Gurmehar and all the ruckus!

This morning I woke up to whatapp messages and facebook posts all commenting about Gurmehar. So I went online to see what the fuss was actually about.

After reading a lot of articles and the newspaper, I must say, I stand by her. She is spunky all right. For those who criticise her, and most of you are too young to remember, the politicization of college unions was what got a lot of students threatened and killed and so elections to the students councils were eventually banned in Maharashtra in1992.

The lift of the ban was viewed with mixed feelings. There was apprehension that the violence would start all over again and that these political murders would claim the lives of the youth.

This article by Sunil Rajguru says it all : http://www.dailyo.in/politics/rohith-vemula-hyderabad-university-sfi-abvp-nsui-student-politics-cpim-bjp-bandaru-dattatreya/story/1/8538.html

And I am surprised that people, who are normally quite sane, have gone on a rampage against this girl. What has she said that is wrong? Why should she not speak out? All she has done is voice her opinion. How many of us do that? On Facebook, on twitter, on whatapp, all of us have vented against some political party at some time or the other.

So why single her out?

Just because she seems to be a soft target? I am glad her teachers have stood by her. She needs that.

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/280217/lady-shri-ram-college-faculty-backs-gurmehar-kaur-issues-statement.html

As an educator, as a mother of daughters, as a woman, I hope to have raised and taught my kids to stand up for what they believe in and against what they feel is wrong.

The other thing that has come up is the picture of her saying that Pakistan didn’t kill her father, war did. I must say, I absolutely agree with this. It is war that kills. It is greed that kills not any particular nationality.

When one of our soldiers is killed we immediately talk about how he is a son, father, husband. But when our troops kill a Pakistani soldier, we think it is all right, because they are our enemies. Then we don’t stop to think that he is a father, a son, a husband.

That is what war does. It dehumanises us.

The other day, I very proudly shared an incident with my friend telling him that someone had asked me if I was a Gujarati and I had replied that I was an Indian. My friend asked me why I had said that I was an Indian.

He said, if I didn’t find being Indian problematic, why was I offended being called a Gujju? That really made me think.  I wondered if I should say I am a human being because I aspire to be part of the world, not narrowed down by barriers. But then I looked at my dog cuddling by my side and the rapport I had with her and thought of the endless killing of animals and trees around us and I knew I had to truthfully say, I am a living being. At least that is what I aspire to be, though I know it sounds very smug and arrogant.

But once you realise that you are part of one world, you perspective changes so much. Then war, rape, murder of any living being becomes abhorrent.

I am reminded of the poem by Robert Frost “Mending Wall” where he says that there is something in nature that doesn’t like a wall and that she will do her best to bring them down, either through roots of plants or burrowing animals that create gaps and finally make the wall crumble.

He asks his neighbour with whom he shares the wall why they need to build it as they have different trees growing on their lands. His neighbour replies that “good fences make good neighbours” and when asked why all that he says is that his father told him so.

Where Pakistan and other countries are concerned also I think we just go with what our political fathers have told us. And the people in those countries too do the same and so we keep building fences and walls rather than bridges.

We keep living in the past and don’t even want to think of a future of peace and love, of a place where we live and let live. Of a world that is tolerant and co-operative.

And so I am glad that there is a young girl who is idealistic enough to voice her opinion even in the face of dire threats!

Religion: Binding or Blinding?

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August, September, October, the season of festivals in India! Almost every religion will have celebrated at least one festival in these months, Raksha bandhan, Ganpati, Mother Mary’s birthday, Pateti, Onam, Id…

The child in me rejoices. I love the joy, the colour, the excitement, the food, the general feeling of “all is well!” that comes with every festival. But the cynical adult in me shakes her head at the Ganesh mandals and the posts about preparations for the Mount Mary feast.

Even though I have given up organised religion, (well that is a story for another time) I’ve always been fascinated by our need for religion and the hold it has over us. And watching people at all the festivities these past few weeks has made me realise that more than anything, it is the need to connect that pulls us to religion.

