Monday, December 16, 2013

My prayers for your happiness and healthy life, Ericana and Eludi!

Ericana and Eludi with their mother
Life is full of struggles, challenges and pain for all us. But unfortunately for some people, the struggle is greater. In Tanzania, for two male babies - Ericana and Eludi, the struggle had began with their birth. They were born as pygopagus twins which means that they are conjoined at the buttocks. Since their birth, their mother has been struggling to get them separated and lead a healthy life. The pain suffered by the twins and their mother is unspeakable and unimaginable.

But thankfully, the babies can now be said to be in safe hands. The mother had learnt about Apollo healthcare, one of the most efficient and trust names in modern healthcare today, and came to the Apollo Hospital in Chennai with her two beautiful babies and with her trust and hope.

The Apollo Hospital, on its part, is also doing its best. This case is one of the most challenging cases that not only Apollo but that the world has seen. Conjoined twins is a rare condition and most of the babies with this condition are either still-born or die soon after birth. This specific condition of conjoining at the buttocks known as pygopagus is even more rare. It is also generally found more in females. Till now, only 4 male pygopagus twins have been reported. So this case is definitely one of the rarest and the most difficult. But Apollo is doing all that it can to ensure a normal and healthy life for the babies. For this case, Apollo has appointed a team of 20 doctors from the specialties of neurosurgery, plastic surgery, paediatric surgery and pediatric urology. They have also sought the guidance of Dr. Edward Kiely – Paediatric Surgeon and Dr. Richard Howard – Anaesthesiologist both from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London for the safe separation. Apollo has been taking care of the babies for 5 months now and on 16th, it will conduct the most important stage i.e. the separation surgery.

But Apollo has not just been giving them medical care, it has also given the babies and their mother an emotional support. The nurses have developed a bond with the babies. The nurses have nicknamed the babies as 'Ammukutty’ and ‘Chellakutty’. In turn, the babies have also bonded with the nurses. They and their mother have also picked up a few tamil words. But this is not new about Apollo. Apollo has not just been one of the world's most efficient health-care provider, it is actually a "care-taker" and of not just the patients but of the society. Apollo has many social initiatives like Disha, SACHi, SAHI, CURE and other initiatives to care for everyone, irrespective of their economic and social profile. Infact, the babies' mother had learnt about Apollo because of its presence through the Save a child's heart initiative of SACHi in Tanzania.  

So the babies are in efficient and caring hands. My wishes with Apollo. I wish them all success. I also pray that the pain being suffered by the two babies should end and they lead a happy and healthy life. My wishes also for the mother. May God bless all of them. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Statement by Mission Bhartiyam condemning the the SC verdict criminalizing gay sex

On 11th December 2013, the Supreme Court of India has dismissed the Delhi High Court Ruling of 2009 to uphold IPC section 377 that prohibits “carnal acts against the order of nature”. Doing so, it criminalises the sexual acts of LGBTI community. 

The Delhi High Court in its ruling had held that the provision violated the sexual minorities’ fundamental rights to life, liberty, equality, and discriminating between people on grounds of sex. But the Supreme Court has overturned the verdict arguing that it is not against the constitutional norms. The SC has upheld the allegations of the social and religious organisations that consider non-heteronormativity to be against the "cultural and religious values of the country". 

We condemn the SC verdict. We feel that the verdict is not "non-liberal", conservative or "non-progressive" but is against the fact of nature and is historically baseless. Non-heteronormativity is not unnatural, it is not a choice or a "lifestyle". It is a is a way a person is. Non-heteronormativity has been observed in several animal and bird species as well. 

Homosexuality and other forms of non-heteronormativity are not against our culture.. they were a part of our culture and for this, there is enough historical evidence. The ban on non-heteronormative forms of sexuality has its origin in the colonial era. But we think that even if we may think it is, it is against our culture just like the ban on sati, child marriage, devdasi tradition and other social evils. 

It has been argued that non-heteronormativity is against the religious norms. Some religions like Islam and Christianity have prohibited it but there was a certain context to it. In Islam, all the obligations were made in a certain socio-political context which needs to be studied. Other religions like Hinduism cannot be said to be against non-heteronormativity and there is enough evidence in the scriptures to prove it. We also feel that even if the religions do not permit it, it does not mean that it is wrong. We must remember that religions also promote several other forms of discrimination and inequality. 

We also think that even if a certain religion does not permit non-heteronormativity, it should be concern only for the people who ascribe to that religion. The individual following that religion should decide if he/she wants to leave his/her religion or suppress his/her sexuality. Their religious values and opinions should not be imposed on others. 
We state that people with non-heteronormative sexuality are not "abnormal", "diseased" and deviants.. what is abnormal, unnatural and a "mental disorder" is this homophobia. As we know, the nature loves and celebrates diversity. The non-heteronormative sexualities represents these diverse forms of sexuality. 

This verdict is a verdict against the nature, against knowledge and against humanity. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Is homosexuality really an import?

The Gulf nations are planning to conduct "gay tests" for foreign tourists. It is claimed that the test will "recognise" gays and transgenders who will be then denied entry.  This will be applicable in all the GCC or Gulf Cooperation Council countries that includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. In all the GCC countries, homosexuality is outlawed.

While this news is becoming a talk of the world, I fear that it will be largely discussed as a symbol of conservatism and related to a particular religion. I feel that the focus needs to be shifted to the accusation that homosexuality is an important. My article intends to burst this myth.

The proposal of GCC is inherent with the assumption that homosexuality is an import of the west. It is not a practice of the land. This assumption and notion is true not only for the Arab countries but is also quite widespread in many South Asian countries. However, this is not corroborated by facts.

The movement for the rights of the LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex) community is not very old. It was only in 2003 that all the states of America had legalised homosexuality. Marriage equality is banned in countries. Many states of USA are yet to legalise it. Russia has recently passed the anti-Gay bill. Even if western countries have some provisions, there is still social stigma attached to people of LGBTI community. In a recent news, it was reported that a Christian College in California had banned a student after it was found out that she was a transgender. Infact, it has been argued that homophobia or fear of homosexuality and diverse sexualities was a product of colonialism. Thus, it would be more apt to say that homophobia, not homosexuality, is an import of the west.

