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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 power in letting go of regret

Regret… now that’s an emotion that we are ALL familiar with, some perhaps more than others. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case you do not have the brain function necessary to feel the emotions associated with ‘regret’. So anyway, I did a quick search on this blog and turns out I have written exactly eight posts were I have tagged ‘regret’ as a key word. It’s a word that I have associated with coming out stronger from adversary, in making life choices, with death, with honesty, with having more than others – a myriad of situations which on the surface are not related to each other.

But looking at these posts, basically I have associated it with any situations where I felt there was a choice (ok, death was not by choice but maybe I have survivor’s guilt). So even though we love the feeling of having options – unfortunately, the minute we make the choice – any choice (it really doesn’t matter what we choose) – we immediately open ourselves to the very real possibility of experiencing regret – for not picking the option we didn’t choose.

I was watching the movie “About Time” last weekend, and the main character in it reaches the age of 21 and discovers that part of his inheritance is the ability to time travel. Now I tried imagining that given this ability there would be events in my past that I would choose to erase (trust me, I have a vivid imagination). The thing is, just like in the movie, if the butterfly effects of things changed means that I don’t meet certain people, experience certain situations, fundamentally, who I am, would change. And surprisingly it turns out THAT is a choice that I am not willing to make.

I like me, I am me because of everything that has happened to me, through the years, with the people, in places and situations, which at the time I had thought were the worst thing that can possibly happen. Yet, there I was, slapped on the face with the realization that I don’t want to lose or change who I am.

You know what that means? I don’t.

I think it might mean that I am letting go of the regret I had felt at the decisions I had made through life. That I had somehow made peace with my choices. Now knowing me, before I make any choice, I do weight them on a scale (I am a Libra so that figures my obsession with the scale thingy). I do the whole exercise of columns and rows of alternate scenarios and in most cases, I had chosen, what I believed at the time, to be the best possible option/choice. I can be quite obsessive with having a plan A (for action) and back up plan B, C, D… you get the picture.

Now, if you watch the Ted Talk below you will notice that at 6.15, she outlines what people regret the most – or rather the choices that people regret the most and funnily enough these are related to – education, career, romance, parenting, self, leisure, finance, family, health, friends, spirituality and community – in exactly that descending order. And that basically means that we most regret the things where we feel that we had a choice and we could’ve chosen something else. But what if like me, you get to a point, where you realize that at the moment of choosing, you had weighted all your options and you had made the best possible choice you can?

Would you still then hold on to regret? Or would you let it go?

So, here’s what I am going to be doing…. I am going to get myself tattooed this weekend and then be damn happy that I at least had the courage to do something that I had always wanted to get done. And if I regret my tattoos, then I guess I will learn to love my imperfect flawed creation 😉

The lesson that I ultimately learned from my tattoo and that I want to leave you with today is this: We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.

BTW, hindsight is always 20/20, so don’t bother looking back.. just keep moving forward 🙂

 

 

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.

The Locust Effect: How everyday violence undermines efforts to alleviate poverty

In the development discourse, violence is an issue that is discussed in terms of wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, gender, ethnic minorities etc. but perhaps not enough in the broad strokes of everyday violence in the way it affects the 2 billion people who live on 2 dollars a day. Not in the very tangible way it keeps people enslaved in poverty. We discuss violence against women in the household and outside as a factor to address in our march towards equality and economic emancipation. But are we really addressing the multi-faceted nature of everyday violence that is a part and parcel of the reality of the very people that we are trying to help? Are we shining a light on the daily instances of violence that pushes people deeper into poverty?

When law enforcement systems are broken, when access to justice is paved by payments unaffordable to the poor, where does that leave them and where does that leave us?

In The Locust Effect, Haugen outlines the catastrophic effect of everyday violence on the lives of the impoverished, and shows how rampant violence is undermining efforts to alleviate poverty.

 

Got body image issues? This is for you!

So at some point in time or other, we all get these body image issues. Too fat, too thin, not enough boob, too much boob, jiggling in the wrong places … you name it, either you got it or someone you know does. What doesn’t help is the media portrayal of women who just look too damn perfect! Perfect skin, hair, make-up, figure.. everything is just too perfect!

It’s enough to cause bulimia and anorexia in teenagers. It’s enough to cause any women, regardless of age, body-image issues. In fact, if we could take our mental picture of us and compare that side by side to how others see us… we would be startled at how beautiful people think we are and just how critical we are of our flaws – real or imagined.

Everyone has some feature that others envy. Trust me! Sadly, I have yet to meet a woman/girl/teenager who thought they were perfect the way they are. What does that tell us? So here’s a ted talk from someone who is PERFECT! really! she is! She’s smart, beautiful and has a rocking body. She’s been a model for 10 years now. She’s  literally admitting her privilege and pointing out both the biases and superficiality of the fashion industry (which can severely affect the body and beauty image of young girls everywhere) and the way people judge others based solely on physical appearance (RACE, gender, weight, hair color etc).

