Inktober 2017

After many many conversations with people on interesting perspectives of common challenges in an ever changing culturally and economically diverse society, I’ve decided to share a selected few visualised as illustrations accompanied by verses in my #inktober2017 series – Breakaway. While most of them aren’t unheard of, their impact spread over different levels is much larger than what I could imagine. As much as it has been a personal learning, I hope to be able to engage with more conversions that could unveil fresh ways of encountering these challenges.


Offering the young Kanya

Kumkum on auspicious days

She welcomed home 

Her neighbour’s daughter 

But not her own

That was aborted, killed.

When just a few weeks old,

Hoping it was better fate than

Being raised a girl in this world.

Day 1: Female Foeticide

While we have many auspicious occasions and rituals celebrating the sacred feminine, it is surprising to see that daughters and granddaughters are still not welcomed into the world simply because of their gender. India witnesses one of the highest female foeticide incidents in the world with an average of 2,300 girls killed in the womb every single day by gender selective abortion – mostly rooted in the unfortunately still prevalent practices of dowry, making daughters a default unaffordable economic burden. While it is encouraging to have measures from the government supporting education of the girl child like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao or savings schemes like Balika Samriddhi Yojana, many of the abortions continue to happen unreported. Further, when gender selective abortion is banned, there is a tendency of people flocking to other nations where these procedures are still legal, giving rise to what is termed ‘reproductive tourism’ solely to suit the preference for a son.


Earnest learning

Passionate work

& a good heart

Took the backseat

He was made 

To be all about 

The number of digits 

On his paycheque.

Day 2: Money over matter

A good friend was discussing with me recently about grooms being expected to have unnecessarily humongous salaries to the point where the boundaries separating essential living necessities from added conveniences are constantly shifting and blurring. For those like him who have grown up in the midst of years of war, or have come up from scratch, perhaps have their outlook of differentiating these more clearly. What is defined as ‘lower’ income has been associated with societal status and for being an eligible marriage candidate. Among youth in India, studies show that 65% of the youth between ages 22-25 are showing signs of early depression and lower levels of mental wellness being exposed to such pressures from different sources within and outside of their homes. What is disturbing to note is the fact that someone’s hard earned money is being taken for granted to be able to fulfill a bride’s personal splurging habits or other extravagant luxuries. While there are cases where this has been possible and willingly agreed upon by both, attaching much importance to such acts leaves behind a perceived threat of being unacceptable and worthless to others who may not fit this bill – leading to clinical depression and suicidal tendencies in severe cases. Isn’t being financially independent and making ends meet in itself to be appreciated? How about marrying for love for a change, or maybe compatibility, if not anything else?


Unable of being 

a mother

is not the one with 

an empty womb

but an empty heart.

Day 3: Motherhood and Adoption 

It takes much responsibility, care and love to raise a child. More so, an open mind and a full heart to adopt one raise him as one’s own. And while those wonderful folks enthusiastically willing to welcome an orphaned child into their home and bring him up as their own are open to this idea, it may not necessarily be the outlook shared by the extended family, neighbours or friends – who basically form the secondary network of people that the child is surrounded by as he grows up. An outward retaliation of this negative attitude towards adopted children, for no fault of their own, can hamper personal growth and self esteem levels very early on. The stigma associated with orphaned kids possibly being from a ‘lower caste’ or an unplanned pregnancy or rape, is quite rampant. With this narrow minded thinking, we fail to embrace a child for what he is – a young growing individual with immense potential of his own, a life that can be shaped with love, care and good upbringing from the early years, just like every other child. How much better things can get with realising that the process of adoption is not confined to the roles played by mothers or parents alone, but extending to all of us to create an environment for these children to grow, learn and thrive. Also, in the last few years, the Central Adoption Resource Authority or CARA has been working on making the adoption process more transparent and smooth, with specifics on how it works for single parents, couples, residents, non-Indian parents, and for older or special needs children. While there is scope for further improvement with the formal processes, what we can each hold ourselves responsible is to embrace this change within ourselves. And to all those women out there who have constantly battled painful personal health issues and being unable to conceive children, over which come a multitude of disturbing societal pressures, or for opting for adoption by choice, you are a rare bunch of the strongest and most beautiful souls we will get to see. The world needs more love, and more of your lot ❤️ 


In school, was it only

lessons learnt by heart, 

or moving to college,

about a graduation hat?

