Saturday 11 March 2023

Split continent


This whole structure unravels if you move

from a northern to a southern continent

the festivals jack-knifed out of their grooves -

the underpinnings of Holi and of Lent.

Cusp seasons – they’ve been flipped and tipped and vaulted

to a different month, a different time of year.

And yet. Should or shouldn’t Holi be halted

because springtime does not march over here?


All cusps are colour, all cusps are a promise

never mind the season they’re redeemed and how

don’t lose the shades of autumn to reminisce

about past springs, celebrate what’s here and now.

The rain, the sun, the leaves, the oceans of blue -

all colours wash off in a day or two.


Last week was tough and confusing. There are on-going family issues back in India. And then Holi, the Indian festival of colours, essentially observed as a start to spring and renewal, coincided with my father's second death anniversary. That always throws a spanner in the works, I remember years ago, not feeling up to celebrating Diwali one year because my FIL's death anniversary fell on the exact same day. Not that I celebrate Holi as per regulations every year, the last time I played Holi was more than a decade ago, in the Chancery grounds in Cairo, dragged into it by a friend and more as cultural education for the offspring than an actual celebration, if you know what I mean. 

Holi also coincided with the International Women's Day this year. Not a particularly happy coincidence personally - because when I was a college student in Delhi, Holi was used as an excuse by the neighbourhood/university thugs and hooligans to grope women indiscriminately. I don't know if that has changed much, I hope it has. But what I see being done to women in India makes me think not - plus ça change plus c'est la même chose.

Certainly there are greater opportunities for women now, more women in responsible jobs and charting their own courses, more girls getting enrolled in schools and staying there to complete their education, improved literacy rates. That's just basic to any self respecting society that calls itself civilised. I don't think that needs separate mention. 

But there's also more DA, more sexual violence, more abuse and trafficking - crimes against women have spiralled to mind boggling levels. And in spite of all the improvements in enrollment and working women's hostel schemes etc, the participation of Indian women in the labour force is abysmal at something like 20%. 

There was the usual stuff on Women's Day on my feed everywhere - praise, gratitude, positivity, progress. All great and undeniable.  But what stuck with me was a reminiscence by an elderly lady who wrote about her domestic helps through the years - how little they got paid 40 years ago and still do now, how they're abused by their husbands/in-laws and hand over their salaries for the man to blow it on alcohol or some other vice, how they have no agency. And that we, the more privileged ones, the middle class, educated, empowered women should help them in whatever individual capacity we can. I have no arguments with that either. 

However, what niggles more at me is this assumption that the only change will come from the NGO's and the privileged middleclass working women. This subtle shift of responsibility - from the community and the government to the individual. Why and how has that happened? 

It's a huge, complex issue. It's not a problem that can be tackled by individuals no matter how earnestly a woman might wish to help a DA victim to walk out and be independent. She just wouldn't have the resources - emotional and financial, to achieve anything of substance long term. It has to be addressed on a massive war footing, many institutions, many thinkers, many resources must be single mindedly aligned and devoted to tackling this problem at the societal and national level. Individuals, however well meaning they are, cannot provide anything substantial - drops in the ocean. Real change has to come from the top, and start with awareness and inclusivity.

But I don't see that happening, there is no real political will, just lip service once in a while. And little concrete action. More importantly there is no monitoring of whatever little action is taken. As an example the government launched a scheme of building 70,000 working women's hostels in 2017. Can't find any data on how many have actually built and where and how many working women have actually used those facilities. It's disheartening sometimes. 

However, disheartened is not my preferred colour 24/7. Quite the contrary.  It's not an excuse not to celebrate the beauty of the season - yes, Holi in autumn and Diwali in spring are a little confusing to wrap my head around, but thankfully, all cusps are beautiful. Happy cusp season to you, whatever you are observing/celebrating. And thank you for your patience if you've read the rant!



  1. Hari OM
    Life 'mothers' and 'fathers' and other such name days, I find IWD challenging too; why cannot women of courage and stamina be celebrated every day? Why, so often, does any protest, highlighted issue flash across screens so briefly, only to once again be relegated to lesser news? Yes, it can be complex and confusing; as can having traditional celebrations take place in foreign climes! No reason not to take what joy and succour we can from them, though... YAM xx

    1. Women in my part of the world seem to have it worse than they did ten years ago - that really is upsetting. On the one hand there is much material gain, but the attitudes seem not to match that progress still.

  2. Very sorry. Here Women's Day was celebrated with a joke and it's so sad. Women are losing all over the world and someone needs to fight for their rights.

    1. It's saddening and quite preposterous tbh. Nearly 50% of the population is being left out of the calculations and no one seems bothered even.

  3. Well written post and reflects reality , but I always believe things will change..

    1. I hope for change too, but it seems like two steps forward and three steps back most of the time.., and even that takes ridiculous amounts of time...

  4. nice reflective poem. I did read your "rant" - actually a very thoughtful essay that is so true. Disheartened by so many issues these days and so many steps backward in history and progress. But...BUT...can't give up. Little girls still have to have hope and keep a backbone. We are always on the cusp of a new revolution - somehow, someway and we have to celebrate the teensy things. Take care and enjoy your day today.

  5. Hi Nila - late I know ... women deserve more ... and all men should be remembering that aspect of life ... here's to that understanding. Hilary