An Attempt At Optimism
Last week, I did a bit of ego surfing on the Mumbai Boss website and realised, all I seem to do is whine and wail and whinge. So I decided that this fortnight, I would write a happy, chirrupy column. The glass is half-full, I told myself, and that clear liquid in it is vodka or tequila or gin and tonic (depending upon your taste). Cheers, I roared with determination.
Then came 18 Again, the gel that turns vaginas into tourniquets (see video) or the government budget (I can’t think of anything else that needs regular “tightening”). According to its website, 18 Again’s “active ingredients” include gold dust, pomegranate, almonds, vitamin E, centella and woodfordia floribunda, which is not a Werner Herzog film but a medicinal plant that, when it isn’t contracting “the walls of the vagina”, is also a blood purifier and helpful if you have diarrhoea. Centella is believed to be useful in the treatment of anxiety. If the user’s vaginal walls are contracting, then including anti-anxiety agents in the mix is probably a smart idea.
Most people with a brain—and with or without a vagina—will agree that the only good thing about virginity is that its loss is permanent and a one-time event. This is why many have, with good reason, criticised 18 Again. However, since I’d vowed to be chipper, I came up this list.
Heartening Aspects of 18 Again
From the ad:
1. When the husband pays his respects to his father (thus perpetuating a patriarchal order), his wife disrupts the ritual by demanding sex. He drops his laptop bag and follows his wife’s tango lead, thus willingly abandoning the capitalist structure and embracing, well, his wife.
2. The ad ends with the mother in-law using the Internet, thus rubbishing the notion that old people can’t wrap their heads around new technology.
From the product website:
1. Repeated use of the word vagina.
2. Inserting one’s finger into one’s vagina is prescribed on more than one occasion. In fact, it even instructs women to place “a finger in your vagina” and when finger is thus inserted, “squeezing your inner muscles around it”.
3. Causes of a loose vagina include “repeated penetration during sex”. So if you don’t want a loose vagina, then you shouldn’t have penetrative sex, which means sex with men is out and lesbian sex that isn’t regularly penetrative is the way to go. Look at that—a pro-LGBT angle.
Just as I was feeling rather proud of myself for having found silver linings to vaginal tightening, last week happened. First, Pallavi Purkayastha’s murder was reported. Then, on Saturday, we had a riot—complete with lathi charge, rubber bullets, tear gas, actual firing—in South Mumbai. If you’re committed to optimism, you could perhaps find some silver linings to the madness that took place on Saturday. For example, if you set aside that the organisers have admitted that they may have sparked the rampage with “irresponsible” speeches and that the right-wing brigade will now caw raucously about how Muslims were allowed to crowd Azad Maidan, at least the riots didn’t spread beyond a relatively small area.
Those of us living in secure, peaceful neighbourhoods tend to forget that Mumbai has always been a violent city. Especially with Mumbai being dubbed a “world city” in recent years, it’s been depicted as home to hipster cafes, al fresco bars, fancy restaurants and other such indicators of luxury and prosperity. It’s long been the city that never sleeps because it’s safe to be out at odd hours of the night. However, equally true is the fact that this is the city that is home to gangsters of varying stature, terrorist handlers and grotty drinking holes frequented by petty criminals. It’s a city of dirty cops, one in which the wanted slip under the radar with the ease of a practiced limbo dancer. The violence that marks this other Mumbai rarely cast its shadow on the more privileged city. This is why Purkayastha’s rape and murder was shocking. It would have been less unsettling to most of us if she’d been a dancer in an orchestra bar. No one expected it to happen to someone like Purkayastha.
Unless, of course, you’re like her or know girls like her, i.e. a working woman in Mumbai. Then you know that aggression lurks around the corner all the time. When a friend of mine was harrassed by a neighbour recently, what was frightening was that had she been alone, he could have got away with being more physically abusive and aggressive. She would have been able to do nothing about it. As Aamir Khan recently informed the nation on Satyamev Jayate, most cases of sexual abuse against women and girls are not committed by strangers but by people in their immediate circle. The ones you can’t trust are the ones all around you.
As alarming as the horror of Purkayastha’s murder is for women in Mumbai, it’s worth keeping in mind that the criminality that’s spreading like an oil slick in Mumbai affects everyone. Just as few would have expected someone like Purkayastha to suffer the horrors that ended with her death, who would have imagined a journalist could be gunned down in broad daylight the way Jyotirmoy Dey was? Or that Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes could be stabbed to death in front of a restaurant? Perhaps it’s because the checks against the criminals are weak.
The powers of the police force are immense, but they’re known mostly for harassment. The police’s reputation for coming to the aid of the average citizen lies in tatters. The laws are pliant instruments, shrouded in shadow and liable to be bent to aid the powerful rather than incarcerate the guilty. In face of all this, what does someone do if they want to help? What can you and I do if we want to prevent a crime we’re witnessing from happening? I really don’t know.
And so it turns out, despite my best efforts, I can’t come up with cheery column after all. I can only hope for all of you what I hope for myself: to stay safe and stay sane.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently the books editor at DNA.Tags: 18 Again, Pallavi Purkayastha, The Definite Article