What do women really want?

“It’s impossible to grow up as a woman in India without knowing what it is like to have to always seek permission to be yourself. Each of us, in our own way, often magnified by caste and class encounters resistance in finding self-acceptance, achievement, and affection.”  (Excerpt from the Book) 

The 90s were the time when Shah Rukh, Shaktiman, and cassettes ruled the world. My childhood was spent in the 90s and it was heavily influenced by Bollywood movies. Watching the Sunday matinee show on Doordarshan at 4 o’clock is one of my most fond memories. I was probably 5-6 years old along with my cousin. Both of us eagerly awaited 4 o’clock movies. We finished our homework before time so that we could watch movies in the evening. No matter what the weather was like outside, nothing could move us from our seats before the screen. The saddest part of our movie times were the power cuts which took place right before the movie’s climax.  

Despite being scolded by our elders many times, we both ran for 1 kilometer to finish the movie’s climax. Doctor Saheb was an acquaintance of my grandmother, and he was quite wealthy for that area. He also owned a generator that would come on whenever there was a power failure. After the movie ended around 6:30 P.M., we both went home to enjoy a Sunday evening in a fantasy world away from reality. However, after we reached home, our Bua (Father’s sister) would beat and scold us. Occasionally, she would close the front door and not open it for at least two hours. We would wait for her to open it. The whole ordeal was repeated almost every Sunday. Wow, what memories!

I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you this story. The book I am about to discuss has the context of Bollywood films and how they have fascinated generations of Indians in their search for hope, freedom, and fantasy. 

Shah Rukh Khan and Shrayana

“Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s lonely young women and the search for intimacy and independence” is written by Shrayana Bhattacharya. This book is the best example of the saying, “ don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like other people, initially, I ignored this book because of its title. However, after listening to the author Shrayana Bhattacharya on The Seen and the Unseen podcast, I immediately ordered this book and devoured it. It gave me perspective. I started observing all ladies around me and trying to piece their lives and how they are navigating and fighting with this world. The author is a young woman and economist at World Bank who also happens to be a zabra fan of the Bollywood super star-Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. She wrote this book motivated by her fandom for Shah Rukh and stories of ordinary women and her work as an economist to weave a fantastic story to understand what’s going on in the lives of ordinary Indian women and how they are dealing with the system of patriarchy. 

I have found it to be one of the most insightful books I have read recently. I underlined almost every line. Each and every story of the woman in this book resonated with me. The frustration and relative deprivation of Vidya, the pains of The Accountant, the anxiety of Gold, the boredom of Manju, and most importantly, the author’s own story, all made sense to me. Whatever your educational and economic background, these stories show that women are discriminated against and made to feel inadequate and manipulated. It is all to serve the needs of the other half of humanity. The only difference was that the quality of this discrimination might have varied. Some of it was crude and visible, while others were refined and subtle. Then there is Mr. Shah Rukh Khan’s fan following. He helps these ordinary women bargain and survive the toxic patriarchy in their everyday lives through his movies and interviews. Shah Rukh’s fandom demonstrates their disappointment in society and its institutions which broke their hearts in different ways.

The lives of ordinary women

Reading this book made me more empathetic toward the lives of Indian women. It showed me how much struggle they are still going through irrespective of class, caste, or any other classification and how we women are also complicit in our own discrimination. Women are withdrawing from their jobs because not only do they have to face discrimination in their offices but also they are overburdened with the care and love which they need to provide for their families. Despite sacrificing their freedom to provide love and care to their family, women are feeling lonely and unloved. They are withdrawing from the workforce because of Sanskritisation effect where the increase in family’s income and status lead to more control of women’s body and their mobility to maintain the purity of their community and caste networks. Higher incomes allow family members to perform traditional upper-caste social rituals when women’s bodily honor is guarded strictly within the four walls of the home.   

Women leaving the workforce

They leave the workforce because of an unfriendly and discouraging work environment where they are paid less as compared to their male counterparts plus they also have to deal with the male gaze. Marriage and child care act as a hurdle for women to take up jobs in India. In totality, family and society both make it so difficult for women to survive, take up a job, or stay single. We are taunted for whatever choices we make in our lives. In fact, they have a problem whenever we make any choices. 

Feminism on Instagram

The author also highlights the discussions around feminism on Instagram. As per the author, real feminism is happening in the everyday lives of ordinary women and she does not have any radical story of resistance to share from the hinterlands of India. They are constantly navigating the patriarchy in their everyday lives which can never be seen on an elitist platform like Instagram. The story of Vidya from the book was so relatable that at one point I felt like vidya is speaking on my behalf. I have seen and worked with women who are very similar to Vidya’s that friend who finds faults in everything that Vidya does. They themselves are so rich and entitled but they judge women like us who have achieved something in their life coming from a normal background without any support and guidance. 

In spite of not being able to relate to the heartbreak stories in the book because it has never happened to me, it was heartbreaking to know that women’s relationships, marriages, and love lives are bargained as commodities, and women are judged on the basis of their looks. Despite their different backgrounds, all of these women are fans of Mr. Khan. Seeing a superstar like this who respects and loves women provides them with a respite from oppressive patriarchal culture and discrimination. Many poor and working-class women display their fandom for Shah Rukh Khan or attend his movies in the theater to express themselves.

We need intimate revolutions

The beauty of this book lies in the fact that it also proposes ways to solve these problems for our country.

“Meaningful change in everyday life happens when we start to pratcise the views we profess. ….Only fools think we can rationalise, cancel, tweet, or march our way to a social revolution. Radical change needs oxygen from each one of us. We are required to practise what we retweet, to self-scrutinise, to incrementally partake in impossibly difficult conversations in our own everyday relationships. For people to move beyond people…………………real shifts in their private behaviour requires repeated and sustained intimate interpersonal dialogue in which discriminatory views are revealed and challenged.”

“Change will need good faith and generosity. Mindset is not enough, morality is embodied in how we demonstrate our liberal views in our daily encounters with people, places and our self. Without these intimate revolutions, the best laws and the strongest movements will fail. The realm of everyday intimacy is the true home of social change. It is where all our longing, self-loathing and biases are unveiled. This is the world of deeply private rebellions, within people & within relationships. No platform, no performance. It’s where the real battle is. And it’s got to be long and ugly.”

An answer to the most debated question on humanity can be found in this book. Exactly, what do women want? The answer will surprise you. Women want love, freedom, and respect in no particular order.

India’s First Women in Medicine

In Picture ( Anandibai Joshi, Kadambini Ganguly, Muthulakshmi Reddy, Rukmabai Raut, Mary Poonam Lukose, Haimabati Sen)

“If this life is so transitory like a rose in bloom, why should one depend upon another? Everyone must not ride on another’s shoulders, but walk on his own feet” – Anandibai Joshi

Kavitha Rao’s book, “Lady Doctors: The Untold Stories of India’s First Women in Medicine,” tells the stories of six inspirational women who defied all the rules of society and built a career in medicine while also contributing to women’s emancipation. Although these women were from different parts of the country, they were united by their desire to achieve freedom and respect in their lives. They built institutions and advocated for women’s rights through protests and petitions. 

  • Anandibai Joshi: the first Indian woman with a western medical degree. Tragically, she died before she could practice medicine.
  • Kadambini Ganguly: the first Indian woman to practice medicine; she was branded as a whore by a conservative paper at that time. She was one of the first women to speak at the conference of the Indian National Congress (INC). A mother of eight children, she died in the course of her duties as a doctor.
  • Rukmabai Raut: a fiery woman who left a child marriage, shattering all patriarchal rules. Following her service in dealing with the deadly plague in Surat, she received the Kaiser-i-Hind medal in 1898.
  • Haimabati Sen: a child widow. Defying all Hindu tradition, she remarried and became a doctor.
  • Muthulakshmi Reddy: First woman to be elected vice-president of a legislature. She was instrumental in realizing the goal of the universal franchise for women, raising the marriage age, and abolishing the devadasi system.
  • Mary Poonam Lukose: the first Indian woman to be appointed to a legislature. She was instrumental in building Kerala’s public health care system.

