The Virus That Needs Checking

I’d Rather Help Those Who Need It Than Just Get Stressed Over Increasing Infection Numbers!

(This was published on Women’s Web, and the link above is to their website)

I have stopped watching the infection numbers except maybe once a day or once in two days. It’s not like I decide policy or have to prep hospitals or manufacture PPE. For what I need to do, I don’t need a constant flow of fearful news. Not do I need false assurances and Pavlovian endorphin surges.
I need to know how to help myself. And those in even greater need. I have volunteered with some community initiatives. It keeps me busy and helpful and real.
Fear and anxiety can become chronic in us and rarely convert into constructive action. So also with fake cheer and false assurances and cheery actions disconnected from facts. So. Let’s watch our thoughts. Let’s watch the information we consume and share. Lets watch our responses to events, to our own thoughts, to mind-control propaganda.
Let’s go beyond obsessive compulsive enmeshment with the corona virus alone. Do what is useful. Help those who face joblessness, homelessness and hunger because of the lockdown. Volunteer in your neighbourhood. Teach something online. Learn something new. Clean. Sort. Your mind. Your space. Exercise. Stay healthy and curious and kind.
This too shall pass. But the bad habits of our mind and heart will stay, and cause greater harm. Even the new virus perhaps would not have harmed as much if we had better checks, better infrastructure and better policy. Why are poor migrants stranded between their native place and their workplace, both locations refusing to shelter them? Why did no one anticipate this before ordering everything to shut? Or was it factored in as collateral damage? To what end was it counted as a worthy sacrifice? What about their social distancing and sanitation? Does it matter or not? Why are there different rules for different folks? Aren’t villages to be in lockdown too? Then why are the migrants being not kept sheltered in place where they work instead of being forced to trudge to their village where they might be carriers of havoc?
How will food supply continue if workers are beat up, farm labour pulled out and Mandis shut? What happens to the imminent harvest? The planting of the next crop?
Rationality with empathy is the best tool to tackle a big new crisis. A lockdown may be required. While it is in place, let us maintain it. But also let’s not forget that this is a lopsided lockdown that hadn’t been thought through and is letting down many instead of protecting them.
Do all that needs done. But keep perspective too. It is all too easy to find one thing – the virus – to rail against in this moment. But that is not enough if we want to truly get through this with good lessons learnt and better systems in place. Is it enough that I and my family are safe? Is it enough that I can go to a posh private hospital and corner scarce health care resources? Online lessons for my children, and work from home for white collar knowledge workers is great, but what about those who don’t get any part of this? Corona virus isn’t the beginning of our problems of public health and overall governance and social and economic inequity, nor the end.
Let these few weeks of sheltering in place make us ask better questions, imagine better answers. Then let us be better citizens and use all our rights and laws and privilege and power to create a better nation.


Women at Work


As March draws to a close, I think back on two key women and work-related hashtags that were dominant on my social media feed all month. There was IWD and there was this other rather viral campaign, which used the tags IAmWorking and GettingtoEqual. The latter had the theme of work at its core, and women shared what work meant to them and tagged other women to share their stories. I almost ended up writing about myself on the suggestion of another friend, but then I did not, out of a mix of confusion and laziness. I started thinking about an aspect common to many of the IAmWorking stories. These women were working, but their work was unpaid work, or paid very little. How was it a way of GettingtoEqual, then, and what really was the Equal all about?  Despite the unpaid work posts, there were no housewives claiming the hashtag as fit for their story of work. This caused me not a small level of confusion.

For a vast number of us who have careers or jobs when we marry, marriage leads to, first, the taking on of a double-shift of work – at home and outside – and sooner or later, to dropping out of paid work outside the home to stick with one work domain – the home. The data on leaking pipeline of mid-level women in the workforce is telling in this regard.  We don’t stop working, when we shift domains of work, but the reward system undergoes an abrupt change. 

Clearly, evaluation criteria differ for the work domains of home and outside. And so do the rewards. While almost all adult humans work, it is usually only women who work full-time at home, and even when they work outside their home, they still work many more hours at home than do men. Work in the outside world has far bigger financial worth, and housework (including caregiving, active parenting and childcare) has intangibles like contentment touted as their big reward. While so many changes have come about in how the law looks at marriage, and at women’s property rights, what hasn’t changed is the difference in how the world looks at and rewards two clearly gendered and separate domains of work.

