Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guarding the streets of an Uncivil Society

The streets are burning with indignation and hurt. Yet another brutal rape screams through the night and you would have thought, so what? We will carry on with our lives, too blasé to care, too busy to dare… You would have thought a silent prayer for the poor victim and an even more earnest prayer to keep us and ours safe is all it would end with.

But we seem to have a conscience after all. We could manage to let go of our mall-walks and movie halls to gather and make some noise, to fight for the right to have a voice. But will that be enough to make our streets safe and every woman secure? Stricter laws, quicker justice, and political and executive will to implement both will surely help but would that really happen? Cynicism is not only fashionable but a survival mechanism in this country. Faith in the government, irrespective of the party in power, has only led to disappointment, frustration and a repeated sense of betrayal over the years. The politics of this country hasn’t gotten any cleaner or more committed over the years, but the electorate has… We are angrier, abler and louder, and we have greater belief in our potential to effect a change.. so let’s keep the faith in our strengths and keep pushing for a better, safer tomorrow the only way we can- by communicating, connecting and building up sustained pressure to secure a commitment from an evasive and toothless center which had supported a president who, during her years at the helm, had commuted the sentences of mass murderers and brutal rapists.

So what should we do until the government pulls up its dirty smelly socks? A lot of noise is being made about self defense programs for women and I agree… I have, on this very platform, urged women to pick up a practical and intelligent martial art like Krav Maga to defend themselves against attackers.

And I maintain that every girl, no  matter what her limitations, should spend a few hours a week practicing a martial ar. It will do her mind and her body a world of good. But when I read that the fact that the girl fought  back and bit her attacker drove him berserk which lead to the girl getting bludgeoned to the brink of death before being raped made me wonder if there were other options. Martial arts tactics are extremely effective measures against a single attacker but against multiple assailants, defiance can set egos ablaze, leading to near fatal consequences.

Call me a fool, but more than the presence of a man, it is the presence of his best friend, a dog, that can protect a woman from even a gang of potential rapists. Allow me explain my point by examining three aspects of the problem…

The Rapist(s)
Most amount of research and ‘experts’ are of the opinion that the rapist is a bully looking to dominate and subjugate a victim. His assumption, at the point of attack is that his quarry is far weaker and he is merely putting her in her place. Therefore, unlike a motivated criminal like a murderer, robber or other similar assailants, a rapist hasn’t considered the possibility of bodily harm to his own self. A man bent on murder or even a hold up is a far more desperate criminal and assumes a degree of personal risk in his endeavour. The rapist on the other hand is seeking pleasure and immediate gratification. He does not consider pain. He simply does not expect it and therefore, like a predator, picks what he assumes is weak prey. Which is why defiance triggers a fight or flight response.

A predator, be it a lion on the savannahs or a rapist in a city bus, is a bully and (under the circumstances, even a lion is) a coward. He attacks what he considers would be easiest to prey on, and when he meets resistance, he will run if there’s even the slightest risk of injury, unless bolstered by the strength of numbers that ensure that the victim would be overpowered, this time with a vengeance.

The victim
Usually a single woman, in a car, a night-club, on the street, on public transport or even at home. She is vulnerable because she is a woman. She is vulnerable because she is alone or cornered, and she is vulnerable because she is perceived to be weak. She might be a black belt and pretty nifty with her kicks and punches but the assailant does not know that. When the moment just isn’t right, she will have to defend herself against the assault. Depending on the number of assailants, the sharpness of her skills, the possibility of rescue and the nerve of the assailant, she might have to submit or survive. But how many women do we know who might have the courage, skills and determination to stand up and fight and emerge unscathed from these circumstances? In a few months, hopefully quite a few, but while you read this page right now, perhaps hardly any..
This is where the dog walks in…

The Dog
Dogs have protected man from wild animals on his hunts, his flocks and herds from thieves and predators, his home and factories and high security zones from break ins, and in South America, his children from kidnappers.
Now it is time women figured out why a dog is a better friend than a diamond.

There are as many kinds of dogs as there are people and like not every man can be an ideal protector, nor can every dog be an effective canine body guard. But some can be a better deterrent than a loaded gun. A bunch of three hoodlums might think they could take on a regular boy who might be walking the girl home after a late night at the movies but they will think twice before taking on a dog that gnashes its teeth the moment these men venture too close.

And that is so not only because a dog of the right size and temperament has obvious weapons that it displays as a threat but also because an animal with its teeth bared invokes our primal fear of being hunted by wild beasts… That fear is universal, and even an expert dog handler’s blood will run cold run cold every now and then when he confronts such a beast.

