Monday, December 31, 2012

The Catharsis

For more than sixty years these people have been invisible
With India having declared her “tryst with destiny” they disappeared into their homes and got busy with the India developing story. You would see them in private photos and spaces but barely ever on the democratic canvas. While they labored over raising decent families, the political evolution of the country was left to a strange breed of Indians. These either rose to become leaders through labour union conflicts and college youth politics or came to inherit dynastic crowns. 

Whatever their mode of entry, this power hungry brand of Indians were one in sullying the word “leadership”. From a fight for freedom from the Imperial crown, politics came to mean the fight to usurp power and money for self and the next seven generations to come. Bloated with a sense of self-importance, our MPs and MLAs cultivated the convenient delusion that the only India that mattered wore the tag “disadvantaged”. They dismissed, ridiculed, and even mocked the middle classes. The political growth of the country thus came to read as the story of educated India’s marginalization. By declaring politics dirty, the ruling class effectively put it out of reach of the regular God-fearing, family values driven, sanitized Indian citizenry.

This bulk of polite people grew increasingly disconnected with the drivers steering their destinies. Escaping to foreign lands was the most they did to deal with the mess their country was becoming. One profession they tabooed their children from considering was politics. While the good India stuck their head into the sand, the leaders grew fatter with the lucre of misappropriation. It was tolerable when limited to an inefficient, rude and corrupt government but all that changed on the 16 Dec night when a young, paramedical intern was beaten and raped in a private bus, only to breathe her last thirteen days later.

The inhuman brutality of that attack ending in the brazen throwing out of her mutilated body onto a busy road made India’s somnolent bhadra lok sit up. This was too close home. Cries of “it could be me” rang across the subcontinent. India’s sleeping giant was raising the head. The Lilliputians began to scramble off in rage and fright, dusting off years of apathy and resignation to step out, in twos and threes, in groups and clusters.

I joined them at Jantar Mantar, walking up on leaden feet, alone. There were grim faces, not a few teary eyes. I stood around, breathing the air of pained incredulity. The only two faces I recognized were those of Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury, both senior CPM leaders. Some NSD persons and TV channel bosses rang familiar. But it was the faceless crowd that I was most at home with. It felt strangely like family. It felt like a complete emotional and mental and moral spa. At long last we were thinking community.

My countrymen, who are ordinarily gluttons for TV cameras, celebrating even if it is their elbow caught on the screen, were pushing the gadgets away.  I stood by, watching with pride as some young Indians took the mike to speak with quiet but impassioned dignity. There was no shade of awkwardness. They communicated with confident clarity, quiet pain…no scramble for glory, I did not see any posing for the cameras, and for once the gadgets were inconsequential.

This was a gathering different from the usual raucous, grimy and unthinking milieu. I was caught off guard to receive a couple of apologetic "sorrys" in the crowd on accidentally brushing against strangers! People shifted and made space so you had a better view. When a voice rang out, requesting people to sit down, they promptly obeyed. I saw complete strangers using  their grey hair to advantage, delivering motivating speeches to young groups. The crowd kept the odd misbehaviour in check. There were people pouring thoughts and emotions on paper lining the road. Twenty year olds spelled inconvenient truths into public address systems and people applauded affirmatively. I heard astonishing words and sensed a simmering anger born of frustration and fear. 

There was a master mind in the throes of a public catharsis out at Jantar Mantar that day. 

These ordinary citizens are the rightful owners of India’s airwaves, I thought to myself. Their education and self-sufficient means gives them both the onus and the ability to reclaim the Indian story. Let them come out in greater numbers, I prayed. Dear God, for far too long, they have sanctioned the moth eating of their country with their silence.

Pledge, pledge, and pledge...I screamed in my head. Pledge to raise our sons and daughters equally. Pledge to protest gender crimes. Pledge to speak, write, and communicate anguish at injustice. Pledge to reach out and connect. Pledge to demand a safe, equitable and clean India. Pledge not to let this assertion die.

I came away with a mental shot of the sign a protester carried, “I have not felt this hopeful in a long, long time.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Hyenas

Photo credit: Christopher Gordon
I have been crying.

There have been images on the TV, reports in the newspaper and talk on the streets. I understand the anger against the perpetrators, the concern about the victim and the frustration with the government. But my thoughts have been with the mother of the girl.

