India, a million voices

(I love India.  Deeply and intensely. I can’t imagine myself living in any other country. I love India’s diversity, its delicious food from different regions, mouth-watering mithais  (I will always go for a plate of rabri-jalebi over a blueberry cheese cake), colourful textiles,  delicate craft, the soul-soothing Indian monsoon, the large-hearted Indian Railways, the resilience of the not so privileged to wade through life with grace and grit and endearing voices laced with humor.

We are living in tough times in India now. India of 2017 keeps me awake in the night. I feel hurt, anguished at the way things are shaping up in our country. From being a multi-coloured, huge, rich, layered collage, we are being politically coerced to look at life in a monochromatic little box. I refuse to be a part of this little box.

My India is the land of Gandhi, Kabir, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, Raman Maharshi for whom there is no ‘Other’.  My India is large as the Bay of Bengal. As ravishing as the mystical Himalayas. Life is fluid here like the river Ganga, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Godavari. So also time. One doesn’t know where does time begin, where will it end.

The world is looking at India today as India turns 70 on August 15. Through a series on this blog, I am trying to look at India through my experiences. This is the first in the series) 

India is a country of voices. Silence is almost alien to our culture. Our temples are crowded. Our weddings are a lot about voices, giggles, arguments and counter-arguments. We love talking, haggling, bargaining, arguing. For nothing, economist Amartya Sen wrote a book titled ‘Argumentative Indian’. This is a collage of Indian voices which I am trying to weave into this piece. These voices are not related to each other. They are droppings from that caravan called life in India.

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We board the train from Ahmedabad, this train goes to Bengaluru via Manmad. After putting our luggage, we exchange pleasantries with our co-travellers. Suddenly all of us start feeling restless. And we discover that the AC is not working properly. Finally the coach manager is being tracked down. A lady passenger walks up to him and asks him to adjust the AC properly. The coach manager seems to be in an aggressive mood and he says, “This is how the air-conditioned coaches are like.” She gives him a stern look  and says, “Do you think that this is the first time I am travelling in an AC coach?” Well, the argument ends there. The AC starts to work in full swing. And we are all happy.

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This conversation is from my visit to Shirdi, a temple town. Everything happens around the temple. From a dusty little village few years back, it is now in the midst of a construction boom. There are hotels and there are hotels. We are walking on the main street in the evening. The sun is in a mellowed mood. Suddenly, my attention is diverted by cries of ‘Ramphal…. Ramphal’. This is the first time, I am seeing this fruit called Ramphal, it’s a much bigger version of sitaphal (read custard apple). Apparently, it’s only available in Shirdi.

And then comes a beggar woman and she probably takes a liking for me. She follows me and asks “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), please give me some thing.” Well, it definitely sounds endearing. But I am in no mood to give in. She is also in no mood to give up. Then she says, “Didi (elder sister), please give me something.” I keep on walking, pretending that I haven’t heard her. And then she says, “Madam (she gets into a professional mood), give me something.” I am impressed by her creativity and she knows her business. Even as I move forward, she walks behind me and says, “Mataji (O Revered Mother, please give me something.)”

At that time, I just couldn’t control my laughter. We are definitely a creative nation.

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There’s a young boy in my apartment who loves playing cricket. One evening, I see him walking with great confidence (wearing a helmet, pad and gloves) to play a game in the parking space of the apartment. I tell him, “Hello Sachin Tendulkar.” He looks at me,  “Na aunty, Virat Kohli.”  He’s in sync with time.

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I am in a mood to buy some traditional dolls in a local market in Ahmedabad. I ask him the price, he says “Rs 200”. I remember my mother-in-law’s wise words — “Don’t be a fool. When you bargain, just reduce the price to half and then subtract Rs 20.” I try to be wise and say, “Rs 80.” He doesn’t agree but still follows me and urges me to buy. I tell him, “Why are you following me?” He walks faster and goes ahead of me. And then tells me, “Who’s following whom? Me or you?” I start laughing and then the bargaining starts again.

