Thursday, January 19, 2017

As the Elementary School Kids Reflect on Mr. Obama


The Elections, came, and the hateful dirt just kept spilling out in the open, for all to see, for so many to be buried under. Sentiments were badly hurt. Hurt because, groups of people started to receive names, allegations and distrust. Someone had to win the White House, and so we now have a new President-Elect. As we look to the new with anticipation, as a mother of two small kids, for me, it is only fair to start thinking what is it that the elementary school kids, (at max 11 years of age currently), are going to perceive as the legacy of their memory’s first President….the man they have till date seen on T.V. as  the leader of their country? What will they remember about Oh-bama?

I am very proud already that my oldest daughter- a 3rd grader will forever remember that her first recollections of her country’s President are that of a tall, lanky man, with a tightly grazed salt and pepper hair, and a skin color that was not remarkable at all! In being who he is, The President, the leader, the wise one, the smiling one, the funny one, I hope that for this cohort of elementary kids, he has made color a non-issue. Perhaps he has. And if we are lucky, maybe he has made being non-white a normal. Going by the entire spectrum of things that my daughters say they want to be, that they think they can be, from gymnasts, and pianists to astronauts, and Presidents(!), I am somewhat confident that they, at least as of today, do not know, nor believe in skin color. And that is a big thing.

It is a big thing, because unfortunately, this is also an era of a resurgence of Black Lives Matter. A bigger misfortune is that there is a need for the resurgence of Black Lives Matter. Personally for me, it is somewhat incredible that in the sixteen years that I have been in the U.S., racial tensions have so flared up, and become so center-stage, now, under the presidency of a black President. Obama had nothing to do with what happened to Trayvon Martin in 2012, and to the subsequent galvanizing of the Black Movement. Yet his seemingly impromptu (or at the least unexpected) rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ in the Charleston Church at the funeral service for Rev. Pinckney- one of 9 people gunned down by a racist terrorist, in 2015, was a soulful alignment with his identity…that of a Black man. And it has not been an easy, nor a straightforward, journey to this identity for him. And one can see why?

By the latest census available, that of 2010, we can see that even in the highly demographically diverse universe of our country today, only 9.5% of all married couples in the U.S. are inter-racial. And of this, only a little over 422,000 are a black and white combination. Understandably, Mrs. Obama (Senior)’s choice of a black husband back in the 60s would not have been taken easily, not by her family, nor by friends. And yet, from what Barack recalls in his biographical book Dreams From My Father, his Kansas native white grandparents who themselves were then recent transplants in Hawaii, rarely exhibited an emotion that reflected systemic opposition to the blackness of their son-in-law. In fact the absent Obama was always spoken of in high praises, mainly for his academic strides -raised in rural Kenya reaching all the way to Harvard, via Hawaii, and for his charming personality complete with a sharp sense of dressing and an erudite wit to accompany that.

Little Barry is growing up in an all white household, surrounded by a white mother and white grandparents. He probably looks at the mirror, but he is still too small to see that no one in his family looks like him. His progenitor, the giver of all that’s black about him, his father, is gone from Hawaii, first to pursue his degree in Harvard, and then back to Kenya, to be with his first wife, their children, his village full of family, in a country beckoning with promises in the newly found independence.
Barack Obama would only meet his living father once at age ten. But before that he would shuttle from one continent to another with that one person who always believed in him and who never abandoned him, his mother. After Barack Senior left Hawaii and was gone for more than four years, his mother dated and eventually re-married, another foreign student on the campus of the University of Hawaii, this time an Indonesian. Barry would reach Asia as a six year old, to stay there for three years. He would see first hand what it meant to live in a world where nothing was to be taken for granted. He would live in a stucco house with a mango tree full of monkeys in the front yard, and birds, dogs and baby alligators in the backyard. He would walk through dirt roads with village vagrants picking up fights, and returning home with bloodied face and bruises he tried desperately to hide from a mother who could see her only son falling through the cracks. She would supplement his Indonesian schooling with American education, teaching him herself from course packs that she diligently ordered by mail. But Indonesia was itself undergoing political upheavals and Barry’s mom resented how her husband was changing with the power he had negotiated in the new set up. She wanted her son to know better. Barry was sent back to Hawaii.

