Thursday, December 10, 2015

My ordeal with Chennai rains as a Non-Resident Chennaite !

It has been raining (pouring, to be apt) for more than a couple of weeks now in Chennai. My parents have had intermittent power supply (notice that I said power supply, not power failures) and live in Velachery - one of the most inundated parts of Chennai.

London November 30, 2015  4 pm, in my routine call to my Mom, she informed that it had stopped raining and that the Sun was out and she even went out to her Abacus class since last couple of days.

December 01, 2015 10:00 a.m. My Mom and she says that the rains have started again and is pouring heavily. There is water stagnated on the streets and there is no power since yesterday night. It is was not uncommon, when monsoons arrive for people in Chennai.

Rewind a couple of decades....I remember my school days when we used to carry our uniforms in plastic covers, wade through hip deep water, which essentially means your school wear completely drenched. So we could not leave our homes wearing the School uniform. We used to walk till our friends' home - which were closer to the main road & was at a higher level than where our home was at that time - and then change into our school uniforms and leave our wet clothes to dry in their house. While we returned from school we could do the reverse process and then return to our homes, again wading through the stagnant waters. This would be for a week or so every monsoon.

Then I remember campaigns started on rain water harvesting and the storm water drain projects which gave us hope that it might get better in future. But nothing changed much. We eventually started accepting the fact that we should be ready to brave hip-deep water, during the peak raining season. Almost every 10 years, there would be heavy floods which would fill the Adyar & Cooum Rivers to its brink, and the slum dwellers living in its banks would always get displaced due to floods and the excess water that is opened out from the neighbouring lakes and reservoirs. I specifically remember 1986 and 2005 monsoon. In 1986 (the year we moved into our own home after the construction completed), the place where we lived (Guindy) was flooded with hip deep waters for adults and they had to carry us (kids) and our great grandmother (lifted by chair) over their shoulders and walk all the way to the main road.

A picture of the Adyar river from
Saidapet Bridge in 2005 floods
In 2005, after celebrating our first Diwali after marriage in my parents' home in Guindy, we had to move to my apartment (near the Vijayanagar bus terminus), as the water levels were rising, as it was better located. But after 2 days of torrential rain and power failures, we had some more guests seeking asylum, and so we had over 8 people crammed up in my apartment. Adding to this, we were scared that the water would enter my apartment soon, as we were on the ground floor. We cleared out the bottom two shelves and decided to leave to "more" higher ground before it was too late and "migrated" to T.Nagar where my uncle lived. But thankfully the rain stopped in a couple of days and we went back to our respective homes, laughing over our experience. I remember the blog we wrote about it in 2005 with a few pictures that we took then, inside ourapartment complex and the view of Adyar river flowing in full spate under the Saidapet Bridge. There have been many in-between...
2005 Floods: Raft parked just at the
entry to my apartment building

Present day in London.... All these memories were going through my mind when my Mom told me about the consistent rain for more than 10 days in Chennai. As we have gone through this difficult situation very often, I assumed my Mom would have managed it well, stocked up enough food and water to last at least for a week if need be and the only major consequences are due to power failures.

December 2, 2015: I wake up on Wednesday morning,  and go on as usual to get my children to school. My husband was travelling to France. I come back home and try calling my Mom to check if she was OK. I could not reach her and thought maybe due to lack of power her phone battery drained out and then log in to Facebook to see a slew of messages and pictures about the bad situation in Chennai with some places under 6 feet of water !!! For a few seconds I lost all senses... I just sat there still. My fingers went cold and then adrenaline rushed in. I tried reaching out all my contacts in Chennai - family, friends, neighbours, maid, worried sick about their safety. I also tried calling their numbers directly through Viber, WhatsApp, land lines.. But none of them were reachable (later read in the media that cell phone towers were down as well)