 

 

 

 

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A digital flirt. Not a nice feeling

I feel like a digital flirt. I don’t enjoy the feeling anymore. I joined instagram few days back. Having the app on my smartphone gives me the freedom to post a photo and note from anywhere and anytime. I see the world through words. Even photographs speak to me through words.

I have an aversion of putting my own photographs. Most of my family members are intensely private people. So I don’t want to be the intruder. Selfies don’t excite me. To be honest, I don’t have the body of  Kim Kardashian.

But I have been flirting here and there in the digital world. And the destinations vary from Facebook, Twitter to Instagram.

As much as all of them allow me to express myself, there’s no greater joy than sitting in front of my computer and expressing my thoughts filling up the screen. The sound of the keyboard makes me feel alive. connected and joyful.

As I write this, I feel this space of mine gives me the feeling of home (Aah.. the Gypsy talking of having a home. But life is all about having possibilities or imagining possibilities).

I have had enough of being a digital flirt. Let me enjoy this solid feeling of being in a meaningful relationship.

And a little note of ‘Thank you’ to all those wonderful souls who have stopped by this space and encouraged me with their generosity of appreciation and heart-warming comments.

The Gypsy hopes to meet more generous souls on the road ahead.

A temporary matter

It is evening,
The street lights are on,
People are rushing back home
Some are on two-wheelers,
Some are in their cars,
Some are in autos.

Xxxxxx

They are in a cab,
One of them is going to a hotel,
The other one … Home
Sometimes homes feel like hotels,
Sometimes hotels feel like home,
Home.. Hotel.
All Temporary

He says He’s tired.
She feels his tiredness
She stretches her hand towards him.
He holds her hand,
Plays with her hand. Fingers.
He tells her ‘you have very soft hands’
She thinks ‘wish life was soft on our love.’

‘Home’ by Warsan Shire

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

No one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

You have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

No one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

No one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

The
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

Or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
I don’t know what I’ve become
but I know that anywhere
is safer than here

 

An aunt wishes happy birthday

gogol

(Wow. That’s what people say when I tell them that my nephew Sarthak’s birthday is on December 31.  For me, you are the ‘WOW BOY.’ )

It is difficult to be an Indian kid and have only one name. Even when you live in Atlanta. In your school, they call you Sarthak. Your aai (grandmother) used to call you Babu.  Your mom, dad call you Sarthu. Simrita, your loving elder sister dramatically calls you ‘Brother.’ For me, you are Gogol (named after the famous Russian writer Nicolai Gogol).  Sometimes, we also call you – ‘The thinking boy,’ ‘The little Buddha.’

It’s December 31, 2016. You will turn 9 today. I still remember the day when I received a call from your mom telling me that you have arrived. You and I live in two different time zones.  It was evening and I was in my office doing the pages for the next day’s newspaper. Suddenly, I felt as if I were in the clouds.  Deliciously happy and joyful.  Aah, the pleasure of having a nephew.

This is the first time you are celebrating your birthday in India. Here I am sitting on the balcony of the house which my parents and your grandparents lovingly built and writing this. In this house, we have a generation of memories (of your grandparents) tucked away in every nook and corner. And having you on your birthday in India makes me realize that we all are creating beautiful memories for the years ahead.

With your American accent, you now say, “I love India and want to move here.”  You even talk about doing home-schooling in India. In you, I see the magic called life. You take my breath away with your questions, sharp observations and your love for the wonderful world of trees, flowers, sea shells, fish and cats.  I wonder how seamlessly and beautifully you blend into the natural world. When your mother screamed after accidentally touching the tail of an overweight cat beneath the dining table, you non-chalantly said, “Mama screamed like a little gal and it was just a cat.”  When we put  fish in a water container, you said, “Look, look.. that fish is going crazy.”  You wanted a fish expert to come and rescue the female fish(es) so that they can have babies.

