Cotton and The Monsoons : How my myth got busted

Monsoons and cottons aren’t a good combination. That’s what I have always heard from my mother and grandmother. And coming from a long generation of saree- connoisseurs, I too have been living with that myth. However, very recently I discovered how wrong I, and they too, have been all along.

Here is how.

I was in my balcony, just when my next door neighbour stepped out to dry her laundry. First up, was the saree that the lady of the house loves to wear; and I thought, “She still wears cotton in monsoons?”.  The vision of the lady’s lavender saree fluttering in the breeze, contrasting with a gray monsoon sky, and the soft fragrance of her fabric conditioner, lingered on with me as I went about my day.

I just had to find out how she managed wearing that fabric in this weather. Curious about what I did next? I went to the lady to get my answers and here is what she said:

“Yes!! Cottons are totally ‘in’ during monsoon – especially the Kota Doria fabric, the one she most usually wears. Kota Doria Sarees make an ideal monsoon wear.  And here’s why.

  1. The fabric’s square checks weave makes it super easy to dry as the air passes in through the checked pours.
  2. Unlike synthetics, they don’t retain the musty damp smell
  3. Easy to wash without any hassles
  4. Soak in the starch water well and again dry faster
  5. Even faded look gives it a distinct beauty so you need not worry about the fading colors.
  6. It’s light in weight as compared to other fabrics. So if you’re drenched in the rain, by any chance, you aren’t inconvenienced by your saree.
  7. Machine wash with fabric conditioner works magically on it during monsoons.
  8. If she had it her way, everything she wore would be in Kota Doriya cotton this monsoon.

These reasons were compelling enough for me to go on a Kota Doria shopping binge!  So I fired up my laptop and went on a Google Search rampage. Though I was familiar with Jaypore and Craftsvilla, I wanted to try some new site this time. And no I had no patience for sites like Amazon and Jabong that didn’t understand or specialize in telling me more about what I wanted. So I hit this wonderful site and its name itself made me curious.  Pulpypapaya. Unusual and creative names often reflect in creative and unique products too, in my experience.

I clicked on it and I was transported to a magical saree land! It’s an amazing place. I won’t throw in any spoilers by explaining what the site has. I request you to go through it. I bought few block printed Kota Doria sarees from them. Yes. If you know me, you know what a saree fiend I am. I never buy just one!

Will post you more about the ordered products once I get them. And yes, cottons and monsoons it is! If you disagree, feel free to discuss it further. I am sure I will end up convincing you of it, too. ☺

Pulpypapaya Kota Doria Sarees

Buy Kota Doria Sarees Online For Women 2016-07-26 15-25-16

Morning dew and fireflies

Some times, we don’t even know when a moment first lodges itself indelibly in our minds. It is only after it keeps sneaking up on us, unexpectedly, frequently, unfailingly, over a long period of time – always making us smile as warmly as the first time – that it dawns on us. That this memory is here to stay. And our lives are so much better for it.

Here is one such memory from a place I left a piece of my heart at.

Morning Dew and Fireflies.

 

Courage Is Grace Under Fire

A few days ago, I finally had the opportunity to visit Sheroes Hangouts in Lucknow. It is a cafe run by acid attack survivors and had two setups as of now; the first one in Agra and now in Lucknow.

This article came from the experience of that day; something that will stay with me forever.

I salute Lakshmi and her Team. More power to them!

INCREDIBLE WOMEN OF INDIA

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It’s not every day that we find ourselves in presence of someone great; and are faced with the realization that no matter what we do, we could never amount to even a fraction of all that they are. It’s even rarer to relish that feeling and bask in its afterglow, rather than detest it.

When I decided to go to Sheroes Hangout Lucknow for a reading session of our book Defiant Dreams, I knew what I would be witnessing. And yet, I wasn’t prepared in the least. I was overwhelmed, still am, by the effortless grit and the spry resilience, displayed by the women I met there. It was nothing but the simplest and most profound example of the indefatigable human spirit.

Sheroes café is run by acid attack survivors with the help of Stop Acid Attack Organization and Chaanv Foundation. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of…

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Check your backyard…

From the Archives: On Aruna Shanbaug’s death anniversary

May 18th, 2015:

I was just fiddling with my phone earlier today, when the news flashed on its screen “Aruna Shanbaug dies after being in coma for 42 years”.
My hands froze and my mind went numb. It has been hours since then, and that feeling has still not completely passed.

A little background, for those who are not aware of the case.

