Depression and Social Stigma

Dec 29, 2016 by Shubhrata Prakash

“Social stigma solely on the basis of the ‘madness’ paradigm of mental disorders is inexplicable, and can only be obliterated by an educated posturing which accepts that the brain is a part of the human body, and hence, its malfunctioning is as ‘normal’, or as ‘scary’, as that of any other organ.”

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The D Word: A Survivor's Guide to Depression

Dec 1, 2016 by Shubhrata Prakash

If depression has made inroads into your life, this book tells you not to lose hope. Drawing from real-life experience and meticulous research, Shubhrata Prakash shares her expert knowledge on what it means to have depression, how to identify your particular strain and overcome your sense of hopelessness.

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The Sea

Apr 21, 2015 by Shubhrata Prakash

They say I am the sea
I get pulled by my father, the Sun
I get pulled by my lover, the Moon
I keep oscillating between the two.
They say I have no will of my own.
They say that’s the law of nature.
I can never be free.
I shall always be bound by the Sun and Moon
The churning rod in my own churning
Between the two loves of my life.

They say I am the sea
Always fickle, always whimsical
Always even hormonal
Sometimes I wax
Sometimes I wane
Am I really sane?
They say I don’t know my own mind
They say I can’t be left alone
That is why I am kept chained
To all my sea sisters
All kept linked together
Bound by the Sun and the Moon.
Of course, they are men.
They know their minds.
They know how to keep waves of women under control
Waves of infinite water….some of it even our briny tears
We - the sisterhood of the seas.

They say I am the sea
Okay that’s what I am.
But have they forgotten my depths?
Have they succeeded in binding me?
Can they ever capture my fist in theirs?
Ha..ha..ha..all they will have is sand
They can have some shells too
Crabs maybe?
But they can never have me.
My father and my lover may try to keep me in check
But when we sisters turn to our Mother Earth
She cannot see our plight
She quakes with anger and cries tears of lava
Can you quell the curse of a mother ?
A mother gives her daughters so much power
That the energy scares all men.
Free of the Sun, free of the Moon
The sisters rise in rebellion
The sister seas rise so high that no man can control them
For they all run for their lives
To escape the tsunami of waves of our anger.
And when the anger dissipates
Man rues the day
When he called woman the sea

Ye men
Who think they control the seas
Through men like themselves
The Sun and the Moon
Never ye forget
That there’s Mother Earth too
Who sets her daughters free
So, when ye go mad with thy powers
Think of the Earth
And her free daughters.

The River

Apr 20, 2015 by Shubhrata Prakash

I am not a river
Bound by the corsets of muddy, sandy banks

I am not a river
Forced and confined to stay within the flanks

I am not a river
Admired in my babyhood for sprouting out of the earth’s womb

I am not a river
Fulfilling romantic fantasies when I fall in a spray like fresh blooms

I am not a river
People lusting after my youthful curves winding along valleys

I am not a river
When mature giving water, power– people their needs daily

I am not a river
When ripe just used by men for breeding

I am not a river
Trout and hilsa and rohu; and for crop feeding

I am not a river
Used and exploited; often bound and dammed

I am not a river Often dirtied with garbage and sewage and shamed

I am not a river
Weighed down with bridges, tanks, steel; and with fear I shudder

I am not a river
My heart speared with boat oars and ruthless mechanical rudders

I am not a river
A burning place for rotting human flesh and even waste molasses

I am not a river
Where my lungs and breath are choked with consuming pyres’ ashes

I am not a river
Which is admired in youth and exploited in maturity

I am not a river
In old age distributed and thrown into the sea in obscurity

I am not a river
I am a real woman

Yet why do I feel that
Our lives seem so common?

Everything a river faces, mostly I too face
So am I too a river, though a different race?

R-Day Parade, Dummies and Others

Jan 28, 2015 by Shubhrata Prakash

On Monday, after a long gap of not watching stilted polity, I sat down to watch the Republic Day parade. There were rains. There was the POTUS, the FLOTUS and the Lotus on our PM's head (gear). So generally something fresh all around. And an ideal time to introduce the R-day parade to the younger generation.

But do you think it is easy to move our Gen-Nex when there is a parade of Doraemon, Pokemon, Motu-Patlu and Ninja Hattori marching down the Rajpath of the TV screen? Well, in case you do, please visit our home. I can promise you a free dinner!

So, our best efforts bore some small fruit and the kids' TV got tuned to the National Channel "Door-se-Darshan". But sitting with their parents? Beneath their standard. So undignified. So what if one is in primary school and another in pre-school?! Even if they are not teenagers yet, one day they will be. And teenagers, even future ones, should never be caught doing anything below their royal standards. Like watching TV with parents. Or spending time with parents.

