Born with ‘Privilege’

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I grew up with extreme privilege. No, I wasn’t born into a family of billionaires, but I had something invaluable – I grew up in a family of incredibly strong women.
My grandmother, who ‘married’ for love in the 1940s was the original ‘badass’, she wore sleeveless blouses and drover her own car in the 1950s, a time when most conservative Tamil Brahmin women wouldn’t so much as step out of their homes or kitchens without several disapproving looks. She enjoyed a glass a wine, with juxtaposed with her weekly visits to the ‘Amman Kovil in T.Nagar. She travelled the world alone (yes, alone) with a group of feisty ladies and brought me goodies back from places I had never heard of. She lived her life on her terms, and quite candidly told me to as well. “Work hard and look out for yourself, because nobody else will.”
My mother was born into a conservative Tamil family, with fabulously progressive views. Despite somewhat humble roots, all 4 of her sisters are incredibly successful professionals and women who make ‘leaning in’ and strength effortless.
My oldest aunt, was traversing the globe like a juggernaut in a saree, when she was all of 21. Long before the time of cellphones or internet, she was simultaneously getting her PhD, while conducting field work in Australia.
My second aunt, jostled her way up to becoming one of India’s foremost academics. With her petit frame, she confronted a misogynic world head-on and established herself as a force to reckon with. She built some of India’s most respected education institutions with her dedication and strategic thinking and she did it all while raising a child and taking care of her family.
My third aunt, a whiz with numbers, plays the stock market in a way that most bankers would shudder and she decided to do it on the fly, just for fun.
My mother, continues to inspire me every day. Married at 18, she went back to get her MBA when I was 4 . I still remember her marketing thesis on ‘deodorants’, her long-study sessions and incredible time-management, all while constantly trying to shush an extremely attention-hungry, belligerent child.
My youngest aunt, a charted account, gourmet cook, patron of the arts is one of the smartest but also strongest people I know. Any curve ball life throws at her, she knocks it out of the park. No biggie!
And so, yes – I had the extreme, incredible privilege of growing up with women who inspire me EVERY SINGLE DAY. I had the privilege of my parents, never ‘wanting a male heir’. I had the privilege of never being told “I was a girl and hence had to focus on making round chapattis and not math’. I had the privilege of living alone in several cities, making mistakes and learning to think for myself. I had the privilege of standing on the backs of 2 generations of incredible women who paved the way for me to become an independent strong women. This is a nod to all my incredible grandmother, aunts, cousins and friends, who have quietly, powerfully and consistently kicked sexism on it’s ugly rear-end.
Very often, we take this privilege for granted. Not every woman has a family who leads by example. Everyday women are forced ‘to marry, because they cannot live alone’. Women are forced to give up their careers ‘because they need to take care of their husbands’. Women are forced to conform to ridiculous gender norms, which devalue their mind, body and soul.
It is not about being rich or poor, conservative or modern, old or young – STOP! Just STOP attaching a woman’s value to her body or her personal life.Going back to my own life, I am neither fair nor tall – both of which were pointed out to be multiple times in respect to ‘finding a good (read successful) husband.’

Let us stop believing and propagating that our body shape, color and waistline determines our value. Stop telling young girls that they need to ‘find a man to take care of them’ but instead make it abundantly clear that they should take care of themselves. Stop believing that women are weak and powerless and constantly need a man’s protection. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a man to validate your thoughts and decisions.
I find it ridiculous that we still need a day to ‘celebrate’ women, it equates us to a string of Christmas lights, which shine on your front porch for a week but it tucked away in some dusty attic for the rest of the year. So start today, tell the women around you that they are gorgeous, talented and incredible. That they are better than what the world makes them out to be and they should never settle for anything else than what they deserve.
That to me is privilege, the kind every woman, every where in the world, can have right now. The kind of privilege, which supersedes wealth and education. The kind of privilege, which only we as strong women, can generate and build for ourselves and our future generations.

3 years ago… when my father passed away, I had people come up to my mother and tell her it was sad that she doesn’t have a son to take care of her. Despite her grief, I remember my mother looking almost confused at the comment “I have my daughter for company’ she said “ but why does anyone have to take-care of me. I have after-all been taking care of myself and my family for over 30 years.”