Like me, she would have hurt while giving birth to her daughter. She would have tended her, dying a million little deaths over her welfare and security, fretting over her cough and cold, wrapping her in warm clothes, planning for her future, dreaming of her rosy destiny only to be left with this infected mass of broken intestines in the ICU of a strange hospital far away from home.

How does she keep at bay, thoughts of the defilement of a body she has hugged and kissed? How does she shut her eyes against the prone heap that used to be her reason for being?  How does she accept that the clock cannot be turned back? How does she erase this living death for her daughter? How does she make the pain go away this time? How does she live with this the rest of her parenting years?

It is bad enough.

You want to know what it is like to walk around with your heart in the mouth every living breath. Well, go have yourself a baby girl; a “gudia” or a “chidia” or a “titli” and you will enter a lifelong pact with fear and shame and guilt and impotent rage. You and your precious girl will be raped over and over even in the legitimate spaces you will occupy. The world will rob you of your peace of mind, of your pride in your offspring, of your dignity of being.

Look at me. Twice in a year, I celebrate the days I gave them birth. But every one of the remaining 363 days of the year, I kill them slowly and softly.

The decimation does not happen in one clean stroke, it resembles whittling and chipping, dragging out the torture to leave the spirit in a perpetual state of red rawness. I spend so many of our waking hours preparing them for the worst, it is paralyzing. Rather than march to a triumphant tune, I train them to go mincing over eggshells. Not confidence but caution, care, control are the theme words I surround them with.

What do I do? I am an Indian mother. My family is like me and the one I was married into wears their badge of conservatism and religion with the utmost pride. My job, I have been told, is to bring up an adjusting, sensible, people pleasing girl wrapped in trendy packaging. All I need to do thereafter is to express eternal gratitude to the family that will deign to absorb her, relieving me of my responsibility, so to say.

But I am mothering in 2012. I come at the head of several centuries old line of evolving Eves. I see myself as a renewed, recharged and revitalized link of this mothering bio-chain. I feel the need to justify my place in and discharge my responsibility with integrity. My ambition is to send the race forward whole and confident. And so, I teach them to live and love instead. I let them stay out late. I permit them to go on overnight trips. I encourage them to ride bikes. I hope that they will enjoy nice clothes while their bodies look good in them. I expect them to be completely at ease around the other gender. I tell them that they are more than footnotes to the male stories in their lives. I raise them to believe that they have a commitment to themselves and the world around them first; all the time paying a deadly price for this culturally deviant template. An acute concern for their well-being is soaked with the constant fear of repercussions, of being proved wrong, of being held responsible.

In permitting them to live, I die, one wheeze at a time inside. 

Is it any wonder then that new mothers of baby girls gaze at the cribs with tears in their eyes?

Their hearts are heavy with the maniacal laugh of the hyenas outside.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It is not about you!

I should have learnt this lesson earlier in life.

But it is one of life’s ironies that most Eureka moments come too late for application. The next best thing you then want to do is to try and save your children all the pain and hurt and disappointment that go with a lifelong negotiation. It is entirely likely that they will want to make their own mistakes in turn but at the least, you would have done your moral job of highlighting the red markers.

Take our earthly tenure. There is a socially defined blueprint we spend our alive moments trying to fit. In the process, we are swamped with inputs and feedback, quite a bit of it uninvited.  Judging is such a full time human engagement, it begins to look like our social and religious edifices are built with the express purpose of crushing our fragile human spirit. So there are comments, observations and assumptions about your looks, mannerisms, actions, decisions, observances and otherwise.

Alterity is undeniably critical to survival but we never seem to take a break from it. The insidious fillip to this “otherness rant” comes from our notion that we are the centers of our universes. So there life finds us, alternating between being martyrs and heroes. Every moment is grand, every twist is personal, and every scrape is deeply felt. Thus we stumble through our days with our armload of pain, all bluff and bluster one breath and tears in the next, until the day we look under the bed to find the bogey gone; there never was one in the first place.

Life’s enduring lesson I would have my girls know therefore is that most of what causes grief is rarely about you. It is not about you at all. You barely exist for those you credit with the capacity to hurt you!! How ironic that we should go through life refuting and explaining and denying and justifying when all we are addressing is a vacuous space, too caught up with itself.

