Origins of Love

Origins of Love
my new novel

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Latest Article in Asian Age

Article in The Asian Age on 5th June

Strangers and their selfless kindness
Jun 05th, 2010 -- Kishwar Desai Last week was a veritable sea of disastrous headlines: led by BP’s inability to manage the oil leak, followed by the flotilla raid in West Asia, and now the Cumbria killings by an unhinged taxi driver in the United Kingdom. It has been a depressing seven days.
For me, personally,the West Asia flotilla saga was particularly dismaying as my son was visiting Israel at the time and it is well known how quickly the region can flare up like a tinder box. Talking to him later in the week and knowing he was safe was a huge relief. But it was a poignant moment when he spoke about travelling to all the places associated with Christ and his crucifixion. Am I being over-simplistic when I wonder why an area which should be an international arena of peace remains so controversial? Or are all birthplaces of religious icons destined to become virtual battle zones, as is our Ram Janmabhoomi in India? The more we say that that true followers of religion should believe in peace, the more we seem to do the opposite.
However, the assault on the flotilla carrying aid to the Palestinians focuses attention both on the plight of the Gaza inhabitants as well as on the kindness of strangers. Of course there were many foreign nationals involved but following the local media reports of the complicated, violent episode, one thing was notable: the philanthropy of the British. On board this highly sensitive and dangerous mission were British men and women, all normal folk like you and me, but who are determined to make the world a better place. Many of them took out time from their jobs, emptied out their savings and got onto the boat because they believed that the people of Gaza deserved to get humanitarian aid. Whilst the hawks in Israel would prefer to call those on the flotilla “violent, hate-driven Islamic radicals”, the fact is that the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza deserve a better deal. To be forced to live out their lives like caged animals is something we should all find reprehensible in the free world, and the United Nations has said so as well.
The fact that much of the Israeli anger over Gaza is directed at Hamas also means that innocent lives get trapped in the midst of a greater political game. The support of the US in blocking an international inquiry into the attack on the ship has also been crucial in ensuring that the people of Gaza continue to suffer.
Among the more than 700 foreign nationals offloaded from the flotilla by the Israeli officials were around 40 Britons who were imprisoned. In the list were people like Theresa McDermott, a postal worker who has been to Gaza three times before. Another name which popped out was that of Peter Venner who runs a wood yard in the Isle of Wight. In an interview, the father of an aid worker, Alex Harrison, said quite bluntly that those on board were not terrorists and were “people who have given up months of their lives and thousands of pounds of their own money. They were carrying aid supplies”.
This philanthropic spirit of the British never ceases to amaze me. Whether a project is big or small, if it touches a chord in their hearts they are willing to support the cause unstintingly. Even I am experiencing it, right now, and this generosity of spirit is quite overwhelming. After the publication of my novel, Witness the Night, in the UK, I received a very moving letter from a complete stranger, Christine Roy, who had attended my talk at the Oxford Literary Festival, and read my book.
She had been troubled by the fact that Witness the Night dealt with female infanticide and foeticide and wanted to do something to raise awareness about the issue. We also discussed my desire to raise money for a charity (Vishwas, which works with disabled children in India) and, in particular, to support disadvantaged baby girls.
Without letting me know, Christine swung into action. Amazingly, she has invited me to Aberdeen, organised a fundraising lecture on the subject, involved the local authorities, got together the press and media, and is now working out a series of tours around Scotland! This kind of tireless, selfless endeavour has humbled me completely. It is precisely the sort of British spirit which makes them jump onto a boat sailing into dangerous waters and to empathise with an alien cause. This is unabashed altruism, not a search for headlines or for self-glorification. It is a marvellous disposition which is worth emulating. Vive la Christine and others like her!

ON QUITE another note, the resignation of the UK chief secretary of the Treasury, David Laws, over the monthly payment of around £950 to his lover as rent will no doubt raise many eyebrows in India. (It is against the rules in the UK for MPs to claim expenses relating to property owned by their relatives and partners.) This behaviour would be considered particularly appalling because, after all, £950 is less than Rs 1 lakh and probably considered by many, such as former chief minister Shibu Soren, as loose change. Absolutely absurd! Ministers in India, especially those in the “ATM ministries”, must be scratching their heads in disbelief. He is the business secretary after all, and a financial whiz! Why did he treat the love of his life so shabbily? No doubt he deserved to be sacked.
Apart from the piffling sums involved, the more tragic part for Mr Laws was that he was outed as being gay, a fact he had struggled to keep secret all these years. Whilst it is quite surprising that even in this liberal society Mr Laws was careful to conceal his sexual orientation, many would also wonder why he was hesitant in covering up a grand tradition of the Treasury? After all, Peter Mandelson, the former business secretary, has been flamboyantly gay for years. And if this goes on for much longer, perhaps it could even become an important qualification!
Of course, no one enjoys an exposure of their private lives and Mr Laws is not the first victim of UK’s blood-thirsty media. So now everyone is looking over their shoulders and being extra careful. The coalition honeymoon is over and it’s back to business as heads have begun to roll. Who will be the next to fall?

