May 08, 2020

The one that got away

Ant(I)social did not want to be a slave for the rest of his life. He believed he was meant for bigger things...better pursuits, if only he could break from this hegemony and explore his true potential.
However, the social hierarchy prevented him from breaking this chain. The rigid rigmarole of daily life demanded that he slaved, while the upper echelons got served.
Every time he tried to struggle his way up in the colony, he got pushed down, shoved aside brutally by those above him.
And then one day, his eyes fell upon her, Gyne...
He knew immediately he was in love. But how could a slave dream of a beloved of royal lineage? Gyne was the queen ant and hardly mingled with the worker ants of his class. Although carefully camouflaged as an eusocial species, the social division in a colony of ants was as bigoted as that in man.

This being his first time in love, Ant(i)social tried to seek his superior’s help in the matter. However, when they paid a deaf ear to his concern, he decided to address the matter by speaking straight with his lady love.

Always believing in black and white and never treading on grey, Ant(i)social now faced the worst dilemmas of adult life. He knew he had the courage to profess his love to the queen. But those belonging to the lower echelons were not allowed to venture close.
“The only way I can speak to her is by getting promoted and making myself worthy of her notice,” he thought.

Day by day, Ant(I)social started putting in extra hours of work. Even when his comrades were asleep, he would continue to work with utmost earnest and diligence.
A month passed. The ants of the upper echelons who initially ignored him now started taking notice. Looking at Ant(i)social toil night and day, their curiosity piqued.

“Hey, you, yes you, worker no 127,” the chief hollered. “I see you slogging incessantly without even as much as a work break. What is the matter with you, I say!?”

“Yes Sire, I know no other way to reach Gyne, my queen.”

The chief was shocked.
“And pray why do you want to reach her?” he scoffed.

Ant(i)social blushed. “I...I...am ..in love with her. And want to make...myself..w..worthy...”

Hearing this, the chief and his colleagues guffawed. Their laughter resonated all around.
“Stop dreaming, slave,” the chief ant bellowed. There is social hierarchy for a reason. The duties are assigned as per where you lie in the work pyramid. You may have the courage of a lion, but that will not make you a soldier. Remember, you are a mere worker, and no amount of slogging will get you the queen’s attention, leave alone her love.”

Broken hearted, Ant(i)social wondered about the unfairness of this social system, of how it did not allow even the most diligent to step up outside his designated level. Why wasn’t anybody revolting against the injustice? Complacency or subjugation...could he provoke the other workers to join him in a rebellion?

That night, Ant(I)social gathered all his worker class fellow mates and told them about his plan. At first, there was silence. Then one by one, the excuses started pouring in.

“But what if we cannot manage on our own?”

“This division of labour has been going on since ages. What makes you think we can bring about change now?”

“I am a family man. I join you and my family starves to death.”

They nodded in unison, not seeing sense in rebelling against an age old hierarchy that they had finally learned to become comfortable with. Nobody dared to usurp the order that had already been laid out. Why bring about unnecessary anarchy, when chaos is all it will cause, they thought.
A couple of worker ants could not make up their minds but they were soon convinced by the majority.

After the gathered congregation retreated to their respective sand-dunes, Ant(I)social sat awake looking at the starry night sky. The wise old maxim came to mind, “When ignorance is bliss,it is folly to be wise.”

At the crack of dawn, with a heart full of courage and fortitude, Ant(i)social set out all alone into the wilderness. As he bid a silent adieu to a sleeping Gyne, his queen ant, he cast a envious glance at the undeserving troop of soldiers that lay half asleep in the sand barracks protecting her.

Nobody had been convinced he would make it out alive. But in his heart, he knew this was not the life he had wanted to lead...the life of a slave. If he stayed on, he knew he would be just one among the many.
Going out into the unknown would mean meeting with adventure, seeing a different world, encountering different experiences, or perhaps getting trampled in the process. He’d have to be the captain of his ship and weather every storm life lay his way. There’d be no security blanket but there would be no one to serve as well. He would have to forage for his own food but that also included the risk of going hungry. It was a tough call to make but Ant(I)social knew he had to take his chances.


Before the ants were up, he was gone...

One worker less, the colony barely noticed his absence. The hierarchy continued as usual with the workers slaving, and the soldiers protecting. But ever so often, he was remembered fondly by Gyne, as the slave who had chosen to become the master of his soul.