Or later at work, 

with a certificate course?

But what if you really loved

were in none of those?

Surely, there is time

to pursue skills that churn

work with the kind of joy

only you’ll yearn.

It is never to late

to learn something new.

Thought to be lead by fate,

but by more of you.

Day 4: Education and continued learning 

Being a graduate student in my art college made me see my own classroom in new light – with a wonderful diversity of enrolled students, each involved in exploring new learnings in their own way. Engineering and MBA grads back in college, having completed the perceived ‘safe’ courses and are hence permitted to try their hand at something they are actually interested in. College drop-outs from other courses that they might have been persuaded to take up, and which might have not worked out for them at all. Young moms barely reaching class after dropping off their kids to school. Working folks juggling between freelancing and devoting time aside for learning. Or successful entrepreneurs and businessmen taking a break from work to return to something they couldn’t pursue before in their earlier given circumstances. All this, part of being involved in a continuous learning process for career and personal growth in a fast-paced world turning everything obsolete in very short spans of time. How beautiful, the struggle to pursue learning for life itself! 


We bleed the same colour,

You and I.

Yet with this diversity 

To live by

That we fail to celebrate,

To look within,

And break free from

Confines of coloured skin

For in a beautiful mind

and a good heart, may we find

Beauty, self worth, life and joy,

The things that matter, to really live by,

For we bleed the same colour, 

You and I.

Day 5: Celebrating complexions 

I had spent the last few days checking out video tutorials on playing the Ukulele, a completely new instrument for me to attempt to learn, and every second minute of trying to get a new chord in place would be interrupted by a naive non-skippable ad assuring me with outmost confidence that I can now become ‘Fairer in 5 days’. If I can go by these claims, the results of this fairness exercise would be marked by an elderly woman taking the very randomly but surely present ‘nazar’ or evil eye off me. Or menfolk I pass by giving me a seemingly mesmerised second glance that goes on till I am at the end of the horizon. (Quite alarming for an introvert, really) Or seeing myself being heartily congratulated by successful people in their dapper business formals on an even more unrealistically successful boardroom meeting. All this in a supposed acknowledgment of my new better fairer self catalysing all my supposedly worthy life goals at a revolutionary pace that the planet has never witnessed before. Unfortunately a silly video is not the end of this narrow minded thinking. Art gallery walk throughs at an international exhibit had volunteers enthusiastically taking foreigners around and explaining details, while a couple of us with questions were brushed aside-how our brown Indian skin would make us any less a learner compared to our white counterparts is still unclear to me. Within India itself, the unnatural obsession with fairness is rampant from instances like grandparents calling to check on if their new born grandchild is fair, rather than if the mother and child are healthy, to matrimonial sites filing suitability of brides and grooms on the criteria of ‘fair skin’ or ‘medium fair complexion'(?!). How about celebrating colour for a change, and focussing on creating a good life for ourselves and others?


We are silent conversers. 

We are familiar strangers.

We are alone together.

Day 6: Support systems 

There are people living with their own personal difficulties where everyday is a fight and the worst is expected unannounced at any moment. And the next day, the fight starts all over again. There are so many phases in life that we can’t truly understand unless we experience them ourselves. But we can try. To anyone out there with someone around you battling difficult personal or medical situations but not knowing what to say or do, and therefore thinks it is best to stay away till tough times pass, please don’t. If you’ve asked what you can do and aren’t given any clear direction in reply, do what you can anyway. Leave groceries at their door. Bring coffee. Turn up for a hug when you pass by and leave. Offer to take turns to watch over kids, or grandparents, or while they take a nap. Ask them if they need help in paying bills or in getting to the hospital. Or if they want to talk, or just sit together in silence. Please don’t assume that you are on the same journey as everyone else. Or ask ‘What’s wrong?’ just for a curiosity to know but do nothing. Because sometimes, it’s not about enlightening someone to believe in sunshine and rainbows, but about a wonderful person who didn’t deserve any of it.


