Category Archives: Trying days

The Day After

It is the next day.
Pink pamphlets torn,
Full price mani-pedi &
Fewer floral messages
On my phone.

Their job has been done,
Their purpose served.
What more do you want –
A pat on the back or
For me to lower my gun?

Stop whining and playing your card,
Waving your flags fighting for a cause.
You have it easy at every turn on the way-
Climbing the ladder,
Sleeping your way.

Go back into the box I drew for you
Say the words I spoke for you
Feel the feelings I told you to feel
Give me your body,
To choose for you.

You are afterall defined by me
A wife, sister or daughter
Or a slut if you are free.
Come on my dear, don’t ask for more
You have a whole fucking day that I don’t.

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Multiple versions of me

Being self-aware and having voices in your head is a bitch. Truly. I am having one of those days when the grass pretty much looks greener on everyone else’s lawn. I woke up disbelieving that it is already Friday and a complete sense of dissatisfaction over what I have accomplished this week. I was supposed to have figured out some gym where I could work out balancing my new life, I was supposed to have had a break through at work, I was supposed to have helped someone I know with job hunt, I am supposed to have stopped eating wheat to get healthier and I was supposed to have done 4 days’ worth of laundry, which I have parked in the other room so that it doesn’t prick my conscience when I wake up. Yet, it is Friday already and quite frankly other than alarm icons on my phone, which remind of these things not much has changed.

As I was sleepily sipping on my coffee this morning and going through other people’s lives on Facebook, the wave of disappointment was palpable. I saw someone standing on yacht with arms outstretched and I immediately wished two things – being on a yacht and having gorgeous arms. I waved to no one in particular in my living room and my arm jiggle only made the voice in my head sharper. I saw another someone post about their graduation from one of the universities I had gotten into and the voice in my head again nudged saying, “that could have been you”. Of course, there were two articles on MAGGI followed by the indignation around processed foods which reminded me how I should not be using any “fast-cooking” solutions but only healthy alternatives, which take a couple of hours of effort. The final post I saw was on  ISIS cutting out water supply in some parts of their territory and I felt like absolute scum on the face of this earth for being so shallow and wallowing in self-pity while the world is in shambles.

I have Facebook “friends” who are on the boards of non-profits, who are getting funding for their start-ups, who are moving to countries I someday hope to visit, who are experimenting with new styles of working out which I would kill to try, who have amazingly bronzed legs and who are vacationing with their parents and kids in tow. It is a struggle to remind myself that all these are not one person and surely not everyone is cracking it. When I swipe through my phone, all these amorphous facts just come together as one big ball of things I am currently not doing. The rational me knows that lives on Facebook is just a sliver of most of these people’s existence. One voice in my head mocks me for being so full myself while there are kids who need a better education but the other voice also constantly claws me for not doing enough on any front.

I am not a hotshot racing the corporate ladder, I am not a passionate entrepreneur who is doing her bit to fix the world, I am not an effortlessly chic woman who eats vegan bagels after a TRX class,  – I am just me who knows that there are many, many more just like me but is also vain enough to wish that I was more.

P.S: This wasn’t a post to make me feel better about myself by fishing for compliments. I just wanted to let the other ‘Me’s know that you are not alone.

When good news is never good enough

Hi Aunty

You met me yesterday at that family function in the temple. I am sure you remember me. I am that woman who is almost thirty and have been married for five years now. Yes, yes the same one who does not have children or any good news to give yet.

You pulled at my cheeks and reminded me that you last met me during my wedding reception (which was a close and intimate affair of over 1000 people across two cities). When my eyes showed hardly sign of recognition you poked my tummy and asked “any good news?”. I shied away pretending I had a call to take, when you told the other aunty “she has been married for five years”. The other aunty played her part and appropriately tutted in the right places. I heard you both. One of your friends pointed out how I look ‘healthy’ and then followed it by “how many months”. I didn’t realise you had it in you to make me feel fat as well as inadequate in the same breath. Thanks aunty, you are truly special.
I noticed how you asked my cousin brothers what they did but only asked me about why I hadn’t done anything yet. I saw the wheels in your head turn when I told I was travelling next week for work and would not be returning to Bangalore tomorrow. I saw your eyes glaze over when I explained what I do for a living and shared my good news  about my project getting the second round of funding.
I also saw how you passive aggressively asked my mom if she is a grandma yet. I felt terrible about putting her in a spot. Just as I was beating myself over this, I overhead you asking another woman with a toddler “so when is your next?”. When she laughed, you pushed harder saying “you cannot possibly be be thinking of raising her as an only child. She will be spoilt”.
That’s when I began to look harder. I saw so many instances during the day when none of us measured up in your eyes. You aren’t happy when we don’t have a child, you aren’t happy when we aren’t planning the second one, you are shocked when we say we are stay-at-home moms, you are appalled that we would leave our children with our parents to work long hours, you are unhappy that we don’t have jobs in the US, you feel cheated when we don’t come back from the US to meet you.
I am trying to remind myself that you mean well but you are making it really hard.
So let me just clarify for you once and for all – whether I am happily married or single, whether I am planning on having a baby or am struggling to manage my newborn, whether I am gainfully employed or not – when I have something to share with you, I will. It may not be as good a news as you may want to hear but well, c’est la vie.
In the meanwhile, a couple of quick pointers to save you from featuring in another blog post:
a) If you think someone is pregnant but you are not quite sure – save everyone the trouble and hold your tongue.
b) Quit poking tummies or randomly coping a feel will you? It is really annoying.

