‘Satyameva’ Khan, Sunday ke Sunday

Wonder what goes through the minds of perpetrators of abuse and excesses when they watch Amir Khan’s  Satyameva Jayate.  Would they feel guilty ? Would they fathom the  consequences of the  cruelty they perpetrated ?   Short of naming them,  the victims  appearing on the show profiled  their oppressors and their acts in such graphic terms that they should  fall steeply  in their own eyes.

Maybe,  one of these days we get to read in the papers  about one of these guys taking his own life  out of remorse. Maybe someone guilty calls Amir Khan to  apologize on camera. Maybe  I’m daydreaming.

Anyway,  the Sunday 11 a m TV show anchored by film actor/maker Amir Khan is watched by almost everyone I have met.  Having missed the first two episodes,  I found myself conversationally inadequate in any gathering of  friends and neighbours,   who seemed to have  nothing else to talk about for a day or two after an episode.  If you live in a close-knit gated community, as I do, you simply can’t escape  Satyameva chat among residents you run into,  at the clubhouse or the grocery shop in our Chennai apartments complex.

The last straw was my son’s weekly call from California. And he talked about….you guessed it.  When he heard my wife and I  hadn’t watched either of the two episodes   our son promptedly e-mailed the YouTube link to the Amir Khan Shows –  about abuses on women and children.  Now that I have watched them on YouTube I feel updated ;  and  can’t help talking about the  episodes I just watched , while others,  having had their say, are waiting for next  Sunday’s episode.

I don’t know if Amir Khan was inspired by anyone,  but I see a  touch of Oprah in his show.  Both score high marks  on being thorough in their approach to any issue they take up . The format covers  case studies,  victims interview,  relevant research or govt. committee report,  expert comments,  and a summing-up.  At the end of the hour,  I was  left reasonably rattled by the revelations – that 53 percent of our children fall victim to some form of abuse;  that culprits are usually someone known to the victim and trusted by her/his family.  In many cases he is part of family – an uncle,  grandpa or someone so close as that.  There was this case where a schoolgirl falls a prey to indecent advances made by  a teacher who comes home to coach her in maths,  history or whatever.

Girls raped at tender age   by live-in relatives,  and married women forced into abortion for carrying a female in womb suffer in silence.  In rare cases where child victims gather courage to speak,  their accounts are hardly believed or their complaints taken seriously,  more often,  by their own parents.  Victims of abuses get trapped in a  ‘can’t talk, aren’t believed’  syndrome.

Amir Khan has got some of them talking , on camera;  and their gut-wrenching stories prompts  us to  re-define relationships within extended families,  re-draw lines of permissibility. Vulnerable children and,  particularly, their parents can’t be faulted, if  they start   looking over their shoulders,  so to speak ,  at friends and relatives with penchant to get too close to their young ones.

We have had just two weeks of  Satyameva Jayate  (SJ).  It would,  perhaps,  take 20 more episodes for  Satyameva Jayate to become an unfailing  weekly habit . And then,  every  Sunday, 11 a m,  would the  Amir Khan Hour,  nationwide.  Undoubtedly,  Amir Khan is on to a good thing.  My concern is,  if a busy celebrity of his stature would continue to  find the time and energy to sustain the weekly show, at a reasonably high bench-mark he has set for himself in the initial episodes.  Would he re-visit topics he has covered,  in later episodes ? For issues such as female  foeticide and child abuse couldn’t be wished away with a single celebrity show.

As Khan says,  the magic wand that makes things happen is within each of us.  We could do our little bit to put our shoulders to the conversational wheel Amir Khan has set in motion, nationwide. I don’t know  if  Cindrella and Harish Iyer would consider opening  a Facebook page  to encourage others who have been through such hell  to come out of their closets to talk out their past. The Amir Khan Show has got the country talking about issues we have till date  refrained from mentioning even within the confines of our living rooms,  let alone on national television. And bloggers could keep the talk going with their posts,  reviewing what Amir Khan brings up in his weekly episodes.

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A childhood with grandpa

When you grew up, or raised your own kids, did you have an experience which felt 100% real to you? So said the IndiBlogger e-mail announcing the Kissanpur contest.

I couldn’t recall right away any anecdote or childhood incident that fit the bill. It is easier to think of episodes in life that made you ‘feel good’, but are they necessarily the ones that give you the feel that they are real,100 percent ? The real-feel episode I share in this post wasn’t a feel-good one while I went through the phase. But as I look back on it, I feel it was as real as they come.

