Monday, June 25, 2012 16 comments


There was this article in the Times of India last week which spoke about suicides as a major cause of death among the youth in India. According to this article India’s four southern states which account for  22% of the total population had approximately 40% of deaths due to suicides in 2010. The article also states that Delhi accounts for the lowest in terms of suicide deaths.

What was surprising however was the statistic that the deaths due to suicide in India were twice as much as those from HIV/AIDS and almost equal to that of maternal deaths. And interestingly, the percentage of deaths due to suicide among women is far higher than that in men. In terms of average ages of death of suicide victims the average age for girls was 12.7 years while for boys it was 18.6 years. And yes, risk of suicide was higher in rural areas when compared to urban areas.

I would like to say that I was shocked when I read this but  I wasn’t ! I think these deaths are nothing but an indicator of the increasing stress levels among the youth in our country. If you think I am exaggerating I would ask  you to just pick out the back issues of the newspapers on dates when the school public examination results are announced and search the newspapers in the following weeks for suicide reports. The correlation is something that does not need explanation!

The kind of pressure that parents and teachers put on young people in terms of achievement is just too much! No wonder these children crack under it ! And often it is not just academics, the overall expectations in terms of goal setting and its achievement in life make young people feel a deep sense of failure when they are unable to meet them. I think sometimes, that parents try to achieve through their children what they themselves were unable to or cannot..! Sometimes for those in the rural areas or those in poorer families the child who studies well is the only hope out of poverty ( or so the parents think).

While failure in terms of academics is one reason there is another kind of failure which also often leads to taking ones own life – yes the failure of a relationship or what is commonly known as “love failure”!  While  trying hard not to be judgmental I wonder if killing oneself because someone did not reciprocate one’s love or one was not able to marry one’s beloved is really worth it?

But if we look at it from our cultural perspective it is easier to understand.  Most of these kids are brought up on a diet of films and pulp fiction and local folk lore that celebrate such deaths. And besides, few youngsters from our culture ( particularly those from rural backgrounds) may not understand that what you feel in your teens or even in your early twenties if often not love but your hormones acting up. Given the way our society functions, there are little opportunities for boys and girls to meet. So that one boy or girl who looks at you, reads your letters, responds to them, holds your hand or kisses you becomes THE person. So when something goes wrong with this  (the other persons does not reciprocate or is forced to/ decides to marry someone else) then throwing oneself down from a bridge into a river, or drinking pesticide seems to be the best option!

Unfortunately, the opportunities for a young person to talk about their feelings of stress or the feeling of being let down in a romantic relationship just does not exist in our country. There are few people they can turn to other than peers who are often themselves going through such stress. So they do the next best thing –things that they see the heroes and heroines in films doing – killing themselves.

There are a few organizations that have suicide help lines to call but I am not really sure how many know about them and among those who know, how many actually make that call.. 

Suicide happens when one’s mind is in utter turmoil and when “ending it all” seems to be the only alternative. I am not a psychologist but I have read somewhere that if a person has someone to talk to at that point they can be counseled out of it. Of course the suicidal tendency may be endemic to that person but that is something that would require a longer term intervention like counseling and looking at how to address the conditions that may trigger such feelings.

About more number of women committing suicides – not surprising because a woman’s life has more stress and her coping systems fewer.  In traditional families women are not encouraged to have friends outside of the family –someone she can talk  to if she is facing a problem and someone who will keep that confidential! And then there is the issue about her “reputation” and her so called “virtue” –if she has been betrayed in love, has become pregnant before marriage or been raped- killing herself is the way she deals with it! Often, the way our society functions women do not have a way out of a situation - so they chose to take the way out of this world!

But what I have always failed to understand are the men and women who immolate themselves when some political leader is arrested ! Is such blind adoration possible? I don’t think so. I think these must be well planned incidents where the victim’s family is promised some money in return for a life!  And then of course are those “honor killings” which are actually murders disguised as suicides- we need to discount those figures.

I think somewhere along the way, as a culture we should stop “celebrating” suicides. It is seen as something courageous and heroic. But nowhere do we mention the courage of the  people who have lived on and faced the problems dealing with them! These survivors are unfortunately not mentioned anywhere! 

