Chai in one hand, confidence in the other…

mom 9

Hey guys, long time no see. God Lord, have I just revealed my age by saying that. I guess I meant Yo Man, or whatever hep acronym is going around these days. It’s just that the mood has finally struck and I have to write. Write about this thing that I simply call Learning to Say Yes That’s Me! And I am Loving it! Let me put in a disclaimer at the very beginning here that I hold no official “degree”, but the very fact that life itself is a learning process gives me some creative liberty to propound on my own experiences and life lessons.

So, as usual I was on FB, laughing away at the enormously funny Michael McIntyre stand up acts and also keeping a constant eye on the royal rom-com When Harry Met Meghan. Quite a delightful tale there isn’t it? I can literally visualize “…and they lived happily ever after!” in the puffy dream clouds. That’s the kind of hopeless romantic I am. But coming back to the main topic, I accidentally chanced upon this wonderful Bystander Revolution: Own your Mistakes talk by the very stunning Salma Hayek. I have to admit here that I have a huge soft spot for everything Latino — music, food, clothes, art and the people —  they are beautiful, vivacious, immensely talented and overall ooze a very friendly vibe. Plus that accent, ouff! In one of those overwhelming moments of camaraderie, I even went ahead and got meself a permanent 4.5 inch Despacito tattoo on my right arm. That’s a saga in itself.

The video I was talking about had Hayek speaking in her endearing manner about how “your mistake belongs to you!” Do not let anyone use it against you, own it! she said, going a step ahead and suggesting we throw it back on the face of people who mock us for erring. As I listened to the 1.06 minutes of powerful word flow, I was reminded of an incident that happened years ago when I was just a teen. It’s not about a mistake per se, but kind of taking charge of life’s slippery situations. We were at the Railway club playing in the evening as usual, when this bunch of boys accosted my little brother at the TT table. “Kyon be, do you have only one nikkar, kal bhi yahi pehni thi?” jeered one of them as the rest snickered in tandem.

Now I am this fiercely protective badass elder sis and having overheard the comments, I was swiftly off the carrom game and on my way to give the group of rascals a goodish piece of Gunjan didi’s mind, when something quite dramatic happened. My baby bro just looked up at the smirking big boys and quipped: “Haan bhaiyya, hum log bahut gareeb hain, mere pass ek hi nikkar hai!” 

I cannot describe the shocked look on the boys’ faces. It was like an ego balloon just deflated. The boys couldn’t believe a little kid could say such a thing. Plus where do you go from there? It was the most royal comeback I had ever seen and for a moment I just stood in admiration. I mean what Do you say after THAT? It’s not rude, so you can’t retaliate. It’s not typically smart alecky, so you can’t retort. It’s a junior simply owning his situation so completely, so matter-of-factly, so confidently! The delightful dis!

I was toh bhai maha impressed! And did a u-turn back to my carrom table with a smile on my smug face. The boys never ever did bother my brother again. The fact that even though the youngest, my brother grew to be the Pahari Jinder Mahal may also have a little to do with it. But the invaluable lesson I learnt there has stood me in good stead. Of course there are times when you are low, off guard, vulnerable and people do manage to poke fun and shake you a bit. However, there are equal, if not more, number of times when you get a kick out of  just owning the situation, mistake or YOURSELF!

Times when maybe you have put on  bit of weight and there is this one annoying person who just has to comment. Times when you look absolutely fine, in fact gorgeous, but one Komolika clone has to go “aaj bahu thaki hui lag rahi ho, sab theek hai?” Immediately puts you on the back foot, and typically you go to ridiculous lengths explaining how everything is fine, you are well blah blah blah… maybe even rush to the loo for  quick touch up. It’s all quite stressful and you realize you don’t even really like that person and owe her no explanation at all. What if you just quipped instead: “haan yaar dysentery ho gaye thi!” and coolly walk off flicking your curly locks for good measure!

What if, as soon as the neighbourhood Cruella de Vil goes: Moti ho gaye ho last time se…. yack..yack…

You go instead: “Haan Aunty!” That’s it! Agree completely, wholeheartedly and SMILE! Mean it, own yourself. No argument, no blabbering explanations and no cringing as you bite into the buttery paneer tikka and ask the waiter to come back with some malai kabab! (NB: fitness definitely comes first girl, but at your own pace, in your own time!)

Gradually you’ll arrive at your own awesome dises. There are times I feel like kicking myself, coz I think up the most quirky dises in hindsight. But I am training. And getting there slowly. Like this one time recently when right in the middle of a super fun session with the girls at one of my favourite cafes in the Gaon, Ms Lalita Pawar had to rear her ugly head with “hey your chehra is looking quite peela today!” Out of the blue! Complete silence followed. All the laughter just evaporated.

