Italy Nuggets: Naram Garam Sorbillo

Our research of eating options at Naples sprang up the name Sorbillo. Apparently, THE place to have Neapolitan pizza (the city claims to have invented pizza – the margherita pizza). After having walked several kilometers in Pompeii and then visiting Naples Cathedral, we collapsed on the stairs in front of the Cathedral and considered our eating options. Google maps showed that Sorbillo was close by. It would be crowded, we knew. But it was just the time for it to open. So we decided to try our luck. If it was crowded, we would eat someplace else nearby and then take the metro back to the hotel.


When we went there, we realized that our bet of reaching just at the opening time had paid off. Tables were available and filled up only after some time. The pizza was indeed good. We enjoyed our meal, complete with drinks and dessert.

Before going further with this story, however, I need to tell you another one.

There used to be a famous, but shabby and small, dhaba next to the Gurudwara near Ulsoor lake. It was called Bobby Da Dhaba, but didn’t even have a signboard with its name. There was no space to sit. It was always crowded. You had to wait for a long time to get the famous paranthas from a hole in the wall sort of an arrangement, which you ate standing by the road. (It has shifted since then, and now has space as well as a signboard, but that is a story for another day.)

Next to the unmarked Bobby Da Dhaba opened a bigger place, with enough seating and faster service. It also sported a big signboard. It was called Naram Garam Dhaba.

When after years of hearing about it, we finally went to Bobby Da Dhaba, we quickly realized that braving that queue was beyond our ken. We could have gone to some other place, as we knew that the Naram Garam Dhaba next to it is really an imposter. But we were hungry and not in a mood to figure out and go to another restaurant. So we decided to eat there. The food wasn’t bad, but we were not to know what the fuss over Bobby Da Dhaba was about.

Since then we call every imposter of famous outlets their Naram Garam versions.

If you travel in India you must be familiar with this phenomenon. If there is a shop or restaurant that has become famous, there will be tens of others with the same or similar name on the same street, but with shinier façade and better service (the trick to locate the right one in such cases is either to follow the locals or go for the one that looks the shabbiest.)

By now you have put two and two together and know what the twist in our story is. We stepped out of Sorbillo in Naples, satisfied with the food and happy with our initiative and good luck. Until a few hundred meters ahead, we found another Sorbillo, with barely discernible light over the signboard and a huge crowd in front of it.

The worst part is, on our way to Sorbillo, we were discussing this Naram Garam phenomenon and wondering if it happens only in India. Apparently not.

But then Italy (and Naples specifically) is perhaps the India of Europe.


यहाँ सोचना गुनाह है।

यहाँ सोचना गुनाह है।

झुका सर, नपे कदम,
उनकी राह चलें जो हम,
वही सही राह है।

यहाँ सोचना गुनाह है।

तुम्हारे दिमाग के कीड़े
उनके नाज़ुक दिल को ना छेड़ें,
लगती बुरी उनकी आह है।

यहाँ सोचना गुनाह है।

पूछो ना कोई सवाल
तुम ठहरे जयचंद के लाल।
उसकी किसे परवाह है?

यहाँ सोचना गुनाह है।

पत्थर चुभते नहीं,
बर्फ पिघलती नहीं,
जो उन्होंने कहा
तो आग जलती नहीं।
तलवार उनके हाथ में
मगर मज़लूम वही हैं।
तुम्हारे सुबूत ओ सुराग
किसी काम के नहीं है।
मुक़दमा चल चुका है
फ़ैसला फरमाया है,
पूछो नहीं कि कौन सी
अदालत ने सुनाया है।
बस इतना काफी है कि
उनका इतिहास गवाह है।

यहाँ सोचना गुनाह है।

Confessions of an Ex Non-feminist

I don’t remember when I got over my hesitation and started calling myself a feminist without reservations. But I do remember that in my younger days I was hesitant.

I see the same hesitance in many other women. Do you believe in the equality of the sexes? Yes. Are you a feminist? Not really.

What does that even mean?

So, I was forced to think back to the days when I had the same hesitation. Why did I feel the need to disown feminism? It took some time but I managed to solve the puzzle of my own making.

How does the express idea of the need for gender equality enter your head? In most cases, it happens because you see that certain things are considered belonging to the boys’ domain and certain others to the girls’. Girls do the household chores, while boys get time to study and attend tuitions. Girls are expected to cook, clean and take care of their families when they grow up; boys are expected to go out, do well professionally and earn. But it isn’t just the differences in the expectation from the two sexes that pique you. It is also the status differential that comes along with it. The distinction implies not just that girls and boys are different, but also that girls are inferior. So the idea of gender equality translates into your head as ‘girls are as good as (or better than) boys’.

What is the best way to contribute to the fight for gender equality then? It is to prove that girls are as good as boys. It is to prove that you are as good as boys.

