. I get forwards of many such hoax messages – some of them sent with the sole intention of creating panic and pandemonium among people. It infuriates me no end when educated friends forward messages without ascertaining the veracity of such annoying prattle. With Google available on all phones, and all news channels being online, it takes merely a few seconds to authenticate such news. Also available are multiple sites (www.snopes.com comes to mind immediately), which help validate propaganda and half-truths, but no one wants to make the effort. On my part, I try and correct such forwards with genuine links (if available) and do not forward it further. Another gripe I have with social media are the online petitions that keep popping up. Even though for veritably noble causes, they are absolutely useless from a legal standpoint – so all the online petitions are factually ineffective and hence serve no purpose.

Social media has its use and is expedient to a certain extent, but its misuse has made it a menace to the society. Sadly, the social media-addicted friend mentioned above is yours truly. It does not paint me in a flattering light, but I have always believed that unless one can admit to their inherent faults, one can never remediate it. The mirror reflects several other perturbing facets of my psyche that are splintered and needs mending – impatience, anger, ego, selfishness to name a few – I see slivers of each of these, every time I stand before it. The path to self-actualization and course correction is difficult but I am taking it one step at a time – it is arduous, strenuous and daunting, but surely not as demanding as refuting misinformation that keeps cropping up on social media!

A RUDE WAKE-UP CALL

I have a friend, who is very close to me – we virtually grew up together, sharing food, books, and a lot more. We stayed close by then, so we were in each other’s house almost every other day. We have had intellectually stimulating debates, healthy arguments and horrible skirmishes (a few of which were concluded with invectives and fisticuffs), but our friendship has withstood all of this with nary a scratch. Over the years, our respective professional and domestic commitments have admittedly reduced regular interactions between us, but we have not let the vagaries of time and tide diminish our friendship. Even when we occasionally speak to each other today, we talk to each other as if we have always been in touch.

A month back, a common friend called me to say that this friend had undergone a major surgery for the big C, and that he expressed a desire to meet me. For a moment I thought this friend who had called me was joking (given his antecedents he was definitely capable), but the more he spoke the more I slipped into an abyss of inconsolable lament and despair. He explained how a seemingly harmless lesion inside our friend’s mouth had been diagnosed as malignant and needed a ten-hour marathon operation to be fixed. Surprisingly, he neither chews tobacco nor smokes, is a strict vegetarian and teetotaler to boot! The lesion warranted the whole lower jaw being removed, to be reconstructed subsequently with flesh and bone from his thigh. Of course, I rushed to meet him and spent over three hours with him (and other very close friends), cheering and regaling him with jokes (some of them at his expense), while reminiscing amusing episodes of our nonage. He looked his usual self – maintaining a steady outer demeanour, throwing wry smiles at our jokes, with pensive reflections over our preachy and clichéd philosophizing, exactly as he was when we were kids (he was always the serious and studious one among our closed group of friends). His face was misshapen and swollen on account of the surgery, but he patiently sat with us and partook in our tomfoolery. He unwearyingly recounted his harrowing journey through the unceasing cycles of unending consultations, different types of opinions (India having first, second, expert and familial), intimidating visits to oncologists, which finally led to the alarming diagnosis, followed by the traumatic surgery. My friend being a regular marathoner and a person who is fit and healthy, he went through all this with a stoic disposition. Even when he was describing his ordeal, he maintained his usual appearance of having everything under control. Meanwhile, I was trying my best to maintain an outer façade of optimism and jollity, while internally I with extreme difficulty, just about managed to keep myself from breaking down. I met him once again a week back in the hospital where he had gone for one of his multiple sessions of radiation (an inevitable and malevolent corollary to the big C), but my condition on seeing him was no different, while he was his customary pragmatic self.

Hats off to my friend and his indomitable spirit – the whole experience has been luciferous for me. Till a few months ago he was (and still is) a much respected senior employee of one of India’s biggest conglomerates (thankfully his employers are supporting him whole-heartedly), busy planning a safe and secure future for his kids, and here he is fighting a valiant battle against the big C – with his wife and mother giving him ample support in this. The fight continues, but this is a fight I am sure he will win! Epiphanous knocks on the head (not like this though) are needed for each of us to mature in life. This poignant episode with my friend gave me many insights to the fluid and non-conforming nature of life. It drove home, with a battering ram-like severity, the fact that we are only sure about the “now” in life. While we are busy securing the future of our loved ones, life is making other plans for us. We plan to be successful in life and subsequently take an early retirement, so as to enjoy the fruits of our labour but can we guarantee that those fruits would not have turned rancid by then? Reminds me of the definitive scene from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara, where Hrithik Roshan, proudly proclaims that he wants to slog and mint money till his late forties, after which he would retire to an easy-going, relaxed life. To this, Katrina Kaif counters by asking him what is the guarantee that he will live till forty??? In the same vein, can we despite the unmitigated advance in science, be sure?

