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The ‘Modern Woman’ Is Not Another Gender Stereotype

I did write this poem. But that was years ago. Even if it is still true (and dare I think, relevant), it doesn’t end there. Let’s look at the Modern Woman again, shall we?

Is she a bitch? Is she a leader? Is she a feminist? Is she a better friend? Is she an equal in bed? Is she the hot new consumer segment? Is she the bread-winner? Is she an Earth Mother? Is she a slut? Is she the new Man? Perhaps she is all of these. Maybe she’s the opposite and more. All of those are stereotypes of gender and other things. But the Modern Woman isn’t a certain ‘type’ of woman. She is the rejection of typecasting. She’s every kind of woman that it is possible to be. She’s the freedom of being able to be whoever she wants.

The Modern Woman is a work in progress. She’s what’s here, after resisting archaic social structures. She’s the unlearning of old ways of being and formulating new responses. She’s the creation of new situations after scrubbing every old practice to retain what’s still valuable and adding some new stuff on it. That’s not confusion, that’s just evolution.

No doubt, it can seem confusing that there are as many definition of what constitutes a Modern Woman as there are women. But why not? One of the most oppressive social artefacts was that womanhood had to sit neatly in one (or more) set constructs. I should be free to define womanhood in my own way and live by that. Every woman should be able to do that.

Personally, I think being a woman is just a matter of body plumbing. And, okay, a Modern Woman is being able to be a real person, despite the social pressure to fit oppressive stereotypes. To me, that translates to  not needing to hide my intelligence, ambition, ruthlessness and practicality. Equally, it’s also not having to hide my vulnerability, my softness and my emotions. Being a Modern Woman, for me, is so much about being honest and not ashamed of it. But that’s my definition and it need not, should not have to, apply to any other woman on the planet, unless she chooses.

After all, what makes a real man? There are still some who’d think that has to do with controlling women. And there are those who think it’s the exact opposite. And there are yet others who believe it’s got nothing to do with either. I want the freedom to make that choice about my gender, too.

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There’s A Woman Behind The Wheel!

So gender jokes and misogynistic statements are now politically incorrect. But few people seem to have any qualms bitching about women drivers. These are usually accompanied by rolling of the eyes and a knowing nod (from the listener). I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of rational thought and scientific evidence, people can still think that a person may be a bad driver simply because she’s a woman. Driving is a skill (just like swimming, cooking, painting, mathematical thinking), one that involves a sense of direction, co-ordination, space, speed and timing in addition to knowledge of using the vehicle. How could it be gender-specific?

One thing that is notable though, is the harassment that is meted out to a woman on the road, even in a so-called ‘safe’ city like Mumbai. When I’m trying to cross the road, I find drivers often speed up in an attempt to ‘scare’ me. I know this because when I jump, they usually laugh and often even slow down just to show that they were just doing it for a joke. To aggravate the matter further, when I then try to cross, the behavior continues and my only alternative is to wait for the boors to pass before trying to cross.

A woman behind the wheel, faces a vehicular version of the same thing. I’ve seen drivers swing in alarmingly close, try to cut off, lane-change and blare their horns unnecessarily when they notice the person in the driving seat is a woman. I know all of these are visible to any driver; it just seems a lot more when the driver is female. As above, these are usually accompanied by jeers, laughter and even offensive gestures. So the average woman driver has to contend with bad roads, traffic jams, pollution and noise and above all that, harassment too. How many men would drive well if they were subjected to the same thing, every minute that they were on the road?

There is any number of bad drivers on the road and yes, some of them are women. But it’s preposterous to label the entire gender as being bad drivers. The accident rates don’t show any discernable differences between offenders of either gender. That makes me want to think women on an average, may be better drivers (and not worse) since they handle a more stressful situation with the same degree of success (or failure). Male chauvinists, think before you make a wisecrack about lady drivers – this time the joke’s on you.

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A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

A Voice That Shatters Glass…The Glass Ceiling!

Music is an integral part of every youth festival, highlighted by the crowds at Antakshari, and Music Quiz events. The music competition is usually the grand highlight of at least one evening. That we are home to the biggest film industry in the world shows in the fact that the event almost always features exclusive Bollywood songs.

I was an amateur singer in college…jamming, impromptu background scores in classroom capers, singing the national anthem on Republic Day and invocation prayers during college events gave me aspirations towards musical stardom on campus.

