Skip to content

Feminism vs. Cultural Identity

August 31, 2015

Decisions, decisions – do I or do I not get my baby girl’s ears pierced? My understanding of feminism dictates that I not impose beauty standards to alter the body of a child with no agency – with no medical requirement, this would be an act purely for vanity of her parents. I do not own her body but she has no say in this. It is the same reason I was not comfortable dressing her up ridiculously for cute photoshoots, although I do love well-done themed baby photos of my friends :)

On the other hand, I am notoriously bad in terms of maintaining links with my Indian heritage – I am not good at being part of ‘desi’ networks overseas, I speak to her in English and worry about what identity my child will adopt as she grows up. Ear piercings are very much an Indian girl thing, and while I am averse doing something purely for the sake of tradition (FGM is also part of some traditions, after all!), I would rather she inherit the piercings as part of her Indian identity, than adopt it in a few years’ time due to brainwashing by media on how girls must appear. And at what age is a person deemed to have a proper sense of agency anyway? Five? Fifteen? Eighteen? The logic most older Indians will offer for getting the piercing done early – the child will not remember the pain, it gets harder once they’re older and have phobias of needles and such.

Furthermore, I love my earrings and cannot fathom giving them up to be a role model to her, should I choose not to get her ears pierced. I am aware of the ongoing discussion in the UK on banning ear piercings for babies, but I also do not like getting overly caught up in symbols. Not getting her ears pierced today and having her obsess over it and go crazy over them tomorrow (what I call the ‘forbidden fruit effect’) – not ideal. Getting her ears pierced but having her achieve whatever she wants in life, irrespective of her sex – excellent!

An example of such an outcome would be my favourite image in recent times – the awesomeness of Indian women, in all their traditional garb, celebrating their success in the mission to Mars. This certainly beats a politically-correct image of a woman locked out of typically ‘male domains’ such as science, tech or finance.

Dilemma. Feminists and/or Indian women (not that they are mutually exclusive!), please discuss.

Note to non-Indian readers: Beware of pooh-poohing this as a non-issue. I would consider circumcision an act of violence to my baby boy, if I had one, because I do not place any cultural weight on the act, like people of other faiths do. But I do not judge other people who consider it important for their sense of identity. So please do not reduce this to simply an act of violence. Also, I am aware of the medical risks of piercing at jewellers with “gunshot” (cannot be sterilised), so I am looking into medical facilities offering this with use of topical anaesthetic.

MH17 & Gaza

July 20, 2014

Less than a month before MH17 and just a few months after MH370, my husband took long haul return flights on Malaysian Airlines – we recall seeing Donetsk on the flight map and admiring Tehran as we flew over it in a very clear sky.

We had some real annoyances with the airline – complete inability to check in online, leading us to be checked in to separate sections of the aircraft (upstairs and downstairs!), friendly but somewhat clueless customer service over the phone etc. So we would grumble to each other – geez, what an airline, no wonder they lost an airplane (wrt MH370). It felt OK to whinge about the airline and even make jokes like ‘haha, I hope they don’t lose our plane’. I guess it felt fine to say it because statistically speaking, the odds of the same airline having two major incidents within the space of a few months are very low indeed. Guess I should have paid more attend to that Black Swan book a few years ago when I read it.

The bombing of a civilian aircraft (minding its own business at 30,000 feet) as collateral damage to a pointless conflict is chilling, to say the least. The stories of a 100 AIDS researchers/campaigners etc, the 80 children, the mangled bodies…nothing is comforting.

To add to the misery of the aircrash story, there is the relentless violence in Gaza in a conflict that seems as old as time itself. I refuse to expound on my views on the topic here but that the world is willing to look away while innocent children get caught in the crossfire makes me mad. What is everyone waiting for, where’s the intervention that is happily deployed when convenience strikes?

It has been a grim week in the world recently, hope the universe is planning on tilting the balance towards a bit of positivity.

Work & working hard

May 14, 2014

I have been thinking a lot about work and its place in our lives. As an older Millennial/GenY person, I subscribe to views that resonate and conflict somewhat with both those of the younger Millennial lot and those of the older Gen X lot. At various points, I have switched and straddled between traditional, conservative, white-collar professions and more entrepreneurial, informal, ‘cool’ roles. I have been attracted by and developed aversions for different types of jobs at various points in my brief career thus far. After some 6 years of working and a 2-year MBA in between, I am hardly an authority on all matters relating to work, but one thing I have figured out for sure is that there is no such thing as a perfect job. This conviction in our generation about the existence of a perfect job for each one (like a perfect mate) is surely one of the reasons why we are inevitably set up for unhappiness, apart from the many other reasons for unhappiness articulated well here. Even before I hit ‘Publish’ on this post, I can already hear the clamouring dissent to my claim above – ‘yes, there is a perfect job, if you follow your passion’, etc etc.

