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Highlights of 2015 and hello 2016 :)

Last year was a lot of hard work and unexpected playful interactions when I least expected it. The highs were pretty high and totally awesome and the low points felt bottomless. My resolution for 2015 were several but the one’s that I did manage to stick to stood me in good stead.

I lost people in 2015 – one of them was a very good friend who was taken from us too soon. I still can’t speak of Cesare without tearing up, even when I laugh, there’s a deep sigh that comes up unbidden. I have lost people when I stuck to my resolution to treat people as they treat me. Some loved it, some hated it. It simplified my life. I lost the one’s who drag me down far more often then they pick me up.

2015 was the year that I learnt the meaning of what it means to be family. Most of us define the word family by the people we are related to by blood or marriage. Instead I learnt the following:

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Loyalty, honesty, integrity – in everything that I do, every relationship that I develop whether in my career or personal life, in my actions, words and thoughts continue to remain my guiding stars.

Through out the year as people and opportunities walked in and out of my life, I discovered that the one’s who genuinely care and want me in their lives will always prioritize and make time for me. My one month of working in Ethiopia gave me not only invaluable work experience, a totally different perspective on the role of aid in developing economies but also a family and new friends and colleagues whom I enjoyed immensely.

While 2015 ended in a bittersweet note, looking back there is nothing that I would do differently. In each moment I had made the best possible decisions, drew my line in the sand and stuck to my guns where necessary and it is that integrity and faith in choosing what is right that allows me to move forward without looking back. Knowing that I have done my best, given my best and I deserve the best.

I look forward to 2016 because this life is an endless journey were the scenery is constantly changing and along with the props, the actors change, bringing in new perspectives, lessons, knowledge, wisdom and yes, even love. There will be new countries to see, new cultures to discover, new cuisines to try, new friends to make, new ways of thinking that will challenge my current one’s, ideas to discover, challenges to conquer and victories to celebrate. I look forward to the highs and lows and while the first 3 months are already promising me to be hectic, full of travels and new experiences and learning’s, here’s a nod off to the highlights of 2015 🙂

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The ability to be vulnerable

Brene Brown is a social researcher who thought she was researching “connection”. You know the thing that holds us together? whether its society, community, family, work or relationship between two people. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, all of us needs connections, a sense of belonging, a sense of self-worth which is intrinsically related to our well-being. Take this sense away and each person is an island of desolation. Keep it alive and you are part of a much wider picture and together you are beautiful.

So there she was starting what she thought was going to be a one year research, except that it turned into a six-year stint, during which her assumptions were thrown right out the window and at one point, she was forced to seek out a therapist because she was struggling with accepting the result that was staring at her on the face “Vulnerability”. The people with a strong sense of belonging, of self-worth, were the people who were willing to be Vulnerable. Now admittedly that’s scary. It scares me. I am so good at being self-sufficient and strong that the idea of allowing myself to be vulnerable to or with another person frankly gives me the heebie-jeebies. I am not sure if it’s something that I am willing to do deliberately.

So maybe this should go on the list of things to which I challenge myself over the next four months of this year …. open myself up to the possibility of being vulnerable – knowing full well that it’s going to be damn uncomfortable and freaking scary. Now let’s see how that goes 🙂

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable,nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing.They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees … the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job — you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown — which actually looked more like this.  And it did.

……..She said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist who sees therapists, because we have to go to those, because their B.S. meters are good.  And so I said, “Here’s the thing, I’m struggling.” And she said, “What’s the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem, and I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit. I just need some strategies.” So she goes like this. And then I said, “It’s bad, right?” And she said, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is.” And I said, “Oh my God, this is going to suck.”

 

 

The beauty that connects us

In this awesome Ted Talk photographer Jimmy Nelson talks about his journey to photograph tribal people around the world. The lessons he learnt and  how he was affected as a person by the interactions he engaged in. Well worth the 17 minutes to watch this talk 🙂

When Jimmy Nelson traveled to Siberia to photograph the Chukchi people, elders told him: “You cannot photograph us. You have to wait, you have to wait until you get to know us, you have to wait until you understand us.” In this gorgeously photo-filled talk, join Nelson’s quest to understand — the world, other people, himself — by making astonishing portraits of the world’s vanishing tribes and cultures.

