Friday, April 15, 2011

From the Editor - Rare and Elusive and Right Under Our Noses

They are rare and they are elusive. In fact, they are so difficult to spot that at times their existence is shrugged off as another unsolved mystery in the same league as the Little Green Men from Mars and the Loch Ness Monster. However, for us at Ghumakkar, they are a reality since we can proudly boast that we have them amongst us. Yes, we are talking about that rising and rapidly multiplying breed of travellers – The Indian Women Backpackers. If you have been reading Ghumakkar regularly, you could not have missed Nisha Jha’s recap of her travels in her story. And those of you who have been around long enough would have immediately thought of our original backpacker, Lakshmi Sharath, whose Ghumakkar ID ‘backpakker’ says it all. Indians are social people and when someone talks about travelling alone, the first question that comes up is “Why? Won’t you get bored?” And if you are a woman, you have to fight through additional layers of approvals and disapprovals. You need to have a certain ‘dabang’ streak to be able to rise through these social barricades and to fulfil your dreams. A woman travelling alone is not such a rare sight in the Western world. Neither is a western woman travelling alone in India such a rare sight. But when an Indian Woman travels alone with no fixed agenda in India, it is a sight that few are ready to accept without questioning. In an effort to find out about what motivates these travellers, I asked both Nisha and Lakshmi about how and where they embarked on their first journeys alone. For Nisha, her “first ever trip alone was for appearing for some competitive exam in another city in India.” Since then apart from travelling in India, Nisha has been to 21 countries and “each of them holds some special memories”. The challenges that travelling alone throws at her every day keep her motivated and each solo trip adds to her confidence. Lakshmi has been travelling for so many years and to so many places that she cannot exactly recall how it started for her. She says “have travelled alone as a student or as a professional and I guess I started just that way”. For her, travelling is a way of life and in her own words, she is “sort of addicted to it”. Travelling solo means that they can choose their own activities, places, mode of transportation and hotels.

For women backpackers the strife usually begins at home. We are not used to seeing our daughters travel alone. Until recently, parents were wary of letting their girls go out in groups and, even today, this continues to be the point of contention in many families. It is no surprise then that travelling solo is unthinkable for most of us. The concern is usually security with crimes against women rising every day. However, there is also the metaphorical magnifying glass through which the conduct of a woman is inspected in our society and, as a result, propriety is another concern. Due to various social reasons, independent women are still looked at with a lot of suspicion and families want to fiercely protect their girls against any mishap or questionable reputation. This is perhaps the toughest barrier to break for a woman backpacker in India. Nisha who is a seasoned traveller now says “later it became habit though parents were always concerned as any parent of a girl would have been”. Things invariably get tougher after marriage because then you have two sets of worrying parents to convince. As in case of Nisha whose first solo trip after marriage to the USA “was vehemently opposed by both sets of parents since it was for around a year and leaving your newly wedded husband behind was something they could not come to terms with.” It requires a great deal of conviction and self-assurance to break through this barrier of concern without hurting people close to you. And, of course, a supporting spouse helps a great deal. You, however, have to be fairly thick-skinned to not let yourself get effected by the distant relatives who think that they have a say in how you should lead your life. And then there is the other side of the coin too where families are more worried about a particular destination “but not the concept of travelling” as in case of Lakshmi.
Click here to read the whole article at Ghumakkar.

Monday, April 11, 2011

India Against Corruption - The battle is won but the war goes on...

Too many minor victories often result in no final outcome whatsoever. Such dates are often lost in history. Now that Anna Hazare has won the first battle against corruption through his almost 5-day long fast, it is our responsibility to ensure that the date 9th April 2011 goes down in the history as the day when the first battle in the war against corruption was won. What has happened in just the beginning and once the excitement of the victory dies let us keep the fire burning. The rest of the road is all uphill. We have to keep a watch that the government fulfils all that it has promised within the timeframe that Anna has set without any excuses. The responsibility rests on our shoulders. Youth has to carry the movement on. My friends who visited India Gate during the protest were impressed by how calm the entire place was in spite of the huge crowd. Anna Hazare has set an example. Let us follow it with honest hearts.

Once the Jan Lokpal is formed, we should be ready to deal with it with patience. Any new system should be flexible and it will be a grave mistake to be fiercely protective of Jan Lokpal instead of nurturing it like a child. Half of us live in denial, the rest of us give up too soon. Let us take a middle path this time and get better with experience. However well thought out a solution is, it is impossible for it to be perfect at its inception. So will be the case with Jan Lokpal. Let us not expect it to work in all cases. But let us learn from all its failures and successes. The body will work best when it is not a snob and that will happen only when people who work for it and as a part of it are not snobs and are open to criticism and suggestions. A system that adapts itself is often misunderstood to be weak whereas it is perhaps the strongest and will withstand the test of all forces that work against it.

And it is obviously not enough to get a bill passed and a Jan Lokpal formed, it is also important for all of us who have stood behind Anna Hazare in his fight against corruption to pledge to stand against corruption in all forms. Let us not encourage it at any level. The Jan Lokpal deals with corruption from the top. Let us start from the bottom and meet halfway. So the next time you have to choose between paying a fine for a traffic violation and bribing the traffic policeman, choose the former. If out of those who are now dancing in glee at the victory of the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement even a few still bribe or accept bribes, the entire struggle will lose its meaning and we will be no better than the politicians we hope to bring on the right track through the Jan Lokpal.

The battle has been won but the war goes on...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Deep Within

Beyond by Vibha MalhotraI laugh
I cry
I accept
I lie

I am a funny heart
That suffers wrongs
That keeps peace
That breaks into songs

I love
I hate
I envy
I care

But deep within
Where solitude stays
I feel no fear
I weep for days...

Beyond, a photo by Vibha Malhotra on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Little Angel

Nishu and Me

I am here in India for a short visit during my vacations. I was expecting my 4-year old nephew, Nishu, to have distanced himself from me over the past six months but exactly the opposite has happened. It has forever changed my opinion about children. I used to believe that children live only in today and get attached and detached very easily. But here is my little angel breaking my heart with his little gestures because I know that I will have to leave him again and go back. Here are some of the things he has done in the past couple of days to make me unbelievably happy and sad at the same time:

1) He pouted yesterday and asked why I need to go back to the UK. Then he told me straightaway not to go back. I felt immensely sad because I know that I have to. At least for the next 6 months.

2) He kissed my hand without me asking for it.

3) Everyday I try to make him take an afternoon nap by reading stories to him. I doze off while he stays awake. He lies there quietly in my arms without making a sound. And today when my mom came in while I was sleeping but he was awake, he silently gestured her to come into the room. He is not a quiet child by any means. And the care he takes not to wake me up simply amazes me.

4) Today his driver who picks him from the school along with my mother did not come for work so I picked him up instead. And in the evening, Nishu told his mom "I wish Deepak uncle does not come again tomorrow. Then maasi will come and pick me from school. We cannot do it the day after because maasi has to go to Adobe."

All these incidents and many more make me never want to go back to the UK. But some things have got to be done. Nothing has more potential of making you feel guilty about the choices you make in your life than the unselfish love of a child.