Adrenaline Comes to #MeToo

My day started with physical training, as usual. BBC News podcast was playing on my mobile phone by my side. The reporter was all praise for a remote village of the Indian State of Haryana where the male-female ratio had improved greatly in favour of females. The issue was being talked about as a matter of great achievement for a state that had, for years been rated low on issues concerning women.

A chirpy old woman talked of Goddess Lakshmi being born (and being ‘welcomed’) in their family. I appreciated her joy, although I have reservations about that welcome to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. I very rarely hear of a new-born being welcomed as Goddess Saraswati or Durga. My prejudice apart, the women who were spoken to, gave credit to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s initiative: “Beti Bachao; Beti Padhao.”

It’s a pleasant change, yet there’s a long way to go.

Then, in between the exercises, I did something which I had stopped doing after I read ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport (I very strongly recommend this book to one who wants to cram more hours in one’s day; and to get better control of one’s activities.). I clicked open the Whatsapp application a second time before noon. And, lo and behold, I saw a video that had gone viral. A lady officer of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) had resigned from ITBP as a deputy commandant (several months ago). The video of her interview to a media-person had gone viral. She was complaining of (sexual) harassment. She seemed to have taken up cudgels on behalf all women in uniform. She wanted to stop the rot and overhaul the system.

Enraged, I was. The emotion lasted a long minute. Then it withered away. Thoughts of similar (‘similar’ as different from ‘identical’) cases flashed past my mind wherein the accused were proved innocent. Much against my impulse to believe the lady officer, I forced myself to take a neutral view and moved on with my morning chores.

ITBP in the service of the nation

Then, with a sense of déjà vu, I saw a post in the newspaper, obviously sponsored by the ITBP: “ITBP Salutes the Nation on its 58th Raising Day.”

“Forget the glorious past,” I thought, “It would be a mammoth task for ITBP to undo the damage caused by the lady officer’s video gone viral.” Besides, whatever might be the outcome of the inquiry in this case (I wonder if it has already been done, and matter ‘closed’), the incident (the viral video) will have far-reaching effect on the intake and treatment of women in the military and the paramilitary forces. On that count, I foresee knee-jerk reactions all over––within the forces, men will start maintaining an arm’s distance from women. I am already hearing people saying, “Who will send their daughters to join the armed forces now?” People are passing judgement and verdict without trial, “Such men must be castrated! They must be made specimen of.” “The laws must be made more stringent.” “We have the laws but implementation is poor….”

There’s an opinions galore, most of which suggests enactment and enforcement of stricter and more nuanced laws and deterrence by way of severer punishment as remedy for the ailment. To my mind, all these suggestions are excellent suggestions, but in some ways they recommend locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. In any case, the government and the judiciary will take care of that aspect.

If only stringent laws, severe punishments and forceful implementation could lower crime rate the world would have been a much safer place ‘as of yesterday’. On the contrary, the crime rate of all sorts, including those against women, is on the rise. More important than good laws and severe punishments is the need of change in the mind-set––more of men, than of women. Sermonising and education can influence people and bring about positive behavioural changes in them but a more effective thing would be if the changes come about from within.

Adrenaline comes to #MeToo

Just when I was wondering: “What could be the way,” I received a message on the Whatsapp––it was a joke. It read: “In a competition, the challenge was to express peacefulness, happiness and calmness in a single sentence. The winning entry was: ‘My wife is sleeping.’”

Had I received the same joke (say) a month ago, I would have laughed and shared it with my contacts (including women friends) on Whatsapp. It didn’t happen this time. I didn’t share it; deleted it. I had decided to make a conscious effort to prevent the spread of material that makes fun of, or demeans, women even if, in the smallest of ways. That would be a very small step in the positive direction; it’s not too late in (my) life. Sharing material, which shows them in positive light, as persons in control of their lives and the environment around, could happen simultaneously.

