Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A film about Indian women and books

I made a documentary film last year. It took a year and a half. It's out, DVDs available through the producer, PSBT. Here's the promo:

Here's a piece about it in The Hindu:

“This film is not about identity or self-definition as ‘writers,’” Zaidi says. “It is trying to look at women’s rights, concerns and freedoms, as reflected in literature. Identity is a very fluid and contextual construct. Caste may be most important outside the household, for instance, but within a household, womanhood may be her primary identity. And sometimes, the opposite might be true. However, all the women in the film have written about the feminine and female experience of life.”

If you're an institution, university, festival or a film club that wants to organize a screening, you can get in touch with me or PSBT. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A birthday card that gave me the creeps

Here's something I wrote about my great discomfort with the state having absolute access to my data with zero accountability or guarantees about how it would be used and by whom:

The year before, nobody called on my birthday. This year was better. Friends remembered. I even got a birthday card. But it turned out to be from neither friends nor family. It was from Mr Representative. Mr Ex-Representative, actually, since he had lost the previous election. I was baffled. How did he know it was my birthday? Then it hit me. He had been dipping into my data.

Read full article here: http://www.outlookindia.com/article/an-uneasy-state/296410

Monday, January 04, 2016


I wrote this short comic about how to deal with the loss of friends made in a virtual age, when social media delivers so much of our friendship and our news to us:


Saturday, January 02, 2016

Wrote a review of the novel 'Kalkatta' for Mint recently. Here's a bit that lays out some of my impressions:

Each character represents some aspect of Kolkata and the lives of its citizens—rich, middle class and poor—and while so many different shades may have added up to a broadly representative portrait of the city, they do not add up to a richly layered story. The touch-and-go treatment most characters receive creates the impression that the primary purpose of having introduced them at all was to represent as many “types” as possible. It also serves to repurpose stereotypes—the sex-starved rich or bored housewife, the insensitive journalist, the torturer cop, the prostitute (albeit a male one) with a heart of gold.

Read the full review here.

Friday, January 01, 2016

A brush with Radio with Pictures

One of the more interesting things I did in 2015 was adapting a graphic short story for Radio with Pictures. They do a combination of animated artwork, sound design and radio - which is basically good, old-fashioned oral storytelling with some sound effects. I had Mandy Ord as a collaborator and it has been a lovely, lovely process, as well as the start of a new friendship.

It all began, of course, with the wonderful anthology of speculative feminist fiction for young adults: 'Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean'. It was an Indo-Oz collaboration by Zubaan Books and Allen & Unwin Books, edited by Anita Roy, Kirsty Murray and Payal Dhar. It has taught me to think and work in new ways and I am grateful for the chance to stretch my own abilities. 

Listen, watch and (hopefully) enjoy it:


नये साल की पहली सुबह

नये साल की पहली सुबह में एक चौराहे के टिकोण पे बैठे हैं चार आदमी और पाँचवा खड़ा है, हाथों में अख़बार यूँ लिए जैसे वक़्त की चादर ओढ़ने जा रहा हो।

नये साल में एक टैक्सी-वाला इनकार करता है और दूसरा तैय्यार हो जाता है, मगर स्टेशन के क़रीब जाम देख के उतार देता है मंज़िल से ज़रा दूर।

नये साल में एक बूढ़ी औरत दामन फैलाए स्टेशन की सीढ़ियों पर बैठी मिलती है, नज़रंदाज़ क़दमों की महफ़िल के बीच भी, बाहर भी।

नये साल में सुबह पौने दस बजे मिठाई की दुकान पे पहुँच गयी है कोई, जाने किस बात की ख़ुशी मनाने। मालूम होता है ये साल कुछ नया ही होगा  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Show motor vehicles their place

The Delhi state government led by Arvind Kejriwal has come up with a plan to reduce traffic congestion and ease the air pollution - it will permit only even or odd numbered license plates on cars on alternate days of the week. I was not sure if they had a plan viz the actual enforcement of such a rule, so I wrote this

If the cops cannot - or will not - stop a clearly visible car in a cycle lane or a motorbike riding the pavement, how are they going to stop even-odd numbered cars? And if they do succeed in the latter form of law enforcement but not the former, then what kind of message is the state sending out?

