An Ode to the City that will always be Home

It was just another Saturday. At least, it started out that way.
After a lazy afternoon of beers and banter at the magnificent St. Regis Hotel that faced Saadiyat island’s inviting sandy beach, accentuating the stunning blue of the ocean, some down time on my couch seemed like the perfect next step.
While I headed home to snuggle into my couch in front of the TV for a while, the boys (my husband and his friend) decided to keep the beers coming and make their way to another bar. I decided to catch up with them a little later.
After a much-needed siesta and recharged for a night out, I got dressed and left for Coopers later in the evening, a popular weekend bar in the city. As the taxi began making its way, weaving through Saturday night traffic, that familiar nostalgia swept over me again and I let my thoughts wander to the city that had been home for the last two years and the friends that had become family. Night outs without our motley group would never be the same.
Munich had been our home for the last two years before we moved to Abu Dhabi early this year. We adjusted to our new reality with new dreams in our eyes but heavy hearts yearning for the old friends who had been left behind. A large gang of impressively mixed and diverse nationalities, each with their own unique traits, backgrounds and lifestyles, stories and struggles, wit and wisecracks that defined each one of us, and yet all miraculously fit together like pieces of a large, global puzzle. One big happy multi-national family. The thread that bound us together had the same name in every country, religion and culture. It is called Friendship.
Love and friendship – words that are being trampled on today by hate, violence, murder and blood baths – an escalating satanic epidemic that seems to literally be sweeping across the world city by city and in a spate of horrific acts, felling men, women and children faster than the fall of dominoes.
It has already become hard to open one’s twitter account or news site without noticing that the number one trending item almost every morning is a city that had just been attacked. The body counts are going up and the fabric of humanity seems to be withering away, one gunshot or stab-wound at a time.
The taxi pulled up with a sudden stop outside Coopers and pulled me out of my reverie.
I could hear the din of the music from inside the bar. It sounded great and my spirits lifted a little. A little song, dance and liquid courage was just what I needed.

As I entered the bar and made my way through the crowd, the DJ blasted a familiar tune with ample bass and the bar had transformed into a club, packed to capacity. I found my husband and our friend who was visiting from Munich at the bar and joined them. Ready for a great night and having ordered a cocktail I flippantly picked up my phone to browse through it quickly for any important messages before I retired it in my handbag.

That’s when I saw it. And I felt my heart stop.
“Shooting in Munich shopping mall, 7 dead”
A teenager had shot and killed 7 people in Olympia Park shopping center and wounded several others. The shopping center was just a few kilometers away from where we had lived. I had a lump in my throat the size of a peach. It was suddenly hard to breathe.
I looked up at my husband who had just read the same piece of news and was staring disbelievingly at his phone. We were still shaking our heads in shock when the second shoe dropped a few minutes later.
“Firing heard at Marienplatz metro station in Munich”
Even in that crowded bar with piercingly loud music and swarms of people around us, the three of us were suddenly alone and grappling with the weight of this news. The city that gave us its all, the city that unflinchingly opened its doors and its hearts to the thousands of migrants and refugees that flooded its streets, and was going to be ‘home’ for us for far longer than it really was, had become today’s victim in the on-going game of violence and terror. We didn’t want to believe it was true.
The three of us sat at that bar sipping our drinks in silence and at a complete loss of words while the world around us danced to the DJ’s tunes. We couldn’t join them and we couldn’t leave. The tears came to me without warning as the body count increased to nine and as I wiped them away, we raised our glasses to the city that taught us the value of love and friendship, surpassing countries, cultures and color of skin. The city that gave without expecting anything back and brought countries together by knitting their people together as one family.
As I watched the people around me having the time of their lives, so many people together in one big room, ushered in by their love for music, friendship and each other, I wondered about those who converge together around the world in a similar way, with the common deep-rooted desire of spreading hatred and death. Perhaps their DJ, their song and dance is a different one.

Just before we finally decided to call it a night, we raised another glass – to the families of those who had lost their lives – for their loss may be insurmountable but the city of Munich will mend their broken hearts and help them to learn to love again – within its borders and beyond.