I am not alone in this awakening at a late stage in life (I’ll turn 60 next month). I read today, that Asterix has been inspired likewise. For the first time in its 60-year history––thanks to the duo of Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad––the magazine has got its first female hero, Adrenaline.

Adrenaline coming to #MeToo is good news.

More are welcome to jump on the slow, but steadily moving bandwagon!

Candlelight Dinner

It was their big day.

In the forenoon, Gurinder and Pammi had finalised the deal for the two-bedroom flat overlooking the Yamuna in the Supernova Towers right next to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary Metro Station. Their ears had made a ‘chitchat’ sound when they had come out of the lift on the breezy 67th floor. Oops! It was like taking a small hop flight in an aircraft. The balcony provided an awesome view of Delhi. The meandering Yamuna with its green banks; metro, resembling a toy train; the Delhi-Noida-Delhi Expressway, the miniature cars; the Lotus Temple and what have you––an enlarged Google map.  Only two flats per floor meant sufficient privacy. Their offices in Sector-127 would literally be at a handshake distance––no more pulling hairs in the unruly traffic. They had reasons to be euphoric about the deal. It was a-dream-come-true.

It called for a celebration.

So very relaxed, they spent the evening whiling away their time in the DLF Mall of India. At 8 pm, they were at L’affaire. From the open-air restaurant on the seventh floor of the newly commissioned hotel in Sector 18, they would be able to see their soon-to-be Sweet Home.

With a gloved hand placed neatly and deliberately on his red cummerbund, the magnificently accoutred burly durbaan, bent at his waist to welcome the two. He opened the door gracefully to usher them in with a smile that looked absolutely out of place on his rugged face with thick black eyebrows and sideburns, and a handlebar moustache.

A smartly dressed floor manager smiled at them from behind the counter near the entrance; he was busy talking on his mobile phone. Despite his smile, he was visibly hassled. Only five tables were occupied by customers; there wasn’t much rush. Subdued light and Kenny G’s Songbird playing softly in the background were providing the perfect ambience for a candlelight dinner they had fantasised through the afternoon.

They had barely settled in their chairs in the far end of the restaurant when a young man in whites, in his early twenties, came running to their table. Although dishevelled, he wore a smile, and a genuine one in that. He had a small crystal-glass flower vase in one hand and an ornate candle stand in the other. His greeting––“Good evening Ma’am, good evening Sir”––turned out to be an exercise in apology as he almost stumbled and placed nay, slammed his wares on the table. Mumbling an apology, he made a couple of clumsy attempts to light the candle. And before one could say, Jack Robinson, he was gone.

Gurinder and Pammi looked at each other. “Did we bargain for this sort of service when we chose to dine her?” They seemed to say. And before they could exchange any words, the man returned. With two glasses filled with water on a tray. He was still in some kind of hurry––he managed to spill some water on the table.

Another genuine “S-O-R-R-Y.” But Pammi was furious. Her lips quivered as if to spew some harsh advisory. But he had vanished again before she could vent her anger. Gurinder took charge and signalled her to calm down. “Let’s not spoil our evening. We’ll not tip this guy and will never return to this joint,” he said.

Their minds were on a different trip when the waiter returned with the menu. They ordered food half-heartedly. They observed that there were only two waiters serving all the guests in the restaurant. They were like butterflies fluttering from table to table, taking orders and serving. This made Gurinder and Pammi feel deprived of their rightful services.

It happened so gradually….

The flickering flame of the candle consumed the dreams the two had woven through the day. Like the black smoke of the candle burning silently between them, their aspirations got lost in the thin air. The silhouette of Supernova Towers, which was looking so charming when they had arrived on the terrace, lost appeal. The switch over from their discussion on their dream house to the subject of deteriorating quality of food and services in restaurants happened quite naturally. Kenny G too, lost its charm.

At the end of the dinner when the waiter suggested a layout of desserts, Gurinder declined rudely and gestured for the bill to be produced. In a huff he pulled out his wallet and even took out his credit card and waited impatiently to make the payment.

