#MyVote2019 – ‘Modi Can Steer Well'

I am a self-taught person like him. And I continue to learn new tricks of the trade with each passing year. I feel our PM is a go-getter too. However, I feel he needs to be clearer about the goals he wants to achieve. If he gets a second term as our prime minister, he should focus on the development of one sector at a time and not open too many fronts simultaneously. I don’t think there’s another leader of his calibre in the political field today.

Rahul Gandhi or any other leader from BJP or the Congress, are not even close. Modiji also knows how to communicate and connect with the masses. Rahulji seems to be a nice person, but he does not have a powerful presence. And in a country as huge as India, where people with a million viewpoints reside, one should be smart enough to appeal to all viewpoints at least a little.

Ab market me Modiji ka sikka chal gaya hai, toh unko hatane ke liye Opposition ko apne me bahut parivartan lana padega (Modi has gained currency in Indian market. The Opposition not only needs to be confident, but also appear confident before the masses). Modiji should tone down his confidence just that little bit. That he was confident about demonetization is okay, but that he sprang a surprise on people was not okay. During demonetisation I had to go completely hungry for one and a half day.

Truck drivers are most of the times driving their vehicles to unknown places and during such tough times (like demonetization) strangers aren’t very helpful. I would not like to go through such a surprise ever again, no matter how much I respect the PM. We need a leader who has both good intentions and is also smart enough to make good strategies to execute those intentions.

The rise in petrol prices has been a difficult one to bear for most people and the government should definitely look into it. Though the petrol prices don’t affect me directly as the owner pays for the petrol and other overhead expenses, yet it does affect the rest of my family of 11 members. I don’t have much idea about GST, but I soon need to learn about it because I want to start my own business in a couple of years. I am with Modiji on all his policy decisions and want him to repeat the term in 2019 as well.]]>


‘We Can Survive GST, Not Hate Politics’

However, since 2014, the main issues related to good governance like health, education and development have been pushed to the background while identity politics has been brought to the forefront. You only have to browse through social media platform to witness this rising phenomenon. Now, our religious identity has taken over our national identity.

A lot of people find it easy to openly generalise/stereotype an entire community based on the act of an individual from the community.  Aren’t there black sheep in every group, every collective? Knowing each person individually takes a lot of courage, persistence, openness and compassion while judging others is easy.

The ruling party is using technology brilliantly to propagate this judgemental attitude and I believe that the Opposition can stake a claim to power in 2019 only if they also use technology in equal measure to propagate the good values and counter BJP. I want the Opposition, especially Congress, to be proactive rather than reactive. I want them to make their own policies, forge their own path rather than taking actions based on the actions of the BJP.

I believe people take all that Congress has done for granted. Apart from the physical infrastructure to the education infrastructure to development policies for the poor and the marginalized, the Congress has managed to give direction to such a huge country. They are not perfect, they made mistakes and they should own up to it.

The very technology that Modiji and his party are putting to such good use today was also brought in by Congress – remember Sam Pitroda during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure. Let’s not live under an illusion, ultimately when no one is left to hate, it turns inwards and also starts affecting the people who started hating other people first.

We are Indians, and it is a beautiful feeling to perceive poetry, food, music, literature, fashion and psychology and philosophy the way we do. No matter who comes to power, love should be number one on their manifesto. Things like demonetisation, rise in petrol prices, the confusion over GST, we can live with. What we can live is disharmony in society. We all want peace and love. I hope we all make a sensible decision in 2019.


#MyVote2019 – ‘I Will Press NOTA Button'

st century.

I even travelled to Uttar Pradesh to attend one of his rallies in March 2014. Mesmerised by the response he drew from the crowd, I felt he was the destiny’s child who would change the way we live in India. I even fought with my parents, who are Congress supporters for generations. But sadly, even with Shivraj Singh in the state and Modi at the Centre, little changed for the common man in my region; I am sure the story is same everywhere in the country.

