Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Being a wo(man)

’Is God a man or a woman?’’

When my 10 year old daughter Dhenuka asked me this question, my first reaction was shock. Somehow, I got reminded of the dialogue from one of the most popular Tamizh films- ‘Are you a good person or a bad person?’. Like the protagonist in the movie, I too replied ‘I don’t know’, though not in his tone.  Sadly enough,I also did not have the backing of the leitmotif of the Maestro.

But jokes apart, the question made me think. ‘Why should a 10 year old girl worry about the gender of God? What would have made her do this?’

I asked her the reason. She said ‘’ I am sure it is He. Otherwise why do only girls have some problems? If it was a She, this wouldn’t happen’’.

The reply left me dumbfounded. She was of course talking of physiological problems unique to women. Nowadays, schools also educate the children about many things and this includes certain things considered as taboo traditionally. Forward thinking people should definitely welcome this. Therefore, I had no qualms about her getting to know about some details regarding the anatomy and physiology. But what troubled me is the way a girl perceives her being a girl. Is it a healthy trend or not?

Is it a fact that women undergo a lot of hardships in the world when compared to men? Is it then a sin to be born as a girl? Then why did the Mahakavi sing ‘Mangaiyaraai piRappadhaRkku maathavam seithida veNdumamma’?(it needs a lot of penance indeed to be born as a girl). This is a very vast subject and requires reams of pages to discuss. Therefore, let me try and touch some pertinent points here.

The main point in my opinion is not so much the physiological problems as the emotional and the mental trauma. By this I mean the way the society looks at and treats women. The term society has a larger connotation and without any doubt, includes women too. We Indians have a confused mind when it comes to women. I am not exaggerating when I say that we are a bundle of contradictions. At one end of a spectrum, we put a woman on a pedestal, make her an epitome of patience, tolerance, love, compassion and shower encomiums on her. At the other end, we look down upon her giving some stereotyped roles and go to the extent of saying ‘Being a woman, you can’t and shouldn’t do this’. It is in this band of spectrum that we see her as a glamorous creature created for men and to satisfy men in all aspects. We expect women to act as per the whims and fancies of men. No, not just ‘of men’ but also ‘of women’ who carry the tag of ‘mother’ by law (or is it in-law?).

Both the ends of the spectrum are dangerous. We deify women so that they remain on the pedestal like statues without any emotions. ‘Oh , how many sacrifices a woman makes!’ we shed crocodile tears. We trample them at the other end, first by branding them as symbols of beauty and then setting rules. How confused we are!

Isn’t there a disconnect between the two ends here? Yes and no. ‘Yes’ because the two are contradictory. ‘No’ because the other is responsible for the one.

No, I am not contradicting here. We put women on the pedestal because we know that if we do that, we can get away with everything. ‘God created mother because He can’t be present all the time’, we say (here itself there is a contradiction anyway as God is supposed to be omnipresent). Aftersaying this, we go ahead and disrobe women (literally and figuratively).

That is why, we have men who say ‘If a diamond is displayed on the road, dogs will surely take it’, ‘ It is the girl who invites the boys with ‘inappropriate dress’’, ‘ There is nothing wrong in a rape. Boys just want to have fun’.

Mind you, these were said by men who are supposed to be ‘leaders’.

But when we have the leader of the country himself saying ‘Depite being a woman…’, can’t we understand the kind of stereotyped images we all have in our mind?

So, where are we now?

Durga’ to ‘Maa / behenji’ to ‘kya maal hai yaar’ to ‘girls should not wear jeans’!!
If this is not a bundle of contradictions, what else is?

However, the solution lies within us. Let us stop deifying women. Let us stop denigrating women. Let us understand and appreciate the problems of women, respect them in the real sense and treat them as fellow human beings without any set of written or unwritten rules.

The rare gem of the day ‘PaavaiyargaL Maan Pole..’ from ‘Ore Muththam’(1980)  precisely talks about this but in a slightly different way.

The brilliantly written song by Kaviyarasar puts across both the viewpoints- the ‘traditional typecasting’ and the modern one. Needless to say that the former is by a man (brilliant rendition as usual by SPB) and the latter by a woman (again a beautiful rendition by Janaki).

What is most striking is the way the composition traverses through two totally different genres, qawwali and modern pop. Brilliantly symbolic!

Qawwali, a genre which was ubiquitous in the old Hindi songs(till late ‘70s) has appeared in some old Tamizh songs too. But here it is very special because of the seamless transition. The Maestro has also tuned it in Mishra Khamaj, a Hindustani raag used prolifically in qawwalis.

The song starts with the harmonium playing with sensitivity and making some smooth glides. It plays without percussion for 3 cycles of chatushra ekam and then moves along spreading warmth for the next 10 cycles.

The pallavi is in anaagata eduppu and the male sings ‘ Women are like the deer; like the Cauvery river; If only they tread the path laid for them and live accordingly, they are angels. Why this modernity?’

The first interlude gives the quintessential flavour of a qawwali with the shehnai, the clapping and the harmonium. It is simple and at the same time zestful.

The first charaNam talks about having beautiful plait decorated with flowers and at the same time says ‘ Jewellery and dress don’t make you beautiful. Sport a smile and walk with a proper gait.Read Tamizh’.

 Let it be understood here that ‘reading tamizh’ is used as a euphemism here for ‘following tradition’.

Musically, the stanza is marvellous with the akaaram after ‘choodungaL’ shining like gems on a nose ring.

There is a sudden shift in the interlude which follows. The electric guitar appears with a grin and moves along dancing. The saxophone follows and traverses upwards. The healthy competition between the two is amazing!

The female now sings, ‘ A good woman can live anywhere. I know what I am doing and let there be no barriers . I am like the pure Ganges’.

The TaaLa pattern now changes to tisram as the saxophone again goes on a melodious spree. After a brief intervention by electric guitar, the male sings ‘Wear a silk saree and you are protected. God comes rushing to you when you wear  bindi and flowers’
(Doesn’t this contradiction between the first charaNam and this charaNam typify the mentality of the society?).

The female replies that even if God comes here now, He will accept me as times are changing.

Now, it is the shehnai that follows and moves with a verve.

The stanza that follows has the male sarcastically refer to the smile of a woman.

Those days, women would walk with their heads bowed down. And now you all smile directly looking at our faces.’ The old adage about a lady’s laughter being very dangerous, used even in Mahabharata, is used after this.

The saxophone follows with unobtrusive energy.

Ok, now let us come to an agreement. Point out if I make a mistake.  And I shall point out your mistakes. After all, are’nt women and men equal?’

This is a beautiful line and one sees Bharati in KaNNadasan.

The last part is rendered by both the male and the female saying ‘Let us be friends. There is good and evil in everything. Let us unite’.

The inherent message is obvious.

So, will we all follow this as well?

And by the way, is God a man or a woman?
Well..God only knows!


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