Are you Indian or Pakistani? Why it shouldn’t matter

(Published in Dawn: http://www.dawn.com/news/1256207/are-you-indian-or-pakistani-why-it-shouldnt-matter )

Born to a Hindu father and a Sikh mother, I grew up in a family that embraces multiple religions and beliefs. Every Gurpurab(Sikh festival), we would go to the nearby Gurudwara to bow our heads and every Janmashtami (the birth of Hindu deity Krishna), we would go to a Hindu temple.

I wouldn’t say that we were a deeply religious family — perhaps what I grew up practising was just a function of what trickles down the familial hierarchy, spanning generations, and eventually catches up with you.

Stories of the eleven Sikh Gurus, the Mahabharata and theRamayana — that were a mandatory part of our academic curriculum right up till middle school and the idea of God and him ‘watching us’ — formed the premise of my moral upbringing and education in my formative years.

Having grown up with an amalgamated idea of God, the hard-hitting realities of different religions and religious wars that are rife today were things that eluded the conspicuousness of my daily life, like background music.

I hailed from what is today the ‘Indian Punjab’ (even though my grandparents are originally from Lahore). I didn’t have much interaction with Muslims, perhaps because there were very few to be found in my school.

It was not until I joined the University of Nottingham in England in 2007 for my post-graduate studies did I have the opportunity to befriend many Muslims, not to mention also reside in the same student halls with some of them.

Anyone studying abroad will tell you that one of the most exciting and enriching experiences is the hordes of expatriate students you get to interact with — people from all parts of the world whom you meet and live with under one roof, and ostensibly learn so much from about new cultures, traditions and lifestyles.

One of the very first people I met in my postgraduate student hall was a boy from Lahore whose sense of humour was as alarming as it was a riot.

Very quickly, he became an in-house entertainer for the entire building. Owing to the obvious overlap of culture and languages between us, we soon became fast friends and as it turned out, were also in many of the same classes.

A prankster, he would often find himself in a pickle with our house wardens who made it abundantly clear from the beginning that they were not his fans.

It made me like him even more. I would often have long chats with him and another Muslim girl who had moved in two doors down from me on my floor. We would converse on politics, Kashmir and India-Pak conflicts. Their views and sentiments, I found, were mostly aligned with my own.

He would say, “It’s the political parties and governments in power on both sides of the border that are spewing most of the trouble. My friends, family and many common people, like us, often discuss how sad it is that we harbour an unnecessary hatred towards those who are fundamentally our own.”

She would nod in agreement and then laugh and say, “Your Bollywood movies have made me fall in love with dancing around trees.”

To which I would respond,” You have Fawad Khan!”

If only these were the kind of conflicts both India and Pakistan had to spar about…

I cherish those memories even today while day dreaming at the back of a taxi in Abu Dhabi, where I live today.

I am snapped out of my reverie by my taxi driver Ajmal Khan who asks me: “Madame, you are British?” (Something I get to hear a lot here, including all those who are fair-skinned)

I smile and reply in Hindi, “Hindustani hoon. Aur aap?”

After a shocked silence, he quips: “Pakistani. Ek hi baat hai na lekin?”

This is common in Abu Dhabi. Most of the taxi drivers are from India, or Pakistan. They are also the friendliest.

An appeal for Indo-Pak peace

Recently a video has gone viral on social media, stunning everyone who has watched it into introspective silence.

In the video, a young girl named Gurmehar Kaur from Jalandhar, Punjab — who lost her father at the tender age of 2 in the Kargil War — has implored the governments of both India and Pakistan to stop bloodshed and hatred-spreading one-upmanship and resolve problems once and for all.

Through a series of placards, Kaur conveys how she hated Pakistan and Muslims whom she blamed for her father’s loss. It was her mother who made her understand that it was not Pakistan that killed her father, but war.

I’m reminded of an incident that took place at my university one busy morning in 2008.

We were in the midst of our morning routine of rushing to get ready for class when we learnt that a Muslim student at one of the campuses of our university had been arrested for using the computers on the premises to research topics relating to terrorism and extremist outfits.

