Sexism, sport and Serena

Just wrote my first piece for Starsports.com (where I now work). Here’s an excerpt, and below it is the link to the original piece, do check it out:

After securing third place at the 2015 FIFA World Cup, England’s women’s football team was all but guaranteed a rousing welcome on returning home. However, the English FA chose to temper the celebration of the Lionesses by reminding us of how they’d now return to their oh-so-regular roles as “mothers, partners and daughters”. Clearly, highlighting the fleeting nature of the side’s heroics was far easier than perhaps saying something like this: “Well done, team! You did us proud!”

The Lionesses are not alone when it comes to gendered appreciation. Thirty-six majors to her credit (singles, doubles and mixed combined) and Serena Williams still has to face flak. For what? Her eyebrows. It would appear that being the sole owner of 21 Grand Slam singles titles is not enough when it comes to a female athlete. The attention, unfortunately, is still focused on booty, brows and bras.

Read the rest here: http://www.starsports.com/football/articles/article=women-athletes-and-the-body-politic-1433102/index.html

Peshawar

10572375_10152628510025664_123573342_oI’ve taken to writing short notes for important days in my family’s life. Yesterday was my sister’s birthday; a sister with whom my relationship is quite indescribable. We’re yin and yang. She’s crazy to my calm; I’m the unorganized to her methodical. We’ve gone from the reluctantly formed duo of cool, grown-up and annoying sidekick, to partners in crime. Yesterday, I wanted to write for her, but I couldn’t. For how does one celebrate the gift of having a wonderful something in your own life, while others have lost their most important in a gruesome tragedy? I’m certain my sister will forgive the note that wasn’t on her thirty-fifth while I wish a most futile hope for strength to those who’ve lost children who’ll never celebrate giddy milestones like birthdays.

I have been disarmed, rendered speechless by the horror of Peshawar. To make sense of murder is difficult in most circumstances, but to understand the hatred that could cause a mass-scale massacre of this kind is, in my opinion, impossible. Who threw down the gauntlet first, who reacted next, where did it all go so horribly wrong, when did it become so heartless?

I’ve studied in Army Schools my whole life. When I read the first alert on the siege, my heart sank because I thought it was in a school here, in India. The relief of realizing it wasn’t was fleeting; it was  still a school, full of kids just like I had been, sitting under cement and mortar roofs, possibly passing clandestine notes to each other while a history teacher droned on, or staring out the window waiting for lunch break and a quick game of tag. To have the echoes of laughing, squabbling children’s voices in long, dingy corridors replaced by shrieks of fear, pain and incomprehension is sickening. It makes the lump rise in my throat; it makes my heart race in anger.

I’m not sure what I hope for in the wake of this cataclysm. Peace? Calm? Accord? They sound so trite, these words that seem to mean naught. I suppose I write this note as one defeated. I hope I don’t stay this way for long. I hope no one ever has to see a tragedy of this scale ever again. I hope…

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

My Gurgaon Story

I wrote a piece for Daily O recently, on living in Gurgaon and my fluctuating relationship with the city. I’m reproducing the content here but you can also access the original post using this link.

Gurgaon: Gone Girl

I lived away from it for two years, and I’m moving again next week, but, for the last seven years, I guess I’ve been a Gurgaon girl. “Why?” is a question I often get when details of my residence are revealed, usually from the Delhi set, ensconced in their two-syllable capital colonies, Gee Kay, Def Col, VeeVee et al.

Truth be told, my parents couldn’t afford realty in Delhi when my dad retired from the Army. Gurgaon, as a suburb to the cap, a burgeoning metropolis, christened with an enticing moniker (“Millennium City” my ass), was also affordable. So, we moved.

My relationship with the city since has fluctuated. There are days I love it, when our compound’s resident peacock lands heavily on my sister’s balcony to eat the bajra we leave out for him, and the sparrows, the greater coucals, the doves, pigeons, hoopoes, babblers, flycatchers and robins who make their rounds morning and afternoon. When monsoon nimbus rolls across the Aravallis and the grey of the sky presses up against the green of the range.

There are also days I hate it, when I’m driving home at night and have to throw cars of clearly inebriated men, hanging out their windows, leering, catcalling, off my trail by way of sneaky, no-indicator turns and braking too often. When I find myself in mile-long traffic snarls outside the city’s most elite schools, because mummies, daddies, drivers and maids are parked anywhere and everywhere in their big cars, engines running, interiors chilled, waiting to whisk their poppets away before the dust and grit of the city can lay a finger on them.