Barry, a ten year old black kid, is admitted to Punahou Academy in Hawaii, one of the country’s top pre-schools. He gets in there after multiple rounds of interviews and innumerable paper work. Gradually, Barry is beginning to see how he is different from the majority of people around him. He is not only a black kid in a largely white school, but he is also one of the few students who comes from a fairly modest household compared to the majority who come from stable and affluent ones. He has his white mother’s eye brows (as his mother would often joke with him), but there is no denying that he is not white. It could not have been easy for him to assimilate the looks, and the behavior of people around him when they reacted to him as they would to someone Black, in the 60s, or even the 70s. He is practically all white in terms of who is raising him, the house he is being nurtured in, and the school he is attending. But he can’t scream his mixed identity to everyone he meets, because not all introductions lend easily to such topics, and two, most importantly, something inside him wants him not to use his half invisible yet firmly true half whiteness as a license to sneak into a group of his choice.

As Harper Lee would write in To Kill A Mockingbird, referring to someone with a mixed heredity,
“…They’re real sad.”
“Sad, how come?”
“They don’t belong anywhere. Colored folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white, white folks won’t have ‘em ‘cause they’re colored, so they’re just in-betweens, don’t belong anywhere.”

Barry loves his mother and grandparents, but there is probably a ‘sadness’ which he can’t fathom, and he is thus beginning to feel an affinity for that which is absent from his life---the Blackness of his Black Father. Because in accepting his own blackness, he finds acceptance, in that which is true about him. This acceptance empowers him, and despite the typical trials and travails of adolescence, he eventually nurtures an understanding, and an empathy for not just Blacks but for all who are marginalized, and misunderstood. And that is how a Harvard Law Graduate refuses to accept high figure lawyerly jobs, to become a grassroots community organizer, not in Boston nor in New York, but on the South Side of Chicago. And rest as we all know is recent history, fascinating history and of course one that educates us about how, when we are lucky, we get thoughtful, intelligent and compassionate people to become our leaders.

As a mother, I had initially felt spurned by the fact that Barack Obama decided to write a book in the name of his father, even when his father had abandoned him. I felt betrayed for the mother, who carried him with her wherever she went, and actively shaped his experiences for the better. That was until I read the revised foreword for the book, and I felt truly relieved and almost rewarded. Reflecting on his mother who had died a few months after the book was first published, he writes ‘I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book-less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.’

As a mother, it pleases me immensely to know that regardless of what aspect of Barack Obama my children will choose to examine tomorrow as adults, they will know that within him he encompassed the true spirit of being an American. He is black, and white, and caring.


Friday, October 14, 2016

...And this year's Nobel goes to......BOB DYLAN!!!!

This is what happens when the likes of Arundhati Roy, and Jhumpa Lahiri, stop writing, or stop writing fiction in the case of the latter, and the likes of Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth come out with a piece only once in so many years.....guess then whose left? Bob Dylan it is! 

Really a Nobel Prize for Literature? For literature did you say? ....To Bob Dylan? 

Yes, he is a prolific, and a good song writer (and singer...yes, we know)....but still. This is literature we are talking about. Literature is contemplative, it's the expression of the subtle in a subtle yet universally woven tale. It is the telling of the tales of innumerable through the voices of the few. It is about taking us to unseen lands and unknown heights through the voyages of mere mortals and the imagined immortals. And yes, Dylan did write a few timeless songs, which without his thus meaning to, went on to become anthems for movements. However, a Nobel for literature? If I recall it right, it used to be given for a huge body of literary work that was more than a collection of just popular songs? 

