Sunday, October 22, 2023

Sweep and Swab more for a Swachher India!

 Loving your country is a lot like loving your spouse. It is complicated. You get mad at him for responding honestly to your query about whether your grey hair is noticeable. But you wouldn’t be too pleased if he flattered to deceive. Honesty is a damnable thing because you are damned if you do and doubly damned if you don’t but according to some famous white and therefore indubitably wise dude, honesty is the best policy especially if money and the future is at stake. Which means, you have to be truthful, even if it makes people accuse you of being anti – national and ask you to remove yourself to a hostile neighbouring nation we play the occasional cricket match with and make a killing via jacked – up ticket prices but not before inundating you with death threats. Of course, I am spared all this because barring a few bots who can’t be bothered to bicker with me, nobody cares about my carping.

Therefore, I can complain about an oft ignored issue that has rendered our country grotesque. India is not just an EYESORE but an EXCRESCENCE upon the face of this planet. Of course, this nation is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, but we have only Indians to blame for literally crapping over it and begriming the bounties of Mother Earth with our disgraceful tendency to prioritize godliness and just about everything else over cleanliness and making a godawful mess.

Of the millions of tonnes of garbage India generates, precious little is segregated, treated, and responsibly disposed. Carelessly discarded trash that does not choke up every inch of available public space ends up in hastily erected dumps conveniently close to slums where they become the problem of the poor. The responsibility for dealing with detritus rests on rag pickers who receive no formal training and no safety equipment to protect themselves from hazardous wastes and safeguard their health. Indiscriminate burning in these sites causes pollution and the cancer – causing smoke which lingers thickly in the vicinity for days is a menace. A lot of the debris is discharged into sewers, drains and rivers poisoning our water and food.

A majority of the populace has no concept of waste management that requires you to reduce, reuse and recycle. There are too few dustbins for public use and even these are always overflowing. Worst of all, are the citizens who are forever littering, spitting, pissing, and defecating wherever they please. Our government has introduced solid waste management rules and apparently there is improvement in door – to - door collection of garbage, measures have been implemented to install waste processing and recycling plants, convert landfills to parks and preserve our water bodies but there is a lot more that needs to be done for stricter enforcement of hygiene measures over and above the nattering about Swachh Bharat by celeb types on social media. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before India is submerged in a sea of sewage.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

How do you Solve a Problem like Tragedy?

 Bad things happen. And all the positive thinking in the world cannot change that. We know that. Even so, when tragedy strikes, none of us are remotely prepared for the raw grief and sheer extent of the devastation it unleashes. If heaven forbid, the victims are in our personal or social circles, one is never certain about the correct response. How can we help those reeling from the aftershock of gut – wrenching personal loss? Do we even want to be encumbered with such an onerous task in these dark times when our hearts are no longer in the right place and have long since been swallowed up into the bulging gut of the internet and regurgitated into the bottomless depths of digital dreck?

One supposes that sensitivity, compassion, kindness, and empathy always helps, even if the aforementioned are in short supply nowadays and therefore, absolutely essential not to mention invaluable. But how much is too much? And how little is too little? Even genuine concern can be cloying if it is constant and alloyed with awkwardness. Lending a shoulder for the aggrieved to cry on and all the ice cream in the world can feel pathetically, hopelessly inadequate. But only because it is.

In the face of overwhelming sorrow, hope for a better tomorrow is the first casualty because it seems sacrilegious to even think it, when someone we love or even only vaguely know is trapped in a quicksand of infinite pain and endless sorrow, marooned there by the sudden onset of misfortune. At times like that, it is hard to believe in the healing power of time, when every agonized second feels like an aeon and a half. What is one to do? Who has the inclination and the much-needed patience to let trouble run its course? To wait for a wound to stop bleeding. To refrain from worrying it. To let the scabs form and allow the healing to proceed at the inevitably lackadaisical pace which is so hard on the nerves. To be there for the ones we care about. To give them all the time, space and care that can be managed without being intrusive, invasive, or insensitive. That is hard. And few can manage the feat, even if inclined to make the effort demanded, especially if truth be told, we’d rather expend it all on ourselves.  

