Body Is The Message

January 20, 2012 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Golshfiteh Farhani

Golshifteh Farahani, an Iranian actress has been banned from returning to her country for having posed topless/naked (with her hands covering her breats) for a French news magazine and a French video titled ‘Body and Soul’. As one can expect there is a lot of ink being spilled in the virtual space condemning the actress. At the same time the news about Golshifteh Farhaani has received a communication from the Government of her asking her not to return to her homeland. She was told that her “services” as an actress is not required in Iran. Amidst all this, Golshifteh Farhani has announced that her posing nude for a news magazine was her dissent against the restrictive Islam codes.

One can remember the blog entry by the Egyptian blogger Alia Elmahdy of her own nude photograph as a mark of protest against conservative culture which restricts freedom and views women only as a sexual object. Aliaa Elmahdy like Golshifteh Farhaani received a lot of criticism and threats for her dissent.

Parking aside the issue of Veena Malik, for now, with the dissent of Golshifteh and Aliaa in focus I remember the way several women in Imphal stripped naked and staged an angry protest on 15 July 2004 against the rape of Manorama by Assam Rifle. These women held a banner saying “Indian Army Rape Us.”

The current Islamic government in Iran pursues Hejaab with police enforcement but also by organizing Hejaab festivals and celebrations. Leila Mouri says, “We, as young Iranian women, were lectured by the government to be pious women with veiled bodies that would represent the state’s identity to the world.” The case in Egypt wouldn’t be much different, it appears.

We all remember how a Canadian police held women and their clothing responsible for rape cases. In a world where women are themselves blamed for “inviting rape” through their dressing, though I do not endorse, I can understand the idea of the Hejaab. At once and at the same time one also needs to understand that there is not much of a difference between the mindset expressed by the Canadian policemen and the idea of Hejaab which forces itself on women and snatches their rights from them. So as a mark of protest against the comment by the Canadian police SlutWalks were organized in various parts of the world and as a mark of protest against the restrictive Islamic codes people like Aliaa Elmahdy and Golshfiteh Farhaani go nude.

15 July 2004, Imphal, Manipur

In the year 1934 Reza Shah ordered compulsory unveiling and 45 years after this Ayatollah Khomeini reverted it by compulsory veiling. Leila Mouri, in an article, writes that none of the two did actually ask for women’s opinion. Both veiling and unveiling were “ordered,” which reflects the environment divorced of freedom in which these women live. In such an environment, where two extremes are imposed, dissent also comes in an extreme manner and both Aliaa Elmahdy and Golshifteh Farhani are an example for dissent stemming from such an environment where extremes are imposed.

While it can be argued and to an extent also tre that these forms of dissent plays to the omnipresent male gaze what needs to be understood is that the focus is to be not on the act of dissent itself but the environment which pushes individuals to express such an act of dissent and the kind of future the act of dissent holds in its imagination. When the women of Manipur go naked and say, “Indian Army Rape Us,” it reflects the history which led to the protest. Similarly the acts of Aliaa Elmahdy and Golshfiteh Farhani are communicating to us the history that has pushed them to their acts of dissent. And these acts of protests are not an end in themselves. It is an act to begin the journey to liberation, which needs more and more political actions shaped by political imagination.

Instead of getting into arguments on whether the mode of dissent is right or wrong, progressive or regressive, imaginative or unimaginative one should see the acts of dissent as “word” uttered in suffocation. Be it the women of Manipur or Aliaa Elmahdy or Golshifteh Farhaani their acts of dissent are “words” which say something. Their body is their message.

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Why Meet Behind Veils When We Both Are Human?

January 18, 2012 at 9:15 PMJan (Cinema, Literature, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

I couldn’t read the autobiography of Balwant Gargi ‘Purple Moonlight‘ completely. I stopped half way through. There comes a part in the autobiography where Balwant Gargi along with a few friends, including Gulzar, is having a light moment over the table. Something happens, which cannot recollect now, and Gulzar screams, “Behanchod.”

That was it. I did not read a word more than that.

As a teenager, still quite conservative, I couldn’t accept that my hero Gulzar could “fall down” to the level of using abusive words like “Behanchod.” How could the man who used words like “Saundhi” “Gulposh” “Aayat” etc use a word like “Behanchod”? No my mind, those days, could not take it. The book offended me. I stopped reading it. Had it not been a library copy, probably I would have even torn it apart.

