Birth happens only after pain

Being reborn after being born

Birth is always painful, whether you’re being born for the first time, or taking birth in different ways despite being born and alive. Complex, huh? Let me explain.

I was participating in a conference at Wilton Park, West Sussex, United Kingdom, a few weeks ago. At the end of what had been a day of very serious and meaningful discussions, I was invited to have a fireside chat with their Acting Chief Executive, Miles Wickstead CBE. The setting was perfect; the opportunity was great; I was given uninterrupted time to speak about my passion for writing on health and anything else which would be relevant. What could have been a better setting than that and what better opportunity to get oneself heard? And yet, I held back. It was painful to go back in time and dredge up memories that I had buried with difficulty.

My birth as a writer has come out of enormous pain, and I found myself blocking out half my story on that night because I did not have the courage to revisit a time of my life which was so full of pain. But I want to talk about it now, even if only to tell people not to be scared of pain because it always leads to new birth.

That time, those days…

One after the other, with only a few years in between, my husband lost his father and I lost mine; our daughter lost both her grandfathers who had doted on her. In the years between, my husband and I faced bankruptcy. And we were struggling to find our feet; the load was completely on me to hold up a husband reeling from the shock of being unable to support his family; our daughter was struggling to cope with death, and grief at her own little familiar world – including little family dinners and ice-cream visits being snatched away suddenly, for reasons completely incomprehensible to her. And I found myself with the job of holding them both up. I had no skills to speak of – being the wife of a fairly prominent businessman of our city, I had had little to worry about. And had indulged myself in a little writing, a little business venture for ‘time pass’ and a blissful home to attend to.

This story is not about my struggle

When the onerous task of handling the aftermath of all that had happened to us fell to my lot, I realised that the only skill I had, which was worth anything in the market was my ability to write. We had few friends left; I have no complaints or bear no ill will towards them because the world is too full of people who have their own ghosts to face, their own problems to handle, and have no time to give to people whose problems are too big for them to address.

I gathered my somewhat weak and ineffective tools, pasted Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ above my work table, and set out into a world that was unfamiliar and scary. The world of a sole breadwinner.

The seed for change was sown

My friend Shangon and I were having lunch one afternoon because she had decided I needed a little cheering up. Quite casually, she suggested that she was going on a field trip (she was running a successful development communications agency) to post-quake Gujarat and would I like to go with her? She was gently persuasive. It was to the Rann of Kutch she was going; it was on the bucket list of so many and I would benefit from it.

I took leave of absence from my then boss who agreed with ill-concealed disapproval; I had just taken a lot of leave post Dad’s death he reminded me. But something was urging me not to care and go with Shangon. We set off, criss-crossing Kutch District for 10 days. We ate at dhabas; we slept in the same little lodges that truck-drivers also took rooms in; we ate lunches in the desert and got chastised for washing our plates with water because water was such a precious commodity. People there cleaned their plates with sand!! We even drove a jeep in the desert and in those 10 days, I began to forget that I would have to return to my challenging world where my troubles had not even begun to be sorted out. In those 10 days, I slowly began to get the courage to face the long struggle ahead. I did not know then that it was to last for 14 years and more.

My rebirth

On the last leg of our trip, where we had also seen a lot of sadness and despair and devastation, we reached a little hamlet inhabited by shepherds on the border between India and Pakistan. The border was invisible, because the hamlet had been discovered quite by chance during the post-quake rehabilitation period. In the 50 or so houses that made up the hamlet, people spoke of their relatives who lived ‘across the creek’ (they didn’t know we were two countries), and went across regularly to see their relatives who lived there, barely realising they were visiting a ‘foreign country’.

In terms of facilities, they had nothing and I realised the meaning of nothing when I saw them. They did not have a source of income; they knew nothing of health facilities; they had no access to food as we know it and lived off the land around them; they did not even have an identity or citizenship.The children did not go to school; there wasn’t any for miles around. They went to the madrasa because the hamlet was completely populated by Muslims. Post the quake they had been told by some NGOs that they were Indians and had been taught the national anthem, which they sang to the same tune that they recited the Quran in!

And yet, the hamlet was another name for tranquility. The women smiled; the children glowed; they looked healthy and the men were not too worried about how to provide for their families. We spent hours chatting with them and seeing the exquisite embroidery that the women did, thread for which they spun and dyed. Each woman began embroidering her daughter’s wedding trousseau the day she was born. They did not bathe everyday because they did not have water to bathe. They took us to their drinking water source – a wide crack in a boulder which had some brackish water deep down, which had to be drawn with a little tin can.

