The price of a dream

It’s all very well that a woman of Indian-origin landed up in the hot seat in one of the most powerful countries in the world.  I mean, it was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it? What’s the surprise there, I wonder? The fact that she is of Asian origin, brown skinned, or a woman? (The latter I suspect, but I only speak for the millions of Indian women in the land of her ancestors for whom this victory is as hollow as Donald Trump’s reaction to Biden’s win!)

Don’t take me otherwise. I have all respect for Ms. Harris and her efforts to shatter the glass ceiling and all. But the flooding of my social media, post her ‘inspirational’ win, with articles on how women can ‘make it big’ in a man’s world, or how no dream is too small makes me want to cry out in frustration: does it really matter? No matter how big we may want to dream, the fact is, in a society as regressive as ours: there can be no dreams! Dreams are, after all, only possible when you are allowed to live. When at every corner, every step, lives and voices of thousands of girls and women are snuffed at the drop of a hat, dreams of any kind are just a lie.

Right from the time a girl is born, the mourning begins. I still remember when I had just given birth to my son more than a decade ago, there was much merriment and mirth in the house. I was showered with much love and was reveling in the attention when my much older and wise editor remarked: “Enjoy it while you can. It would have been much different if it was a girl!” And that right there pretty much sums it all up.

From the time she is born, a girl is nothing but paraya dhan. That is, if she is lucky to be born at all!  Even today, girls are still murdered in wombs. And if they manage to survive, their choices are dictated for them. Education is an option; the right belongs to the son. Campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save your daughter, educate your daughter) remain confined to the letter, not to be followed in spirit.

After all, what use is an education? Isn’t it far better to learn household chores that will ensure a good bride price at least! If you are lucky enough to receive an education (and luck plays a big role) it is still a long road to building a career out of it. That is not to belittle the thousands of women who have, despite the odds, managed to – but at a high cost, I suspect. Today, there are many who choose to focus on their careers or chosen vocations only to be chastised for their choices. Thirty and not married? That’s blasphemous! Marriage after all is the ultimate cloak of respectability and acceptance for a woman. For a man? Nah!

Ask the millions of married women in the country. Even after marriage, the choices a woman faces are not hers to make. Her biological clock becomes the scrutiny of every nosy Parker – in the family and outside. A woman must procreate and then, only then will her existence have meaning and be complete.

And God forbid the marriage turns sour. Does the woman have a choice to walk away? Seldom. A woman in a bad/abusive marriage often does not receive any support – even from her own parents – to end the relationship. And the onus of making it work also lies on her. For someone who has seen abuse from infancy I shudder to think of the trade-off. More than often when I was growing up I have seen my own grandmother, beloved though she may have been, advising my mother to go back to her husband no matter what. And she did. Like million others to live morbidly sad and pitiful lives. Trading off their right to dignity and happiness just to keep up appearances and satiate societal definitions.

Standing up and saying no is unthinkable. No, a woman must never challenge injustices because after all, our grandfathers, fathers and brothers have been venerated for centuries to be the upholders and protectors of a woman’s identity, her financial freedom and her izzat!

A woman must find a way to fit into the patriarchal system. Then the rewards are many. Oh yes, choose to not rebel and you are a beautiful, loyal and dutiful wife or daughter, a domestic goddess, a devoted mother, caring, and sacrificial wonder woman! If not, you are labeled mercilessly and witch-hunted. Because patriarchy and misogyny is so deeply ingrained and normalized in our homes, where it all begins. Oh yes. Make no mistake. The evil breeds amidst us, taking multiple forms of abuse – hushed and unspoken of.

As I write this, a major part of the country is busy celebrating Bhai Dooj, another regressive tradition that celebrates ‘brothers’. Sisters across the country are preparing their brothers’ favorite foods and purchasing expensive gifts in return for their blessings and protection. After all, a woman’s existence is dependent on their benevolence; a fact I am reminded of often.

So, I come back to where I started. Ms. Harris, while you may well be on the way to achieving your dreams, it doesn’t inspire me. I will tell you what will. When one of us can finally be able to stand up and say a big, fat resounding NO without being judged or ostracized by the rest. For, it is only then will we be able to begin to dream.

‘There’s something wrong with the world today’

Radhika Das

The past few weeks have changed the world in ways we could have never imagined. It is without doubt a dystopian world we find ourselves in today. A pandemic world. A world at war. And it is a war that has changed the perception of reality for most of us. What is real today? Is it our money in the bank? Or is it the shiny new vehicle in our garage, or that fancy new air fryer? Is it term plans and empty policies that were supposed to protect your future? Well, guess what? The future is here. And all of our so-called wealth is gone. Just like that!

All your wealth, and your gold or expensive objets d’art – it’s not going to save you now. If it could, the global economy would not have collapsed like a deck of cards. A friend once told me: this ‘wealth creation’ and secure future that we are all racing for, it’s all a trap. At the time, I dismissed him without a thought. Today, his words ring astonishingly true. As most of you would have realized by now, (or I hope you have!) you don’t need much to live. Sure, a lot of us may get out of this alive, some better than others; and some will even emerge ‘richer’ but will it really lead to a secure, healthy future?

I think not.

