India Elections 2014 – Time for change


That we have the vote means nothing. That we use it in the right way means everything.
- Lou Henry Hoover

                The elections in India are round the corner. Wherever you go, whether on the streets or at home when you switch on the TV or on social media, you can’t escape the ubiquitous propaganda by various political parties. Election times are like falling in love! At least that is what it seems for some of the supporters that I have seen. Having a hard time believing this? Well, here’s how: While in love, you put your beloved on a pedestal. You are not willing to listen to anything or anybody that makes him a mere mortal, not a God. You daydream about that person fulfilling your dreams, your desires. You feel that the panacea for all your ills, for all your afflictions – lies only with your beloved.
                But….Love is Blind. And one can not afford to be blind when it is the solemn question of governance of a country, one as diverse as and with so many complicated issues as India. One has to analyze things and not become just emotional. I was trying to find a link that would analyze the plus and minus points of the PM candidates of each of the major groups, but couldn’t find this. That’s when I decided to make my own list. You know, the kinds of lists that we make while making a major investment, or major decisions like switching of jobs, moving to a new house or changing one’s kid’s school.
                Now you may ask: why am I so interested in Indian elections while being on the other side of the globe? Well, please read up the About page of this blog if you haven’t already. You’ll get your answer :-) One more thing. An important term or concept that you should be aware of : Depending on which side of the political spectrum one belongs to; DOWS OTPS OBT in short. Nobody knows the truth absolutely, what we see and get closest to is the Perceived truth and that is colored by a lot of factors including our own experiences, political or ideological leanings, friends, family and so on. So one person’s truth is another’s myth.  With no further ado, here we go: 
                
Rahul Gandhi (INC): Rahul Gandhi
Pros:

  • Commands the whole-hearted support of party-workers
  • Has age on his side
  • Can take decisions that benefit the country as seen occasionally such as in the convicted lawmakers ordinance case 

Cons:

  • Seen as the face of a party and a family that is neck deep in corruption, DOWS OTPS OBT
  • Inexperienced in administration
  • Vague, confused utterances on policy matters
  • Seen as lacking a coherent vision for the country – either short term or long term, DOWS OTPS OBT 

Arvind Kejriwal (AAP):            Arvind Kejriwal
Pros:

  • Perceived as honest, educated and having his heart at the right place
  • Seen as the face of a common man who is tired of the system and has the courage to change it from within
  • Good ideas such as decentralization of power, time-bound delivery of services, police/judicial/land reforms
  • Commands the allegiance of party-workers
  • Has age on his side
  • Has charisma and ideology to attract eminent personalities from different fields to the party. 

Cons:

  • Seen as the face of a party that is good for protests, not yet for governance, DOWS OTPS OBT
  • Inexperienced team players
  • Not enough information on policies concerning economy, national security, energy
  • Resorted to populist socialist measures during the brief tenure at Delhi
  • Made U-turns on several issues, giving an image of not being decisive or clear enough.

  Narendra Modi (BJP): Narendra Modi
Pros:

  • Perceived as a decisive and assertive leader
  • Proved fairly well his administrative skills in Gujarat for 4 terms as evidenced by growth in industry, energy, infrastructure, IT, agriculture (Contrast this with the numerous wasted terms by the Left in West Bengal)
  • Good strategist
  • Has a vision for the country – well articulated through blogs, speeches, social media
  • Good ideas such as – ‘Minimum Government Maximum Governance’, ‘India first’, 5 Ts  (Talent, Tradition, Tourism, Trade, Technology) , Surajya is my birthright, P2G2 (Proactive Pro-people Good Governance)
  • Humble origins; has worked his way through the ranks

Cons:

  • Seen as a polarizing and communal figure, DOWS OTPS OBT
  • Belongs to a party infamous for internal politics; not clear how much goodwill he has within the party
  • Seen as an authoritarian leader, DOWS OTPS OBT
  • Will have major difficulty getting support if/when the NDA fails to get majority

May the best man, i.e. best for the country at this juncture, win!

Parenting: East vs West? – II


Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.

