Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A future blocked by a ceiling...

Every time I listen to a panel discussion about 'Breaking the glass ceiling,' I get miffed by the stories that are told. Not because they are glorified, but more per-say, as they convey only a partial narrative of the privileged minority of the population.

And while it is okay that this makes my blood boil, it is time things need to be said exactly as the way they should be. So, here I am, ruffling the hornet's nest and opening the pandora's box. But before you start looking for me – to punch me in my face, hear me out.

Yes, I agree, acknowledge, and applaud all modern educated quintessential women within and outside the corporate world. And that is indeed a remarkable feat, considering our history of generations laden with patriarchy.

The premise of my disagreement begins here. All these women, whose remarkable achievement we are in awe about – were highly educated, acted on their own will, and powered by their own confidence and determination ventured into a world dominated by men to achieve something which we did not expect them to. At least that what we are happy to believe – 'That they were not capable of achieving it.' Though this belief is nothing but shameful,

I would still say, "To some extent, such a belief is fine, since it reflects centuries of 'stinking upbringing' – telling us men that we are born superior."

I am sure, by now, either you are raging with anger or are confused, as I have not hit home yet. So before either one of you hits the snooze button, let me hit the nail hard, and put things where they belong.

So, here is my first question. Are we looking at the complete picture? I would say, "No". That is not even one pixel. Forget being a portion of the image. Because no one is talking about the barely educated or probably the un-educated woman on the street, who might be working as a housemaid, unskilled laborer, or some other odd job.

Most of these women face all sorts of resistance, domestic violence, social rebuke and discrimination, and a lot of other unmentionable things – from all directions.

Trust me when I say this, "99% of these unprivileged women don't even know that in some corner of the city that they live, has a talk-show going on, were some 3 or 4 significantly well to do and educated ladies are narrating some story about their life, which goes like – "I had to convince my dad for a week to let me study marine engineering at IIT."

To that, my fuming response would be, "WTF. Grow up and clean the wax out of your ears. Be happy that you had a father who understood what IIT and an Engineering Degree from there means. Think about the one whose father comes home drunk every day, beats his wife and daughter black and blue. And probably even does things that no sane person would ever think of."

Alright, before I start pointing fingers, lets me present some realistic data which explains the educational and social background of a few of our role models who have 'broken the glass ceiling.'
  1. The top boss of a global beverage company has two Masters' Degree in Management. One from the Indian Institute of Management and another from YALE University.
  2. The CEO of a global digital learning organization has a Bachelors' Degree in Engineering from IIT and a Master's Degree in Management from IIT.
  3. A renowned TEDx speaker and published author whom a popular social media website ranked as Top Voice for a recent year have done her college education from Harvard.
  4. Another one with a similar resume went to study at the London School of Economics. Yes, the same one where one of the country's past Prime ministers and a well-published economist studied.
I hope you get the logic I am trying to put here. However righteous or ridiculous it might sound, it is equally important to point out that all these educational institutes where our role models studied have an intake rate of less than 2.5% and probably an equally competitive graduation statistic. And yes, the education there is expensive, but it takes much more than sheer good luck to be able to have studied there.

Let me dive a little deeper, here I am referring to the section of women in the society who do not even know that phrases like – Equal Pay Parity, Gender Diversity, Martial R* is really a crime, and 'Saying no' is an option, etc. exist. Being submissive, keeping a low profile, remaining silent about any sort of abuse is all these women know and understand. All of which is unacceptable. The real effort of abolishing the disparity must begin here itself.

I have seen many people going gaga about many achievers calling them icons of 'breaking the glass ceiling'.

These are the people who have spoken at world podiums, written books, led teams, climbed mountain peaks, or even ruled nations. Life in its true sense is not just about a handful of people. There are a majority of women whose entire life can be summarized in 3 words – Struggle for existence.

However, I am not here to belittle anyone's achievements. Like I said initially, "I agree, all the women CEOs and Start-up Wizards have worked hard to get wherever they are. And, obviously, their success stories must be known, shared, celebrated, and followed as role models. But let us divert our attention on those, who have a similar story, but probably their narrative does not involve words like – College Degree, MBA, Start-up, Boardroom, Awards etc."

In my humble and personal opinion, the 'REAL Glass Ceiling' issues can be summed up through either of the following narratives.

  • For an average girl, the 'glass ceiling' is nothing more than – "Not being ogled upon, when she walks barely 300 meters from her home to buy a packet of potato chips."
  • For the one traveling to her school or college in public transport, it ends at – "Returning home without having a man touch her or making an attempt to.
  • For some, it is achieved every morning, if on the night before she was not beaten, was not forced upon, or the husband or a grown-up son did not snatch or steal money from her to buy booze or gamble.
  • For another one waiting to be married, the same so-called ceiling comes crashing down – on the day, she does not have to don a saree, wear make-up, and do a shy walk, in front of a bunch of strangers, desperate to evaluate her and find fault in her; just so that some extra dowry can be bargained.
I could go on and on with a long list of stories of the kind for which a different definition of 'glass ceiling' needs to be coined, and that too pronto. But I alone taking a step forward in that direction will not suffice. I would need help.

