Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Book Lover's Narnia

The way to a woman's heart is through the bookstore.
Image Copyright:
Melbourne, where I am currently based, is well-known for its Arts Precinct, a part of which also includes the Literary Arts. And when we think of literary festivals and fundraisers, how can books be far behind? So, when Sudha Ganapati of 'My Favourite Things' suggested Melbourne bookstores as a topic for a guest post, I couldn't resist! Sudha is a warm, friendly soul with a varied set of interests including and not limited to, travel, reading, music and photography. She also runs an online book club 'The Sunday Book Club'. Do hop over to her blog to read my post! You can find the link here.
I would love to hear your views!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Man or Material? Who to blame?

More than 5 years ago, horrified at watching the events unfold on US national television, I had penned a post on the Virginia Tech shootings and my despair at events back home. Click here to read it. Since then a lot has changed. The Bush administration made way for Obama, Osama Bin Laden was killed, India won the World Cup and more. But as far as massacres go, nope, nothing much seems to have changed. The world witnessed yet another horrific school shooting yesterday in the state of Connecticut. Click here to know more.

The Americans fought for and against gun control back then and they continue to do it now. A lot has been said about why guns shouldn’t be made available to civilians. Individuals on the other side of the line have also vehemently pushed for stricter controls but not a ban - quoting the need for self-defense, hunting , yada yada. So do we say the gun is to blame? Ban or control gun usage to civilians and the problem goes away? 

Some 6000+ odd miles away, on the other side of the globe, on the very same day, a man went ballistic and slashed 22 elementary school children with a knife. No gun. This was not the first instance. Earlier in 2010, another man did the same thing. And there have been more precedents. Click here to know more.

I am all for gun control. And then, I am all for knife control too. While we're at it, lets hide the garden rakes, tube lights and anything within sight which can be used as weapons of mass murder. Where does it stop? It pains me but it angers me more on how reckless men can go around murdering innocent children. Yes, with gun control, we definitely would be lowering the odds of this happening, lowering the easy availability of such weapons of mass destruction. But somehow I fear that it won’t stop it. 

While the psychology of the US school shooter is unknown, it is said that job losses and frustration over the same triggered the killings in China. Tolerance and patience levels within humans are falling at a very alarming rate. And that is why, simply blaming the material won’t work because its the man who ultimately pulled the trigger. 

Like in the case of suicide victims. Personally I frown upon people who take the step. But sitting here, its easy for me to pass judgement that they're taking the easy way out and leaving their families to bear the horror and face the truth and bleed for them. But I also accept that jumping from a 20 floor building is not easy. I wonder what kind of helplessness drives people to take that extreme step, what is they find beyond repair that they're ready to jump to their deaths or slit their wrists and die a slow painful death than face the problems? 

Somewhere a thread ties back to these people too. Mass murderers. In the shooting case, I wish there were counselors who had spotted the warning signs. Most times you would expect the parents to do that. But in this case, if the shooter shot his father first and then his mother and others - aided by his brother - then its obvious that something was wrong in the family and how could the warning signs have been heeded then? In the case of China slashing - the recent one and the ones before - frustrations on losing their jobs drove them to such despair. I just feel extremely saddened by the turn of events and that with every passing year, it only seems to be getting worse. It’s as if for every person, we need a counselor, a shoulder, a fallback mechanism. And we have too less of them. The thing is how do you identify what events warrant paying more attention to people’s behaviour and attitude? 

Live and Let Live; a message to the Connecticut shooters
I would love to hear your views!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Quirky Travels

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting an esteemed blogger, Rachna from Rachna Says. Apart from the fact that she’s smart, savvy and fun-loving, what I admire in her is that she isn't afraid to speak her mind; be it simply to share her thoughts on myriad experiences of life or to stand up against injustice, or even to take the first step in resolving a conflict. Her posts reflect this very nature of hers. Today she writes on some funny and interesting travel experiences, her observations about fellow Indians abroad and what it means to carry certain rituals back home!


Travel tales and quirky incidents
I love traveling. I have done loads of solo traveling across India in my job in brand management. For a single girl, I traveled at odd hours and walked miles every day with my Sales Representatives traveling through Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Karnataka and Delhi. I loved exploring the cities in the bargain and have multiple tales from my journeys that I look back upon very fondly. The SR at Amritsar took me home where I witnessed some hearty Punjabi hospitality in the form of piping hot ‘Alu Parathas’ fed to me lovingly by his grandma. He also took me to Golden Temple and Jalianwala Baug, which was a surreal experience.  Punjabi men are the most chivalrous.  I regularly encountered men helping out with the luggage and then walking off not so much as waiting for a thank you. Their women love colors and make up. I once met a Distributor’s mother wearing a fluorescent green ‘Patiala’ with bright makeup in the day time. Ah, the delights of traveling!   

