written by: Dilip Mohapatra
‘Hey Lata,’ yelled Shabnam, ‘switch off the gas and let the pressure cooker cool and clean the utensils in the sink. See that the utensils are shining and pristinely clean. But first, press Gudlu’s school uniform and make a cup of coffee for Robin Saab.’
‘Yes Ma’am,’ acknowledged Lata, ‘but madam what do you mean by pristinely clean?’ Lata was in the habit of picking up new words in English and Shabnam always encouraged and helped her to improve her vocabulary.
Shabnam Souza better known as Oprah Winfrey of the East, is a successful talk show host in a popular TV news channel. Her show known as ‘Shabnam Slices’ has one of the highest ratings as a television program and she is no less than the celebrities whom she hosts in her shows. She had been very adept in picking up various contemporary social issues, some of them controversial and some critical. The issues covered a wide spectrum of burning problems, ranging from LGBT legislation to mob lynching, abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir, Citizenship Amendment Act, Me Too and the like. Her incisive and deft handling of the shows with an emotion centric approach, her apparent empathy and compassion for the suffering have made her very dear to the audience. Her powerful presence and fact based analyses with undeniable logic have built up her image as a successful opinion maker in the public eye and an obvious outcome had been her immense clout in political circles too. Although sometimes she’s accused of fabricating evidence and dramatising the issues to her advantage, she surely carries the audience with her and some celebrities who are on her cross hairs are literally scared to face her interviews. On the other hand, if she admires a politician even with a criminal record, she shows the person in the best light and there are instances of complete image make overs for some in power. In return she enjoys their patronage and protection. In short, she is the darling of the common man as well as someone whom the rich and powerful cannot ignore.
Shabnam lived in a posh flat in Colaba, an upmarket area of Mumbai with her husband Robin and six year old son Alex nicknamed Gudlu. Robin was a successful graphic designer in a reputed production house but now does freelancing from home, under a long contract with Disney. Lata in her early twenties, a school dropout is their housemaid engaged on a part time basis working only in the afternoons, helping in the kitchen, and taking the little boy to the park in the evening when he returns from school. She also works in another two households during the morning hours to make just enough money to supplement her family income. Her husband is an auto driver. She has an ailing mother in law at home and they have no kids. They stay in a nearby shanty. Generally, a cheerful girl, Lata was very proud of her ‘mem saab’ who was a celebrity and always asked her many questions to learn about the country and the world. She always looked forward to such conversations on Saturday afternoons, soon after Shabnam’s weekly talk shows. Shabnam also found these conversations interesting and always tried to satisfy her curiosity.
This Saturday afternoon, as the ‘Shabnam Slices’ show came on air, Lata brought a bag of green peas and settled down on the carpet to peel them, while Shabnam relaxed on her recliner with a chilled beer in hand. It was a recorded show though it was shown as ‘Live’ and had a galaxy of cine stars, journalists, and IT professionals, an all woman panel and the topic was Me-Too. Shabnam steered the conversation with alacrity and dexterity of a seasoned professional and brought out the salient points of the issue through insightful questioning and discussions. The panel meandered through the Me-Too street, which was almost a maze of chiaroscuro, partly lighted, partly dark with open ends and blind corners. Discussions hovered around misogyny in general and touched upon gender abuse in office spaces and beyond, about forceful and alpha males with testosterone driven sexist behaviour and even ‘bobbitisation’ as a possible deterrent. Somehow most of the discussions went over head for Lata who tried to comprehend as much as she could but watched silently the heated arguments on the screen in wide-eyed bewilderment. She maintained a small notebook and quickly jotted down few words which she would clarify from ‘Mem Saab’ later.
By the time the show was over, Lata had finished her green peas pealing and Shabnam two cans of white Bira beer. As Lata looked at her expectantly for their private ‘tutorial’ session, Shabnam told her to get few large onions and a utility knife from the set of Tomodachi knives, her prized possession, a gift from a Japanese friend. The latter claimed that the knives were forged from the same steel which was used to make the traditional katana swords for the samurai. Lata knew what to do. She knew that some friends were coming home for dinner and ‘Mem Saab’ had plans to cook Hyderabadi chicken dum biriyani. Lata sat down to do the fine slicing of the onions and soon the razor sharp blade produced the results to perfection.
‘Ma’am, what exactly is this Me-Too?’ asked Lata.
