Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tiruvallikkeni - 2

was when I learned to cook the first pot of rice. After breaking the rice up thinking that was how I should clean it. I cleaned and broke long grained rice that it looked like rice crumbles. I wanted to impress my mother with my rice cleaning skills.

This was also the time my mom had to hide all the bars of soap from me. I took huge interest in dissolving it in water and making bubbles out of it. For a house that ran on a very tight budget it was tough. This was when Mirinda was introduced to the market and they gave a crate of 6 Mirinda bottles gratis to every house in that area. It was such a big deal that people were discussing it in school the next day. I don't think we got a crate as we had gone out. 

I got to know one of the people I loved the most in Ramana uncle. He was a friend of my mother's and lived in Germany. Whenever he visited us, with his long sleeveless shirts because he couldn't bear the heat and his really short temper, he'd instruct the auto fellow "beach vazhiyaaga po pa". No matter where he came from the auto guy would always have to take a route from the beach even if it made no sense to go to marina beach and come back. 

He told me about something called Tae-kwon-do, played with me and I would visit Srihari Kota and the Space central school with him once in a while. I loved him to bits. He was very proud of his children, Padma and Kiran who were in Germany. He'd married a German lady and would visit family in India often. 

Padma, when she was 12 or 13 had once found some 300 or 400 Deutsche Mark, the currency before the Euro and had given it to the police. It was such a big thing that she was written about in the newspapers in Germany. 

I probably saw Ramana uncle twice or thrice, I am not sure, but I remember that fateful day that they had kept the water sump open at the Murudi's hotel in Luz. He hadn't noticed it and he fell right into the sump. They took him out and he was admitted at Isabel's hospital. His brain hemorrhaged and he died. I saw a small bucket full of what looked like blood. He'd apparently vomited it. I was only later that I knew he had a drinking problem. 

I remember running back to hostel and crying away for days. 

Hostel and onwards

From Triplicane I think my mother and grandparents moved to Broadway and T Nagar.The areas we moved to, make no sense with regard to proximity. I have perhaps lived in about 35 houses or even more throughout my time in Chennai. Some houses I hear, we hardly lived in for a few months. 

Triplicane was when we had our first phone number. 845313. 6 digits. I was very proud of taking messages for other people. I think we got the phone number for mom's work on the documentary. She had less and less time to spend on me. And then one day she suggested I should stay in the hostel. I remember crying. But finally I said OK. Not that there was a choice. 

I checked into hostel. It was the most traumatic time for me. Some of the kids around me were bullies. I used to be beaten up all the time. I used to be terrified of this boy who would keep "kottifying" on people's heads, hard enough that I was afraid it would leave a dent. Those of us on the receiving end would be terrified of complaining. A lot of kids would be beat up. Sometimes stuff would be stolen. My classmate would stinking rich or really poor. 

The day I landed in the hostel I developed a fever and landed up in the sick room. I loved it there. It felt like a nicer atmosphere. And almost everyone in the hostel spoke Telugu. 

I learned to name my clothes to differentiate them - SCH 61 was how I'd learned to embroider the clothes I would send for laundry. Whatever mom brought would be kept in a locked Godrej Almirah the keys to which the 'Akka' or the matron would have. If you wanted anything from soap to toothbrush, it would be under her care. 

We would all have our own shelves, we even had a TV on which we watched films on Sundays. Sun TV-yin tamizh maalai and all that. Each morning we'd wake up, fold up our sheets and mats and arrange it on the top shelf, to be removed at night again. 

We all had equal duty to clean up the huge hall we all used. Sweep and mop and cleaning toilets and cleaning the corridor would be done by turns by all of us. In a way it was one of the best light lessons I had learned. We would wash our own tiffen boxes too. 

Like a lot of kids, I'd put pencil shavings in water to see if it would magically turn into a "lubber" (Eraser). I was very excited when other kids said it happened all the time. I planted a seed from the watermelon slice I'd eaten to see if it would grow. Nothing happened. 

I remember this one time while eating lunch in the school playground that I had spilled food from the lunchbox. I was terrified of being found out and the bullies came out, made me eat the food that I had spilled in the sand - sand and small stones and all. Added to that they complained I had spilled the food - carrot rice, to be exact and that I "threw food" because I didn't like it. I was scolded by every matron in the hostel that day. 

Sometimes the Principal would call me to spend time with her family in her quarters - they lived in the same compound as the school - they took me out to their family gatherings and took me to the school farm. 

Now, for me, it was a great escape. But to the other kids - I was the special kid they hated. I understand and empathise with the resentment in retrospect. But each time I went out and came back I would face hell from a certain set of kids. I'd be terrified. And would pray each day that I should get sick and go to the sick room.

Some days I would wait at the gate waiting for my mother to come. Somedays she wouldn't have been able to. And later I realized visiting me and leaving was one of the toughest things she had to do and she'd cry herself to sleep each time she visited me. She wasn't going through the greatest of experiences working on that documentary either. 

One time, God did hear me out and I fell really sick. The mercury read 104 and my mom was called. She stayed with me in the sick room. The principal would visit me each day and give me books to read or grammar books to finish which I promptly would. 

Sick room and Maragadham akka, who managed the sick room was my happy place. Ironic as it may be.



Madras - Tiruvallikkeni

We moved from Besant Nagar to Triplicane. The time I actually started to go to school by bus on my own. It was common practice then. A child as young as 7 or 8 could go by PTC bus to school once the parent tells the conductor and the driver in the route to drop them there. At 8 Am in the morning, the passengers would also be the same faces you see everyday. The sense of community existed. There was safety. You could entrust your child to strangers and rest assured your child will be safe. 