Worse, we are now lynching people for cows, organizing crowds for Ram Temple and building statutes. Whatever happened to the development model! Since March 2014, I have learnt a lot about how politicians of all hues, be it Congress or BJP, thrive on sweet words and golden dreams. In the last five years I have been searching for a respectable job.

I can speak fluent English, I have done MBA too. But where are the jobs Modiji promised? In the last four years, I have taken numerous examinations for a sarkari naukri, I have applied in every company from Dilli, Mumbai to Bengaluru that was looking for fresh graduates. Every day I would check my email for a positive response.

Finally, look what I am doing here – he points to the ladle and dishes he is carrying – serving daal baati choorma. We own some farm land but the people managing it tell us that the yield is only falling while the cost of seeds and fertilisers are shooting up. For the past three years, there is no income from the land. My family’s favourite pastime is talking about our Bhadoria Rajput lineage.

I have begun to feel sick now listening to those stories. Politicians tell us false stories about the future, and voters like my family stay drunk in their false glorious past. The present remains bleak. I will give you my personal example. Several years ago, there was a buzz in my native town that the land near the highway would become costly and builders will be paying handsome money for it.

There was euphoria among land-owners. They kept counting their chicken before they hatched. Till date, there are no other takers to those tracts of land. Few understand that real estate business is in poor shape. But people are living in the hope of selling it one day and make good money.

This is how politicians keep the voter on the hook – with hope of a better future. This is the lesson I have learnt which no university will ever teach you. I am happy that there is NOTA (none of the above) in the voting machine now. That is where I plan to press my finger.


#MyVote2019 – ‘BJP Did Well in Healthcare’

In this regard, I hold Modi regime has performed well. The revision of stent prices was a revolutionary decision taken by the government. I have seen patients giving blessings to Modi. Earlier, stents were dubiously priced high and beyond the reach of the poor and lower middle class patients. Things drastically changed when the Centre standardized the stent prices.

Even people from low income groups are able to opt for a stent placement. I would like to share the story of Shanti Singh, a patient from Varanasi who came to Lucknow for treatment. When she came here, the price of one stent was about Rs 1.5 lakh. After we gave her an estimate, she quietly went back home. However, after the prices were revised, Shanti came back to us and this time the entire cost of her treatment –which included installing two stents in her coronary arteries, medicines and hospital stay — totaled just Rs 70,000.

Next, the Ayushmaan Bharat health scheme is a revolutionary step towards providing comprehensive healthcare services to this country’s citizens. A majority of the beneficiaries under this scheme are able to get themselves treated at private hospitals, which are bound to entertain them without any excuse. This takes the load off government hospitals to a great extent.

And we can improve our performance. Private hospitals did have initial objections, but now they have no other choice. A friend of mine who runs a private hospital in the neighboring district was forced to allocate a sizeable number of beds for the beneficiaries of this scheme.

He was rather perturbed by this but gradually he had to get accustomed to it. Also putting most of the life-saving drugs under direct price control and opening of Jan Aushadhi Kendras at government hospitals will surely be another feather on the cap for the BJP government. I will undoubtedly support a repeat term for the Narendra Modi government.


#MyVote2019 – ‘No Vote For Gau Rakshaks’

Akhir Ali, proprietor, Bharat Sports, Morena Sim Bazaar, Madhya Pradesh

I am 71 now. I have been selling sports goods for more than five decades. We have a shop, Bharat Sports, in Sim Bazaar (Morena, MP) but our main income comes from fairs at small towns. My work therefore requires me to travel to Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. (Narendra) Modi may be a great leader, but his supporters are a violent lot. Buraai bardashth nahi (Modi’s criticism is unacceptable to them).

We keep reading about gau rakshaks ganging up against innocent Muslims. TV channels often report about lynch mobs targeting the minority community. Each time there is a mention of the word Modi, in a train, bus or public place, you will find people intensely defending all his actions. I stay away from such debates or discussions.

