Search This Blog

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Himalayan Monks have super human abilities that stun even Harvard scientists

Buddhist Monks are fascinating. It is popularly believed that these monks have brains that function beyond human capabilities. Plus, they are known to easily rewire their brains.

It is an established fact that Buddhist monks are super human but it is their out-of-this-world incredible feats that continue to stun and shock scientists! This is because at the end of the day these monks are born as normal human beings.

In the 1980s, a curious group of scientists and researchers led by Professor Herbert Benson from the Harvard School of Medicine trekked to the remote monasteries nestled in the Himalayan mountains. They wanted to discover, document and decode the ways in which monks manipulated their bodies subtly. These monks were known to raise their body temperatures, especially of their fingers and toes by 17 degrees and they could also lower their body’s metabolic rate by 64%. They did so through the stress reduction technique of yoga called the ‘gTum-mo’.

The researchers from Harvard also recorded the monks drying clothes and cold wet sheets using their body heat.

The monks performed astonishing feats – they would spend nights on a rocky ledge when the temperatures dropped to zero degrees Fahrenheit. These rocky ledges were at the height of 15000 feet and the monks only had cotton or woollen shawls to keep them warm. These feats, the scientists observed, the monks achieved them through rigorous meditation techniques, spiritual conditioning and guided exercises.

Through their gTum-mo techniques, these monks entered a state of deep meditation. When doing so, other monks soaked sheets of 3 by 6 feet into the cold water and placed them on the meditating monks.

For common, untrained people, these would lead to shivering and illness, even death. But the scientists observed that steam rose from these sheets within an hour.

Therefore, after observing and witnessing such experiences, Benson emphasised the importance of advanced meditation. It could lead to treatment for stress-related illnesses.

He observed: This is important because more than 60 percent of the visit to physicians in the USA are for stress related problems and these are wrongly treated by drugs and even surgery. But if we all begin to practice advanced meditation, it can miraculously rewire our brains and cure us.

He further stated that he hopes that self-care such as they monks undertake will be equal to medical drugs, surgery and other therapies that will help alleviate mental and physical suffering. Meditation along with proper nutrition, diet and exercise of the mind and body will lead to self-care practice. It would help save millions of dollars annually in medical costs.

(Source: Speaking Tree)

I decided to divorce my in-laws, and I’ve never looked back since

Piya De Bose, a single mother and a HR professional who lives in Bangalore, shares her pain on The Ladies Finger, which reminds me of my sister-in-law who struggled with in-laws and family and at last got her freedom from their clutches. Today, she's a successful working woman and both dad and mom to her so. Kudos to such brave ladies:

This was the day the final shards of rose-tinted glasses fell off.

I was standing mute in front of a judge while my lawyer articulated why the interim custody of my 5-year-old son should stay with me till the divorce has been finalised. My child was shivering while clutching my hand, not comprehending why he was out on a school day. The previous day, I had walked out of my marital home with my son and just the clothes on our backs. Now, in court, I felt foolish for not having taken his jacket. But then, I may have never escaped. I may have been stopped and I may have lost my child forever.

My in-laws warned me that I could either quit my job or leave, but without my child. After all, my son was their only grandchild. That I was his sole provider and his father was an alcoholic living with another woman in a different city, didn’t matter to them. I was asked to keep up the semblance of a functioning marriage and be the obedient daughter-in-law in exchange for the social recognition and identity of a married woman with good character. It was only a few months after I moved in with my in-laws that I was allowed to work. That was when the school fees and expenses multiplied and I had to pay them for our upkeep. This last part was only fair, since their son never sent them money.

We didn’t always live with my in-laws. But they always knew of his alcoholic rage and chose to look the other way. He broke things during his fits, came home drunk only to hurl abuses and blame me for his situation and often force sex on me. All of this would happen even when my in-laws were visiting us. The next morning, they ignored my swollen eyes and loss of appetite and went on as if nothing has happened. He did not hit you, was what my mother-law would say. There were days I had to borrow money from a neighbour to buy baby food because he drank away the money and we were living from one paycheck to the next. My father had to clear the bill on my credit card (which he used without ever repaying) when I finally decided to cancel it.

