The Queen of the Palace

Image credit; Vrolans @ Pixabay

“Once the residence of the Great Empress Rukmini Devi

As the light of Dawn engulfed every pillar and wall,

She came into the world,

To rule and conquer,

Hatred, ignorance and disease.

A fearless ruler, teacher and healer,

Lost her battle,

To the diseases of hatred and ignorance,

The very ailments she was born to cure.

A beloved Queen who knew of no fear or fright,

Now rests here in eternal peace and power.”

Read the board on the wall that a bunch of tourists had gathered around. Like every historical residence, the former home of Rani Rukmini Devi attracted millions of tourists, national and international, all year round.

“Interesting!” Said Raj, looking up at the notice. “Let’s play a game, Gagan. Let’s look around and see which girl is alluring enough to be queen of this place.” Said Raj with a wink and a mischievous smirk, his mind overflowing with various images of queenly beauties. “Eyes like emerald…” Before he could complete his sentence, his mouth opened wide in awe and admiration. He had just spoken of the devil!

There, right before their eyes in solid vision, stood the social media influencer, who, by virtue of her ethereal attractiveness garnered a million followers in a matter of hours. Their pupils dilated. Raj was at loss of words. Gagan could only speak in poetry.

“She is poetry that became a person,

A fantasy that became reality,

A note that became music,

With eyes that speak the language of the soul

A Gucci bag,

10,000 rupees of pure class,

Hair dyed golden,

Gold as the Sunflower’s smile….”

“Yes, that’s it, Raj! THIS woman right here is the queen of this palace and every palace that has ever existed.” Said Gagan, beguiled by the charms of the elegant damsel. Eyes of emerald green, hands of a velvety dream, lips as juicy as a strawberry, what more do you need in a queen?

Meanwhile, a young woman, skinny as a centipede and homely as one starved for years, just received her salary for the cleaning work she does around this royal residence-turned-tourist spot, her eyes lighting like a million Suns at the sight of her hard- earned money, a humble earning of ₹10,000. Being the lone earner of her family, the ₹10,000 in her hands are going to pay off some of her dead father’s debts, her brother’s education and work as a small saving for her sister’s marriage, along with paying off her mother’s hospitalisation fee.

Did they crown the wrong queen?

Written for Sadje’s What do you see prompt.

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.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

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!

Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

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 3

Disclaimer: All characters in Ekta Talk Show are modelled after REAL characters (with names changed) 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

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome or welcome back to a fresh episode of our monthly talk show, Ekta- Talk your way to unity. If youre no stranger to Ekta and have visited Ep-1 and Ep-2, you’ll notice that today’s topic is wildly different from our usual. I’m Shubhang Mishra, your host for today! Our translator at hand is Bahija Begum.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Ekta is a space for us to talk, to listen and to be heard. There are struggles and stories in both the sides of the coin. We acknowledge and appreciate them as we interact with those living in opposite ends of the spectrum.

Our topic today is a fashionable and popular one, especially among the younger generations. A healthy discussion, a debate, there’s room for both!

We have with us today, 4 very special guests. Let’s welcome Anthony Alexander, Nidhi Chopra, Sonam Singh and Bharath Kumar Hegde with a round of applause.

The topic today is “Marriages in Indian society.” There are two types for the same, one being the traditional arranged marriage, wherein the families find alliances for their children with lots of involvement from the extended family in choosing prospective spouses for their children within their own caste/community in compliance with astrology, and the other being marrying someone of one’s own choice.

Please describe the nature of your marriages, your experiences therein and whether or not the said mode worked for you, starting with Nidhi.

Nidhi: Mine was an arranged marriage. I’ve been married for 10 years now and it has definitely worked for me. We did fall in love after our marriage. It is my belief that it would not have been the same way had I married someone of my choice. All my high school and college relationships failed and I went into this marriage, not expecting anything spectacular. There are ups and downs ofcourse, but the rewarding part of it has made it worth it. The union has remained sacred.

Anthony: I married a partner of my choice. I’m a Christian, she’s a Hindu. She comes from a rural area and had moved to the city to work. Her parents disapproved of our marriage very strongly. They tried to kill us for their honour! Yes, honour killing still happens and few are lucky to escape. We were lucky enough to escape. We moved to Mumbai, far away from home and have been living there happily for 11 years now.

