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Saturday, December 29, 2012

“The Perfect Match’’: My entry for the Get Published contest

The Idea

The story unfolds as the narrator gets to the ‘marriageable age’ and her parents start to search for her perfect match. But ‘How is that perfect person to be found’ is the crux of the story. Sitting in a train compartment; the mother-daughter duo talks about love, marriage and responsibilities. It becomes interesting as the mother tells the story of finding her father despite being initially unwilling to marry (just as narrator is now). As the story revolves around the love and marriage of the narrator’s parents, it brings out differences in nature of both the parents. She being a vivacious talkative Army nurse; he a shy Army officer weave a lovely life together despite many hardships. What makes the story special is the fact that the daughter wants to find a groom ‘as good as her father’ and the mother describes ‘how her father became such in 26 years!’ Will she finally find her Perfect match?
What Makes This Story ‘Real’ (Optional but recommended) –

It’s a story which derives inspiration from the life of my parents; who are very much unlike each other and yet the ‘Perfect match’. The story brings forth the hard times faced by them during separation as my father performed his duties to the country. The story also throws light on the commonalities and differences between the nature of the mother-daughter duo plus their expectations from their life partner as life takes unexpected turns.

Extract (Optional but recommended-

“I don’t want to get married” said the frustrated young girl finally! She was turning 26 this year and marriage was not on cards yet. It was not that the family had not been trying to find a suitor for her; she had been unwilling from the start. Her mother held a worried look. ”You have already started having gray hairs.” Rolling her eyes, Jasmine exclaimed, “I am not ready for any responsibilities, besides I haven’t found my perfect match yet”. That took her mother into a trance.
“It was a cold morning. She was preparing for her usual morning rounds to the wards. A young boy had been brought in. He had an accident. As she finished bandaging him, she felt two eyes on her. It was not unusual; she was a pretty vivacious Army nurse. Hurrying out of the hospital in the evening, she couldn’t help but notice the same set of eyes on her again. He was a young sikh lad bending over a motocycle pretending to fix it up. He shifted his eyes under her sudden intense gaze.”  
As she brought in two cups of coffee, her mother came out of her reverie. “I don’t think marriage is about finding the perfect match” her mother told her. “But you and Papa are perfect for each other! Aren’t u?” Her mother just smiled.

This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal and HarperCollins India.

‘’What is Love?’’: My entry for the Get Published contest

The Idea -

The story is about a young girl who had big dreams in her small eyes. Intelligent and born into a supportive family, she does well in studies and life; but loves evades her. Or maybe she evades Love. Deciding to take up a professional course, she joins a college and hostel. Despite coming from a small town from Doaba region of Punjab, she befriends many in the hostel. The narrator is one of her closest associates. Leaving college ends another major part in young Milan’s life. She joins an MNC in Delhi, but ‘he’ is not able to make into the big league and earns only hand to mouth in the same city. The ‘love’ comes to a sad end as she realizes that both have moved apart in life. She prepares for her marriage ahead to ‘a settled guy’ chosen by her parents. Will Love always evade her or will she find it in her new life?  

What Makes This Story ‘Real’

It’s a story which derives inspiration from my life in hostel during my studies. Late night gossips brought forth a large number of heartaches out in open back then. Life was simple with ‘love in the air’ all through till the time one entered the examination room. Examination of life!  With money and ‘well settled life’ taking over as a priority, Love took a back seat. The story becomes real since it relates to the changing Indian genre we see today who want a little extra in life. The story could be anyone’s, you, me or the girl on the adjacent bed in my hostel room.