This wasn’t the case earlier. At the fairs, or during travel, we openly discussed politics. Today, it is not advisable to disclose your political views, especially if they are not in favour of the Yogi-Modi brand of leadership. ‘Mahaul bahut kharaab hai (Bad times have befallen).’ No matter what hardships you faced during note-bandi (demonetization), you must bear it silently.

In mid-November, 2016, several marriages in our village and nearby area were postponed. For the ones which could not be postponed, families gave written oaths to return money once things normalized. My business suffered. There were no crowds at the fairs where I had brought the stalls. Those were tough times. But no, you cannot say a word against note-bandi. Or you will be called gaddar (traitor).

It is doubly difficult for a Muslim, you understand. My vote is reserved for the Congress party. Only Congress can keep Modi in check. Anywhere the BJP comes to power, it lets loose idle youth branding swords and sticks in rallies. There was one Bajrang Dal procession here too some time back. These men with saffron bandanas kept shouting ugly slogans and looked at us threateningly.

I have advised my family to keep their gaze low whenever they faces such aggression. Good men are in each party. Shivraj Chauhan (former Madhya Pradesh chief minister) is a good man. The former BJP MLA Rustom (Tomar) phool wala is a good man. He even sanctioned Rs 8 lakh for the graveyard in Morena. We never had any complaint from him. But how can we vote for him? His party wily-nily patronises gau rakshaks, after all.


#MyVote2019 – ‘I Want Modi As PM, But…’

All economic/ national interest reasoning aside, the fuel cost still pinches on a personal level. I have to cut corners from the money that I earn by giving tuitions as well as the pocket money given by my family, so that I can manage petrol for my bike. I admit that on many counts I am happy with the current government. Modi ji is making a genuine effort to clean up the politics from the top. But he is often ill-advised when it comes to implementing certain avoidable decisions.

Demonetisation, in my opinion, was a total failure.  Where’s the black money which Modi ji promised to bring back? Will he answer these questions when he comes here to ask for votes in 2019? I want to advise Modi ji to think twice before taking any big decision or making big promises in election rallies. I would like to see him become the PM again, but this time with certain checks and balances in place. I know right now there is nobody in our politics who deserves to be prime minister more than Modi ji.

But he better choose a good cabinet and then use his time to take important decisions after getting an in-depth understanding of their impact on people’s lives. The Opposition needs to pull up their socks. They can beat many BJP leaders but they still have a long way to go to challenge Modi ji’s stature. They need to build a personality of their own and not one that is built in contrast to Modi ji’s personality.

Mental Patient’s Caregiver

Trauma Of A Mental Patient’s Caregiver

Sonali*, 30, recalls with horror the day her mother turned a complete stranger to her. Being the only caregiver to her mother, her young shoulders were burdened with the responsibilities of managing an entire household along with taking care of her younger brother.

Her story.  I am 30 now but I keep going back to the 13-year-old me, time and again. The girl who didn’t know what to make of the sudden changes in her mother’s behaviour. My doting mother had suddenly turned into a stranger. I desperately needed my father to make sense of the situation but he was away, fighting the country’s enemies at the border while I battled the invisible demons at home.

I didn’t know that my mother was suffering from schizophrenia. I blamed and doubted myself for my mother’s sudden anger issues. She had stopped taking care of the house and was least bothered about me and my younger brother. I wondered if she was unhappy with me or the new place we had shifted to. Confused and anguished, I trudged on with the household chores which included taking care of my brother, who was seven at that time.

I remember waking up with cold sweats in the middle of the night. There were days when I was worried that one day my mother would fail to recognize us. My father desperately tried to leave the army and get a regular job but to no avail. For three years, things were chaotic and I was left all alone, managing between school and home.

I have no memory of how I spent my life from age of 13 to 16, perhaps I have repressed those memories inside the deepest recesses of my being. If someone asks me how I managed school and home together, I just don’t remember. The only thing I remember very vividly is that for long stretches Maa wouldn’t let us go to school for fear of being alone (paranoia). The maximum we went without going to school was three months.

