Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Start Writing. No matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. 
                                                             - Louis L’ Amour (American Novelist)

Shabri Prasad Singh’s debut novel ‘Borderline’ a fictionalised record of her struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, probably happened because she was prompted by the experts treating her to start writing about her complex life as a part of her therapy. A reason, she equally believed, might work and help her from completely destroying her life.

And so, as readers we have this brutally honest and a bold story of Amrita Srivastava who has been to hell and back. Written in first person the story revolves around the the roller - coaster life - experiences of Amrita as a child and an adult.

Amrita and her older sister Sati have had a privileged childhood. They have travelled and lived in Europe (London) surrounded by Indian diplomats for a big part of their childhood. Amrita is the second child of an influential IPS officer R.S Srivastava and his beautiful wife Neelkamal– also from an elite political family (there’s some French connection too).

Amrita was always a problem child with an unreasonable need to seek attention from her parents unlike her elder sister, Sati. However, the early signs of her real problems and emotional instability starts to show when her parents’ file for a divorce. Unlike her elder sister, she’s unable to cope with the trauma of her family breaking up and blames both the parents (and later their respective partners) for a long time.

She’s extremely close to her father and almost worships him. As for his part, he loves her equally and is protective of her. He understands that while his elder daughter can fend for herself; the younger one needs parental guidance and support. And throughout his life he not only indulges her but also tries to keep her out of harm’s way. After her parents’ divorce, both the sisters start living with their father and can only meet their mother during the weekends. This vast change in their domestic situation impacts Amrita greatly and she loses whatever little interest she had in her studies and spends most of her time in bad company or some “happening party.”

“Rather than focusing on studies, my priority was to find ways to give papa the slip.”

 Amrita is heartbroken when she has to leave for the US for her higher studies upon her father’s insistence. She somehow manages to cope with her new environment only when she meets Hafez and falls in love with him. But soon her insecurities comes to haunt her and she starts becoming envious and possessive of her boyfriend. The relationship ends unhappily, leaving her even more emotionally disturbed. Things just start to go downhill from there and one tragedy follows another, the most devastating of them being her father’s sudden demise.

The rest of the story is about how her “mind allows the darker demons that lurk within to possess it” and ruin not only her own life (fuelled by excessive drinking, drugs and multiple bad relationships) but also that of everyone around her until she finally recognises her problem and consciously undertakes the journey to heal herself with professional help.

What makes this book a remarkable read is its excruciating honesty and the boldness with which the story has been told. On a personal note, I would really like to be friends with people like Amrita who are bold, genuine and don’t shy away from accepting their weakness or mistakes.

However, my last thoughts are about something that the book brings out as a side story with a devastating consequence (if revealed). Actually, it mentions a mysterious lady writer who takes advantage of Amrita’s vulnerable state; get her to spill out intimate details of her life and her mental problem and then publishes the entire story in the form of her next novel. The (dubious) woman character is referred to as ‘Ria’ in the book. No surname. Only Ria.
Borrowing from the immortal lines of Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ -

 ‘Who is Ria…?’

Maybe we’ll find out soon. My best wishes to the author.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Her Dress, Her Choice!

Recently, I bought myself an off - shoulder top. As soon as I stepped into the house that day, I quickly changed into my new blouse and stood admiring myself in front of our old dressing - table mirror like an excited teenager. How the beautiful garment fitted me and how the colour was just right for my skin tone…rattled on the happy voice inside me.

Being from the army background; I’ve had the privilege of living all over the country, and that, besides several other things, has given me the opportunity to observe and follow fresh and unique fashion and dressing styles of people from different parts. Out of this understanding, emerged my own unique style of wearing attires which I like to believe is an extension of me and my personality and may or may not reflect popular dressing sensibilities. Moreover, I wear what I like. It matters to me that I dress up according to my own taste.

Now that brings me to the point of this article; the raging debate on social media, a few months ago, over what Priyanka Chopra wore when she met Prime Minister Modi in Berlin followed by a similar news on social media trolling the Dangal actress, Fatima Sana Shaikh’s beach wear photos that she’d posted on twitter while holidaying in Maldives during the holy month of Ramadan. Both the news are stale. People have other interesting things to debate and discuss. However, I’ve been meaning to write about my own thoughts on this for a while. Buying the off - shoulder top triggered that thought and so here I am.

