Tuesday, October 9, 2018

My #metoo moment

In 2005, I was working with a newspaper in Chennai when someone came calling from my hometown, Thiruvananthapuram.

This person, who held a senior position with a national daily then, was a teacher-figure for me. He taught me the nuances of writing a report a year earlier at a media centre where I worked immediately after my MCJ course. It was of a big event and he supervised the media centre.

As a post-graduate in communication and journalism who knew more of theory than practical lessons, I was immensely grateful to whatever I learned from him. And I kept in touch with him after I got a job and moved to Chennai from Thiruvananthapuram.

When he told me about his Chennai visit, I was very excited as if I was going to meet someone from home. It was my first stint away from home and I was missing everything related to it. I was 26 and he may have been in his mid-40s.

He said we could meet over lunch at the guest house where he was staying. I went there and had a good time over lunch in the guest house restaurant that was just outside his room.

Post-lunch he said we could sit in the room and talk. I didn't see any danger or awkwardness in it as he was my 'teacher'! To confess, I was too naive with very little knowledge of the outside world.

I walked in to his room and started appreciating the things I saw there. I was gazing through the window still smiling and talking when he came from behind, held my shoulders and kissed behind my neck. I was startled and turned towards him. He cupped my face and planted a wet kiss on my forehead. I felt the area burnt of insult.

I scrambled out and left the place. I was hurt deeply and was struggling hard to hold back tears all the way to my hostel in Nungambakkam. I shared the incident with my roommate and later another friend who was working with a regional daily in Kerala. Both of them advised me to not keep in touch with him again.

I wrote a long mail to him about how the incident hurt me and why I wasn't interested to be in touch with him anymore. He just replied with a one-liner saying he didn't mean "that way". I couldn't take it any other way as I still remember with disgust the tremble in his arms and lips.

That was the last time I met him or talked to him. Thirteen years later, he now holds a plum post with the same daily he worked then.

I buried the incident in my memory as I had overcome the trauma it inflicted. Now I feel I have a platform where I must share it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Senior citizens face harrowing time at IGI airport, New Delhi


4.56am on December 10. Two women senior citizens reach IGI airport New Delhi to take Indigo flight 6E 6065 to Thiruvananthapuram at 6.30am.

The women, aged 62 and 67 years old, were returning home after a short stay in Delhi following a trip to Dubai. They checked in around 5.20am and proceeded to the security gate. 

The women, after their first trip abroad, had couple of bottles of foreign liquor bought from Dubai duty-free shop with them. They carried the bill and bottles in hand. They were unaware that liquor bought from duty-free couldn't be carried in hand at domestic departure, unless it is a direct transfer.

The personnel on duty took away the bottles and the 62-year-old woman to H gate. The other woman, an arthritic, was left to wait at the main security gate. Both the women couldn't communicate in any language other than Malayalam. The woman left alone was clueless about where they took her companion, her sister in law. Mobile phone had signal trouble and she couldn't inform anyone about the same. 

The 62-year-old who was taken to the H gate was asked to put the liquor bottles in her hand bag and check it in. The staff asked her to unpack all her belongings from her hand bag. They even passed comments about the talcum powder she was carrying. She pleaded with them about her flight at 6.30am.

Both the women were traveling from Delhi without assistance for the first time and were clueless about navigating in the airport. At the Indigo counter she was told the gate was closed. She went back to the H gate where the staff seized the bottles and allowed her to go, by when the flight had taken off. 

The 67-year-old is my mother and the other person, my aunt. I left them at the airport and saw them checking in before I left for home in Mayur Vihar. I tried calling them several times to check if all went well but couldn't reach them due to signal trouble. I was shocked when I got a distress call from my mother at 5.55am to tell me my aunt was taken away and that she was waiting there clueless. I was on way home.

Immediately after that I got a call from Indigo saying these two women were yet to board. Before I could inform them about the trouble, the person who called me disconnected and never attended my calls later. I commuted 27km back to the airport during which I made multiple calls for help. Finally I requested Indigo staff to help them exit and escort them outside. 

