Monthly Archives: December 2010

Breaking News: New Year Resolutions Fail… Once Again

Remember that scene in Alice in Wonderland (the Disney cartoon, not the Johnny Depp mish-mash) where the caterpillar suddenly metamorphoses into a butterfly? Is that what we hope for when we indulge into a deluge of New Year resolutions every year, before forgetting them a few days later?

Not that there is anything wrong with New Year resolutions. Some would argue they are good for you; they give you hope. I am not sure they give as much hope as they temporarily delude you into thinking that there is hope.

What if we, for a change, did not make any resolutions? What if we didn’t make promises of grandeur to ourselves only to fail once again? What if we stepped into the New Year accepting ourselves for who we are?

Changes do not happen overnight, and just a change from 2010 to 2011 should not automatically make you a whole different proactive person. I know I won’t stop procrastinating just because it’s a brand new year. Sure, I can promise myself; I can try not to give in; but like an elastic band that has been stretched too far, I will eventually snap back into place.

The New Year is supposed to be about hope, about joy, about getting drunk and forgetting your worries with simple delusions. But this year, I promise not to make any more resolutions. Since resisting the New Year tradition of resolutions is futile, this, my friend, is mine.

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In Perfect eHarmony

An edited version was published by SouthAsianParent.Com on 1st December 2010.

“You are not getting any younger,” my mother reminded me for the—I’ve actually lost count—umpteenth time in my life. “Don’t I know,” I wanted to retort. But well-brought up Indian girls don’t shoot questions back at their parents. Apparently, I had only one choice now. Shaadi.com. I couldn’t imagine the horror of explaining to my feminist friends in the future that I had found my husband on an online wedding bureau.

So what did I do? I turned to eHarmony. A dating site that boasts of matching individuals based on 26 personality factors. Twenty-six! I would be lucky if I found someone who matched me on three or four.

It was last summer. I had plenty of free time on my hands. So I signed up. The process took me three hours. I had to answer ten questionnaires that would pin down my 26 personality factors. Then I had to cut down my matches by other factors: religion, ethnicity, education, height, weight, food/lifestyle habits, and so on. All this narrowing of search didn’t leave me with a lot of choices. I was matched with quite a few individuals but they were all situated miles away.

An interesting part about communicating over eHarmony is that you have a guided communication process. And it is just that. A long process. You generally start off with five close-ended questions: “What would you do on a Saturday night?” types. Then you graduate to 10 must-haves and can’t-stands in a partner. I find this part very helpful. It exposes a person’s inner insecurities.

The third part is about answering three open-ended questions: “What is your greatest fear?” types. This part is great for assessing a potential partner’s writing skills. And if ‘bad grammar’ is one of your pet peeves (like it is mine), you will probably end up eliminating communication at this point. The last part of the process is open communication via emails.

Most of my contact with eligible bachelors lasted up to step three. It’s not only bad grammar that did the trick but also the kind of questions that were posed to me. You would think in the 21st century Indian men would have matured beyond clichéd traditional patriarchal views. Apparently samples such as these, who cannot score in real life, somehow end up at eHarmony too.

However, after a month of being on the website, I found someone in Kansas City. He was an IT professional with a keen interest in photography. Before long, we were chatting on gtalk for hours.

Before you start sighing, and imagining a beautiful ending to a possible Bollywood-style love story, let me warn you it lasted only a week. He realised after hours of exchanging our deepest fears and desires, that Toronto was really far away from Kansas City. He was deeply apologetic for wasting my time. And I was deeply apologetic for putting so much faith into a website. Let me also add, he is still single. But so am I, and what does that say?

Luckily, I had a back up plan. I got into graduate school. Miraculously, my family backed off for a while. I got off the Internet and decided to meet people the natural way: by socialising. I haven’t met him yet, but I am not giving up. If nothing works out by the time I am 30, shaadi.com is still out there. Meanwhile, I have to keep reminding myself that even though I am not getting any younger, I am at least getting a little wiser.

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Clearing the Air on World AIDS Day

Posting an article I wrote last year on HIV/AIDS for World Aids Day. It was published by South Asian Generation Next on 2nd December 2009.

HIV/AIDS: Myths and Misconceptions

“How do you get AIDS?”

“What do you think?”

“Kissing?”

“No.”

“Hugging?”

“Wrong again!”

“Touching then?!”

“Not really…”

First of all, let’s get the facts right. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease, and HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) causes it.

So, what you “get” is the HIV virus. Think about it this way. H1N1 is the virus, while swine flu is the disease. Similarly, HIV is the virus, and AIDS is the disease.

Now for the misconceptions. HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through the following bodily fluids- blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal secretions. It cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears and urine. You don’t get the virus by breathing the same air. It’s not a cold! You don’t get it through hugging, kissing and touching. These are simple misconceptions that alienate those who need help the most.

A former York student (name withheld) revealed an incident that threatened to shake his existence about five years ago. He had to take the medical tests during his Canadian immigration process and he had been tested positive. He had been scared and nervous. He had wanted to kill himself. However, he confided in his family who persuaded him to take a retest. The result? He was negative.

