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Saturday, September 7, 2019

You, Me and Chai!!

Introduction to Chai

Chai, a sweet and spicy aromatic milk and water based tea fills the aroma of the house every morning and evening (if not more). After living in U.S. for 3 years now, I still feel I crave for chai each day unlike my friends in this coffee-loving country. Well, if America runs on coffee (whether Dunkin or Starbucks), India runs on chai. I have my share of rendezvous with my Dad’s special cappuccino, filter coffee from South India and the relief of instant coffee when my brain requires caffeine- but chai wins it for me.

Calling someone for chai has many different meanings and connotations. As people ask someone out for coffee for networking or dating- calling someone for chai is about building personal bonds at home- sometimes over awkward conversations. Bollywood song, ‘isiliye mummy ne meri tujhe chai pe bulaya hai’ rings the bell about a guy being called to his beau’s home for chai to further the conversation about their marriage. On the other hand, offering a cup of chai to someone who is stressed is also extending that hand of warm friendship, ‘Have a cup of chai and you will feel better or Let’s talk this over a cup of chai’.  

Chai holds a ‘dear’ place in the hearts of most Indians where offering a cup of chai is not only considered as hospitality but accepting one is even mandatory to keep the respect of the host. Many times during my visit to villages on work, people would insist on having a tea before moving forward. And it was considered rude to say ‘no’.

Everyone likes their chai in different proportions of its ingredients. Since childhood, I learned that my Dad’s version of more water-less milk chai was different than my Mom’s milky chai. My Uncle’s all-milk chai was another story! But my best cup of chai is made by my Hubby every morning (or evening)! Aha the aroma and served right to bed…….nothing can beat that!

Living in Bihar, I came across abridged version called chai-coffee which was chai with a hint of coffee in it. On top of that, it was cooked on a coal stove and contracted the musky smell of coal giving it a distinct flavor. We enjoyed it most times with conversations with complete strangers, discussing caste, religion or politics. Recently, I also came to know this is called ‘maara-maari’ in Pune which literally means ‘fight’. I wonder if this is the fight of coffee vs chai! Lol.  

Sugar content in chai is another interesting subject. As a standard practice in most parts of India, more the sugar in the chai, the more the host is trying to please you (Don’t worry I keep that count right at our place in case you drop in for a chai). Very soon after marriage, my hubby’s friends learned that the new sister-in-law keeps the chai less sweet but covers it up with her behavior! With diabetic genes, one cannot help but be careful.

My friends all over the world love me for my chai- including Africans (especially Kenyans who also call it Chai), Asians and folks from U.S. Chai has been our binder on many occasions when all we wanted to do was to sit around each other and talk about issues which mattered to us and affected us in many ways- from social issues to personal troubles… to spirituality. Chai complements them all. My heart fondly remembers many such friendly and deep, even profound conversations along with chai. My intention through this series is to give a peak into those beautiful conversations. I hope you enjoy this chai-time bonding moments with me….. 

You, Me and Chai is an effort to bring those conversations to you which happen among friends along with tea, whether it is at chai at roadside or at the comfort of your home. It is an open platform among friends to share their thoughts and reflections…..If you want to contribute to the conversations, please write to us! We would love to hear what you talk about during your chai-time J

Thursday, February 28, 2019

From Roses to Rose plant!

A photograph of a couple with a red rose plant in their hands
The beautiful rose plant that my husband gifted me this year!

This is not necessarily a natural transition. Sometimes Roses lead to ‘Teddies’. Sometimes they lead to tears. Personal disclaimer: So, when I was gifted a rose plant this Valentine's day, I knew we had shifted from the stage of Roses to a Rose plant stage!

Roses signify passionate love-one which depicts ‘a’ half open bud with mysteries embedded, twists and turns on the way. And often artificially stripped off thorns. Now, we all know that is not what life is about. But, surely that is what ‘dating’ is. You put your best ‘foot forward’, not necessarily showing off your thorns. Often in my experience, these ‘grafted’ beautiful roses are stripped off their original fragrance too. They are gorgeous to look at, but with a tendency to have no fragrance and often withering in a few days. But, it doesn’t matter where you keep them, they add beauty to every place and do not even need sunlight. It is almost like ‘fake happiness’.