I looked at myself then. What did my condition, which I’ve already described above look like? Who was more miserable? Who was richer? I realised the former was I and the latter was this little community. I was miserable because I had known the ‘good life’ and was missing it; they were richer because they were so complete in that they had, which in my eyes, looked like precious nothing.

As time went by and I visited more communities, saw more of the same thing, I realised that their contentment was possibly another name for resignation and surrender. One adjusted to what one could not help. But I began to get angry – for them and for myself; my anger for them was greater. And I began to spew out my anger in the form of words. I wrote and wrote and wrote…My anger has all but gone away now because I know there is little I can change. My indignation and sense of outrage however, still comes into play whenever I see something that allows for people to be forgotten or deprived of things they need, like they have been. It flows over when I see obscene amounts of cash on display in the houses of politicians and I wonder how it could have helped that little hamlet, or more like those.

In time I also understood they did not want development as we wanted it for them. They did not want to be uprooted and brought into a world they did not understand. They would be happy if they had quality of life in their own world. And I agree with them and understand it is our duty to enable that world for them. When we went bankrupt, I did not want a new world; I wanted a world, the same world I had been used to and I was desperate to get it back. It caused me pain; it caused me hurt and I have not even got it back in quite the way I wanted it but I’ve persevered and have done my best. I’m happy today, as happy as I can ever be because on that day I was reborn after the long, painful process of rebirth. I have that little community to thank for showing me the mirror and for showing me what it takes to be happy. I also have Shangon to thank for being with me in this journey of rebirth.

So go on! If you’re experiencing pain, as we all do very often, know that you’re being reborn.

Bharathi Ghanashyam





We’re Indians – we know about a thing or two about sex and don’t tell us otherwise!

I’ve been reading endlessly about atrocities that are committed in the name of culture in India today, and have been watching some ridiculous debates on Indian culture on television and they’ve descended to the level of comedy and ludicrousness. Day after day, we have the so-called moral custodians of our society take charge and mouth puerile arguments on Indian culture on our behalf. I’m probably going to be trolled endlessly on social media for this post, but I have to say it! I am a very ordinary citizen of this country and I say Enough is Enough!

We live today in the hypocritical world of Article 377, moral policing, ban on certain kinds of clothing (only for women), and cruelty in the form of vigil on courting couples in parks. We are scared of the culture vultures who profess to know everything, but probably prefer to think that storks brought them home, and their parents didn’t indulge in ‘dirty’ sex!

We need to face a few home truths. And we need to face them regardless of how unpalatable they are for those who think Indian culture is about denying that life is about love and relationships.  We also need to face that love is not a sterile and monotonously colourless emotion. Love is all about deriving joy from the loveliest part of being alive – the pleasures of relationships. It begins with the utter joy of touch, feel and warmth and goes on to lasting bonds that keep society healthy and growing.

I cringe every time a transgender is harassed in the name of culture, or a couple in love is hounded for improper behaviour. This is such a deviation from the time when our predecessors had joyously celebrated love and diversity – as is evident from the walls of temples, or on the gopuras above the entrances. A search on Google for ‘erotic temple frescoes in India’ for the purpose of this article, turned up 1000s of images in

Pic Source: Google Images

seconds.This demonstrated with undeniable proof that our ancestors had their priorities sorted out. They were creative; they excelled in the arts, in academics, in spirituality, and just about all areas. But they also revelled in the pleasures of life and living, and even documented them on temple walls, thus giving it religious sanctity!

I refuse to be conned into believing that merely speaking to or calling upon a God as Kunti did when she was a young, unmarried girl resulted in Karna being born. Our epics are replete with stories of virtuous women, truly good women, who chose to cohabit with men other than their husbands in order to beget children. They knew it was required in order to keep their family lines alive. Men from our epics who we hold up as role models, were least apologetic about the fact that they had libidos which functioned normally.

But what do we do? We deny all that glory we should be celebrating; we shut our sensibilities to these realities and live in denial; we shroud these realities in stifling cloaks of culture and morality and judge people on impossible yardsticks.

