Sunday 22 May 2016

“Hush, Hush! She Is Back At Cannes.”

For the last one decade, like dedicated patriots of the country, this year again we chased the newspaper’s international section to follow the fancy dresses Aishwarya Rai, Sonam Kapoor or Mallika Sherawat flaunted at the mighty 69th Cannes’ red carpet. Though we may or may not have a minuscule idea of fashion trending around the globe but opinionated that we are, we didn't let go of a single opportunity to discuss, praise and criticize the dressing sense of our Bollywood ladies at Cannes.

So much that conversations on Cannes Film Festival has almost begun to sound as drab and boring as the ensembles and make-ups of celebrities, barring a few.

[Picture courtesy: The Indian Express newspaper]
Recently when Sonam Kapoor wore a white gown by Ralph and Russo making the fashion analysts gawky with praise, somewhere a geeky scientist may have sat wondering how interesting a mopping invention it could have otherwise made? If Sonam was to walk around in my apartment corridors just once in a day wearing the mop, she’d have sent the entire team of sweepers for a ride. Alas! The pretty mopping device in white turned out to be a one-time wonder for cleaning up just the Red Carpet.

Suddenly, we saw entire Twitterati going crazy with amazing analogies. From dosa, to rumali roti, to waking up from bed with the bedsheet wrapped around, to  milk spilled on the carpet, her dress kept social media amusingly busy for days. As Sonam and her bandwagon heroines with flowing attires attended to Swachh Cannes campaign, I leave you to figure out how these ladies must have used rest rooms to relieve themselves? 

                                                                      [Picture courtesy: The Indian Express newspaper]
Meanwhile, our forever favourite Aishwarya Rai Bachchan once again grabbed the eye balls with her purple lipstick leaving us to wonder what breakfast was she served at the Cannes – maybe, a plateful of jamun or an overdose of black currant ice cream? Or maybe, she mistook her daughter’s colour palette for a lip tint? Or maybe, the fan inside her couldn’t resist trying out Japanese purple lipstick Joey used in the classic scene from one of Friends episodes? Some even believed she may have got kissed by a smurf a night before!!! Whatever the reason be, our queen of all things nice and beautiful, with her cool looks managed to get the nation’s attention distracted from summer’s soaring temperature yet again.

                                                                   [Picture courtesy: The Indian Express newspaper]
Somewhere in the hullaballoo of fashion madness, emerged a face that we’d almost forgotten to bits. Mallika Sherawat! Blue, white, plain, bare, bold or wear whatever, the nation wants to know her secret hideout for last one year? Without any single decent movie in her kitty or a fashion brand to brag about, she must be a superwoman to have cracked a meaty deal landing her to the prestigious glitterati of the Cannes.

And who wouldn’t? Isn’t Cannes the hottest selling cupcake for celebrities who wants to show their inevitable presence in the fashion world at a time when all eyes across the globe is set upon it? Deals, endorsements, connections and publicity are just bonuses in addition to a splendidly paid French vacation, near picturesque beaches, restaurants, cafés and boutiques of the Riviera.

Besides, everything that Cannes Red Carpet has to offer is little compared to the mystery and cheesy gossips that go behind making ones appearance at the red carpet become a subject of everyone’s talk for long time. When “Hush, hush, the girl is back!” is so worth the Cannes, why even think of the Can-nots!! 

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Running The Harrowing Race Of Nursery School Admissions

Don’t worry about your daughter’s schooling. Merit and talent never go in waste.

Those were the parting words from my kids’ previous school principal as we bid her adieu to step in the new city of Lucknow consequent to shifting of my work base upon an official transfer.

I’ve never had to worry about my kids’ schooling. They are smart and happy girls with nimble wits. Besides, they are just six and ten. The very age in which chasing butterflies, climbing trees, mud wrestling or smudging pastels are far more important than sitting under a lamp cracking a competitive exam.

I was wrong. I was, rather, proven wrong.

After running around from pillar to post to seek admissions for my two wards ever since the time we moved to this new city, all schools of repute here dreadfully disappointed us – “No vacancies in mid-term!”

Holla! NO VACANY in classes as lower as Kindergarten? Are they kidding me?  Is it an IAS seat that my five year old is competing for? Or is she running for a Mayor’s election with calculative number of chairs? Or an employment opportunity that may have limited vacancies?