You must read this book to learn about the achievements of these inspiring women whose stories are nowhere seen in our history textbooks. Please let me know your thoughts about this book if you have already read it.

Rework: Change the way you work

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It’s an unconventional book that tells us to change the way we work. This book is filled with timeless wisdom. In spite of the book being written in 2010, whatever is written therein is still relevant and will continue to be useful even in the future. It is written in a straightforward style. This book can be finished in one day or even in three hours if nothing interrupts your reading. 

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37 signals, wrote this book. 37 Signals is a two-decade-old software company that is now known as Basecamp. The authors have shared practical insights in this book based on their own experiences of starting a company from scratch, operating on their own, hiring employees from all over the world, and handling crises as they arise. 

In this book, you will find many inspirational lines that you can use in your life and work. These lines can be written on post-it notes and stuck to your desk, so you can get a little inspiration every day. Here are a few of the best:

  • Be a starter
  • Scratch your own itch
  • No time is no excuse
  • You need less than you think
  • Start a business, not a startup
  • You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy
  • Be a curator
  • Interruption is the enemy of productivity
  • Meetings are toxic
  • Good enough is fine
  • Long lists don’t get done
  • Make tiny decisions
  • Focus on ‘You’ instead of ‘They’
  • Say ‘No’ by default
  • Welcome obscurity
  • Build an audience
  • Go behind the scenes
  • Show your flaws. Be vulnerable
  • Press releases are spam. Instead, call someone
  • Everything is marketing
  • Hire someone who can manage herself
  • Send people home at 5 PM
  • Sound like you
  • ASAP is poison

Please read this book and let me know what you think about it. If you have already read this book, please let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. 

Women’s tales from the Ramayana

Stories have always been told from the perspective of the powerful. Most Indian mythologies glorify male characters. It is rare to find a female protagonist whose story of valor, sacrifice, or complexity of character has been told in mainstream work.

This very beautiful book, ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ tells the story of ‘Ramayana’ through its women who were an integral part of the story. Despite the book’s focus on Sita, it also tells the story of other women who suffered just as much, if not more, in this war between good and evil.

Sita’s story shows the vulnerability of being a woman and how she had to struggle to get respect and recognition for her capabilities. Essentially, the book deals with all human emotions, including love, passion, courage, jealousy, anger, and shame, while showing how these characters behave as normal human beings.

My favorite women from this story are Mandodari, Urmila, Kaushalya, Sarama, and of course SITA. However, we rarely know what their contributions were. Everyone knows what Lakshman did for his brother. Although he and Rama were exiled for 14 years, we do not know what his wife Urmila did for him. She had slept for 14 years so Lakshman would not have to sleep for his entire exile period.

Vibheeshan helped Rama conquer Lanka, but his wife Sarama sacrificed his son and protected Sita when she was being held as a captive in Lanka.

I loved this book for two reasons- first, it highlighted the stories of women I had never heard about, and second, it used beautiful and music-filled words that made me feel as if I were reading poetry. My mind created an image from the details in this book – I could see the forests, the palaces, the animals, and all the people that lived in this story.

Do read this book if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read this already, do let me know your thoughts about this in the comment section.

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Public policy work is a test match, not an IPL.

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The pursuit of happiness by each person is best achieved when the State creates conditions of stability and vanishes into the background.

It was a cold winter evening in Gurgaon. I was lying on my bed wrapped in a blanket, leisurely watching some YouTube videos. The video was interrupted by some Twitter notifications concerning Prime Minister’s address to the nation. I started watching Prime Minister’s All India televised address where he declared 1000 and 500 notes as demonetised. . My first reaction was to check how much cash I had at home. Seeing only 1500 rupees cash at home, I felt relieved. Like other people on WhatsApp groups and Twitter, I also believed for a few days that this was a master-stroke by the then government. This step is going to eliminate the black money available in the country. However, later on, like most other people, I had seen the suffering common people had to go through standing in the queue for long hours just to exchange their old currencies. My domestic help came next day crying that she has no bank account here and she doesn’t know how she can replace her old notes. I also remember following the everyday newspaper headlines on this issue and how the government everyday shifted the goal-posts of this policy decision saying that it is going to increase digitisation in the country.

Was demonetisation a good policy decision? Why did the BJP government take such a drastic decision without having a broad base consultation? Why there was no consultation from the public before taking this decision? Did it make any impact on curbing black money in the country? What were the consequences of this decision? How it has impacted the common people in the country?

I bought this book-In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy last year after many episodes on The Seen and Unseen podcast recommending it a must-read for all those who are interested in policymaking. Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah, former bureaucrats are the authors of this book. This book not only makes us understand why demonetisation was a disastrous public policy decision but also makes you understand the nuts and bolts of policymaking, execution, and implementation. Insights and the wisdom mentioned in the book make it a rule book for all public policy practitioners. It gives you all nuggets on policymaking. The book is quite comprehensive consisting of 40 chapters. The book answers many important debated questions: what objectives should the State pursue? What is the purpose of the government? I felt like noting down each and every line of this book.

India i.e. Bharat: A Union of States

“A State as a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” – Max Weber, The Vocation Lectures, 1919

Why State is needed? What is the main responsibility of the State? What are things State is supposed to do or not do? How State’s different actions have farreaching consequences not only for the present generations but also for the future generations. The authors list the various conditions when State’s actions are legitimate and justified. The state should not do anything except address market failure. Market failure happens when the free market fails to deliver efficient economic outcomes. Market failures happen in four kinds:

  1. Externalities occur when some of the costs or benefits of a transaction fall on someone other than the producer or the consumer. Pollution is an example of negative externalities. IT companies in Bangalore led to more parents providing computer education to their kids so that they can get jobs, is an example of positive externalities.
  2. Asymmetric Information refers to a situation where one party has more or better information. For instance-when a customer is buying medicines at a shop, she has no way of knowing if the medicines are adulterated.
  3. Market Power is established when a few firms achieve a dominant position in a market.
  4. Public goods are goods that are available to anyone. They have two characteristics: non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Roads and clean air are public goods.

India a low capacity State

Indian State works through panic, package, and neglect“- Harsh Vardhan (Financial Economist)

Many authors Indian and Western have shown that the Indian State lacks capacity. It can organise a humungous Kumbh Mela where crores of devotees come to take a dip in the holy Ganga. It can successfully conduct elections for such a huge electorate spread across and length and breadth of this country. However, the Indian state has continuously failed to deliver basic health, education, and sanitation services even after decades of independence. Why do Indian Institutions lack capacity? Because building a high capacity State takes time and consistent effort by policymakers, politicians, and bureaucrats.

Building a high capacity State takes time

“Where we do not have high intellectualism, we get raw power play”

Building the republic takes time. It will take many decades of hard work by the policy community for India to rise to the ranks of the advanced nations of the world. Policy reform is slow, hard work, and not amenable to quick wins on social media. There will be no sharp impact, no human interest angle. There will be small changes spread all across the economy, which can add up to substantial impacts.

Independent judiciary is an essential foundation of the market economy because it helps in the contract enforcement between the government and private firms. Poor contract enforcement leads to market failure. Different types of private solutions(contracts, torts, class action lawsuits, and private enforcement) can flourish when and only when the courts are swift and competent.

The need of the hour is to have an institutionalised application of mind. It is a way of ensuring that the right questions are asked, and alternatives evaluated before a decision is made. This helps avoid impressionistic and casual approaches to policy formulation and reduces the extent to which sectarian considerations dominate. In India, we have some irrational decisions because one section/caste group/pressure group is lobbying for it. Sound policy decisions require a lot of background research work, consistent probing, and also a feedback loop.

