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GIVING OR RECEIVING

The new year is here and it’s that time when we plan out our goals for the future, looking forward to all things good and hoping and praying to keep away any unfortunate incident from our lives. the first month of the year also brings with it the festival of ‘Makar sankranti’ ,meaning the transmigration of the sun into the ‘makar rashi’. Also called ‘uttarayan’ marking the northward migration of the sun. This day is celebrated by different names in different parts of our country and is considered auspicious for any charity that you might want to offer to the needy.

And for this purpose the ladies wing of our community decided to donate blankets to a girls’ hostel run by a trust set up by Mahatma Gandhi himself in 1934. It houses about 200 girls from poor families studying in classes from 8th to 12th std. and provides for their boarding, lodging, food and tutions. They get a meager  grant,and like all such institutions can always do with help in cash or kind.

So today armed with about 200 blankets we( about 15 ladies) descended upon the hostel. There was a spring in our steps and pride in our eyes with the thought of doing a ‘good deed’ and crediting it into the accounts of our lives.

Reaching there we found the girls seated systematically on the floor on their mats, looking at as with curiosity. Their’s were happy faces, smiling at us shyly at first and then more openly as we smiled back at them. They began the program with prayers and the girls, with their eyes closed, sang in one voice prayers taken from all religions. It was then when I began to get goosebumps on my arms. Suddenly i wasn’t too sure as to who was the giver and who the receiver.

We started to hand out the blankets to the girls,one at a time and they took it from us with so much joy and gratitude that humility descended upon me in full force. Our act of giving felt too small in the face of their simple appreciation.

And I wasn’t giving anymore but receiving from them; receiving a lesson in humility. The true joy of giving; the giving of appreciation more than deserved and making others feel happy about themselves.

As i came away, I had a spring in my steps that came not because I had given something away but because I had received something priceless.

SUMMING UP 2011

Another year comes to an end. It’s at times like this when you look back it seems as if time has moved on fast forward.  It seems as if it was just yesterday when we’d welcomed 2011.  So many things happened last year; Some routine and some for the first time; Some people surprised me and  at times I surprised myself; made some great new friends and reconnected with some old ones. Took up some activities that I knew gave me joy and discovered some new ones that I can make me equally happy. All in all I would say it was a year that I can store away in the ‘happy closet’ of my memory.  So thanking God I try to make a list of all things important in the year passing by-

The year saw my daughter appear for her 10th board exams. I suddenly became the receiver of much sympathy from all quarters as if she was about to embark upon a war. People talked to me as if my life had come to a stand-still. ”awwww..daughter in 10th? Then you must not be watching T.V./ going out for movies/ dinner/just fun?”  In fact I wondered if I was playing with my daughter’s future when we did indulge in some recreation. But thank God!! Sense had prevailed and we all did watch T.V. and the movies and led a pretty normal life. And my daughter passed with flying colors. (A+) grades in all.

Then began the big hunt- a new school for her. She wanted to take up humanities (arts)… a faculty considered to be meant for the not so bright in this part of the world. The whole process and the people’s attitudes were a real eye-opener for me. The people’s reactions  ranged from confidence that as her dad is a doctor she would follow his footsteps and opt from science, to happy acceptance, to disbelief, to a polite silence with the eyes doing all the speaking. After a while I started enjoying telling people of her choice and then observing the reactions I got.

Come summer vacations and we planned a trip to Kashmir—a place we wanted to visit for a long time but couldn’t do so because of the unrest there. The first week of May was chosen for the trip and we with our friends embarked upon a much looked forward to vacation. But Barrack Obama nearly played the spoiler. He chose the very same week to hunt down Osama-bin-laden and dispose of him. The situation did get a bit tense or rather we got a bit worried and so did our families but we, without any hitch, concluded our trip. Kashmir is truly a ‘paradise on earth’.  No bullets or bombs can ever take away its beauty or its soul. The Kashmiris are beautiful people, trying to live without fear and with dignity after decades of being ravaged.

