Breastfeeding in Parliament

A woman breastfeeding her child can be a rather sublime sight, that is if she is not stared at. But does sublimity or subtlety even matter when the mother in the act ends up as an "internet hero"? 

Victoria Donda Pérez is an Argentinian MP. She decided to breastfeed her 8-month-old daughter in Parliament, when the session was on. 

Working women have praised her; her critics say it falsely conveys that women can have it all when that is not true.

Was she aware that her pictures were taken and would be in the media?  Assuming she is okay with it, I am not one bit impressed by Ms. Pérez's act on grounds of prudence as well as feminism. 

Breastfeeding is a natural activity as are many others, some of which we might not even have much control over. We control them in a public space anyway. I am not comparing sneezing, breaking wind or picking the nose to nursing, but surely there could not have been such urgency to feed the baby. If anything, this comes across as terribly unprofessional. 

This is not an issue about women's rights over their bodies; it is just that such rights as exercised in this manner convey that the woman has no choice. Even if we excuse the politician for elitism, the larger question is: is the woman a mother on the job? This just sends out the message about the feminised woman as the only one who can have any power, or acceptance.

Why are women applauding the "balancing act"? It isn't news that only a woman can bear a child and nurse babies. But such validation of 'balance' also unburdens the father of responsibility, and he will be the first one to call her superwoman.

Such a public act in a work place (as opposed to a park or even the office canteen) only consolidates the stereotyped role of a mother that deny her the option to make a studied choice — which could be fixed feeding hours at the office creche or collecting the milk for use at intervals. 

Suppose this was not in Parliament, but a regular office conference. Would the response be the same? Unlikely. It only means that in some ways this is sought to be made into a political statement. 

And it is no surprise at all that she has been nicknamed "Dipusex" (sexy MP). It takes a simple, natural activity to make a woman into a fantasy object. Women object to such labels on other occasions when they want to be recognised for their work or talent alone. How is it different this time? Is Ms. Pérez not being reduced to a pair of breasts, even if they are of a mother's? 

The Oedipal implications are too obvious. 

PS: In India, women from the labour class do breastfeed at the workplace on construction sites or in small industries. That is because the child is with them all the time. 

Sunday ka Funda

I don't like this tree, a hybrid tree that bears forty different kinds of fruit and flowers in varied colours.

This "sculpture by grafting", the brainchild of art professor Sam Van Aken of Syracuse University, might be a great scientific experiment and good as curiosity or art installation that it initially was, but a workable green option?

There is something about orchards with trees bearing one sort of fruit; it feels like communion, familiarity, and also to an extent hierarchy when one picks the good ones. The birds too know where to come for what they seek.

A huge tree with different varieties appears to compress nature. It is also demeaning in a way for spoiled for choice, one may either make the wrong move or the one not intended, or just walk away awestruck.

Trees are designed to be resilient, not to multitask. And some of us like our trees and people to just do one thing at a time.

As the Zen teacher told his pupil, “When drinking tea, just drink tea.”


No prayers for terrorists?

The Eid namaaz had just been offered. The maulvis at the Dargah Ala Hazrat in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh issued a fatwa: say no burial prayers for terrorists and their sympathisers.

Mufti Mohammed Salim Noori, general secretary of the Tahreek-e-Tahaffuz Sunniat, said:

"On the pious occasion of Eid, the Sunni Barelvi Markaz send a strong message that no maulana, mufti or other religious leader will read the 'namaz-e-janaza' for anyone associated with terrorism in any form. By this, we want to lodge a strong protest against terrorism."

It is not surprising that this will be hailed among some sections of the intelligentsia, because this segment loves varnish. Also, it cares not for details.

Clerics are not germane to Islam; they are middlemen that have capitalised on the vulnerabilities of the devout. A Muslim does not need a religious leader to recite any prayers; it can be done by anybody — relatives, friends or wayfarers. The maulvis are pushing their own agenda, as they have always done to keep themselves relevant.

