The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Credit: Photo by c.Everett Collection / Rex Features (872250a)  'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', Frederic March  'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' Film - 1931

Credit: Photo by c.Everett Collection / Rex Features (872250a) ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Frederic March
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ Film – 1931

Disclaimer: This is not a commentary on any ongoing issue. It’s just something I wanted to write and I choose to, today.

It surprises me sometimes. How we still tend to believe in the inherent goodness of people and in positive outcomes. This feeling called Hope, and the other feeling called Belief – it keeps us all alive I guess. Else, we’d all probably kill ourselves or each other.

Life has a way of proving you wrong. Sometimes, you believe in the good and then you see the worst in someone. Sometimes you automatically assume everything is going to go your way, and providence mocks you in your face and jeers at your impudence.

Is naivety a word for this kind of hope?

Somehow we expect rapists to feel chastised once they are in prison. We expect that marriages, having happened in heaven, always bring you the person you’re meant to be with. We expect to win – in cricket games, in board rooms, in exams. We expect our bodies to work perfectly till we’re seconds away from death.

People have died in concentration camps. Women have been burnt at the stake, are raped, maimed, thrown acid at. Innocent adults and children are shot at, and killed. Lives snuffed out without any provocation – lives that were cherished and for whom, so many people had so much hope. Viruses evolve over time, fighting to survive and finding new ways to break our immunity. Calamities around the world take out 1000s of people in one instant.

I ask myself these days: Why do I believe in perfect outcomes? Why do I automatically assume things turn out the way I want them to? Why do I outrage or get depressed when people I believed were Jekylls, turned out to be Hydes?

Maybe it was the countless movies where the hero/heroine always won at the end, true love found itself, and good trumped the bad. And children’s books and cartoons – filled with magic and extolling virtues of humaneness.

Over the years of adulthood, I realize that I have stubbornly refused to calibrate the reality of experience.

It’s easy to do that when you are generally successful of course – which I am. I live a charmed life, most of the time :).

But I’m being a bit careful over the years. These days when there’s some event that’s important to me, I check myself against hoping for the best. I remind myself that outcomes maybe positive or negative, and to not be arrogant in expecting good or success automatically. I mentally compute a “minimum threshold of pleasantness”. Something in between good and bad. Something that is “just ok”. I then brave the future knowing fully well that whichever way it turns out, there’s just a small distance between what I expected and what it turned out to be.

Also, I intrinsically trust everyone, especially *me*. Trust them to be good and do the right thing. It’s a good ability and I’m happy to have it because most times, people (even me ;)) are deserving of this and it makes for a lot of hope. But I have also begun to question this. Because I realize it’s a gold-standard of sorts and doesn’t calibrate the reality of humanity: that we have flaws and can behave in unexpected, unpredictable ways. Our choices are influenced by the opportunities we have and our context. Straight paths and predictable behavior is no fun. Wanting this shows an unwillingness to allow life to unfold and present an array of opportunities and to let people – others and me – to choose.

After all, life’s not meant to be “perfect”. It’s expected to be good sometimes, and bad sometimes. People are good and people are bad. Some people are angels and others are demons. There is heaven and hell. All of it on Earth.

Does this – calibration of reality as I called it – make for an easier life? Perhaps. At least I think I’m more realistic now.

Of course, I still believe in humanity, values, virtues, happiness, magic, harmony, goodness, love and God. I just don’t believe that this is all there is.

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Closure

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Life never really warns you enough for what you have to face. At some point you find yourself stumbling over the most profound questions and you realize that you never knew the answers. You never even knew that you would have to find answers!

And then there are those answers that you seek because they would help you understand. It’s important to know, isn’t it?

But life stuns you by telling you that you can’t have them. No matter what.

So you’re left in the lurch. Puzzled. Confused. Stuck. In a rut. (sounds familiar?)