But of course, I catch the whiff of skepticism  You do not believe me. Well then, recall the last heart to heart, clear-the-air session you took the luxury of indulging in. Did it conclude with a life changing affirmative action or are you, as I suspect, back to square one? Did your partner in conversation hear you, see you, acknowledge you or was their lens pointed at themselves?

Sometimes, and rarely, there come along evolved beings that have the periscopic vision of empathy. Quite simply put, they get you! But for the most part, home, office, public turfs are about coming to terms; about lowering expectations; about ignoring stuff; about getting on. The degree varies from one person to another. Somewhere along this path you get to work out how much you are all right giving and taking.

Out of this balancing and evening out emerges the flicker gaining strength  that there is something bigger and way beyond these negotiating tactics of which, you are a significant wedge or slice or crumb. In other words, you alone are about you. Oh what sweet liberty! The power to change what you feel and think suddenly seems round the corner.

The only thing left to learn thereafter is to tell what is about you and what is not about you at all!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The risk

My forefathers tilled the land.

My dad’s father was the first generation learner and he studied up to “matric”, the term in use back then for Class 10. His medium of instruction was Urdu. I remember leafing through his account books in wonder. The letters he wrote us began with the standard and never changing form of address for my father, “Barkhurdaar Harnek Singh”. His dream was to see his two sons through the Punjab Agricultural College (now University), Ludhiana.

Papa Ji must have had visions of his sons returning to the soil at the end of their agricultural degrees. My father instead joined the Army Education Corp. As we moved, nomad like, from one cantonment to the other, there remained a constant. We three siblings were placed in the best schools available locally.

But I grew up with an acute sense of the lack of educated units in our family. There was hard work; you saw enterprise, even the smarts of the street but no weighty professional degree in the immediate vicinity. I remember the wondrous amazement I felt, at acquaintances that seemed to have sprung from a lineage of professionals, creative artists, families that had learning as their grammar, their history, their geography.

And soon enough, it was my turn. I had wanted to become a full-fledged journalist.  But in the India of the late 70s, anyone who scored decently took up the Science stream in senior school. I did not risk that beaten track even though life gave me my second chance to swing back to my original love in the Vice Principal’s office at Fergusson College, Pune in 1980. Dr. Pathak was looking at me, pen poised over two boxes: Chemistry or English Literature? I mumbled feebly, “Can I do both?” He shook his head and marked the Science swiftly.

That decision became my personal red light, a betrayal of the self almost. Little wonder that its aftertaste coagulated over the following years, into a concrete resolve to help my own daughters identify their core interests first. And that is how it came about that an arduous and busy process of raising them to experience a range of fields ended the day we stood at the gates of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore with Aqseer. Round one had clicked!

It is hard to describe the emotions of middle class Indian parents leading their child into one of the country’s premier and coveted schools of learning. There is awe, there is pride, there is gratitude and most of all, there is a sense of validation, of having done the right by the young.  I was like Mrs Bhamra of Bend it like Beckham, “At least I taught her full Indian dinner, the rest is up to God”.

It wasn’t long before the talk of graduation date began doing the rounds. The campus placements however, came and went; Aqseer did not register for any. Why deprive someone else who is really keen on a corporate job? Ditto for the “Teach for India” platform which glimmered one instant, pausing briefly but only to whizz past. There was a lot of thinking and agonizing and analysing afoot and more and more, the house was reverberating with two words, “Public Policy”.

The futuristic images that had taken shape in our minds over the five years of law school gradually began to dissolve at the edges. It was getting increasingly clear that the beaten track was going to be given the miss this time in my life. We stood by, her father and I, and watched the mental upheaval involved with a mix of concern and pride.

More and more, I was beginning to understand the rationale of the paths most taken. Of course, there is the security of the known, the comfort of crystal clear directions, and the certainty of cruising home. But what do you say to this, “Mom, I am twenty two years old. I spent five years at India’s best law school. The serve is mine to return. We have to stop fearing failure. At my age and with my degree, if I don’t take a risk, who will?”

Note: All pictures of Aqseer doing the Macau Tower Bungy Jump, 61 stories, 233 m high.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oranges and apples

It is the oldest trick in the world.

It is called denying and delaying and diminishing by an unfair but convincing comparison. We do it all the time. And for some reason, it is quite the established and accepted ritual.

Think back. Did you as a child push unpalatable food down your throat with a parent delivering statistics on how many children are starving in Ethiopia?

My grandmother had a way of keeping us obsessively busy dusting, with tales of how much harder it was to plaster their village homes by hand with wet mud!

