Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When the dream came true

More than a year ago, when I was taking the decision to embark on the whole MBA application process, I had one of my all-too-frequent moments of self-doubt at a time when the brother was home. Should I even bother? Did I have what it took? My academic record wasn't too great, I had only a few years of work experience under my belt, and so on and so forth.

The main theme of this particular phase of self-doubt, however, was the fact that I had always got the second-best option of whatever I went for. I wanted to study Psychology, but got into JMC, not LSR. For my MA, I got into South Campus, not the more renowned North Campus. I was working for a niche consulting firm, but not one of the bigger "brands". What made me think I would get into a top B-school in the US?

The brother heard me whine and rant for some time, rolled his eyes, and spoke, saying something to the effect of: You've never given anything your best shot. You just went with the flow of things. And you got into the second-best option every single time. All of which, while not the best, were pretty damn good options. So if you really try and work hard, why can't you get into the best?

And it struck me, he was right. I've always somehow taken pride in the fact that I've never really gone after anything. I just went wherever the road took me, wherever life led me. That's what a traveller does, after all. And while I have very few regrets about where life took me - college in JMC gave me three of the best years of my life, and my work has been my passion for the past three years - what would life have been like if I had actually gone after something?

So when I decided to go for an MBA, I gave it everything I had. I cracked the GMAT, I obsessed over my essays, I drove everyone around me crazy with my erratic work schedule and my constant stressing and fretting, I procrastinated till the last possible moment and then pulled off all-nighters to finish things, but I did it.

And then exactly one month and one day ago, it happened. The one school I had my heart set on ever since I even thought of an MBA accepted me. The one school I would have given up almost anything to go to said they would be delighted to offer me admission.

For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to get something you really really wanted. What it meant to get into the best.

There's a lot that I still had to process. There are a lot of worries and stresses that started creeping in ever since I realised that I actually am going off for my MBA. Another very good school was offering me financial aid, and the dream school didn't. But then I do have the most incredibly supportive parents, and a know-it-all brother and a set of friends who convinced me that the dream is what I should go after.

And so, come July, a new chapter will begin - one I actually went after.

WOOHOO. Also, *gulp*.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

#CSAAM April 2011 - Hearing Survivors speak

I was 12 when a stranger came and grabbed me and tried to fondle me from behind at the New Delhi Railway Station. He did it twice or thrice till my cousin sister, elder to me by two years, kicked him and pushed him away.

I was 13 when a guy started making prank calls to our home phone. He'd hang up if anyone else picked up, but if I picked up, he'd ask me a question in Hindi. The same question every time. It carried on for several weeks till one day the father picked up the extension and gave him a blasting. Till today, I've never told anyone what exactly he would ask me.

I know that a large part of my outrage over rape and sexual abuse come from these two experiences. That when the guys in the next car pass comments, I get upset and aggressive because I know it can get worse, no matter what the mother may say about it being no big deal.

But do these incidents classify as child sexual abuse? I've never really thought of them as such. Not even abuse really. Harassment, probably. But not abuse. But then, I was lucky no? These were fleeting incidents in an otherwise very secure childhood, and my family took care of me. They may not have taken the impact these incidents had on me very seriously, but
they took care of me.

One of the hardest things about being a Peer Educator with RAHI was hearing disclosures. As girls in our college became aware of our campaigns, some of them began to approach us to tell us their stories, stories they had never shared with anyone else. There were times we spent hours sitting outside the canteen, listening to a girl we had never spoken to before, a girl we never spoke to again after that. Just - listening. Some were convinced to go to Anuja for formal counselling, for others, just that one conversation was enough. So many others never came to speak at all.

When the second batch of Peer Educators was formed, RAHI helped some 8-10 girls from the two batches to form a group - a group of survivors. The rest of us, in the larger group, knew the group had been formed, knew they would meet more often, but we didn't know who all were part of the group. Some of the members were close friends, and had told me they were part of it, but the others chose to keep their counsel.

Even though I had stopped working with RAHI by this time, I continued to run the mailing group on Yahoo for the Peer Educators those days. One night, I got a frantic call from a fellow Peer Educator, asking if she could recall a mail sent to the group. When I checked my mail later, I realised why - she had sent a mail intended for the survivors' group, confirming the time of their next meeting, out to the larger group. Everyone would now know she was a survivor, and she was not ready to tell the world.

The group naturally discussed this incident in their next meeting, because over the next few days, 3-4 of them wrote to the larger group, saying that they too, were survivors. Some were surprises, some not so much. Many of them remained silent.

