Don’t Give Up (Please)

At lunch time on August 10, I was treating a few friends. We ate our favourite dishes and chatted away happily; occasionally gossiping and majorly laughing. I had no idea, not even in my wildest imaginations, that at that very moment, some kilometres away, a friend of ours, one who we were discussing over noodles and dal makhani, was contemplating suicide.

Only if we had known.

His death was unfortunate, the news shocking, and the feeling unbelievable. He was the happiest, most joyful person we knew. Who knew that that grin was a facade and that those eyes were, in reality, battling depression.

Depression.

It’s a horrible pit, depression. You often find yourself lying on your floor at three in the morning, with dry eyes and a heavy head. You cry for help, often in vain. You scream, shout, and then give up. Some cut themselves, some run-away, some fight it, and some… Some escape it.

I have been depressed too; I think everyone has. What sucks the most about depression is the insensitivity and nonchalance that the society harbours. “It will be all right.” “Don’t think too much about it.” “It’s no big deal.” “Why are you even depressed? There are children dying in Syria”.

It is horrifying, to say the least, how people deal with depressed people. They are ignored, often left to themselves. At times, it is assumed that they are strong enough to face their challenges. Other times, like with our friend, the depression is never noticed by anyone.

I really don’t know the point of this blog post. All I know is that I feel terrible and shaken. It is chilling that someone, who was loved so dearly, had moments where he felt so alone. Haven’t all of us failed him collectively? Haven’t all of us failed in telling him that he is loved, and cared for, and special, and amazing, and everything but a failure.

This is a plea to everyone out there –shut your phone and close your Facebook tabs. Go out and look people in the eyes. Hold their hands, hug them, and talk to them. Don’t fall for their emojis on WhatsApp and don’t buy their “I am fine”. Don’t opt the path that is convenient for you. Do the harder thing –tell people you love them. Tell them they matter and tell them they are awesome. Spend time with your loved ones and kiss them goodnight. Talk to each other and find out about each other. Ask people how their day was. Be there to wipe each other’s tears and be compassionate enough to understand their battles. Pain cannot be measured; no pain is greater than the other. A child being killed in Syria is as bad as someone breaking up a relationship that lasted three years. Pain is the only thing that unites us and it is important that we be there for each other.

For everyone out there who is having a hard time –you are amazing. You are unique and you are beautiful. You have a smile that is heart-warming and you are not a failure. You are loved and adored. You may not feel that way, but it’s true. Your parents love you so much albeit they may have a different way to show it. There is always light at the end of the tunnel; you just got to wait to see it. Keep going, because the world needs you. You’re here for a purpose. All obstacles are nothing but stepping stones. The Otherside awaits you –you have to wait for it too.

I know life becomes crappy and I know that often we feel that this is the end –but it’s not. The bad time passes too, no matter how bad it seems. I never thought I’ll get over a bad relationship, or lost friends, or failure, or losing loved ones, or disappointment. But you know what? I did. Everyone does. You will too.

Please keep going and don’t give up.

Reach out to each other and talk. We’re all in the same boat –all united by pain, fear, and hope.

I wish our friend knew this too.

The Thing About Childlike Curiosity

It was a hot summer afternoon in Kolkata and I was standing in a long queue. We had decided to spend some time in the Science City before our departure to Delhi and were now mildly regretting the decision. The queue was awfully long for a 3D show (that would perhaps not meet our expectations anyway). With rumbling stomachs and impatient demeanours, we waited.

Shortly, my eyes fell on a little girl who stood on the other side of our stanchion. She was as tiny as the barrier and was playing with the elastic cord that connected two stanchions. She had short hair and an adorable frock. She was perhaps the only human there oblivious to the excruciating wait –she had found entertainment for herself in the elastic cord itself. The little girl continuously hit the elastic cord with her tiny palm. She would watch the cord vibrate and move, and then smile with glee. Her discovery had filled her with wonder. Her eyes were wide and her mirth was infectious. It was almost like NASA had finally found that alternate life existed.

Not long after, her parents noticed what she was doing. Absentmindedly, her father grasped the cord between his palm, causing it to stop vibrating. He then resumed talking to her mother. I expected the little girl to begin crying now –she had found a wonderful game that her father had successfully ruined. To my surprise, she didn’t cry at all!

