Sunday, July 29, 2012

Beware! Children are watching

A recent movie to have affected me personally was ‘Ferrari ki Sawari’. It had a very strong and practical message. ‘Jo Dekhega wohi to seekhega’. (The child will learn from whatever he sees his/her parents do). Children learn and copy whatever their adults do. On retrospection of this thought, I realized that it is so true. 

I have a 3 year old daughter and she tries to ape both my husband and me in most of her activities. Though it’s difficult and embarrassing to admit, but both my husband and I have this irritating habit of nail biting. And it has directly impacted our child. She can be seen with her fingers in her mouth most of the time. We have practically tried everything to try and stop her but none of our efforts have been successful. But now if I see her nail biting, I don’t feel like scolding her or threatening her or punishing her. Why? Because, she is not wrong. She is just trying to copy her parents. How does a child, as small as my daughter, know what is right or wrong? She probably thinks what her parents do is right. Why should we scold her? Instead, shouldn’t we try to change ourselves? I often ask this question to myself, but the sad part of the story is that it is also not easy to change habits easily as you grow old. But in order to help my child overcome this bad habit, I have started being more conscious about not biting my nails as much as I can. It is instances like these which make me realize why they always say that children are like wet clay. They can be moulded in any shape you want. And as a parent I feel sad when my daughter picks up any of the so called bad habits from either my husband or me or any other relative.

I am learning new things everyday as my daughter is growing up. She has taught me to be more patient, more efficient and more responsible. But most importantly, she is teaching me to be a better person. How? If I have to teach her to be a good and sincere person, I have to first learn to be a better person myself. Ultimately, she is going to learn things from me (besides school of course). It is rightly said that parenthood is like a second life. It is a whole new process of learning. And believe me; this learning is more challenging than the subjects we all have studied in schools. It is because this learning comes along with the added responsibility of teaching the people (or children) you love the most in this world. Now imagine this; if we all try to change ourselves even a little for the betterment of our own children, wouldn't this society be so much better to live in? I know I’m being too idealistic but what’s the harm in trying to improve upon our bad habits for the sake of our own children?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Strength of the Mind

I always think of my brother when I feel low or when I’m upset about something. He was just 16 when the tragedy struck him. Doctors diagnosed him with Alopecia (loss of hair leading to baldness) and the chances of his recovery were almost negligible. His problem was very acute as he had lost all facial (eyebrows, eye lashes, hair on scalp) and bodily hair (this condition is known as Alopecia universalis). Imagine what thoughts must have ran through the young mind of a 10th grade teenager when he was given the options of wearing a permanent wig or using an eyeliner pencil to draw his eyebrows every day. A shiver rolls down my spine everytime I try to put myself in his shoes. Teenage is the most enjoyable period of a person’s life because one is totally carefree and has so many dreams and aspirations to work on. Instead of dreaming about girlfriends he was probably thinking about how to dodge the constant question that everyone had about his apparent looks. We, as a family had decided early on that we were going to treat him like nothing had happened. We had to be strong so that he could fight the sympathatic attitude of the world. Had it not been for his motivation and strength of perseverance, he would have become anonymous in this ruthless world long back. I thank God everyday for giving him the serenity to accept his condition, the courage to face the world and the wisdom to emerge a true winner. Today, after 5 years of constant struggle, my brother is a scholarship holder in his college, got a job in the first lot of the brightest students of his batch and has the biggest social circle (of both boys and girls) amongst boys of his age.

My parents had left no stone unturned in trying to get him cured. They tried everything: right from discussing his condition with the most experienced doctors , performing all kinds of rituals that anyone and everyone suggested, fasting for his fast recovery to going to saints and priets. Though these constant trials on my parents behalf might have helped but I would still say that it was his humility and spirituality that helped him sail through this ordeal.

We all need to realize that the only solution to lead a happy and healthy life is to keep working hard towards our goals without getting discouraged by failures or adversities. This can be achieved only if we keep ourselves constantly motivated. I derive my daily dose of motivation from this courageous boy who stood the test of time with utmost strength, determination and positivity.