Not only did I have no one to talk to at home, even my friends at school were drifting away. This was the loneliest phase of my life. Besides the mental trauma, it was physically exhausting. I have a bad case of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and dysmenorrhea, which means I suffer immensely during my periods. It is so bad that many a times I have been hospitalised.

And it has been like this right when I first started menstruating. And throughout this my mother wasn’t there to comfort me and help me through the transitions that my body was undergoing. Our family came together, when my father was finally posted in Delhi. My father had no one to help him out and he too suffered the way I did. Things finally looked up for me, when I left home to live in a hostel in a far-off city to pursue my graduation.

My father would still sometimes be posted in remote locations, but my brother was now capable of looking after mom. I finally found people I could open up to. They were my best friends –my soul sisters, as I call them. Their company made up for the years I spent in loneliness. My nightmares finally stopped. It was during my hostel days, that I gathered all my courage and finally started living for myself.

By then my mother had been diagnosed and I finally stopped blaming myself for my mother’s behaviour. I realised that I could still share my emotion but it was Maa who had lost the capacity to love. This gave me a sense of closure. I completed my post-graduation. It was full of amazing experiences, which have today led me to a successful career in the marketing sector.

I also love being the fashionista that I had always dreamt of being since childhood. A girl needs her parents the most during adolescence, but I had nobody to talk to. I shared my story so that children of people, who suffer from mental illnesses can find the much-needed support.

I am still not aware of any support groups operating for caregivers of patients suffering from mental illnesses. But they are very much, the need of the hour. Also, if I can weave a beautiful life despite the initial hurdle and be the master of my own destiny, so can others. *(Name of the narrator was changed on request)  

Life Reboot III

Life Reboot III – ‘How I Battled My Fears’

He would always discourage my poet father from writing poems, even punish him. Fortunately, my father’s perception about art was just the opposite. At the age of 3, he sent me to a dance school to learn Kathak -an Indian classical dance form. But the general mood in my small, sleepy town of Shivpuri reflected that of my grandfather’s — art doesn’t pay. Though, I am grateful that my father encouraged me to pursue dance, I was initially sceptical about taking it up as a career.

How would pay my bills? But I was to be proved wrong! In 2004, after completing my graduation I moved to the state capital, Bhopal. Though not a metro, it was still a big city. However, here too I faced taunts as I could not converse in good English. I was often ridiculed for not having a ‘good personality’. Unable to find a good job I enrolled in an air-hostess training course.

But still I could not get a job because of a scar on my forehead. Finally, I decided to move to Delhi, but could only find a job at a BPO. Though my employees were good, I felt I was an artist trapped in a BPO. You can imagine how my free, creative spirit would have felt about targets, endless calls, meetings and insane shifts. I had resigned to a life of mediocrity and never thought that it was possible for me to become a respected artiste, choreographer.

Graveyard shifts meant my body rhythm had gone haywire. Lack of sleep meant I didn’t have the energy left to dance. The meagre salary meant, I could only afford a single bed in small PG accommodations, where most of the times there wasn’t even enough space to stand, let alone dance. I later moved on to the tech support team at HCL, and life was marginally better. By 2011, things began to look up for me. I started participating in cultural events at our office after a friend talked me into it.

One of my dance performances at an office event (Talent Council Election) caught everyone’s imagination. I started getting noticed and was praised by the top management. I helped start a culture of art encouragement at HCL. Though I did not possess an MBA degree, I was asked to join the HR team as an Employee Relations Executive.

Meanwhile, my roommate helped me with my English speaking. I was allaying my fears, one at a time. In 2003, I finally quit my job and started teaching dance at the Delhi Dance Academy in Lajpat Nagar and at various schools. It was physically tiring, but soul-satisfying. I later moved on to a bigger studio in Kalkaji called Dancercise. By 2014, I had an impressive number of students, including a few foreigners. I also realised that nobody, not even the foreigners, cared about my English.

