Saturday, 8 July 2017

एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें ...


जीवन के व्यापार में,
दाम लगाकर बढ़ना सीखें,
दर्द छुपा मुसकाना  सीखें,
सर्प का दंश पी जाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें ।

बिना वजह ही हँसना सीखें,
बिन मदिरा के उड़ना सीखें ,
बिन साथी भी जीना सीखें,
गिरकर आप संभलना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

बिन आवाज़ भी लड़ना सीखें,
परिस्तिथि को अनुकूल करना सीखें,
कभी उसमें ढलना भी सीखें,
बिन ढोल जश्न मनाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

मस्तिष्क और मन का द्वंद्व हो जब,
मस्तिष्क को आप जिताना सीखें,
मन में जो उठे तूफ़ान,
उसमें ना बह जाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें ।

क्रोध और विलाप में ना हों लुप्त,
ऐसा धैर्य रखना भी सीखें,
प्रतिशोध की ज्वाला से,
खुद को आप बचाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

बिखरे हो जो रिश्तों के मोती,
पिरोकर माला बनानी सीखें,
यदि मिले शीश झुकाकर अमोल प्रेम,
अहम् भुलाकर झुकना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

अंत नही होती एक हार,
आस्था ऐसी रखनी सीखें,
हरी दर्शन हो सब में ही,
ऐसी प्रीत लगाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

Saturday, 1 July 2017

When You Accuse The Delhi Golf Club Of Being “Classist” I See A Hypocrite

You, yes you... the one posting angry social media posts about Delhi Golf Club being classist. Does your domestic help eat in the same glossy china as you do? Who are the steel plates in your kitchen cabinet for? Oh, for the poor ones who come from outside? You never know what kind of germs they are bringing, right? What with their dismal living conditions, poor access to sanitation and hygiene, and widespread contagious diseases. Your rich visitors are clean as heaven, aren't they?
Oh, and how does your brain justify to itself that ₹1000 is pocket change when you buy movie tickets, but the same amount becomes enormous if you have to pay the medical bill of one of your workers? And I'm very sure the young maid who looks after your child while you have dinner at a fancy restaurant almost never gets to enjoy a hearty portion of the same meal with you. Maybe it's just the money talking. Research claims that the richer you get, the meaner you become. Having wealth makes you much less compassionate.
Do you know, the manager of a fast food restaurant gave a good scolding to some poor kids after I asked them to accompany my friends and I for lunch? They weren't stealing. Their meal had been paid in full and they were sharing the table with us. But no, the manager couldn't have his premises get filled with such "filth." Of course he made sure that we had walked some distance away before he started his tirade.
Did I also tell you, just a couple of weeks back our maid was refused entry in an elite club of a small city whose name I will not reveal here. The incident was singularly humiliating, not just for the maid, but for us as well, who treat her like a part of the family. She "looked" like a maid, was their argument—the exact argument that the Delhi Golf Club made when they asked Tailin Lyngdoh to leave their premises. We were part of a large group in a formal setting and hence didn't feel it was appropriate to make an issue out of it. But we were angry and put off by such condescending behaviour by the club. The Delhi Golf Club incident was like déjà vu and it certainly became a topic of discussion for us.
Now you see, it would be wrong to single out just elite clubs and call them "classist." The class divide runs deep in our culture. The distinction between "master" and "servant" is clear among all sections of the society. Our servants don't sit at the same table as us. No matter for how long they have been serving a family, they are never allowed to forget their aukat (status)Dignity of labour? That happens only in foreign countries. And God forbid if the concept of minimum wage got enforced in India. The entire country will be out on the streets protesting against a basic human right. The poor aren't recognised as humans in India—you see, they are just rodents.
Elitist institutions like the Delhi Golf Club and the Gymkhana Club thrive on the master-servant divide. They ensure that their rich members never lose their sense of being powerful and superior. How could they ever justify a ₹7.5 lakh waiting fee if they couldn't cater to the class divide?
The problem lies with us, not them. We the people. Each one of us is guilty of pandering to our lust for power and greatness by treating our servants like vermin. We have a long way to go before the class divide ceases to exist. Until then, people will get evicted from elite clubs for "looking like a maid." So when someone accuses the Delhi Golf Club of being "classist" I see a hypocrite. Don't you?
This post first appeared here.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Why The Suicide Of A Phd Student At IIT-Delhi Didn't Surprise Me

