Friday, February 27, 2009

Crippled inside

For Solilo.


"In India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where most of the nation's polio cases are reported there have been rumours that the polio vaccine is part of a plot to sterilize Muslim children."

India polio survivor stars in Oscar-nominated film

Amid all the hoopla over the Oscar winning sweep by Slumdog Millionaire, there's a touching real-life Indian tale of beating the odds that was also vying for the prized golden statuette in the short documentary feature, one that was eventually one by Smile Pinki.

The Final Inch is a 38-minute US film that documents global efforts to finally eradicate polio and profiles one of those stricken by the paralysing illness, 25-year-old Mohammad Gulzar Saifi, from the north Indian city of Meerut, AFP said.

'Polio is not a disease, it's a disaster for many,' said Saifi, who wears leg braces and moves with the help of a battered metal walker too small for his slender five-foot frame.

'I was lucky, I had a good family who looked after me but what about those who don't, those who are abandoned? I appeal to everyone to get their child vaccinated against polio,' he said.

The title The Final Inch refers to the fact that health officials say polio, which can paralyse a child for life within hours, is on the brink of being eliminated, thanks to mass immunisation.

But the illness is proving tougher to wipe out than initially expected and remains endemic in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, where 1,643 cases were reported last year.

India reported the second highest caseload at 556, according to WHO's Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

A key hurdle to combating the disease in densely-populated India is the fact that tens of millions of children live in unsanitary conditions where diarrhoea is rampant, health officials say. Polio is spread through faeces.

Also in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where most of the nation's polio cases are reported and where Saifi's city of Meerut is located, there have been rumours that the vaccine is part of a plot to sterilize Muslim children.

A number of Muslim clerics have joined a government campaign to fight polio, saying there is no truth to the rumours.

But while the rumours have played some part in the difficulty in combating the disease, poor hygiene and logistical problems - making sure the multiple-dose oral vaccine gets to every child from the dense cities to the remotest regions - are the biggest hurdles to eliminating the disease.

Saifi hopes his central role in the documentary, made by Oregon filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky, will help in the eradication efforts.

'Polio has no religion, it is religion-less. It doesn't just affect Muslims, it affects Hindus, it affects everyone,' he said.

'Not to take the polio vaccination is wrong. Polio is an incurable disease but if we have prevention, we don't need a cure,' he said.

And like Slumdog Millionaire, Saifi's tale is also about overcoming challenges and turning adversity into success.

Saifi was raised by his mother and five brothers who supported him after his father became ill and was unable to work.

'I was the only one of my family to receive an education,' said Saifi, who graduated from high school and speaks English fluently.

But after graduation, as for many of India's 70 million disabled who are often reduced to begging at traffic lights, there was no employment for him.

Instead he created a job for himself coaching neighbourhood children, first in a tiny room at his home in a poor district of Meerut.

Then, as the numbers grew, he rented a larger room which proudly bears a signboard declaring it the 'Meharban Coaching Centre' - named after his late father - and the inscription Every child is special.

He tutors 60 children in English, maths and other subjects, charging Rs100 a month for classes, though he adds: 'I don't charge those who can't pay.'

Thanks to his film role, Saifi has become a celebrity in Meerut, a two-and-a-half hour drive from New Delhi.

But he's still not famous enough for the local administration to grant him his most cherished wish - a three-wheel, hand-operated cycle to help him get around more easily.

'The government is supposed to give them to physically challenged people like me, but all I've had is promises, promises,' he said with a wry smile.

(words and picture by AFP)


Two close acquaintances of mine have polio, one of them, is in his early 40s, which in the context of the article above, implies that, it lurks in my generation too.

While his one-heavy-one-light tread has become familiar to my ears, and that of Nino's, I can imagine how frustrating school and growing up must have been, even though he does play some mean table tennis.

A is unmarried and I've always been too afraid to ask why, afraid I might hear that no one wants a mis-shapen partner. Though polio has done little to dent his personality in spite of being coupled with an educated but absolutely insensitive family, it has left him vulnerable physically. He suffered polio on the left side of his body, leaving one leg shorter. He suffered a heart-attack when he was in his 30s, even though he was a teetotaller. Two years ago, he suffered a stroke to the brain, the left him handicapped once again: not physically or mentally, but verbally.

