Monthly Archives: May 2006

The Man

It took evolution 500 years to move us from Neanderthal Man to Rennaisance Man. And only five years from New Age Man to Metrosexual Man to Retrosexual Man to Thinking Man. First we were informed it’s cool to be in touch with your feelings, then it’s like tooo New Age. Next, it’s a total must you groom yourself, then it’s like just not sexy – you need to be a little rough around the edges. Finally, caring for women is like, duh, of course!, but suddenly you hear female voices whisper that there’s nothing like a bit of a Cave Man.

Anthropologists, sociologists, psychiatrists are unanimous in their opinion that modern man has never had it so confusing. But, outside of these GQ-fuelled trends, the truth is, men are a pretty confused lot from the time they are boys. How many of us were told not to cry because it meant we were sissies.? Sissy became the greatest sin of all. The greatest affront to your Masculinity. And there we have it. The M word. The crux of it all. The monkey on every man’s back. That we try shaking off with the Men Commandments. I don’t cry. I don’t fear the dark. I will build my muscles. I will never take an English Elocution class. I will never read ‘Bridges of Madison County’. I must love adventure sport. I can hold my liquor. I love fast cars. And god help me if I am gay.

So, past the proclamations of the New Man by fashion magazines, pop sociologists, faux feminists and other assorted arbiters of the male zeitgeist, what should today’s man aspire to be? For that we have only to take a generational look at the boy child’s role models to understand, as an adult, how much he has to undo before he can actually start being comfortable in his own skin. Half a century ago it was Superman with his near-invincible powers. His Clark Kent avatar told boys that while they are all Clark Kents, they have it in them to be Supermen. They have it in them to fight injustice with a mix of muscles and superpower. (Did we ever ask why, with x-ray vision, super breath, telescopic sight etc. did he need muscles?) Equally problematic are the ideals this post-war hero propagated – patently chauvinistic, jingoistic and right-wing. Then in the 60’s, Super anything was out. Rebel everything was in. Rebel actor (Dean), rebel singer (Dylan), rebel warrior (Che), even rebel jeans (Levis). If you were happy, you shut up, scowled and rebelled without a cause. If you didn’t smoke, do drugs or drink you knew better than to let on. The greatest irony was, if you didn’t conform to the norm of non-conformism you were dead. Or even worse, uncool. In the 70’s, Adam West’s entertaining, safe, simplistic, ‘Batman’ television series, marked a low point in what was promising to shape this ubermensch into a more human hero with all the flaws and self-doubt that assail us. Every camp bam! and boom! set the evolution of the Dark Knight back two decades. The 80’s saw Superman with a darker spin with the advent of heroes like the Hulk – oppressed characters with powers not quite as impenetrable and a temperament not quite as even as Kal El. Characters that had to be pushed to the wall to unleash their inner beast. (Packs of soft, flabby American men went on male-bonding camps into the wild in an attempt to figure out how to unleash their inner beast. Latest reports confirm only two men ever having succeeded – Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwarznegger.). Even contemporary comic book heroes make for tricky role models. Brian K. Vaughan’s ‘Y The Last Man’ while seemingly lets men exhale (he’s skinny, bespectacled), really doesn’t offer any respite. Here is Yorick, last man standing in a world of women who still cannot get them to covet him. Such is his plight that he sets off looking for his girlfriend who had promised to have sex with him if he was the last man alive on earth. One day he is (atlast!), sought after by the women, only to find they want him for his pet monkey, Ampersand, who carries the cure to the extinction of the human male species in his genes.

The last fifteen years have seen more twists in the Maze of Masculinity. Neil Gaiman’s incredibly popular ‘The Sandman’ comic book series marvellously created an unforgettable portrait of a little-known bit player of the original Superhero team as an asexual figure whose desire within to connect with humanity faces a daily battle with a world at odds without. A look at other forms of popular culture echo a new order. Macho FPS (first person shooter) video games have succumbed to gaming like ‘Myst’ that places no emphasis on the sex of the player and seeks to create a world of riddles that have to be solved to succeed. But just when you begin to sense some consistency in the easing of the whole ‘you must be a Man’ thing, welcome to the world of the movies. Here the morning show asks you to walk like Vin Diesel, the matinee, to talk like George Clooney, the night show, to cry like Brad Pitt. The world of music is no better. Are we to be dream kisser Iglesias? Twinkle Toes Timberlake? Bad Boy 50 Cent? Or nerdy Chris Martin? Perhaps the answers are blowing in the wind. Opinion polls show, more than his good looks, Johnny Depp’s talent and eccentricity put him on the walls of a million teenage girls’ bedrooms. Bono’s stature as a role model grows inversely proportional to his physical presence. Noam Chomsky continues to be one of the most innovative, fearless thinkers of our time, beating everybody on an internet poll for the best non-political President of the World. Bill Gates would never win a Hunk of the Year award. And Mahatma Gandhi continues to be at the top of myriad lists of the heroes of our age. I feel a bit better. Till the next GQ men’s advisory, that is.