For Reference (As taken from the internet)

Alopecia universalis is an uncommon form of alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is hair loss of unknown cause, characterized by round patches of complete baldness. Alopecia universalis, which presents itself as the loss of hair over the entire scalp and body, is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. While there is neither a cure for alopecia areata nor drugs approved for its treatment, some people find that medications approved for other purposes can help hair grow back, at least temporarily. Since the hair follicles of individuals with alopecia universalis remain alive, hair regrowth may occur even without treatment and even after many years.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why Only Boys!!!!

Why aren’t people happy when a girl child is born? Why is girl child such a big taboo in our society? My questions are never answered and I know they will never be answered till our society decides to widen its scope of thoughts and acceptability. And will that happen anytime soon? Well, I doubt that too…..

There was a lady in our neighbourhood who compelled me to write this article. She was blessed with 3 consecutive girls. Blessed is solely my adoration for the girls as they weren’t so much of a blessing for the family in reference. The youngest girl had probably sensed her family’s desire of a male child because she was growing up to be a complete tom-boy. Right from her gender goof up in sentences, her hairstyle, her clothes (that were primarily blue in colour) to her choice of games, she could easily fool anyone for being a boy. This is one part of the story of desperation. Here comes the other part.

As the lady was married in late 20’s, she had entered her late 30’s by the time she delivered the 3 girls. Any sane person would have thought that ‘this was it’ for her and her family. But we all were appalled when we came to know that the lady was pregnant for the fourth time. Being pregnant for the fourth time was not shocking. Being pregnant at 39, primarily to have a boy was. If rumuors were to be believed, the family had got the sex of the baby determined through influence and money. Well, they didn’t leave any stone unturned, did they?

This lady was on complete bed rest from day 1 of her pregnancy. I am not sure about other medical complications (if any) but we used to hear about her being sick most of the time. Finally, she delivered a baby boy. I’m sure that would have been the happiest day for the entire family. After all, they had risked a woman’s life for the heir of their family. The boy got 2 mothers. One biological and the other through his biological mother: his eldest sister. I left for my higher education and time went by.

On one of my vacations I saw that family again. There was an old man, an old fat lady, 2 girls and 2 boys. Oh, I realised there were 3 girls with one of them transformed into a boy (only outwardly). And then, my heart went out for the boy….

The boy was not normal. One could easily tell there was something wrong with him. His movements, his facial features, his gait… something was not right. On inquiry from my mother I came to know that the boy had Down syndrome….

I felt sad and angry at the same time. Was the family happy now to have a handicapped boy? Wasn’t this boy a bigger liability than the girls? Would this boy be able to bear the responsibilities of a family man? Was the family justified in robbing the girlhood of a small child for their selfish interests? Would this girl turned onto a boy ever be able to adjust well into a society eclipsed with so many social taboos for her?

When God created this universe, he didn’t create an inferior or a superior being. He simply created a male and a female who had to undertake the journey of life together, walking hand in hand, not one following the other. Let’s not destroy the delicate balance created by him by obliterating and humiliating the very source of life’s origin.

For reference (as taken from the internet)

Down symptom:

Down syndrome (also called Trisomy 21) is a genetic disorder that occurs in approximately 1 of 800 live births. It is the leading cause of cognitive impairment. Down syndrome is associated with mild to moderate learning disabilities, developmental delays, characteristic facial features, and low muscle tone in early infancy. Many individuals with Down syndrome also have heart defects, leukemia, early-onset Alzheimer's disease, gastro-intestinal problems, and other health issues. The symptoms of Down syndrome range from mild to severe.

Although no one knows for sure why DS occurs and there's no way to prevent the chromosomal error that causes it, scientists do know that women age 35 and older have a significantly higher risk of having a child with the condition. At age 30, for example, a woman has about a 1 in 900 chance of conceiving a child with DS. Those odds increase to about 1 in 350 by age 35. By 40 the risk rises to about 1 in 100.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Boy on the Street

Sometimes small incidents can teach you a lot in life. I had gone to a shopping arcade in Gurgaon some days back. Since I didn’t get any parking space in the open parking lot, I parked my car at some distance from the market in a by-lane. After shopping, when I was going towards my car, a small boy started following me. Though his clothes were torn and dirty, his hair were nicely combed and he had a pleasant look on his face. He had some packs of pencils in his hands which he was trying to sell to me. As it was extremely hot and I had a lot of stuff to carry, I tried to shrug him away the moment he came near me. But he was very persistent. He kept following me till my car and kept repeating the same sentence again and again. “Le lo aunty, mujhe bhook lagi hai” (Please buy the pencils so that I can eat with the money you give as I am hungry). “Aapni beti ke liye le lo” (Take it for your daughter). The scorching heat had made me very impatient and irritable and I scolded him the next time he tried to strike a deal with me.

