Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Largest Minority in India

 Which is the largest minority in India? Not the Muslims, not even the Dalits. Making up close to half the population, it is Women who are the largest minority in the country. And like in any other calamity, it is women who are going to be worst affected by NRC.

Baby girls are grudgingly allowed into the world. Families hope that they will disappear through neglect. Some do, but most survive. But do families have their documents in order? Most unlikely. When many even escape the Census, what hope they will survive NRC?

The Board Exams is when most of us get our documents regularised. Nearly 40% girls drop out before completing school, and only a third of them are engaged in formal work. Very easy for them to remain under the radar and not have the documents they need.

Post marriage, women taken on an entirely new identity. Different surname, often a different name. Old documents become redundant. New ones are created with sketchy backgrounds. Dates get mixed up in new documents. How much of it will stand up to scrutiny, nobody knows.

Women are often kept out of documentation to ensure they don't claim their share of the inheritance and/ or pension. It is brothers and uncles and cousins who do it. Some women fight back, but most don't. Their have a new home, but their documentation remains hazy.

There are women who fall by the wayside. The woman sent to the city to work in the informal sector. The maids, the construction workers. Some marry, and on losing one husband, take on another. Names and details change multiple times. Even they don't remember who they are.

Sex workers who taken on half a dozen identities every night. No matter how they landed up where they did, they certainly do not have documents to fall back on. And what of their children? No father, undocumented mother. What is their fate?

The trafficked girls abducted or bought to serve as 'wives' in states with poor gender balance. Domestic workers by day, sex slaves by night, living where they don't even know the language. When their documents are sought, will they be kept or cast aside?

Except a small percentage of privileged women, most are going to be affected by NRC. Who speaks for them? Who fights for their rights to be citizens of India? What happens to them if they are found wanting? How many camps will be needed to house them all.

Who speaks for them?

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Siddhidhatri, Goddess of the Supernatural Powers

She was pure Energy, the Universe in its 
Unmanifest form. She gave shape to the Creator,
 the Protector, and the Destroyer. She granted the
 right siddhis. She is the mistress of all 
achievements and perfections, she removes 
ignorance and bestows knowledge.

© 2018

Happy Birthday to You.
Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday to You, dear Nani/ Mummy/ Bhabhi/ Didi/ Aunty
Happy Birthday to You.
The glow from 50 candles lit the faces of all the people who had come to celebrate my birthday. They were all smiling, clapping, singing. Waiting for me to blow out the candles and cut the cake. But I wanted to hold onto this moment a little longer. When would the entire family be gathered in one place, to celebrate me? Maybe never again. It was so wonderful to see them all; to know that many of them traveling a long distance to make it to this celebration. It felt so good.
And yet, was it really? When they were singing my birthday song, none of them addressed me by name. Mother. Sister. Sister-in-law. I was a relationship to all of them. Did any of them even see me as a woman? A woman with hopes and desires of her own?
I caught myself on time. This was a dangerous path to do down. Today is my birthday. Today, I will not think of any of that. Today I will be who I am expected to be.
I took a deep breath and blew the candles out. Someone switched the light on. I cut the cake, and taking the first piece looked around for my husband. He smiled as he took the first bite, then held my hand and guided the piece to my mouth. Then people descended to give me small pieces. I would have loved to sit down and have a large piece of cake, but couldn’t refuse any of them.
My son was the last to approach. With him was the pretty girl I had noticed. The girl with the kind eyes.
“Mummy, this is Apeksha. She is my friend.”
“Just a friend?”, I asked. He blushed and looked away.
“Happy Birthday, Aunty.”
“Thank you, Beta. I am glad you could come. Please don’t run away. I would love to spend some time with you after the party.”

I moved around, meeting and greeting all the guests. Making sure they were eating well, asking about their life. Making them feel at home. How many times I had played this role since I came into this family as a young bride. This was a role I played perfectly. The prefect daughter-in-law. The perfect wife. The perfect sister-in-law. The perfect mother. The perfect aunt. I was defined by the many roles I played.
I wondered if anyone even knew my name. I was always defined by a relationship. Even when I went for a morning walk with my friend, we referred to the others as ‘So-and-so’s mother’. Not that we didn’t know their names- we did- just that we had got used to the relationship.
“You should make Bade Bhaiya take you to Europe”, my sister-in-law said with a wink. “It will be so romantic. Just the two of you. In the Continent of Love.”
“Actually, I am leaving for Gharwal next week”, I told her.
“Gharwal? Why Gharwal. There is nothing to do in Gharwal. You can see everything in three days. You should make Bhaiya talke you to Europe.”
“I’m actually planning to-“, I began, but my husband materialised beside me and interjected. “Europe will be such a great idea, won’t it? Perhaps we can plan something next month.” He beamed down at me.
I opened my mouth to contradict him, but one look at him, and I held back my words. “We will see. If we go, I will certainly ask you for help.”

The party went on till late, but eventually the guests all left. It was just the family that was left. My husband, my son, my married daughter, and Apeksha. Even my son-in-law had disappeared to put my grandchild to bed. Apeksha made to get up, but my daughter motioned her to stay. I noticed that. My kids were always very close, and clearly my son had confided more in his twin than in me.
“Mummy, what nonsense is all this”, my daughter began getting straight at it. “Papa tells me you want to take Sanyas and run away to the mountains.”
“Not at all. I just want to move to hills and live life for myself.”
“What do you mean? What’s wrong with your life here.”
“Nothing. But all my life I have been doing things for others. Finally I want to do something for myself.”
“So you run away to the hills? Why can’t you do something for yourself here?”
“Well my classmate and her husband run a SHG for women in Kumaon. She asked me if I would like to train them in knitting products that can be marketed outside their area.”
“What rubbish is all that? You don’t even know anything about teaching.”
“I think I know a little bit about teaching. Don’t forget who taught you and your brother when  you were small, and neither of you has done too badly.”
“Mummy, you can’t!!!”
“Why not?”
It went back and forth for hours. I tried desperately to make them understand why after a lifetime of doing what others expected me to do, I wanted to be myself. I wanted to explore on my own. Make my own way in life. Make mistakes. Experience life. But no matter how hard I tried, I could just not make them understand. Or maybe they were worried about what people would say.
“What about Papa?”, my son brought out the Brahmastra.
“What about him? Anyway he is traveling most of the time. He can take retirement and move to Gharwal with me.”
“But nothing. I have discharged my duties. My family doesn’t need me any more. Now I want to live for myself.”
“You can’t do that, Mummy. I will not even see you when I come for holidays. Is that what you want?”
“No. I can come down during your holidays, and cook you all your favourite food. Or you can visit me. Bring Apeksha also.” I turned to include her in the conversation. “You will visit, won’t you.”
“I would love to, Aunty.”
“What do you mean, Apeksha. Don’t you know what you are saying.”
“I know exactly what I am saying. Just like we want to get to know each other better before we decide if we want to get married, Aunty wants to get to know herself better. And I agree with her.”
I could have hugged the young lady.
“But, Mummy. We love you.”
“I love you too. And I will always love you. But I have never had a chance to do what I want, and now that I have discharged most of my duties, I want to do it while I am still healthy.”
“No buts. I have made up my mind. I leave for Gharwal next week whether you like it or not. But I would certainly like it if I leave with your blessings.”