We lived in one of those row houses that shared common walls with the neighbours houses. It is still commonplace in Triplicane. Our owners had a huge joint family. The boys in the family, as young as 8 or 10 would wear huge naamams, decorate small pallakkus and the God's idol and take it around the streets. Seeing the Parthasarathy Perumal outside our house in his routine street tour was pretty common.

I took huge interest in covering half the street in Kolam. And took huge interest in pumping water from the street water pump. Of course my mom hated it. But for me it was fun. Across the street, my mother made me go learn to play the violin, just in case her experiments with my voice failed. I didn't last too long. I was afraid of Dwaram Mangathayaru or as we called her, Ammayi-akka. I used to go to her house whenever I could, collect the pavazhamalli flowers on the floor of their compound, string them and take them to the temple. It was a regular exercise. 

I would also wait eagerly for the Hindu Young World each Saturday. One day my curiosity got the better of me and I went to check neighbour's houses to see if everyone got the same paper or if each house got a different paper, so that I could have different puzzles to work on. I was disappointed to know everyone got the same. 

My street had a Hanuman temple near the main road. I would go there each day, religiously and have 3 stripes of vermilion, chandan and vibhooti on my forehead. My neighbours kids used to make fun of how I covered my already tiny forehead in these stripes.  

I made my first really good friends in Triplicane. Bhargavi and Vaishnavi. I remember their father who used to give me Threptin biscuits. He died subsequently. And they moved out of the area as well. 

Thursdays, we'd have Sai Bhajans in another neighbour's house and I'd go and sing. 

Triplicane was when our neighbour, Sundari aunty taught me how to work with mathematics. I used to be counting with my fingers and toes and whatever else I could find. She set me right and until my 4th standard I scored straight 100-s in Maths. In retrospect I think if I had found the right teachers going forward, Math would have been simple and not something to be scared of. 

My mom started IFPA - Indian Foundation for Performing Arts, documented the Life and Teachings of Lalgudi Jayaraman, worked with calligraphers who would painstakingly write page after page and published the book of his compositions which is very much in circulation today. 

And that was also the beginning of my life in a hostel for almost 2 years - 4th and 5th standard.




Madras - Besant Nagar and Jeeva

I remember being 'diagnosed' with Jaundice by the lady who worked as our house-help in Besant Nagar. Jeeva. She was the greatest support during pretty tough times. I remember there was some issue about water and Jeeva would bring pot after pot of water to our home. My mother had a terrible slip disc issue and if she lifted a small bucket without enough planning, she would be bed ridden for days. 

I remember eating flavourless food and ladies finger for the longest time. I learned the word "Pathyam". After that I hated oily food. I would dislike looking at anything oily. For years it would repel me. 

Jeeva was how I called her and I used to go to her house often and spend time with her and her grown up daughter. I played with the kids near her house. Disliked her husband because he reeked of alocohol and I saw him hit Jeeva sometimes. So I would tell him off on occasion. All when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I had enormous love for Jeeva. 

There was this one time Jeeva took me to the beach. I still remember her taking me to the temple by the beach and she bought me something from one of those stalls. A man in saffron robes came to her and asked for money saying he was hungry. 'Pasikkudhu ma. 4 naala saapadla'. Jeeva refused to give him any saying she didnt have. I started yelling in Hindi. And Jeeva brought me home kicking and screaming, I guess. 

I complained to amma that Jeeva lied and made Jeeva, my paatti and amma go in search of that "sadhu" that night to give him money. We didnt find him, but I kept telling Jeeva "Jhooth bolti hai". Years later when I visited Jeeva at her place again, she reminded me of that incident and had a hearty laugh. 

One thing I do remember, my mother didn't inculcate class differences in me. I ate and slept and could play with the kids near Jeeva's house. Her own children were perhaps in their late teens. I dont have sense of how much older they were. I could be in her care. I used to sleep in her house. I treated her as I would my  mother or my grandmother. Jeeva was a huge support during our time in Besant Nagar. She was a strong, outspoken woman who stood by us. I remember her shouting down someone and standing up to authority. 

I also perhaps remember playing with much older neighbours. I would be lifted over the compound wall to their house. Preethu and Ganesh. Ganesh was constantly teased me and I would cry. 

Our stay in Besant Nagar was also pretty short. 

I was put directly into 1st Standard in Children's Garden School, the only school that was suggested to my mother to enroll me in that offered Telugu. My mother was particular I learn Telugu in school. I hated it. I wanted Hindi. But here I was made to learn a language I didn't understand and almost failed in. I also didn't speak the language like the other kids. It took me some time to pick up Tamil. I was scared of my Telugu teacher and Pedda Baala Siksha - the definitive book to begin learning Telugu. 

I had Tibetan classmates. Karma Sherab. Tenzing. It was fascinating. Those kids prayed to the Dalai Lama. I spoke to them in Hindi thinking they would understand. Most didn't. I was scared of this Karma Sherab boy. And then there was this girl called Divya, everyone wanted to be friends with. She, in my opinion, was the most powerful. She decided who would be 'leader', who would be 'servant' etc etc. She had eyes that flashed. Everyone was scared of her. Or that's how I perceived it at 5 1/2. 

Then came Deepavali. I remember writing "Diwali is celebrated for 5 days" and was puzzled when the teacher corrected my notebook, struck across the 5 with her red pen and wrote '1', on top of it. During Deepavali I somehow managed to get the "zameen chakkar" on to my fingers and the skin on top of my fingers was gone. 