~~Aruna Shanbaug was a former nurse at the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. She was sexually assaulted by a ward boy, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki and had been in a vegetative state since the assault………………Sohanlal attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen supply to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind. The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder on account of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, Dr. Deshpande, perhaps to avoid the social rejection of the victim, and her impending marriage. Sohanlal was caught and convicted, and served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery, neither for rape or sexual molestation, nor for the “unnatural sexual offence” (which could have got him a ten-year sentence by itself).……………..On 24 January 2011, after she had been in this status for 37 years, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. The court turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. She passed away on 18 May 2015, after being comatose for 42 years.~~
(Source: Wikipedia.org)

By the way, Sohanlal did seven years of jail time and started a new life, most probably with a new name while Aruna spent 42 years awaiting a death which refused to oblige her. Some believe Sohanlal even got a job in some hospital in New Delhi. I read somewhere, that the police do not even have an updated picture of him to share with the general public to warn them. Which means he is a nameless and faceless man who once committed a gruesome crime; and one you could possibly have shared the elevator with on your visit to the hospital last week.

I dare you to try and get some sleep tonight.

And when you fail to, you would sit up, stare blankly into the darkness that engulfs your bedroom and ask you the same question you might have asked yourselves, many a times before. “What kind of a world do we live in?”

The answer is excruciating, singeing, but very simple. We live in the world we create for ourselves.

I am still quite disturbed to write most of what I want to write, so I am just going to share here, an article which I wrote a few days after the Nirbhaya Incident.

Much of that applies here to. Sadly, it applies to a lot of things around us. And yet, we so easily ignore such a pervasive answer because accepting it would mean we would also need to act on it.

Perhaps, we deserve the world we live in.

**********

Check your backyard: 22nd December 2012

It’s like the pink elephant. The more I try not to think about it, the more it’s all I can think about. Besides, the newspapers are splashed with gory details of the incident, op-eds and comments from everyone and their uncles; the TV news is full of it and it’s all everyone is talking about. There’s no escaping the darkness of this thought.

Meanwhile the poor girl lies in a hospital bed fighting a cruel fate every second as the whole world outside fights the urge to rationalize this and pin the blame on someone. The obvious ones to blame are the perpetrators of the crime and in some extremely insensitive peoples’ opinion the victim herself!! Then, as always there are those who have oversimplified the problem by saying – they were bad people who did bad things. End of story.

I can’t help but wonder if we as a society will ever mature away from this annoyingly facile way of analyzing issues.

As I write this article my four month old is lying next to me on the bed. The most mischief he can manage so far is to give out a fake cry to lure me into picking him up and cuddling him. Think about it. An infant, my son for an example, does not even know he has an option to squash the fly sitting on his nose and bothering him. He just tries to wiggle his nose to make it go away. That’s how raw, naïve, innocent and benign all human beings are when they are born.

So how do we get from there to here?

How does a human being who doesn’t know how to hurt a fly turns into this monster who is capable of violating and hurting another human being in the way Nirbhaya was?

I do not believe the Ted Bundys and the John Gacys of the world (extreme examples I know, but used on purpose to drive the point home) and closer home these monsters like Ram Singh were born this way. I know there are researches and studies going on, trying to find if the root cause of such psychopathic/sociopathic acts is a biological malfunction or deformity. But while the jury is still out on that, I choose to believe that all children are born as innocent and pure as the one I consider my child to be. From here on, what goes wrong inside of them would depend on what goes wrong around them.

As a parent I am aware (and better be prepared) that my child will learn more from me and my husband than from anyone he will meet and in his life. The thought is as empowering and comforting as it is scary.

Why empowering and comforting? Because it makes me believe I can do something about making sure my kid has the right values to be the kind of human being a good society needs him to be. Why scary? Because I am yet to come across any parent who did not believe the same thing. Because I think the parents of the men who so brutally violated that girl also believed the same thing and acted accordingly. Because whether I like it or not, my child will learn more from what I do, act out and say when I am not even trying to teach him, rather than what I explicitly try to teach him. The parents of these criminals also inadvertently through their actions and thoughts turned their little boys into men who think it’s acceptable to do that to another human being. If they could make that mistake, what stops you or me from making it?

Please do not even try dismissing this article thinking that these men belong to a different economic or social stratum. The thought is nescient, insidious and well, just plain wrong! Such criminals belong to any and every strata.

Very recently I was a part of a candle light vigil held for seeking justice for Kshama Shetye, a pregnant woman who was killed in a car crash in Gurgaon in May 2012. The crash killed her driver too leaving behind her injured father, her comatose mother and a husband who is running from pillar to post to seek answers. Justice eludes him because the pockets of the father of the man who caused the accident are loaded. I heard during her husband’s speech in that rally, that merely ten days after the accident the suspect sat for his college exams. Someone raised him to behave that way. Someone raised him to think that it is OK to act this nonchalant after wiping out a man’s entire family. And who do you think taught him that?

