Friday, April 26, 2024

The Black Shirt and The Chase


Today, I encountered an issue with the polling process. Yesterday, I had downloaded the voting slip on my office laptop which I couldn't transfer to my phone because of security restrictions. I assumed someone would have dropped the slip at home letter box as is the case usually since the house is locked. But upon arriving home late last night, there was no sign of it. So I tried downloading it again onto my phone, but unfortunately, the website was down today, leaving me without the slip at the polling booth. Despite the efforts of the polling agents to locate my name, they were unable to find it. They suggested I look for someone wearing a tucked in black shirt outside the booth who might be able to assist me faster. Upon exiting, I searched for the individual in the black shirt but couldn't locate them and so returned home to retrieve the slip from my laptop. Upon my return to the booth, I spotted the man in the black shirt, wearing white pants, which reminded me of a funny incident from 25 years ago.

We were in our 7th semester and had signed up for the IES exam. At that time, we had no idea about its difficulty or seriousness; it was more of 'our seniors are taking it, so we'll do the same' mentality. Most of us in our class had signed up, with all the enthusiasm of clueless adventurers, and we had planned to travel the previous day to Ernakulam, where the center was located. I believe someone in the class had booked a couple of rooms in a hotel, anticipating a large group. However, on the day of the exam, only four people showed up - two boys and two girls. This was a time when even interacting between girls and boys was enough to raise eyebrows, and staying in a hotel would have been scandalous. So, we decided not to go to the hotel, and our classmates left, leaving only me and my friend behind.

My friend called her dad and explained the situation. Naturally, he wasn't too thrilled but told us to wait in the station to see what he can do. He then managed to coordinate with one of his colleagues in the Ernakulam office to assist us. So when we called again, he instructed us to look for someone wearing a "black shirt and white mundu(dhoti)", and we were to go with him. We had no idea who he was, his age range, or how he looked. By then, it was late evening, and darkness was setting in, making us increasingly uneasy about being alone at the station. Obviously, this was before the era of mobile phones, so we waited at the station looking for our knight in not-so-shiny attire and eventually spotted an elderly man dressed in a black shirt and white mundu. Assuming he was the person we were supposed to meet, I stayed back with our luggage and my friend approached him. However, the old man seemed frightened by a girl approaching him with confidence. He began walking faster, with my friend following him, and he paced even faster. Somewhere along the way, she lost the chase and the sight of him and we were wondering what to do. There was no way we could call back home again and admit that we had lost sight of our 'savior'. Luckily, our actual rescuer showed up eventually and whisked us away to a convent hostel, where we stayed for the night.

The case of mistaken identity and "the chase" became a source of legendary tales in our circle for a long time. Unfortunately, this incident also meant we were denied permission to travel for any future exams or placement calls, which were centralized in Ernakulam at that time.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Hachi - The gentlest soul I have ever seen

I'm not exactly sure when my attraction to Golden Retrievers began, but at some point along the way, I decided that if I were to own a dog in the future, it would definitely be a Golden. Once, I even came across an ad for Golden Retriever puppies and reserved one, but I couldn't proceed with the purchase because my landlord vetoed the idea of me having a puppy when I was living alone. During my teenage years, I had a pet that was given to me as a gift. However, at that time, we had no idea how to properly raise a puppy, and she ended up being completely untrained.(The reason why you should never ever 'gift' a pet to anyone..) That was my only experience with a pet dog until then. Once I got married, Ram's family had 7 dogs, and he was also feeding many more on the streets. So when I told him about the Golden Retriever story, he said we would have one. Additionally, I felt more confident about having another pet because of his expertise.