‘Manstoppers’ – dogs that are large, skilled and brave enough to take down a man with a gun would usually be too large and powerful for most women to handle with confidence. These dogs are usually above 35 kgs and have the strength to knock down a grown man. German shepherds and Rottweilers are popular ‘man-stoppers’.
But we don’t need such a powerful dog. Remember, we are not dealing with a motivated criminal but an opportunist. Even the threat of slight physical harm or a complicated exit should be enough to keep such a man at bay.

Therefore we need a dog which will be between 27 and 32 kgs, large enough to prove a challenge for an average sized man and yet not too difficult for most adult women to handle. Boxers, Airedale terriers, Chow Chows, Dalmatians and Shar Pei are all ideal breeds for this purpose. They are just about medium-sized, and yet have a lot of muscle and courage and a long history as guardians of people and property. They are intelligent and trainable and bond really well with their handlers and would happily give up their lives to protect them.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In Brazil where carjackings and kidnappings spiraled out of control and the government could do little to stem the growing rate of urban crime, a new breed called the Dogue Brasiliero emerged. It was small enough to fit into most cars and yet had the game courage and strength to fight off car-jackers in those confined spaces.

Similarly, breeds could specifically be bred to meet the demands of women who would want a canine protector to keep them and their sense of independence safe. Until then, if you are a woman and you like this idea, go pick up one of the above mentioned breeds. Look for a puppy that is bold and playful and then invest a little time and energy on training the dog into becoming an obedient friend instead of an unruly embarrassment. You don’t have to necessarily buy a pedigreed dog. Even a puppy from the streets could prove to be an able protector. Just that you cannot predict the eventual size and characteristics of a dog from the streets. Also, usually a bold defiant dog will get stoned to death on the streets and therefore most street survivors are meek and submissive by nature – not the qualities you are looking at in your protector.

Invest in a training regimen. You don’t need to hire a trainer. Just check out obedience training on the internet. Ceaser Milan’s videos are a  great starting point.

A word of warning: If you are looking to try any of the above, please take note that you need a dog that is calm and confident to protect you. If you encourage your dog to snarl and lash out at all strangers you are only making it into a nervous and fearful time bomb that is waiting to explode on an unsuspecting stranger. All you need is a dog that is well trained, looks upon you as its family/pack and is loved and well cared for. The rest will be taken care of by its protective instincts when and if the time comes.

And lastly, if the government cannot provide laws that deter, justice that isn’t delayed or bought, or enough policemen to man our streets, the least it can do is allow trained and certified protection dogs on public transport and in malls and markets after 10 pm. It will at least help those who are left helpless, help protect themselves in the darkness alleys of uncivil society.


Thursday, December 20, 2012


Anne Hathaway, you’re not alone. Let the tabloids shout and pout about a woman let down by her evening gown; it is us men who run the gauntlet of the dreaded malfunctioning wardrobe at every dead end and crossroad in our lives. So here’s one from the vault for the forgotten (until reminded) woes of being a man… feeling better already, Anne?

Brothers, this one’s for us. Our very own rant against sniggering women, thoughtless Mother Nature and the unimaginative tailor. You see, irrespective of whether you happen to be a Brad Pit or some dim loony wit, or anything in between, there are just three truths that rule your, and every other man’s life – death, taxes and the undone fly. That’s correct– the undone fly, because it doesn’t matter how cool you are and how dazzling your sartorial tastes might be, beware, for the undone fly is not a possibility but an inevitability… happens to the best of us. Like it did to Brad Pit at the ‘Benjamin (un)Button’ premiere. So if, or rather when, there’s that moment when you walked out of the office washroom and everybody looked at you as if you just stepped on a land-mine, and following their gaze all the way down you remember wishing you much rather had stepped on a land mine instead, take heart, for you’re in good company.

Why, not too long ago, I too had the unenviable opportunity of stepping on a bit of a private land mine myself. I’d walked in to office in a slick new suit and all along the corridor and past that aisle, I felt row upon row of eyes following me to my corner. That’s when you usually know a suit’s really worth what you paid for it. I stopped to chat with the two ladies who shared a cubicle round the corner, a rather elegant pair that didn’t waste their smiles on much, and yet here they were smiling and blushing in that giggly-giddy weak-kneed manner that one thought only a movie star could inspire… and so I lingered a little longer. Somehow, everything I happened to say seemed remarkably amusing to them. To be fair, encouraged by their giggles, I did make some lame jokes but when they erupted in a frenzied fit of snorting and laughter well before the punch-line, I knew something wasn’t quite right. When I mumbled if “ everything’s ok?”, the two women didn’t quite know how to bring up the delicate matter which had hitherto, obviously, escaped my attention.

