A woman’s place is in the House…of the people

I opened a session titled Womanifesto recently with this provocative line, “A woman’s place is in the House”. The audience held its collective breath and some of them who know me, watched with puzzlement. Before they could recover and organise a lynch mob, I quickly went on to add, ‘of the People’.

Way back in 2015, I had mulled over the idea of pushing for a more open discussion on this topic ; I even had a few graphics run up.

2 sandhya

But I never got around to actively pushing it out, and so when Shruti Kaura asked me to moderate the  programme on April 24, I accepted with alacrity. The following are my statements at the programme. For a detailed report on what other speakers said, read Citizen Matters.

“This is an apolitical forum, notwithstanding our personal political beliefs, to encourage all parties to put up more women on their own right, and who are the actual representatives. We would like to get more women candidates and more credible women candidates.

Karnataka was the first to introduce reservation for women in Panchayat Raj, keeping 25 per cent of the seats for women, way back in 1983. After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution, three levels of Panchayat Raj institutions, more than half of the members of gram panchayat, taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat are women.

But when it comes to representation in Legislative Assembly and Parliament, it is a very sorry set of figures.

Let’s look at numbers. Karnataka’s population is 6.1 crore out of which men are 50.7 percent and women are 49.3 percent. But when it comes to representation in the state assembly, the percentage of women is just 2.6 percent. Of the 225 seats in the 14th Karnataka Legislative Assembly, there are just six elected women and one nominated. Out of 70 ministers in the Karnataka cabinet, only 2 are women. For the upcoming elections, the candidates of major political parties are predominantly men.

The worrisome fact is that not only are fewer women contesting, fewer women are winning.  175 women contested in the last Assembly elections in 2013, out of which only 6 won, 159 of those lost forfeited their deposits. (In the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 21 women contested in Karnataka, and only one won).

Universal problem

Do female candidates ‘lose votes’?: A study on the experience of female candidates in the 1979 and 1980 Canadian general elections concludes that, ‘It does not seem, then, that the relative failure of women in federal elections can be traced directly to voters’ sentiments. Rather, it appears as if the limited success of women in federal politics in Canada largely originates in their difficulties in securing nominations to contest seats which they have some reasonable prospect of winning.’

The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India which proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats were proposed to be reserved in rotation and would have been determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.

The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Is there hope on the horizon? As women in India are getting  more mobilized than ever before over issues of safety, sexual harassment and human rights, could this lead to more political mobilisation?

Can all women’s groups and women’s wings of political parties agree to lobby for the passing of The Women’s Reservation Bill  It should be a non-negotiable agenda, cutting across ideologies and affiliations. Be it a women’s wing of a political party or an Inner Wheel Club, in the next Parliamentary elections, all women should refuse to vote until all political parties agree to pass this bill.

A study by Politico.com says that America has a shortage of female politicians because, to put it simply, women don’t want the job. What about Indian women? Are we up to the job?”

B.jpg

 

More about me: I have always been interested in politics; I studied for a Master’s degree in political science, and I was at the periphery of student politics as class mates and friends were involved in the students’ union. The major part of my career as a journalist was spent covering Karnataka politics. 

It was years later that the irony struck me; that while in college, students could win votes based on their capabilities without gender being an impediment, the equation seemed to change in the real world of adults. For many impressionable young women, the fact that we had a woman Prime Minister was a matter of great pride. I has secretly treasured with shy pride the family lore that, when I was very young and while on a tour of the Parliament, I had climbed on to the Prime Minister’s seat. Childhood games of pretend that I played with my older sister consisted of me playing the role of Indira Gandhi. 

The sad reality is that the poster women of Indian politics Indira Gandhi, Mamta Bannerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati could have played a bigger role for the cause of women. Their triumphs are more personal than a victory for the sisterhood. One of Karnataka’s most successful politicians told me in an interview that politics is a man’s world. A change has got to come!

Advertisements

Learning the alphabet for justice

In the wake of the recent spate of brutal torture, rape & murders of young girls in India, the staging of 17-year old play hits home truths.

Alipha

The current production of Alipha is an example of theatre at its best, with a great amount of ‘simpatico’ between playwright and director on the one hand, and director and actors on the other. Poile Sengupta has an incredible felicity in fleshing out her characters, and you are bound to immediately connect with them as they remind you of people you have met.

