Tag Archives: India

Respectful & Necessary: India’s Daughter

I am posting this on March 9, 2015. A regular Monday. Rape is not just an International Women's Day issue. It is an everyday-of-the-year issue.

Death and Birth of Nirbhaya

On the night of December 16 2012 a 23-year-old woman, a medical student, was gang raped by 6 men in a moving bus in Delhi. She had boarded the bus with her male friend after watching a movie. There was no one else in the bus but them and a group of intoxicated men who were out for a “party”. An altercation between the woman’s male companion and the group led to his beating and her brutal rape. All the while the bus kept circling a strip of highway. The rapists then dumped her and her friend, naked, by the side of the road into the cold Delhi winter night. She died a few days later in the hospital of her wounds. The doctors were surprised that she had lasted as long as she had, given the extent of internal organ damage that she had suffered.

On December 17 2012 when the news started circulating about the horrifying rape and its shocking details young Delhi-ites took to the streets demanding justice for ‘Nirbhaya’, as the young woman was metaphorically named to keep her identity safe. Nirbhaya means “without fear”. The demonstrators cried for justice for rape victims, for equal rights and equal freedom for Indian women everywhere.

(c) Ramesh Lalwani CC BY-SA 2.0

(c) Ramesh Lalwani CC BY-SA 2.0

The fire spread to other major cities of India. All this is very reminiscent of chapters from our history books on the Indian Independence Movement, and it rightly should because we, Indian women, are still fighting for our independence from the Patriarchal Raj.

The controversial India’s Daughter

When I first learnt that the incredibly insightful documentary series, BBC4’s Storyville, will be premiering a documentary film-“India’s Daughter“-on the Nirbhaya rape case on March 8, to coincide with International Women’s Day, I was nothing less than proud. I was proud of being a citizen of a country which was open to unbiased documenting of an incident that had cast such bad light on its gender values for the world to see; that was mature enough to revisit the trauma, not to rekindle pain, but to educate; was unafraid to expose its weakness in order to give voice to its weakest. Having been a long time viewer of Storyville documentaries and appreciative of its programming quality I knew that the film would be well done (to say the least). I marked the date on my calendar, sent out a tweet about it as a ‘to whomever it may concern’ (as I thought it should concern everybody), and went to bed.

Over the next couple of days I picked up on some odd goings-on. I caught snippets of Twitter chat on…the idiocy of giving airtime to rapists…disrespect to society…the commercial interests of foreign channel…ban of a documentary…

No, it could not be!

Quick searches on Google and Twitter led me to these outrageous headlines,

Read article by clicking here.
Read article by clicking here.
Read article by clicking here.
Read article by clicking here.

My pride in my nation was replaced by bewilderment which soon gave way to anger. It seems we are not a rational country, we are an emotional one. The ruling party of India, BJP (which recently cut expenditure on its initiative for rape crisis centre by 92.6%!) was extremely annoyed by BBC4’s documentary and banned it from being aired in India.  The reasons for the ban against the film as a whole are superficial, ironically mocking their own logic:

“…rationale that the ban was in the interests of justice and public order as the film “created a situation of tension and fear amongst women” and the convicts would use the media to further his case in the appeal that was subjudice…”

(as summarised by the Editors Guild of India in its public appeal for revoking the ban)

If a convict’s statement of his innocence is considered to be true just because it was on television and on no other merit then  our Judiciary clearly doesn’t know how to conduct its business. I think it’s insulting and shocking that that is how much faith the Executive and Legislative branches of our government have on its most precious democratic institution. #JudgesAreNot Stupid.

As the ban was announced the public became aware of the aspect of the film that had stirred up the controversy: giving a convicted rapist (who was driver of the bus), Mukesh Singh, a public platform to profess his views on rape. If you thought that was soul cringing then how about dedicating film footage to the defense lawyers, (so-called) educated Indian men from higher social and financial classes, whose arcane ideas of female decency and role in Indian society weren’t so far away in their essence from that of the rapist’s notions. Now that struck a sensitive nerve. While many applauded the dissolution of the thin veneer of modernisation that Indian society boasts at any given opportunity, thousands took to online forums to voice their anger against the presentation of the film. The director of the film, Leslee Udwin fled the country in fear of arrest and BBC4 decided to air the film early (in the UK) on March 4 stating that the issue had been handled responsibly and refusing to bow down to external pressure. A BBC effigy was burnt in a protest in Varanasi, a sacred city for Hindus as a warning to BBC.