It is far easier to go on with our lives, putting aside the guilt over the gratitude and relief we feel that the dreaded bad thing has happened to someone else. Most of us are fully convinced that we can ameliorate a nagging conscience simply by putting up what we consider a poignantly worded post commiserating over the injured party’s loss and suffering. We might even throw in a prayer or two for aggrieved parties and hope that it helps them get back on their feet so that we can all put it behind us and try to move on. Preferably to admittedly insipid and fleeting pleasures which have been rendered even more attractive because we have been confronted with the possibility of our own mortality and the impossibility of holding on to our already limited hoard of happiness.

 It doesn’t help that tragedy brings out the jerks and trolls in droves. Every family and friend circle has its unwanted share of insensitive, rude pricks who always say the wrong thing, ask probing or inappropriate questions, and with a depth of cruelty that defies belief do not demur at all from inflicting further pain on those who are already hurting. We see this everywhere and up close and personal, but it becomes even more horrifying when well – known figures suffer from personal trauma which quickly explodes into a public spectacle. It is truly nauseating to see the massive pile – on as internet crazies get busy with conspiracy theories and news outlets have a field day generating provocative headlines, indulging the ever-growing public taste for sordid sensationalism, scandal, and endless speculation.

All the content in the world cannot compete with real life drama for sheer entertainment value especially when played out on a scale comparable to the elaborately gruesome and macabre spectacles mounted in the infamous Colosseum of ancient Rome to keep the masses appeased and conveniently distracted with an unhealthy overload of blood and gore. Even if we have been reduced to genuflecting before the purveyors of entertainment, does it entitle us to tear them apart when they are down? Why have we allowed ourselves to become such base creatures whose only requirement is the constant appeasement of a ravenous appetite for pleasure uncaring that it comes at the cost of someone else’s happiness or peace of mind?

By incessantly seeking little more than instant gratification we are no longer governed by basic decency or even reason. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to detox a little bit, practise austerity, and abstain from amusing ourselves all the time. With a little time and effort, it stands to reason we may just find our souls again and put the human back in humanity. At the very least, we will no longer allow ourselves to grow fat on the misery of others and join the feeding frenzy every time we scent blood in the choppy waters of this great tragedy we call life.  

Friday, September 08, 2023



Long before generating outrage became the rage for those looking to make a big splash, politicians were doing it with incendiary speeches and rabble – rousing rallies. They still do it, and the ramifications are as bad as they have always been times three in the big bad world of social media with its exaggerated focus on clickbait headlines and emphasis on ‘going viral’ to capture the fickle public’s fleeting attention. It makes sense from a political standpoint since divisive politics always serve to muddy the waters with misinformation and draw attention away from a typical politician’s multitude of misdeeds. From a practical perspective though, such ill – considered words and deeds do a lot more harm than good.

Even a demagogue like Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, MK Stalin, who claims to have called out an issue for the purpose of liberating the downtrodden, has not managed to achieve anything beyond arousing the anger of a large section of the populace. In addition to being ineffective considering the larger problem he tried to address, the minister (he holds the youth affairs and sports department portfolio) may have just shot himself in the foot with his sally against Sanatana dharma.

Dissecting a dirty business

Udhayanidhi, the scion of the DMK party, put himself firmly in the eye of the storm and stirred up controversy with his problematic statements on Sanatana Dharma which he equated to malaria, dengue, and mosquitoes, before calling for its complete eradication. In the face of mounting fury and a Rs.10 crore bounty placed on his head (an unconscionable and unpardonable call to violence by the chief priest of a temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya), Udhayanidhi held firm, refusing to apologise or retract his remarks, insisting that he had only condemned caste discrimination and his statements had been made in the interest of upholding humanity and human equality.

On examining his provocative pronouncements at length, one is forced to wonder why the honourable minister, if acting in good faith and seeking to eradicate the caste system had simply said as much instead of using the term ‘Sanatana dharma’ with its profound relevance to Hinduism, which in turn has guaranteed that clarity be decisively removed from the equation setting off a chain reaction of confusion and chaos. Hinduism’s overt and covert endorsement of the caste system is a glaring issue but our collective persistence in perpetuating this evil, despite knowing better is the bigger problem and the minister is being disingenuous by refraining from saying it as it is.

