Saturday, February 27, 2010

Desert Flower

“She was a child of the desert. She was as tenacious and as beautiful as the flower that grows there after the rain.” I first read about Waris Dirie when I was researching for my final year project with the Trinity College of London effective communications exam. I wanted a subject that will not only touch the heart of my examiner but something so strong that she will take it back with her. Her story needs to be told. Her story needs to be listened to… When terrorist kill – they kill the human being… When your own people kill you, they kill your SOUL !!

Waris Dirie is from Somalia, where Poverty roars unforgiving amongst the vast desert. Her family was a tribe of herdsmen in the Somalian desert. And as a child, the freedom she had to experience nature’s sights, sounds and smells was pure joy. They would watch lions baking in the sun. They ran with giraffes, zebras and foxes. They chased hyraxes—rabbit-size animals—through the sand. They were happy. Gradually, those happy times disappeared. Life became harder. By five she knew what it was to be an African woman, to live with terrible suffering in a passive, helpless manner.

In a nomadic culture like the one Waris was raised in, there is no place for an unmarried woman, so mothers feel it is their duty to ensure their daughters have the best possible opportunity to get a husband. And since the prevailing wisdom in Somalia is that there are bad things between a girl's legs, a woman is considered dirty, oversexed and unmarriageable unless those parts--the clitoris, the labia minora, and most of the labia majora-are removed. Then the wound is stitched shut, leaving only a small opening and a scar where the genitals had been-a practice called infibulations. Paying the gypsy woman for this circumcision is one of the greatest expenses a household will undergo, but is considered a good investment. Without it the daughters will not make it onto the marriage market.

The actual details of the ritual cutting are never explained to the girls-it's a mystery. You just know that something special is going to happen when your time comes. As a result, all young girls in Somalia anxiously await the ceremony that will mark their becoming a woman. Originally the process occurred when the girls reached puberty, but through time it has been performed on younger and younger girls.

On the day of the circumcision Waris peered between her legs and saw a gypsy asking her to sit on a rock outside her house. The old woman looked at her sternly, a dead look in her eyes, then foraged through an old carpet-bag. She reached inside with her long fingers and fished out a broken razor blade. Waris saw dried blood on the jagged edge. She spit on it and wiped it on her dress. While she was scrubbing, Waris world went dark . The next thing she felt was her flesh being cut away. She heard the blade sawing back and forth through her skin. She says that the feeling was indescribable. She didn't move, telling herself the more she did, the longer the torture would take. Unfortunately, her legs began to quiver and shake uncontrollably of their own accord, and she prayed, Please, God, to let it be over quickly. Soon it was, because she passed out.

When she woke up, her blindfold was off and she saw the gypsy woman had piled a stack of thorns from an acacia tree next to her. She used these to puncture holes in her skin, then poked a strong white thread through the holes to sew her up. Her legs were completely numb, but the pain between them was so intense that she wished she would die.

Her memory ends at that instant, until she opened her eyes and the woman was gone. Her legs had been tied together with strips of cloth binding her from her ankles to her hips so she couldn't move. She turned her head toward the rock; it was drenched with blood as if an animal had been slaughtered there. Pieces of her flesh lay on top, drying in the sun. Waves of heat beat down on her face, until her mother and older sister, Aman, dragged her into the shade of a bush while they finished making a shelter for her. This was the tradition; a little hut was prepared under a tree, where she would rest and recuperate alone for the next few weeks.

Waris’ story is one in a million. She is a miracle child. Many girls die from bleeding to death, shock, infection or tetanus. Considering the conditions in which the procedure is performed, it's surprising that any of them survive. Those who survive live to feel the pain each day. Soon after that Waris ran away from her home and made it to Mogadishu from where she fled to London. A chance encounter with a photographer called Mike changed her world. She was introduced to the world of Fashion ! She appeared in a Revlon commercial with Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Lauren Hutton. These projects kept snowballing, and soon she was in the big fashion magazines: Elle, Glamour, Italian Vogue, and British and American Vogue.
In 1995 the BBC made a documentary about her life as a supermodel. In 1997 the United Nations Population Fund invited her to join its fight to stop female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM), as it is more aptly called today. The World Health Organization has compiled some truly terrifying statistics that put the extent of the problem in perspective.

After I saw those numbers, it became clear to me that this wasn't just A WARIS DIRIE problem. FGM is practiced predominantly in Africa-in 28 countries. Now cases have been reported among girls and women in the United States and Europe, where there are large number of African immigrants. This practice has been performed on as many as 130 million girls and women worldwide. At least two million girls are at risk each year of being the next victims-that's 6000 a day.
This story needs to be told. You need to be aware !!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Story of the next generation Japanese.

