arundhati and poonam live far from each other, in different countries, in different time zones. they share a common vision though. polio man is an attempt to explore that through a series of pieces on issues close to their hearts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

first meeting

~ poonam

i have always believed in the power of cinema but who was to know that a movie like daanav could do something as nice as this.

almost 2 years ago, i went to a film fest as i am wont to whenever there is one. there i saw daanav.
a powerful film that inspired me to rant powerfully about it on my old, currently non-existent blog. what was i know that my rant about the worst film ever in the history of world cinema was to be read by someone half way across the world from me.

arundhati not only shared absolutely the same thoughts about the movie but also found the rest of the blog relatable. and she wrote a mail. thus began a series of innumerable mails and chats that have continued till date, with an alarming consistency, undeterred by the 12.5 hours time difference.

things that have happened during these many months are such that if one could elaborate and stretch them beyond everyday logic, could result in a powerful movie script by itself...;)first happened delight, of finding a person with strikingly similar sensibilities, followed by an understanding that the delight may not be as rare so we silly women can stop being silly, followed by lots of sharing of thoughts, ideas and definitely angst (our favourite sensibility ;)), followed by a desire to do something constructive online, followed by this blog, followed by the everyday quest to keep this blog going, followed by an angst-ridden post that resulted in multiple misunderstandings and a hacking incident, followed by the survival of this blog and our friendship, followed by our first meeting.

last sunday, 1 45 in the afternoon at a crowded busstand under pune’s scorching sun, arundhati and i waved to each other from across the street. it was a cinematic moment, at least definitely by daanav’s standards. :)

the next 6-7 hours were spent talking, eating, drinking, biking, posing for pics and then some more. also the time when we walked into a crowded park and found two young men selling colourful kiddie balls. almost instantly and quite strangely, we thought the balls could make a great background for a picture of us together. the ball-seller sensed our thoughts and twice he picked up his wares and moved towards us. we did nothing but laugh uproariously, quite to his surprise. in fact, i had a good snob mind to tell him: “we don’t want your balls please. we have enough of ours.”
ok, enough said!! :)

Friday, May 05, 2006

an appeal

~ poonam

Ms Ketki Mohite, the 21 year old daughter of someone I know, has been suffering from renal failure for the past few months. Both her kidneys have stopped functioning and she has been undergoing dialysis since then. Dr Vishawanath Billa of Bombay Hospital has advised for kidney transplant to save her life. The father has been identified as the donor. But unfortunately, the operation is getting delayed cause the father does not have the necessary Rs 5 lakhs. He has managed to collect only about Rs 2 lakhs till now.

This is an appeal for anyone who can help with funds or with information on institutions who can fund.
For the monies, you can call Mr Mohite on 98922 86777 directly.
For the info on institutions, I will take the numbers and/or names on

Thank you.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Who(E)re Do We Draw The Line?

~ Arundhati

From philosophical arguments about how they are a necessary part of the society to judgments about their freedom of choice to be a whore or not, there are many things I could write about whores. But all around me as whores intermingle with "other" women, and the "customers" intermingle with other men, I wonder, how do we decide if someone is a whore? Where is it that we draw the line between whores and other women?

After all, whore is someone who uses her body, her sexuality to earn her living. Isn't it the same for the so called actresses of this day? A Kareena Kapoor or a Mallika Sherawat thrusting their backsides and bosoms to an equally obscene number are, after all, giving the viewers a vicarious sexual pleasure at a much cheaper rate than a streetside whore!

Incidentally, I have never been able to understand why is it that Kareena Kapoor is just "sexy" and Mallika Sherawat is "slutty" when both of them seem to be wearing the same kind of clothes and doing the same kind of gyrations! Just how many inches of cleavage has to pop out of your clothes to be classified as a slut?

In the corporate world there are many examples of women using their sexuality to rise up the ladder. Once in a heart to heart talk, a friend admitted to doing this to a certain extent. She went on to justify it by asking, 'Why is it that being a woman has to always be your handicap? What is wrong with using all of your assets to get to where you want to go?'

