Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Human Vultures

Compassion and Empathy; the two distinguishing factors; the factors that separate us from the animals! As I opened the comments section in the morning newspaper, just a day after the disastrous earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale struck the country of Nepal and the adjoining countries of India, China and Bangladesh, my jaw dropped after I read some of the comments made by people. People like you and me; people who were supposed to have the distinguishing factors. But does comments like ‘serves them right’, ‘die you people’, ‘the idol worshipers are going to hell’, ‘leave your pagan believes and embrace Christianity’, etc. endorses us as the empathetic and the compassionate beings? Is there a feeling of compassion and empathy for the numerous lives that have been uprooted and disheveled in these stray comments?

Death is the greatest equalizer. Death doesn't judge you nor chooses you by your religion, gender or age. Death doesn't choose you by the amount of money you have got. Then why are we choosing! And if we are choosing why aren't we choosing to be a bit more compassionate with the people who have lost everything to the fury of Mother Nature? Why aren't we choosing to be a bit empathetic to the people whose lives won’t be the way it was any further? A human tragedy of this proportion should level all our thoughts. It should unite us together. That is the choice we should make. Rather, we are choosing to further alienate ourselves by making such random, stonehearted comments.

An Italian born London based photojournalist, Alex Masi, clicked a photo of a girl enjoying the first drops of rainfall after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy struck in 1984. The scorching heat of the sun had aggravated the desperate situation of the families who were already reeling under the aftereffects of the toxic gas spill in their neighbourhood. And then there was the rain; the much awaited rain. And a little girl, Poonam, oblivious to the presence of the photographer, was looking up and letting the drops spill on her face. The photograph went on to bag one of the prestigious awards in the UK with a cash prize of 5000$. However, even after getting so much media hype and glossy money Masi did not choose to be indifferent to the perils of this tragedy stricken family. He chose to be different. He chose to make his life from ordinary to extraordinary. He did not make any gut wrenching and stone cold comments like many of us do. The photographs that he had taken made him feel that he was taking a part of them. He knew he couldn't change their lives entirely. Yet he chose to make their lives a little bit different and a little bit better. He chose to spend the award money on building a brick house for the family, buy a vegetable cart for the father so that he could have a steady and regular income and fund the children’s education. He goes back each year to check on them and makes sure they were doing well. He raises funds through crowd funding and keeps on giving financial help to the family whenever they need. It is a continuous process for him for bringing in a change in the lives of atleast one family which had been struck by a human tragedy and see them grow. It is these act of compassion and the feeling of empathy that one human feels for the other that separates us from our animal friends.

As the devastating scenes from the Nepal earthquake emerged, the extent of loss started settling in. Scores of people stranded on the roads. No money, no food, and no house. Desperate cries for help to survive. Villages after villages flattened, millions homeless. And in these times of crisis, instead of helping people survive and overcome the pain, we see individuals groping the opportunity for making repugnant and frigid comments, companies circulating SMS advertisements and religious fanatics propelling their theory of a faith change for a fate change.

Do we really have to treat these tragic times as cash cows and behave like human vultures?  Are we so stone hearted? Can we remain oblivious to the pain and the anxiety that the families feel in these times of crisis? Change of faith cannot really bring in noticeable change in fate for these people; however, a change in attitude in us can bring a paradigm shift in the way these families think about their future. Whether it is the missing of the MH370 aircraft from Malasia, or loss of innocent lives in the ghastly school attack in Pakistan, any tragedy whether natural or man imposed, should unite us together in times of grief; it should compel us to stand by the families who are still in the process of embracing the dictates of life, this is what makes us human. So let’s be human and not human vultures! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

When dreams get wings

It was dawn and as two flowers danced
A sudden breeze made them glance
They did not look the same not at once
But they moved the same more than a chance

They both had a secret tugged in tight
Hidden in the leaves away from the light
Slowly one day they will come out to the bright
Poking and pushing with all their might

Two different fates hoped to take flight
One plain another with bright stripes
A common dream amalgating their sight
They were sisters fused by the might

As days went by their hopes slowly raised
Of flying past the blackbird and the summer graze
Sipping from the buttercups and bathing in gold
Where subservient dreams never turned old

The bees left, the flowers withered and fell
Nature had her own plans that they couldn’t tell
And then one day as the sun rose
One sister awoke with no one to poke

She flew past the singing blackbirds and the summer graze
Looking for her sister in the morning blaze
As the sun started to set and the nightingales sang
The search for the lost soul rested a day’s bang

As dawn came the sisters finally met
Just like the night went and the day set
One was a moth and another a butterfly
A joint dream separated by nature’s sly

Different bodies different souls
Joined together by a common goal
Fly high and soar higher
When dreams get wings drift higher

The world needs moths as well as butterflies
One rustic another polished fine
Everybody in this place cannot be a butterfly
But life gets meaning when dreams begin to fly

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sharing the Queer Life

The ‘Agnipariksha’ of the ‘Sita’ never ends. Since time immemorial, women have always been the solitary ones put to test, test to prove her innocence, test to prove her fidelity, test to prove that she is the coy Indian bride who irrespective of how well educated or well-read, has to incessantly strive life-long to be the sole torchbearer of marital bliss. The Indian Woman is the unsaid and unappreciated ‘Hercules’ of our cultured Indian society and her shoulders bear the weight of her family’s ‘Izzat’.

