A new year and a new beginning. It started before the 31st of December 2012. My new beginning began on the 16th of December. I flew back home after three years to a whole new world (to quote a famous Disney song). And sure, I saw some unbelievable sights and had many ‘describable’ feelings. One feeling stood out the most. As a family, we are now transitioning into a new phase. At first we were infants, then children, then hormone driven teenagers, young adults and have now finally hit the ‘adult’ mark. What is this mark? A marked change in needs, attitudes, expectations and reactions. It effects everyone. Mom, Dad, siblings and self. Some are able to foresee this change and others remain oblivious, either on purpose or simply because they are truly blind to this transition. Transition! This is the word.

I am volunteering as a Research Assistant with my lecturer at University and we work with children. Transitions among children is an upcoming field of research and is being keenly studied, both in the developed and in the developing country contexts. There is an understanding and an empathetic interest in how children interact and/or communicate with their worlds as they move from one phase of their lives into the next. I have returned from one such transition. This one propels me far into the ‘adult world’. Now there is no looking back. The transition from child to adult has occurred. It is so subtle that even if we choose to avoid it or would like to reverse the movement, it is now not possible. I can momentarily forget about it but I cannot erase it.

The transition is not physical but behavioural. Owing to my experiences over the past three years I have gained confidence and a sense of self. I understand the concept of ‘potential’ and am increasingly sensitive to my own strengths and weaknesses. For me, it is a positive transition. I am rearing to go. But wait! I just hit a road block. At first my first instinct is to push it to the side and carry on. But these are not boulders to be moved away to the side. The road block is a human chain. It is a chain of human emotions, some that can be dealt with instantly some that will require rearing until maturation. And these emotions are of my parents. Somehow the rapid and often times what seems an instantaneous transition from child to teenager surprised parents less as compared to the transition from young adult to adult. The latter appears to them more abrupt sometimes down right unnecessary.

For a rather mellow teenager (atleast in comparison to the cliched definition) the adult move came as a big surprise to the folks. Differences of opinion are understood as disrespect or disobedience. When we were younger we were told to act our age and when we have begun to do so a strange place our parents have found themselves.

Parenting is complex it seems. You don’t have to read academic articles or go to crash courses to gauge its complexity. We just have to observe the see-sawing of our own ‘parented’ experience. It isn’t a fault. I see it like a any other ‘shock’ that the body at first instinct will want to either confront or ignore. In my case I observed both. Dad on the one hand confronted, amicably. He sought to identify how a certain behaviour grew. It seemed he always knew that the day would come. Mom on the other hand ignored. Not out of apathy but because of the lack of commonality.

Commonality. Especially the case in our generation. Very few women in my mum’s generation chose to work or were given the opportunity to work. Their universe was home and the kids. The challenges they faced were social. Remember how you used to run to mummy whenever you fought with your friend or when the teacher shouted at you? They were communicators. Communication skills honed, children transition to the ‘real world’. You had to show the world what you got, put colloquially. We had to turn into ‘doers’. Enters father or father figure.

This blog entry is incomplete and may remain so for sometime


I first heard the word ‘Transition’ while I was volunteering with Sarah Bernays on a research study that explores the lives of children living with HIV. It made sense, you are a child one moment and the next you are a young person with significant new priorities, new friends and a new life ahead of you. It seemed to me that I ‘transitioned’ already. Now, I believe I’m transitioning, every day.

It will soon be a year since I made my most recent transition which entailed moving cities and moving jobs – into an entirely new sector. It seemed direct enough. Rather it has turned into a daily, transformative and routinely occuring spread of moments.

It was first a transition in scale. I lived in Chennai before and I moved to New Delhi. Everything seemed bigger, wider and oddly enough, in some instances also greener. At work, I transitioned from a grass roots NGO working with children and teachers in education to a Regional Office of an international NGO, first to produce a regional document and currently to coordinate and help manage a project for young people and volunteers.