The poor boy must have sensed my irritability because he didn’t utter a single word after that. But he didn’t even stop there. He kept following me silently till my car. He waited patiently till I loaded my stuff in the car, drank some water and made myself comfortable. He knocked again when I turned on the ignition and said, “ab to le le, bahut bhook lagi hai”. (Please buy the pencils now, I’m very hungry).

I was least interested in the pack of pencils he was offering but I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. So, I took out a 10 rupee note and gave him. He took the money and forwarded the pack of pencils to me. I told him to keep both the money and the pencils because I didn’t need the pencils. “Nahin nahin, yeh to lena hi padega. Mein bina diye paise kaise le loon.” (He said that he would not accept the money if I didn’t accept the pencils). I tried to tell him that it was ok for him to take the money and go but he was adamant to accept money only if he could sell his product.

Then he said something which surprised me and made me feel very ashamed. “Agar aise hi paise lene hote to mein bheek hi mang leta, Aunty”. (He said that if he wanted money like this, he could have begged for it on the streets like a beggar).

I was dumbstruck by his attitude. Those 10 rupees were very important for him. He had invested so much time and energy in trying to convince me to buy the pencils so that he could get those 10 rupees. And probably he was telling the truth that he was hungry. I could see his bones jutting out and peeping helplessly through his torn clothes. But in spite of being offered money, he refused to accept it till he could sell his product. I never expected so much self respect from a small poor boy of his age and background. He probably didn’t even realize that he was trying to maintain his dignity of labour by not taking money from me in charity. But the attitude and confidence he had in himself was something I had not seen in many well educated and affluent people of our society.

I took the pack of pencils from him and gave him the money. I asked him if he went to school. He told me that he and a few other boys went to a charitable institute, every evening, to study. A lady voluntarily came to teach them. I asked him if I gave him the pencils as a gift, will he sell them again for another 10 rupees. He said if he wanted to do that, he would have taken the money in the first place. I told him to keep the pack of pencils and distribute it amongst his friends in the evening as a gift from me. The boy smiled and took the pack from me. He took out the four pencils and put 1 in his pocket. “Meri pencil bhi toot gayi hai. Ek main rakh leta hoon, baki teen apne doston ko de donga”. (I’ll keep 1 as mine is broken and give the other 3 to my friends).

I smiled and rolled up my window. As I was leaving, I saw the boy waving from my rear view mirror. This is a very small incident but whenever I think about it, it makes me humbler and more grounded.

As Mahatma Gandhi has rightfully said “They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them”, this anonymous boy on the street was a true example of this phrase. His poverty had not given him an excuse to become a beggar or lose his self respect. Lack of resources had not diluted his spirit to study. I wish we all could learn a lesson from such boys on the streets and try to make a difference in our lives.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Those who can, Do. Those who can't, Teach.


Can you decipher this line? I’m sure most of us can. I was appalled to know that 9th class English teachers were not able to decipher this rather simple question. (I listened, because I loved her voice) Some truly incompetent wise heads got together and decided that the question was probably wrong. So they put in place of it a question to which they already knew the answer.

Another example is from a class on social studies. In one if the chapters there was a small passage on Population. And at the end of it was a question: What is population? Within the passage, there was no direct answer to this question. Outside references should / could / might have been used to come to the right answer. But strangely enough the teacher marked out a few lines within the small passage as "THE" answer to the above question. The only connection it had to the question was that the word population was mentioned in it once. I asked the student about it and he said that if they do not write the answer that the teacher has dictated, then the answer is marked as wrong or not entirely appropriate. So they are forced to mug things up, even if they are wrong. Now 9th graders should be given the liberty to use their brains just a little bit. But if they start using their brains then the teachers also have to do the same and at a much larger scale.