So when Dr. Priya Vedi decided to end her life because it was increasingly becoming unbearable for her to carry the weight of the innocuous yet obnoxious family ‘izzat’, her decision suddenly caught the living room syndrome of the country. Everywhere there was a buzz of how a promising life was wasted. Her colleagues talked about how cheerful she was at work, her friends spoke about how lovely the couple were, and everyone else who did not know her were talking about how she could have taken the easy route of divorcing her gay husband rather than choosing such a radical step. May be she did may be she did not but who are we to judge her? We live in a society where patriarchal values are so profound and deep-seated that it is very difficult even for a well-educated young woman just to walk out of her dying relationship. A society which is always ready to blame the woman even if the man is at fault! A hypocritical and biased society where a woman has to constantly fight for her place; first to be alive in her own mother’s womb, then born alive out of it, and then the life long struggle of soaking up all the rejection that come her way, fight them valiantly, sometimes failing and sometimes emerging victorious, but everytime just on her own, alone.

As a woman, we all are expected to endure whatever comes to us with ease. Whether it is the demeaning tone ridiculing the colour of the skin or the ridiculing tone of not looking married; whatever the tone but the same reaction expected, accept it. And I am sure Dr. Priya Vedi was also expected to do so. Her father in law’s comment soon after her death that ‘it is the responsibility of the Indian woman to make the marriage work’ reflects not only his thought process but also of countless other Indian father- in-laws and other Indian men and women. Maybe Dr. Priya did whatever she could in those five years of marital life. Maybe she thought that with her love and dedication she could change the sexual orientation of her husband. Maybe she thought she could have an otherwise normal marriage and a straight husband. Maybe she thought she could change the deception she had been administered to and have a happy married life. Yet after all these efforts and after all the daily pretends, it was seemingly unbearable for her to carry on with her fake happy life. What triggered her to take the extreme step is a question which will never be answered. Probably the prolonged internal and physical battle she was exposed to bore its fruit by taking away her life. Probably the depression of the relentless mental and physical torture, of not being able to share the pain with her family and friends because of the imposter called the ‘izzat’, was too much for her to condone any further.

When I think of how Dr. Priya Vedi shared her life with a person who had different sexual orientation, I am instantly reminded of a movie ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. One of the many lives shown in the movie was the life of two queer men, one Indian and another a Britisher, one married with a child and another staying unmarried because of his different sexual inclination, separated because of the perceivable social and religious alienation they faced because of this different sexual inclination. One option given two very different choices made. One accepting what he is and the other pretending to be what he is not; one choosing the life of solidarity while the other choosing the social decree.

I somehow manage to empathise with the husband of Dr. Priya Vedi because he did not choose what he was, he was born with it. And how much ever Dr Priya or anyone else would have tried changing the sexual preferences they wouldn’t have succeeded. Being born in a country and in a society where being a queer is legally illegal and socially unacceptable; the predicament that Dr Priya’s husband faced forces me to empathise with him. But somehow, I am not able to sympathise with him. Why? Because although he had different sexual preferences, he was a well-educated, independent man who could have convinced his parents and stayed away from getting married thereby sparing another human being and her family of all the traumas and deception. Instead, he chose to get married consciously and torment an innocent life to the extent of pushing her to the brink. I cannot even imagine what Dr. Priya would have gone through to see her husband having sexual relationships with other gay men, who were common friends, and all that she was entitled to for being a supportive and secretive wife was his apathy and abuse. A constantly throbbing open wound which got freshly wounded every day and all she could do is pretend, pretend that everything is unscathed and unhurt!

Things could have been different and a life could have been saved if Dr Kamal Vedi, Priya’s husband, would not have taken the decision of marriage in the affirmative. The tag of being a ‘social outcast’ and the accompanying shame for himself and his family drove Dr Kamal to accept the social diktat of getting married to the opposite sex. But what gave him the right to ruin and rampage another innocent life? The devout orthodox mentality of the society and escorted shame that has to be inherited with it compels many men and women to hide their real feelings and go by the book. There are countless men and women who share similar feelings and live with their queer partners all their lives even bearing their children. But what are the daily mental torture and pain these men and women go through because of our age old social diktats are feelings beyond our realm of imaginations. So why are we being judgemental on these people. Life must have been hard for both of them. The least Dr Kamal could have done to spare both of them the pain was to either stay unmarried or leave the country and go and stay in a place where being a queer wasn’t a social taboo. Deceiving your partner by hiding things that matter for a happy married life and pretending that everything is just fine is not the solution. It is like duping our own self from accepting reality in the pretext of following the regressive social norms thereby ending up living in a live hell. Sharing a lifetime with a queer partner is extremely distressing and depressing for the other, so least we can do to protect her/him is to spare her a sham relationship by making a choice, the ‘right choice’.   

