Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What if v/s If only…

The tough choices we need to make in the now of our life

We were all born to be the John Galts or Dagny Taggarts of the world,
It is our own choices that make us like James Taggart or Lilian Rearden.
It takes courage to take the road John Galt took.
What happens to most people around is that they start off on the John Galt path,
but somewhere down the line fear overcomes them and they end up as, Hank Rearden...

The times that we live in, lead us to cross roads of tough decisions every single day. Each day we encounter situations where we have to choose the road we want to take while moving ahead in life. It could be anything… A career decision, a relationship drama, or an investment plan - it all comes down to making a decision, a binary choice, yes or no.

It is important for us to make these choices, and wisely at that. But it is also equally important for us to take full responsibility of the consequences that these decisions would bear.

We have all made choices in our life. Those choices never leave us. The choice between red and blue, between mathematics and biology, between passion and career, and a lot more; they are always lingering close to us, waiting for the final decision to be made, to decide the course of life.

Lately, I have observed people who have somehow mastered the art of procrastination, so much so, that the decisions have been hanging for years and not months. At this point, their life appears like the good old Indian judicial system, where the decisions hang on for generations in a row. The reason for procrastination - well, the ever lingering fear of making a bad decision or worse, some sort of guilt.

Bad decisions… Is there a way of telling a good decision from bad? If there were such a way, then what would be the fun of life? Isn’t life about experiences and learning from those experiences? It is not about a bad decision or a good decision. It is about making a decision or a choice when it calls. If turns out to be good, great! If not, then take a corrective measure and fix it.

Nobody is expected to pursue a career in the stream of education that they do not relate with, or a career that is not fulfilling, or a relationship/marriage where either or both the partners are unhappy. A decision made, we should keep our eyes open to observe how those decisions are shaping up and our heart open to make necessary corrections.

What most of us forget is that there is a difference between taking responsibility of the consequences and living with the consequences. Taking responsibility is a positive trait that helps us learn from those experiences and better ourselves. Living with the consequences has a negative connotation attached to it. Living with the consequences sounds like becoming a prisoner to one’s own decisions.

Life is such a beautiful gift! To wake up each morning and realize that we have another day to live, to learn, and to shape our lives the way we want. Why waste such a beautiful gift in regrets!

So, wake up my friends… Enroll for that certificate course that you have been feeling so dicey about, apply for that job that you think will take you a step closer to your dream. And not to forget, pick-up your mobile and make that phone call to the girl or boy you love so much but haven’t really expressed as much. It is once in eons that we meet that one person who fulfills and nurtures our soul, let that person know how you feel, find a way to make things work.

Years ago, I read somewhere that we are all cut out of a unique soul and sent in this world to explore and gather experiences. While we are just one half of that soul, there remains another half wandering and gathering experiences of its own. It takes several lives for these souls to find each other. And once united, the experience is nothing less than Magic. For all those, who have been lucky enough to meet the other half of their wandering souls, but have been taken aback by the challenges that lie on the way, go ahead and make it work. We are not here on this planet to live forever, but each living moment of our life is worth spending with the person we want to.

The same logic applies to career decisions as well. What’s the point of baking cookies for a living when you love training dogs? Why force yourself to climb a tree when you’re already proficient in swimming? Why bury yourself in charts and tables and let them kill you, when you actually want to explore the wild?

There are hurdles in our dreams but it is those hurdles which make that dream worth accomplishing. To overcome those hurdles or to sit and procrastinate is the choice that life has given you, today. Let’s not wait for the grandfather years to come by, just to sit and think, “If only…”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Twilight of Religious Tolerance

It’s 2.30 am in India and officially Diwali of the year 2015 and I could not find a better moment to pen this down. Diwali, the festival of lights...

The last few weeks, no, actually in the last few years we have witnessed a lot of furore over Hindu-Muslim controversies, love Jihad, and lately religious tolerance.

A couple of weeks back I watched a recital by Zeeshan Ayub of Nazir Akbarabadi’s poem, Diwali. The poem paints a beautiful picture of Deepawali celebrations with sweets and lights from the standpoint of a spectator who loves this festival, who also happens to be the poet, incidentally a Muslim.

6th December 1992, the fateful day when Babri Masjid was demolished in an attempt to reclaim the Ram Janmabhoomi, Ayodhya; that day began the infamous riots across India. I was merely 8 years old at that point, and the only understanding that I had of riots at that point was an indefinite vacation. These vacations though, were unlike any other experienced till that point. We were not allowed to step out of the house due to curfew and witnessed constant terror of the family members throughout.

While house-arrest due to evident terror in itself would be enough to ruin any sense of democracy at an impressionable age, there was more. Every evening around twilight the curfew siren was blown and as if on cue began the recital of “Jai Sri Ram” and “Allah-Hu-Akbar”. And while these recitals were still on, sets of frantic of both religions looted, killed and raped the people of another religion, of which we read in the newspapers next morning…

Twilight, that has been the source of inspiration to many a poets and writers; twilight, which is considered the most romantic hour of the day. To this day, the same twilight brings in the sense of uneasiness and dread that the 8 year old child experienced. To this day, I dread the sound of both “Jai Sri Ram” and “Allah-Hu-Akbar”. And, to this day, I dread men wearing saffron or skull-caps. I find myself averse to any display of religious sentiments irrespective of the intent to be precise.