Homosexuality as an "import" also conveys that homosexuality is a kind of trend or lifestyle. It is generally believed that like the concepts of a nuclear family and an individual life, homosexuality has also "come from the west".  It is not true because homosexuality is not a concept. It is not a trend that can be followed. It is the way a person is. What can be said to be imported from the west is the acceptability and recognition that some western societies have shown for diverse sexualities.

Related with this concept is the basic assumption that homosexuality is "unnatural". This assumption has been long challenged through inter-disciplinary researches. The fact is that if homosexuality is unnatural, then why is it found in about 1500 species ranging from primates to parasites? Homosexual behaviour is found to be quite widespread in the animal kingdom. One quarter of black swans engage in homosexual unions.

If homosexuality and diverse sexualities are unnatural then why do we need religion, culture, media, law and the state to enforce this "fact"? Diverse sexualities are reflective of the beauty of the nature. We are mesmerized by the diversity in flowers, animals, birds, landscapes but then why do many of us reject and condemn diversity in the sexual orientation of human beings. There is enough literature available on the history of sexuality, about a more accommodating past followed by the period of suppression of sexuality. There are reasons that explain the suppression. In the past, due to the existing political circumstances, many societies lay emphasis on fertility and so they condemned any union that was not productive. They had intertwined this with the moral and social. It was incorporated in many religious systems. However, even when the situation changed, the moral and the social was not adequately challenged. Thus, the taboo remained.

This move to bar the entry of gay tourists shows that there is a sense of "fear" and we must inquire about it. Who is fearful and of what? How is someone's sexuality affecting a society or people around him/her? Homosexuality is being seen as a threat to the "moral good". When a homosexual person is brutally harassed, where does the morality go? There are many incidents of rapes of people of LGBTI community. This proposed move to "control" homosexuality by barring the "agents" of homosexuality makes some sense if we accept that homosexuality has buyers in the land.

Thus, it is important to realise that homosexuality is neither a threat to any culture or system of 'morality' nor an import of west. It is important to  protest against this illogical and "unnatural" disease called homophobia that still grips many countries. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Weapon of Miscommunication

Aman Chaupal with Saeeda Diep ji
"Do Hindus live in Pakistan?", asked a young girl to Ms. Saeeda Diep, a Peace activist from Pakistan.

With a smile, she replied, "Yes, my dear. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of many other religious faiths live in Pakistan".

"How are they treated?"

"Why doesn't the Pakistan Government control terrorism?"

"Why did the army behead Indian soldiers?"

These were some of the many questions that students of a school in Delhi had asked the peace activist during an interactive session called Aman Chaupal, an initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti aimed towards Indo-Pak friendship. It was a small room with about 50 students heavily-equipped with questions and a lady with a serene and smiling face. She answered all the questions with an unchanging expression of calmness and with a warm smile. This was because she was on a mission. She was out to face the weapon of miscommunication. "We have about 20 Indian channels but you people do not have a single channel so you know nothing about Pakistan. We have not been able to present ourselves to you." So after each question, she would say, "please ask more questions".

Having some level of communication with people from Pakistan, I could not help laughing when the politically-charged questions didn't stop. But I was not surprised at those questions. Infact, I, like Saeeda ji, was happy that they asked these questions because then they won't think that we were there to "pacify" or "convince" them. Yet, I must admit that I was surprised to see that she had a calm and beaming face throughout the session.

Her words as well as those questions have stayed with me. She had emphasised on the lack of communication and the hawkish media that our Indian democracy has granted us. I would completely agree with her on this. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy yet in our country, it is not independent and is biased. It carries the burden of invoking nationalist fervor and in doing so, it often ends up with arousing jingoistic sentiments.

The media was at its worst best during the case of Sarabjit Singh when Sarabjit was made a "national martyr" and the attack on Sanaullah Ranjay was seen as a "reaction". The same can be said for the border clash of January. There was no reporting at that time. The news channels were busy running documentaries. I often find it a little surprising that the media which is desperate to do something 'innovative" does not ever attempt to consult the "other" side. There is a clear divide between what the major newspapers of both the sides report. Yet, no attempt is made by either sides to come up with a neutral source. No-one ever gets to know the "truth" and actually, it seems that no side is even interested to know. Why? There are reasons and the reasons are political.

This is a weapon and a far lethal one. The military clashes are short-lived. There is a ceasefire but this weapon is not short-lived. It is a slower process but much more effective. It allows for the proliferation of hatred to people beyond the direct sufferers. It is effective enough to make peace, a fantasy of the "liberal". A resource for many, it helps to create an unchallenged "need" for war, for hatred. The war mandate rests on the unchallenged assumption that the "other" hates us. Thus, it is an important raw material for what Saeeda ji had said, a "war industry". This also explains why there are attempts to disrupt any efforts to enhance people-to-people communication between the countries. Miscommunication is essential for hatred and suspicion.

In contrast to this is communication. It would be hard to find someone who has been to the other side of the border or has had some level of communication, with a negative opinion about them. With so much to talk about, share, in one's own language (Hindi for us, urdu for them), it becomes difficult at ground level to find differences. Infact, when one meets someone from Pakistan, one is pleasantly disappointed because the image of a different "other" is shattered. Communication is the key to all our problems and so Saeeda ji had concluded the session with the statement,

"We will make efforts to connect you with children of your age so that you can see Pakistan from our eyes, not from your media's eyes." 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The time when children were innocent

As kids, we had a desire to speed up the growing part and become adults. Adulthood meant an escape from the boring homework, having a lot more freedom and the power to decide. Ofcourse, now as adults, we like to laugh on that silly desire. It was silly but it was a very innocent one. We were too innocent to understand what adulthood would really mean. How that “freedom” would mean very little in front of that ever-increasing tension. We realize it now but it seems that parents these days don’t.

Recently, I came across an article in a TOI supplement, Education Plus, dated 12th January 2012, about preschoolers and little kids learning to cook, wash cars and doing computers. I anyway never understood the concept of pre-schooling as 14 years of schooling is torturous enough for kids but this came as a major shock to me. I wondered what has gone wrong with parenting these days.

