Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We better start working now

The other day I was sitting outside our centre in one of the slums in Pune. Four girls were playing amongst themselves right outside the centre. When they saw me looking at them they decided to teach me the game they were playing. I joined in, keeping my things aside ready to sing and clap. After the first few claps the content of the song left me speechless.

1. Chu-chu, chapa-chapa, Chu-chu, chapa-chapa, Hi baby, bye baby, Thappad mare sorry baby, Lath mare sorry baby, Sa sa sa, dhina dhin dha dha dha!

(Translation: Chu-chu, chapa-chapa, Chu-chu, chapa-chapa, Hi baby, bye baby, Slaps and then says sorry baby, Kicks and then says sorry baby, Sa sa sa, dhina dhin dha dha!)

2. Chaya- maya, pad majhya paya, Payakhali supari, tujhe lagna dupari, Dupari aale pavhne, te tujhe mehvne, Mehvnyane aanli taxi, ti tujhi maxi, Maxi madhye kala kutra te tujhe mangalsutra.

(Translation: Chaya-maya, touch my feet, Beetlenut under my feet, your wedding is in the afternoon, In-laws are here in the afternoon, he is your sister’s husband. He got a taxi, that’s your maxi (dress). There is black dog in the maxi and that’s your mangalsutra)

(This is completely lost in translation, but I don't want to interpret it for anyone).

My immediate thoughts were how come these girls know this song? Where did this song come from? Obviously, the girls didn’t think there was anything wrong in what they were saying. I asked them where did you learn the song. “Our friends from school taught me this song”.

Doesn’t the first song say that is ok to slap a woman and then say sorry? Does it not say it is ok kick a woman and then say sorry and then expect them to forget about it? Isn’t this a song about gender based violence? Children in slums see these incidents around them all the time. (I don’t mean to generalise here but people from middle class are usually abusive behind closed doors and living conditions in slums have very little scope for privacy). So children don’t need songs like these to reinforce the thinking that it is normal for men to be abusive towards women. It is the duty of the woman to bear the aggression of the man, “after all he loves you.” If you don’t bear that, you would have to go home to your parents and that will be such disgrace to the family name!

With the second song, I don’t even know where to start. Let me have a go. To start with I know this is not only a problem of the girls in slums of India. Why are girls led to believe that all their life is about nothing else but getting married and “living happily ever after?” The way I understood the rest of the song, it talks about girls not having much of a say in their marriage, marrying within close family, not exactly knowing who they are marrying, disguised dowry and so on. Some bits of this song might not have much meaning but are there to rhyme. But the rhyme indicates a different meaning altogether.

(I might be overreacting. I hope I am. If anyone thinks that these songs actually mean something opposite, please let me know.)

One of the girls mother was watching this in action and seemed proud of her daughter’s ability to sing. How come we are so conditioned to this norm that the parents find nothing wrong with this? (What she was upset about later was “Chal ghari lavkar, papa yetil ani mala oradtil.” She was scared that her husband will scold her because she didn’t get her daughter home early enough. By the way, it was 6.30 and not very late. That’s a different story now.)

The organisation I work for works with adolescent men to reduce violence and discrimination against women. Research demonstrates that the root cause of gender based violence and discrimination are men’s attitudes and patriarchal system they reinforce. When talking to the men on the programme, commons beliefs reflect the same emotions/attitudes expressed in the songs. Many of them grow up thinking that it is a sign of masculinity to hit a woman and it is absolutely normal. A girl can study and work but end of the day any decision about her money, children and life in general are taken by a man.

These songs reminded me about how deep-rooted are the rudiments of gender discrimination violence and it is going to take us a very long time to see any change. So, we better start working on it now!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Someone interesting I met a few days ago...

Imagine a young girl being fascinated by the beautiful land of Kerala- with lush green paddy fields, coconut palms, lakes and rivers. She always thought of herself as a farmer born in an urban middle class family. She got married moved to various places over the years with her husband. Her love for nature traveled with her. The young girl is now 73 years old and fondly known to many as Sudha aunty.

Sudha Pai, now a resident of the Magarpatta city continues to pursue her passion for plants. She has been primarily responsible for making the area zero garbage zone. She has been working towards making people aware about garbage waste management. Regularly she interacts with people from different walks of life to tell them about the techniques of waste management. Conducting lectures with practicals is one of the projects recently taken up by her. Interaction with the younger generation is her favourite.