I tell you what it will do. It will make us realize what’s the bottom line. Hopefully. And the bottom line is this: Live healthy, eat less, sleep well, exercise and figure out who or what really matters. Your family, your friends and all loved ones. People who care, people who give you a reason to smile or call you to check if you are ok. The neighbor who waves a friendly hi each morning from across the balcony, or one that offers to buy an extra packet of milk just to save you a trip to the market. Or friends and family who video call you from halfway across the world just to know if you are safe. And friends who post a song or recite poetry to cheer you up, or to inspire and motivate. Pick up that brush or pen, or write that letter (or email if you wish), make that call, or dance if you wish. Find your ikigai. Reconnect with yourself. Explore new opportunities. Innovate, create, and take a breath. This is the moment. This right here is your real wealth. It is knowing that there is a voice on the other end of the line that cares. It is knowing that you have your faith to get you through the dark moments. It is knowing that there is joy even in the midst of all this despair. It is knowing that getting through today is enough.

And it is.

Naysayers of course think otherwise. For them, and many others I suspect, it will be business as usual once all this is over. Back to the rat race once more, running, hoarding and living their ‘busy’ lives. Trying to keep up with the Joneses. Back to the comforting emptiness and senselessness of their existence. But who am I to judge? To each his own (purpose). It’s just that life is giving us this tiny window of opportunity to do the right thing and make the right choices. For our future, and for our children’s future and the future of humanity. Like I said, there are only three things that will really matter going forward: One, the ability to grow your own food. Two, good health and three: beat the transaction trap. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with this song by Aerosmith:

Living on the Edge

There’s something wrong with the world today
I don’t know what it is
Something wrong with our eyes
We’re seeing things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t his
It sure ain’t no surprise
Living on the Edge

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
The light bulb’s gettin dim
There’s meltdown in the sky

If you can judge a wise man
By the color of his skin
Then mister you’re a better man than I

Livin’ on the edge
You can’t help yourself from fallin’
Livin’ on the edge
You can’t help yourself at all

Tell me what you think about your situation
Complication, aggravation is getting to you

If chicken little tells you that the sky is fallin’
Even if it wasn’t would you still come crawlin’
Back again
I bet you would my friend
Again and again and again and again and again

Something right with the world today
And everybody knows it’s wrong
But we can tell ’em no or we could let it go
But I’d would rather be a hanging on

Livin’ on the edge
You can’t help yourself from fallin’
Livin’ on the edge
You can’t help yourself at all
Livin’ on the edge




Playing the game

It was on a bitterly cold and foggy Sunday morning that my son had his first soccer match. Of course, the crazy-about-soccer dad had to travel out of town that very morning, so it was down to lazy ol’ me to kit up an overly excited ten-year-old at 8 in the morning and head out in the freezing outdoors! Sigh! Not at all the ‘sporty’ kinds, never in my wildest dreams, imagined I’d be donning the cap of a ‘soccer mom’ (of sorts). So why make a fuss about it? After all, I am not the first and definitely not the last mom to take her kid to soccer practices, or matches; or shout myself hoarse at every game. Or soothe frayed nerves (and scraped knees) after a game lost or cry tears or joy at a goal scored!

So then why the fuss? (if you can call it that) Simply because I’d never thought that my gifted son, not a natural athlete by any means, would take to a sport. Not a team sport, anyway. (for those of you who understand giftedness, would know where I am coming from). Not to say that there are no ‘gifted’ athletes or sportspersons but given my son’s abilities, sport in general and soccer in particular was not something we had quite envisaged in our parenting future. And it wasn’t for the lack of trying. Yep. We’d tried our hand at quite a variety of sporting activities in the last 5 years – skating, karate, swimming, cycling, and even a bit of cricket. Sure, he learned to swim and cycle fast enough but it was more surgical. Like essential skills he needed to learn. And then came soccer.

Sam started developing an interest in the game a few months ago, which we thought was pretty late in the day. A fact that we are rudely reminded of often. Like the time a fellow soccer mom remarked: Why is it that your son doesn’t play football? His father plays and coaches doesn’t he? Or How come he has just started playing? None of your business ladies!

Heck, we knew we were not raising a Messi/Ronaldo so we should be just happy that he had at least shown an interest! Happy? Of course we are happy, we are downright ecstatic!! Our purpose was and still is more health related: as long as he is active and pursues any physical activity we are fine with it. But Sam, being who he is, did not disappoint. His level of energy, his passion and dedication to the game took even his dad (a former soccer player) by surprise. For the past six months Sam has simply amazed us by his relentless pursuit of learning the nuances of the game – in theory and practice. His commitment has been faultless. Again, you may well ask: what’s so special about that? Well, if it had been music or even mechanics/engineering (some areas that he is naturally good at and success comes with little effort) I would not have been writing this post. But this, this is different. This is a sport that requires tremendous physical prowess, coordination, team play, stamina and endurance. All the areas that Sam is not a natural. Of course as parents we can see and understand the shortcomings. But we can also see his willingness to learn, his infectious enthusiasm and pure, unbridled joy at being on the field.