( In South India, SNEHA  is doing a wonderful job providing support to folks in distress. Hotline:91.44.24640050- thanks Bhavna for the information)
Friday, June 22, 2012 13 comments


The idea for this post was triggered by a friend who posted an old DIGJAM advertisement which featured Shekhar Kapoor. She asked me to help her find  the one with Karan Kapoor – (yes that old Bombay Dyeing ad with Shashi Kapoor’s handsome son! ) We had a lovely banter over the comments section about how we used to "drool”  over these men..

Thinking back, I cannot not help but laugh at some of the men who were part of my fantasies during my teens. Coming as we did from gender desegregated schooling systems, we had little opportunity to actually interact with boys. There was no question of having a boy friend ( though there were some who did manage THAT). So we put our entire heart and souls into our dreams.

Dreams may be intangible but they require a “ muse”  . And those men in the ads and the heroes of the novels were our sources of inspiration. While the men in the movies and the  ads were in a way very real, I think the kind of love that one had for an unseen hero like the protagonist in a novel or a poem was very different as it relied a lot on one’s own imagination- an imagination triggered by words! I realize now that I am probably a person who is more led by a sense of imagery that is self defined rather than imposed on by external sources like ads.

The first time this happened was when I read “Lochinvar” by Sir Walter Scott . I fell head over heels in love with the main protagonist who was    supposed to be      “ daring in love and dauntless in war”. Nowhere had I actually seen a picture of this knight who “save his good broad sword had weapons none”  and who “ rode all unarmed”  and “ all alone” . But I could just imagine him in my mind as the most handsome man in this world.- that is . until I read  “ The Highwayman”  by Alfred Noyes when the bandit replaced the knight in my dreams. I almost “ looked”  for him by “ moon light” and “watched” for him by “ moonlight” .Many moon came and went and I kept looking for him!  

A few years later when I read “ Gone with the wind” I lost my heart to Rhett Butler. Interestingly, I refused to watch the movie though I had many occasions to do so. I wanted to hold on to my mental image of  this dashing hero. It was only very recently that I watched a program on a television channel about the making of this movie and that is when I actually set my eyes on Clark Gable playing Rhett Butler- I must confess at this point that he lived up in every way to my mental image of Rhett!

Other loves were Mr. Darcy in “ Pride and Prejudice” and to some extent “ Robinhood”.

I think you must have noticed by now that all these men populating my dreams were western charachters. I can only blame it on the colonial schooling system which stuffed our head with English poetry and literature. Who knows, if I had studied in a Tamil medium or a Hindi medium school I may have fallen in love with “ Veerapandya Kattbomman” “ Raja Raja Chozhan”  or “ Chandragupta Vikramaditya” !!!

While poetry and stories have a way of triggering mental images, so does music. An avid fan of Hindi film music, I used it as a background for spinning images-almost like in the movies. While I am a great fan of Mohammad Rafi’s , the voice that triggered dreams was Kishore Kumar’s. Actually, it continues to do so.. Rafi and Yesudas are okay for beautiful songs based on ragas but to me it is only Kishore who can sing a song with and about passion! Unfortunately the faces which lip synched Kishore’s words often did not live up to the images in my dreams. But when I saw Kishore perform live –that was actually the ultimate let down!! Poor guy he cannot help the way he looks. But how do you explain that to a sixteen year old? My heart broke into a thousand pieces and I wished I had been born blind!

The teenage years went by and as we grew and interacted with real men/boys the dreams readjusted to accommodate some of their traits. There was a time when the real and the fantasy intermingled often impacting on crucial decisions like the selection of one’s life partner. We made those decisions and live with them accepting the reality that comes with it.  I don’t know how many of us found those dream men.. but I can certainly say that if some psychologist did an analysis of the type of men we married and the men who were part of our dreams during our growing years, they would be amazed by some striking similarities.

However, as we all know, it is one thing to dream about a Lochinvar and another to marry him.. because one is certainly not “ the fair Ellen of the brave Lochivar”  or “Bess the landlord’s daughter- the landlord’s red lipped daughter”

But when has that stopped a girl from dreaming? Dreaming is her birthright and no one can deny her that!
( The images are from the internet - they do not in any way do justice to the images in my dreams)
Sunday, June 10, 2012 22 comments


Life has not been the same for us since the 7th of June. 
A large vegetable shop has established itself bang opposite our house! Now wait, don't you say “Life must be easier now.. you can put your kadai on the stove and run across to buy the veggies you may need for your curry” ! Please listen to my entire story...

