Monday, 24 June 2013

Lets talk. Period.

How do I start? Let me start from the start. As a girl steps into womanhood, life changes in many ways. For me, there were many changes that irritated me and the least of the bothers was physical discomfort. I was not allowed to play as much as before and playing with boys was severely restricted. For someone who grew up playing mostly with boys, this was a big change for me. And then, I was not prepared psychologically for this normal and healthy aspect of life!

I had only heard murmurs and whispered gossips. In 'those' days, there were even family functions held to mark the 'event'. When asked about these functions, I was told it was her 13th birthday or 14th birthday or something similar. I just couldn't understand why someone would want to suddenly invite so many friends and relatives for a birthday party! Maybe it was the beginning of women being seen as objects! Needless to say, there was a big fight on this issue. I couldn't think of calling everyone home for something so private. No amount of Dairy Milk chocolates, interesting books and pretty dresses would convince me to have a 'birthday party'. Yet, my family did some puja and invited people home. I was fighting and crying the whole day :(

For a long time, I silently suffered physical discomfort and pain - everyone has to, there is no choice! I comforted myself by saying maybe this is nature's way of preparing women for childbirth and other hardship. I even took tablets on a couple of occasions, against my principles.  I missed a major portion of my swimming classes. I missed many outings. I painfully realized I was a girl!
For getting rid of the physical pain, my mother read somewhere about a simple home remedy of eating pomegranate - and it works like magic! 

Some things changed over a period of time through exposure from various media including one of my favourite TV Shows -  Blossom (the smart protagonist was played by Mayim Bialik who has played the role of Amy in The Big Bang Theory, where she is intolerable actually). In one of the earliest episodes of Blossom, there is a reference to her first period and things are weird. Not having her mother close to her makes it even more uncomfortable. She talks to her granny and the granny says that in her youth, people were made to stay far away from home! I realized that all cultures must have evolved in the same way!

For many years, I had fights and arguments with my mother about taking a head bath at whatever odd time of the day, in the name of hygiene. What has hair got to do with menstrual hygiene? At one point, I even wanted to cut my hair real short. And then, I hated washing those soiled clothes and dry them where no one could see - as if I had created some crime. I was not allowed to do much work at home because I was not supposed to touch clothes or items in the kitchen. I was not allowed to go to temples or participate in religious activities. Not having to do household work and the religious restrictions are the only things I liked ;)
By the way, Goonj, an organization striving to address the basic need of clothing has been providing, through its ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’ initiative, a much needed physical product and also spreading awareness on this taboo subject.

Things have changed a lot now, however, it has its disadvantages too. Now that I have switched to reusable cloth and cloth pads, I can safely argue against the huge marketing of use-and-throw plastic napkins. In fact, in one episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon tries to reason to Penny as to how she could save money by buying in bulk! A better alternative would be stop using use-and-throw pads altogether and switch to either a menstrual cup or reusable cloth pads.

Well designed product in a well designed package
Menstrual cups are supposed to be very comfortable, but I have not been able to get used to them. Mounting ethical and environmental concerns made me switch to the traditional cloth. My aunt who works in an Anganwadi introduced me to bandage cloth - she was introduced to it as part of her work. The Government is actually doing good work, but we fail to acknowledge it. 

The switch wasn't smooth and easy. It took months to unlearn the bad habit of many years :(
For a few months, I gave the pads in a separate bag to the BBMP waste pickers. For a few months, I tried burning the plastic pads near my place - I knew it was wrong, but I wasn't strong enough to make the switch. I started using cloth when at home. When I went to Munsiari, I told myself - enough is enough. I do not want to spoil the beautiful Himalaya and decided to use cloth always even if it was going to be uncomfortable or clumsy.
As they say, "You cannot cross a chasm in 2 small steps." Once I made this decision, I felt free.

