Saturday, November 04, 2017

The shifting goalpost of 'normal childhood'.

We grew up doing a lot of 'normal' things. Playing in the streets. Walking to school and back.  Running small grocery errands. Making stuff ( crafts, dresses, charts).  Learning to skate on our own, sans helmet( and falling! ). Competing in races/debates/fancy dresses, and not getting a 'consolation' prize. Larking about on festivals like holi and diwali, getting scolded for misdoings, by parents, and sometimes even byestanders. Structured dance/music/sports classes were rare, and mixed age gangs of kids fighting over what to play and when and how, and rewriting games rules, was the norm.

Was everything idyllic and perfect? Of course not. But those remain my standards for normal. The only thing I regret was the lack of education about 'danger' in various forms, not a protection from it.

Last few years, I realised things seemed to have changed, on almost all counts. There seemed to be a lot of over protection and molly coddling of children that  I couldn't understand . Wait till you have your own, I was told. Then once I did, I realised I still hadn't changed, but by todays strange standards, I was an anomaly. To make it worse I wasn't trying to fit in either.

I am still hoping that by age 6-7 the kid will be able to run to the neighbourhood store. I also realise that all 8-9 year olds around don't go anywhere on their own. Their parents do their craft homework, probably because they pick scissors and cutting blades too late, and seldom in free play. They need helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and brakes to learn skating in a corridor where the maximum length to skate is perhaps 7-8 metres. They are likely to learn advanced tennis and karate before they learn to skip rope.  That a neighbour has completely shunned me after his kid and mine collided while running ( happily), and his kid almost broke his nose.

I think it will be an uphill battle for me in urban India, and its almost a lost battle in the parts of the US that I stayed in. But would like to fight it nevertheless.

Then I came across this article about the fragile generation that we are raising, and found myself nodding so much that I thought my head would fall off !

Quoting some sentences where the danger of head-falling-off-due-to-intense-nodding was immense:

-There's the fear that everything children see, do, eat, hear, and lick could hurt them.

-adults who believe it's good for young people to run some errands or play kickball down the street have to think twice about letting them, because busybodies, cops, and social workers are primed to equate "unsupervised" with "neglected and in danger."

-The crime rate in America is back down to what it was in 1963, which means that most of today's parents grew up playing outside when it was more dangerous than it is today.  ( Not sure about the rates in india, but really its not so much the numbers but the perception...

-Nine kids were kidnapped and murdered by strangers in 2011, while 1,140 died in vehicles that same year. 

- Boulder Public Library in Colorado recently forbade anyone under 12 to enter without an adult, because "children may encounter hazards such as stairs, elevators, doors, furniture, electrical equipment, or other library patrons." Ah, yes, kids and library furniture. Always a lethal combo. ( Oh please let this one be plagiarised from onion and not real life! Oh wait.. )

A police chief in New Albany, Ohio, went on record saying kids shouldn't be outside on their own till age 16, 

-Play is training for adulthood.

-Prepare your child for the path, not the path for your child. 








Thursday, November 02, 2017

2 murders and botch up.

Finished the book Aarushi. ( Avirook Sen). It was an okish read.

Among the gazillions of murders and crazy stuff that happens in the world, the double murder was just another statistic I would say. Usually I wouldn't have paid too much attention to it.

But what had always mystified  me was that in some ways it turned normal 'miscarriage' of justice on its head. The rich get away, and the poor are usually trapped. I usually gloat when things get reversed.  But this time was different. I was more than willing to believe all the lurid details. But the total , complete, utter absence of evidence of any damn sort, and the persistent framing of the parents in spite of all their money, influence, lack of evidence was strange and surprising, to say the least. Specially since the other parties who should have been under suspicion were poor and powerless.

The book did fulfil that part of my curiosity, and basically it boiled down to how broken the system really is (  the police, cbi, and the courts). And more importantly,  how far people can go to make things fit their own world view. Finally that was what it was about, the people who mattered, had a certain mindset and viewpoint, about social norms, attitudes, behaviour patterns. How and when someone should cry, go to pieces, what constitutes acceptable working relationships, school friendships, when to write an email.. little things like that. Once the police and cbi and the judge made up their minds, based on these little things ( which incidentally had nothing to do with the murder) , it didn't matter what the evidence said. They basically rewrote ALL of the evidence. After they were done with their bungling, no one could ever be convicted, or rather no one should ever be convicted.  Not even the servants.

A movie worth mulling over -  12 angry men, ( even its hindi remake was decent for a change).

