Sunday, April 30, 2017

Banished for Bleeding

This post is inspired by a BBC video, with the same title, posted on FaceBook by a former colleague and friend. The writer is blogging after an absence of a year and the last two posts were on cricket. So this is also an effort to deal with a socially relevant issue.

In India, it is estimated that school girls lose two months of the school annually due to their monthly menses. In parts of Nepal, where this custom has been illegalized since 2005, girls and women are still banished to a cattle shed during menses. Even in the educated urban environment women are shunned for five days during menses as untouchable. They are also excluded from all religious activities and visit to temples. Tied to the ideas of a woman's 'virtue' and 'purity', some religious cultures consider menstruation (a reproductive health element) religiously impure and ceremonially unclean.

The medical definition of menses is the flow of blood that comes from a woman's body each month. Menstruation is caused when the ovaries start to produce female hormones in girls around puberty which cause changes in the lining of the uterus. Every month, during the Period, the lining of the womb is shed, together with some blood. The time between the start of one period and the start of the next is known as the menstrual cycle. The bleeding May last from 2 to 7.days. Menopause, when the menstrual cycle ends, occurs usually between the ages of 45 and 55. So this is all a natural biological function within the female body.

For those who adhere to "natural methods of birth control", the menstrual cycle can be used to achieve pregnancy during periods identified as fertile or to avoid pregnancy during fertile days. Of course, this natural method of birth control which employs unprotected sex, is not as reliable as more modern methods such as IUD, pill or condom.

The point being made here is that it is high time that we, men and women, discard the stigma of menses and consider it as natural a phenomenon as child-birth. The term menses was first used in 1597; let us step out of the 16th century! In fact, in ancient England, the start of a girl's menstruation was called rather glowingly "flowering" and a flowered girl was ready for marriage. Of course we don't want to go that far and condone child marriage.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Howzat!

The IPL regular season ended yesterday. The 4 teams who made it to the playoffs start their matches tomorrow, with the finals on the 29th: Gujarat, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkota. Mumbai, 'my team' and the defending champion, ended their season 5th.

Below are the verses I have been writing for the past 6 weeks (the two 3-line verses are attempts at Japanese haiku):

Howzat!

The floodlights shine bright
Players huddle and take the field
The opening batsmen saunter to the wickets
Game time in Hyderabad!

Sharma, Buttler, Guptill, McClenaghan
Pollard and Rayudu
Ready with their willow woods
Squint at the bowlers

Experienced Nehra, young Rahman and Kumar
Flaunt their wiles with the cork
It was to be Hyderabad’s day
As Warner demolished the MI bowlers

Cool Wednesday morning two days later
MI to take on RCB
The vaunted scoring of Kohli
The sporadic brilliance of Gayle

MI batsmen have to step up today
Not rely on Bhajji to top-score!
The record of 1-3 needs a’ changin’
Or else ‘Tis going to be a mighty bore

MI beat RCB last night
T'was bliss to see Kohli and de Villiers
Out in the same over
Watch out Delhi, it will be Sad Saturday

Lions felt Sun's heat
Devils will dare nought tomorrow
Pune vs RCB, who cares... (Today) 

No cricket today
Family celebration dinner
Awaiting tomorrow's match
MI, MI, MI...
Must try and stay awake
To savour the victory

Seems RCB won last night
Planned to skip parties for MI 
Relieved match is at Four

Despite Captain Rohit’s heroics
Delhi won by 10 runs
Now eight more matches
For MI to come out with blazing guns

Slept through MI's win last night
Old age creeping up perchance
It was not much of a fight
Thursday, KKR will feel MI's lance

Watching Thu match with friends
And libations of course
Glad not to be alone or too sleepy
To savour MI's winning bourse

    Will be watching Thu match alone after all
    Being the sole cricfan in these woods
    Ah well, so be it
    Just so long as MI brings home the goods

     MI did win and jump to 3rd place
     Alas, Delhi and Hyderabad won yesterday too
     So it's Gujarat, DD, KKR 'n Hyderabad in top four
     MI will need to claw its way up tonight

    Cool Cap Dhoni's Pune team
    Will be taken by MI
    Must keep alive the dream
    Will be watching with a cousin/friend tonight

      Pune was taken and MI vaulted to #2
      Then Kolkota won last night and MI now #3
       It's a roulette between these two, Gujarat and Delhi 
       Latter two play tonight and Gujarat must win
       Or else beloved MI will be #4! 

