January 31, 2015

Shereen El-Feki AND Ira Trivedi

I recently attended Tata Steel Kalam 2015, a Literary Meet in the City of Joy- Kolkata. On the last day, I attended a truly enthralling AND enlightening session on women’s sexuality. It was the penultimate session for the day, with two very intelligent, talented, pretty AND humble writers- Ira Trivedi AND Shereen El-Feki. Overall, it was a game-changing experience for me!

Both have reasearched on the changing dynamics of sexuality in the conservative societies of India AND the Arab world respectively, and have written about this bold, controversial, sensitive yet highly necessary topic needing large scale discussion, in their books- “India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century” AND “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World” respectively.

Presenting these multi-faceted personalities' bios from the Literary Meet booklet:

Shereen El-Feki

Ira Trivedi

Adding to the above descriptions, is lots more which the authors told themselves AND I googled up a wealth of information too after coming back home! Reminiscing the powerful session right here:

Shereen came across as a delightful, intelligent, loquacious author who always had umpteen things to say! Listening to her was sheer delight! She is a British citizen, who is half-Egyptian. As a scientist AND health correspondent for many years, AND seeing the changing tide in Arab world with Arab spring and rumblings towards democracy, she decided to use sex as a lens to study the Arab world. Her point is if you really want to know about people, then you need to look inside their bedrooms first. After five years of research, she has come up with her insightful first book.

She gave a heart-touching incident to explain this sentence- "the more educated we are, the lesser the talk on sex". Example goes like this- An Arab girl studying higher course of biology, once asked a medical counsellor whether she'd get pregnant by standing in front of the AC (air conditioner)! When asked why she thought so, the answer revealed that she had  confused the term 'pollen' with sperm! So it is such a pity that even a highly educated person, knew so little. 

Shereen pointed out hypocrisy in urban classes and gave a wonderful sentence to describe it- "In Arab world, all talk about football but none play it,  while about sex- all do it, but none talk about it"! She also told about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which is done by mothers to their girls extensively in Arab world AND why. One of the main reasons is to control women's sexuality so that male insecurity is checked AND more peaceful married life can occur. But it takes away their right to enjoy sex completely, forever. However on asking, most women never complained, speaking of deep rooted bias among women themselves. Sex trafficking occurs widely too, in the appearance of marriage, especially from the refugee camps. 

Ira has done similar awe-inspiring research for five years in India, asking over 600 people across India about sexuality. Her basic question is that India being a liberal democracy, of what meaning is such democracy in public, if half the population is not getting such freedom in personal life? With new dynamism in political and economic revival of India, of what use will this be if socially women remain suppressed and tormented? 

Ira's research shows that illegal abortions have gone up over three times in last five years. She read an extract on the dark alleys of Palika Bazar in New Delhi where duplicate sex toys are sold in hordes. Though more young people, especially in metros as a norm are now getting into physical relationships before marriage, yet where done in unsafe ways, leads to many sexual diseases and illegal abortions. Also, rural people were more forthcoming to talk to her on issues, while urban middle class was too hypocritical. 

Her research pointed out that while few decades back, 5-7% in urban India would have love marriages, now that number has moved upto a whopping 30%. India is changing fast, but without sex education for all, we are sitting on a pile of sex problems faced by our young people which will bring down overall productivity and needs to be tackled effectively.

Shereen AND Ira~

 Together they were a formidable, sheer energetic force on stage. They could completely capture the audience's rapt attention for over 45 minutes. Me, AND I'm sure most of the people were disappointed when such a frank, enlightening talk ended, but floor was open for audience questions! I was dying to ask one question to both- "Both of you must have done research facing many difficulties in the still conservative societies of India AND Arab world. What were these? Can you recall the toughest such incidents? Especially Shereen, did you face any threats to your life from fundamentalist forces in the process of researching AND writing, or perhaps even now?!" 

But before me, the mic went to a lady in the audience who unfortunately asked very derogatorily AND in a demeaning way to both the authors. In the original centre of Indian Renaissance, Bengal, that such things could be said, was shocking. And while I wanted to ask about fundamentalist forces, I never knew there was almost one such lurking right in the audience!

What won my heart AND I'm sure all hearts after that, was the wonderful, winning AND mature way in which Shereen responded. She said-"That you can express, speak out your mind AND views, whatever they be, publicly in such a forum truly shows the strength of your democracy!" Both Ira AND Shereen went on to elaborate how public debate on sexuality was a must, otherwise our progress would forever remain sub-optimal. Social revolution was a must with economic one. Infact, Ira confessed that she had read out the bold Palika Bazar extract first time ever, only because she was in a liberal city like Kolkata, to which there were loud cheers!

At home~
After such an awe-inspiring session, I looked up both Ira AND Shereen on Twitter AND followed AND tweeted them. Ira retweeted one tweet as well in which I posed my question! No answer yet though!

Here were two gutsy, path-breaking single women who exemplify using their AND. I found out that Ira was not only a best-selling writer, but also a certified Yoga instructor AND a columnist AND was a Miss India participant in 2005, from which event's experiences she had written her debut book! Shereen is not only a PHD in immunology, but also was a healthcare journalist AND was TV presenter with Al Jazeera AND was Vice-Chairperson of UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law! Now Shereen is an inspiring role model for millions of Arab women in particular AND all women in general!

Phenomenal that these women set out for five years to research AND write on such pressing, important, bold topic on which society seriously needs debate AND discussion. I can imagine they would have faced many men AND women who may have discouraged them, probably threatened them, talked derogatorily to them, but they went on AND created path-breaking written work. They did not believe in 'OR' but have diversified AND stuck to 'AND' when life gave them choices.

Here's raising a toast to both these independent, gutsy women! More power to them AND may more women come up to write, discuss and solve issues regarding women's sexuality! 

*This post is a part of #UseYourAnd activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette Venus

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  1. Wonderful post, Amrita :)
    I had the good fortune to attend the same event AND to listen to these amazing women.
    They are a great inspiration. Kudos to their work on this topic. Much needed.
    A unique take for this prompt. Hope it's a winning entry :) Best wishes :)

    1. Thanks a lot Anita! Winning post or not that judges n readers will decide- but these r definitely winning women who define AND! :-) All d best to U too!


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