Gurgaon has problems. However, to the shock and horror of many, blame can’t always be placed on the bogeymen of the Gujjar, Jat and Haryanvi ilk. Sure, you’re bound to have your city sensibilities offended by one of each (yes, they are not one and the same thing) at some point if you make your way over, but to think that G-town’s troubles are limited to it’s agrarian heritage, is to be gravely mistaken. Its problem is also its wealth. The many-figured MNC salaries that beget cars, chauffeurs and high-rise condos, and impenetrable bubbles that permit un-engaged maneuvering through the city’s limits. Gurgaon, like many other Indian cities, seems to have been created with a determined view to upturn Marx’s theory of base and superstructure. Therefore, it is glitzy in that it has super-sized shopping malls, swanky office complexes, and a hub for all things culinary. Yet, it is beset with sub-standard roads, unchecked construction, and haphazard urban development.

Undoubtedly, a coveted land bank, only increasing in value with every passing day, has rendered a large section of the native populace wealthy over-night. The money has brought access to the city’s venues of entertainment, but not necessarily associated etiquette. This clash of cosmopolitan and rural-wealth is only a garnish on the mish-mash that Gurgaon is today.

I voted this past week in the state’s Assembly elections; a first for me. However, I am not naïve enough to believe a cast of the ballot will bring immediate and sweeping changes to the cityscape and its people alike. Don’t get me wrong; I won’t be one to complain if it does. My real hope though is that a change in governance may jumpstart a much-needed revolution in an apathetic citizenry. The kind of transformation that will look upon a bribe-accepting public official equally at fault as one’s own chauffeur when he goes against traffic for “a little way”.

For how does one really measure the exact degree of rightful wrong? Gurgaon, in all its dust and dazzle, is as much the product of absentee administration as it is of an uninvolved community. Perhaps dismantling or at least re-assessing our ideas of probity may in turn lead to ostensibly unrelated change. In the interim we’ll continue to hear stories about horrid Haryanvis and their uncouth ways, and almost nothing about the couture-clad city folk who have bore-wells in their backyards and complain about the city’s water troubles.

The Indian Funny Bone: Evolutionary Triumph or Surgical Success?

Image courtesy the Sachin Sharapova Trolls community page on Facebook

Image courtesy the Sachin Sharapova Trolls community page on Facebook

So, Maria Sharapova not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is has translated into the shit well and truly hitting the social media fan. I’m not surprised. If I am, I’m hiding it really well, because, if you think about it, what does being surprised really represent? The answer is weakness. That’s right, it’s a sign of unpreparedness. To be surprised by anything would equal a chink in my armor, a gap in my ever-readiness. It would also mark me out as decidedly non-Indian, which I am not, in that I am fallible. And to display feebleness of any kind is a dangerous invitation to humor. As an Indian, I have a standard policy toward humor: I detest it.

If there ever was a stereotype of us Indians that has never gotten the recognition it deserves, it’s this one: we have NO funny bone. The jury is still out on this anatomical mystery though. Either we have them removed surgically at birth, or evolution took care of the darn things for us. As a result, we bruise easy, like over-ripe peaches. Forget the trite cliches like smelly, hairy and/or nerdy, those are so passé. The convention of the humorless Indian is far more effective, because, not only is it a long-standing trope, but, despite its legacy, it’s relatively virginal. Continue reading

Tapas: No ‘Pal’ of Mine

I promised my mother I’d write something joyful for my next blog post. Tapas Pal has other plans though. He’s elicited my snark, my wrath and my desire to introduce his cojones to the tips of the steel toed boots I intend on purchasing at the earliest (also his doing).

Picture courtesy the Tapas Pal Community Facebook page.

Picture courtesy the Tapas Pal Community Facebook page.

So, what’s new about Pal’s misogyny? How has he chosen to distinguish his brand of derogatory crap from others competing in a hotly contested race packed with chauvinists holding political office? I mean, the man needs serious game, it’s a bloody battlefield out there. With the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Abu AzmiSudin Dhavalikar, Abhijeet Mukherjee, the Sri Ram Sena morons who don’t even deserve to be named, all piping in with winsome statements on women and how they ‘deserve’ to be treated, Pal may just prove to be a minor contender in a never-lacking-contestents competition.

However, what Pal is bringing to the table is a spanking new dimension to the talk surrounding rape in India. Finding the fondue too full already of the big cheeses – ‘asking for it’ women, ‘mistake-making’ boys, ‘against Indian culture’ behavior – Pal popped his own rancid dairy into the mix and named it: revenge. Yes, Pal has staked his claim on revenge rape. Well played, Pal.

