Mar 24, 2017

Why I Quit from Whatsapp groups

I have always been wary of social networking platforms. One of my friends had to bug me for six months before I joined Orkut. And when Facebook turned up, I was one of the last among my friends to join. I haven't gone anywhere near Twitter or Instagram, which would make me a dinosaur, I think. It was not until 2014 and my second android phone that I finally gave in to peer pressure to install Whatsapp.

As in any relationship, the honeymoon period was fabulous! There was a lot of catching up to do in the five groups I was added. Friends all over the world, in different time zones, came together in shared waking times and chatted, sharing tidbits from their daily lives. Some chats continued for days. There was a lot of good-natured teasing and reminiscing.

Whatsapp helped a lot with dealing with tough times too. When a dear friend was in trouble, one group chipped in and helped out. It helped in organizing 3 reunions in the past 3 years. Most of the time, the news enthusiasts kept me up-to-date on the latest breaking news. When I needed to find a reliable computer hardware specialist for my sis-in-law in her home town, it was my group I turned to and got prompt results. And when my mother passed, it was easier to just pass the news to one friend in each group who got the news out and had the calls and messages coming in.

It was not all love and hugs either! I got slammed in one group for choosing to be a homemaker. In another I got slammed for being a bad mother (because of a joke in which I said I would slap my kids' hands if they tried to take my food from me - after they got their own portions of course)! There were animated and occasionally acrimonious discussions about faith and sometimes even politics. But I enjoyed those discussions because they were fun and rousing and because it was with my friends that I was sharing my convictions and beliefs.

Then what, you ask, prompted me to quit Whatsapp groups?

The endless stream of forwarded pictures, videos, gifs and jokes that came to stand in for REAL conversation. Since there had been warnings about the evils of Whatsapp media message auto downloading,  I had disabled the feature from the very beginning. And I ignored almost all media messages unless someone added a line to it that it was worth watching for some reason. I thought I was being very clever and selective.

But as time went on, any real chatting in the groups died down. But my phone still vibrated several times during the day and they all seemed to be for what I will call "media vomit".  Soon, I too was downloading all media as soon as they came and being the sociable creature that I am, commenting or reacting to whatever was in them. And I even started forwarding them to other groups as well. I enjoyed the funny, thanked the senders for the instructive, shared the inspirational AND (here is where I went wrong) objected to things that seemed inappropriate to me.

My friends being very kind, did not ask me who the hell I was to judge what was inappropriate or wrong.  When I found rumors, I immediately searched to check if it was true and posted that link right beneath the rumor-mongering messages. I slammed sexist jokes. I took up issue with the kind of videos that glorify old Indian customs with spurious scientific explanations. And then I realized, I don't like the ME in Whatsapp groups - I was becoming a sort of information-Nazi. A liberal-feminist-non-left-wing-non-denominational Nazi perhaps, but a Nazi nonetheless.

I took a small step back and really thought about where I was vis-a-vis this problem. DH and I had gradually developed a nighttime ritual of showing each other the Whatsapp videos and jokes that we enjoyed during the day. One day he was on leave due to a cold and asked me to read out an abridged version of the classic Rama Raja Bahadur to him. We enjoyed the first two chapters so much that we continued the practice till we finished the book. It became the best bedtime ritual there could be. You can be sure I did the 'voices' in the dialogues! Each night's installment was followed by a light discussion and speculation of what would happen. It was such an improvement on sharing media vomit!

And then came the straw that broke the camel's back. There is a new song video out now - it goes... "A for anderwear, B for bhegitables" I got the SAME video forwarded to me by 6 different people in just 3 groups - which only goes to show that most people DO NOT check what they are already receiving in the first place! 

I  looked around at my carefully curated collection of books, then at the long and ever-growing list of books that I want to read. I remembered an article I read a while back which concluded that "You are what you read/watch everyday". So what was I doing to my level of consciousness by admitting all this media vomit into my mind for almost one or two hours a day? (Oh yes, those 5-minute videos add up!!!) And here I pride myself on being someone who doesn't watch brain-eating soap-operas!