This is not common, but not unlikely either. In June 2004, a young man in Faridkot, Punjab, India, was mistakenly tested positive for HIV. The result nearly destroyed his life. His engagement was broken off and he became an outcast from his social circle. Just like the former York student, he thought of committing suicide. However, before he could do anything rash, he was persuaded by his family to seek a second opinion. To his relief, he was tested negative. Just to be completely sure, he sought a third opinion. Same result.

Yet, what compelled these young men to take a second test? They had their family to give them mental support.

But what about those who are HIV positive or living with AIDS? How can they survive if they don’t receive the mental strength that only their loved ones can provide?

Of course, don’t just blame the family. There just isn’t enough awareness among people out there about the disease or the virus itself that can allow for understanding. For example, a South Asian woman who is viewed as the sacred center of her household; who does not indulge in promiscuous sex; how can she be susceptible to HIV?

Well, she could have contracted it through her husband. It’s a definite possibility. But she is the one who is questioned; not the husband. And, then, there is this huge misconception that HIV is contracted through promiscuous sex only, and those who have AIDS are being punished for their lack of morals.

Well, breaking news folks.

Sex is NOT the only way you can get HIV. It can be acquired through sharing un-sterilized needles (syringes, body piercing, tattoo instruments), blood transfusion (Since November 1985, ALL blood products have been tested for HIV in Canada. Therefore, the risk is low) and vertical transmission (an HIV positive mother can infect her child during pregnancy, birth or through breast milk).

Another misconception running rampant is that it’s a “gay disease”, and is a divine poetic justice for being gay.

Not only is it a stigma for a person of the queer community living with HIV, but it’s a double stigma because he/she is queer. What has led to this misinformation?

Media can be blamed to an extent. There have been movies made in the past that sent the wrong kind of messages to the public, confusing the real with fiction. It created a huge stigma among the South Asian community, especially since there are many individuals within our community who believe that HIV/AIDS does not exist. That it’s a non-South Asian gay disease.

First of all, there ARE South Asian queer people. And, there are South Asian queer people living with HIV/AIDS. And being queer is NOT a choice. Secondly, it can affect ANYONE. Straight or homosexual. ANYONE. And, thirdly, like I explained before, it is not a punishment from God, as would be the likely belief, but a lack of information that led to the lack of prevention in the first place. 

What has been done to create awareness? Well, for one there has been an increase in movies and books that help to promote AIDS awareness.

In 2007, Mira Nair’s Jaago campaign gave rise to four short films, and in 2008, Negar Akhavi compiled a book of essays (Aids Sutra: Untold stories from India) to help bring awareness among the public. But these attempts can only help up to a small extent. For example, the short films were screened at film festivals. Film festivals target critics and avid movie goers who can afford to pay for and watch movies. They are also available online, but if you don’t have any access to the Internet, then how do you get the information? Therefore, the populations belonging to lower social economic status have little or no access to information. And, as a result, suffer the most. They have to rely on outreach programs that help spread awareness.

Fortunately, we live in a country where most of us can afford to get this kind of information. There are plenty of organizations that promote HIV/AIDS awareness among the common people. Specifically for the South Asian community, there is ASAAP (Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention). They are a “community-based, non-profit, charitable organization committed to providing health promotion, support, education and advocacy in a non-discriminatory manner”. They also have multilingual services in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Urdu. They are highly confidential and have been providing counseling and other support to their clients since 1989. In addition, they have had many outreach programs in the past that help promotion HIV/AIDS awareness and education among the South Asian community.

When I was an ignorant happy-go-lucky shallow individual who didn’t care much about the world and only about good grades, latest gossip and latest fashion, I had some misconceptions of my own as well. I thought people with HIV/AIDS die early and that you can tell them apart from other people. But, that’s not true. They look just like you or me. And, with advancements in medical technology, it is possible to live for much longer with HIV nowadays. All my misconceptions were dispelled ever since I decided to volunteer for ASAAP. They have a wonderful knowledgeable staff and an amazing network of approximately thirty active volunteers who do their bit in creating awareness throughout the year. Their most recent event was held on 27th of November at three subway stations- Finch, St. George and Queen’s Park.

I was stationed at Queen’s Park with two other volunteers and we were assigned to sell lucky bamboos as a World Aids Day initiative. It was an enriching experience just interacting with the different kinds of people who passed by our little table. Most of them were supportive. Even if they didn’t want a bamboo, they wanted to donate. It was moving to see this kind of support from complete strangers.

And that makes me think, if complete strangers are willing to change their misconceptions and help support a great cause, then why not you? It is easy to ignore how deadly HIV can be and how easily it can be contracted. We can all act like camels with our faces in a sand hole hoping the storm will pass when it’s really raging all around us. All we need is to open our minds just a little so that we can help individuals come forward and identify themselves in order for us to help them and provide them with the information and support that they need. So that they don’t feel the need to hide behind aliases and find it easy to tell you their credentials and hobbies as simply as being able to say that they are HIV positive without experiencing the feeling of being caste aside or stigmatized. So that we can help prevent this “thing”. This deadly insidious thing that can strike any where, any time and ANY ONE.

It’s World AIDS Day today. I did my bit by writing this article. What are your plans?

Resources: www.asaap.ca, www.actoronto.org, www.hivstigma.com

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