Inspirational People: Alok Vaid-Menon

Because I was bullied in the past, I am often drawn to those who are different and are alienated by the society. One of such people is Alok Vaid-Menon, who is a gender non-conforming performance artist. While so many of us succumb to peer pressure, Alok makes themselves (yes, Alok wants us to use them/they) seen in the public. Everyday, they struggle in a world of gender stereotypes and bullies. There are times when Alok puts up pictures with unshaven legs/hands and there are people who leave extremely hateful comments. Some people click pictures of them without asking for permission and mock them for their dressing sense. Some people get up and leave when Alok sits on a seat besides them. I was afraid of liking Alok’s posts because my activity would show up on my friends’ feeds and they might mock me. But today, I want to say this: Alok is one of my heroes!


Inspirational People: Kate Allan

Kate Allan illustrates cute animals with encouraging mental health messages. If you are going through a bad day then take a deep breath, go to her page (Click) and look at the wonderful illustrations. What’s inspiring is that Kate started her blog when she was going through a rough phase in her life.


Inspirational People: Lizzie Velasquez


Photo: CrowdFundInsider


Lizzie Velasquez is a motivational speaker who suffers from a rare disease that prevents her from gaining weight and puts her brain, heart, eyes, and bones at risk. When she was 17, someone made a video about her and named it “The Ugliest Woman in the World’. One day, Lizzie stumbled upon the video (which had 4 million views by then) by accident. Adding to her pain were the nasty comments on the video (some of the comments included, “Why didn’t her parents kill her?” “What a monster!”). Lizzie was shattered but somehow found the strength to bounce back. She decided to make her own YouTube channel and tell her story to the world. She went on to give a TEDX talk, appear on TV shows and inspire people all around the world.

I understand that calling someone “inspirational” can be condescending because sometimes people use that word to say, “If I were in your place/If I looked like you, I would have killed myself and that’s why I consider you courageous”. For me, Lizzie is inspirational because she stood up against bullying. The internet is a boon for trolls and bullies because they can just remain anonymous and say shit about others. There is a lot of criticism about ‘today’s generation’ but the older generation must remember that the “kids of today” don’t “have it all easy”. Today, any troll from any part of the world can rip apart a child’s self-esteem. Women are more vulnerable because if a guy on the internet doesn’t agree with you, he can send you rape threats (don’t believe me? Check out the comments/Twitter replies on women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan’s posts. Or any female celeb for that matter). Some men attack a woman’s looks if they are losing an internet debate/ if women don’t agree with them. Filmmaker Karan Johar is daily called ‘gay’ and it is intended to be an insult! I don’t think the world has become meaner. The internet has merely exposed the shit which was always there in people’s minds.
P.S If you wish to know more about Lizzie, please watch the documentary, ‘A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story’.

Inspirational People: Greyston Bakery

Can a brownie change the world? Can a bakery make this world a better place? For most people, the answer is no. But for the folks at Greyston Bakery, this is very much possible. What do they do? Well..they run a bakery…but here’s the twist: they have an open hiring system. When a person comes to them for a job, they don’t ask him/her about work experience or family background. They straight away hire him/her without ANY questions as long as there is an opening. If there is no opening, they put the person’s name on the list and get back to him/her once there is a vacancy. They have been operating like this for the last three decades and they have hired people whom nobody wants to touch: people with criminal past, homeless people, drug addicts and many others. They are given training but it is not limited to the job they do. They are also educated about life skills. Many employees say that working with the bakery has completely changed their life.

What’s even more interesting about the bakery is that it was started by a Zen Buddhist. In an interview, the guy said that the reason why they don’t ask the job seekers about their past is because of Zen teaching which believes in being in the present. The guy believes that each human being is changing every minute. He sums up his philosophy in two simple words: SECOND CHANCES. He believes that everybody deserves a second chance because we are not just our past.
If you want to know more about this place, then do watch this TED talk. It might change your life.

Prince and the world of gender-bending celebs

Photo: CNET

I remember watching MTV at nights during my teenage years(Back then, ‘English’ songs were mostly played at night because Indians were quite conservative. Even when were played during daytime, I couldn’t watch them because my parents are one of those people who believe West = loose morals). And one of the first artists that I saw was Prince. To be very honest, I never connected to his music, but what stayed with me was his persona: the way he moved, the way he dressed and his mysterious eyes. As many tribute articles have pointed out, Prince was an icon of gender fluidity. I’m glad I saw him during teenage because his image challenged everything that I was taught from my childhood. Back then (and sadly, even now) I saw people in my school bullying any boy who liked anything feminine. Here, I must confess that I didn’t have the courage to stand up for such people. I secretly knew that there was nothing wrong in a man being feminine, but I pretended and sometimes even laughed at boys or men who liked ‘girly’ things. The mainstream culture too ridiculed men who were not ‘macho’. So when I saw Prince on my television screen, I was amused. And intrigued. Shouldn’t he be embarrassed of his feminine facial expressions?