Babri Masjid was demolished to reclaim the Ram Janmabhoomi. All this, on the secular soils of India; and then we had the face to criticize Taliban for demolishing the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Ayodhya till 1992 had the potential of being made into Jerusalem of India, or better still, Hagia Sophia like Turkey. That act would have reinforced the sense of religious tolerance not what we actually did or are doing now.

As a child, I always pictured a multicultural family with members of different religions and nationalities coming together to celebrate all the festivals of the world. As a grown up today, I just sit and celebrate these festivals by myself and yearn for a world where this would be possible. Although that world keeps receding with each passing day, with each vote won over caste, creed, race and religion. Each day, I wake up to not a secular state but the mockery of secularism.

During the riots in my childhood, I pictured all the gods, Allah, Jesus et al, sitting together in the divine living room clink their glasses of holy Elixir and watch Tom & Jerry together. I still picture them doing that, only they watch live updates from planet earth and cringe with each act of us mortals.

Religious tolerance has become the latest keyword of discussions. Tolerance… the notion itself brings in the sense of putting up with something unpleasant. Why have we come down to the stage where we made something intolerant to then preach tolerance? Why did we make other religions intolerable in the first place?

Watching Zeeshan Ayub recite that poem, I can finally concur with Shah Rukh Khan. We are indeed heading towards the dark ages. The ages that we cannot trace in history as all records were destroyed; the period that would look like a patch of no-man’s land in the pages of history. Oh! To hell with science, technology, education, modernization and globalization!

*Did I just hear the glasses clink?*

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The great LinkedIn dilemma

A networking platform or playground for admirers?

Almost two months ago, Chalotte Proudman, a barrister in human rights law at the CHambers of Michael Mansfield QC lashed out at Alexander Carter-Silk for allegedly misogynist remarks on LinkedIn. Carter-Silk, being an expert in protection of copyright, design rights and trademarks at the London firm Brown Rudnick, became a subject of public scrutiny on various forums - online and off; for what would you expect from the world at large if such behaviour comes from that educated an individual!

Reading that, I just had one question on my mind, who does that on LinkedIn? I mean, we’re all used to being subjected to such behaviour on informal platforms like Facebook et al, and we gracefully ignore them, too. But LinkedIn is a professional platform, primarily meant for the purpose of networking in order to hire or get hired.

Another thought that later crept into my mind was, thank god! That never happened to me. As I thought I was not really prepared to handle such crass behaviour on a platform like LinkedIn. Another, advantage that I thought I held was that I never considered myself to fall in the league of women who bag such admiration (I have always been thankful for that). And as providence might have it, the events that followed got me to have a taste of it.

On Oct 10, 2015, I received a connection request from an employee of my previous organisation. On finding plenty of common colleagues as his connections, I accepted the request and within moments I received a message from this gentleman,
To receive such a message on LinkedIn was a first and given the tone of this message, I wasn’t sure if his intent was to make a sexist remark or it just didn’t come out right. I let the incident pass giving the benefit of doubt to the person in question, without responding of course.

The reason why I’m writing about the incident today is because, yesterday, Nov 4th, 2015, I received another message from a person who had sent in a connection request a few days back. This gentleman incidentally “couldn’t hold himself,”
With such incidents to back my case, I’m sharing my experience today while I have quietly removed them from my network. But I really fail to understand why do people show such mannerisms at all?

With all the LinkedIn insights and profile enhancement recommendations, my profile visibility goes down if I take my profile picture off. If I do keep it intact, I will be receiving such postcards of admiration every now and then.

Monday, November 2, 2015

That pound of flesh! Or is it fat?

The last one week was really horrid for me. Why? Well, I checked my weight last Sunday and my weight happened to be x which was perfect for my age and height. On Tuesday, a health camp was set up at my work place and I walked in for overall check up only to know that my weight had gone up to x+3. Although, x+3 also happened to fall in the normal range of BMI, this wasn’t a great sign by health standards among other things.

My torment began more in the form of anxiety as I have a challenge - I cannot diet. Not that I am fond of food or something but I just can’t cut down on my meals. And, I can’t really exercise much - backache and all that, you see.

While I was really evaluating plausible options to reduce the extra pounds, I happened to stumble upon several articles and posts online. Call it a sign of the universe or just timing but, these posts had me pondering for more than my own weight.

Almost a year ago, I got to know of a colleague who faced a really hard time emotionally after having a child. Besides post-partum depression her husband started avoiding her, in public and in privacy. While this went on for almost three to four months, one fine day she confronted him only to be told that she wasn’t presentable enough to earn his love. My heart ached for this woman while she went on a severe diet program and also became an active consumer of several beauty products.

There is another husband who insisted on doing a doggy-style only to avoid the sight of his wife’s belly fat. His wife also took to several exercise programs at a neighbourhood gym only to gain more weight and develop several health complications. Incidentally, this woman was under-weight and didn’t really have much to lose.

And then there was a girlfriend who after almost a decade long relationship with her partner, decided to put him on a diet followed by a popular Hindi film star. This man, too, kept up with her antics for nearly two years before finally giving up on the diet and this woman.

Just when I was thinking that I am being too judgmental and that these instances are one in a million, I read this account of a woman whose husband switched off the lights while making love as he found her fat and ugly.

With such experiences in my bag, I was indeed surprised to read the letter of a husband to a photographer complaining that with Photoshop she took away everything that makes up their life.

I was all the more surprised to read the account where Pierce Brosnan threatened to divorce his wife if she went ahead with a liposuction.

The real problem, I feel sometimes, is in the portrayal of individuals in films and television. We fail to realize that most people we see on the silver screen earn their bread and butter out of their physical appearance. Among those, too, are actors like Kate Winslet who embrace their body and age to save average individuals from poor body image.

