29 Monday
May 2017
A lone woman’s solitary pilgrimage

I have been going to Vaishnodevi since I was kid. The first time was probably when I was 4,then 8,14, 26 and then twice more. I have always traveled with family,extended family , the last time alone with my two minor kids, but this time all alone. The urge to visit and give thanks was so strong and the company backed out at the last minute. I have immense faith in that tiny protruding rock on the top of a non motorable hill.Vaishnodevi is supposed to be the goddess of wishes or Mannat. I have always believed and she has always delivered. So the trip to say thanks. The critical part of the trip was getting the family to say yes to a lone journey. In 2013 I wanted to go but “alone” was not an option and when my friend backed out at the last minute due to a family emergency I had to cancel my flight tickets. That hurt. I found a cousin traveling with her friends 2 years later and latched on to their group just to complete my thanksgiving journey.
Last year I went with my 2 minor children. Both of whom needed to be held every minute as they would fall out of sheer exhaustion the instant I left their hands. But even minor children are protection for a single woman…. 😊 This time around my husband simply said go ahead, stay safe. He has understood what it’s like for me to be dependent on others…. and I’m so grateful he let me go. I checked into the most expensive room I could find in the belief that good hotels are definitely safer for lone women travellers. And took a non Ac Bus (couldn’t find an Ac one) so i didn’t travel alone in a taxi. Travelled in autos instead of taxis.Taking all precautions to stay safe.

Just as I reached BanGanga it started raining with hail for good measure. Accuweather had assured me 0 chance of precipitation but hey! There’s a surprise!Walked up the 12 km with a bhajan playing in my head and gratitude in my heart.

The smell of horses still reminds me of my childhood climbs. Why can’t they have bags to collect the dung? The road was covered with a mix of horse dung and rain water despite the manual cleaners. The storm flew plastic packets and horse dung debris all over the place.
The Vaishnodevi shrine board is such an active one, but wish they would do more to make the journey cleaner,neater and more pleasant for the devotees. The army ensures that there’s order and security but India’s powerful shrine of devotion needs so much more intervention.
We are a few steps away from being world class…. when will be take them?? How many years before we have cleaner shrines and bathrooms and better eateries in public places?? Simple steps like mandatory bags attached to the reir ends of horses will stop the all permeating odour and filth.
A major storm caused the lights to go off and small forest fires started at multiple places . The thunder and lightning lit up the naked peaks and made them look beautiful and frightening at the same time. The rain kissed air and sea of humanity walked with me up the steep climb sometimes almost 55-60degree incline.
I identified people from Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal, Bihar, Bengal, Kerala, Andhra based on their language and accents. It was an amalgamation of India. Rich,poor, young kids in arms to senior citizens, newlyweds with chooda on their arms,siblings,friends ,families and singletons.

Horses shared the walkway, and goats climbing the roofs ,an occasional cow,lots of monkeys on the rafters made for an interesting climb.
Faith is a beautiful thing. The Jai mata di in various tones keeps reverberating in my head. Despite the aching legs,I look forward to visiting again.

Anyway, I rode back on another bus to jammu and crashed into my hotel. It may be a small thing for any man, but for a lone woman this was the fulfilment of a very long held dream.

I’m Safe back home. A mission accomplished. Jai Mata di 🙏🏻

10 Wednesday
May 2017
Tobacco and your child.

When we think about tobacco usage, usually the image of some adults smoking in a pub with a drink in hand and we think, that’s ok, it’s a way to unwind after a hard day’s work. But going through the Global Tobacco Study of 2010 blew my mind. 5500 children start tobacco usage in India, every day! Can you imagine that!

Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to humankind. It’s more addictive than heroin and cocaine! The quit rate for tobacco is less than 5% worldwide…. that means every person who starts tobacco usage has a 95% chance that they will be addicted to it, for life!!!

My Big concern is the number of children who are starting this poison every day. Why do they start? The glamorization of smoking in movies despite the small “Smoking Kills” runner on the bottom right corner is not enough to show children how dangerous it is for them to start their first puff of death.

The surrogate advertisement on television with leading actors pretending that the pan masala brand is responsible for their life’s success influences their minds. Seeing a sachet hanging at the neighbourhood pan wala, the child imagines how cool it would make him to chew the pan masala and become the next superstar like Ajay Devgan or Akshay Kumar…… I wish every time a child is tempted to use tobacco, this image pops up in their head….of malignant growths that shorten their life span. Harbinger of death, disease and suffering.

