Thursday, 26 March 2015

"Move over sun and give me some sky, I’ve got some wings and I’m ready to fly"

As I walk my way to Malone's Irish Bar, sleepy and tired, I somehow feel a sense of relief at my first dissertation submission for the session. It has been 3 months already since I came to this enchanting city.. 3 months full of new experiences and diverse emotions.. Meeting some of the most interesting mix of people.. I still remember it like it was yesterday that I walked out of the airport, the chilling cold breeze lifted my spirits with the excitement of the year to come.. A warm smile on my lips...


Winter has set in.. 3 pm and it is dark already.. As I come to the entrance of the Meadows I suddenly halt.. there is a sense of anxiety that overpowers me.. I am familiar with this feeling but have not felt it since I arrived in this city.. I wonder why there is this shiver in my spine.. and suddenly the quiet loneliness fills me up..
My brain has already set in action the reactions to this anxiety.. all my senses are heightened.. my heartbeat is racing.. I keep looking over my shoulders.. and as soon as someone comes close.. my body flexes.. It is my brain's automatic self-defense mechanism.. a result of my years of trying to protect myself from the cat calls, stares, light brushes, groping.. the list is endless..

But I wonder, do I really need it here??

As I slowly cross the dark quiet path.. people cross me from all directions.. oblivious to the fear that has grappled me.. I cross a young couple, much in love.. and as they smile at me.. I wonder again if my fears are unwarranted.. I have already experienced many a times how different this city is from things back home.. people here care to look out for you even though you are a stranger.. they try to protect you and advise you..

As I head close to my destination I see cars and huge crowds of university students out for a fun evening at the end of the term.. I slowly start to relax..

Although the automatic response to dark nights and lonely stretches may take a while to curb.. this city I now call home has given me true independence.. As I walk down to the entrance of Malone's I am not scared or anxious anymore.. cautious yes (probably some habits take longer than others to overcome).. But I realize.. I am free.. the kind of free I had never known earlier.. where I am not at guard at all times.. where I am not protecting myself from everyone around me.. where I can walk free no matter what time of day or night.. and experience the beauty of my city rather than looking over my shoulder every other second..

At last.. I am free to explore and experience this amazing city I have fallen in love with..  
I AM FREE!!

Learning to Grow

"Is it 6 am already?!" Smita thought to herself as she placed the pillow over her ears to drown the noise of her mother's calls to wake her up. After what seemed like only a few moments, she was pulled out of bed by her mother, wailing and kicking, and pushed into the shower to get dressed for school..

Listening to her granddaughter Smita sulk and shuffle her feet as she headed out the door to school, Ramya was reminded of those times when she was back in Rajkot, almost two decades ago. 

Each morning, her mother would come in the room which she shared with her sister Bhavya to open the curtains and let the sunlight seep in. That day too, Ramya tried to turn over and steal those few extra minutes to sleep in while Bhavya and Nakul, her older brother, would get ready. 

Today was no different...making Ramya feel glad that she was the youngest. Slowly, as Ramya crawled out of bed and into the shower she suddenly heard a commotion from outside her room. She quickly dried and clothed herself to go hunt for the source of the noise...and was shocked to find her father on the ground and her mother and sister crying incessantly next to him.

Memory of the day haunts Ramya even after so many years. The feeling of helplessness, her inability to understand or comprehend the situation at the time, as she stood there that day so many years ago - watching her mother and sister cry while her brother frantically made arrangements to take her father to the hospital.

A kiss from her granddaughter, Smita, as she headed out to school brought Ramya's thoughts back to the present. How things have changed in these many years! The children hardly know the turmoil and dilemma that Ramya went through at the time...or how lucky they are to have their loved ones and all that they desire available to them.

As the day went on, Ramya could not shake the memories of that fateful day. The morning when Ramya's father passed away of a sudden heart attack changed her life and that of her family forever. The once childish, playful little girl was now overwhelmed by the many changes around her. The most dramatic was a decision taken by her mother...one that Ramya tries to understand to this day.

Unable to bear with the mounting expenses and the cost of bringing up three children, Ramya's mother made a very hard decision to take Bhavya, Ramya's older sister, out of school and get her married. Not that in those times young girls were not married early, but things were different in their home. 

