Dear Men, On this Women’s Day….

Do me a favor. Don’t give the women in your life flowers, chocolates, inane messages on whatsapp , or diamonds ( ok ok I’ll make an exception on diamonds). Instead make an effort to listen to them, or better still, make an effort to ask them to speak up!

A McKinsey report, rather poignantly, for a research document, points out that 76% of men at middle management levels believe that they will reach the top, versus 58% women with exactly the same experience, talent and skill set! This under -confidence that women have, despite doing well, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in their successful ascent up the career ladder. And it lies like a serpent in their bosoms, waiting to strike at any moment; when the teacher asks a question in class, when they are sitting in the board room at an all-male table, when they are asked by their bosses to take up an assignment at a higher level, even when they have to negotiate for a salary hike.

However bright she may be, a woman is far more tentative than a man in literally every corporate environment and who can blame her? For her entire life she has been asked to be the silent and invisible gender. “A girl should not talk loudly, laugh boisterously, draw attention to herself, etc” was a message constantly drilled into her head while her brother could be as flamboyant and conspicuous as possible. Maybe it was in parts a desire in her parents to keep her safe by making her as less noticeable as possible or maybe in any case a girl’s opinion counted for so little that it was better she kept quiet?

Women were all made to feel and be lesser than themselves, and occupy as small a place under the sky; no wonder this has made them unsure about themselves and even if they know better they often choose to remain silent!

I remember a dear friend, once telling me that when he was the Chief Honcho at one of the largest research firms of those days, he would inform all the women in his team, that they were to visualize he had a ruler in his hand which he would whack them with, if they did not open their mouth during client meetings!

A rather tough love approach to solving the problem but one that I totally subscribe to! So if you are really sincere about wanting to give a gift to the women in your team, at home or at work, help them speak up!

Happy Women’s Day!

The Finger of Fidelity

Apparently scientists and researchers have made a stunning discovery recently that fidelity in humans, depends on the length of their ring finger in proportion to the index finger!

While the obvious irony, that it is the finger which is normally used to display the universal symbol of holy matrimony, has been identified as the culprit for faithlessness is certainly a point to ponder on; I am quite impressed by the time and effort all these great minds have put in to discover this breathtaking correlation.

A sneaky part of my brain does wonder as to why they didn’t have anything better to do with their considerable intellect, but at least this matter which has been plaguing us for centuries, has been laid to rest once and for all. Hallelujah!

So now all we have to do is check out the ring finger of all potential candidates for the husband slot, quickly identify, and just as promptly reject the potential stray-ers! Every suspicious wife can now sleep easy in her bed, finally able to cease her hitherto ceaseless speculation if the husband works late or comes back smelling of a lady’s perfume, secure in the knowledge that his ring finger clearly indicates that everything is above board!

And all a poor hen pecked husband has to do, is to raise his ring finger as an emblem of his honesty almost like the white flag of peace, every time the guns of distrust are aimed at him and the wife will transform to believing that the lipstick mark on his collar was accidentally made when a clumsy old lady bumped into him in the metro!

Think how easy this research has made it for all of us – to live, to love and to wed (and remain in the blissful state thereafter) provided we repose our faith in the length of the ring finger!

I sincerely applaud the scientists who have given us this momentous insight and as a result done immense service to mankind, womankind and the blessed state of wedlock.

Now having given us this information after so many years of hard work can the good scientists also develop in us the chromosome of trust to believe in this research?

Oh and by the way, the breaking news is that yet another set of esteemed scientists are ready with one more path breaking research on the personality of cockroaches! Hey Bhagwan!

Where have all the adults gone?

“My 16 year old daughter and I often wear each other’s clothes” says a 40 something acquaintance smugly, simpering at herself and her toned, lithe and spandexed image in the mirror, as we both stand next to each other in the ladies’ loo at the wedding we are attending. “My 18 year old and I are buddies first”, says another friend as he comes bounding towards us at a get-together a few days later, “Isn’t that true, son? Give me a high five” The poor child raises his hand in a desultory fashion and gets an enthusiastic clap from his grinning dad.

Everywhere I look today I see this thirsting desire to drink from the fountain of eternal youth and somehow touch the Philosopher’s stone otherwise known as botoxing , mentally remaining young, or being in touch with one’s inner child, in popular parlance!

