Feminine Strength?

Last month has been truly hectic and tiresome. I had to complete a few project and meeting reports, start on a few new projects that required travelling to villages and districts and my daughter had her school exams. It was more stressful to be around a nine-year old unable to sleep at night and constantly reminding herself of revising essays on topics such as International Women’s Day (which I am sure, she doesn’t fully comprehend anyways). I am not sure what our education system has come to, should children be subjected to stressful exams, memorized speeches on topics that are alien to them? A few of my friends have opted for more unconventional schools with novel methods of teaching, more similar to programmes that ran in ancient India, where children were taught more by observing nature instead of chapters to memorize. I have often thought of letting my daughter be in one of those schools instead of the one she is presently at. I have to find the time to do some school research too.

At one point during our tiresome week, we were both too fatigued with work, home and studies. One evening, I just gave up and sat with her doing nothing. We listened to soothing music, danced around with Tina Charles and ate a warm plate of ketchupy, spicy, egg fried rice. We did have a great sleep that night and promised ourselves to do this more often.

I also thought about the women public figures in my life who have lifted my spirits so many times. It’s not just singers like Kaushiki Chakravarty, Tina Charles but my chef heros like Julia Child and Manngchi, authors like Carol Shields, Julia Glass, Mahashweta Devi and Maitreyi Devi, fictional female leads like Ms Phryne Fisher and wonderful directors like Aparna Sen and The Wachowskis. These women have helped me focus on more important and productive things in my life and move on from things that do not require my time and attention. More importantly, like my closest women best friends, the above women have helped me laugh and be calm at times when I did not have much to look forward to.

Along with these women, fortunately, my work has provided me opportunities to observe strong women who are based in some of the poorest communities where most have never experienced necessities like clean water and hygienic sanitation. I have met some of the strongest women in these communities who inspite of everything, relentlessly pursue every avenue to keep their communities healthy and well informed. It is not the meagre salary that these front line health workers get for their job (ASHAs), but the tremendous respect that they obtain from their neighbors, peers and elders that keeps them going.

One of the greatest feminine strength is perhaps the capability to nurture and care. I have seen it amply not only in the women in my family and network, but also in the men in my life. The men in my family have always stood like pillars in support of every member. Many of my male teachers, supervisors and colleagues were extremely supportive to my growth and learning. On March 8th, the Director of the Institute where I work held a special tea meeting in commemoration of women colleagues. We were asked to speak on the moment when we felt empowered to be 21st century women in India. My reflections were that I have never faced a divide between man and woman while growing up, in my adulthood nor in my career up till now. I have never felt that I was denied anything because of my sex. Isn’t that empowering in itself? Maybe I am the fortunate few, but I wish my daughter and every daughter in India has the same experience too with their life.

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking (like everything else in life) you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude. Life itself is the proper binge – Julia Child



A ‘Christmas’ moment

End of the year is not a very happy time for me. It brings with it the assessment of my ‘happy meter’ for the year gone by and in some year the meter is not really turning in a clockwise direction. This year things are a bit different, with a promise of new venture and new direction in the new year. Although there is no surety of these taking the happy meter in the right direction, but one can only hope for the best before starting on a new journey.

Today is Christmas, a festival I have always associated with peace and warmth. Like all festivals, it brings together family members connecting them physically or in spirit over long distances. The perfect Christmas moment for me today was when I sat down with my family to eat a hot breakfast in the morning. It was a very simple semolina porridge that I had made, with aroma and spices from my childhood spent in southern India (and a little help from YouTube). But the togetherness and warmth of sharing a meal was hugely satisfying.

At that moment, I also wished that each and every one of us experiences these simple happy moments. Irrespective of our needs, aspirations, lacunae in life, of facing life’s challenges alone, or with friends and family; deserve these tiny flashes of positive energy to help us tug forward.

This weekend I also watched a few mini series on Netflix. One of them was the British detective drama, Paranoid. I loved the character of Lucy, who had changed her life from one of self indulgence to self realization. I identified with her and the happy zone she was in and the process of change that she practiced. Life changing experiences help us grow towards a more inclusive environment. I haven’t yet understood the ‘present’ moment concept of Buddhism, as past is important to me, but I value the present moment, as each of these are opportunities to make a balanced choice, a balanced decision. Each present moment is a chance at moving towards a higher self, irrespective of the baggage of the past that we all carry with ourselves.