I remember how our parents would talk about their ‘golden’ childhood and would totally discard our idea of ‘fun’ in childhood. My mother had a serious disapproval for Cartoon Network and my computer buddies, Dave and Aladdin. They would talk about their vacations back in the villages and the “real” fun, as they used to put it. Every vacation, I was forced to engage in some ‘fun’ activity like dance, music or playing casio. We all grew up being compared with a neighborhood kid or a cousin. This was our childhood. We were more ‘privileged’ than our previous generation but the next and the current generation have a lot more, like cellphones before college, facebook accounts much before their teen years, the obsession with branded and fashionable clothes, in short, an over-exposure!

Now, I think that we were so much better-off. And I don’t feel any kind of happiness as I write this. I feel really sad that what they are losing out on what happens to be what kids are famous for i.e. innocence. Now, when I think of my childhood, I review all the mistakes that I ever made. Some of them were stupid and others, quite serious, yet I don’t feel any remorse because I was innocent. I was not trained enough to see all aspects of things. I realized and learned from my mistakes only with time. I learned all that, at the right age. I was ignorant, immature and imperfect. It was only with time that I started shedding some of them. I now feel that growing up is so beautiful. And as I realize this, I feel sad for these kids.

It’s not their age to learn how to cook or how to wash a car. Why do they need to do that? Are they being expected to be independent? I see kids in reality shows trying to express emotions which they are not even supposed to understand and I have nothing but pity for them. Why are they being expected to behave like adults? Most of the times, the judges don’t seem to know how to talk to kids. They end up discouraging the kids. But Why? Why are kids supposed to be perfect today! They are expected to sing their throats out, dance till their legs give away and express emotions which are way-ahead than their ages. So we have a preteen TV actress playing the role of a wife(not child bride) on a popular TV show. Is there a dearth of better actresses, I wondered. What was the need for playing with the psychological mind-set of the young actress?

I see preschoolers having their ears pierced and I wonder the need. I remember having the ear-piercing done when I was in third standard. I fail to understand why things are growing so fast.
I don’t think one can blame the kids! The questions should be directed to their parents, their guardians and these schools. What are they playing at? The World is moving on very fast… there is an upsurge in technology and one needs to be updated but not at the cost of destroying the beautiful child-like innocence. Why are we exposing them to a world for which they are not yet ready? Why are they taking away from their own kids what they cherish the most… the “golden” childhood? Why are the parents in such a hurry?

The schools consider this as a step to better ‘prepare’ the students. They are ‘preparing’ the students for what? This competitive world? The world is definitely become ‘meaner’ day by day and the competition is a reality. But this does not mean that we end up producing miniature adults, rather than kids. And all this is only worsening the competition. The schools may claim “innovative” methods to make learning “fun” but actually, it is indulging into a lot of “learning” for the kids, with these “extra-curricular” activities. The “Extra-curricular” activities which sometimes also include personality development, a concept which again I fail to accept for kids. If immaturity is bad, so is over-maturity.

Why cant we just let them be themselves… and enjoy their innocent childhood which they will cherish later in their lives, when they will ultimately struggle in this notorious, demonic world? Why cant we let kids be kids again?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Do Hindus live in Pakistan?

Why is there so much of terrorism in Pakistan?

Did the Government know about Osama Bin Laden living in Pakistan?

What do people of Pakistani think about us?

Watch this video wherein a renowned Peace activist from Pakistan, Ms. Saeeda Diep interacts with students of Columbia Foundation Sr. Sec. School. This was an event of Aman Chaupal, an initiative under Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-pak peace and friendship initiative by Mission Bhartiyam. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Appeal to stop the telecast of serial "Jodha Akbhar" on communal grounds

I am writing this to appeal to urge you to stop the telecast of the recently launched serial "jodha Akbar" being aired on Zee TV as it can have a negative impact on the society. To begin with, the serial itself runs on the disclaimer that it lays no claim to any historical event. This disclaimer came after there were protests from the Rajput community and from some historians against the inauthenticity of the story being presented. The main argument is that there was no mention to "Jodha Bai" in the historical sources. This debate was also raised for the movie "Jodha Akbar" starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai. It is important for the producers to state the historical source of the story. It should be binding for them to mention the exact historical accounts as history, we know and have seen, is not just the past. It has or is made to have serious implications in the present. One of the most shameful example is that of the demolition of Babri Masjid and the communal riots.
As stated previously, the producers of the serial "Jodha Akbar" has "negotiated" with the protestors and now there is a disclaimer before and during some scenes in the serial stating that the serial does not have any historical backing. The question then is, why is there a need to telecast such a serial? Why is there a need to use the names? Even if Jodha may not have ever existed, Akbar did. Where is the need to demonise him? It is shocking that this has been allowed in a communally-sensitive country. India is threatened with the forces of hindutva which claims the country to be the ancestral and "rightful" property of only Hindus, negating the claims of all other religious groups. It also demonises muslims and have used (or misinterpreted) history to serve their purpose. Even a "liberal" Hindu will agree to this baseless nonsense.

The fact is that history is too hazy. There is so much that can be said about these things. The fact that can be safely established is that religion was not a big deal when the rulers invaded the "country" (which did not exist at that time) in 14th-15th century. Also, desecration of temples was a political statement than a religious one. Historian Richard Eaton has talked about conquest mosques which were built by desecrating the earlier monument because it is quite a rule that an invading ruler establishes throne by destroying the symbols of the previous ruler. The fact is that the word "muslim" in a religious sense for the rulers did not emerge in the historical sources before 16th century. For a native in a kingdom in the now-Gujarat, a ruler from rajasthan was as much a foreigner as a turk. There is so much written on these issues. There is literature on how it were the British who had divded the history into hindu and muslim. But nothing has been read because the historical truth is not in line with the political motives. The historical truth negates Hindutva as baseless. One major point is that V D Savarkar, the founder of the ideology of Hindutva, had himself written in his book on Hindutva that whatever he is writing is for a political reason. Yet, nothing has been read. People have carried the biased colonial legacy and as a result, thousands of innocent people have lost their lives.