A Potato Chip and a Prayer

Wonder what a mundane potato chip and a prayer to God have in common? Read on.

Yesterday I had a fall as the old knee gave in, resulting in a badly bruised ankle. An ice pack and bandage later, I hobbled to where Utpal was playing. He stopped and looked at me with a quizzical face. Upon hearing what had happened, he got up and went to a fetch his pack of potato chips, and with a serious face took one out and told me to eat it as it would take the hurt away. Then he declared that he would pray to Bhagwan to make it all well and turned his little face up, shut his eyes and folding his hands he sent his simple petition to the heavens.

I cannot find the words to express the multitude of emotions that filled me as i watched this little fellow pray. The room was for that moment in time filled with much palpable energy and divine light.

His prayer finished, little Utpal went back to his toy,s leaving us all overwhelmed by the power of what had happened.

Needless to say my pain was gone.

God listens to children. Maybe we should too.

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The Man from Hindustan

He was born in New Delhi, But, his ancestors come from Kanchipuram, a place he describes as closer to Sri Lanka and to Buddhism. He prefers to talk more about his Kanchipuram connections rather than Delhi connections.

The man is a gentleman from South India. He has been living in Sri Lanka for nearly eight years now. He loves this country so much that I consider him as one of us (or even better than us). Perhaps he likes to stay here and see the day the Pearl of Indian Ocean smiles again, or let me say, to watch all of us smile again.

Though I am not the government, as a citizen of Sri Lanka, I have offered him honorary citizenship. My house is open for him to stay some day. I think he is needed here. Sri Lanka could do better with people like him; share his knowledge and begin to appreciate Sri Lanka even better because he sees the value of this country more than some of us. He has become a part of us in a way.

He finds time to watch Sinhala movies, go to the theater and read books about Sri Lanka and comment about them. He respects great and learned Sri Lankans. Having read the book on Lester James Peries, Sri Lanka’smaster filmmaker he told me last week that the book could have been written better. "Someone should write another book to do justice to the great man," he said. I have taken his advice. Though I have the book I will not read it. Because the man from Hindustan knows better about my Sri Lanka.

Unlike most foreign journalists based in Colombo or those who are parachuted here and unlike those who live and spit on mother Lanka, this man from Hindustan cares for the land as he drives his Maruti around.

He not only writes about the conflict but also writes about national leaders like Anagarika Dharmapala and Sir John Kotalawala. He sheds light on different aspects of Sri Lankan life ranging from Buddhist economics to Muslim culture and links between India and Sri Lanka to the fashion industry in this serendipitous land.

He knows his English; he knows his Tamil and he knows his Sinhala. He even tells me that it is wrong to say "Sinhalese." That the correct term is "Sinhalas." May be he is right. I wouldn’t know because the man from Hindustan gets it right usually. Will Professor J.B. Dissanayake help me understand this better?

Our friend moves with Sri Lankans freely and with ease so much so when one says he is Indian, people express surprise.

I am told that our man from Hindustan has travelled in Sri Lanka more than most Sri Lankans not only to file stories but also to see and understand the country and its people. He could stay in a so-called posh place in Colombo. But he decided some time ago to move to a place where he could easily mingle with Sri Lankans. He now lives in an apartment in Colombo 8 and has become one of us.

His humble Maruti like the humble man is parked under a shed with people treating it like they treat him. Recently I met his 85-year-old father, P.V. Krishnamoorthy – the pioneer of Indian Television – when the man from Hindustan invited me to have a meal with them. I am no vegetarian but that was one excellent meal I have had so far, cooked by both father and son. I looked at them when they were seated together.

They were not two but one with their thoughts, ideas, laughter and with their great love and affection for my Sri Lanka.