I dismissed it with “I am like this only”that day, but driving back home, Red FM on full blast, I thought why didn’t I just say: “haan darling, kal raat haldi doodh jyada pe liya na!” and clinked my glass of Chardonnay in her face! Would have done Shobhaa De proud.

In his bestseller The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson argues that “Human beings are flawed and limited—not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault,” so why not know your “limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.”

The point really is this: revel in YOU — imperfections, mistakes, shortcomings et al. YOU are unique, and no one, absolutely no one has the right to make you feel any less! Like Hayak said: Your mistake (imperfection) is a valuable tool for growth and for life,” learn to say “so what?” to the face of those making fun of you… “If you say yes! so what? they are powerless.” Remember, Tomorrow will be another day, next year is another year! What an empowering thought! Happiness after all, is being yourself, in a world that is trying to change you, I constantly remind myself, hell bent on “embracing the glorious mess that I am,” and also working on that wit in hindsight. Yo! Chai in one hand and ….

(Written in mycity4kids)

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O yes! O yes! O yes! Let’s talk Big O…

sexuality

Hey guys, one of the plus points of being a “stay-at-home” mom with no “office schedule” constraints is that I can travel at the drop of a hat, which means I have a most eclectic mix of female friends scattered across the globe. And even though we all do not talk with each other everyday, we end up having very interesting chats whenever and wherever we meet up. It’s like time stands still and we simply begin from where we left. Social media obviously plays an important part in nurturing the bonds and conversations flow seamlessly across shared photos of kids growing up, books read, articles liked, tweets and daily moments captured in pithy two-liners.

And so it was that I bumped into this friend I had met in the Bedouin deserts of the Middle East, and we started talking about kids, school, pollution, extra curriculars… the usual stuff. How that conversation meandered from there to sex I just don’t know! But that’s what happened and soon she was telling me all about the MIL’s role in her sad sex life. Please realize that at 40, we were not giggling slyly and dissecting 50 shades of sexual fantasies, but discussing the often sidelined preliminaries of the raasleela. Or, in her case, saasleela, that included the “in-laws” diktat on when you should and should not have sex. In 2017 mind you!

Having delivered the goods – a boy and a girl — by her early-30s, my friend had been condom-ed, err condemned to a sex-less life dedicated to simply providing “service with a smile” to humanity aka neighbourhood aunties in general and the immediate family in particular. Her job description only hovered around hot phulkas, spotless surfaces, starched clothes and a “can-do-will do” attitude even if that meant packing tiffins of home cooked puri-sabji for all the — chachastaus, third cousins, Bareillywali mausis — on demand, and adjusting on the communal bed, spread out on the drawing room floor every time relatives visited the family in the Gaon. All of this besides her full-time job.

The scene was such that she had actually been told in no uncertain terms that “there was absolutely no need for her to share the bed with her husband, now that the deed was done! Beti are you going to do it for FUN, hein!!!??? she was asked aloud with much collective rolling of eyes and tittering. There you have it the sanskari KLPD! Now what?

All I could do was lend a sympathetic ear to my friend. But it did make me wonder about the pathetic state of female sexuality in this supposedly “modern” era where fundamental, legit physical needs of a woman are frowned upon by totally misplaced notions of propriety. And talking of propriety, the biggest taboo comes in the form of discussing female orgasm. Any wonder then that the female species is caught in the “orgasm gap” — i.e. men orgasm-ing more frequently during sex than women. This skewed orgasm equality, caused mainly due to socio-cultural factors, is resulting in more and more sexual dysfunction among women.

According to a survey, there is a lot of stigma attached to “women initiating sex and openly expressing what they want sexually.” In fact in most relationships, very little is known about the “sexual behavior, sexual attitudes, sexual fantasies and marital functioning of women.”

In the light of all of this, the latest photo series on breaking taboos around the Big O was like a breathe of fresh air as I flicked through the news reports today. Dubbed Project O, this tastefully captured photo feature-cum-video on female sexuality by Brazilian photographer and film director Marcos Alberti, along with Smile Makers, shows 22 women in four stages of pleasure – before orgasm, while masturbating, during climax and after orgasm.

The aim of the project? — to empower women enough to control their sexuality and fight off the “shame and silence” surrounding female masturbation.

As I went though the pictures and the video, the “fun” reaction of all the 22 women, from different nationalities, as they wholeheartedly participated in the campaign, laughing at their own reaction was striking. I think their courage in sending this “strong message” is truly commendable.