The parents and grandparents of today's youth of Japan put a nation back together after a devastating war and accomplished an "economic miracle" through incredible work and sacrifice. They lifted Japan to the front of the modern world. That has been the story of Japan for the past fifty years. What is the story of this generation? They have been the recipients of enormous wealth. They've had everything that previous generations lacked. The future has great potential. But they are growing up in a land that has paid a price. All I ever heard was how the Japanese race has been scarred for life ! World war 2 and its after effects can still be felt in the heart of the Japanese people. Ask a Japanese about Americans and look at their reaction. My history text book sympathizes with these affected Japanese. But yesterday I was taken aback while watching a documentary of Japan and its youth culture.

Japan is experiencing the first generation gap in its recorded history. It's obvious that change is happening. Like us new generation Indians – who have forgiven and forgotten what the British did to us. They even have a special name for those under the age of about thirty: shinjinrui (the new race). This "new race" represents more than just wild clothing and colorful hair. They are disobeying at school, violating age-old rules of public behavior, and rejecting the ideal of a lifelong job working six days a week for the company. Many are dropping out of school and taking part time jobs in exchange for time and freedom. What really sets this generation apart is their refusal to follow the paths of their parents or accept their society's vision of a happy future. This signals a change in culture, not just youthful rebellion. Japanese people are no longer the small frame, non-consuming, non-demanding, disciplined, hard-working race of the world we live in today.

Much of this change is public and flashy – like the pop culture especially in certain places, like Shibuya, where one encounters public expressions of a generation trying to find its voice and identity. For a person like me, who has never given Japan's group-centric culture a thought apart from what I learnt at school, this apparent surge of individualism comes as a shock. It's certainly a common theme around the world today. But you don’t expect the Japanese to be the new Americans ! Japan has been shocked in recent years by the increase in violent crimes among youth. These include high profile cases of unspeakable acts at the hands of elementary school kids. Among junior high and high school girls, casual prostitution is becoming common. A high percentage admit to using sex in exchange for money and gifts, and there is a growing market among older businessmen willing to pay young girls for sex, with plenty of takers.

Shibuya is a stage where this drama plays out. Most people in Shibuya at any given time don't live or even work there. Shibuya is a convergence of people and activities. Below ground several train lines come together delivering untold numbers of passengers to the heart of Tokyo. When they emerge at Hachiko Crossing, they encounter a vast intersection where thousands pour across the street at each turn of the light. They are businessmen, students, internationals, shoppers, and gawkers of all ages and types. Above the crowd, dominating the sides of buildings, the faces of celebrities and "pop idols" appear on giant video screens in music videos and commercials, though it's hard to draw a line between the two. Hundreds and thousands of young people on the streets below are trying to emulate their latest haircuts and clothing. It is the BIG APPLE & The TIMES SQUARE of the East, only with small frame people.

Finally, Shibuya is well known for the girls who show up there in the latest Shibuya style (there is even a magazine devoted to them). Two years ago, Shibuya was owned by ganguro (dark) girls. They were either excessively suntanned or they lathered themselves at night with fake tanning lotion. They were dark. On top of that, they wore pale lipstick and eye shadow and stood atop 12 inch platform boots. (Some were injured falling off their shoes, it's true.) Shibuya girls inevitably attract videographers and photographers. Some are getting footage for pop culture TV shows, others are working on "serious documentaries, and still others probably just want close up pictures of loose women. In any case, the girls do everything but hang up a billboard that says, "Cameras here!"

Shibuya, like other popular gathering points in and out of Japan, represents a generation trying to take control of their own lives--determining their own hair colors and clothing, making loud public statements, and challenging rules of conduct. It looks like a thriving post-modern carnival, edgy and full of vitality (if a bit dark in places). But youth, in their exuberance, are usually less radical and more deluded than they realize. There are other powerful players on the stage.
Despite the rebellious and revolutionary overtones, Shibuya seems mostly like a huge marketing machine, and Japanese young people are perhaps the ultimate consumers (with time, their parent's money, and a sense that individuality and freedom are commodities (perhaps imported from the USA). They provide the energy and the machine offers them choices. What do you DO in Shibuya? You look; you shop; you eat. Then you go home and buy the brands that you saw there. In a land of shrines, Shibuya is a shopping shrine. The "idols" are on the video screens. Music is lifted up. Offerings are taken. They even have temple prostitutes; it's sad to say.

By the way, when Starbucks came to Japan they made a smart move. They immediately put a store right in the center of Shibuya looking down over Hachiko Crossing. Today, Starbucks is on the way to becoming as ubiquitous in Japan as it is in the USA.

Japan forfeited both tradition and cultural identity in it's rush to modernity. Though you see plenty of religion and ritual, the majority of Japanese people do not have faith in any god or God. They only believe in themselves (and that is debatable, given what I've written above). For the past fifty years Japan has been a world leader in suicides.

