Tuesday, 10 December 2013

What Mandela's struggle meant to me...

Nine months ago, I was a stranger to this land, and as a stranger does so often, I only knew Nelson Mandela as a great leader and as a great Gandhian who fought against an unjust system and won after a long, hard struggle... How long or how hard the struggle was, eluded me... now nine months living in South Africa and having studied the history of the land, having talked to many of the people who inhabit this land and after visits to certain historical landmarks, I can safely say, that Nelson Mandela was not only a leader of South Africa but of all the people who seem to have lost hope.

Last Thursday night when he breathed his last, South Africa not only lost it's father, but the world lost a great humanist. It's only fitting that his Memorial Service is being held today, the 10th of December, which also happens to be the International Human Rights Day... Nothing could have fitted the occasion more than  the ode being paid to this great leader.

Since the passing away of Madiba (as he was affectionately called here) the South African weather also seem to be mournful. The cheerful and sunny weather has given way to a rainy, gloomy and cloudy weather, though according to the local lore, it is a good sign. It means that God is now ready to accept a great soul into his kingdom and the rains are his symbol for the said event.

Last Friday, when most South Africans woke up to the historic news of Madiba's passing away, I and my husband Rahul went to have coffee at a nearby coffee house... all around me were the images of the great man and news were flying thick and fast about the days to come... Beside us, there were these two white gentlemen who were equally absorbed in the news when it suddenly occurred to me that if it was not for Nelson Mandela, I and Rahul would have never been able to sit so freely beside those two white men... we would have our separate enclosure and maybe we would have been sitting outside in the rain...

What Mandela taught us most importantly is that before any other considerations, we are all human beings, not a whole lot of Indians of my generation will understand it but if I told you that even nineteen years ago, I would be put be put in Jail for writing this blogpost, just because of my color, you would understand, what I mean, when I say, Nelson Mandela fought not only for South Africa, but also for you and me...and for the hope we all have...


Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Kruger-o-mania" : Part 2: The Elephant, The Lioness and the Road to Satara...

And my adventures in the wild continues:

Early in the morning, we left the Skukuza Camp for the Satara camp. All those reading this post for the first time, let me state briefly, that our first camp in Kruger National Park was Skukuza and that we had an amazing day out there.

So our next destination being around 90 km away and with a little help from our GPS, we set off to the next phrase of our ongoing adventure. My husband being a wildlife enthusiast, took the wheels, while being the camera pro, I was in charge of capturing the wildlife in the lenses.

There are two types of roads in the Kruger National Park. One is the paved and metaled road where the speed limit is 50 km/hour and the other is the unpaved and gravel roads where the speed limit is 40 km/hour. Now one's best chance to see the game is through the unpaved road which are easily distinguishable from the paved roads. The unpaved roads will be shown on one's GPS as "S" Roads, while the paved ones will be denominated by the letter "H". Now at this juncture, I would like to point out that, buying a road map of Kruger is a beautiful idea. It is quite inexpensive and would be your best companion while you are busy navigating the roads or watching the animals in their most natural behavior, also it is readily available in any of the numerous curio shops in all the camps.

Now to travel on the unpaved road, it is wise to have a four wheel drive (4WD) but our experience shows that even the unpaved roads are excellent and if the weather is compatible, one can easily take their two wheel drives deep into the forest. This is what we did, since we had a two wheel drive. We took three or four secondary (unpaved) roads and it is on these roads that we were able to see most of the wild animals in their most natural behaviors.

Our first sighting was a buffalo, resting in the mud, deep into the forest. It was our first sighting of the buffalo, an animal twice the size of lion and thrice more ferocious and territorial. This was the third of the Big five, that we were fortunate enough to see, having seen the Rhino and the Elephant both the previous evening at Skukuza Sunset Drive. Then we drove on only to stop to give a lone elephant it's way across the dirt tract. It was crossing onto the other side of the road in search of fresh leaves and barks. The Elephant was quite oblivious to our car and we stood silently watching it in all it's magnificence.

One of the golden rule of seeking game in the park is being observant and quiet. If you spot one animal, be patient, soon you will find tens of similar game around, hiding in bushes. So while the Elephant crossed the road and vanished into the other side of the bush, we waited silently, only to discover an entire herd hiding into the forest and munching on leaves and barks of trees. That's the beauty of Kruger. The fun part is not in just seeing the animals. That, one can easily see in a caged zoo. The actual part where the excitement kicks in, is to silently seek the animals, camouflaged in their surroundings in their most natural behavior.

For example, it is extremely interesting to see how elephants behave in a herd. It is to be noted that a herd of elephants consists only of female elephants and babies of both genders and only those male elephants who have not yet reached puberty. As soon as a male elephant reaches adolescence, it is left alone by the herd, to seek a mate and also to seek it's own livelihood. The largest female elephant (and almost always the eldest one) becomes the matriarch and she is primarily responsible for the herd's safety.

A while down the road (this time, the main, paved road), we came across a herd of elephants intent on crossing the road to the other side. This time, when our car approached, the other members of the herd had already crossed over and the sole elephant was observing the traffic on the both ends of the road, waiting for the right time to cross. Now when the elephants cross, the first adult elephant

will keep a watch on the other side of the road, one adult will be responsible for each of member crossing the road safely, and the last adult elephant will remain on the other side of the road, till all the other members have safely crossed. This represents highly intelligent thinking and management skills. In fact after seeing the elephants of Kruger, I am of the opinion, that not lions but elephants should have been the "king of the jungle". They are one of the most civilized, intelligent and sophisticated of all the animals that I saw. So, this elephant which was standing on the other side, watched for a long while, until all the cars came to a halt, and observing keenly that no immediate danger in the form of steel vehicles are approaching, it first folded it's trunk on it's own tusk, so as not to put it into immediate danger and slowly crossed the road. She was barely seven feet away from my car, and I got an excellent opportunity to capture her in my lens.

Just as the herd of elephants receded onto the other side of the forest, a lady driving another jeep which had also stopped to give way to the elephants, informed us that some two kilometers up the road, a lioness and her cub were resting under a shady tree. We were thrilled and my husband  put the accelerators in order to see the lioness. But in Kruger, it's not at all possible to drive without stopping to gaze at the sheer number of animals and plants. So what was supposed to be a mere hour's journey turned out to be two and a half hours long. We stopped by to see a family of giraffes, a huge group of impalas, a baboon, quite intent on photographing itself, some wild zebras also extremely keen to get photographed, some amazingly colorful birds, a family of blue wildebeests... now here is an interesting fact about wildebeests...the females again consist of the herd, as soon as the male wildebeest reach their maturity, they detach themselves from the herd and roam around scanning for females to mate, unfortunately they roam around in the same territory as lions do and therefore are most easily preyed...





Then we traveled on to find a long queue of cars lined up on one side of the road... we eagerly joined the queue to find the object of attraction, the lioness and her cub resting under a shade of a big tree... it was around twenty-twenty five feet from us... one car moved out of the queue heading onto it's way and we immediately filled up the vacant spot... to get a good look at the awesome sight. I have never in my life thought I would see a wild lioness with her cub sitting this close to us and that too in broad afternoon light... I wonder how many people in my family or friends circle have had this awesome opportunity. I thank God for making me see this beautiful sight. There was a car behind us making a movie on the lioness. They had their camera on a tripod and intent on filming the entire scenery.

We waited and observed the lioness and her cub for around an hour. I have never seen an animal more gorgeous and stately than this. She probably just had her meal/lunch and was quietly lying under the tree. I believe she was also quite aware of all the cars and the interest being taken in her and her cub, and she was so uninterested, as if this was a daily occurrence. There were a few other animals also in the vicinity, but no one was coming quite close to the duo. I later heard from our Guide, that if a lion had, had her feed, she would not disturb any animal or even look for hunt till again she's hungry. Our guide told us that it is a common sight in Kruger to have a pride of  lions gathered around a waterhole and a family of impalas and baboons roaming around them quite freely unafraid... Unfortunately we weren't able to see the sight...

