Who am I?

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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Life at SIBM Pune

Something’s happening. I instinctively turn towards my mobile phone. I can see “7:30 am” blinking on the screen. Instinctively, I click the snooze button and try to be wafted away into the world I was coming from. After 10 minutes, I am sitting up on my bed with my head bent downwards, the muzzled light entering the room through the diaphanous curtains almost too bright for my ­­­woozy eyes. I look to my left, pull back the curtain and look outside the window. The effect almost makes me cover my eyes. It’s almost as white as a snow-clad winter morning straight out of my childhood in Shimla. But it’s a different white. I can see the white cloud moving, inundating the campus at the top of the hill, and the motion is decipherable because of two different movements of the cloud. One, some distance from the window of my room, with a perennially solid white background, which almost does not seem to move. The other movement is much thinner, much closer to me. I feel I can almost put my hand out of the window and catch a wisp of it. I can decipher the green of the huge ground quite clearly. The administrative block and the SIBM building are completely veiled from my view. I try to gather my bearings. After some futile effort, the face of our Economics Professor flashes in front of my eyes. I realize the time and, forgetting my picturesque musings of a moment ago, jump out of my bed to get ready for my first lecture of the day. The beginning of a day at SIBM Pune is such pure delight. 

The early morning rush from the hostel towards the classes is characterized by a regular delay while getting ready, leaving very little time for breakfast that awaits in the mess located strategically mid-way between the hostel and the classes. The administrative area of SIBM is the last block to be encountered while walking through the winding boulevard of the Symbiosis Lavale Campus. The canteen is mostly thronged by students from all Symbiosis colleges on the campus, especially during the lunch hours. The long queue, round concrete tables, a terraced structure and grumbling servers are the highlight of this hour. Evening 5:30 pm is the time when everyone takes a step back from the daily grind of a B-school and gets together outside the mess to enjoy a cup (or 2 more after that) of tea. The square foyer sprinkled with groups, big and small, on its periphery, enjoying the splendour of an evening beverage that is unmatched in its simplicity and relevance in an Indian way of life. This is the highlight of the day, when time slows down, discussion proceeds to irrelevant topics, the who-is-with-whom information is exchanged and after half an hour, everyone, updated and satiated, hurriedly retires to their hostel rooms and to the library, to resume the plodding of a B-school. 

The sun goes down and the night envelops the hill top. But not before beautiful shades of red and azure in the horizon colour the twilight sky, which looks like a canvas of an artist who has chanced upon a brilliant combination of colours which mesmerizes one and all. After the dinner in the mess, not spending time in front of the “coffee shop” is something of a taboo. Paradoxically, the nights are the best part of the day at a B-school. Working on assignments in groups, roaming about in the corridor from room to room, floor to floor in search of an extra pack of Maggi, inquiring on the local LAN about a particular movie that you wanted to watch, trudging like soldiers on a mission towards the Recreation Centre to bash someone on his birthday and cut a cake, and pouring over the books to study for an upcoming class test are a few of the highlights of the night time, which sometimes seems to play a much greater role in the development of a personality than the day time. We slog, we play, we live, we create memories.  We call it Life@SIBM.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Crooked Nose

Had I not looked straight into the depths of his eyes, or not made the loud pounding of my heart visible on my face, or looked right through him as if he did not exist, he would not have hit me with the bullet that ultimately sealed my fate. He was a tall guy, one who is so conspicuous that one has to notice him, even when one does not want to. He implicitly imposes authority, his physical stature mandates it. The way he walks speaks about his personality borders on aplomb, but as he walks closer, it suddenly falls short and stumbles into the black abyss of abomination. It is something in his face that does it. For thousand bucks, I cannot point at a feature on his face and tell you what is in it that causes so much revulsion to every self-respecting human being. One is tempted to believe that it is his eyes. But it cannot be. His eyes are cold as stone and not even deceit stands a chance to spawn in there. No, it is not his eyes. Is it his jaw line – the carved line that cuts a perfectly sharp angle, like the antediluvian man that a 3rd grade child would draw in his sketch book? But the jaw line also gives away a certain ruggedness that is associated with every third person in the street. No, even that did not set him apart at the top of the pedestal of hatred. I will tell you what it is. It is his nose. The crookedness of it is hidden behind a certain swell of the tip, swollen like a balloon full of water. The crooked nose smiles vengefully behind the comfortable curtain of the swell, which makes the hatred apparent but the reason for that hatred is hidden behind this deception played out by his nose. 

