Posts Tagged ‘women’

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat

When we were planning a trip to Muscat from Dubai one of my friends said, “If Dubai is Kolkata Muscat is Panskura. Or to put it in a more international parlance if Dubai is New York Muscat is a sleepy US suburb with nothing to do there. Definitely not a place for a holiday.”

But I wasn’t daunted. I had been to Musandam in Oman in 2007 and loved the fjords and the green sea, loved the dhow cruise with the dolphins swimming along and enjoyed the snorkelling experience. I was determined to check out Oman’s capital Muscat this time and these comparisons did not really matter to me. An added bonus was my desire to reconnect with three people.

One was Swati, who was my junior in Times of India and is settled in Muscat now, second was Sumita my friend from university. I had reconnected with both on FB. And third was Swati’s husband Rahul. My husband, Rahul and I had all started our lives together in Asian Age. Being the crime reporter he often took me to do crime stories with him, an experience that I probably wouldn’t have managed to acquire without him, because despite women joining journalism in hordes crime reporting is often considered a man’s forte even today.

Armed with these two desires – one to see Muscat and the other to reconnect with old friends we set out for the five-hour drive to Oman.

The drive itself was uplifting. As the silky sands of Dubai’s deserts made way for the rough yet ravishing Hajaar Mountains the topography changed from one place to another along with the elevation.

The road to Muscat

The road to Muscat

With the mountains in the backdrop Muscat looked like a city out of Arabian Nights. Most of the houses were painted white, were not beyond four-storeys tall and had an old-world-charm that instantly appealed to me. Swati and Rahul’s home, where we were putting up for our three-day trip, had the best views of the mountain and the city. Every time I looked out of the window I was invaded by a sense of calm and peace.

View from Rahul-Swati's home

View from Rahul-Swati’s home

A typical road in Muscat. Pix credit: Swati.

A typical road in Muscat. Pix credit: Swati.

Muscat wasn’t anything like Dubai that was for sure. But I liked it instantly. It had the best roads, well-stocked supermarkets, bustling eateries and a couple of nice malls. It was definitely not Panskura or for that matter a sleepy US suburb, where life never throbs.

I was keen to explore the natural beauty of Oman so we headed for the Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat the next day. At the end of a lovely drive down a mountainous road a mesmerizing sight awaited us. The biggest dam in Oman is probably the most beautiful dam I have ever seen.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat. An hour's drive from Muscat.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat. An hour’s drive from Muscat.

The picnic spot next to the dam

The picnic spot next to the dam

The view from the dam

The view from the dam

And the long stretch of the virgin Quriyat beach was another beautiful sight. Apart from us, in the entire stretch of the beach there was only one Omani couple and a group of boys playing football in the distance. It felt like a world where nature still had its say.

Quriyat Beach

Quriyat Beach

Omani couple sitting together

Omani couple sitting together

With a three-year-old son in tow it was not possible to cover much especially when I had to keep his sleep time and eating schedule in mind. But still we managed to see the Matrah Corniche (the heart of old Muscat) and the lovely Qurum Beach and managed a word with god in Muscat’s famous Shiv Mandir.

Qurum Beach

Qurum Beach

Sunset at Qurum beach

Sunset at Qurum beach

And then it was my turn to meet my university pal Sumita who lives in a lovely villa opposite the Azaiba beach. I realized it’s nothing like connecting with old friends, nothing like marveling at our children hitting it off immediately and nothing like taking a collective look at our plumper selves, laughing about it and saying, “Did we ever imagine we will meet like this?”

For me Muscat wasn’t a holiday it was a journey. It was a realization that some people don’t change. Yes Rahul still has that laugh that was so famous in Asian Age. Swati is still that bubbly girl I knew at work only now she is also an efficient mom to a four-year-old son and a brilliant cook. And Sumita is still that bindaas girl I spent hours yapping with at University but now she has two wonderful daughters to have her conversations with.

As for me I think I am still the kind who believes in herself. That’s why I never believed Muscat is like Panskura and made the journey to this quaint city and came back with a bag full of memories.


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10 things that have changed for the Indian woman.

 

Bindi

I started blogging on International Women’s Day last year and much has changed for the Indian woman since then. Some changes have been good and some bad. I list 10 of them.

1.    Violence against women has finally been acknowledged

For ages, rape, dowry deaths, domestic abuse were treated as isolated incidents that just happen sporadically in certain communities and to certain people. After the Delhi rape case it has been finally acknowledged by the Indian government that each and every woman out there risks being abused any time and something needs to be done about it. This awakening is a positive one.

2.    Helplines and apps

Special helplines and apps have come up for women which they can use in times of need. At least there is an effort to ensure safety for women. Something that was non-existent before.