Our sighting over, we traveled onto the Satara camp to begin our next phrase of adventure... Life didn't get any better than this...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

"Kruger-o-mania"... My adventures in the wild... Part 1

I recently visited the Kruger National Park here in South Africa... Oh my god, it was an awesome, awesome adventure. Not being a wildlife fan myself, even I found myself engrossed in seeking game (as they call the animals in Kruger).

The basic story behind writing this article is if anyone wants to travel to Kruger, then they can refer to this blog post for some basic information. However all the important information one needs is available in the SANParks site : http://www.sanparks.org/

This is the site one can use for all information.

The first thing one needs to know before visiting Kruger is planning the trip. It is very important to plan one's trip beforehand. If one has planned one's trip, everything will go perfectly.

The first thing one needs to book is the accommodation. There are 2.2 million visitors to Kruger National Park each year, so it's sufficient to say, that accommodations are hard to come by. Kruger National Park has eight rest camps : Berg-en-dal, Crocodile Bridge, Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Orpen, Satara, Olifants, Letaba, Mopani, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria. Punda Maria is the northernmost camp of KNP and falls in Zimbabwe. One needs a visa to visit this camp. These camps are like small towns. The camps that we stayed in had restaurants, take away stores, medicinal facilities and Skukuza also has a Post Office!!

In addition to these main rest camps, one can also stay in one of the satellite camps known as bushveld camps. Bushveld camps are a recommended option if one wants more of a wilderness experience than are possible at the rest camps, and these are equipped for self catering too.

At the Rest Camps, one has a choice of various types of accommodations. One can choose to stay in a safari tent (we stayed in one), a bungalow, a guest cottage (these two options are luxurious accommodations and can fit upto 10 people). One also has the option of camping and there are designated space for camps. Skukuza is the headquarters of the Kruger National Park and as such is the busiest and the largest camp of all.

The cost of all types of accommodations can be known from the San parks site that is given above. All the accommodations need to be booked in advance as one has to show the reservation confirmation at the respective gates.

We entered the Paul Kruger Gate as our first camp was Skukuza. Here, we stayed in a safari camp that was equipped with electricity, had a fan, fridge, Braai facilities, beds and linen were provided which I have to say were new and met our expectations. There are glasses and a jug also present in the tent, but the tent does not have any power point, so if one is hoping to charge one's cellphone or camera batteries, one will be disappointed. The kitchen and the ablution facilities were common but were very clean, hygienic and were well provided for.


The safari tent can house two, four or six people. The minimum number of people, one safari tent can accommodate is known as the base rate. For example, if your group has five people, then you can book a tent for four and take one bed extra. So the base rate you'll be paying is for four people, and you will need to pay for the extra bed that has been provided for. The tent for four people costs around R 700.00

Needless to say, staying in the safari camp is an adventure in itself. It's best if one is lucky enough to grab a tent near the perimeter as all wild animals like hyenas and jackals come upto the perimeter at night.

There are different ways to see the game in KNP. The most recommended are the guided drives and walks that are available in all the camps. The drives are done in open jeeps and are driven by experienced rangers who communicate with each other via radio. So the best chance of seeing game are these drives. There are three types of guided drives available: Sunrise Drive, Sunset Drive and Night Drives. All the big cats including the lions, leopards, cheetahs etc are nocturnal creatures and are most active during night and during dusk and dawn. The drivers, as mentioned above are experienced rangers and therefore provide an endless and precious information about wildlife, trees and bird species of the Kruger National Park. It is indeed extremely informative and enjoyable to listen to their running commentary while seeking hidden animals.

At the Skukuza camp, we took a Sunset Drive which costs around R 230 per person. The Sunset Drives are for three hours duration and starts at 4:30 pm and lasts till about 8 pm. One has to report at least half an hour earlier from the departure time. We were fortunate enough to see many species of birds, trees, and insects. We also saw elephants, giraffes, rhinos, probably a thousand impalas and one rare specie of baboon... it was breathtaking... as the sun sunk down the horizon, while returning, we suddenly heard a terrible noise and I flashed the flash light provided in the jeep towards the noise only to find out two adult elephants fighting each other. It was incredible. As soon as the lights shone in their eyes, they moved away from the light and receded deeper into the jungle. As the flash light was not falling directly onto their eyes, we could see them fighting each other. It looked quite ferocious but our guide explained that these two elephants were just playing with each other. I wonder what would it have been like when they seriously fought each other. Supposedly it is an extremely rare sighting.

There was one time during the drive, when the jeep stopped completely, the driver cut the engine and told us to switch off all the flash lights. The Guide asked us just to be patient and listen to the sounds of the forests. It was one of those moments, when one realizes how insignificant one is as there are so many other sounds hidden and they come alive only when we try to listen carefully. It was one of the awe-inspiring moment in my life.

Fortunately the night we had taken the drive in Skukuza was a moonlit night and the forest looked beautiful bathed in the silvery light of the moon. It was one of those moments when you really don't want the drive to end but unfortunately it does.

We came back to the Camp after an incredible three hour drive with hunger in our bellies and awe in our minds. I remember, the only discussion at the dinner table that night was about wildlife and the forest. We went to sleep with the sounds of the forest filling up our hearts and making us realize that beyond our ordinary existence lay an extraordinary world.






Thursday, 3 October 2013

Understanding Hinduism: Part 1: The Emergence...

For a long time, about a month approximately, I have been pondering on whether to write upon Hinduism and it's discourses as I understand it... There were too many hazards to writing this post and if I were to write on it, I would have to jack up my courage...

Firstly, it is a subject that could at once make a pariah out of me... secondly, there have been far greater, far more learned, far more educated and informed people who have propounded upon the subject...  Thirdly, my own belief in God is rather agnostic... that is I believe, that there is a God , I mean a super conscious entity, a cosmic power that definitely exceeds my humble limits of imagination, but I do not believe that whatever that power is, possesses a 'religion', at least, not in the sense that we, now know of it... Therefore I do not believe in any religion... but at the same time, I am a practicing Hindu...  oxymoronic, right? These were exactly the reasons I was so far delaying and pondering upon whether to write this post or not...

 So why did I set out to write this post?

The answer is basically because I believe in Hinduism, not as a religion, but as a way of life.

So what is it that has helped Hinduism survive throughout the ages... the faith has seen the advent of many world religions such as Jainism and Buddhism, Christianity and lastly Islam. Why is Hinduism still the world's third largest religion and why does it still have a billion followers?

I set out to find answers to these questions. I began to study the history of the religion and to study the history of the religion is to study the history of the land where this belief system emerged... Hinduism as a religion or a philosophy, (I like to call it a philosophy), is innately connected with the social and political history of the land, we now called India. Hinduism is one of the world's oldest surviving religions... many other faiths and beliefs which were contemporary to this faith have entirely disappeared.

What is Hinduism ? Emergence

The first proto Hinduism was probably practiced by the natives of the Indus Valley civilization which emerged on the banks of the river Indus from the period 3300-1300 BC... The other civilizations contemporary to the Indus Valley Civilization, were the Nile Valley Civilization and the Mesopotamian Civilization, the beliefs of the people of the two later civilizations having disappeared with the collapse and decline of the civilizations themselves. The religious practices and beliefs of the Harappan people, however endured and after the decline of the Indus Valley civilization were merged in the oncoming Aryan beliefs and re-emerged as the Vedic religion.

