“O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

∼ Robin Williams, quoting Walt Whitman, from the movie Dead Poets Society.

How many of you believe in living every day to the fullest? What do you do towards it?

There’s something pristine about how the sun adds color to the sky at dawn, and how the sky lights up during dusk. To poets, the sea and the sun and the sky tell many tales; I see strength in the permanency of their actions. How they are on repeat, day after day, night after night, sprinkling hope and whispering promises. Let us then, take a moment out, to watch. To watch the azure, red, yellow and violet shades of the sky. Let’s call it a closure in a grand way. Let’s wake up to beautiful mornings. Let’s chase sunsets.

If you can read this, thank a teacher.

Ah, but who is not a teacher?

The title is a quote I read some years ago, and while there are many a thoughtful tribute written for teachers, many beautiful, heart-warming tales, shared, from history and the present, the profoundness of it struck me, and it has stayed with me since.

Every teachers’ day, my thoughts go out, to the countless people who’ve been a part of my life, and unknowingly or unknowingly, have left me with a lesson. Who do I thank on this day? My parents, for being so strong, for me, with me? The people who taught me to see real from fake? The teachers in my school, who painstaking brought each one of us up? My friends, and acquaintances, my critics who brought the best (and worst) out in me? The TV series, strangers, the strays? While there were many teachers we loathed for their methods and their strictness, they have, inarguably been the best ones, in retrospect.

There were many educators who tried to fit us in a mould, but the ones whose faces I see are those who put in their everything, their best, to help us become good people. I recall from school Raksha teacher from KG class, one of the earliest ones to believe in me, to the unpopular ones in junior and undergraduate college. Not to forget the ones who taught me a fourth language, including my rickshaw-uncle and friends. There have been many, many influences, and it is near impossible to recollect all of them here. To them, I’ve but 2 words to say – THANK YOU.

Also deserving of a special mention are the visionary people who rubbed off a little of their wanderlust onto me! 🙂 But for them, I’d never have discovered newer worlds, the dreams would be a little less adventurous.

But I’m especially grateful, to those who taught me how to learn, how to receive. I’m glad they still make people like them.

I’m in complete awe of a different set of teachers I’ve the fortune to work with this year – special educators. Ah, their patience. Their patience, compassion, empathy, and skill, are worth revering them for, and from what I observe on field, each day is a new challenge – which they happily accept and work around.

Teachers are not only people. The ability to edify, lies in all things animate and inanimate, one of the best Gurus is Nature itself.

Sthaavaram Jangamam Vyaaptam
Yatkinchit Sacharaa Charam
TatPadam Darshitam Yena
Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha. 

(That Guru who can enlighten us about the all pervading consciousness present in all the three world or states (of Jaagrath, Swapna and Sushupti … activity, dream and deep sleep state), I salute such a Guru.)

Days on Fast forward

Before you knew it, months flew off from 2016, and here we are, in August, already.

A lot of new things happened, some for the best, some heartbreaking. College ended, faculty retired, there was a lot of nostalgia. In the meanwhile, almost as if a parallel story was running, I got selected into one of the premier institutes in the country, met a whole bunch of people from completely different backgrounds and upbringing than mine. I wish I could write about each person here at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences; each one is a reservoir of stories, told and untold.

What is happening is essentially a rediscovering of self, or as they like to call it here, unlearning and re-learning. I’ve been placed in a disability setting for fieldwork with a great partner, hence learning here happens on multiple levels. People constantly surprise you, you get bombarded with assignments, and then there are a dozen other activities happening, you wait eagerly for a respite…but before you know it, it’s fieldwork day again! In between, birthdays, celebrations, outings, outbursts, sickness all happen, but they are never the defining parts of the bigger picture. Before you know, it’s ‘tomorrow’ already. The fast forward here will wind up, in 2 years. In the meanwhile, the winds here will blow upon us, shaping, changing, informing, forging new bonds.

So far, so good.

SEXUAL ABUSE, IS REAL.

I haven’t written in long. What makes me do so now is the utterly insensitive attitude towards an issue that is as real as the sun rising everyday.

After Barkha Dutt opened up about her childhood incident of abuse at the recent Women in the World Summit, trolls have come out galore about how she’s doing it only for publicity. Why after all these years, they say, a woman like her should have had no problem talking about it at all. To those of you who have never been abused (I sincerely doubt someone like that exists), to get an idea of what abuse feels like, think of the time  when your heart-and-soul took the hardest hit, multiply it by say, a zillion, and imagine yourself being shredded. I think it’ll give you a fair idea.

The bottomline? It’s not easy. A person can be strong-willed, courageous, liberal, frank, independent, and more, and yet not be able to talk about abuse for years. Sometimes never.

Apart from the by now-familiar comments on how women invite attention and hence get raped, to how feminists are overdoing the whole woman-is-a-victim idea, what was shocking  (and dangerous) was the body shaming, and the underlying idea that you’re beautiful if you attract sexual attention without seeking it. The comments don’t stop with the men having an opinion, either.

About why Ms. Dutt must be lying – ‘‘Cause, sex sells; even if it’s in the form of abuse’ said one lady. ‘Feminists have certain vested interest due to involvement and influence of foreign funds.’ said another, on social media blog ‘dedicated’ to men.