I am Siddhidatri, the Goddess of Supernatural Powers. The ninth manifestation of Nav
Durga. I am every woman who’s given her everything to others.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mahagauri, the Fairest One

She's performed severe austerities, defeated the most
powerful demons. But that's not enough; she wants
to be the fairest of them all. She lets Ganga wash away
layers of grime. Her beauty dazzles, she loves being

© 2018

I hummed tunelessly as I guided the brush over by eyelids, drawing winged eyeliner. Practically perfect, if I say so myself. Not bad for someone who had virtually gone without make-up for over a month.
“How much longer will you take”, my partner yelled.
“Just a couple of minutes”, I replied, starting on my lips.
“Oh come on. This is just a book release, not a cocktail party.”
“I don’t care. I want to look beautiful.”
“You are beautiful as you are. You don’t need make-up to look beautiful.”
Men!!!! They will never understand.

“You are beautiful”, he sighed when I presented myself ten minutes later. “I wish we could just stay at home.”
“I didn’t spend so much time over my make-up to stay at home.” I playfully swatted his hand away, before dissolving into a hug. “I too wish I could stay home. But if we have to go out, let’s party!!!”

The book release was in a heritage structure that had recently been restored. I loved the curving staircase and the heavy columns. “Take a photograph of me”, I said, leaning on the balustrade, staring into space, pretending I was Audrey Hepburn in my version of the little black dress.
“What’s got into you today?”, he asked, clicking the photographs.
“Nothing. I have been away from pretty things for a really long time and want to just enjoy myself today.” I pulled him into an embrace, and laughing, we entered the hall.

“Listen, I really need to schmooze a bit. Will you be okay on your own?”
“Of course. If I can take care of myself in tribal hamlets, I can certainly look after myself here.”

For all my bravado, such parties weren’t really my thing. I had never mastered the art of small talk, and no matter how well dressed I was, I always felt like an imposter. But today, I was determined to have a good time. After all, how difficult could it be to fake it?
I grabbed a cup of tea, balanced a cookie on it, and picking up a copy of his book flipped through it. As always, the Acknowledgements made me smile. Not every day that you get to see your name in print.
“Hi, can I take a selfie with you?”
Selfie with me? Is that the new pick up line? “Sure. But why?”
“I’ll put it up on Facebook, so everyone can see.”
Putting up a selfie with a random stranger on Facebook? Whatever rocks his boat.
I let him stand next to me and smiled dutifully for the selfie.
“So what do you do?”
You mean, apart from documenting vanishing livelihoods among the tribals of Chattisgarh? I wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but.. “I am a researcher, I-”
“I employ a researcher too”, he cut me off. “She scans the print and digital media everyday to see if there are any mentions of me. And if there are she files it for me.”
There are actually people who do that? And here I am finding it difficult to update my blog on a regular basis. “I see.”
“But she is leaving in a few weeks. So if you are looking for a job, do let me know.”
If that is the last job in the world, I won’t. “Sure I will.”
“So, why are you here? Do you read?”
Only every spare minute I have. “Yes, I like reading, but I am here because-”
“I don’t have time to read. I prefer watching movies. But you have to be seen at these events, don’t you? Otherwise people will think you are not interested in culture.” He guffawed loudly. Though I couldn’t get the joke at all, I politely smiled.
“This book is set in Madhya Pradesh, you know.”
Don’t they teach geography in school any more? Why does nobody know about the Chota Nagpur Plateau? “Actually it is not, it is set in the Chota Nagpur Plateau- ” He cut me short before I could finish.
“It is set in Madhya Pradesh. My assistant has read all reviews of the book. She told me. My mother is from Bhopal, so I have a special connect with the book.”
Did this ass seriously think there were indigenous tribals roaming around on the streets of Bhopal? “Chota Nagpur Plateau is not- “
“No, not Nagpur, Bhopal. You should read the cover page at least. Otherwise you will not look knowledgeable when the writer chap talks about the book.”
I work with the tribes where the story is set, and I’ve proofread the book twice. I wanted to say, but he wasn’t done.
“Don’t worry. It is normal to get confused between Bhopal and Nagpur. Just be careful if you want to ask any questions.”
Why would I want to ask any questions when I am familiar with the matter? “Sure, Sir. Thank you for the advice.”
“Don’t be so formal shormal. Call me Yuvraj, not Sir.”
Yuvraj? Figures. Entitled brat. “Sure, Yuvraj.”
“The event is going to begin. I better go and take my place. The writer chap will be offended if I am not there. Bye.”
Like he even cares. He is doing all this because the publisher is asking him to. “Bye.”
“And remember Nagpur and Bhopal are different cities.”
Was that a wink he gave me?

The event went off really well. My partner struck the right note between keeping the audience engaged and drawing attention to the sorry plight of the tribals who’s old way of life was under threat from industrialisation.
“Where did you get the idea for the book?”, someone from the audience asked.
 “I have to thank my partner for it”, he said smiling at me. She is an anthropologist who spends more than six months a year with the tribals documenting their changing lifestyle. I was fascinated by her stories, and spent three months in the tribal hamlet with her. That was when I decided to write the book.
“Is that who you mention in the Acknowledgements?”
“Yes. In fact, she got back from the field only today, and is here now. You can give her a cheer in person.” He looked into my eyes, imploring me to join him. I got up in a daze, and joined him. He squeezed my hand and smiled at me before turning to the audience. “Whatever is good in the book is because of her. The mistakes are despite her best effort to educate me.”
The audience clapped. I shut my eyes and let it sink in. Yesterday, I was in the jungle in my jeans and crumpled kurti sharing a meal with a tribal girl. Today, I was in a linen shift and pearls, and all these beautiful people were cheering me. Both the women were me. Life was good.
My eyes sought out Yuvraj. He was the only one not clapping!