The boy was put behind bars for about a week, while investigations were carried out. He was later released after it became clear that he had downloaded the manual for a thesis he was writing for his course which had no connection with terrorism.

I remember how I feared for my own two Pakistani friends, even though the incident was far removed from them. The gravity of that situation brings me spiralling back to the flawed perception rife today of how terrorism is associated with Pakistan.

In equal measure, it is immensely unfortunate how religion becomes a tool for misuse. From the Muslim beef-lynchingepisode in India to the Hindutva hue and cry rampant today to the BJP’s insistence that Indians must shout ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ as evidence of their patriotism, it is incidents like these which give birth to societies, governments and countries that may very well be on their way to full-fledged fascism.

Instead of this overt display of nationalism and hate, why can’t we reconcile our differences?

Isn’t it time we listen to Kaur and become ambassadors of peace ourselves?

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys: Another stereotype for the bin

(Published in SheThePeople: http://shethepeople.tv/pink-is-for-girls-and-blue-is-for-boys-another-stereotype-for-the-bin/ )

Quite literally since we were born, our minds have been conditioned to absorb the many differences and stereotypes inherent in our societies today when it comes to gender.

If its a girl the room must be painted in pink, right from the onesies to the blankets to all the dresses and toys. Similarly if little Junior is on the way, his room must be painted a baby blue and wallpapers of fire trucks and cars must line the walls. If this continues, will we ever see the return of neutral colours?

I don’t yet have kids of my own but the closest kids to us (also literally as they are down the street from us) are my sister-in-laws two girls aged 7 and 3 – fast going on 17 and 13 respectively! Contrary to most young girls at that age, it isn’t barbie dolls and frilly dresses they have any interest in but rather racing cars, cricket and the colours black, red and green alternatively. In fact, the only ‘girly’ interests they have so far is in dance – ballet and bollywood to be precise. And of course, there was no escaping the ‘Frozen’ princesses stage.

Today themed birthday parties and celebrations for children have become commonplace with no holds barred on the decor and opulence at the event and no stones being left unturned to fulfil every fairytale their own princesses dream of and their little ‘Tarzans’ demand. Even today the boys will be found in a different part of the room having their own party on the side while the girls in their frocks and magic wands parade around the pink tiered cake and follow the belle of the ball around who has even been presented with a sparkling crown to set her aside from the rest. It is because of this blatant fine-tuning etched in their minds from day one that the idea of breaking away from convention and adopting hobbies and interests designed for the opposite sex only that frequently comes under the scanner today.

According to Lise Elliot, Author and Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, these gender-specific divides have adverse effects on developmental growth and aren’t always a good idea. Limiting boys and girls to that one colour, that one hobby or toy and also particular behavior limits their thinking, purview of knowledge and eventually even ambitions. Elliot suggests an interesting counter measure – to buy toys and play things that are deemed fit for the opposite sex by society today – like Legos and building blocks for girls to enhance mathematical intellect and a pet such as a dog for boys to teach them to be more nurturing and caring like their female counterparts.

My 3-year old niece today associates smoking, alcohol, snoring and even drinking coffee with men. “Papa is having coffee because he is a boy.” Because she doesn’t see any one else in their house having coffee. Her mum has tea so tea is automatically “for girls”. They internalize everything they see and hear right from when they are toddlers.

But isn’t it time we break them away from the metaphorical moulds of pink and blue we have sculplted them into and let them choose the colours and interests they want to pursue for themselves? Yes, it is true that the ‘ pink and blue’ colour spectrum makes it easy for new parents to plan and organise their pre-natal lives in ease but why can’t the walls be painted a yellow or a green? Why not neutral? Keeping it neutral teaches a child from day one that boys can like pink too, that girls can play with blue trucks and wear trousers without being scorned or bullied in school to stay within their ‘girly limits.’

