Monday, October 22, 2012

Toughen your daughter, sensitise your son!

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, “the law is a ass — a idiot.” Dickens made one of his characters mouth this in Oliver Twist, and he was not far wrong! Especially in today’s scenario when self-styled Khap panchayats in Haryana make irresponsible statements, intoxicated with an unhealthy dose of male chauvinism, making one wonder if the 21 century is in regression, all set to scurry into the Middle Ages. Sube Singh, a Khap member, kicked up a storm when he said: “I think that girls should be married at the age of 16 to curb the instances of rape in the State.” According to him, girls themselves were responsible for their rapes, and adding insult to injury, he blamed television and movies for the incidents. “Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16, so that they do not stray... this will decrease the incidents of rape.” The former Chief Minister, Om Prakash Chautala, echoed similar sentiments when he suggested that the marriageable age of girls should be lowered to 16 to ward off crime against them. Sadly, no one has any suggestion to turn negatives into positives, to try to change the mindset of these men. They try to mask misdeeds by offering a shoddy, downright stupid solution — one which goes against the philosophy of an ancient culture which looked upon women with reverence. Just imagine the plight of a young girl, who has been brought up like a flower by her adoring parents and who suddenly gets married off to a strange man, who, by the rule of wedlock, vows to protect and take care of her. She is obviously not yet ready for marriage, and if she has to give in to her new husband against her wishes, isn’t that ‘sanctioned rape’? Is that how our girls are to be protected? The spate of gang rapes in Haryana over the past one month has provoked National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson Shanta Sinha to demand exemplary punishment for the rapists, after a teenaged Dalit girl immolated herself following rape. “There should also be a fear amongst those who indulge in such activities. They should be punished so that the girls are safe.” Aye, that’s the rub! Murder and robbery are law and order problems. Rape, apparently, is not. So rapists parade around, heads held high after their heinous deeds, while their victims cower, faces covered, self-confidence shattered as though they are the ones who are the criminals, a travesty of justice? Why does a victim have to prove her victimisation? Hasn’t she suffered enough, both physically and mentally? Especially when a local party head from Haryana, Dharambir Goyat, tells reporters that 90% of rape cases are a case of consensual sex between the boy and the girl. The solution lies in the hands of these girls, who will later be women. It lies in the hands of all parents who have daughters, and need to instil strength in them by teaching them to protect themselves from an early age. Self-defence classes should be made a must in every school, along with the three Rs and mental strength and fortitude imparted to them in their curriculum. Parents of boys have an even tougher role. They need to rid themselves of age-old prejudices and bring up their boys to treat the opposite sex with respect and care. The day women stop being the weaker sex and learn to defend themselves, society will start looking at them with new eyes. And the law might just stop being an ass! Open Page, The Hindu 21st October, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Long years of sacrifice in an unfair society

My maid came to me the other day, a worried look on her normally cheerful face. “Madam, yesterday a boy had come to ‘see’ my daughter. He liked her but his family has made the following demands.” She rattled off the list — 12 sovereigns of gold, a refrigerator, a television, a grinder, an induction cooker, a bed and mattress and a cupboard. Plus she had to conduct the engagement ceremony and give her daughter the requisite jewellery and saris that would showcase her as a bride. She was talking about her daughter, a girl whom she had scraped and scrounged for over years of slaving at people’s homes, and whom she had moulded into an engineer. She now works for a reputed company. There was a second daughter who had finished her graduation in commerce. It was an amazing tale of fortitude and struggle on the part of a mother, whose drunkard of a husband had abandoned her for another woman. He could share none of the credit as he had never been around for his daughters, nor paid a penny towards their upkeep or education. He had escaped lightly as no one ever asked him why he had absconded. On the other hand, it was his poor abandoned wife who was constantly probed about how she had managed to educate her two girls! Unfair, but true! The said ‘boy’ was a graduate in commerce, working as a supervisor. His to-be bride was an engineer with a fatter paycheck than the ‘boy’. Yet, the fact that he was the man pushed his price up to a level where his family expected the bride’s family to pay for the honour of ‘acquiring’ him. We cajoled our maid into putting her foot down. She listened with a woeful look, but had the sense to take along with her a crowd — her estranged husband, his mother and sisters, a talkative niece and a few other wallflowers to make up an impressive contingent. The next day she came back, grinning all over her face. “Everything has been fixed!” she announced. The boy’s family had taken back the demands of much of the household goods, all except for the bed, the mattress and the cupboard. The sovereigns had gone down to nine and the girl’s side had to conduct the engagement ceremony. The wedding after three months would be conducted by the boy’s side. Now there was a smile on her face, as she recounted what the boy’s mother had said to her. “The reason why we are insistent that your daughter should come into our family is because she is an educated girl.” In that one sentence lay years of sacrifice, hard work and tribulations undergone by the poor mother who had never given up on her daughters. Other mountains lay before her — jewellery, silk saris, suit for the groom, the feast and the invitations, but for today, the smile in her eyes spoke volumes. All those long years had been finally worth it! 03rd October 2012 12:00 AM New Indian Express

