What would RTH do?

That is the question.

If I were in a highschool yearbook, they would vote me most likely to die of a lynch mob. That does not prevent me from opening my mouth and serving a warm hearty cup of STFU to people who deserve it. My dark scathing humor will leave no matter of existence untouched. My innocence will touch your soul.

Welcome to a warped world turned inside out and upside down. All sorts of discretion advised.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Christmas Spirit

I spent some time yesterday afternoon perusing through the Christmas cards from family. It brought a smile to my face. People updating us on our lives, adorable pictures of cousins decked out in holiday gear, lovely family portraits and Christmas decorations adorning their homes. I make note of the relatives I need to visit. I sigh over how quickly have grown. I smile at the grandmas cuddling their grandchildren. This truly is such a lovely season. I'm not one for traditions, but the the holiday traditions ignite the warmth in my heart. They make me feel warm, fuzzy and happy.

As I sit on the couch, I look at the empty spot in the corner and lament the absence of our Christmas tree this year. I was too lazy to put it up this year. More honestly, it was a silent protest from within. My sister and I put up the tree every year. Since she moved in with her fiancée, she is no longer there to do it with me. So I simply did not have the motivation to do it. Next year, I promise myself, I will surely setup the tree. Our Christmas tree makes me happy. I like the process of wrestling with the boxes and finally hoisting up the tree. I like spending time, lips pursed, brows furrowed in concentration, carefully hanging ornaments most aesthetically. I like running the tinsel up the stairs and tantalizing my cats with bits of it. I like sitting on the couch sipping on hot cocoa and aimlessly gazing at our tree, a serene smile on our face. I like slipping Christmas presents under the tree for my family. The traditions regress me to a child and I believe in Santa Claus again. 



We may not have a tree up this year, but we do have our Christmas lights. Our most garishly colored, obsessively uncoordinated lights. I think we have one of every color and kind. Somehow this haphazard mess of multicolored mismatched lights works on our house. It looks stunningly distinct in the dark. We put up our lights for Diwali actually, but keep them all the way through winter. It is one of my dad's obsessions. Normally he would have the reindeer, Santa and other Christmas decorations up as well. I think with my sister moving out, even he has lost some of his holiday enthusiasm. But for what my father didn't do, our neighbors made up. They have this enormous inflatable Santa on their porch and their windows are full of Christmas clings.

The funny thing is we aren't Christians. We are Hindus. Christmas traditions aren't the traditions we were born or raised with. The trees, the decorations, the greetings, the gifts, the holiday goodies are all adopted traditions. Traditions that we somehow embraced and made ours through the passage of time. A decade or more ago, we wouldn't adopt the traditions of other cultures or religions. There used to be a hard line between us and them. But over time we have assimilated into our transplanted world. Making their traditions a part of our lives.

Some people say we should not celebrate religious holidays that are not our own. But I disagree. We celebrate Christmas, just like it was any other holiday. I don't know if you can call it Christmas. Call it what you will, but we celebrate it. Some people are offended that people don't understand the significance of the birth of Christ or the meaning of Christmas. But I disagree. Amidst the chaotic commercialized holiday season defined by wanton consumerism -  our warm fuzzy holiday feelings, our time together as a family, the bonding with loved ones near and far, the feeling of gratitude and joy restore the meaning to the holidays. Our celebration is not a secularization or bastardization of the holiday, but an embracing of the true spirit of gratitude, generosity, love and family.

Back home we would celebrate the likes of Diwali, Holi, Ganeshotsav. Far away from home here, we are cut off from what we know. Christmas is our alternative. I shouldn't say alternative, just something in a different time in a different way that captures a similar essence. This is how the world comes together by finding common ground and sharing cultures and traditions with each other.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Macho Feminist

A lot of Indians on social media have been focused on the 'Delhi Gang Rape', and rightly so. It has been one of the most shocking and gruesome rapes in India in recent times. We Indians have been  punched in the guts and made aware of the appalling attitudes towards women in our country. I could write more about the issue, but it would be redundant.Moreover, others have spoken more eloquently on the issue.

