Thursday, December 7, 2017

Humour, or lack of humanity?

Over the years, I am sure many of us have come across occasional instances where we have been left shocked at unpleasant situations which spoil our entire day. I am referring to those incidents which show us the bad side of society leaving us speechless and wondering where we are going with such behaviour. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed a definite upturn in such occurrences, making us wonder if there is any good left, at all. The best we can do in such times is to laugh off such happenings and act as if we are not affected by them – I tried this a few times, and trust me, this works in our favour! Over here, I share a couple of events I witnessed/was a part of over the past few months, both of them unbelievable to the point of being positively (or negatively?) funny!

Scene 1: When we can’t enter our own house

*Honk, honk!* - Amma (my mother) parks the car in front of the house, only to find a large group of people lounging before the patio, throwing sand and food everywhere and generally acting like bad tourists creating nuisance for everyone around them.

Amma (flabbergasted) asks calmly: “Excuse me, may I ask who you are?”

Woman with huge bindi (seemingly the leader of the group) says (flailing her arms and using a tone akin to one which asks soldiers to prepare for war): “How dare you ask me such a question! Let me see how you enter your home or even live peacefully”, and promptly lays down flat in front of our house, asking us to cross her if we wanted to go inside.

We did manage to get inside finally (how we did it is a different story altogether). I am sure the woman meant to frighten (or even humiliate) us with such antics but frankly, it just turned out to be a stand-up comedy show for everyone who watched it, with her getting the bad end of the stick.

Takeaway: Question unfair practices and be ready to witness “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi Season 8”.

Scene 2: Give money or go to hell

All of us are enjoying the breeze in the Besant Nagar Beach. Hrudhaiy is playing on my mother’s lap, excited at new colours, sounds, shapes and people. A man with a huge ash mark on his forehead, unwashed clothes and unkempt hair walks up to us and begs us for money.

Me: “Sorry, please leave us alone”.

Ash grandfather: “No, give me money”.

Me: “Please go away and leave us alone”.

Ash grandfather: *Spots Hrudhaiy and changes tack in the speed of light*
“If you don’t give me money...”

Amma and I: “...what will you do?”'

Ash grandfather: *Raising his hand on front of Hrudhaiy in a manner indicating a clap of thunder about to shoot from it*  - “Eiiiii.....”'

Hrudhaiy: *Looks up in wonder at the man’s face and outfit with big round eyes*

Amma: “What eiii? Wait, let me call the police”.

Ash grandfather: *Closes his mouth and walks away with as much dignity as he can muster after his act fails*


Takeaway: The reason I wrote this anecdote is how people go to any lengths – by even attempting to curse a baby – to achieve what they want! The main thing with such instances is to take them lightly and not worry about how it may affect us – because such curses are not even worth our anxiety or money. 


Monday, December 4, 2017

An evening with Bala Krishna and Aruna Sairam

This article is a description of the experience of being on stage with Aruna Sairam. My sister (Krithika Rajagopalan) and I were part of a chorus which gave back-vocals to her in one of her concerts. A very very special thanks to Dr. Subhashini Parthasarathy for having referred us for this opportunity.




The wind was still – as if it, too, was waiting with bated breath for the magical voice to light up the evening. Excitement filled the air, and the huge crowd facing the maroon folds hiding the queen of bhava from view waited impatiently for the performance to begin.

We also waited, but this time, as ministers in the court held by the queen. We were part of the chorus singing some parts of the concert along with her, overwhelmed and awed by the opportunity and trying to close our mouths in case we looked too surprised and forgot our parts.

No points for guessing who I am talking about – it was a musical evening invoking Lord Krishna in his most adorable form – as a baby and as a toddler. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Little Krishna himself had descended from heaven that evening, swaying to the voice of Padma Shri Aruna Sairam.

Oruthi Maganai Piranthu. This was the theme of the concert on 3 December 2017, with a collection of songs describing and praising Lord Krishna from when he was a kid until he was five years old.

Aruna ma'am began the concert with a song describing the atmosphere just before the divine child was born. The song set the mood for the evening, and the concert continued with the travails which the child faced before he could reach Vrindhavan.

Then began the fun part, with Gopikas dancing with and celebrating the handsome, attractive and charismatic kid that Little Krishna was. We pitched in with our little contributions in this part, an endearing collection of songs on his pranks, activities and life when he was a little kid taking tottering steps. It was a scintillating experience to be on stage with a performer of such high calibre, and we enjoyed our evening to the fullest as we attempted to complement her divine voice a little bit here, and a little bit there. Every song transported us into the very situation she articulated before she sang each piece, and we seamlessly traversed between reality and the life of Little Krishna as we proceeded through the performance.