And hence, simple happy moments in life reinforce the power of hope. Tomorrow may not turn out to be as bright as today, but the day after holds the promise of being better than today, isn’t it?

Who knows how 2018 will shape up for each one of us, but as long as we all tug along on a path of hope and acknowledge each of these simple pleasures in life, our year wont be too bad, would it?

Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings and Wishing everyone a brilliant year ahead!


Being Present for the Future

Last weekend was a long weekend with 5 straight days at home. After a long time, I caught up with the movies I wanted to watch and also a marathon of the mentalist, season 6 and 7 from a while ago (don’t ask me why, no reason!). Since I am intrigued with sci-fi and hypothetical imaginary situations, I watched the Arrival, Coherence, Dr Strange(for the second time, mostly for Benedict and Marvel Comics) and Secret Superstar (new Bollywood movie, not sci fi, not based on anything hypothetical, but this was a family watch with my daughter).

I like the aspect of alternate realities and different lives in different times in different worlds, and Coherence was a great watch. I have watched Triangle a few years back and found that quite interesting as well. What if we get into that sort of a time vortex where our lives just get stuck in the present and we cannot move forward without breaking the cycle somehow? On the contrary, if we are happy and content with ourselves in the present, then probably it’s all alright. Why would I want to change my present if I am perfectly contented with it? And if the present is not perfect, I guess there is enough power in each of us to change ourselves and our environment in the pursuit of happiness. We all take different approaches, methods and preparations for changing our present and future, but the toughest and also the fastest way to get results is to perhaps change ourselves first.

In management, there is something called the SWOT analysis. A four square matrix where one can put down the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat while planning future strategies especially for an organization. I have found this very helpful in making individual decisions too, mostly for professional choices (although I have found these equally helpful for personal ones as well). The trick is to start with a very structured question (often driven by a very unstructured emotional need, in my case, such as happiness, prosperity, family security etc) such as how will this particular job provide me good career prospects in the future or how will this career position help me in self development or what would I need to change in my career path in the next 3 years to reach a career of my choice. The strengths and weaknesses help me figure out my present status and the opportunities and threats have future implications.

Even Secret Superstar, the Indian film did portray the strength within ourselves to change our own future. The story is about a 15 year old talented singer who is struggling with her stagnating family environment to build a future for herself in singing. She finds ways to express herself and inspires her mother to take steps to change the family environment in a positive direction. Plus the movie has Amir Khan who is superbly talented and I enjoyed his role of an obnoxious rockstar of yesteryears, who otherwise has a heart of gold. I asked my eight and a half year old, one thing she liked about the movie and one thing she did not like. Children have an amazing way of summarizing things and even if I don’t appreciate children enough for being emotionally cognizant or sensitive, she did say she liked the fact that the girl got recognition for her talent as a thing she liked and the scene where her father breaks her guitar as a thing she did not like. I am sure in her own way, she can connect emotional sensitivity with life.

I understand sometimes life throws a tough shot and we feel like we will never recover from the blow. There are often circumstances which are immobilizing, paralyzing. But it is important to know especially in those periods that self strength can bring in small changes that have longer implications. During those times, I quickly do a self appraisal of the good things I have in my life which I may otherwise not even appreciate routinely. The power of being positive and strong during adversities helps in a speedy recovery, though it takes a long time to bounce back and one has to be prepared for a lot of self work.  Reaching out is important too and one will always find supporters and positive company if one seeks it. A strong social fabric helps and I cannot say enough about empowered communities even in resource limited settings. Even if we are perfectly content about our present lives, it doesn’t take too much effort in recognizing people around us who need a little bit of reassurance. My own social experiments have demonstrated that listening helps in attitude upliftment, even more than providing tangible resources.  And though I have to work a lot on myself for being patient and understanding around my little girl, I hope she realizes that she has the power to change her environment for the better, through efforts that start with her and for the goals that she is free to set for herself.


Summer or Simmer!

It is hot in my city, absolutely scorching and I miss my walks through the office garden. I feel my skin burn everytime I have to be in the open and the tap waters are perpetually hot, be it early morning or late evening. This dry kind of heat penetrates my soul and dehydrates it to the core. I am snappy and irritating to be around and always dreaming of ice creams and popsicles, so yes, when I am in office meetings, I am really not listening, my notes are usually full of doodles of ice cream cones and faces transform to chocolaty glaciers. I am not used to extreme temperatures and every summer, I suffer a heat stroke. My family members have gently advised me that it’s only a state of mind; that I need to shut myself off to the surrounding heat. Is that really possible? Would imagining myself in an igloo solve the problem? I don’t think so. The constant ice cream images dont help either.