The Rhine river was not cleaned in a day. Rhine Action Plan was drafted in the year 1987 and it took many years of implementation and actions which led to the cleaning of the river. The hardest problems in state capacity are the criminal justice system, the judiciary, the tax system, and financial regulation. The best way to make progress is to take small steps and listen to the statistical evidence.

Policymaking is a process of trial and error

When getting hold of a larger object, don’t discard the smaller object. Don’t use a sword when a needle will suffice”.

Public Policy is a process of hypothesis testing, of forming a theory about the world and experimenting with interventions that are thought to help. This testing should go through a policy pipeline where the first data is gathered. Research is conducted which led to policy proposals, creating consensus among the public and policymakers. Finally, the government takes the decisions and implement the policies.

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Why do public policies get failed? There are various reasons behind it:

  1. The information constraint: We don’t have enough data because government itself does not collect the data with transparency and fairness. There are various other issues with data collection in the country. Policymakers just do not know what is going on. For instance- recent data about people died because of COVID has so many discrepancies.
  2. The knowledge constraint: We don’t understand the real problem because of a serious lack of social science research in India.
  3. The resource constraint: The government spends more than we think and know. The marginal cost of public funds (MCPF) is much larger than Re 1 in India.
  4. The administrative constraint : Public administration is harder than management in the private sector.
  5. The voter rationality constraint: Voters have no incentive to know about public policy.

Public Choice Theory: A Guide to Public Policy Making

……No matter how famous or well-reputed a person is, when she is hired as an official in the government agency, we are aware of the gap between her personal interest and the public interest. Public Choice Theory encourages us to engage in “politics without romance”. The objective is not to hire saints but to achieve a state which yields good outcomes when each actor is self-interested. Public Choice Theory predicts that public organizations will favor multiple objectives as this gives reduced accountability. Clarity of purpose is efficient for the principal and not the agent. A publicly stated and clear objective, on each policy initiative, improves the policy process. Public choice theory encourages us to think that all officials and all politicians are cut from the same cloth. We have to construct systems of checks and balances that will work through rational incentives of all parties and without assumptions that any one person is a saint. The puzzle of policy design is that of finding checks and balances.….

However, this theory also has its limitations. In reality, every individual in public life has a mixture of personal and altruistic elements. The State is not a benevolent actor, it is formed of self-centered persons. To create checks and balances, citizens, policymakers, and politicians can use these five pillars: data, media, intellectuals, legislature, and judiciary.

Strong Institutions are need of the hour

The policymakers should prioritise institution-building over just GDP growth. In the book named “Why Nations Fail”, the authors have given a ‘theory of institutions’ where they argue that institutions decided the destiny of the country. Institutions can be of two types: Political and Economic Institutions. The authors also add that poverty and prosperity of nations is the interplay of economic and political institutions. A complex modern economy only works when it is a self-organising system. It has to have the creative efforts of a larger number of individuals, all working in their own self-interest. There is no one measure of institutional quality but the authors have listed a few measures that can be used as a benchmark to understand the quality of Indian institutions:

  • Extent of perceived safety of women and functioning of the criminal justice system
  • Flight of millionaires
  • Flight of India-centric firms
  • Flight of India-centric trading
  • Flight of India-centric contract enforcement
  • Freedom of speech to comedians

Appreciation of ‘self-organising system’

The authors reiterate that State machinery should appreciate and facilitate the self-organising system. For instance- local problems should be solved by local people who are on the ground since they understand the problem better. The authors talk about Coasean Approach(Transaction Costs Perspective) to deal with market failures. The key concept of this perspective is that when property rights are clear, both sides are brought to the table to negotiate. However, this approach also requires the State to play a role in clearly defining property rights and judicial infrastructure that can help in enforcing contracts.

One of the best solutions mentioned in the book is an approach by political scientist Elinor Ostrom. She was the first woman to get a Nobel prize in economics. She discovered that many practical arrangements established by traditional communities over very long periods of time achieve good results. An example of this is declaring a moratorium on eating fish during the month of Shravan. Though this step seems religious, it leads to saving fish counts in the river.

Social engineering is inappropriate

Social systems are very complex and outcomes are generally greatly different from those that the planners may have desired. The values and imagination of the people should drive the changes in the world, rather than the values and objectives of a few central planners. Society can and should evolve gradually through the thoughts and actions of the people. The best framework of public policy is one in which the State impinges upon the lives of individuals as little as possible.

Policymakers need to be aware of the knowledge constraint, biases, implementation constraints, and most importantly every individual, official, and politician responds to incentives. We all remember how the sterilisation scheme launched during emergency miserably failed despite having a good intention of population control. Rather than State giving surprises, implementing stringent policy measures, policymakers should nudge the people through signaling or incentives towards the social change. As the authors of the book added, “we should pursue revolutionary change for government structures but evolutionary change for the people”. The best thing I gained from this book is that I should never see even policymakers as someone who knows everything. They are also working in unknown territories. Better policymaking requires a lot of effort and commitment from all stakeholders including civil society organisations, NGOs, politicians, and the common people.

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No Country for Good Girls

Trigger Warning: This post refers to acts of violence.

“An Indian woman’s first challenge is surving her own home” -Sonia Faleiro

One more year has passed. New beginnings on a new year. However, things feel new on the surface but not in reality or we pretend that things are new just because a new year is around the corner. Nothing has changed for a girl/woman in India. Don’t know if it will change in the near future. Misogyny, patriarchy, and gender discrimination are everyday phenomena in our country. We all face it. Rape is trivialised. Recently, a legislator in the State Assembly of Karnataka made an insensitive remark about rape, and later he was ready to apologise if his comments hurt the sentiments of women. 

We have a central government scheme named Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao to save the girl child. Do we need to save our daughter? Or do our daughters need to save themselves from this whole system? 80% of the money allocated to this scheme was spent on advertisement as per a parliamentary standing committee report. What more we can expect when girls’ parents give them bizarre names like Missed Call, Antima, and Phaltu to express their anger and disappointment because they never wanted to have these girls. I don’t even want to imagine the kind of shame and trauma these girls might be going through because they were made to feel that they were unwanted by their own parents. Being a woman, I have personally experienced this kind of discrimination. There was a time when I used to feel that I am going to fight for my rights. I will complain against these practices. However, different incidents and news reports dealing with discrimination and violence against women have broken my spirit. The most frustrating thing is that we, women, are manipulated into believing that we deserve this discrimination and violence. 

A little overview of the Book and the Author:

The book, “The Good Girls” by Sonia Faleiro will make you uncomfortable. It will make you angry and ashamed of our country and society. This book is about the Budaun case where two girls were found hanging from a tree on 26th May 2014, just a day before when the NDA government’s first term started with the promise of “acche din”. The book uncovers the events and circumstances leading to Padma Lalli’s death against the backdrop of the political and socio-cultural life of the state of Uttar Pradesh, notorious for violence against women. All those little details and descriptions about the mundane activities of the households and the exploitation of women shown in the book were quite relatable to me. The author’s deep research about the patriarchal settings and how women are never allowed to tell their stories makes this book an important read.

The author is a journalist who lives in London. She returned back to India and did extensive research for six years to write this book. She visited the Katra village and conducted hundreds of interviews. This case created so much furor that it was ultimately transferred to CBI. In this book, the author also discusses the caste complexities, corruption in the police system, the deep patriarchal structure, and discrimination against women. The book reads like a suspense thriller and I never felt like putting it down. Almost all chapters consist of one or two pages which makes it very easy to read. The chapters’ titles are thoughtful. It intrigues you to know more about the incidents. Sonia has woven this unfortunate incident in the form of a story that not only gives you context but also provides a political, social, and cultural perspective about the lives of the people involved.

