Whatcha got?


Once upon a time a little boy needed help with homework. He ran to his mom and dad asking questions about math or English or social science. Mom or dad helped him figure out his math problem or his English grammar or told him what they remembered about that particular social science question. Invariably and without fail, the little boy turned to his almost six years older sister and asked, “Sahana, is that correct?”

We laughed. Why do you ask us if you need your sister to validate our answers? I believe he asked us out of habit but his full confidence was in his sister. If sister confirmed that the parents were correct, he would accept our answers.

As the boy and girl grew older, there were conflicts. Both of them grew up with their own views on life, society, media and politics. Both of them are independent thinkers (read stubborn). While they agree on basic values like equal rights, social justice, kindness, empathy, honesty, their means to get there sometimes differ. There are arguments, often heated.

I had the opportunity to watch their interactions during this pandemic in close quarters. While bickering still happens and it still drives me insane, I do get a preview of how they will relate to each other as adults. The girl turned 21 and the boy turned 15. They continue to debate policies and political beliefs with the zeal of their convictions. Debates can be still heated and tempers still flare, yet I often hear, “Ok, I see your point. But….”. Lately, I have witnessed more of sharing and laughing though. Often the laughter is directed at their aging parents, but mostly in a good natured and fun way.

I hear, “Ry, I am making pasta for myself, do you want some?”

Or “Sahana, I made popcorn. I left half a bag for you.”

I hear, “Sahana, I can’t find my phone.” And then, the phone is invariably found by sister accompanied by elaborate eye roll and an indulgent, “You dummy!”

It warms my heart to see they often speak the same language – pop culture language.

I hear, “Hey Ryan, did you watch (insert tik tok star name)?” or “Sahana, you gotta see this.”

A few days ago, I overheard a loud broken teen boy voice shouting from his room to his sister.

“Hey Sahana, I have English homework. You gotta help me.”

“I gotta, huh?” She laughs.

Then he saunters over to her room, slouches on her bed:

“Awright, I have to draw a picture between Victorian society and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Whatcha got?

Sahana, despite being in the middle of her homework, smiles and turns around to help.

They are figuring it out. After years of refereeing conflicts between these two, this mama watches from the side line. A warm feeling of love envelopes her as her two favorite humans in the whole wide world come together in their own unique ways.

Moving on.


On December 16th, 2012, a young woman boarded a public bus in New Delhi, India with friend after a late night movie show. Six people on the bus brutalized her beyond belief and threw her down the moving bus once they were finished with her. Her friend was beaten up and left to die. She clung on to life despite the odds – broken, mutilated, ravaged, brain-dead, but alive, breathing. She succumbed to her injuries a few days ago, on December 28th, 2012, after fighting desperately to cling on. Her body simply gave up.

Her fate and death stirred India into a huge protest against the indignities that women suffer and nudged the conscience of the whole world regarding the general attitude towards women, universally. Candle light vigils, marches with placards, protests against politicians and lackadaisical policies, accepting responsibilities that we all failed her, made it amply evident that people were not going to let this one go easily. This heinousness of the crime touched a raw nerve in the psyche of the nation. The fact that rape happens and goes unreported were brought to the forefront and discussed.

The bright young woman, a medical student, whose identity has been kept a secret, was given different names as movements and protests started against what she suffered – Nirbhaya (fearless one), India’s Braveheart, Amanat (treasure), Damini, Daughter of India. I know not if the woman was fearless. I am sure she was an Amanat, treasured by her parents, her family, ones who loved her. There have been no incidents cited that prove she was seeking to make a social change that night. She was a young woman, studying to become a doctor, she was full of possibilities, and she wanted a fun night out with her friend. She didn’t go out that night to become a martyr so people in India and the world could be shaken out of their complacency to do something about gender equality. She is a victim of a grievous crime, l don’t know why she is being called India’s Braveheart, but no matter.

What must have gone through her mind when this assault on her began, I wonder. Fear, first and foremost. Confusion, bewilderment, agony – ‘Why are you doing this to me? I am a human like you. You are hurting me so bad!’ Then she must have lost consciousness at some point, or at least I fervently hope she did because just the thought of the pain the men inflicted on her makes my skin crawl in horror.

Her death and the brutality done upon her opened the third eye of the nation – dare I hope? Will the women who are being subjected to rape, both marital and otherwise, and other form of indignities, garner enough strength to come forward with the tale of their woes and hope to be believed and vindicated?

And I wonder what led the six men to behave so cruelly towards another human? Was it alcohol? What did they suffer in their lives to become so dissociated with simple empathy? How much pain did they endure so they were capable of committing such unfathomable act of cruelty on another human? The men were from a slum in South Delhi, I hear. Does economics have any part to play in crimes such as these? Does education? The answer is no. Jessica Lal was murdered by the son of a minister. The wealthy kill and get away, the poor get caught – that is the only part economics play (Jessica Lal’s killer was caught, however)! And education? What is education in the true sense of the word? Does a degree from prestigious educational institutions make one truly educated enough to believe in human equality? It does not. Unfortunately, female infanticide happens in homes of doctors, professors, lawyers more than in the homes of folks without degrees from college. Aamir Khan, the renowned actor of India, did research for his reality show Satyameva Jayate and came up with the statistics that the rate of female infanticide still happening in the homes of wealthy and ‘educated’ is, in reality, much higher than the lower middle and poorer section of society. True enlightenment comes from opening one’s mind to accept, respect and value another. Rote learning doesn’t make one educated.

Enough has already been said, written, talked about women’s right. Many have voiced their opinions on hanging the rapists. I won’t go into that debate. I don’t have a solution to what will stop rapes right away. But I do think it depends on how we nurture and bring up our sons and daughters. Our actions today will determine what kind of society the next generation will create. First lesson they need to learn today is mutual respect. I still hear comments like ‘Don’t throw like a girl’ to teach a son athletic prowess or “Go wear a bangle and sit in the house’ to show a lack of courage in a male. As long as mentalities such as these exist, women will not be considered an equal to her counterpart.

What does woman’s equality mean, anyway? Men and women are different, physically and mentally. There is no denying that fact. But one needs to realize and respect that the contribution men and women make in society and in each other’s live are EQUALLY important. The roles of men being the bread winners and women staying at home are not rigid anymore, that line has been blurry for a while now. When men accept and respect that and when women start believing that their contribution in the family and their role in society are equally important, we can hope for gender equality. That is a first step – respecting another and believing in oneself.

It is a new year. January is a month of hopefulness, it starts off with new resolutions, new hopes, new beginnings. It is a month which tells us to move on from the mistakes of the past and build on the future. And we will move on. But we will not leave behind the innocent little children of Sandy Hook Elementary school. We will not leave behind the young woman who was brutally raped and beaten with a metal rod and thrown out of the bus to die on December 16th in New Delhi. They are moving on with us. We need them to remind us that enough wrong has been done in 2012 and the years before. We need to right those wrongs. Their memories won’t let us get complacent and self-absorbed. Their fate will remind us that each of us are vulnerable and unless we work towards a change, our loved ones could suffer the same fate. My hope is 2013 sees at least baby steps in the right direction – towards gender equality, towards social equality, towards a progressive mindset, towards true enlightenment, towards rehabilitation and prosperity. These words sound lofty and idealistic, but I do believe we are moving in the right direction. The Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, brutal rape of the young woman, other unreported rapes and other killings are stumbling blocks to prevent the forward march. But the uproar, determination, empathy and rage from the world that arises over incidents such as these prove that we are not going to tolerate such acts and these will not stop us from moving on – for the better.