Another friend argued, 'Most of the people in the decision making positions are men in their forties who seem to have enormous appreciation of the talents of younger and attractive women. You are more likely to thrive in the corporate world if you were attractive than if you were not!'

As a woman working in a field dominated by men, I have found that it is very important to maintain a balance between being attractive and still preserving your dignity. You have to dress and behave appropriately as to not being classified either as a "fast" woman or a retro. Both are detrimental to your career and the way in which you are treated. I have observed several times that men are often eager to write you off by putting you into mental classifications. It is easier for them to deal with you once they think they have figured you out! Once you get past that phase, then they would consider you for the classification of a worthy coworker.

So, if a woman uses her talent in her job as well as her physical attractiveness to further her career, would she be just a professional or a professional and something else? Does she have to sleep with her boss to qualify as whore or just flirting would do?

On a different note, if there are whores amongst women, there are women amongst whores. As a child, I have experienced the human side of a prostitute and will never forget that day.

Years ago, while volunteering for a school event in the commercial area of the city, I had lost my way into the "forbidden" zone. The bus I had boarded to reach the venue had taken a detour to avoid the festival traffic and dropped me on a parallel road instead. I had wandered into the bylanes of the old city trying to reach the the school event and after taking a wrong turn, had come face to face with the teeming redlight area at it's peak business time in the evening.

One look around me and I knew where I was and was frozen in terror. In every doorway and balcony overhead stood women with garish makeup and cheap flashy clothes. Several men loitered the bylanes leering and gesticulating and the women responded either with obscene gestures or by launching a bitter invective.

I had never seen this sight before, except in the movies,and I had never heard such a language before either. That's when I remembered what I had seen in the movies and was even more petrified. I knew I was in a vulnerable position. I knew I could be just sucked into one of these houses and no one would know my whereabouts. But my feet just refused to move. I found myself unable to even scream or cry and stood there in my school uniform, shaking like a leaf.

I don't know how long I had been standing there like that when someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around and came face to face with a woman in her thirties. She was, like others, wearing a cheap, shimmering saree, tied low at the waist and bright, gaudy makeup. She reeked of a mixture of sweat and a strong perfume. The fake jewelry that she was wearing shone against her dark skin. Her mouth looked like it was bleeding from the gaudy lipstick and beetlenut juice coming out of one side.

I looked at her and was shaken out of my stupefaction. I thought this was it! That this woman would now drag me to the dungeons and I would have no way to escape. I began to cry and scream as loudly as I could.

She held my arm tight and screamed "SHUT UP!!"

I shut up in terror but kept shaking.

"What is your name?" She asked
"Arundhati" I mumbled
"Do you go to school?"
"Yes, I am in seventh grade"
"Which school?"
"Apte School"
"What are you doing here by yourself? Where is your mother?"
"I...I was going to Mandai, to represent our school to distribute food to the devotees gathered for the festival. And I...I lost my way! I just want to go!" I said whimpering.
"Shut up!! Stop crying now. I will take you there." She said and almost dragged me brusquely behind her. I followed her reluctantly like a sacrificial lamb, praying all along that she meant what she said.

She took me through a dark alley and then another one and in no time we were out of the maze of alleys and on the main road. Far away, I could hear the din of music played for the festival and, finally, began to feel some relief. She continued to drag me and we crossed the stretch of the main road briskly to where the festival crowd was gathered. In front of me, I could see the huge billboards and the pandal erected by our school. I pointed to the pandal and she turned towards it, pulling me behind her.

Finally we reached the pandal and she let go of my arm. I stood in the doorway and called for the teacher. The teacher noticed me and hurried towards the doorway, her face showing enormous relief.

"Where were you? We were so worried!" She said.

I told her how I had got lost and how I had finally reached the venue and turned around to introduce my savior. But, she was gone. I went out to look for her but could not see her in the crowd.