The key lessons that make India’s Daughter necessary

I didn’t want to enter the debate without first seeing India’s Daughter in its entirety since placing judgement on anything seen or heard out of context is much too similar to high school drama for me and I swore to stay away from all that the day I graduated high school.

The film makes a compelling case for facing the evil spread of the cancer that is gender inequality“.

Although it is the rapist’s voice that has stirred so much controversy making it seem as though that is what the documentary is all about it in fact makes up only for a fraction of the film. Yes, I knew beforehand what he could say in his defense. We’ve been given excuses for rape for a long time and they have come to be used as scare tactics/advice/disguise for misogyny: girl was “under-dressed”; was out late; was “mixing with boys” and other such banalities. So when I considered his statements they did not shock me. I was certainly angry. On the contrary I am surprised by people’s shock at Mukesh Singh’s unrepentant stance. Even those who have seen the documentary and reluctantly appreciate it seem to not understand the impact of the film.

Rape is about power, a misplaced idea of power. Power is the real source of the evil here, as is the case in many other circumstances. (I wonder how many people realize this.) Singh’s statements make this abundantly clear. He still feels powerful because he believes he is right. He believes he is right because we live in a society that propagates the same ideas. Society however does not condone Singh’s and his friends’ chosen expression of power (rape), which surprises Singh because he thinks he was acting within the rights given to him by society. That is a crucial message that hits home and makes the documentary necessary: Indian society as we know it right NOW gives POWER to men and not to women.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

– Lord Acton

Also, I can’t imagine why a man who could indulge in such a heinous act would change his lifelong-held beliefs just because of incarceration. We like to think that if we caught sexual offenders, locked them up, sentence them to death our job is done.

So why should we hear a convicted unrepentant rapist?

Because the solution to making India a safer place for women is not by locking up rapists, it is EDUCATION ABOUT GENDER EQUALITY, and that is the primary lesson of India’s Daughter.

The other major lesson gleaned from hearing Singh speak his mind is that of a sobering reality that exists not only in Indian society but also worldwide, a message that is amplified by the point-counterpoint nature of the narrative. The realization came when I heard from his parents and also relatives of the other rapists: These rapists (or devils, demons, animals, scum as we usually refer to them) are PEOPLE. They are OUR people, born to ordinary folks and who were living ordinary lives. They weren’t born as sociopaths they were made into one. We use language to distance ourselves from horrifying acts and their actors. When we give dehumanizing labels to people we remove society’s culpability. We can then sit proudly in judgement of these “others”. I suppose here’s where many of the detractors of the documentary chime in: “Why does this animal need to be heard?” Because by calling him an animal and giving him a sub-human status we refuse to face the ugly aspects of our species-nobody is above or beyond evil. Scary? Yes, it is. Right now it is scary to be a woman. (What is scarier however is a moralizing government for a seemingly democratic country.)

The main question here is could we have learnt all this without Singh’s interview? Was his interview necessary? I think so. He is a concise representation of the mistakes we are making. Perhaps some of these lessons are out there in the obtuse reviews made my investigative committees and in court documents; social scientists’ theses; lost amongst the indecipherable shouting matches dubbed as TV talk shows; or even rant-y blog posts on the internet. How far and wide would these sources of information reach when compared to an hour-long hard-hitting documentary on cable TV? Let’s take into account here the populace that does not use the internet regularly for social commentary and relies on television for everything.

A lot can also be learnt from the delusional statements made by the defense lawyers (ML Sharma and AP Singh), that are anachronistic to the point of hilarity. Especially when paired with the liberal views of Nirbhaya’s parents (whom we would consider of being from a lower social class and “unqualified”), make for the disturbing realization that India’s gender equality problem is not class-based or educational degree-dependent. How many Indians believe that only poor, uneducated people rape; women are oppressed only in the lower classes of society? Prejudice doesn’t play favourites. We need to stop generalising about our societal problems.