After a bit of humming and hawing and a few more bashful sniggers, one of them managed to draw my attention to the off ending article. And here’s the other end of the problem… what, and how, do you do, when someone helpfully points out what shouldn’t be? Do you nonchalantly, while in mid sentence, pull up what had remained undone, and go back to whatever you were saying without breaking a sweat or worse, or do you instead apologize, turn appropriately red, look for a corner to dig a hole in and die a short death before zipping up and returning as if you just turned up for the day without any memory of all that just happened. I guess I ended up doing a bit of both, but later research suggested that I could’ve taken a leaf out of a certain Mr. Winston Churchill’s book, a man who has apparently had considerable experience in such matters.

Churchill, legends would have us believe, was prone to leaving matters ‘open-ended’, shall we say. And yet, when associates would point out his malfunctioning wardrobe to the British political icon, he always responded with a ready repartee. On one occasion amongst many, the venerable Brit was attending a party meeting when one of his MPs handed him a note that said ‘your fly is unbuttoned’, and without moving a muscle on that famous pout, Churchill scribbled back saying it didn’t matter for ‘after all, dead birds don’t fall out from their nests’. Dead birds might not fly but it takes a lot of wit and those things they play football and cricket with to do it, or rather, just say it, the way Churchill did. As for the rest of us, maybe we’re better off hoping and waiting for someone to attach one of those buzzers, the kind that goes off in modern cars if you aren’t wearing a seat belt, to the impertinent fly; or perhaps something like the auto popup mechanism from our ubiquitous toasters. The latter, I realize could have painful ramifications though, if matters aren’t timed to perfection. But add a sensor like the one on an elevator door, and voila, your wardrobe’s become embarrassment-proof.

But until then, all you can do is check for land mines whenever you see people looking at you as if you’re wearing the emperor’s new clothes. As for those of you who’ve helplessly sniggered but never figured what exactly to say when you spy a naughty fly, I did some online snooping for your sake… Take your pick and button up if…
  • Someone says ‘You’ve got windows in your laptop’
  • In Poland, someone insists that ‘the elevator’s gone down’.
  • In Spain someone says ‘Little Plane! Little Plane!’
  • In Denmark, someone says ‘Watch out for the birds (they might get the worms)
  • The Swedes inquire if you’ve been ‘partying with the girls’
  • In Australia they accuse you of ‘flying too low’
  • In The United States they ask you ‘Are you afraid of heights? (cause your fly apparently is)
But if all else fails, you could still save yourself the blushes by chucking the trousers and drawing on the strings of the ever faithful pajamas. Cheerio


Thursday, December 13, 2012


So where are you off to this winter? Is it going to be a sunny beach resort or a chalet on the lip of snow-white mountain? Or are you going to a national park to look up Mr. Stripes and check on his health? In case you’re still wondering, here, let me help…

Some Christmases ago, I was in Kumbhalgarh, a fortress town in Rajasthan. Not too many tourists, just a never ending fort wall that reminds one of pictures of the Great wall of China, and a wildlife sanctuary with wild wolf packs running through it. I was there, chasing the wolves for pictures and sightings but wasn’t having very good luck with it.

So there I stood leaning on the hood of the Mahindra 550DP GPV after a ride through the rugged bone jarring trails of the sanctuary, moping while sifting through the handful of pictures I had managed to take that morning, when another Mahindra 550 - the rover of choice on these car killer trails- drove out of the sanctuary and parked next to the tea stall where I had parked. A tallish white man, his copper blonde hair, receding ever so slightly at the temples and tied tight into a thinning ponytail hailed out to me and waved his massive Nikon… “got any good ones??”

I tried to shrug off my disappointment with a shake of the head and asked him if he had had any luck. The stranger took off his photographer’s jacket to reveal an ochre floral shirt straight out of a Goan flea market as he sat down next to me on a log bench. He asked for “ek garam chai” with a rather fluid accent and then started flipping through the pictures in his DSLR. He stopped at one, pondered for a while and said “yeah, this one…”. It was a lone wolf drinking from a waterhole in the soft warm light of dawn, it’s reflection rippling along the surface of the water. Not a masterpiece but not bad either if you ask me, especially considering all I had seen all morning was a hare frozen still by the vehicle’s headlamps.

