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To win a war, you have to start one.

We watched HBO’s The Normal Heart, about the rise of the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York, over the weekend, and it is without doubt the most wrenching, heartbreaking movie I have seen in a while. 

I think there is little that is more terrifying than an epidemic that is killing off members of your community - your family, your friends, your lovers - in such a brutal, painful manner, and you don’t know what it is, how you get the disease, how to really protect against it, and there is no cure. You don’t even have a name for the disease - the movie starts off by referring to it as ‘gay cancer’, which was really jarring to a viewer in 2014. 

And on top of that, the government doesn’t care, your own community is unwilling to speak out about the disease, and nobody wants to spend a cent on helping to deal with this crisis. 

Sure, there were some things the movie could have done better, or portrayed in a more nuanced manner. But that is entirely irrelevant to what a beautiful job this film does of capturing the helplessness and despair of losing friends by the dozens to this disease in just a few months, the terror of being next, and the loneliness and rage at the refusal of those in power to speak out and help. 

This movie is a screaming, fist-pounding, room-destroying howl of rage, and frankly, I’m glad that there was no nuance or “the other side of the story” to temper the rage, the accusations and the ugliness of this disease. Bearing witness to the experience of the gay community during such a terrifying time has truly been an exercise in empathy, in gratitude, and in reaffirming my resolve to always speak out against anyone who expresses horrible, homophobic ideas in my presence. 

Only in something that is wholly useless, utterly irrelevant, can we glimpse true beauty, the beauty of the divine.

-Philip Jeyaretnam, Abraham’s Promise

One of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite books.

10 books

Got tagged in this 10 books Facebook meme things that’s been going around recently. I’m usually the biggest meme-grinch, but got really excited about this showcase of book geekery. Here’s my list.  

  1. Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
    I read this book in uni, and it just blew me away. The love story, the longing for Karachi, and the observations about human nature in Kartography were just really beautiful. I think the year I discovered this book, everyone I knew got it as a birthday present.

  2. God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
    I’d spent most of my summer holidays during secondary school at my grandparents’ place reading trashy Sidney Sheldons, and my grandpa shoved this book at me and told me to read something better. I’ve re-read it twice or thrice since then, and the beauty of the story and prose seems more intense every time.

  3. Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
    I read this series of 4 books when I was 11 or 12, and my god, what an awesome, spirited adventure filled with magic and battles and love and loyalty. I revisited the books last year after they came up in a conversation with a friend, and they’re still every bit as awesome. I wrote a lengthy blogpost about my love for them here.

  4. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline
    A friend introduced me to this book last year, and it has changed the way I look at clothes and shoes (and also made me an insufferable nag to my sister and close friends). Responsible and sustainable shopping are not as easy or cheap as popping into the nearest fast fashion chain, but now that I’ve been trying to “buy less, buy better” for the past year, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
    Made me feel not so alone in and somewhat validated my utter uselessness at speaking lots during meetings/class, networking, etc., helped me understand why, and had some useful tips on overcoming it.

  6. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
    This book is an intimate, stark portrait of the city that used to be home. I read this in my first year of uni and remember wanting to write as awesomely as Suketu Mehta when I grew up. I still do.

  7. The World we Made by Jonathon Porritt
    Read this just two months ago, but the solutions and ideas proposed in this book keep coming back to me whenever I think about the horrifying direction the world is heading in today.

  8. Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
    Read this in a postmodern lit class at uni, and remember feeling so strongly for the injustice and rejection Jeanette faced. I didn’t know it then, but it shaped a lot of my views on the role religion should play in people’s lives and LGBTQ issues.

  9. Abraham’s Promise by Philip Jeyaretnam
    Also a secondary school lit text. We had a very average teacher back then, but that didn’t obscure how well politics, love (of all kinds), violence, nostalgia were all addressed so beautifully here. I still remember my favourite passages from Abraham’s Promise.