I am going on a digital detox week :)

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my digital detox week. It will be a challenge to unplug completely but at the same time, if I am being honest, I have to admit I am looking forward to it.

I want to be there for the people who want me to be there in their life, to witness their life being played out.

I want to hold hands for my mom who is going through a cataract operation tomorrow and will be recuperating at my place.

I want to sit in front of actual people and have long conversations over cups of tea without being interrupted.

I want to hold a book and read it cover to cover without getting distracted by the myriad of screens that surround me.

I want to write, both digitally (offline) and in good old fashion paper with pen, without being distracted by popping notifications on social media.

I want to be there, physically and mentally, present … without an email, call or sms waiting to be answered.. hanging in the back of my head.

I want time to meditate, be mindfully present and to be grateful for this wonderful life that I have been blessed with.

 

 

Can you disconnect? and if you did take up the challenge – what would you do? or not do? 😉

No age barred for love

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Changing lives – one child at a time – Jaago Foundation

A hero & her heroism

 

While most of us, city-people, romanticize rural life. There’s very little that is romantic about it. Life is hard for people who depend on the land to make a living and even more so for the women. While women are discouraged from taking up work outside the home, it becomes a necessity ultimately when the responsibility of bringing up children falls squarely on them in the de-facto absence of husbands. Combined with the hardship of daily life, women ultimately end up working longer hours trying to make ends meet.

Children’s education, a luxury before, is now a necessity. But one that not everyone can afford. Monija, the lady who helps my aunt care for her domestic duty, brought her daughters over yesterday. Turns out that the one I had thought was her younger sister is actually her eldest daughter. Her husband worked in Sylhet for five years and while he sent as much money as he could afford, it became impossible for her take care of her 3 children in the village. She moved them to the city, to my aunt’s place where she has worked before.

It’s a big house with joint family so there’s always the need to have an extra pair of hands around. She found employment, has been given a house to live in and now sends her 3 kids to the Madrasa for education. I asked her why she didn’t send them to the government school, and she said that her husband wants the kids to get religious education. He wouldn’t hear of them going to mainstream school and she is tired of fighting him for every little dream that she has for her children.

Thing is the quality of education in Madrasa is far below par. Yes they will probably learn to read and write but the emphasis will always be on learning to read Arabic so they can read the Quran or perhaps just memorize it. However, for many others like her, this madrasa education is already a step up than what she had not been able to get and moreover, this is all that she can afford. She hopes that her 14-year-old daughter will do well in her Secondary School exam and if that’s the case, she hopes to be able to continue her education further to Higher Secondary level.

While I marveled at the thick bamboo clumps and the tall maize plants, I saw beauty while she saw danger. She doesn’t want to live in the village with her daughters. She fears that places like these are for girls to be taken away to and once they have been deflowered, whether forcibly through rape or willingly because they imagine themselves to be in love, no other man/boys in the village will want to marry them.

The collectivism of the rural life will not protect her daughters and it won’t let them or anyone else forget either. Since her daughter is now as tall as her, for villagers, she’s old enough to get married. Forget about the fact that neither the girl nor her parents wants her married off. If something happens, then the burden of it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the family and worst case scenario, they might even face ostracism from the community.

In places that has only a handful of people living in it, hardly a couple of hundred, everyone knows everyone’s business. Yet to not be allowed to interact, buy, sell or trade with these people can be a serious disadvantage. So she has chosen the path of individualism, living in the city, hoping to be able to give her daughters some education and delay marriage for as long as possible.

The lack of mobility is a serious drawback for the women of the village. While I am lucky enough to ‘whoosh in and out’ in a car, that is a luxury most people don’t even dream about. The highest aspiration in a lot of cases seems to be able to afford at least one bicycle – in fact that is quite frequently part of dowry demands. For women, whom no one would dream of giving a bicycle to, mobility frequently means the ability to walk for miles to get to the nearest town or even the village bazaar. The difficulty of making a trip to the doctor in illness under such circumstances is not something that I have enough imagination for.

When I think of heroes, these days, I always end up thinking of women like Monija. Women who somehow find the courage to continue in the face of insurmountable odds. Women who somehow still have dreams for their children even when they are struggling to put 3 square nutritious meal on their plates. Women who go from one day to the next without knowing what awaits them around the corner. Women who dedicate their life and all of their effort into raising a brood of children, hoping that they’ll be able to give them at least a little bit more of an edge in the race of life.

