Category: Book Review & Summary

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? This book will help you to make sense of these questions if not find the right answers.  

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 provides you with all the policymaking tidbits. The book has 40 chapters and is fairly extensive. What goals should the State pursue? and other key issues are addressed. What is the government’s mission? Every single line in this book felt like it needed to be noted down.

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 far reaching 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.

Created on Canva

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-The data about people dying from 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 human resource 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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Wealth: A Matter of Mindset Over Money

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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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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”

India Tomorrow!

“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important”

Eugene Mc Carthy (1916-2005), American Democratic Politician

Recently, when Rahul Gandhi travelled abroad just before the foundation day of the Indian National Congress(INC), there was a hue and cry in the media and other social media platforms criticizing him for not being serious about Indian politics. But seriously, he also needs a holiday break. In fact, in this book he tells the authors that he goes abroad to have some personal space as he is constantly surrounded by security and the people in India. Reading the interviews of these young political leaders makes you feel that they are also common people just that they are in the business of politics which is one of the most demanding jobs in the country.

The book is about the prominent young political leaders who will shape the destiny of India in the coming years. The authors interviewed 20 young political leaders below the age of 50 from across the country and compiled those interviews as it is in their original voices. The interviews include those from Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Akhilesh Yadav, Poonam Mahajan, Varun Gandhi, Omar Abdullah, Aditya Thakeray, Smriti Irani, Jignesh Mevani, Sushmita Dev, Kalikesh Singh Deo, etc. All these interviews were conducted in person. These young political leaders come from different political parties and with a completely different background. Conversations here show their perspectives on important issues of the country. What is their thinking, inspiration, and passion that motivates them to be part of the Indian political system. As Chhibber and Shah added in the introduction that the idea behind this book is to give readers a ‘snapshot of contemporary Indian politics and its future; through the stories of 20 of the country’s most prominent next-generation politicians’.

The interesting thing about this book is that these conversations are free-flowing, and authors have posed the questions as they seemed okay without any hesitation. The book attempts to unravel the personalities, aspirations, ideologies, interests, passions, and motivations of these young political leaders. The idea is that we know the names of these leaders and frequently read or see them in the newspapers or televisions, but we have no idea what happens in their life. Reading this book makes me realize that these young politicians have done a lot of hard work to achieve whatever they have achieved in their political careers despite coming from political families. For most of them, political career had come with a big personal cost. Not only this, as authors of the book add, ‘Politics in India is a full-time job’ and the political leaders can’t maintain a healthy work-life balance.

However, the authors have missed many other important young political leaders who are already contributing in a significant way in shaping the destiny of Indian republic. For instance- Arvind Kejriwal, the current chief minister of Delhi and also the founder of the Aam Aadmi Party is a major miss in this book. However, the authors also added that the list of leaders interviewed in this book is not exhaustive and many other prominent young leaders have not been added in this book.

The interesting thing is that we get to know the personal sides of these young leaders. How there is also dissonance in their political posturing and their personal views on issues related to the Indian political system. For instance- Varun Gandhi has a liberal outlook towards society & economy despite being part of the right-wing Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Aaditya Thakeray belongs to Shiv Sena, known for its extremist views, has a more liberal outlook than most other leaders on many different issues. Jignesh Mevani has an activist political attitude as compared to people like Sachin Pilot & Jyotiraditya Scindia who have been trained in politics from an early age.

In this book, all women political leaders, across party lines, stated the presence of gender based challenges they faced in their profession. While interviewing these young leaders, the authors have explored the issues and tensions prevailing in Indian politics. The authors discussed the issues of caste and religion, institutional decline, federalism & center-state relations, integration of J& K, dynastic politics, and women empowerment.

Though authors covered all issues related to length and breath of the country, they did not mention young regional political leaders to know their personalities, aspirations, ideologies and interests. Currently, the book has leaders who are more prominent and popular than those who are grassroots workers and who are making a difference at ground level.

India Connected: Boon or Bane?

Pic Credit: Clicked by me

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had”

Eric Schmidt, Former Google-CEO & Co-founder of Schmidt Futures

#Baba Ka Dhaba, #Justice for Sushant Singh Rajput #Justice for Rhea #Justice for George Floyd #Black Lives Matter #Dalit Lives Matter #Metoo are some of the recent most popular hashtags on social media leading to huge outpouring of sentiments from the public creating a immense impact in real lives sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. The power of smartphone and internet which made these hashtags popular is theme of this book.