Several such incidents later, as a compromise, my in-laws asked me to move to their town and live with them while my husband stayed behind because of his new job. Little did I realise that moving in with them would bring on other forms of abuse. I was not allowed to visit my parents often, though they lived in the same town. When my mother called, my mother-in-law would complain about how bad my house-keeping skills were and that I was neglecting the child because I was studying for a professional diploma when he slept at night. I was criticised if I came an hour late from work, or if my cooking was not up to the mark or if I listened to music. They frowned if I bought a book or a gift for a friend. I had to show them everything I bought because my money was the family money and it was considered indecent to indulge in any way. They sulked when I refused to make my salary account into a joint account. My mother-in-law kept all my jewellery with her and I needed her permission to use them.

Initially, I told myself that that their constant criticism was routine. A new bride, is expected to adjust to new rules, isn’t she? However, all the rules applied to me and none to their son. I should have seen this coming. A day after our wedding, he left for hours to get drunk in a bar, leaving hundreds of guests who were waiting at our reception to wish us good luck. His parents hushed it up blaming their relative who had gone with him. Ours was an arranged marriage and I was naïve enough to miss all the red flags.

A few months into the marriage, when reality struck hard it caught me completely off-guard.  The daily binge drinking and missing work regularly, cost him his job. My in-laws sent some money so that we could tide over till he found a job, but also used the opportunity to tell me how they had almost finalised another match for their son, a girl who was working in a multi-national and earning a handsome salary.

By the time my son was four, I was already living with my in-laws for two years, earning our keep. Then, a well-wisher informed me of my husband’s affairs. On confronting him, he accepted that it was true. He was so casual about it that it shocked me. When I told my in-laws, they advised me to ignore it because I was not skilled enough to keep my man happy. A wife plays several roles, said my father-in-law. When the need arises, she should be as skilful as a prostitute to not let the husband stray. They told not to discuss this matter with anyone and that I should continue living with them as the daughter-in-law and someday when he gets tired of these other women, he will come home and take care of us. Meanwhile, all the slights and insults were so de rigueur that I learnt to ignore them.

Instead, the daily drama motivated me to do better at work — the only place where I was appreciated, and had some self-esteem left. Unfortunately, it began to shame my in-laws that I was doing better than their son. When I was invited to speak to a small gathering, my mother-in-law warned me to never to do it again — apparently, I was making myself available to the men.

Early on, I had the solace that my in-laws took care of my child for the few hours that I was at work. However, that didn’t last. My son spent every afternoon watching tv serials about sacrificing wives, polygamist husbands and family politics. My in-laws taught my four-year-old that boys were superior, and that they would never accept it if he married someone from another religion. They told me that I had no right to intervene in his upbringing because I was a bad influence on him.

One day my in-laws overheard me sobbing over the phone while I was talking to a work friend. Immediately, they began pressuring me to quit my job. They manipulated my son to throw tantrums every day — if you love me you will not go to work. With that, I had enough. I decided to leave.

There was a new beginning in the cold courtroom. The divorce case dragged on for over three years mostly because he did not appear and his lawyer kept asking for extensions. As my luck would have it, the neighbour who had told me of my husband’s affair refused to come down to testify in court, fearing his reputation. His relatives and friends, who knew of his nature and his affairs, expressed sympathy in private but were unwilling to come forward in my support. After 10 years of living in an abusive marriage, which chipped away at my self-confidence and worth, I had no proof to show. The million little things that broke my spirit over the years were too flimsy for the court. At every point, I was asked — why did you accept that. You are educated and well-spoken. So, if you accepted that, it means you consented to it. The elderly court-appointed mediator asked me several times why I was not willing to go back and live with my in-laws and try again. At times, the wife has to compromise more, she told me. When I told her of the instances, the years of compromise, his indiscretions, she said being a mother you need to think of your son’s future first. I realised that unless I am able to prove any of the misdeeds it was pointless to fight. Camera phones had not arrived yet and telephone conversations could not be recorded easily.