If they are so concerned about all that is good, why don't they issue fatwas against those who do not use medical assistance due to superstition? Because this will hit their business of exorcism and other trickery. Will a Sunni or a Shia maulvi issue a fatwa to the faithful not to discriminate on the basis of sect?

While terrorism is a huge problem, it also helps empty rhetoric to sideline more urgent terrors of daily living. The Times of India report spoke about other good fatwas by the seminary quite forgetting its own
report of April this year when this same cleric had objected to a survey finding in which Muslim women wanted equal property rights.

Those who laud 'progressive' edicts should be protesting against the dragging of religion in what is a political matter. They too put the onus on Muslims to deal with terrorism, and ironically the pulpit that is often blamed for provoking violence is the one that gets away for ostensibly sending a message of peace.

How is the general public to recognise a terrorist when the police seem to have difficulty identifying them? Is that not why there are so many undertrial prisoners rounded up on mere suspicion because of their names or what they look like? What if a good Samaritan follows the good cleric's orders and implicates somebody as a terrorist supporter only because of a personal grudge?

Occasionally, the cleric is also a terrorist. If not for real, then by the sheer tactics he uses to promote himself. As for political terrorists, they aren't exactly roaming around in the cities and towns to recruit people who might offer the namaaz upon their death.


Sunday ka Funda

This Eid, in India, belonged to two films that essentially celebrate Hindu mythology.

At a late night show of 'Baahubali' on the day that celebrates the conclusion of Ramzan, we watched a celebration of Lord Shiva. In the audience were quite a few Muslims in identifiable clothes — caps, hijabs, even burqa.

Despite its obvious mythology it does not alienate those who might not follow its precepts. In that sense, it is a truly secular movie, and I say this despite my aversion for standardised norms of secularism, or of the fads surrounding it as well as the slurs it invites by way of spelling. No, it is not sickular! (A review will follow later.)


I have not yet watched 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan', but from what I've read and heard it is also simplistic and guileless. Here, a Hanuman bhakt takes it upon himself to unite a little girl who is Muslim and Pakistani with her family.

This qawwali here is something I've heard from better artistes, but just that moment when the protagonist breaks down as the music soars conveys that faith — religious or otherwise — is essentially about flowing.

Eid Mubarak!


How J.K.Rowling demoted Serena Williams

What should have been the brilliant Serena Williams' moment has transformed into a J.K.Rowling defending Serena one. The tennis star has enough calibre and celebrity to withstand stray comments, if she pays heed to them at all.

Instead, by rushing to her rescue Ms Rowling has reduced that victory to victimisation.

It started with Rowling posting her praise for Serena on Twitter: "I love her. What an athlete, what a role model, what a woman!"

A fellow called Rob responded with, "Ironic then that main reason for her success is that she is built like a man."

That's when Rowling did what she is now all over the place for. She posted two pictures of Serena in a slinky, clingy gown, her contours emphasised, and captioned it, "'she is built like a man'. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You're an idiot."

For doing this, Rowling is now celebrated for having "decimated", "destroyed" a troll. Seriously? Can't even imagine the search words she must have used to find these photographs. Was it "Serena looking like a woman" or "Serena's hips"?

Rob has an opinion about women's bodies, and he does not think twice about commenting on a tennis player's despite the fact that she has won due to stroke play and not what she looks like. But, is J.K.Rowling any different from the guy who is denounced as a "body shamer"? One may accuse him of being wrong, or of misogyny, but has he shamed Serena?

Why would being built like a man qualify as shame? If a graceful male dancer is said to be built like a woman, would that be an insult? It ought not to.

I am surprised that the media has gone all pulp prose to commend Rowling, who should in fact be ticked off. She posts a picture of Serena looking 'feminine' and goes on to highlight it. What if she did not have those curves, would she then be less of a person of the female gender?

Not all women are built in the mould that a Rowling fancies as representative, just as not all men are uniform in build that Rob implies.

