‘Let’s do something for the Underprivileged’

Parents cease to be infallible to children once they cross the magic years of childhood and enter the murky waters of preteen. It is a confusing age, an age where the boundaries that parents set seem cruel, meaningless and restraining. Parents become the beloved jailers, loved in many ways but hated in some. I felt the same way towards mine while growing up yet at some level, I always knew two well-meaning, kind-hearted people who gave birth to me have also bequeathed me their legacy – kindness.

As a child, I have seen my father spend hours next to his aging, bed ridden relative by marriage, listening to his tales of yester year glories. His gift to the lonely old man was a patient ear and his time. He was, and still is, the hero and savior to all stray dogs and cats in our neighborhood. He instilled in me the life long love for animals. My mother, not only indulged me in all kinds of madness with animals, which included, but wasn’t limited to assisting my cats birth their kittens on my bed and saving and nurturing countless dogs and cats during my entire childhood. She turned a blind eye as I donated generous portions of family rations to alm seekers who knocked on our door. Well, she couldn’t have stopped me anyway. I still remember witnessing the tears in the eyes of our domestic help as she took off her gold earrings and gave them to her for her daughter’s marriage.

After I grew and moved away, my parents found a sudden void in their lives. With me gone, they suddenly did not know what to do. Their lives revolved around our visits to them and vice versa. Then came the grandchildren. Their joy multiplied, but when it was time for us to part, so did loneliness. They waited for phone calls, visits. Life became a long wait.

My father, possessing an inquisitive mind, started tinkering with my old computer. He taught himself enough to land in his first social networking site – Orkut. After a first few shaky steps, he discovered a different world in there – one of online friendship. He dragged my reluctant mother into this and an addiction was formed. My mother came into social networking kicking and screaming, but she was fascinated by the expansiveness of the world it presented. The barriers of sex, age, caste, creed fell away. Her gregarious, jovial and spirited self was just perfect to attract a large number of online friends. They both started spending hours interacting with individuals they knew through Orkut and Facebook, exchanging ideas, talking about Tagores’ poetry, quotations, songs. Gone were the days of lonely sighs and long waits. Life took on a different meaning.

I was happy at the distraction the social networking site provided since I suffered from the single child guilt. At the same time I was alarmed at this addiction which I feared may take a toll on their health. Well, I was wrong and how!

Hours of chat on Facebook gave birth among some like-minded friends, the desire to do something for those in the lower strata of the society. They talked, discussed, debated, planned for hours and created a community called:


Their ultimate goal is to reach a position where they can help people change their lives. They are not there yet but they have put some precious smiles on some precious faces. They have collected money and given out school supplies to elementary school children in slums of Kolkata, India. They are planning their next project, which is to donate clothes to the needy before the biggest festival of Bengalis – Durga pujo. They have pooled their own resources but they can not help as many people as they want without donations. So they are reaching out to you to help their cause by donating money/ time to help their efforts.

I humbly ask you to please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LetsDoSomethingForTheUnprivileged.

See what they are all about. If you like their initiative, please like their Facebook page to tell your friends about this community. If you are able, please donate money and/or your time. If you are local, feel free to join in their efforts and further their cause in bringing a change. They are a group of well-meaning people but new at this venture. They will certainly benefit from your advice and expertise. I request you to know this community and support their efforts in any way you can.

I am immensely proud of my parents that instead of looking inwards in their twilight years, they finally found the time to do what they wanted to do all their lives (and did in small ways) – give back to the community. I am thankful they found a group of friends who share their zeal to make a difference, no matter, how little. I salute this endeavor and I hope they will continue to grow and become a bigger organization to help more and more people in their community and beyond. I also hope you will join me in giving them the support they need.

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.

Spare the child, I really don’t care about the rod!

Corporal punishment and its effectiveness have been part of discussion for some time now, since the new fangled parenting books hit the markets. I read parenting books with a grain of salt because there can be no one formula that we can apply for every child. Each child is different, what works for one may not work for the other. I read some anyway because I can always find a new idea that I think may benefit my children and help me be a better parent.

There are some absolute truths in good parenting, though, the first being consistency. Setting out rules and expectations and following them and holding the children up to those expectations. Of course, the expectations should not be unreasonable so the child is set up for failure. While being consistent on the core values, certain flexibility often makes the journey more fun for both the parent and the child.