A now suffers from Broca's aphasia, a disorder easiest explained as trying to communicate while using English in Paris or Hindi in Chennai. A case of lost communication.

"'There are patients who can fluently say something that sounds like a sentence, but it's just garbage,' said speech language pathologistPaul Rao, vice president of clinical services, quality improvement and corporate compliance at the National Rehabilitation Hospital inWashington, D.C.

'It's one of the least understood disabilities in the world, because these people cannot communicate for themselves.'

The worst part is, cognition is not affected. People think as clearly as they ever did. They simply can't communicate.

Aphasia is believed to affect about one million people in the US, according to the National Aphasia Association."

I've come to believe, as have some doctors, that Polio left A vulnerable, not just outside, but internally as well. His left leg, the heart attack, the stroke on the left side of his brain.

He once had a fantastic voice: full, warm, emotive. Music used to set him free, he used to say, from his bent and de-shaped body, from that disfigurement's social and personal ramifications. When A used to sing his favourite song, Man re tu kaahe na dheer dhare, there was bound to be a lot of sniffing in the room. Today, with his two-word and four-word sentences, A manages to run a successful computer training institute in Jaipur. There's little that's changed in his life, his routine or his family's lack of support. What has changed is that he can't hum his favourite music anymore. He will never be able to sing, even though the tunes play in his head, again and again, ceaselessly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My favourite bits of the Oscars

The story of 1 Oscar: No. 3453 Bollywood bound

Once he was simply known as Oscar No. 3453 but now the little gold man has a new name, 'Best Original Score,' and he's Bollywood bound.

AR Rahman, India's revered film composer, collected Oscar No. 3453 on Sunday night and will be taking him home to India.

And just to make sure No. 3453 won't be a lonely expatriate, Rahman won a second Oscar, for best song. Both were for the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

'I want to thank the Academy for being so kind,' said the composer known in his native country as the Mozart of the Madras.

In a way, the trip to India is only fitting for an Oscar that from the beginning just seemed destined for life on the road.

Unlike its 51 counterparts at Sunday's show, Oscar No. 3453 missed its flight a week and a half ago from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was photographed with the others at the R.S. Owens factory where they were cast, but then was somehow misplaced.

Quickly located, it was packed up and sent solo to Los Angeles.

It arrived at the Kodak Theatre no worse for wear. Once there, Steve Meisner, Hollywood's Keeper of Oscars, buffed it to a fine shine and placed it on a table with its brethren.

From there it was handed off to Rahman who will ensure that it becomes one of the world's most traveled Oscars.


And then this:

Dev Patel helps co-star Rubina Ali, 9, work her way around unfamiliar food, as Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, (far right) figures out the cutlery.

Everytime I saw them, either on stage or in their seats or on the red carpet, the team of Slumdog Millionaire was all in it, together. Scores of photos that show Danny Boyle and his team especially Dev Patel, hugging, hoisting and clutching the children from Mumbai's slums who are perhaps the real heroes of the film. Among all that Oscar finery and stiff bow-ties, there's the unmistakable feel of watching a bunch of people whose heart is in the right place.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Morning Music and Oscar happiness

If my life was to be a movie, it'd be endless, only because I'd have a soundtrack that runs into days!

I've always had a song for every situation/mood, or maybe a situation/mood for every favourite song, actually make that a couple of songs. One of my most precious gifts is a cassette given to me by a friend I was dating in college, a compilation of his favourite mood-songs, with handwritten labels. There's also no better way to beat Monday Morning blues than have your favourite numbers belt out from the ipod, and opening the bathroom door to catch your three-year-old shaking his booty, Masai style.

Here's what I'm humming to today: My favourite song from the Jungle Book, that I was reminded of gently, and unexpectedly by Momstir. Also, such an apt way to begin a week that celebrates the winning of the underdog, Slumdog Millionaire and the uplifting, Smile Pinki.
'The bare necessities of life will come to you... oh They'll come to you!'