- Rudyard Kipling

              Like food, music, culture, politics and a host of other things in life, parenting styles too differ between the East and the West. As Indians residing in foreign lands, it is better if we educate ourselves on a lot of things including the local laws related to child protection. Sometimes, a little awareness goes a long way in avoiding unpleasant situations like these where the kids involved in both the cases were taken back to India as a result of custody-issues.
              While the world is coming closer as a result of globalization and barriers are breaking, there still exist differences between the traditional ways of parenting in the eastern and western worlds. Please understand that the purpose is not to criticize one above the other - rather the idea is to present both the perspectives and let you be the judge of how you want to deal with these issues while raising your kids. Another thing is – traditions change too. What was the norm a few decades ago in the US or India does not hold true today in many areas. This might be as a result of the latest research, a consequence of changing demographics and laws or just a sign of the changing times. I’m covering just the basics here, not the bigger aspects like education, disciplining, morals or spirituality etc.
               So here we go:

    • Pregnancy:  Though there’s no baby born yet at this stage, I included this because the journey with your baby begins well in womb. The traditional Indian way till recently used to have very less involvement from the would-be dad during the 9 months of pregnancy. In many instances, the would-be mom used to go to her parents’ place for some much-needed rest and pampering.
                     Traditionally, American women go through all the 9 months of pregnancy – throw-ups, swollen feet, heartburn, shopping for the baby, lamaze classes and all – with just the husbands by their sides. Surely, there are advices and help from parents, in-laws, neighbours; but having someone else other than the spouse stay to help you during pregnancy is not the norm.
    • Birth:  In US most hospitals offer the option of having your husband or any close relative by your side when you welcome your child to this world. Roughly one-third of births in the US are Caesarian while in India, C-sections account for 9% of all births. The reasons for Caesarians differ though between the two. In USA, C-sections are performed mostly for medical reasons such as placenta issues, breech position, fetal distress, multiple births etc.
                     According to a WHO study, in many Asian countries including India, the reasons for C-sections apart from medical ones are: Fear of pain during labor, less time consumed during C-section compared to the natural process (for both patients and doctors), financial gains for the doctor and/or the hospital, wanting birth to occur on auspicious days and times, wrongly perceived notion of C-section being less risky.
    • Eating: The traditional Indian way is……. to feed your child in any way possible! The adage ‘ The ends justify the means’ was probably coined to describe the obsession of Indian parents and grandparents to feed the kids as much as possible employing any means of distraction.TV, laptop, Ipad, books, stories, acting, music, outdoors, bribing, threats – everything is tried, tested and justified in order to put that last morsel into the baby’s mouth.
                     What’s the American way? Well, the kids here learn to feed themselves at an average age of 18 months. They start feeding themselves with finger-foods and graduate to using spoons and forks in a few months or years. I have never seen an American mom running behind her son imploring him to finish off his food. Our pediatrician told us specifically that we as parents should take care of only the quality of food; the quantity of intake should be left to the kids.
    • Toilet Training: The Indian way is based on, what I call,  cues and clues. A soft whistling or a grunting (cues) by the caregiver makes the baby associate those sounds with pee/poop. The caregiver, in turn, looks for clues that the baby is ready to relieve and to be carried to the toilet. All this comes under Elimination Communication.
                     Interestingly, the American way used to be similar to the above earlier until the advent of mass-scale diapers in the 1960s. That changed things for sure and the average age of potty-trained US kids jumped from less than 1.5 years to  well over 3 years in recent years. Here’s an interesting article on how there are different approaches at play even here within the USA. Don’t forget to check out the funny ‘naked and $75‘ technique in there :-)
                     Then there’s the issue of usage of toilet-paper versus water. There used to be an ad showing a person eating and then cleaning his plate using paper instead of washing it with soap and water. I don’t remember the context but the question was probably of hygiene. Toilet-rolls, wet wipes, bidets, hand-held sprayers, or just good old water and mug – there are more options out there than you’d think!

Baby sleeping separately from parents in a crib

  • Sleeping: When I used to read Calvin and Hobbes, I always used to wonder why there were so many ‘monster under my bed’, ‘monster in the closet’ chapters. But today as a mom of 2 and 5 year olds, I fully understand where all that fear comes from! The standard norm in the Western world is to have separate beds and/or bedrooms for each of the kids, depending on affordability and comfortability. Audio or video monitors are used to keep tabs on the child. There are various variations of this in No Tears or Cry It Out methods.

    Baby sharing bed with parent

                   The traditional Indian way has been what is termed as Co-sleeping. A few neighbours and friends asked me this – “If you share your bed with your kids, how do you manage to get …err…intimate with your spouse?” Oh, come on…, looking at India’s population, do you really think existing kids have been a problem? :roll: If a couple is into each other, they will always find time and space to be intimate; On the other hand, if emotional barriers exist, then even being next to each other you can be far apart forever.