Am I advocating that India suddenly becomes a permissive society? Am I advocating that all of India forgets that some of the most spiritually uplifting scriptures and philosophies have originated here? NO! I am demanding that we do not misunderstand our ancestors and misinterpret their messages, which were of acceptance and tolerance, and not of misplaced ideas of morality. I’m suggesting that we stay rational, and just and accepting. I’m strongly suggesting that every transgender, every gay person and every other person who is accused of being deviant has many things in common with those considered ‘normal’.

We all have beating hearts, and other vital organs that keep us alive. We are bound by these commonalities that cannot be wished away. We all feel pain, both physical and mental and this is the only thing that must be considered. Everything else is immaterial. Respect is the only emotion that is relevant. It’s time we understood this and lived it! Go on you trolls, come and get me! I’m waiting!

Bharathi Ghanashyam


I met you little brother, only after you had gone away

I was running late for a meeting, when I suddenly met you little brother,

I couldn’t reach out and touch you

I couldn’t see you grin, showing that much-loved crooked tooth of yours

But I still met you.

I was running late for a meeting, when I met you little brother

I was hurriedly rummaging in my drawer for a hair clip I knew I had in there

I didn’t find the clip, but I found you

As my palm closed around a well-worn leather wallet.

Even before I took it out, I somehow knew it was yours

I remember someone thrusting it into my hands

As they readied you for your final journey

The memories come rushing back now

I remember coming home and putting away the little wallet

In the farthest corner of the drawer

So I wouldn’t find it easily because I didn’t want to.

And on a day, when I was rushing to keep an appointment

You held me back

As if to say, look at me

Look inside me; I’ll show you sides of me which I bet you didn’t know existed.

With trembling fingers, I opened the wallet

You kept your word; I did see you as never before

I saw you in the little bits and pieces of paper inside

Random notes from Mum and Dad to you

Couldn’t bear to throw them away could you?

Dad’s business card – why did you keep that so hidden and so safe?

Why didn’t you ever tell him you were so proud of him?

A preachy note I had written to you on the choices life gives to us

I thought I had written rubbish, but you kept it

What did it mean to you?

I saw photos, all tattered and falling apart

Telling me how often you must have held them, looked at them and put them away.

You always came across as irreverent

Disapproving of display of emotions and sentiments.

Did I really know you little brother?

Till I met you after you had gone?

I wish I had met you when you were around.

I could have at least ribbed you about the softie you actually were!

Bharathi Ghanashyam


The cubicles that ‘sell’ joy

The place: A small town somewhere in Northern Karnataka

It’s approaching dusk. In a fully covered and shuttered three-wheeler, along with three male outreach workers, I’m headed out to a well-known brothel, situated in the midst of a residential locality. I’m researching a story on the levels of awareness among different sections of society about HIV and its spread, and sex-workers have to perforce feature in the story for obvious reasons.

The vehicle stops about a furlong away from the brothel and one of my escorts sheepishly points to the house telling me I will have to proceed alone. “Ma’am, we are nervous about accompanying you. Things can get unpleasant as we are known here and you are from the media. We will wait here, and come for you if we sense any danger.”

Undaunted, I make my way to the house expecting to hear Bollywood style ‘kotha’ songs, and see deep pink chandeliers in the rooms of the house, not to talk of the fragrance of jasmine and shops selling liquor and paan; what I see is quite different. It’s actually a passage with cubicles lined along the left wall. And the cubicles mean business. They sell sex and are done up for just that. The cubicles have only a cot and nothing else in them. There’s a flimsy curtain across the doorway for privacy. A woman waits on the cot in each cubicle waiting for clients. I peep into one and the woman waves to me. Hastily I step away. My palms are wet with anxiety by now. It’s too late to turn back. The resident bouncer has seen me and has come to fetch me.

He doesn’t ask too many questions and leads me to a decent-sized room at the end of the passage and hands me over to a giant standing at the entrance. Giant gestures to me to leave my footwear outside and step into what turns out to be a huge puja room. In a vacant corner, sits the madam – a woman with saucer eyes, wearing a shapeless gown that covers a middle-aged out-of-shape body. Something in common with me, I’m relieved to find.