Now, if you are thinking of saying, "a drop at a time fills the bucket,." I would say my thoughts above are not even the first drop. They are just an honest realization that an empty bucket exists, which should have been filled a long time back. As I write this piece, I am just trying to look for a place where this bucket can be kept to get filled. And this place is not marked on Google maps. We need to create it from scratch. Probably, if you too agree that the bucket needs to be filled, share your thoughts so that we all together can make this place.

- Candid Speaker

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Stick No Posters

Let me be the first to call it - This is a modern tragedy of biblical proportions.

No, we aren't talking about the Coronavirus. I feel we are all talking about the virus a little too much while being distracted about the real pandemic in our lives - Corporate greed and Political apathy.

A year ago, as governments scrambled to contain the virus and contain us without our homes or in the case of India, throw millions of migrants out of their urban homes, we didn't flinch. 

If you haven't realized it, this is a Global War. Countries around the world have lost lakhs of citizens. If this were an armed conflict, people would have been outraged. We would have been on the streets campaigning and baying for the blood of our governments for their apathy. We would not have rested until the system changed. 

If this was a Hollywood movie, the American protagonist would have rolled out the big guns and then some to bring democracy and world peace. If this was a Bollywood movie, Salman Khan would have beaten the virus so badly the virus will need a vaccine. And he would have done all this while prancing around an actress 40 years younger. 

But what did we end up doing? 

We made tik-tok challenges and memes. 

We started having sports events with no spectators. 

We started making masks fashion statements.

And the enterprising amongst us made a yacht full of money. A few made their billions staking their millions on the coronavirus. As pharma, cryptocurrency, and IT stocks continue to make people rich, there is very little doubt there is money to be made out of misery, as long as you play your cards right.

When the dust began to settle down, our politicians did what mattered to them - Consolidate power.

A year ago, our PM shut down the country in the only way he knew - Primetime television with just 4 hours' notice. What ensued was a crisis the PM is still in denial about. 

Today, when we are losing 10000s of people a day, you'd think we've learned our lesson.

The short answer is - No.

The long answer is - We are so effing tired of the way our politicians have been governing us for the last many years. To be fair, it's been a very long time since any of our politicians had to deal with such shit. Barring Indira Gandhi, no other politician has had the cajones to handle a crisis like this. So Modi brought this upon himself. He never realized he could get effed over by nature. Or complacence, or even arrogance. 

We are so tired of the way our government doesn't make decisions based on science, facts, and rationality but instead based on how they perceive their ratings or a chance to remain in power will be. As politicians play roulette with our hope, we have lost the patience to listen. We don't want to clap our hands, turn off the lights, or clang vessels anymore. We don't want catchphrases, hashtags, and your bearded portraits in every government advertisement. 

We want our old normal back. We want our loved ones alive. We want you to vaccinate us, all of us soon.

We don't want to be discriminated against because of who we worship. We hated it when you targeted the few hundreds who attended the Tablighi Jamaat last year. It was a manhunt of epic proportions. The islamophobic amongst us refused to accept food when it was delivered by a Muslim man. We hate it when you allowed the Kumbh Mela to happen. We hate it that this led to 10000s of people getting infected and dying. We hate it that you restricted Muslims from celebrating iftaar during Ramzaan but had no qualms allowing 1000s on the Amarnath Yatra. 

We hated it when Manmohan Singh would speak so less. We hate it when you don't speak to us except when you need us. We hate it that you allowed rallies by the 1000s even when the second wave was well in. We hate that you'll probably not remember this tragedy and allow this to repeat in a few months.

We hate it that you are riled by posters (and people) that are critical of your governance. We hate it that you can't take criticism - even when it is entirely justified.

We hate it that you had several months to rebuild what was necessary and important but instead chose to sit back and do nothing. We hate it that you promised us and gloated to the world about how we are the Pharmacy to the world. We hate it that you didn't think of buying enough vaccines for all of us even as you launched the World's Largest Vaccination Drive. Sure, everyone loves a good hashtag. But not accounting for or even ordering for the number of vaccines makes it look like you didn't think this all the way through. I mean what kind of miracle did you think would happen when you innoculate just 3% of your country's population (as of 18th May 2021)? 

