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.

Friends, That Are Not Forever

How much a person comes to depend upon friendship in a lifetime is beyond comprehension to ordinary thought. As author Massimo Pigliucci says of Aristotle, ‘Aristotle’s opinion was that friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this (reciprocal) mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons. Friends, then, share a similar concept of eudaimonia [Greek for “having a good demon] and help each other achieve it. So it is not just that friends are instrumentally good because they enrich our lives, but that they are an integral part of what it means to live the good life.’

Having been witness to some quite exemplary examples of friendship, it is only natural to feel that warmth seep into you and make you want to discover the joy of having to build a relation with a person that’s compatible to you yet again, over and over.

The previous month saw the passing away of one of the most cherished of relatives, leaving an empty place that is but an ode to friendship. What moves on, always, is never any person, or any relation, I think. It’s just the concept that goes on to take a place of secondary importance in our own minds.

I quote Andrew Sullivan from Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex and Survival, “You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Part of this reticence is reflected in the moments when friendship is appreciated. If friendship rarely articulates itself when it is in full flood, it is often only given its due when it is over, especially if its end is sudden or caused by death. Suddenly, it seems, we have lost something so valuable and profound that we have to make up for our previous neglect and acknowledge it in ways that would have seemed inappropriate before…”

In the recent past, I had this soul awakening, thunderstorm-in-the-mind, eye opening experience, in that order, regarding my own friends. The whole support system that I thought I had turned out to be illusory, and it dawned that different people call out to, and for, different aspects of you. The ones you are friends with the most are not necessarily the ones you get to spend the most time with, and the ones with whom you do indeed share laughter, tears and insecurities with, are not necessarily the ones you want to be with. The people I had, I have them now too, I do. They are good people, just people who do not see things as I do; or the plain truth, people who are not in a symbiotic relation with friends. Free spirits, in other words!

Friends of family, friends since school, friends, that are family. Blessed are those that have them. Ties, that go deeper than conceptual understanding. People, who reinforce the goodness in people. Ones that stand strong, unswayed by the test of time. It feels wonderful to be a witness to such a bonding. It’s a kind of an anchor – at a time when your own belief systems take a hit.


Note  – The quotes from writers Andrew Sullivan and Massimo Pigliucci are largely courtesy of articles on Brain Pickings, a personal blog by Maria Popova.

Trans-genders

My first ‘meet’ with transgenders after passing of India’s transgenders equality bill was at a nondescript station called Tilati, where my train made an unscheduled halt en route to Bengaluru. What i have generally observed about eunuchs is that they tend to be a happy bunch, inspite of the problems they face. This group I met, was no different 🙂

When they saw me, camera in hand, at the door of the train, their faces lit up like an excited kid’s. “Arre, humara bhi photo kheencho na!” (“Hey, click our picture too!”), they chirped. The said request fulfilled, they went their way, beaming.

I think this is how memories are made.

What the bill would mean for transgenders, whether they would finally get their rightful place in our society, how long it will take, i do not know. Till then, I say let us just treat them with compassion (and not pity or disgust) and share with them their smile. Say what?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender

Happy Birthday, Dad.

It’s my dad’s birthday today. Which, it doesn’t really matter, for he has been there for me always, irrespective of the boundaries of time or space.


Dear Dad,

Happy birthday. Given that it is already late evening now, I should have perhaps wished you sooner. But this isn’t anything unusual, isn’t it? We have never really spoken much; words definitely don’t define the extent of our relationship.

I’ve wondered, a lot of times, when I was but a child, why, we don’t ever have real meaningful conversations. Philosophies of life kind of talks. Why conversations were mostly limited to the need of the moment. Later, I was told, ‘Dad isn’t an emotive person. He doesn’t really know how to express.’ How is a person then supposed to talk, I wondered. There were many questions dad, but no one to answer. There were many stories too, but no one to tell to. Being an ambivert myself, I have been a victim of my moods as well.

I understand I’m not the daughter you would like me to be (read obedient, traditional, religious, etc). I realise there might not have been a lot of moments for you in which to feel proud of me. We do not meet at the same plane, either. But what I realise when I look back upon my 19 years is that you have been ready to invest the years in me, being there, silently, as I fall, learn, fail, and even repeat some mistakes. For that, I’ll be ever grateful. For me, you have slogged, fought, sacrificed.

I do not promise to change. I might not get moulded to fit into the frame you’ve in your mind for your daughter. But it doesn’t matter, really.

On this day, I wish for you to keep growing in your mind, to keep adding to the results that years of experience and Grandpa Time must’ve given you. I hope that one day, we’ll both be ready to meet on an even field. On that day, in a place which will be beyond right and wrong, good and bad, unshackled by the constraints of the society, we’ll talk freely…and I’ll tell you how important you are to me. That, and that I love you.

Yours lovingly,

Your only daughter.

quote-most-children-i-know-i-did-when-i-was-a-kid-fantasize-another-set-of-parents-or-fantasize-no-maurice-sendak-167103

An evening with Dr. Kalam

On the last day of the recently held ‘Techfest’, an initiative of IIT-B (Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay), the guest of honour of the day was the former president of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. After having heard many references about the man since childhood, and having read his words of motivation for the youth, it piqued my interest to be finally seeing him, and attending a talk by him.

The talk was in the evening, one of the last talks of the day, and the following are some of my thoughts before the session, and a bit about the lecture itself.

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Notes from my diary –

(Sometime before the talk was scheduled)

Today might be the day to get an idea of the hype that surrounds Dr. Kalam. Abdul Kalam’s name brings feelings of warmth, honesty, the sense of the person’s humility, & greatness. What is it that draws these qualities in parallel with his persona? Time to find out.

Courtesy, Techfest – 2015, IIT-B.

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(Minutes before Dr. Kalam’s entry)

What spectacular entry would it be? What would herald the arrival of the ‘awaited one’?

Music? Drum beats? I think it’ll be the thumping hearts. Anxious to catch the first glimpse. Eager to absorb it all. The moment is exciting – like one is awaiting announcement of results; like the last ball of a cricket match that will decide it all…

Hundreds of people. An awesome place (with beautiful lighting, and good ventilation). Tight security arrangements. Countless mike – checks.

One name. APJ Abdul Kalam.

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He entered to a standing ovation. He finished, again receiving a standing ovation. Thunderous claps boomed across the hall from time to time….

‘My topic for today is ‘World Vision 2030 – empowering the 3 billion. Topic okay?’ he asked the audience.

And from there, he took us on a merry walkthrough with real earnestness, inspiring zest, and a passion so genuine that it was impossible to not be awed. Dr. Kalam spoke of various things. He explained his vision for the world, the dynamics of global manifestation, namely environment, people, economy, and ideas, the need of a borderless globe, his perception on what were the most significant scientific contributions in 2014, etc. He called on the youth to be the leaders of the future.

“Sir, how did you become so great?” asked an innocent little voice at the end of the session.

‘Great is a relative term,’ he said, amid fitful laughter. ‘You must have a dream, continuously acquire knowledge, work hard, persevere, and be unafraid of problems. Then, you get success.’

The people’s president had spoken.