Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Martyrs and mums

It's really not her fault that her birthday coincides with Martyrs' Day in the state. Predictably, she's a Gandhi fan but not of the gushing, overlook-all-faults variety. If it wasn't for the fact that she was just two years old when Gandhi was shot down and the whole Gandhian era came to a halt slowly, I suspect she may have had very little to do with Gandhism in any case - left to her own devices, she may in fact, have started her own little uprising.

Besides, she was born in Ratnagiri and as Antu Barwa says, "Gandhi Ratnagirila ala nahi kadhi."

Call it the sign of the times, but this little girl blossomed into one of the most radical thinkers and go-getters of her generation that I have had the good fortune to come across. In terms of her own life, she established a variety of firsts both for her family and for young women over 50 years ago. Consider these: the first female graduate of the family. A 16th ranker in the PSC exams despite having no books and certainly no tuitions. Her first job in the gram panchayat, followed by an upgrade in the Home Department at Mantralaya. Marriage at the ripe old age of 28. Managing the home and first-born alone after her husband left for a job in Dubai. Managing the home and two daughters alone after her husband moved to Jeddah. Having her third daughter at 42.

Put it down to impatience, short temper and biting sarcasm, but you have to admit she's fair minded - she nags everybody equally. In fact, all family members have received an equal share of spankings (not the husband. Yet), scoldings, praise, kisses, sarcasm and generous amounts of time and money. But the one thing that sticks out about her, always has, is that she is a Cool Dude. Which explains why she and the family have laughingly watched such tripe as The Bold and the Beautiful at an age when her kids' school friends had to sneak a peek at the forbidden serial because of the 'kissing stuff'. In any case, her daughters grew up with a healthy idea of sex and PDAs, never mind the eat-your-face kind of kisses on TV. She even had a few smart comments about that.

Her dinner table is a centre for all discussions - handsome men, fiances, things that happened in the day, little and big worries, remembrances, yellings, loud laughter, the works - simply because the family has grown up as opinionated as her but not as bossy. None of them can observe something hilariously fresh in the obnoxiously mundane as she can. Listen to her closely, and you'll notice signs of a mind sharpened by constant reading, devouring newspapers right down to the tender notices, listening to all and sundry and a sense of humour that I swear is getting increasingly biting as each day passes.

She worries these days that Alzheimer's will attack her. Which is why she is doing her best to combat it in a typical fun way - by solving crosswords and puzzles enthusiastically. At the same time, she is not too worried that her 28-year-old diabetes will strike her down, something she can remedy slightly with a daily walk. "Jaane do na, yaar," is her philosophical explanation - she loathes daily walks. And being forced into it.

On her birthday, there are no special plans. She hates elaborate celebrations and does not like cake. She is embarrassed by expensive gifts. She is cooking, talking endlessly, guzzling tea, being funny, finishing a million chores at once and generally keeping her house well. It's no special day in the life of a woman who was born during the last lap of the freedom struggle and who has always been a free spirit. The same spirit runs through her daughters, who have mercifully been under no pressure to marry, settle down, give up studies for jobs, support the house and dad, or generally behave themselves because they are girls.

Hence her own daughter will be married at the ripe old age of 29 or 30, her last born will be allowed to mess around as much as she likes, and the house will always be clean, smelling of incense and full of this woman's voice. Today and everyday.

Happy 62nd, mum.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I am cheating on my man.

I confess. I CANNOT get this other man out of my head.

That's right. I am confessing to two-timing my fiance of over a year. Why? Because I gotta.

I can't help it. Man #2 completely stole me from under the nose of Man #1, who was at the time, filing story #82 for the day. While the fiance was giving me the goss on how much work he had and why he was unable, for the millionth time since I know him, to come see me as I lay, alternately bored and hysterical as I nursed my ill finger, Man #2 made me laugh and kept me wonderful company.

In fact, he sometimes made me laugh so hard, my tea came out of my nose. He said the silliest things with the straightest of faces. He sometimes made me understand, as only a fellow journalist can, why I love and loathe my profession. His every word helped me realise the benchmark I must set for myself. Even the most simple incidents become bizarre hilarities when he explains them. Like when he described how he Trick or Treated in his hometown as a kid: "I preferred to trick-or-treat as a vampire, which I felt was much scarier (than other disguises). The problem was the plastic vampire teeth. I have a powerful gag reflex, so when people opened their doors, instead of being terrified by the awesome bone-chilling specter of the Prince of Darkness, they'd see this short, caped person, retching. Their only terror was that I might throw up on their shoes."