3.    Women have found a united voice

For the first time in recent history so many women came together to fight against abuse. Women came out on the roads in Delhi and braved the December cold for days to protest against violence against women. The protests quickly spread to different parts of India giving all those sufferers a united voice. This has been followed up by the 1 Billion Rising movement that is expected to bring change for women the world over.

4.     Men are supporting the movement

Be it through Facebook, through blogs, through physical presence at protest marches men have also lent their voice and support. This has strengthened the women’s movement. I remember just after the Delhi rape case a policewoman on her way to work was being heckled on a Delhi public bus. Some men came to her rescue and took the culprit to the police station. This is indeed positive change.

5.    Police has been forced to register cases

After the furore caused by the Delhi rape case, no police station is likely to ever dare not register a complaint. I was reading that day a seven-year-old girl, living in a slum, was molested by her 17-year-old uncle. Her mother complained to the police and he was arrested. Earlier the mother would have definitely found it difficult to register her complaint considering her social status and nature of the complaint.

6.    Rape has become a hot topic of discussion

I was in Kolkata last month and an elderly uncle said, “These days there is so much talk about this ‘rape shape’.” (Aajkal ei rape shape niye khub lafalafi hocchey.) Rape was an issue that people rarely discussed in drawing room conversations. Now any such conversation is incomplete without it. But in this discussion there are usually people who are truly concerned and there are also people who think unnecessarily too much importance is being given to the issue and there are also people to whom this is another amusing topic apart from Bollywood and Indian politics.  Also I have noticed people of all age groups are comfortably discussing rape, something unimaginable in our Indian culture only a couple of years back.

7.    More rape cases are being reported

Either there is an increase in the number of rapes committed or now more cases are being registered and reported. But in the last three months, sadly, there are more reported cases of rape on minor girls (one as young as three years) than I have ever heard of in recent times. This makes me think that is so much talk about rape and no consequent punishment and safety network egging some people to explore the violent crime even more? Most of the minors have been raped or molested by people they know. This is a dangerous development.

8.    There is more fear among women

I was talking to a friend of mine in Kolkata and she said that after the Delhi case women feel more fear. “Whenever I take a cab I feel scared if there is a helper with him. If he suggests an alternative route or wants to take the less populated EM bypass I start panicking thinking he has some other plans. And then if I am not home at a decent time my mother starts panicking and keeps calling me to check if I am safe.” Many women are asked by their parents, guardians and husbands to get home early to avoid any “uncalled for situation”. A friend in Delhi said, “Women’s safety was always an issue here and I worried and fretted if my wife got late. But what has happened now is that the thought of rape is constantly at the top of our minds. What if… it’s a scary thought.”

9.    Indian women are perceived as the most abused by the international media

Never imagined Wall Street Journal would be interested in a small town in West Bengal called Barasat. But now they are. They have even written about how women wear long nails and pink nail polish not for beautification but to fight their abusers.

Check the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324616604578302620513689386.html

What they have written in the article is true but what is most interesting is the recent focus of the international media on violence against women in India. All top foreign media like The Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian have been writing about women’s issues in India. That’s fine. But most often the tone is like India is the worst place for women. That’s unfair. If you look up statistics in Wikipedia you will see rape is probably more rampant in the US and UK than in India.  Following is an example from Wikipedia.

According to a news report on BBC One presented in November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. The 2006-07 British Crime Survey reports that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period. It also showed that only 800 people were convicted of rape crimes that same year, meaning that less than 1 in every 100 rape survivors were able to convict their attacker. According to a study in 2009 by the NSPCC  250,000 teenage girls are suffering from abuse at any one time.

10. Marital rape is officially not a sexual offence in India

Although women’s organizations have criticized the decision to not make marital rape a punishable offence in India I look at it this way that there are laws for dealing with domestic violence in India. Section 498A gives a woman the power to put her husband and in-laws behind the bar first and then proceed with the case. If marital rape is considered a part of domestic violence there is already a punishment in place.

 

Are men naturally better looking than women?.

make-up

For the last few days whenever I have been leafing through a newspaper or a magazine all I have seen are a spate of advertisements and discounts for make-up and creams that would make women better looking on International Women’s Day (March 8) and Mother’s Day (March 10). You can’t blame the advertisers for this because we women do need our make-up.

Recently I went to my locality studio to re-print my passport size photos but they had lost my file photos because of a virus attack. So I needed to get new snaps done. I hit the panic button. I had unwashed hair, tied in a ponytail and pushed back with a hair band. I had my specs on and not contact lenses. Then I fretted, “I am not wearing kajal and lipstick. How can I take a photograph like this?”