The case and its botch up was one part. The other, was that most people I knew had made up their minds that the parents did it. This was again somewhat surprising for me, since it needed people to assume a lot of lurid stuff while simultaneously ignoring evidence. Again, I personally have no difficulty believing that parents can kill their progeny, even middle class parents. No difficulty believing that spouse swapping is probably quite likely to be happening in certain circles. No difficulty believing that there must be sexually active 14 years olds out there somewhere. What defies common sense is that there was no evidence, not even a whiff of suspicion, of any of that happening here. NONE. I mean if you extend the meaning of 'boy friend' to mean someone going all the way, then please, you have no idea of the delhi high school scene. And from there if you make a leap of faith to think that someone would be sleeping with a middle aged, avuncular, mostly invisible domestic help, well again you have no idea of the average high school girl. Even assuming this girl and her parents, to be an exception, outliers, surely there has to be something, anything, to base your character assasination on? So that is something new that I learnt. No, there doesn't need to be anything. You can give a dog a bad name, just like that, and everyone will believe it.

Of course since then we have seen other even more unbelievable stuff happen, ( presidential elections come to mind). People will believe any damn thing they want, and manipulation of the narrative will be the norm, rather than the exception.

Why am I writing so much about this one case? I guess it had frightened me a lot back then.  Mostly because this was not about someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time, ( the 2 murdered people ). That happens all the time. No, for me this always about the cost of being a little 'different' ( the parents).

Anyway, in some ways I have made my peace , or maybe age has mellowed me. At one time I was apoplectic and frightened about how crappy this was. Now I guess it doesn't raise much emotion. Some disappointment.. and mostly just a sigh.




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Composting!

Among the numerous changes I have been attempting to make to my lifestyle in the last few years, a recent addition has been home composting.. or to put it a tad more accurately - attempts at home composting. The garbage we generate had always made me uneasy for as long as I can remember. With diapers and no job, I had more time to squirm at the amount of stuff we were trashing every day, although at that time I didn't have enough energy to switch to cloth diapers.  However I did get around to organising the dry recyclable waste better and trying to compost the kitchen waste.

After failing, failing and failing yet again, I can only say that I probably bring my cooking 'skills' to the table,  or rather to the composting bucket. As anyone who has eaten my cooking will vouch for, the end product seldom turns out how it is meant to. Ergo, the waste is not becoming the lovely powdery sweet smelling compost.  The balcony though is playing host to a variety of smells and life forms that really should be in a horror movie and not in the compost bin.

But what I lack in instinct and heart, I do bring in analysing and measuring. So I have slowly been making all the mistakes possible, ticking off every new mistake, and then finally learning from them.

The last lot of anaerobic bokashi compost was closer to compost , than to failure. The Large scary worms ( now carcasses) notwithstanding. But overall rather unimpressed with it, the documentation with the brand I got left a lot to be desired. Needed a lot of trial and error and baby - sitting. But if at first you don't succeed....

The khamba aerobic compost has had more success, although that is also now riddled with fruit flies.  It helped that the neighbour, who got the khamba has had lot of previous experience and has been helping with it.

Some lessons learnt
1. Managing the moisture is very important. Too wet ( and thats the most common rookie mistake) and it will soon get worms. Too dry ( happens less often, but sometimes does) and it won't compost.

2. Adding an optimum amount of cocopeat/dry leaves/sand is important. the food scraps have to be balanced with that.

3. Stirring and airing for the aerobic ( khamba) composting, and keeping airtight for the anaerobic/ bokashi composting is needed for the different microorganisms to do their job.

4. Cutting scraps into smaller pieces is very helpful, specially when you are just starting out. Makes it easier to stir, given the microbes more surface area, mixes better with the browns. Once you are a pro, and have lots of pots going, and have got the knack of the other stuff like ratios/moisture etc, you can relax a bit.

5. Adding the microorganisms either via commercial powder/old compost/cowdung/fermenting batter/buttermilk etc will really speed up the process.

6. Flies/ worms often indicate that one of the above is off. And once they come, its hard work to clear them out before you start the next lot. Be prepared for lots of work !


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#metoo

Hadn't thought about these in a while.. but the posts triggered the memories . They still hurt, I can actually feel myself flinch, shrink, back off.. even at just the thought. 

How bad were the DTC buses? How bad was just walking down the road? It was so routine, and so common, and so trivially called 'harassment'. But what does that actually entail? That weekly at least once something harrowing would happen, leaving you in tears, angry frustrated, scared. Someone would follow you home. Someone would keep rubbing their dick against your back, or shoulder, throughout the journey. Someone would grab your boob. Someone would stare at you , their eyes boring right into your bone. Someone would sing lewd songs. Someone would ask for your rate, or better still just ask you to give a fuck. Someone would throw stones at you. yes literally. Someone would pull down their clothes and expose themselves. Over a decade, such stuff happened hundreds of times. In the anonymity of crowds. To everyone. Every damn week, sometimes everyday. 

