A year back, I was travelling with my 4 year old daughter to Denmark. My panicky husband teamed me up with two other better halves, husbands of whom had already made their way to Denmark before them. Three different families united with a single goal, 'follow their husbands to their place of work.'
As I reached the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, I saw no one waiting in the airport as told to me by my husband. So I make a quick call to my husband and he provides me with the respective numbers of the fellow accompanying ladies. I make a quick check with the ladies only to be told that they will be arriving a little late because of a bad storm that had hit the city in the late evening and had left the city vandalised. So I decide to go ahead with the check in formalities and wait in the lounge for the ladies to join me later.
I see a woman with a bright blue pants walking towards me and asks me, "Hi, are you Jyoti?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Hi I am Shweta."
Okay so you are one of the fellow ladies who have been hooked up by our husbands. I thought. We exchange the pleasantries and I went ahead and asked her about the whereabouts of the other damsel in distress.
As the damsels in distress came together, I quickly noticed that there were two 4 year olds travelling along with us; one mine and the other was a boy of the third lady. Soon I notice the two kiddos getting along and starting to play with each other. As the kids got comfortable, the ladies started with their chit chat.
My daughter had a favourite doll that would accompany her everywhere. So when there is one toy and two kids in the same room, the bickering for the sole toy isn't too far away. So the boy soon starts to squabble my daughter to share her toy with him. But "favourite toys are not meant to share", said my girl. And the little boy starts to cry and hanker her further.
At this moment the mother of the boy says something that I never expected an educated mother like her to say. She says, "Boys don't play with dolls. And why are you crying? Boys don't cry either."
Wow! This is how we demarcate the boundaries for our kids; this is how we isolate our boys from our girls. I was astonished to see how a simple toy and an act of showing your emotions have now been shown in the light of being weak and how roles have been ascertained. Boys do not cry because boys are meant to be strong. Why? Well because we have grown up seeing our fathers being the head of the family and playing a dominant role in the day to day activities; whereas our mothers have played the coy role in taking care of the family, going through the daily hardships of raising kids, doing the household chores and sustaining a dominating husband. So if you are the boy you are the future head of the family; you are the leader and leaders have to be strong; leaders do not cry because crying is the sign of weakness; and leaders cannot be weak. Dolls replicate babies and taking care of babies is the woman's role so boys cannot play with dolls because they are meant to go out and work and earn money to sustain the family whereas women are to stay at home and raise kids; so the dolls suit the girls better for their future roles.
I sometimes think how our actions and the things we say impersonates our sexist mentality lying dormant within us; given a chance it sticks its head up. In the Indian Society patriarchal values are so skin deep that we cannot think unconventionally; whether knowingly or unknowingly. We have grown up seeing people around us playing androcentric roles doled out to them through generations. Although we try changing our ways of thinking and acting, unburdening of the obvious is often very difficult. I really hope and wish that we are able to shed away these gender-centric roles and archaic beliefs and raise a generation which embraces open-mindedness; open-mindedness towards treating and accepting women in equal platform; open-mindedness in understanding that raising and sustaining a family needs collaboration and co-operation from both the man and the wife; because they are the pillars of strength and support for the entire family and one cannot do away with the other if we aim to achieve a balance in our family. Hope people get educated along with getting literate and along with getting a degree. And hope we do not raise our daughters who raise their sons telling them that 'boys don't cry'!!
Monday, June 29, 2015
"And The Award Goes to..."
A familiar phrase heard a number of times when we skim through the TV channels broadcasting the awards ceremonies for different categories of films and television shows. And it is not very often until one is himself/herself a movie star or a relative to a superstar that an ordinary person like myself get to attend these award shows. But I was lucky to attend one such show; I was lucky to walk the red carpet. If you are wondering which one then let me wade away the cloud of disbelief; it was the show of not the stars but the budding stars in different categories hosted by the International School of Billund; the super-stars of tomorrow.
As I made way into the dimly lit auditorium, I was greeted by a massive screen which said "1st ISB Movie Premiere". Wow that was indeed inviting and exciting.
