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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What's in a name!

I was trying to save an aunt’s phone number to my cell phone today and I typed “so and so’s mom” when suddenly I remembered she also had a name. I deleted whatever I had typed earlier and retyped as ‘Aunt so and so’. But that got me thinking on how many times we narrow down a woman to just been a mother forgetting that she is an individual. She was definitely not born to be a ‘mother only’ or even a ‘sister only’ or a ‘daughter only’. She was born to be all that and much more.

As a mother myself I must admit that being known as “so and so’s mother” gives me so much joy and I don’t mind that at all. But I definitely don’t want to be known ‘always’ as that or even as “so & so’s wife/daughter” only. I have a name, a personality, experiences beyond these roles and I’d like that to be acknowledged and be associated with me.

Another very common thing that I’m learning to ignore (otherwise I might end up boycotting every wedding) is the names written on the ‘Cards’. Holiday seasons brings along with it many wedding cards and greeting cards neatly written ‘Mr & Mrs so and so’ or ‘Mr so and so & family’. I wonder why most people don’t care to write the ‘Mrs’ name or ever wondered if a family could be her name too. There could be only one rare exception to this when a close relative/friend of the lady decide to write her name on the card. To break this system, we did try to write ‘Mr so & so and Mrs so & so’ on our wedding invitation cards whether people noticed it or not, but I was happy doing that. This exercise made me realized that we didn’t know many women’s names while the men’s name so very easily came to us. Should we say it’s an ‘old habits die hard’? Or is it conspicuous obliteration of an identity?

I think it’s appropriate to narrate a small experience here. When my baby was born, she was made to wear a band on her wrist written, ‘Baby Ashuni’ (or was it on the crib?). I must have been the happiest person to see that. I beamed with pride and made sure that everybody who came to visit us at the hospital saw that band. I thought it was so apt then that she was known by that name as she was an extension of my body. However, that joy was very short lived! As soon as she was given a name of her own, she became ‘Areine Deborah’ d/o ‘Veio Pou’. Of course, I would not want her to be known by my name forever, but at that moment I felt like the equal credit of being one of her parent was snatched away. Upon naming, the child becomes the father’s and my name disappeared just like that! I feel the hurt till today.

When such ‘small’ issues, as they are called, come to bother me, my father used to console me saying “what’s in a name!” My husband now uses these exact words to console me. From being a girl and my parents’ daughter to now a lady and my husband’s wife, these issues have continued to bother me and I can safely say that, ‘A whole life is in a name’. Yes, I am proud to a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother. But I am also a proud ‘me’.

Coming to the point where I started, in a culture where addressing an elder by name is not considered appropriate, we might have as well ignored knowing the names of our friends’ parents! But if it comes to searching our memories to remember their names; most likely we would know the father’s name and not the mother’s. Is memory selective or is it simply fed with the dominant ideology in the society? Is it simply ignorance which we inherited and we forgot to think about it? Or, is it our general attitude towards women that makes them lesser valued and their names less important? 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

‘My Hero’ series: Honoring a teacher - Rokho

That's Rokho with Daughter
All Photo taken from Rokho's facebook page with permission
The first time I heard his soft yet deep toned voice was over the phone. He was then serving in the Border Security Force (BSF) and was posted somewhere in Punjab. It was very rare or rather the only time that my husband, then my fiancĂ©, would make me talk to his friends over phone. Later, I learned that it was him who insisted to talk to me. He was one of my husband’s childhood friends. His name is Rokho Duomai.

A year later after the telephonic talk, I met him in person during our wedding where he was a signatory witness. He along with some other friends and my husband took me around introducing me to all the fields, jungles and the people of their village, Phuba Thapham. He and his wife have two beautiful kids, a girl and a boy. The daughter, the older one, happens to be of the same age as my daughter. Upon my request, they have also agreed to make our daughters ‘khyo’, a lifelong friendship bond traditionally made between boys and hopefully some day soon we can complete the ritual that seals the ‘khyo’. After the death of his father, as the elder son he also took the responsibility of raising his younger siblings, one of them whom I happen know well is currently studying in the prestigious IIT, Delhi. He and some other friends also started an initiative of giving scholarships to deserving girl students studying in the village. These are some of the many reasons why I value him and his family. But above all these, he’s a hero and here’s why…

Most people from Manipur who got education from outside the state prefer pursuing their career outside the state including the likes of me. Reasons may vary from lack of opportunity to corruption to occasionally security concerns (though outsider may see that as the main reason). But here was one who decided to go back, not because he did not find other greener pastures elsewhere, but because he wanted to. And unlike many others who do go back for want of easy living where no one dares to question insincerity at workplace, he went to make a difference. Not only did he go back but he also joined education department, the most notorious (according to my judgment) of all departments in corruption. Either the enthusiastic new employee (how they are recruited is another story I’m choosing to ignore at the moment) is greeted with a school that does not exist or a school whose building has become a cow shed.

