In a world that has progressed immensely in the societal domain, where society strives to shrug off the remaining bits of misogyny and male chauvinism, it is dispiriting to observe the status of women in Saudi Arabia. Women require the permission of their guardian men, mahram, to perform the simplest of tasks, like opening a bank account. At the same time, ironically, there is a stronger presence of women on university campuses than that of men. However, in a kingdom that is under the choking grips of staunch senior clerics, there is little space for the progress of women.
Majd Abdulghani, a twenty year old girl living in Saudi Arabia, provides us with very insightful episodes into her life. As she records on her microphone for a Podcast by Radio Diaries, the deep sense of passion and hope in her voice is quite palpable. Majd is different from the other girls. There is an innate sense of questioning the norms that her mother and the rest of her family seem to have easily accepted.
Being a country that has no minimum age restrictions for the marriage of women, Majd started receiving proposals from men since she turned 19. As a bachelor’s student in King Saud University with a brimming with a desire to study and make a difference to the world, though, Majd confessed she had no intentions of marrying anyone so soon.
Majd shares a pretty casual relationship with her four brothers and her parents. Her work in the university genetics lab involves interactions with men, which, according to her, is a little strange, but not unnerving. There are certain rules she has to follow, though, like completely avoid shaking hands, or any other form of body contact. Her family has accepted this as her field of work, so they don’t have a problem.
Karate at the female gym in Saudi Arabia is her passion. She refers to it as The Fight Club. Taking Karate classes is very unusual for girls in the Arabic country, something her father had picked on. He had already expressed he wished her to discontinue with Karate, since it makes her less feminine. But her parents fail to understand that Karate is more than just physical training for her – its an art, its something she can lose herself in, and not think about anything else at that time. They want her to start getting accustomed to the kitchen, so she could fulfill her responsibilities as a wife and keep her husband happy in the future. That is how the society looks at women and marriage in Saudi Arabia – performing wifely duties and taking care of home – something that seems illogical to Majd.
It is mandatory for women to wear an abaya, a long black over-garment, and a niqab, that is worn over the face so that they don’t “show off their beauty”. Her brother believes there should be an opening for only one eye in the niqab, so that a maximum area is covered. While it is again unfair and misogynistic, Majd looks at this custom with a unique set of eyes. She says the prospect of walking down the streets fully covered from head to toe is quite exhilarating. In the university, which houses separate campuses for men and women, Majd can roam freely without the abaya, and wear make up, and truly be herself, which is a more liberating experience.
A year later, studying at King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), Majd received another proposal from a boy, who is well-mannered and polite, according to her parents. Agreeing to meet with him and bearing just a one percent chance of saying yes, she traveled back to her hometown from her dorms in the University.
On the day of the meet, Majd saw “the guy” asking her hand for marriage, and found him pretty handsome. And like all couples that always start with their first awkward and nervous conversations, Majd and the man shared greetings and introduced themselves. Majd was content with his answers. Anmar wanted to come up with an invention to change the way energy is used in Saudi Arabia, and he didn’t seem to mind that her interests were Karate and genetics. But the one statement that he said stuck with her: “We’ll push each other to the top.”
Since her marriage with Anmar, Majd has been accepted into a masters program in genetics, and is well on the way to achieve her dreams. Even the shackles of society hasn’t held her back in being fulfilling everything that she believes in, and this helps her stand out as a paradigm for other women in Saudi Arabia.
-By Saurabh Bodas
Saurabh is pursuing engineering and is an intern at NewsGram. Twitter handle: saurabhbodas96
After four decades in Bollywood, Anil Kapoor feels he needs to learn how to go easy on himself, and that is his biggest challenge. The actor says he has always been his worst critic.
Anil entered the industry with a small role in 1979 with Umesh Mehra’s “Hamare Tumhare”, and then went on to carve his niche by balancing his stature as a respectable actor and his popularity as a saleable star, with performances including “Woh 7 Din”, “1942: A Love Story”, “Mr. India”, “Tezaab”, “Ram Lakhan”, “Lamhe”, “Beta”, “Taal”, “Nayak: The Real Hero” and “Pukar”.
At 62, he has managed to keep himself relevant in the forever fickle world of Bollywood showbiz, and his fit and sprightly persona defies his age. Anil insists his constant struggle is to go easy on himself.
“I’ve always been hard on myself and I’m always my own worst critic. So my biggest challenge continues to learn to go easy on myself and to let go when I need to,” Anil told IANS.
He says his career goals continue to be the same as they were all those years ago, when he was starting out.
“Strangely enough, my goals haven’t changed much! I’m a simple man with a simple plan — to be better than I was yesterday. So that’s what I continue to strive towards,” said the actor.
If anything, he has managed to stay relevant by experimenting with his craft and subjects, as trends changed in Bollywood over the past 40 years.
There have been the international forays, too. He featured in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-wiing global blockbuster “Slumdog Millionaire”, and also worked in “24”, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Family Guy”.
His versatility is proved by the fact that he was equally at home in these international projects as he was in out-and-out Bollywood outings as “No Entry”, “Welcome”, “Race”, “Dil Dhadakne Do”, “Mubarakan”, “Fanney Khan”, “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga” and “Total Dhamaal”.
“I’ve always believed that change is the only constant. So, I have let life and opportunities change me along the way, in the most organic ways possible. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the passion I feel for my work,” said the actor, who recently became part of a panel discussion by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films in Kolkata to decode “what makes films powerful”, as part of a six-city tour.
Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films brings stars together to talk about the power of cinema and the short film genre. The panel discussion in Kolkata was moderated by Anupama Chopra, and also included Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Vinay Pathak, Sheetal Menon, Bejoy Nambiar and Niranjan Iyengar.
“Cinema is perhaps the most engaging way in which stories are told and shared”, he said, adding: “And stories have always had the power to shape minds and lives.”
The actor points out that power comes with a sense of responsibility.
“Anyone in a position to influence minds and hearts has a responsibility towards the people they are reaching. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the right platform and a mouthpiece to communicate with the world, so when you do, it comes with the duty to be mindful of the message you’re sharing and affirming,” said the father of three.
Anil will be back on the big screen in Anees Bazmee’s “Pagalpanti”, with whom he has in the past worked in “No Entry”, “Welcome”, “No Problem”, “Welcome Back” and “Mubarakan”.
“Pagalpanti” also stars John Abraham, Arshad Warsi, Pulkit Samrat, Ileana D’Cruz, Kriti Kharbanda, Urvashi Rautela and Saurabh Shukla, and is slated to release on November 22.
The film is produced by Bhushan Kumar and Krishan Kumar’s T-Series and Kumar Mangat Pathak and Abhishek Pathak’s Panorama Studios and co-produced by Vinod Bhanushali, Shiv Chanana, Aditya Chowksey and Sanjeev Joshi. (Bollywood Country)