It’s 2016 now and a lot has changed in India (sadly, it’s not enough). I mean, recently, a mainstream movie talked about a house-husband. I recently happened to read about Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, who is the new face of a popular Women’s Wear brand. Over the years, India saw few but important celebs who changed perceptions. The Late Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh was as popular for his cross-dressing as his films. What’s fascinating about this man is that he even hosted a TV show. Television is different from films. In India, a lot of people watch TV with families and to see a cross-dressing, gender fluid man on the small-screen is a miracle.

57th National Films Awards
Photo: Forbes India

All these images in pop culture are powerful because they question our beliefs about gender. It’s amazing how the definition of ‘normal’ changes from time to time. And yet, some people think there is something that is ‘normal’ and bully others to follow it. Deep in our minds and hearts, there are no rules. It is in this space that artists like Prince inhabit. A place where there is no male or female, no right or wrong. It’s probably like a blank slate where any permutations and combinations are possible. It is a lonely place. But… without visiting this place, you can never love another human being.

Inspiring People: Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls


This is an initiative by actress-comedian, Amy Poehler (I am not well acquainted with her work). I remember watching Amy and Tina Fey at the Golden Globes and being in awe. In ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell interviewed a producer who gave a then unknown Tom Hanks a chance to showcase his talent. The producer explained that the reason why he backed Tom was that he was funny and ‘nice’ at the same time. He said that when it comes to comedy, it is important for people to forgive the comedian. He further explained comedians often make fun of others and their beliefs. A successful comedian makes fun of you, but he/she is so nice, that you just don’t mind! Basically, the humor is coming from a ‘good heart’. You are taking potshots but there is no malice in your heart. I felt this when I saw Superwoman aka Lilly Singh’s videos. I felt this when I saw Amy and Tina. And when I discovered that Amy has this initiative, I started loving her more!

The description of Smart Girls’ Facebook Page says:

We emphasize intelligence and imagination over “fitting in.” We celebrate curiosity over gossip. We want you to truly be your weird and wonderful selves!

Like the name suggests, the initiative is for young girls (women are also invited). Young girls are so vulnerable. Basically, the culture wants them to hate themselves. To survive this conditioning is nothing short of a miracle. Of course, one can and one has to find strength within. But girls and women need community as well. Being a part of a community empowers you. Human beings want to belong. This need is often exploited. Since the need to belong is such an integral part of being human, some people often exclude those who are not ‘normal’. Alienation breaks a human being’s spirit. However, when you discover that there are people like you, that you can be who you are, that you do not have to torture yourself to “fit in”, you find the courage to throw away your masks.

I wish there was something like this during my teens. Teenage is a beautiful but extremely scary phase of life. That’s when you need a community like Smart Girls, where you can find inspirational women who are doing amazing things, older women who want to share their wisdom, girls of your age who are going through the same shit as you.  Smart Girls’ does all this with a lot of wit and humor.



Honestly, after watching ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ and ‘Mary Kom’, I didn’t want to watch another biopic. But ‘Neerja’ surprised me. Sonam Kapoor surprised me. The treatment of the film surprised me. In Bollywood, biopics are either very boring or very entertaining and both are not good  for a biopic because it means you are not staying true to the facts.

The film is quite subtle. I was almost waiting for Director Ram Madhvani to resort to melodrama and the story had a lot of space for it, but he restrained himself. And he keeps you at the edge of the seat even though you know what happens in the end. And THAT takes a lot of skill.

For the first time(in my experience), I saw people waiting even after the credits started rolling…they waited because the makers showed Neera Bhanot’s photos. 

I cannot believe that a person like her existed. I don’t need to say anything about her story because we all know it. But I will say one thing. This film is made with a lot of sincerity and integrity. It has flaws but you won’t care. And you will become a different person when you take a moment to think about what Neerja Bhanot had done.

Inspirational People: Shankar Tucker and Vidya Iyer

Photo: Linkedin

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Shankar Tucker’s music. I remember watching his video for the first time and smiling…because he was trying to do something really different. What fascinated me more was his background: He was born in the U.S. He initially trained in Western Classical Music but he is not one of those people who blindly follows tradition. His quest to do something different brought him to India where he learned Indian Classical music. After learning both forms of music, he tried to play Indian classical music on a Clarinet..since it was difficult, he actually tweaked the musical instrument (I read all these in his interviews, long time back…it is possible that I might have forgotten few things). He started collaborating with Indian artists and making YouTube videos. His refreshing sound slowly started attracting listeners. He is doing really well now.

What’s inspiring about Shankar is his passion. The music industry in India is not really developed…musicians have to depend on film music to make a living (that is changing but things are still difficult). Shankar left an opportunity in the U.S. music industry which is certainly better in terms of opportunities. I remember watching a TED talk of his and being bowled over by his vision. I feel that Shankar has managed to achieve something really rare: the things that people sing in his videos are sort of traditional but he manages to give it a contemporary touch, without giving into the temptation of being more ‘likable.’