“It’s tough to catch sight of much in some of these lesser known parks, you know..”, he said, as much to himself as he did to me. It’s not that the animals aren’t there… Just that the roads don’t go beyond the periphery of the forest and the animals are even more shy and wary because they don’t see as many tourists…” I nodded, and added… “yeah but all the big popular parks are packed to the gills with tourists. Collared tigers, gypsy jam in the middle of a forest and snack food packets blowing in the wind… nah, I’ll pass… I’d much rather wait out the holiday season in a park like this one, looking for sunrise and sunset pictures.. at least the wilderness is real”. Juha, for that was this Finnish-American’s name, smiled and said “….yeah you could take sunset pictures here or you could go to Point Calimere”. Point Calimere? No, the name didn’t quite ring a bell. Was it someplace around here? Could I drive there? As it turns out, I could drive down to Point Calimere but it would take me half a week to get there. Point Calimere is a little island, less than 50 kms away from the shores of Srilanka, cleaved from the Coromandel Coast by a swamp on two sides, and the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal on the other two.

And why is this island so special? With your permission, I will let Juha take over, and since you don’t have to deal with that unhappy marriage between his Finnish consonants and that shiny new American drawl, you shouldn’t be complaining…

“It is your country’s sweet little secret. I discovered it almost by accident. My friends and I rode out of Pondicherry on our Enfields, just chasing the coast and the salty sea winds. Without a plan or a map, we chanced upon the ancient port town of Tranquebar with its wild waves and a Danish fort and when we pressed on further, there it was, this little Eden on the very edge of India… Point Calimere.

There are a number of shrines and an aboriginal village on the island, but don’t let them distract you, for the real jewel in this crown is the Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary.

Rise with the sun and head off to the grasslands where roam the pampered princes of this park… the proud and graceful blackbucks. When startled, these beautiful animals run like the wind, their shapes a blur of black, white and gold, galloping through a tunnel of dust and grass kicked up by their scampering hooves.

And just when you thought you had lost them in the distance, suddenly you see a blackbuck leap above the dust cloud, and for a moment it hangs in mid-air, like a moment in time frozen against the sky, and then just as suddenly it gives in to gravity and falls back into that dust tunnel and disappears. But soon others appear, flying above the dust and the grass, hanging in midair and then diving back into the haze.. it is a spectacular sight and you are bound to get some great pictures. But don’t exhaust all your frames just yet, for in the marsh waits this great congregation of water birds. Pelicans, ibises, storks, darters and the comic stars of the wader’s world – flamingoes, they all patrol the waters looking for food and fun. Few places in this country will have the volume and variety of water birds, both migratory and resident, that Point Calimere enjoys…”

I was impressed. This place truly did sound like a veritable Eden and from what Juha told me, this didn’t look like a place that will have tourists tumbling out of its ears. I must have been nodding vigorously at the prospect of spending a few days in Point Calimere when Juha smiled and said “Don’t break your neck over it just yet…I haven’t told you about the best part…” No? Really? What else did they have? Tigers? Leopards? Elephants? Liontailed macaques?

“No… no… no…” Juha shook his head, and continued, “ …this animal’s a lot rarer. In fact there are very few places in the world where you will find this animal. Let me tell you how I chanced upon them… On our second evening on the island, I was waiting at the shore for, believe it or not, a sunset picture when I saw this shape emerge from the surf. For a moment I couldn’t gather what this rather large animal could be but then as the silhouette charged towards me and I felt the earth rumble under my feet, I saw more such shapes emerge out of the water run towards me. As I clicked away furiously with my camera, I realized that these were the famous wild horses of Point Calimere”.

(Well, technically speaking, there’s only one species of truly wild horse left in the world and that’s the Przewalski’s horse found in the Mongolian steppes. Th ose in Point Calimere, I later discovered, are feral horses. Just so you know, feral horses are now-wild, free ranging descendents of once domestic ancestors. There are similar herds of wild horses in Australia, Europe and the Americas)

I was sold. I did some follow up research and realized that Point Calimere, at least in my part of the world, remains an undiscovered treasure. The only decent place to stay anywhere within range of the sanctuary is the Forest Guest-house, which could be a bummer if you’re already done packing in your swimming trunks for Point Calimere and are used to five star comforts. But hey, you can always go to the beach and swim the old-fashioned way.

Fate prevented me from pointing my nose in the direction of Point Calimere and setting off in search of Juha’s promised adventure. But I hope to be there before I run out of a few more Christmases. And if you’ve changed your mind and are not so kicked about this island adventure, I’m not complaining, for some secrets are enjoyed best when they are not shared…


Thursday, December 6, 2012


My father grew up by the Ganges, in the streets of Varanasi. Summer dawns were spent in the lap of the river, diving off rooft ops, crossing the currents and racing with friends between the banks. The days and years rolled by and fate and fortune brought him to Delhi where my mother, a career and I happened to him.

