Wednesday, March 14, 2018

So you broke up? What now?



“Sangeet, I’m in love with someone else. I’ve always been in love with her, Kushal said quietly, I married you just because my parents wanted me to.”

The silence that followed was chilling.

The above lines have been excerpted from my fiction, ‘In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence,’ (Alchemy, 2014). The main female protagonist in the story is besotted by her husband and goes out of her way to be liked and accepted by him. However, the husband not only abuses her but also hides the fact that he’s been having an affair with a colleague in his office till the wife confronts him on one occasion. The book is an attempt to explore the changing phase of modern - day relationships and also studies whether the reasons given by couples, to get into a committed relationship, the right ones or are they nose - diving just because they’re in love or that’s what the society expects them to do.

Coming back to the excerpt I shared at the beginning, doesn’t it look like a scene from real life? And quite a common one at that. Probably the circumstances may vary. So what should we do when our heart breaks? Go silent? Get into depression? Stop living?

For a while, maybe yes. It is normal to grieve after a break - up. In fact, grief is a process and it goes through various stages from feeling extremely low, to blaming the self, to anger and hoping and wishing that things would go back to how it was. It takes time to heal. And it takes a strong will. A determination and gumption to jump back to our original self again. It takes wisdom and compassion. To forgive and forget. To move on in life.

Here are a few things you can do:

Deal with the fact: This is the toughest part. To acknowledge that you have been dumped or have to part ways with your lover. It is important to distract yourself at this stage. Remember, your heart has got into the habit of a daily dose of love messages or coffee with the one and only. Break the habit.  Try and think of ways to keep yourself occupied. Stop stalking your ex. Also remember that it’s normal to cry or feel low. In fact, it is best to talk it out as much as possible. It helps.
Don’t give in to the temptation: of calling up your ex to clear misunderstandings or to accuse him further of how he has used you. You were in the relationship out of your own free will. No one forced you into it. It is no use blaming the other partner for the break up. It is important to shift the focus from him to yourself. Take good care of your health and surround yourself with supportive and cheerful company.
Build up your Self – Esteem: Now this is the most difficult but also the most vital thing to do after a break up. Your self – worth takes a hit and impacts all other areas of your life; be it work, interaction with your family or taking crucial decisions about your personal growth. The best way to building your self-confidence is to first wipe - off the pictures playing in your ‘mind screen’ over and over. Get rid of the negative thoughts, shun them as soon as they enter your mind. Reinforce the ‘I can and I will,’ attitude. Slowly, the old and painful pictures get blurred and new ones take their place.
Be brave and walk out: In case of an abusive relationship, despite knowing how things stand… if you still don’t want to break free, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Firstly, if someone loves you they will not think of harming or hurting you. Secondly, to think that you love someone more than your own self is a sham. You’re fooling yourself and unnecessarily giving all your power to your worthless partner. You need to do a reality check. As humans we all crave for love but that doesn’t give anyone the right to make us feel guilty and worthless for their problems in life and slowly destroy our sense of self - worth. We owe it to ourselves to put a stop to it.
Consult a Psychologist: This is the best piece of advice I can give you. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re confused or emotionally disturbed with regard to your break up or an extraordinary situation in your relationship; please do not hesitate to contact a professional. They will guide you the best.

Keep Smiling! Always. :)


Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day and The Temple Bar Woman - what a coincidence!


It's International Women's Day today! 

It's also exactly a month since my new novel, "The Temple Bar Woman - a tale of danger, deceit and daring," was released in Delhi.

I've more than one reason to celeberate the spirit of womanhood. And pay a tribute to all the wonderful women in my life...including the female characters portrayed in all my books. 

A bit about  my new novel and its formal launch in Delhi-

 The book is a work of fiction and narrates the story of Radha - a simple village school teacher who is kidnapped for a flimsy reason by a powerful politician and his friends, insulted and abused before being sold to an upscale brothel in a city in an unconscious state. This is a story of her escape, rage and revenge and her quest to seek out and punish the man who destroyed her life.