What we don’t realise is the consequences this seemingly trivial talk of colour change can have on a child’s entire developmental growth, perception of the world and behavior towards others in every stage of life. The idea of girls liking pink or only dolls and frocks gives birth to the wrongful stereotypes of women being incapable of many other tasks and skills such as excelling in math, science in school. Many teachers even today prefer to turn a blind eye to a girls contribution to an intellectually demanding subject vis a vis that of a boy. Similarly, if a boy is found playing with a doll or a pair of high heels, for example, the parents themselves will rush to pull these ‘girly’ toys away from him and thrust the G.I Joes and superhero figures towards him faster than the blink of an eye. This boy will inadvertently grow up to be scornful and condescending of girls and their ‘silly pink play things.’

Our country today hosts many such examples today of men and women and their disposition towards each other due to the very limiting fabric of the foundation on which they have been brought up. Our womensports teams – be it cricket, hockey or any other sport get barely a passing mention in tabloids and the social media chatter today whereas the colour of Virat Kohlis eyes or how quickly Dhoni coloured his salt and pepper beard becomes front page news. Why? because women aren’t supposed to play a sport. It’s not a pink barbie doll. It’s a boy’s play thing. Those who do make it to the tabloids winning accolades in their fields like Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal work that much harder to earn that bit of respect whereas flick of the wrist and the ball over the ropes gets people talking about that male cricketer for weeks. And then theres those like Mary Kom with a passion for a purely ‘male’ sport like boxing who struggled from day 1 to get anywhere near where she is and that too a filmstar had to emulate her in a movie to really bring her in the limelight that ironically, Priyanka Chopra bagged more than the real superstar herself.

The story in the common man’s household is no different – rural or urban. Men are still being showered with more affection and importance and tasked with what they perceive as tasks within the capablities of men only while women are still pushed towards household chores and frivolous duties – even education for many rural households not an effort to be wasted on them. The problem is rooted much deeper spanning generations of poverty, lack of education and misogyny.

As Eliot observes, the most wecan really do is to try and level the field for both genders from day one. Let your daughter pick up a hockey stick. Let your son play house once in a while without rushing to ‘right’ this perceived wrong. The sooner we realise that there is no wrong in what a child wants to play with and the only wrong is our own in limiting their outreach, the sooner we see them grow into individuals who believe in the idea of equality.
Pink and blue aren’t the only colours in the spectrum. Teach them the beauty of each one.

An open letter to my 30-year old self

(Published in Times of India : http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/shaira-mohan-blog/an-open-letter-to-my-30-year-old-self/

Dear 30-year- old me,

A week from now you will bid a sad goodbye to your 20s and cross the threshold into the first day of a new decade in your life.

There is always much hype around entering a new decade and leaving behind the old. Its a chance to look back at the last 10 years and reminisce about all the work done, goals met, friends made, friends lost, places travelled, things learnt and every decision, every turning point and every step taken that has brought you to this very spot with the next rung on the ladder around the corner.

But often we forget to think about the things we have learnt along the way – things we pledge to remind ourselves to not change and keep doing or do differently in the future but forget to open those reminders when the time actually comes. So here’s a list of things I have noted down for you so that you can refer to these notes as you brace yourself to embrace the new decade with its own brand of ups and downs to come.

Starting (or re-starting) a career at 30 is not a bad thing either:
Yes, you got married and then moved around so much that the airport became more of a home than your actual house. (which has also been changing a lot). And that initial fear of flying has now become a faint memory. In the process the career you set yourself up for took a hit somewhere. But something great came out of it too. You travelled so much and saw some exotic new places that you may never have been able to. Your passport pages look very impressive and you also discovered a skill you never knew you had – you can write! So you took the time to chase that new-found skill and hone it further. And you got on that yoga mat and did your mind and body a great favour too. Now you plan to join the work force again. And you will own it. Don’t forget that many successful people today changed entire careers much later on and reached where they are today. Age is just a number no matter what people may say.

Change is a good thing :
You held on to that job, that friend, that thought process like it was the holy grail and the idea of anything different was unfathomable. But you finally accepted change and took the leap. And here you are—happier and more fulfilled than ever. Change is a good thing and always will be. It’s the only thing that should be constant, as they say. So never hesitate to take that leap.