I am Mahagauri, the Fairest One. The eighth manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman wanting to be taken seriously despite her looks.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Kaalratri, the Ruler of the Night

Darker than the moonless night, she strikes fear in 
the heart of Evil. No demon can escape her, but she
protects those who cherish her. The Dark Force of 
Nature, she is responsible for maintaining 
balance in the Universe.

© 2018

I wiped my sister’s fevered forehead with a wet cloth. “Don’t worry. Appa will be home soon with medicine. You will be all right.”
“Leave me alone. Let me die.”
“Never. You are the smartest one in the family. You will study and become a nurse. Then you will escape all this.”
“Let me die, Akka. Don’t hold me back. I am too sick. We do not have the money for medicines.”
“Don’t worry. Appa will get you medicines. I will not allow you to die, the way we let Amma.”
My baby sister muttered something, and drifted back into sleep. I couldn’t let her die. This was the same sickness that took away my mother. First the loose motions, then the vomiting. Then the fever, and more vomiting even when there was nothing to throw up. The nurse who had come to the school told us we could avoid falling sick if we boiled the water before drinking. But who has that much firewood?

But where was Appa? He should have come home long back. He said he would ask the money lender for money and get medicines. Why hadn’t he come yet?
At least my sister had managed to sleep. I fanned her and tried to ignore my hunger. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday. But I had to wait for Appa to eat first. He went out to work. He needed the little food there was.
Appa came home late smelling of arrack.
“Did you get medicines?”
“That b@#%$$* refused to loan me any more money. Said I should pay back what I have already borrowed. I told him I will pay him back as soon as my sons send money home, but he refused to listen.”
He handed me the rest of the daily wages. “Tomorrow, I will go to the shopkeeper. He might give me money. I don’t know why I didn’t go to him first. The money lender is totally unreliable. That b@#%$$*. I shouldn’t have gone to him.”
I looked away. I knew the terms on which the shopkeeper lent money. But we didn’t have a choice. For the sake of my little sister, I would have to agree to them.

The next day, we took my sister to the hospital. They put her on saline. Four packets of saline. She would certainly get well. My sister had to get well. She was the smart one in the family. She would study and become a nurse. We will help her, my brothers and I. None of us was good at studies but she is. She will become someone. I will make sure she does.

Two days later, my sister was better and we could take her home. She was still weak, but she could sit on the bed, and drink the rice gruel I gave her. I heard someone calling my father’s name from outside the hut. I knew who it was. It was the shopkeeper. He had come to collect his fee for giving us money.
“I am giving my sister her medicine. Please wait. I will come outside”, I shouted out. I knew the payment he wanted. It was the same payment I made when our roof blew away, and when my mother fell sick. It will be the same payment I will continue to make till my sister is able to finish school. As long as he continues to be satisfied by the payment, we will survive.
I wiped my hand on my saree, and stepped out. He could sleep with a Dalit girl, but he would never enter our house.

“Akka, we don’t want to go to school”, my younger brother and sister told me.
“But you must go to school.” I insisted.
“But why? We can both start working and earn money.  Then you will also have less tension.”
“You have to go to school. Because unless you study well, you will not be able to make a good life.”
“It’s no use”, they complained. “Anyway we don’t learn anything. Even after we finish sweeping the school, Master never lets us sit inside the classroom. We don’t even know what he is teaching.”
“I will come and speak to your Master”, I promised. “Perhaps he will listen to me.”
I know the school teacher well. I have something he wants, maybe I could make him listen.

When the sowing season came, my brother dropped out of school. I started dropping my sister off and picking her up from school. She was young and fair. I couldn’t take any chances with her.
One day, the shopkeeper saw us together. “Hey Kaali. Where did you get this beautiful cow from?”, he asked staring lustfully at my sister.
I pushed my sister behind my back. “Don’t even look at her. She is not for you.”
“Really. We will see about that.” He licked his lips suggestively.

That night I made my way to the shopkeeper’s house. After that, I went whenever he called. But I knew he was not satisfied. He made it clear that it was my sister who he wanted. I would not let her out of my sight even for a moment.

The rains failed. There was no harvest work for any of us. My father too left us and went to the city to look for work. I was left alone to look after my younger brother and sister. We survived somehow. Men were willing to give me little money for food. I made sure they didn’t miss a single day of school.

The shopkeeper’s wife delivered a baby. She was very weak, and I was asked to help. I didn’t want to leave my brother and sister alone at home, but I had no choice. They gave me four rupees every day, and sometimes when there was food left over, they let me take it home.

One day, when I returned home, I found my sister on the bed staring into space.
“What is wrong? Why are you not studying?”, I asked lighting the lamp. “At least light the lamp. Why are you sitting in the dark.”
She refused to answer. Just started into space. “What happened?”, I asked shaking her shoulder. She refused to answer. She lay down, closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep.

Finally, sleep claimed me.
“Akka, wake up. Sister is missing.”
I sat up with a start.
My sister was not where she should be on the floor.
“She must have run away. We have to look for her. You go near the forest, I will check in the village.”
We ran in different directions.

“Akka!!!!!” My brother’s voice reverberated from the direction of the thicket. I ran through the fields. Pushed through the shrubs, not caring how the thorns cut into my bare hands. I reached the clearing. There, hanging from the branch of the giant bakula tree was my sister. Limp. Motionless. The leaves fluttered in the gentle breeze. But she was still.
I sunk to the ground. Raked with sorrow. My sister gone. Gone forever. Dead. Dead like she never existed.

Was it the school teacher? Was it the shopkeeper? I do not know. But I know they will not get away with it. I will go to the city. I will study and join the police. I will hunt them down. However long it takes, I will hunt them down. My sister’s death will be avenged.

I am Kalaratri, the Ruler of the Night. The seventh manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman fighting for her right to live.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

How do I survive Islamophobia

 [A couple of days back, someone on Twitter posed the question- “With so many negative messages being bombarded at them, how do some Hindus not fall victim to Islamophobia? How do they manage to insulate themselves against hate? I thought the question was slightly misplaced, because not giving in to hatred should be the norm, and not something that is celebrated. However, it did lead to a fair bit of introspection, and this is the slightly self-indulgent reply I came up with.]

How do I survive Islamophobia? Why do I not give in to hate? How do I find the strength (like many others) to stand up for what is right?

