Behind Enemy Lines: A woman’s survival guide




To the enemy’s eyes the soldier was almost invisible. The grease paint on his face and the combat fatigue had merged him with the surroundings. And taking advantage of this cover he braved into the enemy territory precariously.

This is the Art of Camouflage, an art which we, the womenfolk, can very well relate to. We inculcate this in our everyday lives from Day One. With our own recipe of grease paints and codes of camouflage, we enter the enemy lines, hiding our sexuality, comeliness and prettiness.

Let me narrate one such methodology.

Last week, in a sense of urgency, I had a mission to drive my mother from Delhi to Bullandshahar, a city in Uttar Pradesh famous for all the wrong reasons. Two women without a male escort on that notorious highway was either sheer stupidity or bravery, but in our case just helplessness because not everyone has the luxury of chauffeurs and bodyguards. Not that the presence of a male will prevent an ‘attack’, but it will at least lower our chances to end up as a potential victim. So we began the ‘preparations’ for the journey. With hair tied up in a tight pony and baseball cap covering the delicate contours of my face, I sat down in the driver seat. A loose chequered shirt (borrowed from my husband) and jeans were doing a manageable task to hide my feminine curves. In some parts of our country, the sight of a woman behind the wheel is quite a head-turner, so my aim was to remain unnoticed. Next, we covered window glasses with sunshades and kept a bulky bag in back seat, covered in towel, to give an illusion of occupied seats. A dagger and a pepper spray were kept under the seats and mobiles were put on speed-dial mode, incase of an emergency. Finally, wearing a scowl cum angry expression we drove down to the destination, not even once stopping anywhere for tea-break or nature call. I am sure the idea of gifting male mannequins to women travelers is soon going to catch up.

This was an OVERREACTION, many will say. But this is a Reality, our small, little war, which we fight everyday to survive in this male-dominated world. We brave all the odds to save our little bit of identity.   Sometimes I marvel at these Shampoo girls on TV who charm everyone with their fresh youth, smile and luscious womanliness. We can’t simply afford that in real life. In fact we try every hack to hide that very attribute. We are like that fairytale Cinderella who turns into an uncouth girl the moment clock strikes twelve. We wear frown, a don’t-mess-with-me look, in public. Clench our muscles in a reflex action and speak in a tone shriller. We try very hard to look un-attractive, over-mature or to put it bluntly – Manly.

Moni, a friend of mine, spent her entire teenage in baggy clothes and short haircuts. Even close neighbours confused her with opposite gender, which was the whole idea. Thus her role was to accompany her mother and two elder sisters in guise of a male companion whenever they traveled during summer-breaks from Kolkata to Delhi, where her father was stationed. For years her mother introduced her as a son. Presence of a male companion is not a guaranteed safeguard, but it will at least minimize the chances. It is all psychological you see.

There are many more like Moni, for instance Natasha, a bubbly and carefree girl, who especially wears sindoor and mangalsutra during her train travels to ward-off unwanted elements. Or Riddhi who carries pepper spray and switch-blade in her purse all the time. Each one of us has our own talisman of protection.

A colleague once reasoned with me about the pepper spray. This will further anger the attacker, she said. The shiver in her voice spoke what she dared not speak aloud – that better be a rape victim than rape and torture victim. Look at the irony here, now we are choosing our misfortune ourselves.

We prefer to run across the traffic than take the subway, hop onto the buses that are crowded, avoid lonely roads; turn down promotions because that would mean a remote posting. Our every act is measured, weighed upon. For a man adventure and bravery is riding a sports bike or donning combat boots, while a girl is brave and adventurous if she is traveling alone in odd hours, in odd places. But when unspeakable happens she is blamed for her foolish acts, for breaking the unwritten code of the society.

