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Month: August 2016

To Rent a Womb- The New Surrogacy Bill in India

To Rent a Womb- The New Surrogacy Bill in India

Let me begin by telling you a story- the story of Baby Manji. She was born in the summer of 2008, to a surrogate mother- using the sperm of a Japanese man and an egg from an unknown source (reportedly a Nepali/Indian). But even before she was born, her parents had decided to part ways. The wife who wasn’t genetically linked to the baby didn’t want her, and the husband whose sperm was used to create the embryo, wanted the baby. The actual twist, however, came after her birth.

It was a catch 22 situation where Indian rules required the child to be legally adopted before leaving the country, but barred single men from adopting. And Japanese law didn’t recognize surrogacy. Hence Manji’s Japanese father was denied travel documents for the baby. In the months to follow, Baby Manji kicked up a storm and after a prolonged legal battle, the story ended well. Manji got her Japanese visa to leave India.

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Surrogacy isn’t really a new practice in the country. Don’t we have mythological references where Yashoda played mother to Krishna, though, Devki and Vasudev were the biological parents? In the last decade, India has been a leader and a sought after destination in surrogacy-related fertility tourism, due to the relatively low cost, with costs being roughly a third of the price compared to a procedure in the UK. We have here altruistic surrogacy, in which no charges or monetary incentive of any kind is involved. We also have commercial surrogacy which has been legally permitted since 2002, by way of giving monetary incentive in cash or kind, to the surrogate mother or her dependents or representative.

Years after Baby Manji was born, a new surrogacy regulation bill has been passed in India. But does it really answer all our questions?

The new bill would now not support commercial surrogacy, and a proposed new law would allow surrogacy only for Indian couples and not foreigners. It also bars single parents, homosexuals, live-in couples and, married woman who has at least one child of her own. Henceforth, only infertile couples who have been married for at least five years can seek a surrogate and, the surrogate must be a close relative. This bill has yet again brought the whole issue of surrogacy into limelight, with many being critical of it. Infertility specialists are of the opinion that such a law could lead to an illegal surrogacy industry. And things could just get more difficult for infertile couples for whom assisted reproductive technology provides hope. What if both the partners are single child? Whom would they turn to for a surrogate?

As a general practice and this is across the globe, we consider the woman giving birth to a child as the legal mother. But in surrogacy, the intended parents are to be recognized as the legal parents from birth, by virtue of the fact that the surrogate has signed a contract to hand over the child on birth to the commissioned parents. Not many countries in the world consider/recognize surrogacy. Luckily India is one of those few countries which recognizes surrogacy and considers the Intended/ Commissioning Parent/s as the legal parents.

I have often found the social aspects surrounding surrogacy to be complex. Well, mostly unsettled too. Various questions crop up in my mind- Who is a mother? Who is a father? Are there changes to the core definition of family? If so, is this progress?

If we do consider ourselves progressive, I wonder why many in our society aren’t in favour of adoption over surrogacy. Why is it still important to have some sort of genetic link to the child they are bringing into their lives?

I wonder why!!

*Featured Image Source: www.newsx.com

This Time It’s Forever- Aditi Bose

This Time It’s Forever- Aditi Bose

There surely is no better feeling, than finding that one book that feels like magic in your hands. A book that takes you in from its very first page, right till the end. And when you are done reading it, you can feel your heart squeezing- a weird sort of ache and you clutch the book tightly unable to put it down.

I am one of those kinds who could read practically any genre of writing. I sometimes pick up contrasting genres back to back so that I am able to look at each book with a fresh perspective. My recent read was a book by Aditi Ray Bose- “This Time its forever”. The book is a tale of pursuit -of lost love, and finally accepting true feelings.

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Aisha Ahuja has almost everything in life. A decent job, a bunch of good friends and of course Arunavo. Their interaction though begin at a professional level, the daily rigmaroles of life get them closer to each other. Arunavo Banerjee on the other hand is this suave, mature, intellectual person. This charming man is every girl’s fantasy and Aisha also finds it hard to resist him. He has a past that he seldom wants to let go off. However, with the growing mutual attraction, the passion is almost waiting to break free. When one fateful night they finally decided to act upon their attraction, little did Aisha know that she would soon be seeing many twists and turns in her life.