Instead of throwing a tantrum, her eyes opened wider and her mouth formed an ‘O’. Cautiously, she hit her palm against the cord to make it vibrate and then grasped the cord in her palm, thereby causing it to stop. It was true –the cord could stop too! Her smile turned into laughter as she repeated the process over and over again –first causing the cord to vibrate and then making it stop. What was natural, almost immaterial, to the humans twice her size around her, became an adventure for her.

Her glee was seamless and infectious. Before I knew it, I was smiling too.

A Woman’s Sexuality

A woman should discover womanhood through her dazzling sexuality —

she should feel power and strength in the phenomenal woman that she is.

Her sexuality and self-awareness must empower her;

a woman should be self-aware of her womanhood.

However, in my world,

a woman is made aware of her womanhood.

Right from her birth, until her death,

with every step, and every breath,

she is time and again reminded of her womanhood.

Her sexuality is condemned,
her liberation is mocked,
her freedom is nabbed.

She is made aware of her womanhood.

When she wants to embrace her desires,
she is reprimanded.
When she submits to the flow of society,
she is subjugated.
Her costumes, manners, and gestures are regulated —

she’s made aware of her womanhood.

They tell her how she is the reason of her troubles;
she must fully dress and slowly whisper.
She must comb her hair and like pink.
And if she’s a feminist,
they tell her it’s a bad thing.

She’s made aware of her womanhood.

She must cook, clean,
and remember her moral duties.
All her life she must strive
to be pretty.

If she gives in, she’s slutty;
if she doesn’t, she’s bitchy.
If she shaves, she’s a wannabe.
If she doesn’t, she’s a rebel.

She’s made aware of her womanhood.

Oh, only if these morons knew that
containing a fire doesn’t end it;
it’s fire, it’ll spread.
You can douse it,
but never kill it.

And if you play too much with it,
it burns down everything
that comes in its way.

Marks Don’t Matter

This piece of news is the first thing I read in the morning and I cannot stress enough on how much it disturbed me.

 

May 13, 2016; Hindustan Times

 

A girl studying in Class XI suicides because she fails a Chemistry Exam twice.

Was it really worth it to end your life because of an exam that bears no consequences on your future? Was it really worth it to put your parents through unimaginable pain only because of an exam that will change nothing in your life? Was it even remotely, even for one second, worth it?

It wasn’t. It will never be.
This is a message to all students out there –IT DOESN’T MATTER.

As invaluable as education is, and as important a degree and a good life are, IT DOESN’T MATTER. There are things greater, and bigger, than the three hours you spend trying to score marks out of 100. What matters is how much you learnt. What matters is how much of a better person you became after a certain lecture. What matters is the amount of hard-work you put in.

RESULTS DO NOT DEFINE THE PERSON YOU ARE.

Results only define you on a scale set as a standard by some members of the society. MARKS DO NOT DEFINE YOU.

You do not get good colleges or good jobs based ONLY on your academic performance. Please take this from someone who scored two perfect 100s in her board examinations –IT DID NOT MATTER.

This is also an earnest request to all teachers and parents everywhere in all corners of the world –TELL THE STUDENTS THAT IT DOES NOT MATTER. I am extremely grateful to my parents and my teachers who gave me the space to grow and learn through my failures and setbacks. This is the kind of atmosphere we need for all students everywhere. Students need to be told the truth –YOUR MARKS DO NOT MATTER AS MUCH AS YOU THINK THEY DO. They do hold a lot of importance, but for the love of God, you cannot end your life over an exam that will create a very little difference in the long run.

Please focus on learning and growing, and exams will become cakewalks. Please choose subjects according to your ABILITY and not the society. Science is not better than Humanities and Commerce is not a ‘second option’. Do what you love and excel in it. Make learning interactive and fun, and you will realise that marks DON’T MATTER.

My prayers are with this young student who could have grown up to become an invaluable member of the society. My condolences are with her parents who must be going through ineffable misery.
What only matters is your happiness… Marks do not matter.

“Why Don’t You Go To School?”

It had been a long day at college. My friend and I sat in a taxi outside the college gate, waiting. It was 5 already. I calculated the time it would take me to reach home and sighed. Why was life so hard?
“Bhaiya, please hurry up!” we called to the driver.