Also, the more the merrier, and more choice maketh for a happier woman, and all that jazz, that's why this one: because sometimes all you need to get through a day, is just plough through it. 'I'm still trying to get on the hill of hope.'

What's your salve song for an instant pick-me-up to prepare you for the week ahead?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The depravity of desire

Desire squats on her life like the brown wedges with turquoise stones on the t-bar strap she picked up last week: not needed, but hard to not need.

She rummages through the internet everyday, like the chest of drawers at home, pulling out things and lives she likes, stuffing the rest back in, haphazardly, in an orderly chaos that always lets her pull the right rabbit out of the hat.

However snazzily she cloaks it, hiding it under different needs each day - this voyeurism is starting to smart at her conscience now. Peeping Tom, she chides herself. Peeping into lives that she wished she was living. Homes she wished she had helped build. Food she wished she could cook and serve and gloat over. Jokes she wished she could've used to break up the thick silence at home.

And all that, that is around her, the dependable life she is living, the home with its klutzy inhabitants and inherited furniture, the greasy food of the age-old maharaj, the efficient conversation of discord-free days, all that is so hard to need.

She has learnt to make the right choices, the ones tagged practical. She even knows the right things to say, the right time and the right people. But her betraying words are like her shoe-choices: they are not what she needs, but so hard to not need.

There are voices in her head today, some have always been there: washing dirty linen in public. She wonders why these words won't go, why her ears are hot, why there's a squeamish feeling of having stumbled upon something putrid, private and not needed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sign Language

You say and do so much with your eyes, Nino, you know?

Where should I put the plate? Two keen eyes that point out a barely-there space next to your book.

Hidden dad's Harry Potter? The widening and then the quick blinking of the eyes, followed by a smile that reaches the lips later.

Can I get you some more dinner? The easy-to-miss shake of the head with the eyes closed.

The mums at school tell me you've naughty and expressive eyes, that there's a glimmer of mischief there at all times.

At all times, except when you drop me off to work after school. Because then there's a thin film over them, and I take turns guessing if you're sad, hurt, lonely or just resigned to the fate of having a mum who's never around.

Friday, February 13, 2009

New pinch!

I love my new header - all thanks to Sujatha and Preeti :) You guys are the best, like totally. Thank you so much and big, big, big, giant hug.


Edited to add:

It has just occurred to me, and yes it is one of those days when light travels slower than sound, that there just might be other mums like me who're currently obsessing with the alphabet. Nino's trying to learn his abc's right now, and I've wanted to show him the alphabet in so many shapes and different ways and you know, cloud formations, that well, I'm almost dreaming of it.
That's also the reason for the new header, see?

That's why I loved the Spell with Flickr link. Photographs of letters based on the names you enter, with a database of millions of Flickr photos to choose from. Don't like how A looks? Click on it till you found one that feels just right.

The time I spent spelling the names out was a nice reminder to adolescence when I'd doodle names on a paper for hours :)

Links to the original photos with larger sizes are available and this means you can print them out/ frame them for some educational wall art - just what I'm planning to do for Nino as a get-well-soon gift (After about three illness-free days, we now have an ear infection). Although, I must add, I don't think this is legal for commercial purposes, that is selling this idea as a product. As long as it's between the baby and you, have fun!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What if God was one of us...

I see him often, walking purposefully in the flat compound, a smile ready to show up under the thin moustache.

I smile and say kem cho, a generic greeting that means little but just hello. He smiles back, making me smile wider and more honestly in return.

Three times a week I meet him in the lift, at 6:00am, as I head out for a workout, a broom and a plastic bag in hand. He collects garbage from the flats, picking up the those remains of our lives that we've thoughtlessly discarded.

Sometime back I was at a mall close to where we live, struggling with bags of groceries, a very cranky Nino refusing to walk unless carried. I was flustered, tired and hoping for a miracle.