I find myself embarrassingly tongue tied. All the questions I’ve prepared seem so trivial. Do your girls insist on the use of condoms? Do they have knowledge about HIV and how it spreads? The puja corner, the matronly appearance of this woman, and her innocent, saucer eyes preclude all such conversation and my questions actually seem prurient now. Instead I ask what she does for a living and she floors me by saying she sells vegetables! I inch forward and ask who the girls I saw outside are. “Oh! I give them shelter and look after them,” she says blithely. I persist, “Do they know of HIV?” “Yes,” says saucer-eyes easily. “Do they insist on the use of condoms?” I am emboldened by now.  “We know about condoms,” she hedges. She looks at giant standing by the window. He inches closer to the door.

I hear male voices from the next room. Giant gestures to me to leave. I try not to rush outside, but the adrenaline flow that is suddenly active in my system urges me to flee, leaving footwear behind. On my way out, I’m unable to resist a quick look into the room from which I hear voices. I see several (at least 10) girls standing in a semi-circle, and several men leering at them, sizing them up, trying to decide who is their prey for the night. Condoms? The thought, the word, and the need seems very far from this room which emanates the stench of raw lust.

Hastily exiting, I try to catch a last glimpse at the girl who smiled at me from one of the cubicles. The curtain is drawn across the doorway now, and I hear tell-tale grunts from within. Condoms? They seem out of place here.

Saucer eyes and giant stand at the gate and ensure I’ve really gone away. I want to go to my hotel and have a shower. To wash off the stench of lust which seems to stick to me. I tell my story which goes on to win an award but the story of the cubicles of joy gets only a paragraph. I can’t seem to be able to tell the story – till today, when the GR Initiative tells me it’s a story worth telling, at least for the sake of the girls who were being assessed like cattle before being ‘taken’.

Bharathi Ghanashyam

Image courtesy:

Four walls and a story

Place: A small town in Northern Karnataka, India

Right in the midst of a bustling marketplace in a small town in Northern Karnataka, above a rice shop, is a one-room dwelling. Uneven steps, set in a narrow, dark stairway lead up to it.  The door is open and the sound of happy chatter is audible even at the street level downstairs.

Going into the apartment is to enter a world of colour and femininity – bangles, vermilion, sarees, trinkets, make-up and handbags are scattered all over and yet, there are no women in there. I see a man who walked in a little while before me fondly caressing a pair of anklets, already all dressed up as a woman, a colourful saree draped over his trousers, and lipstick slathered over his lips. There is a look of happy contentment on his face. He looks coyly at his friends, all of who are similarly transforming themselves. They giggle back at him and all is well with everybody except me!

I’m kind of overwhelmed at what’s happening around me. Till I’m told that the place we have come into is called a drop-in-centre. It’s a non-threatening space where people, in this instance, sexual minorities, i.e. gays, transgender people, men who have sex with men (MSM), bi-sexuals and lesbians can come and spend time without pretending to be what they are not, where they can give expression to their inner desires .

Within four safe walls.

Over the next week or so, where I spend entire days with them, I make several friends. There’s the man who wants to be a woman but is married to a woman and has two children. He confesses to having to watch titillating films before he can cohabit with his wife. He shares how difficult it is to stay married to a woman when he actually wants a male partner. He also feels sorry that his wife, a good woman, has to put up with a husband who doesn’t want her. Then he gives me his photograph and asks me to find him a mate who looks like a famous Kannada matinee idol he adores!

There’s the young boy of 20-years or so who has four female siblings and whose mother offered intense prayer for a son. He confesses that he often locks himself into his room and wears clothes and make-up that belong to his sisters. “I was found out one day and thrashed,” he says. He can’t wait for the day to get over so he can come to the drop-in-centre and do what his heart says is right for him – become a woman!

I wonder what I would have done, were I in a similar situation. How would I have felt being a man in a woman’s body? Forced to wear women’s attire, act like a woman, be bound by having to be a woman when I actually wanted to walk with a swagger, walk into a men’s pub for a drink or just sit on a bench and indulge in back-slapping chit-chat with my male buddies? Would I feel caged? Of course I would.

How would I feel if I was targeted for becoming what my heart told me to? If I was hounded and tortured? Simply because I was different?

Bharathi Ghanashyam



Pic: Bharathi Ghanashyam. Taken with permission on a platform in Vienna Rail Station

A slice of life – unimagined!