The project also throws light on the physical as well as emotional benefits of an orgasm, including stress reduction, boosting the immune system and promoting relaxation due to the release of oxytocin.

All the more reason then to discuss the Big O in the open, especially in the Indian context, where sexual matters are generally brushed under the carpet. Data collected since Independence clearly shows that Indian women often “lack authority for the control of their sexuality or reproduction” and suffer sexual disharmony in silence. Things are, however, changing, ever so gradually and the new line of thought is aligning itself to sex and female pleasure too, as opposed to pure procreation! Though a whole lot still needs to be done in the field of female sexual dysfunction (FSD) that continues to afflicts a vast percentage of today’s women.

Besides, myths like “Male orgasm is primary and female is secondary” and “No woman wants to have a quickie” also need to be debunked to promote an equitable and healthy sexual environment. An environment where my now 40 year old friend does not have to sneak cuddles with her husband in her own house. An environment where a teenager does not feel embarrassed talking about masturbation. An environment where each individual’s sexual rights are respected. An environment where the audience does not need any prodding to say “vagina” out loud by the cast of The Vagina Monologues. An environment that does not foster the female eunuch!

In the immortal words of Germaine Greer: “It takes a great deal of courage and independence to decide to design your own image instead of the one that society rewards, but it gets easier as you go along.” O yes! O yes! O yes! Time to talk the Big O… Open…Objective…On top!

(written in mycity4kids)

Of fasting, fuming, fidelity & farmers…

diya-lamp-diwali-decoration-festival-indian-celebration-3e66a7884b049c3d-512x512

Hey guys, being a stay-at-home-mom I often get this craving for assessing my self worth. What is the sum total of my value right now? I wonder. For answers I look at little things like a “thumbs up” for something new I cooked or a genuine compliment for a “dot painting” I made while mandala meditating. When I was a student and later a journalist, these reassurances came about automatically with every report card, medal, letter of appreciation, bonus or promotion, and I took them completely for granted!

Today, I even get a kick out of acing Facebook quizzes: How good is your grammer? Can you identify these famous paintings? Is your eye-sight prefect? Hey Bhagwaan! That’s how I chanced upon some interesting “personality-type” quizzes and most, I have to admit, were quite spot on. So naturally I was game for the latest Gretchen Rubin quiz too.

Acclaimed author of The Happiness Project, Rubin broadly categorizes people into FOUR types: the Upholders, the Obligers, the Questioners and the Rebels. The answer, in my case, would be a fight off between the questioner and the rebel I knew that. Ultimately the questioner won! And the tick tock began…

The freshest debate on the block was obviously Karva Chauth. Gaining momentum with every new blog post, every opinion piece, every new Tweet, and my questioning mind also got into major action. For every Twinkle Khanna going Scientists studying longest living mammals, bowhead whales found for a long life what is needed is a slow metabolism & not wives who fast:); there was an Ayushmann Khurrana celebrating “equality” with the chant “join her if you can’t dissuade her from fasting.”

Another chirruped: Under influence of @Bdutt ;if yr wife doesn’t keep #KarwaChauth fast ; does it amount to criminal conspiracy with attempt to murder? (Frankly, I found it quite hilarious, purely from the sense of humour point of view, taken with a dollop of salt of course). To counter that sentiment there were the sanskari quips on fake feminists, cultural bigots, misogynists, regressive patriarchy @ #lovealbum#ladyboss!

Though I thought the “gadhe ki yoni mein janam etc” was quite over the top, one fasting husband’s “this is hard” was a rather sweet tweet, leading me on to the 5Ws and H of KC.

First up: What is fasting, any idea? (hunger/search/discipline/prayer)

Next: Why are YOU fasting? (pressure/pleasure; by choice/by order)

Where are the rules? (clearly delineated/blind faith)

Who decides the rituals? (self/other)

When does rationalism end and ritualism begin? (pure introspection)

How do you react to the stimuli? (opinions/starving/thirst/materialism/societal norms)

The Jain texts describe abstaining from the pleasures of the five senses (sight, taste, touch, smell, sound) and dwelling in the self in deep concentration as upavāsa. In Islam, fasting isn’t just refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of selfish desire and wrong-doing. The fast therefore is of the body and spirit as well, with the physical fast being a symbol of the real, inner fast.

In the Scripture, the purpose of fasting includes self-control, and even though it means going without food, one can fast from anything — food, drink, sleep or sex — “to focus on a period of spiritual growth.”Fasting is actually an intrinsic part of the science of Naturopathy and Ayurveda as an “expression of self discipline and gratitude.” Contemporary Hinduism apparently has no fixed rules for fasting as it is considered a “declaration of faith and resolve to build character, strength and purity in preparation for liberation. It also helps practice detachment and austerity.” Absolute nirvana in spirit to be precise. But how many, I wonder, can truly claim to tick all the above boxes? (rhetorical question!)

