About thewaterspirit

...a journalist's rants, observations, experiences and opinions...

Where women die of stress

I came across this story in Mumbai: A 36-year-old female police constable died of work overload. She suffered from stress and hypertension.

Mumbai female police

The main report, the allied reports and the husband’s version all highlighted the fact how her taxing office schedule – stretching to 12 hours a day – was the culprit. Doctors’ version on how the work timings in police job are erratic and far too long was taken. However, there was simply no discussion on what his husband too acknowledged: The woman returned home after 12 hours of duty only to tend to the household chores.

Did that not add to her already stressed out life?

I am not suggesting the women should refrain from all household work because she they are employed. However, we all know by experience that the majority of this burden invariably falls on women. The work that should be shared by all members of the family becomes a sole person’s duty.

Surveys have shown how Indian women are the most stressed out in the world.


Analytical reports in foreign publications have highlighted, often with horror and disbelief, that “it wasn’t at all rare to hear of successful professionals who woke up at 4:30 a.m. to make breakfast and lunch for children and parents-in-law, put in a full day at work, then returned home to clean up after the extended family and prepare dinner”.


The reports have added how women, in an attempt to conform to the paradigm of “ideal daughter,” “ideal wife,” and “ideal daughter-in-law,” lose on a personal space altogether.

When women work professionally in India, we feel it is a priviledge they must pay for.



My piece as a guest blogger for Bollywoodjournalist.com 🙂

Bollywood Journalist

By Swati Goel Sharma

He looked familiar, despite the sagging skin on his face. He was tall, well-built and alert, despite his old age. Though pensive, he looked livelier than the forlorn residents of the government-aided old-age home.

It was when it struck me that I had seen him on television!

The caretaker then told me his name. He is Satish Kaul, a once popular face on TV and perhaps the most popular Punjabi hero till date.

Satish Kaul is regarded as one of the most successful regional film actors of all time. Some people still refer him as the ‘Amitabh Bachchan of Punjabi cinema’.

It was certainly awkward to spot Kaul, dressed in a track suit, crouched on a worn-out sofa and watching television alone in the dark, gloomy, utterly silent common room of the old age home. On his lap was a box of cookies that contained no cookies…

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On Mumbai-resident Pratik Hota, whose act went viral and invited him trouble

I woke up to the wonders of social media today.

Yesterday, two out of five posts on my Facebook wall showed a video of a boy mercilessly kicking a kitten like a football, out of fun. I showed the video to my colleagues. We all made faces, condemned the act, browed through the comments and left it at that.

A video grab of his act that went viral on Thursday

A video grab of his act that went viral on Thursday

By evening, the video had gone viral as a lot of people in office were talking about it. A colleague showed it to our editor as well, who laughed it away.

But today morning, the boy’s abhorrent act has made newspaper headlines! It turned out that he was traced, and angered animal activists in Mumbai had lodged a complaint against him.

The 16-second video, that has been taken off Youtube, showed a teenager, identified as Versova resident (Mumbai) Pratik Hota lifting a kitten and then kicking it into the air. Hota himself had uploaded his act on his Facebook wall. His Facebook page has been deleted too.

News coverage: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/crime/Teen-booked-for-kicking-kitten-like-football-after-video-goes-viral/articleshow/26539521.cms

Book review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Book cover

Book cover

Though it gives a generous peek into a cloistered and mysterious world of Japanese Geisha, most of what has remained with me after finishing ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by American author Arthur Golden are these distasteful nuggets of information (about the Geisha life in 1930 and 40s in Japan; I do not know how much of these hold true today):  

  • Girls in Japan are sold to Okiya, that school them to become artistically accomplished, highly paid teahouse entertainers called Geisha
  • The cost of all this forced training fall on the poor girls which they must pay back to the Okiya when they begin earning as Geisha
  • A young girl’s Mizuage – or virginity – is put to public bidding and any man, however aged, filthy or lecherous he might be, stands to win the privilege to deflower a girl through the sheer power of money
  • Every Geisha needs a Danna to survive and be respected, a wealthy man who supports her economically in exchange for a short-time sexual commitment
  • Their prime job is to entertain men at parties but they almost serve as maids, escorting them to toilets when they need to go, bending down to tie their shoelaces when they leave and refraining from eating with the men at parties, to do it only later in maid-chambers

Yet, I cannot help but be intrigued by these colourful facts sprinkled in the book:

  • A Geisha will never go out for her engagement until someone has sparked a flint on her back for good luck.
  • Geisha use a face cream made from nightingale droppings.
  • The time she spends with men, and thus her fee, is measured in incense sticks that burn for an hour apiece.
  • Geisha sport elaborate and lavish hairstyles but it means their hair are mostly dirty and smelly as they don’t wash hair for weeks

‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is a documentation of the Geisha life in 1930s and 40s in a Geisha district called Gion, Japan, told as an autobiographically styled novel. So Sayuri, the protagonist, is a fictional character though the details of her life are for real.