On the other hand, a rose plant is more real. It is grounded (in reality); roses but thorns as well. You have to nurture the plant with sunlight and water (and of course love!). It may wither at times but also has a rejuvenating tendency. A hope for new beginnings. It is more work but much more sustainable.

Gift of a rose plant also signifies more than love. It means the person giving the gift knows your skills to keep things (and relationships) alive. Do not be fooled. I am not bragging about my skills. I have killed my share of plants. Or they have been killed by someone I handed them over for care as a stop-gap arrangement. But most often than not, I am capable of sustaining, nurturing and growing them with love. And I am proud of this fact. For both plants and relationships.

A photograph of a red rose plant
Gorgeous pics shared by our friends who nurtured this rose plant!
Now, coming to the sustainability part. My husband and I have started this social experiment to gift plants to friends; who we know are capable of keeping them alive. The rose plant that he gifted his friend in India, has rewarded us with beautiful pictures of red roses along with their shining faces. This is almost like a cultural shift in India where gifting of bouquets or garlands is very common. It almost seems like growing/ cultivating humanity and love in another human being.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New year resolutions- Any takers?

As the New Year dawns, so do our inspiration for our resolutions. However, since the thought process comes right at the new year’s, it takes time to settle into them! About a day or two, so the post comes today J

It’s one thing to make the resolutions and another story to keep up to them! My ‘gym-addicted’ friend tells me, ‘You will see a huge crowd in gym first week of January. By the end of February, only a handful remain.’ And I am probably not among those handful, either. So, my sympathies to all my fellow resolution-makers (and breakers)! And that is why in 2019, I want to trick myself to keep my resolutions by putting them out for the world. If they are out there on my blog, I can slightly increase their chance to remain unbroken. The resolutions might also resonate with many of my fellow humans and so, here I am!

My resolutions this year are very comprehensive (or so I would like to believe)! I intent to nourish my body, mind and consciousness…. Soul might have been a better ‘language fit’. However, I am not sure I believe in that concept anymore! And thus, consciousness takes its place J

For my body, I want to reduce the intake of unhealthy foods and sugar. This doesn’t mean I can’t treat myself to occasional chocolate or eating out. But, I will be mindful of what goes in my mouth. As a friend once shared, ‘Before reaching out to a treat, I think- whether I NEED it or simply WANT it?’ With the biological clock on the run, I do want to make sure I take care of myself to prevent diseases which can be avoided by some care measures.

For my mind, I do treat it to wonderful readings now and then. However, I do want to expand that ‘reading horizon’. All the wonderful reading suggestions are very welcome! But, what I really want to do is to spent my time on them-pondering and critically thinking. This needs reflection. And writing. I almost miss writing when I don’t. So, this year, I intent to stick to blogging in a more meaningful way, starting with this one! My new blog, ‘You, Me and Chai’ which has been brimming within me for a while now, will also be poured into your lives soon.  

For my consciousness, I want to practice ‘letting go’. In many conversations, life events and relationships, I often feel that I hold the grip too tight. It not only constricts the relationships but also my own conscience. Readings from Buddhist Dhamma texts by Temple Forest tradition share that we do not need to win all arguments. You do not need to have your own way always. Sometimes letting go is more useful for the conscious. This makes so much sense to me. For myself.

Rain drops on the window with a blurred vision of the road at the side.The friends who know me, also know (and have told me) that I can be very stubborn. It can be very useful at times, manifested as perseverance for the goat- ‘Capricorn sign’. However, the judgement needs to be made as when one needs to let go and when to face the problem head on. But letting go of situations (and people’s behaviors) not under your control is important. With such a fast and unpredictable life, I do believe it’s not worth to hold on to grudges in life. Or do actions which make people have grudges against you. It is true we cannot please everyone in life. And we do not need to. What we can do is to find peace in actions we take. And that’s exactly what I want to do.

All the very best for me to keep these resolutions in the new year (and to you too)! And a request to my dear family and friends to call out on me if I am not keeping them. After all, the whole purpose of human life is to keep ourselves on track of growth and peace. A very Happy New Year 2019!        

