29 December 2008

Choosing your life partner

A couple of incidents happened last week that triggered this chain of thought inside me. I realize that this topic, especially my treatment of it, could upset some people. My only defense is that my intention is not to be judgmental; I am only thinking aloud.

'Arranged marriage' is a very commonly accepted way of finding one's spouse in India. Most of my peers have found their life partners by this process. The concept is that the prospective life partner is introduced by relatives, friends, marriage bureaus or social networking sites, etc. The prospective bride and groom then meet to determine whether they are 'right' for each other. The meetings have evolved over the times - where people used to meet in their homes earlier, nowadays they talk over the phone first, or webchat, or the guy and girl meet by themselves over a cup of coffee.

While some folks are lucky to 'click' in the first meeting itself, less unfortunate ones have to undergo several such iterations. It becomes difficult to 'reject' someone without some valid reason - as one does not want to hurt family or friends' sensibilities. This has led people to come up with several 'criteria' for selection. If someone does not fit into the criteria, then one feels justified in rejecting that person.

And what are the criteria - age, height, weight, complexion, caste, degree of education, compensation, horoscope match etc. It is a known fact that girls mature faster than boys. While this is mostly true, in today's world with so much exposure, even guys mature quickly. Infact, the sad fact is that the entire younger generation is maturing too fast, losing their innocence too early. Height is something that will matter only in photographs. Weight is definitely a matter of preference, but in today's age of diet and gymnasium culture, not unchangeable. Degree in education guaranteed job security in earlier days, it does not anymore. At one time compensation in the IT field was considered top of the line; in the next few years I doubt it will remain so. Divorces have happened where horoscopes had matched perfectly. Caste and family background can give some assurance that relations between bride and in-laws will be good; they still cannot guarantee that the wedded couple are compatible with each other.

Most of the above criteria are numbers or measurable quantities. Does true compatibility really depend on numbers? Having been married for several years now, I can say with conviction that it does NOT. Infact, people are constantly changing. So are their preferences - a person may start drinking or eating non-veg after marriage and vice versa. We live in a non-conformist era where girls marry boys younger than themselves and get along well with them. We have seen marriages that have survived economic or political upheaval, religious bias and even unforeseen success or failure.

Why then do we rely on these inaccurate criteria? What is it that can guarantee that a marriage between 2 people will work? The simple answer to this is that, as with life, there is no guarantee for marriage. The concept of marriage was originally founded out of the need to build a secure nourishing ground for children, and thereby, the society. Now, since the need is different, the concept needs to evolve too. In this age of nuclear families, with people settling far away from their native places, the need is to find a partner who can anchor you in the turbulent sea of life. One who can be a constant witness to your life, an unconditional companion and a personal champion. One needs to be open to the fact that such a partner may not be found in the first attempt itself; it may need more than one attempts(at marriage).

Where did these criteria come from? Frankly, they came from our parents or elders. They applied the same criteria when they got married. Some parents have now left it to their children to find their own life partners. They have realized that their complete disassociation with changing times render them inadequate to choose life partners for their children anymore. They cannot identify with or foresee the challenges faced by the younger generation and hence their own experiences in marriage are no more the guiding light for their children in this modern and fast- paced era. The younger generation has not realized this unfortunately and still stick to the tried and tested methods of choosing their mates.

While I agree that there should be a criteria for selection, it should be more relevant to the times and to ourselves. For eg., I knew that I will not be to able to respect a mate who is dishonest, or less intelligent than me. All I thought was can I see myself happy with this person 20 years down the line, when both of us have lost our looks and are ailing in some way or the other. IMHO, thinking about one's priorities in life and deciding on which ones are uncompromisable is the best criteria for choosing a life partner. Looks, education, compensation; even love and passion, are all transient. What lasts are the character traits and values that one is born and/or brought up with. In some cases, a person may not be willing to compromise on looks - it is a definite preference. Its fine for that person, it need not be a criteria for everyone else though. And finding a life partner is only half the battle won; the challenge is in becoming the right partner for your mate. Believe me, the latter is more confounding a quest than the former!

This year I learned...

Year 2008 has been an eventful year of my life. I learned quite a few lessons of life in this year - some of them are personal and some are more generic.

Even when the seemingly most important people depart, life goes on. No one is indispensable.

Writing is the passion of my life and I should spend more time on this gift.

Friends are the the best investment of life. Though the returns from this investment are not immediate, they are longer lasting and bring far more happiness!

I finally figured out the purpose of my life (I hope!). I've been put on this earth to ease other peoples' miseries. The tool I've been given for this are my communication skills. I shall try my best to use this gift judiciously.

Though we make foolproof plans for our future; God has a way of overriding them.

There is no need to face life's miseries alone. God cannot be everywhere at once, hence He made family and friends.

Sharing one's pain halves it, whereas sharing one's happiness doubles it.

Human beings are resilient creatures. They can bounce back from almost anything and go on with life.

Hatred and resentment are the heaviest burdens to carry. Travel light in life by letting go of these.

It does not matter what or how much you know. Who you know matters most.

People may not remember your words or actions, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

As you sow, so you shall reap.

Do not focus on the reward, focus on the action. The reward will come automatically.

It is more difficult to bite your words than to give the most powerful/convincing argument.

If you don't respect yourself, no one else will. On a similar note, no one can make you feel miserable without your consent - not even God.

At the end of life it does not matter how much you earned or what your designation was. What matters is how many people genuinely cried for you at your funeral.

27 December 2008

Konkan trip

Last weekend we'd been to Konkan (Ladghar-Dapoli) with some friends. We started in the afternoon as one of the friends had a wedding to attend in the morning. The objective was to reach Dapoli by 7:30pm. However, as usual, we started late - around 2:30 pm.

We drove down in two cars. I was one of the two drivers of the first batch. It was fun driving down upto Wai. We made speedy and broke for tea there. We changed drivers after that. The ghats began after that and the subsequent drivers had it tough battling through the hairpin curves in the setting sun. Once it got dark, our progress was slow. We finally stopped to have some snacks around 7:30 as everyone was feeling hungry. After the snacks everyone felt rejuvenated. The last hour of the journey was scary as we had to drive through a narrow winding lane toward our resort in pitch-black darkness. There was no shoulder on the road to move to in case a vehicle came from the opposite direction. By the grace of God, we made it to our resort in one piece.

Dinner at the resort was welcome though late. Post dinner we got refreshed in our respective cottages and then assembled at one cottage for some games. We had each got a Secret Santa gift for someone in the group. After a round of guessing, we exchanged the gifts. There were lots of wondorous exclaimations and it certainly brought out the Christmas spirit. We then played a game proposed by me. In it, each of us had to throw out a word or sentence as a cryptic clue to the rest. The word or sentence indirectly pointed to one of us in the group and others had to guess that. Once everyone warmed up to the game, I confessed that I'd invented the game just then :) Everyone loved it. We played it for quite some time, before everyone started yawning. We called it a day.

Next morning, some of our friends complained of uninvited guests in their cottages - rats. An apple had teeth-marks that clinched the deal. Everyone vowed to keep nothing open or on the floor. We then went for a walk along the beach which was right opposite our resort. We played frisbee until hunger pangs got us. After a sumptuous breakfast, we went to take baths in our cottages. We started for Kadyavarcha Ganapati at 11 am. Its a temple located at the top of the hill, which is adjacent to the sea coast. The drive was simply breath-taking. We stopped at many vista points and took pictures. The temple itself was quite a simple place. After that we drove to another resort - Aryavart for lunch. The veg buffet was delicious and all of us felt drowsy after the hearty meal. We had to literally drag some of our friends who were lolling in the hammocks.