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who's to Blame - parents, teachers or films

The killing of a schoolteacher by a student in Chennai has sent shockwaves throughout the country and sparked a debate on the ills of the education scenario. Here, students of a school in Erode pay floral tributes to R. Uma Maheswari, the victim. “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...” Such nostalgia is wrapped around this song; those were indeed the days! A house would overflow with children, of all ages and sizes! Uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, visitors were all welcome, as enormous amounts of food were cooked in the smoke-filled kitchen, and served with affection. Children went to neighbouring homes, eating breakfast at one place and lunch elsewhere. Amazing was the rapport between cousins, as also between adults and children. The parents often didn't even know what their kids were up to, and when they were naughty, anyone of their uncles or aunts had a free hand to chide them and set them on the right track! The chiding would slide over like water off a duck's back, and off they would go, back to their tricks again! There was no time for complexes to form, as corners were rubbed off, and children learnt to face challenges with a smile. At times, canes were brandished at the backside, but after the first torrent of tears, they would be back to playing with their cousins! Sulks never lasted long as playtime was precious, and no one wanted to miss the fun! Thus, kids grew up tough, unspoilt and intrepid! So much has changed since then! Nuclear families are now cocoons with just the parents and one or two children. ‘Personal attention' has become the catchword, with young parents reading books on parenting, trying to bring up their children according to the written word. Grandparents are too far away to be able to offer nuggets of wisdom through wonderful tales of the past. So children grow up as loners, depending on their own devices, turning into latchkey kids. They learn to twist their parents around their little fingers. Guilt can often prove very lucrative! A special treat at McDonald's for having missed the school annual day, an extra bit of pocket money for a birthday forgotten! For, the parents, both working, have ‘no time to stand and stare'! New rules for GenNext Schools have also revised their rules to cater to GenNext. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has now given way to “Strictly no corporal punishment!” No longer can a teacher scold a student, or lay a finger on him, for fear of damaging the sensitive psyche of the child. Of course, when we were growing up, there was no such thing as a sensitive psyche, which was actually a good thing. For, we grew up well able to handle ourselves and the tough world beyond! Today psychologists talk about young plants needing protection to grow, and warn that negativity might maim a child's mind! So words like 'fail' and ‘poor' are taboo, and ranks have been replaced with grades to boost the child's self-esteem. The latest principle: overprotect a child to the extent that he is scared to death by any challenge — exams, competitions, a strict word, a rebuke before his peers, any kind of failure! Anything can make him go over the edge, which is mortally frightening. For, suicides have become all too common and no adult wants to take that risk. So a 14-year-old creeps up on his teacher and stabs her to death, because she wrote a few reformative remarks in his diary on his poor performance in class. A deadly rage within his bosom grows day by day, as he feels pressure on him from home and school. This rage reaches breaking point, and he buys a knife for twenty rupees and keeps it ready to be used against a hapless teacher, only doing her duty! A teacher who has worked hard all her life to brighten the lives of her students, popular amongst students and colleagues, a woman aspiring to become a college lecturer as she had just two papers to finish her M.Phil, a doting wife and mother of two daughters... a good human being, who had not lived out her life completely. The boy comes from an ‘affluent' background — he gets one hundred rupees a day as pocket money! However, does that give him the right to cut short a human life and blight an entire family? Who is to blame — the parents for wrong parenting, the teacher for having tried to give the boy a bright future, peers who often wield a frightening influence, or as the boy has cleverly said, a movie like Agneepath that provoked him to take revenge? Questions that need answers if such endemic rage is to be stopped! The Hindu Feb 12th, 2012
A TEAR JERKER: Aamir Khan’s TV show, Satyamev Jayate, has hit the small screen with shocking stories of mothers who struggled to give birth to their girl child, of the killing of unborn girls. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf Aamir introduces the subject, and lights a spark, taken on by three women who bare their souls and strip naked the atrocities committed against them. Aamir Khan is a genius! Only he could have chosen a name for his show so well calculated to touch the heartstrings of all Indians, one that aids to dredge out the latent [?] patriotism with their whole heart. At a juncture when scams are the new status symbol, when politicians have copyrights on how to talk and how not to deliver, when people cluck their tongues at corruption eating away at the nation's innards, when the common man finds life turning even more common with price rise and when the rich get inflated despite inflation, here comes a star who hits out at the very poignant, very real issue of female foeticide. Much akin to the ancient sutradhar, Aamir introduces the subject, and lights a spark, taken on by three women who bare their souls and strip naked the atrocities committed against them. As the horrendous tales unfold, tears flow unashamedly, as the listeners take in the cruelty of men, and in many cases, that of women. Aamir gently nudges and prompts them, even as he wipes away his tears, but the real heroes of his show are the women themselves. In sharp contrast, appears the DIG of Police, Sahranpur, who obviously has a big mouth and a bigger ego. He twirls his moustache and berates a poor man who has come to lodge a complaint about his 14-year-old sister eloping with a youth. With a glint in his eye, probably because he is on national TV, he barks, “Had she been my daughter, I would have shot her for the shame she has brought upon our family!” No compunction, no remorse, just a bull in a chinashop, smashing the emotions of around 50 people with one callous statement! This is regression at its worst, upholding honour killings, a barbaric tradition! Chilling clips of clinics in Rajasthan, where female foetuses are aborted with ease, and despite a sting operation that clearly reveals faces, deeds and complicity, not one doctor's licence has been revoked. The carnage goes on ceaselessly, and often, the whole staff is involved in the crime. Aamir points out that female foeticide is not restricted to the poor, but is practised with impunity in the chambers of the rich and the famous. Obviously, education has nothing to do with real learning, as all those bigots who put the blame of bearing a female child on the harassed mother have no idea that the sex of the foetus depends entirely on the father. Betraying their ignorance, they strut around, preening themselves on getting a boy and cowering like mice if the child is a girl. The saddest part is that code words indicate the sex of the foetus. Jai Sri Krishna, if it is a boy and Jai Mata Di, if it turns out to be a girl. How ironic that in such cases, the Devi, a goddess of immense power and worshipped by millions, is the epithet given to a helpless little mite who is killed in the womb! While on the topic of honour killings, we do not have to delve very far. The Aarushi case, which has turned murkier over the months, was initially termed honour killing. The ‘most unkindest cut of all' was the manner in which the media and the police crawled through the entire house after the murder, riding roughshod over any clue that was not earlier obliterated. As pictures of the young girl were plastered all over the media, the case grew more complicated, finally ending with her parents in the dock. A village in Punjab has dug itself out of the mire with one man having risen like a Colossus to strike against female foeticide. Aamir exhorts the rest of India to follow suit. He knows this is the right time to strike a chord, when his listeners are shell-shocked at the sight of a woman whose husband bit her brutally all over her face for having borne only daughters, and a doctor whose mother-in-law kicked her granddaughter's carrycot down the stairs. Are these the doings of civilised people? And even as a group of bachelors, aged 35 or so, finds no brides due to the skewed male-female ratio, a young mother on the street smiles radiantly in answer to a question whether she wants a boy or a girl. “I would accept with gratitude whatever God gives me!” Simple words, yet so meaningful! The Hindu May 13th, 2012