I know the man from Hindustan will be angry with me when he reads this column because he is no publicity-seeker. But, I had to write about him because he is a bridge between Hindustan and Sri Lanka and he is one of my Sri Lankans. He is P.K. Balachandraan, Colombo Correspondent of the Hindustan Times. Meet him one day and ask him for a cup of South Indian coffee.

Look With Your Heart

It is the norm to establish ones’ identity by referring to our parents in early days, and then to our deeds.. whatever they be.

That as I said is the norm.

But there is also another identity a person may acquire: the one that is given by the love of another.

Jhunnu, our little Utpal’s mom would be by the first set of rules the worst imaginable: a drunk irresponsible, abusive mother.. that everyone dismisses with contempt.

Not quite everyone, to little Utpal she is a mother worthy of his unconditional love, one he tries to shield in the best way a 4 year old can., one who in spite of everything has loved him enough to make him the strong beautiful child he is.

So when the rehab centre said she needed to be hospitalised as she had further complications, I had no hesitation is saying that she was to receive the best care possible.. simply because to me she epitomises motherhood in its purest form: one that acquires its worthiness in the pure love of a blessed son.

Sometimes we forget to look with our hearts. Maybe if we did, life would acquire new meanings.

When Children Meet

Click here to hear Dave and Deepak’s song, When Children Meet.

I would love to create THE WORLD CHILDRENS FORUM like THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM.
A summit meeting once a year of children from every country. Speakers who range from 7yrs old to 18 yrs old. I wan to hear their issues and views on the global situation whether it’s about Global Warming, War, Drugs whatever. I want to hear their perspective.

I would like the same amount of media attention as Davos around our children’s village with parts of speeches reaching every country through news channels hitting home to every family and creating a global feeling of unity through the eyes and words of our children.

This is a no brainer for intelligent companies to sponsor as they would get unbelievable exposure, and if this whole thing brings an ultimate message of Peace, then what is their to lose? Coca Cola should sponsor it — their famous commercial said “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” Well, "why don’t they launch this idea with a new drink that is good for you", and that will let the children speak?!

Thanks Dave

After reading some blogs about my blog:-I add this
changing big business by vetting them in order to sponsor world childre’ns forun is part of the idea ie:when i said "why don’t they launch this idea with a new drink that is good for you" I was not only thinking about using their money to help put on something of such scale but also forcing coca cola to look at their product. The yearly event I am envisioning needs to raise huge amounts of money so that children from all over the world can be flown to the location living accomodation for two weeks
conference rooms etc. etc. an enormous organisation employing hundreds of people. The whole concept would be to hear the real stories of what is happening to youth around the world uncensored and to get childrens perspective on the way society is heading and what frightens them about it and what do they embrace about it warts and all.

Creativity, Intelligence, Spirituality

"I thought … was an intelligent site by responsible people intent on spreading the eastern philosophy and viewpoint. Your posts are neither creative nor intelligent"

why should i log on to your site and be bombarded by inane baby announcements? and large photographs? everybody has children-give us a break. is there nothing else your capable of writing of? and what do you do otherwise? Your bio is a blank.
please spare us this mushy babble and feed our brains and our souls with something more relevant"

When I read these words appended to an appeal for help for a child, I must honestly confess that i was shaken, upset, hurt, sad.. all at the same time.. the words hit like little darts reaching recesses of my soul and spirit and heart.. you are often criticised for one thing you do but here were words that hit every part of me. making everything I held as true on hold..

Refuting the words would be demeaning, I would simply say that i was invited on this blog by people who read what i wrote and saw what I do.. I would simply add that many posts I have read are about kids!

I had to look beyond those words as I believe that everything has a meaning beyond the apparent , one that you have to seek..

When I look around I see so many people in pain, so many children hurting that to me helping them in whatever way one can cannot be against Eastern spirituality..
I knew I had to travel back and unravel this message which went beyond the limited ambit of my intelligence..

When I was a young girl, I was taken to the Ramakrishna Mission London by my father who was a devotee of Ramakrishna. I a reluctant teenager wanted to roam the Carnaby street of the late sixties and swing to the Beatles.. but i went and met the swami ghananda who told me he wanted to give me the Guru Mantra. i did not want it and tried to stall the disksha but he just kept[t reading my mind and told me that he was just ‘giving’ it to me and that some day it may help me make decisions and show me the way..

