Monday, January 25

Men against Demand

Something I was asked to write about recently, not sure if it will be of any use but I thought it is important to get the word out. Prajwala, if you all do not know, is an organization against human trafficking founded by Sunitha Krishnan. She is a woman of tremendous courage and will to do the right thing and I definitely feel honored to have been in touch with her at least via emails. They launched the campaign called Men against demand and this article conveys why that is important.

The drawing is a self-portrait by a 15 year old trafficking victim

Photo source: gtipphotos

I am not one of the survivors, I do not know any survivors but in my heart I know they are out there- I hear about them occasionally, I think about them very often and I wonder why, why does this happen at all? What are we doing wrong? We are doing something terribly wrong otherwise there would not be so many innocent human beings thrown out of their cocoons into a ghostly pit of human traffickers. Human trafficking is a modern day term for slavery. It describes the buying and selling of people, usually through coercion or fraudulence, by luring victims out of their homes and forcing them into slavery. Anywhere from 4 to 27 million people, mostly women and children, are trafficked each year. About 70% of the women are forced into the commercial sex industry while the rest are victims of forced labor, something that is quite prevalent in Asia. Interestingly, victims are never scarce- everyone of us is a potential victim. How does such an illegal trade thrive? It thrives because of the enormous demand, demand from a variety of sources that include brothel owners, clients of sex worker ad people like you and me who hire domestic help, adopt babies who have been stolen or kidnapped and buy mail-order brides. 

Bhavani's marital bliss was not out of a fairy tale story. She got married to Amar when she was merely 12 years old only to realize that her husband had left her at a brothel on GB road in Delhi and that she was not his first, he had 12 other marriages (rather victims) that year alone. Her resistance was no match to the ordeals of starvation and beatings that her attackers put her through. After a week of struggle she had to relinquish her struggle. She served the clients for about 5 years during which she had numerous sexually transmitted diseases and underwent five abortions. Now a teenager at 17, she is HIV positive. 

Slavery comes in different forms and for Mimin, the nightmare began when she landed in LA for a job as a housekeeper with a wealthy family (she left Indonesia at the age of 17). The family confiscated her passport and threatened her arrests and rapes if she ever left the house. For seven years without pay, Mimin endured the torments and kept at her job as a housekeeper, when she finally found the courage to set herself free. 

Recent study conducted by the International Labor Organization in five Asian countries, has shown that most clients who buy sexual services are men, 15-40 years old and from all walks of life. Despite the fact that the number of male victims is on the rise, it is hard to deny the fact that men also play a huge role in the demand side of human trafficking. While many organizations fighting against human trafficking work to prevent or abolish human trafficking, rescue victims from the traffickers and provide a new lease of life to the victims, they pay much less attention to the demand aspect of this whole trade. 
   It is just as important to fight the demand-side of human trafficking as it is to fight traffickers themselves. Therefore, it is important for men to understand that they have a huge role to play in preventing and may be someday abolishing human trafficking. Men must be educated and made aware of the toll human trafficking takes, not just on individual victims but on the society as a whole. Women and men must join forces to prevent desecration of the sanctity of an individual's right to live. 

Gandhiji said "you must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty", let us, men and women, act fast, act now before the victims of illegal trafficking, the many Bhavanis, Mimins, Gurungs and Theresas, stop believing in the existence of humanity, stop believing that there are people who care about them and who would not rest without putting an end to human trafficking.

Wednesday, January 20

Parent trap

They are never boring- my conversations with my mom, that is of course when we are not fighting (well we do not fight much over telephone, only friendly arguments!). They get particularly predictable when I tell her that I would be taking off for the weekend, usually travelling to another city/state/country (Well that last one has not happened much!).

(Photo source: wikitravel)

Me: Ma, I am going out of town this weekend, will be back Monday

Ma: Why my dear, why do you want to spend so much? (In Tamil- ஏன் டா இப்படி செலவு செய்யறே?)

Me: Ma, money is meant to be spent, it is not something that will stay forever

Ma: I know da, but still,

and so our wrangles continue...

I guess I should not tell her that I am planning on a trip that would involve most of my savings and a lot more of my time... shhh!