Every time the girls came home with news of another friend being married off, Ramya and Bhavya were told by their father that they needed to finish their studies and be independent strong women and only then would he give their hands in marriage to two nice, deserving men.

"Then what changed mother's views suddenly," Ramya thought to herself "Why is mother doing things differently...Bhavya is only 14 years old"..  

Within a few moments, distracted by all the preparations around her, Ramya forgot about her concerns for her sister and excitedly started thinking of the all the shopping and food and people. She happily started preparing for Bhavya's wedding. All this was so overwhelming...so much to do, so many people, so many sweets, so many gifts, so many clothes. This was fun! She wondered why her father refused to get them married..she was suddenly looking forward to her own turn when it came!

But in all her excitement she overlooked something. Something that she sees clearly now, in hindsight. Her sister and mother did not share her enthusiasm. They looked mellow, sad even!

The day had arrived. Her sister was bathed in oil and turmeric, and dressed up in a pretty red and green saree for the wedding ceremony. The groom, her Jijaji (brother-in-law), had arrived. He was a handsome man, but he looked old - much older than Ramya and Bhavya.

Ramya wondered how Bhavya would be able to play with him like she did with her siblings till now? Ramya started planning on how she would teach Jijaji all the games that they played before he leaves after the wedding, so that he would know how to play them with Bhavya when they returned home. Yes that seemed like a good idea! That way Bhavya would have something familiar to do when she reached her new home in Ahmedabad.

So as the wedding proceeded, Ramya made friends with her Jijaji, and discussed with him about the games she needed to teach him before leaving. He was very sweet. He let her sit on his lap and teach him the games while the people came and greeted him. He seemed smart, and was a quick learner. Bhavya would have fun playing with him!

Slowly, the time came for Bhavya and Jijaji to depart. Ramya suddenly felt a lump in her throat, something she had only felt once earlier when her mother had told her that she would never be able to see her father again. Everytime she felt a lump building in her throat, when she thought about her father, she would quickly occupy herself with something else...and the lump would slowly go away.

But she wondered why she felt this way today - Bhavya was only going for a while, and Jijaji promised her they would visit whenever Ramya wanted to meet and play with them. Then why was she wanting to cry?

As she felt a hand on her shoulder, she turned to find her older brother, Nakul, standing there...tears rolling down his eyes, and suddenly a sad feeling overcame Ramya. She did not like this anymore. She did not want Bhavya to go.

As night fell, mother and Nakul had stopped crying, but Ramya could not stop her tears from rolling down. In all her 11 years, she had not spent a night without Bhavya. Suddenly in one day so much had changed.

As her mother held her close while sleeping, Ramya could feel her mother's tears wet her pillow.

Time flew by, Ramya realised it had already been a year since Bhavya got married. Bhavya was now blessed with a baby boy. Ramya was excited to meet Bhavya and her new born nephew!

In the time gone by, much had changed in Ramya's life. She was no more the carefree child from earlier - she had forgotten what it felt like to wake up late and be lazy on a holiday. She had to get up early to help her mother with the house chores before heading to school. As she did the same today, like every other day, her uncle arrived in a hurry. The look on his face reminded her of the time when people were trying to explain to her about her father's death, and her heart sank. What was wrong?

As she realised during the course of the conversation between her uncle and her mother, Bhavya had suddenly taken seriously ill and the doctors had said that she might not survive.

As Ramya sat in the bus to Ahmedabad to see Bhavya, she was reminded of the day when she bid adieu to her sister on the day of her marriage, with the hopes of visiting her soon and playing games with her like old times. That was not to be. Bhavya had succumbed to her illness before her family could reach her, and suddenly, Ramya felt all alone. Her best friend, her companion, her sister was gone.

Not much time had passed since the final rites for Bhavya, when Ramya heard talks of her being left in Ahmadabad to take care Bhavya's little boy. Ramya suddenly felt a shiver go down her spine. How could her mother and brother think of leaving her behind? What would happen to her school? Who would help her mother with the daily chores now?

That night, Ramya protested to her mother. She was furious at the thought of being left behind. But the truth was that more than being angry, Ramya was scared. How would she manage in a new home with new people all alone without the support of her sister or mother? She had never even spent a night alone at a relative's place without one of her siblings being there with her.