December 3, 2015, I wake at 5:30 a.m. (half an hour before the alarm went off) and start calling again. Still the same, no land lines or mobiles reachable. Still no news from home. Facebook and Twitter are "flooded" with NRC's (Non-resident Chennaites) like me, posting messages with addresses of their loved ones and asking for some kind of information on them. None of my friends or family still reachable. But I just keep going through the daily chores as my young family is dependent on my sane condition, especially with my Husband away as well. My husband calls me back in his lunch time (after reading my SOS texts and tweets) and I still have not been able to contact my parents. After sharing my plight with him, I went back to calling  every Chennai number on my address book. Finally by end of the day, I was getting frantic. Meanwhile, my sister (currently in Dubai) seemed to have been lucky to have talked to my Mom (for a few seconds), where we came to know that they were safe, but then the call got disconnected before sharing any additional information. While this provided us with some relief, it did not alleviate our fears as TV channels continue to scare with predictions for rains to continue and intensify during the next 48 hours.

December 4, 2015,  After sleeping for just 5 hours, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. again to a message on WhatsApp from my sister that our parents were heading outside Chennai (to Coimbatore) with my Uncle's family. As their mobile phones were charged (seems they checked in to a hotel the previous night, after being rescued on boat), I was finally able to speak with them. By evening time, I was able to reach all my extended family and friends through WhatsApp or otherwise and learn about their safety and their experiences battling the rains.

The feeling of "helplessness" of not being able to do anything but to dial number after number, to be met with a message that kept saying that "This number is either switched off or not reachable", was so frustrating. The only solace at that time was social networking sites that kept updating more current information (than the TV News channels) and Google emergency response link that had grouped all the information and made it easy to search for.

On the positive side, the response of Chennaites across the world was so heartening. In addition to that, the spirit of the local people & volunteers on the ground was phenomenal. I am thankful to everyone, who directly helped (or indirectly involved in helping) my family and friends to stay safe through this ordeal. A special thanks to the NDRF for going beyond their call of duty to assist massive rescue operations across the city.

Proud to hail from such a city  - that is always ready to stretch a helping hand to anyone in need, without any kind of discrimination, facing adversity or criticism with a smile - shows real spirit & character!!

Words fall short to describe the gruelling experience of those 72 hours, till I could reach family and friends.  Reading my Mom's experience - published in News -  made me re-live the entire emotional roller coaster, worrying for their safety and the safe return of my Husband from France (due to the recent high alert situation post the unfortunate events in Paris during mid November).

In the current age, when lives are claimed so easily due to disasters (natural and man-made), Tamil Nadu and France's solidarity demonstrated during crisis should be a lesson to all of us to understand about Humanity and its strength. We should learn from this and strive consciously do our share (however small it is) to contribute to the betterment of the society as a whole (which is easily possible when we consider the whole world as our own family, or following the concepts "Do unto others what you want for yourself", "Be the change that you wish to see").

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cleaner India in action !

This summer when we visited India for vacation, we traveled by the regular trains and were pleasantly surprised to see that there has been an overall improvement in the maintenance of railway stations, trains & streets. Railway stations (incl. Chennai Egmore and Virudhunagar, which were our origin/destination points) looked cleaner than they used to be in the past, with dustbins installed every 10 meters. We traveled by 2 tier A/C coach and the bathrooms were quite clean, probably sanitized with air fresheners and remained that way till we got off at our destination (thanks to the coach attendants in duty). There were extra dustbins placed inside the toilets in addition to the one found below the wash basin at the end of the compartments and one more bin placed in the connecting path between coaches. Best of all, the bio-toilets were installed and that means no more dirty tracks / stations !!! The coach that we traveled also was neat with all functional accessories (e.g. fans, reading lights, mobile charger points, water bottle pouches ...). What a welcome change !

On the streets within the city/town, earlier we are used to seeing garbage overflow, passage obstructions due to spill-over, harmful stench to the residents and breeding ground for mosquitoes & flies. In contrast, we noticed dustbins on the side/corner of most of the streets incl. the beach walkways, which looked quite clean, cleared almost daily and sprinkled with disinfectant . In fact, there were display boards with the name and contact details of the person from municipal/Corporation in-charge of collecting garbage and their Managers', including their personal mobile number !