Some other worth mentioning events of 2011 for me are-

I finally got my car and got behind the wheel.

Took up my dance classes with my hubby once again and performed on stage.

Finally mustered up the courage to start blogging.

Did keep my resolution to read good books this year. Though I did not read as much as I would have liked to but managed a decent score.

Lessons I learnt this year….

Most of my fears were imaginary.

And when you tell yourself you have to do something you really can do it not matter what fear or mental block prevents you to do it. I’m still trying to put it to use for many of my fears and blocks.

Signing off now. Wishing a happy, healthy new year for my family and friends…welcome 2012.

TEENAGERS AND LOVE

“I’m a 15 yr old girl in love with a boy a year my senior. I think he likes me too. How do I tell him about my feelings. I can’t live without him.”

“I’m a 16 yr old boy in love with my classmate. We both love each other very much and want to get married.”

And many more such queries from teenagers( sometimes even as young as 13-14yrs)appear on a regular basis in the ‘agony aunts” columns of newspapers, magazines, etc.

This would seem like a worrying trend for most parents and specially the parents of a girl. Unlike the West our society is still not open to teenage relationships and the concept of ‘dating’ and such associations are looked down upon. But it is also true that over the years the boy-girl interactions have increased and parents have loosened up to the idea of girls having boys as friends and vice-versa. It’s only when the young teens talk about having a boyfriend or a girlfriend that the parents panic and go into restrictive or authoritative mode. But this reaction by the parents is akin to that of an ostrich that buries its head in the sand at the approach of danger thinking that if it can’t see the danger it’s not there.

Physiologically and psychologically teenagers feel attraction towards the opposite sex. When this happens they may begin feeling love towards another teen. In most cases it is a “positive’ thing. Studies say that teens who experience the feeling of love are usually more in touch with their emotions and will be considerate to others’ feelings.

Most parents feel that teenage love is more like ‘puppy love’, a crush or an infatuation. It may be so at times but for them it’s the real thing. They too feel the happiness of being in love or the heart-break of a broken relationship. Teenagers are capable of feeling true love, only they are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of a serious relationship.

What freaks out the parents most is the idea that in such a relationship their children may indulge in activities that may go beyond hand holdings or harmless pettings. Teenage pregnancy is already a major problem in Western countries that has made their government sit up and take steps to tackle the problem. In our country with the bias against the girl such incidents are hushed up or swept under the carpet. This fear also drives the parents to impose strict restrictions on the girls which impacts the holistic development of the girl and does nothing to solve the problem.

Here are some things that parents can do to keep off anxiety.

COMMUNICATE. Talk with your children early and often about relationships and sex. Initiate conversation and make sure it’s a dialogue and not a monologue.

Be clear about your own sexual  values and attitudes- communicating with your children about these issues is more effective if you are clear in your mind about them.

Supervise and monitor your children by rules, curfews.

Know your children’s friends. Welcome them into your home and talk to them openly.

Be media literate- know what your kids are watching, listening and reading.

These tips work best when they are part of strong, close relationships with your children that are built from an early age.

Express love and affection often, listen carefully to what your children say, do activities with your children that they enjoy, be supportive and interested in what interests them and help them build self esteem.

Each child is unique and special and so has to be treated individually. But the one thing that should be the basis of all your decisions is your LOVE for the child and not the fear of  ”what will people think.” Love and patience are the most effective tools in any such situation.

And most importantly remember that you were once a teen too and had your own fair share of romances, crushes and heart-breaks. IT’S NORMAL.

a pigeon love story

piWant to introduce you all to CHINTU and CHINKI. No not the ones you see on T.V. These are my own Chintu and Chinki and have a love story of their own. They entered my life quite suddenly, landing on my tiny kitchen balcony(which is also my dish-washing area) one warm summer afternoon and announced their arrival with the crashing of my pots and pans being kicked around as Chintu tried with all his might to woo Chinki. He puffed out his chest and strutted around showing off his power(are males in all species same or what??) and his ability to provide a coveted and safe living quarters for his mate. He finally managed to win Chinki over and they embarked upon a new life together. As you must have guessed by now..Chintu and Chinki are a pair of grey pigeons and that day they made my balcony their home.