With so many people, especially in India, giving in to Islamophobia, or at least normalising it, the questions seem like important ones. But for me, the answer is simple. I consistently speak up against Islamophobia because that is who I was brought up to be.

The Hinduism I inherited was an all inclusive one. Both my grandmothers were ritualistic Hindus, but their religion had space for other faiths. In her Kanjeevaram madisar and vaira mookuti, one grandmother would visit Nagore Darga and Velankanni Church with the same faith as she would any temple. In all the years that she lived in Bombay, the other grandmother never once missed the Wednesday Novena at Mahim Church. She went to Mahalakshi Temple every Friday, and always stopped at Haji Ali on the way back. To both my grandmothers, every system of faith and worship could find place in their lives. Once I asked my grandmother why she had a picture of Jesus and Mary in her shrine. Her answer was simple. Mariamman is a Mother Goddess who looks after her children. A role had been assigned to her. That is the Hinduism I inherited. A religion of co-existence. When you grow up with a faith that encompasses all humanity, it is hard to relate to assertions that Hinduism “khatre me hai”. My Krishna is sneaking Amul butter out of my fridge; my Saraswati is borrowing my books and making notes on the margins. Neither of them care about a temple; they are everywhere. Nobody can take them away from me. My faith will be mine always.

When I am fed Islamophobic bigotry by family or friends, I just feel sorry for them. Why did they trade their all-encompassing religion for the narrow one of bigotry and hate? Love fills you with joy, why choose hate? Earlier, it used to hurt when openly bigoted statements were uttered. But I have trained myself to ignore them. The statements merely expose how little love the people uttering them have in their hearts.

For me, not giving in to Islamophobia is easy. Speaking up against it is harder. Islamophobes do not differentiate between handles; a Hindu speaking up against Islamophobia is attacked and trolled as much as a Muslim. I have been called anti-national, unpatriotic, and jehadi. I have been asked go to Pakistan (why nobody sends me to New Zealand, is beyond me), and to join the ISIS; both of which I have declined to do.

Sometimes, people throw random facts at you, and ask you to defend them. You are asked to explain quotes that are taken out of context. Worst of all, sometimes Muslims themselves turn against you, and insinuate that your concern is superficial. Most of these issues are not unique to Hindus; anyone taking a stand against Islamophobia is subject to them. It is particularly bad when you are attacked by a pack of trolls, and some encounters leave you physically drained.

When standing up against hate can be so difficult, why do I continue? Because I was commanded to do so. In his last letter to me my grandfather wrote, “if you are lucky, in your lifetime you will be asked to choose between what is right and what is easy. That will define who you are.” It was his benediction, and I am living it now. I cannot back out from the responsibility entrusted on me by him. Once I was targeted viciously by someone I cared about. “You are a traitor to your caste. Your forefathers must be so ashamed of your treachery.” It was meant to hurt, but it only strengthened me. The person targeting me does not know who my grandparents were. By drawing attention to them, she only reminded me that my grandparents would be proud of me for standing up for what is right.

There is so much hate and bigotry in the world, and so much of it is so well organized to stamp out individual voices of dissent. There are days when you are emotionally drained. There are days when you question if you are making any difference. There are days when you are tempted to withdraw. But those days do not come only to Hindus- they come to everyone who stands up against bigotry. And because you know you are not alone, you soldier on.

When you feel like giving up, you remember how you saw fear in the eyes of your Uber driver on May 23 when he had to pick you up from a street where celebratory firecrackers were being burst. You remember how silent he was during the entire journey, and how his face lit up when you looked him in the eye and said “Ramzan Mubarak”. You know the power of love. And you know you will keep fighting until hate is defeated and coexistence is normalized.

Most of it is not your fight alone. It is the fight of everyone standing up against bigotry and hate. Each of us have our own reasons why continue to speak up. This is mine- I cannot do otherwise.

Katyayani, the Slayer of Demons

Born out of spontaneous anger, destined to slay
Mahishasura. Mesmerised by her Beauty, he sought
her hand in marriage. She challenged him to a duel
and accomplished what none of the male Gods 