Politicians or Pedagogues?

“Off with their heads!” The Queen of Hearts is well and thriving, but would she have been allowed to survive? Lewis Carroll would have probably had to delete the interesting character that the Queen was, had he been alive in India today. In fact, a number of his wonderful creations would have had their heads chopped off, especially with the number of thin-skinned politicians and bureaucrats who seem to dominate our country, determined to rid her of her funny bone! So the Thorat committee has taken a pair of giant scissors and ridden roughshod over NCERT textbooks, like the bull in a china shop, destroying what it does not understand — the thin line between good humour and stringent lampooning! The advisers on the political science textbooks cautioned readers at the start that “the attempt is not to hand over a definite opinion to students, but to enable them to think on their own!” Mere wishful thinking, it seems as even the immortals in the rarefied realms of politics seem to have forgotten to think! Why else would such gems be done away with? A picture is worth a 1000 words, and a well-scripted cartoon makes one laugh and think as well! Yet, the snipping goes on, along with the harping and the carping, and the tendrils of gentle humour are yanked by their very roots and thrown into the dustbin. The two offending cartoons that opened a Pandora’s box have disappeared, and a number of others which have enlightened so many students are also on their way out. The reasons are flimsy — politicians and institutions may not be represented as animals (which get rid of the use of the popular allegory), regional sensitivity is paramount, the role of the bureaucracy shall not be misinterpreted and no ambiguity will be permitted! All very ambiguous indeed! So it is back to the old boring textbook that drones on and on about dry facts and trivia, and the student is at liberty to fall asleep, as his mind begins to lose that creative spark and energy fuelled by cartoons! The NCERT, which had tried to be original, has now had to backtrack, all because politicians have suddenly turned into pedagogues, who think they know everything. Unfortunately, many of them know little enough of what is happening in their own constituencies, let alone in the hallowed sphere of education. Let us applaud the lone dissenter on the committee, M.S.S. Pandian, who firmly avers, “What is perceived as ‘politically incorrect’ need not be ‘educationally inappropriate.’ The textbooks should be used as they are.” What are we finally losing out in the long run? Ever since I was able to read a newspaper, my first instinct has been to glance at the cartoon on the first page, which always evokes a smile, and kick-starts my day, along with my funny bone! Aren’t we being selfish to deny our children the same, even as we try to curb their curiosity and nip their ability to judge what is humorous and thought provoking? The Spectator Pandit Nehru loved a good cartoon, and a good cartoonist! Maybe, that is the difference between a great statesman and a mediocre politician! Open Page, The Hindu July 21st, 2012