I remember being told by the lady I called Prema periamma, (whom we had visited for Deepavali) "Say Narayana Narayana kuttimmol, you wont feel the pain and you'll fall asleep". I couldn't write until my fingers healed; the teachers would instruct others to write in my notebook in class and I felt very special being fussed over :) 

Divya was still the girl to be scared of during lunch break. The girl who sat next to me wore a "clip" (dental retainers, a thing wire across the teeth as braces were rare then) and I shared my ice water that I carried in a cello flask with her.

I think this was also where I got chicken pox. Or it could have been in Saligramam. Laying on a bed of neem leaves and praying to Amman and my face was full of boils. My grandmother prayed we'd all do an angapradakshanam once I was well at the temple where I still go and do Angapradakshanams at. A practice that started when I was perhaps 5 or 6. Thatha would patiently caress me with neem leaves so that I dont scratch myself.

As much I remember I got every illness under the sun until I was in my 5th standard. 

Madras

The Railway station and asking amma when we'll go back home. I didn't speak the language. Our first residence was in Saligramam. When it was huge. Empty for most part. And I remember the temple elephant that would come on rounds. 

As soon as we came to Chennai, my mom saw something like a tiny lemon sized swelling on my lower abdomen, took me the hospital to realize I had to be operated for Hernia on both sides. 

Dr Prasad - my doctor and my surgeon. He belonged to the Ramanathapuram royal family. My grandfather was apparently friends with the Ramnad Raja and I guess our families are still very much in touch. Dr Prasad has seen me grow from then to now. He operated on me on my condition that I would get Gold spot and Vada Sambar. I think he charged us 4 rupees for the surgery. Just 4 rupees. This was 1989/1990. I remember I wasn't allowed to eat for a while before the surgery. And post surgery, I have a memory of being carried home by someone. We lived on the first floor of an independent house which had an open terrace. For the entire time I recuperated I had great joy in clapping my hands to beckon an adult. I couldn't talk, laugh or do anything without it hurting my stomach. Leave alone call out to get something. So I would clap and someone would come running. I think I remember thatha and paatti by my side for a long time. 

When you are a child your perception of time is very different. So is perception of space. What seemed like ages and what seemed huge then pales in comparison and you wonder what has changed. 

I guess from Saligramam, we shifted to Besant Nagar. Another house with an open terrace. It was a pretty common type of a construction those days. The house owners would live downstairs and the tenants on the upper floor. 



Bombay...

was home. The place that was "Ghar". When we moved to Chennai in 1989/1990 I am not too sure when, walking down the railway station, I remember asking my mother, "Hum Ghad jaayenge na mummy?". 

I was predominantly under my grandmother's care who spoke neither English nor Hindi. I spoke Marathi and no Tamil. I perhaps got my talent of picking up languages from my mother. She had already learnt Marathi to a certain extent and was particular I speak it. My grandmother continued to speak to me in Tamil, took me to school and brought me back, I still have no clue why and how she managed. But I understand in retrospect that woman was made of super strong reinforced steel. 

My grandmother had three children. A son and two daughters. By the late 80-s both daughters no longer had their husbands around. One was taken away by cancer; the other left of his own volition for reasons best known to him. The son was someone I have met twice in my life. Otherwise this uncle character was non-existent. 

I have so many scenes from when I was 4 or 5 that are fresh in my memory. My father had already left us to our own devices when we were in Bombay. I remember one particular Holi celebration thing in our building. I hadn't 'paid' to be a part of it and I ended up eating a sweet or something that I wasn't supposed to as I hadn't contributed to be a part of. A 3 or 4 year old having an extra sweet was such a big issue that I was shivering in my shoes that my mother is going to scold me. When the other kids complained to my mother, she made them understand I was a child and I had no concept of money and paying. And she gave them the money. Took me up to the terrace later and there were balloons filled with coloured water. 

Gumboots. Footwear that I got to wear only on the rain-drenched roads of Bombay. I never saw them again (until I went to the US) and neither did I ever have to use them in my lifetime in Chennai. 

Walking to the school with my grandmother. Getting slapped by a really young teacher in school because I finished a year's work in one day. And my mom coming the next day and providing more books that I continued to finish. I guess the teacher was stressed about how to handle a kid like me and didn't know what else to do. 

I was a neat kid. I kept my stuff in place. I folded my uniform. As my mother said herself I was a blessing of a child - well behaved & obedient, I grew up to give her 'trouble' she'd say. My mom ran a very, very tight ship. This story that my mom repeats a lot is of when we were shifting from Bombay to Chennai and my mom told me to sit in a corner. My mom and paatti eventually forgot about me in all the work of packing and shifting. I had curled up in the same corner and had gone off to sleep. It was only after my grandmom's guttaral "adiyayyyyyy kozhandhai enna di panradhu" or something like that, that they realised time had passed by too fast.

And I would cry if it was Saturday and there was no school. My mom and grandmom would dread telling me there was no school. "Aaj school nahi haiiiii" and wail. 

I used to correct people who said "Gavaaskar" and tell them it is "Gaa-vas-kar" not "Ga-vaas-kar". I was a pronunciation nazi even then. 

I used to go to sleep saying "Parda Baaandh" and wake up saying "Parda Khollll". I guess I knew early that all the world is a stage. :p

I had a peculiar behaviour as a child. I had an over active imagination, made up stories and would say that out aloud to people walking by on the road. Either the listeners were amused or what, I dont remember but the strangest thing, I would throw things that were in our pretty humble apartment, plates and tumblers and toys and clothes to whoever I believed was poor. Some days my mother would wonder whats happening and where the things were going. Neighbours would collect whatever they could and give it back to us. Some of the stuff would be gone for ever. 

