Category Archives: General

Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

I am a fan of fiction novels and have read a lot many so far by many famous authors. However after Shaurya’s arrival my reading has been dominated by health and parenting books :). Hence reading Private India was much-needed change for me. I had read Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi earlier and wasn’t impressed much by it. To me, it looked like a failed attempt to mimic Dan Brown with a novel full of many loopholes. But partnership with James Patterson drew me towards reading Private India with high expectations as I liked reading a few Patterson novels. Albeit this added attraction, the story of loophole still stays with Sanghi’s writing.

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Here’s what’s up with my life!

Life’s changed a lot since I last updated this blog! So this post will be all about the new happenings :).

I’m now mommy to a 7 months old son. We named him Shaurya (means Courage)! He has sort of assumed a center-stage in our lives now :). Being vegan for nearly 3 years now, my pregnancy was obviously vegan. I have often been asked to share my experience with vegan and natural birth. So a post about that is next in the queue! 🙂

I took up two certifications during pregnancy. One on Plant based nutrition from Cornell (of course distant learning) and the another in Technical writing (full time). Hence instead of working full time with IT sector, now I earn my bread by taking technical documentation contracts from home. If anyone’s interested, do checkout my Odesk profile! I also started writing as a freelancer regarding issues relating to veganism, health, environment, etc. Some of my articles are listed here. I also contribute my time to promoting veganism whenever possible.

Being a work-from-home-mom is difficult, but thanks to understanding and loving hubby and forever cheerful Shaurya, everything’s moving smoothly :).

Servent of God or victim of lust?

“She is given to the temple by her parents just when she reaches her puberty. Scared she is, about the outcome of that event, as she is dressed by her mother. The poor girl, hardly understands the meaning of  marriage, let alone marriage with God!” bemoans Mokshamma, a dalit women working with Navjeevana Mahila Okkuta (NJMO), an organization working in North Karnataka (based at Raichur).

It’s estimated that every year more than 1000 young girls in Karnataka are sacrificed in the name of tradition. These girls come from Dalit families, primarily  belonging to the lowest strata of the society.  The girls are given away often for money, at times to save the cost of dowry and marriage. Often parents seek boy child and when a girl is born instead, she’s sacrificed. The disabled or deceased girls  too end up being the victims. On a few occasions, the Gowdas (upper caste) of the village, on suspecting an evil force active in the village, urges (forces) a lower caste family to sacrifice their daughter in service of GOD. Such a girl is known as a ‘Devadasi’, a servant of God.

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Bangalore, memories galore!

RWUBY4BZ9X5J Leaving the (erstwhile) garden city was a mixed feeling: On the one hand, I was enthused about being reunited with Pulkit after a three-month separation,  and on the other, saddened by the sudden realization of what all I am leaving behind. Here goes a quick rewind to perhaps the most influential 2 years of my life:

I relocated from Pune to Bangalore with Pulkit after tying the knot, one of the best events that have ever happened  to my life. Pulkit has brought a unique flavor to my world, one that I adore (despite our fair share of squabbles)! I wish I could say the same about the truck load of weird nick names he has coined for me :-).

The highlight of the stay was undoubtedly my involvement in activities at AID, which introduced me to several other like-minded groups and individuals across India. Quite a few of them inspired me towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle and are responsible for my improved depth of thought. I must admit my ignorance about some issues pertaining to the injustice that prevails in my surroundings. The more aware I became, the more agitated I grew. Fair amount of debates, discussions and reading have altered my views to such a degree, that I’m now not surprised at seeing many of my closed ones being unable to relate to me at times. But deep down, I still feel the same Sejal,  cheerful around the near and dear, proudly feminist, (increasingly) compassionate and (decreasingly) lazy.

I also had a bunch of ‘firsts’ in Bangalore. I took Pulkit’s suggestion of cycling to work, a decision which I will never regret. I am proud to have paddled 20-25 kms at a stretch! I also had a successful stint at growing a  tiny balcony garden and home-composting! Our first door-to-door relief collection (for Bihar floods) still brings a smile to my face, wherein we had unique experiences of catching people drinking in the middle of the afternoon and seeing the door being shut on us because we were mistaken for sales people :). The visits to villages such as Unnainhalli or Potnal were also the first of their kind. It was also my first time at a course such as the one conducted by PHM on ’Health and Equity’, giving me enhanced  clarity for possible future directions. With the participation of roughly 70 people  from across the globe, I was not only exposed to some enlightening discussions, those 10 days’ stay at NTI campus also gave me a much-needed boost amidst the otherwise boring routine of mine. I took back some fun memories as well, like the non-Indian gurls enthusiastically trying Saris, and seeing them, a guy from Kenya wanting to buy himself a “men’s sari” :-). Besides, it had been long since I enjoyed the company of female roomies!