IPL saga unfolds yet
#1 Gujarat slaughtered by Delhi last night
Now MI is #4
Their next match on Sunday shall be a fight. 

Kolkota beat Punjab last night 
And tops Standings now
Followed by Gujarat and Delhi
While to #4 MI takes a bow

DD plays Pune tonight
Negative rooting again
For Pune to win the fight. (.... Sorry, Deepak) 
Maybe #3 spot will then be MI's to gain

Mi resting till Sunday 
When Hyderabad will prove litmus test 
Meanwhile hoping other 3 teams in top four
Keep losing, encouraging MI to perform best.

Dozed off of course
But woke up to see the end
When Pune beat Delhi 
Driving some folks around the bend! 

Four crucial games remain
Mumbai 5th with Delhi just ahead
Revived Bangalore/Virat catching up
We must gather to watch more games!

For MI's sake, got to keep DD at bay
May de Kock be blinded by the Rising Sun
Let Warner do his batting voodoo 
And let Zaheer's Devils fall under the gun. 

‘Twas a dismal night
MI bundled out for 124 runs
Watch out Daredevils and Lions
As MI performs its usual last-stand heroics

It was a Sad Sunday
As Kolkota and Bangalore
Secured their playoff births
The four qualifiers now decided
With MI only fifth

Shall await the next season
To see MI victorious again! 
_________________________________________________________

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cricket Fever

IPL, Indian Premier League, is a bit of a misnomer. The eight teams in the league have top players from all over the world battling side by side with the Indian players - they come from Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies to play in the most lucrative cricket league in the world. The format is the shortest form of the game, T20 i.e. 20 overs or 120 balls per side. These 240 balls still take 3+ hours to be bowled; but this certainly is shorter than the One Day Internationals (ODIs) and Test Matches, which last six hours and up to five days respectively.

Most folks, especially those in countries where the game is not popular, think of cricket as 22 men in white trousers, shirts and even half-sleeved sweaters, playing leisurely, even breaking for tea. A "gentleman's sport" is its traditional label. These are Test Matches. I have never watched a full one and do not intend to, so I shall not elaborate more on these here. Some hard-core cricket pundits consider these as 'real cricket' and shrug off the shorter forms of the game as aberrations. I don't even watch the ODIs unless it is the World Cup. The T20s fit my persona best.

If you expect to see men in sedate white knocking around the ball gently, T20 cricket can shock you. The team uniforms are in bright colours, each team has cheerleaders prancing away, and the runs come fast and furious. Some teams sometimes score 200+ runs off the allocated 120 balls; some, on a bad day, don't even cross 100 runs. IPL crowds, in cricket-crazed India, are loud, so loud that the umpires often have to make extra effort to be heard. I have seen bare-chested spectators, male, with their team's colours painted garishly on their bodies. Further, each team is owned privately, mostly by film stars and business tycoons. Watching colorful owners like dimpled Priety Zinta of Kings XI Punjab, Bollywood icon Sharukh Khan of Kolkota Knight Riders, or Mrs. Nita Ambani (Reliance Industries, owned by her husband Mukesh Ambani, the richest industrialist in India) of the Mumbai Indians are almost as much fun as watching the goings-on on the cricket pitch.

Game time, in Nepal, is 8.15 pm daily, except for the weekend double-headers when there is a first match at 4.15 pm. Glued to the television with all required paraphernalia lined-up along side the easy chair, one tries to make a real enjoyable evening out of cricket heroics. Often the games end around mid-night so staying awake, especially while watching the match alone, can prove difficult. But there are times when friends drop by. The enjoyment is greater with the ambiance and libations, even though few of them know the intricacies of cricket.