What one would need

To master an art

Is neither age nor gender

But a passionate heart.

Day 7: Learning beyond gender

I happened to overhear a conversation between two mothers after a fine evening of watching kathak performances, where one of them seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed watching how artists unraveled stories on stage with their performances. She happily exclaimed that she would want to see if her child would be interested in learning the same, which her friend affirmed was a good idea. And in which case she would undoubtedly consider a good dance school or instructor around for him, and by this time her friend was more than alarmed. Trying to express the same, she insisted that since it was about a male child, Kathak would be a misfit as it ‘seems more suited for girls’. Following which the conversation proceeded to trying out classes in breakdance, but then there was the question of if it would be considered ‘dignified’. A mutual agreement was reached on getting the son to try out the keyboard, a fair negotiation between being a perpetually crazy rockstar-ish guitarist types and more modern compared to the harmonium, a now mute family heirloom probably lying forgotten in a cobwebbed attic corner. It is surprising to see how the choice of classes went about beginning with what the child would be interested in learning to what would be perceived of the child when well versed with the chosen art form! From Kathak virtuoso and Padma Vibhushan awardee Pandit Birju Maharaj to one of India’s first female freestyle hip hop/street dancers Priya Lisa Gonsalves, the deftness in their performances reflect years of passion, toil and failures bringing them to great heights. So why bend a learner’s interest with gender?


Why should she be

Shamed for the stain,

While gruelling through days

Of cramps and period pain?

The natural life-giving cycle,

Is far from a bane,

Maybe a reminder to respect 

Her strength and beauty again?

Day 8: Stigma over menstruation

I’m shocked by the number of women at family gatherings and other occasions constantly questioning school going girls, or their mothers in front of them on if they have reached the onset of menstruation. Mostly in comparison to another relative’s daughter or one of a rather unknown acquaintance. If yes, the discussion proceeds to marriage with a tentative list of known boys around the same age group, and to childbirth. If not, it continues to dietary supplements or rituals that they believe will ‘help’. Is this creating an atmosphere of unnecessary pressure around young girls, who instead need to know how each of their bodies grow at their own pace? And a need to be assured that education, work, financial independence and aspirations should take the front seat instead of being treated like a reproduction machine? At the same gathering I was pointed out a pimple on my cheek and warned that I should manage to somehow hide it under thick layers of makeup, lest someone discovered it and concluded that I was ‘matured’. Scientifically why it would be a colossally shocking revelation to know that a girl in her mid twenties is in the phase of experiencing menstrual cycles every month, I still don’t know. And because many seem ignorant of this to be treated just for how beautiful it is as a natural biological cycle, a health indicator and a life-giving process, it is buried in stigma and superstition. This is also largely a cause of girls dropping out of high school among economically backward and lesser educated communities, a huge set back to education of girls. Further, the classification of something as essential as sanitary napkins as a ‘luxury’ item under the new GST rules being implemented from this year in India has caused its price rise, pushing basic menstrual hygiene products further away from being affordable and practical for those below middle class status in the society. At this rate, how long will it take to raise awareness levels?


Pity her not

When her mind is waning

With the pain of hurt and loss

Weighing down her heart.

Abandon her not,

For her apparent incapabilities

Of no conscious thoughts.

Will it’s cure ever see daylight?

Pity me instead,

That my young heart is slow,

In sailing through surges of tears

Flooding through a broken home

Over strewn wreckage and moss laden hope,

That you might come back, someday.