              What works for your kid at 3 months of age might be different from what works for her at 3 years of age. The key is to be flexible and keep your options open. Also, you might find that a combination of both styles works the best for you. A perfect example would be the attachable crib called bednest, using which you can care for your baby lying right next to you, while the baby has a separate space to sleep nonetheless.

Baby in an attachable crib

              Normally, parents everywhere love and care for their kids with the best intentions in mind. There’s no reason to deduce that just because your neighbour makes her kids sleep in a separate room, she loves them less. Just as you do not become less hygienic if you feed your baby with your own hands as long as you wash them properly beforehand. However, proper communication is a must in order to avoid misinterpretations. For example, we never shy away from explaining why our daughter’s head has been shaved off this summer. What is unknown is feared. As soon as you explain the unknown, it becomes known to them and you would find on your end that most people are open-minded about knowing new stuff. Different? YES. Something to fear or despise? NO. And – it goes both ways. Because…Human emotions are the same everywhere, be it East or West!

But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!

- Rudyard Kipling

Happy Holi!

        

      Colors are the smiles of nature. 

- Leigh Hunt

                And nature surely smiles the broadest during spring! :-) Of all the festivals in India, Holi is perhaps the one that elicits the most mixed emotions. There are people who just looooove it and miss it a lot when away from the Indian soils. Then there are those who would rather hide themselves in a closet away from the rest of the world on this particular day. I consider myself somewhere in between, but definitely leaning towards the former.

                When I was a kid (this is sometime in the 80s), the day would start early with preparation of colors i.e. mixing up of colors with water in buckets and filling up of pichkaris (spray guns) and water-baloons. We would roam around in the neighbourhood collecting friends for ‘playing Holi with’ as well as tasting various sweet and savoury items prepared meticulously beforehand by the aunties in the colony. Between the drill of preparing colors in different proportions to get the desired combination(s),  the thrill of drenching your close friend in bucketful of color and the sheer joy of tasting delicacies like gujiya, gulab jamun, malpua, dahi bade, nimki, thandai – what is your favourite Holi moment? Difficult to say, right? So come spring time…and my husband and I would get nostalgic recollecting to each other the different times we played Holi back in India.

                So naturally, as soon as we came to know of the Holi mela in Iskcon DC this year, we decided to go there. The temperatures luckily were in 50s that day. And weren’t we glad that we attended it!? The atmosphere was magical!

                We started with a visit to the temple. The deities were clothed specially for the occasion in pristine white, but the garlands were multi-colored; and in the background were the many colors of life; even the offerings were of different colors. The overall effects were dramatic! (Click on the pics to see an enlarged view).

Radha Krishna at Iskcon DC

Radha Krishna at Iskcon DC

                Next we ventured into the actual festival area. Being in the US where privacy and freedom are valued a lot, I was pleasantly surprised to experience what I term a perfect Indo-American style of Holi. Total strangers approached us gleefully and put gulaal on us…after asking our permission, of course :-) Initially I was a bit apprehensive. After all, any woman who has grown up in India, knows to be wary of and cautious about drunken revelry especially on occasions such as Holi. But after some time, I too let my hair down and started soaking in the atmosphere fully. There was pinata for kids; several stalls for the grown-ups. There were huge queues for the food – one could buy vegetarian thalis, snacks, baked items at reasonable prices.   

           pinata

                Especially interesting were the reactions of the kids, some of whom were being introduced for the first time to this grand festival. I  spotted a few that were bawling; my own son was kind of overwhelmed at first. Which 5-year old wouldn’t at the scenes of seemingly crazy people dressed their worst and smeared in all kinds of funky colors from head to toe? (There were some young men even with torn clothes amongst the crowd.) However, soon he got the hang of things and started approaching other kids with a fist full of color and a silly grin on his face. :-) There were dances to the music of Radha-Krishna bhajans.

dance

                What was my favourite 2013 Holi moment? Undoubtedly, the one where there was a countdown from 10-9-8-…and at 0, the airs got strewn in a myriad of hues – from pink to purple to green to red and orange. It was beautiful!

dance

                There was Holika-dahan at the end.

Holika

                Finally, we headed back home humming to the highly addictive tunes of Shri Radhe Radhe and with promises of returning next year with loads of friends and colors.