One departure from the usual protocol is when we go out shopping. To correct that a little - when "I" go shopping and my husband and kids tow after me. To kill time they have devised a game whereby my husband has made the kids believe that all the mannequins, whom my kids call "dummies", are part of a family. Often, time is spent working out family trees of the dummies. And the kids also believe that at night, when the shops close down, the dummies come alive and move about. This is how "smart" parents keep their kids from running all over the store and may be toppling over a dummy or two. So the time Mummy spends shopping is spent happily playing hide-n-seek behind the dummies.

Back to the R-day parade. With scowling faces and ill-concealed grace, Gen-Nex was watching the parade. Satisfied about having done our patriotic deed for the day by making two future citizens see the light-and-might of our great Republic, we walked away

In a while two pairs of footsteps were running up the stairs to the lounge. Before I could ask what happened, our elder one piped up. "We were watching TV. There was a dummy in a jeep. Mummy, suddenly the dummy came alive and put his hands to his head like a salute!"

I was in splits when I realized that the absolutely still Lt Gen standing to attention in an open jeep seemed like a mannequin to the first time R-day parade watchers. And, like they expect the dummies in stores to come alive and are perpetually scared imagining the scene, they were quite scared when the "dummy" on TV came alive too.......

So what helps keep boisterous kids occupied in shops and sometimes even helps not-so-sleepy kids immediately get under the covers and sleep soundly, turned out to be quite a laugh on R-day.

And what dummy did you think I was talking about on R-day?! Well he was there......this R-Day too...!

Coming Alive

Jan 19, 2015 by Shubhrata Prakash

It’s been a while and I haven’t written.
Not put pen to paper.
Not put fingers to keyboard.
Not thought.
Not felt.

No. It’s not that I haven’t thought or felt.
I have been tutored by times, by circumstances, by people to keep quiet.
See, but not speak.
See, but not feel.
See, think, but still……not express.
I’m trying hard to break free.
I’m straining against the chains.
I’m fighting to keep alive.
Keep my senses alive.
Keep my spirit alive.
Keep my soul ….alive.
But, can I? will I? dare I?
For I feel dead.

I’ve felt a wisp of wind over me lately.
Wisp of wind and spray of water.
Of elixir.
Felt or wanted to feel.
It’s worked.
I’m waking up.
My spirit is getting stronger.
I’m feeding my soul now.
No past hurt is going to change me.
No one or nothing is going to change me.
I’ve kept quiet too long.
Not anymore.
Hey world, do you hear?
Not anymore.
I’m coming alive.
I’m coming alive again.

2015 AD : Another "Happy" "New" Year

Jan 09, 2015 by Shubhrata Prakash

Hey folks!

A very happy 2015 to everyone!!

A new year brings with it lots of new hope and new cheer. But, ultimately, it is only an adjustment in I don't take it too seriously....and of course, nothing much has changed so far

The first terror attack of the year has already happened. Debates about cartoons, tolerance, freedom of speech and expression, how much satire is too much satire, comparisons with the movie PK, then more debate, more is all the same. So what's new about the new year? Nothing, I would say

North India is reeling under a severe cold wave. Here I am sipping my adrak-chai (ginger tea) in the sun and giving my Facebook friends a virtual sunny wave. Again nothing new

Sanjay Dutt was granted a furlough to celebrate the new year and its eve. Of course, the rich are privileged, even if they are convicted felons. The poor spend new year's eve on the pavements under freezing skies, wondering how to keep themselves alive to see the light of the new year. Again, that's not something new.

The Indian cricket team, or Team India as we have become used to calling it (the assumption being that no other sport has a Team India), is doing miserably at an away series. What's new?

This blog, like all of Indian media - print, electronic, social or any other - is incomplete without the above references to Bollywood and Cricket. Nothing new again.

Time for Uttarayan. A little boy has already fallen prey to the deadly Manjha. People have got wire frames fitted on two-wheelers to escape the manjha and the deathly curse it brings. Emergency measures are being taken to treat injuries to humans and birds. And yet, we are not ready to think of a safer way of celebrating our festivals. We are not ready to "sacrifice" even a teeny-weeny bit of fun from our festivals, even if it is at the cost of other human beings. Who says that fun is more important than the life of a five-year-old boy? And those of other victims? Again, nothing new.

