A Girl Called Tipu


I met Tipu one rainy, breezy afternoon in Pune. She was standing all by herself, on her spindly long legs, in a lonely corner of a dirty, crowded crate.  Squawking loudly to be heard amidst the steady din of her fellow inmates.

I would not have noticed her, but for her feathers, or rather the lack of them. In a busy cage of colorful parrots, she was the only one with a naked pink body. Her thin skin stretched tightly over her shriveled frame. A few wisps of yellow, clung doggedly to her head and wings, her only claim to her feathered origin. But it succeeded in making her look like ET with a funny head-dress.

Her cage was outside the pet shop, under an awning, exposed to monsoon and other elements. A cat sat patiently close by, awaiting her chance.

Miss Mighty No feathers (her name till then) trembled in the wet breeze, but never stopped chirping. As if only by chirping, she could convince herself of her existence. The other birds seemed oblivious to her plight. They had probably long abandoned her cause.  Fighting for survival, amongst a crazy bunch of frightened noisy, fellow companions, doesn’t exactly put you in the mood for compassion.

I stood there a moment, watching her, wondering what to do. But then chided myself and marched inside the pet-shop.

I was there to buy food for my fish and that’s what I would do.

In defense of my decision, I had taken sick birds home in the past and had miserable experiences. It’s because the vets in Pune, though ever helpful, were unable to diagnose or treat such tiny birds. The only birds who merit some attention in India are either too high up in the food chain, like eagles or some fancy endangered species, or downright, les miserables – poultry destined for slaughter.

So every time it would be a slow and long trudge for my fellas to bird heaven, prolonged only by my desperate attempts to cure them.

Plus there was the additional risk of infecting my own birds.

Yes, its true. For all my talk of love for animals, I am guilty of curtailing the freedom of a few, to show them that I love them. Lol, I know the irony is inescapable. But coming back to her…

After making my sensible purchases of some potent fish food, which promised to make my fish super colorful and happy, I walked back calmly towards my car. I was careful to avoid any sideward glances, lest I weaken my carefully constructed resolve.

But all through the day and night, Miss Mighty No feathers kept interrupting my thoughts. For those who know me, given the complexity of my pointlessly busy mind, this was a mean feat. And it was always an apparently casual, but carefully orchestrated sort of interference.

There I would be dreaming about buying that yet again, To Die for Zara Pants, and in she would walk by, on her spindly legs, squawking away the futility of pants and all other forms of cover-up.

So after lots of inner dialogue and guilt trips to bird fairy, I sheepishly went back to the shop, and brought her home.

The pet shop owner had put her in a small cardboard box for the ride back and seemed relieved to have got her off his hands.. By the constant litany of scuffling noises, you could be sure, the lady was not too pleased about it.

Back home, I placed her box gingerly on my study table and opened the flap.

As if on cue, Ms. Miss Mighty No feathers came out, furiously stomping and squawking away, complaining to all and sundry about the gross injustice of being shoved into a box.

In a bid to prevent her fall (because Ms. Miss Mighty No feathers was too busy to see where she was going), I tried to straddle her in my hands.

In response, she gave me a sharp little nip on my pinkie. And she continued to hang on to my finger, till I hurriedly surrendered her back to the table. As I glared back at her, mumbling angry unmentionables and nursing my finger, she scowled right back at me, all her twenty grams, standing resolutely on those awfully long legs apart, calling my bluff.

It was at that moment, I named her Tipu. Given her gender, maybe Rani Laxmibai would have been more apt.

But there was something about those gangly legs, scrawny body, funny little headdress, all rallying around a tiny but mighty spirit, which called out to the one warrior, who stood up against the entire British army.

And Tipu she was…

Next chapter

Tipu makes Peace….

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WOMEN ARE NOT KOALA BEARS


This recent tragedy with a young woman, very much like us, on her way home after a movie has shocked all of us.

So much so, that the entire nation, young women & men rose up in protest against the barbarism that was inflicted on her. For the first time it was about fighting against this injustice and creating a society with better systems and not about, “Well, she asked for it.”