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creative Parenting

As parents we are programmed to make all the choices for our children. Whether it is a choice for the right kind of age appropriate toys, what to eat, what to wear, what to read, which shows or movies to watch on the television, we end up taking the whole end ownership assuming they are lousy choosers and ‘Mom knows best’! Even though at times we do give them their right to choose, we condition their choice by attaching a string at the end of it; the moment we see that it is not being directed to what we perceive the right direction is, we pull the string, put our foot down and ensure that the choice coincides with what we want. In this process of bombarding our choices on the child we often forget to appreciate her way of looking at things and more importantly ‘her choice’.

Being a parent is no easy job. Physical openness and awareness towards everything is very important. Whether your child is watching the right kind of programmes on the devices we give them, whether she is reading the right kind of books, whether she is having the right circle of friends; being aware is very crucial and infact the first step towards good parenting. However, in this strive for protecting our child against the most perceivable alluring evils of daily life we forget that we are actually restricting her from being herself and being independent. Yes a child is very vulnerable in the early stages of life and it is important that we as parents should take the right decision, but it is equally important to give her the opportunity to take that decision herself; and if she fails the assurance of a support system is at least we can guarantee. The very chance of giving them a chance for making a decision for themselves, from as simple as which toy to play to brushing their teeth without any assistance, gives them a sense of empowerment. A sense which will help in building up their level of confidence and not fearing failure!

As the interactive session on how toys and creative playing help in the mental and physical growth of a child came to an end, a certain video where an interview with an employee working in the designing field of a world renowned toy manufacturer caught my attention as a parent. Certain pieces which the author focused on how to encourage a child for being more creative started looming in my mind. Like many other parents, controlling my child’s activities is something I am used to leaving little place for her to grow and create. Whether it was directing her on how to play with her Legos or discipline her on the table manners, limiting her life with fewer options was what I was doing. But like all children, being instructed and guided all the time was making her a rebel. Often she just did not care to what I was saying making me more frustrated. A particular line in this video that the author said started making sense in the given hostile environment that I was facing with my child. He said a continuous monitored domain where a child is incessantly told what to do and not let them be themselves made them reprehensive and hostile towards the parent who is making them the subject of rigorous control. Sometimes they just shut themselves off and refuse to understand and reason out no matter how much you try. So it is very important for we as parents to understand why our children behave so radically and refuse to do what they are being told. As parents we should appreciate and respect that they are humans too with their own set of desire, wishes and moods. Anything said which is against their wish, desire and mood per se will result in such hostile behaviour. It is not that they are inherently designed to revolt, but they are being tested to their relatively smaller tolerance and acceptance limits. As parents it is very important for us to guide our children in the right direction, but it also as much important to give them the right kind of resources, ensure that they are safe, and just allow them to be themselves. Children by birth are curious by nature and this curiosity will make them try different things, and squeeze out their creative juices, thus resulting in creating wonders. Continuous and restrictive monitoring will only do more harm in the long run; however, orientation of the available choices at hand and allowing them to make the choice will help them in taking unbiased and confident decisions.

As parents our only aim in life is to raise responsible, independent and good human beings and the urge to fulfil this aim directs us in dominating everything in our child’s lives. But our endeavour for raising a self-confident child who makes the right decision for herself and others can only be realised if we start empowering them with more opportunities for taking those decisions. As the age old adage goes ‘practice makes a man perfect’, so does good parenting tip goes, let your child be what she/he wants to be, if not always but most of the times. Controlled parenting along with creative parenting is what I think is a key mantra for successful parenting. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Virtual Friend

The world of virtual friendship started with the onset of the Yahoo Messenger service. A market place for prospective friends! Friends whom you will never meet, friends with whom you won’t dine out, a shoulder on which you will never be able to lean your head on, friends with whom you will never share your past, friends with whom you will never share your secrets! A whole new definition of friends! A virtual friend!!

As technology advanced, the anonymous agora of friends slowly started having a slow death. A slow death to the new age tsunami called the ‘Orkut’. A refined version of the virtual world! The friends in this polished spectrum were known people, probably from the early days of school or college, people from our previous work place, people who were lost as we moved ahead with life.

My social networking baptism started in the era of ‘Orkut’. An age when the ‘Scraps’ were sacrosanct as once having an email address was! I remember the initial days of having an email id were spent on checking the mails every hour. Therefore, checking my scraps every half hour was definitely not exaggerated. After all, this is what technological advancement meant! Bringing people together. Bringing people closer. What harm was it just to check whether someone, long forgotten, long lost, suddenly gets in touch one day, through this fabulous medium called the ‘Social Network’. A gregarious neighborhood of virtual connections of sorts. You can friend an already existing friend, you can friend a no friend, you can friend a friend who you thought wasn't a friend at all.