Water-proof travel pouch
Back in Bangalore, I was tested once. I was under stress and my dates got messed up and I wasn't prepared. I was in the heart of the city and I had to make a choice. I am glad I went to the nearest Khadi Bhandar and bought cotton hankies to serve as pads instead of buying the plastic ones at a medical store. I passed the test :)

About 8 months ago, I got introduced to Eco-Femme and their very practical and very well designed travel pouch to carry soiled pads. I wash them, dry them and reuse them.

After discovering that urine was a good fertilizer for plants, the next thing in line had to be menstrual blood. I guessed that Blood, being synonymous with life, might be good to use it for plants. Many people store umbilical cord blood for treating over 80 illnesses as it is a rich source of stem cells. So something that is capable of giving life must be naturally good for plants. Just as I was thinking along these lines, I had a conversation with Shamala and she said she had already been using the wash water for plants! So, that is exactly what I do these days. I identify the weakest plant in the garden and nourish it with water used to clean used pads.

It has been over an year since I switched to reusable cloth and pads and ever since, I am having happy, guilt-free periods.
Washed and sun dried
I want to thank 4 beautiful ladies for being my inspiration.
My aunt for providing me the option of cloth, Sejal for introducing me to menstrual cups, Meera Rajesh for introducing me to Eco Femme and Shamala for making me realize that chum water is indeed good for plants.

Here is a list of resources on this subject.

menstrupedia - a friendly guide to healthy periods
goonj - a voice, an effort
the alternative - reducing the monthly plastic
she-cup - affordable menstrual cups in India (costs Rs. 695)
Eco-Femme - option of rural (each kit consisting of 3 pads and travel pouches costs Rs.200) and international pads (starts from Rs. 215) 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

ಯಾವ main, ಯಾವ cross?

Today, I was in Sadashivanagar for a workshop at ZED office. Sadashivanagar is one of the prettier areas of Bangalore and it looked even more beautiful in the morning. I am at this junction admiring the chilly weather and what do I see? One street says 4th Cross on the North side and the same street says 13th Cross on the South side!
I am looking for the ZED office on 13th Cross and 5th Main and going around in circles. At one place, the same street said 14th cross on one side (on an old board) and 15th cross right opposite (on the new board).
It was time to ask someone. I normally prefer to ask auto drivers as they are forced to know most roads. So, this gentlemen steps out of the auto and tells me to ask joggers as they usually venture to jog on many streets. Even as he said this, he mimicked joggers. It was so cute! I do not know how I would manage without auto drivers!

I asked one jogger, who explained me about Sadashivanagar and RMV extension but that did not help me much. Another gentlemen offered his advice and I finally reached the place. It was less than 50 mts from the junction and I had somehow missed it!

I had plenty of time, so decided to walk the beautiful streets of Sadashivanagar. Though new buildings/apartments are coming up here and there, most of the old world charm is still retained. The footpaths are paved and look neat, but they could have left some open spaces for the earth to breathe and take in some water. However, many houses still have huge gardens or open spaces. I saw one elderly gentleman helping an elderly lady with some garden maintenance and oh boy, were they charming!
Aimless wandering, without any purpose or goal is so relaxing but we are usually in such a hurry all the time to reach our destinations that we miss such beautiful moments. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Discovering Anne Frank's diary at a remote railway station

Last month, I was in Munsiari for my annual pilgrimage. This time around, I had to make the return journey the conventional way - take a shared taxi straight to Haldwani and a train straight to Delhi and then to Bangalore. Unlike last time when I, along with another student, had many stopovers at unknown, but beautiful places and loving people.
I was to spend the evening and night at Haldwani since my train was scheduled for the next day. The evening was spent in buying a pair of chappals, having early dinner and enjoying a cup of chai. My older pair of sandals had been chewed and thrown away by Laddu - Malika's youngest doggy.