Another significant development was my hunt for passion, something that stimulates me to go on.  Hopping jobs year on year for work satisfaction doesn’t seem to work for me. I find my interests venturing into many non-IT avenues, most directed to social change. The exploration is ongoing, and I hope to post more concrete plans in this space, in a few months from now.

For now, I have begun trying to find some ways to engage myself in various activities of AID NCR.  Hoping to get through the difficult (as in transition) first few pages of this latest chapter of life as quickly as possible!

PS: After carefully thinking over several factors including concentration of friends, work hours/flexibility, cost of living (esp. rent) & presence of one person (Pulkit) at home for the cook, for now, we have rented a 1 BHK in Noida (over South Delhi).

Jagrutha Mahila Sangathan

JMS Hut in Potnal

I came to know about the existence of JMS during the AID-India Conference, where Savitri displayed terracotta jeweleries. Later Sudha mentioned to me about the help required for terracotta unit, and that’s how I ended up visiting them.

Jagrutha Mahila Sangathan (JMS), a collective of dalit women and agricultural labourers struggling for their rights, was started by Premdas (who’s now working with CHC) and his friends in Potnal in 1999. It has found its office in a hut kind of an arrangement in Potnal, a village in Manavi Taluka, Raichur district. JMS now has grown in to 50 Sanghas (covering villages in Manavi and Sindhnur talukas) that mobilizes women agricultural laborers.

Weekly meeting with Women's SHGs

I reached there on 7th Feb around 11am. I was taken around the place by Savitri, a young JMS worker who’s from Potnal itself. She briefed me about JMS activities in general till the Karyakarta meeting started. It is a monthly meeting, where in 2 women from all the 50 Sanghas come as representatives. There are 7 full time Sanchalikas who manage these Sanghas. The meeting begun with kannada songs that discussed issues with PDS, Devdasi system, etc. Savitry tried her best to give me a running commentary about the songs in English! Later the women came up with various issues regarding NREGA, NRHM, untouchability, etc. that prevail in their villages. For instance, there was a complaint from a woman that she hasn’t been getting full pay for her work under NREGA; later we discovered that she had handed over all her account books to Gram Panchayat people and relied on them for her money!

Thadakkal village has a new PHC sub-center coming up, for which a gowda has been handling the contract. Even though the government has issued a grant of 2 lakh, he is planning to build the center in a relatively small place (it’s not that there is not enough land available), so that he can put the rest of the amount in his pocket. Just when the women were discussing this issue, someone informed about a Taluka level public hearing in progress at Potnal PHC. Everyone headed towards PHC to share this concern. Savitri and other JMS workers helped the women to frame their complaints.  Finally,  the officer agreed to set up a visit to the village next week.

After coming back to the JMS hut, Ratna (JMS worker and Taluka level coordinator for JAA-K) and Snehalata (JAA-K resource person) gave information about some of the new NRHM schemes to all the women. When they discussed JSY, there was a mention about nurses taking money for the delivery, let alone JSY benefits. The women were scared that if they refuse,  the delivery of the next child in their family may be affected!

Women Making Terracotta stuff

Post lunch, I spent some time with the Terracotta Unit. Koshi, another founder of JMS had trained around 150 women several years back, out of which only 14 consists the SHG at present, each drawing 50/- per day as salary from the income.  There are other women wanting to get involved , but due to high inventory and slow sales, they are suffering from a huge backlog of payments as of now, hence can’t expand. Though Dastkar has been able to provide some help in arranging ~4 exhibitions a year, it has not been enough. None of the women knows Hindi or English to communicate effectively in big cities. I and Savitri exchanged several ideas, one of which was to create a brochure and web presence. Hopefully, I shall be able to help them with that.

Chilipili kids

Later in the evening Chilipili kids positioned themselves in a circle outside JMS hutf or tuition. Chilipili is a residential school (running inside the JMS hut) started  a year back to help ex-child laborers, funded by SSA and NCLP.  They have around 40-50 kids (mostly drop-outs) and 3 teachers. However, the funding per child and teacher’s salary that they received from government is quite insufficient, hence the rest of the requirements are supported by JMS funds. Kids started the session by singing songs on child labour. I tried to talk to some kids having Savitri as interpreter. I thought I’d make them talk to me in Hindi, but kids turned out to be smarter,  forcing me to learn to converse in Kannada :-).