Anyone who can face so much and still persist in living & dreaming deserves to be capped as heroes.

Collectivism vs. Individualism

This isn’t a philosophical discussion, it’s a personal observation.

Vacationing in a small town, I am brought close to the collectivism of our society again. The subtleties which I had forgotten about are refreshed in the daily interactions.

Living in a big city, a growing bustling metropolitan, individualism is a given way of life. You are expected to take care of yourself, to be self-sufficient. No one has the time to hold hands or molly coddle. You learn to make your own decisions, good decisions coming from bad decision, leading to experience which then results in good decisions the next time around.

Directly polar to this is the collectivism of small towns and villages. Everyone knows everyone else. You grow up in front of hundreds of people and long after you have forgotten your own immature escapades, it lives on in the collective memory. Your decisions are not your own, not that you can’t make them, you can. What you cannot escape is how much input everyone else will give to your plans & actions. It’s inescapable.

While this may sound very negative for those of us used to making and living individual lives, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, not for the boys at least.

Our current Bangladesh Bank governor very gratefully recalls how his entire village pitched in and helped educate him. They gave whatever amount they could afford. He says that had it not been for the generosity of all these people, who had no direct stake in his future, he would not have become what he is now – a respected economist, heading the central bank.

I am sure there are more stories like these. I am pleasantly surprised to note that the schools and colleges established by my family has expanded and grown nearly exponentially. These were established close to the villages they aim to serve. Girls who would not have been allowed to walk miles to school are now being able to get an education. The schools and colleges are by no means money making machines, in fact, it’s usually the opposite. But they serve an important social purpose. And as I keep saying, if you want to change someone’s life, give them the gift of education.

The downside of the collective is usually centered on issues of sexuality. Who you love, who you interact with, who you get married to and how you conduct your marriage – are all open to scrutiny and unsolicited advice and persecution by the collective. A boy may triumphantly count how many affairs he has managed to have, while a girl faces the title of ‘slut’ if it’s anything more than one affair that failed to culminate into marriage.

While for a man, marrying someone above their station is considered a triumph, for a woman, it’s a shame and a loss. Do people stop to wonder why the same relationship gets two different reactions? And while both the man & the woman, are in the same boat, their perception of their situation, their reality is vastly different.

And God forbid if you happen to want to explore your sexuality or not be able to fit into the collective narrative of what is and isn’t acceptable. Same sex love and relationships are unimaginable. But the opposites are not met with kindness either. Marriage and divorces are not spared this scrutiny either, in fact, in my opinion, it is equally cruel to both men and woman. Being forced to remain in a relationship that degrades or pains you every single day is no easy matter either.

Somewhere along the line, I suppose people find balance. A way to do what is right for self and society, while maintaining some sort of individual aspirations and control over one’s own life.

Caught in between lies and half-truths

Perhaps one of the greatest paradox of human life is that while we profess to upholding the truth above all else, the reality is that we are all caught in a complex web of white lies, half-truths and out-right lies. We are indoctrinated into this lie at a very early age and we either do not question it at all or we have all kinds of reasons as to why this is so.

Who else but humans would be capable of creating such a rich web of spinning words that catches and holds you like the spider’s web?

We bring up our girls on a steady diet of Disney princess and first loves and true loves power. We bring them up to fall in love and get married and stay married. Our fairy tale prince’s are not perfect, in fact, they might be downright abusive, but the princess doesn’t leave. No, she stays and she works on him, till he is perfect (a la carte beauty and the beast).

Do we bring up our boys on the same diet? To be worthy of being a prince? To fall in love with one girl and stay with her no matter how imperfect she is, until their love is perfect? How many boys do you know who are obsessed with Disney prince, vis-a-vis, some other cartoon character like Ben 10?

We bring up our girls to be super-woman. If she wants to work outside, fine but let’s not forget that she must be a domestic goddess first. The domestic goddess maybe battered and bruised and exhausted from having to do with too little sleep on a chronic basis, but never mind, she can mind the house, the babies and her husband before she goes out and discharges the duties of her career.

