Friday, March 15, 2013

Mehrunissa's Three Boxes

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a girl called Mehrunissa. Her father was a mechanic and repaired almost anything. Mehrunissa helped her father all day, slogging over damaged cars. Her father believed in her and always said, "Someday, you will realize how beautiful, intelligent and strong you are. That day, nobody will be able to stop you". But Mehrunissa never saw herself as any of those things. The only thing that made her happy was the weekly magic show that was performed by the famous magician Verdani at the king's court. Every Sunday, she ran to the king's palace to watch the show. She was amazed by how Verdani could make things appear and disappear out of nowhere, how he could turn invisible himself and how he could give blind men ten minutes of sight. Every time she saw Verdani's twisted moustache and glossy coat, she couldn't help but wish that Verdani work his magic on her life. When she saw the beautiful girls who flocked the court and laughed like they had no cares in the world, she wished she too were like them. When she saw the strong, broad-shouldered  soldiers from the king's army, she wished she too could have adventures and fight wars in unknown lands. Mehrunissa believed that she could only be freed by one of Verdani's spells. Unfortunately, Verdani never spotted her in the audience and she could never hope to personally meet a celebrity performer of his status.

One day, Mehrunissa's father caught a bad cold and had to stay home. He coughed, sneezed and after two nights of burning fever lost his ability to get out of bed. He needed to be shown to a doctor, but times were hard and they had no money. He asked Mehurnissa to go to a house nearby to receive payment for a car he had fixed a few days ago. It would be enough for a doctor's visit and some medicine. Mehrunissa set out immediately. While walking down the road, she spotted a beautiful red sports car. Mehrunissa waited to see if she could identify the owner, but the car didn't move and the owner didn't come out. Curious, Mehrunissa walked up to the car and peeked through the windows. To her surprise, she saw Verdani inside, looking all frustrated and tired.

"Excuse me, sir. May i help you?" said Mehurnissa.

Verdani shook his head. "No, little girl. My car's giving trouble and I need a mechanic."

"My father is a mechanic", Mehrunissa said.

"Does he live nearby?"

"Yes, but he's sick and can't get out of bed".

"Too bad."

"But I can fix your car."

Verdani eyed her with doubt. "Really?"

"Yes. I work with my father all the time."

"Tell you what", said Verdani, raising one eyebrow. "If you really can help me. I promise I'll give you a small token of magic that will change your life".

Mehrunissa started working right then. In ten minutes, the car was running again. Mehrunissa, stoked by her good luck, held out her palm and said, "Can I have my magic now, sir?"

Verdani, thoroughly impressed by Mehrunissa's work, nodded and began chanting, "Little girl who needs a choice, little girl with tiny voice, may she choose what is right, may she not lose this fight".

Mehrunissa didn't know what Verdani was talking about. Choice? Fight? She was just about to ask questions, when Verdani held up his hand and said, "No questions. Not right now". He pointed at the ground before him where three boxes now sat. Verdani explained, "Open these boxes one at a time and you will see what happens." Verdani then drove away, leaving Mehrunissa perplexed but excited.

Mehrunissa quickly got money for her father's treatment. When her father was healthy again, she opened the first box. It was as if her life turned into a movie in that one second. Suddenly, she could hear voices in her head. "You're ugly. You're worthless". Mehrunissa believed these things. When the voices started giving her advice- "Go get a haircut! You need one!", "Don't hang out with your dad. It's not cool"- she followed them helplessly. She lost all her pocket money at the beautician's and hurt her dad by refusing to go with him to a party at the king's court. Now her father wouldn't talk to her and she didn't have any money to watch Verdani's shows.

Upset and angry, Mehrunissa shut the first box and opened the second. Now, all she felt was a strange self-love. She thought she was the most beautiful, the brightest, the one most likely to succeed in life. At first, it gave her confidence, but it overshadowed her voice of reason. She didn't see her flaws and so forgot to apologize to her father.

Even though the second box made her happy, she was curious about the third box. So she opened it. Suddenly it all stopped- the voices, the euphoria. She was overcome by a sudden urge to work hard, so she started staying up late to study and helping her father as much as she could. It was all tiring, but she was satisfied. Eventually her father forgave her and she became the best student in her class. She saw her life going somewhere now.

Still, she was confused regarding how these boxes were connected. So she went to the court for Verdani's show. Since they were now acquainted, Verdani spotted her and met her after the show.

"Sir, I want to know how these boxes are connected. They all made me feel, think and act differently."