——

As conscious, rational human beings, we crave a sense of control and order. Life instances have to go in sequence. Incidents must have meaning. There has to be a reason behind action. Everything must “fit”. You know that feeling of having watched a movie where some scenes didn’t just connect or characters didn’t have meaning, and you didn’t like it?

Yep. Life according to many of us, like a good movie, must connect all its loose ends, have a reason behind every scene and every role, and must have a moral.

Not dangling pointers :|. Garbage collection – is a must. (#techiespeak, sorry)

Or as it is popularly known,  Closure.

By definition, closure indicates a need to have information that allows one to conclude an issue. I’d summarize it as that feeling that prevents you from moving on past something. Because you need to understand, you need to clean up, and you have to settle scores. Right?
 
So here’s how it goes: Find yourself in an unpleasant situation. Figure out what went wrong, explain why it was wrong for you, assess what triggered that wrong, examine in sequence from the trigger to the outcome, factor how that affects you, explain your stance, get heard out, listen to the other end(s), conclude on why it happened the way it did, and finally, shake hands. Or say, “we agree to disagree”. Once every piece fits in the jigsaw puzzle – that’s when you know you can move on. You’ve got closure.

The only problem is: life (and people) doesn’t quite give you the chance to close all open doors. Sometimes, doors are just meant to be left open. Not all scores can be settled. Maybe, just maybe… you don’t even know what the score is.

And maybe, you’re the only one wanting closure. The rest of the world has moved on :).

——

There is only one kind of closure: the one you seek from yourself. The one whose limits you define.

Ask yourself, what it is that hasn’t ended for you. Give yourself permission to acknowledge it, and observe it without judgement. See if there is more to your need beyond the need to be right, and to explain and justify. If there is more, see if you can do anything about it (see Minimal Effective Response)

Rewind, or forward through the movie and give yourself permission to watch it till you feel you can stop.
Moving on is not walking out on the movie. Moving on is stopping it, rolling the reel and putting it into the case, carrying it with you, and going to watch other movies.

Moving on is knowing that that particular movie is already part of your life. And knowing that while there is a story there, the moral you seek may not be in there.

Because actually, life does have meaning. Everything does connect. Just that you haven’t seen how it does. Maybe the movie that played out was a different kind of movie altogether and you never knew!

Stop interpreting. Just watch. The show will go on :).

TEDxIIMB 2013

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Sometimes there are things that you do because you get this wave of inspiration that’s impossible to ignore and the impulse tells your normal discerning process to go to hell.

In the last week of December, I experienced something similar when I saw the notification for TEDxIIMB – “Live The Dream” in FB. Minutes later, I had paid Rs. 1500 for a ticket and it was probably one of the fastest buys I’ve ever done in my life.

As an engineer though, one needs the comfort of hard logic even if one is prone to occasional bursts of spontaneity. And so, the next few minutes, I spent in justifying this as follows: “well, you’ve never been to TEDx and it would be interesting to find out what that is like”, and “it’s in IIMB. Would be lovely to be back in that auditorium and chew on the nostalgia”, and finally “Live the Dream – sounds exactly what I need right now in my life!”.

Then again, I need to ask myself why I needed additional justification. After all, sample the speaker list: R Balki, Boman Irani & Rahul Bose (no introductions needed), Shaheen Mistri (Founder of Akanksha foundation and Teach For India).

Anyways… the event was in a mid-work-week, and I made elaborate plans to ensure I could get out of work on-time. The universe must have been conspiring in my favor, because while I had to skip a sit-down lunch to allow last minute discussions, and opt for a take-away bowl of Upma so that I could get out atleast at 1 pm (leaving just under an hour to navigate the ECity-Bannerghatta route; those who know Bangalore traffic and its perils, will agree how impossible this is), within seconds of standing outside my office gate to catch an autorickshaw, this phenomenal woman driving (what looked to me) a huge swanky car, stopped next to me and asked me if I wanted a lift.