Who has not had a teacher extol their great fortune in being able to attend a boring class while there are kids and more kids struggling to read under the street lamps?

Politicians make a habit of trivializing their own misjudgements by pointing at the mal-achievements of other leaders.

Mum-in-law will often negate the hardships faced by her son’s wife with an insistence she has it easy, considering her own husband was so unreasonably demanding.

Without going into their veracity, it can be safely assumed that none of these statements represent any desire on the part of the speaker to acknowledge the discomfort of the subject of their deceit. And deceit is. The unstated objective of this craft of deception is to dodge responsibility. The treacherous comparisons are made to keep things conveniently status quo. It suits someone to avoid deeper engagement and resolution of an inconvenient truth by harping on a worse scenario.

There is the proverbial saying about being sad over having no shoes until one met another who had no feet. But has the disabled person in this story ever had a chance to offer his side of the story? A hugely unfair and universal presumption is generally made about his life being of lesser value because he has stubs where there should have been feet. To go further, it is quite possible that the barefoot poor is alone and cold and injured in the feet while the other has friends to help him and wrap a blanket around his stumps.  The moral of the story should have been that the poor fellow badly needed a pair of shoes and someone ought to donate a pair; instead it became all about his need not being as important because there was someone who did not have feet to begin with. Do you see the fault line in this brand of treacherous logic?

I firmly believe we would build a happier, safer, more sustainable world if we did not dodge real issues in this cowardly manner.  But switch on the TV, open the day’s newspaper or go online, the gas lighting is in full flow.

Watch Manish Tiwari, the official spokesperson of AICC, dodge a question on the potential of an American style Prime Ministerial debate in India. His response is a harangue over how it might be the only way, going by the number of Parliamentary disruptions caused by the opposition in the current session.

You begin a discussion on euthanasia related legislation and a smart deflector will condemn the elitist nature of the issue, claiming nullification because the poor do not have access to healthcare. 

The alarmingly consistent stories on rape in Haryana led the Khap Panchayats recently to demand early marriage! A debate on abortion will habitually degenerate into a question of morality; is it fair to punish the unborn child?

The latest is Jairam Ramesh, India’s Rural Development Minister. His declaration of toilets being far more needed than temples in the country has unleashed a storm of hurt religious sentiments. How dare he compare oranges with apples, said some! Well, NASA researcher Scott Sandford, dried, ground and spetrometered both apples and oranges and found them to be remarkably similar, which is to say that the apples and oranges cannot be compared premise falls by the wayside, nice and proper.

And yet we persist with all sorts of intellectual dishonesty. We will use every trick in the trade to keep us shielded from seeing uneasy truths:  the cult of personality, claims of privacy, argument from intimidation, insinuation. We will indulge in scapegoating, quoting widely held fantasies, theatrical effects, claiming to cover two sides of the story and on and on.

Honesty would lie in pointing out the omissions in one’s opponent’s logic and facts.  We instead change the subject, quote irrelevant facts, question their motives.

We are intellectually dishonest in layers! 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

No second act

Whoever said women were permitted only one act in a lifetime?

Do twenty extra kilos, remnants of an invasive surgery, dental supplements and some somnolent muscles mean you are done for in this life? Would it be fair to say that you are now past your peak and prime, having discharged your primary obligations of parenting and being a supportive spouse? Could there be more to look forward to in addition to grand-parenthood and paying back your dues to the generation before, both very desirable and welcome albeit.

Oh yes, there was a  time when you were squaring with sleepless hours, aching muscles, palpitating heart, nervous requests, wary expectations, and endless neglect of the self. The loci were always outside of you. There were priorities. Is the family healthy? Are the relatives congenial enough? Are you in an OK equation with the colleagues? Could you have chartered your primary relationship better? Have you been nice enough, warm enough, positive enough, pleasing enough, non-demanding enough, adjusting enough, mature enough, sensible enough?

Of course you have. As a woman, you have paid heed to what the world outside told you for the better part of your life, so much so that you tuned out all the voices that ever clamoured inside of you. They would have receded, becoming a whisper before fading out completely. But they are coming back now, are they? They are coming at you with a vengeance, telling you that you owed yourself the same authentication that you have been preaching your mother and your daughters?

