Ekta- The Talk Show- Special Episode

This month, Ekta is taking a different form. If you’re new here and have no clue as to what I’m going on about, do keep reading as we have something super promising coming ahead! Hesitate not to check out some of the older episodes in this series Ep-1, Ep-2 and Ep-3.

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Ekta’s motto is talk your way to unity and is presented through hypothetical conversations between actual people holding diverse notions on certain issues.

Getting to the surprise part: We have a SPECIAL GUEST! No, not a hypothetical one, AN ACTUAL SPECIAL GUEST! This person is super-involved in sustainability and is an amazing blogger with ever-so-fresh content. She is an exemplary citizen of the natural world and strives to promote environmental welfare. Ofcourse you know who I’m talking about unless you’ve been living under a rock: let’s welcome Moksha from Happy Panda! *Drum roll*

Thank you so very much for being here today, Moksha! It’s wonderful to have someone I look up to right here with me, on my site.

Diwali is the largest festival in India and indisputably, one with the largest impact on the environment due to bursting of large amounts of firecrackers. Firecrackers are the very hallmark of the festival- from the spinning Chakras to the simple sparklers to the colourful flower pots to the thrilling 1000 walas to the stunning display of sky shots- It’s quite the time of marvel!

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Yet, these celebrations do not come without a cost. If we ban firecrackers altogether, it is likely to have large repercussions too. Today, we’re going to talk about the two sides of bursting firecrackers- the good, the bad, the ugly and the pretty. Moksha is going to present her points against firecrackers and I’m going to present my views in favour of firecrackers and what the extinction of this tradition could mean. Let’s begin!!

Sam: Firecrackers are the symbol, the essence, the life and the very soul of Diwali. Just imagine what the celebration hailed as the Festival of Lights would be like without firecrackers! Will it really be the Festival of Lights? It is, after all, the largest festival of India and one that brings people together- people of different religions, castes, backgrounds and economic statuses, all bursting crackers together, side by side. In a way, it is a harbinger of peace and social unity. A period of prolonged energy and happiness that cuts across all differences. I can’t think of a single Diwali I’ve celebrated without my Christian and Muslim friends, who also enjoy the festivities very much.

Moksha: Diwali is celebrated for the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya. There were no crackers burst to welcome him back. The people of Ayodhya simply lit Diyas. Crackers is a modern addition to this age old celebration. I also think tray sharing sweets, making rangoli or lighting Diyas together could become a new thing for people to do together.

What are some of your reasons for supporting/ opposing a ban on firecrackers?

Moksha: Every single action of ours adds up and hurts our planet especially in a country like ours with a population of 1.4 bn. If 1 billion people decided to waste 1 litre of clean drinking water on 1 day, would you be okay with letting 1 billion litres of cleaning water go to waste while some countries are in terrible need of it? Similarly, why would you want to let 1 billion people burst even 1 cracker each? (RIP ozone layer). We also hardly spare a thought to the animals that are impacted by the noise and smoke but strays and pets alike have the worst night of their lives. Additionally, firecrackers use plastic packaging, which leads to waste that takes years to decompose.

Sam: Banning fire-crackers comes with a political connotation that’s not to be ignored: It will be seen as a Hinduphobic statement and begin an upsurge among Hindu conservatives. This will then lead to a battle between religions, the conservatives and the liberals, and overall, serve as a recipe to kill our unity, the exact opposite of what firecrackers are known to promote. And of course, we need to support our labours of all sectors involved in this. In addition, these days, family time has become scarce. Bursting crackers together, sharing some fun moments and making memories in the light are things to cherish for life, strengthening relationships and promoting family-bonding moments.

Will a ban on firecrackers have an impact on the economy?

Sam: You see, the firecracker industry is worth 5000 Crores INR! That’s 50000000000 Rupees! Count all those zeroes and imagine what a loss it would be to our economy to impose a ban on such a huge business! 1000+ factories will have to be shut down, 1 million people directly employed in fire-cracker making as their primary profession and 5 million people indirectly employed will all be thrown to the streets to starve and the whole Town of Sivakasi that depends on Firecracker making to sustain itself (accounting for 3000 crore rupees of the net worth) will have to close. These employees are unskilled labours with no alternative professions to consider and no employment opportunities left available to them. Recently, the government has imposed strict bans on child labour in these factories and the crackers come with a stamp that validates the same.