For that entire time, I never stopped looking over my shoulders every time I stepped out of home. My ageing parents jumped every time the doorbell rang. I asked for permission from work to escort my son to and fro school for that entire school year till I could change his school to one nearer home. The threat was real. My husband had several nefarious acquaintances and when I had left his parents’ house, he had warned me of dire consequences because they had lost face and people were asking them why I left so suddenly. He threatened to kidnap our son and get me killed. I believed him and lived in fear until the day I met him for the final divorce decree, which we both had to sign. That decree became possible only after I agreed to claim nothing, not even child support. Every now and then, I still see photos of my mother-in-law on someone’s page, wearing my sarees — sarees that my mother had saved over many years for my wedding trousseau. In a divorce, women lose more than just their self-esteem. I lost my grandmother’s gold bangles, her last gift to me before she died. I lost my prized collection of books. I heard they sold the books as soon as I left. After several legal notices, I was able to get some of my jewellery back. My lawyer on her part apologised profusely for her inability to get me a fair mandate and refused to take her fees. By then, wrung out emotionally and financially, I was only looking for freedom from him and his family.

Cold winds had blown through every aspect of my life. His parents spread lies and told everyone how bad a wife and a mother I was since I was of ‘loose character’. I wonder if anyone asked them why they allowed me to stay with them if I was having so many affairs while living in their home. Hard to say which stories upset my parents more — them bad-mouthing me, my parents or my younger brother who had passed away a few years earlier.

On the other hand, some folks also told my father to retaliate and that they knew my in-laws were crooks and my father in-law was a prime accused in a case of financial fraud.

So I got my divorce and that was the end. Not quite.

Being a single mother means it never quite ends. When I was renewing my passport, I was questioned why I wanted to keep my husband’s last name when I was divorced. During my son’s board exam, the registering official insisted that we fill out his father’s address and other current details even after I explained that we were unaware of his whereabouts. My financials are a mess because though my son is a nominee for all my transactions, he needs a legal guardian in my absence and both my parents are too ill to be eligible. I was refused a housing loan a few years ago because I did not have a co-applicant.

Whether it’s a hotel booking or a phone bill, the salutation is always a ‘Mrs’ by default. Whenever I meet someone new here, whether at work or outside, the first or the second question is always about the husband. When I say, I am divorced, it invites either suspicion or curiosity guised as sympathy.

It has been many years since I walked out of a life filled with self-doubt and misery. My friends often ask me why I didn’t leave earlier. I was brought up to believe marriages are for a lifetime. I didn’t know enough to recognise abuse when someone wasn’t harming me physically. After some time, I accepted it without any fight and believed it was my fault and that I was not worthy of anything good. I foolishly believed that leaving my husband would not only harm me but also our son.

It was much later, that I realised the sense of fear and foreboding that I constantly felt was a result of the continuous psychological abuse. To this date, I have trust issues that I am yet to overcome. I would startle easily when someone called my name fearing more criticism. It felt like walking on eggshells all the time. For years, I had to ask my mother-in-law which dress or saree to wear when we went out together. Things would go missing from my room and wardrobe but I did not have the courage to ask her about them. Weeks would pass before I would speak with my mother properly. I would leave the phone after a cursory ‘I am doing ok’ or ‘I have reached home from office’, which puzzled them. I could not sleep at night and whenever I slept, I dreamt of drowning or someone squeezing my neck and I would wake up in sweat. I would get obsessed with cleanliness and would wash hands unnecessarily till my skin started chaffing. I developed anxiety about everything. Several time during those spiteful years, I had contemplated suicide and I made meticulous plans in my head to execute it. Only the thought of my young son stopped me. But the most dangerous were the lies I told people that led them to believe I had a wonderfully supporting family. My make-belief life was a parallel movie in my head that I lived every day. That’s how I coped.

Today I am free. I am a responsible mother, sole caregiver for my parents and an active citizen. I learnt to manage my finances, file my taxes, run a household, hold my own in a conversation, travel alone. For me, the biggest reassurance that I did the right thing by walking away and choosing not to hate, is when I see my son as a sensible, responsible, empathetic young person who reflect the values I hold dear.

Those years has also taught me to be watchful of the signs. Recently, I noticed a young colleague was taking too many sick leaves. A little empathy and she opened up. Her husband and mother-in-law beat her regularly for dowry and controlled her every action. After a lot of counselling from professionals, she was confident enough to walk out and report them.

We have to watch out for each other.

Please save my husband: Jailed Atlas Ramachandran's wife makes desperate plea

In her first-ever media interview, Indira opened up about her fears, hardships and desperate fight to get her husband out of jail.

It is a lone battle for Indira Ramachandran to secure the release of her jailed husband M.M. Ramachandran, founder of Atlas Jewellery.