When Arunavo walks out on her, Aisha misses him and his friendship. The walls around her heart are the only things keeping him out of her life. They knew each other’s heart and soul and now he was gone. Will Aisha allow that? Will she let his past win and her heart fail?

The book begins with an interesting prologue. A very short insight indeed into Aisha’s thoughts, stirring a high amount of curiosity, and well, you do start imagining the course of the tale, probably expecting a clichéd end to it. And that’s where Aditi Bose has successfully managed to pull it off. Don’t want to give away spoilers here, but yes, the book ends on a totally unexpected note. “This Time its forever” is a mixed box of feelings- of happiness, pain, anger, curiosity and surprises. But it sure does put you at ease once you bring that last page to a close.  

This simple, yet beautiful story of love and acceptance will turn you around. A great story to keep in your collection, and a perfect Saturday afternoon read!!!

Murder in the Mews- Agatha Christie

Murder in the Mews- Agatha Christie

There are murder mysteries and then there is Hercule Poirot! This Belgian detective is surely AGATHA Christie’s greatest creation. Charming and not so modest about it, Hercule Poirot is known for his eccentric mannerisms. But well! He sure does manage to solve each of his cases with a dramatic twist. No wonder he has been the centerpiece in many of Christie’s novels.

And as the man himself says- “My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.” – Hercule Poirot in The Mystery of the Blue Train

And we don’t doubt that, do we?

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It’s been over twenty years, since the day I picked up that first Agatha Christie from my neighborhood library. Ever since, I have been intrigued by her writing style, the narration and the element of suspense the books carried. I have read a fairly large number of her books. And I don’t mind re-reading a couple of them. My recent “re-read” pick was Murder in the Mews. The book is essentially a collection of novellas that are light-hearted British murder cases. Four whodunit cases, each with an unexpected ending. It is a book that you would simply not want to put down.

The stories are set in the early 20th century, and give you a quick peek into British culture too. Señor Hercule Poirot with his razor sharp mind is all out to solve the four cases.

  • Case 1: How did A woman holding a pistol in her right hand manage to shoot herself in the left temple?
  • Case 2: An important letter is stolen at the time when an apparition was spotted. What’s the link?
  • Case 3: A rich old man is found dead in his study. Conflicting reports as to his mood during the day and who among the guests at his estate may have had a motive to slay the chap.
  • Case 4: Triangle at Rhodes-A marital triangle leads to foul murder but the ending will surprise you. 

The stories are short and crisp. But I somehow missed the elaborate investigative style that makes Hercule Poirot the man that he is. There is this element of eccentricity he carries, when he thinks aloud or, when he discusses the case with his aide Hastings. These conversations would often lead readers to come out with their own conclusions. And I quite missed Hastings too, who seemed to have done a disappearing act in all four of the novellas.

Murder in the Mews, nevertheless, is loaded with vigor and suspense. Brilliantly paced tales of murder and deceit. A must for all Agatha Christie’s fans!!

Promises I Keep

Promises I Keep

“Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our lives are filled with promises. Promises of every kind. Conditional, unconditional, unsaid, or understood. Whatever you call it they are a sort of assurance that we give to either ourselves or to another person. 

My life isn’t any different. I make a zillion promises of different kinds almost every day. Take for example, a pinkie promise to my little girl. For those who aren’t aware, a pinkie promise is the entwining of the little fingers when you assure the other person of something. Ah well! for my little girl it is always to do with getting something in return for having done a task. So in a day, I make many such promises. Some I keep, some I forget- or I rather choose to forget.

Then there are promises that I make to myself. A promise to live well, a promise to work hard at a passion, a promise to lead a more disciplined life. And do I keep these promises? Most of them I suppose.

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Surprisingly the promises that I seldom break are the ones that are actually unsaid. I often wonder why. Maybe because these are the ones that give me the most joy. Then I wonder why they are unsaid. These are the promises I make to my spouse- to be a good companion. A promise to my daughter that I would be there for her always, when she is in need of me. A promise to my mother that I would always be her support. A promise to the country I belong to that I would be a good citizen. 