Extract (Optional but recommended -

In the darkness of the night, a muffled sob disturbs the silence of the room……She turns and twists on her bed with tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. A soft glow fills the room with moon high in the sky and stars shining on the beautiful night. The garden overlooking her terrace is basked in the silver moonlight with breeze flowing; touching the hearts of two young lovers who are meeting stealthily;   away from the stealing eyes of the world. Somewhere far in the night, distant cries of an Owl are heard with croaks of the toads from the pond adding to the music in the garden.
She suddenly sits up in her bed and looks around. The comfort of the arms of her lover, the warm air from his breath and the hum of his snoring; which kept her always awake is missing today. She starts to cry and thinks back of the golden times of her life…….
“Life cannot be sustained by Love alone”, were her last words to him that evening.
Today the maroon dress lies in one corner of her room, with matching jewelry sets. The hena on her hands has dried but the eyes still seem wet. And she lays back thinking, what Love actually was?     

This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal and HarperCollins India.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Saving Durga"

‘Babita! You are going to be a mother soon!’ as these words echoed in me; I felt a sense of fear. It was difficult for a 20 year old to imagine what being a mother was like. I had only been married for 5 months, and already in 4th month of pregnancy. My mother-in law assured that I would always be valued ‘if’ it turned out to be a boy child. (I shuddered at the thought ‘if’ it was otherwise!).

With 10 mouths to feed (my husband had 6 younger sisters and brothers, with parents living with us) and only two hands at work, it was difficult for me to ‘be at home’ during pregnancy. The whole day usually passed working in the fields, to make sure everyone had enough to eat.

As the 8th month set in, I came to my mother’s home; first child is always born there. It is a small sleepy village in Bikram village called Nagahar. But, it turned out to be a boon for me. Within two days, I had someone to come and ‘see’ me. She was a petite woman, with dark kind eyes. Introducing herself as Malti, ASHA (a volunteer worker) of the village, she started asking me about my pregnancy. A little worried with the details, she convinced me to come to the ‘sub-centre’ next Wednesday. I received an injection which was for ‘saving’ me and my child from infection. As the ‘lady in white’ (she was Kusum, Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) checked me, she asked me to go to the hospital for a complete check up with a doctor as something was ‘not normal’. I brushed aside her remarks as useless.

Malti came again and asked me to atleast ‘prepare’ to deliver at the Primary Health Centre, Bikram where 24x7 delivery facilities were present. We said ‘ok’ to her but decided to do our own.

It was about 2 weeks before 9th month. In the wee hours of the morning, I had severe pains. My mother tried to ease them out by giving me hot water and going to look for the local dai. Intuitively, I cried out to call Malti also. Till the time everyone arrived, my baby was born. He was dead. As I still screamed in pain, Malti quickly arranged for a transport to reach the hospital. She was scared something might happen to me!

As we (my mother, me and Malti) settled in the auto, I delivered another baby boy. He was also born dead. My body and mind were losing their senses now. Finally we reached the hospital and I was transferred to the Labour room (a room where women deliver). After another 10 minutes, I delivered the third time. The events had horrified me; losing two babies within a span of few hours! I was almost half dead when they placed her in my arms. Seeing her tender face and fragile body, I seemed to forget my pains. I named her ‘Durga’, after the Goddess of strength! Just then, I saw the worried face of Malti as she said, “She is just 1500 grams.”

Malti strictly told my mother ‘not to feed anything other than mother’s milk’ to the baby. As I put her to my breast, she would open her mouth, but was unable to hold my nipple. Perhaps she was too weak even to feed. After few tries at it, I got impatient. I asked my mother to ‘get’ infant milk from ‘outside’. Hearing this, Malti stopped in her track. She asked my mother to bring a clean katori (small round vessel) and a chamach (spoon). She also arranged for some warm water. Then, she asked me to wash my breast with warm water thoroughly. In spite of protests from my mother that ‘I would not start having milk before 3rd day’ Malti asked me to express my own milk into the katori. She showed me how to hold my breast and express the milk from ‘back to front’. We all were amazed by the amount of milk that collected in that small katori. Malti then asked my mother to sit back comfortably and hold the baby. She then showed her how to feed the baby with katori and chamach.

I saw a fair short lady with a white apron, smile at Malti from a distance as they exchanged knowing glances. We then returned home.