We assume that the answer to this discriminatory situation, this lack of financial empowerment for domestic work and for the women who do the work, is that all women must work outside the home. I was taught to think so, and I teach the same to my daughter. But the fact is, I also see many chinks in this argument, and today I want to call them out loud.

was working full-time, years ago, and seemed to have it all, balancing my marital home and parenthood. And then suddenly, a series of crises made it imperative to make a choice to stay at home. The thing I wonder about is, was it really a choice?  It was a fait accompli that life served up. It wasn’t quite a matter of choosing. It was a matter of coping, with the greater good in mind. It was a choice between a career outside the home and the safety and well-being of my children, if one insists on still seeing it in terms of choice. It meant financial disempowerment was the price for the safety of my children. Is that an equation anyone can ever balance?  When the family kitty shrunk, from a double income to one, was it fair to demand that the children’s father make a provision for putting aside a part of his salary as my ‘allowance’ in addition to household expenses and basics like food, clothes, etc.?

I had thought I was working as an equal. Suddenly, out of the blue, I was not quite equal. I was the one who, when asked by strangers at parties as to what I did, started responding with ‘Nothing.’ As though it could ever be true for anyone! But people did seem to accept my ‘nothing’ as a valid, true descriptor for the nature of my work. Did my work in the home not deserve more? And did I not deserve some financial power for the work of helping build a family and a home, especially since it was my body that gave birth and fed the children of that family? Without money of my own, could I feel even remotely empowered, never mind how much my husband ‘allowed’ me to spend

Does all work count as work only when it performed outside the domestic sphere in the modern world? Has the time come to change the paradigm of work and how we reward it?  Can we imagine treating domestic work as serious work, on par with every other kind of officially recognised work, and as a contributor to the GDP? Could we perhaps create ESOPS like value for such work that could be encashed? Perhaps that would be the way to ensure that all who do such work be seen and counted as real workers, with real jobs.

Perhaps then IAmWorking could be the hashtag housewives would use with as much pride as other workers.


What I Think of When I Think of Kindness


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I have been thinking a lot about kindness lately, and I have begun to doubt our sincerity around what we say about being kind. We don’t have any celebrations focused on kindness, the way we celebrate love, romance, heroic deeds, bravery, beauty, wealth, and physical strength. Even when we venerate saints and prophets who are exemplars of kindness- like Jesus, Guru Nanak, Dalai Lama or Ma Anadamayi – we put them on a pedestal and distance their qualities from their and our humanity.

We say we want to be treated with kindness. We seem hurt by meanness. And yet, mostly when we are face to face with selfless, random kindness we don’t accept it at face value. We look for hidden agendas; we doubt. We calculate and measure how much of kindness we may dispense to whom, why and when. We weigh it by the results it might get us, rather than be kind because we feel kind. But what if we played this differently? I was reminded of one such different encounter when a Facebook friend posted pictures of her visit to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles some days ago. Years ago, I too had visited this area on the slopes of iconic Mount Hollywood, with my son. What had made the outing particularly memorable and special was our taxi driver for the day, and his quality of kindness.

We say we want to be treated with kindness. We seem hurt by meanness. And yet, mostly when we are face to face with selfless, random kindness we don’t accept it at face value.

The cabbie was a sociology graduate from Berkeley, and was driving a cab to pay for his second degree, this time from film school. He shared with us stories of some of his favorite films and plays, and then told us about the script he was working on. By the time he drove us to the Observatory, I knew his life story, and he knew some of ours. His ancestors had been brought to America as slaves and he had grown up poor and abused. He was fifty-two when we met, but he looked thirty something. He was very careful with his health, he said, because he had only himself to care for himself. He ate with care, he meditated, and he spoke with care, he told us. He hoped to marry and have at least one child soon, but if that didn’t happen, he was okay with that too. He was not a science student, but he could hold his own in discussions on astrophysics with my son.

At the observatory, specially because of my son’s passion for astrophysics, he asked us if we wanted more time at this place – more time than we had fixed with him when we hired him to drive us around. We said we would have liked it, but our taxi budget was really already stretched to the limit. We could not afford to pay for waiting time. So a short visit would have to do.

“No, you don’t worry about that. You stay longer. Take your time. I will find a spot of free parking and wait. No extra charge.”

Our cabbie was going to have a siesta in the extra time we took to look around. Since he loved his siesta, he saw no reason to charge us extra. We could stick to our budget and have extra time out. He could keep to a personal routine he enjoyed.

My own experience, again and again, is that in so many places, in so many avatars across the world, people are kind to each other for no apparent reason.

We returned to the cab after a lovely afternoon of explorations and discoveries and shared our photographs with the cabbie. He offered to take a few more at the location we were parked at, with the Hollywood sign in the background. Then we drove off back to LA as the silver sky spangled with advertising balloons turned rose pink above us, and the ocean turned a darker shade of navy blue on the far horizon. Stuck in traffic in LA’s evening rush hour as the cab crawled into the city, our driver wanted to know if we had plans for dinner. He said he was asking because we were passing very close to his neighborhood, and it was dinner time, and if we stopped somewhere for dinner now, he too could make a quick trip home, have his home-made dinner and get back to us to drop us home. Of course he would not charge us for the few extra kms or time this might involve. We did not argue with his logic.

