Ekta- The Talk Show- Ep 3

Disclaimer: All characters in Ekta Talk Show are modelled after REAL characters (with names changed) and their experiences are entirely based on true stories. Ekta is the manifestation of an imaginary conversation between these characters, in a hypothetical scenario of their meeting

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome or welcome back to a fresh episode of our monthly talk show, Ekta- Talk your way to unity. If youre no stranger to Ekta and have visited Ep-1 and Ep-2, you’ll notice that today’s topic is wildly different from our usual. I’m Shubhang Mishra, your host for today! Our translator at hand is Bahija Begum.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Ekta is a space for us to talk, to listen and to be heard. There are struggles and stories in both the sides of the coin. We acknowledge and appreciate them as we interact with those living in opposite ends of the spectrum.

Our topic today is a fashionable and popular one, especially among the younger generations. A healthy discussion, a debate, there’s room for both!

We have with us today, 4 very special guests. Let’s welcome Anthony Alexander, Nidhi Chopra, Sonam Singh and Bharath Kumar Hegde with a round of applause.

The topic today is “Marriages in Indian society.” There are two types for the same, one being the traditional arranged marriage, wherein the families find alliances for their children with lots of involvement from the extended family in choosing prospective spouses for their children within their own caste/community in compliance with astrology, and the other being marrying someone of one’s own choice.

Please describe the nature of your marriages, your experiences therein and whether or not the said mode worked for you, starting with Nidhi.

Nidhi: Mine was an arranged marriage. I’ve been married for 10 years now and it has definitely worked for me. We did fall in love after our marriage. It is my belief that it would not have been the same way had I married someone of my choice. All my high school and college relationships failed and I went into this marriage, not expecting anything spectacular. There are ups and downs ofcourse, but the rewarding part of it has made it worth it. The union has remained sacred.

Anthony: I married a partner of my choice. I’m a Christian, she’s a Hindu. She comes from a rural area and had moved to the city to work. Her parents disapproved of our marriage very strongly. They tried to kill us for their honour! Yes, honour killing still happens and few are lucky to escape. We were lucky enough to escape. We moved to Mumbai, far away from home and have been living there happily for 11 years now.

Bharath: I’m divorced. I had an arranged marriage, a terrible one. She was in love with another man and her family forced her to marry me, as she was already 30 years old and there weren’t many well-settled single men left in our caste. Her parents wouldn’t let her disgrace the family by eloping with the man of her choice. Hence, a worse disaster took the form of our marriage. She was depressed and suicidal. She blamed me for everything that went wrong in her life.

Sonam: I jumped into a love marriage, the biggest mistake I made in my life. I thought he was the one. I put my relationship with my family at stake for him. It all seemed flowery and glamorous in the beginning. A few months in and then began all the domestic violence, physical and verbal abuse. It was toxic and unbearable. Thankfully, we are divorced now.

According to statistics, 90% of marriages in India are arranged. Only 1% of all marriages end in divorce. Does that mean arranged marriage is the gateway to a successful marriage? Does it always work?

Anthony: Well, we’re the second most populated country in the world, so I think it worked. *Audience laughing*

Bharath: Well, it need not always work, as in my case. Low divorce rates may also be a reflection of the societal pressure to stay married. Divorce is largely a taboo in India. Arranged marriage can be a gamble. In most cases, one learns to adjust themselves to the setting. I can assure that arranged marriage teaches you to compromise. You don’t go in considering divorce as an option. It is a union of families, rather than just the bride and the groom. One is careful about not disappointing their birth family after all the wedding expenses and extravaganza. Sometimes, one continues to live in toxic marriages. Divorce rate is not sufficiently indicative of all unhappy marriages.

Nidhi: In my opinion, most unhappy marriages are capable of being fixed. Due to support from the birth family in arranged marriages, it is easier. The families work a way to mend their children’s marriage. Not all love marriages are family-approved and families do not put much effort into fixing their children’s marriage as they did not have much role in it to begin with. In such cases they’d have a “We said so” attitude about it.

What is the difference between the social perception of an arranged marriage and a love marriage.

Anthony: My wife and I were in a local park, when a middle aged woman started talking to her. I shared a small joke with my wife during her conversation with the woman. She noticed the holy cross on my neck and asked my wife “Is that your husband?” to which my wife nodded. “Christian?” She asked, pointing at me to which she said “yes.” “Then he is not your husband.” She told my wife. “You said your name is Radha and I see the Bindhi on your forehead. You are a Hindu. Any marriage outside one’s religion is invalid.” Saying this, she moved away. So, yes, the social perception is not always good in non-traditional marriages.