Fame is like a shooting star! The sooner you climb the sooner you fall! The faster you swish past, the faster you are forgotten!! The same was true for Orkut. The days of glory slowly started to fade away giving way to a 23 year old’s dream campus launch, Facebook. Another social networking site which created a wave for many others to follow suit but eventually murdering the pioneer, Orkut!

Facebook was no different from its predecessor; only an updated version. Probably Orkut 2.0 would have been the appropriate title for it! Another shop in the teeming marketplace of opportunities and re-connections! Another virtual platform promising a gamut for detached virtual friends!

People often say that these social networking sites are great ways to reconnect and remain in touch. Yes even I share that thought. But if being in touch just means being in the friends list, then I think it is better we don’t be friends at all. Being a friend is more appreciated when instead of posting a comment on your timeline on a special day you choose to pick up the phone and talk! A friend who doesn't need to be reminded of a birthday by a reminder! A friend who doesn't have to give a fake ‘Poke’ to wake you up from your long slumber of detachment! Yes! These social networking sites are great if each and every friend is just a call away and remembers you always. What is the use of a ‘friend’ who stays dormant from the time you re-connected and chooses to stay that way?      

The virtual world of Facebook is great if you want to show off your photos. It is also a great place for reconnecting with people who are lost in this medley of life. But whether we just choose to mummify these reconnected friends only to our friends list on Facebook or we choose to take them out from the closet and call them and blend them in our lives is upto us! A virtual friend can become a real friend when we pick up the phone and give voice to the face we see on the screen. A voice which assures us of its existence and its closeness! A voice which gives us the trust of being there when wanted! Real friendships and real friends have to be real and not virtual!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

And the Argument Continues!!

It is not toffee it is coffee

It is not feminism it is hypocrisy

Don’t eat the cow, its holy! Shoot the early morning bugger instead!

It is not ketchup, its Maggie hot and sweet tomato sauce, it’s different...

And the argument continues…!!!

My country is a bizarre country! Not in a negative sense, but it loves to do bizarre things, and for example it loves arguing. From matters as trivial as whether a toffee is a toffee or a coffee to whether a woman’s choice is a feminism or hypocrisy! There are hordes of issues that keep bugging an ordinary Indian. And more often than not these bugging issues find a platform on the social network. 

However, one issue that is a perennial and constant bugger is ‘whether to call her ‘Aunty’ and whether to call him ‘Uncle’? Whether it comes from a 5 year old or a college going student, the word ‘Aunty’ instantly generates a feeling of shock and despair! After all it was insidiously hinting on our ever increasing age. ‘Aunty mat kaho na!’ A popular adage that caught the nation’s horror-imagination thanks to a popular television soap back from my school days! The moment a woman crosses the devil's age of 25 years, she has successfully added the prefix to her name!!

Hence, when one my mother-in-law’s college going tenant addressed me as an ‘Aunty’ on a delightful spring morning, I immediately took offence. With extreme poise and maintaining a low voice and hiding my annoyance and infuriation on the word that had evoked a sea of emotions within me, I said to her and I quote, “You see there are two possibilities of you calling me ‘Aunty’, one either you think you are a five year old and haven’t grown since, or you think I am old enough to be your mother in law; so you choose!” The poor girl was so taken aback by this sudden loss of temper on my side that she was in complete loss of words. She immediately apologised about what she had said and scampered away and I was a happy woman again! Happy that I had successfully made my point!!

Of late both the ‘Aunties’ and the ‘Uncles’ have started taking offence to another level from these humble words which previously gave us a feeling of intimacy and closeness. Often friends use these words among themselves either just to tease each other or just reminding each other their age. In India we always talk of giving respect to our elders; so when the words ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ are otherwise meant to be sisters and brothers of either of the parents in the western world, we in India however, refer them to anyone who is substantially elder to us. Whether they are our parent’s friends, or an elderly man or woman walking down the street, the word ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ immediately generates a feeling of respect! (that is our perception)

However, the respectful concoction of ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ haven’t been so respectful lately. The past week in India witnessed the growing displeasure on the usage of these otherwise humble words. First, a junior in post but senior in age Air India co-pilot took offence when his senior in post but junior in age pilot referred to him as ‘Uncle’ giving rise to a major cockpit confusion thereby leading to a major scuffle and fight. The word ‘uncle’ provoked the co-pilot because according to him it wasn't said in the best of faiths. Rather, it was used sarcastically to demonstrate the difference in age and the post. If I am being asked to suggest my viewpoint on this matter then I would say, given the recent spurt of air accidents, its better not to piss off the co-pilot thereby jeopardizing the lives of innocents cramped in the aircraft!

