Monday, March 13, 2006



The birthplace of Krishna, the cowherd god of Hindus, who played with the gopis and vanquished demons, Vrindavan occupies an important position in Hindu mythology. Temples dedicated to Krishna and his favorite gopi Radha dot the entire city.

Late last year National geographic teamed with National Public Radio (NPR) to showcase beautiful vignettes of this ancient and holy Hindu city.

"The heart of Vrindavan pulses to the beat of its pilgrims -- thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom make an arduous, month-long circuit of all of the area's holiest sites on foot and often sleeping outdoors."

The narrow streets, the cows and the teeming poverty: they are all here. Amazing pics all. For more click here.

Reminders of the Hindu faith are everywhere. There are countless temples, pilgrims marching through narrow streets following holy men in saffron robes, devotional music and singing. There is also stark, third-world poverty and suffering. It's city of narrow, trash-blown streets and open sewers, alongside a river black with pollution -- the overcrowded capital of New Delhi lies upstream.


Varanasi, the holy city of Hindus was also an ancient seat of learning: its gurukuls and schools dating back to more than 2000 years. Probably the oldest city of India, Varanasi is a sacred pilgrimage spot: devout Hindus believe that people dying on its ghats or river banks are assured moksha or deliverance from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The city which was in news recently with the bomb blasts at Sankat Mochan, is featured in this brilliant piece of photojournalism by Tyler Hicks.

Here are more pics of the ghats of Varanasi

Thursday, March 09, 2006


At the state dinner hosted in Islamabad President Bush pledged support toward the Pakistani people as they take further steps toward democracy .

Yet at that very moment Pakistan's Internet service was introducing the worst form of censorship by blocking access to all blogs on the orders of the country's supreme court.

The blockade that was initially restricted to a few sites carrying the prophet cartoons has now been expanded to include all Blogspot web logs.

Blogosphere of course hasn't remained silent. For more read this, this and this.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blank Noise Blog-a-thon 2006

That a woman growing up in India would face eve-teasing or sexual harassment is a given, unless one was a Rapunzel in an ivory tower. However, Rapunzels wouldn't be spared from various forms harrasment at home or in the workplace either.

To discuss this issue The Blank Noise project is hosting a Blog-a-thon on the street harassment that women face everyday. There is so much for each of us to write on this topic but others have said in an infinitely better and moving way. Read Annie Zaidi and mangs.

Some things, you learn to expect (relief is always unexpected).

Therefore, you will be very pleasantly surprised when a man takes the seat next to you, and actually leaves two inches breathing space between you, instead of pushing so close that the windowpane leaves marks on your forearm.... All the same, old habits die hard, and you will spend the journey with a clenched fist balled up somewhere in your shoulderblades, because, you never know when he'll start acting up, do you?
You will also feel miserable when the well-behaved one gets down two stops before yours - it's too much to expect two well-behaved men sitting next to you on a single trip.
But no matter how much you steel yourself to it, sometimes, you will still get reduced to tears.


I first remember being pinched at Grant Road Market, where I had gone shopping with my mother. I was standing near a cart piled with whatever wares the vendor was selling, holding my mother's hand. I was so young, I had no breasts to pinch. Yet this bastard came by and did just that and then started running away. My mother turned and I blurted out what had happened and she ran after him. He was caught, by her and some other people, and severely beaten, taken away by the police.

Yet when in a rare case the offender is caught it never ceases to amaze me how women are expected to be kind and forgiving in return.

The Man is taken off into the lock up and half and hour later a woman cop shows up. I'm taken into another room, where she offers me boiling coffee from a thermacol cup and suggests, somewhat deferentially, that I should reconsider pressing charges because (again), "You will ruin his life Madam."

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Alice, who often wondered how useful a book is, without pictures, wasn't born in the age of cinema. If a picture IS a thousand words, a frame of footage IS a thousand pictures. And so how could bookduniya survive without talking of a movie or two? Enter Matrubhoomi and Osama: movies that show what "doing away" with women does to the social fabric.

Matrubhoomi, a film on female infanticide, is set against a rural backdrop in India, where killing the girl child is routine. So routine that one gender has almost been wiped off from the map. Well almost. Except for one member, director Manish Jha's filmi village has an all male cast. The stage is set in the opening scene where a woman is going through labor and the midwife's announcement of the birth of a girl is met with silence. In the next scene reminiscent of a sacrificial altar, the father is shown drowning the baby in a pot of milk. (In reality the methods used range from feeding newborn girls unhulled rice to poisonous powdered fertilizers, to strangling and sandbagging their tiny mouths.

Cut to a few years later. The village has no women. Frustation abounds and villagers seek release by watching porn and indulging in bestiality. In the midst of this constant craving and huge demand for women, a patriarch spots a girl. Since finding a girl is an unbelievable piece of luck and he may not be lucky five times in a row, he instantly buys the girls off from her father (for an enormous unheard of sum, of course) to be married to his five sons. No sooner is the marriage solemnised that the sons and their father start asserting their conjugal rights. The girl's life is now reduced to a nightmare of sexual and physical abuse and assaults. When she attempts to flee with a lower caste servant she is caught and chained. And subjected to unspeakable sexual violence. She becomes the center of controversy once she is pregnant with everyone claiming paternity of the child. This starts a round of village caste wars that destroys the entire village while the bride gives birth to a girl child.

If you thought the link between the current trend of female infanticide and the complete decimation of girls seems a bit of an extrapolation read this. Trafficking of young women for marriage is also on the increase.

While Matrubhoomi is a state sans women, Siddiq Barmak's Osama is a society where they are made invisible. This is Taliban's Afghanistan and they are not permitted to read or study much less take up jobs and earn; indeed they are forbidden to do anything outside the home and must never leave home except with a male relative. So what is the option left for women when war claims the menfolk in their family. Answer: disguise (prostitution, by the way, is very dangerous and punishable by death. It is also ruled out by middle class ethos.)

In Osama, a young girl is forced to take on the role of the breadwinner of the family. With her father and uncle killed, there are no men left at home. So she dons a man's disguise, calls herself "Osama" and takes up odds jobs to earn a living. She also lives with intense and constant fear of the Taliban discovering her secret. The menfolk around her are invariably so harsh and cruel that their transformation into animals seem complete.

In every religious scripture the leitmotif is that women lead men astray. Yet how ironic it was that the absence and invisibility of women didnt make these societies any "purer". Instead there was increased forced prostitution, rape, sodomy and bestiality. The chador and chardiwari could hardly force society to be more pious.
The common thread that runs through the two movies is the complete desensitization of the men.
The message, of course, is very simple: when women are prevented from interacting with men and with the society at large by making them non existent or invisible, the state of affairs ends up as harsh, violent and cruel.

And yet there is hope. The small boy who is Osama's friend is also her strongest ally, protecting her and hiding her secret at all costs. As is the low caste servant and the youngest husband of Matrubhoomi, both of whom try to help the girl with disastrous consequences.