But the teacher simply made his/her job easy. Instead of having to read, correct and mark 40 to 50 different answers he/she simply got the whole lot to mug up one single version of it.
In both the above cases the teachers acted lazily and, to put it a bit harshly, refused to make much use of their mental faculties.
These are not just lame examples to condemn teachers. They are real life stories. But in order to understand it better, I went and asked some students in my locality about what they felt about it? Do they feel suffocated at not being able to express themselves? An angry 11th class student told me how he was restricted to “follow the book” and not allowed to experiment with harmless salts in the chemistry lab(he just wanted to check what reaction would happen with a different salt and all the salts were totally harmless). On asking the lab attendant as to why were they not allowed to experiment with different salts, the lab assistant smiled and said “teacher ko kudh aata hoga to aapko samjhayega na?” (The teacher will explain only if he knows anything beyond what’s there in the book). He narrated the incident where that particular teacher was embarrassed in front of the entire class long back when one student had asked questions on performing similar experiments.
“Do you find your teachers worthy of their profession?” I asked an engineering student.
“There are all types of teachers in my college. Some are truly great and are really concerned about us making a good career out of our education. Some are not bothered. They just wait for their salary slip. Some are jealous of us and don’t teach as well as they should.”
“Jealous?” that was an interesting thought.
“Yes Didi, there are teachers in my college who are jealous of us because they think that after we pass out from the college with an engineering degree; we would be earning much more than them. I don’t know if they are sadists or morons, but they are not worthy of a noble profession as teaching”, replied the upset student.
I thought it would be a good idea to know a parents perspective also. How satisfied are the parents with this system of education? I met a parent who has a master’s degree from USA. I thought he would be able to give a fair picture of both worlds.
“Teachers can be categorized in three categories. First are the ones who just do their work for money. Second are the ones who are really passionate about teaching. Now, this category can be further divided into two subparts. “
“Ones who can and others who can’t.”
“The ones who can are those who go the extra mile in making their lectures as interesting and informative as possible. They encourage students to be proactive. They engage each student in the learning process. The ones who can’t have all the knowledge that is needed about the subject, but they don’t know how to deliver their thoughts in an interesting way.”
“Unfortunately, our country has more of either the first category teachers who teach for money or the passionate teachers who don’t know how to teach. That is the prime reason why we all end up being book worms and are unable to grasp the real essence of any subject. “
When parents hand over the responsibility of education of their child to the teachers, they actually place an unspoken trust in the teachers that they will help in molding their child into a learned individual. But does “learned” mean cramming up few lines and producing the blueprint of dictations on the answer sheet to score good grades? I’m sure you all disagree with such a psyche. Cramming up is nothing but learning something for a short span of time and forgetting it after it has served its purpose. So how can such a short lived knowledge prove useful in long run?
So, what does it take to make a good teacher?”
A good teacher has great responsibilities on his shoulders. He is responsible in making a difference in the lives of his students. For this, teaching demands a lot of enthusiasm, an open mind, a broad knowledge of subjects, a caring attitude and most importantly a love for learning and sharing that knowledge.
A good teacher needs to be passionate about his work. Why do we applaud Mark Thackeray (from the movie To Sir, with Love) or Mr. Hand (from the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High) or any such character? It’s because these characters portray the zeal which differentiates a good teacher from a sadist who tortures his students in history and algebra classes. And, we all have always wanted to have such teachers for ourselves and our children.
A good teacher knows that knowledge cannot be acquired in closed classrooms only. He understands that theory needs to be balanced well with practical lessons. He encourages the “why” from his students and comes prepared to answer the queries.
A teacher can make or mar his students’ growth and development. Therefore, it is very important that only those people who are sure that they can serve as a guide, friend, confidante and an educator should take up teaching as a profession.