My aunt who is a BP, cardiac patient and diabetic, was visibly traumatised while my mother seemed exhausted. 

It is perfectly fine that the personnel did their duty by seizing the liquor bottles. But why did they harass two women senior citizens, leading to them missing their flight? With all due respect to the men in uniform and airlines staff, I was shocked the way they treated my aunt. She had to take medicines to regain her pace after the harrowing time at the H gate. 

I reported the matter to the airport manager who asked me to post a grievance in the air sewa app. I was baffled to know that there's no help for passengers for such a major flaw from the personnel at the airport.

After multi-level interventions, I got the liquor bottles back, which I wouldn't have bothered about had they got their flight. I had to book another flight for my mother and aunt by coughing up an extra amount of ₹20,000. 

The entire running around and trouble was totally avoidable if the staff had acted sensibly. They could have kept the bottles and let the women go. Knowing that they were helpless, without being able to converse in Hindi or English, they were subjected to unnecessary harassment. 

Experiences like this affect people's confidence in the system. Hope authorities take note so that such incidents don't recur.

CISF DIG clarifies
After the above post was shared widely on social media, CISF DIG Shrikant Kishore clarified over telephone that the security personnel were not at fault. Referring to CCTV footage from the area, the officer said the delay happened from Indigo's side. He claimed that immediately after the security check, the passengers were asked to go to the Indigo counter and put the liquor bottles in the checked-in bag. 

"We often go out of the way to help passengers. It was bad that the passengers missed their flight but it wasn't a delay from our side," Kishore said.   

As per the evidence Kishore shared in the form of CCTV images and clippings, my mom and aunt went through security check around 5.35 am. They were asked to put the liquor bottles in check-in bag. My mother waited there while my aunt was taken from there along with the liquor bottles. It wasn't clear who took her from the security gate.

Later visuals recorded between 5.50 and 5.55am show my aunt being turned away from one airline counter to another. She was visibly traumatised and is seen  pleading with them with the boarding pass. I don't have the visuals of what happened at the second counter at 5.55. 

An image later shows the bottles kept at the desk of the airlines counter. The CISF has marked it as the point from where the bottles were later handed over to us. Time isn't clear in the image.

Indigo's version

"We understand that the passengers were only conversant in Malayalam, therefore there was a communication gap between the passengers and our Delhi Airport staff, who tried to communicate the requirement to remove the liquor bottles. IndiGo’s airport staff also immediately sent an internal alert to look for any staff members who could speak Malayalam.

At IndiGo, our endeavor is to assist our valued passengers at all times, therefore with an intention to help the passengers reach their destination, our airport team offered to accommodate them on the next available flight, subject to payment of applicable charges i.e. the difference in fare and re-accommodation charges, which we understand were accepted by them, and they duly travelled to Thiruvananthapuram."

- As per the details submitted by the customer relations executive.

However, they decided to refund half the amount we paid extra for the new tickets in the form of travel vouchers. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Survivor turns victim when a raped girl is forced to become a mother

A schoolgirl is raped by a random man who is almost her father’s age or more. He rapes her over several months and an embryo forms inside her womb. She is pregnant. Let us call her Gudiya.

Parents don't notice the pregnancy of the cherubic girl who is not even in her teens. It wouldn't even have crossed in their wildest nightmare when their little girl turned chubbier and cuter. They just believe that their Gudiya is growing up.

The foetus starts moving, with webbed fingers.

Gudiya plays around as usual, in her colourful world. The man is still exploiting her, threatening her not to reveal it to anyone. The lower middle-class parents are struggling to build a wonderful world that they didn’t have, for Gudiya.

Now the foetus has developed fingerprints.

Little Gudiya doesn’t understand what the man is trying to do; but he told her that she would be reprimanded by her parents if she told them about it. She forgets the ‘painful’ moments once he leaves.

The cartilages of the foetus have now developed into bones.

One morning, Gudiya gets stomach pain. Parents take her to doctor and the revelation sends their world upside down. Their little one, who had attained puberty at an early age, is pregnant.