Can we also own up to kindness as easily, as something that is an integral, authentic part of us?

When I share this story, it strikes people as unusual. But my own experience, again and again, is that in so many places, in so many avatars across the world, people are kind to each other for no apparent reason. And yet, we treat kindness as a fluke, and accept meanness, hatred, violence, greed, dishonesty as givens, and look out for them and guard against them.

Can we also own up to kindness as easily, as something that is an integral, authentic part of us? Could we do this not to get kindness in return, or because it will make us popular or well liked, but because for the world to be a kinder place, kindness has to begin with us first.

I do believe it was our cabbie’s choice to be always kind to his own self, to rest when he needed to rest, and to eat when he needed to eat, which also made him pass on kindness to us. All real kindness is an inside job, a gift to our self. When we are full, it spills over and spreads in the world.

(This piece was first published in

Why Make the Effort

I am sometimes asked what am I doing with the writing community and the writing sessions, reader events and courses we run. I am asked about the viability of this, about the business model, and plans for the future. A very popular and gifted writer who held a session with us left me
speechless when she asked me, ‘Why work so hard, make all the effort?’ When I take such questions seriously, I falter with my replies. I wonder if I can come up with a good enough reason to stay the course.
I sometimes also feel like a pretender and wonder about the point of any of this, given how wary and shy I am about putting my own work in the public domain. Then there are days like yesterday, that shine a light so clear that all doubts and questions turn transparent vapour.
The last session of our short summer writing course stretches late into the night. There is a festive, celebratory mood as one of the participants has arrived at a professional and personal milestone. She has brought wine and chocolate to share. Another participant has got us cupcakes. Someone has brought their child along, as there was no babysitter available. My pet dog is a good babysitter, we discover. I bring out a basket of celebratory chocolates as well, as there is a personal milestone in my family too.
We get down to work.
After everyone leaves, I look back at the four weeks that have gone by, when stories have emerged from almost nothing into lifetimes of yearning, homecoming, loving and losing. Where I have seen someone move from not writing a full page to seeing stories in every moment and everything. I see the difference it makes when someone recognises the story they want to tell, and have had in them for ever, but had always ignored. I see what happens when we allow each other permission to own our stories and our life experiences, and our dreams and flights of imagination. I see us all hold space for each other, so that our words do not falter, and our sentences stay together.
And even though I don’t always find clear answers, for why and how this group makes sense, or the nature of my work, or what it adds up to in the bigger scheme of things, I feel the questions change. I sense dreams waiting to step into the world, eager to be shaped in new forms. I feel the power of speaking up, of writing things out, of sitting back and hearing a story read out loud. I share the lightness which comes when the unsaid and the unheard no longer weighs down your blood and bones. I feel the strength in bonds of friendship and in our coming together in vulnerability and trust. I fall in love once more, and I know love takes work.

Why be Limited by Our Blind Spots?


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“By God’s Grace, everything is good with us. Everything is fine, we are happy, and touchwood, no issues like that.”

RK’s smile was bursting with pride and relief, and something else indefinable. She rubbed her hands. In glee, or relief, or was it thanksgiving? MV could not say. The impassioned comment was a response to a question MV had asked. A question about marital status. MV had no intention or interest in RK’s marital status, though. They had met for a work related conversation. They didn’t know each other personally or socially. But just a minute ago, RK had raised the matter of MV’s marital status.

“You support these causes with passion and put in so much work. It is very admirable.” The comment was one MV heard often. She took it as a compliment. She thanked RK for the acknowledgement. RK’s was an impressive CV, with global business success and pioneering, groundbreaking initiatives to her credit. MV felt good that such a sassy, smart woman appreciated her own small-scale pioneering endeavors. MV felt especially gratified when women built the sisterhood, when they leaned in.

But RK wasn’t done. “I haven’t heard a mention of a spouse all this time. I am assuming you are single, or divorced? Not that it matters to me. But you seem so free, so unburdened.”

“None of your business” was the response MV almost let out. But then she decided to play RK a little. She had asked for it, really. MV told her that while she was still legally married, the very cordial relationship she and her (un)spouse shared no longer fit the conventional rules of marital engagement. That she believed there were ways and ways to configure domestic arrangements, within or outside the framework of a typical heteronormative marriage, and it should really be no one else’s business except of those really in the thick of the situation. And then, she asked RK the same question.

