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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Those three years

This story has been written by my father – Sudhanshu Pathak, originally in Hindi and has been translated by me.

I belonged to that kind of family which was entangled in the age-old customs and prejudices since ages; a middle class society where desires were big but habits lowly. To break free from traditions and fight against the irrational thinking was not something that was present in my blood. Being meek in front of elders was taken as being well-mannered and courteous.

It was the time when, with the encouragement from the elderlies, women had started seeking education and tried to change the shape of this world. It’s a different issue that the encouragement was not actually intended for education, but rather for a good marriage, since men in those days preferred a well-educated girl over others. Despite these stepping stones of social progression, the dadi-nanis of our homes used to be the same – orthodox, conventional, cruel at times, chauvinistic, superstitious and sometimes even brutally gender biased. It’s another thing that we used to seek God in their cotton-like white hair and wrinkled face.

I used to live with my maternal grandparents. They chose a postgraduate girl for my marriage – Sudha. She had done her honours in economics and it brought our family immense pride. Time went by and it didn't take her much time to adapt in my family.

1989. It had been three years of our marriage, and still, we had been issue-less. No kids until three years meant suspicion – not just for us, but for the entire family. As expected, my grandmother’s brain started going topsy-turvy. She had started crying for a baby just after the first year of my marriage, and by the end of two years, she had lost all of her patience. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have any plans to delay the conception for some years. It was just that Sudha was taking some time to conceive, while I, leaving every worry upon God, was somewhat carefree. At first silently, and after sometime blatantly, my grandmother started complaining, ‘Why don’t you take your wife to a doctor? So much delay is not good.’

Due to these frequent vicious remarks, Sudha started being worried constantly and this worry trickled down to my in-laws, who too became bothered. They were daunted about what would happen to their honour if their daughter could not bear a child? And all the while, I was utterly helpless. I neither could stop my grandmother from constantly ribbing nor could I make my wife feel any better, despite standing for her. My grandmother’s tone towards my wife became more and more bitter and once, she even cited examples of people who had been married twice just because the first wife was unable to produce kids. In a male-dominated society, no-one ever questioned my potency or advised me to go see a doctor. I started wondering what would have happened if, like Maupassant’s famous tale ‘The Story of a Farm Girl’, the flaws were in me and it was my wife who had to face the miseries. After being persistently tantalized, one day, Sudha remarked sarcastically, ‘I am not able to give you kids. Why don’t you remarry?’

I was flabbergasted, words stopped coming to my mind. After sometime, despite knowing precisely the very origin of the sarcasm, I said helplessly, ‘Come on. God knows what brought this thought into your head!’

And one day, God heard us. A soul had started twisting and turning in my wife’s womb. A wave of happiness ran throughout the family. Sudha went to my in-laws, since it would give her proper rest and more importantly peace. Those days, I was posted in a rural town called Bikramganj, and it took me quite a while to negotiate with my stern boss for leave, whose counter-logic was, ‘It’s your wife who has to deliver a baby, not you. What’s your use there?’ After much persuasion, the leave was sanctioned and I rushed to my in-laws’ place – Hazaribag. The doctors had given the expected delivery date to be 5th September plus minus 5 days.

29th Aug, 1989. That day became the most important day of my life. Two days before the estimated date, labour pain had started and I realized that the time had come. At 4 o clock in the morning, when the doctors took her inside an operation theatre, there was no-one else other than me present in the hospital. My in-laws had gone home to fetch breakfast. One hour went by, while the red bulb outside the theatre glowed ferociously. I was moving to and fro across the corridor all the while, my mind absorbed in various speculations, excited as well as worried at the same time. At about 5 in the morning, my wait was finally over, when a nurse came out and shouted, ‘Who is the attendant of Sudha?’

My feet started trembling in excitement and I ran towards her instantly when she gave me the best news that I’ve ever heard in my entire life. She said, ‘Congratulations. Your wife has given birth to a boy. Please stay here, I’ll just bring him.’

I was jumping in joy. I was happier at the fact that there was nobody else around and I could spend the next few hours with my child all alone, hugging him, kissing him and talking to him. Only I would be there, his father. Just then, the door opened and a nurse waved at me and I ran towards her, ‘See your son. The operation has been caesarean.’

I adored him. How delicate and tender did he seem? He was lost in a deep sleep. He was so soft that I felt scared even to touch him. The nurse prevented me to hold him saying, ‘He has contracted infantile jaundice. We’re moving him to neonatology ward, where he would be kept in an incubator for the next seven days.’

Ill-thoughts clouded my head. I started praying for his well-being. I saw through the glasses. Before being laid down into the incubator, I saw his eyes open for just a moment. They seemed to be in search of me, just to reassure me that there was no need to worry, everything was going to be fine. They seemed to be telling me, 'Go and look after Ma, she is eagerly waiting to see you; one week later I would be playing in your lap.'

Just then, my in-laws came when I shared the good-news. Their eyes got wet in ecstasy. I touched their feet. My father-in-law asked me, ‘So, did you see your son? What does he look like? Fair or dark, strong or frail, thin or healthy? Did his features go upon you or Sudha?’

A nurse, who was passing by, said to him, ‘The baby is very weak. He will be under our supervision in an incubator for about one week.’

