#metoo is here, in India

#metoo movement in a way has arrived in India, or has it? At least, by the nature of it, it seems so. Large number of women are coming out after Tanushree Dutta to take on the privileged dudes of the society, from film actors to journalists. The next step for civil society is to translate this into action.

Meanwhile, there have been ample criticism of the movement from across the spectrum of calling it elitist. On the surface, it does seem one. We also have to be wary of celebrating too early, we have to make sure this trickles down. We have to think hard as to how do we take this to India’s villages, it’s most marginalized people. On my detailed position on this, please read the last article I had published here.

The criticism of feminist movements like these is generally that they are elitist in nature, and that they have hijacked the attention towards a few privileged. But, if so called, ‘privileged women’ with access to social media and courts are facing harassment at their workplace, imagine the plight of women who do not have access to such institutions. I am an ardent critic of ‘arm-chair’ movements. This one, on the contrary, takes courage and immense mental strength for a woman to come out and deal with this publicly. Saying that I can’t believe someone did this, doesn’t resolve the fact that the person probably has harassed someone, despite all one’s charity and humble nature. If only harassers harassed everyone on the street, would have made things easier, isn’t it?

On the question as to why a woman from a marginalized community is not coming out saying #metoo? A feminist movement doesn’t necessarily have to cut across class, caste, etc. In a way, in my limited understanding, it is similar to socialism whose only mandate was /is to look at things through a prism of class. Any movement which has to cut across caste and class will need allies from socialist and anti-caste spectrum of the Indian society. It then is unfair of criticizing feminists and calling their struggle privileged or elitist. What are socialists doing? Where are the likes of Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, or Prakash Ambedkar? Why are they not proactively aligning with the feminist movement?I am not placing blame on socialists. But I’m just pointing out that I find it unfair to place the blame, fairly and squarely, at feminists’ doors.

The world today has 3.58 billion internet users. Roughly 2 billion (56%) are men and 1.57 billion (44%) are women. Of that shortfall of 430 million users, 42% comes from India. Source: iStockPhoto

The question is pertinent whether if some rural woman tweets, will her tweet get the same traction,  I doubt. The entire phenomenon, at least, in India revolves around one language – English, which rural India doesn’t necessarily comprehend. Secondly, how many women in India have unhindered access to devices with internet? Even in state like Maharashtra, that number I have observed is low compared to men. Sample this, the world today has 3.58 billion internet users. Roughly 2 billion (56%) are men and 1.57 billion (44%) are women. Of that shortfall of 430 million users, 42% comes from India! That’s a staggering number. In this piece in Mint, the author expresses concern on gender divide in “Digital India”.

As per a report published by a Colombo-based think-tank, this author writes in the article, “The gender gap is accentuated in rural areas, where women routinely are denied equal opportunities for education and work. There is a 52% gender gap in mobile ownership in rural areas compared with 34% in urban areas. This of course, is correlated with the gap in total mobile ownership between rural areas, where 55% of people own phones and urban areas, where 71% do. ” So, I guess, it’s clear that to say rural women are not ‘tweeting’ #metoo is just unfair given they do not have access to internet, in the first place.

Then we need to discuss about accessibility to law and media which is again dominated by mostly men, especially in rural parts of the country. Tanushree Dutta’s statement might get featured on Page 1 of The Hindu, but will statement of a woman in rural hinterlands of Tamil Nadu garner the same attention by media? Most likely, no. Will that woman have easy access to police, to law? No. It’s a sad reality we are staring it, despite all the provisions on paper. What do we do to enable better access, better facilities?

For change to truly happen, we have to change social fabric of this country. We have to let women lead the struggle, while other allies be the lead line for defense. Within the feminist movement, there are different types of feminists and they all need to unite for some common basic demands. For a paradigm shift, we need allies across spectrum, ready to accept that all women (and other genders) need to have some basic rights which they do not have right now. We have to look around us and not get comfortable by the misogyny around, constantly question it, be aware of it. And for men, be aware that #youtoo can from your actions make women uncomfortable. Talk to female friends you have, share with them your discomfort, ask them pertinent questions, they will answer. Look inside, think hard. And meanwhile be aware that although anyone from across genders are vulnerable to harassment, the proportion of women, children, and people from other genders in that pie is much higher than men. And then the question is who is doing it? The pie is filled with men. #notallmen indeed, huh?