It has only served to reaffirm our faith that Sam’s gift lies in his ability to learn almost anything, no matter how tough, no matter how long the journey. It definitely makes us damn proud, especially when we see his awkward little body and clumsy gait running in sheer abandonment on the field, trying his best to keep up with his teammates. My heart definitely skips a beat when I see his eyes light up with excitement every time he scores a goal during practice or get a word of praise from the coach. For him, and for us too, each of these little moments are as precious as they are rare – given his awkward journey in the world of sport. And an incredible journey it promises to be, as Sam continues to learn more about the art of team-play, the pain of losing and the joy of winning a game, scoring that winning goal or that crucial pass. It’s a journey that we know will not be too long (like most gifted children, Sam tends to move on to newer pastures once he has learned and mastered everything there is about a topic – which has its downside too we know).

But for now, the very fact that he has undertaken this journey at all, is incredible.

For now, it is what it is. And what it is – is amazing.

Giftedness – On the other side

“Your child is gifted! You are blessed!”
“He is such a gifted child! You have nothing to worry about!”

These are phrases that have become commonplace in my world now, coming from the miniscule few who understand what it means to be “gifted.” Sure, from where they stand – and it is a common belief – giftedness is often seen as this wondrous thing that will enable a child to get straight As, and sail through school without much effort. Let me say this straight away: NO. That doesn’t happen, not always. It’s the biggest fallacy (documented and researched) about giftedness. Yes, I love my son. Yes, HE is a blessing. But his giftedness, Nah. No. Nope. And, I have a lot to worry about.

My first worry? That he will always be a label. Yes, and don’t we just love to label everything? Just take a look around. Not just our clothes, or our food, but labels are today quick to be applied even on our relationships, our children and us. Everything has a convenient label. The ‘label’ makes it easier to understand the different. Those who don’t quite fit in the box. After all, we were taught our whole lives to color between the lines, weren’t we? Anything outside the lines, or out of the box is simply wrong! The label therefore is important. It helps to define and even justify different behavior. Sad, but true.

My second worry? That his brain is wired differently. And because it is, he thinks, feels, and functions differently. He doesn’t and may never “fit in” with the society’s limited boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t. That pertains to not only what is “acceptable” social behavior but also our archaic and suffocating education system and public mindset.

Let’s look at social behavior. We have been taught our entire lives to conform, to follow societal rules and not question and not speak unless spoken to. “Children should be seen, not heard” – haven’t we (and countless generations) grown up with this? And heaven forbid if you grow a mind of your own!

In my previous post, I had written about how my gifted nine year old struggles with social niceties. He doesn’t always pick up on social cues or sarcasm or even reading between the lines. He is often to the point, direct and states facts; that can often come across as being too blunt or insensitive or politically incorrect! That makes it hard for him to make lasting friendships, if at all. Paradoxically, he also somehow knows that friends are important. So he tries to fit in. In his own way, usually by ‘dumbing down’ (most gifted kids do this as a way to feel more accepted by their peer group). He prefers to clown around and be the class joker just so to ‘fit in’ and is vehemently against displays of his own intellectual prowess. He hates us taking videos or pictures or his musical recitals and performances or even talking about his accomplishments. He has of late become quite adamant about hiding his “gifts’. It worries us – this dumbing down- but we play along at times as we know how important it is for him to be one of the ‘boys’.

My next point of concern is my son’s supersensitivities also known in the medical world as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilties (OEs). Basically gifted children display intense behaviors in many ways – emotionally, intellectually, sensually, imaginatively and in psychomotor. For instance, gifted children often are a bundle of energy and it takes a lot to tire them (psychomotor). Apparently my son’s impulsive behavior, compulsive talking, and nervous habits are an example of his psychomotor excitabilities! And they are often and quite commonly mistaken for ADHD. Like I had said previously and is so true in the case of our son, you take any emotion – be it anger, sadness, or joy – and multiply it to the power thousand and boy – before you know it you have a potential supernova in your hand! That’s two of the five overexcitabilities right there. In my son’s case, I suspect it’s all five and it’s not uncommon that a gifted individual have all of them. He definitely has sensual overexcitabilities too as he is hypersensistive to sound – in any form. Dog ears, as we fondly call it! Sound is his boon and bane. As a result, he loves his music and is a natural drummer/keen musician but equally hates and is wary of the sound of a pressure cooker or whirring mechanical noises. Which is why it is often difficult for him to sit in a classroom of 30 something kids and concentrate above the din!

The bottom line? My son, like many gifted kids, has his OEs and comes across as pretty intense and animated (most of the times). It makes him the subject of scrutiny and hard stares at school, in the bus, and in social circles as well. “Why is your son like that?” I was once asked by a mother of my son’s classmate. Taken aback, I was quite at a loss for words then (not so now!) for the subject was quite new and intimidating for me. Since then of course I have grown a thicker skin and learned to take the inane queries, and the wide-eyed stares in my stride. My fervent wish is that my son stays oblivious for as long as he can. But I know that’s not going to happen. Eventually, he will feel it too. He is already asking me sharp questions: “Mom, what is a special child?” “Mom, why does xyz kid in my class not play with me?” “Mom, why does he (referring to a particular classmate) not sit with me in the bus anymore?” “Mom, why am I the one to always be the target?” Gut-wrenching for sure but questions that need to be answered still.

Now – take all of these challenges and place them in the context of an environment that is just as archaic, misogynist, and regressive (not to mention an obsolete education system) and tell me, shouldn’t I be worried?






