Monday, April 28, 2008

All Me

So this is slightly personal. But I had so much fun putting it together that I felt like sharing :)

I am not a morning person.

I am a complete foodie, my other loves include reading, writing, shoes, shopping, movies and travelling. So langouring on the deck of a Mediterranean cruise in a pair of Manolo Blahniks, pina colada in hand and my nose buried in Cosmo, knowing that there's a seven course meal waiting for me at the nearby banquet hall and that my room is filled with shopping bags or that I'm headed to a place that would facilitate such indulgneces is my idea of an ideal holiday. Don't worry, I'm not all shallow. And yes, I like long sentences too!

Call it corny, but the happiest day of my life was when my sister was born. It was such a turning point for me that incidentally it is also the time at which my earliest memories began.

Born under the sign of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar, I am fiercely protective about those close to me. Think of hurting them and you might find yourself at the receiving end of my claws.

I'm a work in progress and always will be.

I can be quite self obsessed, which is why exercises such as these are absolutely my cup of delightful tea.

I believe that women need to be given more credit, that they are a powerful lot and that better things in the world are impossible without their empowerment. But I am not a feminist.

Overcoming disability and child-related issues really touch me. I've cried through countless episodes of Oprah precisely for these reasons, although this is not my sole source for a reality check!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Think about it

People make jokes about how it's hilarious when others say that 'life is short' I mean, when you think about it, it's true. What else have you known that is longer than life? So, that makes it a dumb expression, huh? But when you think about it a little closer, it does make sense. Life seems to pass you by and before you know it, so much has gone by and you may have achieved very little. The same applies to doing good while on earth. You have limited time in which you can do good and have any hope of earning goodwill.

When I see people like Oprah Winfrey, Queen Rania and others doing so much, it makes me think that people like this are on a fast track to heaven. And in my book, that's not a bad path to be headed down.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More than just Books

There are a million statistics out there and it's hard to know what to believe. But what remains constant is that education is a privelege that very few have the luxury of accessing during a lifetime. Several children don't enjoy its benefits, being engaged in labour at a time in their life when they should be playing outdoors. Many don't make it past high school, if they manage to graduate. Even fewer enjoy a college education. And among all, women are the most deprived - of opportunity and quality of education.

So that got me thinking the other day. Those who do complete a satisfactory education have a huge responsibility. It is imperitive to use that education to better the larger society who didn't have the advantage of such a facility. I like to call it the duty born of education. Because knowledge without wisdom is incomplete and privelege without humility is just plain disgusting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Flawless, Absolutely Flawless

Have you ever wondered how you've never seen an ugly sunrise? Or sunset? I think that goes to show how perfect nature is, as are all other creations of the Divine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Write Stunner


Cruel Mr. Hosseini. I'm the kind of reader who doesn't actually cry for the sad parts in a book. Your first book, and I did so for the first time. The second, and I was bawling like a baby during several parts. Cruel.

I'm so glad I read A Thousand Splendid Suns first and then read the Kite Runner. The critics weren't kidding when they said that it's a tough first act to follow. A Thousand Splendid Suns was brilliant. But it doesn't come close to The Kite Runner.

The Kite Runner was absolutely spellbinding. It is the most captivating and sensitive story I have come across in a long time. The friendship, the loss of it, the deeds and misdeeds, gaining some and losing so much - it takes sheer literary genius to narrate a story so beautifully. To have a vision and deliver it so clearly.

Each character was crafted perfectly - Amir, torn between the hunger for a father's love, a cowardly streak that costs him and loyalty to a friendship that he struggles to honour for the rest of his life, Baba who is the embodiment of manly punctiliousness harbours a grave secret, Hassan who is free from any flaw and Rahim Khan who is the kind of friend that people spend an entire lifetime yearning for. How many show you the way to be good again? The book also makes you wonder about characters like Assef. What scorns them so severely that allows them to carry out such heinous crimes? Society?

Like I said in my earlier post about A Thousand Splendid Suns, I can go on and on about how fantastic I thought it was. But no matter what I say, it won't do the actual work any justice. You have to read it for yourself to realise it.

I watched the movie shortly after, and while I have to confess that it's a pretty accurate conveying of the text, the book is really much better.

