Friday, December 30, 2016

The journey of Reena-from a shy village girl to an independent woman.

Reena and I got married 18 years back, ours was an arranged marriage, full of all uncertainties and concerns which any arranged marriage brings along with it. The journey was not an easy ride, we had our ups and downs, went through our own struggle to understand each other and adjust with each other. I learned a lot from her and I am sure she feels the same. I lived most of my life in patriarchal society in India where the status of women was not equal to men, I must also mention that in the USA situation is much better, but still, a lot of work is needed even in the USA so one can imagine the situation in India. I was raised in the environment of male superiority, but fortunately, it had an opposite effect on me, it made me a feminist. I realized the importance of making a woman an equal partner in any relationship. I realized that in modern world women are an equal stakeholder and they need to contribute like that.

Reena lived in a small village in Uttar Pradesh until her sixth grade and then she moved to Varanasi. Varanasi is one of the biggest city of UP, but the situation of women is not that different compared to other parts of UP. Definitely, it is better than many villages, but the difference is not that much. So when we got married, my first task was to make my wife independent of me. She came from the culture where the husband had the status of a demigod- the provider for her needs, the protector of her honor and dignity, the controller of her life and destiny, and what not. I needed to break all these myths, this was not an easy task for me as well as for her. It was confusing for her and very complicated for me. There was no easy way for both of us to maneuver through the maze of cultural mess which arranged marriage and patriarchal culture brought in our lives. When I told her that she is an equal partner in our relationship, which means she has equal rights and has to share an equal responsibility. The second part was more confusing and complicated for her (about the responsibilities). Rights without responsibility is a useless endeavor. But I must say that she responded with a lot of courage and responsibility. She took on this challenge head on after initial hesitation. Initially, she thought her responsibilities are limited to traditional household work which women were expected to perform, this was the way she was raised. But when she realized that her scope of duty involves many tasks which she never thought were women's job, she was little hesitant. There was a struggle, I witnessed that struggle, I refused to help on many occasions, but that was necessary for her to realize her own potential. She overcame many obstacles on her own, with no or very little help. I was just her companion, once she decided to take on this challenge, she did things on her own, she deserves the credit for all her success and failures.

When we moved to the USA, it opened many more new doors for her. She was free from all the social and familial constraints which were present in India. This made her embark on an exciting and rewarding journey. Today, I live with a totally transformed person, she is much more confident and independent person. We both support each other, our relationship is more balanced now compared to what it was at the time of our marriage. She is a very confident person and an independent woman who don't need her husband's support for her survival, and I am glad to see that she can manage her life on her own. She is a pillar of strength and support for me along with rest of my family and friends. We both compliment each other as a husband and wife rather than having a typical husband dominated marital relationship. It is not easy to write about your partner or parents or for that matter any person in just one blog post, but I want my readers to get an idea that it doesn't matter who we are or from where we come, if we decide and get enough support we all can achieve many things which may look impossible.

Reena's journey so far is not only a success story in its own way but also a source of inspiration for me. She still has many more challenges and many more obstacles to cross, but now she can do these things on her own. There are many successful people around us, but we fail to notice them. Normally we only recognize the success or failure based on media reports and very often ignore many inspiring stories of people around us. Many times no one bothers to tell these stories of common people like us. Many times we fail to notice some inspirational struggle or success story happening right in front of our eyes. We ignore just because these people don't become celebrities, they don't end up making millions of dollars. I am fortunate to notice and appreciate many such success stories around me. My family members, friends and colleagues faced many challenges and fought hard to overcome them. For me, all these struggles and triumphs are very inspiring. All these stories along with many others provide me the required self-confidence and optimistic outlook towards life, and Reena's journey is one such story. We all have someone around us who is making progress day by day and if we learn to recognize that struggle and draw inspiration from their struggle, life will be beautiful.

Thanks for reading.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The real meaning of American citizenship.

