Love Actually

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In the words of Christian in Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” That truly is the essence of love and of living. We could be the kind of person who wears their heart on their sleeve or someone who is indifferent to all the mushiness in the world, but there is nothing more sincere than genuinely feeling for someone other than you. We begin to exhibit selflessness and fondness which we never thought we possessed. That is precisely what love does to us, it transforms us into something other than ourselves and at the same time letting us be who we are. Relationships form the core of our being. They are vital in shaping the people we inadvertently become. The bond we share with our parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbors and even our pets for that matter, help us grow and realize the value of things we otherwise take for granted. It is so easy to overlook the people around us and what they do for us day after day. How often do we turn back and whisper a thank you or even do something small yet meaningful in return to show them how we really feel.
In our cover story this Valentine’s month, we bring you ordinary people with extraordinary stories. Tales of love personified in various ways through different relationships. We look at a young, unmarried man who didn’t shy away from adopting a Down Syndrome baby and raising him on his own. A gay couple who courageously went forth with what they really wanted, to be together and went ahead and got married. The bond shared between siblings who live countries apart. A girl who cares about animals, not just pets, but strays and neglected animals as well. Decade-old friends who reunited one fine day and have made sure to make time for each other ever since.
While we read through these compelling stories, we need to understand that not everyone can recount a tale worth sharing. We may be drawn to the ever dramatic lives of celebrities or twisted movie plots with make believe scenarios, but in all honesty we need to rise above all the spicy controversy. The wait for something magical to take place has never gotten anyone anywhere. Engage in the here and now. Make time in between busy schedules for people that matter. Practise gratitude and appreciation while you still can. Learn to give more than you get without the cold calculations in your mind. Rather than whiling away our time and worrying about meeting the right person, we should spend our days trying to be the right person. A better child, student, sibling, employee, neighbor or pet lover. Let’s learn to love more and be more during this season, whether you’re single or dating, living with your family or away from home. We might not love every bit of another person, but as they say, “People call those imperfections, but no, that’s the good stuff.”

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The Guru-Shishya Connect

Mandeera Tracy Chaudhari has studied Bharat Natyam under her guru, Sandhya Tai for over 30 years. We talk to her about what this relationship means to her and how it changed her life

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR GURU, SANDHYA TAI.
Normally when you think of a guru you think of somebody who’s a lot older than her student; someone who keeps preaching and giving philosophical lessons. It wasn’t like that between Sandhya Tai and me. She’s only 10 years older than I am. When I started off studying dance, I started it just like a hobby class. But over a period of time, I saw that this was not like a regular class because she made it so. We used to go out a lot. My guru took me out for a lot of programmes. In fact, I saw my first Russian ballet, The Swan Lake with her; because she thought that I needed exposure to dance forms apart from Bharat Natyam. It was only because of her that I could go watch performances of dance legends like Protima Bedi and Sanjukta Panigrahi. Even beyond these performances, she has taken me to the aquarium and melas. At that time I thought of it as just entertainment; I just thought she loved me a lot and wanted to spend time with me. But it wasn’t until much later that I realised that her intention was to have me observe movement and expression. In Bharat Natyam, we have something called Mainavi Gati, which has to do with the movement of a fish; so when we would go to an aquarium she would subtly tell me to look at how the fish is moving. When we used to go for these horse rides, she would tell me to look at how the horse is standing, in its particular stance and posture. We call it the Ashvakranta, and there is actually a lot of resemblance between the posture of the dance and the posture of a horse.
I started studying under her when I was 10, and it’s been 30 years today that I’ve been studying under her. In today’s day and age, sharing a relationship with somebody for 30 years is a feat. You can’t even be sure to have a good, healthy relationship with your spouse for as many years now. I can say that we have stood the test of time and seen it all, the ups and the downs and everything in between.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT WITH YOUR TEACHER?
I’ve been with her for so many years that it’s quite hard to pinpoint one single moment, but if I had to, it’d very obviously be my Arangetram. Being her first student, she had a lot of expectations from me and I wanted to fulfil those expectations. She was very happy with the Arangetram that I did, and I think that was the first memorable moment that I had with her. After that, the moment she chose me to present the Marathi Nirupan, which is like a margam of around 18 items and also the research work of my Dada Guru, Acharya Parvati Kumar; that was also a very memorable moment because I don’t think anyone in the class has presented this Nirupan after I did. These moments have been like wow moments in my life that I’ve had with her and they wouldn’t have been possible if not for her training and her guidance.

HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOUR RELATIONSHIP HAS EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
Through college, I was a very good student, very disciplined. I give myself credit for that. I believed in everything my guru told me. So if she said, “Mandeera, this is good for you”, I believed in it and I did it. For example, I majored in Sociology. She wanted me to major in Sanskrit, but at the time, no English medium college was teaching the subject, and I could not have done my graduation in the Marathi medium. So I majored Sociology. I was also pursuing Dance very seriously at the time. She had told me that if I wanted to pursue a career in Dance, I should learn it. I went on to do my Masters in Sociology and then followed it up with another Masters in Dance from my guru’s institute, Bharat College of Fine Arts, which has Nagpur University affiliation. Then one fine day she told me I should give my PET exam. This was long after I’d finished my education, I’d gotten married, and I had kids. I remember telling her that I was unsure about being able to pursue an education again after having been out of it for so long, and she just said, “If I’ve given you the best in the knowledge that I have, I’m sure you will do it.” The PET exam is a common entrance exam for a Ph.D. I gave it, and I passed, and I’m currently doing my Ph.D. under her from the Kavi Kulguru Kalidas University, Nagpur.

STUDENTS ARE GENERALLY INTIMIDATED BY THEIR TEACHERS. WHAT WAS IT ABOUT YOUR TEACHER THAT MADE YOU SO COMFORTABLE, ENOUGH TO STILL LEARN UNDER HER FOR SO MANY DECADES?
There’s this Hindi saying that says ‘Bhit bina nahi hoye priti’, which means, without fear, there is no love. I wouldn’t say that I’m scared or intimidated by her; I would actually term it as respect. Even today, if my guru walks into class, I will stand. Or if I’m sitting too casually, I will cross my legs. I don’t see this in children today. Times have changed, and today these children believe that outside the classroom, their guru is their friend. It is not like that with my guru and me. Though I can tell her everything and share absolutely anything with her, there is a line that I would never cross with her. It’s a maryada that is essential to the relationship between a teacher and her student.

WHAT DO YOU ADMIRE MOST ABOUT YOUR TEACHER?
I admire her dedication to the dance form and her thirst for knowledge. She doesn’t believe in rest time. She’ll just go crazy working, and teaching, and studying, and researching. Everything for her is a form of learning. I remember when we had gone for a study tour of the temples and sculptures in Tamil Nadu. We would do different taals, or we would learn the 108 karnas, just in the way that you would play a memory game in the train for fun. So by the end of the trip we had all learnt 108 karnas. Or she would ask us to sing a popular Bollywood song in Mishragati or Tishragati; something that gets her students thinking about everything in connection with dance. Another thing I admire about my guru is that she’s very patient. She has lots to give, but she is very down to earth. She always believes she have more to learn. And truth is, students can be very nasty at times. They can say terrible things about you, but she’ll just forgive them. She’ll say it’s okay, they made a mistake; it’s okay, let it go, let’s move on. My relationship with her is very beautiful and I believe I’m very fortunate to get a guru like her. She made sure to hone my talent and impart her knowledge onto me perfectly. And I will always be thankful to her for that.

Though I can tell her everything and share absolutely anything with her, there is a line that I would never cross with her. It’s a maryada that is essential to the relationship between a teacher and her student.

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The Sibling Bond

Living separately from the ones you love can be hard, but living apart from your sibling is a completely different ballgame. Tanya and Jash Balwani have lived apart since they were kids, in separate countries, and they tell us about how the bond of siblings can withstand any kind of distance

YOU HAVEN’T TECHNICALLY SPENT YOUR CHILDHOOD TOGETHER. SO WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN AN EXPERIENCE THAT YOU TWO BONDED OVER?
TANYA: We spent three years apart and then we stayed together for about 4 years, and now we stay in two different cities and it’s been almost a year now. The distance has only made us a lot more independent and yet at the same time a lot more supportive and protective of each other. So I guess living apart and leading our individual lives and figuring out our place in this world has been an experience that we’ve bonded over time and again. We don’t just wake up one morning and realize that so much has changed and we’ve grown up, in fact we get to see bits and pieces of it every now and then and that has a joy of its own.
JASH: We haven’t spent much time together, but every single minute with her has been like a bonding moment. From the late night movies we saw on laptop to the crazy dances we did, it all counted. But perhaps the most important thing was that we have always had each other’s back, with every mistake we have made.