(Gyne* - the queen ant in an ant colony is also called Gyne. Have played with the nomenclature a little.
A typical ant colony is divided neatly into worker ants, fertile drones, soldier ants, and Gynes.
And sometimes, just sometimes, an Ant(i)social 😊 )

April 05, 2020

Alphabet soup

She sat in front of the T.V, switching channel after channel in the hope of finding something that will relax her mind. God knew she needed it todayShe’d had a long day at work. Being a copy editor was no mean feat...having to skim through a torrent of bad articles at work and screen out the average ones was an arduous task, more heart wrenching to her than anyone else. 
She was cut out for bigger things. Being a copyeditor for a fashion magazine was not one of them. 
But circumstances make demands from all of us. They make us narrate to them our dreams and desires, then right in front of our very eyes, make an air plane out of them and blow them away. She too had seen her dreams of being a writer fly out the window.
Paying bills were a priority over book writing. And so the half-complete manuscript of her dreams sat on her writing desk, collecting dust, as she went day after day, editing, copy writing, polishing, turning sub-average articles written by mediocre writers into print worthy matter. 

Tonight, however, she was in no mood to do the usual. Popping her dinner into the microwave, she sat staring at the idiot box, a flurry of thoughts running incessantly in her tired head. 
Was she doing the right thing? Should she quit her job and pursue her dream instead? One half of her wanted her to dare, to break out of the cookie-cutter nine to five job. The other half warned her she’d starve if she did that.

Pic source: Unsplash

Her chain of thoughts were interrupted by a commercial on the screen. Knorr’s soup, it said. And that sent her memories rolling back to several years ago. 
As a child, she had always hated soup. She’d turn up her nose at it, find new ways of disposing it stealthily, and always have an excuse ready...all until her mother started adding those tiny noodle alphabets to it. It was love at first sight. Being fascinated by words even then, she had been thrilled on finding those tiny letters waiting to be strung into words before the soup turned cold. It was her mother’s way of ensuring she would eat her dinner without a fuss. 
And how it had worked! 

Every meal thence was spent looking forward to the alphabet soup and finishing it without a fuss so that she could have it again the next day. 

Today, sitting with her microwave dinner, she reminisced about the good old days.
And a realisation dawned upon her—wasn’t life like that too? You had to deal with something you didn’t necessarily like in order to reach someplace you wanted to be. 

The pile of half-edited files from work lay in front of her. 
However, her dreams, she told herself, those lay inside her. And nothing in the whole wide world could change that.
The job was perhaps just a means to the much desired end. And even though she didn’t enjoy it all that much, it nourished her just like the hot soup she once hated. While her dreams, like the alphabets, were always there, floating around, waiting to be picked up.

It made her smile. Soon it would become a way of life.
In order to find her alphabets, she would have to deal with the soup...

February 15, 2020

The 'red' lipstick bias

All through my growing up years, whenever I entered a cosmetic store, there was one question that’d always spring to mind.
‘Why not the red lipstick?’

Back then, a woman wearing red lipstick was regarded no less than a pariah, an outcaste. Men would leer. Elders would frown. And her character would be speculated. Only the fallen were believed to colour their lips red...a sign of seduction that girls/women from 'good families' were not to experiment with.
Ergo, all through my teenage years, I went without the slightest trace of makeup.

However, as is the case of the forbidden fruit,  this ‘no make up’ abstinence period managed to trigger a deep seated curiosity inside me, which I got satiated first thing I turned 22 (yes, that was the first time I used a rose tinted chapstick. Late bloomer I know).

Cut to present day, I see my neighbour admonishing her teenage daughter on using the hardly used red lip colour in her make up box. I see the child wilt in front of her mother's wrath. She retreats in a shell as her mother keeps yelling.
“Do you want to go out looking like a whore?"

And I am gobsmacked! By the audacity of the statement. I wonder what repercussions that preposterous argument could have on that child's psychology. It also makes me think how scarred my neighbour might be to talk like that...had her own mother been equally brutal with words to create such a deep impression, I wonder.

And that gets me thinking...
We have come so far in terms of gender equality and feminism. Yet, I wonder, what about the red lip stick is so intimidating to people even today?


If you ask me, I think there is nothing as beautiful. A red lipstick represents strength and character. A bold combination of sass and power.
The colour red is one that can be interpreted in myriad ways. It is the colour of life...the colour that a woman bleeds when she brings another life in this world. Red is the colour of undiluted passion...of blissful romance...of unadulterated love. However, if rubbed the wrong way, red can represent anger and wrath too.
The vermilion in the hair of a married woman, the blush creeping up on the face of a coy bride, and the colour of Sidhur Khela...are all represented by red.