The moment I saw him, I knew I was done for. This was the precise reason I could not figure out a way to run away from there. Hell, I could not even grab at my otherwise sharp instincts that alarm me when something’s amiss. The moment that I saw him hit me with such forceful fury that I was left groping in the dark for a certain sense of clarity, for my self-respect which had ditched me right at that moment, and for my self-preservation skills as I call them, those that had saved me countless times before. 

I wasn’t a bad guy. The way I justify it is that I kill people for a living, that’s it. Everyone has a piss in his life. Mine’s this, right in front of you. I kill people. I do not like doing that. Do you like being a banker? Do you like being the insurance agent who no one likes and who ends up alone, like a dog that squats in the shadows, so that his own species don’t see him and spare him the spite? Even I do not like doing it. But I am who I am, and I do what I do. I have certain skills which I leverage to make the most of this short life. My self-preservation skills have saved me from the narrowest of alleys and stupidest of murders, but this time was different. As soon as I saw the inspector walking towards me, I knew my end was nigh. And I gave up, because I started breathing heavily, and I like to believe that my pupils also dilated, so shaken up was I on seeing him. I had heard stories about him, but a thousand words could not have the effect that one close look had on me. I was already enslaved by his nose, that crookedly deceptive nose. I could make it out only when my mind reached that abyss where the aplomb turned to abomination. But he knew it all along. I could see it. He had his finger on the trigger. All that he had to do was to pull it and the work was done. All my motives, ambition and confidence had taken flight long ago (or so long ago it seemed). I was paralyzed by anger, if you have ever had that feeling. I looked into his eyes. And into the black bottomless abyss that stared at me. That was it. I closed my eyes and breathed a deep, soothing breath. The crooked nose had done its trick.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Day of 'Umang'

Most of us live our lives cautiously. Self-preservation applies not only for our physical selves, it is equally true for our conscience, heart, soul, or whatever we may call it. We tread the conventional path for the fear that we may get lost in the woods of the unknown. We dread the moments which make us uncomfortable, those which we have never experienced before. Even though we might hold high the ideal that we grow the most from our new experiences, when the moment arrives we unconsciously try to make excuses – we develop body aches, we fall ill, our heads start to pain – everything imaginable. I did not make an excuse. But I was jumpy, I was curious and I did not know what to expect. I have never spent a lot of time with kids, apart from at Prerna where we go to teach rural kids. But that too was not for a long duration. This was a whole day. And these kids did not have parents – either they had passed away when the children were quite young, or, unable to bear the financial burden of yet another kid, they had abandoned them. Either case, they had not known their parents. I knew I was doing something very special, and even before I began my day, I knew it was going to be the most special 15th August that I have ever experienced. 

Social Entrepreneurship and Consulting Cell (SECC) of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) Pune has time and again given me an opportunity to put a stamp of meaningfulness on my existence. This was another such special opportunity, right at my doorstep, yet again. We at SECC were organizing Umang, an Independence Day event where we planned to invite 25 children from an orphanage in Dapodi near Pune, and spend the entire day with them, starting from a performance by them at the Independence Day function held at our Lavale campus, to food and interactive indoor as well as outdoor games, and ending with an animated movie in the Convention Centre. Every one of us at SECC was excited about the initiative and instinctively knew that it was going to be something special. 

I woke up quite late at 7:30 am. The function was supposed to begin at 8:15 am sharp. So I hurriedly took a bath and got ready. Adding to my bewilderment, I could not see a soul on my way to the function. I dreaded that this could only mean that either the function had not begun at all, or it was already over. But as I approached the flag hoisting area (of all the things you will miss in our campus, walking is not one of them), I could hear an intermittently thunderous sound. At the clearance, as I began to see the huge number of people gathered for the function, I was stupefied. Having missed last year’s Independence Day function, I had no clue the gathering is this huge. Students from a variety of colleges under the Symbiosis umbrella seemed to be present there. I quietly slid next to the team, the volunteers, and the kids. Now everyone knew I was quite late. 