It is not that women are not leaving their mark in the list of top leaders; today many are breaking the myths of male supremacy. They are achieving what was earlier a fantasy. Be it a mountaineer, astronaut or a defense officer. But their journey is not an easy one. At every step they face sexual prejudice. A male colleague, in his supposed sense of humor, one day remarked that women in workforce are a ‘liability’.  Why? I asked aghast. Because you can’t expect them to do odd-hour shifts and incase they do then four more will be forced to work with them in the role of their body guard. Thus they cost the organization more.  Be it a company CEO or a police officer or an Army officer.  I wanted to tell him that we never chose ourselves to be that ‘Liability’. Our share of freedom is encroached by you. We are paying price, sacrificing our dreams, our career for your malfunction.

It is not our fault, but fault of the society, of the Government who fail to protect our Right to Freedom, Right to Equality. Isn’t that the incompetence of the State when a Minister or a police officer publicly says that women should not venture out of their home in odd hours unattended.

Women should be exempted from taxation. Why pay tax for those roads on which we are not safe, why pay tax for the buses, subways, trains on which we can be raped, molested, brutalized. Why pay tax for the infrastructure on which we lay no claim. At least with the money we save, we can think of hiring a body guard, or renting a male mannequin.

Also published in The Hindu under the heading The Art and Craft of Camouflage



Four wives

A man had four wives.

His fourth wife was the wisest of them all. Though she lacked the feminine charm, she knew very well how to control him without the bat of an eyelash. And because she was indispensable, the man would bribe her with expensive gifts now and then.

The third wife was the prettiest of them all and a distant cousin of the man. And so he knew that though at times it was difficult to handle her but he could not betray his own blood. Thus he would give her the largest share of monthly allowances, try to win her to his side by taking her along to all the fancy balls and shopping sprees.

The second wife was an adulteress with a questionable character. The man knew of her adventurous spirit but never thought of divorcing her because she was a trophy wife and a status symbol. His enemies were looking for an opportunity to use her against him. Thus he tried once in a while to keep her happy by occasional treats and long love letters full of love bites.

The first wife was the most diligent of them all. She kept fasts for the long life of her man. Hardly any money was spent by her in shopping, makeover, jewelry and that saving the man would take back from her and use it on his other wives. She slept on hard-floor, at times survived on nothing but the wild-berries. And when his other wives will become a nuisance, the man will beat his first wife mercilessly to make an example.  In spite of this, the first wife remained as devoted as ever. She would never bad mouth her husband and would even thrash those who spoke ill against him. The man even flaunted her loyalty to downsize his enemies because he knew that they didn’t have such loyal and submissive wife. At the same time he knew that he didn’t need to give her expensive gifts to keep her on his side because she was a religious and austere woman. Thus all he did was singing praises of his first wife in public (even when he was cutting down on her allowances one after another) and he even asked the other wives as well to write flattering letters to the first wife.

The man is the Government, fourth wife is Bureaucracy, third is Politicians, second is the Public, and first is Indian Army. And if you are thinking why the symbolism of Man and wife then yes you guessed it right: he is s******* them all.


A Burden



Even from the distance of five hundred and fifty kilometers I could sense sadness and a muffled insecurity in the voice of my father when he called me yesterday, a daily ritual of ours of one call in a day. After a bit of emotional jostling he told about the death of Gupta uncle, a friend from his senior citizen Club and a neighbour. It was not that the deceased was his close friend or they knew each other for long, but there were circumstances which troubled (or scared) him as well as me.

After he retired from a reputed position in the Central Government, Gupta uncle, a widower, moved in this double gated,  CCTV secured, residential colony in Gurgaon. Twice a year he visited his daughter and son who were settled in Pune and Chicago and once a year the children and grandchildren visited him. For rest of the seven and a half months he lived all alone, with an arrangement of a part-time maid who cooked and clean.  The most awaited part of his every day routine was the evening tea with his friends in the Club. And over the tea, the friends, all of them retired and old like him, debated on the political issues, made fun of each others arthritis or heart conditions but at the same time looked after each other.

However, despite all this jolly company, Gupta uncle died two days back in his 1.75 crore 3BHK flat. He breathed his last in the company of four walls, choking on that fine linen which his departed wife had once matched so tastefully with the peach curtains. He was 85. The maid discovered the body next day and informed the neighbours, who then informed the next of kin.