When a woman wears red on her lips, it is a reminder that she is a force to reckon with. That she has a voice of her own, and that she is not afraid to use it.
Fiery hot, unpredictable, aggressive - this shade is much more than just a passing fashion statement. It is a declaration...of confidence, of being capable to protect and defend oneself.
A piercing war cry as opposed to the subtlety of its timid contemporaries; the soft pinks, plums, maroons that promise to decently sit on your lips, blending in with your skin tone in less conspicuous ways.

“Garish”, “too loud”, “such bright shades don’t look good on dusky skin” are some of the excuses I have heard women come up with for looking down on the red lipstick. These are the same women who turn up their noses at other women who dare to wear something they themselves may be too insecure to wear.

One woman told me it had something to do with the vibe a woman wearing dark red lipstick sends across. What I thought to be confident and beautiful, she considered brazen and indecent.

“Besides, what will people say? I am too old to wear such shades.”

Red was clearly outside the comfort zone of her fashion.

Oh,. well!

I am aware a lot of women like me love the red lipstick. This post is directed to those who don’t.
Of course, we are entitled to our open opinions. I think a difference in opinion is completely fine.
But an illogical antipathy towards a certain vibe/look/attire different from ours only from fear of what others may think of us...how empowered does that make us really?

As women, we pride ourselves in being the more inclusive sex. But how inclusive are we really if we cannot open our mind to a different shade of cosmetic (leave alone character) on fellow humans?
A thought worth pondering on...

As for all you ladies sitting on the fence about this whole (non)issue, hesitant about that red lipstick you have been secretly stashing away in your dresser, unwillingly settling for some milder shade every time you step out, today is the day to break the bias.
Take out that red lipstick. Let it breathe. Wear it. Flaunt it. See how it makes you feel.

Too dark, too garish, too bold, who cares?!
If it makes you feel happy, stick with it. It’s called lip-stick for a reason.

So here’s to us, women, and our choices...
May we always have the independence, the courage, and the wisdom to live them, love them, and stand up for them.

More power to the red lipstick.
More power to us!

February 11, 2020

Towards a coloured sky


I recently watched ‘The sky is pink’, a touching reel life portrayal on the real life journey of Aisha Chaudhary and her family through her battle with a life threatening disorder.
This, however, is not a review.

This is about that one line that stayed with me all through the movie and then some more.
This is about ‘Moose’ (aka Priyanka Chopra) sharing an emotional moment with her onscreen son, wherein he complains to her about being rebuked by his school teacher and mocked by the other kids. Reason being; he had coloured the sky pink in his kindergarten drawing book.
That is when Moose tells him that he shouldn’t worry about it because contrary to what the teacher says, he wasn’t wrong.

“We are all given a piece of sky,” she says, mentally defending the choices she has made in her life.  “If you think the sky is pink, then it IS pink.”

That for me for much more than an ‘aww’ moment. What Moose said there was something I have always wished for, believed in, and to a great extent stuck by. Making the best out of the bit of sky that has been allotted to me.

Yet, a burning question remains...how do we colour to our heart’s content if society with its limited mentality makes sure our colour palette is limited too.
There is black and white, and a few other primary colours. But try and dip your brush in grey, or a few blended shades, and it will alienate you, ostracise you, make you feel like you don’t belong.
It’s a tale as old as time. Ideas are met with resistance. Creativity is challenged.  Bravado is mocked. Vincent Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, all revolutionaries in their own rights, had to suffer strong criticism for their views, each in their own field. Even today, so many years later, the risk their modern day contemporaries have to face has only gotten worse.

Sometimes, I wonder how our skies would have been had we been offered a larger palette of colour.
I am sure everybody would have so much more to create, to display, to share.
But no! We have become a society of restrictions and rules. And breaking any of these laid down fundamentals is considered sacrilege.

So we stay within the limits that are drawn for us. We colour inside the lines. We laugh at different...discourage creativity...misinterpret genius.
And deem a pink sky preposterous...

We coerce ourselves into accepting that a sky of any colour other than blue will never find its rainbow. We keep reiterating it to ourselves...until it finally becomes our thought. Our belief. Our mindset.