Walking into a terrifying, dark nothingness

It was a sad sight! I was sitting at an eye hospital along with my mother who was due for a cataract surgery. She had decided to have it in Chennai as two of her daughters were in the city. The various tests took ages, punctuated by long waits in between to see various doctors, and we were both reduced to doing Sudoku puzzles, reading and texting. I went out to make a phone call as there was no mobile network coverage within the basement where we were waiting. As I was dialling, I saw a heart-rending sight. A young man in a red shirt suddenly appeared, holding the hand of an older woman, obviously his mother. He strode along authoritatively, as the woman hobbled along behind him. It was clear that she could hardly see anything, as she had dark glasses on. There were a couple of steps at the entrance and she stumbled over them as he did not warn her, and it was piteous to see her lifting her foot high up in the hope that it would encounter a step, where there was none. The staircase loomed ahead, and again, she almost stumbled, as she said something in a trembling voice. The man pulled her on, as she tried to slow down, turning around only to rebuke her — impatience writ large on his face. She held on for dear life to the railing that ran along the side, terrified that she would fall flat on her face. Walking into a dark nothingness can be terrifying, an occasion when one needs not only a helping hand, but words of warmth and reassurance. Wasn’t this the same mother who had helped her son to take his first fledgling steps, not allowing him out of her sight, and who had clapped when he had taken that first all-important step alone? Wasn’t she the mother who ran to pick him up when he fell, showering him with kisses and caresses when he cried? Wasn’t hers the first hand he grasped when he was unhappy, hungry, happy or excited? Could he repay the debt that he owed her, even if he had been the gentlest, most caring and loving son ever? Yet, here he was, a brute who grudged his mother the time he had to spend on bringing her to hospital. His face was like a thundercloud, and every time he jerked on the old woman’s hand, it was as if he was exacting a sort of personal revenge on her. Ironically, my mother in her 70s, who was also there for the same surgery, proved just the opposite. Feisty and independent, she strode ahead, leaving me running after her, shrugging off my helping hand brusquely. When she had turned 70, she had told her three daughters in no uncertain terms, “I can do things on my own. Don’t treat me like an invalid!” Here she was at the hospital, and each time I tried to help her down the stairs, she would give me one of her looks, and make her way down on her own. When her surgery was over, she jumped off the bed, picked up her medical files, and walked to the lift on her own steam, black glasses and supreme self-confidence in tow! New Indian Express 14th September 2012

TEDx Website Resource Person

Deepti Menon has always believed in the power of the pen. Having done her post graduation in English Literature and her B.Ed. in English, she had the option of teaching and writing, and did both with great enjoyment. She started writing at the age of ten, long before she acquired a Diploma in Journalism. She also had the advantage of being an Army kid, and later an Army wife, and loved the idea of travelling around India, meeting new people and acquiring new skills. She firmly believes that much of her personality was honed during those travels. In 2002, her light hearted book, ‘Arms and the Woman’, depicting life as seen through the eyes of an Army wife, was published by Rupa Publishers, Delhi. This was written mainly to reveal the warmth and camaraderie within the great institution. She is now working on her second book that is a work of fiction, and not- to-be divulged yet! Both teaching and writing have been wonderful learning experiences in their own ways. Teaching brought out the extrovert in her that revelled in being with children, creating that much-needed rapport and opening up their minds to not only academics, but also the little things like curiosity, fun and good humour. She loves the fact that she learnt much from her students as well! Writing has been an endless journey with its twists and turns, often leading her on to the myriad mysteries of life, love and relationships. The thrill of seeing her name in print has only intensified over the years. Today she freelances for newspapers like the Indian Express, gets an occasional piece in The Hindu and covers interviews, lifestyle articles and reviews in magazines like Inbox 1305 and Ritz. She has also written many online articles for Chillibreeze, and her proudest moment was when she won an I Pad in a worldwide short story competition. For Deepti, writing needs to sparkle with simplicity and originality, and she strives to find that one word that conveys her ideas most meaningfully to her readers. She believes that Mark Twain had the right idea when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” There has never been a dull moment, never time to regret, according to her, as life is truly worth living!