Sunday, April 29, 2012

On biking, it is!

It was back in June last year while I was interning at IANS that I was sent to an early morning expedition to India Gate to witness and report the flagging off ceremony of the 2011 Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey. The hour long event which saw around 50 bikers getting ready for their 15 day journey to Leh and beyond and back, had me suddenly changing my perception of bikers as being ‘rash drivers’. Never had I given a serious thought to learning to ride a motorbike before that day. After going through the information provided in the press kit and a lot of internet surfing, I was like, I have to ride on one of those bikes and go on a biking trip!! The day hasn’t come yet, nor have I learnt to ride a bike as of now, but this experience was good enough for me to start writing about it here for the Castrol Power1 Blogging Contest at IndiBlogger.

Biking is fun. Biking is all about letting go of your worries. Biking is freedom. I have heard a lot of similar stuff. Having no personal experience in the art of biking, I thought I would ask some of my biker friends what biking meant to them. A facebook status update and tagging a few friends was all that was required to bring in some wonderful answers in a few hours of time.

Getting hands on that dream bike and riding at an age when you can not legally have a license, is another bit of the fun of enjoying freedom. My senior at IANS, Rahul, sent me an account of getting his hands on his first bike back in class 10.

Parking the bike and sitting silently listening to music or riding the animal at full horsepower on the open stretch of the highway, my biker friends seem to love it all.

A senior from my school is a biker who loves to address his bike as his girl friend- 'the only woman I could ever trust'. No wonder I also have a friend who is a girl and loves the thrill of riding the bike. 

I learnt driving a car with the help of a proper trainer in May 2010. My trainer remarked on the second day that I was able to drive with more ease and safety on the back gear than any of the first five gears. I wonder how the scene is going to be when I finally learn to ride a bike. Perhaps then, i would be able to come up with a better post for this kind of a contest. ;)

By the way, are you a biker?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

‘We’, the ‘normal’ people and ‘They’

Disclaimer: Some parts of this entry might be unsuitable for people under the age of 18. Please approach with caution.

A few days back a friend of mine was at a coffee house in the evening and a man approached him. He introduced himself as the son of a famous theatre artist and was interested in casting my friend for a role in his upcoming play. My friend, who wants to go in for acting was overwhelmed at the prospect but suspected iniquity. Why would the ‘son of a famous theatre artist’ approach a stranger at a random coffee house for the role in his play? As it turned out, the man’s intentions were different and unacceptable. My friend made a good decision and left the place after giving him a wrong contact number so that he could contact him for the ‘play’!

I personally had a similar experience some days back. I was on my way home from Connaught Place after a fun evening with friends. I had taken a red bus from KG Marg in front of the Hindustan Times building. The bus wasn’t crowded considering it was past 9 PM now but there were no seats vacant. So I took my usual place near the window at the emergency door and stood there. I usually listen to music on my phone on these bus journeys but today I had forgotten my ear phones and so I stood there just looking out of the window. There was this man who had got on the bus at the same stop. I thought I should start a conversation with him on any random topic. I am a mass communication student and I do not have the guts to even talk to a stranger. I shall make a wonderful journalist, I thought. In fact it was the man who initiated a conversation then with a simple ‘What’s the time?’ He then asked me if I was a student. I said yes. He asked where I was studying. I answered and then his response was not totally unexpected. He said he was working with HT and if need be, he could help me get a job there sometime. I tried appearing not very interested. He gave me his number and said I could contact him if I needed an internship or for that matter, get into HT anyhow. On his insistence and not to sound rude, I gave him my number as well. At least this would bring an end to the conversation! But no, there was more to come. He asked me what I was doing on the weekend and if we (Yes, he and I!!) could take a stroll in Central Park. Lo and behold! I understood the situation in an instant. Hats off to my stupidity! This guy was interested in more things than just getting me into HT! Thankfully my stop arrived then and I got off the bus while I erased this new contact number from my phonebook and added it to the blacklist! Whoa! Close encounter this was!

A quick Google search reveals names of bollywood films (and to my surprise, a recent TV soap) which have portrayed any gay character over the years.

A shot from Dostana (2008). Source: Google
What Dostana did was it brought the hush-hush topics to be discussed openly at least amongst teenagers. Then there are films like Fashion, My Brother… Nikhil and I Am which have openly acknowledged the presence of gay members in the society and the troubles they face. And also there is the recent film Dunno Y…Na jaane Kyun which faced the axe of the censor board and its release has been banned in the country.

Over the years we have seen this kind of portrayal of men a lot in Indian cinema and television (Remember, Maddy, the fashion designer at Gulmohar in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin?) Mostly the portrayal of these men has been done in fun and to-add-humour to the storyline. Although no where it has been done to offend any community, the portrayal of ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’ men in this light has not been very fair to their community, or at least that’s what I feel.

