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My stories on MSN/iVarta (2008)
My BUSY BEE COLUMNS ( 2006 - 07),
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My NEWSLETTERS for my children

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Sunday, December 13, 2009


For alpha males -- highly aggressive men who are usually at the helm of affairs -- life is not a picnic. Deeper issues invariably plague most, which they are unable to cope with. I  have tried to probe into  their psyche and disposition.

THE death of 42-year-old Ranjan Das, CEO and managing director of SAP Indian in October 2009 and one of the youngest CEOs ever, has raised many questions. What caused him to die in his prime, especially when he was such a health freak? His tragic death is now circulation on the Internet as a warning against pushing oneself too hard. Many believe it can now happen to anyone who has to suffer frequent and long hours of travel between different time zones.

Described as a “smart, intelligent and ambitious individual”, Das could have been representative of a certain cluster of men — the “Alpha Male” — who are often victims of their own drives and habits. Karoshi (literally translated from the Japanese means death from overwork, heart attack, stroke or stress) is common among them. They are also afflicted with sleep disorders that affect their health and cause sudden death. According to Dr Siladitya Ray, consultant psychiatrist with Desun Hospital and Heart Institute. Ruby General Hospital, Kolkata, alpha males do not always die early. Their threshold of working against stress is unbelievably high and they keep pushing it. As a result, they are often likely to suffer from various afflictions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Bipolar and Sleep Apnea — disorders that arise and perpetuate the vicious cycle of living an unbalanced life.
Who is the Alpha male and how would one identify one? Simply put, in the game of the survival of the fittest, the one who takes the grand prize. An Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Sylvester Stallone, with considerable physical prowess? Not necessarily. The alpha male is one who masterminds, pitches and wins strategic deals maintaining a certain clout and social status wherever he goes. Despite being charming and generous, he can be extremely mercurial and aggressive. His ideas are totally out of the box. As a visionary, he can be very radical. Someone who is capable of extraordinary courage, conviction, affirmation and yet is chased by occasional bouts of self-doubt and depression.
“Many alpha males may come from disturbed and broken families but this is not always true,” says Ray. Most are, however, somewhat introverted and reserved in their teens, with a striking confrontational disposition when demeaned, devalued or challenged. The alpha adult is otherwise the most comfortable looking person in the room, with magnetic charm. He is also someone with a visible ego drive. This attitude helps him bulldoze through every obstacle in life and needs constant bolstering. “I am successful but am I noticed and am I desired?” This is a common refrain in his mind, reaching a crazy pitch when he is in his prime. “This emotional vulnerability or intense ego drive can be the nemesis for the alpha male if he is not suitably prepared to cope with the stress his lifestyle naturally demands,” Ray says.
“This man is riding the hottest steed ever; galloping testosterone often makes it difficult for him to keep to the straight and narrow,” says Vibha, who is married to a young industrialist in Mumbai. A student of psychology herself, she recognises and empathises with her alpha partner. “The temptation to explore uncharted territory is undeniably strong in these men. He may go where angels fear to tread, such is his faith in himself. He may, however, find himself confronting demons hard to defeat. These demons are created over a period of time and can’t be ignored when they become full-fledged terrorists.”
Ray says that an intelligent, accepting companion who can understand his drive and help him channelise his energy is the blessing required. But it is not easy being numero uno. The tortuous climb, apart from the effort to stay at the top, is a Herculean task. Not to mention how lonely it gets up there. The alpha male is almost always a victim of this intense solitariness that makes him literally stand apart from the melee. Love, appreciation and security in emotional bonding — everything that keeps a person together during hard times — may be unavailable to him. The rigid lifestyle he creates for himself, his work and result-oriented attitude is not always conducive to building long-term relationships. He craves for them and attracts them to himself. His mindset may not allow any opportunity of a meaningful relationship. Though he is capable of sharing deep love, the alpha male feels forced to create and breathe in a vicious environment of quick gratification. He fears any sort of binding commitment that traps him in a regular life. Focused on keeping himself going, he may even regret becoming the opportunist and manipulator that he is often forced to become.
“Even when they are most successful, they are uncomfortable with the emotional emptiness they feel,” Ray cautions. Alpha males are therefore “prone to megalomania, depressive tendencies, sexual excesses and violent outbursts”, according to him. “Some of them develop frank Borderline Personality Disorder characterised by extreme behaviour, impulsivity, drug abuse, radical mood swings and unstable relationships.”
The essential challenge with the alpha male is to live in moderation. Moderation may be a balanced approach to life, but it is like a dam that restricts the gusto of a flowing river. Men who take up cudgels and make things happen have to be tremendous go-getters. “There is a huge hazard involved in taking the first leap and you need to be a risk-taker to bring profound transformation in anything – be it a business, a company or society,” says Dilip Doshi, who is in complete awe of his big brother who singlehandedly established a chain of restaurants in India and is successfully running them even in this time of recession. However, he sees the pitfall as clearly. “Sometimes in their eagerness to expand and see their vision fulfilled, they spread themselves too thin,” he says. In terms of money, time and affection, the alpha male may finally find himself beleaguered with limited resources.
“Interestingly, their sharp mental acumen makes them amazingly self-introspective. They are also capable of greater self-control than any ordinary person and can live a far richer and meaningful life if they choose to, like the monk who sold his Ferrari,” says Vibha optimistically.