Monday, June 11, 2018

Taxi to Airport

The journey back to airport in New Orleans was very interesting. I met Vitaliae. He told me that he was from Maldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe. He has been in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) for about 3 years now. He had ‘only’ 3 boys (11, 8 and 3 years old) and his wife took care of them along with working part-time. ‘I couldn’t give her a girl,’ he chuckled to himself. He believed that his wife was to take care of his boys but had studied science enough to know that she wasn’t responsible for bearing boys. A clear mix of patriarchy and break-down of masculinity right there!
Vitaliae is from Roma community and his family settled in Maldova after World War II. Being from Roma community, Vitaliae was severely discriminated in school. ‘I was made to sit at the far end of the classroom. No other kid would sit with me or talk to me except while teasing me; calling me a gypsy.’ His wife is from Maldova. ‘Now, my children do not look like ‘gypsy’ and hopefully they will not be teased at school’. Or so he thought. He came to U.S. in search of a better world. ‘We were only second in Maldova. Always the ‘other’, he struggled to tell me. Roma identity is not claimed, often by the educated ones since it still holds a lot of stigma. ‘I had bought a home in Maldova but still it didn’t feel like home. So we moved’, he tells me.
Roma community or Romani people faces a lot of discrimination in many spheres including education. Although they are about 12 million members in Europe, about 90 percent of them live in poverty. A 12-country program called Decade of Roma Inclusion was found to be successful in access to education but it’s not just access which keeps children in schools. Only 20 percent of children complete primary school. The numbers for girls is even lower. The ones who make it to schools due to awakened or conscious parents, are alienated from their peers due to their ethnic identity and racism in classes. They are over surveyed in school due to negative stereotypes against them. The formal education system does not include their history or language in their curriculum. No wonder the Roma community feels the education is ‘not for them’. The opportunity to jobs is also very scarce as is housing for them.
In U.S., Vitaliae drives taxi during the day and works as a bartender at night to sustain his family. Escaping from one discrimination into another. Discrimination exists in U.S. society as well for him but it is not the discrimination being associated as a ‘gypsy’. He has escaped that as he moved from ‘his’ country. Being part of a diaspora here, has liberated him in that sense. Although, he has landed into discrimination of class, race and immigration status in U.S. ‘I do not want to remember that time from my life. It was too sad, ‘Vitaliae tells me as he smiles. ‘This is better’, and prints a receipt for my travel.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Active Bystander training- a fresh start for me!

You know that feeling when you have been waiting for something for a while. Not like a sharp wait which cuts through you but a wait which remains there, somewhere submerged in your mind. And you wish that it is responded, to equip one better to deal with situations. Situations which are not imaginary. Situations which occur and you don’t know how to react, what to do finally ending up a guilty conscious of inaction. This training was my answer to that wait. Active Bystanders training organized by Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies (PAX) and Sociology department at Brandeis University facilitated by Quabbin Mediation was worth going to even at the end of my day.

What does being an Active Bystander mean to me?
Someone who is not lost when a situation of discrimination or abuse occurs. Someone who proactively takes action to confront, diffuse or respond back to the situation. As a truth, I have not been one many times in life even though I have wanted to be one every single time the situation arose.

At the very beginning, the training program set up the stage that we have all been ‘target’ as well as ‘harm doer’ to others in our lives. Thus, being any one of them does not make us any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ respectively. Doing harm can be anything, verbal or physical abuse based on a certain identity- of race, caste, gender, sexuality, ability, class or most often intersections of them! This harm is perpetuated intentionally or even unintentionally in the society due to our behavior patterns and privileges. We have also been ‘Bystanders’, probably more than the above two categories in our lives. Being active or passive is a choice though- which depends on our own positionality. Our identities make us privileged or vulnerable to say something or shut up!

