Geneva Diaries #39

Women

Dear Purnima,

After a more than 24-hour trip home, which included three bus rides, one plane trip and two trains, we are home again.  It was a delightful trip and I’m dying to tell you all about it (unfortunately, my second massage was more enjoyable as far as massages go, but it was done by a young male, and I had been hoping all the time for another beautiful Malaysian lady to run her fingers up and down my spine).  Have you ever gone to a fish spa ?

You’re probably off enjoying the splendors of the Swiss Alps from the comfort of the Glacier Express.  Let me know when you’re back.

Hugs,

Roger


Dear Roger

Its been such a whirlwind ride that I’ve had no time to think about The Break-In/Burglary on the Boulevard, Trouble/ Theft in Tranchees! My brother is in town with his family and its been such fun showing the kids around Geneva. The girls are 11, they are the age when Alice first slipped into wonderland. 

We have taken a billion photos posing with all the personality and landmarks around Geneva as we’ve build our scrap book of memories. I have also attempted to introduce a taste of this unique Swiss French canton to the children (and my bro) without becoming pedantic still being the “ultra kool” aunt by asking them to point out the sights that excite them and then chatting about them. And as a prof you might be interested in understanding how the mother and home subliminally play a vital role in the education of the children/village: i periodically reward the kids with “brownie points” to point out the sights that interest them and thus keep up the competition between the girls and the boys and keep them excited. 

Since the girls are currently falling behind, i have recently modified the rules, not only do they get a single brownie point by pointing out the sculptures and busts of the personas the (French/Swiss )that have impacted the cultural literary and intellectual life of the city( the world) but  have granted them quadruple brownie points if they are busts of French/Swiss Women… There must be some glittering female French/Swiss personas that have impacted our universe that this wonderful wonderland deems worthy of placing on a pedestal! However, i silently fear that we may come across only a discrete handful in all of Geneva perhaps hidden in the Parc Bastion near the University of Geneva, i just hope I’m not being too unfair on the girls. However, i have told them the stretched mannequins on the store fronts do not count however glam and arresting though in my heart i fear that all the French Swiss women have been procrastinated (medieval torture) and entrapped in the forms of those magical mannequins that grace the store fronts. So Roger, we are off to emerald city, Gruyere, to meet the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz to plead with him to release the French/Swiss women from their magical entrapment. 

Gruyere The Emerald City – The Magical City of Oz:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9uqbwv4mysrfog6/AACEMbVcDKx0ToJ_rZ1UYfk9a?dl=0

Hugs will send u snaps. 

Purnima


Dear Purnima,

What a bummer !  You are the second friend within the past week who has had their home broken into (the other friends live in France and their place is in an isolated neighborhood).  It is such an intrusive and depressing experience, and not the kind of feeling that you would like to go out on.  How did they ever break through your solid front door ?  I feel very distressed for you.

And what do the sages lingering above have to do with it all, other than observing your misfortune ?

We’re on the island of Borneo now at a beach resort at Damai Beach.  It’s very idyllic, but it’s just a bit too hot and steamy for my liking.  It will be fun to lounge and relax a bit and continue my reading of “Solar”.  Going to try another massage tomorrow afternoon, but I’m going to opt for a softer, more gentle approach this time.

There have been frequent reminders of you over the past two days.  I’ve seen several examples of your marvelous hand pieces in various shops in Kuala Lumpur and last night in Kuching.  None of which, unfortunately, is quite as delicate and beautiful as yours.  I’ll keep looking for just the right curve and length of the fingers.

Enjoy your brother in spite of the break in.

Gentle hugs,

Roger


Dear Roger,

The day after… after the clan left and the dust had settled and I though the unencashed “brownie point” story was over, and how I was mistaken! My son confronted me with his eyebrows perpendicular to his face and growled that they were misled, defrauded. The much searched for sculptures (for which they were all to be awarded quadruple brownie points) of French/Swiss women who have played a pivotal role in the artistic, intellectual, cultural history of this nation “THEY DO NOT EXIST”! And since the kids waited till the end to find these busts (not the size 36DD which the French/Swiss men are in agreement to put on a pedestal, they do not count), they were unable to encash anything. As their final attempt they pointed at the image of Minerva on the Swiss coins and adorning the waterfront (yet to be shown). However, the Roman Minerva, or the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of ware fare and wisdom, I informed my son does not really count as she is a mythic character, does not exist, never existed. the challenge was to find a real, live woman who has lived as a woman and been hailed as a woman, admired not for her mythic qualities but “real” ones admired and elevated for the same.

