Sunday, April 5, 2015

Censored To Fit - Modern Media

This post comes in response to a suggestion from my dear friend Aishwarya. Honestly, I thought you'd give me something related to feminism. But this works just fine. Hence, the topic for today is how media alters reality rather than exhibiting it, thanks to modern customs of censorship and favouritism.

Honestly, this topic is so obvious that it did cross my mind many times, but I never had any idea how to even begin approaching the horrors of the the stupid things our beloved media keeps doing. In our era, where we all look up to ideals like equality and freedom of expression, the very mascot of these fundamental rights is trashing them on a daily basis. And we are nothing but oblivious!

Ours is an era of publicity and endorsement. Everything needs to be sold in order for it to survive. And since everybody is doing business, truth itself has become a commodity that is bought and sold on a public portal. It doesn't matter if it is important or not, it must be glamorous or controversial. A very good example is a sting-survey conducted by a foreign journalist who promised to pay several leading national dailies to publish a fake news about himself on the front page. The price was steep, but the real issue is that many newspapers actually agreed. That's Indian media for you. You can actually buy it.

I don't really blame them, though. Even the media needs to pay it's employees and fill their stomachs. And there is simply too much competition. The result is a frantic, lunatic, pathetic struggle for attention between different channels, brands, national dailies.

Whose fault is it, then? Why is it that we are unable to rid ourselves of a meaningless circle of hypocrisy and exhibitionism? The answers lie in the very fabric of our society. Let's just go through them one by one.

1. We Crave Controversy- They sell things as pointless as Bigg Boss and as terrible as the diorama of daily soaps. We buy it. Who would you blame? Would you blame the dog who shits in front of your house or yourself who collects that shit in a flower-vase and places it in your living room? We want controversy, so they create it. And it is a really simple thing to do. Step one - catch hold of some caustic comment by some politician or celebrity. Step two - assemble a few followers of the said celebrity or politician along with some opposing people, preferably people who are idle and have nothing to do. Step three - let them at each other. Step four - they will fight, first about the issue in question, then about their own personal grudges against each other. Step five - they'll start abusing each other on national television and make comments like 'tumhari aukaat kya hai' (who the hell are you and what is your social status). Step six - take a short break and repeat steps one through five.

2. We Ignore Whatever's Not Spicy Enough- So Deepika Padukone said some things about feminism and modern choices. We made a big issue out of it, because 'a celeb must be responsible enough to only say politically correct things on a public platform'. The AIB Roast surely stirred a lot of people up. My question is simple - why do we need to fight over what a few people did in their own gathering somewhere? I am pretty sure that those who attended the AIB Roast weren't dragged by terrorists. Then why do we have to fight about what they said there? The media does on a public broadcast what we do on our Facebook posts and in our three-page long comments there. We get a fight because we want a fight. And in the process, the useful headlines pass us by unnoticed.

3. We Are The Media- They don't come out of nowhere. They are people from our own ranks. The media is made up of people like us. If they are corrupt, and they seriously are, then we are corrupt as well. We make rotten news everyday by being rotten people everyday. Those who cover it are the ones we point out, though.

4. We Actually Believe Them- We gave them the power to control us by believing what they show us. That's why there is 'Saamna' in Maharashtra that spreads hatred in the commoners and yet people follow it. It is because we give them the power to make us dance to their tunes. We can't protect our families and society from this influence. That is why these days the winner of any election is the person the media highlights more - whether it is Modi for general elections or Kejriwal in Delhi elections - the winner is the one who gets more footage. I don't say they didn't deserve their respective victories, but I still mention that this conduct is unbecoming of a power that is meant to be unbiased.

5. We Fear Them- Fear is the root of evil, or sometimes the side-effect of it. We are not a truly honest set of people, whether you agree with it or not. But we have an irrational fear of the media's power to affect the society. To some extent, we worship it. But a big section of us is afraid to challenge the stand the media takes today. And trust me, the media takes a stand a lot - not by assertion, but by suggestion. And we are too weak to challenge even the points that they put forward shrouded in diplomacy.

