A couple in our neighbourhood is on the verge of divorce.
Both spouses believe the other has not been the ideal partner and thanks to mismatched expectations, they have bitter fights everyday. I got inadvertently pulled into their bickerings and I tried to counsel them as best as I could. I realised that the man’s issues stemmed from the fact that she wasn’t cooking for him and his children well and on time and she believed he wasn’t sensitive to her needs.
This blogpost is not about this marital discord and what might happen to the couple.
What shocked and pained me most was that most people who were- with all good intentions and all well read and experienced, if I may add- counselling the woman, seemed to be chiding her for not cooking and expecting the man to help her with daily chores. Nothing wrong with feeding your family well and being a cook that the family and neighbourhood prides at, but why is it considered a big crime if a woman doesn’t like or want to cook?
We have grown up with stereotypes of an ideal family. Where the father earns and takes care of materialistic needs and the mother nurtures and takes care of the home and hearth. I love this ideal family concept. I must have seen “Hum Saath Saath Hain” at least 20 times and enjoyed it every time. But the world isn’t ideal, like this feel-good movie! Just like all men aren’t capable of (and shouldn’t be expected to) take care of every financial need of the family, the women may choose to develop interests that may be outside or in some case contradict the image of what is considered an “ideal Indian woman”.
True and equal respect for gender stems from the ability to accept the human being for who he or she is. For accepting that in a family, both the father and mother have responsibilities towards the well-being of the people in the family, both materially and otherwise.
Just as it is wrong to assume that all women are bad drivers, it is wrong to believe all men are fantastic when it comes to mathematics.
And it has to start early. My son was doing his homework the other day which was to compose a letter to the Municipal Commissioner of the area to address some issue. He began the letter with “Respected Sir”….I had to intervene and remind him that a Municipal Commissioner could be a woman too! And I am just hoping that other boys his age are being sensitised to this fact as well.
Gender stereotyping is the biggest socio-cultural issue that India is struggling with. The more I read about indcidents like the recent Bangalore murder, the more I realise the gravity of the situation.
The favouritest scapegoat when it comes to gender issues seem to be the movies- about how they are objectivising women through item songs and such. But never does the discussion ever veer on how women (and men) are portrayed as mothers and fathers and sons. We need the distinction between “sex” as a biological category – genes, hormones, external and internal genitalia and “gender” as a socio-cultural word – learned characteristics, cultural expectations and behavioural patterns.
And somehow, my heart sinks at the thought that we might have missed the boat in our country!
Archive for the ‘life in general’ category
A couple in our neighbourhood is on the verge of divorce.
I did my Master’s in biotechnology and my favourite topic was genomics. I found the concept of understanding life at its most granular level in sequences and codes fascinating. I learnt that one could predict defects in plants and animals based on the study of genes and aberrations within our genomes. I thought this was bordering on nobility. Helping scores of people be aware of what to expect based on a near precision science couldn’t be bad, right?
My mother died of cancer at the age of 47. She had a malignant breast tumour that despite mastectomy and chemotherapy relapsed to take over her body totally.
Would knowing that she had a mutated gene that raised the probability of her having breast cancer changed the way her course of life was? Perhaps. Perhaps she would have taken the need to do regular physical examination a bit more seriously. Perhaps even focus on her diet to reduce that probability, even if it was a wee bit. But would she have taken a step like Angelina Jolie did, I am not quite sure. By the same logic that Angelina Jolie applied to her life, I should have a double mastectomy too. I mean, I know I am in the high-risk category. I have a young son, for whom I would like to be around much longer than what my mum was around for me. I do take my annual cancer screenings seriously and very consciously do my physical exam nearly every day. But will I take a recourse like preventive surgery to avoid dying early? The answer is a resounding NO.
I travel a fair bit, and that naturally increases the chances of my having an accident. Should I stop travelling that just because I am increasing my probability to get hit or have an air crash?
I love cooking and spend a fair amount of my free time experimenting in my kitchen. Since I am increasing my chances of getting burnt by an accidental fire, should I stop cooking?
I very strongly believe we need to be aware, and responsible even for our own lives and for the sake of our loved ones. But we also need to be reasonable while fighting Nature. And the science helps us to do ONLY that. To be aware and be responsible. After 20 years since I studied genomics, I am still in love with the science. And I do think its still noble as it opens up so many possibilities to help so many people in being aware and take conscious decisions to make their lives a bit healthier by taking preventive measures.