The most interesting aspect of the training for me was the categorization of ‘inhibitors’ of active Bystandership. Unless we recognize what stops us to take action- we won’t start taking action. Right?
These inhibitors included a wide range of behaviors including Masks (ignoring that a harm is happening), Who me (Diffusion of responsibility), Confusion (unsure if harm is happening), Fear (Fear of disapproval) and Danger (Possibility of revenge or retaliation against you). Breaking each of these down with examples and brainstorming within small groups was a powerful exercise. Sharing of examples and some honest conversations made me feel that I was ‘part of a flock’ and taking action in certain situations is not always possible. On the other hand, various actions taken by people in difficult situations also gave me a feeling of hope. My small list of things for active Bystanders to do as a take away is as follows:
·         Call out or name the problem. If you are afraid to reach out alone, name it aloud to catch other people’s attention. For example, Oh, the lady is crying/ bleeding/ or needs help? This will get somebody’s attention and you will be an active recruiter.
·         Recruit allies. Don’t do it alone. Recruit others in the task. Use phrases aloud like; Did you see that? Should we do something? Sometimes designating someone to do something while you do another part of the job is also helpful. For example, ‘You call the police while I attend to the first aid of the victim’. Together we can do more.
·         Be the first one to act. This will break the mask. Most of us are empathetic poeple, we just don’t know how to start acting in that way. If you are unsure or in confusion about whether harm is actually intended, ask a follow up question. For example, if you hear a racist or sexist comment at workplace, ask ‘Can you explain why you think so?’ This will let them recheck their stereotypes and give courage to others to speak up as well!
·         Reach out to the ‘victim/ target’. Sometimes just asking the target ‘Do you need help?’ can guide us about what to do or clear our confusion that some help is needed.
·         Reach out to the ‘harm doer’. Sometimes just going up to the harm doer can startle them and give chance to the target to escape. For example going to someone who’s causing harm and saying, ‘Oh, are you alright. Did that person do something wrong to you for you to behave like this with them?’ Though, this can depend on the context. Approaching the abuser at a scene of domestic violence in South-East Asia might not a good idea! They may not be startled at all!
·         Getting your body in-between. This might not be possible (or safe) always but it’s a good idea whenever possible. It does require a lot of courage though.

With these action points, the conversation shifted to courage. Each of us shared moments of courage or the lack of it in pairs! There were plenty of stories shared by participants during the training of denouncing racism, acts of Bystander courage and even what to do when perceived as a harm doer! 

With my paired partner, LaQuasia’s permission, I am sharing this beautiful story of courage.
One night, LaQuasia and her friends were out dancing. She saw a girl come out of restroom onto the dance floor. Seeing her alone, a guy approached her and was trying to act funny with her. She seemed visibly distressed and was looking out for her friends who didn’t seem in sight. No one seem to have noticed the distressed girl. LaQuasia, who does not usually like confrontation, gathered all her courage and walked up to the scene. She put her arms around the girl saying, ‘Oh gosh, its so great to see you here. How are you doing?’ She pretended that she knew the girl. There was a look of bewilderment on the face of the girl. Drawing close, LaQuasia whispered in her ear, ‘You needed help right?’ As she understood LaQuasia’s intention, she started weeping out of gratitude. The guy was surprised to see that his target was not alone and stepped back. In this beautiful moment of courage, LaQuasia was able to put her body between the two, preventing further harm to the target.

What struck me about the story was the attitude of ‘inclusive care’ by LaQuasia. She practiced ‘care’ about people other than she closely identified with! This is what builds a community. Just acting as a Bystander may change our lives and others as well. ‘When a person harms another, they change. When a person helps another, they change’ is what we learned from the training. We can choose what to do! 

I DO NOT claim that I will do take action every time I witness something happening. I will still have my mask, my fears and my sense of danger. But at least I now have an idea where to start!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Men and babies; Women and dogs!