But I had not missed the beginning of the event. A group of dhol wallahs were wearing white clothes, with a yellow turban, and were beating dhols with absolute gusto! It was mesmerizing, and their energy was contagious. It was followed by a short speech from the Vice Chancellor of the Symbiosis International University, and a few performances by some professors. Then the whole SECC team was called upon by the SIBM Pune director, Dr Vivek Sane, and we, along with the kids went towards the stage. Some of the kids had prepared a dance performance for the occasion, and we were anxious and looking forward to their performance. But as soon as their performance began, we knew it was special. The shortest and the tallest of the 20 kids who had finally come were present in the group of eight that was performing. Their dance brought out huge cheers from the crowd, and everyone loved their performance. The passion and enterprise that clearly came across impressed one and all. Needless to say, we were proud of them. 

After their performance, but before the function ended, we took them towards the mess for breakfast, as the weather surprised us and the sky was clear which made it hot enough so that it was difficult to sit in the sun for long periods and some of the kids were getting uneasy. A special breakfast was arranged by the campus authorities for the day. We prepared plates for the kids and it was a pleasure serving them. What surprised us was to see how well behaved the kids were. Each one of them waited for the food plates to arrive for everyone (we were able to fill the plates only one by one), and then, before beginning their breakfast, they said a thank you prayer out loud. We looked at each other with impressed looks. Not just this, but they had the courtesy to say ‘thank you’ when we served them the plates. Most of them seemed demure in their behaviour and for the moment, we could not locate the loudmouths or the bullies that one can expect in a group of children with varied ages.

After the breakfast, we took them to the Recreation Centre, where we played games like Dog & the Bone and Musical Chairs and danced with the kids. The smaller ones came up to us and asked us to hold them from under their arms and swing them in circles. It was fun, but one had to spin another kid in the opposite direction so as not to feel nauseous. After this we took them to our huge badminton court where we played Dodge Ball with them – the kids formed a circle and we, standing in the middle, had to dodge the footballs hurled at us by them. It was a delight to watch the kids in pure rapture, while some drifted away to other corners of the court to explore unchartered territory and satiate their curiosity. This was followed by a session at the basketball court, where one of our team members picked them up one by one, held them high in front of the basket and they had to score. 

While this was happening, I saw a small kid lurking on the periphery of the court, dawdling among the bushes, playing with small flowers that were strewn all over. I asked him his name. He promptly answered “Kailash Parvat Thanda Tel” (Kailash Parvat Cooling Oil). But, he said, other children call him “bhaiya”. Even though he may be younger than most of them, they called him so, for reasons unknown. Kailash’s stand was vindicated when another kid approached us and called him “bhaiya”. Kailash started talking in a drawl, with head movements towards the sides, typical of a kid his age. He told me that he joined the Saraswati Ashram over a year back. I silently wondered where he was before that. Initially, he did not like the place as it was new. But slowly he started knowing the fellow kids and now he liked it there. Our conversation was broken when I saw that we were taking the kids to the mess area as it was time for lunch. 

The kids could not have a heavy lunch, as most of them had stuffed themselves during the breakfast. After the lunch, we took them towards the Convention Centre where we had planned the screening of the dubbed version of The Lion King for the kids. By now, we were joined by a lot of volunteers from the first year, and some of them brought chocolates for the kids. We were floored when, as the movie started, a kid came up to us with a packet full of empty wrappers. He was apparently collecting wrappers from everyone who had had sweets so that we don’t strew them on the floor in the Convention Centre. Such good manners are hardly seen among us adults today. And these kids were, time and again, proving the quality of their upbringing. Before the movie began, we sang a few songs on the guitar. A moment of painful irony presented itself when we, for a lack of choice, started strumming Papa Kehte Hain. We figured it is a song that everyone would have heard. But Chinmay stopped the strumming as soon as he started it, as we realized the cruelty that presents itself in the song. We pretended as if nothing had happened and proceeded to another song, but in our hearts, each one of us felt the searing pain. 

After the movie, which everyone seemed to have enjoyed, we took them for a round of the campus. They went wild over the soft green grass at the helipad and jumped and somersaulted like crazy. We also sprawled on the grass and took in the essence of the moment. From there, we went back to the convention centre where we danced and sang. It was a beautiful moment and it was a treat to watch everyone, the children as well as the volunteers, in a moment of such utter delight. 

We keep saying that the world has become fast-paced, and that people have become selfish and don’t have time for each other. This myth was up in smoke in no time, when we saw how everyone from our college was chipping in in their own special way. The ones who were comfortable being with the kids danced and sang with them. The shy ones came and helped in any way they could. Some distributed sweets. Some brought a cake for the kids. We even saw a few students from other colleges contributing in their own way. It is times like these which bolster my faith in the goodness of humanity.   