They only cared about my teaching skills. And I can make anyone dance. I may sound immodest, but I first move people’s souls and then move their feet. I soon started putting dance tutorial videos on YouTube. One of my dance tutorial videos on YouTube garnered over of one crore views. Most of my videos were receiving views between 20-80 lakhs. Soon, I began getting invitations from the likes of Google for conducting special training sessions.

I was part of the recently organised YouTube Fanfest, 2018. And today I feel proud to be a bonafide artiste — a small town girl, who learnt that there is no point in holding ourselves back from dreaming big. Life came full circle, when residents, artiste associations and municipal bodies of Shivpuri recognised my work and showered me with awards and accolades. To help my town dream big, last year I organised a dance workshop for kids. My father recently wrote a poem on me. Dream on, dance on, live on!

Life Reboot II – ‘Challenge Is Opportunity’

They taught me an important lesson: steer clear of fair-weather friends. My ‘friends’ had done the math, they were by my side because I came from a rich family. The moment they saw the riches dwindling, they decided to move on. This is my story of riches to rags and the struggle for a turnaround. The change in our fortunes was so sudden that I was not at all equipped to cope with it. My father was in the construction business.

He was considered among the top names in the business. Our world came crashing when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. This sudden medical crisis drained us of all our savings. The after-care was no less taxing. My father became physically fit but wasn’t mentally strong enough to take on the rigours of the construction business. My younger brother and I had a tough time coming to terms with the situation.

To top it all, I had to prepare for my Class X Board exams. In the current circumstances, our futures looked bleak. To ensure that our schooling was not hampered, my mother had to pitch in. She was a housewife for as long as I could remember. She had quit her nurse’s job 15 years ago to raise us. But once again, she started work as a nurse, and this time she had to restart from right from the bottom of the rung and work her way up.

Meanwhile, we somehow managed to motivate my father to pick up the threads and resume his business. He did, and within three years, he was cheated of all his money. This time we had to sell our house and our car just to put food on the table. Those who are born poor have a fire burning in them that pushes them to earn riches, but those, who are born rich and suddenly lose it all, have a tough time trying hard to keep up their old lifestyle.

They have no idea of the struggles that come along with poverty. All our relatives and friends had disappeared. Rather than helping us, people made fun of our situation. Taunts about how we could not maintain our old lifestyle were something we were getting used to. This strengthened my resolve to become financially literate. The trials and tribulations of a teenager have no end. But in my situation, my teen years were abruptly cut short.

I started thinking like an adult, hoping that one day I could alleviate my family from the financial crisis. I finally completed my schooling and started my graduation in History (my passion), but often I would find myself in the library reading up pink papers and basic books on Economics. To move ahead, I had to be cautious. My younger brother and I did not have the luxury of taking wrong decisions when it came to our futures.

A friend introduced me to the concept of a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This tool helps you analyse your strengths and weaknesses and measure them against the opportunities, and threats that lie ahead. For all my major decisions, I used this tool and it turned my life around. My brother and I would have long discussions about which stream/ profession we should take up.

How much it will cost us and what would be the returns. Do we have enough savings or would we need a student loan? We worked everything out. My father wanted me to be a journalist. I finished my graduation and took up a professional course in journalism at a premier private media institute (with financial help from some relatives).

By the time I finished my course and started looking for jobs and internships, I discovered that jobs in journalism had dried up. I wasn’t prepared for this. I suddenly found myself desperately searching for jobs and finally landed myself in a small public relations firm. The salary was not much, but the job proved to be the solid foundation from where I could finally spread my wings.

Here I came across a senior colleague, who helped me with soft skills that are important in corporate life — body language, power dressing, voice modulation, diction, inflection, inculcating reading habits, building a good vocabulary, taking quick decision etc. I started keeping a pocket diary, where I would jot down my thoughts. I learnt to empathise with others and work in teams.