I hadn’t christened them as yet, in fact was annoyed by their presence. They dirtied my space with their poo-poos and with the constant stream of twigs, leaves and other building material that they brought in to create their dream home. If a cupboard door in the balcony was left open by mistake it would immediately be taken over and nest building activity would start promptly. If the door connecting my kitchen to the balcony was left open long enough they would waddle in fearlessly, fly onto the counter-top or on the refrigerator and inspect my kitchen thoroughly, sending me rushing madly after them. All my efforts to evacuate them from my property failed and they continued coochi-cooing like Romeo and Juliet on the balcony.

But what got to me was their perseverance. Day after day the nest they built would be thrown away by a family member or house-help and everyday they would start again with no thought of giving up ever. They waddled into my heart just as they did in my kitchen. I christened them. And I no longer shoo them away. I try to talk to them now and I think they’ve also understood that they have a friend in me. But no, they are still not allowed to build their nest simply because of the odd places they choose to do so. One time it’s right on the drain-cover another time in the tub and once even in a pan left overnight to be washed the next day

At the time of publishing this, they were still at it. My pots and pans are still crashing around, the place is still dirty but they have now occupied my heart and we have our own love story.

WE ARE LIKE THIS ONLY

Last evening was watching the pictures of our trip to the south-east, taken a few years back. It brought back a flood of memories of a wonderful vacation. Of a different and yet somewhat similar lands. Was impressed how everything worked with clockwork precision, the people disciplined and following the rules without a stick over their heads, the cleanliness, honesty and a sense of pride for their land .

But there were a few incidents that left a bitter taste in my mouth. It made me wonder if we really took pride in being an Indian or so to say if India was personified would it take pride in us Indians?

We were a group of Indian tourists and in almost all the places we visited and all the tourist buses we sat in our tour guides never failed to drive in the point that we were lowly Indians compared to them. Whether it was to point out that their were no beggars, dogs, cows, etc loitering on the roads, to saying that their was no noise pollution due to honking horns(amazing, really!!) to pointing out that nobody used the road-sides, walls etc as their personal lavatory and took pride in all the fines imposed (from littering to chewing gum).

It is mandatory to point out that the Indians didn’t help the matters by their actions. At one resort a couple from our group was caught stealing away a couple of spoons from their room (spoons??how duh!!) in their baggage. Were those spoons worth the embarrassment of having your bags opened and the said items fished out by the hotel staff in everyone’s presence???

But what was more interesting was the behavior of the people while they were in that country. They carried a piece of wrapper in their hands for hours until they found a dustbin to throw it in. Were particular about following all rules. Gushed over the clean roads and the washrooms available everywhere all the while saying ‘our India is so dirty’. What I wanted to ask them all was WHO makes India. India is not just a mass of land surrounded by water on three sides as we learnt in geography class. India is what we make of it. If India is dirty it’s because we make it so. If India is corrupt, we make it so. It is we who litter our streets without a second thought, we who misuse the facilities provided to us, we who break rules or try to bend around the rules for a little benefit. But when ever cornered we immediately fall back to harping upon our rich culture which I’m sorry to say is nothing but a misguided sense of ego. We love to bask in reflected glory whether it’s a Mr. Mittal or a Sunita Williams or in the scores of second generation Indians making headlines in their adopted countries in various fields. We love to fawn over a white skin and golden hair and take pride in the oft clichéd praises they shower on us while they rake in the moolah and go laughing all the way to the banks.