Story of Padma and Lalli:

Padma Shakya and Lalli Shakya (names changed since the case is sub-judice) are two ‘good girls’ living in the Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district. Padma and Lalli were cousin sisters. Padma was sixteen years old and Lalli was fourteen years old. They were always together like two grains of rice. They did everything together. They both had an ordinary life but they were the new age girls. Padma was curious and wanted to explore things. Lalli wanted to study further and do something in life. However, these good girls were never good enough for the people around them because they never wanted to be bound by the rules of society. 

Control, control, and more control: 

In India, girls are not supposed to have choices. They are bound to do what they are told to do. They are not allowed to go outside. They can use mobile phones but they can’t own them. Even to use it, they need to take permission. Many khap panchayats, villages, and schools in India have banned mobile phones for women.  If they go out, they will have to return before it is too dark. They are the honor of the family and they need to be saved. And if they don’t follow these dictates or unsaid rules, they are killed. The most ironic thing is that women are controlled not only by society but also by the State in the name of their safety and empowerment. The recent move of increasing the age of women for marriage can be seen in the same light. A girl who is 18 years old, has the right to vote and choose her representatives but she does not have the agency to choose her partner. This is a clear case of violating women’s choices who want to get married before the age of 21. There is evidence to prove that a large share of reported sexual assaults across India is consensual relationships that are criminalised by parents. 

We can see the same kind of control in the Shakya family. Padma’s father bought her a phone which allowed him to record her conversations. He forced Padma to leave her studies so that she can get married to save her family’s honor. When these two girls insisted on going to the village fair, their mother (Siya Devi) scolded and said ‘Ladkiyan bahar Nahin ghoomti’ (Girls don’t wander about outside the house). 

Sex, Sexuality, and Shame:

Sex is still a taboo in India. It is associated with something bad. No sex education is provided in our country. Especially pre-marital sex is something frowned upon in our society. I just don’t understand the logic. After marriage, you can have as many kids as you want, but you can’t explore your sexuality before marriage. Height of hypocrisy in our society. Padma Lalli and Pappu Yadav had a sexual relationship that was not acceptable to their respective families. Padma and Pappu were caught in an awkward moment the day the girls got disappeared in the fields. The next morning Padma Lalli were found hanging from the tree in the mango orchard. 

Though their family members alleged that they were gang-raped and murdered by Pappu along with his uncle and a Yadav (caste is important here because initially this case was seen as a caste rivalry between Yadav and Shakya community) policeman, CBI inquiry did not find any evidence of it. CBI inquiry concluded that girls took their own lives. However, it is still not clear what has happened on that unfateful night when these two teenage girls disappeared. No one knows what was there in the phone recordings. Nazru, the cousin of Shakya brothers, who was spying on Padma Lalli on the day of their disappearance, still feels that he had seen those men who took these girls. Reading this book will help anyone uncover the shocking turn of events and why the death of these girls is called ‘ordinary killings’. 

Saving the honor was more important for their family even when those girls were dead. Sohan Lal, Padma’s father destroyed the phone so that no one gets to know about the relations between Padma Lalli and Pappu. What kind of society we are living in? Why our own parents are like that? Why they can’t think about their family first than society? That’s why Sonia in one of her interviews added that we all are responsible for their death and not one person or institution. The whole system is broken.

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Women’s Reservation Bill: A Long Quest

Recently, the Indian National Congress (INC) party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi announced that their party would give 40 % tickets in the upcoming elections to women candidates. It comes around 160 seats out of 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly. Though many have termed this as a political gimmick, it is certainly going to push the issue of lack of women’s representation in the parliament.

In the current 17th Lok Sabha, only 14% of parliamentarians are women. The share in the State legislatures is poorer as compared to the national average. A bill to provide 33% reservation to women in parliament has been pending for the last 25 years. The bill was first introduced on September 13, 1996, during the H D Deva Gowda government. It was introduced again in 1998, 1999, and 2008 but it lapsed each time due to the Lok Sabha dissolution.

The Constitution of India guarantees equal political status to women and provides scope for positive discrimination under Article 15(3). Different international treaties have set targets for women’s political representation. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Beijing Platform for Action (1995) requires the signatory nations to create conditions for women’s inclusion in the political system. India is a signatory to both the treaties. 

Need for Women’s Reservation Bill

Historical exclusion and discrimination are the core of the problem and the solution should be affirmative action. Reservation for women in parliament is needed for their political inclusion.  Even if there are equal opportunities provided, it has not been converted into equal representation for women. Complex patterns of hidden barriers prevent women from getting their share of political influence and representation.  

Reservation is a contested idea. Many sections of society have been asking for reservations on various grounds. In the current circumstances, affirmative action is needed to create mechanisms for the political inclusion of women. Many countries of the world introduced electoral quotas through constitutional amendments or statutory mechanisms which led to increased representation of women in parliament. For example, Nordic countries and some African countries have achieved better representation of women in their national parliament after adopting gender quotas in elections. 

Evidence shows that women leaders have a positive impact on development indicators and when elected, they focus on the people in their communities. They focus more on delivering civic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation, schools, and health centers. For instance, in a randomized policy experiment conducted in two States of India, it was found that elected women leaders under the reservation policy invest in the public goods linked to women’s concerns such as drinking water and roads in West Bengal and drinking water in Rajasthan. 

Why has the bill not seen the light of the day?

The bill has its shortcomings. It is ill-conceived in the sense that political parties can only run women candidates which will lead to women competing against women in reserved constituencies, defeating the overall purpose of the bill in empowering women. Rotation of seats from these reserved constituencies will lead to diminishing accountability as there will not be any fear from the electorate’s verdict for the next election. Political parties are also apprehensive as they feel that they will have to groom new women leaders to fill these positions. They also fear backlash because the bill has no provisions dealing with the lack of representation of other religious and sexual minorities in the Indian parliament.

Caste-based reservation is a complex factor in Indian politics. The Indian parliament already has seats reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes. Demand for women’s reservations in the Indian parliament is seen as competing with reservations provided to other social categories. Many political parties have also demanded a sub-quota within the quota of seats for women from the backward castes. Though the 2008 bill has provided 1/3rd of seats reserved for SC/STs be reserved for SC/ST women, many political parties demanded reservation for OBCs women also.

Some women groups are also not in support or in agreement with all the provisions of this bill which weakens the support in passing the bill. It is feared that this bill will only lead to co-opting of women belonging to the privileged class rather than bringing meaningful changes in the lives of ordinary women.  

Despite huge support for the bill from all across the ideological spectrum, the bill has not seen the light of the day because of the lack of political will from political parties over the years.

What needs to be done?

Women’s representation in the Panchayati Raj system increased tremendously after the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act and it also had a great impact not only on improving the lives of community members but also on women themselves. Some States can come forward and pass this bill to make it possible for the Central government to navigate some hurdles of the bill. Before introducing the bill in the current form, the Central government should have a pre-legislative consultation among all stakeholders and incorporate their suggestions. If the quotas for women can be implemented at the panchayat level, they can be implemented at the national level. 

Wealth: A Matter of Mindset Over Money

Image Source: https://bit.ly/2XDlSbT

Let me tell you the story of my grandmother! I spent my childhood with her. I have seen her saving one rupee each day which led to huge savings later in her life. She did unbelievable things. She has a lot of patience. She believes in moving mountains even if she is old and sick. She never loses hope. She believes in the idea of compounding. Certainly, she does not understand the economics behind compounding. I have seen her converting hundreds into lakhs bit by bit. You must be thinking why I am telling you this? Recently, I saw a post about a book called, “The Psychology of Money” on Linkedin. This title made me curious and I decided to read this book. While I was reading this book, I realised that these pearls of wisdom on wealth and happiness were always there in front of my eyes. It usually goes unnoticed. The author of this book, Morgan Housel tells you those simple and obvious things about building wealth as Sherlock Holmes once said, ‘The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.‘ It’s possible that we see these snippets in our daily life, but we never understood their significance of them.