Thankfully, the forces of Hindutva seem to be resting with BJP focussing on "development" and the recent unpopularity of other Hindu fundamentalist groups. Some years back, the court had also passed a "secular" verdict on the ayodhya issue which was, thankfully, welcomed. But this serial seems to revive these forces as it re-iterates the baseless stereotypes about mughals. Akbar is shown to be this demon. He is shown to be a "Muslim" ruler. It is historically incorrect to use terms like "secular", "conservative" or "liberal" for rulers as these terms are of recent origin but if I do commit the sin, just for this time, I will not be wrong to say that Akbar is popular for being "secular". He is known for Din-i-ilahi, for rejecting the teachings of the ulama, for rejecting conservative Islam and for rajput-mughal alliances. If we read the history, we will know that this happened for many reasons. But according to the serial, it was Jodha, a Rajput princess who forced him to become "good". Jodha had swore to some goddess that she will behead Akbar and throw the head on the feet of the goddess, bringing a very strong religious angle. It is also historically inauthentic. But a more important concern is the dangerous effect that it will entail. The serial re-iterates the notions about "muslim" rulers who invaded, discriminated, dishonoured women and tried to destroy the "hindu" culture.

Therefore, I appeal that this serial should be banned from being telecasted on the grounds that it is historically inauthentic, demeaning and has the potential to revive communal tensions in the country.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Some thoughts on the "royal" Rajasthan

These are based on my recent short trip to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. The trip was not an academic venture. I had gone for some personal reasons so it will be a reflection based entirely on observations.

An economy of forts

Albert Museum
Rajasthan makes up to be one of the most historically-conscious, as one may put it, state in India. The pink city is famous and known for its forts. Infact, one of the most obvious images that conjures up when one thinks of Rajasthan is that of the innumerable forts and not to forget, "tradition". The desert, women in lehenga, the traditional rajasthani turban, katputli, bajre ki khichdi...Rajasthan, to an outsider, is synonymous with the traditional Rajasthan. There is also a haunted side to Rajasthan with legends and haunted stories weaved around medieval forts, the best known being that of Bhangarh. Rajasthan is a much-glorified place but what is interesting, but not new, is how the glorification is encashed. It will not be anything new to mention how forts are being converted into hotels, or how hotels have tried to ape the architecture of forts, the most-famous chowkidhaani that promises you a glimpse into the "traditional" village and the over-priced rajasthani food. What I intend to do in this write-up is to reflect on the glorification of tradition.

Whose tradition?

We were near Rajasthan, not sure if we were in Rajasthan, when I, through the window of cafe coffee day, saw a camel. I also saw a man wearing the traditional rajasthani turban. I was a bit shocked with the contrasting images. I would notice the dress of women as our car passed by villages. It was nothing like the glamorised ethnic wear. They wore bright-colored but simple lehenga with a tight-fitting blouse (that we (should i say delhites?) wear with a saree) with a bare midriff. All throughout my journey, I saw this style and needless to mention, I only saw women of not from a very high economic background opting for this dress. The men who would wear the turban would also be generally from a modest economic background. It was not that I was expecting everyone in Rajasthan to be dolled-up in ethnic wear but I found this interesting. All the tradition seems to be now carried off by people who live at the margins. 

What about the people of the middle and elite classes? Well, they hop in western clothes or in kurta-pyjama to the malls and the World Trade Park. The World Trade Park, is a mall with no place to sit but to roam about, admiring the expensive shops, the chandliers and the egyptian, chinese and other unnamed but "foreign" (and that is enough!) statues. Out of the four restaurants that I visited, only the one of the hotel included a rajasthani dish in its menu. As about shopping in a regular place, not the famous jowhri bazaar, there was also nothing "rajasthani". The point is... the traditional seems to be the burden of the underprivileged.

Chowkidhaani - The glamorised village

You go to Jaipur and you don't visit chowkidhaani, that's not possible! I have been to Jaipur many times and each time, I have been there, I have visited chowkidhaani to get the "rajasthani" feel. Chowkidhaani promises a "glimpse" into the traditional village. But you will be disappointed if you think through because the glamorised replica does not talk anything about the farmer suicides and the social evils that exists. It reminded me of the ideal image of the self-sustaining and peaceful village that many western thinkers including marx had hold onto.

I remember that last time, we were welcomed by a group of ladies dressed in traditional clothes, a smiling face who would put teeka on our forehead. This time, it was just a young girl who was severely disinterested. She had left the lot before us as she didn't want to waster her energy calling out to them. Nevertheless, she had put the teeka on our forehead like a machine stamping a barcode on a product. I wasn't disappointed seeing the prospering business until I saw three varying prices - 500, 600 and 700. I thought it was the ticket but it was actually the price for the food per head. The highest was for the traditional Rajasthani thali.

It was fun to be in the ideal and dream-like village (a dream especially for those who actually live in villages). It was "exciting" to be in the line to hurt a camel (read camel ride). But the genuinely exciting part was the rajasthani thali. Drenched in rain, with our wet and mud-soaked clothes, we dined on the feast that was once only the right of the "royal". While we feasted on bajre ki kheechdi which was swimming in ghee, the ghee-soaked daal baati churma and many other dishes, a guy was singing the ethnic songs. I do remember his face and the songs that he played. It is a daily ritual for him. However, then and now a thought that crops up in my mind is that has things changed for him? Then and now, he played for the privileged. Then and now, he doesn't have an option. He is sticking on to the tradition.

The forts and the farce of blue-bloodedness 

Coming back to forts. As I saw the forts, especially the amber fort with the long-running ramparts, I was lost trying to imagine the past. But not "my" past. If I were what I am today, in terms of my economic status, in those centuries, I wouldn't have been even allowed to enter the forts with respect. Being a woman, my status would have been even lower. So how is this a past that I should be expected to be proud of? We went to the Albert museum and were expected to be in awe of the "royal" items of daily use. Yes, I was in awe of the fact that they sucked money from the commoners and created a nice royal world for themselves while the commoners suffered during a famine.

But one definite thing that I was happy to realise is that how this farce of blue-bloodedness has been shunned by the recent trend of marrying in forts. Today, it is common for the economically privileged to realise this "dream". Ofcourse, it is still extended only to a few. But I feel happy imagining how the souls and ghosts? of the royalty would react when people of non-rajput or "high" blood share the same privilege.