I finally reached Arandonk…

I had very precise instructions from my friend Roeland Scholtalbers of the Insititute of Tropical Medicine (where I was spending three weeks learning how to write better on public health) on how to reach Arendonk, a picturesque town which lies at a distance of about 50 kms from the centre of Antwerp city, just 3 kms away from the border between Belgium and Holland.  He had sent me a map on the day before and taken great care to ensure I would safely find my way to a truck which would take me to Arendonk from a village outside Antwerp.            unnamed-bus-routes


I had to take a tram, a bus and walk a bit to a predetermined landmark – all in the pre-dawn darkness of a winter morning. Is it a gender thing? I missed every tram, every bus and got off at the wrong stop. It was freezing; the person who was supposed to meet me knew no English and I didn’t know what to say to him even if I called. After a long wait at the wrong stop, I knew I had to wake up a few people who could help me. I called my organisers who called the driver and then, after a long wait when I didn’t know whether I was headed to Arendonk or Timbuktoo, I spotted the truck parked on the other side of the highway. The driver had found me! I dashed across, scarcely mindful of the almost incessant movement of traffic on the dark highway and saw the driver with his hand clamped over his mouth in horror! I had apparently missed being run over! Being run over would have probably been easier than climbing into the truck – actually it was a mini-house on wheels and I had to use a portable ladder to climb in!

Finally a good 30 minutes behind schedule, we were on our way to Arendonk, where I was going to see refugees who were housed in a camp there. These were people who were fleeing their countries and had come into Belgium via Brussels, seeking asylum.  Meeting them was to realise that my bus, tram, truck and walking effort had actually been a cake-walk. Some of them had travelled thousands of kms from countries as far as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and others, across hostile terrain by foot, hidden themselves in unheated vehicles in freezing temperatures, and suffered unspoken horrors just to reach safer havens. All of them had left families behind and now had only non-working phones with photographs on them to remind them how their mothers, fathers or wives, or children looked.

Arendonk Asylum – on a cold winter’s day in January 2016

The truck in Arendok. Pictures of the refugees are deliberately not used to protect their identiry.

It has not seen any sunshine all day. It’s mid-morning but there are still traces of frost and snow on the campus of the refugee asylum, which can house 650 people. The residents have received their allowance for the week and most of them have gathered in the cafeteria to treat themselves to something special, or just sit around and talk. The room is filled with the strong odour of unwashed bodies. Below the camaraderie, an air of sorrow, anxiety and fear permeates the atmosphere. Each person living here has a tale to narrate; each of them remembers parents, brothers and sisters left behind; and each of them relives again and again, the horrors that forced them to leave home.

Outside, on the grounds the huge truck I travelled by is parked, waiting for them to come and get their chest x-rays done (a bid to determine whether any of them has TB). There is already a queue outside as they have been told in advance that they are due to get the x-ray done. They wait their turn patiently, some of them very ill-equipped for the harsh weather conditions and wear flip-flop slippers or cotton clothing. Most of them are also very young. Many of them are reluctant to speak, but M (20), who has come from Afghanistan recalls, “I was tortured; there are scars on my leg where I was branded. Every day there was pressure on me to become a jihadi. I could not bear it anymore. My uncle told me to run away and save myself. He said he would look after my aged parents and my sisters. I undertook a 2-month journey on foot and by truck through freezing conditions and arrived in Brussels.From there, I was brought here. I get food, a warm bed and a roof over my head. I miss football and cricket.” When he stops speaking, tears spill down his cheeks, telling me that food and a warm bed might not be what he wants at this moment. He might rather want the comforting arms of his wife or mother around him.

Many of them crowd around me because I look like them, despite my dusky ‘Madrasi’ looks. They find out I can speak Hindi, and we’re soon conversing – I speak in my Madrasi accent, mixing up gender with merry abandon as I can never get the logic behind gender and Hindi (in Hindi, table is a man and chair is a woman!!), and they speak to me in their Afghani or Pakistani accents. But we find common ground and are soon bandying recipes, rumours and gossip. They want to know about the three Khans who rule Bollywood and I want to know about their wives and children.

Soon it becomes evident our conversation is not just about Bollywood or about inane details about their families. They are hungry to know why…Why did they have to leave their homes? What were they fleeing? Who could have a problem with their living in peace with their families, be it on one meal a day, or four? Why wasn’t anyone doing anything one Syrian gentleman asks. What was the UN doing?