‘Everyone at the Club was saying that Gupta was so unfortunate to have such an uncaring son who left him alone at this age’, dad said.

Now this is the thing that troubled me.

Why blame only the son, why not the daughter too?

This is the social psyche I am talking about.

Here I am not arguing that boys’ parents do not face hardship. In some cases they do as well, but if they do then society blame the son and daughter-in-law. But this is not the same for girls’ parents because it is not considered the duty of a married woman to look after her parents. There is no (social and moral) obligation over a daughter and son-in-law. A son may leave his wife and children at home to take care of his parents, he may change his job, he may bring them home with him or he may fail and thus fall in the eyes of everyone but the same SECURITY simply doesn’t exist for parents of his wife.

When a son is born, mother and father heave a sigh of relief that now their old age is secured. Now there is someone to feed them when they are too old to cook for themselves, carry them when their frail limbs give away, talk to them when the loneliness starts eating into their head. And what about parents of girls, don’t they get old, feel lonely, fall sick. But do they also feel so secure that there will be their daughters to take care of them? No. They can’t demand that because this is against the traditions. It is an accepted norm that parents don’t burden their daughters. That is a SIN.

Father of a son worries for his falling health but father of a daughter has an additional worry – how will he drive car when his driving license expires after he crosses 75.

What do they want from us, from the daughters?

They just want us to look after them, to oversee things, to supervise that the maid is not cheating them, the watchman is not fooling them, to have small dinner talks with them and to ensure that when they are dead, their body is not discovered by a maid. Imagine the state of those who can’t even afford a maid.

Why is this like this?

Because that is how the society is constructed, re-constructed and re-re-constructed. 

Have you noticed that there is not a single advertisement, single chant, single hymn which emotes, which preaches that the old people, be it from boy’s side or girl’s side, should be taken care of equally. There are plenty of advertisements showing a boy on his motorbike travelling miles to bring his old mother along with him but not a single Ad showing a woman doing the same; instead we have portrayals of a grieving father on the bidai, marriage, of his daughter richly laden with gold. Yes there are some Ads where girls look after their parents but only before marriage.

How many movies do you remember on this subject? Not many? However there are so many movies which mock a man living with his inlaws as jamaai raja or greedy parents of a girl disrupting the marital harmony of their daughter.

Recently there was a popular movie trying to give an emotional connect on this issue – Piku. But in this movie too, the girl was looking after her father because she was not married and she was not married because she was looking after her father. Then she fell in love but did not commit because of her other duties. A happy ending would have been that she marries the guy and the couple then takes care of the father, as it is normally expected the other way round. But the Director didn’t want to create any ‘social confusion’, so he conveniently killed the father (an obstacle) and brought the movie to an acceptable end.

A mother will tell her son to take care of her when she is old but she will tell her daughter not to worry about them and instead look after her husband and children. Because with son she has a ‘Right’ and with daughter a ‘Duty’.

The day they will stop feeling themselves a burden over daughters,  the day they will start imposing that Right, start telling the daughters without any guilt, start Demanding them like they demand their son that ‘Daughter this is your duty too to look after us when we are old’. That day,  believe that day, the practice of female foeticide will stop.


Also published in The Hindu (27/9/16) as An Unequal Burden at Home

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The Mother of a Daughter


It was the same nightmare……again

I clutched the tiny hand of my daughter, sleeping next to me, and mumbled a silent prayer. It has become a frequent pattern, since I became the mother of a daughter. And I am not the only one gripped with this lunatic misery. There are many more, just like me, living in this constant fear, waking up in the middle of the night with an uneasiness down their gut.

Often I stop watching the television and throw away the newspaper. But whatever I do, I still cannot take it out of my head—those screaming ‘breaking news’. “Five-year-old brutally raped; New-born raped and murdered; 80-year old gang-raped; Bride burnt alive for dowry; Woman attacked by acid, and so on.”

Everyday newspapers bleed and Televisions howl – one rape every 10 minutes in India; statistics hammer down the ugly truth. I live this nightmare again and again, feeling the pain of the family of those poor girls, feeling their loss, sharing their fear, dreading and praying to god to protect me from this misfortune…….. Because I am the mother of a daughter.