Age really is just a number:
Coming back to that, it’s true. Yes time passes us by faster than the blink of an eye but do we start doing things differently just because the number of years we have lived changes every year? No. What we do it to add to those things int he attempt to add more meaning, more experiences and try new things. By that logic we are only getting younger! Mind over matter. There is nothing you can or can’t do that needs to be checked off the age-appropriate list. Don’t let age get in the way of your dreams. They can come true now.

If you aren’t married by now, the sky will not fall:
Its our typical Indian mindset. “Beta, you are almost 30! When will you get married? All the ‘good’ boys will be taken.” Firstly, stay as far away from these nosy aunts as you possibly can. Or at least these conversations. If you find yourself cornered with nowhere to go, just say “Aunty abhi toh party shuru hui hai!” And then observe shocked reaction before making your victorious exit. On a serious note, remember that while you chose to marry a while ago, many of your friends are not as yet and are being hounded by such aunties. Remember to be there for these friends. Remember to remind them that people like to talk and always will but they need to not get bogged down by such conversations and allow themselves to take the stress. Stress gets you nowhere. There is a time and place for everything and marriage and babies fall under this category too. No one should ever be forced into the idea of marriage. Or the idea of anything for that matter. One has to arrive at these life decisions themselves.

Don’t be a ‘yes’ man (woman), you can’t please everyone :
And you shouldn’t have to. You went through the motions from being a gullible teenager transiting from school to college life and clumsily waded through the slew of heartbreaks, deception, losses, disappointments and hardships and finally crossed over to the 20s that saw you somewhat more confident but not quite. As you progressed up the 20s ladder, you learnt how to and how not to deal with people – people at home, at work, at social gatherings, friends, those who pretend to be friends and so on. You learnt to say no. You learnt that its okay to disappoint one person and please the other. The guilt is something you may not have learnt to shake off just yet but you learnt that its okay. Most importantly, you have now learnt that you have to hold your own and have your own opinions to voice. And that those opinions will hurt some people and make others proud. But you will not say yes to everyone. There’s no need to feel bad about it.

Don’t expect the world from anyone, it only hurts you:
They say those closest to you are the ones who let you down the most. But if you look closer, that’s because its those that are closest to you that you expect the world from. You expect them to drop their own lives and come running to be a part of yours as and when you please. You expect good outcomes always and hence get your heart broken when things don’t work out the way you had envisioned them. Quit the expectations altogether. Expect but don’t expect the world. As you climb the rungs of the 30s ladder, this will hit home harder than you can imagine.

Don’t let the world’s expectations of you ruffle your feathers either:
Those same annoying aunties who ask you about marriage will also be the ones to sit you down and ask you about babies. And why there isn’t a brood of little hybrids of you and your husband strutting around already. Again, smile and walk away. The inevitable pressures holds we climb into in various stages of life and also various stages in our careers take a hold on us as we struggle to fulfill someone else’s dreams and expectations of us. There is absolutely no need to trip over your own feet trying to desperately meet each and everyone’s expectations. And you need to stop caring about what others think all the time. Do what you can and what you feel is right for you. The rest of the world will just have to deal with it.

Start putting yourself first:
Continuing from point 8, its time to stop thinking only about others and look long and hard into that mirror. How can you help you first? Eat healthier, cut out the junk. Exercise regularly. Pamper yourself with that massage or pedicure frequently. You aren’t going to be a bad wife, mother or daughter if you think of investing in yourself more. Take the time to read that book that is lying neglected on the book shelf. Go watch a movie with some girlfriends during the week. The world won’t end if you do.

Have fun! 30 is the new 20!:
They used to say life begins at 40. Well I have news for you. Life began a long time ago. You are living it right now. You are young with so much to give and get in return. Don’t waste a minute of it thinking of ‘buts’ and ‘what ifs’. Try everything. leave nothing out. Be crazy but also be careful. Be more responsible but let yourself go once in a while. Make time for friends but make time for parents and grandparents too. Be kind. Love and forgive.

Love,
29-year-old me

P.S.— This is important. Don’t lose who you are and become someone else. Every day will bring new experiences. But you must remain the same.