Photo: Spark Magazine

Few videos of his feature sisters Vidya and Vandana. Both of them are trained in Indian classical music. I don’t know what happened to Vandana but Vidya Iyer is still making music. These days, she is making a lot of mash-ups. Now, most of the mash-ups on the internet are boring but Vidya’s mash-ups of Tamil songs, Bollywood songs and English pop songs are quite good. Some of them are dull but most of them are pretty good. Some people think that doing a mash-up is easy as you are dealing with hit songs but it’s actually pretty challenging because you need to get the right mix. It’s a different art altogether.

If you are new to these artists then the first song that you should check is this. Don’t worry if you don’t know Tamil..even I don’t know the language. You don’t need to understand what they are singing.


If you haven’t heard about Shankar, then do checkout his YouTube channel (click). I would suggest you to start from the beginning and not his latest videos (I don’t really like his latest videos, but maybe, you will like it). And here’s Vidya’s YouTube channel (click).

Guess who launched India’s first transgender band?

I don’t know why but I am always fascinated by Yash Raj films and Yash Chopra. If you are an Indian, you know how YRF was, a decade ago. It stood for the most glamorous, most mainstream and most conventional films. What’s even more fascinating is that the man, Yash Chopra, who made a lot of films about rich people in rich locations, died of Dengue. I don’t know about you but I am quite fascinated by this.

And today, I read that Yash Raj Films’ youth wing, Y Films, has launched India’s first transgender band. This is not surprising because since many years, YRF has changed. The first big change was the V show ‘Mahi Way’ which talked about an overweight girl who learns to accept her body. That’s not something which happens in Yash Chopra films, right?

Of course, it’s much more easier to launch a transgender band in 2016. There are people who have talked about these issues much before they were accepted. For example: Actors Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das as well as director Deepa Mehta were threatened when they made India’s first lesbian film ‘Fire’ in the year 1998. They even had to seek police protection because of the protests. Even though we have a more open-minded society today (transgenders are slowly getting recognition by the government), India has still a long way to go (homosexuality is a crime). And that’s why YRF must be applauded. It’s true that the audience doesn’t watch conventional stuff anymore (okay, I just remembered Salman Khan’s films) but still, launching a transgender band is not a walk in the park.

Another filmmaker, who usually makes Yash Chopra-like films, is Karan Johar. But he made a gay love story in ‘Bombay Talkies.’ It is heartening to see filmmakers, who were accused of playing ‘safe’ by critics, making such courageous films.

Change is a slow process and a band or a movie cannot change people’s mindsets instantly. But examples like the above are inspiring.

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert!


Dear Elizabeth Gilbert,

I was scrolling down my Facebook news feed and I was shocked to read that some politician announced a reward for slapping an actor who said something controversial. I saw some people defending him, some of them attacking him. Some trying to prove that the candidate that they voted for is the best human being on Planet Earth while others were busy calling him a ‘dictator.’ In another post where a feminist article was posted, there was the usual debate between trolls who think feminism is a joke and women who are teaching him a lesson. Then, there was a guy who was questioning a girl who posts about animal rights and enjoys non-vegetarian food. I hated myself for doing this. I knew that social media was going to go crazy and I shouldn’t be logging in but I gave into temptation. It did made me feel better. The person I didn’t vote for was being criticized and that made me feel happy because I didn’t make that choice. The sad part about my happiness is that if that person governs the country badly, it is *I* and all those who didn’t vote for him who will end up losing! It’s sad that we don’t realize this.

In between all this, I saw your post on my timeline (I follow your Facebook Page). I know that most people call you the “Eat Pray Love author” and of course, you are the author of that book but you are much more than that. I won’t talk about your other underrated book ‘The Signature of all things’ which I really liked and your awesome TED talks, but I will talk about your posts on Facebook. You usually writes really, I mean REALLY long posts but I always wish they don’t end. Your posts are heartfelt and warm. You say that you consciously tries to keep energy-sucking topics out of the page and trust me, your efforts are visible. Your page is full of serenity. What’s amazing about the Page is that those who comment on your posts are so civil and loving (okay, all the comments that *I* saw were positive). There is so much respect for each other. Even your self-promotion and selfies are not irritating and that’s a compliment because sometimes, some celebrities’ promotions get on your nerves. Sometimes, you post some cliched quotes but I don’t mind them, because there is so much love behind the posts.

I still remember a post of yours which you made few months ago. You shared Susan Cain and her team’s new initiative for introverts called ‘Quiet Revolution’ and wrote that you are actually an extrovert! You respect people who are different than you and respect their needs as well. The way you shared the post was a perfect example of peace, love and harmony.

I wish we all realize that it is not necessary for people to agree with each other to live together in peace. I hope more people follow you and find their home..just like I did, at your page.

Thank you.