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Hi,

Since I’m still on the right side of my twenties, I need not hide the fact that I’m going to be 24 in two weeks time. October 21, 1984 was the happy day I was born on. There was widespread unrest, killings and violence soon after I was born. Not because of the birth of the great me, but because former PM Indira Gandhi got killed around that time, as a result of communal violence.

My birthday also heralds the arrival of Diwali. As a toddler, my mother used to tell me the whole city of Chennai was celebrating my birthday with fireworks and sweets. The sweet fiction lasted till I was five years old; by then I had figured out it was Diwali people were celebrating, not my birthday. Still I always got terrible excited…Being a Christian kid was no deterrent to celebrating Diwali and bursting fire crackers. For the neighbourhood ragamuffin gang of kids – thats me and my friends, the order of the day was bursting crackers and bingeing on sweets. We also got to sample all the goodies, prepared by our mommas and aunties (we would of course have to reciprocate the gesture with cakes and biriyani during Christmas, just like our Muslim neighbours were expected to invite us over for dinner during the end of Ramzan).

For me Diwali, Christmas, Ramzan or Pongal celebrations were always pan-Indian and brought out the best of secular India. My family’s faith in no way affected our whole-hearted celebration of these festivals.

And October is also the month of many holidays – Gandhi Jayanthi (the day that turns every Indian a teetotaller), Ayoodha Pooja, Vijaya Dasami and Diwali. Only once, Diwali fell on my birthday and I could not get decked up in ribbons & lacey dresses and show off at school. Wearing your birthday dress to school was an important event in the life of a school kid. Since you had to wear the school uniform the whole year round, wearing your colourful birthday dress made you the star of the day. Also most schools sing “Happy birthday” during the Assembly session after morning prayers. Many a times, I was the only one in the school celebrating my birthday on that day, so the whole school would sing “Happy Birthday to Rachel Chitra..” instead of “Happy Birthday dear children…” Gave a kid quite a high!

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I am always surprised about how religious fanatics are extremely concerned about the morality of women. The menfolk’s morality or immorality is not their concern and neither do you find it preached about in our churches’ pulpits.

Every culture has its own customs and traditions to protect and guard the womb. The dress restrictions for young girls and old women in India, is not as much as it is for young and middle-aged women. More than age, I feel the criteria here is fertility and the womb.

Have you noticed that purdhas or traditional dresses like sarees and salwars are imposed only on fertile women rather than infertile (pre and post-menopause) women? Even the imposition of dress codes in colleges can be related to this. College managements in India have traditionally disapproved of dating, love marriages (problems with police or the registrar office), and fashionable clothes; because in India educationists also act as moralists and don’t want the womenfolk in their college to be attracting attention from the menfolk. To ensure this we have the dress codes in a few of the ultra-strict city colleges in Chennai.

Young girls in India can happily play with boys on the streets wearing only their undergarments or nothing more. But the minute they reach puberty, they will be cautioned by their mothers not to “speak to boys.” In India, people also have the disgusting habit of holding a grand function in which all friends & relatives attend, when the girl attains puberty. I don’t see anyone celebrating a boy’s attainment of puberty in India.

In this protectionist environment that Indian girls grow up in, sex education becomes a bad word. One of my classmates, who attained puberty in standard VII, didn’t know anything about her body’s changes and thought she had got blood cancer. The only sex education, she got was from us – her classmates, who were also an ignorant lot. We reassured her that she didn’t have blood cancer, it was just her “chums.”

No one teaches our girls the need for hygiene during one’s periods. I know of many Indian families, who for cost-cutting measures still make girls wear cloth pads for their periods. Cloth sanitary pads are Ugh! Spotting, wet, dirty, clumsy, leaking; in short torturous for a 11 or 14-year-old. When parents can buy beautiful, sequined clothes and gold jewellery for the child’s birthday, why can’t they buy whisper or tampons?