Sonam: As someone who was in such a non-traditional marriage, I can attest that you are harshly judged. By most people. There are many who are supportive too. The more urban the setting, the more support you get.

Bharath: My friends mocked me and called me “ancient” for doing as my family said. Some urban youth consider arranged marriages outdated.

Nidhi: Usually the first question posed by yester generation folks when they see a couple would be “Arranged or love?”. If the answer is the former, the more you are respected, as in my case.

From this discussion, what do you think should be the norm for marriages?

Bharath: Choosing a spouse for yourself is like an MCQ (multiple choice question). You choose the best option from the many options you have. Arranged marriage is like “True or false”. You’re given a question and you need to answer with a “yes” or “no”. Both of them equally have the potential to be right or wrong, I.e, to work or fall apart. It is more about the couple themselves than the nature of their marriage.

Sonam: Marriage and romantic relationships aren’t for everyone. They are only a supplement to life, not a necessity. Life is big and there’s more to it. No one should be pressurised into doing something they can very well live without when a certain age is reached. The society will talk, but talking is all they can do!

Anthony: Everyone should have the privilege to choose between tradition, choice and must also be empowered to choose neither, if that’s their calling.

We are at the end of this segment. Hearty thanks to the guests and the audience for making this segment a grand success! Signing off, Shubhang Mishra.

PS: Check out paeansunplugged’s masterpiece satirical poem on this topic! Beyond brilliant. 👌

Ekta -The Talk Show- Ep 2

Disclaimer: All characters in Ekta Talk Show are modelled after REAL characters and their experiences are entirely based on true stories. Ekta is the manifestation of an imaginary conversation between these characters, in a hypothetical scenario of their meeting. Head straight to the conversation if you read ep- 1 and don’t need an introduction about Ekta. In this episode, my own experiences are shared through the character of Vriksha!

Ladies and gentlemen, a warm welcome to yet another enriching episode of our monthly talk show, Ekta. I’m Shubhang Mishra, the host for this show.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

If you are here for the first time, welcome warmly to a world of intriguing discussions, diverse perspectives and the story and struggles associated with both the sides of the coin. Ekta’s motto is: Talk your way to unity.

There is beauty in diversity and Ekta celebrates it through an open discussion between the holders of diverse notions and those who lie in opposite sides of the road- victim and perpetrator, leftist and rightist, impoverished and millionaire, and what not! Feel absolutely free to check out the First episode of Ekta!

Our guests today have both had to travel a long way to get here. Let’s welcome Vriksha Rao and Nandini Nair with a round of applause! Vriksha and Nandini, please take your seats.

Welcome to Ekta. Please tell us about yourselves and let our audience know why our team has picked you to be here with us today.

Nandini: Namaste, I’m Nandini Nair. I hail from God’s own country, Kerala. I happen to be the first transgender doctor of my state. It was a difficult yet promising road and Ekta wants me to share my experiences with the world, with an intention to inspire many more transgender men and women to follow their dreams.

Vriksha: I’m Vriksha, 16 years old, originally from AP but born and brought up in Tamil Nadu. Ekta’s team got in touch with me to interact with a transgender, which at that instant seemed ghastly, but I warmed up to the idea as I’ve always wanted to hear their story. They often come across as people one needs to be safe around, but I’m sure they’re not all the same.

Vriksha, you mentioned that one needs to be safe around transgenders. Does this apprehension stem from received notions and stereotypes or a personal encounter you had with a transgender?

Vriksha: Mine very much stems from personal experiences. Every little encounter I’ve had with transgenders has been absolutely traumatising. My mother tells me that their tendency to steal from and bully random people on the roads is mostly due to the stigma surrounding their gender, which we so insensitively endorse. God created a third gender, but WE created the stigma. So in a way, we have earned it.

Nandini: That’s a very considerate statement you’ve made, given that you’ve had nothing but unpleasant experiences with our community. I’d like to hear you elaborate on some of these traumatising instances you’d referred to.

Vriksha: There are plenty.

