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Conflicting thoughts on the Uber rape #safety #women

The Uber rape is the latest in the never ending saga of the lack of safety for women in India. The focus of media discussion on the issue has been on verification processes and law. As a number of twitter discussions highlighted, there isnt enough hue and cry about the rape itself. Alarming and depressing as it may be, the idea of India being unsafe for women is no longer news. We have normalized the lack of safety, the patriarchal nonsense, the injustice of it all, the trauma, the shaming, lock-stock-and-barrel.

This could be a moment of the deepest of despair. However I do see two small, tiny, fragments of light. One, the raped woman was alert and brave enough to click a picture of the number plate and report the incident. The media attention on the issue of gender and sexual violence is, I think, breaking the silence in many ways. More and more women have been emboldened to report sexual crimes in recent times, reflecting bizarrely in the crime stats but also subtly on the confidence levels of other women.

The second is that victim blaming has not been the focus of the reportage and discussion this time round, though there were some who drew attention to the fact that the lady had fallen asleep in the cab (that, of course, is a crime for woman!)

Another take on this by a well-meaning but cynical friend was interesting too. She said her first thought was that the woman had been planted in the Uber cab by a rival cab company! Chew on that, people 🙂

A sporty weekend [1]: Sports Day at Shikshantar

Just as I was getting a little cribby about Udai’s new penchant for hanging out gossiping with his friends rather than playing in the park, we spent a weekend full of outdoors fun! Winter in Delhi is perfect for sporty activities and we took full advantage of superb weather and great friends.

Saturday morning was spent attending Aadyaa’s sports day, quite a spectacle a Shikshantar where kids demonstrate complex obstacles, relays and patterns using props like balls and hoopla rings. The focus is complete immersion in the task at hand, with no regard to the idea of ‘winning a race’, quite unique to this school and absolutely age appropriate for pre-schoolers I think. I have to point out that the idea of sports for pre-schoolers is as much about the development of physical strength and skills as it is about honing social skills like sharing, encouraging peers and pushing yourself to do better. As parents, we all feel good that these little ones are protected at this point from the disappointments of losing and do whatever they can with great confidence. There will be a time and place for comparisons, but for now the happiness and enthusiasm is catching!

Here are a few snapshots from that energized morning, though I must confess I was sunburnt into a stupor afterwards!

Sports is internalized into every aspect of what the kids do at this time of the year!

Sports is internalized into every aspect of what the kids do at this time of the year!


Good to see them focus on a task and chellenge themselves to do better. Notice the highly informal setup with parents and grandparents, siblings and even house help (who are so integral to the family from a child’s perspective) standing or sitting around the activity area

Teamwork was introduced this year. A significant step forward for the little ones!

Teamwork was introduced this year. A significant step forward for the little ones!

Cheering for her friends!

Cheering for her friends!

Big brother Udai watches. Later, parents and siblings also have similar activities. Wish I had pics of how much he enjoyed those, on the same team as mommy. Of course, our (more grown up) bunch was competitive as hell, yelling and behaving like the brats that I am sure we all were (or still are!)

Big brother Udai watches. Later, parents and siblings also have similar activities. Wish I had pics of how much he enjoyed those, on the same team as mommy. Of course, our (more grown up) bunch was competitive as hell, yelling and behaving like the brats that I am sure we all were (or still are!)

Enjoying procrastination and the in-between spaces of thought and life

I’ve had one of those weekends that did not have a brake. It just went careening, slithering, joyriding past me, leaving me completely pooped on Sunday night. I’m not complaining and I’m glad I’ve had a night’s rest.

But the hectic pace of the weekend creates that type of Monday morning when your to-do list is way long, but your mind has lost its power to prioritize. Thoughts wander, focusing on something, then unexpectedly rushing off in another direction. The to-do list sits there and mocks me, and I smile, knowing that the mind will settle, surely, but slowly. I need to give it that time.

And so I write my blog. The flow of words, bewitching, lyrical, so comforting. The process of squeezing them out of your gooey Monday morning brain and laying them out on this WordPress menu, in straight horizontal lines, not at all similar to the patterns in my head right now, which resemble a bizarre twisted painting!