Moksha: Lot of people claim that the livelihood of lot of poor depend on the industry. Firstly, they make minimal wages at these factories since it is mostly women and kids that they hire. The factory conditions are really unsafe. All of the profit is made by the evil company selling the crackers and other middlemen. While cracker companies may put a sticker saying the crackers are made without involvement of child labour, it is like other non-green companies that put eco-friendly stickers on their products- no one is verifying them. Also billion dollar companies go under from time to time with close to zero impact on the economy (Kingfisher and Jet Airways).

What are your concluding words?

Moksha: I know people are tired of being told that crackers cause pollution. It’s only1 day and how much impact does it have? The answer lies in what you see the morning after Diwali. The smog that engulfs Delhi in the days after Diwali is scary. There is grey film of pollution all over Delhi. The aftermath carries on for days after Diwali is over. For people with asthma and other lung problems, it is a literal nightmare the day of Diwali and even after.

While we’re on this topic, can I also add that leaving lights on all night is extremely wasteful and polluting since the amount of fossil fuels used to generate electricity to run those lights is a LOT. Please be mindful of that too. Leave lights on for 2-3 hours max. If you believe that God is everywhere, God is happy with just about a few minutes of light being switched off too.

Sam: The aftermath of Diwali, the mess that surrounds the roads can be used as an opportunity by the government for either of two things: Employment opportunities, or inculcating civil responsibility in citizens. The former can be achieved by giving temporary paid jobs to unskilled labours and the latter, by introducing fines and penalties for those who leave the remnants uncleaned.

Statistically speaking, firecrackers contribute only 0.03% to Global pollution. Is it the best idea to compromise on all the joy and the good many communal benefits it provides (IT BURNS THOSE DARNED MOSQUITOES TOO!) for what is, in reality, only a negligible contribution?

Now, the next speaker is going to be YOU! Let’s chat in the comments about what you think.

Wishing you all a very very happy, safe Diwali!

Ekta -The Talk Show- Ep 2

Disclaimer: All characters in Ekta Talk Show are modelled after REAL characters and their experiences are entirely based on true stories. Ekta is the manifestation of an imaginary conversation between these characters, in a hypothetical scenario of their meeting. Head straight to the conversation if you read ep- 1 and don’t need an introduction about Ekta. In this episode, my own experiences are shared through the character of Vriksha!

Ladies and gentlemen, a warm welcome to yet another enriching episode of our monthly talk show, Ekta. I’m Shubhang Mishra, the host for this show.

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If you are here for the first time, welcome warmly to a world of intriguing discussions, diverse perspectives and the story and struggles associated with both the sides of the coin. Ekta’s motto is: Talk your way to unity.

There is beauty in diversity and Ekta celebrates it through an open discussion between the holders of diverse notions and those who lie in opposite sides of the road- victim and perpetrator, leftist and rightist, impoverished and millionaire, and what not! Feel absolutely free to check out the First episode of Ekta!

Our guests today have both had to travel a long way to get here. Let’s welcome Vriksha Rao and Nandini Nair with a round of applause! Vriksha and Nandini, please take your seats.

Welcome to Ekta. Please tell us about yourselves and let our audience know why our team has picked you to be here with us today.

Nandini: Namaste, I’m Nandini Nair. I hail from God’s own country, Kerala. I happen to be the first transgender doctor of my state. It was a difficult yet promising road and Ekta wants me to share my experiences with the world, with an intention to inspire many more transgender men and women to follow their dreams.

Vriksha: I’m Vriksha, 16 years old, originally from AP but born and brought up in Tamil Nadu. Ekta’s team got in touch with me to interact with a transgender, which at that instant seemed ghastly, but I warmed up to the idea as I’ve always wanted to hear their story. They often come across as people one needs to be safe around, but I’m sure they’re not all the same.

Vriksha, you mentioned that one needs to be safe around transgenders. Does this apprehension stem from received notions and stereotypes or a personal encounter you had with a transgender?

Vriksha: Mine very much stems from personal experiences. Every little encounter I’ve had with transgenders has been absolutely traumatising. My mother tells me that their tendency to steal from and bully random people on the roads is mostly due to the stigma surrounding their gender, which we so insensitively endorse. God created a third gender, but WE created the stigma. So in a way, we have earned it.

Nandini: That’s a very considerate statement you’ve made, given that you’ve had nothing but unpleasant experiences with our community. I’d like to hear you elaborate on some of these traumatising instances you’d referred to.

Vriksha: There are plenty.