Now I laugh at myself when I think of the reason why I stopped reading the book half way through.

Over a year ago while in Heggodu I broke into a random conversation with Shamik Sir. After touching upon quite a lot of topics the conversation came to Ritwik Ghatak. Speaking of his tryst with Ritwik Ghatak, Shamik Da spoke of how Ghatak wrote the article ‘Sound in Cinema’ for a magazine that Shamik Da was editing. As the conversation continued I mentioned about the thesis ‘On Cultural Front’ submitted by Ritwik Ghatak to the Communist Party of India and asked why should have that thesis cost him the party membership, when the thesis did not differ much from the party lines of those days. That is when Shamik Da said that Ritwik Ghatak was held guilty of a creative crime! My eyebrows tightened out of disbelief. “Yeah” said Shamik Da, to reassure realizing I was shocked, and repeated his words.

The conversation ended there, for that day.

Next morning when I met Shamik Da for breakfast I told him that I had not slept the entire night thinking of what he had told me about Ritwik Ghatak. Shamik Da smiled. “No Sir, he is my hero. I worship him. You shouldn’t have told me about it,” I said in a depressed voice. “He was a normal human like you and me and made mistakes like you and me,” said Shamik Da and added, “but in spite of all his limitations, as a human, he was an unmatchable genius.” I did not look convinced so Sir continued, “His mistakes does not make him a less genius. His creative works are before us and reflect his genius. But because he was a genius it doesn’t mean he was a superman. He was also a commoner like us bound to make mistakes and he did.”

As said by Kahlil Gibran every man has it in him the capacity to rise to the heights of a saint and to fall to the lows of a criminal. If Ghatak could rise to the creative level of making exceptionally brilliant films, writing short stories and plays he also had it in him to commit some creative mistakes. The trivia unveiled by Shamik Da grounded Ritwik Ghatak on earth in my world.

When Shamik Da explained to me that Ghatak was a common man as much as he was genius I revisited my experience of reading Gargi’s autobiography and leaving it incomplete.

Now these two incidents come back to me when the saffron brigade has attacked Prajavani and Dinesh Aminmattu for the article that was written by Dinesh Aminmattu in Prajavani on Swami Vivekananda based on the book ‘The Monk as a Man’ speaking of the other and unknown side of Vivekananda, like him being a non-vegetarian, a bad teacher- thrown out of an institute for the same, having a weak health, willing to have food in the house of a bhangi, opposing brahminism etc.

Tu Khuda Hai Na Mera Ishq Farishton Jaisa,
Dono Insaan Hai Toh Kyun Itanaey Hijaabon Mein Miley.

[You are no God nor is my love like that of an angle
Why meet behind veils when we both are human?]

                                                                                                      – Ahmed Faraaz

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When There Is No Future To Look Ahead One Can Only Look At The Past

January 17, 2012 at 9:15 AMJan (Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life)

It was a decade ago, in the monsoon time of the year 2002 that I first heard of Athree Book Centre. My dearest friend Aravinda mentioned about Abhaya Simha who was then studying in At. Aloysius College Mangalore and told me that he was his cousin and would be my senior in SAC, where I had got an admission for my Degree course. It was then that Aravinda and his mother who told me that Abhay’s father owned a “very good” book shop called Athree Book Centre near Jyothi Circle.

In a few days of my shifting to Mangalore I thought of having a look at Athree Book Centre and walked towards the shop near Jyothi Circle. It was just out of curiosity that I went and as I stood near the door I saw a man with a scary moustache near the door. When he asked me what is that I was looking for I did not know what to say because by the look of his moustache it did not appear to me like he would appreciate and tolerate the answer, “I came out of curiosity to see you and your shop.” So I asked him for some text book that my teacher had mentioned in the class that day. “We do not keep text books,” he told me and I walked back quickly to move out of the horizons of that scary moustache!

That was my first tryst with Athree Book Centre and its owner Ashokavardhan. I remember having walked back thinking, “What book shop is it, if he doesn’t keep text books?” for those days I could not think that book shops can really exist without text books. But soon, with more and more interaction with Abhay Simha, son of Ashokavardhan, I learnt that Athree Book Centre has never kept text books in their shop for their interest was not selling text books. When Abhay said so I got more curious.