Amazing is the fact that we are all educated individuals who know the difference between films and real life, and yet we succumb to such notions to make our lives none less than hell.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Selfie obsessed much!

In 2013 a new addition was made in the Oxford English Dictionary - selfie. While we had all studied and experimented with self portraits as part of our curriculum in media school, this new word along with easy social media access brought about a new found selfie culture.

What I really find interesting is the fact that today the moment I step out of my house, I find these ladies and gentlemen pouting and making funny faces on the front cameras of their mobile phones. I once travelled almost 35km from my place on a metro and observed a certain lady sitting next to me, who kept clicking selfies till I got off. What I didn’t realize was that she was the first of many such specimens that I was to encounter.

At cafes, restaurants, malls and even movie theatres, I see these men and women taking their own pictures while keeping company of their friends and family. There’s a mother asking her daughter if she’d have a pizza or a Sub, while the daughter is engrossed in taking selfies. There are couples taking their individual selfies while spending together time.

A friend once borrowed my mobile phone for a “minute” and returned that to me after almost half an hour and my memory card full of some 117 odd selfies. However, this is not even the trailer of what has now become a selfie rage or selfie obsession.

I recently had to travel out of town for some work and had to take an early morning flight. What began the moment I got out of my cab at 6.45 am was nothing less than a Selfie zombie movie. So, I stepped inside the terminal and started locating the counter of airlines I was travelling with. All of a sudden a young man who was walking along pulling his luggage suddenly came to a halt. What happened next rendered me numb for a while. This young man was posing against an airlines counter holding his selfie stick.

Once recovered, I finally checked-in and proceeded towards security check. On my way, I encountered several people taking selfies or dualfies or groupfies. But again, this was just the beginning. Thankfully, security checks still demand putting all devices on a tray, so this region had people walking straight, not tangling in the feet of fellow travelers and for a change looking at each other like human beings.

Out of the security and in the terminal mall, as I like to call it, began another round of selfie-bombardment. People were not just taking their pictures but also pictures with the merchandise in those stores. As a site-merchandiser, my constant struggle is to improve footfalls on the website. These stores are definitely in the footfall area if not conversions.

Finally, boarding was announced and for a moment I thought that the now the focus would shift to the immediate task - “board the bus-deboard the bus-board the aircraft”. But, oh so wrong was I. 

What began now was another series of selfie onslaught. So, there were selfies in the boarding queue, selfies at the boarding gate, selfies while walking towards the bus, selfies in the bus AND, selfies with the aircraft in the background. Phew!

While this went on amusing a larger part of me, a smaller optimistic part of me still banked upon the faith in human intelligence. Well, actually not faith in human intelligence but an evil, sadistic feeling that what are these selfians going to do inside the plane.

What began once we’d boarded and seated was an amazing experience of my lifetime. That flight alone gave me a great perspective into human psychology and behavior.

So, there was a middle aged man sitting next to me and two men sitting in the front row. The guy next to me turned the flight mode on and as the aircraft started taxing towards the runway he switched his front camera on. In the next 150 minutes he took vertical selfies, horizontal selfies, diagonal selfies, selfies with different filters, and selfies in different modes.

And the gentlemen sitting in the front row were even better. They took their individual selfies - vertical, horizontal and diagonal. Then they took dualfies, again - vertical, horizontal and diagonal. And the middle of their precious photo-op, they turned around once or twice to give me the dirtiest of the looks. I wondered what really invited such as glance and then realized that being seated in the middle of the row, I was unintentionally photo-bombing their dualfies.

I gave out a sigh of relief the moment this flight touched down at my destination as I was glad that this was hopefully the climax of the Selfie Zombie movie that I was caught in.

What I really found curious in this entire selfie spree was that none of these brilliant self photographers bothered to capture the beautiful sunrise at Delhi airport nor did they bother about the view outside of their windows. They didn’t even try to fix the camera angle to get a better composition of light and shadows. It was just their selves that they sought to redeem in some magical manner by consuming the potion of infinite selfies.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Bombshell Signs of Aging

A few days back, a much younger colleague of mine got to know my age and remarked that I’m becoming an old hag. My reaction to that was that I always wanted to grow up, and fast. To be 30 meant achieving the biggest milestone of one’s life; and it indeed was a milestone of my life.

For the last 10 years or so, I have been seeing so many friends and colleagues, running after beauty products, anti-aging products and even Photoshop/filters only to look much younger than what they really are, to the extent of a seeming youth mania.

I sometimes feel tempted to ask, how ‘bout turning into a six month old infant? They all want to look younger, don’t they? What’s better than turning into an infant! That is after all, the ultimate destination and an underlying expectation.

Age has been the ultimate, inevitable truth of life. So then, why are we so scared of something that would prove that we have lived our share? Why do we keep running after the fountain of superficial youth while we keep making attempts to kill the real youth within?

A cosmetic company did a “7 signs of aging” campaign a few years back to cash upon the low self esteem of their target base. With my 31st around the corner I thought of doing my own take on the 7 signs of aging in an attempt to restore the lost pride...

