Unbelievable

Things happen when you least expect them. As a guy from the telecom company called me one day after I signed the contract and told me, the router had been already installed as promised, I couldn’t belive it. To top that he said another technician would come this same evening to actually get in running – at a time convenient for me.

When I cycled home after work, the technician called me 15 minutes ahead of time. He was already standing in front of my door. And even though he was totally clumsy and slow and didn’t find the enter key on my laptop, he managed to get it going. So here I am now, having wifi after only two days. Maybe India is an IT country after all.

Gott wollte es so

Never mind the Game. Let’s dance!

In a move to make hockey once again a national sports in India, a new franchise-based-league was started this year. It conveniantly fills the january-gap of the cricket’s premier league and shall bring a new dawn in Indian hockey after missing the Olympics in Bejing in 2008.

120 hockey players, among them the best from India and around the world, were bought for huge sums (for hockey players, that is). For the Delhi Waveriders the German guys Nicolas Jacobi und Oskar Deecke are showing their stick-work on the field of play at the moment. So we went to watch.

cheerio

Unfortunately even 50 rupees seemed to be too much for most of the Delhiites. Because when we entered the stadium for the match between the first and the second of the league, only a couple of hundred people were sitting on the chairs. But the other journalists told me when the match was free of charge the last time, the ranks had been full.

With only four goals, there wasn’t much to cheer during the game. But temper was breaking loose in the breaks: Guys danced on the chairs to Punjabi music and cheered with their inflatable sticks. Even drummers came in and motivated the (small) crowd. So we got somewhat distracted…

the youth (in affairs?)

Memories of my childhood…

childhood

…came to life when I saw the plastic pot and cup in the train back to Delhi. Eastern bloc style! I’m totally sure the kids in the former easern part of Germany played with fake dishes from the same company.

Splurging

rooftop restaurant at the Sunder Palace

rooftop restaurant at the Sunder Palace

Okay, this is going to be a confession. In my guesthouse in Jaipur I felt like a small kid from a village that for the first time in it’s life comes into the big city. Or like a kid that grew up in an austere household where the parents never allowed it to eat too much and especially not all the sweets the kid wanted.

Whatever. During breakfast on the rooftop I realised the kitchen in my guesthouse is great. So when I came back from the Literature Festival, I ordered extensively via the room service. Paneer, pancake, pudding, ice cream, hot chocolate. The whole night, until the kitchen closed.

Of course I felt guilty the next morning. But I also had to smile at the myself from yesterday. Sometimes I like to be irrational and childish.

communal area at the guesthouse

More strong voices at the Jaipur Literature Festival

“It is in our hands if something changes”, author Kishwar Desai said to me in an interview. The brutal gang-rape in a bus in Delhi  was not the first one and not the first high-profile one. “We had candlelight processions before”, she meant. To change mindsets, to install fair justice, to get rid of curruption, to change to good governance – all this are going to take years, if not decades.

So India shouldn’t only focus on the delivery of justice, she explained further. “We also have to clean up our education system.” The change in society comes through schools, she firmly believes. But Desai warned: Change does not come easily. “When you try to change minds, you have to change hearts.” That’s why India needed female heroic figures. Her conclusion “if women want to change something, they should write.”

Too long men have thought women are an interesting topic to write about, she said. “We have to take that space back from them.” At least until men start doing it as well.

more audience

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the Pakistan director of the 2012 Academy Award winner documentary “Saving Face”, has closely watched what happened in India. “Finally people gathered,” she said. People realised they are not living in isolated cocoons. “That gives me hope.”

She wants to give people role models, Obaid-Chinoy said. “Because we as a country lack heros.” So she wants to portrait them. And she gets her bravery and resilience from people she interviews. “They encourage me.”

through treed

The Indian constitution is one of the best in the world in respect to women’s rights, Shobhaa De is sure of. “The laws are in place. But it’s the enforcement of the laws.” Even police officers don’t see an urgency to register a file on rape. And women police officers and bus drivers are not the solution – they can also become victims.

Throughout their lives women are made to feel diminished, she said in an interview. “Women are looked upon as properties, as commodities.” Even in upper classes women are prone to violence. It’s part of your life, Shobhaa De meant. “Life comes with it.”

Society has to ensure safety, Shobhaa De said. “I don’t want to turn into a street guerilla fighter.” And she also doesn’t want to look over her shoulder all the time, preparing to run.

But she hopes, that younger generations are no longer passive if they are victims of violence. The should reveal it and file a report against the perpetrators, Shobhaa De hopes. The fight has started. “There is no way anyone can suppress it now.”