After marriage, I went to live in the US. My husband is the type who is permanently infected with the travel bug. He is your essential backpacker. But, I am the organized type. I can’t live in shoddy places or travel impromptu. I prefer well-planned outings. But this is not a travelogue. This is about my experiences while traveling and living abroad. Now, haven’t we heard time and time again about how Indians stare at foreigners? Yes, it can be quite irritating. I can’t imagine how exposed the white-skinned and black-skinned folks feel among the “staring” Indians. 

Now, as a culture, most Americans and Europeans smile at a person they see on the street and acknowledge you with a hello or some small talk. When I first went to live in the US, I was quite baffled when a burly man gave me a big smile and yelled, “How are you doing?” I smiled back very apprehensively. As you know, good Indian girls don’t smile at strange men ;-). My husband was quite amused, and he explained that it was part of cultural etiquette there. From then on, I took to it like fish to water; smiling and talking to everyone I met – in the supermarket checkout lines, on the streets, in the doctor’s clinic, at the book store etc. It is actually quite a lovely gesture. But I can only shiver to imagine the repercussions of doing it back home in India. 

Imagine me giving huge smiles to the watchman, plumber, electrician, driver and other helpers. For all you know, the neighbors’ antennas will go up, and some of them might come reporting to hubby. I may also end up giving wrong signals to our helpers who might take madam’s smiles a bit more seriously than required. Smiling or talking enterprisingly to your friends’ husbands will cause malicious rumors spreading like wild fire; and their wives cutting you off from their social circuits. And smiling at a total stranger, God forbid, can get good Indian girls abducted or much worse. So, you understand why we don’t smile at strangers or sometimes even people we see day in and day out. The funny part, coming back to my US stay, was that the Indians would be super enthusiastic yelling out their hellos to foreigners but with other Indians, we went back to our gloomy selves.

Now, let’s get back to the staring bit. Yes, we stare when we see white people. It is hard for most of us to comprehend how someone can look so ahem white. I mean do they bathe in Surf or Nirma? But guess what? Even browns get stared at!  I was subjected to loads of staring myself. A few years back when we visited the Netherlands, a country that is really unused to seeing browns, we had some rather hilarious experiences. Now, in the US, we lived in California, which is almost overtaken by Indians. We do everything there that we do in India including wearing Indian clothes.  You can gauge the comfort level of Indians there by the fact that I was greeted by a lady dressed in a nightgown in the laundry room. I came back complaining to my husband about her decency, when he patiently explained that “nightie” was a ‘dayee’ for many South Indians. Of course, I experienced that first hand when I came to live in Bangalore. Sorry for digressing, so I had carried a few salwars with me on the trip to the NL. I had even carried a sari on impulse. Every time I wore a salwar kameez and went out, I had a few people staring intently at me not even bothering to blink. I clearly remember one guy walking past and then retracing his steps to fall in line with me all the while staring at me with a smile. The bindi used to fascinate them a lot. For them, I was this exotic creature straight out of a museum walking on their streets. Besides they were quite simply baffled with browns. Now where have these people originated from, I could sort of hear them thinking. A few people tried speaking to me in Spanish too. A friend who had taken us around on some sightseeing was asked about the origin of ‘these’ exotic people. My husband certainly did not enjoy all the staring and pointedly told me not to wear salwars and stick to the basic western clothing. But, I did not find the staring offensive. It helps that Dutch men are really good-looking, and it was not derogatory; it was mostly out of curiosity. I actually loved my stay there. Most people were genuinely friendly and nice. And, I was not uncomfortable with the attention.

But when we lived in the Scotland, I recall an experience of once having a family having breakfast at our hotel. Their young son pointed a finger at me and yelled “Moslem.”  Yes, I remember wearing a salwar kameez. That unnerved me a bit. I turned around to see the family looking at me very oddly. I have generally found foreigners pretty well mannered, but these guys did not seem very friendly. The overall Scottish experience wasn't so bad. Scots are not as friendly as the other Europeans or Americans. And there was this stocky man at British immigration who was downright nasty. He kept me waiting in line even though I was traveling with a toddler. And, he exhibited the stiff upper lip attitude of the British while speaking to me. But before that in the flight from Bangalore to London, I had a wonderful young British man, who was seated with my son and me. He was getting back home from a vacation in India. He was gushing to me about the lovely time he had. He also helped me with Sid, playing games with him and teaching him how to color while I caught a nap. The flight was very pleasant because of his company. So, can we really slot people as nasty or good, starers or non-starers? To my mind, what makes a difference is our own exposure to all the amazing people and cultures that our wonderful world offers that offers us an insight to look beyond the obvious. The more we partake of the exposure, the more tolerant, friendly and worldly wise we become.