1.       Generation gap:
When you look at a girl wearing extra short dress and suddenly panic that she forgot to wear her pants
2.       The Body of Truth:
When you notice the change in weather because your bones started aching
3.       Did your waistline just crack up?
When your waistline throws a tough competition to your age-line
4.       Alone time:
When you appreciate spending weekends home, sleeping
5.       Tax-savers.inc:
When night-out fun means buying your favourite liquor, getting food packed and crashing at your own place or a friend’s
6.       From Taj Mahal to the Leaning Tower of Pisa:
When an increase in bra size stops meaning bloom but sag
7.       Back to the era of Scarlett O’Hara:
When you need a corset only to be able to make use of all those clothes in your closet

Now, now, aging ain’t all that bad. Don’t believe me? Well, read on…
1.       You finally feel in control of your life
2.       You are financially stable
3.       Your friend circle has reduced to a sensible few
4.       You’ve stopped caring about who says what about you not in defiance but in indifference. You have come a long way, really.
5.       You see the traces of crow’s feet at the corner of your eyes and humour lines around your mouth? Know that you’ve laughed all the years behind you and smile again.
6.       You’ve ditched the magazine look book as you no more care about general perception but your own comfort and taste
7.       That red lipstick doesn’t scream for attention any more, but blends with your personality
8.       You are more open to experiment with your food, makeup, clothes, travel and more, not to please someone else but for your own experience

Well, you see? You are full of grace about your life and the choices that you’ve made. Aging is the proof that you have lived your own share and not trying to hide that means that you have loved each day that you lived.

So, dear ladies and gentlemen… Stop dreading the only proof of your life. Stop dreading the age, embrace it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mard or Not - The love that stifles

In the last one year I have been showered with a lot of admiration by many people at work and in personal life. The cause of their admiration - well, how I have managed things after my old man took off to the other dimension.

This admiration, however, seems ironical. No, don’t get me wrong, I mean no insult. I take this admiration with all the humility that I have in my being. I like to be admired for all the admirable qualities in me. But this I have to take with a pinch of salt as part of me realizes that this admiration originates from the fact that nobody expected me to take such responsibility in my lifetime, and a bigger part of me also realizes that a lot many of these admirers still expect me to succumb to the pressure and snap.

I have been speaking a lot about gender equality in my posts like everybody else. We all speak of gender equality all the time but somewhere deep down we still consider ours girls fragile. We bring them up in the manner of a fairy-tale where a prince always comes to the rescue of the damsel in distress. While we expect them to educate themselves and climb up the ladder in their careers, we still do not approve of them using cuss words, or dealing with tough situations all by themselves, or giving a piece of their mind to older people getting on their nerves.

Oh! Our girls are loved, so much loved that it’s almost like being stifled in love. We scream equality and jump to their rescue all the time. We expect them to run to us every time they find themselves in trouble instead of telling them to deal with it and manage on their own. We raise them to be independent and then send them to attend culinary courses so that they get married easily and please their sasural. We take pride in their successful career but return the gifts brought by them manifolds.

I particularly remember a very close friend of mine who was going through legal separation due to a fraudulent marriage and abusive in-laws. The in-laws, even after the judicial separation banked upon the girl’s docility and kept stalking her through infinite phone calls preaching the ideal role a daughter-in-law and wife in Indian culture. During one such call, I happened to be around and she passed on her mobile to me as the situation was getting too much for her to handle. While I took the call and after hearing them out, gave them a piece of my mind, her father was especially annoyed at my behavior. According to him, I shouldn’t have done what I did as I am a good girl raised in a good family.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m living in some other planet where people are just twisted in their demeanor. A guy wants an independent girl who has her own opinion, who would just not care about who-thinks-what. And the moment her gets married to her, he starts expecting her to play the ideal bahu, forgetting that she is also an equal human being, and her family to treat him like the conventional damaad.

The scene from a recent film, Dil dhadakne do, was not a piece of imagination but a full bite of reality. We still live in a world where many husbands think that it’s them who permitted their wives to pursue their careers.

A lot of my bachelor friends who have been working for 10 years or so have started investing in property and such while the bachelorette friends are saving up in the form of fixed deposits or gold jewellery. When I randomly asked why, their response was that they would get married and then the pati will manage all such matters as these are men's responsibilities. This response was surprisingly unanimous, and as to the use of FDs was wedding trousseau and not even honeymoon, because - what self-respecting guy would let his wife contribute to honeymoon expenses!

All the years when my parents were bringing me up as a gender neutral child, I thought they didn’t love me as I was never given a special treatment for being a girl. When all the girls and sometimes even boys in my school got most help from their parents filling up the forms and doing bank work, I was left on my own. I filled my first OMR form incorrectly in 12th std, I signed my first cheque incorrectly at the age of 18, and I figured. I figured how to do all that on my own and the right way.

When I got married out of my own choice, my father boycotted me for four years. He missed me terribly but didn’t contact me and turned down all my attempts to contact him. Once in that phase, my mom got impatient and blamed him for raising me in such a manner that I did not obey my parents. My father’s response to her summed up my upbringing. He said, “I raised her to be capable enough to make her own decisions in life and learn from the consequences, to take ownership of those consequences. I have given her the courage to learn from her own experiences, her own mistakes and I am so damn proud of her.

Sometimes even I feel as if I’m living a nightmare and that something should wake me up. That when I will wake up, I would find him sitting right next to me, watching me sleep. I live each day at a time, not thinking about yesterday, not thinking about tomorrow - just one day at a time. In that day, I avoid thinking about him. I deliberately put his thoughts away, I don’t look at his picture and I talk about him in present tense.

When I do get weaker, I think of the five years when was posted in Mumbai while we lived in Delhi, and the time when he was in Baghdad, and the time when we lived in the same city but did not see each other for four years. Then I imagine that he is a secret agent, on a secret mission and cannot contact us; that when he will finally accomplish his mission, he would come back and see that I lived it up. And then, he would take me on his lap, wrap me in his shawl like mother-hen and rock me as he used to.

