Saturday, April 14, 2018

What would you do?

Imagine a school. A huge campus…a magnificent building with great facilities. You agree to its policies and like the sound of its ideologies (from the little you have read). You have even met a few members of the faculty, who look respectable and knowledgeable. You decide that it will be the right one to guide and educate your children through their formative years.

As the years go by, you realise that the teachers are incompetent and careless. They do not care about your child at all. They are un-inspiring, lazy and selfish. They blindly read from textbooks in class, without bothering to explain contexts or provide meaningful examples. In fact, they favour students based on the gifts they bring in, and penalise those that do not satisfy their greed.

You speak to the Principal, who assures you that it is all going as per plan (and there is nothing to worry). He even puts your child in a different class, with a more “popular” teacher. But you soon realise that it’s not much better, as the curriculum itself is theoretical and archaic.

To make matters worse, your child has witnessed bullying. Apparently, there are kids in the school who beat up and verbally abuse students from another school, at the bus stop. Occasionally, they even bully kids from their own school. On repeated complaints, they are neither punished nor expelled (as some of them are the children of senior faculty or board of directors).

Your child is clearly upset and does not look forward to going to school at all. You have given it sufficient number of years to know that things won’t change on their own. You have spoken to several frustrated parents, who feel the same way….but continue to send their children to this school because it is closer home and still has a reputation. “It’s all more or less the same…others, often worse”, they said.  

Surely, not all schools can be this bad. You personally know teachers from other schools who seem to genuinely enjoy teaching. You also know several students who have turned out just fine….fighting and surviving in the system, without being scarred. You yourself are a product of the very system, often facing similar problems when growing up. But your parents did nothing drastic (like changing schools or suburbs).

As an educated, independent, responsible parent, would you continue your/your child’s journey with this school (or any school where you have a similar experience)?
If your answer is "No"...

Replace the word "school" with "religion" in the earlier paragraphs (and teachers/faculty/principal with whatever you call your religious heads). Now answer that question again. Is your answer still No?

The concept of religion is not much different to the concept of a school you are affiliated with. If you are not getting much out of it, you have a choice. If you have lost faith in the system altogether, you don’t need a religion at all! For religion may be born out of the best intentions (just like the magnificent building of the school that impressed you on the first day), but if the popular “practice” of it is corrupt, illogical or un-inspiring, you cannot truly justify being a part of it.

Of course, the analogy is not meant to be taken literally. In modern society, we can live without religion…but it’s not as easy to do away with schools. Also, school as an institution is not synonymous with education. Just like faith/spirituality is not synonymous with religion. ­One can be educated without ever stepping into a school (and be essentially un-educated despite have degrees from prestigious schools/colleges). Similarly, one can have faith and even believe in a superpower of some sort, without being part of any religion.

The point is, has religion really given us a lot? Has it not, over the years, caused more pain/inequality/unrest than provided the peace and freedom it was supposed to offer? When I read about the atrocities in the name of religion, I become more convinced that I do not want to be affiliated to any. When I hear about the hatred and terror spread by the so-called custodians of religion, I feel like my child doesn’t need the tag of religion either. Sure, we enjoy the festivities, celebrations and even certain religious rituals. But we celebrate Christmas with as much zeal as Diwali and Eid. And these celebrations (to us) have very little to do with religion. They are all just opportunities to celebrate the joys of life, with our family and friends.

I am possibly not a true atheist just yet…but I choose joy over religion. I choose peace.
I found this interesting piece on the difference between God and religion:
In it, Reb Jeff says:
It is my belief that many people who call themselves atheists are really just anti-religion. Maybe that's true for you, too. I think there is a difference between faith and religion.

A true atheist would be someone who believes that our existence is a complete accident of chance, that our lives serve no purpose and have no meaning, apart from what human beings ascribe to their own existence. A true atheist would believe that there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about any human action wrong. I don't believe that and I don't think that there are many people who do if you really push them on it. To me, faith is just the gut feeling that our lives continue to matter even after we have died, and that the way we choose to live matters, too—not just because of our biologically programmed preferences, but because there really is such a thing as right and wrong.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Oh Perth!