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Travel Diaries: What Africa Taught Me

africa-beautiful-black-and-white-quote-rock-Favim.com-326239The first time I flew to South Africa this year was when my father was alive. He called me once an hour to enquire about my safety. “Johannesburg is not Chennai! Don’t go off wandering after sunset and do NOT plug your ears with that iPhone. Be aware!” He took down the details of my flight, my hotel, my taxi driver and had an endless check-list of advice from when he last visited the country over a decade ago.

“Times have changed Appa!” I said almost frustrated by his continuous over-protection. “I’m a big girl now! I have been living alone for the last 6 years.”

“Bullshit! You are always my baby”. He insisted I call him from my local number and talk to him as I walked the 5-minute stretch from my hotel to the local mall even during broad daylight.

At that time I had no idea how sick he was or that he wouldn’t be there physically with his endless wisdom and unconditional love the next time I visited in late August. This time nobody asked for my travel or hotel information.

As I walked down the same stretch of the road between my hotel and the mall, I remembered my last conversation with my father and suddenly I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of the street. The meaninglessness of everything suddenly hit me. What was I doing in the middle of Africa, alone in the winter? Will everyone I love still be around the next time I walk this street – be it 6 weeks or 16 years from now?

Sobbing in the middle of the street, especially in a city like Jo’burg is a little like inviting criminals to come rob/shoot/mug/(or worse) to you. First – it shows your weakness, second – that you obviously aren’t a local and third – a single women in the middle of street at night in what most people call on of the most dangerous cities in the world is almost an open invitation to disaster.

As I saw sun set, I picked up my unwilling legs to walk back to my hotel, when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. And suddenly, I knew I was in trouble… deep trouble.

I looked up a saw a pair of cold, dark eyes staring at me. He was clearly African and a local and at over 6 feet 3 inches… he towered over my 5 foot nothing frame. He was probably in his mid-50s and was very well built. I was suddenly filled with paralyzing fear and to my horror I realized that I definitely couldn’t overpower him and would never be able to outrun him.

His eyes wandered down to the gold chain on my neck – my father’s chain, which I have never removed since he physically, left us in March. “Are you married?” He asked looking at the chain.

I wasn’t sure how to answer. What would be a better answer – yes or no? What could I say to make him go away?

“What is your name? Are you from India?”

I muttered a feeble yes – barely audile to my own ears and cursed myself for being so weak. I had my mobile phone with me and rapidly dialed the last number ( my husband’s mobile ) desperately trying to press the call button. My heart was pounding over my chest …what did he want, I knew I would never give up the chain my father gave me – it was my only source of comfort, the piece of my father I always carried with me.

“Are you married?” he repeated.

“Yes, my husband is inside the shop. I’m waiting for him.” I obviously lied; assuming the ‘mention of a husband’ would send him on his way.

“Why are you crying then?” he asked. His voice so gentle that it almost startled me. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“ No, I just want to go back to my hotel.”

“What about your husband then?”

“He knows the way back.“ I said, almost jogging back in haste.

“Wait!, Wait!” he called behind me, while I pretended to not hear him.

The hotel suddenly seemed much closer and with every inch I moved closer to the lobby, I felt myself breathing a little more. I was almost at the lobby when I heard him again.

“Wait, will you please have a cup of coffee with me and…”

“No! Please leave me alone” I said with a surge of courage as I knew I was less than 15 seconds from my hotel lobby.

“Me and my wife.. please”

“Huh?”

In the light of the hotel lobby, I suddenly got a better look of him. The cold, grey eyes which terrified 5 minutes ago, were actually warm and brimming with tears. He was wearing clean Nike track pants and an under armour shirt and spoke with a clipped English accent which I hadn’t noticed until then.

“Maam’ I’m sorry for starting with the incredibly personal question.” He apologized

“I’m Richard, I live nearby and I run a chain of stores in the area “ he said, naming of the big retail chains in the country.