As the concert progressed, the breeze seemed to synchronise with the Sruthi as Aruna ma'am weaved her magic through pieces which described Krishna’s walk, his beauty, and Yashoda lamenting to little Krishna about repeated complaints of him stealing butter. What followed these songs was the most beautiful combination of an Abhang and a Tamil Virutham – a song called Vrindavani Venu. It was an electrifying experience to accompany her in this song, reciting “Vittala” in synchronisation with the devotion she displayed while delivering this piece.

Probably the part which we enjoyed the best was humming like a sleeping child to Aruna ma'am's rendition of Ramo Naama Bahuva. Learning the meaning of this song before singing it was a sure bonus – we all had goosebumps by the time the song ended. This song is set in the backdrop of a scene in which Yashodha is putting baby Krishna to sleep, telling the story of a great king called “Rama”, whose wife was Sita, and how they went on exile just to keep his word to his father. Baby Krishna contentedly hums in his sleep while listening to this part, with his eyes closed. When Yashodha reaches the part about Raavana, however, the sleeping child gives a resounding roar, asking Lakshmana to bring his bow so that he can go to war. Krishna, for a second, forgets his true identity and goes back to the time in which he was the King Rama. A startled Yashodha, who doesn’t understand what is happening, pleads with him to go back to sleep, after which the child deigns and sleeps again.

The finishing touch was given with amazing finesse, with a “Laali” song for the audience to carry back home. We were in immediate danger of being put to sleep by the mesmerizing tone of Aruna ma'am's voice, but we managed to accompany her while she sang the lullaby, melting the hearts of everyone on stage, in the audience, and most probably that of Lord Krishna, as well.

Possibly the greatest learning we took back from this concert was the humility and thoughtfulness which a singer of such stature showed while interacting with us. Amidst people who are becoming increasingly fussy and finicky about every little thing, Aruna ma'am's simplicity and sweetness blew us away.

Thank you, Aruna ma'am, for letting us be part of your concert and teaching us that while Carnatic Music and its rules do matter, it is equally important to involve oneself fully in a song and its meaning before rendering it and throw our hearts into the performance while singing.

Friday, November 10, 2017

One Indian Girl - an honest review.

When I saw the description on the back of the cover, this book intrigued me for several reasons. The primary factor behind my curiosity was that it contained the very version of a modern Indian girl that has destroyed the recent generation. I'd like to clarify my belief - that drinking, smoking, and past relationships do not define women empowerment. These are just things which men used to do more in the past, and women are aping now. Drinking and smoking are bad for both groups, and past relationships have a lifelong impact for both genders - it is something which leaves an imprint on life forever and does affect everyone in some way or the other.

This is, however, the premise which the book rides on. The character of the protagonist, Radhika, is realistic in the sense that girls on whom too much control is inflicted on at home tend to act in ways, which in their view, are rebellious. Then again, this is true even of men who are restricted too much at home. It is, in fact, true in the case of children as well. When you ask them not to do something, they are pulled towards the very thing.

Throughout the book, it is seen that Radhika is torn between the views of the societal construct around her and her need to perform certain "been there, done that" activities to prove that she, too, has attained the "modern" tag. Sadly, open-mindedness does not have anything to do with tasting champagne, having sex with multiple men or having an affair with a married man. Her whims define her life decisions and she is constantly swinging between regret and fake bravado. She falls in love with the first man she meets in New York, and in Hong Kong, literally creates the environment to start the affair with a married man who is also her boss. Acting on whim at every stage of life, is, again, not the true meaning of freedom for women. A career-oriented person with a desire to have a family with kids needs to have some form of plan in mind before leaping into decisions so that it doesn't affect the people around her. This is something which both men and women need to do, and there is no reason for girls to do the opposite to prove that women also have newfound liberty. Occasional whims are understandable, but an unpredictable everyday life is something which will not work, especially for a woman who, as Radhika puts it, "wants to have a nest".

Following from this, I felt that Radhika holds no value for the emotions of the people around her. Whether it was continuing the affair with Neel after meeting his family, or stopping the wedding with Brijesh which she herself had arranged, she never thinks about how it would affect everyone around her. An  outspoken and forward-thinking woman could have just told her mother that she was not interested in the wedding in the first place. Instead, she is seen insulting her mother throughout the book, and finally agreeing with her because "she had no other reason to say no to Brijesh". She messes up throughout her life - she has the perfect liberty to do so, but not to drag people along with her in the process. Also, the character of her sister, Aditi, has been demeaned to a great extent. There are some girls who want to have a simple life with an arranged marriage, or want to dress up, and this does not make them derogatory in any way to the other, career-oriented girls (Radhika also does succumb to vanity in several instances along the book). Also, throwing around money to show that women are empowered is also a poor way of representing other women, who are known to be great financial planners.