In the continuing desire to maximize their youth and stretch the time they can continue to have “ fun”, couples today are either not having children or the job of parenting is getting outsourced to grandparents or to the school or to the live in help. Every party I attend, or afternoon lunch I go out to, I see ladies wearing tight tiny dresses which would have been more appropriate for a teenager, never mind varicose veins and lumpy thighs, and men who wear hoodies and compete with their sons at play station games and still hold onto their prized collection of toy cars and soldiers.

Personally I have nothing against people who are refusing to grow up and are firmly taking forward the maxim of 40 is the new 20 and 60 the new 40. Indeed recently for an entire period of a fortnight I religiously used a well- known brand’s night rejuvenating cream with a touching faith in its advertised abilities to make me look 26 again!

While I thoroughly applaud the sentiment and the effort that is being put behind the quest for eternal youth, equally I worry unceasingly about its outcome.

For if all of us become our children’s friend, who will become their teacher? Who will discipline them and teach them right from wrong? Who will show them the meaning of doing one’s duty and fulfilling one’s obligations? An important part of becoming an adult is accepting responsibility for ourselves and our actions and taking accountability for whatever is happening to us and around us. If we ourselves refuse to grow up and continue to see life as a party where somebody else takes the responsibility for clearing up the mess after us; how will our children learn to be any different?

In a world whose continuing desire is to be cool and young and irreverent, responsibility and duty will increasingly be seen as boring and serious. Can we really afford to boot out the solemnity that should accompany every promise we need to make and commitment we need to keep ?

The caste of mankind perhaps?

“But then you got married out of caste after all” said my neighbor’s mom dismissively , shaking her head at my complete lack of knowledge or interest in the ceremonial rituals surrounding the festival of the month . Indians, as you may all know, have a festival every month and now with the Global Indian having whole heartedly embraced Thanksgiving and Halloween and other such assorted festivities, we may soon end up having two or more celebrations a month! Global, national and regional!

In any case, I did a double- take and then a triple-take when she said that. Having been married for 25 years now, I am more used to having conversations on possible destination choices for friends’ children’s weddings rather than have anyone express an opinion around my own two decade old marriage. Added to that, a conversation around caste?

Fortunately we were brought up in an environment where caste and creed were of no interest or consequence to anyone, and the various ONGC colonies we resided in, during several sojourns in different parts of the country, resembled if anything, a miniature version of India Amalgamated. Life was egalitarian in its best form and the only thing that distinguished neighbors from UP and Gujarat from other neighbors from Punjab and Bengal were the different and delicious food items cooked in each household and the smells that emanated as a result. (Aah! the smell of hing from a gujju household still makes my mouth water!)

We played and fought and made up and moved from city to city, meeting old friends again and making new ones within that enchanted circle, and the only label that defined each of us from whichever part of the country we may originally have been, was that of being part of the large ONGC family.

Subsequently I got married into a household where caste again was treated with the derision it deserved and nobody in the family really gave a nickel for region, background and creed or the rituals of comportment that created divisions within them.

So when my brother-in-law was getting married, the priest started getting increasingly agitated since the family could not answer a single question around family deity, sub-caste, or gotra that he required in order to conduct the marriage vows. Till finally in frustration, he asked irritatedly, “At least can you tell me the name of your forefathers and from whom you have descended?” To which my brother-in-law with a straight face responded, “We are descendants of Luv-Kush, sons of Sri Ram”. The priest was flummoxed and later had a major apoplectic fit in the privacy of his chambers, but the marriage ceremony concluded without a hitch!

No wonder I was taken aback at this reference to ’’out of caste’ my neighbor made. Having been brought up to believe that the only caste that exists is that of humankind, it seemed to me a peculiarly strange thing to say.

Now I wish the parents of all those poor girls who go around ostracizing their progeny because they have married out of the sub caste would get this too!

Or maybe they need to spend a few years in an army or ONGC colony, to learn that “we are all involved in mankind” after all, and have descended from the same East African gene pool of Homo sapiens?