When people ask me why we chose Perth as our home, I tell them that we didn’t. Perth chose us. Not once. But twice.

Like many immigrants, we aspired (and even tried) to move to the eastern states, in our early years here. After all, Australia is known for the Opera House (not the Bell Tower). But every time we tried, a better opportunity came up from Perth. It’s as if the city didn’t want us to leave. So, we stayed back. And slowly, it cast its spell on us.

That spell is by no means the hustle-bustle, glitz, glamour, illuminated billboards, corporate hubs, busy skyline, power-packed morning commute or late-night eateries that most big cities boast of.  Take all of that and play it in slow motion….and cast a sepia tone on it. Perth emits that laid-back vibe. Friends and family from the eastern states call it the retirement city….the pensioner’s paradise (euphemisms for “boring” or “slow”). But if you ask me, I think Perth is way ahead of its times. Don’t people take years to realise that it’s the small things that are actually the big things in life? That this rat race ultimately takes us nowhere? That nothing is more important than time with your family…of watching your kids grow and your garden bloom? That when the time really comes, one doesn’t remember the projects they have completed or the contracts they have signed? What is left is the fuzzy, warm blend of memories – a random school assembly… or the time your child was able to cycle without the training wheels…or how they collected shells from their favourite beach. Well, Perth gets that.

One can do a hard day’s work and still get back home by 5.30pm to take the kid for soccer or piano. One can get to work, beach or a friend’s house in around 30 minutes (and still stop for coffee at the local cafĂ©, whose owners one has known for years). One can live the Aussie dream of a BBQ in the backyard, while the kids splash in the pool. None of this is easy or cheap. Nor is it the same for everyone. Perth isn't even as small a city as I am probably making it sound (it is still a capital city with a population of about 2.14 million). And of course we still complain about the traffic, the roads, the rising expenses and the stagnant wages. But Perth has space. And it gives space…for dreams to be born and achieved.  

One of the most remote cities of the world has surprisingly got the concept of “closeness” rather well. Yes, Perth is a small city with a big heart. Wise and mellow, it gets life’s priorities.

And here are some surprising facts about this city, as per (I am not sure if they are correct):
  •          Perth is not just one the most isolated capital cities in the globe but also the sunniest. The city enjoys around 8 hours of sunshine on an average per day.
  •          Medium age of Perth is 32, compared to the nation’s medium of 37.
  •         It boasts over 12,500 km of coastline, which means, you’re never going to be stepping on anyone’s towel at the beach.
  •         The jetty at Busselton is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere.
  •         Perth is the only city in the world where you could fly your own airplane and land it smack dab in the middle of the central business district.
  •         King’s Park is the biggest city park in the world.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Spelling Bee

It was back in those days when I could not go to the bathroom alone. Not because I was scared or injured, but because I had a toddler in tow 24x7. She followed me around like a shadow – but only if we were at home. Anywhere else, especially outdoors, she would do just the opposite. That is, not follow me around (which would be safe and reassuring) but run in every possible direction away from me. Towards oncoming traffic or water bodies, into shops and elevators, or in short, in any general direction of danger.

The said toddler had sharp ears and an even sharper capability to pick up words we didn’t want it to hear. But what it was sharpest at was to blurt those words out at the most inappropriate situations (like most toddlers do). After all, what was the purpose of spending nine months in the womb if it wasn’t utilised in studying the womb-owner in great detail and knowing exactly which nerves would be particularly fun to get on?

Anyway, that was the time when we started to spell out words at home, so that we could have conversations without the constant fear of “Watch-Out-The-Toddler-Understands”. It was as if we were both preparing for some Spelling Bee competition, which did not have particularly high standards (as we would occasionally spell out even the articles and prepositions, out of habit). We would say, “Let’s not give her M-I-L-K at bedtime today. It’s not good for her teeth”. Or, “Do not eat the C-H-I-P-S in front of her. She won’t have dinner then.”