I am impressed by your knowledge. From the sparkling world of gemstones like ruby, topaz, sapphire to dinosaurs, you add so much to my knowledge. Talking to you, I realize I have so much to learn and unlearn too. Seeing me sipping my morning drink, you started talk about coffee beans, grinding of beans to make coffee powder. All that I can do is to look at you in amazement.

We talked about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You told me about Donald Trump’s talks about building a wall. You vehemently said ‘NO’ when I asked you ‘Do you like Donald Trump?’ You said Hillary if elected would have been America’s first female President.

There are times when I see you lost in deep thoughts. You fit in so beautifully to the names we have for you –‘Thinking boy,’ ‘Little Buddha’.

I am amazed at how you turn away from anything that is excess. On a restaurant table full of dishes like rice, hariyali dal, mutton rezala, panner kalia, diwani handi,  chilli mushroom, green peas masala, I saw you happily savoring just butter nan, little spoons of rice and a tiny piece of chicken tikka (which came as a starter.) The overflowing table with dish after dish just didn’t excite you. To see you so happily enjoying that frugal meal felt so joyous. When we went to buy new clothes for you, you tried just one kurta and after that you were least bothered about how many were we buying for you. I marvel at your sense of minimalism. How far are you from this world of excess?  The world of excess which we adults are all mindlessly creating and feeling proud of. There’s so much to learn from you.  You reaffirm my faith that less is more. In you, I see a hope for this amazing universe.

You are an American citizen and many in this world would give up everything they have to flaunt that passport (more from Gujarat where I live). But in you, I see this ancient land called India. I know, the world is changing. India is changing too. Very drastically. There are intimate moments when I feel you are as beautiful, kind, compassionate as our fascinating, layered land called India.

When I gave you the bag of kurtas in the shop and told you, ‘This is your birthday gift’, you told me, ‘No, no I have seen this. There’s no surprise. You have to surprise me.”

I wish you health, knowledge, love for nature and people from all walks of life. And may life always spring up happy surprises for you.

I will wait for the day when you will grow up and read this blog and realize you have been a real wonderful and precious gift to all of us.

We love you deeply. Happy Birthday, Sarthak.

The secret banks of our moms and grandmoms

Honey, it’s all about money now in India. All of us are talking about money. In offices, homes, cafeterias and during morning walks too. And out mothers and grandmothers are  talking about it too. In a little different way. Sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with a little reluctance. Thanks to recent demonetization in India, many people are discovering the interesting relationship their  moms and grandmoms share with money.

After the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, many households are now seeing something which is really ‘note’worthy. My friend’s 82 year old granny has just handed him over her priceless Rs 23,000 to him so that he could deposit in the bank. My friend tells me with a sense of utter surprise ruling his voice, “Never knew aai (in Odisha, we call maternal grandmother as ‘aai’) had so much of money with her. Now, I understand how she always managed to give us (her grandchildren) money to eat aloo chop and rosogulla or to buy new clothes for our birthdays.”

Just two days prior to the demonetization, when my friend’s father had asked his wife (my friend’s mom) whether she had some extra money with her, she had refused point blank telling she had no cash lying with her. And when the demonetization process was announced, she had no option but to reluctantly hand over a stack of crisp Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes to her husband as the scrapped notes need to be either exchanged/deposited in the banks.

Well, I am a great admirer of mothers and grandmothers who manage their households with great caution and loads of charm too. They can put any finance minister to shame. Not many of them earn a regular income.They manage to save the money from their household budgets. They save the money the receive from their loved ones on special occasions.Their saving smells love. And their precious savings is put in their secret little banks tucked away carefully in cupboards, in between silk saris, in little pouches or purses. That gives them the freedom to pamper their daughters, sons, grandchildren, domestic helps in myriad ways and once in a while for their own shopping too. Thanks to their secret wealth, many of us have enjoyed loads of chocolates, ice-creams, samosas, new clothes, shoes and the like.  Aah, the pleasure of receiving money from your mom, aunt or grandmom. No salary slip can match that pleasure.