When I first read the news of a 27-year old PhD student taking her own life at IIT-D, I felt tears prickle my eyes. I didn't know her personally, and yet I could feel the pain she might have felt, what might have compelled her to take this extreme step. I suddenly thought, "You know, this might have been me..." At that time, I didn't know that she was being harassed for dowry (as is being alleged by her parents), but I knew the kind of stress that research scholars at premier institutes are under, having been one myself. I will not make any comment about her personal life, as I'm not qualified to do that, but I definitely will highlight some issues faced by doctoral students, which, I first thought were the likely reasons for her suicide.

Graduate students pursuing a doctorate degree pay a very heavy price for attaining that degree, and only someone who has been in the system can understand that. No one wants to talk about this price. It is just widely accepted in academia that this price must be paid. Why is it that the loss of a young, bright life does not shock us? Why this apathy? In my time as a research scholar, I have understood a few sad truths, and some driving factors that lead so many PhD students to depression and mental illness, and I've tried to deconstruct them. I really hope some important people are reading this, because there is a lot that needs to be addressed in our academic system. This attitude of acceptance and apathy towards mental illness in the academia has to change.

1. People with a higher IQ are more likely to get depressed
I'm going to go with the assumption that PhD scholars generally have a higher than normal IQ. While this high IQ is useful in obtaining good grades, it is also their curse. An article in Medical Daily claims that over 30 studies have linked high intelligence and mental illness. People with a higher IQ tend to overthink and overanalyse, and may also be highly emotional and sensitive. They do not take failure lightly, and tend to beat themselves up if things are not as perfect as they want them to be. A study at Berkeley found that as many as 47% of PhD students are depressed at a time, compared to an average of 6.7% in the adult population.

2. The age at which they do graduate studies
Most people I met at graduate school were aged between 24 to 30 years of age. In the prime of their youth, when other people their age are out and about climbing the ladder in their careers, dating, getting married, making babies, the research scholars are stuck in room full of scientific literature, unable to see the beauty of the world around them. They lose the best, most vital years of their life to research, and there is little they can do to recover from this loss. Many students, especially girls, are under tremendous pressure to get married and start a family. Some of them who do get married during this time now have a slew of new problems to deal with, grappling with a new marriage, or staying away from their spouse, in addition to the stress of being in a PhD program.

3. They are suddenly lost in a crowd of super-achievers
I would like to believe that people who pursue a PhD program at a premier institute have an illustrious academic profile (though exceptions abound). People who were toppers, gold medallists, best teachers in their past lives, who used to stand out in a crowd suddenly become lost among many such people. Their academic achievements are no longer a cause of wonder, and they must be exceptional in a group of super achievers to be able to stand out again. The atmosphere is that of critique, competition and secrecy and not an encouraging or transparent one. This is often a cause of immense distress and may make people feel like a failure, as if all they have achieved until now has been a fluke.

4. The inherent uncertainty of research
Research is inherently uncertain, which makes it extremely difficult for even the best minds. There is no guarantee that the problem that you are working on will have a solution. You could spend 10 years working on a problem unable to find a solution, but someone else might miraculously be coming up with results on a different problem every year. If your problem happens to be a hard one, you may be driven to a point where you no longer feel yourself to be competent or worthy of living. Your research problem becomes all consuming, and you are unable to see beyond the failure that you are facing in this moment.

