A Letter to my Former Self

Dear Former Self,

I know its been a while we’ve spoken. Maybe you think I’m unkind. Or selfish. That I acknowledge you so little. Even though I was essentially, created from you. And I can never allow myself to forget that you essentially are my motherland. My creator. My birthplace.

No, I haven’t forgotten you. You still remain tucked somewhere within some corner of my heart. In the grooves of my memory. Within the folds of my spirit. When they tell me my eyes glow when I smile, I know it’s your pent up laughter that they see. When my slightly restrained womanly demeanor metamorphoses into a child that’s been allowed to run wild, its your carefree spirit that dances within. And on nights when I lie in bed, a vision of you, in the form of my old memories, fleets before my eyes, refusing to leave. Even though you and I are no longer friends, probably rare acquaintances, you live within me. And I carry you within me, with a sense of ownership, pride and honour. even though I might not show it.

I’m sorry you had to go through what you did. I know you weren’t exactly expecting all the disappointments, the tears, the failures that came your way. You had set yourself up for the skies, yet all you met with was the musty ground. You were let down by those you thought would never desert you. You were burned down by strife. By discord. By struggle. Your porcelain doll-esque spirit was shattered to pieces. In a way you never thought you would heal.

But you did. Only to fill those cracks with gold. Like the kintsugi potters in Japan, who believe that broken pottery is more beautiful that its original self, for the scars tell stories of all the wars the samurai has fought, only to return, recover and grow stronger.

And surprisingly, I don’t sympathize with you. Because the older, wiser me has come to understand, and appreciate that, as Destiny’s child, you had to go through all of this, for you to become me. The version of myself that I have become today. In your destruction, lay my birth. My wisdom came at the cost of your naivety. My maturity could only have been born from your innocence. Your ashes were my first cries. Your graveyard, my womb. Your tombstone, my cradle. As  the Phoenix  self-immolates itself, before it choses to resurrect itself from its own mortal remains, so did you have to be destroyed, so I could be formed.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was I. But it was built on ruins.  And so was I. Recreated on my own ruins.Just like water changes form, based on the utensil it finds itself in, I had to, too, change. But lets not call it change. Lets call it evolution. For despite the fires, storms and roads I had to walk through, I have no regrets. Diamonds are created under the harshest of conditions, and so did my soul, have to walk through Hades to find its own Heaven.

There are days I remember you. And like I said before, there are traces of you that still remain within. But having said all of this, I know that in no circumstance, am I going back to you.

Adieu, former self. I hope, with the purest of intentions, that we never meet. For its taken so much of you to be me, that I fear returning to who I once used to be.

Much Love,

Your Future Self

#WomenThatInspireMe : Daadi

 

 

An anthropologist, psychologist, and culture enthusiast at heart, I’ve always found tremendous joy in speaking to people, and learning about their stories. And being reassured that in the end, every story is a legacy. Worth listening to, and learning from. All it takes is the right ears and hearts to listen.

One such story, I discovered, is that of Daadi.

Daadi. Biologically, we’re not related. Yet, by the Indian definition of family that extends to everyone you’re even remotely related to, Daadi truly is family. And over the years, especially after I moved to the US, I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know more and more about her, and her story.

A woman who technically speaking, came from nothing, yet became so many things. One who having grown up in the India of the ’60s, had no lofty dreams for her life beyond a happy home and family, yet one whose life story included her doing so many things she’d otherwise deemed unimaginable – making a foreign land her home, getting her first paying job, and raising three children in an environment completely different from what she’d imagined it to be.

Married at the tender age of 18, before she could even complete her graduation, Daadi says she was neither forced into it, nor was she over excited by the prospect of it. She just accepted it as a normal course of life. She spent the next decade or so in domestic bliss,living across several cities in India, bringing up three children, playing the role of a dutiful homemaker. And believing that this was the zenith she would reach in the course of her lifetime.

A major turning point is her journey came when fifteen years into her marriage, life offered her a rare chance, one that she had never even imagined. An opportunity to move to America, one which to her presented itself as a chance to a provide her children a better future. A choice which might seem rosy at first glance, but entailed a lifetime of struggle and uncertainty. Not to mention the fact that they were going have to start a new life, almost afresh. Yet, she decided, this was a gamble they would take. Even if it meant a huge sacrifice on their part.

And daadi and daada, with $100 and their entire life packed in four suitcases, found themselves in a foreign land. One where they had a few family members, but knew that they had to hit the ground running, to create their own life. Fresh off the boat. Immigrants. In the true sense of the word.