It was an emotional transition. At first I thought I was independent, adventurous and amiable. Certain instances and moments showed me that I could be dependent, I am prone to procrastinate and am selectively amiable. This transition continues. I am beginning to own the select emotions and view them as what sets me apart in a crowd rather than feel  superior or inferior or somewhere in the middle. Dependence makes you human and some amount of the need to seek help is as noble as it is to provide help. And at the end of the day you can’t and perhaps you don’t need to please everyone or get along with every acquaintance. There is some truth to what my friend Jessica once told me about ‘small dose people’. Just a few moments at a time and not a binge.

The biggest, most fulfilling and character building transition has been that of knowledge, of sitting at your desk and truly not knowing anything about the task at hand. And here, I have a confession. When I was first called to attend the interview in Delhi I was thrilled. However, I did not save the application form and therefore had no clue as to what I was actually applying to take up as an assignment at the organisation. I winged it, each and every step of the selection process. the very first day at the job was when I actually found out what I was asked to deliver. But I have no regrets. I take great pride and also try and remain humble of the fact that my career path has and will continue to be one off the beaten track in that I never sat at a placement event competing with thousands of other students, I chose a career path that until most recently was certainly ‘off the mark’ if you aren’t a clinician .At my very first ‘job invterview’ I was hired because they thought I was another ‘Malavika’. It just so happened that my boss and my dad both have friends with the same name and I thought my boss was referring to the same person. It was someone else, but she just shrugged her shoulders on my first day, I felt a tinge of disappointment because it was surely not my intention to lie my way into the position and we went ahead all the same. And what a wonderful year it was! On my first day I had to account for Rs 5000 rupees worth of raw material purchasing of fabrics and learn Kannada. It was the deep end but I learnt to swim.

Six years later and I am at a coveted Regional Office and looking forward to new adventures. And another common phrase I experienced first hand, and continue to experience is of the ‘steep learning curve’. I learnt what it means to be a ‘Consultant’ as opposed to being ‘on pay roll’. And most memorable, what it means to work with the most encouraging group of professionals in an environment that is tricky to say the least. I had transitioned, I still am transitioning. In the language of Malavika’s world, I studied ‘Public Health’ and I am now working in ‘Public Health’. Through all the tears, doubts, anger, frustrations and disillusionment I can say it has been worth it. Not the shallow ‘worth it’ from the commercials but a gut wrenching, soul twisting, character moulding worth it!

Chennai Observations – Beginning with ‘A’

I started out the day rather glum. Truth be told I can’t shake away London from my system. I do not want to shake away London or that when I have tried to bring aspects of my London life to the present I am reminded that it is not London.  It doesn’t help but it is surely incentive enough to work towards leaving as soon as possible. It is still early days and maybe my perspective right now is from a magnifying glass. I find it therapeutic to observe people in conversation with me and steer the dialogue to gain their perspective. So far people have warmed up to the idea. I have made some observations. They may not be distinct to Chennai alone. However, to me, at this time of my life it seems as though the conversations, reactions and reasons are distinct. It is unique because I am using them as a means to pay attention to the city and try to overcome a feeling of displacement. Displacement – not physically but mentally and emotionally. It has happened before, just that this time I am more mature.

Attire – The heat, sweat and dust definitely limit the presence of western styled outfits. And the all too well known lecherous men too. While elsewhere it may be a statement of style, on the streets of Chennai it is  your protection from both nature and other human beings. Interestingly, unlike in other countries, formal and informal clothing in India is the same. That is a positive! When travelling by public transport your choice of clothing may save you some money. A friend mentioned to me how if you dress low key,that is in the traditional manner, you may not be thought of as some one who is rich and can get away with a good bargain. Clothes here are not colourful prints and frills that make you feel beautiful, rather the first consideration while picking up your day’s wardrobe may include your mode of transport, the crowd, destination etc. A part of me feels this is the case anywhere in the world. Maybe it is and the difference is in their relative importance.

Alcohol – Enjoyed by so many and yet its distribution and discussions about it in Chennai morph it into something that is still highly gender blind, a taboo among some, an experiment and/or a rite of passage for some others. I have belonged to both groups at some point in my life but have had the good fortune to realise that neither of the two makes sense. Unlike in the years when I used to live in the city alcohol is served only at government outlets now. This means mostly men only crowds. Two stories to make clear this point. A friend of a friend had the ‘courage’ to go by herself to the outlet only to observe that the men moved to give way, more out of astonishment and surprise rather that respect. On another occassion, when dropped off in a taxi and having to call the cab driver later to check on lost property, a conversation on gender appropriate morals ensued from the driver. Everbody’s business is everyone’s business.

