Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nobodies' Story

"What are you writing about," He leaned from behind and whispered into her ear. The sun had almost turned red and the evening chill was setting in. He caressed her back slowly to the nape.

"About the plumber you can see down there..." she pointed towards the window without looking at him.

"What about him?"

"Well..." she was almost beginning to describe that she paused, smiled and said, “nothing much. Just some trivia.”

“Such as?” he insisted.

She took a moment to decide what part of the narrative she wished to share. Then she casually said, “this afternoon he came home to fix the geyser. Upon finding his pen to be leaking, He asked for one. I couldn’t find one in the house. He then looked around, took off a broom stick and dipped it in the leaking ink. And finished his work.”


“and… that’s it.”

Shashank smiled.

“Why do you write about such mundane, trivial things? You are such a good writer. You have studied journalism from the best college in the city. Why do you not write about important events… significant people? Stories that really matter?”

“So you mean that stories of those plumbers fixing our leakages, housewives cutting onions, a banker dispensing cash day in and day out… these and many such stories don’t matter? How do people and events become important even before they are written about? And if they are already significant, why to write about them? How do we know if a story matters or not even before it’s written, Shashank?”

“Well, who is going to read about these people doing their routine activities?”

“Well I write about common people doing common things with common sense, which is not routine these days you see,” she laughed. She added when she her laughter had turned into a gentle smile, “is being read the only purpose of writing?”

“Ah! well, what else then?”

“What if I tell you that I don’t write to be necessarily read?”

“Then what’s the point?”

“of what?”

“of your writing?”

“why there has to be a point? What’s the point of having a point?”

“well, it gives us the motivation, no?”

“When did I say I need motivation? Don’t I write anyways?”

By now Shashank had moved himself away from Aarti and was lying besides her; his back on the bed and eyes on her face. He longed for that reassuring smile on her face, just to tell himself that he is still in the conversation. She, like always, did smile to offer him that much needed solace and continued, “The goal. Something that we can aspire to achieve. The meaning of life and our actions. The outcome. The result. And the end to the stories we narrate, in books and in our lives. We all desperately long for that illusive end. And when it comes, we mostly remain unsatisfied. We crave for another outcome.... chase for another goal and look for another end. That’s when I ask, ‘what’s the point of it all?’”

The sun was gone.The sky was still red though. Bombay doesn’t get very cold even in late December. Why was he shivering then? Thought, Shashank. Arti turned towards him and gently kissed his palm.

“Hence I mostly write... for the sake of writing.”

She got up, switched on the lights and lit the stove to prepare some tea.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Closed Doors

Some untold stories..
Some ignored realities...
A few dreams unrealized,
And some, yet undreamt.

Words unsaid.
Love unfelt.
Many lives, half lived.
And some, yet unlived....

This and so much more,
Behind those closed doors...
Only if, 
You could open that damn door...
I have waited on the side... 
for times unknown.

Co-written with Aakanksha Shah.
Photographed by: Aaknaksha Shah

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

For a Healthier India

In recent UNICEF report, it has been found that India accounts for the highest number of deaths of children under-five years of age with 50% of such deaths caused mainly due to malnutrition. Another report published in 2014 informs that Malaria has killed about 1.2 lakh people out of over 6 crore cases recorded last year. It is also estimated that almost 5.5 lakh non-HIV positive people died of TB last year, making it one of the biggest killers. Over 70,000 women die in India every year due to complications related to childbirth.
You would have already guessed which group of people are faces to these numbers. Of course, the poor and the marginalised. Access to healthcare is a huge issue in India if one doesn't have either the money or adequate network. What can serve as a boon in such a situation is awareness of several government's initiatives in the country. 
However, the awareness of these programs are limited to the people of the sector, the medical professionals, government officials of these departments and health care workers. And it is to their discretion that they inform the patients to avail them. I would hope that they do. But the problem is, one would hesitate even to go to the hospital/health care centre if he/she doesn't know if he/she can pay for the services availed at all. And hence it becomes very important for people from marginalised sections to be aware. But how?
This is where, people who have access to internet (and hence easy access to the information on these programs) can bridge this gap. Let us educate ourselves first. I am highlighting some of the very useful schemes from the Govt. of India for health care. Read on:

  • Rajiv Gandhi Jeevandayee Arogya Yojana राजीव गांधी जीवनदायी आरोग्य योजना (RGJAY) is a scheme from Govt of Maharashtra to improve access of Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) families (excluding White Card Holders as defined by Civil Supplies Department) to quality medical care for identified speciality services requiring hospitalization for surgeries and therapies or consultations through an identified Network of health care providers.
  • The scheme has been implemented throughout the state of Maharashtra. The insurance policy/coverage under the RGJAY can be availed by eligible beneficiary families residing in all the 35 districts of Maharashtra.The scheme entails around 971 surgeries/therapies/procedures along with 121 follow up packages in 30 identified specialized categories such as general surgery, ENT, paediatric, cardiology, other infectious diseases. To get a complete list and details of the program, click hereमराठी में जानकारी के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें। 
  • National Vector Borne Diseases Control Program covers diseases such as Malaria, Dengue, Filaria, Kala-Azar and Chikungunya. Guidelines and other details are provided hereवेबसाइट पर अन्य भारतीय भाषाओं में भी जानकारी उपलब्ध है। 
  • Revised National Tuberculosis control Program provides a holistic care for TB. The entire country is covered under Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course (DOTS) in March, 2006. To read about the details, click here 
  • Janani Suraksha Yojana is a safe motherhood intervention. The scheme is under implementation in all states and Union Territories (UTs), with a special focus on Low Performing States (LPS). To know more about it, click here. State-wise information can be found here.
  • Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram was launched in 2011. The free entitlement under this scheme are cashless delivery, C-Section, drugs and consumables, diagnostics, diet during stay in the health institution, Free provision of blood, Exemption from user charges, transport from home to health institutions, transport between facilities in case of referral and  drop back from Institutions to home after 48hrs stay. The Free Entitlements for Sick newborns till 30 days after birth (which has now been expanded to cover sick infants) are free treatment, drugs and consumables, diagnostics, provision of blood, exemption from user charges, transport from Home to Health Institutions, transport between facilities in case of referral and drop Back from Institutions to home. To know more and read the guidelines, click here.
  • National Nutritional Anaemia Prophylaxis Programme (NNAPP)Anaemia especially affect women in the reproductive age group and young children. The scheme beneficiaries are children in 1-5 years of age, pregnant and nursing mothers, female acceptor of terminal methods of family planning and IUDs. The programme is implemented through the Primary Health Centres and its sub-centres. Click here to read more.
  • Vitamin A Prophylaxis ProgrammeUnder the programme, children aged 6 months to 6 years were to be administered a mega dose of vitamin A at 6 monthly intervals. To read more click here or here.
Most of the above links provide the list of hospitals (if applicable), the states these schemes are implemented and guidelines for availing these benefits. 
This Diwali, let's go beyond the tokenism of Diwali bonuses and giveaways to our maids, house-helps, drivers and many people from low-income communities that we interact daily. Let's gift them life and healthcare. What can we do:
  1. Understand these programs properly, talk with them when they come home this week and empower them to seek for these programs when they or their family members are ill. If possible for you, go to the hospital for the first visit. That will help them to be more comfortable asking for these schemes.
  2. If we want to do more, we can run awareness campaigns in our housing societies for all maids/drivers/helps and ask them to further spread the awareness. 
  3. Share this blog and other related information on your facebook/twitter/other social media sites.
  4. If you work in a low-income school/community, share this with parents/children.
  5. Bookmark this article for later use.
And let's not do it because it's charitable. But because one, it is our responsibility as we are sitting on the privilege of knowledge. Two, if they are healthy and safe, your daily work is not affected. And three, if they know most of these expenses are taken care of, the burden on you to support financially whenever such crisis arises is lifted off from you. 
This Diwali, let's make India healthier. 