Next day, Malti came again. Enquiring about ‘my’ health, she observed the baby. She checked Durga’s cord and told me not to bathe her till atleast a week. After that she asked me if I was feeding the baby anything other than my own milk. I shook my head whemently and assured her that ‘I was doing just as she had told me to do!’ She had won over me till then. Malti then gave me one of her warmest smiles!

“Who was that lady with the apron in the hospital?” I asked her. “She was Seema didi, staff from CARE, an organization which works on mothers and children. Apart from her other work, she ensures that all the babies born in the hospital are only breastfed and nothing else! She even takes me on task if I don’t ensure that!” laughed Malti.  

As we had returned from the hospital my mother decided to give Durga a bath to ‘make her pure’ on the 3rd day. I was skeptic about it but my protests fell on deaf ears. As expected I felt Durga to be warmer than usual in the evening. She did not feed well too. Alarmed, I immediately carried her to Malti’s home, who quickly checked the baby’s temperature. She had developed fever. Looking grim, Malti asked me to do ‘Skin to skin care’. She demonstrated the same for me. I had to open the front of my blouse and place the baby between my breasts with only her head and feet covered. Malti then wrapped us together; Durga and me with a cloth. I stayed with her that night. Post mid night the baby began to cry. Malti asked me to put her to my breast and surprisingly she began to feed. Early next morning, Malti again checked her temperature which had come down to normal. It was the scariest night of my life; I did not want to loose her now!

Next day Malti visited me with another kind looking lady. She introduced herself as Sarita, facilitator from CARE. “I met someone else from CARE earlier” I told her. She explained to me that CARE was working ‘at the hospital’ as well as ‘on the field’ which was how the change would result, isn’t it? I nodded.

“Your baby girl is a survivor, but still very weak.” she told me. As she explained me ‘how’ to take care of my baby through ‘skin to skin care’ and breastfeeding, she also invited me to attend a ‘meeting’ at the sub-centre next week.

It was a meeting for all the ASHAs and AWWs (who teaches young children and provides some supplementary food to mothers and children). Even ANM didi (sister) was there, with few more mothers like me. As Sarita didi showed a video on breastfeeding, I started wondering if I was feeding my baby well.  

Just then little Durga started crying. In order to pacify her, I put her to breast. This time I was careful to notice whether she was feeding well or not! I tried to see if the signs of correct latching applied to my little darling. Everyone in the group also gave me encouraging nods. Next, the group discussed about ‘caring for the weak new born’. I felt the meeting was just made for me and my little one. Sarita didi explained that the ‘weaker babies’ needed more care. They should be handled by less people; preferably only by the mother with clean hands. Breastfeeding is also difficult with them and mother needed to work harder at it. “Extra cleanliness, extra warmth and extra breastfeeding are the mantra for the weak new born” she explained. “Sarita didi has only taught me all that I could do for you and your baby” Malti whispered to me. I was filled with so much warmth for didi that I almost cried and said “Are all of you so caring in CARE?”

As the meeting came to an end, Malti took me to ANM didi and asked her to look at Durga. ANM didi checked her pulse and assured me that the baby was doing ‘ok’ but asked me to take care of her as discussed in the meeting.
Today Durga is one month old. Malti weighed her last week and she turned out to be 2600 grams. My baby has got a new lease of life; all thanks to our health system staff and CARE team who made a huge impact on my life and probably is going to make changes into many more lives through their noble ‘two-way’ work!                           

Thursday, August 2, 2012

An encounter with TRUTH.........

On that hot summer morning in Amritsar standing on the crowded holy bridge, holding parshad ( a sweet made up of wheat, sugar and ghee) in hands, altogether a different feeling came over me! I felt like a curious teenage girl who needed some answers immediately to steer her life in one direction. As a matter of fact, the bridge was like a bridge of faith for me-faith in my religion, society and myself; and I was crossing it now!