But every blue moon and green, the old days and the river call out to him and so we pack our bags for the holy city by the holy Ganges. Varanasi is not what it used to be when he was a young boy. There are more people, fewer cows, more cars and not as many rickshaws but the banks… the banks, he says, have remained the same through the years.

Young boys still jump off the roof tops my father used to jump off, into a river that is a lot browner than in his time, but on the ghats, life is still the same... Bearded sadhus stare at the rising sun as they chant, bathers stand in waist deep water, eyes closed, lips quivering in quiet prayer, seeking to either leave their sins behind or carry the river’s blessings with them. And high on the ghats, away from all the other river worshippers, I saw those men who triggered this tale..

Bronzed bodies, bare and oiled, glistening in the soft light of the early morn, a tiny cloth wrapped around their loins, legs muscled thick as if growing from the stone beneath their feet, broad backs straining hard, cords of muscle, rippling, climbing and descending along the length of the spine as the hands heave a massive jori – a heavy wooden club in concerted rhythm. These men, seemed to be praying too, but instead of words and chants, they were offering their blood, breath and sweat to the sun and the river, seeking eternal life, light and vigour like these two gods of the city.

I was fascinated by the aura of strength and devotion that these men exuded… you would not find that sense of surrender in a gymnasium. You would not find that almost warrior-like near-selfless struggle with one’s own weaknesses in most yoga studios.

But back home in Delhi, that memory faded with time. In South Delhi’s urbane alcoves, loin cloths and joris were a little difficult to fit in.

Then, about a couple of years ago, I met a learned man – a student of the yogic arts, and an accomplished master of some of its branches. It was he who introduced me to the gada – the ceremonial mace and battle club of yore, and a close cousin of the jori.

By now, you would have realised that what I am swinging your way is a short history of the club, an instrument of war and mayhem that once shaped the fate of epics (Lord Hanuman, Bheem, Duryodhana – they all wielded the mace to mark the pages of time) and of nations at war (from Paleolithic ages when the mace was first developed, the first weapon designed to kill another human being, to Sardinian mercenaries to Persian knights and the all conquering Russians from the middle ages, they all swung the club to shape history). But the club, unlike other weapons, could not be wielded by all. Due to its weight and design, it demanded exceptional strength from those that chose to tame it. And so it came to be a strength building tool as much as a weapon of destruction.

So, under the tutelage of the afore-mentioned yogi, I joined that long list of warriors who had swung with the club. The mace was not a mere weapon or training tool for this man but an agent of growth that was as spiritual as it was muscular. He offered to teach me how to train with the mace once I got one made for myself. He gave me very specific instructions about the design of the mace I was getting made at the local blacksmith’s. It included a sharp point at either end of the implement.

That mace is staring at me from across the room even as I type these words, as it leans against the wall and seems to taunt me. “Come, don’t be shy… lift me up if you dare. You lift weights, don’t you, bragging about all the tons you can pull in the deadlift ? Then why are you running away from me.. I wouldn’t be 25 kgs from head to toe?”

Indeed the mace or club is a treacherous lover. The odd weight distribution makes even lift ing it up a fair challenge. The yogi and I could not meet too often after I got my mace and so my lessons with it remained unlearnt. And there it stays against the wall taunting me still as I walk past, and giving it as wide a berth as the furniture in the living room would allow.

Stung by the mace’s silent insults, and frustrated by the wedge of time and space that separated me from my teacher-of-the-mace-to-be, I stalked the ancient art on the internet. And I thought, whoa! The world had passed us by… The humble mace, forgotten in the land that it shaped in war and peace, had now become the training tool of choice in the hands of martial artists, fitness experts and SWAT teams.

But all was not lost. Like on the banks of the Ganges, there are other corners where time has stood still. In remote akhadas (wrestling mud pits) across the country, there are men of steel still clubbing away in search of pride, piety and power and to them I will go in search of answers for you and for me… To know what makes the club/mace/gada/jori such a powerful workout tool? To know what it does to the body and mind and how it touches us differently from all the other weights and tools in our gymnasiums? And I will swallow my pride and seek out my teacher again to know why more than my physical self, it is the spiritual self that the mace sculpts and empowers… The mysterious powers of the unassuming club shall yet be unraveled …

So hang in there for a while, and I shall return to reveal if the club is indeed the missing link in the ‘get-fit’ plan you’ve been toying with for the New Year… But while I go looking, why don’t you get yourself a mace, brace that back and start swinging…