But we need to respect Mother Nature just as we respect he science, and embrace death just as we embrace life. And that’s the message I would like to give my son, just in case my mutant gene gives me cancer, and it can’t be cured.
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
“Migrants to be blamed for rapes” says the Chief Minister of Delhi. “Chowmein to be blamed for rapes” says a khap survey in Haryana. “Mobile phones with girls is the root cause of rapes” says a member of the judiciary in Karnataka. “Men and women interacting freely is the cause of rapes” says the West Bengal chief minister. Women wearing jeans, having a job, not observing purdah, hanging out with friends, just about anything seems to be the cause of rape. Anything, but the mentality of a sick mind that refuses to accept gender equality, a society that lauds women who quietly suffer, fathers who encourage their sons to be aggressive to “be a man”, a culture that promotes loud, ostentatious weddings as the yardstick of a woman’s worth.
The recent spate of rapes across India seem to have woken the collective conscience of the country. But are we really getting to the root of the problem? When item numbers become the single selling point of a film, when young, educated politicians support the khap diktats in the name of upholding age-old traditions, when inaction rules even after the most powerful woman in India visits rape victims in the country, you know there is something seriously wrong with the fabric of the country, that no amount of activism or slogan-shouting is going to change.
Raping someone is worse than murder. Can you imagine what it would be like to be scarred for life? And what is the maximum punishment that is awarded to the victim, if he is sentenced at all? Seven years. Or let off on bail. Most times it takes a longer time to award the punishment. If this sounds depressing, it is because it is. Desperately so. And we are collectively responsible for the state of affairs. For letting things rot to a level that it seems almost impossible to cleanse.
But we have to do so, if we have to survive.
We have to teach our boys to be gentle, our girls to be strong and question what we don’t feel comfortable with, even if it is something that has been carried on for centuries. Unless we as a collective community make an effort to right this wrong, we will continue to have these depressing sick perpetrators who think it is OK to take away someone’s soul for a momentary high of power. We will continue to beget insecure men who think it is their birthright to coerce and subjugate and promote spineless women who feel virtuous when they suffer a lifetime of torture.
I am going to make an effort to instill these basic rules of life in my son, my neighbourhood and my area of influence. TODAY. So I can live in the hope that the sinking feeling I have today will go away somewhat in the times to come.
I don’t have any special passion for blindness or disabled people. Just like I don’t have a passion for someone who may be tall or short or dark or having a lisp. I define disability as a prejudice in one’s mind that makes one compare anything to a “normal” yardstick, when there can be no one interpretation to what is “normal”. When people from different backgrounds and ethnicity and gender don’t interact or have a healthy exchange of views, it results in a certain close-mindedness and intolerance that is rampant in many parts of India. The lack of exchange results in people being trapped in their prejudices, their clichés. Keeping the disabled out of a healthy exchange is no different. I firmly believe that we can change people’s mindsets and their thinking by simply ensuring an encounter between diverse individuals. And if it’s in a setting that enables one to go beyond what’s obvious and understand the strengths that the “other” has, it could bring about a paradigm shift. This is what I personally experienced when I had my first brush with the concept of Dialogue in the Dark 5 years ago, and my engagement with hundreds of business leaders, academics, social workers and students alike through Dialogue in the Dark over the last few years has made me realize just how powerful an “encounter” can be.
Many believe that a key to bring people with disabilities in the mainstream is to provide them vocational education and jobs. Of course its important and economic independence can really do wonders to bring a marginalized community to have a place in the sun. But its more important to bring a mindset change among those considered without disability. Its important to give everyone a chance to step into another’s shoes, and of course to understand their own limits, that will help them become open towards the other. Once we become more open toward anyone defined as the “other,” be it one practicing another faith, look different or perhaps with some physical disability, we will be a different society. Everyone would then realize their own vulnerabilities, understand that everyone has limits of some form or the other. And that the human spirit also has the unique ability to overcome those limits.