In short, the story is that the media shows us only that side of the picture that is glamorous, controversial, or monetarily more profitable. That's the reign of censorship that rules us all today. It is high time that we made some efforts to break free.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ashita's Dilemma

"You two should spend some time alone, get to know each other."

This story begins where most Indian marriages start. Yes, there are a good number of love marriages happening these days but arranged marriage still rules in most sections of the Indian society. And arranged marriage was what Ashita was fated for. She adjusted her blouse and smoothed the folds of her sari in front of the mirror, stroked her hair, and turned about. This wasn't her first time wearing a sari, but somehow she felt uneasy. She was suddenly embarrassed of how much of her petite belly was exposed by it. She would've preferred her usual jeans and top, at least it covered up her waistline pretty nicely. It was a funny feeling, she had never been so conscious about her body and how would someone else look at it before. Maybe this was just a general spell of nervousness, mother had said that it was absolutely normal.

Still, something within her gave her an uneasy itch. She had always thought of males as things to be feared and to stay away from. Okay, maybe not always. She had an affair or two in her college days but they had ended badly for her and she had stayed frosty towards men since. Even before, she used to get so frightened when the boys called out her name on the street that she'd start crying. With time, she became confident enough to handle them. And now she was going to marry one. No, too early to say that. It was just a meeting, that's all. It was a long shot from actually getting married.

"Ashita", her mother called out, "come dear. We are waiting for you."

Ashita staggered for a second. “Erm…coming”, she wailed out. Outside was the setup that made her go weak in the knees and shaky in the limbs even at a distance. She was about to enter a realm where she would be under a strange scrutiny of people who had once treated her like their own daughter.

“You look pretty as always, dear.” Rini Aunty was grinning ear to ear when she saw Ashita. Maybe it was time for Ashita to start practicing calling her mom. Right next to Rini sat Mohit, Ashita’s supposed prince-on-a-white-horse. He looked at her with soft interest, blatantly staring through the noisy conversation enveloping him. Ashita blushed for no reason. This was just another guy looking at her and it normally didn't mean anything. But the circumstances coerced her to act stupid. Part of her wanted to run back to her room and lock herself in, but her feet wouldn’t move an inch. She only swayed a little, shaking from the waist down. Her hands trembled their way up to her hair-locks and she made an attempt at a smile, reciprocated instantly by her prospective groom-to-be.

“We can have our chats later”, her mother was saying, “But let the kids get to know each other first. They are the ones getting married after all.”

Five minutes later, Ashita and Mohit were face to face with each other, disturbed only by a tray of tea and snacks. Mohit seemed to be enjoying his time, looking around Ashita’s room and smiling to himself. Ashita couldn't help but scowl. Sometimes, smiling at people can be a crime too. Mohit realized his mistake, and toned down apologetically.

“Uh, are you not going to ask me anything?” Ashita asked.

Mohit shrugged. “I don't know what to ask. I know enough already. You were a great student, always top of your class, you excelled in co-curricular and cultural activities, you got a good job here, and you are good at all household chores. About me, I am an engineer, earn enough to call myself rich, just returned from Delhi to settle down here at home.”

Ashita took her time to be impressed.

“That's…nice but…is that all we need to know about each other?”

“Um…well…if there's anything you want to ask me…feel free.”

Ashita hadn't expected this. True, modern day arrangements weren't like old times when things were one-sided and only the boy got to ask questions. But she hadn't expected to run into a guy who had nothing to ask to her but was willing to answer whatever she wanted to know. Maybe her independent girl demeanour had rubbed off on him earlier and he thought that playing it humbly would be best. Either way, it was curious and needed further conversation.

“See, I don't approve of the men of this society. You people would stare at girls in micro-minis and jeans-top but want a girl in salwar-suit and sari, happily become studs by sleeping with many women but call a girl a slut first chance you get, no matter how normal that girl is. If I am online at 1 am in the night you'll ask who I am engrossed with but nobody will ask you why you stay up till 2. You get away with all the horrible things you do but we get trashed for everything. How do you expect me to marry a man if I don't approve of your kind?”

Mohit let a minute pass in silence.