Advertisements

Modi 2.0 Budget 2019: From a rural lens

“The soul of India lives in its villages”- Mahatma Gandhi

Nirmala Sitharaman started the rural section of her maiden budget speech by citing these wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary will be celebrated across the country this year. Finance Minister proposed lot of new initiatives for country’s hinterlands — from setting up 10,000 Farmer Producer Organizations to providing drinking water to all rural houses. This article will analyze the budget from a rural perspective and highlight its possible effects on the future course of the economy.

Courtesy : The Indian Express

The old

FM started with highlighting the success of three important Modi 1.0 social schemes — Ujjwala Yojana (LPG gas connections), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Housing), and Saubhagya Yojana (electricity).

More than 7 crore households have benefitted from the Ujjwala scheme, resulting in 80% of Indian households having access to LPG connections as of end of 2018, up from 56% in 2016[1]. However, this does not mean that rural households only use LPG connections. In my interactions, I have observed that the women majorly use the traditional chulha. This can be attributed to factors like — high cost of a cylinder, limited access, and cooking preference. These factors remain a major bottleneck for widespread adoption of the schemes. LPG cylinder though has become a status symbol now for rural women as refilling rates prove[2].

Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana — Grameen (PMAY- G), a gamechanger for a considerable number of rural households, has led to construction of over 1.5 crore houses in last five years. I know of villages where more than 50% households have benefitted from the scheme. FM has proposed that the target, in the second phase, will be to build 20 million additional houses. This will not only boost local construction jobs but also lead to increase in rural consumption.

Another welcome move is increase in allocation for Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). PMGSY roads have been built using Green Technology, Waste Plastic and Cold Mix Technology, thereby reducing carbon footprint. PMGSY-III is envisaged to upgrade 1,25,000 kms of road length over the next five years, with an estimated cost of 80,250 crore rupees.

SBM 2.0

Swachh Bharat Mission, undoubtedly, has led to a large-scale awareness and behavioural change. Over 9.6 crore toilets have been constructed since the launch on Oct 2, 2014 and more than 5.6 lakh villages have become Open Defecation Free (ODF).

Government understands the pitfalls of current scheme and targets to address them with focus on solid waste management, as highlighted in today’s budget. The objective will also be to harness the energy generated from this waste.

The new

New Announcements

As described in the table above, FM announced lot of new initiatives for rural sector in this budget. Three new schemes — PMMSY, SFURTI, and ASPIRE- were announced, hoping to boost rural entrepreneurship. Nirmala Sitharaman proposed taking up ‘Zero Budget Farming’ and deemed it as going back to basics. She also proposed forming over 10,000 FPOs in next five years.

Andhra Pradesh, under former CM Chandrababu Naidu’s leadership, became the first Indian state to adopt Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)[3] over a large scale, reaching out to over 0.5 million farmers. ‘Zero Budget Farming’, as mentioned in Sitharaman’s speech, is a sustainable way of farming and advises against using any external inputs, hence the name ‘zero-budget’. Thus, in turn, advocating for zero pesticide and fertilizer use, something which directly affects the fertilizer and pesticide companies, whose shares were down today.

Finance Minister also announced that every rural household by 2024 will have piped water supply under Har Ghar Jal Yojana (Water for all), which will be taken care by the newly setup Jal Shakti Ministry.

Courtesy : P. Sainath, The People’s Archive of Rural India , https://ruralindiaonline.org/albums/balance-and-bend

The verdict

New announcements are welcome and much necessary, but there is no clarity on allocations to these new initiatives. It remains to be seen whether the Government lays down any action plan in the days to come.

Prime Minister expressed his worry over the increasing water crisis in the recent Mann ki Baat address. But, the announcement in the budget was devoid of any new allocations or schemes to tackle drought. Finance Minister did use the terms like rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge but did not deep dive into the core issue, perhaps due to paucity of time. Although showing the right intent, budget has been unable to lay down a proper roadmap for the agricultural reforms.