When you are in a slightly emancipated situation, like when you are attending a good college or you are employed at a modern workplace, the gender distinction and the assumption of female inferiority may not be that blatant but it is always lurking around. In the form of rules (protect the girls in the hostels and control their dresses), jokes (do I even need to enumerate every day sexist jokes?), salary differential and systematic biases. And once again what is the best way you know of contributing to the cause of equality? It is to prove that you are as good as the boys. Your focus is on your achievements. The best way to go about it is to pretend that jokes are just jokes and that anything else potentially debilitating is either non-existent or immaterial. For you anyway. You are out to prove yourself, not to whine and crib about the problems in your life. Because if you do that, people get another opportunity to say that girls are weak and not as good as boys.


Enter the feminists. They talk about systematic biases, they object to sexist jokes, they demand equality. When you mouth their lines, it feels like you are making excuses for yourself. As if you are saying that if you failed it isn’t your problem, but society’s. That doesn’t make sense. That isn’t a great way to prove or achieve equality. So, you don’t mouth their lines. You don’t even like them mouthing those lines, because it feels like they are making excuses on your behalf. Excuses that you don’t need. Excuses that you don’t want. You can prove yourself, and you are doing that. Why are these so-called champions of women and gender equality spoiling it for you?

So nope! Feminism is not for you. It isn’t the right thing to do.

That’s where I was. So, what changed? Why am I an unabashed and unapologetic feminist now?

What changed for me has nothing to do with my being a woman or the issues of feminism and gender equality. What changed was that, as a person, I stopped feeling the need to prove myself to others. And then it became possible to see beyond what I can or cannot do.

I realized, over time, that in individual cases, some other advantages may trump sexism and patriarchy. The nation didn’t really boycott Indira Gandhi for her estrangement from her husband, as it would have done to a middle-class woman in those days. Power can make patriarchy immaterial. In other cases, privilege and money can. In my case, the fact that I managed to get into an IIT helped me transcend a lot of societal restrictions. Achievement surpassed patriarchy. But that isn’t the solution to the basic problem of gender inequality. It isn’t me. It isn’t the specific individuals who managed not to be affected by the systematic gender biases. It is what we are as a society. It isn’t enough that a woman educated in an IIT doesn’t feel weighed down just because she is a woman (many do, but let’s keep that for another day). What is essential is that an ordinary woman from an ordinary background wanting to live an ordinary life happily should not be discriminated against because of her sex either. Not even if she is illiterate and poor. What is also essential is that a woman from a privileged background should not feel silenced. Just because she has money and material comfort, it doesn’t mean she should not seek her political voice or financial independence or the right over her body or equality in every sense of the word. What I also realized is that it isn’t only about women. It isn’t only about women taking some power from men. It isn’t only about women breaking the stereotypical mold of femininity. It is also about letting men break free of the unfair ideals of masculinity. To use a poetic (and by now clichéd) expression, it is about it being okay for men to cry. It is about them not feeling ashamed or threatened if their wives earned more than them. It is about letting them be stay-at-home dads. And even with men, it is about changes spreading across the boundaries of class. I remember seeing a television program with some proud stay-at-home dads as panelists – all equivocally claiming that they didn’t face a problem in being one. They were all from privileged, urban backgrounds. Confident men who had achieved something in life and wouldn’t be bothered by societal pressure. But feminism is about providing this choice even to men from that fabled middle-class – the most potent upholder of all things patriarchal. Feminism is about providing this choice to everyone.

So yes – that’s how it changed for me. It changed when I accepted that it isn’t about me, my achievements or my weaknesses. It is about a system, which affects everyone. Besides, every feminist may not be cut out to be an activist. Every feminist may not even like being an activist. But everyone can be a feminist.

Not everyone needs to reach this point the way I reached at it. But irrespective of where you are in your life, whether or not you are trying to prove yourself, if you are ‘not a feminist’, please stop for a moment and think if your reasons are similar to mine. If they are, please review them.

Want to Fix Nehru’s Mistakes? Try These Three Suggestions.

Hey there! Do you think Nehru is responsible for all of India’s problems? I have good news for you. You can’t be proved wrong. After all, he was the first prime minister of independent India, a position he held until his death. So yes – most of our problems can be traced back to him in one way or the other. (For the same reason, most of the good things can be traced back to him too, but let’s forget about that for a moment. And let’s also forget that hindsight is 20/20.)

So, what now? Do you want to fix it? Great! But even if Nehru is in some way responsible for Rahul Gandhi’s existence, eliminating Rahul Gandhi from politics is not going to solve any of the real issues. Instead, how about we do the following to fix Nehru’s mistakes?

Repeal Sedition Law

Nehru strongly spoke against the law. It is a reprehensible relic of the colonial era. I don’t know why he did not repeal it. Independent India should have treated its citizen with more respect than the law does. But hey! What stops us from doing it? Let’s fix the mistake and repeal it.

Make it Easy to do Business

License Raj cannot be explained away with our colonial past, right? It is Nehru’s legacy. But even after almost three decades of liberalization, doing business in Indian is incredibly difficult. Why don’t we simplify our laws and make it meaningful as well as easy for businesses to follow them?