“I didn’t think any of this was relevant to our conversation or the task we are working on, but since you brought it up, I felt I must take it head-on, and make a few things clear. And then RK, I must also ask you, what is your marital status?”

“By God’s Grace, everything is good with us. Everything is fine, we are happy, and touchwood, no issues like yours. It’s all working well.”

MV was not taken aback at all. That RK had needed to ask the question, framing it the way she did, had already revealed a blind spot.

“By God’s Grace. Really? No Issues like yours? Will you listen to yourself?” MV wasn’t letting this pass.

Surprise lit up RK’s face. Like a searchlight pulling apart a dark night.

MV would not let anyone force-fit her customised, hard-won, unique and rather fine, rather pleasant version of a good life, a good home, into RK’s definitions of lack of grace, lack of happiness, or not ‘working well.’ She had to lean in, push some notions aside.

“Did I say there were issues? Just because mine is a different situation from yours does not make it an ‘issue’. Okay? And what makes you think I do not feel fortunate to have the arrangement I have? Why this narrow imagination of what God’s grace can touch and not touch? My rules work well for me. What didn’t work was trying to fit into others versions of my life, my marriage. And you, of all people, should know better.”

The Wikipedia, describes a blind spot as “an obscuration of the visual field. A particular blind spot known as the physiological blind spot, “blind point”, or punctum caecum in medical literature, is the place in the visual field that lacks light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina. Because there are no cells to detect light on the optic disc, the corresponding part of the field of vision is invisible.”

Metaphorically, though, blind spots aren’t a matter of just our physical field of vision, or for motor vehicle drivers alone. Let me bring up a few more examples.

Mr A : “I live alone, so I can’t bring anything to the potluck.”

When I heard this from an adult male, I couldn’t let it pass.

“What does living alone have to do with getting some bit of nashta to this meet-up?” I asked.

Mr A’s face was a perfect composite of coy smile and superior grin.

“You see, you didn’t get me. I am unmarried. And I live alone.”

“Alright, so what is your issue, if you live alone? Thing is, if you are eating at home, you could also bring something for these sessions. We aren’t talking big amounts or complicated dishes.”

The grin had left his face. Silent stupefaction remained. The conversation was interrupted and then moved on to other logistical matters.

As the meeting came to an end, my friend and I walked to the door. Mr S, who was already at the door, smiled at us.

“I love the interesting points you ladies raise. Would love to know more about your thoughts. But tell me, how do you manage to come here, all the way early in the morning?”

“Oh, it is truly no problem with the Metro and all the cab options…”

He wasn’t really asking how we got there, more the fool me. He wanted to know how we managed to get away at all. Even while he and ten other men were also there at the same time as us, on the same Sundays.

“No, no, of course, of course Uber and Metro are fine. I meant, how do you come – I mean, you cook breakfast and lunch early on Sunday, for the family, before you come here? How do you manage that?”

I am sure Mr S was very interested in us. He just couldn’t see us as anything beyond a certain role he had framed in his mind’s eye.


What are we going to do about these automatic patterns, these blind spots of thought and belief and words?  To add to the biology lesson I shared earlier, “as there are no cells to detect light on a part of the optic disc, the corresponding part of the field of vision is invisible.” Our biology may be a given in this matter. But not so our mental perceptual field. Why must we block the light of open-minded acceptance, of alternate possibilities, in our mental models? How about more inclusive, diversity-spectrum thinking, in place of this or that, black or white categories?

To go back to the physiology of vision, ” although all vertebrates (humans being included) have this blind spot, cephalopod eyes (of which the octopus is an example), though superficially similar, do not. In them, the optic nerve approaches the receptors from behind, so it does not create a break in the retina.” Therefore, cephalopod eyes have complete visual perception of their visual field.

May we all learn to see from the cephalopods then. May we channel our inner octopus. Let that be the new metaphor for perfect vision.  May we build fresh possibilities of connection, instead of rigid, predetermined frames, which box us in isolation and otherness.

This was first published here.


I have been writing and reading a lot of women focused work the past two months. My essay on a related theme has been published in the WE Anthology Equiverse Space this month. I have been explaining a lot of stuff to my daughter about hidden bias and the erasing that women face in reporting on news and in documentation of our lives and times. This is also the time I have started work with a small group of women on exploring our deepest selves as beings, sans, societal roles and frameworks.