One thing is obvious when you visit Sudha aunty's house that she acts what she preaches. After her husband retired from the National Defence Academy she lost the luxury of owning large area for gardening. They had to move to different urban localities. According to aunty, “Unlike in the N D A, the areas in Pune had many problems of which the worst was the accumulation and disposal of garbage. I had to remain a mute spectator to the growing apathy of the P M C whose job it was to tackle the issue.” The only way she could express her feelings was by writing about it and giving practical solutions to others by which all of us can make good use of our wet garbage.

She hosts a garden at home that has a huge variety of plants and trees. Medicinal plants, apple, banana, strawberry, lemon and various flowers including exotic orchids are just a few to name. All result of her not so secret trick to maintain this garden. The three processes of garbage management she implements – bio culture, vermiculture and EM process. It is not unusual to see her utilize her knowledge and give special advice to her neighbours to utilize their kitchen waste in the garden in their own small way.

Sudha aunty has taken it as the mission of her life. She wants the slogan, “My garbage, my responsibility’ to be widely disseminated among common people. Her garden witnesses frequent student visitors. This is the generation she would like to interact more with and make them aware as they can work towards finding long-term solution to the increasing menace.

Though the experience to convince people has not been easy, she hasn’t lost hope. Last three-four years, she feels that she has seen things change in her surroundings. Sudha aunty strongly feels that the need of the hour is not to blame the PMC or the rag pickers. It is time to co-operate and work together. She adds, “the simplest thing that we can start with is segregating our garbage into dry and wet garbage. And then take it from there.”

When asked about her energy and enthusiasm levels at this age. Here comes a quick reply, “Working in my garden gives me energy.” People at her age go for pilgrims, but “for me this is my pooja. God exists here, “says Sudha aunty.


Small note on my experience:
A couple of days before the interview with Sudha Pai, I got a call from my aunt asking me to get in touch with her as she thought I might get something interesting to write. I didn't know what to expect (I secretly thought that it might be one of the 'you have to do' interviews). I was pleasantly surprised. As soon as, I met her I knew this was going to be one the most interesting interviews. In fact the meeting was so interesting that I was afraid that I won't be able to do justice to it while writing. It went on for a while and at no point did it seem like a formal interview. The time there was filled with lot of bud-bud (marathi for non-stop talking) from both sides. The moment I left her house, I messaged mum and a friend "I have found a new aaji (grandmother)"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Do check my new website
and if you are interested do get in touch with me

Friday, October 26, 2007

Now I know who the original party animals are…

Last night me and my cousins decided to take our parents out to club. You won’t be surprised that they hadn’t been to club or disc (whatever you call it) before.

It all began with asking us a stream of questions- what to wear, do you need to know how to move, do you get food there, what kind of music they play and so on.

So, first we went to a club Zaha. Everyone even the ones who hadn’t been to club rejected the place because of bad crowd and bad music. We then moved on to a contrast option – Scream in Le Meridien. As soon as we got there the stupid flash hotel rules were applied and dad was told off for wearing chappals. That was sort of a non-starter for us. Everyone else went in. Me and my dad managed to borrow my friend’s shoes and we were ready to party.

As we got in, I saw Ajit kaka (uncle) comfortably sitting on a chair with drinks and chips in front of him, guarding the bags and moving in his own way. I thought we would need a couple of drinks to relax everyone but NO! I saw mum and my aunts had already found a corner and they were quite high on the experience. Everyone seemed like they were regulars at this place. Mum who always says “show me some dance steps na”, was definitely showing others how to move. A couple of drinks down each one was dancing in their own way…not bothered about who’s watching them or anything. Then came the tequila shots and after that no one stopped dancing.

In the meantime, I was swapping messages with dada (brother in London) and his reaction to the whole thing was “Yedyagat! Sagli vandal mandali thik ahet na!!!!”
They're not bad dancers- JUST DIFFERENT!

Imagine yourself sitting in a club. Your eyes move on to a horde of dancers on the dance floor. They seem to be dancing pretty well. Where as there are a few of them who seem to be different than the rest. Out of the blue you over hear a few comments such as, "Oh! She can't dance". Sometimes the comments are even more nasty, "look at that clown" or "he is just hopping - may be he should take some lessons!"