Back to the railway station and I had to make arrangements to spend the night at the station as I did not want to pay for a hotel outside. I feigned innocence and fear, and the station master fell for it. He got worried and allowed me to stay in the waiting room as the dorm keys were not available with him. He instructed me to lock the waiting room from inside so I could be safe. There were no trains throughout the night and I had the entire room for myself! I had some newspapers and a shawl (I wasn't carrying my sleeping bag because the trip was very short and somewhat planned). I have experience sleeping almost anywhere - at railway stations, parks, temples, footpaths, tents, no-tents, under the open sky, in a telephone booth, etc.. Compared to all that, an entire waiting room for myself was luxury.

With the accommodation taken care of, I started for the nth time, to read 'Design for the real world' but progress was slow - the print is small and the thoughts are heavy. My eyes then fell on Anne Frank's 'Diary of a young girl' at the station's book shop. It is a book that I had been planning on reading for a very long time and the time had finally come. I picked it up and was I glad! I wish I had read this book when I was a teenager. I feel every teenager - boy or girl - should read this book at least once before they step into the real world. As per the official website, the book has been published in Kannada also, and I am waiting to hear from the Kannada publishers about its availability.

The diary records a teenager's thoughts as her life changes drastically, within a span of 2 years, from a happy and carefree childhood to some of the worst living conditions imposed by The Holocaust. When I had a chance to travel in Berlin, many years ago, I had paid a visit to The Wall and spent some time at the museum reading stories of people who tried to cross The Wall. At that time, I did not connect much and my thoughts centered around people's stupidity - creating walls and then trying to cross them! Schindler's List made a better connection, but Anne Frank's writing touched me like never before.

When Anne starts writing her diary, she is curious and hopeful. But she then goes on to struggle almost everyday with her feelings and thought processes.
She is unable to get along with her mother and can't love her fully. She observes and comments on the stress imposed by extreme living conditions on relationships . She writes about her crushes, puberty and the changes in her mind and body, as it happens. She talks about love and beauty and the hope that it brings. She describes mundane details about the food and living arrangements. And how, alongside all the house hold chores, she enjoys her reading and writing. She aspires to become a journalist and something more than just a homemaker. She reports about the war as she hears from the radio and has opinions on politics; at one time, she calls Finland 'silly fools' for turning down a peace offer.

Here are some excerpts from the journal entries that I like most.. Though I have not been able to align fully to these thoughts, I am definitely trying to.

23rd Feb 1944 
"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God.... And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles."

6th Jul 1944 
"I wonder if it's really a good quality not to let myself be influenced. Is it really good to follow almost entirely my own conscience?"

Quiet honestly, I can't imagine how anyone can say "I'm weak," and then remain so. After all, if you know it, why not fight against it, why not try to train your character? The answer was: "Because it's so much easier not to!". This reply rather discouraged me. Easy? Does that mean that a lazy, deceitful life is an easy life? Oh no, that can't be true, it musn't be true, people can be so easily be tempted by slackness.. and by money...

"We all live, but we don't know why or the wherefore. We all live with the object of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.... we have the chance to learn, the possibility of attaining something, we have all reason to hope for much happiness, but.. we must earn it for ourselves. And that is never easy. You must work and do good, not be lazy and gamble, if you wish to earn happiness. Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.
I can't understand people who don't like work...

How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn't know it must learn and find by experience that: "A quiet conscience makes one strong!" "

Sunday, 2 June 2013

No (monetary) cost fertilizer

Our garden lab next door is the best lab that I could have got since the soil there is of poor quality and I have to figure out ways to make it fertile. I already use urine occasionally and compost from the kitchen also helps. Once in a while, a generous neighbor provides us with sheep-shit. Even with all this, the soil still needs nurturing.

Whenever my aunt or grandmom is in town, I never lose a chance to ask them about new (or should I say old?) techniques to rejenuvate the earth. My aunt happily shared this simple method that involves using Neem, ಹೊಂಗೆ - Honge (Pongamia Pinnata), ಎಕ್ಕೆ - Ekke (Calotropis_procera) and cowdung buried under a thin layer of soil for about 3 to 4 months.
Neem is known to have medicinal properties, Honge is good manure and cowdung hastens the composting process. I am yet to figure out Ekke's purpose. As we were preparing the compost pit, my dad mentioned that Ekke is usually used in paddy fields also.

