Hello void, SOS!

My interest in developmental communcation began 5 years ago when I stumbled on it as a subject in undergrad. I instantly knew that it would be an integral part my future. So much for my wishful thinking, hardly anything has taken shape.

Until recently. A few months ago, I met Dr. vino Aram, Director of Shanti Ashram and when I told her my interest in social development ( the kind of work Shanti Ashram does primarily for some 40 villages around Coimbatore), she asked me to visit her and I did right away. I was amazed by the work they did and immediately suggested that I would like to work with her organization.

So I came up with a research study to understand the ‘perception of change and adoption of new ideas (for a better lifestyle)’ by the children and parents of a few villages that benefit from their several programs. We had discussions, decided on the informal questionnaire and so on.

I told her that my aim was to always start something similar to the Ashram and help people in terms of education and healthcare. So this study would help me understand how it worked for them and hence form basis for my future endeavour.

Ill be there next month talking to several chilren and parents and this is exciting! I’m hoping to record my results and develop a model that can act as a guide to other organizations/ individuals with similar interests. But sometimes I worry if I’m in the right direction. That maybe if I had more help from someone – a researcher, academician or communications expert – I would feel more guided. Maybe they can also direct me towards making this study into a proper research paper…

Can someone help?

A life worth leaving

Her typical day starts at six every morning. Her husband and children are fast asleep as she slips out of her recently rebuilt house (a process that occurs every June after the heavy rains cripple the walls and washes them away) and rides her cycle to work as a maid in an apartment. An hour later, she is back home waking up her children and getting them ready for school while her husband stirs as the last traces of alcohol casts off its spell from within his shriveled body. She has stopped complaining. After sending her children off to school, she returns to work until noon.

When she returns to prepare lunch, she is relieved to find that her husband has made his way to work that day. Something he rarely attempts these days. His work as a daily laborer would bring home an additional Rs. 20 to 30. (But on days he returns with no money but just a bottle of cheap alcohol in his hands, she wishes he never went to work). Returning to work and getting back home before sunset, her nights are engulfed in an obscurity that she tries to hide every morning.

This is the typical life of my house maid in Chidambaram. There is nothing to complain about her work or how she can go an extra step to solve small problems I face running a household by myself for the first time in my life. With every month we warmed up to each other and that is how I came to know of her woes. Her husband is according to her, “a drunkard, chain smoker, fit-for-nothing guy with severe tuberculosis for the past few years.” He drinks every night and spends as much as he can on alcohol, beedis and maybe women. Every time he collapses short of breath, she rushes him to the hospital and buys medicines (often with borrowed money) only to see them rot away in a corner of his house.

Losing weight and his voice rapidly, my husband, a doctor, says he will not survive for more than a year. By his looks, he probably is HIV positive. Dhanam, my maid, knows it too. She pins her hopes on the fasts and walking on fire ritual at the Mariamma temple, while her husband proudly claims he would live a long life. “Do you think I will die? I won’t. I’m very strong” he laughs intoxicated.

Dhanam worries about her children’s future, repaying debts and mostly about her life as a widow (protecting herself from the perverted eyes of other men). I know she feels shame not love towards her husband. Yet, she has no way out. If she does not care for him, the society will tag her as a bad wife. If she cares for him, he shows no respect. We have helped her financially and medically. But her husband refuses to cooperate. There are no NGOs or support groups they can turn to. Any kind of help to these women mean little since the men refuse to take part anyway.

We will leave for good in a few months. I often wonder what would happen to her and her children after a few years. Like she says, “I’m not the only woman like this, there are so many of us suffering all our lives”. I could ask her to come to Chennai and work in my house while I sponsor her children’s education. She would refuse. This is home for her. Fighting to live a normal life every day.

When I leave, she would look around for another job and life will go on.

Another world we dont know (About ‘Sib’-the movie)

There is so much about the world we don’t know. Most remain unnoticed and fade away. But some, we discover along the way. That’s how I got to know about the twins Massoumeh and Zahra by chance, on TV.  Flipping through channels last morning, I decided to watch ‘The Apple’ a movie that was being telecasted on ‘World movies’. I had obviously missed a few minutes of the movie, but saw a video clip of two girls being dragged somewhere. It seemed like a real recording and curious to know what was going on, I decided to follow the story.

‘The Apple’ a.k.a ‘Sib’ in Iranian (which I learnt from imdb) is about 12 year old twins who had been locked up in their house since they were born. The 65 year old father leaves the house in the morning while the blind mother sits in one corner doing nothing. The girls look noticably malnutritioned with growth retardation. It is saddening to see how they yearn to leave the house but are left to wash their clothes, cook food and play among themselves. 

Somewhere, along the way, welfare workers demand the father to let the girls free. His excuse of the twins being girls and how boys could take advantage of it does not work with the workers. Finally one welfare officer locks up the parents on the house and decided to teach them a lesson. As the father sits by the door trying to saw the iron bars, the girls venture out on their own for the first time.

The director has beautifully potrayed the girls’ innocence and ignorance in every scene. The way the girls steal an ice cream and then give it to a street goat without any idea of having to pay is one such example. How the twins befriend 2 girls on the street, their conversations and how the girls finally unlock the house to let their father outside are moving. 

Another amazing aspect of this semi-documentary is that it is a true story with the real twins enacting their roles. The movie shows how the emotions of the protective father, the ignorance of the daughters to speak up, the media making a sensational story out of it and the concerns of the welfare workers intersect to form a sad but unnerving tale of people in some part fo the world we all only read as articles in the newspaper.