In three words, I loved it, loved it, loved it. It's a, for lack of a better phrase, must-read! For any reader who wants to grow, this is an incredible start. I know I did. And towards the end I realised, what Mr. Hosseini does through his books is not cruel. They simply remind you to be alive from within. So if anything, his readers owe him a thank you. Once again, Thank you Mr. Hosseini.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Ticker-Tinkering Job that Really Ticks

Newspapers are usually filled with gruesome stories of death, sufferring and violence. Sometimes, I wonder whether a reader becomes numb to all the cases that happen around the world in the course of a single day. That perhaps with time it becomes possible to simply turn the page without a second thought when you read of another child that's been orphaned in a country ravaged by war or another aircraft that crashed after facing a 'technical difficulty', killing all on board.

But the other day I was pleasantly greeted with news that read that cardiac surgeons at Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore had performed the first ever artificial heart transplant surgery in Asia. I've always loved my city. But today I was especially proud of it. By carrying out this procedure, doctors gave a 54-year old diabetic with heart problems for the past four years, the chance to live the rest of his life in peace.

The best part: The hospital costs which amounted to approximately Rs.6 lakhs, were waived.

Goodness does exist in the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When the Kitchen Comes Alive

This is the beginning of a tribute to another one of my great loves. I believe good food and knowing how to enjoy it is nothing short of art.

Until a few years ago, Bangalore had fairly limited dining out options. Apart from the corner darshinis which cropped up quite early, the birth of the local chaat shops and the occasional Chinese joint which served an ‘Indianised’ version of the original cuisine to suit domestic palates, there wasn’t very much to choose from if you wished to eat something other than home cooked meals.

But with time, foreign food brands began entering the market, earliest in the form of fast food, making fried alternatives available to a hitherto health-conscious race that strongly advocated ‘natural’. People became more open to spending a few leisurely hours, out of the house, and considerable amounts, enjoying some food, which gave rise to a specific culture. That’s made way for a gamut of new cuisines, dishes, restaurants and concept dining outlets to open and survive in this city.

For example, where would you have turned to a couple of years ago if you were in the mood for Mediterranean Food? Choices would have predominantly been restricted to heading to an insanely expensive enterprise, if any, in one of Bangalore’s star hotels or booking the next flight to Saint-Tropez. Fortunately today, decisions need be less dramatic with an extensive Mediterranean Platter, complete with chicken kebabs, a choice of hummus or pita bread, baba ghanous, tahini sauce and falaffel available at Frescoes on Cunningham Road, for just Rs. 250 + taxes. It also has some of the best Spanish omelettes in town, beaten to fluffy perfection with mushrooms and tomatoes. And the spoiling of the foodie continues into the attached dessert bar of the restaurant where novel after meal offerings such as The Oreo Cup of Dirt and a twenty-layer cake are up for grabs – both of which among many more is the ideal dessert to indulge in and consummate any hearty meal.

The situation is no different when it comes to most other international foods. It’s now possible to enjoy authentic American food in the heart of the city. TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday!), a franchise of the original New York establishment, serves multi-layer hamburgers (one of the few places in the city that offers it with a choice of crisp bacon strips) and authentic nachos drenched in Monterey cheese and drizzled with fresh vegetables. Go ahead and get a taste of the Big Apple.

Perhaps, you’re in the mood for Carribean food, in which case you’d have to look no further than Sue’s Place off 100ft Road, Indiranagar. Some of its famous dishes are, Stew Beef (caramelized meat marinated with West Indian Herbs), Jamaican Jerk Chicken (uses a method of preparation called ‘jerk’ using jerk seasoning), Jeera Pork (a pungent dish cooked with plenty of jeera powder) and Tobago Crab Curry (a mild curried crab with coconut milk, which can be eaten with dumplings). The West Indies just got closer to Bangalore.