Also, there was a sense of protectiveness among the bigger kids towards the smaller ones which is not seen anywhere among unrelated children. Like I said, no one seemed to be the bully of the group, and the elder ones held hands of the younger ones and guided them. This sense of camaraderie is something that we found missing in the rural children of Nande, who we go to teach weekly as a part of Prerna. It is debatable if the social structures of family and relatives and neighbours is not the strength of a well-groomed character. Rather, it is the values that the child imbibes through learning, and even without parents, a loving caretaker can make wonderful people out of small kids. This, among many others, was a learning I went away with on one of the most special days of my life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Krishna's Story

This is the story of Krishna. He isn’t special in the conventional sense of the term, and has not received any distinctions in the way society describes them. But there is something which attracted me towards knowing more of the person who has been cooking meals for me for the past two months. He’s the cook at the paying guest house where I’ve been staying since my summer internship began a couple of months ago. 

Krishna is from Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom in the world today (and his name is so apt, isn’t it?). He has an elder brother who runs his own restaurant in the closest big town near his home. He says he always has an option to go back and work there. In fact, his family and his brother keep asking him to come back to Nepal and work with him. 

Krishna says he wanted to join the army. He applied for Nepal army and cleared all the tests, he tells me proudly. But he was left out in the written exam. Not left out exactly, but they were willing to secure his seat only if he gave them six months of his salary. Yes, I know you read that statement again. It’s true, though. They asked him for a bribe, shamelessly hidden in a verbal cloak of “salary”! I guess the obvious irony escaped them that they are asking him money so that they can give him money for his services. “I had gone there with only money enough for travel expenses, so I did not have that kind of money on me then. So I called my dad. But we lived far off, and by the time dad arrived, they had given the seat to someone else”. 

His chest automatically juts out slightly and chin turns upwards when he says that his dad was in the Indian Army, and bravely served in the Assam Rifles regiment until retirement. Krishna’s application and interest in the Indian army meant that he dropped out of school after 10th standard – he looks down and admits this with a slightly ashamed laughter, enough to put across the impression that he regrets it somewhat, but not so much that he dislikes his life right now. Oh yes, he likes it here. 

Though he misses home and nostalgia floats up to the surface of his eyes when he says that he had not been home for one year now. He normally visits home every 5 to 6 months for atleast a month at a time, but this time Dilip, Krishna’s deputy cook and cleaner in this apartment, wanted to go home as he had not been there since long. So Krishna skipped a trip home and decided to be magnanimous and endure the hot summers of Indore. “I’m at home during this time every year. I always spend summers at home, where it is cool and nice”. Krishna speaks in an understandable Hindi, and seems quite comfortable with it. “I did not know any Hindi when I first started working in Noida, but learned it within 2 weeks. It’s almost same as Nepali, not very different”. 

When I ask him if there’s any sort of problem while crossing the border, Krishna answers, “No absolutely not! Even you can go there any time you want”. He says his younger brother is studying commerce in a college in Nepal. “He shall be easily able to get a good job somewhere,” he says quite confidently. Then Krishna goes on to explain me the process through which “big” companies located out of India normally conduct their interviews of Nepali candidates. “It mostly happens over the phone. And if they select you, you can easily go across the border to work”. 

I ask him if he was always good at cooking. He looks meditatively towards the now blackish bulb of Brinjal that simmered, enveloped by the flames of the cooking gas, before answering: “I used to wash dishes for a 5-star hotel in Nepal when I was 18. I washed those dishes from morning 9 to evening 9, without halting. I did it for six months, before one day I was promoted in the same hotel as deputy cook. I spent some time at that place, but I had some misunderstanding with my employers. But I walked out because I did not want to make a scene out of it. My father is a very reputed man in that area, and I did not want to let down his name by being involved with something unsavoury and worthless. So I left that place myself before the situation got out of hand”. 

He regretfully says that he could have joined Indian army too, but it’s a bit late now, since he’s 24. He plans to go back to Nepal after working here for 18 more months. It would be good then. He earns Rs 8500 each month here, and it’s enough as he gets to save almost all of it, considering he has a place to live and eat. He plans to go back and do “bijiness”, like his elder brother. To go home he has to go to Kanpur first, from where he gets a ride to the border. It takes a total of almost 24 hours to get to the border. From there he can ride a taxi or a bus to his place. 