IS IT HARD TO DEAL WITH LIVING SEPARATELY WITH SEPARATE PARENTS? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?
TANYA: Our parents have lived apart for a significant amount of their marriage and it’s because of their work and careers but then again they find a way to make it work. We’ve never seen that as a negative aspect of our lives, rather we’ve always aimed to be as hard-working and driven when it came to our goals. And living apart as a family has only taught us to never take anything or anyone for granted. Being apart does get difficult at times for all of us but then we remind ourselves that home or family isn’t about whether or not we’re together or living under the same roof. It’s a lot like branches on a tree. We grow in different directions but our roots remain as one. JASH: It’s definitely hard to live separately in two different cities. But I guess we make do with all the memories we have made with each other. Recalling upon them from time to time makes me feel bit better in my heart.

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WHEN DID YOU FIRST START BONDING?

TANYA: There was never really a time or place where we started bonding or where or when we got closer. We were always tethered to each other but with every moment that we spent together and every argument or fight we had and will have, inevitably, and no matter how far apart we are, family will always be above all else.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE THINGS THAT YOU LIKE TO DO TOGETHER?
TANYA: We love binge watching and hogging on midnight snacks like there’s no tomorrow. That’s an actual excuse that we give our parents. Who knows there might not be a tomorrow and we need to know how Sherlock faked his death.

DO YOU HAVE ANY SIMILAR INTERESTS?
TANYA: A lot actually and that’s mostly because he likes to do whatever it is that I’m doing. In fact, he’s quite the charmer and mostly known to be the fun guy amongst my friends and I’m not always happy about that. He says that he likes to do it because it annoys me but then deep down everyone knows that he looks up to his older sister. I’m kidding but it doesn’t make it any less annoying, I guess all younger siblings are like that.
JASH: We do. Most of the things that I like to do, she’s already doing. I see her as my role model so whatever she does, I like to do the same.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT EACH OTHER?
TANYA: He likes the fact that he’s taller and stronger than me now. Thanks to adolescence he can totally beat me at wrestling but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. He’s better at cooking so that basically means I never have to step in the kitchen when he’s around. But no, on a serious note, what I absolutely admire about Jash is that he cares a lot about people in general and that’s what makes him special. It’s rare enough to know a person with that quality and to have someone like that as a brother; I honestly cannot express my gratitude in words.
JASH: I like her crazy ideas and her madness the most. She makes these crazy faces that crack me up all the time. But what I like most about her is that she has a very soft spot for me, and that’s fabulous.

TELL US ONE OF EACH OTHER’S MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENTS.
TANYA: Since we’re talking about the time that shall not be mentioned and we do have plenty of dirt on each other, we’ve come to a mutual agreement of sharing something that’s haunted us both for most parts of our childhoods, which are naked baby pictures. Parents need to know that they can be traumatizing for a kid between the ages 4 and 14.

WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE MORE LIKE FRIENDS THAN SIBLINGS?
TANYA: We’re a lot like both. When we hang out or we’re doing something together, like travelling or a sport, we are a lot like friends but at the end of the day our bond is one that’s forged of stone, paper, scissors; all the elements of the universe, sweat, blood and Kryptonite. And nothing ever could compare to that.
JASH: You can actually say that we are a lot like both but at the end of the day, we are siblings and nothing in the universe can change that because it’s just perfect as it is.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF HAVING A SIBLING IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY ALTOGETHER?
TANYA: We were in two different countries for about three years, and I was 10 and he was 5 when I first moved to India and he was still in Hong Kong. The greatest challenge was not being able to be there for the important things like the kindergarten graduation, the birthdays, the camps and the school plays and having to be okay with just a phone or Skype call and a few pictures every now and then. Today, although we’re in two different cities the only way we get an idea of what we’re doing or what’s going on in our lives is through our Instagram and Twitter handles and it’s not that great of an experience.
JASH: We stayed apart for a while but then were lucky enough to stay together again, only 3 years after she moved to India. I was the happiest person in the world when we got to stay together for a bit. But now we’re apart again, and I can only hope it’s not for long.

Today, although we’re in two different cities the only way we get an idea of what we’re doing or what’s going on in our lives is through our Instagram and Twitter handles and it’s not that great of an experience.