Hopefully, in the coming months, there will be further brainstorming over rural distress by NITI Aayog and the Government. Prime Minister rightly envisioned that water conservation should become a mass movement like Swachh Bharat. Today’s budget has put its foot in that direction, showing some hopes for the farmer. The farmer will now hope that announcements will lead to some ‘big-bang’ reforms as promised.


2018: Reflection on the year that went by

This is a general reflection on the year that went by. Will be a longish read. 🙂
————————————————————-
The year made me realize that in whatever short life we have, it’s important to not take things for granted, especially our family and friends. It’s important to give time, spend time with people we love. There might be a day, when they won’t be around. Hopefully then, we will not have any regrets.
 
I met some amazing women and men, worked with really nice people. I interacted with farmers, travelled across different villages in Maharashtra. I came across such great stories of grit, patience, and resilience. It’s always good to know that what you do contributes to a larger good
 
Some small things like having a good family, proper education, and the ability to converse in English can take you places in India and the world. We cry for things we do not have, without being grateful for the things we have. We do not count our blessings enough and that has made our generation miserable.
 
I have increasingly realized, that we need to matter in this world. But this will not happen on a platter, we have to go out, make our hands dirty, work with communities, and then keep on working. I read a beautiful quote from this amazing book, ‘Into the Wild’ – “Happiness is real, only when shared.” We have increasingly started living in a bubble. We share our lives on social media, sans human connection. Love is what we need, love is what we live for.
Image result for universe
 
We all need anchors in our life. Some friends who keep reminding us of our goals, parents who are always there, and for me in addition to this, books have played an important part. Without books I would have lost myself. What kept me going, kept me searching for answers, were books. I read some amazing books to gain perspective on life and the world around us. The process still continues and recommendations will always be welcome.
 
I have now largely made peace with what I want, what I can do, what I cannot do. I have also made peace with the fact that friendships and other relationships will undergo changes over next few years, priorities will change, life will change. But in all this, having few constants is very important. We need to find our constants, and hold onto them.

चला उस तोडाया (Let’s harvest sugarcane)

Visits to two villages, in October 2018, in the hilly region north of Ambajogai, got me thinking. It was for the first time I saw, after hearing for months, people migrating to Sangli, Kolhapur, Belgaum and other areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka to harvest sugarcane. While I looked forward to getting home for Diwali, these folks were packing their bags and leaving their homes.

A failed crop after another failed monsoon left more people in debt compared to the past couple of years. Harvesting sugarcane seemed to be a better and stable source of income, than depending on erratic rainfall.

A jodi (couple) here fetches up to a lakh rupees every season. In one village, as I entered, I encountered a ceremony. I asked about it to realize that it was an engagement ceremony. Parents find it easier to marry off their teenage daughters than leave them unattended for another year. The new couple, blessed by the village folks, was soon off to Kolhapur.

sugarcane labourers.jpg
Courtesy: Parth M.N., People’s Archive of Rural India

The villages look deserted in the winters. Sometimes, the whole village migrates en masse. Only old people who cannot work, stay back and take care of their grandchildren. Some children migrate with their parents and if lucky enough continue their education.

In another village I visited, I met a 12-year old boy whose mother, a sugarcane labourer, apparently committed suicide when he was just four months old. The boy’s father was a drunkard. The boy and his elder sister were then raised by their grandparents, who also worked as sugarcane labourers. The grandmother narrated her story, of how she had to go ‘underground’, how she lived in Karnataka, sometimes in cities like Bangalore. It was a tale of resilience and it continued to present day. With small savings, the grandparents, who were blacksmiths, built a small house in that village. As I was leaving, I noticed the granddaughter, a young girl in high school. The grandma proudly told me that she had looked after the girl’s education.

I thought of the girl as I drove back and wondered about her life after matriculation, if her grandparents pass away, if she is married off, and if she too became a sugarcane labourer. I wondered if she would someday say, “चला उस तोडाया.”

For more, please read-

  1. The long road to the sugarcane fields, a story by Parth M.N. on migrating workers from Beed district. https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/the-long-road-to-the-sugarcane-fields
  2. Why migrant labourers are employed as sugarcane harvesters by South Gujarat coop sugar factories. https://counterview.org/2018/04/25/why-migrant-labourers-are-employed-as-sugarcane-harvesters-by-south-gujarat-coop-sugar-factories/
  3. Parth M.N. explores the harrowing work in sugarcane fields https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/cutting-cane-for-2000-hours

 

Trickle Down Feminism

This article of mine, is a sort of continuation to a previous article published last month, titled, ‘Trickle Down Development’.