As always, the great majority who have taken to social media platforms to register their assent or dissent over this fracas in the most flavourful language imaginable seem to have very little understanding of Sanatana dharma and what it stands for in relation to Hinduism as well as the critiques against it by social reformist stalwarts like E.V. Ramaswami aka Periyar and Baba Sahib Ambedkar, whose teachings Udhayanidhi referred to in his ill – advised call to eliminate Sanatana dharma and by extension an entire religion.

Sanatana dharma vs Periyar and Ambedkar

A deep dive into the finer points of Sanatana dharma as well as the teachings of Periyar and Ambedkar is beyond the band – width of most who are too attention deprived to do anything other than form their opinions based on headlines and even quicker to censure on the strength of a succinct if misleading WhatsApp note. But it is important to do so to fully understand this controversy and form an opinion that is not entirely lacking in sense and sensitivity, all conspicuous by their absence not just in the statements of Udhayanidhi but others like DMK’s A. Raja and BJP’s Home minister, Amit Shah, and spokesperson, Amit Malviya.

In the simplest terms, Sanatana dharma refers to the ‘eternal way’ and implies the timelessness of the soul as it journeys through multiple incarnations via the cycle of births and rebirths. Believers will talk about the inherently diverse, tolerant, and pluralistic way of life embodied by this faith which is traditionally in favour of incorporating noble ideals into its belief system even if from other faiths. Detractors will point out that Sanatana dharma emphasizes belief in the caste system as well as faulty notions of purity which has subsequently resulted in the oppression and suppression of multitudes. Neither side is incorrect though both are inaccurate if they fail to see what Sanatana dharma stands for in its entirety. Choosing to adhere blindly to everything it purportedly conveys without weeding out the problematic parts or callously insisting on throwing the baby out with the bathwater are equally worthy of condemnation.

As for Periyar and Ambedkar, the former was the founder of the self – respect movement who advocated strongly against Sanatana dharma which according to him was being used to keep the lower castes chained to the needs of the privileged. He discouraged blind obedience to rites, rituals, and superstitions, urging his followers to cultivate a spirit of scientific enquiry, and a critical outlook bound by logic and rationale. Ambedkar, the brilliant lawyer and scholar who played a key role in framing the constitution blamed Sanatana dharma for the evils perpetrated against the ‘untouchables’.

Both men advocated strongly against the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Shastras, and Manusmriti while calling for a truly democratic society where human dignity and equality would be upheld at all costs. A lot of people today quote these two fiery thinkers and activists who condemned the discriminatory nature of Hinduism but unlike Periyar, an avowed atheist and Ambedkar, who embraced Buddhism, the intention does not seem to be to eliminate the caste system but merely use it as fuel to keep the flames of unrest and hatred burning bright in the interests of safeguarding a corrupt system that has made a laughing stock of the true principles of democracy.

Excising caste from the core of Hinduism

Udhayanidhi’s statements could have made a powerful case for the need to annihilate caste which is entirely doable if we come together as a united nation against this ancient evil but by conflating caste based oppression solely with Sanatana dharma believed to convey the essence of Hinduism as opposed to viewing it as a preventable injustice wrought by prejudiced and self – serving human agency which has cherry – picked through and subverted the sacred texts for unscrupulous reasons of enslavement, he has taken a Quixotic tilt at Hinduism itself which is ineffectual at best and hate mongering at worst. Calling for the eradication of a religious way of life through a sustained attack on one of its core tenets does nothing other than hold up a mirror to the fact that we as a nation have little interest in tackling the problem of caste with a firm hand. Instead, we content ourselves by saying things for shock value, get bent out of shape over the inanities uttered by the inept and carry on being uncaring about a pressing problem that is a matter of national shame.