Bharath: I’m divorced. I had an arranged marriage, a terrible one. She was in love with another man and her family forced her to marry me, as she was already 30 years old and there weren’t many well-settled single men left in our caste. Her parents wouldn’t let her disgrace the family by eloping with the man of her choice. Hence, a worse disaster took the form of our marriage. She was depressed and suicidal. She blamed me for everything that went wrong in her life.

Sonam: I jumped into a love marriage, the biggest mistake I made in my life. I thought he was the one. I put my relationship with my family at stake for him. It all seemed flowery and glamorous in the beginning. A few months in and then began all the domestic violence, physical and verbal abuse. It was toxic and unbearable. Thankfully, we are divorced now.

According to statistics, 90% of marriages in India are arranged. Only 1% of all marriages end in divorce. Does that mean arranged marriage is the gateway to a successful marriage? Does it always work?

Anthony: Well, we’re the second most populated country in the world, so I think it worked. *Audience laughing*

Bharath: Well, it need not always work, as in my case. Low divorce rates may also be a reflection of the societal pressure to stay married. Divorce is largely a taboo in India. Arranged marriage can be a gamble. In most cases, one learns to adjust themselves to the setting. I can assure that arranged marriage teaches you to compromise. You don’t go in considering divorce as an option. It is a union of families, rather than just the bride and the groom. One is careful about not disappointing their birth family after all the wedding expenses and extravaganza. Sometimes, one continues to live in toxic marriages. Divorce rate is not sufficiently indicative of all unhappy marriages.

Nidhi: In my opinion, most unhappy marriages are capable of being fixed. Due to support from the birth family in arranged marriages, it is easier. The families work a way to mend their children’s marriage. Not all love marriages are family-approved and families do not put much effort into fixing their children’s marriage as they did not have much role in it to begin with. In such cases they’d have a “We said so” attitude about it.

What is the difference between the social perception of an arranged marriage and a love marriage.

Anthony: My wife and I were in a local park, when a middle aged woman started talking to her. I shared a small joke with my wife during her conversation with the woman. She noticed the holy cross on my neck and asked my wife “Is that your husband?” to which my wife nodded. “Christian?” She asked, pointing at me to which she said “yes.” “Then he is not your husband.” She told my wife. “You said your name is Radha and I see the Bindhi on your forehead. You are a Hindu. Any marriage outside one’s religion is invalid.” Saying this, she moved away. So, yes, the social perception is not always good in non-traditional marriages.

Sonam: As someone who was in such a non-traditional marriage, I can attest that you are harshly judged. By most people. There are many who are supportive too. The more urban the setting, the more support you get.

Bharath: My friends mocked me and called me “ancient” for doing as my family said. Some urban youth consider arranged marriages outdated.

Nidhi: Usually the first question posed by yester generation folks when they see a couple would be “Arranged or love?”. If the answer is the former, the more you are respected, as in my case.

From this discussion, what do you think should be the norm for marriages?

Bharath: Choosing a spouse for yourself is like an MCQ (multiple choice question). You choose the best option from the many options you have. Arranged marriage is like “True or false”. You’re given a question and you need to answer with a “yes” or “no”. Both of them equally have the potential to be right or wrong, I.e, to work or fall apart. It is more about the couple themselves than the nature of their marriage.

Sonam: Marriage and romantic relationships aren’t for everyone. They are only a supplement to life, not a necessity. Life is big and there’s more to it. No one should be pressurised into doing something they can very well live without when a certain age is reached. The society will talk, but talking is all they can do!

Anthony: Everyone should have the privilege to choose between tradition, choice and must also be empowered to choose neither, if that’s their calling.

We are at the end of this segment. Hearty thanks to the guests and the audience for making this segment a grand success! Signing off, Shubhang Mishra.

PS: Check out paeansunplugged’s masterpiece satirical poem on this topic! Beyond brilliant. 👌

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.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

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.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

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!

Thoughts from the Clouds

Voyaging past the vast blue sky and passing past the passing clouds, you realise how small man is in the face of nature, and also how glorious he stands before all of creation, for he is the one that got you to the skies!