Till then, I go on… I go on, just the way I am used to, and supposed to.

And to my admirers, please raise your kids not like girls or boys but like individuals so that they can both live by their own experiences and not borrowed ones, so that they learn from their own mistakes.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Abuse - From the wrong side

While a lot is being said about women being abused by men, domestic violence, marital rape and what not, we often miss out on the other side. No, no, I am not trying to justify the act of violence against women but just trying to shed some light on the men who are subjected to violence by women. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well, let me assure you, this happens and a lot at that.

As a society, we have made such a stereotype of “being a man” that being a man itself sometimes becomes a problem. We instill the gyaan that men do not cry while bringing up our sons. We tell them not to pursue finer interests in life in order to become, doctors, engineers or such as they would be the primary breadwinners of the family. We tell them not to wince at pain as they are expected to have high pain tolerance and above all, we embarrass them if they ever come complaining about a woman who harassed them - physically or emotionally.

While we scorn at men who get abusive against women in fits of anger, we always try to find an excuse to vindicate a woman who does the same. She must have been so depressed. He must have said something to annoy her to that extent. While that could be a possibility, we cannot always excuse a woman’s action as a possible reaction.

If a man says that he is not interested in a day job as his wife’s income is enough to take care of the household, we again unleash our judgment on that person without really bothering to get into the deeper facts. But if, at the same time, a woman decides to quit her career for no plausible reason, we take it for granted or worse still, we again judge the man for not letting her pursue her career.

I recently stumbled across a post on social media where all the abusive celebrity relationships were illustrated for public judgment. The only question that kept reverberating in my head was, “How many men must have been through the same while nobody is even aware?” The article mentioned women who were abused by suspicious partners, partners who were alcoholic, who had temper issues in general and more.

What about men who have been abused by suspicious wives, alcoholic wives or wives with bipolar disorder? Our societal pressure is such that these men could never come out in the open to talk about these matters. We always ask our girls after they get married, if they’re treated well by their husbands and in-laws.

Do we ever bother to ask our sons if they are indeed happy? Do we ever ask them if they have got what they sought in their partner? What we do ask is, if their wife cooks well for them, if she manages the household as expected. We never ask if they are in a peaceful relationship. We don’t bother ourselves to ask if there are any signs of abuse, physical or mental.

When I walked out of my marriage, I was asked if my husband abused me. I was asked if the abuse so bad that I had to leave him. I wonder if men are asked a similar question. What they would be asked is, if there is another woman in their life. And god forbid, if the answer is positive. The man in that situation would be termed as a living monster, guy who is characterless and heartless. And if the answer is negative, then this guy would be called a fool for walking out on a marriage.

So basically, we have trapped our men in a game. A game where they cannot become victims because that’s not manly, where they cannot become oppressors because that’s monstrous, where they are left with no choice but to live with it, every single day.

Think about it, is this what we call equality? Is this the kind of situation we want ourselves to be in?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The taint of Vajapeya

धर्मनिरपेक्षता का नाटक ना रच, उसका पालन करने वाले पहले वाजपेयी की कुलज्योति हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।
जो वाजपेय यज्ञ कर समाज से बहिष्कृत हुए, वह वाजपेयी हैं हम।
रीवां के राज कुल को शिक्षा देने वाले राजगुरु के वंशज हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।
रानी लक्ष्मी बाई की सेना में जो शामिल हुए उनकी कुलज्योति हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।
शून्य से अपना साम्राज्य खड़ा करने का दम रखते हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।
महामारी की मार से बच कर जी लेते हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।
भाषा के पाणिनि हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।

परिश्रमी हैं हम, पराक्रमी हैं हम - वाजपेयी हैं हम।
कुर्क हुए पर डटे रहे, फ़िरंगियों से लड़ते रहे, वह साहसी हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम 
कलम और कटार अपने ख़ून में ले कर विजयी होते हैं हम, वाजपेयी हैं हम।

Vajpeyi? Who are Vajpeyis? This is the question I have often been subjected to, although in stereotypical Indian context what they mean to know is, which part of the caste structure they belong. And I, more often than not, cringe when they say, “Vajpeyi to Pandit hote hain na?

I cringe, not because I am ashamed of the Vajpeyi lineage but because we have been more than that, much more. Through different generations we have excelled in various occupations. Each generation outshone the previous one with their excellence and the path they chose.

From being priests of the highest order to being teachers to entrepreneurs to warriors to bankers to grammarians to journalists to banker again to journalist again, the Vajpeyi clan has seen it all.
The legend goes, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, religious frantic as he was, happened to order the killing of several Brahmins. This led to a situation of immense disturbance in the state and at one point even posed a threat to his position as the ruler. Several experts were consulted to resolve the matters and astrologers also happened to be a part of this team.

These astrologers recommended Vajapeya Yagya in order to restore peace and harmony in the territory. Due to the immense violence that Aurangzeb has authorized, all Brahmins of the state boycotted him and refused to perform the yagya. At that point, one Brahmin came forward and offered to perform the ritual. While the rest of the clan disowned this person and his family, and his family disowned him, he and his successors were christened as the first of Vajpeyis.

Several generations later, in 1857 when the Indian warriors started uniting in order to fight the British out of the country, a young Vajpeyi called Kanhaiya Lal joined the army of Rani Laxmi Bai. Jhansi at that point used to be a part of Rewa state, now a small town in Madhya Pradesh while Jhansi remains in Uttar Pradesh. Kanhaiya Lal was the grandson of Rewa kingdom’s Rajguru, while his father was a Zamindaar.

