Beginning of a New End

If I get a chance, a single chance, to rewrite my life,

Would I take it? Would I seek the wishes that fleeted from time to time?

Or those that returned to knock at my doors like long lost childhood friends.

Would I have been happier with the choices I never made, the paths I never tread?

Or would everything somehow have brought me back to where I am?

Is this the beginning, is this the end? Is this how it was always intended?

 

Or perhaps, I would still make the same choices I made

And reach the same place I am at, whichever path it led

The lessons I learnt on this way, made me me, who I am today

The path I chose taught me a lot, with gifts of unforgettable moments

and golden memories

The path I chose brought me my little darling, my pride

For her, I think I have been blessed, to have found her with the choices made

Or would she be waiting at every road I would tread?

To hold my hand whichever choice I made?

 

No matter whichever way I walked

No matter whatever mountain I crossed

I think I would still have reached here

The place for endings and new beginnings

The place from where I would start again

To seek new paths, new dreams and new friends

To give new beginnings to old ends!

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Gender Views

We received a wedding invitation last week from our professional network. The invitation card mentioned the name of the groom (whom we know) and the bride to be. Her name is ‘Trophy’. Now I know, one can only imagine how she would have gone through school and college with that name, and also of the innumerable puns (intended) that would have surrounded her at all ages. However, I was thinking of the day she was born. She must have made her parents so happy and I can practically visualize the pride and delight her parents would have felt in holding her and showing her off….you know…like a prized possession (almost like Lion King!)

Though gender bias exists throughout the world as per scientific literature, I may be one of the fortunate few who is yet to document this from any practical experience. In fact, my family may be quite weird. I am an only child and all my uncles and aunts (5 of them) have only a single girl child. Maybe it’s a genetic predisposition, but we have been a very contended lot with a house full of women. Sometimes I do feel, we have sidelined the male population to a background in our family. We do include them in decision making processes, but just so they don’t feel left out (J).

It is however, extremely important to have different perspectives while making important decisions for the family like health choices, financial choices, education for children, marriage decisions, buying a home etc and a balanced view emerging from all family members irrespective of their sex is valuable. I also think children and adolescents make good decisions too and should not be undermined in the process. More than stressing on gender, I am of the view that each person is valuable and has a lot to contribute. The dynamics of power distribution will change when we start valuing each person, instead of attaching adage of male female, girls boys etc.

The fact is that my family may be part of a very small microcosm. I have women colleagues who have felt domination every day of their lives, I have male colleagues who are constantly overruled by their mothers while making family decisions with their wives for their children. Power has and will always lead human kind through all ages.

There are three delays in obtaining timely healthcare, type 1 delays are those made at the family level, where the decision that the ailing person in the family needs urgent healthcare in a timely manner can lead to survival or death of the person. Type 2 delays are often transportation or means to get to the closest healthcare and can depend on decisions, economic conditions etc of the family or surrounding community, terrain and accessibility in remote areas and the type 3 delays are adequate and timely healthcare provided to the patient in a healthcare facility. All three delays together or individually can lead to survival or death. Gender plays an important role in all these delays and is particularly crucial at the type 1 delay stage. There is a lot of research evidence that type 1 delay causes extensive bleeding at child birth in mothers who deliver at home, especially in low and middle income countries and together with type 2 delay causes the largest portion of maternal death. Same is true for neonatal deaths.

What are the barriers? Gender is only one of them; social, traditions, customs, faith, economics, illiteracy, ignorance make up the rest. What are the solutions? Education of every child, awareness of family and community, more participatory mechanisms to include women, men, community in government health schemes are a few answers, together with greater outreach of front-line health workers into urban and rural communities.  Often in Maternal and Children Health programmes, the men are sidelined, however, they should know the programmes and their views are as important as the women and mothers. Community empowerment and education of all will lead to better understanding of men and women in general and build stronger families. As part of a public health research organization, the best we can do is to include a equal gender lens in all our studies. To be inclusive and create projects that benefit everyone and don’t exclude men and/or boys. Health should be gender free, it is for and by all.

 

 

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.

 

A weekend of Gulzar

This weekend my phone was abuzz with messages from every whattsapp group and friends possible. And surprisingly all of them sent in lines from Gulzar’s poetry. As though, it was the most ‘in’ thing now, to send a few of his couplets. The fact that Gulzar has written poems on every emotion and circumstance possible in human life and penned the most memorable songs in the history of Indian cinema, was used quite conveniently by my friends, to depict their moods, or the weather, or what they were hoping for. The man is a genius. Not only has he mastered a subtle way of depicting life through his poetry, he has written plays, scripted films and directed some too.

His poems make me thank my Hindi teachers at school, for letting me learn and understand, one of the several languages that he writes in to reach the masses. There is a rich regional literature treasure in India, each state has its own language and often writers have used regional languages to communicate. However, Hindi and English are spoken throughout the country and taught at schools, in addition to the local state language in some states. Although there are some good translations of regional literature into Hindi and English medium, much of these remain unknown and unread in other parts of the country. Personally, I am not fond of translated literature, since I always feel that the original author’s perspectives are lost or dulled by the translator.

But I am grateful to those who take time in researching, understanding and translating, otherwise, we would never have known about the epics from all over the world, Coelho would sadly be absent from our lives, Love in the Times of Cholera would not have reached the girl growing up in Southern India and Tagore would have not won his Nobel in literature.