‘Lata, this is a world-wide movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault on women. You see, there are many bad men out there. When they get a chance, they try to force themselves on vulnerable women and most women keep quiet about it. Some out of fear and some out of shame. Such behaviour by these bad men should not be allowed or tolerated. And the victim should build enough courage to expose them. This Me-Too movement helps for such women to come forward together and speak out about their experience. This would surely desist these bad men to repeat such acts with other women since they will be scared to be exposed,’ explained Shabnam.
‘All these women who were in your show – are they the victims who are coming to the public?’ asked Lata.
‘No, not all of them. Some are speaking on behalf of their friends and others too,’ offered Shabnam.
‘Ma’am, they were talking of ‘bobbitisation,’ Lata referred to her note and spoke the word hesitatingly. She continued, ‘That it could help stopping the bad men do bad things. What is that?’ Lata was curious to know.
‘Oh! That?’ smiled Shabnam, and continued, ‘there was this American lady Lorena Bobbit, married to John. One evening John had forced sex on her against her will. She was not amused and when he was asleep, she castrated him with a sharp knife. Some believe that a woman should not passively tolerate any sexual attack on her, and the perpetrator should be punished as such. The word bobbitisation came into being after this incident. Essentially it means severing of the male member of a bad man who forces himself on a woman’s dignity and honour through sexual advances, against the will of the woman.’
‘Oh, even the husbands can’t force themselves on their wives?’ exclaimed Lata and continued, ‘I always thought that they can exercise their rights over the wives any time whenever they please,’ her voice trailed off.
There was a brief period of silence. It seemed that Lata was taking some time to digest her new found knowledge.
‘Ma’am, I want to seek your advice on something personal,’ asked Lata furtively.
‘Sure, feel free,’ Shabnam encouraged Lata to speak.
‘I am having a similar issue. But don’t know how to deal with it,’ told Lata avoiding meeting Shabnam’s eyes.
‘Come on, don’t be afraid. You can confide with me. I can help you,’ coaxed Shabnam.
‘You know Mem Saab, I have a Me-Too problem too,’ said Lata in an undertone.
‘OK, tell me,’ Shabnam was eager to hear about it.
‘One of my employers is really creepy. Whenever he gets me alone, he tries to touch me at the wrong places. He has tried to kiss me too. Once he hugged me tight like a python squeezes its prey and I used all my strength to push him away and set myself free from his hold,’ sobbed Lata.
‘Hold on to yourself. Be strong Lata. I am happy that you have not yet yielded to his advances,’ said Shabnam, visibly angry.
‘But Mem Saab, I was wondering if I can do a bobbitisatin on him?’, asked Lata anxiously.
‘Sure, if you have the courage to do it. The best defense against evil men are good people who are skilled in violence. These predators must be taught such lessons they can never forget!’ fumed Shabnam.
‘Mem Saab, can I borrow this knife? Nothing could be a better weapon than this,’ requested Lata.
‘Fine. But remember, such steps are extreme and always have their consequences. One can’t always take law into one’s own hands. It’s another thing when all other options are exhausted. Take care,’ advised Shabnam.
Lata got up and went to the kitchen to tidy it up. It was almost half an hour before Gudlu was to return from school. She has to go and escort the boy from the bus stop and then take him out to the park before her day’s chores are over.
‘Lata, make another cup of coffee for Saab and give it to him in the library. I am just taking a power nap,’ yelled Shabnam.
It was hardly ten minutes when Shabnam was shaken up from her nap by a piercing cry reverberating in the house. She sprang to her feet and ran towards the source of the noise, the library. As she entered, she found Robin grunting on the white floor, curled up like an embryo, with a pool of blood slowly seeping out of his middle and a frightening Lata standing close by with a blood smeared knife, dumbstruck as if playing statue. It took some time for the scene to sink in and she heard Robin whimper and requesting her to call the ambulance urgently. Shabnam for a moment didn’t know what to do, but soon she confronted Lata with unbridled rage and fury and charged her, ‘you stupid bitch, you ungrateful wretch, you had to bite the hand that feeds you! Hold on I will ensure that you rot in jail for the rest of your life.’
With blood shot eyes and quivering fingers, Shabnam was seen dialling 100, while Robin’s whimper had stopped, and Lata continued to stand there frozen.
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