To Kausra

Dear Kausra

We met the other day at your school and spending those ten minutes with you changed a lot for me. I felt I owe you an apology and hence I write to you.

Before landing in Srinagar – J&K, I like most other people from India came with my baggage about what I thought of “Kashmir”. I was also excited about the Dal lake, shikaras, phirnis and unabashedly voyeuristic about wanting to know more about the conflict. When I exited the airport, I saw a sign reading “Welcome to Paradise on Earth” and right under that was a soldier with a gun. I was uncomfortable to see the army presence, I was even more uncomfortable to acknowledge that the fundamental right of freedom of movement is curtailed and most importantly I was acutely aware of how different my India is and how I had no business discussing how this part of the world should be “India” as well.

I am embarrassed to tell you that reading a couple of books and editorials I thought I understood what your daily life looks like.  Nothing prepared me Kausra, to live sharing the surroundings you grow up with each day. Waking up listening to gunshots of the army doing target practice or being stopped for checking in the middle of the road or even that flurry of panic, thinking of sudden firing that is happening 1 km away from where we stood – Kausra, I do not know how you do it.

Your school teachers tell me how girls in your village are not confident, very quiet and not participative in class. Your school principal congenially told me about how girls are generally reticent. The boys in your class overcompensated for your silence. You looked down with your head bowed when I asked you a question. I accepted your silence for your shyness. But when you stood up and shared what you thought in a shaky yet confident voice, I saw some bit of myself in you.

I do not think you are shy or “under-confident” or reticent. I do not want to make any more assumptions on your behalf. But if my three days can leave me without words to describe what I am feeling, I empathise how speechless you must feel seeing what you see day in and day out. If I were you, I would bow my head down too. It is just easier to find answers within than look outside to spell it out for everyone else.

I am sorry Kausra for being one of those many strangers who trapeze into your life thinking you should open up and start “sharing” your life story.  It is again the same mistake of thinking that you are waiting for this amazing miracle from outside to save you.  It is absolute bullshit and you caught me on that one. You owe me nothing.

I hope you and I can become friends some day. I think we would hit it off quite well – I saw you snigger about my haircut to the girl beside you. I would have done the exact same thing! 🙂

Till then,

Much love

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searching for a why

It is hard to imagine what it must be like to truly make a difference with one’s actions.
It is harder to believe that the change one is looking for is happening before one’s own eyes yet hidden.
It is hardest to feel impotent and yet continue to act simply to find a grain of significance.

This cannot be it. I need to remind myself

It has been 8 months and 16 days since I walked into my classroom the first time. It has been tumultuous to say the least – not to make myself a martyr. I have had some of my best memories in this classroom with my 40 kids, some truly inspirational moments and a lot of dark days.

Today was one of the darker days I have seen. I wasn’t able to go to school yesterday as I wasn’t in a position to even stand for a bit let alone climb 3 floors. I walked into school today and I was told how Sumit formed a gang with five 4th graders and beat Omega up real badly. I thought it was an exaggerated claim and climbed up three flights of stairs to make it to the staffroom. There again I was told about how Omega could barely walk home yesterday and how Sumit and those 4th graders have threatened to kill him if he comes back to class. That is when I realised that there was something seriously wrong. I went to class, did the whole jig of morning meeting, made it a point to address the class message of “Do not hit”, tried talking about non violence through Gandhiji and all this while my mind was racing with questions about why there is so much rage in 9 and 10 year olds.

Of course, I did speak to Sumit separately, questioned him about the choices he made and how it aligns with what we speak in the classroom every single day. He just looked at me with glazed eyes. There are many metrics for a teacher to gauge the effective communication of her message and a glazed pair of eyes is sure shot sign of failure.