The second offence was taken by Ms. Shobha De, a prominent journalist cum social commentator. As I have mentioned earlier we Indians love to argue, so Ms De did not take a back seat when the state of Maharashtra made screening of Marathi movies compulsory in all theaters. She displayed her annoyance on the subject by tweeting that instead of pop corns ‘Misal and Vada Pav’ should be served in the theaters to generate a feeling of patriotism amongst the Marathi people! The regional party ‘Shiv Sena’ immediately took offence and jumped into action by sending ‘Shobha Aunty’ basketful of Misals and Vada Pavs! However, without digressing from the topic, I perceive the word ‘Aunty’ even here was not used in the best of interest or a mark of respect for Ms. De. Rather it was used in a negative connotation to humiliate Ms De by demeaning her sexually, shaming her age and foraying loss of senses!!

Nowhere, in the world the words uncle and aunty generates a volley of meanings and an avalanche of concoctions as it does in India. Like we do with food, we manage to give an Indian touch to everything to suit our tastes. This proneness of ‘Indianising’ everything sometimes leads to conflicts and the recent squirt of offences taken because of the usage of these benign and innocuous words, it is better to follow the global trend of addressing people with their names barring the relatives. Confusions lead to conflicts, and if we give away the environment and words that create these conflicts, peace is what we can have! Else we will continue doing what we do best, 'Argue'!!

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Darkness Behind The Veil...

As I sat down with the morning e-newspaper on my laptop, I was greeted by a photo with a caption underneath, ‘women ISIS members in the ISIS training camps’. Behind the darkness of a black ‘Burkha’, a robe that covers the body from head to toe, and a veil to cover the head and the face, there were approximately 10-15 women in the photograph with sophisticated guns in their hands ready to plunge into the sea of ‘Jihaad’. From a netted window on the veil, these young or old women were making a life changing decision! The hands which once rocked a cradle were now getting ready to silence one!

A certain video featuring some of Bollywood’s leading ladies had struck the headlines a fortnight ago. The video spoke about women empowerment. It showed how women had a right to their body as well as their minds and no one else has the right to dictate terms on how to use them. A very powerful video, with a very powerful message, especially given the current circumstances in the country and elsewhere on the rising crimes against women! The video incidentally also said that it is the choice of the woman whether to have ‘sex’ before marriage or after marriage, in marriage or out of marriage while staying married! When the video had started to make sense, this particular section made me think of what does ‘Woman Empowerment’ mean to these ladies who feature in this video! Made by one of Bollywood’s promising directors and featuring some well off independent women does this video really show what is meant by ‘Women Empowerment’? Yes! I agree ‘Women Empowerment’ means the right to make a decision and take a decision without being questioned, yet on whether to have ‘sex’ outside marriage even while you are married, is definitely not empowerment; rather it is voyeurism in disguise! My idea of ‘Women Empowerment’ encompasses when a woman takes a decision of not letting go of her orphanage in the name of marriage; a woman deciding to go out and work as a maid inspite of an abusive drunk husband just to pay the bills; a woman deciding to realise her dream of becoming one of the world champions in boxing inspite of all the odds in life; a father deciding to make his daughter one of the world’s best shuttler in spite of his family not approving a girl child and refusing to see her face after she was born; or for that matter choosing to continue work or just enjoy marital bliss is called empowerment; having a baby and getting to choose whether to rearrange the priorities in life that is called empowerment; or a simple decision of not letting go of your food habits and personal choices just because they are different from your husbands is empowerment for me! The list goes on but somehow the idea of ‘sex outside marriage’ being a point of ‘Woman Empowerment’ does not really fit in my list.

When I finished reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khalid Hosseini, one looming question kept on revolving in my mind, what would life be for an ordinary Afgan woman who had seen freedom at its best when everywhere else in the world the so called ‘weaker sex’ was still striving hard to carve a place for herself. A woman who had the freedom of decision making! Whether to pursue her studies, to choosing her life partner, an Afgan woman was envy of all! And then suddenly one fine day everything she had ever known was gone within a wink of an eye! A right forcibly taken away from her and pushing her into a world of darkness and a forbidden life of restrictions.

So when Reader’s Digest, a popular magazine in India, decided to ask its readers a question that if you had a chance for a day to switch places with someone who would you choose, my obvious choice was evident; ‘I would switch places for a day with an Afgan Woman to see what she feels about her changed times and switched places’! It was not that the she was only the rarest of the rare, given similar conditions prevailing in India where women in many parts do not enjoy any kind of rights; her only safe place was among the four walls of her house. When she left the walls of her father she entered that of her husbands’. There are women whose fates are decided by an alternative court of law, ‘The Khaps’. A group of senior male members of a village, who boast of self-attained wisdom, sitting down to decide the future course of life for the women in that village. When if found guilty the punishments range from banishment from the village boundaries to death. The whole idea of living the life of an Afgan woman was solely driven by a solitary thought, how much courage and patience does it takes to live a life of perennial penance and confinement after getting a taste of free living? A life of liberation which was incised upon brutally and taken away! 