The writer's latest novel 'Witness the Night' is available on Amazon, and has just been published by Beautiful Books, UK

Friday, June 4, 2010

finding real women

published in Asian Age last week
Finding real women
May 29th, 2010 -- Kishwar Desai .Share ..Where have the real women disappeared? I am not talking about the Cheryl Coles and Victoria Beckhams! I am talking about intelligent, normal, efficient women. It’s the current debate engrossing us especially as the number of women in the new British Parliament shrinks before our eyes faster than you can say “Kate Moss”.
Despite this being the country of the original militant suffragettes, despite the constant bollocking by feminists like Germaine Greer, despite a generally liberal media, and despite a completely free school education — women are barely represented in government, or indeed in the boardroom, or even in media. When I came to the UK — I had imagined that I was entering a land of equality, but instead I find that sexism and ageism — the two factors which blight our lives are still widely prevalent. In the real world, there is no gender equality. In fact, women here still receive 20 per cent less pay (on average) than their male co-workers. And they are constantly pressurised to look youthful and drop-dead gorgeous forever.
Recently, when we were bemoaning this sexual bias over dinner, one knowledgeable man tried to justify it by saying that men are also similarly discriminated against because everyone wants them to look “young and sexy” as well. He gave the example of the poor new deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who apparently has been cruelly pressurised into carefully cultivating a look which will lure women voters and encourage them to fantasise about jumping into bed with him (Of course, the strategy spectacularly boomeranged and it was David Cameron who did jump into bed with him.).
But how important are youthful good looks? Excruciatingly crucial, mutter most of the ageing women in the UK who feel they are being increasingly marginalised — and becoming invisible in the public space. Even though male chauvinists love to pretend it is they who are being victimised, it is undoubtedly the women who bear the brunt of it. In reality, apart from a few “Cleggerons” the number of men who really have to worry about fading looks or cellulite-laden buttocks is miniscule.
However, right now the problem is even more acute — because women of all shapes and sizes (ranging from drop-dead gorgeous to pretty average) presumably exist in the UK, and yet the government has found very little use for them in policy-making. There are, in fact, less women government ministers this time round, than they were under Labour. (Bring back the Blair babes, all is forgiven!)
This looks less like the “new politics”, and more like the “old politics”: how it can be different when it is stuffed with boringly similar men in suits, talking mostly to their mirror images? How can they ever make “women friendly” policies if there are simply not enough women calling the shots? Even the cop-out argument that there are plenty of strong women behind the scenes is untenable: we want to actually see more women in charge, not imagine them fluttering about in the background.
Perhaps this is a global phenomena, because even the shots being called in Cannes this year were mostly by another bunch of men. Kate Kinninmont, who heads Women in Film and Television in the UK has been monitoring the lack of women at the helm in media for a while with growing alarm. Even though she has been speaking about it loudly and authoritatively from every possible forum, the issue has barely moved. In Cannes she pointed out how after Kathryn Bigelow’s big win at the Oscars, everyone expected another woman to grab a substantial prize — but, alas, (perhaps unsurprisingly) women were barely represented there. In fact, women account for less than seven per cent of the directors of the top-earning 250 Hollywood films.
Having worked in television herself, she remembers a time when women joined television in huge numbers, and usually stayed there for life, with the organisation looking after them. Now, she regrets the fact that at least half of the women who work in television today are younger than 35 years. Most of the older women tend to drop away: either they are encouraged to leave, or they simply do not fit into a culture where women are told to diet to size zero and botox their wrinkles and dye their hair, whilst their male counterparts are allowed to crease up like happy accordions.
So, finally, one of the “older” anchors, an award-winning journalist, Miriam O’Rielly, who felt she had been unfairly dismissed has picked up the gauntlet and taken the BBC to court. So far it seems the judge agrees with her grievance stating that the BBC has a case to answer, and perhaps older women are being discriminated against. At last, some glimmer of hope!
Apparently, the same phenomenon of preferring younger women in TV has begun to crop up in India as well. So will we soon see women in India suing their employers for sexism or ageism?
Perhaps the only time it does not matter how old you are is if you are the Queen of all you survey, and that is what the reigning monarch proved yet again when she arrived to open Parliament. It is astonishing to remember that Elizabeth II has been Queen since 1952, and has seen off 12 Prime Ministers. I absolutely love the pomp and ceremony of the occasion, and still remember the thrill of sitting inside the House of Lords for the first time (it is the one day when spouses are permitted on the red benches) as the Queen gives her speech to the joint Houses of Parliament. However, while the Lords and their Ladies are seated, the Prime Minister, being a commoner has to stand at the entrance. That certainly adds to one’s delusions of grandeur!
Inside the House of Lords, while all the men are in ermine, the women are permitted to wear their gowns or dresses — and in cases such as mine, a sari. However, I joked with someone that I did not possess a tiara (as indeed many of the women do come wearing their bejewelled finery) “Don’t, worry, darling”, I was reassured. “You can always hire one”. Suitably chastised I stuck to wearing some simple earrings and hoped that with all the glitter around no one would notice my subdued attire.
Yet it is all still taken quite seriously .When this time Samantha Cameron arrived without the required hat to sit in the gallery upstairs all the newspapers immediately pointed out the death of another grand tradition. They sombrely recounted all the past Prime Minister’s wives who had peered down at the Queen while wearing some thrilling concoction on their heads. As usual when a perfectly sensible woman is finally noticed, it is for the wrong reason!

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