Today, more than ever religion is becoming a bigger and stronger force. More and more people are turning to it because we are getting more and more alienated from each other. “The aloneness in the midst of everyone” can be overwhelming and when you go to church or the temple or the mosque, there is this feeling of belonging while still having your space. It satisfies some need in your soul. You don’t feel so alone any anymore.

And then there are the festivals designed by religion to bring people together. Whether it is Raksha bandhan, getting brother and sister to spend a day in each other’s company, reminiscing about childhood pranks, reconnecting, forgiving, loving, or community get-togethers where everyone participates in the dahi handi in the society premises or takes part in the various cultural programmes organised during Ganpati.

A typical conversation at a Ganpati programme goes something like this:

smile

smile back

Hi

Hi

I see you in the lift some time. You are the lady who owns the dog no?

Yes. You have a daughter no? I see you taking her to school. Which flat are you in?

I am in 202. And you?

I live in 306. What is your name?

Ankita . And you?

Sunita. Nice to meet you.

And that is how you connect and make friends.

I watch it all, I even participate and yet I sadly shake my head at the flip side of this need. It becomes so big that it overpowers us. And like everything that we come to depend on too much, it can be used against us, because while it binds us, it also blinds us.

The recent flaunting of the Supreme Court order during the occasion of dahi handi by the political big wigs is a case in point. When leaders play with the safety of people using religion to get them to blindly break rules, it is a sad day for any country.

Last week a school in Juhu had taken the initiative of asking people to donate books and stationery instead of fruit when they came for darshan of the Ganesh idol at the school premises. These would then be distributed to deserving students. The idea caught on like wild fire with many other people requesting visitors to their homes to do likewise. So far so good.

Then enters a serpent in the form of a Whatsapp message that I received, saying that this was a ploy by the Church to destroy Hindu traditions. When I confronted the person who had sent me the message and asked her why she was spreading such poison which was so not true, she replied that she was sorry and that she had not read the whole message before forwarding it blindly.

The whole incident just made me wonder how many messages we just forward blindly without taking the time to read or understand what the consequence of such a message is.

A “perceived” threat against “my” religion has to be fought against even if it means that the poor children of my religion are deprived of something they need.

A priest in the church I used to attend was put in charge of the youth. He was a great favourite and I felt he was really forward in his thinking, till one day he said, ” We have to create a programme to make our youth realise that homosexuality just cannot be tolerated.”

I wanted to ask him what happened to what Jesus asked us to do when he said, “Love one another as I love you! This is the only commandment I give unto you!”? How is creating intolerance fostering love? And because this priest is so popular with the youth and so charismatic, he is probably going to sway so many young minds towards the path of hate.

Yes, as I watch everything around happening in the name of religion, I wonder is it binding or is it blinding?

The Unseen Chains

Book-Cover-1Today is Women’s Day and I am celebrating it with the launch of my first book, “Who Shall I Be Today?”, a book of poems that celebrates the various moods of a woman.

As I prepare for the launch this evening, I realise I am so blessed! I have the freedom to be me! The freedom to write; to express myself; to earn and spend my money as I want. To be friends with whomever I want to; to learn as much as I want to. Yes, I am so blessed.

Yet, there was a time, when I forgot that I could do all this. There was a time when I let the reigns of my life be held by what I believed was well meaning society.

Though my parents gave us a lot of freedom to be ourselves, somewhere they too succumbed to society. Upto the age of ten I was allowed to roam about in shorts and tees, climb trees and play with the boys as if I was one of them. Suddenly the only clothes in my closet were dresses. My hair was no longer cut. I was told to sit properly and talk like a lady, no more loud laughs and no running barefoot on the streets.

And though I rebelled initially, I eventually gave in and fell in with the universal woman’s goal of getting married and having kids and living my entire life devoted to the well-being of my family. Somewhere “I” got lost.

