Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Elephant in the Room" - How can you help?

Law and Order Special Victims Logo
A High School auditorium filled with teenagers. Everyone’s face is tense and displays a sense of anxiety as to why they have been asked to assemble, especially when the most unpopular child (not because she is a bully but because she was a survivor of abuse/bullying) is on stage with a Law Enforcement Officer. She starts talking...

“I am a survivor of sexual assault. I felt broken. I was sad, angry. But then what came after - the bullying - I felt like I was underwater, drowning. I want you to know, that what you do, what you say to each other, it hurts. It has consequences you know.” The Officer starts speaking “First of all, I would like to congratulate Mandy for her bravery and courage. We are not here to blame or point fingers. We are not here talk about what could have been. We are here to start a conversation. I would like to invite you all to participate in a simple exercise.” and she stands up. “If you could all just close your eyes and take a second to settle yourselves.” Everyone looks to their neighbours confused and even more scared. The survivor says, “Come on, if I can do it…” and closes her eyes. The rest of them follow the action.

The Officer then goes on to say, “Keeping your eyes closed, I am going to ask you to stand up if you have been hurt by bullying”. A small group of children get up. She continues, “Keeping your eyes closed, stand up if you have been a victim of hazing. If you have ever been hurt by gossip.” Another few join those who are already standing and then she goes on to say, “Stand wp if you have ever been a victim of a sexual assault. Stand up if you have ever been a victim of violence. I would like you to open your eyes and take a look around.” The children are shocked to see that almost the entire auditorium is standing up. She continues to say, “Looking around we can all agree that we are in this together. You have the power to change this by being more accepting, more compassionate. You are not alone.”

Slowly, each child start talking about the incidents that affected them. Some accepted that their inaction to openly stand by those they were close with when they came to them for help was wrong. Some claimed that they were being bullish as they were under the impression that it was the norm and it was how they were funny and cool, but now they realise that they have wronged.

The above narration is from of a recent episode “No Good Reason” from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”. This is a fictional series that has been telecast in the USA and is in its 19th season and started from the year 1999. The episodes are often "ripped from the headlines" or loosely based on real crimes that have received media attention.
Why did I narrate this scene? When I saw this scene, even though I knew it was only a work of fiction, it shook me to the core because it felt like true life incident. It is not uncommon these days to come across news articles on victims of bullying, sexual assault, violence (any kind), gossip/false news, where even loss of life as one of the many consequences. In the last couple of years, there have been numerous trending hashtags including #MeToo, #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen and many more. None of these were restricted to a gender, group, ethnicity, state, or country. It was a worldwide phenomenon impacting each one of us in some way or the other. I fear for the kind of world that we will soon leave behind for our future generations:
  • Self-Centric: glued to the gadgets to garner fame on social media, away from human interactions
  • Lack of empathy to fellow human beings
  • Lack of drive and the intelligence to filter unverified forwards/real news and judging on an impulse
  • Lack of basic survival skills
  • Inability to have meaningful conversations
  • Developing extremely polarised views

How can you Help?

Whether you have been personally affected by any form of violence or abuse, each one of us are part of the problem. We directly or indirectly contribute to the issue by our indifference. I understand that it is difficult to personally interfere and stand up for the one being victimised every time you witness such incident, but there might be other ways by which you can at least be supportive.
  • When the victim comes to you for help (in any form),
    • Being there for the person by empathising with them
    • Not being judgemental
    • By providing a listening ear when they go through the healing process.
  • Awareness about the local laws of the land and registering such misdeeds or mishaps
  • Alert the Emergency services giving clear instructions to the location of the incident and/or approach the right authorities and appraise them appropriately.
  • Connecting with our children, peers and elders who are in your social circle of influence about:
    • The difference between a joke and a “rude” joke, at the cost of attacking someone’s self esteem or dignity.
    • The importance of standing up for what is right
    • To be socially aware and responsible for the consequences of our words and actions including, leaving behind responsible digital footprints (e.g. comments you make in social media)
  • Having simple “home rules” to facilitate healthy conversations
    • This can be a specific time of day say, Dinner, without gadgets where the whole family sits together and shares their views. This can help develop a healthy habit of being open to different viewpoints,  and reduces polarisation of thoughts and learn how to ‘agree to disagree’ politely.
Here are some interesting videos that addresses harassment and doing the right thing in small but impactful ways:
  1. Harassment on local transport
  2. Handling Sexual Harassment at Work
  3. Domestic Abuse - Women Safety Begins at Home
  4. Stop Bullying - Everyone Can Help
  5. I'm Really Sorry - A movie on Bullying
I am sure if all of us work with all sincerity to acknowledge the problem and then think of more creative ways to overcome such issues, the “Elephant in the room” can be addressed.

Monday, August 28, 2017

36 Vayathinile - Stand-up Comedy Show Review

With Praveen in traditional attire
of Veshti (not Lungi :-)
#36Vayathinile - My debut stand-up comedy show as audience and I took my Mom and Sister as well. There were loads of interesting stuff about this show, the first and foremost being that I got to see my college friend - Praveen Kumar -  after 15 years & to see him perform live, keeping us entertained for over an hour, incl. 200+ audience !