Richard then told me his story. Adopted as a child but British immigrants, he grew up in Rose Bank ( a wealthy suburb of South Africa) and was very influenced by Gandhi. “ I was born an Indophile!”

When he was 18, he knew what he wanted to do “ Travel India, live there, study about Gandhi” . But Indians aren’t as welcoming to black skin as they are to white skin.

“I was calling all sorts of names” he said “Black monkey, African dog, negro, devil..” laughing at the memory. I tried not to look completely embarrassed about judging him too quickly just a few minutes ago.

“But then I met her – Sangeetha”. She was also from Madras.. like you.”

“Your accent!” he said amused by my expression.

I guess it is true, when you really are scared, you think and act in your language.

Richard told me about his lovely wife. How he met her during his travels. How they feel in love so quickly, so deeply. “ I guess we both knew after our first date!”

And then he told me his story … how her parents were horrified that she wanted to wanted to marry an African. “They begged, pleaded .. even threatened to commit suicide. They refused to acknowledge our marriage and just stopped talking to her. They couldn’t understand her decision. Even if you had married a white man, it would have been ok! Why did you marry a black man, they would wail. I guess skin color is still a big thing huh? ”

“ We are more progressive now!” I said embarrassed at the blatant untruth in my words and still wondering why he wanted to have coffee with me.

“But then you know what? Miracles happen. It slowly changed. When they saw that their daughter was happy with me , they slowly began to forgive us. It was a long –difficult process. I quit my job, and despite my law degree..stayed home while my wife worked in India. 20+ years ago, it was close to impossible for a black man to get a decent job in your country.”

“And then in 1985, she got pregnant. We were overjoyed and so were her parents. For a few months, they actually forgot my skin color, suddenly all was forgiven at the promise of a grandson or granddaughter.”

“We named her Prema – meaning love in Hindi.”

“My father-in-law, a devout Hindu was insistent that Prema would grow up as a Tamil Brahmin and of course I respected his wishes. You see, when he was happy, Sangeetha was happy and I was happy.

She brought so much joy to us! I was born to be a father. Nothing can really bring you greater joy that to see your little girl bring that sunshine and hope into your heart.

When Prema was 4, we all went to Rishikesh. She was holding on tight to her grandfather’s hand and suddenly she cut loose and ran towards the water. In the split second it took for us to react, she was already in the middle of a strong current. My father in law realized this faster than us and ran behind her and jumped into the water to save her. We never saw either of them again”

It was almost as if he was holding in all his energy to tell me this story – of this festering wound so raw, so painful and he sat down and quietly sobbed.

“Sorry, he said! You look like you are in your mid-20s. If my daughter were alive, she would have been your age. You have the same brown eyes too. When I saw you cry, I was suddenly reminded of her.”

Richard told me that his wife was never the same again. “She lost her father and her child, in front of her eyes. I don’t think she has slept an entire night since.”

“Each time, we see a young woman Prema’s age, we try and spend a few minutes with her – it brings a little light in our lives, to try and image how she would be if she were here. You know they never found her body till the end. I believe that she is still alive somewhere, living happily in good health.”

How quick we are to judge other people especially based on race, color and appearance. How easily we see people through our own perceptions are ‘dangerous or safe, unreliable or reliable, good or bad’. I keep going back to that day wondering if my reaction would have been the same if a white man had tapped me on my shoulder. Would I have run away or quickly? Just because of the color of skin, could he have been less dangerous? I have never considered in my wildest dreams that I would even remotely be racist and yet, for those few minutes, I acted in a way I would simply because of a man’s skin color and build. I was ashamed of the lesson I learnt that day. I am not saying trust every stranger in every unsafe country but excise equal caution with any person from any race or gender.

As for Richard, I had coffee with him a lovely wife in the hotel lobby at very day. We swapped stories about Madras ( It is now Chennai! Yes, really ) and we were delighted to find out what we were both studied at Good Shepherd. “ I always wanted my daughter to study there!” Sangeetha exclaimed in delight.

As we parted ways after an hour-long conversation, I was suddenly conscious that I hadn’t told them my name.

“Why bother with it now? Why don’t you just call me Prema” I said.