The finer points of the book lie in the conflicting thoughts that a woman has - the "mini-me" part has been crafted well. It perfectly captures the conscience of women, who tend to introspect a lot about whatever incidents happen around and to them. The migration of Radhika from a breathless, shy, girl to a full-grown woman has also been captured beautifully, with subtle changes to her dialogue delivery to indicate this.

The sequence of events is gripping, though predictable. A little more mystery would have made the book more readable. When we read the book, we can almost see the film in our minds - with Kangana Ranaut playing the lead role as is obvious from her review of the book. This is a book written in order for it to become a film, with poor content but great screenplay - exactly how movies these days are.

To summarise - if One Indian Girl is about one Indian girl and not anything else, it might be just that - the story of an immature, whimsical girl with a lot of brains, a great figure, but no common sense. We do come across a lot of them, so this might just be an account of that. But, if One Indian Girl was envisaged to be a story about feminism and women empowerment, sorry to disappoint you - it just the opposite of that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Eating plants does make a difference!

Vegetarians and vegans have always taken a lot of flak with respect to their eating choices and habits. The most common question they are plaguedwith is “How do you survive on plants?”. Beyond the creative sarcastic replies and stutters wondering how to explain why they are herbivores, there is nothing much to offer. Or is there?

Here is a bit of statistics which can help plant-eaters answer the stream of questions including “How can you live without chicken? Try a leg piece”.  Avoiding the consumption of body parts of animals (whether it is because of religion, culture, or tradition or because of personal choice) ensures a more sustainable world.  It’s true, and there are statistics to prove it! – around a fifth of the GHG emissions globally result from animal products and livestock business (FAO). Also, consumption of meat leads to emission of 100 years of CO2 equivalent (this figure is still under debate). This is because of multiple reasons, including land use, fertiliser use, feed production, and other such activities. So, before we frame elaborate strategies for sustainable industry and energy options, it is probably time to advocate veganism and vegetarianism, because these emissions are more than that of industry and energy combined together!

The logic behind this is simple: reproduction. People reproduce. So animals are forced reproduce, because people need food to survive and the food is - animals. No harm in reproducing, people, but we have no right to force animals to do so. Fat juicy animals (infused with hormones and chemicals) are gassy, and their farts and manure used for their feeds produce a lot of poisonous emissions. According to a report of the Cornell University, maintaining and producing livestock is so expensive in all ways that a lacto-vegetarian (or even better, a vegan diet) saves money, time, and even the environment. Reflecting on the impact of the livestock business, we find that we literally raise to kill!
So think twice before asking the following questions when you meet a vegan or a vegetarian:

1)      But plants are living things, too! When you eat them, why can’t you eat animals, too?


Well, plants do not have the sensory system to detect pain even if they are living beings. At least they don’t suffer and bleed when we pluck them to eat!

2) You don’t know what you’re missing!

Great, but we like living in the mystery of the unknown.


3)      So, how do you survive when you’re outside India? On salads?


Oh, we are so grateful that you are so concerned about our survival all of a sudden. We have full access to a wide range of sumptuous dishes. There are raw vegans, too who improvise a lot and come up with wonderful recipes and are perfectly happy! In fact, we not only survive but also make way for the survival of future generations by doing our bit – having sustainable eating habits.

All that said and done, I am a vegetarian. But my friend, Shasvathi Siva, has gone a step further and turned vegan, and is also making a difference in the vegan food market by introducing her own brand of cheese, butter and milks which are cruelty free. She runs this business out of Mumbai, and her venture is called “Cowvathi”. She also has a very supportive family which helped her pursue her dreams in a country like India, where ghee, milk and curd are staples.


Find the link to her blog here. And you can order (only Mumbaikars for now, but I am sure she will expand her business) your vegan dairy products here.

Let's do our bit, people!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hrudhaiy.

A totally whimsical poem written in all of 10 minutes!

The first signs started showing,
and I already knew where this was going.
When the indicator lit up rapidly,
with a long pink line all the way up to the "T,

I knew this was the best thing ever 
that had happened in my life; to hold in my heart forever.
Ten months seemed too long a time
to wait to hold you, cradle you and call you mine.