I was 8-years old, in an accessories store. The store was owned and run by very religious Muslims and they were diligent, sincere businessmen. That day, a trans woman happened to come by and demanded money from the man at the counter. He said there wasn’t enough money just yet and that they were yet to meet the day’s goal. The woman started swearing at the man, not a word that I could understand, yelled at him fiercely and asked him to give her the money. She said she’d take it herself if he did not oblige. He was stunned and didn’t know what to do as he’d be answerable to his owner if the day’s goals were not met. He gave her some money, but not enough to gratify her. She demanded more money, this time more aggressively, to which the man stood in utter stillness. She got out of the shop, stood in the busy pavement, STRIPPED OFF all her clothes and yelled violently, asking passer-bys for “justice”. She went on to remove all her layers and continued to yell. The man was extremely embarrassed. I was terrified and hid in a little corner upstairs, watching all of this.

In another instance, my mother was a victim. She was in a road-side tea shop with her colleague. A group of transgenders came by and demanded money. As she took out her purse to give them some money, one of them grabbed the purse, took all the cash and hid it in their sari. They said “I shall bless you and return as much of your money as God asks me to.” They took a substantial amount and gave her the rest. One simply cannot rebel against them. Our experiences have taught us that the hard way. There are many more but I shall stop here.

That is traumatising indeed for an 8 year old to witness, Vriksha. Nandini, can you tell us why transgenders behave the way they do and have such a reputation?

Nandini: When the transition happens during the teenage years, transgenders move out of their homes to live with their community. I was an exception, which is also due to the fact that I had supportive friends and family, unlike the case with the majority of them. They strive hard to find a job, which they may never accomplish due to the absence of tight laws to ensure their progress. They live in impoverished conditions, can’t get educated, which itself is a reason for their unemployment. Another reason they can’t get a job is, they’re TRANSGENDERS and no one would give them a job. Due to this, they harass people and earn a living. Their survival instincts push them to do so.

What were some of the challenges you faced in your journey?

Nandini: Naturally, the stigma surrounding the third gender affects me professionally quite a bit. Every successful transgender man and woman are SELF-MADE! They will not be handed a job due to scepticism. When they do find a job for themselves, they will not have regular customers or in my case, patients, due to the same reason- scepticism. We are doubted wherever we go and whatever we do. People are always cynical and believe wholly that we have a natural potential to be cunning. We cannot all swindle you of your fortune *Laughs*

Vriksha: Is the swindling justified?

Nandini: Absolutely not! It’s the survival instinct ofcourse, but it’s very much in our control.

Vriksha: HOW can you control it? How can you be empowered?

Nandini: We all have the power to do wonderful things- you, me and the audience. Education is a transformational wand. Unfortunately, transgenders are deprived of it. They are deprived of opportunities and support. Their families and friends neglect them. The LAW neglects them. When we cannot all afford to empower ourselves, the government needs to do something to help us. That’s why you and I pay them taxes. It’s not easy for us. It’s incredibly hard. But it isn’t supposed to be. Humans have made life so hard for each other!

If only we didn’t move out during our transition..

Vriksha: If only you didn’t “have to” move out during your transition! Our outlook definitely needs changing. When an animal looks at you, it knows you’re human. It’s only when a human looks at you that you come across as a “different” human. I wish humans look at you, and everyone, the same way animals do. Humans have a lot to learn from animals!

Nandini: Indeed they do. My MBBS degree is as much worthy as it is when a cis-gendered man earns it. After all, I did toil for 8 years to earn it.

Vriksha: I want to be a doctor. I face half the challenges you do. When the going gets tough, I shall remember you. You have inspired me infinitely! Thank you!

Vriksha and Nandini, we’re at the end of this segment. It was absolutely nourishing to watch your conversation bloom and they’ve all heard you loud and clear. It was a delight to have you with us today. So, ladies and gentlemen, see you again in the next episode. Until then, signing off, Shubhang Mishra!

Ekta -The Talk Show- Ep 1

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first episode of our monthly Talk Show, Ekta! I’m Shubhang Mishra, your host for today.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Ekta (एकता) is Sanskrit for oneness- unity. The ideal state of existence and the way we were and are meant to be. At times, our profound diversity and differences challenge our harmony and misdirect our synergy. Ekta is the show for us to talk, listen and empathise with those whose stories are real, yet often unheard. Ekta is here for us to put our differences aside and UNITE!

We have with us today, two very special guests. Let’s welcome Amarpreet Kaur and Mohan Kumar with a round of applause! Our translator for today is scholar and multilingual, Farida Yasmin Sultana.

Mohan and Amarpreet, please take your seats and tell us all about yourselves- Your profession, upbringing, ambitions, just anything about yourselves that we’d be interested to know.