She—my daughter— is a lovely child, a mischievous smile play on her rosy lips and her twinkling eyes reflect a fearless laughter. Like a bird she flies around hiding here and there. I dread this brave innocence of her and thus, I cook up stories of some invisible monster who will grab her if she is out of my sight. I watch her innocent smile vanish and a shadow of terror fill in her beautiful eyes, and I sigh. ..Because I am the mother of a daughter.

The headlines scream again and I scream at her for taking candy from that old man in bus. I scream at her for waving to the lift-man and taking a joyride with the neighborhood uncle. With one excuse or another I check upon her when she is with someone, be it a neighbor, a classmate, a teacher or a cousin. I trust no one…..Because I am the mother of a daughter.

I daydream the nightmares in crowded and lonely places. The other day I grabbed her arm so tightly that my fingers left a red mark on her tender wrist and she yelped in pain. But I still didn’t let it go and almost dragged her along with me, like a handcuffed criminal…..Because I am the mother of a daughter.

They—the books—teach her to be pleasant and friendly with everyone, but I tell her to be rude and not to smile to the strangers. They teach her not to be afraid but I scare her with the stories of imaginary ghosts who will snatch her if she doesn’t listen to me. They teach her to greet everyone and share her things but I tell her never ever to accept even a candy from anyone. They teach her to speak truth but I tell her to lie if someone asks her anything personal. I unwind the stories she learn and fairytale she watch, and recompose them with a different moral……Because I am the mother of a daughter.

She wanted to be a dancer but I stopped her from the dancing classes because it was too far. She liked swimming for long hours but I told her to hurry before it grows dark. She was fascinated by rock-climbing but I could not risk an injury. She loved football but that will tan her beautiful fair skin. I try to mould her in any way I can and teach her ‘virtues’ suitable for good girls….. Because I am the mother of a daughter.

P.S. Any crime against a woman/girl produces a ripple-effect; it has many direct and indirect victims. Even though we speak of women emancipation, gender-equality and gender sensitization, the ghastly nature of crime and the statistics force us to snatch the innocence from our daughters and take away that Right of a carefree childhood. What bigger injustice than this can be there that we start ‘punishing’ them from this very tender age for being a potential victim, for being a source of our ‘fears’?


Also published in The Hindu Nov 2015

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Because It Matters


It was the sincerity and curiosity of two young men which saved a 3-year old girl from a possible cruel fate. The men, Shubham and Jasbir on a Sonipat train, grew suspicious of the activities of a man, Bhanwar who was squatting near the compartment door with the little girl. Not content with the explanation given by Bhanwar and the way he was behaving with the child, the duo chased the man when he got down at the next station to catch another connecting train. The man panicked and was caught in time. He had kidnapped the girl from outside her home in Delhi and was taking her to his village where he planned to rape her and traffic her thereafter. If Shubham and Jasbir had also got busied in their own private sphere like many us and not ‘spoken out’ when they sensed something wrong, the girl would have also ended into the endless list of ‘disappeared children’.

An act of evil in society, be it rape, kidnapping, littering or corruption, affects each one of us. Not everyone has that courage or a motivation level to be an ardent activist. Frankly, we have plenty of excuses or ‘reasons’ to complaint but not to act. I still believe, even if not all of us are ready to march the street holding torchlight, still there is at least some way in which we can contribute, however little, for the betterment of the society.

Last summer, I had visited a small but beautiful European city, Vienna. I went to a local shopping mart to buy some chocolates and as is the habit or the ‘inculcated’ habit of Indians, rolled out few Euros from the inside pocket of my jacket and gave it to the billing desk manager. The man, in his twenties, crooked up his eyebrow, then gave me a cursory glance that had disgust written all over it, and then smoothed out the wrinkles from that crumpled bill which I had just handed him. Later, a friend explained to me, here people think that disrespect to their currency is disrespect to their nation and seriously mind if the notes are crumpled or damaged. Back in my room, I fished out all the Euro bills hidden in all tiny-winy places, rolled in socks, pinned to the underlining of my jacket, taped to the inside frame of the suitcase and the false cavity of the makeup kit. I know many of you will find it ridiculous, but this is what I am taught, to divide the money and hide it in separate bags so that you don’t lose out everything in one go in case you are mugged. That look of disgust had sent across the message and I took out all the hidden treasure, smoothed out the wrinkles and kept it neatly in a wallet.