And in Richard’s smile… I suddenly realized that my father might have not called me on the phone that day but he was somehow telling me that he was still there watching over me, while I was in the world’s most dangerous city.

What the Rain Taught me!

I doubt I will get much sleep tonight. Sitting by my window, watching the backwaters light up, I witness this spectacular show … I hear music in the raindrops, poetry in the thunder…I watch mesmerized, soaking in every moment …The rain ..ah! what it does to me! That clean, fresh-scrubbed smell of the earth permeates through every vein and then suddenly I am born-again, in a new place, in a new time…rain

My happiest memories from school belong to the rain, I was fortunate enough to study in a large, tree-lined campus, which would flood at the whiff of the monsoon.

Skipping through puddles, jumping over stones, comparing pretty umbrellas, collecting tadpoles from stagnant water – joy was defined so simply. I was in 2nd grade when I decided I wanted to build the BIGGEST paper boat in class, on one beautiful, grey evening, I tore a page of my atlas, to create a fancy, colorful boat. Jumping on my desk, showing off my bright, shiny possession, I goaded several classmates into tearing off textbooks, notebooks ( and even the class dictionary) to create a fleet , we would then race between the classroom and the play-area. Much to my chagrin, the boat didn’t move, in fact it sank in the first step, I hadn’t thought my construction through… the base wasn’t flat enough to support the length of the construction – my boat just wasn’t buoyant. So as I watched in dismay as my friend Priyanka’s tiny, plain, maths notebook paper boat whiz past my mammoth flashy boat. My geography teacher , enraged (obviously) that I picked her subject to disrespect , rewarded me with three tight slaps on my wrist with a CAMEL wooden ruler. I learnt that day that biggest wasn’t always best … that size didn’t matter, strategy did – a lesson I carry with me until today, and I do so with special glee sometimes as I stand just a little over 5 feet tall!

The rain was how I made friends… living in a large, independent house with no siblings… I was constantly bored until it rained and the power went off… as the street lights shut down one by one…the children from the neighboring homes would run into the street! Late evening gossip sessions on someone’s compound wall… cooking Maggie in candlelight, antakshari while watching the rain … sometimes I wonder if my children will ever know this joy! The rain and the almost metrical power-cuts were a great leveler, it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, short or tall, popular or not … the dark made everyone equal, no matter what you had for dinner, or who your father was… the ‘infamous’ EB didn’t care …and for those 3 magical hours, we laughed, we played, we sang , we danced.. homework forgotten, friendships forged.. life was suddenly lyrical!

My first kiss was in the rain… the smell of the earth, dampness of his lips..and the sheer poetry of being under a 100 year old tree.. there couldn’t have been a more perfect moment, even if we had planned it … and then I walked in a daze, heady with emotion, soaking in the pouring sheets of water until I fell into a smelly, shallow overflowing manhole in the middle of the street. I stood there mortified, leaving behind my favorite shoes. The explicable joy .. very quickly soured into absolute fright until a good Samaritan helped me out and dropped me home. I learnt two things that day! Never wear your favorite shoes when you walk in the rain and yeah! Life is nothing.. if not both pleasure and pain!

To me the rain is earth’s way of erasing the past… it is her telling me … that things will be ok. That hurt, tears, anger and negative emotions need to be erased and life needs to move on. The rain.. she doesn’t make me think… she makes me contemplate… she doesn’t make me smile.. she turns me into a giggly school girl, ready to run into her arms.. The rain … she gives, she takes, she is incredibly kind and then suddenly, sometimes so cruel. The rain… she is life!

Madras is Me!

Elliots Beach - Circa 2005 - At the MASH deck , stuffing out face with Fries and Shakes

I’m thankful to my girls who taught me about love and life… (Elliots Beach – Circa 2005)

For the first 20 years of my life .. I never told people where I was from. Heck! I’d much rather be from any city – anywhere in the world. And then it got worse… they decided to change the one thing I actually liked about the city and call it ‘Chennai”!  An insipid, passionless name… which sounds like a lethal eye-infection!