Coffee – On a more positive note I finally had the chance to make some filter coffee! I am officially a fan and it certainly does liven up my day!

Cooking – My housemates are avid cooks. One of them started cooking since she was in third grade. Coming from a household where half of us live to eat I am delighted. Also, I have learnt that I am not too bad myself. I wonder how much of the importance given to cooking is owing to the fact that all of us in the house are girls. But it has given me some good insights into the characters of my fellow housemates. The daily evening sessions have given me the chance to get to know them better. So far I have observed a leader, an earnest follower ( I was inclined to say ‘blind follower’ but realised the phrase didn’t give enough room for a change of character later) and a discretionary follower so far. It seems like a good spectrum of characters. It has until now allowed for smooth working together.

Dogs – In keeping with the tradition, I find myself in a household of non-dog lovers again!! I have one of a few that are owned by the land lords and I hear one often running just outside my window. I have a feeling that they have gotten used to my scent. The first few days when I moved here they were their loudest.



It has been a while since I last entered a blog. The resolution first made when I started blogging just reached it’s first hiccup. But like the current song list I am listening to while I am blogging is titled ” I am a living story. I will not give up.” So here is to successfully passing through this hurdle right now while I am writing this blog!

Now THE MOVE has officially happened. I am now in Chennai, India and up for another year of adventure, work and friendships. So far it has been alright. Actually it has been much better than expected. I have moved into a house of fellow career beginners who are ambitious and hard working. I must admit that watching them work hard and organise their lives in India is quite inspiring. You see we are possibly the first generation of ‘independent women’ over the age of 24 years. Therefore, living alone here has challenges that are slightly different from say living alone in London. The challenges are enlightening and if taken in the right spirit very empowering. I suppose the key is to anticipate trouble so that when it does arrive you are well prepared and if it doesn’t you are pleasantly surprised.

The locality is great. It is an area that I have been familiar with for a long time. It is rather nostalgic to be back. This time as a native and not as a foreigner or a holiday goer. I haven’t yet started on figuring my life from here as yet. The past few days have been spent with old friends, lots of talk, journaling and books. In addition to the blog I thought of writing down a few observations from the city. My perspective now is different to the one I had three years ago when I left. The opportunity to truly live in another country has opened my eyes to a few differences in the city already.

Difference have also been of the personal kind. I am no longer the insecure teenager or young adult, always on the look out to impress but rather have come back a mature woman who is very comfortable in her own skin and is less overwhelmed with the city. Perhaps I may be overwhelmed in the next couple of days but it is something that I am better prepared to face now than a few years ago. Reminding myself to stay calm comes more naturally.

I have been feeling this big wave of positive energy. I hope it lasts.




The Five Second Rule, “you will never feel like it” and a positive video.

So this blog has now evolved from ‘feelings for London’ into some sort of electronic, partially public diary. I think it is a good thing. I am not good with keeping hush on the good, bad and ugly in my life. Often, it has been the case that the more I talk about it the more solutions have come my way.

So a few days back, owing to the fact that I am an emotional creature (credits- Eve Ensler) I was hurt and confused and outright angry with the treatment of women in places I once considered home. I blogged about it and ended on a positive note. I said something along the lines of good things happening to people who think positively. And today when I checked my inbox a friend of mine forwarded a Youtube series that is being compiled on the issue of violence against women in the city that I will always call home. It is a compilation of men living, working and from Chennai talking against violence against women. I was happ is an understatement, ESPECIALLY when one of them spoke of ‘safety’. In my meter of gender equality or sensitivity, the mark of the concept final ‘arriving’ in a community is that point in one’s life when you can walk down the street without fear of being assaulted or robbed or molested or kidnapped or raped or disfigured by acid. It was great listening to what they had to say.

So that is one positive to my weekend so far.