Attention Indian dog-owners: leave these furry creatures alone

(Published in Times of India: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/shaira-mohan-blog/attention-indian-dog-owners-leave-these-furry-creatures-alone/ )

The ‘don’t buy it if you can’t flaunt it’ motto that some of our big city elite live by has many an aam aadmi gasping in disbelief at the things being flaunted and paraded around the streets of cities like Delhi. Cars may take the cake but then bags, accessories, houses – the list is always long and more often than not, ludicrous.
But sadly there are some innocent, undeserving casualties of this lifestyle that bear the unfortunate brunt and are getting added to the list. Dogs. We love them, we want them, we must have them. But in our exuberant efforts to quench our animal loving thirst, some of us are ironically making choices that are doing nothing but harming certain breeds of this magnificent species – the ST. Bernard, Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute. As the names themselves suggest, these beautiful creatures whose ancestors hail from extremely cold climes and snow-clad environs possess skin and fur that acclimatizes only with such extremes of weather. So, it is very unfair that those humans who themselves take layers of clothing along on their trips to say Switzerland from Delhi and freeze without quilted jackets are subjecting these furry animals to the harsh extremes of the Indian summer heat. These humans who call themselves ‘dog-lovers’ are in fact not. They are elite members of the ‘own- it- to- flaunt-it’ club.
If one is a dog lover, it becomes quite ingrained that one would want the best for their pet. To give them warm, wholesome meals, protect them from harm, treat them with love and affection just like their own children. And yet the biggest harm being done to them are by these owners themselves. Multiple articles and pleas have come out in the public domain in all forms to curb the unfair practice of flying these dogs that belong in other lands and not uproot them from their natural habitats that they can not survive without and yet these poor creatures continue to be the coveted exotic breeds to show off at many a social gathering.
Experts and veterinarians have cited many examples of how such dogs that are being kept in Indian houses almost like fashion items today are developing all kinds of ailments, disorders and chronic diseases that the owners are paying little or no heed to and eventually many are mercilessly abandoned.
The St. Bernard is a working dog from the Swiss Alps that was originally bred for rescue operations. Today the same dogs need us to rescue them. I have been to a few peoples homes where I have been left appalled by the sheer dispassion with which the dog is being kept in a tiny room or backyard in the peak of summer. There are also reports of people cutting or removing the fur of these dogs altogether as a quick-fix solution the the heat. This is only harming the animal more as they need the fur to protect them from harmful ultraviolet sun rays.
The alarming rate at which wealthy dog owners are shelling out between 25 to 60 thousand rupees (or higher) to buy these dogs is beyond belief. Instead of this number starting to take a nosedive due to efforts to increase awareness about their deterirating conditions in our Indian climes, this growth rate and the figures are only rising and this is cause for concern for the ‘real’ dog lovers like us.
I have one question for those who indulge in such unfair indulgence – Would you keep your children cooped up in a room with nearly 50 degrees temperature and a thick quilted winter jacket tied firmly around them?
If you are a true dog lover you wouldn’t torture these animals either. There are plenty of other breeds to adopt or even the over-flowing stray dog shelters that are in dire need of our attention. Start there and leave the showing off for the next Merc you buy.

The bias surrounding women on top

(Published in SheThePeople.Tv : http://shethepeople.tv/when-will-it-be-okay-for-us-to-embrace-power-the-bias-surrounding-women-on-top/ )

I watched Joanna Coles ( Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan) on TV the other day, asking this very important question, addressing the very important issue of the stigma around powerful, successful women.
The discussion was focussed around the US presidential elections and Hilary Clinton’s recent state win over Bernie Sanders ……. But the question penetrates deeper into the global outlook rampant in our societies today.
Women in power, be it the working mother, the CEO, the international sports star or even the political leader – constantly find themselves going to trial for being the other gender and judged by a jury that consists of their male counterparts or societies that have made it their business to look down upon, question, criticise and judge the female population at their will.
A woman finds herself having to constantly rise above the din of misogynistic inferences – both subtle and blatant but never apologetic. When M/s. Coles was asked on the show about the perception of Hilary Clinton as the potential ruler of the country, she deftly maneouvered the conversation towards this important stigmatisation citing the example of Clinton. That dialogue around the former lady secretary of state as the potential first ever president of the United States was as rife with sexist undertones as it was rich in feminist votes and democratic supporters of the Clinton regime.