Concluding with an epic statement 

I would just like to end with what a man who sells chunni/gudiya ke baal (candyfloss in english) had said to two people who were debating about what to call the item that he sold. He said, "Haan, chunni ke baal hi kehte hai par kuch vilayati bandar ise candy floss keh gaye". (Yes, it is called chunni ke baal but some foreign monkeys gave it the name of candy floss.) I think his statement sums it up well. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Little Ani learns a lesson...never ignore warning signs

This is the entry for "The Moral of The Story Is...!" contest of Indiblogger and  Colgate Total


"Spit in the basin"


"I said spit in the basin"

"Beta, co-operate. I will buy you that doll"

"Mummy! AAAAHH"

And it was over! Her mom had been furious with little Ani. The moment that they were out of the dentist's cabin, her mom had started scolding her. The dream of the doll was shattered but nevertheless, she did enjoy the big cup of chocolate ice cream. Ani was six year old at that time.


"What happened!"

"My tooth is aching!"

The second visit to dentist was when she was in tenth standard. The doctor told her that plague had destroyed her teeth. The doctor had informed her that since her teeth were crooked, she was more prone to tooth plague and decay. He had advised her for braces.


"Yes or you will face many dental problems later in your life"

"Oh ok, then I will put braces"

"Good girl! Please come on Thursday"

"Sure, Doctor! Thanks"

She never went. She had hated the sound of it. She had heard about the problems that people with braces face - the problem in speech, the maintenance, and the other related natak. "I am not getting those braces!", she said to herself. She thought that the doctor was emphasising only because crooked teeth looks bad. It is not "aesthetically-pleasing". As for other problems, she assumed that they wouldn't be as bad.

She would ignore the essential visit to dentist even when she would have some dental problems because of the fear of the plan. She would assume that she would be forced to get braces or undergo some complicated and painful treatment. She had been ignoring it for years. But now she has started experiencing the problems that she was being warned of, some years back. She has been noticing bleeding of gums and she can no longer ignore it. Why? Because she had chose to ignore the first sign and the first advice. She went to the dentist and is required to visit every month. She no longer ignores the warning signs and also uses Colgate total every day which eliminates all possibilities of tooth problems.

So the moral of the story is...never try to ignore warning signs. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

A theoretical memoir from Benaras

When I was leaving for benaras, my mom strictly told me not to buy statues of God in large number. I was also advised to visit kasha vishwanath temple. Benaras, in popular view, is almost synonymous with “Religion”.  In my imagination as well, Benaras was a small city with temples, aghori babas and a gypsie culture(“hare ram hare Krishna” culture). I knew that I’ll see a lot of Durkheim in this place. Benaras would be exciting. It did turn out to be exciting but not so predictable. Every moment spent was a different experience. Besides Durkheim, I met a lot of other known sociologist and also found theoretical food which is yet to be served. 

As we stepped out of the station, I looked back to see the station and found religion in the very architecture of the main railway station. It revealed how the city wanted to present itself. It was presenting itself not just as a religious city but essentially as a “Hindu” city. The ‘secular’ in me, however, did not have a problem with it. Benaras is known to be a sacred city for Hindus.

As we moved towards our guest house, I was trying to grab the new environment and I saw, though not much to my surprise, an over-emphasis on religion. Religion was there in the names of the shops – “kuber optics”, “swastika tailors”, “shivam chashma Kendra” etc. Again, the names were essentially hindu. However, I did find some “modern” names and a few with muslim names – “Islam auto engineering”. I also saw a church, a jain temple and Sikhism on a motor bike. So I wouldn’t narrow down to one religion but I would definitely say that it was all heavy with religion. The architecture of the main university – Benaras Hindu University was also in the form of a temple. The entrance was that of a gateway of a temple. There was also a temple within the campus. It was too much of “religion” for me.

This trip to benaras was a field trip. We had come to try and find ‘answers’ to two sociological questions concerning Buddhist site of sarnath, 15 kms away from Benaras – religious syncretism in Buddhist sarnath and the concept of a religious economy. But since we stayed in Benaras, we extended our research(‘unofficially’) to Benaras. I was a part of the group exploring religious syncretism. What I found was that religious syncretism is a ‘historical’ process. It is historical in the sense that religions have interacted with each other historically and almost, ‘naturally’. They have interacted for centuries and still do, instead of dying out. Religion and religious identity is very strong. And this is when I saw Durkheim. Religion is a social fact. It is inevitable. It exists and will always exist.

The second group had explored the link between religion and economy. They found that there was definitely a deep bond between the two. Religion sells in Benaras. So the Hindu shopkeeper in Sarnath worshipped Buddha because Buddhism meant livelihood for him. Religion is also commercialized to a large extent in Benaras. A temple on the ghat bore the advertisement of Rupa, a company for underclothes. Near any temple, we would be called out by shopkeepers asking us to buy goods “important” for puja. They would tell us how the puja would be incomplete without them and would sell them at exorbitant rates. In the holy Ganga, we saw “muthoot finance” and “airtel” flowing.  Here, we would get the impression how religion affects economy.

Roaming on the streets of Benaras at night, eating street food, observing people who seemed ‘less liberal’, chewing on the local paan and then going back on the rickshaw…it seemed ‘ideal’. Roaming about in the campus in the moonlight, with wind flowing in your hair, it is a romantic memory now. I feel like Marx…romanticizing incessantly about the ‘pre-industrial’ society. But Benaras has also been changing. The economy has been changing, though not at a very great speed as there were no factories there. But things have been changing. ‘Modernity’ is coming in but it co-exists with tradition. A peaceful co-existence is taking place. So I saw a monk, with a jacket added to his traditional attire, smoking ‘peacefully’.

Another thing which was though predictable for me about Benaras was the people. In contrast to the “big bad world” of Delhi, I found that people here were more friendly or maybe this was just my good fortune. But one thing which is certain is that people here were much more affiliated to their caste and region. So one of my classmates who was from Chapra was an instant hit with most people. I accord this to the fact that maybe this is because economic changes are not very rapid in Benaras. There are not many of Marx’s industries to alienate men from themselves and from each other. I feel that maybe Durkheim’s religion may also be a reason. Religion leads to social solidarity. It binds people and even checks on them.  Though a thug for whom I wrote a letter in English wherein he pleads with foreigners to help him financially does force me to re-think.

Overall, I would say that it’s really difficult to explain this city with just one theory. It is difficult to do that for any place, situation but Benaras particularly has been a difficult case. With order and disorder(aghori cult), orthodoxy and syncretism, economy and social values, I feel that it is difficult to really say what goes around in benaras, how things work here. It is tradition and it is ‘modern’. It is communal harmony and communal clash. It is conservative and it is liberal. Benaras… it is simple but contradictory.