See what I mean? How does one defenceless, emotionally disturbed person, nursing an injury and spending long periods of time alone, resist such a frank and refreshing sense of humour? Little by little, his wry observations on everthing, right from politics to tiling your kitchen floor, made me crack up and think about my world in delightful, wonderful new ways. It helps that he has a strong sense of integrity - he does not take many things sitting down. It also helps that he is able to explain so many concepts so easily - especially about how the editors at Cosmo are wasting so much time explaining to women '127 ways to drive men wild in bed'. He says, "You don't need rocket science to drive men wild in bed. All you need to do is to get into bed with them." After a good laugh over that, I settled into my own bed with him. He was still talking. "Even without technical advice, women will have no trouble getting men excited, as long as the men are aware that the women, underneath their clothes, are not wearing clothes."

I never thought I would fall for an ageing, pot-bellied wise guy while I was still confined to my home. I never thought I would listen to any man but the one pegging away in office. I never thought laughter could bring me out of my self-imposed blue funk the way this other guy did. And I never thought I would not be sorry letting another man in my bed, my life, my thoughts while I was completely committed to another.

At the risk of sounding like a crazed groupie, I LOVE you, Dave Barry.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Uh oh

January 23, 2008

h/l: Doom for planet's security as climate changes
intro: UK climate report stresses the increasing threat to security and possibility of terror threats as resources deplete
Vrushali Lad
slug: Special Report

Mumbai: While climate change in itself is bad news for the planet, the effects are about to impact international communities like never before. The latest report by the Oxford Research Group, UK, which will be unveiled today (Thursday, January 24) spells out the many dangerous impacts of climate change in the context of terrorism, migration, policing and environmental laws.

Developing economies like India and China are, the report says, “being put under increasing pressure to cut back on greenhouse emissions by western countries whose economies have already been able to develop while being high emitters.” This is causing a “justified resentment” among those who will be worse affected by climate change towards the industrialised nations that have been responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions till date.

Titled ‘An Uncertain Future – Law enforcement, national security and climate change’, the report is put together by Chris Abbott, programme coordinator and researcher at Oxford Research Group and Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for Governance and International Affairs at the University of Bristol. A copy of the report is available exclusively with The Herald.

Abbott’s premise is that “the consequences of climate change will present new challenges to governments trying to maintain domestic stability.” He writes, “Major areas of potential strain (due to climate change) for the police and security agencies are likely to include (1) Demands for greater border security, (2) Changes in rates and types of crime, (3) Policing new legislation and (4) Responding to natural disasters.”

A significant aspect of climate change will be, says Abbott, that once coastlines deplete and arable lands disappear, there is a potential for large-scale intercommunity violence. “In almost all regions of the world, even those with the capability to withstand rapid climate change, there will be a risk of intercommunal violence in the form of right-wing protests and racially motivated attacks against immigrant communities,” writes Abbott.

Depleting coastlines also spell a threat to defence infrastructure. “Some military bases and strategic defence assets on coastlines and low-lying islands, such as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, will be vulnerable to rising sea levels that could damage essential infrastructure. Such installations need to be identified and relocated as soon as possible,” Abbott says.

A new form of terrorism, which Abbott terms ‘eco-terrorism’ will also have to be factored in by governments. “While social and environmental movements have a long history of peaceful protest and non-violent direct action, on the fringes of such movements are those who will resort to violence and sabotage…worldwide there is an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics amongst a small minority of environmental extremists, and eco-terrorism is one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats,” he writes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Science binds

January 4, 2007

h/l: From insurgency to medicine, with love
intro: Mumbai-based NGO training students to become health workers in their own states

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: For 21 students from the country’s north eastern states, who have battled with poverty and frequent insurgency all their lives, the chance to travel to Mumbai for training as primary health workers is much more than a turning point.

These students, aged 18 to 34 years, will receive 10 months of free textual and practical medical training at Kanjur Marg in Mumbai, after which they would go back home and work as Public Health Workers – a prestigious title to hold since there are no doctors or health centres in most of their villages.

Mumbai-based NGO Purva Seema Vikas Pratishthan, established by the late Bhaiyyaji Kane in 1971 to help youngsters from the N-E states, brought the candidates to Mumbai on December 6 last year. “They are from remote villages in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland. Some of them know basic health treatments, while others are freshers,” said Devendra Dewasthale, a volunteer with the NGO.

He added, “They would be imparted classroom training for six months at the Vatsalya trust. After that, they would be given on-field training for four months at clinics or hospitals.” Once training is complete, each student would be given a starter kit to take back home. The end idea is that each of these students would go back and build a network of health workers in their states, without recourse to governmental help.