This is what I am trying to convey here, even if we choose to sit and not to do anything to stop a situation which we know in our heart should be stopped, then also we must make at least some gesture, a crook of an eyebrow, a wrinkling of the nose or a tch tch to send some sort of a message that ‘yes we know the truth and you are being watched. It is always better than sitting with a wooden face or lost in your mobiles and tabs in bus while a man standing just next to you is purposely falling on to a girl.

On a train journey from Jhansi to Delhi, I noticed a man continually staring a college girl, who was travelling alone. The man, who was perhaps some railway staff, changed his seat and sat across her so that he gets a good view of her. I could tell from his demeanor that he was waiting for an opportunity to take the seat next to the girl, which was lying vacant. You will find such people almost everywhere, with long experience and mastery in such acts they become so skilled that they carefully stalk their target without arising any suspicion with any sudden move. A woman who was travelling with her family was watching all this. She got up from her seat and sat down next to the girl and started chatting with her. The man got the message that his intentions are caught, and for the rest of the journey he sat quiet without any more games. If only all of us start ‘speaking out’ in whatever way we can, these evils will fade. Raise objection, if you see somebody littering the road; knock on the door if you hear a man beating his wife; get up from your seat to let an old person sit; carry a plastic bag in your car in which you dump all waste instead of throwing it out from the window; stop feeding the cows with food still wrapped in plastic bags; slow down your vehicle to let a bicyclist pedal safely; don’t jump red-light even if the one ahead of you just did; smile to the old lady whom you just crossed during your evening walks; strike a conversation with fellow passengers in train and buses. These are small gestures which will gradually send the message to others and people will follow. Isn’t it a common human tendency, you go and stand behind a person and automatically a queue will be formed. We hesitate to initiate but we like to follow.

The Administration may make endless numbers of rules and regulations to uproot the evils, but the social evils can only be uprooted SOCIALLY. A Swachchatta Abhiyan can only succeed when we, as individuals, inculcate this habit. We can never curb the menace of dowry deaths if we don’t stop socially boasting ‘how lucky a chap is that he got this or that’. The twenty crore ‘gift’ Salman Khan’s sister got upon marriage has set another scale for marriage ‘gifts’.

We must ‘Speak Out’ because it really matters. No, we cannot correct everyone, but we can at least correct ourselves, influence those around us. I am really surprised to see this addictive habit of Indians spitting everywhere in country, but these same people if happen to go abroad, are the most well behaved.

It is the attitude of Indians, it is in their blood and thus they cannot be changed’, somebody told me when I expressed my distraught on why we can’t keep our streets clean. Well, I am not sure whether things will change in my lifetime but when I throw the empty bottle in the dustbin and my 2-year-old follow the steps and don’t litter her toffee-wrapper then I am sure of one thing that I have just corrected at least one generation.

Sabhyata Abhiyaan …

I don’t mind the dirty streets, dirty bus-stands and dirty police stations as long as they are safe….they are far better than the ‘clean’ surroundings where every second a woman/girl is either burnt/molested/raped/acid-attacked or abused.
Kudos to Swachchata Abhiyaan, but what we need desperately is a nation-wide SABHYATA abhiyaan.

# Burning of a girl student who opposed her molesters in Varanasi reach the United Nations Human Rights Council after its pleas to the PM, CM and Police went unanswered.
# two police constables gang-rape a 14 year old on New Year’s eve.
# 31.07% jump in rape cases in Delhi NCR in 2014

Forever Beautiful



Among a collection of the breathtaking pictures of the year 2014…these are the pics which have captured the moments beyond any words. They scream out to you, remind you once again of this heinous act of acid-attack and its aftermath. But at the same time it underlines the fact that ‘Beauty is not Skin Deep’ and no acid, or fire or a bullet can kill that innate human emotion…the beautiful moments when for a child her mother is her whole world and the moment when for a mother her child is the prettiest child in the whole world.