In Facebook, if somebody regularly posts things that annoy you, you can just quietly unsubscribe from their stream. There is no such option in Whatsapp groups. And I seemed to be unable to stop myself from downloading media. So I took the leap, I quit all my groups. It was like surgery, pretty painful, but necessary.

It's been two days now. I still sporadically search the status bar of my phone for the icon. But so far I have not gone crawling to the group admins and begged to be taken back :)

And my friends? The ones who really matter are always at hand, ready for some real conversation either through Whatsapp or otherwise. But hey, they are the ones who have been there since before this part of the information revolution and they are likely to be there always. One of the greatest blessings of my life for which I am extremely grateful.

Mar 2, 2017

The Aftermath

The moment I hit 'Publish' on my last post, I began to have second thoughts. "Was it okay to have written that?" "Will people perceive me as a lecher/disaster  magnet?", "Was it alright to have mentioned the proper name for a part of my anatomy?" - all these raced through my mind. Couldn't help the effect of several centuries worth of conditioning that has been handed down among women across generations. I have seen the sort of inane comments that appear below completely innocent posts of female celebrities and felt relieved that I am not a celebrity and hoped that the few friends who read my posts would not take it wrong. It just felt good to have poured out the rant I had been harboring for a weekend. 

After the day was done, I came back to Facebook where I share my posts and saw the first few comments - all of them encouraging and I even saw a few shares. Intrigued, I went to check the stats on the post and was flabbergasted... 5000 hits, in one day!!! To put it in perspective, the largest number of hits I have got so far is around 3000 on one post that I wrote about 5 years ago - ahem! 

From then on, each day I checked the stats and it grew and grew till it has reached 15,000 as of today. But more heartening were the comments a few brave souls posted on my blog as well as on Facebook. All the women who commented said that they had to face the same and worse. Only one, ONE among my Malayali friends said that she has never had to face a harassing situation in Kerala even once - which reminds me, I must ask her to buy me a lottery ticket the next time I see her! 

Was I saddened by the responses? Yes. Here, being a coddled homemaker who uses public transport perhaps once or twice a month and gets out of the house once a week, I have had to face this menace. To think of all the sisters and mothers who have to travel to work everyday, stay in rickety houses, in unsavory neighborhoods... it saddened me a lot.

Was I heartened by the responses? YES. Despite this menace, women do not hole themselves up in secure homes and don't go about with armed black cats bristling around them. Malayali women are so brave!!! I am proud of you all!

Yes, it is imperative that we go out. Yes, it is imperative that we do not suffer in silence, but at least roar out a protest when molested. Many molesters adopt the notorious mindset given utterance by the veteran actor Soman in Hitler, "If only she had screamed loudly at least once..." - that typically chauvinistic comment for not having had the self-control to not rape a woman. We shouldn't let lechers have that excuse any more. Because if one woman keeps quiet about being harassed in public today, it might lead the perpetrator to wilder/ more aggressive excesses tomorrow. 

This post is dedicated to all the wonderful, decent men - Dads, brothers, husbands, sons and friends, who support and let the women in their lives live free. Please don't feel bad if women treat you with wariness and suspicion, because you see, the devils incarnate do not go around with the mark of Cain on their foreheads. They happen to look just like you...

Feb 20, 2017

Thoughts of an Ordinary Malayali Woman

Yesterday I watched a bunch of Malayalam movie personalities expressing wonder and stupefaction at the attempted abduction/compromising photographing/blackmailing of a noted Malayali actress. They seemed to think that such a thing was not heard of in God's Own Country at all - and it set me thinking of my life journey as a woman in Kerala. 

I think I was 7 years old when my Mummy asked to me to stop sitting in the laps of the "uncles" who came to visit us in Saudi Arabia. She refused to tell me why even though I pestered her for an explanation. But the warning was enough to awaken a sense of self-preservation in me when barely a year later, I found myself being tightly hugged from behind by an "uncle" who had wandered into the kitchen while I was mixing Tang for our visitors as my Mum had asked me. I made a fuss about not being sure if I had added enough sugar even though he insisted that I had. I yelled aloud for my mother and was instantly freed from his arms. I ran to my mother and refused to budge from her side until she accompanied me to the kitchen.