One 16-year old Afghan boy cries that he wants to be with his mother again. He doesn’t know whether he will see her alive again, because when she forced him to flee the country, parting with all the family savings to make his journey possible, he was actually fleeing death. What were they fighting? He wants answers from me. and I know not what to say because I don’t know. I’m asking the same questions myself. I don’t know the reasons that make humanity fight wars, tear social structures apart, separate families and create havoc. I know only to draw him close and hold him as his mother would have done. That seems to help because he smiles. He  smiles and shyly says he has a girlfriend in the camp. Romance blooming in ruins?

I ask the camp director how he can bear to see this day and night. He defiantly asks why he should tell me. “I’ll go home and discuss this with my wife. Why should I tell you?” And then he hollers for a cup of tea in a choked voice, revealing he’s not so tough after all!

I walk out in thought. My new friends stand in a group at the entrance to the cafeteria and wave to me. A young girl walks towards me with her baby which was born in the camp. I hold and cradle the baby, and pray that he grows up to a healthier, more peaceful world. “I hope we’ve got our act together by the time you grow up,” I want to whisper into his ears. But I don’t want to spin dreams which I don’t have the power to fulfill. Maybe ‘together we can’? Yes. We. Can. Does that sound familiar? Can we heal the world? Together? Can we? Please?

Bharathi Ghanashyam

On a train from somewhere to somewhere…

In January 2016, I woke up on a bitterly cold Sunday morning in a beautiful country – Belgium, thousands of miles away from home. I was spending three weeks there serving a scholarship. Loth to get out of bed, I snuggled deeper into my quilt and prepared to go back into slumber. Till my conscience reminded me with force that this day would never visit me again. It had all the ingredients needed to go out and make a memorable day out of a cold and potentially lonely one, were I to spend it in bed because I was alone. Then I reminded myself – I was not alone, I just had solitude – it makes a difference, being alone, or being in solitude. The former makes you sad, the latter is enjoyable.

An hour later, I was on a train with no particular destination in mind. I had told the lady clerk at the ticket window at the Antwerp railway station to just give me a return ticket that would take me from anywhere to anywhere. And then I boarded a train that was going to Namur, because a friend had told me it was easy to go to the mountains from there and I had this juvenile wish to see snow-clad mountains from a moving train.

Ten minutes into my journey, a scary thought struck me. No one who knew me knew where I was at that moment. I hadn’t told family or people at the Institute where I was going. I didn’t have a working phone. What if something happened to me? What if the train had an accident? How would people find me? How would they even know I was on a train from nowhere to nowhere?

Now, I realised I was alone, not in solitude. And I was scared. The train was speeding along, blissfully unaware of the scary storm brewing inside of me. Maybe I should get down at the next station and just go back, I thought for a panic-stricken moment. But then, snow-clad mountains were beckoning and I persevered. My face was probably playing out all the emotions in me, because a young, beautiful girl sitting opposite me began to chat me up. She too was going to Namur! When I told her why I was going there, she found it hard to keep a straight face. These funny Indians, she probably thought. I didn’t even have a copy of Lonely Planet with me she discovered! She adopted me in a sense thereon, and patiently told me I was doing it all the wrong way.We had reached Namur by now and holding me by the hand, she took me to the ticket counter. Speaking in Dutch, she patiently explained to the clerk that I wanted to see snow from a moving train.  I saw her gulping back good-natured mirth while saying this.

Five minutes later, armed with a ticket and precise instruction on how to reach Libramont, a teeny-weeny town nestled in the Ardennes and wrapped in snow, I wondered what to do next, because there was still an hour to go before I boarded the train. My guardian angel disguised as my train companion wasn’t taking chances. She led me out of the station to a restaurant just outside and got me a sumptuous hot meal. And then, ensured I went back to the station in time for my train and made me store her number in my phone in case I needed to call her for help. It was at this time she told me she had just half a day to spend with her parents who lived in Namur, before she returned back to Brussels where she studied. And two hours of that had already gone, helping me. How had I thought I was alone? The world was so connected! I finally got around to asking her her name. She floored me with her reply. She said her name was Mira!!

After returning to India, I messaged her to thank her and got no reply. Maybe she was someone I imagined? But how can that be? I still remember every feature of her beautiful face, and her soft voice, guiding me…

Bharathi Ghanashyam


Images courtesy: Google Images

Is marriage a redundant institution?