Here are a few of Gulzar’s couplets that I have attempted to translate. Hope that these convey his thoughts as closely as possible (courtesy: Rekhta)

  1. From ‘The Melting snow’

When the snow will melt on the mountain

And fog will lift its veil from the valley

The seeds would stretch their limbs

And open their sleepy lazy eyes

And even though,

the new young grass, will begin to green the mountain slopes

Notice carefully, the new spring

Would still have memories of the past season

For even now there would be remnants of tears of yesteryears,

In the melancholy eyes of the new buds that sprout.

My short understanding from the above- Dang! The memories….they never fade. Although we transform from one year to another, one goal to the other, who can forget the past? For as human, we carry our past into our present (maybe that’s a gift?).

  1. From ‘Books’

The books steal glances from within their unopened book case

Sometimes with a lonely, longing gaze

For we haven’t met in months

The evenings that were once spent in each other’s company

Are now used up viewing the computer screen

The books have begin to get restless

For they have now learnt to sleep walk

The books look on with a lonely, longing gaze

 

The values that they once narrated

With their endless passion

Those values don’t live in my house anymore

The relationships they had once proposed

They seem unstitched, undone, incomplete to me now

 

When I turn their pages, I begin to sigh

For many of their words have lost their meaning

For many of their words remain unused now

Terminologies forgotten, meaningless

 

The crystal utensils have made the earthen pots obsolete

For once a turn of a page would vet my appetite

And now at a click of a finger and in an instance

So many pages, pages within pages open by themselves

 

The bond with books has been forgotten

For sometimes they would rest on my heart as I lay,

Or sometimes carried possessively on my lap

Sometimes I would face them on my book stand of knees

Sometimes I would read them like a holy book

And touch them to my forehead in a prayer

 

Perhaps their contents are still accessible

But those dried flowers hidden within pages,

Those fragrant messages from companions

Those relationships forged by an excuse of lifting a fallen book for another…

What would happen to those?

Would those be now forgotten as well?

My two bits- Although we now depend on e books and audiobooks, how can we forget the emotions of reading a thriller….. page by page, so many of those nights in our younger years, of being unable to sleep till we could finish a book?

Books were more than paper pages, they were ways to disappear into an imaginary land, of forging new relationships and being inspired….

Ahh! Gulzar….you made my weekend!

Regrets

I have come to realize that the only regret I will ever have when there is a loss in communication with people whom I had once known in the past, would be the inability to share my happiness or sorrow when I need to, in the present time. Relationships change and distance, death, differences of opinion create gaps, hollow vacuums. New people, new circumstances slowly reinstate the balance. But it is difficult to let go of familiarity, of knowing that someone who is no longer with you could have understood your view, understood you exactly the way you wanted to relay it.

This wall you have built around you,

That which now exiles you,

Does sunshine pass through on its way?

For, the same sunshine has warmed my heart,

Before it passed to you, through your wall

Hence, we are bonded in some way

Sometimes, little thoughts of delight

And sometimes, those that I try and fight

Stop me in my steps, midway

And then I wish I could share

These small things with those gone by

With whom I had traveled once

This road of life, for a short while….

MD

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!

Strength of Prayer, of wanting nothing

When I was sixteen years old, I traveled on my own on a train for 2 days to see my relatives in another city. Even though I grew up in a very protective environment, my parents did give me the independence to discover myself from time to time. And although my parents called every day during that particular trip and came to take me home after two weeks of what was originally planned to be a full month of ‘independent’ vacation; at the end, I did get to stay with all my cousins for a good enough time and had a great summer that year.

On that train journey when I was greatly enjoying being on my own, I chatted up with some of my co passengers. It was the age of bewilderment and innocence. Not even for a moment did I feel nervous about talking with total strangers. I remember some of them bought me snacks and tea and I accepted gratefully. If it was today, I would have thought multiple times about accepting things from strangers. I have also killed the innocent urge to strike up conversations with people I don’t know.

On this trip for at least a part of the journey; one of my co passenger was a young yogi who would probably be in his early twenties. He had a pointed beard and knotted his hair on top of his head in a bun. He wore orange garments, sat straight and had ear phones in both ears. He would open his eyes from time to time and look outside the window, not to gaze at anything particularly but probably to add meaning to whatever he was listening. At some point, we had started talking. He was on his way to North India to help people devastated by a recent flood. He worked with Bharat Sevashram and seemed very happy with his life.

We were talking about God and divine presence and he had asked me if I prayed. I have never been overtly religious. My parents are practicing Hindus, actually quite orthodox, but have never forced me to abide by or follow any practice. As a result, my faith has been an evolution, metamorphosing over the years with my own life’s experiences, changing with my perceptions of the divine. At sixteen, I had laughed and told the Yogi that I prayed before exam results came out. He had asked me not to request for anything the next time I prayed.

I had been amused, how could one not ask for anything while praying. Wasn’t this the sole purpose of believing in a greater presence, of having an assurance that the most powerful can fulfill every need?

I did not understand him then, but now, over time, I have realized how powerful it is to pray and not ask, but thank. I find a deep peace in my daily prayers and praying for others. It has allowed me to overcome the biggest obstacle in my own life; my own self. One does not have to follow any religion to pray. You could think of the universe, the strength of the cosmos as being the most powerful and pray keeping that strength in mind. It is wonderfully satisfying to think of oneself as the tiniest dot amongst the vastness and that one doesn’t have control over everything.

Like many conundrums in my life, I am a partial atheist. An unusual believer. I did study science, but have never felt a need to give up my faith in both the divine and in science. Cant they co exist? I understand how Darwin would have felt, while learning to be a clergyman and discovering that evolution was the key to life forms. However, he may have been an unusual believer himself.

Like my parents, I do not expect my daughter to practice any particular faith, however, I do not think I could bear the thought of her traveling on her own, away from home, not at sixteen and perhaps not even at twenty!