After Uttarayan, the marriage season will be back. Nobody wants to "sacrifice" on fun, loud music and dancing. Ok. But no one wants to pay for the use of a party place for the song-and-dance either. So the poor neighbours must suffer the assault of deafening music, and the inconvenience of road-blocks and traffic jams. After all, we are guaranteed freedom as a fundamental right. So who cares what is right? Nothing new again

Alas, if only the new year actually brought something new with it - like a new way of thinking? Caring about the rights and comforts of other people, e.g.,? Celebrations in non-threatening, non-intrusive ways? Traditions modified to suit modern, urban living? Marriages that get over in a few hours, instead of days, and with less "conspicuous consumption"? We are not in the starving pre-independence India, after all (at least those who read this blog!). People actually DOING something, instead of arm-chair activism on Facebook and WhatsApp? "Awareness" is not brought about by adopting a symbol but by actually talking to people about whatever you want to make them aware of.

Or actual "World Peace"? Instead of the parodies in various international events, including the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Who knows? Perhaps, the old is familiar, and hence, comforting. And people seldom like to move away from their comfort zone

So, I hope, at least 2015 is happy, if not new. That would be more than what many can hope for.


Battle the Gun; Not People

Dec 13, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

Today is December 17, 2014. The whole world, especially South Asia, is still numb with shock. Yesterday, hundreds of school children aged 4-16 yrs, left home for school in the town of Peshawar, in Pakistan, in the morning. Some of them never made it home. Some are still hanging between the state of living and the state of non-being. The ones who made it back safe will never be the same again. Their childhood, innocence, sense of security and the way of viewing the world, have changed forever. Of course, some teachers lost their lives too, leaving their families shattered too.

There has been a spontaneous outpouring of grief the world over. This massacre was preceded by the killing of two innocent persons in Sydney the day before. The world is waiting in dread : who, what, where and how will be the next

Whenever a terror attack or a massacre occurs, people are first shocked. Then voices speak out against terror. There are some chases and arrests. There are some token memorial services. And then all goes quiet. Till the next attack. Every attack is measured against the previous one for severity and heinousness. As if such immeasurables could be measured! There is jingoism. There are vows of revenge and avenging. There is finger pointing. There is even denial. Like the Pakistani officials denying India having offered help. And then, it is business as usual.

What no one ever does is go to the very root of the problem. Of course, questions like who helped create and nurture these armies of terror, who used them towards what geo-political game, and who is still creating one horror to counter another horror, are too complex and convoluted to be discussed on this humble blog. I have seen Indians living in those same countries outcry the outcomes, but never question the global policies and practices of their adopted "homelands".

However, another issue which never is discussed, involves the instruments of terror - the guns and the bombs. Who manufactures them? Who markets and sells them? Who buys them and how? How do they procure money for buying the human-killing machinery? What happens to the money which the sellers receive? Which economy does this money finally get invested or channeled into?

Surely guns and bombs do not manufacture themselves. Yet, why does no one ever raise these questions? The answers to these questions are vital if we are going to keep our promise to the slain children that their deaths are going to be avenged. Or the promises to our own terror victims and their families. Because the only way to stop weeds from growing is to uproot them. Promising flowers that we will fight weeds does nothing. And these questions can easily be answered if the right pressure is put on the right Banks in the right countries. But that requires geo-political clout. And if countries with that kind of clout are not doing it, there is something that they intend to keep away from the eyes of the world.

Food for thought. Why not strike where it really hurts rather than just beat about the bush and engage in tokenism, which will mean something to the victims and their families of this massacre, but will do nothing to stop the next one? If you take out one terrorist, a hundred will take their place. But if they don't have the instruments - the guns- what will they kill with? And the same logic can be applied to the frequent gunning in schools and community centres in the US. People cry hoarse about gun control, but I have never seen a single discussion on stopping production of arms. We call terrorists all kinds of names, but what about people who put the gun in their hands? Is their liability any less?

So amidst the mourning, which people will forget in less than a week, when they go on to Christmas and New Year bashes, here is something to think about.....

Lingua Indica

Dec 13, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

I am no scholar of linguistics. My knowledge of languages is limited to two - Hindi, being my mother tongue, and English, being my tongue. Yes my tongue, thanks to a convent education. And so the entire German-Sanskrit, three-language formula, four-language formula, five-language formula etc have left me quite amused and huff-puff.....breathless too. Counting the number of languages in the formula is no less of an effort than actually learning them.