My 16-yr old cousin is in town for her holidays and I found her to be of great help in the garden as we implemented the above technique (pictures below). She has a close connection with the land as she spends most of her holidays on her grandmom's farm and the effect shows!

Neem and Honge from the trees outside our home

Ekke from the plant near our house

Ready for enrichment

adding honge

adding neem

ekke and cowdung slurry from the street

covering with soil 

I prepaid for her help by facilitating her introduction to the internet, google search and gmail. It was fascinating to see her wonder at her discoveries as she saw her school, created her email id and searched how to make neem oil, for a start. The fact that she studied in Kannada medium and was using the computer for the first time did not matter at all. It made me wonder if all we need to teach them is how to ask questions - Why, Who, How, What, When - and then give them freedom, space and the tools to find answers; and then they will take care of themselves!

Photographs by Varsha - she was using an SLR for the first time.

Pain, death, Two nomads, 1 narrative

Today has been a heavy day emotionally.. I was reading about Arunima Sinha in the morning, and then an article by a doctor about terminally ill cancer patients.. It made me look at my to-do list that I had when I was a happy & hopeful 23 yr old. Though I have done many things that I never imagined I would do (thanks largely due to chance and easy money!), trekking to Everest Base Camp is still an unfulfilled wish.

I have been through my own little ups and downs in life, faced many choices and opportunities and not always made the 'right' choices - choices that I am not necessarily happy about (not fair enough, not sensitive enough, not strong enough, not risky enough, etc.). Situations like these actually help us know who we truly are instead of who we think we are. Sometimes I wonder if it is easier to not have too many choices and experience failure and pain early in life!
Thoughts like these often make me feel if I am fit for this world and I feel like dropping everything and just meditate and grow plants. And then, stories like that of 2 nomads, 1 narrative and the thought of an uncertain life and certain death make me shelve the idea of dropping everything as the wanderer in me wakes up again!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Akki mudi.. and work for the soul and body

Whenever I want to find an alternative to plastic, I ask my parents or grandmom since there was no plastic during their time. This time around, my question was about storing seeds. As of now, I have a plastic box but my brother has promised to build me a wooden box. Back to the past.. My father explained that they used to store seeds in a sphere made by tightly tying straw around the seeds. Seemed interesting. What about rats? They always had cats, so it should have been fine. This conversation happened quite some time back.
My current plastic seedbox, soon to be replaced by a wooden one
Yesterday, I got re-introduced to this beautiful and simple method of storing grains and seeds in a sphere made of rice straw. My mom and I had been wanting to visit a house under construction near our home and we finally made it couple of days ago. The family happens to be from Mangalore and within 20 minutes of meeting, my mom had made friends with them and offered our home for storing their stuff till their gruhapravesha. Of all the stuff that came into our house, the one thing that struck my attention was a sphere with rice!! The explanation for this type of storage was very similar to the seed storage technique explained by dad. With this technique, they store upto 40 kgs of rice for a year.
Akki Mudi - for storing rice

The technique used is not just beautiful, but so simple, indigenous and made from locally available material. It
also promotes art (yes!) and engineering (yes again!) and even more importantly, something for people to do with their hands, mind and heart. Schumacher in his book 'Small is beautiful' talks about work as "something.. for the good of man's body and soul'. With these products, there is a joy of doing-it-yourself or atleast knowing where a particular product has come from and who has created it. For the person producing these products, there is hopefully the same joy in knowing that his creation is being used by people he/she knows. Compare this to the factory made products that are produced in bulk by automated machines without any feelings.

This incident also made me feel for all the people stuck in jobs where their soul and body are not fully involved and are just working for the pay-packet (Even I was there for sometime, so can understand how it feels).

PS: Some photos of 'mudi kattuvudu' (tying the mudi) can be found here in a local news article.