And Oriental food that has long been a feature on the city’s menu has also been reinvented in a big way. Unlike food that was served earlier which largely involved variations of the locally concocted Manchurian and the like, several places in the city today offer much closer versions to the original food, with Mainland China dominating top spot on that list. There’s also Harima on `Residency Road where its now possible to indulge in delectable Japanese dishes like the Harima Special. An assorted sushi platter, it includes 30 pieces of sushi such as Fashimi and Maki Rolls. It’s all available for a cool Rs. 1750 + taxes. A hot favourite at the restaurant is tempura – Japanese batter fried prawns – served with tempura sauce. And of course, it serves the infamously pungent accompaniment, wasabi, made of horseradish. In fact, it even offers the complete dining experience affiliated to the culture, of low seating.

And Soo Ra Sang on Windtunnel Road, off Airport Road, infuses soul to food from Seoul, serving authentic Korean food. Choose from Dolsoth Beebimbob, mixed vegetable rice that can be served with or without meat and the most famous Korean dish around the world or Bull Go Gi – marinated beef fry without oil, though sometimes it can be chicken or pork instead. These make for great options to sink your teeth into to get a taste of the east.

Bangalore is not just about its gardens or pubs. It’s also got a thriving culinary scene in sync with the melting pot of cultures and cosmopolitan people that it’s home to. So the next time your taste buds crave tantalizing cooking, the numerous options in Bangalore will almost guarantee gormandizing satisfaction. Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Hand that Wrecks the Cradle

Scarlett Keeling, Madeline McCann, Shannon Matthews – three young children whose names have been circulating in the media, of late. The first is believed to have been raped and murdered while on holiday on a beach in Goa. The other mysteriously disappeared a few metres from where her parents were enjoying a meal one evening at an upmarket resort in Portugal. And the third faced the most bizarre chain of events when she went missing for 24 days before being found less than a mile from her home, locked in the base of a divan bed.

While there are several loose ends to all these cases, the victim has always been the child.
Not the police, not the perpetrator and perhaps not even the parents as much. It is painful for any parent to lose a child but it was Scarlett Keeling who spent her last few minutes fighting in pain and shame. It is Madeline who is possibly the most frightened four-year old out there, if still alive. And Shannon Matthews is the only one who will be able to tell anyone of her ordeal on being shut in a tiny, claustrophobic space in the home of her stepfather’s uncle.

As a society, we’re quick to judge, our tolerance levels being particularly poor. And it’s infinitely easy to do so when it comes to children. But in the light of these cases, it’s necessary to turn our attention to the parents as well, who very often can be quite irresponsible, as these cases demonstrate.

In Scarlett’s case, the fifteen-year old is believed to have been under the influence of alcohol and a cocktail of harmful drugs at the time of the crime, unsupervised and in the company of a 25 year-old tour guide she had only just met. Which parent leaves an inebriated child in the custody of a complete stranger who belongs to a culture where Western girls are often viewed as sexually available? These circumstances would have made the British teenager vulnerable in any part of the world. And Fiona MacKeown, the mother, having nine children fathered by five men, didn’t exactly help tilt the sympathy scales in her direction.

The McCanns weren’t exactly exercising sensible parenting when they left three-year old Madeline alone with her two-year old twin siblings as they dined nearby. Since when was it acceptable for a three-year old to be left on her own, much less with younger children in her care? At present, Madeline’s parents are also suspects in her disappearance.

Finally, Shannon Matthews’s mother has been arrested for concealing her child’s whereabouts from officers, abandoning her in manner that was likely to cause her suffering and child neglect. The fact that her live-in partner was found to be in possession of pornographic images of children as young as four years, that she had made several statements which suggested an intention to run away with the man in whose home her nine-year old or has seven children from five fathers makes her case not much different from that of Fiona MacKeown.

Nothing strikes a reader more than crimes against children. Their helplessness makes these offences especially heinous. But parental incompetence makes a reader seethe. Why should innocent kids suffer because of stupid decisions that those who are supposed to be caring for them take? Perhaps it’s best not to be quick in forming opinions about people who are rarely in a position to fend for themselves but instead bring the actions of feckless parents under scrutiny.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Click Click Boom!