So there were 4 movies which were to be screened for the premiere and the winners for all categories were to be decided from them. The movies were Robin Hood, Bloody Mary, The Little Red Riding Hood, and The Lego Movie 2.
And the categories of winners were: Best Scriptwriter, Best Movie, Best Director, Best Editor, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cameraman, Best Sound, Best Costumes etc. Here are the awards that were to be given away to the best of the best.
The children displayed some great levels of creativity, talent, motivation and enthusiasm in organizing this amazing show. All the movies were shot by the children of the Primary Section. They designed their own costumes, created the special effects, edited the videos. Even the awards were made by the children using different Lego Bricks.
The audience which included the parents were equally enthusiastic because am sure many including myself were attending a movie premiere followed by an awards ceremony for the first time in their lives; and all thanks to the wonderfully talented little kids.
So the movies were screened and the awards were given out. There were a bunch of enthusiastic kids and parents who walked out of the auditorium feeling fulfilled.
This was the first Annual Movie Premiere and Awards Ceremony of the ISB kids. Will be looking forward to more such amazing display of talent shows from these super talented kids. I wish we had such amazing exposure to the variety of opportunities that are being bestowed in today's kids. But feeling extremely proud to be part of a team and school where kids are being given the opportunity and the scope for getting the best out of themselves. Kudos to team ISB and the wonderful kids.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
As I lay there in the dark
Silence settling only to hark
I think about you
You say ‘Let Go’
As I rise to talk
And sit back without a thought
And again decide to go
You say ‘Let Go’
Love never dies
It never did it never will
But when I tell you this
You say ‘Let Go’
There is the source
Parched and sore
My efforts futile and forlorn
You say ‘Let Go’
Don’t talk of love
Words I hear words I have heard before
You are safe in my heart
Because You and I have ‘Let Go’
Thursday, June 11, 2015
I look around I look for you
I see many but no one like you
Smiling and tossing in the blue
Just like you always did just like you
There you are sitting on the chair
Fiddling with the spoon and the hair
I stretch my hand to touch you
And you move away just like always
You were not perfect nor was I
But together we made a perfect life
You completed me exactly right
But now I am broken, alone and trite
There is silence all around me
Miles of emptiness and despair
The smell, the touch, the sight
I try hard each day to put up a brave fight
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
It was another ordinary day in my household when my 5 year old daughter winded up her stories for the day, tidied up her toys and finally asked me for the tablet. As I enquired in turn what she would do with it she promptly replied she wanted to watch some cartoons on You Tube. As I handed over the tablet, carefully unlocking it from the password and hiding it from her simultaneously, she grabbed it and ran to her room. She would often bring it back to me when an advertisement would come up so that I could ‘Skip it’ for her and hand it back. But on this day she did not do what she would have normally done. When I went in to check on her after a while, she was busy with her ‘My Little Pony’ episodes. As I probed her on the popping advertisement, she told me, without even looking up that she could do that herself and did not want my help with them anymore and went back to her videos. It was at that very moment I realised how handy digital technology was for my ‘millenial kid’; how the ‘touch screen’ feature makes it more operational; requires no formal training; and just modelling parents suffices it all.
The most contentious term ‘Digital Natives’ is a term coined by educational writer Marc Prensky in the year 2001 to describe those children who spend most of their time and much of their lives ‘online’. It is a term used typically for people born after the year 1980’s. I am a ‘Retrophile’ who was born in the 80’s; an era where the shifting from manual to digital was transitional and still had miles to go; very unlike what it is today. It was that time in the history of the digital world where technology was neither easily available nor was it easily operational. Having an email id was esteemed more than possessing a tablet in today’s time. I remember as a young girl the day I got my first email id. It was such a matter of pride for me as I wrote it down on a piece of paper, carefully folded it to gloat it later in front of my friends and family and bask in its glory. Something similar to what the ‘millenial kids’ do on a video game or a computer game when they successfully complete a certain level or gain some ‘million’ points and trumpet about it among themselves. The only difference is the level of technological exposure rendered.