P.S. - If you know any other such programs/schemes from government or private institutions/hospitals, please share in the comments section. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

घर और राजनीति

जब किया था इश्क़ हमने
सोचा, चलो एक घर बसाएंगे।
(jab kiya tha ishq hamne... socha, chalo ek ghar basayenge)

ईंट-पत्थर की दीवारें तो होंगी
पर मोहब्बत की छत बनाएंगे
आसमानी दीवार से लगी खिड़कियाँ,
उसपर नीले परदे लगाएंगे।
(eint patthar ki deewarein to hongi... par mohabbat ki chhat banayenge... aasmani deewar se lagi khidkiya, uspar neele parde lagayenge)

ड्राइंग रूम में
माँ की पेंटिंग सजी होगी
और चौके का हर बर्तन
काँच का मंगवाएँगे।
(drawing room me... maa ki painting saji hogi... aur chauke ka har bartan... kaanch ka mangvaayenge)

अहाते के पौधों को तू
पानी दिया करना,
शाम की चाय का
हम वहाँ लुत्फ़ उठाएंगे।
(ahate ke paudhoan ko tu... pani diya karna... shaam ki chai ka...ham waha lutf uthayenge)

रात को जब चाँद
आसमान चढ़ रहा होगा
नैन अपने, बेपरवाह,
रात भर बतिआएँगे
(raat ko jab chaand... asmaan chad raha hoga... nain apne, beparvaah, raat bhar batiaayenge)

पर था कहाँ मालूम
कि तेरे-मेरे बीच जो था.…
या जो है
वो सिर्फ इश्क़ नहीं
(par tha kaha maloom... ki tere mere beech jo tha… ya jo hai... wo sirf ishq nahi)

धर्म, जाती, भाषा, लिंग
और लिंग की लैंगिकता जैसे
हज़ार मुद्दे,
बीच में आ जाएंगे।
(dharm, jaati, bhasha,ling.... aur ling ki laingikta jaise... hazaar mudde... beech me aa jayenge)

अब मेरा चौका, और चौके का हर बर्तन
मेरा मंदिर, मेरी चादर, मेरा बिस्तर
और मेरे बिस्तर पर मेरे साथ
कौन होगा हमबिस्तर
(ab mera chauka, aur chauke ka har bartan... mera mandir, meri chadar, mera bistar... aur mere bistar pe mere saath...kaun hoga ham bistar)

ये सब, वो - जो वहाँ एक शहर जला
शहंशाह बना बैठा है,
उसके लोग, और उसकी तलवार
ही तय कर पाएंगे।
(ye sab... wo - jo vahan ek shahar jala... shahanshaah bana baitha hai,... uske log, aur uski talwaar... hi tay kar paayenge)

अब नैन हमारे, इधर-उधर,
इश्क़ नहीं फ़रमाएंगे,
हिन्दू, मुस्लिम, लड़का, लड़की
हिंदी, चमार और समलैंगिक
ये सब होकर बँट जाएंगे।
(ab nain hamare, idhar udhar,... isqk nahi farmaayenge... ham hindu, muslim, ladka, ladki,... hindi, chamaar aur samlengik... ye sab hokar bant jaayenge)

घर अपना कटेगा किश्तों में,
फिर तोलेंगे हम पलड़ों को,
तू अपनी दीवारें चुन लेना
अब रंग वही बतलाएंगे।
(ghar apna katega kishto me... fir tolenge ham paldo ko.... too apni deeware chun lena... ab rang wahi batlayenge)

Sunday, September 6, 2015


I said, "I wish to see them being carried away by the evening breeze." 

He said,"let's give them to the watchman. He can give them to children to play with." 