My search for more answers was full on, when news just came in from Rohini that a 40-year-old man stabbed his wife for “not fasting on karva chauth” and then committed suicide by jumping off the roof, enunciating that school of thought which dismisses tradition as “an explanation of acting without thinking.”

Millennial icon Malala Yousafzai takes that debate a step further by suggesting that “we should not be followers of traditions that go against human rights… we are human beings and WE make traditions.” That’s it. That is the crux from a little girl on the fundamentals of tradition anywhere in the world.

The Hindu View of Life also stresses that “religion is not the acceptance of academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies, but a kind of life or experience… and this experience is of a self-certifying character (svatasiddha). If a tradition does not grow, it only means its followers have become spiritually dead.” Operating term for me personally was the “self-certifying” bit. Indeed.

In layperson’s terms that would mean we do not owe anyone any explanation for our faith and the traditions we choose to follow, as long as we can justify them to our OWN selves by questioning the higher purpose and re-working equations according to changing circumstances! “Tradition,” according to the great philosopher S Radhakrishnan,  “is something that is forever being worked out anew and recreated by the free activity of its followers. We rise from life to thought and return from thought to life in a progressive enrichment which is the attainment of ever higher levels of reality.”

The sad reality of today though: 20 Farmers Die Of Pesticide Poisoning In Maharashtra, a day before Karva Chauth! News reports say they were “not wearing protective gear”and would have been paid Rs. 200 per day for the hazardous job. What price human life? Even as twitter simultaneously explodes with #love memes, mushy telly promos and in-your-face ads for salwar kameez, facials, carnivals, mehendi, foodgasms, festival specials and cool contests. Blogs and articles continue to dissect: Why You Shouldn’t Break Your nirjala Fast with Fried Foods and Caffeinated Drinks! along with the many interpretations of the legend of Veervati.

Meanwhile change once again proves it is the only constant. And how? Five-year-old Emily Dover, from New South Wales, Australia we are told 3 days ago, “got her period when she was only four years old. And now, at the age of five, she is already getting signs of menopause,” Dover was a healthy baby, “but her body started maturing rapidly with time. By the age of two, she began growing breasts and developing acne.” My eyes nearly popped out. The point all this makes yet again is that ‘progress is impossible without change’ suited to the ever transforming world around us for good or bad — in other words, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got!’

As attitudes change along with the sanctity of marriage itself, a CNN report, talking of Esther Perel’s new book State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, highlights a recent survey stating that, “since 1990, the rate of married women who report they’ve been unfaithful has increased by 40%.”

“More women than ever” apparently are cheating and “willing to admit that they are cheating.” And even though they love their husbands, “they felt in some fundamental way that their needs (sexual, emotional, psychological) were not being met inside the marriage.” INTERESTING! Yet again that question of the traditional role and the set gender equation that often perpetrates an unequal division of labour rears its head. An equation, the women now complain, that “does not take into account  the disproportionate amount of invisible labor that went into maintaining their lifestyle… and constantly managing the emotional heart of the family.”

Every situation clearly crying out loud for an attitudinal shift. Something on the lines of Sadhguru’s Inner Engineering for overall well being.”The way out is IN!” for the people of today, who are the “most comfortable generation that has ever lived in this planet… (yet) definitely not the most joyful, or the most loving, or the most peaceful.”

The tendency to “take instructions from the outside rather than the inside,” says Sadhguru, “is the only thing that stands between you and your well being.”

Quoting an interesting story from page 29 of Inner Engineering to elaborate the point:

On a certain day, a lady went to sleep. In her sleep, she had a dream. She saw a hunk off a man, staring at her. Then he started coming closer — closer and closer.

He was so close that she could even feel his breath.

She trembled — not in fear.

Then she asked, “What will you do to me?” 

The man said, “Well, lady, it’s YOUR dream!”

Your dream! Your search! In the environment of intolerance, insanity and irrational behavior all around, this example is actually quite like the  The Fight of Two Wolves Within You! – a beautiful tale my mother told me this morning when I called her to discuss something bothering me about blind fanaticism in human relations and rituals.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Clarity at last! For it’s ultimately all about feeding the right wolf within you. The questioner in me has got her answer for now.  Life, however, is very complicated “because when you find the answers, life changes the question.” Am I up to the challenge?  I ask again!