While the entire army fought and lost the first war of Indian independence, Kanhaiya Lal like many others ran for his life as the British troops set out on a headhunt. Crossing several towns and cities, Kanhaiya Lal finally paused and settled in Ram Nagar district of UP with his family. He never gave up on his passion for liberation of the nation. He used to go out for a walk sometimes and did not return for several months, his family meanwhile did not ask questions. The times were dark, and not being aware was the best way to safeguard a secret. And so they kept up with his prolonged and unpredictable absences at regular intervals.

Kahaiya Lal’s son, Sati Deen Vajpeyi although had a different calling all together. Sati Deen was a banker at heart and he happened to become the first entrepreneur of the bloodline. He became a financier in his village and expanded to several villages thereafter and kept expanding till the plague of 1896-98, when he and his wife succumbed to the epidemic. They left behind two sons, an 8 year old and a 2.5 year old, who were orphaned and homeless, who were not taken in by their step-brother and so they set out on their journey for survival.

The elder one being a child that he was, he could not take care of the younger sibling and lost him, too. But he did not give up his instinct for survival and his quest for knowledge. He took up a day-laborer’s job in Kanpur under the care of an uncle from extended family who showed up every month on the day on wage pay-out only take his earnings away. The boy, realizing in a few months’ time that this will be a never-ending cycle of oppression fled from Kanpur and tagged along a group of ascetics heading towards Lahore.

On reaching Lahore, now 17, the boy took up several jobs of manual labour to afford the cost of his education and at the age of 30, he came back to Kanpur with a degree of Acharya (post-graduation) and set-off his writing career.

This 8 year old grew up to be known as Acharya Kishoridas Vajpeyi, the Panini of Hindi Grammar. Hindi, till that point of time, was not organized enough to be given the status of a language. It comprised of several dialects and people spoke as they pleased. Kishoridas along with two of his associates created and catalogued the grammar of Hindi as we know and practice today.

All through these generations, right from Kanhaiya Lal, while the occupation of progeny changed with their skill and expertise, the flame of passion remained to be Independence. Kishoridas, set up his own printing press against the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 and started publishing anti-British literature leading up to confiscation, not once, not twice, but thrice!

Upon each confiscation, Kishoridas proudly marched to the jail while his wife hid herself, their two daughters and a son in woods for the fear of British. Kishoridas’ son, Madhusudan Vajpeyi, took the legacy of language forward and became a journalist. Those were still the times of British and walking on the footsteps of his father, he relished in publishing articles reflecting his fiery anti-British opinion.

Madhusudan Vajpeyi or Madhav, as he was fondly addressed by those close to him, was succeeded by his son Raj Krishna Vajpeyi, my father. Raj Krishna, was born with the gift of language, an analytical eye of a mathematician and a philosophical vision of life. At the age of 17, he completed his B.Sc. and joined IIT Kanpur to study Mathematics. He became a banker on completion of his education and pursued his profession as his passion.

It is his battle for free expression, against giving in to the life’s battles that we, his two daughters, have taken on. It is this battle against the so-called society that we shall win.

Am I proud of being a Vajpeyi? Of course, I am! I am proud of the quality of education that runs into our bloodline. I am proud of the survival instinct in our DNA. I am proud that each Vajpeyi has left a mark in his line of occupation, in his own way. And I hope that I will, in my lifetime, make my ancestors proud.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Love, Life, Happiness... = Happy Nest

I’ve often wondered about these; more often than anybody would like to believe. Once I got drunk at a friend’s place and quite seriously asked her to define love. While the incident was quite funny, the answer to this question is extremely important. There isn’t one definition that we can attach to love as love is not a principle of physics or chemistry. Love is as abstract as anything can get. And yet it is the defining moment in everybody’s life.

Love… It could be for anything or anyone around us. One could love a dog, a hobby, nature, an activity or a person. Love does not amount to possession. Love is like a nurturing soil that does not transform you but gives your soul enough food to grow taller and stronger. Love is, in fact, the essence of one’s being.

Today when I see my kid sister all grown and ready to step into youth, I think about the heart-breaks that await her around the corner, that are a part of growing up. These heart-breaks are inevitable just as growing up is and yet these are the heart-breaks that would give her enough wisdom to appreciate love, when that happens.

I see around, infinite examples of people living love with those who try to change their being. Who want to see a reflection of what they think is perfect in their partners and this struggle becomes an endless loop. So blinding is the initial glow of love that we fail to realize that what we are seeing is not what the other person is but, what we really want to see. And by the time we do realize, it’s too late for many.

People either go for a complete antithesis justifying the theory of magnetism only to discover revulsion at a later stage when all the Oxytocin has worn off. Or they find admiration in the extreme similarities that they share with another person only to realize that those were at a superficial level and that at the core they so different a personality that they stifle each other’s being.

The nurturing soil of love does not call for a code of conduct as the conduct comes naturally when there is compatibility at molecular level. The two people involved could appear as different as a night club and a Church on the surface but the inner architecture of their souls, the constitution of their existence just fits into one another. And such is the chemistry that they share that one could not tell them apart if one had to, for that is how they blend.

They blend not to lose their identity as some might mistake, but they blend to enhance each other’s identity to make better souls out of one another. All this, although, runs at a granular level where none of them is dictating terms to each other and none of them tries to bring about a “compromise”. This blending is so effortless and so flawless by its very nature that the outcome looks as if it was always meant to be this way.