A click from my short flight between Hyderabad and Chennai. Cloudy day and not particularly beautiful.

When I look at the land under the sky, I sense enormous power and potential. The land that has never attacked, but was always attacked, the land that once suffered from foreign invasion and now suffers from an auto immune condition wherein the body’s immune system kills itself.

I feel a sense of responsibility towards the intimidating water body underneath, the sky above it and the air in which I fly. That made me ask myself this hypothetical question “What if one day, this sea, this sky, this air and this land becomes mine to look after?” What if I were to become the leader of this country? Now, don’t choke! I know that escalated quickly. But always good to answer such questions which come in our minds.

If I were to become a leader, there are two types of changes I’d make- Changes in law and changes in people’s mindsets. The latter would be the most challenging and we won’t discuss that in this post.

Laws that require changing or updating 🇮🇳

1. I’d permanently discard the caste-based reservation system and make it need-based. Who said caste still dictates an individual’s economic background? We have moved forward so much and this is what brings us back to talk about caste- a government policy! See the hypocrisy?

2. We are all created equal. Then why is the law not the same for all of us? If a heterosexual marriage does not need validation from the law, homosexual marriage doesn’t either. It should be “legal”. I don’t agree with that term because it should have never been up to the law to decide.

(Fun Fact: There is historical evidence to prove that homosexuality was recognised in ancient India up until the British rule. The “American disease” as termed by one of our state ministers was indeed very much prevalent in our royal courts and represented in ancient texts, literature and sculptures. The 2018 abolition of section 377 was infact, a fantastic move by the government in getting back to our roots).

3. Literacy will be the priority. It can open minds and make a better world for posterity. Low literacy hotspots will be identified and superior quality government schools will be established there. It should also be a rule for all children of government employees to study in government schools, to ensure their utmost quality.

4. Every hour, 4 women are raped in India. If every hour, 4 or more rapists are punished for the same, will it still be the same? They must be KILLED! Rape and assault cases go unnoticed as women choose to remain silent, for fear of media publicity, family, etc.. They must be UNSILENCED and the power to do this lies with US, the common public!

5. Child labour laws should be TIGHTENED. Children are free to work on holidays at their parents’ farm or store, but never at the cost of EDUCATION. They must be at school, which should provide them mid day meals (only in government schools).

6. A small, fixed amount of tax money should be collected from ALL employees who earn above a certain range. A small collection from a LARGE population will amount to a lot. Currently, less than 2% of the population pay taxes and they pay 30-50% of their salaries, depending on their earning. It gets too tight for them financially as they have a family to look after and loans to pay.

7. Minors shall also be liable to punishment for major offences.

8. Government funded laboratories with high tech equipments must be established to facilitate growth in research infrastructure, so “poor infrastructure” is no longer a reason for people to leave the country.

9. There should be centres established for distressed/orphaned children and child labourers where they can be funded for emergencies in their family.

10. Fines for spitting or littering in the roads! PLEASE! These fines (and generally all violation penalties) should be immediately transferred to the nearest “distress centre for emergency funds” mentioned in the previous point.

11. I will let the common public know HOW I’m using their hard-earned tax money. My government will be transparent and honest. Corruption must become history!

These are all certainly easier said than done. The current government is doing well but we can all agree that we need some modernising (something future leaders are absolutely capable of). There are many more changes I want in the law but I shouldn’t stuff you beyond your appetite. 😉

Now, If you get to become the leader of your country, what changes would you want to make?

The Number Hunt

I cordially welcome you to this travel between times. Get on to this virtual time machine and hold tight! I’m your time hostess in this beautiful Boeing Timecraft, and I will also be your guide in this once-in-a-lifetime tour. We’re about to undertake a long journey to the distant past and then head back to the present as we please. Trust me, the jet lag is worth it! Now, let’s go back 7 million years, before the time time was invented and see what our ancestors were up to.

Okay, we’re here. Shhh! Keep quiet and hide behind this bush. You may whisper when required. Time tourism is serious business. Make sure no one sees you and observe carefully what these folks are up to. Wow, a dodo! Do you see that small, hairy man running behind it? He’s hunting it! Please don’t freak out and fall in the man’s eye. Hunting is “legal” in this era after all!