And an uninteresting city she is – I mean, Calcutta is known for yummy gol-gappas, Mumbai for Vada-Paav, Delhi for kebabs and butter chicken and what do we get ? Idlis! Dull, boring, uninspired, flavorless and worst of all …steamed! White idlis, served with white coconut chutney .. not pleasing to the eye and definitely no fireworks on the palette.

The lack of fireworks … so aptly describes my teenage life. With most arts colleges staying single-gender and engineering colleges gender segregating buses, corridors break-hours and pretty much everything … college romances and teenage flings were meant for Sweet Valley Books and what we heard about from our cousins who lived in the more exciting cities – Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.

Actually, I stand corrected …there were fireworks … the collective gaggling of kanjeevaram clad-maamis, who always had underhand compliments ready – between my lack of ‘bottu’, my ‘unnecessary’ passion for art, my ‘unladylike’ interest in sports and ‘veyil’  and my ‘distressing’ lack of grace or femininity  .. I was the beelzebub of Nungambakkam, the literal ‘black sheep’ of my family, for reasons other than refusing to use fair and lovely on a regular basis.

Everything about the city made me angry… the lack of privacy … the utterly shocking narrow-mindedness of some people… the shameless male chauvinism…. Why was I born in a city with no night-life? Heck! Why was I born in a city with no life! In a city where filter coffee at home was sacred but a 70 rupee cappuccino in Barista was blasphemous, where boys and girls together meant just one thing… A city, which was obviously not ready for me…

So I moved, over the last 5 years I have lived in 5 different cities – Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Bangalore, Washington DC and travelled to at least 3 dozen others … all to find that one magical place I could call home.

When I was in Boston, walking along the hallowed corridors of Harvard, I remembered the good times at IIT Saarang. The moment I first (thought) I feel in love, the endless walks across the campus … the secret kisses under the canopy of beautiful trees.  Fireworks don’t happen in nightclubs under fluorescent lights or bars filled with drunk graduate students… they happen during stolen moments, racing heart-beats, anticipation and aching .. coupled with the cool deliciousness of that ever-so slight smile, which only person can read ..and then..when our eyes locked ..it didn’t matter if we were in Paris or Adyar, if we were surrounded by a thousand people or a single singing angel. And then suddenly… Boston never lived up …

Los Angeles taught me that great beaches didn’t mean lifeguards who looked like they stepped out of Baywatch, crystal clear blue-green water and bright frisbee nets. Why even call it a beach if I could not rush into the beautiful water in a salwar-kameez and bounce around, fat and fully clad… just because.

Since when did beaches become judgmental and demand ‘appropriate attire’ , since when did having fun require the perfect tanned body and since when did that ‘perfect body’ mean dieting, bulimia and not feeling good about myself. South Beach, Rio, Cancun, Bali and several dozen holiday destinations later … no beach has and will ever give me what Elliots has- several moments of  undiluted joy ..the time when I first touched a wave with my feet …the time I told my father I wanted to get married over ‘sutta cholam’.. each time, my father and I walked across the beach, taking in the crisp cool air … listening to the waves, having that forbidden ‘chicken fry’ at Cozee..  we went to the beach with no agenda, no rules … just to laugh, talk, smile. That beach was ours… we could be who we were …no judegments.

New York made me miss (GASP!)… the gaggling maamis… day after day, night after night, I went back to the same place without knowing who lived next door. I wasn’t interrogated on my work life, my love life .. they didn’t even care if I had a life! I missed the unsolicited advice as much as the unsolicited piping hot vadais … I could go an entire weekend without speaking to another soul… this in one of the most densely populated cities in the US.

And then I realized… I didn’t want correctly metered taxi cabs… I enjoyed haggling with auto-drivers, calling them Anna – hoping that they would reduce those extra 10 rupees from the fare.  I could eat in Saravana Bhavan every single day but couldn’t stomach more than 2 continuous meals at Mc Donalds. I am thankful for the 10 rupee tickets, which let me watch my ‘heroes’ up-close at Satyam.  I am thankful for the 365 days of sunshine.. thankful for the narrow streets of Mylapore … so in contrast with the large , leafy roads in Nungambakkam… thankful for having the opportunity to live in a 100 year old house… thankful that every street, every house doesn’t look the same… but most importantly … I am thankful for the people… the busybodies, the sages, the preceptors, the boys who lives next door…the girls who taught me about love and life … my friends, my family and the people who make Madras who she is …

Madras is about life… death .. .happiness. . sorrow… disappointment …Madras is about growing up and realizing that no matter where I go … I never leave … because Madras is me … Yes, not Chennai but Madras.