I have never seen her since then. I never even got a chance to ask her name. And even if I did, it probably would not have been her real name anyway.

My nameless angel has been in my prayers ever since the day she came to my life. I just hope my prayers for her have worked.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

whores and other women

~ poonam

on this international women’s day, many bloggers wrote on street harassment in cities of india. i read a few of those posts - were well-written, thoughtful, angry and overall truthful, all derived from experience. in fact, this blog – polioman came into being because i, during one such event lost my cool and lashed out at the wrong guy completely. it was a mistake, but that’s the past now.

being groped and touched or even looked at by a complete stranger and most often the dirtiest of the lot, can make one feel all kinds of unpleasant feelings. raped, even. i know, i know, this may sound rhetoric, and frankly, it is. but only if you negate what one feels at that precise moment when a hand emerges from nowhere and touches you. *you*, you know.
this is important.

now let’s look at it this way. so a hand touched you, without you expecting the touch or permitting it. big deal! so that hand used you to derive pleasure for its person. so what? can you not tolerate an extremely short-lived touch? you felt humiliated for like couple of seconds before you made a dash for the train which was already stopping at the platform? or didn’t you go back to talking on the phone? or resumed shopping with the same fervour as before the event? so what the hell are we talking about? where does this pain and humiliation come from and more importantly where does it vanish?

now i for one, don’t know. but i do know that women have bigger issues than worry about high-on-libido jerk offs prying the streets. and this post is not about those women at all. this post is about women who deal with something similar, only the issue is greater, amplified like a thousand times. worse still, not only does it not come unexpected but it is packaged and presented as life. take it, unwrap it, feel happy about it, live with it or die. and it certainly is not just a hand anymore.

i don’t know what fascinates me about sex workers but something does. i suspect it’s the question: what goes on in their minds when men –all types, all sizes, climb over them and vent their frustrations while inside them. what goes on in their minds when at the end of this, they receive a measly sum, a fee for pleasure? what goes on in their minds when they give birth to a child without really knowing who the father might be? what goes on in their minds when their pimps undersell them, when their lovers ditch them, when their families live off them? what goes on their minds when there is dread all around? aids, and then there are the police. the illegal status to the profession, lack of basic facilities, unhygienic conditions, more competition. more unfortunate minors trafficked and made to lure customers who pay more for fresh, inexperienced maal. more stories of deceitful lovers, greedy families, poverty and squalor. and then their own stories which only know how to get drearier and darker.

now i read stories of some of these women who have faced it all with remarkable tenacity, they are averse to self-pity, they value self-respect, claim to have entered the profession by choice. they look at it as a job someone’s got to do. someone’s got to keep those friggin’ street harassers from going beyond groping and touching on the sly. think about it, these women might be doing a service to other women. to women like us, who can raise hell upon, dare i say, a mere touch. these may be the women who are keeping the men at bay. if you think this idea is crazy then maybe it is. but it doesn’t harm to think of it in absolute terms. 40-50-60 bucks for a fuck is as good a deal as it can get. and there is no real compulsion to wear a condom too. groping and touching on the sly can land a man in trouble, if the woman decides to hang up her call or stop shopping and come after him. but in a red light area, he can haggle and pay less to be loved in the way he likes, might be lucky enough to get away without paying at all. he is the customer and he is the king. in our world, he’s a parasite who has no right to live, let alone move freely on the streets doing as he wishes. really how can one stranger mean two diversely different things to two women for the same act?

an american author camille pagila has said, “the prostitute is not, as feminists claim, the victim of men but rather their conqueror, an outlaw who controls the sexual channel between nature and culture.” this is the crazy idea, spoken earlier, but the quote may not be completely true. the prostitute here is victimized every day and not necessarily by her customer alone. the law is a great contributor too. the illegal status to such a thriving industry really makes things worse than they ought to be. rough them, arrest them, file complaint, take bribe and release - this is possibly a weekly agenda for the local police.