Nepal, never colonized by Britain or anyone else, is a latecomer to cricket. Even at school, football, basketball, volleyball, field hockey, and even softball, took precedence over the occasional cricket outing. But in recent times, cricket in Nepal has advanced to such an extent that the national team brings home more laurels than the national football team. Still our generation is not very familiar with the game, which has a language of its own. I had the fortune to be based in India and Pakistan for eight years during my UN days. In the 1990s, before the advent of cable, there wasn't much else to watch sports-wise on  TV than cricket. While in India, I watched Pakistan win the World Cup; the team was captained by Imran Khan, now a prominent politician. Four years later, while in Pakistan, I watched Sri Lanka lift the World Cup. It felt good to be a South Asian.

To my American friends, cricket is somewhat like your baseball. A home run is when the batter hits the ball outside the field boundary, getting 6 runs. The ball reaching the field boundary gets 4 runs. Crisis-crossing each other, since there are two batters at opposite ends of the bowling pitch, after hitting a stroke garners runs totaling the number of crisis-cross. Actually you have to watch a game to figure out what I'm talking about! My friend from New York was here for a couple of weeks; we watched cricket and now he's an expert on the game. I kind of repaid him for all the Mets baseball games he took me to while I was based in NYC.

So anyway, before this post becomes an epic, let me simply share my joy on these IPL evenings and on cheering for my favourite team, Mumbai Indians. No, I'm not receiving a commission from the Ambanis for supporting or writing about their team. I started supporting MI since the IPL began seven years ago. There were two players who inspired me: Sachin Tendulkar, one of the opening batsmen, and Lasith Malinga, a speed bowler. Sachin has since retired. Malinga is out this season with an injury. But I remain a MI fan, through thick and thin. It is the defending IPL champion, but is languishing in 5th place currently. Still four games remain, and it just has to be among the top 4 teams to enter the play-offs. Keeping my fingers crossed.

(To keep abreast of the current IPL season, please visit ESPNCricinfo.com)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

About Non-Resident Nepalis (NRNs)

[This piece is based on a recent interview of Dr. Sesh Ghale, President, Non-Resident Nepalis Association (NRNA) on Sagarmatha Television by prominent telejournalist, Mr. Jibram Bhandari.]

It was inspiring to listen to Dr. Ghale's quiet succinct answers to the probing questions posed by Jibramji. Dr. Ghale, one of the ten richest men in Australia, a Russia-trained engineer who started his working life in the Nepali government's Road Department, is in the process of building a 5-star hotel in Kathmandu. He stated frankly that most investors would have cut their losses and left after last year's earthquake, the Madhesi/India blockade and the general lack of investment incentives from the government. But he wants to give back something to his motherland, so he continued.

Excluding those in India, there are more than 4 million Nepalis working abroad, in Malaysia and the Middle East (Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, etc.). NRNA's membership is only 50,000 and efforts are being made to increase this. It was apparent that there are NRN associations in various countries who shy away from placing themselves under the NRNA umbrella. The remittance sent home by the workers in Malaysia and the Middle East account for 50% of Nepal's GDP. The government has yet to take the lead in assisting these workers, mostly menial labourers and security guards, with issues such as insurance and training. Dr. Ghale emphasized that this is the government's responsibility, not NRNA's. Far too many instances exist where there is a confrontational relationship between workers and the Nepali Embassies in their country of work.

To the question regarding what is the main bottle-neck to foreign/NRN investment, Dr. Ghale categorically said that a major disincentive is the bureaucracy. To another question asking his opinion on a common view that NRNs spend their productive years abroad and come home "to die" so why should they get any benefits, the answer was interesting. The vast majority of NRNs who retire here are quite well off and do not seek any local benefits. On the contrary, they can contribute expertise and even finances towards development. So any hostility towards them is quite misplaced.

Another issue covered was the young retirement age of civil/government servants in Nepal. In
Australia, it seems they work even up to 70 years of age as long as they are able and can contribute.

As regards post-earthquake rebuilding efforts, NRNA has allocated Rupees 4,20,00000/- (USD approx. 400,000) towards the construction of 1,000 houses in Laprak, near the epicenter of the quake, to make it a model village.