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Blood doesn’t make a family

At the age of 28, Aditya Tiwari has become India’s youngest single father, after adopting his son, Avnish, who suffers from Down syndrome. We talk to the young Dad about fatherhood, adoption processes and his bond with his son

YOU CHOSE QUITE AN UNCONVENTIONAL ROUTE, AT LEAST FOR THE INDIAN MENTALITY. HOW DID YOU COME ABOUT WITH MAKING THE DECISION TO ADOPT YOUR SON?
On 13th September, 2014; it’s my father’s birthday. I visited an orphanage called Missionaries of Charity in Indore, which is my hometown. I’m a software engineer for Barclays in Pune. I was born and bought up in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. And I keep visiting Indore as my family still lives there. It was my first visit to an orphanage, and at my visit I saw a lot of kids; some adopted, some still not adopted. And there was this one kid who nobody wanted to adopt. His name was Binny. Upon further inquiry, I found that Binny was the only kid who wasn’t adopted, because he was a ‘special child’, as the caretakers anointed him. Now back then I didn’t know what a special child was. The caretakers told me he was an abnormal child and he won’t have a normal mental growth. They told me his legs are weak, he has some issue with his eyesight and he has a hole in his heart. They also told me his parents gave him up to the orphanage because he isn’t a normal child.
Even after I left the orphanage that day, I could picture Binny’s face in my head, so I thought on it and decided to adopt him. I wasn’t aware of any of the adoption guidelines yet so when I went over to the centre head of Missionaries of Charity, they told me that they couldn’t let me adopt Binny as it was against the guidelines; I wasn’t married and was under the age of 30, which used to be the minimum age for single parent adoption. I told them that was okay, but I wish to take care of all of his expenses and when I get married in the future, I will adopt him. They agreed and I started taking care of his expenses since then. It has been a long and hard battle from then till now to adopt my son.

HOW DID YOUR PARENTS REACT TO YOUR DECISION?
Well, at the start, my parents weren’t really happy with my decision. And it was for very obvious reasons. The thing is, we as a culture do put a lot of importance on ‘what will people say?’ In fact, even if were doing something wrong and other people at large are appreciating it, we will accept it. My parents were just troubled and worried at the mental, physical, and financial turmoil I was going through for this adoption. Secondly, I was trying to adopt a special needs child. And even today, in India, it is hard to find a partner ready to accept an adopted special child. It is after all, an additional responsibility. But the day I took over the custody of the child, everybody started appreciating it. Articles were published all over the media, and people were happy and appreciative of my efforts. My parents also were very happy and proud of me. So while it did take a while for them to understand and accept my decision, in the end, all was well. All they care about now is their grandson, and they have no concerns anymore.

WAS THE ADOPTION PROCESS HARD FOR YOU? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT IT?
The adoption process was quite intense. From being someone who didn’t know anything about Down syndrome or India’a adoption process, today, I have gotten to a place where I have experienced all of it firsthand. Binny was moved across various centers of Missionaries of Charity; Indore, Delhi and Bhopal. At the start, they tried to hide him from me, told me that they would file a police complaint against me if I didn’t stop pursuing him. I have gotten the media involved, I’ve spoken to CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority), ministers like Maneka Gandhi and Maya Singh among others for help, and basically gone through a whole lot of travel, emotional and financial turmoil in my quest for Binny. My only thought was that I wanted to give this boy a family, who was abandoned by his only because he had Down syndrome.

DID YOU ALWAYS PLAN TO ADOPT?
Adoption has been my childhood dream. I was always inspired by my parents to help people. They haven’t adopted anybody, but they’ve always helped people in whatever way they can. The first example of adoption that I’d ever seen in my life was Sushmita Sen’s, when she adopted her first daughter some 15-20 years ago. And it was right then that I had decided I will be adopting a child in the future. I hadn’t decided then if I will be adopting a girl or a boy, or whether it will be after marriage or before. My initial plan was to, of course, adopt after marriage. But I knew forever that I will adopt a child.