I am not weird, I am gifted

“Samudra” (meaning ocean in Hindi) is the name we chose to give our son at the time of his birth 9 years ago. Little did we realize that our bundle of joy would in years to come truly live up to his name and bring into our lives a tumult that we are still reeling under. Just like the ocean, his presence has colored our seemingly ‘ordinary’ lives with myriad hues and moods – at times calm and gentle, at times as stormy and voracious, sometimes deep, dark, mystic and mysterious and at times playful and teasing and downright hilarious! So much so, that our lives have become anything but ‘ordinary’. More of a rollercoaster – and the feeling that we are never getting off! (don’t take me otherwise: I love my little boy to the moon and back, but there are days, when I fervently wish, pray, and even hope for the ‘ordinary’. Just. for. a. few. moments. )

But it is not to be. For Sam, like millions across the world, is a ‘gifted’ child. There, I’ve said it. That dreaded word. Yes, yes dreaded. Much like a disease (oh yes, there are many who have looked at us as if Sam’s contracted some deadly virulent disease and should be locked up or kept away till he is cured!!). Elitist, misunderstood, and hanging like Damocles’ sword over us.
(For the want of a better word, and much against my desire to label or tag any living being I will nevertheless, use it in the writing of this blog – for now.)

It’s a word that, till about five years ago, I was (like millions of people/parents) vaguely familiar with. But the reality of it, and its foibles, hit us when Sam started kindergarten. Wham! Just like that. One fine day, when the kindergarten teacher called us to discuss his classroom behavior and ‘other things’. And she was one of the kinder, more ‘enlightened’ ones, we soon found out. She pointed out his exceptional abilities in the classroom and suggested we see a specialist to well, check his IQ. She had, so to say, seen the ‘spark’. Hadn’t we? Of course we had. Like when he recognized the color blue at 7 months. And all colors and their shades by 11 months. Like when he learned to speak English by himself in 2.5 weeks listening to his favorite TV shows on BBC. When he learned to read fluently at around 4 years by himself. Or when he discussed time travel and the Theory of Relativity at age 6. These were just some ‘sparks’ that caught our attention and promised to fill our days and nights with brilliance or electrocute us just as brilliantly! Especially since I remember when he first stepped into Kindergarten, put one step on the threshold, and with one intense look at his welcoming (read unsuspecting) teacher and proclaimed: “I am not going to be listening to you!”

Yep! It’s been more than five years since that day. The social niceties are still a struggle, if not dispensed with altogether. Heck anything that comes within the definition of ‘social’ norms, or parental (societal) rules, laws, are NOT to be followed. NOT unless there is logic to it, I will simply not abide just because YOU (that could include parents, teachers, or any figure of authority) say I have to! This is a lesson we learned early in our parenting. All that we knew or had seen, or been told about traditional parenting strategies (that generations had grown up with) had to be just locked up and thrown out the window!

Then came the intensities of emotion, and the overexcitabilities (as they are technically called). It’s like you take an emotion – like joy or anger; multiply it to the power thousand and before you know it you are staring into what could become a potential exploding supernova! No, not a meltdown, let me clarify. Just intensity. And anxiety (Are we lost, Mummy? No, no Sam we are just figuring out the route. What’s going to happen now Papa? Are we going to be lost forever? Are we going to be spending the night on the road? Or I am having a tummy ache. Am I going to be sick again? Shall I take XYZ medicine? I will never be able to eat chocolate again! Or is it going to rain today? What if I get wet? Enjoy it then darling! I don’t enjoy it! I need to take my umbrella!). And extreme excitability. We either just LOVE it or HATE it with extreme passion. No greys there.

We had to sink or swim. And swim we did. The past few years have seen us read, research, or collaborate with anything and everything related to giftedness. We’ve poured over books, research papers, theses, met and spoken with experts around the world, collaborated with online communities, parents of other gifted children and support groups – all with the single purpose of making some sense of this new world we are now permanently a part of. And if there is something that I have learned in this unbelievable journey is that it is a beautiful world – not an easy one for sure, not one I would have asked for, but incredibly beautiful nonetheless.

For me, the beauty is this little soul who has these exceptional abilities (and doesn’t know it, yet) that makes each day a wonder, a delight, and a new adventure. His remarkable ability to question what is. And isn’t. (oh yes, the questions are fired 24×7. At us, at teachers, at grandparents or whoever is patient enough to answer till he is satiated) His ability to not blindly accept what is a given, to challenge and push boundaries. The ability to think, and create wonders with the power of his imagination. The ability to use logic and reasoning to solve life’s little mysteries. The ability to push the envelope. Not accept status quo. And most astounding of all: the ability to learn anything and everything with little prodding. As one of his teachers’ recently observed: “Sam is like a sponge, soaking in everything around him.” Remarkably true. A sponge with a slightly defective filter (that’s the asynchronous bit, which I will be talking about at length in a later post). But with a beautiful soul nonetheless.

A soul that has so much to give. A soul with so much passion, it takes my breath away. It makes my job rather difficult (to say the least). Because at the heart of it, he is still a 9 year old. A precocious one no doubt, but still a child.  With the intellect of a 15 year old for sure but the heart and emotions of a 5 year old! Did I say difficult? I did, didn’t I? Insurmountable on certain days. Herculean on others. To ensure that we (yes we: me and you) give him a fighting chance. To ensure that his ‘gift’ is not lost in the desire to ‘fit in’ to what is and isn’t socially acceptable. To ensure that the learning and the questions never stop. To ensure that he gets equal opportunities to live a life that is his own. To ensure that he is accepted for what he is, and not what we expect him to be. And most difficult of all. To ensure that his spirit – with all the intensities and the emotions and the social awkwardness – stays pure. Against all odds. And believe me when I say this: The odds are heavily against Sam, and against us. And against the thousands like him. Especially here. Especially now. The battle, or rather the adventure (depends which way you choose to look at it) has just begun.