I do believe, however, corporal punishment is not effective means of parenting. It instills fear and in some cases, it breeds violence. Why do we punish children in the first place? The goal is for children to realize, from an early age that each of their actions has a consequence. Good choices yield positive results and bad choices bring on unpleasant reactions from the grown ups. The end result of spanking or time outs is the same – to make the child realize that they made a bad choice. The parents take the responsibility of ingraining the socially acceptable behaviors in a child when they start toddling around. Most of the parents teach their children to keep their hands to themselves since they cross the threshold of preschool. Children are naturally physical, keeping their hands to themselves is an acquired social skill that are taught by parents and teachers. If the parent uses their hands to inflict physical pain, what message are they conveying? I have seen a father swat at his child to stop him from hitting a peer. What did the child really learn? It’s ok for dad to hit, but it is not ok for me to do the same? Prime example of double standard right there. Children may display a desired behavior for the fear of getting physically hurt, but is that desired behavior ingrained in them? Will they behave well because that is the right thing to do?

Many equate lack of corporal punishment to lackadaisical parenting. Kids get spoilt if they are not dealt with a firm hand – literally. Spare the rod, spoil the child may just be the most quoted line from the bible. I have heard we are bringing up a generation of spoilt adults because we believe in the new fangled parenting of not spanking. That, I think, is far from the truth. If a child is occasionally spanked for some misgiving, yet the parents give in to all his demands at other times, he will eventually grow up to be selfish, spoilt and yes, to some extent, violent. When it is their turn to be parents, chances are, they will continue corporal punishment quoting ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ I do think a parent can be strict and effective without raising his/her voice as long as they stick to their guns. Some feel a spank here and there is far more effective than constant nagging. I agree nagging is useless. the children tune you out, it falls in deaf ears but kids get used to spanking too. They know it hurts for the moment but the moment passes. So it is not really a good alternative.

Most spank their children to teach a lesson, and not to really hurt them. Ideally, if the anger element can be kept out of spanking and it made clear to the child that this kind of punishment is being meted out to him for a particular bad behavior, it MAY yield result. But there are parents who need lessons in anger management. Corporal punishment is a slippery slope then, it can lead to a trip (or many) to emergency rooms. It has happened before and happens often, unfortunately. Does spanking in childhood traumatize the child for life? Most cases, it doesn’t. They grow up and live to tell the tale. I was spanked pretty regularly, now I laugh with my mother and give her a hard time about it. She says she made a mistake when she hit me. She has realized later in life she shouldn’t have inflicted pain and I should never, ever hit her grandchildren. Yes, we see some double standards here 🙂 !

Having said all that, I know it is easier said than done. I have smacked my children a few times in their lives. I have come close to spanking them many more times than I care to remember. I have seriously counted till ten to get my anger under control. I have yelled at them, nagged them, and done everything that parents do when they lose control. I am not holier than thou, by any means. But then hated myself later remembering their scared eyes. I lost control. Moreover, I lost control on little people who are completely dependant on me. I am their protector, I would never want them to ever feel I will inflict them physical pain. I am an assertive parent and I want them to recognize my authority over them for making serious decisions but not by beating them to submission. I apologized to them and promised I will never raise my hands again. I have kept my promise.

Are my kids going to be better humans than another who is spanked in childhood? Heck no! I hope they will be happy, successful individuals and so will be the child who was occasionally spanked as a form of punishment. The choice of corporal punishment is more about me as a parent. It is about what kind of parent I want to be. The idea of inflicting physical pain to teach a point does not appeal to me. That doesn’t mean they won’t hate me till they are thirty. And the same fate awaits my fellow parent who reaches for the rod instead of taking away a favorite toy for thee days for a particularly serious misgiving. I just won’t have to say later, ‘I shouldn’t have hit you when you were a child. That was a mistake. But don’t you EVER lay on a hand on my grandchildren!’ 🙂 ! At the end of the day, not choosing corporal punishment is really about who I am and what kind of parent I want to be.

Lovely! Does it HAVE to be fair?

Will you all please join me in raising our fists in the air and shouting ‘Gender equality!!! Finally!!’ A fairness cream company has come up with a fairness cream for men and it promises results in just four weeks of usage. Say goodbye to the ‘tall, dark and handsome’ good looks! That is so yesterday! Today’s mantra is ‘fair and handsome!’ I should have been happy reading this. It deals with the double standard that Indian society has – women have to be fair to be considered a beauty, yet men? Well, they are men, right? The sex itself makes them a step above! Nothing else matters or should matter. Now, they have to be fair to be considered beauti…oops, handsome. That’s politically correct.