It should be noted at this point that the word denoting, the religion, as we know of today, "Hinduism" is essentially a 13th century invention... The Persians or the Arab merchants who had trade relations with India, could not pronounce the alphabet "S" , therefore they called the river "Sindhu" (modern day Indus) "Hindu" and the land beyond this river, Hind... The term 'Hinduism' was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later 'Rajtaranginis' (lore of the kings) of Kashmir. It was only towards the end of 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the general beliefs of the people living in this land as Hinduism.

It is thus of utmost importance to note, that the religion is named after a mighty river and like a river, has ingrained in itself a plethora of belief, faiths, and cultures.

Thus, our first understanding of Hinduism starts at the understanding of the history of India.

The Harappan Civilization: Proto Hinduism :

The Harappan or the Indus Valley Civilization emerged on the banks of the Indus river basin and was one of the earliest urban civilization to have emerged during the time. The other civilizations which arose approximately around this time frame were the Mesopotamian civilization and the Nile Valley or the Egyptian civilization.

The inhabitants of the Indus Valley civilization, (it is also called the Harappan civilization because one of the largest and the earliest towns to be excavated was called 'Harappa') largely worshiped animals and plants and believed in amulets. The Harappan seals carry many of the animals such as buffaloes and bulls, stamped on them. There is much debate on a symbol on a seal which has been excavated, depicting a three headed God, surrounded by animals, who according to the historian John Marshall depicts a form of proto 'Shiva' or 'Pashupati' (lord of animals). The historian Romila Thapar contends, that Shiva, as a Hindu God emerged only in the later Vedic age some 2000 years later and hence the description of this symbol as proto Shiva or 'Pashupati' is wholly misleading. It might be that there was some kind of 'shaman' or medical man that existed during that time who had the unique characteristic of domesticating animals. Maybe that, the later god Shiva or Pashupati has been designed on this Harappan deity.

Harappans also believed in a number of symbols such as Swastika drawn on their seals. The Swastika symbol has been much maligned because of its heinous and wrongful use as the symbol of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party, but the symbol has roots deep in human civilization. The word 'Swastika' comes from the Sanskrit word 'Shuvastika'  'shuva' meaning good, 'astika' meaning mark, "Shuvastika" meaning "the mark of the good", and represents the peaceful alignment of the four elements of nature, the air, the wind, the earth and the water with the four phrases of Human life, the childhood, the adolescence, the mature age and the old age... It is indeed sad, how a symbol so pure in it's origin was so maligned in it's use.

However, the earliest forms of Swastika's can be found on the Harappan seals.

There does not exist any temple or structures of spiritual endevour among the Harappan people but the early use of fire as a religious symbol has been found in some of the cities that belonged to the Late Harappan phrase.

The language of the Indus Valley, unfortunately still remains a mystery, whatever conclusions have been made regarding the civilization has been based on archaeological finds. If we were to know the language of the Harappan people, more light could have been shed on their religious and spiritual beliefs.

Thus, it is noteworthy that, the first basis of Hinduism lay in naturalistic and animalistic forces. We shall see in the second part, how it developed from a mere scattered belief system into a system of texts and how it began to usher in a more rigid form.

The coming of the Aryans did much to contextualize the religion as well to give it a firmer shape and direction.

Image Courtsey:

http:/en.wikipedia.org
http;/indianetzone.com
http:/commons.wikimedia.org
http:/counter-currents.com
http:/muktinath.org

References:

Romlia Thapar : Ancient India

Mazumdar,Raychaudhari & Datta : An Advanced History of India

Krishna Reddy: TataMcGraw Hill Publications: Indian History

Indus Civilization: IGNOU Booklet 2

www.wikipedia.com




Friday, 27 September 2013

My Life as a "wanderlust" : Sophie and Me... The unique relationship between me and my South African domestic...

Sophie is my domestic helper... no, I think that definition is a very narrow one...

Sophie, for me, is a doorway to know the culture of the land, I now inhabit... she is my mirror to the larger society that I am a part of, and yet I am quite aloof from it all... being an expat from the United States and an Indian national, we largely have American and Indian friends, who are all expatriates. We stay in gated communities, quite away from the humdrum, the joviality and the color of an ordinary South African life. We are fortunate enough to have a car at our disposal, wherever we wish to go... I have no idea how the "bucckies" (taxis, here in South Africa) are and I am quite unfortunately unaware of the problems that are faced by ordinary South Africans, in their ways of life... because as I said before, I live in a shell like existence...

That is the prime reason, why Sophie is important to me...

Not only she helps me keep my house clean, she also serves as a window to the larger, ordinary South African life...

Will Julius Malema make it to the elections next year..??? Is Robert Mugabe really as bad as portrayed in the world media?  How were the days for her, as a "black domestic" working in a predominantly "white neighborhood" in the days of apartheid? Do the tribes here, really keep Cheetahs as pets and how does one conform to the dual identity of being a Christian and a proud Tribal landlord...

These are some of the questions that Sophie unknowingly answers in our everyday conversations...

The first day, she came to work in my house, the second thing she said, after a big smile and a "thank you" ; is that she has never worked for "this color before", touching my arm to show that she has never worked with an Indian native before... Honestly, I was surprised and to tell the least I was shocked... I had never given any thought to my skin color before, at least not in the sense that Sophie implied, and then I realized that the skin color issue goes so deep in their psyche, that she just can't help but point it out...

I justified my skin color and the country of my origin by stating the one name, I thought she might be familiar with, Mahatma Gandhi... I asked her, "do you know of Mahatma Gandhi? He lived here in South Africa. I am from his country... same color, and same country, you see"... she responded with a huge smile, "yes Gandhi, I know Gandhi", "good man, very good man".... he fought for us...." I really wished some of our Indian Leaders could hear it... especially now, when the only day we remember the great man, is on his birth anniversary, and that too because it's a public holiday.

It's now been almost five months since I have known Sophie, and it seems to me, that she, through her stories, open up an incredible world  for me... it's a world inhabited by proud African chieftains, of the glorious wars the kings fought for cattle, the days of oppression, of Apartheid, of an entire nation suppressed by a minority government and of 1994, when Sophie who was 38 years of age and her mother 80 years old, went to vote for the first time in their lives...

Sophie belongs to the Ndebele (pronounced "debele", the N is silent) tribe who live mostly in the province of Mpumalanga (the M is silent)... her family is related to a tribal warlord who at one time had accumulated millions of cattle and were trading partners with the Boer settlers when they first came in... her mother still lives in a small village in a wattle and daub house and her only brother, was shot by the Apartheid Police when he was 22 and was working as an electrician for a white businessman, his crime, he was out in the "white neighborhood"  without his "identity pass" at 7 pm in the evening... he was the only bread earner in the family of four... after which Sophie took on the responsibility of the household and set off to eMahlaleni (Witbank), an industrial town some seven kilometers away from her village to find work as a domestic...

She has one daughter, Precious, who studies Chemical Engineering in Stellenbosch University near Cape Town. When Precious was small, she could not get admitted to a school near Sophie's then employer's home, because it was reserved for "white kids only" , her then employer, a White doctor called Jaco, (who still live in Silver Lakes, one of the biggest gated Estates in Pretoria East) introduced Precious as their own adopted daughter in order to secure admission for her in a school a short distance away where his children also studied. He and his wife, used to take Precious with their own girls to the school in their car... something that was unthinkable in the Apartheid ridden South Africa...

When she speaks of Nelson Mandela, her eyes fill with tears... Mandela, also known as 'Madiba' here, is the father of the nation. What Mandela and the African National Congress did for the majority of Black South Africans can be gauged from Sophie's life. Sophie belongs to the lowermost strata of the society, a strata long oppressed first by the white minority and then by the elite black minority. Sophie's daughter who is hopefully going to enter the growing middle class is her only hope of having a better life, one in which she hopes, to no longer work as a domestic helper.