At 15, my sister, cousin and I used to roll our eyes and grumble to each other about my "over-protective" father who glared down any boy who happened to even accidentally glance in our direction while we were out in public. A few years before that he had stopped taking us to any movie theater in Kottayam town saying that he alone could not protect us all and we could go to movies as we pleased once we were married! Fortunately, the really good ones came to my uncle's theater in our area, and we got our fix of movies albeit a little late and a little stale.

In the USA, they teach you the art of defensive driving. By the age of 17, I had mastered the art of defensive walking through Kottayam town. Without having once stepped into a kalari, I became adept at the kalari principle "Mey kannaakanam" (the body has to become the eye). I could discern a potential grabber at a radius of 2 m on all sides of my body as I walked down the streets on my way to or back from college or on shopping trips. All it took was a 1-second glance at a male coming my way to assess a potential threat and make a side-step at the exact moment and turn my torso away to protect myself from his farthest reach. I could do this without breaking my stride or appearing conscious about it. If the foot traffic was heavy, I weaseled my way in and out always in "constant vigilance" mode recommended by Professor Alastor Moody.

At 25, I became bold enough to stand up and holler at perverts who followed me muttering obscenities or tried to paw me in crowded buses. I still avoided confrontation as much as possible and perfected my defensive walking skills.

At 32, life as a married woman and in places as varied as Bangalore, Houston, Hyderabad and Minneapolis had made me soft and relax my vigilance. Then I came and settled in the capital city of God's Own Country and within a year, I was molested twice. Both times I reacted with my fists - it felt pretty satisfying. I could get to hit only their retreating backs, though. The first man walked a bit out of my reach in the crowded movie theater and turned back with a leer. His pustule and sore-filled face looked like that of a syphilis victim, so I just shook my fist at him although I would have loved to punch him in the face. I followed the next man and rained punches on him as he walked away on the street. Not once did he pause and all the reaction he showed was to bunch up his shoulders so as to present a smaller target for my blows. I hit him till I felt he would think twice before he tried to touch another woman without her permission.

A year later, I was 5 months pregnant and was expecting guests. I huffed and puffed my way up the steep incline to the bakery, chatting with my 3-year-old son hanging on to my left hand. A scrawny boy who could have been 12 years old at the most was coming down the road. I happened to notice him because he was coming at such a rapid pace with long steps that he seemed in imminent danger of falling. I was so concerned for his well-being!!! As he came near me, he put out a bony hand and squeezed my right breast hard and ran helter-skelter down the road. As I stood shocked, he shot back a look at the turn of the road before disappearing. A small whimper made me aware of a tiny hand that I had been crushing in mine. In the blind rage I felt at that moment I wondered if I would be doing all women a service if I got rid of one little life that was clinging to my hand and another that was growing inside me. Then Kunju called me "Amma" and I came back to my senses.

Now, my defensive walking skills are as good as ever. I am so good that even at home, my kids cannot sneak upon me to startle me as they are so fond of doing. My husband knows not to touch me suddenly without warning. There is no saying how I might react! Men who jostle for the fun of it in temple- and wedding-feast queues get a good tongue-lashing. I never scruple to use the male members of my family as body-shields, sometimes directly requesting them to do so. I also keep a look out for timid-looking girls who are in need for a strong woman to support them against public harassment. I applaud the feisty ones and don't forget to congratulate them.

Yes, I consider my body my own. Yes, I demand that people touch it only with my permission. Perverts can ogle and mutter obscenities to their hearts' content, I will pretend to be blind and deaf. But I reserve the right to protect myself as I see fit.

To those girls/women who have been persuaded into feeling guilty/ for having "asked for it" due to their attractiveness/dress/"bold look"/"timid  look"/whatever, let me tell you a little story. I did my post-graduate course staying at a hostel run by nuns. A demented homeless woman was a frequent visitor there. To this day I have not come across a dirtier or uglier specimen of human kind. She was a bag of bones, but draped in a sari. She had rotten teeth, rheumy eyes and a stench that would spread to meters around her till some kind soul took pity and got her to bathe and get her hair cropped. She slept wherever she could, mostly on the verandah of a chapel nearby. By the time I finished my course, that woman was carrying around a baby that she had given birth to by the wayside. From that time on, no one has been able to persuade me that I am in ANY WAY responsible for unwanted attentions.