The caste – system championed by some has contributed to endless exploitation and it cannot be glossed over or rationalized any more than the latent homophobia and misogyny evidenced by other religions. This is a many – headed Hydra that needs to be decapitated with Herculean labour. This is a cancer festering away at the beating heart and soul of Hinduism that needs to be excised immediately before it becomes even more malignant. This is what needs to be done at the earliest but by persistently participating in screaming pseudo wars over religion, genocide and the rest of the ridiculous rigmarole foisted on us by self – serving politicians we are missing the forest for the trees and have become equally complicit in preserving the very evils that have enslaved us.

An edited version was published in India Today

Saturday, September 02, 2023



A quick scan of trending news feels like deja - vu. Those of us not over the moon with joy with the successful landing of Chandrayaan – 3 and taken off to the weird new world of Elon Musk’s mysterious X to celebrate the heroics of chess prodigy, Praggnanandhaa as well as Neeraj Chopra’s gold at the World Athletics Championships are busy lamenting the state of a country where a teacher egged on her students to beat up one of their own while harping on unforgivably about his Muslim identity.

In fair Madhya Pradesh, a Dalit woman was stripped, and her son killed by a mob, hellbent on pressuring her daughter to withdraw a sexual assault case she had filled. Those who had tuned out the news preferring to binge watch season 2 of the hit Amazon Prime series – Made In Heaven could not help notice the very public feud provoked by a controversial episode featuring a Dalit wedding where the protagonist played by a fiery Radhika Apte asserts her rights to have a ceremony that reflects her roots. The kerfuffle was between the Dalit director of the episode – Neeraj Ghaywan, Dalit author Yashica Dutt, who argued that her life and works had been appropriated without recognition or renumeration and Dalit legal scholar, Sumit Baudh who claimed in a tweet that Dutt herself had not given him credit for an idea she had appropriated from his article.

In all these instances, one can see the familiar pattern of charged encounters along the divides of national pride, caste identity, political affiliations and religious sentiment which has led to escalating conflict in a divided society where nobody gives an inch, and everybody spews out volcanic rage. Worse, there seems to be no resolution in sight but that doesn’t seem to deter anyone because these public altercations ensures that the people involved get some much-desired visibility and an army of like – minded followers, which appears to be a somewhat self – defeating and morally dubious end goal which nevertheless has the potential to be leveraged for big bucks.

The mainstream news media has long been playing its part in generating chaos and pandering to a simplistic, tidy narrative where in the interests of coherence and brevity, complexity and compassion has been severely compromised, creating a warped reality where one side is purely good and the other is entirely evil. We seem to have deliberately forgotten that all human beings are complex, contradictory creatures with varying views and moral ambiguities. This Us versus Them mentality has sucked the oxygen out of every heated discourse leaving us gasping for air, in a perpetual state of agitation with its ugly sister, aggression for company and our brains deprived of good sense.

In this era of slavish devotion to a politically correct narrative formulated by self – serving activists more committed to looking good rather than doing good, it is not surprising that we all have leaned into an innate confirmation bias where we increasingly choose to believe news and Whatsapp forwards that confirm our personal beliefs while dismissing all evidence to the contrary. Many no longer trust formerly respected news outlets because they are tired of being afraid and have had it up to the gills with the endless cycle of rage, rebuke, and recriminations that leads nowhere and does little to empower the downtrodden while bringing about the betterment of society at large.

If we wish to excavate deeper, life affirming truths instead of grappling in the dirt at a very superficial level, where core issues are concerned, it is necessary to make room for complexity and nuance with the view to listen and understand the motivations of those whose views are not necessarily aligned to our own. It won’t change the world, but we can hope that this might lead to a future where we are all polite to each other, choose to be nice rather than nasty and make room for real conversations on dicey subjects where everybody feels listened to and understood rather than condemned and scorned. 

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Bewitching Barbie and Bread Pudding for Brains

The feminist dream of a world where women and men work together to reduce and gradually topple unequal social structures to ensure equal rights and social justice for all is an improbable fantasy. Too many men and women are too committed to the existing status quo where the benefits are manifold for those who sell their souls and silence their conscience to better kowtow to entrenched patriarchy. It is also the reason crimes against women and minorities persist with alarming regularity with no hope of justice for victims; wars continue to be fought in the interest of preserving the interests of the oligarchy; global warming and its implications for humanity will be brushed aside, because plastic needs to be used and sold so that fat cats can grow fatter and so on and so forth. 