physical abuse aside, the verbal insults are a way of life. on my recent fleeting visit to kamathipura, the cabbie who doubled up as our guide, pointed out to many ‘60 rupees’ women. i have come to believe that’s how they are slotted. reminds me of that song by john lennon: woman, she is the nigger of the world.

having said all this, i don’t know where am i going with this post or what am i trying to achieve. i don’t have ideas or solutions to offer. i just know that not acknowledging commercial sex workers as an important part of our society may not be a great idea. they are there for a purpose.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

let's shop till we drop

~ poonam

i am very little a woman, like a typical woman is made out to be. i don’t wear make up, i don’t own stilettos, hey i don’t even like shopping. yes, i kind of dislike it a little. i do it only when there is need or when i fall in the trap of, ‘oh it’s so therapeutic’. it rarely is. infact quite the reverse, i get more stressed when i come back home with stuff that i don’t really need. the stress is more when i think what my reiki teacher told me about needless hoarding that restricts smooth flow of chi in the home.

when i think of all this and think of what i do at work, i feel like i have dual personality. i make a living selling stuff to people that they don’t need, or can do without, sometimes stuff they didn’t even know existed. ok, you want an instance? take anthuriums. i didn’t know anthuriums were exotic flowers found in tropical climates and that they are available in 900 varieties, most of which are genetically produced by floriculturists, till the brief landed on my desk. today, i sell them to corporates with a promise that this is your antidote to beat stress at work. before me, my ex-boss went a step further and gladly declared to the world that finally, here are flowers that need your neglect. seriously, as if all the world was actually waiting for flowers that don’t require care. funnily, when i look at them and my lines, i get stressed and i don’t care a damn about care or neglect anymore. never did. no one does. and definitely not the poor executives who are getting stress-busting anthuriums shoved down their throats for a price.

so in brief, i am quite a freak. one who has a thing against consumerism, but has very little qualms making money out of it and then goes right ahead and spends the same money on buying things that further the same ‘culture’. as much as i want to avoid, i end up going to the malls that have sprung up in my suburb, atleast twice a month. i hang around the coffee shops which is infact one of the two good things about these malls (the other one is the multiscreen multiplexes). and i shop, even for spinach. when the malls first came up, i had decided i will buy clothes, jewellery, bags but no vegetables and grocery at these megamarts. i have my loyal vegetablewalas and the fat grocer with his ever smiling wife who make sure we never go hungry. they are there even at 10 30 in the night when i discover i have run out of salt or milk and need it right now, else i go hungry to bed. i tried not to be disloyal to them for many months but eventually i gave in. one day i padded my wallet with lots of the same dirty money and headed for the supermarket. took the goddamned trolley and shopped for everything from spinach to thousand island salad dressing. the few tasty discoveries like guava juice and puliogare did not make up for my guilt. but did that stop me? no. i returned and this time, i shopped twice as much.

idiosyncrasies aside, i agree with arundhati on most of her observations in the last post. it bothers me when my 16-17 year old niece’s fun places are pizza hut and the like. when she thinks she has been there, done that only when she has tried all the pastas on the menu of a certain italian restaurant. it bothers me when she insists to taste her dad’s cognac when she can hardly pronounce cognac, just so it will make look cool around friends. her life revolves around, ‘you know i went here and bought this or i went there and had this’. i hate it when i know her upbringing is laced with such superficial events and i can’t do a thing about it. it is so deep-rooted that she won’t have it any other way. i feel she thinks there are two types of people in the world. the cool ones who have lattes and wear tommy hilfiger and the uncool ones who don’t. in her book, the third kind don’t exist at all, ones who can do both. in her life, there are no midways, no neutral grounds. she has strong views, unlike me, when i was young. in my childhood, i was a child. i had no strong urge to do certain things or belong to a certain group of people. i was vulnerable and impressionable. but all hell will break loose, if she ever is.

now i am waiting to see how it will pan out eventually. at 30, will she still be under influence, or will she have seen the light. either way, precious time is lost. and think about it, millions and millions of kids in this country are being given the same doses, the same crap in the name of progress. i have nothing against progress but when it’s restricted to only this, then i have a problem. where are the bookstores, libraries, theatres, swimming pools, playgrounds? where are the hobby classes, painting classes, pottery classes and things like that? also where are the strong-willed mothers or story-telling grandpas? i know where. they are out shopping.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What Consumes Us?