(written in mycity4kids)

Celebrating Gandhi with My Hypothetical Daughter…

gandhi quotes

Hey guys, Happy Gandhi Jayanti. It’s a lovely morning, no Monday blues. The “very real” son and dad are off to do justice to the day. Not as Gandhi fanatics, but your typically ‘sleep-deprived’ teen and ‘objective-driven corporate’ dad simply enjoying a round of golf on a rare Monday off!

I am plonked on my couch, reading leisurely. But with this cool breeze cross ventilating my house and only the sound of a crazy Indian Robin and an occasional Kingfisher piercing the silence around me, I am gently drifting into lazy day dreaming. This is the thing with me, I read and then my mind begins to spin its own yarn.

Today I am imagining a day with my “hypothetical” daughter! She’s fun, fearless and full of energy, basically a fine specimen of her species, with a proclivity to reading (totally mom’s genes). We’re happily browsing the net with a warm mug of Ceylonese George Stuart in hand. Besides the generally crime, apathy, raving and ranting, there are a wide variety of women-centric articles to choose from:

Talking at an IIM-A conclave a BJP MP decries that “like EVERY Indian woman” she was “sexually harassed too,” 20-yr-old Senegalese model Khoudia Diop reveals “how she grew up being pressured to lighten her skin by using bleaching products and how she was bullied and made to feel ashamed for the colour of her skin,” 11 women tell us “what it is like to have big boobs,” there’s a list of things girls “wish they knew before losing virginity” and a shopper shows us how dress sizes mislead, so we shouldn’t blame our “body type” because it’s actually “the label” to blame! Hah!

If all of this isn’t early morning gyan enough for women, we can also read about 3 different ways to “get fuller lips with make-up” and go on to, I don’t know, get inspired/awe-struck perhaps by how Kim Kardashian almost bares it all, singer Neha turns up the heat in Bali, Esha Gupta poses in barely there lingerie and a BB 11 contestant very proudly gets “too hot to handle.”

WOW. Someone certainly knows what women want! And I am talking of mainstream media not some sleazy rag. This, my IB-educated daughter reminds me, in a country where Mahatma Gandhi once said “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior.” Hmmm… Suddenly our ginger-lemon brew tastes vapid, quite like the stuff we are reading. So we switch.

Daughter suggests she has something “much better” for me and takes charge. I am introduced to Button poet Blythe Baird and her Pocket-Sized Feminism — “Once, my dad informed me sexism is dead and reminded me to always carry pepper spray in the same breath. We accept this state of constant fear as just another part of being a girl…”

I meet slammer Lily Myers and her Shrinking Women, where a daughter learns to read ‘the knots’ on her mother’s forehead, “while the guys went out for oysters'” and though she never means to replicate her metaphorically shrinking mother, she knows that if “you spend enough time sitting across from someone … you pick up their habits…”

Once upon a time, long, long ago, Doris Day sang:

When I was just a little girl,

I asked my mother,

What will I be

Will I be pretty

Will I be rich

Here’s what she said to me

Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que sera, sera…

That was the 1960s. In her modern day take, veteran Katie Makkai slam dunks that one, with her own version of today’s sad truth:

“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty? But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dry add: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long, and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting my poor mother.“How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist.” “You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! ” “You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were six, otherwise your nose would have been fine! ” 

Suddenly all this day dreaming isn’t fun any more. I want to wake up, brush the remnants of cynicism aka feminism, and start my day afresh. Kind of like the Mahatma’s new I-phone toting monkeys propounding “Bura mat TYPE karo, Bura mat LIKE karo, Bura mat SHARE laro!”

I desperately want to be the “Point B” that American poet Sarah Kay talks about and tell my daughter too that “this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.”

Oh yes!  once again, the Mahatma was bang on when he declared ages ago that “a (wo)man is but the product of her thoughts. What (s)he thinks (s)he becomes.”  

Taking heed, I begin to search for new answers to the same old questions. Will women continue to suffer in silence in a scenario where obscenity has gotten so blatant that “even a dying woman is molested on a collapsed bridge?” Would women still crave a lighter skin tone, bigger boobs, fuller lips to ride the temporary wave of a facile Insta trend? Would girls simply be the sum total of the ‘likes” for their pubescent pout? Or.. Will we be the change we want to see in the world?

The startled look on my hypothetical daughter’s face is enough. It’s got “dah” written all over it, and I smile a satisfied smile.

