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V-Day in the City

Originally published in:
The Indian Express

by Priya Ramani

I can just visualise him, Chennai’s top cop R. Natraj who has decided he will block the staging of The Vagina Monologues at least in his city. There he is, sipping just-right filter coffee — his wife Nirmala probably prepares the fresh decoction every morning. Suprabhatam blasts through the speakers, and for some reason he’s thinking about a recent speech he gave at founding day celebrations of the Stenographer’s Guild. Stenography is a living art and will not die in spite of technological advances like computers, he had predicted to resounding applause.

People who irritate him include errant autorickshaw drivers (he’s determined to make them behave) and legendary bandit Veerappan. Like countless other predecessors, when he took over as police commissioner in November, he vowed that efforts to nab Veerappan would show results soon. He’s proud that fatal road accidents in Chennai have gone down, thanks to the strict police force.

A new addition to the irritants list is Eve Ensler and her controversial play that, to be fair to Natraj, has already been banned in various countries including China and Malaysia.

In Delhi they wanted to sidestep the word ‘‘vagina’’ and refer to it as a V-Day celebration instead. But unfortunately for Chennai’s women, Natraj seems to have been offended by the concept of V-Day itself. In India, the police commissioner has the power to clear all public performances in his city and to say no if he finds any objectionable content.

So what if The Monologues had won awards and been translated into over 35 languages. One quick glance and Natraj was sure Chennai would not be able to handle this brutally frank series of outpourings by women and about women. About the moans that come out of women. (Why should Chennai’s women have any use for a Big-O orchestra ranging from the diva moan to the doggie moan, aren’t they soundless anyway?) What possible requirement could there be for the observations on female sexuality vs male sexuality (‘‘who needs a handgun when you have a sub-machine gun’’) and for the frank discussions on the only organ in the human body dedicated to human pleasure.

In the Chennai police, there was nobody to explain to Natraj that The Vagina Monologues is more than a book that studies female sexuality and strength. It also exposes the violations that we endure throughout the world. It’s a movement against rape, battery and incest, a movement that has raised more than $20 million in the six years of its existence.

Who would tell him that Ensler’s image of the urban Indian woman in a “salwar-kameez with Nike shoes and a terrific sense of humour” was way more accurate than his outdated understanding of what women should see and hear.

And so Natraj decided that in the land of Lord Venkateswara, this other V-day would clearly be a no-no.