I was 8-years old, in an accessories store. The store was owned and run by very religious Muslims and they were diligent, sincere businessmen. That day, a trans woman happened to come by and demanded money from the man at the counter. He said there wasn’t enough money just yet and that they were yet to meet the day’s goal. The woman started swearing at the man, not a word that I could understand, yelled at him fiercely and asked him to give her the money. She said she’d take it herself if he did not oblige. He was stunned and didn’t know what to do as he’d be answerable to his owner if the day’s goals were not met. He gave her some money, but not enough to gratify her. She demanded more money, this time more aggressively, to which the man stood in utter stillness. She got out of the shop, stood in the busy pavement, STRIPPED OFF all her clothes and yelled violently, asking passer-bys for “justice”. She went on to remove all her layers and continued to yell. The man was extremely embarrassed. I was terrified and hid in a little corner upstairs, watching all of this.

In another instance, my mother was a victim. She was in a road-side tea shop with her colleague. A group of transgenders came by and demanded money. As she took out her purse to give them some money, one of them grabbed the purse, took all the cash and hid it in their sari. They said “I shall bless you and return as much of your money as God asks me to.” They took a substantial amount and gave her the rest. One simply cannot rebel against them. Our experiences have taught us that the hard way. There are many more but I shall stop here.

That is traumatising indeed for an 8 year old to witness, Vriksha. Nandini, can you tell us why transgenders behave the way they do and have such a reputation?

Nandini: When the transition happens during the teenage years, transgenders move out of their homes to live with their community. I was an exception, which is also due to the fact that I had supportive friends and family, unlike the case with the majority of them. They strive hard to find a job, which they may never accomplish due to the absence of tight laws to ensure their progress. They live in impoverished conditions, can’t get educated, which itself is a reason for their unemployment. Another reason they can’t get a job is, they’re TRANSGENDERS and no one would give them a job. Due to this, they harass people and earn a living. Their survival instincts push them to do so.

What were some of the challenges you faced in your journey?

Nandini: Naturally, the stigma surrounding the third gender affects me professionally quite a bit. Every successful transgender man and woman are SELF-MADE! They will not be handed a job due to scepticism. When they do find a job for themselves, they will not have regular customers or in my case, patients, due to the same reason- scepticism. We are doubted wherever we go and whatever we do. People are always cynical and believe wholly that we have a natural potential to be cunning. We cannot all swindle you of your fortune *Laughs*

Vriksha: Is the swindling justified?

Nandini: Absolutely not! It’s the survival instinct ofcourse, but it’s very much in our control.

Vriksha: HOW can you control it? How can you be empowered?

Nandini: We all have the power to do wonderful things- you, me and the audience. Education is a transformational wand. Unfortunately, transgenders are deprived of it. They are deprived of opportunities and support. Their families and friends neglect them. The LAW neglects them. When we cannot all afford to empower ourselves, the government needs to do something to help us. That’s why you and I pay them taxes. It’s not easy for us. It’s incredibly hard. But it isn’t supposed to be. Humans have made life so hard for each other!

If only we didn’t move out during our transition..

Vriksha: If only you didn’t “have to” move out during your transition! Our outlook definitely needs changing. When an animal looks at you, it knows you’re human. It’s only when a human looks at you that you come across as a “different” human. I wish humans look at you, and everyone, the same way animals do. Humans have a lot to learn from animals!

Nandini: Indeed they do. My MBBS degree is as much worthy as it is when a cis-gendered man earns it. After all, I did toil for 8 years to earn it.

Vriksha: I want to be a doctor. I face half the challenges you do. When the going gets tough, I shall remember you. You have inspired me infinitely! Thank you!

Vriksha and Nandini, we’re at the end of this segment. It was absolutely nourishing to watch your conversation bloom and they’ve all heard you loud and clear. It was a delight to have you with us today. So, ladies and gentlemen, see you again in the next episode. Until then, signing off, Shubhang Mishra!

Ekta -The Talk Show- Ep 1

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first episode of our monthly Talk Show, Ekta! I’m Shubhang Mishra, your host for today.

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Ekta (एकता) is Sanskrit for oneness- unity. The ideal state of existence and the way we were and are meant to be. At times, our profound diversity and differences challenge our harmony and misdirect our synergy. Ekta is the show for us to talk, listen and empathise with those whose stories are real, yet often unheard. Ekta is here for us to put our differences aside and UNITE!

We have with us today, two very special guests. Let’s welcome Amarpreet Kaur and Mohan Kumar with a round of applause! Our translator for today is scholar and multilingual, Farida Yasmin Sultana.

Mohan and Amarpreet, please take your seats and tell us all about yourselves- Your profession, upbringing, ambitions, just anything about yourselves that we’d be interested to know.