Day 9: Mental Health Awareness 

Ever shared your space with someone suffering from clinical depression, hallucinations, schizophrenia or dementia? The challenges faced by both the caretakers and the patients are immense, and what makes it worse is a completely unnecessary negative perception of approaching counsellors, psychiatrists or mental health experts-and how this lack of awareness or action or both result in tearing down families and relationships. It seems quite obvious, for instance, that we approach a dentist to check on tooth aches or an ENT specialist to have a persistent flu examined. There are often personal challenges which seem to have no definite solution no matter how much we ponder over them, and in situations of extreme emotional connections and self-doubt, a good counsellor is a great way to discover an impartial perspective and a way forward to counter these issues. Annually the 10th of October is observed as World Mental Health Day, and living through times witnessing unfortunate Blue Whale deaths with kids to reckless gun firing sprees by adults, it becomes all the more important for us to watch over ourselves and others for symptoms of low self esteem and depression early enough and seek help from the right people before being engulfed completely. Dedicated to all the docs out there proving the negative stigma on mental health wrong with their dedication and patience in individual therapies, the caregivers for supplementing efforts in the recovery process, and the hustlers who have a new lease of life to live to the fullest.

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Between creativity and commerce

Yesterday was special. Yesterday reminded me of chaos and struggle involved with pursuing art forms when surrounded by those whom it holds neither heart nor soul. More so, about parents, elders and friends who have cut down their time in this struggle of their individual pursuits, only to be able to devote the same effort and energy into ensuring that the interests of their children and the younger generation take priority. Yesterday brought together both young and old to the stage for us to sway into a delightful dimension of expressive melodies, and stood as an ode to the spirit of learning – the kind that makes one experience and appreciate the unending beauty and emotion in this world, while making one a better person from the heart. Yesterday made me believe that stealing away a few minutes for ourselves with our art practice everyday, somehow, is all it could take for a sense of inner peace, self rejuvenation and a content life in our days furiously  trampling upon us with its inevitable pressing necessities. For it has been nearly 20 years seeing Amma get back on stage with the Saraswathi Veena, and I have never seen her look more radiant and beautiful. Yesterday was special.

 

Thank you for freezing this beautiful memory for us, Prashanth Sharma Photography. You’re the best. And a heartfelt kudos to the Indiranagar Sangeeta Sabha, School of Performing Arts, for consistently doing a fantastic job of imbibing learning and interest in classical arts to students of diverse age groups and backgrounds. The weekend was a delight with this Annual Day program!

When you tell people you want to do your graduation in Visual Arts

It’s that time of the year again with students awaiting admissions to colleges and enrolling for courses of interest. And it’s surprising that year after year, students wanting to pursue unconventional or creative fields end up confronting unnecessary questions, one too many. That said, we are fortunate to have met talented writers, photographers, artists, fashion designers and a host of other creative folks who have shared learnings of their craft and nudged us to look beyond veils of these confrontations, and that has personally been a striking inspiration. More power to you folks! Meanwhile, here’s a tiny doodled series on general responses of folks towards students in the similar pursuit, not sure if we have more ridiculously interesting ones to add to these questions?

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On the Nandi Betta Trail

nandi1

A revelation enroute to Nandi Betta

A tad bit later than our scheduled time, we were off riding to Nandi Betta over the weekend begun with a pleasant weather, not too hot as we whizzed past into the outskirts of Bangalore, away from fancy apartments, office buildings and deafening honking with slow moving traffic in some places, and into the Bangalore-Devanahalli highway. A quick breakfast at Nandi Grand on the way proved to be a great choice for the lip-smacking Sambar and tasty Shavige Uppittu we relished before we took off to reach Nandi Betta. A painted deity on a rocky hillside in Devanahalli (you’ll find it behind the Indian Paratha company) caught our attention with its stark blue and yellow colours against the sober brown surfaces, we decided to ride up and explore. And very early on the ride, this was our next best stop as we beheld the sight of the magnificent Shree Nakoda Avati 108 Parshwanth Jain Temple, after walking up from the sheltered parking area.

As the one of the temples within this sanctuary is still under construction, we had the wonderful opportunity of watching artisans meticulously carving on marble pillars forming exquisite patterns etched to perfection. The temple surfaces and statues are ravishing, and the left edge of the sanctuary houses a temple which opens to a little pillared courtyard with a ravishing view. After a delightful round of the sanctuary we headed back to the roads accompanied by vast stretches of land with cultivated flowers and grapes interspersed with small shops and the humble roadside worship spaces with a Hindu deity or two.