Letting Go

Birthdays and year-ends, I think need to be a time for spring cleaning of some sort. The baggage we have collected over the year, the clutter we have amassed, it’s time to look at each item anew and decide to junk it or keep it. But letting go somehow is never easy. Even if it’s a horrendous outfit you purchased in a moment of madness or the ghastly lamp your aunt gave you, which you wish the dog will jump at, and break into smithereens!

We are hoarders by nature and keep accumulating possessions as well as emotions as every year passes, little realizing how they are weighing us down. The guilt over some oversight we committed, a grudge against an old friend, the insecurity about a failing we perceive in ourselves, a constant critic who is part of our lives, all become a burden we carry, unknown and unacknowledged!

As I get older however, I realize I have no patience with baggage of this kind and have consciously been working at stream lining it out of my life. So some years ago, I decided to get rid of all negative people in my life with one swift stroke. People who constantly complain, crib, whine about their problems or always find fault with the world, are no longer part of my life, however dear they may have been to me in the past. I don’t have the energy to listen to their petulant grievances nor the desire to help them. I wish one day they will get out of their misery, but I refuse to get dragged down while they wallow in it.

The next year I got rid of issues with my self-image. I am fine the way I am, thank you very much I decided. And so I am! The following year I got rid of my temper and irritability. Invariably and unfortunately we end up taking out our frustrations on our mothers. Just because they listen and never judge and just because they are there! So now I am quite calm around most things and never ever cantankerous around my mom. She deserves better.

And so one by one, I have got rid of the desire to follow the latest fashion or the fear I had of certain things and even of not being able to say no when I wanted to! I have got over not speaking my mind out, of wanting every one to like me and specifically of wasting time doing meaningless things like attending social functions when I can better spend it with people I like or with books I want to read or shows I want to see.

As I make my world lighter, it also seems to have become richer! So let go of that grouse you had against one of your closest pals, the feeling that your nose is too long or your thighs too thunderous, get rid of that person who always finds fault with what you do, and see the incredible lightness it brings to your life. Go on. Try it!

The code of Hammurabi

Approximately in 1772 BC lived a great Babylonian king in Mesopotamia called Hammurabi. He is famous for having evolved and enacted what is possibly the oldest code of law. Or at least the oldest code which was written down and still exists and has been subsequently deciphered.

Hammurabi’s code has 282 laws laid down in it and covers matters of contract, of household relationships, for example inheritance laws, and various terms of transactions like what is your liability if the oxen belonging to your neighbor dies when you have hired it for threshing.

It also has within its gamut the very famous ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ law of retribution adjusted suitably for, and graded differently, for the differing status of the people involved ; the premise being that obviously the eye of a slave was considerably less important than the eye of a nobleman and so forth.

In Hammurabi’s code , the death of a nobleman was punishable by death, but the death of a woman only obliged the killer to pay her husband or father half a gold mina and if she happened to be a slave woman , the price went down even further. In stark contrast if the eye of a man was injured, the liability was one whole mina of gold!

Justice ordained that the eye of a man was to be considered twice as valuable as the life of a woman.

No historian, evolutionary scientist or philosopher has been able to figure out till date, why in the hierarchical order between genders, men got awarded the higher position, but it seems to have been so in the annals of time as long as 4000 years back.

As all of us jointly attempt to bring things to a more even footing in the 21st century and get frustrated with the slow pace of change, maybe it is critical to recognize and be aware of the hundreds of centuries of baggage we are burdened with, on this particular issue.

It becomes even more important to keep pushing ahead in order to ensure that every step we take and every stereotype we break continues to chip away at the slowly collapsing edifice of gender inequality.

The walls; they will, come a-crumbing down one day -of that I am sure!


Toilets for Girls

In the last two weeks I have been party to at least two drawing-room and one corporate conversation around building toilets for girls. So someone I know wants to build 15 toilets this year in municipal schools in his area. Another person wants to send money to an NGO specifically for this purpose and large corporate houses too are talking about donating for this cause.

Notably the conversations have also been around the sustainability and efficacy of these toilets. Who will maintain them once they are built? How will they remain safe for girls to use? What are the real challenges wherever toilets exist currently? And so on.

