Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Do I love Delhi?

The events of the past few days have repeatedly made me reminisce about the times I have been out on the streets of Delhi, at not so earthly hours.

Two of my batch mates from Lady Hardinge and I decided to attend the Pulse festival at AIIMS campus probably more than 20 years ago. Since, I lived in East Kidwai Nagar, opposite AIIMS and my parents were out of town, it was easy. We used to cross the Ring Road at 1.00 AM or so after the festivities got over. I am sure all of us remember the heady feeling of youthful excitement,fun and wrongdoing which accompanies such events. The laughter, the late night chats, the music, the crowds and the dressing up.

We had made friends with guys from Grant Medical College, Mumbai who seemed very worldly wise to us, innocent Delhiites at the time, when they said- "There is no night life in Delhi, your roads are deserted by seven in the evening....what about pubs? Don't you have any?" We hadn't heard of pubs or night clubs then, even though Mumbai seemingly had many.

I came to Delhi when I was 15 after having lived in Bengal where small girls are addressed "ma" and where the worst thing which happened to me on a public bus, was a man saving a seat for me and asking me to sit beside him.

Being in a DTC bus or attending a crowded event like trade fair in Delhi is a totally different ball game, I soon discovered. But nothing serious can happen in crowded places we reassure ourselves, use our bags as a shield and develop great elbowing capacities to ward off pawing predators to hone our survival instincts and carry on.

But living on the Ring Road next to South Extension was a creepy experience. Waiting at the bus stop or walking along the road was bound to attract the wrong kind of attention with cars slowing down or stopping. This is a red light area, I was told. Then one day after the evening shift in Safdurjung Hospital, I walked home and was grabbed in the staircase leading up to my flat. All I did was throw away the bright yellow flowery hair clip which I happened to be wearing that day and after that I wasnt allowed to walk home at 8 pm. The law abiding public hasn't got many options, when it comes to eve teasing, stalking, even molestation.

Delhi registers twice the number of rapes as compared to Mumbai followed by Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and least in Chennai.

There  are many theories of why rapes happen, theories of psychopathic men who come from broken households or disturbed childhoods, or are revengeful because they are marginalised ...but honestly nothing really can be an explanation for the horror experienced by the victim.

Having manned the Gynaecology casualty in Safdarjung Hospital during the time I worked there for four and a half years, I remember the familiar MLC ( Medico legal case) book being carried by the Delhi Police constable as he/she accompanied women who were alleging rape. A lot of times it used to be that a minor girl had run away and then been found by the parents who were lodging a complaint against the boy/man. Registered rape cases are only the tip of the iceberg it is claimed.

Delhi is in one of its darkest moments today, as it struggles to fight for justice, as it collectively prays for the young victim and demands a change in laws, yes but more importantly in the mind sets of people, in the cultural ethos of the city.

When I was studying in Delhi Public School in 11th class, my friend and I were returning from the post office in an autorickshaw when due to being engrossed in folding inlands, my dupatta flew out on to the middle of the road. I got scolded by my friend while the Sardarji driver on hearing the commotion and learning about what had happened stopped the auto. We got out and watched as an approaching DTC bus threatened to go over my favourite multicoloured Bandhni dupatta.

But to our joy and surprise it managed to precariously stop in the nick of time, just before the front tyre went over my dupatta, which was then rescued by the very paternal Sardarji driver who after suitably admonishing me, asked me to get into the auto to continue our journey back to school.

May the DTC driver's and Sardarji's tribe increase.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Does parenting include picking after your children?

Recently a Canadian mum's blog on the internet made news on BBC. This Canadian mum and her husband went on strike, refused to clean up after their two daughters aged 12 and 8. Then they took pictures of the deteriorating state of the house and posted it on the blog, which became a rage.

Obviously many more parents including me, have a hard time trying to ignore the obstacle course which one has to endure, if entering a child's bedroom, the scene inside their rooms, which can be titled- "After the storm". The day after day frustration of trying to convince the children that this is not how one should live and scores of threats like- "I am going to stop doing your laundry" "No TV until you clean your room" is as familiar as seeing fruit peels, cores, mugs, plates and cereal bowls lying around the house, mostly near the television. How many times have I resolved that the rule should be no food while watching TV and most of the time I am the one who has allowed the rule to be broken. Again something which my daughter says I don't do very well- follow through with my threats and rules, am too soft, give in easily.