I had to get my driving license made from Chandigarh. On our way, I asked my husband what his opinion was regarding the relevance of gandhism in today’s world.
“I don’t deny that if we all follow Gandhian values, the world would be a better place”, he said. “But it makes more economic sense in today’s world to not follow them”.
“Economic sense?” I was curious to know what he meant.
“Yes, economic sense. Let’s take the example of your driving license. You have two options. First, you can spend days or even weeks standing in queues and getting your license made in the so called correct way. For that you will not only invest a lot of time and energy but also will be asked to go to n number of government offices. The second method is to bribe the person responsible for the entire process. In fact, even if you don’t want to bribe him, he would expect it from you.”
I asked myself inwardly about what I would do. Did I have so much time to invest in merely toggling from one queue to another? More importantly, did I have that much patience? Sadly, my answer was no. He was right. I would not think twice in shelling out a few bucks to get my work done in lesser amount of time if I could.
“Corruption has seeped into every system to such an extent that even if you try to bypass it, it won’t let you do that. Time is money today and no one has so much patience or time to follow the rules.”
“But aren’t we responsible for this corruption. Had we all followed Gandhian values right from the beginning, this situation would not have emerged?” I asked.
“No. Think of a house where there are three people and there is a basket which has three apples. Earlier, each person could get one apple each and the thought of stealing never came to anyone’s mind because each person was content. Now the number of people in the house increased to 6 but the number of apples remained the same. Though, the 6 people tried to be content with half an apple each but how long would that be with the number of people increasing more rapidly than the amount of resources to fulfill their needs.”
I could not question his analogy. Can you give an answer to this?
Finally, we came to Chandigarh and after eating food I asked the maid of the house if she knew who Gandhi ji was. “Bade neta the na (he was a great leader)?” she said. I nodded. “Do you know what values he taught us?” I asked her. “Padai kahan se Karen bhabhi (how can I study)?” She said. She told me that she had 6 sisters and 2 brothers. Her father had died long back. Her mother and all the sisters were working in order to run the house and support the education of their brothers. “pad likh lenge to naukri mil jayegi. Phir shayad aise kaam na karna pade (if my brothers study, they will get jobs. Maybe, then we won’t have to work like this)”. Gandhi ji was just a big leader for her and nothing else. I’m sure it is the same for her other sisters also.
I went to the license office the next day. I didn’t have to stand in the queue because the person in charge knew my father-in-law very well. I was asked to go to another room. But I was not alone there. There were 5 more people like me in the room.
“You all have to take an online test. “
A girl was made to login first. She scored 4 out of ten and was declared fail by the computer. The officer wrote “pass” on her file and told her to go to the next room. “Do I have to give the driving test also?” she asked the officer. He just smiled and told her that she had cleared all formalities necessary and she didn’t need to worry.
The same process continued for all the other. Some people passed the online test and some didn’t. But that made no difference. They all had passed the test of being affiliated to someone who knew the officer or had bribed him enough to overlook the results of the test.
“If this test result means nothing then why are you making us take it?” I finally asked him. “Madam, formality to poori karni padti hai (we have to do this formality).”
I asked him what Gandhi ji meant to him. Is he respected merely because of his status as 'Father of the Nation'? Do people say Gandhi ji and Mahatma as a mark of respect or they simply do to appear politically correct? Or is it because of indoctrination by the educational system?
He smiled and said that if he were to follow gandhism, we all would have been waiting in a long queue without the certainty of our license being made today. He was candid enough to accept that Gandhi ji and his values sounded good only in books and lectures. He added that gandhism didn’t hold true in real world.
I stepped out of the office, onto the road. I asked the same questions to a rickshaw walla on the road. He gave me a confused look and asked me, “bethna hai ya mein jaaon (do you want to go somewhere in my rickshaw or should I leave)?” It was not his fault. It was his poverty and illiteracy which made him react like that.
After interviewing people from different spheres of life I realized that it is not Gandhi ji’s principles that have become irrelevant today; it is the impatience of modern times that has lead to the growth of corruption. The root cause of existing disharmony is the egoistic attitude and mutual distrust amongst people and nations.
Gandhi’s ideology about patience, persuasion and perseverance being the three crucial elements for attainment of peace and harmony, have become the need of the hour. Truth and non-violence alone can fight the existing global intolerance and hatred.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Male Chauvinism

