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!

The written word – keeping me sane since 2014

It was always an urge bubbling under the surface since I was a teenager graduating from Enid Blytons to the Harper Lees and Sidney Sheldons of the world.
The urge to write myself. Reading books had already become an insatiable need very early on in my life. The want, nay, need to have a book by my bedside, on that train or plane journey was consistent and I now know, will always will be.
But I always thought this bubbling urge to write would forever remain an unreachable dream as I would often open my computer screen to give it a go and then close the blank Word document fifteen minutes later.
This writers block continued for many years. And eventually I placed this dream in a crevice at the back of my mind and let it fade. Until one winter night in 2014 when the urge bubbled again and I decided to try one more time.
We were in Munich in Germany and the snow had been threatening to descend upon us any day now. A storm was brewing in the night while another one was ostensibly brewing within me. I was none the wiser until I decided I would create a blog and play around with it, though consistent lack of confidence in my writing for many years convinced me that this attempt would be no different.
But voila! The storm outside lashed out as did my words on the computer screen, almost as if in defiance to the weather outside. The words flew out and my delight knew no bounds. I had it all along! Perhaps there is some truth when people say there is a time and place for everything , however delayed it may be.
I was now on a roll and in no mood to stop. My new-found skill egged me on and I continued to churn articles and a bit of poetry to furnish my blog. New-found confidence coupled with wanting to unleash my writing to the world and hone my skills with every piece, it became m new hobby and contructive pastime.
Before I knew it I saw my pieces being published. Joyous, I knew the most important lesson here was to never give up. And to always listen to the bubbling instincts within that can call out even at 3 AM on a stormy night. The written word stays with me through good days and bad, through stress, happiness, joy, love and sadness too.
If you haven’t yet tried to pen it all down, its never too late to start. For once you start, you can never stop. It grooms the mind and transcends horizons in thinking, helping you to discover more of yourself. But most of all, it keeps you sane through the storms – both outside and within.

Dear Grandparents, Thank You for Becoming Our Whole, Wide World

(Published in The Quint: http://www.thequint.com/blogs/2016/04/09/dear-grandparents-thank-you-for-becoming-our-whole-wide-world )

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The morning my Dada (paternal grandfather) breathed his last just as he put a spoonful of porridge in his mouth.

I’d been the only one with him at the time. It was 13 years ago. I was 17.

My Dada had been suffering from a disease that was acutely suggestive of Parkinson’s – but could also have been Alzheimer’s. The doctors could never arrive at a precise diagnosis. Nonetheless, they’d taken their toll on him, slowly but surely.

Dada was always my hero. I’d never met my maternal grandfather who was a brigadier in the Indian Army (he died the year I was born) – so Dada was the only grandfather I knew.

Some of my fondest memories with Dada go back to our school days when we would frequent our flat in Shimla during the summer holidays. Indulgent, intelligent and ever-enthusiastic, sporting his infectious grin, he would stride alongside our horse rides on the Mall Road. Sometimes, we’d find him lounging on his favourite lazyboy chair listening to KL Saigal – all the while singing jovially as he called to us to have a listen with him.

The Invaluable Things We Learn From a Grandparent

The bond with a grandparent is just as inexplicable as it is unbreakable.

There is so much to learn from our grandparents. Stories of their time – an era that you might otherwise find ensconced only in history books – heartwarming anecdotes. Sometimes they’ll tell you tales of an ancestral lineage you knew little or nothing about – and occasionally, hidden in their many stories, there will be a valuable life lesson. Often, there’s so much more to learn from a beloved grandparent than a parent or a teacher.

My Nanna (paternal grandmother) helped us with our Hindi and Punjabi essays in school. Not to mention extracurricular activities that involved a fair amount of knitting and sewing! But most of all, their involvement was in the daily routines of our lives – ones that are indelible childhood memories today. (The frequent night stays at my maternal grandmother’s are memories I cherish to this day.)

Little wonder that experts tell you how the more involved a grandparent is in a child’s life, the more mutually rewarding a relationship it is.

If ever I would be thankful for technology, it would be for linking my Nanna to me. Even halfway across the world, we still email each other with news and updates.

How Nanna Fought for My Dada

There’s much I have personally learnt from my Dada and Nanna.

Nanna taught me to be brave in the face of adversity. I watched as she lost her younger brother to cancer and continued to be brave. I watched also as she fought for 7 long years against the illness that was determined to snatch Dada from us. If anyone could find a way to fight and bring him back, it would be her, I believed.

She would sit at her computer for hours, tapping away, trying to find a doctor in some other land – some new medical medical information that would help turn his life around. She’d spend an hour every evening with Dada making him listen to audio tapes and then asking him to repeat the words he’d just heard to improve his coherence of speech.

She had no life of her own for 7 years. Or perhaps it was inextricably linked with my grandfather’s.

The Heroes That Are My Grandparents

For an impressionable 17-year-old, this was a lesson in life that has stayed with me…

The lesson of perseverance and never giving up.

