Wednesday 23 December 2020

Ye Kaisa System Hai?

I grew up in a family where there were no boundaries - caste, creed, religion, sect, race, class - nothing! There was just one house rule - Humanism! As long as we followed the tenets of humanity, we could enjoy our own sweet way of life. 

My father, a man of high principles, was an academician who defied societal stereotypes and kept making his own benchmarks and surpassing them. My mother, a highly intelligent homemaker, would though herself not break rules but would neither discourage us from not breaking any. The parents played reformists while we played rebels. 

And then, she entered. My grandmother! From the vintage pages of self-proclaimed royalty, she was all set to give us lessons on class and caste order that she herself religiously practiced. What followed is a tale of a family divide between two opposite ideologies, personalities and paths.

In this video, I share an extremely personal story of how my grandmother turned from someone who was obsessed with 'class' to someone who denounced it completely. 

Watch, share and do come back to me if you have a thing to say.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Story: Tumhare Liye Kya Important Hai

This is a story of how social media almost broke me at a time when I needed its support the most.

A couple of years ago, one of my write-ups got featured by a prestigious international forum, The Huffington Post, on their platform. It was 'the' moment for someone like me who had barely started to take baby steps in the field of writing. The article "The Unholy Side of Holi", a satirical take on the way Holi is played in some parts of North India, made waves. It was taken up overwhelmingly by everyone and even lapped in other parts of the world. I began receiving complimentary messages with praises for the bold opinion and boisterous writing.

But in a matter of few days the wave took a huge turn. It started with one person (who was pretty popular a celebrity then) lamenting the article as "anti-men" and calling out names. A strange snowball started with her followers joining the bandwagon. Before I could come to terms with what had suddenly gone wrong, hoards of troll came pouring in.

Welcome to the new found world of internet troll and unhealthy criticism!

What happened next is this 'broke' story of mine. Watch, share and do come back to me if you have a thing to say.

Friday 26 June 2020

धूप का वो टुकड़ा सा

तुम धूप का वो टुकड़ा हो
जो हर रोज़ धुंध काटता हुआ मेरे आँगन को सेंका करता है,
कभी दूर, कभी पास, कभी चुभन, कभी आस,
मेरी परछाई को हर रोज़ बनते उठते गिरते डूबते देखा करता है

तुम धूप का वो टुकड़ा हो
जो काले घने बादलों के पीछे भी छुपकर बैठा मेरा इंतज़ार करता है,
जड़-चेतन, अधीर अधपका सा मनन, मनचले बूंदों की गीली आवारगी से भीगा सा मन
धूप, सात रंगों की चित्रकारी से भरता है

तुम धूप का वो टुकड़ा हो
जो सबमे बंट कर भी मेरे हिस्से का पूरा है
सबके पास हो उतना ही जितना मेरे पास
फिर भी कुछ अधूरा है?
क्या ही अच्छा होता जो बंद मुट्ठी में पसर जाते तुम!
रात के पुकारने पर जाते नहीं, मेरे ही साथ  ठहर जाते तुम

तुम धूप का वो टुकड़ा हो
अधूरा सा पर पूरा सा
गर्म सा पर नर्म सा
अधखिले एहसास सा
अनंत रत में सांस सा
गगन में व्याप्त पर मुझमे सिकुड़ा सा
तुम धूप का वो टुकड़ा सा

Want to hear the recitation? Watch it here - 


Wednesday 17 June 2020

Hey everyone,

Here's a (less than) 1-minute read which left me thinking for long months after.

I hope you like it.