In my day dream, each woman is her own body image, beautiful, unique, stark & proud…

Embrasing her SELF, she wields power with panache,

No more shrinking in the shadows of pocket size feminism, 

she’s ‘pretty’ sure of that, 

she’s above selfies, pouts, judgment and label,

coz finally she believes she can, and is able,

what’s with the thigh gap and curvy hips,

the premium on virginity, silicon breasts and fuller lips?

she asks, chucking the Botox and the fairness cream…

along with words like silence, tolerate, compromise…

It’s a new world guys…

& bloody hell, I too have a dream…

(written in mycity4kids)

 

The Reason I Say No to 13 Reasons Why!

stay positive

Hey guys, interesting conversation happened the other day. I was at a friend’s place and we got to discussing things – the Mumbai stampede, crop burning in Punjab, Raghuram Rajan, the disastrous Presidents Cup and finally, 13 Reasons Why! The last one popped up point blank as my friend asked me: Would you let your son read the book, because my son (14) wants to? Some of his friends have already read the book and now he wants to read/watch it too, she rued.

My answer was a resounding NO. Sometimes questions catch you off guard and you dilly-dally, dither trying to wind your way to a reasonable answer. But not this time, I had already thought this one through a long time ago, when I was in a rough patch myself.

Now the thing is I love reading books, and while browsing the net for “different” authors, I often pick a few books for my son too. It so happened that a list of “top teen fiction” appeared on my screen one day and it had a book called 13 Reasons Why on it, this was before the Netflix series became a craze. Naturally I was curious and read the synopsis, “13 Reasons Why is a novel by Jay Asher that deals with fictional teenager Hannah Baker’s death by suicide. Before her death, she records a series of 13 tapes, blaming various people and enumerating the reasons for her death.”

WHAT THE F….?!!? Are you kidding me? That was my first instinct as a parent. And over the years I have come to rely heavily on my “first instinct.” The very premise was such a put off and I scrolled down immediately, finally settling on Scholastic’s Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman, an investigation into the lethal combo of teenage and technology that leads to cyber bullying. But one that, as the author hopes “starts thoughtful conversations about rethinking attitudes.”

What struck a chord with me was the “positive” approach of Backlash to teen angst as against the “romanticizing and simplifying” of suicide by the other book. How does that help teens I wonder. Then again there were these arguments about “13 Reasons portraying totally clueless adults in a scenario of distressed teens already struggling with clouded thinking.”  In fact, one teenager in an interview called the book a “how to” on suicide, triggering such hue and cry that Netflix was compelled to issue a warning for certain episodes.

Schools in India and abroad, have also issued advisories to parents hinting clearly that the book is NOT appropriate for middle-schoolers.  The depiction is too graphic and may lead to copycat suicide by susceptible teens is one of the arguments. A few teen psychologists strongly feel that the book is NOT meant for kids below 16.

If you want to read more, the internet is full of articles on how “teenagers experience mood swings due to hormonal fluctuations,” and often seek the screen for emotional refuge. Negativity, therefore impacts the very elastic teen brain severely. We are no psychologists, but almost all parents nowadays are familiar with the term – prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in decision-making, planning and self-control, which in a teenager (we are told everyday by the school counsellor) is the last part to mature, hence the impulsive behavior. If as a parent you want to dig deeper, there’s the limbic system to read about.

Summing up teen dilemmas then, I’d suggest you watch Andrew De Leon on America’s Got Talent. Serendipity lead me to this one. Really hit me hard the first time I saw it. Here’s a fine example of how adults can be so wrong in their perspective of teens and their struggles. Strange, how we were all teens at one point in time, going through the very same rough patches and yet as adults with our so called developed  “prefrontal cortex,” all we gain is rigidity of thought. Where is the “chill pill” when we all need one?

Coming right back to the point then, a recent study said, “the teen mind is a strong force of nature” constantly craving stimulation, so why not, as a parent give it some positive reinforcement a la Skinner. However, thinking beyond the ‘Skinner Box,’ my favourite has always been TED Talks. Crisp, topical, relatable (for the teen at heart too) and very inspiring! I just sent the link – How a 13 year old changed ‘Impossible’ to ‘I’m Possible’ | Sparsh Shah | TEDxGateway – to my friend. Gives you goosebumps every time you watch it. That’s learning from a winner. A survivour against all odds.

And talking of odds, who better than the mighty charming Nick Vujicic. His Youtube videos : No Arms, No Legs, No Worries! and No arms and no legs – MOTIVATION – If you fail, try again — are a must watch for parents and teens alike. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by circumstances, I turn to Nick and a whole new perspective to life emerges, along with the tears.

Of course there are inspiring autobiographies and movies to look out for. Where then is the need for 13 Reasons, when you have hazar reasons to look up to “positive influences.” For anyone who says the book/series is about understanding the psychology of suicide, I’d say “why go graphic?” “Why go negative?” We don’t do any of that while talking about sex, rape, bullies etc with our teens, then why start now? Really?