~ Arundhati

Today, a friend showed me a picture he had taken in Mumbai. It showed an emaciated laborer, sitting on the mound of dirt he had dug, perhaps, to lay the cables for hight speed internet. Behind him, caught in the moment of time, was an imported car, which was just about to zoom past him. The laborer's forehead shone as bright as the car, but his bare ribs were no match to the shining metal. I was fascinated; transfixed at the starkness of the picture.

"What attracts us about poverty?" I asked the friend.

"Poverty is beautiful in picture!" He said. And, the truth of it ran a chill down my spine.

Then, on my way home, between the smatterings of light rock on the radio, I was bombarded with a motley bunch of advertisements of cars and jewelry, furniture and accessories, perfumes and dresses - many of the objects, immensely enticing but way beyond what I can afford.

Then, I realized, that on my fragile island of so called prosperity, I was, perhaps, as poor as the laborer. Only, the things that I crave for are different from what he does. I wonder if someone took my picture, would they find me sitting on the mound of dirt of my work, while, behind me, someone else zooms past in a swankier car or a designer dress to a million-dollar house on the hills? Would I look like a person impoverished, maybe not in body, but in spirit, by the demands placed by competition, comparison and jealousy?

When did this really happen that, what we consume, began to consume us?

I live in a country which is an epitome of consumerism. Here, life revolves around the holiday seasons when the stores come out with sales and specials and the consumers go berserk, shopping. The malls, for most, is a favorite weekend destination even during rest of the year. Everything, including your loved ones, is disposable and you are required to buy a new one, when the season changes. Here, even death is sold! You have to reserve your grave and choose your coffin, even before you die.

"Consume, consume more!" is the mantra of life, even if that means running into a debt of thousands of dollars. The exit strategy, for many people, is actually to declare bankruptcy or to die, before the mountain of debt crashes down on them!

But then, I look at India, my home country, and I find that it is no different. Even there, I see the people of my age and those younger every bit as entangled in the rat race as people here. The inflation is shooting and the prices of real estate would soon go beyond reach. The difference between the haves and the haves not is stark like never before, and the wisdom of elders - the values of frugality and simplicity are withering away and being replaced by the life of competition, greed and selfishness. This degeneration of values in a society that is thousands of years old is, perhaps, even more disturbing!

What is worst, I find that people in India are copying the West only superficially. The values of discipline, pride, cleanliness and the love of beauty which are so ingrained in the western society are conveniently ignored and the vices of materialism and individualism, physical gratification and promiscuity are upheld and cherished. The multinationals, whose loyalty lies only in the money, are more than happy to offer the bait for our feeding frenzy. They are ready to peddle to us whatever we ask, except the values - what we really must have. This is the story, not only of India but every developing country in the world.

Are we Indians ready for another kind of invasion - more subtle and more powerful than the British? Do we have the strength and the will to fight another battle for independence?

During the many years of study of Economics I have learned the single most principle of the science that Man's wants are unlimited and the resources to satisfy them are limited. As the whole world now joins the dance of consumerism, the demands we place on the resources of our fragile planet are immense. Already, things have begun to burst at the seams. The war between man and the Nature is at its peak. How long is it before Nature bails out? How far is the day when enough is enough, and the imbalance we are creating turns around and crushes the mankind under it's juggernaut?

In Hindu mythology, they say that the age that we live in - the Kaliyuga - is 'the age of the Merchant' and beyond this age, the world would come to an end. Is this, another gem of wisdom of our ancestors, who saw us all ultimately buried under the mountain of our own greed? Is this where we are heading, blindly but definitely, in spite of ourselves? Are we, finally, about to be recycled?