The sun would set soon. The crowds on the road were beginning to thin. Horns could be heard in the distance. People gathered around in small groups near the tea-stall. Others sat and smoked, chatting. My friend and I bought something to eat. As we sat eating and talking, our eyes fell on a small boy standing near our taxi. He was young, barely over eleven years of age. He had short hair, a dirty shirt, and a frail physique. He held roses in one hand and itched his hair with the other. Looking at us looking at him, he neared us. “Please give me money, I need to eat” he said. I offered him the orange I was eating. He refused and insisted on having money only. “I can only offer you what I have,” I said and offered him the orange again. He refused yet again but silently sat near us.

“Don’t you go to school?” I asked him. “I do!” he lied. “Really? What are you doing here, then?” I asked him. “I don’t go every day…” he said. “I go occasionally.” “Do your parents know you bunk school often?” I asked. He shook his head as he swung his legs. “My mother doesn’t know. I give her the money I earn and lie to her about how I got it. She doesn’t know I do this.” he said. “And your father?” I asked, getting curious. “He fell from a train on our way to our village. The TT never stopped the train.” he fell silent. For a while, all of us only heard all of us breathe.

“You should go to school, you know?” my friend said, breaking the silence. “Why?” he asked. “Well, you will learn a lot about the world. You will be better placed. You’ll get into a good college and you’ll have a job.” I said. “But I am still earning” he reasoned. “I want to open a tea-stall or something when I grow up. What is the point of studying?” he asked. I did not know what to say. “But you’ll become a better person!” my friend said. “Education aids you in becoming a better person.”

He looked at us and then looked out towards the students smoking nearby. “A better person?” he asked. “What good has education done to you when all of you come here and smoke and drink?” he asked innocently. For a moment he didn’t seem like a small boy. “It is a terrible way of ruining your body. Why would you want to do that?” I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. I had thought of the exact same question a million times before, but here, having it come from this little child’s mouth, it felt more real than ever before. What good was education?

“It is indeed a terrible thing. I am so proud of you for understanding so. Do not fall into this trap.” I told him. “I once asked a bhaiya why he was smoking” he said. “The bhaiya slapped me and asked me to leave.” “Oh people do things when they are intoxicated.” my friend said. “Should I go and ask that bhaiya to not smoke?” he asked, pointing towards a young man lighting his cigarette at a little distance from us. “You should.” we encouraged him. He smiled and hopped towards the man. We saw him saying something to the man. The young man was obviously unmoved and did not make an effort to acknowledge the boy’s presence. He turned around, tilted his head, and looked at us disappointed. “It is okay!” we gestured to him from the car.

He came back to us, told us he needed to leave, and bid us goodbye. He made a last attempt at asking us for money, and when we refused, he smiled, waved, and left. Our driver had come back and he started the car. I looked outside of the window as the car moved forward, leaving the huge campus behind. I looked at the college buildings sprinting behind us. “What good is your education?” his words echoed in my mind.


This was originally published on buzz.universitytimes.in

Sikkim: tranquility and momos

“I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.”

-A.L. Tennyson

Sikkim is a landlocked state in the north-eastern part of India, sharing its borders with China, Bhutan, and Nepal. Surrounded by the Himalayas, Sikkim used to be an independent country, until it joined India in 1975.

I had vehemently opposed travelling to Sikkim at first. “You always take us to the mountains.” I cried to my parents incessantly. “They are beautiful and all, but they are all the same!”

But oh, how wrong was I! Sikkim was different. It was very, very, different.

Sikkim is not an easy place to reach.

The nearest railway station, as well as the nearest airport, is located near Siliguri in West Bengal. Sikkim is approximately a five-hour drive from Siliguri, that is five hours of picturesque views and breathtaking sceneries.
River Teesta crawled along with us, slowly and gracefully, leading the way to Sikkim. Vibrantly painted houses, heavily influenced by Buddhist architecture, with sloping roofs and narrow windows, lined the way. Mountains overlapped and separated. The clouds that we saw up above were soon next to us, and sooner still, below us.

It was almost like we were driving up to paradise, and paradise it was.

Probably the most exciting thing about visiting a new place is to try the local food there. For me, ‘Thukpa’ was one of the two highlights of my food expeditions in Sikkim.
Thukpa is a dish consisting of soupy-noodles. It originated in Tibet and is quite popular in Sikkim. All we had to do was have hot, piping Thukpa, on a cold day, in a small hotel we found midway our road trip, to understand why it was so popular there.

The other highlight was, of course, momos.