His is a simple and uncomplicated life. Or seemingly so. I don’t know why I wrote about him. I just have a feeling there’s something special in his simplicity, something that I’m not yet able to put my finger on. I just thought his story needed to be told. If we look closer, maybe there are lessons to be learned from Krishna’s life, like there are from everything and everybody around us. We need to be humble enough to not just look, but take notice.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

India-Pakistan: Nuclear Deterrence or On the Brink?

"Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shun out the sun". These are the words in which Arundhati Roy describes a likely scenario (scary, eh?) in case a country (rather the few people in power) decides to press the “nuclear button”. Forgive me for diverting from context when the article has hardly begun, but the term “nuclear button” always made me imagine a red button covered by a cap which you can flip and open, something like they showed in erstwhile Hindi movies like Mr India and Karma (funny how Anil Kapoor was a part of both these movies!). 

Coming back to the topic, it is ghastly to imagine a use of nuclear weapons today. Nuclear or Hydrogen bomb being actually used for a destructive purpose is analogous to man landing on the moon. We have read about it in textbooks, the sheer agony and annihilation of one and the sublime glory of the other. The fact that nuclear or hydrogen bomb has not been used since is something we can all rejoice in. But do we remember how close we, and the world, came to a nuclear catastrophe when India openly tested its nuclear weapons (the event which came to be known as Pokharan-II) in 1998 within three months of an extremely nationalistic government coming to power? Dr Abdul Kalam described the event as: 'I heard the earth thundering below our feet and rising ahead of us in terror. It was a beautiful sight'. I guess his excitement also stemmed from a sense of nationalism and pride, though he must be well aware (who else could be, if not him) of the destructive effects such a weapon can have if someone takes one step ahead of “nuclear deterrence” and indulges in actual use. 

Between 1964 and 1974, China conducted fifteen nuclear tests. It is easy not to doubt that this behaviour of China had a role to play in India’s first nuclear test (Pokharan-I) in 1974 under Indira Gandhi’s leadership. I wonder what, apart from the sense of pseudo-nationalism as I would like to call it, were the reasons behind Pokharan-II in 1998. What’s clear is, though, that Pokharan-II led to Pakistan carrying out six nuclear blasts (one more than India’s five) in the Chagai hills in the following month. 'The whole mountain turned white' was how Pakistani government described the scene. No wonder this sudden nuclear proliferation in the subcontinent was followed, a year later, by something that came extremely close to a nuclear holocaust in the form of Kargil “incursion”, as we like to call it, underplaying the extremity of the situation. 

Winston Churchill in his last speech to the House of Commons in 1955 uttered the popular words: ‘safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation’. But of nuclear deterrence, he also said that it ‘does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dug-out’. Many feel this might be applicable to the subcontinent, where the uncomfortable closeness of the Pakistani military to the terrorists is common knowledge. Even ignoring this possibility, another logical question arises which Amartya Sen explores in his book The Argumentative Indian. He states that one meaning of nuclear deterrence is that two countries shall refrain from going to war because of the very knowledge that they own nuclear weapons and an aggression on one’s part may lead to mass destruction. In fact, if there is any straightforward benefit of owning nuclear weapons, it should be this. But, he states, the very fact that the year next to the one when India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests, they went to war in 1999, pokes a million holes in that argument.  

Sometimes I like to believe that much has been changed in the last decade. Nations have realized that diplomacy through war and the threat of it cannot ensure lasting peace. The threat of a nuclear weapon being used has decreased drastically as the world economy has teetered on the brink of a catastrophe of its own kind. This has made nations realize that cleaning up your economic backyard is more important and less transitory than any sense of acquired power a nuclear proliferation might provide. Although I do believe that the holier-than-thou attitude carried by the big five nuclear powers is condescending if not deprecating. But giving the argument of “why not total nuclear demilitarization” to move towards a situation which has been proven not to give India any obvious advantages (in fact giving India a plethora of disadvantages), appears as illogical as it is inane.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Satyamev Jayate: Really Creating a Difference or Just Another Talk Show?

This article by Aamir Khan appeared in The Hindu on May 16, 2012. There was good amount of response to the article. I have re-posted the article here, as well as my response to it. The link to the article is provided at the end. Please have a look at other comments too, as they register the concerns and complaints of a lot of us.