AVNISH WILL NEED A LOT OF THERAPEUTIC AS WELL AS MEDICAL ASSISTANCE AS HE GROWS UP. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DEAL WITH THAT?
The truth is, as a country, we are not ably equipped to deal with the needs of a special child, especially one with Down Syndrome. There isn’t enough awareness about it in our society. After these articles were published, I have received a lot of calls from all over the world, including UK, US, France, Australia, Canada, among others, telling me of various ways to help and take care of a child with Down Syndrome. In India, the ratio for kids with Down Syndrome is 1 in 500-600 kids. And there are more cases in the US and Europe comparatively. Now though Down Syndrome cannot be cured completely, it can be corrected up to 50-60%. Avnish has a hole in his heart, which will get corrected by surgery. His legs are weak, so he will need a therapist for that. He will also need speech therapy. My aim is to make sure that Avnish doesn’t have to depend on anybody in the future. I want to make him independent.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO THE YOUTH AFTER YOUR EXPERIENCE?
My message to the society after almost one and a half years of my experience with adoption is very simple. I’m a single person from a middle class family. I’d just like to tell the parents at large, who are educated, belong to well to do families; they are dropping their kids of at an orphanage because of the fear of society. I’d just like to tell them to not care about the society and just take care of their child. Secondly, I think the government and the society should encourage people who want to adopt a child, whether they’re married or single. After all, we are all human beings and we are here to help each other. If I want to adopt a child, it’s my prerogative, and it’s a good thing. So why should anyone else think about why I’m doing it, and if nobody does it usually, why am I doing it? We always think from a profit perspective. Society always tends to ask you what your profit is in something you want to do. Sometimes, there isn’t a profit. And that doesn’t make something I want to do any less important or right.

My only thought was that I wanted to give this boy a family, who was abandoned by his, only because he had Down syndrome.

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For the love of animals

Nilufer Irani has always been an avid animal lover. We get in conversation with her about her bond with her pets, and the change that the country desperately needs with respect to animal laws and welfare

HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN A LOVER OF ANIMALS? CAN YOU TELL US HOW THIS CAME ABOUT?
My earliest memory of loving dogs goes back to the age of 3 or 4. It was of my 2 Irish Setters, Bernard and Busy. It was a cold morning in Delhi. Our dogs were sunning themselves. Bernard, the bigger of the two, got up and came towards me so I could cuddle him. He was a large dog and I was tiny. I was shorter than him and when I hugged him, I used to pull myself up. I must have been very young. Secretly Bernard was my favourite! He had the most beautiful nature. My parents always had dogs and I was brought up with strong values of showing empathy and kindness to all animals. They imbibed in me an understanding that all life on this planet is precious and should be respected.

DO YOU BELIEVE ONE HAS TO BE EITHER A CAT PERSON OR A DOG PERSON, OR CAN YOU BE BOTH?
Of course one can love both! Love has no boundaries. We can love cats, dogs, horses and many other animals! It’s just a matter of preference. I have a nephew who loves frogs. He plays with them and then puts them back where he found them. He shudders to think that the French actually eat his beloved frogs. I have had dogs and cats my whole life. So I am definitely a lover of both

DO YOU THINK PETS ARE BETTER THAN HUMANS?
There are many good humans. And there are some real nasty ones too that create havoc, are cruel and senselessly take life whether it be of another human, animal or our environment. Their vile actions are mostly for profit or for sadistic pleasure. On the other hand, animals show unconditional love to their owners. You are their world and family/pack for their short lives. It’s a pity that the same can’t be said for some of their human counterparts who abandon their pets due to some inconvenience. Even animals in the wild don’t kill for sport or entertainment or any sociopathic tendencies. The carnivores kill solely to eat and feed their young. Animals don’t know malice, hate, greed, jealousy or vindictiveness. So yes, animals have better hearts than human beings.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT WITH YOUR PET?
I’m blessed to have quite a few pets. Each one of my dogs has enriched my life with joy and laughter. Each has brought their unique personalities, quirks and all, to brighten my day. One common thing they have all gifted me with is unconditional love. So rare in a human, but so free and natural for our pets. I have had so many wonderful memories with all my pets and animals. My recent most memorable moment was when my rescued Boxer, Leo, who had an aggression problem as he was an abused dog, climbed onto the sofa and put his head on my lap and went to sleep. It showed me that he had probably forgiven humans and laid his trust in me.

WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON ANIMAL RIGHTS AND TREATMENT OF PETS?
In India we have laws for everything, including animals. However no one follows these laws and no one can implement them. We as a country flout all laws. Animal rights are possibly the last agenda on most people’s list. I have seen rich/literate people neglect their pets badly. Then when they are too sick or have some issue that takes time to be solved, they abandon them or put them to sleep. We have terrible puppy farms in India. We have laws here, but who will implement them? Most of the police are clueless on Animal Welfare Laws. We have to inform them under what IPC code to note a complaint against an animal abuser/criminal. I have seen people hurt animals with the police standing and doing nothing. I don’t know if it is lack of empathy or pure ignorance; either way it is sad state of affairs. I am a part of an NGO called People for Animals headed by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi. They rescue a lot of animals; they save cows, goats etc from illegal slaughter houses, or from overcrowded trucks that are used to illegally transport them. They also fight court cases for the ban of the horse carriages in Mumbai, push for implementation and interpretation of Animal Welfare Laws across India among many other things. The Mumbai arm of our organization is in the nascent stage of building a state of the art animal hospital. Mumbai is the only big metro in India without a proper, wellrun animal hospital. We don’t have basic medical care and facilities under one roof. If your pet has any emergency at night, god help you, as there is no 24 hour care in Mumbai. With this hospital, we are trying to create a Centre of Excellence for services in 24 hour care, critical care, diagnostics & specialty procedures. We aim to develop a sustainable model wherein the profits are used toward the welfare of stray animals and creating a large social impact. We plan to have a comprehensive cancer treatment unit; it’s the only one of its kind in the country. Our hospital will take care of all your pets’ needs and issues, with properly trained vets and medical staff. We aim to bring about a huge change for all animals in and around Mumbai. This hospital will be for pets as well as all stray animals, big or small, birds, reptiles and aquatic life.

HOW CAN PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE PETS STILL BE INVOLVED IN SOME WAY?
There are plenty of ways to help animals even if one is not an animal lover of doesn’t have a pet. You only need to have empathy and care for all living beings. If you do, you are a boon for all animals and birds. You can be their voice. If you see someone hurting an animal, you can make sure you stop them or report them. You can get involved in raising money and awareness for animal NGO’s. It just takes a willing mind and a kind heart. You can leave water on your balconies or building compounds for birds in summer when it gets very hot, and leave water in bowls for the local dogs and cats in your area. You can spay and neuter your local dogs or cats. You can help an injured animal in need by calling the help line of many animal organizations or you can take them to the vet. Social media has played a big role in creating an awareness of Animal Welfare in India. I do hope it continues with more people joining in to help and spread this to all corners of the country. With education, change will come. We need to push for this to happen and everyone who speaks about it and shares a post is helping in their own small way. I am sure if this happens, there will be a big change in India and Animal Welfare laws will be followed. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

PLEASE SHARE YOUR MOST SATISFYING EXPERIENCE HELPING AN ANIMAL.
There are too many to list here. Last year a few friends who are animals lovers and I formed a group called Animal Adoption Crusaders. Animal Adoption Crusaders are committed to the adoption of homeless animals. We organized an adoption event last year in South Mumbai which was very successful. We had 30 puppies and cats that got adopted through this event. We had another one a couple of weeks ago which was also quite successful. We raise animal awareness and help raise funds for other animal NGOs to aid them in the process of fostering, adoption and any other help that they need. We raise money for feeding programs for animals as well as neutering and spaying. We have lots of cats and pups and adult dogs that have been abandoned and are now up for adoption. You can find more information about us from our Facebook page. There is so much satisfaction from just being around animals and helping them in all ways possible with love and care and time.

We plan to have a comprehensive cancer treatment unit; it’s the only one of its kind in the country. Our hospital will take care of all your pets’ needs and issues, with properly trained vets and medical staff. We aim to bring about a huge change for all animals in and around Mumbai. This hospital will be for pets as well as all stray animals, big or small, birds, reptiles and aquatic life.

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The Best Things Last a Lifetime

Mildred Castelino recounts decades of love and bonding with her friends Judy, Doreen, Nancy and Faye, portraying how some of the best things in life are the people you spend it with

TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT HOW YOU MET. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN FRIENDS FOR?
We stepped out of the portals of our school in Bandra way back in 1966 and went out into the wide world to seek our fortunes. The majority of us of course, set forth to pursue our education and subsequent careers and quite a few settled into matrimonial bliss. We lost track of each other over the ensuing decades. However we re-ignited our schoolgirl bonding in 2004. This year we usher in our golden year – 50 years of our schoolgirl bonding.