A photo of a Geisha in Gion taken from the Internet

A photo of a Geisha in Gion taken from the Internet

The plot is simple: Nine-year-old Chiyo and her older sister, Satsu, daughters of an impoverished fisherman from a little town on the Sea of Japan, are sold into slavery. While pudgy Satsu is thrown into a low brothel to work as a prostitute, Chiyo with her distinguished blue-gray eyes is taken in by an Okiya, a boardinghouse for Geisha, as an investment. But Chiyo is hardly the lucky one as she must survive dreadful days as a prepubescent slave, frequent humiliation and the scheming and cruelty of her senior Hatsumomo. A rival of Hatsumomo named Mameha comes to Chiyo’s rescue by a stroke of destiny and helps her become a fully-ripe Geisha through a grueling apprenticeship. Shedding her ugly-duckling status, Chiyo thus becomes Sayuri. However, despite fame and fortune, Sayuri remains purposeless and lost until she eventually becomes the mistress of the man she had set her heart on all along.

This is an incredible book that, until half its length, surprised me, filled me with awe and even disgust with every detail about the Geisha life. Gion is a curious world. However, credit be given to the author because stretching the theme to the length of a novel is sheer craftsmanship. The book as a novel isn’t terribly interesting, but as a non-fiction account of a Geisha life, it wins hands down.

A scene from the movie adaptation

A still from the movie adaptation

And yes, I watched the film adaptation. Visually fascinating, but proves a drag owing to the plain plot. But do watch this Snow Dance sequence from the film, which though is NOT an authentic Geisha dance and is more of an American fantasy, is breathtaking!


Moving Tents for Houses…


It was after much hopping and jumping amid a maze of tents and ropes that I reached the “house” of Shaguna (left in the pic). This was a little away from where elephants were tethered, and well within an area where performers were bathing vigorously in the open.

This 21-year-old Nepali was a showgirl with the Great Bombay Circus on in city. Outside her tent, the stench – that seems a mix of body odour, slush and excreta – made it impossible to stand. It was better inside, but to imagine one would live here for a whole next month – well, it was shocking. I took a cursory glance around. A low-level cot with bedding on the left…a make-shift kitchen (gas stove, filled plastic containers, spices and some plates) on the right…clothes piled up (neatly) in a corner…bedding on the flour…a few surprise showpieces on a table…and lo! even a small television.

“It took me exactly 15 minutes to set up the tent and make it home,” she informed, guessing in my eyes whether I liked the sight.

“Great job,” I replied politely.

Her lips stretched in a smile. “We do it every month. Have been doing it for years,” she explained, revealing how people in the world of circus accept such moving tents for houses as just fine.

‘Mumbai was great to live in. But it’s best forgotten’

I have recently shifted to Mumbai, a city I see as a limitless sea of stories – of dreams, failures, survival, success and devastation. However, before I was introduced to it in person, I saw it through the eyes of a man who boasts of five decades in it, who came a dreamy-eyed youth in his twenties to ‘Bombay’, lived the famed glitzy life of Hindi cinema, earned fame and built a fortune, but returned to his roots empty-handed and, worse, into the loneliness and hollow of an old age home.

He is Gurudarshan Singh Josan, a yesteryear actor who I met in Punjab during an assignment for Hindustan Times, and took a shine to him. I met him regularly in the months to come, helping him vent out his pent up emotions for, as he says, “lack of company to talk with is what kills me the most”.

Darshan at Red Cross Old Age home in Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana

Darshan at Red Cross Old Age home in Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana

Aged, wrinkled, but surprisingly strong-built and tall, that’s how he looks. Josan joined the film industry in the 60s and swayed with it up and down for many years. His close friends’ list boasted of names such as the famous Mukherjees (Rono, Joy, Deb) and he owned a three-room flat on the Juhu beach. Josan quickly reached immense popularity after essaying a negative character in ‘Tu Hi Meri Zindagi’ (1965), a superhit. However, a family issue led him to give up playing villain and take up character roles, considered far lesser in hierarchy in the acting world.