Have you ever voiced this to yourself- What is the motive behind dancing? Just move your eyes towards the other corner of the dance floor. You can see a person who is freaking out up to the fullest. His steps appear weird to you, he is banging his head more times than he is supposed to, his actions speak louder than the music being played. He is not bothered about the people who are looking at him.He belongs to a particular category of dancers, which dance every dance (even if they can't!) They are always smiling and having fun. I always watch these dancers in fascination.
When you are dancing in front of a mirror behind close doors in your bedroom you are not thinking of your dancing style or the kind of steps you do. You are just moving to the music or for that matter moving without music. You are dancing in way that you want and that you derive pleasure from. Your feet are moving to the tunes of your heart and not to the tunes of others' judgments.So, when your only intent behind attending a social gathering is having fun, then why to restrict yourself to the common or the "in" style of dancing. Why can't you dance the way you dance in front of your mirror? Even if you just get up and sway to music, that is your way of expressing yourself. Try thinking, 'They are not bad dancers- they're just different'.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Glimpses of my trip...

I just got back from my “rafting on Ganga” trip. I have to say that I had a great time! I left Pune on May 28 and was back on June 4. The trip turned out to be much better than what I expected. Rather than boring anyone reading this with the detailed itinerary I will just share a few of the exciting moments on the trip.

About the campsite at Brahmapuri: Beautiful! Our tents by the riverside, silver sand, the beautiful Ganga in front of us, and the mountains opposite us. Honestly, no words or pictures would do any justice. So just have a look at a few pictures and see for yourself (or just meet me…from the glint in my eyes or all my funny expressions you might be able to guess what I’m talking about). The first glimpse of the campsite made me miss everyone back home, as I would have loved to share that experience with all of them. The view from our tents was absolutely stunning. We slept with our legs facing the river so as soon as we woke up we had the view of the beautiful Ganga in front of us.
Well on the last two nights we shifted to another campsite. It didn’t have the beautiful view in front but had electricity, shower, toilet and bathroom inside the tents to compensate. To think of it I preferred the first campsite…. Anytime!

Most beautiful sight ever: At night, sitting on these extremely comfortable cane chairs, your feet feeling the soothing cool silver sand, looking onto the moonlight reflecting on the water and the dark mountains in the background. Cool breeze and calmness in the air. (Try to take a deep breath in, close your eyes and imagine this beautiful sight)

Exercise sessions every morning: I have to say that only very few people enjoyed these sessions (that includes me and my friend Neha). Everyday before going rafting we had an exercise session. Once the instructor at the camp took the workout, once a professional Yoga teacher was there to teach us the basics of yoga and once me and Neha took a workout. As much as we enjoyed making people workout, few of them would have enjoyed pushing us off the cliff for making them go through it. Our workout had different effects on different people. Few loved it, few were enough warmed up before rafting, few just wanted to push us off the cliff, whereas it helped a few to shit after two days in spite of the not-so-welcomed morning experience (that is queuing up outside the ‘back to nature’ toilets)

The actual white water rafting part: It was the most amazing experience. On the first day of rafting we covered a stretch of 16 kms from Shivpuri to Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM). On this stretch we went through the following rapids (all of which were of the rapid 1,2,3,4 level. And the British have named all)
- Return to centre
- Roller coaster
- Tea off
- Golf course
- Club house
- Money flower
- Initiation
- Double trouble
The rafting experience was most thrilling. I remember, out of nowhere our instructor asked us to jump in the river (with all safety gear on). First we were scared but then after we jumped in the cold water it was fun!! The most exciting part was sitting in the front of the raft and go through the most stirring rapids where you can see a 5ft-6ft waves coming in your direction and you get pushed back still have to maintain the balance in the raft…you come out of it saying nothing else but WOOHOO!!! Bodysurfing, that is just letting yourself flow with the current was fun. With the lifejackets and helmets on, just lie on the back and let the current to the rest. Wow! On the first day this was followed by another thrilling experience- cliff jumping. We had to jump off a cliff about 30feet high into the deep water. The first time I was about to jump, I was scared but then my instructor asked me not to look down and just jump and I did that. When in the air in between the cliff and the water, that’s when I felt the extremes of fear and thrill. Can’t explain the feeling. But for the next one, though I wanted to jump and feel that feeling again I couldn’t take that first step. I went to edge a couple of times and came back. Finally my instructor, Siddharth held my hand and jumped with me…I enjoyed the jump again! On the last day of cliff jumping similar thing happened. I have to thank Siddharth if he wasn’t there to jump with me, I wouldn’t have jumped and I would have regretted not being able to jump the last two times.

On the second day of rafting we covered a stretch of 10 kms. from Marine Drive to Shivpuri. This stretch included the following rapids:
- Good morning
- Black Money
- Three blind mice
- Crossfire
- Pugmarks
- Bodysurfing
- Crossfire
- Butterfly
And on last day we did the entire stretch from Marine Drive to NIM. It has been one hell of an experience.