‘Feminism’, the word, I first heard probably towards the end of my final year in college. I graduated from an engineering college of national repute where the sex ratio was somewhere around 5:1, i.e., 5 boys for 1 girl. The ratio changed depending on the branch you chose (or ended up in). I can write a Chetan Bhagat kind of book on that, but that’s not my purpose (nor do I wish to preach Chetan Bhagat brand of feminism). When a friend of mine called me a ‘chauvinist’ I had to google the word up to understand what should I reply to her. Now we both discuss women issues across different time zones and in a way I’m glad she no longer calls me a ‘chauvinist’. When I joined Ashoka University after graduation, the tables had turned. I was in a class where around 60% junta were women, and a large part of my fellowship experience was shaped primarily due to that. I remember, three terms into the fellowship I asked a classmate of mine the difference between sex and gender. I was judged, but she also patiently answered my question. A lot of my thoughts and opinions have been shaped largely due to the wonderful peer group I had at Young India Fellowship. Some wonderful women have shaped my thoughts, patiently answered my questions, and also pointed out my mistakes. I make a point to read more books authored by women now, but I’m still far off the halfway mark I should honour them.

girls_school
This is a photo from a Government School in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. We distributed a month of sanitary napkins for all girls in the school.

When #metoo movement happened last year, a lot of men were astounded to see the number of women coming out. The closest of friends posted #metoo on Facebook to give an indication of how normalized things are. I also know men who made fun of it privately, and I also know men who were quick to brandish it as ‘elitist’, calling it social media activism. I, on the other hand, felt it was a start in a good direction. A lot of men at least came to realize the issue at hand. There will also be men in positions of power who will want to do something about it, read about gender issues, tackle them head on.

A lot of issues related to women, at least in India, were left unaddressed because the people in power were men, who necessarily didn’t think of them as an issue. Reading articles, research papers, etc. made me realize how every issue in public policy is also a gender issue from water scarcity to sanitation. Water Scarcity directly affects women first, then men; because it, sadly, is primarily a woman’s responsibility to fetch water. Swachh Bharat movement changed the game for rural women because they didn’t have to walk for miles in darkness. We still have miles to go, but thanks to more women in development and policy sector, gender issues are being addressed at a larger scale than before.

As I go to rural hinterlands of this country, away from the metros and the cities, I realize that problem is still so deep rooted and we are just scratching the surface and hailing it. Feminism, hasn’t yet trickled down. It has entered the urban consciousness, but rural India is at least a generation away. In last three months or so, I have scratched my head around the gender issues plaguing the area I am in, only to realize it’s a long battle. In our country, family is sacrosanct, which by default is patriarchal in nature. The Supreme Court, refused to recognize marital rape as a law because it will disturb ‘the family, the very basis of India’s social structure’.  The women, over centuries, have internalized this and a woman’s honour has become family’s honour. Tragedy is that the very family which is so concerned about woman’s honour abuses that woman. The family has the ultimate control over a woman’s sexuality. Therefore, then, honour killings become normal, sati was normal (because what is a woman without her dead husband?).

A woman in the village has to first look after her family, feed her husband, her children, her in-laws, wash their clothes, do the dishes, fetch water, and then if time permits come to attend the meeting of local Self Help Group (which by the way is divided across caste, class and religious lines). A rural woman, also sometimes, becomes the Sarpanch of the village thanks to reservations, but she has no agency. A man (husband or son) roams around calling himself the Sarpanch of the village, and everyone gladly addresses him so. A lot of girls get married by the time they are 22-23 (and child marriage is pretty common, by the way, no one minds it). In such a scenario, I often end up confused as to where should I start, how do we really empower the women, make them realize that they have agency beyond their family. People who have tried to rake up revolutions in the village society, are often thrown out, because it disturbs the ‘family structure’.

