Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

129. Perspective

I was in a meeting of voluntary activists. We came from different states. We were of different age, spoke different languages and worked for different organizations. The common thread was: we were all working on Women’s Issues. I do not like the term ‘issues’; I think ‘cause’ is a much better word – but all of them kept introducing themselves as ‘working on women’s issues’ – hence the term! The meeting organizers had a definite purpose in inviting all of us. The idea was that people would discuss challenges faced by women, strategies to address those challenges, discuss various activities and programs implemented by different organizations etc. I liked the objective of the meeting and so went all the way to participate. To my surprise, there were also men (though very few) who were working for the cause of women.

When I listen to the status and situation of women in other parts of country, I sometimes feel to be fortunate to be born and brought up in Maharashtra; especially with the opportunity to stay in cities like Mumbai and Pune – which are comparatively progressive about women. I am aware that all the women in the state; unfortunately are not in a position to say so! I do not mean to say that all women in Maharashtra are happy and lucky – actually women face lot many problems in Maharashtra too.

The crowd in the meeting had very stereotypical views and ideas regarding women’s role, women’s responsibilities and women’s participation in development process. In one of the informal discussions when I said, “Does not matter if a man has to prepare tea sometime” – it was taken as a rebellious statement and I was surprised by the reaction of others. By that response I knew that I could not expect much in the meeting.

According to the participants: women are soft, they love family, renunciation comes naturally to them, they hold the family (and ultimately) society together, they need protection, they are inclined to household work .. and so many other ideas - which one normally happens to listen everyday and everywhere. I was little disappointed with my decision to participate in the meeting. But frankly speaking, I had no choice. I was tired of arguing and kept quiet.

A woman from Andhra Pradesh came to the stage and started talking about how Sex Determination Tests are bad for girl child and women. She was a medical practitioner and had come across people (including women) who wanted to know sex of the child before birth. She was speaking with commitment; she had lot of data to support her. When you flow against the stream, you face loneliness and I could hear some of it through her speech – a sure sign of conflicts one has gone through! Like any good speech, her speech raised more questions than providing answers. Listening to her, I felt good about coming to this meeting.

The young doctor was followed by another doctor – Dr. Jaanakee – who was about 75. She too had practiced medicine in rural areas and had lot of experiences regarding causes and solutions to women’s health. She started by saying, “The problem of Sex Determination Tests is very serious” and added smilingly that “However we should not worry about it; as our ancient scriptures do offer a solution to this problem.”

Everybody woke up from whatever they were doing. Most of us were not articulate but certainly had strong opinions on this topic. Maybe because most of us were women, we were able to identify with the gravity of the problem, the fact that girls do not even have a right to be born and if born, they have to face so much abuse in their life. Dr. Jaanakee continued speaking, “To kill a girl child before she is born is absolutely cruel – there could be no two opinions about this. The problem in society is, people want ‘son’ and not daughter. If we want to address the problem of female infanticide, we should see that those who want son – the women in that family would conceive a son. To be assured of a son, in ancient scriptures there is a ritual (vidhi) named Punsavan…..”

Some of us were completely taken aback by the statement and some of us were extremely angry. Surprisingly many were interested in knowing more about it – which was a shock to some of us. Dr. Jaanakee started elaborating the topic and some of us were disturbed by her choice of speech and her perspective!! But the problem was -how to stop her? We could shout, but somehow we were aware that we were in minority in that gathering. Also, as democrats, we believed in dialogue and discussion rather than hooting out anyone. In fact we were sure that we would be hooted out!!

From eye contacts, from facial expression we could ‘team’ together – a few of us, but not very few! One of us shouted, “We want girls in this world”! To support her, someone said very mildly, “We are wasting time on this topic, let the next speaker come…” Then another person said something. The wave kept rising. Everybody in the crowd had some or the other opinion on the topic – on whether Dr. Jaanakee should continue speaking or not. The protesters gathered courage and raised their voice. The gathering seemed to break loose. The organizers who always took pride in discipline did not like the tone of the atmosphere. Then the Chairperson of the session – who was herself a woman in her 70s – whispered something to Dr. Jaanakee. Dr. Janakee smiled, and left the dais.