But then suddenly a voice stirred me from within. I said to everybody around, ‘I don’t know whether his features resemble me or Sudha. If you trust my words, he resembles himself who has the power to break all the traditional bondages. Don’t think of him as weak! He is very strong, powerful and impactful; so powerful that the moment he came in the womb of his mother, nobody dared to say a word against her; so impactful that his birth brought so much relief to me that I even forgot to meet his mother after delivery; so strong, that his father has got a new strength the moment he saw his face – the strength of confidence.’

Really, how joyous it is to be a father.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ideas for Change

Our aim is to assess where gaps and challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) lie and then tell how India can achieve these goals.

Well, to begin with, it seems quite a simple and a straight-forward topic, eight goals - all of them had been hammered into our minds right from the early school days and we all know about them, though not as MDGs but as ways to curb the problems which India is facing - but still the fact that these eight 'simple' goals have not yet been achieved calls for our attention. There is an evident gap, which needs to be analyzed and some firm solutions are needed to subdue this gap.

Before analyzing, a particular question needs to be answered i.e. 'Why are the MDGs so different?' The answer to which may seem quite logical - these goals are people-centered, measurable, they are based on global partnership, they have unprecedented global partnership or they are time-bound but the real answer inevitably is that they are achievable. Yes, they are.

India is a developing country and that too with an ever-booming population. This makes things a bit unmanageable and poverty emerges out as one of the biggest bottlenecks in the progress of this nation. Poverty comes as a big divide - a big gap - in one of the world's fastest growing economy i.e. India by limiting the access to not only the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothes but also it acts like the root of all the adversities that the nation is facing today, with its off-shoots being a latent reason of the high child and maternal mortality rate, ever-growing pollution, struggling primary education and erratic health services.

Where does the gap lie? The gap lies in the policies which are made and their inefficient execution on the grass-root level. Factors are many - we can blame it upon poverty, corruption, illiteracy, economic disparity, lack of ample technical skills and a good infrastructure, unawareness or any other such things; but until and unless, we as not-just-literate-rather-educated citizens of India take part in building this nation and bridging this gap, then only can these MDGs can be efficiently achieved. Unless, we consider our India as 'ours'(Mera India), then only can we bridge the gap.

Then there are issues like AIDS/HIV which have struck the nation with great force in the last few decades. Its a painful fact that two-thirds of HIV /AIDS infections in Asia occur in India only, with an estimated 5.7 million infections (estimated 3.4-9.4 million) (0.9% of population), surpassing South Africa's estimated 5.5 million infections, making India the country with the highest number of HIV+ people in the world. One study predicts that if the AIDS epidemic is not contained, up to 16 million people could be infected by 2016. This would slow the rate of economic growth by up to one percentage point every year. The question here is not where the gap lies because it's something that can't be completely eradicated nor can be cured; instead the question of the hour is - 'how we can check this phenomenon?'

As regular bread-earning citizens of this country, we seldom consider ourselves insufficient to contribute to the development of this big nation. But, we forgot that almost all of 'us' - the common man - have got a simple weapon which has got immense potential to bridge the gap. The weapon is called, in layman's terms as 'education'. Yes, education - it is one such thing that can revolutionize the whole development process - it can create phenomenal change in a short time. You might be thinking how can education help? It can, in a very subtle way. It gives you several tools to contribute - it enables you to read, in a way giving you an opportunity to get yourself aware about almost everything that you need to know about; it enables you to write and express your thoughts, in a way giving you an opportunity to flush out the ignorance/misinformation of others about various important issues like HIV+/AIDS or climate-change; it also enables you to impart your education to the deprived few, after all what it takes to take out just two hours every weekend to go and introduce the destitute to the world of numbers, words and language. There are several NGOs running quite successfully across the country which make it much easier for a common man to count himself in the 'contributors' category. Several AIDS awareness campaigns by common people and NGOs are often seen around the cities and campuses of colleges, which is a healthy sign about people feeling responsible to the society. However, what is required in the present scenario is mass participation from people of all ages.

Amongst other solutions, one key issue which comes is that the Indian education system is making people literate but very few of the literates can be called as 'educated'. India needs great educationists, to have a pool of visionaries who shape the future of country. The best way this can be achieved is by increasing the salaries of the building block of education i.e. teachers. Good teachers ensure good thinking of the coming generation. More salary means teaching becomes a lucrative career line, which attracts talented young men and women towards it, which in turn will groom the coming generations by making them aware, efficient and responsible towards our nation.

Coming to the current situation, with the dark cloud of poverty overshadowing every initiative taken by the government, some new ideas are needed to alleviate this stumbling block. One such idea is helping the farmers financially. India, being an agrarian country, to feed its entire population needs to ensure that the demands of farmers are well taken care of. The shortage of lands, lack of irrigation, insufficient fertilizers and manures should be the priority of the government in its every endeavour. Despite the improvement in these facilities, cheap loans and Gramin Vikas Yojanas running, the government is still running far behind its target with one-fourth of the population which sleeps empty-stomach at nights. Instead of splurging large sums of money in unnecessary political campaigns, if that money is used to uplift the masses, it could create a difference.

Proposed solutions are many, but in the end, the ones which can really solve the problems will be considered as sound ones. But, at least, we should try our best to be a part of the solutions because if we are not a part of the solution, then we are the problem. After all, 'we' need to be the bridge to bridge the gap!

Harsh Snehanshu

P.S. I hate writing essays