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?