The first hint of chaos was visible at 6.00 AM when we woke up to mantras being blasted on a PA system – the shop was being formally inaugurated. Then there were some shouts as a few workers from the shop tried to climb over our compound wall to pluck some mango leaves from the tree in our compound.

When I got back from work, I found that I could not get into my house – there were a line of cars parked outside our house, resting very conveniently under the shade of the mango tree I had mentioned earlier!! I had almost anticipated this- I asked the lady who was sitting on the passenger seat in one of the cars to move it away  from our gate. She told me that her husband was inside the shop buying vegetables. “ It will not take much time. Only five or ten minutes more” she said smiling ingratiatingly. I glared at her and asked her to go inside and get her husband out NOW!!! She looked at me sullenly and asked why I was having a problem considering that I was not driving into my house or driving out of it.  I had after all come in an auto can could easily walk in. That really got me!!  I warned her that if she did not go in to call her husband I would deflate her tires ( and she had more than four on her person alone!!). So she scuttled across the road and got him out while I stayed at the gate making sure that the car was moved out.
But triumph is short lived as this incident continues to happen. Many times it happens when we are indoors or when we are out of the house – we are unable to stop this parking menace that has been brought about by the shop. We do  not have a personal watchman unlike our neighbors who are residents of apartments –so we cannot take any preventive steps other than putting up a “ NO PARKING IN FRONT OF THE GATE”  board which as we all know, in India means nothing!!!
Then ,this morning as I was leaving for my walk, I nearly fell over something outside the gate – it was the Corporation dustbin which had been rolled right out to the front of our gate and was piled with vegetable waste from the shop. In fact the waste had been heaped so high that the bin had broken at the bottom strewing rubbish all around!! I had a good mind of wheeling the offending thing to the shop and emptying it there .. !

I have been speaking to my neighbors asking them whether we can jointly write out a petition to the corporation or the traffic police complaining about this problem. Strangely people seem hesitant about it! In fact when I asked them if they would sign a complaint letter they were very vague about their agreement!
So, here I am fighting a lone battle against a problem that no one seems to be interested in addressing.

Actually, I am surprised as to how the authorities could allow a huge commercial establishment such as this to crop up in what is a residential neighborhood. There is a corporation designated commercial space near our house where there  are number of shops. So how did this monstrosity find its way to what should have been a residence?

The city of Chennai is very peculiar in the sense that there are no designated market spaces  unlike Delhi, Mumbai or even Bhubaneshwar. We see shops just about anywhere in this town.. Very soon I guess they would oust us out of our houses

While the shop is only one example, there is an older one of a political party office that is two doors away. Fortunately for us it is a “ dead”   party so there is no menace from that end. However, every now and then the dead rise from their stupor –during the birth / death anniversary of the founder and the place is filled with cars and SUVs bearing party flags with  speeches being made by thug-ish looking guys in white veshtis and shirts. Where there is a crowd like this, there is bound to be feeding and we have tons of used disposable plates strewn around that infamous garbage dump outside our house…

This open flouting of zoning regulations is increasingly becoming the norm. Our dear CM wanted to turn a beautiful library into a hospital… just because it was built by her predecessor! This building is located in an area which has a number of educational institutions – now tell me how would a hospital fit there? Of course, hospitals, apparently can be made out of everything – the Legislative Assembly building constructed by the previous government at a huge cost is now being turned into a children’s hospital!!!!! I don’t know the state of implementation of these orders but I guess there is some public interest litigation that has been filed.

Unfortunately, individuals like me cannot take recourse to public interest law because the civic consciousness in this neighborhood just does not exist- every body is afraid of clashing with “ rowdies” – yes sure these guys obviously have political clout to have got past the planning regulations so easily.  It is also quite possible that they are thugs – because the nexus between politics and crime is very strong in our country..

I had once watched a ghost movie where an exorcist tells the family that lives in a haunted house’ Do not be afraid because ghosts feed on your fear” . I think it holds true for these political types who use our fears to build on their powers. Like spine less creatures we also vote them into power and then they continue with supporting lawlessness, flouting rules their own governments made!!!

Meanwhile, I request some of our neighbors in the street to boycott this shop so that we could put  social pressure on it to close down. Do they listen to me? They nod sagely and say “Yes Yes”  And then they look at me sheepishly while crossing the road with vegetable laden bags.. Now tell me who is having the last laugh?  