I juts have remembered the mantra a few times but that was it. For most of my life my queries of about life, my doubts my angst were cleared by my parents.. The words I read yesterday – strangely on mother’s day – took me back in time and somehow to seek some of vivekananda’s writings to validate my life..

as a true netizen i googled and fell on this page

I would urge you all to read it and I promise there are no inane baby announcements..
i will just quote the following words of Vivekananda:

I bequeath to you, young men, this sympathy, this struggle for the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed. Go now this minute to the temple of Parthasarathi, and before Him who was friend of the poor and lowly cowherds of Gokula, who never shrank to embrace the pariah Guhaka, who accepted the invitation of a prostitute in preference to that of the nobles and saved her in His incarnation as Buddha – yea, down on your faces before Him and make a great sacrifice, the sacrifice of a whole life for them, for whom He comes from time to time, whom He loves above all, the poor, the lowly and the oppressed.

This is the gist of all worship – to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Siva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Siva; and if he sees Siva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary.

Do not stand on a high pedestal and take five cents in your hand and say, "Here, my poor man," but be grateful that the poor man is there so that by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect.

This vindicates the inane baby i guess but I am convinced that there is more depth to the message..

I am still not at peace with myself, I feel that the message is not fully deciphered, that there is more to it.. I juts hope God will give the strength to understand it..

Celebrating Mothers

It will be Mother’s Day this month .. and everyone will celebrate it

To me, Mother’s Day has taken a new meaning this year, though I lost my mother almost 15 years ago..

Kamala was a beautiful woman and a woman of spirit.. she chose not to marry till India was independent, no slave child for her said she.. she married when she was 30!

She chose not to reveal she spoke english so that her only child growing so far away from her motherland could speak her mother tongue. She chose not take any medication and died of cancer in pain but as she said alive, as life for her was the most beautiful gift.
  Asmall town girl who has to go on ‘repeated’ hunger strikes. To get her father to study,  she went on to get a PHD from Charles University in Paris.

The daughter of a nationalist whose childhood has spent applying ointment on her father’s bruised back, she went on the an ambassador’s wife. And yes, a woman who loved her husband so much that she learnt French as a birthday gift for the man who so loved that language.

Yes, she was a great woman and worthy of being celebrated.

But it is not this mother who taught me what a mother is.. the true meaning and importance of a mother was taught to me by a little boy who sleeps quietly in my home..

His mother has all the reasons not be loved: she drinks, she beats and hits, she even entertains other men, lies, steals, forgets to cook, keeps a filthy home even dropped him in a boiling cauldron… and yet this son never judged he just loved her, forgave her and protected her in whatever way he could..

And when she finally agreed to get help, he let her go without a sigh.. and has had the utmost dignity never mention her.. for the past three weeks he has been the perfect guest and made himself so small that one does not even know he is in our home, abiding by the ways of a home so different from his, as if we was to the manor born..

Utpal has taught me how important a mother is and how selfless and beautiful is the love a child has for the one that has given him life..
so on this mother’s day the only tribute I can give to motherhood is to secure this child’s future and to give him back a mother worthy of his love, one he can one day be proud of in front of the whole world, one that vindicates his love.. even if that means redefining my life
help me do so…

If You Have Been Touched

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Utpal danced this mornig. to his heart’s content..

He shares the room with Shamika my daughter and as she put music on in the morning, Utpal dances.. as if he did not have a worry in the world.

Days are gowing by, and we have to put in in school.

I urge all of you who have been touched by him to drop by this page and join the utpal’spals group and help us be worthy of this blessed child

Note: sorry for sounding like the harpie of the year.. once upon not so long ago I use to find it infradig to speak and let alone ask for money, even the one owed to me.. i guess the (wo)man upstarirs decided I needed a lesson and to learn how to beg.. slowly I am mastering the art and have begged for scores of kids, six open heart surgeries and now for the future of a little angel.

Without a Mother

It has been almost three weeks since Utpal said a brave goodbye to his mom at the grim gate of the rehab centre.. since then he has been with me at home.

A model guest if there has ever been one.. he plays, eats, sleeps, smiles, gives hugs and cuddles.. and does everything you would have wanted your child to do when she or he was 4!

Children who grew up in hard conditions have a maturity beyond their age. I have been fascinated by the respect for food I have observed in children as young as one, when they eat by themselves in touching silence and concentration making sure to pick up the stray grain of rice that fell by mistake.. they know that no one will give them an alternative or follow them with a plate…
they also learn to respect space and make themselves tinier than they are, as often drunk or frustrated parents do not have any patience and the blows are there waiting to fall.. they sleep without a pat or a lullaby as they do not know if they will have the luxury of a whole night or be woken by the sounds of fighting, beating or the cops beating the door..

