Thursday, March 6, 2014

Treading Murky Waters

Who hasn't heard of Alka's prize winning blog, Freebird? Most of her articles critique the media, are about the political scenario and are published in magazines and newspapers - both online and print.  Alka doesn't hesitate to call a spade a spade but what has always attracted me to her writing is the underlying sense of integrity one associates with her posts.

Image: Courtesy Ezibuy, NZ
Today, she has been kind enough to host my post, Treading Murky Waters - a story about two working women, Seema and Nadine, flatmates and friends since school, and their experience in an Indian shop in New Zealand. The genre is fiction.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Are Indians Behaving Like the US Republicans?

Images courtesy wiki
There was a time, as recently as the early twenty-first century when ordinary Indians were scared to talk about the all-powerful politicians. We whispered our discontent to a few trusted friends behind the safety of our own walls. Those days, hopefully, are gone for good. We've really understood what Elie Weisel said. "Neutrality helps the oppressor and silence, the tormentor."

Today, we don't hesitate to use online media like facebook, twitter, email, blogs, etc to promote our favourite candidate for Prime Minister of India. To that extent our democracy is alive and well.

At the same time we know the issues that have beleaguered our nation since independence - politicians, the police and babus in government who won't move unless bribed, individual politicians who depend on criminals and buying off media to survive in politics, too many poor Indians who fall through the safety net for health services and education, a lack of safety for women on our roads, business that has to bribe politicians to survive, schools that take 'donations', communal minded politicians who exclude too many Indians from their plans for prosperity and of course, pot-holed roads and polluted air, soil and water, to name a "few".

People who are rooting for Modi think he has a proven track record of being pro-business. It is clear to them that his policies have made Gujarat prosper and will, therefore, make India prosper. What isn't clear and they have no desire to clarify, is what happened during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. One thing stands out. The good, decent, pro-business and pro-India Muslims were also persecuted - caught between hardline Hindus and hardliners from their own community. No Indian Muslim was safe in Gujarat during that period - alienated in their own country. It probably made a lot of them disillusioned and hardline. Would such communal politics be good for India?

People rooting for Kejriwal believe he will stamp out corruption to a great extent. For example, the police will start doing their job better instead of looking for a way to extract money from every sorry situation or individual. In fact, Kejriwal says, the police are already running scared. Kejriwal's supporters don't wish to know how draconian the Janlokpal could be. [Arundhati Roy had this to say in 2011.] There is much to do - genuine issues - police corruption, women's safety, water for everyone - and Arvind and his party are addressing these issues where previously no other party did - in fact, in the old days people felt the established parties were in collusion with the perpetrators. What Arvind's supporters don't want to know is how exactly the AAP's Janlokpal looks like now. I feel it is very much a priority but Kejriwal and co. have decided to wisely keep it out of the forefront. Ever since the Dr. Soonawalla rape case many people, barring his supporters, have another worry. Is Kejriwal capable of censuring his own party members for their excesses or wrong doings? If he can't even censure them for trying to take the law into their own hands instead of letting it follow due process, how is he going to apply the Janlokpal to his own party members?

As for Rahul Gandhi, his supporters believe he will have the backing of experienced and seasoned politicians - he'll have their expertise at his disposal. The status quo is known and safe - a Gandhi at the helm. It doesn't matter if the said Gandhi himself isn't astute, brilliant or able to think on his feet.

We know, eventually, one of these three, or perhaps an unknown, will have the job of tackling India's problems. Once that happens, thanks to social media and our connectivity, we won't be fooled by their rhetoric - varying from good, laughable to outright, blatant lies. We will continue watching them like hawks and discuss every move they make.

I read comments dripping with sarcasm on social media regularly. Some are astute, others, a good laugh and yet others are in poor taste. If we manage to give our favourite an advantage we believe it is a feather in our cap.  If we manage to discredit the others, even better. We use hook, crook or sarcasm - anything at our disposal - to highlight the opposition's negatives. If we have no favourites we prefer to talk about their errors of judgements, faux pas or worse, their private lives. It is all gloom, doom and cynicism. Rarely do we say anything positive. Which is all very well as long as we let them get on with their job. We shouldn't become like the Republican party of the US whose main agenda is to discredit their president and tie both his hands behind his back at the expense of the US and a majority of the US citizens. Not that I believe for a moment that Obama is right every single time. Just that he is unable to move even when he is.