Untill I was in graduation, I wasn’t even sure what the word ‘caste’ even meant. I had grown up in a secular atmosphere which was secure from this dirty politics of Castism. And here I was, standing in one of the most pious of Sikh shrines; asking my Mom “Did our Gurus create Caste along with Sikhism?” ‘No’, immediately came the reply and I almost sighed with relief. The burden of castism did not rest on my community originally at least!

“But, Sikhs also have castes, How did this result then?” I asked. As expected the answer was that Sikhs had emerged from Hindus and the crude age-old system of Castism could not be eradicated from their minds even after conversion. Somehow other issues like idol workship, fasting and other hard core traditions got refined but Manu’s play was still on here. Then came the big question, “what would be your reaction if I marry a Sikh from lower caste?”  Almost immediately, my Mom replies that she would not be happy ofcourse! When I challenge her against the basic connotation of our religion, after an abrupt silence she changes her verdict. “If the boy is well educated and has a good job, we would not mind if you get married to a lower caste Sikh” Mom replied.  ‘What determines your acceptance of the groom from a lower caste or even a groom from other religion for your own daughter? Society?’ Yes, Mom agreed. “Then what exactly is Society?”

She looks at me curiously as I define society as age old beliefs of people becoming a way of life for the newer generation! But are they all to be followed? Who would judge that? Who is there to challenge the rules or norms which hurt? I keep wondering about the helplessness of man in a society as the Shabad (Hymns being sung in a Gurudwara) “SatGur Mera Poora’ (God is Complete) plays in the back drop of the serene place.  


What does it take to be in Army? Apart from physical and mental fitness, there is a core value that binds all men in green! The sole aim to serve their homeland; fight for her respect and dignity. This unity in ideas is what makes Army a unique institution. What if the unity we see is only skin deep? What if caste and regionalism raise its ugly head in this perfect world too?

Today Army is afflicted with many problems like dearth of officers, lack of latest equipments and technology upgradation as well as the most feared corrupt officials ‘here and there’. What is still a hidden problem is differentiation of troops by region and caste. The magnitude of the problem is small but it reminds me of the phrase; ‘Elephant passed through the needle but the tail still remained!’ Here the tail of the elephant includes two regiments; Sikhs and Marathas. They still seem to be living in typical manu’s society. SIKH Regiment is purely Jat Sikhs  (Jats being the upper caste) whereas SIKHLI  is the  fusion of all Majhabi sikhs (lower castes of the Sikh community). As a matter of fact, when Sikh religion was born, it had no place for any concept of caste. The very first five men, “Panj Pyaare’ who were decorated as Sikhs belonged to lower caste of Hindus. There was no discrimination against them and they were considered the pious ones!

Coming to the second one, MARATHA LI  Regiment, which is considered to be a pure regiment consists of all upper caste Marathas, whereas MAHAR  is a regiment  of all lower castes! Here again what seems important to notice is that Mahar is the name of the lowest of castes in Maharashtra who have the history of being  ‘wronged’ against.

The recruitment of soldiers (not officers) is done according to their caste in these two regiments. I wonder why this discrimination only in these two regiments when the whole of India suffers from the grunt of Castism? As we hand over  the reins of the country to our young well educated officers, we can never imagine that they would be differentiated in such a menial way! Then why our soldiers? It may be the fact that when Army was constituted,  Britishers allowed the ‘problem of caste’ to continue into the system.  but today,  if Army  insticates the differences due to caste in minds of soldiers, it may be dangerous for the strength of the institution.

The concept of regionalism in Army can still be understood as the warriors from different regions came together to form the great institution. But I still seek the answer to why a difference due to caste exists in a secular arm of the Defence forces even up to this day? Is there anyone to offer that logic to me? Or the answer still remains as hidden as why educated humans still believe in dehumanising caste traditions?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

From the cradle!

From were I look,
I see a pretty face,
Full of love and grace,
I see strong hands,
Confident and tall, he stands!

