Friday, July 16, 2010

Gender Bender Moments: Of peacekeeping and cross-stitch

Purba tells me I have been tagged - and how? Pardon my cyber-challenged soul, but I take it that her comment on my blog, in response to my request in her blog is IT. That's how I have been tagged. Purba - do let me know if I am missing something while I let you know what a good gender-neutral soul I am!

1. I have done embroidery - once - and loved it!  Never got around to doing it again though.

This was 2002, sitting on the LOC, pre-ceasefire days, company commander of a company famous for the hostile company we had opposite us. I can't remember how it was I got the set - this was one of the Anchor Cross-Stitch sets which came with a  proper printed design and exactly the right quantity and colour of threads a needle and an instruction manual too! But there it was lying on the desk in my bunker. It was past mid-night and I had finished checking the guards and returned to my 'room' and flopped down into the chair. Life had been a mess over the past few weeks and we were exchanging tons of lead with our friends across the border. At night the borderscape was needled with long streaks of lights as the tracer rounds reached out at each other searching for the one moment of complacency to convert another soul into a figure - a statistical figure - 'one killed in enemy firing'. The constant chatter of the guns were almost conversational in tone as we responded to the enemy response to our response infinitum. Casualties had happened though luckily not under my command. We stayed awake at nights - moods were foul - tempers were high - men were armed and dangerous and jittery. Our friends across had made a few attempts to surprise us, but again, luckily - and luck is an amazing factor in warfare - we had come out with only wounded egos.

It was in this setting I opened the pack and started threading the needle. The design, if I remember correctly, was a flower pot. I started laboriously plunging the needle into the stiff starched fabric snaking the shiny coloured twine into and out of the mosaic of holes...only to look up an hour later when my buddy walked in with the mandatory cup of coffee. It was 3AM and the waft of well made coffee jolted me into the present. The disciplined Gorkha face did not give away a hint of the amusement he must have felt as he served me the steaming hot mug. The amusement would happen tomorrow morning when he shared this information with his friends in the langar - cookhouse - that the 'saab' was losing it; he was stitching clothes in his bunker. Now things were too serious for jest. I got up and stretched - and realised the design was half done. But now I had to take a break to go and check the guards. Winter nights stretch over 14 hours and guards have a hard time concentrating on their watch. This hot drink served twice and sometimes even thrice a night was essential to ensure everyone had something to look forward to during his duty. It kept people awake.

Twenty minutes later I was back at the desk and furiously stitching away. Now I was gunning for the finish - I knew if I did not complete it at this sitting, it would join the list of umpteen things that I have tried to do and never completed! Seven AM. I got up from the desk, sore but triumphant. I had done it. I still have it somewhere - in some old trunk. In case I do find it, I intend to frame it.

I sometimes wonder, why I enjoyed the experience so much. Probably because it was novel (for me), it was contrarian - cross-stitch would definitely not be looked upon as a militarily positive pasttime, it took my mind off from the crescendo of the guns, it probably gave my mind some rest - even when the mind was working.

It was one helluva therapeutic experience.

2. I have written a book - yet to be published - on (hold your breath) Women & Peacekeeping! Man I definitely deserve whatever you give to guys who have broken the frontiers in gender bending.

This is a bit funny. I was trying to find a particular topic for my dissertation in Staff College. The subject allotted was peacekeeping and we had to suggest what it was about peacekeeping that we would cover. Since I was late, all the other current and glamorous topics such as Peacekeeping Failures and Impact of Peacekeeping etc had been taken. As a result I landed up with Women and Peacekeeping.When the topics allotted were announced, there was a roar of laughter was my topic was read out. The usual jokes started off - how can you have women and peace in the same sentence et al. So there I was, left holding the baby that no one wanted!

When I started researching my topic, I found there was virtually NIL material in our (Indian) context. All the available stuff was by Western authors. Then as I read what they had written, I realised that it was all academic - no 'authority' who had written about the gender equality and women's issues had actually participated in peacekeeping. They were learned professors and distinguished personnel - but very few had what I had - ground experience.

Now just the year prior to this course I had completed a one year stint in D.R. Congo where I had some horrendous experiences related to women's issues. Imagine, my Bosnian team leader and I were interviewing three women who had apparently been raped by 30 soldiers, through an interpreter, and we were all males. And the interview was essential to file a report so that some modicum of justice could be squeezed out of the otherwise defunct Congolese judicial system. And there were many more such experiences.

So when I realised that I knew more of the ground realities than some of the experts, I decided to put my heart and soul into it. At that stage it was just for the marks and to do a good job. Unfortunately, I realised later, that I had become a victim of gender-stereotyping myself. Friends told me to forget about good marks with a topic such as mine! Anyhow, I completed my course, submitted my dissertation and forgot about it.

A year back I decided to convert the paper into a book. Work began in earnest and lo and behold, someone has agreed to publish it. It still remains to be seen whether it gets published as a book or a research paper.

So there you have it.

Not much, only two Gender Bender instances.

Wait a minute - this was supposed to be a funny post - humour etc. Sorry folks, the humour seems to have slinked away from this post...will try and retrieve it for another day.


Please COMMENT freely and frankly.


  1. You were supposed to write 10, where are the rest?

    But a fauji who takes solace in embroidery came as a pleasant surprise.

    Looking forward to reading your book, do let me know when it gets published :))

  2. Purba,

    I am supposed to write TEN?
    where did this come from?

    and here i was thinking i had done a great job.

  3. Gosh these two ... or even just the embroidery is enough to make you a sinner :)
    You are blasphemous!