Now I’m not one to take lifts but then if an opportunity (to avoid sweltering heat and haggling with auto-wallas) presents itself along with a fabulous woman who’s a sight for sore eyes, all niggling doubts fly away with the wind. I found myself in her car, happily chatting away and realizing that I would indeed make it in time, while she graciously dropped me at Silk Board after we exchanged numbers, and found to our mutual delight that we shared a sun-sign. After stepping out of the car, in addition to thanking Anjali for being the wonderful human being she is, I looked sky-wards and said “Thank you” :).

After 5 hours later that day, I did it once again.

TEDxIIMB 2013 will be special to me because of the experience of being in a room and watching and listening to 3 gifted and truly amazing people who reinstate faith that the world is indeed a wonderful place to be in.

What makes these people phenomenal is how human they are and yet how humane they are. You hear the stories of their struggles and how life hasn’t exactly handed it over on a plate to them. You hear of their vision and their unwavering belief in what needs to be done, and you see it in their persona – the ability to create miracles and change the lives of other people.

A Muruganantham (The Man Who Wore a Sanitary Napkin)

Muruganantham with his limited vocabulary of self-taught and Indianized English, started his session saying “I will speak in my English” and instantly warmed everyone’s hearts because he had discerned the unspoken question that probably several people had in mind when his turn came up after distinguished speakers on the platform. A few minutes into the session and we discovered a man far beyond the limitations of language – a master at (black) humour. He has honed the delivery of his story to perfection (the video above is of an earlier time and his articulation has improved vastly since), but the story itself moves you to wonder how men like him get made. Three points from his presentation that I hope to never forget:

  • “Finding opportunities” is an age-old adage. “Creating opportunities” is what we need to do today.
  • There are plenty of opportunities in the “Black and White” world – the B&W is his take on the bottom of the pyramid (“colors don’t exist in our world, those exist only in yours”) – exploiting these opportunities does not eat into the business of any mainstream company because of how different the needs are and how oblivious (or uncaring because of the low profit margin possibility) these companies are to that need.
  • Innovation lies in your ability to find problems, not solutions.

At one point in the presentation, he pulled out cash from his pocket and threw it on the ground dramatically, saying “That is where money should be! Don’t chase it. Mahalakshmi (goddess of wealth) will chase you when you don’t want her. Look at sustainability and how you can create, to benefit the lives of as many people as possible”.

Touché.

Shaheen Mistri:

Do you remember what you were doing at 18 years of age? Most likely not. But Shaheen does. Because what she created when she was 18 has today, far-reaching consequences in the field of education of under-priviledged children – the Akanksha Foundation, and later, TeachForIndia.

I’ve often noticed how people who spearhead causes are brilliant orators – not because of their vocabulary or accent but how their words can flow without pauses and pour straight into the hearts of those listening to them. As Shaheen, petite and beautiful, talks on stage, you get glimpses of a woman weathered by pain and suffering, and driven by hope and belief in the power of people. You cannot be the same person you were after you listen and distil the implications of her work.

Shaheen showed us a video of classroom impact: examples of the change that Teach For India fellows – people who’ve left successful careers to pursue for 2 years, a life of being responsible for educating a class of children who negotiate the terrain of being part of the underpriviledged class and eventually learn what it is like to have dreams for the future – are making in India. A child, Anushka, spoke about “choice”. It moved me to tears. Here’s the video: – watch from 2.36 onwards to listen to her.

Boman Irani:

Boman Irani is a star. He’s a star not because of his box-office status but because he shines brightly and lights up every room he walks into. A man with a booming, delectable voice that justifies his booming presence, he walked into the IIMB auditorium and wished everyone he saw on his way, acknowledged each and every member of the audience. At the end of his 20 minute talk (a cruel duration for a man who loves to talk), he bowed to each side of the auditorium as everyone stood up to give him a standing ovation. One word registers in your mind: Performer.

The TEDxIIMB 2013 publicity material noted happily about “Virus returns to college” and Boman started his session with “It’s not very often that I can say I’m returning to a stage that I’m familiar with”. It was clear as we saw him pace / gesture / act animatedly over next 20 minutes, that this was a man in his element – the rest of the world just fades into darkness around him when he’s on stage.