Why do we procrastinate, then? Does it serve a purpose, this in-between state of mind? Or am I wanting to believe in the value of this warm-up session only to drive away the guilt of staying away from stuff I really really need to do! Guilt, so overrated, so unnecessary and yet driving so much of what we do, who we are. I want to put guilt into an air-tight ball and hurl it into outer space. I want to be selfish, but kind. And I want to trust myself and my ability to flow via abstraction into clarity, into and through the realm of thought into the arena of action. Inside me, I do believe the in-between space of life, of thoughts, of cities, of everything have as much meaning as the formed, tangible elements. And so I will enjoy my moments of free-flowing procrastination, on a sunny winter day when everything in my world is positioned to be joyful and meaningful.

From hopelessness to a sense of purpose: Musings on a sunny November day

Self-confidence and motivation levels have a lot to do with how I feel, on any given day. Small things can disturb my usual sense of buoyant well being. This morning, I woke up feeling I’m not doing enough with my life. It was a holiday for the kids and all the little creatures were out in the park, soaking in the sunshine and running around happily. Watching them, I felt strangely disconnected.

It was a return to a phase that I went through a while ago, when I constantly doubted myself and lived in a state of anxiety. I was transitioning from being an entrepreneur and a content writer to I didn’t quite know what. I did know that urbanism is something I wanted to work in and that I thought about urban issues all the time. But to get a foot into the field when I had been outside it for years was quite a challennge.

Today, I have already been working in the low income housing sector for a year and a half and am actively researching urban issues related to poverty and housing, plus teaching a few hours a week. And in general, I feel a huge sense of achievement about all of this.

However, I do sorely regret the absence from the sector and feel it acutely at certain moments. The grounding in research that my masters degree gave me has been blurred inside my head and I find myself groping to find the level of clarity I need in my work. And of course, I’ve missed developments in theory and practice that happened in the interim years between graduating and returning to the field.

Focus has always been a problem. I am given to see the inter-relatedness among things and to narrow my thinking down to a single hypothesis is daunting; worse, I don’t believe narrowed-down hypotheses reflect reality in most cases, but I also know this sort of narrowing needs to be done in the interests of arriving at conclusions!

I’ve spent the day, and indeed the week, worrying about my naivette in trying to find low-income housing solutions in a city like Gurgaon, where land prices are prohibitive, the development pattern driven by private developers and political will is seriously in doubt. This sort of work is bound to push me into a sense of hopelessness, helplessness; but I need to believe that this research will yield something of use. I need to constantly remind myself that it is through constant endeavor to challenge existing notions of practice that new solutions might emerge. And most all, I feel strongly that we need to listen to the people we wish to accommodate, help, include in the development process. I would be happy if my research would offer a clear picture of what migrants experience and aspire to with respect to housing when they come from rural (and often far flung) areas of the country to a confusing, alienating city like Gurgaon. The findings would help us think about how we could help them, as planners, as city administrators, as politicians, as citizens….I do, despite the chaos, believe there is a possibility to weave government, private sector and civil society together to create a more inclusive and sustainable model of growth.