Monday 15 June 2020

Feeling of Depression versus Clinical Depression in women – A thin line of demarcation

(Originally published in the Times of India Web, June 6, 2020, 7:38 PM IST)


“I am sad.” 
“I am upset.”
“I feel like crying.”
“I feel disappointed in myself.”
“I am depressed.”
Those could be random disheartening mood swings from daily life. Or, those could be hints towards an impending doom of a clinical disorder that is tiptoeing unnoticed. Ironically, the line of demarcation is so thin and fragile that often clinical depression is passed off as an ordinary mood swing.  And still often, random malady of daily stress passed off as a self-proclaimed depression. 
The fact however remains – ‘feeling of depression’ is hugely different from ‘clinical depression – both literally and figuratively!  Psychiatrists across the globe have been continuously urging us to  understand the difference while we tend to substitute one for the other undermining the severity of latter. 
One major sign of Clinical Depression is when the feeling of misery lasts most of the day, every day, for more than two continuous weeks. If it does, the person needs urgent medical help. 
If it does not, the person might need further observation or social support and kindness to deal with the situation. Sometimes a small gesture, as simple as sharing a good news, can make the person feel better and can help break the chain of distress.
Earlier this month, a close friend lost his wife to clinical depression. She committed suicide at a lone corner slightly away from her home by hanging herself. In a courageous and most honest confession that my friend made to public, he wrote how they had been seeking psychiatric help for last two years, how nothing seemed to work in her favour, and how lockdown worsened it. An outspoken extrovert that she was, we did not get to hear a single complaint, whimper or sign of struggle from her during all these years. It was her personal battle. It was the battle that she fought till the last with a loving husband and doting children helping her get better with each passing moment.  
The gait of depression is as quiet as giant. It does not make much noise until it takes a life away. Sometimes, therapy and medical help also fail. 
Still stranger remains the fact that Clinical Depression tends to hit women twice or thrice as much as it does men. At some point, we do see intersectional convergence of mental health with feminism. As per a report shared by Pew Research Centre, mental conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anorexia and even eating disorders have a tendency to  inflict women twice or more as much as men. So much that women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men.
The reason lies in cultural makeup of our society which is largely patriarchal. For instance, when a woman develops symptoms of a mental condition, she begins to get judged for her illness right at the onset. Even a slight deviation from her expected roles increases her chance of getting called out with terms as ‘crazy’, ‘lost it’ or ‘insane’. This depresses her further, thus, driving her into a vicious, non-ending circle. It is not surprising that in most cultures, not even a word of empathy is shared, let alone medical help. The only tests that families rely on are not laboratory driven experiments but stereotypes set by the society.  
In urban set-ups, where women are mostly working professionals, self-reliant and independent, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to escape the entrapment of commoditized mental health as if it was a commercial package. How bemusing that common lures entice women to treat themselves with an array of fad choices –– try yoga, juicing, sleeping, cutting sugar or gluten, moving country, travelling or installing a meditation app! If that is not all, continuous email spamming by Counseling centres as a one-stop help solution adds to the hubbub! 
In times when we need substantial measures to combat clinical depression, all we get is a gambit of promotional, unverified, commercial choices. 
It is time we ask of ourselves questions that matter. Are there enough rehabilitation centres around us? How equipped are small towns with psychiatry help and counseling? If they are, how long is the waiting queue of patients outside the clinics because often clinically depressed patients need urgent help? Also, are the therapy charges affordable for common people or does it burn their pockets to seek long term Psychiatry and Counseling sessions? Is psychiatry treatment cost subsidized by government machinery? What is the support system for patients to induct them back into a normal routine life once their treatment is over or do we make them re-enter the same scenario which actually led them to a mental condition? 
In turbulent times such as these when the lockdown has forced us to remain indoors, has cut community assimilation, given us more time to let the devil prowl in our mind and restricted social support — the vulnerability to skew towards a mental condition has increased abysmally. 
The only thing that seems to work is a timely medical help! 
Let’s not forget that pain is real but so is hope. 