Japan is still recovering from the national story it projected after World War II. They have lived on world sympathy. Now Japanese youth are making waves by answering the hard questions of who they are, why they are here and what is worth living for. Till then, they will get up in the morning, fight their over-disciplining parents, put on their newest music gizmos, shop till they run out of their inheritance money, follow fashion as much as a woman in Manhattan would, ape the West, get divorced, trade sexual favors, have more pets than children, smoke cigarettes, gamble, drink the world dry… I can't wait to make my personal impression of it when I first visit Japan this summer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Commit to the 1411 tigers

I wake up one morning to see M.S.Dhoni rant about there being only 1411 tigers left. Who cares right ? It’s sad and all, but what can you do ? Dinosaurs got extinct – the ape man didn’t do anything about it !! We no longer see the golden quocoi extinct somewhere in 1970’s. Each generation is responsible for letting go off one animal species. And 2009-10 – being our year, we will be responsible for making TIGERS EXTINCT ! When you live in the 21st century, all you think about is yourself – and I said to myself in consolation – Atleast I don’t make the hunting trips myself !! I don’t even eat MEAT – there you go , this is my contribution to saving our animals !!

But a quick call from a class-mate Akshay made me think ! Now Akshay and I may not be fast friends, so it was quite odd when he asked me what am I going to BLOG about next, that too 10 a.m this morning! He suggested SAVE TIGERS as a working title. Really ? Me ? Blog ? Tigers ? 5 hours after this phone call, I thought I should at least Google it. I haven’t googled anything today ! So while the pages got loaded, flashes from the past appear before me. First memory has to be the hindi film villain’s house which will definitely have a stuffed tiger hanging on his wall … or the tiger skin forms a part of the mural on the wall. I also remembered my trip to Darjeeling a decade and a half ago. And I remembered asking my mother why isn’t Rani( the tiger’s name was Rani ) roaring ? The Darjeeling tiger reserve had one ailing tiger who they didn’t know how to cure. And she has been a gift from some government to India when the reserve was being made. She was soon going to be moved out of there – because she was so sick and refused to show any signs of recovery.

This is reason enough ! So I first set about getting my tiger facts straight !

•From around 40,000 tigers at the turn of the last century, there are just 1411 tigers left in India.

•2009 was the worst year for tigers in India, with 86 deaths reported.

•There are 37 Tiger sanctuaries in India. However, 17 sanctuaries are on the verge of losing their tiger population.

•Corbett National Park is the oldest tiger park in India. It was created in 1936 as ‘Hailey National Park’.

•The Kanha National Park’s lush sal and bamboo forests, grassy meadows and ravines provided inspiration to Rudyard Kipling for his famous novel, The Jungle Book.

Now it hit me !! 1411 tigers, Really !! 10 pages of Google with 10 entries per page all were talking about saving the TIGER. I like to believe Akshay thought I was the one person who could use my blog as a medium to write about saving our national animal. And even if I have just written SAVE OUR TIGER – This would be awareness enough .. !! So I’d like to take moment to thank Akshay for making me commit to this cause. And through this blog I wish a few more of my folks to commit to this cause themselves.

The objectives are to:
•Protect, restore corridors to ensure connectivity between tiger habitats while ensuring that human-tiger conflicts are reduced.

•Reduce pressures on the tiger habitats by promoting alternative livelihoods for local communities in and around tiger habitats.

•Create incentives for local communities as well as state and regional government and opinion-makers to support tiger conservation.

•Enhance capacities of the Forest Department to control poaching of tigers and prey species.

•Provide policy inputs at state and central levels to ensure effective measures for conservation of tigers and their habitats.

•Promote the political will as well as popular support within all sectors of society for tiger conservation.

So, I get onto the AIRCEL Initiative website – What can be done ? It asked me to write about it – to spread the message for people to read. TIGERS ARE REALLY ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION PEOPLE !! And it’s a scary thought. How will our next generation ever relate to the Jungle Book ? Will SHER KHAN never be the villain ? Will books have to be amended for our national animal for 40 something years is just a mere fragment of our imagination ?

The second initiative is to make some contribution to institutions like WWF Etc. Who have been proactively working for this cause.

I for one am going to make it a point to visit one of these Wild Life Reserves on my next trip out. And be a responsible tourist ! I want to go and experience the wilderness without disturbing the tiger habitats !! The reason why these tigers are also depleting in numbers is because these forest reserves don’t have as many tourists that come in, which means lesser revenues, which means lesser money is spent on the up-keep of these reserves. They just missed the point, that they were made for these tigers in the first place ! I have done my bit ! Now it’s your turn.. Come join me LET’s BE RESPONSIBLE TOURISTS, let’s plan a trip to the reserve. It may be our last chance to see these beautiful animals.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Before I Die ...!!

And He who inspires me each day ... And helps me believe in myself .. Love you Daddy !!


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