Venturing beyond the realm of what I know- Oct 7, 2012

Sometimes life simply overwhelms me. Interestingly, these are not the occasions when something momentous, fantastic or traumatic, have happened. That sense of life being larger and more complex than I am able to comprehend overcomes me without warning, swiftly and sharply. Caught unawares, I bumble around for a while. Reason some. Eventually, the feeling passes, but not after the collateral damage (mouth ulcers, kids screamed at, spat with the husband) has already happened.
At work though, the feeling of the insurmountable drives me to make more effort. The more nebulous and threatening the brief, the more I resort to the simplest of strategies. To use the powers of logical reasoning, the steps of problem solving, the confidence in my intelligence.
But what happens when you set out to do something you have never done before. And that something is an opportunity you have waited for, one you sense will change the shape of the future.
I am currently embarking on a research fellowship in which I know I will have to synthesise all the knowledge and skills I have, and some. At this point, I am struggling for clarity. How do I resist the urge to fit the vision and scope into the boundaries of my knowledge and skills? If I presume I can acquire the skills I need but do not currently have, would that be compromising my research? How do you ‘think big’? How do you imagine a future you haven’t seen?
I flit between feeling inadequate and knowing that the clarity will come. I know that, after years of anchoring in a safe harbour, I have taken myself out to sea and there will be rough weather to face. At some level, this is a test of discipline and survival as much as it is an exploration of my capability to find data, critically analyse and find solutions. But most of all, it is about letting go of self doubt, of soaring above the clouds and making the impossible possible.
To retain the passion and idealism that I feel even as I negotiate the harsh realities of urban planning and governance will be the mother of challenges. To evolve a template for an inclusive city seems like taking a crack at an unresolvable problem. To shed the skin of socialism I live in and approach the issue of migrant housing with a market-based solution that can be sold to government and private sector alike is a tall order indeed.
You would agree then, that this time round, the feeling of being overwhelmed is entirely understandable! While I go on with the rituals of my weekend (music class, family outing, errands and chores,doses of mainstream and eclectic entertainment), I carry inside me the excitement and fear of the huge distances I must travel and the leaps of faith I must make. The calm on the outside belies the tempest within.

Stuck in my teens! Need a new grow-up strategy- Sep 18, 2012

The results of the Fortis Healthcare Survey on teens have been making news since they came out. Adolescence, as all of us who have passed through it, is a phase of extreme highs and lows. For parents, happy teens are a source of not just joy, but profound relief. If you’re lucky, they might even have some focus in their lives!

Hold on, though, all you adults and think, are we really out of the teens yet? I strongly suspect many of us hold on tenaciously to patterns of thought and behavior that we acquired in our teens. Reflect on the phrases that the survey dwells on- low self-esteem, poor social problem solving, perfection and hopelessness were ones that struck me particularly. Many others, like a tendency for depression or other psychological conditions or external circumstances like parents being separated or death in the family or even low socio-economic status would need to be addressed on a case by case basis.

But these four issues seem like they should be tackled through education and the home environment in the formative pre-teen years. They are also issues that we must continue to work on as adults throughout our lives. As such, each of needs to develop a unique strategy to tackle these ugly demons, that tend to rear their heads occasionally, even though we might be happy and balanced individuals most of the time. When they do appear, these demons can seriously derail our lives, affecting work (low self-esteem takes a severe toll on everything, but especially at work) and relationships (inability to solve social problems). A pursuit of perfection (which means unrealistic expectations from ourselves) and  a sense of hopelessness (usually a lack of faith in something that will pull us through the current low period) together puts us under extreme pressure. I am experiencing all of these four conditions at this time. It’s not like life is coming to an end, but yes I am grappling with conflicting career and personal commitments, forging a new identity at a mid-career sort of stage, resolving multiple images that I have of myself and managing expectations.

I am working at that strategy to understand myself better and believe in my own ability to pull through. I think if I have something in place, I might be able to do the ‘growing up’ that has been a long time coming!

Self-reflection day: Whither am I going? Aug 5, 2012

There are some days when I have an acute sense of incompleteness. Abstract questions torment me. What is the purpose of my life? At what point am I right now? Where am I going from here?

Today is one of those days and while I know this isn’t exactly something to blog about…seeing as precious few read my blog on a weekend, I’m going ahead anyway.

I always grew up with a sense (misplaced, perhaps) that I am special, that I would go on to do big things, achieve greatness of some sort. My parents were instrumental, in part, in giving me that idea. They always appreciated my efforts at whatever I did and genuinely believed I was talented.

Unfortunately, my adult life has not followed through in that way. At some point, my confidence sagged (probably in that hallowed institution called SPA), I have spent precious energy exploring possibilities and today I have become some sort to Jack of many trades and Master of none at all.

Today, this was brought home to me by a discussion at my kathak guru’s home. A fellow student was describing the long arduous process of getting her son a music guru, and she was ecstatic about her success, profusely thanking our dance guru for her advise and assistance. Now the same music guru had been recommended to me as well months ago, but something, part lack of confidence, part doubts about how much time I would be able to devote, had stopped from acting on the mission. The short conversation sent me into a deeply reflective mode. Why did I not call him? Why do I not seek to devote my energies to stuff that I am good at, am interested in? I know I have an immensely emotional connection with music, to the point that it scares me. What stops me from facing that challenge head on and why do I keep procrastinating, pushing forward the day I will have to take the inevitable call to commit my time to music?