Luck and risk

The book is divided into 20 chapters that take the reader from one timeless lesson to another about building wealth. As per the author, past experiences impact one’s behavior towards money. He believes that financial outcomes are driven by luck, independent of intelligence and effort. Luck and risk both play an important role in someone’s life. Outcomes are not only guided by individuals’ efforts but also by actions outside of our control. One of the best things to be said by the author is this: “Not all success is due to hard work and not all poverty is due to laziness” Therefore, he suggests keeping this thing in mind before judging people. Housel suggests having the virtue of contentment and not to risk what you have. According to him, there are many things that you should never risk. For instance- reputation and freedom, family and friends and happiness are some invaluable things that no one should ever risk in their life.

Things are uncertain and many times not dependent on historical factors. You should always be ready to face surprises in the financial market because no one clearly knows what might happen next. You must always give space to the room for error and be always ready to deal with unknowns. You should be ready to take risks but don’t take a risk that can wipe you from the world. Pessimism is so seductive and believable because setbacks happen too quickly to ignore. In comparison, progress happens too slowly to notice. Improvement is driven by compounding that always takes time. On similar lines, you should be ready to face losses in the financial market. Housel adds that true financial optimism is to expect things to be bad and be surprised when they are not. Nothing is free in life. Market returns are also never free. You should always be ready to lose some money and be ready to face the consequences. It’s like give and take. If the market gives you some returns, it also takes some back.

Compounding is the key

The most important concept discussed in this book is “compounding”. Time is the most powerful force in investing. The duration of investment matters. It takes time to accumulate funds. It makes little things to grow big and big mistakes fade away. However, our minds are not built to comprehend the enormous power of compounding. As I told earlier, I have seen compounding working in my own life. Once my grandmother bought something worth ten lakh rupees when she was earning only 10 thousand rupees per month. It looked totally absurd to me and I tried to stop her from buying something so expensive when her income is so less. But she told she will slowly make this payment. Still, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe till the date she was able to complete the whole payment. So compounding works in a way that our mind is not ready to sense it.

Survival Mentality

“Staying wealthy is more important than getting wealthy”, says the author. Keeping your money safe and using it rationally is more important than getting more money. Nothing should be taken for granted. Investing requires taking risks, being optimistic, and putting yourself out there but keeping money requires humility, fear, and most importantly frugality. The ability to survive plays an important role in becoming wealthy and in creating happiness. The author adds that sticking around for a long time should be the cornerstone of anyone’s strategy in life. Growth takes time. Be it about money or in career. And growth requires surviving all the unpredictable ups and downs that everyone inevitably experiences over time. Applying a survival mindset means appreciating three things in life:

  • You need to have enough savings to survive any disruption, pandemic and chaos in your life.
  • Planning is important but the most important is to plan on the plan not going according to the plan.
  • You need to have sensible optimism.

Being in control of your life

The best wisdom shared in this book is about how money can give you the freedom to control your time. As the author adds that the highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, “I can do whatever I want today” The ability to do what you want, when you want, with who you want, for as long as you want is priceless. It is the highest dividend money pays. Being in control of your life makes you happy.

Savings are linked not to your income but your humility

Creating wealth has no direct relationship with the income you earn or the investment returns you get. It depends on the saving rate. Saving the money you have and exercising frugality are the ways to build wealth. I have seen this habit not only in my grandmother but also in other family members. They don’t throw old clothes, boxes, and many household stuff and re-use them many times. They don’t go out and spend money to experience things as the new generations want to do. They have their own justification. However, saving money is the only way to build wealth. Spending money is also linked with your ego. If you desire less, you can save more. Housel has something interesting to say about increasing your savings. If you want to increase your savings, raise your humility than your income.

Saving money is the gap between your ego and your income & your income and wealth is what you don’t see.

Acquiring material things is for self-satisfaction. No one gets impressed because of someone else’s possessions. In fact, people are impressed when someone possesses the qualities of humility, kindness, and empathy. Do not take any financial decisions because you are influenced by someone. Do not buy things because you just wanted to show off to someone. It is a total waste because people are influenced because of your good behavior and not because of your money, house, and the kind of stuff you own. In fact, it literally means that your real wealth is what that no one sees it. The author believes that ‘the only way to be wealthy is to not spend the money that you do have. It’s not just the only way to accumulate wealth, it’s the very definition of wealth.

The creation of wealth is linked to the psychology and behavior of the person. Saving money is like developing a good habit as James Clear shows in his book Atomic Habits. You don’t need a specific reason to save. Savings without a specific goal give you leverage to deal with unpredictable situations. It gives you flexibility and control of your time. The author also adds that you need to focus on being reasonable than rational because ultimately you are a human being who has emotions and feelings. You need to cut down on your expense but it does not mean that you stop living.

People change so do their goals in life

People’s desires and goals change so it is difficult to make long-term plans. The surprising thing is that people themselves don’t realise that how much they have changed in the past and how much they are going to change in the future. The author suggests keeping two things in mind whenever you are making a long-term decision. Firstly, you should avoid extreme ends of financial planning because people adapt to circumstances and the thrill of chasing dollars or living a simple life diminishes after a point. Secondly, you need to accept that things change and be ready to move on. The most beautiful thing author has to say is that you must have humility when things are going right and forgiveness & compassion when they go wrong. Because we never know what will happen and always be grateful for things that we have.

The crux of building wealth is to be humble, practice frugality and make saving your daily habit. Be a Ronald Read and not Richard Fuscone!

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Tiny changes can make a big difference!

Image Source: https://medium.com/@aidanhornsby/notes-on-atomic-habits-c021e38eeae7

“If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you will end up 37 times better by the time you are done”

First, let me tell you the story of this tiny plant. Last year during the lockdown, I was spending good time gardening, writing, and clicking pictures. I reused an old plastic bottle and filled it with some soil and planted a small stem of my favorite plant-pothos. I fastened it in my balcony grill. Every alternate day I was watering it. But after some days, I saw it drying. I got disappointed and stopped thinking about it. I also reduced the frequency of giving water. Days and months passed. One day on a weekend, I saw a tiny green stem inside the old plastic bottle. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like some extra grass grew. I went closer to the bottle and there was a sweet smile on my face. I finally knew that my plant survived. It survived: because of everyday’s care & nurture that got accumulated for days. On similar lines, your good habits are like these tiny changes you make every day that leads to a bigger change later in your lives. (Scroll it down to see the beautiful plant as of today)

Reading this book makes you believe that small habits can make a big difference. And what is a habit? A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. James Clear believes in incremental change. He feels that success is the product of daily habits-not-once-in-a-lifetime transformations. The interesting thing about this book is that it not only tells you how to create good habits but also how to break bad habits. He also warns the readers to be careful about the future trajectory of their lives as it will be dependent on their daily habits.

To me, this book feels like the combination of popular books Sapiens (A Brief History of Humankind) and Nudge(Improving Decision about Health, Wealth and Happiness) Like Sapiens, this book tells us that we have the brains of our ancestors but temptations they never had to face. We still crave calorie-dense foods because our brain’s reward centers have not changed for approximately 50 thousand years. Like Nudge, James Clear argues that the environment matters more than motivation. As Richard H Thaler talks about the concept of “choice architecture” that shapes people’s behavior, James Clear believes that every habit is context-dependent. People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are. Accordingly, we need to design our environment such that we pursue our good habits. For instance- if you want to hydrate yourself, you must keep the water bottlers near you. We have to create space for every habit. A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.