But the point that the Canadian mum made, was that chores should be clearly defined and the children's chores should consistently be done by them. All mums will agree that it is so much easier to put the cereal bowl away in the sink yourself rather than leave it there to dry for the whole day until the kid comes back from school to tell him to move it and hear the familiar- "Dont worry I will do it...after this...5 minutes," only to see it there until night time.

Another tip I read about, was that if the kid is supposed to take the trash out and doesn't do it even after prompting, put the trash bag in his room, he will remember to take it out next time. I must admit I haven't been able to do this one, have just gone ahead and done it myself but I can see that it does make sense.

So this Canadian mum's strike against the kids inertia, musn't have been easy, it must have been a trying time for her. She said on television that taking photographs and writing the blog kept her sane, as that way she had something to do.

Most of the time I don't go on strike, but just don't have the energy to do anything. Cooking, supermarket shopping, laundry, dishwashing and ferrying kids from activities takes priority, the house looking like a war zone is mostly the least of my worries. But the children's attitude to the increasingly chaotic state of their rooms and the rest of the house is one of complete non chalance. They seem to notice nothing. Having said that, it is a matter of great surprise that they do comment on how clean the house looks, if and when I finally go on a cleaning spree. Even if it is a backhanded comment like"Was the cleaner here?"

The kids too have their share of cleaning sprees but they are too few and far in between, to ensure that the house is livable for even a week. I remember now what my mother used to say to me time and time again when I was in school; since I seem to be saying the same thing to my kids- "Why dont you put things in their rightful place in the first place, then you won't have to go on this marathon cleaning?"

I never understood and nor do my kids..... so packed lunch boxes pile on in the rooms before they finally come down to the kitchen, the clothes lay strewn around before finally making their way to the laundry box and shoes remain under the shoe rack until the traffic jam requires a massive clear out, abandoned stationery, report cards,  chocolate wrappers and certificates all seem to get the same respect  and as a parent, one has to take a step back, remind and nag until it gets done.

Strangely I remember mum asking us to be tidy as children,(I used to get the prize, a five star chocolate for making my bed every morning, my brothers usually missed a day or two) but I dont remember the house as being untidy. The memories are all of exciting times- the overturned garden chairs making the drawing room into a ship and the double mosquito net being the tent in the forest hunt!

Tidy houses don't make for exciting make believe settings, I presume!

So an untidy house is something I live with because when the kids are gone I will miss them and the mess they make. I remember how my mum used to yearn for a clean and tidy house when we were all in school and at home, but how unhappy she was, when the house was clean but empty. So a messy nest for the time being will have to do!

Parenting, most people agree can be both physically and emotionally exhausting but enormously satisfying most of the time.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Role of sport- inspire a generation?

Sport undoubtedly generates passionate patriotism. More importantly it is all inclusive in its appeal. It  breaks down the barriers of race, religion, class, language etc. We have witnessed this unity in diversity in stadiums hosting cricket and football matches.

However, watching the London Olympics unfold from the arrival of the Olympic flame from Greece, the Olympic torch relays, the opening ceremony and finally the actual games was a treat of a different and possibly a more superiorly refined kind. It brought the British people together like never before. The country is suddenly flooded with clebrities who are responsible, hardworking, high achieving role models. Whereas, before the Olympics, the kids struggled to find one who didn't do drugs or mouth swear words.

Olympics have come and gone but the legacy will live on, not just by way of the Orbit (I hope to be able to climb it someday) and the Olympic park but their true legacy is the fact that they were able to do what they came to do-"Inspire a generation!".

This inspiration would not have been possible without the meticulous planning and attention to detail which shone forth from begining to the end. One of our midwives, who is a fifty year old single mum, who runs for the love of it, was nominated by her daughter to carry the Olympic torch, which she did. We were able to run our fingers through the torch when she brought it to the delivery suite along with photographs of her on the road with the cheering crowd. It was great, she looked wonderful in the white attire which is her own now.