Moreover, she was scared of how she would be able to manage and take care of the little boy. She was after all a child herself! Consumed by thoughts and unable to find a way out, Ramya wept herself to sleep that night. The next morning at the behest of her Jijaji, Ramya's mother relented and took Ramya back home to Rajkot.

On returning home, Ramya observed that things had suddenly changed. She was asked not to attend school. She was made to dress in sarees. She was taught to cook and not just merely help her mother. All her aunts were trying to explain to her how Jijaji would be her best friend from now. She had to do as he said, and keep him happy, and take care of her nephew. She was to be married to Jijaji!

As the day came, it was all so strange. All the exciting rituals that entrapped her last year at Bhavya's wedding suddenly seemed strange to her. She did not want to dress and sit at one place while all these strange grown up women looked at her and made comments which she did not understand. She was getting annoyed at the way they giggled while they looked at her.

Then, like the last time, Jijaji came with his family and all the rituals were completed in a similar fashion. Just that it was nothing like last time...Ramya was not allowed to look up or talk to Jijaji. Also, she was asked not to address him as Jijaji anymore, but to address him as her husband. This enraged her.

He was not her husband. He was Bhavya's husband. They had a baby together, and now that she is gone how could he abandon all that and become her husband. She felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt,as though she was cheating Bhavya.

Somehow in all this, Jijaji's (she was fighting hard to not call him that, but to no avail) demeanour calmed her. He had a reassuring look in his eyes. One that said, it will be fine. As he held her hand gently and pressed her anxiety eased. He softly told her it was okay if she wanted to take time to stop calling him Jijaji.

And she did take a great many years for her to suppress that habit. Looking back over the many decades that have lapsed now, it was this demeanour of his that made it easier for her to adjust to her new roles as a wife and a mother. Ramya smiles as she realizes how she has whole-heartedly accepted this man as her husband. Their relationship has matured over the years, and today she knows how blessed she has been to have this man in her sister's, her and their children's lives.

With warmth in her heart for her husband, Ramya is reminded of when she didn't feel this way for him. The moment when she parted with her mother and brother, crying inconsolably, and her husband slowly took her to the car that was to carry her to her new home, her new family...she could feel nothing but anger towards this man. One who was taking her away from the only world she knew and understood. She had lost so much in the last 2 years, and now, because of him, she was losing what was left of her family.

As she sat in the car, someone placed her little nephew on her lap stating, "Here! Take charge of your child now." Overpowered by a volley of emotions, Ramya looked out the window and slowly dozed off.

By the time she woke up, it was nightfall and the baby was crying. His father gently lifted him off her lap and played with him with one hand, while trying to to take out his milk bottle to feed him with the other. Ramya just watched as the baby, well-fed, dozed off in his father's arms.

He turned to Ramya and said, "You must be tired. it has been an emotionally charged day for you. Rest till we reach Ahmedabad, I will take care of the baby!" Relieved at the offer, Ramya dozed off thinking of how her days were going to be from here on...

It has been over 2 decades now...this warm, gentle man Ramya was forced to marry those many many years ago as a child has now become the master of her world. At that tender age, this man took care of her like no other. She was not allowed to do any household chores, he wanted her to study. He enrolled her for home schooling where a teacher would arrive home each day for a few hours for her lessons. During this time, her (sister's) son, Mudit, would play with his grandmother.

Today, Ramya herself is a grandmother. Her son is now a big executive in a multinational company in Delhi, while her daughter, born many years later, has recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Like Ramya's father and later her husband, Ramya too has made sure her daughter and her granddaughters understand the need and the value of a good education.

So that they can become independent and free-willed women. So that they can, if ever needed, take care of their families completely without anyone's help or support. And no child of Ramya's would ever again have to bear the curse of child marriage the way her sister and she did. They might not be as lucky to find "Jijaji" like she did!

My Mom, My Hero

On a pleasant spring evening all four of us squeezed onto the bed together watching television, having conversations and just being together! This was the routine for every weekend that my brother and I visited home from college.