The waiter didn’t return; instead came the Floor Manager.

With hands joined in a namaste and a disarming smile he approached the table. “Sir, today four of our staff have been injured in a road accident. They have been taken to the hospital; nothing serious but they will take some time to be fit and join duty. Since we could not provide you with proper service, as we would have wanted to, the food is on us. You needn’t pay the bill.” Then with a pause he added, “In fact Sir, the wife of the waiter who was serving you is also indisposed; he was on leave. But he surrendered his leave to help us tide over the crisis. He is a very sincere guy; full of initiative. I hope he looked after you well? Thank you for visiting us. We hope to see you again! Good night Ma’am, good night Sir!”

(Author’s Note: This story is inspired by the Forum conducted by Landmark Education where they teach: “Actions are actions (they are meaningless); ‘we’ attach meaning to them.”)

‘Spirited’ Mind and a Woman!

Results of researches have telling effect on ‘spirited’ minds. If the researches have their origin in the West, in the Americas, in particular, their findings and conclusions are looked at with even greater awe––seldom questioned. “If a pearl of wisdom comes from that half of the world, it must a gospel truth.” This sort of reverence to things western doesn’t really matter so long as it moulds social behaviour favourably in other parts of the world. Now look at this one, which caused a little tsunami in the bar next-door yesterday and swept one away.

The three had got together for a usual round of drinks. It was a ritual they followed once a week; and each of them had the tacit approval of their better halves for it. They had barely downed their first small when the banner scrolling past on the large 55-inch LED screen caught Kapil Malhotra’s eyes:

“Women Who are Stressed During Pregnancy More Likely to Have Girl Child, Claims Study.”

He couldn’t but draw the attention of the other two towards the screen. They turned their heads and were all ears. It was science news. The news caster said with a straight face: “A study by researchers led by Catherine Monk at New York-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Irving Medical Center has concluded that women with high physical (or physiological) stress gave birth to four boys for nine girls, a ratio of 4:9. In case of mental stress, the conception ration of boys to girls was 2:3. According to Ms Monk, wombs are an influential ‘first home’ for babies and conditions of the womb deeply impacted the sex and health of the foetus. Women who undergo stressful pregnancies are more likely to give birth to a female child rather than a male.” After a pause, she added, “The research brings out that traumatic events have been known to affect the male birth rates. President Kennedy’s assassination and 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City were cited as examples. The research has re-iterated the age-old wisdom that trauma sometimes results in premature childbirths and discontinuance of pregnancies, in extreme cases. Therefore, providing moms-to-be with adequate care and understanding in the families and workplaces was important for healthy pregnancies.”

That triggered the ‘intellectual’ (if it can be called that) discussion that ensued.

Karan Juneja was the first to open his mouth, “I read in the Washington Post some years ago that overall, there are slightly more men than women in the world. According to 2015 estimates by the United Nations, there are 101.8 men for every 100 women, with the number of men rising gradually each year since 1960.”

He paused for a while till the other two absorbed what he had just said, and continued, “Does that mean that women are generally happy the world over and becoming happier by the day?”

It was time to order another drink. Each was for a ‘large’ this time, as the interest grew in the subject under discussion. Somewhere in the process, the ‘during pregnancy’ part of the research was left out. The correlation that lingered in the three minds now was between ‘women’s state of mind’ and the ‘sex of the babies.’ It was like: ‘Happy women give birth to boys; stressed women, to girls.’ Period.

For once, the three were on the same side, supporting each other with crumbs of wisdom. While the other two were munching peanut-masala and Uncle Chips and the barman was busy putting ice cubes in the third lot of drinks, Ajith Aiyar took time to quickly surf the net on his recently acquired One Plus Seven smartphone. He discovered that a map by the Pew Research Center with recent UN data suggested that men and women are distributed unequally around the globe. In former Soviet republics, for example, women outnumbered men. There are more men than women in Asia, Arab countries and Northern Africa.