It’s convenient to blame the British for everything

I am also happy to note that India’s Daughter does not generalise. People were certain that a documentary made by a foreigner would provide wrong and overly generalised inferences about the problems in India. The film makes so such claims. It does not spin the idea that ALL Indian men are misogynistic with rapist-like tendencies. Neither did I hear a foreigner’s view on the issue. The film has been produced for a TV show that has a dedicated following. I think if Udwin or the BBC wanted to make money off it then we’d have heard of them submitting India’s Daughter to film festivals. I find this argument highly ridiculous especially given how ubiquitous rape scenes are in Indian cinema. I learnt the word Balatkaar (“rape” in Hindi) synchronously as I learnt Pyaar (“love”).Where did I first hear the term “ Uski izzat loot lee” (“stole her honour“)? It was Indian cinema. There is even a wiki page dedicated to Indian movies ON Rape (which now includes India’s Daughter)! How many generalisations have we gleaned from these other movies and how much money has been made? How much of this went to the  supporting rape victims? Also, I don’t think Udwin, who has been a victim of sexual abuse, would make this film for commercial gain (Source: “India’s Daughter” – A Young Woman’s Open Letter to the Prime Minister).

Will giving Singh a public platform encourage those who think like him to rape?

I don’t think it will; but ONLY when put in context of the film. When watching the film I realised that it is Nirbhaya who is the champion here and it is her life that needs emulating. The heart wrenching accounts from her parents and tutor paint a picture in such bold, resilient and joyful colours that Singh in comparison is a dull, ugly blotch. His act and his ideology pale into nothingness in comparison. The film crew have not been “disrespectful” as touted by many before the film’s release. They haven’t killed her memory. They have immortalised her achievements and her person forever. Even though there is quite a bit of eulogising in the beginning of the film towards the end we see Nirbhaya simply as a daughter who was taken away, in the most horrific manner possible, from her parents. She is the average Indian woman that we can relate to.

However over the past week we have just been hearing about Singh’s statements. He has received more publicity than ever before. If we were to believe that “publicity of rapist can entice rape” then the ban and the media circus that ensued has done more to further this cause (dubious as it may be) than the movie could ever have. Ironically the ban intended to protect our society has silenced the one who needed to heard the most: Nirbhaya.

Why should you want to watch India’s Daughter?

  • Because only by facing your biggest fears can you fight them.
  • To talk about things that make us most uncomfortable because that is how we tackle ignorance.
  • Because you need to know that every woman in India country is disempowered right now.
  • To realise that the ban is a myopic stand taken by a government that has essentially shot itself in the foot. (For more on the incredulous reasons given by politicians for the ban please read the op-ed piece (“BJP Government, Don’t Embarrass India“) authored by writer, ex-diplomat and politician Shashi Tharoor.)

It must however be said that India’s Daughter is by no means the BEST documentary ever made. It is certainly good. It is also not a piece of comprehensive investigative journalism. I don’t know if it was ever meant to be one. There are some open questions, which are best outlined in the article: “The Selective Amnesia Of ‘India’s Daughter’ – What The Film Conveniently Ignores!” by Dr. Shivani Nag.

Let us remember

Your parents remember you, Nirbhaya, in the name they gave you. They call you Jyoti, “light”, that was born to remove darkness from their lives. I use your name now because your parents think that you, as a person, should be remembered in as much detail as your death, if not more. You have achieved more than what your parents dreamed. You have brought your searing light to our entire society, to burn through prejudice and patriarchal interpretation of Indian cultural values. You have made me nirbhaya to carry your jyoti for the freedom of all women. I don’t know what you looked like and I don’t need to. I see your face in every woman. Those who have missed the point of the documentary on your life and death have missed the point of all revolutions: to depose oppressive ideas by public activism.

(c) Ramesh Lalwani CC BY- SA 2.0
(c) Ramesh Lalwani CC BY- SA 2.0
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Goodbye

Continued...
 Please read the first part here.

 

It was a chemical reaction; an effervescent response to the idea that happiness could be distributed over the counter.

Aren’t they marvellous: these Marketing people,

who study humanity’s weaknesses with microscopic precision taking apart every decision made with free will knowing fully well that there was no free will to begin with.

who laugh secretly in their cubicles and then in harmony in their meeting rooms as their formula turns into a positive case study for future business grads.