With social media (WhatsApp, FB etc.), I had watched video clips of stand-up comdy shows, I have had my own apprehensions on such shows because many of them ridicule a section of population or make fun at the cost of someone/group of people (with no understanding whatsoever about the person or the section of the society) or by tastelessly mocking the system of stereotyping.

Praveen boasts of clean comedy and claims that his career achievement as a Stand-up Comediean was his ability to entertain a whole class full of 7-year olds :-) True to his tagline - "Clean comedy" - his entire show had anecdotes from his personal experiences that each and every one of us could relate to on a daily basis. I was not sure if my family would like the show, but all three of us laughed so much that our cheeks hurt. There was not one dull moment in the entire program. I wished that the rest of my family were also present and been a part of this laughter riot.

During the course of the show, I was also reminded of our college days and all the late-night "Lachcha sessions" (BITSian slang for meaningless but entertaining discussion sessions) that we used to have while preparing for the various Cultural, Science & Management Fests.

Chennai Museum Theater: Venue of the Tamil Standup
Comedy show "36 Vayathinile"
#36Vayathinile is a Tamil comedy show that talks about the dilemmas of being stuck inbetween two generations at the age of 36, touches upon the daily mind voices that all of us can very easily relate to. Using comedy as a medium, Praveen was able to touch upon subjects relating to the state of education system, international & national political scenario, language debate and more and bring forth many valid, effective but simple suggestions to be able to bring about a positive change in at least some of the issues currently prevailing, one of which being (that we do in our family as well), to talk in one's mother tongue at least inside the house among family members instead of depending on a link language or English.

Added bonus was Mervyn Rozz opening the show, engage and interact with the audience, before calling Praveen on to the stage.

Thank you for an amazing show and an evening filled with laughter. My wishes for him to reach greater successes. Waiting for the time when I can attend his show again, and the next time with my husband and children as well !

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Welcoming Positive Changes in the Indian mindset !

When you are growing up in India, depending on the parenting styles of your parents, each of us get a very minor glimpse (so as to say the tip of an iceberg) of what it means to spearhead the running of a household seamlessly. But when you are married and on your own, nothing prepares you for what hits you straight on. If you want to continue having a happy, contended, and satisfying life for not just yourself but for those around you, there are several decisions that you will make that you may not fully agree with, one or both of us have to arrive at a compromise - the fondly called middle ground/road in our household - so as to not rock the boat. In such cases, some choose to keep their career on the back burner (which is what I did and did it willingly and voluntarily and had the complete support of my spouse), but there are others who do not want to. They give it their all to still hold on to both their personal job profile and a professional job profile but I feel are not duly appreciated/acknowledged. In some scenarios, women give up their career or take a short/long break from their career to relocate due to the demands of their husbands (in rare cases in India, and a slightly higher numbers in other countries, the reverse where the husband gives up his career for his wife's career progress).

In my case, when I decided to take a small break from my work to sort out my time and home management mess before I start looking for another job and add on the professional work management angle to the existing mess. Then I got pregnant and I saw no point in going back to work because, anywhere I join, my job will be evaluated based on my marital status, my pregnancy and my motherhood rather than my work output and capability. I know this to be true because, I have heard comments (made by colleagues when I was part of the paid work force and friends - male/female - alike) to the extent where it is discussed openly, without fear of being unfairly biased, about how marriage will reduce the productivity of a woman (sometimes - a rarity - even for men as they will have to keep up to the so called undue demands of the newly wedded wife and her family) as she will have to choose between home and work. I have also noticed that there is a kind of unwritten policy across most organisations (even in teaching profession) where, the promotion of a deserving woman might not happen either because she is pregnant and expecting or she is getting married and there is a possibility of her moving from the current work location. This is not so in the case of a man who is about to become a husband or a father. Despite having proven their capabilities by working twice as hard and delivering much better than their male counterparts, sometimes, the female employee gets thrown out of the promotion list (if questioned on this, they would be told that they were given a salary hike for their performance but were not deserving of a promotion) if they are pregnant or going to get married due to which they might anticipate a physical relocation.

I do not know if it was coincidence or there is a change in the thought process of people in general, advertisements these days have more progressive messages. Most of these advertisements have English subtitles as well.

The expressions on both the actors faces (the subtle pride in the face of the husband when he tells his wife about what her choice meant to him and the mixture of surprise and  gratitude - on her face is priceless to watch.

The concept of being thankful and acknowledging the choices that the woman had to make in her life for the man to be able to pursue his career (or vice versa where applicable) itself a welcome change. Personally, I think it is brilliant to bring about this change in advertisements as it reaches maximum number of people, different age groups and genders and will have the maximum impact to bring about the needed change in the thought process.