The issue of dual citizenship for NRNs was only briefly touched upon. If I heard correctly, NRNA is not pushing for this at this time. Nepal does not yet allow dual citizenship. A child usually takes on the citizenship of the father, whether Nepali or expatriate. This has forced many single women, whose foreign husband/partner have left them, to raise children without citizenship. On the other hand, I understand dual citizenship would create a flood of new citizens along the southern border with Nepali/Indian nationalities - a political quagmire. I wish the dual citizenship issue was dealt with more thoroughly in the interview.

On the whole I laud both interviewee and interviewer for an informative as well as inspirational, given Dr. Ghale's life story, interview.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Little Angel

I thought I'd feel older when I became a grandfather. I could not have been more off the mark. My granddaughter was pretty much a stranger to me during the initial months, as breastfeeding and nappy changing are not my forte'.  But now that she is almost two, I can only describe her and our relationship as - Bliss! She epitomizes what family bonds mean. Her innocence is something to admire, having lost mine in so many ways. Her speech is pure and sweet as the nightingale's. Watching her toddle around is to marvel at the innate balance we have. Let me now restrain myself before I break out into poetry. I do wish I could kick a ball around with her, but her interest in football has not emerged yet. I do dream of a time when she can play for the Nepali or the US national women's team, presuming she will have dual nationality by then. The other sport I can play, tennis, will have to wait maybe two more years before I can take her out to the courts. This time, I will dispose her in the hands of a professional coach; I tried teaching my daughter, her mother, with unexpected results! Perhaps some day she will play tennis with the grace of a Sharapova, minus the grunts, the power of a Serena and the internal strength of a Hingis.

Wishing her Good Morning makes my day. She comes with me to blow out the candle I have burning most of the time, a personal oddity. I help her blow out the flame and then she's good to go for the day, meeting uncles and aunts next-doors and frolicking in the garden. Her outdoorsyness more than balances my generally reclusive indoor life. After her oil massage and bath she comes in her dress, already chosen by herself, with a black mascara 'Tika' on her forehead. The Tika looks good, though its main purpose as per local urban legend is to ward off the 'evil eye'. I can hear her talking and shouting, very rarely crying, through the day as she keeps the house lively while I lead my quiet retired life.

I was with her, in the third floor of the house, on that fateful day last year when the earthquake visited. Huddled together with her nanny, she screaming all the while, we rode out the shaking and the humming until it was safe to run down the stairs. It was a blessing that she bore no trauma, maybe because she was only ten months old and too young.

My mention above of "family bond" is not light. A premature retirement from the UN meant returning home; I had never given a thought to retiring anywhere else though there were choices. The extended family and old friends drew me, without hesitation, to Nepal. Eight years later, despite disappointments when one idealizes too much, I have no regrets. My daughter and son-in-law joining us three years ago, to pursue their career interests here, was simply icing on the cake. The nuclear family, if one can call it that, is complete - the little angel at its head, not me. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

One Year After...contd.

So tomorrow, in the Nepali calendar, and the day after, in the western calendar, is the first anniversary of the "Great Earthquake" of 2015. A quiet sunny Saturday morning brings back memories of that fateful Saurday last year when the quake, which we knew was expected, finally arrived.

Aftershocks still continue though few are near enough to be felt in Kathmandu. Reconstruction of ruined houses continue, for those who can afford it. The rest still huddle in makeshift shelters waiting and hoping for help from the ineffective government. Around 8,700 people lost their lives. Besides loss of lives and property, the survivors have to deal with the more complicated less discernible effects - from the trauma caused by the quake. An expatriate friend returned to his country with his Nepali family due to the trauma retained by his small daughter. Another young boy I know, very independent and free, insisted on sleeping daily with his mother after the quake. I, myself, have pushed the memory of that deadly minute to the depths of my mind; it is quite unnerving to relive. I was lucky that my granddaughter was only 10 months old and too young to have any after-effects. For those who can remember, every loud noise and every ordinary shake of furniture make the spine tingle and the limbs ready to flee.

Mental health services, never strong in Nepal, did try and offer the maximum psychosocial counseling possible in the wake of the quake. I doubt that it made much of a dent. Psychosocial workers were trained, I gather, and sent to offer services to the neediest. I think they were too few and not all of the training were of the required standard. I can but imagine the trauma-stricken children and adults who still walk around with its after-effects - those who suffer the after-shocks in their minds.

