Thursday, August 15, 2013

Independence Day, Happy or Somber?

Our forefathers might have put in their blood and sweat to free this country and its people from the clutches of tyranny, but would they be pleased to witness the shape and form Free India has taken? What would the Bhagat Singhs, Gandhis, Subhashchandra Boses of the revolutionary era have to say about our motherland today? Have we as a nation done justice to their struggles, have we been able to fulfill their dreams, have we actually broken free of the evils of colonial India? Are we failing the bright young faces of India, are we denying them a worthy future?

In some respects, I am sure they would feel proud of the progress this country has made. It has gone from being colonized to being taken notice of across the globe. It has carved its niche in many a fields and brought glory to the people. This country's citizens have made their presence felt in almost every country. But, are these people representative of the country as a whole? Have the issues of poverty, illiteracy, inequality actually been addressed? Does India Shining represent a certain section of the population or the whole country? Should we actually feel proud that our citizens are globe-trotting, making a name for their country; or should we look deeper into the reason behind them actually globe-trotting? It is very convenient to focus on the obvious positives of a country and take solace in that. But, it takes much more strength and conviction to face the negatives and try to look into them.

I know it is very easy to talk about the shortcomings of a country, but actually realizing that and working towards improving is a tough task. In the past year, there have been several occasions, where the country has stood together and tried to make themselves heard. And I feel respectful and proud of that fact. In some cases, the voices actually made a difference, and in others, they were simply ignored. What makes me happy is that people are ready to accept the failures of this country and try to find a solution. Whether or not this is a pragmatic approach that will get through to the people in power is a debatable issue. 

In light of these facts, there are certain issues that have cropped in recent times, that provoke me to think if I actually should be celebrating my country's Independence Day. I am not even sure if the common man in India, even feels like this is an event to be celebrated. And like them, there are some reasons, this Independence Day is a somber occasion for me:

1. Inhuman suppression of women: 
What happened in New Delhi last December is one of the most shameful pictures of India being painted. And it is not like, it was the first time women had encountered such a fate. But, the brutality of this incident was what sent shivers down everybody's spine. It was a rude awakening for the law enforcement authorities when their lack of action was brought to the forefront. It is also true that such incidents happen in other countries too, and it would be incorrect to judge Indian society by that. But, this incident brought to the forefront the appalling indifference of the community and police towards the triggers that lead to such events. The fact that we take the early signs lightly, and to add to that our movies glorify stalkers as eternal lovers, is not only disturbing but soul-shaking. This was one of the occasions where the voice of the people actually made some difference, in terms of faster and more conscientious actions from the authorities. Whether or not this is a matter that eventually gets lost among a pile of other old headlines is to be seen.

2. Increasing indifference: 
The dark hole we send our armed forces down
Is this some kind of cruel joke the country's leaders are playing with the men in green? How many more times do the men defending your country need to be tortured, insulted, debased before you actually take a stern step. The supposed leaders of this country have done nothing but bring shame to the families of these soldiers and made a complete fool out of themselves at the global level. And to add salt to the injury, there is not one, but two neighbors putting their foot in the door. We have had to deal with Chinese incursions this year and now the violations from Pakistan. Could you imagine America or any other other formidable country taking this like a sitting duck? Then why do we take this lightly? Again, it is heartening to know that people are taking notice of this injustice and trying to urge the leaders to come out of their slouch. But, we as a nation have to come out of our soft target image, and adopt an absolute zero-tolerance policy.

3. Inflation, bribery, power games, scandals: 
Seems like a line straight out of a mafia movie, but this is the state of our country that really worries me. With so many scandals uncovered and new ones cropping up every few days, the only thing that comes to my mind is that of the power hungry being ready to put at stake the common man. They don't care if their corruption or bribery costs some people their lives, or even the chance to earn a decent meal. With bribery, goes hand in hand inflation and the ever-increasing prices of basic commodities. It is easy to say that there is a growing middle class that can afford all this, but it fills me with pain to even think of how the lower classes might be surviving. How is it fair that we have India Shining on the one hand and India Drowning on the other? 