Citizenship of any country can be obtained either by birth or by being a resident of that country for certain period of time mentioned in its citizenship act. This policy is an important aspect of many immigrant friendly countries like the USA, where many immigrants choose to become a citizen, mainly to avail many benefits which these countries offer to its citizens. For me, citizenship has much deeper meaning apart from just a legal status, especially when someone chooses to abandon one citizenship and accepts another. Citizenship by birth is a right, but citizenship by naturalization is somewhat different. To choose to become a citizen of any country is a conscious decision. It should be done after a lot of deliberation and serious thinking. Because a citizenship is not only a privilege or right offered by the constitution of that country but also a big responsibility. Any person gets attached to his or her place of birth emotionally for various reasons, that place always remains special to him/her. But, if someone acquires a citizenship by naturalization, he or she has to develop a similar love, concern, and sense of belonging to that new country. If this doesn't happen then the benefit is one way, like it happens in an extremely selfish relationship, where one side gets all the perks without giving any commitment or loyalty in return.

According to me, the USA is one of the best places to live, it offers the best set of civil rights in the world among the countries which have a population more than 200 million (I am talking about rights like freedom of expression, practice or not to practice religion, etc.). The American citizenship comes with many benefits, but at the same time, it also comes with some duties. One of the major duty is to give up loyalty to your previous country of citizenship and be loyal to the USA. I have seen that some naturalized citizens fail to understand the importance of this duty. They feel that being a US citizen means having the right to avail all the benefits, but loyalty to the US is an optional requirement. This loyalty does not only mean support the country when it's under attack by outsiders but also being loyal to its constitution, and its values. Being American doesn't mean only to possess an American passport but also understand and promulgate American values and culture. If more and more people fail to understand these things then I feel the gap between various sections of this society will keep on increasing and this is not a good sign for the health of this great country.

The USA is an extremely tolerant country, it has accommodated various cultures and values gracefully. When I mean one needs to respect American values I don't mean a certain set of rigid rules, I mean the spirit of respecting individual liberty and right to choose. These two are the most prominent feature of American society which helped this country to achieve the status of superpower. The real meaning of being an American citizen is not just to hold an American passport but to understand and practice American values. Understand the reason behind the phenomenal success of this country, which it managed to achieve in such a short span of time compared to many other countries in the world. It is a duty of each and every citizen to continue to work towards making this country better than before. Being a citizen doesn't at all means surrender all you previous values or beliefs, this country gives a right of freedom of expression to every resident. Constructive criticism, political activism, opposition to the government and its policies, demostrations, and protests all are part of efforts to achieve this progress. The sense of duty to protect American values is important and I feel all current and future citizens as well as residents of America realize this. This country is a unique and one of the best places to live on earth and let's keep it that way. The real meaning of being an American citizen not only means being eligible to enjoy the benefits offered to its citizens but also perform all the duties expected of its citizens.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Is it possible to be politically independent in today's world?

The current political environment in most of the countries is very polarized. I can speak about the USA and India as I follow political scenarios in these two countries more than any other country in the world. Both these countries are vibrant democracies, but the current political atmosphere is so charged and polarized it is almost impossible to remain an independent and try to have a balanced and rational political discussion with any political party or ideology supporter. Most supporters of any party or leader are so passionate and blindly in love with their leader that they are not willing to hear anything even remotely against their leader. These people are very eager to brand their opponents anti-nationals, communal, secular (term secular used in a derogatory way), racist, islamophobic, misogynist, or by any other tag which they can think.  Because of these two things have happened, political discussions have become either like fist fights, where two parties fight against each other blow by blow without having any fruitful exchange of thoughts or it has become an almost devotee like the singing of praise of their demigod leader, where every good thing happening around is attributed to some action taken by that leader.