A few months ago there was a rebellion of sorts by an army officer's wife who alleged publicly that her perceived failing to contribute to activities by Army Wives Welfare Association affected adversely her spouse's promotion. As an ex-Army officer's wife I have analysed the core issue

If frequent moves, long separations, lack of professional opportunities form the weft of an army officer's life - respect, facilities for higher education, specialised medical treatment, eco-friendly cantonments, clubs, libraries, parks, pools, sport courts, gyms, saunas just name it - form its warp. Together they weave an exquisite brand that can most proudly be shown off as 'The Army Way of Life' – a smorgasbord of opportunities for all those who have come into its fold. The children too stand out as the smartest, the most adaptable and the most sought after, anywhere. It is not just a style statement; it is a trademark of being part of an elite posse of people.

Is it fortunate or unfortunate then, that the ladies in the Army who go by the popular appellations of 'junior' and 'senior', 'young' and 'old', don't come under the Army Act? 'Afflicted by the global malady of independent nuclear living are we taking our blessings easy?' is the question that has been going around in the Army circuits today. To sensitise wives to the needs of the Army and to help them understand how every little 'task' they perform is part of a 'process' that provides extraordinary support systems are the important agendas before the Army.

The recent alarm over the adverse remarks in the ACR (Annual confidential Reports) of Major Punyadeep Singh Paul, who was given below-average ratings by his commanding officer based on the 'couple's social interaction, including in AWWA (Army Wives Welfare Association activities), and subsequent airing of the issue by wife Savneet Paul , had raised many eyebrows. 'Army sources reveal that though the influence of the AWWA on an officer performance is not an official part of the promotions, this red herring had been trotting into ACRs and deciding an officer's fate depending upon his wife's performance at AWWA activities,' says a report in a well-known publication.

Why a large number of commanding officers have had to succumb to the great temptation of getting an errant wife into the folds of the AWWA activities by threatening the officer is another area that needs to be analysed. This particular incident has certainly made it clear that AWWA activities and how they are to be conducted need a fresh re-evaluation.

It is important to understand that the Indian Army, one of the largest in the world, is not revenue driven unlike many other organisations. It is people-centric. Women fulfill significant functions here, beyond the glamorous bon vivant role model. They have a whole bunch of responsibilities towards their unit and the organisation at large that they are expected to shoulder from day one, at times even at the cost of their personal careers. If an army wife is not aware of all the responsibilities awaiting her, she may be taken aback so completely that it may generate one of the deepest crises in her life. On the flip side, when she rebels and takes a stand against the ongoing processes she can be the proverbial spanner that sends the unit into a tizzy. For a new comer it is not easy to get this bigger picture.

AWWA's raison d'ĂȘtre is to provide maximum security and stability to the man out in the war zone by providing physical and moral support to his wife and children. It also envisages empowering the women in the process. Right from education, child and mother care to financial planning and assistance to widows and dependents, the AWWA mandate takes care of it all.

