Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stuck in the Mud

The loss of her child had left Maya devastated. Follow her journey through life dealing with her baby's death, her changed life and how she quietly slips into the grips of depression...

Born Still but Still Born

The places change, the times change, the days change, the names change...but some stories become our stories; some stories reflect our lives; some stories strike such resemblance with what we go through that suddenly we are forced to think 'Is this my story; my life's story?' Read on the story of Maya, Vikram and their baby and see if it is your story too...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Once a Saviour now the Devil

“What’s for dinner?” “The 2 minutes magic”!!

Whether it is fixing a quick dinner after a long day at work or having something light yet filling for breakfast, the instant noodles ‘Maggie’ was always there to the rescue. In India Maggie is synonymous with instant noodles; something that Xerox is to photocopy. For me Maggie is the savior in disguise for all those quick fixes, and is sure for many it is the same scenario. However, the recent rounds of controversy surrounding the presence of high amounts of MSG and lead in this humble savior of sorts has suddenly become the talk of the town.

‘Is it safe to eat?’

 ‘It should be banned.’

Well I do not want to comment on the banning component as our government is into a banning spree of late, yet whether it is safe to eat or not I would like to state my viewpoint. It would not be right to comment on others thoughts; however, I always knew Maggie was not the best of foods to be eaten and certainly not a healthy choice although we try a perfunctory attempt in making it healthy by adding a bowlful of assorted vegetables in it.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)has been asked to carry out a quality check on the product which directs its origin to Nestle, a Swiss based company mainly known for its chocolates. Maggie has been eaten in India since 1982. There has been controversy around the components of the mix that comes in with the pack from time to time. But irrespective of the warnings and the awareness about the components and its related carcinogenic impact on the human body people continued devouring the instant food with ease. The fact that the nutritional content in the product was negligible never bothered anyone until now. In fact the food had become a cross breed of junk food and filling food. It was like an emotional food for us. Every time one eats a hot plate of Maggie with the steam still coming out and the smell perforates into the nostrils, a certain memory of one day, one person, one time flows in stealthily. So if we have so much emotional attachment with a food then why ban it. It is like banning a candy or chocolates since it has less nutritional value; or like banning our favorite Indo-Chinese restaurants and food because they have MSG’s; or banning the street food of all sorts from India which are not prepared in the best of conditions and also pose a health hazard. Will the ban on Maggie will have any other result than we saw after the recent beef ban in some states which now threatens to spread across the country?

Banning a product is no solution to any problem. It will create a similar situation like it did when the documentary made on the life of Nirbhaya by BBC had in the country. We are not a bunch of thumb sucking imbeciles that every time we have to be told what to do; if not adhered to then add a legal string to it. If a gut wrenching picture of an oral cancer does not deter people from smoking, or a pre-movie advertisement of the impact of smoking on your loved ones does not put across the message then even a ban on Maggie won’t help. In fact a ‘Maggie Ban’ will bring out less positive but a more apocalyptic outcome at least in India. I didn't stop eating Maggie after knowing its impact on my body nor will I stop eating it. In fact I know many won't do it because Maggie is more like a soul food available in 2 minutes. So let the person decide for himself/herself what to eat and what not to eat. Let it be 'People's Choice' to continue embracing the Devil in the pretext of being the savior.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Perfect Mismatch

“Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?”
                                                                                                               ----Erich Fromm

As I turned on my phone hearing a beep, an unexpected smile crossed my face. An unexpected smile because it was an unexpected message. A message from a person who was long gone from the book of ‘My Life’. A closed chapter for good. Yet as I laid my eyes on this unexpected message inquiring about my  life and its whereabouts, I couldn't restrain a smirk.
Memories galore started flowing into my mind as I read the message. The first meeting, the first smile, the first of everything! Sweet memories of a life long lost in the journey of life yet bringing little drops of happiness. A life which was straight out of a fairy-tale or a romantic Bollywood flick. The joy of ad-hoc meetings, the dulcet fragrance of spring as we sat in front of the river with our hands locked together, the intensifying impatience to meet at the end of the dividing classes, the profuse happiness felt at the sight of each other! Memories so strong that remembering them was like going back in time. Time that had stood still since the occurrence. Time that was oblivious to the present.
As we started checking on things that had vehemently changed during the period of no connection, the smirk changed to a smile. The thought of re-connection smogged all the pain that had been caused. It was like smoldering away all the cracks that were caused. Cracks which were inevitable. A feeling of closure started settling in. A closure of sorts. Closure for the void that had been created by the abrupt end of the relationship, closure for the life changing chapter of a throbbing pain that kept on relapsing once in a while. A pain that would find a temporary solace in a random check of the Facebook profile.
As we chatted through the virtual medium, the sudden proposal of meeting up startled me. The feeling which was forcefully kept dormant had suddenly sprung back. And then again the thought of meeting up and reminiscing the past pain was excruciating enough to let go of the feeling. The years of effort that had gone into forgetting all those delightful moments, and the subsequent efforts in burying all the accompanying pain of rejection and dejection was too overpowering. Life had moved on and priorities had changed. Life is no more about you and me. We are now part of another set of you and me. Meeting up now won’t be a closure but just an elongation of further suffering and misery.
We are like the set of a ‘Perfect Mismatch’. People with different ideologies, different opinions, different taste, different preferences, yet we just are not able to forget each other no matter how hard we try. The harder we try to match up our lives, the further we grow apart. Our lives are like the banks of a river who strive to meet at the end but get lost in the vastness of the sea. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