We looked at each other, smiled and looked away. 

A day passed. And he was already gone.

This afternoon, when sun moved towards the west, I was standing by my window. The breeze caressed my face. I looked at the balloons. They were loafing all around in the room. I picked them up, switched my camera on and slowly, one by one, dropped them out of the window. When I was done with all the balloons, I switched the camera off. Just when I was about to turn away, I saw a little girl, on the other side of the fence, holding one of the red balloons. And a minute later, I saw a young boy came running with another. He had already tied a rope to play with it.

I smiled.

In this moment, our individual wishes had become a shared reality. Sometimes, our wishes do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. It doesn't have to be a choice between this or that. Sometimes, just sometimes, serendipity plays its part, and what we have is, this and that.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

घर के पहले वाला घर

 ये घर, घर बनने के पहले वाला घर,

जहाँ कई बार हँसना-हँसाना हुआ है,

कई-कई बार रोना-रुलाना हुआ है,

जहाँ बचपन पैदा हो खिलखिला चुका है

और मौत ने कई बार डेरा जमाया है.…

ये घर… घर बनाने वालों का एक घर।

बेरंग, भूरा-भूरा सा.…

ईंट और पत्थर भर का

दीवारे नहीं, बस छत सा कुछ है

पर है तो आखिर, ये घर

तेरा-मेरा होने से पहले वाला घर।

फिर कोई जजमान इसे खरीद लेंगे

धुला, रंगा-पुता के,

नए सोफ़े, बिस्तर और फूलदान लगाके,

गृह-प्रवेश होगा, और पूजा वगैरह.…  

कुछ ढोंग यूँ कि सब नया है.… 

बस, तेरे-मेरे मन को बहलाने के लिए

आखिर कभी जान पाएंगे क्या

ये घर, था बेघर, बेचारों का घर?

या घर, मदमस्त बंज़ारों का घर?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Killer and The Killed

“A 30-year-old resident doctor at AIIMS allegedly killed herself… because her husband was gay.” And before I could read and re-read the article (link here), my heart sank. I knew what was coming, but somewhere in my heart, I also wished that may be, just maybe, it would be different narrative. But no, it wasn’t. Before I get into the discussion of how I see this news, let me make it clear, cheating by anyone, I think, is not okay. The husband cheated. Indeed. He tortured the wife, as reported in the newspaper. Indeed. And its quite sad the wife had to succumb to suicide. Very very sad. No one, absolutely no one should be brought to a point that he/she has to end his/her life like this.

Now let’s understand the narrative. The news report closes with, “‘Priya kept quite (quiet –spellcheck TOI!) about her husband because of social taboos but she was quite supportive. Her in-laws were torturing her to get a divorce but she wanted to accept him the way he was,’ Lokesh said.” I wonder why? Accept a gay man as husband, for what? Her in-laws wanted for her to get a divorce. Why was she hesitant then? In fact, I wonder, why was she not the one to ask for a divorce? Clearly, there is an attempt in the article to create a certain good versus evil image, where the victim, of course, is the good and the so-called perpetrator, the bad. I wonder how this narrative would have changed, if at all, if the husband was not gay in his orientation. Or maybe it would have remained similar. We have our senses of sympathy while we read such news items. The dead person calls for more sympathy than the person seen as the cause of death. And when it’s a woman who has died, in a country where India’s daughter is a fashion now, there cannot be any other narrative. Now, before you call me a male chauvinist or at least think of me as one, let me tell you, I am not.

Because, here my conversation is not about men or women. It’s about men and women and everyone on this spectrum of human diversity. Would I have written about it if the man was a straight man torturing the woman for, say, dowry? I don’t know. I might. I might not. However, here the news story presents itself an interesting and very important lesson on what happens when one oppressed group (woman – in male-female binary gender identity system) interacts with another oppressed group (homosexuals – in hetero-normalized sexuality of this world).