Friday 8 May 2020

Corona times are the greatest for a non-fashionista

(Originally published on the Times of India web, April 27, 2020, 12:51 PM IST)

In one month of lockdown due to Cornoa virus outbreak, I have complained around every important activity –sweep, mop, cook, work-from-home in random schedules or quit community gathering activities. However, if there is one thing I am truly comfortable with, it is the suspension of fashion in my life.
Corona times may have banal outcomes; it is but a period of utmost gratitude for a non-fashionista like me.
I have always hated dressing up – be it for office, parties, gatherings, conferences or even for a workout in the gym. It has felt like a pain! How cumbersome to match the right shirt with the right pair of trousers, both meticulously ironed and then further team it up with correct socks and shoes – day after day, occasion after occasion. What adds further misery to the annoyance is to make a choice of suitable make-up (not mandatory though), hairdo and a permutation of related accessories to enhance the look.
Of late, life has come around like a boomerang to a non-fashionista’s prayer, rendering itself simpler than ever.
With workplace having moved to home laptop screens, meeting and seminars to webinars and community gatherings to digital portals, it implies – no one will be watching what I wear! Hurrah! All I’d have to do is to put on a decent shirt over comfy pyjamas and worn out tee, dab a shade of lipstick, comb hair bangs and zoom the webcam to cleverly capture just the face. Mission Deception is successful!
No qualms that my hair has overgrown like branches of a tree from every wrong side, eyebrows blossomed like a dense bush over my forehead, traces of uncoloured hair turned into a grey forest, yet I am unashamedly unbothered. The salons and parlours are locked down, you see, leaving everyone helpless (what a brilliant excuse)!
In last one month, the maximum choice I have made with regard to dressing up has been between a few comfortable shorts and tees. Did not realize how cathartic would it be to lose sense of collection my wardrobe has maintained over a period of years! I no longer remember the shades or variety of dresses, office suits, sarees or shoes it stores. Besides, neither there is a pressure to buy clothes nor to keep them in order!
Corona has fuelled my fire to live a minimalistic lifestyle. There is no place of fashion in my life any longer, not even a bit. Yet no single important activity seems to have stopped. Life has only become better. I now dress to survive. I neither judge nor get judged. The bug of apparel consumerism does not bite me any further. I have forgotten what a mall, fashion street or online shopping page looks like without a whimper. I have stopped consulting youtube fashion channels or makeup tutorials for rescue hacks to save my world. Nor do I cringe for wanting to look a certain way on some special occasion.
For some, fashion could be a sense of self-expression (which is appreciable) but it always has felt like a load on my head to cover up the real self. If they tell me wedges, fringes and tassels, it makes me think of bushes and not hair styles. If they tell me olive, teal or rose, it takes me to a flower garden and not to skin undertones. If they tell me about angled, contoured or flat strokes, it leads me to painting palettes and not to makeup brushes.
Am I not well-read in image management? No, I pretty much am. But my mind refuses to get wired with fashion theories and fundamentals compared to the feel of original skin. Do I care? Not anymore. I have learnt to embrace the naked reality of simplistic living.
And therefore, I now look how I should – in the truest sense of self. I can count my grey, feel botches on skin, accept a unibrow and fall in love with every little flaw in the body. My energy has diverted to eating right, building mental strength and nurturing a healthy self, which certainly has no place for pretension.
Soon, Corona will fade away leaving us in our new skin. I have picked mine and it is called ‘minimalism’, and I plan to hold on to it for the rest of my life – happily.

Friday 3 April 2020

8 Ways to identify Covidiots around us

(Originally published on the Times of India web 'Rest in Pieces', March 24, 2020, 10:30 PM IST)

I always believed that the world is full of idiots.
Until Corona outbreak happened!
And suddenly, we discovered an absolutely new species of absurd muggings who we call “Covidiots.” Unfortunately a part of human race, they are as lethal as stupid.
Originally arrived as a Twitter hashtag, the term Covidiot has made its place in the Urban dictionary during Corona outbreak as “Someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safety or a person who hoards goods denying them from their neighbors.”