Even as I am writing this, I am fondly remembering  my mother’s secret bank. A couple of days after she passed away,  while arranging her wardrobe I found many little purses, colorful envelopes containing cash. If I remember correctly, I found cash worth Rs 32,000. And then I also remembered  how my mother used to give me cash during my annual visits to buy something for myself and my husband. Giving me money was one of the many ways to express her love for me.

.So, let us celebrate the secret banks of India’s mothers and grandmothers. Homes will not feel the same without this fabulous wealth. These little secret bank makes us feel so rich. And so loved too.

Three years after my mom died…

It has been exactly three years since I lost my mother. October 18, 2013 is still there in my mind/heart like a photograph. Sitting on my computer today, I am trying to tell you a story. My mother was a wonderful story-teller. I always coaxed her to tell me stories. Again and again. I never got bored of her stories. No one now tells me stories the way she used to.  In the absence of the story-teller, I become the story-teller. Here’s my story of our story.

Love makes you do strange things. Without any struggle. I have never used a handkerchief in my life. But for the last three years, I have always carried this beautiful handkerchief of my mother in my handbag. This soft, humble cotton handkerchief with a pashapali (it’s called so because it resembles a chess board) print reflecting Odisha’s magical textile heritage is my constant companion. My mother never stepped out of the house without her handkerchief. Now, I don’t step out of my house without this handkerchief. My mother travels with me wherever I go.

handkerchief

Ma loved wearing glass bangles. One of my most vivid and beautiful childhood memories of her is watching her put glass bangles. Every now and then. The sight made my little eyes glow in awe. It made life colorful, magical and sensual. I now wear glass bangles to feel closer to her. I love the clinking of glass bangles as I keep on furiously typing on my computer. The sound makes me happy and comfortable..

glass-bangles

I have inherited some of the textile gems (especially Odisha’s ikkat saris) from her wardrobe. The smell, sight of her saris in my wardrobe brings in a slice of her life to embrace me. I love wrapping her sari around me. I feel as if our lives are entwined. Saris like memories have no  S, M, L, XL size. You just need to  wrap it around you with love. It never fails to amaze me how a nine yard cloth can hold so many years within it. So much of love and warmth.

Sari magic

Joy and sorrow are part of life. There’s a winter. There’s a spring too.

Grief breaks you. And grief also makes you. Grief makes you look deep within and discover something innately new and warm. To embrace newness, you need to be open in grief.  During the process of healing the broken pieces of my fractured soul, I have discovered the magic of Buddhism. On many evenings. I now sit quietly and listen to ‘Om Mani Padme hum’ even as light and shadow dance in a joyous mood in my home.  Last April, while travelling in Sikkim, a deep sense of peace and calmness embraced me as I just looked at the tiny prayer flags fluttering high in the air. Spinning prayer wheels at monasteries elevated my soul. The majestic  mountains with the cool, crisp air gave me an intimate feeling of being at my spiritual home. Somehow, it also made me feel that my mother must be happy wherever she is now. It felt as if I have made peace with my grief, loss. I could feel the rush of love in my blood. Even in the absence of a lover.

prayer-flags

My journey in the last 1096 days (2016 is a leap year)  has given me the gift of looking deep within. I now have little faith in this whole talk of rationality. Modern life is too obsessed with rationality/ rational mind. I believe, if you listen deeply to your voice within with a larger sense of love and compassion, you can actually feel the presence of those who have left you. The rational mind has not really explored the mettle of heart. When you listen deeply to your heart, you will find your own answers. There’s no need to be limited, fearful.

PS Needless to say, there’s a pleasure, joy in the physical world — the world of touch, smell, voice,  beauty, warmth,  sensuality. The physical world is deeply fascinating and it can be soul-elevating too. My mother’s absence in this physical world hurts me.  I terribly miss her physical presence in my life.  For years, my morning ritual was to make a phone call to her. Sometimes with my eyes half-closed. With traces of deep sleep defining my voice. I now miss making that phone call early in the morning.