© 2018

 “Please come home for a few days, Sona”, my mother implored. “Your father will just not be able to manage all this on his own, and I am worried for him.”
This was the worst possible time for me. Ad revenues were going down, and my channel was struggling to stay afloat. If I asked for leave, I couldn’t be sure there would be a job waiting for me when I returned. Not because they wanted to sack me, but because every salary was a challenge. Sometimes I wondered if our co-founder wasn’t paying some of our salaries himself- I could easily have found out if I looked at the accounts, but I really didn’t want to know.
“You will come, won’t you. Please.”
It was hard to refuse my mother. She’d been used to my father doing all the outside work, and ever since his dementia became obvious, I knew she was struggling. My sister-in-law helped as much as she could. But with two young children and a military spouse there was only so much she could do. I really had no choice. I had to go home and do the NRC filing for the family.
“What about Dada, can’t he come?” I made one last ditch effort.
“We don’t even know where he has been posted. I don’t think he will be coming home now.”
“Okay, Ma. I’ll try and come early next week. You have the documents ready, and I will try to finish it as soon as possible.”
Saturday found me sitting in Ma’s kitchen, with a cup of steadily cooling chai, pouring over documents. Ma’s case was quite straightforward. Both her parents had been born in India, and their names were on the original National Register of Citizens. She had been born in a government hospital, so there was no complication. Both Dada and me could claim blood kinship to her, so we were safe.
Baba’s case was more complicated.  We knew his family had come over to Assam in the mid 1960s, because some of his uncles had joined the army and had fought in the Bangladesh war. We also knew that they had registered themselves, but the documents were missing, and proving it would not be easy.
His school leaving certificate was from 1978, and though he knew he had first enrolled in school in Assam, there were no official documents to prove it. There was anecdotal evidence. His eldest brother had passed out of school in 1971, and there were photographs showing all three brothers standing outside their home in Assam. Anyone who was sympathetic would agree that Baba had migrated to Assam before March 1971, but would the officials be sympathetic?
I was at the office the next day, nervously clutching all the evidence I had gathered. The officer made a show of going through the documents. He was making me uncomfortable, so I looked away, but whenever I looked at him, I found him giving me a lascivious look.
“This is a nice story, but how do I believe you?”
“Sir, if you just let me look at the records, I am sure I can find my father’s name. You don’t have to do anything, just allow me access to the records.”
“Why should I do that?” Was it my imagination, or was he actually licking his lips?
“Please, Sir. These are public records. I can certainly file an RTI to access them, but it will take too much time. Can’t you please let me take a look?”
We went back and forth for a long time, then finally he pretended to relent. “I like you a lot and really want to help. But if I let you into the Record Room without proper authorisation, I will be in trouble. Why don’t we do one thing. I will take the file home tomorrow evening. You come to my house after 8 pm, and I will allow you to take a look.”
I looked at him uncomprehendingly. Was he implying what I thought he was implying? He did not keep me in suspense much longer.
“Come alone. And another thing. Don’t wear this silly Panjabi suit. Wear one of your Delhi dresses, the ones you wear when you go drinking with your boyfriends.”
I was too shocked to say anything.
“Upto you. If you want to look at the file, come to my house. If you don’t want to, that’s also okay.”
“How was it?”, Ma asked when I returned home. I told her I was hoping to get the documents. I really couldn’t tell her the truth, could I? That I had just been propositioned by a petty government official, and I could do nothing about it.
I spent the night tossing and turning. I wished I could just submit the documents and be done with it- my father was old, he had worked in the tea estate all his life. They would certainly not deport him now. But I also knew that the official would make sure the application was rejected. He made it clear what he wanted, and he had the power to make me pay if I didn’t give it to him. Yet, how could I?
The next day, I could barely look Baba-Ma in the eye. Would they ever understand what I was going through? Could they comprehend how it was to be in a position where you betrayed them no matter what you did- I couldn’t let Baba be deported, yet how could I sell my body?
I needed to speak to someone. I dialled my best friend in Delhi and poured the story out.
In the evening, I dressed with care. The form fitting jeans that did wonders to my figure. A white crop top. The velvet jacket I had paid a fortune for. My blow-dried hair framed my face and accentuated my bright red lips. I knew I was looking stunning.
“Bye Ma”, I called out, grabbing my bag and mobile phone. “Don’t wait up for me. I may be late.”
“You are looking beautiful”, he said, grabbing me by my waist. I could smell the cheap alcohol in his breath.
“Not now. First I want to see the file”, I said pulling out my headphones and turning off the music on my phone.
We argued for awhile. But finally we agreed that I would check the file first and will only take photographs of records before leaving. He gave me the file, and sad down opposite me. His eyes didn’t leave my cleavage as he took deep drags on his cigarette.
In less than half an hour, I found Baba’s name.
“Come”, he said, thrusting his face into mine.
“Wait. I need to use the washroom before that.” I pulled the bolt and dialled the number.
The doorbell rang. First once, then incessantly.
“Don’t come out of the bathroom”, he hissed. “I will get rid of whoever it is.”
He opened the door and found a mike thrust at his face. “I am from Guwahati Times. This is a sting operation. I believe you are selling secrets in return for sexual favours.”
I stepped out of the washroom, and held up the phone where I had recorded the entire conversation. “I have it all on tape. If you let me take a copy of the records, I will persuade my friend to drop this story. Otherwise, I hope you know a good lawyer.”

“Does that thing even work”, I asked my friend’s brother who was a student at IIT and had pretended to be a journalist.
“Who knows?”, he shrugged. “But it did it’s job, didn’t it?”
I am Katyayani, the Slayer of Demons. The sixth manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman who is forced to fight for what is right.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Skhandamata, the Mother of Shand

The Mother of Kartikeya, she watches out for all
her children. She grants eternal wisdom, her 
devotees are doubly blessed

© 2018
I rushed into the office lobby as fast as my pregnant body would let me. Of all days, did I have to be late today when we had the Unicorn presentation in the afternoon? I glanced at my watch in dismay as the lift took its own time coming down. Why didn’t I get up when my alarm went off? Why did I hit the stop button instead of pressing snooze? I had spent the night tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position. I should have pulled myself up.
The lift arrived, and I tried to control my thoughts. I’d been working on the Unicorn account for nearly six weeks. And today was the final presentation. I couldn’t afford to mess up. I had to concentrate.
"Hi. Boss would like to meet you now", said his secretary as I passed her desk.
"Right now? Okay". I left my bag at her desk, ignored my full bladder and pushed open his door. "I'm sorry I'm late. But I finished all the work on the account yesterday before leaving. Didn't you get my mail."
"Sit down", he waved. "It's not about the presentation. You know we have been having a tough quarter, and we really have to economise. There has been a restructuring and I'm afraid your position has been merged with another." He paused, and let the words sink in. "As per policy, we have to give you 30 days notice, which we will. You are, if course, free to leave earlier as long as you finish your complete handover."
"Are you firing me? But I've not done any wrong." Why?"
"I know it is a shock. But there is nothing I can do about it. I was asked to let go one member of my team. I'll give you a good reference, of course."
"But why me? I've been here for four years. I've always been a consistent performer. Why me?" My baby sensed my agitation and started kicking wildly. "Is it because of the baby? I'll join back after a month. But don't ask me to leave. Please."
"It's not because of your condition. It's a management decision. Please understand. Now I'd you don't mind. I think you have to prepare for the meeting. You are late, as it is."
I rushed out and made it to the washroom just in time. My baby continued to kick, and gradually, I calmed down. 'Don't worry, Sweetheart. Mommy will be fine. We will forget all about this and do our job. In the evening, we will tell Daddy about this.'

My baby gave a soft kick and went back to sleep. I splashed water on my face, reapplied my kajal and got to my desk.

The Unicorn meeting went off really well. The Founder was one of the smartest people I've worked with. She immediately grasped our points and her questions were insightful. When she thought I wasn't looking, I shot covert glances at her. With her pretty saree, tasteful jewellery and subtle make up, she made me feel dowdy. Someday, I wanted to be like her. She caught me staring and flashed me a smile. Embarrassed, I looked away.
"Really good work", she said to my boss. "Give me a couple of days and I'll get back to you." She went around the room shaking hands. "You did a fantastic job", she told me. "I love some of your ideas."
"Thank you", I beamed back.
“Could you tell me where the washroom is?"
“I’ll show you where it is.”
“That would be very kind". She smiled back. “So when are you due?”
“Not for another three months. Mid-December.”
“The third trimester is the easiest. Enjoy yourself now. See all the movies you want. Take a holiday. Once the baby comes, you will have no time for yourself. Pamper yourself now.”
Tears came to my eyes at her kindness. She broke off, and put her hand on my shoulder. “What happened? Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Is everything all right? I’m sorry if I said something wrong.”
“No. You didn’t say anything. It’s just that, just that”,  tears streamed down my cheeks. I gulped and the words came out in a rush, “It’s just that I have been asked to leave.”
“BASTARDS!” Though no sound came out, I could read her lips. She controlled her rage. “Why? They can’t just fire you like that. Not after all the work you have put in.”
“They said they are restructuring. But I know it is because they don’t want to pay me during my maternity leave. Only I have been asked to leave. Nobody else. I tried telling them I am willing to join back sooner, but they told me to finish my notice period and leave. Maybe they will take me back after the baby..”
“Nonsense. Don’t even think of coming back here.”
“But I have never worked anywhere else. I was so happy here. I don’t even know how to start looking for a job.” I was blabbering on, and I knew it.
“Well, you could come and work for me. Instead of outsourcing my work to this firm, I could hire you to do it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Are you serious?”
“I wouldn’t joke about something like this. I have seen your work. More importantly, I have seen how professionally you conducted yourself today. Only thing is, I cannot afford to pay you full wages during your maternity leave, so I will have to take you on as a consultant. Let’s grab a coffee tomorrow if you are interested, and we can discuss the terms.”
“I don’t know what to say”, I stammered.
“Don’t say anything now”, she smiled. “If we are going to work together, there will be lots of time to say things. Now smile. You baby doesn’t like it when you are sad.”

