This time last year…

…we had no idea that in 12 hours, our world would be turned upside down. This time last year, terrorists were getting ready to attack the Taj, the Trident and the CST. What seemed to be a two-hour operation for our elite National Security Guards, turned out to be our worst ever encounter with terror. I can’t get the memory of that day out of my mind. I can’t get those television images of Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar out of my mind. Nor can I forget the young and handsome face of Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who along with dozens of others lost his life to those terrorist bastards. Men, no older than 19 and 20, who decided to right all the perceived wrongs by randomly killing off innocent civilians whose only crime was to have been born in a non-Islamic country.

On second thoughts, did Islam, or any other religion for that matter, even figure in their thoughts? Or was it simply the blind faith that by killing a hundred civilians, they would get their 72 virgins in heaven? Did even their own religion matter when these men, who weren’t even old enough to be called men, killed off those people waiting to catch trains and get back home to their loved ones? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. All I know is that but for those men who laid down their lives trying to save others. If Karkare, Kamte, Salaskar and Sandeep were men in uniform who knew their lives could end this way some time, the staff of the Taj and the Trident took the word customer service to new heights that day. They died trying to protect their customers.

I could go on like this for the next 10 pages, but nothing would diminish the pain we felt on that day. I wouldn’t say that my heart bled for my country that day, one year ago. But, sitting in faraway Chennai, I suddenly felt more insecure than I ever had previously. I suddenly felt terrified for the lives of those I loved and cared for the most. What if my parents, my friends, or even the lady next door were at the Taj that day? What if tomorrow, I were to lose one of these people I cherish and adore? What if one day, I had to sacrifice a son, friend, husband or brother like Sandeep? It is too terrifying to contemplate.

Having said all this, we still keep the men who perpetrated this crime alive. I argued passionately for the right of Kasab for a fair trial. But, I also say that justice delayed is justice denied. How much longer are we going to have to wait for the trial to end? How much longer are we going to allow the media free access to him and listen to that man say he regrets what he did, and hear his laments? I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know why or how he became a terrorist. I am, even a year later, in no position to conduct an academic inquiry into the motives behind a man turning into a terrorist. All I want is justice; justice for the wrongs; justice for the killing of the hundreds of civilians who only wanted a good night’s sleep. Unless we, as a nation act firmly and quickly against the perpetrators of terror, we will remain soft targets. First, it was Delhi, then Jaipur, then Mumbai, more than once. Tomorrow it could be Chennai, or Hyderabad, or Bangalore. Are we going to wait until every one of our cities, major and minor, becomes targets of terror attacks? I certainly hope not.

Where the mind is without fear…

This is one of my favourite poems by Tagore. It generates the kind of hope and happiness within you that very few other poems manage to do. This poem came to my mind, unbidden, when I first wanted to change the title of my blog. This is the third title in three years. The first, “A Space of One’s Own” was inspired by Virginia Woolf. The second, “Reflections” was too common. As Sankhya put it, I needed to change it sooner rather than later, because it did not reflect the true nature of my not-so-innocent self. So, after much deliberation and discussion, I have changed it. To it’s current title. Do tell me what you think of this. Lurkers, please come out and comment too. I would love to hear from you!

Taking a break…

…is rejuvenating. At the end of a 16-day “staycation”, I am feeling rejuvenated and energetic enough to go back to work and last in it for another year. This is perhaps the first time I am talking about work in this blog, but better late than never. I don’t know if any other organisation has this concept, (I am assuming they do), but BNP insists that every employee take at least ten days off in a year. This is called compliance leave, and in office parlance, “mandy”: mandatory leave. And yes, I do mean ten working days off in a year. Counting all my weekends, I ended up with a good 16 days of leave. Seeing as I pushed this leave until the last possible minute, I did not have a real vacation planned out. Added to this was the fact that none of my friends were available to join me on a vacation. So, all in all, I ended up with a “staycation” instead of a vacation!

That said, I seem to have gotten a lot of things done in these two weeks. Revamped my blog template, revived a long-dead food blog with a new URL and a brand new WordPress theme, and of course, read a lot of new blogs, commented on them, watched a couple of movies and of course ate and slept until a put on a couple of kilos I could have done without! Having freelanced my way through college, university and later, this is the first time I took a real break. As a freelancer, you always have something in the back of your mind: that translation that needs finishing touches, that new class that needs a brand new lesson plan, the new method that required extensive preparation. This time, it was a real break: a break when I shelved all thoughts of office, except for the occasional reply to an SMS seeking a clarification. Even with the few office friends I did speak to during this break; I spoke of everything but work.