His story of success is a popular one; of a potato-wafer-seller turned photographer turned theatre artist turned film actor, experiencing real success at the age of 40. What inspired me though wasn’t the story or the journey, but what was evident throughout it: a nice, refined human being, and a God who made an example out of making life work for a nice human being, and thereby tells us it IS possible.

After all, if a boy who was raised by women (father expired 6 months before he was born and he makes a joke out of it saying he is always 6 months late for everything in life) and therefore, wet his pants when he heard a male voice for the first time because he had never heard anything like that before, who lisped and therefore wouldn’t open his mouth till the 9th standard, who managed his dad’s potato wafer shop and one fine day decided that “I am a photographer”, whose first trip with family outside of Bombay to Kodai ended up with him looking at a zero-watt light bulb in a dark, dilapidated & seemingly haunted hotel (that he had unwittingly booked as accomodation) and think that “this is me. I’m a big zero”, and who was told he had no talent (for theatre/acting) … can make it in life and be, STILL, a man of honesty and good character and kindness, then isn’t this proof that God exists?

There were again, 3 points that I carry with me after his talk and narrated to two people on phone on that very night (so you can gauge the extent of my inspiration here):

  • Take Control of Your Life: The day he decided that he is a photographer (notice that it’s not “wanted to be a photographer”), he stood on his dining table, spread his arms and declared his intention to take control of his life – and this, he said is imperative to ensure that we kick-start the process of what we want to happen to us. Those of you who have read The Alchemist or even otherwise, believe in the power of the universe to make things happen for you – will understand what this means. For others, well, try it :).
  • Not “Professional”, but “Inspired”: This almost knocked the wind out of my sails with how contrary to normal perception this is. He told us a story of how he had performed for an event held to commemorate a renowned person, much beyond what was expected and even what he expected of himself because he was immensely moved by the person he was performing for. At the end of the performance, he was told that it was very “professional”. As he was telling us the story, he took a pause, and I sensed a moment of angst and didn’t quite understand why because I assumed that the point of him telling the story was to tell us how much he was being commended for what he did. But then he explained how he took exception to being told he was professional, because for him professional meant that a person had done what he was supposed to do – a 9 to 5 job for a specific salary. For him, it was more important to be  “inspired” – because that meant that you did something beyond expectations and nothing – the effort, the time, the money, the outcome – nothing mattered beyond the best you could give and do. After I’ve heard him say this, I can never think of the word “professional” in the same way as I did before, ever again.
  • The Value of Honesty: He narrated a story about how he had taken photographs for a Norway newspaper, of an event that happened in India. It was one of his first events as an official photographer, and he had no idea how much to charge for photos (being an amateur), so he told them (acc. to him, the wisest thing he’s ever done) that he charged at “international rates”. He was expecting (for him, at the time) a princely sum of $300 for 3 pictures and the anticipation & desperation of getting a potential Rs. 12000 led to a heroic effort on his side. Incredibly though, the newspaper paid him $900 dollars instead. Further, they chose to send him $900 dollars, 4 times after that, for reusing his 3 photos (in his words, clearly, someone up there loved him!). But the reason he narrated this was to say how this… THIS act of honesty by persons in a faraway country, who’d never met him face-to-face but chose to reward him and honour their commitment to him even if they could have easily done otherwise … is what he attributes to his unfailing belief in being honest and its value. Several times in the past few months, I have personally wondered whether honesty was just a compulsion (so you’re being honest because you can’t be otherwise) because in the “real” world, it seemed people got along fine without it. Listening to Boman talk about honesty, I felt like someone was asking me to sit up and take notice.