Back at the resort everyone wanted to hit the beach before sunset. I chose to take a brief nap first though. We played more games at the beach in the evening and broke for some piping hot pakodas and tea. Gossip and chat session followed that. Dinner had mouth-watering fried fish and solkadhi. Post dinner we played a game called Taboo. Its a fun game where there are cards with a word which the denner has to enact and his team members have to guess. The caveat is that there are 5 words that are taboo and should not be used while enacting. There is a time limit in which the denner has to enact as many words as possible and points are given based on that. There is negative marking in case one cannot enact the word or makes mistakes. The time constraint introduced pressure in the game that made it more interesting. There were some tense moments when the game got really competitive, but it was all in fun.

The next morning we had arranged to go on the boat to watch dolphins. We left around 8 am in the morning. The sea was rough and we got drenched by the waves even before starting out. The boatman took us to an area of the sea frequented by dolphins. They cut the boat engine and we had to exercise patience while keeping an alert eye for the playful dolphins. Everytime someone saw a movement in the water, or on the horizon, there were shouts of triumph. It was exhilarating to watch the dolphins leaping and hopping in the water. At one point, one of our boatmen fell into the water while manouvering the boat. We had to go back and fetch him. I actually thought that it had been a feat to attract the attention of the dolphins, but it turned out to be a genuine fall afterall!

We were all ravenous by the time we got back to the bank(no, it was NOT the dolphins that made us hungry!) A hearty meal of konkan pancakes with chutney awaited us. We had decided to take it easy for the day and we literally lazed around in the courtyard of the resort. Inspiration hit me again - I guess the bracing sea air accelerated the functioning of my brain. A la 'Friends' style, I proposed that one of our friends should come up with a list of trivia questions for 2 teams about each of us. It was to test how much did we really know about ourselves. While this friend got busy with this task, we played another round of Taboo. Once the former game was ready, we played that. It was interesting to know how much we knew about each other and to learn whatever we had not known. After that we played yet another of my games - third degree. One person said a word, his neighbor had to say the first thing that came to mind related to that word and so on. No word should be repeated. This too gave an insight to people's thought process and their outlook or bias toward life.

The gamethon was interrupted only when lunch was announced. After lunch, everyone broke for some rest and refreshments (none of us had bathed till then!) Evening saw us at the beach again. Frisbee, walks and lots of chatting. We wanted to have chat, but none of us had carried any money:( We played Antakshari at the sea-side. Once it got cold outside, we resumed the games in the cottage. This time we played a variation of Dumbcharades - the Moods round, proposed by none other than yours truly. We would enact words related to emotions, with our hands tied and without speaking. Soon, everyone warmed up to this game. We went on playing this till dinner was announced. Everyone's acting skills; especially facial expressions, were taxed to the limit in this game. There were some risque emotions to be enacted that elicited sniggers and blushes. Post dinner too, by common consent, we continued with this game until everyone had exhausted their repertoire of emotions.

On our last morning at the resort, everyone was reluctant to leave, such was our bonding over the last few days. We kept putting off our departure as late as we could. We finally left around 11. We stopped at Mahabaleshwar around 2 pm for lunch and games. We first had strawberries and cream and some chat and then played carnival games such as shooting the balloons, board hockey etc. We won a lot of chocolates at this. We finally had lunch at Mapro garden around 3 pm. We started for Pune around 4. I drove one of the cars for the last lap of the journey over the Pasarni ghat and then right upto Pune where we all split for our respective homes.

Elongated power outages, an irritatingly noisy group that tested the limits of our patience, the nuisance of rats, a finicky dog who rejected most of our offerings and broken bathroom plumbing that resulted in change of rooms, were the only blights on the peaceful horizon of our trip. To say that this was a memorable trip would be an understatement. It was not just a trip but perhaps the beginning of a new and lasting relationship. We shared so much about each other and enjoyed a rare rapport throughout the trip. Konkan is a beautiful place with sprawling coconut & banana trees, verdant valleys and scenic highways. But as they say, its not the place that makes a journey memorable, its the company!

16 December 2008

Black and White

Yesterday, we attended a show titled 'Black and White' at the famous Bal Gandharva theatre in the city. It was a charity event hosted for the organization - Aadhar, a support group working for the education of deaf and mute children.

The show composed of local singers singing old Hindi melodies from the black and white films era. The set and costumes of the singers were all in variations of black, gray and white. While the singers sang the melodies, the original song's visual was shown in the backdrop. There was a Master of Ceremony, who performed an excellent job of taking the audience through the various songs. He kept the audience entertained through his repertoire of a variety of expressions - both facial as well as verbal.

The singers did ample justice to the legendary singers such as Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Lata, Asha, Geeta Dutt etc. They swayed and mimed to the songs of an earlier era during rendition of the songs. In doing so, they walked the fine line between looking ridiculous in the out-of-style costumes & get up and getting into the skin of the characters on whom the song was originally picturized.

It was like being transported into a different- much older and simpler - India. It felt wonderful to watch the old songs on the big screen and made one wonder how far we have come in Hindi cinema these days. Though we are technologically sound, our actors are better dancers and look spiffy in almost any clothing; the old ones had their own charm. Their beauty and acting did not come out of boxes or textbooks - they were true artists and natural in their expressions and style. They were the pioneers who set many precedents in Indian cinema. They were later copied by artists of future generations be they writers, singers, actors or directors.

There is an altogether different charm in watching things in black and white. Things appear clean and sanitized. Emotion, action and dialogue appears restrained and it is left to the imagination of the audience to amplify their intensity or take them at face value. In between sharing trivia regarding the old movies and artists, the MC made a few pithy comments about the quality of the artists, films and even the audience of that time. He said that people wanted characters that were either good(hero/heroine) or bad(villian/vamp) or comedians. Hence the characters too were black and white in that era with almost no scope for gray shades that are so close to reality. It was a time when people went to watch movies in order to escape into a more idealistic, virtual world.

It was a time when movies had evolved from plays which were mostly musicals. Hence the earlier movies had more songs and there was such an emphasis on good lyrics and melody. Did you know that the first talkie Hindi movie - Alam Ara- had 50 songs? It was lovely to see a much younger and handsome Dharamendra and Mala Sinha crooning to my favorite number - 'Aapki nazron ne samjha pyaar ke kabil mujhe'! And other songs like 'Mana janab ne pukara nahin', 'Ude jab jab zulfen teri', 'Wo bhuli dastan, lo phir yaad aa gayi', 'Haal kaisa hai janab ka', 'E malik, tere bande hum', 'Waqt ne kiya, kya haseen sitam', 'Na jao saiyyan, chhuda ke baiyyan', etc.

All in all, it was a fun evening, passed in the company of like-minded friends. Apart from the fact that my hubby could not keep from praising the gorgeous Madhubala, I had a great time:) I left with the resolution to watch at least half the movies whose songs I'd listened to. My only regret - they did not play any of Sadhna's songs. Would have loved to hear 'Bahut shukriya, badi meherbani...', 'Tera mera pyar amar' and 'Tujhe jeevan ki dor se baandh liya hai'. Also songs from movies such as Anupama, Khamoshi, Hum Dono, Tere ghar ke saamne, Jab Pyar Kisise hota hai, Dil Apna-Preet Parayi were conspicuous by their absence.

06 December 2008

Another year younger

I turned a year younger yesterday. 'Younger'?? you may well ask. Its true really. I hadn't felt this young and exuberant even when I was in college. Besides age is all in the mind they say. What does youth stand for really - youthful looks, enthusiasm and the joie de vivre? By this reasoning, I definitely feel younger than I've ever done before. Reverse-aging is what my hubby calls it.

My birthday is one day in the year, when all the people whom I hold dear, and who care for me, never fail to remind me of it. From 12 am in the morning till 10 pm in the night, my phone keeps ringing with calls and text messages. Its one day in the year, when you wish that someone would call you up...and they do! Its wonderful to be thought of so much on this beautiful day. Every passing year adds at least a couple more people to this growing number.