The other obvious lesson learnt from this is never to give up. History is witness to the fact that a battle is won only when one falls but gets up to keep fighting. Can we not easily recollect incidents of our life where we refused to give up and reaped spectacular rewards in return? If life is an interminable boxing match, with unforeseen and threatening punches coming your way constantly, why throw in the towel without giving it back in equal measure?

WOMEN AND WE MEN

The horrific incident of a Malayalam actress being molested inside her car made me hang my head in shame – first as a male, and then as a Malayali. I always prided myself of the fact that my ancestral origins are from the state of Kerala (where the Nair community follows a matrilineal tradition), but not anymore. Also Kerala still remains one of the most literate states of the country, but is obviously happy to be in the same statistically repulsive comparative chart as the badlands of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, when it comes to safety of women!

But this is the case with not just a few states of our country. Even the ostensibly benign concrete jungles of Mumbai have now turned into a happy hunting grounds for bestial monsters, who walk around in the guise of virile men! For the hundreds of cases that do get registered every day, there are thousand others which do not get reported, mainly due to the attached stigma and inconvenience it causes the victim, and in many cases due to lethargic policemen refusing to register a case. Personally, I hold even eve-teasing on par with molestation – after all the double-entendre laced verbal diarrhea, unleashed on an unsuspecting female by the molester is just another manifestation of vocal and virtual violation! To a large extent I would lay the blame for this on the way boys are brought up in our country. Apotheosis of sons by traditional Indian mothers, who willingly forgive and overlook all transgressions by their male progeny is saddening. Sons are free to have innumerable affairs, only to eventually dump their girlfriends, so as to marry a girl of his mother’s choice. Daughters are taught to remain and operate “within boundaries” (set by fathers and brothers), but no such confines exist for sons. Sons involved in eve-teasing (or even more odious crimes) are given a gentle slap on the wrist, while the female victim is commanded to dress “appropriately”, to avoid such incidents. A random look at the statements made by some of our male politicians after any such incident is ample proof of degeneracy. One minister from the ruling party in Kerala brushed aside the unfortunate case involving the actress, describing it as an “one-off case”, conveniently overlooking the nauseating fact that a rape takes place in Kerala every six hours!

The blame also lies in the portrayal of women in our movies and TV serials. At best, our movies have passed off women as arm-candy, while glorifying stalking and eve-teasing as some kind of a harmless “fun” activity that all men indulge in. Things are a bit (only a bit) better in the movies made by the current lot of young directors, but strong women-oriented themes are few and far between in our movies. Television, which could have been a harbinger and path-breaker in this respect, has taken women’s empowerment a few centuries back, with their hackneyed plotlines that relegate women to being schmaltzy homemakers. Or in rare cases, a soppy and weak professional who always needs the hero’s strong arms (I have never figured out why all TV serial heroes need to be buffed up, with six-pack abs being an absolute necessity) to rescue her from unimaginatively clichéd domestic situations. Three currently running serials come to mind – one (written by a well-known male author of racy romances) has a total mamma’s boy as the hero, who distrusts the woman who he loves and later marries, to eventually dump her for his mother. He blatantly continues to stalk the heroine to confirm if she has a new man in her life, and the other characters (except the heroine’s father) are perfectly fine with it! In another (which stars a family friend of ours), the heroine is regularly insulted and constantly berated by her in-laws and other relatives, but silently bears it all. And her husband (the hero, also buffed up) remains a tacit and tongue-tied partner to this lambasting of his wife. In another upcoming serial, the hero equates housewives to working women, saying that both are exactly the same. But what about the financial independence and individuality that a working woman has, usually missing in a housewife’s mundane existence? Also, most of our advertisements objectify women to such an extent that fairness is promulgated as a benchmark for any girl to get married! These advertisements are surely being “unfair” to women.

And guess what – all these serials are popular and mostly consumed by homemakers who then, knowingly or unknowingly, pass on these misogynist views to their sons! Maybe not all mothers are like this (mine definitely was not), and maybe not all wives take things lying down (mine definitely does not), but it is more a rule than an exception. Bacha Khan’s view in this matter rings so true – If you want to know how civilized a culture is, look at how they treat its women. Unfortunately, there is no app for the thing called “respect” – it has to come from within us men. After all, it is a woman who gave birth to you!