The 75-year-old gold tycoon from Kerala, India, Ramachandran - who is popularly known as Atlas Ramachandran - was arrested in Dubai on August 23, 2015, in cases related to bounced cheques and has been languishing in jail since then.

"He has been in jail for 21 months now, and his health is fast deteriorating. Last week he was taken to hospital on a wheelchair. I too have health issues. I feel lonely and helpless," Indira, 68, told Khaleej Times.

In her first-ever media interview, Indira opened up about her fears, hardships and desperate fight to get her husband out of jail.

"I am living in constant fear of getting jailed as some banks have initiated civil proceedings against me, too. I don't even have a steady income to pay my rents. But I have to keep fighting to make sure my husband will soon walk out a free man," said Indira, who is staying in an apartment in Dubai.

Comfort to chaos
A homemaker who was never involved in any of her husband's businesses, Indira's comfortable life took a chaotic turn when Ramachandran landed in jail in 2015 for not honouring security cheques worth Dh34 million.

"When security officials took him, I thought he would be back in a few hours. I had no clue my life's biggest tragedy was unfolding," said Indira.

As news of his arrest spread, what ensued was utter chaos. More banks deposited security cheques, and aggressively pressed charges against Ramachandran for defaulting on payments. The business tycoon - who had previously lost everything in the 1990 Kuwait War and rebuilt his business empire in Dubai - was soon embroiled in a legal deadlock.

"Banks were threatening me with arrest. Some people were asking for millions to help. I was physically and mentally broken and did not know what to do or whom to call.

"Our employees were clamouring for money. One day, dozens of them walked into my apartment and refused to leave till their dues were paid. And obviously, without Ramachandran around, many played foul. Diamonds worth Dh5 million in our showrooms were sold for just Dh1.5 million and all the pending dues - including incentives of 200 salesmen and other staff - were settled," said Indira.

Dealing with debts
Indira's real troubles were yet to begin as Ramachandran owed millions to banks, and with her husband in jail, she was responsible for clearing the financial mess. The existing assets could not be liquidated.

But she did not have much to count on. Atlas Group, which reportedly had an annual turnover of Dh3.5 billion, had collapsed like a house of cards. Shutters were down on all his 19 gold showrooms in the UAE. Businesses at their showrooms in other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Doha and Muscat got adversely affected due to cash crunch.

And to make matters worse, Ramachandran's daughter and son-in-law also got arrested over financial issues not related to Atlas Jewellery. "That was a bigger tragedy. And I had to deal with it all on my own."

Daring to hope
But despite all the setbacks, Indira said she was still hopeful her husband would come out soon. She said they were able to sell two hospitals in Muscat and used the Dh35 million to make temporary settlements with the banks.

According to her, 19 of the 22 lending banks have so far signed a standstill agreement by which all legal proceedings have been put on hold against Ramachandran and a new repayment deal negotiated.

"Only three banks are refusing to budge. I am knocking on all doors to get them agree to sign the standstill agreement, so that Ramachandran can be released with immediate effect.

"He is an honest man and had enjoyed immense goodwill in the market for the last three decades. But being held in prison, he is unable to talk to the prospective buyers to liquidate the assets and pay back debts," said Indira. "It is my earnest wish he be given a humanitarian consideration.

"Meanwhile, if I also get into a legal soup before his release, we are hitting a dead-end, with no solution at hand," said a desperate Indira.

(Source: Khaleej Times)

Arundhati Roy’s fascinating mess

On the night she won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy had a strange and frightening dream. She was a fish being ripped from the water by a bony emerald hand. A voice instructed her to make a wish. Put me back, she responded. She knew she was on the cusp of cataclysmic fame, she later said an interview. She knew her life would explode—“I’d pay a heavy price.”

She has. It is almost impossible to see Roy clearly through the haze of adulation, condescension, outrage, and celebrity that has enveloped her since the publication of The God of Small Things, a gothic about an illicit intercaste romance in South India. She was feted as a symbol of an ascending India, paraded along with bomb makers and beauty queens. Much was made of the author’s looks—she was named one of People magazine’s most beautiful people—and lack of literary background; there was titillated interest in her days living in a slum and working as an aerobics instructor. Praise for her novel was extravagant—she was compared to Faulkner and García Márquez—but it was also frequently patronizing. “There is something childish about Roy. She has a heightened capacity for wonder”—this from one of the judges who awarded her the Booker Prize. (Meanwhile, a writer who had judged the Booker the previous year publicly called the book “execrable,” and the award a disgrace.)