Life is full of promises the list could go on and on. I sometimes wonder what would this world of ours be if not for these promises.

So of all the promises in your life, which is the one that you seldom break and why? Think about it.

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Joys of Monsoon Robbed?

Joys of Monsoon Robbed?

“Hey it’s raining”, I announced to my kiddo.

“It’s time to splash and have some fun, because monsoons are joyous times and makes childhood memorable. We love the smell of wet mud, and sail paper boats in water puddles. Or maybe we could play football in the rain. How about sharing that single umbrella and taking a walk down the lane, jumping into every puddle we comes across? Let’s spot a rainbow as the sun peeps through the clouds or step outside to open our arms and dance with glee. Its monsoon time and let’s be silly and do childish things.”

Alas, this is all nothing but wishful thinking!!!!

Come monsoons, and every year, hundreds of cases of dengue are reported across India. The most notorious numbers were reported in Delhi last year. The National Capital saw over 15,000 cases in 2015, by far the capital’s worst outbreak in recent years.  The year also saw a high mortality rate for dengue with 38 deaths. And among those inflicted with this deadly virus last year, were my two little girls. Luckily, they fought the virus back and turned out recovered pretty soon. Yet, that fear lurks in me that things could have got worse. 

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I sometimes feel sorry for the children of today. Not only are they heavily burdened with activities and academics, the outdoor activities also seem to have reduced due to the fear of falling ill. We today live in cities that are populated, and the environment may not entirely be healthy for an active mind and growing body. Children today are bereft of these simple pleasures of monsoon showers.

As a young girl, years back, I would love the monsoons. I would listen to their sound, watch the water lashing on the pavement and smell the wet mud. I would run out with my friends once the rain stopped, armed with paper boats. We would jump on puddles splashing water on each other. No longer would I be able to give my daughter a childhood such as this. I would think a hundred times before I could let my little one, float that paper boat in the tiny muddy stream by the roadside. I would hesitate to let her jump in puddles…

Small joys of monsoon robbed?

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It Doesn’t Matter if Those Tiny Shoes Are Blue or Pink!

It Doesn’t Matter if Those Tiny Shoes Are Blue or Pink!

“Phir se ladki hui he!”(You have given birth to a girl again). This was the first thing I heard, when my second child was born. The duty nurse walked in and placed her by my side. I was exhausted after the long labor and was bleeding excessively. I glanced at her, all pink and tiny, when a single tear drop slipped down my eye. I was happy. My baby was just fine.

Hubby and I were elated when we realized that our second bundle of joy was on its way. The nine months seemed too long for us three- and my first born just couldn’t wait to include her yet-to-arrive sibling, in her game of Barbie dolls. However, the elders in the family seemed a wee bit stressed. It began with subtle hints and soon moved to more direct ones that this time around, the baby better be a boy!

Hubby and I seldom paid any heed to these words, as the reasons seemed absolutely absurd to us. “You already have a girl,” they would say, “and another one would simply be an additional responsibility.”

Their want of a boy stemmed from the following thoughts.

  • With the number of rape and eve teasing around, there is an additional responsibility of protection of the girl. One always has to be on tenterhooks when they go out.
  • Continuing the family name and the task of doing karma is on the shoulders of the son.

Brushing away this absurdity, in our own privacy, hubby and I would draw up a list of names- both for boys and girls. It didn’t matter to us- whether those tiny shoes were blue or pink!

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On a cold winter night in Delhi, my second one was born in the Base hospital in Delhi Cantt.., when the duty nurse loudly made the announcement that it was a girl again. I gave her a meek grin at that moment, out of exhaustion. The elders in the family hardly had anything to say. The celebration was kept minimal and the air of disappointment was evident.

Back in the gyneac ward, as hubby and I sat admiring the new one, the duty nurse walked in and asked me if I was happy. Of course I was! What more could I ask for. My family, all of four, was complete now. She chuckled as she said,” You would be coming back a third time!! I have seen the world.” We both sat gazing at the door, when the intensity of her statement actually hit us.

This is probably the story in many households in our country, where a boy is preferred over a girl child, more so when it is the second time around. And this thought process is prevalent in every strata of society- doesn’t matter whether they are educated or not, doesn’t matter if they are in their 30s or in their 60s.