She also is sure that violence against women has little to do with sex but with power. Women are now competing for the same schools and colleges and jobs, Shobhaa De adds. The new order doesn’t only attack their social status, but also their economical one. “So men are feeling directly threatened and directly hit.”

crowds

Shobhaa De is attracting the crowd even on a monday

Second inspiring Day at the Jaipur Literature Festival

“Woman on the path” as a title of a conversation on other days would’ve sound too religious for me. But because I intended to write an article about women’s voices at the Jaipur Literature Festival, I felt like I had to attend. I wouln’t regret.

Ranjini Obeyesekere from Sri Lanka told the tale how women made their way into Buddhism. They shaved their heads, wore ropes and wanted to enter the Sangam. But first Buddha denied. So they asked him: Have women the capability to reach nirvana? He couldn’t deny that. So he allowed them to become nuns. “Buddha was never rigid about his rules, he changed them according to the social structure,” she said.

Then Ani Choying, an ordained member of a monastic sanga in Nepal, spoke up. In earlier days nuns were treated as if they could not head the most important nine-day ceremony of her nunnery. “We would invite monks for the rituals and only participate,” she recalls. “But then I started to question myself. Why can’t we do this?” And after a couple of years the nuns would lead the puja: take out the shrine, sing, make musik, Choying explained. And now they do it so dedicated and so beautiful and even have better voices than the monks. “There is no such thing as not allowed. “If you step forward, believe in yourself and question yourself, there is always a way.”

Kunzang Choden, Ani Choying and Ranjini Obeyesekere (from left to right)

Kunzang Choden, Ani Choying and Ranjini Obeyesekere (from left to right)

The Bhutanese writer Kunzang Choden told that nuns often lived in hermitages or caves and were not highly respected among the academics. “For a long time the women have lived in the shadows of the monasteries.” They wouldn’t have access to the libraries, lived were ignored, lived away from the world and just prayed. Only now this is breaking up, she said. “But the change is difficult because we are so used to men leaders and gurus.”

Choying started to talk about her personal life. “The fear of having a husband in life was the biggest reason why I became a nun.” Her example of a man was her father. “I could see a very brutal and unfair man who treated my mother bad and beat her up,” she went on.  And she feared her father would chose a man for her that treated her in the same way he did with her mother, “treat me like a piece of material that is for his use”. But she made that choise: She didn’t want to live that way. “So in our culture the only possibility was to become a nun, it was not a possibility to live alone in a home.”

Now Choying runs a school for nuns. When she set it up, she asked a well-known scholar to come to teach. He said: “Yes, no problem. I’ll definitely come.” She was surprised she could persuade him so swiftly, so she asked what the reason for that was. He replied, “it’ll be easy. What do they need to learn?”

audience

Later in the day I was briefly able to speak to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the literary theorist and philosopher. But even today, she said, after having achieved so much academically, people talk about how she looks rather than what she proclaims. “This makes one very intellectual insecure,” she stated.

On the panel “A Surrogate Life”, Kishwar Desai told the audience: “Ever time I did something on women’s issues, everybody said: Oh that’s terrible, that’s so sad. And then switched to another channel,” the ex-reporter said. So she decided to rather write a crime novel on femal feticide. “So people can connect more easily.”

Rohini Nilekani focused on clinical trials. The government is not paying any compensation for the victims, she claims, for example for the anti-cancer vaccine that had been tried out on tribal girls. “This is quite shocking.” Nilekani asked if we as Indians have enough respect for life.

In the struggle for gender equality, women shouldn’t forget the men, Nilekani demanded. “We do need to take men along with us and boys as well.” Because they have the fear of loosing supremacy.

How I instantly got blown away at the Jaipur Literature Festival

As soon as I set a foot onto the grounds of Diggi Palace, I was blown away. Before I could even hear an author reading or a dialogue enfolding or a panel discussing, I received a call from one of the media people of the Jaipur Literature Festival. If I want to have an interview with Lakshmi Holmström in ten minutes. Yes!, I exclaimed.

On the press terrasse, overlooking the huge Front Lawn with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people sitting in front of the main stage, I met the Indian-born writer who now lives in Great Britain. Her most prominent work are translations of tamil fiction into English and editing stories of Indian women, among them Dalits and others “who are not privileged” and who otherwise might not get heard.