Nor should we glorify politicians. Like the rest of us, they do a job for which, unlike most of us, they give themselves a huge salary.

Whoever is at the helm, a democracy is effective only when ordinary citizens participate fearlessly and have a balanced point of view. Most of our news media present a one-sided picture depending on who they support (and who supports them). As ordinary Indians we are aware, whether it is Modi, Kejriwal or Rahul, they have their strengths and weaknesses. If we are for them it doesn't follow that everything they do is right.

If we are against them, not everything they do is wrong. It might be so for members of the opposition. They (sadly) believe it is their job to disrupt everything the person at the helm tries to do, including things that might be beneficial for India and Indians.

Unlike the opposition, ordinary Indians need a  balanced and astute view of the actions of our politicians. As they say, it isn't about putting our favourite candidate on a higher pedestal. It is about issues.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Challenges Teenagers Face

We all know that freedom has a price. It is rarely free. 

Take the recent “Roast Busters” case in NZ. Young men of eighteen slept with under-aged girls - as young as thirteen and fourteen - in 2011 and then boasted about it on facebook, naming and shaming the girls. What came as a shock was the role the NZ police played in the whole sordid affair. Apparently, the girls were so inebriated they didn’t know what was happening. The difference between the rapes that hit the headlines in India recently and the Roast Buster rapes is that the youngsters were known to one another. 

This post lets you know the facts of the case but isn’t about being judgemental. It is about the challenges teenagers and their parents face today. 

Teenagers, whether in NZ or India, are getting a taste of freedom as never before and it is important for them to know the responsibilities and consequences that go with it. I am aware that in India the majority are content to go for healthy, light hearted fun, are busy trying to excel at studies or are under strict parental authority. Yet, the videos about boys from ordinary homes misbehaving with girls on Delhi roads were pretty alarming. 

What can parents do about their young with raging hormones who indulge their own desires uncaring of the feelings of their victims? Mike Cagney, who has worked with scores of abusers, says abusers go ahead because

– it felt good at the moment 
– was gratifying 
– they couldn’t stop 
– they felt they could get away with it.

He says almost 80% regret it afterwards. [I wonder - Do they realise how disgusting and unpleasant the experience was for the victims and that isn’t a nice feeling?] Before they become repeat offenders (who regret it afterwards) he talks to them. Here’s the entire radio interview. Perhaps we, as parents could pick up some pointers on how to prevent our own teens from becoming abusers instead of feeling helpless in the face of their unchecked raging hormones. 

What about our normal teens out to have a good time with friends? The ones who are definitely growing up and need to be out amongst their peers more often than with parents, and yet, need to have set boundaries? 

Teenagers are at an age when their bodies are changing and evolving. Parents watch their little babies growing up. But while they mature physically, mentally they still have a lot of growing up to do. Some parents marry them off! But most parents, brave souls, take on the terrible teens. 

We understand it isn’t easy growing up and that in spite of their temper tantrums, their harsh criticism and manipulative behaviour they need to feel safe and loved. We know they face hormonal changes and grappling with new emotions is confusing and exhausting.

Like everyone, they want desperately to love and be loved. But hateful parents and the boundaries they set enter the picture. We know, as they grapple with their own changing emotions, what (or who) they think they desire could easily change. We know that they could get saddled at that young age with the added responsibility of pregnancy and babies themselves. There’s a strong possibility that the object of their attraction is also growing and evolving. They might change their minds too. 

We hope they’ll listen when we give them advice about enjoying ordinary friendships with both sexes, with a stress on ‘ordinary’. We know that learning to live in the moment will help as will tons of shared laughter, strong family ties and an absorbing activity - a hobby, an aim, goal or purpose. 