It says a lot, this set of questions I have described above, about my peculiar and utterly disappointing trait of running away from important stuff. This and my supreme lack of focus are responsible for my sense of underachievement, even as I live a happy, reasonably fulfilled life. As I inch towards my 40s and many other things in life fall in place, this self-journey is starting to take center-stage in my head. I see this happening to others around me as well, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle slowly fitting together. I cannot run away from my needs for very long and I will have to find ways to do all of the things I passionately want to do. I cannot push the pursuit of music to another day, another week, another time. I need to do it now, in the proper way, with the right guidance, or remain guilty of its neglect.

I know that now and I am trying to resolve to address this soon. This piece isn’t about seeking attention or soliciting advice, but it is about sharing the kind of crazy reflective processes the mind can be grappling with, even as you trawl a mall on a Sunday afternoon, watch your kid eat ice cream and have completely inane, though delightful, conversations with friends!

Weighty issues on my mind: Craving for fitness- May 27, 2012

I’ve wanted to write about this for the longest time, but never had the guts to. It’s my weight problem! I’ve been overweight for as long as I remember, precisely since higher secondary school. Even in college, weight was a hugely sensitive issue with me. Someone had to just make a passing joke about it and I would sulk the entire day, mulling the comment over and over, killing myself with guilt and low self-esteem.

And then I got married to Rahul, who always loved me for what I was and never ever ran me down on the weight aspect. Two kids down the line, my struggle with my weight has become more realistic and less paranoid. I’ve tried various things and I kind of know what works and what doesn’t.

I have to say this, though. My motivations for losing weight remain a strange mix of three things:

Health-I worry about the slight knee pains I have now and then, weak ankles, and the usual lifestyle disease worries.

Looks-I really do want to wear what I want without worrying about how the outfit will look on me, or worse, whether the shop would have it in my size…hugely embarrassing and depressing experience when they give you that sheepish but unapologetic look!

Self-esteem- I have this self-image of myself as a reasonably thin person. When I look in the mirror, that’s who I see. When I break the illusion, on some days, I see this obese person who is me, but isn’t me really! I don’t want to be schizophrenic. I simply need to thin down into my real size!

Of late, I’ve started realizing that I truly crave for fitness as well. Its a new target, one I am turning over in my head and hoping to really internalize in the next few weeks. Come July, I intend to develop a more holistic training routine. 2013 will see a new me, for sure!

Background shouldn’t matter for the brave and talented: Mohan’s inspirational story- May 3, 2012

I have met a few young people who came from impoverished backgrounds who have given me immense hope. Mohan, who came from his village in Orissa and then worked in Delhi and Gurgaon as a domestic help for 6-7 years (4 of them in our house; Udai is still terribly attached to him and at times spends time in his shop as sales boy….), decided to become an entrepreneur in Gurgaon. Its been four years and his business has grown, stabilized and he is able to financially support his aging parents back home in Orissa. How has he been able to do it?

A basic education, no English, but oodles and oodles of self-confidence, a willingness to take risk, learn from mistakes and not lose heart. He asks questions without hesitation, consults us and others before making investments or taking significant business decisions. He is scrupulously honest with money, taking care to return loans on or before time and building credibility and trust with his patrons (like us) and his customers (which we also sometimes are). In the beginning, he felt obliged to us for helping him out and being his general de facto family so far from home, there was a certain deference and distance. Stuff like refusing to take money for things we bought created some awkward moments.

Today, he no longer shies from taking his payments, shares a cup of tea with us when he visits as an equal; its a remarkable change. He hasn’t needed any English to achieve it, but he has needed trusted English speaking people to step in for him now and then to buy a vehicle, do bank work, etc. I do see him struggle with doctors though, a bunch of educated professionals who specialize in fleecing the poor (harsh, but true!).

The point I am making is that people like Mohan should be encouraged, not tied down. If we can create systems where language and background are not huge barriers, this country has immense potential because entrepreneurship and innovations are built into our DNA!

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