Anyways, getting back to the trip, my day was made once we were back at the Mumbai airport. Some of the ladies from my group and me went to the washroom, which were definitely not the epitome of cleanliness. Immediately one of the ladies started cribbing and said (in her mother tongue),”India is so dirty. Everything was so clean there..etc.etc.” before I could think of a fitting reply to her, a tiny voice, (in marathi)  piped up from behind, ”what India, India? What are you saying about India? Don’t say bad about India. It is best.” The voice belonged to the cleaning lady who was in-charge of the washroom. She was an uneducated woman and also one we normally shun. She hadn’t understood a word of what the lady had said. Only heard India’s name taken in a derisive and derogatory tone and responded immediately. Needless to mention it silenced the cribbing lady effectively.

And me? I wanted to hug that woman right there but restrained myself. Retrospectively I think I should have done just that.

FAIRNESS UNFAIR

Was watching my favorite daily soap the other day. During a break I forgot to switch channels and was thus exposed to the slew of advertisements that informed me about all things I needed without which my life was not worth living. I was also made aware that I wasn’t fair enough for anything good in life and every second ad was for either a cream or a soap or a bleach or a powder that promised to magically turn me fair—within a week or in a few minutes or in some cases even instantly. Some even offered me a scale to measure my fairness. I despaired along with the girl who was lamenting about not getting the attention of the guy she desired just because she was not the shade of milk. I rejoiced with the girl who turns into a diva (Cinderella like) after using the cream. (who needs a fairy godmother now that we have the fairness creams). And now men have joined the race too, to become whiter, with special creams for the masculine skin. (duh?)

This obsession with the white skin becomes so much more pronounced in the matrimonial pages of any newspaper or magazine. (by the way I find them a very entertaining read). All the bachelors out there are Tall, FAIR, and Handsome (all the girls waiting for your Tall, DARK, and Handsome prince- eat your heart out. There aren’t any) wanting beautiful and FAIR brides. And as for the girls, there are shades describing them from ‘very fair’ to ‘fair’ to ‘wheatish’ but never beyond that. With ‘arranged marriage’ still practiced in our country the parents of a dark skinned girl despair to find a groom for her. It does not matter how flawless her skin may be or how beautiful the features and no matter how well educated, smart, cultured or good at heart she may be-she loses it all to mere ‘melanin’.

I found out that this obsession for the fair skin goes back in centuries. The gods or ‘devataas’ were depicted as fair skinned whereas the demons or ‘asuras’ as dark skinned. Or maybe the bias had to do with the lighter skinned upper caste who ruled, as against the dark skinned lower caste people who did menial jobs.

And then as the final nail in the coffin, came the European rulers from the west and their ‘gori mems’, thus sealing the fates of all people dark skinned.

This ‘wanting of fair skin’ begins much before the birth of the child. When a woman is expecting she’s advised to eat almonds soaked overnight or drink raw coconut water and many more such remedies, so that her child will be fair. Even after the birth of the child the thing most talked about, amongst people coming to visit, after his/her resemblance to either of the parents, is the skin color.

And with the people swooning over the fair skinned actresses on big and small screen alike, it’s no wonder that the ‘fairness’ market is booming in our country with the cosmetic companies raking in the moolah.

So, is there a cure? It’s difficult to change the mindsets of a whole population just like asking the river to flow uphill. It will not happen till the people themselves start thinking differently and go beyond ‘skin deep’. Till then , I guess, the fair and lovelies will rule.

A food for thought though—what happens if you continue using the fairness cream after the stipulated 7 days in which it claims to make you at least five tones lighter. Do you go whiter and then some more whiter and then translucent and then what?????Try and let me know.

Till then I’m happy in my skin.

Parenting

“Parenting “is the new buzz word in today’s times. Everyone, the young parents, the would be parents and even newly weds , are talking about it. There are discussions, seminars, workshops, books and tv shows dedicated to Parenting.