It takes gut wrenching effort and soul crushing sacrifice to bring about lasting change. Who the hell can be bothered with all that when it is so much easier to be a part of the problem in a benign way? Where you can bow down before the Gods of capitalism in exchange for their benevolent assurance that you remain ever wrapped in the cold embrace of materialistic excess. When it is okay to lean into your inbuilt narcissistic tendencies and call it individualistic altruism because PC lingo is everything. Where it is perfectly acceptable to allow your brains to become bread pudding from the constant bombardment of exquisite imagery on your preferred screen crafted by those who have been paid to tell you what to think.
In this climate, of course Barbie – the movie would be a humongous blockbuster. Even though the explosion of pink, which despite being my favourite colour makes me feel like I have been chained and imprisoned in Dolores Umbridge’s basement. For the uninformed, she is a character in Harry Potter who uses pops of poisonous pink and a sickly sweet manner to disguise the extent of the hatred, intolerance and cruelty that actually defines her. While I have no intention of watching the movie, thanks to Greta Gerwig, who made the extraordinary Lady Bird, I have no doubt that Barbie is now funny, smart and endearing but pernicious as ever. 
After all, the truth is women, like Barbie herself, can be whatever they want to be as long as they expend all they have to be pretty and perfect as a doll. It is the surest way to guarantee success and be valued. Talent, intelligence, and aspirations count only if it is wrapped up in a glittering package that includes a gorgeous smile, great hair, glowing skin, a hot bod and overall compliance. It is only to be expected in a world where the feminist dream has been traded in to sell IP for Mattel and the rest of their ilk. Now if you will excuse me, I am off to buy a pink dress, shoes and accessories. Later, I’ll watch La La Land and let Ryan Gosling do his thing, so I can just stop thinking about impossible dreams. 

This column was originally published in TNIE magazine.

Book Review: Mandodari


Koral Dasgupta’s, Mandodari, fourth of the Pancha kanyas in her highly acclaimed Sati series attempts to rescue from obscurity, one of the most fascinating characters in the Ramayana who has traditionally been eclipsed, by her infamous husband, the mighty Ravana. Born to Maya, the architect of the Asuras and Hema, a celebrated apsara, Mandodari went on to become, the Queen of Lanka and the mother of the invincible Indrajith. Not much space is allotted to this enigmatic character in Valmiki’s Ramayana or the umpteen versions that followed and Dasgupta does a tremendous job of making up for this oversight. In her deft hands, Mandodari reemerges as a force to be reckoned with, blessed with extraordinary powers of her own and a fierce will, committed to bringing to life her husband’s impossible but unimaginably daring vision.

Narrated with insight and imagination, Mandodari’s tale is captivating. Forced into a union with the magnetic, masterful, and magnificent Asura King, though all it would have taken is persuasion, Mandodari is not without agency. For Ravana knows that his dreams would remain just that without her creative powers, architectural genius, and inspired innovations to see them take shape as the impeccably sculpted and Golden Lanka. Theirs is a caring relationship but also a fraught one, which is gradually pulled apart by conflicting ideologies, which come to a head, when Ravana makes the ill – fated decision to kidnap the wife of another man, who just happens to be an avatara of Vishnu, born for the express purpose of slaying a Rakshasa King with colossal ambitions and the reckless skills and preternatural talent to realise them.

Not one to pamper the male ego and enable rapacious conduct, Mandodari is a clarion voice who doesn’t hesitate to call out her husband when he breaches the code of Dharma. She speaks up for the rights of women in general and Sita as well, becoming an unlikely ally for the beleaguered Princess. It is thanks to her efforts, veering between the compassionate and conniving that the worst excesses of her husband are undone, ultimately preserving his legacy as a fatally flawed but innately admirable soul.

Dasgupta’s treatment of Surpanakha is far from sympathetic though. This much – maligned and often misunderstood character is further villainized as a spoilt, savage creature with an outsize appetite for lust and deceit without a single redeeming trait. Though the Princess of Lanka was treated abominably and horribly mutilated by the Princes of Ayodhya, when she frankly declared her desire for Rama, Surpanakha is subjected to a bit of victim – shaming here. This is a pity, and it feels unfair to cast poor Surpanakha as the evil antagonist to Mandodari.