From where I look,
I see no religion,
Nor any lines of division,
I see no caste or race,
Nor of human race, such disgrace!

From where I look,
I see now wars,
Nor any game of powers,
I see no violence,
Nor any shrewd politicians!

I am soaked in ultimate bliss,
Without hate or prejudice,
But  sooner or later,
I will be part of this world,
Lost in its own humdrum!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The trip 'Abroad'!

Ever since I read about Venice in my 5th grade English reading class at school, I dreamt each day of going to Italy. But as for me, as near as I could get to going abroad was accidentally stepping to the other side of Indo-Pakistan border. How I got there is a story I hold close to my heart!

‘Wagah border’ is the border between India and Pakistan, near Amritsar. India and Pakistan being one entity before 1947, this majestic road led us directly to Lahore! Alas for us, who have been second generation ‘migrants’ to India, will perhaps never see the beauty of ‘that’ place! But I can feel its beauty in the moist eyes of my grandparents who recollect their ‘good old days’!

It was a hot late afternoon and few visitors were seen near the border. We walked up to the magnificent Wagah border gates, where security guards had lined up. Their uniforms were bright in colour. Indians wore green and Pakistan’s uniform was black in colour. I couldn’t help but notice that height of guards from both the sides was extraordinary and they held a serious expression all the time. Did they ever talk to each other? I wondered. There were two flags fluttering in the wind on either side of the gates. Is that how you differentiate between two countries?

As we moved up towards the point-zero pillar or No man’s land area, my eyes remained fixed on the people of the other side! I had to find out what they actually looked like! Today, there were not many to be seen even ‘that’ side.

Just as we were about to return, my grandmother who had been reminiscing her old days, suddenly slipped. I rushed to get to her side. But before that, a young lad of about 17, caught her from getting hurt. He was from the ‘other’ side. We together helped her stand and regain her balance. The very moment we heard a whistle and some guards approached us. Lo and behold I had crossed the line!

Immediately I returned to my side and muttered a ‘Thank You’ under my breath to the boy. ‘Dhanyavaad ki kya zarurat hai Humshira?” (What is the need of a Thank You sister?) He said. We exchanged smiles! It was a smile exactly like my brother’s.

The routine evening parade began. The thumping of the feet and smart march-past by Guards on both sides drove frenzy in the small crowd! The guards saluted each other; flags were brought down and folded neatly. The gates were then closed!

Late evening, I returned home with warmth in my heart. The gates might get closed but the hearts can never till we keep doing what we are best at-being Human!  

As for my travel ‘Abroad’, Venice might as well be my destination one day. Back then, it would have remained a dream, but today we have Expedia where a click on would make my dream come true.

The Sugarcane hunt!

Summer holidays always came with their share of fun. Our father had spoiled us with visits to exotic locations every summer such as Shimla, Leh and Goa. So, when he told us we would be travelling to a village that summer; we both-brother and sister duo had a small heart attack! What would be the fun in the old undeveloped village? We were soon to find out! 

My grandmother’s elder brother along with his family stayed in a village known as ‘Malowaal’ in Punjab near Rajpura. There was a wedding in the family and hence our summer holidays would be ‘enjoyed’ there.
With no TV to watch and electricity hardly available for 6 hours a day, we got bored to the core! No attention was paid to our tantrums as we pleaded to be taken back to civilization; so we decided to make best of the situation! The duo slipped out of house early next morning to find some adventure.

The cold fresh air blew in our face as we rode the bicycle ‘borrowed’ from our ‘village cousins’. It was perhaps the first time that we had got up so early in the morning. We had finally become villagers! It was the time of the year when mustard flowers made all the fields yellow in colour; a perfect setting for shooting love scene of a bollywood movie! It was all out of a dream, nature could be so beautiful, we could never imagine! As we rode further, our eyes fell on the sugarcane crop at the side of the road. We exchanged glances!