I'm not much into expecting gifts or surprises for birthdays (though I love to gift other people). Its enough if people remember the day and think of me. I myself have a photographic memory for dates and seldom forget to wish others on their birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions. Hence, it really means a lot when others reciprocate. Most people, I've found, are shy at expressing their fondness or love into words. But on such days, it comes across in the warmth of their greetings, the wealth of sincerity in their wishes, the depth of feeling they put into gifts or flowers, the competitive spirit they get into when they ask me - was I the first one to wish you?

Thank you, all my lovely friends and family, for making my day special for me this year too!

03 December 2008

The hate brigade

While mulling over the most recent terrorist attack in India, I came to a sudden realization. People of my generation have seen the most upheaval in the last 2 decades. Blessed was our parents’ generation – all they had to worry about was how to put the next meal on the table, which schools/colleges to send their children to, marrying off their sons/daughters to a good family, praying for death before old age renders them house- bound etc. At least, they didn’t have to face the prospect of being turned out of their jobs or cancer or AIDs. At least they didn't have to fear being held as hostages on planes, ships or in 5-star hotels. At least they didn’t have to cross their fingers for getting to live to old age without falling victim to a stray bullet, bomb or landmine.

We heard about the 1993 blasts in Mumbai local train. We were mute witnesses when the Twin Towers were brought down. We were around to see and hear about the Godhra incident and subsequent carnage in Gujarat. We witnessed the longest running US-Iraq war, the dissension between Israel-Palestine, the debacle of Afghanistan.

Then, in this year itself, we gobbled up the news of bomb blasts in Islamabad, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Guwahati, Malegaon. Each time we called up our friends and/or family in these cities to check that they are safe. And just when the whole world witnessed the paradigm shift in the world’s most powerful nation’s leadership, we witnessed the horrific massacre of 26/11 at Mumbai on our television screens.

The reasons/causes for all of the above – racism, religious intolerance, envy, HATRED.

I’ve been following the news on television, lapping up the newspapers and read almost anything I come across on email, or the net, regarding the latest siege at Mumbai. I will not even try to analyze what I feel about it – horror, anger, shame, helplessness, terror, and uncertainty - does not even come close. But one thing that is coming across in all the print is the rising hatred. This insistence of “not forgetting” this time round, not taking this lying down, threats of imminent war against a certain nation, the demand for political heads to roll, an increased emphasis on action – aren’t we all propagating this saga of hatred and violence all over again?

I recently finished reading Chetan Bhagat’s “Three mistakes of my life”. In it, there is an interesting statement made by a mother to her son – “Many times we get hurt in life, mostly by people who are most dear to us. But that does not mean that we hold on to that hurt and chop off the relationship itself.” In the movie – “Mumbai meri jaan”, Paresh Rawal’s character says something truly insightful – “If someone slaps your cheek, and you slap his cheek back, and he does the same…and so on…this chain of hatred will never end. It will just keep growing and growing to such proportions which neither the first person nor the second person will have intended it to take.”

My heart bleeds for my nation; I am deeply sympathetic to all those who suffered. I feel hurt and defiled by the recent attack. I want to punish those who did this. But I do NOT wish to perpetuate this hatred so that my children have to go through what my generation has faced. We need to disperse this hate brigade in our quest for retribution.

Agreed, action is the mandate of the hour. But proper introspection and planning are essential to execute it toward achieving security and peace for our nation and the world.

27 November 2008

Days like this...

It was one of those days...To begin with, I overslept after a night of nightmares. Worse- there was no hubby to reassure me as he had left for the Gym already. I had missed yet another of my morning jogs that day. On top of it, the power went out early and I had to boil water on the gas in order to take a bath. Curse these MSEB valas, why can't they follow a schedule for load shedding - can't they even do this right?

And so it continued throughout the day. Received an angry mail from a friend and some not-so-complimentary mails from colleagues. Had a spat with the boss in the morning that left me feeling even worse. You would think that after serving 3.5 years in this organization, I would be treated with more respect. How ungrateful and ruthless these higher-ups are...

One of my colleagues inquired (with relish, I felt) - "What happened? You look like something the cat dragged in." How I hate it when people know exactly when I am not feeling my best? "Oh, why can't I be like those disgustingly cheerful and stoic faces that reflect good cheer even when they are dying inside?" I groaned for the umpteenth time.

By now you must have got the drift. Absolutely nothing was going right. It was enough to send one deep into the doldrums. A meeting got rescheduled and the venue was changed to our other building. Now I had to walk all the way there and meet more people who would comment on my ill-health. The prospect did not fill me with joy.

I gritted my teeth and walked to the other building. For some reason, even though the premises are excellent, there is something wrong with the algorithm for the 4 elevators in that building. No matter what time you go there or to which floor, it always takes at least 5 min waiting to get an elevator to fetch you. Showing the first signs of patience, I waited for one of the elevators to deliver me to yet another hell.

Soon one came. The doors opened and our liftman flashed his usual colgate smile in welcome. Since I was feeling far from smiling myself, I just nodded. I did realise that I had probably hurt him by not reciprocating, but I was not feeling very charitable just then. My misfortune continued as the elevator stopped at each floor to receive or deliver more people. I resolutely kept my face averted to discourage any chit-chat. As we reached my floor and the doors opened, I hurried out. I heard a small voice calling out - "Madam". I turned. It was the liftman. From inside his shirt, he pulled out an envelope. He handed it to me. I looked at him questioningly. "My daughter is getting married, madam. Please grace her wedding with your presence, I'd be much honored!" I was speechless. Belatedly, I realised that the elevator doors were still open. I hastily congratulated him - had to search my limited Marathi vocabulary for the word for Congratulations. And then I did something that I hadn't done all day - I SMILED :)

The man in the elevator, who perhaps had a limited number of wedding invitation cards, had actually thought me worthwhile enough to share one with me! It really warmed the cockles of my cold heart.

Needless to say, no one commented on my morose looks for the remainder of the day :)

Until divorce do us apart

Note- This was written in a light vein and not intended to cause offense to any parties whatsover. If any offence was caused, it is heartily regretted.

In the last week, I got to hear that two of our acquaintances(married to different people) are heading toward a divorce. In both cases, they have been married for less than a year. In both cases, the couple had been wildly excited about their marriages and the wedding ceremonies were quite elaborate. I am not on such terms with either parties that I would get to know the details as to what went wrong. However, even considering today's jet-setting lifestyle, contemplating divorce within a year seems... ummm.. superfast.

I had an interesting conversation with my aunt about this. She said that nowadays girls are not as adjusting as before and in most cases refuse to toe the line. They are too demanding of their privacy & independence; too proud of their salaries. Interestingly, my mother-in-law commented that the in-laws are a problem and the couple should move out of the family house to ensure marital harmony. Some said that it is up to the groom to breach the gap between his parents and his wife. Whenever this does not happen, its a disaster waiting to happen and most often results in the wife's walking out on her hubby. As usual, there are as many opinions as there are people.

On the other hand, there are many instances of divorcee men and women getting remarried. So much so, that some of my single friends have complained that their divorcee friends are back in the marriage market and hence the competition for them has increased! Not only is divorce more rampant than before; but re-marriages are on the rise too. No longer are people from failed relationships scared of burning their fingers again.

This new trend made my newly wedded brother comment one day - "How can they even think of getting married to another person? It is so tough, as it is, to get adjusted with one partner!" This is so true. Relationships, in general, are not easy. And a relationship with your life partner is made tougher by the fact that there is a constant pressure to make it work. Even though divorce is not an ugly word anymore, I know many who have suffered enormously. One friend actually commented that she would never wish divorce on an enemy also, as it takes away a lot from you. She is now happily remarried, but the scars are still there.

Divorce is not necessarily the end, however. Infact in many cases, it was the beginning of a new, improved chapter in life. I read somewhere recently that most marriages are still around, as the parties involved did not have the guts to take a divorce. It does not necessarily mean that they are happy. Some seek happiness outside their marriages, while some thrive on the martyrdom of sticking with their partners till the end. To each his own.