The story is the same for every woman in a position of power or importance. This is another good reason to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’. The CEO of Facebook and a great example of successful women leaders, Ms. Sandberg uses anecdotes to illustrate her points from conversations with various other eminent figures. She talks about the TV actress and producer Tina Fey who addressed the assumption that a successful working woman must not be able to juggle both work and family life and so one of the most frequently asked questions is “How do you do it all?” – a question that is never asked of a man and is inherently condescending and sexist. Another example is of the widespread media attention that was brewed when Marissa Mayer accepted her role as CEO of Yahoo while in the third trimester of her pregnancy. Stay-at-home mothers often tend to look down upon careerwomen and vice versa. These are questions and conversations that need to be turned on their head.
I have worked with a software company that caters to the oil and gas sector for 2 years. After a gap of a year and two country moves later, I now plan to re-join them. As is atypical of tech and and the energy industry, the ratio of male to female employees shows a wide gap. The general assumption is that the industry ‘isn’t for them’. In the company I worked for, while admittedly the gender gap was also large with more male employees to a fraction of the amount of female employees, it was really the collective team – the ‘people’ both male and female working in concert together towards a common goal that made this gender gap virtually inconspicuous and a non-issue. As long as the drive and passion is there to achieve a common goal, the sex of your team member should be a non-issue. And the treatment of this as a non-issue needs to start with the top management and trickle down from there.

The elephant in the room as soon as a woman enters any office that holds a pertinent level of importance is always palpable. Women, immigrants, persons of colour and the poor for example – all those who fall at the bottom of the social and political hierarchies and are afforded lesser wages will ostensibly also always be perceived with a lesser amount of seriousness and credibility in the office they hold than their more secure male counterparts. The answer lies not in going after those who condemn and criticise but going after this archaic divisiveness that keeps the lines always drawn by subjecting some parts of society to lesser means than others based on what they look like.

Attempts are being made aggressively to break the glass ceiling but the playing field in most countries remains anything but level. Lean In and McKinsey conducted a study of 118 companies and 30,000 employees that listed all the reasons why women are being held back in the work place. Researchers have arrived at the conclusion that more work-from-home and family friendly opportunities, flexibility and more opportunities for higher paying jobs can be some solutions. Marc Benioff, CEO of the cloud computing company Salesforce.com echoed his stance on the importanceof equal pay for women by talking about Women Surge, a new initiative started by Salesforce to identify and evaluate top female talent and to make sure that every meeting, every training program and the like have equal representation for women too. Benioff pointed out that women in high positions in the company are in fact, paid more than their male counterparts, “because in the tech industry those are hard to find!” he says and so they recognised the talent and value of these employees. This further induced a countrywide reassessment of salary structures within Salesforce and they implemented the same practice across the board.
The story in India is no different. The cloud of derision that dots the work environment around the top woman leader is as thick as ever. The tide has started to turn, however slowly, but the road is a long one. Diversity and equality have become significant buzzwords that have started to open eyes and ears and garner coveted responses. But there is no need to sugarcoat and turn a blind eye to the struggles that a woman undergoes to keep both boats of work and family afloat. Indra Nooyi, Pepsico’s CEO, in an interview with Forbes in 2014 candidly laid down her belief that women, in fact, can’t have it all unless they work out the correct mechanism between both their lives – the work and the home one. “Stay at home mothering is a full time job. Being CEO for a company is three full time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to them all?” Unless you have the right support from both worlds. Without that support one of the ships is sinking whether you like it or not.
And the support we talk of can only be mustered when the notion of “women can’t” is dropped once and for all and the focus shifts to acknowledging all that they are doing already which is way more than a man does.
“When will it be okay for us to embrace power?” was Joanna Coles’ question.
It will become okay when the wages, job positions are equalised which will extinguish the root cause of the problem itself. It will become okay when families, friends, colleagues and bosses are supportive of the woman climbing the corporate ladder as well as managing the household without the sexist remarks and lingering aura of condescension.
And it will become okay when more men come forward to highlight the importance of treating every woman as an equal.