Much like a cantankerous vintage jaguar … she is not meant to be analyzed.. just loved and appreciated for her classic charm and elegance. The city … is much like the wholesome, beautiful idli … which when steamed to perfection with the right accompaniment(s) is the food of the Gods… it doesn’t take your palatte on a roller-coaster ride like the sometimes sweet-sometimes spicy gol-gappa, it doesn’t give you a chilli-high like the spicy vada-paav, it keeps you grounded and simple… and yet remains stunning, much like the humble idli.

Dear Daddy – Thank you for your greatest gift to me

Dear Daddy,

It all happened too fast. Less than 2 hours ago, I smiled at you and you signaled to me that you loved me and in less than 12 hours after, you left me for a better place. There was no reason why it happened, why your organs suddenly failed – a medical conundrum and yet they did, slowly, painfully with excruciating precision.

Daddy and I, Sydney, 1989

Daddy and I, Sydney, 1989

Daddy – I thought I understood failure, when I woefully underperformed during my high-school days and I stood shame-faced and told you my grades. I knew that I would never be the engineer that you wanted me to be with those awful scores. I was a failure, I felt miserable. And yet – you smiled and told me that you would never forgive yourself, if I didn’t study art, “ Who looks at math marks in art school anyway?” I never wanted to be a failure again in your eyes and yet, I failed you by shedding a tear on your cheek when you were crashing. I never wanted you to see me cry.

Last single B'day at Paati's house. April 29, 2011

Last single B’day at Paati’s house. April 29, 2011

And then, I stupidly thought I understood fear. You know that thing which prevented me from ever driving again after my awful accident in 2010? The reason I’m nowhere close to being the incredible swimmer you are because of that one-off incident when I almost drowned when I was 5. I thought fear was about life, my life. I thought fear was being out of my comfort zone, about not being successful, about taking a risk. But you had no fear – not when you quit your job as a sailing radio officer in the Merchant Marine as soon as you realized that technology would one day made his position redundant. Not when you started studying from scratch at 40, and forged ahead to become a Master Mariner at 45 to sail until your health failed you. You would recite Charge of the Light Brigade to me, over and over again, but I never thought, that you would embody the poem when you literally walked into death. your by-pass on March 14.

I also thought I was courageous. I’ve lived alone since my late teens, traveled the world alone and on more than one occasion used my handy pepper-spray. But then, you fought Somali pirates on the deck of your ship, hid behind the life-boat, got shot at and came home to tell me the story – unscathed. You wrestled a baby shark and brought his teeth home, saying “ If I can swim that at 48, you can learn swimming at 18!”

Father-Daugther Dance, Wedding, May 2011

Father-Daughter Dance, Wedding, May 2011

Daddy – I thought I understood pain. Teenage-break-ups, jobs which I should have gotten, promotions which sometimes passed me by for the wrong reason and of course, the pain of living away from you over the last 5 years. Each time my husband complained that you were the most important person in my life, I proudly reaffirmed him saying “darn straight, my father made me who I am, you just got lucky”. But I thought of you everyday and called you twice a day. You always knew what to say, you always made me laugh or groan at you’re quotes. You were the only person who still used similes in the 21st century.

But daddy – you never taught me that I really didn’t understand fear, I didn’t until I realized that the most important person in my life might not be there another day. I thought a failure was someone who couldn’t earn a living, but then, when I dropped down on my knees, praying fervently to every God, any God, anyone to help you and no one could – and I was helpless, I realized what real failure means.

The pain, oh the pain – it never goes away does it? To realize that you will never be by my side again, never smile at me, never talk to me. I never hear you, or smell you or be able to kiss you again. To understand that you will never see my children, or my first book being published, to realize that I will get your unsolicited life and financial advice again. It stabs, like a million sharp iron rods, piercing my chest over and over again until I am numb and can feel nothing.