Wednesday, June 6, 2012 10 comments


The last couple of weeks have been sheer hell here in Chennai !. But friends in other parts of India tell me it is no different where they are. The mercury is soaring all over the place. A colleague sent me a message from Patna airport yesterday telling me that it was 46 deg outside! I felt comforted that Chennai had not crossed 40 yet! My AC in the office does not work and I am always running around to different parts of the building where the AC functions!! The day before yesterday, I had an emotional outburst via email where I complained to my boss and HR about “ torturous working conditions”!

Back  home when I was calmer, I tried to reflect on why the heat was bothering me so much? While I agree with climate change etc it might be hotter now, I think at some point our tolerance levels are also coming down. Or is it that I am older and therefore finding it more difficult to cope? So I try to summon some pleasant memories to ease the pain.

I remember a childhood when summer holidays would be spent at my grandparent’s home at Srirangam- all the kids would be running around the compound – our time of most hectic activity being the afternoons when the adults would be napping- the heat never bothered us then! There was only one room with a fan under  which all of us used to sleep. But the temptation to sleep with  grandfather outside was more than lying directly under the fan with Amma and my aunts!

I really do  not remember ever feeling hot during my school days – yes there was a lot of heat generated through the scolding and punishments but none induced by temperature!  School uniforms in the evenings would be wet with sweat but we did not care! Kolkata ofcourse had the wonderful cooling effect of the “Kalboishakhi” storms some evenings – inky black skies and stormy winds. Staying as we were on the fifth floor, it was difficult to keep the windows shut. We had these small jute ropes with which we had to tie the windows to the frame so that they did not fly open. There was some construction fault in the building which often caused rain water to lash into the living room flooding it! Oh, how we loved splashing about on the ankle deep water with a bucket and mop in hand .. My sister was s devil- she used to sit on the water getting all her clothes wet while I used to get scolded for it!

Come college and what with my long trek to the University in the outskirts of Hyderabad- the heat sill did not seem to affect me! We used to have semesters that went right through the summers and it never seemed to bother us ( except probably the fact that the water cooler was in a wing far removed from the class rooms). Exam halls often had at the most 2-3 fans but we never cared about it when we wrote those three hour long exams often during mid day ( 1- 4 PM!). It used to be a lot of fun wiping the floors in the evening ( the floor used to get terribly hot as the house we lived in was built on rocky terrain) and filling the desert coolers with water before we retired for the night. Yes, we used to grumble about the boiling hot water that came out of our pipes.

 The cooler made awful noises through the nights often moving on its wheels leaving a trail of water behind it – the unlucky person (often being the first to rise) –  would slip and fall waking the rest of us!

And what is a summer without mangoes? I remember eating dozens of mangoes every day – different varieties in the different states that we lived in..

Come rain, unlike in Chennai, the rocky terrain in Hyderabad would cool quickly and that hot water in the taps would soon be a distant memory!

There were no air conditioners those days. Only my father’s office room had one and the train compartments in the 2 AC coaches. Cars with ACs were unheard of ( I think only film stars would have had them those days!) .

Today life without air-conditioning seems to be un imaginable for many of us. Even schools advertise AC class rooms.. While not discounting climate change and its ill effects, I wonder if it is us who are changing? Our parents used to complain that water from an earthen pots was okay for them while we would not drink anything other than “fridge water”. So when desert coolers were okay for us , ACs seem to be the norm today.. 

But whatever, I am longing for a respite. Unfortunately, I do  not think I will have one as I live in Chennai, one of the few places which the monsoon visits only on its way out of the sub continent! So, it is a few more months of 30 plus degrees of temperature until due to sheer exhaustion the temperature may drop  and I would not be a slave to an air conditioner..

The city of Chennai is strange in the sense it has no systemic coping mechanisms unlike certain other places like Hyderabad where the summer timings for offices and schools are revised so that people are home when it is hottest. Schools often start by 6 AM and close by afternoon.

I guess in a city like Chennai which rarely sees any other season besides, summer, such options are difficult because it would then have to be the norm! 

So, here’s to the city with the unchanging seasons- Chennai… ! We do not have to endure what we cannot cure – let us enjoy this ( along with the two hour power cuts)  and turn our noses up at the slushy roads in Mumbai and Trivandrum that are soon to hit the television screen!