Change can take years -before it happens all at once

Our daily habits(positive/negative) compound for us and lead to a bigger change. And the thing is that whenever we have breakthrough moments, we don’t realise the reason behind them. The author has talked about the concept of “plateau of latent potential”. This is that moment where we get breakthrough results, but the thing is that we human beings generally don’t have patience. We can’t wait. I can share from my own personal experience. When I started preparing for civil services, things seem insurmountable and I also felt for some time that I don’t know if I can do this. But I got results. I couldn’t even clear prelims in my first attempt. But in my subsequent attempts, I cleared prelims and mains both. And it does not mean that I didn’t work hard in my first year. My result was a cumulative effect of all years and not only of the current year when I cleared the examination.

The author challenges the norm of setting goals if anyone wants to succeed. He adds: “If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.”

There are three layers of behavior change:

  • Outcome-based habits: What you get
  • Process-based habits: What you do
  • Identity-based habits: What you believe

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it. True behavior change is identity change. It means that to make your habit permanent, you must make your habit part of your life and identity.

One of the best things Clear has to say is that you need to unlearn and continuously edit your belief systems to upgrade your identity. And this cannot happen overnight. For instance- doing exercise is a good habit but to build a healthy body, you have to get out of your bed every single day at the same time. Go for a walk. Repeat this every single day despite all odds.

As per Clear, there are four simple steps to build a better habit: Cue; Craving; Response & Reward The cue gives you an indication about reward, craving makes you feel like getting that reward, the response is the actual habit you perform and rewards are the end goal of every habit. This whole process is also called a feedback loop.

The Habit formation Feedback Loop

Developing good habits or changing habits first and foremost requires you to understand what you are actually doing. The author tells us to create a list of our daily habits so that we can observe our thoughts and actions. We need to ask this question after making our daily list, does this habit help me become the type of person I wish to become? Below are the laws that we need to apply to cultivate good habits and eradicate bad habits.

The Laws of Habit Formation

Even our family, friends, and people we follow play an important role in shaping our behaviours. We pick up the habits from the people around us. As the author adds that ‘ we don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them’. We imitate the people we admire. The best strategy to develop a good habit is to surround yourself with the people who have the habits you want to have yourself. Sticking with good habits requires you to create short-term rewards. As our brains are still tempted towards instant gratification, we need to create a habit tracker. The author adds that a habit tracker makes you believe that you are working towards becoming the type of person you wish to become.

In the end, the author talks about ‘the Goldilocks Rule’ that will help you to stay motivated in life and work. As per this rule, humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard, Not too easy, Just Right. Reaching the goldilocks zone makes you achieve the state of flow. Flow is something one achieves when they have immersed themselves in what they are doing. But doing the same thing or following the same habit can also bring some boredom. The biggest challenge for self-improvement is dealing with this boredom. “The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over & over. You have to fall in love with boredom”, adds the author. Mastery requires more practice than planning. Though habits are important, they are not enough. You need to have a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice. And most importantly, you need to review and reflect on these habits to continuously fine-tune them as one thinker has rightly said” a genius is not born, but is educated and trained”.

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Hoping for this to end soon.

Location: Vijaywada; Clicked by me.

These days
I wake up and feel like starting my day on a fresh note
Then I hear something terrible
Friend’s father is in the hospital
Classmates’ wife couldn’t make it
Colleague’s 13- year old niece is battling for her life in the hospital
A friend is traumatised because he couldn’t perform his father’s last rite
I am constantly checking on people
Sometimes I get scared to hear phone ringing at the odd time
I am doom scrolling
Sometimes I don’t want to
Then I want to keep myself updated so that I will be ready to face any new challenge
What will happen
There is anxiety and grief
When this will end
When everything will be normal
I am telling myself every day
When this will be over, I will live each moment
I will never take things for granted
I will be grateful
Just waiting for this to end
Just waiting for the day when I wake up
And breathe easy
Hoping for this to end soon…

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I couldn’t sleep for three weeks.

When I write this, my in-laws are battling in a hospital in A.P. They both recently tested positive. I am worried and anxious these days, constantly checking up on my near and dear ones. India is currently battling with the second wave of Covid-19. People are dying every single day. Reports are full of horrific accounts, images, and testimonials . There is a queue even outside the crematoriums. People are running around to find beds, oxygen cylinders, essential medicines and facing a shortage of vaccines. Overall the situation is grim and scary.

I am also one of those people who suffered during this crisis and I could not sleep for three weeks because first my Amma was battling for her life in hospital, and then my husband tested positive. It was a nightmare, to say the least. We were just plain lucky or maybe God was very kind to us that we got hospital beds in time.

Sundar Lal Bahuguna: IMS BHU Hospital

It all started on the night of 5th April (Monday). As usual, the whole day was very hectic. I thought I will sleep early. But nothing like that happened. We got a call from my native place that my Amma(grandmother) was very sick and they were taking her to hospital. The way they spoke to us, I started crying and praying that I would get a last chance to meet her. It was midnight. My mind was not working. I didn’t know how I was going to handle this. My husband booked tickets for us to Varanasi. And we started the race against time.

We reached the airport, constantly in touch with people who were attending to my Amma. On the flight my phone was switched off for three damn hours. Anything could happen in three hours and no one could reach me for three hours.It felt like time has stopped. I could see the sunrise from the window and it was breathtakingly beautiful but I didn’t click a picture as I always do. I was distraught.

We reached Varanasi and hired a cab to take us to Azamgarh. I sat in the car numb. The things were complex and I had no idea what I am going to do. I didn’t know anyone in Varanasi or Lucknow as I am out of my State for so many years now. Whom should I contact? I don’t know any doctors here. I don’t know which hospital is good. Should I take her to Varanasi or Lucknow? Varanasi is only 90 km from Azamgarh and Lucknow is 270 km. I am calculating this in my head. I am telling myself, I should take her to Varanasi. As these thoughts criss cross my mind, I told the driver to race towards Azamgarh as I have to reach on time. Then we were just 10-15 km away from Azamgarh city. My thoughts were broken when I got a call from the hospital and I heard a voice: ‘Why are you not taking her?’ said the doctor in a harsh tone and hung up on me. I turned towards the driver and told him to drive faster.

Suddenly I remembered my one of my friends (Sarika). She was my classmate during engineering. She was from Varanasi. I called her many times but she didn’t pick up. She called me after some time. I told her everything. She told me about another classmate (Manjit) whose relative is a doctor in Banaras Hindu University hospital officially known as Sir Sundarlal Bahuguna: IMS BHU hospital. Hearing this was a big relief, at least now I know a hospital name. I spoke to Manjit’s relative (can’t reveal his name) and he told me to bring her and admit her to the hospital.

We reached the Vinayak hospital (Azamgarh) and put Amma in the ambulance and started the journey to the BHU hospital. Though I told everyone that I am taking her to the hospital, inside my heart, I was not sure how I am going to handle this. On the way, many times, it felt like that she will leave us at any moment. Somehow, we reached. I didn’t even brush my teeth and I was sweating and feeling dehydrated but I can’t eat because I don’t want to remove my mask. To my shock, there was a queue for a stretcher and wheelchair and you have to deposit your Aadhar card for that. I tried talking to people. The ambulance driver was also getting restless and told us to pay quickly because he wants to leave. Somehow, we entered the hospital. We were running from here to there sometimes to take a receipt, for medicines, and blood tests. We both were constantly paranoid and trying to sanitise as we were in the high-risk zone. This ordeal continued for the next five days. Two of my buas (Kiran and Guddi) were there to help us. They were nursing Amma during the night and we both were there during the daytime.

Countless people helped us during this crisis and many also showed their true color. That ward boy in ACU, many doctors, nurses, countless strangers, and many more. Some people need special mention. One of my close friends: Kriti Singh. I met her during my civil services preparation. Her whole family was very supportive. Her mom was super sweet. She also invited us for dinner and gave us ‘shagun money’ considering me as her daughter. Watching this, I cried inside. Many of my relatives didn’t even come to see us but here are some strangers who were so helpful. She gave us her bike so that we can commute easily. She also guided us to book accommodation in the IITBHU guest house. This guest house was super clean and they gave us good food. They had helpful nice staff who treated us like family.