WHAT PARTICULAR THING/INSTANCE WOULD YOU SAY YOU’LL HAVE BONDED OVER?
A few of the group found themselves unable to dispel a distinct feeling of nostalgia for our school days, the plethora of memories of our carefree school days always seem to tug at our heartstrings. The grim realization that death had robbed us of our classmates, the inevitable and inexorable trudge into middle age with old age hovering in the not too distant future. What really helped us to bond together, with the initial efforts of a few stalwarts to locate our batch mates and then everyone got caught up in the exciting frenzy of locating one another in real earnest. At around this time one of our classmates lay dying of cancer and we rallied around her in little ways. One of them being penning down hilarious anecdotes of our school days for her to read and laugh over.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO TOGETHER?
The grand coming together of the local girls and some of the diaspora after 40 years in 2006. The pure undiluted joy in having found each other reigned supreme on that day. Our reunion thus became an endearing and enduring tale of love and friendship which we have managed to sustain. Meeting together over a cup of tea has now become a firm tradition and is hardly ever missed. We are in the process of planning a memorable Golden Jubilee Reunion sometime this year.

HAVE YOU HAD ANY INSTANCES THAT HAVE THREATENED YOUR FRIENDSHIP? WHAT WERE THEY?
Not really. If there is one factor that threatens our friendship is the fact that baring the local residents, it is hardly possible to keep in touch with our overseas batch mates on a regular basis. However, we make that extra effort to meet up when they visit from time to time.

TODAY, WE HEAR OF SO MANY FRIENDSHIPS WITHERING AWAY WITH TIME. HOW DID YOU’LL MANAGE TO KEEP YOUR BOND ALIVE?
By meeting from time to time, sitting together reminiscing about the good ole days when we actually got slapped for misdemeanors in the class. Taking selfies and the usual round of hugs with renewed promises to stay in touch. All this helps to keep the group together somewhat and of course being there for each other in good times or bad.

DID YOU EVER HAVE ANY INSTANCES WHERE YOU FELT COMPETITIVE OR JEALOUS OF EACH OTHER?
We are now beyond that age where competitive rivalry or jealousy ruled the roost. If antipathy or ill will does exist in the group, it is usually consigned to the back seat in the larger interest of putting aside our domestic chores aside and reveling in each others company.

PEOPLE CHANGE OVER TIME. HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY CHANGES IN YOUR FRIEND’S PERSONALITIES AS THEY GREW UP? HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH IT?
Of course changes are inescapable over the decades, but we gleefully take it in our stride. We are a diverse group of women. We have had many professionals in our midst not to mention two nuns, all which only serve to accentuate our delightful divergence.

WHAT HAS BEEN ONE OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS TOGETHER?
Our first ever reunion in December 2006. It was amazing how in just 2 hours we transcended a whole lifetime. It was an evening of dancing in gay abandon to music in quick tempo, bouts of helpless giggling and a veritable overflow of bon-homie. We were on an euphoric high. The takeaway from this memorable evening was the firm resolve to be in touch in the remaining years of our lives.

AFTER HAVING KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR ALL OF THESE YEARS, YOU MUST KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT EACH OTHER. SO WHAT DO YOU TALK ABOUT NOW?
Our families, our children and grandchildren. We moan and groan over the trials and tribulations of running a household, rising prices of onions and pulses. We also dabble in political chitchat. Of course we wouldn’t be women if we did not relish some random piece of juicy gossip. But the air of camaraderie is never absent. You can label us re-cycled teenagers at best.

YOU’VE BEEN TOGETHER THROUGH ALL OF IT; BOYFRIENDS, CRUSHES, MARRIAGE, KIDS, EVEN GRANDCHILDREN. WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO GIVE TO THE YOUTH ABOUT FRIENDSHIP?
Develop your inherent strengths but think beyond the lure of money, career and fame. Remember to sustain a firm grip on reality and honesty. Keep in mind that love and friendship are very important ingredients in life. It starts with your family, friends and society at large.

Develop your inherent strengths but think beyond the lure of money, career and fame. Remember to sustain a firm grip on reality and honesty. Keep in mind that love and friendship are very important ingredients in life. It starts with your family, friends and society at large.

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Lovek nows No Bounds

What they say is true – love conquers all. Sameer Samudra talks about his marriage with Amit Gokhale and how it takes a little courage to get where you want to be

WHEN YOU’LL FIRST MET, DID YOU THINK YOU’LL WOULD GET THIS FAR?
Amit and I met through the online ‘gaybombay’ mailing list. He was a student in Cleveland and I had recently finished my Masters in Engineering and was working in Columbus, Indiana. We started off as good friends and there was no talk about being in a relationship or dating each other. At that time Amit was very much in the closet and he did not have the courage to come to terms with his sexuality. He felt that he would need to marry a girl because of societal and family pressure. I was looking for a boyfriend at that time, so since our goals in life were completely different at that point in time we started off as just friends. At that time if someone would have told us that we would be together I would have laughed it off. But without realizing it, we fell in love with each other in the first couple of months itself and the rest as they say, is history.