5. The immense loneliness
Most PhD scholars lead extremely lonely lives because their research depends on their hard work. Don't get me wrong, I personally have forged some very deep, meaningful friendships in the years that I have spent as a research scholar, but I cannot say that I have been able to do them justice. I could hardly ever go out or enjoy with my friends like other normal people did. In a PhD program, you spend most of your time alone trying to crack the code, waiting for a miracle to happen, which will fetch you an international publication, and eventually your degree. You can't really make time for friends or family, which again adds to your stress.

6. Power lies in the hands of a few
In a PhD program, your supervisor(s) is all powerful. True, there is a committee in place, but it doesn't intervene unless there is a huge call of distress from the student. In case of failure, it is always the student's fault, and not his supervisor's. Consider this. On the one hand, you will constantly suffer from anxiety, if your supervisor is too tough, which may lead to a break down. On the other hand, if you get a supervisor who is too laid-back or nice, you will find it extremely difficult to get your work done, again causing you to have a breakdown. If you are lucky, you will get a supervisor who is dedicated to research and determined to see you get your degree. And yes, abuse of power does happen. Just like it happens at any place where one person becomes all powerful. It may be 1% of people who indulge in this kind of stuff, but students suffer immensely if they have been assigned a supervisor from this category.

7. Lack of good, transparent counselling services
While most institutes offer counselling services, students are afraid to seek help. They fear that their grievances might get conveyed to their supervisor who is likely the driving force behind their anxiety. They don't have a reliable shoulder to cry on, and no one they can open up to when they need it the most. Many foreign universities offer aid and professional counselling services to their graduate students free of cost. Such services, with proper confidentiality clauses must also be made available to graduate students in India.

8. The very poor financial condition of a research scholar
Research scholars might be the most qualified but the least paid in their age group. How is a PhD student to feel good about himself when he is constantly taunted, "Even a BA pass clerk has a salary better than you!", or "The brightest child of my family is earning the least amount of money," or, "No girl will marry a guy who earns 18K a month! How will you feed your children?"

9. The apathy of academia to mental illness
I find that depression is treated as "normal" in academia. Even those who are not in academia are accepting of the fact that people who are in a PhD program will go "mad" due to studying too much. This attitude needs to change. The suicide of a bright, young scholar must shock and surprise us.
Doing a PhD is hard enough. If, along with this, a young woman is facing mental, physical and emotional torture for a reason as 18th-century as dowry, I can only imagine how broken she must have been. It is only when a person sees utter hopelessness, do they feel like death might be a better option. My heart goes out to her family, and to the families of all bright, young scholars, who took death as a route of escape.

To anyone grappling with their PhD and/or personal issues, I want to tell you that this will get better. That you will do wonderfully in life. Nothing is worth taking your life, neither studies, nor a cheating boyfriend, nor an abusive husband. There are much better things that need your attention—your health, your family, your spiritual journey. That you will emerge stronger and a winner. Please, for heaven's sake do not allow your hopelessness to consume you. You are loved and wanted. Your life has immense purpose. Please don't give up on it.

This post first got published here.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Precautions while taking a selfie

If you are a selfie enthusiast, you may have often found yourself in awkward or life-threatening situations. Here are a few precautions you must take so that you can happily pursue your adventurous pastime.

1. If you intend on taking selfies while walking, make sure you aren't heading towards the stairs or the end of the cliff.

2. If you are taking selfies while facing backwards on the escalators, take note that they might end sooner than you think.

3. To avoid being beaten up in a movie hall, please switch off the selfie flash when the lights in the hall dim.

4. Remember to gloss over the tiles behind you. Almost everyone can recognise a public bathroom.

5. When taking selfies in the shower, ensure that your naked butt isn't visible in the mirror behind you.

6. Be careful how much you contort your face. You might be resembling an animal more than yourself.

7. Employ safe practices when taking selfies in a moving car. You do not want to fall out the window or hit your head on a tree.

8.To get a desirable value of likes, limit the number of selfie uploads to four a week, or fewer.

9. Carry some extra money for times when you drop the food that was meant to be eaten. Also make sure there's nothing stuck between your teeth before you post the selfie online.