This book “India Connected” by Ravi Agarwal celebrates the power of the internet and smartphone that is leading to unthinkable and unpredictable changes in people’s lives. The book is quite relevant at this time when India seems at the cusp of change. Especially during the Covid period when a smartphone with internet looks like the driving force behind everything. The smartphone is transforming Indian democracy in an unprecedented manner. As Ravi adds, “the influence of smartphones on the world’s largest democracy is pervasive and irreversible, disruptive, creative, unsettling and compelling.”

The author travelled to different cities of India and met with innovators, founders, teachers, common people, students, government officials and villagers who are an important part of this digital revolution. The book seems like a conversation between the author and these people. The author divided the book into three parts, and each part consists of two or three chapters. The first part is about the ‘opportunity’, the second part is about ‘society’ and the third part is about ‘the State’ vis a vis, their interplay with the digital revolution.

The book provided a balanced perspective on the smartphone revolution in the country. How the smartphone with the internet is bringing about substantive changes in the lives of people, providing opportunities for education and employment and also empowering the women in villages. How a smartphone is changing people’s thinking, and their dating patterns. How the young generation is getting addicted to their smartphones leading to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. How smartphone has also made pornography easily available. How youth of the country is using it as an outlet for venting out their frustration through trolling, rumor and prejudice. In the end, the author writes about the role of the State with respect to internet and social media unfolding in the country.

For the author, the internet-enabled smartphone will mean the same for India as the automobile was for America. “The smartphone is the embodiment of the new Indian dream.” A Smartphone is changing Indian people’s lives in various ways in which they live, learn, love, work and play. The stories narrated in the book make it an interesting read and let you think how differently the smartphone is impacting the people of Indian society.

However, the author also talks about the challenges of the smartphone revolution in the country. Fake news, trolling, hate crimes, cyberbullying, mass piracy, etc. are creating huge challenges for the society. It also impacts the society negatively leading to crimes and polarization. Smartphone addiction is making teenagers depressed and anxious. Teenagers are suffering from ‘nomophobia’. As the author mentioned in the book, smartphone addiction can neurologically damage a young person’s brain in the same way as cocaine addiction. It seems smartphones are destroying the younger generation, but there are millions who will not have the access of these ‘magic devices’ because they don’t have resources and they are illiterate.

As the recent Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’ revealed that the social media giants are manipulating our minds and we are engaging on these platforms as they want us to do. The recent social media circus around tragic death of Bollywood actor and subsequent media frenzy leading to arrest of his girlfriend reflects the negativity these social media sites bringing in the people. The author has shown how the consumption of pornography has increased exponentially in our society and how some people believe that it is leading to increase in rape cases.

The last chapters of the book show that how the State is acting as a big brother and shutting down internet. When internet started giving an outlet to Kashmiri people to show their outrage, State closed down the internet in the name of stopping unrest and terrorism. The book also talks about the fiasco of free basics and internet.org and how civil-society activism led TRAI to rule against it in 2016. Digital money has become an important part of the Indian economy through some homegrown startups and obviously the government of India’s ill-conceived moves of demonetization gave it a push.

I enjoyed reading the second and third part of the book. It’s really insightful and also scary to know how internet enabled smartphone is creating innumerable problems in the society but also if used properly leading to positive changes in the people’s lives. As the author tells “India Connected is a story about change and it is a story that has just begun and the next chapters of the story will depend on how these technologies are harnessed and regulated”, there is a need to create more awareness and sensitization among the youth about the problems emerging due to these technologies and also create mechanisms and regulations to deal with the same. The recent story of #BabakaDhaba is a great example where a smartphone & social media brought so much positivity and hope in someone’s life.

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Is it a People’s Constitution?

