Three Books Every Girl Must Read Today

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I am quite the helicopter mom. Well, not exactly. The truth is that though I don’t see myself as this, I am regularly branded as one, (the labelling is, no doubt, a product of ill-perceived notions of what I must be because I am quite the general-in-charge of all things domestic, of which parenting is a large, if unenviable, part – but that’s for another post).  At any rate, I am not perturbed by the unwarranted appellation (I pick my battles). Also, this is one of those grey-area objections I am sitting on the fence about, so I let it go.

That, and also the fact that I choose to take the beaten-to-death and frankly a bit idiotic term (yes, I get the metaphor) in exactly the opposite spirit as it is usually intended. I take it as positive, expert guidance and knowledge I bestow upon my kids. And the one area where I do this best is when it comes to their reading. If you read on, you may see why my expert suggestions in the literary space may not be such a bad idea after all, helicoptering or not.

Before I go on, I would like to add that my girls read everything, and not just what I decide. They read anything they can lay their hands on, some of which have been planted by mommy dearest, but some have just been serendipitous discoveries they’ve made on their own. As they say, it’s a win-win

Ok, so now about the books and why I think that every girl must read these today.

The three books I mention below are delightful little creations – ones that teach my girls to stand up for themselves, fight stereotypes and have a sassy, spirited outlook towards life. And let me tell you, if this is what you want to tell your daughters too, there are no better books to teach them that than the ones below

Advice to Little Girls – by Mark Twain

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Written by a young Mark Twain back in 1865, this is the one book you will want to read to your girls.

I fell in love with it the day I read it. Each page is meant to tell little girls that they must think for themselves, be independent and not blindly obey rules. The wit, the language and of course, the extremely delightful advice he gives to little girls is straight out of my heart (really, at one point I believed I was Mark Twain in my previous life and that I wrote it ). It made my heart sing.

Nothing I can say can do justice to the book, so here’s an excerpt. I absolutely love it..

“Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.”.

The illustrations add to the charm of the book. They have been created by an extremely gifted and celebrated Russian-born children’s book illustrator Vladimir Radunsky. See below:

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And here’s another excerpt, which I particularly love (given that I have a brother who, as a child, would tease me no end as I went bawling to my parents – I do wish I had been armed with this book then!)

“If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud — never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.”

If only I knew of the existence of this book when I was growing up. Sigh.

Pippi Longstocking

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You’re probably familiar with the red-haired, freckle-faced Pippi Longstocking – who, quite rightfully, calls herself the strongest girl in the world. The fiercely independent Pippi lives on her own with a horse and a monkey (the horse lives in the porch). She had no parents, and there are no adults, no rules – no supervision and all the freedom to do anything in the world (eating off the floor being a case in point).

In the three Pippi books, the reader sees the protagonist through the eyes of the children who live next door to her. They are, no doubt, fascinated, if a bit horrified, by Pippi’s life, because everything she does seems to be the very opposite of what children, especially girls are “not meant to do” – like standing up to authority, turning the house upside down, even telling lies (you have to know her to understand) – she does as she wishes (tossing eggs in the air and letting them land on her head)  and cares little about how things must be – because that holds no meaning for her – she sleeps with her feet on the pillows (only one example of how she does not blindly accept rules)

Sure, this is the real world and kids can’t possibly live as Pippi does (much to their disappointment), but the point of the book, for me, is not that kids should now go around eating off the floor, or have a pet horse on the porch (we’d have to get a porch first, but that’s quite beside the point) – the point is that girls must learn to question and not just accept what’s been told to them. We don’t like that as parents, because we think of parenting as an oligarchy (your truly included) – but it is not and if you make it such, then you run the risk of raising girls who will take anything asinine thing that is said to them, just because it comes from someone older or some authority. We see a lot of that happening in our society today – women being told how to dress, how to live, how not to think – you name it.

My girls, sometimes much to my own irritation, are little Pippis. I read them the book when they were little – as their eyes shone with wonder – and they squealed with joy at the idea of living a Pippiesque life! (I did have to inject reality from time to time)

If you have a girl, get her this book. She’ll ask you many questions after she reads it, but that’s ok – she’ll learn ask tough questions and you’ll learn to answer them.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

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So, this one is not fiction – as opposed to Pippi. It is also not about giving advice to little girls – this is a book that inspires girls with the stories of 100 great women, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. Each story is only a page (so it makes a great bed-time read) and the illustrations have been done by 60 female artists from all over the world. It is simply terrific.