What I want to write about is a broader greater subject that touches the heart of women in society. I want to dwell upon feminism. More precisely, I want to view feminism and feminist heroes against the backdrop of one of the best postmodern feminist literature: Stieg Larsson's Millennium series. Earlier this summer I watched the original Swedish films and just recently completed reading the trilogy. It is by far one of the best crime thriller novels I have read in a long time. What impresses me most is that along with a richly layered and complex plot line, Stieg Larsson creates richly layered and complex characters. They are gray, they are flawed, they don't fall within the conventional definitions of 'normal' but yet they are more normal and endearing than most literary characters. And of course the highlight of the series is its strong central theme of feminism.


Rape, prostitution, incest, sexual abuse, domestic violence, discrimination; the series deals with a multitude of graphic and serious issues surrounding women. It sheds light on the fact that even modern western society has a long way to go in terms of respect for women. It kindles the discussion on neo-feminist philosophies and values.

For some reason feminism has degenerated into a word with negative connotations, an insult, a dirty epithet, a derogatory slur. Feminists have been demeaned with colorful terms like feminazis. Feminism invokes images of super aggressive bra-burning women. Feminists are stereotyped as man hating lesbians and bull dykes. Women and men both tend to shy away from being labeled feminist. After all women don't want to be stereotyped as dykes and men don't want to be viewed as pussy whipped.

What Stieg Larsson does in his Millennium series is shake the feminist stereotypes for both men and women. After all feminism has nothing to do with hating men or being an aggressive lesbian. Feminism is the very simple notion of equality between genders. Mutual respect and consideration between men and women. It is an admirable notion that somehow has been distorted in the passage of time.



Of course Larsson's greatest feminist creation is the character of Lisbeth Salander. The bisexual hacker, with her tattoos, piercings and devil may care attitude has already become one of the most iconic female heroes in literature. Despite her radically different characterization, Lisbeth Salander ranks with the likes of Elizabeth Bennet as strong literary female leads. But there has been a lot written about Lisbeth Salander. Her character is so iconic that blogs, book reviews, movie reviews are filled with praise and analysis of her character. A lot has been discussed about her as a role model for the modern woman and a representation of neo-feminist values.

The people, I want to discuss are the men in the Millennium series. Amidst the men there are several antagonists and protagonists to the stories. But it is the male protagonists who are worth noting. These men subscribe to strong feminist values. They stand by Lisbeth Salander and other women throughout the series. At the same time they are strong masculine men, who display many manly characteristics and traits. They reflect that supporting and respecting women does not make a man weaker or any less, but actually elevates his status as a man. I call these men "Macho feminists" or as Erika Berger's character taunts them sometimes "Macho Cowboys".

In 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' we have Henrik Vanger, a high profile industrialist and billionaire. Unlike the rest of his family, Henrik isn't besotted by the wealth and power of the Vanger estate. Nor does he harbor any white supremacist sentiments like some other members of the family. Rather he is a patriarch who scorns the opulence, power trip and supremacist views of his family. His character revolves around his love for his niece Harriet Vanger. One of his qualities is how he perceives Harriet as equal to all the men of the Vanger clan. Highlighted by the fact that he puts Harriet in charge of his corporation after she is found. Henrik Vanger reflects the corporate feminist who knows that women are capable of being leaders and running large corporations.

Then in 'The Girl who Played with Fire' we have Dag Svensson, who along with his girlfriend is a catalyst for the events that unfold in the next two books. He is a young and upcoming journalist. His girlfriend is a student whose PhD. thesis is on sex trafficking in Sweden. Dag is so impacted by her findings that he takes on the task of digging the dirt on the industry. Even though his forte is not investigative or crime journalism, he fully immerses himself in doing an expose of the sex trafficking industry. He is passionate about the rights and freedom of prostitutes, risking his life for it. Dag reflects the importance of men taking a stand and fighting for the rights of women.


