Are our ‘heroes’ endorsing stalking, violence against women?

All of us know of the horrifying murder of Infosys techie Swathi, and the immense manhunt that followed to nab the killer. The 24-year-old was allegedly hacked to death by Ramkumar, an engineering graduate from Tirunelveli. According to police reports, he was stalking her for over a month in pursuit of love.

Sounds filmy, doesn’t it? Because it is. It is exactly the stuff some Tamil films are made of. Going by the number of films, it seems like the dream storyline of several commercial-filmmakers.

Right from the times of Rajinikanth to Kamal Haasan to the modern youth icons Dhanush and Simbhu, films and heroes have glorified stalking. The concept of stalking has become so synonymous with romance that we can’t even tell them apart anymore.

13689543_1058254340889752_1664540993_n.jpgKamal, the most celebrated romantic hero of south Indian cinema, has stalked his fair share of beautiful heroines in films. In ‘Singara Velan’, he went to the extent of modifying a childhood picture of his “lady love” to find out what she looked like in the present. He then found her, stalked her despite her disinterest, and just couldn’t take no for an answer. He ultimately managed to woo Khushbu — with lewd lyrics.

13694135_1058254357556417_2073388786_o.jpgSuperstar Rajini is no exception. His stalking of Soundarya in ‘Padayappa’ to ask for her hand in marriage is seen as mild persuasion. The comic “vaanga pazhagalam” dialogue from ‘Sivaji’, where he stalked heroine Shriya Saran’s family, was not only irritating, but creepy. He found out where the family lived, went to their house, and ultimately got Shriya to agree to marry him with his persistence.

Vikram followed suit. In ‘Sethu’, he was seen harassing a shy, helpless girl, going to the extent of kidnapping and threatening her and forcing her into “loving” him.

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Thanks to Dhanush’s ‘Kolaveri di’, the latest trend is the ‘soup boys’, as the rejected men are officially called now. The song is about a ‘fair girl’ with a ‘black heart’ rejecting him, and “spoiling” his life. The film ‘3’ in which the song was featured, is about Dhanush falling in love with Shruti Haasan. He followed her after school hours, joined the same tuition centre as her and even followed her home.

Worse was ‘Adidaa avala’, a cult hit of sorts among the youth, from the film ‘Mayakkam Enna’. The film’s lyrics are a ‘clarion call’, so to speak, to physically abuse and kill a woman who rejects a man. Once again, it’s our youth icon Dhanush who does it for us.

13713417_1058254347556418_2024148692_n.jpgHow can we forget Simbu’s hot pursuit of Trisha in the top hit ‘Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya’. They lived in the same building and were neighbours. Our hero fell in love with the girl-next-door and couldn’t stop following her wherever she went. I’d be creeped out if I had a neighbour who walked behind me all the time.

13689494_1058254354223084_417110198_n.jpgEven the ever-so-charming Madhavan has had a faux pas. In his debut ‘Minnale’, he went as far as posing as the man whom the girl’s parents had found as a match for her. In his much adored flick ‘Alaipayudhe’, though there were no violent threats involved like in many other films, Madhavan followed the heroine, Shalini, on her train journeys every day to and from college, and ultimately got her to fall for him.

Oh, is our dreamy Surya any different? In ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’, he set a new benchmark in stalking by following his dream girl all the way to US — with blessings from his own father. Does this mean parents encourage it too? The father character too had stalked the mother, Simran. Seems like “romantic” stalking transcends generations.

Ultimately, the male lead is always the aspirational character who turns the odds against him to prove to the female lead who called him ‘porukki’ (rogue) for following her, regret her decision. All’s well that ends well when the heroine finally gives a nod to the relationship and they live happily ever after.

But is it really a happy ending for us who carry pepper sprays, Swiss knives, and a look of panic on our faces?

As I walk home from the station everyday, I’m repeatedly looking over my shoulder

It was another night after a long day’s work. The bus was late and I reached Nungambakkam railway station at 9.20 pm — the time I usually walk home from my destination railway station. Concerned calls from my family come every single night ever since that fateful day poor 24-year-old Swathi was hacked to death on the very same platform that I board my home-bound train every day.

Ramkumar was stalking her, the reports said. Shudders ran through my spine the moment I read that particular statement. Why, you ask? The memories of being stalked as a school girl rushed back to haunt me. Those days of riding a bicycle home and being carefree were daunted by senior boys who bicycled behind me.

“Don’t you understand? He loves you,” a friend of his told me once. I never understood. I was all of 15 anyway. “What does love have to do with following me around,” I mused, until I realised how scary the whole situation was. Was I supposed to swoon over the fact that an unknown person, who not only studied in the same school but knew where I lived, could cause me physical harm, or worse yet make me the reason he committed suicide? I remember being scared, and the distinctive feeling of making my friend (lest he get the idea I’m interested in him) look over our shoulder every corner we turned.

Do we have the “luxury” of ignorance with workplace sexual harassment?

It was another busy Tuesday at work. Between the could-be impact of GST and Trump’s “tyranny”, I’m sure the newsroom was buzzing with action — the newsroom I used to belong to until someone thought it was better for the Social Media desk to be a separate entity. As I sat alone in this new lonely, dingy office away from all the action I was missing, my new boss calls for me from his oh-so-huge cabin. And the first thing he sees, are my breasts.