The first Swami in the US

Photo credit: http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/swami-vivekananda-wikimedia-commons?size=_original

Swami Vivekananda

                 I often start the articles on this blog with quotes from the great master – Swami Vivekananda. January 12, 2013 was his 150th birth-anniversary. The theme of this blog is being an Indian in the US; and I couldn’t help but note that Swamiji was the first Hindu Swami who gave the message of Vedanta to the US and to the West at large. He paved the way for many that followed – Swami Yogananda, Swami Prabhupada, Mahesh Yogi and so on. The list of lives that he influenced and transformed either directly or indirectly in just 39 years of his life reads like a Who’s who of both the Eastern and Western worlds:   Netaji Subhashchandra Bose, Rabindranath Thakur, Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo, Bagha Jatin, Max Muller, Salinger, Nikola Tesla, Leo Tolstoy, John D. Rockefeller, Lord Kelvin, Sister Nivedita, Hermann von Helmholtz.  Though every piece of his work is inspiring and every sentence is like a drop of nectar that can transform one’s personality and life, I have compiled below some of my favorite quotations by Swamiji. They show a man of great wisdom, intellect and strength – one clearly ahead of his times!

On Soul/Religion

  • Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divine within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy, or one or more, or all of these –and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines,or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.
  • Religion is not in books, nor in theories, nor in dogmas, nor in talking, not even in reasoning. It is being and becoming.
  • The mighty word that came from the sky of spirituality in India was Anubhuti, realization; and ours are the only books which declare again and again, “The Lord is to be seen.”
  • Each individual has to work out his or her own salvation; there is no other way.
  • Soul is the circle of which the circumference is nowhere, but the centre is located in one spot; and God is an infinite circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose centre is everywhere.
  • Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognised it. Every other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas, and tries to force society to adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit Jack and John and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John or Henry, he must go without a coat to cover his body. The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realised, or thought of, or stated, through the relative; and the images, crosses,and crescents are simply so many symbols — so many pegs to hang the spiritual ideas on.
  • What is material and what is not material? When the world is the end and God the means to attain that end, then that is material. When God is the end and the world is only the means to attain that end, spirituality has begun.

On Reason

  • I am sure God will pardon a man who will use his reason and cannot believe, rather than a man who believes blindly instead of using his faculties He has given him. 
  • All religions are going beyond reason, but reason is the only guide to get there.
  • Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth can’t be sacrificed for anything.
  • Comfort is no test of truth; on the contrary, truth is often far from being comfortable.
  • Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.

On Women

  • The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women.
  • The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence. Woman has suffered for eons, and that has given her infinite patience and infinite perseverance. Women will work out their destinies—much better, too, than men can ever do for them. All the mischief to women has come because men undertook to shape the destiny of women.
  • The first manifestation of God is the hand that rocks the cradle.

On Education

  • Our supreme duty is to advance toward freedom—physical, mental, and spiritual—and help others to do so.
  • Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man.
  • You have to grow from the inside out…There is no other teacher but your own soul.
  • Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know.
  • As long as I live, so do I learn.
  • If any of you believes what I teach, I will be sorry. I will only be too glad if I can excite in you the power of thinking for yourselves.
  • To me the very essence of education is concentration of mind, not the collecting of facts.
  • The powers of the mind should be concentrated and the mind turned back upon itself; as the darkest places reveal their secrets before the penetrating rays of the sun, so will the concentrated mind penetrate its own innermost secrets.

On Work/Success

  • Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.
  • Work on with the intrepidity of a lion but at the same time with the tenderness of a flower.
  • Never mind failures, they are quite natural, they are the beauty of life,these failures. What would life be without them?
  • Great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.
  • Fortune approaches him who is industrious. It is the weak-minded who says ‘fate gives’.
  • Never mind if your contribution is only a mite, your help only a little. Blades of grass united into a rope will hold in confinement the maddest of elephants.
  • Each work has to pass through these stages—ridicule, opposition, and then acceptance.Those who think ahead of their time are sure to be misunderstood.
  • In the world take always the position of the giver. Give everything and look for no return. Give love, give help, give service, give any little thing you can, but keep out barter.

On one’s own Self

  • My own experience tells me what food is good for me, and no army of doctors can tell me that. So I know from my own experience what path is the best for me.
  • It is our own mental attitude, which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful,our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds.
  • The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves! If you do not exist, how can God exist, or anybody else?
  • I, for one, thoroughly believe that no power in the universe can withhold from anyone anything they really deserve.