The arrangement was working well for a while. Until we realised that it was affecting our peace of mind (and the general peace at home). For the toddler’s dad could not use the spell-checker while talking, which meant, I could not resist correcting him. You can imagine what would follow!

During this time, I planned to go out for dinner with a girlfriend one night. Just the two of us (after our respective toddlers were in bed). Months of planning, near-misses and actual misses later, we made it. It was a well-deserved and much-needed break, we told ourselves. So, we dressed up for the occasion….and even managed to brush our hair and leave the house without a food stain on our clothes.

We chose fine dining, of course (given, our usual dinners involved eating leftover baby food). Venting over glasses of wine, we were having a good time. You know what they say about “shared pain is half the pain”. And when the pain involves being regularly stabbed on our arms with “fairy wands” or tripping over scattered Lego blocks around the house, there is indeed a lot of solace in sharing.  So, we chatted the night away, sipping our wines and sharing our war stories.

But when the waitress refilled our water and asked whether we needed anything else, every five minutes, we knew we had to leave. For everyone else had. When we asked for the check, it was brought to us in less than two seconds. (They really wanted us to leave by then.) I placed my credit card on the tray, picked up a mouth-freshener, and almost involuntarily asked my friend “Should we T-I-P?” My friend turned a shade of red.  It nicely complimented her dress, I thought (slightly tipsy, by then). And then I turned to the waitress, who instantly got busy refilling our water jug (yet again).

Just in case you don’t get it (and I don’t mean to sound condescending), let me “spell” it out for you.  I had spelled out T-I-P in the presence of the waitress, who, I’m pretty sure, knew how to spell too (unlike my toddler). So, without any further eye contact with the said waitress or my friend, I did T-I-P. And we ran out of the place….promising never to come back.

P.S. To this day, I have involuntary twitching when I hear the word “tip”. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Daaler Bora

Before the ghee-bhaat induced high could die down, I indulged in yet another childhood favourite – the daaler bora (crunchy lentil balls). At home, this was typically made when there was no fish or chicken on the menu (which was a rare occurrence in a Bengali household). 

The first few batches had all the recommended ingredients, including the onion and chilli. But we devoured them at such speed that Ma and her help couldn’t keep pace with their frying. So, the last few batches had pretty much only the daal and the kalo jeerey (black nigella seeds). It was too much effort to keep chopping onions and chillies, when you’re feeding (what must have felt like) a hungry village. However, the missing ingredients made no difference to us. We wiped clean the plates, as soon as they were served….until Ma would say “Daal shesh” (meaning, “We have run out of daal”).

Ma would always make a special, gigantic one for me. I’d relish it at the end of the meal, in no rush to finish it. Baba would say that the small ones actually tasted better, as they were cooked through and crunchier. But I always loved my special, gigantic one the most.

I made these yesterday, after getting back from work. Those of you who know my relationship with the kitchen, know why this is a big deal (I avoid that space as much as I can). My 4-yr old pulled up a little stool next to me, while I fried these little parcels of joy. Reliving those days, when I would have been slightly older than her, the two of us giggled like school girls.

And then, we sat in our backyard and devoured them with a cup of tea (no, she didn’t have the tea, in case you’re wondering). We kept aside a few for Daddy. But he would never know of the gigantic one, which now rests in peace in a little tummy. Shh.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ghee Bhaat

PC: My friend Amit Sengupta and his sister :)

(If you would rather read the English version, scroll to the bottom of this post.)

Ek gorosh holeo, shokale school e jaoar aage, modhdhobitto Bangalir barite, bachchader etai khawano hoto. Ekhon hoyto sheta paltey sandwich ba cereal hoeche. Kintu amader chotobela, Ma der moner shanti  = bachcha ektu ghee bhaat kheye geche.