I miss her food very much. In her absence, food just doesn’t taste the same now. I miss everything about her food – the texture, the color, the variety, the seasoning, the rich, delicious mutton curry with huge chunks of potatoes, finely sliced aubergines fried and then gently put in a bowl of thick curd (seasoned with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaf),  piping hot pakoras that could give tempuras a real tough competition,  potatoes cooked in a mixture of puppy seeds and green chillies, her signature dish of scrambled eggs cooked in mutton gravy and lots more.  I try to recreate her magic by pressing the rewind button my memory.  But, as they say, it’s not just the same.

 I really find it amazing to see how people around you maintain a stoic silence when you talk about a loved one who’s no more. People try to play with their hair, ear-rings, mobile phones when you talk about your memories of a loved one.  They smile uncomfortably, most of them look like  unhappy stock brokers.  To all those nervous, fearful souls, I would like to say, look higher, look within. it’s not about death.  It’s about love and more love.

We ruminate and savor memories of those only whom we love deeply.  So, join me today in celebrating memories of  togetherness, joy and love between a daughter-mother.  There are always love stories in the world to warm the cockles of your heart. 

Aren’t these flowers beautiful?  So, smile. Just smile.

flowers

Home

life

Rinchenpong is a beautiful place in West Sikkim. We were staying in Yangsum Heritage Farm (Pictured above)

It was late evening. There was stillness all around us. It seemed as if we were far far away from civilization. There were three of us– sitting on the grass. Making an attempt to discover more about each other. In Rinchenpong which was not home to any one of us.

I suddenly asked : “What does home mean to you?’

My friend S said, “I carry home with me.” The previous day, she was telling about how she misses home when she travels for a long time. I reminded her of the sentence and asked her, “If home is within you then why do you miss home?” She agreed with me, thought for a little while. She said, “Home is where my bookshelves are.” She laughed, “There are times when I travel for long and I miss my pillow. So, home is actually where my pillow is.”

K is a bright, articulate young tourist guide who is constantly on the move. He lost his parents when he was very young. He said, “Home is where my grandmother and sister live. Home is where I just don’t have to do anything. I get my tea while sleeping under my quilt. The comfort of knowing that you are with your loved ones.”

He then added, “I don’t like this quietness. There’s no television here. I have no news channels to watch. I don’t know what is happening in the world outside this place.”

“I love it when I am home. I just lie on my bed and keep on watching TV news. It feels so nice.”

We all laughed and then added, “So, home is where the TV is..or to be more specific where you can watch the news channels.”

They asked me the question I was asking them.

I said, “Home is where I can be naked… physically, emotionally.” Comfortable in my physical skin. Comfortable in my emotional skin.

The evening was achingly beautiful.

I want to hug the Bay of Bengal

I woke up today morning, telling my husband, “I want to hug the Bay of Bengal.”

The Bay of Bengal is an emotion for me. An intense emotion. It’s much more than an ocean. I have grown up with it. I remember crying as a child when the rising waves took away my little shoes. My mother consoled me by saying, “The sea will not take anything away from you, it will give you back your shoes. Remember to always love the sea.”  The sea returned my shoes. The love lingered.

Both my parents loved the Bay of Bengal. We immersed the ashes of my father in the temple town of Puri which is home to the Bay Of Bengal. I feel, parts of my parents’ soul now remain in the Bay of Bengal. So, I feel at home with the rising waves, the falling waves, the rolling waves, the mellowed setting Sun suddenly disappearing in the horizon leaving no trace of its existence till the next morning and the cool breeze that strokes your cheeks as the dark nights become darker.