Feminism, to those who have issue with the word, is nothing but a gender equality movement. We can debate on the semantics later, that as of now, is not my point. I personally feel, coupled with class and caste, looking at development issues through a lens of gender can help solve lot of our issues. The question is how. We need to sensitize more men, especially development professionals, to take up the baton. Coupled with more women working in the rural hinterlands of our country. Development with respect to gender in rural India is trapped in a vicious circle. We need more women volunteers to work in rural India, but the environment is not exactly conducive for a woman. But at the same time, unless a woman enters the chakravyuh, it can’t be broken. I, as a man, have my own limitations. A woman, on the other hand, if she decides can do wonders on rural level with respect to gender issues. All the talk of feminism in cities and on social media, will remain trapped in the same space, unless women visit rural India and help feminism trickle down. I see more and more women run NGOs in urban spaces, that sadly isn’t the case when it comes to rural India. Lot of NGOs are run by men with focus on education, sanitation, agriculture, water, health, etc. but not necessarily gender. I have limited view as to how do we change this scenario. For a start, I think we need fellowships sponsoring women in particular to work in rural India, with focus on gender. It is also the collective responsibility of all those in development space to ensure that this becomes a good model, to ensure it succeeds.

Feminism, the talk of it, the movement needs to trickle down. It needs to break its predominantly urban and linguistic shackles and enter the realm of common tongue. And we need to educate not only girls but also boys in this country about it. The question is how soon.

Ending with sharing a video of a TED talk by award winning American writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on why ‘we should all be feminists’.

 

 

Into The WIld

I like to read books for a varied reasons – they add knowledge, they add value, it’s meditation for me, it’s travel for me, and I take liking to fellow bibliophiles, especially, if they like the books I like. Also, what motivates me to keep reading is the fact that every book changes something in me, adds a new perspective, the way I live, the way I see life, society, country, etc. I really picked up reading couple of years back, as I discovered gem after gem, and I couldn’t think of not reading books since. I am guilty of having a ‘book debt’, where I have books which I have purchased, but never read. It’s a good debt to have I guess. I happily pay off my EMIs for it. One such book I wanted to read since quite some time and ended up reading is Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into The Wild’. The story about Christopher McCandless, who called himself as ‘Alexander Supertramp’.
When I talk about the book or the film, or read the reviews, there are people quick to dismiss Chris as an idiot, a fool who left his family on a self-discovering journey, a la Buddha. As I started reading the book, I was hooked to it. Chris when he died, was around the age I am now. Therefore, perhaps, I could relate to him and his story, his journey. I read the book partly with a sense of envy wishing if I could do what he did, only to realize I tread a different path, moderate and sober. If I had ever met Chris, I would have took an instant liking to him, an introverted sort of guy, who liked reading books, traveling around, philosophizing about life. The letters he wrote, the postcards he sent, really struck a chord with me. He was a good writer, a matured writer, a depth which only comes from reading books.
1_Into-The-Wild
Self Portrait of Chris at his Alaska Base Station.
Chris initially did come across as a smug, who didn’t care about his family, donated all his savings to charity, burnt the money he had, left his car and walked into the wild. But what really moved me were the relationships he had with people he came across, especially the one with Ron Franz, an eighty year old man, who gets inspired from Chris to live a life outside his comfort zone.
“make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
– Chris’ letter to Ron Franz
In a way, I felt like I was traveling with Chris, talking to those people, seeing how it shaped Chris and how Chris shaped others. But the real transformative experience for Chris was what he called his ultimate quest- living into the wild, in Alaska. The experience that ultimately took his life, in the most unfortunate way possible. After spending two years away from family,running away from cities, detesting civilization, reading books, traveling and talking to people, a realization dawned on Chris – “HAPPINESS IS REAL ONLY WHEN SHARED.” He writes this down in his weakest final moments. He dies lonely, when he was yearning to go back to the civilization. But in his death, he became a shining light, an inspiration. Chris really moved me, and I know will stay with me forever, urging me to look within my own wilderness, asking me to live out of my comfort zone, nudging me to get into the wild.