My mantra in the social space in the last few years, both as a consultant and an entrepreneur, is to question status quo- be it to see how for-profit commercial business can be agents of large scale change, or work with teams where geography is incidental or to challenge existing mores of scale and sustainability. My personal encounter with a diverse set of individuals in an intense Dialogue in the Dark workshop and subsequently with a visionary like Andreas Heinecke helped me shape my thinking, elevating the emotional experience I had with my blind trainers in a dark setting on a cognitive level. I learnt about myself, my physical and mental limits, and a completely new understanding of what it means to be without sight. I discovered that I could cope with the dark and my other senses took over. My encounter with people like Sabriye Tenberken of Kanthari, a unique social entrepreneurship school that helps marginalized youth to become agents of change reaffirmed the mindset change I had. The fact that Sabriye is blind or from a different country didn’t deter her from setting up a school for the blind in a harsh geography like Tibet or set up the school for entrepreneurship and her home in Kerala in India.
Sabriye is not a lone ranger. Many changemakers like her are making a huge difference to people that they work with and interact with. There is one thing common to all the stories we heard. It was about people with a passion and the courage to create an environment where people can have an open exchange. Each of these changemakers have translated the most important life skills including resilience, adaptability, empathy, humbleness, gratefulness, trust, compassion, collaboration, caring and sharing into action.
The more we all embrace this openness and understand the power of encounter, we will realize that “disability” is just a state of mind! And we all would grapple with it at some point or the other!
So maybe every year on Dec 3, we would learn to celebrate World “DIVERSITY” day instead of World Disability Day!
Many years ago while sharing a unique and wonderful experience I had with a friend in exploring the underbelly of Budapest in 2004, I realized how different experiences can change one’s thinking and one’s life. And not wishing to contain those learnings and the urge to share some of those experiences led to the birth of “Life in Two hours”. And the more I started to pen down my thoughts on different experiences, I realize how wonderful a teacher travel is. As a child, having a travel bug for a father meant being initiated early in life into being curious about people and places. I have lots of memories, some good, some bad, some divine, but all really powerful…of all the places I have visited and more importantly the journeys. As I grew, the opportunities to travel increased, both as a student invited often to music festivals and like and as a science student to explore nature up close. And when I started my professional journey, somehow travel became an integral part of not just what I did but who I am. On World Tourism Day today, I try to analyse how travelling around the world, discovering people and places has shaped me and my thinking.
- Travelling to the same place can be a different experience- depending on who you are with and the circumstances of the journey. Teaches you that life is constantly changing. It makes me adaptable and lowers my expectations about people and their behavior. I guess that’s what makes me forgiving.
- Travelling helps one understand different cultures and appreciate that there are different ways to live and be. And it teaches me never to just accept status quo just because its “the way it’s always been done”.
- Travelling to destinations and the journeys to reach there makes one realize that miracles surround us every day. We just need to open our eyes to see them and rejoice in them. Makes me believe that I don’t need to go to a temple and pray five times a day or engage in complex rituals to find happiness. It makes me spiritual.
- Lying on a remote beach under the night sky, or gazing at high peaks in awe helps me put things in perspective on just how small I really am in the bigger scheme of things. Keeps me humble.
- Learning how to cook and eat foods that I have never tasted before makes me curious and hungry, in more ways than one!
- Lots of travel comes as a package with unexpected experiences. And reinforces in my the importance to trust my gut and instincts. It’s never let me down until now!
- Knowledge and experiences from travelling are powerful when shared. They are of limited value when they are trapped inside you. It reminds me always to be open and giving and share what I know. For it always comes back to me!
- The only place where life exists and the only time you are sure of having is NOW. Enjoying surreal moments while travelling makes me realize how important it is to live today and now. And teaches me to appreciate my friends and family for what they are to me today. And more importantly teaches me not to wait for life to be “perfect”. It never will be.
- Living like a nomad for the last two decades and still not losing my aspirations to create a professional niche for myself has made me innovative and make the most of what I have.
- And lastly, my crazy experiences make me realize how true what my mum always used to tell me when I was a little girl- that “Everything happens for a reason and it all works out in the end!” And this knowledge keeps me happy. Always.
Travel’s been my biggest teacher. And best friend. Funnily enough, my little fellow, who has inherited this love for travel from his grandfather and me chose to talk about his experiences in the camp he went to in the Himalayas when asked to comment on his views on sustainability!
Life is not about finding yourself, it is about “re-creating” yourself. And its all about memories. Travel, explore and go create them! Happy travelling!