Dylan- for who he has been, a singer, song-writer, and an all time inspiring performer, did deserve one of the highest civilian honors that was bestowed on him by President Obama in 2011, and an honorable mention in the Pulitzer Prize in the past was acceptable too. Give him a lifetime achievement award for his line of work. Create a grand Grammy for him. But a Nobel in Literature? It is said that of all the nominees considered by the Nobel Committee in any one year,  only the winner's name is revealed. The other names are kept secret for the next fifty years. I am assuming that quite a few of those whose names were there, would not be alive by that time. Good for them for never knowing they were rejected in favor of someone who deserved everything but the Nobel for Literature.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

And Language Should Never Be a Barrier Any More


अब तक यह कैसे संभव रहा की हिंदी में जैसे कुछ लिखा ही नहीं?
सोलह साल? एक और दो नहीं, पुरे सोलह साल हो गए, और हिंदी के प्रयोग की आवष्यकता ही नहीं हुई. सच ऐसा होता है क्या की हिंदी में सोचते हैं, हिन्दी को बोलते हैं, हिंदी को पहनते हैं....
ना हिन्दू को नहीं, हिंदी को, 
परन्तु हिंदी को लिखा नहीं?

अंग्रेजी में बोलना, लिखना, पढ़ना, सब आसानी से होता रहा तो ज़रुरत ही नहीं हुई हिंदी की. फिर? 
फिर, बच्चों को हिंदी बोलते देखने की इच्छा जागी, क्यों ? 

क्योंकि जब अपने जैसे दीखते बच्चे अपने मुहावरो की सुन्दरता को नहीं सराह पाते, जब हमारे जैसे नामों वाले छोटे छोटे चेहरों पर हिंदी तरानों से जुड़े हिंदी के बोल नहीं आ पाते, और जब 'जूठन' शंब्द के लिए इन बच्चों पे कोई शब्द ही नहीं होता---अंग्रेजी में शब्द नहीं है, और हिंदी इन्हे आती नहीं, तब एहसास होता है की हम हिंदी से जानकार माता -पिता के पास एक कितनी सुन्दर धरोहर है, जो हम इन छोटे छोटे अंतर्राष्ट्रीय नागरिकों को दे सकते हैं. 

मेरे पास हिंदी है, और मैं इन्हे हिंदी दूँगी. यदि तुम्हारे पास मराठी है तो तुम उन्हें वो दो. भाषा---जितनी जानेंगे हम, मेरा यह विश्वास है, की हम उतना जान पाएंगे अपनी जड़ों को, और औरों के नज़रियों को, उनकी विचार धारा को. 

मुझे अंग्रेजी में ही अभी कितना सीखना है. मात्र अंग्रेजी के शब्द-कोष को जान लेने से ही मैं कहाँ मेरे अमरीकी साथियों से आसानी से घुल मिल पाई हूँ? इस देश में हूँ, पर इस देश की नहीं हूँ. और यूं बटा हुआ रहना मानो कटा हुआ रहना है. कुछ तड़पन के साथ रहना है.  

कहते हैं सुख और दुःख की एक भाषा है पूरे विश्व में. इतना साधारण नहीं है सत्य। भाषा वो समझ आती है जिसके रहस्यों को जान लिया गया है. मुस्कराहट को खिखिलाने से अलग पहचाना जाए, आँसूओ की नमि को रोने से भिन्न माना जाए. 

एक उम्र निकल जाएगी हमें उन्हें समझने में, 
हम कोशिश कर रहे हैं, वह बस इतना समझ लें!

हिंदी, अंग्रेजी, स्पेनिश, जो भी भाषा जान के, जितने नजरिोयों के संग हम कुछ दूूर चल सकेंगे उतना हम जान पाएंगे की कुछ खोने पे दुःख सबको होता है, कुछ पाने पे ख़ुशी भी स्वाभाविक है.... हर व्यक्ति के लिए....चाहे वह कितना ही भिन्न दीखता हो हम से.  




Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Be-logger

And out of the blue, one day, in the busy busy world of internet traffic, you stumble upon a page, that looks vaguely familiar. You stare at it long enough for you to realise that Holy Crap (!) you created this baby once, in the heat of a passion for expression and a burning desire to describe. Oh gosh ! In that past avatar of yours you created that blog page, because when nothing else seemed to fit what you did, you decided it was okay to tack on the 'title' of a blogger to yours! And just like that the blogging disappeared, while you kept basking in the sliver of a glow that comes with the funky titles, like that of a 'blogger'.

That is me, and this abandoned piece of virtual real-estate is mine. Time to claim it,  I think. Though what does a blogger do? Key in the quotidian and punctuate with the extraordinaire? Gotta be ready to be vulnerable, and walk the tight rope of private vs public thought? It's doable, I am assured, by my own self!


  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ah! the Luxury of Feeling Hot Outside in Layers of Clothes!

One really has to have a perspective to appreciate the big, as well as the small things in life. And perspective comes with time, with experiences, with the ability to change the glasses through which we look, to those of who we are looking at. In the endlessly arctic cold month of February here on the East Coast, the grey and white had become the norm. The Hindu festival of colors--Holi came on March 6--one of the coldest nights. We stayed indoors through the day, not bothering to put any color on anyone, lest we be bothered to wash up----who wanted any extra tinge of water on oneself in these cold days? We began to think this is what it is, will be forever.

Then today happened. Is happening. There is a bright big sun, and a clear blue sky and lots of warm sunshine out there...in my yard, on my house, on the streets, and everywhere I can see. Creatures of habit, we still stepped out with two layers of woolies. And ah, the luxury of feeling hot outside in those clothes!

If it weren't for those colorless cold days of yesterday, I would not have sung with joy today. It is NOT summer yet, and even spring is a bit far.....the grounds are full of tons of snow dumped on us over the last many snowstorms. And yet, today is joyous because I have come out of yesterday. My experience of today is framed by the numbness of the days of yore.

I still marvel at the non-stop supply of electricity in my house in the U.S. because I have lived an innumerable number of days and nights through outages in India. I am very reluctant to let go of the empty plastic yogurt tub, because I know these plastic tubs can be used to store stuff; we had to buy such plastic boxes (if they were available) for some good money when I was growing up, in India. I still have money in good old plain CDs, because stock markets crashed in the past.

To find the pleasure in the moment in hand, I don't forget the pains I have endured. See...all this thinking is what a surprise sunny day can do to me! Bring on the Sunshine, soak me in it.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

And She Will Tell a Million Tales......

The peanut vendor tightened the tarp on his wheelbarrow, ensuring to cover every bit of everything that was on it-the drum of peanuts, the stack of newspaper bags, the bag of coal, and the small aluminum pan he burnt the coal on. With the warmth of his coal fire gone, Niru double-wrapped herself in her shawl. 

"Bhaiya, do you know what time the last bus comes?" She asked the smallish vendor who was now almost ready to wheel his wares to wherever his home was. 

"Should be coming any minute now." He raised his hand. Niru thought he waved to her, but he was only getting ready to give a giant push to the cart. Off he started. 

With him gone, with the street lamp only giving a dim, lethargic flicker, and with the shops behind them all closed now, the bus-stop became desolate in the uninterrupted darkness of the cold December night.  

"Sham, let's take an auto till Dwarka." Niru said, feeling a bit nervous now. She only had enough money to get her closer to home. She imagined she could at Dwarka catch a bus already en route to her village. Sham looked at his watch again. 

"Let's wait for ten minutes, and maybe then." He said, stretching his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans, his fingers making a rough estimate of the rupees in his possession.

In silence they kept peering towards the oncoming traffic, to spot a bus. 