A couple of years ago, a famous photographer captured a grossly undernourished child making its way to a food camp oragnised by the UN, a kilometre away. It's tiny bones were seen painfully through it's gossamer skin and it could barely move. It struggeled to crawl, hunched over its brittle frame in the dry desert sands. But the most striking part of the photograph was of a vulture sitting in the background, threateningly close to the sickly child. Apparently, it was waiting for the Sudanese toddler to collapse before it would gorge on the remnants of its flesh and churn out a substantial meal of its starved form. The picture appeared for the first time in the New York Times and gained huge wordwide attention.

This particular photgrapher won a Pulitzer Prize for his work - the highest honour for a journalist. Ironically, he commited suicide at the age of 33, a little more than a month after receiving the prestigiuos award. The reason: he was so weighed down by the numerous sights he had seen in the past - of people suffering, dying, famine, trigger-happy madmen who were often the authorities. He also came under severe critical scrutiny for taking the child's photograph instead of helping her, taking advantage and benefitting personally from the child's misery, with some even calling him no different from the vulture that was part of the frame.

When I first came across this story, it saddened me to see talent lost but even more for his actions. I agreed that the desperate child needed immediate help more than her picture splashed across major publications. What many don't know is that the photographer had been under instructions to not touch famine victims for fear that they may have deadly diseases that are contagious. I'm all for precaution, especially in matters of health - one of the most important personal assets according to me. However, in this case it was tough to ignore the plight of a young child in need of help. Somehow, the situation didn't seem to warrant precaution at the cost of her sufferring.

Recently, the issue was refreshed in my mind when the latest Pulitzer Prizes were announced. This year too, the winner of the breaking news category was for a reporter's photograph which dramatically captured a Japanese videographer fatally wounded and sprawled on a pavement in Myanmar during a street demonstration. The Japanese photojournalist so dedicated to his profession, continued to click pictures despite being grievously injured on a sidewalk. The reporter who got that on camera and won the award did take a minute to remember his fellow journalist who died shortly after his image was saved for posterity but frankly, that seemed like an extremely orchestrated gesture. It made me wonder...didn't this photographer commit the same crime as the first when he chose to capture his suffering on film rather than rush him to the nearest hospital?

I've seen both pictures that the photographers mentioned above took. Controversy aside, they are powerful images that stir you and which require real skill. But I'm also a firm believer of Karma - what goes around comes around. So what if their places had been reversed with those of their subjects? Would the pictures still have been so special to them?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Statutory Warning

Journalism is not for those who are not curious about life.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kinder Surprise

I did a story on summer classes in the city recently for which I spoke to a mother of school-aged kids who made a very interesting comment. She said that while summer classes in the city were great and offered a child with important experiences, she was often concerned that the children who attended them were from the same background. That is, the children were predominantly from affluent homes whose parents were willing to shell out large sums of money in order to ensure that their children used their time away from school in the most constructive (not necessarily always fun for the child)way possible. So when her children attended similar groups, she was concerned that they weren't being exposed to a healthy cross-section of society. I thought that made a lot of sense and was something that hadn't crossed my mind before.

But the other day I was flipping through the newspaper and I saw that an organisation in the city was holding classes for kids from varied economic backgrounds. In fact, the article specified that if a parent was concerned that their child spent his/her time in a rather 'homogenous' environment, opting for these classes may actually be a great decision. These classes invited slum children and those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. That meant, rich kids could spend the entire month under the sun learning theatre forms to aero modelling alongside lesser priveleged counterparts. Besides putting their creativity to use, they would have the chance to meet chidren that they probably wouldn't have a chance to in their priveleged schools or neighbourhoods. That, quite frankly is more learning than money can buy. And finally, the organisation had introduced a new clause in its applications this year where a parent couldn't decide what class the child had to take. Children needed to select the activity that they 'wanted' to take. In a world so closely governed by stereotypes, the slightest deviations from the norm come as a welcome change.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Jeans in my Genes

This is the beginning of my tribute to what I consider perhaps the best invention of all time and by far my most favourite item of clothing:

Many of us can identify with the convenience of jumping out of bed every morning and slipping on a pair of jeans. Most of us have that special pair that fits the contours of our body just right, a brand that we couldn’t dream of being disloyal to or even that stonewashed pair that we’ve had since high school that we refuse to throw out. Jeans are as synonymous with style as they are with comfort and durability, almost acting as a witness to our outings, break-ups and infinite happenings. And it seems as though they’ve been around forever. The truth is, they have. Well, almost.