Aarti on the banks of the river Ganga: On one of the evenings we went to see the Ram Jhula and then attended an aarti on the banks of the river Ganga. It was a beautiful experience because one could see the sun setting behind the huge Lord Shiv idol and the loud chants and prayers were being recited. It was a strange peaceful experience. But after a while it was a bit dull but then I found something that kept me going. I was observing people and their individual way of praying and the level of faith, their expressions and so on. On one hand there was this pure form of Ganga and people worshipping the great river but on the other side sitting at the same place I could see a dead body being immersed in the same river. That makes us think about what we have done to the river. The most pure and healing river is being contaminated by dead bodies, people having a bath in the river, immersing the flowers and all sorts of left overs from the pooja and so on. That was a bit disturbing. In Hindus they say that when on the deathbed a person should be given the holy Ganga water but today I think if anyone has that water that person would die before the actual time.

I recommend this tour to everyone who even thinks that they ‘might’ enjoy the rafting trip. Go for it I vouch that you would enjoy. And if you do go for it and when going cliff jumping, if you get scared, find someone who will hold your hand and jump with you. I thought cliff jumping was one of the highlights of the trip and I would have regretted not doing it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Now we’ll be famous…

Yesterday, the DISHA kids performed on the song ‘Rock-n-roll soniye’ in front of hundreds on MG Road. Occasion was the candlelight vigil organized under the Wake Up Pune banner. (

Many who saw the kids performing wouldn’t believe that it all started just four days before the actual show. I was asked to choreograph a song for the kids and prepare them to perform on stage within a week. Meanwhile I was getting these minor doubts “You’ll be able to do it na?”… “The kids would be able to perform na in such short time?” My answer to all these questions was a not-so honest “Ya-ya no problem!” I say not so honest not because I doubted the kids capability but because I had never done this before at least not at such a short notice.

Song selection took about two days. So then we were left with just four days before the show. With the kids’ consent we decided on to ‘Rock-n-roll soniye’ as our song. After first day of awkwardness the kids were so good…so good! The best part about going to DGS ( everyday for rehearsal was getting a warm welcome from the smiling kids who just wanted to learn the new section and then do it again and again and again.

Something about my dancers:
Sonam: good dancer but was a bit too busy giggling throughout…may be that works!
Rani: Surprise package. She was good throughout the rehearsals but was STUNNING on stage!
Rohit: The hero of the group….full of style…only had to be reminded not to stick his tongue out while dancing.
Pooja: had her own unique style…wanting to add latkas and jhatkas to every dance move.
Nikita: the quietest of them all. All her moves and smiles were a bit held back but she had her partner Rajashree to encourage and overcome any shyness.
Rajashree: Full of energy….was a bit upset when she was made a guy only because she thought that in that case she won’t be able to wear all the lovely costumes that the other girls get to wear.
Bajrang: I might call him the baby of the group. Ever so excited to dance but had to force him to show that excitement on his face.
Soni: First was happy to see her name on my MP3 player “SONY”…good dancer…but always up to some mischief. A bit of bully especially when it came to her partner Bajrang! …a silent monster!
Aditya: wanting to dance every song he listens to….only thing, his steps would be the same to all the songs. Very conscious about his costumes and “majhi (my) style”. His favourite line- “mala ….lay tension dete” (….gets me all tensed)
Megha: good dancer…enjoyed dancing…but always had an excuse not to dance only because it meant she had to do a bit of extra hard work.

On the show day, all of the kids were so excited. One of the things to look out for was to watch the kids get out of the rickshaws, proudly walking on the MG Road showing off their costumes and make up big time! The kids just couldn’t wait to get on stage. And once they got on stage they rocked! They just got the crowd cheering, clapping, shouting and dancing. You could also see the proud DGS faces cheering the kids. The kids who were scared to perform in front of hundreds totally ruled them!! After the show, all kids walked down the stage with a ‘we are famous’ expression on their faces. Aditya did walk off saying, “Atta mala rastyavar saglech olakhnar!” (Now, everyone on the road will recognize me!)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Actions speak louder than words…

Few days back while browsing through the newspaper I read about a sign language workshop on last weekend. Thought of enrolling for it just out of curiosity. Before attending the workshop surfed the internet for some background information. In spite attended the workshop, equipped with very little background of sign language, deafness, and none about the hearing impaired people.