Our boys worldwide are pampered. Unburdened of housework or even the simplest acts of picking up their dinner dishes from the table and washing it off, boys have their childhood extended into their adult life. The pampering that starts with mama, continues with the wife. If it doesn’t, hey, most major religions will allow him to beat up his wife until she understands and fulfills HIS needs. If not directly with fists, then the same results would be obtained with half-lies and emotional blackmail: “Yeah, you are a great wife, but if only you would….. “ fill in whatever you want that either caters to him, his children or his parents or his family.

Is it any wonder that our girls are disillusioned? Bewildered? Disheartened?

This is not how it was supposed to be… this is not what happens when you are taken away by your knight in shining armor, who rides in on his white horse to save you.

And then we leave them wondering – did no one love them enough to tell them the truth? To warn them of the reality? To stand beside them as they muddle their way through this foreign landscape of half-truths and lies?

And even worse are the self-criticism that we are so good at installing in our girls, the doubts. The ‘maybe I wasn’t good enough’ statements that can be added and applied like a condiment to almost any situation in life. And of course we add some more spark to that fire by expressing our displeasure at the fact that she has failed to make something work out. Failed. Like the entire burden of making a relationship or a career work out is solely on the shoulders of the girl.

Why do we bother giving our girls an education? Why do we tell her that she can do anything, while we subtly discourage her from pursuing interests that are not in line with her gender stereotype?

Why do we tell them that they can have careers, children, husband, all of it… if they would just work hard enough and then work them down to their bones? Until they have nothing more left in them? Until they are so empty from giving, that living doesn’t make any sense to them?

Why do we not tell them instead that they would need to make some hard choices and its ok to make them? That she needs to do what is best for her. When a girl questions her choices, what do we tell her? More lies and half-truths?

But let’s face it, as long as one out of every three women worldwide continues to face violence, as long as more than 90% of that violence is carried on by either intimate partner or someone she knows, as long as we resort to comparison with a man in order to validate a woman’s accomplishment with statements like ‘she’s the man’, we still have the problem of half-truths and outright lies.

It’s all your fault

AWESOME SARCASM !!!!

The satire is poignant in pointing out how ominously, mercilessly, unthinkingly WE allow woman to be victimized – over and over again. Yes, we ….. not some anonymous ‘someone’ or ‘others’….. it is certainly ‘we’ consisting of you and me.

SO……… the next time you are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of being the guardian of “social morales”

wag your tongue and remind a woman of what she ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ do,

what she is ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ to do,

what ‘society’, ‘family’, ‘friends’ will ‘say’ about her or her parents or her upbringing…..

hold your tongue….

IF you can … stop & think and ALLOW common sense to prevail.

She’s busy fighting her way through the 24 hours that already exist in the day, she doesn’t need you to make it harder for her.

We, the women, allow the victimization of other women. We watch silently from the side, while someone else is getting victimized. We ‘allow’ the victimization of our own mother’s, sisters, sister-in-laws, aunts, cousins, nieces, friends, neighbors.

We justify it with ‘what can I do?’, ‘this is not my problem’, ‘it’s a family matter’, ‘what happens between husband and wife behind closed doors is none of my business’, ‘she was asking for it’ and we close our eyes to the violence.

We ‘allow’ it with our silence.

We ‘allow’ it every time we let someone step all over ourselves or someone else.

We ‘allow’ it when we want to avoid making a scene by calling attention to ‘this’.

We ‘allow’ it when we are too busy saving ‘faces’, instead of really looking at those faces around us.

We ‘allow’ it when we leave it to others to take action.

We ‘allow’ it when we encourage others to speak up but quiet down when it comes to our own self or family members  – by neither reporting the perpetrator nor helping the victim.

We ‘allow’ it when we advise a victim to ‘keep quiet’ in order to uphold the ‘family honor’.

REALLY?? Does the family’s honor, the woman’s honor, her social status, her worthiness as a human being, reside in her ability to keep quiet?

in allowing victimization??

in silently putting up with mental, verbal, physical abuse???

While the video above had been a satire, the one below unfortunately is not. Do not fool yourself into thinking that this is a South-Asian problem, an Indian problem or a Bangladeshi problem or an African problem. As report after report with mountainous statistics show…. this unfortunately is true the world over, including the first world countries, the developed world.

When women make up half of the world’s population, why do we put up with being abused by the other half? If we band together and stand up against this, can such impunity really exist?

 

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