Let's learn to talk, and listen

Aamir Khan

One of the biggest learnings for me in the process of researching for the issue of child sexual abuse came when I asked our expert, Dr. Anuja Gupta, why children who are sexually abused find it difficult to tell their parents about it. Her reply was, “Are we listening to our children? Are we even capable of listening to them?”

And that indeed is the big question.

What is my relationship with my child? Am I listening to my child? Really listening? What do I know of what is going on in my child's head? Do I know his/her fears, dreams, hopes? Am I even interested? Am I friends with my child?

Though my generation is perhaps more communicative with our children than that of our parents… or, at least that is what we would like to believe… still, how many of us are really solidly connected with our kids? How many of us really have the time and bandwidth that it takes for a healthy friendship? The fact is that only if there is healthy communication, trust, and friendship will your child feel comfortable and fearless to share everything with you. Obviously we pray that no child need ever face the trauma of sexual abuse; but if this does happen, the child should feel empowered to communicate this.

Through conversations and communication we build the ability to share our joys and fears. When these communication lines open up between parents and children, they become the start point for many issues to get sorted. Then if something does happen with your child, he/she will feel free to immediately come and tell you… and you will be able to address the problem then and there, head on.

The cornerstone of open communication is also trust. Our children observe us closely. They have an innate sense of being able to gauge our responses. If we want them to speak up, we should also ensure that we let them know that they will be believed. Yes, not just heard, but believed. Children are intelligent and intuitive, and we have to instil the confidence in the child that we are sincere about listening, and that we trust the child.

The other big learning came from Padma Iyer, who is Harish's mother. If a child does report sexual abuse, very often our first thought is — “how can I take action against my own family member? Family ki izzat, humaari izzat, mitti mein mil jaayegi, log kya kahenge, mere bachcheke saath aisa hua to hiss baat ko chhupao.” Like Padma, first we refuse to admit the possibility of it happening, and then we try to hide it. And because we have hidden it, we are unable to take action on it. Through all of this, we are thinking of others, of society. But we forget to think about our child. That child who is perhaps four, five or six years old… who has been through something most traumatic… who is reaching out to us because we are the parent… and the child can only reach out to us… what about that child?

Our child has to be our primary concern, everything else secondary. At such a time, we should only be thinking of what our child is going through, and what we need to do for the sake of our child. That's it. At the end of this process of healing, the child has to come out stronger and healed. And we have to do everything in our power to make that happen.

Also, we have to start looking at child sexual abuse as a crime, because that's what it is. When there is a theft in your home, don't you kick up a ruckus and say, “Hey! Somebody came to my house and stole some jewellery! What's happening? What is the security doing?” But if abuse happens in your home, we hush it up. Why are you hushing it up? Has the child done something wrong? No. So why are you hushing it up? You should shout, “How dare somebody come to my house and do this to my child.” Kick up a ruckus! That person should be behind bars! Even the law enforcers need to really take this seriously. And above all… the child needs to know how much his/her safety and security means to you.

I have already mentioned on the show that the present Parliament is working on a Bill regarding child sexual abuse and we look forward to a strong, effective, and well-implemented law for the protection of our children against sexual abuse. And we hope it happens soon.

In closing I'd like to leave you with a thought… perhaps the more closed or narrow minded we are about sexuality, the more repressed it gets, and then it manifests itself in ugly ways. I'm hoping that as a society in time we will reach a stage where we are not frightened of our sexuality. Rather, we learn to deal with it in a dignified, open, responsible and healthy manner.

Satyamev Jayate!
(The author is an actor. From next week, his column will be published in The Hindu every Monday).

My Comment: 
India, to me, will never be any kind of power (forget a 'superpower' that it most vocally aspires to be) unless it cleans its own long dirty backyard. Since Nehru's 'Tryst with destiny' moment, although it did enough to bring in a new light of hope, we have time and again betrayed the trust of this once great nation and its people. I've been reading Amartya Sen, and according to him, there is not enough political importance given to basic issues eating away our society like child abuse, female foeticide, gender discrimination, discrimination on the basis of fair skin, and other similar traits which are deeply rooted in our society and our behaviour and politically, they get little support. This is mostly because today there's little or no discourse about such issues in the political circles. The ruling parties make merry to the beat of power and the opposition widely yawns, comfortably forgetting all the ills that need urgent attention today.