Trickle Down Development

One of the critiques of Capitalism remains it’s famed ‘trickle down effect’.  Trickle-down economics is a theory that says benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are usually tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains, and dividends. This article explains briefly about the trickle down theory. The economic inequality in India has continued to rise post liberalization. The wealthy are accumulating more and more wealth. According to Oxfam 2018 report, India’s top 1% pocketed 73% of the total wealth generated in 2017!
During our intense classes as part of Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University, Dr. Mihir Shah used to severely criticize trickle down theory. This was followed by some intense discussions with my classmates about top to bottom approach in policy making. How India is run from Delhi and other cities, how policies are made without ever visiting a village, with a hope that things will eventually ‘trickle down’. This approach, clearly, has not worked and ,sadly, things have not changed much. Policy and Development sector is pretty much still a top to bottom game. With funds and policies trickling down from the top, and taking their own time to reach a poor woman in a remote village.
Shramdaan
Villagers working under Paani Foundation’s Water Cup in a village in Maharashtra.
The first thing I realized after graduating was what I learnt in classes will only help me 10% of the times, rest is all on the job. Post graduation, over the last two years the dissonance I felt was huge. It was very easy to sit in AC classrooms and discuss why farmers are committing suicides, why we need Feminism, or what is the future of Indian democracy? But when I went, saw and experienced the reality I realized that our classrooms live in their own different reality, what in Ashoka we famously called, ‘a bubble’. I have realized India’s social, economic, and political issues discussed in India’s universities, are only partly true. The knowledge is in shackles and it needs to break out. The talks on gender, caste, and class sound good in cities but are seldom heard in villages. Things will take their own time to trickle down, hopefully.
People romanticize our villages, films like Swades are responsible for that. Things are not so rosy. I am always conscious of looking at our villages through an urban lens. But even from rural perspective, situation is grim. Our villages face issues of caste, gender, class on a daily basis. Therefore, I feel it as my responsibility to correct people, when they say caste doesn’t exist, women now have a lot of freedom in our country, etc. I care a lot about gender as an issue, but I feel helpless sometimes in villages. I see villages with Sarpanch as a woman, but being run by that woman’s husband or woman’s son. I see women getting married before they even turn 18, I see Dalits and other marginalized communities still living as landless and laboring hard to earn their two hundred rupees daily wage. I often wonder what more can I do, but then end up firefighting lazy bureaucrats and people full of apathy.
IMG_20180328_112939015[1].jpg
Government has consistently abdicated it’s responsibility of a public school system. The result is a large number of NGOs working for primary and secondary education. The gap between public schools and private schools only widening. The situation indeed is grim. The solution though has been more and more private schooling, Where’s the trickle down?
Two years since graduating I have worked with a political party, with a Member of Parliament, and now working out of an NGO. The learnings have been different in all these cases. Till recently I thought I had good knowledge of India’s problems until I visited our villages, spoke with farmers, saw the rural politics. Farmers are growing sugarcane in a drought prone area, despite knowing well that it is very harmful. Because it’s kind of easy money, requires less effort. No academic article I came across pointed to this fact. I always wondered why are they growing sugarcane, only to find a treacherous cycle that exists designed by the sugar lobby. Farmers resort to chemical fertilizers, the way we consume junk food. It’s easy and avoids the efforts of making a compost. Our Government is gladly giving subsidies worth of Rs. 70,000 crores to Fertilizer industry! Farm loan waivers are promised by our politicians for every elections, which end up benefiting the rich farmers, never the poor or the landless. Every time, there is some crop loss due to weather, farmer bodies are fast to take it up with Government. Farmers being a huge vote bank, Government duly obliges.
We have one of the best Constitutions in the world, and we have been successful to take democracy to our villages. A lot of our policies are good in theory, but really shoddy in implementation. Policies get lost and bruised by the time they trickle down. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in this moving article has called India, ‘the too late nation’. We suddenly realize that Government has done nothing when 22 people die in a stampede in a Mumbai station, yet we elect MPs who don’t attend Parliament, or only go there to protest and walk out. We realize our healthcare is shoddy when kids die in a Government Hospital in Gorakhpur, yet we continue to elect people who only care about identity politics. The only time we hold our Government accountable is once in five years, the rest of the time, live in our own bubbles, divorced from the reality. We are proud to be ‘apolitical’, which in my opinion is a way of saying ‘I don’t care’. We are indeed a too late nation,we only wake up when we realize things have not trickled down. Only if the taxpayers were as angry about their taxes going to potholes, as they were about their taxes going to JNU, India would have been a different nation. We wait, wait for the rich to realize that they need to trickle down what they earned, and wait for the Government to trickle down the development.
And despite all this there’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.  🙂