Even the slightest positive influence, it is said, has the potential to change a child’s life. And according to motivational speaker Jim Rohn: You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with! Time then to surround our precious teens with the 5 best influences!!

(written in mycity4kids)

Today I will slay the Ravan Within! #WomenAgainstNegativity

dussehra-21v

Hey guys, last week I took up one of those Facebook Challenges that I usually ignore. Because that day, I just felt a compelling need to show solidarity with this recurring theme: women and negativity. My re-pasted, but slightly edited post went something like this:

Challenge Accepted Anshu Bhatia … All too often.. we women, find it easier to criticize each other instead of building each other up. With all the negativity going around let’s do something positive!! 🌻💁 Upload 1 picture of yourself.. ONLY you. Then tag friends… Build yourself up instead of tearing yourself down: “When I accept myself I am free from the burden of needing you to accept me.”— tagging all my friends anyways… More power to you guys…. ALWAYS….

Can’t say that this little gesture will drastically change anything, but just like participating in the #NotInMyName Campaign, it gave me a good feeling to publicly endorse something I believe in, to take a solid stance and stand strong with the side I am on.

The rising negativity, especially on social media is the backdrop to all this. Take Whatsapp for instance, all of us are part of friends’ groups and family groups and school groups, office groups, condo groups and what have you. It all starts very well, with birthday wishes and happy this, happy that, but somewhere along the line the tone and tenor gradually changes, undercurrents of negativity creep in and things start getting ugly. Even if you aren’t among the protagonist of this negative power play, this subtle smear campaign – just being part of the group counts. The fact that you DO NOT take a stance that nips this negativity in the bud counts. Not reacting to negativity is not the same as studied diplomacy. Do not fool yourself. At best it’s silent support, and at worst sadistic voyeurism, almost on the spectrum of people who prefer to record a video for Youtube rather than help accident victims!

Sounds harsh. But isn’t it the same for the plain intolerance, insensitivity and underlying hatred that it perpetrates. What is more shocking than anything else is that we “grown up” women, as mothers and caregivers, have this mind-boggling responsibility to nurture the next generation in an environment that is already heavily polluted. Our kids are already struggling to deal with the millennial curse of cyber bullying, body shaming, performance pressure, joblessness, lifestyle maladies and a host of new age stresses! If we don’t make a conscious vow EVERYDAY to fight our own demons, how can there be any hope for the future?

Didactic? Maybe. Loud thinking? Definitely. But how else do I put it? This feeling that rears its ugly head every time someone fake-innocently tries to “dis” someone else on a very public social media platform, and I talk strictly of women here, to score a sisterhood brownie without even thinking twice of the emotional repercussions. I do not even want to delve into the possibility that maybe it is a “well thought out” strong arm tactic of one-up-womanship!

So I latch on to this beautiful message I got from a friend this morning on Whasapp, that sums up the mantra for change, starting TODAY: This Dushera why not slay the 10 inner demons:

kaam: uncontrolled longing

krodh: anger

lobh: greed

moh: attachment

ahankaar: pride

irshiya: jealousy

dwesh: hatred

aalasaya: laziness

chal: manoeuvring

hath: stubbornness

– and celebrate the true spirit of Vijaydashmi! I know I need to work on a few of those and so I have saved this one as my screen shot. A constant reminder to make an effort to rise above perfectly human flaws especially because if we – the educated, aware, liberated, strong, successful, more fortunate – women don’t do it there is NO hope for our children!

Please give me a counter argument – I am all ears. Anything that proves logically that NO – despite grown women pulling each other down, mothers behaving like troubled teens, prosperous ladies succumbing to petty machinations and sensible females cheering follies – all will be well with the world. The premise itself is so illogical, there can be absolutely no debate on this one.

On a whim I put up this poster that popped up on my wall a few days ago saying: Happiness is ignoring negative people and letting karma do its work. Negativity is a proven contagion and being in its mere presence afflicts you like it or not. There is no escape, silence is no panacea. You can’t spray it away with citronella oil. In the screwed world we live in today,  unfortunately, negativity will knock on you door, but that does not mean you let it in. As the famous saying goes: Stay away from negative people, they have a problem for every solution.

I am repeating that to myself today, and in the evening when I will participate wholeheartedly in the burning of the 10-faced Ravan that is right now being put up in the park of our condominium, I will, I promise myself, also make a deliberate effort to slay the demons within! Cheers then, to new beginnings girls… A very Happy Dushera guys, wishing everyone peace, happiness, success and the power to overcome negativity!