I disliked my name as a child. When asked what my name was I would say either "Mahalakshmi" or "Mehr-un-nisa" in our commute in the local train. My mom used to say she'd have co-passengers assume she married into a Muslim family. 

My mother worked with IDPA in Mumbai and on one of the trips with her to office, I had learned to say "Gaadwa sala" from the peons and I for some reason went and said it to someone in my babysitter's family. Ajji, as I used to call her. I got slapped :p. And me being me, my cheek was red as a beet for a while. I still remember that staircase, parts of that house and a boy there who used to wash his eyes often. I dont even know why I remember these scenes, but I do. 

My mother used to volunteer to rescue girls who were trafficked into the flesh trade and her help was most required when they needed to communicate with girls trafficked from Coimbatore, Salem, Trichy and Madras, in Tamil. Those kids, my mom recalled much later, used to cry that they'd be anywhere other than the hell they were in and were willing to cook and clean in exchange for food. On one of these trips, my mother left me in the care of two kids.. I remember an area that was perhaps a chawl or a hut. I am not too sure. A stool fell on my toe and I was bleeding. I was in the care of two very young boys, who I still remember, carried me and ran to the nearest doctor and gave me a chocolate and gold spot. I know for sure they couldn't afford that chocolate or that cold drink. I am not sure if I cried or bawled. But I remember the goldspot. :) 

The boys were scared to tell my mother but she knew how to diffuse the tension in such situations, hugged those boys, thanked them and we left. My toe still carries the memory. The nail hasn't stuck to the bed since. 

I used to wail and bawl each time my mom picked up the Tanpura. To me it was my competitor as it found a place on my mother's lap. I wailed and bawled each time the cooker whistle went off. I remember my grandmother wrapping my thumb with something so that I would stop sucking my thumb. Of having a phobia and giving my mother a hard time each time she poured water on my head. Of having a phobia of looking into the drum filled with water. I still gasp and cant down at a water body, whose depth and extent and I cant fathom. 

I left Bombay and with it I slowly pushed my knowledge of Marathi deep in the recesses of my mind.  

I used to blog...

because it was cathartic. Because I felt I could record what I was feeling, observing, writing and perhaps someday I could see myself evolve. A view through my eyes. Comprehension through my brain. Based on my thoughts, feelings, prejudices even, because can any of us truly claim to be free of bias? Free of prejudice? Even the most evolved of us, the most broad minded among us has some opinion slightly washed by a shade of bias, unless of course we stop in our tracks. And decide to observe ourself and correct ourselves in the process. Few of us have the self awareness. 

I don't know why I stopped. I perhaps no longer found the impetus. Nor the inspiration. Or there was too much white noise. Or I wasn't using my laptop as much as I used my phone and I cannot imagine typing out long passages on my phone. 

Today, I felt the need to write of what I have felt, observed in my 32 years of existence. The people, the experiences, the way I felt and perhaps the way each of these experiences changed who I am to the person that I have become.. Of course I am still a piece of evolution. I want to be the best version of myself. Hopefully I ll get there, closer to that goal with each passing day.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Remember this post of mine from 2012?

http://www.chinmayisripada.com/2012/10/facing-abuse-and-backlash-of-rumours.html

It was my "famous" case where I lodged a case against continued trolling and arrests happened. 

In the recent past, I have been watching the brouhaha and the incidents that involved Mahesh Murthy's name so many times.

Mr Murthy is someone I questioned online regarding a particular article he had come up with based on an algorithm that he created. He took offense, called me an idiot and said I am not one of the "paid media" that I can pay and get articles written the way I want about me. He took on an extremely offensive tone for a question that I asked. 

That done when I lodged a case, out of nowhere, he came out saying I am a liar and I lodged a "false case" against those poor guys and that he would come to court and testify. Now Mr Murthy is someone who neither reads nor understands Tamil, as he agreed in one of his tweets and hence had no clue what the people who were harassing me were tweeting/blogging. 

Until then, those who knew about the trolls over the years - it lasted almost 3 years - and what I was going through felt I did OK. I mean, if I didn't take care of myself and my own safety, it ain't like the society which would only whip out a mobile phone to film a problem on the streets would help me if I came to physical harm. The others who were on the fence jumped on the hate mongering brigade. A now popular "reviewer" became famous because he decided to take Mahesh Murthy's word that I was a liar.

In so many ways, I am so glad that Mr Murthy was on the offensive with me from the start based on a question and a tweet, else he may have perhaps groped me as well, in return for offering "support". I am so glad someone spoke up and more got the courage to speak up against his harassment. 

They say Karma gives you front row tickets when you have done no wrong, to watch the negative go down. 

It did, in my case. Going by how things are transpiring in TN and the world in general, I have no idea if there is anything at all I can leave behind to my progeny except the "Poorva Punya" of the ancestors. Or as they say in Tamizh, appa amma panra paavam pasangalukku. I try hard to keep my karmic slate clean. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Indoctrination .....

I have wondered how it was possible for a group of human beings endowed with the same raw materials as anyone else; i.e. mental facilities, EQ, IQ et al could be brought up to completely, implicitly believe a certain thought process, without a sense of right and wrong. 

It is frightening how it is easy for a set of adults to wield power, especially over children and get them to implicitly follow a set of beliefs. Present them 'truths' and 'lies' the way they want to; under a light they beam. Add poverty to that mix and the power in the hands of the few 'benefactors' becomes absolute. Even in seemingly conflict-free societies we may be able to observe how one person that wields a sufficient amount of influence on a group can prod and channelize collective thinking on to a certain path. 

