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Thursday, July 24, 2014


“Durga did not open her eyes again.”

I let out a scream.

Stunned, I read it again. Again and again. I felt numb- as numb as Durga must have felt when she was thrashed by Shejbou for stealing the golden jar.

“Durga could not die; she could not, she could not!” I said to myself over and over. Just as Durga had said to herself, “I’m not going to have fever; I’m not, I’m not!”

Durga. The sweet- little, wide- eyed, dry- haired Durga.

How could she leave me like that? I loved her! She had so much left to see and experience. She could have grown up to be a strong, healthy woman. She could have gone to Benaras with her family. She could have fallen in love, maybe with a boy from her village, Nishchindipur itself. Then she would never have to leave all that was so dear to her- the apple of her eye, Opu; the village, and every stick and stone in it; the path leading down to the river; the mangosteen tree; the bamboo grove behind the house. How she waited for Shorbojoya to get busy with her chores so she could sneak out on her adventures! She loved to collect things for her doll box. That was the only treasure she had in the whole wide world- her doll, bits of tin foil, pieces of printed cloth, cowries, her alta, and her mirror.

Durga. The sweet- little, wide- eyed, dry- haired Durga.

How she loved Opu! She thought it was a kitten mewing when the little Khoka came howling into the world. She fought with him; hit him; complained about him to their mother. But she loved him, with a love that was pure and innocent. She could do anything for her little brother. She stood up for him when Shotu stole the makal fruit that was so dear to Opu. She sang to him when he was scared of the lightning and thunder. She gave him her share of two pice so he could buy lichies in the Chorok festival fair. She cooked for him and Bini their first ever picnic- rice and fried eggplants. She yearned for Opu to see the wonderful things that she got a chance to see through the old Muslim’s crystal tube.


“From time to time the hand of eternity breaks through the blue veil of the heavens and beckons to a child, and the little one, no longer willing to wait, tears itself away from the breast of Mother Earth and is lost forever down a road that knows no returning.”

Durga. The sweet- little, wide- eyed, dry- haired Durga.

How she had adored Indir Auntie! She loved singing with the old lady- “O Lolita and Chompo, I’ve a song to sing-o. Radha’s thief wore his hair... in a ring-o!” She was the only one who had truly loved Indir Thakrun. And perhaps the only one who had shed a tear when old Indir passed away. And Gokul’s wife? Durga loved her too. She was the only one who had lent a kind ear and shoulder to Gokul’s wife. Durga was such a beautiful child; giving all her love and asking for very little in return; living life with a zest and wonder only a girl like her could possess. Her love for nature and her knack of finding the most precious things in the woods were unsurpassed. So what if she stole mangoes from Shejbou’s yard? So what if is she stole the golden jar? She was a child like any other; yearning to see, eat, and play with things that her life of abject poverty could not give her.

Durga. The sweet- little, wide- eyed, dry- haired Durga.

How she was dismissed by Shorbojoya and ignored by Horihor! They only had eyes for Opu. Durga was their first child, but Opu deserved more love and care. Did Shorbojoya love Durga? She did cry her heart out when Durga left us. She did pray for the safety of her children when the storm lashed at them like a demon. Why then, more often than not, she had only such words for Durga? “Oh, so you’ve come at last, have you?... everybody else’s daughter, I say, is making candles and getting ready for the festival. But not you! You go round the place like a vagabond... What a girl you are!” Why did she throw Durga’s doll box, a box she knew meant the world to her child? How I wish Shorbojoya and Horihor had loved and cherished Durga to bits! How I wish Horihor had worried for her as much as he did for Opu! Where was Horihor, the impractical Brahmin forever looking for priestly work when none came by, when his daughter was dying, day by day, of hunger and disease?

Durga. The sweet- little, wide- eyed, dry- haired Durga.

Opu knew what I am talking about! He did admit, if only to himself, “...no one else had really loved Durga, no one, not even his mother. No one else was sorry that she was left behind.”