The world Roy conjures is often brutal, but never confusing or even very complex.
Roy appeared to want no part of any of this. She chopped off her hair after the Booker win, telling The New York Times she didn’t want to be known “as some pretty woman who wrote a book,” and donated her prize money to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a group protesting the construction of a series of dams that threatened to displace millions of villagers. She turned her attention from fiction to people’s movements all over India—Kashmiris resisting the Indian military’s occupation, tribal communities fighting to protect their ancestral lands. She decried India’s nuclear testing (a source of much national pride at the time) and became an outspoken critic of America’s war in Afghanistan. She was praised for her commitment and derided for her naïveté, and faced charges of obscenity and sedition (later dropped). She was invited to model khakis for Gap (she declined) and to march through the forests of central India with Maoist insurgents (she accepted). And now, after 20 years, she has finally returned to fiction with a new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Is novel the right word, though? I hesitate. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, hulking, sprawling story that it is, has two main strands. One follows Anjum, a hijra, or transwoman, struggling to make a life for herself in Delhi. The other follows Tilo, a thorny and irresistible architect turned activist (who seems to be modeled on Roy herself), and the three men who fall in love with her. But as was true of The God of Small Things, there is more than a touch of fairy tale in the book’s moral simplicity—or clarity, if you’re feeling charitable. Roy will say of a character, “He was a very clean man. And a good one too,” and he is swiftly, unequivocally pinned to the page.

The world she conjures is often brutal, but never confusing or even very complex. Manichaean dualities prevail: innocence (embodied by puppies, kittens, little girls) versus evil (torture, torturers, soldiers, shopping malls). If this tendency felt less troubling in her first book—think of handsome, heroic Velutha, the untouchable, and his foil, the almost comically evil Baby Kochamma—it was perhaps because the narration was trained so closely on children. Given that the central characters were a pair of young twins, Rahel and Estha, it felt natural that the world would be read this way.

Yet to simply find fault with the lack of psychological shading would be, I think, a genre mistake. Roy’s indifference to precisely that problem suggests that something interesting is afoot. Consider the book’s dedication—“To, The Unconsoled.” Note the cover photograph, a grave, and the setting: The story begins and ends in a graveyard. More than a novel, this book wants to be an offering. It isn’t concerned with the conventional task (or power) of fiction to evoke the texture and drama of consciousness. Instead, it acts like a companion piece to Roy’s political writings—collected in books such as The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2001) and Walking With the Comrades (2011). It tours India’s fault lines, as Roy has, from the brutal suppression of tribal populations to the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat.

Just about every resistance movement is embodied in a character, and the lives and struggles of these characters intersect. The queers, addicts, Muslims, orphans, and other casualties of the national project of making India great again find one another and form a raucous community of sorts. And this novel—this fable—is as much for them as about them; it commemorates their struggles and their triumphs, however tiny. You will encounter no victims in this book; the smallest characters are endowed with some spit. A kitten, about to be drowned by a group of soldiers, bares her fangs, unafraid to take on the Indian army. At night, a dung beetle lies on his back in the graveyard, pointing his feet to the sky, to help prop it up should it fall. Even he is given a name: Guih Kyom. Even he does what he can.

“I’ll have to find a language to tell the story I want to tell,” Roy said in an interview in 2011, as she discussed returning to fiction. “By language I don’t mean English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, of course. I mean something else. A way of binding together worlds that have been ripped apart.” As it happens, she didn’t really settle on a new way of telling the story—this novel shares the same playful, punny argot of The God of Small Things (more on this later)—but she tries to pull all those worlds into an unwieldy embrace.

It may seem like the pamphleteer has subsumed the novelist. But Roy’s enterprise is less dutiful than it sounds. There is no grudging marriage of art and politics in her work; as John Berger, one of her longtime interlocutors and a formative influence, wrote, “Far from my dragging politics into art, art has dragged me into politics.” Roy’s work conveys a similar spirit. She is a great admirer of the world. Her strongest writing is always at the margins of the main story—the pleasure of finding “an egg hot from a hen,” or this passing detail from The God of Small Things: “A thin red cow with a protruding pelvic bone appeared and swam straight out to sea without wetting her horns, without looking back.” From the fine-grained affection that stirs her imagination springs an ethical imperative—after all, how can one appreciate the world without desiring to defend it? And it must be defended not merely from war or political calamity, but from that natural, more insidious phenomenon: forgetting.