I probably consider myself lucky that my husband belongs to a generation where the gender of the child absolutely did not matter. I also consider myself lucky that despite the disappointment; the elders in the family came in terms with it and today are absolutely adorable grandparents to both my girls.

Yet, things are not the same for many other women in our country.  A girl child could actually spell doom for them, especially if the first born is already one.

Social campaigns have played a major role in changing mindsets and reduced the stigma attached to giving birth to a girl. Still the birth of a baby boy is accompanied by celebrations and the arrival of a baby girl elicits mixed reactions. What really needs to happen is a change at the grass root level, where we need to evolve new thought processes and advocate these to our next generation. It is only then, would we actually stop bothering, about those tiny shoes being pink or blue!

I shall leave you with a video that speaks volumes about the existing thought process. Brilliantly made by “Grey India”.

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I am a married woman and…. I don’t like to cook!!!

I am a married woman and…. I don’t like to cook!!!

“She caught me red handed! I had cut open the packet of instant sambar mix and was about to add a couple of spoons in water, when I noticed my mother-in-law peering from behind me. “You know how to make Sambar don’t you?” she asked. My sheepish grin gave it all away.

I am a married woman and…. I don’t like to cook!!! Well before you give me those judgmental looks. Let me make things clear. I do know how to cook, yet it is to me a mundane task that I seldom enjoy doing. But, years back the story was a bit different. Oh! Not that I enjoyed it then, just that I did not know how to cook……at all.

The initial year of being married was sheer bliss. We lived in a little sea facing apartment in Mumbai and just like other working couples, we had our own things to do. Travelling in the Mumbai local, getting back late and partying in the weekends. The kitchen in the apartment was the least visited place, except for the morning cup of coffee and toast, which too was prepared by an over-efficient Maharashtrian maid.  I was more than happy and content with the set-up, as I didn’t have to be bogged down by what to cook. Until, the mother in law decided to pay us a visit for a week. Being an orthodox person, she seldom ate food cooked by a maid, which meant, the kitchen had to be brought to some order.

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So the Sunday before the D-day, hubby and me, took stock of the entire situation. That is when he popped the most important question.  He hadn’t asked me this during our 5 yearlong courtship, nor had he bothered to discover it in the few months of being together as a married couple. “So you can cook right?”

“Well….” my sentence dragged on. I can try. “Maybe I should just pick up some books and read up. What kind of food does your mom like?”

“Mom loves traditional Kerala food. Let’s go shopping for cook books. You still have a week left….”

During the course of the week I spent laborious hours in the kitchen after work, churning out “traditional Kerala food”. The results were of course disastrous, when one evening I could take it no longer and burst into tears.

“I just hate cooking. I have to stand for hours, knead, chop and I even burnt my finger. I can’t handle this anymore.”

Comforting me hubby came up with this brilliant plan. “Let’s stock up instant food mix packets in the kitchen. It is just a week, so mom would not know. And then we could both learn to cook together”. Awwww I melted in his arms… That was the sweet side of him.

As the D day arrived, hubby and I seemed extra anxious and worried. Would we be able to pull it off? The first few days went off pretty well and mom in law quite didn’t find out. However one fine morning, I was caught red handed in the act, when she popped into the kitchen unexpectedly.

It was blasphemy! She just realized her daughter in law could not cook nor did she enjoy doing so.

As a young girl, I was way too happy to be in the kitchen- not really to learn the nuances of cooking, but to dig into the yummy stuff mom used to make. I could never make sense of the numerous little containers that were stacked up there. “How would you be able to run a family later in life if you can’t cook?” This is what my mom would often say. Yet nothing could get me to learn cooking. When friends, would discuss all things related to baking and cooking, I would be lost in a world of my own. Cooking seldom interested me.

But life sure has its own way of getting things straight for you. Over the years, as I matured from a newly married woman to the mother of two kids, the non- existent cook in me had metamorphosed into a mother who could cook up a meal in a jiffy. I still don’t enjoy it, but the kitchen isn’t that bad a place after all now. I guess those innocent smiles of appreciation I get, works as a motivational factor to experiment recipes.