I am Skandamata, the Mother of Skand. The fifth manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman struggling to survive in a workplace that is not conducive to women.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Kushmanda, the Creator of the Cosmic Egg

With her smile, she dispelled the darkness, created
the Universe from a void. She resides in the Centre
of the Sun, helps sustain Life

© 2018
Somedays, even getting out of bed is so difficult. I try to swing my feet to the floor and push my body up, but cannot. It is like an invisible weight is pushing me down. I do not seek another five minutes of sleep; I just want to stay in bed, unmoving, undetectable. I just want to disappear away from this world.
There is work to be done, I remind myself, as I coax myself to get up. To drag myself to the bathroom, splash water on my face, brush my teeth. I avoid looking at the face in the mirror- I do not know her. Vacant eyes, pulled down face. Did those lips ever smile, I wonder? Sometime, I suppose they did. Now I wonder if they even remember how. Stop staring at yourself in the mirror, you have work to do, I tell myself. Stay here, stay here a while longer and drown with me, replies my reflection.
A crash jolts me from my reverie. It’s just the cat knocking over the sugar bowl. She wants her milk, I suppose. Everyone wants something from me. Except me. All I want is to go back to bed.
I get through the next 2 hours. Lunch boxes to be packed, breakfast to be made, kids to woken up, dressed, fed.
I put on my mask and take the children down to wait for the school bus. This is the worst part of the day; even worse than getting up. I have to smile and make small talk. Laugh at the jokes of the other mothers, ask about their children, pretend to be interested in the gossip, smile. Smile, even though I am broken inside. Smile even though all I want to do is to crawl back into bed.
The bus comes, I wave goodbye. And put away my mask.
The bed beckons. I will lie down, cover my head, and lie their motionless till eternity. That’s all I want to do. Just a few minutes more; the lift is stuck on the 3rd floor, but will be down soon.
The phone rings. My mother. Ignore it, I tell myself. I-G-N-O-R-E. My body ignores my plea as usual. I take the call.
“How long does it take you to pick up the phone”, she says without even a hello. “Now, don’t go back home and lie down. Have a bath, put on some decent clothes, slap on the lipstick and go out.”
“No buts. Lolling around in bed feeling miserable for yourself isn’t going to solve anything. Get dressed, go out. Make some time for yourself.”
“But it’s raining, and there is an auto strike.”
“Don’t make excuses. If you can’t go anywhere else, go to CCD and read a book there. Just get dressed and get out of the house. And send me a selfie too.”
Why did I insist on getting my mother a cell phone? There was now way out of this mess. I just had to get out. As if slapping on the lipstick would help. As if anything would help. What a mess. Why can’t they just let me be?

“I am just so depressed yaar”, the beautifully turned out girl at the next table trilled to her friend, launching into an imagined complaint.
Depressed?! What did she know about Depression? How dare she usurp my misery and try to make it her own? Does she know how hard it is to just get past every day? Does she know how much effort it took me to wear these dangling earrings? The number of times I thought of putting on matching earrings, and then decided it was not worth it. I still wore them. And they match my tee shirt. Does she even know what it means?
“Nice earrings”, my mother texted. She knew. With a thrill, I relised she understood. “Now stop feeling miserable for yourself. Drink your coffee and read your book.”
Why had I brought Vikram Seth? I loved the book, but my eyes glazed over the words. I cannot read this. I looked at the gentleman on the next table. “What I talk about when I talk about running”, said the book.
Putting one foot ahead of the other.
The other foot ahead of the first.
No need to think
to process
Just count the steps. And run.
Maybe that is what I need. I do not want to be like this. I do want to be happy again. I will make myself smile again. From my smile, I will rebuild my world.

I am Kushmanda, the Creator of Creation. The fourth manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman trying to smile.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Chandraghanta, the Fearsome One

She is beautiful, charming and graceful. But when

provoked she unleashes her power and destroys all
in her path.
© 2018
“Shouldn’t you be in school now?”, the stranger asked, smiling at me. How do I tell him that my school building is submerged except during extreme low tide? It wasn’t always so. When I was young, the waves would lash against the building, but the water rarely got into the building. The sea came closer and closer every year, and after the storms last year, the water never really left the building.
The teacher sometimes conducts lessons in his house, but most of the time, he is away looking for a job on another island. Soon he will leave. Soon they will all leave. We will all leave. We will only return in tourist season. But even that is no longer what it was. Fewer people are coming now than they did earlier.
This stranger. He is a tourist. But he doesn’t look like a typical tourist. He is actually looking at things, not just taking photographs. I wonder why he is here.
“Do you know I spent nearly six months on your island 27 years back?”, he said. “I am a marine biologist. I must have dived in these reefs over a hundred times.”
“What were they like?” I asked. “My grandmother tells me the coral was red and yellow and blue. But how is that possible? I have dived so many times. Coral is white.”
“Oh no. The coral on your island was never white. It was every colour you can imagine, and some colours you cannot imagine. I have some photographs I took when I was here last. I can show them to you sometime.”