As you can see, Hunting is one of the most important daily activities in the lives of our early ancestors, the cavemen. It is their source of food, clothing, shelter and everything they need for the simple, innocent lives that they lead. When we come to think of it, we, the modern humans would not have come into existence if our ancestors did not poach to feed themselves or attack a prey to layer up against the cold. In other words, hunting paved way for the continuation of our species, our eventual evolution and our taking over of the planet.

Now, let’s go to a different era. How about one million years from this point? Keep mum and jump in!

We’re here and it looks like the caveman has evolved into someone who needs more. He now refuses to be confined to his little world in the cave and has extended his empire to far off distant lands. Let’s fast-forward more and see what he’s like a few hundred years even later.

Holy Moly! You see that? He’s built glorious civilisations across the planet already! These men don’t live in caves anymore and look a lot less hairy. A bit more polished, wouldn’t you say? I wonder what happened in the meanwhile that caused this drastic change. Admittedly, that’s an impressive amount of change in a matter of mere centuries. Let’s go back a bit into the past and see what has led to this “evolutionary update”. Please don’t get tired. I promise again, the jet lag is totally worth it.

Okay. What’s different now from the period we just visited to the period we visited before that, is that these guys still use the barter system now. Meaning, money isn’t there, the idea of “numbers” hasn’t striked them yet. Oh, wait! THIS IS IT! THIS is what has led to the massive change- the invention of numbers! It’s clearly not something we can undermine, as this single discovery has changed the way we deal with business, has heightened technological growth and overall, has paved way for the world to become what it is in our era.

So far, we have only visited the starting point in the history of numbers. Due to the time constraint and limited scope of this visit, we shall make haste and visit the most important epoch in our itinerary- the social media age of the 21st century. If you would like a more detailed trip through numerical history, please choose a premium package of “Numerical history tour” for 1.5 million bucks next time. It will cater to curious minds.

We’ve arrived at 2019. As you can see, these guys look exactly like us. They’re dressed in vintage clothes- hoodies and jeans, with eyes glued to their phones. There are almost as many skyscrapers as we have in our times. Mathematics has built the modern world that you see.

This is a dark age in the history of numbers. Because, we saw that when numbers were invented, they were intended to measure the value of THINGS. But now, people associate their own worth to a set of numbers. Numbers have gone on to create insecurity and depression- Weight, Height, age, exam scores, ranks, number of followers on your social media handles, and when you upload a sweet picture of yours, the number of likes, etc.. People have forgotten that at the end of the day, they’re mere numbers.

Obsessive weight-watching has led to anorexia. Obsession with likes and followers has led to insecurities, depression and low self-esteem. Social media was a toxic world, as we all have read in history. Students have ended their lives due to unfavourable exam scores. It was their dream to be in a certain place, for which they had to be evaluated a certain way. This evaluation happened with the help of “scores”. It weighed their brains and told them what they were “worth” and what could be expected of them in the future.-again, numbers. It labeled them as smart or dunce. It weighed their brains and and assessed

In this era, People no longer hunt animals, but hunt numbers. This is different from the Stone Age, because this kills in a different way. Here, you are not killed by animals, but by numbers. Numbers govern the state of your mental health. They govern your financial security. They govern how you live life. Money (again, numbers) decided what respect you get in the society. The money you earn was decided by your scores in exams. Hysterical, right?

If I could talk to the people in this era, I’d tell them: Life is more than a mere number hunt. There is a lot to hunt for in life (we are all hunters after all!)- happiness, health, peace of mind, friendship in the real world (not just virtually), love, success of character and the “feeling” of beauty within. Beauty does not lie in your body measurements. It lies in feeling nature within. Feeling God within. And feeling the paradise within. It immediately reflects on the outside. There is more to hunt than luxury or validation from social media that YOU ARE AWESOME. You are enough, even without your virtual friends having to remind you that 😉

Hope you enjoyed this time travel. Let’s head back home, with gratitude, for being in a better world. Let’s appreciate the beauty of the world and ourselves. Let numbers measure only the value of material things, and not of living people…

Image credits: theconversation.com

The Bribe Biryani

‘’A thing of beauty is a joy forever’’ goes the first line of a very beautiful poem by John Keats. Couldn’t agree more, but if you ask my fellow Indians, you’d be surprised at the plethora of alternatives you’d receive for the same line. Joy, for us Indians is food. Of all the succulent appetisers one can derive joy from, ‘’A thing of biryani is a joy forever’’ would hands-down be the most popular! The good old biryani is more than a gastronomically-pleasing Ramzan delicacy. It’s an emotion, tangible magic and above all, a common item used in bribery.