What’s in a name!!!

I would say there is everything in a name; good or bad is what we have to decide. You must be wondering what I am talking about. Well if you have missed the recent Bollywood drama involving the ‘Dabangg’ man Salman Khan then let me give you a sneak peek into the recent developments to the 13 year old story. It was the fateful night of September 2002. A soaking drunk, high flying Bollywood celebrity, recently heartbroken, decided to drive his imported Land Cruiser back home. Having driven for a while he loses control of the convertible sedan and rams it over 4 pavement dwellers. 1 died 2 severely injured and 1 crippled for life. The case dragged for 13 long years and in these 13 years the victims retreated to life in the oblivion (apart from the one dead) and the star went to bag projects worth crores of rupees. After 13 years when finally the most delayed verdict was delivered, the social network and the Dabangg’s friends jumped into action; defending and accusing. 

“Pavements are not for sleeping”, said one of the friends. Pavements are not for driving cars either, isn't it!

“He is a nice person with a golden heart”, another said. Every person is nice, no one is a born ‘Satan’; but actions speak louder than words!

“He has shaped more lives. What’s the harm if he has taken one in that process” (Okay this is a derived meaning; no one has actually put the feeling into words). What about the lives of the victims he hasn't cared to shape? What about the family of the victims he hasn't thought to care?

Being Human after killing humans doesn't make you a Human. You are still a perpetrator who cared less about the law and the people. What makes you a human is caring about the people who have been the victims; who have been left behind. If your name makes a difference then why not make something out of that name! There must be something in your name that has made you the victim in spite of being the accused and the victim has vanished into thin air.

Reports of how much revenue Bollywood will lose because of the 5 years of exile is hitting the headlines, but how life has been for the innocent, homeless victims doesn't even make to the side-lines of the newspaper. Forget about remembering the victims, we do not even know their names. And adding to the predicament, how many of the ordinary people accused of similar crimes get bail on the same day? There are scores of people with the same crime but with a different name and different social status who have been languishing behind the bars for years without getting bail. Such is the power of a name!

In the year 2006, Alistair Pareira, son of a rich businessman from Mumbai killed seven construction workers sleeping on the pavement and injured eight. He was awarded a 6 months jail sentence by the Sessions Court which was later extended to 3 years and a fine of 5 lakhs by the High Court. So much for taking 'Seven' lives!

In 1993 another Bollywood celebrity brat Puru Rajkumar crushed 2 people under his wheels. It was the first case of drunk driving for any Bollywood celebrity who had cared little for these pavement dwellers under the influence of alcohol. But no case was registered in his name; infact he was allowed to go without even an FIR let alone charges of homicide and a fine of 1 lakh rupees. Such is the power of name and money. 

Recently Aishwarya Rai Bachchan posed for an ad of Kalyan Jewelers where the greenish blue eyed diva was seen sitting on a couch with a dark and skinny boy in the background holding an umbrella. People started talking around how racist the ad is; how the dark boy in the background and a strikingly fair lady sitting in front on the couch reflects our colonial mentality; how the ad projects child labour in the spot light. The more the people spoke, the more meanings to the ad were derived resulting in a public apology from the ignorant diva and taking down of the advertisement by the company.