Utpal is that and much more; he knows intuitively that my home is the only safe place he has and he is not one to disturb it.. probably the little heart wonders how this time in his tiny life there has been such a long time without fights, brawls, lack of food and so much love.. and so many nights where he has sleeps to his heart’s content..

But hismom is in his heart, his thoughts and his soul.. as I realised in the most heart wrenching way: when Utpal meets total strangers – be it the shop lady or a friend to whose house he went – he says, unsolicited: meri mummy nahin hai (i do not have a mom)..

I always let these moments pass in silence.. though a thousand questions crowd my mind.. but i chose to respect the dignity of the moment, the silent way in which Utpal reminds me that we have only one mom and no matter how bad she may be she is precious..

I look at him with moist eyes resolved to bring him back a mom he can be proud of..
Utpal walks the earth to teach us many things… he has to be an angel!

Celebrities and Causes

The last couple of weeks has seen the Indian media explode with stories that centre around one concern : Celebrities and Social Causes. Questions crowd around the incredibly narrow bandwidth of – does the presence of celebrities help or harm a social cause? I fear if this question is not addressed calmly, rationally and quickly it is going to swallow the appreciably more important business of social justice.

First, clearly everyone agrees there is no offence taken when celebrities support causes that are universally accepted as ‘good’, such as, communal harmony or fighting female foeticide.

Second, celebrities do a great service when they refocus attention on flagging causes. In the U.S. in the early nineties, after the first few years of inspired activism against HIV, the issue began to slip out of the media. Celebrity activism helped put the spotlight on a topic that was as, if not more, troublesome than it had ever been.

Third, it makes the most sense for celebrities to, once the microphones and cameras are trained on them, direct the media attention towards the persons involved with the real business of working on the ground. No message could be more authentic than theirs.

The place where the marriage between celebrities and social causes starts sliding on slippery ground is when the cause in question is not a simple, unambiguous one, but either has two sides to it, or is about injustice towards a group of peoples or is heavily political, or, like in the case of the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam, is a potent combination of all three. In this case it is the celebrity’s absolute, undisputed responsibility to examine the issue exhaustively, understand both sides of the argument, form an independent opinion and take a stand accordingly.

But, beyond this, I believe the more pressing need is to focus on the ramifications of celebrity social activism – the emergence of a culture of lazy opinion-forming. ‘X celebrity has said this is what I should think about the Supreme Court decision on Y issue. I’ve always liked her, so that’s the opinion I’m going to adopt.’ While role-modelling is a mostly innocuous pursuit, issues of critical social significance demand a different mindset from the imitation of a celebrity’s latest fashion in clothes or dance. While it would be unrealistic to expect the reader/listener to seek and receive an exhaustive view of a problem, a broad, all –sided knowledge of the issue can be obtained with a careful look at the newspapers and the internet. However, accessibilty of these media are out of the reach of some and they assume a level of literacy. This is where a celebrity can truly exercise her or his power with great benefits. This is where when the time comes for a media bite an opinion need not be expressed but a summary of the facts for and against can be put out. This is where the business of real democracy can start.

I am fully aware television, and to a certain extent print journalists have never shown an inclination for this kind of response, that TRPs love the question – ‘ Madam, sankshape mein, what do you think of…?’, but if these very same professionals feel the issue of celebrity-hijacking of social causes is one of primetime-worthy gravity then it should not be unreasonable to expect them to understand and encourage a more responsible role from celebrities.

The third link in what will be a tremendously powerful chain is the general public. The business of real democracy starts and ends with civil society. And democracy does not come easy. We have to be constantly vigilant because the business of power is the direct enemy and the business of power is invariably more fruitful, more seductive in the short-run.

Today, the Right to Information Act has strengthened our hands in ways the nation has yet to understand even minimally. Let’s find out how to use it, let’s find out which NGO has already used it to collect information on an issue we need to make an informed opinion on and ask them for it. At the very least, ask, ask, ask the questions. Because if all we do is rely on the next celebrity’s opinion on an issue where lives are in the balance, then follow that opinion and move on with our lives then we will have more burnings, and this time it will not just be film posters and petrol-doused effigies. It will be the sweet-acrid smell of bodies dead from starvation, displacement and broken hearts. Mass pyres lit with paper tapers made from the pages of our Constitution.

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