When and if at all the veil lifts, there is a sense of being cheated. The time invested in a belief system is brought to nought and leaves confusion and mistrust in its wake. 

What strange creatures we humans are. For so many this trip around the sun is only about power. About how many they can control and how much they can control. About keeping the insecurities in people alive and kicking so that it can be dipped into at the right time. Small wonder that both religion and politics choose to wield the same baton and we as the stupid herd, follow. The few that don't get beaten down.

As much as some try and do a lot to restore faith in humanity as a whole, most others do a stellar job in helping us lose that very same thing.  

Makes me even more afraid wondering how many children are at the mercy of megalomaniacs and psychopaths who walk about in the guise of mentors, teachers and caregivers. 

Safe to say, I am not sure how much I love this world, as of today. :)

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Attempting to buy happiness at 5/-

I am not sure if I have blogged about this pastry called the 'Eclair' that is available at the Adyar Bakery in Chennai. I write about it now not because it was the chef may win the Masterchef but because to me it holds a place of honour in my life. 

There were periods that were tumultuous while I was growing up; periods of intense financial stress as well and to me relief from such periods would be associated with this piece of confection from the Adyar Bakery. It was priced at about 5/- when I was in my teens and I used to buy it from this store called Venson's located on L B Road. 

I have since eaten the same pastry at various fine confectioneries and patisseries across the world but somehow, there is a bittersweet memory associated with this (now) Rs. 15/- pastry in Chennai. A feeling of odd satisfaction, a feeling like I could actually taste a memory from a capsule left behind in time. And I have always reached out for it when I go low on endorphins. 

At various points in our lives, some of us may develop an intense emotional attachment to something that could be banal or mediocre to most. Like the aaranji mittai for instance, an orange toffee my grandmother would ask for whenever we asked her what we could get her. To me the aaranji mittaai reminds me of that lady and her toothless smile I loved dearly... someone whom I (nor anyone in my family) couldn't even get to see for the last time, no thanks to the uncle.

The boiled masala peanuts from that one gentleman at the beach with chilli + salt mango slices to go at the Marina Beach.

And it is perhaps at times like these that life perhaps subtly reminds us that happiness is perhaps as simple and easily attainable as the aaranji mittaai.. or the Eclair.. or the peanuts.. Perhaps it isn't so elusive, na?

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Women's day, the Fortune Most Powerful Women's Summit and etc

Women’s Day. When everyone around feels the pressure to suddenly get a lot of women talking about their opinions, fresh data springs up close on the heels of 8th March. Everyone is on overdrive about “doing something for/on Women’s day”.

I attended and spoke at the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s Summit last week at Hong Kong and being what they term, a ‘mentee’ of the Fortune/US State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. This is a program started by Hillary Clinton 10 years ago in partnership with Fortune, where women from across the world identified as having an impact / influence are selected for a month long mentoring partnership, where the ‘mentee’ is paired with a high-level woman executive in a Fortune 500 company. Usually, the US consulate nominates women for this program after taking their consent. I sent in my details in 2011 and was chosen, becoming the first woman from Tamilnadu to attend this program. I attended the Fortune MPW in LA later that year and it was quite something to be speaking at an MPW 5 years down the line. 

During the mentoring program we got to meet Policy advisors to Michelle Obama at the White house, senior women in US politics at the US State Govt, interacted with women in CIA or organizations that volunteered in high-conflict areas across the world, or people in the media. It was quite an experience of meeting some of the most interesting people from diverse backgrounds, plus getting to shadow my mentors, both from the American Express Corporation for 3 weeks, watching how they maneuver situations in the board room and outside. More often than not, I noticed they were the only women on the board. I was the visitor. 

It wasn’t until then that I opened my ears to the gender inequality issues. I started following handles on Twitter that extensively covered and reported on issues that spoke related topics. 

Later in 2012 I filed a case for abuse on Twitter which is said to be India’s first arrests for abuse online. One of the men was a Professor at NIFT, Chennai. The other, a clerk at a collectorate. In retrospect, it is striking that a a man who is in a position as powerful as influencing young minds in an educational institution reeked of misogyny and slut-shaming opinionated women on social media.

I was usually the girl that was perceived as intimidating. Which was surprising for me, since until my early 20-s I was quite the introvert. I hardly spoke, made friends outside my realm of 2-3 people. My only close friend was one from school. It was post being a host on a reality show that I started becoming a little more, mm....friendly. Even then, I was repeatedly advised, by friends who meant only the best for me, to be more ‘girl-like’. More delicate. “You’ll never get married this way” would be a refrain I heard too many times. I thought I probably deserve to be married to a man who would want to be married to someone like me, without regrets.

Much later, as my followers grew on social media, I was asked, told, advised to keep my opinions to my self and not be so outspoken. More selfies, more photographs of food, make-up, the perfect day, rains, (no books ideally). To sum it up, as someone said “More fluff, less brain” if you need to be loved by peers and the general public on social media. This will get you work/shows/endorsements, what-have-you. 

I am not a selfie-queen. I usually think I look terrible and hence don't feel like taking photographs of myself. I love food but when I see it, urge is to eat it first and then in retrospect I ponder if I should have photographed it, like the absolutely decadent Mango Pavlova that danced a ballet on my tongue, that I had on Malaysian Airlines on my return from HK. Inflight, yes. Surprising, but yes. It was the best I had ever had.  I love fashion. But I am not fashionable myself. I love skincare and makeup - I blog about K-Beauty. I am an addict but that’s that. 