Quickly getting down from the bicycle, and hiding it behind a nearby tree; we both entered the field. Just as we were about to pull out a ‘ganna’ (sugarcane), we saw a man with a ‘lathi’ (big wooden stick) coming towards us. He was tall, with only a dhoti tied to his waist. His large black moustache was curled up. Scared to death, we stood still. Even our limbs could not move; we prayed somehow we could fly! He approached us and asked our names. ‘We would be handed over to Police for stealing Gannas’ such thoughts crossed my mind! He held my brother’s hand and asked me to follow. Then at the other of the field, he stopped and pulled out two gannas. Handing them to us he said “Here, taste them, these would be ripe.” We both smiled confusingly! This man here was not handing us over to Police?

After we enjoyed fresh sugarcane early morning, he put our bicycle on his tractor and drove towards our home. The ride was nothing less than a royalty for us; we felt like King and Queen! In between we stopped over to get some freshly made ‘Gur’ (Jaggery) in the field. It was hot and so sweet; nothing like we had ever tasted before!

Till the time we reached home, our parents had gone berserk looking for us; while we had the time of our life in the lap of nature beautiful!

Rest of the holidays were spent jumping into the village pond every morning, plucking ripe sugarcane from the fields and listening to stories late at night! It was the best summer vacation we had; with the tall man with a moustache as our guide to all the wonderful secrets of the village!         

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kangaroo Mother Care!

Two tiny smiling faces greeted me, when I met my cousin in the Hospital after her delivery. She had twins! Both were pre-terms; unable to hold their excitement in the womb to see the world, I guess! It was a challenge to care for them; but the family supported completely. The concept of warmth to the baby was explained to her by the Doctor; and now both are doing well. The baby needs to be felt cared for!

Madhuri too had twin girls; one she had to bear the stigma of bearing girl child and two on top of that! She had completely no support and her children, although full terms were very weak. She failed to understand the reason and desperately wanted to find a remedy!

Skin To Skin Care is such a simple technique for weak infants to gain weight and be healthy! The message just needs to be shared.

There is no science in it, even YOU can help by simply joining “Million Moms Challenge” clicking at .This would help Moms around the world to CONNECT, COMMUNICATE and CONTRIBUTE!!!  

Make a Change!

My closest friend is pregnant. So I am ears to her woes with each increasing day! Puking in the morning, late night hot flushes and craving Golgappas (fried puffed up wheat or semolina balls filled with a sweet-sour tangy water; one of the most popular street food in India) at odd hours; while her hubby dear keeps on lecturing her about unhealthiness of it. (But ends up bringing it for her at the same time; he doesn’t want a child who comes with a watering mouth!) She had wanted to keep quiet about it until her ‘stomach starts to bulge’ to ward off the evil eye as told by her mom.

At the same time, Bimla, 4 months pregnant in a remote village of one of the blocks of Patna district of Bihar gets her first shot of Tetanus Toxiod; two compulsory shots to be taken by pregnant women for her safety against the dreaded disease, Tetanus. She had swelling in her hands and feet. Too shy to talk, this 17 year old was in great pain when she reached the health care centre. Her reluctant mother-in-law accompanied her; who didn’t want to take her to a doctor lest people come to know about her pregnancy!

Is there any difference between the situations of these two? Yes there sure is!

My friend has got her regular check ups done right from the time of positive detection; where as some of the precious moments of pregnancy have been lost in the latter case. The most difficult as well as challenging time has been faced by the young mother alone; afraid even to talk to her husband. She has borne the pain and depression all by herself. She craves knowledge about her baby and herself; but chooses to keep quiet in order to maintain peace at home.

Both are currently based in Bihar, but their lives are poles apart! These poles need to be brought together for a better tomorrow. Can YOU help her?

Of course! You can spread awareness and make a difference in many lives simply by joining “Million Moms Challenge” clicking at . CONNECT, COMMUNICATE and CONTRIBUTE!!!