Now clearly some parents do this because that’s who they are. People, with a rotten value system who in turn inherited the same from their parents. But do a little research and you will be surprised to know how many criminals actually come from such families. A vast majority are from families like ours.

I came across a fantastic book called ‘The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children’ by Robert Shaw, M.D. He puts forward a compelling argument loaded with a repertoire of case studies and incidents which tell you how commonplace such criminal mentality is. I agree the study and the book is primarily west-oriented but a closer look at our backyards will tell us things aren’t much different in this part of the world either. The book shocks the readers into submission from the very onset where it talks about the Columbine tragedy. More recent cases in point are the Virginia Tech Massacre or the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He goes on to substantiate how in most of these cases such behavior could be traced back to lack of foresight on behalf of the parent or just pure apathy.

As parents, perhaps we all suffer from the same kind of myopia i.e. ‘my child is different’. Indeed, he or she is. The real issue is that we as parents are not. Bad parenting is almost an epidemic in Robert Shaw’s opinion. I doubt if Eric Harris’ (Columbine High School shooting) or Adam Lanza’s (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) parents would have noticed their asocial behavior, or just tried to be a little more involved and communicative, things would have come to such a pass. Knowingly or unknowingly, they failed to notice as their child slowly morphed into a monster with absolutely no regard for human life.

Remember, as an infant these people too did not know how to squash a fly.

While the book and all the issues he highlights within regarding the current parenting styles merit a separate discussion, the common thread Dr. Shaw postulates, is the lack of our involvement in our own children’s lives. We just don’t have the time to teach them the right stuff or even monitor what they are learning as they grow. They spend more time learning god knows what from TV, internet and video games than from their own parents. A friend of mine cheers her 5 year old on when he kills people in a gang-war themed video game because the more he engages in that game the more time she has for Candy Crush or to chat with her friends on the phone. I have sometimes even seen her turn a blind eye when the child tortures his pets for fun using the tactics he learnt from that game. No wonder he is one of the most aggressive and irreverent 5 year old I have ever seen. Any guesses what the future holds for him, if his behavior goes unchecked?

In India, this problem gets further compounded. Not only do our children suffer due to our lack of time or inclination to be a meaningful contributor to their growth and learning; we also muddle the issue further with gender preferences. Yesterday’s TOI article got it right. Apart from exposure to trauma and abuse in childhood, it also pins the blame on a patriarchal society which attaches way too much value to its very questionable definition of masculinity. Men will be men, eh? That’s just the way it is. So they can express their superiority over women in whichever way they deem appropriate. During their formative years they exercise this over their female siblings, later in life on their wives, and then on their daughter-in-laws; and in such extreme and unfortunate cases on poor hapless strangers.

One of my husband’s aunts took offence of my confessions during my pregnancy that I would prefer to have a daughter. She even went far enough to say that I should be careful of what I wish for, lest it come true (as if that would be the most horrible thing to happen to me)! I have an ‘IIT topper’ uncle who thinks girls are a burden one can’t get rid of soon enough. Another uncle on my father’s side wants his son to get divorced and remarry because of his first wife’s inability to bear a son. These remarkable samples of our modern society exist all around us and are further tipping the scales against the female gender. Their frame of mind makes me sad. It saddens me even more to say that since this Sunday incident I have often wondered if they were right to tell me not to wish for a girl. Not because I think it would have been bad if I were blessed with a daughter; but because someone else might have had a son who grows up to be a Ram Singh.

**********

But never mind all this. As always let’s just shed a tear today for our Arunas and Nirbahayas. And forget about all this tomorrow.

 

Brown paper packages, tied up with strings…

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Some memories are a lot, lot more than just that…memories.

A few days before the start of a new session at school, my paternal grandfather – Bauji – would round up all the children; me and my cousins and sometimes even some neighbourhood kids, in the living room of our house. A chataai would be laid out on the floor, and we would all sit down on it, cross-legged and in a circle. Next to each one of us kids would be piles of books and notebooks – next year’s courseware – sellotape, rolls of brown paper and plastic sheets. He would sit close by, on his chair.

Bauji would then, start rattling out instructions. Some of the older kids – who had witnessed this whole process many a times – would roll their eyes, impatient to get on with it. He would go ahead nevertheless, slowly, and in meticulous detail, for the benefit of the new additions to the group; there were always one or two. Sometimes, if there were too many new kids or many young ones, he would even demonstrate what was required to be done.