Full piece here: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/delhi-odd-even-car-logic-pollution-arvind-kejriwal-sheila-dikshit-brts-smog-health-respiratory-illness-vehicles-cars-two-wheelers/story/1/7838.html

Monday, November 02, 2015

Pakad, pakdaai, padakwa

A piece in which I'm chewing on the idea of 'jungle raj' or the law of the jungle, how and when it applies depends on what kind of animal you are, I suppose.

Here's an extract that mentions the other kind of kidnapping that used to happen in Bihar:

In Bihar, there was another twist on the kidnapping theme - a tradition called "pakadwa vivaah" whereby men were kidnapped and forced into a wedding. I recall a conversation in Delhi a few years ago where a man spoke of having to travel through Bihar for his job. He wore the cheapest khaddar shirts, never had more than a couple of hundred rupees in his pocket and to anyone who asked, he would say he was already married. He was more worried about a gunpoint wedding than kidnapping for ransom.
This was not Lalu Yadav's doing...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Please go, if you can

Extract from a recent letter to Uddhav Thackeray:

A group of Indians had been invited to participate in a social media summit. Reporters covering the event often asked: “So, how does it feel to be here?”

Uddhav ji, I had to tell the truth. Karachi looked quite like Bombay/Mumbai, except that most of the signs, hoardings and graffiti on walls were in the Urdu script. The air, the smells, the food – there was so little difference that I was a bit put out. All that nail-biting about the visa, that absurdly long flight via Dubai (to think it would be only a few hours on a ferry!) and for what? Their halwa tastes like halwa and their poori tastes like poori. 

अश्लीलता नामक एक चेतवानी

BBCHindi.com पे छपा एक और लेख

महाराष्ट्रा में डाँस बार लौटने की संभावना लौट आई है. सुप्रीम कोर्ट का आदेश है की बार (यानी शराब-घर) में नाच प्रदर्शन पे पाबंदी नहीं लगाई जाई सकती. कोर्ट ने माना कि नर्तकी को बार में काम करने का हक़ है, लेकिन साथ में ये चेतावनी भी दी है - नाच में किसी प्रकार की अश्लीलता ना हो.

लेकिन ‘अश्लीलता’ क्या है? इसकी क़ानून में कोई परिभाषा नहीं. जैसे ‘लाज’ या ‘इज़्ज़त’ या ‘सुशीलता’ की कोई क़ानूनी परिभाषा नहीं. किसी को मटकना अश्लील लगता है तो किसी को आँख का इशारा. किसी को स्तन से तकलीफ़ है तो किसी को टाँग से. किसी को लड़कियों का जीन्स पहेनना अश्लील लगता है और किसी को लड़कों का चूमना.

संस्कृति और शीलता-अश्लीलता की लाठी का सहारा लिए जाने कितनी बार औरतों पे हमला हुआ है. कुछ लोग, जिन्हे ना जनता ने वोट दिया और ना ही किसी ने हिन्दुस्तानी संस्कृति का ठेका उनके हवाले किया, पिछले कुछ सालों से मंगलोर जैसे शहरों में क्लब और बार में लड़कियों को ढूँढते हैं, मारते हैं. कुछ पोलीस-वाले सारे क़ानून तोड़ते हुए पहुँच जाते हैं, मीडीया समेत, मेरठ के पार्क में और युवक-युवतियों को मारा-पीटा जाता है ‘अश्लीलता’ की अाढ़ में. 

अब महाराष्‍ट्र सरकार ये कहती है, औरतों का बार में नाच संस्कृति के ख़िलाफ़ है, जबकि सब जानते हैं, हमारी संस्कृति में औरतों का नाचना तो शामिल है ही, शराब भी शामिल है, भांग और चरस भी शामिल है. हिन्दुस्तान में हज़ारों तरह की संस्कृतियाँ एक साथ जीवित हैं. 

