Sunday, August 25, 2013

Because I am a Woman!

First a story, then a poem.

The other day, I was talking to a mother about her daughter who had recently contributed her first ever earnings to a project that aims to educate girls from Himalayan villages. This young lady is now leading a group of young volunteers in a third world country and has no plans of leading a safe comfortable life that she can easily afford. Digging a little deeper, I learned that as a teen, this young woman had suffered a horrific attack on herself, which nearly destroyed her. It took her over six years to fully recover from the trauma- which she did by reading about other people who have suffered, writing about herself, and talking to wise people who guided and mentored her out of her pain. Having overcome her own trauma, she now spends her life helping others in trouble.

I stopped in my tracks. I had been struggling with my ambivalent thoughts about the role of education of girls in a society so seeped in tradition and resistant to change, as I see here in this small village that is my new home. I had nagging doubts about the effect of educating just a few girls in such a society. I was cynical about bringing lasting changes from disjointed and intermittent interventions. I was looking for Earth-shaking transformation, and not finding enough hope for that. Desperately wanting to believe, I was confused by my continued disbelief.

What I had forgotten, and what the story of this young lady reminded me, was that transformation begins in the smallest unit, one person, first. What I had forgotten was that there is great power and potential in each human being. What I had also forgotten about was the great healing capacity in  discourse with the wise, in person or through books. But mainly, what I had forgotten was how I myself was transformed and how my transformation would have been impossible if I didn't have the tools to make it happen.

In that instant, with that story, my doubts vanished and I was converted.

Soon after, I came across this poem, Because I am a Girl, by Kamla Bhasin. I read it in Hindi (see images below) first and then found its translation online. What a powerful meaningful poem. I prefer the Hindi version because it connects deeply and has (at least) one powerful line, most meaningful to my conversion, that the translation misses (ज्ञानी से बतियाना है ).

Hope it will inspire everyone who reads it, but what the heck, even one inspired person will do! 

Because I am a Girl- by Kamla Bhasin

A father asks his daughter:
Study? Why should you study?
I have sons aplenty who can study.
Girl, why should you study?

The daughter tells her father:
Since you ask, here’s why I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

Long denied this right, I must study
For my dreams to take flight, I must study
Knowledge brings new light, so I must study
For the battles I must fight, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To avoid destitution, I must study
To win independence, I must study
To fight frustration, I must study
To find inspiration, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To fight men’s violence, I must study
To end my silence, I must study
To challenge patriarchy I must study
To demolish all hierarchy, I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To mould a faith I can trust, I must study
To make laws that are just, I must study
To sweep centuries of dust, I must study
To challenge what I must, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To know right from wrong, I must study.
To find a voice that is strong, I must study
To write feminist songs I must study
To make a world where girls belong, I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

~Kamla Bhasin
This poem originally appeared on, which invites you all to find out more about Kamla Bhasin’s women’s empowerment organization in New Delhi, India, Sangat.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shame in Mine?

When I discovered that Heather (a young Hindi-speaking American volunteer at Jagori) had seen Bhag Milkha Bhag, I started sharing what was topmost in my mind about the movie- audience reaction. I told her how surprised I was to see a very quiet crowd in the Chandigarh theater. There was no excitement or emotion even in the scene where Milkha won the race in Pakistan. I was the only one shouting and clapping (much to my niece's mortification), but even my excitement could not energize more than ten people around me.

Heather's experience in the fanciest movie theater in Jaipur had been quite the opposite. She said the entire crowd, consisting mainly of young men, was up on their feet and shouting in all the racing scenes!

Just as I started thinking aloud about the possible reasons for this difference in crowd reactions, she shook me out of my pointless analysis by saying quietly that the same crowd of young men in the theater had clapped and hooted in the scenes when Milkha's sister was raped by her husband. 

I remember looking into her kind eyes and seeing pain. Did she see shame in mine?

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: Divya Dutta makes Farhan cry with her performance
Picture from:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

She too can do it!

Our next door neighbors here use their house as a summer home. Last month, the entire family descended from Jammu and stayed over for about a month. Aloka was delighted to meet their 3 year old granddaughter Tuku, who in turn became Aloka's biggest fan, copying everything she did.

One of the things she copied was doing the hula hoop. Her version is to die for!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Truth Teller

I was lamenting the other day
Did you hear me?
About my barren loveless life,
About plowing on with a broken heart, 
About promises that were forsaken before they could be claimed,
About beauty that faded too fast to be mourned,
About fear of rejection and relief in self hatred,
About that manic strength of spirit that won't let me accept defeat
But which then drained me of warmth and turned me to stone.
I was lamenting the other day, like I often do
But did you hear me?

You weren't listening, I know in my heart
But listen, be still as I tell you today...
Of love that feeds on nothing but itself,
Of promises that are made and kept in the moment,
Of beauty that is resurrecting itself from ashes, like phoenix
Of courage to trust and surrender completely, 
Of self love and acceptance of everything good and bad,
Of this manic dance of spirit- see me sway out of control!
Of this gentle awakening of a long lost woman. 
Listen, I am telling you a new truth today,
Hear me, hear me! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Easy Tasty Chicken Sandwich Filling

This recipe happened out of sheer necessity, not of sandwiches, but of not wanting to waste chicken roast I used to cook on most Sundays in Singapore. My Sunday roast was quite popular with my kids. Between the two of them, the legs and wings would be finished in no time. What was left was the less tender breast piece.

The first time I thought of converting the remaining chicken into a sandwich filling, I mashed every bit of the chicken and the left-over roasted potatoes and peas using a big spoon and added mayo till I had the consistency I remembered seeing in sandwich shops.

Since I moved to India, I never get good whole chicken, so roast chicken as a meal is no longer an option. So now I do the following:

  • Roast chicken breast separately in salt, pepper and olive oil (wrapped in foil, 200 degrees for 40 minutes)
  • Shred the meat to pieces or chop using a knife.
  • Add a couple of spoons of mayo (more or less depending on the quantity of chicken). I sometimes add some butter too if the chicken is too dry and I don't want the strong mayo taste to stand out.
  • Add finely chopped onions (half of a medium) and a bit of capsicum.
  • Add 3-4 drops of lemon juice (more or less depending on the quantity of chicken). The idea is not to make the mixture sour, but just to give it a bit of a kick. 
  • Add coriander or parsley (if I have any).
  • Mash together till it is creamy enough to be spread on bread directly. 
Spread over good bread, it makes for a great sandwich filling. Since its premixed and non-messy, it is great for picnics.