October 30, 2020

Book review: 'Anxious people' by Fredrik Backman

Title: "Anxious People"

Author: Fredrik Backman

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 2020)

Available in :Paperback and Kindle format

This is a story about 'idiots', relatable to the core because each one of us at some point in life has been one.

It is a story about how we adults are actually children in disguise, unaware of where we are going, forced to accept responsibilities we are not always ready for, but trying to fulfil them to the best of our abilities anyway.

It is a story about a bank robbery gone wrong, about an ensuing hostage drama, and a bunch of strangers each with their own eccentricities, finding a common thread.

Narrated in a light and riveting style, Fredrik Backman frequently employs the ‘Rashomon effect’. It alternates between sarcastic but humorous interviews with the hostages and a tongue in cheek account of what ‘actually’ happened.

A few pages down, and you are almost tempted into believing it is a comedy (of errors), until you read on and discover the profundity of interwoven wisdom.

‘Anxious people’, I’d love to classify, as a community read. It is self-help disguised in a refreshingly non-patronising manner...something you’d want to pick especially during a pandemic like the one we are going through, when empathy is the need of the hour.

However, there were a few instances in the book that felt larger than life. What I didn’t particularly enjoy is that Backman has taken care to explain (repeatedly at times) and tie all the ends together, leaving very little to the readers imagination. While I do appreciate a well rounded-up story, I also respect authors who respect their readers intelligence and leave a few instances open ended. But then again, perhaps reconfirmation is a strategy to suit the theme (‘anxiety’) of the book.

The realization how our life can be affected by the life of strangers we may have momentarily crossed paths with, the decisions that don’t always make sense but we are forced to take for the ones we love, and last but not the least, a reminder that it is not always our fault...Backman explores these themes in this wonderfully spontaneous and witty NewYork Times Bestseller.

I rate this one 4 on 5.

October 21, 2020

Book review: 'Caste: The origins of our discontent'

Title: 'Caste: The origins of our discontent'

Author: Isabel Wilkerson

Publisher: Allen Lane (15 September 2020)

Available in: Kindle edition, audio book, hard cover, and audio CD

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly."

But somewhere down the line, we seem to have forgotten just that. 

Isabel Wilkerson ‘Caste...the origin of our discontent’ is a hard-hitting eye opener to all those who have allowed themselves to be blinded by the repetitive prejudiced tellings of a caste based culture. 

The book tries to break down the complexities of caste and race workings into simpler building blocks, to help us understand from where it all started. 

Written in an easy-to-understand and interesting way, the narrative is a combination of a terrifying history, a grotesque reality, and tiny reminders that hit us hard and wake us up. 

At the very outset, Isabel draws parallels between the three major caste hierarchies in the world—-the chilling, officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany, the shapeshifting, unspoken race divide in America, and the lingering, millennia old and more insidious caste hierarchy in India. 

Of course, the author being African American, has grown up hearing, seeing, and feeling the ramifications of a racist society in her everyday life and personal interactions and this has placed her at a vantage point while explaining to us the situation in America than that in the other two countries. 

I, however, being Indian, could easily imagine the same incidents rolling out in almost exactly the same way here in India. The only difference being, here we are divided on the basis of ‘caste’ and there on the basis of ‘race’.

“Caste is the bones. Race is the skin.”

For all those who thought the two forms (of prejudice) were different from each other, Isabel aptly puts across the correct relationship between the two. Caste, she explains, is fixed, a more rigid concept while race is more fluid. However, both are interdependent. Both have wreaked terror and continue to do so even today despite there being existing laws against the discrimination they trigger. 

If one has read Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of the caste system’, it is easy to notice how similar the discrimination faced by the Dalits in medieval India was to the horror endured by the blacks in the U.S before the American civil war. 

The Jim Crow laws, the subjugation that the non-whites suffered at the hands of the whites, the humiliation, the flogging, the slavery, the rapes have all been happening with the marginalised in India as well. Likewise with the Jews who were assigned the status ‘Untermensch’ in the period that led to the third Reich.