However, once we moved to Bangalore, I saw news about lab-released beagles, which was the largest batch at that time. These poor creatures had been kept in solitary cages, subjected to daily drug testing. The release from the labs was a significant shock to their bodies and minds. When they emerged, they lacked confidence, were anxious, and knew nothing about the world outside the laboratory walls – soil, grass, stones, leaves, or sunlight were all foreign to them. Rehabilitation was a challenging process that involved gradually exposing them to the world, patient socialization, and dealing with frequent setbacks. We were so heartbroken listening to the story that we felt compelled to adopt one. Despite being with us for six months, Diva remained fearful and anxious. However, she seemed to improve when we took her back to our hometown and introduced her to our other pets. Seeing her struggle to adapt to human interaction and learn how to be a dog, we decided to adopt a second dog. By then, I was also aware of the issues within the breeding industry and had resolved to adopt from a shelter. When we approached the counselor and expressed our preference for Golden Retrievers, they were uncertain if a breed-specific adoption could be arranged. But, just a few weeks later, they informed us about Hachi, who had been abandoned by his previous owners. Hachi, around 3-4 years old at the time, immediately stole our hearts from the moment we first met him. Despite being abandoned, he exuded an undeniable warmth and trust.

Once he came home, we thought he might dominate Diva, but the total opposite happened. He was always the gentle one, even when Diva stole his food, bed, or snuck in while we petted him. It wasn't long before Diva started observing Hachi's behavior, and began trusting us. Hachi's gentle nature extended beyond the humans in our home. All cats and kittens seemed to instinctively trust him, finding comfort and playfulness in his presence. 
His ability to connect with others, regardless of species, showcased the depth of his empathy and compassion. A couple of months ago, we had a fully paralyzed dog named Amy, with very limited movements. Hachi, who suffered from arthritis, found it difficult to get up, especially in colder months, and usually required assistance. However, one day, when he seemed to have improved slightly, he got up on his own, walked up to Amy, and lay down next to her with his paws on hers, probably to comfort her.

Hachi was everyone's favorite, despite the competition from the many four-legged species we shared our home with. He had a fan following in the neighborhood we lived in; he was adored by groomers and veterinarians alike due to his friendly and obeying nature. Just as Hachi was everyone's favorite, everyone was his favorite too. We also felt he might have been searching for his original owner in all the people he met. It's often said that dogs become heartbroken when separated from their owners. Despite his love for people, he also made sure to give space to those who didn't like dogs or were scared of him due to his size. How he understood it instinctively was just amazing.

He loved car rides, which was a blessing for hodophiles like us. The moment he saw us packing, he would be all charged up and ready to go. We often wondered why someone would give up such a fine dog like Hachi, and we joked that the only reason might be his never-ending love for food.

But as life often unfolds, our time with Hachi was not infinite. He had various health issues which finally claimed his gentle soul, leaving a huge void in our hearts and home. He was with us for over 7 years, and it has been 3 weeks since he passed away, yet we still feel a profound sense of loss and sadness. Sometimes we wonder, while he was literally a dream pet one could ever have, were we the best family he could have gotten? Would it have been better for him to be in a family with just one dog so that he could receive all the attention? Did our move back to Kerala limit his options for receiving the best treatment? Did our elder care responsibilities limit the time and attention we could give him in his final years? However, we won't get any answers to these questions, and they will linger forever in our minds.

As we bid farewell to our beloved Hachi, we hold onto the legacy of his gentle spirit and unwavering love. Though he may no longer walk by our side, his presence will forever be felt in our hearts as we cherish every precious moment we had with him.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Chains of Colorism


Photo by Alexander Suhorucov:

I just watched a counterpoint debate featuring a dancer Kalamandalam Sathyabhama, and I went back to the clip where the controversy erupted. It is astonishing to learn that even in this so-called progressive time, how vile some of her remarks were. She says, "Some of the performers' complexions are dark as a crow, and even their own mothers would not want to look at them." "People have different opinions. If an artist thinks a black-skinned person can perform Mohiniyattam, it is their opinion. But for me, the performer should be fair-skinned.”

It's disheartening to see individuals in positions of influence perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce old-fashioned notions of beauty based on skin color.

I guess what she doesn't understand is the deep wound she is inflicting on someone else, not just the person she referred to but probably many kids who do not fall in the 'fair-skinned' category. By equating dark skin with unattractiveness and implying that it detracts from one's artistic abilities, she not only undermines the talent and dedication of countless performers but also inflicts deep emotional wounds on those who do not conform to her narrow standards of beauty.