Two actors command your attention for an hour on either side of the stage. One is a little orphan girl (Kavya Srinivasan) being raised by an aunt; she dreams of going to an English medium school and is ecstatic at a scholarship. The other actor (Anirudh Acharya) is the son of a politician, entitled and self-obsessed, used to riding rough shod over anybody who comes in the way of his greed and appetite. Their lives run on tangential tracks until they collide with disastrous results.

Read the full review at http://thegoodcity.in/j-for-justice-the-alipha-of-poile-sengupta

Going beyond boundaries, with Ravi Kashi

Don’t look for prettiness. Don’t expect to be soothed. For that surely isn’t what you are going to get.

Expect the unexpected. To be jerked out of complacency.  To be bereft of speech.

whatsapp-image-2016-12-01-at-12-24-44-pm

I would say that Ravikumar Kashi is perhaps the most adventurous contemporary artist of Bengaluru. His body of work extends across paintings, sculpture, photography and installation.

His current exhibition, ‘Silent Echo’ (at Gallery Sumukha is on until Dec 31, open 10.30 am – 6 pm, Mon-Sat), is an exhibition of installations and artists’ books, and revolves around the ‘object.’ Says Kashi, “One of the main threads that bind these works is an insight as to how objects become an extension of ourselves, retain memory, gain their own persona over a period of time. And when more than one object comes together, they affect and alter each other’s meaning. Five distinct but interrelated pieces of work in the show address the character, historicity, function, and relevance of diverse objects that the artist chooses to build his narratives around.”

The main work ‘Silent Echo’ is a sculptural installation of mesh and paper pulp. Says the artist, “It evokes many of the metaphors of our time where hope and despair ride together side by side”. Kashi handcrafts objects and puts them together with other objects that he finds, creating installations such as ‘Heirlooms of Fear’ and ‘Dark Revenue’.

whatsapp-image-2016-12-01-at-12-24-44-pm-1

Kashi has won the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award for a book on art, apart from the awards given by the Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi and the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, for his art. A fascinating aspect of the current exhibition, is a set of ‘Artists’ Books’, called ‘All is always now’Ravi has been creating artists’ books for ten or more years, making the paper by hand and drawing images that are times radical and subversive at times.

These books predominantly have more visuals, and less text, and as a publisher, I found his earlier works ‘In pursuit of happiness’ (a series of water colour and ink on cast cotton pulp) and ‘A thousand desires’ (an installation of a thousand tongues) – a perfect fit for the BEST OF BANGALORE- Innovation edition (Raintree Media, 2014).

Kashi says that he intends ‘Silent Echo’ to be a multi-dimensional experience with a common thread running through it. “The third dimension is provided by two sets of works with photography as the mainstay. The first is a set of four individual photographs called Memorial.’ The second is a photobook called ‘Shelf life. Together, the two explore complex narratives that emanate from ‘showcases’ which are ubiquitous in most middle class homes, and display cases in shops.”

This is not an exhibition you should breeze through. Plan to spend an hour, if not more. You will need it to absorb what you see. It’s an education. I wish schools and parents would take kids to let them see that art is much more than pretty pictures and straight lines, to let them see art that goes beyond boundaries.

 

 

Brace for impact : ‘Sully’

I like chatty pilots, especially those with a fine turn of phrase. But the one time that I could have done without a compulsive talker for a pilot was in September 2010, when I was returning from Spain & Portugal. Our take-off was delayed as some passengers arrived late (their connecting flight was late) and there was congestion at the airport. The Lufthansa captain wasn’t too happy and kept up a running commentary.

plane-passengers

The details are a little hazy now but I remember she said that she was asking permission to fly at a lower altitude than scheduled as we were running low on fuel. When we landed, perhaps at Frankfurt, she announced that the plane was being refuelled with all us on board, and told us to unfasten our seat belts and be prepared for a quick exit if required. I am not a nervous flier, but I confess my heart did a quick flip and I breathed easy only when we were safely up and away once more.