And I am humbled by everyone who has to work outdoors during this peak heat, especially those indulging in physical labor. Yesterday, my daughter’s homework (she is in grade III) was on interviewing the person who cooks at home and find out their struggles and how she could support them in their work.

I had tried pushing myself as the cook at home, as a potential interviewee, which she quickly ‘shooed’ away as ‘you are not the official cook, only the weekender experimenter’ and I clearly heard the Thank God! in her expressions that the household did not have to bear my recipes during most of the week. Instead she interviewed Manju who makes dinner for us at home every night. Manju is the representative of a quintessential Indian support system for working mothers like me. I am only blessed to give her full independence of my kitchen on weekdays, so that I don’t have another ‘to do’ item on my never ending list. And gratefully, my daughter likes Manju’s culinary skills, so I am fine with it too.

Manju was very amused with my daugther’s questions and it came as no surprise that her main struggle was to tolerate the kitchen heat, the hot stoves in the several households she sustains with the food she makes everyday. As to the support she requires from my daughter, it was a measly glass of cold drinking water after her chore at our home. Even though Manju and I share ups and downs in our otherwise healthy relationship, my appreciation and respect for her and for all those champion support system reps like her, did increase after yesterday. It also helped my daughter be more cognizant about everyone around. Though she is a better and far more empathetic person than I am and I hope this trait stays with her as she grows older.

As a public health research enthusiast, I am glad that several cities have a ‘heat action plan’ this year and are attempting to generate awareness amongst community on ways to beat the heat, in addition to capacity build care givers on responding to heat related illness.

Temperature tolerating clothing based on chemical and electrical principals is also in the market. These can bear extreme temperature shifts and are suitable both for cold and hot weather. Some of these are being tested in soldiers who are posted at extreme weather conditions. I look forward to a day when cheaper versions can be worn by construction workers, road repair men, community care givers and the Manjus at every home. Here’s to innovations for community health and to a safe summer everyone!

One health- isn’t it a bit late for that?

While discussing a school assignment on different birds with my second grader, we watched videos of humming bird drawing out honey from flowers and weaver birds weaving artful nests. I also told her about the first time I had seen green pigeons. A pair of these green birds had made a nest close to my window and I had watched over them for a couple of months, till two young little birds were added on their family and then the four had flown away together… on their onward journey. There is something satisfying in bird watching and the way they conduct themselves. Unlike any other member of the animal kingdom, birds are perhaps the most sober and dignified and sometimes great entertainment!

The assignment also had a question regarding which birds had her parents seen when they were young and were rarely seen nowadays. When I was growing up in my grandmother’s house, we were often surrounded by sparrows and sometimes a couple of cawing crows. I don’t see sparrows anymore, especially in the cities I have lived as an adult. I tried finding some data on sparrows, unfortunately there is not a lot of research done on them. Their numbers are low and the ones who made it have migrated to greener, less polluted suburbs and villages. Two things caught my eye in the past week. The term ‘one health’ which really means to have everyone who deals with human, animal and environment health on one platform. Since 60% of diseases in man have some sort of origin in animals and since in turn, man has contributed to effectively denude the environment off more than 60% of its resources, now man has decided that we should all work together if we are to save ourselves from animals and the depleting environment. This is the big health jargon of 2017 that will be used over and over on all research applications, debates and talks this year and perhaps till we move on to something more ‘in’.

The CDC page on One Health, mentions “One health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment (www.cdc.gov/onehealth/)”. Isn’t it funny that it took us till 2017 to recognize that our health is connected to other beings around us? The real reason is perhaps that as researchers, we have all built our silos of working with our own folks with our own perceptions, like a medical professional may not be seen as a talented basic researcher, a  PhD is seen to be focused only on their bench work and not understand diseases, and veterinarians, well they have been completely dismissed from participating in any ‘serious research’ related platforms. As researchers, we have let our insecurities and sometimes dire selfishness keep us from sharing our results, collaborating and even talking openly about our interesting findings. When we cannot build bridges across our own fraternity, how will we come together on an unified ‘one health’ platform and work together to better our environment?