“The constitution is not for the exclusive benefit of governments and states; it is not only for lawyers and politicians and officials and those highly placed. It also exists for the common man, for the poor and the humble, for those who have businesses at stake, ‘for the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker'”

Justice Vivian Bose, 1956

While I was reading the book that celebrates the contribution of ordinary people in shaping the constitution of India, a heinous and brutal crime was being committed in the largest State of India. A Dalit girl was brutally raped by upper caste men in the Hatharas district of UP and she subsequently succumbed to her injury in a Delhi hospital. But the Orwellian thing about the incident is that the girl was denied dignity even in her death. Her body was cremated in mid-night without informing her family. Her family couldn’t even see her one last time. The police barricaded the area restricting the access to the family. It shows that even after the seven decades of the enactment of the Constitution of India, justice seems distant for the marginalized sections of the society. However this book paints a different picture adding that common people played an important role in transforming the Indian constitution to people’s constitution.

People’s Constitution turns out to be a unique book for me. Because I used to think fighting for constitutional rights and going to Supreme Court has always been the prerogative of the educated and the elites of our country. Rohit De changed my perspective about this fact. The book gives the subaltern perspective on Indian Constitutional Law and constitutional rights and how the Constitution of India was shaped and transformed by the marginalized sections of the society. As De puts it, ” the Constitution didn’t descend upon the people; it was produced and reproduced in everyday encounters.”

The book narrates the cases of constitutional significance led by ordinary people during the first two decades of the enactment of the Indian Constitution. It shows how the honest prostitutes, invisible butchers, Marwari merchants, vegetable vendors, and other ordinary citizens showed exceptional courage and also ‘constitutional consciousness’ in those days itself. They took the legal route to fight for their fundamental rights. The idea is that constitution was interpreted in different ways by the ordinary people of the country and it was not the only prerogative of the elites.

And the most fascinating thing about this book is that the author has taken special effort to sit in the Supreme Court archive room and go through the important government orders, notifications, documents and the arguments exchanged between both the parties and showed in his book that various things happen around a case when it is being heard in the Supreme Court.

As shown in the book, the litigation/case in the court should never be seen in terms of winning and losing. The arguments exchanged in the courtroom and the discussion outside in media and in the public have a huge significance because it brings out all the nuances of that particular issue and what was the public sentiment about it and how it was played around in the public memory.

Also, I noticed one more interesting pattern, how the Indian Constitution was being used by both the parties who were asking for their rights and other who were trying to prohibit or ban the particular activity. For instance: if Husna Bai was asking from the Court to protect her freedom of trade and profession of prostitution, at the same time, her critics and also Durga Bhai Deshmukh & Rameshwari Nehru had been instrumental in enactment of prohibitions laws on human trafficking and forced labor based on Article 23 of the Constitution. And also in the case of banning cow-slaughter on the basis of Article 28 leading to The Hanif Querishi Case displayed that proponents and opponents of the ‘cow slaughter ban’ chose the constitutional methods to fulfill their goals.

The author claims that the Indian constitutionalism is still unexplored and understudied because it defies easy explanations. The constitutionalism as a concept is based on the desirability of the rule of law rather than the arbitrary rule of men, but the irony is that both simultaneously exist in India as we can see the ordinary people going to court to fight for their fundamental rights and at the same time there is no rule of law in many parts of the country.

The important argument of the author is that these cases filed by ordinary people were mostly related to their daily lives. And they belonged to minority communities or subaltern groups. And the final argument is that these people went to court to secure their economic rights which were getting hampered as the new Indian State was trying to regulate the market.

In 228 pages the author has shown the remarkable stories of marginalized and deprived sections of the society that have already been started striving for their constitutional rights after the enactment of the Constitution of India. The book is quite comprehensive, and most of the time feels like an academic research paper 😉 However, the book is one of the unique attempts to recognize the study of constitutionalism from below and how the constitution created a platform through which the citizens and the State can communicate with each other.

However, the reach of the Indian Constitution for the marginalized sections of the society has not been substantive enough till now. Though the author celebrates the contribution and participation of the marginalized sections as well as minority communities of the Indian society in using the newly enacted Constitution to empower themselves. However, I still believe what has shown in the short story of “Naya Kanoon” (The New-Constitution), also mentioned in the book, by one of the greatest Urdu writers Sadaat Hasan Manto written in the context of the Government of Indian Act 1935. This story is still relevant because the ordinary poor people, (remember the migrant crisis during the lockdown), still treated in the same way by the State as the Ustaad Mangu, the tonga driver in this story was treated by the policeman. So the Kanoon is still the “old one”.

