Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Whoever You Are...

She is an equal-opportunity icon. Red-blooded men lust after the Princess; so do lesbians; and so do straight women. But that’s just lust. If you are talking feminism, She is a splendid businesswoman who broke through the glass ceiling of the crime world; she chooses and discards her partners but likes lengthy, intense relationships just as much as one-night stands; she has survived rape and attempted murder; can wear pearls with elegance, cook passably or break a man’s neck with equal ease. And, she has someone else to do her housework for her – beat that, Supergirl!” - Nilanjana S Roy, Outlook Delhi City Limits, July 2007 issue, pg.40

So who is this Supergirl? Femme fatale? That intelligent warrior woman with gravity-defying breasts? That woman who from her humble rough beginnings became an expert in the martial arts, yoga and crime, running a highly successful, if upright, criminal organization called The Network, her favourite weapon being the kongo which doubled up as the handle of her handbag? Mayawati? Hardly! In fact, if she had been through western education, she would have perhaps used her as a role model! (Hers is the Phoola Devi role model.)

If you have not guessed it yet, let me let the real Cat out of the bag – Modesty Blaise of course! Who Modesty Blaise? If that is the question on your mind, then spare yourself the rest of this blog – you were not one of those fortunate massive mass of minds affected by what ruled men and women alike in the sixties. And still does.

What makes her tick? Feminist icon, Modesty Blaise was created by Peter O’Donnell in the sixties. Not from nothing. In fact it was in 1942, as a sergeant in the army, he had come across a young girl, about 12, one of the many refugees moving through the Caucasus Mountains at that time. She was hungry, carried a nail on a piece of wood around her neck as a weapon, but she walked like a Princess. O’Donnell never forgot her and she became the inspiration for him to create Modesty Blaise. Modesty Blaise became the obsession of the sixties and knowingly or unknowingly many of the feminists of the sixties and seventies, imbibed her attitude. What clicked was that Modesty Blaise was that perfect mix – the lady who could fence, shoot and kill with equal ease as she could lisp and coo “ Oh, Sanjeev……” feeling weak in her knees and willing to fall into the strong arms of her man, without feeling divided in political philosophy.

However, although feminist struggled to be that, in the real life of the feminist, the circumstances were not the same. It was not possible to be both although one tried to imitate to perfection. Resulting, you have those who finally had men chaperone around strong women like poodles on a leash, or you have those who finally gave in to the supposedly stronger sex but continued to lie to the world and themselves that they were on top of the men in their lives. And, there were those who dropped out of both to form their own road maps. The point of my discussion is not Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit or any other failed mission, but that between imagination and reality there is a huge gap and you can imagine anything, but to live it out to the last word is perhaps as impossible as is living with a mask on forever.

We all wear faces/mask, the face for the outside world and the face for the inside world. We also have one more face – the face we aspire to be. Identity is a social issue. It is a mix of what society wants us to be along with some traits, which will distinguish us from the rest of the world. However, in private we may be quite a different person. We do not need our outside social face in our inner rooms, where we are among our near and dear ones. Yet, in spite of this, we are never at ease. We still aspire to be someone else. It is an ongoing process through life, where we imbibe values from around us, or meet individuals who affect us deeply and in some way we aspire to be them. The process of self-actualization is never-ending in that way.

Let me give you an example: As business manager Arti maybe a very outgoing person, always ready to be at service to her customers, but the same Arti may be highly demanding at home and expect to be always heard to and followed without any argument. Yet, at the same time she may feel the need to chill out a bit on herself and take on a hobby or a Yoga regime, dancercise, whatever that makes her see herself as a different person, a person she aspires to be.

So in a way, many of us have this constant feeling that “ We are in the wrong place”. Wrong place, just like a doctor who wanted to be a writer, a businessperson who just wanted an easy life, a woman who wanted to simply be a homemaker, but is a Public Relations Officer. This mainly happens because of clash of what we must be and what we really are. Few are fortunate to have made it to a place where who they really are and what they do are all the same. The struggle to keep face is not the concern of such a person.