Then the next issue plaguing my mind was that of continuing my academic interest. As an enthusiastic and outgoing student I have always been a doubtful student and have recently been wondering whether my ‘off days’ are a sign that maybe an academic’s career is not for me and then I came across this TED Talk and realised , well, I will never feel like it.


And here I go full circle.

In a week I will be going back after three years. It is not a big deal you would think. So many have done this before and survived. Yes, many have gone back home, survived, thrived even. I am sure I will too! But there are a few questions, a few ‘cultural’ practices, a few ‘excuses’ I am not willing to embrace or accept or ignore or turn a blind eye to, because that is what most of us have been doing since we could make meaning of the community around us. 

What is this rant all about?

Yesterday, I was going through my daily Facebook ritual and lo and behold another article of a public molestation, this time in a city I had stayed in for four years and in a location I knew. I knew the place and therefore it struck a little harder. I was hoping that in my interim plan of action until I catch the next wind to somewhere, I was going to work there, live there, make friends there, party, post blogs and write from there. And then, this happens and I am reminded of one of the monologues about being a girl I had watched last year when Eve Ensler was touring the UK. It went something like this, ” I don’t want to have to keep looking over my shoulder to feel safe in a city.” It hit home. I grew stronger in London. I learnt that as long as I always knew my way back home and the nearest tube stop I was OK. I un-learnt to stop looking at the ground every time I walk on the street, something I did out of habit and the second message in a string of direct and subtle received when my parents realised that I wasn’t sitting the ‘girly’ way and getting curvy. I started crossing my legs and would ‘avoid trouble’ by walking with my head held down, never looking people in the eye, unless spoken to. I won’t blame them. I disobeyed and wham the vultures swooped in. I wouldn’t blame my parents for they taught me what they knew as the only survival mechanism known to young parents of girl children in India. Avoid, avoid, avoid – even when you did nothing wrong or have no intention of doing anything wrong.

But now I am older, confident and have learnt, seen, participated and have been encouraged to not just see but actually look at the alternative. And it feels good. 

This confidence, this walking with head held high, looking people in the eye and the simple things in life, for instance choosing to wear what you want without fear will all be challenged this time next week. 

Hence the dillema. On the one hand I am going back to the only place I have ever known until three years back. Ideally it should be like the books non-resident Indians usually write or talk about, a sweet home coming steeped in family, love and endearing memories, 

I am not going to visit, I am moving to live there for a few months, to work and even hoping to do research based in India. This is not romantic and I am not asking that it be a path strewn with petals. All I am hoping is that I see some semblance of social change. An indication – big or small that I can be a young, hard working and ambitious young woman in the prime of her life, fresh out of one adventure and willing to dive into another without fearing for her safety. 

It seems like a hard ask. I am willing to put in my share of questioning and fighting. Heck! if I didn’t it would be a disservice to the many wonderful Indian women I have met in my life. I want to be positive because I believe fervently that good things happen to people who think and do good. Call it a coping mechanism, an attempt to look at the bright side and stop whining, call it what you like. But I refuse to be a pessimist. I would rather be an optimistic realist. I write it as it is and hope for it to get better.

It seems I have come full circle albeit with a much more refined viewing lens. 

Random Thoughts

I realised a couple of days ago that I hadn’t blogged for a long time. But although I wanted to write I was and am still dealing with a writer’s block. I am not sure what to write about and so decided that for this blog I am just going to list the thoughts in my head as they come to me. They haven’t just come up in my mind but have been around for a while. I just thought that they needed a ‘format’ if I were to put them down in a blog. But then, in hindsight, I am not one for ‘formats’. I do best when on an impulse.

1. My friend and I went to the National Theatre last Saturday night and when I saw St Paul’s Cathedral (and I mention again like a mantra, my most favourite part of the world) I realised its dome looks like a dollop of marshmallow! And I gave my favourite spot a cosmic hug. 

2. On Monday I was at a University Alumni dinner and found on my way to the venue a very fancy looking Indian restraunt called ‘Quilon’. Quilon is a town in Kerala and where my sister was born. Outside also hung a huge Indian flag. The universe was reminding me that December back home was going to be good.