To add to our woes we not only have to tell them it is best to keep a lid on their own emotions and those of their beloved but that they have to watch out for the nefarious intentions of a handful of others. Today, since parents don’t chaperone teens as heavily as they used to, there are a few things we need to let them know for their own safety. We have the lovely task of letting them know it is smart to recognise monsters, some of whom might be their own friends – wolves in sheep’s clothing. We need to let them know how to give them a wide berth. [They may use flattery, force or emotional blackmail (I’ll kill myself if you don’t) to make the victim give in. They might take the teen away from the crowd. What did the Roast Busters use? Alcohol to let the young thirteen year olds believe they were cool and sophisticated with the sole intention of lowering their physical ability to defend themselves.] 

How do we let our teens know it isn’t the beautiful world they thought it was without increasing their confusion and anger? Is it any wonder they throw temper tantrums at us? Let us face it - whilst we know arming our kids with knowledge and wisdom about the times we live in is necessary we don’t really know how to deliver. 

How do we tell them without upsetting them that their admired “friend” could use flattery, spike their orange juice with a drug or ply them with alcohol to lower their resistance? Not everyone is like the Roast Busters. How do we explain our fears and our need to keep them safe from danger without putting them off? Or worse, without sounding like the high hand of authority out to thwart their fun? How do we talk to our kids without sounding like we know best? 

Today, thanks to technology kids have too many role models they can look up to and too many ways to corroborate the information parents dish out. The job was certainly easier for parents until kids became tech savvy. They (the parents) were the ultimate authority. If I were honest I’d have to admit that whenever I’ve tried telling my kids one of those “horror” stories with a strong message I’ve often felt them roll their eyes heavenwards. Their expression has said it all. 
  • Oh no, a lecture! 
  • We know, mum. Heard it a hundred times before.
  • Google it, parent, and you’ll get 270,000 different opinions on the subject in .23 seconds.
On another plane I’ve been aware that they’ve taken the message on board. One of my pet grouses is that there is much wisdom out there but no training for parents. To be effective at any job we accept that training is involved. The exception is parenting. Our challenge as parents is to convey our messages better. Our challenge is to find the right balance between giving them freedom and laying down the law. Our challenge is to resist trying to seek their approval if they don’t abide by the rules that make them safe. Our challenge is to understand and resist their manipulative tactics (a topic in itself). Our challenge is to remain stoic in the face of their disappointment and therefore their wounding insults. And, in spite of all the above, our challenge is to stay connected and to keep the channels of communication open. Easy-peasy.

Image Courtesy -

To find out more about the Roast Busters' case - the case that shook New Zealand, the police role in the saga and the actions taken by the deeply concerned NZ public, media and top politicians click here.

This post is also a Guest Post at A-Musing and declared top post on Indiblogger.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Unusual Arrangement - Guest Post At Mashed Musings

I’ve never had too much patience with convention. If something works for me and the other parties concerned, if I’m not deliberately hurting or harming anyone,  that’s all that matters.  

It won’t come as a surprise to you then, to know I have an unusual arrangement with Steve. It might come as a bit of a surprise to the kids though as this past week, I’ve lost my voice to a sore throat and have been unable to communicate. 

Everything’s revealed on Amit’s wonderful blog, “Mashed Musings.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why I Wrote "Never Mind Yaar"

When the kids were four and one, I gave up my job, happily, I might add, to look after them. We were in a new country. Before I knew it the kids were off to school and kindergarten. I was bored. How often can you go out shopping or meet up with friends? And, as is the case with new immigrants, I missed my life back home. 

That is when I first started writing. It was 1992. I wrote every day. Time flew. Before I knew it, it was time to stop and get some housework done before picking up the kids. I wrote about my childhood and teens – a story where nothing untoward happened except, it brought smiles to my face to recall the things my siblings and I used to get up to. My husband suggested I write to get published.

I started researching writing to publish. In those days PCs were just beginning to make an appearance and here, in NZ, we had excellent (and free) libraries. I kept dreaming about plots and characters but it was all nebulous in my mind. From being bored and having time on my hands I was on a constant adrenaline fix.