This complaint notwithstanding there is much to recommend Mandodari with its lyrical prose and philosophical moorings that conjures up visions of a mesmerizing world where so much is made possible by a lone woman’s resilience and unswerving commitment to do the right thing not just in the interests of her loved ones but the greater good.

This book review was originally carried in TNIE Magazine

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Good, Bad and Ugly News


I like receiving notifications from News apps. This way, I can pretend I know exactly what is happening in the world. Thanks to these timely alerts, I know that Meghan Markle is no longer as loved as she used to be, because too many have taken on her brand of self - pity politics, grievance – hawking and aggressive self – marketing to ensure that her success exceeds her meagre talents and made it their own. I have also been made aware, despite repeated hints that ‘news’ of this nature does not really rock my boat that Vijay Varma and Tamannaah Bhatia are dating post their ill – advised forays in Lust Story 2. Cricket lovers are gung-ho about whatever is happening at the Ashes series. While I myself have no idea about what constitutes the difference between white, red and blue balls, (although I think Kookaburras, a bird that may or may not be mythical is involved), I do know that Virat Kohli thinks that Ben Stokes is the most competitive bloke he has played against. I have also been informed, that political players across the world continue to generate all kinds of drama. But I’ll be damned if I know exactly what that is all about.

One such notification, informed me that a Jo Lindner - Bodybuilder and influencer had died at 30, from a sudden aneurysm. His many fans have compared him to Arnold Schwarzenegger while his critics hated on him, insisting that he was a steroid user. Jo himself had admitted as much in a candid YouTube video.

In a sea of negative news cycles, which reiterate our secret fear that we are all doomed, something like the passing of a good – looking, gym – ripped hunk of youth is deemed newsworthy because the tragedy is strangely comforting to a great majority who can’t be influenced into working out and eating right, just so they can get skinny, post pics of themselves sipping green smoothies and flaunting washboard abs to gain a devoted fanbase on Instagram. Most of us would rather tsk at Jo’s untimely demise because it is reinforcement of our preferred belief that the societal standard of physical beauty is hardly ideal and certainly does not mean that the fit and fabulous are healthier than their chubby counterparts even if the latter may be committed couch potatoes with a partiality for the guilty pleasures of Nutella and Lotus Biscoff.

Let’s face it. The benefits are many for those who wake up at 5 am, meditate, practise hot yoga and intermittent fasting, derive satisfaction from small pleasures, embrace positivity and appreciate sunsets and the many phases of the moon. But it might not be the worst thing in the world to work out by reading a hefty book, eating ice cream and making peace with your choices even if they are perceived to be imperfect. Who knows it might just prolong your life. Or cut it short. But it might not matter, just as long as you are happy and comfortable in your own skin. And avoid the news in favour of discerning, topical columns written by yours truly.

An edited version of this piece was published in The New Indian Express.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

A Soaring Triumph of Storytelling

 Kalki’s beloved Ponniyin Selvan is a sprawling Tamil epic, that since its serialized publication in the author’s magazine in the 1950s, holds a special place in the hearts of Tamilians and continues to captivate modern readers. A stupendous feat of storytelling, the novel explores a turbulent period in Chozha history. The ageing emperor, Sundara Chozha is bedridden after a stroke has deprived him of the use of his legs. Ominous portents seen in the sky foretell momentous events. The ailing King’s eldest son, Aditya Karikalar has won a tremendous victory against the Pandyas, their traditional rivals, after beheading their King, Veerapandian. He is the obvious choice to succeed to the throne. But the Apathuvadigal, elite bodyguards of the slain King have sworn vengeance, aided by the exquisite Nandini, who has a personal vendetta against the Chozhas. As the wife of Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar, who along with his brother hold the reigns of power in the Kingdom, Nandini is well placed to strike. Meanwhile, the Pazhuvettaraiyars are conspiring to place Prince Madhurantakar, Sundara Chozha’s elder brother’s son on the throne, convinced that Aditya is too volatile and his younger brother,Arulmozhi Varmar, whom history venerates as Raja Raja Chozha is too unconventional.