On the whole, this break has been a creative satisfaction. On a very personal level, there can be nothing more satisfying than sitting back to study all that you have managed to accomplish in the three years since this blog started. This started out on a purely experimental basis. But for the impetus given by Sankhya (who promises to open his blog to mere mortals like you and me very soon and has been promising this for almost 8 months now), this would never have seen the light of the day! So, thanks! 🙂 I don’t know if this blog is anywhere close to being what I wanted it to be. I also don’t know if what I say is worthy of being heard. But I will still continue to say it. I can only hope that the momentum I managed to sustain for three years continues over the next few as well.

Children and “traditional values”

I have been meaning to write this since Sunday when I first came across this article in The Hindu via @calamur. Something kept coming up and I kept postponing the post, until I saw this blogpost, which addresses pretty much the same issue. Our children seem to be bombarded every single day with television soaps, cartoons, and even ads that reinforce age-old stereotypes.

Take the first article for instance. Latika Gupta cites three television soaps that reinforce the idea of the docile and obedient bride. I have personally never seen any of the three soaps mentioned, but let me tell you; any soap that reinforces and promotes unconditional and blind obedience is bad. When Latika Gupta talks about the little girl refusing to meet her eye and behaving like a conventional “nayee bahu”, it’s deeply saddening. This might be a one-off incident, certainly. But, it is still distressing to see little girls wrapped up in “ghunghats” and veils, pretending to be coy and docile.

I remember protesting at D calling me innocent. But, you know what’s worse than innocent? Being obedient. Why is obedience such a virtue? IHM mentioned in a comment to an earlier post that she hated the word obedience. I totally get her point. Why are we, living in the 21st Century, teaching our girls to be submissive and docile? Why are we insisting on blind obedience even in this day and age? Would it not be more advisable to teach a girl to think for herself and take the best possible decision, given the circumstances? Would it not be better if we could teach our daughters to be courageous rather than docile? Who knows what challenges lie ahead? Aren’t boldness and courage desirable attributes in a human being, irrespective of gender?

Soaps like “Baalika Vadhu” and “Sajan Ghar Jana Hai” make me want to puke. What values are we teaching our children by not only allowing them to watch soaps that reinforce and perpetrate archaic and completely unacceptable ideals of “Patni Dharma”, but also actively encouraging them to emulate those examples? I simply cannot ignore the gender perspective in this issue. While, as Latika Gupta puts it, little boys grow up wanting to become doctors, engineers, pilots and lawyers, little girls grow up wanting to be nothing more than perfectly traditional, docile, obedient wives? What is wrong with us? Why are approving of this?

Cartoons, aimed specifically at children and playing on channels such as Pogo seem no better than these soaps in television. As Aishwarya says on her blogpost (linked above), the show (Chhota Bheem) has only one major female character in Chutki, who is feminine, docile (useful isn’t it?) and does a lot of art work and housework. Indumati is the second character in the cartoon series that Aishwarya doesn’t mention. It is interesting, and infuriating to read the description of the said characters on the series’ official site. While Chutki is homely, docile, feminine, loves to cook and clean and feed Bheem, Indu is the quintessential damsel in distress. Bheem seems to keep saving her from some danger or the other. What’s worse? Chutki and Indu are rivals in their attempts to win over Bheem’s affections! For goodness’ sake, stop it! The two female characters’ lives revolve around our beloved hero. Whatever happened to their lives? Do they even live it? Or does everything depend on our hero’s approval?

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of such social conditioning via the media is the fact that most parents seem to approve. They seem to think these serials teach them traditional values, never mind if those values are actually stuck somewhere in the 17th Century. Will this ever change?

A perfect Sunday…

…is when it is pouring outside, and you are warm and dry…relishing the world’s best filter coffee and reading a good book! But wait! Wasn’t I cribbing, just a short while ago, that the worst way to spend one’s vacation is holed up at home, stuck indoors because of the rains?

You see, it’s quite simple. Rain has marked every aspect of my life, and every point. I was named after the raga that supposedly brings rain. But, I share a rather ambivalent relationship with it. On the one hand, I love it. I love the freshness of the air we breathe; I love the wet flowers and leaves. I love seeing the colours of nature become so much greener with every spell of rain. To me, rain has always been a blessing. Every time I do something new, every time I start a new venture, the rains have arrived. My first job, and every subsequent job change, my birthday, my first trip abroad…it rained on each of these occasions; and each of them has been good to me in some way. Rain, therefore, is a benediction. Maybe the fact that I am named Amruthavarshini has something to do with it. Even if I did drop the “Varshini” over the years, to facilitate things; even if I cannot really sing the raga, despite several years of training off and on in Carnatic music.

However, it’s quite irritating when the rains cause massive traffic snarls. It’s even worse when you make plans to go out with friends, go shopping, meet people, or quite simply, spend the day at grandmom’s place. It’s much worse than you can imagine when there is something important happening in office, for which you need to be smartly dressed, but end up getting all wet and looking like a grumpy old lady! It is at such times that I wish there was no rain, that the day was bright and sunny.

But, all said and done…the rains are still like a friend, long-lost, but who will arrive, precisely when you need him most!