Daddy – you gave me so much during your life. I still don’t understand how you raised me to be a financially responsible, fairly successful human being despite never saying ‘no’ to me. You gave me strength without ever hitting me, you taught me humor without cruelty or pun, you taught me to live without fear, to laugh without restraint and to love unconditionally. You taught me to be madly passionate about my family, my art and most importantly myself.

Giving me away, Wedding, May 2011

Giving me away, Wedding, May 2011

But daddy the greatest gift you ever gave me – came at too high, too precious, too dear a price. As spent the last 12 hours of your life, by your bedside, inside intensive care – holding your hand, kissing your forehead, watching, hoping, praying, desperately wishing that that ‘medical miracle’. I learned to conquer fear.

As I watched you slowly loose each of your organs, as I helplessly watched your pulse slow down gradually, I watched without a tear in my eye, holding your hand, looking into your eyes because I believed that you knew I was standing there, strong for you.

Daddy even in the last few moments of your life, you still continued to give and teach. As I stood there, watching you take your last breath, I knew that you left only after you gave me your greatest gift – your indomitable strength. With your last breath daddy, you gave me your precious gift, the courage to live and take care of my family even without your physical presence.

Mummy, Daddy and I, November 20, 2012

Mummy, Daddy and I, November 20, 2012

Thank you daddy – for teaching me, for being my angel, for being the greatest father – in your physical life and after.

I know a part of you still lives in me and I promise to make you proud every single day.

Not Just Women’s Day, We need Women’s equality every day!

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60% of the Women in Guinea believe that it is OK for their spouses to beat them for saying no to sex! In slightly more developed India, Non-consensual sex within marriage not rape. All around the world, women still get paid less in wages to do the same job as men and despite being a ‘supposedly liberated’ woman of the 21st century, my blood curls from fear each time I am catcalled on the streets!

And so, you understand when I say that I BELIEVE Women’s Day is a load of ****! Because, over the years, we have been so accustomed to taking hits to your physical and emotional needs that even we – the supposed crusaders of women, don’t see that bright shining light of equality in the horizon.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers, shall we? 510 million women alive today will be abused by their partner in their lifetime. Women in developing countries die in childbirth every 1.5 minutes and the number of sex selective abortions amount to some 3.9 million annually. Women produce 80% of the developing world’s food, but they own less than 1% of the Earth’s land. In over a 100 countries women STILL don’t have the same legal rights as their male counterparts and almost everywhere on earth we are STILL not perceived as equals.

My country, of course is special. India has the dubious distinction of being the worst country to be born a woman.  In 2011, 24,206 rapes were reported in India, a 4-year high, ironical is it not – for a country which claims to be ruled by a woman’s iron fist. “Reported rapes’ aside, dowry, and sati, female infanticide … the list is endless and no it is not just in the villages, in a family you would never associate with!  No, I am talking about every one of us, who in our own way is a silent victim of inequality – in our homes, educational institutions, workplaces. Sometimes it is blatant, sometimes it is subtle but most often and we don’t even recognize it because we are so hardened by the fact that – we are ‘just’ women!

3 Months ago, all everyone could speak about was the Delhi brave heart who was raped so brutally.. that she died! Today, despite rapes across the country every single day and no action from the government for better security for women, we grin at each other and smile and say Happy Women’s Day. Ah! The Irony!

But even today is not Women’s Day. As I write this, an unborn girl child is being aborted in India, a women is being raped and a female professional is being passed up on a promotion because ‘management’ fells she won’t be able to ‘handle’ the job with an infant at home. But there is something we can do – We can get stronger both physically and mentally. We can learn to respect ourselves and we can try and drag ourselves out of the ‘we are just women’ mind frame.