 I could not believe my ears when my son hollered back and said that these busts/sculptures did not exist(and I should pay up immediately the full quadruple amount to all four kids), I had a million questions for him and myself:

Did such French/ Swiss women who impacted the intellectual cultural history of their nation women not exist? Did the sculptures of these women not exist in all of Geneva? Did the women themselves not exist (after all the last email was about a Swiss canton which till recently debated whether their women could be categorized as “citizens”) and the ones we see around Geneva are actually beautiful bovine forms with mascara and lipstick that have wandered down from the higher alpine passes to enjoy the green grasses of the valley during the cold winter months? OK, so my son called my bluff. I sensed it would be difficult not impossible. However, upon endless surfing the Net, tragically I realized what my son said was true “they do not exist”! 

Do they Roger…?

Hugs

Purnima

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Dear Roger,

More on women!

As I was shifting through the congratulatory messages of India having won the World Cup on Facebook (you do know India is obsessed about cricket), I stumbled upon an article posted by a close friend about vile and horrific treatment of a 14 year old girl who was decreed to be lashed to death because of adultery. A 14 year old child, absolutely horrifying, unreal and unacceptable! Do check out the article below:

CNN: Bangladesh

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/29/bangladesh.lashing.death/index.html?iref=NS1

To compound the horror of the incident, I found it occurred in Bangladesh, so close to Bengal. Having spent my early childhood in Cal, and getting to know the Bengalis, I have an expectation that when I hear Bangla the probability is that it will be from the lips of a cultured sensitive person, but most of all, one who respects woman and womanhood. In fact, Bengal is the one state where a woman can dress as she pleases, walk on the streets at night and take public transportation without the fear of harassment. This fact is often flaunted to the much troubled (and as the Bengali’s quietly whisper “barbaric”) northern Indians. Ironically, this decree to lash the poor 14 year old  girl child to death was probably delivered in Bangla (the language of Bangladesh), impossible, unbelievable!

Bengal, it’s culture and ideas have undoubtedly played a pivotal role in my life and forming the basis upon which the rest has haphazardly evolved. The charm of old Calcutta, the story of the Zamindars (landowners) at the time of the Raj captured in film still strikes a deep cord. My love affair with Guru Dutt, an actor film maker director from Bengal who captured the essence of that time, that culture in his films, burns in me till today as I walk around park Bertrand, in the heart of Geneva, steeped in nostalgia listening to old Hindi songs from Guru Dutt’s Black and White movie genre. 

Do check me out below me as Meena Kumari adorning myself, “Solah Shringar”, the sixteen items of adornment and the pampering of all the body parts expected of a Indian Bahu (housewife) in anticipation of her spouse… (and as in the movie but in a different form we end up tragically, destroying each other): 

Sahib Bibi aur Gulam: Piya Aiso Jiya Mein

Goodnight!

Purnima


4/4/11

Dear Roger,

And yet again, Women!

Did you get a chance to read Ronald Sokol’s article in the IHT (Sat-Sun), “Two New French Crimes”? It was just brilliant. I scan the paper for familiar voices, the ones I’ve grown to respect and jump whenever I hear Sokol. Roger, as I embark upon my new life (post kids/divorce) wondering how to reinvent myself, I hope to find a niche, to be the voice, the go-between the Public and the Pundits where I am viewed with equal respect and credibility. I would appreciate your feedback on this new brew, spicy, tasty, palatable?

In this article Sokol very coherently discusses the new French law which makes it a crime to hide ones face in a public space. There are many arguments put forward to support this law, none of which sound credible(to me). Apparently, the idea is to dissuade muslim women from wearing the niqab in public as it supposedly  “breaches the minimal needs of social life”. Now Roger, you know me as a fervent feminist that would labor incessantly to elevate the status of women in society and one who intrinsically rebels against all forms of restraint and confinement imposed upon women by man and society. But, this is an altogether different matter, and one of grave proportions that impacts not only a minority but the core infrastructure of the state: its credibility, its legal system.

Apparently, this “new crime” does not require intent but only that the face was hidden and the person was in a public space. What if I have a cold and wear a face mask along with my sunglasses as usual do I fall within its purview; What if I am recovering from surgery and the doctor has asked me to cover my face would the doctor fall under its purview; What if I need maximum cover due to a vulnerability towards skin cancer, does that fall within its purview; What if for fashion or style I wish to wear a lacy hat and large sunglasses that flop over my face, would that fall under its purview? If not, then by targeting muslim women wearing a niqab, this law would be outrageously discriminatory and unacceptable in any civilized democracy. 