Bangali bachchader nadush nudush hoar #1 karon.

Bajarey onek din jaoa hoy ni, fridge e sherom kichu nei….emon dineo etai shombol.

Shordi, kashi, jor jor, mukhey oruchi….tateo eri ek baati.

Hostel life, single life, paying guest, barir jonno mon kharap….ba je kono karoney mon kharap, Bangalir priyo “comfort food”.

Chotobela, amar “baby fat” ta jetey ektu deri korechilo (jodio sheta boro bela abar firey esheche jor kodomey). Class 2 ba 3 e jokhon pori, ekta chotto bhuri niye ghurtam. Onek bhalobasha shotteo, amar Jethu amar Ma ke na boley parey ni “Mitra, Tulir bhuri ta kintu berei choleche”. Je kono Bangali Ma der moto, Ma o nijer meyer bhuri konodino dekhte pay ni.  Jethur kotha kaney ba money na tuley bolechilo, “Bachchader orom ektu adhtu thakey. Oromi bhalo."

Tobe Jethur kotha ta ami oto shohojey bhultey pari ni. Aynay barbar dekhtam nijer bhuri. Eri modhdhay ekdin parar ek didir barite “Putul Biyer” nemontonno. Shekhaney amar bhalobashar onek rokom khabar. Kintu bhuri niye shoddo biporjostho boley, ami khubi shotorko. Oder bari pouchei ami jor golay announce korlam “Ami khub mota hoye jachchi, tai aj kichchu khabo na. Amay khali ektu ghee bhaat dao.”

Ei kotha ta aguner moto choriye gelo paray. “Tuli roga hotey chay boley ektu ghee bhaat khetey cheyeche”. Ajo parar karor shaathe dekha holey, onek kothar modhdhay, ei golpo ta bola hoy amake.

Roga hoya amar hoy ni. Hobeo na. Chotto bhuri aj brihot hoeche. Kintu ghee bhaat, alu shedhdho, kacha lonka ajo amar shob cheye priyo khabar (Biriyani-sthanio, almost). Tai jokhon amar meye onno kichu na khete cheye boley “Mummy, give me only butter and rice”, mone hoy, bhuri ta o amar theke pay ni thiki…kintu genes ta thiki peyeche.
English version:

When I was growing up, kids from most middle-class Bengali households were made to eat ghee-bhaat (rice, ghee and boiled potato, mashed together to pulpy balls), before they left for school in the morning. Occasionally, a boiled egg was thrown in as well (except on “exam” days, where eggs were thought to be ominous i.e. the kid would score eggs, that is, 0). Today, cereal and sandwiches may have become more popular choices for breakfast. But back then, a Bengali mother’s peace of mind = the child has eaten ghee-bhaat before school.

It’s the #1 reason behind making Bengali kids chubby.
It’s the #1 choice of food on those days when there’s not much left in the fridge or pantry.
It’s also the #1 comfort food for homesick students living away from home (in hostels or as paying guests etc.), or for anyone feeling low in general.
Anyone who has lost their appetite after a bout of sickness, would also turn to ghee-bhaat.
In short, ghee-bhaat should go down in the history of Bengal, not just as food but as a complex socio-economic and even medical phenomenon!

My so called “baby fat” stayed with me, way past my babyhood. When I was in year 2 or 3, my Jethu (my father’s elder brother) couldn’t help telling me Ma “Mitra, Tuli’s paunch seems to be growing every day”. Like most Bengali mums, my Ma was blind to any sort of paunch or chubbiness, when it came to her daughter. She didn’t take it to heart, but said “That’s just a bit of baby fat. No big deal. In fact, that’s how it should be”.