As I grow more familiar with her, her life seems so richly filled with experiences, that my own struggles seem puny. She looks much more than 57 years of age, a face wrinkled and creased by experiences, age and struggles. As a woman, Sophie has had to struggle on many levels, a single mother trying to eke a living for herself and her daughter, a black domestic worker, working for white employers, a dutiful daughter whom circumstances forced to become the sole breadwinner for the family, a devoted Christian, and an ANC Card holding member, who with millions of her countrymen are engaged in a long battle to elevate and gain an equal standing in the land of their birth.

The one thing that never ceases to amaze me about Sophie, is this woman, whom life has handed out probably the harshest of the terms, never ever blames life for her destiny. She always has a smile on her face when I open the door in the mornings that she comes to my house. She is always grateful to god, that he has given her a life and enough to eat to maintain her strength so that she can work and earn her livelihood...

Nowadays, very often, a small quote by Gandhi (yes, again, back to him)... comes to my mind, it goes something like this, "when you are in a difficulty, when your ability to decide is being challenged and you are confused about the path to take, think about the most poorest and the most courageous man or woman you have ever met, and think, how the path(s) you are about to take, will effect him or her. You'll see it becomes easy and something that seem complicated, resolves smoothly".

Before this I could not think of any one till I met Sophie...

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

In Defense of "The Indian Gentleman"

I am an Indian woman, liberal, educated and very much vocal about women's rights.

I am also the daughter of, a sister to, and the wife of, extremely decent, responsible and caring Indian men and I have many male friends whom I am proud to call  "friend".

I am also a woman who deeply cares and is very aware about the pathetic condition in which Indian women are treated and the endless harassments they face at home, at work and generally everywhere, almost at each step in their lives.

I am writing this post because, there recently has been another incident of Rape in India and this time in the financial capital of Mumbai and it has shaken the entire country once more. There has been much said in the popular as well as the social media about the attitude and the mindset of Indian men and about how, we should, as a society try and change it.

It is true that Indian men, a large enough portion of them have rather medieval attitude towards women, in fact almost all our social laws, tradition and customs have been designed in such a way so as to keep our women languishing at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Have you noticed how women are scrutinized before marriage, even now, when most of the women are independent and earning (sometimes even more or equal as their male counterparts) and how much emphasis does being "fair", "slender", "convent educated" etc play in arranged marriages ? The matrimonial adverts are teeming with these words and it's disgusting.

But the greater question is:  Are only "Indian Men" responsible for such attitudes?

A society as a whole always reflect the attitudes and perceptions of the people who "make up" the society and this includes both men and women.

I would go as far to say that our Indian women are equal or more than responsible for how the Indian society treats its women. In fact, the other day, I was talking to my brother and he remarked that he's really tired of being generalized as the common Indian "man" who leches and assaults and rapes women, as if all men in India are such. The way our popular and social media goes about asking to change Indian men's perception is really disgusting and moreover it is utterly false. True, we have some of the most harshest and unequal traditions and customs in place to keep Indian women down and out... but are solely Indian men responsible for that ?

Whenever a woman is mistreated, raped or harassed, the first claim of innocence from the accused comes from the mother... has anyone noticed that ? Even in the Mumbai rape case, the mother of the accused has stood up for the accused and has claimed that "her son", the rapist, is actually "an extremely innocent boy and is also underage"... whenever there are domestic violent acts perpetrated, there is always a "mother-in-law", a "sister-in-law" or at least an "aunt" involved.... recently a petty Bollywood actor was accused of raping his domestic, and the first claim of innocence came from the actor's wife, who went as far as saying that the charges were fabricated, when there had already been medical proof to the contrary.

Attitudes such as this, strengthens and emboldens the attitude of the society as a whole and then, when the society perpetrates that perception, we call it wrong, disgusting and unjustified.

Most of the soaps in Indian mainstream television focus on either a housewife getting ill treated at her in-laws hands, or a daughter who is striving very hard to uplift her family from distress, facing embarrassments and overcoming them or an "all sacrificing" daughter-in-law who despite being treated harshly, repents, forgives and gets harshly treated again by her in-laws. Some of these soaps even focus on how a "dark", or "fat", or an otherwise "not so beautiful girl" not getting suitable suitors for marriage. And in ALL OF THEM, the main negative protagonist is also A WOMAN....

And what's worse, there are millions of women, housewives or otherwise, watching these soaps who get influenced by these moronic ideas.

I have grown up in a family where I have three brothers, and all of them are as decent as men could possibly be. My brother, who is also my best friend, is one of the most decent ,man I have till date seen in my life. In fact Indian men are rather, far better, if you compare them to men from other communities and classes such as Blacks or Hispanics. They are far more protective and caring of their family and far less prone to abandoning their duties and responsibilities. I have had several uncles, who has never, in anyway tried to impede on my dignity and I have worked with some of the best male colleagues that one could ever get and my Boss, who incidentally was a man was one of the best bosses ever... I have had male friends who have been extremely decent, not only towards me but also to all the girls/ladies in their life. I have married an extremely decent and an admirable Indian man, who has never once pressured me to do anything, that I haven't wanted to do. I have known some of my girl friend's husbands and they too have been really decent.

Contrary to this, I have also known many a groping men in public buses and strangers, of course, male, on the roads who eyes first travel from my chest area upto my face and then downwards again.

I have also known mother-in-laws who talk about their daughter-in-laws with contempt and ridicule and I have known mothers who have been beset with woes because of their daughter's failure to find a suitable match. I have known " family aunts" and "neighborhood aunties", whose interest in someone's daughter's marriage exceeds her own parent's enthusiasm... I have known female colleagues bitching about other female colleagues and I have also known a female Boss giving less than deserving appraisals to her female juniors.

So my dear readers, there are millions of decent, nice, caring and respectful men in India. These men are considerate, they respect your identity as a woman, and they are freethinking enough to respect your liberty.

As opposed to a hundred lecherous, morally degenerated, abusive, Indian men, there are also several hundreds, nice, decent and caring Indian men and as opposed to many thousands oppressed, ill treated, and abused Indian women, there are also several hundred oppressive, abusive and rather cruel Indian women...

It is a rather sad truth, but it is a truth.

Till the day, we women do not support our own, till the day, we do not do not look into a man's or a woman's eyes if they are treading on our women's rights, we should not blame the Indian male solely for the atrocities permeated on the Indian women. Till the day, women will keep shielding their male relatives for their ill treatment to other women, and till the day we do not impart the same teachings to our daughters and sons regarding women rights and dignities, blaming Indian men and their attitudes, would not help Indian women better their position in the society in any way.

It's best to remember the very famous words, "if men are the heads, women are the necks, whichever way the neck turns, the head too has to turn in the same way"...  So let's be responsible "necks",
my dear women, let's turn the "heads" the right way...

Image Courtesy: www.someecards.com


Sunday, 18 August 2013

My Life as a "Wanderlust" : The Cradle of Humankind and back...

Recently we had a long weekend holiday in South Africa. The "true wanderlusts" (unfortunately, which I claim to be...ahem...ahem...) don't miss out opportunities like this to wander around and absorb the local culture... but partly due to ineffective planning and partly due to laziness, my aim of going out on a long weekend was effectively shelved. The wanderlust in me was not going to give up..ah ha...not so easily, so I sat down with the internet and scoured for places to go on a day trip from Pretoria.

My criteria was simple. One I did not want to spend overnight on a trip, and two, it should be something interesting, culturally, or otherwise.

I decided to go to the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein caves in Maropeng just one and half hours' drive from Pretoria. Buoyant with the adventure ahead of us, me and my hubby slept off early and woke up to a gloomy, cloudy Pretoria morning.Now in South Africa, the sun shines 360 days out of 365 days a year, and today had to be a day when it would rain...!!! I constantly kept telling myself, and my husband constantly kept telling me, that all would be ok, once we were out on the roads. So anyhow, armed with three bottles of drinking water and a few oranges for snacks, we set off...