I chanced upon a book by William Pfaff - “The Wrath of Nations”. One thing he said stuck with me. He said people of different nationalities instinctively felt proud of their own culture. There was no reason or logic to it. They just did.

I'd often thought about and mulled over the Bombay riots of the seventies. I'd wondered then why secularism or, a different way of doing things, was such a threat to some. To my mind it had been illogical, yet blinding hate from people who we'd dealt with daily and perhaps, once or twice, even joked with. I realised it was complex and much of it had to do with the politics of power but I felt I understood why some perfectly decently people became hardened towards other communities. I felt strangely at peace. 

The riots had to be part of the book I was planning to write. 

Whenever they spoke of the Indian middle class in the news, it was always the “huge, burgeoning” Indian middle class. I didn’t like that term. It made me feel like ordinary Indians were being lumped together as one mass of humanity. We weren’t individuals. Besides, so many Indian authors wrote about Indians on the edge of society, extreme poverty, degradation, male chauvinism, rampant corruption, bribery, superstition, religious extremism and courage in the face of all the above, that I was determined not to. 

I would write to celebrate and affirm the ordinary, mainstream, middle-class Indians. The world should see India in all her colours to get a true picture. I would dare to be different.

I’d write about ordinary Indians.

The plot began taking shape. I also wanted characters who were idealistic and not jaded by experience. Breezy youngsters, amusing, out to make a life for themselves – that’s who I planned to write about. Normal, ordinary kids who weren’t living at the edge of society but who came from secure homes. 

I’d write about the carefree and light hearted years of college, friendship and young love.

I completed my novel in 1993. In 1997 we moved overseas for a three year stint and just for safety, printed out a hard copy of the manuscript as it was then and had it attested by a JP in NZ. The book does have stories from my childhood but the characters and plot are pure invention. Today, almost twenty years later, it is published in India. Why it took so long is another story. Part of it was the fact that in those days, Indian publishing (and reviews by Indians) hadn't really taken off. Author's depended on westerners (with a western outlook) for such services.

One thing I should make clear is that I had no idea when I wrote the book that some events in the book would actually come to pass. Fact, sadly, followed fiction. Before the book was published in India in 2013, for example, Indians had already lived through the formation of a new party and a horrendous rape. If I had the book published now, my ideas wouldn't seem original. Since there was more to the book than those two instances mirrored in real life, and since I discovered in 2013 that publishing was now a thriving industry in India, I decided to go ahead and get it published anyway.

My feelings now: The “never mind yaar” attitude is definitely changing. I don’t know whether youngsters would accept substandard fare from the college canteen as most of the college students did at Gyan Shakti until Bhagu was beaten up. I don’t know whether ordinary Indians would accept a building coming up, slap bang in their faces – a building that flouts every regulation about the minimum distance between buildings as Louella’s family did in the book. I don’t know if a time will come when rape victims and their families will be able to trust the police and the justice system. Will they speak out against the rapists or continue trusting no one, either taking matters into their own hands or preferring to forget the incident and letting the perpetrators off scot free?

All I know is that we are beginning to understand once more what we knew during India’s struggle for independence - there is immense strength and safety in unity. A billion lone individuals aren’t as effective as a billion-strong force.

For free chapters and reviews please go to the “About the Book” page.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Muslims Afraid to Speak Out Against Jihadis? Not these Muslims

Courtesy "The Daily Telegraph"
We all know how the Middle East is full of people who call themselves jihadis. We all know the word simply means a 'terrorist' to many. When jihadis (to some) or terrorists (to others) attacked shoppers at Nairobi's Westgate mall we heard about the Muslim man who saved many shoppers' lives.

This is what he thinks about those jihadis.

Tariq Ali, another Muslim, a famous writer and film-maker isn't afraid to speak his mind either. He speaks on many issues. Worth reading some of his words at the end of this post by Matheikal.

pic from
And finally, Malala. Very few people openly defy the Taliban. Her interview with CNN's Amanpour shows her courage.

Why speak about these people? Fighting fundamentalism - religious, cultural or whatever, is effective when people who are most affected speak out against the fundamentalists. Muslims unafraid to speak their minds are worth celebrating. May their tribe increase.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Are Indian Men Sleazy?

