Thursday, September 8, 2016

Chennai musings - let's be inspired - 2

Women and work - two stories

It's unreal how hard women in Chennai work. It's difficult not to be inspired.

Valli is tiny. Her skin is the colour of ebony and her shiny white buck teeth flash as her face breaks easily into a smile when she cheerily greets patients, their family members, medical representatives, service people and couriers into that busy polyclinic in the heart of the city. Specialists and dentists rotate in and out sharing space. The dermatologist shares space with a family physician, the cardiologist with an internist and so on. So people call incessantly into the main line which Valli answers. They call to book appointments, enquire if the specific doctor is in, if their lab test results are in and on and on. The steady flow of people who walk through that door never abates and the little space is always brimming over. She is the sheet anchor that manages the traffic - receptionist, operator and overall communications coordinator. Her clothes are cheerful, befitting her sunny demeanour. Colourful sarees with matching jewellery, necklace, earrings and bangles. Flowers in her hair, bells in her ornamental anklets. Today she has worn an art silk lavender saree with gold thread border and a blouse to match, fresh white jasmine and orange firecracker flowers in her hair and chunky jewellery. I saw her once in the morning and again later in the evening and asked her how long her work day was. Well she left her house at 6 am and following a 2 hour and 3 buses commute arrived at the clinic at 8, she said. When did she finish? She flashed a smile and said, " at 7:30 pm and I will reach home after 10:00." In the afternoon when the doctors are not in and she has a couple of hours to spare she does cleaning and dishes at two homes nearby. While the clinic is closed Sundays, she has to commute to work all 7 days at those homes. She has two teenage daughters whom she never sees and whom her unemployed and de facto stay at home husband, a recovering alcoholic, cares for. She has successfully managed to get him into treatment and he is sober going 4 years. Her aging mother cooks and packs her food for the entire day. She is the main breadwinner and earns Rs.10,000 per month, all told, which has to pay for her transportation and all other expenses! How does she do it all so cheerfully?

Jayashri is a single mother of two boys. They are both in University. Jayashri is tall, attractive and very youthful looking at 45. She commutes by two-wheeler hazarding horrendous traffic and the killer Chennai heat. She has singlehandedly raised her sons from her earnings cooking in people's homes. Not one or two but 4. So every morning she cooks a traditional South Indian meal from scratch consisting of 2 different vegetables, a stew and soup in 4 different homes. Then she gets home to cook for her kids. On festival days she cooks all the mandatory sweet and savoury items along with the regular meal items. And if you don't know anything else about Tamilnadu, you should know there is some religious festival or other every week mandating the preparation of special foods to mark the occasion. Then every evening she goes back to each of the homes to cook 4 different suppers, lighter than lunch but all requiring prep and cooking time, nonetheless. She earns a total of Rs.28,000 at the rate of Rs. 7000 per month per home. Wow how does she do it cheerfully everyday, rain or shine 7 days per week?!

Terribly exploitive- inhumane - but proof of human resilience and the will to succeed at what could have been a losing game.

Both Valli and Jayashri want to give their kids post secondary education to ensure their lot is better! They don't think too much - they just do.

Utta's Bike Ride from London to Amsterdam

Uttara's pledge

As many of you know, last year I took up a cycling challenge from London to Paris and raised just over £2000 for WarChild UK, thanks to your kindness, support and generosity. I cant even begin to describe what an incredible and humbling experience that was!

This year I will be dusting off that road bike and cycling from London via Bruges to Amsterdam, a distance of 360 miles (580 km) from August 31-September 4th, with the goal of raising £1500 for my charity. I have chosen to raise money for Rethink Mental Illness. As many of you know, the issue of Mental Health is very close to my heart. I recently lost my dear cousin Rohan, a brilliant man, talented athlete and deeply spiritual human, as a result of his serious mental illness which he developed in his late teenage years. We were close in age, so growing up we spent several summers together in India at our grandparents' home. When he moved to Bloomington, Indiana for undergrad, I moved to Dubai to start my first job there. During this time, I stayed with his parents for over a year and he actually let me take over his room! I miss him dearly.

