Say What?

It all began when a younger and reluctant version of me was summoned to my late grandfather’s room for an important “talk”.  The talk was more of a lecture which started with my grandfather asking me the question,

“How well do you know your mother tongue?”

That conversation which took place years ago flooded back to my mind as I listened to my mother reprimanding me for knowing just about nothing about my Indian culture, which I vehemently protested against. History repeated itself as she repeated my grandfather’s question, resulting in silence.

There’s no pride in saying that although I can speak fairly well in mother tongue (Gujarati), I can neither read nor write in it. But it never mattered much to me as I like many others, mistook one’s English-speaking capabilities as a mark of their intellectual prowess. However, that myth was exposed when I saw a voluminous collection of Gujarati books gathering dust on my bookshelf and when my mother had to translate some beautiful pieces of Gujarati poetry to me, often butchering the desired effect. I tried consoling myself by thinking of people who share my state. Then again, that is just a pathetic attempt of an excuse.

"Look, Baldo, there's no shame in forgetting your mother tongue."

Nowadays it’s not a surprise to see people struggling to communicate in their mother tongue, be it a teenager who is born and brought up in a foreign country or an elderly person returning to his country after twenty years. But who is to blame? With globalization, travel, and “expanding one’s horizons” taking over the world, it can be easy to drift away from one’s roots. Although a tad far-fetched, it’s worrying to imagine that a few generations later, people will be dumbfounded by their mother tongue. For example, I know quite a few people who fluently speak English but lack that fluency when it comes to their native language.

English, although not the most spoken language in the world, is a prefered mode of communication in many countries, especially those that were colonized by the Brits. More than a language, it has become a lifestyle of sorts and God help the poor soul who accidentally stumbles upon a group of hoity-toity English speakers… Agreed, knowing the language makes communication with others easier but why make it the benchmark of progress?

It isn’t a benchmark of any sort and to prove it, there are many places around the world wherein people have realised the importance of preserving their native language and steps are being taken. It was a delight to surf the internet and discover that authorities in countries such as Nepal, Madagascar and Zambia are putting time and effort to inculcate their native languages into the public, especially the children. Other than teaching a second language in schools, children are being taught their subjects in their mother tongue, and it’s bringing in fruitful results. It’s also a pleasure to see that in a global superpower like China, there is much importance given to being familiar with their mother tongue, and there’s hardly any stigma attached to someone’s English proficiency.

Knowing one’s mother tongue isn’t solely for avoiding embarrassment in front of relatives, trust me. Speaking fluently in five different languages is nothing less than a feat but it’s important to include your mother tongue within those languages. We create an identity for ourselves when we know our mother tongue, we preserve our ethnicity, our culture and knowing our mother tongue gives us the gift of understanding the various nuances and idiosyncrasies behind our lingo. In Hindi, we have an extremely useful word called “jugaad”, and till date, I haven’t been able to do justice in explaining the meaning behind this frequently used and ever-so-handy term… And that’s the magic of our mother tongue.

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He just doesn’t get it!

“He is so insensitive! Any problem I discuss with him seems small and unimportant, he just doesn’t understand me!”

I’m sure complaints similar to this may have been uttered by many women all over the world as they discuss the ‘sheer insensitivity’ of men and their inability to empathize with just about anything. It wasn’t surprising when many girls in my psychology class agreed on the fact that sometimes boys just don’t get it! However, it was surprising to discover that perhaps they aren’t devoid of emotions or empathy, but are hardwired to behave like they do…

Let’s look into a typical conversation that would take place between a husband and his wife who is struggling with weight-gain issues.

Wife: It’s been six months and this damned weight isn’t ready to go! I’ve stopped my snacking between meals, cut down on my carbs and I don’t remember when we last had dessert at home!

Husband: What’s the problem? Join the gym nearby and attend it regularly, you will lose all that weight within a few months.

Wife *with a hint of sarcasm*: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Husband: Nope, just remember to go gymming. Avoiding carbs and dessert won’t make a difference.