Bribery may not be a very familiar idea in more developed parts of the country and the world. To make life easier, I’ll attempt to brief how this works in the place I live, Tamil Nadu. Of course, you remember the barter system from your history lessons. This works similar to that. You buy pleasurable stuff (like money) from me, and I’ll buy a vote from you in the elections (yes, for the money I give you). At the end, we’re both buyers and sellers. I pay you to vote for me and you’re obliged to do so by a sense of moral responsibility.

Bribe money, the most common and frequently discussed, can range from ₹1000 bucks to, in some cases, even tens of thousands. But there’s also bribe freebies (yes! I won’t be led to believe that freebies aren’t bribe), bribe dowry, bribe vehicles to bribe what not…. Bribe biryani! Giving or collecting bribe is an offence by law, though not yet firmly established. I had first-hand experience of this about two elections back, when I was still a blithe little tween. It took me all this time to realise that instances such as the one I saw at the petrol pump in 2011, when men in white shirts were freely handing money to vote for a particular political party must be CONDEMNED and brought to the notice of the election commission. Then, I also realised, that the election commission itself is manipulated by bribes from these parties!

People in Tamil Nadu tend to be particularly emotionally attached to certain political parties, perhaps thanks to the freebies and the infamous bribe Biryani they’ve enjoyed for generations, in the period before elections. Malpractices of all forms must be condemned and stood against, but bribery, in my opinion is the cheapest clothe hanging in the closet! It plays with a common man’s gullibility and the vulnerability of poverty. Manipulating a man living below the poverty line by showering him with temporary pleasure, whilst letting him stay down there in the economic hierarchy is just as wicked as it gets! And where do you get the money for your bribe biriyani? From the very callous tax-payer who spends most of his earning helping you win elections and earn black money.

With 11.8% of the population living below the poverty line and a good number of uneducated illiterates AND educated illiterates, there are more and more people out there to keep this going for many more years to come. Do I blame a man earning ₹5000 a month for collecting the equivalent amount in bribe? Definitely not, as this can buy him an extra meal and new clothes for his growing children. What does he care about the law? Chances are, he does not even know about the existence of that abstract entity we call law! The state of helplessness that this is, is inexplicable.

The most disturbing that this got, is when I personally witnessed FUTURE VOTERS perpetuating this practice. The infamous bribe biryani is used in school-level elections too! Young voters are very easily coaxed by the idea of biryani or dairy milk silk. The candidates contesting in these ‘’elections’’ are aware of this and go on to shower the voters, their friends, with their beloved bribe items.. ‘’As Times pass, so will this’’ I thought, but it can’t be farther from reality.

I was initially of the idea that my writing this article would be rather futile, as someone illiterate enough to collect bribes would not be able to understand the depth of my long rantings. But it won’t be fruitless and it’s never too late to ‘’try’’ to bring a change. It has taken me 17 good years in this world to realise that, a change can begin anywhere and from anyone, even from someone as common as myself. You know what they say, ‘’Never underestimate the power of a common man.’’ That is a generalised statement and obviously includes the common girl!

From the 4 or 5 elections I’ve seen during the course of my life, I have learnt that the genuine party is often the one that has lost by a huge margin. That’s the outcome of taking malpractices less seriously and following protocols. How I wish that we, the future citizens can change this forever by playing the game of elections fair and square! Can’t wait for the time when corruption becomes a part of distant Indian history. Whether that’s within our lifetime or a long time after depends on what we do to accelerate the process of this much-required change. My body will never digest the bribe biryani and neither should yours…

Image credits: licious.in, Google search