On Strength/Fearlessness

  • You must not say that you are weak. How do you know what possibilities lie behind that degradation on the surface? You know but little of that which is within you. For behind you is the ocean of infinite power and blessedness.
  • Stand up, be bold, be strong. Take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, and know that you are the creator of your own destiny. All the strength and succor you want is within yourself.
  • Why are people so afraid? The answer is that they have made themselves helpless and dependent on others. We are so lazy, we do not want to do anything ourselves. We want a Personal God, a Savior or a Prophet to do everything for us.
  • Be strong, my young friends, that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to heaven through football than through study of the Gita.

On Love

  • Love is the only law of life. He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying. Therefore, love for love’s sake, because it is law of life, just as you breathe to live.
  • Love opens the most impossible gates; love is the gate to all the secrets of the universe. Every step that has been really gained in the world has been gained by love. 
  • When there is a conflict between the heart and the brain, let the heart be followed.
  • First, believe in this world – that there is meaning behind everything. Everything in the world is good, is holy and beautiful. If you see something evil, think that you do not understand it in the right light. Throw the burden on yourselves!
  • We must not look down with contempt on others. All of us are going towards the same goal…. All difference in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.

Wanna change the world? Change the mindset…

               

                “We are what our thoughts have made us, so take care about what you think.”

- Swami Vivekananda.

                Our thoughts shape our mindsets, which in turn influence our actions; our actions determine how society and the world at large is shaped. Every act of violence begins in the mind, so take care of not only what you think, but what your friends, your neighbours think; what your family thinks. When you think you have seen it all, out comes a crime so depraved in nature, so chilling in its details that shames you to your core! It makes you wonder whether the perpetrators belong to the same species as you. What kind of monster will walk into a classroom and spray 6-year olds with bullets? What kind of monsters will rape and torture a woman with an iron rod in a moving bus and throw her out to die? As the year draws to a close, and we try to make sense of the recent horrendous crimes, there is one thing that may give a clue on how to minimize them: Actively try to change the mindset of yours and those around you for the better. Even if one life can be saved or changed for the better, it will be well worth the efforts.

Gun-culture in the US

                 When I wrote earlier  “..And so the stalemate will continue and human beings will continue to be butchered…”, I never imagined that the next victims of a mass-shooting will be innocent 6 and 7 year olds in their classrooms. For the families of the 26 who died that day, the rest of the their lives will never be the same. The parents of the 12 girls and 8 boys will live the rest of their lives with a hole in their hearts. I have written about this issue earlier, where we looked briefly at how powerful the Gun rights lobby (including NRA) has been aided by money and power. But it is also the mindset of its supporters that enables the NRA to have such a clout.

Weapons of Murder

Weapons of Murder

                According to Wikipedia, USA has about 5% of the total world population but its residents own about 42% of all the world’s civilian-owned firearms. The homicide rate in US is 30 times higher than in other advanced countries. Gun laws vary from state to state. So in some states, it is perfectly legal to carry guns anywhere from school to church to a pub.

                A question on everybody’s mind is about Nancy Lanza, the murdered mother of assassin Adam Lanza. What was she thinking?  Teaching a mentally ill son to use guns, stockpiling assault weapons whose sole intent is to kill people – all these enabled the massacre that followed. An oft-repeated argument by Gun Rights activists is : ‘Guns don’t kill, people do’. True, it took a madman to kill children, but what definitely aided the process was possession of guns by the mother. The same day the Sandy Hook massacre occurred, another madman in China went on a stabbing spree attacking school-children with a knife. 22 kids were hurt, but every one of them survived. See the difference?

                I had mentioned this earlier too – As opposed to the rest of the world, keeping guns is seen as a right by a large number of Americans. A lot of this thinking comes partly from history, partly from tradition, partly from movies and games that glorify guns and violence. May be it is a time to reconsider those traditions, change that mindset. If not now, when?

                Many of us had signed a petition to the White House to immediately address the issue of Gun Control through stronger laws. You can go here and look at the petition as well as see the response from the US President Obama and from the Chief of Staff to the US Vice President.

Rape-culture in India

                Many of us Indians might take offence to this seemingly blasphemous title – What!? How can our great Indian culture be a rape-culture? Yet, that is what it is at present.