So today, let us get rid of that “old man in our head “ (Courtesy Meera Vijayan) , the man who keeps telling us that we cannot succeed.  Let us put a rest to believing that “Oh! A woman cannot have a successful career and a good personal life!” Let us stop asking every married young girl “When are you going to have a child?” as if child-bearing was the sole reason we were put on this earth. Let us stop discussing a girl’s skin color and talk about her personality instead. Let us, in our own way, shut that narrow-minded old man who lives inside each of us.  Let us be kind to women who sometimes in a few ways are better and more successful than us!

What we need is not Women’s Day, what we need is Women’s Equality every day. The road to this is long and hard but it is us, the so-called liberated generation which needs to pave the way. Much like Martin Luther King, I have a dream – that someday my children will live in a world where are judged not by their gender but by their personalities, talent and spirit.

Take a Stand Against rape. It is not Political. It is just Human.

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I don’t want much. I would someday like to live in a country where I can walk outside without getting raped. In a country where I won’t ‘deserve’ rape because I am a woman, or because I can speak English or because I am educated. I want to walk free in a country where I don’t ‘ask to be raped’ because I don’t wear a sari each time I step out of the house or because I dare to dream of a career and might come home after 6 pm one day.

I grew up in Chennai – the city infamous of ‘eve teasing’ and remember the many times I felt that deep sense of burning shame. I am not scared to come out and say that I was ashamed – ashamed of my body because lecherous men on the bus, on the roads, in crowded areas thought it was alright to grope me, touch me, and feel me before melting away into a crowd. I was afraid to cry for help when I was walking alone, because I was scared that the one guy would come back with 4 friends to do worse things to me – because you see if he were to throw acid on my face, gang rape me or torture me in unthinkable ways it was all my fault for being a woman. Incidentally, the Delhi police seem to agree.

It wasn’t my clothes I tell you that – it doesn’t matter whether you are wearing jeans or a sari or a miniskirt. It doesn’t matter if you are short, tall, skinny or fat. It doesn’t matter if you are fair or dark. It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are … the only thing which matters is that you are woman and hence powerless/ a piece of meat/ asking for it/ calling out to them. If you are a woman and if you are outside your house (and sometimes even inside your house) you are ‘asking for it’! Heck! You are asking for it by just being a woman and yes you are never really safe.

In theory, everyone one of us is out there instigating men every single day but just being who we are and God forbid if we so much as want to express a little individuality or independence. They are out there – ready to crush every ounce of our spirit, courage and independence. How dare we believe that we are equal? How dare we believe that we can actually have a career? How dare we believe that we have the right to dress comfortably and most importantly how dare we believe that we are anything more than a piece of meat – just existing bidding time before another lustful SOB can use us in any disgusting way that he wants…

I blame the movies I saw a child – the movies where the man who cannot expresses his feelings toward a woman rapes her and then has to marry her as she is now contaminated by his touch. I blame the movies which show the heroine falling in love with the wayward young man who teases her and makes lewd comments about her. I blame the movies which glorify female subservience – where the vamp is the woman with the mini-skirt and the heroine is quiet, demure, sari-clad and happy to throw her dreams, ambitions, life and career just to serve her husband’s every need.

I blame our thought leaders for not speaking up. Rajnikanth are you listening? 100000+ people on Facebook (including me)  wished you Happy 62 last week. Now, please give us the little dignity of educating the masses about rape.  This is not political. It is just Human.

If this is not the time to speak up – I am not sure when is! Did Sarika Shah, Jessica Lal and millions of others die in vain? Somewhere in India, 4 women are getting raped every minute.  Those women could very well be you or me tomorrow! What is to say that she will not be your mother, sister or wife? Shamefully, only 2 of my 622 male friends on facebook had anything to say against the issue. Why this apathy?

Rape should be treated the same as cold-blooded murder. Rapists should not be given a second chance. Rapist should be humiliated in public. Rapists should be shunned from society and life.

Today, I will take an anti-rape stance. I will do everything I can as a powerless, piece-of-meat to talk to anyone I can, do anything I can, to enforce stricter laws for women to feel safer in my country. If not for the 23 year old girl in Delhi fighting for her life, if not for the 6 year old who ’asked for it’..do it for yourself. Do it for every woman that you care about. Spread the message.

I want to raise my girl child in India and for that we need to change. Stand up now!