Well, what we need is to change that mindset...to be inspired by the rebels...to break the stereotype, one step at a time.
For now, let’s start with ourselves. Let’s paint our bit of sky with the colour of our choice.
If our palette is not equipped with the hue we desire, let’s create it. Mix, match, bleed, blend—-until you achieve the perfect shade you always desired.
For complacency has to be broken.
For change has to begin somewhere...sometimeAnd if not now, when!

Ask me, and I’d choose alternating shades of purple and yellow to colour the canopy of my sky.
How would you paint your firmament?

February 04, 2020

#WorldCancerDay: The faith that moves mountains

When I first read Erich Segal’s ‘Love story’, I recall weeping like a child. I was in my teens back then, naive, gullible, and high strung on love and fresh air. But even then, what was more heartbreaking than losing a lover was the idea of losing a lover to the big C or some other illness that medical science had little grasp over.

Later, as a student in medical school, I was subjected to the chemo ward of almost every department there was. I recall being startled the first time I saw a toddler in the pediatrics department writhing in pain from Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was suffering but he was fighting with every gasp in his frail body. How could such a cruel fate be dealt to such a tiny child, I thought. During internship, I was asked by the resident in charge to administer chemotherapy to a middle aged woman. It was that day that I realized that Cancer does not discriminate. It treats everyone equally, with the same lack of empathy, the same irreverence--the pain, the grief, and the challenge were the same...whether it was a six months old toddler held down by his parents or a fifty five year old woman surrounded by her husband and teenage children.

Today, there are seven deaths per minute occurring from cancer. It is the second leading cause of death in the world.
Much progress has been made in the field of cancer research and prevention. Yet, we haven’t been able to gain complete control over the disease—-it still poses to be a severe threat to the physical and mental well being of man.

A lot of us are still unaware or uninformed about this condition. Worse still, some of us misinterpret something we hear/read...and pass on these misinterpretations/ misinformation eventually leading to widespread ignorance and hysteria.

It is for this very reason that the Union of International Cancer Control have been observing the fourth of February every year (since 2000) as #WorldCancerDay to raise awareness about Cancer symptoms and to emphasize the need for its early detection through screening tests and biopsy. This year, the theme for World Cancer Day is “I am, and I will”...an acknowledgement of the strength inside every person to battle the disease.

Following is the list of symptoms one should watch out for:

  • Any abnormal growth/lump anywhere in the body...especially in the breast, folds of private areas, armpits, abdomen. Regular examination of the breast while having a shower should be done by all females, irrespective of age. 
  • Abdominal bloating, pain, significant & unexplained loss of appetite, significant & unexplained loss of weight, excessive fatigue.
  • Bleeding in post menopausal women, excessive vaginal (foul smelling, bloody, or coloured) discharge, discharge (blood tinged or coloured) from breasts.
  • In males - blood in urine or semen, painful/burning urination more at night, leaking, unsteady stream, sudden Erectile Dysfunction, urinary retention  should be investigated for prostatic malignancy.


How do we keep Cancer away? 

There are various kinds of cancers and every body reacts to it differently. There is no sure shot formula for cancer prevention or treatment. What we can do, however, is strengthen our immune system through a well balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Diet:

Eating the right kind of diet is imperative for maintaining a healthy immune system. A balanced diet containing the the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, and fat.

Certain foods are known to possess anti cancer properties. These include...

  • Apples because they contain polyphenols known for their anti cancer properties.
  • Berries - contain anthrocyanin that is known to lower biomarkers for colon cancer.
  • Carrots - beneficial in supporting the immune system, lowers incidence of  breast cancer and prostrate cancer.
  • Freshwater fish - possesses omega-3 fatty acids prevent colorectal cancer
  • Walnuts, legumes, fresh fruits, vegetables, and good fat help promote immunity and prevent cancers.

What to avoid: 


  • Refined white flour and refined sugars as they tend to cause a rapid spike in insulin levels and hence cause cancer cells to proliferate. 
  • Microwaveable meals, sprayed with chemicals, artificial sweeteners.

Exercise 

Exercise plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy body and mind

  • Studies have shown that regular exercise tends to reduce cancer risk, esp cancer of the colon.
  • It also helps allay depression, fatigue, and anxiety, that commonly occur in cancer patients.
  • Improves physical capacity of the individual.
  • Improves quality of life.
  • Does not exacerbate lymphedema.


75 mins of vigorous aerobic exercise - walking, cycling, swimming and 2-3 resistance exercises (lifting weights) each week will help you restore physical fitness and rejuvenate the spirit.

And that is what the theme of #WorldCancerDay prompts us to do...