When I was getting married, Nanna called me to her room one day in the weeks before the celebrations were to begin. She sat me down and said one powerful thing to me: “Never do or say to others what you wouldn’t want done or said to you.”

A lifetime’s worth of education in that one sentence.

As we approach her 80th birthday this year, my thoughts go back again to that sad morning of 2003 when my grandfather breathed his last. I knew there be no more KL Saigal ghazal nights, no more evening walks with stolen moments of joy with my hero.

But then I think of both my grandmothers and the heroic lives they lead even to this day. The loss of losing a grandparent is colossal at any age. It is a reminder to make more time for them and spend as much time in communicating with them as we possibly can.

For time waits for no one.

The game of thumbs with gadgets

(Published in The Hindu: http://m.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-game-of-thumbs-with-gadgets/article8326407.ece )

It’s the double-edged sword in our lives today. While technology has surged us ahead in every way, it has also pulled us an equal distance away from human interactions.

Often do I find myself guilty of the crime of obliviousness. My husband will call out for me four or five times before I have been jolted out of the WhatsApp conversation I am engrossed in, my thumbs operating at lightning speed and my mind articulating even faster.

Eyes transfixed on screens of various sizes, fingers clicking away exploring every feature and length and breadth of all things digital, we are letting our physical senses of sight, smell, hearing and feeling atrophy. We fail to experience the real features of the world around us.

Not to be left behind in the rat-race, we clamber laboriously to obtain that new app that will make another aspect of our already simplified lives (through technology) a degree closer from our grasp. In doing so, ostensibly we are standing by the argument of ‘it makes our lives easier, so why not’. But what it also does is that it makes us lazier, unsociable and verbally uncommunicative.

Many grapple with maintaining the balance and few manage to balance the scales so as not to let technology weigh in heavier than life itself. The myriad social networking platforms have allowed us to do everything from letting the world know what we ate for breakfast to what we wore at that party to who our secret crush is, all without having to utter a word. The thumbs have taken over.

My sister, being in another country, now communicates with me through Snapchat messages. We may go days without a phone call but thanks to the wonders of Snapchat, WhatsApp and even Voxies (video/audio features on the selfie cameras now), the effort of a phone call is becoming redundant.

I spend a lot of time on my own these days owing to a recent country move and being unemployed currently while my husband goes to work. My only window to the outside world and what brings me up to speed with current events, friends and family are the different gadgets in my possession. But I now consciously make the effort to engage in physical activity that involves physically meeting other people and gadget-free soirees to ensure thumbs don’t have the upper hand.

Now with educational institutions also incorporating iPads and computer-based educational curricula, the newer generations are married to their devices almost as soon as they are born — something we were lucky enough to have escaped. We were pushed to play outdoors: those home-grown games that became household names like ‘Stapoo’, ‘Musical Chairs’, ‘Hide and Seek’. They were the lifelines of many a birthday party and school lunch break, now just joyful memories fading away. What a shame it would be to lose more such wonderful memories and not be able to pass them on to future generations.

When Dry Skin Isn’t Just a ‘Winter’ Problem: Here are 6 Remedies

(Published in The Quint: http://www.thequint.com/life/2016/03/12/when-dry-skin-isnt-just-a-winter-problem-here-are-6-remedies )

If your skin is anything like mine, you have surrounded yourself with hydrating cosmetics of all kinds. From your hand bag to your bedside table to even your gym bag, it’s that ubiquitous item in your possession that you just can’t do without.

The kind of skin we have depends on the level of sebum (natural oil) our skin can retain. The driest skin type retains the least amount of sebum, hence leaving the skin flaky and tight.

Being one of those cream-obsessed individuals (so much so that even my college roommates remember me with a perpetual bottle of cream in my hand), I have discovered a few things from my own experiences that people with dry, irritable skin can try, to somewhat ease their dry skin woes.

1. A New ‘Something’ Called Moroccan Argan Oil

It has taken the cosmetic world by storm. The benefits of this oil extracted from the kernels of the Argan tree endemic to Morocco, are jumping out at us from news articles, magazines, organic offerings and even doctors.

One ‘benefit’ in particular caught my eye: ‘Argan oil is great for dry skin.’ My interest piqued and I decided to try it out.

(Joyous with the results, I ventured to purchase Vatika’s Argan Hair oil and shampoo that have rejuvenated my dry scalp too!)

2. Remember Your Grandma’s Nivea?

I noticed years ago that my skin had developed an alarming resistance to the application of ‘designer’ brands of creams or sunscreens. I would break out into rashes or burning, irritable skin – just seconds after applying a new exotic product.

So I went back to the basics – the evergreen Pond’s, Dove, Nivea and Vaseline. I strongly recommend Dove’s Shea Butter Body lotion which is a permanent fixture in my life. With their combination of moisture-locking cream oil and hydrating shea butter, aloe vera and other natural ingredients, these age-old timers are the only moisturising magicians that can tame dry skin into quiet submission.

