Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Unsigned Letter

Sometimes we stumble upon things which force us to thank our stars that we haven't been exposed to them. Yet, in our own small way we want to contribute and help the victims. The letter that follows is one such collection of words which made me cringe at this harsh reality. This letter was written by an Indian woman revealing the true face of FGM- Female Genital Mutilation.

“Dear Molly,

I am an Indian woman living in Mumbai and I attended a seminar in the United States recently where you spoke on the subject of Female Genital Cutting in Africa.  That day, I know I was the most intent of all listeners, the most interested in what you had to say. Why, you might ask?

It is because I, an Indian woman who has been to University, have myself experienced the practice of FGC.  I know this may surprise you, but it is true.  Did you know that FGC also exists in India?  Many people do not, not even many Indians!

I hail from the Dawoodi Bohra community, whose head is called the Syedna – we are a sect of the Shias, which came to India from Yemen some centuries ago.

As in many parts of the world, parents in the Bohra community suffered from “son stroke” as did my parents, who prayed hard for a son, after having four girls. They did succeed and we finally had a boy in the family.

I was the third among four sisters.  We were very close and shared many secrets. But none of us, not the ones before me, nor I myself, ever shared or warned the ones closest to us about the frightening and incomprehensible experience that we would one day be forced to go through.  It was not spoken about then and it is not spoken about even today.
I am 60 years old now, but will remember that fateful day for the rest of my life. I must have been around 7 years old when my mother told me we were going to my grandma’s house to spend the day with her.  When we reached my grandma’s house, my cousin (my mum’s sister’s daughter), who was a year younger than me, was also there. We were happy to meet each other.

Then, we were both led to a small room, which had a bed and asked to lie down. We kept asking “Why?” Suddenly, a lady dressed in black came into the room. By now, my cousin and I were terrified, not aware of what was to follow.

Our dresses were pulled up and our panties pulled off, and we were asked to keep our legs apart.  There were our mothers and our aunts holding our legs apart and then I felt something cold being applied to my clitoris, and then to my horror, the lady in black, actually held a scissor-like instrument and cut me there – I screamed and screamed but no one seemed to care. Then this same thing was done to my cousin, who was right next to me on the same bed.

Both of us kept screaming and crying in pain. Everyone left the room and asked us to lie down with our legs apart, and told us that all would be well soon. They locked us in for almost the whole day. The burning and painful sensation between my groins is something I will never ever forget.

I felt betrayed by and angry with my mother and humiliated too.  I just could not understand how my mother could have been so cruel and put me through this horrific experience.  Much later I was told that all Bohra girls must go through it, and that it is ‘good’ for you.  I then understood that my mother had no choice, that for her, she was only doing what was expected of her.  She was being a “good mother” because this is a practice that had been carried out in our Bohra group for centuries and was considered essential for a woman’s good reputation and marriage chances.

Little did I know that this would affect my sexual life to such a great extent that reaching an orgasm would be a difficult thing for me!

My husband and I have made sure that our daughter does not go through the same thing. We warned his mother and mine that they dare not do anything behind our backs.  We know of friends from my generation, who did not want their girls to go through FGC, but often it was the grandma or the aunts who took them away and secretly got it done!

The sad part is that my sisters and I, and my cousins too, did not really discuss our experience till many years later. We have spent years feeling shame and humiliation for a senseless act that we were subjugated to as children, incapable of defending our human right to keep all organs of our body.

I regret also, dear Molly that I cannot reveal my name to you, as I am not certain of the best way to help put an end to this practice that still persists on a large scale in the Dawoodi Bohra community of India.  However, your explanation of how people themselves changed this social convention in Africa through discussing non judgmental information on the dangers and human rights violations of FGC, then allowing people to collectively abandon the practice, seems the best way forward.

In the meantime, I hope that you will publish this letter to let others know that women suffer greatly from this practice, not only in Africa, but in other countries such as India as well.  Women need to break the silence and support one another in this effort so that our daughters will have a brighter future in the years to come”.

Friday, July 27, 2012

With a Thinking Hat...

Beware: This article essentially contains the random musings of the blogger.