Lonely in the times of Navratri

Past week has been less of religious significance for me, as compared to preceding several years of Navratri. Not that I am religious, but when you have grown up in an environment where almost everyone in the family is religious, these days add some sense of significance, in an otherwise banal life in this city. Staying away from home, I have been getting used to forgetting different festivals where we, under the pretext of fasting, ate lot of sabudana stuff. Whether it was Ekadashi, Mahashivratri or just some random day upwas. Monsoon season was my favorite in school days, because lots of festivals, and lots of holidays. The vacation mode continues till Diwali holidays. My mother being a teacher, sometimes used to complain that she is not finding time to complete syllabus and term exams are nearing. For me and my brother, it was one extra day of playing cricket on the street, on the ground or sometimes even in the small one meter wide balcony.

Waking up at around 7.30 A.M, doing some random exercises as it was raining and I was lazy to go out and run. Went out to savour my usual breakfast of Mysore Bonda followed by a cup of tea. The chaiwallah and the thelawallah both know me by now. I don’t have to utter a single word of Telugu or Hindi and unless I ask for a wada, instead of bonda, I am served with four hot pieces of Mysore Bonda with four different types of chutney. By the time I’m done with that, my tea is ready. Then I come home and usually read something, a book or daily dose of news articles. Today, office was closed and I had no enthusiasm of going and being there alone watching videos on YouTube or Amazon Prime like a purposeless zombie. So, instead I decided to read a book after customary ‘Happy Dussehra’ calls from home. Lunch when not at home is a huge task for me. My dinner place is open only in the evenings, and streets are otherwise lazy to serve me anything hot in the afternoon. So, today I instead settled for dry fruit lassi, which was more about dry fruits and less of a lassi, which is fine by me. In a bid to complete four books this month, today being the last day, I decided to read the last hundred pages of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller. That novel has become an ordeal for me, as I get lost in the book, and then need to find my way out. As I write this, I am still fifty pages away and I do not know if I will complete them today, and my Goodreads will have only three books finished in September. I can manipulate, stay up till late to finish, and convince myself that unless I sleep it is still September 30 for my body. Meanwhile, I also have to figure out my dinner.

Living alone, is a different challenge altogether. I told my friends who are living independently in cities that they have friends there. Yet they reply, “I know.I have been through it.” I don’t try to reason with them that this is not the same. I feel like, they don’t have the right to deny me my novelty, my unique existence in this city of Vizag, where most of the people speak Telugu and I end up playing dumb charades with them. I had the option of flying out of this place for the long weekend, but here I am, choosing to stay with my desolate misery. The only solace is internet and social media, which is also depressing by the day. But then, social media and WhatsApp has kept me going here, as I have become enslaved by the modern means of communication. I need them, more than they need me. I have still not broadcasted customary Happy Dussehra messages over WhatsApp to my contacts. I don’t know if I will today.

Over different posts and pictures over Instagram, Facebook, and Whatsapp, I know what different people, some of whom I have not met in over two years are doing over the long weekend. This makes me feel a bit lonelier, as I drown in self-pity. But I also reach out to fellow loners, in cities across the world. Some are busy swimming in self-pity, some are watching Ravana burn, and some are working. I know more lonely souls, but I decide not to message them. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is at work here. What if I message them and I come to know that they are enjoying the evening on some random beach, or on top of a mountain, or with their families. I will loathe myself for denying myself the opportunity. But then there’s also a possibility that I will have a virtual conversation with another loathing soul. But I decide to stay away from the effort and instead focus on writing this piece.

Loneliness is an island, and only the person can ultimately rescue themselves from it. One can keep swimming in the ocean of self-pity around the island, but ultimately there will come a time when the person will stop swimming, tired and disgusted. What option the person chooses then? The idea of solitude, I feel, is romanticized by movies, by books and what not. Humans, like any other animals, were designed to be social. But then here we are, in increasingly populating cities, loneliness is also increasing. Different individuals look at the same problem differently. Friends will advise me to go out, date women, make friends. But it’s not as if I never tried and will not try. But sometimes circumstances do not allow a person to do that. What is the choice then, go back to same solitude. Reading a book alone, drinking alone, or watching FRIENDS and wondering if I ever will have such life, despite knowing well that I won’t.