Basically it was an introductory workshop to the Indian sign language organized by a Pune based organisation- Avanti ( in association with Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai. The workshop was meant for hearing as well as hearing impaired people. So, the whole workshop was being interpreted in sign language and vice-versa (I picked up many words in sign language that way).

The workshop was interesting from the very beginning. To give some food for thought we were asked to answer questions like how would each one of us define ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘special’. I found it extremely difficult as unfortunately very few can answer these questions without sounding prejudiced

At the workshop they not just introduced us to sign language (I learnt the alphabets and basic simple sentences in sign language- it was fun and left us wanting for more)but touched upon topics like the different categories of deafness, problems faced by deaf people, about their human rights and so on. A few hearing impaired people shared their experiences and the difficulties they have to face and how easy it is for anyone of us ‘hearing’ people to not even recognize this concern.

The best part about the workshop was that it was interactive in spite of the fact that half the people present at the workshop were hearing impaired and the other half were hearing people.

I wanted to share few of the interesting things that were discussed at the workshop and few that came to my mind…

· I had completely forgotten about this incident until yesterday. During my standard tenth board exams, there was a row of hearing impaired students in my class. They were signing and trying to talk amongst themselves unaware of the sounds they made (in attempt yo speak). They irritated me as I was unable to concentrate (I think that was insensitive of me to feel that way). I was feeling irritated but at the same time guilty for feeling this way. I'm glad I attended this workshop because now I look at this incident in a much different way. I know why I felt guilty, and irritated at the same time.
· They narrated an interesting piece… (Fiction). …Once there is a happy family of four. The parents as wells the two kids are deaf. They use sign language at home. One day a new family comes to stay next door. That is a hearing family. The little boy from the hearing impaired family goes next door to make friends with their hearing daughter. He spends almost an hour at their house but with no interaction. When he comes back home he tells his mum that “Mum, that girl is disabled she can’t sign”
· Few questions were also raised…. why deaf women don’t participate in the beauty pageants (especially in India). All they need is an interpreter and then they are ready to explore a new world. An interesting option came out of this venture. A lady in Pune who trains participants for the Femina Miss India has promised to train a deaf girl for the next year’s contest. Hope we get to see a positive outcome.
· How many of you thought that the film ‘Black’ was really good. And, Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee acted really well. What a great job they did with learning the sign language. But did you know that a group of deaf people who went to watch the movie didn’t understand what was happening in the movie. It seems Amitabh Bachchan was really bad with sign language but Rani Mukherjee was a little better. And we hearing people thought that they were really good with sign language. Isn’t that a bit funny or surprising!!
· There are different categories of deafness depending on its degree. Some people can hear with the help of a hearing machine but still they are called deaf. But many of us who can’t see properly and have to wear glasses aren’t called blind. Why?
· The state in India…
In India there are no television channels, which the deaf people can enjoy just like the hearing people. The only news channel that has news for deaf people once a week is the national Doordarshan channel. But that’s no good as apparently in that show they use sign language used by a small deaf community in Delhi and not the Indian sign language. So this news hour is just watched by hearing people, as deaf people spread across India don’t understand this sign language. Similar or worse is the case with films, television serials or cartoon films. Why can’t a deaf person enjoy these like anyone of us…shouldn’t that be a (unsaid) right of theirs?
· In India and many other countries at school level even today hearing-impaired children are forced to learn to speak rather than equipping them with sign language…why? A deaf child, if he works very hard might be able to say a few words but he can go beyond 1000 words in sign language. Why do we want to try and make them “normal”? By making them speak aren't we hindering their development. That’s not fair!
· Just imagine….When you have sore throat or something and you can’t speak properly for a day or two. You get so irritated. Or I will give my own example. Couple of months back I had cold and because of that my ears were blocked and I couldn’t hear properly. That was so frustrating. I thought I was missing out on so many things…missed a joke in a film, missed out on the conversations around me….this was something that happened for three-four days and I had a tough time. So you can imagine how difficult it must be for a person who has to live with this disability. If we can’t treat their disability can’t we at least make an attempt to facilitate communication for them? Can’t we make an attempt just so that they can lead a normal life just like the hearing people?

It was an eye-opener session for me. I mean I have read about it but never recognised its intensity. A person is deprived of communication just because that person can’t hear….is something I can’t imagine!!!

Hopefully in June they are going to start sign language classes in Pune. I’m very keen on learning sign language just as any other foreign language. If anyone reading this is interested in learning do let me know. I will keep you posted in case I get any updates on the course in Pune. Let’s see…!