Worse, Serena is objectified not by the unknown man, but by this celebrity author. It's almost like a put-on display to justify to that Rob guy that she is all woman, all flesh. This is body shaming because it feels the need to prove that it is the desirably accepted female body and not what a guy from somewhere suggests it is.

Serena has won a title at Wimbledon. Her body has not. So, J.K. Rowling and her cheerleaders in the media and social media, bereft of nuance, can just shut up. And perhaps grow up.


Walk like an Egyptian

Much more than his face, I liked his voice, including the lilt. A bit woozy and timorous, it had the steadying quality of a sage. There was no choice left but to like Omar Sharif.

I watched him a few years ago in 3D at the Trocadero Centre. It was in a documentary on Egypt. He had become a bit stocky, and his face had spread out; the gap-tooth smile remained. As he stood amongst the mummified remains and history, it became evident that Hollywood might have embraced him but he continued to walk like an Egyptian.

In fact, part of his charm was his difference. Would the West have been as excited about him if he was called Michel Chelhoub, which was his real name? It was not the filmmakers that renamed him though. The actor himself wanted something that his fellow countrymen could pronounce, it seems. Why would they not, if it was a naturally Middle Eastern name? Was this a little trick he was given to play — not sure about himself so making things easier for others as a preemptive exercise?

I did not start to write this with pop analysis. Like most, I found him attractive. However, what simmered was more beguiling than what was obvious. His much-feted 'Lawrence of Arabia' outing struck me as exotica overload. Dr. Zhivago did better, but morphing into a Russian for the Americans was exotic too.

Omar Sharif could have been Clark Gable in 'Gone with the Wind', and it is not surprising that the memorable line the character utters is, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Sharif's casual charm certainly did not.

While my exposure to his cinema was limited, I assumed he had some political inclination, if not history. One reason was that his works were banned in Egypt after he was shown making love to a Jewish woman in 'Funny Girl'. That he and Barbra Streisand were also a couple made it worse. An Arab and a Jew? His response was a throwaway, “When I kiss a woman, I never ask her nationality or her religion.”

The Jewish question seemed to be of some humanist consideration for he went on to produce and act in the French film 'M Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran' (Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Quran); in English it was just 'Monsieur Ibrahim'. It is about a Jewish teenager who befriends a Turkish shopkeeper. I've watched it and its message stands out simply because it is not shouted out.

Sharif certainly had views on the region he came from, and he did not think much of America. In a land of upstarts, his old world refinement, and to an extend bacchanalian tendencies, were bound to feel adrift.

He lost money in casinos where he went because he was lonely, and it was one place where he could eat without being stared at.

I revisited this video after a long while and was once again struck by gems like, "Arab society is extremely tribalistic", "democracy is not the panacea", "I have none (religious beliefs) that I can prove"...and on his deathbed he said he would call out to his mother to take him...


The wheelchair man

"It's so hot," he said, wiping his face.

I had found a place two seats away from him directly opposite the doctor's cabin. Heat was an icebreaker. 

"Yes," I said, fanning myself with a hand even though the aircondioning was on at full blast. 

"You are waiting for the doctor?" he asked. 

I smiled, "I guess so."

"My legs were crushed under the train," he said. 

I was taken aback. There was a walking stick near him, and I noticed a wheelchair. How does one commiserate with a stranger, a stranger whose condition you have not even paid much attention to? 

He brought out an album and showed me photographs of himself. "I was a big shot once. I was a regular on TV. My name is R."

The name and his face did not register, but I don't watch everything. 

"The accident taught me a lot about life and people." I don't know why he was telling me all this, and it was only five minutes since I was here.  He continued, "My wife ditched me because of what happened to my legs, because I was in coma. I've seen the worst." 

How does one respond verbally 

"Are you Christian?" he asked.

"No," and uncharacteristically I responded with, "Are you?"

"No. I am Maharashtrian. Hindu...You?" 

He was waiting for my reply. Just then, the receptionist called out to me. 

As I got up, I heard him say, "So, you are Muslim."

And I realised that perhaps we are all supposed to carry invisible crutches.