Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sahelis, sex and Debonair

Read my first copy of Debonair recently. Okay, the articles are c-grade soft porn and the photographs cringe-worthy, but what struck me is that the magazine is full of letters from women, who love sex and don't mind saying so.

Assuming of course, that these letters are genuine and not written by the staff themselves!

But what if there really are such women around? Why don't they write to, say, Marie Claire, or Vogue or Bazaar? After all, the posher, glossier, pricier, mags are all about being liberated, free-spirited and independent-minded. About loving the way you look, knowing yourself and your style icon. And of course, about buying Jimmy Choos, wearing Chanel and Balenciaga and toting Hermes on your arm!

I bet the Debonair readers don't do any such thing. So where do such women live? Not in a Mumbai high-rise, or a Bangalore gated community, or Lavasa or any "planned city". Apparently, they hail from small towns such as Ranikhet, Baner and Durgapur. And Ujjain and Dandeli. I don't think MC or Vogue or Bazaar even know such towns exist.

Yet, these places are also where you find women whose biggest adventure is to call the All India Radio's "Hello Saheli" phone-in programme. This is a Hindi film song request show. It doesn't have any fancy opening bars or fast-talking RJs. Just a couple of women presenters and a lovely collection of songs. I find the programme refreshing. And immensely humbling. The callers are women who refer to the women presenter as "madam" and tell her what a difference Hello Saheli makes to their lives.

For these women are housewives (not home-makers, if you please). They do some "silaai" from home or teach in their spare time, or if they are teenagers, look after younger siblings and dream of becoming something, anything, after they finish college. If they get to finish college, that is. And oh yes, I'm pretty sure they don't read Debonair.

Yet, aren't all these women part of the India that is unseen, unheard and ignored by us urban types. Do we really care what goes on in Baner or Ranikhet, unless of course there's a violent sex crime there, or something else equally atrocious happens?

In a way, then, Debonair and Hello Saheli are doing what we aren't. Giving these women a chance to make themselves heard.