As it came close to 4.30 pm, Mom Dad started getting ready for their evening walk when something on television caught my Mom's attention... It was a show on Breast Cancer Awareness on one of the Lifestyle channels. A group of women shared their experiences of dealing with the disease. Each experience was different. While some talked about dealing with the disease, others focused on the disease and creating awareness about catching it on time. Something there seemed to have struck a cord with my mother. As she later recalled, she was well aware about Breast Cancer and had been having regular mammograms and self examinations until somewhere the family took over her life and taking care of herself took a back seat.

The next morning after we all left for our respective work/ study schedules, she got busy with her daily chores. There was this nagging thought that kept bothering her, of not having had a mammogram for a long time. During her shower and decided to examine herself just for some reassurance till she got an appointment for her mammogram, only to find a small lump on her right breast. If not for her mentioning it to my Dad, she would have dismissed it, giving our lives priority over hers. Dad got the earliest appointment to go see the gynecologist, who referred her to the oncologist for a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed our fears, a stage one malignant tumor.
While at the hostel, it was a little scary for us children to understand what was happening. Everyone was anxious, but each one was masking their emotions and thoughts, thinking of the other. The only one to openly express her emotions and talk about what was happening was my Mom. She was blunt enough to say "What will happen will happen! Let's just deal with it as it comes. There is no point in worrying." More so, she had instructed us all not to tell everyone about the illness, especially family, so that the elders in the family (her uncles and aunts) would not be worried about her... We did as asked!

The doctor had given Mom two options, lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy or a complete mastectomy of the right breast and right lymph nodes followed by chemotherapy only if needed. He suggested the latter, so that the chances of the diseases coming back are reduced. Mom did not think a minute. She was ready to take the disease head on and do everything to weed it out of her body. And so the doctor decided on the earliest date for the mastectomy and we were set.

Once all the pre-op tests were done, Mom was admitted to the hospital and prepped for her operation. We were there with her all evening, discussing all the fun things about our day, making our usual observations about things and people, having fun like we always do when the four of us are together. As we were about to leave after her dinner, the nurse came in to check her blood pressure. It was then that my mother's anxiety became evident to us all. She had an alarmingly high blood pressure of 220/110. The nurse immediately informed the doctor, who came in to check on my mother. The jovial doctor diverted her thoughts from the operation to other lighter topics as he gave her some medication to manage the blood pressure. He asked her to rest and left for the day. We too bade farewell and left so we could reach the hospital early next morning, to spend time with her before her operation.

Every time we went away from her, the magnitude of the situation would dawn on me. But somehow as soon as we were with Mom, she would be happily distracting us with random conversations. Somehow, this worrying and perfectionist had suddenly let go! She was clear that she was not going to let the disease affect her or her family's life.

As the next morning came, we were informed that the operation had to be postponed because of continued high blood pressure. The more I heard about her BP, the more I asked her to stay calm and not to worry, only to see her smile back and say, "I am not worried!" My father stood there, his hands caressing my mother's face, affection that my parents had hidden from us all our growing years!!

The operation was decided rescheduled the 8th of May. We realized that the date was right in the middle of the semester exams for both my brother and me. Mom made sure we concentrated on our studies, made sure everything felt the same at home before we left for our respective hostels for the exams. She cooked food for everyone and stored in the fridge so no one had to worry about lunch n dinner between our studies, exams and trips to the hospital.

On the day of the operation, we both completed the day's exams and arrived at the hospital. Our father was already there waiting for it to begin. We met Mom briefly, kissed her (she always insists on kisses, which my brother and I always tried to avoid) and let her proceed. Her blood pressure was still high, but manageable. So she was wheeled in for her 2 hour long surgery which finished almost at dusk. After stabilizing her vitals, she was shifted to her room. She was still under anesthesia. As she awoke, she smiled at us only to say, "That feels lighter!" She was still fighting strong, not a sign of the tremendous pain her body was in. After spending some time with her we left her to rest.

The next morning when we arrived, my mother was sitting up with numerous tubes protruding from her chest. It was painful to see. As the intern arrived to check on her before the doctor's visit. She softly assured him that he was doing a good job and that his efforts to not hurt her while tugging and pulling the numerous tubes were painless. Her concern there was to reassure him, rather than discuss her problems. That is Mom!