My mentor taught me to value my time and confidently ask for corresponding pay during appraisals. But the most important thing she taught me was to pass on the kindness to others that she had passed on to me. Today, just like her, I also mentor youngsters, who ask me for help. For three years now I have been working with one of India’s topmost luxury brands. I have sponsored my brother’s higher education and have managed to save a good amount of money.

Sports Instincts Saved Me

Life Reboot: ‘How My Sports Instincts Saved Me’

From a career in the media to pumping iron, it has been an eventful journey for Sapna Khanna, who won Ms Fitness India title at an age of 48. Her story: Born in an army family meant we were always moving to newer cities and towns. While the landscapes kept changing, the one thing that remained constant was my intense involvement with fitness and sports. I would try and stay fit as a teenager by cycling, running, jogging etc.

Often I found myself to be the only girl exercising outdoors, be it in the Cantt or the civil area. However, because of hormonal changes and study stress, I gained weight.  This earned me the nickname of King Kong in school. It was then that I vowed, no matter what other important things were going on in my life, staying fit would always be my priority. This was a time when there were hardly any gyms.

So losing weight 30 years ago wasn’t an easy job. Even now, though the fitness scene has nearly exploded in the Delhi-NCR area,  it still has a long way to go in many small towns. Sports always taught me to rely primarily on my instincts and then assess a situation using my brain. This habit has always stood me in good stead while making important personal decisions and career moves in life.

I didn’t choose a career in sports or fitness back then because of lack of options. I had graduated in English Literature and a writing career was what I wanted to pursue. In 1992-93, I started my career in the Public Relations at administrative wing of IIFT (International Institute of Fashion Technology). Owing to my writing skills, I started getting offers from mainstream media as well.

Offers kept pouring in. So, I decided to give wings to my creativity and freelance. But, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Given the fact that I had chosen to marry in my early twenties, from a very early age I was managing both, a career and a family. I quite literally had my hands full. There were times when I would be writing stories and trying to put my son to sleep simultaneously.  And kids often bring sleepless nights with them, but I never let that affect my writing.

There was a dearth of good fashion journalists back then, which meant I had mountain loads of work. Freelance writing gave way to permanent positions in big media houses. By this time my children had grown up too.  Things were pretty smooth until one day in 2010, I started feeling tremendous pain in my knee because of an overuse injury.

The doctor misdiagnosed it as the onset of early arthritis, and said that I would have difficulty in walking and running. This came as such a sudden shock to me. I had represented my school in national-level skating championships, badminton, cycling etc; I had even been the school sports captain. Something within me discarded the doctor’s advice and I started working with a personal trainer, who made me stand back gloriously on my feet, with extensive weight-training.

Meanwhile, I had reached a very good position in my career. But since my younger child was in her teens and needed me more than ever, I decided to quit mainstream journalism altogether. I freelanced for a while, but my heart was perhaps yearning for a career in fitness. The signs were loud and clear. I suddenly had more time to invest in my workout and I realised how much I loved it. Other people could see my dedication too and soon everyone at the gym started wanting me as their training partner.

They would ask me about my schedule, diet etc. My friends egged me on and I finally took up the Reebok Fitness Certification course in January 2015, which focussed mainly on aerobics, mix martial arts, pilates training, and a detailed study of the body. I had a client list ready and waiting for me to start my career as a fitness expert.

My mix of outdoor training, functional training, mix martial arts, weight training, plus my belief that one needed to understand an individual’s psychology before understanding their body-type made people love me all the more. Nearly 43,000 people follow my fitness page (Sapna Khanna Fitness). The same page got me an offer to participate in the Ms Fitness India which meant I had to up my game by various notches.

I had to go through multiple rounds, which included maxim number of push-ups, sit-ups  and  bench presses in a minute; plank-hold competition; lifting weights one-and-a-half times my body weight etc.I competed with 31 other well-toned bodies to finally win the coveted title. Where’s the doctor now who told me to retire from the gym for good, with the advice to invest in a ground floor house? And that was practically a decade ago!