10. Avoid taking selfies with people or animals who don't share the same passion for your art. They may bite you.

This was an inexhaustive list of guidelines to keep you safe while taking a selfie. I hope you are having a good day. Happy clicking!


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A few good men

I am, and always will be a staunch feminist. But I am also traditional in many ways, rooted and God fearing. And as I grow older, I see the lines between the binary blurring, with many more shades of grey than just fifty. It is difficult being a woman in India, but it is not easy being a man either. And while feminism is a great ideal to pursue, we must not forget to acknowledge the good men who stand by us, and help us in our fight for gender equality.

I have, for long, been itching to write my views on feminism, but given that there are so many written already about it, I feel this is something that takes precedence over it. We feminists don't acknowledge our men enough. And that is not nice of us. It doesn't do us much good.

I was raised by two very educated parents who were working full-time. We always had the luxury of a cook and a cleaner at home. My mother, though a good cook, was not expected to spend long hours in the kitchen. If the cook was on leave, everyone pitched in, including my father. He used to make the most scrumptious breakfast, and would gladly be our teacher in the kitchen. On days when my mother had to leave early for work, he would patiently braid our hair, which were very long BTW, and make sure our tiffins were packed. Many times, he would attend to his patients with our younger brother sitting on his lap. He was super proud of his girls, who were star performers at school, and he never had a doubt that we would be career women. He would wake up at 5 am many days to tutor us, and emphasized that getting an education was top priority. He ensured that meals were served on the table, and talked to us about our day, about science, about the news, about religion and philosophy. Since we are practicing Sikhs, there was never any restriction on our entering a place of worship. Menstruation was not a taboo subject, and I always told him upfront the exact reason why I was feeling unwell. I feel lucky and privileged when I say, that he had as much contribution in my upbringing as my mother.

It should not take you long to realise that this is an unusual kind of a father by Indian standards. Most fathers in India contribute little to the house except bringing a paycheque. It dawned on me pretty late that my friends and colleagues weren't raised by men who believed in gender equality, and this was an exception rather than a norm.

In a country ridden by sexism and patriarchy, in which women are as guilty (or even more) than men, in keeping it alive, must we not be grateful for the good men? Must we not acknowledge their contribution in our lives. There are many things that privileged feminists take for granted, and easily dis, and it's not doing them any good. Don't get me wrong, I have been careless too, for I didn't know that the things that I thought were normal, others had a hard time perceiving.

It's only when I came in contact with women from myriad backgrounds that I realised how tough life is for most women in India. Despite being educated, a lot of the women aren't able to pursue a career or chase their dreams, because their husbands don't allow them to. Of course, independent women don't need anyone's permission, but how good can life be if two people living under a roof disagree all the time. Imagine how miserable my gynaecologist mother would have been if my father insisted that she always cook him three hot meals a day, or that braiding hair was not a man's job. Not even once in her life was my mother told that she couldn't have the keys to his cupboard, a reality that millions of women live with everyday. I was aghast the first time I got to know that men like this exist. The petty things they do to feel powerful, and suppress their wives. Most women have no say in the financial decisions of the house, even if they are earning themselves, and a vast majority are expected to provide details of how each penny is spent. Men portray themselves as Gods for being the 'breadwinners', while the women are treated no better than a bonded labourer. Many deal with domestic violence on a regular basis.

There was a recent post on the 'Humans of Bombay' in which the lady questions why does the society place men on a higher pedestal? As she rightly says, the husband is as responsible for the child's upbringing as she is. But you see, the truth is, it takes a good man, a courageous man, in a patriarchal society, who will agree to attend a PTA meeting, which has traditionally been the mothers' domain. If he got a round of applause from the other mothers, he deserved it. For, just like it takes a woman of grit to foray into a man's world, it takes a man of substance to foray into a woman's world. Please applaud him. Encourage him. So that others around him feel encouraged to do the same. So that he has something to look up to when someone shamelessly calls him 'Joru ka ghulam'. Why must we not be grateful that men like him exist?