As I sit writing this, I can imagine Durga’s pale face on her deathbed, “Opu, when I get better will you take me to see a train?” I can feel her presence. I can hear her laughing and singing. I can see her tidying her beloved doll box. I can see her running along the path looking for fruits, trees, birds. And I can feel her sit next to me and cajole me to stop crying. “I will always remember and love you, Durga”, I tell her.
Durga. My sweet- little, wide- eyed, dry- haired Durga.

(The italicized sentences have been quoted from the book, Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, translated into English by T. W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Of Darkness and Despair...


It was last year that I read Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto. He was invited to TISS to talk about his book and after a brief book- reading session, I scrambled my way towards him, to get a signed copy for myself. Reading the book was nothing short of a cathartic experience. By the time I finished reading it, I'd left the last few pages badly tear- stained. But this post is not about the book. It is about the issues it deals with, with immense candour. 

Depression and its variants are not uncommon phenomena in today's times. We often read about stress, mania, bi-polarity etc. in the media or hear about people's stories of how they suffer from and deal with such 'conditions'. I feel that sometimes the very word 'depressed' is abused to no end. You'll often hear a friend or colleague complain that s/he is 'so depressed', with little understanding of what it entails. But while the awareness has at least helped bring these issues out in the open, the stigma attached to anything even remotely related to one's 'mental state' and the hushed tones it is discussed in, remain. Seeing a counselor, a therapist, or God- forbid, a psychiatrist are seen as complete no- no. They are considered as signs of weakness or giving up on the person's part and his/ her inability to deal with issues in his/ her life, family, work, or relationships. 

But it is not so. And I can say it with the utmost conviction because I have been there, done that, and am still in the process of doing it. I have seen an elder I love deeply, fight depression for the last 30 years. I have seen her highs and her lows. I have loved her despite her moods, hated her in her manic phases, and admired her for she has kept going no matter what. She sought treatment at a time and age when it was unheard of and though I am in two minds about the effects that long- term medication has had on her, I don't think she had an alternative. 

Depression is supposed to be genetic and I have probably been blessed with some depressed genes too. The biggest problem with it is that it is not so apparent unlike a wound, a cold, or other such 'physical' problems or illnesses. The most popular medical interpretation of depression, that still dominates, is that it is a result of a chemical imbalance, specifically low levels of serotonin, in one's brain. But all said and done, only the person who is fighting it, day and night, is acutely aware that s/he is in pain, needs help or support, has suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self- injury, and craves for someone or something that will either bring everything to an end or make it okay. On the exterior, everything might seem fine and from personal experiences, I can say that I am able to lead my daily life, work, study, and socialize to a fairly normal degree. But the moment there's a serious external stressor, some of us, including me, might not be able to handle it in the best possible way. 

Whenever such phases have come in my life, I have encountered two kinds of people: one, who will brush my issue under the carpet; refuse to accept that I am going through something that I find terribly difficult to handle and sustain myself through; abuse me for being obsessive or out of control; and simply ask me to "be strong and get on with it". The second kind are the more empathetic souls who also want me to buck up and be strong but not before accepting me for what and how I am in that phase. This particular way of dealing with people including me, in our not so great phases, requires enormous patience and understanding and can leave the other person utterly frustrated; but it is also a sign of understanding, love, and care. Mollycoddling might not be the solution, but so isn't denial.

I have come to accept that I am fighting early signs of depression. Some have accused me of using a mask of depression to gain sympathy or wriggle my way out of dealing with problems. I tried to justify myself to these people, but then gave up when I realized that they had already made up their minds. It all boils down to the fact that each of us has a unique way of coping. Some swear by sheer will- power, training one's mind to be determined, working out, de- cluttering and prioritizing. But that stage, of even being able to take the decision of re- gaining control over one's life and thoughts and beginning the journey of self- discovery and recovery, can stay aloof for a long time for some. 