Meanwhile my mother is trying everything she can to make her love appealing.

Her apron is stained with dejection and the colours are faded on the side where she rubs her hands when she is nervous.

How can she compete with business models market analyses graphic designers extraordinaire dream-sellers food pornography?

She can’t so she responds by giving in, by buying me what I want and I love her for it and she grieves in her own way.

I am still young and manage to eat my way through my troubles without a problem but my mother doesn’t know it for I don’t eat her cooking.

She has lost me and she doesn’t know it.

 
 

I am faring a mile high above, trying desperately to spread frozen butter evenly on hard white tasteless bun, on my way to get an over-priced education in Real Life.

I land nervous and cold, hungry for anything familiar and see signs of familiar designer food in a different currency.

I feel safe in that tub of luke warm curry sauce, dunking my salty fries.

I am thanked by a wooden garbage bin for clearing my tray and I walk away with my oversized plastic drink which will soon just be ice.

I feel sick and so I call my mother: She asks me if I have been eating well and what I cooked for breakfast lunch dinner and I tell her nothing

She asks me if I have some instant soup and crackers at least and to avoid fat and to take fluids, take lots and lots of fluids.

She asks me to make rice porridge: grind roasted rice grains and cook the powder in milk and add a bit of sugar (because I like sugar and she knows that that’s how I like it).

She asks me if I can manage-Yes, Mother, I can and I will and I must.

I learn international cuisine for it’s easier to avoid a label when there’s no smell of my heritage.

Pasta al dente mediterranean roasted chicken baked beans from a can french salad dressing aceto balsamico and I am settled in.

 
 

She came to visit me recently and brought some homemade spice mixes–the whole spices roasted in the right order in the right proportion, a perfected method distilled from centuries of meditation on sensation–in ziplock bags.

I opened a bag and the world around me dissolved, and there was just the whistle of that pressure cooker

and that sizzle of fresh green chillies in hot oil and the popping of the black mustard seeds that would fascinate me and would always pop onto my face

and I would turn around to bury my face in my mother’s apron that smelled of turmeric cumin coriander

and I cried for my homogenised existence.

Limericks on being Indian in Switzerland

 

If I had a Cent or better a Franc
For every person who after they drank
Imitated the Indian accent
(As if it was sexy to be Saxon)
I’d be richer than all these Swiss banks!
Swiss currency (c) Keeps from Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Swiss currency (c) Keeps from Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

I come from a tropical land you see
A country that’s cottony balmy breezy
Then you put me on snow
And expect me to know
How to manage these blasted slippery skis!
(c) wplynn from Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0
(c) wplynn from Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Whoever is the genius who thought up these
Innovative ways to communally eat melted cheese:
Bless you good soul
For now I owe
You a very cramped stomach indeed!
(c) Alexandre Duret-Lutz from Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
(c) Alexandre Duret-Lutz from Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

 

unnamed
Day 2: Prompt-Journey; Form-Limerick; Device-Alliteration

 

A sonnet for Jasmine

A budding of white with green stalk so soft
Like fetal fingers of a garden nymph
Tiny drops of nurture push aloft
The gentle scent creating soothing symph-
-ony. Blooms reveal loudly notes in harmony
To dress a maiden’s song, to chant ancient
Prayers in chains framed for gods, formally
Presented. Bushes as aromatic bastions
To keep the outsiders lulled. I remember
These innocent floral sweets in arrangement,
Looking like liquorice swirls bicolored,
Divided arm-wise by wise hands on payment
On pavement; wearing on my hair Jasmine
From childhood, a fragrant tea stirring still.

(C) HumanityAshore from Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND2.0
Jasmine buds (c) HumanityAshore from Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

The poem was inspired by today's prompt at The Daily Post: The Transporter
Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

Also, I am practicing my sonnet writing skills. This is my second attempt, ever. All comments (and especially critiques) are welcome.

Re-aligning the Hindu scale

Madurai Meenakshi temple
Madurai Meenakshi temple

For One to Three
Forgetting the Two
Hundreds to millions to a billion
In faith that travels across
Space and time, no dimension or scale
Necessary to measure that
Which comforts and heals.
In belief they appear
Perfect, not in practice –
Forgetting there is a Two.
Some others philosophise on
The need to multiply
Ritualistic fractions
Keeping a single constant denominator.
Rationals drawing straight lines
Forget it takes two points.