Every year, January to March season looms like an impending horror to parents seeking admission of their tiny tots for admission to Nursery and Elementary classes in a new formal school. Poor kid fails to understand why suddenly his reading and writing has become so central to the parent’s being. Bribed with a chocolate or lured with toys, by hook or crook, the li’l fellow is convinced to work hard enough to be able to crack the labyrinth of school entrance exams or interviews. 

Even the millennial mommy who we might have seen as representing the new-age woman changes her avatar from a loving Maria Rainer to a strict Nanny McPhee. She doesn’t hesitate a bit to enroll her four year old in crash course coaching classes.

And why not? The hapless parents are themselves mortified to hell by now thinking of what misery may befall if their kid doesn’t make it to a prestigious school. Next what follows is visiting the school premise (or a dependable and updated website) day in and day out like it was some harebrained religious ritual. While the utterly appalled parents would have already struggled with curtness from the school’s pricey reception staff and security guards, consider them hitting jackpot in case they get to speak directly to the Principal, without any middleman.

Then comes the day when the school gates are sprung open for selling of admission forms. The day when media hovers over the varsity to get a front-page news and pictures of harrowed parents who’ve perhaps been waiting in queue, hours before dawn broke. Unshaven, dishevelled, half awake or sleepwalking, the only thing that runs in their mind is to get hold of that precious A4 size printed one-pager from school that they think can change their child’s destiny forever. Some smart ones come wearing sports shoes, wisely anticipating that any fine moment the queue may splinter and they may have to push, jostle, shove, snatch and madly run cutting through the mahakumbh of parents, before the school declares forms ‘all sold out’.

Subsequently begins the gruesome task of arranging tens of documents to be enclosed along with the admission form. Transfer certificate, migration certificate, birth certificate, catechism certificate (in case the school is a Catholic one), previous school’s mark sheet, parent’s qualification degrees, character certificate (What!! You didn’t know that a six to ten old could have a questionable character? You must be foolish!) and in some controversial cases, even a packet of crisp green stuff. Ah well, isn’t donation to school just a charity? Finally, why to forget the typical précis that parents are made to write in the form on topic, “Why do you want your child to get into ‘this’ school?”. Ha! No worries, there are hirable trainers available in the market to help parents deal with this tricky one.

All the needful list of to-dos noted and complied with, one still remains. Enter ‘jugaad’, the distinctive word in Indian context for fixing up anything not working out. The jugaad may be human, cash, kind, orison, power or politics and you never know, might just bring the ward a vacancy out of nowhere. Isn’t that amusing? Meant for highly desperate parents and contingent upon their good luck (read, powerful resources), everybody knows jugaad exists but can’t find where.

Well, while all this brouhaha is going around, the poor little Harry Potter and Hermione Granger who think of school as an interesting Hogwarts have no clue what lies ahead. They are made to practice writing pages after pages everyday and rehearse lines after lines by heart for the interview. On the d-day of their competitive exam, the palaver increases. Prayers, kaala teeka, chandan, last minute instructions and a long list of ‘how to sit, stand and behave’ in front of the interviewer, are passed by the parents.

Then come results! For those who couldn’t make it, it’s another similar and gruelling year of harassment ahead and for those who did, well, “Congratulations! Pappu paas ho gaya.”

This year, after a long over-due wait, both my little girls, one like a careless butterfly and the other like a quicksilver fish, will appear for their so-called formal school entrance exams. I hope I don’t make the mistake of forcing our fish to fly and butterfly to swim or make them both run the marathon race of my desperation. Just wish me luck!


[ Originally published on Women's Web magazine, March 9th 2016]

Monday 9 May 2016

Is It Enough To Celebrate Women's Day?

This article was first published on Women's Web on 08th March 2016, on the occasion of International Women's Day. Here's a reproduction of the article collected from the archives that makes sense not just on IWD but the whole year through. 
    [Image via shutterstock]
In the middle of an important official meeting, my mobile gives three continuous beeps. It might be important, so I pause and take a look – it could be one from a long distance colleague who is simultaneously and as aggressively involved in the annual HR appraisal process as I was, or from my parents staying far away from us, or from kids at home who may have wreaked havoc in absence of their utterly busy mommy.