Theoretically, Benaras represents a stage which is capitalist(to some extent) but has retained its social/religious values. In benaras, it is economy with religion or religion with economy. It is tradition with modernity and modernity with tradition. 

*All pictures clicked by Sunam Thapa

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Kitchen secret

This is an entry for My Weekend Party with Gourmet Food contest of Indiblogger and Kitchens of India

This story is inspired from some real-life incidents

"Yaar, aunty ne kya subzi banayi hai! Tu bhi kuch seekh !" (Aunty has made such a great dish! You also learn something from her!)

"Abe, tu seekh le. Mujhe toh aata hi hai. Meri paneer ki subzi toh itni tasty hoti hai ki ghar mei sab do baar toh lete hi hai!" (You go and learn! I already know how to cook. The paneer curry that I cook is so tasty that everyone takes atleast a second helping!)

"Acha? toh kabhi hamare liye leke aayiyo na" (Ya? Fine then, get it for us as well.)

"Haan pucca! Next week le aaungi!" (Sure! I will bring it in the next week)

This incident took place several times during my two years of masters. The "next week" never came. It couldn't have ever happened as I am not even a "novice" when it comes to cooking. It was not like I never tried. I always wanted to be a good cook as I love to eat, specially, junk food. I love to watch cookery shows and read recipe books. But the truth is that the only thing that I can cook are stories. I have realised this over some years of seeing mute expressions when people would eat my preparation and hearing the sudden change in tone when I would announce that I plan to make something. I have got more direct indications when a friend told me quite directly that he has had enough of gulping down bits of the "cake" with tons of water and his consoling me that one cannot and should not even try to be perfect in everything. I have realised this truth but this is not to say that I don't "cook" at all. I have continued to cook paneer subzis (curries) as even if no one else would eat, I will.

I have also continued to cook "stories" as harmless fun. But little did I know that one day, it would backfire. I am talking about the last month of my post-graduation when the entire class had started getting emotional. Farewell parties, photo sessions, the last class of post graduation, the last lecture and the plans for the "last" get-together. And here was the big blast! My friends decided that since I am a native, I should get some manners and invite them for lunch. I do not have a problem with being the host but they wanted me to cook! "Yaar, ab toh hume tera shahi paneer, mughali paneer kadhai paneer khila de" (Now that we are parting ways, it is the last chance to try those paneer dishes that you cook), they all said. I was rendered speechless but I could not show my true expressions (it was as if all my organs were trying to slap me) and an invisible hand (of Karma?) pushed my head down in a nod.

I was in a fix. I just didn't know what to do. I started searching the internet for some miracles. I read some recipe blogs and there was it! No, not the recipe, an advertisement! It was an advertisement of Kitchen of India Ready-to-eat dishes! Thanking "All the gods of the universe", I clicked on Even the agnostic in me was tempted to use the imagery of heaven to describe what I saw. Paneer Darbari, Paneer Malai and Mughlai Paneer...I was reminded of my convent education and Jesus's saying, "When one door closes, another opens". And not just another door, there was a third one with halwa!

Feeling proud of myself, my ability to brag and the luck to save it, I started planning for the other aspects of the party. Since this would be like a farewell party that would invoke nostalgia in the future, I thought of using this party for invoking nostalgia of our childhood days. I decided not to put any dress code as dress codes can be problematic and can conflict with people's ideologies. As about the ambience, I decided to clean up my room. It would have been perfect it would have been a godown party. Going by the theme of nostalgia, I decided to make it appear like it used to be some years back, when I shared the room with my sister who was quit hygiene-conscious and had an aesthetic sense. But more importantly, the stack with music cassettes, the old stereo system, those dumb posters of our favorite actors would be back. As for music, radio zindabad! And added to this past "glory" (disaster?) would be those school bus, trip-time games like truth or dare.

The big day is approaching. I have sent out hand-made invitations to my very excited friends. I hope that they will enjoy the delicacies and the time that we will spend together, definitely not for the last time! We will definitely meet, not regularly but we will. And yes, I hope that they will also enjoy my "sweet" and "delicious" lie which I will confess to them and would tell them to try the amazing ready-to-eat delicacies of Kitchens of India

Friday, May 10, 2013

Modern Health care: an inclusive approach to health care

This write-up is an entry for "How does Modern Healthcare touch lives?" contest by Indiblogger and Apollo 

We are all familiar with the phrase "Health is Wealth" but the sad reality is and has always been "heath for those who have wealth". It is generally the wealthy who can afford to care for their health. The millions other are deprived of this right to a healthy body. We all know that owing to their sanitary conditions, the poor are also the most prone to diseases.

With the advent of capitalism, there has been a rapid but an unequal growth. A very famous line "The rich have become richer and the poor poorer" captures the miserable reality. However, this is not to deny some significant efforts that are being made to change this reality. There are efforts by the Government agencies, international agencies, NGOs and private sector like Apollo who are striving for an inclusive healthcare.

I remember the first health insurance advertisement on television where a man comes out of the hospital and is shown to be knocked down by the punch of the hospital bill. Yes, this was definitely one of the worries of the middle and lower-income families. How will they bear the exorbitant hospital bill? The health insurance, a feature of the modern health care, has been an important venture in the life of an average person. Today, it is quite common for a person to invest in a health insurance. The facility of health insurance also permits them to undergo major and expensive surgeries, without caring much about the need to immediately accumulate large sum of money. Though there are also problems with this scheme such as the tendency of doctors do try to create an abnormally expensive bill and the irrelevant tests, the benefit and the indispensability of this facility cannot be ignored.

Free health camp organised by Apollo Hospital in Dhaka
Modern health care and the competitive spirit that it does significantly entail has also proved beneficial to the lower-income and middle-income families in the form of the "Free health camps". It has become quite normal to have full-colour pamphlets reading "Bring this pamphlet and avail a free check-up" or "Free health camp, just for today" in the sunday paper. These free health camps seeks to accommodate any person who can afford to buy the newspaper and ensure a free medical advice. These free health camps are essential as they can identify possible signs of a disease, which we otherwise completely ignore.