I know it is very easy for me to comment from a distance, and a lot of people would suggest that I show it in my actions rather than words. But, I have absolutely no clue as to how to bring order to this society. Are we doomed for inequalities? Is this what we are supposed to accept as our country's fate and let it pass? When I was younger, I thought the answer to this was to take action and bring about a change. But, looking at people like Durga, who tried to take a right step and was penalized for it, I no longer trust that actions of certain self-righteous people can transform this country. 

Although, the silver lining to all these issues is the fact that there is growing awareness and a need to bring about a change among the people. Having lived away from India for 4 years, I find utter respect for the masses who have made the effort and have attempted to bring about one small change at a time. It is not easy to be in the eye of the storm and still be capable of thinking straight, to find a solution. I don't know how strong of a voice the masses would have to present for the top tier to actually be scared and take necessary measures, but the attempt to stand by each other is a victory in my eyes. In the past, even the general public has ignored the signs of doomsday and moved on. The fact that they feel the need to protest is in itself a start. Whether the momentum is enough to get this country through true independence from these evils is something that only time can tell.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Of opinions and biases!!!

If you are active on any of the social media avenues, you would have heard of the event that is doing the rounds lately. This event has all the trademarks of something that can keep you hooked. There is drama, beautiful people, a lot of anticipation and excitement attached to it and most important, there is love and the underlying notions of humanity. It is supposed to be one of the first Indian lesbian weddings and everybody seems to have an opinion. The official photographer who is friends with the couple was touched to be part of the celebration and in turn created a photo montage. He is the one who made the pictures public and tried to carve a story through his pictures for friends and family. (For more on that, click here).

What is normal and what is not?
What he and the couple entering wedded bliss might not have realized is that this little venture turned out to be the staging area for many debates and opinions. As with every social issue, people tend to have an opinion and with SNS so easily accessible, it has become increasingly simple to lend a voice to your thoughts. Every person is entitled to his/her opinion. With respect to sexual orientation, there are people who get uncomfortable, others that vehemently support the issue, some others who detest people out of the usual (whatever usual might mean), and others who would rather just ignore the issue altogether. There is a wide spectrum of reactions elicited from people and especially when it comes to laws being framed around the issue, the voices become louder and clearer. Questions like whether it is legal or acceptable in society start arising. My concern is that we as liberals favor democracies, but want to curb the rights of some people. How does that support the principles of democracy? 

Yet again, there are people who liken implementing gun control to a violation of rights. It is not that I am comparing the right to love someone with the right to own a firearm. It would be like comparing apples to oranges. There are multiple dimensions to these issues and that is a completely different debate. But in both cases, the commonality is the fact that there are people with opposing views, numerous opinions and strong reactions. What I am unsure of is whether these opinions transform to biases somewhere along the line. Currently, sexual orientation is the flavor of the decade. But, all through human civilization, there have been issues with people on different sides of it. As the intelligent animal we are touted to be, it is thoroughly acceptable for us to have opinions and choices. But, is it fair to justify our opinion and use that to discriminate against someone with an opposing opinion?

A week ago, me and my husband were having a conversation over our weekend brunch (which is fertile ground for many of our debates), and got into a heated argument over some issue. And that is when I realized that is is very difficult to have a bias-free opinion. Bias necessarily does not mean exposing someone to insult, or inflicting physical or mental abuse. Just the fact that we consider people to be out of the normal and form certain impressions about them could lead us to compartmentalize them and establish notions,which might not always be true. We don't realize many times, but even thoughts can be discriminating; it does not always have to translate into action. Even though discrimination in its truest form might have been rendered inactive, there are always subtle discriminatory phenomena. Associating people with a certain habit and trying to avoid them, because they belong to a certain nationality or ethnicity is in a way discriminatory. Assuming that one person represents the whole group is being biased. Assuming women can't work in physically strenuous jobs because their physical make-up is different from men would mean harboring a prejudice. And even though, it might not feel wrong to the person doing it, the person at the receiving end knows that he/she is being looked at differently. 