Let the Shenanigans begin!

On a recent trip to my hometown (by marriage) of Shillong I came to hear a word that has been long forgotten in our usage of the English language. It is a delightful word – shenanigans ‘ – that is defined by the dictionary as “a playful and mischievous act.” What was even more interesting was that it was used by our host – who happened to also own a play school – to describe the innocent pranks of his young wards.

Why did this particular word catch my attention? And why am I writing about it? Simply because today the shenanigans of our children, be it in school, or outside are being increasingly (and scarily) overanalyzed by the so-called and largely self proclaimed hyper vigilantes of our society! These vigilantes come in many forms mind you – teachers, neighbors, peers, and sometimes even parents themselves. All of whom – in their zest to raise the “perfect child” (oh dear me) are getting more and more intolerant and impatient by the day.

Let me make one thing clear. I am not in any way undermining the importance of mental health and the need for therapy when required (I myself benefitted from therapy years ago when I was going through a particularly traumatic time in my life). Yes, life can get tough at times, and am sure most of us can benefit to have a non-judgmental and objective shoulder to cry on, and show us the way when we happen to lose ours. But when the use of therapy, or ‘psychological evaluation’ or ‘occupational therapy’ is advocated as a rule rather than the norm and the mostly innocent pranks of children are increasingly viewed as something that needs ‘psychological’ attention, I think I have cause for worry!

And I take some comfort knowing that I am not the only one. For in a recent, very animated, discussion in my son’s school it was reassuring to hear many parents voice the same outrage. Yes, it is outrageous, and ludicrous when changing moods and often, playful acts of mischief are viewed as ‘disturbing behavior’ often seen as arisen from something ‘dark’ or ‘negative’ in the child’s life or environment. Must we insist on overanalyzing everything a child does or say? Children do and say the oddest of things at times, they go through changes in moods, behaviors, and emotions. To me, that’s pretty normal stuff, and an essential part of growing up. In fact, I would be worried if they didn’t exhibit any of these!

Also, what’s this fixation with raising the ‘perfect’ child? A child who knows it all, makes no mistakes, always says and does the ‘right’ things, and in short: has it all figured out! Shudder! I still have to find an ‘adult’ who is all of this leave alone a child. (Oh yes, there are individuals and families who seem ‘perfect’ or try and project an image of being ‘perfect’ but let’s not kid ourselves shall we? Striving to achieve perfectionism is not all bad, but let’s not hang ourselves or our kids in doing so.)

So let’s just back off a bit. Let’s give our kids the room to grow at their own pace. Let’s not try and push them into adulthood too fast. Let them make their mistakes. Let them flounder. Only then will they learn to fight, to cope, and survive in the big bad world. Let them have that ‘dark’ phase. It’s just a phase. They will get over it. Be there, keep a watchful eye but let’s not rush to the neighborhood child specialist (oh yes, they are as commonplace as the GP of yesteryear!) every time your kid ‘acts out’ or some ignorant (read insensitive) vigilante remarks “what is wrong with your child?” or “he/she is an odd one” or “why does he/she seem so angry all the time?” Have a little faith. In yourself, in your child and in the world too. All that is needed is a little tolerance, acceptance, patience and a big, big dose of good old-fashioned common sense!

And yes, while you are at it, cut yourselves a little slack too. After all, nobody got it right the first time. Be it our grandparents, or our parents. They had their own battles to fight. Sure, we do seem to have plenty of our own. But maybe we need to take a page out of their books. Let nature take its course. Let’s get down to the basics. Let our kids enjoy their childhood. Let us enjoy their childhood too, with all their shenanigans! Let’s not script their lives, and pack each hour with “meaningful” and “productive” activities. And yes, definitely lay off the vigilantism. Our world doesn’t need more of “perfect” individuals, it needs more good and caring souls, the creative thinkers, the doers, and even the oddballs!

Durga’s World


It’s a little after 8.00 a.m. on a deliciously cool April morning. I sit down to read the morning papers having just sent off my seven-year-old to school. The hubby is working on his laptop getting ready for an important meeting. The house is pleasantly quiet. I skim through the news and shake my head at film actor Hema Malini’s tweet on ‘senseless suicides’ which apparently is directed at television actor Pratyusha Banerjee’s recent death. Just as I was mulling over her words, the doorbell rang. My husband called out to me: “It’s for you”.

Wondering who could be calling so early in the morning, I saunter into the living room to see a lady who happens to be my fishmonger’s wife (will call her Durga – not her real name of course – for the sake of this story) and the mother of two of my husband’s protégés at his football academy. I smile to greet the pleasant faced, soft spoken lady thinking it is just another visit maybe to ask about her boys who were away at a training camp. Just then I noticed her red-rimmed eyes and trembling lips and body and my smile froze. She wanted to talk to me privately as it’s a ‘women’s matter’, she said looking at me in despair. My husband discreetly leaves the room to give us privacy. I make her sit on the sofa, give her a glass of water, which she refuses and wait for her to talk. She looks at me and starts sobbing inconsolably. “Memsahib, I want to thank you and sahib for all that you have done for my boys and I know that with you they are always in good hands.” Sensing that there is more to this I keep quiet and look at her with trepidation. Sobbing and shaking uncontrollably, she continues, “Memsahib, please forgive me. Please, I just can’t do this anymore! I want to leave my two boys in your custody. I don’t want to live anymore! I can’t, I just can’t!”

