Roma, the most honored film of the year, is turning heads and changing the public discourse around representation. The film puts into center, the unsung heroes of the functional upper and middle class families across the world, the domestic workers. It will break your heart and move you, so watch it to realise your privilege.

Have you watched Roma? You should, if you haven’t. Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate family drama set in 1970’s Mexico is a wonderful masterpiece and an absolute cinematic spectacle. It is a visual representation of a personal diary, a diary of Cleo, a young woman of Mixtec Mesoamerican heritage who works as a live-in maid for a white upper-middle-class family in Mexico City. Prepare to be emotionally moved and wrung out and re-think the way you look at people whom you don’t give a second thought to.
The film is shot in black-and- white with extraordinary clarity and detail, with its majesty and grandeur being communicated through the soft gaze and gentle spirit and vulnerability of Cleo. It takes place inside the house where a gated, open-roofed passage filled with bicycles, plants, caged birds and an under loved, but chirpy and enthusiastic dog named Borras is shown, time and again. Cleo and her friend Adela, the family cook, live at the end of the corridor in a tiny, cramped room, upstairs. In the morning, Cleo wakes the children; at night, she puts them to bed.
From each dawn and until long after dusk, she takes cares of the family who seems unable to function without her help. She serves meals, cleans and carries laundry to the roof, where she washes the clothes in view of other maids on other roofs with their own heavy loads. We see her as she works and also in ways that we don’t commonly see domestic workers, as she makes a date with her first love, exercises by candlelight at night, gossips with her friend, and experiences the most profound forms of loss imaginable.
In Roma, does Cleo’s daily trek to her modest rooftop room, away from the family’s home and her candlelit exercise sessions, the lights-out rule imposed by the family matriarch make you think? Of course, it does. You have seen it happen in your own home. Domestic work has been and continues to be associated with women’s work, and by extension devalued. Domestic workers, can in no way cause inconvenience to the family members. After all, she’s just a maid, right? She’s never fully human for you, maybe a person whom you see every day and take notice and get tensed on the day she decides to take a holiday. Sounds familiar?
How can we forget the emotional labor that’s expected out of Cleo, every time? She’s obligated to express emotions the way her employer wants her to, whether it be politeness, cheerfulness, and in the case of children, love and affection. Well, with Cleo her kindness for the kids is genuine; it comes across as heartfelt, and is returned. “We love you very much,” they tell her. But it’s back to business just a few scenes later, when they ask her to fetch snacks while they watch TV. Her responsibility to provide care places her within the family, and yet her role as an employee places her outside of it. Her relationship with her employer is both intimate and distant, and she is both vulnerable and powerful. Roma forces the audience to look at the world defined by a hierarchy of power and privilege, to look at the “Cleos” of our own world.
Can we ignore the fact that physical abuse and sexual harassment are common, and most full-time workers don’t receive benefits or savings toward a pension? There are no fixed working hours; domestic workers are always on call. There are no minimum wages and no right to safe working places. The entire sector is defined by poverty-level wages, high rates of abuse and few mechanisms for recourse.
This film might force you to look at the harsh realities of domestic workers across the world. Maybe, take a look or two in your own home. Have you ever looked at the woman who comes to your house to do your work or stays at your house to do your chores, all day long? No, you never because honestly, why would you care?
You have a lot on your own plate, and you believe she’s happy too. She seems like it. Take a minute to look at the nannies we entrust with small children, the house cleaners who bring sanity to our homes, and the caregivers who care for our disabled and elderly loved ones. It’s the work that our economy doesn’t recognize, because the people who do it live in the margins and the work arrangements are often informal.
And yet, it is some of the most critical work in our society — caring for what is most precious to us, our loved ones and our homes — and to our economy, allowing millions of people to work outside the home while the domestic workforce takes care of what needs to be done inside the home.

Featured Image Credits- Vulture

Disha Saxena
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Some archaic manuscripts dating back to the thirteenth century have acquainted us with the name of Razziya al-din, popularly known throughout the history as Razia Sultan, the only female ruler of both the Sultanate and the Mughal period. In defiance of the customary norms, Razia spurned the usage of the title “Sultana”, meaning the wife or mistress of the Sultan, and instead, and quite magnificently if one tries to imagine, answered only to the title of “Sultan”. Nearly eight centuries later, another Razia Sultan has answered to a custom in defiance.