Amarpreet: Hello, I’m Amarpreet Kaur, I was born in Punjab and raised in Delhi. I have recently established my own startup, Techfast, a software solutions company and it has taken off on a high note. I grew up in an orthodox Sikh community. My parents always prioritised my education. I graduated from IIM with a degree in management. I also happen to be a state level badminton player.

Mohan: I’m Mohan Kumar. I am 60 years old and I come from Marudhampatti, a remote village in Tamil Nadu. Our village is hidden from the chaos of the modern world so perfectly that this is my first time in a city! I come from a very looked down, disadvantaged caste. We are barbers by profession. My ancestors, my descendants, all my siblings and cousins are barbers. We shave off the corpse’s hair during the last rites and cremate them. Because of our ancestral association with dead bodies, we are seen as unlucky and untouchables.

Amarpreet: That sounds pathetic! Your story reminds us that the worst is still alive in some places. Having grown up in a city, casteism is something I don’t get to see every day. Never have I taken the time to realise that there are villages as remote as yours which keep the flame burning. Could you tell me more about your village and this casteism?

Mohan: My village is highly impoverished and away from everyone’s eye, including the government’s. We do not even have lights in our houses and we use oil lamps at night. There are 2 toilets for the entire village and they are reserved solely for the upper caste men. Time and again, when our girls used them at night secretly, they were thrashed and embarrassed publicly. It is customary for us to not pass by the front door of upper caste men’s houses. We can only pass from behind. We do not look them in the eye directly.

Amarpreet: This is terrible indeed! Sounds like a travel back in time. Has education brought any improvement to areas such as yours?

Mohan: Education is a luxury. There is one primary school in our village. For higher education, we must send our children to town. Upper caste men may afford to do so, but not us. Education is not a necessity for girls, especially. They must learn to excel in household chores and marry their cousins by 15 or 16. We cannot marry outside our caste. If we do, they would kill us for honour. By the way, how old are you?

Amarpreet: I’m 30 years old.

Mohan: How many children do you have?

Amarpreet: I am not married.

Mohan: How undignified! In our village, having many children is so valuable that it compensates for one’s lower status in the hierarchy. Since I have 7 children, I’m not as looked down as my counterparts with 2-3 children. By your age, a woman must be married with children. Tradition is important, rural or urban. We accept our occupation, our way of living, because it runs in our veins. It’s our tradition! The upper caste men, the Chettiars deserve to live better than us because it has always been like that. No one can change that. It’s like you city folks have lost your identity completely. You don’t know what it is to struggle in your lavish city life!

Amarpreet: Sir, do not invalidate anyone’s struggle. You said this yourself- I am considered undignified for making a choice not to marry. As a villager, you don’t have the luxury of education. As a woman, I don’t have the luxury of choice! I have to live the way the society wants me to. I face more societal pressure than my male counterparts. I have always considered it my duty to serve the world in any way I can without getting tied down by family life. As a woman, my work is neither recognised as much as a man’s, nor appreciated. I started my own company so I don’t have a man ruling my life. I am a survivor of workplace abuse and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from that traumatic experience, it is that a woman can ESCAPE. She can fly away from trauma and create her own life. Yet, no one believes this. The society doesn’t allow a woman to be the maker of her own life.

Mohan: I suppose we all have our own struggles. It may vary in intensity and nature, but it is a struggle nevertheless. Thanks for teaching me this! I always believed that city folks lived the life of a dream.

Amarpreet: Sometimes I wish I lived in a village, away from fast-paced, mechanical life. In the city, it is a test of who can run the farthest without burning out. We burn out everyday, physically, mentally and spiritually. Often, I forget to eat a meal. After all, urban or rural, we all strive for that one thing- that food on our plate. But you have taught me that it comes with immense challenges to live in those unwalked lands. What we believe to be dead here in the city is something you live with. It is saddening that people live without respect and are conditioned to believe that it is okay.

Mohan and Amarpreet, we are nearing the end of the show. Is there anything you would like to say to the audience?

Mohan: Never invalidate anyone’s struggle. I’d also like to say that oppression in the name of tradition doesn’t make it less evil.

Amarpreet: Discrimination of all forms are still very much alive. Look around closely, you may actually see it happening right under your nose! When it does, be sure to confront and make some noise against it. You and I can erase it from history.

Thank you very much, Mohan and Amarjeet! It was a pleasure having you with us today. You personified Ekta in the truest sense! Ladies and gentleman, hope you enjoyed our talk show today. See you next month with another interesting topic and another fascinating set of people to share their true stories. Signing off, Shubhang Mishra!