Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the bus: bodies in the wasteland.

So, there was this one man whose under-belly ( can the word be used to describe the part of the human body, or is it only to be used in sentences like :the underbelly of the society"?) was rubbing on Medusa's bicep. Medusa was trying to cringe further into her seat, but the none-too-thin man on her left sat solidly and stolidly like a rock, so cringing was difficult.

And then there was the other pelvic bone which was poking her shoulder blade. Do remember that the pelvic bone is merely a conjecture, it could have been a phone, a belt buckle, or some other hard thing.

Basically yet another day in the commute to the wasteland. And Medusa was actually thinking about the radically post-modern potentials of such a journey- where the boundaries of the bodies are dissolved, spaces breached, limits compromised.

However, she also felt a knee feeling her leg up, rhythmically. As is her wont, she thought it must be a mistake. And then it happened, again, and again, and again, at regular intervals, till there could be no doubt that this regularity was a matter of design. So she looked to her left, and saw a youngish man holding onto the rails above his head, with both hands, and humping the air in front of him.

Strange though it appeared, the actions had sound logic behind them. By humping the air he ensured that the humping motion continued down his limbs, and his knee in extension humped Medusa's leg. And of course Medusa was disgusted and was trying to figure out the most painful way to hurt, and if possible wound him, but then she saw light.

What if this man was simply carrying out the tenets of Beatriz Preciado's Contra-Sexual Manifesto? Preciado challenges naturalized notions of the body and sexuality that privilege genitals and marginalize the dildo by fetishizing it. She claims that the practitioners of dildotectonics (not an easy science), ought to consider the entire body as a dildoscape, "a living surface where dildos are inscribed and displaced."

So basically, by unleashing the potential of the entire body in as fetishized a manner as dildos are regarded, pleasure ceases to be simply genitally oriented. Isn't that what this man was doing on the bus? His knee became the medium of his pleasure, he radically altered the definition of pleasure, divorced it from reproduction and in general, treated himself to a good time.

Of course, there was the tiny detail that he did not care for Medusa's consent. So Medusa crushed his revolutionary moment, brutally, by bringing her shoes down on his toes, and watched in satisfaction his grimacing retreat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bodies of women.

There's a girl who studies in one of the other departments, at work. She's familiar to Medusa, mostly through the praises of her teachers, but also because she is always around whenever Medusa visits that department. She seems sorted, pleasant, is clearly intelligent and studious. All irrelevant. And she has also been threatened with an acid bulb.

For the past couple of years, one of the leaders of the erstwhile ruling students' union (again irrelevant) has been interested in her: an interest that she has politely yet firmly declined, repeatedly. This year, therefore, the young man has renewed his attentions, with the accompanying threat of disfigurement. Her classmates now walk her to the bus stop, she has sought help from her teachers, has spoken to the boy's friends, and is contemplating staying at home, for a long time to come.

Medusa can not even begin to imagine what prompts this young man to act the way he is promising to act, but she can try to comprehend the sense of despair that this girl must be experiencing- a despair shared. Because whether or not one has been at the receiving end of such sensational, headline-grabbing violence, one has gotten used to having one's body brought to the forefront of one's existence. Grabbed and mauled on the roads, in buses, trains; brushed against in the metro and in homes, parties, colleges, workplaces. If she gets ahead in life, she's probably also sleeping with her boss, and if she doesn't, then her cleavage-display has sadly been in vain. Her demands in meetings are expressed too loudly, shrilly, She provokes and is not careful enough- the way to teach her a lesson is to teach her body a lesson.

So, while the girl at work will probably go to the police and complain, and maybe, just maybe, be rid of this young man for good- her experience of her body is unlikely to be any diiferent.

Stopping here seemed too depressing, and so Medusa tried to imagine a situation when she and her friends could talk about the bodies of "masculine" men in a similar manner. They could say, "ooooh, look at his arse, no wonder it got slapped yesterday when he was getting on the bus". Or maybe, "its only natural that all his students would hang on to his words, have you noticed the size of his adam's apple?" And again, "If he did not want me to stare at his belly, why did he wear such a tight shirt?".

Pretty taxing, this imagining.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

About a year ago, on her way back from the workplace at the heart of the industrial wasteland, Medusa was sitting next to a student. Medusa had always liked this boy, he was courteous, funny, attentive and regular in classes, and made an attempt to communicate- all virtues that Medusa cherishes more than ever before.