But I wasn’t able to dismiss my Jethu’s words so easily. I looked at the mirror several times during the day, trying to determine if I really had a paunch. Incidentally, that very week, there was a Putuler Biye (doll’s wedding) invitation that I had to attend at a neighbourhood friend’s place. Many of my favourite dishes were on offer. But my new-found self-consciousness had made me quite alert. Just as I got there, I announced loud and clear “I am putting on a bit of weight. I’m not going to eat any of this. Just give me some ghee-bhaat, please.”

News spread like fire in the neighbourhood. “Tuli is trying to lose weight by following a strict ghee-bhaat diet”. Now that you know what ghee-bhaat is, am sure you get the joke. Even today, when I visit India and happen to meet someone from my neighbourhood, this story inevitably comes up.

I still haven’t been able to shed my…erm “baby fat”. And I don’t think I ever will. But ghee-bhaat continues to be my favourite food (I like it almost as much as Biriyani). So, when my 4yr old tells me “Mummy, I don’t want to eat anything. Just give me rice with butter”, I smile. She may not have inherited my paunch, but she sure has my genes.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Words you mis-pronounce

This is part of my Letters to My Little Girl series.

Dear Shanaya,

You’re growing up too fast and that makes me sad. To which you said “That’s because I am eating all my vegetables, Mummy” (which, by the way, is not true).
The other day, you said “magnificent”. To hear that word come out of your tiny lips, in your croaky voice, was funny and scary at the same time. You also know the names of certain body parts, which (no matter what they say about always teaching your kids the correct names) made me jump out of my skin!
So, I am dearly holding on to the few words you still pronounce incorrectly. For very soon, you’ll say them the correct way, and where’s the fun in that?
You regularly want to go to the “escon” (restaurant) to have hot chocolate and cake. You also like stories about “Monu Monu”, which is your version of “Nomo Nomo” (meaning, “praying”). You like clearing out the mailbox and run to me with junk mail, insisting they are “potant” (important). Your favourite thing to draw is a "bLutterfly". You also love going to the “libary”, making it sound like a fashionable destination with a silent “r”. And oh, you are forever adding an adorable “y” at the end of most words, making everything sound like a nursery rhyme (night-y, fish-y, cold-y, loud-y, milk-y).

When both of us are standing side my side, you can now touch my shoulder with your hand, without standing on your toes. This makes you immensely proud! Soon, the y’s will be dropped and you will be able to touch my head. But please, please, don’t rush. Let me enjoy your “babyhood” a little longer.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How to Be a Hero

(This was written as an editorial for Oikyotaan, which is the annual magazine of the Bengali Association of Western Australia).

There is a reason why superhero movies are so popular amongst children and adults alike. The persona of a courageous saviour, who is unfazed in times of danger, is fascinating. But while these movies “fascinate” us, they rarely “inspire” us to be courageous ourselves. We attribute the superhero’s courage to the special powers they have. Some can fly. Others have subconscious ability to sense everything in their surroundings. Clearly, we can’t do either. So, we conclude that such death-defying acts of bravery for the greater good of mankind, are not something we are capable of. But what if I told you that courage has little to do with special powers? What if I told you that heroism may not be an innate quality but something that can be learned? There have been conjectures about the existence of a “hero gene”, which makes some people more courageous than others. But no evidence has been found to support it. In fact, research has proven that each one of us have it in us to be heroes.

But who is a hero anyway? We often loosely use the term for a celebrity, a positive role model or a powerful sports figure. But a hero is an ordinary person who does extraordinary things in the face of crisis, with great risk to themselves, without any expectation of reward. Turns out, there are two types of heroes – reflective and impulsive. “Reflective” heroes are the ones who carefully planned a course of action to oppose injustice or immorality. They are the ones who dedicated their lives in the service of others. “Impulsive” heroes are those who risked their lives/safety in the face of an unforeseen crisis (accidents, natural calamities, criminal violence) to save the lives of strangers. Armed with a clear understanding of what heroism is, I started looking at the lives of a few reflective heroes whose stories touched me.