WHAT WOULD BE ONE QUALITY THAT YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER, IF YOU COULD?
I don’t know if we can change anything about another person, but a quality that I always feel Amit can improve on is his worrying nature. He is a worrier and he needs to chill. I keep telling him that life is not as complicated and tough as we think. But worrying about things is just his nature. And I know that has impacted his health and mental well being at times. So, I guess if I could I would try to change this nature of his.

WHICH OF THE TWO OF YOU WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MORE POSSESSIVE ONE?
Not sure if we are possessive now, but I know in the initial days of dating I was very possessive about him and our relationship. I think with age and maturity we have grown in the relationship and built that bond of trust.

HOW DO YOU SEGREGATE BETWEEN YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE? DOES ONE GET IN THE WAY OF THE OTHER?
We work for same company, so at times it is hard to not talk about work at home. But we do try to maintain our home life separate from our work life. I love cooking, so I spend a lot of time at home doing that. He enjoys following American politics and related news, so he is usually doing that once home. We prefer to spend quality time together talking about social issues happening around the world or achievements of individuals from different walks of life. These conversations with each other help us explore life together and exchange our thoughts on different topics.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR DIFFERENCES IN OPINION?
We agree to disagree on some topics and on other topics we try to find golden mean. For example, I am an activist at heart. I believe in social justice and speaking up against injustice and cruelty in society. I am a person who will participate in marches or speak up at town halls and write letters to senators. Amit on the other hand is not much into social activism. Initially it upset me because for me, life has no meaning without social activism. But now, we both have agreed to come to common ground on topics like this. He will participate in his own way in social activism and I don’t push him to do things that he doesn’t want to. He has made me a calmer person and I had initiated some level of an activist in him. I think that’s what relationships do to you; it stretches you to get into these uncomfortable territories.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’LL HAVE EVER DONE TOGETHER?
Marrying each other in an extremely conservative state and city I guess. Initially we were not sure if having an Indian gay wedding in Columbus, Indiana is that great an idea. But then we realized we both work and live here. We have met here for the first time, so why not. Other than that, I think the second craziest thing we did together was kissing each other in front of a homophobic group of protestors in the New York City Gay Pride.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE SOCIAL STIGMA ASSOCIATED WITH BEING A GAY COUPLE?
Over the years I have learnt to only pay attention to people that matter to us and our relationship. I used to react to every negative response or person, but then I realized it’s not my problem that they have an issue with us and our relationship. Amit and I live an honest and successful life. We work hard, we pay taxes, we love our nephews dearly, we take excellent care of our parents, we go on nice vacations, we participate in social activities for the betterment of the underprivileged and we are unapologetic about the way we are and the way we live. For me, that has worked best to deal with social stigma – living an open and honest life. Over the years I have seen people change their perception of gay people when they see our lives which is just same as anyone else’s. Also, living in America gave us the courage and confidence to be who we are. Unfortunately there is still a big taboo and social stigma about gay people within our own Indian American community. Hopefully with time that will change.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE SECRET TO A HAPPY RELATIONSHIP?
Trust and communication are biggies for me. Also the desire to make a relationship work is very important. People often don’t realize but relationships need work. You have to nurture the relationship, you have to take care of the relationship and it takes energy and time to do that. Both the parties need to have the desire to make it work. Amit and I have been together for 13 years now and one thing we realized is all the work that it takes to build and nurture the relationship is really worth it.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO TELL SOMEONE WHO IS IN LOVE WITH A CLOSET HOMOSEXUAL?
Being in love is a great feeling however being in the closet can be suffocating. I know it takes courage and time to come out of the closet. However if you want your love to be respected and appreciated, there is only one way to do it, by being out and proud. I spent lot of my shaping up years being in the closet and worrying about things but now when I am open and out about who I am, it feels extremely liberating. Being myself has opened up a completely new world for me which I would not have experienced if I was in the closet. Trust yourself, value your love and feelings and come out. There is a lot of support and help available for people once they come out.

Trust and communication are biggies for me. Also the desire to make a relationship work is very important. People often don’t realize but relationships need work. You have to nurture the relationship, you have to take care of the relationship and it takes energy and time to do that.

 

Volume 5 Issue 8

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