That, however, is easier said than done. “When they first arrived, they were bewildered. Most of them had not even seen a train in their lives, so arriving to the hustle-bustle of Mumbai was a huge cultural shock for them,” Dewasthale explained. Add to that the students’ limited knowledge of India outside their own villages and that most of them don’t speak Hindi, and the first few weeks of their stay was confusion personified.

“However, a group of our volunteers in Bhandup, who are foster parents for the students, have shown remarkable patience and commitment towards the programme. While some take turns to transport the students, others provide meals or help with studies or anything else our guests may require,” he said.

After a few early hiccups, from filling enrollment forms in English to following lessons for six hours at a stretch, Dewasthale said, the students have now started settling down and are enjoying their current phase of learning. Said Chamsi from Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh, “Everyone in my village told me not to come to Mumbai, since they felt I would be treated badly. But I am glad I came.”

The most important process of learning for these students, however, transcends the medical boundaries. “These students, and the youth in the N-E states know more about terrorist outfits than their own country. In fact, they do not identify with India at all and are rootless.

Besides, extreme poverty and lack of education has confined these youth to their remote villages. It is time they were introduced to their own country,” Dewasthale signed off.

About the programme:
- The students are being trained as Primary Health Workers (PHWs) for 10 months
- Their training includes classroom lectures, volunteering at health camps, training in village clinics and hospitals
- On completion, each will be given a starter medical kit to take home and certificates from the Vatsalya Trust, which is training them
- The total cost of the 10-month programme, including rented homes for the students, transport, meals and stationary, is expected to run into Rs 15 lakhs. The money is being raised privately

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wither goest you...

January 14, 2007

h/l: Women not safe on streets or in homes
intro: Mumbai police statistics for year 2007 show rise in domestic crimes but drop in other crimes compared to 2006

Mumbai: It is by now a well established fact that Maximum City has the maximum violence against women in the state. The bad news is, women are at threat anywhere in Mumbai – the danger is real both from strangers on the street or from family members at home.

A study of the crime statistics for Mumbai city last year throws up some startling facts. As compared to figures for year 2006, Mumbai police have registered more numbers for dowry related deaths and dowry related harassment against women in 2007. There were 17 dowry related murders in 2007, as opposed to 16 in 2006. Correspondingly, the police registered 368 cases of dowry related harassment in 2007 as opposed to 2006’s 310 cases.

Also at risk from rapists are the city’s minors, most of them girls. In 2007, there were 124 rapes of minors, while there were 112 such rapes in 2006. The figures for rapes of adult women, have however, slightly gone down: there were 48 in 2007 and 51 in 2006.

While the shocking molestation of two girls outside the J W Marriott hotel on December 31 put the spotlight on police inaction and society’s sexual attitudes towards women, Mumbai police were equivocal about the numbers of molestation cases going down each year. If that were true, there would not be 356 cases of ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’ in 2007 as against 350 in 2006.

Overall, more crimes against women were reported last year in the months of March, May, August, September, October, November and December.

Interestingly, other crimes registered lesser numbers in 2007. There were 229 murders, 262 robberies, 6,471 thefts, 3,775 incidents of causing bodily hurt and 242 cases of riots last year. All these figures are lower than those registered in 2006 under the same categories.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Right to the left of it

One good thing to arise out of the accident, apart from getting the family to wait on me at all times, is that I am using my left hand moderately well. However, the thing I can do have further been divided into the things I need help with from mum.

Sample some of the activities done left handed these days:
Folding sheets.
Fluffing pillows.
Dressing up.
Holding books.
Turning pages while holding book firmly between chin and shoulder.
Soaping body.
Brushing hair.
Getting stubborn, unyielding set of headphones on after a silent, 5-minute struggle.
Reading newspaper. Folding it back.
Wiping tears after a pain-induced (or self-pity induced) bout of tears.
Cracking open tablet sheath.
Keeping baby safely away when cuddling with her.
Clenching tightly or holding over mouth when getting the hand bandaged.
Playing solitaire on the computer.
Trying other games on zapak.com but giving up because a) Some games are too fast to rely on my right brain's (lack of) processing speed, b) The other games need both hands to operate, hmph.
Fishing out and watching movies.
Opening and locking doors.
Scratching head.
Chatting on Gtalk.
Writing in completely illegible scrawl.

What bums me out is that there are some tasks you just can't do with one hand. Fastening buttons. Pulling baby's cheeks before they go down. Typing fast. Oiling hair. Washing hair. Using deo and talc. Grrr!!

But probably the nicest bits have been the back-to-childhood snatches when mum bathes me, dries me, gets me dressed and ties my hair up. Or when she breaks my roti into tiny pieces at mealtimes because I had an injury on the left hand as well. Or sits next to me or pats me to sleep every time I'm in pain. Every time, I almost end up saying, 'Ga ga!'