Most apt then that I also read Shaili Chopra and Meghna Pant’s Feminist Rani (Penguin 2018) at this point, just after I finished Interrogating Motherhood by Jasodhara Bagchi ( Sage Publications, 2017; Theorising Feminism series). Feminist Rani is a collection of fourteen essays based on interviews with fourteen remarkable and often time pioneering persons from many walks of life. Most are well known names, a few somewhat less known. While I do think it is arguable if they are, as the cover tag line says, ‘India’s most powerful voices of Gender Equality’, it is no argument at all that these are vital voices that need to be documented. These are stories that need to be household talk in our homes, in our friends; circles, if we want to see a better dawn for all genders and gender relations.
The fourteen life stories come from Kalki Koechlin, Gurmeher Kaur, Sapna Bhavnani, Aditi Mittal, Tanmay Bhatt, Deepa Malik, Malishka Mendonsa, Ankhi Das, Aarefa Johari, Rohini Shirke, Rana Ayyub, Sorabh Pant, Shree Guari Sawant. Some of the pieces are written by Shaili, some by Meghna. The essays in the Prologue and Introduction by the two authors are also very direct, personal and jargon free. Overall the book is immensely readable, relatable and relevant. It brings the often times vexed topic of Feminism into the day to day discourse of life, and takes a very necessary pluralistic editorial approach to the matter. Reminiscent of Roxanne Gay calling herself a ‘bad feminist’, Meghna Pant’s writes, “India’s inherent heterogeneity has led to multiple patriarchies, which has led to multiple feminisms. Feminism in India does not abide by a singular narrative, which leads to dissension within ranks and outside. This weakens the movement. Even if my feminism is not your feminism, it is still feminism. We are united by a singular cause’.
The subjects tell their stories, and there are a series of common themed questions they authors ask them, and weave into the narrative. There are some revelations, some epiphanies and a lot to make the reader pause and ponder. The stories – honest, varied and memorable, will stay with you long after the slim and fast reading book is back in the shelf. As you read about how the fourteen people in the book resurrected themselves, found and spoke their truth, I hope you too will find in yourself a Feminist Rani, whatever be your gender. As Shaili Chopra says in the Introduction, “This book is a rich and powerful source of experiences and stories by people not afraid to be different, to voice an opinion, question current beliefs, and posit a new, more inclusive future. Regardless of their gender, complexion and sexual preferences, these people believe in equality of all. For them, feminism isn’t a poster on the wall, it is an unseen, empowering belief and force.’
And then, if like me, you want something more grounded in academic rigor, theory and history, there is Interrogating Motherhood. This slim and richly packed volume unpacks the complex construction of the modern day Mother archetype in India in the context of our past, Hindu mythology, social structure, colonialism and the Nationalist struggle, and does all this with the lens of Feminism as a global movement refracted locally. As Series Editor Maithreyi Krishnaraj puts it, ‘Bagchi’s contribution is an admirable approach on the joys of motherhood as against the agony of motherhood embedded in social structures. …A puzzle in the social construction of motherhood is the contradictory delineation: veneration in the one hand, and on the other hand, deprivation of actual living mothers of enabling conditions that would reward their dedicated service in bringing forth the regeneration of the human being.’ This is a puzzle and a paradox at the heart of my examination of my gender and its place and enactment in society, family, home and my own psyche, and this is reason enough for me to recommend the book as a must read.

Lost Connections: Johann Hari. May 2018 Book Report.

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For all the familiarity with the term Depression, it is still shrouded in confusion. For all the exhortations for removing stigma and shame around those who suffer, there is still too little focus on context and systemic causes. Johann Harris is an award winning journalist and best selling writer who has suffered from depression since childhood. He has been taking medications since his teen years and believed that his condition was all about a chemical Imbalance that pills could put right. But his experience with drugs- while it provided some relief, specially early on, did not lead to lasting improvements. It led him to ask what wasn’t working and why. 

What he found in the course of his wide ranging investigation is the story of this book. 

The stories and data he investigates are surprising and shocking, as well as commonsensical and intuitive – sometimes all together. He looks at the nature of pharmaceutical research and trials and publishing of trial results. He looks at the nature of the experience of grief and other emotional and relational trauma. He looks at social context. He looks at man as part of the natural world. He talks to scientific and scholars and doctors and social workers. 

He comes to see that Depression is a lot more than a chemical imbalance that pills can put right for ever. Some of his suggestions for course correction are utopian and because they point to the need for systemic changes, they may sound impractical; and yet there is a core idea in all of it that is possible for us to follow in our lives and interactions.
Given pervasive thoughts of stress and anxiety in our lives, this is a book for all of us, a book that takes a wide angle sweep and a close up into what all of us are now touched by directly or indirectly. 

