Walking the HIV+ talk

1. Will you readily accept the admission of some HIV+ children in your child’s school?
2. Will you knowingly and willingly interact with HIV+ persons?
3. Will you knowingly and willingly share a meal with HIV+ persons, using common plates and spoons?

Most of us have probably never faced these situations before. Most of us would probably have to apply a lot of thought before replying truthfully to these questions. Most of us would probably answer, “I’m not sure” to all 3 questions.

Early in July 2014, the parents of children studying in a school in Goa threatened to withdraw their children from the school if the management went ahead with the admission of 13 HIV+ children into the school. For further information, please read this Firstpost report. A few days later, another report stated that the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of the school had also demanded the removal of 23 non-HIV students because they live in the same Church-run children’s home along with the 13 HIV+ve students, claiming their presence in school too could put the safety of their wards at risk.

On July 31, 2014, while speaking on this subject in the Goa State Assembly, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had “said Goans needed to work overtime to eradicate the stigma surrounding AIDS. He also promised he will eat a meal with HIV+ve students to make a broader point about AIDS and the myths surrounding it.”

Firstpost reports that “while many dismissed Parrikar’s promise as mere rhetoric, the chief minister … made good his word” on August 16, 2014 by “keeping his lunch-date with the inmates of the church-run Nitya Seva Niketan orphanage, several of whom suffer from HIV/AIDS.”

Some highlights from the Firstpost report (all statements by local MLA Subhash Phaldessai):
“All the children there were thrilled to see the chief minister. They were jumping all over him.
All of us used common plates and spoons… We tried to make our visit appear as casual and normal as possible, lest they feel that the Chief Minister was here to meet them because of their condition.”
We did not allow photographers because we did not want the identity of the HIV+ve children be disclosed.
“The Chief Minister assured them all the help possible from the Goa government as well as personally too. He will be sending across a television set as well as some video players and entertainment (games and play-kits).”

Reading or hearing about Mr. Parrikar’s visit to Nitya Seva Niketan would definitely have made many people think deeply about their own attitude to HIV+ people. Probably, some people’s attitudes would have changed to some extent. Unfortunately, the print and electronic media has not given Mr. Parrikar’s visit the kind of coverage that was earlier given to the statements by some of his party’s ministers and MLAs about bikinis, beaches, casinos and that “all Indians in Hindustan are Hindus”.

I wonder why. Is it because negative news brings many more readers/viewers than positive news? Don’t the media have a role to play in bringing about social change?

Little gesture, huge impact!

Govind, who seemed to be in his sixties, was an uneducated man whose writing ability was limited to signing his name in the local language. He was employed by one of our customers, a medium-scale automotive ancillary. He had no designation and no fixed duties. He did whatever job was assigned to him by his employer. Whenever he had visited our office to take delivery of spare parts, he had worn a white half-sleeved shirt, knee-length khaki shorts and a smile!

Usually, Govind’s work in our office would be over in less than a minute. He would hand over the payment to our receptionist, who would then give him the package and the bill that had been kept ready in anticipation of his arrival.

One morning, Govind’s employer telephoned me. He needed a spare part urgently. Since the part number could not be found in the parts manual, he was sending Govind to our office with the damaged part. He wanted me to identify the part and to arrange to supply a new part as soon as possible, today if possible.

About an hour later, when I was told that Govind had reached our office, I asked our receptionist to send him in to meet me. He entered my room, greeted me and gave me the damaged part. I returned his greeting and requested him to sit, but he remained standing. After I insisted that he sit, he sat on the edge of the chair’s seat. He was clearly uncomfortable.

“Mr. Govind, would you like to have tea or coffee?” I asked. Looking shocked, he answered, “No, sir.”
“Mr. Govind, it is now tea time in our office. Do you normally drink tea, coffee, milk, or anything else?” I asked.
“Tea, sir,” he replied.
“With sugar?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
Over the intercom, I ordered 2 cups of tea.

I inspected the damaged part and identified it immediately. Fortunately, we had one part in stock. I telephoned Govind’s employer, who requested me to send one part and the bill along with Govind, who would pay in cash.

As I called our Accountant over the intercom and instructed him to prepare the bill, our Office Boy entered my room and served tea. I could see Govind was extremely uncomfortable, and I knew why! Saying, “Please have your tea,” I picked up my cup and started sipping.

After he had had his tea, I requested Govind to collect the spare part and bill from the receptionist. He stood up and said, “Sir, can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Sir, I was served tea in a cup identical to yours. When my Sahib comes here, is he served tea in the same cup?”

“Yes. Why do you ask that?” I asked.

“Sir, my Sahib and you are high-level people. I am a very low-level man. In our company, only Sahib and his guests have tea in nice cups like these. Everyone else has tea in ordinary glasses. I am confused, sir!”

I smiled and replied, “Mr. Govind, your Sahib is my customer. Since you work in your Sahib’s company, you are also my customer. That’s it!”

With tears in his eyes and his palms pressed together in a Namaste, Govind said, “Sir, today, for the first time in my life, a high-level man has given me so much respect. Thank you, sir!”

This post is in response to Indispire Edition 26. This post was a part of the post Little gestures, huge impact! originally published on November 18, 2013.

Happy Independence Day! Mother India’s message to every Indian

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. (Prompt: It is the night of August 14th. You are sleeping peacefully until a lady, who identifies herself by the name of Mother India, wakes you up and starts talking. What does she talk to you?)