So does all this mean that you are not supposed to have an opinion at all? I am not so sure I can answer that. After all my pondering, all I know is that it is very difficult not to let your opinion affect your judgement. And the best practice that I have been trying to implement is to judge as less as possible. There is no way I can stop myself from having an opinion, let alone stopping someone else. So, the best I can do is not to let my opinions interfere with my interactions with people. Yes, I may not like smoking; but that does not mean that there is something wrong with smokers. Just like I have an opinion, they have a choice. It is their free will they are exerting and there is no reason to judge them for that. They may be perfectly good people, excellent at work, kind at heart; and their habit should not stop me from recognizing them for who they are. But like they say, easier said than done.

What do you think, could you keep opinion and bias separate?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What would you do? : Tag along!

So, the third in the series is on the lighter side. If you look at it, at each step in our lives, we are faced with choices. And unknowingly, we pick one over the other. There is no right or wrong, it is exactly what the word says: a free choice, and if one choice may work for one, it may not work for somebody else. At most, what is pertinent is, the timing of the choice. What I am trying to understand is what drives those choices and how do we know which choice is right for what occasion.

A few days back, as the class was wrapping up and all of us getting ready to rush to our busy routines, I noticed the girl next to me. I had never actually spoken to her, but had seen her in class a number of times. She must have been almost the same age as me. So, as she got up, and my eyes followed her, to my shock, I noticed that a stick-on tag with the dimensions of the jeans, was still intact on the back of her pant leg. It must have been a new pair and if she was anything like me, must have worn the new possession the first chance she got. My first reaction was a smile, as I felt a strange sisterhood with her. Sisterhood, because I could totally see this happening to me. I buy new clothes, try them on, and hang around at home to get a feel, and then walk out the door, feeling Oh-so-wonderful in my new clothes, forgetting to get the tag off. It is my husband who reminds me most of the times and if not for him, I would be walking around with tags all the time. So, I could completely imagine what must have happened with that girl.

Now, as I was thinking about all this, she started walking up the stairs to the door leading outside the classroom. And all I kept thinking was, "Should I tell her?". I knew her. But we weren't so close that I would be able to predict her reaction. There were two ways this could go: either she would be relieved that somebody had told her and saved her the humiliation of going through the whole day with the tag on, or she could be embarrassed that I had noticed and now she had to face me. And I had no clue how it would go. If I were her, I would have wanted my friend to save me from the humiliating looks that I would garner throughout the day. But, a friend telling you is different from a stranger. When a friend brings it up, it is a funny situation where you can laugh together. When a stranger brings it up, your face goes red and you suddenly realize the lack of a place to hide. 

Just the other day, I walked into a party with the tag on my shirt. My only saving grace was my braid that hid it. But, it was not going to last long. Somebody noticed it and came up to me saying that the tag was showing. As graceful as I tried to be, I started getting fidgety, with my ears and cheeks going a bloodshot red. It was the same feeling you get when you trip and fall and try to make zero eye-contact, assuming that nobody noticed. All I could think of in that moment was 'Why had this person told me?'. Had he not mentioned, I would have gone through the party happily. I could not figure if I was grateful or agitated at him for bringing it to my notice.

So, what is the right thing to do in such a situation? Just ignore and let the person discover their folly, giving them the solace that nobody noticed, or actually point it out, put them through temporary embarrassment and save them the sideways glances? I never know which one is right. I guess the comfort level with the person might direct my actions. So, my question is, what would you do in such a situation and what would you prefer people to do if you were on the receiving end? Do our answers change depending on who the person is? And should they change? Just some questions that linger on and bring on the larger issue of what is morally right may not always be socially appealing.