Amarpreet: Hello, I’m Amarpreet Kaur, I was born in Punjab and raised in Delhi. I have recently established my own startup, Techfast, a software solutions company and it has taken off on a high note. I grew up in an orthodox Sikh community. My parents always prioritised my education. I graduated from IIM with a degree in management. I also happen to be a state level badminton player.

Mohan: I’m Mohan Kumar. I am 60 years old and I come from Marudhampatti, a remote village in Tamil Nadu. Our village is hidden from the chaos of the modern world so perfectly that this is my first time in a city! I come from a very looked down, disadvantaged caste. We are barbers by profession. My ancestors, my descendants, all my siblings and cousins are barbers. We shave off the corpse’s hair during the last rites and cremate them. Because of our ancestral association with dead bodies, we are seen as unlucky and untouchables.

Amarpreet: That sounds pathetic! Your story reminds us that the worst is still alive in some places. Having grown up in a city, casteism is something I don’t get to see every day. Never have I taken the time to realise that there are villages as remote as yours which keep the flame burning. Could you tell me more about your village and this casteism?

Mohan: My village is highly impoverished and away from everyone’s eye, including the government’s. We do not even have lights in our houses and we use oil lamps at night. There are 2 toilets for the entire village and they are reserved solely for the upper caste men. Time and again, when our girls used them at night secretly, they were thrashed and embarrassed publicly. It is customary for us to not pass by the front door of upper caste men’s houses. We can only pass from behind. We do not look them in the eye directly.

Amarpreet: This is terrible indeed! Sounds like a travel back in time. Has education brought any improvement to areas such as yours?

Mohan: Education is a luxury. There is one primary school in our village. For higher education, we must send our children to town. Upper caste men may afford to do so, but not us. Education is not a necessity for girls, especially. They must learn to excel in household chores and marry their cousins by 15 or 16. We cannot marry outside our caste. If we do, they would kill us for honour. By the way, how old are you?

Amarpreet: I’m 30 years old.

Mohan: How many children do you have?

Amarpreet: I am not married.

Mohan: How undignified! In our village, having many children is so valuable that it compensates for one’s lower status in the hierarchy. Since I have 7 children, I’m not as looked down as my counterparts with 2-3 children. By your age, a woman must be married with children. Tradition is important, rural or urban. We accept our occupation, our way of living, because it runs in our veins. It’s our tradition! The upper caste men, the Chettiars deserve to live better than us because it has always been like that. No one can change that. It’s like you city folks have lost your identity completely. You don’t know what it is to struggle in your lavish city life!

Amarpreet: Sir, do not invalidate anyone’s struggle. You said this yourself- I am considered undignified for making a choice not to marry. As a villager, you don’t have the luxury of education. As a woman, I don’t have the luxury of choice! I have to live the way the society wants me to. I face more societal pressure than my male counterparts. I have always considered it my duty to serve the world in any way I can without getting tied down by family life. As a woman, my work is neither recognised as much as a man’s, nor appreciated. I started my own company so I don’t have a man ruling my life. I am a survivor of workplace abuse and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from that traumatic experience, it is that a woman can ESCAPE. She can fly away from trauma and create her own life. Yet, no one believes this. The society doesn’t allow a woman to be the maker of her own life.

Mohan: I suppose we all have our own struggles. It may vary in intensity and nature, but it is a struggle nevertheless. Thanks for teaching me this! I always believed that city folks lived the life of a dream.

Amarpreet: Sometimes I wish I lived in a village, away from fast-paced, mechanical life. In the city, it is a test of who can run the farthest without burning out. We burn out everyday, physically, mentally and spiritually. Often, I forget to eat a meal. After all, urban or rural, we all strive for that one thing- that food on our plate. But you have taught me that it comes with immense challenges to live in those unwalked lands. What we believe to be dead here in the city is something you live with. It is saddening that people live without respect and are conditioned to believe that it is okay.

Mohan and Amarpreet, we are nearing the end of the show. Is there anything you would like to say to the audience?

Mohan: Never invalidate anyone’s struggle. I’d also like to say that oppression in the name of tradition doesn’t make it less evil.

Amarpreet: Discrimination of all forms are still very much alive. Look around closely, you may actually see it happening right under your nose! When it does, be sure to confront and make some noise against it. You and I can erase it from history.

Thank you very much, Mohan and Amarjeet! It was a pleasure having you with us today. You personified Ekta in the truest sense! Ladies and gentleman, hope you enjoyed our talk show today. See you next month with another interesting topic and another fascinating set of people to share their true stories. Signing off, Shubhang Mishra!