Other such advertisement series that caught my attention and are my favourite these days are

Myntra's "Bold is Beautiful" series - A couple of them that I loved the most:


The Move  Ad talking about how it is this society is skewed in thinking it is normal for women to always be ready to follow their husband's job relocation, irrespective of the impact it will have on their own personal careers as this is the "norm", but when the reverse is expected, the man does not feel obligated to support his wife and relocate if the situation demanded him to. The advertisement shows the decisiveness of the woman to go ahead with the decision to relocate in lieu of her career and how she explains it to him.

In The Calling  Ad, Radhika Apte being the pregnant executive having a conversation with an older, maybe a senior female executive, about how the hypocritical the decision to sideline her from the promotion that she much deserves by considering her pregnancy as a hinderance, despite the fact that it was her tireless effort in getting the deal/project for the company. The way she makes herself heard and at the same time brings forth the discriminative behaviour of the management with dignity, poise and confidence won my heart and filled me with pride to see that the thought at least is out in the open (or should I say, "the cat is out of the bag"), the rectification for the problem will surely follow through.
BIBA - Change the conversation series of Ads

This Ad talks about how a pre-marriage discussion turns into something quite delightful! The ad has English subtitles as well for people who do not understand the language spoken. 

A prospective bride groom and his family visiting a prospective bride's family to meet her and then decide if the families can move forward with the marriage proposal. A typical first step in any Indian arranged marriage scenario. The bride is apprehensive about how this would go and below is the conversation between the father and daughter and the rest of the gang assembled in her living room (have tried to translate the Hindi conversation below)

Father: Aren't you ready yet? Everyone is waiting for you downstairs.
Daughter: Papa (Dad), how can I decide over a samosa and a coffee that he is the one with whom I can spend my entire life with?
A stern stare from the father followed by " Come soon" and then he turns and leaves.She sighs and follows suit and joins the rest of the family in the living room.
Boy's mother: No Thank you. You have liberally fed us. (Transliteration. Intended meaning being,"Your hospitality is overwhelming"). We like your daughter, Payal, a lot and are happy to agree for this marriage proposal from our end. Do we assume that it is the same from your end as well?
Payal's father: Of course! But we would also like to visit yor in your home.
Boy's mother: You are most welcome. But why?
Payal's father: Our daughter would also like to see if your son can manage a household or not? If he can cook or not! Only then can we decide on giving her hand in marriage.
Boy's mother: (laughs) He doesn't even know to boil water. On rare occassions, he makes noodles in a microwave.
Payal's father: I am sorry, but my daughter cannot live her entire life on just noodles.
A pregnant pause. The boy himself speaks up.
Boy: Sir, why don't you come to our home after 10 days?
Payal's Dad: Why in 10 days?
Boy: Sir, by then I will learn to cook / create something. You can then come to meet the boy!
Smiles all around.
The scenario is very different and refreshing in comparison to the traditional norm of the Indian society.

Preganews Ad: Another brilliant ad film on how the corporate is being sensitive to the life of a professional woman/asset who is pregnant instead of making her life more difficult by excluding her out of major meetings quoting her pregnancy, and the challenges that it bring with it, as a reason.

Here is the script for the benefit of those who do not understand the language that the Ad is in:

Two collegues are discussing in the conference room when one tells the other that something needs to be done about the staff cost as the result of this quarter are very low. The other is deep in thought and enquires about a specfic staff named Swetha to the peon for which he answers that he is going to get her things next. The executive instructs the peon that from now on in every meeting he is to bring in water for her every 30 minutes.

This specific staff's cubicle is cleared after office hours, all her things are placed in a box and moved. A lady staff asks the peon if the fan does not give out smell and another lady staff talks to someone on the phone instructing them to place the new chair ordered downstairs and leaves for the night. Next day morning, you see a lady climbing up the stairs and coming into office. She smiles and wishes someone good morning only to turn to her desk and find nothing. She asks, "Where's my stuff?"

A colleague answers, "Go down and talk to the HR".

She talks to herself, "How could they do this to me when I am pregnant?" She assumes the worst under the circumstances. She lets out a frustrated sigh, turns around, and walks back down the stairs towards the HR, while she passes a cabin that lights up sensing movement. She turns and on the door sees her name and enters. The rest of the conversation is in English.

Even some of the Tamil daily soaps are interesting. A daily soap called "Maapillai" on Vijay TV talks about how a man marries and goes to live in the house of his wife with her 4 sisters and parents. The emotions, feelings and thoughts that a woman goes through after marriage while trying to adjust into a new family and their routine is now the norm for this man who has moved into his wife's home. A revolutionary thought in itself considering that the norm in Indian marriages is for the girl to move out from her parental home into the in-laws home after marriage. This soap also talks about the general parenting mistakes (like how the boys are completely pampered by their mothers to the extent that they cannot function independently even to get their own coffee or clean and iron their own clothes) and touches upon the other societal stereotypes that are not so nice.

These ads and the new story-lines that are trying to break stereotypes, bring in hope that the change in the thought process will soon happen even where it matters and not just remain as advertisements or movies on screen or in words as blogs/books. More power to the positive change that is slowly but steadily taking over the society at large. Cheers to a better future in the making !