I don’t know whether she had a cold, or perhaps it’s one of her idiosyncrasies, but MsDD and I were rather distracted by the thunderous nasal yoga breathing of violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, in concert with her London Bridge Ensemble, at school tonight. Our seats were in the middle of the fourth row back, so we were on intimate terms with the musicians and, though we found parts of the programme of chamber music of Mozart, Schubert and Dvorak quite delightful, the noisy nose was in our face in a way we could not ignore.
MsDD plays the clarinet and I sing, as you know, both instruments that require quiet breath control and we wondered whether the mesmerisingly falcon-featured violinist was deliberately practising this sonorous breathing out of respect for ancient Eastern methods, to help her practise mindfully on her ancient Western Stradivarius, perhaps.
I’m glad the school can attract these renowned musicians, though, whilst simultaneously resenting the fact that we have to pay for tickets despite being strongly whipped to attend. The offspring, as Music Exhibitioners, have always been strongly encouraged to turn up at these concerts and many children have found some of the masterclasses offered by the musicians during the school day of some use. There have been times, though, when mine have practised hard to play in masterclasses and they’re just dismissed with a “Keep playing,” and that’s not been overly helpful.
Noisy yoga breathing is, to my mind, not welcome in a Mozart Violin/Viola duo. MsDD made the same grimace as me. I hope the musicians didn’t catch our matching expressions.
Yoga, yes. An ancient health-giving Indian lifestyle practice. I’ve done it a couple of times and appreciate it but find that I can’t silence my mind. I wouldn’t be as good at meditating as my colleague at my voluntary job this afternoon, who visits India regularly because of her enthusiasm for Hinduism and its “spirituality.” She made the mistake of asking me whether I’d seen that BBC India’s Daughter documentary, screened ahead of its scheduled time last night when I was at choir.
I’ve every intention of watching the film on Sunday night and I don’t really want to comment in detail until I’ve watched it but I am incensed by the Indian reaction to the film and the people who made it. Essentially, it’s about that poor young woman, Jyoti Singh, violently gang raped on a Delhi bus a couple of years ago. Eventually she was treated in hospital in Singapore but died of her horrific injuries.
The documentary interviews her parents and one of her rapists who, it is said, lacks any remorse for his actions and appears to blame the victim of his crime. It’s the same old story: women are more guilty than men for precipitating rape and any decent woman wouldn’t be out on a bus at 9pm.
The documentary has been banned in India, its makers intimidated and condemned for making their film, for showing India in a bad light abroad, as if the crime itself and countless others like it, committed in an atmosphere of oppressive misogyny in India had not done that already. A fairly recent international survey confirmed that India is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman and yet Indian society prefers to shoot the messenger and blame the victim, yes these are tired old clichés, used for a reason, rather than confronting the culture that sustains this horrific degree of misogyny. No problem was ever tackled by sweeping it under the carpet.
India likes to see itself as the next economic superpower and (many) women in India are increasingly educated and career-focused and expected to be at the forefront of the drive for growth. And yet culturally they are regarded as asking for it if they are not back at home doing chores for their mothers by 7pm. The hypocrisy disgusts me.
MsDD and I were discussing my colleague and her love of inclusive Hinduism (let’s not mention its caste system and traditional ostracism of menstruating women and those who dare to be widowed and still alive) and many Westerners’ professions of love for the spirituality of Mother India.
My (English) colleague was telling me all about the matriarchy in India. Within the home, of course. Even she admitted that most Indian women don’t have much of a say outside the home. I reminded her of the Indian visa application form where one is the property of one’s father and then one’s husband. My Overseas Citizenship of India, granted last year, carries my father’s name and the address where he lived even though he died in 2006 and I’m nearly 50. That doesn’t sound very matriarchal to me.
MsDD has indie friends who drawl at her how lucky she is to have connections with India. She’s proud of the cultural diversity, yes, but she’s more circumspect. As she points out, India is not all about her friends’ Marigold Hotel image of shabby chic hotels and peaceful yoga ashrams. This image is based on a great big unspoken, unresolved lie. And I can say that here on my blog in the UK without, like Raif Badawi, being flogged or threatened with death.
Oh, and I’m quite aware of the war against women all over the world. It’s utterly depressing. But in the UK, it’s a matter of degree, I think. We do not, in general, subject our girls to female genital mutilation and we don’t generally accept treating women and girls as lesser beings. Unlike people who worship the Mystic East and its yoga retreats and its spirituality, MsDD and I do not take our European freedoms for granted.
Speaking of powerful women, MsDD is Music Director of this year’s Year 7 and 8 play, Oliver Twist. She’s written songs and incidental music and coaches the singers in their acting and singing. She’s putting this time spent towards her Duke of Edinburgh award, and it will probably look quite good on her CV.
Yesterday she was coaching the excitable younger children in their vocal diction warmups and waiting for quiet when one particularly cocky young Year 8 said “You need a man’s vioce for that,” or some such words. MsDD told him how sexist he was, made him do the voice exercise on his own and told him to get back in line. “And come and see me at break tomorrow.”
“But,” I said, astounded at her chutzpah, when she related this to me, “Can you do that? You’re not a teacher or a prefect or even in the Sixth Form.”
“No, but I am their Music Director and they have to show me respect and do as I say.”
“Did he come and see you? What did you say?”
“Yes, he came. I told him quietly that he probably meant it as a joke but that saying sexist things like that just perpetuate the misogynistic cultural status quo and how I expected an apology. He apologised and I told him to think about what he was saying in future.”
She may be on a power trip but I’m so proud of this child. And she does make me laugh.