Till then, keep at it. This is my shout- out to all those who feel darkness and despair engulfing them and don't know what to do. Don't be embarassed to ask for help. You are not alone. And most importantly, you are not a freak or an abnormal person.

Friday, December 28, 2012

We won't Rest in Peace

I woke up at 6 in the morning today. Mumbai for a change is chilly these days. I tried to snuggle deeper into my blanket, forcing myself to go back to sleep. But I couldn't. I was hurting from last night's argument with a beloved. I was hurting from the lack of understanding. Or rather, the indifference.

So, I switched on my laptop, thinking I'll watch the new season of BBT to distract myself. But before that I thought, "I must read the news." And there it was. "Delhi gang- rape victim succumbs to her injuries." Apparently, she fought hard and died "peacefully". I was stunned for a second. All of us have been closely following the case- the extent of her injuries, her fight for survival, the last ditch attempts by doctors to save her.

The constant, incessant coverage had somehow strengthened my belief that she would live. No matter what. That she would walk out the hospital one day. Be with her loved ones. And get justice.

Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. I felt my blood boiling and the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt anger. Betrayal. Sadness. A sinking feeling that all was lost. The world didn't feel worth living in or dying for.

This whole case had become a media circus. Fodder for panel discussions, reason for demonstrations, and an opportunity for our politicians to give their two- bit nonsensical opinions on how sorry they felt for her and in the same breath, how she should not have been out late and how she should have given in to the rapists-- it would have at least "saved her intestines." Really?! Can we get any more ridiculous? One can argue with logic and reason. Not with sheer stupidity.

It is just not fair. I am a woman. I want to live freely. Do as I wish. Study what I want and how much ever I want. Marry if and when I want. Go out where and when I want. I don't want to start my mornings with men leering at me at the railway station. Or waste time staring at my wardrobe and evaluating the appropriateness of my clothes. I don't want to worry about the time of the day or night. I don’t want to worry about whether my family understands me, whether my boyfriend gets me, whether my future husband will be a sexist douchebag or not. So what if I am a woman? Does that make me a lesser person? Does that give anyone the right to rule my life, my beliefs, and most of all my body?
No! And that’s not some feminist ranting as many would like me to believe. I just want to BE, damn it.

So what now? Now that she is no more, we will mourn her loss and move on in a few days. We will forget until another rape comes along to jar us out of our comfort zones. And why just rape? I am violated every single day- when a male friend gives me gyaan on how after TISS, he won’t be comfortable with a doormat for a wife but he’ d like her to limit her ‘feminist’ views. When another tells me that I am a fake feminist if I cry. When my relatives tell me I should get married, lest I should lose the glow on my face. When a female professor reprimands my friend for wearing a skirt to class. When I am made to doubt myself and my take on love, sex, and relationships by those close to me. When my bottom is pinched or my breasts ‘casually’ brushed against.

I am not going to take any of this lying down anymore. I am not going to feel like a prisoner in my mind, body, or soul. I don’t want pity. I don’t need to justify myself. And neither should YOU. Feminist or not. Woman or not. This is not us over- reacting, crying, or PMS- ing. This is us reclaiming our lives. This is us gaining courage from the girl who just died fighting.

Yes, it is difficult to live in a patriarchal world. But live we will. And rest assured, we won’t rest in peace.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Villages and Life.

Bhopa, Chatgaon, Kaari, and Tandalwadi are villages in the Beed district of Maharashtra. Five of us visited and stayed in these villages for two weeks last month. We had gone there to experience ‘rurality’. But what we experienced was beyond anything that we could have expected or hoped for. I had only been to a village once before- to Daudpur, one of the ‘richest villages’ in Punjab, in 2008. Even though I had seen poverty with the naked eye, I didn't quite understand its complexity and its many forms until my visit to Beed.

Beed lies in the Marathwada region and is notorious for its despicable sex ratio- 921 women for every 1000 men. Sex selective abortions are commonplace- Munde Hospital being the 'shining' example (two Labradors were apparently stationed in the hospital's compound to feed on the discarded girl foeti). Violence against women is an accepted reality. So is Caste System. Instances of atrocities against Dalits abound. And if you are a Dalit AND a woman...well, then you find yourself right at the bottom of the pyramid.