The School Campus
Experience had made me a little skeptical even about ‘good’ people who do go back home with positive determination but eventually becoming part of the system, if not worst. I don’t necessarily blame them for what becomes of them as the state of affairs happen to be against anybody who tries to be better. So, few years into his service as the Assistant Head Master at the Government High school at Phuba, when I met him last winter I did not have much expectation.

Meeting him and seeing his work however was an excitingly new experience. I was informed that he didn’t bribe anyone to get his job! This piece of information definitely did rekindle my lost hope in Manipur.  Besides, he still had the motivation and his work reflected genuine passion. The school didn’t have a Head Master for some reason but I’m glad they didn’t have one as Rokho can function as the Head. He literally brought the dead school alive. Along with the rejuvenation of the school hopes returned for the most vulnerable children of the village. Among my definition of the most vulnerable includes orphans, whose responsibilities are usually shared among relatives, children of widows, children of single mothers, girl children of big family whose parents can only afford the education of their boys, disabled children and the likes.  Despite many struggling in the process most other people were somehow able to send their children away from the village to the nearby towns and cities for education.

I saw the joy on his face when he took us to show the buildings that were coming up in school campus. He informed us that some of the rooms would be used to accommodate the growing numbers of students in the school. Some others were to be used as hostels for students from neighboring villages where schools don’t exist or rather don’t function. And to add to the good news was that the villagers themselves mobilized and contributed to the building of these structures coming up. I am of the opinion that it is the government’s duty to provide such infrastructure, but when the government mechanism fails to work and the common people are able to take over for a time being while advocating at the government level, I’m happy about it.
Students During PT class

Running the school without having the full strength of appointed teachers is another issue he had to deal with. He, along with few of the appointed teachers who make it to school, take extra classes whenever possible. Besides, other educated people from the village are also taken in as substitute teachers to make up for those teachers who refuse to work for the salary they get from the government. I’m told that few of these so called ‘teachers’ donate to the actual teachers who are teaching on their behalf some amount from their pay. Besides, the community people again contribute to the salary of the substitute teachers.

Lost in my own dreams for the school, I asked him what his dream was for the school. That the school will become the best in the region or that the school produces board exam toppers were some of the answers I was expecting. However, he very nicely brought me back to reality with this simple answer, “I wish more children will get enrolled to the school and start studying.”

This is the kind of teacher I celebrate this day. Happy Teachers Day! 

***If anyone is interested in contributing some amount to Rokho’s car project, you can email to

Friday, July 26, 2013

Decoding the ‘Ad’ Dabur honey

Though a media person by profession, I don’t really watch television as a subject of study but mostly for entertainment. And when I watch the TV, I’ve intentionally made a habit of watching the advertisements along with the programs as a sign of respect for the advertisement industry and also as a gratitude to the brands that makes possible the airing of the TV shows. However, lately the advertisement of Dabur Honey which keeps popping up during the commercial break of my favorite TV serial has gotten on my nerve.  I’m talking about the ‘ad’ where the lady (acted by Bipasha Basu) is constantly worried about gaining weight and doubts if her guy (sorry I couldn't find his name despite Google) will still love her if she gains weight. And not to forget the slogan at the end that goes on to say, ‘Stay fit, feel young’.

If media is to be blamed for reinforcing stereotypes, this ‘ad’ is a perfect example.  Here, the stereotype image is created not only for both the gender but also for old age. It indirectly or rather directly tells its audience that women are an object of gaze for men and that woman exist for men. The lady is portrayed as an insecure partner who’s always trying to win the acceptance of the man. It also reinforces the idea that to be beautiful is to be slim and to be young. It also goes on to depict men as easily fallible to physical beauty of women, and that when ‘this’ beauty of their partner fades, they would leave them.

In the longer version which I happen to see while writing this piece actually had a pleasant surprise moment. There was a voice over which said that the question is not only about gaining his love but the question is also about loving yourself. This voice over does not necessarily save the ad from its stereotypical imagery but at least it had some reasonable reason, or at least that’s what I feel. However, sadly, this portion was conveniently edited out for the broadcast version.

Now, if it is true that media reinforces stereotypes, it is also equally true that media is also a reflection of what the society is. What concerns me more than the ‘ad’ itself is the mindset behind creating such an ‘ad’.  And if it had gone through the typical process, the idea would have been conceived by a person or a group of persons, approved by another person or group of persons, than the idea finally bought by the client who consisted, again, of one or more persons. This, than, mean that most people, if not all, who are responsible for this ‘ad’ going on air have mindsets as visible in this piece of work.
On a personal level, I’m neither against the Dabur brand nor against honey. I believe in living healthy and also believe in honey as a means to good health. My only regret is that Dabur allowed such a mindset to be represented through its well known brand name.  

Note: - I’m not sharing the ‘ad’ link here lest the number of share increased is misinterpreted. But for those who have not seen the ‘ad’, it’s available on youtube. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

IT'S TIME WE CARE: a thought on World Environment Day

The stretch from Mao Gate to Imphal on the historic National Highway (NH) 39, now renamed NH 2, has been my most frequently travelled road. It holds many mixed memories ranging from life threatening situations to life’s simplest joys. Among many others was the memory of the picturesque scenery of lavish green forest and springs of water gushing down from the mountains running into the river below. With such splendors all around, it was easy to fall into a world of daydreams and by the end of the journey be thoroughly renewed.