And why veterinarians alone? We should also partner with anthropologists who learn from living with communities who are closer to nature. The indigenous tribesmen of any country have been practicing living in harmony with nature for as long as the human civilization. We should perhaps seek our ‘one health’ answers from them.

The other item that I found interesting was that telomeres seem to grow longer in space. Isn’t it interesting that telomere which dictate ageing in an individual, grow longer in space? Was the incident a one off, or was it due to space being untouched by pollution, untouched by man as yet? Anyways, since we haven’t been able to find another earth to call our home yet, we should like our own spiritual growth, ‘look inwards’.

Would one health change our perceptions about working with each other for a better world?….only time will tell. Till then, I hope someone somewhere works on sparrows and  brings them back to my neighborhood!



RIP Ms Fisher

Our childhood is often hinged on special fictional characters that have an impact on our imagination as we grow up. Sherlock Holmes, Feluda, Jo from Louisa Alcott’s Little Women, Jupiter Jones are some familiar with mine. However, of all, Princess Leia by far had the strongest impression and even today there are moments when the Start Wars characters help me smile. My first Star Wars movie was the Return of the Jedi, which I watched in the late 80s with a group of neighborhood friends in our homely defence camp movie theater, aptly named ‘Manoranjan’ (Hindi for entertainment). For the cheapest movie tickets in town and the no frills, no balcony, close to home experience, it was a real treat to sit back relax in a familiar audience setting and lose ourselves to the world of imagination. Although it would be the last movie hall on this planet to show any particular film, sometimes after 3-4 years of its release, we still loved to watch movies in Manoranjan.

Since the 80s, I have watched the Return of the Jedi at different time points in my life and like a good book, it has been a new experience, a new understanding, each time. This particular movie was no less than any Bollywood high grosser. It had action, emotion, a great plot and lots of comedy (also a great background score). What’s not to like in a strong woman, a nation’s decision maker, fighting for her nation? Add to it a personal dimension of a lost and found brother, a controversial father and George Lucas’s exemplary project execution and of course Han Solo’s crooked charm!

Princess Leia had great leadership qualities and was skilled at rational persuasion. She was liked by all forms of creatures in the movie and her empathy bonded her people together. I also liked that Lucas had not made her out a superwoman with super powers; rather he stuck with her as a more human self, with normal physical limits, albeit with an active, thinking mind and expert in handling arms. I almost named my daughter Leia and I do hope mine outgrows her fascination with everything Barbie and takes notice of fictional characters that have strong individualism who do not rely on certain ways of physical appearance or a wardrobe filled with pink or fuchsia colored apparel, to lead a healthy, happy life.

As another year flies past, I hope 2017 will be a year for great books, great science, great movies and great examples of world peace. As every country moves towards a more nationalistic way of thinking, they don’t exit from international collaboration. Would I ever be able to watch Star Wars, sitting in a small movie theater in an Indian city without some form of international collaboration? And wouldn’t it be a form of foolishness not to invest in a global market, for any type of business?

But coming back to the Return of the Jedi, and although I am saddened at Ms Fisher’s untimely and sad demise, her portrayal of Princess Leia will live on till the end of time and hopefully, continue to inspire many more to come.

Sribble, Srabble….

Journey Home….

Tiny feet, tiny toes, delicate fingers, dot for a nose

Curly locs, cutest smile, brownest eyes with specks of starlight

While you sleep on my lap, sighing sometimes, without a care,

I wonder if you will find my home, to your liking, worth your share

Would you accept me as your mother, my darling little pixie glow?

For I have always known you are the one, from where I came and where I go

We have woven our dreams together in the past, with threads of hope, with desires to last

And even though I haven’t nourished you with my blood and with my health

I will raise you, as mine, with all my soul and all my strength.

But while you sleep on my lap, sighing sometimes, without a care,

I wonder if you will find my home, to your liking, worth your share….



You are seven

This year you are seven and soon you will touch eleven,

and then a fine woman you will be, with truth in your step and courage in your hair

through all this though, I wish you joy, for a life that matters, a life that cares

and through it all, I wish you love, a love fulfilling, a love with dreams, with hopes to share

and most of all I wish for you, a life without a hint of pain

For all the pain should end with me, all hardships I am ready to gain

May the sadness in my eyes, never touch your sacred space

For you my darling pixie glow, may only laughter and tenderness remain!