“It’s a tough question”, he said. “And I thought marriages are easy. Stupid me.” He smiled again, defiantly this time. “As a man, I concede that you have all the right to be upset about how the society treats you and lets the boys get away with everything. But I don't represent all men here, and neither I am like all men. I am Mohit Singh, a person, an individual, and that is the only way I'd like to be judged. My being a man doesn't change the facts of my life, it doesn't change my character – it only changes your perception of me. If you can get over your general ‘disapproval’ of ‘my kind’, perhaps we can have a more fruitful conversation.”

“Oh, pardon me. Did I offend you, perhaps? Men get so riled up when a woman takes this kind of a stand. Maybe you'll come up with something like ‘all men aren't alike’ or ‘you shouldn't go about generalising people on the basis of what a few people do’. Don't worry. I am not interested in exposing you. I just want you to know what you're going to get if you marry a girl like me.”

Mohit displayed no signs of surprise, rather, he looked quite amused at the way the conversation was going. “I am not ‘riled up’, neither am I interested in defending mankind, in principle. I am just saying that it doesn't matter what you think about all, or most, men. What matters is what you think of me. Getting married to someone is a big deal, you know. We should utilize our time well.”

“Um, you're right. So allow me to start with the first question. Why are you going for an arranged marriage? You could very easily pull off a love marriage.”

“I could throw the question back at you. But I can imagine what your answer would be. In any case, I agreed for an arranged marriage because I think my parents would make a better choice than I would in this matter. It's a lame answer, but it is all I got.”

“You've never been in love before?”

“I don't know. I had a fling or two, but they were more like juvenile stupidity. Didn't really turn up into much, you know.”

“Are you virgin?”

“Excuse me?”

The pace of the conversation had suddenly come to a standstill. An awkward silence gripped them both as one struggled to find their words and the other observed quietly.

“I asked you”, Ashita continued, “Are you a virgin? Because I am not.”

“Oh. Pardon me. I was just not expecting you'd ask this. It's such an irrelevant thing.”

“Irrelevant? Do you really think someone's virginity is irrelevant?”

“Yes, as long as it is given away with true consent and after a proper age. If there is love in a relationship, or even if there's just a relationship, it's not very surprising if some physical dimension involved. After all, isn't sex something as normal as life and death?”

“So you wouldn't mind marrying a girl who's had a past?”

“As long as it stays in the past, there’s nothing for me to mind. In fact, to tell you the truth, I was actually hoping to marry someone who wasn't a virgin. That would give at least one experienced member to my couple.”

Ashita was dazed into silence. This man was either a maniac, or the most forward-thinking guy one could run into.

“And what about your family? Wouldn't they mind?”

“Well, they don't have to know everything. Though they are my family, but certain things between me and my wife are solely my business. I think you'll agree with me.”

“I don’t understand. How can you be so open about all these things?”

Mohit finished his tea and put down the cup. When did he start taking his tea? Ashita's cup had meanwhile already run cold. Mohit smiled to himself as he began answering her question.

“I am open about these things because it’s my secret wish to be the father to a daughter someday. And there’s no way I can be a good father if I can’t provide her a world where a man and a girl are treated as equals. The reason I am telling you all this is because I understand your bitterness towards me even though you know nothing about me. I know the cause behind this seemingly prejudiced anger. I can see the spirit that desires true freedom. And that’s what I want for the daughter I'll one day have.”

A lot of words came up in Ashita's mind but she had no sentences to put them in. She fiddled with her hair, blanked out.

“Something tells me that you don't want to get married at the moment”, Mohit was saying. “But still, I don't think that marriage is really an end to anything. It could very well be the beginning to new things. It all depends on how the two people involved get each other, reach out to each other, and comprehend each other.”

“You don't know how I…um…lost my virginity”, Ashita whispered. “You wouldn't like it. You wouldn't be so cool about it if you did.”

“Maybe some secrets are meant to be secrets forever, in that case. Or maybe you will tell me that incident as a long-forgotten story someday. Who knows? I personally think that life is what we choose to be at this moment in the present, what we plan for the future. I look forward to the future we have ahead, depending on what you say when we meet our respective parents outside.”

And then, Mohit slid his teacup towards her, got up, and made for the door.