What R K Laxman’s common man was to my dad, I think the Utterly Butterly girl is to me! And to think the little girl who has been the chronicler of our times has turned a grand 50! Of late I have been keeping abreast of the Amul ads through my Facebook account as do 15 million others, another testimony to the fact that the girl is truly ageless and immortal! The beauty of the Amul ads is as much about the tongue-in-cheek humour as is it is the timeliness and its social relevance!
My personal favourites in recent times include:
Batti off, Butter on….Switch to it
for being the only bright light literally in India’s two days of shame when 19 states went without power for 48 hrs.
Lal kudi maidan Khadi….See Red Eat Yellow
the expression on the cartoons says so much………priceless!
Growing up, neither did I have the love for nor did I possess the Barbie who also turns 50 this year. But going by the frenzy that the to-die-for-figure Barbie whips up among all the little girls I know, I suppose it calls for an acknowledgement. In recent times, I have been emotionally blackmailed, lured and driven to indulge my little friends with every kind of Barbie- from the purple evening dress Barbie to the one who owns this ostentatious mansion to the one with more hair and hair accessories than the one on a human head!
Talking about the 50 years of the 1962 war immediately after Barbie seems trivial. But what I have learnt about this monumental event in Indian history has been anything but. A war that has gone down in history as India’s embarrassment has tales of valour and hope that inspire the soldiers who man that North East frontier terrain today as well as an entire generation whose psyche has been permanently etched with memories of a war lost but small human battles won. Living in that geography that witnessed the ill-fated Indo-Chinese strife 50 years ago helps me unearth and relive a past that teaches a new human lesson everyday.
I might have been 12 or 13 when we took that bus journey from Tiruchendur to Chennai. It was a long overnight bus ride, and started off as a very comfortable one. The bus was plush, the aircon was strong and I was snuggling against my mum. My parents and brother returning from a very hectic trip during our summer vacations. I remember falling asleep as soon as we plonked ourselves on the bus, out of sheer exhaustion. And I remained dead to the world until I felt something cold. I moved closer to my mom assuming the cold feeling was from the aircon in the bus. A few minutes later, I woke up with a start. The cold feeling came from creepy hands from someone behind! I remember being confused, lost and frankly a little embarrassed. I tried to shrug off the straying hands, moved closer to my mum but it was all to no avail. The ordeal continued for the whole journey with a squirming me and an emboldened man who took my quiet as his right to venture further. And choked and shamed, I remained still unable to move. This incident scarred me so much that I became incapable of taking long overnight bus journeys until I did one recently in the US. And I had to fight many demons to overcome a feeling that I cant quite explain.
As an adolescent, I was an introvert, sticking to the few friends I had, with more indoor hobbies than those that required me to venture out, was a conservative dresser and definitely not one to raise my voice in the event of anything that bothered my person.
And that night that remains vivid and etched permanently in my memory, it didn’t occur to me that I could turn back and slap that pervert who was feeling me and raise a cry or even wake up my parents and complain. I was just wanting the night to get over and for us to get off the bus so I could forget that such an incident ever happened to me. It was not the only groping, or involuntary sexual experience that happened with me. Like I am sure with a zillion other women around me. And I am sure a majority of those zillions have buried such unpleasant memories in the depth of their hearts.
I am a different person now. Life experiences have taught me to call out and make a big noise when needed. But I can relate to the hundreds and thousands of girls and women who remain quiet about their embarrassing encounters, assuming that somehow they are at fault. I am nearly 40 now and it took me 3 decades to even write about this incident publically. And even now, the first thought that crosses my head is “OMG, my dad might feel so bad when he reads this!”.
As I read this article, somehow I couldn’t help myself from sharing this article in Mint this morning, http://www.livemint.com/2012/07/17120248/Views–The-harsh-realities-of.html#comment. As I read this words “All these years later, I still feel afraid before speaking up. I worry about hurting my father by writing these words. The difference between then and now is that I know that I will reach out despite the fear. I am in charge of the world my parents and my children live in. And I am going to protect them”, I feel like these are from my head.
And I want to tell the world, I am not afraid. To speak up or fight. For myself or for anyone else.
I love the spirit of Holi, the festival of colours! To me, it symbolises everything I hold important in my life- being with people I love, laughing out loud, and living the moment like there was no tomorrow! And the colours that I see splashed around in Holi reflect that spirit.