Next day early morning, I was awakened by the morning prayer and Yoga sessions of Chilipili kids. Sunday is the cleaning day for the kids. Since it’s not possible to afford any full-time maid for the premises, kids are taught to be self-sufficient. They clean their rooms, wash vessels and clothes, plaster the compound outside with cow dung, maintain vegetable garden, etc. very efficiently. At 11 o’ clock, kids packed their clothes and headed for a bath at Tungabadra river. Some of the photographs in my album show their  innocent  exuberance. They just loved being photographed.

My noon time was spent with one of the workers in Herbal medicine group. Over 15 women constructed this group and a few of them have been trained in Herbal medicine at several places. Their herbal clinic on Thursday witnesses a big crowd from surrounding villages giving them a fair sale. Neem fertilizer group is another income generating group,  totally managed by 20 women and produces 50 tonnes of unadulterated need fertilizer that is supplied to various groups practicing organic farming. The unit begged ‘the Citigroup/UNDP 2005 Micro Entrepreneur Award’ for South India. Unfortunately time did not permit me to know more about them or talk to them. All the three income generation group fall under one brand coined as ‘Chirugu Enterprise’.

-)

In the evening, I talked to Chilipili kids about lifestyle in Gujarat. When Savitri suggested this to me, I was blank about how to begin. Somehow I ended up telling them about Gandhi/Sardar Patel and food/festivals later.  I understood the reason behind Savitri’s suggestion as soon as I heard the questions from kids. I truly wished I could spend a day more with kids when I found them asking – “do they have monkeys/buffaloes in Gujarat?”, “Do you find grapes, apples there?”. Kids then asked me for a photography session, after which I started back for Bangalore.

On the way to Bus-stop, I along with Savitri, Snehalata and Padma (a chilipili teacher) visited Potnal PHC. Though the board outside said the center functions 24*7, Sundays are treated as holidays by doctors. However,  Snehalata mentioned that PHC has improved a lot after NRHM in terms of facilities.

In all, the weekend at JMS proved to be eventful as well as educational, and I didn’t miss having Pulkit around at all  :-).

PS: In case anyone is interested in helping the Terracotta group, please contact me to discuss more about the possibilities.

My life’s most interesting twist!

It’s true; my marital status has indeed changed! The chosen one is a gentleman named Pulkit. His blog should tell you a great deal of what all he does & thinks. It also hosts an elaborate, photo-filled post on our wedding. Since this is an era of theme weddings, we too couldn’t help but find ourselves one. Our wedding theme was diverting the marriage money to charity – Keep the wedding low-key and support NGOs/social work from the money saved. In keeping with that, ours was a simple wedding wherein only immediate relatives were invited; every one else was intimated. So, I request you not to map my closeness with you to your not getting invited to the wedding! For those interested, the other half of our theme (donations to selected groups striving to empower the poor) is captured here.

Outsourcing India

The topic might be common, but it’s a kind of irritation coming out of me after working for 3 different companies in india (each one year). 3 years might be a small time to comment on such a topic, may be I do not even carry enough knowledge for this, but my intension is to gain knowledge from the experts who come across this blog.

My journey to professional career started with Reliance Communication Ltd. While working for this company I used to feel proud of myself thinking that I was working with one of the biggest Indian company that has made quite a significant contribution in Indian cellular telephony market. When I changed to Flextronics, that feeling went off, as I was not working for an Indian company itself. After coming to Wipro, here it’s a kind of mixed feeling. Though I am working for one of the biggest IT companies, MNC in fact, which is based on India, I am not contributing anything to India. I am in fact working for a foreign company. Those companies get benefits out of my work, not the Indian society.

India today has become one of the top countries involved in outsourcing business. Be it a software industry or a BPO industry. The companies like Wipro, Infosys, TCS etc. have played a major role here. Any top foreign product company you can think of, has outsourced something to one of the IT companies in India. These companies have got the best experts in all the domain, whether it is finance, banking, telecom, electronics and semiconductors, health and insurance and what not. But in this race of outsourcing, people have not realized that nobody is now considering India’s capabilities of producing. Agreed, that IT companies today have played the major role to provide employment to most of Indian people, but apart from that, there is no contribution towards Indian productivity. For example, think of any electronics items, be it laptop, music players, cameras, mobile phones, etc, people can’t think of any Indian company producing these items. India still is dependent on foreign electronics market for these equipments. Why not any Indian company can become one of the top vendors for mobile phones, routers, switches, cameras, or one of the top contributor to even IP telephony or telecom hardware solutions, or any other domain solutions ?? (I do not have enough expertise to comment on other domains). After all it is not the case that we haven’t got any expertise. Indian engineers have been developing and testing the firmwares for all these things, why not build the whole product then? Till what time will we keep on working for the benefit of foreign companies (while working ‘in an Indian company’!!)?? When will we start working in Indian company who produce for India?