The next day, I waited anxiously for the stranger to appear. And then the next day. Just when I thought he had forgotten his promise to show me photographs of my island, he appeared. He showed me photographs of the coral reef. I could barely recognise my beloved reef. Gone were the moody white coral. In their place there were bright colours- red, yellow, blue, purple. Every shade of blue. Colours as bright as the print on the sarongs I wear. Colours brighter than the flowers that dot my island.
“I can’t believe these are my corals”, I said. “How did they lose these beautiful colours? Did someone put a curse on them and take the colours away?”
“You could say it is a curse”, the stranger sighed. “sometimes, I do think mankind is a curse on itself.” He explained to me about global warming. About how people in far of countries made machines that released smoke into the air. The told me about global warming, and about how the colours were getting bleached out of the coral. He explained by ice caps were melting, and the sea level was rising.
“So that is why our school is now underwater?”, I asked.
He told me about how shorelines were shifting, and how land was getting eaten away.
“Will my island disappear?”, I asked in fear. My family has lived here for generations. What would happen to us if the island was no more.
“We cannot tell. Yours is a coral island, so the reefs might grow and recover some of the land that is lost. But we really cannot tell. Already, your island is much smaller than it was when I was here last.”
I nodded. I had heard stories about how the hungry sea often took away parts of the island.
“But if they know the islands are disappearing, why do they continue to make smoke?”, I asked.
He told me about how people don’t care about things they can’t see themselves. What happens in a distant island doesn’t matter to them, as long as you don’t ask them to give up their comforts. He told me how large companies didn’t want to stop releasing smoke, because they made more money if more smoke was released.
“So I might drown, and my entire family, and my entire island, and they will not care?”
“No, they will write about it for two days, and some people will protest for a week. But then they will all forget about it. Nobody really cares.”
We spoke about this every day, as long as the stranger was on my island. I couldn’t believe that my island was dying and nobody even cared. Sometimes my grandmother joined us. She remembered the island as it had been when she was a child. She remembered how the house we now lived in was once far inland, not on the coast. She remembered the big fish that were sometimes spotted near the island, but which have now disappeared. She and the stranger had much to talk about.
When it was time for the stranger to leave, I made a request.
“Take me with you. Take me with you so I can talk about my island and what they are doing to it. Take me with you. So I ask them to stop. Take me with you.”
He was reluctant, but my grandmother sided with me. “I am old”, she said. “I do not have many years to live. But she deserves a long life. Let her fight for it.”
The stranger finally agreed. He made my grandmother and me speak about our island and taped our appeal. He promised to return in a few months after lining up a few ‘speaking engagements’ for me.

This was one year back. I have visited many countries since. Spoken to many people. Some people listen to me. Most do not. They call me all sorts of names. But I will not back down. I cannot.
I am just 16. I do not want to die. I do not want my island to drown. I will keep talking about carbon emissions and global warming till they are forced to listen to me.

I am Chandraghanta, the Fearsome One. The third manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every young woman fighting for the right to live.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Brahmacharini, the Dedicated Ascetic

She indulges in deep penance, thousands of years of 
deprivation and sacrifice. She gets her way. She cannot 
be swayed.

© 2018
We were returning home after winning the trophy at the National Robotic Championship. “Where did you get the idea for your project?”, the journalist asked, thrusting a microphone at Sahil.
“Oh you know, there is so much plastic pollution you know, the fish are dying, the oceans are getting polluted. We wanted to make something useful. So we thought of making this robot that will clean our oceans.”
“Most of the other teams made robots that can be used it gaming. Were you not tempted to do it?”
“No, not at all. You know. The fish are very important. And the oceans are getting polluted. So we wanted to do something useful.”
Did Sahil have no shame. How could he stand there telling those blatant lies? I still remember the time when we were trying to come up with a project. The boys both wanted to make a robot that would fetch can carry things for them in the house. But I was determined to make something useful.
I tried to appeal to our teacher, but he told me to sort it out within the team itself. With barely a week to go for the competition, I tried to convince them one last time. “You know one of the biggest problem in the world today is that so much of the plastic that we can recycle ends up in the ocean. Why don’t we make a robot that can identify water bottles from a conveyor belt and sort them for recycling. It would be so useful.”
Neither of them was convinced by my argument, but since they knew I would end up doing most of the work, they finally relented.
At least Rahul tried to help. He made the body in which the circuitry was housed, and he helped weld the claws that actually picked up the bottles. All Sahil did was make snide suggestions about how we should give the robot a narrower waist, because women were better at cleaning up stuff than men!
Both of them disappeared during the exhibition. Our teacher and I took turns demonstrating the robot. Twice the robot malfunctioned, but I was able to make the necessary adjustments in the circuitry and fix it.
I knew the judges liked the robot, but never dreamt that we would win the Championship. When we went up to receive the trophy, Sahil was the one who held it high for the photographers. I didn’t mind- he is the tallest of us and could hold it higher.
“Tell  us a little more about what your robot does”, the journalist continued.
“You know, it helps clean plastic pollution. It picks up plastic, you know.” Sahil looked around, hoping I would pitch in, but the journalist was done with us.
“Wish you all the best. Hope you win many more such championships.” She flashed him a smile, then smiled at Rahul and moved it. It was almost as if I didn’t exist.
“That was fun”, said Sahil. “I can’t wait to show this trophy to my family. Mummy is having a party tomorrow- all the uncles and aunties will come to congratulate me. I’m sure some of them will even get me gifts- I hope it is money.”
I guess I would have to wait for my turn to take the trophy home to show my mother. My mobile rang-
“Baba, there is no electricity in the bedroom and I can’t reach the electrician. Will you be home soon, so you can fix it?” I smiled. At least my mother knew what I was capable of.
I am Brahmacharini, the Devoted Student. The second manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman in STEM.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Shailaputri, the Daughter of the Mountain

She is the manifestation of Mother Earth. She is the Hills
and Vales. The Water and the Air. She is the Force. She
is Forever.

Shailaputri, © 2018
I devour the newspaper, searching furiously for some mention of the situation in Kashmir. Nothing. It is like the world has forgotten my beloved home. I have no idea what is happening there, but the lack of news suggests a normalcy we have never known. Am I hallucinating? Does Kashmir really exist, or is it something I imagined?

Kashmir certainly exists. At least in my memories.