Each little narrative will teach your child (read this to both your sons and daughters) about what can be accomplished if you try hard and don’t let the world’s ideas about what you can, or should do, get in your way. In the book are stories about women who defied norms and traditions and lived their dreams, often at a cost, but they didn’t dither from their ideals and aspirations (from Amelia Earhart and Serena Williams to Malala Yousafzai and Coco Chanel!). So inspiring are these tales that I looked forward to reading these every night to my girls – because we did this “girl-power” bonding thing as a little ritual and read about all the women the book brought to our world. That’s the thing about books – they can transform the way you think, the things you believe and the dreams you dream..Rebel Girls did that for my little girls.._94926474_malala-1.png

It’s important to teach our children to think, to question and to ask the important questions. I know I am raising Rebel Girls and I mean in the best, most positive possible way – they, I hope, will grow up to be aware, honest and sassy women, who will care for the world they live in, but also not take any dogmatic rules that are thrown at them, simply because they exist as rules and must be, thus, followed blindly.

So, there’s my two (three rather) pence on what you should read to your girls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It Took More Than Two Years For Uber To Fire The Top Executive Who Secured Rape Victim’s Medical Records

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It’s all over the news – Uber has fired Eric Alexander for illegally securing medical records of a woman who had alleged rape by an Uber driver n December 2014. She was raped by, Shiv Kumar Yadav, an Uber driver in Delhi when she was on her way home after a party at night. Yadav, it was later found out, was a serial offender (women in his village knew this well and kept away from him – clearly Uber had not done its homework). After the incident, Alexander, then head of Uber’s Asia Pacific business, along with some other senior executives, had refused to believe the woman’s story and had obtained her medical records to prove that she was part of a conspiracy against Uber.

The story is all too familiar – woman cries rape, man says conspiracy. End of matter. It’s what we see everywhere – either there’s complete apathy to issues of women’s safety, or there’s extreme doubt (somewhere in between there are token actions amid cries of anger and candle light vigils).

Turns out that Alexander had shared the medical records with CEO, Travis Kalanick as well as with Emil Michael, another senior leader. They had come to the unanimous conclusion that Ola, Uber’s nemesis in India, had conspired to bring them down. End of story.

Not quite. It’s come back to bite them, and man am I glad. A law firm in now looking into the matter – as part of a larger, and unrelated to this incident – investigation. In fact, there are lots of other skeletons tumbling out – there’ve been multiple (more than multiple actually) incidents of misbehaviour within Uber and investigations are on. According to online magazine Racode, there have been 215 total incident reports, including sexual harassment, bullying, bias and retaliation.

215 incident reports? And now they wake up? Being made to wake up is more like it – the lawyers are now on them, so there’s little choice in the matter.

Coming back to the Delhi rape, the investigation report says that “Alexander carried around the document for about a year before other executives — presumably the legal department — obtained the report and destroyed his copy, according to the sources.” Wow.

From Donald Trump and Uber to Mahesh Murthy and Mulayam Singh – the thread seems to be similar (I know, quite a motley collection this group would make – and I can think of so many more) – malign the woman, because she is obviously the villain here.

Uber must pay for this big time – and why only the executives who were part of it? Sure, they’ve fired the employees (more than two years later)– but does that absolve the top management of their misconduct? What about Travis Kalanick and Emil Michael? Why must they duck the charges? If they are found to be complicit in this, they too must pay for it. This is a serious offense – to get medical records of a woman who has been raped and then destroy them. This must be a lesson for those who believe that rape is a figment of a woman’s imagination.

 

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Summer And What’s In Store

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Summer is here. The kids are excited – no school, no discipline, unsupervised What’s App messaging, Mine Craft, sleeping late, biking in the park, going to grandma’s house and a potential holiday (I have yet to decide where we are going, and it’s turning out to be another stress point).

Needless to say, I look at it a wee bit differently – life is all about perspective. For me, summer is about power outages (living where we are there’s an electricity crunch in the summer) and long days at work interrupted by phone calls from the children every 15 minutes- where I have to answer urgent questions about which friend is coming over; what are the timelines on swimming; are the violin classes still on (the affirmation of which leads to much talk about life’s unfairness) inquiries about dinner; permissions to eat ice cream, and of course, endless phone calls about who fought with whom and why. No doubt, I will find myself stepping away from my desk to listen sundry requests or sort out the ownership of pens,books, diaries, broken pieces of plastic which acquire sudden, if short-lived, importance – or any such other bone of contention between the girls. So, yes, summer is not quite the same for me, as it is for my kids.

Like I said, life is about perspective.