The earliest form of the jeans began in India in the 16th century. A coarse material called ‘dungaree’ was dyed indigo and sold near the Dongarii Fort near Mumbai, which sailors cut to their preference and wore. However, it gained recognition by German dry goods owner, Levi Strauss, who sold blue jeans in the 1850s under the name, Levi’s, to the mining community in San Francisco. Levi noticed that a regular customer, a tailor, would consistently buy cloth from him to reinforce torn pants. It was then that he came up with the idea of reinforcing the pants at the most common points of strain, such as the edges of the pockets and base of the button fly, with copper rivets. This innovation is what we see on almost every pair of denims we pick up today.

Over the years, jeans have given rise to a specific culture. From merely being clothing that was worn during World War 2, particularly by factory workers, jeans became a mild form of protest against conformity, in the 1950s in the US. They, developed into a fashion statement in the same country in the 1970s. Besides sailors and workers, cowboys and convicts have also been wearing jeans for years. Today, children, teenagers and adults have adopted the versatile apparel, usually as a form of casual wear.

Flared or ‘boot cut’ jeans were popular during the 90s after a sudden blast from the 70s past. But after the millenium, they gradually faded into oblivion with the straight leg making a powerful comeback. British supermodel, Kate Moss, is attributed with popularising the very famous skinny jeans and ballet flats ‘look’ that several girls around the world imitate. Besides Ms Moss, James Dean, also played a role in catapulting jeans to iconic staus.

Some of the major achievements of jeans have been in acting as a symbol of gender equality ever since women began wearing them in the 60s, at the peak of the Feminist movement. The moment a woman slipped on a pair of what was considered solely a man’s outfit, she transcended the sterotypes that society imposed on her previously corsetted frame. The best part is that jeans look as flattering on a woman as they do on a man, if not more. They’re also a great social leveller, with everyone, from the blue-collared to the blue-blooded, being brought together by the blue fabric.

The latest invention has been organic jeans in the light of the international community becoming increasingly environmentally-sensitive. Emerging as ‘a company with a conscience’, Netherlands-based Kuyichi Jeans has developed organic materials, eco-friendly manufacturing procedures and a fair trade policy in relation to Peruvian cotton farmers, who cultivate the raw material for this particular jean-maker. Other companies have also joined the green brigade, with Levi’s making it’s entire Fall 2006 prodcution line 100% organic. A small company based in the Denman Islands (British Columbia, Canada), Rawganinque, has come up with jeans that are wholly made of organic cotton and hemp.

Considering that they’ve been around for so long and that they have inflenced so many fashion and other changes, it doesn’t seem as though jeans will find a suitable replacement soon. But if that day ever comes, the new product will have some very tough shoes to fill, or match as the case may be! Until then, whether it’s lounging around at home or something semi-formal, jeans make for the perfect garb.

Long live the Jeans:)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Voices in my Head

For the past few days I had been thinking to myself whether my life had gone in the best possible way that it could have so far. Sure, it might seem absurd that these thoughts crept in in the first place. I mean, no one has a picture perfect life and I'm no exception. But I was wondering how different my life would have been if I had made different decisions. What would it have been like to study medicine and become a doctor? Should I have taken a year off after graduating from high school and travelled? Should I have gone overseas many years ago and completed a Bachelor's degree there? What would it have been like to attend a class composed of students of twelve different nationalities?

These thoughts continued to race around in my head with no answer in sight. I didn't need an answer. I wasn't sure what I needed.

Then the other night, a girlfriend and I were sprawled out with Cosmo magazines in front of us. We girls can never get enough of staring at women's glossies and giggling incessantly over their every nuance. At that moment, my friend made some comment about something in the magazine. And that was it. Just then I knew, we were just like any other girls on any other part of the globe. Our prime interests included make-up, boys and fashion, and shopping of course - things that we have found which are often a common thread that binds most of our sisterhood. We enjoyed late night gossip and midnight snacks. As a plus point, we were educated, pretty (we'd like to think so) and at a stage in our life when we thought we could do just about anything. In my book, that's a lot to have.