Come to think of it, our current administration is like an underachieving hormonal teenager. They love to dream big and fantasize about the mystical. Filled with untapped potential, they love to plan. But that's all they do. Once the fanfare and the applause die, and when they think about the hard work that lies ahead, they abandon ship to move on to the next big thing. Repeat cycle. But there is a glimmer of hope - if there is one thing that gets them to their knees, it is election time. Like a sex-craved teenager that can't think of anything else but satiating his own lust, politicians from our current administration will hug you, kiss you, court you, and make sweet sweet love to you. The rape begins once they've been voted to power. They will pit you against your neighbor and the neighbor's dog. All this to satiate their lust for unimaginable wealth that comes with power. Whoever thinks India is poor surely doesn't have a clue about the unaccounted wealth of our politicians and their sugar daddies. 

But that doesn't mean the opposition is any better. They just had it lucky. 

We hate it that we have to keep wondering about our government's strategy to govern. Motormouth politicians that live in denial want to say things are under control and that we can finally get to business. But we know that's not going to happen anytime soon. We are to blame too and we hate that too. We are too weak to get out to the streets and fight for a change and the easiest thing to do is to look the other way and continue mumbling under our breaths while living whatever subsistence of a life we can afford.       

We hate it that billions of dollars worth of aid and equipment from around the world lie at airports and seaports around the country just because our government banned foreign aid - in the middle of the pandemic last year. Surely, news of this apathy won't reach the ears and eyes of the millions of people and dozens of governments that donated generously to the Pharmacy of the World. We hate that you played vaccine diplomacy by shipping millions of vaccines to other countries while not ensuring we had enough for ourselves.
It's basic math, Mr. PM - 1.2 billion people need 2.4 billion vaccines. 

Today, as many countries in the West have figured out their strategy to fight, we are still floundering, badly. Our PM is MIA while we are dealing with a crisis of governance or the lack of it. 

As I read and hear about our government's reactive strategy that appears to mutate faster than the virus, I am sure there must be a Shakesperean play about this, or maybe we need to create one. Personally, I think the folktale of the Emperor's new clothes is the closest that fits. 

As our government stumbles from one grave milestone to another, my only hope is that months or years from now, we'll remember this - as the monumental fuckup that it is and hold the people accountable for this and make them pay. Not by jail terms. That's too mild. But by throwing them out of power and keeping them there. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

What about his silence!

What is that they say about silence? Silence is golden, right?

Probably, the reason our Honourable Prime Minister is silent. 
While people die outside of his privileged sanctum of calm and health, Mr. Modi is conspicuously silent. 

He probably doesn't have much to say. 
Or maybe he does, but he doesn't need to say it. 
Or maybe he does need to say but doesn't know how to say it. 
Or maybe he knows how to say it but doesn't know why he needs to say it now. 

The dead aren't helpful to him anymore anyway. 
The seriously ill will never live long enough to vote and is thus not helpful to him either.

The ones living in fear of getting sucked into the vortex of government apathy and corporate greed will forget in time for the next elections. One biriyani and liquor combo lunch with Rs 500/- will guarantee their votes.
The rich will flee to their cocooned fortresses and ride out the crest. 
The poor will rather die asphyxiated than of starvation.
This leaves 4% of taxpayers (aka the middle class) to bear the brunt. Like rats in a sinking ship, we scurry from hospitals to oxygen-filing centers in search of life. 
The dead will cremate themselves or be thrown into the Ganges.

Like sheep in a fold surrounded by ravenous wolves and vultures, we will continue to live in fear that jumps a notch every time we hear of another sheep who succumbed. 
The intellectual amongst will analyze the reason why the fellow sheep died. Maybe that sheep was careless. Two days later, all is forgotten until the next casualty. 
Repeat cycle of fear and paranoia.

As our reputation of having mediocre standards of excellence, our standards of governance lack as well. 
We can't elect the right leaders, and we can't hold them to account.

We love fiction. We love being the victim. Many of us still wear the colonial hangover like a thong of pride. Recently, a friend forwarded a message that pinned the coronavirus's blame on China and how they have weaponized the virus to 'take India down.' Really?! Anyone, just anyone, who's been to China will testify that China on its worse day is still a decade ahead of India in infrastructure and progress.
Too often, when people are in trouble, they look for scapegoats.

What the US lacks in credibility, they make up in brute force media-power. 
A recent article that said the US already knew of China's intention to weaponize the virus back in 2015 proved our conspiracy theories true.
If they knew about this ahead of time, it is a crime beyond belief that they didn't take the proper steps before millions of their own died a needless and completely avoidable tragedy. 
But then the US has a reputation of constructing 'evidence' when they want to prove their allegations. Case in point - Colin Powel and the Bush administration alleged Iraq had WMDs just to invade the country and stake claims on their oil fields and a consumer of their weapons industry. We all know how that went. The WMDs were just a smokescreen. 

Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring going, these are the features that constitute the endless repetition of history. 