My proficiency in German consists of..ahem...knowing the meaning of all of TWO words - Achtung ("Attention" - who can forget the U2 song Achtung Baby?!) and Das (meaning "the"). My understanding of "Das" is courtesy Karl Marx - Das Kapital, and Volkswagen - Das Auto. Of course, I thought Volkswagen was pronounced as it was written in English, till I saw the Hindi signboards. And actually, when I first came across "Das Kapital", while mugging up 'Books and Authors' in General Knowledge books as a child, I thought it meant Ten Capitals (of maybe ten countries in the world! Das means ten in Hindi, you see)

Sanskrit is another story. Shabd Roops and Dhatu Roops kept getting complicated. The difficult level was an upward rising curve, from 5th standard to 8th standard. Needless to say that the marks were situated on a downward sloping curve. One positive aspect of Sanskrit education was that finally, after 6 years of formal schooling, I could understand why the last consonant of the Devanagari script अः (Ahh) existed - of course, to be used in Sanskrit! It is said that Sanskrit is the mother of Hindi. So, like all rebellious daughters, Hindi used her mom's favourite Ahh sparingly and most spitefully. And so we have Ahh appearing in horrible words like प्रातः "praatahh", meaning early morning. Who loves early mornings, pray? But how was a small, primary school girl to understand that? I was still hanging on to my mother's pallu then.

A new language came into my life when I went to reside in the "only one of its kind" linguistically divided state - Tamil Nadu. Tamil...! No தமிழ் Thamizh. Anyways, from not knowing a single word of it, I can now speak a few words. My early experience of living in தமிழ் நாடு Thamizh Nadu helped improve my acting skills. You see, I was communicating wholly and solely through mime. I guess the same happens when Tamil students come to Pusa Institute, Delhi, for studying agriculture. They have perfected the art of mime and so, no cultural programme in any Civil Services academy is complete without a brilliant mime by Tamil civil servants, mostly from the Pusa Institute!

Anyways, the mime soon changed into some pigdin Tamil (not Thamizh). Whenever I speak Tamil in front of my North Indian friends, and family, they are so impressed! They look at me in amazement and compliment me on my "fluent" Tamil. I enjoy all the compliments and strut about with my chest all puffed out. Why do they need to know that if my Thamizh friends had heard what I had said, they would have had to take some anti-spasmodic to stop the stomach-ache they would have got from laughing. May be they would have given their maids a day off as the house would be clean because of their rolling on the floor laughing (ROFL in Internet-ese), and they couldn't possibly eat because of the stomach-ache explained before. So no cooking required either.

However, I have had my share of Tamil-shocks too. A few months in TN and someone asked me if I would like to eat Sholay for lunch. I was shocked. How could anyone eat a movie? A little more use of my bird brain horrified me further. What if "Sholay" is code or short for "Kalia : Sardar maine aapka namak khaya hai...Gabbar : Toh ab goli kha!" ?! Mercifully, what appeared at the lunch table was the good old innocuous "chholey"..........and I learnt that in Tamil, 'sa' , 'sha', 'cha' and 'chha' are all interchangeably used. In fact, in Thamizh, there is only ச 'cha'. Still, this concept took a while to take roots in my mind. And so, during my first posting in Madurai, when someone brought a file concerning a "church" case, I kept looking for a church in it. Alas, I could only find a tax-evading financial company, which had been searched under Section 132 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 : hence a "search" case! And in the next few months, I did see a lot more of these "church" cases.

Every language and dialect has its own peculiarities. In Bihar, my home state, there is no difference between "pen"and "pain". Probably, someone in the early days of English education, during the British Raj, did not like to write; and so termed the "pen" as a big "pain" in his life, and the pronunciation stuck. In the Hadauti region of Rajasthan, "sa" is pronounced as "ha", much like in Asom (Ahom). So "Bachche So rahe hain" (kids are sleeping) becomes "Bachche Ho rahe hain" (kids are being born)!

In Bihar, the words "Kaahe ka" mean "why?". In UP, "Kaahe ka" means "made of what?". So, when my mother-in-law, from Lucknow, first came to visit my husband and me, she would sit at the dining table and ask me "Kaahe ki Sabzi hai?" (What is this vegetable curry made of?) Poor, foolish me kept thinking "Doesn't she know why vegetable curries are made? To eat, of course!" But in India, the Saas-Bahu game is always on, and I thought maybe it was a quiz she took to examine my philosophy with respect to food, poverty, hunger, healthy eating etc. I guess the UPSC hangover is hard to get rid off!

So, with all this experience under my belt, my relationship with the latest language in my life, ગુજરાતી Gujarati, has so far been quite amicable. Except in the beginning, when a shopkeeper called me મોટી બેન Moti Ben. OMG, was the shopkeeper rude and impudent! How dare he call me fat! (Moti means fat in Hindi). Had he ever looked in the mirror and seen his own pot belly? Or was he delusional, thinking that it was actually a pot that covered his six-pack abs?! (Happy New Year had not been released by then and a six-pack, not an eight-pack, was the gold standard for male figures). I didn't want to create a scene, and so, I managed to keep all my knives, daggers, swords, drones, RPGs and IEDs, and even Sunny Deol's hand-pump, inside my imagination. The next day, I started on a vigourous diet-and-exercise regime. Two days later, I was back to snacking on potato chips slumped on the couch before the TV. I had, by then, discovered, that "moti" in Gujarati means "big"or "elder". Hence, "Moti Ben" meant "big sister" or "elder sister" !