Whether it is these ISIS women comrades or the women in the Naxal hit areas of India, the pictures of women swishing guns dangerously on the face of the innocents, forced me to rethink my idea of ‘Women Empowerment’ and the ‘Right to Choice’. Does it only mean brushing shoulders with men with similar thinking of ‘we kill if you don’t believe?’ Or does it mean giving up the role of a nurturer and instead vandalize life? Or does it simply mean getting out of the four walls of the house only to intimidate others to take your place inside? The darkness of the veil doesn't come because of the cloth that gives a feigned perception of anonymity. The darkness comes because one chooses to live in the world of ignorance. A world where if the perception on the path of righteousness doesn't match, then you lose the right to life! The whole idea of the ‘Right of Choice’and 'Women Empowerment' gets diluted when the ‘Choice’ chooses the wrong way!

‘Right to Choice’ can only come through the ‘Right of Knowledge’. And knowledge doesn't come in by getting university degrees. Knowledge comes in when you realize how critically important life is, both for you and the ones you are sneering to take away. Everybody has a right to live and a right to choose. And when you have the right to choose on anything from as simple as what to wear, to which religion to practice, what to eat, to when to go out of the house, and when to come back, empowerment is what follows. The darkness of ignorance is more sinister than the darkness of the veil because it is this lack of knowledge that preys upon us from behind the veil! This ignorance needs to be denounced and the light of knowledge needs to percolate inside. Knowledge is the only recourse that can be taken to enlighten this forbidden world of iniquity and the darkness behind the veil! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Glorified Diva

It is that time of the year when Indian cricket frenzy fans are glued to the television sets. Whether in the electronic stores, or on the internet, everywhere you turn you will find hordes of people glued to the television sets or the computers watching the Cricket Indian Premier League. Well I love the game of cricket, but if you ask me why I opine otherwise then my answer is that although I am a great fan of the game I detest glamorization of the already glamorized game. I hate it when I see people going hysterical over meaningless crap in the name of sports. It s not about a game, its all about money and of course not to forget the objectification of women. How many of the 'Indian Men' go to watch the IPL's without the skimpily clad women dancing to popular Bollywood numbers on their mind? I know I must be generalizing 'Indian Men' and their mentality, yet I might not be entirely wrong when I accidentally catch a glimpse of the game on my television set only to see lusting men ogling at these blond hair women. Sometimes in a classic Bollywood style I feel like asking these lecherous men 'Tere ghar main Ma, Behan, Beti nahi hai kya?' (Don't you have a mother, sister or a daughter back home) Or is it women back home have something different from these women who are busy dancing merrily to tunes they vaguely understand?!

Whatever the case, its not about these nugatory dance performances or the seemingly lecherous gaze of the men around, the point I am trying to make is that the game of Cricket has always dominated the Indian populace and will continue to do so. But in this cricket hullabaloo, we forget that there are other forms of sports which are not so blessed. There are players and athletes who do not mint money as the cricketers and the Board of Cricket Control in India does. People who also love their game yet are striving hard to make their ends meet. National and State level athletes who are in dire necessity of funds just to keep their training going. Sports associations who are cash strapped to the extent of bankruptcy. Associations who have world class players at their disposals but cannot back them due to lack of funds. Recently a State Level Boxer, Rishu Mittal, was forced to work as a domestic maid just to fund her training camps! Do we treat our esteemed players and athletes in this kind of disgraceful manner! On one hand we are paying crores of rupees in buying players for IPL and on the other hand we are forcing our acclaimed athletes into a life which is a vilification of their talent. And she is not the only example of our apathy towards our National and State sports champions who do not belong to the 'Divine game of Cricket', scores of other people from the sports fraternity are facing a similar fate while some fortunate ones from the Cricketing world have boundless money at their disposal!  

As an Indian I feel our country needs to learn a lot from the Western World and especially how to treat people who bring national honour with respect and dignity. It pains me to see an Athlete standing with a trophy in her/his hand and waiting for an Autorickshaw outside a stadium! Yes such was the scene when the Common Wealth Games were hosted in Delhi in 2010. While our cricketers swished past with their imported sedans, or flew business class, our athletes on the other hand faced such kind of step motherly behaviour from us. We fail to acknowledge that these athletes are also like the war heroes who have fought for the country's honour successfully and have helped in retaining her valor and pride. They have played their part valiantly and have made their country proud. And all they seek is some respect in return yet what we give is our indifference and unconcern. As a nation it is a disgrace for all of us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Travel and Living- Chapter 3-A place under the sun---Greece

From a miserable, dark, grey sky to a bright yellow blue sky, this is how the city of the Gods, Athens, welcomed us. Greece had always been on my mind and landing on the land, for real, was an ethereal experience for me. The land of Alexander the great, the land of Apollo the Sun God, the land of Aphrodite the Goddess of love, beauty! A forbidden mystical world for me had suddenly become more realistic and I was in complete awe of it! Greece is a country which is made up of 7000 islands but only 300 of them are inhabited. It is a country which is patriarchal in nature. It has about 24 monasteries which are followers of Orthodox Christianity. Except for the all women monasteries, these Orthodox monasteries are forbidden for women.