Feminism is not about women ruling the world. It is, as a friend says, about YAY! WOMEN! while also saying YAY! MEN! It is about equality. Not selective justice. Or freedom. Or special rights. We teach our children ‘ladies first’ because the ladies have been ‘last’ long enough for patriarchy to take such a strong hold that it dictates every aspect of a woman’s life, including how she should feel. Is that right? Debate, by all means.

Boys get abused too. Not many speak up. Because ‘Tu ladka hai, Ladki ke tarah ro mat.’ I agree and accept that there are false cases aplenty against men, accusing them of abuse, violence. But that does, in no way justify harboring narrow-minded, perverted views against women who speak up about their painful past. Feminism doesn’t call for discrimination against a man. Abuse has a wider scope – it cuts across gender, caste, race, religion, any and every other perceivable division.

I have been subject to ugly stares, glares, gestures, and much more. As have been my friends. And at an age too, when we didn’t know what it meant. Did those stories make their way back home? Some did, some were buried. Did those that did go home get treated like they should have been? Not necessarily. My father picks me up from the railway station if I’m coming back home any later than 9 pm.

Why not teach boys and girls to not be a pervert, and to stand up against one instead?

Child sexual abuse is as real as anything can get. Statistics say every 2nd child is abused in the country everyday, majority of the crime committed by a person known to the child. It’s high time we accept this fact, and make ourselves receptive to talking to children about topics like sex and abuse.

This is for every Barkha, Suzette, Oprah, Madonna, Anoushka, Ozzy, and the countless others, for whom this grim reality is life itself.

RIP, Sir

Now is a time when the entire nation will feel a sense of loss that is almost personal. Death, ironically has a way of awakening us, in bringing us to recollect and take note of things that we otherwise take for granted.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam passed away on the evening of 27th of July, 2015, aged 83. His loss, many a citizen will agree, is irreplaceable for the country. Minutes after the news of his death came out, social media came alive with countless people recalling anecdotes regarding him, many of them personal. What is striking in each story is the way the scientist reached out to every person, common or elite, in a way that will stay with them forever.
What you do of the time between when you are born, and when you die, is what makes up your life, they say, and if that is anything to go by, Dr. Kalam’s life is a shining epitome of a life well lived.
I had previously mentioned meeting Dr. Kalam during his talk on ‘World Vision 2030 – empowering the 3 billion‘ in IIT-B. I consider myself fortunate enough to have been witness to hear him talk of his visionary ideas for the youth. What made his messages find an eager audience was that he spoke from his heart, and more importantly, he believed us to be capable of doing what we set out to do. It was more than most of us could ask for.
His ideas were simple. Nothing grandiose. Think good, think big, work hard to achieve your dreams.
“Great is a relative term. You must have a dream, continuously acquire knowledge, work hard, persevere, and be unafraid of problems. Then, you get success.”
“Repeat after me – I must have a dream. I will continuously acquire knowledge. Work hard. I will persevere, and be unafraid of problems”, were his concluding words that day during his talk.
A passion so genuine, it will be impossible not to miss your presence, sir. RIP.

By all means, he was a global scientist. Yet, he’ll always be known as ‘the boy from Rameswaram’ or ‘people’s president’ or the ‘Missile Man of India’. Dr. Kalam collapsed while delivering a lecture at Shillong. A teacher by heart, he died doing what he loved to. If this does not inspire us to live fully, nothing probably will.

Rain Rain Go Away?

For all the native Mumbaikars, as well as for those who’ve been staying here awhile, there is nothing new about the rains holding Mumbai to ransom. It’s a usual occurrence, year after year, rains coming in late, lashing out in all its fury, causing havoc. Mumbai’s lifeline – the Mumbai locals, come to a standstill at the first glimpses of what goes on to become a heavy outpour.

We are used to it now. We romanticise it, even. Along with all the cluck-clucking of tongues lamenting the poor civic structure, we do enjoy having to stay at home from work owing to the heavy rains. The season of kanda-bhajji, and chai by the window, indeed.

While there are a lot of us who are currently enjoying being in the cosy interiors of our homes, my thoughts stray to those who aren’t that lucky. A deeper thought to it brings up the question of whether the said ‘unlucky ones’ ‘choose’ to be that way –  by way of not offering resistance to what life has given them. I speak about the hundreds of people in Mumbai who stay in makeshift homes – in temporary houses floating in the debris, or under tents made of tarpaulin, held up by bamboo. Or worse, in boxes under bridges at railway stations – a friend once mentioned a particular family-of-seven who live like that at Bhandup station. 5 kids, no income, and an addition every year, I wonder how they get by. They’d barely have enough to feed all the hungry mouths even on a sunny day…

Just yesterday, as I was getting down at my station while coming back home, I saw a male child, barely 2 years old, laughing away in delight – a happy, gurgling sound that believed in the security of the present. Eyes sparkling, he played with his sibling covered in nothing but a tattered shirt as his beggar mother gossiped her time away with another lady. To the child, the world was perfect – an unknown amazement that held many promises. How I wish we could give that dream to every child in our society.

On a bleak, dreary rainy day, the laughter echoes in my ears.