यहाँ मंदिरों में सम्भोग के दृश्‍य तराशे गये. इसी देश में लड़कियाँ सार्वजनिक नाच में भाग लेती हैं, ख़ुद भी शराब पीती हैं और अपने पसंद का साथी चुनती हैं. अपने ही देश के अंडमान आइलॅंड्स में लोग निर्वस्त्र रहते हैं और ख़ुद को अश्लील नहीं समझते. एक समय था, देश के कई हिस्सों में औरतें ब्लाउज़ नहीं पहनती थी. बल्कि पिछली सदी में कुछ औरतों ने अपनी स्मृति रचनाओं में लिखा भी है कि नानी के ज़माने में कोई युवती ब्लाउज़ पहन ले तो उसको अश्लील कह के डाँटा जाता था! छुप-छुप के ब्लाउज़ पहनती थी, रात को, सिर्फ़ पति को दिखाने के लिए!

सदियों से नाच-गाने का प्रदर्शन हमारी संस्कृति का हिस्सा रहा है. कभी मंदिर में था, महल-हवेली में था, फिर कोठे में मर्यादा-बद्ध किया गया, फिर सभागृह में और फिर सिनेमा के पर्दे पर. क्या महाराष्‍ट्र के मुख्या मंत्री साहिब ये नहीं जानते? क्या संगीत बरी और लावनी संस्कृति का हिस्सा नहीं है? जब दरबार या बैठक में नाच होता था, तो क्या दर्शक शराब नहीं पीते थे? आज भी गाँव के मेले में हज़ारों मर्दों के सामने औरतें नाचती-गाती हैं. घर-घर में टीवी चलता है. उसी तरह का नाच बार में हो, तो नेता संस्कृति और अश्लीलता की दुहाई देने लगते हैं.
शायद सुप्रीम कोर्ट को फ़िक्र इस बात की है, बार में नाच के बहाने औरत का शोषण ना हो. ये फ़िक्र इंसानी तौर पे ठीक है, लेकिन इसका क्या फ़ायदा जब तकशोषणऔरअश्लीलताकी कोई क़ानूनी परिभाषा ना बनाई जाए?
मसला नाच का नहीं है. मसला ये है कि नाच ख़त्म होने के बाद, बार बंद हो जाने के बाद क्या होता है. बार में नर्तकी को छूना माना है, ये तो पहले भी नियम था. अगर उसपे दबाव डाला जाता है कि किसी ग्राहक के साथ, या स्वयं बार के मालिक के साथ, संबंध बनाए या अपने जिस्म का सौदा करे, तो उस नर्तकी को यक़ीन होना चाहिए कि वो पोलीस के पास जा सकती है. साथ ही बार में नाचने वालों का संगठन मज़बूत होना चाहिए, ताकि अगर कोई बार मालिक क़ानून तोड़ रहा है तो उसके ख़िलाफ़ बुलंद आवाज़ उठा सकें.

उसे दुतकारा-फटकारा नहीं जाएगा, इस भरोसे कोई नर्तकी पोलीस के पास जाए तो क्या उसके साथ ऐसा बर्ताव होगा कि जैसे पोलीस-वाले की बेटी थाने में आई हो शिकायत दर्ज कराने कि उसके दफ़्तर में उस पर जिस्म का सौदा करने का दबाव डाला जा रहा है? क्या ये हो पाएगा?