I was instantly put in my place by my husband. He said, “Are you going to find a match with this snap? No! Right? Get on with the photograph and don’t waste time.” The staff at the studio liked the joke and laughed and I glumly sat in front of the camera. Thankfully the deft studio guys quickly made me look like Deepika Padukone after Photoshop. And yes, I did look like I had make-up on. I quickly moved from glum to jovial.

This incident got me thinking. We women have become truly dependent on make-up. I salute those who don’t carry eyeliner and lipsticks in their bags and quickly fetch out a small mirror to replenish the gloss (thankfully I still know few women who don’t). Frankly, I haven’t yet managed to have my bag make-up free.

The question is if most men don’t need make-up to look good why do we? Maybe they don’t because they are naturally more good looking and maybe we do because we have not come to terms with our natural self in front of the mirror.

Although on a walk out with my son I don’t wear make-up but if I am out for my freelance assignments or attending events or parties I can’t do without it. I fear being judged for my “lack of grooming.” So once again society (or for that matter all those cosmetics manufacturing companies who make money out of me) have drilled into my head that I am not complete without make-up and I am bowing down to that perception.

When I arrived in Dubai I used to initially wonder how all the women in my office had their make-up perfectly in place all day when my lipstick was gone with the morning cup of coffee. I soon realized it had to do with touch ups every two hours with a folding make-up bag (holding every possible brand of cosmetic) rolled out in front of the mirror in the washroom. This sight used to really intrigue me.

And I was pretty shocked once when one of my woman bosses in Dubai decided to hire a girl despite knowing she was not too good at her job, only because she was, to put it in my boss’ words, “well put together”.

I have even seen if a woman does not wear make-up for a job interview employers sometimes, instead of taking a look at her impressive CV, quickly dub her “shabby”.

I wonder where this thing came from – that women will have to wear make-up to look good and be “presentable”. Make-up should have been an accessory to enhance our beauty if needed but it has become a necessity in modern life. Such a necessity, that we feel less and less confident in front of the mirror without it.

This is something that does not feature in a man’s radar that’s why I say they naturally look and feel good. Nowadays there are so many products for men in the market and treatments offered in the salons too. I am not saying men don’t go for it but it’s not in their psyche that they can’t do without it.

Yesterday, I was browsing through some with and without make-up snaps published in MSN and I realized Kim Kardashian looks so much better without make-up. Much better than the extended eye-lashes, over-done pouty look she flaunts most of the time. (Ok…ok I know she is ‘naturally’ so made-up anyway but still…)

Kim without make-up

Kim without make-up

Kim with make-up

Kim with make-up

I couldn't find a make-up free snap of Aishwarya Rai. Sigh!

I couldn’t find a make-up free snap of Aishwarya Rai. Sigh!

In fact, I remember once Aishwarya Rai was shooting in Kolkata and I caught up with her for an interview at 6am. She was leaving the hotel for shooting and did not have any make-up on. She looked ethereal. I have never seen any women with such lovely skin and beautiful eyes. To me she looked thousand times more beautiful sans make-up than she does with it.

But will she go to a press conference without make-up? No way. (And chances are she will be criticized if she did so.) But I have seen Hrithik Roshan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan doing exactly that- attending press conferences and events without make-up.

So are men naturally better looking than women then? Not really. But in my opinion they have learned to embrace their natural looks more wholeheartedly. Something we haven’t done yet.

But will we ever?

Darn!! I can’t find that foundation I bought yesterday that will make me look like I don’t have any make-up on. Err…sorry what was I saying?

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Victoria was a teacher in Sandy Hook Elementary School

Today I was planning to upload some snaps on Facebook but just could not bring myself to do it when I clicked on what my school friend Rajasri Saraswat (Mumpy) has shared on Facebook. I clicked on the picture of Victoria Soto, a girl with blue sparkly eyes and lovely blonde hair, who was a teacher in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. She put all Grade I students in her class inside the cabinets and closets in the classroom. She stood guard, told the shooter the children were in the gym. He shot Victoria at point blank range and moved on.

I was so overwhelmed with grief once again that I just could not bring myself to upload some happy snaps when I thought of those parents out there crying for their lost children. Instead I downloaded Victoria’s photo and uploaded it in my blog and sat down to write my thoughts here.

On social media people have been grieving for the children, teachers and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary school since the incident happened on December 14. While some have expressed their frustration at gun laws in the US, some have questioned why a school teacher felt the need to own so many guns that went into the hands of her deranged son and some have talked about the psychological issues of the American youth that’s ravaging the country.

