Savita Halappanavar: The Ugly Math

A woman’s life is hard as it is. Why would we want to inflict more pain with politicians and laws deciding what to do with ourselves when we go through a single life transforming event like pregnancy? Frankly, Mr, No Uterus, No Opinion.

The recent US elections enraged women and made feminists delirious. With Senator Todd Akin’s ill informed remarks about rape and abortion and Mitt Romney’s circus dance around women’s rights, Republicans were doomed to lose. On the other hand, when Michelle Obama took the stage on the Democratic National convention and declared that her husband trusted women to make that crucial choice about their bodies, she not only won the crowd’s applause but their votes as well.

We live in the information age and women are raring to go places. There are very few aspects in life that impedes us. Biologically, pregnancy affects only the mother. Therefore, deciding to go with it or end it should be a personal and private choice taken within closed doors. It is surely not a political point worthy of debate neither should it be a legal binding that encompasses all.

In talking pro life, who’s life are they talking about? When the couple decides that they do not want to bring another life into this world, why does government want to decide otherwise? The acts of personal pleasures are not an agenda for political reform. And most definitely not a topic worthy of debate just to amass vote banks.

The trauma that Savita Halappanavar underwent in the Irish hospital is a nightmare for women everywhere. This was a joyous phase of her life where she was nurturing another life within herself. But when things went downhill, the medical personnel should have showed better judgement. We trust our lives with doctors and when they hide behind religion and laws, it is a sad day for mankind.

Pro life and pro choice are terms that look fancy on campaign flyers but are warrants of life and death for women involved. Even when the decision to end a pregnancy is made it is not a happy day but a day filled with tears and heartbreak. Let us not worsen it by muddling it up with politics and religion. To state that this is a Catholic country to a women’s plea for life is not the way God intended mankind to treat fellow humans. Show some respect, some remorse and more compassion. A life could have been saved, instead we lose two. No matter how we look at it, the math is indeed ugly.

(An edited version of this article was published in Women’s Web.)

Controversy’s child – Kamal Hassan

There is a scene in Manmadhan Ambu where Mannar played by Kamal details Ambu’s (Trisha) character to Madhan (Madhavan). He claims that people who are gifted with great talent are often very audacious. They are honest to a fault and controversial. He could very well be talking about himself because every time Kamal decides to address a gathering, pens an article or releases a movie he attracts a dispute. Either the public oppose him at large or he ruffles a few leaves within the industry.
Right from Thevar Magan when the Thevar clan opposed his portrayal of their communal violence to the clipping of an important recital in Manmadhan Ambu, all his films have embraced controversies. Some have been box office hits despite these hindrances and others have fell flat. But Kamal has never shied away from calling a spade a spade. He knew Virumaandi would create a hoopla right from the time they canned the first shot but he did not rest until it made it to the box office. Who else but Kamal would think of making a movie not from the perspective of the greatest hero of our nation’s struggle for independence but from the eyes of the man who shot him.
What kindles his interest to think about subjects that rarely eludes most film makers? Is it his undying passion to cinema? Is it the thrills of bringing unseen vistas to the audiences? Is it the nerve for making a film that would most definitely enrage certain audiences? Is it the comfort from having established himself as the greatest star of Tamil cinema? What makes him experimental even after decades of toil? What gives him the strength to ride through pastures that seasoned film makers would refuse even at gun point? Surely Kamal Hassan is aware of the bait he is setting, yet he continues to set it. Why?
The recent article in The Hindu “Of course Velu Nayakan does not dance” is an interesting read. When he sat down to compose it, his intentions would not have been to provoke but to illustrate that even when making a movie like Nayakan the path is not a bed of roses. Of course, the director is seasoned. The script is superlative. The actor is brilliant. Yet, the problems that arise while filming a milestone movie like Nayakan are akin to making any other movie.
Their vision was to be different. They did not evade from experimenting. It was everybody’s child. They nurtured it with everything they had. They did not worry upfront if it would run for a 100 days or win awards. They just wanted to fulfill their dreams. In that process, if the movie emerged successful, financially, it would be a bonus. This kind of intellection would not sit well with any pragmatic producer. They are in it for the money. Very few are for the craft but most are for the dough.
The obstacles mentioned are not to irk but to elucidate that great movies like Nayakan are winners despite these obstacles. It is to inspire film makers to keep going through the potholes and bumps. There is no dream run in the world of cinema but to keep the fire burning you need to have undying passion. That is the only route and the only way to success. If you give up at the first sign of a barrier then your dream will remain only that.
Unfortunately for Kamal, very few understand these understatements. Most retort and some turn violent. But for a man who has achieved great heights amidst great difficulties and is still raring to go, these are merely moth balls settled on his shoulder. He just has to brush them aside and stride forward. For Kamal, there are really only two choices – to lead or let others follow.