The moment I set foot in Beed, I felt like an alien. Not only because I was one of the 'city people' but because I was a girl. 24 and unmarried. 'Upper' caste. Living in Mumbai. Away from home and family.  And pursuing Masters. Some looked with shock. Some with awe. And some with disdain. We were tied up with an NGO that was meant to be our gateway to these villages. Each village had a person appointed as the karyakarta. S/he was not only a paid employee of the NGO, but one who had to be a living example of a responsible, sensitive and sensible citizen.

In each of the villages, we stayed in the village karyakarta’s home, which brought me the biggest revelation of the journey. It is said that India lives in her villages. It is also said that Indian culture and tradition is known for 'Atithi Devo Bhavah'. Well, both are facts albeit a slight but glaring modification—WE (the busy-with-our-lives, self- obsessed urban people) who usually get annoyed with our own relatives overstaying their visit at our homes, will simply not tolerate strangers intruding on our private space. But THEY, the karyakartas and their families, opened their hearts and homes for us, the bumbling and lost city slickers. Mind you, their monthly earnings are less than my weekly expenditure. And with everyone- from the the in- laws and the children to the family- owned cows and goats- sharing the one/ two- room, semi- pucca house, ‘private space’ now seems like a farce. And yet, they welcomed us, loved us and cared for us like their family. And within no time, I started adapting to their way of life and living.

I would get up in the morning and stand outside the house, brushing my teeth whilst the neighbours stared; then head to the fields with my girl friends, with mugs of water and soap to relieve ourselves; come back and have chai; help the family fill and carry water; have a bath in an open, waist- length, cubicle- like bathroom, which we tried our best to cover with our bedsheets and dupattas; eat poha everyday for breakfast; and then head out to meet the sarpanch, the gram sevak, the anganwadi worker, the police patil, the tanta- mukti committee and the villagers in general. We listened to their stories and shared ours, cracked jokes and shed tears. Each time, we were left surprised and inspired by their resilience and courage. Each time, we were angered by their views on women’s status, their education, and domestic violence. And each time, we felt encouraged by instances of changing attitudes and women empowerment. In the evening we would return, exhausted and burnt from the day’s work and the scorching sun, and treat ourselves to some kairi (raw mango) and dinner. And finally I would retire for the night, amongst ten others in the same room…

The experience made me give my life a long, hard look. I am a student of social work. I am passionate about human rights, feminism, current affairs, and the law. I get good grades. I have a healthy social life- great friends and a loving family. And yet, I crib. About the weather. About assignments. About my tiny hostel room. About my going- nowhere love life. About people. About my waist- line. In short, I take myself too seriously. 

But the fact is that for every 24 year- old, educated, single, independent, and healthy woman like me, there is also a 24 year- old, class VII pass, mother of two, who eats only after her husband and father-in-law have eaten, who starves herself so her kids won’t, who bears her husband’s fists so her kids wouldn’t have to, and who works day and night without getting a penny or thank you in return. 

I am not implying that one should feel better at the expense of other people’s miseries. But the least one can do is maintain a ‘broad outlook’. More so if that ‘one’ is a potential social worker like me, who must work under pressure and difficult circumstances all the time. To work with ‘vulnerable’ people, one has to live like them, experience their experiences, and understand their understanding of things, because no matter what anyone might say, WE are different from THEM. There are two Indias. There are two types of Indians. And so WE have to put in that much effort and show that much sensitivity to even begin to understand THEIR life. The sooner we accept this, the better it is for all. Because this is the first step in helping people to help themselves.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Bitterness within...