In a few days after this my parents came to Mangalore to meet me and by then Abhay had got very close to me and I had spoken quite a lot to my parents about this ‘inspiring senior’ of mine. So when they came they wanted to meet Abhay. I decided to take my parents to Athree Book Centre that evening where Abhay used to spend sometime after college hours. I decided to take my parents to Athree because that would also let me feel more at ease in the presence of the scary moustache man and also the presence of Abhay would make me feel more at home.

That evening when I went to Athree Book Centre with my parents I got introduced to Ashokavardhan by his son Abhay who I introduced to my parents. When I told my father that I wanted to buy the book ‘Why I assassinated Gandhi’ he bought me the book, which was my first purchase in Athree, and my dad asked Ashokavardhan if the text books that I was in need of was available to which Ashokavardhan said, “No we do not keep text books.”

Ashokavardhan, who later I discovered as one of the most warm and friendly persons with a great sense of humor, with more frequent visits, says that when he started Athree Book Centre in the year 1975 he started it as a stall of “books meant for reading” which due to the constant answers of “no we do not have text books, medical books, technological books” became a stall which has “books which are not to be found anywhere else.”

Yes, Athree has been a book centre for the people of coastal Karnataka that book shop where the rarest of the books are available and the books which nowhere else is found. I must narrate an incident here about a friend, who also happens to be a friend of Ashokavardhan too . This friend found a rare book in Athree one morning- George Orwell being the title and Raymond Williams being the author of the book. A rare book considered as one of the best writings on Orwell and his works has been one of the much discussed books on Orwell. The book was quite expensive as it was a foreign publication. Unable to purchase the book this friend finished reading the entire book standing near the book rack till that evening! Ashokavardhan might remember this particular incident quite well.

A teacher of mine narrated this incident to me who also happens to be a friend of the friend who read the entire book at Athree. I was told about this when I got the same book by Raymond Williams from Delhi for this teacher who is doing his PhD on the works of Orwell. Saying how important a book it is and how he has been searching for the same he had narrated the incident to me which while speaking about the passion of a friend also speaks how some of the rarest and important books are found in Athree, which else is not found anywhere else in the nearby places.

While writing my M.Phil dissertation I had a lot of trouble to find literature on the topic that I had chosen for my dissertation was on a ‘movement’ which was not documented well. I had to resort, hence, to other writings of those times where people seem to have believed more in action and not documentation. No exaggeration but yes, on the first floor of Athree Book Centre I did find some rare books with good insights into those times and the cultural sphere and spirit of those times which helped me a lot to write my dissertation. My dissertation and I owe a lot to that one afternoon spent in Athree Book Centre.

Athree Book Center

I cannot have thought of purchasing and reading the books of Chinua Achebe, especially his essays, the autobiography of Pablo Neruda, writings of Rustom Barucha, Sartre, Said and many such authors, in my pre-Delhi days, if not for Athree Book Centre.  Athree stood as an access to a lot of untouched ideas and thoughts through the rare books of the unknown authors. Athree widened intellectual horizons.

In case a particular book one is searching for is not available in Athree it would be made available in a few days. When A.R. Rahman and Gulzar won the Oscars my boss at The Hindu- Govind- asked me to write about Gulzar and the form of poetry invented by Gulzar known as Triveni, about which we were discussing while going back home the night we got to know about Gulzar winning the Oscars. I felt motivated to write and decided to write. But I couldn’t have written it without the biography of Gulzar. I walked to Athree the next morning, where years ago as a degree student, I had seen the biography of Gulzar ‘Because he is…’ penned by his daughter Meghana Gulzar. The book was not available after all these years. But it was made available in a few days when I said I wanted the book. After a few days I was sitting in my office typing that day’s report and the office phone rang. The familiar voice of Ashokavardhan said, “Because he is… has arrived.” What moved me was not that he got the book. But that phone call which he made, soon after the book arrived.

Athree Book Centre never gave carry-bags to carry the book. If many books were purchased Ashokavardhana would ask one of his employees to pack the books in a sheet of old newspaper. That is it. No carry bags. That was his way of living what he believed. Living an environment friendly life.