If you take it at face value, the book is a racy read; however, it is an attempt to open the floor for discussion and get people talking about sexual violence and abuse openly. So that the subject becomes a part of living room conversations just like drug or alcohol abuse issues or any other problem afflicting the society. The event was hosted by SheThePeopleTv – The Book Club along with their venue partner, SodaBottleOpenerwala in Khan Market, New Delhi. 

 I also decided to have a couple of panel discussions at the formal book launch event and invited prominent citizens of the city to discuss and share their views.
Dr. Tripti Sharan (a gynaecologist who has handled rape and abuse cases and a writer; Dr. Sanjay Chugh (psychologist); Ms. Richa Mohan (Psychosocial trainer, social worker and researcher in the said area); Shri Harry Dhaliwal; (Jt. Comm. of Police famous for handling the sensational Dhaula Kuan Rape case) were the guests of honour at the launch function. There were two short - panel discussions focusing on different facets of the issue moderated by me:
1)    Are we as a culture in a state of denial as far as sexual abuse is concerned?
2)    Trivialising Gender violence: Social norms and attitudes
The discussions were followed by the book launch by Guests of honour and cake cutting. 


I'm happy that the book is finally out and the intial reviews are encouraging. While promoting my book, my aim is also to have more such conversations around the subject of sexual violence at various platforms. You may find me in your city soon. Will keep you posted. Do drop by if you are around when I visit your city. 

Happy Women's Day! Keep Smiling! :)

Media coverage of the event:
Times of India - https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/book-launches/book-release-the-temple-bar-woman-by-sujata-parashar/articleshow/62880852.cms


HindustanTimes(Hindi)-http://mepaper.livehindustan.com/?mainedition=Delhi&edname=Delhi&pgdate1=2018-02-10&edcode=1&strmmode=1&Page=7

Buy the book here: https://www.amazon.in/Temple-Bar-Women-Sujata-parashar/dp/B079JKGBN9

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: BORDERLINE by SHABRI PRASAD SINGH






Start Writing. No matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. 
                                                             - Louis L’ Amour (American Novelist)

Shabri Prasad Singh’s debut novel ‘Borderline’ a fictionalised record of her struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, probably happened because she was prompted by the experts treating her to start writing about her complex life as a part of her therapy. A reason, she equally believed, might work and help her from completely destroying her life.

And so, as readers we have this brutally honest and a bold story of Amrita Srivastava who has been to hell and back. Written in first person the story revolves around the the roller - coaster life - experiences of Amrita as a child and an adult.

Amrita and her older sister Sati have had a privileged childhood. They have travelled and lived in Europe (London) surrounded by Indian diplomats for a big part of their childhood. Amrita is the second child of an influential IPS officer R.S Srivastava and his beautiful wife Neelkamal– also from an elite political family (there’s some French connection too).

Amrita was always a problem child with an unreasonable need to seek attention from her parents unlike her elder sister, Sati. However, the early signs of her real problems and emotional instability starts to show when her parents’ file for a divorce. Unlike her elder sister, she’s unable to cope with the trauma of her family breaking up and blames both the parents (and later their respective partners) for a long time.

She’s extremely close to her father and almost worships him. As for his part, he loves her equally and is protective of her. He understands that while his elder daughter can fend for herself; the younger one needs parental guidance and support. And throughout his life he not only indulges her but also tries to keep her out of harm’s way. After her parents’ divorce, both the sisters start living with their father and can only meet their mother during the weekends. This vast change in their domestic situation impacts Amrita greatly and she loses whatever little interest she had in her studies and spends most of her time in bad company or some “happening party.”

“Rather than focusing on studies, my priority was to find ways to give papa the slip.”