Discomfort descended. How is someone supposed to react in this situation? There’s nobody witness to this to support my claim if I raised an alarm. Moreover, what haunts me is, does this even qualify as harassment? As I stand there uncomfortably, he asks about news, work, and what not with his eyes wandering to my chest every now and then. Quickly getting up, I tell him I have something breaking to tweet out and run out of the cabin.

I’m a woman in India. I’m used to the staring. Sadly, aren’t we all? It doesn’t even bother us anymore when on the streets! Well, as long as he doesn’t do anything physical to you, why bother? Right? Because that’s how much of a commonality it has become. But, do we have the same “luxury” when it comes to a workplace? The place where you spend most of your day, where you meet the same person every single day, where the person knows when you come in and go out.

If you’ve stayed this far into the rant, then you should know I’m not writing this after one ‘isolated’ incident of him staring at my breasts (he has been doing that on every occasion he has seen me at work for the past one month), but after an epiphany of what I felt when I learnt he has a daughter younger than I am (I’m 25).

Last week I learnt from a colleague that he has a daughter who is preparing to go to college. Well, when I learnt that it evoked a new kind of anger, disdain, and disgust in me. How can a man do this to a woman who isn’t much older than his own daughter? I realised the problem with my thought process much later, and I’m glad I did.

Why does it matter whether he has a son or a daughter? And why should it? Did it matter that he was married? Did it matter that he was probably behaving the same way with other women colleagues of his? Although those things bothered me, why did him having a daughter anger me more? I gave it a lot of thought. It’s because it’s “culturally” impossible for such a man to behave the way he did. He’s the “ideal man” we so glorify — a married, family man, fathering a loving daughter. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? How deeply etched is it in our mind that these ideals make for the perfect man who does women no harm?

When are we changing all of this?

When rudeness becomes the workplace norm

Insults, rudeness, sadistic sarcasm, personal attacks, incivility, yelling, belittling, and demeaning remarks at workplace can hold back anyone who’s otherwise a hard worker. 

The self doubt ritual that arises from the aforementioned behaviour of a leader or a boss, overshadows all the confidence one has accumulated little by little over a period of time.

A leader should be a place of safety, a friend once said. When realisation strikes that the same leader you look up to, does not trust you or the team anymore, the psychological trauma it causes is inexplicable. I’m no psychological expert to provide my views on it but workplace environment does play a major role in how our days shape up.

Negative energy spreads quicker than positive energy ever can. Once this rudeness in the leader’s tone becomes an everyday affair, the team’s efficiency gets reduced to half or probably lesser. The team breaks up into groups of its own with each spreading and discussing the stinky work environment, only making it worse. Shifting blame, unwillingness to take responsibility or discuss new ideas, fading away of passion, indifference to work, etc are some of the many worst outcomes of this infectious attitude.

Individuals who work extra hours just because they love the work they do, clock their shifts and run out as quick as they can. When experienced bosses and leaders who are there to motivate us, end up doing the exact opposite, nobody wants to get up every morning wanting to go to work.

Maybe this is unfair on the leaders’ side. Maybe the leader thinks the team is undependable, and maybe the team has let them down more often than not. But does that call for yelling and being hysterical day in and day out, is something that ought to be reflected upon.

(All of this has been written from personal observation.)

​The demoralised and demonetised desi millennial

I am a millennial. One of the loathsome, entitled, rebels born in the ‘90s. And in the Indian context, I’m the most conniving, self-indulgent adult-kid (one who’s not allowed to make decisions but is expected to decide and not be taken seriously all the same) who knows not to respect people, let alone money. According to my parents’ generation, I know not money’s worth. 

Thanks to PM Modi’s decision to make Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes illegal tender for all transactions, today, I’m demonetised. The same as every other Aditya, Kavitha, and Aarthi (excuse the Indian cliché of Tom, Dick, and Harry). 

As we raid our boss’s piggy bank for coins to have the ceremonial evening chai, little do we notice the underlying nervousness in each others’ laughter. Laughter that acknowledges the absence of big money- anything between Rs 10 and Rs 100- and that which also acknowledges the possibility of an empty wallet tomorrow.

Chatting and giggling, just like yesterday, I stand in a long queue for some money. Yesterday proved to be unlucky. Today, I still hope and as do the two friends who stand along with me almost penniless. We got lucky.

Today, I have Rs 2,110 at hand. But I cross the road hoping to be able to take my usual bus, for the ticket costs me Rs 13. The new and crisp magenta 2,000 note is merely a security blanket; the 100 a luxury as much as the 10. I miss the bus and it’s time for the next hope. 

Now, I hope the share-auto wala has change for the last green note of 100 bucks I hold dearly and managed to keep for five days without spending. As I hesitantly part with it at my destination, he grins and hands me the change. Phew! 80 bucks should be good enough for the next few days.

For an adult-kid who doesn’t even have herself a postpaid cell connection, this is the most amount of cash I’ve ever held in my wallet till date. Two thousand rupees: it slowly sinks in as I hold on tight to my bag. 

What value does this money hold? I can’t buy a glass of tea with it for the poor roadside teashop will not have change to supply. Even if he is kind enough, what does it hold for him? How’d he use it? Maybe for a wholesale transaction?

Entitled, you say?