A gay man, to make his life look “normal”, marries a woman. Under his own ‘cowardice’ to come out, emotional blackmailing and pressure from family or not being sure of his own sexuality at the point of marriage; the reason no one would ever know, except the man himself. One Mr. Vikram Johri writes how this episode is a lesson for gay men.

The writer expects the gay men, and this husband in particular, to show empathy and not to screw up girls’ lives if they don’t have the courage to come out. Sure. What about practicing some empathy yourself and not generalizing for all gay men? Also, being able to put yourself in the other men’s shoes to understand that it’s not easy, not at all to come out and live by your own standards. And it’s not fun inside the closet.

He writes, “Coming out is not about courage. It is about finally ridding yourself of the miasma of incompleteness that you discover you have caged yourself in for no good reason. It is about realising your life's potential and leading a fuller existence. And it is about being humane. If you do not have the guts to come out, sure, stay in the closet.” In the same breath he says its not about courage and its about having the gut when one has to come out. Boy, you are confused. Because in between these two opposites, everything else you have written, demands courage beyond the mundane. And if it was that easy, people would have had good lives in general, not just gay people out of the closet.

Also, the wife writes, “I never wanted anything from you but due to your abnormal sexuality you thought I needed sex from you but that's wrong.” An AIIMS doctor calls a man’s homosexual orientation as abnormal. What kind of acceptance is that? That too coming from a doctor? The post only shows how she is playing “I am a victim” game. And sadly, that’s one game we love to play all the time. That makes our side more sympathetic. If you knew your husband is not sexually compatible, you need a divorce not a facebook outburst and suicide. But indeed, the wife needed courage too. For she was in her own closet. The closet of being a homo-wife. The parents and family were in the closet too. The closet of being parents and family of a homosexual man. As the man struggled his own coming out so did his wife and family. If there’s an expectation upon him to come out, so it is on the others too. ‘coz our stories are not isolated atoms. They are interlinked and survive on this relational spectrum of life.

Both of them, the husband and the wife, were in the closet. Closets suffocate. Suffocation kills. Either the closeted gay man would have died or the closeted wife of the gay man would have. In this case the wife did. I wonder if that husband would have killed himself, would it have been equally interesting news. Well, several reports say that many young boys and girls end their lives quite frequently because they can’t come out due to their heteronormative families. I wonder if someone would report someday, “a youth killed himself/herself because his/her parents were homophobic heterosexuals.” So every time a person of sexual minority commits suicide, is the heterosexual parent or the sibling or anyone who is blamed? In most such cases, they are not even reported .Once again, please note I am not say the death of wife is not sad or the acts of the husband is justified. My point is that we need to come out of the black and white, the wrong and the right, mindset. We need to stop seeing people as right or wrong. But their actions. Coz when we call an entire person wrong, we create stereotypes. And stereotypes kill.

You know, it’s not the ‘gay’ in the ‘gay man’ who killed. It’s the ‘man’ who did. Not because men are evil. But because men are taught, to the level of being indoctrinated, to be the stronger one. And to be a stronger, one needs the other to be weaker. To be survivor and not the killed, one has to kill, it seems. And this logic is what we need to challenge and change. No blaming, shaming and pushing the guilt will help. Because it never has. It’s not my versus yours war. This life is ours, intricately linked. And our solutions have to comprehensive and interlinked. If there’s an expectation from gay men and women to come out, there has to be an expectation from heterosexual man and women to accept alternate sexualities with as much respect as they accept their own. If there is an expectation upon a group of people to be courageous and compassionate, we will have to start from ourselves being the same.

The wife died. She has attained nirvana from all her pains. And she has left the husband behind with more than adequate punishment – a lifetime of violent prejudice and shame. So let’s deal with it in perspective, people. 'Coz the killer and the killed, is inside us... all of us. We have to decide, if we want to bury the killed and heal the killer, or victimize the killed and hide the killer.