In times, when the entire world is united together in fighting the deadly Corona virus pandemic, standing in solidarity with each other, Covidiots stand out.
They are one in a million. Have you spotted them around?
This list could help.
1) You could find them chatting in a group on the street.
It does not matter if people across nations get affected with the virus attack or there is a repeat advice from the authorities to stay indoors during lockdown, the Covidiots must defy the rules. It is extremely important that they gather on streets for chitchatting, clubbing, jogging, shopping, car-racing and at worst, beating utensils on the streets as if it was a war-cry march and not simply an appreciation for the healthcare workers and doctors. In case they were to remain locked-down at home like ordinary citizens, they fear our economy might go down, politics run wild and who knows, the earth collapse. They must, therefore, stand out and save us from perils.
2) You could find them hoarding up grocery stock from the market.
The wise Covidiots seem to have received a gospel that since end of the world is arriving, they must play the Noah. They must consider their home an arc and hoard it up with every plausible grocery, not just for themselves but for their generations to come. Grains, toiletries, medicines, sanitisers, masks, makeup, perishable food – you name it and it will be right there – stocked in their refrigerator. One day, when the world will drown in Corona, Covidiots will be the only ones to see the new day surviving on their stocked supplies.
3) You could find them racing on roads during lockdown
Find them racing their cars at high speed on the six lane expressway during lockdown period just because the roads will be unimaginably traffic-free! And as it is, better be killed in a car crash than by Corona. On your mark, get, set and go!
4) You could find them absorbed in forwarding unverified messages on social media
Perhaps, the easiest way to spot Covidiots is tracking unverified social media forwards. Whether it is about unproven trivia like garlic prevents Corona, bathing in cow dung heals it, collective clapping breaks its membrane killing the beast, sun basking makes it evaporate — to criminally serious and fake messages like recommending a medicine or vaccine, Covidiots are the undisputed knight among keyboard warriors. At their best wit, they would be busy on whatsapp, facebook or youtube creating absurd content, fishing for a few hits, likes, views or comments and at their worst, they would not hesitate mongering fear.
5) You could spot them as an epicenter of a public debate on politics or religion
In times, when the world is discussing on the best ways to fight the Corona battle with science, empathy, kindness, joys of giving and community support, Covidiots would most likely be raging their fists in public or on social media with debates on their preferred political or religious affiliation, either defending or demeaning their favorite. They fail to realize that we are all made of similar fabric, blood, bones, and sinews, that neither a deadly virus nor any medicine would ever differentiate between.
6) You could find them hiding their travel history
Braggarts who used to boast about their visit to foreign lands and exotic cultures suddenly seem to have zipped their mouth regarding travel history to a Corona affected country despite statutory advises. At least not until flu symptoms throw up, by when they would have already affected a hundred others, forming an exponentially multipliable chain. But then, do Covidiots really care?
7) You could find them harassing doctors in the hospitals
It is a Covidiot’s birth right to demand services from medical professionals at their own sweet will and fancy, sometimes harrowing doctors for a Corona test on random symptoms or sometimes demanding gluten-free food in the sensitive Covid-19 ward (unbelievably, insanely true!).
8) You could find them giving two hoots about seriousness of Corona
“Oh come on! Corona is just a marketing propaganda by China and the US.” “Corona is a brand positioning strategy of pharmaceutical companies that sell sanitizers and masks”
“Nothing will happen with lockdowns. Corona is just a product of fear mongering.” “Indians have the highest immunity to viruses, let alone Corona. We will beat it.” We wonder how do they come up with such funnily creative logics!
Take a moment. Look around. Find Covidiots. Spot and note them. In a few weeks, (hopefully) Corona will disappear from earth but they will still remain, having become deadlier than the virus itself. We would require each others’ support to deal with their maliciousness and foolery. So stay put!

Sunday 22 March 2020

How I fell in love with fountain pens

(Originally published in the Lifestyle section of Times of India, web edition; July 11, 2019)
I clearly remember the first time I received command from my class teacher to switch from a pencil to a Fountain Pen. I must have been in standard sixth at that time. “Strictly a fountain pen of nib size ‘Medium’ filled with Royal-Blue ink,” she had insisted. Her instructions were precise and clear. Besides, studying in a Convent meant absolutely no deviations from the rules once set by the Sisters of the Institute. Some students went ecstatic with the decision as if they had been waiting to overthrow the couth of sharpening graphite lead ever since they learnt writing while some like me, who had mastered the art of committing endless errors and erasing them away cleverly, now feared the horror of getting caught. “Once written in ink can never be rubbed away!” along came the teacher’s reprimand which sounded more like a forewarning.
I refused the idea of liking to write with a fountain pen right away. The days of doodling in the last pages or scribbling a thread of chat in each others’ school notebooks which could neatly be erased later was soon going to become a thing of the past. What else could be more disheartening for us, the naughty backbenchers?
However, there was to be no respite! In a matter of a week, we found ourselves complying with the school order, fiddling with the mess created while writing with the good ol’ fountain pen. It must have taken me a hundred days to figure out the most appropriate angle at which the nib of the pen must be tilted to ensure ink’s best flow and another few weeks to learn how to write without staining the fingers blue.

