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 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!

When in the Beyond

I lost a train of thought to the screeching halt by a memory.  This happens to me often, Memories, you would brand random, Simply appea...