Is there anything I look forward to, you could ask? Yes, there is – mangoes, which, despite the calories remains the sole bright spark in a long and hot summer. I look forward to the post-dinner indulgence (damn the sugar content) where, after a long day, all I want is to watch mindless TV (Modern Family reruns are my current favourite) and eat my mangoes.  I know, sad, but parenting is about accepting life as it is, and taking pleasures in the basics of life – like being able to watch a film uninterrupted (has not happened in 11 years), or going to the bathroom without someone pounding on your door amid wails of despair (happens more often than I can count) and, eating mangoes without worrying about the inched being added to your waist (till you can’t fit into your jeans and you seriously start to contemplate the no-carb diet).

Anyway, coming  back to the point of summer vacations – I was asked by a friend the other day, on how I intended on keeping the children busy – because, you know, if they are at home and directionless, then that has ripple effects on the parents’ (read moms’) lives. I know that, but somehow I find it hard to pack them off into classes just to keep them busy ( my husband thinks otherwise – he’s more practical, plus if they get me mad, then the ripple reaches him rather quickly, so he’s from the, free-play-is-all-very-well-but-real-life-is-different school of thought)

For me, I know it’s a bit utopian scenario, but I believe that the kids should be allowed the freedom to do anything they want – while getting a bit of work in as well. Like, I still want to believe, that during the summer vacations, the children can divide their days into the work and play without being pushed into a routine (my husband thinks I am dreaming). If they are a little bit organized, they can do both. I know, if wishes were horse..

I’ll probably regret this at some point, but I am going to pass on the classes. I think it’s quite alright if my daughters can’t bake like chefs, act like superstars or write like J.K. Rowling. Besides, these classes cost the moon, so I have ideological objections to throwing bucket fulls of money at the problem.

I am not sure what the summer will bring – I haven’t planned it, so it’s going to be a bit of a wild ride.I know there will be days when I will wonder what I was thinking, but I shall deal with those as they come.

Also, there will always be the mangoes..

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Mother’s Day – How It Turned Out..

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I tend to be cranky (yes, I know, it’s an understatement). I said yesterday that I don’t care much about Mother’s Day – and while that primary ideology remains the same (because I have have ideological issues with it more than anything else) I want to add that getting cards and thoughtful gifts from the kids was, well a bit awww..

They rushed to the mall with the husband – they each knew exactly what they wanted to get me. One of the gifts is shown below (shes’ wearing the other half)

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They made cards, which I always love, because it’s something they do from their heart.
I keep all of them, every little scrap, don’t ask me why, I just do.

Here’s a poem one of my seven-year-old twins wrote:

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As for good behaviour, which was my main ask, well I am not so sure that’s a realistic expectation. Having said that, what I do want is for them to understand that a mother needs peace off and on – and that when she says something eighteen million times, maybe she means it! (eg, go for a bath – without kidding, I say this to each kid six times in a day – multiply that by 3 and all they’ve done is gone for a bath!)

I know, I know, this is not unusual by any means – but it’s tiring nevertheless. I guess motherhood like that -you feel the angst, the frustration and the love, all mixed together and bubbling in the same cauldron. That’s what I feel – a mix of many, many emotions – of love, anger and guilt (usually in that order).

Now it’s Sunday evening and many bumps remain till we reach bedtime – they’ve been making cards all weekend, so any guesses where they are on their homework? Yup, there’ll be gnashing of teeth, apologies and promises. Fun times begin (Mother’s Day is all but over).

 

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So, About This Mother’s Day..

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My kids are busy making mother’s day cards. There’s a surreptitious air to their transparent activities (yes,mommy knows everything – besides they’ve been bent over quilling strips trying to make paper flowers and asking me random questions about my preference in colour of ear rings!) I know, awww..

So, it’s nice, to see them excited. And I am playing my part – looking deliberately obtuse as they make cards under my nose, hiding them with books and sundry things while getting taken in by my apparent aloofness (no doubt I will have to express amazement tomorrow on how I had absolutely no idea they were up to this).
But, that’s really about it. I don’t much believe in mother’s day. I think it’s being thrust upon us – it’s a bit like what De Beers did with diamonds – made it synonymous with love and weddings. I don’t buy it.

So, a few days ago, I told my kids that I didn’t want any gifts, I wanted good behaviour and obedience. They seemed crestfallen – much easier to make cards and go to the mall with dad (and way more fun too). Now I had gone and ruined it, and asked for what clearly could not be bought and was no fun, to put it mildly. Plus, my demand seemed unfair – because for that we’d need a Mother’s Year, since it would extend beyond Sunday. For them, mother’s day is about gifts and cards which tell mommy how much she is loved and appreciated. It’s not, however, about a behavioral change, which falls clearly in the, now-that’s-asking-for-a-bit-much domain.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt about the fact that my kids love me. My objection is about telling the kids world over that’s here’s a day you must make special for your mom and tell her you love her. What’s wrong with that, you could ask? Read on..