However what irks me is the misunderstanding people have of feminism. An outspoken woman, who has an opinion is called a feminist. It is not that simple really. Neither is a woman that files a false dowry harassment case on a man, a feminist. That is at worst, misuse of law. It is a lot like how all men aren’t misogynists. As simple as that. 

I sometimes giggle over the pity my husband, Rahul gets on Twitter (and he shrugs it off), since he is married to someone as outspoken as me and some tweet, wondering how he manages and some tweets have been rude to count down days to divorce. It is also interesting how I am perceived to be a man-hater (thanks to the harassment case and some of my tweets) and thus as a female performer, I am supposed to have shot my own foot by damaging my perception amongst what should be my biggest fan-base - the men. 

I am not yet a feminist, I don't believe I am as informed, astute or a trailblazer as a Gloria Steinem or her contemporaries, but I would like to be. Emma Watson is reported to be taking a year off to study feminism. Malala is a global icon. Closer home, a woman that talks about gender disparity is a man-hater. My poor husband. 

Coming back to where I started, cliches like "A woman is stronger than the man", "A woman is celebrated everyday" etc. are done to death. So are "Women can't park" jokes. One of the speakers at the Fortune MPW spoke about how difficult it is for a woman-led startup to be funded, while Microfinance companies hand out loans to women because they know that the money will be returned (and as a senior *male* exec in a Microfinance institution told me - "the men will drink it away"). Another top-line woman executive shared about how she didn't tell anyone when she had a daughter.  . Quite a strange situation. 

I look forward to the day Women's Day will not be celebrated. A day when one measly day per annum needn't be marked to celebrate womanhood. I'd rather see a world of equal opportunity, a world where there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, where 50% men could choose *and be allowed by the society* to be househusbands and be identified as primary caregivers of the family. (Because how many times is a man who contributes in the kitchen or with housework made fun of by other "alpha males" and women alike for being a sissy?) A world where it is perfectly normal for a man to sweep, mop, clean, cook (at home) and be there for his children as much as his wife. 

As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book stupendous book Lean In, We need more women at the table in the board room. We also need more men at the table - The kitchen table. 

P.S.: Here is the link to the Fortune MPW in Hong Kong that I attended http://www.fortuneconferences.com/mpw-international-asia-2016/2016-preliminary-speakers/

Sunday, December 06, 2015

t has been quite a few days. What started as a "I will pick up those stranded in the rain in my car and drop them off" , 6 days ago when the rains were pelting Chennai and "I will recharge people's phone numbers" became a huge WE, a bigger movement. And I realize what a wonderful city Chennai is. What lovely people we have. And that in the face of adversity we all become the better humans and are happy to help.
Because it is top of mind, I would like to thank Yeskay Durai on Twitter, who I have known only as someone who followed my songs. The past couple of days, he got together volunteers from Bangalore, loaded 20 huge trucks, sent 10 to Cuddalore and 10 to Chennai as of today the 5th December, 2015.
Chennai, the past few days has been about thousands and thousands of people who have silently helped each other. So many from here. So many from outside. Sometimes individually, sometimes in groups. Being a volunteer has been an experience I have loved and would do it again any day, just like the thousands others.
Gitanjali Selva / her dad Mr Bharat Raman lent her Innova to me and this helped our friends go around everywhere from Villivakkam to Saidapet. This car has been a revelation. I have always made fun of this car, but I have newfound love and respect for this vehicle as it continues to run superbly after 3-4 days of driving in anywhere between 1ft-3.5 ft water. I have thanked the car and also prayed for the car when we thought the water on the roads was too high and that it should pull through and she did smile emoticon I louue this car now. And the makers.
Chennai wasn't prepared for such a disaster. I wonder if any city in India is. It city has been truly battered, as are Cuddalore and Pondichery.
Twitter has been a boon. Though the networks were all down, as were power and fuel (for a short while) it was a huge tool to spread, receive and broadcast information. When network was patchy, it was fastest to load tweets. People verifying if claims were correct, calling numbers and posting "Verified" so that volunteers dont waste time.
Social media is not so bad after all. We can use this tool for some incredible work.
Media operating out of Mumbai / Delhi were a disappointment. They were debating a disaster as an issue, until people here made noise. Finally they did realize what was going on and gave airtime to their sleepless, overworked journalists here who finally got some attention for the work they were doing from Chennai.
Workers of the Electricity Board, Police and Sewage - many haven't eaten or had a drink of water, something I realized today when we went to Kotturpuram. The NDRF - What heroes they are. Only boats could ply in areas that were once roads.
I have learned several life lessons. And have an incredible amount of silence within me. I have also been humbled by the amount of trust so many unknown people have in me. I am grateful and am glad that a clean reputation, character does hold one in good stead. I have seriously fought with God in my mind several times that none of these have helped me as to me, those who seemed to have taken short cuts are better off (not that I could be any other way) but yes it makes me feel good.
Finally, I think all of us should have a bag at home with emergency supplies that will keep us in good stead for at least a week in case of an emergency. Another lesson - our vehicles must always be at least 3/4th full with fuel. Several lessons actually. Maybe that would be a separate blog post.
Tomorrow is yet another day and am truly grateful for the graces the Universe has given me and us all.

This tweet by RJ Balaji sums it all up - Cldnt see my city drown,And all
I did was spontaneous n emotional.Bt never expected ths unbelievable trust n love.Thank u.Am truly blessed."
Be kind. And trust in human beings. We are all good. Still smile emoticon

Monday, November 30, 2015

What I have bought and from where

Vitamin C Serum is the first in the line of actives that I have bought and this is what I decided to purchase based on reviews
http://www.amazon.com/serumtologie-Anti-Moisturizer-Evidence-Concentration-Clinically-Ingredients/dp/B00JLPM8AK
I read that concentration of Vitamin C must be at least more than 15% for it to have an effect on the skin. Vitamin C must be stored away from direct sunlight and in a reasonably dark place. Some users are known to store it in the refrigerator. Maybe this would make sense in India.