A straightforward and helpful advice, albeit a bit indifferent, but sometimes it’s enough to make women stomp off in anger and leave men dumbfounded, wondering what just happened. No, men aren’t completely insensitive (sometimes) and no, women don’t make a fuss over nothing (again, sometimes)…

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How many times have you heard a conversation between men and heard snippets like “I understand, even I’ve faced this” or “you’re not in this alone”? Don’t be surprised if you haven’t, because men treat communication as a tool to solve problems and make their point clear. In times of distress, the male gentry always wishes to tackle their problems directly, there’s hardly space for all ‘drama’ women indulge in such situations. Be it losing in a soccer match or getting scolded by their boss, men face any situation head-on, even if it means keeping to themselves and not sharing their feelings with others.

The story is slightly different on the women’s frontier… Women don’t communicate just to communicate, they use it as a glue to for their relationships with the world, to forge and maintain relationships. It’s common for women to share their ideas, emotions, life story and about everything under the sun with their close ones, doing so creates a certain intimacy between them which is of utmost importance. In times of distress, many women simply cannot do with just advice, they seek comfort and nurture from their surroundings and would rather prefer a “Don’t worry, how about we try this out?” than an “If you do this then you’ll be alright”.

Nowadays the words “lack of communication” are used a bit too frequently. In between the “he doesn’t even talk to me” and “she needs to give me my space”, it’s ridiculously easy to tear apart the delicate fabric that keeps relationships intact. Ladies, just because men don’t get into the details of their entire day, doesn’t mean that they don’t like talking to you. Gentlemen, the very fact that women share so much about themselves with you hints that you aren’t just an acquaintance, kindly respect their feelings. Communication between the two sexes is a fascinating, muddling, queer but absolutely essential phenomena, which will be something we dive into and discover different aspects of throughout our lives.

“Male-female conversation is cross-cultural communication.” -Deborah Tannen

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A Lesson from the incredibles

Who knew that the beloved superhero family would come back with a bang after 14 long years and bring back to our audiences the fast-paced music, exhilarating action sequences and those heartwarming moments where we smile and croon “Awww!” Yes, the movie was truly incredible and yes audiences did leave the theatre with smiles on their faces. No, the movie didn’t entirely replicate the plot and message of its predecessor, that’s what I realized while munching on popcorn and laughing at the scenes on screen. Something was different.

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At the moment when Helen aka Elastigirl received the ultimate mission from Winston, the expression on Bob aka Mr Incredible’s face was priceless. Was it shock, dejection or a display of a blow to ego? One can’t say, but he definitely didn’t look happy to hand over the spotlight to Elastigirl, even if she was his better half. But keeping the unwritten rules of the animated world in mind, Mr Incredible happily accepted his wife’s mission and fame towards the end, happy endings!

Is this relatable to our daily lives in any sense? The stiff gender roles in society, the prevalence of male-dominated communities, and the difficulty in letting women take over? Although our highly modern, ever-so-openminded society claims to be embracing gender equality, it’s still common to hear male employees jeering at the promotion of a woman colleague or voicing one’s ‘concerns’ to a working woman about raising a family and children. And let’s not get to feminism, that highly controversial and misunderstood word which is the root to wars between Twitterati.

The question isn’t about what feminism is or how misogynic our society may be, it’s about what we have learned from our surroundings. After all, you cannot completely blame your classmate for his sexist behaviour, what if he has been hardwired by his family to follow the orthodox societal norms of the past? Naming, shaming, arguing and taking matters to the media are in vain without the paradigm shift we bring to our mentalities, maybe it’s time to think out of the box and bend the rigid boundaries we carry about gender and gender roles. And it all starts with a change of perspective and acceptance, if we can accept the boorishness of crass reality TV then it’s high time we started accepting the equal importance of men and women in society, no matter where.

Whether it was intentional or unintentional, along with the laughter, craziness and happiness, the Incredibles gave us a tiny glance into an issue lying in the heart of our society, and how we should ideally deal with it… Thanks, Disney!