The total journey took us about two and a quarter hours, a little more time because, the route wasn't known to us, we didn't really trust the GPS ( which actually was showing the correct route) and it was raining torentially. On our way we made two wrong turns and had to rewind our way, if any of you do not have these encumbrances, you would make it to the Sterkfontein Caves within the stipulated time of one and half hours.

 Now a little about the Caves. Sterkfontein Caves and the adjacent Cradle of Humankind traces the journey of human civilization over millions of years to the present. It is the site of the richest fossil finds in southern Africa and one of the fossils, named Little Foot, an early ancestor of Homo Sapiens was found in the Sterkfontein caves in it's totality. It was the rarest of the rare cases where such a fossil was found in its entirety and it was this find which ultimately made Cradle of Humankind and Sterkfontein Caves to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

If you want to know a little more about the Sterkfontein caves and the Cradle here's a site that you could visit.

http://www.gauteng.net/cradleofhumankind

It is one of the world's richest hominid sites and about 40 percent of human ancestor's fossils have been discovered here. (Source: Cradle of Humankind website)

To the people who would be going there for the first time, it's a better idea to first visit the Cradle Museum and then the caves for whatever you'll be seeing in the museum, you would easily relate to them in the caves. The Museum is half an hour's journey from the Caves, but in case you are travelling from Pretoria or Joburg, the Caves will come first and then you'll have to drive another half an hour to get to the Museum. Since we didn't really know where the Museum was located, we did the caves first and then went to the Museum.

At the caves, one can purchase tickets both for the entry to the Museum and to the caves. However if you are claustrophobic, or suffer from back pain or knee pain or joint pain of any kind, I would not advise you to go for the cave tour, because it does involve some real exercise. You can still visit the Cave Museum (that's separate from the Cradle Museum) and check out some very interesting exhibits.

After you purchase a ticket fo-
-r the Cave and the Museum tour, you join a queue for the cave tour. A tour departs every half an hour with a knowledgeable guide, who are sometimes archaeology students themselves. Our Guide called Themba, was very informative and she had a wide knowledge on fossils and dinosaurs and all sorts of ancient animal and plant life. She was both informative and fun. There will be plenty of time to ask questions and the guides will patiently answer them to your satisfaction.

When one is descending into the caves, please be aware that you are travelling into some 600 feet deep underground and deeper still. It's best to listen to your tour guide and hold the handrails and descend with utmost caution.

Inside the caves, its a different world all together. There were "Stalactites" and "Stalagmites" so varied and distinct in shape and size that it took our breadth away. Oh, an important distinction that one learns here and throughout my school life, I always got it wrong, is that "Stalactites" hang from the "ceiling", there's a C there for a reason after all...!!! and the "stalagmites" rise up from the ground, the "G" in Stalagmites...!!! Only if I had come here some years earlier, I would have been so much better at the subject.

Then there were the fossil sites themselves. The general public aren't allowed into the excavation sites but one gets a fair idea of what's happening... although we went on a public holiday, but if one goes on a weekday, one can actually see paleontologists working and history being made on the site... being a history buff myself, I found the prospect extremely exciting.

The journey through the caves is an awesome adventure in itself. There was a life fossil of an ancient antelope which for some reason hasn't being excavated yet. One can actually touch it and the folklore goes that touching the antelope fossil brings in good luck and helps you emerge unscathed from the cave itself. I don't know whether the folklore is true or not but touching a million year old antelope fossil is a huge increment. The Fossil upon touch appears smooth and cold (of course, it's been underground for millions of years) but touching which had once been alive and moving and breathing, and existed about two million years ago was pretty much awesome.

There were places inside the cave where one had to crouch and crawl on all fours, there was also another place where we had to sit and crawl. It was brilliant. When you come out in the light, there is a statue of Prof. Phillip Valentine Tobias and whose bronze nose
you are supposed to rub for "good luck" or if you want wisdom you rub his left hand, but if you are greedy and rub both, you'll be visited by bad luck...!!!

When you emerge out of the cave, you feel, as if you have come a long way and it's true. Human ancestors have been travelling a long time through evolution to become what we are today.

After half an hour's drive, one finally reaches the Cradle of Humankind. Very honestly speaking, if you have already been to the caves, this Museum pales a bit in comparison, but it is interesting nonetheless. The Museum building itself is a unique experience in architecture. It is called "the Tumulus" and is an unique example of the marriage of environment and architecture.

There is a small canteen inside and you can order all sorts of food like hotdogs to sandwiches. I can vouch the chocolate milkshake is just heavenly.

The exhibits are actually situated underground, and there is also an underground boat ride, which can be quite a thrill for kids and teenagers. It showcases the four elements of nature : Air, Water, Fire and Earth and has an interesting light and sound show. There is also a "room of illusion" and that too is quite interesting. The Museum also has original fossils of ancient hominids and paleo-mammals and birds. It also showcases different types of innovative games, I particularly liked the one which shows how your DNA was formed and what characteristics would your offspring inherit.

There are other interesting exhibits as well. The Museum is so designed that when you start your journey, you begin with the formation of our galaxy and our planet, going to the formation of the single cell organisms to the ancient plants and animals and finally journey to the formation of hominids and to the emergence of homo sapiens of today. It also goes on to showcase, the human journey throughout ages and where we are presently heading. It also has a small exhibition of South Africa's history and concludes with a World Population Clock and of course Nelson Mandela's original wax hand prints. When one comes out, one can see beautiful, breathtaking view of the Maliesberg Mountains.

A visit here is truly worthy and intoxicating. You won't have a single boring moment while you study the journey from our past to our present.

Source :http://www.gauteng.net/cradleofhumankind










Sunday, 11 August 2013

Fire: A Hand of Kali : A Review : Imagination writ large...

Fire : A Hand of Kali is author T. G Ayer's  first novel in the Kali Series and it is a riveting novel indeed. Without giving away the entire plot, the story revolves around a young Indian born NRI girl, who suddenly discovers divine powers within her... is it a bane or a boon? To find out, one has to read the novel for oneself.

Firstly kudos to the author for trying to delve into the Indian mythology and history for the concept. The Indian mythology and History is so rich and diverse, that if exploited fully, it could give the Potter's and the Eragons a run for their money. Unfortunately, there is an utter dearth of authors who take up the challenge of writing fiction based on these. The fact that this author has, is a very great achievement indeed.

When I started reading this story ( I had read the book blurb before), honestly, till Chapter 5, I was really irritated, NOTHING WAS HAPPENING... but once you reach Chapter 5, the book, literally comes alive with action and adventure, after that the journey of the rest 400 odd pages seem to be a blur...

I give credit to the author, for correctly assigning the Indian deities along with their respective "powers" and their strengths and weaknesses. Also the way the plot builds up, is brilliant. The story seem to start slowly, but it then takes a rapid pace as events keep unfolding in quick succession keeping the readers on edge and hungering for more.

The language is lucid and easily understood, also the dialogues that the characters use, especially the major characters, are in keeping with the lingo of the youth. To read this book, one need not have any fore knowledge of Indian mythology. The characters are really well developed and the reader connects with them. Also, one is not kept in dark about any events which could spring a nasty surprise on the readers. The author does a very good job of building suspense and then solving it. No nasty or hasty surprises spring up upon the reader.

The only problem, I found with the book, is that there are several action sequences, which could have been handled better. The author seems to have been in a hurry or must not have given much thought to them while building up the main plot. But some action sequences, and there are some really good ones, are worth imagining...!! The different ancient weapons discussed in the book are also extremely exciting. Having grown up on a diet of Indian mythology myself, even I didn't know there were so many interesting weapons that our deities are in possession of...