There are many situations like these when you are not sure of the other person's reaction. And although, you might want to step in their shoes, it is not always easy. Because every person is different, and every person handles embarrassing moments in unique ways. What, then is the acceptable protocol and is there even one?

As always, please take a moment to share any experiences or comments!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Harmonious Living: Empathy for animal life!

At the start of every movie, there is a disclaimer: "No animals were harmed while shooting this movie". And it makes me wonder if the disclaimer is there only because of the animal rights board or because of a conscientious crew. The chances of the first scenario are higher. There are very few people who actually care whether animals are hurt or not. There are few people who consider animals as equals, who deserve rights of their own. And although, the animal welfare board and animal rights commission have done a great job in increasing the awareness, it is just that: an awareness campaign. For something like preventing cruelty, it is empathy that is required. Awareness without empathy is like having a computer without the correct programmer. The computer will do what it is asked to, but if the programmer does not give the right direction, the computer can only perform pre-defined tasks. Similarly a society that runs in the fear of animal activists will do only what is required, but not think about what more can be done.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts can direct people to protect the integrity of animals, but these acts cannot make people empathize and sympathize with animals. This is where animal welfare organizations come in. They do work under the preamble designed according to the Acts, but they go the extra mile in sensitizing the society towards the animal race. It is extremely pivotal that sensitization occurs at a young age, when there are no inherent biases in the cultivable mind. These organizations conduct awareness programs, but also bring the society, especially children in close quarters of the animals, in an attempt to reduce their inhibitions of animal contact. These organizations believe in the motto: "Today's aware child is tomorrow's responsible citizen!". By doing so, an opportunity is presented for people to experience the trauma of being an abused animal. Occasions like these stimulate the emotion centers in the brain and floods the person with a wave of responsibility and pro-activity. Especially if children try to be gentle to animals, it is difficult for parents and adults to let their children down. And so, there is promotion of the principles of the organization.

A post-operative hit and run case. 
One such organization is the Nagpur SPCA. SPCA is the Society for Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals and has multiple branches across India and the world. These branches are affiliated to the original Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals. I was born and brought up in Nagpur and thus, have witnessed the impactful work of Nagpur SPCA. The variety of ventures taken up by this society have been umpteen, ranging from releasing snakes from snake-charmers, tending for hit-and-run cases, rescuing wild animals, relief centers to tackle natural calamities (earthquake in Latur), running adoption campaigns for strays and many others. This society has not only worked for domesticated animals , but has ventured into the often unexplored realms of wildlife and has left no stone unturned in the attempt to preserve wildlife, at the same time, keeping citizens safe. 

A blind kitten being treated and housed at the animal shelter.
But, the most consequential problem that agitates the common man is of stray dogs, and that is one of the first things that needs to be tackled to generate empathy from people. If children are going to suffer from dog bites, contract infections from strays, nobody would ever want to work for the betterment of these animals. The Nagpur SPCA had realized this well ahead in time and accordingly, developed a long-term strategy to tackle with this ever-existent problem. These steps aim to uproot the main cause of disruption in the animal-human balance and create a more harmonious life for both races. 

It is important to realize that every issue has two sides to it. And as much as animal activists might want to promote the cause of animals, they have to acknowledge the fact that it cannot be at the cost of human life. It is this same thought that Nagpur SPCA has embedded in their task plan. If strays are inadvertently affecting the human population, the solution is not to send the animals to pounds and put an end to their life. f that were the case, every antisocial element in the society would be sentenced to death. We don't do that to people who behave like animals; then why the discrimination? Why not think logically and rise above barbarism? Why not think of animals as an indispensable part of the society? Once we do that, both races can thrive.