Despite all this effort and initiatives, media/posts continue to complain about the lack of actions from civic bodies/authorities, without appreciating such noticeable changes. Whether it is small or big a positive change needs to at least be acknowledged. As far as we are concerned, Hygiene & Cleanliness tops the priority list in a civic sense, and we are so pleased that actions and benefits have started to kick-in.

We support India's Cleanliness program & hoping to continue with this great mindset change (teaching such civic responsibilities to the next generation, practice waste segregation in our homes, appreciating the work of the local garbage cleaning teams..) on this Independence Day !

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Proud Mommy Moment !

Children dressed up as us
Children having their Spring break now - Today my 8 yr old daughter and 4 yr old son, were busy with "pretend play". You might be wondering what is so proud about that as it is a very normal occurrence for toddlers to enjoy pretend play. But today, they were pretending to be Me and my Husband.... Or in their view Mommy and Daddy!!!

So here is how it went:

Daughter as Daddy
My daughter pretends to be a Daddy, puts on Daddy's coat, scarf, hat and bag, ready to go out to office. Seeing this my son wants to pretend as well. Now that Daddy's role is taken up, he wants to be Mommy. So he requests his sister to dress him up (which she dutifully does) with my coat, hat and a grocery shopping bag.

Now they have their dialogue.

Daddy: I am all set to leave for office. Bye. See you in the evening.
Mommy: Take care and have a nice day.

Now the scene shifts to a weekend.

Son as Mommy
Mommy: I am leaving to shopping. Will be back soon.
A few seconds later, Mommy is back from shopping.

Mommy: Look how many fruits I have bought.
Daddy: Oh... Let me help you carry the bag. Come in and sit down. Here, have some water and rest. Let me take care of the cooking and children.

Oh... I felt so happy, bursting out with pride!! How many barriers did we (me and my husband) break as parents! We have been successful in breaking the stereotypical image of roles and brought in a sense of equality not just in the responsibilities of people in the house but also about what role they wanted to choose to be. Poor Daddy missed these scenes in Live as it is as usual office day for him!!!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Tackling Gender Disparity: A Third Eye Perspective & Role of Emerging Mothers!

This is a topic that has been very close to my heart. As I grow older, the perspective that I had about this global issue and its origin kept changing. Until recently, like most of my peers, my views always inclined towards blaming society / cultural differences at large and the offenders (mostly men !). There comes a point in our life when we start seeing things differently. One of my uncles, defines reaching adulthood as a stage, where one is capable enough to take full responsibility for his/her actions and the things that happen in their life, make the required course corrections and move forward from there on. Personally, I am thankful to have come from a family where such gender differentiation was almost non-existent and we were free to share different viewpoints and pursue our dreams, without being challenged on your gender.

So do I view this gender disparity only in an "Indian" context or issues in the under-developed or developing nations? Thanks to the extensive globe-trotting (not just as a tourist but having lived  in US and Europe), I can quite confidently say and see that, such gender disparity is there every where. Of course, the origin, degree of manifestation and how each country copes with this topic may vary. Fundamentally, it is this gender disparity that is the underlying reason for most of the violent crimes we read in the media every day! 

Let me start with the classic Indian scenarios (as I have spent significant part of my life here, which shaped most of my thought process) - gender discrimination starts very early - right from the time when a married woman is expecting her child. There a lot of speculation about the sex of the unborn child. The difference comes when the family comes to know that it is not a boy! To avoid discrimination even before birth and to ensure safe birth of the child and the safety of the mother, there is a law in place in India that you cannot determine the sex of the child when you go for ultrasound test. So who endangers this girl even before she is born? Who is more happy to prefer a male child? If your guess was the expectant Father, or the Grandfather or any other male members of the family that creates this bias, then let me tell you, that is usually not the case. In 90% of the cases, it would be the expectant Grandmother (and in some cases even the mother herself), who feels that bringing up a girl is a huge responsibility and insecurity, where as having a boy is a sign of pride!