The October Book Report

It isn’t really about the books this time.   IMG_7372.JPGI had no plans to cover them in a review. More than books to read, they are a part of me, and echo some of what I experience in the wild mountain back of beyond-ness. They are about much more than hunting man-eating predators. They are rich nature and place writing. They are also excellent specimens of narrative and descriptive writing. And they offer a wonderfully detailed cultural history of the hills of Kumaon and Garhwal, of the government and social order prevalent then.
Heidi speaks to my love of mountains but its setting is alien and I am no longer a little girl. Innocent love of place and rootedness are common traits that attract me to Heidi and Ruskin Bond. Bond is a personal idol and a writer after my heart because he creates beautiful prose and eternal meaning out of nearly nothing, located mainly in the hills or other lost places and about lost people, evoking a nostalgia for gentler times and attitudes that are gone or fast fading away.
Bond’s is essentially an urbane sensibility-even when he writes about jungles or ghosts; gentle, mildly sardonic at times and always civilised and soothing. Whereas Jim Corbett is the essential loner of the wilderness, at home on the machan or marching on foot through the wilderness missing not a change in the wind or temperature, and noting his observations in meticulous methodical detail, courageous and unflinchingly honest with himself and others and with a rare capacity for seeing the bigger picture way ahead of his time. For all this, he too is a personal hero and an inspiration.
Today I realised I had reached the end of a month and had forgotten all about my monthly goal of a book report. I looked at my shelves for a book to report on, and saw these books. This is a personal account of my own and some others’ engagement with the matter of wilderness and Jim Corbett.
I first read Corbett as a school girl and was suitably impressed with the adventures and the romance of this invincible hunter. We lived in the forests of MP, in a pure Mowgli setting, and tales of wolves carrying off children were part of the legends we grew up with. My mother had lived this life before me in various raliway bunglows in places like Khurda Road, Umaria and Gondia. My father, an army officer had jungle survival as part of his professional training and had served in rathervwild places in Assam, and around the Chambal ravines in central India and had encountered nearly every kind of wildlife. So my childhood experiences in lonely army outposts on edges of jungles and always far removed from the urban sprawl were layered on the subsoil of my parents’ stories.
Encountering a cobra on way to school stopped sending shivers down the spine after one or two occasions. News arrived of tigers and bears being sighted during night patrols and we felt safe and snug inside our pucca homes with locks. Then a snake or a scorpio would be sighted slipping into the house and there’d be an hour or two of commotion to get it out. One day the Tandons found a cobra coiled over their breakfast and had a time chasing it out. That day Tandon Aunty had trouble concentrating on her teaching. She taught us Geography in the tin shed and tents collection of make do structures that served as our school. On a hike through the forest we were told how a bear had attacked a forest guard at the same forest inspection hut we were having our lunch at. We heard of hunters too.
So you see, Jim Corbett, Heidi and Ruskin Bond were what fit into my experience and imagination more easily than the glamorous and out of reach stuff occasional visitors from America, Bangalore or Delhi talked of. I had never owned or even seen shops that sold clothes like what they wore so casually, never imagined talking on topics they approached like experts. Books were practically my only window to the outside world, besides the summer holiday trip to a place of historical or geographical importance. Just once a movie came to town that made us feel our story was being told. The movie was Bahadur Bacche. Anyone recall the line ‘kitna maza Ballu? Maza hi maza”?
The ideas of conservation has not become common currency, so that aspect of Corbett remained beyond my ken. It came to me in high school via the Nature Club, when I moved to a metropolis. For the first time in my life I was far away from jungles or any kind of rusticity. At first I talked a lot about where I had come from, to my new city bred friends. They found me amusing, and were not impressed or interested at all in my rapturous recall of adventures from the middle of nowhere. Slowly I stopped talking of how much fun life was back in the wilderness. I got busy with all the preoccupations of an urban teen – clothes, fashion, crushes, gossip, music, movies, socialising, studying, clearing exams in school.
Then came college and getting a job.
There was an exciting detour back to the hills and jungles, after University. A hostel mate excitedly showed us an article in Inside Outside about the mountain home of an Uncle, Dr. Lal of Sitla, at the edge of the protected forest outside the IVRI at Mukteshwar. He ran an NGO Chirag in the mountain villages around, and Smitie Misra and I promptly wrote to him to let us intern at CHIRAG. Killing two birds with one stone we were. The long walks from our village rental
abode to the Post Office in Mukteshwar to encash our travellers cheques are etched in memory. The hoofbeat of the herd of racing deer, the never seen but always felt presence of leopards and the singular sighting of a fox in a field of golden wheat are still fresh without the help of any day to day fb records. For all my love for the life far from the chaos or the city, I was beset with doubts and the then unlabelled and unsaid FOMO when ime came to take up a regular job offer from Chirag. I came back to the rather predictable urban middle class trajectory of job, marriage, kids, slowly sidelining own career and dreams to family needs and husband’s priorities and so on. But the Chirag experience marked and taught me much for life.
Ages later, I started getting reacquainted with the wild in a more intimate way. Small hikes and overnight camping led to bigger steps. I hiked in the buffer zone of Corbett along trails made or followed by Corbett. I learnt of his hunts and his transition to a conservation advocate. I visited his home in Nainital and at the villages he helped settle around Choti Halwani, near Kaladunghi, and the canal network he initiated for agriculture. He is still fondly recalled as Carpet Saheb by the locals there.
On the Corbett trail from Kaladhungi to Powalgarh, the writing in his books came alive with every step. As it does every time I cross through Haridwar into Rishikesh and start climbing towards my home ahead of Rudraprayag.
I have come here nearly a century after Corbett did, chasing dreams snd goals very different from his, with abilities not a patch on his (to me) divine powers. Yet, reading his The ManEater of Rudraprayag is the best testimony to what I witness on my journey here.
I always assumed most people who come to these areas are somewhat familiar with Corbett and his work. Imagine my surprise when a recent group of travellers turned out to have no idea about who Jim Corbett was and why a national Park they visited before arriving here is named so. Another visitor claimed to be a wildlife fanatic. On a hike to a nearby temple he insisted on returning from almost near the summit because “leopards are crazy” and the sun would set soon and he knew all about the mad and cruel ways of wild animals from watching youtube. I wish Jim Corbett ‘s bhooth haunts that fellow till he learns the proper way to educate himself about wild things.