I can understand if it were imposed out of security concerns which it is apparently not (as understood from Sokol’s article), I can even understand if the government wishes to impose this in government institutions or places where there is government funding and a requirement for human interface. But, for the government to intrude upon an individuals private space in this manner whether it is to ban body piercing, tattoos, outrageous hair (as cited by Sokol) or a face cover just because it can, is violating some core intrinsic right which a citizen takes for granted in a civilized society. Sokol also brings up this looming current issue of the oppression of the minority by the majority, and this new law is a glaring example of such an act. 

Yes, I do believe that women should be liberated and freed from bondage and covers imposed upon them but this should not be executed by the laws of the State but a natural cultural process of integration and assimilation where the minorities are educated about their rights and given the opportunities to better their economic and social status. When the State  intrudes into the private space of an individual, when the Laws are used to impose arbitrary restrictions upon a group/ minority, it erodes the entire supra-structure for ALL. The credibility of the state and its laws are called into question and persons like me who might be at the other end of the spectrum wonder and worry about what arbitrary act the State (and the majority… and do I know that heaving majority with its vulgar side) might impose upon me, my ideas and my expression!

There is no simple answer, undoubtedly the minority women need to be given all the options and opportunities that other women in the same society enjoy but this has to be done through another machinery, the cultural one. I believe that these women must be educated, and if initially they resist going to government educated institutions because they have to mingle with men and uncover their faces, then women’s only institutions should be set up for their education and integration so that they may emerge as doctors and lawyers and architects contributing elements of their culture (which could only enrich your society Roger believe me) and bringing the others out of the dungeons where they would be sent if the minimal facilities were not provided for them and they were left at the mercy of the conservative radical elements (i have found that they exist across the spectrum of society). 

Roger, what amazes me is that the French are doing everything to erode and destroy their advantage. Like the English, the French have had a colorful colonial past but exactly contrary to the English who through the Commonwealth and other organizations have maintained their influence, the French whose influence over these predominantly muslim lands (please correct my ignorance as I tend to rant) which I sense till today have an intimate cultural connection with France, is doing it’s best to erode the same. Whenever I think of North Africa, the (Hindi-Urdu)word “Jagir” comes to mind (vous connais?):

1. جاگير jā-gīr : (page 604)

&c.

جاگير jā-gīr

P s. f. Land given by government as a reward for services, or as a fee; a pension (in land), a fief. جاگيردار jāgīr-dār, s. m. The holder of a fee orjāgīr, a feoffee.

Yes, a sense of a fief, a fiefdom is what I got when I travelled and read about North Africa. However, not where the people feel bound by the colonial powers but where the people choose to associate themselves with a cultural identity. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and how the “new crimes” would impact the same.

Hugs

Purnima

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Apr 5, 2011, 4:18 PM

Dear Roger,

You never did get back to me on my barrage of emails on “women”, but hope you will respond to the burning question of the role of the government and it’s outrageous intrusion in an individuals private space. Do you not agree that we do not relinquish all when we join society( yes I would like to wear my mid-riff exposing saree and the dragon tattoo…) and that an individual/groups/minorities need to be able to identify and outline their space as they co-exist within the heaving majority is a conscionable and valid right. And above all, do you not agree that we need minimal governmental interference in the daily existence which includes taking the government to task for imposing excuses like the Patriot Act and other intrusions to monitor and interfere in our daily lives. And do you not agree that the time has come for a citizen alert whereby they may wrestle back some of the right they seem to have unconsciously relinquished by immediately imposing the requisite checks and balances upon the executive (ensuring that the current machinery does its task) so that the president does not declare War on a Whim??

Back to our favorite topic of women and wardrobe… I guess a rational case can be made for government intrusion in the instance of individuals who choose to walk nude in public which most would agree is not socially acceptable as there is no cultural basis for this behavior; I guess, a similar argument using the same rationale can be made for wearing a full body cover… it’s not socially acceptable as there is no cultural basis for this sort of behavior. However, Roger, as I pointed out in my last email, France is the last nation that can make that claim as it has been historically, culturally, administratively involved in lands where the niqab is the norm and following the French argument and idea, having grandfathered these nations they exist as an extension of the same albeit with the reins driving the direction and ideology, do you not agree? Waiting for your response.

Hugs,

Purnima

PURNIMA VISWANATHAN

Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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