When you finally entered the world, crying,
I laughed out loud, after all the praying.
Seeing your face, I forgot all else
as tears from my eyes rolled out and fell.

Your heartbeat was my sustenance during labour,
the knowledge of the fact that you were in no danger; 
for my water had broken three days before you were ready to fly
and that is why I named you so, my little Hrudhaiy.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Drumroll, followed by depression?

Depression is becoming an increasingly prevalent condition, given the race for jobs, breaking relationships and rocketing levels of stress. In most cases, depression goes undiagnosed, and in some, there is not enough money for treating it clinically. According to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, this condition is most prevalent in urban metro areas and amongst widowed/separated women.

The most glaring numbers constitute the percentage of widowed/separated women who are under depression. 1 out of 20 of these women are victims, which obviously results from sudden death of spouse or abandonment, since an expected death or divorce has very less chances of leading to a depression. According to Census 2011, the number of divorced women in India is around 9,10,000. Of this, 5.2% or at least 47,202 women are under depression. The NMHS also states that 1% of the women are under the risk of suicide, which means that at least 9,100 women face this trauma at some point in their lives.

Considering the above numbers, at least around 56,000 women in India require treatment for depression resulting from divorce. The NMHS reveals that the cost of treatment for depression per individual is at least Rs. 1250 for one month, and it needs to be treated over a minimum period of 6 months. Therefore, the cost of treating depression per woman is around Rs. 7,500. The average annual Indian per capita income is Rs. 74,290; in which case, 10% of the annual income would go towards treatment. In several cases, such women might not be earning members and there might be only one breadwinner in a family of at least three members. How affordable is treatment in this case?
The government provides for abandoned women through a fund under the National Social Assistance Scheme. However, the accessibility of these funds is a million dollar question, since most women don’t have the resources or energy to prove the abandonment in courts. This raises a significant doubt – on whether courts are the supreme judges when it comes to a problem between a husband and a wife. How can an institution determine the truth of what has transpired between a couple inside a house? Or inside a bedroom? Circumstantial evidence might as well be reactive evidence, and there is no way to prove any provocation or action behind such a reaction. What, then, is the point of putting both parties through the trauma of contesting a case, the process of which itself is stress-inducing? None whatsoever.


Probably the best way to deal with such cases of abandonment and divorce is mediation outside the court atmosphere with the presence of both parties and an unbiased counsellor, with family members if required. There is a fair distribution of institutions which offer social work as a course for students, and the cream among these students could be well-employed through providing such services. Until reconciliation or amicable parting of ways, such repeated counselling sessions could save thousands of women from depression, and could also divert them into more lucrative areas such as taking up a job or setting up a business. Cost of treatment is one of the major reasons for not taking it up, and such counselling could well be the path towards preventing or at least mitigating long term effects of depression on women, and even suicides.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Labour.

A number of people have shared a variety of experiences with me about their delivery and the process of labour. The truth is that how many ever experiences we hear out, each labour is unique, special, and shakes every mother up like nothing else does. Every record of delivery is hazy and vague, because it is true that the pain is a blur, especially after the child is born. In reality, the postnatal period is more challenging, nerve wracking, tiring, sleep deprived, but beautiful. Beautiful as the baby grows. More beautiful as we learn the significance of every move of the baby. Every pain, small or big, seems to fade as we look at the tiny round face. One thing is for sure - no lady will go through this for anyone else other than her child. By the time every mother crosses 40 days after delivery in one shape, she is ready to even go through one more round of delivery. 

Having said that, I personally feel that the baby puts in more effort and goes through much more, right from conception up until he/she is ready to face the world. Right from adjusting in the tiny space inside the womb, putting effort to come out through a tiny hole, trying to adjust to a different temperature, atmosphere and environment as soon as he/she is born, learning to suck, learning to cry, learning to play, learning to see, learning to hear, learning to smell, learning to pee, adjusting to the people around him/her, getting over the shock of bathing for the first time....I can keep going. The message here is that the baby goes through as much as, or probably more than the mother. However, I don't remember that process, and neither can I ask my baby about it because he probably won't remember it either. Digressing a little, how wonderful would it be if adults could forget things as easily as babies!

Anyway - In this article, I give a note of my experience as a mother who underwent labour. This will contain the raw, plain details of what actually the mother goes through. 