The despair and inexplicable sadness in her voice was unmistakable. Taken aback, I took her hand in mine, and held her shaking and fragile body. “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s going to be alright,” my own words sounded hollow as I tried to make sense of what she was trying to say. I felt her despair, her hopelessness and wondered what could have happened? What could have driven to this state? I held her tight and let her cry. What were the right words to say? I didn’t know. All I saw was a broken down young woman, a mother who was so beaten, so lost, so desperate. A broken spirit, a bruised body, and haunted eyes.

What could have made her this way? “My husband, memsahib, I can’t take it anymore. I tolerated it for twenty years for the sake of my children, my home, my family but I can’t do it anymore.” What did he do? Did he beat you? Was he drunk? “No, no memsahib. He was not drunk. But he abuses me. I am scared of him. He is very dangerous. He will kill me! I know he will!” And then she showed me the scars. The stab marks all over her body, the bruises and seared flesh. I shuddered. Tears ran down my own eyes. I was shocked at the brutality of it! And there was more. Two decades of mental torture, physical violence, marital rape, infidelity and several attempts to murder her and her children. This was no less than the Nirbhaya case, or any of the countless rape cases that make headlines almost daily. And it had been happening for twenty years. Day after day. Night after night. WHY? Why, I thought? Why would a human being do this to another? And why did she suffer such cruel depravity? There are no easy answers.

Married off at the tender age of 12 to a man much older to her, she had her first child when she was just 14. Two years and countless beatings later she gave birth to another child. The beatings, the cruel taunts, the rapes, the physical brutality, the humiliation, the indignity, continued. For her, and her small children. That was her world. The only one that she had known of since she attained puberty. The only one that could ensure that she gets two meals a day and a roof over her head. The trade off was incidental. Why didn’t she leave him, you may ask? If only it was that simple. Leave and go where, memsahib? She asked me when I questioned her about it? Born to extremely poor parents this marriage was her ticket to survival. “And anyway, I had to make my marriage work, memsahib. “Or people would point fingers at me. After all, isn’t my husband supposed to be my God? To obey and honor under all circumstances?” It was simple economics in one way. Societal norms, in another.

And yes, she survived, if only for her children. But sadly, bit by bit, life and laughter was snuffed out of her. What was even worse, (if there could be anything worse) fear took over. Fear for her life. Fear for her children, her family. Fear of constantly looking over her shoulder. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of simply breathing. So great was the intimidation, the children grew up equally scared of their father. Strapping young teenagers today, they lack the nerve to stand up to this tyranny. Helpless, bound with the shackles of abject poverty, a non-existent education and a psychotic misogynist for a father, what does the future hold for them? What kind of men will they grow up to be?

I tell the story of this woman at length, because somewhere here, I think, lies an answer (or at least a possible explanation) of all that is going wrong in our society today. The ever-increasing violations, the molestations, and the rapes; even suicides and honor killings. Look around you. The story of this woman is the story of thousands of women in India today. Hunted, haunted, suppressed, abused at the very hands of those who swore to protect them and love them. Some may argue that things are changing and that many women are standing up for their rights. Maybe so. Yes, there are women I know who have walked out of such abusive marriages and are living lives with dignity and freedom. But they were the lucky ones; they perhaps had a choice. What about the countless women who don’t? Does that mean they don’t have the right to survive? The right to live with dignity? The right to say NO?

Of course she has. At least, that’s what the media, and advertisements/cinema reminds us often. But consider the odds. What hope of justice does Durga (and many in her situation) have? Yes, she can go to the police station and register an FIR. And we all know where that will lead! “You are a married woman! Why do you want to break your home?” Or she can take shelter in a women’s home in the hope of getting free legal aid and start life anew. Sadly, here too she will have to very lucky to file a case at all because as per the Indian Penal Code marital rape is considered a crime only when the wife is below 15 years of age! Marital rape victims have to take recourse to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) where the offender if guilty is liable to a fine of Rs. 20,000/- and a jail sentence up to one year. That’s it. One year for years or decades of mental, economic, and physical torture! The offender is free, after a year to go back and indulge in some more. In most of the cases the victims, if they dare to raise a voice, are shushed up by society; or get so intimidated by the legal system that they don’t have the wherewithal to pursue. Many go back to their parental homes and try to rebuild their lives, many live destitute lives on the fringes of society, in the hope that one day they will finally be liberated. And free.

This is a story that I began some time back and like the women that I write about, didn’t have the wherewithal to pursue it. Till I saw the movie PINK by Shoojit Sircar, which deals with similar issues about the women living in India today. It gave me hope that one day we too could be liberated and free to live the lives that we WANTED to, that we choose; and not the ones that were imposed on us by family, society, or our circumstances. Just like Durga.