My father, had he been alive would have wagged a finger at me and said, “I told you so,” after reading “Living apart together: the cautious approach” by Audrey Gillan in The Guardian a few weeks ago. Dad, even in the late 90s was fond of remarking that marriage as a social institution and order, had outlived its time, and had become redundant. His belief had been brought on by the many marriages around him, both in the family and outside of it that were headed “for the rocks”. Even though I belong to a later generation I had dismissed him as a cynical human each time he propounded his pet theory on marriage.

It seems he was more perceptive than me about emerging trends. As it turns out, even if not redundant, as increasingly seen, marriage as an institution seems to be viewed as a last option to formalise relationships, rather than the only one. Only, even he would have been completely flummoxed by the many alternatives to marriage that have emerged. The permutations and combinations are many, and none of them necessarily points to marriage as a conclusion. There’s the relationship called living apart together (LAT), where couples live in separate homes even while being in a relationship. Caution, rather than a lack of commitment is touted as the reason for this kind of relationship.

If the reader is not already cross-eyed trying to understand the nuances of the various combinations, he will notice that marriage is either not a possibility, or a very far one, in these relationships. A sign of times to come? While this might be a portrayal of the situation in a country we think is far removed from ours, are we really so insulated from the trend? Here’s what some youths between the age of 20 and 30, I talked to, had to say about their views on marriage.

Leena (name changed), 25, an upwardly mobile young professional who works and lives independently far from her hometown says, “I personally find that marriage has no relevance today. There is so much uncertainty in a marriage. I don’t know whether I can live happily ever after like my mother or grandmother before her did. Even though I would like to be in a live-in relationship with my partner till I am absolutely sure he is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, for fear of offending or causing unhappiness to my parents, I will probably get married.”

Deb, 30, says, “There’s so much more to marriage than just tying the knot. Living with a person for life entails a maturity that I might not have just now. That does not take away my need to enjoy the comforts that a close relationship with a woman can give. I would not want to blindly enter into a marriage. Yes, I would consider a live-in relationship for a few months or even years to be sure I am making the right decision.”

There are many more similar views among our youngsters when asked about marriage. What however is very clear is the tendency between humans to want to enter into sexual relationships, to enjoy the closeness that such relationships can give. It’s the finality of marriage that scares them.

And yet, it was probably to give it that very finality that relationships in the past had to be conducted within the framework of a marriage. An institution that has, as my father liked to say, become redundant down the ages. Well, any institution can become redundant, so why not marriage? But then, give me an old-fashioned marriage any day, give me the fights, and give me the problems that living 24/7 with another human brings. Marriage, whether it is bound by love, held together by affection and fondness, or only survives because of children is an infinitely more stable way of life, for individuals as well as society. Even if someone says, “But you don’t want your cheese moved!

Bharathi Ghanashyam

First published in:

The ageing tigress

Pic courtesy:

This is the story of Machli, reputedly the most famous tigress in the world. She lived in Ranathambore National Park in the state of Rajasthan in Northern India, and died earlier this year at the ripe old age of 19. It is said that tigers usually live only till the age of 14-15. But Machli was ‘kept alive’ well after she was able to hunt and find food for herself. According to a report in the Indian Express, “…Without the tethered baits the forest department provided her for the last seven years, Machli would have long been dead. There was a reason however, that the majority in the wildlife fraternity were desperate not to lose her…” (

Machli did much to keep her species alive by giving birth to 11 cubs and nurturing them. They reportedly continue to live in Ranathambore National Park. Her contribution was great and she was reported to be the darling of wildlife enthusiasts who visited the park to see her and she is known to have loved to pose for their cameras.

By keeping her alive beyond the time when she could fend for herself, it is debatable whether we had done well by her, because Machli was reduced to living a life that nature would normally never have approved for her. In the normal order of things, Machli would have died years before she actually did, when her faculties were still within her control and her dignity was intact. What we did was to hold on to her because we were so used to her presence and couldn’t bear to let her go. We didn’t pause for a moment to think of what she would have wanted, could she express herself.

So, where is this story leading? Easy. How many Machlis do we have among us? Provocative question? It’s meant to be. With the frenetic efforts being made by the scientific community and the medical fraternity to conquer death, or at least delay it as much as possible, with the advent of predictive medicine, and with the success of newer drugs that increase the life-span of humans with no thought given to quality of life, we are rapidly becoming a society of Machlis – alive, but unproductive, breathing but frail and merely adding years to our lives. But is this where we want to be?

I leave you with this thought!

Bharathi Ghanashyam