Bhabhi, Bhabhi, he yelled, running towards me in a clean yellow and green tee-shirt and cap, the logo of a shop on the tee, worn like a tag of acceptance. He helped me towards the car, God-sent in his timing and enthusiasm. You work here, I asked him, and he smiled and said, here and four more places.

This Friday, I opened the door to a lobby littered with garbage - street dogs had come looking for their food and the dustbins are an easy prey. There's dog shit on the door mat. Cursing, I get a plastic bag and wear in my hand, intending to pick up the crap, unaware that he's already at work in the dark corner of the lobby.

Rehva do, bhabhi, ae to maru kaam che, he says.
Leave it, bhabhi, its my work.

He smiles and gets back to picking up the litter, the shit, scrubbing the gravy stains, pushing the vegetable peels into his bag. Thank you, I say. Tamaru naam shu che? What's your name? Bhagwan, he says. God.

Later that morning, in the parking, I see a middle-aged neighbour screaming, 'Bhangi, bhangi'. I'm a little shocked at the use of the word, shocked more to see Bhagwan running towards the man. Sweepers and garbage-pickers are always a particular caste here, a vocation that is thrust upon them by destiny.

Bhangi's have been India's worst-kept tradition since the medieval times. 'Untouchables' delegated to cleaning toilets, collecting garbage and handling dead bodies. It's a malaise that cannot be cured - it's a caste you're born into, that no amount of prayers or education can wish away or change.

Mahatma Gandhi coined a term for them, Harijan, people of Hari, or God, but the words did little to dilute the stigma, the vicious racism that they live with everyday.

I wonder what his parents thought of when they named him Bhagwan. Generations of people who had accepted or given in or were forced into their fate of being the keepers of India's dirt, tangible and that of our minds. Was it hope for a better future, faith in a God who treats them no better than society does?

It's an irony that is more cruel than beautiful, and I wonder if he hated the name growing up, in municipal schools with classmates who were perhaps only reiterating the jokes and the slurs they picked up from their parents. He's a young man, less than 30 I guess, and I wonder if he's married, has children of his own. I wonder what he tells them, segregated so deeply from society, with a sense of submission so subconscious that they probably know no other way of life, have never had the freedom, the undeniable right of a human to 'choose', to make a choice. What has he named them, they who have a future that has been pre-determined before they were born?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Freida Pinto's red carpet reign - Also Footloose Fridays - I

Okay, *confession coming up* the the words in the post title are a perfect way to tell you I've an OCD with alliteration.

I haven't' seen Slumdog Millionaire yet. So if you're looking for a review, I'll be able to point out to some really good ones. Here, Here and Here. Whatever your rationale is on what should be depicted as India's reality, you're likely to find some provoking thoughts at these blogs.

I'm not likely to see the movie in the near future either. Considering that the only nights free for movies are no-school nights aka Friday and Saturday, considering that all the goddamn night shows in Ahmedabad for the movie are called Slumdog Crorepati, aka, Hindi version, and considering that the husband would rather not spend Sunday afternoon locked up in a auditorium filled with Gujjus who're talking nineteen-to-a-dozen, I'm very likely to be the only person who gets to watch the movie next year, when it goes on DVD.

So what am I doing here? Try this for a mix. Throw in an inclination to climb onto the Slumdog blog bandwagon that's in full force right now. Then stir in some serious reading time spent on following leading lady's fashionable antics, thanks to the delightful High Heel Confidential and the formidably informed Catherine at Red Carpet Fashion Awards (Both links show the complete fashion evolution of Freida since Slumdog started garnering eyeballs). And then, garnish, with an idea picked up from Sujatha's blog: 'Fridays are those kinds of days, footloose and fancy free, deserving of total timepass posts'.

I've always cringed seeing Indian actresses on red carpets abroad. Even Aishwarya Rai, who could have the world's best stylists fighting over her, has always looked a tad uncomfortable in western wear - though I must say her recent appearances have shown a new confidence with low necks and drapes. Preity Zinta gets it right sometimes with the glamour quotient, but she insists on dressing down and wearing off-the-rack pret too often. The other set includes the likes of Nandita Das who, admirably wear traditional stuff and come off looking gorgeous most of the time, but for a dowdy moment here or there. There's no experimentation, no tease, no awe, no thankgod-no-Dior/no Channel/no Versace/ no Manish Malhotra moment.