3. Next to where I volunteer at University there is a cute little new age store. I am hoping to pop by there today. I would like to go to one of their classes, talk to their therapists about life, philosophy and their work.

4. This week, The National Portrait Gallery is also on my list of places to see. 

5. I am as curious as a cat. Not in the nosy way but in the tell me your life story, talk to me about your country and culture, in a naive anthropologist sort of way.

6. A new bad habit that I have just spotted. When online I always have my inbox open at one of the tabs and keep looking at the number at the top – the number of emails I have in my inbox. The minute it changes I am most likely to entirely stop what it is that I am doing, even when in the full swing of things and when finally in that space when I have hit concentration to look at what that new email might be.

7. I had tea with my two favourite people in London on Tuesday and heard horses hoofs – nostalgia of when I first heard them outside my dorm room.

8. On Monday I got an email announcing that my M.Sc project supervisor had completed his PhD. My time in London seemed complete somehow. Perhaps that is just the way I am making myself feel as my departure to something new approaches but for now it seems as though there is a sense of completion in the air. I make no complaints , it feels good.

9. I love Disney and although I am way past the age group they would ideally like to target it is a dream to go to Disney World with my first pay cheque!


Conversations continue……

There is one thing that I have learnt very well from living in London – talking to strangers is enlightening, funny and never fails to liven the day. 

If I am at University I like to have the Hare Rama Hare Krishna lunch. It is hot, healthy and free. It is difficult to eves drop on conversations when standing by yourself in a que – even if you were to take a book with you for while you wait your turn! 

But the uniqueness of the Hare Rama Hare Krishna que is that it is usually a que for strangers. Although it is right outside three Universities people who stand in these ques are usually not with a big band of friends and are there by themselves. And because it is right at the entrance of the University, there is a constant flow of people which means that the chances of meeting the same people twice is very rare. Very different from a college canteen where meals are served for longer and since it is within the premises you will often bump into a friend.

This makes for wonderful conversations. It starts with a silent nod of the head or a smile. So there I was. I saw a South Asian women in front of me and thought “Ah! Finally I am not the only big haired girl in line.” This is usually the case. For a University that teaches South Asian and Oriental Studies  very few South Asians find the food to their liking. Mama’s cooking, if a reference point, is hard to duplicate! Thankfully my mama never took the kitchen and I am now accustomed to “Indian Cuisine in the UK”. 

After some time I heard someone ask the man standing behind me what this que was all about. “Free Hare Rama Hare Krishna food he said.” She sounded a very friendly person and both of them started talking about the courses they were pursuing. With nothing to do and not thinking about anything in particular got me listening to their conversation. Then I thought to myself that I would rather be a part of the conversation than eves-drop. But how? Should I think of a question or refer to something I heard them talking about? And when? Now? Or by the time the que moves to where the blue bicycle is parked. This went on for a few minutes.I kept passing by the physical milestones that were to signal to me the auspicious time begin! I turned around I smiled and turned back. Not a word. And then finally without a thought about what or when I turned around and said ” I have been listening to your conversation for some time now and I thought it better to be a part of it rather than continuing to over hear.” And there! They smiled back and through subtle movements and words acknowledged that that would indeed be lovely.

They were students. One is doing her a PhD on democracy and the other is studying a master’s in linguistics. The conversation was about language and how it is used. The PhD student was of the opinion that language can compartmentalise and be condescending. The linguistics student was of the opinion that the manner in which language is used is not it’s fault , rather the fault of the users. Language on its own in innocent of distinctions. This seemed a new area for me and I could really think of was how over the past couple of years new words have been invented and used, especially in the media. I was thinking about the evolution of words like ‘Kickbacks’ that in 2009 were very commonly used by the Indian media to describe corrupt practices. 