It is a heinous act no doubt and when there’s children involved you instantly feel a lump in your throat. But I was thinking there are children involved in the war in Palestine and Syria also. Save the Children has declared that thousands of Syrian children will die in refugee camps in Jordan because they just don’t have warm clothes and shoes to wear but not many of us reacted to it on social media. Or for instance some researchers say most children in Afghanistan will perish before they reach the age of five. Because of Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines 36,000 children had to be evacuated to temporary shelters. But right now we are somehow still discussing about the ravages of Hurricane Sandy and how wonderfully US authorities handled the situation.

I was thinking if we are obsessed with the US. Whatever happens there is more important than the rest of the world and we keep talking/writing our opinions whenever, however possible.

But on second thoughts I realized why reaction to what happened at Sandy Hook is so strong. Am sure my friend Rajasri who has a six-year-old daughter going to school in the US, felt the same horror and grief that I, as a mother, a woman, a human being felt as soon I heard the news. School embodies safety for both parents and children if something like this happens there it somehow hits you on a personal level and the tremors upset your entire belief system. After all, like many of us do, parents from Newtown were willing to commute longer and pay bigger to ensure that their children could get a coveted seat in the well-reputed school, thinking it was the best they could do for their children.

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Sandy Hook Elementary School

I tried to think that I was sitting in my Grade I class in South Point School in Kolkata, India, and some gun wielding psycho walks in. What would I have done? Even worse is, when I think (or refuse to think) that I go to pick up my son in his school and come to know someone walked in with a gun into a classroom? The thoughts are unsettling.

In fact, the realization that it can be a nightmare-come-true is the most horrific part. I understand and identify with everyone’s reactions better now.

The Marina behind Sunayana’s apartment building

Sunayana Sarkar my bestie from South Point school, a resident of Jersey City, pens down her Sandy experience for my blog. Here’s her account:

Initially we had perhaps underestimated Sandy, after a much mellowed Irene in 2011.  What happened next was quite unimaginable for many of us. Living on the 26th floor, we felt safe… as long as the glass windows didn’t break. I had the diaper bag packed, in case we were asked to evacuate the building. We watched the storm rage through and Hudson rising and sweeping through our neighborhood from our window.  It was apparent the damages were severe.  

“My husband climbed down and up 26 floors”
 We had prepared well with food, water and flashlights so survived the power and water outages – off-again and on-again for the whole week.  We felt trapped at home, as the elevators were not working. My husband Pradeep had to take the stairs down and up to 26 floors, when he went out 2 days after the storm. My daughter Zaara was driving us up the wall asking to go to the park. Thankfully we have wonderful neighbors and had an impromptu chai-pakora to relive some of the memories of Indian monsoon.   

The road in front of her building

“Driving was impossible without traffic lights”
Pradeep’s dental office (he is a dentist) was closed for a week with no power.  And even if it was open, I don’t know how he would have gone with no traffic lights working and no gas in the car.  Filling up gas was a nightmare. People were waiting for hours at the gas stations, only to be told that gas is over, when their turn came.  NJ has instituted the odd-even gas days to ration the gas which has made it a little bit easier and worse at the same time. 

“We are still struggling to commute to New York City”
Transportation has been hit very hard in NJ. Almost all train lines were paralyzed for a week and bus services were limited. It was unnerving for me, as I was flying out on a business trip. Zaara’s nanny didn’t have power for one week, but she was kind enough to bear two hours commute and come on duty, so I could leave for the trip.  Thankfully power in her home was also restored after seven days and the train service has also resumed for our nanny’s commute.  

We are still struggling to commute from NJ waterfront to NYC, as PATH trains are partially working.  It seems like it’s going to take a while for PATH trains to resume normal schedule.  The ferry service is another option for the weekdays, but an expensive one. 

Sunayana and Pradeep on a ferry on the Hudson. I took this snap on our holiday in the US in 2009

“I love the spirit of NYC”

Personally, we were extremely lucky and blessed that our worst experience was limited to no power and water for a few days. The devastation of Sandy in many areas of NY-NJ is unfathomable. Some areas of Staten Island have been wiped off.  But NYC is resilient and we are getting back on our feet as quickly as we can.  Almost everyone I know is helping another affected by the storm in one way or another. NYC marathon was cancelled and it was heart warming to see the marathoners, who had travelled from all over the world, lend a hand in cleaning up Staten Island. People have opened their doors for friends and acquaintances without power and water to stay, shower or even have a hot meal. In times like these, I realize more why I love NYC and its human spirit. At the end of the day, if you think about it the basic necessities have been restored much quicker compared to the intensity of the damages. If it was not a developed country, with all its infrastructure and resources, the toll of human lives would have been much higher.  So we have a lot to be thankful for.