Politically independent people, who can throw light on both sides of the issue, or can debate over the good and bad aspects of the same policy, political party or a leader has disappeared from these discussions. I understand why they don't want to participate in any such political arguments. But, these debates are so predictable and boring because of an absence of any sane voice among all political devotees. Such devotees are required, there is no doubt that all political leaders and parties survive and thrive due to the presence of such devoted supporters, but the presence of such supporters only make that party gain or lose elections, it doesn't help in moving political discourse any forward. In such a politically charged atmosphere, very often there is a possibility of political deadlock, where both sides try to block even good policies from each other just to display their political muscle power. The interest of the country or its people takes a back seat and that leader's ego or interest of that party's  core voters becomes a most prominent factor. These things used to happen in past also, but now it is happening even after an increase in the education level of people and increase in accessibility of information due to the rapid spread of internet related technology (cell phone, computers).

I am a politically independent person, I don't support a single political party of a leader. In an election, of course, I have to choose one from the list, and I make my decision based on the important issues of that time and solutions presented by different parties, but at the same time, I know the weaknesses and drawbacks of my choice. I am willing to accept that the party for which I voted might have some terrible policies about certain economic and social issues, but in an election, you can vote only for one party and not voting (if I am eligible) is not an option for me. If the party I voted wins the election, then I should be ready to oppose any policy they try to implement which was either not on their agenda or which is obviously harmful to a certain section of society. I am not obliged to support whatever they do, just because I voted for him. This is how I deal with the politics, I don't think political parties would like to have voters like me, but this is how I protect my political independence. I am not bound by their core ideologies or their leader's demigod like status. Current politics has become so personality centric that it has become like a war between two cults.

Whenever I discuss politics in any group, I can see the desperation of people do defend their choices at any cost and their frustration when someone exposes weaknesses of their side or starts asking some uncomfortable questions and I can ask many such questions. I am a republican sympathizer in a democrat group and vice versa, I play a similar role in India also among BJP or Congress supporters. The politics is supposed to be there for the benefit of people, it was supposed to create healthy debate and discussion where something better for nation comes out from such debates. It was not supposed to create a war like situation within a country or a deadlock where the nation is stuck in policy paralysis, where nothing moves forward except vicious verbal attacks on each other. None of these things are healthy for any nation. Political differences and strong opposition should exist and no government should get an absolute right to do whatever they want. Every democratic country needs to have some checks and balances to curtail the absolute power. The presence of single ideology is dangerous no matter how good or rational that ideology sounds. I hope people understand the value and importance of dissent. I hope they understand that expressing dissent against the government doesn't mean that they are aginst the country. If a country needs to progress all of its people need to contribute, political opponents have ideological or policy based differences they are not enemies of each other, their existence should not be mutually exclusive. Politics needs healthy and efficient dialogue not monotonous, and vitriolic monologs.

I cherish my political independence and I am really proud of it. It is becoming a very rare trait day by day. I hope people understand the importance of constructive criticism and healthy dialog, until that this drama will continue and people like me won't find any difference between some news channels and channels who telecast dramatic soap operas. Protect you political independence if you can, and even if you become a supporter of some political party become a sensible supporter, not a blind devotee.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My fear of needles and my blood donation experience.

I am not that comfortable with needles. I dislike the feeling of getting a flu shot or whenever they draw blood for testing. I am sure many people don't like to get poked by a needle, especially during a medical exam. Some don't like it because of some past bad experience, some due to pain, and some are just not comfortable with that feeling being poked with the needle. For me, it's not about the pain, because it doesn't hurt that much, many other injuries hurt way more than the pain which I feel because of needles, and normally the encounter with the needles is just a matter of a few seconds. I am also not scared of needles in general as I use them in the lab almost every day to transfer or add a variety of reagents in my chemical reactions. I just don't like that feeling, but it won't be wrong to say that I fear needles, this why going for a blood donation was a big challenge for me. I donated blood for the fist time in India when I was in the college, I don't recollect that I was worried or scared of needles that time, may be the presence of friends, a very young age or some other emotion took care of this fear. Since I came to the USA, I wanted to donate blood, but didn't get a chance to because Red Cross doesn't accept your blood at least for one year if you visit any country like India. For the last few years, I visit India almost every year, so I was not qualified to donate blood.