Later as the que seemed to move us closer to our warm paper plates the conversation moved to what it was I was doing in University because by now my two quemates had sufficiently talked about what their journeys have been thus far. From classroom to que. This next moment was priceless. After I narrated the usual, the PhD student told me, ” You are exactly where I was three years ago!” The fact that she was back in SOAS and pursuing her ambitions I took as a sign from the Universe that the next couple of months and my plans for them will stand me in good stead. I took this conversation as a sign that my plan is worthwhile. All I need to do is PERSIST. I asked her where she was three years ago and realised it is exactly where I am at this very moment. The urge to stay in the UK because opportunities seemed more worthwhile than in the Subcontinent. But she did give me a healthy perspective. The time she spent working in Pakistan provided her fodder for a more mature and context rich PhD proposal. I am hopeful that I if I make use  of every opportunity and every experience in India, I too will be able to say the same in some time. I must admit three years is too long! A shorter time frame for me please.

The que now seemed to move faster. Conversations help with the wait, for lunch and life! A messenger in a black hoodie and on a cycle rode passed and said, ” Sorry guys there is not Hare Krishna today!” Strange how we take everyday things for granted. All of us saw the usual afternoon que, took for granted that our Eastern European pandit friend was parked ahead and dishing out lentils and rice. Not once did we consider looking out to check out if he really was there! I am not sure if he came at all that afternoon. In hindsight, I didn’t see the students in front of me walk past with their free lunch. The que was moving ahead because people were leaving!! 

I suggested that if its ok with the other two we go for lunch somewhere else and we settled for the ‘Cafe in the Garden’ in Russel  Square. This is my regular haunt when I get sick of Pret, one of London’s chain cafes. We ordered and sat by the French windows. We spoke of books, politics, religion, partition and football. 

TED Videos were often referred to in this afternoon meeting of strangers turning friends. I am a huge fan of TEDx (as you can tell from my blog!) and it was wonderful to meet a fellow fan. I learnt how among some folks its viewed as an elitist initiative, very contrary to how it is marketed but put into perspective considering the high ticket prices for some of their best known events. But the collection of videos is very accessible so I won’t base take that argument for it being too elitist. 

If you are a TEDx fan then that afternoon was a perfect example of taking ‘The Other to Lunch’. We were all very different people. One was politically Right and two from countries at constant war with each other and very little people to people interaction.Two born and raised in peaceful democracies (yes, taking into consideration that democracies are of different kinds and its imperfections) and one from a violent democracy/dictatorship depending on who is in power. It was one very charged table. We were truly being conversational, curious, real and listening. And I learnt a few very valuable things.

1. There are different degrees to being on the ‘Right’ in politics. Not all of them are bad. The manner in which the message is put across is important. Rather than being portrayed as unabashedly after profits, the point of view becomes a lot more palatable and debatable if spoken in the context of cutting out waste that can be better used elsewhere. Religion in some circles of the Right is left to the individual. What you should be wary of is how far the belief will influence decisions.

Members of the Right are glad that Obama is the President of the USA rather than Romney. I am saying this not to state the obvious fact but as an attempt to show that not all of the Right are money thirsty conservatives. They have a middle ground too, if we are willing to conversational and not confrontational.

2. Imran Khan and his politics in Pakistan beyond the usual rhetoric is pro-Taliban, Unfortunately. in difficult times you see the forest for the trees.

3. The story of the South Asian partition is taught for politicians, not for students. Read outside your syllabus and when you are older to understand what really happened. It was interesting to be told that the older generation of Pakistanis, who were directly affected by the partition think of India more fondly as opposed to the younger generation. I always believed it would the other way around.

4. The Waterloo Bridge was built by women during the war. I am proud to walk over it everyday.

5. Some words in English are coming back. Some words we still have trouble using objectively e.g. black, yiddish and cunt.

6. The Taiwanese Health Insurance scheme is good, even for expats.

7. Books – We exchanged the names of books that are good reads. 

Another TEDx talk that I was reminded of during the conversation was ‘choices’. Often it is said and proven by studies (in case you are a hard core positivist) that the less choice you have in something the more easily you accept it as the best choice. We discussed this especially in the context of healthcare. My two student friends were of the opinion that asking for a little payment helps people ‘value’ the service and prevents their misuse. My prospective student self agrees, so long as these amounts are not exorbitant. But this issue is so much more than just paying for a service. This is for a whole other blog! 

After two hours we exchanged contact details, decided we will all meet once again for coffee in January and said our goodbyes.