In fact, our original face is none of these, neither, Modesty Blaise, nor a doctor, a writer or anything at all. It is clean and clear. Spotless and Self-reflective.

But to see that face, whoever we are, we have to peal the layers off the onion, one by one. And in so doing, we realize that to be naked of all faces, we must first be clothed in them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Euthanasia: The Right To Die

Year before last, our good Dutch friend Carla, finally asked her doctors in Amsterdam to allow her to die gracefully and with dignity. The Netherlands being one of the world’s most “enlightened” countries allows euthanasia. Our dear friend, who visited us in Delhi many times and always hosted my partner at her home in Amsterdam, for a few days, whenever my partner was on a teaching assignment in The Netherlands, had been suffering from cancer for long years. Year before last, she decided to move on. Two days after her funeral we received a card posted by her well before her passing away, saying how much she had treasured our friendship and how much she loved us. We both wept. Yet, for both of us, Carla was and will always be a symbol of what it means to be brave.

Love of life is intrinsic to us. Even in our worst moments, if we happen to say I wish I were dead and if in that moment, really death were to stare us in the face, we would not walk with death. Not willingly. So when a person/s willingly and in perfect mental health and balance, asks for death, what are the implications?
(a) It is a well thought out decision
(b) They saw it as the best possible option at that moment
(c) They do not want to prolong the illness, terminal or otherwise any further.
(d) They believe that they have had a good share of life; now the body has become a burden to live with
(e) It is decided by the medical fraternity, that the illness is fatal and sooner or later death will come
(f) They do not wish to wait for that 1% miracle that may or may not happen which will turn the table over and suddenly they will survive
(g) They may not have given up on life, but they certainly have given up on the body
(h) They do not want to see themselves in a state where their dignity as a human being is at stake
(i) They believe that life is forever; death of the body does not mean that there is no life in a new body
(j) They loved themselves enough to be compassionate to themselves

Of course, all these above factors stand for someone who can decide to call the shots still. But, what about those who can’t. Those who are lying in a vegetative state, for days/months/years, what would their take be? Here, the family takes the decision. It takes extreme love of your beloved ones to take a decision to stop their suffering by taking them off life suppose systems or many tubes and allow them to pass. All the reasons in my mind which I have listed above, would stand the same ground, only this time it is the family’s decision.

For those of you who were fortunate enough to see Barkha Dutt anchor one of the most fascinating topics in “ We The People” on 1st July, 2007, will have seen the sensitive way in which she handled the subject and the research she did on the subject, which brought across many who had in fact, allowed their loved ones to be taken off Respirators and numerous tubes and pipes, in order that they may pass on peacefully, will agree that the positive note on which the show ended, indicated that many on the show and many viewers, at least me, would welcome Euthanasia in India as well. The Supreme Court is reviewing the matter and judgment is awaited.

For me life has had one big meaning and that is that in this life as a human being I have had a chance to be born with a higher consciousness which I am aware of. I am grateful for the choices I made in my life to walk the unbeaten track and for my mother, who single handedly with the support of her very intellectually active family brought me up in such a way that I will always value the gift of life that she gave me (she could have decided not to have me, you know!) and her brave, uncompromising way of life. She gave me a Map of Life I would have to draw on my own, but she showed me how. As a philosopher, I do not believe that this is, was or will be my only life. Each life is an opportunity to refine and in that way create the next. And so it has been. But, for those who believe that there is only one life to live, the choice of euthanasia may become difficult. Here in India, in the midst of ages of philosophy and ancient religion, we know that we are not our body or our mind. So if we decide to give up this tired machine called body, can we really say, we have committed suicide or the doctor has committed homicide? At least in our country, we must prove that we have a more profound knowledge of life that encompasses the right to euthanasia, if a situation arises when the body must be given its right to rest forever.

Life will go on. To the next.