The Dance of the Maiden

Well, it’s that time of the year once again. A time when the old gives way to the new. A time when there is a certain song in the air. Of new beginnings. Of merriment. Of love. And of hope. That, dear readers, is the promise of spring. A time much awaited and celebrated with great fervor across the country.

In many parts of India, especially in the regions that are agrarian (which is practically most of it), springtime is an important part of the entire agricultural cycle. In Assam, it is celebrated (as we all know it)  as Rongali Bihu and marks the beginning of sowing of seeds. In that sense, it is also believed to be a fertility festival. It is this aspect of the festival that is particularly interesting. In earlier times, young unmarried men and women dressed in traditional finery sang and danced the beautiful and rhythmic Bihu dance in open fields. The Bihu dance form itself, with its sensuous movements of the hips and arms by young women was seen as a celebration of their fertility. It has therefore been described as a mating ritual. According to Praphulladatta Goswami in his book Festivals of Assam “ The Bihu dance seems to have sexual overtones, suggesting its association with springtime fertility cult of earlier times.”

Needless to say, the Bihu songs too are mostly based on the theme of love and “constitute a language of love”. “In fact, at one time, it was through these songs that affections were indicated and later even elopements took place.” It was almost as if, the entire process of finding a mate and the courtship that follows was given a societal sanction.

So, if ancient societies recognized and validated one of the most natural acts of creation – that of procreation, and thus giving the female its due place under the sun, where has modern society gone so terribly wrong? When did healthy flirtations and harmless acts of love (all part of the mating game) began to be perceived as perverse and shameful? When did the sensual songs of love as sung during Bihu simply disappear or change form to vulgar renditions that only seemed to objectify women? When did misogyny replace the reverence that was a prerogative of the female – from where all creation flowed?

The answers, though not that simple, are much closer to home than we may think.  For instance, how many of us may have at any point in time, reprimanded or frowned upon a teenaged son or daughter’s closeness to a friend of the opposite sex? Or worse still, how many of us continue to stereotype our daughters and women around us everyday? This is in fact the whole point of the Bal Panchayat programme in, Delhi, started in 1993 by an NGO Community Aid and Sponsorship Programme along with Plan India as reported in a leading national daily just a few weeks ago. The progressive programme reportedly “encourages young girls and boys of the locality to interact freely and bring an attitudinal change in how they perceive each other.”  The aim: to have a more “balanced view about gender roles” and help “develop a healthy camaraderie between the sexes”.

To do that, maybe we need to look into our past, and remind ourselves of our rich and meaningful customs that provided the very balance that we seemed to have lost. Look at the heritage of Assam, a state that is perhaps known to worship the feminine form like no other. Take the practice of Ambubachi, which is a celebration of the yearly menstruation course of Goddess Kamakhya, when the temple remains closed for three days. Or the practice where young girls – who once they start their menstruation – are decked up as brides and pampered and showered with gifts as a celebration of her being fertile.

These practices deeply revere the female but sadly, it is a reverence that today seems hollow and hypocritical. For while a young girl can celebrate her fertility there is no question of her exploring her sexuality till well, she is married. Or take the still prevailing practice of marrying off pre-adolescent girls in rural areas. On one hand, eleven or twelve year olds are considered old enough to handle married life but on the other hand, those who aren’t married, are expected to wear their chastity belts till they are!

This does not mean that we just let everything go. However, we do need to relook at our skewed societal values and find that balance between the traditional and modern.  We need to question our own conditioning and attitudes, rather than the actions/feelings of our children. Of course, decades of social conditioning will not be easy to undo so fast, I suspect. But a beginning needs to be made. Only then, will our beautiful songs of Bihu resonate the spirit in which they were intended.  And only then, will the maiden’s dance be truly hers.


  1. Praphulladatta Goswami’s Festivals of Assam

The Promise of Tradition

I know. I haven’t written for quite some time now. The past few weeks have been unbelievably busy! Quite a rollercoaster ride, come to think of it.  From new beginnings – a couple of weddings followed by the birth of my niece, and a new job – to journey’s end – the passing away of a dear friend; from never-ending festivities to preparations for Advent and even a rock concert….a  rather dramatic finish to the year!

And if that was not enough, this also happens to be my favorite time of the year. Festivities apart, it’s a time I like to keep aside to quietly reflect upon the year gone by, and to dream and make plans for the coming year.  And I continue to do that year after year, as I had always been a stickler for tradition.  Hmmm. I was quite rigid about some of them, come to think of it. And that brings me to the point of this blog.

Tradition. Christmas, as we know it, is a time of tradition and this is THE one time in the year that traditions take precedence over everything.  As the beautiful lines from The Fiddler on the Roof go:

“Because of our traditions

We have kept our balance for many, many years

Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is”

I quite agree. Traditions are good as long as they last and especially when they bring joy and meaning to life.  For some, tradition is the glue that holds families together. For some, tradition is something that needs to be done at a certain time of the year, or a certain time in life. For some, tradition is something that you pass on to the next generation, like a precious heirloom.  So yes, I don’t deny that traditions are an important part of our existence. They help us stay connected to our roots and remind us of the very reason for our existence – who we are, where do we come from and what kind of individuals we are going to be.

For me, it was not any different. The ones that revolved around family and holidays were most precious. They gave me a sense of security and stability, and were the only constant in the changes within and around me…for a long, long time.  