When you visit their homes, typically, when they introduce their male child they are very proud where as that pride vanishes to nothing (or sometimes changes to fear or some other such negative reaction) when they introduce their female child. As the children grow older, the mothers tell their daughters that they need to learn how to be good daughters ( cleaning up after their family meals), to be good sisters (e.g. by tolerating all the tantrums by their brothers), to be good daughter-in-laws (e.g. by not going against the wishes or decisions of their in-laws even if they may not be right), to be a good wife (e.g. by always agreeing with their husbands views and be resilient to any abuses), by being a good mother (e.g. by giving birth to a boy who will carry the family name to the next generation). In all this, they forget to tell their sons how to be a good son, brother, son-in-law, husband, and father. 

When a girl wants to choose a career of being a pilot, armed forces, mechanical, construction, and such kinds of profession, they are told that it is a man's job and that they should try to stick to "softer" careers like teaching, home science or simple administrative functions. When we buy toys there are boy toys and girl toys. For example, trucks and Lego are not for girls and Barbie and tea sets are not for a boy. Who makes such baseless rules in toys? My Boy loves Barbie movies and loves to play pretend tea party with his sister. My girl loves planes and cars to play with her brother and enjoys seeing Toy Story and wants to be a cow girl like Jesse and loves constructing buildings with Lego. When a boy cries, we tell him do not cry like a girl! Who said crying is only a girl thing? Anyone has the right to let tears out when the pain (emotional or physical) is intolerable and they want to let it out in less violent manner than head banging or smashing something down or hurting themselves or others around them. And who is the first one to make such discrimination in the early years of the child?

Similarly, if a man is jobless, then he is unfit to even be called a man. This creates undue pressure on boys (especially in their final year of college) to secure a job offer (at least one) before the final semester ends. They are stressed out if they do not get selected in the first few companies that come for campus recruitment. Whereas a girl with a similar qualification but jobless is considered ready for marriage and not even given a chance to pursue other opportunities or higher studies (especially outside their hometown). 

Not only this, it is un-manly to do house hold chores. Men who help their wives with the house hold chores are called by various nick names one of which is "Hen Pecked" - (Joru ka gulam in Hindi and Pondaati Daasan in Tamil). And who do you think tells this? In most cases, it is the mother of the boy and the other ladies of the house! But the same men can help their mothers with the house hold chores. There is nothing wrong in that. They are just being a very faithful son. How can the same activity be right in one instance and wrong in the other? When a woman handles the finances of the house, deals with monthly payments, is more than willing to handle strangers or government officials when they come at the door step instead of turning them away saying their husband or father is not home so they should come at another time, is being too brash and dominating. She disrespects the man of the house. Really?

In India, I see most mothers sending very confusing messages to their children and setting a very bad example. This will only to lead to confused adults, who never take responsibility for their actions and always keep searching for someone or something to blame for the mistakes. These individuals potentially commit such violent crimes.

Now, with so much of discrimination that the child has seen from birth till the age of 25 or so, what kind of reaction do you expect when you talk about the perils faced by women in the society? What answer can you expect from a man who grew up in such a discriminating environment when you ask him about the safety of lone women in world outside? His only answer would be she has to remain indoors. Outdoor job is a man's job! In similar lines, he would only blame a woman for being a victim of gender crimes especially rape. 

Outside India, these stories are no different and statistics spread on the Internet can support this fact. Even in all developed countries, sexual violence (especially rape) is the most "under-reported" violent crime. How many of us know that rapes in developed countries like USA is 5 times that of India, when the population of America is 1/4th of India? In terms of ranking, countries with highest registered rape crime includes USA, South Africa, Sweden, India and guess what, the European countries incl. UK, Germany and France! More stories from United Nations on "International Statistics on Crime and Justice". 

Not just rape, most cases of violence (including honor killing, suicide cases...) that we see are a result of this disparity instilled in early years. Punishing the (wo)man who commits the act of violence is not the only step forward to eradicating this evil. Instead a paradigm shift in the thought process of every man and women is the need of the hour. This solution can easily be achieved in one generation - by the young and to-be Mothers across the globe. If we as Mothers can stop ourselves for a minute when our DNA induced reaction kicks in (which is to differentiate) and constantly keep reminding ourselves not to differentiate between our boy and girl child, teach both of them at par on how to be good human beings (not just a good man or woman), not set different standards of right and wrong, not have different DOs and DON'Ts, then we can remove the unwanted stress that we thrust upon them to be an ideal man or woman. We remove the gender disparity that creates stress and is the root cause of most cases of violence. We just create a common baseline which is to be model citizen/human being who is considerate of their fellow human beings, irrespective of gender, caste, creed, religion, nation, skin color, economic status ...(will the list ever end?)