Born in the Nanglakhumba Village of Meerut District, Uttar Pradesh, a coy and dainty Razia Sultan has received the first United Nations Malala Award for educating child labourers. She will also be commended as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education’s Youth Courage Award for Education. The silent revolutionary odyssey began when Razia was rescued by a non-governmental organization from the job of stitching footballs in decrepit tenements in her village, a job she had been doing since the age of four like many other girls. Subsequently, in a heralding development, Razia attended school and became the chieftain to the cause of other child labourers, having rescued 48 children till now. Eventually, Razia expanded her frontiers and voiced the need for child education outside her district and even other countries like Nepal, prudently backed by the non-governmental organization all the way.

While on one hand there is a world where people know the counterproductive trivia about Jabulani football except the cryptic information as to how or where it is made, on the other hand there’s a world where people do not know anything but ‘that’ cryptic information. For instance, Razia Sultan’s father not at all wary of the importance of the honour conferred on his daughter by the United Nations, was quoted as saying, “We didn’t even know that this award is of great importance. Now, we are feeling very proud of her. I cannot express my happiness in words.”

Elated as Razia is, she is not keen to be swept by the mesmerising adulation and considers the honour as a step closer towards her real goal to spread child education because for all she knows, stitching footballs was never her calling in life. And for all we know, though we have no means to affirm it, Razziya al-din would have taken pride in the magnitude of justice done to her name.

(Also see: Malala Yousafzai: The Voice of Change)

On 9th October 2012, terror was prepared to claim it’s next victim- Malala Yousafzai. A young activist fighting for the girl’s right to education in the Swat district of Pakistan, Malala was shot by Taliban on her way home from school. But as fate would have it, the fighter was not going to succumb to a metal cylinder.

The terror attack could not dampen her spirits or her will to live and after a long struggle against death, she is back on her feet, determined to finish what she started. In her first speech at the United Nations on 12th  July 2012, Malala spoke about terrorism, education, peace and the empowered woman of today. The address was a celebration of the teenager’s birthday and what the world organisation labelled as the “Malala Day”.

They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. Weakness, Fear and Hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

As I watch that 16 year old girl speak, I am both dumbstruck and amazed. With her humble attire yet determined beliefs, the only instant emotion is respect. For one, her confidence and strength is far beyond the number of her age. The forgiveness imbibed is an inspiration for any non-believer.

In her near 18-minute speech, Yousafzai talked about how the dreams of young children are being crushed in the wake of terrorism, child labour, poverty and handicapped prejudices. Drawing inspiration from great leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi, Malala plans to tread the path of non-violence in her fight against terrorism and discrimination against the girl child. It’s not about anyone’s personal vendetta, it’s about fighting for change and a life of dignity, peace and equal opportunities. Education is the biggest weapon that humanity has against terrorism. Educating children would mean saving them from falling prey to the stunted ideologies of a few who believe in wrecking havoc and claiming lives of innocent people for their personal satisfaction.

A girl who was shot just because she wanted education has much to complain about. But instead of using this as platform to voice her anger against all those who have wronged her, she used this opportunity to lend her voice to those who have been silenced by terrorism, oppression and discrimination. Malala demands education even for the children of the very Talibs that shot her.

The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.

The speech and the journey of Yousafzai raises yet another grave concern. Which way is humanity headed? In a world where the children are killed for demanding their rights and thousands of innocent people are executed just because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, how can any of us expect a stable future? Even if after progressing to a stage where a computer means a window to the entire world, if the security and well being of millions is questionable, then all this progress has been for nothing. While one child is blowing up money buying expensive phones and another is off to study in a University half way across the world, others are not only being deprived of bare necessities but his very existence is under the scanner in the face of terrorism. And why just children, men-women, rich-poor, Indian-French- is the certainty of returning back home safely, without being caught in a cross fire of degenerated ideologies too much to ask for?

‘We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.’

If the voices of freedom are not raised soon enough, they’ll be bound and chained by their own cowardice.

Let there be several voices that are raised. Let there be more Malalas.

For all those who watched the movie 2012 with rapt attention, hearts accelerating at 80 kilometres an hour-December 21st is just around the corner. Despite the fact that 2012 was a movie that wasn’t even worth a tub of popcorn, it echoed the thoughts of what a majority of seemingly sane people have buried at the back of their stressed minds. Even for those who don’t believe in this apocalypse looming large overhead, the small voice at the back refuses to stop asking the dreaded question, “What if…?”