TEDxIIMB had also 5 other wonderful sessions even though I don’t mention them here. Balki, in particular was rousing; his foray in advertising/films was a story about a man who fulfilled his purpose in life i.e. “making films”. He began by saying he didn’t understand the use of the terminology “dream”. Acc. to him, this is just “future reality” that shouldn’t be termed as a dream (which is seemingly unattainable) because we all should want it to come into existence sometime. Clearly, #FTW.

And so, now you know why I said thanks later that day, and more so, why I today tell myself I should listen to my inspiration-voice much more! The event nicely fit into a life-track that I have been pursuing of late and so, it feels like booking the ticket was indeed an inspiration from the heavens. Having gotten the inspiration, sitting on my butt and letting these realizations go to waste, would now be criminal so I’m executing my first change strategy by writing the blog post and “encoding it” for future reference. The next step would be to think deep and plan hard for how to let this change my life.

Afterthought: I realize that it is really easy to sit in your ivory tower and justify that what you’re doing is the best you can do and the most important thing for you to do. The only thing however, that one needs to master while doing this is to handle the slight discomfort that creeps in during those rare moments when the ivory tower fades and you realize you’re suspended in thin air.

Holiday spirit

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I recently realized that Christmas and New Year have this sneaky effect on me.

Despite my life’s-all-so-wonderful-yay pollyannaism, I turn an unbearable carper the moment someone expects me to participate in the Vishu/Onam/GaneshChaturthi/Dussehra/Diwali/KarvaChauth festivities in India. I hate the traditions with a vengeance, turn my nose at the merrymaking and incorrigible sweetness of it all, and sulk my way through most festival (holi-)days. Given a chance, I would rather lock myself in at home and work myself to exhaustion. (now isn’t that fun! ;))

But it’s odd that where all other festivals and religious occasions have failed miserably, Christmas and New Year have sort of been sneaking into my carefully-guarded stony mind and spreading holiday cheer. (Well, I’ll be damned!)

Ok, so it’s not that I run around in aprons baking Christmas pudding, putting up trees, and crooning Auld Lang Syne – the word was “sneak”, not conquer. But there IS a certain red holly, silver bells, gilt-paper-wrapped-presents, tall dark green tree and decorations affliction I carry around during the season… the insides of my heart sort of starts resembling this:

decorations

The onset of the disease was, if I remember right, in 2006. Bangalore is in general, a land of spirited people who, despite all their best intentions, hang out in large numbers in malls. (On a side note, yes, so the place doesn’t have a beach, the parks are for senior citizens or kids, and IT companies are … well, IT companies. So where else can your average-entertainment-seeking-Indian-stranded-in-the-IT-capital go for said entertainment, huh???).

Anyways, as I was saying, I spotted this around one of my regular chalo-Forum-chale days and I guess it jolted the avid-Enid Blyton & Chalet School reading kid inside me, triggering memories of magic and faraway lands and the comfort of freshly baked cakes inside warm homes in winter (not that I had actually the experience, I was just an imaginative child :)).

forum_christmas

The dormant memories would have withstood the jolt and sunk back into oblivion had I not stumbled onto this in 2007 (pls. forgive the poorly made video, I couldn’t find a better one online :()

The Rothenburg Christmas Museum (which is featured in the video above) in Germany is a Christmas decoration collector’s heaven… If balls in metallic shades and bells and snowflakes in glass, and wooden puppets and ornamental clocks et al is your thing, you can attain nirvana here.

I didn’t attain nirvana but I oohed and aahed and spent a magical few hours in the museum, believing that I had actually been transported to my childhood world of imagination

The Christmas decoration desire btw, doesn’t augur well for a pocket with a limited euro supply, and also for luggage that gets heaved across continents, so I couldn’t really give in to my heart’s content worth of decorations. Nevertheless, the last year I was in Germany, this below was where I yielded to temptation, courtesy which I have now in my home, a few pretty little reminders of my excesses 😉 :

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A post with tidbits about Christmas in Europe would be incomplete without a mention of these fabulous Christmas markets. Just have a look at this picture and tell me if I’m wrong to be so besotted!