Pause, Breathe, Think

Despite calling ourselves millennials of the extremely fast-paced 21st century, we find ourselves in situations wherein the world just seems to have stopped rotating on its axis and everything is still. It’s like those scenes we watch in movies; the ones in which an entire crowd is zooming at flashforward past the main character, who is at a complete standstill. Don’t we all have those seemingly unending instances wherein we become those characters and experience those emotions, no matter how unpleasant they may be? In that standstill, our thoughts are frazzled, our logic is fuzzy, our emotions are taking us on the roller coaster ride of our lives and we are completely lost.

It’s those voices, a whirlwind of voices, each one like a thin needle poking on you, forcing to be attended to. Sometimes the voices fade away slowly and you find yourself at peace, while in the other times the voices just get louder and louder till it’s impossible to bear with. And the funny part is that sometimes, behind the loudest of voices there lie reasons that are so small and insignificant that it seems stupid to waste your time brooding over those thoughts. Yet, those moments seem to be the epitome of life’s miseries and the countless distractions we immerse ourselves in just aren’t enough. So what about the bigger picture?

The bigger picture, the mantra to help us move forward, the much-needed help, what is it? It’s always about oneself. Books, gaming, dancing, music, spending time with family are just a few of the things we do to drag ourselves up the rungs of the emotional ladder. But a medicine can only aid in recovery to a certain extent, after that it’s up to you to maintain your health. A person once told me to stop agonizing and ordered me to freeze time for a few minutes and think, calmly. Each breath was counted, all those voices slowly faded, and slowly the fog lifted from the mind, it was like magic. All I needed to do was give my mind the placebo of a positive environment, and it worked. It’s rather ironic on how we look for complex solutions to our ‘complex’ problems when sometimes the answer is right in front of us but we simply ignore it.

And that’s just the beginning, once we attain that ‘dawn of realization’ it’s a test of willpower and confidence as we fight the demons within us and around us, it’s never easy. But nothing has occurred without a beginning, no matter how simple it may be. Sometimes simplicity may just be the key to unlock the peace within us, and all it takes is some time to yourself, the company of some wellwishers and most importantly, you.

 

 

 

Justice for Asifa?

It felt like a complete déjà vu, the loud protests, candlelight vigils, trending tweets slamming the culprits for their horrendous act and of course, the 24/7 headlines flashing on television screens and narrating the same story constantly until one gets tired and just switches of the television in frustration. Why? Maybe because 5 years after the Nirbhaya rape case, people hoped that they wouldn’t have to face such a day, it’s disheartening to state that they were wrong, utterly and horribly wrong.

Who was she? An innocent 8-year-old belonging to the nomadic Bakarwal community in Kashmir. What was her crime? She was a Muslim by religion and thereby probably a potential threat to our Incredible India. But are you aware of an even bigger crime she committed? She was a girl, a female, the weaker sex and thereby the most vulnerable prey to the religious and political watchdogs of our society. Why do people waste their time in attempts to provide the cliched excuses of her ‘provoking clothes’ or ‘she was asking for it’? It was about time somebody came up with a new reason to justify the torture Asifa went through, even if it is something as ridiculous as her religion… Why Asifa? Why were you born a girl child? Why were you roaming carelessly with your horses? Couldn’t you have taken an elder, preferably a boy for the sake of protection? Who else is to be blamed for this horrendous incident but you? 

Isn’t it ironical? The land which boasts of spirituality and the worship of females as goddesses is also a safe haven for rapists, perverts and eve-teasers who regularly play with the lives of all our ‘goddesses’. What’s even more ironical is that a holy landmark like a temple was where Asifa was kept a hostage and mercilessly raped. Where was our police force during that period? Let’s see, some of them weren’t bothered enough to find Asifa when they received the complaint while a few others were present in the temple and satisfying their lust on the sedated, almost unconscious eight-year-old. To add the cherry on top of the cake, these monsters had the audacity to plead “not guilty” in court, along with the support of hundreds of fanatics who justified their actions. If we are so narrow-minded that we cannot tolerate the peaceful coexistence between communities then what right do we have to proclaim our country as one of the most tolerant in the world?