Stop Trying to Impose One Language on the Country

I have an explanation for this, but Nehru and his ilk seemed to believe that one language is necessary to keep the country together and it resulted in some unsavory Hindi imposition. Why continue that today? With technology at our service, why shouldn’t the government be focussed on taking governance to the people in whatever language they understand, not just scheduled languages, but everything else to0? Let’s do it. Let’s not resort to language imposition. Let’s instead serve people in their language. Whatever it is.

But I understand. This is too much work. So, let’s get back to bashing Nehru for Rahul Gandhi instead.

Sexual harassment? No, let’s talk about sexual predators.

[Note: The language in the article below assumes victim and victimizer as a woman and a man respectively. That just reflects the majority of the scenarios I have seen. It doesn’t mean that the situation can’t exist with gender roles reversed, or even between people of the same sex.]

For all our Vishakha guidelines and progressive judicial stands and outrage at the normalization of sexual harassment, whenever a case pops up, the discourse gets muddled up with the same old issue. Who do you trust in the classic he-said-she-said scenario? Even when there are “electronic proofs”, there is always a question of context, consent, and that ultimate conundrum – was it harmless flirting or was it sexual harassment?

For this post, let’s step back from the issue of individual incidents. Let’s talk about a certain kind of person instead. And quite unabashedly, I label this person as a sexual predator.

I don’t know if I can define it in completely unambiguous and objective terms – a definition you can put down in a law and be sure that it will serve you right every time – but I know a sexual predator when I ‘see’ one. What is different about a sexual predator? It is the predictable consistency of his behavior.  You will know one too when you come across them. But if you are young, inexperienced, uncertain or in awe of the person, you may choose not to know it. Or you may not feel confident enough in your knowledge. You may question yourself, rather than that person. And you may go on pretending that nothing is wrong.

Have you known someone who casts his net wide? Whose default mode of interaction with someone of opposite sex (sometimes restricted to a ‘type’ they have) is flirting or behaving more intimately than their level of acquaintance justifies? Who makes women uncomfortable and leaves them wondering if something is wrong with that person or if their discomfort is the result of they themselves being too puritan, uncool and stuffy. For whom women’s sexual liberation means freedom for themselves to make any interaction with the opposite sex sexual in nature – subtle or otherwise? And who, if they were not slapped by the woman right then and there, claim that there was consent for whatever they said or did, and howsoever they behaved?

Don’t let your answer be affected by the fact that the person may be extremely successful, even legendary, nor by him being a nice and helpful person, not even by him being an avowed and fierce feminist. It is mighty difficult to believe that a person can be all of these and still be a sexual predator. So please keep these observations aside for a moment and think if the answer to any of the questions I asked in the previous paragraph is true? If it is, then you perhaps know a sexual predator, even if everything else about him is nice, inspiring and grand.

I know at least two such people. I have known them to be sexual predators since almost my first interaction with them. But I didn’t consciously acknowledge it until I was old and experienced enough to digest the idea. And until I got some external verification. One of them has a type (young women), the other is quite flexible.  They happen to be the kind of people I want to professionally keep in touch with, even if there isn’t something I need from them at the moment. They are successful, approachable, immensely articulate, well-connected, well-moneyed, and always eager to help. Both old enough to be my father too. The reason I mention age is that it is a factor that makes young people instinctively want to trust them. But they are sexual predators.

How can they be so? Especially when they have so much to lose? Successful people always have more to lose, right? I wonder as much as you do.

And I wonder if there is a point in fighting them? Not just because of the hopeless social discourse such a fight brings about. But also because of how they react to it. How confidently defensive they get. It doesn’t look like they would improve if you fight them.

I also wonder if we should give them a benefit of doubt. I am almost ready to concede that they themselves are victims. That sexual predation is not as much of a choice as we may think. That it isn’t as much about the power equation as we tend to ascribe it to, especially in the context of sexual harassment at workplace. That it is something pathological. That they have a problem in their brains because of which either 1) they genuinely “do not know what they are doing”. That is, they honestly believe that in a sexually liberated society they are not crossing a line, even when they take advantage of the weaker or vulnerable position of the other person, or 2) they know what they are doing, but their urges are so strong that they can’t control it.

Yes – I am ready to concede that they are victims. Or rather patients. Dangerous kinds of patients, though. Because they are a threat to other people.

So, let’s do this. Let’s not try to treat them like criminals. Let’s not try to analyze each individual incident to see if there is technically a power-equation or professional relationship that makes their behavior wrong and for which they can be convicted. Let’s not public-shame them. Instead, let’s start sending them references of good psychiatrists. Like you would do for someone suffering from depression. Or of behavior therapists. Like you would do for someone who has an uncontrollable, violent temper. If you are someone close enough to them, don’t let yourself be fooled by their well-articulated defenses on why they are not ill and don’t need help. Do the right thing and get them help. And till they get it, keep them out of the situations where their illness can show its ugly symptoms. Just like people with pedophilic tendencies should not be put in a situation where children have a reason to interact with them, people with sexual-predatory tendencies should not be put in a situation where others have a reason to interact with them.

The rest of us, let’s send them get-well-soon cards. And flowers, if they are not beyond your budget.