Sexuality, Gender, Being Indian and ‘Water’

Set in 1938, Water by Deepa Mehta is a brutal portrayal of the realities of that time, with the frame of reference being the plight of widows in India. The story begins with a newly-widowed 7 year old girl called Chuhiya, who is left at a ‘widhwa-ashram’ (literally meaning, widow-home) to stay with other widows, facing social ostracization.  Confused and scared, Chuhiya is unable to bring herself to accept this change in her life. That she has a hot temper, and a ever questioning mind does not help either.

The entire film delves deeper into the prevalent social issues at that time, the prevalent power structure where there was the supremacy of the male over the female, and the other big power structure in India- casteism, existing at the same time. Being Indian has always been considered to be traditional, to be respectful of the culture that has been passed down through generations,ever since Manu was born. This film showcases the crossroads that India as a country was facing, going from British rule towards Independence. At the same time, the wave of Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, who were challenging the regressive customs of Indian society, was getting stronger.

Being Indian has also meant being respectful of power structures in the society. While some of them explicit, some of them have been drilled into us with such dexterity that we no longer acknowledge their existence or feel them. Water looks at the trauma a widow in those times. While Chuhiya is more or less the change agent in the film, her questions and acts triggering actions both desirable and undesirable. She is a representation of the generation trying to break free from the shackles of ancient India. On the other hand, Shakuntala, who fills in the gap that Chuhiya’s mother would have done otherwise, represents a generation resigned to the customs and functioning of society. A generation who was born in the British Rule, had to keep up with economic developments and changes, while sticking to their ‘Indian’ philosophy of life, never challenging the status quo.

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It is a beautiful portrayal of a society so bound by its scriptures, its ancient texts that it is losing the ability to progress with the times, affording upliftment and success of only those classes of society that were doing well anyways. The representation of sexuality is also very interesting. A mirror to a society which at that time, thought of women as second rate citizens, whose lives were bound to the men in their lives. First the father, whose house she would live and grow in, and then her husband, who would give her his name and when he would die, her identity was more or less lost in the process. A woman, who was a widow, was no more than a burden to her husband’s family, one more mouth to feed. People of the upper classes exploited widows for sex, but at the same time, the emotions of a widow meant nothing – her sexual desires were supposed to be non-existent, her desires of getting appreciated, or appreciating the good things in life like fine food, clothes and jewelry were also considered appalling and she was denied all this.

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The soon-to-be lawyer, Narayana who eventually turns out to be a savior for Chuhiya and in a way, Shakuntala, represents the intellectual class of the society at that time and in a sense, even now. As the Indian society still struggles to address gender issues and mistreatment of widows, Water remains a deeply relevant film.

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Looking Back On Term 2.

Looking back on term 2

(Photo credits : Abhijeet Singh, MICA)

This post comes midway in term # 3 at Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) when it suddenly hit me that I hadn’t done a follow-up post to my earlier one.

Term 2 taught me :

1) No matter who handles Chota (the canteen), the cold coffee *must* remain as good as it was. Otherwise, the handover has been a failure.

2) Going to watch a movie costs more than the movie, emotionally and financially.

3) Unfulfilled plans are like unfulfilled study plans – they get made often, and often go unrealised.

4) Rajneesh Krishna Sir is awesome *yes, he is!*

5) Time runs past you like Usain Bolt on steroids. It’s been 7 months to this place already and not a lot of us acknowledge it. Make the most of the time left.

6) Getting through to round 2 of any competition deserves to be celebrated. For real.

7) Culture just got real.

8) Ek Diu/Goa/Jaipur trip to banta hai. PLAN it.

9) Students at IIM may deserve more salary for just the fact that they can make a good financial plan for B-school competitions.

10) Thakur Chacha is a rockstar.

11) Summer placements make MICA the campus it isn’t. I am glad that phase is temporary.

12) Taking down notes does not really help. Lose some sleep over those assignments. Keep an open mind.

13) The newspapers can become your saviours.

14) Know what you want to do. But more importantly, know what you don’t want to do.

15) Being cynical is the easiest thing to do. Think beyond the stereotypes, appreciate.

Term 3 is half-done. Everything is a blur. But the second term will remain special in a lot of ways. Account planning, brand management, media planning, market research : everything beckons. Gear shift time, NOW.

Cheers to the almost-PGP2! 😀

Patriarchy, the status quo.

There was a certain question that has stuck with me ever since I first came across it almost a decade ago. A piece in a prominent magazine asked why citizens of India did not have the choice to give their mother’s name instead of their father’s name on an official form or on any form that needed consent of a parent. The author of the piece went on to ask what a widowed woman’s status were to be in such a case. It was a very pertinent question, and remains so.

Even today, official government forms usually do not have the option to give mother’s name as the middle name or as the parent’s name. The mother must be then named as the guardian instead of a parent. Personally, I find this extremely demeaning to the relationship of a woman with her child. A citizen of India should have the right to choose between using his father or his mother’s name interchangeably either as his/her middle name or his/her parent’s name. While this may seem trivial, this is actually a representation of a far bigger status quo of our society. The big giant called patriarchy, which has loomed over us for centuries and which poses a lot of societal problems when it goes on overlooked and when gender dynamics get so skewed that they cross the line of no return.

Patriarchy is expressed in multiple ways. In the ways that household activities are divided between a man and woman with minimal expectations from a man to fill in for a role that he could perform with ease at home. On the other hand, a woman is not only expected to contribute to the family income and give her husband a helping hand, but also expected to be the subservient domestic doormat who does all the household chores by her own and keeps a perfect balance between work and household activities. The same balance, however, is not sought from men in our society. I have seen examples of this in my own society, in my own city. It disturbs me immensely because the seeds of this behavior are sown when the children are young.  I have a problem with how gender roles are pre-ordained in our society. It can be something as simple as a parent telling his/her 10-year-old daughter, ”You must pay attention to household stuff. After all, you are the one who has to take care of the household.”

Why should the onus of learning the household chores and the way things are done at home be thrust only upon the daughter of the family? The same things can be taught to the girl and boy of the family with it being an inclusive process, instead of making the female feel that she has been singled out and is being made to do something which she may not want to. The feminist in me would try and delve deeper into this issue and maybe try to figure out how and why the concept of patriarchy came to exist in the first place. There have been a lot of studies on this subject but the theory I believe in is that patriarchy came into being when the human race acknowledged that the physical power of the male species ought to be given more importance than the nurturing and child-bearing aspect of the female species. As the former was more conducive to survival of a tribe, it is very probable that this moment in history lead to the elevation in status of man in society, and in the process, subjugation of a woman.

 

These are just my random thoughts about the state of the society I live in, things that bother me immensely. As a child, I had lofty dreams of the world in which I was growing up. I would proudly tell my parents that I was sure things would completely change when I grew up and that when I was getting married, women and men would be treated equal. I dreamt of situations where the man would leave his house and come to live in mine when married me.

Alas, that is not happening.

Patriarchy is the way it’s going to be for a few more generations, it seems. Unless that lofty dream is revived. And I think it is up to my generation to do that. I hope we do our bit.