And the, a woman who had never held, or even thought she’d ever have a regular job, found herself as a cashier in a restaurant, working night shifts, seven days a week, before she went on to hold a series of jobs. It wasn’t easy, she says. Yet determination and will power have their own gifts. Teaching herself resilience, fixing her broken English and learning every skill necessary to make herself indispensable, Daadi recalls days where she toiled hard. Her children supported each other as she worked. And so did strangers who performed rare acts of kindness, going from being acquaintances to her extended family in America.

Daadi says she feels very fortunate, that married a complete stranger, who slowly metamorphosed into her best friend and partner through every phase of life. Her husband supported her throughout her journey, and continues to even today. His constant support means a lot to her, and their struggles together only made their marriage stronger. In fact, her children were first hand witnesses to their trials and tribulations, and she feels that hard work and gratitude became core family values, and gave them a strong foundation.

It hasn’t been exactly an uphill ride, with its own share of ups and downs. Yet, an extremely fulfilling one. Ask her about what America did for her, and she proudly says that while India might be her homeland, America is her country too. One she has called home for almost forty years now. One that allowed her to fulfill the dreams she’d envisioned for her children, for all of her three children are happily settled in their own lives today. But more than anything else, one that gave her much more than what she’d asked for.  Taking her on a trip of her own self-discovery. Allowing her to discover, through a combination of her own unflinching desire to learn and adverse situations, a version of her she never even knew existed.

And as a listener, who has had the sheer pleasure of listening to the tales and anecdotes of her journey, and being able to pen them down, I’d say that Daadi is nothing short of a source of inspiration. Her tale is one of having faith in your dreams, and taking the plunge when you have get the opportunity. Of being soft even in toughest of times. Of having deep gratitude. And living life with a strong sense of giveback. For in the end, you always reap what you sow. What goes around, truly does come around. And her story is living proof to this.

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Rumi, Rupi and Ghalib. Why do poetry at all?

A proud literati and arts enthusiast, I was fortunate to have been introduced to literature at a young age. And it clearly is a love I’ve nurtured and grown stronger over time. First reveling in the bliss of the words, and then creating my own. From an avid reader to a word artist.

And I’ve loved literature in all its forms. Prose, for its stories. Drama, for the characters. Yet, poetry has been my favorite.

Why poetry? I hear you ask.

Literature speaks to the mind. Drama to the heart. But poetry, to the soul. And if you ask me, the purest form of creating art with words. Of telling you, what you already know. Not in an informational, objective manner. But in a way in which the heart wants to listen. Almost akin to what the said about the spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down.

Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes good art. Mine is what stands the test of time, comes instilled with a sense of purpose,and makes you think. And poetry is no exception. In its truest form, poetry is an enricher. A savior. A comforter. And that’s why even today, when life hits hard, I seek refuge in either classics like Rudyard Kipling, Maya Angelou, or Robert Frost, or evergreens like Harivansh Rai Bacchan, Rumi and Kahlil Gibran, or even the more contemporary ones like Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed and Lang Leav.

And the reason I’m drawn to each one of them remains the same. The endearing quality of the words to uplift, inspire, heal, nourish and empower.

There are critics, and there are enthusiasts. I clearly belong to the latter. And while critics (or at least those who choose to call themselves that) will talk about poetry having died and lost its purity, I beg to differ. Art has this unique ability to adapt itself to meet the needs of the generation it caters to. From a time where poetry was composed with quills and written on parchment paper, to a time where the words are read on mobile screens. Art, in every form, is art. And in my world, from Shakespeare’s sonnets to Rupi Kaur’s instapoetry, they’re all welcome. For each one touches a different note, echoes a different chord of the soul. And as long as the soul exists, poetry shall stay. And not just stay, reign.

Future is Female. No, I say.

Future is female,

they tell me

No, it is not

The future is one

Where men can cry

And women can run nations

With no one ever questioning, why.

Where pinks and blues

Are for everyone.

Where men in kitchens

And women in boardrooms

Is a common sight

Where a woman

Loses out to a man

Because of his abilities

And not because

He was given

The ‘privilege’ of a penis

Where man and woman

Are just biological labels

Which have no impact

On dreams, desires and passions

Where women rise

Yet men are not degraded

The future is not female, I say

It is equal

On being Indian. And feminist.

Yes, I’m feminist. And I’m Indian. And in my opinion, the two make a rather interesting combination.

The dictionary definition of the term feminism defines the term as advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. Yet I think that given my culture and background, the term feminist takes on a slightly different meaning.