Hello hill fortress!

nandi2

The ride up to the charming hill fortress Nandi Betta was smooth with freshly tarred roads sheltered by trees throughout the hairpin bends give you a great view of the elevated land, apart from spotting gigantic Eucalyptus trees, monkeys and plenty of birds. Arriving at Tipu’s Fort was relieving in more ways than one, especially as you’d be dying to stretch your legs. You will find a parking area as you enter the fort, followed by stairs to walk up further. We found an unusually large number of vendors selling water, juice, ice cream, cut fruits and veggies and other quick bites, perhaps cashing on the festival rush. Oh, and is anyone else a fan of cacti? You’ll totally love the ones you’ll come across as you climb up from the entrance. The climate at the hilltop has been of avid interest to horticulturists as these forests act as substrates for cloud condensation, highly favourable for the growth of moist plant and animal species. The Horticulture Department is working on setting up a large-scale exotic botanical garden among other renovations. My disappointment was scores of names scratched onto the fort wall surfaces, and on the large cacti stems as well. Further from here, you can ditch the cemented steps for a while and head up the hilltop through the foresty clearing an ideal spot for bird watchers and photographers- we definitely spotted Flycatchers and Warblers. Beware of monkeys snatching eatables and water bottles though!

It was annoying to have a bunch of youngsters storm into these clearings where many were engrossed quietly spotting birds, only to scream out and make loud intrusive noises in the otherwise peaceful natural setting. Not sure if staff appointed to dissuade this behavior, like the ones regulating traffic at the fort entrance would help or if people need to be sensitized to respecting our rich biodiversity and environment – and so thought, perhaps- the flock of flycatchers that flew away with the manmade ruckus. We reached the Amruth Sarovara, a pristine water body formed by perennial springs enclosed on its edges by steps (temple pond, also referred to as Kalyani, Pushkarini, Tirtha, etc), in which large fish swam forming ripples in the tree laden reflections. The bamboo tree houses greeted us as we reached higher up, but were unfortunately closed for entry unlike the adjacent children’s play area teeming with children, adults and the occasional monkey exploring someone’s backpack.

On top of the ascend

nandi3

The final leg – walking up to the Yoga Nandeeshwara Temple, constructed by the Chola dynasty and dedicated to Lord Shiva – was flooded by devotees and vendors with carts of fruit, water and other snacks without a waste disposal system to accommodate the capacity of the generated scraps, it was extremely disheartening to see paper and plastic strewn all over the alluring hilltop. Also surprising to see the ‘Gili Shastra’ folks or soothsayers using parakeets to pick out cards and read the future, as I am not sure if it is a legal practice. Jolting through the crowd we reached the sunrise view point which is an absolute delight to walk through and be mesmerized with surreal puffs of clouds and misty air against the lush green landscapes and brown hills. Walking back is the Tipu’s Drop, known to be the spot where ruler Tipu Sultan had the condemned prisoners thrown to death. This compelling but fatal monument has a spectacular view of the hilly landscape it oversees, and these two spots seemed to be the hottest selfie spots for visitors.

Our walk downwards was blissful, flanked by the gorgeous bursts of seasonal yellow Tabebuia and  lavender Jacaranda blooms, the trees interspersed with sheltered spaces for resting. We rode back for a late lunch at the Indian Paratha Company, (just ahead of the Jain temple we explored during our onward journey) before gazing through sunsets reflected on glass windows we passed by on our way back, while I reflected on the day’s experience.

It seems to have become an ‘in’ thing to post pictures of travels although I am unsure how many of us are travelling with responsibility towards the environment. A bunch of us hope to have a clean up drive to clear out the plastic and paper waste to the capacity we can, both at the hills and within the city if possible, and we would love to know if there are volunteers up for the same.

A date with Jonathan Koshy

No mushy candle-light dinners here, as the weekend swooshed between pages of my freshly autographed copy of the book. Commonwealth Prize nominated author and 6-times Pushcart Prize nominee Murzban Shroff launched ‘Waiting for Jonathan Koshy’ (published by Independent Thinkers, INR 295, 186 pages) at a private gathering with the lively Sumeet Shetty, President of Literati, India’s largest corporate book club hosting it at the British Council Library on October 1, 2016.