At the end of that year, the Peer Educators again organised a seminar to talk about child sexual abuse. This time, from the survivors' perspective. They had created a movie where the survivors spoke about their experiences, even the panellists of the seminar were survivors this time. I wasn't able to attend the seminar, but I saw the movie a year later, when I went to help Anuja with a workshop. And I heard the voices of my friends, friends I hadn't realised or even suspected were survivors, talking about some of their worst memories.

Over the past month, I've been reading posts by survivors, talking about what they went through, and how they dealt with it. And I am in awe of how strong and brave these men and women are. To be able to put out your worst memories, and your emotions, out there, so that people become aware of something they otherwise refuse to acknowledge even exists - it really is incredibly brave.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When it rains

I'm sitting just outside our front door, legs propped up on another chair, and tweeting away while the rain pours down.

An hour ago, a friend and I walked out of a salon, both with hair gleaming like silk, and poker straight, feeling very nice and girly after a nice hair spa - so what if we've paid a packet for it. Half an hour later, we walked out of a cafe to see it was pouring cats and dogs, and not a single auto in sight. Our hair was ruined. We were drenched. And by the time we got home, the cold wind in the auto had made huge rashes break out all over my right arm. My friend was horrified. Me? I couldn't stop laughing with glee.

Rain does that to me. I've loved rain for as long as I can remember. There's something about the world looks after a good downpour. All seems right with the world.

The mother believes rain is auspicious. That if it rains on an important occasion, it's a good omen. So we've always been glad that it somehow always rained the day we moved home. The day we played the World Cup final. The day I gave my first job interview. The day a friend got married.

Sure, there are traffic snarls. And power cuts. And I have a terrible tendency to get stranded in the middle of nowhere. But the trees look greener, the earth smells wonderful, and my twitter timeline gets flooded with some gorgeous photos. And life feels good.

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain falling on our home's skylight. And it crossed my mind that that's a sound I will miss terribly when I move to another country in about three months' time. Then when I got drenched this evening, it struck me while I was laughing that I won't see a Delhi/Gurgaon monsoon for another two years at the very least. And the pangs of parting hit me again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

#CSAAM April 2011 - Being a RAHI Peer Educator

NB: This post is my contribution to the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month that is running across the Indian blogosphere all through April 2011.

Long-time followers of this blog would know that I have been associated with an organization called RAHI Foundation for several years now. Those of you who know me personally will also know how ironic this is, but never mind that.

I first heard of RAHI during my second year in college. They had come to conduct a workshop for my seniors, and I remember we felt distinctly left out. We then heard they were looking for Peer Educators, who would participate in a 3-day workshop in the upcoming October break, and then work with them as PEs.

I worked with RAHI as a Peer Educator for nearly a year, along with 30 other girls from various colleges in Delhi. We brainstormed together, came up with ways to raise awareness about child sexual abuse in our colleges, ran competitions, organized talks and workshops, started e-groups and discussion forums, distributed bookmarks and leaflets - everything that a bunch of 19- to 21-year olds could possibly think of.

The summer after our second year, RAHI asked 7-8 of us Peer Educators to work with them as Peer Leaders. For most of us, it was the first time we worked in an "office". We did paperwork, brainstormed some more, and helped design the training workshop for the second batch of Peer Educators. We managed the behind-the-scenes action of the workshop, us Peer Leaders, and watched from the sidelines as the new batch brainstormed and came up with their ways of spreading awareness about CSA.

I stopped working with RAHI soon after the new batch got cracking on things - the father was a little insistent that in my final year, at least, I pay some attention to my studies. But I've tried to keep in touch with RAHI over the years, and tried to work with them as and when, be it by going in to help with workshops or bombarding you folks with tweets and blog posts about raising money for them by running in the Great Delhi Run.

RAHI's done some brilliant work over the years. As the first organization in India that ever paid attention to the issue of child sexual abuse, they've pretty much done the groundwork in terms of research, offering counselling, and leading the way for creating awareness. I've seen Anuja and Ashwini keep at it, year after year, with the same passion and credibility that they had ever since I've known them. I've seen them give up on some pet projects due to the lack of funds, and seen them inspire numerous young women to do some good in their lives.

At the end of that first year of being a Peer Educator, we had organized a seminar on CSA and incest, titled Breaking the Silence. Family, friends, professors, and everyone else we knew were cajoled into coming. At the end of the seminar, we handed out balloons to everyone, and asked them to burst the balloons at the same time, symbolizing the breaking of silence. I remember embarrassing myself completely by gleefully jumping up and down like a maniac when that happened.