Anyways, whatever the outcome of the present German-Sanskrit debate - doesn't matter to me. What matters is that I'm way past school and don't have to learn either !! Language was made for communication and for creating understanding among people. But all I've seen languages creating is confusion. Maybe the cavemen's pictorial script was the real language. My kids have been practicing it quite a bit as evident from the walls of our home. Who knows, before they reach the stage when the German-Sanskrit debate becomes real for them, the pictorial script may have become a game-changer...?!!

The Enlightenment

Dec 06, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

The night was dark, my spirits low. I sat on the pavement, near the seashore, musing. I had tried sleeping without success. My restlessness had forced me out of the house - into the darkness of the night. It was dark and humid. Not a leaf stirred anywhere. The air was still. Sultry. The present state of my mind was in harmony with the night, both blending into each other. And this wasn't the first time either.

For weeks together I had stalked the seashore, trying to find some meaning to life, in the rhythm of the tide breaking on the sands. Only tonight, it was darker and more sultry. Even the little pieces of silver, sewn on the black satin overhead, seemed to be shrouded. No breeze. My mind - too weak and dull, after weeks of brooding. Still I had no clue as to why I was a living being. Why life at all? Why my life?

A kaleidoscope of images whirred past me. Images from the past. The future? Life had always been comfortable. But why life at all? What would have happened if I hadn't been? Probably nothing different from what was happening now. What if I don't live till tomorrow? Nothing different again. I had heard arguments. Life is enjoy. to create, to revel and to be happy. To establish yourself as "somebody". To be different from the ordinary. I was not convinced. Why be different? What is so great about greatness? What is happiness? Why to be happy? Why life at all? Why?

So there I was. Back to square one. Back to that night. The dark, airless night. There were few people around me - some on the pavement, some down below on the sand. Yet, I hardly noticed them. Neither did I care for the few headlights, which used to appear suddenly from the dark and vanish again into the darkness, with amazing speed, blinding me for a few seconds - disturbing my communion with the night. So it was hardly surprising that I missed a dark shadow that crossed me for a second maybe. But the trailing hysterical scream was too loud to be missed. The source of this high decibel scream was a half-bent, frail kind of figure. The light from the street lamp was not sufficient to make out his features. Yet, the urgency of his manner was too obvious.

"What's the matter?" I asked in a calm and steady voice.

The reply was hardly coherent. Yet, I could make out something about someone running away with money he had saved all day to buy medicines for his sick wife. The unfairness of it all struck me full force. The coordination between my mind and the night was phenomenal. The roar within me was answered by a rumble in the canopy above. In a moment, I was off in the direction towards which a crooked and shaking finger of his was pointed. Soon I could make out a medium-sized figure steadily gathering speed. But his speed was no match for mine. To come out of it the best way, he dropped a small and dirty cloth purse and sped away into the night. I waited to catch my breath. Then, slowly, I picked up the dirty object from the pavement and headed back towards its owner. As I handed it over to him, amidst the rumble, lightening flashed. Just for an instant. But that instant was enough. Enough to see his face. Enough to read the expression on it.

And even after that instant was gone, I remembered it only too well. It was like Prince Siddhartha becoming The Buddha. I had this strange feeling of elation within me. Pit-pat-pat. Big drops had started falling on the pavement. The latter, having weathered the sun for days, devoured the rain with a vehement hiss. The few people, who were still out on the street, started running for cover. But I walked on at a leisurely pace.

It was pouring now. I couldn't have welcomed it more - yet I couldn't have cared less. For I had known, just for that instant, what life was. What happiness was. And, for that moment, I did not bother to add 'why'.

(First published in Vibes '97. The blogger was a 1st year MBA student then.)

A Cosy Reading Book

Dec 05, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

The sun beams beckon to me, "Come, sit a while;
Put your feet up and just feel yourself smile........."

I look at the chair, all comfy, with bright-hued cushions;
Calling out to me for a few restful reading sessions

The peonies and the gerberas; yellow, pink, red and coral
And some roses, ahh....such delicate fragrances floral

Sitting seductively, with green wraps, in a glass vase or two
Or maybe a large ceramic mug, the colour cerulean blue

A bookcase to one side, again like an indoor rainbow
With book spines arranged neatly to complete the show spirit soars at the sheer visual treat
I drink in the colours and sink into the cushioned seat

I let the sights and smells completely drown my senses
All that remains is the present, there are no other tenses

I close my eyes, and just let the sun warm my heart
For letting go and relaxing is no less an art

What lies before the eyes is just blackness, and more of it
But the darkness lies....and I'm so sure of it

I know that there are sights beyond, the black itself has shades
Reds, yellows, and oranges, curled softly around the blades

I open my eyes, and let the aroma of coffee drift in
The mug a beautiful sculpture itself of fine porcelain

And, finally, I pick up my read for the day - a tome
A little intimidating, the subject and the huge volume

Yet, nothing, can throw a shade over the warmth I feel within
At my reading nook, with coffee, a book - sheer bliss, a piece of heaven.