The term ‘Digital Natives’ is a highly controversial term which according to Sue Bennet, a former head teacher and literacy expert based in UK, gives rise to a situation common to all parents called ‘moral panic’; a situation which is neither empirically nor theoretically ascertained. What is my child watching? Is he/she watching age appropriate videos? There are number of questions that pop up in an indulgent modern day parent’s mind when they watch their child engrossed with a smart device; a feeling similar to our parents when the cable TV network became prevalent in most households and keeping a tab on what the children are watching on the television became increasingly important. Then came the child-lock system on the television which could child-proof specific channels; a feature which cannot be used with the inclusion of internet on our smart devices where the child is exposed to materials which are neither age appropriate or of any significant development value. We live in a risk-averse society and this is certainly true with regard to children. We know that children are likely to run risks if they access the internet unsupervised, or stay online for long periods of unbroken time. Adults’ fears for children and their worry about their own lack of control over their children are the single biggest obstacles to accepting digital technology. For example when my daughter touches the ‘You Tube’ button she is exposed to a world of various possibilities and options. She can watch streaming videos of cartoons to wild life to fashion to porn. A touch which opens up an infinite possibility of knowledge which may or may not be age appropriate or of any developmental value; knowledge which might just steal her innocence before time.
Is this ‘Moral Panic’ which is striking my conscience? Yes it is but I have two extreme choices that I can make in order to protect my child and her innocence from being trudged upon; either I can take away the device thus cutting her off from the various opportunities that the internet also offers and take her back 30-35 years to an era where I used to find pride in having just an email id and no computer, the nearest being about 5-7 Kms away from home; or I could just give her the device and monitor her viewing. Although I am tempted to go for the first option yet the second option seems more viable given the era she is born in. Technology provides awareness, awareness about everything that is happening around us, and if the technology is taken away, vulnerability is what we are reduced to. In a world where change is so dynamic, awareness keeps us agile and helps us in keeping up with the ever changing world.
In the educatory world some questions are frequently discussed: if children now do learn in different ways to children in the past? What are the implications for education? Are children now finding traditional schooling increasingly difficult to engage with? However, there is little evidence of serious dissatisfaction or disengagement in young children’s education so far, and making any change to our current educational system on the basis of speculation would have drastic consequences for children’s learning.
The fundamental mechanics of learning has not changed, but the world in which students live in has. Reading and writing is still essential, however, copying out your good copy versus editing the original on the computer is where the skills change. Concrete materials for math are still important, but some of the same concepts can be taught using technology too. Clicking an answer versus using pencil and paper is where it differs. Encyclopedias and dictionaries may never become obsolete although finding materials online is much easier. Reading books, going to the library to get new books to read, buying books from the bookstore or ordering them online did not phase out with the advent of e-readers. Invention and advancement of the digital world isn’t going away so soon. It is here to stay and it has its own share of positivity and negativity. But it is up to us to determine the usage of the advancement and invention to our advantage.
Parenting is a tough task and parenting in a ‘digital age’ to ‘Google Kids’ is even tougher. Giving in to peer pressure where another child has access to a smart device whereas your child hasn’t is another area where we as parents should shift our focus too. Children are very observant and modelling behaviour is what they often do. As children they do not realise what they need and what they don’t; but as parents it is our job to make the right decisions for them.
I have often witnessed parents giving their smart devices to their children in order to finish off the pending office work, or keeping them engaged as they have their meals, or just shutting them up when they are socialising. I do not remember my parents switching on the television for me when I hovered around their heads pestering them when they were in the middle of a conversation with their friends. They would instead ask me to go for a ride with my bike in the neighbourhood and come back after half hour or they would ask me to take my toys and go out and play with other kids in the garden.