To protect people's identities names are fictitious. 

On a lovely summer's day, Yasmin called up out of the blue. I don't know what it is about her but I always feel cheered when I hear her voice. I might even add that she is the glue that holds our group - a disparate lot - together.

After dispensing with the hi-s, hellos and how are yous she wanted to know if we'd like to join the group for a spur of the moment picnic. She and Vijay were bringing the beers, someone else the soft drinks and the rest were bringing eats. The venue was the beach and agreeing it had to be soon, before the unpredictable NZ weather changed, we rang off. The kids, barely in their teens, were super excited as was my husband. The kids packed a frisbie, a ball, towels, their water bottles, wore their rubber chappals and were ready. The hubby packed a picnic blanket to sit on, hats and cream to protect us from the sun's uv rays (as NZ has a hole in its ozone layer), and he was ready. I packed, unpacked and repacked some stuff to eat. Knowing the others would bring delicious fare I finally decided to take along the meal I'd prepared for dinner. Oh, I thought, mustn't forget hot water, milk and teabags. I love a cup of tea after lunch and quickly packing it, rushed to the car. Realising I don't take sugar but some of the others might I jumped out aware that I was dampening the family excitement, and rushed back in to get some sugar. Feeling a bit guilty that I'd kept the rest waiting but satisfied I had packed everything, including Equal (sugar substitute) for Nimmi and Kokila, I hurried back to the car.

We drove up to the beach where the kids ran off to join their friends. We were all meeting after ages and there was a huge melee of greetings. The grown ups spread out the seating but let the goodies remain packed for later. After a lot of catching up, some of us women went off for a long walk on the beach while the men stayed back to keep an eye on the kids and probably to behave like kids themselves while the women were away.

The beach was crowded, mostly with families. Parents were everywhere, helping kids build castles in the sand or splash about in the water, determined to make the most of the lovely weather. We walked idly, chatting and absorbing the sights. There was much to see, not least the clearest of blue skies and a cobalt blue sea. A mum sat serenely watching her toddler take a few faltering steps and fall. The little girl's face underwent a rapid change from utter surprise to monumental misery, eyes tightly shut, forehead creased like scrunched paper and lower lip trembling piteously. She looked utterly adorable and we all winced, feeling her pain and waiting for her bottled  breath to explode.

She was seconds away from a fiesty bawl when, "that's all right," said mum mildly, adding brightly, "Up you get." We stood there, watching in suspense. It worked like magic. The little girl forgot to cry, got up, took a few faltering steps, fell again and to our utter surprise this time, smiled at mum.

"Oh, well done, mum," said Yasmin softly to our group, breaking the spell. I couldn't help agreeing.

"Who's coming jogging," said Kokila, turning around to face us, walking backwards. "Might as well build up an appetite." Kokila was a fitness freak and it showed in every inch of her superb, supple body.

"How about a race," said Shahnaaz, a bit plump and out of condition, stepping forward. "Okay," said Koki and in one fluid, graceful movement, turned around and shot off, giving herself a good head start. Shahnaaz yelled out, "back," and bolted in the opposite direction. We all turned, watching her run for dear life, laughing. Koki let out a wail of protest, "you tricked me," but sure she could beat Shahnaz, ran after her. We watched with wicked satisfaction as Shahnaaz reached our group of men a second before her.

We continued our walk. Koki caught up with us, exhilaration and perhaps triumph on her face and pointed to Shahnaz huffing and panting half way between the men and us. We stood around, waiting for her to catch up. We heard the chug-chug of an engine and turned to watch a boat with a man ski-ing expertly behind it. As he became aware of us watching he gave a little twist and a wave leaving a wonderful pattern in his wake. Shahnaaz soon caught up and gamely faced all our ribbing although we did manage to slip in, to Koki's chagrin, that she had definitely won the first round. We continued on our way. Finally, our faces red with the heat of the sun and the fresh sea breeze, we decided to turn back. The slow walk had warmed us up nicely and as one, we walked back at a nice clip with little conversation.