In the segment on the eight pillars of caste, Isabel explores various prejudices, the myths and facades that were built to keep them in place, the laws against miscegenation, endogamy, and mind numbing horrors that one cannot even imagine inflicted on human or animal. 

The subservience of the subordinate castes made me squirm with discomfort. The cruelty they were made to suffer made me gasp. The illogical hatred, the senseless narcissism, the abuse (physical and mental) by the so-called ‘higher’ castes left me infuriated. 

The gory real life stories of ‘Negro’ slaves in America, the denigration of ‘untouchables’ in India are so painfully grotesque and dehumanising that I was tempted to abandon reading midway...but then it hit me—-that is exactly the problem with our society. We often want to live in denial of that which is not palatable, no matter how real. Refusing to acknowledge the atrocities, the bias, the prejudice of caste will not make it go away. 

It is pretty much like the monster under your bed...you don’t want to look because you are too afraid you may actually find it. Only, in this case, the ‘monster’ called caste is real. 

And that is what the book felt like—-harsh, painful, but authentic. 

The narrative is interspersed with anecdotes from the author’s own personal encounters and the criticism she faces only adds to the ‘real’ voice of the book. 

"Jaat naahi ti jaat,” is a popular Marathi saying that is reflective of the nature of the caste system. 

After reading this book and realising how global this phenomenon is, I was left speechless. 

Here we are in the 21st century, a so called modern and evolved era still trying to come to terms with the idiocy of the caste system, still dealing with the assumed superiority of some groups over others that they consider inferior based on immutable factors, like colour of skin, origin of birth, and ancestry. 

We have been handed down a regressive social construct, the disasters of which have been either perpetuated or suffered by our ancestors, and instead of destroying it, we continue to treasure it, respect it, revere it...as part of our heritage. This abominable heritage of hate.

Call it ‘varna’, ‘race’,  or ‘jaati’, caste by any other name is just as evil. 

The resurgence of the caste system, maybe in less obvious, more insidious ways, has made us forget the struggle of Martin Luther King, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule. 

We have become silent witnesses of communal mobs, of Dalits being lynched, of surnames being asked, of marriages being broken, of lovers being torn apart, of temples barring access...all evidence of the resurgence. 

But we choose to stay silent. We do not act. 

A line I read in this book springs to mind...

Something Bonhoeffer once said to bystanders, 

“God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Detailing the grim and the gory is not an easy task. And a book like this must have taken a whole lot of research.  Wilkerson has done a commendable job in piecing together ‘The origin of our discontent’, with need for special mention of how in the end, she ties it all up with glimmering threads of hope. Of the non-bias of white friends who stand up for her. Of the radicalisation of the dominant caste. Of people shedding their prejudices. Of realisation. Of equality. Of acceptance.

The chapter ‘The Heart is the last frontier’ is a beautiful reminder that the world can still be beautiful. 

I end here with the concluding line of the book. A line we all need to ponder upon, long before and after reading...

“A world without caste would set everyone free.”

I urge you to read this book and draw your own conclusions. I rate it a 5 on 5. A must read!

October 13, 2020

Book review: “The family upstairs” by Lisa Jewell

This one was recommended to me by a friend who for some reason (unknown to me) thought  I’d enjoy it very much. Anyway...

It’s not like I hated the book. In fact, I did enjoy it in parts. 

The story is fast paced, the writing is crisp and easy. And it has that ‘page turner’ quality (at least in the first 3/4th of the book). The narrative is split into three different POV’s, each with a distinctive style and course.

25 year old Libby aka ‘the baby’ has just inherited a mansion in the heart of Chelsea from a family she lost as a baby. 

While researching on this surprise inheritance, there are a few other discoveries that come to light, the prime among which is that as a baby she had been found by authorities in the midst of a crime scene, gurgling away in her crib with three dead people in the house (her parents and their friend in an alleged suicide pact), and that she has two other siblings she never got to see/know growing up. 

It is these three; Libby, Henry, and Lucy around which the narrative is structured. 

