Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's time

So it is time to write.
It had always been
But the words were a tad shy.
In the chaotic green room
A noun would nod her head
A jumpy little preposition
Would whisper, “You go ahead!”
The adjectives would line up
The editor would tut-tut
And drive them willy-nilly
An edgy pronoun, ‘I’ to be specific
Would peer around the curtain, heave a sigh
Look down, ponder, and wonder ‘why?’
Why does it have to be so tough
To just talk
To just express
To just be oneself and not obsess
With accuracy, with detail
With what words really entail
Is it not possible to just let them flow
Let them decide where they want to go?
Back in the greenroom
Getting crowded, it was
“Let us out, let us out
Too many stories trapped here about!”
Finally ‘Me’ sauntered in and looked around
An objective avatar of ‘I’
She was abstract, not proud.
With a flick of her wrist, she pulled the curtain apart.
 She winked at the words, who tumbled out fast.
Let them dance. Let them sing.
Let them tell their stories.
Let’s see what they bring.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gori Tere Pyar Mei - A Nationwide Fetish for Fair Skin

When Yami Gautam looks back at her career graph, she’ll definitely regret her decision to endorse Fair & Lovely. What her conscience couldn’t, perhaps the recent torrent of Twitter jokes will hopefully achieve. In case you missed the fun, here are some samples!

I was heartened to see people ripping apart the concept of conceived fairness! After all, it is a promising beginning for a nation that associates fairness with beauty, success and esteem. I just wish that the sarcasm wasn’t just directed towards the brand ambassador, but towards our own inherent bias towards fairness.
While this bias affects all women, the ones from the lower economic strata have the most to lose. Mostly illiterate, enmeshed in a patriarchal society, struggling to make ends meet, these women are easy prey to corporate mind-games. To think that they unnecessarily spend a portion of their earnings every month on buying fairness creams that hardly make any difference to their complexion, but make them susceptible to serious skin ailments, is maddening.

No, it is not a laughing matter. This fact could be fodder for a Kapil Sharma show, but not here. In fact, I feel sorry for such women: already being burdened with economic and familial obligations, they carry an extra, unnecessary, burden of adhering to society’s expectations of being fair in order to be considered beautiful. No matter how much I tell my maid that fairness creams are a waste of time and money, I know my words are but a small splash against the ocean of brainwashing through audio visual channels. I am sure Fair & Lovely must have a PR response ready for such occasions. But despite any length of argument, it all boils down to exploitation of such women’s vulnerability.

Are the educated, well-to-do counterparts any better off? You would think so! After all they have the requisite exposure and education, to revel in their inherent physical characteristics and to have a holistic concept of beauty. Nah! Not necessarily. Let me describe two separate instances that throw light upon our fickle beliefs.

First, recently on social media, a concerned mother posted her frustration in coping with condescending relatives and friends who give suggestions to help turn her daughter fairer. I was happy to see the outpouring of support for her and indignation towards such ‘well wishers’. However, the very next day, I was surprised by the concerned outpourings against – guess what -  getting tanned!

The second instance is about a collegiate who quite rightly told me that when it comes to physical beauty, one should “play to one’s strength.” I nodded my head in agreement. But her next statement baffled me. She said that in her case, she was proud to be 'fair'. No, she didn’t mention the quality of skin or radiance, but fairness. But of course she is just one young girl. But at that moment I felt disappointed in Gen Y.

Somewhere deep inside we are afraid to confront our deep seated biases. Whether we realize it or not, we are surrounded by subtle messages that deride ‘dark’ and deify ‘fair’.  Here’s an exercise for you. Why don’t you make a list of such instances and messages and share it here?

For my part, I consciously point out beautiful dark women to my daughter. This is a small but consistent effort towards raising her as an unbiased individual, because the world of multimedia is doing more than enough to idolize fair beauties.

However, I take comfort in the fact that the tide is turning. Elsewhere in the world, and even in certain pockets in India, ‘dusky’ or ‘dark’ is coveted. Have you joined the movement yet? Share your experiences! And oh... let's part by celebrating these gorgeous, gorgeous, fantabulously gorgeous women!

Lupita Nyong'o (Image credit: www.breakfastwithaudrey.com.au)

Lakshmi Menon (Vogue Cover)

Lisa Haydon (Image credit: Rediff)

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Indian Mindset

Did you know that you cannot clap with one hand?
Or that a rape is akin to a clap?
Don’t ask me. Ask Asaram Bapu who has said that the Delhi gang rape victim is as much to blame as the rapists for the rape. To be honest, it is beyond my capacity to apply the dynamics of a clap to a rape. But His Holiness might know more!  