Day 1: Delphi

If you love the mountains and its hair pin country roads, then you are in for a treat here. I loved everything about the journey from the hotel to the site of Delphi. The vast stretches of Olive trees, the deep plunging gorges, the array of similar looking houses on the mountain slopes, the archaeological remains of past grandeur here and there, the sound of the falling and crashing of the water from the mountain streams, the daunting mountains rising above our heads! I have been to a collection of mountainous places, but the thought of scaling the heights of Alexander the great and the like, made this place and Greece on a whole relatively more special. I am not a history buff, but you don’t have to be a history geek to appreciate the beauty of this place. Standing on the remains of the ‘Temple of Apollo’ gave me a sense of euphoria and ecstasy. A mortal among the immortals! A sanctuary in the arms of nature’s breadth taking beauty, surrounded by the tall Parnassus mountains, almost 600 ft. above sea level, with rocky bald patches and a seamless green Olive trees horizon, complete with a small stream which promises of a legendary ‘water of youth’, Delphi is definitely a place to be. And if you want to have a traditional Greek meal after the enchanting visit, then ‘Gala Delphi’, a small traditional looking yet inviting restaurant is the place.

Day 2: Thessaloniki

Our day started with an early morning flight to Thessaloniki. We were greeted by a charming Macedonian lady, Dimitra. Yes we booked a private taxi as we made this trip in a not so tourist season. Infact, tourism in Greece picks up from May onwards and continues till August. So soon we were on our way to Vergina. Set in the foothills of Mount Pieria, Vergina is the home of tombs for the Greek Kings something similar to the pyramids of the Egyptians. It is said that it contains the tomb of King Phillip II, father of Alexander the great. It is said that Alexander’s mother, Olympias wanted her son to become the emperor. It was a formidable wish which could only be realised through the death of the present king. So she conspired, the murder of the king and her husband by recruiting one of the king’s bodyguards, on the day of her daughter, Cleopatra’s wedding. The grandeur of the Greek Royalty can be seen here in the tombs turned museums. The site is located beneath the earth with a Doric style entrance. It was planned by the Greeks in a way to preserve the remains of their Kings, Queens and their descendants in order to preserve the legacy. Unlike the Egyptians where they mummified the bodies, the Ancient Greeks always cremated the bodies of their Royals. Then they used to find the remaining bones, wash them with red wine, put them inside urns and then build tombs. Even today the tradition of digging out the remains of the bodies after burial and washing them with red wine and then reburying them is a Greek tradition. Also like the Egyptians, ancient Greeks used to bury food, jewellery, and four live horses along with the bodies for service through the after live. It was fascinating to see the level of intricate décor the headboards of the bed had. From gold leaves and flowers to chryselephantine designs. The enchanting display in the museum to the engaging narration of Dimitra, this trip to Vergina was not only riveting but also enriching. The gold wreaths, the gold urns, the remains of the objects buried for afterlife, the fragments of the tapestry used, the terracotta toys, the armoury of the kings, the bewitching frescos on the façade of the tombs and the feeling and emotions of the Greek Archeologist, Manolis Andronikos, Vergina had it all, especially for my husband who is a part time history buff commonly mistaken as a history professor.

We then moved on to Pella which was the capital of the ancient Macedon. The road to Pella from Vergina is another treat for the eyes. The rising snow-capped peaks of Mount Olympus in the horizon to pink cherry blossoms on either sides of the roads, from unending stretches of Olive trees to the bright blue sky, it was a journey well made. Pella was a port in ancient times and was well connected with the Thermaic Gulf. It was the Royal residence. The level of aristocracy enthralled us with the amount of area each room covered completed with white and grey pebble mosaics depicting different themes. The Greek baths also donned this archaeological site. The Greek baths were a bit different from the Roman baths. Roman baths have a common place of bath which is a circular bath tub with everyone sitting inside communally. However, Greek baths had separate rectangular soaking areas with a small cylindrical plunging hole at the end of each for dunking in the feet. There was also an underground system for purifying drinking water in the site. With the outlet a little raised than the inlet for the sedimentations to settle down. As we headed towards the airport to catch a flight back to Athens, we caught a glimpse of the throne of Zeus in the distant horizon. An arc shaped peak amid two high rising triangles.