At the Unit level the officer's wives are expected to provide this support system 'since the men are so busy.' The commanding officer's (CO's) wife and junior officer's wives are directly involved in helping these women from rural background to get maximum benefit of their limited stay in the army. From simply helping a non-Hindi speaking wife to getting adjusted in the new environment to providing medical support (from pre natal to post natal care and specialist check-ups), educational facilities (admission to tuitions facilities) and vocational training to wives for any eventuality, the unit takes care of it all. The young and working wives who are entering into the army portals today have no time for shouldering this extra responsibility. 'I am working like my husband. The unit responsibilities are like an extra portfolio that I find hard to handle,' many say.

The core ambiguity lies in the misconception of AWWA activities being part of a voluntary service, when they are really not so. 'Because it's difficult to find a legal locus standi on the role and importance of AWWA, it is one area that takes a lot of flak from time to time,' says Abhilasha Extross from 9 Special Forces. AWWA responsibilities are expected to be conducted by senior ladies at the behest of the organisation and they need a committed team to make them successful. It is another thing that 'No' cannot easily be taken for an answer in this hierarchical system of power and this often leads to other unnecessary conflicts.
In the absence of a clear mandate many a chasm of misgivings are created between senior and junior officers' wives in fulfilling this role in the unit. 'This is more apparent in the recent years when qualified and experienced professionals have come as army wives and are unable to fit into this joint family system with its peculiar demands and expectation,' according to Aarti Singh, a Brigadier's wife.

An obscured view of the issue could be at the root of this problem. 'Impatience in a young wife and subtle power tactics employed by senior wives augment the great divide, so to say,' reiterates Aarti. 'The growing hoopla over showing 'tangible outputs' is another regrettable area of concern today,' according Neelam Bedi from Mhow. Then there is the growing tendency of organising grand shows for dignitaries which put undue pressure on working wives – 'These extra frills can easily be done away with,' she says.

'In an unorganised group like ours, where our needs will define and shape the future environment, the Army may be undergoing a grim change,' points Abhilasha. 'If more and more people live in isolation it will rip away the sense of camaraderie that stamps army life and this seems to be a growing reality as more and more professional wives are choosing to stay apart from their husbands.' It also means the necessary army welfare activities get substantially ignored and unfairly borne by a handful. Why then should the non- compromising lot get away with the benefits and perks become the bone of contention and this is where the officer becomes answerable.

Whether the new lot will be able to re-examine this entire package to make the end-game more meaningful is open to debate. Motivational participation to breed a sense of belonging that comes from pride, not prejudice, will perhaps be increasingly difficult to manage. 'We may not come under the Army Act, but we do need to put our act together to nurture the precious bonhomie the Army allows us to enjoy' is an outcry from the earlier generation of army wives who are totally devoted to this way of life. But the point is, how does one make it viable for the new generation of women who question its attitude in these changing times? 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SOMETHING ABOUT SITA by Nandita Sengupta

It is not just Sita, Draupdi or Kunti who intrigue me, I want to know a lot more about the lessor spoken females in our epics - Urmila, Kakeyee, Sumitra, Gandhari... I found this article quite interesting and put it up for you to read. I will do my own research and write more about them later...Meanwhile enjoy this article by Nandita

Sita has always intrigued me. She’s quite a standalone. She’s the one woman who the janta hasn’t sort of figured out quite. Through the entire Ramayana story, of which I’ve read no ‘original’, all I keep realising is that there’s something about Sita. She eludes specific characterisation, lending herself only to interpretations of which there are a zillion. She’s probably the only character among all our ‘gods’ in whom we see what we want to. It’s our reaction to, our interpretation of Sita’s life that truly sets her value, and our beliefs.

Not certain why, but I’ve always been miffed at suggestions of her being a doormat, of being helpless, of her not having a say. There’s something about the viewpoint that don’t seem right. I have my own over-simplistic, interpretations of the major points in the lady’s life. I still flounder at the abandonment, though, when she’s sent off to the forest although she’s pregnant.

