Tag Archives: children

My hero this Woman’s Day

The dust has settled down on Woman’s Day tamasha. I’m not sure whether to be happy about this circus coming to town every year or not. What good does it serve really? Each year different NGOs and organizations pick women achievers and reward them. Elaborate awards functions are held. Everyone appears well dressed and happy. Pictures are taken. Happy moments are born. And so on. Well, clap clap, great show ladies. Now let’s move on.

I have nothing against awarding women achievers. Really. But on what basis are we picking these women? I see a pattern. The women who walk away with the awards are socially active, they are financially well off and they have supportive families. Not to belittle their achievements…but what and where are the odds they battled?

Each year, I like to pick my ‘woman of the year’. Last year it was a tie between my maid and my iron lady. This year, the lady I choose is truly special and inspirational. And here’s her story:

Until 2012, Shanti was like any ordinary Tamil Brahmin middle class woman. Her conservative tambram family was supportive within their limits. Her husband, very loving and caring. He was hardworking and preferred that she managed the home and their two lovely daughters. The future held hope and promise.

Then in October 2012, her little bubble crashed.

Her husband died in a really freakish train accident. With no work experience and virtually no savings, their future was a big question mark. On humanitarian grounds, her husband’s organization gave her a job. But with no prior work experience, she got in on a low salary and was expected to work late hours. The children handled it very well, but she was riddled with guilt as she had to stay away from home from 7 am to 7 pm or even later sometimes. And then to supplement the income she started taking Hindi tuition. This went on until 9 pm. By then it was almost bed time for the kids. Her in-laws took care of the children well, but threw veiled acidic remarks and barbs in her direction. Finally, one year after her husband passed away, she took up another apartment and her parents moved in with her. Her father, a retired 70 year old man, took up a part time job as a warehouse book keeper to support her. Her relentless running around continues to this day. In addition to work and Hindi tuition, she is now doing her MBA as she feels that her current qualifications will not help her much professionally. The organization she is working for is going through bad times and she recently revealed that she does not get paid for months together. She is looking for another job, hopefully one where her timings are not as erratic.

Yet despite it all, you will never see her without a smile on her face. She greets everyone with a big grin. Though her eyes tell you the story of her struggle and sleepless nights, I have not heard her complain about life even once. She takes it all in her stride. She does not compromise on her children’s happiness. She allows them to go on field trips, participate in programs (where one has to pay through the nose for costumes) etc. She is taking it one day at a time. And she believes that things can only get better. Her attitude and courage are an inspiration. She is an amazingly strong person and I salute her. In my eyes, she is a true achiever.

Swacch Bharat. Possible? Yes!

People are skeptical. They discuss animatedly outside tea shops. India? Clean? Hah! Narendra Modi is dreaming! They say as they crush and throw down the paper cups in which they just had tea…

Once I was traveling by auto right after a heavy spell of rain. The roads were flooded. The auto driver was whining and telling me that he spent the entire night, draining water out of his home as the rains had caused sewage water to overflow. People throw trash on the road, he proceeded to explain, that goes and blocks drains. When will people understand this, he moaned. As he was saying this he spat out into the rain water and also proceeded to crush and throw some newspapers lying around his seat…

So, yeah…where does one start with this clean India thing? Doesn’t it look too far fetched?

But hang on. I have a theory. The clean India mission needs to be implemented psychologically.  Telling people to clean up their act does not help, because most of us are so used to our action, we don’t even know we are part of the brigade that’s messing up the place. So screening expensive ads on TV channels, if you ask me, will not help. People will nod, agree and go about their business. They don’t realize that when they crush that newspaper and throw it on the road, it goes and blocks the drain.

Now my point is stop talking and preaching. It’s time to show people what clean means. The human brain is a funny thing. When it sees something better it aspires for it. Like, you’re driving a Maruti Swift, but you aspire for that BMW.

So step one. Stop spending obscene amounts on TV ads. Instead, what I propose is, lets take the children of our government schools on a school trip to Japan (or ok, if thats too much to Singapore). SHOW them what CLEAN is. SHOW them how schools can be kept clean, how streets can be kept clean. SHOW them how no one, spits, urinates and throws things on the road. SHOW SHOW SHOW. Their brain will assimilate it all. Then they will come back home to the squalor and find it hard to accept it. At this point – tell them, they are the ambassadors of clean India. It needs to start from them. Their home. Their neighborhood.