The government National Reconstruction Authority was formed belatedly after much political quibbling and remains still a white elephant. If the newspapers are to be believed, the process of assisting the neediest has commenced. Getting about USD 2,000 to those who lost their houses has proven to be a Herculean task. Apparently the residents of the village of Barpak in Gorkha, the epicenter of the quake, have started rebuilding with what little resources they have. As for the 4.1 billion US dollars pledged by the international community post-earthquake, well, I only wish an objective audit would be carried out to see how many of our leaders would have mud on their faces.

Meanwhile, as per the US Geological Survey's probability analysis done last June, there is still an 80% chance of a 5-6M aftershock until 24 June 2016. There is a 1:200 chance of a quake/aftershock stronger than the original 7.9M; let's not even think about that! 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cricket Anyone?



The T20 World Cup is just over followed almost immediately by the Indian Premier League. The West Indies took the World Cup in swashbuckling fashion. Now the eight IPL teams are settling in into their long season, 9 April - 29 May. Though it is an Indian league, it attracts the top players from all over the Test cricket countries and more. The daily matches begin here at 8.15 p.m. And the next three hours are lost in the glorious haze of the battle royale between two teams, focused on a pitch 22 yards long and 10 feet wide.

Eyes focus on the two batsmen across 22 yards of the bowling pitch, the opposing bowler who is essentially out to get the scalps of those batsmen, and a green oval field speckled by ten others of the bowling team. The crowd, especially in cricket-crazed India, gets so loud that the umpires' verdicts are often drowned out by their noise.

Batsmen the likes of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, David Warner (impossible to include all the stars) walk jauntily to the wickets crease and try and psych out the bowler with their boundaries (4 runs) or sixers. The big hitters hardly go for 1 or 2 runs: they have only 20 overs and they are confident of their hitting prowess. The bowlers, in turn, are the duelists against the batters. The seamers, fast ballers, try and intimidate the batsmen with their speed, often reaching 140+ km.\hr. Their bouncers justify why the batsmen wear helmets similar to that in American football. The spinners, who usually get more wickets (outs) than the seamers are a tricky lot. They make their balls twirl and change directions like magicians. The West Indians, Narine and Badree, are master slow ballers. For me, no fast baller can compare with the panache of the Sri Lankan Malinga, though there are others like the South African Steyn and some Australians who in recent times may have better records.

I root for the Mumbai Indians and not because they are the defending IPL champions. I have been rooting for MI since the IPL began around seven years ago, because Malinga bowled for them and the great Sachin Tendulkar opened their batting. Sachin has retired and Malinga is missing this IPL season with injury; but I stay loyal to MI. They still have batsmen the caliber of Simmons and Rohit Sharma and bowlers led by the veteran 'Bhaji' Singh who can swing a mean bat too.

Interesting how cricket has become internationalized over the years. It was invented in 17th century England and was limited initially to the royal courts. When the sun never set on the British Empire, the game caught hold in the colonies. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa all took up the game with a vengeance. I think it is certainly the most popular game now in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, if not the others. Having lived and worked in India and Pakistan, I caught the cricket fever because in those days, the 1990s, there wasn't much else to watch on TV by way of sports. Viewed Pakistan, with its Captain now turned politician Imran Khan, win the World Cup against England in India. Viewed Sri Lanka, while based in Pakistan, hoist the World Cup at the next World Cup. Cricket is now opening up and a second tier of countries play to qualify for the World Cup; Afhanistan, Netherlands, Scotland, UAE, USA, Zimbabwe - and Nepal too - participate in tournaments to get a chance to play the Big Boys. Afghanistan and Bangladesh had qualified to play in the recent T20 World Cup; the former beat West Indies in the round-robin and the latter lost to India by a single run.

Test cricket, with all players in white and breaking for tea, though still played has given way to One Day Internationals and T20. A test match can last up to five days; in ODIs each team gets to bat 50 overs (300 balls) and usually lasts around six hours; while T20s have 20 overs (120 balls) for each team and lasts, thankfully, about three hours. I have enough patience only to watch T20 Matches and, only when it's the World Cup, ODIs.

Well, it's almost time. Mumbai is playing Kolkota. Gotta go root for MI!