Soon, I heard Amitabh Bachhan talk about his extraordinary experience of carrying the Olympic torch in London while he was cheered on by sportlovers who did not know him. It was Amitabh Bachhan on NDTV, who enlightened us about the fact that there were 8000 little circular perforations in the torch representing the inspirational stories of 8000 torchbearers who carried the torch through more than 1000 cities, towns and villages of the only country which adds an adjective to its name- Great Britain. I found it really intriguing that the same torch was carried by ordinary folk, sport heroes and other celebrities in the torch relay which made it across the length and breadth of the country with school kids including my own lining the roads to cheer it along.

Several things were done to get the country involved including having real people and staff from Great Ormond Street the childrens cardiac hospital, the construction workers who built the Olympic park and the children from neighbouring schools as participants in the great show which was the Opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Attending an actual Olympic event at one of the wonderful venues was an experience unparalleled but Hyde Park was great experience too. All tube stations had signs telling you which direction to travel for various Olympic venues as well as venues where there were large screens set up in public parks for people to get together and watch the events live, completely free of cost. Hyde Park was one such place with signs of BT London Live leading up to the big screens. Hyde park didnt just have the sporting events on the screens, it also had live music bands, loads of food stalls, plenty of toilets and most importantly had a few sporting heroes each day walk on to the stage to speak to the crowd. The athletes thought it was amazing and so did my children.

Involuntarily, my mind went back to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The human spirit is the same and people were as excited, the thrill of winning, the cheering crowds, the tame traffic just to showcase to the world we too can be good if only we all collectively desire, the exotic opening ceremony and the heroes it made of athletes not so well known until then.....everything was just as it should be when a city and country hosts a big sporting event like this BUT.....but the legacy we tend to remember is the 4000 rupees of taxpayer money paid for one toilet roll, the shoddy preparation of the athletic tracks and how Oberois and other private players pitched in, free of charge to complete the preparations in the athlete's village as a matter of national pride and how Kalmadi was booed at the closing ceremony.

I wonder what the atmosphere would have been like, if Reliance had been asked to put up large screens in India Gate for common people to watch the Games free of cost, where school children from Government schools were reserved seats to watch the athletics and swimming and I wonder how much stronger the athletes would have felt coming out to greet such crowds and how much more by way of sponsorship they would be able to generate and most importantly how much more that would do for sports in the country.

One just has to watch Paan Singh Tomar (the movie) to let the moving performance by Irfan Khan tell us about the state of sports and athletes in our country...

When I wrote in my national policy analysis of barriers to maternal mortality for UNICEF, that the top reason for failure of policy was corruption; I was told I need to temper my statements to ensure that UNICEF is seen as engaging constructively with the Government.

But I dont think there is another way to put it- Corruption has eaten out all systems and is ensuring our people are devoid of health, food, employment, education, development yet we are proud that our country has nuclear weapons, has a space programme as we the people proudly use jugaad (which should mean innovation but usually means a backdoor entry to be able to get what you have been legally denied), pay bribes, indulge in name dropping, live within self made illusionary walls of class, caste, colour and therefore set a negative example for our kids who are thank God not as influenced by us as we would like them to be.

May be we need to go back to basics and live by the Olympic and paralympic values of friendship, respect, excellence, equality, courage, determination and inspiration because these call out to our true nature and therefore are able to generate the positive energy seen and felt through out the world.

When Farah, the Somalian origin British citizen knelt to pray in the Olympic stadium after winning the 5000m, everybody prayed with him. Lets pray together, play together.....


Monday, 25 June 2012

Sex education

My 11 year old had an interesting session in school recently- sex education!

The sex education sessions we had (only when we were 15) in our all girls Christian Convent school, run by Irish nuns, was very interestingly delivered by a "Brother" from the neighbouring boys school. He was short, plump and bald but had a great sense of humour and we girls could ask him anything....which was great because I don't think we would have been comfortable with one of our severe looking "sisters" or "mother" or even our normal sariclad  teachers, for that matter.

But looking back, the sex education we received in a Convent school in India, was tame compared to what these eleven year olds in modern day Britain are exposed to i.e. slang words for private parts!!??...how is that education? Or maybe it is...