This year I was qualified as I didn't visit India. I went for donation and passed all their initial screening tests. Then the time came to go for actual donation. I was worried it was not going to be very easy for me to tolerate a needle into my arm for so long time. The needle was going to stay in my vein for at least 20-30 minutes if not more, and it was not a very comforting thought for me. The lab technician found the vein from which she wanted to draw the blood easily, but when she inserted the needle somehow she missed it and then she tried to search for it by moving the needle. It was a really uncomfortable feeling, it lasted for 1-2 minutes, but that process was the worst part of the entire blood donation. Eventually, they did find the vein and I could donate the blood successfully.

The nurse turned out to be a Trump supporter, she voted for Mr. Trump and initially she was hesitant to talk more about that. But when I told her that it was her right to choose the candidate, which she thought was suitable for the job and she should not be hesitant to talk about it just because she is living in a democrat state. We discussed quite a bit about the election and I told her my point of view about this presidential election. I clearly told her that I also liked some of Mr. Trump's proposed policy measures, and from the beginning, I thought that he was a dark horse of the presidential race. I even wrote a blog post about him a few months back. But for me that so called 'locker room' conversation was a deal breaker. She agreed with me that it was bad, but said that Hillary is also not that clean, she had her own mistakes which made her equally bad person. She also said that all these people have some skeletons in their closets. It was a fair counter argument, and she did say ultimately that she was OK with women being a President, but she was not OK with Hillary. Actually, many people have used this argument to justify their choice after this election and I fail to understand the real rationale behind it, but it is their right to choose the candidate which they like. This conversation was very helpful to me as it diverted my attention away from the pain of that inserted needle in my hand. We ended our conversation on a very positive note and I told her that I am looking forward towards presidency of her candidate, and I hope that Mr. Trump will honestly try to implement his policies for the benefit of citizens of this great country. She gave me thumbs up for this as well as for successfully completing my blood donation.

I felt a big sense of achievement after finishing the process of blood donation, that feeling was not just because I donated the blood, I know that many people donate regularly, but because I overcame my fear of needles and survived those 30-40 minutes without having a panic attack that too when no one who I know personally was around me. I did this by my own choice. I was not compelled to do this for any other reason other than my own desire to do it. The feeling of not allowing my personal fear or phobia to control my desire to do something good was great, and I think we all are capable of overcoming such fears or mental blocks. We all or most of us have some sort of fear or mental block, which forbids us from doing many things which we all can do for the benefit of society or people around us. If we try to take one small step at a time to overcome those fears, we all can conquer them. I understand that it is not going to be easy, but it is not impossible. 

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, December 2, 2016

My parent's and I.

Our parents (or guardians or caretakers if not biological parents) are the first individuals who cast some influence on our lives. Our first social and intellectual interaction start with them, they teach us how to walk, talk, eat, and many other relevant physical and social skills. Parents normally have a significant influence on their child's life, many times they can shape up the thinking of the child. I think this is the reason why we see the continuation of same religious and political beliefs running through generations in the same family. Like everyone's parents, my parents are special to me and their influence on my life is significant. First of all, I am thankful to them for bringing me into this world, I know that my birth was not any divine incident. It was just a biological phenomena like every other birth of that time, born out of physical attraction between a male and a female, but still, this interaction was special to me as it resulted in my birth.  