My pencil box would no longer have fragrant erasers but pieces of calcium smelling chalks (you know it if you have used it) to absorb ink blots which I couldn’t manage but spill all around my work-desk. I remember shaking the pen enough every time I would use it, just to resume free flow from the dried nib. The only ink blots which looked good were the ones staining a perfectly white school uniform of the best friend in dotted blues. Thinking of it still brings me a smile.
That is how my rendezvous with the mighty fountain pen had started in school. Messy, unmanageable, staining, cumbersome and bringing my handwriting speed to an all time low!
But little had I realized that the royalty of the Fountain Pen was all set to have me enchanted and make me fall with its classiness in the times to come.
Just as true love gradually grows, I began feeling the grandeur of nib on paper, the eloquent strokes of ink gliding on paper with emotions and the rich legacy behind history of fountain pens. I began cherishing the beauty of holding it, sometimes between the fingers (literally) and sometimes close to heart.
I started seeing subtle shades of blue-black in my handwriting like never before. Azure, temporary royal blue, permanent blue-black, deep black, dark grey, turquoise blue, bright violet, mauve, emerald green, I felt a spectrum of colours even in the pages of dry notes.
I played with the nib sizes to doodle even better. Anfanger, stub, needlepoint, extra fine, medium, bold, zoom and ROM; While most of it I learnt from my grandfather and father, under their tutelage the rough pages of my diary now jazzed with colourful caricatures and penmanship. How funny I even began creating my own Rorschach Tests with blots of ink folded between blank pages to make patterns and interpret stories!
Once school got over and college began, I tried my best not to let go of the habit of writing only with the fountain pen. But economics of the new global market as well as our budget constraints had most of us switch to, what they called, a new-age Ball Pen. This newest suitor in town made more promises. It gave the similar ease of writing at almost one-tenth of the cost of fountain pen, was less messier, did not have to be occasionally flushed out for cleaning, hardly stained clothes-fingers-bags and was easily available (no puns intended) at every second stationery shop in the street.
The cost benefit analysis hinted that it was time I must give a try to the most feasible option. And hence, I carefully packed away all of my fountain pens keeping in safe in a boxed treasure, bringing it out only once in a while but promising never to let it go forever. It was no longer just a writing instrument for me. It was sheer delight contained in a barrel of ink.
Time passed by and saw us grow up, find a place, new beginning and settle down.
Getting the financial liberty to choose and spend on the most desirable of things, I decided to fulfill my long lost love. I now have a collection. An enviable collection of fountain pens! And there is a reason I like to believe my collection is precious. I have in my treasure a 1976 Sheaffer Fountain Pen that belonged to my father when he was a student at Arizona State University. Despite done and dusted in decades, it still glows with the pride of having churned innumerous unwritten pages into gold. Other keeps include Lamy, Pelikan, Montblanc, Faber Castell, Cross and Parker gifted to me by family and friends just so they knew what would fetch me a smile most (apart from books, of course). Even dearer are ink bottles of Waterman, Quink and sweet ol’ Chelpark that gush up my senses the moment bottle is uncapped. Even today, there is a pleasure in manual refilling of ink barrel that readymade ink cartridge can never bring.
But closest to heart are the fountain pens I used during my school days, scribbling away my dreams on blank pages without the fear of erasing them ever.
Fountain pens have made me learn that mistakes committed need not be erased away from the memory but rewritten to a new glory.
If that isn’t precious, what is!
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