My last bog post ended with a reference to ‘Bitter Chocolate’, a terrifying, slightly mind numbing account of child sexual abuse in India. Documenting personal experiences and real- life incidents, Pinki Virani narrates the stories of 3-month old Vaishali who is sexually abused by her domestic servant; of Arun who is regularly sodomized by his father's brother; of 7 year old Prema, who is raped by her father, escapes, and becomes a child prostitute in Kolkata's Sonagaachi; of Tanuja who is ‘touched’ by the local temple panditji; and countless other stories of boys and girls, abused by men and women, of rich and poor households. Very few are reported to the police. Even fewer convicted. Often the child, unable to articulate what is happening to him/ her is ignored or not believed by his/ her parents. Or the family represses the incident for fear of infamy. Or the law lets the perpetrators go scott- free. Mind you, in majority of the cases, the perpetrator is a family member and a large proportion of incidents occur in well- to- do families like yours and mine. 

I wonder how one’s conscience lets one commit or repress such heinous acts. Child sexual abuse is not an issue of subjective opinion. It is WRONG. And this too is an understatement. If a child is not safe even within his/ her home, what hope does he/ she have in the outside world?

It’s been just over a month since I finished reading the book and what is frightening is that my memory’s already fading on the details. Yes, I was appalled. I was in fact, mighty depressed for a week after reading it. All I could think of were the children in my family and extended family, in my immediate environs, of how one had to teach them good touch and bad touch, of the loopholes in law, of the thousands of children who are, at this very moment, going through some reparable and some irreparable physical and emotional trauma, in our homes, on the streets, in classrooms, behind closed doors…

Which brings me to how I was ‘reminded’ of the book again. I too went through something similar in my childhood and remember telling my mother about it then and there. It was a ‘bad touch’ and it sent shockwaves through my system. I was 8, but I understood. He was reprimanded, I think and that was the end of it. Today, I am an emotionally and physically strong person. And I feel privileged. I do have minor hiccups though... It was Diwali a few days back and it was time to greet all family members whom I don’t see otherwise, on phone. But there was one phone call I avoided, like I have all these years. I still can’t bear to hear his voice…

Monday, August 8, 2011


OK. I admit it. I am a lazy bum. I wrote my very first blog entry two months back and since then, I haven't looked back. Literally.

But the truth is that I did not have anything to say. Yes, I have moved to a new city. Yes, I am back to being a student after three years. Yes, I am finally doing what I have sub-consciously always wanted to do. But I did not have anything to say all this while. Not until today, that is.

A couple of things have transpired in the last week. Innocuous things. A Workshop and A Book.

The said Workshop was on 'Sex Selection and Female Foeticide', conducted last week by the Forum Against Sex Selection (FASS) and Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), in association with YWCA's Public Awareness and Social Issues (PASI) program. The said Book is called 'Bitter Chocolate' by Pinki Virani, of 'Once Was Bombay' and 'Aruna's Story' fame.

First, the Workshop.

So, the initial part was a bit dense with everyone discussing about laws, like the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 that made abortion an 'acceptable means' of family planning. But with the development of technologies like sonography/ ultrasound and the absence of regulation on the use of such technologies for foetal sex determination, sex- selective abortions became the 'in thing'. To put a stop to this, the Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act was enacted in 1994. But the alarming rise in foeticide and the resultant fall in sex ratio continued unabated, especially in states/ U.T.s like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Maharashtra (no surprises here). And then came another Act. The Pre- Conception Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, enacted in 2003, which called for a blanket ban on sex selection.

Just when it was becoming too much for my brain to take, came Varsha Deshpande, a Satara- based lawyer and social activist. She is known for conducting 30-odd sting operations in Maharashtra alone, exposing many 'God-like' Indian doctors and  parents, who are hell bent on killing the girl child. And so she talked about the sting her team conducted in Munde Hospital in the Bheed district of Maharashtra.