What keeps me wondering is- are these people actually so desperate to have a physical relation? Or is it just the society which has over the years portrayed them in such a way and ultimately, they have begun to accept things this way only. These are probably the people who have the guts to come out in open about their sexuality in the society. And then there is another set of the same people who are unwilling to be open about themselves fearing the criticism they would receive from the society even if they have no ulterior motives. This is what I feel ought to be changed- the perception we, the ‘normal’ people have regarding these ‘not-so-normal’ people. (That’s what we think they are, isn’t it?)

After a lot of resistance, now finally I have been watching all the seasons of the American sit-com ‘Friends’. I have only been able to reach through the midway of season 3 right now. Episodes dating back to 1994 and 1995 have explicitly talked about the gay themes many times and at all times (whether it be Chandler being described as someone who ‘looks’ gay or Carol’s relation with Susanne) the context has been something funny which in a way or other shows the thinking that we have about this particular community of the society. Why I am talking about Friends right now is that it is not only in our country where the wrong portrayal is done, it is in fact, a universally accepted phenomenon!

Last night I was having a conversation with a college friend of mine who has recently worked on a documentary about the LGBT community in India. She told me regarding her conversations with real gay and transgender people in Kolkata. ‘It is just respect and acceptance that they expect’, she told me. ‘They were nice people to be around. I, as a girl, didn’t feel insecure at all when I was with those guys.’ When I told her about the angle I wanted to put in for this entry, she clarified more stuff, ‘To generalise the fact that gay people are desperate for a physical relation would be wrong. Yeah, there are some like that, but I guess, even the normal ‘heterosexuals’ have these kinds of people. Why else would we be having so many cases of rape every other day? It is just that what a man does to a woman is considered within social boundaries, but what a man does to another man, is not.’ Well, if we think about the ‘rape’ point, I don’t think we have ever heard news saying a man raped another man, have we?

The ‘not-so-normal’ people are after all just normal men and women who have a different sexual preference and can do nothing about it. Nobody accepts them to be ‘normal’, and eventually they have to bend into the society’s so-called ‘rules’, hiding their true identity just to face acceptance by friends and family. Probably even they can fall in love like we do, have fun in life the way we expect to have, and lead a life as normal as we do. (Btw, did you notice that while reading this last sentence, you understood the term ‘we’ to be all people minus the LGBT community? If yes, then I think that’s the biggest live proof we have saying that there is indeed a discrimination that we make against them. Isn’t it?)

(I don’t know why I am feeling right now that this blog entry has become more of ‘preachy’ kind and not the usual fun stuff I write and hence, it is losing its value, is it?)

Before I end this entry and you keep wondering why I have written all this stuff supporting the gay community when I have myself faced a situation which was unwelcome, let me tell you: I have a good friend who is gay and has been open about it for some time now. Although I haven’t talked to him in months, I have been aware of the problems he has faced as part of living in a hostel and people accidentally finding out about his sexuality. With this and the recent incidents in mind, I thought giving this topic a shot might actually work out for the present situation.

It is 7.20 PM of the 10th of April already and for the third time in a row the last few hours are left when I am writing a blog entry for a contest. With over many hours spent on this entry, I think it’s time for me to conclude now. This entry has been written for the Stayfree- Timefor Change contest on IndiBlogger.

If it was the disclaimer which made sure you read this entry till the end, then I would exclaim- Yes! Mission successfully accomplished! :D

P.S.: No person living or dead, from any community, is intended to be hurt by whatever I have said. This is just a personal viewpoint that I wanted to present. And I would love to hear from you what you feel regarding this, without generating a controversial debate.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Incredible Indeed!

This is my entry for the Mahindra XUV500 Incredible StoriesContest at IndiBlogger. The topic for the contest demands an ‘incredible’ story to be told; an ‘incredible’ experience that I have had. Well, it’s been almost a month since the contest started and even after my constant insistence that I won’t delay my entry, here I am writing my ‘incredible story’ on the very last day of the contest.

‘Incredible’? The dictionary meaning of the word is ‘beyond belief or understanding’. I have been thinking about this term since the past few days a lot. Does ‘incredible’ really have to be some ‘life-changing’ experience that I have had or does it have to something related to travel or any journey? Can it not be any simple incident or for that matter, some extreme situation that I have been in? The answer goes beyond my comprehension and so here I am with a story that not many people are aware of and which I haven’t ever talked about in my so many rambling blog entries over the past four years. ‘Not talked’ probably because I never had the idea how to go about it. But since the time I have been thinking about something ‘incredible’, nothing else has come to my mind. Here’s an attempt:

It was the 29th of May. The year is 2008. I was staying at Bhubaneswar with my grandparents and cousins and eagerly waiting for my 10th board results to be out. I moved here ten days ago when my parents had taken my younger sister, Akankshya, to CMC Vellore for diagnosis and treatment of some problem she was having since the past few months.