For starters, her joining Rama on his punishment posting. It’s mostly spoken of as sacrifice. Sita ‘gave up’ her royal lifestyle to go with hubby. But look at the choice the woman had: she could either go with handsome hubby or stay back with three mothers-in-law and a hen-pecked dad-in-law. Not much choice there, if you ask me. Any girl in her right mind would go with hubby, discomfort be damned. And she finally had cool dude bro-in-law Lakshmana tag along as well who respected her no end. What could be better? You always need an assistant for sundry work. Hubbies don’t oblige often, only lip-sync.

Then the Lakshmana-rekha. Ooh, the line that was crossed, which led to her kidnapping by a man besotted. Yet, nothing happened. Ravana was scared of the curse that if he dared molest another woman, his tenner would splinter. Capital punishment, no less: quite a deterrent that if it was what kept Ravana away. But surely he knew that when he was plotting? Kidnapping Sita was a rather elaborate plan. He yanked her all the way to his kingdom and then got cold feet worrying about his heads? I find the argument a tad insufficient.

What I would like to believe, instead, is that Ravana was ultimately kept away from Sita not by any male-drawn limits or codes, but by Sita herself. There was something about Sita. What it was every woman might want to figure out. It was Sita’s own drawn ‘rekha’ that Ravana didn’t dare cross. Learned he may have been, great ‘love’ --- for want of a better word --- he may have had, but rakshasa he was and he had kidnapped her for a purpose. Which he didn’t complete. Why? What kept him away? What was that quality in Sita? To me, men can keep drawing lines crisscrossing women’s lives till they do themselves to exhaustion, but when it comes to crunch, women draw their own lines, which no Ravana dare step over.

In fact, Sita kept drawing lines for herself throughout her life. So much and no more.  Meghnad Desai makes a damn neat point in a recent book, In Search of Sita by Malashri Lal and Namita Gokhale. In commonsensical reasoning, referring to a footnote in his Gujarati translation of Ramayana, he writes that Rama marries at age 16 and lives 12 years after that in King Dasharatha’s palace. At 28, he goes into exile for 14 years to return when he is 42 years. “If this is true, then during the twelve years of marriage …and thirteen years of exile…Rama and Sita have no children and Sita becomes a mother in her late thirties. This implies that she is at least in control of her reproductive cycle, as she manages to delay her child-bearing until her husband is secure on a throne.” How cool is that?

Alright, to the agni-pareeksha. Here I go with what cartoonist Nina Paley says: that it was demonstration of a woman’s deep grief. Rama had his compulsions, they say, but really, what true-blue independent queen would endure such ridicule? So, Sita snapped, was tired, angry and got a fire crackling in seconds to show she meant business. That kind of wild anger and hurt is completely understandable. Heart-breaking grief that after all that, this. At the same time, you have to spare Rama a thought. He may have snapped too. He was no god at the time, right? He was a human king. So he could surely snap? He probably thought, for this silly woman’s silly desire, I’ve had the most harrowing time on earth. Using ‘citizens gossip’ to explain his directive is just shooting off the hapless citizens’ shoulders. He wanted to hurt her, probably, real bad. And he did. She shot back. It’s been known to happen. Zooksh, zoom, that kinda thing.

What line did Sita draw at the abandonment? I’ve told myself maybe Rama and Sita had a good chat and figured the city’s no place for kids, pollution and all, but it don’t ring true. It equally doesn’t ring true that Rama actually got manipulated into believing Sita had a soft spot for her kidnapper. I don’t know if the equivalent of Stockholm syndrome existed in those days. Haven’t figured that out. It’s not as if they split. They simply separated. And stayed so. That’s saying something grand about Sita’s freedom alright. And also that single mothers can well manage on their own.

Rama ended up a miserable wreck, and Sita, when wounded again, simply said enough and went back home into the earth. Still figuring that out. Maybe I’m too Bollywood-conditioned into wanting endless happy endings. More when I’ve cracked it. Meanwhile, for Sita seekers, go find her.  And send across some thoughts. Nothing like figuring out what Sita was all about.


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