‘I am, and I will’ is a commitment, a promise to oneself and to those we love, an acknowledgement of the fighter within, a manifestation of courage in the face of a storm...a challenge we have undertaken with the ‘Emperor of all maladies’.

In the words of author Siddharth Mukherjee,

“Cancer is an expansionist disease. It invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking ‘sanctuary’ in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—-at times, as if teaching us how to survive.“ 

Here’s to the human spirit...

May it grow resilient enough to face the challenges in its path and strong enough to overcome them.


January 26, 2020

Soundscapes: India 2010 - 2020

Today, take a moment to reflect; even after seventy long years of India adopting the Constitution, how much of it are we adhering to? How much of a Republic have we truly become?


I listen intently, eyes shut tight

They say my country speaks at night 

Of riots, of fires, of whispers and wails

Of how criminals can walk free on bail

While the families they have ruined

Are terrified to step out of the house at all 

My country speaks of religion and caste

Of how long consequences of each can last

When what we eat and what we say 

Bend us, break us, make us prey

To lynching by mobs, man slaughter by goons

Backed by ‘babas’ who are certified loons 

Of Ayodhya and Babri, the settlement sore 

Of Ram-Rahim feeling they each deserved more 

Of fishing for votes by claiming Hanuman Dalit

And pampering the likes of Mehul, Mallya, and Lalit 

Who after feeding on public naiveté

Like hungry vultures 

Transform into sea gulls and circle foreign shores

My country talks of wedding extravagance and a royal guest list

And while the common man clenches his tired fist

Antilia grows another storey

While some other stories are silenced

On Twitter, at weddings, amidst crowded streets

And sometimes in the veranda of their own homes

‘It was a heart attack. He couldn’t make it to the hospital’

‘Go to Pakistan! Anti national!’

‘She deserved the bullet, she was too rational’

Intolerance, fabrication, pushing blame 

Appropriation of an innocent’s name 

My country talks of emotional hypocrisy 

It scoffs when I say it’s still a democracy

CAA, NRC it points out to me 

And asks if I still believe it is free

Free to call its children its own 

Free to embrace love and love alone

From afar, a blood curdling scream

Pierces the silence, and disrupts my dream

My eyes fly open, I see them fight

I know now why my country can’t sleep at night 

© Priyanka Naik




Writer's note: 

I am aware today is the 26th of January and our patriotism is at its zenith. I am also aware my poem 'Soundscapes' might seem like a gulp of bitter medicine to some, difficult to swallow. However, I have never been the one to sugar coat things. And so it stands...start, brutal reality. Right in front of you in print. Recap of the decade gone by in poetic verse. Who said poetry was for the faint hearted?

“This post is a part of ‘DECADE Blog Hop’ #DecadeHop organized by #RRxMM Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul. The Event is sponsored by Glo and co-sponsored by Beyond The Box, Wedding Clap, The Colaba Store and Sanity Daily in association with authors Piyusha Vir and Richa S Mukherjee”


It was this decade hop that made me delve on all that we experienced together as a nation in the past decade. Initially, I wanted to write about all that India had achieved in the past decade (of course there was the Commonwealth Games, launch of the MoM - Mangalyaan operation, Scrapping of article 377, eradication of polio etc), but as I continued to jot down all that had happened year after year in the decade, I realized there was, spontaneously and unintentionally, a much longer list forming. A list of atrocities India was subjected to. A list of calamities it had faced. A list of struggles it had endured, of discrimination it had suffered, A list that could only make my head hang in shame. 

Even right now, as you're reading this, the situation in our country is fraught with tension and strife. Dirty politics, blame games, smothering of the truth, media games.
As much as I tried to include the ‘good’ the decade had shown us, the terrible that we had to witness screamed out at me, as if it was India saying ‘Don’t you dare cushion the blow I had to suffer.’ 
And that is precisely how my poem 'Soundscapes' came to be written... 
as a response to the innumerable sleepless nights and anxious days we faced together.
as a voice to awaken those who are asleep, oblivious of the struggle the less privileged are facing.
as a reminder of all that we fought and survived (and sometimes succumbed to).

You, who snore tonight, India is awake, struggling, sobbing, crying, protesting...but nevertheless, hoping. Still hoping. Forever hoping...

For a new tomorrow...
where we will regain all that we have lost, that India will truly become a sovereign democratic republic, and secure to all its citizens Justice; social, economic, and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation.

On that note, I remain... 

Worried yet hopeful, 

An Indian