Thus unravels the story of the mansion, at the centre of which lie these three families whose lives become closely intertwined in sinister ways...ways that the reader will find himself piecing together as he becomes part of the journey. A journey rife with emotional upheaval, a troubled childhood, bizarre cultic traditions, and some deep dark secrets that once breathed in the mansion, waiting for 25 years to be uncovered. 

Jewell has managed to successfully arouse and maintain the intrigue of the reader with each person’s narrative alternating between their horrifying past replete with cloistered cultic traditions and incestuous relationships, and their tumultuous present that is filled with confusion, fear, anxiety, and yet a common yearning...to meet each other, especially ‘the baby’. 

There are moments of surprise and incredulity that will leave the reader open mouthed but turning pages nevertheless.

Some instances that require suspension of disbelief include: 

A murder happening (too easily executed and concealed) in broad daylight and the cops never following up on it. 

Henry (at age 12 or 13) learning the entire expansive science of herbs and potions from Justin and then practicing it all alone with equal finesse almost felt like a retelling of ‘the sorcerers apprentice’.

Also couldn’t help feeling all the kids in the book must have been precocious, with them the little geniuses mastering sciences and culinary arts, or understanding the nuances of mature adult relationships or even plotting the almost-perfect escape and getting away with murder. 

All this, with not even as much as basic formal schooling (Couldn’t help feeling it may have been education that ruined us).

Cut to the last 1/4th of the book, and the plot starts feeling a little stodgy or probably this is because your expectations have risen by then, when suddenly the big reveal...the sibling is not the sibling (which is a good twist nonetheless). 

You devour the next few pages at break neck speed and just when you think the plot is getting sinister, PHAATT! It falls flat! 

Yes, the way the story ended left me feeling let down because by then I was rooting for pure evil, what with a cultic plot like that. Instead it gave me a happily ever after with almost negligible traces of ominousness (a major roll-eye moment).

It was as if the quota of dark psychology had outdone itself during their childhood and not wanting to creep them out anymore suddenly decided to quit the family reunion. 

Jewell leaves a lot to the readers imagination, with her touch-and-go style of cause and effect. 

Well, I do acknowledge the fact that a nice little open ending exercises the brain cells, but experimenting with these kind of open loops a tad too frequently in the story can make it seem like the author may have not known how best to end what she had started. 

To sum up, ‘The Family Upstairs’ is a racy, chilling, psychological read that includes multiple story lines, scarred lives, a lot of mystery, several murders, a deranged cult, a malevolent obsession, and a happy ending, that will leave you with some jaw drops and a whole lot of roll eye moments.

I rate it 3 out of 5 

June 16, 2020

5 ways we can still fix a broken world

We are all aware of what is happening in the world today. And I can say without doubt, we are not too proud of it.

After much contemplation, cribbing, and ranting, I have finally come to accept that the answer to all our troubles does not lie in looking back at the past and trying to correct it. (Because it may be too late to change the narrative of our lives, too much damage has been done for that already. )

Instead, it lies in ensuring that our mistakes aren’t repeated. That out faulty mentality and biases do not form part of the legacy that we are handing over to our children. That they turn out better than we turned out to be.

Here are five ways we can help the children we birth/raise/know grow up into better human beings: 

1) Build their trust: When a child smiles at you, smile back. No matter how your day is going. Maybe you are running late for work, or have missed the bus, or your boss is mad at you for submitting a work file too late. Maybe you have flunked a test, or have just broken up with the love of your life. But if a child smiles at you, smile. Children are innocent and often see the world as a compassionate place where what you give is what you get. Do not let them down. Let them believe that kindness exists. Do not shatter their expectations. Let them grow up knowing that the easiest way to make a friend is to smile. 

2) Introduce them to the magic of reading: Read out a story to a child, preferably one every week, with full animated gestures et al give flight to his imagination. Introduce him to the art of reading and story telling. You can read out to an adult too if you like. You’d be surprised how much they enjoy it.

3) Teach them the importance of art - Contribute to the world of art. Even the smallest of contributions make a huge difference—-Spend time sketching. Do a doodle. Paint a picture. Write a poem. Make your own music. Spin a story. Even if you don’t have an audience, create. For yourself. And for your kid who is constantly watching and emulating you. 