My Daughters’ Mum : By Natasha Badhwar. My Book Report for September

“I write for you and me and for a gentler, more just world.”

Catharsis is a word I avoid using in any context. Even when friends, well-wishers and experts offer it as an explanation for what they see happening with me. Or suggest it as a necessary step to deal with an issue. It is not because I don’t like the word or don’t believe in the process. Just the opposite, in fact. I treat catharsis as a sacred precious gift; the word carries so much value for me that I don’t want it made trite in the world of easy sound bytes and trending catch phrases.

So it is with a lot of thought that I call Natasha Badhwar’s debut book a cathartic read. My Daughters’ Mum is an extraordinary book in its candour. The author writes with such self-reflexive vulnerability that you forget you are reading another person’s writing. You feel your heart spill out on the page. Through tears and smiles, and heaving and sinking heart the book embraces the reader, cleansing many heartaches and allowing one to celebrate unspoken joys. You recognise memories you had dumped away, you reclaim parts you had been too ashamed to include in your narrative of self. You examine what you have known; you let yourself be drawn into speculating on the unknown.

The theme of coming home to a place in this world, and a place inside yourself is the big story of this marvellously loving collection of deeply personal essays. The theme holds together carefully curated sections from Natasha’s long running Mint Lounge column. As a regular reader, it makes me happy that the stories of the column, with their message of love, hope, inclusion and the vision of a different, kinder world now have another home with an even wider accessibility. The editor and writer have skilfully structured the collection in a way that feels like a seamless narration of an ongoing conversation.

Part memoir, part essay, part record of our times, there is nothing the book does not touch. Birth family, mothers and daughters, parents, nation, others, love, work, interfaith marriage, friends, grief, death, births, self-love, identity, nationality, changing times, family, in-laws, maids, working from home, road trips, childhood, college, siblings – it is all there, in Natasha’s warm and smart prose. No motherhoods preached, no rules that are claimed as fail proof. Just brave and honest sharing of personal experiences, insights and revelations.

Sample this, on parenting:

“I had never really felt so lonely. Clearly, I had spread myself too thin; the urban myth of the supermom had trapped me. I looked good, but I felt terrible.
All at once, parenting proved to be a test of loyalty. Was I willing to be loyal to myself? I didn’t have much practice in this area. It had always been much easier to be loyal to friends, trends and gadgets.
I had to come to terms with a few grand truths. For one, I would be able to raise our kids well only if I first raised myself well…I had also to learn to pamper the child in me – love her, appreciate her, make her happy.”

In the chapter titled A Technology Chowkidar At Home, Natasha takes head on the issue many young and not so young parents mention all too often as an obstacle to stay away from negative media.

“Despite my intense love for gadgets…I am the self-appointed watchman who moderates access to technology in family spaces. …We barely listen to each other. We are often way behind in keeping track of each other’s creative milestones…we all need some time to share our experiences with each other So we do things that may seem odd to other families. …I do not want us to be a family of Western-consumerist-culture-addicted-Anglophones. We do not want to find ourselves scavenging for comfort amid the clutter of shallow, raucous media content with limited shelf life. I want variety in our lives. Slowness. Pauses. Daydreaming and imaginary friends. I don’t want to prepare our children for the ‘real world’. I want us and them to have the confidence that we can create the world we want to live in. We don’t have to fit into pre-fabricated moulds. We are free to discover and relate to our inner and outer worlds at our own pace. We can pick and chose. This is real life.”