Does this deter me from traveling? Hell No! I love going to new places and meeting new people. I guess being aware of cultural quirks is helpful when traveling away from one’s country.  What have your experiences been?

I would love to hear your views!

Monday, December 3, 2012

IFW Edition 3: A Cruel Twist of Fate

What happens when an upcoming politician, who's all set to turn a minister finds out that his wife of 2 years was a patient at a mental health facility prior to their wedding? What happens when this politician’s wife chances upon a photograph depicting an illicit relationship between her husband and an unknown woman? With just a few days to go for their second anniversary and his swearing-in ceremony, what turn of events do these discoveries lead to?

Read my entry to the Indifiction Workshop’s third edition here. Conceptualized by two popular bloggers TF and C. Suresh, Indifiction is a workshop for writers interested in fiction. Every edition’s winners define the succeeding plot and judge the next edition’s entries. The winners of the previous round; Radha Sawana, Medha Kapoor and Leo would be judging this round. The plot has primarily been coined by Leo and can be accessed here

I would love to hear your views!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Don't Judge Me!

My fingers race across the keyboard as I type up an article about life insurance. To my left, two Australian students - a boy and a girl possibly in their early twenties discuss Financial Accounting going by the title of the books strewn out in front of them. Directly across from me at the table, sits an Asian man solving multiple choice questions in a textbook. I cannot make out if he’s Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean. The four of us are immersed in our work, the only sounds being the discussion of the students and a few sniffles every now and then from the Asian guy, none of which seem to disturb any of us. I notice an elderly heavyset shabbily dressed man sporting a long white beard make his way to our table. Seating himself at the head of the table, between me and the other Asian, he proceeds to spread out some newspapers and some papers from a bulging folder. Suddenly he mumbles something to me. Unable to hear him clearly, I ask him if he needs anything. He leans toward me conspiratorially, yet in a loud enough voice so everyone at the table can hear him says something to the effect of ‘That Asian man is sniffling. I hate people who sniffle. It seems to be a cultural thing.’ Suddenly, everyone at our table goes quiet. The man continues. ‘Asian countries seem to have a very high level of tolerance towards such unhygienic things. I know people spit, they trash the roads.’. I am not sure if the statement is directed towards me or if he thinks he can kill two birds with one stone. I recover from my dazed state to defend the Asian saying he might not be doing that intentionally, maybe he has an allergy or is catching a cold. Unfazed, the man continues with his rant. 

Chaos erupts as the Asian questions his reference to the word ‘culture’ and then launches an offensive attack picking on the man’s own sense of hygiene suggesting instead that he’s the one who smells and who should be taking a shower. He calls out the Aussie on his suspicion that his disgust seems to be stemming not from the sniffling but from something much more deep rooted than that. Swearwords are freely exchanged. I try to show my defiance against the Aussie too supporting the Asian man who seems well educated, who had been minding his own business, and was calm and composed up until then. I hate confrontations of any kind and I do my best to avoid them. Plus, I cannot deny the fact that at the end of the day, I am an outsider in this foreign land despite the fact that there are arguably more number of Asians residing here than Australians. Do these emotions make me weak and cause my defensive arguments to sound feeble to my own ears?

I am pleasantly surprised when I find the two Aussie students also supporting us, showing their repugnance at the Aussie man’s statements and summoning the library staff to get the man to leave their table. The Aussie finally resigning himself to the fact that he won’t find a supportive audience at our table moves elsewhere but not before he  points his finger at the Asian man yelling ‘You people come here to study and you rip our country off. I fought for my country. But what did you do!’. As he moves away he defends himself stating that he is not a racist and he doesn’t care about language or the color of one’s skin, but the damage has been done.  

Children teach us the way to acceptance and tolerance. Say No to Racism.
Image source: Front.Moveon. Org
The Aussie students try to comfort the Asian man and show their aversion towards such racist people. With his exit, there’s silence at our table again but a deep mental unrest too and the episode leaves me shaken to the core. I had heard of racism being rampant in Australia but this was the first time I was witnessing it.I think about the politically driven agendas back home too which provoke the masses to drive out all non-Maharashtrians from Maharashtra. We talk about racism being prevalent in foreign nations, but that isn’t this racism too? Be it domestic or international, how can we profess to be an intelligent race of people, how can be we evolve as a species if we cannot even be tolerant of other cultures?  One can learn a lot from the kids in the picture, don't you think? If you had been in my place, how vehemently would you have stood up against the unwarranted verbal attack?

I would love to hear your views!
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