Sitting on the steps separating my serene little balcony from the furious waters of the river of wonders created right at my doorstep by this blessed monsoon, I can think of nothing but the small surprises life sometimes gifts us. They come when you expect them the least, often teasing out a smile your lips weren’t aware of. At the time of writing, I have no specific reason to be so elaborate with my words. But I do have every reason to be happy.

When I see big, fat raindrops falling from the heavens above I am always reminded of what my hindi teacher at school, Mrs Minocha, used to say. She would say that no one, not even these drops of water, know their true destiny. If they fall into a snakes mouth, they become venom…but if they fall into a seep (a pearl’s shell), it is transformed into a magnificent pearl.

Life does something really beautiful. It takes our hand and leads us to our ultimate destination. All the while, it lets us pretend that we are making our own path; that we are our own masters. But along the way it gives us presents, relief, joy just when we are about to wear out. What else do you call the silent beauty of the moon when you look at it after a long day’s work? Does it not transport you to a different world, away from the drudgery of everyday life?

To me that moment every morning when I open my eyes is perhaps the most magical. Each night before I yield to my dreams, I make plans for my future, both immediate and distant. I’m certain all of you do that. We sleep with hope (rather the assumption) that we are definitely going to wake up when the sun rises next. What happens if we don’t? Our first breath at dawn is perhaps the best gift nature gives us every day, day after day, for years on end. And yet it is appreciated only by few nutcases like me with empty heads bent on thinking what I think.

Close your eyes for a minute. Please do…I am really serious. Are you still reading this? No? Good… It is really difficult right? Foregoing your optical powers for even a few minutes? Life becomes colorless, literally. Isn’t that another great gift of Mother Nature? Isn’t it another wonderful achievement? We can do this with each part of your body. So if your machinery has all its parts in place, we should send a note of thanks to Him right away.

It is infinitely simple to crib about your life, curse God for messing it up and not giving it the attention it deserves. But it is really difficult to appreciate the little things which He did give us, which not only make our life bearable, but also make it enjoyable. Without these our lives would perhaps be the most unhappening affair in town…living a full life would have been a boring and tiring occupation…

Today, in front of you, I resolve to live a full life…a happy life…a content life…and to forever abstain from a life which might be, in any form, approaching a terrible replacement, with the breath of fresh air blown out.

I hope you will too

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I vividly remember that summer when my well-meaning parents made me endure the torture of swimming classes. If I had to describe the experience in one word I would call it horrible (^1000).
Ever since my little brain realized that one of its functions is to store my memories, it has just stocked up on bad memories of swimming pools. Even as a kid, I wasn’t very fond of testing my swimming abilities in still water. It is not that I was allergic to water; I love visiting water parks…the oceans and seas being major favourites. But I just detested swimming pools. I feared them.

And fear is exactly what I am writing about today. The dictionary defines fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.” In my case the threat was imagined. But I was definitely, positively and surely afraid of those blue depths.

While I suffered from a very mild form of this intense emotion, other people around me are plagued by worse forms.

1)      FEAR OF FAILURE: Almost everyone fears failure. It is that one dreaded word which spells doom for most. Mistakes are looked down upon and the guilty is often labeled incompetent.
What we do not realize is that failure and mistakes are essential to success. Errors do not taint achievements, they add to their value. No task in this world can be completed without a cycle of efforts, failures and finally success.
2)      FEAR OF NOT LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS: Expectations, though often perceived as a source of motivation, can also make our life a living hell.
Children are worried about fulfilling their parents’ dreams while subordinates are always trying to live up to the expectations of their boss. It is of paramount importance for us to understand that we should just give our best shot. Nothing more, nothing less.
3)      FEAR OF UPSETTING/LOSING SOMEONE CLOSE:                This kind of fear is also fairly common. In small amounts, it is in fact good for every relationship. But when it takes unexplainably large proportions, it is the last nail in the coffin. Partners tend to become over-possessive. Frustration creeps in in the absence of proper dialogue. Such irrational fear often leads to a low self- esteem and lack of stability in inter-personal relationships.