If nothing else, the infamous Delhi gang rape is exposing the reality of our leaders – political, social or spiritual. For you and me, it is incredulous that someone can harbour such absurd notions about rape. You and I need not be told that a rape is not a clap. It is a punch. It is a deathly punch that kills the spirit, not just the victim. That it is a tool for an ego trip, an instrument for subjugation, a weapon of war.

And yet, day after day, we hear statements such as, “She should have surrendered,” “Women’s outfits are to blame,” and of course, “Taali ek haath se nahi bajati!” 

India is an old country. The term ‘ancient’ can also be used, but I prefer not to, because it has mystical and magical connotations. That’s good for tourism. But in truth, in the glaring, unflinching, unkind light of truth, our country is old, and hobbled, and burdened with centuries of contorted religious beliefs.
Being responsible for our poverty? Nah… that’s karma.
Sentencing convicts and giving justice to victims? The next birth will sort it all out.
Women? We are proud to be a utilitarian society where we worship our goddesses for personal gain, and then ‘utilize’ the female body for entertainment, procreation, house-keeping and … ah… maintaining the male self-esteem!

Yes, this is who we are. 

Flinch. Turn away. Discard these words are mere humbug. But this is who we are.
We procreate so that a ‘son’ may light our funeral pyre ensuring our ascendance to heaven.
We marry so that our houses are spick and span, food is on the table, and parents are looked after.
We are religious so that our coffers are never empty.

This is who we have been, we are, and God forbid, we always remain.
I know these statements do not apply to everyone. Some of us marry for love. Some of us are delighted to have daughters. Some of us treat our wives as the Master of the household. But that’s only some of us. For the majority, life is a business deal with the Gods.

Why are we like this?
In fact, why shouldn’t we be like this, when Lord Rama himself questioned his wife’s purity? Never mind the fact that nobody questioned Rama’s purity. It doesn’t matter!
Why shouldn’t we be like this when revered saint Tulsidas himself deemed women to be beaten like a drum and shooed away like an animal?
Why shouldn’t we be like this when the great Pandavas themselves divided Draupadi amongst themselves, much like a juicy watermelon, and not a word is whispered about her own wishes?
No, our women are born to serve, uphold the family honour, and to produce sons. When we have such role models, why should we be any different?  

That is why, even today, thousands of years later, the woman’s integrity is questioned.
Even when she is beaten, assaulted, stripped and thrown on the road from a moving bus on a freezing winter night, and she eventually dies. 

Even then, taali ek haath se nahi bajati!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Traditional? Well... it depends.

Often, I attract flak for trampling over the 'Traditional' in my quest for the 'Wise'. Let me explain. 

Tradition, Knowledge, Wisdom. Unfortunately, these three are often used interchangeably by well-meaning people. If I were to draw a Venn diagram, there would definitely be common areas amongst their three corresponding circles. How large or small these areas of intersection would be, depend upon the knowledge of the person we are deliberating. However, what we can definitely be sure of is that there would be three circles, not one.

What is Tradition? The dictionary definition reads as follows: the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.
So, even if a practice emerged from observing facts and rational action, there is ample scope for deviation or corruption of the practice while it was being passed "from generation to generation". Therefore, following traditions is no guarantee of being right.

Now, if we take Knowledge, the dictionary definition reads: acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition. 
So, does being knowledgeable ensure one's being right? Well, to some extent, having extensive knowledge does enable us to analyze questions with facts as opposed to beliefs, and hence enables us to reach more authentic answers, as compared to simply following Tradition. But is Knowledge alone sufficient?

Why is it that students who fare exceptionally well at school do not always fare well in life? And why is it that some of the brightest innovators and entrepreneurs that we have ever seen were just average at school, or even dropped out of the formal education system? Did they have higher EQ or Emotional Quotient to help them use their high IQs? I do not have the data to answer this question. But what I can be sure of is that these people must have had that seemingly elusive yet attainable quality: Wisdom.

 The dictionary woefully falls short of the magnitude of the word with this definition: knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.  
To me, Wisdom encompasses Knowledge of current and preceding facts; the Knowledge of Traditions; the Knowledge of unreasonable gaps in Tradition, if any; the Knowledge of the current 'climate' for action, and the Knowledge of the ramifications of one's actions. It is the ultimate distillation of information, made comprehensible through deep analysis. 

Now if you'd reassess my opening statement, you'll understand what I mean. Where Tradition is backed by Knowledge, I am a dutiful follower. However, where tradition stands alone, unreasonable, illogical, backed only by the belief that "this is the way it has always been done and hence should be done", kindly excuse me. And this, is my Wisdom. I rest my case.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell, 2011

Goodbye, 2011. I shall never forget you. You have been the most eventful year of my life so far. Comparing you with a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. More. Much more. Way more happened. After all, births and deaths do not happen on rides. A ride only lasts a few minutes, and the effects wear off after several more.