I remember the first lunch that I had in Sikkim.
We stopped at a restaurant on our way to Gangtok, and being the north-Indian I am, I ordered roti. “It would take an hour.” the waiter said. “One hour for a roti?!” I exclaimed. How could cooking a roti possibly take anything more than fifteen minutes tops? But that’s just how it was like for the next two weeks that I spent in the eastern part of India -no rotis. “What can we have right away, then?” I asked. “Noodles, rice, and momos,” he said simply.

And momos we had -lots of them.

We later asked the local driver, who was driving us around, about momos. “Do you often cook them at home?” my father asked. “Of course!” the driver replied. “We often have them for lunch. My wife and I prepare them all day, but by the time it is lunch-hour, all the momos are finished. The children can’t resist sneaking them out of the kitchen.”

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One of the most distinctive features about Sikkim was the inclination of the locals towards education.

I remember walking into a small tea-shop, in the middle of nowhere, very far away from the main-town of Gangtok, and coming across a little boy, probably eleven or twelve-years-old, sitting on a chair, his legs popped-up on the table in front of him, effortlessly watching an English film on HBO. He gave me a warm and welcoming smile and signalled to the adults in the kitchen about the arrival of customers. This left me speechless, really. I could honestly not, even remotely, imagine a similar situation in Delhi. “Do you go to school?” I asked him later. “Yes.” he said. “What class are you in?” I asked. “Sixth,” he said, a little irritated. I was clearly disturbing his movie-time. Giving him a smile, I walked out, feeling proud for some reason.

On another day, as our taxi drove out of the parking of a tourist location, a young boy approached us for the parking fee. “Rs. 20/-” he said. My father, in a jolly mood, decided to grill him a little. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, my father asked the boy if he went to school. “Yes, I am in class tenth.” the boy replied. “Why are you working here, then?” asked Papa. “I have holidays.” he replied simply.

Towards the end of our trip, we went to Zero Point, which is at the height of 15,500 ft. There we came across a young woman who was pursuing Masters in English and had set up a food-stall there, at such a height in such chill, to earn extra pocket-money for her studies. Probably for the same reason that I had felt proud a couple of days ago, my proud father had us have a picture clicked with her.

Lachung, a village in North Sikkim, at the height of 9,600 ft, serves as the base camp for people that wish to travel to Zero Point. A beautiful village with vibrantly painted houses, most of which serve as hotels, and the Lachung river, a tributary of River Teesta, running through its heart, Lachung left me spellbound. As we went out for a walk during the night, when the temperature was around -7º C, listening to the river flow, watching the stars, and feeling the cool wind, I felt intimidated, and yet, liberated. Intimidated because here I was, in the middle of nowhere, at the mercy of nature. And liberated because here I was, in the middle of nowhere, at the mercy of nature.

The next morning we left for Yumesamdong, popularly known as Zero Point. As we drove higher, and higher still, countless emotions ran through me. The roads were dilapidated, the mountains covered with fresh snow, and the tracks covered with ice. Despite the glaring danger, the mountains provided a unique calmness. “If you were human, you’d be femme fatale -a very, very, beautifully dangerous woman,” I whispered to the mountains.

There was one sight in particular, that left me speechless. Our driver stopped the car in the middle of the broken road to show us a beautiful sight of destruction. He pointed to the mountain that we were driving on, “When the earthquake hit Nepal last year, lots of destruction took place here. Rocks from this mountain flew right there -” he pointed towards the mountain on our right, the one right opposite to the one we were driving on, “and cut the trees there into halves.” He showed us the wood that lay at the foot of that mountain. That mountain was indeed injured terribly. In that one moment, I realised how unimportant and worthless human life was in the larger scheme of things; we were all at the mercy of the forces of nature.

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Zero Point, at the height of 15,000 ft, is just what its name is about -it is the point where India ends for civilians, the point where the road ends. Located very close to the Indo-China border, Zero Point is everything you could have ever imagined, and more. The sun shone brightly above half snow-covered mountains and frozen lakes. The chill was unbearable and the winds fast. There were stalls lined with alcohol, selling hot tea and noodles.

In that moment and at that place, everything around me was suddenly infinite.

There were two things that we came across in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, that were sheer brilliance.
The first was the way they handled the traffic.

All roads in Gangtok were lined with a walkway that was fenced with green iron frames. It regulated traffic excellently. There were traffic policemen at each crossing to ensure that the pedestrians could cross the road at ease. There was a rule in place to ensure that no car stopped on a busy road, and what was wonderful was that the citizens took this very seriously. The dedication of the citizens towards ensuring that this entire set-up worked efficiently was indeed, commendable.