The list can go on. We know that fear of any kind hampers growth. It might interfere with the psychological development of an individual. In severe cases, the victim might totally withdraw from society. Ever wondered why majority of the cases of child abuse go unreported? It is because the children fear rejection and ridicule. Why do many women still not report incidents of rape? Again it is because they are afraid of the society’s reaction and the mud- slinging which often follows. Why do young people often resort to death when faced with problems? They fear that they will not be able to take it. They are afraid of what the other people might think of them.

But my question is, is fear really all that evil? Is a certain amount of apprehensiveness not healthy? If we fear nothing, won’t we become careless in all our dealings?

Why is it that a mother often tell her kids that ‘bogeyman’ will come if they don’t eat their food/ don’t sleep on time/ don’t bathe properly/ don’t go to school? This way they are just teaching them to be scared of phantoms in their head.

In my opinion, a certain amount of fear is indeed necessary in today’s life. It only shows that we are concerned about people or that we think about the consequences of our actions. It keeps us safe by making us cautious. However, two things do need to be curbed/ changed:

1)      The irrational fear which often comes to define a person. No fear should be allowed to take over our life and control our actions. True, I sometimes think that some ghosts might pull me off my bed in my sleep. But I do not let such thoughts rob me of my sleep.
2)      The society’s attitude needs to be changed. Any kind of fear is not a weakness. The victim is not incompetent. It is just that he/she might have had certain bad experiences which force them to be afraid of certain things. They need help and support and not ridicule.

Fear itself is not the problem. The problem is the subsequent changes in the psyche of an individual. The problem lies in the attitude of the society which laughs at them. The problem lies in the lack of communication channels for the victim. The problem lies in our traditional way of using weakness as a synonym for fear and in our inability to understand that fear is a rational part of everyday life. He who says he fears nothing tells the biggest lie.

“Fear nothing but the fear which makes you fear this fearless life.”
                                                Go fear J

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Given Up for Dead- A Review

“Every day brought more of the same: another dose of work that never got finished, exhaustion that never ceased, a routine that never varied, and waiting that never ended.” These lines perfectly sum up the days of siege of Wake Island, the far-flung U.S. outpost, by Japan.

On December 8,1941, a few hours after the infamous bombing of the Pearl Harbour, the Japanese forces attacked this tiny group of three islands. It was conceived to be a point of immense strategic location for control over the Pacific during World War II.

Surprised by the attack, the unprepared battalion of marines, sailors and civilians fought one of the bravest and ruthless wars in American history. They showed courage, determination and perseverance unheard-of before. This book tells the tale of their sacrifices and bravery through first-hand accounts of the survivors.

The book starts with PFC Wiley Sloman waking up among the enemy corpses thinking that he has been given up for dead. Then the reader re-lives the agony of the past few days on the island. When the first planes attack, he ducks for cover just like the nearest gun crews. He feels the sorrow and gloom when the Wake Islanders bury their dead. He celebrates their extraordinary achievements, endures rat bites in fox holes and goes through the humiliations of the POW camps. He sees, hears and feels all of it.

Bill Sloan, with his simple and lucid style of writing, recreates those days from Hell again in ink and paper. He captures the dilemmas faced by the commander of the island, the decisions taken and the mistakes made with the eyes of a keen and ruthless observer.

The most touching moments in the book are undoubtedly those of the surrender and the inhuman treatment meted out to the soldiers afterwards. With victory so close at hand, virtually every fighter on Wake wanted to shoot down Major Devereux when he came carrying the white flag. It seems those who died in action were the luckiest of the lot. Those who were tough enough or lucky enough to survive came through with permanent physical and mental scars.

This book effectively serves as a token of appreciation and appreciation to all the brave-hearts who defended the remote outpost with their lives. The author has indeed succeeded in immortalizing those warriors and bringing them much of their deserved glory. He pulled out fading heroes and told their story to the world.

Revealing details about the book isn’t on my plan. But what I can confidently say is that it is an amazing read for all of you who have the stomach to experience the grueling realities of war, the pain of losing loved ones and the ever-lasting will to survive. Truly, Wake is the Alamo of the Pacific.