Amidst the cops and investigators in the final two books, we have two factions. The first group are the misogynists who seem to look down on women, or want to assert dominance. Like Niklas Hedstrom who loathes Salander for rejecting his advances and is constantly seeking ways to seek venegance or Hans Faste who has an obsessive hatred against lesbian and sensationalizes the investigation by labeling Lisbeth Salander as a lesbian satanist. But then you have a whole slew of men like Sonny Bohman and Johann Fraklund who despite disliking Salander for being weird and anti-social remain objective and fair minded. Or the likes of Jerker Holmberg or Curt Andersson who may not be chest thumping feminists but have a serious objection to the stereotyping and loathing displayed by Hans Faste. The most important of this group is Jan Bublanski, the chief investigator who is cool headed and practical. He is a well respected and legendary police officer, but has no airs about his superiority or views that the force is a man's realm. He shows utmost faith and respect for Sonja Modig the woman on his squad and stands behind her no matter what. He doesn't see male-female, but quality investigation and shoddy investigation.

These men reflect the importance of objectivity and intelligence in the law. One need not be a feminist or pro-women's rights. One need not even like or sympathize with the people involved. What is more important is the sense of fairness, a refusal to fall pray to archaic stereotypes and assumptions in society. Had these men fallen pray to Faste's assumptions on women and lesbians, they would have never uncovered the truth. It is of utmost importance that every justice and social system rise above prejudices and have objectivity at its core.

Anders Jonasson is just a doctor. He is the surgeon who performs the brain surgery that saves Salander's life. The rest of the world sees her as a criminal fugitive, but he sees her as his patient and protects her accordingly. As a medical professional he relies on his own judgment and expertise. As one committed to saving his patient's life he doesn't bend to authority but makes his own ethical decisions on how is her friend. He refuses to be swayed by the much more famous and senior Dr. Teleborian, because he does not acknowledge the diagnosis. Dr. Jonasson represents the importance of professional integrity. To often doctors and many others are swayed by those in power, those more senior or social tides. But professional integrity can go a long way in ensuring fairness and justice.

Lisbeth's aging guardian Holger Palmgren displays this very professional integrity as her guardian. He views Lisbeth as an individual of her own merit and not through the tainted lenses of her troubled past. He does not see her as weak, dependent and mentally troubled but wants her to be a strong individual, self sustaining girl. Most salient about Holger is his calm reaction to Lisbeth's sexual titillation and naked exposure to him. He doesn't succumb to lust, nor does he shun her as a slut and oversexed woman - but actually understands why she acts in away. It takes a lot of integrity for men to look beyond a woman's titillation and sexuality and see her as a person to be respected.



Paulo Roberto is a popular professional Swedish kickboxer. Prior to that he has dabbled in kick-boxing, Taekwondo and was even a street fighter. He also features as a character in 'The Girl who Played with Fire'. He plays Lisbeth Salander's friend and boxing coach. Like all men, he never took the skinny Lisbeth seriously when she wanted to train as a boxer. Like any man, he laughed and teased her over her delusions. But unlike most men, he learned to respect her spirit, stubbornness and determination. Unlike most men he recognized that she compensated her lack of strength with speed and agility. He is through and through a total macho cowboy. Even a cocky bastard as Lisbeth fondly views him as. But he is one of the most pivotal feminists. A lot of men are get pretty caught up in the fact that men are genuinely stronger than women. They find the woman's need to display physical strength as foolish and scoff at it. As a professional boxer who respects his much weaker female student and admires her, he breaks that stereotype. Women may not be as strong or skilled, but their spirit and other abilities merit consideration.

Dragan Armansky is an interesting character whose role is significantly chopped in the movies. He is Lisbeth Salander's employer. What makes Armansky interesting is his background. He is a married Muslim man. Despite not being religious he has a conservative upbringing. To make matters complicated for him he also develops a sexual attraction and affection for Lisbeth, often contemplating if he could make a move on her. But he manages to restrain himself and keeps their relationship professional and platonic. He doesn't late religious or conservative views cloud his judgment, but recognizes the skills and talents of Salander. He views her as not just an employee, but a friend. He is always ready to help her in the time of need. What Armansky illustrates is that just because a man feels attraction to a woman, he need not always act on it or carry on an affair. He can choose to keep a relationship professional and friendly.