But presto! It is a far more important message that runs like this – “Comfortable cotton salwar kameez for summer, with special discount up to 70% on Women’s Day… for women who deserve.”
I am aghast. For women who deserve? For heaven’s sake, which woman would not deserve to wear a comfortable cotton salwar kameez? Besides, nobody in the global advertisement world is concerned about my right to deserve ‘equal work equal pay’ but is very interested to help me buy a much deserving dress at a discounted rate on an impending Women’s Day!
Messages like this one suddenly remind me that 8 of March is once again around the corner and a lot more ‘deserving’ rewards are waiting for us women to cash on. Like there’d be one or two formal invitations to attend seminars on the rise of  womanhood, innumerable gift offers luring an otherwise forgetful husband to remind his lady love how special she is and a couple of events in the city calling for participation on emancipation of fairer sex in modern times.
Those who’d not be prepared enough for such heavy doses of intellectualism would alternatively be vying for get-togethers in the name of  IWD (that’s how gen-internet refers to the day) to chat, gossip, make merry over shades of lipstick and new wine, share vicious laughter and raise a toast to the new-age wonder women they think they are.
And that’s about it! Over and out! Beyond the furores, it is another ironical story that even if the entire elite gentry of this social fanfare are brought together under one roof, it would comprise a minuscule 7-10% of the population who celebrate the IWD.
It was in one in these happening women circles a few days ago, that a common friend needed help to lodge an official complaint against harassment and abuse by her former boyfriend. To our not so utter disbelief, she could hardly find any support from her uber-modern party friends.
Some claimed to be busy. Some did not want to indulge in someone else’s personal affairs. Some were fearful about handling the aftermath of being involved in a complaint. Some were suddenly remorseful about the girl’s inciting behaviour towards her boyfriend.
Whatever their reasons, her ‘much dependable’ female coterie conveniently managed to escape a chance to endorse and support women’s rights in true spirit.
The bubble of Women’s day celebration has but a fragile skin. One prick of a challenge and plop! It bursts. What can be more disheartening to note is that it is largely the women themselves who year after year and generations after generations keep bloating the water bubble with the futile air of gender discrimination.
A few days ago, when my neighbour was blessed with a baby and we rushed in to congratulate, her tempestuous mother-in-law uncannily interrupted, “Why a treat? It is her third girl child.” Even before we could get over her annoying statement, she butted in again to cajole the new mommy by saying, “Chalo, koi baat nahi…..jaisi jiski kismat?” Read (Hard) Luck!
I wasn’t as disheartened by her judgmental comment as I was about the fact that it came from another woman! It is certainly baffling why women act so foolishly sometimes. Instead of teaming up with each other for the benefit of us all, we wilfully fall in a self-dug filthy pit.
At ‘karvachauth’, don’t we raise our life partners on to a pedestal by fasting the whole day long and praying for their long life, as if our own is any less important? At ‘rakshabandhan’, don’t we again place our brothers a step above by seeking a pledge of protection from them, no matter how protective we ourselves might sometimes have been in raising them up? At a ‘kanyadaan’ don’t we often look for the eldest man in the family to pitch in on behalf of the bride’s widowed mother, thus depriving her of the privilege?
How unfortunate that a woman’s freedom to choose is devoured by what her close kin want her to choose. Like a career which is safe for her matrimony in future (whoever has heard of parents encouraging their girls to become wrestlers?) or the choice of dresses she must put on (short skirts is her invitation to wanting danger).
Even the right of reproduction is not her sole right. When must she bear her child? Who bestows legitimacy on the baby, by law? Can she reject her pregnancy? Must she surrogate? To bring her own baby to this world through her own body is not considered her decision but a collective moral pronouncement by the entire family.
It is not surprising that while some of us have the advantage in reading, commenting and celebrating Women’s Day ordeals, half of India’s as much worthy women warriors struggle day in and day out to meet their daily bread and butter – Working in open farms in some remote village. Labouring under the fearful sun carrying bricks on their heads while they build our houses. Doing our dishes and cleaning our homes to make them fit enough for celebrations. Some struggle to make it to school and some never do.
I’d rather think of Women’s Day remembering my old world grandmother who knew nothing of the international day but never missed a chance to stand up for our poor domestic help whenever her ruthless husband resorted to violence upon her. To an extent that at one point of time, the petite, skinny, seventy year old woman challenged a mob of fiery young men who were trying to outrage the poor girl’s modesty.
The idea is but simple – Walk the talk!
Until we get the majority of our women folk to be a part of the Women’s Day hubbub, it will remain but a mythical bubble created by the elite, privileged and happening people.
I will spend the day ditching chocolates, flowers and careless chortles in a party and instead remembering the inspiring women who have created a difference to women’s lives.  And you?

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