Recently, the hue and cry to ban a documentary, that might in all truthfulness reveal this gender disparity that is so deep rooted in our culture, which is the real reason for such derogatory thoughts on women and various acts of violence and intolerance towards each other, shows how much we do not want to face the reality and would love living in a pseudo-contentment that our culture is the best in the world! Our culture was probably the best a long long time ago. Now we have a very confused view about lots of things due to our addiction to media and western (or should I say foreign) glam. Maybe it is time to step back and take a critical look at what we are all about and start changing for the better.

I am not sure how much of a change on online petition can bring about, but there is no harm in trying.. Those who think it is time to face reality and move ahead to create a change in our mindset, you can sign the below petition requesting to remove the ban on screening the documentary in India.

In fact, if what the people are protesting for the ban think is true, that this is a ploy to defame the country, banning it in India is not going to stop the defamation, it will only keep the Indians in the dark about what the documentary is all about. Instead, viewing it might influence our mentality in a positive way for change. Let us first understand what we are against. As an old Tamil saying implies a cat with its eyes closed always wonders why the world is dark- meaning, being ignorant of the facts only harms you, not the world around you!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Do you feel like an "Island" surrounded by Land?

Couple of my friends inspired this post - Few days back during a discussion I happen to tell my friends, what I have been going through in the last couple of months. And BAM ! I got a synchronous response from both of them that despite all those things I have managed to keep my smiling face up and go on as though everything was fine with me. Till then, I never realized that the things I was going through was something of a big deal. But when I heard the response, it made me think that most of us grown-ups actually do this without even thinking twice because it is the grown up way of life.

So now, to what actually happened in the last couple of months... During our vacation to Italy last Christmas we were robbed of our bag at a station, with just 10 minutes left to board our train to our next destination. That bag contained most of our valuables (laptop, mobile phone, cameras..) and our travel documents. I was devastated... Literally crumbled. My husband, though was shaken up, handled it with more finesse and tried to find a police station to lodge a complaint and then proceed from then on. My daughter (7 year old) acted more matured than me and gave me the strength to get out of the feeling of despair. Her statement "Mom, this is your first time losing something... So do not cry. It is not your fault. You are always very careful. We know you cannot be careless." That jolted me out of the feeling and made me speechless for almost half hour. I just hugged her could not let go. In the meantime, my husband came back saying there were no police stations open close by, as it was Christmas. So we went back into the city to file the complaint, got the police report and then took a train in the evening, and continued on our vacation.

On reaching home after our vacation, I was "phone-less", so my husband decided to surprise me with a smartphone (even better than the one that we lost), and got me a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Lite. It worked fine for 2 weeks only to start making "weird" noises every time I made or received a call. When I went to the shop to see if it can be replaced, I was told that I missed the return timeline by 3 days and hence it can only be taken up for repair and that it would take 3 weeks for the same. They usually would replace me with a temporary phone, not so high end model, till my phone got back from repair, but then at that moment, they did not even have one spare piece for me so I was without a phone again.

Then we start with the process of getting our duplicate passports done at Paris, only to find that the  application forms we filled for our passports was incorrect and that my husband had to make another trip to Paris just to do the submission again. The day he was in Paris to submit the forms the second time, was the fateful day of the Charlie Hebdo shooting that took 12 lives. Thank God, he was safe and returned back home in Lyon !