Subhasini Mistry, an illiterate, poor woman in West Bengal, who lost her husband at 23 due to medical negligence, dreams of building a hospital for the poor. And by sheer hard work, grit and selflessness, she goes on to build the Humanity Hospital, which offers free medical treatment to thousands of people today.

Sunitha Krishnan, a victim of gang rape, dreams of rescuing other rape victims like her. She goes on to become a social activist, chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, a non-governmental organisation that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates sex-trafficked victims into society.

Sanjeev Kumar, a smart, young, successful man, leaves a promising MBA career to fight for the rights of unknown people in a distant village. When his colleagues and friends were probably relocating to foreign lands that hold a better promise for the “house-car-vacation” dream, he relocates to a village and spends the crucial years of his life fighting against untouchability and caste system through his organisation, the Bahishkrit Hitkari Sangathan.

Naseema Hurzuk, paraplegic at the age of 16, dreams to help others with similar problems. She confesses how at one point in her life, she just didn’t want to live anymore. From there, she goes on to open an organisation called Helpers of the Handicapped, which inspires thousands of people with disabilities to live happy, self-sufficient lives.

What gave them the optimism and courage to do something about a problem, instead of taking the easy option of blaming others/government/infrastructure and saying “This country will never change” or “What can I do?” or worse still “Why should I do it; it’s not my problem.”?
What made these people rise above the feelings of anger, hopelessness and self-pity? Why didn’t they just shut their eyes to the suffering of strangers, like most others do?

Naseema’s words at the end of an interview provide answers, to a certain degree, “When you don’t feel like living for yourself, you must learn to live for others”.

This concept of “living for others” is alien to the vast majority of people. For most of us, “others” consist of our immediate family. The biggest sacrifices we are capable of making are the ones for our own children.  Sometimes, even making small life adjustments for our own parents seem too difficult. At the most, we’ll lend money to a friend in need or sponsor the education of underprivileged kids through our preferred charity. And we think that’s enough workout for our conscience. But we take care not to do anything that disturbs the pattern of our lives. While any sort of good is good, as the saying goes “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

And that is exactly what Subhasini, Sunitha and Naseema did. They were ordinary people who faced immense personal tragedies themselves. It’s probably their own crisis that helped them empathise with others like them. Instead of letting their despair crush them, they used it to fuel their altruism. Studies have shown that people who suffered from a childhood illness or loss that tested their resilience were more likely to be unselfish and heroic.

But this does not mean that people who don’t face traumas cannot become heroes. My curiosity led me to the work of several psychologists, including Philip Zimbardo (professor emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University), who believe that each one of us can be heroic, if we are trained to. The key is to develop our “heroic imagination”, to envisage how we might act in the heat of a dangerous moment, what dilemmas we might face, and how we would deal with them. This belief led to the birth of the Heroic Imagination Project, an organisation that “encourages and empowers individuals to take heroic action during crucial moments in their lives”.  Turns out, by setting ourselves small challenges, we can cultivate a personal habit of bravery, which equips us for facing the real thing.

Another series of studies was done on the rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. Very few did what they did: rescue strangers at great risk to themselves, with no expectation of reward. One finding was that, “as children, the rescuers experienced one or more of the following: a nurturing, loving home; an altruistic parent or beloved caretaker; a tolerance for people who were different; an immense personal loss; an emphasis upon independence, discipline with explanations, and caring”. This suggested that altruism can be learned. What the children learned every day from their parents—kindness and tolerance and independent thinking—helps explain why they became rescuers. These values became so habitual that personal risk did not prevent them from doing the right thing.

If these studies are to be believed (and I don’t see why we shouldn’t), heroism/altruism can be learned and it is our responsibility to inculcate it in ourselves and our children. While the emphasis on literacy and sports (in schools and at homes) has its own benefits, the development of the “heroic imagination” cannot be negated. And if the question “what’s in it for me?” does arise, researchers have answers for that too.