When I was in my standard VIII, in the “sex education” class, we were taught by our teachers, if you get “too close to boys, you get pregnant.” Lucky for me, my mother told me all about the birds and bees. She didn’t want me to know about sex from my ill-informed peers, dirty magazines or from the net. My friends were very surprised that my knowledge of sex came from my mother and they were soon besieging her with all their questions. Some of my Christian friends, even wanted to know if it was okay to touch the Bible during your periods from my mother.

In India, a girl who loses her virginity before marriage is immediately labelled a “slut” and a “prostitute”. But if a boy does so, his parents and relatives will gloss over the event, his friends will dismiss it as “boys will be boys” and he will become a hero among his peers. If its bad for a girl to lose her virginity before marriage, why is not bad for a boy also?

In many countries, girls have become out castes if there is no blood found on the nuptial bed, in proof of her virginity, even if her hymen had been broken due to sports activities or her hymen was absent or elastic. I remember recently, reading an article in the newspaper that girls were going in for hymen reconstruction surgery, as they felt it (virginity) would become a major problem with the boy, their parents had fixed for them.

Also, it’s the woman who gets pregnant in a pre-martial or extramarital affair; No one knows the father, but everyone knows the mother and can ostracize her. So to protect property, money and the family, a woman’s sexual activities have been greatly controlled.

That is why, even though economics state that women also go to work in India, women are supposed to return home at a particular time, not have any men friends, not go for social activities unless accompanied by the husband or some other member of the family and never ever flirt with any man other than the husband (even her fiance).

That is why traditional households prefer a girl, who’ll stay at home. Women are encouraged to be teachers, because the job ensures that they are chaste, the children looked after (timings) and the housework doesn’t suffer.

Earlier, all the Mills & Boon heroines would be virgins, while the men would have had “casual affairs” with other women, but never experienced love + carnal lust in one woman before this.

Now, with liberalisation Mills & Boon heroines are girls, who have had sex with one guy, with whom it was boring & uninteresting (they are never, ever promiscuous). Then comes the hero with whom they have the perfect, passionate love affair (and even here they are passive, never aggressive or making the first move in the bed).

So, ultimately everything in the marriage market comes down to fertility and the woman’s womb doesn’t it?

Rachel Chitra

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My dear right-minded feminists, I apologise for the use of the word “defense,” as it sounds a bit apologetic. But I guess this article is a reaction to every strange glance I get when I mention I’m a feminist.

People immediately assume I’m a rabid, fanatical, anti-male, hysterical female, who wears pants, smokes cigarettes and downs beer by the pint. I keep wondering, why there is such a negative image of feminists in general? And the even funnier thing is many fundementalists link feminism with immorality.

Recently, actor-director Nandita Das @ the Indo-Korean Film Festival in Chennai said, “If we didn’t have environmental degradation, we wouldn’t have environmental activists. If we did’nt have women who were facing domestic violence, discrimination and sexual harassment, we wouldn’t have feminists.”

I whole-heartedly agree with her statements. Feminism is all about equality.

And since many of us, still face discrimination, the need to identify with feminism is stronger.

So, this post is to state: Yes! I’m a feminist! And I’m not sorry if that puts ur nose out of joint.

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No worrying! Everything is under control! No bank fraud. My money is still with me.

Ok now that I’ve reassured my friends – the vicious credit card circle I meant was not debts, but the running around in circles one has to do to get my credit card.

After a major excavation into the rubbish in our house, I finally managed to locate my ICICI bank statement for June 2008. Spreading it out on my desk and with the help of a magnifying glass I try locating the customer care number. No luck! Its not there.

So I next call our local search engine…….only to be regaled with loud garish music and a woman telling me to be patient and our officers will attend the call. I think all the local search engines are in collusion with the cellphone companies to raise the phonebill, by making all their customers wait….for an indecent amount of time.

Just before you lose all patience and are about to hang up, a cheery voice: “Good morning, How may I help you.”

Me: I’d like the ICICI customer care number.

Cheery voice: Which branch?

Me: I don’t know..like anyplace in Chennai.

Cheery voice: Where are you calling from?