Before the sting and the subsequent raid at Munde Hospital, the cost of an ultrasound was Rs. 500. Pregnant women were taken to a room for sonography in batches of 5- 10, where they were assigned 'numbers':

19 => 1g (the number 9 being equivalent to small case 'g' in written form) => 1 girl ('g' for girl) => abortion, with the girl (foetus sounds too object-like here) being fed to the two labradors kept in the hospital compound for this very purpose.
16 => 1b (the number 6 being equivalent to small case 'b' in written form) => 1 boy ('b' for boy) => no abortion.
29 => 2g => 2 girls (twins)... and you can figure out the rest.

So, the premises were raided post-sting operation. Ultrasound machines were sealed. Dr. Munde was arrested and released on bail soon after. And business went on as usual. An ultrasound now costs Rs. 5000 (higher risks, you know) and the dogs have been relocated to Dr. Munde's fields to feed on the foeti.

Amazing story, no? Especially when heard from the horse's mouth. Made everyone's blood boil. There was pin-drop silence in the room.

It also made me realize how privileged I am to not be one of India's 'Missing Girls'- fed to dogs, thrown in rivers, buried in fields... foeti disposed off like old, broken toys. Disgusting. Deplorable. Makes you lose all faith in humanity. Or maybe there is NO humanity. There is just money. Plain profit. Blinding greed.

WE, of the 'upper' caste and class 'fame', can't even blame 'THEM', of the 'lower' caste and class 'infamy'. For it is the rich and powerful, residing in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and the 'sugar belt' of Maharashtra, among others, who are willing to shell out lakhs to get rid of girls in favour of boys.

So, what does one do? Write blog entries? Enact more Acts? Resort to dharnas and other such methods? Spread awareness? Conduct stings?

Yes. And much more.

For it will take years and years (approximately 300 years, to balance the sex ratio in Maharashtra, provided every pregnant woman, from this moment on, has, and is allowed to have a girl child) and generation after generation of concentrated efforts on our part to undo the damage. And the first step begins with US, you and I, our homes, and our families. Patriarchy and the preference for the male child are such deeply rooted evils in our society that it seems next to impossible to fight them and uproot them. The least we can do is educate our children. And I am not talking about schooling, followed by under- grad and post- grad. I am speaking about educating them on the VALUE and DIGNITY of human life, of children, of girls. So that they don't grow up, to be re-incarnations of the Mundes and murder their girl child, but welcome her as an equal human being.

I don't proclaim to have a set solution. For I myself, am still trying to fathom the depravity of such acts. It is not like we have not heard of female foeticide or learned about it in school. It just takes a powerful personality like Varsha Deshpande to hit where it hurts the most and drive the message home.

As for 'Bitter Chocolate'... It is a haunting account of Child Sexual Abuse in India and I am still only half-way through it. So more on that later. Night!

Friday, June 10, 2011

A New Beginning...

I remember I was 4 years old. I’d just returned from my first day at school. It was a dreadfully hot afternoon in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. But nothing could deter me from rushing to my friend, Beejal’s place and having a ride in her giant garden swing. Usually, Falguni didi kept an eye on us. But she was out to run some errands. And something went terribly wrong. The next thing I recall is lying in a pool of blood on the garden steps and my mom screaming for help…

It’s incredible how some childhood memories are so clearly etched in our minds. Especially those that give us prominent scars on our foreheads, not unlike Harry Potter’s! It’s as if the incidents happened just yesterday…

Twenty years have passed since that fateful day. And today, when I look back, I see some glorious years, followed by terrible tragedies; some heart-breaking failures, followed by miraculous achievements. What a journey it has been! And it has brought me here and now- my last day in my home of 14 years. Tomorrow I head to Mumbai. Next month, my family heads to a new place…
I see my room that I once shared with my sister. I see our garden which was tended to by my grand-dad when he was still with us. I see a house which my dad built with his savings and which my mom made into a home. And I feel this lump in my throat…
But only just. I am sad, but not quite. For tomorrow is the time to make new memories, do new things, and forge new relationships. All of us look back occasionally, wishing to be children again, with not a care in the world. But instead we must look ahead. For there is much left to achieve and much left to experience. A whole lifetime ahead… Cheers to a new beginning!