I like to think that across the length and breadth of India, there are several such conversations taking place around dinner tables, and the upper middle class Indian for whom these issues were at the periphery of his comfortable existence, has been jolted into wanting to do something. Even more importantly, I like to think that corporate India not only wants to donate financially to this cause but is also applying its superior intellect and vast creative resources in identifying ways to make toilet usage a sustainable and scalable initiative for our young girls!

And this is what Narendra Modi managed to achieve in one fell swoop and one hour of televised coverage! He had the entire nation listening to him for that hour and how effectively and fittingly he used that time. No political rhetoric, no promises nor listing of achievements or worse still endlessly droning on about our history and freedom struggle, a topic which has been fodder for all past PMs and their uninspired speech writers.

Modi talked of the future and in talking about the future laid out an agenda which was not political but socio-economic and more importantly moral. Equally he outlined in his speech, practical steps which were both directional and easy for us to understand and implement.

It is said that a great statesman has to have great principles, a moral compass, a vision and the ability to build consensus to drive that vision. (Dr J. Rufus Fears)

The vision is emerging, a moral compass is finally being displayed to the country at the highest level,it is required now for us to drive it ahead both by talking about it and doing something around it!

Let’s start by building toilets!

Pet Peeves and building Our National Character

I have just returned from the long weekend break which many of you, I am sure too took advantage of. The resort was lovely, the staff outstanding, the weather supportive and the natural beauty simply breathtaking. The only thing we didn’t contend with is that along with us, several generations of the Khannas and the Joshis and the Shahs had also decided to maximize on this opportunity.

So the hotel became the scene of extended family reunions where brothers bonded with brother-in -laws over beer and single malt and sister-in-laws giggled through various spa therapies and grandmothers coddled offspring’s offsprings and iphones on their laps with amazing dexterity!

Now having been brought up on ‘Hum Aapke Haain Kaun’ and its epic predecessor ‘Waqt’, I am all in favor of, and indeed very fond of the Happy and Huge Indian Family, as long as it is someone else’s, but I do have some pet peeves which I would like to enumerate and request these HHIFs to avoid, so that we can all build, as our very practical PM would say ‘Our National Character”. Briefly they are;

1 Shrieking Kids: Why do Indian parents allow their kids to shriek so much? Don’t they know a shrieking kid invariably grows up to be a shrieking adult who will continuously honk the horn in bumper to bumper traffic and play “Ye Duniya Pital Di” at the highest decibel level? Why so much noise? Why watch your kid throw a screaming fit and smile indulgently rather than give him one tight slap? Imagine if we just ensured our kids were better behaved? Think of the planet and the reduction in noise pollution!

2 Continuous updates on Facebook and Twitter : “My doll with my favorite woman; my mother” #familiesarethegreatest Click : Overweight and very pink baby in overweight and very green grandma’s lap next to pool. “Thank you for being by my side for the last 15 years” #mypartnermywife #notlookingadayolder Click : Woman of indeterminate age wearing her idea of ‘resort wear’, tight shorts and a frilly off shoulder top.
What is it with us? Why can’t we be in the moment? Maybe look at the birds around us which for a change are not pigeons or crows. Gaze at the softly flowing river. Enjoy the serenity of the here and now. I thought that is why we go on holidays? To disconnect from the real world for a brief respite?

3 Personal Space: It should be made mandatory that no human being will impinge on the 2.5 foot radius around another human being! At airports, at buffets, at marriages, wherever we stand in queues, we want to stick like a leech to the person in front of us! Why bhaiyya? Do you want to smell my perfume? Do you want to cuddle up with me? Does it give you a sense of security to practically hold onto my pallu? Do you see in me your long-lost-at-Kumbh-mela-sister?

Along with building toilets and teaching our sons to respect women and manufacturing what is currently being imported and not throwing garbage outside our homes , if we could add the above three points, I am confident it would go a long way in building a national character which we could all be proud of ! Please.

“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth”

I have an amazing sister who has taken it upon herself to fulfill the “Padhega India to Badhega India” directive as best as she can. So she teaches the household help of neighbors and friends in her building complex to read, write and speak English.

Recently I witnessed the ‘graduation’ ceremony of the students on having finished one session and before moving onto the next. 30 young girls and boys from the class had come dressed in their best, having spent the last many days nervously rehearsing the two- three sentences in English they were supposed to speak in front of the assembled guests as part of the proceedings.