This is the literary tradition that Roy belongs to—and that was intimately transmitted to her by Berger and her other great friend, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (she has called him her twin), for whom the great tragedy of humanity wasn’t that we die or suffer or make each other suffer. It was that we forget. And because we are so prone to forgetting—because it is so easy to make us forget—we accept the conditions of our suffering as inevitable and cannot fathom alternatives. (“The world, which is the private property of a few, suffers from amnesia,” Galeano once said. “It is not an innocent amnesia. The owners prefer not to remember that the world was born yearning to be a home for everyone.”)

Like Galeano’s Mirrors, an ode to “human diversity” in which a history of the world unfolds in 600 short stories, Roy’s novel is a compendium of alternatives—alternative structures of kinship, resistance, and romance. Anjum lives in a multigenerational joint family of other hijras; together they raise a child. Later, she and a few other characters move into a graveyard. They sleep between the headstones, plant vegetables, create a new kind of human family that can obliterate the divisions between the living and the dead. Roy has imagined an inverse of the Garden of Eden—a paradise whose defining feature, rather than innocence, is experience and endurance.

To so confidently believe oneself to be on the right side of history is risky.
And what better place to set this graveyard, and this book about forgetting, than in Delhi, Roy’s home for much of her adult life. It’s a palimpsest of a city—occupied continuously for at least 3,000 years, surviving and absorbing the Mughals, the British, the refugees after India’s partition from Pakistan. A city whose own founding myths tell of amnesia, and of the power of texts to resist it. As one story goes, Brahma the creator god suddenly forgot the scriptures. He performed various rites and austerities and plunged into one of Delhi’s rivers. During the monsoon, the waters rose and flung up the sacred texts onto a riverbank that is still known today as Nigambodh Ghat, “the Bank of Sacred Knowledge.” Even the gods may be wired to forget, but we are also wired for narrative, to build what bulwarks we can.

In this context, any notion of a fissure between art and activism would seem absurd. To be both artist and activist, to expend oneself in both places, on the page and in the world, is the duty of the writer. It is to be “integrated,” as Vivian Gornick described Grace Paley; it is to be “a writer in the most comprehensive sense,” as the biographer Richard Holmes wrote of Shelley. But to live and write with the consciousness of this integration is trickier than it sounds.

To so confidently believe oneself to be on the right side of history is risky—for a writer especially. In that balmy glow of self-regard, complacency can easily take root. And good prose demands a measure of self-doubt—the worry that nags at a writer, that forces her to double back on her sentences, unravel and knit them up again, asking repeatedly: Is this clear? Is this true? Is this enticing? This book has a slackness to it that suggests Roy has abdicated some of these anxieties.

Roy has said that she never revises her books, that her essays and fiction write themselves, and that she rarely takes edits. I’ve always interpreted—and enjoyed—such statements as a bit of swagger. It’s dispiriting to see that they might be true. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is plagued by almost rudimentary errors: There is near-total confusion about point of view. Messages and morals come ponderously underscored. The two central stories never convincingly come together. In the absence of psychological development or real suspense, chapters end with portentous rhetorical ellipses. Worse still, the creation of characters as stand-ins for causes results in formulaic depictions of the very people she is trying to humanize. Anjum, for example, never becomes more than her “patched-together body and her partially realized dreams.”

The voice that carried The God of Small Things emanated from the characters. The elasticity of language, the silliness and sappiness, felt very much like the expression of the twins. It captured their way of being, of merging with each other and the world. Here that voice feels distracting, imported from a different universe. I thought often of Walking With the Comrades, Roy’s account of traveling through the forests with Maoist insurgents. She was full of admiration for their discipline, for the care they took of their woods and of one another. She was awed by how everything in their world was “clean and necessary.” Something of this aesthetic stole into her style in that book. Roy trusted the reader enough to just point the camera, to let us see what she saw: “Three beautiful, sozzled men with flowers in their turbans walked with us for about half an hour, before our paths diverged. At sunset, their shoulder bags began to crow. They had roosters in them, which they had taken to market but hadn’t managed to sell.” Details gleam (a woman’s anklets shine in the firelight) and horrify; she hears the story of three Maoist girls raped by the army: “ ‘They raped them on the grass … But after it was over there was no grass left.’ ”

