Mirages

This light, in this one place, drapes old years with new glow

Gathers together flaccid flesh, to cast in tight shadow

In it you will recognize my own youth

In a shape that left behind no remembrance.

Here, in this angle, in this light drape; it is yesterday again.

I must be still. This shade must grow root and ground

This stem like waist, the hair flip, the sinuous lines of my legs –

Until marginal etchings sweep smooth over pleated skin –

And memory’s motes melt in Erebus’s arms.

There held tight, all together, in entombed communion.

It stills. It waits. For you to take notice.

I tire and unconscious shift into the familiar hideous

The edifice splinters and detritus spills over

Floating back to sight; now as speckled incandescence

You don’t notice that either.

You are preoccupied with the other in the mirror

Oblivious to all that just passed by.

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Art Credit: Interior, Strandgade 30’ and ‘Encore et Toujours; Vilhelm Hammershoi

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See something; Say something

Black boots and bundled bulk in an uniform march of purposeful ugliness

Ceiling droppings of a watch as a phone. Buy ugliness big

Same black brew in same size cups. Even if avatar-ed in ten different names

Food vends pretty into spout and bowl. The ugly; battered and beaten on the floor of steel coffin boxes

A piano, a baby grand, sits in absurd splendor. In front of the yoghurt, abreast and to the right of the News

Mozart gamely drowns himself in every distraction and a train hoots and eases into track

A working animal walks by. If, maybe, he noticed too, my alien state, he doesn’t say

But I am glad he went by anyway.

And, again, the announce in collected calm: ‘See something; say something’.

 

Table 4’s feet pull out of Lego tower shoes.

Table 9’s perfect face in perfect disdain; betrays no strain: ‘will he give me what he must’

Table 10’s lecherous males look my way; I plump myself to meet their gaze

By the road, to Sudbury, a parallel track on another train; same destination different ends

A wind blows the snow off the trees; sweeps the branches and boughs clean

That tangled in the shriveled oak leaves will wait some more. To fall; and then, to melt

A turnstile cracks; I rise along with pounding feet. Pick my box of arranged memories

Empty spaces tactically left for new; Old snagged uglies must wait for a new dawn’s light to vaporize.

 

I am almost there. A couple of miles out under the fruit trees; you will see

The same blue sky and white clouds the same. From this or any distance; pine tree and steeple are but black dots in a landscape

The train hoots around the bend. The very one that is heard, if listened

Strain. To hear. To come and listen. To see and say. Something much or nothing at all

We turn the bend. Sun glare lights the grimy glass.

I noiseless draw the blinds down and in a while again, the calm announce:

‘Westboro. See something; say something’.

Indian men; Why we love talking about you

The fracas over the recent article on Good Indian Men is telling of the form of discourse that has become common in the MSM; wherein, style often trumps substance and the thrust of the argument is quickly buried (hopefully with considered intent) in verbal and print duels on turn of phrase and literary device. Anything on gender relations is bound to get heated and devolve into one such and this well-intentioned, if problematic, article provided ample grist for the mill. If ‘feral’ was hash-tagged it might have trended on Twitter with ‘undead’ and ‘muscular’ fighting for second place!

The thrust of the article’s argument was the role played by family values in fostering the mental and emotional stability of individuals. Is this something newly discovered? No. Is it wrong? No, a good amount of research backs it. Was it an attempt to balance the endless recounting of the predator Indian male? Yes. Did it succeed? Yes and no. Was caste at the core of it; or, patriarchy? Not to the unprejudiced eye!

Where the article falters, is the unfortunate and erroneous attempt at conflation that is the last paragraph. A couple of sentences and the argument rapidly descends into the death-trap of causality and along the way, family values were seamlessly immingled with gender values setting the stage for the backlash. It is indeed true that Indian men have a high degree of familial commitment and responsibility and are wonderfully supportive friends. It is also true that many of our achievements have had the able and steering support of men; both elders and peers. But it is not the lack of these generally ubiquitous family values or the absence of ‘nestling in family and community’ that causes or contributes to the specter of violence against women. Violence happens within or without familial communities and the reasons why (as Medicine is fond of saying), are multifactorial.

Gender debate is a livewire that routinely sparks a stack of instantaneous reactions in which moderation is the proverbial needle. The argument sparked by this article was no less. The average response on Twitter and elsewhere was negative with repetitive reference to caste and patriarchy although there was nothing in the article to suggest either. A more considered response highlighted the unproved assumptions of class and sexual violence but articulated its criticism from the tough terrain of nurture/nature and interpretations of civilization.

Viewed from any angle, civilization is a process of domestication and withdrawal from nature – in both an environmental and a behavioral sense. Adaptation is our evolutionary counter to nature. The process of understanding behavior cannot and should not be equated with sanction. The argument that sexual violence is a natural predisposition has been stoutly discredited due to shoddy science. Despite the push-back, violence and sexuality continue to be subjects of study in evolutionary psychology.  But, for now, the lack of evidence makes the discussion moot. On the other hand, the influence of nurture on behavior has been explored in depth with promising results.

Rape is documented in a plethora of cultures and in other species even. But unique to our species, is the plasticity of conscious mental process and its impact on behavioral and physical response. Gender violence spans a wide swath of perverse behavior that graduates in degrees from abuse to rape and assault. The impact of nurture on the lower end of the scale is well documented and is the focus of worldwide initiatives aimed at gender parity. The impact of nurture on physical violence and assault is less clear at the higher end of the abuse spectrum where the entanglement of causal factors is complex.

Nurture is capable of conditioning and molding attitude. Talk of socio-cultural reasons for rape implicitly acknowledge nurture’s role.  It is with nurture that family values get precedence over gender values. While the former is inculcated in children both by example and practice; the latter is given short shrift. What families must impart along with, and apart from, family values of support and commitment are parity values of respect, fairness and restraint, while discouraging, at the same time, entitlement and domination. Not every woman fits into the easily identifiable and familial maa, behen and beti definitions. The need of the hour is the extension of the same genteel treatment to otherness. To those who reside on the outer lines of comfort and don’t wear these familiar badges. Family values are what lead to the relative stability of marital relationships in India; but it is gender values that will leave a lasting impact on parity and equalization.

Debate on gender in India has other troubling aspects. The legitimacy of the feminist faith is won by a forced veiling of all things female in the pre-approved garb of patriarchy, domesticity and caste. But the social order is not a Pleistocene fossil. It is dynamic and is changing across every cultural spread. It is true that the pace of change does not match our desire and its influence is not uniform. Yet, despite its slowness, it serves our collective interests to keep change going and nudge it along. Sweeping generalizations that do not fit many realities serve the opposite purpose of hardening stances. The road to reparation is faster traversed by nurturing cooperation; not by an ever-accusatory harangue. After all, it should not be hard for upholders of liberal belief (who assert that even hardened criminals can be reformed) to give our good and decent men a fighting chance with our trust; should it?

Farce

‘Is feeling ever wisdom’s prescience?
Through self or vicarious experience?’
“Well, a lack needs an ‘other’
To let you know you’re ‘only’ better
And that’s all that’s vicarious of sentience.”

She countered with needless sternness.
‘Well then; my sadness takes form in your furnace
Our union, you see,
Is but a notional decree;
For my happiness finds no matching purchase.’

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[For my only aniyan, whose rhyming guile coaxed gloom to reconcile with smile]