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
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.

#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...