The #JusticeforAsifa hashtag is trending on all social media platforms, everybody from housewives to Bollywood biggies is pouring their wrath online and demanding for justice. It’s finally been implemented in the law that the rape of any minor will result in a death sentence for the rapist/s. Dear Parliament, did it actually take you countless years and such gruesome rapes before you executed this much-required law? However, despite the laws and chaos, all the efforts seem to be in vain. After all, Asifa’s rape case received attention because her story was made public, and for all we know there may be thousands of Asifas across the length and breadth of India who had similar stories that were never made public… Are we fighting a futile war? It won’t be surprising to read yet another gruesome case in the newspapers another 5 years down the line, it will just be heart-wrenching and disappointing. So before picking up the banners and shouting “Justice for Asifa”, let’s pause for a moment and retrospect; has justice been awarded to Asifa yet? WIll this justice be awarded to other such victims as well? And most importantly, how many more times will we be forced to hold protests for the justice of yet another Asifa?

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The Finishing Line

School started for me with a nervous goodbye wave to my mother from my school bus and a somewhat awkward conversation with a girl occupying the seat next to mine. It continued for 12 long years in classrooms where I sat on wooden chairs and copied notes from the board, on dusty playgrounds where I chased people and they chased me and we returned home with blackened knees, in washrooms where I cried in the company of friends who always offered me their shoulders for support, and also in school canteens where food was shared (sometimes not), laughter resonated through the walls and where the best conversations took place. As I’m running down this long track, I can see the finishing line ahead; it’s barely visible, a thin white line which is still a long distance away but still visible. I stop in my tracks to pause and catch my breath, is this it? Once I cross the finishing line, I will only return to this track to revisit old memories, never to run across it again…

It amazes me to think that I entered school as a short, scraggly and nervous kid and soon enough I will be leaving my school gate as someone taller, wiser but still as scraggly as ever. As I’m a residential student, the sprawling campus of my school has become home; the very campus whose size scared me is now as familiar to me as the back of my hand, and it’s always hard to leave a home right? I take a sneak-peek to the track behind me and walk down the good old memory lane… The multiple early-morning wakeup calls, rushing to get ready and reach the canteen before breakfast got over, countless visits to washrooms to splash water on my face so that I wouldn’t doze off in yet another class, the nonsensical tunes my roommates and I would dance to like complete hooligans… There is simply too much to go back to and narrate! Not a day goes by without a glance at the school calendar, a cross over each day and the realization that school life is going to be over, the seemingly never-ending roller coaster is finally coming to an end!

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Undoubtedly, I will enjoy stuffing my face with good food that my schoolmates and I were deprived of within the campus, I won’t be bound by the ‘useless’ rules and regulations that govern my life every waking minute and once I cross this finishing line I will be bidding farewell to the straight, rigid lines for a vast field ahead with endless possibilities. And yet I just want to lay down on the track and freeze time for a few moments, just so I can stretch this journey a tiny bit more, just so the finishing line won’t be visible to the naked eye anymore, Suddenly, the narrow and restrictive track has become a protective path whose value I hadn’t realised till now, maybe because it’s time to step out of the comfort zone and into a new world, filled with thorns, blocks and barriers that I will have to face, sometimes with the help of others and sometimes all by myself.

But school life has prepared us for this day, hasn’t it? It’s not me alone who has gone through this long and arduous journey, we have all been students at one point of our lives, remember those times of secretly bunking classes and finding a safe spot to evade getting caught? What about the assignments that we would delay till the second-last day of submission after which a dawn of realization would hit us hard and result in late nights and the consumption of countless coffee doses. How can we forget the sports competitions which united us all against the ‘enemies’ of our beloved school, the long days of cheering till our voices were hoarse and screaming with joy at our victory? This journey is and will always be a treasure trove of memories and learning experiences that have shaped us into what we are, and for all we know it will be those moments of scoldings from our principal which may come to our aid as we progress in life.

Till then it’s time to bring on that adrenaline rush one last time, look towards the horizon and cross that finishing line.