I am not misandristic. Neither do I believe that all women are angels. I love the men in my life absolutely and acknowledge that it is their vigilance and care too that has brought me thus far without any really traumatic incidents. But recently when a male friend of mine suggested solitary travel as the best and extolled its virtues and persuaded me to do it, I could not but laugh. Travel alone, in India? Hmm, may be, after I get myself at least a 5th dan black belt in karate? Oh, what the heck, I love traveling with my family anyway!

As regards what happened to the actress, I hope that her support system and her unbreakable spirit will help her to see the legal battle to the end. By publicizing the harm done to her, she has already jeopardized the plan of the criminals to keep bleeding her using blackmail. That in itself is a very bold step. And I will say that by doing so, she has made the transition from being a victim to a heroine. I will say this to all women. Shout back, strike back, stick to your rights!!! Above all stick to your sisters and raise a collective voice when you see them being harmed. Do not keep quiet!

Jan 6, 2017

New year on a note of gratitude

Hi everyone! 

Much as I would like to subscribe to the view that each day is the beginning of a new year, the feeling of an actual new calendar year is still exciting! The last page of my 2016 diary has been written up. All the receipts and papers of the last year have been transferred to a new 2016 folder that has gone to live in the lower cupboard instead of in my desk. The 2015 folder has joined its brothers in the archives on the top shelf. The last box of decluttered items is waiting for the recycling guy in the shed. This year I even managed to clean out the garage and get rid of a lot of junk - some of which was as old as Karthi!!! 

My old planner and new diary! I am a BuJo fan now. No planner that I bought over the years was completely satisfactory because they had no space for the myriad things I wanted to keep track of.  That is when I encountered the Bullet Journal - a planning system that is (a) totally customizable, (b) very economical - you can adapt any notebook for this planner and (c) gives a lot of creative opportunities as well. I started BuJoing in an old blank notebook after watching this video. After using up that old notebook, I got a Fabriano dot grid notebook in the last third of 2016. One of the beauties of this system is that you needn't change the planner for the new year. But the thing I love the most about the BuJo is that there is no more blank-page guilt!  If for some reason I feel like not planning ahead for the coming week or several weeks, I needn't do so and can take up planning when I want to without leaving any blank pages. The funny thing is, since starting BuJoing, I have not wanted to stop planning, which actually makes for much more organized living...

Among the several things I used the BuJo for, one was tracking the number of books I was reading. I started tracking from September 1 and entered the names of books that I read in their entirety. I no longer read any book that has not drawn my interest in the first five pages or so. Even so I completed 60 books in 4 months - an average of 15 books per month. No wonder I do not have enough time to blog any more!!! So one of my resolutions this year is to read fewer books - I'll let you know how that goes, but I am not very optimistic myself! I have also decided to write a precis of the books that I read. So far on the 6th day of this year I have written 4 precis :). And here is a collection of books on my desk waiting to be read in the new year..

2016 has left so many memories - I don't want to call them good or bad. But I have never had to encounter such emotional pain in any year before. As if the passing of my mother was not enough, my uncle - Ma's brother - too passed away after a lingering illness. It was a year of funerals. Five of my friends lost their parents last year and it seemed as though condolences were never far from my tongue or the tips of my fingers.

But one thing I realized this year is how sorrow happens to deepen relationships that are worth the name. Shared joy is all fine, but I have found shared sorrow halves the pain and deepens fellow-feeling. I am so grateful to my friends and relatives who stood by me in this trying year. This is the year that I really blessed social platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook. They brought my friends even closer.

This was also a year of traveling and new experiences like scuba diving among coral reefs and watching a  football tournament final in a stadium. It was also a year in which I could attend three reunions of old classmates. I am still savoring the laughter and fun of those gatherings. Apart from the Lakshadweep trip, our later travel was mostly for visiting friends and family, rather than just pleasure trips. 