The first part to fixing a problem is letting it be known – in this case that happens to be that ‘LOOKS’ aren’t everything 🙂

And here’s a talk that shows the surprising impacts of low body and image confidence—from lower grade point averages to greater risk-taking with drugs and alcohol. And then shares the keys things all of us can do to disrupt this reality.

This post is related to another one I wrote on girls & images: Caught in between lies & half-truths.

The 7 pillars of Netflix Culture

Generally speaking I am not very good with sitting through long presentations, certainly not one that is 126 slides long. But this was riveting. Why?

Simply because it is so precise, therefore effective and efficient.

Yes it is 126 slides long but the lessons contained is such that you could probably read at least 10 Management books, go through a couple of extensive management trainings with special emphasis on strategic thinking and still fail to grasp or condense all the points that are so precisely formulated here.

Netflix has obviously spent quite a bit of time and effort in putting together this ‘bible’ for their organization. In fact this could very well be a road map that can be adapted and adopted for MOST organizations.

A snapshot of the Seven Aspects of Netflix Culture & their corresponding bullet points are:

1. Values are what they value – Judgement, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, selflessness.

2. High Performance

3. Freedom & Responsibility

4. Context, not Control

5. Highly Aligned, Loosely Coupled

6. Pay Top of Market

7. Promotions & Development

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.

All is fair in love and war… or is it?

This semester at the university, I had a course “Gender & Development” and for the term paper, my group of 4 and I decided to do our paper on “LGBTQI & Development”.  The paper itself was interesting to put together but far more interesting was what I learnt along the way of secondary research.

As a die-hard romantic, somewhere deep down, I truly believe in all the Disney portrayal of love and relationships. This despite the fact that I also laugh at how dysfunctional those relationship would be in real life.

Now imagine my surprise, despair and distress at having to immerse myself in the difficulties of same-sex love, relationships and the screwed up institutional bias against the same. If ‘everything is fair in love and war’, then what’s wrong with this love?

Who says that only a man and a woman can be in love with each other? Who decides who your heart will fall for? Which logic dictates how you get to conduct your love affair?

Love for me is a very intimate affair between two people, the state, the law, the society, has no business butting their nose in there. As long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, why should anyone else have a say in it?

I understand parents loving their children and wanting the best for them. But I don’t understand it when parents & families kick out their kids because they are LGBTQI or when society/family pressures drive these people to take their own lives.

This doctor in the UK chose to take his own life, despite the fact that he was in a relationship for 13 years & was professionally successful. His mother told him to seek treatment to cure being ‘gay’ and I guess the pressure got to the point where it didn’t make any sense to keep fighting his family. So he ended it. Whose loss was that? Given the choice, would his family really choose to have him dead, rather than being gay?

While the doctor’s family is muslim, this gay teenager who committed suicide had devout christian family, who performed an exorcism on him to cure him of his ‘gayness’. Below is quoted from his suicide note:

‘My pain is not caused because I am gay. My pain was caused by how I was treated because I am gay.’

‘To my friends you gave me life and love, never think this was your fault…To Lady Gaga, you have been a fearless relentless proud LGBT advocate…’

These cases are far too common, in fact, the opposite is rare. To be able to come out to your family, to be accepted for who you are, to be celebrated for the person that you are, instead of being persecuted is rare. So rare in fact that the news below became quite a sensation.

Best birth announcement ever!

The world is screwed up, society is screwed up. We need more lovers and less war. Love and relationship are not guaranteed happiness for heterosexual couples. I cannot even begin to imagine how much more difficult it must be for homosexual people. So why can’t we all just take a chill pill and relax and be supportive … after all … All is fair in love & war.. right?

At some point in time, during our presentation to the class, I may or may not have, cheekily stated that while my first reaction to being ‘bi’ or ‘gay’ would be ‘yayy… more fish in the sea for me’… this wasn’t in any way meant to discount the anguish & distressing experience of thousands of people who had to ‘come out’ to their family or the society around them. However, if you are reading this and if you belong to the LGBTQI community, I want you to know the following:

YOU are beautiful exactly as you are

YOU are enough for yourself

No one and I really mean no one, no religion, society, family, is worth more than YOUR life

God doesn’t care.. he wants YOU to be a good person inside, in your actions, in your intentions.. I doubt that there’s any loving God who will denounce you based on your sexuality. He created us. If we were not what he wanted, you wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have free will. Period.

So if I may… “live long and prosper” … and leave the naysayers in the dust where they belong.  Enjoy the holidays, kiss the person you are in love with and love truly and deeply.

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