Step two. Tie up with the fancy sanitary ware companies. Lets open really really swank, 5 star level public toilets. Full with lovely mirrors, citronella aroma oil, soaps to wash hands and so on. There toilets should be manned and by smart, uniformed employees. They must be polite, yet intimidating. Encourage the slum dwellers to use this facility. But sternly tell them to be kind to the next user and keep the toilet clean. Tell me who can make such a place dirty? It will intimidate them. Yet if they are welcomed, they will use it. And once they use it, can they ever go back to defecating in the open?

The problem I think is that we build for them these regular toilets, which look dirty the moment they are ready for use. The person manning them hates his/her job and could not care about maintaining it. When you privatize it, the name of the organization is at stake. What an amazing branding exercise for the private sanitary ware companies. If they pull it off, they will never again have to have a marketing and advertising budget! They will get all the publicity and goodwill for free! Everyone in the country will patronize them. It’s win win situation for everyone.

Also these two ideas can be applied, pan India. They are not language specific. I noticed that all the Swacch Bharat ads are in Hindi. The message is not reaching half the country!

More thoughts on this soon. Meanwhile, be good. be clean. Swacch Bharat is possible. We have to make it possible.

Final-Swachh-bharat

Annual day and all that

Today was my daughter’s annual day.

Of course our kids coming on stage is a special moment. Even if they just come up on stage and blink their lines away we would still go “awwwwww” and feel all mushy. But today was extra special for two reasons:

1)    My daughter M was playing the lead role in a play that was scripted by me!
2)    She was going to do her first ever solo performance (a bilingual puppet show)

The event was being held in a large hall with a makeshift stage. The surface of the stage did not seem very even to me. M had to wear a blue sari (as she was river Cauvery) in the play. I had nightmares about her tripping and falling on stage! I could hardly sleep last night worrying about my baby (why?!).

Butterflies flew around in my stomach as I fretted about her forgetting her lines. Her puppet show involved a monkey that spoke colloquial Tamil and a Chipmunk that spoke very British English! She had to switch from one language to the other and that’s hard enough for adults. I wondered if I had given her something too tough to do. It was of course too late the change the script. So I simply fretted.

Meanwhile, me along with a few other parent volunteers, helped create the backdrop for our Cauvery play. We collected saris in every possible shade of blue. M and I made little fishes and paper boats. Then we put up a dark blue background and put waves of light blue saris on it. We stuck boats and glittering fishes on that. Our task over – we stepped back to survey. To our highly prejudiced eyes – it looked like the cutest thing since stuffed teddy bears!

Today dawned bright and early for me. At 4am I slipped out of bed unable to worry any more. I did some vigorous work out on my stepper and had a calming cup of tea. Well… I was as set for the day as I would ever be!

It was time to wake M up. She awoke on my sixth desperate wake-up attempt. At 6:15 am it was still dark and she could not accept that it was morning. We went to the balcony and yelled at the sun for doing a shoddy job. Finally he peeped out from behind the buildings and spread some light around. Humph! Better late than never we said as we went in to bathe and get ready. Sari was draped after breakfast. And she looked like a little blue school teacher. Of course she insisted on jumping and dancing in it. I ran around behind her pleading with her not to – worrying all the time about her tripping.

It was time to leave for school. We were the first to arrive (ok fine call me a paranoid mom!). Other nervous parents arrived soon enough. And we all assembled in the green room. Cacophony ensued as kids grinned and commented at each others’ costumes (there was a Narada, a king with a feisty mustache and a sage Agastya – who were all simply too adorable!). We mothers were trying to give them last minute instructions over and above the din!

Finally the teachers chased us out.

I sat nervously and wrung my hands until my husband calmly joined me just as the invocation began.

Soon it was M’s turn with the puppets. My heartbeat was so loud I was sure the entire hall could hear it. M marched up on stage grinning and began with a “vanakkam” in such a colloquial Tamil accent that the audience warmed to her instantly! She simply cruised her way through the show. Not forgetting her lines and switching effortlessly from Tamil to English… and left the stage to a fantastic ovation! I heaved sigh of relief and shared a proud grin with my husband.

Two acts later it was time for our ‘All Izz Well Cauvery’ play.

My script being staged for the first time. I confess it was a proud moment for me. The kids were wonderful as they giggled and bungled their way through the play. M had a long dialogue that she said with great élan! The play ended with a peppy All Izz Well number (based on the song in 3 Idiots – sung by us parents). The audience clapped appreciatively.

Ah it was over! My first script staged. And my baby did not trip and fall. All Izz Well that ends well. Whew!