(Written in mycity4kids)

The groom in the bride’s shoes for a change…

after marriage spiderman

Hey guys, right now I am on page 126 of this collection of MIL stories by Veena Venugopal simply called: The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman In Your Marriage, and as the season of shaadi shenanigans begins, I have already decided that it’s going in with every shagun lifafa for my loved ones as a ‘special’ gift. No more Tarla Dalal and Kamasutra kids!

There are a whole bunch of cousins in line for marriage and then there are my friends’ kids. If at all these gen-nexters decide to tie into knots, err… sorry, tie the knot, the “loved ones” will definitely get the treatise from Aunty Gunjan, the others I am sorry to say, will have to find “10 ways to survive the mother in law” the hard way. Hehahahaha….

But coming back to the book and pondering upon the unending master list of one-sided “adjustments” that the Indian brides have to make right from that dreaded moment they push the rice kalash and step across the border, it occurred to me WHAT IF, WHAT IF … the situation reverses. What if, from today onwards “opposite day” is declared and now the groom is supposed to make those very adjustments. Tab kya hoga?

Rubbing my palms in glee, I get to day dreaming: To begin with, the bride’s mom will now becomes the coy groom’s dress designer. “Betaji, tomorrow is mooh dikhaye, here you go….” she’ll trill, handing him the gaudy purple kurta and shimmery cream pajamas he’ll have to wear as he gets introduced to the inquisitive neighbourhood oldies. The educated, independent bride meanwhile will wave a cheery ta-ta after a scrumptious breakfast of hot paneer parathas and head office-wards, having none of this Ektaa Kapoorr (oh God was it aa or rr…) charade-parade.

Disclaimer: The goom, just to make it very clear is no ghar jamai mind you, we’re all for equality okay, but since the Pepper Fry tables have well and truly turned, he would duly apply for leave and if required, fast too for the ultimate good of the new khandaan he is now ensconced in! Like it or not!

That’s just the beginning, he’ll haath batao with all the housework; seek permission to visit his folks; get expensive “gifts” for every god forsaken tayaji and doddering mamiji from the gaon; change his surname, and for good measure the name too – from whatever it is to Raj because the bride’s mom has a huge crush on SRK! That doesn’t mean he can wear those crotch-hugging denims and comfy boxers. Na-aa. Pastel full sleeve shirts, properly tucked in and formal pants till it’s time to go to bed, and then – pure white night suit Mummyji got from the Lucknow chicken store.

For him, working late and travelling for office work will be a strict no-no. Already “we are liberal enough to let you work beta!” he’s reminded sweetly and gently herded back into his permanent sanctuary: the kitchen! Mummyji’s kitty kittens are expected and there are savouries to be deep fried and cocktails to be mixed.

OK… enough. I can’t go on any more because it is already sounding utterly RIDICULOUS!

Looking at it from the other angle, you can’t wish all of this nonsense upon anyone. The picture gets so clear now. If the relationship itself is lost in the game of oneupmanship, because frankly that is what it is and NOT Indian culture or tradition puhlease, EVERYONE loses.

If 1+1 make 2, how come “the long life” of only 1 is worth fasting for? Why does the tectonic shift of control only shake the ground beneath the bride’s feet? What is with this whole philosophy of “gau jaise bahu“? How come the direct blessing for a guy is aayushman bhava while saubhagawati bhava and doodho nahao, putoh phalo masquerade as blessings for the woman? Kind of reminds me of Vyasa’s “boon” to Draupadi in The Palace of Illusions – “each time she went to a new brother, she would be a virgin again. Fated to be “passed around like a communal drinking cup” she wonders about the nature of boons given to women – “handed to us like presents we hadn’t quite wanted” because if she had her way, Draupadi “would have requested the gift of forgetting, so that when I went to each brother I’d be free of the memory of the previous one.”

No offence, but the woman may also want to sort of “live long” and perhaps not have children, maybe not marry at all. Then is she doodho nahaoing to moisturize? She may desire a daughter, so she goes on putoh phaloing for the heck of it,  till she has one? Is that it?

Dude, WHO made these rules? Like seriously WHO? Where’s the rule book? And per chance if there is one, pray can we hear the rules for “party #2” as well milord?

I’ve just watched Newton and the only proven universal truth is “every action has an equal and opposite reaction!”  There is certainly ‘give’, but equally important is the ‘take’. Yin and Yang, to maintain the balance. It’s pure maths with one algorithm: A great relationship is about two things: first, find out the similarities, second, respect the differences! And we all live happily ever after!

(Written in mycity4kids)