The girl now plays around with a foetus that has eyebrows and eyelids too.

The devastated parents learn that they need legal consent to abort the foetus and approach the local court. The case goes on for couple of weeks before it is referred to the higher court.

The wrinkled skin of the foetus has started smoothening out.

The higher court discusses the matter for some days and refers it to the Supreme Court. The parents, with all their energy, fight the case as their Gudiya is unmindful of her stomach bulging out.

The top court refers the matter to a medical panel. The panel of expert doctors examines Gudiya and come to a conclusion that it is risky to go for abortion at this stage.

The foetus is a baby now. Probably it can see around and snuggle closer to its mom's body for more warmth.

Social stigma haunts the family. They huddle inside closed doors and ponder over options like migrating to another city or even killing themselves, amid sobs and tears. Outside, mediapersons wait for a human interest story while activists line up to take up the case.

The family could barely manage to make both ends meet. But they were rich in dreams... of giving Gudiya all the comforts that they never enjoyed -- educating her and finally seeing her fly high. All have fallen like a pack of cards.

Gudiya wants to play outside but her health now doesn't permit her to run around like earlier. Her tummy has grown much more and is restricting her movement. She remembers doctor saying that she "will have to" deliver a baby. But how, she doesn't know.

We get to know about such Gudiyas at an alarming frequency - a minor rape survivor in court seeking abortion of her foetus. We also hear about infants being buried alive or thrown into canal by a mother who conceived the baby after she was raped. We also hear about young mothers who abandon their newborns as they “just didn’t want to see its face” that reminded them of the sexual assault.

Our courts have taken regressive stand when rape cases were "settled" by marrying off the survivor to the rapist. In other words, letting the pervert that he was, rape her any number of times with societal and legal consent.

Law becomes further regressive when it forces motherhood on a girl, grand-parenthood on her young parents -- even if they hate the baby, whose father is their worst enemy in life; the person who gate-crashed into their world of joy and shattered their dreams.

Gudiya's school may object to her continuing with her studies there. Other parents may not allow their wards to hang around with a girl who is "morally corrupt".  Can the court ensure that she leads a normal life without any such hurdles? The answer would be a disappointing “No”.

The new “unwelcome” entrant to the family would be the worst sufferer. Will the young mother, probably 10 or 12 years, be capable of bringing up a child by giving him/her the needed psychological and financial support? Again, No. The young grandparents who didn’t want the baby to be born will be burdened.

The fight of a new life – the baby - begins here; to be accepted, loved and cared for, finally to grow up beyond the scar that he/she has become for the family. Again, a struggle forced by the law of the land.

Considering the normal route of law is abysmally slow, cases on pregnancy of a rape survivor, especially if she is a minor, should be fast-tracked so that no girl suffers due to time loss.

The officials who handle such cases – right from the constable who take the complaint at police station to the court attendant and the judge – should be sensitised about the urgency in which the case should reach a logical end.

There should be amendments in the law to abort the foetus even if the legally permitted period is crossed, provided the child mother is healthy. It would help the family move on. 

Help her to be a survivor, not a victim.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

We, the people

During growing up years, Republic Day was always confined to schools, local clubs or residents association meetings. There was nothing around to remind me of the significance of the day otherwise.
In Delhi, it was hard to miss the day approaching with tightened security  and traffic diversions along with roadside vendors selling all kinds of paraphernalia in tricolor. This is the place where you can wear patriotism on your sleeves without being frowned upon.

It was only Doordarshan that took us to Rajpath on January 26 every year when I was home, in faraway Kerala. I wished to see it live and didn't want to miss the chance when I'm in Delhi. Armed with a pass issued through an Air Force officer, I headed for Rajpath at 7am.

Since Udyog Bhavan metro station was inaccessible, I decided to get down at Race Course station and walk to Rajpath. Didn't opt for cab because of traffic restrictions. I was worried if I would lose way but the crowd led me.

Security checkpoints all along ensured that we were guided right. After almost an hour-long walk, I reached somewhere near and could see a huge queue on a barricaded footpath near Vigyan Bhavan. People were trying to jump the barricade and security personnel were sweating it out. After some 10 minutes of jostling in the queue, we realized it wasn't moving for some reason no one knew.