My parents migrated from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra few years before my birth. My father came to Pune (a city in a state of Maharastra) to work in a factory. It was a new place, new culture, and completely new language. It was especially difficult for my mom to adjust with this new surrounding as she came from very protected environment to this new world where she has to take care of her family plus learn a new language and adjust to totally unfamiliar surroundings. There was a social and economic struggle, but they managed to tackle all these problems. As far as I remember I always saw my dad working very hard, I never saw this man resting or relaxing, even today he never feels comfortable in sitting at home. Now his body can't cope up with his enthusiasm to work, but still, he goes out and contributes as much as he can. He worked as a machine operator in a gas cylinder valve manufacturing company (Vanaz). When his company gave an option, he took a voluntary retirement in 1989 and started his own business. I was in a high school when he took this bold step, with three kids to feed, this guy took this brave step to invest all his retirement money into a dairy and sweet shop business. He established this business from scratch. He used to do all the work, he was the owner as well as the helper in shop kitchen, whatever work was required he did it without any complaint. We never even had a two-wheeler that time, he used to go on a bicycle to bring milk every day and also to market to procure other stuff. I know the reason why he suffers from a knee pain, he pushed his body beyond its physical limits for many years. When I look back to those days, I can't stop myself from getting impressed by the amount of hard work this man did to support our family. This all was not possible without the support of my mother, they both really worked hard, seldom they had any time to enjoy. We never used to have any spare money to go to a restaurant or watch a movie. The only movie we watched as a family was Sunny Deol's debutant movie "Betab," this movie has a special place in my heart just because of this reason. Going to our native place during summer vacation used to be our only picnic. They both dedicated their lives to establish their family in a new place. They worked really hard and established their business, built their own house in Pune, and paid for the education of their three kids.

They both taught me the value of hard work. Our many problems were related to money, this made me realize the importance of money very early in my life. I am thankful to my parents for countless things, but, I am most thankful to them for not insisting their beliefs and values on me. They never forced me to follow their religious or political beliefs, this allowed me to develop my own independent views about these things. I am really grateful to them for this, I am their son, but I am very different than them in all these aspects and I thank them for making this possible. I can see the amount of influence parents try to put on their kids as far as their religious, social, and political beliefs are concerned, fortunately, my parents never did that. They taught me all the necessary values like respect people around you, work hard, be honest and sincere, the importance of education, and many other things. Apart from education and some social etiquettes, nothing else was forced. We were not allowed to play cards as gambling was very rampant in our neighborhood. My dad never had a drink in front of us, even though many of his friends used to drink regularly in their homes and even tell their kids to fetch the bottle from the wine shop. They were really strict about some of these things and I really applaud them for this. These rules protected us from bad influences of our neighborhood. I don't know the exact number of kids going to school with me that time (must be around thirty), but only three or four successfully graduated from college, and two of them were from our family. These numbers say a lot about their efforts.

They both couldn't go to college, but they made sure that each of their kid got a chance to enter the college. My education and freedom to think are tow biggest gifts to me from them. Their support was very pivotal during my education, it was their decision not to allow their kids to enter the workforce to support their family was very important, this allowed me to complete my college and then my Ph.D. Many of my friends started working at very young age and couldn't finish their college. My education changed my life completely, it allowed me to question many things which I would never have done without the power of knowledge. Their reaction to many of my objections and protests is also admirable, I never expected that they will take my objections so sportingly. Not only they listen to my outrageous (according to them) views patiently, but even changed their views on certain topics after having a lengthy chat with me on those matters. It is not that we don't argue, we do it a lot, my concept of respect is not absolute obedience, no matter who the person is. I challenge their actions wherever I feel I have to and we argue, sometimes we agree and many times we don't, and this is what life is. Our disagreements so far didn't put any cracks in our bonding, it is as strong as ever. Our journey so far is really enjoyable, with some ups and downs for sure, but I do share a special bond with them and over the years that bond has become only stronger. Actually, one post is not enough to say everything about our parents, but I wanted to share something about them with readers. We all love and respect our parents, but rarely share our feelings with them. I think it is better to express our feelings, I learned this after coming to the US, in India rarely people express their feelings to each other in some relationships, especially son-father or daughter-father relationship. It is a personal choice, but I feel it is better to express them and have a very friendly relationship with our parents, it is a very rewarding experience.
Thank you मम्मि (mom), thank you पप्पा (dad) for everything, love you.

Thanks for reading.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]