Monday, December 31, 2012

Frenzy

The afternoon of the Sandy Hook shooting, I was working from home. When J came home, I was sitting on the stairs and crying - it had been over an hour and I could not stop until I had hugged my baby. Never felt so grateful to have a day end normally and have my family still intact. It was an unnerving experience. When DB came home, we talked about empathy, perspective and the anxieties of parenthood. He suggested that I stop watching the coverage of the event and try to think about it in context of the atrocities on children around the world - in my home country. Not to minimize the loss of life, the shattered innocence of childhood and the real concern of something like this happening in our own community; but getting a real sense of the denominator would help reduce the pain I was feeling. It was good advice.

Then a few days later, I read the news of the woman gang raped in a Delhi bus and of her subsequent death. Being on vacation at the time, I did not catch most of the news coverage of the story but read several opinion pieces like this one and this a few days later. I have lived in India most of my life, have been harassed by men in buses and trains - experienced the bewildering mix of fear, paralysis and anger that I could not fully express. I have written about growing up female in India before - it is something painfully close to my heart.

In my generation, girls pretended it did not happen to them or somehow whatever happened was not "too bad" and somehow they were lucky to escape the "worst". Truth is we preferred denial because that was the only way to keep our sanity. I have been "eve-teased" on my way to college and work. Felt unsafe traveling alone, had nightmares from bad experiences many years after the fact. Recently, I found out that unexpressed anger transitions into unmanaged anxiety and then long term depression.

I have not been to India in ten years now and have no desire to visit anytime soon - specially with J. My parents have no interest in hosting J for the summer being that they would be responsible for her safety - and I can appreciate that. I could have been this woman, any number of Indian women I know could have been this woman. My mother at sixty plus is leered at if she decides to take a walk alone in the evening so she is part of a walking group  - she says she would need to become completely decrepit physically before she can be "safe" from men in India. 

I found myself not wanting to read about the victim - there is no profile she would need to fit. Being a woman is an invitation to being raped in India. It has always been the case for as long as I can remember. You are lucky not to be a victim. Your parents prayed for your safety, grandma gave you an amulet to wear, the family astrologer was consulted for safe travel dates and the rest was left up to God - He has a larger than life role in the life of an Indian woman but often God is not around when we need Him. The prayers, charms, horoscopes and such had failed for this sister who fell victim. Next time it will be one of us. The logic is as simple as it is brutal. The public outrage will die down in a bit, the volume of atrocity is simple too large - the sympathy fatigue point has been reached a long time ago.

The proximity of these two events and how different my reaction was to them gave me pause for thought. The media frenzy in the wake of the Sandy Hook incident is something we could use a lot more of in India. Maybe if they ran the Delhi gang rape story in an infinite loop in every possible channel for days and months until the most resigned, defeated and fatalistic of Indians were forced out of their emotional coma, change may yet be possible. The challenge here is to whip up a frenzy over something that has happened countless times before, and keep it at fever pitch until change actually happens. Every day, newer more terrible atrocities will demand our collective attention and yet we must find a way to remain focused on this particular one.

This is an ancient country with many millenniums co-existing in the same space and time, there is no simple way to bring and carry change through.Giving up is something we have mastered over the generations - we called it our Karma. I could cry for a dead sister, I could cry for the million others who are being molested every day- escaping rape and death for now, for my own childhood and youth blemished many, many times in India - and there would be no tears left to cry. And what would that help anyway ? Feeling like a victim individually or collectively only empowers those who victimize us. Maybe anger and action is a more useful response.Maybe finding a way to get more women out of India to safer places is the answer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Diet Control

I don't need this kind of help with keeping my daily calorie intake in order

One of my Twitter buddies recently joked that the ideal fitness device will be a neck collar that monitors the food going down your throat and then chokes you when you hit your calorie limit.

A temporary amnesia inducing device that will make me forget where I have my stash of dark chocolate would be far more helpful. In our household DB and I have the sweet tooth but J not so much. If I want to ration my chocolate, I hand the bar over to J and have her dole out the portions. She can make a bar of chocolate stretch a very, very long time - to the point that I lose my craving.

Sadly, she does not have a super secret location to hide away the supplies. So sometimes when I am at home alone, I have exceeded my ration by quite a bit. She takes her role as the chocolate police very seriously and a very dim view of such behavior - the need for a lock and key has been brought up several times. Traditionally, this would not be a role a child gets assigned but J is the best qualified for the job in our house. DB routinely empties out her supplies (in my defense, I would never do that, I just exceed my allocation by a bit) but is very diligent about replenishing what he took and then some to repent the error of his ways. J generally prefers that he was the was the one who raided the supplies because I rarely bother to keep track or refill. DB gives her the satisfaction of being tough and effective chocolate cop.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Degree of Trust

We were looking for an interesting spot for brunch a few weeks ago and I found something on Yelp that sounded just perfect. The place had great ratings and the reviews were uniformly positive on all counts. But when we reached there, to our dismay the establishment had boarded up doors and windows. It was pretty late in the morning and J was very hungry - the leisurely pace of the morning had been jolted as we rushed as fast as we could to find someplace to eat. The experience made me wonder if I should even trust the reviews on Yelp anymore. Looks like one restaurant has found an answer to that question.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Simplicity

Client I have been working with off and on for the past year is a good old fashioned company with a very traditional product. The marketing team has decided to get into the social media business guns blazing. They have hired a small army of social media experts to help them out - the median age of this population is about twenty two. That of the customers they hope to serve is closer to fifty. 

How this recipe is set up for success is not to clear to anyone but no one can question the zeal of the social media team. They are on everything from Facebook to Foursquare to Pintrest to everything in between. Decorative lederboards with success mile-markers are everywhere around the social media work space. Yet, the sales team will tell you social media is doing absolutely nothing for them - there are no numbers to prove that statement wrong either. 

This Wired article is a great example of where social media and an old school business can have effective partnership. The premise of Face of Retirement is a very simple but effective one :

In a 2011 study cited by Merrill Edge (Merrill Lynch’s online discount brokerage), Stanford behavioral economics researchers say that we’re often reluctant to save for retirement because deep down we don’t identify with that older person we’ll one day be: “To people estranged from their future selves, saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now.”

My client will not likely create the killer app for their business anytime soon. Instead they will expend effort in needless forays into social media outlets that are not where their target audience gathers. Yet, telling them to try something else is like telling a child they cannot play with the shiny new toy that they just brought from the store.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Dried Tubers and The Third

Read The Waste Land after many years today. The first few lines were like meeting a dear friend after many years. So familiar and undiminished

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers

The part about feeding a little life with dried tubers has changed in meaning for me. Indeed April was the cruellest month once and made me want to seek shelter in the anonymous blandness of
Winter - a time of limited need or want. Dried tubers kept me alive but never quite fed the soul. In time April would not be so cruel anymore. Memory could mix with desire and not turn into pain.

In today's reading, these lines made me pause, read again and wonder about the many way in which to think about the mysterious third on the other side of you.


Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?