Slash and burn - Photo taken on the highway
However over the years, I've witnessed the rapid deterioration of this rich land into an almost pitiable one. I've watched in pain the green mountains being stripped off their natural beauty at many places. And now they are mere bare-backs of yellow landmass. I am neither expert in environment nor an agriculturalist but I’m told that the degradation visible to my layman eyes is caused due to extensive practice of ‘Jhum’/ ‘shifting cultivation’ besides timber business.

The outcome - Photo taken on the highway 
With the growing population, the need for food has increased by manifold and thus the increase in abuse of the environment. This need has also further shortened the cycle period of jhum cultivation to 3 or 4 years and sometimes even lesser when actually the years needed for recharging such land is at least 10 years. So, for this reason, besides many other reasons, I think it’s wise to promote small family.

Terrace fields - Photo courtesy: Veio Pou
On the other hand, we have been practicing terrace cultivation for growing rice for generations now. Unlike jhum cultivation, this form of cultivation is environment friendly as it prevents soil erosion and retains the fertile top soil. So, can we employ this method to grow other crops in large scale too? I’m told that elsewhere people successful grow potatoes, maize and others on terrace fields. If some people have been successfully growing other crops on terrace fields in our region, I think they should share their experiences and encourage others to do so too.

The other issue that concerns me is how to increase production without further expanding the farm land. Obviously, we can no longer afford to bring down the limited forest areas. Towards this end, will it be possible for us to adopt the System Rice Intensification (SRI) method of cultivating rice? This system has been widely accepted to be environment friendly and at the same time yield more crops in the same area of land as compared to traditional method. On a very small scale, I had asked my sister to try this out on an experimental basis and the result seems quite positive. I may be wrong but I see some hope in this system.

Right now I feel so hypocritical writing this sitting in an air conditioned room. But the concerns are real, believe me. I genuinely wish to see the stretch from Mao Gate to Imphal regain its lost glory. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

No Barbie for my kid …. At least for now

Debbie at work
Mothering a two and half year old girl I have now lost track of how many times people have asked me why I haven’t bought her a Barbie. To be very frank, initially I had the same feeling about Barbies as I have with many other items that I see in the departmental stores. I’m talking about the feeling that I get when I see those beautiful bright shinning items under the well illuminated shelf which I never knew existed but suddenly I badly need them. Similarly, I didn’t realize my kid needed to play with Barbie dolls until I saw every other kid playing with it!
Without thinking deeper into it, I had planned to buy a nice Barbie or two for her. As a kid I had loved dressing up dolls and hand stitching small clothes for them, I remember admiring Barbie dolls in the shops and wishing I had one for myself. While reminiscing my childhood days, the fun that I had and the fun I missed out, I wanted to fulfill them all for my child.
However before I could buy one, I was suddenly alarmed by the increasing number of people asking me when I plan to buy my child a Barbie. I stopped and contemplated on why the craze over this particular kind of toy. When I started analyzing, I realized I’ve never come across an ‘imperfect’ Barbie. Every Barbie is adorned with the perfect zero size body, the perfect fair skin and all other perfect features. And this scares me! Before anyone gets me wrong, I must say that I’m neither against perfection nor against striving for it. But yes, I’m definitely against created and assumed perfections which are mostly unnatural. It is also a reality that striving for such meaningless perfection has become so much a part of our lives that many times we think that it is a natural process. Consciously or unconsciously I also catch myself persuing such perfection.
What worries me is what if my child tries to model such perfection? I can foresee strict dieting, extreme exercising, sleepless nights, short lived excitements, frustration and even depression. Even without a Barbie, I have been through my share of striving for such perfection and felt the frustration it caused. I have also watched in pain and sympathy younger girls trying to tread this path and any advice based on my experiences were looked upon as an old fashioned advice. Therefore considering all these factors, I became convinced not to buy my kid a Barbie for now.   
Well, I’m not here to blame Barbie for the wrong going on in the society. But my fear is that it can enhance the problem. So, for now till I find a Barbie that stands out to defy this meaningless perfection, I will not buy a Barbie for my child. And, I not buying it may not change the world but even if it’s just for the sake of making a statement, I will. Yes, I appreciate the launching of dark skinned Barbies and that’s definitely a step closer to making me a customer.  
As for my child I would want her to understand that her fair skin is in no way superior to dark skin. I would also want her to remind a good and hopefully a healthy eater too. I would want her to take good care of body and present herself as well as she can. Finally, she may not have the perfect body and height as the world sees perfection but be proud of who she is and what she is made up of.

On a lighter note, I don’t intend to throw away Barbie gifts. I also accept that maybe some day my girl might just give me her ‘pleasssseeee’ look and I fall for it.