• Monday, December 24, 2012
  • Half stories from India

    I’m currently in Chennai for winter break, my last academic vacation for a long time. Possibly forever. I have a complicated relationship with home, but right now, it feels amazing. One season a year, that little sliver of time in December and January, Chennai’s weather is so forgiving and so extraordinary that you overlook all of its flaws.

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    When my cousin had his pre-school admissions interview (which apparently is a thing), the teacher asked him a bunch of routine general knowledge questions, including- “What does a cow eat?”

    “Paper,” my cousin said wisely.

    Apparently the teacher was horrified, and marked him wrong, which kind of perfectly sums up everything that is terrible with the Indian educational system.

    Yesterday I accompanied my parents to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association to buy tickets for the upcoming India-Pakistan match on Sunday. The line for the tickets was enormous, less than an hour after the windows opened, and it wrapped itself around the stadium.

    We were going to buy the upper level tickets, though, and so we walked right into the TNCA and up to the empty window, and bought five Rs. 5000 tickets.

    On the way back to our car, we passed a street sweeper who had noticed us walking in. My mother had asked her- what are these things on the ground? Is it broken glass, or flowers? My mother thought it was broken glass, my father insisted they were flowers. It was a discussion. The sweeper said she didn’t know.

    She was surprised to see us leaving so fast. Did you get the tickets? she asked my mother. Oh yes, my mother said. How much were they? the sweeper asked. You could see my mother get thrown, for about a half-second, and then she said- Too much money.

    My dad, possibly nervous, chimed in, There’s one month’s salary down the drain!

    Not for him, of course. But one ticket would be equivalent to what she makes in a month.

    What was remarkable about this exchange was that it even happened.

    I don’t know how much people of privilege here in India viscerally experience their privilege. In LA, I’d be part of the very long line wrapping itself around the huge stadium, waiting for hours, possibly the whole day, possibly not ever getting to the ticket window. Here, I just spent a street sweeper’s entire month’s salary on one ticket, and it’s not a sacrifice for me, it’s an indulgence.

    Last night I had a sleepover with of my best friends, my old writing partner, and one of my muses (all the same person), and we talked and talked in helpless bewilderment about how shitty it is to be a woman in India.

    It’s been a miserable couple of weeks in the news. I was thinking of how the gun rights issue was framed by the NRA lobby- in terms of culture, not legislation. It’s gun rights, not gun control, it’s about tradition and freedom and an American way of life. The protests in Delhi are about legislation- let’s enforce the death penalty for rapists- instead of talking about the culture of patriarchal violence that seems so inescapable, so inherently woven into the fabric of everyday life in India.

    As my friend pointed out, what is the use of a political/legislative/judicial solution when the vast majority of Indian women have no access to the courts to begin with?

    It’s about Indian mothers and sons, probably. Most likely. I wonder how many rapes and beatings and murders would continue to happen if the perps knew that their mothers would disown them. That their mothers would never stand for it. I wonder how many wives would continue to be burnt if their mother-in-laws defended and protected them, and treated them with respect. I wonder how many men would dare inflict harm on a woman if they knew that would get them thrown out of their own home.

    In order to establish some sense of power in their own home, mothers coddle and infantilize their sons, creating a co-dependent relationship, alienating their daughters and daughters-in-law. They do this out of desperation, because it’s not like they’re equal partners with their husbands. Their sons in turn treat their wives like crap, and their wives then perpetuate the same co-dependency on their own sons, and so on. Men rape because they can, because if a woman gets raped she’s disowned, if a man rapes, his mother will defend him.

    After the Newton massacre, one of the desis I follow on Twitter announced that he’s never going to bring up a family in America. But is India any better, really?

    What I’m reading: The TV Writer’s Handbook, The Big Sleep, Reading Like A Writer.