I stopped writing for a long time, or if I wrote at all, it was just scribbles in my diary, or poems penned at irregular intervals. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being a wife and mother. I did, I really really did. But I also wanted to be Sunita.

I realised that all my friends had disappeared and all our friends were actually his friends and their families.  We ate out when he decided. We bought clothes that he approved of. We went for holidays when he decided we should go. Not a bad life at all.

However, compared to a lot of my friends, I was still lucky. I was able to choose if I wanted to work or not. Even when I didn’t have a job my husband never really questioned how I spent the money. I had my own bank account and my husband never asked me how much I had in it.  I could buy all the books I wanted. Enrol the kids in whatever classes I felt they required. That was after all my realm.

My friends were not so lucky. A lot of them had no access to money. Their bank accounts even today are totally handled by their husbands. They have no say in any major decisions regarding the kids. And heaven forbid if they even think of having a male friend!

This in today’s urban educated India. Yes, we are free. We are educated. We can make our own choices. Or can we? There are so many hidden chains that bind us and I have realised that it is we as women who perpetuate these chains by accepting them.

What happens if you challenge them? What happens if you start taking decisions on your own instead of giving in to the stereotypical bharatiya nari? Which by the way is not the true bharatiya nari. How can it be in a country where we have women who have shown their mettle over and over again, be it Durga Ma or the Rani of Jhansi or an ordinary girl like Neerja?

Today on Women’s Day 2016, the theme is “the pledge for parity”. And it seems to be taking longer to reach that parity. In fact, it is sliding backwards in a lot of places in the world.

And it made me wonder. How can I help work towards parity? And the answer is that it all starts with me. If I as an educated woman cannot believe in myself enough to make sure that I am treated on parity, what hope is there for others?

So can we at least take this pledge: Do not let yourself be treated as a lesser being. You are an equal. Act like it!

Do not let yourself be treated as a lesser being. You are an equal. Act like it!

I am not talking of a rebellion but just standing up for ourselves, just putting our views forward, just leaning in. You may be surprised at the reaction you get. A lot of people take decisions for us because they do not even realise that we want to take decisions for ourselves. We just need to step in and take charge of our own lives.

So what do you say?  Do you take the #PledgeForParity starting with yourself?

When the time is right

me and book

Ever since I was a kid, my mom has been telling me to be patient. I don’t know how many times she has said, “Nothing happens before it is meant to be.” And so when Dad asked me why I took so long in getting my poems published, I said the same to him.

But it made me wonder. I have been writing like forever. I can’t remember a time I never wrote. I started collecting my poems and other writings in a note book when I was around 13.  Yes, I did send a few poems to magazines and post them on Facebook, but why did it take me so long to actually put them out there in a book for the whole world to read? And why now? What had changed?

I realised I had. While I was definitely no longer the child who had started out writing poems, I had also evolved as a woman. As I went through life, living, loving, hurting, learning, forgiving both myself and others, teaching, reading, building new relationships, losing some, I changed.

I grew into myself. The self I wanted to be. Confident, compassionate, not afraid to love, not afraid to share myself.

My years as a trainer in a direct marketing organisation where the majority of sales people were women, made me realise that there are so many untold stories behind every face, so many hopes, so many dreams. It didn’t matter what walk of life you came from, some things are universally the same.

As I shared my poems with friends, I heard things like, “Oh my gosh! How did you know what I was feeling?” or “I can relate to this absolutely”. Some even cried as they read certain poems. And that is when I knew, I had to share this with others. With other women who felt the same, but maybe could not find the words to express it. I had to be their voice, not in a strident, revolutionary way, but in a compassionate, loving way.

And so though a few of the poems in my book, “Who shall I be today?” took a lot of guts to share, I just knew I had to.  The time has come. It is meant to be.

P.S. I am giving away a free copy of my book. the offer is open for the next three days. So if you live in India, and would like to win a copy of “Who Shall I Be Today?”, just follow the instructions below.

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