There is no mention of these voices in the description of the four Vedic ashramas of life but I hear them too! And they are telling me surprising things. They discount that this is the time to take it easy, throttle back, relax and enjoy the well-earned lull. They claim my best years lie ahead of me. They say this is my consolidation age. They assure me it is not too late to get myself into shape. Playing roles is all OK but where is your definition of the real you, they ask. It would be harakiri to draw my sense of self from those I love, they would have me believe. This is your second act and you are darned lucky to be getting to do one, I am being told.

I admit my first act was shaky. There were milestones to be met. I had people depending on me. I was not friends enough with myself. There were worries, fears, and concerns. I was doing the risking, the motivating and the envisioning. Self-nurture was the last thing on my list, the first priority being to secure a safe nest and get the young into their flight mode.

Was it a sacrifice? Far from it, I would not have had it any other way. Did it leave me fatigued or bitter? Certainly not for it was self-validation at a different level, an evolution of a fundamental nature. It is that experience in fact, of having been responsible for other lives that eventually empowered me with a sense of calm certainty. It put me in a space made for constructive closure.

I have never felt better. When I step out onto the streets, I no longer experience the nauseous lechery of the yore.  I am at home enough in my skin not to be rattled by physical blueprints.  I earn enough to fund my personal whimsies. I can hold my own in any scenario now that I am no longer afraid of embarrassing myself. I have hurt enough to understand that we are all, deep down under, similar in our needs.  I have at long last begun to understand that I cannot pin blame for my lows on others. I am glimpsing more and more the range of possibilities that begin and end with me.

And so, I have decided to pull my projects off the back-burner. It is never too late to learn Golf! If you always dreamed of playing the piano, walk into a school of music right now. Do not listen to anyone who says your bones may not be able to take the Zumba! It is great to want your life to matter and be of some relevance.

Will I ace the second act? I do not know and I do not care. What resonate in my ears are words like these: life is given to us in trust, it is for living. We owe it to ourselves to challenge the self constantly and in so doing grow. The day is about venturing beyond the walls of security we build around ourselves. The more you reach out, the more you reach in. And what else is life about if not reaching out and touching!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why BDUTT is wrong !

There is a new profession in town. Criticism! A destructive, no holds barred tearing down of people who are on the rise in their respective fields. And nowhere is it as visible as in the creative arts and the media.

Take Barkha Dutt. Currently on a three month fellowship, in residence at the Brown University, working on her book “The Unquiet Land; Exploring India’s Faultlines”, she fuels an entire industry of noxious denigration. A website called MediaCrooks  places her at number one on their list of India’s worst journalists. If you look closely, the reasons given are Radiagate, the alleged Kargil and 26/11 journalistic misadventures, her propensity for Pakistan and Rahul Gandhi and the fact that she is the only journalist purported to have a “wardrobe sponsor”. The rest are a lot of words.

Now Barkha Dutt happens to be a “Padma Shri”. She was nominated last year with Sir Richard Attenborough and Ross Kemp for the “International TV Personality of the Year”. She is also a member of the National Integration Council of India and an accomplished conflict zone reporter and TV talk show hostess. About six lakh people follow her on twitter.  She writes a weekly column, has interviewed a range of personalities, was the subject of a Bollywood movie and has won umpteen national and international awards.

This speaks of a huge body of work, by any standards, and spanning only sixteen years.

An objective, fact based, professional criticism would have been understandable but downright muckiness forces one to wonder what exactly is at play here. I read some more and found the author claim at one point that on the stated charter of Medaicrooks , “….there were hundreds of provisions to identify and talk about the crooks but not a single one to identify the good ones or the best in the business.”

So there you are, the online destruction stood justified in view of their mission which was to identify the crooks. And what did they do if they did not find any; they manufactured one!

During a recent “We the People” episode on clinical trials, I began a tweet exchange with Barkha Dutt on her bright yellow dupatta and this is how it evolved:

@BDUTT Lovely yellow dupatta! Potential add on to your signature, a vibrant color everytime but then Mediacrooks will allege distraction.
@Honeysangha  :))) ha ha do you really pay any attention to them. Thanks :)
@BDUTT Hard put to escape the 24/7 spew emanating from these practitioners of the latest profession in town; criticism for its own sake.
@Honeysangha indeed! but I just block and couldn’t care less :-)
@BDUTT This is the age of dis-information or black propaganda. Wise to rebut or to ignore? Ten people call the rose a weed and that it is!
@Honeysangha  disagree completely. If that’s what it takes for a rose to be a weed, so be it. Who cares !
@BDUTT Cheers to that self-assured dismissal! Wish you many more such tweets of well-earned certainty!!
@Honeysangha :))thankee

Now I am a Barkha Dutt fan and had hastened to conclude the above exchange on a positive note but the thought that disinformation needed to be addressed lingered.