Day 3: Rhodes

The day started with an early morning flight to the island of Rhodes. Situated in yet another picturesque location, Rhodes is house to one of the country’s biggest butterfly parks. A small water fall cuts through the entire perimeter of the park with a wooden bridge here and there. Set in the midst of a lovely green forest, this butterfly park is swarmed with millions of butterflies in the summer months. Since we were a bit early for these tiny visitors, yet we could imagine the veracity of the flurry population that would inhabit this place in a month’s time. It is said if you come to this place with a white t-shirt on, then by the end of the day it would be a colour wash. The spectacularity of this idea made us think of a revisit to this place soon! Anyway, Rhodes is famous historically for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A giant statue which once donned the gateway to the harbour can be seen in the museum nearby. It also houses the Palace of the Grand Master of Rhodes. ‘Rhoda’ a typical pink flower inhabits this island. Whether the Acropolis in Lindos, or the site of ancient Kamiros, the island of Rhodes is a must visit place if you want to see more of the medieval times in Greece. The walk to the Acropolis in Lindos is absolutely stunning. A bit of a trekking in the periphery of the simmering blend of the blue and sea green water of the Aegean Sea is the most fascinating experience I can remember. A view of the white walls of the houses on the fringe of the volcanic mountains commemorating with the blue sky in the horizon is enticing ad infinitum.

Day 4 and 5: Athens

There is more to Athens than the mammoth Parthenon. The lively street life, the small cafes spilled across the streets, the flea markets in every corner, the shops swarming with colourful souvenirs, stores with dangling leather bags and shoes. Everywhere you turn is life what you see. It was very unlikely given the current condition of the economy. But tourism is what is sustaining the country as a whole. So everywhere you see are people who want to make ends meet hence, genuine welcomes is what you see in their eyes. Freshly coated white walls, to decked up yachts in the harbour, I loved everything about Greece. The capital was no different. Half of the country’s population squatters this capital city with an addition of all the visiting tourists. Hence, the streets are a bit crowded. But we did not mind the crowd because we crave to see people in the place where we live. Athens has been the capital of Greece since 1834 and is surrounded by four mountains. Multinational cuisines daunt the capital city along with the traditional Greek cuisines. The change of guards in front of the Syntagma or the Parliament square is another thing to watch for. It is not very elaborate like you might find in the Buckingham Palace in London; however, the costume of the guards to the leg and foot movements is what makes this a class apart. It is said that there are approximately 400 pleats on the dresses that these guards wear. The Archaeological sites in Athens are situated quite closely, hence, a walking tour is the best way to explore the lanes and the by lanes of the city.

Day 6: Mykonos  

The island of Mykonos can be reached by a 4 hours ferry ride. It is a lovely journey to be made among the islands. Mykonos is also called as the ‘Ibiza of Greece’ given the vibrant night life, the beach front swarming with little cafes and eateries serving traditional Greek delicacies. The view of surreal sun gently disappearing in the prodigious Aegean Sea from the windmills is a feast for the eyes. One can also have a panoramic view of the town or ‘Chora’ after sunset with the lights illustrating an out of the world experience. The neighboring island of Dalos is just 2 kms away and is also a good place to visit. Mykonos is said to be the ‘Jerusalem of the Pagans’. We had rented a place here for a day to get a feel of the prominent night life in Mykonos. Set amongst the many white washed walls with blue windows, our apartment opened up to the striking view of the blue waters of the Aegean Sea with an occasional view of the white sails of a faraway yacht drifting idly in the middle of nowhere. Probably what we were savouring from the coast, it was emancipating from the sea. 

Day 7: Santorini

Even at first glance, Santorini was an island which stood apart with aloof dignity. Although the whole of Greece is marked with nonpareil beauty, yet this island eliminated an ethereal power of mesmerizing anyone. Set on top of a volcanic isle, home to the world famous 300m high Caldera cliffs that plummet into the Aegean Sea, this classic Greek white walls with a blue dome island emits more colours than meets the eyes. A bit of exploring around and you will notice the burnt orange and blood red, royal purple and butter yellow, electric green and pastel pink. Santorini’s porous volcanic soil provides a sanctuary for vineyards. It also helps in providing the island with a kaleidoscope of colourful flowers, bushes and grasses. A local bus ride from the town of Fira to the town of Oia will give you a vantage point in catching a glimpse of these wildflowers dotted landscape. The winding roads along the coastline of the Aegean Sea with stunning patches of the landscape are not only serene but also unbelievably magnetizing.   

Day 8 and 9: Crete

The last leg of our riveting Greece trip ended in the largest and the most populous Greek island of Crete. Crete is a mountainous island with numerous small islands, islets and rocks hugging the coastline. The island has a number of gorges too. But we chose to stick to the mainland Crete and its harbour, the Port of Heraklion. The climate was very typical Mediterranean type with crystal clear water and warm wind blowing into the land from the sea. Thronged with scores of eateries and shops, the harbour front is the most sought after place in the island. Very similar to Athens, the Archaeological sites in Crete are situated quite closely hence, a walking tour will suffice the need. Lastly, wrapping up the trip included a classic Greek starter of Chicken Souvlaki with Greek Yogurt followed by Grilled Chicken with baby potatoes and Greek Salad and ending the meal with a vanilla strawberry mousse with chilled ‘Raki’, an unsweetened, anise flavoured alcoholic drink thereby solemnizing the eternal trip to Greece!!!