Children are born inquisitive in nature. They do not hold back from observing, experimenting and implementing. Anything that instantly captures a child’s imagination; whether it is their favourite football team; or a particular video game; or their favourite Disney princess; they readily adopt them. Therefore they are likely to be drawn to any technology that advertises or displays these interim attributes. Technology, especially the touch-screen based technology is the fascinating of all since it opens up the doors of possibilities and knowledge with just a touch. It is even more enticing because it still has an element of novelty in it. The technological enigma gets to a whole new level when it is portable and touch-screen. However, examples of the apparent risks associated with constant exposure to the internet and the virtual world can be determined in the works of many educators worldwide. They have conducted extensive research work on the plausible psychological effects on the developing brain of a child; environmental influence, and the risks associated with digital technology. Some of the risks that have been identified by researchers are:
- Aggressive responses in children caused by playing violent and often aggressive video games
- Interference with psycho-social well-being and children’s attention
- The potential for disrupted sleep and damage to children’s health.
Some online searching and you might also find current research into so-called internet addiction, aggressive game-playing and bullying, which have also been linked to children’s exposure to the digital world. Many educators have documented their research like Sue Bennet, in her book Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It.
It is really hard for us as parents not to fear for our children when we see the popular headlines about potential hazards of digital technology. However, apart from its tremendous damaging effect on children’s lives as they become distract, impulsive and more self-obsessed, digital technology has great potential for having a positive impact in all our lives including that of our children too. I have seen my daughter’s language skills as well as her cognitive ability in observing, analyzing, relating and implementing things that she sees on the You Tube videos has increased considerably. As parents our duties and responsibilities do not end with providing exposure to our children; in fact it is just the humble beginning. Teaching about the effective use of the technology and channeling it in the right direction for gaining relevant knowledge falls within our spectrum of responsibilities. Restricting access to technology also restricts opportunities for our children to develop resilience against future harm. However, if we can identify sites where we can encourage our children to go online and explore different platforms of possibilities rather than locking them into our safe walled gardens then probably children will spend their time more in the suggested links rather than spending their time casting around other websites where opportunistic invitations might lead them to trouble.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
"Why do you want to go back to India? This is a much safer place for women and you have a daughter too. Why do you want to go back to a country where the women folks have to constantly watch their backs and look out for hungry sex predators waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon you?"
These were the concerned words from one of my European friends who had come over for dinner last night. Well I appreciate the noble thoughts behind the words, but simultaneously I do not approve of the sentiments that go along with the words. I am a proud Indian and I will always be one; unlike some of my fellow countrymen settled abroad who are so ashamed of their country of origin that they prefer talking to their kids in their adopted country language than their native language.
Yes I agree recently there has been a spurt in the sexually motivated incidents against women, some being extremely brutal and heinous. The news reports all over the world have been rife with atrocities towards Indian women of-late reducing an Indian women to a subject of pity. But are these so called atrocities, brutality, and sexually motivated crimes against women restricted to the geographical boundaries of India? NO! Atrocities and crimes against women have no geographical demarcations. In fact they are spread out all over the world. Unfortunately they do not get reported. But just being not reported doesn't mean they do not happen; they do happen; and they are done by men; but not all men. So if not all men are rapists and perverts then why are you generalizing Indian Men? Not all Indian men are rapists, not all Indian men disrespect women, not all Indian men ask for dowry, not all Indian men kill female foetuses, not all Indian men are perverts. India has always been a patriarchal society but so has been the societies of many countries around the world but that doesn't mean women are not respected in the country. Women have always played pivotal roles in an Indian family and continue to do so. In fact a lesser known fact is India has matriarchal societies in many parts of the country too where the 'woman' and not the 'man' is the head of the family.
So here is the answer that I gave to my 'European' friends too last night. Yes I will go back to my country; in fact I do not intend to settle anywhere in the world except my own motherland. Irrespective of all the patriarchal values, atrocities against women in everyday life, poverty, disease, population, garbage, filth, cows, goats, elephants, camels on the streets I will definitely go back to my country. Not because it is the only country that is trying to sustain such a vast population against all odds but because India gives me an identity and if I let go of that identity I will have to live a life where I have to struggle life long with an identity crisis.