In conclusion, I would say, that, this books targets the teens, not the older readers, but whoever the reader is, he or she would find the book an unforgettable journey.  As we journey with Maya, the protagonist, we enter a world, where there are rights and wrongs, the demons and the gods collide and faith is reasserted.
This book is not just a book, it's imagination writ large...

Image Courtesy : T G Ayer
                           Fire: A Hand of Kali Novel: ARC Copy

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

My Life as a "wanderlust" ... The Miracle on the Train...

Again back with another story from the days of my travelling... not that it has stopped... the travelling that is...not at all...

This one dates back to my college days... people who have passed those days can remember them with fondness and a peculiar smile on their faces... life in the college gives you wings, literally, one has a host of new ideas, new imaginations, concepts never thought of, could be entertained and debated... and the entire world seems to be within one's grasp...

Anyways, those were heady days for me... I had started scorning my parents ideas, ideas, which I may point out, I had grown up with, ideas that seem to me, too constricting, conservative and irrational... I was charting out my dream, and my aspirations seem way too broad minded and liberal than my middle class parents could handle. I can still remember that summer when I went home, I had a huge debate with my dad, on the existence of god... slowly, but surely, I was turning into an atheist... and my parents feared that with my believe in a "godless" world, my moorings with my traditions and customs would also vanish...

I had been raised a Hindu, and as long as I could remember, my mum, used to teach me the names of the thousands of gods and goddesses that constituted the Hindu pantheon, their stories, how the "asuras" (demons) and the gods fought, and countless other mythologies... At school though, I was growing up following Christianity because anyone who wanted a good "English medium education" in India, in those days had to go to a convent school, and one of the essential requirements of the students were that they pray and follow the words of Christ. Hence I knew the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Ten Commandments and numerous stories about Christ and his followers... whenever I prayed, I prayed to the Trinity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in school and at home I was required to pray to another completely different set of gods... this was my "religious education" while growing up...

So this "religious paradox" that I was growing up with, led me to believe that there couldn't be a god who existed, and even if he did, understanding him or her wouldn't be so confusing and complicated. So that summer, I refused to pray, to take part in any religious ceremonies that required my participation and worse, returned all the small, bright pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses that my parents had given me, while going away to college, including a beautiful silver cross... I told them straightaway, that if there was a god, and he/she didn't like the ideas that I was entertaining, he/she could tell me themselves... my parents were stunned and deeply hurt... I felt bad, yes I did, because, whether you believe or not, religion and religious beliefs are often time very sensitive issues... but I was too stubborn in my beliefs, too vain to even entertain the thought that I could be wrong...

And yes, I was going to be proved wrong soon enough...

While returning to Mumbai (a very big metropolitan in India, where I attended College) that summer, I was travelling in the Mumbai-Howrah Mail, an express train that the Indian Government claimed could outrun the wind... well, that still remains a vain propaganda on the part of the Indian government and anyone who has traveled on that dratted train would tell you that speed is not one of its forte...

In the days, when I was in College, there hadn't been an advent of cheap air travel, as there is now in India... trains were the most common form of long distance transportation, and as students, who lived in the college hostel, we would get Travel Compensation, another program on the part of the Indian government to lure girls in far-flung areas to study... we would get a fifty percent discount on our train tickets both to and from home, thus the need never arose that we would spend money on air travel...

The Mumbai-Howrah Mail, completed the journey from Kolkata to Mumbai in two nights and three days... a journey which is now covered by low cost air companies in a mere two and half hours... thus the train was not merely a method of transportation, for many, it was a way of life... you met many different types of people, from different regions of India, many languages were spoken, and different ideas exchanged... I have even known of a young boy and girl from neighboring states who met on the train, fell in love in the course of those "three days and two nights" and eventually got married to each other...!!

So anyhow, here I was, after bidding tearful farewells to my parents (although I am not sure, I cried so much that summer, but of course my mum did), she still does, wherever she comes to leave me at the airport... there were five passengers travelling with me and being extremely talkative and congenial by nature, I soon knew their respective destinations. That night after securing our luggage under our respective berths, all my co-passengers, including me went off to sleep...

It was 3 am when I suddenly woke up. The train was standing in a rather forlorn station called Gaya (Budh Gaya, some call it, it was the place, where Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, found his Enlightenment), nowadays, though it is notorious for petty theft. The rule of the book, whenever you wake up in the middle of the night during your train journey in India is to

1. Check your luggage
2. Check your footwear is not missing

Those two done and being satisfied by the result, I went to lie down again, anxious to get my sleep back.

It was then, that I noticed.

The window in front of my seat was open, just a few inches and the hand bag that I was carrying, which I had most conveniently positioned just near the window, and which held some of the most important and basic things, a person needs on the journey, sliced wide open, as if someone had taken special time and care to slice through the bag with an extremely sharp knife.

I was stunned... a cold feeling crept up from somewhere in my stomach to my heart and finally to my hands...a clammy sweat formed on my forehead, and I reached to check the lost contents of my bag... my keys to the luggage were gone, my money was gone, along with my pretty pink purse, my College Identity card was gone and gone were my train tickets....the one proof that I was a valid passenger in this train.

I have no memory of how the rest of the night passed except that my co-passengers soon woke up and the Ticket Checker was called and a hundred rebukes and consolations followed. The next two days, I was on a virtual exhibition, people from different ends of the train, kept coming to visit me, my story of how I was robbed had indeed traveled throughout the train... sometimes, they came with consolation, sometimes with inquiries and sometimes with rebukes...whatever it was, they always felt, I had been hugely irresponsible and that these days parents and teachers weren't teaching the stuff that they really needed to teach to kids.

Unlike these days, when all of us are connected through the miracle called cellular phones, we did not have those back then, and once you were on a train, you could only get in touch with your loved ones when you reached your destination.

One of my co-passengers had the sense enough to contact the Railway Police and file an FIR (First Information Report)... any theft that had taken place on the train, were to be reported to the Indian Railway Police, these guys had Police Stations stationed in all the train stations and you could contact them on the platform itself. It wasn't much help though... the young Police Constable, noted down with sincerity all that I had to tell, and then rebuked me on my carelessness, taking the time point out that "Gaya" was an extremely unsafe station and his final conclusion was that my parents shouldn't have left me to travel alone... which in a word, did absolutely nothing to help my situation.

Soon it was the end of our journey, with hours left for the train to reach Mumbai, I was in a bad state... I had  lost my Identity card, I had no money to get a cab at the station and to get to my hostel... I had some money in my suitcase, which was locked and the keys had already been stolen... it was a Sunday, and I would not find any locksmith in Mumbai station who would help me in my peril... I was finding no way out... every solution I thought of, needed money, which was safely lying at the bottom of the now "locked" suitcase.

Sensing my discomfiture, some of my co-passengers tried to lend me money, so that I can at least get to my hostel safely, but where would I again meet them to give the money back... travelers in the train met only once and as one steps off at one's destination, they become a mere memory like the journey, one is undertaking.

I desperately wanted my suitcase opened, if someone, by any chance could open my suitcase, I would be able to retrieve the money needed, get a taxi back to my hostel, from where I could call up my parents and tell them the whole sorry tale... but all these would be achieved if someone could break the Lock on my suitcase and get the money out... I was desperate, and it is in desperation, always that man turns to pray... no matter, how much I had belittled god that summer, I was desperate for his help now, I prayed feverishly, that somehow, someway, something would happen which could end this sorry situation of mine...

Now we were only three stations away from Mumbai, a mere hour... I was beyond fear and prayers had long stopped, I had reached a state of "thoughtlessness", if anything such exists, all thoughts, rational and irrational were obliterated from my mind and I stared blankly out of the windows at the passing trees, shrubs and the scenery.

Suddenly, a young man came into our compartment.

"Yesterday, I heard, that a robbery had taken place here, who was robbed"?  He asked settling himself down at the end of my seat, a little distance away from me...