Talking about tradition, there are two kinds: those that outlive you and the other kind, the ones that you outlive.

I am talking about the second kind.  (The traditions of my childhood, and youth perhaps). What I am trying to say is that there comes a time, in everyone’s life, I guess, when you know that you have outlived the tradition.  Maybe because you changed direction, or maybe because you’ve been too busy, or maybe simply because you KNOW you need to let go of the old, and make way for the new.

The realization dawned on me a few days ago when I was in the midst of a ferocious spring-cleaning at home. Maybe some part of me realized that I needed to clean the cobwebs around me. Throw out the clutter.  Exorcise.  No more holding on to things, people, traditions that have no meaning in my life. 

Or let me put it this way: I guess its time to make new ones. (Yes, yes, I know. It’s Christmas time, and a time for traditions, so –yes- I- see- the- irony!)  I am looking forward to it actually – new traditions and the promise they hold…

So here’s to tradition – old and well, in my case, definitely new!


Admission makes strange bedfellows!

And so it begins. The journey of life – for my son as he is about to go to formal school (well, he is currently going to a play school but that’s not the same thing, is it?) And for me – one of the most anxious moments of parenthood as I go about selecting the right school for my son. Well, the second-most anxious moment, come to think of it. The first was when we discovered that my son had elevated thyroids levels at birth and that it could seriously affect his mental health.  But thanks to timely detection, it all turned out well in the end. Just as I know this will too. But till it does, it is turning out to be quite a roller-coaster ride!

“It’s all so confusing!” remarked a much-harried friend who is seeking admission to nursery for her daughter as well. As we swapped stories, we tried to make some sense of the madness that was around us. But at the end of the hour-long chat we still had no answers, only more questions. The one that had been nagging me (and quite a few equally harried parents) from the time my son was about two years old: How do you know which is the ‘right’ school for your child?  And wait that is not all of it! Even if you did happen to stumble upon the answer, how do you ensure that your child gets admitted into your dream school?

Believe it or not, it is in search for these elusive answers that most parents around me (yes, including me, I’d admit albeit grudgingly) have done things that they would not ordinarily do. But then these are not ordinary circumstances and times like these call for tough (read desperate, if not downright extreme measures!) Foes have become friends, friendship has blossomed where previously there was none, and alliances have been forged (and you thought politics makes strange bedfellows!).  They’ve struck up conversations with so-called strangers at parties or even called long-lost friends, friends of friends, relatives of friends’, colleagues, friends and relatives of colleagues, neighbors, and relatives and so on and so forth. They have joined online communities and forums for parents seeking admission to nursery, struck up inane conversations on Facebook, or even taken the boss’ twice-removed cousin out for coffee. All in the hope of getting some much-longed for answers (and also, the kind of questions that are asked at school interviews).

But I digress. I couldn’t help it. Just log on to one of the parent forums and you’ll see the kind of frenzy I am talking about.

Coming back to my question: How do you know which is the right school for your child? (This question may not be applicable for those who had the privilege of studying in some of the finest schools in the country. For them, the story ends right here. Or maybe not.) Funnily enough, it was a question I had asked a family friend (who happens to be a school teacher) out of sheer curiosity sometime back. Her answer was simple: go with your instincts, you’ll know.

Hmm. I got my instincts working overtime when I did the mandatory rounds of schools in the city. The fancy shmancy ones (with the central air-conditioning and color-coordinated potties) I had no patience for. The so-called progressive schools or experiential learning schools seemed too idealistic and were yet to convince me. The ones that had some kind of legacy (and there were just a couple in my city) – the wholesome, no-nonsense, honest-to goodness ones – well, let’s just say it would be easier to get into Fort Knox! And the missionary/convent schools – well, there were none. Nope, not a single one. Where did that leave me? Do I put my son’s life (or least the next 12-13 years of it) in the hands of half a dozen shining, brand new schools that have mushroomed overnight in the millennium city, in the hope that they will make a man out him eventually? Oh wait, that’s my job, isn’t it? Okay, so give him the kind of education that he deserves?

After much thought, (discussions on the dinner table, heated debates and arguments too) we narrowed our choices down to just a couple of schools, two of them not even in the millennium city. And that was the easy part.

The tough part was yet to come. Now that I know which school to send my son how do I assure his admission? With every school following its own system (RTE be damned!) it’s almost like a game of roulette! The only answer I got to this one was from an old friend who refused to join the admission madness for his younger son. (He has just applied to the one school where the older sibling is studying) So exasperated was he with the entire process that he is willing to take a chance this time round. He summed it up for me in one word: sycophancy.  Alright, before we put on our moral hats and get all judgmental, let’s just step back and think for a minute. However much we hate to admit it, he may be right.

The question is: why should I, or any parent, have to resort to sycophancy or curry favors or even learn roulette for something as basic as educating my child? Whatever happened to the good old system of just walking into your neighborhood school, meeting the principal and well, just paying up? That’s it. The entire process took a couple of hours, not 3-5 months. That’s how it worked for me, and my sister, and our cousins. For my hubby too. Or maybe that’s how it’s always been played; all I need to do is learn the rules of the game.

While you are figuring this one out it’s time for me to go roll the dice! Jokes apart, some thoughts on this would be welcome. I am curious to know – from parents who have already walked down this road, and those who have yet to: just how do you do it?