'The movie was fun. The chaat after that even more yummy, made memorable by Ravi's constant supply of jokes and Sohini's constant bargaining for time with her mother on the phone. Wait till Ratna comes to know that we indeed saw the movie. She will curse herself for having left early.' With exams over in the afternoon, Niru's mind was filled up with the masti of the evening. The film's catchy tunes kept coming to her lips, and yet her mind was racing towards home too. She had been this late before. She would be fine, she reassured herself. Pappaji will probably throw a fit, but Ma will convince him, like always. Niru also told herself that she should better note the bus-schedule.

"There it is." Sham said, pointing towards a bus slowing down in their direction. Niru took a few steps, but then noted that it was a private bus. Before she could say anything, the bus stopped, and the door flung open with a young man beckoning to Sham and Niru.

"Jaldi karo, jaldi aao." He spoke like a bus conductor. He appeared in a genuine rush to do his last trip for the day. 

Niru and Sham stepped into the bus that had darkened glasses. 

**********

Three years from that cold December night, Niru is gone. Gone, as in gone, obliterated, annihilated, massacred, slaughtered, shot, stabbed, poisoned to death. You say she was raped, and died of injuries on her own. You say she is gone because her body was weak and could not take the onslaught. You say she is gone because she should have weighed the pros and cons of refusing five men to mutilate her. You say this, because you are alive, because you are remorseless. And you are remorseless because you think a woman out at night is a woman to be plundered, just like a woman at daytime is someone to serve your home and nourish your brood. You take the day away from her, and you don't give her the night?

What hurts is that you come from a strong background of similar thinking. You come from, and will go back to, a baithak full of men who will say, "Why did the girl go out at night?"
"Why did she wear pants?"
"Why did she speak English?"
"Why did she study more than her matriculation failed brothers?"
"Why did she leave the house?"

And yet, I can assure you that every time you and your like-minded brethren utter such words, there will be a parent, a brother, a dadi, a nana or a friend, who will look around and say I will let the women in my life flourish just as much as I would the men. Our women will not just study to make careers, but they will enjoy lives just as they want. They will drive, dance, drink; they will get married, they will have children; they will get married, and choose to not have children; they will choose to not get married; they will divorce, they will re-marry. They will do anything and everything that any woman wants. You and your like will not snub them. Never.......and you still believe Niru is gone?

Niru, who was just another youngster, doing what happy and healthy kids the world over do. Niru, who is the kid in my kid, and the woman in us all.

Niru, who in her facelessness till now has become the strongest face of the modern Indian woman.

Niru, who in her namelessness till now is the strongest of all names -----NIRBHAYA---the fearless!











 
 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Indian Mother's Weight Responsible for ....

I read this news article on how the low-weight of mothers at the the time of pregnancy, and low weight gain during pregnancy, largely contributes to the shortness of Indians, as compared to the Africans. Not many of us Indians mind that of course. We are a billion people strong group of smallish people. We all look into each other's eyes, and speak directly to one another. It is all cool.

And yet, there is reason to think. Lighter birthing moms, leading to an entire nation's smallness? Is that really not quite un-necessary? Why are Indian girls not in the normal BMI? Why are they underweight? And the needle points back to the same age-old suspect--gender bias. Female child in the house receives a relatively scrappier meal (in terms of quantity and quality) than the male child. Most of us, from the middle class, will think of this as just a tale, but the larger proportion of Indians who actually reside in the rural areas, and/or are poor, commonly practice this food rationing.

There is so much to write about gender biases in the Indian context, but I want to make this column purely about height. While height, by one thinking, can be trivialised as a vanity issue, it is not unfair to investigate physical smallness of a nation , as a lack of height. There is something lacking. And that's not the extra inches on people standing, but the essential ingredients on the plate of the Indian girl child.

On our part, we can start to reboot the system one household at a time. Let's engage the women of the house in eating, just as much as they are a part of meal-making. If for some reason, some dish is in limited supply that day, share it equally, or at least in fair proportions. Let's ensure everyone in the house gets all the essential nutrients-dairy, meat, grain, protein etc. Gender neutrality needs to start at the dining table, starting now...we have a loooooooooooong way to go to catch up on height!