And, or, either
Remember to factor
To carry over the base
And make equal
The Feminine.
From One to Two to Six.

In Hindu philosophy (at least in the interpretation I find satisfactory) there is the Supreme Being, the Brahman, which encompasses all deities. I find people interpreting this force as being masculine but I was taught that the Brahman in fact is also Shakti (meaning power) which is the feminine force. We forget that the One is made up of Two.

Here’s a quote by Sri Ramakrishna, one of the greatest Hindu spiritual leaders,

He who is Brahman is also Shakti. When thought of as inactive, He is called Brahman, and when thought of as Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, He is called the Primordial Energy, Kali. Brahman and Shakti are identical, like fire and its power to burn. When we talk of fire we automatically mean also its power to burn. Again, the fire’’s power to burn implies the fire itself. If you accept the one you must accept the other.

I feel that the three widely recognised Hindu Gods (or forces as I see them): Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Protector) and Shiva (Destroyer) should be counted as six, to include their feminine powers. These are – Sarawathi (Knowledge), Lakshmi (Prosperity) and Parvati (Love and devotion) respectively. Equal status!

(..)

When I see my portrait

Laura Zimmermann is a talented Parisian artist whom I know because of good fortune: One of my husband’s best friend had the good sense to date her or we would have never known this outwardly shy but inwardly bold and resolute young woman. She also has the distinction of being the only vegetarian French person I know. She’s more than an acquaintance. She attended my wedding in India in 2013. But sadly, due to logistics and lifestyles we have been just Facebook friends in reality. But all that changed quite suddenly.

I realised that she had painted me from a photograph, which she took at the wedding in India. I happened by it as I was scrolling aimlessly though my Facebook feed and it took me by surprise. This event by itself has mitigated most of my general disdain for sharing in social media. I told my husband about the painting and we decided to contact Laura through her man and ask if we could purchase it.

We have had two weddings, Mr. Pink and I; one in India and one in Switzerland. The wedding in India was with a heavy purpose, and not at all legally binding (hence we had the Swiss wedding). It was a religious ceremony and I wanted it done so as to introduce him to my culture and people in the most hectic, time-consuming and fun way possible. What else is India if not hectic, time-consuming and fun? Though we have thousands of beautiful photographs from both the weddings we didn’t have even one picture of us blown up and framed. In fact I have printed out just one photo on a normal A4 hi-bond paper in postcard format to put in a frame that could accommodate a picture much larger. Contrary to Beyoncé and Jay-Z we are lazy in love.

Now that the opportunity to put up a memory worth adorning our naked walls presented itself – in acrylic on canvas, no less – we couldn’t just let it pass. I found it rather poignant that it also happened to be the first original painting we decided to invest in. Not to mention it made us feel extra good to show support for an independent budding artist.

They came by one Sunday afternoon for an Indian lunch and to give us our painting. From when Laura unveiled the canvas from its bubble wrap cocoon to now, this very instant, I haven’t been able to get away with just a momentary glance  at it. It draws me in and each time at first I look at it as though it wasn’t me in it. This wasn’t a moment from my life. There’s something calm and content about that woman. Something angelic and reassuring. That’s not how I remember feeling at the time. All I seem to remember is the stress and the need to satisfy everyone else’s needs; to make sure none of the Europeans fell sick from all the Indian food and that none of the Indians felt abandoned because of all the Europeans at the wedding. That’s what I remember…at first.

Memory is a tricky thing isn’t it? It’s interesting how I forget that actually during the three days that the wedding celebrations lasted, on the inside, I was content and happy. I was satisfied with my life decision; happy about the fact that I was allowed to marry my true love despite him being of another race/religion/nationality; reassured by the presence of hundreds of well-wishers; calmed by the knowledge that I didn’t have to hide my relationship status anymore from anyone and finally I did feel united with the universe. All the elements that we were exchanging with our immediate surroundings, all of which came from the inception of the universe – cycled through planets, asteroids, plants, animals, people, dead relatives – were with me that day as I vowed to be married to my man not because a legal authority demanded it but because I needed my people to know, acknowledge and respect him as my chosen one. Everything was with me and within me as I made that decision known and I was radiating with everything.