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A Story of Courage & Hope

Far, far away, someone was weeping, but the world was sleeping, any dream will do.

Andrew lloyd Webber & Timothy Rice

“No women wants to get into sex work. It’s not that they made a choice, but rather that they had no choice to make. Their life is tough but sex workers so often just to live to create a better future for their kids. It is the single overriding reason why they carry on.”

Excerpt from the Book

I read this book last year and it hit me quite hard. We can never understand what circumstances makes someone choose the profession of sex work especially for the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. However, I didn’t get enough peace and thinking space for writing the review of this book. I know nothing about the life of sex-workers to comment on their profession. Honestly, I am feeling perplexed because this book shows that they are doing sex work out of desperation and poverty. A woman is forced to sell her body for fifty rupees or even for a meal or some milk for their infant. Thinking of this situation makes me sad and empty. Still, these people despite facing struggles and problems in their lives, show us the courage, resilience, strength, hope, and optimism towards life.

Recently I also read this book called, “A People’s Constitution” where the author has dedicated one whole chapter that talks about sex-work and freedom in the Constitution. In this chapter, many women sex-workers assert that this is their livelihood and they have the fundamental right to practice their profession guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. However, the author of this book-Rohit Dey also informed that the term ‘prostitution’ in India was entirely a creation of colonial law.

As the author of this book shows that there were many myths and misconceptions about sex work in India. There were absolute denial, apathy and stigma towards the idea of sex and sexuality. As per one survey, about five women in every thousand involved in sex work.

This book gives you practical lessons about public health and dealing with people and the community when they are in the most vulnerable and desperate situations. This book makes you realize how public health can be delivered through successful community participation. The role of people is very important in dealing with any virus. And we can see even during this current pandemic, the prevention of this virus is dependent on people’s following of some basic rules. And when people have the ownership and they are engaged in dealing with the problem, they will come up with innovative solutions.

As the author shows the successful role of the community in the Sonagachi area in Kolkata. And the best thing is that they have organised themselves to deliver services safely, addressing the root cause of their vulnerability and also emerged as prime agents of change. They have created their own association named Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Cooperative (DMSC) which has three parts: Service provision including clinics, a cooperative bank, and a cultural wing. And this association is also quite vocal about recognition of sex work as an occupation and preserving & protecting their occupational rights asserting that it’s their fundamental rights.

However, there are some revelations in the book: For instance, brothel sex is very minimal in the country. In fact, it is dominated by street-based sex work and also practiced in homes by middle-class women to keep their houses running and sometimes for funding the education of their kids. The author also talks about ‘Devadasi tradition’ and also met various Devadasis who practice sex-work. As the author finds out during his travel to these places and speaking to affected women, the Devadasi tradition has become a front for impoverished parents to get their young daughters into sex work. In fact, as per the Policy Brief on Devadasi legislations published by CLPR, shows that poverty, caste domination, patriarchy & religion are the main causes for the Devdasi system to still flourish.

The best thing mentioned in this book about the Avahan mission led by the author Ashok Alexander with the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that it made a substantial improvement in the lives of sex-workers and halted the HIV virus among the most vulnerable people in the country. The Avahan movement helped India to achieve one of the Millenium Development Goals (Goal 6-To combat HIV/AIDS). However, this achievement was never celebrated due to the stigma attached to this disease.

The most touching part of this book was narration of those stories of hope and courage. Despite all odds and facing so many challenges, these people show us how to smile even if you are in the most desperate and vulnerable situation and how not to lose hope anytime. The story of Parvati ( an acid attack victim & also a sex worker), Kamla (who was raped by five men), Danny (got infected to HIV in his mother’s womb), Kavita( a sex-worker from Shimoga who later on became part of Avahan and Ashodaya), Shahid ( a HIV positive who later on became director of program for Ashodaya) and many others are stories of hope and courage. Our lives look so easy and comfortable as compared to their lives and even after this, we crib about many things but they are struggling and smiling and spending each day living a life of dignity in so much adversity.

And in the end, you have nothing but these moving & memorable stories to think about and remember.

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