The most important male character is Mikael Blomkvist. Blomkvist is a womanizer of sorts. He is a successful journalist who is intelligent, witty and charming. He has a personality endearing to women and he beds many women, including Salander. He enjoys being a player and enjoys sleeping with women. He often looks forward to his sexual encounters. But there is a big difference between Blomkvist and your stereotypical player. For a lot of men, enjoying sex with multiple women means treating them as sexual objects and embarking on a journey of lies, deceit and cheating. Blomkvist does not subscribe to that school of thought. He is very honest and open about his relationships. He does not make excuses simply to bed women. He doesn't just treat them as sex objects, but respects their professions, their lives, their abilities and tries to know them. He considers each and every one of them as friends. He also shows utmost respect for their personal face. Blomkvist is a character who can change perceptions both women and men have about sexually active/promiscuous men. He also sets the example that enjoying multiple sex partners need not lead to objectifying, controlling, lying and cheating.


Another aspect admirable about Blomkvist is his comfort in his masculinity. He is straight as an arrow and totally into women, but that doesn't make him uncomfortable around gay people. He respects and is comfortable with Christer Malm the art director of his magazine. Lisbeth Salander's relationships with women don't bother or threaten him. He is not even bothered by Figuorela, a woman who is significantly more muscular and stronger than him and courts her just like any other woman. He is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and has no qualms reporting to Erika Berger. He acknowledges that Erika is more capable and responsible to be Millennium's editor in chief. He breaks all the stereotypes that men always ought to be in charge, stronger and higher ranking than women. He breaks the stereotypes that macho men don't hang out with gay people or chase women who like other women as well.

Of course there are other interesting male characters like Christer Malm, Gerger Beckman and Edklinth Fraklund. I could discuss the dynamics at SMP and analyze a lot more, but these few characters and plot lines cover the gist. I think the macho feminists are an integral an important part of society. Whether it is rape, prostitution or any of the other crimes women are subjected to, I feel that society is more important than laws. Laws are the cure and fixes to problems. While societal shifts in the attitudes towards women and shedding archaic stereotypes is the prevention to the problem. Macho feminists can revive feminism to its true meaning and assure safety, respect and equality of women in society.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Personhood

I am not a collection of words. I am not mere pixels on screen. I am not a string of binary signals. I am not a fictional character who does not exist. I am a real person. A human being in flesh and blood. I am alive and I think and feel. I am as real as any other human being. I'm as real as your family, your friends, your coworkers. I maybe as insignificant as a random person in line at the grocery store, but I am significantly human to deserve acknowledgment and courtesy.

You may think that a screen name and a virtual reality alters existence. You may assume that anonymity comes with infinite freedom. You may cease being human and take liberties in your fantasies. You may justify your deviances from common human courtesy and civility with the excuse of virtual reality. But playing Harry Potter does not cause Daniel Radcliffe to cease to exist. Everyone is still a person. You either respect that personhood within yourself and others, or you become a sociopath, a psychopath, a deranged deviant.

No man is an island. Whether you like it or not, whether you will it or not, as members of society we are all bound to each other by a web of expectations and obligations. There is no mode of existence, no excuse, way out to cease being a human and escape our role in society. A person is always a person, an you shall treat them as a person. You cannot wiggle or weasel your way to escape your expectations and obligations. You either meet them or you fail them, but you cannot deny them.

You may treat me like a collection of words. You may view me as pixels on the screen. You may assume me to be a string of binary signals. You may want me to be a fictional character who does not exist. You may view the virtual world as an alternate existence. You may make yourself an island and escape. You may marginalize me and trivialize me and strip me into an entity devoid of expectations and obligations.

But I shall always be as real as you. I refuse to trivialize or marginalize our thoughts and feelings. I will always sanctify our existence, our humanity and our personhood. As humans through our interactions we will always have expectations and obligations of each other. I will always treat them as real and sacred. I will always strive to fulfill them. I will always do my best to live and feel as a real human who loves, who hates, who laughs, who cries and experience every pain and pleasure of humanity. I will never make myself into an entity.

 You may runaway as long as you wish, but you will never run away from who you are - a human being. You will never get rid of your expectations and obligations. You will only be a failure, who failed to meet them. You will be a failure, who failed to be a person. But who you are, is your choice. Maybe you are indeed but an entity. A collection of words, pixels on screen, a string of binary signals, a fictional character who does not exist.

You have a choice.

Choose wisely.