 

‘Waiting for Jonathan Koshy’ by the ad-man turned writer is the second book in his trilogy of writings set in Bombay. ‘Breathless in Bombay’- the first in the series, was subjected to court cases on the mistaken context of one of its regional lanuistic terms, and ironically, the book won many prestigious accolades abroad at the same time. Sensing these contradictory facets, Murzban weaves a larger than life personality dwelling in discrepancies in this character-driven piece. Explored through the eyes of his closest friends Anwar, Prashant, Dhruv and Gussy, we experience Jonathan’s audacious, outrageous and yet vulnerable presence.

 

The narrative brims with Bandra’s heavily contradictory essence, sheltering vastly different faiths and economies as an aggregation that is intensely shocking, witty, idiotic, right and wrong, all at once. There is a lively description of Anwar’s residence in Pali Hill, the default adda for scores of explorations and journeys, where friends create memories out of their own free will. Jonathan jokes,”104 Pali Hill is like Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.”

 

Jonathan is in murky waters of his turbulent personal life from a broken family. He manages to help friends, acquaintances, prostitutes, their kids and many who he encounters on the way; everyone except himself. For instance, he convinces the madam of the brothel to allow for a small party for Shabnum, the prostitute who had broken down to him, for a memorable birthday surprise. Trysts with Kavita Desai heading Manshakti, a non-profit organization counseling prostitutes and their children, inspires Jonathan to volunteer for constructive and meaningful work to uplift the boys there. He is conscious of a sense of responsibility dawning on him, devoting his time in teaching them to remain updated with recent happenings from news, sports and history channels on TV, engaging them in debates, imparting basic knowledge on Word, Excel and the internet, and everyone’s favourite – his drama classes.

 

There are entertaining instances that can leave you smiling baffled, like when Jonathan turns into a fictitious Prem Kotiyal, son of a shipping tycoon from London, a non-resident Indian who was a life member at the club, paving the way to getting himself and his friends live it up by the luxury poolside of “The Palms”, a club patronized by the upper crust of Bandra. Or when he feigns being a journalist working on a tip off to report the drug-ridden rave party that the cops had just bust into, covering up for being part of it in the first place. Add to this his exile from home, his distraught family, an inconsolable actress, two henchmen, from a politician and a multitude of interesting characters and situations.

 

On varied perception of people, Jonathan says, ‘This country is an original wonderland. It never fails to amaze me.’ For the creatives that he conceptualized using the visual of a snake in their HIV awareness campaign, the sponsors were impressed with it being a universal concept that instilled fear and encouraged people to take action. However, when the symbol was launched, people came up and prayed to it with folded hands and lowered heads, the context being that locals in India worshipped the snake, and had turned it into a symbol of their devotion. There seems to be a parallel to the people he meets, and the community at large itself, as in his words – ‘India is a woman, a puzzling, enigmatic woman. Try as you might, you can never figure her out. You can love her, yes, or feel frustrated by her, but you can never fully understand her.’

 

Personal demons that constantly catch up with him leave him with sticky decisions that are reflected upon later, like backing off from his otherwise great relationship with Ruchita wondering if he took the right decision leaving her when she had got pregnant. His strong feeling of burdening himself being in a serious commitment lead him to leaving the hapless girl left out quite suddenly. What brings the book together beautifully are the importance of all the minuscule acts of great love and care in our relationships that are otherwise taken for granted, like the stance taken by his mother Karuna Koshy after Priti uses her former husband Thampu Koshy for her professional benefit and then divorces him, leaving him shattered and suicidal. It lets Jonathan reflect on prostitutes he encounters, doing in the role of being mothers so that their kids can leave a better life, and people like Kavita, relentlessly fighting her hatred for a father who abandoned them, in working for the upliftment of the society in all the ways she can.

 

My takeaway from this reading is the witty and spirited attitude Jonathan rebounds adverse situations with, coupled with his dynamic sense of humour. And the journey, the passing, emphasizing redemption for those who persist till the end. Also on the ideation and effort behind the book itself, every land accommodates mindsets of all kinds of people, and that shouldn’t be a setback for any unbiased creative work, I think to myself as I await the third book.