So?

“Women in Russia and the former Soviet Republics are the most stressed in the world because in those countries, the sex ratio favours women. They are happier in Asia, Arab countries and Northern Africa,” Ajith put forward his point.

More wisdom flowed out as more single malt flowed in. By the time they parted at midnight, Karan, otherwise so eloquent had become unusually silent. Something was playing on his mind as his thoughts ran way ahead of his staggering feet. He had drawn an odd extra conclusion, and taken a decision, based on the evening’s discussion in the bar.

He surprised a sleepy Sheela with an unprecedented warm embrace when she opened the door for him. “What had brought about that change in Karan,” she wondered, as she adjusted the blanket over their year-old daughter sleeping blissfully in her cot.

A Generation That Cares

Lately, Chhaya, my better half and I have started travelling by Delhi Metro wherever and whenever possible. And honestly, the reason for choosing to travel by Metro Rail rather than by our own car has less to do with our concern for the environment (although it is always uppermost in our minds). The main reason for that choice is to avoid the pain of driving in heavy traffic because of which the time one takes to travel from a place A to a place B is uncertain. I recall an occasion when I even failed to convey a friend from Amity University, Noida to Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in time. A journey, which takes about twenty minutes, took more than an hour and a half that day, and he missed his train. In addition to that ‘harassed’ feeling on the road, there is the problem of finding a parking slot in most places.

Travelling by Metro hasn’t been an experience to write home about either. The stations are crowded. In the peak hours, the trains are so packed with commuters that people have to take turns to breathe. That said, we still find it a good option, at least in the lean hours. There’s relatively less rush and we are sure of reaching our destination in time. To think of it, it is a conscious effort to avoid road rage too. I often recall an instance when a youth, half my age wanted to enter into a physical fight with me. It is a different matter that when we finally parted, he wanted to stitch a lounge suit for me; he was a fashion designer.   

So when we boarded the Metro at Okhla Bird Sanctuary last Saturday, it was just another day. We had to travel to Nehru Place––a 17-minute journey with seven stops en route. At 7:30 pm, although there wasn’t a big rush, there were no vacant seats either. We were prepared to go standing.

Good Samaritan

Just then, a lean and rather fragile looking man, with a bag in hand stood up and offered his seat to Chhaya. Chhaya politely declined because looking at his health, she felt that he needed the seat more than her. Besides, he was travelling to Vasant Vihar; sixteen stops and double the time away. But he insisted and prevailed. So without further ado, Chhaya accepted the offer and thanked him.

Even before the import of that kind gesture could sink in, another young man stood up and offered his seat to me. I was a bit embarrassed because standing ramrod straight, I maintain that in appearance I still do not look like a senior citizen. This gentleman who was to travel to Palam Vihar (20 stops and 42 minutes away) was even more insistent. Left with little choice, I succumbed to his request.

While all this was happening, there was a rapt audience watching us with smiles on their faces––a bit amused by the transaction. Why?

A Generation that C-A-R-E-S

Perhaps because such a behaviour in public, is still not-a-norm in India. In fact, momentarily even I was taken aback because somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind there was a somewhat colonial thought, which declared chivalry as the fiefdom of the armed forces. In the end, I wasn’t so surprised. The emotion that we carried when we got out of the train was one of deep satisfaction; the generation next is one that C-A-R-E-S.

Two reasons have prompted me to share my thoughts on this apparently trivial issue. Firstly, not really expecting them to behave the way they did, the gesture of those young people has touched our hearts. Secondly, there was an urge to share that feeling of appreciation.

Kanti Learns Power Play

It had become a norm, an unwritten custom that on Sunday afternoons, in the hot summers, all the children would get together in Veena’s house. It was to everyone’s advantage. Veena’s parents were happy that their only child had company. The other parents were happy that their little ones were not outdoors in the sun. The kids were happy for more reasons than one. The many toys and games that Veena had were, of course, an attraction but the main reason for them to make a beeline to her house was the rickety air cooler that provided respite from the sweltering heat. Their own homes were devoid of that luxury. Besides, Veena’s mother was generous with the distribution of Rawalgaon toffees and Parle biscuits. She even gave them half a glass of Roof Afza with two ice cubes each.