Somayeh Mehri (29) and Rana Afghanipour (3), the Iranian mother and daughter were attacked with acid by their husband/father in 2011 when Somayeh, who was frequently beaten by her husband, one day found the courage to ask for a divorce.     Somayeh was blinded and Rana lost one of her eyes.

Video Killed the Radio Star


I have a typical love-hate relationship with technology. Though I am floored by many of its wonders like video-calling, GPS and my all-time favorite – a food processor, but at times I hate it for producing the robotic devices, rather devices which make us a robot, like smart phones or treadmills. For me, they are more like technological blunders.One of such blunder is: Kindle paperwhite, the e-reader device. I saw an advertisement in newspaper, “Gift your child the love of reading: kindle paperwhite for uninterrupted and distraction-free reading”.

Honestly, for me, nothing can ever take the place of books. That rusty but soft touch of the paper as you flip, stimulates you to read further.  I love my book like my jewellery. Though a new title is added every month to my collection but there are some books which hold a special place, which I plan to leave as a personal treasure in my will to my favorite one. The musty smell of the pages, the earmarks and occasional tiny blots of tea or curry on the paper are like wormholes which take you back to the time when you last held the book. They are like small glimpses into our memory.

I can even chronicle my life-events around them. Like, Chitra Bannerjee’s Sister of My heart I had read the day I sprained my left ankle, Khaled Hosseine’s A Thousands Splendid Suns I devoured during a train journey from Delhi to Jammu, and Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus I had pursued at IGI airport while waiting for a friend to arrive. I have a kind of one-night-stand with the books. The moment its first page is turned, it becomes my constant companion, to the showers, kitchen, and lift-lobby…till my fingers nest on its last page. This personal touch, connection, smell, and the liberty to leave an imprint, is missing in these electronic devices. The idea of introducing my child to the magical world of fairytale through an electronic device is an absolute horror to me. The romantic relationship between a book and its reader can never be kindled on a touch-screen reader.

Another such technological blunder rather an absolute irritation is the smartphone. Yes, this is the age of “technological anarchy” that even a daily bathing soap boasts of more nutrients than a bowl of nuts. Smartphones have killed the real conversation. In restaurants, in sidewalks, in shopping malls, in parks and even in the movie halls, I have often seen them, two quiet people, sitting together but not together. They no longer hold hands because they hold their oversized phones, their eyes no longer talk or reflect their deepest emotions because they are woozy with the glow of mobile phones. They no longer hug, they no longer fight, oh the curse of EMOTicons! now they don’t even write those love notes anymore.

Change is inevitable and a necessity; the progress of a society and economy is scaled by its technology. Isn’t that the reason we label the Harappans and the Egyptians as Great civilizations, but a forest-dwelling self-sufficient tribe is tagged ‘primitive’. But there are some characteristics or a certain way of life which must not be lost, must not be swapped, for it is this which holds the secret of our existence…..our happiness and our very ‘human-essence.’ Like ‘The Buggles’ lament the loss of the sweet old times in their song Video Killed The Radio Star. Technology has also killed the ‘we’ in us. It has killed those beautiful moments in which we celebrate our humanity. The world around me is getting ‘un-smarter’ and the machines growing ‘smarter’.

It is still not that late to pull out those earplugs, disconnect the Bluetooth and wave back to that old man whom you just crossed in the park, or tell your mother how pretty she looks in the new haircut and smile to the waiter who just pulled the chair for you. Lie down on the grass and watch the shades of the blue. Open the windows, do you see that rosebush by the hedge, go, smell the roses and see how beautiful it all looks. Yes, before the technology kills the radio star again, unplug the wire and re-plug your life.

Legacy of a great teacher

School days are the golden days of our life. They symbolise the days of our carefree childhood, outwardly impossible dreams, sharing tiffins, those funny chalk-drawing of the teachers on the blackboard or hitting each other with pieces of chalks. But, the ‘golden days’ become the haunting days for many of us because of the ‘bad’ experiences one faces in school in terms of bullying, humiliation by teachers or discouragement.