To calm down the atmosphere, to defuse the tone of protests, the organizers wisely declared a ‘Tea Break’. That actually helped people to discuss the topic vehemently. One elderly woman scolded me, “Why can’t your generation listen properly? You are not proud of our cultural heritage.” I smiled at her (that again offended her) and moved forward. One not so famous writer was saying to her friend, “But if only boys are born, who will they marry when they grow up?” (As if girls are born with the sole purpose: boys when they grow should have girls to marry!)

One Economics Lecturer was saying, “I feel that let it happen. (Did she mean that let girls die – before birth, after birth ..) Once they have fewer women than required, they will learn to value women”. I wanted to tell her that her supply-demand-value logic in this case was rather unwarranted, violent and devastating. Who gave her the right to ‘feel’ that killing of girls today was right for the betterment of women tomorrow? I was aghast!

One young girl was passionately arguing – “Now I realize that woman is the worst enemy of herself. How can this old lady talk so cruelly? They all are victims of Patriarchy. We need to build their capacity, we need to sensitize them, and we need to make them aware of the facts ….” Another one reacted with hatred, “Don’t waste time in sensitizing them; they need to be shot at first sight!”

While moving through the crowd, I could observe and listen to varied responses. How many different viewpoints were there in that comparatively small gathering!! Some were balanced; some were analytical; some were traditional; some were prudent; some were unsympathetic; some were rebellious; some were frustrating: some were reckless; some were insensitive; some were isolated; some were uncultured; some were wicked… I was as if looking at a vast kaleidoscope of human mind.. of human thinking.

On the way I came across the Chairperson who had somehow managed Dr. Jaanakee to stop talking on the topic. I stopped. I said, “Thanks a lot for your intervention in making Dr. Jaanakee stop talking on that topic. It is shockingly frustrating that an educated woman should speak like this in this gathering……”

Before I completed my statement, she said, “That is what I told Janakeebai. She should have realized that there were many young unmarried girls in the audience, there were men also. Women’s topics – especially such sensitive topics – should not be discussed with young girls and men. This is a ‘woman only’ topic …”

I helplessly looked at the Chairperson. I did not know how to respond. In that lonely moment I realized that in the kaleidoscope of ‘Women’s Issue’ there are nothing but pieces of glasses which hurt, hurt acutely and hurt terribly!!

Maybe with all the efforts, we can change the kaleidoscope, make a new one.

What about our perspective? Can it be renewed? Can it be repaired?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

128. Context

Since coming to Delhi, I have to often visit two offices which are just next to two different Metro stations. These two Metro stations Patel Chowk and Central Secretariat are nearby – they are actually adjacent stations. Initially when I had to go from one place to the other place, I travelled by Metro. Considering my poor knowledge of directions and map illiteracy – it was the safest and time saving options.

Even though I traveled by Metro; It meant a lot of walking within both the stations. One has to get ‘down’ in the Patel Chowk station (as it is an underground station), go through security check, walk a couple of minutes, and then again climb down towards the platform. The women’s coach is at the other end, so again walk on the platform for couple of minutes. The same procedure is necessary to be repeated at Central Secretariat – here only difference is climbing up twice to come out of station and walk for another five to seven minutes to reach the destination. Overall, I walk for 10 to 12 minutes and Metro journey is just a couple of minutes. But as I like to walk and it was the most convenient way for me, I traveled by Metro.

Sometime in November, one of my colleagues asked me how I travelled from one of these to the other place. When I explained that I travel by Metro, everybody around laughed. I asked for explanation. Then I was told that the walking distance between the two offices was just about 10 minutes; and everybody asked, “Why don’t you just walk and reach instead of walking in both the Metro stations? You are walking almost the same distance and also spending additional money. ”

Leaving aside the money argument, I could see the joke and asked one of my colleagues to draw a map for me. With the help of the map, I walked for months. Indeed it was like taking a walk in your backyard. During winter this walk was energetic as I could get few Sunrays. I also came to know about other landmarks and bus routes while walking. This was one of the best walks to have even at 2.00 in the afternoon.

Yesterday, I was leaving one office and the same colleague asked me how I was going to another office. “Oh, I will just walk” I said carelessly.