Studies have shown that if ONE child starts smoking in a class, by the end of one year, 30% of the classmates would have tried smoking!!! That is the influence of peer pressure that our kids face today. How do you save them from this kind of pressure??? How do you ensure they don’t take their first puff?? Education is the only way out. Share with young kids the harmful effects of smoking including cancer, heart attacks, stroke and asthma. Let them know that every smoker has a 30% chance of dying prematurely because the ill effects of smoking. Cigarette smoke has more than 400 chemicals; none of them are good for the body. Why invite pain and disease??

To all the young girls who are reading this article, just a word of caution.6% of women today smoke, and 23% of men. Smoking is a disease. It does not make men or women look more modern, liberated or uber cool. It’s not because smoking mothers give birth to low birth weight babies or because of increased birth defects and asthma in children of smoking mothers. It’s simply because you as an individual are very precious, and I hope you will respect your bodies and stay away from smoking.

1.7 million Children work in the beedi industry comprising more than 21% of child labour in India. They are exposed to raw tobacco in their own houses, and studies show their tears and saliva contain tobacco. The low cost of labour, the fact that 90% of this sector is unorganized and works from home, and the leniency in implementing the juvenile justice act sections continue exploitation of this vulnerable section of society.

tobacco products is permitted within 100 meters distance of educational institutions and No sale of tobacco permitted to minors. It would be wonderful if these laws are implemented in letter and spirit and exemplary punishments meted out to violators.

Our future generation is as risk, and this is our children we are talking about, not random statistics. I urge all parents to explain the ill effects of tobacco products including pan masala, gutka, beedis and cigarettes to your children and empower them to say No every time they are offered a tobacco product.

Dr Sarika Verma.
ENT Surgeon and Allergy Specialist.

1 Monday
May 2017
Dear Indian Media.

Dear Indian Media,
I write to you as a volunteer of Aam aadmi party. This political movement gained nation wide importance thanks to your coverage of the movement asking for a strong lokpal bill.Almost 25 lakh people came on the the road asking the government for transparency and accountability of the political class to the common man and woman who are nameless, faceless and powerless . It was your finest hour.
5 years from that historic time, your international ratings have fallen to 136 out of the 198 named nations and the quality of your debates ,discussions and prime time intellect has a lot of us wondering what IS wrong with you??
How did the media ,the fourth pillar of democracy become a puppet and mouth piece of the powers that be??? Can it be merely because the government has spent 1100 crores of tax payers money on canvassing for BJP in the last 3 years?? I’m sure you get enough funds from every government after all you are the one means of mass media in a nation with 74.04% literacy rate.
The common man who is not connected with any political party still believes you. The educated class still gives a lot of weightage to what you say in prime time and what you write …. so when will you stop writing obituaries of the Aam Aadmi Party? You didn’t write one for the oldest party of India when they got 44 seats in the 2014 elections ,and 0 seats in the Delhi 2015 elections, nor one for the BJP when they got just 3/70 seats in Delhi. Why this perverse thrill in going on harping about AAP being finished despite getting 46/272 seats in Delhi MCD and Arvind Kejriwal being over???
What is it about AAPs existence that scares you? And what is it about the common people being in power that lets you get away with this kind of malicious attitude? It’s just like in the movie “A Wednesday ” the police commissioner became lax knowing it was a common man not a terrorist on the other end of the phone. You will glorify ad nauseatum a chief minister of one state while you keep on villifying a man who by your own admission is honest and clean. You will keep quiet about the horse trading of MLAs that took place in 2 states and not report the fact that the RTI act is being diluted to inconsequence .
There was a time when India did not have television but newspapers and radio spread the message of Gandhiji and Tilak to the masses. Your silence on some of the biggest scams of today is scary and makes more and more people dependent on social media to find out snippets of real news. We all want a digital shining India but you have to report the truth. You are supposed to be a national watch dog not the governments pet.
Your mindless drivel is making a lot of people shun television. I don’t expect you to develop a conscience and wake up and improve your standards,but please know the entire world knows of your falling standards and that you’re reducing yourself to insignificance.

Jai Hind.