I would like to mention a short story from my life's experience in the light of all the controversies that surround Indian women, Indian men, Indian society; its a story which will make you realise that India is just as safe as any other country in the world, if not more.
It was the last day of my final year graduation exams. All my friends had left for home except me. I had my tickets booked from Varanasi station in the Doon express till Durgapur. It was to leave the station a little after 4.00 PM. So I call up the railway enquiry and they informed me that the train was delayed by half hour. I quickly finished off the last minute packing, checked the time on my watch, called the auto rickshaw, loaded my stuff, and headed for the station. It was about 3.35 PM by my watch. I reached the station, unloaded my stuff, and looked up the electromechanical display device to check for the platform. The train was indeed half an hour delayed but the board also said that it had 'Departed' in bright red. A flurry of emotions started settling in as I read the word 'Departed'. How can that be? The time next to the train showed 4.30 PM, its 3.35 PM by my watch then how can the train go! I wondered!
As I turned around to walk to the 'Enquiry' office, I happened to look at the 'Big' watch on the platform which said 4.45 PM in bold numbers. What! That's not true, my watch says, 3.35 still, although it has been almost 20 minutes since I had reached the station.
As the truth started seeping inside about the missed train, thanks to my watch, my mind eventually started organizing Plan B. It was the last day in Varanasi, so all my money had been spent in either buying small tidbits for my parents or clearing off my hostel and college dues. Even in my wildest of dreams I had never thought that I would miss my train and stand there alone in the middle of the station with peering eyes of strangers, loads of luggages to carry back and no money in my pockets.
It took me sometime to gather myself together. Finally I walked to the ticket counter to get my ticket cancelled; firmly keeping an eye on my luggage mountain. The man behind the counter cancelled my ticket and handed me half of the fare that I had paid for the booking. I asked him to book me in the next train. He looked at me and stopped typing on his keyboard and asked, "are you in trouble sister?"
I was almost on the verge of breaking down but was careful not to show myself too vulnerable. So I carefully marked my words before saying, took a deep breath to control my emotions and said,
"Actually I have missed my train, Doon Express and I want to take the next train back home. I am travelling alone with a lot of luggages and am a bit short on the cash too. Can you help me please in getting a current reservation?"
"The next train is the Poorva Express and I can book you in that but the current reservation for that will happen only 2 hours before the scheduled departure of the train so you need to wait and come here at around 3.20 AM as the train's departure timing is 5.20 AM. As for the fare, well the return money that you have after the cancellation of your original ticket is enough to suffice the current reservation," the man behind the counter said patiently.
"You do one thing, fill in the reservation form and give it to me. I will make the reservation and give it to you the moment the lines are open. You can wait in the waiting room with your luggages. My uncle and aunt will be travelling as well in the Poorva Express tomorrow so I will talk to the ticket checker in the train and swap your seat near them so that you do not have to worry about the luggages and you will be safe as well," he continued.
It was about 3.23 AM and the man behind the counter walks in to the waiting room where I was sitting with my truck load of luggages and handed over the tickets to me. There was an elderly couple with him whom he introduced as his uncle and aunt. They sat down beside me and we chit chatted a while. As the train hit the platform at around 5.15 AM, the man behind the counter walked inside the waiting room again, helped me with the luggages, spoke to the ticket checker of the train, stacked the luggages in appropriate places, turned around and said with an honest smile, "wish you a very happy and safe journey sister, and don't miss your train again."
"I won't and thank you so much," was all I said as I watched him disembark the train and walk away inside the station.
The man behind the counter, a man, a complete stranger had not only stuck to his words when he addressed me as sister and protected me from being a vulnerable victim but also ensured he left me with safe hands so that I reach my destination safely. I do not know his name, I do not remember his face but what I know and what I remember is what he did for me. It is for this reason I want to go back to my country since I know a handful of perverts who bring a bad name and shame to the country cannot undermine and over-rule the efforts of scores of other men who respect women and ensure they are safe from these psychopaths.