The revenge rape statement is crucial for Pal taking top honors in a race guaranteed a photo finish. This is because, through his declaration, Pal marks himself out as a faithful misogynist. Not only does he consider rape an appropriate form of punishment for the women running counter to his political inclinations, but he also looks at rape as the worst threat possible to them. By this I mean that Pal, like every other true-blue misogynist out there, considers a woman’s worth confined to her sexual organs. In contrast he threatens the male members of the opposition with death, allowing me to draw the conclusion that Pal equates the ravaging of a woman’s genitalia to her life’s metaphoric end. The unsoiled condition of her so called ‘virtue’ is what guarantees her a life-like quality, and once that’s been pillaged, little else matters.

An apology has been tendered though, the statement filed in the Indian political establishment’s overflowing ‘error-of-judgement’ cabinet. Pal’s spiel has been relegated to the ‘babbling brought on by the “heat and dust of [an] election campaign” category’, and the follow-up apology accepted by his party and its leading lady. Deeply disappointing stuff from the tournament favorite whose unadulterated spirit came across not in the diluted expression of regret unleashed to protect his career but in the firebrand speech aimed at fostering it. A speech in which he threatened to “loose” his boys on the women of an opposing political mindset, reiterating their commitment to committing rape and, in doing so, proving his genuine worth as a real public servant.

Ladies and gents, I think we have a winner.

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

 

 

I’m Not My Dad’s Princess

And I am not rueing the fact of my non-regal upbringing in any shape or form. In truth, I’m reacting. Yes, I’d say this post is a verbal up-chuck of sorts. It’s a regurgitation brought on by the consumption of a most vile read. The piece in question is, as the social media post suggests, a ‘dad’s speech at his daughter’s wedding.’ Having read it, I can only hope this is a fictitious father, an imaginary daughter, and a most made-up wedding where an unreal soliloquy went down.

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My dad and his non-princess.

The speech seeks to ratify every unfortunate stereotype ever associated with a woman, specifically an Indian woman, and more generally with other fellow females who form part of patriarchal cultures. To summarize: the dad thinks his daughter’s a “princess” and wants her treated like a “queen” post marriage. For this he “begs” that her husband’s family, or, as he puts it, “the family for her” ensures her happiness. The tone is ingratiating and the “please keep her happy” refrain is nothing short of nauseating. The kid comes off as some insipid, voiceless lump in desperate need of being protected for she is oh-so “fragile” and someone who appears to be still in the process of becoming a full-fledged human being. Continue reading

The Problem With Owning A Vagina

Going by the reports coming out of my country it would appear that being born with a vagina is insanely problematic. That’s right; as if it wasn’t bad enough that they’re awfully inconvenient. Being the proprietor of a vagina is no cake walk, for one thing it doesn’t allow you silly little freedoms that your male counterparts enjoy: for instance, you can’t whip it out of your pants and extend it toward a tree or wall or an open field for a nice pee when there’s no public restroom nearby and your bladder’s close to bursting. Peeing for a woman demands squatting, and pulling down pants and underwear or lifting up skirts and petticoats, it demands the baring of bottoms, and slowing car journeys down.

51465654The organ is also unnecessarily leaky. In fact, when attached to a normally functioning reproductive system, the damn thing dishes out a monthly dosage of blood for the better part of your life; blood that must be absorbed by posture-altering tampons or chafe-inducing sanitary pads or something equally uncomfortable and porous. And, if your vagina has an attitude, even these instruments can fail to contain, leaving you with ruby-red stains on your posterior, and, if you’re supremely unlucky, on upholstery at a friend’s house. Oh and the shame that goes with said staining is god-awful. You’re expected to turn red in the face – not ruby but a nice flush will do – you should apologize profusely for the behavior of your vagina as you back out of a room and into a bathroom to rub your fingers raw under scalding hot water while you try to undo the evidence of a normal occurrence.  The leaky days are the worst, they ask you to be prepared with back up absorbents, interfere in your wardrobe choices, they stir up a storm in your lower abdomen and make your back feel like it spent an entire week doing hard labor. Continue reading

Keeping Abreast of Game of Thrones

(Note: A few spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched episodes 3 & 4 of the fourth season)

The web is littered with reviews of Oathkeeper – the latest episode of season four of Game of Thrones. There’s much talk of deviance and departure from original plotlines. Not having read any of George RR Martin’s work I really can’t tell the difference. I must admit that it’s an interesting and almost enjoyable experience not having to compare the original to the adaptation. As someone who refused to watch, and/or be in the company of those who had watched, the Harry Potter movies before I had read the corresponding novels, spending my Sundays evenings consuming something with no existing point of reference is refreshing.