Turns out that being heroic is not only good for society at large but also the individual. “Fostering a clear idea of a personal heroic ideal can help guide a person in times of trouble, or moral uncertainty,” says Philip Zimbardo. And then there is “the helper’s high”, which is the euphoria we feel when we engage in altruistic behaviour.
Phycologists also claim that many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are actually caused not so much by the traumatic event itself, but because of the person’s “inaction” (or the “bystander effect”) at the time of the crisis. Their conscience did not let them live in peace. So, heroism does help us live better.

As residents of a first-world country, we are safe from the world’s worst perils (poverty, war, illiteracy etc.). We do have the luxury of focusing on heroism and altruism. We can bring up children who are more aware, more prepared. It’s high time the media and entertainment industry made real-life heroes more popular than superheroes. If we had more animation movies, books and shows on the lives of real heroes, our children would see how they could become heroes themselves. And maybe one day, even if its years from now, children would want to have Subhasini Mistry-themed birthday parties (instead of Batman and Wonder Woman). 

As always, we hope that Oikyotaan this year takes you on a journey. From the dark alleys of science, through Myanmar…straight to Jupiter, on a witch’s broom! When you read the articles, you’ll know what I mean. Apart from the varied contributions of the writers and artists of our Bengali community, you will find stories of ordinary men and women around the world, who saved the lives of strangers. We hope you find them inspiring.

If there is one resolution we make this festive season, let’s make it about something for the higher good. “The call might only come once in your life, and if you pass it by, you’ll always know, ‘I could have been a hero… and I let it pass me by’...” But until that time comes, let’s develop our heroic imagination with small, selfless acts. Donating blood, helping a stranger in a roadside emergency, donating our time/service/resources for a natural disaster appeal or an old age home or an animal rescue shelter – whatever be our cause, whatever be our limitations, we can all break free from our self-centred routines. And when the time comes, let’s hope we can all rise to the occasion and be heroes too.
Sharod Shubhechha from the entire team of Oikyotaan 2017 (volunteers, contributors, sponsors and supporters). Ma Durga may have had many superpowers, but she was heroic nonetheless. Learning from her would be the best way to worship her.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why I voted "yes"...

Sexuality, like our bodies, is a real thing. However, the two are not mutually dependent. Privileged are those who are born with bodies that comply with societal norms of sexuality. The problem is, like many things, societal norms became misconstrued to be “natural” or “normal”.

When language was evolving, “male” and “female” were words “we” came up with, based on our body types.  It was still early days for our civilization. Our imagination, like our language, was limited. We couldn’t think beyond what we saw (except for religion, where everything was founded on faith and not evidence). The Earth was believed to be the centre of the universe, as it fitted well with our mundane observations. But this Geocentric Theory couldn’t explain the retrograde motion of some planets. Did that mean those planets were not “normal”? Probably not. It meant that our theory wasn’t right.  And that’s what Galileo proved when he revived the Heliocentric Theory (already proven by Copernicus) by observing the motion of Jupiter’s moons. The Earth was not the centre of the universe, after all.

Unfortunately, the notion of our bodies/physical attributes defining our gender/sexuality hasn’t been dismissed yet. But it cannot explain why some people feel differently about their sexuality and gender, despite the bodies they are born with. The fact that our sexuality could be as much in our “minds” as our bodies, is still as controversial a concept as the Heliocentric Theory was back then. The Church had silenced Galileo through torture and refused him a proper burial after his death. And many countries/societies are trying to silence the LGBT community even now, by denying them the respect and legal status their identities/relationships deserve.

In debates with my contemporaries and the older generation, one thing has always come up. “Marriage should be between a man and a woman, because only a man and a woman can procreate”. Well, I know many man-woman couples who don’t want to (or can’t) procreate. Does it make them any less a “married” couple in the eyes of law or society? Moreover, since when has “procreation” become the main/defining criterion for a marriage or relationship?