Mentoring - its rewards

The other day, a former team member gifted me with my favorite chocolate bar. Ever since she moved to her new project, we seldom meet. Hence I was a bit surprised at this gesture. She explained that when she was reporting to me, I used to be very particular about mails sent by her to client. I used to review them minutely and reprimand her whenever she made obvious errors. My steady mentoring and constant criticism had sharpened her writing skills. So much so that her current manager as well as client had appreciated her crisp and precise mails! She wanted to thank me for this improvement in her.

I remember a year ago, an ex-colleague and friend had written me a long email. He had received an excellent performance feedback from his manager at his new organization during the annual appraisal cycle. He said that the first person he thought of was me and felt that I deserved most of the credit for this performance. During our lunch and leisure hours whenever we had talked, my thoughts and words regarding leadership & professional conduct had left a lasting impression on him.

To say that I was extremely touched by these incidents would be an understatement. These incidences are more rewarding than even the highest salary hike or the much-awaited promotion. To have actually been the cause of happiness to another living, breathing soul is indeed the highest recognition! As a leader and a manager, or even as an individual, one tends to influence so many around us unconsciously. Every time we help someone with well-meant advice, constructive criticism or simply by being a listening board for their rants, we are influencing that person with our thoughts and actions. They could be good or bad thoughts/actions and in most cases leave a lasting impact. Hence, it is so important to govern our acts and thoughts such that we do not mess up someone's lives with our judgemental comments or destroy their morale forever.

I admire those in the academic profession, who deal with such instances constantly. Needless to say, I'm more convinced than ever that my calling in life is to make a difference to others' lives by being their mentor and friend.

19 November 2008

Dostana - Ye tedhi, medhi raahe....

When I was in school, 'friends' were those with whom I walked or bicycled to school everyday. Or the ones I shared my lunch with. During SSC and junior college, they were those who attended the same coaching classes as me. In Engg. college, they were those who frequented my place to demand notes for lectures bunked. Whereas a best or a close friend was someone with whom I shared more personal stuff - my first crush, my differences with my dad, my dreams, my favorites books or movies and my pet peeves.

As I grew older, friends were not that easy to make. In the workplace, one is stuck with those in one's immediate group. And once you are married, you need to ensure that your spouse feels comfortable with your friends and vice versa as there is very little 'only-friends' time. Of course, today's social networking sites and online communities have given yet another dimension to this increasingly complex picture!

Over the years, I've developed quite a few friendships that are very dear to me. However, I've also fought with those friends at some point or another. Some unfortunately have petered out as we fell out of touch due to time and distance constraints(many of my friends are settled abroad). Due to changing priorities in mine as well as my friends' lives, and also, our own evolving personalities - the line between friends and 'close' friends has blurred somewhat. One tends to confide in whoever is 'available' at that point in time.

Lately I've been introspecting on my equation with some of my friends and came up with some startling revelations. In this age of instant friendship over the net, we have forgotten that friendship is a very serious business. It may not be a legal contract, but it is still an emotional one. And where emotions are involved there are bound to be expectations, possessiveness, disappointment, betrayal, trust...infact the whole hog. I have realised that I've sailed on this wave of friendship as a silent spectator thus far- seldom voicing my expectations, or expressing my disappointment and never trying to bridge the gaping holes in understanding. This of course leads to confrontations, fights and lot of heartache. After all, who has the time for all this?

But, as with all relationships, one should take a health-check once in a while. I've been doing this in mine. So my friends, if it has seemed that I've been troubling you out of turn, be patient with me. I do value you and cannot live without you!

Jaane kyon...dil jaanta hai...tu hai to I'll be alright.

Bad hair day

Yesterday was a BAD day for me. I ended up exchanging bitter words with no less than 4 dear people - 2 friends, my dad and my husband. I ended the day in tears. I still don't understand why I was so upset yesterday. Maybe it was just one of the days when nothing seems to go right. Whatever you do, it is either full of mistakes, goes unappreciated or else wholly unsatisfactory. It is on days such as these when one appreciates friends who dare to cheer you in the face of having to be the brunt of your bitter tongue. Spent the evening with some friends at CCD and felt better eventually.

I hope I never have such days again.

03 November 2008

Why do women get involved with married men?

Today I saw a documentary on TV about Parveen Babi - the legendary Bollywood actress. It mentioned that she had been involved with several married men during her lifetime. Many other actresses viz. Hema Malini, Smita Patil, Sridevi etc. too went the same way. It made me wonder what it is that draws single, successful women who can have anyone they want, go for married men?

Now, I've had a middle class upbringing where any such relationships are severely frowned upon. The women are tagged as flirts of the first-order and with them lies the sole responsbility of a home being wrecked. The cheating man usually gets away scot-free as men are polygamous by nature and only succumb to women who encourage them. In the meantime, the entire episode serves as succulent fodder for gossip for ages to come. I wanted to delve deeper than this simplistic and one-dimensional look at such behavior.

I came up with many so-called theories in my introspection. Women on the whole are emotional and vain creatures. They need constant reminder of their beauty and charms and above all they need to feel "needed". A married man has more or less figured this out and thus holds all the aces when wooing a single woman who is a sitting duck. On the other hand, maybe the single woman is a calculating you-know-what who is out to get that promotion or break in her career by pleasing her married boss. Or maybe her ego gets an adrenaline boost when she can successfully woo an already vanquished man. Or maybe they are both victims of their former broken relationships and seeking comfort in each other.

I've come to realise there's no straight-forward answer to this question. I might as well ask why women date blond men or why some men date younger women. There are as many motivations for individual relationships as there are relationships. While there may be some women who are motivated by a fear of commitment or a desire to prove themselves by taking what belongs to someone else or the thrill of sneaking around or whatever, I'm sure there are just as many who didn't know a man was married until they were already involved, who knew him in some other context and fell victim to his tales of how his wife didn't understand him, or who simply view married men no differently than they do single men, because we live in a culture that largely dismisses the significance of marriage. If one answer--especially one a couple of lines long--could provide a blanket explanation for the behavior of all of the millions of people who fit in a given category or participate in a certain action, the world would be a much simpler place than it is in real life.

The fact is, we humans are complex beings and one simple cut answer does not offer an adequate or fully encompassing response to the above question.

01 November 2008

Road rage

While driving on one of the roads in Pune the other day, we got stuck in a traffic jam. A truck had overturned and was blocking an entire lane and the traffic was trying to squeeze through the remaining lane. It was 9:30 am in the morning of a weekday and people were bustling to their workplaces. While we were thus waiting in queue, a Honda city suddenly overtook us from the right and drove close to the Maruti 800 in front of us. While doing so, the left hand side mirror of the Honda got damaged. In a flash the driver of the Honda - a well-to-do, well-built young guy, got out and started abusing the driver of the Maruti 800.

When the other guy, who was much older, did not respond, this guy opened this door and started kicking him. He kept on doing it until the other guy started screaming in pain. The bystanders were too shocked by the sheer violence at hardly any provocation. The young guy then dragged the older guy out of his car and started demanding that he pay up for the damage to his car. I admired his audacity, since it was his mistake in the first place that resulted in the mishap!

I was fuming with indignation at the unfairness of it when my husband gripped my hand to ensure that I do not get out of our car to get embroiled in their squabble. Soon the girl accompanying the younger guy got out and tried to intervene. I assumed that she was trying to make peace, but apparently she was egging on the younger guy! Soon he started hitting the older guy again. The drivers of other cars and 2-wheelers could take this no more, thank God. A couple of them overpowered the younger guy and made him drive away. And very soon the traffic was moving again.