On 10th April, she (Amma) got discharged and we both were so relieved. We also visited the sankat mochan temple to pay our obeisance. The next day, we planned to travel back to Bengaluru. We never thought that our happiness and peace going to disappear soon. I had a mild sore throat but never thought that it will turn out to be a covid symptom. On 12th April, we both did an RT-PCR test that came negative. However, by that time, we sensed that we both are Covid positive as we both had mild symptoms. Chaitanya also started getting a high fever. We somehow passed one week and I started feeling better. But Chaitanya’s fever became worse. We both were panicking inside and didn’t want to visit the hospital as the second wave was already making havoc. I could only hear ambulance sirens on the road. My heart was sinking all the time.

I prepared 100 varieties of kadha for him to drink. We tried everything but the fever was not coming down. On 20th April, our fear came true. The doctor with whom we are doing online consultation told me to take him to the hospital. And then the real panic started. I tried calling BBMP(Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) helpline number and it was not working. I don’t know any hospital. Where should I take him? I started calling frantically to people and asking for help on how to get hospital beds in Bengaluru. I reached out to my office colleagues also. They also started calling the BBMP helpline. Chaitanya told me to take him to Manipal hospital. They were not ready to take him and gave some emergency treatment.

There only they(Manipal Hospital) did the RT-PCR test again. He tested positive.They told me that they don’t have a bed and they discharged him. I also called my sister-in-law who also lives in Bengaluru. I and my sister-in-law kept on trying the helpline number (1912) and finally gave all the details to the person who was there on the other side of the phone. We reached home around 2 o clock at night. I told Chaitanya to sleep and I kept on trying to helpline numbers. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. I also called some ambulances. Luckily or maybe because of god’s grace, they assigned him a bed in the Dr. Ambedkar Medical Hospital. The next day(April 21st), I admitted him there.

He was admitted to the hospital for 8 days. For these 8 days, I was visiting this COVID hospital 3 times a day, sometimes 4 times a day to give him breakfast, lunch, dinner, or some medicine, water or just check up on him how he is doing. The situation in the hospital was miserable. Almost every day, I saw one dead body wrapped in a body bag. The patient attendant is not allowed in the hospital. They can only go and meet the patient for five minutes or give some stuff to the guard. So I used to wait outside on the lawn. It was a pain physically and mentally both seeing people suffering and I was also paranoid because I am outside. After coming home, It used to take almost 2 hours for me to sanitise and take bath. Many Autowallas and uber drivers just refused to come after asking about my destination. The moment I said that I have to go to the hospital, they cancelled on me. Anyway, I want to remember those people who helped me and were kind during this crisis. Nights were painful and scary. I couldn’t sleep as I was anxious thinking I might get a call from the hospital. I don’t know how Chaitanya might be feeling. I stopped reading the newspapers and checking social media as I didn’t want to see any bad news.

Dr. Ambedkar Medical College and Hospital

I don’t know what to say about the doctors. They are overwhelmed. They are risking their lives for us and we must salute them. However, it was difficult for us to talk to the doctors. They were just not there. They were not telling anything. It made me more worried. Only after three days when he didn’t get his fever, I got relieved. Only one doctor Dr. Lisana spoke to us and shared valuable information about his health. It was so comforting listening to her and understanding what has happened.

In the end, I want to thank all those countless and faceless people who helped me and checked on me every single day. I am grateful to my friends: Sarika, Manjit, Kriti and many others, and all those faceless people who helped me. One girl, I didn’t know her name at that time, kept on checking and calling me when I was struggling to find a bed for Chaitanya. Her name is Rama. I will never forget her. She is my friend now. Some of my office colleagues were very helpful. Vineeth and Kalyani called and messaged me asking how is everything. Am I taking care of myself and eating properly? In fact, my director was very kind and she went out of her way to help me in a lot of different ways. She also sent me food one day. My sister-in-law (Manu) and brother-in-law(Vamsi) also helped me and were always there for me.

Whoever will read this blog of mine, I want to tell you something, I couldn’t express most of the things I felt during this crisis. I have my relatives in rural UP and the situation is very grim now. In, fact, during the same time, one of my relatives got hospitalised. He also got discharged recently and is doing better now. Only one thing I want to say whoever will read this blog: please please be kind and help others. Nothing else matters. Life is too short.

One of the days outside the hospital during endless waiting

Mitti di Khushboo..

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Bread-Cement-Cactus-Belonging-Dislocation/dp/1108814638

“Jahan Koyi apna Dafn na hua ho woh jagah apni nhi hua karti” [A person does not belong to a place until someone beloved is buried there]

Gabriel Garcia Marquez- One Hundred Years of Solitude

Reading the book, “Bread, Butter, and Cement” by Annie Zaidi, felt like a trip down memory lane. It made me nostalgic. It made me think of my roots, my identity, and my belongingness. The book is beautifully written and expressed. It feels like a slow cold breeze passing below your feet while you read this book but also makes you worry about the things happening in our country as to how our heritage and culture are being devoid of diversity.

Like Zaidi, I always wanted to own a place that I can call mine. Do I belong to a place or Do I want a place of my own? The first one is of course where my dada, dadi, and my ma lived their whole life. It feels so right that where your ancestors have lived, that place belongs to you. If you see this in a larger sense, it’s so difficult to imagine the lives of the people who were uprooted from their homeland because of partition, communal strife, or poverty and have had to move to a different place. The second one is that place that I am going to build/buy that is my own.

The title of the book intrigued me because what story could link three unconnected words: bread, butter, and cactus. It comes from the author’s childhood when she was living in the J K Puram colony. It was a colony for workers of the cement factory of the same name. Her mother was working as a principal in the school run for kids living in the colony. They moved to this unknown place so that her mother could provide ‘bread’ to her children. The author also describes the circumstances and situation prevailing in that colony and how the author wanted to escape the everyday ‘sameness’ of the colony. The only life around was some cactus. There was nothing nearby and it almost felt like she was living on some island.

The book is neatly divided into nine chapters with unique and thoughtful names. Every chapter name has some hidden meaning. The most beautiful thing about this book is that as these chapters flow, the author narrates her personal story reflecting and interlinking the socio-political happenings of the country. For instance, I absolutely loved the chapter named ‘Gur, Imarati and Goons’ telling the story of Azamgarh in particular and eastern UP in general. ‘Listening to mother’ and ‘Place like Home’ are the two other beautiful chapters giving a beautiful perspective on how language is so important to feel the sense of belongingness and how creating your own home or having a home makes a lot of difference in your life. This line from this chapter is so beautifully written: ‘Home is where suffering is shared out, like a bread, and or a three-seat bench shared by four’. The chapter on language is insightful. It shows how much language diversity we have in our country and despite that, there is an imposition of one language on everyone. Hindi itself has around 49 variants.

Just finding out that the author’s hometown was Azamgarh which is also my hometown created a strong urge for me to read this book. Being a woman who belongs to the same district and also migrated to a different place and trying to create my own identity made me relate to the author’s feelings in this book. Just like the author of this book, ‘belonging had always been a fraught question for me’ because I also never lived at one place for long. Especially after my marriage, I moved to South India totally devoid of North Indian roots, culture, food, and the people. I am not sure where I belong.

I remember my first UPSC interview when they asked me about my hometown and I was trying to defend the reputation of my district as it has been stereotyped and demonised as a place linked to terrorism. I can say that even I was suffering from that bias otherwise there would be no need to defend. The author is also anguished about why a place of poetry, textile, and imarati has been stereotyped just because a section of minorities live there. It is sad. Even I agree with the author that this stereotyping isolates the minority community and also prevents the Hindu majority from taking pride in their regional identity. A couplet comes to mind:

Sabhi ka khoon hai shaamil yahaan ki mitti Mein,Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai” [Everybody’s blood is mixed into the earth here, Hindustan does not belong to anybody’s father]

Rahat Indori

Throughout the book, Zaidi shows concerns towards the marginalisation of minority communities with a special focus on Muslim communities. Being a Muslim and a woman, she has had to face a lot of questions and rejection. The socio-political climate of the country made her conscious of her identity. She was worried about what people will think or how they will behave if she wore a hijab/burqa.