The solution suggested by Nagpur SPCA is to bring down the stray population and make them safe to be around. Strays do not crop up themselves. Most of the times, a stray locality is started by some dog owner no longer wanting to bear the responsibility and letting their dog out on the street. Once the dog is out, there is breeding and a litter of pups adds on to the stray population. If a few simple measures were adopted, the dog population would be cut down drastically and would present with a long term solution. But nobody wants to look at the big picture. People just want to take actions that will give them results then and there.

Stray puppies waiting to be adopted
It is creditable that this organization is trying to appease all members of the society by simple measures like Animal Birth Control (ABC) program, Anti-rabies vaccination for strays, Adoption campaigns, and  Awareness programs for the need to keep pets leashed. Under the ABC program, the organization plans to target different pockets of the city and procure as many strays in the area as possible, perform a castration surgery (sterilize the dogs), earmark the dogs for identification and release the dogs back to their locality. This method basically eliminates the chance of mating and prevents generation of fresh litter. It is also taken care that when the dogs are brought in, they are vaccinated against rabies (a fatal disease communicable to humans). At the same time, the organization is promoting adoption of stray pups, in a hope of reducing the stray numbers.

Strays peeking out of their rooms at the shelter.
Although, this is a rosy picture, the fact remains that all these ventures need a lot of infrastructure and money backing. The Municipal Corporation and government aid is able to support only so much; beyond a certain extent, the organization needs to rely on donations and external support. Support can be in any form: unwanted medicines, extra food, feeding bowls, etc. The local bakeries have been kind enough to provide SPCA with leftover crumbs rather than dispose them of. Sometimes, it is just a matter of knowing how to help. And if anybody would like to help, the administrators can be contacted for a visit to the animal shelter and hospital run by Nagpur SPCA, where the needs of the organization can be better gauged.

The measures adopted by SPCA have not only kept the menace of stray dogs at bay, it has also taken into account the existence of animals. They have not been fanatical about expecting people to take extreme measures for the protection of animals. Rational and feasible steps have been suggested. It is only for the community to take notice and contribute to a cause, which will, in the end, benefit the human race, without carrying the burden of bloodshed. This approach has been one of the hallmarks of this society and has helped in its successful establishment, presenting an acceptable image in the society. But, like all social causes, this needs financial support and emotional investment. A cause without emotional investment does not have ownership and without ownership, it is difficult to achieve goals. Goals that lead to the betterment of the society on the whole!

This blog post has been written for the National Social Venture Competition organized by iDiya.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What would you do? : Obstacle Race

So, the second scenario in the series, this is something I remember reading about it in a moral education book, when I was 10. It has been such a long time, and knowing that this lesson has been around for such a long time, I feel amazed that certain things never change.

A few months back, me and my husband were driving down from New York City to New Jersey, and were suddenly brought to an abrupt halt by a street light splayed right across the road, spreading out through almost three lanes. It was my husband's presence of mind that we weren't hit by the car behind us and didn't injure ourselves. The driver from the car behind us stepped up to help us extract the car wheels from the iron lamp post and to redirect the traffic. All three of us managed to get the pole off the highway, yet there was some rubble right in the middle.

As we drove off, and recovered from the shock, we started talking about how bad it could have been and why weren't there any signs, warning drivers about the collapse. At that time, I asked my husband if we should be calling 911 and let them know of the incident, so at least other drivers would be safe. Even though, we were contemplating our next step, a voice inside said, "Somebody must have called already"! That voice, which blurs your vision, blurs the call of responsibility. And as usual, we over thought it, and ended up not calling the police or roadways. 

The next day, I went through the newspaper, checking to see if there were any reports about injuries or accidents due to the pole collapse. Not finding any news, I felt relieved that not calling after all, did not lead to any harm. But, it could have! When our car was screeching across the steel rubble, all I could think was why hadn't the authorities done anything about it. And minutes later, when we had escaped, I had forgotten about how the authorities would help. The problem is we think men in authority are superheroes, they should know everything, they should be capable of being present at multiple places at once, they should have the power to right the wrongs of every citizen and above all, they should be successful without any help from the common man. 

Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Authorities can do their jobs well, only if the citizens are responsible. And most of us have a very trivial definition of responsibility: there should be responsibility towards us, but we should not be held responsible for anything. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call, and that could help the authorities do their job and save people trouble. Why is it that once we are out of the woods, we forget about the people who could get stuck there? Aren't we supposed to be social animals, who are co-dependent? Why do we walk away from trouble, assuming that it is not our job. It is my job, my husband's job, my neighbor's job, your job, every person's job. 

What is the worst that could have happened even if we called 911? They would have told us off, saying they were aware of the situation. So what? At least I wouldn't have lost sleep over whether the rubble was removed, whether there were any accidents, if anyone was hurt. I have tried to change things after that, and what helps me is reminding myself that nobody else had seen the blunder. If they had, I wouldn't be stumbling across a pothole or some other hazard. Procrastination is mankind's biggest enemy. And I have had to fight it down many times, but I am glad that lately, I have been able to come out a winner.

So, my question again, is, what would you have done? Would you have walked away or done your part? Every person is busy in their fast paced life, but should we be waiting for an accident to come as a rude awakening? Overcoming the hurdle of procrastination turns out to be one of the most challenging tasks and how one does it, completely differs from person to person.

Looking forward to hear your thoughts, reactions and experiences!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What would you do? : Spitsville

Life is full of choices. But the most important ones are where you have to identify right from wrong and pick a path. We come across such moments quite frequently in our daily routines, maybe some of us give it a thought, and then we move on to follow our busy schedules. This column is my attempt to reflect on such occasions and not let the sense of responsibility escape from me, on the pretext of a busy life. 

Also, this is where I would like my friends, and readers to share their thoughts and think out loud about their experiences. I am hoping to open up a discussion and do the right thing as a community.

So, here goes...


Having grown up in India, "Gutkha Spit" was something that became part of the surroundings. As unhygienic as it was, I never saw the frequency of the spit marks go down. I remember corners of our apartment system lined by red streaks. Every other year the maintenance would paint the walls and within just a few weeks, the walls would return to their former glory, so to say. It was beyond my understanding what compulsive disorder people suffered from, unable to stop themselves from spoiling something pristine.

As I grew up, I got used to the fact that some things never change, the same thought a lot of Indians have grown up with. By the time I had my own independent thought process, there was nothing that used to annoy me more than people spitting all along the road, walking by. It had become part of their natural demeanor, and this with awareness signs all around. T.B used to be a deadly disease in India, and there was almost an epidemic of it. Given that, there were multiple public awareness programs, discouraging people against spitting, as that is the most common means of spreading the disease. Yet, people spit, they ignore their health and others' health. The "Chalta hai" attitude prevailed. I couldn't understand why nobody would stop these people.

And one fine day, on my way back from college, I just couldn't hold it in. I was riding my Dio, and the cyclist in front of me spit. I got ahead of him , and asked him why he had spit. He looked at me, with amusement, and said, "Aap pe gira kya (Did it land on you)?". As, I nodded my head in a "No", he was shocked to see me make an intervention, when it was supposedly none of my business. "Toh phir problem kya hai (So, what is your problem)?", said he in his defense.

So, my problem was that nobody thought it was their business. Why should I have had to be affected by it, before I can raise my voice? I tried explaining to him how spitting on the road is equivalent to spitting in his home. And he looked at me, like, I was crazy or something. But, one thing I did notice that he did not like to be cornered, and he quickly owned up, saying "Sorry". I drove away, but felt satisfied that I had at least conveyed that it is not okay to spit on the road. Maybe it was my naivety, that I thought it would change anything. But, today, 10 years later, I see things have improved a little bit. There are not as many red streaks along the walls of my apartment. And although, I do not know the reasons to this, I would like to believe that it was the voices of many people like me, that made things a little better, however little it maybe. 