But my know-how about the birds and the bees at that time, without the television or internet was a hell of a lot different to what these kids know today with all the technology available to them. Only when our biology teacher in Class 8 asked the question- "Why do we look like our parents?" did it dawn upon me that there was more to creation of new lives than what meets the eye.

My 3 year old daughter, on the other hand was much more curious. When I was pregnant with her brother, I decided to tell her that there was a baby in mummy's tummy so that she would quit jumping on me. However she laughed outright and said- "Its only food". I then had to take her to scanning sessions to prove my point to her . Once convinced, came a barrage of questions amongst which were- "How did the baby come to be inside your tummy?" "How is it going to come out" "Will it hurt, will you bleed?" etc etc.I tried to be as truthful and informative as I could, keeping in mind her age, intelligence, curiousity and the ability to stand her ground and not be fobbed off.

So sex education for her started at three and has been a continuous process since. She in turn has been educating her brother but even she hadn't told him the facts like the ones he learnt at school in these sessions.
For instance when I asked my son what he had learnt in those interesting sessions, he said- "Women get angry before their periods". Interesting! Bet the next time I get cross with him for watching TV, he will be thinking "Poor woman, she will be OK in a few days..."

Coming back to the continuous sex education for my 15 year old- we had this extensive conversation recently about dating, friendships, relationships...the right age and the right time?

This reminded me of what I had heard about the Bastar tribal youth in Chhattisgarh. One of the CMOs (chief medical officers) had said- "Madam, theirs is a society which is more modern that what you have seen in England and inspite of such a free society, they don't have a problem of teenage pregnancies"

It seems their sex education starts at 6 and all the children stay a a co-ed dormitory called "Ghotul" until late teenage when they find a suitable partner and get married and pursue monogamous relationships.

The system of Ghotul has intrigued many. In this dormitory system, girls and boys go about their work during the day but come back at night to stay in the Ghotul. Time is spent teaching the youngsters life skills like handicrafts while also interacting with each other, singing, dancing, chatting, joking and smoking. "Chilicks" (young men) gift hand-carved combs of bamboo/wood to "Motiharis" (young women). The number of combs in a Motihari's hair is indicative of how sought after she is.

Tribals are said to believe in equality of sexes in the real sense of the term. Men dress up and dance like the peacocks trying to attract a mate. Women take their time and make their choice. The social sanction for this activity and the close knit nature of the village ensures that youngsters stay on course and become responsible contributors to society.

 Modern day society with its ills of domestic violence, teenage pregnancies, addictions, female feticide and dowry deaths etc is hardly what development should mean to women in the 21st century.

So I tried to explain to my daughter why it was important not to lose focus and follow the dictat given by our ancient scriptures and concentrate on "Brahmacharya"(celibacy)- from the age of 5 to 25. This was the time meant to be in the Gurukul, living with the Guru and learning lessons of science, philosophy, logic and self discipline, amongst other things. Living with other students in an environment which paid no attention to your parental lineage meant that you would learn the most important values of mutual respect and harmony and hone your skills in negotiation and leadership.

This autumn, top American universities are planning to put their course work online for free. The first online course from Massachusetts Institute of Technology  earlier this year had more students than the entire number of living students who have graduated from the university. 

So now the Gurukuls are virtual, games are virtual, friends are virtual, meeting places are virtual and so I often wonder how we are going to learn to live in the real world? There is more and more to learn, in less and less time left for real interactions. Expectations in the real world are based on the virtual and therefore everybody wants to live in a perfect world which "ain't real, mate"

I say this while I sit on my bed typing this blog while hubby dear surfs the internet for news beside me! So much for real interactions in the real world!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Love children or designer babes?

Attending a course at the Royal College usually means wondering when we will have a world "where knowledge is FRREE!!!" like Rabindranath Tagore envisioned. Trying to concentrate on the lectures is difficult, while one is wondering what percentage of the course fees or the hotel bill, will be reimbursed by the trust.

Though lectures become more and more interesting each year. In 2010 we heard presentations on robotic surgery and this year we heard statements like- "Earlier it was time consuming and tedious but now our lab has a robot." Okaay....Then there were videos of developing embryos maturing in IVF labs- microscopic potential people! Wow!