And, yet, I too find in this fourth installment of the fourth season a sort of departure from previous episodes. It is in the absence of many, often unnecessary, visuals of female breasts. If there is a show that seems to have a minimum breast-per-episode quota, I would have to say it is Game of Thrones. I was, therefore, surprised – I’m still figuring out if pleasantly or otherwise – at the tawdry display of the mammary kind in the new episode. Unfortunately, the scenes ‘demanding’ female nudity in the show seem to be tilting from the space of intimate consensual acts (based on emotion, finance or exchange of power) into that of sexual aggression. Need I mention the hair-raising, incestuous, sexual encounter between Jaime and Cersei in the last episode? In Oathkeeper too, the insertion of breasts into screen space was part of the rape and pillage of Craster’s daughters/wives by the rogue Crows. It is a worrying trend, perhaps highlighting the subtext to all wars and struggles for power. Continue reading

एक मुलायम चांटा

I apologize to my non-Hindi speaking readers for the title to this piece, in true nuance-sucking style the literal translation of which would amount to a ridiculous equivalent such as ‘a soft slap.’ Unfortunately, the English carries neither the restrained rage nor the purposeful levity of my intentions.

Levity, yes. For how else does one contend with the nature of the vile comments that have spewed so viscously from the mouth of our dear Softie? Are the misogynistic musings of a vote-hungry power-monger worthy of anything but laughter? Well, derisive laughter at the very least. And yes, mine is a restrained rage. For, as the equally loathsome comments of that abominable twit Azmi join in as a sycophantic chorus, the measure of my anger must necessarily retain its decorum, its sanity.

For what are Softie and Azmi in the daily course of women’s lives? They are megaphones amplifying a dominant ideology, a malaise spread far and wide through misogynists of both genders: men and women who perpetuate the denigration of women and those who question systems that uphold heteronormativity. To battle a beast of this size and stealth, one’s rage must be contained and pointed, it must work, necessarily, through the recognition of its own strength before the other’s weakness. To combat the vitriol of repugnant political ‘leaders’ such as the aforementioned, effigy-burning and similar purges for instant gratification cannot suffice. To smother the swelling of the sentiment spurring such voices on, another voice demands augmentation. The sort of voice that neither squashes nor suppresses but effectively disengages, renders incapacitated, as it were.

In the interim, or for this time at least, I choose to laugh irreverently, derisively, all the time imagining the sonorous peals of my laughter strumming a delicate but decisive two-beat on the fleshy jowls of these odious… (add suitable descriptor as per your choice – language no bar).

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

An Inking Electorate

I was called insensitive recently; an assertion that I was forced to accept, based solely, might I add, on the context in question. The fault, however, was entirely texting’s. You see, I was a bit annoyed, and fearful that I may cause harm through the use of conventional tools of expression like those tiresome things we call ‘words’, and opted instead for a smiley. My hope was that a lame, toothless arc made up of a colon and closing parenthesis would express my restrained agreement and half-hearted empathy to my friend’s situation more clearly than the actual act of conversing orally or through written language. This did not happen. Instead it seemed I had successfully come across as uninterested and devoid of understanding.

A yet-to-vote fingerHowever, I have, since then, tried to curb my enthusiasm for symbolic representation. I chide my right index fingertip when it hankers to hit the like button on a friend’s Facebook status update or when one of those eminent twits I follow retweets another twit’s tweet and all I want to do is retweet it to my fistful of followers to demonstrate that I too am a with-it twit who’s in on all that I ‘should’ be in on. And then, every few years, the elections roll by and I watch my social media feeds fill up with images of inked nails and smudged cuticles, check ins at polling booths and urges from fellow citizens of the democratic order to #vote and be #patriotic. An inundation of browser windows by hashtags and thumbs up icons follows, effectively symbolizing nationalism through representation. The never inked half moons of whiteness at the base of my fingernails devolve into symbolic depictions of my unpatriotic attitude. Inky smears of active engagement in the democratic process accost me, warning me through social media attestations that my unadorned ballot casting fingers will cost me the right to question polity and policy alike. That the do-goodery of the in-between years, the little these and those of responsible citizenry are but childish games when faced by the real symbol of democratic righteousness – the vote. Continue reading