I have never quite understood the fairness fetish in India and the other Asian countries. I have seen and have been subjected to good-natured ridicule about skin color. It hurt in the teenage years when one really likes to be admired for their physical attributes. But as I became older and wiser, I became optimistic that as India opened up to the world more, it would realize that the average skin tone of Indians is actually an enviable attribute amongst many in the fair-skinned population. People would also realize that skin color is something in your genes. You can take care of it, keep it blemish free as much as you can, but it would be difficult to change your skin tone. I understood that the concept of ‘fair skinned beauty’ is deep-rooted and will take time to completely disappear. The cinema, the media, the music all play to the concept ‘fair skin equates beautiful’. Hindi songs warn women not to go out in the sun, not because one will get skin cancer but the skin will darken – ‘Dhoop mein nikla na karo roop ki raani, gora rang kaala na ho jaye!’ I was told, many times, not to drink tea. Tea will affect the liver, mal functioning of liver will darken my skin further, my prospects of marrying, already low, will dwindle. You get the logic? It may be appropriate to mention a personal experience here. I went for an interview for a sales job in a renowned air conditioning company, right out of college. The job I was interviewing for entitled selling air conditioners in the sweltering heat of Kolkata. The manager, after looking at me and my resume, asked if I was up for this kind of job since my skin would darken under the sun and I would have trouble attracting a mate with my darkened skin. I didn’t even realize how inappropriate the comment was at the time, I was brain washed since childhood that dark is bad, hence the comment seemed normal. I am still embarrassed that I didn’t protest such mindset then. There are exceptions, but they only prove the rule, unfortunately. However, the eternal optimist that I am, I hoped this perception would fade away as my ‘shining India’ shone brighter.

Then I read this recently: “While these ads (apart from boosting the sales of the products), have invited flak for promoting insecurity and discrimination among women, the latest to join the long list of fairness products is something that can be described as ludicrous at best. The product, that has sparked an online debate, is a fairness cream for women’s private parts!

The ad, that went on-air some time back, has been described by the online world as the “ultimate insult to women”. It shows a Katrina Kaif look-alike who has a glum expression on her face, as her husband is more interested in the newspaper than in her. But once she cleans herself up (with that product), she suddenly becomes the object of his affections. The Twitterati is buzzing with comments slamming these products. “This is the ultimate insult. Skin whitening for your vagina,” Rupa Subramanya tweeted. While @ThePunjew, wrote, “What a bummer, there’s no shade card yet to monitor fairness progress!”

The above excerpt is from an article in The Times of India ‘Outrage over fairness cream for private parts’. ‘A new TV ad for a personal hygiene cream, that promises ‘fairer’ private parts for women, has been slammed by netizens.’

Fairness cream is a disgrace, I think. It is demeaning and insulting, to say the least, to women and now men. Some of the famous film personalities have refused to endorse tobacco and alcohol advertisements, yet many movie icons continue to appear and endorse fairness creams. I agree fairness cream doesn’t inflict the same amount of damage in one’s body as tobacco and alcohol but how about the mind? How about society? How about dowry that the grooms ask for a dark-skinned bride? I have watched with amazement as a father joked about how he has set aside a huge sum of money for dowry for his dark-skinned daughter. He joked, ‘When the groom’s family mentions her darkness, I will hand them the first bundle of rupees, when they mention her nose, I will hand them the second bundle!’ All this in front of the girl, who sat there with a slight smile on her face. Isn’t this SOMEWHAT akin to selling the girl, her skin tone, her features?

I spoke to an amazingly beautiful model whose only regret in life was her dark skin. She wishes to be fairer in the next life. ‘What are you talking about? You are beautiful!’ I told her, amazed. ‘Nah, I am too dark!’ Her response. When a baby is born in a family, the question about his/her skin color is asked at the same time as whether s/he is healthy. If the baby happens to be dark-skinned, the comments generally are ‘The color is dark BUT the features will be good.’ I am waiting for the BUT to change to AND! When my babies were born, the hope amongst many of my friends and family were the children get my white husband’s skin tone! I still remember a question asked after Ryan’s birth, by a friend’s mother, ‘The baby is like Sean, I hope? Fair skinned?’

The pancake make up ladies lather on their faces to whiten them is very disheartening. Glowing skin of any hue is beautiful, unnatural white skin is not! I was subjected to such makeup during my Indian wedding, much to the dismay of my white husband. ‘What have they done to you?’ He exclaimed. ‘Color equality for the day, darling. Deal with it!’ I said.

I recently spotted a popular fairness cream in an Indian grocery store in the US. I was disappointed to see the fairness fetish has transcended geographical boundaries. The store owner told me the sale of the product is very high. To me, that was surprising. I started appreciating my skin color more after I came to this country where people pointed to my arms and said, ‘That is what WE want.’ Hence the tanning salons, hence the sun bathing. I thought Indians would feel proud of their naturally tanned skin color but many seem to want the fair skin of the Caucasians. Entry fairness creams. Hackneyed but true, the grass truly is greener on the other side.

Bottomline: India, please wake up and smell the coffee. The mindset regarding fairness, instead of improving, is taking a terrible, demeaning, sadly humorous turn. It is invading the privacy of women. Spend more money on gynecological check ups to prevent ovarian cancer, educate women on women’s health and check for breast cancer. Please do not worry about the COLOR of women’s privates. There are so many more things in the world to worry about. Do trust me on this one!