It was a lovely and sweetly touching ceremony where each person came up; spoke their name, the village they had come from, and a line on their favorite activities. For many of them, their favorite pastime was playing with the children they were the minders of, indicating both their attachment and involvement with their young charges!
I gathered later on, that for those 30 seconds of going up on stage, they had rehearsed for hours, sometimes in the few precious moments they get to call their own and sometimes in groups. They had borrowed a toy mike to learn how to hold it right, the correct way to collect the certificate while shaking hands and also how to look into the video camera which was recording the event. Each had voluntarily contributed Rs 200 to ensure that they got a CD of their moment of glory! And when they managed to complete the sentences in perfect unbroken English the triumphant look on their face was utterly reminiscent of the look on the faces of our sporting heroes at the Commonwealth games on procuring a medal.

At the end of the ceremony while I was complimenting them on their desire to learn and to progress, because that’s what I saw in their tremendous effort, it was my mother who hit the nail on the head when she stood up to praise them on the fact that they had overcome what is considered to be one of the greatest fears human beings have – of speaking in front of an audience!

For these boys and girls who are forever in the shadow of their employers, who typically never speak unless spoken to, whose lot in life is to patiently stand and serve; for them to have demonstrated the courage to step out and speak on stage in a public function, in a language that was alien to them, showcased a rare courage that is worthy of the best soldier in an army. Salutations to them and the confidence only education can give us!

Comfort Vs Style

In my entire adult life I have struggled to find fashionable stuff to wear which is also comfortable or to put it another way, comfortable wear which is also the high fashion of the moment!

The two however don’t seem to coexist anywhere in the world at all! For some reason being fashionable necessary entails suffering from discomfort of the extreme degree – think skinny jeans (in which both my breathing and blood circulation seem to stop, even if I do manage to struggle into them, that is) or high heels which immediately give me vertigo and severe palpitations since I suffer from a fear of heights in any case!

All the clothes that are classified as high fashion expect you to first wear Spanx under them (for all the good boys reading this, Spanx is the equivalent of being mummified and wound up in a tight plastic bandage which prevents you from breathing while presumably also preventing any roll of flesh from making its presence felt). If you can get away from Spanx you end up wearing clothes which have various wires surreptitiously and cleverly entwined in the outfit, to hold various parts of your anatomy up or down as the case may be; which embarrassingly start beeping loudly at every security check you go through! Since this obviously replicates the effect of a bomb strapped to your body which you are trying to smuggle into the airport, all the security personnel milling around immediately jump up and watch you with narrow eyed suspicion until you sheepishly wind your way through the entire proceedings!

I thought I had finally found nirvana, at least with respect to the high heel problem, when I woke up one fine day to find out that while I was sleeping the erstwhile bathroom slippers had suddenly gotten invited to the top of the fashion world’s table! And everybody who was anybody was walking around in embellished Havianas of all colors and designs, with quite a few having an entire flower patch or a fruit salad concoction decorating their feet! It was indeed a joyous moment for me and I broke the bank buying up slippers of all colors until just as I was swanning about feeling very cool and happening AND comfortable for a change, in a jiffy, women switched to strutting around wearing 10 inch heels!

After being stared at snootily by the various stylish women in my office over several occasions, I had no choice but to replace my beloved Havianas (which had become even more comfortable through constant use by then) with footwear which vaguely resembled stylish heels. Cleverly I have taken to carrying the beloved H’s with me to slip into at anonymous places like airports where you can very easily ignore the stares of Ms Stylish standing next to you, but it’s not the same anymore I can tell you!

And of course when I gently ask people in the apparel industry; some of whom I know very intimately, as to when they will make comfortable jeans for women like me (who by the way Dear Apparel King have pocket loads of money to buy your wares unlike the skinny and anorexic teenager whom your designer is obviously targeting) I am told that ‘Mommy jeans’ for middle aged, overweight women like me are soon being made available! Mommy – jeans? Excuse me?

Through this blog I openly challenge all designers to exercise their creative brains, and marry comfort with style and then see their cash registers tinkling all day long! Till then I would urge them to at least not give rude names to the clothes, we of the voluptuous variety wear? Thank you!

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