I look at the painting again.

Memory is a tricky thing indeed.

Yes, the woman she has painted – THAT woman – is me.

Thank you Laura for helping me remember.

Painting by Laura Zimmermann
Painting by Laura Zimmermann. Photo of the painting (c) Sam Rappaz
Also, Laura is a wonderful photographer. I have used some of her images in a post that has won a blog contest. Read it here. 
Please visit Laura's website to see more of her brilliant work inspired by the people in her life and those she has met in her travels around the world. Link: http://laura-zimmermann.com

The Do that I Do that I Do so, well?

My café au lait which is too foamy for its own good sits hissing by the side while I silently waste my time on Twitter to find out what’s more important than Djokovic winning the Australian Open. People are sharing their blogs, inspirational quotes and there are other bits and bobs on there which on a better day I would have cared to click on. Not today. Today I am feeling admonished by my coffee: with every shush and hiss I can hear it tell me that I haven’t felt the need to “create” today. I knew this day would come, that ‘one day’ which can, depending on context and point-of-view, mean realisation of a dream or a nightmare.

So I open my WordPress Editor, switch on a playlist of one of my favourite contemporary Indian (pop and film) music composers; mildly surprised by how much his recent music is sounding like Christian rock, and here I am. The coffee is being drunk and heavy silence is being shut down by my long-lasting Logitech speakers. Today has not been a great day, so far. The scansion of my poem ‘A common love‘ failed and what I first “felt” I was writing in blank verse turned out to be in blah verse. Scansion? Blank verse?

Scansion: breaking down of poetic verses into stressed/unstressed syllables then grouping the syllables into a ‘foot’ (trochee, iambs etc) and then checking if there is a regular pattern to how the feet appear in each line which gives us the meter. The whole thing adds to how one perceives/hears a poem and can either exemplify a poem or destroy it based on the prowess of the poet. Scansion is of course based on interpretation and how one hears the syllables.

Blank verse: (preferably) non-rhyming, iambic pentameter, has emotive foot substitutions, with mid-line caesuras for added effect and interesting enjambments. It is probably the most sophisticated form of English metrical poetry.

This was my first formal attempt at writing anything in blank verse and I am not presumptuous enough to think that I would succeed; that in a few hours I could go from an amateur poet to writing like that Shakespeare chap or that Milton fellow. No, of course not. The other voice in my head is chuckling as I type this…because I “felt” I could do it. I stuck to the right syllable count and there are some interesting mid-line caesuras and enjambments (or so I believe). But I don’t have the iambic pentameter down. Will I ever? I. NEED. TO. have it down in less than 48 hours as that’s when my assignment is due.

Did I tell you that I am scientist? I have had an almost purely technical higher education. The last time I studied ‘art’ in any seriousness was NEVER. English was considered a fluff subject and social sciences a necessary evil. These seemingly innocuous subjects could pull down one’s GPA. The glorious GPA. In India we called it the total percentage – an oxymoron for a generation of, well, morons. Eat facts; Purge facts. The assimilation and digestion of these facts was encouraged just far enough to answer the “application-based” questions in the annual nation-wide central board examinations. I was inculcated into this band of buffoonery early and it’s not like I had a choice. No one ever has a choice in these matters.

When I prod my earliest memories of being in an “educational” institute in India I invariably come up with the scene of the annual parent-teacher meeting that was scheduled for the day when the final examination results was announced. I mean literally announced. We would enter our classrooms to find a list of names chalked out on the main board along with their respective total percentages. These were ‘The top 10 lists’ that went viral before such things were ever conceptualised. I say chalked out because for scores of children not seeing their names up on the board made the classroom feel like the scene of a murder investigation: their dreams and hopes had been killed off by the notorious evil of intense competition that they were somehow complicit in and their futures now being reevaluated and investigated in detail by persons of higher authority. Oh, the trepidation. Have you ever seen a six year-old have insomnia and indigestion because of stress? Please visit India in April and you’ll see millions of them.