What I have bought is the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA ++++
due to several glowing reviews it has got from K-beauty blogging veterans. 



PA++++ is the highest range of UV protection according to some skincare industries. Japanese if I read right, though right now, I cant remember which blog I read this nugget of information. 




Read here about what to look for in sunscreen 



Mizon All In One Snail Repair Cream

Mizon Snail All in one repair cream. One of my first Korean Skincare purchases. Comes in a sturdy glass bottle. 
Snail mucus, the slimy stuff that snails feet leave on a surface when they slide along is apparently a wonder skin-repair thing. Did my research to find no snails are killed or ill treated in the process. 
According the makers' advice Snail AIO repair cream should be used in place of an essence, i.e., Oil Cleanse, foam cleanse, tone, essence. Started using this today. Will figure out changes in 2 weeks I presume. This contains about 92% snail filtrate and claims to brighten skin and work on fading scars ideal for oily/acne prone skin. May also work on dry / normal skin if used under other products as the brand claims. But I did read that some bloggers with oily skin gave this one amazing reviews. You may google for the reviews yourself. Based on how this goes, I am thinking of getting the Ampoule from this range. 

The 'What-I-Bought' list is longer. But additional information requires independent posts on the why-s hows and some skincare gyaan :p 

Soon!

My current skincare routine based on the K-Beauty regimen

My routine as of 2 weeks is this.


1. Oil cleanse
Coconut Oil or Gingelly Oil
2. Foam cleanser - L'occitane Precious foam cleanser. Something I have been using for a long time now. At least 2 years. K-Beauty-bloghopping helped me find that this product has a PH level of 5.
3. Toner / Toning mist - Forest Essentials Rose water / Jasmine and Aloe Vera facial toning mist
4. Vitamin C serum - After waiting 15 minutes for skin to return to normal PH post cleansing (can be eschewed once you use an AHA/BHA toner that I ordered from the brand Mizon, due to its glowing reviews. This helps the skin to return to normal PH so that the actives like Vitamin C can work on the skin rather than battling on bringing it back to normal PH. I got this information from Snow White and Asian Pear's blog. She has a lovely post on building your skincare routine and how to put things in order.) I ordered the Serumtologie Vitamin C, from the US and requested someone to bring it for me. Vitamin C is one of the best things that you can incorporate into your routine is there is only one thing that you will add. You could consult a dermatologist you trust for a Vitamin C Serum and see if your skin agrees to it after requesting for samples. Some formulations may / may not work for several skins. 
5. First Essence - 15-20 minutes after Vitamin C, so that it has time to work on the skin. L'occitane Brightening essence (A gift and didn't purchase this.)
6. Serum - L'occitane Reine Blanche serum
7. Serum 2 - L'occitane Divine Extract
8. Eye cream - L'occitane Divine eyes
9. Oil - Kama Ayurveda Kumkumadi oil (always mixed with a few drops of rosewater as applying the oil directly on the skin will cause break-outs. This aids better absorption and doesn't leave your skin feeling at all.
10. Night cream - L'occitane Divine Cream


Day 

1. Foam Cleanse
2. Toning mist 

Exfoliation 2/3 times - Kama Ayurveda Kumkumadi scrub
Clarisonic Smart Profile (Something my mom bought for herself but I hijacked albeit temporarily. Really love this one)
Clay Mask - Multani Mitti or Bentonite clay mask from EcoNut an organic store at Besant Nagar.
L'Occitane Aromachologie Rebalancing Face Mask

Only thing, most of the L'occitane stuff have been gifts from Dipika or my mom. Dipika in an attempt to somehow try and convert me into taking care of my skin. Now however, she says she is very proud of me, because for the first time, she actually learned something new from me :p. I however have regularly bought their face wash and their Almond shower oil, absolute favourites that I have indulged in.

I have also been a huge fan of Forest Essentials as a brand ever since they launched, way before they opened their store in Chennai. Maybe one of the reasons that I am drawn to K Beauty is their focus on all-natural/fermented products.

Now one would think this is an overdose of stuff on the skin. So did I. Strangely after all this, my skin looked like it was glowing a bit. Slightly shiny, if one may say. 

I'd like to say that my skin is normal with a slightly oily T Zone. No acne or problematic skin other than perhaps sun-damage from years of never using Sunscreen. 

As stated earlier the Vitamin C was my first purchase. And I started using my sunscreen regularly. 

If nothing else this regimen makes me remember to use my sunscreen. :)

Korean skincare - Where to buy

The US is seeing a surge of K-beauty entrepreneurs and I hear Sephora has an entire aisle dedicated to brands from Korea.

If you live in the US here are some websites you could try

www.sokoglam.com
www.peachandlily.com
www.memebox.com
www.glowrecipe.com

Some sell pre-made sets, according to specific skin concerns. They also have dedicated pages that will take you through Korean Skincare.

Living in India and having a new interest like this is no good. This is a lot like my baking obsession from 5 years ago when I didn't find a decent counter-top OTG, forget other exotic ingredients like sprinkles or even whipping cream.