(This article was published in )

English vinglish

In a movie hailed as the comeback of the queen of silver screen, feministic undertones are not only laudable but heartwarming.

Every scene of English Vinglish is crafted beautifully. Every expression, every sigh, every look and every frame is the work of a perfectionist. Or it is the work of Sridevi, who not only understands the travails of a home maker struggling to keep herself happy but also braves the odds to liberate her from the clutches of language. But seen from the vantage point of an immigrant, there are some unique aspects that stand out and amuse me.

• Why is it that during my innumerable trips to and from India, my economy seating has never been accompanied by Ajith or Amitabh? But if I were to lament, I would prefer Surya. Now that’s worth feigning ignorance. The hostess never offers Chardonnay or Merlot instead stares blankly through the cartons of Apple & Orange juice.

• It is eternally warming to see Sridevi strolling through the streets of NYC in a sari. If there is one place in the world outside of India, where a sari can be worn with elegance and get its standing, it is in NYC. Nobody gawks or mocks at you and you don’t have to make excuses for sporting one. When invitations to parties leave me in wardrobe failure, there is a twinge of pride to see her walking tall in the six yards. It is sometimes the outfit but always the real YOUthat stays with people long after you have walked out.

• The movie silently puts forth certain stereotypes. The French chef, Spanish nanny, gay New Yorker, south Indian software professional, Pakistani taxi driver, Chinese parlor girl, Indian home maker but does it in a way that is not derogatory to either one. In a way, to see their friendships evolve and develop is amusing. The barriers, it seems, are not in what we speak but how we speak.

• Shashi cooks deliciously. She is the super mom, super wife and super daughter in law who whips us a different breakfast for every member. Yet there are only two people who cherish her, the eldest in the family, her mother in law and the youngest, her son. When the man cooks it is art and when the woman does it, it is duty? After having a kid, cooking has become a chore. What was once therapeutic has becomes a necessary evil to quiet the grumbling stomach. Shashi’s parathas and ladoos are appreciated and devoured by her sister and nieces for whom these are delicacies. I can understand that kind of wistfulness when it comes to food. In a land far away from delicious home style take away’s, it is a blessing when the husband can appreciate the wife’s culinary abilities. And unless we let the man wield the spoon once in a while, they might never get the travails of being a chef.

• When the husband cuts her calls short using excuses as trivial as stepping into an elevator, he cannot handle her excuse for not accompanying them to view the Empire state. Men cannot handle rejection even after two kids? They always need a punching bag by their side so they can make mean jokes about Jazz? How many times have we seen newly married brides walking shyly behind their grooms? How many times have they remained mum when spoken to only to let their husbands do the talking? How many times have seen kids abuse their mothers and manipulate them? This is not unique to immigrants alone. It is definitely apt that Sridevi finds her voice and confidence in the end and does not cringe from using it. Though she pauses and falters along the way, she does go all the way and that deserves an ovation, a standing ovation.

Shashi, is empowered after conquering her weakness. It was learning a new language but it could be anything. She went out, braved the odds and emerged successful. In the end, she returns to her cocoon, silently yet with more strength when she enquires for a Hindi newspaper in the flight.

And Shashi is right; nobody can help yourself better than you!