4) Break a taboo - this is a social change you can start at home. We have age old customs around everything. Replace them with stories of feminism and gender equality. Speak to your children openly on topics of menstruation and sex. Buy them games and clothes that are gender neutral. Hand then equal responsibility when it comes to household chores. We have enough male chauvinists in our patriarchal society. Make sure you are not raising one. 

5) Tell them it is fine. That it is fine to lose a game, fail a test, or make mistakes...if it ends up teaching you something in return. Teach them it is fine to feel different from the rest of the world as long as they lend a patient ear to those who ‘feel’ different too. Teach them that the colour of your skin, the labels on your clothes, the money in your wallet, does not matter. What matters is the strength of your character the fact that we all need the same things to keep us alive; blood in our veins, air in our lungs, and compassion in our heart.

Old men can make war. But it is only children who will make history.”- Ray Meritt

Let’s ensure that the generations after us live a happier story right from the very beginning, and do not have to carry the burden of our sins.

What a wonderful little chance to rewrite history—-of course, you do not necessarily have to birth a child in order to raise it right.

The best teachers have embraced the onus of raising children...a responsibility that is sometimes tougher to handle than that of a parent.

Children are like water, taking up any colour you mix in them. A child can be encouraged with as little as an uplifting word or an act of kindness. Make sure you mix the right colours. Say the right words. Be kind and considerate in your behaviour.

Remember, the ‘future’ is constantly watching you.

June 10, 2020

Book review: ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse’

Title: The boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse.

Author: Charlie Mackesy 

Pages: 128 pages

Publisher: Ebury Press

“The boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse” is an allegorical tale, replete with flash insights on friendship, courage, life and our insecurities.

It is a simple story with invaluable lessons inscribed on every page, a story that can be read, interpreted, and understood by people of all ages. 
The story begins with a boy wandering into the wilderness, alone and confused, until he encounters a philosophical mole, a silent fox, and a magnificent horse. 

Each of the four characters represent extremely relatable human traits and behavioural patterns. The little boy, lost and full of questions, is trying to find his way back home. The wizened mole is obsessed with cake. The silent fox is jaded by the hurt he has lived in the past. And the gentle horse has downplayed his exemplary talents  in order to fit into an ordinary world. 
Together they explore the wilderness, which like life, is full of surprises-both scary and beautiful. 

Thus a symbiotic association is formed between them, ultimately resulting in an unusual but beautiful friendship.

Embellished with basic illustrations and minimalistic writing using swirly calligraphy and intermittent strokes of water colour in pen and ink drawings, Charlie Mac has brought out the beauty of the journey in a succinct yet engaging manner. 
The sketches gently push the story forward. The accompanying dialogue between the characters make you reflect on your own insecurities of fear, guilt, illness, loss, thus serving as balm to the aching soul. 
Lines like “Home isn’t always a place, isn’t it?” hit home and make you nod in agreement.

A poignant point which almost made me want to reach out and hug the author was when the boy asks the horse, “What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?”, to which the horse replies, “Help”. 

A shout-out to all people belittling, underestimating, or shying away from discussing their mental health issues.

As suggested in the above illustration, the author seems to be a believer of beauty-in-imperfections, somewhat like the Japanese culture of Wabisabi. And this only adds to the charm of his storytelling. 
If you, like me, are a fan of Bill Watterson’s ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ series, then this is one book you are sure to enjoy. 

Translated in seventeen different languages, ‘The boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse’ is worth the space in your collection and your heart...to hand and hold, to treasure and cherish, and to return to every now and then, especially in times of uncertainty and strife. 

Seems like the apt read for now,  isn’t it?  

I rate it: 5 out of 5

You can buy it here

June 04, 2020

George Floyd and the Elephant #AllLivesMatter

Just when I thought the Coronavirus pandemic had succeeded in getting humans a little sensitive towards nature and other species, reality decided to prove me wrong. 