Natasha’s writing is always crisp, the chapters short and sentences light. Such nimble handling of weighty and gut wrenchingly loaded topics is a feat this slim book achieves with élan. I have a feeling that the author’s experience as a TV newsperson and filmmaker, and then coach has definitely helped her create the light as air feel for this warm as pashmina coziness of a book.

If like me, you are a dreamer who wants to persist on this path despite an often broken heart and habitually weary feet, go get yourself this dose of solidarity and encouragement. Keep the tissues on hand, and start reading. You will go on a journey of your life, I promise you. In Natasha’s words reflecting on the wreckage of a riot she watched as a young girl, “Our heart breaks and somehow we keep working. Lives are wrecked and people get back to building homes again. We lose hope and then we find a way to believe once more. We often despair that we are too cynical but we are all constantly creating, restoring, healing, trying to reassemble broken pieces. ” I like to believe she speaks for a lot of us

Gloom and doom everywhere

Life and Times in Bangalore

And what do we have to hold on to?

A journalist murdered, a child murdered in a school, rain havoc in Bangalore, climate change causing widespread natural devastation…everywhere one looks, it feels like things are breaking down.  And then the politics of it and politicians step in and just do us all in.  From mayor to minister to Chief Minister/Prime Minister…everyone is part of the same rot.  Anyone speaks up, do away with them…attack them verbally, ideologically but with personal insults, plant evidence and use official power networks – they ALL do it, all parties, power seems to irreversibly corrupt people even as they continue to mouth platitudes and quote Mahatma Gandhi!  Poor man, if only he could have seen the state of his country, something he laid his life down for in this state!

I can’t talk anymore of the negative stuff happening – every fiery speech blaming someone…

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Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The most thorough review of The Ministry Of Utmost happiness that I have found useful. Besides the one written by Jerry Pinto. One which is as compassionate in tone as the writer of the book.
“The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies are now firmly the preserve of the fake-news expert, not the novelist.”

Till you can actually read the book, this is as good an introduction as any.

nilanjana s roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Arundhati Roy

Penguin Random House

464 pages

(A shorter version of this review is published in the Business Standard.)

In the same week that I began reading Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, published twenty years after her first, I came across an old interview between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Paris Review.

He says, “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”

The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies…

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Next up at Write & Beyond

This time we are having a reading workshop. Yes. One has to know how to read, in order to write well. To read not for entertainment, not for getting to know a story or a load of information. But to study the craft. The structure. To connect with the aesthetics of someone’s creation.

It takes some doing, and we are offering to get you started on this practice over a weekend. As always, a great time is promised, with lots of intense intimate interactions, learning, insights and reading and writing.

Register and book a spot soon. Thanks for being with us.

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

How beautifully and simply Pullman puts this need for art in life.

“It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives… Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.

But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before…Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; … it almost breaks their heart. … welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience …they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.

That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. “

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…

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On Being Good

This one says it simple and well, good.

The Belle Jar

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t preoccupied with my own goodness .

Am I good?

Am I good?

But am I good enough?

Good is a word that children hear early and often. A child probably hears the phrase “be good” – as an exhortation, a command, a plead – several times a day from several different adults. They might hear it so often that they won’t really be sure what good means except to know that they categorically aren’t.

By the time I was in kindergarten I thought that goodness existed as part of a binary, in the sense that either you were or you weren’t. It didn’t take me long to figure out what side of the equation I fell on; no matter how hard I tried to keep my thoughts to myself, to stay at my desk, to model myself after the prim little girls who sat so still…

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Oh, the people you’ll meet

From a very helpful and interesting blog I discovered about Writing! So, tell us, what inspires your writing?

What Inspires Your Writing?

Home, for Lori Rensink, will always be the farm she grew up on, where she spent her summers careree and barefoot. Fortunately, she never had to move during her childhood, so for all those years, turning onto that long, gravel driveway always meant one thing: she was almost home. But since the age of eighteen, this paralegal and possible future law school student has found herself moving twice a year. In fact, she says, she’s become quite the expert at packing and moving.

Not that that’s a bad thing?she’s just restless. And that restlessness has taken her far and wide. Whether she’s helping build houses in Mexico, attending a conference in Philadelphia, or just relaxing on a boat in Eufaula (Whofaula? It’s in Oklahoma), Lori obviously enjoys the company of the myriad people she meets along the way. And the time she spent working in a coffee…

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