Back in the day, most people who could chose the safe option (corporate careers, long tenures until retirement etc) while the truly brave and different picked the road less travelled, truly ‘following their passion’ if you may. Now, there is a mainstream of people who are ‘off-the-beaten-path’, which begs the question on what it means to be on a ‘beaten path’. Never before have there as many articles, blogs, podcasts, private and public exhortations on self-actualising by taking a risk, placing a bet, taking a blind leap of faith, finding yourself, investing in yourself. To do anything less than something deeply in-tune with one’s calling is to ‘sell out’, or deal in ‘wage slavery’ even. Of course, this discourse on ‘Do What You Love’ is inherently elitist, because not all people can afford to take on unpaid internships and most people simply have to work to get by. But let’s be honest, even if you truly, madly, deeply believe in your work and identify with it strongly, reality can still bite, after all, especially as there is little distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’ in such cases.

This conviction about life = work and work = life is probably to blame for the unprecedented trend of work taking centre-stage in our lives. The rich, educated who work hard for a ‘good life’ now have a reward of still more work and less leisure – in direct contrast to what it meant to be rich in previous generations. So many Millennials place such an undue weight on their jobs that it often takes something like a serious health issue or death in the family to serve as a wake-up call about the other equally, if not more important, aspects of life. I am guilty of this – I tend to define success in very narrow terms, almost completely tied to professional success and tend to hold as role-models men and women who have astounding careers, even if at the cost of their personal lives, happiness, health, etc. But it may have something to do with me getting older, wiser, less fit/healthy and more time-starved but I am starting to evaluate the trade-offs of having it all. I am going through some serious thinking on whether it is better to lean in or recline. On some days, I am guilty of being a downright entitled Muppie (embarrassing to admit, but true story).

This discussion is complicated still further if you have a complex relationship with money. For instance, for someone in the kind of profession I am in, my lifestyle has a super low burn rate…I don’t hanker after ‘stuff’, and even with experiences, I have low-maintenance tastes. However, I see monetary compensation as an important barometer of success, especially in relative terms within the same career. So if money, beyond a point, is not a strong motivator, what do I work hard for? Learning, curiosity, interest? If I got those things in a different career which paid half as much, would I consider myself less successful? Hmm.

Oh well. I am sure I will figure it out. Knowing myself, I am likely to be more guilty of leaning too far in, and trying to take on the world – this thread of thoughts is good for me to temper my natural tendencies… Meanwhile, let me ruminate on the complex relationship between identity, the work we do and the life we aspire to.

Accessibility & Inclusion

April 30, 2014

Due to a recent ski injury on my left knee, I have had limited mobility for a few weeks now. I spent the first two weeks (which coincided with my birthday too) working from home, travelling by taxis if necessary and generally moping about my situation – I am embarrassed to admit that I whinged about having to cancel a couple of weekend getaways (talk about a first world problem).

Recently, I decided to stop cancelling trips and just go for some planned trips to Amsterdam and Vienna. I learnt to appreciate the wonderful infrastructure in the various airports and the Eurostar for wheelchair provision, ramps and faster processing of queues. I had never paid very much attention to these facilities until now, and I am very impressed.

I grew up in India where, it’s safe to generalise, accessibility and inclusion are NOT top of mind for the public or for planners. Broadly speaking, the culture allows people with disabilities to be marginalised; often, pity is the best reaction they can hope for, rather than respect. The infrastructure is not planned keeping in mind enablers for people with limited mobility, vision or hearing – good luck finding ramps in public spaces or beeping traffic lights in India. It is perhaps of this cultural context that I am always pleasantly stunned at the relative level of independence disabled people enjoy in this part of the world (I realise this may be a controversial statement to make, so I brace myself). For instance, before moving out of India, I would never thought possible for a blind person to navigate public transport independently, but TfL has a support system for this. While there is no denying that there is a long way to go, even in this part of the world, to fully include people with physical or other limitations, I just wanted to express appreciation for what I have experienced in these past few days in my temporary situation of limited mobility.

