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.’

















Sunday, March 6, 2016

Back with a Cycle!

Hey everyone! In my previous post I gave you all my word to come back sooner and I'm a woman of my word. Literally. If you haven't read it yet, it's titled - "Hello Tu Kaun Jahan Se Aayee." (Just making sure you hit the right one) By the way, you haven't missed out much. Read it if you like to listen to sweet nothings of a lost - in - her - own - world #writer who likes to drift more often than not especially on this space. That was the whole idea of creating it in the first place, anyway.
 However, this time I have a definite purpose.
I want to share this beautiful and unique experience I completely savoured kind courtesy #KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and their bright idea to treat 7 lucky women on the occasion of Women's Day with a cycle ride of the city! They deserve a huge round of applause for such an innovative approach to celebrate Womanhood!
                                                          The Invitation from KLM
 KLM did it in association with #DelhiByCycle. And guess what? The company is owned by a Dutch journalist who decided to explore the city by cycle himself first and then hit on this lovely idea of sharing the experience with interested people; travellers, tourists, researchers, heavy weights,  curious women and the likes by starting his own company. Rest is History of Delhi. To be discovered on a Cycle!  
Anyway, what is great is that I got an opportunity too to go biking with six (actually seven others, if you count our Hindi - speaking, Chola Bhatura - relishing, Italian guide Elena. And we had a co - guide too.  A very helpful one at that - Kapil) fun loving, daring and positive minded ladies from diverse fields. Let's see, we had an entrepreneur, a teacher, an Infrastructure consultant, a couple of travel professionals, An HR lady and me of course - the writer.
R to L - Sushmita, Me, Gayatri, Chandni, Kashish, Kanchan - (from KLM), Nidhi and Elena behind Nidhi
You think there's no dare involved in cycling? Then consider this.
It's a Saturday morning
You live in places like Greater Noida, Gurgaon, East Delhi et al (actually my and Kanchan's resi was the closest I think, rest all came from far off places)
Have been working late night...some as late as 12:30 p.m.
Still you wake up at 5:00 a.m. so that you can reach the venue on time i.e. 6:15 a.m.
by hook or by crook. meaning you hail a cab and trust it will arrive on the given pick - up time ( two of the ladies reported their cab companies ditched them), or drive yourself, or coax your dear husband to drop you from one end to the other in the wee hours of the morning.
          At Connaught Place Inner Circle with the Tricolour flying high in the Background
And then from just a dare or a self - challenge it turned into an experience that would be imprinted in our minds for a long time.
 Our very sweet but very firm Instructor, Elena informed us that we will have to cycle approx. about 16 Kms. and time management was crucial to avoid heavy traffic. It's perpetually a rush hour after 7:00 a.m. in Delhi anyway. And our ride involved crossing narrowest lanes of Paharganj, Ajmeri Gate  a glimpse of G.B Road before moving towards Connaught Place Inner circle, an uphill ride towards Rashtrapati Bhawan (which was a task) continuing towards Agrasen ki Baoli and then stopping for much needed Breakfast! at the popular Bengali Sweets in Bengali Market and then back to Asaf Ali Road, another uphill ride via an overhead bridge (can't recollect the name) this time with our tummies full. What a ride it was!
                        After our refreshing Chai Break - somewhere behind Imperial hotel
Through it all not only did we look at our city through new eyes and admired its resilience, beauty and gumption to move on despite facing many odds but I also realised how warm and kind people are generally: There were at least three instances when I was filled with gratitude towards those strangers who voluntarily went out of their way to see we ladies crossed the roads and by lanes safely . One man at one of the red lights near Paharganj, tried stopping a bus coming from the other direction in order to let us pass, another halted a rickshaw waala in a narrow lane almost rebuked for not stopping and giving way when he saw us - ladies trying to make our way through that very narrow lane. Even the cops near Raisina Hill guided us to a safe spot from where we could smoothly take a right turn on the very busy road. Delhi filled me with pride that day. And I can't thank KLM enough for showing me this beautiful side of my beautiful city which I always believed, existed. The only thing I did not enjoy so much was the filth and unhygienic conditions people are living in still (esp in Old Delhi area) and despite the call for Swatch Bharat by our PM...we have a long way to go before we achieve this goal.  
I could go on writing but I think I better stop here...other things to take care of...plus I think you will only know and believe the above to be true if you go cycling around town yourself. and I will say, Go for it! It's worth it. And you do deserve it too. To see a different side of Delhi in order to appreciate it and connect with it.
As for us lucky seven...we gelled really well despite our diverse backgrounds and have decided to stay in touch ( we have already formed a whatsapp group and call it the KLM Cycling group) and go cycling together around Lodhi or some other location that we'll jointly choose, once in a while! All thanks to KLM and DelhiByCycle. :)
                                       
                        At Agrasen Ki Baoli with clear images of Elena and Kapil (DelhiByCycle)
Cheers!
#KLM #Cycling #DelhiByCycle #WritersDay  #Sightseeing #WomensDay2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hello Tu kaun jahan se aayee

A big smile on my face, today. It turns a bit apologetic as I write this post. No, I'm not apologising this time for being absent here for so long. I'm apologising for not writing. I mean, writing just for the sake of writing. And nothing else. No particular purpose or aim. For myself. I've done it in the past. More often than not. This blog is a witness to that. But I tend to get lost. That isn't new to me either. I'm a drifter. But once in a while I drift back to the source. This is one such moment, I guess when I'm not writing to meet deadlines or to communicate with the world about this and that. This one, like few of my earlier blog posts; is without rhyme or reason.

The world has changed since I last wrote. Which was I don't know when. Probably last year sometime. Just checked. Last published post was July 2015. Whoa! Indeed a long time ago. Bloggers don't do that. But then, I'm not your usual blogger. As I've said so many times, already. My gratitude to all 24 of you who are here with me (following my blog). I mean what's there to even stop by here. Just a few ramblings...perhaps. Or perhaps you just forgot to delete me from your list. Anyway, makes me glad to see you all here !I like company. Even when I'm alone.

The early morning sounds of rustling trees and chirping birds mixed with distant chatter of people going about their business makes me feel at ease; I focus on my work better. It makes me feel life is happening. Pin drop silence isn't for me. At times,  I add to all that background noise by playing my favourite songs on my Ipod or Youtube.

Umm, by the way, do excuse my for this little bit of bragging; my seventh book came out last December. Isn't that absolutely delightful! Well, it is to me.  :) The book's a collection of short stories, titled, THAT WOMAN YOU SEE. The 9 stories in the book have been inspired by the new - age Indian woman who speaks her mind and can go to any length to express herself even at the cost of appearing odd, rebellious or unconventional. Sounds familiar? It's available on Flipkart and Amazon. Also as an e - book. #JustSaying. Who knows? Today maybe my lucky day and you, er, many  of you may be into short stories. No harm done. Isn't it!? You see, hope never dies. Every writer, when they market their own books are hopeful, in fact quite optimistic, that someone out there will love what they've written. I'm no different. :)

Okay, enough of book talk. Now let's drift to other things. Actually, this post is getting longer and I'm suddenly reminded of ten thousand things I need to attend to. Also, I recall having promised you all to keep my posts short. So probably, more later. Yes, this time I'll come back sooner. No promises but I give you my word. Anyway, does it even matter? You have so many things vying for your attention...and who reads a vague blog post such as this one.  And yet I hope you do. :) On that hopeful note I say - Laters baby! Reminds you of something naughty? No. Well then you've not read E.L James. ;D

Keep smiling!

S