You began on a grim note. Bapi was unwell... slipping away every hour, every minute... Can anyone describe the feeling of seeing someone you love die slowly? Seeing the life ebb away... seeing the murderous cancer suck away the cheerfullness, the joy, the storewell of affection that Bapi was? Can anyone understanding how it feels to see some one who was fitter than most people half his age, suddenly grow older by 30 years in a span of 3 months, despite getting the best medical care possible, despite poring over thousands of internet pages in the hope of chancing upon a useful piece of information, despite conferring with numerous doctors, despite infinite tears, despite sleepless nights, despite... everything? ? Can anyone understand the pain of knowing that the time to say goodbye is here, when you cannot even say it, because you have to give the appearance of radiating hope?

No, I do not think so.

Death and the act of dying puts people at unease. It is something they would rather avoid. But social mores require them to be civil... and hence the 'appearance' of grief - which hurts even more. Crocodile tears... empty promises... decorative statements... Why can't people just be genuine?

The preceding months were spent trying to make every moment count, each little occassion was celebrated with undue gusto. Every opportunity to dine out, go on a drive or watch a movie, was grabbed with both hands. Life passes surprisingly fast when you do not want it to. And people talk of 'killing time'... ha!

 Bapi left within a week of your coming into being, 2011. And I was... transformed... changed... vaccuumed... lost... flung into a flurry of emotions I never knew existed.... right into the yawning gorge of despair and hopelessness.... seeing life as it really is perhaps - a meaningless rush of sound and fury... wanting to shut myself out and dissolve in nothingness...

Just two things dragged me out of that spiral of meaningless ennui - my husband, and the tiny life beating inside me. I was 6 months pregnant, and getting bigger each day. Yashvi was a good kid even then... she never gave me any trouble. Her tiny kicks and punches were getting stronger by the day. And then I could feel her body movements too. It's more than fascinating to know there is another human being inside you, separated just by a few layers of skin... Even then she used to sleep through the night, and wake up at around 6am, when she would start kicking happily - a habit that continues to date. She was the anti-depressant pill that we all needed. She was the occassion we all looked forward to. And sure enough, on 21 April, she arrived - lovely, beautiful, adorable - just perfect!

2011, the following months just flew by. Days dissolved into nights and vice versa, as my lil baby adjusted to the big bad world. Ma was a huge blessing as she turned into a super-grandma, typhooning (couldn't find a better word) around the house completing chores, managing my diet and putting Yashvi to sleep. Vijay emerged as the strong, dependent, doting dad I always suspected he would be. I mean, he could be the mom if he had the milk! Oh... I am so proud of him! And I discovered the mother in me through some hiccups, mixed emotions, feeling overwhelmed by all - joy, fascination and the duties of motherhood.

2011, I couldn't even have grasped that you were on your way out, watching Yashvi grow into the most adorable baby I've ever seen (Oh yes, I cannot not say that!!!) Soon it was November, and over a phonecall, my sister announced that she was getting married! Those who know, know that she deserves all the happiness in the world. Chirpy, pretty, caring, my sis would make an awesome wifey. And in December, your last leg, 2011, we had a wedding - small, meaningful, beautiful. We came full circle.

In all cultures including Hinduism, Birth, Marriage and Death are considered landmarks in the course of one's life. Is it easy to accommodate extreme grief and extreme joy together in one heart at one time? No... it is complicated. Was Time giving me a crash course in life's ways in 2011? Perhaps... as per Western Astrology, Saturn, the great task-master, is in the 12th house for all Scorpios until sometime in 2012. The 12th house is considered the house of mysteries, the closet in the mind... Did all these incidents tie up in some way to give me some sort of an insight into life and myself? Perhaps... Will I ever be able to elaborate. No, I don't think so. Even this attempt at verbalising the experiences of 2011 woefully falls short of the real thing. It is but a mere diffused reflection.

So, 2011, I wish you farewell, with mixed reactions. And I look ahead at you, 2012, with a much calmer, equanimous mindset. What life will bring, only life will tell. And I will live, until I die. Only that can I promise...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


What is it like to become a mother? Well, you don't just become a mom. You change. In every sense of the word. No, it's not as if you mutate into somebody else. You dive deep into yourself, find reserves of strength you never knew existed, discover creativity, realize your flexibility (both emotional and physical!) and... love!

This love is something else altogether. Nothing can equal the rush of joy on seeing your baby smile at you. Imagine, a tiny little soul, suddenly flung into this big, confusing world. And you, your heartbeat in fact, is the only familiar thing she knows. When she gazes at you, she is looking at the only thing that she can comprehend - a face that represents care, warmth, food, security and love. And the gaze contains implicit trust. So much so that it elicits your protective side. You WANT to hold her, to comfort her, to feed her. And love? That just happens. It happens like a great tide that slowly engulfs you, and you willingly, blissfully, want to drown in it!