Any regular will tell you that there is a collection of 5-6 favorites that are rendered by the participants. There are normally an equal number of male and female singers since the competition (quite fairly) assesses musical ability regardless of gender. Audience response is a key determinant in judging performance so seasoned participants pick songs that suit their temperament and sing them in a way that is proven to move the audience. A good singer can expect a collective sigh over Tadap Tadap ke and only conclude Saara zamana haseenon ka deewana successfully if at least a few whistles have been heard. My male counterparts spanned the gamut of musical Bollywood from comedy (Pag ghungroo bandh Meera naachi – Namak Halal) to melancholy (Tanhaai Dil Chahta hai), classical (Laga chunari mein daag) and romance (Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai).

I tested the waters and quickly stumbled onto hot favorites like Mann kyon beheka (Utsav), Morni bagha ma (Lamhe) and Dil ne kaha chupke se (1942-A Love Story). But as a performer, these songs always left me feeling somewhat…incomplete. I longed for a real, full-bodied song that would let me snatch up the audience like the boy’s songs did. It took awhile to build a repertoire of songs that could get the audience shaking.

Then a male friend inquired,

Why do you always sing songs like this? It’s either cabaret or item numbers!

I protested,

What? I sang Dil Cheez Kya hai last time! It has a classical base.

Pat came the reply,

And it is a mujra.

And that’s when it hit me. There just aren’t powerful solos for women in Bollywood music! The most memorable songs are genteel lovestruck ballads of the sort that depict a delicate damsel awaiting her shehzada on safed ghoda riding to her rescue. Or the semi-soulful/mournful sort of the Na koi umang hai variety alternated by the haunting Kahin deep jale kaheen dil tunes.

And what of duets? For those acquainted with music, even a duet has a leader and a follower. Male and female voices work in different ranges of pitch and it is almost always the female voice that is arranged around the male voice. Symbolically, a typical Hindi duet usually has the male voice as the main, solid body with the female voice as a decorative motif twining around it, hitting the high notes occasionally. It is beautiful in its own way. It is art after all, and we’ve enjoyed it for decades.

But art is also about challenging boundaries and building something new, in thought and in expression. I defy you to name one Bollywood duet that has a female lead. I’m not counting such airs as Chura Liya hai which, while an undoubtedly spectacular classic, certainly does not make a case for powerful female expression.

I managed to find only one song – Hai Rama (Rangeela) which won us a first prize (and a fair bit of male attention coming my way…ha!). I’ll never forget the sheer headiness of singing this song, which my partner could not have shared. It was my song after all and all he was, was the gracious support voice. I got to set the pitch, the rhythm and the tone of the song. And most of all, it was my responsibility to convey the mood of the song. That’s what powerful expression is all about!

But for most part, in duets I had to settle for playing second fiddle (or voice) to such tunes as Humko hamhi se chura lo (Mohabbatein), Dekha ek khwab to yeh silsilay hue (Silsila) and Ek main aur ek tu (Khel khel mein).

There was some leeway in the solos and thank God for the magic of Asha and R.D.Burman! Quite unexpectedly, in my quest to wear the pants in the musical family, I had wandered into Asha Bhosale territory. Her success formula worked for me as well. While Lata didi was ruling the AIR roost with her ‘good little girl’ melodies, Asha entered the only domain left to her –saucy cabaret songs, scintillating dance numbers and generally the kind of songs that Helen and Bindu danced to but would never be picturised on the heroine. I took the stage with Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana (Don) and Piya tu ab to aaja (Moneeekka my darling, notwithstanding!). Sauciness was the only recourse left to Asha and it was the only way I could find, to make my kind of music. It just would take Madhubala’s verve to carry off a Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya. But for most part, even in music, the bad girl was the only one who got to taste power.

Popular hindi music hasn’t changed all that much. The few powerful female solos are still camouflaged in melodrama, raunch or abstraction. Think Zinda hoon main, Beedi jalaile, Pari hoon main.

Singing for the opposite sex would be another high. We enjoyed Kailash Kher’s soulful

Tune kya kar dala, mar gayee main, mit gayee main, ho gayee main teri deewani..

But I somehow can’t see Sunidhi Chauhan or Shreya Ghoshal getting the same reaction to a very spirited rendition

Gum shuda…

 

Even assuming that the male-female roles are still rather rigidly defined in Indian cinema, we find even gender-neutral emotions like inspiration voiced by male singers. While Baar baar haan (Lagaan) and Chak de (Chak de) may be too strongly sports-testosterone linked, what of Yeh tara, woh tara (Swades) and Bulla ke jaana main kaun (Rabbi Shergill)? I would have loved to have done a Bas itna sa khwab hai (Yes Boss) but I was vetoed by my team on account of it being a ‘male song’. I still don’t get it…women have dreams and ambitions too! And all we have to speak for it is Dil hai chota sa, choti si aasha (Roja)!

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A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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