Listening to her words, dripping with contempt for those whose skin did not meet her arbitrary standards of beauty, I couldn't help but feel a pang of familiarity. As someone who has personally experienced the repercussions of colorism, I understand the lasting effects it can have on one's self-esteem and sense of worth. Growing up where fair skin was prized, I'm all too familiar with the hurtful comments and comparisons that clouded my childhood.  My mother, with her extremely fair complexion, was the epitome of beauty in the eyes of our community. People often remarked on our striking resemblance, except for one glaring difference – my skin color. From a young age, I was aware of the disappointment and pity on their faces when they realized I didn't inherit my mother's fair skin. The comments were relentless, "Ayyo, ammade color kittiyillallo" (so sad she didn't inherit her mother's color), they would sigh, their words like daggers to my fragile sense of self-worth. "Chinnakkuttide mol karutha kutti aayallo" (the girl is dark-skinned), they would whisper, clearly showing their disappointment in every syllable. There were also comparisons with my fair cousins so much so that  I have always felt  unattractive and unlovable.  It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the seeds of self-doubt were planted, but societal prejudice played a big role. It took a long time to start overcoming those feelings, even if only partly.

So, to Kalamandalam Sathyabhama and all those who believe in the toxic myth of colorism, I say this:  true beauty lies not in the shade of one's skin but in the depth of one's character and the resilience of one's spirit. We must challenge these biased ideas and strive towards a more inclusive and equitable society where every individual is valued and celebrated, regardless of their skin color. 

And to those who feel judged by societal beauty standards: Do not allow others to dictate your worth based on the melanin in your skin. It is not your skin color that defines you but rather the strength and resilience that lie within. You are capable of rising above the narrow confines of societal expectations.

By making diverse voices heard, showing representation in every way, and creating a culture where all kinds of beauty are accepted and valued, we can start to undo the damage caused by colorism. This will lead to a better future for everyone.

Monday, February 05, 2024

The Gorgeous Mess of Life


It's February, and a whole month has passed since New Year's. I am someone who keeps multiple to-do lists throughout the year—mostly for daily tasks, work, personal projects, etc. During the New Year, the planning process reaches its peak. Last New Year's Day, I had planned multiple tasks in my daily todo which I successfully completed and felt a sense of accomplishment. Alas, just before the day concluded, I spilled some boiling milk on me and ended up with a second-degree burn, which took a while to heal, sending all the to-dos for the rest of my days/weeks berserk. So, this year, I was more cautious and set monthly goals. However, the entire month of January saw me falling ill and feeling extremely tired and the to-dos kept piling up. Now as I sit here contemplating the beautiful chaos that is my life, I realized that's how life is. It has a funny way of piling up pages and pages of incomplete tasks, half-baked plans, abandoned projects, unfulfilled dreams, journeys that never took off, and ideas that never saw the light of day. It's a messy set of ambitions that were momentarily sparked by passion but faded into the background as life's responsibilities took center stage. However, I can't help but appreciate all the different experiences that have shaped me into who I am today. We are all such gorgeous messes, aren't we?

But you know what? There's a certain kind of beauty in our messiness. It's life's way of keeping us humble, reminding us that perfection is overrated. It's in these messy moments that we discover the raw authenticity of our existence. So, here's the thing – In the midst of this beautiful mess, let's not forget to be kind to ourselves. It's okay not to have everything figured out, to have dreams at different stages, and to be a mix of what we want and what holds us back. Here's to embracing the chaos, to being okay with the messiness of life, and trusting that things will get better. Those ideas that never saw the light of day? They might be dormant, but they're not dead. Maybe they're just waiting for the perfect moment to shine. Life has its own way of unfolding, and sometimes, the best is yet to come.

Here's to us – the beautifully imperfect, wonderfully messy souls. May our incomplete tasks serve as a reminder that we are constantly evolving, and our unfulfilled dreams fuel the fire of possibility. Let's be kind to ourselves, celebrate the mess, and trust that life has a way of treating us to some pretty awesome surprises. Cheers to the beautifully imperfect journey we're all on! 🌟