I know I do not speak of this often, but I truly believe India is special and I feel personally responsible for not trying hard enough in the first 25 years of my life to help find solutions to its problems. When I joined this Fellowship, I wanted to first find solutions in my classroom and then use my learning to find solutions for the country. I still believe that the answers to issues of gender discrimination, indiscriminate violence, prejudice, intolerance lie in education. But when I see how after my 256 days I may have brought about a change only in actions of most of my kids that too motivated by the desire to please me, it is hard not to question my  ability to bring a mindset shift in a country of 1.2 billion people.

I am aware that children carry their homes into the classrooms, I am aware of how operant conditioning works with positive and negative reinforcement, I recall reading that behaviour change is possible in most individuals with continued exposure in about 250 days since it involves reworking of some neural network BUT what I am not aware of is, what is one to do when time is running out and you feel like you are up against a wall.

I pledged myself to bridge education inequity and in my head I added a caveat of how I will not limit myself to academic skills alone when bridging the inequity. I earlier wanted to be that teacher whom you would look back to recall how you pushed yourself because she said so. I now only want to be the teacher who helped you find the inner voice which talks to you about the choice you make with every action.

I want to be that voice for Sumit for purely selfish reasons. I see in him the issues that I want answers to – it scares me that maybe there are none to find.

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Maybe I will, maybe I won’t

You know how there are days when you wake up and feel “yeah! this is it i am going to change the world” and then there are days when you wake up plain meh!

So past few days I have been questioning my whole “I am going to fix everything, even stuff that ain’t broken” bit. This was triggered by a conversation with a child that left me more than speechless.

To establish a bit of context, I have been talking to the kids incessantly about how one should not eat gutkha, chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes. We saw pictures of people who are suffering from oral cancer and we even discussed the cost of palliative care for cancer patients and if inflicting such a disease upon oneself was worth it. Since we have been doing this for a while now, the kids have started going back home, telling their parents to stop chewing tobacco or eating supari. One smart ass kid took the oral cancer pictures from me to show his father and needless to say got smacked for not “studying” in school and “seeing gande pictures”. Overall, my students have been showing a fair amount of indignation over the consumption of tobacco issue and are basically balking at how they never knew oral cancer could happen and could kill. This to be very honest calmed me because a) they shared my feelings now b) I figured they would think for a while before doing something so “bad”.

Hence, when I saw Vivek chewing zarda in my class yesterday something in me snapped. I grabbed him by his hand, marched him to the dustbin, made him spit out what he was chewing, made him empty his pockets into the dustbin and then rinse his mouth with water. I was furious and I took him outside class and this was the conversation that followed:

Me: How dare you eat zarda? Don’t you understand a word of what I speak? Am I speaking in Chinese everyday? Tell me, WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO DO THIS?
Vivek: (silence)
Me: You listen to me mister, you are going to answer me right now and do not think I am letting you off the hook that easy.
Vivek: (silence)
Me: Vivek, I am giving you exactly 30 seconds to tell me what you were thinking or else you are in B I G trouble
Vivek: (silence)
Me: What do you want? Do you want to die? Is that what you want? Have I not told you where this leads. Have we not discussed what eating zarda can do?
Vivek: Yes (whispering)
Me: Yes to what?!
Vivek: I choose to eat zarda. If I die 10 years later, it is ok. I will eat. (smiling)
Me: What do you think of yourself? If you are so fond of dying, come with me. Let us go stand in front of a bus. Its simpler. Why wait for 10 years.
Vivek: I choose to die after 10 years not now. I will decide. Why do you even care? (now simply smirking)

I retreated. I simply ended the conversation by telling Vivek, he can make the choices he wants but he simply cannot eat zarda or any other tobacco/supari thing in my class.

When I look back at this conversation, I cannot believe that I had retraced my steps on how every person is free to do what he or she wants. I was one of those people who did not preach or send people on guilt trips. When I interact with friends, colleagues or family I have always maintained that people are free to choose their actions and map the course of their life the way they choose to.

Yet, I had become the self-appointed messiah for these kids. I never for once thought “what if they did not really want me to change everything”, “what if some people do not want me to fix their lives because nothing is broken the way they see it?”.
What if this whole ‘I am going to bridge the gap in these two years’ is something I am doing only to give myself an air of importance in my very own head.
Like some one said “we are only important in the decisions we make”. I guess somewhere during doing this Fellowship, I lost the sense of fairness and I became the very people I detest – People who think they are superior and hence can make choices for others and judge the mere mortals for not taking a path that is seemingly obvious.

Change the world to what? To something that I devised in my own little brain to be “better”?

But, I still cannot believe I allowed myself to be lured into the notion that I am going to “help” these people. The more I teach, the less I understand myself. It is like an ink drop in a bowl of milk – doubt swirling and diffusing. I do not see black or white, I simply see a fast growing grey.

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