So, my dear ladies, if you are a homemaker who is loved and respected by her husband for her contribution to the house, please acknowledge the good man. If you are a career woman, who can balance work and family with the support of her spouse, please take a moment to know how lucky you are. If you are a young girl who is encouraged to pursue her dreams by her father, please be grateful for his presence in your life. For it is good men like these who are helping us in making gender equality a reality. For these are the men who help lay the foundations of a society in which feminism is not a bad word.

With love and thanks to the three most important men in my life - Papa, VA, and PJ. Who have been real pillars of support, and never questioned my choices in life, no matter how ridiculous they seem.

Love,
H




Thursday, 9 March 2017

As March marches on...

March has typically been a high significance month in my life. It has always brought with it trials, endings and new beginnings. Sometimes, the trials of March would mark the completion of one thing, which meant the beginning of a new one-progress-as you may call it. Like when there was a change of class or a place of work. At other times, these trials of March brought with them intense grief and hopelessness. Like the time when you lose someone you love deeply, or when you decide to give up on a cherished endeavour, and the vast emptiness of life stares at you unblinking. The knowledge that things will never be the same hereon, and the fear of the deep void that you may plunge into without them. One March forever filled my life with joy, when I got to know that I was going to be a mother, and a big scare when I almost lost it in a freak accident.

March always brings out the most contemplative, philosophical side of me. This year too, it seems, will be no different. A part of me is completely dejected and mourning, as a task that I have put my heart and soul into, seems unable to reach fruition, and a part of me is super excited, wondering what all I could do when I start over on a clean slate. The realm of possibility that an empty canvas offers. A part of me is broken thinking of failure and 'what now', and a part of me is eager to let go and hop on the next bus to life's adventureland.

Every time I have wanted something desperately, God has tested me. No matter how much I struggle, burn or pray, God has played games and taken it away from me. Maybe I just wanted the wrong stuff. My effort though has never been in vain. I have emerged stronger with each loss, and learnt some very important life lessons along the way. And most importantly, I gave it my 100%, so I am left with no regret that I didn't try.

But, then, it always makes me think. What is the definition of success or failure? How much must one struggle, and what is the cost that we are willing to pay for it? We sacrifice our health, well-being, family to earn more money, get famous, achieve higher professionally. So that everyone can see our success and applaud. So that our egos stay fulfilled. What if my definition of success is being present for my children, and ensuring that my family is happy? What if my definition of success lies in raising myself spiritually and reaching a higher level of consciousness? These are not the things the world can measure. But  I can. Do you think Robin Williams was feeling successful the day he decided to commit suicide? I'm pretty darn sure he wasn't. What then is the price we must pay?

It is easy to fall into an abyss when you are struggling and everything seems to be going against you. But, we have all been equipped with a spirit that takes a lot to break. If we can find this spirit and detach ourselves from the outcome of our efforts, we can survive a lot in life. Never give up. Things will get better. We may not know it, but some things are not meant to be, and for a good reason. I'm sure you have at least once, looked back and thanked God for a wish that didn't come true. What a disaster it might have been. For a long time now, I have even stopped praying to God for specific things. I mostly just ask for good health for my family, and to do what is best for us. I do ask for strength to deal with it though ;)

Success and happiness are mutually exclusive. Being happy is a choice you can make everyday, whereas success is ephemeral. And in my experience, there are three things that are primal in staying happy. First is having minimal expectation from those around you. Then, everyone will be exceeding expectation, leaving little room for disappointment. Second is an attitude of gratitude. When we focus on the haves rather than the have nots, there will be much to be happy about. And third is to not compare. Social media has propelled us to a state where we are constantly comparing ourselves with the beautiful life of others. It's impossible that everyone has everything great in their lives. You do not know the struggle behind the smile. So stop comparing and start living.

And also, when we stop caring about 'log kya kahenge?', life becomes much simpler. Life is much so much more than that. So show the world a finger, and start living a life that makes more sense to you than it will ever make to anyone else.

To endings and new beginnings... Cheers.


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