Since it was Veena’s home and she owned the toys, she wielded authority too in the form of decision to play Ludo or Snakes and Ladders or any other game on a given day. It was so natural––Kanti exercised similar authority when they played with his football and Dilip, when his cricket kit was in use.

One afternoon, Veena decided in favour of playing Ludo. They were about to draw lots to get their choice of colour of the tiles. Yellow was the most coveted colour––Dilip had won on the last four occasions with that colour of tiles. Just when they were about to begin, a power failure caused an interruption. On enquiry by Veena’s father, the supervisor on duty in the local powerhouse informed that there was a minor fault and that it would be rectified in about fifteen minutes.

For the four of them raring to start, time was precious. If only the misery of the l-o-n-g delay of the quarter of an hour could be mitigated. So, to make the wait interesting, Veena came up with a bright idea. She said, “Let’s take turns to count from 1 to 100. One, during whose turn the power supply is restored, will get the first choice of colour.”

Veena’s idea sent the little minds on quick errands. Now, here was some hope of getting the choice of colour. With “yellow” and the possibility-of-a-win in mind, each one worked out a quick plan to exploit the opportunity. “One, two, three… ninety-eight, ninety-nine, hundred,” they began counting in turns. Dilip was first. Jyoti, Kanti and Veena, in that order, followed. They weren’t sure whether to count slowly, or fast.

When it was Veena’s turn, she came up with a stratagem. She said that she would employ the services of Ramu to count. Ramu was the man Friday in Veena’s house. He was a couple of years older than these children. When objected by the other three, Veena presented a logic, which they were forced to accept, grudgingly. “He is our servant. My father pays him and my mother gives him food and clothes. I surely have the right to get any work done by him. Aren’t servants meant for that purpose?” So Ramu rattled the numbers for Veena.

Games Children Play

Each one took several turns. Veena ‘managed’ to get her fourth turn around the time when the power supply was likely to be restored. In that instance she signalled Raju to count slowly. “…, f-i-f-t-y-… s-e-v-e-n, f-i-f-t-y-… e-i-g-h-t, …,” the poor boy obeyed his master’s daughter. And lo, the power supply was restored when Raju was counting in the seventies. With that, Veena won the opportunity to choose the colour of the tiles to play with.

As everyone expected, she chose the most coveted yellow coloured tiles. But to their great surprise, she lost the game. Dilip, with red tiles, won.

All wasn’t over yet for Kanti when the game of Ludo got over at Veena’s.

He returned home, upset and disheartened with Veena taking undue advantage of the power she wielded because of her father. Anil, his father had to invent reasoning to calm him. “Kanti, just see, Veena lost even though she took Ramu’s help. If she continues to take help, I am afraid her own counting and arithmetic will become poor. Some day when Raju would be away for some reasons, she might not be able to compete with you all.”

Kanti kept nodding but was seemingly unconvinced. His mind was running on a different track, “Dad, can we have many servants so that I am able to get my mundane chores done by them and am able to devote my time to doing more important things.”

“Of course, we can have many servants. But to have many servants we need a lot of money to pay them. And where does a lot of money come from? Well, to earn a lot of money, one must work hard in life. If you study well and work hard, some day you’ll become and entrepreneur and have your own enterprise; you’ll have a lot of money and many servants to do your work,”

Anil was under the impression that that was the end of the chapter. On the contrary, the idea of earning a lot of money had got deeply embedded in Kanti’s mind. Hereafter, he would look for every opportunity to do just that. And one day, not too far in the future, he would come up with a business E-N-T-E-R-P-R-I-S-E” which would put Anil in a spin.