Motherhood is somewhat similar to a trekking expedition. For me, a trek is rewarding if it goes through treacherous but beautiful countryside, full of adventurous twists and turns, and superb sights. The climb to Kedarnath was one such experience. I am sure those who have been to the Valley of Flowers of elsewhere in the Himalayas will echo my sentiments. The trek is difficult - 13 kilometers of steep climb in rarefied air, on a path not wider than 3 feet at places, strewn with loose and slippery pebbles, with a cliff towering on one side and a dizzying gorge on the other. In the distance, the white capped peaks of Himalayas move in and out of the line of sight alluringly. The azure sky providing the perfect contrast. There are spoilers too, in the form of all pervading mule dung and its heavy, musty odour. At that altitude, sunburns are common, despite the chilling winds - something that surprises most people. However, the destination is worth it. Once you reach the Kedarnath temple and take in its environs, the sanctity, pristine beauty, the silence (with the rush of the nascent Ganges drowning everything else), and the overwhelming effect of the towering mountains - all these make every minute of the trek, however painful, worth it.

Similarly, the journey to motherhood is anything but a breeze. From the moment you decide to have a family, to the time when you actually conceive, carry your child and deliver, it is the journey of a lifetime. I am not going to go into the nitty-gritties of each phase since that would require another blog altogether! But it would be enough to say that it involves a lot an lot of loving work.

Deciding to have a child is an implicit decision to be responsible for another life; to care; to love - all unconditionally.

And the payback, believe you me, is worth it. For most people, sometime between the frantic chaos of delivery and the next two months, the 'magical moment' appears - the time from which their little one starts binding you in the invisible webs of her charms. That could be the first time she gazes quizzically at you, her tiny brows furrowed. Or the time when she suckles contently at your breast. Or when you pick her up when she is crying. Despite the sleepless nights, unending diaper changes and infinite rocking to put the baby to sleep, you suddenly find yourself awash with a soft, warm kind of feeling. One that fills you up inside so well that there is no space for any any negative emotion left. From then onwards, it is a medley of delightful discoveries. The first smile. The first gurgle. The first indication of recognition. The list, thankfully, is endless!     

Life changing? Yeah. Challenging? Very. Draining? At times. But also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. I continue to be fascinated by my little bundle of joy, and in turn, continue to discover myself. The journey, thankfully, has so far been just beautiful. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My friendly, furry neighbours

My new workplace is quite far away by Bangalore standards, which is a combination of distance and traffic. With Vijay's office also not being close to where we live presently, it made sense to move to some place closer. Therefore for a series of weekends we went around the city, scouting for a more suitable accommodation.

Alas! It wasn't as simple as I thought it would turn out to be! Aside from the rates, which, by the way shot up in areas that we preferred, something or the other was never right. Either the ventilation wasn't good or the parking wasn't spacious enough. If both these factors were taken care of, the locality was not to our liking. But the one factor that eventually changed my mind and made me stay put in our current apartment is the greenery - and the friendly, furry neighbours that reside in it.

You see, I live at the top floor of a stand-alone apartment block. It is open from two sides ensuring free flowing breeze and ample sunlight. Since the Madiwala lake is at walking distance, it ensures that the breeze is 'air-conditioned' before it reaches us - at least most of the time!

The best part, however, is the presense of a number of trees - Almond and Coconut - right outside my balcony. The result is a green canopy that is soothing to the senses. All I need to do when I need a change is to stand at the balcony and take in the sight; rather - breathe in the sight.

But the cherry on the cake is the family of squirrels that resides in this cluster of trees.

Amazingly energetic, acrobatic and spirited, the squirrels tear through the green landscape, leaping across branches, twisting around twigs, balancing precariously all the while. The way they move from one tree to another would give Tarzon a complex! Up, down, right, left; they traverse the web of leaves and twigs and branches as if it were a high speed network of highways.

When they are not playing, they are eating. And watching them eat is a delight! Their tiny months chomp away rapidly while their intent black eyes look out for more food. And my... can they eat in any position? Oh yes! be it hanging upside down or perched dangerously at the edge of a twig, these creatures surely know how to combine adventure with gastronomic delights!

Their shrill calls are often the first sounds that I hear when I wake up in the morning. When I need some cheering up, often what works is the sight of these cute neighbours in action. Their tiny hands, sincere eyes and amazingly cuddly tiny torsos never fail to make me smile!

The day we almost finalized a deal in far away Sadanandnagar I realized how much I would miss my furry friends. The fact is, I haven't had enough of their mischief.

In a city far away from one's native place, it is these small things that make a house, a home.
This is what gives Bangalore some semblence of Dun - at least to me.

Therefore, until my heart is strong enough to be able to create a home once again in another locality all by itself, I am sticking right here... with my furry friends, no matter how many traffic jams I need to endure and how many hours I waste on the road!