Sadly, in the ‘career options’ in India, teaching is supposed to be the ‘last choice’. If you haven’t made it anywhere then you choose teaching. Most of the teachers are there not by choice but by ‘no alternative’. And that’s why our schools are filled with teachers who are not proud of their profession or committed to their students, rather the very profession itself remind them of their failure. This is a bitter truth. And this inferiority leads to another evil — Discrimination.

I had once a social science teacher in class 8th, and she had this particular bias towards students who were fair and pretty looking. One may dismiss this as fancy of a child’s mind, but as was often the case, the teacher would never reprimand the class monitor who happened to be one of those ‘wanted’ girls in our section, while another girl, a dark complexioned malnourished girl Sarita was known to be the punching bag of that teacher whenever she was angry at something. Not only this, she was also too kind with students who were from affluent classes or who carried imported school bags and bottle or brought pastries and french cookies in their tiffin-box.

A good teacher is a like a god gift, he is like that chef who brings out the flavour in a dish by minding the right proportion, making the right combinations and adjusting the right heat. It is all there, your talent, your potential and your weaknesses, but it is only a good teacher, your guide, who will turn the weaknesses into strength and a talent into an asset. So many times it happens that we see an astronomer or a Councillor or some other successful professional and wonder, ‘Wow this could have been me, only if I had the right guidance’. Yes, I wanted to be an archaeologist, or a social scientist, or an anthropologist, or an administrator, the wishes are endless.

I chanced to read an article about Indian-origin scientist, ecologist and ornithologist – late Navjot Sodhi. Recently, a bird species, first seen in Sulawesi, Indonesia was named after him, ‘Muscicapa sodhii’.


      As I read further, I was surprised to find that not only this species but many other animal species were named after this great scientist; and he didn’t discover all of them but still they were named after them by his students or collaborators whom he had mentored or taught. This shows what important role Sodhi played in the career of his students. One of his students recalls his mentoring style: He was easily the coolest and the most ‘laid-back’ professor we knew. His mentoring style was just as unique. ‘I don’t care if you danced naked, as long as you get the job done’, was what he used to tell students. Many of his former students have gone on to make successful careers in conservation and Sodhi continued to advise and support their careers. He was like an Academic father to his students.

I was really enthralled by this wonderful but ‘rare’ bond between a teacher and his students. Teaching is no less than philanthropy, it is a complete surrender. You just cannot be a true teacher if you don’t give yourself wholeheartedly to the duty. Yes ‘DUTY’ not ‘profession’. But for many (teachers) it is just a target-based exercise. Focus is on getting the high-percentile, making them cram-up those set-notes which they are dictating year-after-year from that personal diary with yellowing pages. Very few try any innovation. Either they are ignorant or a fool for not knowing the power of this most far-reaching tool — Education. If a box-office hit can create a cult following of a movie star, then imagine how deep an impact a teacher can leave on his pupils with his methods of study and ‘approachability’. Not only that, he has the rawest element at his disposal — the young and uncorrupted minds. And that’s why School teachers play a more important role than the College professors.

The expenditure on countless government employment schemes, food-security programmes, health schemes, anti-criminal measures can be saved once and for all if every teacher, from day 1, starts performing his duties selflessly.

It is not that a person is successful because he has more talent than you….maybe he had a better teacher than yours.