                Rape is but the subjugation of a person in a most depraved manner. It is not about sex. It is about humiliation, perversion, torture, violation, cruelty inflicted on a body and a soul. I am no psychiatrist to decipher what causes one to rape, but even I can tell you as a layperson that – Rape starts with the dehumanization of the victim by the rapist – the attitude that the woman or child or man(in rare cases) in front of me is ‘easy meat’, with lesser rights as a human being than I am entitled to.

                What I have termed as a ‘rape-culture’ prevalent in India is actually the collective mindset of people – A mindset that treats women as subservient to men. It starts at the womb really and continues till the grave.

                It is our mindset that allows new parents to kill their infant or unborn daughters instead of cuddling them and showering them with kisses.
                It is our mindset that allows more than 70% of women to face some form of sexual harassment; it does not matter whether the ‘woman’ in question is a 2 month old infant or a 75-year old grandmother.
                It is that mindset which enables 57% boys and 53% girls in India to think that a husband is justified in beating his wife, according to Unicef’s Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012.
                It is the kind of mindset that makes a highly educated doctor in Andhra or an IAS from Bihar or an engineer from Maharashtra ask for dowry as a sort of ‘fundamental right’, the ‘rate’ of dowry being dependent on the status of or income from the position.
                It is the mindset that makes India the 4th most dangerous place for women after Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation Survey.
                It is the same mindset that allows a politician to refer to another woman politician to speak in derogatory language thus – “चार दिन हुए नहीं आपको राजनीति में आये हुए और आज आप चुनावी/राजनैतिक विश्लेषक बनके घूम रही हैं! कल तक तो आप टेलीविज़न पर ठुमके लगाये फिरती थीं और आज आप नेता बन गयीं?” ( It’s just recently you’ve stepped into politics and today you’ve become a psephologist! Till yesterday you were dancing on TV screens and today you’ve become a leader?)
               It is the sort of mindset that makes an Indian in USA exclaim after the birth of his daughter – ” I’ll have to go back and settle in India now to teach my daughter proper values; with a son it would have been different!” (You see, sons in Indian families do not need to be taught proper values :-), the onus of carrying on Indian cultural traditions is always solely on the womenfolk.)
               It is the kind of mindset that makes everyone from politicians to police personnel to ministers to judges to your everyday road-ruffian remark after every single incident of rape/molestation thus – she must have worn inappropriate clothes; or she must be of loose morals; or she must have provoked the rape somehow; or she must have asked for it; or she must have been inebriated; or she must have been in the wrong company; or she must have been out at an inappropriate time. No dearth of excuses to hide the inefficiency and complacency and utter uselessness of the system, if there is ever one.

               There is a lot that can be done through legal and judicial means…and this goes for curbing both gun-violence and sexual violence. But the ultimate change in mentality must come from within us. Many of us would be able to come out of it in our lifetimes, but the vast majority will probably take generations to change this mindset. If the recent incidents jolt even some of us into action, if they result in a safer society in the long term one step at a time, then only there is some meaning in saying ‘RIP Nirbhaya, RIP Sandy Hook victims’. Finally, this is the song I dedicate to the memories of the victims:

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/portablematthew/3652202637/

Women’s issues and US Elections 2012

                It was with great sadness and somewhat disbelief that I read about this case: A 31-year old Indian woman died in Ireland due to blood-poisoning after repeatedly asking for abortion when she was found to be miscarrying.  There are several things that went wrong in this case. For any woman who wants a baby, going through a painful miscarriage would be devastating for her mind and body. And it is the responsibility of the authorities, family and friends to support her in her most vulnerable moment. To have the medical practitioner deny an abortion repeatedly, because ‘the foetus still has a heartbeat’ and ‘this is a Catholic country’ – is a sacrilege to the Hippocratic oath in which the wellbeing of the patient is paramount.

                You would think this is an isolated incident in one of the Western countries. Not so. Here is this case of a doctor (a female one at that!) in Oklahoma, USA who refused to give a 24-year old rape victim the emergency contraceptive because it went against her religious beliefs. Then there is this case of a prison guard doing something similar with another rape victim again citing religious reasons.