When the announcement of the Mayan calendar prediction was first made, critics and believers engaged in a furore of intense debates about the end of the world. Mexico’s tourism agency began expecting a whopping 52 million visitors during the last few months of 2012. Back in India, a certain media channel promoted this concept by announcing ‘breaking news’ for almost ten days at a stretch. Mayanist scholars themselves are sceptical about this terrifying and, literally, life shaking prediction and state that this idea might actually misrepresent Mayan culture. Yet, most dreamers and romantics prefer to etch poetry on the walls of monuments with touching phrases like ‘U r myn til 2012, evn wen d wurld closes its eyez on uz jaanu..’ as a testament of their commitment and belief in love, apart from ruining public property.

As laughable as this matter may be, scientists as well as astrologers predict certain amount of turbulence during this year. With natural calamities set to rise, one can never be sure when an earthquake or tsunami may wipe out major cities and even countries. As cyclone Sandy sweeps the East coast of the US, one does wonder how many more calamities are in store. Sandy may be a natural event, and yet so many others are rising due to excessive human intervention. However, no matter how many indications mother Earth sends us, people would rather believe in ancient signs and make elaborate plans on how to celebrate the ‘end of an era’ than actually take some steps towards saving the environment. As most people await the arrival of 21st December, the question turns towards whether we learn something from this over-hyped event after it passes us and begin working towards a better future, or if people celebrate life for a week and then go back to living the in the same extravagant fashion. Though we seem to be leaning towards the latter option, there is hope that the same miracle, which could save the world from ending too soon, will work its magic twice. All said and done, this interpretation is subject to change. If the Mayans, Chicken Little, and Adele were right, then the sky is truly falling.

Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

Author : Oliver Sacks

From his earliest days, Oliver Sacks, the distinguished neurologist who is also one of the most remarkable storytellers of our time and the author of this illuminating and poignant memoir, was irresistibly drawn to understanding the natural world. Born into a large family of doctors, metallurgists, chemists, physicists, and teachers, his curiosity was encouraged and abetted by aunts, uncles, parents, and older brothers. But soon after his sixth birthday, the Second World War broke out and he was evacuated from London, as were hundreds of thousands of children, to escape the bombing. Exiled to a school that rivalled Dickens’s grimmest, fed on a steady diet of turnips and beetroots, tormented by a sadistic headmaster, and allowed home only once in four years, he felt desolate and abandoned.

When he returned to London in 1943 at the age of ten, he was a changed, withdrawn boy, one who desperately needed order to make sense of his life. He was sustained by his secret passions: for numbers, for metals, and for finding patterns in the world around him. Under the tutelage of his “chemical” uncle, Uncle Tungsten, Sacks began to experiment with “the stinks and bangs” that almost define a first entry into chemistry: tossing sodium off a bridge to see it take fire in the water below; producing billowing clouds of noxious-smelling chemicals in his home lab. As his interests spread to investigations of batteries and bulbs, vacuum tubes and photography, he discovered his first great scientific heroes, men and women whose genius lay in understanding the hidden order of things and disclosing the forces that sustain and support the tangible world. There was Humphry Davy, the boyish chemist who delighted in sending flaming globules of metal shooting across his lab; Marie Curie, whose heroic efforts in isolating radium would ultimately lead to the unlocking of the secrets of the atom; and Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the periodic table, whose pursuit of the classification of elements unfolds like a detective story.

Sacks, who is perhaps best known for his books ‘Awakenings’ (which became a Robin Williams/Robert De Niro vehicle) and ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’, invokes his childhood in wartime England and his early scientific fascination with light, matter and energy as a mystic might invoke the transformative symbolism of metals and salts. The “Uncle Tungsten” of the book’s title is Sacks’ Uncle Dave, who manufactured light bulbs with filaments of fine tungsten wire, and who first initiated Sacks into the mysteries of metals. But as Sacks writes, the family influence extended well beyond the home, to include the groundbreaking chemists and physicists whom he describes as “honorary ancestors, people to whom, in fantasy, I had a sort of connection.” Family life exacted another enormous influence as well: his older brother Michael’s psychosis made him feel that “a magical and malignant world was closing in about him,” perhaps giving a hint of what led the author to explore the depths of psychosis in his later professional life.