Why I am thrilled Bell-bottoms are making a come-back

(Published in DailyO: http://www.dailyo.in/lifestyle/bell-bottoms-boho-fashion-trends-overalls-hippies-indian-cinema-1970s-style-kurt-cobain/story/1/10337.html )

I just turned 30 a week ago. Which means I was yet to enter my teens when the flared pants or ‘bootcut’ as they are also called became a sensation in the 1990s and the trouser of choice in every household the world over.
Nonetheless, the memory of the day I wore my first pair is as fresh as if it were yesterday. My masi (mother’s sister) brought me a beautiful denim pair from America with colorful floral embroidery adorning the fabric in patches. It was nothing like I had ever owned and I couldn’t get enough of wearing them. That marked the beginning of more such bell bottom purchases in different colors and fabrics. It was the late 1990s – a time when Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell were the supermodels ruling the runways, Kurt Cobain had spearheaded the grunge look of mismatched, oversized outfits and Rachel from FRIENDS had the iconic layered haircut that every girl in that generation wanted. And, of course, the flashy British divas – the Spice girls.
The origin of this style, interestingly, dates back to the early 1900s when sailors in the American navy decided to adopt the wide legged bell-shaped cuffs at the end of their pants. Standardized uniforms did not exist as yet. As with many other fashion statements that seemed to have sprouted from the British and American Navy, these flared pants too became quite the rage and spread like wildfire among the mainstream public by the mid 1960s. Accentuating the figure by being snug at the hips and thighs and dramatically flared from the knee down, these pants began to be paired with high heels, flat shoes, crop tops, off-shoulder or even over-sized ensembles and every kind of ‘hippie’ to sophisticated style.
My favorite was always the off-shoulder look with the denim bell-bottoms. The denim jeans, the unstoppable and unrivalled rage across the globe witnesses constantly evolving fashion trends from the bell-bottoms to the lesser flared cuts, the skinny jeans, the ripped boyfriend jeans and today we are coming full circle with vintage coming back in vogue and the bell-bottoms all set for a full come-back. Fashion houses and retail stores have already started to stock up on this legendary trend in all kinds of bright colours, hues and variants of denims – giving a modern twist to the conventional boot cut styles. Another style in the stores today that has me lusting after them is the ripped flares – eclectically torn at the knees in the signature ‘ripped’ jeans fashion and then flared in the bell shape from the knee down.
The emergence of the skinny or fitted jeans that saw the end of the flared bell-bottoms around 2005-2006 was no less of a rage and had us refurbishing our wardrobes with all signs of the flared cuts forgotten at the back of our closets. But, it was the comfortable, snug yet stylishly roomy flared styles that many of us vouch for even today – the perfect mix of quirk and bohemia with comfort and a pinch of that old-school nostalgia from our days with Betty and Veronica’s fashion styles from the 70s. And the men were not to be left out either! Though they went with more of a subtle flare as compared to our edgy and bold bell-bottoms.
Everything vintage and old-school is making a comeback today and I for one am thrilled. Florals, crop tops, sunglasses, to even hem lines – its an exciting time for the fashion world and we are hooked. Today fashion is no longer prisoned in a box of convention and rules – a fusion of styles, eras and modernity is being experimented with and a blend of many decades of fashion is coming together to define fashion today. The bell-bottoms were frontrunners as game-changers between decades and their return is the best news I have heard since the ‘top knot’ hair syle inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s iconic character in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’.
News of the come back first began to make the rounds from the American and European fashion circles and runways but here in Abu Dhabi too I am now seeing the tides turning and adopting this exciting new (and yet old) trend again. Sadly I no longer have my old floral pair that I miss dearly but it went on to find a new owner many moons ago.
But this only means I am ready to get started on some vintage retail therapy. I hope the bell-bottoms are here to stay!