If it wasn’t for IndiBlogger e-mail, I wouldn’t have strayed so far down the memory lane, some 65 years back, to dredge up a childhood that I spent with  thatha (grandpa). This was in mid-1940s when I was less than 10 years old, living away from parents, with my grand-parents. When my parents moved to New Delhi – father being in a govt. job – they left me behind under the charge of grand parents in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu.
The primary school I went to,  in Telugu Brahmin St., was across the road from my grandparents’ place. Periappa – father’s elder brother – was the school head-master. Which wasn’t such a good arrangement. My uncle, a stern disciplinarian, was  a terror in the school. What was worse, besides being the school head, he took Class IV.  And, as his nephew, I wasn’t shown any favour, though they counted me among his favorites, off school. He made me stand up on the bench (a standard punishment) even for minor lapses such as talking to someone across bench,  trading match-box labels or cigarette-pack fronts  with classmates during school-hours.

At home grandpa, a retired cop,  ran our household of three – that is, grandma and me – a bit like a police training establishment. I had a time-table for meals, play, study, and sleep. The only grace-time (when I could do whatever I felt like) was when grandpa had his afternoon snooze. But then I was away in school, on week days, returning home at 4.30 p m. By which time grandpa would be up and about.
Grandmother, subject to her time-table, occasionally flouted it.  She would simply disappear next door – like they do for water-cooler breaks in offices –  for a mid-day gossip with neighbour; or she would linger longer than  warranted, at our door front chatting thayirkari (lady selling buttermilk door to door).

Grandma got away with it,  but I wouldn’t dare flout the routine, set for study and play. Regulation play-time started at 5 p m, when I escorted thatha to the neighbourhood Gandhi park. He took a designated park bench for listening the evening radio programme relayed all over the park through a public address system. I wasn’t obliged to listen to radio, though. Grandpa would let me try the swings, slides and things in the play area. An hour and quarter later, 6.30 pm,  we headed home.

Study time, under thatha’s watchful guidance, started at 7 p m. An hour later,  he retired for 15 mins.  to the kitchen for evening meals. On his return, 8.15 p m, ,thatha made his own bed  on a cement slab embedded in a corner of his room. What followed was 15 minutes of question time, when thatha would ask me something, anything,  from class lessons, lying in bed.  At 8.30 p m, as if on cue, patti (grandma) showed up at thatha’s door to summon me for meals. That was the signal to which I looked forward the whole evening; the signal that my day was done.

Such small delights made my day. Grandma, as most of the clan are,  was considerate. She would even let me sit in at after-dinner gossip session grandma held with neighbours at the door-front thinnai ( a cement platform to seat a gossip group).

I hate to admit this, my feelings were mixed – sad, if somewhat relieved –  when thatha passed away . At the age of 11  I rejoined  my parents in New Delhi

Marathon runner

A marathon runner has been,  for me,  an un-understood entity ;  and there was a time when I used to think it was something Ethiopians did.  Anyway, I didn’t give a thought to the prospect of ever meeting  anyone who did 26.2 miles  in one go.  This was till I met Dr Srinivas  a couple of years back.  But then I first knew him as a research scientist (at Berkeley) before I got to learn about  his marathon exploits.

A research lab,  I would have thought,  is the least likely place to nurse a marathon runner.  That Dr Srinivas averages a 14 hour-day at his lab, seven days a week,  makes him even  a less likely candidate to be in this business of long-distance running.  What makes his case  all the more baffling is his  ‘fairly complicated’ domestic life.  Didn’t I say  I couldn’t understand marathon runners ?

I can’t say I still do,  after reading Dr Srinivas blog post describing his latest marathon at Sacramento earlier this month.  His narrative about a mindset and fighting spirit that kept him going,  against a body in revolt made  engaging read. After reading him Dr Srinivas struck me as someone capable of  invoking a mental stamina that triumphs over a battered body.

As he put it,  marathon running, was for most part,  a mentality,  as it became evident to him early in the race . At Mile-10  he already started feeling  his ‘body  falling apart’. And there were 16 more miles to go. It was  at this stage Dr Srinivas  decided to ignore his body that kept telling  him to slow down, eat,  and replenish his electrolytes.  This would have been good for  his body;  but,  would have at the same time,  made him feel a loser.