In fact, relationships has been the kind of the focal theme of 2016 - whether it be among friends, relatives or neighbors. And if I had not got the message, I got the link of a video about the results of a 75-year-long Harvard study that was conducted to find what brings real happiness to people. It underscored the importance of maintaining good relationships. If you have not done it already, I recommend that you watch this video too. The minutes you spend to watch it will surely be some of the best investments of time that you can make. 

Our year ended with remembering our mother once again...

This year we chose to spend the first of January quietly at home, catching up with extended family and spending some quality time with each other. It felt so good, the calm and the quiet. I hope that will be the theme for 2017. 

Wish you all a wonderful new year!

Oct 20, 2016

Movie Review - Puli Murugan

Are you a Malayali fan who has watched The Avengers movies or even Baahubali and wondered with a sigh, "When will such a movie come out in Malayalam?..." Even as you wondered, you probably knew that it was an impossibility because it would call for world-class animation technology and action expertise with a humongous budget which a small regional movie industry can ill afford. 

Well, for the first time in Malayalam, a truly tiger-hearted producer called Tomichan Mulakuppadam has taken up that very challenge. He shared the dream of director Vysakh and together they have brought forth:

Yep, we had heard the hype. Yep, we heard that there was not much of a story. But that didn't stop us from going to two theaters last weekend to book tickets, only to find they are unavailable. Next we tried online and luckily got four seats for a second show in a town 20 kilometers away. 

And was it worth it all? Yes, yes, YES! I don't know if it was the realistic setting as compared to The Avengers or Baahubali that are clearly fantasies, the action was really thrilling. While DH and Kunju sat coolly at either end of our row, Ani and I had clasped hands during the action scenes and we literally jumped off the seats during the twists and turns! And I don't know how many times DH and I were moved enough to clap like crazy Mohanlal fans.

When I saw Lalettan in action, I was reminded of a scene in Thattathin Marayathu, in which Nivin asks indignantly, "Keralathile anpillerkku enthinada six pack? (Why do Keralan boys need six packs)" Right, no six pack required at all to be an action hero, as Lalettan has proved with this one film. I cannot begin to imagine the effort he has put in to film the action scenes of the movie. He makes it look so effortless! Whether he was fighting dangerous beasts or even more dangerous humans, we were cheering for him all the way. 

The sylvan setting of Murugan's home is almost magical and very enticing on the big screen. The sheer menace the tiger brings is terrifying in the absolute stillness. The audience collectively held their breaths whenever the protagonists grew still trying to guess where the tiger was coming from. It was absolutely mesmerizing to say the least.

As for the rest. Story: nothing new. Humor: of the basest kind. Main villain: has a funny name and overacts. Heroine: perpetually frowns and lip syncs horribly. But they don't detract from the movie at all. Mohanlal, Lal, the real and virtual tigers and action choreographer Peter Hein take all the credit for riveting us to our seats. Cameos by Master Ajas as the young Murugan, Santhosh as his father and Romin (younger son of the producer, looks exactly like cricketer Ravindra Jadeja) as young Murugan's uncle are worth mentioning. Vinu Mohan, Bala, Nandu, Nobin, Suraj Venjarammoodu, Gopakumar, all handle their roles very well.

Verdict: A must-see on the big screen!!! Book your tickets now. But I have a hunch Puli Murugan will be hunting for quite some time!

Sep 30, 2016

Last quarter of 2016 coming up!!!

I am sitting here with a slightly shell-shocked countenance, staring at the beautiful, crescent-like shore of Minicoy - on the wall calendar, that is. It's the date that boggles my mind. Really, September 30? ALREADY???  But school just started yesterday....

I take a look at our 2016 photos folder and try to find out where the days went...

We celebrated Ani's birthday in July. One more non-exploding cake under my belt!

After 13 years of on-again, off-again trying with a shuttle, I finally mastered tatting with a needle in the same month thanks to my dear friend Elsa who brought me the needles and to a couple of hours in front of YouTube (Thank you all crafters out there who share their expertise on video! Love ya!!!)

Then it was time to go back to a place that is so dear to my heart, CMS college, where classmates from 21 years ago gathered to catch up and reminisce...