But no sooner has the fervor begun to cool, that we are yet again faced with that reprehensible but ever alive and literally kicking stream of belligerent voices instructing how women should behave and how their adoption of western culture is the root cause of all crimes against them.

The recent quotes of our self-appointed moral deacons of society like Mr. Bhagwat about how rapes only happen in India & not Bharat, and many others who seem totally out of touch with reality are loud and clear examples of this hypocrisy. They are all of course carefully worded in the garb of protecting the poor, defenseless and obviously dumb ‘Woman’.

In fact some observations have been downright outrageous like the recent one by Kailash Vijayvargiya, a minister in the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh. According to him, “One has to abide by certain moral limits. If you cross this limit, you will be punished, just like Sita was abducted by Ravana,”

And to ponder, just what were those limits? Coming home at 9pm with a male friend after watching a movie. A practice that is so freely followed by urban countless women like you and me. And the situation appears even more when you look at instances of 4 year old children getting raped. What is the laxman rekha for a four year old, Mr. Vijayvargiya?!

Today yet again, there was a news report about the Puducherry Government now making coats compulsory for girl students and allocating separate buses to protect them against molestation.

So we are back to our popular form of public pastime – controlling and policing women. But this moral indictment lends itself to many interesting conclusions, which I feel increasing eager, rather impatient to share.

Most obvious one – Men have no moral scruples or judgment. Apparently they will define rules for society, preside over as the head of a family, fight wars, but like mindless nitwits, at the first flash of a woman’s leg, lose their minds and attack her like rabid dogs. So it’s the duty of us women to protect them from temptation. And apparently this has to be done by covering ourselves and behaving modestly. And mind you, this ‘modesty’ too is very subjective. Because in certain cultures, even a woman smiling can mean an invitation. And after all, what is culture, a common norm (idiotic or wise) adopted by a group of individuals. So I shudder to think where this stream of thought will take us. Because according to this theory, behind the really thin veneer of civilized behavior, every human of the male gender is potential rapist and only waiting for a suitable opportunity.

Secondly, in Bharat or during the time of our erstwhile, Indian culture, women were respected and were very safe = happy. So apparently Draupadi who was gambled like cheap chattel in a public gathering, by not even one but 5 husbands (all bound by tradition to protect her honor) and Sita who was banished for ‘probably’ having ‘loose morals’ were actually very safe and infact delighted at their state of affairs.

And while on the point of poor Sita (since this is a favorite topic of all our self proclaimed moral policemen, including Vijayvargiya) – just what was so abhorrent in that she had done. All she did was to be kind and give alms to a poor sadhu. So Sita’s opinion on the matter or the time Ram spent with her as her husband, amounted to nothing in front of a passing comment passed by a common bystander. Is this the ‘Bharat’ you are talking about, Mr. Bhagwat?

I cringe to think about the position of women in a society with such a flaky moral fibre. And while on this topic of guidelines for women, what about men?

Why are all such rules defined for women? Do men also have a laxman rekha? If yes, then what is it, Mr. Vijayvargiya?

Plus here I am quoting just two seemingly common examples. Our mythology, in fact for that matter all mythologies and world histories are rife with examples of crimes against women. Take Joan of Arc for example. And why even go back to history. A quick look at crimes against women in any Indian village, the so-called eternal fountain spring of Indian culture will shock you. All through our ‘golden cultural; years and even today, woman are systematically raped, burnt, killed and humiliated daily. Only owing to our strict allegiance to our Indian culture, these crimes go unreported. Our very own Khap panchayats are living examples of groups of individuals who are openly warning people who anybody who risks defiance of their apparent interpretation of culture will face their wrath.

And the last one, my most favorite – We, women are like koala bears, an endangered species, who need to be herded in special sanctuaries and dressed up in mind you ‘modest’ koala suits in order to be protected. We are cute, pretty, driven by our emotions kind of giddy headed gals. In other words, though we are entrusted with the enormous responsibility of shielding men from temptation and taking care of ‘family honor’, we are incapable of giving thought to our own rights and responsibilities and basically all other forms of freedom of expression. Hence we should at all times obey the rules set by society i.e. a small group of hedonistic and highly insecure men, who will govern and judge our every movement. In fact, I think all of us should be radio collared to improve better tracking of our movements. And any sister who dares to defy these rules should face immediate banishment from our ‘Cute Koala’ community and face strict punishment like rape, mutilation or any other topical form of violence that society deems fit.