At the City office here in Lyon, while applying for the duplicate French resident cards, we were asked for 2 missing documents for our children, which we were not told about earlier by our agent. One of them needed an appointment with the children's pediatrician. You might be thinking why these are all a big thing... It is, for me because, I am in a country where they do not speak the three languages that I am fluent in, nor do they know the two more that I can manage by. You see when you come from India (a country with 22 official languages), you naturally tend to be bilingual (or multilingual) by default. Some people pick up 2 or more than the default state language and English. But France did not speak any of this and so I needed a translator with me for every task including the basic task of fixing an appointment with the paediatrician.

A midst all this frustrations, I get another news from home a very very bad one... a death of a family member. I was devastated again. I cried myself to the level where I think I fainted, but fortunately that happened after I picked up my children from school and came home, gave them their evening snack and ensured that they were safe enough, before I gave in to my physical weakness. My husband who halfheartedly left to office on a Monday afternoon (due to the worry that I was driving myself crazy with the news of this particular death) after I left to school to pick up the children, because he had a very important meeting that he could not avoid or postpone, came rushing back from office at 7:30 p.m. cancelling his remaining meetings. He was concerned hearing my trembling voice on the phone that he claimed to have made to my mobile, which I still cannot recollect as I was half asleep (or faint).

All the above events happened in less than 2 months !! In addition to this, I have been struggling with my hormones right from the time I delivered my son three years back (maybe they never got to normal after my first delivery 7 years ago). They are still not back to the stage where I would love them to be so that I can stay calm and composed.

Despite all this, looks like I have never failed to put a smiling face in front of me. That is what my friends told me (and they did not even know about my hormones). Emotionally, everyday is a struggle. But when I heard them say that, it struck me that I am not alone in this. 'Coz, a friend of mine has also been struggling with similar hormonal imbalances after child delivery (which I seem to find is pretty common. Just that people back home never touched up on the subject at all as they do once you are outside India). When we were discussing about our ordeal in Italy, a couple of our friends shared their own personal encounters of losing documents, pick pockets and near-brushes with bag snatches and such. And there is news of death everywhere around us, some of which are just because someone did not want to reach outside for help to deal with their problems (emotional, psychological or physical), and thought that if they could not deal with it by themselves then they were not grown up enough or that they might bring shame to themselves and their family and friends if they discussed their problems, or some such stupid reason.

This is what inspired me to pen my emotional turmoil into a post and reach out to all those who are keeping it within themselves thinking it is the grown up thing to do, not to get bogged down by the weight of those emotions and thoughts. I am thankful for the family and the friends network that I have had, who have always been there around when ever and how ever I have needed them. Remember that those who know you well enough will never judge you when you share your problems and ask for help, and those who judge you do not matter 'coz you do not need that kind of judgmental help in your life as it will only add on to your already existing burden. But know that, if you ask, and when you ask for help, there are a lot of people around you who are more than willing to help you out and stand by you in your time of distress. You do not have to suffer alone. Children understand the need for meltdowns more than us grown ups. They are more forgiving towards the meltdowns that you have due to the stress in your life because they know the pain of frustration. Along the way, when we grow up, we forget that it is okay to meltdown once in a while and when someone has a melt down, all they might just need is a listening ear or a simple hug to make them feel better. Instead, most of us start getting judgmental or providing unwarranted advises.

Remember: When ever you feel let down, or lonely, it is not because the world has isolated you. It is because, you have done it to yourself with your thought of "What would the world think about me if ....?"; forget about that. If you need help, support, anything at all, do not hesitate to ask. As long as you don't ask, no one will know what you want or even empathize at the right level. If you think just the family or friends' support will not be enough, do not hesitate to accept that fact first and then convince your family or your loved ones that you need professional help and that  you need them to stand by you when you are going through the treatment or process. Unless you personally are able to accept that there is a problem, you will never be able to convince those around you that you need their help. Overcome the default reaction of denial that we are so programmed to do as part of adulthood. Thanks to technology, help is not far (social, media, counselling...) and informed decisions can be made at the right time, with the right balance.

Wise people say "Truth almost always hurts, but accepting truth can be liberating".  With acceptance comes a road to new solutions and eventually get you to tackle the situation. Let us break the walls around us that make us an "island" surrounded by land. Let us make a positive use of being a part of a community/society and work towards a better one, and put that smiling face on you !