 Amrita is heartbroken when she has to leave for the US for her higher studies upon her father’s insistence. She somehow manages to cope with her new environment only when she meets Hafez and falls in love with him. But soon her insecurities comes to haunt her and she starts becoming envious and possessive of her boyfriend. The relationship ends unhappily, leaving her even more emotionally disturbed. Things just start to go downhill from there and one tragedy follows another, the most devastating of them being her father’s sudden demise.

The rest of the story is about how her “mind allows the darker demons that lurk within to possess it” and ruin not only her own life (fuelled by excessive drinking, drugs and multiple bad relationships) but also that of everyone around her until she finally recognises her problem and consciously undertakes the journey to heal herself with professional help.

What makes this book a remarkable read is its excruciating honesty and the boldness with which the story has been told. On a personal note, I would really like to be friends with people like Amrita who are bold, genuine and don’t shy away from accepting their weakness or mistakes.

However, my last thoughts are about something that the book brings out as a side story with a devastating consequence (if revealed). Actually, it mentions a mysterious lady writer who takes advantage of Amrita’s vulnerable state; get her to spill out intimate details of her life and her mental problem and then publishes the entire story in the form of her next novel. The (dubious) woman character is referred to as ‘Ria’ in the book. No surname. Only Ria.
Borrowing from the immortal lines of Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ -

 ‘Who is Ria…?’

Maybe we’ll find out soon. My best wishes to the author.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Her Dress, Her Choice!


Recently, I bought myself an off - shoulder top. As soon as I stepped into the house that day, I quickly changed into my new blouse and stood admiring myself in front of our old dressing - table mirror like an excited teenager. How the beautiful garment fitted me and how the colour was just right for my skin tone…rattled on the happy voice inside me.

Being from the army background; I’ve had the privilege of living all over the country, and that, besides several other things, has given me the opportunity to observe and follow fresh and unique fashion and dressing styles of people from different parts. Out of this understanding, emerged my own unique style of wearing attires which I like to believe is an extension of me and my personality and may or may not reflect popular dressing sensibilities. Moreover, I wear what I like. It matters to me that I dress up according to my own taste.

Now that brings me to the point of this article; the raging debate on social media, a few months ago, over what Priyanka Chopra wore when she met Prime Minister Modi in Berlin followed by a similar news on social media trolling the Dangal actress, Fatima Sana Shaikh’s beach wear photos that she’d posted on twitter while holidaying in Maldives during the holy month of Ramadan. Both the news are stale. People have other interesting things to debate and discuss. However, I’ve been meaning to write about my own thoughts on this for a while. Buying the off - shoulder top triggered that thought and so here I am.

I was amused and exasperated by all the hullabaloo around the misdirected topic of discussion when the news first hit social media about Priyanka’s dress followed by that of Fatima. Come on people (naysayers), get a life! Both the women are well – educated and responsible women who’ve reached where they are in life because of their talent, dedication and grace. Both are more than capable of making their own life – choices; least of all when it comes to deciding what to wear or not for a particular occasion.

Take the case of Priyanka, wasn’t it really thoughtful of her to meet PM Modi when she found out that he was also in Berlin? Didn’t the picture of the two we all saw on social media conveyed the warmth, pride and respect of the duo for each other as fellow citizens? We all should have been discussing these and maybe other such interesting issues. But out of everything else, what did we find the petty - minded discussing or reporting? Her dress – and her bare legs!

Poor Fatima wasn’t spared either! She was in Maldives for a holiday and decided to post some great pictures of herself by the beach. What was so wrong about that? What else is one supposed to wear on a beach? Besides, what a woman wants to wear or not is completely her prerogative. For that matter, what she can or cannot do with her own body is her choice. No one else should have a say in it. When will our society accept this basic fact?
Anyway, I think the people with skewed view of femininity need to be educated about the importance of respecting women for being themselves. What really matters to us (as women) is that we are accepted and admired for who we are as individuals rather than being wrongly judged on how we look or what we wear!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Why giving back to society is not what you think it is?