  10. Dave Barry is from Venus and Mars by Dave Barry
    Sec 3/4 was a very awkward idiot teenager phase for me, and his brand of ridiculous, self-deprecating humour was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise very stifling girls’ school environment. No need to take yourself so seriously, booger jokes all the way! :)

Slaves of Happiness Island

http://www.vice.com/read/slaves-of-happiness-island-0000412-v21n8

A poignant, unflinching look by Molly Crabapple at the exploitation of migrant labourers in Abu Dhabi, and their efforts at resistance.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking. What kind of world do we live in where people are literally dying of heart attacks and starvation so that others can have luxurious museums to swan around in and football stadiums to watch men kick around a ball in?

What kind of world is it where even if a man knows the fate and conditions that await him, he still signs up for this treatment because its more viable than staying in his home country? 

Where billionaires and millionaires spend money like water when it comes to luxury goods, homes, and cars, but withhold a worker’s meager $200 salary for months?

The stories in this article will leave you physically sick, but you must read it anyway.

The Story Wire

http://www.thestorywire.com

Ram and I have been working on a personal project idea for the last few months, and we’re finally ready to share it with the world! 

We are so proud and excited to present The Story Wire - a project that connects people through the power of sharing true personal stories with one another. 

The idea was inspired by The Moth and The Story Collider, both of which are truly amazing and inspiring podcasts. Some of the stories on these shows have left us in tears, and others have had us giggling out loud when we think of them. 

The idea of having something like this in Singapore came to us in late December - shortly after the riots in Little India. We were really disturbed by the fresh wave of racism, xenophobia and vitriol that swept across the internet right after the event.

Unfortunately, this disturbing discourse isn’t confined just to the Little India incident. We see it in microaggressions endured by people everyday, because of their race, gender, nationality or class. It does nobody any good, and we wanted to do something to fight this trend.

The Story Wire stems from the simple idea that the more time we spend listening to one another, and sharing our stories honestly and vulnerably, the less there is for ignorance and hate. We plan to execute this idea in three main ways - live events, a podcast, and stories on our blog. 

We’re aiming to hold our first event in May this year, and we really need your help to get the event on the road!

  1. Tell your story! The theme of our first event is ‘Terrified’. You can interpret this any way you want; if you have a story that fits the theme, let us know, and we would be honoured to have you share it. 

  2. Help others tell their story! If you are experienced in storytelling or public speaking, we need your help to make stories that are already good, great. We need people who can work with our storytellers and help them structure and rehearse their stories for a live audience. 

  3. Hook us up with a venue! We’re looking for an intimate, cosy place that can accommodate about 30-50 people. Ideally, light snacks & drinks would be allowed in the venue. If you know of a place or have one to let us use, please let us know!

  4. Help us make The Story Wire better! This project is brand new territory for both Ram and me. If you have suggestions on how to improve or grow the project, we’re all ears! Email us (thestorywire //at// gmail //dot// com), tweet at us or poke us on Facebook! You can also use the nifty contact form on the website. :D

  5. Sign up for our newsletter! We plan to send out regular updates on upcoming events and stories, and also share stories from elsewhere that inspire us. Stay updated with the latest on The Story Wire by signing up at thestorywire.com

Thanks for taking the time to read this far! Here’s to you, and The Story Wire.

(PS: Ram’s post about the project is here

Adventures in home gardening

Meet Lord Basildon, the newest member of our family. I bought him on impulse at the supermarket when he was just a tiny little thing. I put him in a bigger pot upon bringing him home, and it’s been so much fun taking care of him, and watching him grow in the past month! I’ve been trying to give him extra nutrition by giving him water infused with discarded vegetable peels and scraps. 

In a ‘Never Let Me Go’-esque turn of events, we harvested Lord Basildon’s leaves for the first time this week. It was when I was ripping off the leaves that it occurred to me that mayyyybe anthropomorphising Lord Basildon and thinking of him as a family member wasn’t the greatest idea. I felt so bad, I gave him extra veggie-infused water after harvesting him! :(

Nevertheless, the resulting pesto sauce was absolutely delicious! 

This has been my first experience with taking care of my own plants, and growing edible plants. It’s so empowering to know that there are things you are cultivating that you can eat, and that you have control over things like use of fertilisers. I can’t wait to grow more food plants in our balcony - Will Lord Basildon’s new friend be Lady Lemon, Milly the Chilli, or Vera (single name, because she’s so cool)? I’ll decide once I run out of idiotic name ideas! 