If one racist attack in Australia or USA or Canada or anywhere else in Europe cannot brand the entire country as racist, then similarly one off incident in the second most populous country in the world cannot brand it as a 'nation of rapists' and a 'nation unfit for women'. Crimes against women are prevalent everywhere around the world; you have to look behind your back everywhere in the world; you have to protect yourself and your loved ones everywhere in the world; than why separate just one nation. We are fighting our own demons just as everyone else around the world.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
A transgender or a cisgender, is not uncommon to us especially when we come from India where we see transgender people often on the traffic lights beating their hands in a certain way or on the trains or barging in someone’s house when a child is born or on a wedding. In India there is a certain phobia circling these kinds of people; a phobia of sorts. But one thing that is similar among all the feelings that we have for these people is the feeling of fear and apathy. Fear because we think that this community are a special kind and upsetting them might invite wrath of the gods; and apathy because we see them as people who are different.
The ‘Hijra’ or the transgender community has held place in the subcontinent from ancient times. But even now the Hijras have limited opportunities for employment and so can be forced onto a path of high-risk behaviour. The combination of high-risk behaviour with limited prevention alternatives has resulted in the increased vulnerability of Hijras to HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Since time immemorial transgender people face double stigma and discrimination from within the community and outside mainstream society as they are always looked upon as different. They are always seen as men having sex with other men. But certainly this perception is not true. They are just people with the wrong souls in the wrong body.
So when I watched Bruce Jenner transform into Caitlyn Jenner I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the predicament of scores of transgender and cisgender people back home in India who are not fortunate enough to have that kind of financial leverage that Caitlyn had to successfully transform themselves and fit into our perception of a ‘woman’. They keep on struggling all their lives trying to fit into our perception of how a ‘woman’ should be and should look like. Caitlyn Jenner was as much a woman as she was even before she went through the transformation of outside attributes which would signify her gender. The way she feels now was as much similar to the way she felt before. It’s the same feeling that many transgender and cisgender people all around the world feel about themselves and their sexual preferences. The only difference is the financial strength. While Caitlyn Jenner had the financial power to transform herself many others are not fortunate enough to do that. In fact there are many in India who struggle each day to get life-saving medicines to keep themselves alive due to the various health issues especially HIV-AIDS.
The attitude of people towards the transgender and cisgender people are slowly changing. But we still have a long way to go in bringing about a significant change in our attitudes. Being what they are was not a matter of choice for the transgender folks. The recent appointment of a transgender person as the principal of a college in India is a striking example of the changing times. Somnath Bandopadhyay had loads of first class degrees in his kitty along with impressive oratory skills. But his skills and his degrees couldn’t fetch him the respect he deserved because of his preference of dressing like a woman, putting kohl in his eyes and keeping his hair curly. He was ridiculed and made a laughing stock. It wasn’t his fault when he said “I feel I am a woman trapped in the body of a man. I want to conquer my body. As such people keep saying I am effeminate so I think I will be much better off if I become a woman” in one of his interviews. It wasn’t his fault because he did not make that choice of feeling what he was feeling. He was born in that way. So he changed himself into Manabi Bandopadhyay to spare himself the constant struggle of feeling differently and looking differently. Something similar to what Bruce Jenner did when he transformed himself into Caitlyn Jenner.
The struggles of life that a transgender faces might be greater if not less than what we face. The ridicule, the apathy, the struggle of fitting in to the societal perceptions and social decree is much more in the life of a transgender than us. While some are lucky to have the financial viability for the transformation and successfully fitting themselves in to the slot of our perceptions, there are many who are not fortunate enough. We as a society and as part of the society should start respecting these transgender people in whatever way they are and accept them among us without judging them; and it is for the simple fact that they were born that way and did not have a choice. The more we stop judging them the lesser they can focus on progressing in their life and being successful than meeting our expectations of gender perceptions. Had we been less judgmental on these people then Bruce Jenner and Somnath Bandopadhyay wouldn’t have lost their identity to Caitlyn Jenner and Manabi Bandopadhyay just to meet our gender biased expectations.