Poster of 'Tu hi meri Zindagi'

Poster of ‘Tu hi meri Zindagi’

“After ‘Tu Hi…” I signed one film after another with negative roles, only to return the signing amount a year later as my wife never approved of my negative characters, mainly due to the scenes involving rape or molestation act. I left films but returned five years later, only to realise that popular faces such as Amrish Puri, Ranjeet and Prem Chopra had completely taken over the roles with negative shades. Heeding the advice of film producer Subodh Mukherjee, I took up a character role in his next venture ‘Sharmeelee’. The 1971 film starring Shashi Kapoor and Rakhi went on to become a major hit and celebrate its silver jubilee in theatres across the country. I was again in demand and, for the next decade, there was never dearth of work. I did three shifts a day. Money was good. I was neck deep with work and was enjoying every moment,” recalls Darshan, who also wrote dialogues for a couple of films including 1977’s Haiwan.

The result: he went on to become no Bachchan but a considerably successful man, with bank balance, property, and popularity. However, the death of his wife and two children (in separate accidents) spiralled him into depression and led him to what he says “lose my mind entirely”.

So, he simply left the expensive house behind (promptly taken over by his sister’s brothers, he says), squandered away a major part of the savings, cut ties with his friends (friends in film industry, he says, are no more than ships that pass in the night) and moved to his roots – Punjab. “I didn’t know what was happening around me when friends and relatives took away whatever money I had earned,” he recalls.

He imagined he would be taken care by relatives in his home state, but was shown the door to an old age home within months, he tells me.

Any conversation with him involves interesting insights into the city and the then film industry, with impressive names like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Rajesh Khanna and even Amitabh Bachchan always dropping in casually, much to my fascination.

Today, he earns no money; his savings, that have seen him through for a decade in the old age home, are on the brink of exhaustion. There is some help by the relatives indeed, but he tells me he awaits death.

When I told him about my transfer to Mumbai, all he said was “I will lose a good friend”. When I assured him I will always meet him during regular visits back to Ludhiana, this is what he told me: “I will wait. But do not tell me any stories about that city. It was great to live in. But it’s best forgotten.”

UFO in a Punjabi wedding

This article first appeared in Hindustan Times.

Imagine my reaction when a middle-aged man with a most straight face told me that the flying machine – a UFO? – I just saw with my horrified eyes descending from the sky was actually the escort vehicle for the bride and the groom. Whoa! These rich Punjabis are certainly out of the planet, I thought.

Standing in the sprawling, well-lit farmhouse, I gave the alien vehicle a harder look, and noticed the flashing laser lights and the accompanying music. The huge blue-black thingy landed on the ground and all eyes, that until then were reserved only for the next round of Tandoori Chicken, turned to the fascinating scene unfolding a few meters away.

Half-expecting a few gray creatures with long-necks, large heads and almond-shaped eyes to appear at the gate, I swear I was the happiest when I saw two beautiful, dressed-in-their-blingest-best humans jump out and wave at all of us.

Marriages they say are made in heaven, and the two just seemed to reiterate the saying, flying as they probably were straight from the place.

Much was made of the grand entry and, with cries of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, the couple was greeted, hugged and fussed over while I wondered if what I just saw matched any of the quite bizarre wedding entries I had seen in my life. Nah! No stretch limo or a royal carriage came anywhere close to this spectacle that was, well, simply out of the world.

Which made me ponder over a growing trend in nuptial celebrations these days: the fascination with putting the couple on a higher pedestal than the public, literally. Hydraulic stages themed as moon, hearts, royal palkis or stars lifting the couple high up in the air to a thousand eyes craned eyes and gingerly returning them to the ground to wild applause aren’t uncommon.

Within minutes, my mind, wandering away thus, was rudely brought back to the wedding. It was the couple again, this time spiraling up and up on what seemed to me a revolving stage. All of s sudden, the bride went a bit dizzy and almost collapsed into the arms of the groom while the onlookers roared with hoots and cheers. Finally, the stage stopped some twenty feet above the ground. With me, the couple too seemed to heave a sigh of relief. Chants from the holy scriptures set to music reverberated the air and a rain of flower petals was pumped out from a machine. As I soon realized, it was the perfect setting for the Jaimala ceremony.