These not-available items of Athree makes Athree stand out, I feel at times. Text books- not available. Plastic carry bags- not available. Discount offers- not available. Though Ashokavardhan gave a discount if purchases of high amounts are made by regular customers he never advertised books or attracted buyers under the banner “discount sale.” Athree book centre attracted book lovers by its collection and friendly approach and the non-availability of any of the above mentioned did not boomerang Athree but made Athree more and more of a place for true lovers of books.

One day the Director of Kannada Pustaka Pradhikara was to visit Athree at 10:00 in the morning out of personal interest, having heard and read about Athree. Ashokavardhan got a call about the visit and said, “Anyone and everyone can come,” without attaching no special importance to the visit of the Director of Kannada Pustaka Praadhikaara. The Director of Kannada Pustaka Praadhikaara did not turn up till 10:30 and Ashokavardhan left the shop for he had to collect the parcel of books that were to arrive. When the Director came later on only Ashokavardhan’s assistants were in the shop and they too did not treat the special guests in a special manner but treated them like any normal customer.

There have been incidents when some undeserving cultural leaders have got themselves clicked buying books at Athree and gotten them published in some ‘leading’ dailies of this region, which Ashokavardhan, in his own witty way, remembers in his blog writings. These people were not the heroes of Athree anytime, to mean it did not belong to such pseudo people and that Athree did not entertain such people. The real heroes were always the real lovers of books.

Regular visitors of Athree never come back without a five minute chat with Ashokavardhan about books, literature, wildlife, nature, cinema, theater and yeah Yakshagana. His comments on the ongoing literary debate, literary events etc etc would trigger the dialogue which would hardly go beyond five minutes. But those five minutes would cover the vast canvas in a crisp and sharp manner, like the small shop (relatively) of Athree covers a huge canvas of ideas and thoughts.

Yesterday when I went to Athree, I received a warm welcome, as always. When I asked for Desha Kaala magazine Ashokavardhan said he had blogged recently about Desha Kaala. During the controversy around the same magazine, Ashokavardhan and I had discussed about the controversy and the then on-going debate in the same Athree Book Centre. As I remembered that in a flash of a second Ashokavardhan asked me if I had read his blog. When I answered him that I had not, he took out a printed version of his blog and showed it. The last paragraph of the blog write up said that Athree was going to be shut down soon.

I wanted to ask, “How can you?” but ended up asking “Why?” to which Ashokavardhan said, “Retirement time” and after a hearty laugh said, “I have done it for long and now I am done with it. The in-flow of the books has no variety as such these days and I have no much responsibility to carry on my shoulder now.” There was pain in his voice when he said, “The books have no variety.” I asked when would be the last day of Athree to which he said, “March 31.” Not being sure where I would be then and from a few days from now, I decided to spend some more time in Athree. I dug out some old books and bought them. When there is no variety in the now coming books, one has nothing but old books to look for. When there is no future to look ahead one can only look at the past.

Athree, when your shutters are closed it will be my personal loss. Thanks for nurturing and nourishing me all these years.

(Photo Courtesy: Irshad Mohammed)

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Market Oriented Education

January 11, 2012 at 9:15 AMJan (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

When asked about the Scripting course in their institute he said, “The course is called scripting for popular cinema.” Though I asked “Why?” it was not exactly to know the answer.

The very same institute had its course in acting cancelled many years ago, which was re-started again just few years ago. The reason for the discontinuation of the acting course several years ago was this: Girish Karnad was the director of the Institute then. In a few months of him taking over as the Director of the Institute, during one of his visits to Mumbai- the then Bombay- many passed out students from the acting course, met Karnad and told him that no producer in Bombay shows any interest in the students passed out from the film institute, except for some producers inviting some girls home after the night party. Speaking of their own plight the students told Karnad that there was no point in training more students and pushing them to Bombay where there were no producers offering them a job.

Recollecting this incident Karnad says that those days there were no countless channels to provide job for the actors in their never ending soap-operas. The only field of work was Bombay cinema (and yeah regional cinema).