It is people like Aamir Khan who can use their social capital to create some sort of uncomfort among the indifferent populace, because only through their pressure can come some sort of a political expediency. These deeply embedded issues can only be addressed if they become the top priority of today's politicians (something which is a distant dream, as of now), but such shows will help build public pressure on them to act. I would go so far as to say other celebrities in India who have a huge social capital, like say Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan should stand up to the challenge and endorse such similar issues, not just superficially, like appearing in an ad campaign, but a lot more, in a lot more engaging way. Today's youth don't read journals, they don't read expert opinions on economic and developmental issues. But this is something which can bridge that gap very effectively. Kudos! Looking forward to that Monday column.  

The article and comments can be found here.

Association of a celebrity like Aamir Khan with an esteemed newspaper like The Hindu is not a very common thing to happen. Maybe the people at The Hindu have realized the kind of social importance that a show like Satyamev Jayate holds, and the amount of readership that Aamir Khan's columns would attract. Is it an example of The Hindu once again staying true to its ethos or is it making an effort to gain some commercial readership (finally)?

What do you guys have to say about this? Does a show like Satyamev Jayate make any real difference to the society, or is it a waste of money and resources and it's growing popularity the start of yet another show of fickle behaviour of people that we have witnessed time and again?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rampant Racism or Natural Human Behaviour?

This article appeared in Outlook magazine in the June 29, 2009 issue. I came across it recently and it appealed to me so much that I knew I had to re-post it to get the message across to a lot of people in India who live with this sense of false pride I have sensed time and again. Do follow the link at the bottom of this article to follow the rest of the comments because they provide with a lot more insight on the subject, including some other personal experiences.

'India Is Racist, And Happy About It'
A Black American's first-hand experience of footpath India: no one even wants to change 
In spite of friendship and love in private spaces, the Delhi public literally stops and stares. It is harrowing to constantly have children and adults tease, taunt, pick, poke and peer at you from the corner of their eyes, denying their own humanity as well as mine. Their aggressive, crude curiosity threatens to dominate unless disarmed by kindness, or met with equal aggression. 
Once I stood gazing at the giraffes at the Lucknow Zoo only to turn and see 50-odd families gawking at me rather than the exhibit.

On a visit to the Lucknow zoo, people gawked more at me than at the exhibits.

Parents abruptly withdrew infants that inquisitively wandered towards me. I felt like an exotic African creature-cum-spectacle, stirring fear and awe. Even my attempts to beguile the public through simple greetings or smiles are often not reciprocated. Instead, the look of wonder swells as if this were all part of the act and we were all playing our parts. 
Racism is never a personal experience. Racism in India is systematic and independent of the presence of foreigners of any hue. This climate permits and promotes this lawlessness and disdain for dark skin. Most Indian pop icons have light-damn-near-white skin. Several stars even promote skin-bleaching creams that promise to improve one's popularity and career success. Matrimonial ads boast of fair, v. fair and v. very fair skin alongside foreign visas and advanced university degrees. Moreover, each time I visit one of Delhi's clubhouses, I notice that I am the darkest person not wearing a work uniform. It's unfair and ugly.
Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness. 

My partner is white and I am black, facts of which the Indian public reminds us daily. Bank associates have denied me chai, while falling over to please my white friend. Mall shop attendants have denied me attentiveness, while mobbing my partner. Who knows what else is more quietly denied?
"An African has come," a guard announced over the intercom as I showed up. Whites are afforded the luxury of their own names, but this careful attention to my presence was not new. ATM guards stand and salute my white friend, while one guard actually asked me why I had come to the bank machine as if I might have said that I was taking over his shift. 

It is shocking that people wear liberalism as a sign of modernity, yet revert to ultraconservatism when actually faced with difference. Cyberbullies have threatened my life on my YouTube videos that capture local gawking and eve-teasing. I was even fired from an international school for talking about homosociality in Africa on YouTube, and addressing a class about homophobia against kids after a student called me a 'fag'.
Outside of specific anchors of discourse such as Reservations, there is no consensus that discrimination is a redeemable social ill. This is the real issue with discrimination in India: her own citizens suffer and we are only encouraged to ignore situations that make us all feel powerless. Be it the mute-witnesses seeing racial difference for the first time, kids learning racism from their folks, or the blacks and northeasterners who feel victimised by the public, few operate from a position that believes in change. 

Living in India was a childhood dream that deepened with my growing understanding of India and America's unique, shared history of non-violent revolution. Yet, in most nations, the path of ending gender, race and class discrimination is unpaved. In India, this path is still rural and rocky as if this nation has not decided the road even worthy. It is a footpath that we are left to tread individually.