The literal meaning of chauvinism is an attitude of superiority towards members of opposite sex. Since males in our society have somehow decided that they are the superior ones that are often proud to be chauvinistic.
Chauvinism is a characteristic which reflects ignorance. Remember Devdas and his modern version in Dev D! Dev’s chauvinism gave him the liberty of having all the fun with females around him and the same chauvinism lead to his break up when he got suspicious about the loyalty of his girlfriend.
Frankly, I had not witnessed male chauvinism till I was secure in my house. I had seen my father prepare morning tea for my mother at times when she overslept. My father knew more about our medication and vaccinations than my mother. My father would not hesitate in going for shopping with my mother. In fact, I can easily say that he can make the best choice of clothes in our family. But as I grew up and went out for studies and job, I came across a variety of people who could be easily categorized as being highly male chauvinistic. There were colleagues who did not want a working wife because according to them women were meant to look after kids and family. Nonetheless, they wanted a post graduate girl to marry. I could never understand the irony of this. Why would a guy want to make someone sacrifice her career for an orthodox bent of mind?
“Have you experienced male chauvinism in your married life?” I asked a female who lives next door. “Yes, chauvinism is deep rooted in all males. Some have it more while others have it to a lesser extent. We live in a nuclear family (it’s just my husband and me) and my husband is off from work on weekends. But still he expects me to wake up early in the morning and do all the household chores while he keeps sleeping till almost afternoon. “
I had gone to interview a male in my society to understand a male perspective. “Do you think men in India are more chauvinistic than in US?” I asked.
“I can’t answer for men in US. But I don’t think Indian men are chauvinistic. They are just a little more protective towards their family” he replied.
“Sarita, this tea is totally cold. You always forget to cover it. Why can’t you work properly?”
Sarita aunty came out, smiled sheepishly to hide her embarrassment and covered the tea cups.
“Sarita, I told you the tea is totally cold now. Go, make two more cups of tea” shouted the chauvinistic husband.
Poor wife went inside after being humiliated in front of a guest who must have been her daughters’ age and couldn’t do anything. If this male is not chauvinistic then I have got the meaning of chauvinism wrong.
Recently, I met a lady in my community who came to the park everyday for yoga. Since yoga was a common practice, we soon became friends. I took to yoga because I had grown up watching my mother do it. This helped her keep fit and flexible.
“What makes you do yoga every day, without fail?” I asked her.
“It makes me fight away anger and frustration on daily basis” was her surprising reply.
“My husband never thinks that I do anything right. Name calling, unnecessary and illogical arguments, use of abusive language, false accusations…. It’s part of our daily routine.” “In order to keep my cool, I do Pranayam and yoga.”
I was speechless for a moment. The lady is well qualified and had even worked for a long time. I could not understand how she could be so wrong in everything she did that her husband fought with her like animals almost every day.
After the yoga session she told me that before marriage she was also very carefree and independent. But marriage changed everything for her. At night I talked to my father and told him everything. I was very disturbed and wanted to talk it out with someone.
“Girls have to make a lot of sacrifices after marriage, beta” explained my father. “Unfortunately, this is how our society operates. Males always have the upper hand in all household and external affairs and females have to abide by what the males say. This is very important to maintain peace and happiness in the family.”
For the first time I was surprised by what my father was saying. A person who had never dominated in his house was telling me to give in to male chauvinism in order to have a happy married life.
After talking to these people I have realized how paradoxical our norms and principles are. Before marriage we teach our daughters that men and women are equal. There is no difference in their rights. But as soon as a female is married, her own parents tell her to be the sacrificing, the submissive, the non-expecting, the giving kind of a wife. In fact, so strong is the impact of this fa├žade that I’m sure I would also be giving the same advice to my daughter once she is about to get married. After all, all parents want their daughters to have a trouble free married life.
But why is our society affected by male chauvinism the most? I don’t know the right answer to this but I personally feel that this characteristic creeps into every Indian male right from his birth. Right from female foeticide to distribution of sweets only on a male’s birth to extra pampering of a male child to first right to education and job; it’s all for a male child in India. I think we ourselves are to be blamed for polluting the minds of males and making them believe that they are the boss.