This boy asked Medusa, "Ma'am, why don't you have a talk with the first year girls?"
Medusa: "About what?"
Boy: "Ma'am, they wear jeans to college. Why don't you ask them to stop?"

Medusa, completely flabbergasted and extremely unhappy, on various counts, croaks a reply: "But so do I. In fact, I am wearing jeans right now!!!"
Boy, unfazed: "But that's different."

Medusa, summoning up all the authority that she could muster, tells the boy off. And then continues with her confusion and discomfort, till this piece of news makes her sit up and rethink all her discomfort. Medusa distinctly remembers the time when there was a furore against the comments made by the principal of Asuthosh College, about students needing to wear decent clothes (read, no jeans) and the more recent Muralidhar college one. Incidentally, the reactions to these events, differentiated in time and in space, have been more or less similar- the authorities have been called "traditional", "fundamentalist". "patriarchal", "non-modern", and increasingly, "taliban". 

The thing common about all these reactions is that, they all manage to posit the offending authoritarian group/ person as something distinct from us progressive, modern liberal secular subjects: aberrations, and worse- anachronisms. So, if these offending people/ voices are merely blasts from the past, religious fundamentalists in a secular world, then the swiftness with which they can be relegated to an outside, is amazing. And this outside ensures the comfort with the inside, societies freed of "criminal types", humans freed of beasts

In such a scenario, when Medusa seeks to question the ease with which her student censured the clothes worn by his peers, she finds herself unable to posit her student in any of those comfortable categories. His engagement and sensitivity towards contemporary politics and society, and his interaction with peers and teachers, seem perfectly satisfactory- to Medusa. Then what gives him the moral authority to criticise clothes worn by women, and expect his criticism to be ratified by his teacher, who will, in turn, penalise them by bringing the force of her authority to rest upon them? Especially when, this teacher herself is wearing jeans, something he clearly thinks girls should not wear?

However, while he did not comment on Medusa's jeans, in fact treated it as something distinctly different from those of the "first year girls", many others did. Her parents, some guy in the bus, some whispers in the corridors and some other women members of the faculty. Her parents are neither aberrations, nor anachronisms, but they worry about what the PEOPLE will say to her clothes, because they know that discrimination against women on the basis of WHATEVER, is not surprising, shocking yes, but not unexpected. Her parents worry, and her student forces his opinion, because discrimination against women is STRUCTURAL, it is SYSTEMIC, and the longer feminist critique of instances of discrimination and violence fools itself by calling these aberrations, the longer is the road to an end to it? If an end can be thought of, that is.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My body, your body, and the availability of it.

So Medusa was negotiating the crowds and the buses, in front of the busiest railway station of them all. She wasn't looking forward to the long walk home- at a time when everyone was getting out of Calcutta she was trying to walk in, and hence going to be faced with masses of humanity, but still the prospect of the walk made her feel virtuous, because as usual, she had not been exercising, like she ought to, for the benefit of the self and research project.

As she was about to cross the road, a stray hand grabbed her left breast, and then let go. Medusa could not turn around fast enough to conclusively ascertain which balding man it was, but she let out a snarling "fucker" and wondered whether to lash out at the nearest guy, but then decided against it. Instead she crossed the road, hugged one side of the bridge and inched her way forward, thinking about the stray hand.

Its not like she was shocked and exceptionally upset, she was pissed, and also surprised. It had been couple of weeks since she was groped last, and she had managed to not have the thought of being groped upper most in her mind. And also, she was wearing a salwar kameez with a dupatta and the hand did manage to negotiate the dupatta. So much for dressing modestly, appropriately. She was thinking about the dexterity of that stray hand- when did those pair of eyes spot her, when did the hand decide to make a dash for it, and where did the pleasure go to, the loins? If yes, did the man then proceed with an erection? If yes, how long did it last? Longer than the contact with the unknown woman's body, surely?

And then some guy passing her from the opposite side, hit her so hard, she cried out in pain. The small voice in her head chastised her, for once again foolishly walking in the crowd, when she could have easily gotten into a bus. But what about the time when Medusa and her friend were walking on the empty-ish road in front of the university, and a biker hit her friend really hard and zoomed away? Where was the crowd then? And what is the pleasure that people get from hitting unknown women, is it the same pleasure that one gets from grabbing the breast and the bum? Or is it something else? After this pleasure, do the men gloat for the rest of the journey, or do they promptly forget about it, and look for the next person to hit?

Idle questions all.