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I got a whiff of the Christmas market last year, and a permanent memory etched itself into my conscious: that of glühwein. Ah how ineffective words can be when narrating this experience … the sheer drama of being handed a piping-hot cup of sweet smelling red wine and having it slide down your cold-numbed lips and throat, dissolving you and your shivers into this delightful golden pool of warmth inside…

gluhwein  gluhwein2

… pure unadulterated contentment.

And if that didn’t do it for you, here’s another picture that will send your desires into riot – don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

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This my friends, is a crepe. Cranberry sauce, almonds, cranberries & raspberries, and vanilla icecream, and fluffy white cream, lovingly resting on its folded warm surface – a treat for sore eyes, minds and hearts. And yes, if you do want to know – I and my friend (2 plates above, yes?) DID scoop and scrape every last bit of it :).

So now that you’ve sampled a bit of what this dreadfully-sneaky season does to me, I’m off to bask in the glorious 20 degree winter in Bangalore, sample some sensuous red wine (…erm or maybe masala chai?), walk up and down the decorated aisles of Forum and the like, treat myself to some baked-specials & decorations to add to my collection, and feel all pretty and warm and festive inside.

(So much for festival-holiday-hating, hmph)

Happy New Year everybody!! 🙂

The murder of innocence

Sheetal pulled at her uncle’s hand as she watched her favorite cartoon channel. He was sitting on the bed, a few feet away from the TV, and holding her as she stood between his legs, swinging from side to side, and holding his hands and knees for support. All of 5 years, her eyes were transfixed on the screen as she watched keenly the antics of Tom and Jerry, her favorite characters.

So absorbed was she that she didn’t realize that her uncle was holding her still, and had nudged her closer to himself. As she watched the screen, she suddenly felt something. Something wierd. She looked down and saw his hands on her chest. They were rubbing her. She couldn’t understand the significance of the action and was puzzled, more so by the fact that it felt wierd. And wrong.

She took her eyes of the screen and looked back at his face. He smiled at her, and pointed to the screen and told her “Look! Look at what Tom is doing!”. The rubbing continued, and she began to think she wanted to go away. But she couldn’t move, being locked in by his strong, adult legs. She pulled at his hands, trying to pry them away. It didn’t work – she just felt the pressure of his hands further. She felt his body envelop her, and a whisper next to her ears “Don’t worry. Just stand. Nothing is wrong. Don’t tell anything to mummy. She’ll scold you”. And with that, the hands began to proceed lower.

Repulsed? Disconcerted? Angry?

Well, you can be one or more of those things, but you certainly can’t be in the shoes of Sheetal. You can’t feel what she felt as a child, and can’t understand the pain. You can’t understand what’s going through her mind, even as she grapples with coming to terms with something she cannot comprehend. The pain of trusting someone and having herself violated by that very someone. The pain of being unable to defend herself, or stop what was happening, because she was scared. And worried. And traumatized.

Fear. He taught her what it was to fear. He made her think that what he was doing was right. She needed to be afraid only because she was wrong. Wrong to not want it to happen. And she would be more wrong. If she spoke out. Because then, everyone would abandon her. And they, her family, would suffer.

Because it seemed like he could make them.

This is a true story; of not just one Sheetal but of several. Several little girl children who encounter one or more forms of abuse, every day. Abused by random strangers on the road. Abused by teachers, drivers, watchmen, guardians or friends. Abused by family. Abused by people who’re their very own – a parent or a brother.

Indeed, it isn’t even just girl children. Boys are abused too. The person, the age, the gender, the religion, the family, the economic and social background, the language, the country – nothing matters. Abuse happens each day, each second.

When adults get abused, they know instantly that they have been wronged, for no fault of theirs. They know they have a voice that’ll get heard. And a choice.

When children get abused, they have none of these. They can’t understand that they have been wronged. They can’t understand that they can speak about it to someone and they will be understood and protected. They can’t understand that they have a choice to be pulled out of their pain and trauma – and a choice to rebuild the fabric of trust that they had within them. A fabric that was ripped to shreds by an adult.