I am dedicating this cycling challenge to Rohan and raising money to benefit kids like him who seek the assistance of Rethink Mental Illness, a UK based charity which provides help and support across the UK to those diagnosed with mental illness, and their carers. This charity which has nationwide impact, places a lot of emphasis not only on awareness raising, information and advice for those in need, but also provides them with one on one and group care.

Please support me fulfil this challenge in Rohan's memory. Thank you for listening and for your kindness and generosity to date.

Uttara's Journey

Day 1 - Uttagirl's bike ride for mental health charity from London to Calais enroute to Amsterdam (100 miles/161 km - adding in 5 miles when she lost her way). Miles to go..please join me in rooting for her. She did this one after a busy work day yesterday and 4 hours of sleep..hope she can keep up!

Day 2 - Uttagirl has successfully completed the stretch from Calais (France) to Bruges (Belgium) - 126 km. In her words "Tried my best to sit on the saddle and not scream from pain, other than that the chill cap was securely on. The ride was wonderfully flat and pretty. Ate lunch on the beach". Two more days to #FoRo (for Rohan) in aid of #RethinkMentalillness

Day 3 - Uttagirl went from Bruges (Belgium) to Breda (Netherlands) - 102 miles (164 km) - she says "I really have no words. That can only be described as the purest form of cycling torture I have experienced in my life. I don't know if it was the 35 miles of false flat hell to lunch, my leg scrapes from peeing in a bush with thorns or the 40 miles of torture after lunch. The human body is amazing." One more day to destination ... #FoRo #RethinkMentalillness

Day 4 - Uttagirl MADE IT! 400 miles - (600 km) in 4 days from London to Amsterdam "I am bruised, my face is 5 different shades of brown and I have never been so happy to get off a bike my entire life! Friends and Fam thanks for the wonderful positive vibes the entire way! I really have the best support system in the world. Thank you for the generous donations to this cause close to my heart! JE TAIME" #IloveyouRo #Rethinkmentalillness - next post has link to charity if you still wish to sponsor Utta's effort..

Monday, September 5, 2016

The World as Seen by My Mom

I love being with Amma. In many ways she is my life force and inspiration. Brilliant, positive, observant and wise. Here is a conversation from today.

I was standing by Amma's kitchen and watching this lovely drama. One of her many crow friends whom she feeds and hydrates through the window kept dropping tiny sticks into their bowl of water. I gave Amma a quizzical look as though to ask "what are they doing?" She did not say. This afternoon as we sat drinking coffee I saw our little friend by the window again. Amma gestured to me to quietly watch. This fellow with his little beak gathered all the sticks which were now pliant and flew away. Amma, who has a wonderful way with animals, birds, plants and humans, said, "it does that to make fibre to build a strong nest to protect its young". She then asked me, what I realized later, was a trick question. "Have you ever been close to a crow's nest?" I said no. She said "because you cannot. They won't let you. They are so protective of their young." She said "for that matter all other species really care for each other. In the news today, a young man was beaten and left to die and no one came to his help for two hours. On the other hand when a dog is hurt have you seen other dogs bark and run towards them as though crying for help? Recently an elephant fell into a ditch and died. The baby would not leave the mother despite the Herculean efforts made by the villagers to bring her to safety." I believed her. This is the wisdom of crows, dogs and the world as seen by my mom!

There is a postscript to this story. I recently lost my father in law. He lived to be 90 years and led a wonderful life. He inspired us all throughout his life keeping a welcoming generous home. My mother in law is having a hard time with his passing, given he was her rock for over 60 years. This is the time when she needs emotional support and her two children and their spouses (one of whom is me) are taking turns spending time with her. At this time, we are witness to the craziness that is superstition against Hindu widows. Suddenly she has become persona non grata – for all religious occasions. To add hurt to an already distressed mind, she is treated as a social pariah - her presence at weddings and other such “happy” occasions considered inauspicious. Nowhere else in this 21st century have I seen such indignity bestowed on widows. It is becoming more and more clear to me that our unique capacity to think and interpret, when exercised based on fear, superstition and selfishness, destroys our humanity and causes us to take the most absurd, irrational and destructive decisions. We can rise above this with mindfulness where we notice our interpretation of what is, in a non judgemental way. This then stops us from spiralling downward into an abyss of reactivity and hateful behaviour that has the potential to harm us and others.