By then, security men gave up and let people jump the barricade. People were pushing and elbowing me around while rushing to jump over or pass through under the barricade. I didn't want to do it but had to struggle hard to be on my feet amid the maddening crowd. 

Finally when I made my way to the entry point, what welcomed me was a security barricade. Men in uniform told us the point has been closed and asked us to go via Akbar Road. We had no option. I saw those who jumped the barricades walk inside the area that was now prohibited for people who waited in the queue!

The Akbar Road entrance was too narrow (via controller of accounts office) to take the crowd. Metal detectors were almost pulled down and a near-stampede situation prevailed. I dreaded getting crippled under the feet of the crowd! 

I went through the security check though I am clueless how the personnel on duty would have caught a terrorist among them! It was their luck too that none made his/her way inside with weapons. Room for a thorough check was nil though the advisories issued earlier warned against even carrying gadgets. People went in with whatever they carried!

There was a further tortuous walk before reaching 14, the enclosure number in my pass, which included wriggling through couple of barricades. The only other option was to get crushed by the hurrying crowd. By then it was almost 9am. I was relieved that my pass said "be at your seats by 9.15".

Finally the big board of 14 welcomed me. I rushed towards it to see a huge crowd shouting "Bharat Mata ki Jai", rather angrily. It took some moments for me to realize that the entrance was closed as it was "full" though my pass, issued by name, clearly said it was non-transferable.

I felt miserable. I thought of returning but didn't want to give up. I approached an IPS officer on duty who told me that number 14 was full and I could try any of the nearby enclosures that are open.

Along with a group turned away from 14, I approached the next enclosure that was open. I could see men and women in uniform from the armed forces, some with their family, being pushed around with us.

Seats were all occupied inside the enclosure but to climb on for a clearer view! After a considerable fight, I managed to find space to stand on a gallery. I was relieved that I could see the procession though from a distance.

The sky was heavily overcast and I was exhausted. I was wondering why I didn't choose to watch it on TV, as always. I also wondered what brought people from Jharkhand, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, Manipur and Maharashtra in the few square meters of space around me. I heard them exchange pleasantries while helping each other to climb on to the chair or take a photo and exulting when their state was mentioned in the announcement.

Then the Prime Minister and chief guest went by, national anthem was played, cannon shots boomed, military and civilian floats went past, martyrs were remembered, men, women and children in uniform marched by, helicopters waving tricolor lit up the sky, Tejas thundered into hearts... All accompanied by patriotic slogans. I looked around and realized nothing else mattered to them but India.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Little joys no more

The laziness that follows a heavy meal, the wait for friends to turn up for the evening game sessions and the scorching heat comprised my afternoons in the 90s. I kept myself busy by shooing away hens that would take shade in our verandah and dirty the place in the process and watching our pet cats stretch in the sun. In between, I may dig my teeth into a mango from the collection we gathered during our morning expeditions. The much welcome break came as the ring of a bicycle bell - the ubiquitous postman’s bicycle.

I would rush out, allowing the sizzling gravel on our front yard to burn my feet. I would be thrilled if he had more than one envelope to hand over to me. I would sit on the parapet of the verandah, oblivious of hens and the dirt now, and relish the letters one by one. A cunning craw may swoop down and snatch away the mango I kept half eaten.

I would read them again and again, may be in the evening, next day morning, before framing a reply. The reply would be written over days, specifying the time and date on each sections, which would have the narration of the entire events of the day. I would have narrated the same event in different letters but writing each afresh. No copy pasting could be done on the blue inland letter or papers torn from notebooks.

I would treat my replies the same way as the ones I received, reading them again and again. I would add the missed out points in the margin with stars and symbols in the text indicating the context. The yellow post cover for Rs 4 would hold three foolscap papers. I would ensure that I posted no envelope without filling it to the maximum capacity!