Gullible's (Indians) Travails

Nov 27, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

Last week was a landmark week for Indian Christians, or I would say for all Indians. Two Indians were anointed with Sainthood by the Vatican. Yet the Papal office overlooked some other great contenders for Sainthood. And why blame just the Vatican? So did the Shahi Imam, who was too busy anointing and appointing his own flesh and blood to religious fiefdom. So did the other fiefs of other religions, who were horrified just looking at the goings-on at one such fiefdom: "Satlok" of "Sant Rampal". Saint"hood"?!

And so Facebook and WhatsApp missed their official Sainthood. Now what makes them prime candidates for such an elevation from the ranks of ordinary mortals? Of course, their extraordinary powers, which were not earned at the Hogwarts School. And, hence, remain beyond the realm of explanation. Even the Vatican requires proof and illustrations of extraordinary powers of the contemplated Saints. So here I present a case for Sainthood for Facebook and WhatsApp.

1. Turning Bread to Stone. Yes, even the Almighty could only turn stone to bread. But our candidates can even turn bread to stone. Numerous posts and messages are in circulation, which try to find innovative explanations for formation of stones in the gall bladder, kidneys, or wherever they want. The explanations invariably lie in the consumption of food, like tomatoes, spinach, blah-blah-blah, and of course bread. And history will one day correct itself for labeling Marie Antoinette a monster. You see, she actually wanted to save the bourgeoisie by preempting them from consuming bread, and replacing it with artery-clogging cake. At least she didn't want them "stoned"!

2. Promoting the belief that Man love Man. And I'm not talking "Yaarana" or the H-word. What I mean is that Facebook and WhatsApp have turned all users into philanthropists. Everyone. Any message or post which even remotely refers to human health and cure for diseases, is promptly forwarded. Without even being read, i.e. Naturally, who has the time to read long posts and messages? Not the ones who forward messages in bulk when they could have made a personal call, at least to a few. If only such virtual philanthropy actually translated into real common good, alas! 2. Promoting the belief that Man love Man. And I'm not talking "Yaarana" or the H-word. What I mean is that Facebook and WhatsApp have turned all users into philanthropists. Everyone. Any message or post which even remotely refers to human health and cure for diseases, is promptly forwarded. Without even being read, i.e. Naturally, who has the time to read long posts and messages? Not the ones who forward messages in bulk when they could have made a personal call, at least to a few. If only such virtual philanthropy actually translated into real common good, alas!

3. Miracle Cures. O yes. There is a miracle cure for everything. From Cancer to Constipation. Turmeric, lime juice, lemon juice, karela juice.......anything that can be juiced. Or not. And studies quoted in support? None!! Miracles cannot be scientifically explained, can they? So no questions asked. Juice Do It!!

4. Producing mass hysteria. Pictures taken in one part of the world have been found to cause riots in another unrelated part of the world. All because some people chose to manipulate public sentiment in a place, which had their vested interests, by forwarding morphed versions of these pics to show how a particular community or society was being persecuted.

5. Producing mass hypnosis. And the PR machinery of the powerful and the wealthy have been using this particular aspect of Facebook and WhatsApp to their hearts' content, or maybe pockets' contents. A particular industrial house, which was found with its hands inside the 2G till, and which had pockets, and pockets of influence, deep enough to affect ministerial berths, keeps promoting its owner as a visionary all over social media. And people lap it all up. A man on trial for running over homeless pavement dwellers, has a court hearing on Nov 24. His so-called "adopted" sister gets married amidst a media blitzkreig on Nov 18. The functions run close to Nov 24. And two days before the trial, people enthusiastically forward a message which claims that the man on trial "adopted" a pavement dweller's daughter as his "sister" and spent crores on her lavish wedding. People laud this, without any proof. And what is unbelievable is that people laud the wastage of crores of Rupees in a wedding feast - the same crores that could have fed an entire village of needy people for days!