Because, that more than anything else, was the struggle we faced in our attempts to talk to people about child sexual abuse: the silence we would meet. The denial that this could be a problem. The comments along the lines of "tumhare ghar mein hota hoga yeh sab, humareghar mein nahi hota". The assumption, very often, that the only reason I could possibly want to work for a cause like this was because I had perhaps been a victim.

There were no victims among us Peer Educators. Survivors, yes. Several, in fact. Strong, amazing women who had been through experiences I can't begin to imagine, and survived. That distinction in nomenclatures is important.

Which is why I am so, so glad about this initiative that is running. And I know the folks at RAHI are delighted too. Because it's not enough to make sympathetic faces and retweet the one-off articles you come across about CSA and incest. Talk about it. Recognize that it exists. Tell people to stop brushing it under the carpet. Be aware. Make others aware.

It will help.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memory lane

We were in high school together, the five of us. Some of us knew each other from Class 7 or 8, some came in when sections were reshuffled in Class 9. We became friends then, at any rate.

The group splintered again in Class 11, with some taking up Science, some Commerce. Some members of the "group" left the school and the city altogether, while some found new friends and moved away. The six of us remained friends however; new friends came, but didn't impinge on the six of us.

Plenty of high school drama happened in those last two years, some of which made me aloof enough to drop almost all ties once school ended. The one person who mattered the most disappeared, too shattered at not getting the course of her choice to want to continue old friendships. The others went down their own paths in life, as did I.

I made new friends in college, friends who got me a little better than they had, who tolerated me a bit more, who loved me, and who I loved a bit more than I had loved them.

We kept in touch, at least five of us did - one had never been too important to me, and disappeared from my life altogether once school ended. We kept in touch, the five of us, but not on a regular basis. We were in the same city, most of us, but would speak maybe twice or thrice a year. Meet even less frequently.

Life went on.

Two of them got married last year. On the same day. Not to each other though. I couldn't attend either wedding, because I couldn't travel to either city. Attended the reception in Delhi though.

We met today, the five of us. Plus his wife. Her husband wasn't there; he hadn't accompanied her to Delhi this trip.

For a while, for four hours on a Sunday afternoon, it was like nothing had changed. The guys teased me endlessly like they always did; I reacted like I always would. One girl was teased about the crush she used to have on him; another about the guy who used to like her. Countless anecdotes were recounted; several laughed over. The two married ones compared notes on adjusting to married life - she, about the compromises she had had to make; he, about the compromises he expected his wife to make. His wife listened, protested a bit, but mainly listened. The soon-to-be-married girl listened, wondering what adjustments she would have to make once she gets married later this year. I chose not to speak, no matter how much the feminist in me was outraged.

Not all battles need to be fought.

We don't really stay in touch, the five of us. Individual pairs, sure. But as a group? Not so much. We've all come a long way in the last eight years. We've all gone down very different paths. If I never met them again, my life would not be so very different.

But for a while, today, I met my 17-year-old self again. And I felt glad my life's taken the path it has.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The day we stood on the brink of history

Has it sunk in yet for you? I realise this is how most posts about the win have been beginning, but really, has it?

My twitter timeline, GReader Shared items, FB new feed - they're all full of one thing since the last 48 hours. Conversations at office all of today were all about who was doing what at the moment it happened.

So allow me to recap for you a bit, the events that unfolded on 2nd April, 2011.