First, why a day? Who decided this? Why not a week, a month, a year? Also, to me the whole idea is a bit skewed – because a mom does not need a day, even if we were to assume that’s really going to make her feel loved – she needs to be understood and helped along the way – everyday! Lovely as it is, she does not need special treatment one day and return to being monster mom the next. She has her birthday for that.

Second, it leads to pressure on children – to find ways of expressing love on a particular preset day – it’s clinical if you ask me. And forced. Like this weekend, there’s a lot of homework and this is adding to it. So guess what’s going to happen on Sunday night, when the reality of Monday morning will be looming large on the household? Mommy will have to step in to firefight! (counterproductive Mother’s day if you ask me!)

So, here’s what I really want.

I want cards from my kids (I save all of them – even scraps they write sorry on). But I want them on days when I least expect them – when I am feeling the strains of life, when I am feeling overwhelmed with all that I need to do, when I am missing my dad I lost recently, when I am feeling premenstrual, when I want to sit and cry – for reasons I cannot fathom, when I want to turn back time and take that job I refused, when I wake up and want to go back to sleep again..those are the times when a card will cheer me up and make me feel loved.

Tomorrow I expect the cards and the show of love – but I need those for rainy days.

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Message In A Bottle That No One Gets – Because It’s A Bit OTT!

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If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, goes a popular saying.

It’s a pretty basic rule that I think most brands should really pay more heed to. But they don’t. Rather, they feel this need to better something that’s going well, or worse, make it deliver a social message. And then it backfires.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am talking about the new Dove campaign, which, hold your breath, is about “celebrating the many shapes and sizes of beauty”. And how do they achieve this noble aim? By releasing “six differently shaped bottles of body wash”. That’s right. It’s a part of its new “Real Beauty” campaign. Read on, it gets better.

The new ad declares that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes”. The idea being that each shape sort-of correlates with a different body types. Needless to add there are all kinds of shapes shown to us – yup from the hourglass bottle and skinny one to the pear-shaped ones.

Not sure what Dove was thinking. That women are going to now go around buying bottles based on their shapes, by virtue of which they demonstrate to the world that they are proud of their bodies? Well, something like that, maybe. Except, that what sometimes sounds like a great idea in a power point presentation, does not really sound so great when the plan hits the ground!

It’s a classic case of a brand taking itself too seriously  – it’s ok Dove – you don’t have to send any feel-good messages – we women are doing quite alright – really, just sell your body wash. When I buy soap I want to know what it’s made of, at best, not what shape it is and the warm and fuzzy message it’s trying to give me.

Yes, they went too far with the whole celebrate-your-body-type thing. Quitting at the top is not something brands get right often. It was a good campaign – but now it reminds me of assorted bottles sitting awkwardly next to each other, trying to tell me something about my body that is totally lost on me.

Twitter was on fire and Dove’s UK Branch got the brunt of it (yup, their bright idea)

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So, the question to ask is? Why do brands, time and again, fall for it? For the need to appear sensitive and push social messages down people’s throats through their brands that is?

Maybe someone at Dove can explain.

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Nike’s Pro-Hijab Campaign Is A Good Thing

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No matter what your views are on the Hijab, you should see Nike’s ‘What Will They Say About You’ campaign. Reserve your judgement about the fact that this is a woman in a Hijab – because there are two, diverse schools of thought about women wearing Hijabs – and no matter what side you are on, there is one thing to appreciate here and that is the fact that  a brand has taken a clear stand on an issue which concerns women and minorities (in a post-trump, post-Brexit, right-swinging world, I think it’s a positive step). Sure, it’s a great marketing idea, but my point is – if it’s a great marketing idea and is also a great one for women and minorities, then why the hue and cry? (there’s been a sort-of backlash on social media, but that’s hardly surprising.) In today’s world of, you-can’t-wear-hijabs-on-our-beaches, I think it’s a bold, positive step.

The fact is that there are brands that indulge in serious gender stereotyping and do that whole pink-blue thing till they go blue in the face, which is revolting, if regressive. Not to mention ads like the ones Gap released last year, which tell little girls how to dress like a “social butterfly” and little boys like the “little scholar” (ugh).

So, contrast that with a brand that’s taking a stand, a very visual, pro-women (Muslim women at that) stand in today’s xenophobic environment. Not sure what the problem with that is. Yes, there’s the argument that this reinforces stereotypes and the whole, should-women-wear-hijabs thing. But that’s not a straightforward issue – are some women forced to wear Hijabs? Do some wear it out of choice? Do such Hijabs encourage more women to get into sports? Like I said, it’s not a simple argument.

Not sure what you think, but comments, on both sides, are welcome. Just keep it civil.

 

 

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