And speaking of awesome living things in and around our balcony, say hello to Fifi and Racket, the two utterly delightful parrots that perch on the rooftops opposite our balcony on most mornings: 

They are adorable! One of them is obsessed with burrowing in the little gap between the roof and the wooden ledge, probably for worms or other insects. But when they’re not foraging, they do all sorts of cute things like snuggling together and hopping around on the beams. There’s a third parrot, who we’ve named Cosmo, who makes an occasional appearance too. 

If you’re wondering if I have spent way too much time imagining soap opera-style scenarios in my head wherein there is a sordid love triangle between Fifi, Racket and Cosmo, and narrated (out loud) entire lovers’ quarrels and make-up conversations while watching them frolic on the roof, then well, no I have absolutely not done any such thing. 

Clarity on climate change

There’s a New York Times article - ‘Going Green but Getting Nowhere' by Gernot Wagner - that has been the Kryptonite to my determination to do sustainability work for many years now. It minces no words in stating that “sadly, individual action does not work. It distracts us from the need for collective action, and it doesn’t add up to enough. Self-interest, not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change. Only the right economic policies will enable us as individuals to be guided by self-interest and still do the right thing for the planet”.

Even though intuitively, I still believe that every action, attempt at knowledge building and effort to reduce consumption is a step in the right direction, this article gets me down every time I think about it - partly because economics remains a discipline that I find difficult to wrap my head around, and partly because the path from being just one person who cares about the environment to influencing global economic policy (which, you’ll recall, is the only thing that matters, according to Gernot Wagner) seems long and unlikely.

I came across this article by RSA’s Jonathan Rowson in The Guardian recently, that helped matters a fair bit. It pins the emphasis squarely back on behavioural change, and provides a useful framework for thinking about climate change.

Continue reading

adho mukha svanasana tadasana

I helped take photos at an Iyengar Yoga workshop my mom conducted this morning. It felt good to pick up a camera after very, very long, and also be reunited with my (dad’s) beloved 50mm f/1.2 lens. It’s an ancient lens, and only allows manual focusing - combined with my dad’s fancy full-frame camera which I borrowed today, taking decent photos with it was quite tricky. But after so much fiddling and adjustment, each nice photo taken with this lens feels like a hard-earned reward.

Post-processing this batch of photographs was also fun - I experimented with 'Yesterday', a new Photoshop action I found on DeviantArt. I was very enamoured with it at first, but the treatment is a bit too strong on some shots. The search for a editing process I can adopt as a ‘signature look’ for all my photos continues. If you have any recommendations for your favourite post-processing actions, please share! 

You can find out more about my mom’s Yoga classes here

Back to school

One of the things I’ve been super excited about since 2014 began was the commencement of a course I signed up for on Coursera, entitled ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’. I’ve just finished watching Week 1’s lectures and doing the quizzes, and am generally quite impressed with it. 

I was initially really uncomfortable with the emphasis on overpopulation as the main factor of concern with regard to long-term sustainability as opposed to the unjust and unequal distribution of resources. I was relieved that by the end of the first lecture, there was a lot more discussion about inequality, and that inclusiveness seemed to be a central concern for sustainable development. I’m cautiously optimistic about the rest of the course, and excited to see how it goes.

I also really like how the coursebook is available in EPub, Mobi and PDF formats. It’s such a small thing, but such a nice, thoughtful detail. 

This one sentence from the first lecture sums up a lot of my motivation to stay in the field I’m in, and work harder at being a more effective environmentalist: "We study sustainability because we know we can do better".  

We can, and I can.

Glamour couple

Three of the many, many phrases I never thought would feature in our married life: 

"If I was Narendra Modi, I’d totally use you to get votes!" 
- (Ram, during a discussion on Narendra Modi’s secrecy about his marital status.) 

"All right, nobody pees or poops for a few hours!" 
- (Me, after having spent an hour scrubbing the bathroom spotless) 

"What?! Why won’t you dig my nose for me? I would dig your nose for you!" 
- (Ram, and don’t ask.)

It’s been three (or two, depending on which wedding you’re counting from) months since we’ve been married, and I still can’t stop marvelling at how easy and hilarious and amazingly wonderful it is to be married to this man. ♥!