Me: Chennai

Cheery voice: Can I have your mobile no and email ID?

I give them all details like my mobile no, email ID, my horoscope, etc, consoling myself with the thought that all good things come to an end.

But, I find they are not done with me. After a fast metallic statement that “you will receive an sms and email of this information.”

They next ask me if I have a business? Me: No

They: Are you interested in starting a business? Me: No

They: Are you interested in getting a loan to start a business? Me: Of course not

They: Are you interested in getting a credit card for a business loan? I just hang up.

Armed with the ICICI customer care number I call them. Only to meet another recording. The metallic cold voice tells me to Press 1 for English, Press 2 for Hindi, Press 3 for Tamil…In haste I Press 1. MCV: If your calls relates to information on your account Press 1 for knowing account balance, Press 2 for debit card, Press 3 for credit card….( I don’t wait…I think they might have 10 other options)

Bingo! Credit card! I hit three.

Only to meet another voice: “For credit complaints Press 1, for credit card loss Press 2, for new credit card Press 3…Heavens now I’m in a dilemma I badly want to call 1 and yell at someone @ complaints but forbearance wins and I press 3 (keeping my fingers crossed that this is destination credit card). ……The ring goes (I keep hoping). Another metallic cold voice tells me to Press 1 if I want to open an account with a credit card, Press 2 for upgradation of debit card to credit. I press 2 only to get another voice.

I hang up.

I go back to the local search engine. Maybe I can get a credit card, If I express interest in starting a business.

So I take a deep breath and plunge into the circle by dialing 04426444444

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If you’re a working journalist, whose ambit is Chennai, the first mission of your life should be getting a placement in the Times of India. The TOI, which has been promising to come for many years, has finally got bored with the hype of arriving and decided to get the irksome job of getting to Chennai done and over with.
So landed TOI HR personnel, machines, baggage and all…..And no they did’nt advertise. Advertised recruitment drives are for measly papers with a circulation of less than 1 lakh (by the way this should not be construed as any hit at the New Indian Express, Chennai). For the TOI, advertising is more elite – only word of mouth. Or maybe the word of mouth stuff is a discrete cost cutting measure.
Anyway, the average TOI Chennai aspirant had to try his luck at the great, grand TOI. And applying for a company in the conservative circles of Chennai is not as easy as you think. First thing one has to get leave for the interview. And for that one has to be good at inventing stuff. “My grandmother is sick. She’s on her deathbed.” “Im suffering from writer’s block, tennis elbow, hepatitis, or even better mental depression…” are just a few excuses to give to the boss.
But for all you know when the boss is scolding you for taking too much leave, he/she might actually be thinking; “Will I get the job in TOI? What If I don’t? I’ll have to explain why a whole lot of people stampeded out of my office. And what if I meet this guy in the TOI office during the interview? Or even worse this loser gets the job and I don’t?”
So the boss decided to leave you in the lurch and not give you leave in the greater interests of his own career in TOI. Then you’ll have to squeeze in the interview between the hours you were supposed to have been in office.
The TOI guys are going to be here for three days. But its going to be three days of hell for the average TOI aspirant.
TOI aspirant to another reporter in the same beat: “Machan, I have some urgent work. I heard you’re attending the same press conference. Can you tell me what happened later?”
Another reporter: “Machan. I wanted to ask the same thing. My wife is not feeling well. So can you tell what happened there…”
(Deep silence. Mutual suspicion)
Both TOI aspirants hang up.
End result: All dignitaries will have to face empty chairs for the next three days in press conferences, business lunches and all the other events for which people want journalists to grace the attention.
And those who don’t want to be part of the TOI herd are dismissed as people who have to a) take up permanent residenship in Kilpauk IMH b) neurotic c) have enough money – damn the filthy rich and the cover-taking journalists or d) people who want to apply to TOI later after they get their annual hikes and increments in their current office.
(I suddenly realised I’ve used more than 14 TOIs in the post. Just shows the overall TOI fixation doesn’t it?)
Rachel Chitra

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