“I still do not get how kids cannot serve their own parents, who nurtured them to make them independent, a part of the bread they earn, in the hour of need.”
~Dr. Uday Modi
At Chaaipani, we have had the pleasure to meet and write about some amazing women in the past couple of years. So this women’s day I’d like to celebrate their achievements, their dream of an equal society, and their efforts towards affecting not just their lives but lives of everyone around them.
“Sometimes when I am on a call with my clients and my daughter calls out for me, of course, they hear her voice and ask me, ‘Are you working from home or have you brought your daughter to work?’ It leaves them wondering because they never realized a stay-at-home-mom was running the organization.”
“Wo kheto mein se amrood(Guavas) tod ke khaana. Not that we don’t get them in the city. But knowing that we ate it fresh and unadulterated from the farm. When we live in the city we don’t realize the food we’re consuming might be laced with poisons(pesticides or insecticides). Crops like tomatoes and chili have to be sprayed almost every week”, he says.
“The concept where a traveling circus, goes around entertaining people moving from place to place is one that resonated immediately with all three of us. That was it. We loved the concept traveling circus. Even the logo is a man’s feet with tiger’s print in it”
Start a conversation about the inclusion of differently-abled with Disabilities Inclusion Act that replaced the 1993’s Disabilities Services Act, and there have been amazing efforts by people and organizations alike.
A 28-year-old Rahul, was about to embark on a new journey in a new home, a new job in Societe Generale in Bangalore after a stint at HCL, with his wife stepping into new married life.
Arre’s Official Chukyagiri’s second episode had just released when a friend of mine texted, “Dude did you check out Chukyagiri? Bohot fun series lag rahi hai.”
And it was. A break from the regular melodrama, the series brought fun and fresh content for an audience like me — the ones in their 20s, the ones who struggle with bai negotiations, people sharing flats or are first jobbers. The struggles, the language, the triumphs in the series — are real. Like bagging a pre-placement interview.
“A lot of the show’s content is as close to reality as possible. Like in almost every story, our intention too was to make Official Chukyagiri relatable to every person who had to painstakingly work their way up”, says Sizil Srivastava, the director of the web series.
A boy from Lucknow, Sizil has spent a tireless ten years to make his mark in the TV and advertising industry. Despite some successful ad films in his kitty, it doesn’t sound like he has had enough. In fact, while promoting the series, Sizil was seen very actively engaging with their audience, taking feedback even personally, over chats and calls.
If you look around, with the help of Google, you’ll find some of the better, socially relevant television films and commercials under his name. I’ve included one here that I remember went viral during beef ban.
“Like any other college going kid, I struggled to find my calling. I kept looking for something I would love to keep going back to. I think that’s how we choose a profession or rather, that’s how we should choose a profession”
Sizil topped his Communication Design batch at NIFT, and when it was time to decide on his career path, the event management industry seemed like a great platform to practice his creative pursuits.
“The stint lasted for 3 years, and I was able to achieve a lot of creative satisfaction through my work, but something was amiss. I wondered if there was anything more to discover, and if there was a way to make my creative voice reach a larger audience. Eventually, one of my clients gave me the opportunity to work with MTV and that’s where my desire to make films kickstarted. It was an experience that paved a way to where I stand now.”
But all wasn’t sunshine and roses at first. His first challenge came in the shape of his unfamiliarity.
“In my first two months at MTV, I was only trying to ‘figure out’ what everyone was up to. There were talented artists, musicians, VJs, movie stars walking in and out of dazzling shoots – I simply wondered if I would ever fit in.”
At this point, it isn’t difficult to draw a parallel between Spandan and Sizil. Hungry to pursue this new profession with passion and to prove himself in unfamiliar waters, he grabbed every opportunity that came his way and left no stone unturned.
“The moment you step out into a big media house like MTV and start from scratch, the first challenge is to make people trust in your potential. Since it’s a rather fast-moving industry, the onus lies completely on you to learn and grow as quickly as you can. I decided to become my own teacher through trial and error. And thus started a 10-month long journey of writing everyday. I had put myself in a challenging place, but I loved it. ”
Eventually, he did find his own place in the madness.
“At first, I was intimidated with the amount of talent the people there had. But I decided to take it all in a positive stride and began forming creative partnerships. It was not all that easy, but at the same time, MTV India was shifting its vision to becoming a primarily Hindi channel back then. Writing in Hindi and Urdu was a big change and everyone took time to warm up to. My ‘supposed’ weakness soon turned to strength and I brought a certain social relevance to the message in my scripts and eventually, my seniors started believing in my writing.”
Since then, Sizil has won multiple awards for his campaigns for Durex, Nescafe, Gaana and MTV Indies. When he was approached by Amrit Pal Bindra and Anand Tiwari at Still and Still Moving pictures for Arre’s for Official Chukyagiri, so much about the show was relatable to his past work experiences, that he instantly decided to do it.
“Isn’t it overwhelming, now that you get so much attention, suddenly?”, I ask.
Sizil decides to answer this with a small story from the past.
“Years back, during my first shoot at MTV Roadies, Raghu asked to arrange some food for him. It perplexed me; all my years of education and work experience…for this? But, I decided to be professional about it and told myself that no job is too small. At that moment, I could’ve either resorted to negativity or worked hard to render myself indispensible to the creative team. And today, when I look at all the trophies, I’m glad that I chose the latter.”