An adult. A psychopath. Some who took care to be funny, and nice, and understanding. For long enough to build a child’s trust. Someone who everybody in the household instinctively trusted. Someone who would be left alone with the child, without a thought. Someone who would wait for a defenseless moment to do the most despicable act: sexually abuse a child.

And then such children grow up. Dysfunctional. Untrusting. Overtly cautious. Promiscuous. Confused. Even demented.

More than 53% children report facing one or more forms of sexual abuse.

Are you one of those 53%? Or do you know of a child, who, unbeknownst to you, could end up being in that 53%?

If so, protect our children. Speak up against Child Abuse. Vouch to fight against those who murder a child’s innocence. And be aware. Aware that any moment, your belief in the trustworthiness of a person, can be destroyed the moment, he or she touches your child in a way that should never ever happen. Keep your eyes open, tell children what they need to know: that they have done nothing to deserve it if it happens, that you are there to fight for them, and that you will be able to handle it – and protect them, and all they need to do is to come and tell you.

* * * * *

This is a topic that’s very close to my heart and something I have wished to write upon for years – and for sure, this is not the last post on it. I have personally experienced abuse as a child, and I know several women – almost every other woman I know – have had one or more experiences of being fondled, or molested, or sexually abused as a child. April 2011 marks a month-long initiative by CSAAM – an effort by bloggers, parents and non-parents, to bring this topic to the fore, and spread awareness on it. The initiative has a presence on twitter – @CSAawareness – and Facebook

Several blogs have been written already, as part of the blogathon:

Monika Manchanda

Mad Momma

CSA Survivor Story

Recognize Child Sexual Abuse by Desi Girl

Let’s laud the effort of these bloggers to talk about a topic that hardly gets the attention it deserves.

At the same time, pls. remember to support, talk about it, educate ourselves, and others, so that the children of this world can get the protection they need. Do you have a voice? If so, please make it count!  (This post tells you how to participate)

A tale of two women

Update:
BlogJunta found this post worthy of an Editor’s Choice mention :). Here’s what they’ve graciously given me:

BlogJunta - An ode to the Blogosphere

Lakshmi, 34, is educated. The youngest of three children, she’s studied upto 10th (her family is poor, but her dad believed in educating all his children, and has managed to provide them with a basic education. As is the practice in their community, Lakshmi got married to her cousin when she was 15. Today, she has two kids, a girl aged 14 and a boy aged 9 – both are studying.

Lakshmi works for a living, as a cook, earning about Rs. 5000 per month. Her husband works at a factory, and earns the same. He gives her Rs. 1500 a month, for expenses at home (spending 2000 for himself, and giving his mother the rest) + her son’s education. He refuses to give her a rupee extra for the daughter because he never wanted the child in the first place – he says she’ll be nothing but a burden. When the daughter was 4 months old, he told Lakshmi he’d kill her. Lakshmi threatened to kill him if he did anything of the sort and he backed off. She’s managed to keep her daughter safe since then, but he refuses to look at or talk to the child – and objects to any of his money being used for bringing up the child.

He loves his son though and insisted that he be sent to an English medium school (even if the fees is prohibitive for a family with their kind of income). To cope with the home expenses (given that her husband’s contribution is meagre), Lakshmi is taking on as much work as possible. She gets up at 4 am, starts work at 5, and finishes at 9.30 pm, and sleeps at 11.00 (after finishing work at home).

This month hasn’t begun so well for her – as is with most months. Her employers pay her during the first few days of the month, and her husband’s been making life hell for her, for the past 10 days – since he’s been eyeing her salary. Today she has had yet another fight with him and has been crying, because he’s asking for more money, as dowry. For the past 19 years, he’s been accusing her and her family of cheating him out of what’s due to him and his family.

Lakshmi’s father isn’t alive, and her only brother doesn’t care enough to negotiate with her husband (or take action against him).