Monday, November 21, 2005

little girls missing - But Where Are The Big Ones?


It is not like I have never heard about infanticide. I have heard about it, read about it, passed an opinion about it. From the college hangouts to the lunchrooms at the office, I have talked about it at length over the years and with much passion. But what have I done about it? Nothing!

Welcome to the comfortable citadel of the quintessential NRI who has an opinion about everything, especially the "backwardness" of the "back home", but never finds enough time or Dollars to make a difference.

I am one of those big little girls who was not thrown in the trash or dunked in milk when I was born. I was actually loved, allowed to live, to thrive, to be educated, to be financially independent and to live in the world with my head held high because I am the woman of the future. But then, my kind live on a fragile island of comfort and believe this is all that is there to the world. Everything else is remote and distant, to be turned on and off at our convenience, just like the movies.

But something changed in me after I read Poonam's post. A friend sent me the link to Komal's post which came around the same time. The fatuousness with which I was looking at the world, was obliterated in a matter of seconds. Looking at all that information I shuddered. The enormity of it, the beastility of it made me hold my breath.

Genocide? Indeed! Is there anything that can me more brutal, more cowardly, more cold bloodedly organized, more unjust and yet more accepted than this? The images in Komal's post have been haunting me for days. Here I am, waiting for a child, any child, to bless my life and there are people in the world who are crushing, wasting, insulting this precious God given gift so callously! Can human paradoxes really surpass the paradox of Nature?

Then, suddenly, I realized that this act of killing a girl child is, in fact, just one manifestation of a many headed monster. It is just another way of expressing the lack of respect for women and the commoditization of the feminine. In the lower classes and the uneducated, this manifests itself in more brutal forms, in the so called higher classes, it manifests itself in more subtle, more pretensious forms.

When a girl gets married she is blessed saying, "May you have eight sons!" . Whenever someone asks me about having children, the 'well meaningly' advice me that, if I could somehow have just 'one' boy, that is 'enough'! As if after this long wait, I would be emancipated only if I have a male child. A family is supposed to be 'incomplete' without a boy. A husband does not stand by his wife in her life decisions. An NRI groom, shamelessly, demands a dowry for getting married to a girl. The physical, mental, sexual abuse of women in their families is a rampant even amongst the educated and the wealthy.

We see all these things happening in different shades, in different intensities, all around us in different contexts, but never think about them as one cohesive problem. We either seek a symptomatic relief for each of the problems or just plain ignore them. We create islands of comfort for ourselves, just so that our so called principles and practices are not threatened. We have a justification for everything. From religion to economics to the laws of karma, we use anything and everything to explain away the problems. We are not willing to admit that our society is rotten to the core, and that we need to go within us and seriously re-examine our values, otherwise, our society and our sanity will crumble and disappear without a trace.

Empowerment of women is not a distant ideal but it is absolutely critical for our survival as a human race. We cannot possibly expect to have a healthy, sustainable society with half of it's members living under dread and suppression. I am not a feminist in the much abused sense of the term. I don't propose the equality of sexes in anything and everything. Each gender has its own set of strengths and its own set of weaknesses. What I demand is equal respect for both, and an environment where both the genders can thrive in their own special way, without fear of suppression or suspicion about each other.

The Man and the Woman are made to complement each other in a way as to create a complete being. One without the other is incomplete, empty, stunted.

All the women and also the men who are reading this, I urge you, for once, look deep into yourselves. If you find even a shred of disrespect towards the opposite sex, please, please purge yourselves of it. It is a small step that we take on the "inside" that will change our environment for the future. We are all small people, but we have a great will that aligns to the collective will of the divine. Please channalize it to what is pure, what is just and what Nature intended us to do.

You may, perhaps, never see it, but rest assured, that your powerful will just saved the life of a young girl, who might have been killed otherwise.