Because It Matters

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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.

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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

Video Killed the Radio Star

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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.