This was when  Dr Srinivas  did what his book prescribed  for marathon runners,  at the mid-way point. Determined to stay on track, he pushed himself beyond physical parameters for extreme stress.  But then he had also to contend with an   ‘ego in tatters, and a  sense of self-loathing’.  His book didn’t tell how to cope with this.

It was at this point – Mile-19 –  that Dr Srinivas had a call from wife  Maya on his cellphone.  She wanted to know how he was doing ;  and he could hear his little daughter Ila on the phone. He couldn’t  be telling them about the state of battered ego. Dr Srinivas doesn’t  tell us what he told his wife.  But her phone call did seem to work wonders on him. He swallowed some salt tablet,  ate and drank as  much as he could, and focused on making it to the finish line – still over six miles  away.

On his final mile Dr Srinivas felt his body rebel against his sprits –  he could sense his  abdominal muscles going in spasms,  calf-muscles  contracting,  and toes curling into his  shoes.  Spirit was still willing  – “If  I had to crawl the last mile, I was going to finish the bloody marathon”.  And he did – all 26.2 miles of it, in four hours.  Which was 30 minutes more than the timeline he had set for himself. But Dr  Srinivas had gained 54 minutes over his previous performance in  San Francisco.

Where would it be next, Dr Srinivas ?  My hunch is Baltimore.  Maya mailed me they are moving there  early in the new year.   Johns  Hopkins  would soon have a marathon runner on their faculty.

Sunitha’s TED talk

Name: Dr. Sunitha Krishnan,  40,   mental health worker.

Work :  Giving voice to the voiceless sex-abuse victims ; an identiy to these ‘Anamikas’ ; helping them build up self-confidence  Has  rescued and rehab-ed  3,200 sex-abused females, aged  from three years to 40.

Motivation :  Gang-raped by eight men when she was 16 ; ostricised by society for the next two years.

Job hazard:   Has been beaten up many times by  thugs,  pimps and brothel keepers ; one of her staff members was killed in her effort to  rescue  a sex-abused woman.

Her TED talk:  12.42 mins  indictment of  our society;  scathing commentary on victimisation of victims of sexual abuse.

Her poser:   Would we accept one of these Anamikas  into  our homes as maid, house nurse or nanny ? Would we feel comfortable with  their children playing and moving  with ours ? Till such time there are not enough of us who can say,  ‘Yes, we will’,   Sunitha feels her work wouldn’t be done.

Her wish:  Each of us talks  this through to at least two others in our family and social circle. They,  in turn, could do the same with two of their contacts.

My wish:  All TV channels,  notably,  those dedicated to religious faiths, should telecast Sunitha’s TED talk.

Child labour in posh flats

Snag is many of us don’t even see any wrong-doing in employing  child labour for household work.  And many who have a chokra or mundu in residence believe they are  doing the  unfortunate children and their parents  a huge favour by  giving them a livelihood.  Children in household jobs are,  in most cases,  brought from the employer’s native village with the consent of  their parents.

In  a few cases a  faithful boy from the village comes with a bride in the family, as part of  the ‘dowry’ she brings. Our movies glorify  child labour by portraying the leading man in a family drama as someone who came into the family as chokra . Viewed in the light of the middle-class indifference to the issue and  the domestic compulsions of parents who send their children out to  work in cities,  The Hindu report makes refreashing reading.  According to the report,  it was the Mangalore media that first took it  up with the authorities.  The newspaper not only played the story on  Page One, it also identified the  wrong-doers –  a  local businessman and a doctor couple.  Whether or not they get punished under the  law such negative publicity may well be deterrent  to others in their social circle.

Classroom blogs

Many of us  get excited  reading  about  innovative  ideas/practices  adopted by others, elsewhere.  Some  rush to blog about it. I usually sign off such posts with a stock query,‘why can’t we?’. We have a blog –  Giving It A Shot –  dedicated to why-can’t-we  posts.

We blogged about  California Youth Energy Services  that engages students  to visit homes in their communities  to conduct energy audits and offer simple energy-saving repairs.  Ashwin picked on the idea for trying it out in Mysore.  With help from some teachers,  he has initiated a training programme for students of  Vidyavardhaka school,Kuvempunagar, in conducting household energy audit .