6. Transforming non-believers into believers. The whole concept of Modern Medicine sprang forth from the well-founded mistrust that the Medicine Man had of the medicine man. The former being the pioneers of modern Medicine and the latter being the village quack. Yet it is actually an amazing feat of modern technology that Facebook and WhatsApp are making Doctors forget what they have spent precious years of their lives in trying to learn - modern Medicine. So it defies all logic, the phenomenon of doctors forwarding messages and endorsing posts which are against all principles of modern medical research. "Prolonged use of sanitary napkins causes uterine cancer" : and we all thought that the cause for uterine cancer was still unknown! Only co-existing factors had been identified.....!!

7. Empowering women. Any woman who spends time on Facebook and WhatsApp would know how empowered she is. Women's only groups on WhatsApp never tire of sending messages to each other which keep emphasizing how woman is God's special creation. How women are angels, only that they forget to remember so.......! Dear God, what did you do?! You created one whole gender without angelic qualities? Not fair to "Man"kind! Women keep perpetuating the quid pro quo. Recently, a video, which asked women to forget weight-watching and eat what they want as they are beautiful just the way they are, became a rage. Of course, the women watching it forgot to notice that the women in the video were all models...!! And if you eat sugar when you are diabetic, which, unfortunately, increasingly younger women are becoming, you may lose your eye-sight and not even know what beautiful looks are!!!!

8. Encouraging Love. And not just romantic love. Brotherly love. Sisterly love. It is amusing to see endearments pour forth so generously, on WhatsApp especially. Darlings, sweethearts, sweetie-pies.....much such sweet, sweet love! Makes the eyes all moist and teared-up. In real life, the "darlings" don't have time even to talk to each other; the "sweethearts" would cross each other on the streets, without a trace of recognition; and the "sweetie-pies" probably would love to push each others' faces into pies - the '70s Bollywood movies' style - or feed each other pies filled with Karela inside and glazed with Neem outside!

9. Inspiring ordinary souls to become Motivational Gurus. Everyone is a Guru these days. For themselves? Yes, they should be, for everyone should know what they want in life and how they want it. But Facebook and WhatsApp have turned every Netizen into a motivational Guru. Now Deepak Chopras and Wayne Dyers of the world have very, very tough competition.

10. Making people "Gullible". People are ready to believe anything and everything that goes around. More than ready. They also become a part of the machinery that speeds the passing around. Half-truths, untruths, lies, falsehoods, propaganda, self-defeating beliefs - all. Without using them grey cells, much to the horror of Hercule Poirot, had he been alive. Without any proof.

Which makes one wonder: what happened? Why have we Indians become so gullible? Part of the 19th century and the whole of the 20th century were notable for the efforts made by luminaries like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, for inculcating a scientific temper in the Indians. Myths and superstitions were sought to be debunked. The awakening of the spirit of inquiry was an integral part of the Independence Movement. Mahatma Gandhi's Swadeshi movement was not just about spinning khadi and economic self-reliance, but also about self-reliance in temperament. Examine facts and decide for oneself what they mean. Self-belief, self-reliance, self-respect. And what is most amusing is the fact that the instruments used for quelling scientific temper in Indians are products of science itself. Technology. In terms of the Computer, Cell Phone, Internet, mobile telephony etc.

Fads pass quickly. And I am sure hoping and praying that this is a fad, a phase, and the faster it fades away, the better it is.

Till then, Talk Talk mein confers Saint-"hood" on Facebook and WhatsApp. Now we all shall be using St. Facebook and St. WhatsApp. Or maybe, Sant FacePal and Sant WhatsPal ?

Disclaimer: This blog post is written in a humorous vein and does not intend to question or make fun of any religion, or religious beliefs.

Surviving the Ocean : Airlock

Nov 22, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

I have survived. The Ocean of Darkness? Yes.
The point of light guided me back to the shores
Not just out of the Ocean of Darkness
But to the shelter of some rocky coves

The shore is just a short way from the coves
The path from one to the other shown by stepped-on stones
The path literally glittering like a gem-studded treasure trove
The stones like gems, with the light the sun chose to shone

sat in the cove, feeling numb, for a while
I caught my breath, rested my tired arms and legs
Felt my face unfreeze by the warmth into a smile
My lungs and muscles hung out to dry on memory pegs

Memories of the darkness that almost did obliterate
A living being and its self, happiness and its will to live
Its dreams, aspirations, joys and all raison d'etre
And wrung out its complete spirit, its innate desire to survive

And then, in the distance, over mists thick like a screen
The spirit that did survive laid out more memories to play
A tide of memories of times before the dark ocean
That now came rushing, gushing; conquering the time delay

Of smiles, joys, happiness, and the loving people around
Family, friends, dear ones, who were hidden in the darkness
Though they were there always, yet I didn't feel them surround
Me with their everlasting love, keeping me secured with love as a harness

