It was a big moment for us. President Kalam was visiting our institute. He was someone everyone admired. A lot of work needed to be done the week before he arrived. An Open House with students was on the schedule. So questions to be posed to the President had to be sifted, new questions written, and sent to Rashtrapati Bhavan. I was given the task of compering the programme. The guidelines were tight. I needed to keep it crisp and short. I edited and re-edited my content to fit it into the stringent time-frame. And decided to add a dollop of Thiruvalluvar in my speech. Practice sessions to get the Tamil diction right with the help of friends and colleagues followed. Two days before the programme, my draft was vetted and approved by IAS officials.
On the D-day, the programme went off smoothly. Kalam perked up when he heard Thiruvallular quoted in Sevagram. He answered questions from students, and inspired the audience with his simplicity. His entourage, like him, was polite and well-behaved. As he left, he dropped a word of praise for my compering. I was ecstatic.
After the guests left, I climbed down the stairs from the stage to mingle with the faculty. “Hey! Who chose all the fat women to be on stage? Didn’t they find anyone else?” I heard a senior faculty say. He was talking about me, and another lady who helped Dr Kalam with the lamp-lighting. It is another matter that this gentleman himself had a pot belly which looked like he had guzzled gallons of beer.
A woman’s work will always be judged based on how she looks. Criticism doesn’t necessarily come only if you aren’t good looking. Women are damned if they don’t look good, doomed if they do. And the quality of your work hardly counts.
Recently, several people fought elections and won coveted places for themselves in Parliament. After the counting frenzy abated, Whatsapp was rife with photographs of good looking women MPs. Amravati’s MP Navneet Kaur Rana’s photographs were zoomed with accents on specific parts of her body. Group members raved about her beauty and figure. There was no mention of how gutsy she was to win as an independent candidate. TMC candidates Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty, who won fair and square, committed harakiri when they decided to don jeans or a peplum top on their first day to Parliament. No one asked Gautam Gambhir or Sunny Deol how they dared to wear jeans in Parliament. But we had pictures of these women in backless blouses circulated ad nauseum. Group members, both men and women, laughed about what a ‘mahoul‘ place Parliament was going to be with such good looking parliamentarians around. And then there were unseemly comments about how Mayawati and Mamta Banerjee looked. I wonder if anybody asked Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari or Sharad Pawar their waist size. Is anyone bothered if Sakshi Maharaj or Pratap Sarangi use deodorant? Remember, all these trolls were not some illiterate person on the street, but educated doctors. So forget about expecting any better from anyone else.
Misogyny is a part of Indian society. And so every weekend when Kapil Sharma puts down Sumona Chakravarti with the most sexist comments about her face, we guffaw. He tells a news anchor how hot she is and asks an international badminton player whether she serves bed tea, and no one balks. The biwi jokes will continue to be bandied to and fro on social groups. What we don’t see is how these gender stereotypes seep into everyday life. Women continue to be denigrated at homes and in the workplace. And these comments aren’t even considered wrong.
Gradually misogyny has been normalized. Sab chalta hai. Because we are like this only.