Immediately I brought up the heineous gang-rape in Delhi that moved India and asked about women’s writing about rapes. Interestingly Holmström talked about how men depict rape in literature: They often describe the affected women as victims and portray their lifes as destroyed afterwards, she said. Whereas women authers “have written very sensitively about it”.

These voices had been around all the time, Holmström explained. Rape wasn’t considered a taboo in literature. But now they grow stronger. And women don’t want to be victimesed and blamed anymore. Plus: In the last decades, it was only a small percentage of women had the possibility to write. They cleard the path. “And now you hear other voices from less privileged backgrounds, who are proud to speak up.”

Malashri Lal, Sharmila Tagore and Aruna Chakravarti (from left to right)

Malashri Lal, Sharmila Tagore and Aruna Chakravarti (from left to right)

After the inspiring beginning I made my way to the Baithak room, where Bollywood star Sharmila Tagore spoke about her grandmother who got married when she was only five years old and had her first child at the age of 12 or 13. “But we have to keep in mind what times she lived in,” Tagore demanded. “We have progressed.” Ever generation went a step forward and that is the reason why we are now here where we are, she reminded the audience.

audience in Baithak

The panel “Sex and Sensibilty: Women in Cinema” debated about Bollywood’s role in the perception of women’s roles in India today.  “The problem starts with our inability to differentiate what is film and what is reality,” lyricist and screenwriter Prasoon Joshi said. He was annoyed by the fact that many children dance Bollywood songs at weddings without listening to the lines. “Item numbers should be stopped,” he said.

Actress Shabana Azmi shared the story of how she once played the role of  strong woman who leaves her husband. After the first screening a lot of woman came to the front door of her private house. “But not as fans to get an autograph, but as women who expected me to solve their marriage problems,” she exclaimed.

Shabana Azmi is annoyed that many movies present the women’s body to the male gaze. Nowadays many filmmakers use a voyeuristic camera work and sexy songs. “It is fine that women celebrate their body, but now we have commodification of a body.” Women actors should say: Beautify us, but don’t commodify us.

And Prashon Joshi disliked that fact that Indians honour motherhood that much. “This way we get rid of her personality as soon as possible”, he said. “I have a problem if a women is defined only by her giving birth to children.” Women have to be worth something as themselves, not only as roles, as wifes and daughters and mothers, he demanded.

“We as the film industry are not only monitoring society, we are also shaping society,” Josi said. Azmi concured with him. “We have to have an understanding that we are all accountable.” So movies should depict a man who has ying and yang. Only the two together make a loving person. “Even a strong man needs a female side,” she said.

audience in Char Bagh

Another interview I was able to conduct was with Anjum Hasan, an Indian poet and novelist. Depressingly she said that Indian society as a whole is not yet ready for the escape of women from their traditional roles. Women for example in Bengal tried this for 150 years, but didn’t succeed.

National film awards winner Sharmila Tagore confirmed that at the “Evening with Sharmila Tagore”. “The only passport to life was marriage,” she said. The whole film industrie still has a patriarchal image. This is also true for advertising: Men are selling motorcycles whereas women are selling wahsing mashines – not the other way round.

Also a vital part in Jaipur: The inspiring discussions with the audience

Also a vital part in Jaipur: The inspiring discussions with the audience

 

 

Reaching the mountains

What a promising word: Himalayas. I had to suffer a night in an unheated bus over bumpy roads to be able to see them. Even my trick – to reserve me two seats so I could lay down in my sleeping bag in the bus – didn’t work out because the seats were too small to fit the length of my upper body in.

After a hundred times of dozing off and jumping awake again at the next pothole, I reached the snowcapped mountains. Other than I thought Dharamsala is actually not in the mountain range, but merely at the first mountainside. So it wasn’t as stunning and breathtaking and spectacular as I thought it would be.

view from my balcony at the Pema Thang Guesthouse

view from my balcony at the Pema Thang Guesthouse

Plus: The town is as filthy as all Indian towns I have seen so far are. With people living in shacks, chaos on the roads, beggars, street dogs. This was especially difficult as I had images of lovely mountain villages in Austria and Switzerland in my mind, with wooden huts and pointed roofs – because these are the mountain dwellings I grew up with.

A pack of street dogs especially astonished me. They seemed to be racists. When foreigners or tibetan people walked pass them, they didn’t care. But darker skinned Indian people they would bark at and chase down the road.

What could suit me more?

... than a dress made out of newspapers?

… than a dress made out of newspapers?

Things you shouldn’t do in Sri Lanka:

park the car underneath a Pelican tree

park the car underneath a Pelican tree

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