Then, there are those who say that a child needs a father and a mother. Of course! But what has that got to do with gender? A man can be as good a mother as a woman can be a father. Aren’t single parents all over the world proving just that by playing both roles?

Another concern was for “what we are teaching our children”. Apparently, if we legalise homosexual marriages, we may be encouraging our children to “become” homosexuals. Well, why would anyone want to become something they are not, just because it’s legal? Do we not realise that it’s our identities we are talking about? Would we casually wake up one morning and change our identities, just because it’s legal?  If our children are homosexuals…well, they are homosexuals. Nothing less. Nothing more. And if they are so, why would they be any less in the eyes of law?

This is how I tried to explain it to an elderly male relative of mine….Imagine, everyone around you is calling you a “woman”. Would that change the fact that you believe/feel you are a man? That’s what many people feel like when they are born with bodies that don’t align with how they feel about themselves. Society’s perception cannot dictate their identities. A body is a body. A mind is a mind. Who are we to decide which mind should live in which body…and which type of mind/body should be sexually attracted to which type? Isn’t that the most fundamental denial of “freedom of choice”?

Moreover, if living together (and having children) without getting married (de-facto relationships) is legal in our country….why would same-sex marriages be deemed illegal? Both are forbidden by religion. Then why criminalise only one?

Ultimately, legalising something does not mean we are forced to adopt/practise it! Isn’t that common sense? It simply means that those who want to adopt it, can, without feeling like criminals. And those who don't believe in it...well, are free to marry people of the opposite gender (or not attend/support same-sex marriages, if they are so inclined).

And so, as Australia stands on the threshold of a (potentially) history-making, life-changing new beginning, am proud to say that I voted “yes”.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Autumn leaves and slowing down...

I'm usually always in a hurry.
To start things. To finish things.
My mind is ruled by lists, even in the most "relaxed" of times.
But not that day...

The "Slow down Mummy" poem had struck a chord. A deep one.
I shed a tear or two and decided to make "slow down" my new mantra (even if it was for a day).
It had been a cloudy day. The light drizzle, a strange reminder that it does not always need to pour.
We were in the middle of our usual daycare pickup ritual - my little girl and I.
She was eating a banana in the back seat and telling me how her day was. I was telling her about mine, while my mind kept wandering to the thoughts of what I'd make for dinner.

And then I stopped. The car...and my mind.
Under a beautiful maple tree, dressed in its autumn attire.
The grass around it was soft with the rain. The sepia-toned dry leaves on the ground were wet too.
"Why did you stop, Mummy?", she asked.
"Because we'll pick a few leaves today..."
"Yippee!", said she.
And then, the two of us played the "who could pick the best leaf" game!
The leaves were damp...but not our spirits. We picked leaves, looked at them closely, commented on their veins, dropped the broken ones back on the ground....and picked some more.
Our hands were wet and muddy...something that would irk me on any given day. But not that day.
And the little girl's chatter and smiles swept clean all the lists in my mind....all sense of false urgency.
Pleased with our collection, we placed the leaves gently on the back seat and drove home.

We dried the leaves in the sun for the next few days. And then, one Sunday afternoon, we "framed" our special moment.
It's not perfect, but it's special.
Turns out, slowing down is a great idea not just while driving but while living too. And oh, the memories it creates...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Spot is good for you

S: Mummy, they have spots in daycare.
Me: Spots! What spots? Who has spots? Are they red? (I shoot a zillion questions, thinking someone at daycare has an infectious disease of sorts.)
S: Spots, Mummy. Can I have spots too?
Me: No no no. Not at all. You don't want any spots.
S: But teacher said spot is good for us.

What kind of daycare is she going to! I decide to call the daycare first thing next morning. They should have reported something like this to me. Not my 4yr old.

Later, while emptying her daycare bag, I find a little form  - "Enrol your child in Sports".
My little girl jumps in joy "You found it, Mummy. See, I told you! Spot is good for you!".