So there you have it- my parents seem unarguably protective of their finances, they are not miserly (not by any stretch of imagination, well may be a little but I know where that stems from...)- but  when it comes to travel, they think it is usually a waste of money and that it should be done as scarcely as possible. Well on why travel is not important (their views not mine, hell not mine at all!)- a. we spend on things that are absolutely essential, b. we help people (family and friends alike) in their times of financial crisis and therefore we cannot afford to be spending on travel, c. we have been in deep financial troubles and hence we know the value of money (in fact this used to be their favourite argument, not anymore), yada yada yada. Oh, I almost forgot-d. these days it is usually we just like to stay put in one place, e. we do not crave journeys to the neverland anymore (Its not just one aspect, is it?!). Imagine if all of the above said arguments are used in one conversation...

There are two things that are interest me here
1. the sense that travelling somehow is akin to the crash of wall street and the feeling that nothing good comes by going around the country or the world (well it is just a vacation, what is the big deal) and 2. try not to spend money on anything other than the most important, well then that leaves us with just food and shelter, does'nt it? (God knows the clothes I have now would last me my lifetime!).

Now, I am curious- are my parents stereotypes, in that, do most people of the older generation feel that way, is it an Indian thing (pardon the lack of words here)- are they too busy or lazy to bother with travelling? Are they so protective of money- saving money is one thing but hey, not splurging once in a while on YOURSELF has got to be bad for the soul, right?

From where I stand, the standard sort of vacationing in an exotic city or a country does not excite me as much as going to a place to spend a considerable time in a place, learning about its people and their favourite haunts, their culture, history, a bit of their language, some of their cuisine, more of this and more of that-  something like an anthropologist might do, you know. That is what is fun to me and I hope I can do it sooner than later- have a humble beginning, may be in India first. While I have been toying with this idea for a mere 3 years now, something unknown stops me executing it (my thought on why- I am too afraid that I would not be able to get a job if I quit and go on my little knowledge expedition!).

My parents, well they just have to wait, watch and learn...  :D

Monday, January 11

Velazquez, Madrid, Venice...

I normally stay away from recent publications and authors I have not read before (well, there is no particular reason, but I do prefer classics). But this book by Michael Gruber, the one I picked up at the library last week, is not all that bad. A novel of suspense, while I did enjoy the suspense part, I had no clue when the author was describing old masters such as Diego Velazquez (before this book, I did not even know he was great painter from the 1650s) or the museums and art gallery scenes in exotic places like Venice, Italy and Spain. What a shame! Towards the end I did get quite confused when Chaz Wilmot would travel back in time and see himself as Velaquez (he even paints the Rokeby Venus as Velaquez, so I am not sure one can call that forgery, or can they?). I kind of rushed through those time travelling episodes to get to the "so-whatever-happens-in-the-end" part. The ending though to me was not super-impressive, may be because I rushed through those pages! But overall it is a decent book and am sure an art lover can relate to it better than me.

PS: Click on the link below to check the book out on amazon
The Forgery of Venus: A Novel

Sunday, January 10

Broccoli and other tales of food and love

Yes, yes I finally made it to the book club this month- the first one for this year. The book that we read for this month is by Lara Vapnyar- Broccoli and other tales of food and love. 

Whether it is broccoli in the third shelf of Nina's refrigerator or a bag (or 10) of puffed rice for which Katya and Vera stood in line, Lara Vapnyar's subtleties about immigrant life impressed me. The simplicity of her choice of words was amazing- while she did not say everything, she did manage to convey the story with as little as words possible. In one members' words the stories in this book seemed economical. While reading this book, one realizes that the men in her stories are losers and it is the women who play a central role. My own reaction when I read the first couple of pages of "Broccoli in the third shelf"- "wow, I could be Nina (a "vegetable lover" as her husband introduced her to his friends)- I love to buy veggies when sometimes I actually don't end up using them. It was interesting for me to hear about the priors some members, who  either grew up in Europe or who stayed in Eastern European countries, had about Russians in general. Another thing that struck me was the bluntness of Lara's characters, as one member put it-" they seemed like prickly people". 

This book is a compilation of short stories about Russian immigrants, Lara Vapnyar, herself came to the US when she was 23 years old. She hardly knew any English then. And now she writes only in English. You can read more about her and this book here.

Overall I really liked this book and my personal favourites were "Puffed rice and meatballs" and "Slicing sauteed spinach". It is a definitely a good way to start the year with just the right amount of food mixed with love!