This doesn’t mean that one has to look for a perfect partner. A perfect partner would be like God. And who can live with God! Perfection in a relationship comes with the blend that we create, together. Imagine a house absolutely perfect…perfect walls, perfect décor, perfect upholstery… Such a house could not be a home for the owners, pets or guests. Such a house could become a sample for perfect pictures in magazines but not a home. For home is where the furniture is slightly dented, where there are a few mismatched pieces of cutlery, where the pillow cases do not always match bed sheets, where the walls get scratches soon after whitewash no-matter-what.

Perfection is something to be achieved together. It doesn’t come from visiting exotic places or fine dining or fancy cars. It comes from sharing our sub-conscious thoughts openly, without the fear of being judged. It comes from letting our demons free and accepting each other’s demons at the same time. And this perfection does not come with insecurities; it comes with an instinct that you wouldn’t be betrayed.

It’s not about living love but loving life… That is when we can experience happiness and that is when we take the first step towards building a happy nest.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A tribute to single-mothers

Single mothers… The term single motherhood inspired an unprecedented kind of awe in me and always made me think on the lines of independence and power. Not just single mothers, fatherhood too, had an inspiring role to play in my life. I endeavored to become like my father. To express myself like him, to become an all rounder like him and inspire my kids like him. As a child, my favourite game used to be role-play, where I'd become papa and mumma and enact different situations.

When I turned 21, I told my school friend that I can now become a father. “Ab main baap ban sakta hun,” were my words to him. As destiny would have it, I became a father a year back. A year back, began a journey that I had never anticipated as, like all kids, I always took my father’s presence for granted. And in the last few weeks I eventually learnt about single-motherhood as well. That, because once again like all kids, I took my mother’s presence for granted.

It so happened that my mother, sister and dog fell ill at the same time, two of them suffering viral fever and the other with preliminary symptoms of dengue. What followed was a stressful period of nursing them and managing (read mismanaging) work. While on one hand the patients in the house needed proper meals. On the other, my work place expected my presence as my role calls for it to drive the business.

Given the circumstances, I did take leave of absence to be able to do the chores and run all the errands unhindered. But one cannot completely disconnect from the job that provides for you. Thus began a part-hilarious, part-frustrating roller-coaster ride that had me taking calls about where I have stored a certain file in shared folder while trying to buy a papaya plant at a nearby nursery. The plant chose not to survive… So, the next time I decided to visit that nursery to buy papaya leaves, I tripped on the pavement and almost nosedived into the shallow cliff where it is located. When my mom kept instructing me through her delirious fever to switch off all the lights before sleeping, and my dog decided to go on a barking fit just when I was about to sleep each night.

Looking at the recovering faces was enough to energize me and keep me going. Every morning I gathered myself and got into action as there wasn’t any time to sit back and think. This period also gave me a tad bit of time to discover that my mobile phone has a Hindi keyboard that supports Devnagri script.

But, this did show me the other side of the story, too. I experienced what my mother does as a single-mother and what every single-mother on this planet does every single day. Those seven days seemed never ending with the days starting at 6 in the morning and going on till post-midnight. Each day had me stepping out of the house at least five times and each day had me saluting all mothers who go through this without a wince.

And also, fatherhood… Men are always expected to be strong, to bear it all and never utter an expression of pain. To provide for the family, always appear energetic and look interested in the household trivia. To do what is expected of them and never to think of their own wishes or desires, wants or needs. Think of a person who goes through this entire cycle and is not even allowed to shed tears!

The last one week taught me that, I too, cannot afford to shed tears. The last week humbled me as nothing else could. The last week added a bit more to my ever-inspiring awe for single-mothers and fathers - It’s called respect!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Empower Equality

It’s middle of the night and I’d almost slept. Yes, almost; and then I woke up to write this piece. The latest video by Vogue Empower with Deepika Padukone has created a buzz in the cyber world with some in favour and some against it. While I do not appreciate the entire philosophy of that video, I do find that video resonate my voice in some ways.

The video talks of a woman’s right to have sex before marriage, out of marriage or no sex at all. While some might find this supporting adultery, I see this in a different light. As a teenager, I saw many of my friends giving in to the pressure of their boyfriends to have sex only to be dumped later or be labelled as someone with a “loose character”. My first break-up happened because the guy wanted to make it to the bed while I wasn’t prepared. And when I walked out within three months of that relationship God knows the mental torture that I went through for the next four years with awful, filthy messages… So awful was it that I ended up changing my mobile number, for good.

In the years that followed, I saw my friends quitting their well-paying jobs because their better halves had a problem with them earning more than the man of the family. There was this particular instance in my marriage where my ex-husband was really upset by the fact that the nominee of the flat that I purchased was one of my family members and not himself.

And, no sex at all… We’re all aware of the number of marital rape cases and instances when the boy-friends force themselves upon their partners to satiate their carnal desires. And there is no end to the questions like, “who are you with?”, “where are you?”, “what time will be back home?” and these questions asked in that order.

The point is that a woman has an equal right to say a yes or no. She has an equal right to remain in a relationship or marriage or walk out of it. She has an equal right to demand sex and refuse it. She has an equal right to stay out and party, or not. You can’t dictate her just the way you can’t dictate a man.
Having said that, this does not give a veto-power to women either; while I have seen many an oppressed women around in my mere 30 years, I have also seen some who have used their right for all the wrongs they could - one of them being my own Mami. She filed a dowry case on the entire maternal side of my family, including my mother, after 17 years of her marriage with my uncle. What followed was a nightmare of running from the local court to Allahabad high-court, with my grandfather being taken into custody, only to have the case withdrawn after she was delivered with her demands – all of them monetary.