Because in my part of my world, being feminist also means fighting the additional baggage of culture, tradition, occasionally even religion.  A community that practices paradox like second nature . Where an endless number of female deities are worshipped. Yet women are being abused in every single form possible. One which has produced no dearth of female leaders, yet where misogyny and patriarchy still prevalent. One which doesn’t oppose objectification of women in popular culture. Yet conversation around natural biological processes like menstruation and safe sex are considered taboo. And if this environment doesn’t call for one to be feminist, I don’t know what does.

My biggest reason for choosing to become a feminist was the understanding and appreciation that in this scenario, I was truly, genuinely, one of the fortunate ones. To have never faced discrimination in my personal or professional life. On the contrary, to have been supported by an entire army of men who encouraged, propelled and drove me to scale heights in my professional and personal life.  And it is this sense of gratitude that drives me to be feminist.  Feminism, in my opinion, is about fighting the social evils against women that exist in society. But it’s equally about fighting the internalized misogyny that lives silently in minds, yet constantly surfacing and displaying its murky self. It’s about believing that as a woman, you are capable of anything. But above everything else, it’s about building a longer table. About not treating feminism like some kind of elitist club, rather a collective sisterhood. Where both women and men acknowledge first, that a challenge does exist, and consequently working collectively towards uplifting women who, through some twist of fate, didn’t have the opportunities you did. Without being judgmental, opinionated or biased.

So yes, I’m feminist. And an Indian woman. And I will continue to be both. For both these badges, are ones that are part of my identity, and ones I wear with utmost pride.

 

This Woman’s Day, lets Thank the Men

Behind every successful man, is a woman.

In this era, where we’re fighting for equality,  and inclusivity, this adage seems passe. People support people. Gender doesn’t necessarily have to play a role at all. And I’d like to change the narrative to simply saying that behind every successful person, there is an someone else, or even an entire village. Especially because as a woman, I’ve been fortunate to have had the support of many women, and men, who’ve added to my flame, propelled me and driven me to rise strength to strength. And as much as I’ve created my own sisterhood, I’ve also had an army of men that’s played a crucial role in helping me to rise and create a niche for myself. And this Women’s day, I’d like to specially thank all those men. For as much as I’m grateful to the women who’ve acted as mentors, confidantes and friends, I’ve also been associated with men who’ve made me a more confident, stronger and better version of myself.

So the men whom I’m thanking this Woman’s Day:

1. My father : For making me his princess. His warrior princess. One whom he taught to fight her own battles, kill her own demons and be her own heroine, instead of waiting for some hero to do so.

2. My male friends : For the back slapping, the banter and the company. For making me feel part of the gang, never the outsider.

3. My male teachers & mentors : For teaching me lessons of life, I will not forget in a jiffy. For constantly sharing inspiring examples of women leadership and pathbreaking efforts, in turn, allowing me to dream of becoming a trailblazer myself.

4. My colleagues : My male bosses, for believing in me, for valuing my capability over my gender.  Male colleagues who’ve been great support systems, and friends at work. Who have only allowed to challenge myself constantly as a professional, and in turn sharpen myself in the process.

5. Global leaders : There are some great examples of male leaders, who’ve paved the path forward for women to gain access to opportunities like education, social and economic independence, that have only allowed to succeed in their personal and professional spheres.

In this era of endless stories about men that have exploited, underestimated, and even suppressed women, lets not forget the ones that have done just the opposite. To inspire and uplift women, you don’t have to be a female yourself. And to all the men that have practiced and preached this, I extend my sincere gratitude. More power to you, boys. For we need more folks like you in here.

 

 

Impower, not empower

Female empowerment isn’t just a buzz word anymore. Or a fad. It’s a way of life. And a cause one doesn’t not want to be associated with. One that’s found enough takers, for everyone to find some reason to jump on to the bandwagon. The commercialization of woman empowerment, I call it. Ad commercials that propagate the notion of equality repeatedly. Ventures ranging from lingerie, to plus sized clothing to media channels, focusing on women of various segments. Corporate policies across the globe evolving to recognize the biological, financial and social requirements of women. All steps towards empowering more women. Yet, somehow, I have an issue with the term empowerment.

Empower. The dictionary defines the word empower as the act of giving someone the authority or power to do something. And I begin to wonder why one an individual that is talented, capable and high-performing in her own way has to be ‘empowered‘ by another individual. Especially when the so-called ’empowerer’ happens to be a counterpart, except a difference in gender.

Maybe there needs to be a slight tweak to this term. Instead of ’empowering’ women, I’d like to change the term to female impowerment. Allowing more women find their purpose, through self-discovery of their abilities. Where through opportunities and avenues, we assist them in finding what already was within them. I’ve almost begun to associate the term empowerment as a hierarchical notion, where someone at the top allows power to someone below him. And the question that arises in my mind is why the apparent ‘allowed’ party even needed permission in first place. In a world that’s working towards equality and inclusivity,  that’s where we might be getting it wrong. Power lies within. It shouldn’t have to imparted externally.