But it wasn't the anonymous 'eve teasing' that left the deepest scars. No those are reserved for other instances. 

Like the time a neighbourhood uncle, nearing retirement, cornered an 11 year old in a lift and grabbed and kissed her. The stubble felt like needles.   

Like the question, can a 5 year old give consent? Does a 5 year old know what is being consented to ? 

Whats the worst part? So many women I know, shake their head knowingly about books like 'bitter chocolate', about the uncle from 'monsoon wedding', about safe short words like 'abuse', 'assault'. So many of them have said, over the decades, 'metoo' . No one wants the details. Me neither. I want to forget my own details, leave alone asking someone for theirs. Its scary how many of them I've met. 

So why am I publicly listing details today. Because I am tired of the safe short words. As if 'eve teasing' in a bus is just someone singing a love lorn song at your wistfully. It not. Because I want to shake people I love by the shoulders and say - listen. Goddammit, this is happening under your noses, how can you not see? 

Time has scabbed over the incidents. Maybe geography or age or my own armour have helped prevent much shit happening last few years. But the raw open wound is the one that bleeds every time I hear the incredulous ' wow how could it be so bad? how could x have got away for so long ? '

replace x with the flavor of the day - harvey, tarun, arunabh, travis, phaneesh, babas, bla bla

ps - please spare me the #notallmen. I know that not all men, in fact probably a majority of men, don't go around being physically abusive. I understand the 80/20 rule.  What I don't know , is what do you call a person who can't see what is happening right in front of them. 

This is a call to get glasses as a very first step. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Phones.

A couple of months back I started trying to cut back on phone use. By which I mostly meant internet use on the phone, the 'social' media, random internet browsing, incessantly checking whatsapp/twitter/facebook/newsfeeds.

It has been hard work and slow progress, with lot of hiccups, but overall it has been some improvement. The problem is that this is not a habit, but an addiction. A habit, once broken, might not come back quickly. But addictions are another story altogether.. so basically this is going to be a lifelong battle.

Last few years, we seem to keep increasing the frequency with which we keep checking the phones and cutting into all sorts of tasks ( eating, socialising, watching a movie, reading a book, cooking, working on a project). Its  self sabotaging, rude, depressing, addictive, and so hard to stop!

Need to pay closer attention..




Thursday, September 07, 2017

When is it time to let go? Of a person, of a friendship, of expectations? Today, of all days, perhaps I need to remind myself.

But letting go is not like turning off a switch. I have tried so many times in the last few years, but I still can't.

I am grateful for the space that I inhabit now, where I can at least move beyond the usual stories of - she hurt me, and how could she, and why won't she. I am grateful that I could move beyond those stories even when I didn't know why. Now I think I know why. Makes it a little easier I suppose. But I have yet to move beyond the hurt.

There is that little voice somewhere, hoping against hope, that things will go back to the way they were.

Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Maybe its me. Maybe not. Maybe its complicated. Whatever it is.. observe.. just observe.. don't get caught up in a story.. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Right and wrong..

Most conversations we have, we seem obsessed with right and wrong. I was like that for a long time, and it seemed like the most normal thing in the world.

But now, I increasingly find myself wondering, isn't it all subjective? I mean of course I have my dearly held beliefs and opinions and I am quite sure they are all right ( hah!). But isn't 'right' simply defined by the end result you want, or defined by your belief system of how things should be? Those things are changeable after all, they aren't written in stone, they are subjective. So doesn't 'right' change?

In a free wheeling discussion, on a variety of topics, I was surprised at how often the question would pop up - is it right or wrong?  To be a vegan ? To be a non-conformist? To be an introvert? To share happiness? To marry ? To adjust? To toe the line? To be driven by love, or fear? To kill?

I am wondering what am I missing that I had earlier because I never had this irreverence towards what seems like a central goal - finding out whats right. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

On gender...

An old quibble ( which has lately become a bigger fight) has been how 'culture' and patriarchy devalues what is perceived as feminine and places the masculine on a pedestal.

'Effeminate' is derogatory, while having 'balls' is a compliment.
Nurturing is for sissies, while fighting, even though ostensibly shunned, is actually a sign of strength.
Different cultures have their own phrases, stuff like choodiyan pehan rakhi hain, mehndi laga ke baithe hain etc.

And this story about a little boy not allowed to have a butterfly painted makes me sigh.

Its so subliminal and pervasive, that even strong women who would probably identify as 'feminists', urged me strongly to not allow my boy to play with dolls.