The epigraph of The God of Small Things is a line from John Berger: “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.” What’s disappointing about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is that it can feel like a collection of so many single stories and stock figures—heroic martyrs and tragic transgender characters. Roy has a ready response to the criticism that she isn’t an especially subtle writer. She cops to it directly: “I want to wake the neighbors, that’s my whole point. I want everybody to open their eyes.” I remember something Cézanne supposedly said: “I know what I am looking at, but what am I seeing?” Roy is a champion at waking the neighbors, at getting our attention, and as an offering, this book is a beautiful act of witness. But harnessing our attention—getting us to see as well as to look—that is perhaps a different, and more intricate, matter. It’s a matter of tactics, a matter of art.

(Source: The Atlantic)

The news business is unfair to journalists with children

Many journalists think of their work as a calling. They live for breaking news, scoops, deadlines and remarkable stories. Early mornings and late nights are a small price to pay for getting people the information they need — or even shaping the news cycle.

But the profession doesn’t always feel compatible with having any other serious responsibilities or interests, much less kids who have hardcore deadlines of their own, including doctor’s appointments, daycare pickups and 7 p.m. bedtimes.

If you’re struggling with balancing journalism and parenthood, you’re not alone. Hundreds of your colleagues across the country are grappling with the same dilemma. That’s what Poynter learned after asking 390 journalists about whether their employers are family-friendly.

The survey was designed to gauge if and how journalists are accessing family-friendly policies like paid family leave, telecommuting and flex-scheduling. We also wanted to hear how workplace culture is shaping people’s experiences.

The results are both encouraging and disappointing. On the surface, many of the journalists who took the survey work for companies that offer key benefits and policies. Yet they’re also overwhelmingly worried about their career prospects after becoming parents and say they have few role models in management who demonstrate what it means to have a viable balance between work and caregiving responsibilities.

Their responses also indicate that journalists’ individual experiences are heavily reliant on whether their direct supervisor understands the challenges of being both a journalist and a parent.

If these findings confirm your worst fears, there’s still hope. Experts who study workplace policies say that pushing media companies to embrace work-life balance is an important business strategy for retention, loyalty and productivity. That approach is particularly essential for ensuring that newsrooms are as diverse as the audiences they serve: Female journalists won’t ever reach parity with their male colleagues if senior leadership refuses to acknowledge that journalists also have caregiving responsibilities, which still fall disproportionately to women.

Newsrooms need to envision and implement new ways of assigning and valuing work in order to give all employees — not just parents — the chance to have a fulfilling life off the job, said Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at New America and formerly a veteran reporter for The Washington Post.

“When we judge you by how much time you’re willing to put in, how many hours you work, how late you’re answering your emails,” she says, “what we’re really doing is reinforcing this culture that to be a good journalist you pretty much can’t have a life outside of journalism, and we all know that’s not true.”

Even if we know that’s not technically true, plenty of people who completed our survey feel the pressure to downplay their private life and caregiving responsibilities. When we asked participants why they delayed having children, the second-most popular answer after financial concerns was a lack of clarity about how to balance deadlines, hours and family life. People also worried that parenthood would affect their chances for a promotion.

As one survey respondent put it: “It's all about productivity and stories. [W]hat's happening in life is my own problem...just keep that copy rolling.”

The survey, which opened in November, received 390 responses to multiple-choice questions about workplace policies and workload. We also received hundreds of answers to three open-ended questions.

While the number of participants represents a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. journalists employed in the newspaper, radio, internet publishing and broadcasting industries, the responses help illustrate common concerns and experiences. Those who chose to share the name of their employer reported working at local papers and television stations, big regional dailies, national newspapers, major websites and network and cable television stations.

Here’s an overview of which policies and practices were — and weren’t — common amongst our respondents.

Parental leave: Two-thirds of employers offer some paid parental leave, but less than half of the respondents took the full time allotted. It wasn’t clear whether they went back to work earlier because they received only partial pay or felt they needed to return without taking full advantage of the policy. Either way, only 14 percent of private employers in the U.S. offer paid leave, so journalists may have access to better policies than the average worker.

(Source: Poynter)