Tanu Shree Singh
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No, strays are not dumb. On the contrary, my desi is smarter than all my “purebred” ones, and definitely way smarter than you. Come to think of it, you stand outsmarted by my silliest pug.
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We have, for long, attributed issues like bullying to the West, when in fact, it has always been very real here as well. We refer to it as "toughening", a "learning experience", an outcome of raging hormones. We also tend to reinforce it by ignoring it, or worse, lashing out at the child enduring it - "Be tough, it's all part of growing up."
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As you turn the pages of the local newspaper, there are as many advertisements for summer camps for kids as there are for holiday getaways. Personality development, sketching, dancing, singing, sports -- all crammed into three hours and a small room, and for a neat amount of money. I decided this year to pause my kids' personality development for 45-odd days.
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I am an Indian. I am also a mother. Both things together do not make me sacred. Why should they? I would like to step down from the pedestal that I have inadvertently been put on, please. I am so much more than a mother. My children do not define me. I am sure if my country were a person she (or for that matter he) would think the same.
My granny's faith had brought us to Varanasi. She had at some point of time promised her attendance at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in exchange of her prayers being answered. God sometimes gets bribed it seems, for here we were to keep her end of the deal.
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I honestly do not see the loud, all-encompassing and empowering message of the day trickling down to the people who really need that push. My helper doesn't care. Nor does a friend caught in a bad marriage. Their battle is solitary and this day is not going to change anything for them...
Tanu Shree Singh
Children in India are not only dealing with the social pressure of excelling at everything, the peer-pressure, and the headlines screaming the unachievable cut-off percentage to get into colleges, but they are also mostly alone in their fight. Schools lack the support structure and seemingly the will to recognise and deal with the dire situation. Scores are the only measure of worth.
Books sometimes hold surprises other than the plot twists. At times, they open doorways into lives of other readers. A postcard, a short note, a library stamp, a bookmark and other such things sometimes fall out of pages, providing a connection deeper than the words of the book. And then there was this photo...
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For five days I was away from the world, without newspapers, clocks, alarms, doorbells and television. But during a trek up in the mountains, the cell phone caught a whiff of network - that's when we came to know of the Paris attacks. Along with the news, I read enough comments dripping with hatred and suspicion to wish the network away. Thankfully, the cell phone tower obliged and I sunk back into oblivion. But the sharp words kept gnawing at me.
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With one hand firmly placed on my temple to press the throbbing vein, I popped a second pill in the bleak hope of numbing the pain in my head. The loudspeaker was still blaring. I peeped out of the window in the hope that the people dancing there would be tired by now. Alas! They were still going strong. The tune of the <em>bhajan </em>was from a popular number that involved a scantily clad woman gyrating to the beat, but the words were from a devotional song.
Most women are not that lucky. They learn to live in that cycle of fear where the circle gets smaller with each passing year. The subtle messages of staying indoors, and looking out for our own safety, soon get transformed into rules about being a step behind, of staying out of temples once a month, and of minding just the children and the kitchen - nothing more and nothing less.
The clothes I wear, the missing markers of being married, and my choice of words define me as an educated woman. Do I feel free? My friend, a financially independent woman, is questioned by the man about a five-minute delay in coming back home? Is she free? A girl applied towards the fag end of the admission period for higher education. She missed out on better courses and colleges because her parents had not allowed her to study further then. She wouldn't care about a date for the flag to unfurl.
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An old lady shuffles to her home down our street every day. She slows down if she sees me and hopes that I call out. I do. She eagerly stops and turns around. I can see the desperation. She just wants to talk. Her only son lives elsewhere and is too wrapped up in his life. She waits for him to turn around, pull away from his web for some time and acknowledge her presence. Till then she goes on being the ghost that waits.
Charity is a personal choice. My choice might be as inconsequential as going to the children's home and telling them a story, or simply helping a student out beyond the classroom. A friend's choice involves getting regularly late for work since she invariably finds herself stopping the car to put the stray pups safely away from the traffic. But these are our choices. They are not big. They are not path-breaking, but they are ours.
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The man outside the doctor's office just scoffed and said to me, "there are people dying in this world and you are wasting time on a stray puppy." You must pay. There are people dying in this world hence, you must die.
For the wide-eyed guests, arranged marriage means that I was gagged and packed off. The incongruence of the situation baffles them more. Each time the conversation ends in, "You guys do not look like an arranged couple." Of course we do not. We are a deranged couple.
The men inched a little closer, ogling at whatever skin there was to see. Those girls were as old as my boys, a few years older than my niece. They were kids. I am a mother. And if you want to see a devil on the road, there is no better fire-breather than an outraged mother.
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The cow could be emaciated, feasting on polybags in the garbage dump, or trying to flick flies away from the wound on the leg, she was to be worshipped. Not cared for, but worshipped. There could be graver issues at hand, but maintaining religious superiority was of top priority.
The rhythm of a train approaching a station was my favourite sound for the next two years. It signalled a journey home to love, and food. Only a hosteller understands the sweetness of the sound of pooris sizzling in the kitchen as one steps in one's home. Each time I returned to the cocoon, the warmth of the familiar sounds weaved threads of comfort around me. Each time I had to leave, that very train lost its rhythm.
A blood curdling scream rang out. I froze. The only sound came from the dog still snoring at my footstep. In my mind, I was chanting, "God, please spare me this once. Just this once.' But, alas, that was not to be. A few seconds after the scream, two boys stormed into my room.