A big crying-shouting row ensued when I saw my dad trying to teach the child that trying to put on lipstick/bangles is laughable.  Not age inappropriate, or time inappropriate, but cause for scorn, laughter, derision, because it is (gasp) gender-inappropriate.

A little girl barely 5, with very strong gender equality influences, still picks up enough from the environment, to label a plain white t-shirt with a few small yellow and pink flowers, as a 'girls' dress. I look at clothing for for 1 to 4 year olds, specially in the US or the bigger brand shops here, and appalling is the only word that comes to mind.

Will just access to different toys/dress upturn a child's proclivities? Even if it did, why is that such a terrible thing? As if...






Friday, July 07, 2017

The ministry of utmost happiness - Arundhati Roy

Not really my cup of tea.

Began somewhat promisingly, and she surely has a way with words, but by the time political cataloguing began a 100 pages into the book, it became tiring.

The story of the hijras, of Anjum, of identity, ( and the problems with it)  was interesting to begin with. But everything subsequently looked like a catalogue from a left wing journal. The rise of the lalla, Kashmir, Maoists, caste, religion, the endless horrors of torture , oppression... I am sorry but  inspite of trying to live under a rock, I am very well aware of all of this. This is less a thought provoking or interesting story, and more a call to arms, a pamphlet, a shining of the light on the terrors of establishment. There is some beautiful prose in between, but unfortunately that is not enough. The ending I found specially terrible. Even making allowances for a lack of plot, character development. Even giving her the leeway  that this is more lament, litany and history, than novel. Even then, its almost like a cop out.

I am not sure who the targetted reader is, who would enjoy this.. but obviously looking at the ratings and reviews, there are quite a few who do. I am guessing that a fair number of them might be people not familiar with indian current affairs of the last 20 years. Perhaps if I read a similar novel set in Tibet with shallow plot and characters but some pretty writing, I would have been more charitable, since I would not find the cataloguing tiring.


Saturday, July 01, 2017

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

Really liked it.

In a way its a history book, tracing the history of homo-sapiens right from the times of and closing all the way in 2014. But its history viewed more from a lens of living conditions, what, and why. There is mercifully much less of the 'when', at least not in meaningless dates. After all, looking across millenia, what is a few days, or even decades, here or there?

It begins with a time which has always fascinated me, the 50 thousand years ago to 1 thousand years ago. As a kid, in the truncated and geographically limited history we studied, the focus was always on how awesome our indus valley civilisation was, and oh ok, we also traded back then with a few others, here read a bit about egypt, mesopotamia, china. Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that everything beyond these was just jungle and monkeys. yet, there were a lot of niggling doubts, like how and when did places like america and australia get populated? But they stayed buried as niggling doubts. Then, when I read A history of the world in 100 objects, I was thrilled to find that there was indeed a lot happening all over the world in that period. This book covers a good bit of it, and is more provocative in its tone, putting forward interesting facts, and then building theories to explain them. Then hopping to the other side of the fence and demolishing some of those theories.

I found the initial parts the most engaging, the latter parts had considerably fewer facts or opinions/theories that were new to me.

Good read overall ! 

A death in the gunj - Konkona Sen Sharma

Quite loved it.

A family gets together in the quiet sleepy mccluskiegunj, for a week in the late 70s. Old friends visit. Jokes are cracked. Old alliances rekindled. Soon you can see that one of them, Shutu, doesn't quite fit in. To make matters worse, he is the youngest, the most quiet, and right then perhaps the most vulnerable. Family reunions can sometimes be celebrations in cruelty. Shutu , and his alienation are perhaps at the center of the film, but it languidly and economically takes in a lot more. I loved all the 7-8 of the actors, their performances probably make the key contribution in holding the tension in a slow moving but richly observed film.

It isn't a thriller, or whodunit. I thought the opening scene left no doubt about what happens a week later. Its not the 'who' or the 'what' .. but the why. And thats a hard one to answer. One of the most moving scenes for me was when one of the characters was being urged to empathize, and he suddenly lashes out as to why 'Shutu' needed to pull himself together. Giving out the common wisdom on what is an acceptable level of hardship to break down under, (or not) and what is the expected age to 'grow up'. It reminded me of another conversation I once had with a friend, as she rebuffed my urges to empathize with another struggling soul, and basically again listed out 'this xyz is what constitutes hardship. Our mutual friend is nowhere near this. ergo she needs to pull it together'. Most of the time, we are not on Shutu's side, he has broken too many societal norms, failed too many exams, missed too many phone calls, not participated adequately in communal revelry.

Probably won't be everyones cup of tea, but I would recommend it highly.

ps - as an aside, this movie already had an 'A' certificate, whats with the beeping out of words? so irritating.