Saturday, April 16, 2016

Short Fiction: Out at the Wedding

A brooding and disheartened Nikhil sat in front of the ceremonial fire inside the wedding mandap, surrounded by four improvised towers of festooned clay pitchers under an ornate red and gold canopy while watching his sister and future brother-in-law walk the seven rounds to solemnise their marriage vows. The priest invoked singsong mantras amidst the usual brouhaha of an Indian wedding, with extended families from both sides each making considerable contribution to the general clamour.

Two weeks earlier, Nikhil had made it adequately clear to his mother that he would give Shweta’s wedding a miss unless Shailesh, his partner of three years, was also invited. But Indian mothers are known to be insistent and here he was—sitting sniffing distance from the ghee-flavoured smoke—cross with his family, with Shailesh, and most crucially, with himself for having let this happen...

(Read the full story in Kindle magazine)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Travelogue : Three Days in Phnom Penh

A busy street in Phnom Penh

Four decades after it fell to the Khmer Rouge, I visit the Cambodian capital to understand the extent to which the wounds have healed.

Our bus from Siem Reap reached Phnom Penh by dusk. The seven-hour bus ride, cutting across the Cambodian countryside of green paddy fields, marshy rivers, and hamlets of bamboo huts, brought us into the midst of a thriving metropolis that was as different from Siem Reap—a tourist base of guesthouses and hip restaurants—as night from day. The streets were teeming with buses, tuk-tuks, and two-wheelers driven by stylishly dressed young men and women. One could get a sense of the cosmopolitan nature of the city from its many French bakeries, Chinese restaurants and dazzling Buddhist shrines.

It was already dark by the time we washed up. After having left our hotel in central Phnom Penh, we took a walk down the arterial city street, Sihanouk Boulevard, to the impressive Independence monument, a soaring commemoration of Cambodian freedom from the French in 1953. This monument is modeled on the central tower of Angkor Wat, the iconic temple that finds itself imprinted almost everywhere in this country—from the national flag to beer bottles. On our way back, we stopped at a hole-in-the wall cafĂ© for some sumptuous, warm and sweet pork dumplings of a size we could never expect to find in India...

(Read the full article in Kindle magazine)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Where men need to 'lean in'

Image: Representational
...If there is one thing I have understood in my work in the area of diversity management, is that it ultimately always boils down to a power game. Men hold power in the world of business, and there needs to be good reason for them to share it with women. And so men giving equal space to women in the workplace, needs to be complemented by letting them take a greater role at home. But traditionally in India, how many fathers have taken an active role in the child’s early stages of development? In their nutrition and health care? Or in their primary education?

My point is simple - till the woman remains the primary contributor at home, the man shall remain the primary contributor at work, and all affirmative action will ultimately come to naught, with women dropping out just when it starts to matter most. Sheryl Sandberg while advocating for women to “lean in” at the workplace, does not forget to remind us of the importance of letting men lean in at home. In a Yahoo News interview she said, “We also haven’t supported men as caregivers. … Women get discriminated against in the office; men get discriminated against when it comes to care.”

(Read the full article in People Matters magazine)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cracking the Corporate Closet

Image: Representational 
At the rooftop Bandra pub Bonobo on a warm autumn evening, where a group of gay male professionals- from entrepreneurs to employees at large firms- meet up once each month, everyone had their own dilemma to share. Sandeep, an employee at an international investment bank that has offices in Mumbai, said that he felt betrayed after his company rolled back plans to launch an LGBT initiative after the December 2013 ruling. He saw his own HR and business leaders backtracking, even as gay colleagues retreated into their corporate closets.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, for an entire week my inbox was flooded with distraught queries from HR managers who were having their LGBT initiatives stonewalled by risk-averse Legal departments who had limited understanding of the nuances of the Section 377 Supreme Court ruling, and seemingly little sympathy for gay rights otherwise. “If we support our gay employees, wouldn’t that be considered aiding illegal activity under Section 377?” asked an HR manager over phone from Bangalore. “If the police ever comes knocking at your door, tell them that as far as we are concerned our same-sex couples drink coffee from the same cup and no more..!” I advised. There was a long silence on the line- the humor was apparently lost on her...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

This Thursday even as I was watching Frieda Mock’s stunning documentary Anita (2013) at the Culture Lab, my mind could not but wander back to the disturbing, yet beautifully crafted Indian film Bawandar (2000).

These are the bare facts of the two films- Anita Hill’s is the story of an American Law professor who in 1991 accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of sexual harassment. The very public hearings, and the slew of allegations and counter-allegations made her a nationally recognized figure- idolized and berated in equal measure. Ultimately, Thomas was elected to the Supreme Court by a slim majority, but Anita went on to become a crusader for the rights of all American women at the workplace, at a time when sexual harassment in the workplace was not a topic most Americans were even comfortable discussing. Bawandar tells the story of Bhanwari Devi- a watershed case for the issue of workplace sexual harassment in India. Bhanwari- a Government worker in rural Rajasthan was gang raped by a group of powerful upper-caste men when she tried preventing child marriage in her village-which was part of her job. Her case, which turned into a protracted legal battle went on to the Supreme Court of India, which ultimately issued the Vishakha guidelines (named after the NGO that took up her case) on workplace sexual harassment of women in India...

(Read the full article here on the India Culture Lab Blog)

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Cinematic Soldier

On maverick Bangladeshi film-maker Tareque Masud’s third death anniversary, I look back at the man and the inspirations that provided film lovers across the world with some of the best works of contemporary Bengali cinema.

This August, film lovers from Bangladesh and elsewhere, marked the third anniversary of the iconoclastic and brilliant film maker Tareque Masud’s tragic demise in a road crash on the Dhaka-Aricha highway while returning from a filming location. His loss is deeply felt in a nation that not only saw him bringing international fame to his country’s cinema almost akin to the way Majid Majidi did for Iran, but also touched a chord with his audiences by invoking themes that deeply resonate in the hearts and minds of most Bangladeshis... 

Monday, June 2, 2014

And the Heart Beats On..

Why the Genre of AIDS films -with the addition of Ryan Murphy’s latest HBO release- and their themes of love, fear, anger and loss remain relevant to gay and straight audiences alike more than three decades after the epidemic broke out.

HBO’s adaptation of Larry Kramer’s iconic autobiographical play The Normal Heart on the early years of the AIDS crisis that ravaged the gay community in New York and elsewhere in America is the latest and much awaited offering in the list of films that help define for us, who have not lived in that age or place- the sense of dread, anger and loss that almost became synonymous with being gay and American in the nineteen eighties. But The Normal Heart and other great works in this genre are not merely compelling for the historical narrative they provide, they also present a perspective on the follies and triumphs of what it means to be human and how what was essentially a medical crisis brought out the best and worst in us- and changed forever the political and social landscape for gay men and women globally...

(Read the full article here on Kindle Magazine)