That's why pretty Fredia Pinto warms the cockles of my fashion-loving heart: From the predictable classic brands to new emerging hot names, from simple silhouettes to draping ones, to a bold move with a Christian Lacroix that looked like a bomb but got her kudos for her bravado - she's made the clothes work for her, wearing them, instead of the other way round. Unlike the Indian press, the western press can be quite unforgiving, splashing errand-running-outfits on front page, sealing the epitaph on most actresses. But even here, she's managed to emerge fairly unscathed, bucking the diktat here and there, wearing the trends instead of just following them. Maybe it helps to have a good stylist, but there are plenty of examples around of people who've had the best and come off looking like prom queens.

This girl is comfortable in her skin. She doesn't do makeup that's shades lighter or ages her up too much. She's 23 and looks like it. There's no gauche-ness with western wear, and hair piled up, left down, or pulled up in a ponytail, her smile wins more fans than critics.

Freida is one of the most watched, clicked, google-ed actresses today, and there are more reports and forecasts about what she'll be wearing to the Oscars, than there are about Hollywood's mainstream actresses.

Red Carpet's Catherine sums up the western press reaction towards Freida's fashion choices pretty well: 'How this new kid on the block is getting couture for her first red carpet season, is nothing short of outstanding.'

And the last word in fashion in blogworld, the Fug girls, have this to say about her: 'We love Slumdog's meteoric rise for giving us Freida Pinto. Six months ago, we hadn't even heard of her; now she's dominating the industry's highest-stress period of endless junkets and red-carpet appearances. And instead of cracking under pressure Pinto is delivering a master class on how to step into the spotlight with grace, an infectious smile'.

Here are some of my favourite dresses on her:
(Pictures courtesy: High Heel confidential - in some pictures the pic on the right compares the dress as worn on runway/designer's website. Click to enlarge pic)

And the only time I've absolutely hated what she was wearing, is when, unfortunately, she was in traditional wear.

I doubt she's going to be wearing any Indian designer to the Oscars or the BAFTAs (this Sunday), but I will join the world in scouring for her face on the red carpet melee. Shine on Freida! And then perhaps I could raid your closet.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The sisterhood of the travelling word

They’re not mere words to me – their names and pseudonyms each carrying a face-less image of a person laced with intricacies. The ‘handles’ that we use to address each other are tightly woven with our ideas and opinions, conjuring up caricatures of our lives in tiny, rapid bursts of colour. Some are names I love. Some are denominated by cities. Some with their memories, some with colours, and some with the kind of humour that makes life seem sane. And would I seem like a sentimental fool if I said, I was, in a way that words refuse to reveal, blessed for them all?

I realised it last week, in a flash typical of clich├ęs, when the husband asked me what I was doing as I frantically typed my previous post in the dead of the night. My loved ones were around me, and yet, I had to reach out to you, to share my pain, knowing somewhere, you’d understand. I’d found and realised the joy of female bonding after what seems like ages.

I grew up with a bunch of boys, and though all of them are dear to me, we shared a bond that had a time and a place and has refused to grow out of that teenage leg-pulling we still indulge in when we meet. I’ve several close girl-friends, and our friendships have evolved to adjust changing roles such as marriage and motherhood, separated as we are by distance. Lately, there’s always been something missing in the equation, a small, but open-gnawing gap in how we connect, and there are bits of my soul I’ve never been able to fuse fully with another in a long while. The closest friend of course, is Nino’s Dad, but there are as many pitfalls to marrying a friend as there are comfort areas.

Here, in this bit of my world, where I play strip-tease with my emotions, where I display the fears I usually cloak so well otherwise, where my ranting has a purpose, where you leave me equally moved, inspired and rolling on the floor with laughter, and where I have your listening eyes: I have found and devoured greedily the depth of your thoughts and the comfort of your words, the pleasure of your company. Thank you, for this unexpected gift, and for teaching me that the time to make a friend is never past.