I am Mother India. You, my child, are an Indian. Your name, age, gender, religion, caste, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, etc. are not important.

Tomorrow is my 68th birthday. I am grateful that you celebrate my birthday every year. However, I want to speak to you about the remaining 364 days of every year (365 days if it is a leap year). Please spare a few minutes to listen to me.

I know you are proud to be an Indian, but you must be aware there are many aspects of life in India that need improvement or correction. If these aspects of life are changed for the better, life in India will improve, not only for you, but also for all your fellow-citizens, particularly those who are less privileged than you.

In almost all matters, you have not created the problem.

But, in almost all matters, you are partly responsible for keeping the problem alive because you are, knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly, a perpetrator, participant, beneficiary, victim, or bystander.

Since you are partly responsible for these problems being kept alive, you share the responsibility to solve these problems.
Others share the responsibility, maybe more so, for solving these problems.
But, you should not wait for others to act.
You should start contributing to solutions to these problems.
Hopefully, others will do the same. If not, you must try to make them do so.
If many persons start contributing to solutions to these problems, each in her/his own way, these problems will be resolved or reduced.
This is not easy. It will take a lot of time and effort, and there will be many obstacles to overcome.
But, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
So, please start with a single step.
You must be proactive.
You must be a proactive Indian!

‘Imported’ is always better?

On the eve of India’s 68th Independence Day, I am re-posting ‘Imported’ is always better?, which I had originally posted on July 16, 2013. Why do many of us Indians blindly accept that foreign practices are better than Indian practices, particularly if they are from the west?

An interesting editorial in The Economic Times, “An unusual shortage in Venezuela or is it cultural resistance?” about the shortage of toilet paper in Venezuela, states that
“Americans use an astounding 23 toilet rolls per person every year on an average, roughly equivalent to a quarter of a tree, as paper is processed from wood pulp.
Given the population of the US and adding other toilet roll-using nations in the calculation, entire swathes of forests are cut down every year for this. That is a bum deal indeed for the environment.”

The editorial also mentions “the discriminatory practice of categorising nations as “wet” or “dry”, with the paper-aided deemed superior.”

For those who are interested in more information on toilet paper, Wikipedia has at least one page devoted to this subject. For now, I am concerned about our attitude to “Indian or foreign: which is better?”

One morning during a business trip outside India, my host and I were joined at breakfast by his business associate. When my host introduced me as his dealer from India, the business associate said something in the local language and started giggling, while my host was plainly embarrassed. In response to my query, my host said it was a private joke. When I insisted on knowing the ‘private joke’ (since it was apparent that it was about me):
Host: He said that in India, you eat with your hands.
I: Actually, we eat with our fingers. In any case, why is that funny?
Host: Er, well, … you don’t use toilet paper for cleaning. You use your hand. … Sorry!
I: No problem! You need not apologise. We are as concerned about hygiene as you are. We have a system for this. Let me explain. Yes, we don’t use toilet paper, we use water. But, we wash our hands with disinfectant soap after ‘cleaning’. Secondly, we use the left hand for ‘cleaning’, but we use the right hand for eating. In any case, don’t you use your hand to hold the toilet paper for ‘cleaning’?
Host: I’m so sorry!
I: Don’t worry! I’m not upset. In fact, I’m pleased I could explain to you. I’m sure you saw that I was smiling during our discussion!

When we come across any foreign practice that is different from the corresponding Indian practice, many of us Indians blindly accept that the foreign practice is better, particularly if it is from the west. Others refuse to consider that our traditions and practices could do with improvement and/or change. We must understand that ‘different’ does not mean ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’. We should not blindly accept foreign ‘superiority’. At the same time, we must have an open mind and must be open to change.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Adoption: a silver lining in a dark cloud

Guest post by Shamala

My foray as a volunteer into the “sacred” world of adoption started in the year 1996. “Sacred” I say because you do your bit to give a new lease of life to a child who hitherto has been abandoned and pining (literally) to go to a “forever home”.

One day, a young lady in her late twenties elegantly draped in chiffons came to relinquish her adorable 3 year old girl. Widowed at a young age, she was not very welcome in her in-laws’ house. Her brother took her in his care but felt that it will not work out as a long term solution. So, with her consent, he decided to marry her off to a wealthy widower with married daughters. The second husband’s only condition was that she should not get her child into her new home! Torn between maternal love and a secure future, she opted for the latter.

A lovely child, the apple of her mother’s eyes, she was very well behaved and perfectly brought up. All the people at the home doted on her and there was not a moment when she was left alone. But, time and again, she would ask for her mother. The mental trauma of the child eternally waiting for her mother who promised to collect her as soon as possible can well be imagined!!

In a short time, the child was welcomed warmly and legally adopted by a wonderful couple who, we knew, would work magic with her and mould her into a wonderful human being.

Despite this silver lining, I am unsettled by several unanswered questions: I fail to understand the psyche of the second husband who had his own daughters. Was he just not being ‘human’, or was the child not allowed because of a gender bias? Could not the mother have taken up a job and cared for the child as a single parent?

I know I will never have the answers to these and many other questions about what makes a mother abandon her child, but I am happy that many lovely children could get a new lease of life with adopted parents who gave them love and care!