With these incidents, from the autobiography of Girish Karnad, still fresh in mind it was not difficult to understand why the scripting course is called ‘Scripting for Popular Cinema’. The only job provider is the popular cinema industry and hence there is demand for courses which train scripting in the bollywood and Hollywood way. There is a demand and there is supply.

Its not just the case of the institute in reference here but every other institute has taken on itself the obligation of devising the courses with the industry, the market and jobs in mind. Though I agree with the fact that a job to earn bread is crucial and necessary I have never understood the whole phenomena of seeing educational institutions as a factory to produce material for the industry, the market and for jobs where education reshapes itself with the market in mind.

The new generations of students too look for courses which will make them industry friendly and market friendly. One of the first things enquired by students and their parents, I am told, these days in every institute is, “how are the placements?” My own students had a major complaint saying the institute did not place them. I was terribly angered by the complaint for it had a presumption within itself saying educational institutes MUST provide jobs and it is its DUTY. Even enquiries about “placement” also have the same assumption, as if educational institutes are established to place students in jobs.

As told earlier even educational institutes assumes that it is its responsibility to provide jobs and reshapes its syllabus and course structure to suit the industry and the market. To be updated with the times and knowledge system is different and reshaping oneself with the market and industry in mind is different and the gap between these differences is of miles.

The students, their parents and the institutes which believe that it is the duty of an educational institute to provide a job need to know just one truth that educational institutes are to train the students and help them learn and not to ‘place’ them. The job of the educational institutes is to train the students IN the subject and not FOR the industry/ market. Educational institutes are not a factory to produce goods for the market.

Girish Karnad begins his chapter on the film institute recollecting the admission of one particular student who later went on to be one of the best actors the nation and the world has seen. When Girish Karnad took over as the Director of the institute the admission for the acting course involved ‘screen test’ and the applicants had to showcase their snaps in different angles  and those who would had a ‘screen friendly’ appearance would get and admission. In those days a student from National School of Drama, New Delhi appeared for the entrance exam for the acting course who by no standards was remotely close to being ‘screen friendly’ with the innumerable spots on his face. But as Girish Karnad recollects the boy was “exceptionally talented” and did extremely well in the admission test. But the panel refused to consider him for admission because he was not “screen friendly” and there was no way that anyone could play any role with such an “ugly face.” Countering these arguments Karnad argued that, “our duty as an institution is to select the ones who have the talent in them and train them, nothing more or less.” Several years later while receiving the Filmfare award for lifetime achievement Om Puri said, “If not for Karnad I wouldn’t have gotten admission nor would have I been here.”

Girish Karnad believed that the Institute was there to select the students with the potential to become actors and train them and not to see who would suit the Bombay Cinema industry and select them based on their ‘screen friendly’ appearance. Karnad was right in his approach of seeing education without the preoccupation of industry and market. The idea of a film institute is to train the potential students and not to prepare them for the Bombay Cinema. If the industry is not dictating the terms and conditions for the institute probably there will be more Om Puris and Naseruddin Shah. Similarly if in every field the educational institutes concentrate only on training the students in their field and not bothering much with the industry outside the market outside probably there will be many and many potential people there in the field. And more importantly knowledge and talent would run the show and not market!

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Why Durga Cries?

January 4, 2012 at 9:15 PMJan (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A friend once while chatting had said, “I hate attending weddings.” It was not the first time she was saying that. We had discussed the idea of marriage several times as to how marriage is most often seen as an event and how it is an over celebrated event. Our argument was always that if two people wanted to spend their lives together why cant they just live together with commitment and without an event to announce their coming together? We did understand the need for companionship but we did not understand the need for an event.

She, that day, asked a question for which I did not have an answer nor do I have an answer. She asked, more to herself and also to me, “Why do the friends who get married move away emotionally from all their friends?” When she asked me even I asked myself and gave myself answers like, “May be running a family consumes a lot of time and energy because life and lifestyle all change once one gets married.” She also asked, “Why does marriage bring a distance between friends?” It appears to me that though she is happy for her friends who are getting married she hated attending weddings because it puzzled and pained her because every marriage- of friends- leaves her with a friend less and a bit more of sense of aloneness and loneliness along with a certain alienation.