Things above are easy to think, but hard to implement. Still someday I would love to work for such company who works for India 🙂

(As already said, I might not have complete information here, please provide your inputs where you think I have gone wrong!)

Movie? – Well, no thanks :)

My life has been full of resolutions that I struggle to keep up to 🙂

Not claiming to be successful in all of them, yet, I’ve notably succeeded in sustaining my latest resolution. On my 24th birthday, I determined to lower all my expenditures on movies. The thought had been molding for a long time, undergoing self debates. It had been slimly uphill, at times when I had to refuse the movie proposals of friends/acquaintances, and then tackle the laughing faces on revelations of my reasons for denial. But in all, I’m glad to live up to my decisions.

Here’s an effort to synopsize some of the points. Citing the current scenario, the major part of the cinema audience is dominated by students and software professionals longing for some fun out of their routines. (Here, by no means I am denying the possibility of me being one of them!) And it is because of those chaps, who are obsessed with their state of having enough money to spend for sake of their so-believed well-deserved pleasures, and who are ready to pay whatever is needlessly demanded for these momentary pleasures; the cinema ticket prices are flying immensely high. Now the question is, do we gain the much-anticipated fun during those 3 hours spent inside cinema hall? In my view, watching movie in cinema should only be desired when the movie under consideration is worth watching on the big screen with the cinema sound systems. After all, these are the only primary facilities that a movie-theater is required to provide. Otherwise the comfortable homely coziness may win higher preference over cinema set-up.

The sole motive of this post is to ignite cognizance amongst the readers for the ever-raising cinema ticket prizes.  Having money shouldn’t lead to the necessity of spending it on unessential needs. Same way, lack of alternatives for effective utilization of free time shouldn’t result into option of watching movies in cinema-halls.

A thought-provoking encounter with a street kid

While walking alongside the market of Aundh, I heard a small voice asking for money. Unlike the usual roadside kids, who stick around you until they get some money out of your pockets, this boy decently asked me, “didi, muje padhai karne ke liye paise chahiye”. It must be some new strategy for getting money, I reckoned. But on careful observation, I saw he was dressed in school uniform. The kid interested me. I had all time in the world as I was done with my browsing (can’t call that shopping!) and was waiting for a friend to come. So, I set myself on a roadside parked bike, and started some interrogatory talk.

He was in 6th class, studying in a government school. I pointed out that government schools don’t charge fees and textbooks too are normally given for free. I was given the clarification that the money was required to buy stationeries for him and his younger sister(who’s studying in 1st class) and also to feed the family. Probing further, I demanded info about his family and their whereabouts. He resided in one of the nearby slums, with his mother who’s working as a maid. His father had gone missing 3 years back and the family hadn’t heard anything about him since then. His mother makes 5000/- per month. Now 5000 per a month is, though not too much, but nearly sufficient to buy some nominal stationeries and feed the family. So the kid shouldn’t go begging on the road. He reflected saying his mother hasn’t been working for more than a month due to bad health. When I advised him to work instead of begging, he said he doesn’t usually go for begging, instead earns some money by washing cars. But that day he was too tired due to starvation, so chose the easy way out.

As if it wasn’t enough, I asked him what subjects he is studying in school and to counter check, I also made him write a few things in hindi and English! Having been satisfied about the genuineness of all his explanations, I hired an auto and took him to Aundh sabzi mandi, got some veggies. Also we went to a grossary store to get him some groceries (aata, daal, rice, salt, etc). I somehow couldn’t find the stationary shop around, so unwillingly I had to handover some money to him, trusting that he will buy required stuff with that.

The reason given by this boy for his begging, has evoked this tiny thought. Often you will find people with motto ‘give nothing for free’. We would pass notes saying beggars should stop begging and start working. But who’ll have enough energy and motivation to work with empty stomach? They may just go for easy ways like this boy! The immediate suitable solution I see as of now is, to give enough food to such beggars rather than money and then give them some motivation to work. (Although some of you will say child labor shouldn’t be encouraged, but then is it right to encourage the kids to start begging on the road? I still wonder as to what should be the right option for such cases.)

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