Drunk driving is not a rare phenomenon in our country. Ordinary people who crush other ordinary people under their imported wheels are infamous in my country. Then why Salman Khan going to jail created such buzz. Again as I said it’s all in the name. An example has to be set, even if the example has been delayed for 13 years, that everyone is equal in front of the law. Whether it is Sanjay Dutt possessing an illegal arm; Salman Khan crushing a man under his wheels or Salman Khan killing a black bug in 2009, you flout the law and law will catch up with you. A celebrity’s name comes with its share of glamour and responsibilities. In some parts of the country a certain celebrity is treated like God himself. So can ‘He/She’ make mistakes? And if he/she does will it be forgiven and forgotten? Again it’s all in the name; the name comes with influence, mass influence. In a vast country like ours, if ordinary people make mistakes, it is forgotten, but if a celebrity makes a mistake even if it is out of ignorance we derive various connotations out of it. These connotations are neither forgotten nor forgiven. Setting examples with the name of the celebrity, whether it’s no driving when drinking or polio eradication from the country, endorsing of a product or highlighting the various social evils creeping in our society, tends to mass appeal. Salman Khan might be a gem of a person; he might be doing extraordinary work in helping people through his charitable organisation; he must be a great friend and a good son, but that doesn't give him the right to ruin lives. A reality which can neither be forgotten or forgiven because being Salman Khan the celebrity is not equal to the Salman Khan from my neighborhood and if being Salman Khan is equal to being Salman Khan from my neighborhood then Being Human and Being Equal is what we should strive to achieve without Being Biased.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Being Johny Bravo

On a cloudy night back in August 16th 2002 flying over a valley of Afghanistan were two warthogs. These planes are heavily armored jets which provide cover for the ground troops. The pilots placed themselves above the clouds just in case the ground troops needed any help. It wasn't cloudy there. The moon was shining brightly, thousands of stars twinkled and the clouds below appeared to be big fluffy balls of cotton. Life doesn't seem mundane in these scenic docile environments. Down below however, were 22 Special Forces officers moving through the barren mountainous ridges. They could sense that something was not right around them. Johny Bravo, call sign of one of the fighter jet’s pilot, could sense the anxiety in the voices of the troops. He then decides to go down and have a look around and make sure that everything was fine. The lives of the 22 field forces beneath the thick sheet of grey clouds lay on the fortification of ‘Johny Bravo’. He couldn't see the danger coming, but he could hear them. And the alertness of ‘Johny Bravo’ could save the lives of these men. So the soldiers moved forward without the faintest of cover in the landscape but with the reassurances of a backup in the voice of ‘Johny Bravo’; and ‘Johny Bravo’ in turn swooped down to check on things. Suddenly, even before he could start the swoop, his radio sprang into life saying “troops in contact troops in contact”. The ground forces were in the line of fire of the militants and the only hope they had was ‘Johny Bravo’. Surrounded by the tall daunting mountain gorges and the forbidding valleys with no place to hide, death was in conformity. They were like sitting ducks for the militants who were placed high in the peaks, looking down at them and given a free choice to pick and shoot. Without a moment to lose, ‘Johny Bravo’ immediately stooped down through the thick cloud blanket to back the ground forces. As he tried to recompose himself and his plane on the way down through the turbulent clouds, he soon found himself among the high rises of the mountains. The serenity above the clouds had changed drastically defiant. And to add to his woes was the absence of the ground hugging radar in the plane and some accompanying Old Russian maps. So on his way down, among the fierce firing he picks up a point and starts the suppressing fire. He was aware of the cliffs on both the sides and the subsequent danger of hitting one of them. So keeping in mind his speed and his distance from the maps, Johny Bravo starts counting aloud as he initiates the suppressing fire ‘11000, 21000, 31000…….and then goes up…and again comes down 11000, 21000, 31000….fire….and then goes up….and again comes down 11000, 21000, 31000….fire…and then goes up….and again repeats…’ Johny Bravo does this operation till he runs out of ammunition. He then goes up again, above the clouds, to his wing-man on standby, and gives him orders to go down. Soon he realises that his wing-man doesn't have a clue of the terrain below. So Johny Bravo accompanies his wing-man, goes down with him, and as he starts the suppressing fire with a gap of about 3 feet between them, he counts aloud, ‘11000, 21000, 31000…….and then goes up…and again come down together 11000, 21000, 31000….fire….and then goes up….and again come down together 11000, 21000, 31000….fire…and then goes up….and again repeats…’. That day all 22 American lives were saved.

Leadership is a role and not a rank and a leader is not born he is made. We cannot be born as Johny Bravo but if we try hard we can be made into one. Johny Bravo is an ordinary human being like you and me but he chose to become an extra ordinary person; he chose to lead rather than follow. And leading doesn't mean you tell where to go, step aside and let your people do it for you. Leading means ‘I go first, and then you follow me’. Being a leader is not easy because being a leader means to take risks, risks of the uncertainty ahead and being prepared to face the brunt first.