Take for instance the heinous crime against the innocent fifteen year old elephant in Palakkad, Kerala. 
It has been alleged that some unidentified locals fed the mute creature a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers. This resulted in her suffering from severe degree burns and excruciating pain in the mouth.
The pachyderm rushed to the nearby river where she stayed with her trunk and mouth dipped in the water. No amount of efforts from the forest officials could manage to get her out. 
She stood there silently, nursing her smarting wounds, hanging her head as if in shame at her faith in humans and their kindness. Until she breathed her last. 
Post mortem reports revealed she was pregnant. 

Cut to the far flung West, where an innocent man named George Floyd met a brutal death for no fault of his. Following a false allegation of theft/counterfeit for a petty supermarket expense, the police officer in charge arrested George needlessly and violently, pressing his knee into his neck. Handcuffed and bound in that vulnerable state, George kept gasping for breath, but his voice reached empty ears. The officer held him down for almost nine minutes...till he finally stopped breathing. 
The assault was caught on camera and has been a cause of widespread resentment ever since. All over the U.S, there have been violent protests and angry demonstrations from the black population. 

Why am I writing about both these incidents in the same piece?
My intention is not to compare the gravity of the two situations, no.
I’m aware that the murder of a human is a much more serious offence than the slaughter of any other mammal, at least in the book of law. 
However, recent happenings has forced me drawing parallels...between two incidents, in two unrelated parts of the world and yet linked by one common factor—-inhumanity. 

Today I grieve, for both, the Elephant in Kerala and George in Minneapolis. I grieve today, for the murder of their trust, their innocence, their vulnerability. At the hands of a diabolical and prejudiced mentality. 
The elephant had a tiny life growing within her. George had a family; a wife, children, an entire life ahead of him. 
Both were taken away before their time. Why? 
Does a life mean nothing to someone who is entrusted with the responsibility to guard it? 
In Pallakad, Kerala, it was the locals who considered themselves superior. In Minneapolis, the white officer found himself at a position of privilege. Does that mean they had the right to abuse this privilege...for their entertainment, to prove their supremacy? 

Both these instances were followed by mass social outrage.
All over India, animal activists cried hoarse over the elephant tragedy. They raked up old unresolved cases of similar nature and lambasted the Government.
Secular Americans did the same.

The Kerala Government pinned a reward to anybody who would identify the offenders. The NYPD sacked the officer from his post in the department. The protestors weren’t satisfied. Would that bring Floyd back? They wanted justice. They wanted the President to have their back, to promise them a society with no undercurrents of discrimination. Of course, it did not help that the POTUS switched off the lights and hid in the bunkers. 
Some demanded explanations. Some made it look like political propaganda. 
The excuses started to trickle in...excuses to cushion the savage nature of the murders, to explain that these deaths were not as intentional as they appeared to be.
Someone claimed the pineapple was a trap for wild boars and the elephant ate it accidentally. 
Forensics reported Floyd as Covid positive and although they did not dare to associate that as the direct reason for his death, they insinuated that his lungs had not been strong enough to take the strain of the knee-neck lock.
But isn’t that exactly what excuses are meant to do—-make it seem like the victim’s fault? 

What is to come out of all this then? 
A few weeks down and the chaos will settle. The activists will tire. The voices will fade. The protests will lose their energy...and our sorry lives will go on like they did before. 
The offenders will be punished. People will realise that they cannot take the vulnerable for granted. The Government will know it is answerable to a public that votes for it...that it can run but it cannot cower down and hide. The public will understand they deserve more than they get and they have every right to ask for it.
One pregnant elephant. One black man. They can either be a statistic in the record or can change the entire face of history. 
However, it is only when we voice our opinion, when we take a stand for the injustice done to others that we can expect someone to voice their opinion against the injustice done to us.

Whether it is happening to a mute creature in a remote village in Kerala or it is happening to an innocent black man in Minnesota, Minneapolis, bullying is brutal and should be challenged not by silence but by confrontation, by awareness, by supporting the victims, by punishing the offenders.

Let’s make some noise about the issue. It’s time to wake up! 

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.


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 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