I reached my office, but I was in shock the entire day. What was so precious about a small dent or a broken mirror that made people resort to such violent and aggressive behavior on roads? Surely it is not worth risking a jail sentence? My husband says that this is very prevalent everywhere especially where people have long commutes and have to go through such traffic jams routinely. It is natural to feel indignant at a loss caused by another person's mistake, but to resort to violence is hardly any solution. Hitting on the weak, just because one is physically stronger is hardly fair. Also, in all of this there was hardly any policeman in sight even though there was an overturned truck nearby.

I remembered my driving days in the US where for 3 months I never noticed that my car horn was not functioning at all since I never got the opportunity to use it! People adhere to the traffic discipline strictly and even stop at Stop signs when there is no one watching! Even when there are accidents, no one shouts at each other, the police comes to the spot immediately. The guilty party is slapped with a bill for damages and there are seldom any harsh words exchanged, forget about violence.

People blame our traffic management, our roads, our population for this road rage. But isn't it something that we can all control should we decide to be civil about everything? After all, anger harms most the person who gets angry than the victim. So at least in our own benefit, we should learn to exercise patience and forbearance when driving on Indian roads.

14 October 2008

Mera Bharat Mahaan

I am extremely patriotic. Indeed, I was never tempted to stay back in the US(paradise for most Indians) even when we were making good money and had ample opportunity. I was so happy the day we decided that we would return to our homeland and make our life among fellow patriots. Friends and family inquired concernedly how we were adjusting to life in India and I always replied blissfully that I couldn't be more content. I still have no regrets.

But some incidences really make one think whether India can be a better place. Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) are being held currently in my city - Pune. This was declared almost 4 years ago. A stadium had to be built at a suitable location, accomodation had to be planned for participants and visitors, roads had to be widened and traffic controlled for the event. The city municipal corporation had ample notice and adequate time to prepare the city to host the games.

My home happens to be on a road that would be the access road to the stadium. It suddenly dawned on powers-that-be early this year that this road has to be widened and concretized to be able to hold the ensuing traffic during CYG. The road widening work started just a couple of months ago, that too smack in the middle of the monsoon season. The entire road was dug up; all protuding structures were removed to provide space for widening the roads. A lot of people and commercial businesses were inconvenienced due to this. In most areas, the JCB (demolition machines) severed the phone as well as electricity cables in their sheer frenzy to meet the October deadline. At other places, the water pipes got cracked and entire societies had to make do with little or no water for days. Traffic situation was a mess as roads were closed and no detours had been planned. People could not go to office or schools when the road widening team put concrete slabs in front of their gates and forgot to build ramps for their vehicles to reach them! Any kind of communciation or advance notice of such inconveniences were thought to be superfluous and therefore done without.

An existing hostel near the stadium was evacuated at short notice to make way for a hotel for CYG guests. The hostel members were left high and dry to fend for themselves. The stadium itself was being worked upon till the last day, which left people wondering if it would be ready in time for CYG. In fact, people had given up hope that this entire mess could be sorted out before the Games. Rumors were rife that CYG would have to be postponed.

And then came the final blow. It was decided that the road-work would be completed, albeit with a few shortcuts, in time for CYG. Parts of the road would be tarred, parts to be filled with interlocking tiles. Everything would be revisited AFTER the CYG. This is the ominous threat still hanging over our heads. To have to live through the nightmare of roads being dug up again is enough to send Indians skeltering back to US. Whatever happened to careful planning, proper budgeting and quality work? It seems like the common man, the diligent tax-payer is the victim of all such reforms.

Someone asked me recently - "Would you like to be a volunteer for CYG?" I said "Are you kidding, I am a victim of CYG!"

By the way, did I tell you we got slapped with a fat bill for our telephone which has been dead for the last month? Mera Bharat Mahaan!

Hobbies - a wise investment

I was speaking to my aunt yesterday. She is going through what is called an "empty nest syndrome". Her only child has flown the nest in pursuit of higher studies and she and her husband are on their own. While my uncle is keeping himself busy in his work and other activities (read watching TV...and watching TV!), my aunt is at a loose end as to what to do with her time. Her entire routine has gone haywire, she feels listless and has nothing to look forward to. She is fond of gardening, but being on the 4th floor, there's only so much gardening one can do.

I know of many such women who don't know what to do with their time once their children leave home. Actually, many men go through it after retirement too. My own father has gone through this. My advice to everyone has always been to pursue a forgotten hobby or cultivate a new one. However, most people tend to stop pursuing hobbies while earning their bread or looking after kids. They get so preoccupied in building their life around others, that they forget to live for themselves.

Cultivating a hobby is like investing in your future( post retirement) occupation. Sometimes, it can really lead to a lucrative occupation - meaning you can make money out of it too. Love, marraige, family, children all require a lot of investment in terms of time and effort and leave room for little else. However, like all investments, it is wise to start as early as possible so that the fruits during retirement are that much sweeter.

Reading and writing are my passions and I have never suffered from loneliness due to the same. Books are ones' most faithful friends. No matter what your age is, you can always find an interesting book, magazine, newspaper etc. to keep you company. Although, some elders use books as sleep-inducing agents since sleep is elusive as age advances!

Not only for planning your retirement, hobbies or some alternate occupations provide an escape from the daily grind. They offer solace when life has dealt you a particularly vicious blow and are a safety valve to maintaining your balance.

07 October 2008

Welcome to Sajjanpur

Saw the movie recently. Directed by Shyam Benegal, the movie does have substance though not a whole lot of style. The characters are life-like and do justice to their roles. However, the artsy treatment of the movie may not ensure box-office success. The pace could have been crisper and more in with the times.

The plot of the movie is really thought-provoking. The protagonist is a letter-writer in a village full of illiterates. The story is about how he gets involved in, and influences, other peoples' private lives through writing "emotionally". Being a conduit of passing news to and fro puts him in difficult situations many times. However, he soon learns to do justice to his role and at the same time leave an impact on some lives and thereby elevates his profession from an hitherto BA graduate failure to that of a dignified author.

It set me thinking how small rumors get started in real life just because the person who is passing on a piece of news adds his/her own language or flavor to it thus rendering it quite different from its original form. So many misunderstandings and confusion result from this. If everyone refrains from adding their own emotion or interpretation to things that do not concern them, then life would be so much easier ...and dull!

06 October 2008


"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." - Erma Bombeck

The above quote was brought home forcefully to me recently. For a long weekend this time, instead of an exotic outing, we chose to spend it with several members of the family whom we had never been able to spend time with on account of our busy schedules. It turned out to be one of the best, and surprisingly relaxing, vacations we had had in a long time.

Family is a strange thing...we speak of it as a single, immutable unit. But in fact, it is composed of several different individuals who themselves are constantly undergoing changes due to age, experience and circumstances. This in turn affects their equation with others, and results in changes in loyalties and mellowing of prejudices. Our visit turned out to be an ice-breaker with some members. I guess when you cook and eat together, share bathrooms, laugh or cry together, see each other first thing in the morning with your guards down, it forges a bond between you. This need not be a blood tie, but is born of intimacy and shared experiences. Our immediate family is the first such unit we learn to be intimate with and no matter how much distance or time has elapsed since we drifted apart, we can effortlessly slip back into the same comfortable equation as before.

The down side is that such intimacy can also open our eyes to the imperfection of members who we have hitherto hero-worshipped. Most interestingly though, having known of how other family members face life’s various challenges teaches one the most important lesson in life – that life is essentially unfair.

But one thing is clear – no matter how wealthy, successful or important one is, one does need a family to share things with, to provide emotional support, or a reality check, and most importantly, a sense of belonging.

04 September 2008

Ganpati Bappa Moraya!

We often reduce some things in life to token symbols. Ganesh Festival? Oh – it’s a great time to eat modaks, check out the decorations in the city (and check out guys / gals in the process ;-)). Beware of those tough-looking guys that come to collect ‘vargani’ (donation) before the festival. So much noise – when will they learn? And yes, the huge traffic when the final immersion processions. But beyond the token symbols there is so much more.