The other wonderful thing was how the roads were lined with beautiful flowers. They were beautifully and strategically placed on the mountain-side of the road and were maintained regularly. “The wife of the Chief Minister is very fond of gardening,” our driver told us, “and it is from her gardens that these flowers are brought. Her love for greenery and flowers is one of the reasons why Gangtok looks beautiful. It’s a perfect revenue model as well -the money of the state remains within the state!”.
“These roadside flowers are a new feature here, though.” our driver told us. “The Prime Minister is visiting Sikkim for the first time. Maybe he should visit every six months -I am sure that would serve as great incentive to beautify the city.”

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And this is just an additional family selfie with a red panda in the background (skew your eyes a little and zoom in -I swear its there), because you really cannot conclude an article on Sikkim without mentioning the super-cute and super-lazy red pandas.

Somewhere deep inside, we’re all red pandas.

Calcutta: the city of yellow and chaos

Kolkata, formerly and lovingly known as Calcutta, is the capital of West Bengal and the principal hub of commerce, culture, education, and arts, in the eastern part of India. It is located on the Hoogly river and maintains an old-world like charm. In the one week that I spent in Kolkata, I realised fully well that this was definitely not the last time I would be there.

Through this short article, I would be trying to do the impossible, that is explaining to you through few instances and pictures how Kolkata was like.
Why impossible, you ask?
Because Kolkata was, in all senses, ineffable.

If I had to describe Kolkata in one word, I would pick ‘quaint’.

As we drove through the streets of Kolkata, I felt like I had been transported to the past.
I was accustomed to the tall buildings, fancy houses, endless flyovers, and the overhead metro tracks of Delhi. The short, similarly painted houses of Kolkata, with wide roads and almost no overhead metro tracks took me by surprise. Despite being full of people, cars, and chaos, the city had a different kind of space, a quaint openness, that gave the city an old-world charm. Yellow taxis shuttled across the city incessantly. Tram tracks peacefully coexisted with cars. Hand-pulled rickshaws carried people around slowly. There were countless Hindustan Ambassador’s, sported not by beacons, but owned by the citizens. The majestic bridges, the Howrah and the Hoogly, are awesome and breathtaking. My aversion to fish moderated slightly as I hogged onto delicious homemade pomfret. The roshgullas and sondesh were next level altogether. Having heard so much about the richness of Bengali theatre, I even watched a Bengali dance-drama, of which I didn’t understand one word, and yet walked out mesmerised.
As I tried keeping up with the different culture and the mesmerising city, it dawned on me that despite being among the top three metropolitan cities in India, Kolkata had a unique way of making you feel like a part of history, making you feel like you had come home.

 

The tram services, then horse-driven, started in Kolkata in 1873. Today the tram is run on electricity and operates on more than twenty routes.
I have always been fascinated with the idea of trams -it is wonderful how trains coexist with modern forms of transportation, on narrow, busy streets. What a perfect blend of history and modernity! Hence, it was only natural that I decided to travel in one before flying back home.

After asking for directions from Park Street, we were directed to ‘Bata Modh’, where we were to find the tram. After walking through narrow lanes filled with chatter and overhead cables, we spotted tram tracks and a tram heading towards us from the opposite direction. Unable to find a station or stop as such, I asked the nearest traffic policeman as to how we were supposed to get onto the tram in the first place. “Just wave and ask them to stop.” he said simply. That is exactly what we did, and made our way inside the tram. The conductor smiled at us and could easily figure out that we were here for a joy ride. As we sat on the wooden, surprisingly well-maintained, seats of the tram, the conductor handed us tickets worth Rs. 5/- to travel in a piece of heritage that surely costs a lot more. Slowly and shakily the tram made its way through the narrow streets of Kolkata, stopping every few minutes to pick up more people.
I sighed as I sadly looked out of the window, hoping this piece of heritage wouldn’t lose to the call of ‘development’ and ‘urbanisation’.

 

I saw the Hoogly bridge twice; once we drove through it, and the other time I went boating below it. Both times its majestic beauty left me breathless.

Known as the Vidyasagar Setu, this absolutely beautiful piece of architecture connects Kolkata in a grand manner. The Princep Ghat, from where one can hire a boat, was maintained well beyond my expectations. As we moved around in the river for half an hour, coming across ships and watching the sun rise higher until it was directly above the bridge, I think I understood why this city has caught the eye of so many.