And maybe that’s what should be our mantra this Women’s Day. To Impower, not empower. 

Women & Entrepreneurship. New best friends? Not really.

In the Bollywood movie English Vinglish, I remember a scene when everyone in the first session of a crash English course is introducing themselves. Sridevi a.k.a Shashi, mentions that she runs a tiny ladoo-making business from within the confines of her kitchen. ‘Oh, so you’re an entrepreneur,’ the English teacher exclaims. And Shashi’s eyes light up, for all of a sudden she’s now learned a new definition of her identity. One that enhances her own self-esteem in her eyes. In the blink of an eye, she’s gone from someone who thought she didn’t do anything exemplary, to an ‘en-tre-pre-neur’, a word she herself has to practice a few times before she gets it right.

As an Indian woman, there’s probably never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. As far as the glass ceiling of entrepreneurialism is concerned, the ceiling hasn’t just cracked, it’s been broken, even shattered. Repeatedly. In a nation that has traditionally seen a male-dominated entrepreneurial scenario, there is no dearth of women who’ve built and led successful ventures And that’s good news.

Yet, if I look back to my growing up years, it does strike me that female entrepreneurship is no new phenomenon. Rather one that’s been around since the last few decades. And there are several instances of this.

A prime example that comes to mind is the cooperative company structures Lijjat Papad and AMUL built. Allowing women to a taste of financial independence through employing household skills that they had anyway learned by default.  A win-win situation for these commercial ventures and for the women. Many of these business models even went on to become case studies at B-schools, for they were pathbreaking attempts at employing latent talent in women that had otherwise been traditionally ignored. And in the process allowing women, who had mostly been financially dependent on menfolk, to earn their own livelihood.

Or, another regular character in my growing up days, the women I called the Tupperware and Avon aunties. The ones who usually were female acquaintances of my mother through her personal network of friends, family and kitty party members. Ones who would come home with glossy catalogues of kitchen ware items and cosmetics, trying to make use of salesmanship trainings they had acquired through becoming representatives of these companies, almost always convincing my mother that the products advertised in the catalogues were far better than their retail counterparts. And each of these women ran her own show as a company affiliate, growing her clientele, and sales volume through her own efforts. Some of them even managed to employ other women under them, creating their own sales hierarchies. And running them profitably.

And then every neighbourhood most likely had a pickle and tiffin aunty. The ones who ran tiny ventures out from home. Making pickles and lunches for those who didn’t have the time to make their own. And becoming indispensable in most cases.

Each one of these women is an entrepreneur. Irrespective of the size of the venture they ran.

And the trend hasn’t stopped, for even today, there are several many women who run successful small-scale businesses, from within their homes. And we’d all probably agree that they are as important as are the women who build unicorns. For they contribute in many ways, to our social economy. And personally, I have an extra element of respect for them. Because even without B-school degrees, venture capital and sometimes even a basic education, they did everything that is included in the definition of an  entrepreneur. Take risks. Create value. Solve pain points. And in the process, earn identity and profit.

Five times Bollywood made me a proud woman

As a millennial Indian woman, I grew up on a staple diet of Bollywood movies which essentially were cookie cutter versions of each other. Rich girl, poor boy. Constant dance around trees and in snow-covered mountains. Girl getting kidnapped by a bunch of baddies and then her knight-in shining armor lover rescuing her.

However, a pleasant trend came along. The actress stopped being the damsel in distress. Suddenly, Simran stopped needing a Raj to come to her rescue when she missed her train. Instead, our female protagonist now became in true essence, the heroine. The one the movie revolved around. The one who didn’t need a man to protect her, anymore.

There still lies a debate whether cinema is supposed to be a reflection or an influence to society. In either case, I couldn’t be happier. For as an independent go-getter female, I couldn’t relate to being the Cinderella-waiting-for-her-prince character anymore. I wanted stronger, more realistic ones. And fortunately, I have a list of movies that are my go to, whenever I need a dose of girl power.

 

chak de india

  1. Chak De India : In the last decade or so, the sports movie genre, especially in context of women, has been explored by several films (Dangal, Mary Kom). Yet, nothing screamed girl power more than Chak De India. Especially when Shah Rukh Khan plays the coach, of a team that has everything on its mind except the sport itself. One divided by geography, politics and internal conflict. There wasn’t a soul who could watch this movie without being convinced that once they have a common goal, there’s nothing a team of passionate young women can’t achieve. And if there’s oe dialogue in the movie that sums it all up, It’s when coach Khan says on the eve of a match where his team is taking on a team of male hockey players – You’re not just fighting 11 men, ladies. You’re fighting every man who’s forgotten that if a woman can produce a creature like him, she can do anything.