Has rearing children become such a big job that it garners so much attention from all quarters? Is there a right way to bring up your children? A text-book method to go step by step? Or is it like a perfect recipe – take a child, add a teaspoon of discipline, a pinch of scoldings, 2 cups of your time and simmer lightly in the flame of love. For extra zing add the rigorous schedule of various extra-curricular activities. If you follow these steps you can’t go wrong. Why then are the child and family counselors getting busier by the day?

Is that what parenting is all about? Does shouting to the world about your child’s good score in exams make you a good parent? Does sending the child to all possible activities whether enjoyed by him or not make you a good parent?  Does attending lectures and workshops make you a good parent? And did our parents not do a good job despite the fact that they never attended a single class on parenting?

This when, sometimes, they themselves were barely beyond the boundaries of adolescence and did not fully comprehend the meaning of parenthood and the responsibilities that came with it. And yet they managed to raise a generation that did fairly well for it self.

Today parenting has become ‘a game’ ,’a race’. “uska baccha mere bacche se aage kaise” and everyone joins the melee following the herd mentality, and trying to outdo every next kid in the vicinity. In the process, ironically, the victim is the child and its childhood. They are made to grow up before time and act as adults before they are out of their cribs.

So the question again… what is the right way to bring up your children? Is there a “one size fits all” mantra or a customized package to fit  each individual type. Should we impose our thoughts, beliefs, dreams and ambitions on the child or we let them learn through their own experiences, gently guiding, so that they gain insight to the world as it is now. Let them explore the world both outside and inside themselves and grow into whole human beings and not machines for whom success is only equivalent to money fame and glitz.

As Khalil Gibran says in ‘The prophet’—

“your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The Archer bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far”

I swear…. I’m up to no good

Recently saw a movie, liked by most , in fact a major hit. It was a path breaking- film as far as the language goes.  But that got me thinking, having been brought up in an environment where profanity was glared down upon by family, teachers and people around me in general, as to what makes people swear and why has it lost its shock value today.

After some basic research found out that swearing has been around ever since man acquired language. In fact similar behavior was also observed in chimps. It was a common reaction to pain, surprise, shock. A volley of foul language had a powerful analgesic effect as it triggered the ‘fight or flight’ response in the brain. Also found that men swore more then women ( a gap that I’m sure is lessening by the day!)

Every country, region, language has its own arsenal of expletives. In our country also, you will find a wide range of swear words to choose from. Where as the common man resorts to the more vulgar, baser form of local lingo, the upwardly mobile tend to use the videshi  gaalis imported from (among other things) Europe or the US of A and strut around with one more thing phoren in their kitty.

Some time back, saw a bunch of kids, 6-7 yrs old, playing games that kids play, the way they play, that makes you smile at the innocence of childhood. Imagine my surprise when a little squabble brought forth words from them that could put even the most seasoned swearer to shame. The parents may blame the tv or the movies for the enhanced vocabulary but it doesn’t completely exempt them from their responsibility. And yes, the media ( read tv and movies)must also pick up its fair share of responsibility. We all know there are certain shows on tv and now movies that glamorize the cuss-words despite all the bleeps in place (or is it because of the bleeps that these words become so fascinating to a fertile mind?). Endorsing profanity in the name of reality is not an excuse that can be accepted. Since when did masala movies start showing reality? Show me a guy who can take on 10 armed hooligans singlehandedly, or a poor girl who doesn’t have food to eat bit yet can afford designer outfits and I swear I’ll change my Bl@#*y ways..

I’m not trying to do any moral policing because I too have indulged into my fair share of cursing in my life time.  But I do have my reservations about popularizing them and bringing them into the radar range of the minds of the yet uninitiated. Yes, it does grate my sensibilities.

The D.K.Boses of the world have suddenly woken up to an added dimension to their name. Wonder what Shakespeare would have said about it; ‘what’s there in a name’ or ‘much ado about nothing’.