The task at hand was to cover our courseware with the brown paper and plastic sheets. Stick a pretty name tag on the face of it and write our names; always in capital letters and legibly, he insisted. ‘First impressions are important…’, he would declare, and then quickly add ‘…but not everything.’. It would be years before the insight behind that confusing statement would start to dawn upon us. At that time, we just stared blankly at him for a few moments, before resuming our work. Sometimes our parents offered to join in, to help; but my grandfather always discouraged it.‘How else would they learn?’, he would argue.

It was just one of those things we did while growing up, without questioning the rationale of or even fully internalizing the learning from. But just like most childhood memories, this one too has a new pearl of wisdom for me to chance upon, every time I sift through its sands.

Bauji was a teacher and a book lover. So the most obvious lesson in the whole thing was to learn to love our books. He said, when we spent hours pruning and prepping our books like that, we bonded with them on a whole new level. That, according to him, would be the initiation of a long association with those books – one where we promise to respect them and preserve them with utmost care and they, in return, would bestow on us their knowledge which will sail us through to the next year. He always had an example ready of some random kid, who didn’t take care of his books, tore them or scribbled on them (‘Never with a pen! Always, with a pencil, if you must!’); and hence didn’t fare so well in the exam. Now, looking back, it seems like such an obvious thing – that a kid who doesn’t care much for his books probably doesn’t care much for his studies either and that explains his poor grades. But back then, when he told us that story – with that gentle yet foreboding timbre all grandparents have mastered thanks to years of storytelling – it seemed so scary and mysterious. We were convinced that the poor kid failed, despite best efforts, only because his books had cursed him. That made us all swear to never do such a thing. Just like we had sworn not to tell lies, lest all out would teeth would fall out. Or always finish our food, lest a monster would occupy the empty spaces in our tummies.

As simple as this whole book-cover task might seem, it was a real craft. We must cover them properly, but without wasting too much paper or tape. (Something I never quite learned, I still use a lot of tape in everything I wrap). There was a symmetry of folds to be followed. And that brown paper – so easy to tear – needed a certain dexterity to handle. Also, there was the whole thing about the shared scissors. There was always just one or two for the whole group. We had to learn to find a rhythm where the scissor was passed down to each person just when he/she needed it. So it was a team sport. But also interestingly, a competitive sport because everyone wanted their work to turn out the neatest. However, surprisingly, it never stopped us from helping out a friend who was facing trouble folding the ends properly or dealing with the sticky tape. I guess, probably because, again, it would be years before the competitiveness and the ‘dog-eat-dog’ attitude of the world, would make such a solidarity seem absurd and self-destructive. That synchrony in our actions and that spirit of camaraderie, was perhaps the best lesson in teamwork I have ever seen. And this I say as a Learning and Development expert with over twelve years of experience under my belt.

Usually, during this activity humming a song – from the list of songs pre-approved by Bauji over the years – was welcomed. And it was a pretty long list too. But somehow I always remember either ‘itni shakti humein dena daataa…’ Or ‘aye maalik tere bande hum…’ being sung; until someone, expectedly inspired from all the brown paper strewn around would start with ‘…brown paper packages tied up with strings. These are a few of my favourite things…’ And then the whole gang would burst into a chorus.

This morning I picked up my son’s books. He is probably too young to understand the bubbling excitement with which I have been doing, what perhaps to him is a mundane chore – wrapping his books up with paper and plastic. He doesn’t yet know the endearing muskiness of old memories;  or the guilt of not appreciating it enough when it happened. I remember quite a few of us complained back then – why can’t we pay the shopkeeper extra to have this done, like many of our friends do? Or perhaps, ask the servants or our parents to do it for us? Now looking at how much I love books, and how I cannot stand them being disfigured and damaged; I am just glad Bauji never listened to us.

There is no gang, no chorus, to accompany me today as I work my way through those books; so for now I am making do with some music on my phone. It doesnt feel the same, at all. Every now and then my eyes well up, as I am reminded of Bauji, and realise that he is not there anymore, to compliment me on my workmanship. I guess, no matter how old one grows, they never stop missing their grandparents.

But, I think… I hope, he would be proud of how I have done up these books. Prim and proper, with not too much paper, wasted. Except for the tape, of course. That I am yet to learn.

 

Try and try, until you succeed…

It was a busy day.