This continued even after I completed my PG, when I was introduced to emails by a friend. Initially I shied away. Later when I started using it, I felt it was much viable financially too. I could use email for half an hour at a cyber café spending Rs 15. To make the best use of Rs 15, I would sit at home, write the mails in the personal computer my brother had bought then, and save them all to a floppy disk. All I needed to do at the cyber café was to send out the mails. During each visit to the cafe in the university library, I ensured I sent out at least 10 mails in half an hour, cutting down drastically on my envelope costs!

The suspense that a handwritten letter brought home was slowly going elusive and I was missing the words in ink. In 2004, I reached Chennai on my first job. In our office, all desktops didn’t have internet connection. I would spend hours at cyber café on my off day. There would be 14-15 mails from my friends waiting in my inbox. I would open them with the same glee as I would receive a letter from the postman.

The happiness deteriorated further when I started my second job in Bangalore in 2007. In my new office, all the PCs were provided with internet connection. Still there was some element left as we were not allowed to check personal mails during work hours. Later when gmail became so popular and unavoidable for work related matter also, mails started losing its charm with its frequency going up.

And it all ended with a ping in May this year, when I decided to join the smartphone brigade. Every now and then mail alerts would pop up, singing a swan song to the beauty of that short wait for a mail.

Now as messages float around in whatsapp 24x7, there’s no more waiting. Handwritten words are no more adding joy to our lives nor is the wait for a mail. 

Monday, May 26, 2014


Feb 21, 2012. On a pleasant morning in Pune, we drove to Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Khadki. My friend and then colleague Pradeep and his wife Sreerekha were with me. 

My anxiety grew as we neared PRC. I'm not going to meet an ordinary friend. I'm going to meet someone whom I have kept on a high pedestal. Someone who was brightening hundreds of lives around through his life that was burning down itself. 

It was around three years ago that Pradeep introduced the phenomenon called MP Anil Kumar to me. It was a time when I was thinking I was going through a bad phase of life. When Pradeep narrated Anil's life to me, I was reduced to a silly soul in front of a big banyan tree that was offering shade to hundreds. 

One of the brightest students of Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram, who went on to become the best cadet in National Defence Academy and enrolled as fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force at the age of 21, was left immobile, totally dependent on others, by an accident he met with when he was just 24. It rendered him neck-down paralysed and when I got to know about him, it was already 21 years since he was bed-ridden. 

The never-dying fighter spirit in him mastered the art of writing by holding a pen in his mouth and later started using computer holding a stick the same way. His first mouth-written article 'Airborne to Chairborne' was widely read. Words ignited his life again and he soared to new heights. He wrote for many news websites and newspapers as well as connected with his friends across the world.

I wrote to him in the email id Pradeep gave. It was full of my admiration for him. Perhaps there was nothing new for him in that. He would have heard the same words from many around him earlier also. Still he amazed me by writing a long reply with anecdotes, tinged with humour. It would be difficult to believe it was written by someone who has been rendered immobile for 21 years! He quoted NBN Sir, one of the most respected teachers of Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram, and said: "count your blessings" and signed off with cheers to Trivandrum mate! 

Our friendship grew from there through emails. I don't know if I can claim to be his friend, he sure was mine. I read the articles he wrote for news portals and papers with awe. They stood testimony to his sharp intellect and command over language. His knowledge in the subject would put to shame any reporters whose physical parameters are perfectly fine but who often fail to gather the required info for a story. 

Finally, I'm going to meet him - the real fighter. As I entered the PRC campus, there was a flurry of thoughts and emotions in mind.  

There he was sitting on the corridor of the centre on a wheelchair, with a smile and a greeting. A face brimming with confidence and never-give up spirit, he made us at ease. In his commanding voice, he spoke about subjects ranging from defence to politics to school days for the next two hours.

I left promising him that I'd come back again. But I couldn't.

Last week, on May 20, the news of him leaving us reached me. Among a medley of emotions was a huge relief that his sufferings have ended. 

Now he won't make anyone travel to Pune. His computer keyboard won't clatter again. His attendants can take leave now. 