And before we knew it the Independence day weekend was upon us and we went to a favorite spot - Ponmudi and its foothills (click here to see my post on the same). 

And then it was time to bake another cake. And this time it exploded on me again. Fortunately I had enough ingredients left over to bake another one. But I had no butter leftover for buttercream frosting to write with. And the first thing DH said, "Is that cake for me? But it doesn't have my name on it!" I put only four candles to represent the decades, but I guess it could be counted as just years too considering the attitude!

It was followed up by a magical evening at the beach...

I took up crocheting once again and made something useful for a friend for a change. I got the best wool I could from the Pradhan Stores website and made this...
Ani modeled it for me before I packed it up!

And somehow we found ourselves in the midst of Onam. On Uthradam, we shared a sumptuous feast at my sister-in-law's house.

And we were back in town just in time to view the spectacle of the city's Onam celebrations...

And here we all are trekking around seeing the sights in the fond hope that all the Onappayasam we consumed would get burned up... sigh...

Before I know it, the kids and I are plunged into Summative Assessment 1 throes and today I wake up and look around! Gosh, October starts tomorrow!!!

Jul 12, 2016

Media control in our homes

Yesterday, I was reading an interview of Mary Rothschild by Richard Whittaker: Considering Media in the Light of Relationship and Attention. The interviewee speaks about the need to find a middle way between taking the attitudes of either extreme media fasting or being a complete slave to media. This is an issue close to my heart - as it must be for all parents who are conscientious about child-rearing.

I have found this a particularly hard balance to achieve: I do let the kiddos watch TV, goes without saying. But they are not allowed to watch it on school days. Neither are they allowed carte blanche on weekends or on vacation. I do not impose Animal Planet or "informative" programs on them either. Our 8-year-old is still enamored of cartoons. The elder is now addicted to sports or movies. The wars for the remote are quite frequent and ferocious, but subside quickly if I threaten them with no-TV-at-all. Then they make compromises for the greater good.

But one part of the media is all-pervasive and potentially destructive - advertisements. Till around two years ago, I was inundated with requests for specific products which were advertised very attractively on TV. Some were demanded because there were offers of free products with them. I soon grew tired of just saying "No" all the time. Over the past two years, I have shown both our sons time and time again how companies use these strategies to lure people into buying more. And how most of the "free things" were worthless pieces of low-quality plastic or tiny samples of one more product they were trying to popularize. 

Also I try to pass on how ads are designed to play on the viewers' insecurities. For example the ad of one hair oil shows a doctor saying, "In the matter of hair, I can't take a risk!" As though hair-fall is one of the greatest plagues on humankind! Only one other ad has the power to irritate me more which is that of a famous appliances company that also offers hair-styling tools. The ad shows a simpering actress who claims that if she styles her hair everyday, she gets gawks from males all around, which makes her boyfriend jealous,which in turn makes him give her treats and the clincher "that makes me feel special!!" It's wrong on sooooo many levels!!!! Gaah, the only reason that I don't break the TV while watching that ad is because I know that I won't be able to watch Masterchef Australia. Ahem.

So I turned to my children and asked them, "What is that aunty doing? Do you think she should feel special only if her boyfriend gives her treats?" I also asked them what a better message would be... and they astonished me by saying ... You can style your hair because you are special!!! I was so overjoyed. At least I have made them think a little beyond what they see. Also I tell them that there is absolutely no proof that the products can do all that they claim to do. Our younger one took it so much to heart that when he hears tall claims like those of health drinks, he turns to me and asks, "They are lying, aren't they, Amma? I still need to eat my veggies to become stronger and healthier, don't I?" Underlying his questions may be a slight hope of my saying that he need not eat his veggies, but still!!!!

My way of adopting the middle way is not to condemn all ads outright, but to make sure that the kids know that an ad is an art form that needs our critical appreciation - not blind allegiance or total disregard. There are ads that always touch our hearts, thrill our minds and earn our appreciation for content and direction. 

And yes, our kids know that when they see ads for club glasses, CDs and soda, they are actually watching ads for alcohol. What do you tell your children when they are watching ads?

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