While he is at it,  we would like to see  Ashwin  volunteer  his expertise in IT applications  for initiating his school contacts into  what they call  Edublogging

Schoolblog 002Teachers,  notably in some Kendriya Vidyalayas,  are familiar with web usage. Principal of a Trivandrum school is quoted in their website  as saying, “Blogomania has hit the portals of KV Pattom too!…I wish all the students and staff members to be part of this ‘techno’  milestone in the history of our Vidyalaya”.

But then school websites , as a teaching tool,  have limitations.  Website maintenance and updating  call for additional work by teachers. In blogs such labour is in-built. Working a blog is simpler and more straight-forward.  A blog,once set up, is sustained by input from  participant teachers and students.

As a teaching tool, a  blog can be used for keeping class-room discussions going  online,  beyond school hours. Teachers can build a blog or start a new topic for discussion by simply typing the text into a box and clicking  ‘publish’  button.

Other benefits of a class-room blog:

1)   It facilitates feedback – a teacher can react to what his sutdents write on a given  topic;  and students can respond to each other leaving  comments online.

2)  Enables teachers to initiate  discussion among students on  issues and concerns of public interest; and to assign students projects that entail Internet search.

3)  Teachers and students are likely to put a lot more thought to what they blog,  when they realise that their writings are open to scrutiny by other students,  and parents as well.

4)  A blog facilitates networking with peers in other schools,  in other parts of the country and the world.

A Sunday afternoon with Ila

BerkeleyAug9 057Her parents had asked us over to Berkeley Marina to picnic with 16-month-old Ila.  On a clear day, they say, if you look hard,  and far enough into the waters,  you could even catch a glimpse of San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge from the spot where we picnicked. To be precise, the picnic  invite was for my grandsons – Nikhil,18 months, and Sidharth,three years – and I tagged along, as live-in cheer leader,  always at hand to marvel at their playfulness.

On this Sunday afternoon, however, the person I came to marvel was Ila –  her ever-smiling face, her observant eyes, indeed, her very presence among us on the outdoors.  The last time I saw her, nearly an year ago, Ila was no more than a breathing bundle of tissues and bones,  with a smile nonetheless, sustained by medicines, and sheer tenacity of her parents.Her father Srinivas attributes Ila’s remarkable recovery to  “too much fight in the little girl to let adversity, unspeakable pain, and a constant threat to life interfere with her sense of fun”. 

I had little knowledge of Ila’s medical condition till I read her father’s blog.  Last updated in April, the blog gives a perceptive account of Ila’s state of health and the state of mind of her parents.  When she was barely eight weeks old Ila was diagnosed,  and she went through a five-hour surgery for Biliary Atresia,  a medical condition pertaining to malformation of the gall bladder and bile duct. The liver fails to drain the bile salts into the intestines, resulting in cirrhosis. The surgery Ila had to go through,when she was no more than two months old, was a “frighteningly long (5 hours) marvel of medical procedure” with an intimidating name – Kasai’s portoenterostomy.  As she was undergoing this surgery Ila’s father, waiting it out at the lobby, ‘went through a thousand kinds of hell’  at the thought of her pain and heartbreaking predicament.

And a million more hells were to be endured yet,  in the coming weeks and months. I recall Meera,  my daughter-in-law and a doctor, telling me that during the weeks following the surgery Ila’s fluctuating health condition necessitated frequent spells of intensive care at the  hospital. She showed signs of mild jaundice at the age of 5 months, and also ‘a sub-optimal growth’. This was an unmistakable pointer that Ila  needed a liver transplant.

What  followed in the lives of Ila and her parents  is best described by her father:  Ila’s condition deteriorated at record speed…Maya and I were told we needed to be assessed to be live donors. Ila was admitted to the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital.

BerkeleyAug9 031After scores of tests done on Ila and her parents Maya was chosen as the live donor of the left-lateral lobe of the liver.Dr.Waldo Concepsion came out of the examination room describing ‘how gorgeous Maya’s liver is’. Dr.Carlos Esquivel,who did the transplant,  pronounced Ila’s  ‘the sickest liver I have seen in a long time’.  Of the team of surgeons Ila’s father had this to say – “I would gladly surrender my ego to these Gods and offer them my life long servitude if I did not know it would only embarrass them”.

Memo to blogger Srinivas: Those concerned with the ongoing healthcare reform debate would benefit from your perspective on the functioning of the prevalent system.