"Not a robbery, you could call it a theft", answered the old man seated in front of me.

I looked at him bitterly, for he had not spoken a single word of consolation and had the gall to rebuke me continuously for the past two days, as if just being senior in age gave him some form of dominance over me.

" It could have easily been avoided, had she (pointing a bonny index finger towards me) been a little more careful..."

"How so?", my new enquirer asked

" Only, she should have kept that bag of her's away from the train windows... nowadays, children seem to have little common sense left in them... studying in such big-big colleges and not an inch of common sense"...

 Again I looked bitterly at him and scowled... this had been his continuous rejoinder, how I did not posses "a single common sense".

" So what are going to do, when you get to Mumbai ? "  the young man asked me now...

I turned to him, and answered, "I have no clue"... and I really did not... I could hear the old man in front me give a long sigh.

" Can you suggest any idea ?"

He looked at me a bit longer and said he could give me some money to get a taxi till my Hostel. I told him plainly, that it was not a solution and there had been others who had pointed out the same.

"Then what are you going to do?"

"If only I could get someone to open this suitcase for me, I could take out the money myself "", I said...

The old man "tch-tched" under his tongue...

"Why don't you take the money, now, who can open a suitcase in a train ? " came the steady rejoinder.

" I think I can help you out with that ", the young man replied

"You can ? " I asked, almost willing to believe him... "Can you open the suitcase for me ?"

"Yes, why not, I can open it with a safety pin..."

"A safety pin, where can you get that in a train", the old man snorted. Probably, he was again thinking of rebuking the fellow.

" Oh I have it, right in my pocket"... and he took it out.

I stared at him incredulously, I had never before seen any man carry safety pins in his pockets.

Whatever...

We heaved up the suitcase, and for some minutes, he fiddled with the lock... after some tense minutes, there was a little "click" and lo and behold, the lock was unlocked and the suitcase lay open in front of me...

" Here's the lock, I don't think you'll be again able to use it"... he said as he handed me the now broken lock...

I looked at him and at that moment, I could have hugged him tight... the old man in front of me, was profusely thanking him, and I, in my relief, seemed wordless...

I just continued to stare at him...

" All the best for the journey ahead ", he smiled and and left... it was only for an instant, that I noticed piercing blue eyes in his face... then he was gone.

I fervently opened my suitcase and took out the money and flopped back on my seat...

Then it occurred to me, I hadn't even thanked him...

" You could at least have thanked him... he deserved that much... today's girls...!!!"  The old man seem now really annoyed with me...

"Yes I should have... I think I'll find him in the next compartment"...

I left my suitcase there, in the care of the old man, and snaked through the rows of the compartment, nowhere was my "savior" seated... I even got down at the next station, but he was to be seen nowhere...

Mumbai came and I alighted, took the taxi back to my hostel, and everything turned out normal...

But from that day onward, I started believing in God, and also in miracles...





Friday, 19 July 2013

My Life as a Wanderlust... Atheism, Racism, Gandhi and a Writer's Block...!!

I have been suffering from an overload of ideas... ok I do know the reason for this though... I have been reading and commenting on too many blogs, too many people are giving me ideas and the true Gemini girl that I am all these ideas are inter playing in my little grey cells... I really do not know which ones to concentrate upon and which ones to leave out.

Probably this in itself is a kind of Writer's Block. I know the Wikipedia definition of a Writer's Block and that definition mostly blames anxiety and chaos as the top reasons for having writer's block... but what if the writer has too many ideas clogging her grey cells ?

What then ?

Anxiety or Chaos...?

Take for instance, the other day, I came across a webpage on Atheism, and there was this post, a young boy of sixteen had written... the post noted, how, he was an Atheist and how his mother and sister found this particular trait of his to be an oddity and as such a shameful behavior. That post set me thinking... Of course I did my best to console the child and told him that it's best not to discuss ideas that others find appalling, even if, as a human being, you are entitled to have your own ideas... to get his thoughts on paper, to write them down... that had always helped me, and even today, when I am faced with a terrible, situation which is confounding me, like this one, I find it best to put them in words...

But the post set me thinking... Am I an Atheist ? Does everyone of us have an Atheist in themselves or are we so devoted to our faith that we cannot even grasp the idea of a Godless world ? And then it came to me...

Probably each of us carry an Atheist and a Believer in us, yes the same two contradicting forces find themselves manifested in the same person. Human beings have developed too much, intellectually and socially, to blindly follow any notion that's forced into them. If we were all devoted, blind, believers of our respective faiths, then science would not have made the advancement that it has made since the invention of fire.

And if we were so strictly Atheist, religion would not have been an integral part of our lives, hell, sometimes it even rules us... So the incredible truth is Human beings are both believers and atheists at the same time. We are a clever specie... of course the way we have "evolved" is a testament to the fact, we use faith when it suits us and reason, when it does so.

So think about it, are you strictly an atheist or strictly a believer ?

 In my case I think I am agnostic... I believe in God, but my "god" is made up of all the good deeds and principles, mainly, which I sometimes strive to follow, and sometimes I fail to... Truth, Generosity, Trust, Help, Belief and my parents, these are my GOD... and I do not, never have believed, that there is some big great man or woman sitting up in heaven beyond the skies who's looking after us...

But anyhow, this post was about my Writer's Block, not about Atheism...

The second idea that entered my head and troubled my grey cells was one of Racism... actually while growing up in India, I never bothered about this particular ideology until I came to South Africa... I mean this concept actually blew off my mind, when I came here...

In India, we generally never talk about Race... we talk about Poverty, GDP, Corruption, Education, Rape... (oh my god that IS a big topic), Women's Liberation, and many  more, but never about racial inequalities...

That is a topic, that the western media makes a big hue and cry about... but when I came to South Africa... it was the first time, I was confronted with this notion and how this very vague idea is slowly transforming into a living, breathing reality for me.

My first interaction with this topic came from my domestic. She is a really nice lady, might I say, a black lady... it is important that I point this out, because, the first day when she and I were indulging in our first introductions, she touched my hand and said to me " I have never worked for this people "... her exact words... first, honestly I didn't understand, and then it came to me, actually it thundered onto me, SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT THE COLOR OF MY SKIN.... wow... it was the first time, in my 30 years of life that someone has actually commented on my SKIN COLOR...in a way that made me really THINK about it... Actually I should have taken offense, but after saying this, she was smiling at me, and I couldn't help but reply, " This color is of Gandhi, you know Gandhi "... and she nodded her head in enthusiasm...  "Oh a great man, great man, he did a lot for us..."

The most odd thing about this entire conversation was, when she pointed me my color, the first person that came to my mind was the one that my countrymen have generally forgotten, and when I did mention Gandhi, she said, he was indeed a great, great man... my domestic, might I say, is an extremely poor South African Lady....and she knew that Gandhi had done great things for her country...something Indian young men and women have comfortably chosen to forget...

Anyhow, so these issue are there in my mind and I do not know which one to concentrate upon, Atheism, Racism, India's relationship to Gandhi and his ideals, (well which most Indians think are dead now)... and therefore I am suffering from a Writer's Block...

Or am I ??

I really need to find out...


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Taking the control in your hands, a necessary read for all types of women...

I have been thinking about whether to upload this post or not for some time, and then I thought maybe someone in my position would probably find it useful.

Ok, first of all, this post isn't at all for kids, so if you, my dear reader, is not above 18 please do not read further, ( of course, if you are below 18 and sexually active, then please ignore the former sentence and do read on). Second of all, this post isn't for those who blindly and devotedly believe in religion, whatever faith that might be, if you are a blind follower and believe in your respective religion or faith keeping aside common sense, this post isn't for you. So now that I have given out my mandatory warnings, let me begin...

I am writing this post primarily for women, for women like me... wherever you are and whatever you do, I hope if you were ever or would be in my position in the foreseeable future, you would find this post helpful.