In the good old days, the Ganesh festival was purely a family affair. Records reveal that it was celebrated even during the reigns of Satwahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya. (Who are the Chalukyas, you say? Never mind – bottom line: old times.) There used to be similar celebrations during Peshwa times, Lord Ganapati being the family deity of the Peshwas. The celebration would commence on the first day of the month of Bhadrapada and would go on for ten days (anyway we Indians don’t need an excuse to celebrate, do we?).

Years later it became a practice to end the festivities on 'Anant Chaturdashi' with the immersion of the Ganapati idol in water. The celebrations were universally popular with rich and poor alike. The poor were given sweets and clothes (a primary reason why it became popular with them). Brahmins were fed on delicious meals (lucky chaps!!). On the concluding day, the idol of Lord Ganesh was carried in a beautifully decorated palanquin in a ceremonial procession and taken to the river for immersion.

Lokmanya Tilak took this private festival, turned it into a public celebration and lent a new image to it (makeover in today’s lingo). His noble objective was to create a cohesive unit of people irrespective of caste, creed and class who could commemorate this great festival in its true spirit. Tilak also had another objective – to mobilize public opinion against the British. The Ganesh festival was a great platform to raise social/political issues and awaken the people. With time this festival greatly increased in significance and relevance. It has now become an integral part of not only Maharashtra but the Indian consciousness as well.

As mentioned earlier, social education was one of the main themes of the festival. So the earlier programs undertaken as part of the festivities had lectures from eminent personalities. These speeches were meant to educate the masses on national problems and songs to inspire patriotism.

Today there are no speeches (“Thank God!!”). Earlier the Elephant God was regaled with devotional songs that used to come from the heart and touch the soul. Now He gets to listen to “fast songs” that come from the body and touch only the body. “Kajra re!!” goes one Pandal. “Dhoom machale !!” says another. “Save me”, says Ganapati Bappa!!

Time has wrought more changes. Lavishness has increased in all areas – spending, pandals, processions, size of the idols, etc. These bring with them their own problems. The increasing noise pollution caused due to blaring loudspeakers of the innumerable pandals cause distress, especially to the young and elderly. The ever-increasing size and height of the Ganesh idols creates problems at immersion time, not to mention wrecking havoc with the hygeine of the rivers .

A very important feature of the Ganesh festival is the “pandals” (covered platforms with decorations) that are erected by many “mandals” (organizations) throughout Pune city. (Nowadays, there is a lot of stress on eco-friendly Ganesh decorations - out with the Thermocol). These pandals often have scenes depicted in them along with a short story or skit being performed. These skits are often historical / mythological in nature and are performed by mechanized statues. One pandal may show the “Draupadi Vastraharan” scene, another a story from Shivaji Maharaj’s life, a third one may show a scene from the Ramayana. Still others show themes that highlight current social problems or issues. A lot of thought and effort goes into these pandal decorations. People flock to see them from all over Maharashtra, and beyond. You even have foreign tourists coming to experience the grandeur of the Ganeshotsav.

Previously, the dancing during the festival used to be only in tune to drums and using the “lezim” (a wooden stick having mini cymbals embedded that clash together and make music). But now there is not-so-religious dancing by inebriated people dancing to the latest Bollywood numbers.

All is not lost, however. Even today some people retain the original meaning of the festival. Many pandals contribute to social causes. The religious fervor that brings people from all over is still intact. People of various religions celebrate the Ganesh festival with equal spirit.
When the ‘tashas’ (kettle shaped shallow drums) start beating, and the tempo reaches a fever pitch, if you allow yourself to be swept away by the music, you can actually feel uplifted. At such moments, there is only you and Ganapati bappa. Nothing else matters.

I was introduced to the many facets of this festival only after coming to Pune city. The different pandals decorated innovatively each year, the variety of sweets prepared and also the processions carried out during immersion of the Ganesh idols. I particularly liked the idea of keeping the children of the house busy with the different decorations. There are Ganesh decoration contests in our society and Ganesh idol-making contests. Older children get involved in the different mandals for decoration. Only the other day, my maid informed me that her teenage son was part of 1 such mandal and was up until the wee hours of the morning decorating the Ganesh idol. Its a neat way to keep children out of mischief and also instill in them the spiritual and traditional values of our rich culture!

Ganeshotsav has begun for this year with the usual pomp and show. Bappa, I welcome you with open heart and arms!

25 July 2008

Weekend retreat to Wildernest Resort

Last weekend we had been to Wildernest resort near Goa. We drove over the treacherous Amboli ghat and the scenic Chorla ghat in the company of wonderful friends. The resort was a pleasant surprise (at least to me, as I had not bothered to look up the resort website as usual). The entrance to the resort had this quaint sign.

From the car park to the actual resort, we had a bumpy ride in a jeep through what passed for a road. There was a small trek down to reach the entrance of the cottages. We had to keep our eyes peeled for the likes of earthworms, centipedes, spiders and snakes. With a trembling heart, we opened the door to the cottage and were surprised to see this luxurious setting!

Dinner at the restaurant was an even better surprise. Not only was the ambience woodsy and cosy, but the food was hot, appetising and had plenty of variety. We enjoyed the traditional Goan fish curry, fried fish and solkadhi.

Back in the cottage, our senses were too stirred to go back to sleep. And it was raining cats and dogs outside. So we played Dumbcharades till midnight. It was fun and a lot of budding actors and actresses were born that night!

The morning saw us taking the bus to a nearby village and falls. The ride in the bus was rather bumpy for some of our friends - "a rare (read rear) experience!" to quote one of them !

Some picturesque scenes of the countryside below say it all :-)

While driving back we had some "incidents" on the way but that is part and parcel of highway-driving. All in all, it was the most pleasant weekend I had spent among like-minded people in a long, long time!

23 April 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

I saw this American Academy Award-winner film(An Inconvenient Truth) yesterday on TV. This documentary on Al Gore's campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide won him the Nobel Prize. Its amazing how he has connected various disasters around the globe to the common problem of global warming. The flood in Mumbai, hurricane in Florida, droughts in Africa, thinning ice in Tundra region of Alaska - all these are manifestations of the global warming effect.

Indeed, with the mercury soaring this summer and sudden changes in climate, the issue of global warming can no longer be ignored nor can it be resolved in the isolation of a lab. All the countries of the globe will need to make an united and determined attempt to overcome this hazard or we are all doomed.

The upbeat message toward the end where he says that it is better not to jump from acknowledgement of the problem to despair. There is a middle path of actually trying to do something about it. He mentions that humans have managed to overcome hurdles before - they have discovered vaccines for small pox, reached the moon, solved the Ozone layer problem. And with a few precautions, they can alleviate this one too.

Some of the quotes in the film are worth a mention -

Al Gore: [quoting Upton Sinclair] "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Al Gore: Should we prepare for other threats besides terrorists?

Al Gore: I don't really consider this a political issue, I consider it to be a moral issue.

Al Gore: We have everything, save perhaps political will. But in America, I believe political will is a renewable resource.

Al Gore: Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, "What were our parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?" We have to hear that question from them, now.

Al Gore: We have here a scale that balances two different things. On one side, we have *gold* bars! Mmmmmm, don't they look good? I'd just like to have some of those gold bars. Mmmmm. On the other side of the scales... um... THE ENTIRE PLANET! Hmmmm...
Al Gore: I think this is a false choice for two reasons: number one, if we don't *have* a planet...
Al Gore: The other reason is that, if we do the *right* thing, then we're gonna create a lot of wealth, and we're gonna create a lot of jobs, because doing the right thing moves us forward."

Al Gore: What we take for granted might not be here for our children.

05 April 2008

Jodha Akbar - a review

I had heard a lot about this movie ever since it was released. The reports were conflicting - some said it was sheer assassination of history, others loved it. Some said the director - Ashutosh Gowarikar, failed to impress whereas others swore that he would win the Best Director award for this year. I am not very keen about History and hence was not inclined to see this movie for many weeks after its release. However, my mother eventually managed to drag me to the theater and I can finally add my 2 cents regarding the movie.