My results came out. It was Akankshya who called from the hospital and told me my score. I got to know that I had stood second in my class. It was an amazing day for me. The same day also happened to be the day when Akankshya’s diagnosis results were to be out. The doctors did announce the results to my parents. I was not told about it till the next day probably because nobody wanted to destroy the smile and happiness on my face that my exam results had brought in. Akankshya had been diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, the medical term for a condition which she described to me over phone in simple terms, the way the doctors had explained it to the 14-year old: “Mere blood mein infection hai.” (My blood is infected)

Although the term ‘blood cancer’ was used in family discussions and everywhere else, it was common understanding that Akankshya shouldn’t get to know about it. She was not told anything more than a ‘simple blood infection’. Now when I think about it, I guess probably this was the reason why I didn’t write anything about her condition on my blog in those months. I didn’t want to give her even the tiniest affirmation to the questions she ‘might’ be having in her mind.

Over the course of time, I have got to know what exactly was happening in those days with Akankshya within the walls of CMC. Mostly it has been my mother, the strongest lady I have ever seen, who has told me everything sometime or the other. Akankshya was in the ICU for a long time and might have entered into coma. My parents were there with her, all the time witnessing how the condition of their daughter was deteriorating with each passing day as more and more drugs entered her body due to the chemotherapy.

This was also the time when I had to move to a new school, to meet new people, to a new city altogether. It wasn’t easy for me, a complete introvert by nature, to accept so many new things at one go. Hostel life brought in many problems right from the beginning. It took me a real long time to adjust to my new environment. After almost 5 months, during the diwali holidays I went to Vellore. It had been a real long time away from my family. When I saw Akankshya, I was left speechless. She stood on the top of the stairs and was smiling looking at me. Had I not known that it was her, I doubt if I would have been able to even recognise her. It was difficult for me to believe that she was the same girl I had said goodbye to at Bhubaneswar airport back in May. She had lost so much weight!! More than that she had been depressed when she lost her most lovable part of the body- her long hair! I spent just a week at Vellore and then was back at Delhi. That one week is unforgettable. I knew that I didn’t want to be back at this place again. Ever. The air at CMC was always so much full of sympathy and negativity. Probably that is how all hospitals are, but for me, this was the first visit to a hospital this huge. On the contrary, my sister is in love with this place and its people.

After 7 months in Vellore, my parents and sister (with occasional visits from my other family members) returned home. The treatment was not over yet. The journey to complete cure would take almost another 2 years of chemotherapy.

Akankshya at CMC Vellore. I think this photo
is dated somewhere around 20th May 2008,
her first days at the hospital
Today, Akankshya is fine. I haven’t seen any other person who has had such a strong will power. She was in class 9 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She has just appeared for her 12th boards and (probably) aims to become a chemotherapist at CMC, the place which gave her a second life. She has fought bravely. She loved talking about her disease as if it was some fun kind of thing, which we always found weird. Is this actually her innocence and ignorance or is this her intelligent behaviour so as to make the people around her feel better? We might never know...

This is my ‘incredible’ story: The story of my sister who bravely fought the cruellest battle life could bestow upon her at such a young age and won it.

This is for the first time I have been so open about this topic and talked about it at this large scale. I have always been at the listening end of all conversations relating to this in my family plausibly because somewhere I believed that this was just another phase and it would pass soon and I would be doing what I loved to do: fighting with Akankshya. And yes, I was right! I love fighting with her even now. And Akankshya, if you are reading this, which I am sure you will, then beware of the upcoming days when you would be with me for such a long stretch after so long. Tera kya hoga Akankshya? Hehe… :D

PS: Akankshya has her own blog and has often written about her experiences with leukemia. If you have come this far, then I would urge you to head over to her blog and go through her first-hand anecdotes. A quote from one of her entries:

“Once my mom said that why did God choose her daughter to have this (the disease), to which I replied “Papa is working and he is getting the money for my treatment, you are my attendant and take care of me in hospital and Bhaiya just passed 10th and getting sick may ruin his life where as I am not working, I am not big enough to be anyone’s attendant and I’m in just in class 9th and studies are not so much necessary right now, So if it had to come to our family then, I was the perfect one to be have it” And my mom smiled slightly at my answer.”

Click here to visit her blog.

PS2: I am not sure if the purpose of this blog entry has been attained. I am not sure if I wrote what the topic of the contest demanded. But I am happy that after so many years for the first time I have been able to express what I have felt about this incredible person that I call my sister. Hats off to you Akankshya! Chal khuus ho ja, teri taarif kar raha hun and tere blog ko free mein promotion bhi mil gaya! [:P]
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