I believe there are two categories of people where work is concerned. One kind commits, the other comments; one burns the midnight oil, the other burns their hearts; one has no time or inclination to look around, while that is all the other is doing; one is foolish, the other foolhardy.

There is more. The good workers invariably come wired with a deep seated arrogance that blinds them to the hooks dangling in vicinity. So strong is their faith in personal merit, they are either shocked at or outright dismissive of destructive criticism. Neither is effective. In the excessively networked world we inhabit today, there is no escaping connection. Black propaganda exists and the sheer range and reach of digital media puts it out of the harmlessness of just a couple of people talking rubbish. Disinformation today infects the ether, resounds back into the atmosphere and circles the globe, tearing reputations, undermining good work and leading to huge wastes of human endeavor.

Disinformation deserves to be beaten back. A responsible online conduct needs to be canvassed. We ought to care that so much hate is snaking around the web links. Adults, kids, everybody who gets online needs to be watchful, critical and analytical. Is the website genuine? What is their purpose of existence? Is the information they post accurate, current and comparable?

That there are so many disinformation artists and agents clogging the net-ways is hardly reason enough to give up the desire to hear and speak the truth. Silence can be a very deadly sanction !

Thursday, September 20, 2012


If there is anything more criminal, more crushing than injustice; it is a denial of its existence. 

I look at the dark clouds hovering over her head, sensing the talons that are tearing apart her sense of reality. The world outside is smiling benignly at her anguish, telling her what a sunny day it is and how wonderful the people who surround her. She is terrifyingly confused. Her voice is weary, there are endless rewinds and forwards in her narration and I sense, in her deeply drawn breaths, the vortex of desperation, down under.
She could be any woman, slowly losing her battle to fit or flee a mould.

I want to shake her and tell her a few things.

They can chip at you, if you let them, are you paying heed?

Humans are like that. They are incomplete entities, in the forever quest of that elusive and final conclusion. In their bodily tissues run the primeval neurons that cry out for constant affirmation.

No one is alone, everyone needs it. They all crave recognition that they are somehow special; an acknowledgement that they are making a difference. The variations are in the mode that they find their reasons in, to go on living.  

Yes, the succour differs. For some, it is meeting serial challenges at work. For others there is the delicious daze of the arts. And who can deny the drugged delight of an hour spent pushing the body. People get high on the company they keep, the things they buy, the stuff they eat. There are the adrenalin fans, the movie buffs, the gourmets, the geeks, the family fanatics, the devotees…they are all good.

But beware!

Beware of the domination junkies. Those who would sink their hooks into your spirits, oh yes believe it or not, they exist. Their fuel is control over others. They like to direct, to shame, to induce guilt, to belittle, to dismiss, and to denigrate. A consistent abuse of life around is a diehard habit. They are the Suns of their systems, in centrifugal command of lives tied to theirs. One might spend years denying the existence of this brand of human transaction; so disarming are these sugar glazed bullies; why, one may find it too offensive to believe it to be true but the phenomenon exists and how!

Who do you think you are? You are going too fast, you will fall! Your clothes or your hair or your colour is not right. Be very very careful, you might fail. You are not good enough for this. You are not worth the money at stake. You may be imagining your pain. Your primary duty is to people around you. You are not beautiful enough, not clean enough, not demure enough, not tolerant enough, not strong enough, not tall enough, and in fact, not human enough! You are imagining the craters; it is all beatific and beautiful. 

These are the signature words of the vampires of the soul, gnawing at your sense of self. Given a chance, they would suck the energy out of you, snapping with one click the will to live. Begin therefore, by acknowledging their existence. Read up, gather information and arm yourself with the knowledge of what you are facing. Banish the self-doubts, the self-effacing fear and step back. Once you have a view of the threat, disconnect it from your aura in one ruthless lance.

That you live is reason enough for you to exist with dignity. You deserve to keep yourself whole, to speak up, to disagree, to be pro-active over your needs, to seek personal fulfilment. You need to realize how remarkable you are and what your true worth is beyond the culture that fails you time and again.