There were debates on the ethical issues of who should be allowed to have a test tube baby (IVF). The Gujarati couple in their 70s, who had a baby recently through IVF was discussed and the discussion was left at- "Maybe things are different in India where the extended family looks after the children." Reallyy??? Don't think so!

A decade ago I had heard a top gynaecologist offer sex selection through IVF in India. In essence if one wanted a boy the doctors could make sure that the baby transferred to one's womb is a male one with, for some reason, only 80% certainty. I guess 100% would have been illegal.

 Here I heard how an embryo (microscopic baby) can be tested for any inherited diseases caused by gene defects and only a healthy embryo is then transferred to the mum's womb. This is a great relief for couples where things like Thalassemia or Hemophilia or cancer run in families. However, this is the beginning of the trend which will take us to designer babies. There are various websites now on internet where for 10000 dollars you can spit into a tube and post the tube to get your genes sequenced. Soon there will be a demand for desirable traits in children. Specially when ambition in this increasingly consumerist society is bordering on greed, recklessness and a desire to be in control.

Already, single women and same sex couples are allowed IVF and can choose from sperm banks - "32 year old Italian with dark hair, brown eyes, software engineer by profession..."

When I was listening to all this I was wondering what the world was coming to, until it occurred to me that after all, only 100-200 years ago, women wouldn't have been able to decide how many children they would have and would go through life either pregnant or breast feeding. Now it seems normal to be able to enjoy sex without the worry of falling pregnant and we cant imagine a world without the contraceptive pill or the condom.

In another 100-200 years, people will not just decide how many but also the (phenotypic) traits of the children they will have and that will be the accepted norm and it will be considered foolish not to do so.

Today people fall in love with the most unlikely people. A good friend of mine, a Punjabi kudi who was a walking matrimonial ad- tall, slim, fair, doctor etc etc studied in Delhi but found her love, a man from Southern India, when she travelled to another city in Western India for a week long sports tournament...We all wondered how long this blind and long distance love would survive but it did. After another annual tournament,many moons of letters and STD call courtship, an elopement and court marriage, they recently celebrated 19 years of marriage.

Another friend found it in Japan while working their as part of her research in "chemistry". Chemistry it was and the man in question needless to say was of another nationality- not Indian.

This "spit into a tube and we will tell you where your ancestors came from" service, is probably going to reiterate to all of us that we all have similar ancestory and that a world without borders existed before we created "yours and mine." And with cloud computing, such a world will become a possibility in the future. While hopefully love will still make the world go around, in times to come and most babies will hopefully be created in the traditional way, many will be created in controlled environments like laboratories- siblings being created for transplants for existing sibling, clones of loved ones, siblings born many years apart from frozen embryos, posthumous children etc.etc.

Make love to make babies, no longer true!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Is God a He or a She? Are you Mr or Ms?

When I attended a Catholic missionary school we always  prayed to “Our Father in heaven…” and now I am a devotee  of Devi Ma. Therefore, for me God tends to change gender  depending on who I am praying to. Yet I have been told God  is a supreme soul who is genderless like all of us. We all  are souls incarnated into body costumes of men and women  but if we were soul conscious we would not identify ourselves as men or women, boys or girls. All of us have qualities which are attributed to both sexes. This as a concept is  hard to imagine or comprehend.

This reminds me of the various aspects of the gender debate, which goes on in our society today. One of our general surgeon friends was telling us about a man who had undergone a sex change operation to become a woman. Since becoming a woman he/she had had a few health issues necessitating a visit to a general surgeon who was a man. Since the health issues related to the organs his/her body still carried due to being born a man, she/he found the line of questioning, attitudes and bedside manner of the male general surgeon objectionable and therefore transferred his/her care to a female general surgeon. The team of doctors who were looking after her/him, had to be careful about addressing her in the appropriate manner while still eliciting aspects in her/his history pertaining to male organs of her/his body. While this was challenging and confusing for everyone involved, it made everyone think.