And yet again, Sizil needed to break out of the comfort zone and that triggered him to move out of MTV India and venture into advertising.
“This is when I stepped into the world of advertising, a natural progression of my career. I directed a few prominent ad films and I definitely want to work on a feature film. But it is easier said than done! On the path of moving closer to a feature and to keep honing my skills, ad films and web series feels like the right place to be.”
However now he feels the bigger canvas is not too far away.
The real journey of our lives begin when we believe we are truly free, and we are in a happy-anxious ‘Don’t Settle’ state to find what we love.
“Have you felt that?”, I ask him.
“I experienced that when I had come to Mumbai for the first time. I had to see off my parents at the station and go to college. I stood there till the train left. That moment when there was no one I could recognize in the crowd – that gave me a realization of the excitement, of possibilities, of being lost and the chance to find myself all over again.”
There are words that keep us true to our paths and give meaning to our actions. And Sizil found them in the speech by Charlie Chaplin from Dictator, we know all too well.
“The kingdom of God is within man. Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people.”
“Watching that movie, that speech, is when I realized that I am privileged just like anyone around me. However small or big, I don’t want to lose out on any chance to tell my stories.”
Ngurang Meena and Reena are from Arunachal Pradesh. A state of multiple tribes. The state of the famous Ziro Festival. A state with immense beauty of mountain ranges from the Himalayas. The kind of scenes we drew as children in our drawing class, a mountain range with a rising sun with a valley and rivers. There is a bitter reality that the people in the Arunachal face. Polygamy. Child marriage.
Reena is one of the 9 siblings in her family from 2 mothers. Reena’s mother was married to her father at the age of 13 even before she even hit puberty. The tribal customary laws support the ways of child marriage and polygamy, exchanging women in marriage for Mithuns and stones. Her mother was a victim of both these practices. Reena’s mother got married at the age of 13. Her father married another woman when Reena was around 10 years old. The practice of multiple marriages is followed without restrictions as there is no registration of marriages which would, in an ideal scenario, prevent it. Meena the eldest among the siblings in the family understood her mother’s dilemma and repercussions of another woman in the house.
“We don’t have grudges towards our father anymore”, says Reena.
They come from a very rural family. Reena’s father lived his entire schooling in one vest and two underpants. He walked barefoot until he was 16 when he got his first pair of slippers. Her father was interested in politics and worked hard to make a name in the society.
Both Meena and Reena understood that the only way to lift their region out of the abyss of these horrifying practices was to educate themselves. Meena moved to Bangalore to pursue her graduation in Economics, History, and Social Sciences. Whereas Reena moved to Delhi to pursue her graduation with a major in Social Sciences from Delhi University. Even in their colleges, they were both very active in politics and student unions, a trait that Reena says they might have inherited from their father.
“I think the silence of women towards these atrocities is what pushed us to Social sciences and to educate ourselves so that we could be their voice. The way they couldn’t voice their troubles and fight for themselves made us want to do something about the way things were.”
Meanwhile, Meena was all set to move to London to pursue further studies, but family’s financial constraints she had to return to Arunachal in 2011.
“Once you’ve had experienced new cultures, opened up to new possibilities, formed a certain mindset, and then you come back, the society doesn’t allow you to let alone change but even have an opinion different than their own”, says Reena.
This is when Meena started questioning the institution of Arunachal, the way things were. So Meena decided to leave the family and started living on her own. Things had to change. But the habitues looked at a woman living by herself as ‘weak’. She protested for proper roads to women rights, and in the past three years set up the ‘Ngurang Learning Institute’ with the aim of giving opportunities to women like their mother who were never given a chance to read and write.
“Since they were illiterate they aren’t able to enroll their children in schools, fill forms, use banking facilities.”
For a long period of time, Meena ran the institute without any money from the women she taught. She used to pursue part-time jobs and fend off for herself and teach these women. Reena would come to Arunachal for 2 months every semester and help her sister run the institute.
“These women didn’t know how to thank us. They used to bring in royal food, or native rice and meat to show their gratitude.”
In return, they had endured threats from the husbands of women. ‘She is my wife. She is supposed to cook. This is no age for her to learn how to read and write’, they would say. Since their father had a political influence, people didn’t act on the threats they made.
“One of the husbands of the women came to my sister’s place with a sword and threatened to stop teaching his wife or else..”
The women they taught, inspired and enlightened told them that they wanted their stories to be heard. They wanted the world to know what they went through so that no one ever endures what they did.
“One of the women who went through such atrocities was 3 years of age when she was married.”
Both the sisters decided to organize a pageant based on the stories of these women to share the progress they have made and to enlighten others about the prevailing condition of the state. Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh, Mother of Substance. The first proof that things are changing is the fact that, their father wholeheartedly supports the event and is the chief advisor for the same.
With so much news about how we’re progressing, initiatives to employ and empower women, help improve education, advance technology and what not, there is still a part of where such unearthly traditions are followed. Communities here do not appreciate the change. But as Elon Musk said, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is a disaster.” And these sisters have certainly put the first dent towards a change.
The finale of Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh is on 26th of November, with Mary Kom as their chief guest. Here is how you can get in touch with them to know more about them and the pageant. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and Facebook page to know more about the event. I would strongly recommend people who are in the vicinity to visit the event and show support for the courage of these women.
They have started a movement to celebrate brave-hearted women who have stood up for themselves and others as well, who for some haven’t been able to. Here’s their page to know more about the same.