The policies of our administration appear reactive instead of responsive. Our federal government can't figure out what needs to be done first and what needs to be done timely. Resigned to this fact, our country is now in the middle of what appears to be federal stubbornness and State confusion. The truth of the adage 'Better sooner than later' is lost on our administrator.

When the Prime Minister and his administration should have augmented our healthcare infrastructure, they sat on the sidelines watching other countries manage their second wave and did nothing. But it's not because we had nothing to do. Modi and his gang were busy fighting for elections in the 3 crucial States. They boasted of massive rallies as masses of their supporters (paid or otherwise) congregated - throwing all semblance of social distancing, often without masks. 
The Election Commission and the rest of India watched aghast. The EC because there is precious little they can do anymore. The people because they can't do anything but to survive and hope they aren't going to die in a few months.

When our Prime Minister and his administration should be building confidence and access to vaccination, they played the desi card - by prematurely announcing Covaxin. Even when we had the time to create an infrastructure to vaccinate and ensure our nation had enough supplies, we did nothing. We simply sat with our arms folded. I blame our government for its misguided priorities. 
It is the neglect of timely repair that makes rebuilding necessary. 

At a time when our country is in the news across the world for the fuck-fisted way our government is handling the pandemic and beating records of the dead, our administration is busy building its new parliament. Surely, development should not stop, and the government has a plan in place for the Central Vista project. Indeed, this is nothing but a pissing contest to prove we have a better house. But how can you raise a toast and pretend it's business as usual when there is a crisis in your own backyard. How can a government that couldn't afford to buy enough vaccines for its own citizens spend $6 billion to build a newer, swankier place for our esteemed and privileged class of citizens to live and work? If only the government spent more money to buy the vaccines, we could have ensured every resident would be inoculated twice at just $ 13 million. Alas, priorities!
Governments have a tendency not to solve problems, only to rearrange them. 

When our country is being ravaged by a virus, we are yet to hear Modi's Mann ki Baat. As the broad-chested leader of men, our bearded first citizen needs to talk to us. He needs to speak to each of us - tell us what he plans to do and how he'll do it and how soon he plans on doing it. 
The last time we heard him speak was at campaign rallies where he predicted electoral success. He appears to talk to us only when he wants us. Only when he wants us to vote for him and his party. 
Our prime minister appears to go into a maun vrat every time the country is in trouble. Like a petulant teenager giving his parents the silent treatment, he talks only through his administration—every minister echoing his flavor of governance with no apparent sense of direction or purpose. 
Blaming is so much easier than taking responsibility because if you take responsibility, then you might be to blame. 

What needs to be done quickly and first The present state of affairs as it stands is that of an economy nose-diving under the wake of a virus that our government neither understands nor is willing to tackle proactively. Our administration has resorted to 'what-aboutism' to camouflage its failure. As hundreds of myths and half-truths about the virus and infections circulate, our government appears to not want to do anything about the misinformation. Say something against the government, and you'll be taken down - swiftly.
It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one's acts.

When funeral pyres and crematoriums are working round the clock across the country, our official statistics say we are only losing 3000 people a day. If you're one of those millions who believe this number, you haven't visited your local crematorium yet. Not surprising because our government isn't wet behind the ears when it comes to fudging the truth and cooking books. Giving the actual numbers will alarm the world. Who really wants to do that?!
Everything was perfectly healthy and normal here in Denial Town.

As infections will begin to plateau in States, as the virus runs out of steam as it always does, our government will put its feet up and take a power nap and wake up just before they crank up their polls plans to win Uttar Pradesh in eight months. 

Chances are, we all know someone we have lost to Corona. Remember, this was an entirely avoidable loss. Undoubtedly, experts predicted we'd have another wave last year. Remember, we had the time to prepare, innoculate, and brace for impact. We didn't. 
Undoubtedly, the government can't be expected to do everything. But that's the reason why we elect them - so that they can counsel the brightest minds, best strategists, and policy-makers and guide us with wisdom born out of foresight.
Every ship in calm waters has an excellent captain.

Chances are, you may survive this wave. How about the next wave and one after that?
You may be one of the millions who is cocooned inside your cozy home, fans and aircon on, Netflixing and chilling, making babies, and creating tik-toks. 
You may be stocked up on ready-to-eat mixes, condoms, sanitary pads, and batteries for now.
Until the tragedy strikes closer to your heart, you'll feel lucky that you can work from home and not bother about the thousands of people dying.  

So until the second wave crashes out, our prime minister is going to give his vocal cords a well-deserved rest, nourish and prune his flawless flowing beard, and prepare his strategy to retain the last of the big States in Jan 2022. 

But when our Health Minister declares 'India is better prepared to beat Covid 19 compared to 2020', I just wish I had whatever the heck he is sniffing.

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