Another friend, childhood friend, who now works for the defense was saying few weeks ago, “When there is a party, our seniors are with their family and so are many of the people from our age group. The juniors and slightly younger ones are among themselves and they don’t entertain us because to them we are ‘Uncle’ and slightly out of ‘times’. In such times I feel not just alienated but more and more lonely.”

Recently when a dear friend’s marriage got almost fixed I remembered the two friends, their words and felt that a friend was moving away, like quite a few in the recent past. I felt this painful because this friend whose wedding is almost fixed, as explained by that very friend, we humans love a ‘mirror image’ of the self and wouldn’t want to lose that.

As I sat looking out of the window late that night I suddenly understood why Durga in the film Pather Panchali cries. Durga, in the film, cries when her close friend in the neighboring is getting married. When I watched the film the first time and every time I watched it I failed to understand why Durga cries, in the film, during the wedding. But suddenly I had the answer to, ‘Why Durga cries?’

The loss of companionship, friendship and a fear of not being belonged, I guess, makes Durga cry. Durga cries for herself. I guess it is the same reason which made my Defense friend feels lonely in every party. I guess my other friend hates attending wedding because she can see the wedding of a friend scripting the unwanted loss in her life.

My friend, who made me understand Durga’s tears, with the marriage almost fixed said, “If this is sealed I will be completely alone and completely lonely.” I was silenced by those words. Numb and silent. I had never thought of this possibility. Had this possibility crossed Durga’s mind I am sure Durga’s tears will be also for her friend as and when it flows down her cheek for herself.

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An Open Letter To C.C. Patil

January 2, 2012 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Letter, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Respected C.C. Patil,

You are the minister for women and child welfare, so let me assume that you are really concerned about women and hence you suggested a possible way by which girls and women can be saved from being raped. Your concern remains unquestioned from my side honorable minister.

Yet your statements angered me, I must tell you. Your statements saying you do not “approve” of “provocative” clothes being worn by women and suggesting they wear “dignified” clothes, how much skin they should cover and finally throwing the ball in the other’s court by saying it is up to women to decide which cloth is “safe”.

What a sane society we live in! Isn’t it Sir? What a sane society, where women are asked to be dressed “decently” and in a “dignified” manner to safeguard themselves from being raped and men are not asked to behave decently and dignified. Improper (as per your definition) dressing leads to rape and not an improper mindset of the rapist. Really insightful view Sir! We have ethical questions to the victims and not to the victimizers! What a sane society!

Do you know what is even the more sick? This mentality which thinks it can ‘instruct’ women and doesn’t have anything to ‘instruct’ the men!!!

Equally sick, as the act of rape, is the omnipresent male gaze which scans through the body of the girls to see how much of her skin is revealed and how much covered.

Yes, honorable minister this is the country which has named many a river after women and has worshipped women in many ways. But why is it that women become disrespectful if their skin is exposed? Why is it that they become ‘indecent’ when they wear “low-waist jeans” and “provocative” dresses? Why is it that they should even know if some Tom, Dick and Harry “approve” of their dress or not? Why is it that they are blamed when they are being victimized? What sort of respect is this? Why is it that women are expected to change their way of dressing keeping in their minds what men would find provocative and what they wouldn’t find provocative? Why should their way of life be seen through the eyes of men before being lived? Why should the omnipresent male gaze dictate the women what to do and what not to do? What sort of respect is this, which pushed women into self imposed censorship?

Your concern for women’s safety is well appreciated. But is there any way that one can prove that “decent” and “dignified” dressing will assure them safety? No. Plenty of cases can prove that many women are raped with them wearing no “flimsy and fashionable” clothes.

If a girl is wearing a “flimsy and fashionable” cloth it is no invitation for rape. If one feels it “provocative” it is their problem and if one feels it is “objectionable” even then it is their problem and not of the girls. To give “flimsy and fashionable clothes” as a reason for rape is equal to using it as an excuse. The victimizer’s mentality needs to be corrected and not the victim’s life style.

You are nobody to “approve” what they wear nor am I anyone to “allow” them to wear anything they want to. Who am I to “let” them do whatever and wear whatever they want to and who are you to “stop” them? To wear what she is comfortable with is her right. To wear what she wants to wear is her right. It is her liberty. That liberty was not given by us nor can it be snatched by us.


Samvartha ‘Sahil’

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