Verdani smiled. "Little girl. Give me the boxes and I shall show you." Mehrunissa did so. Verdani opened the first box and this time, out came a flimsy image of all the people Mehrunissa envied. Verdani explained, "This box is the voice of the people you think are better than you. They make you feel bad about yourself and so you lost your senses when these voices overwhelmed you".

"Ah", said Mehrunissa.

"Now the second box has the voice of people who love you unconditionally, like your father. To them, you're special, but you can't just listen to their voice because they are biased and always forgiving.".

At last came the third box. Verdani opened it out floated a mirror. "This is the reflection of who you are. It's voice showed you your flaws and so you tried to fix them by working hard. It also showed you what you want- a better life- and showed you how you can get it. A mirror, if looked at without bias, tells the truth, which means that you are the only one who can guide yourself."

Mehrunissa thanked Verdani for the life lesson and went back home with the third box. After that day, she lived happily ever after.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Shouting Before Thinking

I recently attended a protest. Not the kind of thing I would typically be at, but there’s always a first time, right? Now, I’m not going to tell you where the protest was or what it was against, because if I do I won’t be able to keep my personal opinion out of it and that’s not what this post is all about. But I can describe what it was like. When I was walking to the venue, I was expecting to see mild vandalism and some breakage of glass. To my surprise, what I saw was a lot of singing and people…smiling. Yes, there were people shouting slogans and yes, there was media around and yes, people were having debates. But I vouch for the fact that the excitement wasn’t purely political. It was something that gave rise to the James Dean in all of us.

A few months ago, our president’s son was caught in the middle of a controversy when he said that the beautiful women involved in protests following the Delhi rape case were just following fad by protesting. They didn’t really mean their slogans. They just said them. I don’t know if he was right or wrong, but I did learn something from the reaction his comments garnered- that it is extremely hard to protest against protest.
Sometimes, it’s very easy to get carried away. It’s exciting to be part of something, it’s exhilarating to be against something. Admit it. There’s an adrenaline rush associated with protests, mobs and riots. Stand amidst a crowd during any campus protest and you’ll know why normal citizens turn violent during riots. You’ll see how everyone’s so high-strung and willing to shout. But I wonder if everybody really understands what they’re fighting against. It’s kind of like what happened during the whole Lokpal bill episode- a lot of the protestors didn’t know what Lokpal was.

I am a firm believer of fighting for what is right, for standing up for what you believe is correct. But sometimes, our emotions can get the better of us and we could get swayed to one side of an argument without thinking it through.  All I’m saying is that never let any slogan or any protest shape your thoughts. Instead, treat them as a source of information to better understand a situation and try to listen to both sides instead of focusing on one. Don’t just go and hold up banners supporting a cause you’ve just heard of. Take a minute to decide what you feel about an issue and then join the movement. As for the protest I became part of, all I can say is that I am with what is right and the people concerned with making a final decision will hopefully see what’s right too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Long Live Privacy

This year, Jodie Foster was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes. Now, this is a woman who's been in the spotlight forever. In her speech, she made references to reality stars of today and joked maybe she could have a reality show of her own someday. She's a gay Hollywood star with two kids. Who could be a better contender for her own reality show? But Jodie Foster has fifty years worth of experience to her credit, most of it gathered in front of the camera and in red carpets and public events. In her life, there never really was a normal period. It was always a big circus out on public display. In spite of all this, Foster was reminiscent of a time when attention-seeking people didn't need to be on TV all day, when watching someone's private life wasn't a big industry and when people weren't so willing to sell themselves to get noticed. Before saying her obligatory thank yous, Foster gave a shout out to privacy, urging it to stay strong in a time when it's least valued.

Now, we're not reality TV stars and we're not famous, but we all have a tendency to sometimes act like our lives are shows. Admit it. We all gossip like old ladies. We talk about other people's private matters as if it's our right. To be honest, I agree this can be entertaining and even acceptable to a certain limit, but limits are always easy to cross. Things often start out as jokes a.d then become to big to handle. Have you ever seen that movie 'Easy A'. It's about this girl who tries to help her gay friend by pretending to date him and soon other people (mostly outcasts in the high school universe) start asking her to help them in the same way. The girl soon becomes the school slut and that's okay for a while, but then what she realizes that nobody's really interested in the real her anymore. They're just interested in the image she has.

The truth is that we never know people well enough to judge them. We all have our secrets and struggles, things that make us who we are and still stay hidden. It's everybody's right to be reserved about some things and it's everybody else's duty to respect that. That's what privacy is all about. So next time we indulge in a salacious rumor, think about the same thing happening to you and you'll see that maybe privacy really does need to live on.