(The writer is a Black American PhD student at the Delhi School of Economics.)

My Comment:

Mr Kuku, 

First of all I would like to apologize from the bottom of my heart on behalf of my fellow countrymen for the treatment meted out to you. I know the tendency among my countrymen to give preference to fair skin in every field of life. Being a North Indian, I am also well aware of the fact that this practice is more prevalent in North India than in South India. But there are some intricacies that need some discussion. 

First of all, it’s not racism. It’s more a fascination for the white skin (which is exemplified by the fact that Indian Premier League (IPL), Cricket’s top tournament currently, has white cheerleaders of every team!). And the primary reason that this is prevalent more in North India than in the South is that an average North Indian is, so to say, fairer-skinned than an average South Indians. Also, over the past few decades, education has been held more important in the Southern states of India and has thus had a greater impact in South India than in the North. This is another reason for the backwardness of thinking of the people in the North. 

Another important thing of note is that India is full of very different cultures, and you will find people with very different personalities and preferences over a distance of just a hundred miles. Not all cultures breed this exclusionary attitude. Hailing from Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, and having lived in Shimla, Chandigarh, Indore, Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore, I can vouch for the fact the people from Himachal Pradesh, being hill people, or may be because of some other reason, are much warmer towards people and would go completely out of the way to help you out, no matter what is the colour of your skin. And I’ve seen it happen – it’s all there in the speech, in how strangers reply to you. It all comes across, and I’ve had the privilege to compare this nature of the natives of all the six cities. So when you say North Indian, let us not generalize. The same goes for New Delhi. If you feel people of New Delhi are more inclined in their preference towards the fairer skin, that may be true, but then there are a lot of people who will be very helpful and who will never discriminate on the basis of your skin colour. Delhi has a population of over 22 million, and people in Delhi come from all over, especially the labour class, most of which is a victim of urbanization from the poorer nearby states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the kind. It all depends on who you are interacting with. ATM people and autowallahs have very low education levels, as most of India is still very poor. Almost none of them have had any exposure to different cultures within their own country, let alone abroad. So it is their ignorance and naivete that comes across as “racist” to you. I know it’s very hard for you facing all this every single day, but I would like to ask you to forgive us for our poverty, which perpetrates lack of belief in basic education, which thus makes people behave like this. 

We were ruled by Britishers for over 200 years. And this is the time during which poverty in India became widespread, as we were denied very basic human rights by the Britishers, and we were persecuted for a long time by those who forcefully ruled us and treated us like speck of dust on their shoes. Maybe this deep rooted preference for white skin emanates from this subconscious idea that was hammered into our minds that white people are superior. Who is to blame? Widespread poverty and a very late opening up of our economy to the outside world perpetrated this thinking and in a society where caste discrimination was already rooted since millennia, a new aversion towards darker skin was not difficult to assimilate. That said, I have to mention that it is a very sad state of affairs, and I feel ashamed of this bigoted behaviour on the part of my countrymen. 

Specific to the problems faced by you, I think the gawking that you get is more out of curiosity and our own lack of awareness or access to the outside world. This is mainly attributed to the fact that there are very low Africans present in India. This goes for any place where an outsider comes when the people are not used to his/her presence. A white skinned person goes to Goa, and he might as well feel at home. Let him go to the north-eastern states of India, and see the kind of discrimination and gawks does he have to face. Let him go to a small village where people have never seen a person with such a fair skin, and then see the kind of stares and whispers and comments he gets. It’s all about how “developed”, to use a word that everyone here can relate to, the country is, and India, sadly, despite its tries of pomp and show in the Commonwealth Games and buys of the best of their kind military fighter planes, and it’s ambitions of being a superpower – notwithstanding all that, India is still a developing country and, with the kind of burdens and problems of population, deforestation, lack of basic education, or mass poverty that it faces, India will continue to be in the “developing” bracket, according to me, for many years to come. And a change in attitudes and acceptance of people of all colours, creeds, castes and communities will come with time, no doubt about that. What I have said in defence of my countrymen, in no way lessens the anguish I felt when I read your article and continued to read all the comments on it, and my sincere heartfelt apologies for all that happened.

For other comments, refer to the link below:

Friends, what do you guys have to say about this? Do you believe this is a shameful act on the part of Indians, or do you think this is a part and parcel of everyday life everywhere in the world? What are your thoughts on it?