       Marching Forward: At India Gate with the kids of Empowering Minds Education Centre

Years ago, I was watching the renowned Human Rights Activist, Asma Jahangir’s interview on TV. Somehow, the things she revealed that day about her work left me feeling disturbed. I had just started working myself then after completing a two years post-graduation course in Travel and Tourism Management. It was my first job. I was proud of the fact that besides being placed in a prestigious international airline, a decent pay cheque, my job also gave me the opportunity to travel around the world. It was what I relished the most about my profession and made me look forward to a long and fulfilling career in the travel (and tourism) sector.

And yet, that day after listening to the internationally acclaimed lawyer and social activist’s talk, I’d almost felt bad for myself. As if, I had not chosen well and needed to do something more in order to be happy. On the same day, I recall telling my dad that when I retire from active work; I would do something to benefit the underprivileged and the deprived. I don’t know why I said that but it definitely eased my mind and made me feel better.

It took me several more years to finally take a call and after having gained experience in multiple companies; I left my last corporate job at the peak of my career; and instead opted to join the social sector and begin from scratch (after completing my Masters in Human Rights). Now when people ask me what made me leave my cushy corporate job (s) one after the other or what was it exactly that disturbed me that day after watching that interview with a Human Rights Activist, I have the answer.

I was certainly distressed to hear about the sufferings of others but more than that I was disheartened that there was nothing I could do about their situation. It made me feel helpless.

 But I was wrong. All of us have the power to do something about the things we feel bad about! In fact, we’ve the choice of either taking action or just feel bad temporarily and then move on. Much later, I also realised that true happiness lies in seeing others happy. This may sound superfluous to some. But this is an honest response. Today, I work with Empowering Minds, a Delhi based NGO on different projects. In fact I’m one of the founder – members of the NGO. And proud and happy to be working with them.  


                        International Women's Day celebrations at EM Education Centre 

My corporate job (s) could not give me the kind of satisfaction that my inner - most core was seeking. Most of them made me financially secure, gave me the money to buy things I needed for a comfortable life, and even added value to my overall personality but they also made me selfish, irritable, and anxious and mostly left me feeling empty deep inside.

Well, that was my story. However, this article is not about corporate jobs vs. social work. Everyone needs to earn a living and not everyone can shift gears like I did then. But it is equally important to know that things must not be always seen in terms of gains and losses. A simple act of kindness, or reaching out to needy, even volunteering for a cause one deeply relates to can make the person feel happy deep inside. As long as you reach out with a genuine desire to help someone; the satisfaction you get in return is immense. Try it sometime. Here are a few other things that happens when you decide to give back without expecting anything in return-
  • ·         Selfless service brings out the best in you. You evolve as a human being.
  • ·        You get a chance to pay your debt of gratitude to the higher force/almighty for all the good things and blessings you’ve received.
  • ·          In the process of empowering others you learn new skills and enrich yourself.
  • ·         The joy in seeing someone else happy increases your own joy manifold. It even makes you feel proud and accomplished.
  • ·         You create a sense of purpose in life. It enthuses you with new energy. 

I experienced (& continue to experience) all of the above but the best of it all was I no longer wanted to move from job to job. I’d finally realised what I wanted to do till the very end. Make people happy. And be happy myself.

Keep smiling. And spread the joy!


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Counting my blessings while reflecting on the highs and lows of 2016



It just feels better when one is able to sort out and clearly express all those jumbled up thoughts occupying much of the mind. And writing is one of the best forms through which I can untangle my knotty thought - threads. Besides, end of the year everyone tends to get reflective. I'm no different and so here I am.

There's no denying that 2016 offered me a mixed bag. There were sharp ups and equally acute descents in my life - graph during that period. My greatest happiness and accomplishment was that I completed my eight book (and my fourth novel). As a writer, that was one of the toughest feat to achieve as I was pushing my boundaries and writing in a genre I knew nothing about. The book is now with my literary agent and I'm hopeful that it will find a good publishing house.