On the other hand, I have also seen the harsher side of living in a city always on the fast-track; as someone who always enjoyed the fast pace, I never fully understood the downside for those who cannot keep up. I got nearly mobbed by the rush hour crowd at Euston station because of my slow pace when I foolishly took a train to client offices before I was more healed. Shockingly, I also did not have anyone offer me a seat during the only tube ride I took in the last 6 weeks despite my very obvious and visible knee brace; it was only two stops so I did not bother creating a fuss either. At least this has taught me a lesson on being more empathetic in the future and to look up from my book/iPad/nap to notice someone who may need a seat more than I do.


April 25, 2014

I was never a serious blogger. I maintained a personal blog during university years for private ruminations and consumption only by close friends. I started this blog intending it to be a portal for more considered and thoughtful writing, but between such high expectations of myself and the lack of a made-up moniker, I soon got too self-conscious to ‘put myself out there’ so much with my writing – for that is exactly what writing is. Over the past few years, I became more and more a consumer of content, rather than a creator, only occasionally making my presence felt on Twitter. And it recently occurred to me that this truly bothers me – tweeting is not exercising my writing muscle, and 140 characters are not enough for my verbose self. So, even if at the risk of putting very mediocre writing out there, I shall write. Wish me luck.

LBS Global Leadership Summit

May 10, 2013

I am currently in the midst of reading Prof Raghuram Rajan’s Fault Lines, an incisive analysis on the various forces that combined to create the perfect storm that was (and still is) the Global Financial Crisis. This happens to be a timely read as I contemplate the upcoming Global Leadership Summit, which will discuss the Future of Leadership: Beyond Villians, Heroes and Scapegoats. I am particularly looking forward to the panel discussion on ‘The Future of Financial Leadership’ – speakers include senior banking executives such as Tim Breedon and Alessandro Profumo, bigwigs in the regulatory space including Martin Wheatley and ex-central bankers such as Lucrezia Reichlin. I hope some of the following themes are brought up and discussed during the Summit:

The Role of Politics & Ideology in Economic Policy: In developing countries, it is explicitly acknowledged that politics play a major role in economic policy. This might be in the form of nationalised firms, particularly in infrastructure and utility sectors, or trade tariffs, subsidies or duty. These countries and their industries accordingly face an additional cost of capital in the form of ‘country risk premium’. However, the financial crisis was an example of how the economic policies in the West too are deeply entrenched in the politics of the respective countries. In the run up to the crisis, central banks and regulators made policies which synced with, rather than checked, the political agenda of the day, whether it was easy credit to ease the pains of unemployment or premium grading of sub-prime loan portfolios. The role of politics in ALL economics, irrespective of the stage of economic development of the countries, needs to be understood and discussed thoroughly.

Consumer Financial Literacy: Not to let the banking sector, regulators or the government off the hook, but there needs to be a discussion on addressing consumer behaviour, which is driven off some basic financial literacy. While central bankers expect that low interest rates stimulate increased consumption and decreased savings, nobody probably foresaw the circumstance which the mortgage crisis illuminated – not only were retail borrowers not saving enough, they were often borrowing over and over again against the same asset, based on the belief that property values would continue to appreciate as they always did. It is striking that five years into the crisis, there still is not a private or public body (of scale) looking into addressing the asymmetry of knowledge between the industry and the average consumer.

Incentives for the Financial Sector: It has become fashionable these days to focus on the top 1% of the finance sector and blame them for the woes of the wider public. Particularly in Europe, the lynching of bankers and their bonuses has been a relentless spectacle over the past few years, resulting in frankly impossible-to-implement policies such as caps on banker bonuses. However, it is time to investigate the broader context in which these actors played out their lives and ask whether anybody else in their situation would have done any better. Bankers, traders, hedge fund managers, everyone acted as per the theory of self-interest so well-espoused in economic theories, the broader result of which is supposed to be efficient markets and correct prices. For all the upside that professionals in this sector are exposed to, perhaps incentives and disincentives could be set so they feel the pain of the shareholders too. Such measures need to come not just in the form of increased regulation and reporting requirements (Basel III, ICBC etc), but also a fundamental shift in the industry’s culture and values, as reflected in its recruitment, training and progression.


January 25, 2013

I was recently travelling in Southern Africa. I was primarily there to attend a component of our MBA programme, called the Global Business Experiences. My article on this week in Johannesburg is published here on The Independent’s MBA Blog – the word limit gave me little room to gush over the whole experience but I hope to come back to the blog to elaborate further on the trip and my experience in the region!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.