Conclusion: I think my life has gone just fine. Pleased to say, all doubts have been laid to rest.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Darker Side of Order

“We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!”

- Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall

A decision that many parents really think through is the school that they enroll their children in. Usually the process involves going through many and eliminating according to individual criteria, after which parents battle with themselves to overcome ‘letting go’ issues, and they finally send their child away for a few hours each day to become better people.

In that context, teachers are seen as extremely influential people in a child’s life. While having almost complete authority on children during their time at school, they play a huge role in moulding those impressionable minds. So it’s scary when that power is used without responsibility. The condition is reflective of the spate of corporal punishment cases that the country has recently witnessed. Caning and other forms of corporal punishment weren’t that unheard of a few years ago. But it’s appalling that these statistics raise their ugly head in an age where there is a growing awareness on not physically abusing a child in an effort to get them to obey.

· A 15-year old Delhi schoolgirl , who lay comatose for three months after being hit on the head with a stick by a teacher, died this March.
· A 6th standard child was beaten up by a group of teachers for failing to complete her homework.
· A 4th standard child in a Hassan government school was beaten by her teacher for asking for more food at lunchtime.

The Supreme Court of India has banned corporal punishment in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Tamil Nadu. Proposed guidelines in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights make it illegal to even scold a child or call them names like ‘stupid’ and ‘mindless’ in class. Despite these meaures, plenty of cases still take place, the majortiy of which go unreported.

Children are helpless. They depend on adults to guide them through life until they arrive at a stage where they can do it themselves. Misusing that position and delibrately inflicting pain on them in an attempt to ‘discipline’ them is nothing short of perverse. Chirdren have a right to attain an eductaion in an environment that is free from fear and abuse, physical or otherwise. ‘Grown-ups’ who fail to understand that are obviously the ones in depserate need of an education.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Girl Power!

This was a really great ad I saw the other day:

Shah Rukh Khan – Actor
Earns Rs.247 per minute

Amitabh Bachan – Actor
Earns Rs. 255 per minute

Mukesh Ambani – Industrialist
Earns Rs. 413 per minute

Sachin Tendulkar – Cricketer
Earns Rs. 1163 per minute

Indra Nooyi – CFO, Pepsico
Earns Rs. 2911 per minute

And that's just the beginning of the many fabulous things she's capable of

Don’t abort the girl child.

Disclaimer: I am not a feminist and refuse to be considered as one. I believe in the goodness of men having had several great guys in my life beginning with my father and both my grandfathers. I am simply a pragmatist and a firm optimist who belives that women have a pivotal role to play in the world's walk towards progress.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Universal Truth

Everybody loves talking about themselves.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mediocre Movie Madness

I was looking at a recapitulation of movies that have hit the silver screen this year and I was disappointed. Apart from one movie that documented the love story of two royal Mughals, pratcically all the others were centred around the industry from which they were generated in the first place - Bollywood. They were half-hearted stories of struggling actors in India's filmdom, of starry-eyed hopefuls and other painfully mind-numbing nuances that dominate desi tinseltown. My question: Who cares?

I understand that creativity levels cannot always be through the roof. But I'd say that that's true of individuals at different points in time. Not of an entire fraternity for an entire season! That's plain ridiculous.

I've never been one for comparisons. But it's hard to ignore some of the brilliant stuff that comes out of foreign markets. And no, I don't mean just Hollywood. Besides American masterpieces, it only requires a glance at Italian, French and sometimes Oriental cinema to see the facts for yourself.

As a firm movie-buff and one who has great faith in India's talent, it is my earnest appeal to the country's scriptwriters and other media folk to get their act together and push themselves a little further. To challenge themselves and come up with work whose viewpoint extends beyond the tips of their nose. Because frankly, if this is the state of affairs right now, I'm in mortal fear of the prospects of the future of this industry.

Indian fashion has already proved beyond doubt that it is capable of holding its ground in an international arena. There's no reason why Indian cinema should be an exception.

It's only April. There's still time to save this year. I'm also a firm optimist.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Desert Flower, Desert Rose

It's not for nothing that the term 'woman of subsatnce' was coined. Women, all women, really are made of substance - some just more than others.