The biggest challenge, however, was at a personal level. Coming to terms with the formal end of my marriage (which happened towards the end of last year) and accepting and owning the changed status fully. It was more difficult than I'd initially thought it to be. But thankfully, my supportive family, friends and my own positive and healthy state of mind helped me heal and move on. I have moved on but once in a while one tends to pause and look back. At such times one has to be the strongest and accept things as they stand. I'm glad that I have always found the inner strength to hold up well during such moments of weakness.

Besides, there's so much to be really thankful for. For instance, how my son, Vidu continues to receive utmost love and care from both his parents. Also, how my ex - husband, continues to be a part of the family. And most of all how I've been able to cope and carry on with life despite the lows experienced in my personal sphere.


Moving on to other cheerful highlights -


An absolutely marvelous and unexpected gift of year 2016 has been my receiving the Karmaveer Chakra award(instituted by iCongo in association with UN). It's not so much the award but the idea behind it. It is given to people and organisations who work selflessly for the benefit of people and planet.

 I've been working in the social sector for more than a decade now.Before joining the social sector, I had seen the 'highs' of the corporate world. I've worked for an international airline (SAS) to a Business resort (in Singapore), and had even opened my own Start Up - an event management company, (again) in Singapore. But somehow, that life left me feeling empty.  I felt stalled and unfulfilled in all that I did and that is when (after completing my Masters in Human Rights) I decided to switch to the social development field for good. It was a conscious move. No one in the family was in favour of this switch in my professional career. The (financial) returns were not even half of what I used to earn earlier...thus everyone felt it was a huge mistake, one I would regret later. I seldom regretted it.

At times, I do feel bad about the amount of commitment and hard work, I put into the kind of work I do and how very little it is understood or acknowledged by the world - donors, government and people at large but then I chose this myself and I feel content working in this area. I continue to expand my life - state and working for the cause of Education and Mental Health, two main areas I am involved in at Empowering Minds. In fact 2017 is going to be an exciting year and I'll will be exploring newer horizons.


The Karmaveer Chakra awarded to me along with several other path breakers, activists, social workers is a solid endorsement to the work that I am doing. I'm so proud of it.

The New year 2017 has already thrown some challenges at me and I'm so looking forward to starting on a happy note -


Vidu will join school from next year. (2016 was a gap year for him as he was ahead in his class, age wise, and as parents we felt the pressure would be too much for him and thus he studied at home and did plenty of other wonderful things with his extra time).


I am hoping to start something of my own along with my colleagues at EM. We've been working on it and plan to unveil the project early next year.




There's plenty of travel mostly work - related and then

have to go House hunting...

And I also plan to start writing the fourth book in my 'Pursuit' series in 2017.

It's going to be another interesting year full of challenges, joys and things to look forward to.

Let me end with a stanza from my own poem - That Woman You See, which is also the title of my short story collection that was released in 2015. The full poem appears at the end of the book.




That woman you see

is not the woman you know

For the woman you know

has sides you've yet to see.


Happy New Year 2017!

Keep smiling!

Sujata

www.sujataparashar.in






Saturday, September 24, 2016

PINK: A BREAKAWAY FILM



PINK COMES WITH BLACK AND WHITE

PINK is a breakaway film. But not because there’s anything new about the subject it deals with. In fact, there have been several noteworthy films made in the past on the issues and challenges faced by women living in a predominantly patriarchal society such as ours. For instance, Meenakshi Sheshadari’s career best performance film, Damini, where a woman stands against a crime she witnesses and despite the odds, bravely confronts the society (including her own family) and wins in the end. Of course, in her fight for justice she’s amply supported by an upright lawyer (one of the several striking similarities between Damini and  PINK).