Kalki spins an enthralling yarn that is a soaring triumph of storytelling. It is filled to bursting with memorable characters like the impish Vandiyadevan, through whose eyes, we witness the intrigue, adventures, and romance aplenty in this epic saga. Kalki is also famed for his powerful female characters like the Princess Kundavai, who is clever, resourceful and a game changer in the political landscape and fan favourite, Poonkuzhali, the daring boat girl. The author had a penchant for combining historical facts with fiction and blending both to create a truly magnificent tale that keeps the reader hooked from the very beginning and begging for more at the conclusion of every chapter.

Nandini Krishnan has an uphill task in her English translation of Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan as she strives to recapture the magic of the original and present it in a contemporary format for today’s readers, without losing the charm and essence of the masterpiece. Her efforts are a triumph and First Flood, Book 1 is masterfully crafted with loving attention lavished on every nuance. Krishnan meticulously stitches together the narrative, taking care to retain the descriptive beauty of the Tamil text which goes a long way in evoking the grandeur of the past, the lush beauty of a land held in the multi-limbed embrace of the River Goddess,

Kaveri, the lives of a hardy people from a harsher age who nevertheless loved, laughed and fought their battles just like us and bringing to life an important chapter in the history of the Tamils. Her retention of Kalki’s love for onomatopoeia and verses in Tamil are lovely touches. Her readers will no doubt be grateful to her for throwing open the doors to a glorious realm made accessible by Kalki and beg for more instalments in this excellent series.

This book review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Laws by Men, For Men, Stacked Against Survivors


Prosecuting sex crimes is starting to seem like an impossible business. Just ask Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, the victims in Kalakshetra or the hundreds of other women who have reported cases of sexual assault and harassment only to run into a wall of resistance designed to grind them down till they are silenced for good. This is not a problem unique to India. Even in the post #MeToo world, there are those like Judge Robin Camp aka the ‘Knees – Together Judge’ who in 2017, ruled against the 19 – year old complainant citing that she could have prevented being raped if she had just kept her knees together! This mind – boggling verdict was upheld in a retrial with a new judge. There are others like Camp who find in favour of the aggressor brazenly spouting bilge along similar lines. The issues resulting in the miscarriage of justice when it comes to sex – related offenses are easy enough to pinpoint.

The abysmally low conviction rate is due to how rape is largely perceived. Thanks to movies and cheap pornography, where the violation of women is either mined for maximum titillation or the gore factor, victims are either believed to be into it or are expected to kill themselves, since suicide is the only ‘honourable’ course of action for a woman whose ‘purity’ has been sullied. Those ‘unnatural’ creatures who refuse to shut up, opting to file cases against perpetrators, demanding justice are seen as uppity harridans who are routinely retraumatized, accused of promiscuity, threatened, and disbelieved. It doesn’t help that in a world where fake news is peddled as the truth and increasingly leftist/rightist ideology – driven journalism where the detached commitment to reporting the facts alone has become an obsolete practise, it is easy enough to dismiss survivors as making it all up for their five seconds of fame or levelling false charges as revenge against former boyfriends after ugly breakups.

The burden of proof rests with the accuser and in most cases, bulletproof evidence that sexual violence occurred is impossible to produce. Mostly, it comes down to a ‘He said, She said’ scenario. Many powerful defendants have no trouble quashing the cases even when there are multiple complainants and strike back by filing defamation cases against those who named and shamed them publicly.

The legal system designed by men for men, is stacked against the survivors. It takes forever for a case to make it to the courts, requiring the expenditure of money, time and effort. Most back off unable to withstand the bullying of aggressive lawyers and public censure. Those who don’t are more likely to be claimed by old age before a verdict is delivered. And even, then it is unlikely to be favourable. 

Women fighting for justice face insurmountable challenges worsened by caste bias, illiteracy, poverty, rank corruption and a legal system that fails them repeatedly. But now more than ever it is imperative to keep fighting the odds. To do that we must never give up and add our voices to those of the brave women who refuse to be silenced though they have everything to lose.

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.