Luckily for her the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes and thus she was saved from the curse of chemotherapy. But to me, she had fought a tougher battle. One where she had taken it upon herself to stay strong in all her pain for the comfort and happiness of her family. I am sure she had numerous thoughts and memories of the times when her own mother was in the hospital with brain tumour. I am sure she had her low moments. I am sure she too wondered like many others, "Why me!?" But not for one second did she ever let her pain or weakness come across to us. Almost five years on, she is winning her battle with the wretched disease and I hope the equation never changes, for I have lots more to learn from my HERO!

Whitey & Us!

A dog lover since childhood, my husband was known to adopt strays in the colony, feed and care for them. Although he always longed to bring one of them in, his parents would hear nothing of it. Along came Whitey and everything changed. Born in one of the quiet corners of Sector A, Pocket A Vasant Kunj, Whitey was a fiesty little thing. The story of how Whitey found a home in Gaurav's room is his fiesty nature...something Gaurav says they both share ;)

As the story goes, Gaurav, while in college in Bangalore would see Whitey on his visits home during the holidays. Whitey would walk and play and follow Gaurav and his friends while they walked around the colony during their late night hang out sessions. He was a very territorial dominant dog, and with these young boys by him, he felt even more confident to conquer the streets! This continued for a few years till Gaurav completed his education and moved back to Delhi. Now Whitey along with his docile lovable companion Browney decided to stay close to Gaurav's gate. They would eat at the gate, stay there all day long and sleep under some of the cars parked close by.

An energetic, playful yet slightly ferocious thing had caught Gaurav's fancy. He would follow Gaurav and his friends all the time and happily play with them. The only time he would leave their side was to bark at the guards of the colony when they walked by hitting their huge sticks to the ground. Till one night Gaurav found Whitey charging and biting one of the colony guards. At the moment, after shooing Whitey away and Gaurav took the guard to the closest open hospital at 12.30 pm for initial first aid and anti-rabies vaccination. As Gaurav would later notice, Whitey was scared and would always try charged at all guards on hearing the noise of their sticks hit the ground. It reminded him of how he had once lost an old friend, another stray, to a guard hitting him on the head with the stick. He then made it clear to the guards and all others that Whitey and Browney were under his care.

One day, on returning home from an outing, Whitey was nowhere to be found. Gaurav searched everywhere only to be informed the MCD had come and taken the dogs. Gaurav was ready to go fight with the neighbors who had called them to get rid of his friend and ally! But soon Whitey was back. As per law the MCD have to return the dogs they take away for sterilization to the same spot they picked them from. A relieved Gaurav took care of a scared Whitey and as the bond between them grew, so did Whitey's possessiveness of the area surrounding Gaurav's house.

Browney and he would sit there relaxed until someone would come to enter the house and then Whitey would charge at them. He would also make it difficult for children in the area to play close to the house. People had started to complain. But this was only Whitey, docile little Browney would just be by his side, more for his own safety. For everytime they entered into a fight with other dogs, Whitey would be in the forefront protecting Browney too.

After one such fight late in the night, Gaurav found Whitey with his ear cut open and a few maggots in the wound. Due to the bond the two shared, Whitey let Gaurav take care of him all through the night. And as soon as the vet opened in the morning, Gaurav and Whitey were there to get Whitey's ear healed.

The process was slow and long and required application of an ointment on to Whitey's wounds. It was during this time that the bond grew stronger. And more importantly, due to the frequent application of medicine needed for his wounds, Whitey had found a home in Gaurav's room, much to the unhappiness of Gaurav's family!

Over 6 years later, Whitey, who we estimate is now 7 or 8 years old, is now an integral member of our family. He now lives with us and we cannot imagine our life without him. He has lost his old friend Browney but made new little friends, ones he likes to dominate and scare sometimes. Extremely territorial and faithful, this little white mutt is the center of our world!

He is the happiness we get at the end of a bad day,
And the love after a bitter tiff..

He is the baby of the house,
And the brother that protects us..

He guides us when we are alone,
And without doubt follows us in whatever we decide..

His wagging tail and drooling mouth,
Those rationed licks and the puppy face..