Thankfully, that was the most frightening flight experience I have had. I can’t begin to imagine what I would feel on hearing “This is your Captain. Brace for impact”. This is what Capt. Sully, who was in command of US Airways flight 1549, announced to the 155 passengers and crew on January 15, 2009. With both engines disabled by bird hit, he chose to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.

sully-hero-shot-homepage2014-720

‘Sully’, the movie is directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood, with Tom Hanks playing the lead with impressive understatement. A finely crafted movie, it is a tribute to the pilot who chose his ‘human’ ability (instinct backed by solid experience). It is also as much a tribute to the rapid response of rescue teams who had all the passengers on board the Airbus 320 safe in less than half hour after the landing.

The heart soars up when one sees such a fortunate coming together of people; as Sully – astonished at finding himself become a hero- said at the end of the hearing that proved that he had taken the right call, it was all of them together who made the miracle on the Hudson happen.

clint-photo-courtesy-cinemablend

The irony when most of the world hails Sully as a saviour while his company wants to pin the blame on him, the worries of a career in jeopardy, the family’s pressing need for money – the tumult of emotions are delicately portrayed. As biopics go, this ranks amongst the best; the very simplicity of its narrative makes it a compelling watch. It might just make you go out to the nearest pub and stand everyone a round of beer.

A soulful of art –tribute to Yusuf Arakkal

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, and this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

yusuf-arakkal
“Art is my soul”

Others far more qualified than me have spoken about Yusuf as an artist, this is my personal memorial to an old friend.

I got the news of his death very late. I had slept through the day, after a long travel. That night, I lay awake remembering the many ways Yusuf impacted our lives. On a Monday afternoon, nearly 20 years ago, when I went to pick up my son from Lumbini play school, Gayatri Rao who ran the school, showed me a wondrous sight. After weeks of refusing to colour any drawings, Aditya had spent the whole morning colouring. Realisation dawned as we looked at the many colourful pages.

I was then a columnist for the Times of India, and the previous Saturday had gone to interview Yusuf (in their old home in NGEF colony). I had taken the little fellow along, and while Yusuf and I chatted, he was left to explore the studio and had been obviously inspired by the world of colour.

My interview was about a new series of nudes that Yusuf was going to show; those were days before digital cameras and I needed a visual to illustrate my piece in the column. Yusuf picked up paper and pencil and quickly sketched a small version. I handed in the sketch with my article and retrieved it from the press after the page was made. The lovely little sketch hangs in my drawing room, along with a few other artworks that he took pleasure in gifting us over the years.

Afternoons that stretched to evenings at the iconic Victoria hotel, which used to be his home away from home (where Bangalore Central mall stands);  impromptu Sunday lunches in their new home, the travel tips that both Sara and Yusuf offered (he was a great one for travelling – “Only when you see the world, will you grow”, he told Allen when the latter complained about my wanderlust).

yusufarakkal-sandhya-mendonca
Yusuf Arakkal, me, SG Vasudev & G Subramanian – catching up after many months at Galerie De’Arts in 2014

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, pointing out what makes SG Vasudev’s work special. And this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

He turned out dapper in beautiful jackets picked out by Sara, and good naturedly preened about his likeness to Col Gaddafi. A gregarious soul who loved serious debates as much as unabashed flirting, he was completely at ease with himself.

He didn’t call or visit when Allen died, and it pained me. They were as close as brothers; Yusuf had taken it upon himself to play counsellor to us, advising us about relationships (and me about clothes). And for a long time, like with many others, he too had forgotten me, and Aditya. Many moons later, the phone rang late at night, and the familiar teasing voice spoke. He gave some reason for not being in touch earlier; they were out-of-town when they got the news. Now, he had more pressing matters to speak about; in his usual outspoken way, he was up-in-arms about something, and prodded me to carry on working with the same ideals that Allen had.

We spoke and met a few times over the last few years, and as it is with old friends, the undeniable warmth and easy banter resurfaced. He had attained great fame but he allowed me the privilege of chiding him.

The energy of his paintings is a tangible presence and I was enveloped in it as I sat on the couch with Sara, two days after he died. The world mourns the passing of a great artist. For Sara, it is a loss of a person who sculpted her life. Forty three years is a lifetime, and yet it is not enough. It is going to be a long, hard walk ahead for her. One that I know well, and my heart aches for her even as it does for Yusuf, whose warmth and friendship I cherish.

What a man, what a life. I can’t say adieu as some one this larger than life can’t be forgotten. In a quote in BEST OF BANGALORE (Raintree Media), Yusuf said, “Creativity is God’s gift to mankind, art is my soul”. That is the measure of the man.