Amazon (US) is a great place to check for a lot of the popular K-beauty products and for other sellers that ship directly from Korea

www.testerkorea.com where you can buy samples to see what will work for your skin
www.koreadepart.com
www.beautynetkorea.com

The only thing here is the insane shipping time. Plus the shipping cost itself. If you and your friend(s) can team up you could save significantly on shipping costs.

Checking these sites will also give you an idea of some insane discounts that happen every once in a while. Plus, there are fake Korean skincare stuff that abound. The sites that I have listed right now (I am sure there are more) are used by other bloggers regularly to purchase their hauls and ship legit stuff. 

Dabbling in K-Beauty

Here I am talking of something I have never talked of, I think, in my 10 years or so of blogging here. 
Skincare and tapping into myself to see if I have a vain side. I definitely went through the nailpolish, lipstick etc thing as a teenager but was successfully insulted out of it :p

Dipika Lal, a girl I first knew as a fantastic designer/stylist based out of Mumbai who is now more a sister than anything else, has tried through time and in vain to make me do something about my skin except the need-based-before-a-concert/event-visit to the salon.

I am the loyal kind. I usually stick to something once I have taken to it. 

One of my go to people for the past 8 (maybe more) years, in Chennai has been Sulakshana at Studio Profile in Chennai. I have never really let my brows be touched by anyone else in all these years. She also is the go-to person for some of the prettiest faces in the industry and outside of it. She was never the salesperson type, suggesting a ton of treatments/products just to jack up sales for entity she works for. I would say that for everyone in Studio Profile, which is what makes me trust them a lot. By default I can hazard to say I have good skin, never really had acne and the like. But the Korean Skincare thing is fascinating.

Since most of us in Chennai were holed up inside our homes thanks to the rains I had enough time in my hand to do some research and discovered the huge Asian Beauty Reddit and some other blogs I have started haunting. 

I however don't seem to have come across anyone (yet) who reviews and tries out K-Beauty lines on Indian skin. That would have really helped me. In case you are new to this, K(orean)-Beauty talks about the extensive multi-step daily/twice a day regimen that Korean and Japanese women are said to follow which is supposed to be the reason that contributes to their porcelain-like skin. 

Blog-hopping unearthed a lot of women belonging to different skin-types/tones/ethnicities and the result of following a Korean skincare regimen. 

Korean Skincare talks of a 2 step cleansing, everyday. One is the oil-cleansing method and the second, using a cleanser that is on the low PH range, making sure that the acid mantle of the skin is not disrupted allowing it to take actives like Vitamin C or some other treatment products. 

As Indians, oil baths are actually prescribed as a ritualistic step in our festivals and finding that the multi-step K Beauty skincare involved massaging the grime off each day with an oil was not surprising to me. 

I have always worn minimal makeup during my events and go bare-skinned (no sunscreen either!!) on other days. 

So to get started, if you are with me, and are still interested have a look at the multi step regimen which looks like this. There is a day-time and a night time routine.

Night Time

1. Spot cleansing - i.e. if you wear make up you need to take care to remove eye make up 
2. Oil cleansing - use of an oil to remove make-up or the grime from each day
3. The second cleanse (making step 2 &3 the famous Korean Double cleanse method) - A foam cleanser with a low Ph under 5.5 
4. Exfoliate (2/3 times a week) - to slough off dead skin
5. Toner - Not the kind thats filled with alcohol. More the typical rosewater or 'fermented' lines that K-skincare giants have released. What I like a lot of K skincare is that there are complete lines which are cruelty free, organic and plant based. 
6. First (and second) Essence - Touted to me the most important thing in a K-Skincare routine. This is said to prep the skin for the serums or other treatments that may come in later. A lot of essences increase elasticity or brightness or hydration. Depends on what you choose. 
7. Serum / Ampoule - A step in which you can tackle concerns specific to your skin, say Hyper pigmentation or famous in blog-speak as PIH (Post Inflammatory Hyper pigmentation)
8. Sheet Masks (2/3 times a week) - An additional boost to tackle hydration, brightening, or firming
9. Eye cream 
10. Face oil - Concentrated oils that are used as occlusives (For example a kunkumadi Tailam that we get here in India could he used)
10. Night /sleeping pack - the last step to seal in everything. 

Yes, looks like a mighty list. But doesn't take as much time as one may fear. 

Stuff I learned after all the reading 

1. Korea is one of the biggest destinations for plastic surgery. 
2. Skincare is said to be one of their biggest exports and their Government actively supports and funds research in skincare. I also remember reading that some business are also exempt from paying taxes if their sales outside of Korea. 
3.  Said to be at least 10 years ahead of the West in their research and innovations in Skincare. 
4. Korea gave us the now famous BB and CC Creams. 

I may continue to blog a bit since this is my current obsession. 

Here is a list of blogs that you may love reading, just like I did

Snow White and the Asian Pear

I love how she goes into ingredient lists and the science behind it all. Reviews and descriptions are lovely and so well researched. Plus one of the things I like about the bloggers I am listing here are these guys have paid for their own stuff unless otherwise stated and they post a review after at least 2-3 weeks of using the product. 

snowwhiteandthepear.blogspot.in

Crazy Snail Lady
Also goes into ingredient lists, which ingredient may trigger what and is very interested in the science behind it all. 

http://www.fiftyshadesofsnail.com/

Holy Snails

So good at DIY that she has now launched her own skincare concoctions that are selling out faster than the time it takes to finish typing this line

http://www.holysnails.com/

In this section of Recommended Reading on Snow White and Asian Pear's blog, you'll find a list of bloggers that you could follow, based on skin type and concerns. 

If you are crazy about skincare and etc., you'll love reading this stuff. And your wallet may not thank me.

P.S.: This is not a sponsored post.