I was reading model, Waris Dirie's story online recently and was shocked at how much she has been through and has still managed to carve out a constructive life for herself.

She was born into a nomadic African tribe and her childhood home consisted of a portable grass hut. At the age of five, she recalls being held down by her mother while another woman cut away her genitals. She was tightly stitched up afterwards, leaving an opening only the size of a matchstick that naturally made it difficult to even walk. Imagine being robbed of your womanhood.

Though she managed to survive this brutality, her sister and two cousins were not so lucky. At 13, she fled Africa after being promised to a 61-year old man in marriage in exchange for five camels. The limits that those in power in a male-dominated society are capable of pushing is distressing. Suppression of women is seen as almost a validation of that power.

Waris reached Britain, where she stayed illegally for a while, surviving by scrubbing floors at McDonald's until she was dicovered by photographer, Terence Donovan, who put her face on the cover of the Pirelli calendar. It's amazing how much she had to do at such a young age in order to have a shot at a semblance of a normal life.

Today, she spearheads a strong campaign against female genital mutiliation.

Women like Waris inspire others to challenge themselves.

I salute her courage, her spirit, her woman.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Meeting a Stalwart

It wasn’t chatter, it wasn’t banter…it was superbly presented matter.

I attended a talk by developmental journalist, P Sainath the other day. Before you think that I’ll head off on a wild rant about how perfect the man was until this space begins to resemble a literary shrine, let me assure you that I intend to do no such thing. But it’s important to know why I chose to write about him at all.

I didn’t know much about P Sainath before I attended this talk, largely because rural reporting and all related doesn’t really interest me. I am a much more materialistic person and the simple life doesn’t fascinate me. That’s just who I am and I’m OK being honest about it. So when the man walked in through the doors of Senate Hall, Central College on a sultry afternoon dressed in a khadi brown waistcoat on a white kurta pyjama, I thought to myself, “Oh no, not another intellectual who’s going to try and convert me to numb my fashion sensibilities and don a similar brown garb in an effort to become a better journalist.” Boy, was I wrong.

From the moment P Sainath began speaking, he had an audience, an entire room filled with people, who were keenly hanging on to every last word that he uttered, simply because it made so much sense. The man who spends close to over 300 days in a year in interior India began by saying that the biggest problem today was the divide between mass media and mass reality – the media wasn’t reflecting pertinent issues that the public needed to know. And one such issue was the crisis plaguing Indian farmers. The community that puts food on the plates of the rest of the nation, goes to bed hungry every night. Scores of them have committed suicide in a very short span leaving their families subject to financial and sexual harassment. Where does the injustice end?

Another glaring disparity is between the recently released Forbes billionaire list that boasts of a substantial Indian presence versus India’s position as one of the highest on the World Hunger Index. Who’s about to explain that?

What really struck a chord with me was that he repeatedly addressed the young journalists and student journalists in the room. It felt wonderful to be given that kind of importance when we’re usually the lowest rung of an educated gathering. He gave some important advice as well. Not the empty nonsense that fades away after the applause dies down. It's advice that’s likely to ring in my ears for as long as I choose to be a journalist. Those words were that, the success of a journalist depends on how relevant they make themselves to the great processes of their time. If you’re out of sync with that vital component, you can’t expect to serve much of a purpose.

Finally, three points stuck with me at the end of the talk. The first was P Sainath’s tip that journalists should never lose their sense of questioning, their skepticism. But he clarified that point by saying that there was a fine difference between skepticism and cynicism. Skepticism breeds questioning but cynicism breeds negativity. The second point was his statement, “What the heart cannot feel, they eye cannot see”, which is so true. If you don’t really connect with a topic don't try and be passionate about it. There’s no bigger turn off and it’s the easiest deception to spot. Finally, he ended with Don Maclean’s lyrics from the song, Homeless Brother…”Where wealth has no beginning and poverty has no end”. That’s one of the most haunting lines I’ve come across in a long time. And it was so relevant to the topic of discussion.

Great going Mr. Sainath. By the way, you actually look really good in that khadi brown waistcoat. That’s because I get why you’re wearing it. You’ve convinced me. Obviously, your heart and deeds are perfectly in sync.