Her only solution? Put on a smile and continue to work every minute of the day – so that her children can go to school, and she is able to provide them with an education that can get them employment in the future. When asked about it, she says, “It’s ok. I and my children will survive. The only anger I have is with God.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Maya is turning 31 this year. She’s working in an MNC, and earning much more than guys of her age. Smart, confident and exceptional at what she does – she’s starting to become a subject of envy more than appreciation. She’s begun to see that there are unseen lines she’s not expected to cross, and though her rise to the current position has been meteoric, she’s beginning to think that the onward journey will need more than credentials, experience and capability. However, despite recent run-ins with bosses, she’s willing to try as hard as possible, and navigate around the prejudices – she’s worked hard on her career, and she can’t afford to give it up all now.

At home, Maya has an entirely different terrain to navigate. Her parents are beginning to fret about her marital status and she sees the worry writ large on her mother’s face, day after day. Maya had her chance at 25, to marry a guy she really liked, and who loved her for what she was. But her parents objected to him, and even threatened her with dire consequences. They argued that they could never face their relatives/friends, and would die of shame, if their Brahmin daughter married a non-Brahmin from a different state. Eventually, she decided to concentrate on her job, and let them look for someone “appropriate” once she was truly over him.

That was 3 years ago. After that, its been an endless ordeal: of horoscope-matching, being visited by prospective groom’s parents, sisters or relatives, getting dressed and being subjected to the same questions over and over again, talking to guys on the phone, to even meeting them more than once, so that they could “get to know her better”.

Some of the initial proposals didn’t go through because she thought she wanted to make sure she was marrying someone she could visualize spending the rest of her life with – and the guys she was meeting didn’t fit the bill. However, soon after, the issues weren’t from her side anymore. Her darker skin met with various frowns, and often, mothers or aunts would ask her mother openly whether she was “white” or “wheatish”. Then, they had a problem with her age. “Why exactly is she single even now?”. And then, it was her career. “Will she adjust to my son’s timings, and accompany him in case he travels to a different country? We don’t want a career-oriented girl for him”. The last straw was “At this age, will she conceive?”

Maya has been mulling on a decision for a month now. She’s had it with the emotional abuse and trauma of each visit from a prospective groom’s side (and the corny/wierd guys she gets to meet after surviving such onslaughts) – and she’s beginning to think her mother’s health is degrading because of the intense worry she carries.

She’s going to ask her parents to stop looking for a partner for her. She’s convinced that she’s destined to be single – after all, if you can’t find a companion to share your life, it’s better to be single and independent, right?

Right. She just wishes though, that this thought doesn’t make her feel like her insides were crumbling.

* * * * * * * * * *
P.S. “Women’s Day” is day after tomorrow. While newspapers and tv shows are all waxing eloquent on the topic, I was contemplating a blog – after all, there are things that need to be said, right?
But today, I came across these two stories (these are people I know – names have been changed though), and realized that this is all that needs to be written about.

A Big Heart

Do you have about 20 minutes to spare? If so, I suggest you watch this movie. If nothing else, this 20 minute movie will atleast induce a faint stir in your soul, and give you a glimpse of the power that lies within you.

Video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsPic6PRCf4&feature=fvw

At best, the movie will fuel a few moments or more of introspection – making us think of  that which we know is at the back of our minds, but was conveniently shoved away to accomodate more “wordly” pursuits:

Questions about how, in our constant struggle to live and prove our worth to ourselves and the world, we’re gradually losing all traces of humanity in us. Thinking of how and when we started to learn to de-sensitize ourselves and be impervious to sorrow and pain. Trying to remember when we forgot to believe in our power to change lives around us – even in the littlest ways possible – starting with those closest to us.

For me, the following excerpt just summed it all up –

Dr. Devi Shetty: “I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. But people consider that as generosity, and charity. I’m just doing my duty as any other individual. But unfortunately, overall, society has degraded to such a level that just being a normal human being is considered as Godly.”