One of the most significant changes has been the quota reserved for the lower-income families in private hospitals. Though the Government has tried to create a strong network of Government health care centres and clinics across the nation, it is a known fact that the real picture is dismal. How many of us would opt for them? How many of us trust them? It is not that the poor people trust them but it is just that they don't have an option. There is a lack of infrastructure, poor facilities, careless attitude of doctors and many others problems. Thus, this quota is a significant effort to ensure the lower-income families, a right to proper health care that they deserve.

Apollo's clinic bus for DISHA
Last but definitely not the least, hospitals like Apollo have taken individual steps to realize the humanitarian goal. Apollo is equipped with latest technology and well-qualified doctors and is one of the best known hospitals in the world. It is for this reason that it attracts medical tourists from across the world. This is a well-know and established fact. However, another equally important and commendable task undertaken by Apollo are it's humanitarian initiatives like Disha, SAHI, CURE and SACHi that seek to extend the right to the best health possibilities that Apollo provides, to the economically underprivileged sections of the society. It has tried to extend the privilege to the underprivileged even in the remote areas of the country. In doing so, it also brings out a new, positive and a humanitarian side of the role that non-governmental and private sector can do.

Thus, the modern health care seems to be trying for a more inclusive health care. Health should not only be a concern for the wealthy. It is the right of every person, irrespective of their socio-economic background. Just because someone is poor or subjected to economic violence, he/she is not entitled to suffer. Infact, it is a social responsibility of the privileged to ensure that the freedom (to live a health life) is being extended to them. This seems to be the guiding principle of the inclusive approach to modern health care. This humanitarian/egalitarian approach should be sustained. The modern health care should continue to touch lives, irrespective of any distinction. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Afzal Guru, Sarabjit Singh And Now Sanaullah: The Vicious Cycle Of “Justice”?

Three people have succumbed to the injuries of inhumanity intertwined with extreme nationalism. All three have been linked together to serve “justice”. But have they really served “justice”?

I will begin with the case of Sarabjit Singh. After about 20 years, Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner was attacked by fellow inmates in the Lahore jail. As he struggled for 6 days in the hospital, there was an exchange of dialog between the Indian and Pakistan Government. The Indian Government had requested the Pakistan Government to act on "humanitarian grounds" and release him (the prisoner). The Pakistan Government was claimed to have "positively considered it". However, this positive dialogs could not materialise as Sarabjit could not survive. And now, his death has once again started the vicious circle. Sarabjit has become a national hero in India. Pakistan Government has "again" "betrayed" us and once again, India has proved to be "weak", "powerless" and "submissive". "We" have again "lost".
This is the story that is known on the Indian side of the border. The story on the other side of the border is that Sarabjit Singh, an accused who had pleaded "guilty" in the Karachi bomb blast had been attacked by fellow inmates. He was an Indian "spy" who had been given the death sentence by the Supreme court. The Pakistan Government, however, did everything that they could to save him after the attack in the jail. But he could not be saved. Based on the comments in Pakistani newspapers, the popular reaction has been that "justice" has been served. People argued that "He" who had killed mercilessly was also bound to have a similar fate. They pray for the families of the 14 people who had died.

A third story presented by Sarabjit's kin and advocate Awais Sheikh was that he was not guilty. He was a farmer who had crossed the border in a drunk state. But was falsely implicated in the Karachi bomb blast that had occurred three days before he had crossed the border. He was mistaken to be "Manjit Singh", the accused in the bomb blast. He was "innocent". Sarabjit Singh was under trial.

These are the three versions of the same story and now we should attempt to search the "truth". But is there any? If yes, "who" will establish it? But more importantly, is it important now to establish it? A man has lost his life. A man who was under trial has been killed to serve "justice", as people of Pakistan believed or was made to believe. And now after his death, people of his home country has claimed him and declared him a "martyr".
To me, his story is an appeal as was the story of Afzal Guru. Besides the link that has been drawn by people surrounding “justice”, if we look closely, there are several other similarities in the cases of Sarabjit and Afzal Guru. Both were considered to be "national terrorist". For both, there were mercy pleas. While in the case of Sarabjit, the Indian Government had claimed to have appealed to the Pakistan Government, for Afzal Guru, there were public debates. However, in both the cases, the appeal proved ineffective because they were based on humanitarian grounds, rather than the claim and the evidence to prove that they were perhaps innocent and were falsely implicated. This is surprising as one of the biggest evidence in both the cases were also the "vague" court verdicts. For Sarabjit, the court declared that "whether Sarabjit Singh or Manjit Singh, the name does not matter" and for Afzal, it was even more vague that even though there was no strong evidence, he should be hanged "to satisfy the collective conscience". Both were cases that involved (as constructed) popular sentiments. Both were deprived of a fair and unbiased trial.

However, it is true that Sarabjit was definitely luckier than Afzal who was never declared a "martyr". The people of India are still unaware that to "satisfy" their "collective conscience", an innocent person was hanged to death.

But what is more painful for me is that both of them were perhaps the victims of nationalist politics. With Afzal Guru, democracy was also hanged to death. Afzal was not given a chance to present his petition in the world's largest democracy. In the case of Sarabjit, yet again, a person who may/may not be innocent (he was still under trial) was seen as more an Indian rather than as an accused. This is true not only for Pakistan but also for the Indian Government who kept "pleading" that for "20 years, an Indian has been away from his home country. He should be sent back". What kind of a petition is that? If he had really committed the horrendous crime which I feel that the Indian Government did buy or if he was really a spy, does he have the right to evade punishment just because he is an Indian? A criminal is a criminal, whether he is an Indian or Pakistani. Since it is unclear whether the attack on Sarabjit was planned by the Government, it is unethical to raise questions to them but it is valid to ask them about the security of prisoners, especially the ones whose trial is ongoing. Based on the statement of Awais Sheikh, his advocate, this attack was predictable as there were tensions in Pakistan after the death of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. Why didn't the Pakistan Government took the appropriate measures to ensure his safety?
Sarabjit Singh had succumbed to the injuries of inhumanity and extreme nationalism. Why was he killed? Because he was an accused in a bomb blast or because he was an Indian prisoner whose life had become a source of political and nationalist tension in Pakistan? What had killed him?