Kept me safe from drowning; yet not my fault that I couldn't see
The anchors, the harbours, the lift rafts which kept me from going under
For the darkness - cunning, inclement and insidious - enveloping me
Would lie to me, show me horror, and all evil; and tear my mind asunder

Now the darkness has lost. Other memories rush even faster
A life full of love, colour, laughter, happiness and drive, so much
A life so full of rock-like determination to exist and to live, no matter (what)
A life that filled love and special things, into all other lives it touched

A life in which I didn't walk but sometimes skipped, sometimes glided
On air, with a song on my lips, a smile in my eyes and ideas in my head
Rules were rules but were no rules by which my crazy mind abided
And flew across miles in seconds, back and forth, no fear, no dread

The movie flew by; my life's movie on the imaginary screen
I'd been on a perch taking deep breaths and putting an airlock:
An airlock between the dark waters and the shore with its golden sheen
The sheltered cove my airlock hub, dark waters left beyond the rocks

And now that I am somewhat dry, I take a few more breaths
And rise to cover, the last few steps towards the journey's end
Slowly at first, then with growing spirit, I make the last of the trek
To the shore, the proverbial pot of gold, made so by the sun on the sand

I can see the blue sky and puffs of white clouds, such joy almost forgotten
I can now see people and that they not phantoms but real, whole and alive
I can see them just enjoying their lives, and in it what they've begotten,
I can see all, I can feel all, I can read all, and still be happy: God I'm happy to be alive!

And now, further dry, I enjoy just soaking in some more sun
Sun, light, warmth; such wonderful wonderful sun sun, sun - I cry
Tears of joy, just salt water added to some brine, and then some
Joy that knows no bounds, I'm back to safety, back - home and dry.

An Ocean of Darkness

Nov 17, 2014 by Shubhrata Prakash

People see the smile outside. No one sees the darkness inside. Not just a spot or two of darkness. A whole ocean of darkness. I am drowning in it. Many times I’ve tried to keep my head above. Many times I’ve resurfaced when I couldn’t keep my head up and had gone down under. But every time I go under, I find resurfacing a little more difficult than the last time. Every time I go under, I need to hold my breath. For letting go of my breath means letting go of my life. If I let the air leave my lungs, my lungs, starved of air and strained with the effort of holding out on their own, are programmed to suck in the dark waters. Dark waters of the ocean of darkness. And once the darkness enters my body through my lungs……my lungs starved of breath, know nothing else but that it is time to tell me that this is what drowning is. Like, “I’m sorry but I’ve failed. I held out very long but, starved of air, the need to suck in whatever was available to fill myself up, was pressing. Just like a hungry child feels compelled to devour rotten remnants of other people’s meals to fill up his empty stomach.”

The suffocating dark waters swirl around, all around. I flail my arms and legs about. My strength ebbs with all the effort. My muscles, devoid of oxygen, also begin to start giving up. But some point of light in some recess in my brain pushes me to exert myself once more. With this psychic strength, I push down with all my remaining energy and resurface. After resurfacing, every initial breath is painful. My lungs, my heart, my nose, my eyes, my ears; all hurt. Slowly, with great effort, the breathing becomes normal and the pain recedes. But then, I am not as strong as I was before I went under, am I? There is wear and tear of my muscles, everywhere, from my extremities to my lungs and heart. There is nothing out there to replenish the energy store. So the muscles never recover, however much the body may want them to.

And then, when the next wave of darkness rushes towards me, I find it more difficult to brace myself. The entire process of holding out and fighting the wave, then going under when that fails, and then resurfacing, and then returning to a semblance of normality, leaves me even more depleted of energy than the time before. The process goes on without a break. My body is tired. My mind is tired too. My spirit is probably the point of light in my brain which pushes me to fight each time, despite knowledge of the inevitable outcome.

This point of light too, is dimming with each episode. The body and mind try to put some more oil into the burning lamp. Meditation, writing, playing, yoga, spirituality. They are all supposed to give strength to the flame inside my brain, to what I think is my spirit. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The number of times they work is fast reducing while the number of times they don’t is accelerating like a car with the gas pedal pressed all the way down to the floor. So the light gets dimmer and dimmer. And when it goes out, I may find the ocean of darkness, surrounding me, too comforting to be worth fighting against. My body, dead tired; my mind, totally blank; and my spirit, out. Oh look, the ocean bed tempts. How nice would it be to just lie down there, curled up like a new born. How nice would it be not to fight any more. How nice would it be not to make an effort any more. How nice would it be to feel no pain. How nice would it be to float, weightlessly, in the darkness. Float and float and float. To let it guide and let me follow. To let it cushion me from all that lies above. To let me be. Just let it be.

PS : Please don't give up........perhaps there will be a day when the waves of darkness shall recede.....and you have to keep fighting to see the light of THAT day