Like a Soaring Kite

        HappyWomanOnBikeArmsUp-850x400   From childhood days I have associated cycling with freedom. I long for those days when we rode crazily on slopes, eyes tightly shut, hands flying to the sides and nostrils breathing in the fresh air. We were like soaring kites and with every gush of wind our spirits rose higher and higher. The fun continued in college days too, riding my black Street-Cat I was Asha Parekh in my own reverie. Upon marriage my bicycle, which had witnessed those carefree days, was given away to the Helper, on which he brought vegetables and eggs. And I learnt the most essential ‘virtue’ which is mandatory for any fauji wife, in fact any wife’s survival    – to demand.    So I demanded for a vehicle when I needed to go anywhere, I demanded when there was a ladies club meet, I demanded when I had to pick up matching churidar for my red kurta from the market and some days when these demands were not met, I demanded my ever-busy husband to ferry me to the place and back. So that is the story behind how wives became so demanding. But in reality, I was reduced to a person in wheel-chair. Tasks which earlier I used to so effortlessly fulfill with just few pushes of paddle, now required cycles of demand and wait. Yes there was the option of driving car. But as everyone knows, a man may trust his new wife, but he can never trust his new wife with his car. I am not at all exaggerating. For first two years of our marriage, whenever I used to open the passenger side door to get down from the car, he would say, ‘Be careful!’ When it happened for the first time, my heart was overwhelmed, but before I could get the chance to blush with sentiments, he added, ‘don’t bang it on pavement’. And I tell you there is no fun in it, it is like riding in a cage, windows all rolled up to block the pollution and somebody else wheeling the steering, you are literally taken for a ride. You don’t feel the air in your hair, do not enjoy the rhythm of your limbs as they move with the momentum and do not get that rise of spirits as you smile as if kissing the air. It is not that I don’t get to ride bicycle. I do, but my point here is to extend the cycling from recreational activity to a utilitarian activity. I know it is a wishful thinking, but imagine the big difference it will make if we start doing our day to day chores on cycle, at least within a manageable radius. In an average middle-class family, daily fuel consumption is so high. First the Man’s up-down to office, then the kids up-down to school, market, friend’s place and then the lady’s visits to office, parlour, tailor, mall, etc. Believe me, there is a huge market conspiracy. First they give fat cheques to people and then they open fast and fatty food eating joints because poor fellow has no time to cook for himself. And when he gets fat like his pay-cheque, they open the health spas, gyms. So whatever one earns, spends it then and there. All these problems have only one solution…yes bicycle. It will be like our personal gym. Minimum maintenance, maximum benefits. I know, to many I may sound utopian. But this is quite possible. There is a wrong prejudice that in well-off classes, only young people, preferably males, ride bicycles and that too for sports activity. No it is not so. In advanced countries like The Netherlands, it is a common sight to see a middle aged woman going for her regular grocery shopping with her kid hopped in the front seat of her cycle and the other one trailing behind in a cozy buggy attached to the cycle. And that’s why many people there don’t own car, not because they can’t afford it but because they don’t feel the need for it. Yes we are a way behind from that level. For that we need integration of cycling with public transport and pro-cycling government policies. And frankly, the only visible support I have seen from political parties till date is from Samajwadi party which has bicycle as its party symbol. But we can at least take first steps, like making use of cycle mandatory on certain tracks or offices taking initiative to encourage their employees to cycle to work at least on certain days. Like, in Pune College of Military Engineering it is mandatory for everyone to use cycle on two particular days in a week. It is so refreshing to see cycle not only as recreational activity but also as a mode of transport there, irrespective of class, rank, age and gender. Rahagiri day is another great initiative which has given wings to our fantasies, given us hope that yes it possible to give motors a break and let the child inside you be free and happy. I am sure that days are not far behind when we will actually have dedicated lanes for cyclists and measures to ensure their safety. Honestly, for me cycling is not a mere health activity or some hobby. For me, it is a symbol of empowerment, a faith that Yes, our society is progressing in a better way. There are many issues involved with women bicyclists in India; I will not dwell into them. The day I will get that courage to ride my bicycle on any road in our country, be it busy or lonely, in a group or solo, will be day I will truly become a carefree and empowered woman on Indian roads. And for that to happen we need more and more people on roads on cycles, a silent revolution to boycott the fuel-barons and make administration see the need to make roads cycle-friendly. So people! Take out your cycles, go for shopping, and go for long rides. Enough of caged-rides, be a soaring kite, and feel the wind beneath your wings. And as a popular TV Ad says, ‘why should boys have all the fun’.  


Also published in The Hindu under the heading Smile, for you are on a soaring kite

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