1.40 PM: I switch on my TV to see there is no signal. All I can see is a silver haze.
1.45 PM: I call up DLF Cable and scream at them, and meanwhile find a decent streaming link online to try and catch the toss. Halfway through my screaming, I stop to stare at my laptop. A re-toss? What just happened?!? Get off the phone and get onto twitter!!! What are people saying?!?
2.10 PM: Two guys from DLF Cable show up and fix the signal. Hallelujah.
2.29 PM: Zaheer Khan is getting ready to open bowling. Memories of 23rd March 2003 rush back. Please Lord, no. Don't let this happen again.
2.32 PM: Zaheer Khan is the most awesome man in the history of mankind. And bowling.
4.30 PM: This is going well. Nice and easy, people, nice and easy.
5.20 PM: POWER CUT. AND the internet died on me. We decide to go to the club and watch on the big screens they've put up. Family and friend disperse to get ready. I wait, because I'm not changing - lucky yellow T-shirt has been worn.
5.55 PM: Friend reappears, wearing her brand new Team India T-shirt. Identical to the one I had bought. And wore for the first time in the India-SA match. And decided not to wear again for the rest of the World Cup, especially once the yellow t-shirt proved to be lucky in the India-WI match. The India T-shirt was put in the same category as Sreesanth; we could've given it another chance if there were any league matches left, but we're not going to risk it once we're in the knock-out stages. Not that I am judging any decisions any captain may have taken.
Back to my story. I glared at said friend, and informed her who would be blamed should we lose.
6.40 PM: Reached club in time for innings break. Not watching the the end of the Lankan innings in my yellow T-short proved to be catastrophic. Sri Lanka had slammed in the last ten overs, and set a target of 275. Doable? Yes. Would we do it? I have no freaking idea.
7.15 PM: Sehwag out. For a duck. SHIT.
8.15 PM: The lightning that was creeping closer over the past half hour, was now directly overhead. Faint thunder could be heard, occasional drizzle felt.
8.40 PM: The sky burst open. Open air screening comes to an end. WHY DOESN'T ANYONE WANT TO LET ME SEE THIS MATCH?
9.00 PM: Back home. Power's back, match is on. Whew. Online too. Thank heavens. What is a match with no twitter?
10.15 PM: We're inching towards this. We're beginning to realise we're almost there, as evidenced by this tweet. My friend, who hadn't uncrossed her fingers since we got home, looked at me in amazement - this was the first time I had been calm about a cricket match, especially one of this importance. There was a certainty that had come over me once the match started, and nothing could shake it off.
10.32 PM: WORLD CHAMPIONS. TAKE THAT, EVERY OTHER COUNTRY. And so began a state of incoherence which involve me basically screaming out periodically, smiling like a goofball, and tweeting in caps lock for the next five hours.

My approach to this World Cup, back in February, was very simple. Just get to the Quarter-finals, uske baad dekhenge kya hota hai. I was, however, praying right from 19th February that we wouldn't have to play the first QF, scheduled for 23rd March.

When it turned out we would take on Australia in the QF, I was very pessimistic. Yeah, yeah, you don't become world champions by avoiding teams, but just this one maybe?

I think I began to believe we could do this the day we beat Australia. Our league matches had been patchy, to be honest. We hadn't beaten SA, and barely managed to avoid losing some of the other matches. But when it counted, in the knock-out matches, this team really did come together.

The father always says that 1983 was our year not for any individual, but because every single person in that team played a key role. 2011 was no different. Yuvraj hit back at all his detractors, including yours truly, to have a dream run with the bat during the league matches all the way to the QF, and continuing to field and bowl through the knock-outs. Zaheer was brilliant all through, and Harbhajan took his wickets as and when. Nehra brought on the wrath of an entire nation with just one over against South Africa, and then redeemed himself against Pakistan. Raina and Ashwin came in in the QF and SF and blew away the opposition. Gambhir and Dhoni both had a very low-scoring tournament, but then came good in the final, and how!

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. I will admit, my superstitions extended to correlating this man's centuries with India's losses. But this man still played such a big part in our win this World Cup. As he has in our country's fortunes in cricket for two decades. Virat Kohli, whatever his future achievements may be, and Im sure there will be plenty, has written himself into history simply by virtue of his tribute to Tendulkar.

And then the moment came, when those 5 runs were need, and an entire nation thought to itself, hit a six and get there. The father never watches matches; he thinks we lose when he does. So he was listening to the radio commentary in the next room, while we watched. He's keep coming in to tell us what's happening because radio commentary is about 5 seconds faster than TV broadcasts. And then the moment came. He ran into the room, I could faintly hear someone screaming on the radio. And Dhoni hit the ball. And I screamed like I have never screamed in my life.

What does one say that hasn't been said already? Brilliant posts have been put up aleady by @sidvee, @greatbong, @cornerd, @daddy_san, and a host of others. The sheer joy a billion people have been feeling since Saturday night, the smiles that won't go away from our faces - it's hard to put these feelings into words.

As the generation that grew up watching Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman, and even Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad if I go further back, it was hard to keep away the wistfulness and the wish that they had got this too. As a Ganguly loyalist, the thought also kept coming that he and John Wright probably deserved so much of the credit for making Team India what it is today. But then when you saw the smile on Sachin's face as he ran onto the field, you knew that it was worth everything just to see this man hold that trophy.