What's not going to change is the brightness of that eternal flame in our hearts. Thanks Anil, for fighting on to inspire us all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Who do I vote for?

Election fever has gripped the nation. Even personal meetings are sprinkled with queries like "Who will you vote for?" I gave it a thought that dug out some incidents from the past. 

2005, Chennai
Three of us girls, were stalked by a man on bicycle while we were walking from our paying guest accommodation to Liberty bus stop in Kodambakkam. Though we ignored him initially, his vulgar comments and gestures prompted us to complain to a traffic cop at the junction. The cop studied us even as we were explain with a sense of urgency for him to act as that guy was still a few metres ahead of us. After a while, he told us:"He is alone and you are three girls. Why didn't you beat him up, catch him and bring him to me? I would have taken care of the rest."!!!

2006, Chennai
A sultry afternoon and an overcrowded transport bus. I'm on way to work. As I was struggling to get some fresh air over the head of many who were standing packed, I felt something weird. First I thought it was a casual touch by someone who was struggling to get a grip. In a split second, I realized the creepy hand exploring my waist was not at all going its way unintentionally! I turned back and saw the owner-of-the-hand guy looking the opposite direction as if he didn't know anything. A well-dressed guy with an executive bag! I was seething and let it out with a punch on his nose and eye together, shouting at him. Hearing the commotion, conductor just peeped and told others who craned their necks that one woman is making noise for 'something'! I looked around, not even a single soul even gave me a look of support. Thankfully, that creepo was a coward and got off at the next stop. He could have done anything in retaliation in front of such a passive crowd and even passive conductor. Finally I broke down when someone offered me a seat, not a kind word. We talk so much about safety for women at night; what about day?

2007 Bangalore
Bus ride from my paying guest accommodation to office was a short one and all I used to depend on BMTC buses. The fare was Rs 5 then. They would give back Rs 2 and gesture it's okay and wouldn't give the ticket. All hell broke loose whenever I demanded a ticket and he got to know I'm not a Kannadiga. It continued to 2008, 2009 and even till now whenever I take a short distance ride on a BMTC bus. 

2009  Thiruvananthapuram
My father was admitted to hospital for a gangrenous infection that threatened to be fatal. He had already undergone three surgeries in a private hospital and we were advised to shift him to a government hospital where a popular surgeon was working, who was known to have a magical hand to cure. We shifted him there. Then comes the news. For the surgeon to see any patient, the patient's relative should visit him at home with the amount he decides, the minimum of which was Rs 2,000. Since my father's condition was critical, he demanded Rs 5,000. I was irked no end. The part of brain demanding my rights as a citizen suddenly became active. All I wanted was to trap him red-handed and take him to court. I discussed it with my mother. She listened and said: "What will happen to your father? You want to expose that doctor at the cost of his life?" I was muted. For I knew the pain he was going through with his left hand almost eaten away by gangrene. At the private hospital, the surgeon had shown me his arm - a bone in the middle and yellow and red surrounding it... almost from elbow till palm. I was reduced to just a daughter, not a citizen. 

2010 Bangalore
I had to get some documents notarized. Clueless about the whole process, with none to help, I stepped into Mayo Hall when a person who was dressed like a lawyer came and offered help. Totally unaware of the things happening there, I gladly took up his offer of notarizing my two documents for the 'standard' rate of Rs 300. Much later when I was more aware and had to get something done, I got 30 papers notarized for the same amount I paid for two papers!

2014 Bangalore
I got an electricity bill that was more than double my usual amount. I rushed to the jurisdictional Bescom office where they sent me from one table to another with none at the table even sparing me a look. Finally when I ended up at the same table three times, the woman engineer there spat out a query with utter disdain. Her anger was so visible as she had to take her attention off the sarees displayed in front of her by a salesman to a face requesting help by making her work! After being there for at least half an hour detailing about it, she gave me an illogical deduction and shouted at me for explaining further. 

These are what a common man faces in daily life. May be much more like this. For them, international relations or promising protection to certain communities don't matter. I will vote for the person or party who can offer me days without any of these. Where government servants don't become people's bosses!