To be precise, I loved every minute of this movie. I went inside with almost no hopes of enjoying it, but was pleasantly surprised. I could see that the director had taken some liberties with the portrayal of history. In the very first scene itself where Akbar's army takes on King Hemu's army, King Hemu is shown to be a tyrant who should be vanquished. On the contrary, I remember my history text books claiming Hemu to be a very popular Hindu ruler. But as they say, history is written by the victors :-)

The battle sequences at the beginning reminded me of "The Mummy Returns" and were quite impressive by Bollywood standard. At some places it was too bloody-gory for my taste, but I couldn't help noticing that they came across as genuine and realistic. After the introduction of Jodha, the movie was more of an historical romance than a documentary. The chemistry between the lead pair was palpable. Kudos to the director who skillfully weaved the history around creating the backdrop for the matrimonial alliance between the Mughal Emperor and the Rajput princess and their subsequent romance. No doubt, he used what is called "poetic licence" to twist the plot to make it credible and played havoc with history in the process. But, a director is a creative artist after all, and is therefore allowed to give free reign to his imagination and come up with his own interpretation of facts. The characters of Jodha and Akbar were well-etched and were portrayed with great sincerity by the lead pair, thus doing justice to the director's story-telling capability.

Each frame of the movie is a treat for the eyes. The minute attention given to the sets, costumes, language and even the songs for this movie, took my breath away. Even the supporting characters such as Jodha's brother and father and Akbar's daayi lent credibility to the story. Some of the scenes such as the sword fight between Akbar and Jodha, the fight between Akbar and Sharifuddin toward the end and Akbar's tryst while taming the elephant were excellent. The romantic moments between Hritik and Aishwarya were very tastefully directed. Anyone with a pinch of romance in his/her soul cannot fail to be moved by them. For me, it was like watching a historical romance instead of reading it in a novel!

Hritik has certainly evolved as an actor. I had my doubts about him doing justice to the role of Akbar, but he proved me wrong. Ashutosh Gowarikar is full of surprises. It is obvious that he has a vast repertoire of stories and a unique way of telling them that leaves quite an impact. No wonder his movies always manage to create controversies. As for the length of the movie, I was startled when the titles came at the end, so engrossed was I in the movie!

23 March 2008

Spring Cleaning

Spring is here! And, with it, comes spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a period in spring set aside for cleaning a house, normally applied in colder climates, where the house is difficult to clean in winter. I've been indulging in some serious spring cleaning of my house every weekend. I might add that cleaning, organizing and decorating my home is one of my passions. My husband's unfortunately is to leave a general mess in his wake. So my work is usually doubled; not that I mind. My dear hubby maintains that this is as it should be, for if he didn't create the mess in the first place, I wouldn't get to indulge in my fetish for cleaning! So, the curtains, the cupboards and closets, furniture, the fans, the lights - everything has been getting a thorough cleaning this past few days. The smell of dust, the whirr of the vaccuum cleaner and the endless scrubbing and dusting of various pieces of furniture dominate our weekends these days. But everything is worth the glowing, spic n span look of my home:-)

We give so much importance to cleaning of our surroundings. Infact, many cultures follow this tradition. Iranians continue the practice of "khooneh takouni" which literally means "shaking the house" just before their new year- Nouroz. Everything in the house is thoroughly cleaned, from the drapes to the furniture. The Jews observe thorough cleansing of the home in anticipation of the spring-time holiday of Passover. In Greece, and other Orthodox nations, it is traditional to clean the house thoroughly either right before, or during, the first week of Great Lent, which is referred to as Clean Week. Chinese tradition of Feng shui emphasizes freeing your home from clutter by clearing your home of old and unused items.

As we age and experience more of life, we consciously or unconciously keep compromising with our ideals and principles. It becomes ok to tell "white" lies, to gossip and back-bite about our friends and colleagues (its all in fun, we claim!). As we climb up the corporate or social ladder politics ceases to be a dirty word. We accumulate so much emotional baggage in the form of envy, hatred and bitterness in our souls. We become selfish in the pursuit of money and luxuries and forget to be nice to our family, friends and even to ourselves. We suffer from headaches, depression and various complexes. We cease to be righteously indignant of the exploitation and corruption of values around us. We turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others as it would inconvenience us to get involved.

Surely then, a similar importance should be given to the cleansing our souls? How seriously do we take this activity? Do we set aside a time every year for this? I believe some of the ancient cultures already advocate this, but it is not being followed as religiously. I wonder why.

22 March 2008

A poem

I am part of a volunteer group in my organization called Harmony@Symphony. Infact, I head this group. It is an informal body that seeks to address various issues in the organization by drawing upon the extensive mind-share it has with various support functions and senior management. We try to find the root cause for each of the issues, discuss at length with involved parties and try to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Recent circumstances impelled me to pour my heart out in the following poem. The above context was essential to understand the poem, hence the lengthy preface!

Some say we are the optimists,
Some write us off as mavericks,
We prefer to see the silver lining,
In a crowd of whiners and critics.

The crashing elevator at GA,
The frequently non-working lift;
Management said its good for our health
We applauded – what a paradigm shift!

We braved the stifling summer heat at AG cafeteria,
We waded through ankle-deep water in rains,
We relished being so close to nature,
After all, no pains - no gains!

We rallied during the mass exodus,
The talent drain and the resource crunch,
The Finance hiccups, the Network woes,
With determined optimism, we faced each punch.

A potpourri of various Enterprise Applications,
The sadly unused Intranet Site,
We’re growing, we’re growing - is the cry,
What are we doing to improve our plight?

We moved our belongings from GA to AG,
And then from AG to our campus.
And now some of us will trudge back to AG,
Oh why this entire rumpus?

While everyone around us railed,
We sailed though all the hardship.
And bore the discomfort, the chaos
With the proverbial stiff upper lip.

We reasoned, we cajoled, and we communicated,
We strove for peace and harmony.
We tried to see both sides for all issues,
Oh for a voice of reason, amidst this cacophony!

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Are we beating against a closed door?
Are we going about this the wrong way?
It is time to take stock, my friends, I thee implore.

13 March 2008

The art of making small talk

During lunch break today, a colleague was complaining that he is always misunderstood by others. That is because he is not really what he seems from the outside and hence no one really understands him. That made me wonder - is it really only the other person's fault if he judges one on the basis of what he sees on the surface? I believe that it is equally important that both parties make efforts here. Person 1 should make more effort to show his true self to the world and person 2 should likewise make an effort to scratch below the surface to know person 1 better.

Gone are the days when people used to resort to talking of the weather to break the ice. It is the age of 1-liner emails, short text messaging, instant messaging and slang. British etiquette is out, American staccato bursts of dialogue are in. No one bothers with good old conversation any more. I feel that there is much more scope to understand a person through small talk. For, it is only when you take the time to speak about what is not on the agenda, that you really reveal your true self. When there is a definite agenda, such as a planned meeting or a presentation, you are well-prepared for it and therefore not your natural spontaneous self.

Small talk can be a double-edged sword, however. Shrewd people can sum up a person just by indulging in a bit of chit-chat with him. Its a good weapon to use while interviewing a candidate too. In our IT set up, managers caution their team members from indulging in too much informal chat with the clients. For it is often through such means that valuable company information leaks out. Spies and detectives use it all the time. My brother always claims - nothing bonds two men together as well as a chat over a smoke or a bottle of wine! Perhaps that's why men have stronger friendships than women, but let's not go there as that is a separate topic in itself :-)

One of my favorite books is "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. In it, the hero is mistaken to be a proud and haughty man by everyone(including the heroine) as he does not take the pains to converse freely with them. How many such misapprehensions can be avoided if everyone cultivates the habit of small talk? Think of how many situations or relationships would have fared differently if the people involved had chosen to communicate more freely?