Life in the Ruins

Monday:

It’s sunny outside and there isn’t a cloud in sight, the perfect weather for going out to the park and having a cycling race with Amar and Aziz, or go swimming in the lake and spend the day in nature. I don’t remember the last time I went out with them or the last outing Abu, Ammi, Zeenat and I had… I don’t think I would want to go out anymore, the bombed buildings and loud aeroplanes scare me, all those angry men running and shouting on the streets with their gun give me nightmares. But Abu says everything will be normal soon and Ammi tells me to pray to Allah each day and thank him for keeping us safe. Zeenat is crying in the kitchen because we are having vegetable stew and rice for dinner again, how can she not understand that meat is expensive now and only the rich can feast on it? She is such a baby!

Tuesday:

Abu hasn’t returned home yet, he left early in the morning when we were asleep and it’s almost nighttime, where is he? Ammi is pacing around the house silently, she isn’t telling me but I know that she is also worried for Abu, I can see it in her eyes; it was the exact look she had when the bad men in planes were bombing our neighbourhood at night, I still remember how Zeenat cried and cried while Ammi tried to calm her down and how Abu wrapped me around in his arms and rocked me back and forth. I wish Abu would come fast so that this look vanishes from Ammi’s face… He is finally home! He looks more tired than usual and even when I try to ask him what’s wrong he just smiles and ruffles my hair, “Nothing is wrong son, I’m just a bit tired.” Tired of what? Avoiding those bad men who shoot anybody they see? Tired of the walking out of the house every day and wondering if he will return in one piece? Tired of eating the same food every single day? What is he tired of? 

Wednesday:

Ammi and Zeenat are fast asleep and since it’s afternoon, the streets are empty. I quietly sneak out the door and run out of the building to breathe fresh air, but all I can smell is the smoky air. The lane is empty now, most of our neighbours fled since the fighting got worse. Abdul chacha’s restaurant by the corner is shut, the glasses have been broken and all the furniture has been stolen. I wander further down the lane and notice how the once colourful buildings have big holes in them, all of them are crumbling like biscuits, brown and broken. The street has red stains all over it, Abu used to tell me that they are paan stains but I know that they are bloodstains, maybe of the people I knew and the friends I had… I need to go back home before anybody sees me outside. 

Thursday:

Abu is at home today, I wake up in the morning and see him sipping tea with Ammi and quietly discussing something. I run to him and hug him tight, I don’t get to see him very often anymore. Zeenat also comes running into the kitchen with her tiny feet going THUD THUD THUD on the floor. We all are talking happily and suddenly, it starts again. The bullets and guns, the voices of men cursing and saying the most shocking things I have ever heard of. Ammi takes Zeenat and goes into the room and Abu runs towards the windows and watches the view downstairs. I see two men lying dead, blood flowing out of their chests, I don’t understand why the men are calling each other infidels, aren’t we all one? Abu always told me that these people have been told the wrong things and because they believed it, there is so much bloodshed. He has never labelled them as Sunni or Shia, he just calls them bad men. I start crying, I cannot bear the thought of waking up sweating and screaming at night because of their faces in my dreams, I don’t want to hear the sound of bombs and bullets, I don’t want to die. 

Friday:

Abu calls all of us to the living room, we sit on the threadbare carpet and listen to him quietly. What he said in those five minutes will always stay with me, I look around my home and see whitewashed, plain walls. The electricity and water go off at any time, Zeenat and I don’t wear the expensive clothes other kids wear on TV, nor do we play with toy robots and battery-operated cars. Abu told us that even though we don’t have everything and even if there are 100 bad men out there, if we stay together as a family then no harm will come to us. I wish what he said was true, I want to believe whatever he said, I wish those words applied to Amar’s family as well. I look out the cracked window and see abandoned streets, skeletons of buildings, smoke rising from the nearby lane but I also see the Syrian flag hanging from a pole. The flag makes me feel as if everything will be fine soon, it will won’t it? 

*To all those children who face the trauma and consequences of the Syrian Civil War, they deserve better than this.*