I was amused and exasperated by all the hullabaloo around the misdirected topic of discussion when the news first hit social media about Priyanka’s dress followed by that of Fatima. Come on people (naysayers), get a life! Both the women are well – educated and responsible women who’ve reached where they are in life because of their talent, dedication and grace. Both are more than capable of making their own life – choices; least of all when it comes to deciding what to wear or not for a particular occasion.

Take the case of Priyanka, wasn’t it really thoughtful of her to meet PM Modi when she found out that he was also in Berlin? Didn’t the picture of the two we all saw on social media conveyed the warmth, pride and respect of the duo for each other as fellow citizens? We all should have been discussing these and maybe other such interesting issues. But out of everything else, what did we find the petty - minded discussing or reporting? Her dress – and her bare legs!

Poor Fatima wasn’t spared either! She was in Maldives for a holiday and decided to post some great pictures of herself by the beach. What was so wrong about that? What else is one supposed to wear on a beach? Besides, what a woman wants to wear or not is completely her prerogative. For that matter, what she can or cannot do with her own body is her choice. No one else should have a say in it. When will our society accept this basic fact?
Anyway, I think the people with skewed view of femininity need to be educated about the importance of respecting women for being themselves. What really matters to us (as women) is that we are accepted and admired for who we are as individuals rather than being wrongly judged on how we look or what we wear!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Why giving back to society is not what you think it is?

       Marching Forward: At India Gate with the kids of Empowering Minds Education Centre

Years ago, I was watching the renowned Human Rights Activist, Asma Jahangir’s interview on TV. Somehow, the things she revealed that day about her work left me feeling disturbed. I had just started working myself then after completing a two years post-graduation course in Travel and Tourism Management. It was my first job. I was proud of the fact that besides being placed in a prestigious international airline, a decent pay cheque, my job also gave me the opportunity to travel around the world. It was what I relished the most about my profession and made me look forward to a long and fulfilling career in the travel (and tourism) sector.

And yet, that day after listening to the internationally acclaimed lawyer and social activist’s talk, I’d almost felt bad for myself. As if, I had not chosen well and needed to do something more in order to be happy. On the same day, I recall telling my dad that when I retire from active work; I would do something to benefit the underprivileged and the deprived. I don’t know why I said that but it definitely eased my mind and made me feel better.

It took me several more years to finally take a call and after having gained experience in multiple companies; I left my last corporate job at the peak of my career; and instead opted to join the social sector and begin from scratch (after completing my Masters in Human Rights). Now when people ask me what made me leave my cushy corporate job (s) one after the other or what was it exactly that disturbed me that day after watching that interview with a Human Rights Activist, I have the answer.

I was certainly distressed to hear about the sufferings of others but more than that I was disheartened that there was nothing I could do about their situation. It made me feel helpless.

 But I was wrong. All of us have the power to do something about the things we feel bad about! In fact, we’ve the choice of either taking action or just feel bad temporarily and then move on. Much later, I also realised that true happiness lies in seeing others happy. This may sound superfluous to some. But this is an honest response. Today, I work with Empowering Minds, a Delhi based NGO on different projects. In fact I’m one of the founder – members of the NGO. And proud and happy to be working with them.  

                        International Women's Day celebrations at EM Education Centre 

My corporate job (s) could not give me the kind of satisfaction that my inner - most core was seeking. Most of them made me financially secure, gave me the money to buy things I needed for a comfortable life, and even added value to my overall personality but they also made me selfish, irritable, and anxious and mostly left me feeling empty deep inside.

Well, that was my story. However, this article is not about corporate jobs vs. social work. Everyone needs to earn a living and not everyone can shift gears like I did then. But it is equally important to know that things must not be always seen in terms of gains and losses. A simple act of kindness, or reaching out to needy, even volunteering for a cause one deeply relates to can make the person feel happy deep inside. As long as you reach out with a genuine desire to help someone; the satisfaction you get in return is immense. Try it sometime. Here are a few other things that happens when you decide to give back without expecting anything in return-
  • ·         Selfless service brings out the best in you. You evolve as a human being.
  • ·        You get a chance to pay your debt of gratitude to the higher force/almighty for all the good things and blessings you’ve received.
  • ·          In the process of empowering others you learn new skills and enrich yourself.
  • ·         The joy in seeing someone else happy increases your own joy manifold. It even makes you feel proud and accomplished.
  • ·         You create a sense of purpose in life. It enthuses you with new energy. 

I experienced (& continue to experience) all of the above but the best of it all was I no longer wanted to move from job to job. I’d finally realised what I wanted to do till the very end. Make people happy. And be happy myself.

Keep smiling. And spread the joy!