In one of those evil annual meetings, when I was about 8 years old, in a prestigious school in Delhi an English teacher changed my life. Yes, we start learning early in India. I was distraught that I had placed 2nd or 3rd in the class and had missed out on the first place because of one percentage point or less. My teacher who smiled and handed my report card to my mother (who was very happy and proud of her child) looked at me with concern. She congratulated me on my rank and told me that I had done exceptionally well. She told me she was very happy with me and that I was an obedient child and very intelligent. The whole while I was looking at her wondering where I had lost marks that has costed me the rank. I wanted to see the other report cards. I am not good with praise so I was happy to have some critical points to mull over in my eight year old brain. She could sense, I think, that I wasn’t reassured by her generous compliments. Then she said something that pulled me out of my abysmal state with such force that I have over the years abstained from venturing into that dark cave of self-criticism and if I ever happened to find myself suddenly in that chasm then I would have the torch of her words to guide myself out:

She said, “Sampoorna. Always compete only with yourself.

Back then the biggest mystery of all to me was: How had she known what I was thinking? It’s obvious now that she was a good teacher who knew just what to say to make sure her student didn’t end up killing herself over that chalk outline. Perhaps what she didn’t know was that with those words she changed my approach to my education. (This time without the quotes.) I will never forget her, those words and that moment.

I have always loved science and have made a career out of a passion. But I have loved English and the social sciences too and it was probably because of my fourth-grade teacher’s wise words. I did well enough the latter subjects to keep my GPA high but did not go into them so deeply that it excluded me from the current generational agenda: Only Engineers and Doctors Allowed! That rant deserves its own post. However I competed with myself to know more about everything. I no longer looked for a blackboard, even a metaphorical one. I haven’t done so in a very long time. In the process I ended up having an illicit love affair with questions such as, “What is humanity?” and thinking thoughts way beyond my curriculum and career path such as , “Without language we would never have realised that we all have the same questions.” I can go as far as to say that my teacher’s wisdom has led me to be the mixed by-product of societal expectation that I am: neither an engineer nor a doctor but somehow both. This blog is also an extension of that self-competitive state which I would now rephrase as self-discovery. I am learning as much about myself as you are about me.

And now, how come a scientist ended up caring about scansion, blank verse, poetry? Because competing with oneself means learning constantly and creating something everyday. I am no longer planning and doing experiments but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an original thought to put to paper. And that brings me to my dismal day which somehow this post has redeemed. The itch to scratch out verses is returning. The evening is still youngish and I need to retry writing blank verses. I seem to suck at it but heck, who’s keeping scores?

Today's Daily prompt helped give direction to my thoughts: Teacher's Pet

The Garden City of Karnataka: A Tribute to Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree & Bangalore

The Garden City of Karnataka

I will arise and go now, and go to Bangalore,
And a small lodging build there, of mortar and brick made;
A terrace of flowers, jasmine champa magnolia,
I will peacefully tend all day.

I shall calmly watch sun set, for watching makes me breathe slow,
Breathing minty moments of orange clouds and purple twilights;
There morning comes on sudden, and noon a white blister,
And the tranquility encircles.

I will arise and go now, for in my heart always
I hear rustling coconut leaves caressed by tropical breeze;
While I stand in snow shoes, and in my winter coat,
I hear them louder more I freeze.

I said I would do it.
I read my early morning post and in my staggering state I seem to have wanted to write a tribute to Bangalore (a city in India) in the style of W. B. Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree. You may read the original poem here.
Yeats’ poem was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Innisfree is Inis Fraoigh (Heather Island), which is a small island in the west of Ireland. Yeats, an Irish poet, suddenly felt very homesick one day walking in London, as a water fountain in a shop-window reminded him of lake water. The Lake Isle of Innisfree was thus born.
My poem was inspired by Yeats and by my beautiful home many thousands of kilometres away. I dedicate this to one of my best friends from my teen-hood in Bangalore and who now lives farther away from the city than I do. You know who you are.

Kerala: Serene and Seductive

Peaceful journeying
On salty calm backwaters
Of God’s Own Country

Kerala backwaters

Soft rich visions of
Freshly green humidity
Turning into rice

Rice fields Kerala

Under the awning
Of coconuts and blue skies:
Equilibrium

Dawn

(..)

Physical calm

Heavenly fusion,
Elements combined within –
Nucleated peace

Sunrise

Entry to Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity
PS: My pingback to The Daily Post is not working. Am I the only one?