Spoiler alert! I am writing after a long break so its difficult to gather my thoughts. However this writing may not ring well with everyone; my apologies to ones who are offended and assure that this is only my opinion and written in a lighter vein.
With the increasingly popular rat race of achieving high in life, our life styles have undergone a huge change in the way we perceive things ; especially our feelings! It is not a surprise that in order to pursue a career of our choice, we have placed starting a family as our second priority. Both men and women.  With the fluidity in relationships, we have also grown with the way we deal with our expectations from each other. Although marriage with opposite sexes still remains a norm for many in our society.
As a person heading for my thirties, the thought of having a child does cross my mind. And during these moments, I tend to look not within but outside. May be looking within is another answer to my questions but at this time it’s not proving a convincing answer. On my wonderful long walks in the evenings, I have increasingly seen men carry babies (infants) in a kangaroo bag close to their chest. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see a man who breaks the stereotypical norm of gender roles. Grown in a patriarchal society, my heart appreciates the way things are changing at least here in U.S.
The stereotypical role of a caregiver is not only imposing for a woman but is also dangerous for the psyche of a man. This breeds the reinforcements of women’s role in economy as ‘secondary’ to men. At the same time, it would be unfair to categorize men as ‘irresponsible’ for the child since mother is biologically responsible for giving birth. In my opinion, the tendency and need to have a child is far more greater in a man than a woman. The idea of the man’s lineage being carried forward by a child, a male child at that, has broken hell loose over many traditional patriarchal societies. The declining sex ratio in many countries like India and China is a testimony to it. The balance in cycle of life requires greater balance of our roles in society.
The decision to have a child, biological or adopted is not easy. And nor is bringing up a child. There are many socio-cultural and economic dimensions to it. It would be unfair to deem any couple selfish or capitalist before understanding their psychological state about the decision to have a baby. It is solely at the discretion of the couple, no one else. My close associates who have been either having babies or in the ‘thinking process’ share that it is a constant state of emotional turmoil.
All human beings have the inherent tendencies of caring. The maternal and the paternal instincts also needs to be fed. Here is when I think about woman and dogs. It is perhaps more common to see women with dogs on my walks than men with babies. Here by dogs, I would mean any pet that you care about. I have seen dog people, cat people and the ones who love both! It doesn’t matter. What matters is that our pets are there to fulfill our emotional need. Sometimes the need of having a child. Although increasingly realizing that they are not economically and socially easy ‘investment’, they are lesser of a work than a child. At least one doesn’t need to worry about their education or what they would finally grow up to be!
I have also seen friends transition from having a pet to then finally having a child. And to me, it makes perfect sense. When we can realize that we are capable of taking care of another being (your pet), we become more and more confident of being able to take care of a new life (your baby). Perhaps it is unfair to compare a child to a pet but its not uncommon for most people to call their pet as ‘their kid’. And their most loved child as their ‘pet’! Living in U.S. for a while, I have realized that people love their pets like their children. If you are a person who don’t like dogs and tend to show it in front of their dog, they get offended with your behavior. Further, I understand the physical and psychological aspect of having pets, especially dogs. One of the studies mentioned that having a dog in the house, maintains your blood pressure level beside giving you company and guarding your house. However, I also would maintain, having small dogs (which you carry in your arms or lap) tends to fulfill your desire of a baby. No offenses to the cat people!

Thus, the trend of men and babies; women and dogs is perhaps healthy to lead us into the transition where our society stands today. The ability to decide whether we are ready for bringing a new life into this world to our ability to balance our gender norms for our next generation, all go hand in hand.

Thanks to the internet for the perfect pic!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A heart-breaking story

Intersectionality studies are more important to understand Gender than I thought! A heart breaking poem by Zoya Zaidi is what I wish to share in this post about the Devadasi system.

Devadasi’s Saga

 I could hear the temple bell
Ringing in my ears,
The day I was born
To an unwedded mother, or rather
My mother was “married” to the temple!
The Temple was not my father!
I could hear the temple bells
Ringing in my ears…

I could hear the temple walls,
Heaving sighs in the dead of night,
Sighs of satisfaction…
I could hear my mother’s sobs,
Intermingle with the sighs,
Sighs of dissatisfaction…
As I slept on the cold-rough stone,
My cradle in the darkest chamber,
Where light hardly ever entered,
I missed a father’s loving touch,
When I asked my mother,
She said:
The temple was my father!

Then one day, through the
Half shut doors, I saw:
The priest heaving and hawing,
Full of sweat…
The pained surprise in my mother’ eyes,
(On being so exposed),
Silently beseeching me
With helpless tearful eyes:
“Go away! You’re still too young!”

But one day, I grew up!

I felt the “touch”,
A creeping crawling, lustful touch,
The expression in the priest’s eyes,
Matched the touch,
As he held me in his clutch…
Nausea welled up in my throat:
It was not a father’s touch,
I could feel it in my innocent bones…

Then Another, and Another…

Now, I am “My Mother”…

Like her, I do not know,
The father of the baby in my womb…

Like my mother, I am going to
Tell, my daughter:
“Temple is your father!”

This has gone on for centuries,
And still goes on…
This will go on forever…

I am the Devadasi of the Temple…
Temples may crumble…
I will go on