This is the sad reality of this country. The recent findings of a three-year study on discrimination in housing, most cosmopolitan cities and neighborhoods continue to keep Muslims and Dalit out of their homes. Stereotyping and discrimination against Muslims and Dalits are rampant in our country. One of my close Muslim friends (I don’t want to disclose his identity), who is a writer and public policy expert tells me, ” I no more think India is my country and I want to move out from here as soon as I can”. Hearing this, I thought; where we have reached and what we have become as a nation.

“The ache for home lives in all of us.The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”

Maya Angelou

The theme of this book is about home, identity, belonging, and most importantly about mitti (soil) of one’s birthplace. How absolutely nothing can replace the feeling of your roots. How this mitti or zameen as we call it, has ‘dual connotations’ that mean land and also a certain psychological feeling. It makes me feel proud when I read in this book that the author traces her roots to eastern Uttar Pradesh. Generally, people from Uttar Pradesh who have relocated would rather not reveal their identity out of fear of being stereotyped.

Note: I created a draft of this blog last month but could not publish it because almost everyone in my family was sick. Finally, when I started feeling a bit better and things got stable at home, I completed this blog today.

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Writing and Life!

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen our sense of life: they feed the soul”

Anne Lamott

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d has three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” – An Iconic passage that gives the book its title

During my childhood days, I was this kid who was always curious about reading things written at unusual places. Catchy sentences from books, inspiring quotes, weird shayaris written on the backside of the truck and things written on walls always amused me. I also had this habit of writing things in my diary or notebook. I never imagined that this is the thing I liked the most and this will give me utmost satisfaction in my life. When I started reading this fascinating book by the author Anne Lamott, I felt as if she is telling me to do the same. She wants writers to observe, appreciate and simply write about everything you see, hear, read, and think. She emphasises that writers should be afraid of not getting the writing done rather being tensed about how it will look and how people will see you.

And I would suggest people to read this book because it is not only about writings but also about life. The best thing about this book is that instructions on writing are intertwined with Lamott’s life that makes it easier to relate.

The book is neatly divided into five parts. The author has shared the instructions step by step in these five parts. The first part is about getting the writing started, the second part speaks about the writing frame of mind, the third part describes small habits that can help in your writing journey, fourth part talks about the ultimate goal of every writer; publication and other reasons you need to start writing and the final part is about the author’s last class on writing where she highlights the role of being a writer and how writers play an important role to show a mirror to the society.

The best advice the author has for the budding writers is the actual act of writing. It has its own rewards. It is one of the best parts of writing as it has so much to give and teach. The author has poured out her heart as a writer in this book. She honestly tells all the writers to start writing as all good writings begin with terrible first effort. We all have to write that shitty first drafts and edit it, again and again, to make it crisp and clear.

Stories are mostly the same but the difference comes when someone shares their own sensibility or especially their own version of the truth. And as the author agrees that the ‘truth’ is the bedrock of life. Whatever experience you had in your life, no one can share better than you in your own voice. Something very unique, I found in the book, as the author says ‘writing’ is like ‘giving’. A writer gives her soul and deepest part of her life into writing. Reading something gives us that feeling of connection, it enriches your soul. A writer soothes the reader’s soul by giving a company and reducing isolation.

The author gave some clear instructions that need to be followed if you want to improve your writing skills or want to continue being a writer:

  1. Sit down to write at approximately same time every day. This is how you can train your unconscious to kick-in for you.
  2. Write at least 300 words every day. Write about anything, about your dreams, aspirations, childhood memories, etc
  3. Keep index cards with you all the time and scribble on it whenever you find something interesting
  4. Observe/ Look around and write about these things
  5. Call people and connect with them to know their perspective
  6. Find someone reliable who can read your draft before you show it to the world
  7. Be part of a writing group that will motivate you to write
  8. Find your voice or write whatever your intuition says
  9. Write about your childhood
  10. Write as if you are dying
  11. Forget about what people will think of your writing rather focus on just writing

I will end with some of the beautiful excerpts from the book to inspire and motivate you to write without any hesitation because as Anne Lamott reiterates in the book, writing and reading decreases our sense of isolation. They deepen, widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.

“Good writing is about telling the truth”

” We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are”

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious”

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better”

“Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

“Process of writing is pretty much the same for almost everyone I know”

“Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless. You begin to read with a writer’s eyes”

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on”

“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they have done it”

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious”

“All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way.”

BOOKS -“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave”

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us”

List of boxes I wish to tick in the near future!

Picture Location: Jal Mahal (Jaipur) : Circa 2016

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

Recently, I had this feeling of what next I should do. And then I decided to create a list of 50 things that I want to do before I die. When I was thinking about it, I had so many things in my mind and for a moment it felt like, life is like a -to-do list.

Out of curiosity I also asked others. I got different answers from everyone but the interesting thing was that no one told me that they want to study or appear for some exams rather most of the people added that they want to travel or do some adventure sports, create a small library, build their own home and do something for underprivileged. I don’t know what to feel about this. Here are my 50 things I want to do before I die:

  1. Want to work for the Government of India (Done)
  2. Help and guide 100 underprivileged students to appear for Civil Services Examination
  3. Want to write two books: one non-fiction and another fiction
  4. Want to work for GOOGLE and TWITTER
  5. Want to start my venture through which I can contribute to the society
  6. Start a small café where people can come and hang out or just read some books. The café should be green, full of art and beauty
  7. Do a degree from abroad
  8. Give a speech to an audience of a hundred people
  9. Visit all cities of India
  10. Travel whole India by Train
  11. Travel in a truck
  12. Want to go on a road trip from Kashmir to Kanya kumari and from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh
  13. Travel solo without any planning; just start from anywhere and go anywhere
  14. Want to have a nice drink without any hesitation
  15. Sleep under the stars on a road or a mountain without any fear
  16. Build a small cottage home in Dharmashala (Himachal Pradesh) and also make it a homestay for tourists
  17. Climb Mount Everest
  18. Volunteer at Golden Temple, Amritsar
  19. Adopt an animal
  20. Adopt a girl and provide 100 % funding for her education
  21. Travel at least 100 countries of the world
  22. Ride a bike and go on a bike trip
  23. Learn a foreign language
  24. Go on an island and stay there for a month without any outward communication and internet connection
  25. Sleep on the Beach
  26. Spend a night in a Tree House
  27. Participate in Floating lantern activity in Thailand
  28. Want to go horseback riding
  29. Want to do zip-lining, sky-diving, scuba-diving and par-gliding
  30. Go on a hot-air balloon ride
  31. Want to participate in cycling
  32. Want to have a nice romantic dinner with my spouse on the Eiffel Tower
  33. Jump-off a cliff
  34. Visit a chocolate factory
  35. Make chocolate from scratch
  36. Buy a Mercedes
  37. Travel to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan
  38. Talk to a lot of strangers and write their stories
  39. Volunteer for ‘clean river campaign’
  40. Participate in road painting/road cleaning exercise
  41. Plant 1000 trees
  42. Do farming
  43. Do something for my village located in Azamgarh district
  44. Ride a bullet
  45. Learn guitar
  46. Go on a girls’ trip with some of my close friends
  47. Create/Direct a documentary ( A difficult one)
  48. Write at least 10,000 blogs before I die (This is my 93rd blog)
  49. Read 10,000 books before I die
  50. Stay in Varanasi and Sikkim for sometime

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go- T S Eliot

If you don’t mind, please also share in the comment what is that one thing you want to do before you die.

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