Note: All pics by Aqseer at Hongkong. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Self before service

Most Indian parents follow a religion of making available to their kids all they missed out on. Some go a step further; wanting to give their kids all that they did not have plus what they think the next generation should have.

A sport was on one such wish list for our girls. We were clear that they would grow up learning one game at the least. The play field would teach those valuable lessons they would have no opportunity to learn in the classroom, we mused; out there in the rough and tumble, they would learn to stretch and push themselves, was our idealistic rationalization for throwing them into a murky cauldron called Indian sports.

I remember their first swimming trial at the Talkatora indoor swimming pool. The lights were not functional and it was a 50 m pool. We watched the two tiny capped heads, pulling away in the distance, it was a huge expanse of water for them at that young age; Aqseer mentioned years later that she imagined a shark would rise from the depths any moment to set upon them. They cleared the test that day and it was the start of a foray into a world that existed primarily to serve itself.

There were other stadia and a range of sports. The National Stadium, Nehru Stadium, Indira Gandhi Stadium; it did not matter whether it was swimming, gymnastics or boxing….the pattern of self before service remained more or less uniform. The coaches did not teach much, they barely went through the motions of instruction. It was a mass hoax, faintly legalized, thanks to the venues and the stamp of the Sports Authority of India association.

We were in the company of co-sufferers. There were fathers and mothers, so fired with zeal for their children’s sporting dreams that they went beyond the call of duty, becoming a gofer for the coaches, providing administrative and moral support to the stadium community. They drove huge distances on scooters and in buses, waiting long hours outside the games area, planning their child’s diet and training schedules. Many devoted a disproportionate amount of their modest salaries to the needs of their budding champions. They gamely put up with mismanaged competition trips that are a part of the sporting culture in our country.

I have sat there on the hard benches with them, buoyant on the surface but with a sinking feeling of grasping at straws inside. We put up brave faces to the kids as they struggled on their own to make sense of the game someone was being paid to train them in. But the writing was on the wall. The giant edifice, the huge, high roofed spaces, the battery of officials, the VIPs who surfaced during meets, the entire machinery of sports was focused on something other than the sportspersons and their promotion. Themselves!!  

I have known “bhai bandi” to be a given in many fields in our country but the depth it touches in the world of Indian sports is unparalleled. The sports biggies are like family chiefs, ruling a selective fiefdom. There is a corrupt, office for profit brand of symbiosis our sports arenas breed. “You become the Bowling Federation President and we will make my daughter the Rowing Federation Secretary”, is the vein the free for all goes in . Talent and aptitude be damned, international competitions are opportunities for sports heads to take the families on  fully paid for jaunts.

Every time India performs poorly on the field, experts rue the lack of a sporting culture, blaming your typical Indian parents for discouraging their kids from taking up games. Which father or mother would have the heart to put their children through what our Paralympic athletes are suffering currently in England? 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dance with the winds

As mesmerizing as the flames of a bonfire or the frothy gurgle of a brook can be the flight of a kite.

I crane my neck to look up in awe at the soaring ship. In my thoughts, I am astride on those fragile paper wings; the breeze in my hair, lashing the strands in a rhythm to match the kite’s fluttering tail. My heart lifts, I feel my body levitate and there is an expansion of being, a broadening, an enlarging of the mind almost, as though ready to hit greater heights.

That bobbing blob of colour could well be my spirit, tethered to the ground with a chord of quivering connections. Quite like the paper bird, flying audacious sorties into unknown and unexplored realms, every minute, and every hour, fighting its own vulnerability and fears. Flapping, getting beaten back, and even losing height in the varying winds but enduring and lifting up on friendly gusts to soar in the end.

My spirit roams the skies today with that lone paper, as I muse, standing on the ground that a day will come when that lethal glue and ground glass line will snap and I am going to float away, into the unknown yonder, all alone, by myself, like that kite I gaze at, leaving behind everything that grounded me. I will be gone but the sky will not stay desolate for long. It will come alive with brighter, stronger, braver kites, their lines moving with life and energy.

Oh well, that split second of eternity will come when it will come. For now, I am one with those colour patches, shimmering in the teasing rays, symbols of man’s imagination and courage. Like the triangular frame in the blues, I am here on the ground, amongst friends and strangers, maintaining my path, steering out of harm’s way, gaining in height slowly and surely. The sharper my life skill the greater my ascents, as I loosen, pull back and pace out the leverage life gives me.