As we reached our group we saw that Vijay had wasted no time handing out a second round of chilled beers. The men looked content, laughing uproariously at some incident one of them was recounting. The kids had wandered back from their games and were sipping cold drinks. One of the men was throwing out brain teasers which some kids were happily trying to solve. Another was whirling one of the kids around. "me, my turn," yelled some of the others. One of the men had rummaged in the bags and discovered savoury stuff to go with their beers. The kids were making inroads into the namkeen. Before they lost their apetites to junk food we decided it was time to eat. One of the men fired up the barby. Soon delicious smells of frying meats and onion assailed us. We laid out quite a spread and everyone tucked in. It was, in true Indian style, a long, varied, chatpat and satisfying meal. We were finally done and cleared away the dishes.

I could tell the ladies were beginning to feel drowsy. The men were huddled together talking in low murmurs. They seemed to be hatching a plan. We watched the kids troop off to have more fun by the water. Suddenly, the men jumped up and whipped off their shirts. They ran in a group towards the sea. Some had paunches and some knobly knees but each and everyone of them wore shorts and a slight, self conscious blush. We sat up, smiles splitting our faces and watched. Then, leaving them to their fun we decided to have tea to help us keep awake.

I felt happy. This particular group of friends were out for a laugh and a good time in the nicest of ways. The men took a lot of ribbing and dished it out as generously. They were friendly and relaxed. Nobody knows what goes on in an individual's mind but this much I can say with certainty.  I enjoyed being with them. Thank goodness they were 'Normal' Indian men unlike those louts who've been in the news for forcing their offensive and unwanted attentions on our women.

Perhaps I'm lucky. Although, hang on a minute. I've come across tons of the other kind. Only, I've never thought of them as men - Indian or otherwise. Even as a young girl of twelve I remember creeps on the road trying to cop a crude feel or stare hungrily, giving me a sense of loathing and revulsion at their unwanted attentions. Walking on the road was stressful to say the least. I learnt to have eyes in the back of my head - to anticipate the moves some of those animals would make so I could side step them. Very often they succeeded, making me feel violated and angry. In those days decent men and women didn't know how to react when faced with this ugly behaviour. We felt helpless and tried not to make a scene, to ignore these louts and wish they would disappear. Unfortunately, that simply made the low lives bolder. Their behaviour worsened.

Most decent Indians are really angry. Enough is enough. Many have written on how to protect ourselves as individuals and on learning self defence skills. That still means we are on the defensive and the monsters are going scott free.

Enough is enough. We want to see them punished. With a united action plan, even if the police are hesitant to record rape cases and even if many politicians are made from the same, lewd mould, we are determined not to tolerate this kind of uncivilised behaviour a moment longer. Everyone wants these monsters to suffer the consequences of their actions. Where we all differ is the degree of punishemnt. Some advocate capital punishment and others, life imprisonment. Here's one of many such discussions on the issue.

Sadly, nobody seems to have faith in our justice system - another topic for another day. Yet we all seem to agree that this problem has to be attacked on many fronts. To my mind the challenge is this. All of a sudden, although we are not the louts and it isn't our fault, the onus is upon us to work at trying to cure something terrible that ails our society. We've definitely started writing about it openly where previously, we preferred to whisper about it angrily.

Wonder if we'll rise to the challenge of hammering out action plans. Whether we'll confront the problem as team players. Wonder if we'll make a determined effort to unite in action to send all this obscene, unbriddled and alarming lewdness permanently underground.

And as for the question - are Indian men sleazy? Try keying in the phrase in your Google search bar and see what it throws up. One of the reasons our men have gained that reputation is because the slimebags on our roads are beginning to outnumber the decent kind. Another, to my mind, is because many of our men have grown up believing that socialising with women isn't right. Hence they lack the skills to behave normally with half the population.

To balance the equation, having travelled extensively and having met a huge variety of men,  I can say with authority that all Indian men aren't sleazes nor are all non Indian men perfect gentlemen.

Beach Photograph courtesy Taranaki Daily News Online
Woman kneeing man courtesy Health India 
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