Now, my question to you is, what would you have done in that situation? What would you do, today,  if you saw someone spit or throw trash on the streets? It is easy to expect everything to be clean and tidy, but who is going to do the dirty job, the dirty job of being loud and clear, of being stern and taking a stand "Sab kuch nahi chalta hai". I do not know if that person stopped spitting after that or not, but at least he spent those 2 minutes thinking about it. And sometimes, it just takes a thought to make you see between right and wrong. 

Have you had that moment? Have any of you had such an experience? Is it naive to expect one voice to change the society? Please share your thoughts!!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A walk, poetry and some perspective!

The following article was published in the September 2012 issue of the magazine, Green Hope!

The world thinks that the greatness of America lies in the urban architectural structures and the modern skyscrapers. But, what people fail to perceive is that the steel and concrete just make a quarter of America’s beauty. The true beauty lies in the pockets of this huge country, where you feel most close to nature. Right in the arms of nature, surrounded by lakes, springs and critters, is how the true American likes to live. And not that, this was before urbanization. The suburb I moved to, is one that was recently developed, and yet there are no signs of excessive urbanization. You wake up to the merry chirp of birds, you see squirrels run on your deck (balcony), and rabbits nibbling on to nuts that fell in your backyard. The feeling of being so close to nature, without making an effort is unimaginable. Living with nature enclosing your daily routine is a marvelous sensation and unequaled by any other.

Walking around the lake, through a wooded trail, makes you feel this is where authors got their inspiration from. And the beauty of it lies in the fact that every season ushers in something new. It is the saplings and signs of new life that catch your eye in spring, whereas it is the lively activity of birds that fills summer. Autumn brings with it the iridescent colors and the preparation of birds ready to migrate. And the reason I am being able to describe all this is because nature is conserved the way it was supposed to be cherished. The advantages of being so close to natural wonders are manifold, one being, the appreciation for other lifer forms and the recognition that we all actually share resources. One of the thing that amazes me is the fact that the ducks, the loons, the turtles, rather than being scared of human activity, roam around unthreatened at all times. And that is only possible because there are no humans actually shooing or scaring the birds away, but rather minding their own business and going about their respective activities.

It is so common to see a raccoon, an otter, or a stork during your walk, that the need or the desire to visit a zoo is eliminated. It is so comforting to know that both the animals and humans here are so comfortable with each other, that neither side feels the need to interrupt with each other’s routines. Being around other species is not only a lesson in science for kids, but also teaches them profound lessons in sensitivity and respect for god’s creations. And once that realization has set in, it is easier to mold responsible citizens who are cognizant of the perils human ignorance could cause to the survival of other species. With so many ill-effects like global warming, depletion of resources, etc., it is vital to create a generation that is more aware of the needs of today for a harmonious tomorrow.

Witnessing the native bird and animal population in India dwindle because of ingesting plastic or incorrectly disposed medicines is heart-breaking. And it is small efforts like those made here, in terms of recycling, that help the native fauna sustain. The beauty of simply walking across a paddling of ducks is one of life’s taciturn moments. In such moments, the ease with which one can reflect upon the basic commonalities across different life forms is amazing. It is so heartening to witness the culmination of so many fellow human beings on just one bridge over the lake. The lake, the prairie grass that serves as an abode for the rich fauna, is just the perfect sanctum for a piebald community. You see photographers, artists, poets, nature-lovers and athletes enjoying the same view in varied ways. And then there are others who are just there for the sanctity, to soak in the view with a loved one. No matter, the agenda, all of them there have found a source to unwind. Only someone who has experienced the peace and the vivacity of nature together can perceive the importance of treasuring such spots.