इसका जवाब मेरे पास नहीं है. जवाब सिर्फ़ पोलीस दे सकती है और सरकार चलाने वाले नेता. लेकिन जब तक वे अपना दिल टटोल कर जवाब ढूँढते हैं, हमारे वकीलों और न्यायधीशों को भी अपना दिल टटोलना होगा और एक शब्द की परिभाषा सोचनी होगी. ‘अश्लीलताक्या है, क़ानून साफ़ बयान करे और इस शब्द की आढ़ में देश की जनता पे हमला करने वालों को कड़ी सज़ा दे.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Moharram is really about - refusing to forget

An extract from a short piece on what Karbala stands for (in my mind) and how the observance of Moharram remains relevant (that is, if we allow it to):

What does a tragedy mean, after all, if we give it a single word - massacre? How do we honour those who are killed even though they do not want bloodshed? They who die must not be reduced to a statistic. They must not be remembered as mere contenders for power. Therefore, the poetry is in the voice of a beloved who must witness a tragedy.

Read the full piece here: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/moharram-prophet-muhammad-caliph-mecca-medina-karbala-islam-muslim-hasan/story/1/6846.html

Thursday, October 15, 2015

हिंदी में दूसरा लेख छपा bbchindi.com पे

 हिंदुस्तानी महिला, काम और काम की मज़दूरी पे लिखा ये लेख ज़रूर पढ़िए। टिप्पणी करना ज़रूरी नहीं :


मकिन्ज़ी रिपोर्ट के आँकड़े महिलाओं का योगदान नहीं बताते, ये बतलाते हैं जीडीपी के ज़रिए आर्थिक इंसाफ़ या हक़ नहीं नापा जा सकता. मुश्किल ये है कि महिलाओं के श्रम का बाज़ारीकरण नहीं हुआ है. काम तो कर रही हैं. वेतन दे दो, बराबरी भी हो जाएगी.

पर अपने ही घर-परिवार से आर्थिक हक़ माँगना आसान नहीं. क़ीमत मकान की होती है, घर की नहीं. सबसे बड़ी बात, काम से इनकार नहीं कर सकती वो. बच्चे, बूढ़े, जानवर– यह सिर्फ़ आर्थिक नाते नहीं हैं, उसकी ज़िंदगी हैं. इन्हें छोड़ भी नहीं सकती. इसी तरह औरत अक्सर मोहताज रही.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why Writers Return Awards

So, this is the second question to ask - why care what a writer says or does?

We care because writers give to a people their voice, their memory, and multiple layers of truth. Even if we do not see our exact selves mirrored in a book or a poem, we still find a part of our collective self. Writers show us a secret tunnel into the lives and minds of people we do not agree with. They incite passion and compassion, debates and dreams, and all the warnings we need. They consider fresh possibilities. They help us confront our fears, failures, shame, pleasure, and the ways in which we have been damaged. They are a nation's conversation with itself.

From a piece published here.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

bbchindi में छपा लेख

 पहली बार हिंदी में कुछ लिखा। किसी और ने अनुवाद नहीं किया, ख़ुद लिखा, तो अपनी ही पीठ थपथपाने का जी चाहता है।  पहले हिम्मत नहीं पड़ती थी।  आख़िर मेरी हिंदी हिंदुस्तानी है, न कि सरकारी दफ़्तरों की नई हिंदी जो सर पे संस्कृत का भारी बोझ लिए घूमती है, जिसे समझने के लिए आम जनता को किसी अनुवादक की ज़रुरत पड़ती है। लेकिन अब शुरुआत की है तो सोचा है कि हिंदी को फिर से अपनी ज़ुबान पे रखूँ, थोड़े और प्यार के साथ, बिना किसी संकोच के।  संकोच को झिझक कह दूँ। झिझक को हिचकिचाहट। कौन रोकेगा?

फ़िलहाल, bbchindi में छपा ये लेख:


Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Another graphic piece on what it means that state transport buses don't come right up to the departure gates at airports and even railway stations:


Thursday, September 17, 2015

What reading Indian women's memoirs taught me

I have never seen a jail from inside, except in movies. In movies that did feature female protagonists in jail, they either silently submit to their incarceration or got tortured, often at the behest of men, or sexually exploited by men. If they were rescued or reformed, it was because some man came to their help.