His love for food and his love for us,
Our baby is here at home with us!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

I Will Speak Out For A World Safe For My Daughter

Stuck in a traffic jam on my way to work today, I looked into the rear-view window of the car to find a man sheepishly smile as he caught my eye and then slyly winking at me his smile slowly grew into a grin. As my blood began to boil, I looked into the mirror again to find him staring back at me, proud of his deed, confident that I could do nothing to him.

The fact is, I could not get myself to get out the car to say a word to him. Although my brain had many scenarios of what I can do to give the guy a piece of my mind, I did not have the courage for any of it. I tried to justify my lack of reaction to myself without much success for through all the reasons I gave myself, I knew perfectly well the only person I was trying to fool was me.

I said so many things to him under my breath, kept thinking of all the words I wanted to use at him, how much I wanted him to feel ashamed of how he made me feel. In the same instant, somehow I wanted him to learn compassion and understand that what he derived this devious pleasure from was at the cost of my mental peace and comfort. I was uncomfortable and fidgety in my own car, with all the windows rolled up and the doors locked.

As the traffic moved and the man slipped ahead from the next lane, he made sure he gave me a last glance as he crossed me, and surprisingly I did not have the courage to stare back at him, just a peek from the corner of my eye! Honestly, this is probably not the worst thing I have ever experienced, nor was there any evident danger to me at any point with me locked in my car and the river of cars and people around me, waiting for the traffic to move to get to work. What was surprising was my paralysis with fear. For there have been times I have told men to back off, glared back and at times even spoken up for other women. Whenever I heard of any form of women's harassment I always knew I would fight against it. It wasn't really a choice or an option, that was what had to be done. And now, when I had to raise my voice for myself, my courage failed me.

I am honestly mad at myself. More than at him. For I pity him more, he knows no better. But what about me. I have no justification for being too scared to look him in the eye and show him he didn't succeed in his disgusting show of bravado!

But along with anger, there is a thought that consumed me. A thought I am sad to admit. That when the time comes, I will be too scared to have a girl child, when a daughter is what I had always hoped for.

For..
I am scared for the world I would bring her in.
I am scared for the wandering eyes I shall not be able to protect her from.
I am scared for the filthy touches I will not be able to keep her away from.
I am scared for the dirty comments I will not be able muffle.
I am scared for the people who will break her faith in men.
I am scared for the chauvinistic world she would have to live within.
I am scared for the fears she might feel.
I am scared for the freedom she would not be able to experience.
I am scared for the dangerous world I will bring her into.
I am scared for the fears I have, I might pass onto her.
And, I am scared for I might not be able to keep her safe.

My fears are that of many mothers. And I am sure many would also tell me that my fears, although justified, should not result in such desires. But the more I think about it, the more I am unsure of myself after my morning encounter.

Recent media reports highlighting the ideas like "Women have no place in our society" and that "Girls should not come out of the houses after 6.30 in the evening" make me wonder if we are really progressing as a nation? Recent diktats on what girls should wear, or the places they should visit, the people they should be seen with, the books/ movies they should be allowed to watch, among others, have really made me reconsider my desires to bring up a girl child in such a society.

I cannot assure my child the freedom and safety that my parents could assured me. I might fearfully curb or bind some of her liberties. I will be scared to allow her to freely experience all that I have been lucky enough to experience during my days and so much more. For the world that we live in today scares me by being far more regressive and intolerant of women's freedoms than earlier. I am unsure of the future of this society and of what a large chunk of its members think women should or should not be allowed.

I am angry at this world. I am angry with its inhabitants. I am angry for the freedoms being curbed. I am angry for the opinions being imposed. I am angry for the opportunities being lost. I am angry for the fears being generated. And I am angry for the thoughts it has fuelled in me.

And with this anger in me, I resolve that I will not let them change me. I will not let them make me give up on my yet to be conceived little girl. I will fight. I will speak up. I will talk so loud so these people cannot be heard. I will make so much noise about how wrong they are, that that they will think twice before voicing their thoughts. I will make them shudder to even look at me and my little girl again. I will get out of my car and make a noise at the next guy who cheekily catches my eye in the car the next time. I will start with him. But I will not stop. I will fight for my little girl. I will fight to bring her into a world that I want for her. I will fight to keep her SAFE.. and FREE!