Drop those plastic bags

I’ve never liked plastic bags! Especially seeing them cluttering the ditches and adorning tree branches everywhere!! So, one day I had this idea… As I was discarding some of my old clothes, I picked aside some dhupattas (Stoles) and left over cloth. Gave it to my tailor and asked him to stich them into carry bags – some big, some small.

I have some tucked away in my car in case I do some impulsive shopping, I don’t need to bring home more plastic bags. I made simple designs on a few and used them as gift bags too.

Today, I use lesser plastic bags and it makes me feel real good 🙂

Anybody’s has other ideas? What do you think?

I think…

nobody can make us feel inferior without our consent

Face2Face with writer Amitav Gosh

Serious faces, playful children with clueless faces; gossiping ladies on high heels, aging grandparents with eyes closed; entire families, nuclear persons with no one to talk to and me…

We were some hundred people huddled together in the middle of landmark (In Chennai) waiting for Amitav Gosh to arrive. It was’nt 6:30 yet, but the evening was already greying when I had arrived. I got smart and decided to just catch an auto, foreseeing the crowded parking lot with a waiting list of more than a dozen cars. As I hurried past the stagnant array of the expected traffic into the bookstore, I picked up a copy of Gosh’s latest ‘The sea of poppies’ (sighing in dismay at the second 699 Rupees I will be paying for the book again, since the first copy was at home 300 kms away).

I found a rare vacant chair and got comfortable. Loud and hushed voices floated around the room.

” I was in two minds yaar. Whether to wear this pant and blouse or the lovely salwar I picked up at the exhibition yesterday. By the way, did you go to the exhibi…..”

” Daddy, buy me that toy…(louder) I want the green one…”

” Ma, why are we sitting here?” ” Shh… I already told you when we left home. Just keep quiet”. This was the family sitting beside me.

Just as people were getting restless, Amitav Gosh walked in. He did a courtesy look-around-the-shop-in-approval act and waded through the one and a half feet gap generously allocated for him. After sitting down at the tiny dias, and being introduced by someone, he walked up to the podium, opened his copy of the book he had written and began reading about Deethi making her way through the opium factory.

(Meanwhile, the family guy sitting next to me was trying hard to lay his eyes on the page the author was reading from, and finally gave up. The boy sitting on his father’s lap behind me began demanding the green toy more than ever before. Poor dad had to hush him up everytime.)

Unexpectedly, Amitav Gosh decided to stop reading, looked up and said “That’s all. Thank you. Ill take your questions now”. Hands went up immediately.

One particular guy who seemed to have spent hours deciding the questions, shot his hand up every few minutes, until the writer had to say ‘enough’. One of his interesting questions was “Why do you treat middle class characters in your book different from the way Naipal treats them?”… Duh!

My curious Q was how he named his characters. ” Very difficult, Sometimes they just fall into place, but it keeps changing. Luckily with the ‘Change all’ option on Microsoft Word, its easy”.

He then answered morequestions like “Why did you have to kill Fakir in the book ‘The hungry tide?” …A: ” Because he died”.

Q:  “Are your characters based on real people?”… A: Not exactly, but I have a lot of people thinking that these characters are real persons. Its the power of the character”.

Q: “When you write a story, is it centred around an event or people?”…A: “Definately people. The character has to be strong and interesting to make the events interesting”

Finally, it was time to get our copies signed. I grabbed a copy of ‘The Hungry Tide’ – my favourite of Gosh’s writings and got both signed. He asked me if I was a dancer like Mrinalini Sarabhai and when I said no. I love writing… he wrote Good luck on your writing in my book. I was happy.

There were trays of hot samosas and dark brownies being served around. Almost everyone had second thoughts on picking them up since they were afraid it would soil the books they were holding. But we all ate. I downed a samosa that was just about ok.

Soon the crowd slowly thinned out. As i made my way out, I was still feeling thrilled. Gosh, wearing his signature overcoat and kurta, had no airs about himself and received the crowd and excited fans with equal enthusiasm.

I clinged on to the books and displayed them proudly to everyone around, like I was the author. Well, not these books, but it might just happen someday

Hello world!

My Dad once said ” When you really want something and take the first step towards achieving it, nature takes the next step for you, bringing you closer to what you want.” I guess that should explain why I am blogging in the first place – to find answers.

Once upon a time, I led a happy and content life ( Ignorance is bliss). I thought about myself, dreamt my life sequence thousands of times in different backdrops, chose the better ones and dreamt them again. Sulked at the wrong* turns I made, at the wrong* people I met, at the wrong* things they said. Life was all about me and I was happy.

Then one day, as a consequence of growing up (I assume), my mind drifted away from the usual for a moment and asked “Why?”.

Why this life? What am I doing here? Why did I go through that terrible phase in my life?

Why is this beggar not as lucky as I am? Why? W H Y?

I began thinking… I looked for answers everywhere and then they came. . . The following week my Dad gifted me a book Jonathan livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach. Later, a friend at college randomly hands me a book The Solitaire Mystery saying “Thought you’d like it.” They opened my eyes to another world. And then the second phase of my life began.

Pure torture! i searched for answers and landed with more questions. Everytime I saw something unjust, unlawful or mysterious (what we conviniently call the unknown), I needed the answers right away! I was confused. Two things bothered me most. (1) There should be some reason for why I am this person . (2) Why do people suffer ?

Today, I have found answers to some of these questions burning inside me. I feel there is a strong connection between both these questions which I am yet to understand completely. Having searched for answers in people, movies, music and books, I have landed here believing that people like me are searching for answers too!

There are more questions and uncertainties spreading like a forest fire inside my mind. But time has taught me one thing. Patience! Just like before, the answers will unravel itself with time in deep and beauiful ways. Until then, I will keep warm by its embers.

 

* wrong was then self defined as anything that did not fit into my life the way I wanted it to.