Another such movie was Kya Kehna, which highlighted the issue of pre - marital pregnancy and how a young teenager refuses to abort her child despite being shunned by the society; defying stereotypical mind-sets, and with the support of her family (which too had initially turned against her) and a childhood friend decides to raise the child herself while at the same time complete her education which she'd to leave mid - way due to her pregnancy and its repercussions on her life. Again, Preity Zinta’s performance in the movie was outstanding and earned her several awards.

 And yet, PINK has not only dared to break the glass ceiling but has also made us, the viewers, to sit up and take note; and even cry out loud in angst as the shards hit us in the eye and other parts of the body injuring us and leaving us feeling uneasy.

Apart from the brilliant acting of almost everyone in the film, the taught narration, the suspense, and the acute depiction of the collective trauma of the three women friends that many of us can relate to; the movie raises certain pertinent questions (which have also been pointedly raised in all the previous female – centric movies). Some of them being, 

Why do we have a different set of rules for men and women?
Why do we judge the character of a woman based on the kind of clothes she wears, the places she visits, the way she smiles, talks or behaves et al?
And finally, what happens to a woman when she says enough is enough and decides to fight back?

However, PINK successfully manages to hold our attention with its fresh take on the aged discussion on women’s rights and the factors limiting them. But what really makes it radically different than those other films, is the way it nudges us away from the main problem or issue being highlighted in the film without digressing and yet compels us to take note of the seemingly inconsequential matters presented in the film and give them a serious thought.

Let me give you a few instances from the film without (hopefully) giving away the whole story:

1.    After the altercation between Rajveer; the nephew of a powerful politician, and Minal; a girl he meets at a rock concert, leaves him seriously injured, he is rushed to a hospital by two of his male friends. Later, the entire incident is narrated to Ankit (the misogynist friend, of Rajveer) by the two friends who were also present at the resort, when the incident took place. Ankit’s strong reaction to the whole affair even though he had no role to play in it, leaves us flummoxed.

Ankit not only compels Rajveer to teach the girls a lesson but also gets involved himself to avenge the insult.  This feudal mind-set is so prevalent in the mentality of the Indian male that after a while we don’t find it odd, when the former willingly becomes a part of it all to cause further damage to the girls.

2.    Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), a retired lawyer, visits the traumatised friends of Minal (who has been wrongly accused and put behind bars), asks them for the original copy of the FIR they had lodged with the police, reads it out loud, clarifies the legal points before finally letting the anxious girls know that Minal’s bail application date has been intentionally moved to Friday to prevent her release from the jail for at least a couple of days.  

But before he leaves, he enlightens them that unlike in other cases, women and minors can be granted a bail even on a Friday.  This little nugget of information that he shares so offhandedly with the girls makes one realise how important it is for a woman to be aware of  her basic legal rights. It might not only save her from being tormented by the authorities but also help in taking the right course of action.

3.    Then there’s a point, during the court trial, when Rajveer is called by the prosecuter to take the stand for questioning. Deepak Sehgal, who has been keenly observing Rajveer all this while, raises an objection and draws everyone’s attention (using sarcasm and humour effectively) to the fact that the former’s hand is inside the pocket of his trousers while he’s on the witness stand in a courtroom. With this simple statement, the witty lawyer again manages to draw everyone’s attention to the complainant’s real character and his unmerited and inappropriate sense of entitlement.

I can give several other such small yet powerful instances from the film to show how beautifully the story weaves these often ignored or neglected aspects of our personal values, beliefs and social attitudes into the main narrative to drive home the point that as individuals, parents and as a society we have to break away from the decaying patriarchal culture and make  great many self - corrections in the way we see things; in the way we act and behave towards others (especially women); and most importantly, in the way we raise our children.

To begin with, let’s teach our boys to respect a girl's wishes and boundaries from a young age. Let's make it a point to share these powerful lines from Deepak Sehgal's closing argument with them, 

‘When a woman says NO, it means you stop.’