The role of a parent and the role of a leader are synonymous. There is no ideal way to be a parent and so goes for being the ideal leader. As a parent we are expected to play many roles; take risks, guide our children to take risks, prepare ourselves and our children for failure, teach them not to give up, and motivate them to try again with a lot more vigor and enthusiasm. As a leader, the people who follow us are our children and the organisation we work for is our family. As the head of the family, we should be the first one to take the risk, if not on our life but on our job. When the going gets tough, we do not lay one of our children but let go one of our habits. We might let go a year of eating out to provide two square meals a day for our family.

It was the morning of September 8th 2009, a group of American troops were walking down a part of Afghanistan protecting and securing a group of Afgan Government officials to connect with the native Afgan elders. Capt. Swenson was leading this team of combat troops. Suddenly the team was ambushed by militants. Capt. Swenson started bringing in the injured to the rescue helicopters to fly them to the base camp. Coincidentally one of the rescue helicopter’s pilots was wearing a camera which was stuck to his helmet. This camera captured an image where Capt. Swenson puts a heavily injured soldier in the helicopter and kisses his forehead before returning back to rescue more.

Where do people like Capt. Swenson come from? Whether it is the upbringing of the parents, or the way the parents inspire their kids, the intense training that these people go through, or the environment in which they grow up; whatever the reason but the sole point made is these kinds of people are not born, they are made. 

Leadership is all about inspiring people. Inspiring and making people believe in what you believe. Making people and individuals who are working for us and working with us feel safe. Leadership is the trust that we built; it is the relationship which we establish due to this trust and the feeling of safety that people feel based on this trust and relationship is what makes a great leader. Being a leader in the rank and leading people is a compulsion; but leading people because they believe in what you believe is called leadership. Capt. Swenson is one among those kinds of leaders who inspire their men and their family.

“Do not come up, I will handle them”. These were the last words from Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan leading his men during the seize of the Taj Hotel by terrorists on the fateful night of 2008 Mumbai attacks. Having safely evacuated one of his men, who was severely injured in the cross fire, Major Unnikrishnan decided to take on the terrorists alone. The last words from the daring Major send out the sentiments of the person. It tells us how a leader should behave and the attitude he should have. A leader should lead people. He believed that he will be able to eliminate the terrorists and not only save the lives of his men but also millions others. Though he went down fighting valiantly and could not save his life in the process but he saved many other lives; and his men saved the city. As a parent we all do this. We let go our pleasures to ensure happiness for our children. We do not think twice before compromising our happiness because that is what brings us satisfaction. And this feeling of satisfaction comes because while we play our part diligently, we in turn are inspiring our children to become better people and better individuals who will carry forward what we believe in because they believe in what we believe. 

“I have a dream”. These words started the speech of a civil rights activist who changed the face of modern day United States of America. Approximately 2 million people came to Washington DC to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak from the steps of Lincoln memorial on 28th August 1963. Among these people, approximately 25% were whites. These people did not gather on the memorial grounds just to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They gathered here because  against all odds there was a man who believes in what they believed. There was a man whom they could trust and feel safe. There was a man who could ensure that they feel equal and live equal. Such is the power of a leader; a man who commands inspiration. As a parent it is also very important for us to command inspiration; and inspiration can be commanded only by trust. The feeling of trust that a child has for his/her parents comes from the feeling of safety that a child feels when he/she is with his/her parents.

The degree of trust and safety that children have in their parents are demonstrated everyday by simple gestures. The other day, I playfully held a green chili in my hand and asked my daughter whether she would want to eat it. She did not know what it was, nor did she know about the after effects of it. But one thing she knew for sure that her mother won’t give her anything that would harm her. It was this sense of trust and faith she had in me that she did not even think twice before opening her mouth when I asked her to.

Being a leader, holding a rank and demanding to be followed is not what makes a good leader. This kind of leadership is a forced compulsion. People follow you not because of the role you play but because of the rank you hold; and the moment you go off the rank you lose the followers. Leadership and being leaders is when you are one among the crowd yet you lead the crowd. People follow you not because of the rank you hold but because of the role you play. Being ‘Johny Bravo’ is a role not a rank and great leaders, whether in a family or in an organisation, inspire actions and inspire people. We can all become leaders by our rank, but becoming ‘Johny Bravo’ needs inspiration.