 

ddd1

2. Dil Dhadakne Do – This wasn’t a movie around feminism in particular, focusing on dysfunctional families, instead. Yet one scene in the movie specifically reeked of the internalized misogyny that exists in contemporary Indian society, even today. One where Rahul Bose, the stuffy husband, proudly announces that he ‘allows’ his wife to work, to which a witty Farhan Akhtar (who is also a former lover and admirer of Priyanka Chopra) interrupts, And why exactly does she need your permission? Further going on to explain that when you ‘allow’ someone to do something, technically, you’re reassuring yourself of your own superiority complex.

 

queen3. Queen – How can any discussion on Bollywood and feminism not involve Queen? A shy, reserved woman gets jilted by her fiance on the eve of her wedding , and instead of breaking down, Rani our heroine, takes off on her honeymoon, alone. Where she engages in a series of adventures, discovers her lost self-esteem, and finds her true self. One who doesn’t need a man who isn’t sure whether he wants her in his life or not.

 

English Vinglish Movie Stills

4. English Vinglish – The reason I loved this movie was because of the way it celebrated the average Indian mother. The one whose life revolves around her family, the multitasker who manages domestic responsibilities alongside an entrepreneurial gig with finesse , and then finally, one who overcomes what she considers her biggest barrier – her inability to speak English. Showing the world that there isn’t anything that can’t be accomplishedas long as have the grit and resilience to do so. This movie had me smiling throughout and thinking, Every mom, supermom.

 

kahaani

5. Kahaani – If this film had a tagline, it’d be, Hell Hath no fury where a woman concerned. An enraged woman, still mourning the death of her husband to a terrorist attack and her consequent miscarriage, takes on an entire bureaucracy, and a dreaded politician, in her quest for revenge. And succeeds. Because every woman is at heart, is a goddess. One that is worthy of respect. One that protects, nurtures and even slays, to bring back peace and justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life lessons from Sitcom characters

In the days of the mighty old idiot box (a.k.a. the Television), sitcoms were created as a means of entertainment. A pre Netflix and Hulu era. And it was in those days, I fell in love with the art of binge-watching the sitcom.

Even though one watched them as a way to take a break from life, over time, their characters became parts of your lives. From the sense of fashion to their quirks, I’ve had an entire gamut of female sitcom characters I grew to love and closely identify with, and ones who ended up teaching me invaluable life lessons.

Here’s my list:

  1. serena-van-der-woodsenSerena van der Woodsen (Gossip Girl) : Your uniqueness, right from your sense of fashion to your life choices, is one to be celebrated. Every single life experience  – good, bad, ugly, pleasant is worth it. for it gives you stories to tell, when you’re older. Never let your past ever haunt your present. It’s okay to make mistakes, after all, isn’t that what being young is all about? Be bold, unapologetic, and follow your passions. Oh and in the end, marry for love and love only.

RG2

2. Rachel Greene (F.R.I.E.N.D.S) : Listen to your heart. Even if that means being a runaway bride, rooming in with your high school bestie, and falling in love with your high school crush all over again. Work your way up to the top, even if you’re Daddy’s rich spoilt girl. And it’s all right to wear your heart on your sleeve, and be emotional, and be vulnerable. But it’s the girls that listen to their feelings that get off that plane.

 

 

3. RSRobin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother): What is life without a spirit of adventure? Be a fierce lady with ambition, for women who like scotches that are old enough to order their own scotches will never go out of style.Be unapologetic about your decisions and your choices. Whether it means leaving your home country to settle down in another, taking endless trips around the globe, and even living with five dogs. Yet, be very proud of where you come from.

 

peggy

4. Peggy Olsen (Mad Men)  : Women with talent, and ones that aren’t afraid to showcase them, are the best of them all. Coiffed hair, straightened skirts, and the perfect pout may be able to open doors, yet it is the woman with grit and capability that will get to stay in the room. Abilities trump appearances, always. The dark horse wins every race. Never, ever judge a book by its cover.

 

 

 

5. HGHermione Granger (Harry Potter series): Nothing is sexier than a woman with brains. And even sexier, is one who knows when and how to use them at the right time. When you find them, stead of labelling them as bossy, nerdy or geeky, hold on to them. Such women are lifesavers. And true friends.