I had a Book Launch at a Women’s Day Celebration event planned for the evening and was also to give a speech. Our domestic help sensed my preoccupations the moment she entered through the door that morning, and so tried her best to stay out of my way, except for the occasional ‘what to cook’ kind of interruptions. That was until a mug full of adrak chai, my much needed elixir, but one I hadn’t even asked her for, was wordlessly slid closer to my laptop. I smiled in response and she got the opening she was seeking.

‘Bhabhi. Aaj kouno tauhaar hoii ka?’

I wondered why she was inquiring if there was any festival that day. Then I realized that she had heard me speaking to a few people on the phone, about the evening’s celebration at the Ladies Club.

‘Oh! Haan… Aaj Women’s Day hai… Umm… Naari Diwas.’

“Ou kaa hoii?’

I tried explaining to her to the best of my abilities what the day was about. Equal rights. Respect. Celebrating all that women do for the society. Applauding them for all that they have achieved, despite the odds the society, knowingly or unknowingly, stacks against them. She listened to me; first with a childlike curiosity, then with incredulity and then finally with a face of someone being told that I had seen unicorns dancing on rainbows.

She soon lost interest and declared abruptly that she should get back to work. Her dismissive behavior and that sly snicker broke my heart. It was like she didn’t just display disbelief in the concept of what I was telling her about, but at the very possibility of that ever existing. It felt like she has irreparably wedged a crack in my faith too. I needed to talk to her. Make her believe. Perhaps, so that I would get that missing part of my conviction back.

I did get her stand, though. I knew where she was coming from and how far I was asking her to go, in just one five minute conversation. On one of her arms is tattooed the name of her father and on the other, the name of her husband. Like branded cattle, the insignia was changed and she was passed on from one owner to another. She had never even stepped out of her village all by herself, until very recently, at the age of forty five.

I told her to forget about all the chores. Lunch could be ordered in and the house could do without cleaning too. Instead, we could chat for a while and then if she wishes, she could take the rest of the day off.

We had never gotten around the subject of why she started working for us, so that served as the perfect opening. Her son is now married and has children of his own and his contribution to running the house is drying up fast, she responded. Her husband had always been very good at matching up his drinking with his day’s earnings. Besides now with all three of her kids having fled the nest, she didn’t have much to do all day. So she tried to draw up a simple equation for me – money problems plus free time equals her taking up a job. I told her that the equation doesn’t quite balance, according to me at least. She had these reasons even before, at least the money part. Then why now? What was she missing out now?

She looked at me vacuously for a moment and then gave out a sigh which had the timbre of gearing up for a no-holds-barred discussion. What followed was the usual narrative. A son who doesn’t care for her anymore. A husband who never had. Tired of doing everything possible to adjust with her good-for-nothing husband and still being beaten black and blue every other day. Tired of crying. Tired of waiting for someone to rescue her.

Then, one day, her only pair of slippers broke and she couldn’t find the money to buy another one. Because of that she missed going to the neighbor’s daughter’s wedding. Something, she had been looking forward to, for months; a tiny oasis of mirth in the Sahara of the rut she lives in, everyday. That night she cried her eyes out, snuck out before dawn and came to her aunt’s house; the aunt who brought her to us the next day.

Then why did she go back to her husband after she got a job? She said, now he doesn’t dare to misbehave with her for the fear of loosing his ‘pocket-money’. Besides, she never wanted to separate from him. She just wanted to matter to him more than a cook and a cleaner; needed to be respected as his wife. Now that he knows she left him once, he tries not to give her a reason again. Sometimes, she gleamed, he even comes by to pick her up on his cycle, after work. She may not be acquainted with the fancy nomenclature, I realized, but in spirit she did know a thing or two about Women’s Day. She understood emancipation, taking charge of one’s own life, and fighting for the respect one deserves. The unease with which this conversation has started, was already melting away fast.

Did she do this now, after all these years, because she was waiting and hoping for her son to bail her out when he grows up? She sheepishly nodded. I don’t judge her for that. Women all over the world have made the same mistake for years, decades even; waiting for someone else to take pity on their plight. What is important is that after gazing at the mouth of the pit and waiting, in vain, for someone to extend their hands and pull them up, they have now learned to climb their way out. She surely has.

I gave her some money to buy herself something nice. She said she couldn’t think of anything right off the bat; but she sure planned to go eat to her heart’s content at a sweetmeat shop near her house.

Just as she was about to walk out, I noticed she wasn’t wearing the shoes I gave her last week. She walks a great distance to come to work and I gave her one of my old but comfortable sneakers to ease that walk. She nonchalantly informed me that her son had come to visit her the previous day. Continue reading “Try and try, until you succeed…”