Another sad reality is that his death has also re-awakened nationalist sentiments in India. The people of India, the Government and the media has suddenly reclaimed Sarabjit. They have made him a "martyr" not of injustice and inhumanity but of their war against Pakistan. His death has become another opportunity, a "fresh breach", as some media have claimed, in the Indo-Pak relations. The people of India are outraged at this "inhumanity" of Pakistan Government and the competition to prove who is more "inhuman" has begun. The competition has already claimed another life, that of Sanaullah Ranjay, a Pakistani prisoner in the Jammu jail. While some have condemned it, there are others who take it as a “mere reaction” and justify it by arguing that now “justice” has been served.

But now that Afzal Guru, Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah have died, has our "collective conscience" been satisfied? Has justice been served? Have we “responded” satisfactorily to the inhumanity caused? With them, the human has died.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

RIP Sarabjit: Statement by Aaghaz-e-Dosti over the death of Sarabjit Singh



We pray for Sarabjit’s soul. It is an unfortunate reality. However, we condemn the revival of jingoistic sentiments. It is disturbing that a loss of life has become another opportunity to revive jingoism. Sarabjit’s case had been there for two decades but the Indian Government had never took any major step for his release and now after his death, the Prime Minister declared him as “the brave son of the nation”. The Indian Government had asked for a mercy petition for Sarabjit but according to his relatives and his advocate, he was innocent. It was a case of “mistaken identity”. The media was also aware of this but they chose to remain silent. And now they have made short documentaries on the “martyr” and are provoking the people of India. Why were they silent? How does these documentaries suddenly erupt, in a matter of a few hours? We also condemn the response from the opposition leaders. Why were they silent earlier?
It is also unacceptable that the Pakistan Government had neglected the security of an Indian prisoner whose trial was still ongoing. There are several unanswered questions like how were the Pakistani prisoners able to attack Sarabjit when the barracks for Pakistani and Indian soldiers were separate? How were weapons allowed in the jail? We request the Pakistani Government to ensure a  fair and speedy investigation. We also request them to tighten the security of other prisoners in the jail.
We condemn the jingoistic response from both sides. We think that both the Governments had failed. We do not know the “truth” and we do not want to engage in the “if they would have” debate. There have been lapses on both sides. But what we must realise is that above all this politics, a life has been lost…a life that was possibly “innocent”. This is not a moment to politicise his death and shamefully regard it as “another knot” in the Indo-Pak relations.
The general response among the people of Pakistan is that “justice” has been done as they considered him to be a “terrorist”. To them, we say, his trial was still ongoing. And even if he was “guilty”, this was still an unfortunate incident. The judiciary had the sole right to punish him. The people of India, in contrast, are taking it as an “attack” by Pakistan. Suddenly, Sarabjit has become their brother. They are mocking at the Indian Government and debating if India is “weak” and have against started challenging peace initiatives. To them, we say, Sarabjit was a human being who has died as a victim of nationalist politics on both sides. Unless and until, it is proved that the state had a role in his killing, it is unethical to point fingers at them. Instead of asking for a “War”, ask for “JUSTICE”.
RIP Sarabjit Singh

Aaghaz-e-Dosti is an initiative of Mission Bhartiyam to strengthen Indo-Pak friendship. Aaghaz-e-Dosti can be reached and can be visited at

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Confession pages and the power of Anonymity

The Mumbai Mirror reads "FB’s confession pages become a headache for colleges and cops". According to the Report published today i.e. 31st March 2013, several college authorities have lodged complaints to trace the author of anonymous posts who have been posting obscene remarks against female students, posts against the teachers and the administration. 

Confession pages are the new trend on facebook. There are confession pages for schools, colleges, offices and even for Delhi metro. I am not sure if there is one for DTC buses. They are a huge hit. On Delhi Metro Confession page, one of the post read that the confessor is more attentive in metro now so that he/she can get something to post as a confession! 

A careful look at the content of these pages would tell you that they are actually a repository. Ofcourse, many confession pages are also working like the pigeon transport system to deliver love messages, but confession pages are also full of reflections, suggestions and most importantly, frustrations. I have seen confessions by victims of sexual harassment. 

The confession pages of schools and colleges can also give a peek view into their environment.The confessions on the pages tell you what the students are thinking about.  In the LSR confession page, most confessions are a debate on feminism. I feel that in many ways, these pages are also contributing to the environment of the college. As a personal example, the confessions posted on the page are discussed on the page as well as in the college. 

But i propose to give a serious look at the critical comments. According to the report, there is a serious attempt to control this important aspect of the page. While obscene remarks should come under the radar, I cannot make up my mind if the latter deserves censorship.

As I said earlier, confession pages are also becoming another source to vent out frustrations. I have read many confessions against the administration or about how things work in the college. To me, these should be seen as a feedback form. 

One of the confessions that i read was against a teacher. Somebody had commented that the page should not support anti-administration or anti-faculty posts. This person had also said that the confessor should have the guts to go and tell the problem directly, to which somebody commented that it is not possible for a student to go and tell the teacher directly. This is really a fact. Not only do many universities despise self-criticism, it is even worse in the case of a teacher. Not many teachers can take self-criticism, something that is unhealthy. For example, the confession that I am mentioning says that the teacher misbehaves with students. So if this is true, can we imagine the reaction if the student directly goes and complaint? He/She might be humiliated or may even fail.

So i feel that these confessions should be taken as a feedback and not as an offence. If a University bans a confession page, I feel that it is banning these voices and any university which is not self-critical cannot ever be successful. There is, ofcourse, another side to it. The question comes, "what if the person is trying to defame the university or a particular teacher?" I have a solution to check this. If there is a wrong post, people usually react to it and point it out. But in cases when it is true, it does not meet with any opposition. Most of the confessions against teachers and administrations, recorded in the pages that I have seen, have not met with any opposition in terms of the authenticity of the content. 

So if these posts are true and there is really a problem with a teacher or the way university is working, instead of finding out the confessor, the university should look into the matter. Though I myself do not appreciate anonymity to a great extent but in cases where we are dealing with careers, we must understand the importance of anonymity. 

Banning these pages will not be a good solution. It will be even more unhealthy. Ideally speaking, the administration should not try to intervene in this as this is off the campus but if it has to, I think that the Universities should take these pages seriously and treat them as feedback forms.