Hubby on the other hand is yet to learn, unlike what he had promised. May be I shall leave the “traditional Kerala meal” for him to learn!!

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The Great Indian IIT Dream

The Great Indian IIT Dream

“The mind of a child is fragile. Their emotions touch their future. Your words shape their destiny.”-Anonymous

As I picked up my morning newspaper, a bunch of leaflets slipped out of its pages. Oh boy! The newspaper as it is bombards me with advertisements, and the leaflets just seem to add to the agony. As I got picking the leaflets that were strewn across the room, a little pink one caught my eye. It was an advertisement placed by a coaching institute located in a thriving medieval era colony- Kālu Sarai, in Delhi.

“A Guaranteed Programme”, it said. “Give me a student of class VIII or IX and take back an IIT engineer after 5 years.”

The great Indian IIT dream it was, and institutes, such as this, sell that hope!

Every year over 12 lakh students appear for the IIT-JEE for admission into the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. With a 3% selection rate, the exam is considered to be one of the toughest competitive exams in the world. A brain child of the first Prime Minister of India Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the IITs were seen as a nation building project. However, over the years, the institutes developed a brand identity of sorts- with its alumni making it big in the corporate world. The Indian-origin CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, is an IITian, so is billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. For middle class India, the IITs promised a secure and bright future. It was a sort of assured career insurance for one’s child. The harder it became to secure an admission, the shinier the alumni’s future.

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Image for Representation Purpose only. Source: The Hindustan Times

 

And feeding fodder to this dream of Indian parents are coaching institutes across the nation. The notorious of it all are the ones in Kota, Rajasthan. In fact, this small barren town in Rajasthan has now become synonymous with IIT coaching institutes. Many parents are of the opinion that a coaching institute in Kota would give their child a sure shot victory at the IIT-JEE.

But the streets of Kota speak another story too-of children succumbing to the pressure and ending their lives. The undue expectations from parents, often leads to lack of motivation, low self-confidence and morale. A point comes when children are unable to cope up and are left traumatized. For these children death seems to be more peaceful, than going through the daily rigmaroles of coaching institutes and parental pressure. Fragile lives snuffed out way too early!

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, I casually asked her high school son if he had some idea on what he would like to pursue post class twelve. The young boy all of 16, replied that he was preparing for the IIT-JEE. “Ah!” I said, “An engineer in the making”. His mother was quick to retort back. “Well not any engineer, but an IITian. My husband is one and my son will follow the family tradition.”

I was aghast!!!

Don’t we all as parents dream of seeing our children do well in life? Well, there is surely nothing wrong in that. But things aren’t really all right, when we begin to force “our” dream on them. If giving them the right education and setting values straight is a necessity, it is equally important to allow your child to dream on his own- to build his aspirations.

And that’s what as parents we need to be doing. Encourage and nourish! Sow the seeds tenderly and watch the tree of life bear fruits accordingly,’ cause children are fragile lives.

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India’s Third Gender

India’s Third Gender

saw her walk across the road swaying her hips. She was dressed in a black sari that seemed to shimmer in the morning sun. As she approached my car, I pulled down my window and for a brief moment, my eyes met hers. And at that very moment, amidst the constant honking on the roads, her eyes spoke volumes…

On a busy working day, I sat in my vehicle waiting for the signal to turn green. It would be a long wait- the timing system at the signal indicated 90 seconds. I was on one of Delhi’s busiest roads near Tihar Jail, a mere 12 kilometers away from the seat of power-the Indian Parliament house, when I spotted her across the road. There were a group of them in fact. As the traffic came to a halt at the signal, they swarmed around vehicles, tapping on windows, clapping their hands to be heard.

A generous couple in a swanky car pushed a ten Rupee note out of the window and quickly rolled it up, ‘lest they make any contact with their kind. A few others, whose windows were rolled down, pulled it up all too soon, and turned their faces away as though they were lost in deeper thoughts. The ones who seemed to be the most harassed were those on two wheelers and auto rickshaws. It was difficult to brush them away, until you had parted with a currency note or two.