I remember the summer holidays at my grandparent’s house in Pahalgaun. All of us cousins together. Running through the orchard, picking up the fallen fruit. Sometimes, shaking the trees, so the fruit fell, because we were not allowed to pluck fruit from the trees. As a special treat, we were sometimes loaded into my grandfather’s jeep and taken to the saffron fields. How I loved those purple flowers; those delicately ugly flowers!
Those were the days of fun and laughter. Carefree days when we would run through the meadow. We would gather wild flowers. We would take off our shoes, and dip our feet in the icy cold water of the stream. We dared each other to cross the stream, but the current was too strong, and none of us was brave enough. We were Nature. We were the Hills, the Air, the Stream.
One day, Zara announced she would cross the stream. We got scared, and tried to stop her. But she was determined to try. Taking one careful step after another, she made it across to the other shore. She must have got overconfident on the way back ,she slipped and fell into the water. Luckily the water was shallow, and she was able to get up. But her pheren was drenched. We wrapped our arms around her, but her teeth were chattering before we managed to get her home. We told our grandmother she slipped into the water, but that was the last day any of us were allowed near the stream.

How well I remembered Kashmir. How well I remembered Zara.

Brave Zara. Always the boldest of us. After marriage, she settled down in Kashmir. Her husband was a trader and was often away on tours. They say her son fell into bad company. I do not know; he was always very polite to me. One day, he went to school and never returned. Picked up by the Army, they said, on charges of being an informer. Apparently, he escaped, but we will never know. He never contacted his family. Poor Zara; she was never the same again. Even today, she waits for her son to return. She mourns her daughter who committed suicide soon after, but it is her son she waits for. Waiting. Endless waiting.

I have been trying to call Zara, but the calls don’t get through. I have no way of finding out how Zara is, and the rest of my cousins in the Valley. My daughter’s friend is a journalist. I wanted to ask her to try and get news of Zara. But how many people will she try to contact?i will just have to keep trying to contact them. If something happened, I suppose I would come to know; the Valley cannot be completely cut off. Or can it?

I pick up the newspaper again. No news of Kashmir. It is like we have suddenly dropped out of the map, like we never existed. There are people there. My people. If things are normal, why are we not allowed to speak to them? Just yesterday, my niece purchased medicines for her mother, and had them sent through someone. Have you spoken to your mother, I asked her. She hasn’t, but she knew the stock has to be replenished so she did.

My daughter tells me not to worry. That things must be fine. But I can see from her face that she knows how lucky she is that I am with her. She doesn’t have to worry about me the way her cousins are worrying about their parents.

“We must do something”, I tell my daughter. “We can’t just sit here and wait for people to completely forget about Kashmir.”
“But what can we do?”, she asks. “Nobody cares. Just nobody cares.” Her voice broke, she nearly dissolved into tears.
“You care, and I care. That is enough. As long as even one person cares, Kashmir cannot be wiped out of memory.”
I will not allow Kashmir to be forgotten. Navratri is coming up. I will go to the celebrations in turn, and stand at the entrance with a tape over my mouth, holding a banner that says “Kashmir” in my hand. Old people are invisible. But old people doing unexpected things stand out. People will notice me. They will understand. They will do something.

I look out of the window and stare North. On clear days, I like to think I can see the beloved mountains that I call Home. On days like today, I can’t see a thing. But my Home is there. I have work to do. Someday, I will return, and Zara and I will cross that stream again.

I am Shailaputri, the Daughter of the Mountain, the first manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman who refuses to accept an injustice.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Navdurga, the Nine Manifestations

Navdurga, © 2018
The Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon have always fascinated me. They are a bunch of feisty women who don’t take nonsense from anybody. More often than not they are left to their own devices, but when the Gods have really messed up, they get called to clean up the mess. And they do, before going back to juggling the million things they need to do to keep the world going.

Between themselves, the gorgeous Goddesses have faced almost all the issues that normal earth-bound women do, and they have dealt with them with strength, grace and compassion. They are an inspiration to us all.

Probably the most fascinating set of Goddesses are the nine manifestations of Navdurgas worshipped during Navratri. Many artists have payed homage to them during the Navratras, but for many years I was compelled by my severely limited artistic skills in not attempting it myself. Finally, I took the plunge, and this is the series that emerged in 2018.

This year, when I tried to capture their essence with pen and ink, I was not able to. Shilaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Ksumanda, Skandmata, Katyayni, Kalratri, Mahagauri, Siddhidatri. They were not Goddesses, they were ordinary women struggling in a world that makes little sense. They were victims of political games, they were fighting to save their way of life, they were struggling to survive patriarchy. I could not draw them. I wrote their stories instead.

Images © 2018
Stories and poems © 2019

Emotions Universal 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Another Revolution around the Sun

 Last year, on my birthday, I promised myself that I would accomplish three things before I completed another revolution around the sun. I decided that I would learn a new language, get my Open Water certification and start on and complete one large craft project. I failed miserably in two, and barely made much headway in the third.

After struggling to fit the Open Water certification into my schedule, I put it aside for anotehr day. I do still hope to get it someday, but when that will be, I cannot tell.

The crafting project didn’t ever go beyond the planning stage, though I did put in some effort into learning new techniques which I might apply in the future.

For a couple of weeks, my Urdu lessons progressed well, till I reached a stage when I could make out parts of words in hoardings. But then the complexity got to me, and I stopped. Not gave up, not yet. But put on indefinitely pause.

I should be disappointed because I fared so badly, and yet I am not. Because though I missed on on these smaller things, I did well on the Big Thing. The thing that I had chosen as the cornerstone of my life sometime last year-

'Stand Up. Speak Up. Show Up.'

It was not easy. At times, it was actually pretty hard.

To stand up for what you know is right, even though almost everyone around you thinks otherwise. To risk antagonising family and friends who are living in a dimension very different from your own.

To speak up is hard, when yours is a lonely voice. Staying silent is tempting when you know the hate that will be heaped on you for opening your mouth. Even if you know you are right, it is easy win an uneasy peace with your silence.

To show up even when you believe that your presence doesn’t make a difference. To stand and hold that placard, to address that letter, to speak to a stranger and try to convince him of what you are protesting for.

When your life is packed tight, and you don’t have the energy to ‘stand up, speak up, show up’, you can convince yourself that you are doing 'enough'. That someone else can fight the battle you are too tired to take on. That you don’t have to be there doing everything.

But no matter what you do, it is never enough. Because there is so much to be done. So many battles to be fought, just to hold on to our heritage and ensure equal opportunities for all. Those battles will be fought. Because they must.

I am happy that to the best of my ability, I did stand up, speak up, show up. I could have done more, but at least I did as much as I could. And it counts for something. While I go around the sun again, I want to continue doing just that.

I also want to make more time for people; the people who matter, and the ones who need me. I want to spend more time with beauty; natural and man made. I want to continue living in joy.

And somewhere in all that, I hope I am able to achieve the three things I promised myself last year.


Related Posts with Thumbnails