I mean, who are we kidding. Its time we grew up. Its time we gave up this hypocrisy and for once and all acknowledged that this issue is not about protecting or policing women. It not about a battle of the sexes or cultures. It’s not even about women’s rights.

It’s about basic HUMAN RIGHTS!

Women form 50% of the population worldwide. And like every human being, every woman has right to express herself whether it’s in her work or her dress, period! And ‘NO; in any form or language means a NO. And we need to stop treating ourselves as victims and wrest back the right of deciding what’s right and wrong for us to ourselves and not leave it to the whims and fancies of a few misogynistic idiots. This brave girl doesn’t need to be pitied. She was a feisty, courageous woman who fought till the last like a true warrior and needs to be treated like one. Don’t trivialize her courage by branding her as a ‘Zinda laash’.

Secondly besides being vocal about our rights, we need to stand up for each other. The saddest irony is that we women ourselves are so intolerant about other women. Seemingly warm and cuddly epitomes of motherhood mums burning their daughters’ in law, aborting their female fetuses, running to make snap judgments about the character of fellow women at work. I mean why do we need men. We women ourselves are enough in wiping ourselves out. Even our TV serials though apparently about women are all about denigrating each other. Most of them with the exception of a few are exclusively committed to displaying the whole women community as conniving, jealous and stupid at one end and exceeding silly and lacking self worth at the other. The overlying motivation in most seems to be wresting control of the household,  which is in other words about exhibiting the cupboard keys on their bejeweled waists and leaning on insipid men who are apparently too dazed by all that shiny jewellery to respond coherently. I mean is this our sorry version of women empowerment.

And more importantly, in most situations of crime against women, there are other women present. I mean, by our sheer numbers alone of 50%, that is an eventuality. But we often choose to look away or get away by passing quick judgments. We need to stand up for the woman next to us whenever she is wronged. I have often seen seemingly quiet and harmless women rise up like tigresses when any other woman is eve-teased or molested in a local train. So we need to amplify this support. Our sisterhood needs to go beyond shopping together at flea markets or watching TV serials. If every woman stands up for another, it will be nearly impossible to get victimized.

Thirdly celebrate and acknowledge fantastic men. I mean they are all amidst us and we are doing them and ourselves a terrible disservice by not acknowledging them. I am sure all of us have been lucky to interact with men who treat women with respect and regard, which is not driven by gender or position, but by basic human decency. I was heartened by the sheer number of men who were participating in protest marches for the brave girl’s cause. By subscribing to common gender generalizations and opinions of a few nitwits, we are in fact insulting this wonderful breed of sensitive, intelligent men.

Fourthly, any kind of crime in society needs to be treated as an aberration and not a justification. Agreed that we all need to be more aware and alert to our safety, but that in no way justifies any kind of crime. Every crime needs to be dealt with zero tolerance. Rape is never about sex. It’s about power, control, domination of the other sex. It is inflicted by frustrated insecure men who seem incapable of any normal form of interaction with women. And of course the sight of women becoming independent and assertive about their own rights is not helping matters for them. So now should we give in to the rage of a few truly impotent individuals and hide within our homes.

Finally we need to have relook at our prevalent belief and systems, which are encouraging this violence and hatred against women. Instead of segregating men or women or covering women up in coats or burqa , we need to relook as to what kind of value systems or education are we providing, where in opposite genders view each other with such disrespect or suspicion. Instead of just focusing on raising an academically brilliant child we need to raise a more compassionate and responsible one. Human sensitization needs to be critical component of our education system. By segregating genders, we are only increasing their intolerance or ignorance of each other.

Only when one small boy regards another small girl with the same rights and opportunities as himself, will he regard her as another human being and not a koala bear.