What is striking is the fact that it is so easy to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, with small steps from us. The first step would be for appropriate garbage disposal and recycling. Throwing unwanted materials in the woods or the water will only result in an imbalance in the ecosystem caused due to either increased or decreased levels of a certain animal or bird population. That, of course, depending on the toxicity of the waste to the species in consideration. Another conscious effort from us could be to leave the flora and fauna as untouched as possible. That doesn’t mean not being outdoors in fear of trampling the grass, but just the realization that when you try to tamper a bird’s nest or a turtle cove, it is like someone shaking the walls of your house. It is very important for all members in an ecological niche to feel secure, for them to want to reside there. Some other measures that could be taken are to plant as many trees, grow lawns and have greenery to encourage a healthy food chain. If it were not for the grassy patches outside our apartment, I would never have had the privilege of watching a herd of deer wander into the apartment system, that too in the beautiful white snow.  It is spectacles like these that make you realize the importance of preserving the globe and it’s inhabitants in the purest form.

Imagine the beauty of a sunset with birds taking flight in the horizon, rather than just a plain sunset. Sometimes, all we need is a close conversation with nature to gain some perspective and it is but, what was meant to happen, before men came along and rearranged God’s scheme. It is said that one who loves nature, is never alone; and nothing else could be truer than that. I can only imagine what an effect a lack of landscape would have had on literature. Without the presence of awe-striking meadows, and mysterious woods, a William Wordsworth or Robert Frost could not have given the world, the mellifluous gems of their poetry.  And there would be no inspiration to remind the world of “the miles to go before I sleep”. Indeed, we are surrounded by miles and miles of natural beauty, it is for us to open our minds and preserve the milieu to enjoy a mutual existence.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rejected without Prejudice - my entry to the Get Published Contest

Premise of the story - Shailendra and Pooja are the poster couple of modern India. They worked in IT companies, lived in metropolitan cities, and dated a few people, before choosing each other for the long haul. Like most of India's youth, they too have major aspirations and Shailendra travels to the 'Land of Opportunities' for an MBA. But, not before making some tough choices. Pooja is apprehensive of how this relationship will change, both being separated by multiple boundaries. Shailendra is confident things will work out and they decide to give it a shot. The first few months sail by, with hopes for future togetherness. As months turn into years, the courtship bliss is taken over by the tensions of leading a dual life.  Sweet memories of their companionship make way for bitter arguments, like any other couple. But, unlike other couples, they have not met for almost 3 years, not out of choice, but out of a global paranoia of minimizing immigration. They are not even sure if they qualify to be addressed as a couple; every day is a struggle, a fight against authorities, nations, policies and norms.

This story is the heart-wrenching tale of two people in love, partitioned not by caste, religion or family norms, but by seemingly important pieces of paper. A story that pans the fate of love under tumultuous conditions; a love that is made up of human issues and not fairy tale stuff.

The reality quotient of the story – With aspirations soaring high in modern India, and numerous regulatory issues, more and more people feel the pressures of long-distance relationships. Why does it have to be a choice between aspirations and relations?  The word NRI comes with a lot of complexities, as opposed to the glamour still associated with it in our society. In urban India, it has become increasingly common for people to work and reside in a different country, with their loved ones back home. Such a story, then, mirrors the exhausting trials of simply being able to see those important people in life.

 “Shail, I do believe things would be different, if I was there, right next to you. Please understand, we have been patient all along, don’t give up now!”, muttered Pooja in a desperate attempt to reclaim what she soon seemed to be losing.
But, Shailendra was so bogged down by the numerous failed attempts to put a stop to these fights they would have. Arguments over not making enough time for each other, the frustration of physically not being there for each other. It was never going to be a bed of roses, but it had now become almost impossible to pick out the thorns without pricking each other’s hearts.
Yet, Pooja exclaimed, “Please, I have to see you once!”. “What do you expect me to do, hitchhike on a ship? I cannot, I simply cannot come back right now, and I don’t have the strength to wait for the day I can”, screamed Shailendra.

If you like the snippet, and are excited to know the rest of the story, please click on the link below to vote for this story. On the link, clicking on the heart will register your vote and give me a chance to pen down the story for my protagonists.

Endnote: This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal andHarperCollins India.

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