The rape law being used to get even with boyfriends who fail or refuse to marry their respective girlfriends is another example. And not to forget, workplace situations where men are threatened by their teams or sub-ordinates in order to extort promotions or increments.

It’s not about whether men are better than women or women better than men. I am a naturalist at heart and believe that the nature wouldn’t have created both the sexes had one been better than the other. The fact that both the sexes survived the cycle of evolution and reached thus far is proof enough that we’re all equally important in maintaining the equilibrium of this planet. While men are constructed of stronger bones, women are blessed with endurance for pain – both are equally important to keep the balance. Yin and Yang, Shiv and Shiva – aren’t we supposed to go hand-in-hand?

This has been my philosophy all my life while maintaining a façade of a mosaic of viewpoints, only to keep my vulnerability from being exposed to hurt. But during a discussion with a friend recently, he called me a female chauvinist and also explained that that is the perception I drive through my posts on social media. While I don’t mind being called anything, I just thought I’d better put my thoughts together as I owe it to my degree in journalism and my ancestors. Being called a person of biased opinion hurts the journalistic DNA in me.

I come from a family where men were led by Rani Lakshmi Bai in India’s first war of independence in 1857. I come from a family where my mother’s great-grandmother watched guard on a horseback all night, with a sword in her hand. I also come from a family where my grandmother taught my father how to cook, knit and embroider.

From all the stories, anecdotes and journals passed on through generations in my family, one thing that I have learnt is that men and women are supposed to work in tandem to keep the balance of the cart. But what I also learnt is that women are susceptible to being taken for granted or oppressed. It is a collective responsibility of human-kind to stand up for what they think is right. The right is absolutely subjective and we must respect the individual opinion of the people involved.

It could be the right of a woman to work or stay at home, it could be a man’s right to do the same. Years ago, my father met a guy during his train journey from Kolkata to Mumbai. When they introduced themselves he told my father that he’s a housewife! My father was equally astounded and filled with respect for this person who stepped up to quit his job as he felt that one of the parents must stay at home with the kids while his wife pursued her career. Both the man and his wife must have been equally judged by their social circle, one for quitting work to do a woman’s job and the other for being an irresponsible wife and mother.

I also know a woman, who supported her husband in his decision to quit his job, quite well paying at that, to pursue higher studies. She, while being the sole financial support of the family, is also the only child of her parents and holds a lot of responsibilities, fulfilling each of them with a grace that would make queen of England shy away.

There are endless stories and instances that I can go on relating only to drive the point that neither men nor women are privileged to take advantage of the other. That it is equality that we seek. And it does take two to tango, right!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ladkiyan rulayi nahi ja sakti

A few days ago, while travelling back home in Delhi Metro I saw a woman. Must have been around 45 years old. She had carefully covered her face with loose strands of hair and the hood of her jacket, but despite all this I noticed something that she was trying to hide. She had bruises on her face, under her eye and on forehead. Helplessness was written all over her face. Clearly, she was a victim of domestic violence.

A lot has been said about the conduct of men and how they should respect women. Ladke rote nahi, Ladke rulate nahi and what not. But have we ever asked ourselves why we never bothered to teach our girls, "ladkiyan rulayi nahi ja sakti"? How many of us have taught our girls to hit back the man who hurts them? Charity begins at home... Many of us have let the girls of the family suffer for reasons big or small at the hands of family members and forced them to keep mum.

Physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse - the answer is always the same - stay mum.

I have my own stories, my own nightmares that I never discussed with anyone until it was a bit too late.

There is a relative, my mother's brother-in-law, he always had a habit of pulling me close to him when I was a child. Everyone thought that he's just an affectionate uncle but at the age of 16 he rubbed himself next to me. I was too young to realise that it was molestation but something felt not right. I distanced myself but didn't have the right words to tell my parents what happened. 14 years on, last summer when I told my father he was aghast but when I told my mother and asked how she would have reacted if I told her then, she was at a loss of words. When I pushed for an answer, she said, "do you expect me to ruin my sister's family?"

Instances where my cousins hit me to emphasise that boys are stronger than girls, and I was told to sit like a good girl by the elders of the family appear trivial next to this instance.

And then there came a day when I was groped by a complete stranger in a Mumbai local, then I was told to be quiet because that man could do worse things to me if he got irked.

Interestingly, my father was never around when such things happened and I never felt like sharing such hurtful details with him. But then one day he came to me and taught me how to use cuss words. He taught me how to save myself in such situations and he said something which I have passed on to my sister and we are to pass it on to our daughters and their daughters, and that is that we should never come back home abused.

And so I did. I never start the cycle of abuse but if am abused, I abuse back. If I am hurt physically, I hit back. If I am molested, I hit that person right on the balls. And yet, I have been in situations where flight reaction seemed better than fight reaction.

Today my old man is no more around but I have a feeling that he's smiling right now, seeing me finally writing about it. For the last few months I haven't been able to write but that woman in the Metro somehow kicked my mental block.

Yes, it is important to make gentlemen out of our sons but it's equally important to make our daughters strong and smart enough to strike back if the situation calls for it.

#MeToo Campaign and I

The last week found all of social media flooding with the #MeToo campaign. The campaign that was sparked by the Harvey Weinstein allegatio...