Recently there has been a debate in the media about allowing gay marriages. Sometime back, there was one about gay couples adopting children. People against gay marriages are quick to point out that civil partnerships are already allowed and in vogue and they work as well as a marriage. If we allow gay marriages the terms “husband” “wife”, “mother” “father” would no longer be relevant and all forms and data collection would have to be overhauled. Children’s story books would in the future anyway have to feature two dad and two mum families along with traditional dad mum families. The man who was speaking in favour of gay marriages was of the opinion that marriage was the ultimate relationship and that he and his partner should be allowed to be married. The BBC presenter clearly asked about the words which would be used for him and his partner if they were married and he was of the opinion that they would be each other’s husbands.

This is in contrast to what happened on another TV report about someone who was detained for questioning by the authorities. The guy who was detained was asked if he would want to contact anybody and he said he would want the authorities to contact his girlfriend. When the girlfriend was contacted she turned out to be a man. When the man who had been detained was questioned about it, he said he was well aware that his girlfriend was a man, but that, he was still his girlfriend! And so the gender debate rages.

I have to be careful about the way I take a history from a woman who is in a same sex relationship. If I am not aware, I would be asking irrelevant questions about how many pregnancies, contraception and fertility issues where as the reasons why she could be having pelvic pain might be something I still need to learn about, while getting trained in sensitive history taking.

Will there come a time when people will be asked how they would like to be addressed- Mr or Ms? And with the world becoming progressively gender neutral, will it pave the way for reducing levels of violence against the weaker human? I wonder!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Happiness Index

We have been spending half an hour every morning listening to Brahmakumari Sister Shivani on Star plus, while she talks about personal & self management and one of the key concepts she talks about is the Happiness index.

Sister Shivani is obviously a very well read computer savvy person who seems to be counselling people from the corporate and business worlds, apart from others who have come to her either when life has dealt a few blows to them or when life seems to cruise along, seemingly quite complete; yet they have felt a void or a vacuum, which worldly things like money and relationships have not been able to fill.

So the young and pleasant looking Sister Shivani's USP is the contemporary language she uses. Happiness index draws its parallels from the Sensex or other market indices which cause such ripples around the world when they go up or down. According to her, we should aim for a stable happiness index, which is not as sensitive as the Sensex and doesn't jump up and down with good and bad news or events from around us.

Since the happiness index is dependent on the quality of the thoughts we create in our mind, which in turn determine our destiny by karmic law, one of the crucial things Sister Shivani advises is a check on our operating system. Just like if your operating system on the computer is defective no program will run properly, so too we need to ensure our belief system (operating system) is compatible with our hardware and software.

For instance if I believe "My work should be appreciated" or better still- "I need to be appreciated to feel happy", the counter argument will automatically hold true as well-"If somebody is unappreciative, I become unhappy"  

Hence, the next time my boss says "We need better communication from you", when I might have been feeling like actually nobody was listening to me or my husband says- "The chicken curry was tastier the last time you made it" even though he was too busy eating it to say anything about it the last time I made it....

I need to take a deep breath, observe the tirade of explosive thoughts my mind creates in a jiffy, stop them from running amock and change my belief system. So I need to believe that "I do my job to the best of my ability because it makes me happy" "It is not necessary that people will find my work worth appreciating" "Criticism should be taken on board in a constructive manner." Wow! now doesn't that feel better already? 

Happiness comes from within and should not be dependent on external factors like people's appreciation of you or your efforts. This a belief system or operating system which is difficult to integrate into your hardware and software but it can be done. It can be done to the extent that it helps you remain stable without causing a rise in heart rate, breathing or blood pressure. Maybe if I carry on experimenting with Sister Shivani's truths I might actually manage to keep calm while dealing with the most difficult task both at home and at work- human resource management. 

Sister Shivani uses very real examples to illustrate the principles of self management and another phrase she uses a lot in her computer savvy manner is "Press the delete button"

All of us have gone through quite a few computers and laptops in our computer using lifetime and we all know how important it is to do a clean up to ensure the computer continues to work quickly and effectively. This is exactly the case with our minds. We need to press the delete button for all our past experiences which disturb us. If we accumulate clutter, it clogs the system, reduces clarity and focus, reduces performance which in turn leads to uncomfortable situations with less than optimum tasting chicken curry or miscommunications at work!

Therefore "PRESS DELETE"