I am 30 years old, married (very happy too..!!!) and have just completed a year and two months of marital bliss. As like many other couple who take steps to ensure that extension of the family is well planned, we too have taken some such measures and we follow them scrupulously... not that we don't like children, or we don't want to have them... we love kids, and we would love a family of our own... but not now, not unless we are ready for them... so anyway, one fine night our method of contraception didn't work out as it should have and I faced the terrible consequence of being pregnant with a child. The morning after the beautiful night, both me and my husband realized the gravity of the situation and we started discussing, whether or not to take the "morning-after pill"... now let me tell you straight away, I scoured the internet and numerous blogs, for more information on emergency contraceptive pills, and though I found a lot of information, I did not get a single article or post of a woman, who might have taken the pill herself. No real life account of real women who have taken the pill. That is one of my most important reason of writing this post so that, if someone is in my position, they can come across this blog post and learn about a real life incident, because this is what happened to me.

Also, please allow me to state here, in my defense, that I am an average healthy woman (touchwood...!!) and I really do not believe in medication of any kind... I was extremely reluctant to take the pill, educated and learned as we were, there were some lingering doubts. Also, although we are followers of the Hindu faith, our religion does not say anything about this... or probably we are not aware of it... anyhow, we really went over every single internet article we could find on the Emergency Contraceptive Pill and its after effects. When we were somewhat sure, that the pill is not life-threatening, I decided to take it.

I took the Plan B One Step, an Emergency Contraceptive, that can be obtained over the counter in most drug stores in USA, I really don't have much idea, which Emergency Contraceptive Pills are available in other countries, but I am sure, some kind of pill is definitely available.

I was also extremely doubtful of it's working and wasn't even sure that it'll work... but work it did, and I am extremely glad to say that I did take it and also at the right time.

I know a lot of women, conceive when they are not ready, or not mentally prepared. Ladies, it's fine, it's not something wrong not to be prepared for a child. And even if it does happen, you still can control it... I am giving below some sites that I had searched when deciding whether or not to take this particular medicine.

http://ec.princeton.edu/info/ecp.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_contraception

http://www.safersex.co.za/family-planning-Emergency-Contraceptives.htm

http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/emergency-contraception-morning-after-pill-4363.asp

These are the sites I visited before I took the "morning-after pill"... it is essentially a very safe medicine. I did not experience any side effects... of course I drank a lot of water for about a week daily after taking the medication and these are not "abortion pills"... If you have the pills, within 72 hours of unprotected physical intimacy, they work absolutely fine. I took them within 48 hours, of course, all the sites I visited said the earlier you take it the better.

So please, if any of you are in my situation and are confused and you don't know what to do and you are not ready to bring a child into this world, think about this pill... it's supposed to be absolutely safe and does not harm you or your reproductive ability. If you have already conceived, then the pill does not hurt the unborn foetus.

There are a huge number of unintended or mistimed pregnancies happening all over the world. According to Wikipedia, about 38 percent of all pregnancies in the world are unintended or mistimed. This also results in a large number of maternal deaths and infant deaths. Also the health of the mother and the child could be gravely affected.

Bringing a child into this world is a huge responsibility, and a lot of educated women like me know this. We all want to give the best of everything to our child, and we should also. Therefore it's even more important to bring a child into this world, when and if you are ready for it. To me, personally, motherhood is the greatest gift nature has endowed on women, and therefore it's a huge and life changing decision for me and I can say, that I am not ready as of yet. All I can say, that if you are not ready to bring a child in this world, take precautions to prevent it. Again, let me stress, that I do not advocate abortion in any case and thus knowing about the options available makes us powerful.

Also, as this issue is quite sensitive, a lot of you may not be comfortable talking about it to your parents or even friends, I know, for one, I would not have been able to talk about this to my parents... I actually haven't. I don't think these measures were available during their time, and even if they were available, probably it was a sin to even put them into practice.

But times have changed now, now we can really take control of our lives, the way we want to, and that's why I wrote this post. I really hope that this post helps someone who's in need, because trust me, having a real life account helps tremendously... I didn't have it, I hope you do...please if you come across this, do share it because it is only information that makes us powerful.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

My Life as a Wanderlust : The Black, The Grey and The White...

It's almost been three months of stay for me and my husband here in South Africa.
 Before taking a trip down here, there are two things which we searched about the most.

First, of course, the places to visit and secondly, Indian Restaurants ( as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we are foodies of the greatest nature).

About the first, we haven't been to any of the famous places that one would normally come across while Goggling "South Africa", but I managed to go to the one place that I was hell bent on and which really shook us, it instilled a feeling in us about the place where we are living and the legacy it carried for all of us.

The place I am talking about is the Apartheid Museum. Anybody who has been to South Africa or plan to visit South Africa, trust me, your journey would remain half complete if you don't visit this place. I am a huge history buff so wherever I go, I make sure that I read some of the nations' history, otherwise not knowing about the country, about it's people, about the legacy, makes me feel incomplete.

We have all heard of the heinous practice of Apartheid which was taken and practiced as a State Policy here in South Africa and the practice ended only in 1991. A lot of my friends of Facebook, didn't know that Apartheid ended only in 1991, this is extremely recent for people of our age... I mean we were all in school at the time... Anyhow when I had first heard of the place, I made sure, that this was a "must see" on my list.

I am giving below the link of the Museum's site, if anyone is interested in finding out more, and really the more you know, the more will you be surprised.

http://www.apartheidmuseum.org/

The first thing that strikes you is that the tickets that are given randomly distinguish people into Whites and Non-Whites... no there is nothing racial about it, me and my husband are both Asian, we got two tickets, one labelled "White" (Blanke in Afrikaans) and "Non-White" ( Nie-Blanke) and then we had to go through separate doors titled the same, into a tunnel kind of exhibition... this act in itself strikes you as extremely discriminating... it did to me, but that's exactly what used to happen down here. Then there is a passageway and an exhibition showing us enlarged posters of the "Identity cards" that people carried. The thing that felt strange to me was, besides name,  and gender, there was the "Ethnic" grouping. Also there was a group called "the chameleons" well, surprising as it may sound, the Apartheid Government termed the Citizens of the country so in 1985. This group of people officially changed their Ethnicity  from either "Indians" to Coloured, Coloureds to Indians, Malays to Coloured and so on...

When we emerge from this horrendous passage, we are re-united with our co-passengers, who had been passing through another similar tunnel... We emerged into an open courtyard where the Johannesburg sun was shinning down... it felt like a breadth of fresh air... the sensation after passing through a tunnel, the exhibits of which keep reminding you of your Ethnicity, to say the least, is not at all pleasant. I just imagined, what might have been the situation for this country's citizens who had to carry those evil cards at all times which shrieked out distinction and you could do nothing about it...

There were many, many similar exhibits stating the history of South Africa. The settlement of the Dutch colonists on the western capes of the country, who first trekked up the Highvelds into the interior to set up cities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria, how the English came later and the beginning of the Apartheid ideology which started as an innocent idea to preserve the culture, tradition and the history of the first "Afrikaan" people and then turned into an heinous practice and later into a hated state policy.

As one passes through the museum, one is time and again reminded of the differences that exist among us, and also reminds us, that it is these differences which unites us rather than divide us... Sure we are different, each and every individual is different, but it is this, that makes us "humans" , if we were all same, we would rather have been machines...

At the end of all the exhibitions, there is a place, a kind of forest with a huge man-made lake, the clear waters of the lake reflect back at you and you realize whatever our race may be, whatever our color, whatever our language may be, and whatever our religion, we still are "human beings" and that's the only thing that's worthy about us.

A visit to this place actually makes you evaluate your humanity. It drills into you that no matter how bad the conditions may be, there can still be hope for better...