Clamdigger_Hopper.jpg
Clamdigger by Edward Hopper. Hopper managed to capture loneliness the way probably no painter could.

It was my birthday a few weeks ago. It was the loneliest birthday I ever celebrated. I thought I never cared much about birthdays, but I realized deep down, societal conditioning has made me care about it. Celebrating birthday alone, going out and drinking a beer alone, was unacceptable to myself. Lot of friends called to wish, and wondered how I celebrated the day. In the age of social media, birthdays have become a medium of PDA. Remove the birthday from Facebook, and you’ll realize beyond a certain group no one will care, no PDA nothing, nada. Try it, you’ll find yourself lonelier. We are a generation who have achieved nothing, yet we demand everything. We see people posting how happy they are on social media, and start aspiring for those lives, without wondering ever are they really happy? More and more people I know flock to US, Europe every year to study, posting picturesque autumn pictures and describing snowfalls. I know, some of them are lonely, living in a land away from their home, wondering if this will even make them happy than they were before.

lonely_social_media.jpg
We choose loneliness, and we are lonely. Social media is just an illusion that we are not. We seek continuous validation, ensuring friends will like and comment on a photo of sunset, or like and comment on a meme one just shared. This particular article is also a result of that. I cannot be away from social media, because it gets too depressing without it and even with it, I’m only slightly better off. I don’t know what really prompted me to write this. But it was largely a result of Rana Dasgupta’s essay on teenagers performing live suicides over social media. It’s an increasingly worrying scenario we are living in. Internet and social media has given us the option to connect with people in any corner of the world. Yet, some people are instead withdrawing themselves, only getting lonelier and ultimately rejecting life by choosing suicide. Albert Camus’ seminal essay, ‘The myth of Sisyphus’, begins with the line-  “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.
Sisyphus.gif
Illustration from a Medium Post about the essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’.
I do not know why I felt like writing all this, but I thought I should. To all the lonely souls out there, #YNWA – You Never Walk Alone. We are in this together. It’s time for dinner, and I need to venture out like a rat to scout for my food.

Sanitary Napkin donation in a local school

I am working with Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Dr. Kambhampati Haribabu, in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. As a part of my efforts to generate awareness regarding sanitation in local schools, I have launched a small fundraiser to donate one month supply of sanitary napkins to a Govt. School here in Vizag. The napkins will be manufactured by a local NGO which employs physically challenged women, giving them livelihood to support hem and their families.

Sanitation, an important and essential aspect, of our daily lives has largely been overlooked in India until recent times. With Swachh Bharat and awareness generation, various issues which were earlier not thought of or overlooked upon have come to light. In case of schools, it is the need for a proper, functional girls’ toilet and the lack of protection against menstruation.

 

As per a survey done by AC Nielsen in 2010, lack of adequate menstrual protection leads to girls missing out on average about 5 days a month of school. Around 23% of girls drop out altogether after they start menstruating. About 80% women in India cannot afford sanitary napkins. Menstruation, something natural and physiological for women, is largely seen as a taboo in Indian society and not talked about openly.

So, to generate awareness on the issue, not just in the school but also among the local administration, I decided to take up this initiative. I am collaborating with fellow alumni friends from VNIT, who run Donatekart. You’ll be able to donate in kind to the NGO, post which napkins will be manufactured and donated to the school girls. In association with Rotary Club of Vizag Central, we will also conduct awareness camp by psychologists and gynecologists in the school. We plan to donate 700 packets and I’m hopeful that this campaign would be a success.

This is just a small drop in ocean, but then Rome was not built in a day. Do contribute by clicking on this link and share among your circles.

Thanks a lot!
girls_school.jpg

Lost

Pink skies and wide roads,
solitary love and unrequited souls
In search of meaning and purpose,
Lost in fallow crowd,
and discovering rusty cities.
Exhumed passions and this incessant boredom.
Listening to slumbered songs,
and reading moribund books.
Oh! The ruined poets,
and their mutilated poems.
Just like these wretched words,
by a cowardly hand,
Amidst this feeble life.

– Shantanu

 

IMG_20170803_214841_536.jpg