3. Make Up Woes? Not Any More

Are you constantly rushing to put on your ‘game face’ for the world? We don’t blame you, make-up can be a pretty great thing.

But it’s more than a little distressing if you have naturally dry skin. Have you noticed it getting even flakier after you remove your make-up at the end of the day? I have – and completely advocate a vigorous moisturising regime before the warpaint comes on. Beauty professionals swear by moisturisers and you can make a best friend out of any pre-make up cream of your choice: Vaseline lotion, Clean & Clear’s Dual Action lotion and Neutrogena’s oil free Moisture lotion.

These help keep the moisture locked in and thwart cracked and flaky skin.

4. You’ll Have to Skip the Steaming Hot Showers

There’s nothing like a good, hot, steaming shower at the beginning or end of a long day. We feel you.

But if you have dry skin, it’s best to keep these to a minimum. Hot water makes skin even dryer – so if you must up the temperature, make sure the water’s lukewarm and you’re using natural, gentle soaps.

5. Sunscreen’s Your Best Friend

Growing up, my skin didn’t exactly have its finest hour in the sun. Pun intended. The worst instances of acne and rashes can impinge upon dry skin on a day when you’re wearing no sunscreen and experience direct sun exposure. Leslie Baumann, MD, Director of the Cosmetic Research at the University of Miami has stressed on the need for dry-skinned people to reach for broader spectrum sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB rays.

You’ll also need to constantly reapply EVERY 2-3 hours.

6. The Right Diet’s a Clincher

Keep in mind that the food you eat also influences hydration. Fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies contain omega-3 fats that protect skin from sun damage and cells from cancer. Avocados are rich in vitamins C and E and lock in moisture.

You’d also be better advised to sauté or roast veggies than to cook them.

For dry skinned individuals, orange and yellow vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, mangoes and apricots need to be a part of your diet immediately!

‘No matter if you’re black or white’

(Published in The Times of India: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/shaira-mohan-blog/no-matter-if-youre-black-or-white/ )

In the literary masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch asks her father if he is, in fact, a lover of the dark-skinned people.

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” (11.107-109)

With this book, the recently deceased Harper Lee left us with a legacy that will remain unparalleled for generations to come . The above is an excerpt from the book where Atticus Finch, the audacious lawyer defending a black man in the America of the 1930s during the Great Depression is giving his impressionable daughter Scout Finch a lesson in racism. The lesson, however, echoed far  beyond the book into the classrooms and consciences of the world wide audience.

But did it really?

Today, nearly a century past the Civil Rights movement spearheaded by the likes of Martin Luther King, Andrew Goodman and many others who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and equality, the predicament of many of our colored folks the world over remains unchanged and ‘un-fair’. (Pun intended.)

Its sad that the obssession with fair skin in countries like even our own has muted our abilities to look beyond the exterior and appreciate the person herself. Be it the corporate world, domestic help, supermarkets, or even airports, unabashed discrimination and segregation is still rife in many parts of the world and sometimes shockingly blatant. The intelligent African-American candidate will be overlooked for the fair-skinned but less skilled one. Help will be easily given to the fair-skinned passenger at an airport whereas the darker skinned one may have to fend for herself.

I have just moved into a building in Abu Dhabi where one of the receptionists at the lobby is a pleasant, friendly and helpful black gentleman who is unflinchingly polite and goes the extra mile to assist you in any way he can. His diverse group of colleagues are equally agreeable but Ali stands out – not for the colour of his skin but for the fact that by doing his job exceptionally every moment of ever day, he crushes the ugliness of the stereotype he is tied to and in doing so, shines a bright light on the darkness that a racist mind lives in.

The hideousness of racism, be it economic, social or cultural is particularly conspicuous in poverty-stricken sections of society, owing to this deadly twosome of racism and poverty operating in a vicious circle. But the impact sweeps along all classes and strata of society, further strengthening the lines of racial divides and widening the gaps between rich and poor, light and dark skinned.

The ripple effect in play is as a consequence, flowing in the wrong direction. The direction of regression and closed mind sets instead of progressive and humanitarian dispositions. Failing to look beyond the petty and peripheral has deterred our ability to judge the good and the bad by letting us base our final judgements on the superficial.

My young cousin recently asked me for advice on which book she should read for an essay assignment for school. On her request, I rattled off some of my favorites by Indian authors but I ended my message by insisting that if she hasnt yet read To Kill a Mockingbird, she must leave all else and pick up a copy immediately. I did that not just because I have read it thrice myself and it is one of my all time favorites, but because I think it is very important for us to encourage the younger generations to be aware of racial discrimination from an early age and not let them fall in to the colour trap. So that from their formative school years they know and accept children of all colours and all walks of life as ‘people’ and not ‘black’ or ‘white’ or ‘brown’ people.

It may just be a drop in the ocean but as the saying goes, every drop counts. Atticus Finch doesn’t have to be just a protaganist of a novel. We need to raise an Atticus Finch in every home and reverse the ripple effect.