                Now let me narrate this incident that I heard recently from one of our friends. The person in question – an elderly Indian-origin man, was looking for a job preferably in restaurant business as he had past experience in that. So when he found one in the neighbouring town, he arranged for his travel, his accommodation and everything else that one needs in order to settle in a new place. One crucial point that he missed is this: he had experience only in vegetarian cuisine back in India; here in the USA, a large part of the menu is non-vegetarian even in Indian restaurants. Though initially his employers  had told that he would not be required to deal with any non-veg items in the menu, but things changed soon thereafter. So he quit his job…as he believed that he could not do justice to it without compromising on his religious beliefs related to vegetarianism.

                The lesson is evident. If one can not perform the duties entailed in a job, then one has no business continuing in it. More so, if the beliefs (religious or moral or otherwise) endanger someone else’s health and safety.

Obama on twitter after his win

Obama on twitter after his win

Elections
                Though the US elections this year were mainly fought on economy, women’s issues remained one of the most divisive ones on the agenda. In fact, women’s issues like contraceptives, equal pay at work, abortion, birth-control were made to be major issues by a series of damaging and controversial statements made by different Republicans themselves. Sample just a few of these:

  • In reply to a question on whether abortion was justified in rape-cases, Todd Akin said – “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” 
  • Richard Mourdock: “And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
  • Rick Santorum : “I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you…I can’t think of anything more horrible, but nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.
  • Roger Rivard: “… And he just said, ‘Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls,’ he said, ‘they rape so easy.’

                Romney’s ‘Binder full of women’ comment did not help either now, did it? In this age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, every single gaffe made by a candidate is multiplied manifold; so one can’t be too careful! Women voted decisively for Obama at 55% to Romney’s 44% – a gap of as much as 11%. Men preferred Romney by a margin of 52% to 45% and he lost. One thing is clear – Republicans need to discard policies catering towards the radical right if they want to woo women voters in subsequent elections.

Trivia: This tweet by President Obama, reproduced above, has become the most popular one till date. According to networkworld, it eclipsed the previous records holder Justin Bieber’s tweet within 22 minutues!

                

Indian Festival season in USA

                The Forms and Facilities may differ, but the Spirit remains the same. 

                This is what I came to conclude after attending the Dashahara mela at Washington DC center of Iskcon temple earlier this month. And this is also what this blog is about…the spirit of India in us and of Indians in the US :-) Before I left for the mela, I had promised one of my dear friends that I’ll share with her some pictures from the fair. Puja season is a time when all Indians in faraway lands get nostalgic about the memories with which they grew up. Sure the ways of celebrating Durga Puja, Dashahara, Lakshmi Puja, Diwali differ in different parts of India, but the spirit remains the same. The victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of the eternal over the transient!

                These are some of the Durga Puja pics at Washington DC Kali temple (Click on the pics to see an enlarged view). You can enjoy the Dhak here.

Durga Pratima at Kalibari

               
Devis at Kalibari

                We also regularly attend the Ramakrishna Mission Durga puja. This is held in Briggs Cheney middle school every year. This is how Pujas are usually held abroad in schools by those different Hindu associations that do not own a big temple. The Bhog offered here to the deities and later served to the devotees is to die for! And I suspect this is because of the utmost love and devotion with which each lady prepares her portion of the Bhog. It is like a big potluck party, where everyone comes prepared with a different dish! Everything from the decorations to Bhog-preparation to serving and cleaning up to the various cultural programmes are done by the devotees themselves.

Vedanta Center DC Durga Puja

               
                Next are some pics of the Dashahara mela at Iskcon DC. We have been attending this one too for quite some years now. It has always been lots of fun with ample activities for the old and the young alike! There were lots of stalls put up – food, clothes, prayer-items, games and so on. There was a bow and arrow game, that drew lots of kids. Another activity involved making one’s own demon using the material provided – straw, paper, marker, threads – and putting it beside the Ravan to be burnt later that night. The metaphor was well driven home with the message that one has to burn the bad qualities that exist within ourselves – anger, greed, jealousy, pride etc.

Make Your Own Demon for Burning alongside Ravan
              There was a game in which one had to throw off the demonhead using rings of smoke. That was the one which caught the maximum attention.

Demon Head
Make the Demon Head disappear
             
Ravan
               
Ravan
               
Hanuman

Ram-Sita
                And finally, I have some videos to share… The first one is a bit poignant that includes Lakshman Rekha (Lakshman’s boundary), Jatayu-Vadh (slaying of Jatayu) and Sita-haran (capturing of Sita). Don’t miss the Vanar Sena Yuddha, it’s hilarious! Lastly, a snippet of the Ravan Dahan here.

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