Of course, just because a person makes small chat does not make him good. That alone cannot make up for other serious lack of attributes. But, the art of making small talk, along with other various skills, can be a powerful weapon to enjoy healthy personal as well as professional relationships.

12 March 2008


Today there was a session of palm reading at work by one of my colleagues. A couple of interested people asked if they would have an "arranged" marriage or a "love" marriage. Whenever the "palmist" pronounced "love" marriage, there was a lot of back-slapping whereas whenever she announced "arranged" marriage, there were disappointed and pitying sighs.

What exactly is a love or an arranged marriage? Who coined these terms? Is it so very derogatory to get married via the "arranged" manner? Why is it still the most prevalent way of getting married in India then? All these questions started a train of thought in my mind.

I myself have had a "love" marriage. By that, I mean that neither of our families knew each other before nor did anyone recommend us to each other. We were not even brought up in the same city. We just happened to work at the same organization and were part of a group of friends. I guess that qualifies as "love" marriage - meaning we met and decided to get married on our own, without undergoing the rigmarole of "seeing" prospective brides/grooms over tedious cups of tea / coffee.

Flash forward by a few years(the time I've been married) and I can assure you that the quality of our marriage is no better, or worse, than any of our friends' who got married in the arranged way. Indeed, many of the so-called "love" marriages of my friends have ended in bitter divorces whereas the arranged ones that began on the sceptical note of "I think he is better than most of the guys I saw; its time I got married" are doing extraordinarily well. The question then is not of what is "love" or "arranged" marriage, but that of "what is marriage itself?".

Marriage is not always the natural result of love, but love is indeed the most critical ingredient of a successful marriage. There is no fool-proof way to marry the "right" person. But the only way a marriage will survive is if both the partners ensure that they are the "right" person for each other. No astrology, horoscope match, or any science, superstition or person can guarantee the success of your marriage. The only people who can are - you and your partner. It is immaterial how you met your partner - whether by love or through relatives - what matters is what you do "after" the ceremony to make the marriage work. And believe me, making the marriage work is a life-time task. "Until death do us apart, in sickness and in health" is not a joke. It is a life-time commitment that thrives on healthy doses of love and affection, constant communication, lot of understanding and forgiveness, a short memory and long periods of "alone" time. A successful or healthy marriage is not one where there are no fights, but one where the couple has the openness to indulge in a good fight and then get on with life as if nothing happened.

Marriage, infact, is not a destination but a journey. The question to ask your palmist then, is, whether you will have a "good" marriage. And whenever you do take that all-important step, take it with the confidence that it "will" be a good marriage!

10 March 2008

Old is Gold!

Books are my foremost passion. One of my favorite authors is Agatha Christie. I have been fond of her who-dun-its right from college. Her books are famous for the two characters(detectives) created by her- Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Though the former is quite well-known due to his moustache and "little grey cells", Miss Marple was always rather unbelievable to most readers. They could not quite grasp the concept that a 70 year old "fluffy old lady" living in a quaint remote village of St. Mary Mead was able to solve the most difficult murder cases.

Miss Marple is a very keen observer of human nature. She is an elderly spinster who has no immediate family to keep her occupied. This leaves her ample time and energy to keep herself informed of all happenings around her in minute detail. Whenever she meets a new person she tries to draw a parallel with any existing acquaintance of hers. From long experience she knows that people usually fall into one of the many patterns. Once the pattern is known, it is easy to predict what the person will do or how he/she will behave next. This is her modus operandi to solve most of the cases.

When I used to read these books in college I thought some of the plots involving Miss Marple were rather contrived. I could not believe that an old lady so wholly disconnected with all the modernization, could solve a murder by just sitting quietly in her yard while knitting!

But as I grew older(am in my early thirties) and experieced more of life, I've realized that being older does not mean being out of touch. Though technology keeps getting updated, human beings remain the same. Human psyche and nature remain the same no matter which part of the world you go to or which era of history you open up. And because of this, the older you are, the more people you come in contact with, the more expertise you gain at "knowing" people. This is also the reason why "experienced" people are made managers in corporates.

Today I have the highest respect for Miss Marple and her theories. Hats off to Agatha Christie for thinking of such a character and using her so beautifully in her books. It reflects the author's own intelligence and wisdom. Needless to say, I remain a fan to this day.

Moral of the story - Never underestimate the wisdom of any old person in your acquaintance, for knowledge can never replace experience!

Good quotes

My friend, Veena, urged me to put some "heavy stuff" on my blog. So here are some thought-provoking quotes that I've long chewed on. Many have been the times when life, and experiences, have made me realize how true they all are!

"The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor;
he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me.
The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them."

- George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)

"Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions -
Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful.
Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.
- Chanakya quotes (Indian politician, strategist and writer, 350 BC-275 BC)

"Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian."
- Dennis Wholey (1937-)

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."
- Tom Clancy (1947-), paraphrasing Mark Twain

"I don't know the key to success but I know the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
- Bill Cosby (1937-)

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are acutally rearranging their prejudices."
- William James (1842-1910)

"When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail."
- Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

"Heav’n hath no rage like love to hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d."
- William Congreve (1670-1729)

"A problem well stated is a problem half solved."
- Charles Franklin Kettering (1876-1958)

"I would like to be able to admire a man’s opinions as I would his dog - without being expected to take it home with me."
- Frank A. Clark

"Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’."
- Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
- Derek Bok (1930-), Harvard University President

10 January 2008

How important is a degree?

Am sure all the netizens are familiar with Orkut. I too have been guilty of succumbing to its allure sometimes. Wanted to share an incident regarding an interesting person I met on Orkut.

Recently a person with a feminine sounding name added me as a friend on Orkut. Usually I am quite wary of such requests, and mostly reject them, since they are all from people who claim to like my smile, my photo etc. However, since this seemed to be from a 'female' I felt quite safe(?) and accepted it. As is my wont, I promptly forgot about this. Well, the person once started chatting with me on Gtalk while I was in office. And since orkut is not accessible from my office network, I mechanically obliged with a few pleasantaries, still blissfully oblivious to his gender. This continued for some days, and I noticed that it happened only during my lunch break. I assumed that this lady only came online at this time since her baby was sleeping! And then one day, I noticed the photograph. It was definitely male enough for me to notice it! I then asked the person who the photo belonged to. And then it dawned on me that this was a guy after all. I had no option but to keep this little goof-up to myself, for afterall I had been lax in going through his profile carefully.

And so, the pleasantaries continued. He seemed a decent and mature guy. He told me a little bit about his work and interests. He was into interior design and intended to open a new showroom somewhere. He was fond of reading fiction - Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook, John Grisham etc. His English too was very good, which is rare to find, believe me. One fine day, I asked him where he had been educated. And I got the shock of my life when he said "I will not lie to you, I am illiterate". I was flabbergasted. I asked him if he was joking. He said that no he wasn't. He did not wish to lie, since one lie usually led to other lies. On more probing, it turned out that he had to give up his schooling after matriculation due to "circumstances". He learned English by reading the Times of India and other books and always looked up meaning of new words in dictionary and noted them down. He also learned to use computer and was quite net savvy. The latter was obvious from his speed of typing during chat.

The incident was a eye-opener for me in a couple of ways :-

Firstly, we tend to feel so important that we have an Engineering degree in computer science, get paid the best in the industry, are computer literate, and speak and write fluent English. Whereas here is a person, from a small town, who does it all without having a degree to his name! It was indeed a humbling experience. It told me that there is more to a person than their fluency over English, their graduate degree and the college they got it from and whether they are computer literate or not.

And secondly, if the person had not been honest with me, I'd have continued with my erroneous assumption about his background. That led me to question how much do we really know about our online friends? Isn't it a big risk to befriend a person whom we hardly know anything about? Perhaps it will teach me to be a little more circumspect when using such online forums in future. Amen!

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