Years ago, I spent a mildly cool December morning all by myself on the shores of the Bay of Bengal to clear the cobwebs in my mind. My heart was full of agony, hurt and pain.My mind was a cluttered one. I had lost my way. I was afraid to grab tomorrow. I sat down to just look at the waves even as wild thoughts moved in a synchronized rhythm in my mind. I just sat there looking at waves. I didn’t know then anything about the ‘Art of Just Being.’ By the time I left the waves behind, I was clear in my heart and mind to move forward. The Bay Of Bengal gave me the strength, the wings to leave the ruins of the past behind and embrace the light of a journey ahead.  Sometimes the sound of waves on an otherwise silent morning gives you strength to listen deep within.

I go back to the ocean now to feel the presence of my parents. I go back to revel in the memories of my mother buying me delicate shingaras (known as samosas in masculine parts of India) filled with little cubes of potatoes with their almost silk like smooth skin, melt-in-mouth sweets that go by the name of Madanmohan, fiery, salty, seductive jhalmoori with a dash of mustard oil and cups of coffee which sometimes carried a faint smell of kerosene. I loved the sight of my mother taking out the money from her purse and then indulging me with these lip-smacking delicacies. The fiercely independent career woman within me took a backseat as I soaked happily in that moment of tenderness. I happily let myself to  become a little girl.  The ocean was a witness to the unconditional love that defined my world.

ocean

 

Sometimes, the universe feels the thread of emotions that run deep in our hearts, deep in our veins. The universe comes like an guardian angel to hold us, comfort us, soothe us. As I was longing to roll in gay abandon in the wild embrace of Bay Of Bengal, I received a photo of my niece holidaying in Florida in the company of Atlantic Ocean. The photo soothed me. She’s a 15-year old bright, intelligent, creative girl. In the pic, she’s enjoying her solitary moments with the ocean. Albeit a different ocean, I grew up with. I don’t know what thoughts are running in her mind. But she’s having her moments of solitude. By the waves, by the shore. It’s necessary to have your moments of solitude. Certain emotions are universal. And certain legacies are always carried forward. Even without any realization.

Cheers to the Honey Bees of the World

honey

My mother did a lot of work. So also my aunt. They led a very busy, active life. My mother-in-law does a lot of work. I am always amazed at how much work she does. My mother, aunt and mom-in-law never received/receive any money for their work. Yet they did immensely valuable work.

I love women who work. At homes, in the fields, in crowded markets, in classrooms, in swanky air-conditioned newsrooms, in the cockpit, in operation theatres, on the stage, at the potter’s wheel and in front of the camera. I simply love women working. On my way to office, I sometimes stop to say hello to Champa Ben. She sells fruits to earn her living. She’s always cheerful and on many occasions she gives me an orange or a banana just like that to have a ‘fruitful’ journey. Both of us work to earn our living. The dusty street is her workplace. Mine with modern amenities and state-of-the art technology is different from hers. Yet there’s an unspoken bond between us. We revel in our work. In more than one way, our work defines us. As women, as individuals.

I love my cook Taraben who goes to five different houses in a day. Her bi-cycle is her faithful companion. She never complains about her struggles, long day at work. She always embraces work with a smile.

There’s nothing low/high about work. Whatever we do with our hands is something we all must celebrate. Every work involves some kind of body-mind coordination and concentration. To work is to be closer to the earth, to the universe. Even as the global economy faces challenges in many countries, the women workforce will face many hardships and challenges in the years ahead. But consider yourself lucky if you enjoy your work — whether at home or office.

And the time has come when we must sensitize our men, women and children to celebrate the works done by our women at home. It’s tough to be a good journalist, a good teacher or doctor. Similarly, it’s also tough to be a good homemaker. Economics might not recognize this as ‘labour’. But a lot goes into the making of a good homemaker. My father always told us as young girls, “If you want to be a home-maker, it’s perfectly fine. But make sure you excel at it.”

The world around us needs to be sensitive about the working women.  We need to create safe homes and secure workplaces so that women can express their creativity, strength and imagination through their work.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, here’s to the honey bees of the world. Let the world revel in the sweetness of our hard work.