My experience was slightly different. During the ante-natal period, I hardly vomited, went through rounds of hyperacidity, and started having mild contractions since two months before delivery. I slept like a log every day, hardly helped out at home and went around like a zombie in a sleepy state. Ten days before I delivered, the contractions started getting more sharp and frequent, and I became a short-tempered shrew. I started snapping at everyone within speaking range and only my mother could manage the mood swings resulting from undergoing the pain and hormonal change. 3 days before delivery, my water broke. We rushed to the hospital. After a vaginal examination, the duty doctor declared that this was only a case of liquid discharge due to a probable small tear near the top of the uterus. I was scared, but took the risk of coming back home. I went back the very next day for a consultation, and the doctor with whom I was consulting (Dr. Uma Ram) checked me. During the course of a day's gap, I had actually lost some amniotic fluid. She asked me to get admitted immediately, and told me that she would induce labour. The process started on Thursday night. The first time labour was induced, I started getting contractions - but they subsided after a while. On Friday, a second attempt was made, and this pattern repeated. My hope started wavering, but Dr. Uma Ram examined my fluid levels once more, and they had miraculously increased, allowing for pain induction for the third time. The resulting contractions seemed strong, but irregular. "You aren't getting enough pain", said the nurses, whereas I felt like a truck was rolling over me again and again. Finally, on Saturday morning, Dr. Uma Ram unleashed the final attempt at induction. Meanwhile, the loss of fluid was happening intermittently. I swallowed my fear about the welfare of the baby without enough fluid, and the nurses also helped by checking my baby's hearbeat from time to time - this was literally the only thing making me hold up. My mother stood next to me like a rock, and looking at her face, I saw how much it cost her to see her daughter go through so much pain. Seeing that, I decided that I would not make a single sound, and carried of labour without shouting even once. I resorted to taking deep breaths as suggested by the doctors, and found to my amazement that it helps to no end. I had also attended pregnancy yoga classes, which helped me relax. Thanks to my instructor, Mrs. Lakshmi, for helping me out. 

On Saturday, once I was shifted to the labour room, I made my mother do what very few mothers could have done. She watched the entire process of delivery, and it is no mean feat. She was focused entirely on my delivery, and gave me the best moral and physical support that anyone can get. My sister (studying in the UK), who was facing her most important exams at that time, swallowed all her worry and tension about my delivery to offer words of encouragement alone, and compromised on the moral support from my mother at this important juncture. The last leg of pain induction began at 6.30 am on Saturday morning, and the effect was instantaneous. The pain was blinding and unbearable - as if a thousand hands were forcibly contracting my back, abdomen and legs. But I was still not dilating enough. My contractions were still being labelled "mild", at least according to the machine which was monitoring them. Amidst all this, the induction had started affecting my baby's heartbeat. It was withdrawn and replaced again, and in this gap, I placed all my trust on the doctors and my positive thinking even though this news made me extremely anxious. By the end of mid morning, all doctors had started giving up hope about normal delivery and were contemplating a C-section. But I refused to give up. It went on like this, when Dr. Uma Ram walked in and said that the pain was unique to every mother and that I should alert them immediately if I felt that the contractions were unbearable. I told her that I would wait for some more time, and by this time, over those two days, I was sick of the necessary but uncomfortable intrusions which were the vaginal examinations - they happened over ten times. I knew that these were necessary for a normal delivery, but they were difficult! The last but one examination revealed a huge difference - I had dilated 3 cm! By this time, I had asked for an epidural to manage the pain. My mother watched every single thing without batting an eyelid, but I recognised how difficult it was for her. At 3 pm, the last examination happened. The doctor told me something that excited me to no end - that she could see the baby's hair!

The next hour was a blur. I was taught how to push, and Dr. Uma walked in with a victorious smile, because she was confident that I would achieve a normal delivery even when my hopes started sliding. My mother held my head like a baby's , while I pushed with all my effort. Dr. Uma started uttering words of encouragement, and in half an hour, my baby was out! After pulling him out, she said "It's a boy" and placed the little one on my chest. He gave a tiny cry which was the best music to my ears, and in that moment, all the happiness we had lost when my dad passed away due to a heart attack in January 2016 seemed to come back in one stroke. In that second, my baby looked exactly like my dad and the happiness and contentment on seeing this was exquisite. My sister in the UK saw him first, and he gave a little smile which made all this - delivery, labour, pain induction, water breaking, etc. etc., - all worth it.

Thank you, Seethapathy Clinic and Hospital, Unit - II. Thank you to the very able team of doctors, sisters and anaesthesists. And welcome, Hrudhaiy. I hope I can help you handle the world as it is today, because even I find that difficult. Delivery seems easier! :D