I can’t imagine my life without colours. But then I have also come to learn that colours aren’t just blue and yellow and red. I’ve come to learn and enjoy that the colours that I visualise through my eyes are really a reflection of what I visualise in my heart.
This Holi, I want to share the colours of life with those who see bright colours in their hearts even if they only recognise monochromes as the regular world defines them. I want to share them with those who see colours and hear music. I want to share them with those who feel the warmth and friendship in their being but aren’t able to physically demonstrate it.
I want the colours I splash this Holi to illuminate the spirit. And to heal the soul. And I want the colours I splash to reflect the intensity of love and happiness I feel this moment!
My friend, Daniela Dimitrova travels nearly 300 days a year. She is beautiful, single, and blind since she was 6 years old. In the last 5 years that I have known her, I haven’t seen her need any more assistance in her travels than what’s absolutely essential- to guide her with directions in the airport and make sure she makes it to the right gate. Issues that many of us “regular” travelers might also face. In fact, many a times I have marveled at her ability to be super independent and find her way to a favourite restaurant in an airport purely based on smells, something a direction-challenged me almost never gets right.
And Dani isn’t the only blind or physically challenged traveler in the world who just wants to lead a full life in a dignified, complete manner, experiencing the beauty of the world and her people.
It pained me to no end to read this story the other day where a physically challenged person was offloaded a plane because she was considered a “security risk”. And surprised to see this issue being raised by a Spice Jet pilot, because I have been super impressed with their service to other physically challenged people who I have accompanied or seen off at the airport, totally satisfied with the level of assistance provided by their ground staff. Which makes me believe that is an instance of personal prejudice.
This isn’t new- many friends in the Dialogue in the Dark network often complain of being offloaded, made to wait for hours or de-planed minutes before take off because they are considered a “security risk”. And this isnt restricted to India alone. Friends in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai have raised these complaints in recent times. In the era of these countries vying with each other to be medical tourism destinations, it seems rather silly to even discuss this issue.
The thing is its not a matter of choice or personal preferences that airlines have. IATA and its members have a resolution in place that lays out service standards for passengers with reduced mobility. The resolution specifies how airlines should communicate passenger special needs and what services should be provided on the ground and in flight. It requires that airlines have special equipment made available when necessary, calls for priority boarding to be offered and for airlines to ensure that passengers with special needs receive individual briefings on safety procedures, aircraft layouts and specialised equipment available on board. It also provides a general requirement for passengers with reduced mobility to be attended throughout the entirety of an airport transfer. The US goes a step further by actually passing a bill to ensure travelers with disabilities are allowed to lead their lives and explore the world without their handicap interfering.
Its time we give this issue the seriousness it deserves. The next time a blind or a mentally challenged or an infirm needing a wheel chair is denied his or her rightful place in a mode of transport - don’t be a mute spectator. A person feels as “disabled” as we, collectively as a society, will make them feel. As a friend told me sometime back- “I feel less blind in Sweden than I feel in Indonesia, only because I get the infrastructure and assistance to get about my life without being dependant on anyone”. It’s all a matter of perspective….and of opportunities. Lets be human, and lets make this beautiful world worthy enough to live and travel- for all.
I never really believed in this Valentine Day business. I never had anything against it either, but I could never understand why one needed a special day to tell someone you love them. I have been driving around a lot these past few days, and therefore listening to a lot of radio. And I have to admit I don’t really mind the ads and anecdotes that fill the radio waves these days about preparing for the Valentine’s Day, for it means that much less airtime for the ghastly real estate ads!
There was one that particularly caught my attention yesterday. The ad was for a skin clinic and raved about how beautiful your skin could become, well in time for the Valentine’s Day!!! Painfully commercial I know, but for some reason, it reminded me of my mum. She had the most amazing porcelain skin that was translucent even when she was in her last days battling a relapse of cancer. The most gorgeous hair that she started losing when she started taking her chemotherapy. And a smile that went up all the way to her brown eyes! She was radiantly beautiful while she lived and radiantly beautiful now in our memories. When she hugged me, I felt like the last of my worries would just melt away, and I am glad I never waited for a Valentine’s Day to tell her how much I loved her.
It’s not so bad that this Valentine’s Day blitzkrieg urges one to express the love one has for another person. For if you don’t do that in time, you may realize it’s too late.
Here’s to my gorgeous Valentine, my beautiful mum!