There are lessons up there, in the colorful sky. That speck rising high says fortune favours the bold. It proves you have got to use all you have. And that no one rises alone; several others gain simply by reference and the scramble to keep up. The spirit that lasts is the one that dances with the winds and the gales, changing step to match every gust, each breeze. The plucky champion that owns the steepest ascent has stayed focused on its own journey, unmindful of the pomp and aggression around. It has worked on out flying every other kite on its two engines of: desire and tenacity.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Smarter bus dispersal

One of the most challenging events in a typical school today is the Bus Dispersal hour. A safe, speedy and smart see off is what every school works, hopes and prays for. 

The reason is not far to find. There have been spates of unsavoury incidents involving school buses. Remember the unspeakable tragedy of a girl who would be at the mercy of the bus conductor between the second last and her final stop. And it was only the other day that a year old boy came under the rear wheels of his school bus and died in the ambulance, on way to the hospital. There is a growing feeling that students are becoming increasingly unsafe in the school buses. Drivers have been known to drink and drive; some are not above misbehaving with girls. There is nary a day in fact that goes by without at least one alarming news item related to school buses. The air has been thick with talk of buses undergoing safety modifications including installation of CCTV cameras and speed governors.

Gone are the days when the kids would stream out of huge metallic school gates in a higgledy piggledy stream, happily chattering into the arms of relaxed parents. People lounged languidly in a laid back hush of expectancy I remember. There was a greater sense of security and far less turning around to watch the back. I don’t recall this jumping nervously in the skins at the slightest unfamiliarity.

Those were the days of a calmer, more content, well… perhaps even resigned and ignorant India. What we inhabit today is a war zone. There is anger, fear, even envy. A distrust of the government has so colored our pan-view that we are quick to believe the worst of the other. Unfair generalizations are the stuff social conversations are made up of. A civic awareness of rights and entitlements has replaced plain common sense and civility.

Schools try and compensate by laying out layer upon layer of security. There is a garrison mind-set geared to fool proof dispersal. It is a daily struggle to stay above board. 

The student strength and number of routes are only two components of a hugely collaborative effort. There are several agencies involved including the gate security personnel, private vehicle drivers, parents and support staff. A monitoring system is followed in most schools to try and ensure every student reaches home safely. There are cameras on the gates and regular dissemination of updated contact numbers of agencies involved.

In several institutions, the junior wings in particular, bus routes have been assigned class rooms as well as specific teachers who take attendance again at the end of the day, before leading their route students to the bus dispersal area. The children who use the second trip are supervised by teachers until it is time to board the senior buses. In this way, the double attendance works as a quick way to establish any anomaly.

Even so, there are the bad days. 

Two snaking rows of second graders can cross each other, a couple of frisky ones getting dislodged into the wrong row unwittingly. It may happen that a child is facing a bus a trifle uncertainly and the mere appearance of a teacher prompts him to quickly hop into the bus that was puzzling him! Children have a talent for losing track of time. While the whole world is going crazy hunting for them, some may be blissfully sliding and swinging in the KG Park at the back. The small ones also happen to have a penchant for escorting the ailing to the Sick Bay and losing themselves in the experience. 

There could be explanations galore but the mind of the parent waiting at home goes whirl-pooling thus: has there been a kidnapping; could the child have fallen into a man hole or else, God forbid, run over by a BMW; she could have been lured and raped; a custodial conflict pick up seems like a possibility and on and on the tortuous mind goes visualizing one gory scenario after another.

Nine and a three quarters time out of ten, there is likely to be a simpler explanation. It is very unlikely that a child has gone far and in harm’s way from the school campus. There are small things however that can be of critical help at crucial times. Entering accurate information for instance, in the identity cards and school diaries; labelling the child’s belongings; keeping the school informed of any contact update; all this helps. 

There are systems that have been worked out. At the heart of this elaborate blueprint are people. And nowhere in the school is an empathetic co-operation between everyone involved as critical as at the time of leaving school. It is a tricky hour. The students are excitable, teachers low on energy, bus drivers in a rush and parents in a state of expectant anxiety. At such a vital hour, many a times, the secret to success is patience. 

It is good to remember that checks and balances are in place and given time, everyone will be home, sweet home, sooner than later!!