Now everybody laughed again. I could not see the joke. My sense of humor seems to be limited!! I asked for explanation. Everybody said, “Are you mad? You want to walk at 2.00 in the afternoon? Do you know what the temperature is outside? This is Delhi my dear, don’t take anything for granted.” (As if other cities allow you to take them for granted!!)

Well, fortunately I am healthy enough to walk for 10 minutes even in the Delhi summer – I also have lot of experience of walking in the afternoons. Of course, I did not say any such thing, I just said, “But it is only 10 minutes and is very convenient; so, no problem.”

“Why don’t you take a Metro? It is foolish to walk when there is Metro. Don’t try to save money” said someone.

And I traveled by Metro yesterday.

When I was walking I had justification ‘to walk’, when I am taking a ‘metro ride’, I have justification for that too!

Now, it was my time to smile.

It is amazing to note how my actions and desires change when the context changes. The two places remain at the same point, the walking distance is the same – but sometimes I choose to walk and some other times I choose to travel by Metro. Funniest part is – for both these apparently contradictory actions, I have justification.

If I treat action as the goal and remain attached to it – then problem arrives. Walking in Delhi summer afternoon is not a goal – reaching a destination is the goal. To achieve the purpose; means will vary according to the situation. What works in one situation would be probably useless in another situation.

But what if goal too changes? What if tomorrow ‘walking for 10 minutes in Delhi in the summer afternoon’ is the goal? Then I might have to continue with the oddest of the actions! If the goal is weird, the actions have to be strange enough! (Not that this is my goal - I already have enough weird goals!!)

Goal is the context.

Situation is the Context. Lot depends on what resources I have.

Choice of Means is the Context. Lot depends on what actions I choose to reach wherever I want to reach.

But does the Context really change as I assume?

It dawns upon me that there is only ONE context.
It could be termed as instinct of Survival!
It could be named as instinct of Happiness!
To be honest, Selfishness is the only context with which I live and I move.

Monday, May 2, 2011

127. Constant in Change

This is not my first visit to Bangalore.

Actually I have special affection for Bangalore!

Hmm.. I know I can say the same about almost all the places I have visited and stayed. It might be Saint Louis or Dagadpada (a tribal village in Gujarat); it might be Ottawa or Shiv (a small place in Rajasthan). I love places and I develop special relationship with the places I come across.

However, Bangalore is special amongst specials. I came here long back in 1981 or so. It was my first visit to another state. It was my first overnight train journey. Till then I could never imagine how people could sleep ‘in the train’. It was my first exposure to another regional language. It was my first experience of being amongst the strangers. It was my first acquaintance of social organization. And so on...

Over the years, I kept visiting Bangalore – for different reasons; by different means; to different places within the city and the state; with different purposes; with different people. I have different stories about the city. I have different memories of Bangalore.


Presently I am here for a reason. I am going to visit different places within the city and the state. I am going to meet different people – I have not met anyone of them before and I am going to spend next four days with them. That excites me, that create interest in me; that makes me wonder; that makes me smile, that awakens me to uncertainty and that ignites spirit of adventure in me.


And last week I met many different people. I stayed at a different place. I had my morning walks on different streets. I interacted with different people. I ate different food (when one lives in North India – Karnataka food makes a difference!!). I learnt few more Kannada words.

This experience makes me think – I am not sure whether the thinking is different or I am thinking the same way all these years.

My purpose has changed. My teams have changed. My means too have changed. My contacts and connections in the city have changed. Those who are friends today were not there few years ago; and those who were the people whom I met in the city are no more in my life. The old connections are lost and new connections replace them.

The city has changed. I have changed. But the relationship does not seem to have changed. I am still the same person who wants to know more about the city. Bangalore is still the same place who keeps on surprising me and entertains me. It is still the same place which makes me feel comfortable and which gives me moments of solitude. This is still the city which triggers me; motivates me to make on an inward journey.

What is that thread which still connects me and Bangalore?
What is that about Bangalore that still amuses me?
What is that which makes this connection meaningful for me?
What is there that remains intact throughout these changes?
What has remained constant in all the apparent change in me and in Bangalore?
Is it me? Or is it Bangalore? Or is it both?