She tapped at my window, and I rolled it down when our eyes met. I found her pleasant to look at, despite the thick coating of face powder and the extra dark red lipstick she had on. A strong whiff of perfume caught my nose, and I briefly felt dizzy. I dug into my bag to pull out a Rupee ten note. As I handed it over to her, she placed her hands on my head, blessing me with happiness in abundance. It was a brief moment of joy- for me as well as for her.

“Why don’t you find yourself a job?” I asked her. “You are young and seem capable”.

Instantly she shot back, “Would you employ me? No one wants to give our kind a job”.

74244954_182985650Image for Representation Purpose Only. Source: BBC.com

I stared at her stunned. I had no answer. The signal turned to green and as I drove away, I saw her walk to the other side of the road to those of “her kind”.

The word “Transgender” is a sort of an umbrella term that encompasses anyone whose gender identity does not fully match their assigned birth sex. This broad category includes transsexuals and cross -dressers too. But for centuries in India, all these terms with its subtle distinctions, have been brought under one broad category- called “Hijra”. The community is often treated as criminals, subject to discrimination and sexual abuse. You would often find them in poverty- well, not often do people want to see them or have anything to do with them. This is what we all know of them, right?

But, what you don’t know is that historically the community has had a fairly decent dignity in mainstream society. If you look at the medieval ages, you have references where transgender have been queens. Go back a thousand odd years, and the great epics such as the Mahabharata have references to the community. There are mythological tales of how Gods would change their gender. The Vedas and Puraanas too speak of the third gender characters. They were considered to be a good luck charm. However, things slowly changed and, took its present day distorted form, during the British colonial period.

And almost a hundred years later, on April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of India handed down a landmark ruling, recognizing them as the third gender of the country. This decision granted India’s transgender the right to self-identity.

Though a big step, there is still a long way to go in restoring the dignity of the “Third Gender”. They are still stigmatized by mainstream society and are often denied the basic fundamental rights- of education and employment. There is even a certain element of hesitance to rent a home out to the Third Gender as the tenant.

Until we begin to accept them as part of us, no law would give them the dignity they need the most. Till then, you would just spot them at your car window, as they clap their hands, demanding your attention. 

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She Was Born For The Blue Skies

She Was Born For The Blue Skies

They say- “Truth is stranger than fiction”. Our life can be amazing, and difficult to believe sometimes. A lot of things happen with or without any meaning, and like the butterfly effect- a chain of events happen!

Take the life of Shital Mahajan.

A chance meeting with her friend’s brother- an Air Force Officer, in the year 2002, led Shital to be introduced to skydiving. She decided to learn the basics from him then. So intrigued was she by the adventure in the sport, that she decided to go in for further training. However, at that time, a civilian could not be trained within the country and had to go abroad, if he desired to pursue his passion of skydiving.

In a society, where the percentage of girls into adventure sports is almost negligible, the biggest challenge Shital had to face was to remove the stereotypical thought about women from people’s minds. Her parents weren’t convinced. In a family where no one had travelled in an aircraft, you surely don’t jump off it! And beside girls can’t do such dares. This is what her family had to say.

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But with a strong determination, she convinced them, that her passion lay in sky diving and if she were to die it would solely be her responsibility. It did take her a considerably long time to get her parents to be on the same bandwagon as her, but eventually she did manage to convince them through.

There was no looking back after that. On 18th April 2004, she became the first woman in the world to execute a sky-dive from the North Pole from a height of 2400 feet, and that too without any prior training. Without any land to set her feet on, she landed on an ice slope in sub- zero temperature of minus 37 degrees. In 2006, Shital performed the sky fall from both South Pole and North Pole, yet again the first woman in the world to do so.

Today, Shital has many feathers on her cap. Five world records, fourteen National records and a Padmshri Award, at the age of 34, she has achieved great accolades.  Shital has to her credit over 650 jumps.

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And here’s something that’s far more interesting. In April 2008, Shital married software engineer Vaibhav Rane in a unique wedding that was conducted in a hot-air balloon near Pune, 600-feet above the ground.

Shital Mahajan is truly born for the blue skies. She has come a long way- from her intial days to being a world record holder now.

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*Featured image: Mid-day.com