Joya Mitra showed me a very different truth. She, along with a few other young women, saw themselves as political prisoners and they demanded that they be treated as such. They demanded better food. They clamoured for the right to read books... what happened to them was not the result of a sexual or emotional relationship with a man. If they suffered at the hands of men, they suffered at the hands of women too. They were subject to a brutal system (as were the men) and they lived to tell a tale that is not often told.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In a 'New Asia'

I'm very pleased to be included in the latest issue of Griffith Review.

'Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now showcases outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of Asia's ongoing transformation... co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, takes a journey through the region’s diversity, featuring a new generation of literary stars who will shape the way we understand the complexities of culture, politics and modernisation.' 

This issue is now available on sale in Australia. For readers and writers, I would urge you to subscribe either in print or online, or both, as I have, to this great literary magazine. There are fantastic pieces of writing each time, and I often find my head and heart opening up in new ways through something published in Griffith Review.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some reviews and interviews

On the new anthology 'Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women's Writing'

"Zaidi's project is sound without being pretentious, a welcome diving-board for the uninitiated who, hopefully, would want to test the waters further" - From a review in Hindustan Times

More review links:

A review in Business Standard

A review in The Hindu Businessline

A review in DNA  

A review in The Indian Express

A review in the The Kathmandu Post

Snippets from interviews:

I wanted to keep it wide open, to be as inclusive as possible while also being selective from a literary viewpoint. I was not commissioning fresh work but choosing from what’s already out there. So I had to think not only about which particular writer to represent, but also which poem, what passage from which story should be included. I wanted readers to experience the whole spectrum of literature produced by women writers in India. An interview with The Hindu

The only sections that can be said to be particularly associated with women are ‘Children’ and ‘Food’. Most of the other themes – spirituality, love, sex, marriage, work, politics, war, death – are as much the stereotypical domain of men and male writers as of women. In fact, some of these themes are often not associated with women at all (in a stereotypical sense)... 
... with food, I wanted to showcase the complex – the human! – relationships women have to food. It is not just that women purchase or cook food. They help to grow it. They can be seduced through food as much as through flowers and candles. They think about the politics of it, as Nilanjana Roy does in her essay on meat-eating (we’ve included a short extract). One of my favourite extracts is from Nayantara Sahgal’s novel Mistaken Identity, wherein she describes a group of prisoners going on hunger strike. It is one of the most evocative passages I have ever read about food or eating.”
From an interview with Verve

Each book that I've picked extracts from (and many others read for research) taught me something new about a different part of the country, a new culture and the troubles of people (both men and women) at a particular moment in history. It has given me a new lens with which to look at India, especially women's history. It has also taught me the significance of writing not only as self-expression but also as a form of unsilencing, as a tool of engagement with our past and future. Irawati Karve's essays in Yuganta do all of the above. Reading the memoir of the ruler of Bhopal, Sultan Shahjahan Begum, and Gulbadan Begum, author of Humayun-nama (not represented in the anthology) taught me how important it is for women to not just do all kinds of work but to be seen to be doing all kinds of work, including power play and governance.
From an interview with Scroll

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

On shutting doors, safety and the citizenry

I, coming from Mumbai, was marveling at something else. We could get into trains in a civil fashion! There were announcements asking passengers to stay away from the edge of the platform and to let passengers alight first. By and large, they did.

In Mumbai, although railways would make halfhearted announcements to this effect, everyone knew that it was a question settled by whether the crowd waiting to get off the train was a mightier force than the crowd waiting to board. For years, I had braced myself twice a day, trying not to get killed by a stampeding crowd that was not just impatient but often hostile.

In the Delhi Metro, there was no hostility. There was a tentativeness at first, but people were obviously at ease; they didn't hurl themselves into the compartment as if their lives depended on it. There were good reasons for this - they knew the train would not leave without them. They could afford to wait until the passengers disembarked. There was no need to elbow someone in the ribs or dig your nails into someone's forearm. The train would not move until the doors had closed completely, and the doors would not close as long as people were still trying to board.

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