31 December 2009

A short story


Came across this and felt like sharing.

Wish you all a very Happy New Year!

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Saying Grace
by Unknown Author

Last week, I took my children to a restaurant.

My six-year-old son asked if he could say grace.

As we bowed our heads he said, "God is good, God is great. Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And Liberty and justice for all! Amen!"

Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby, I heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!"

Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?"

As I held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job, and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table.

He winked at my son and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer."

"Really?" my son asked.

"Cross my heart," the man replied.

Then, in a theatrical whisper, he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."

Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment, and then did something I will remember the rest of my life.

He picked up his sundae and, without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already."

30 December 2009

Learning through fiction

Ever since my childhood, there has always been a subtle emphasis on reading the classics. Many reasons are propounded - viz. reading them improves ones' mind, enhances the vocabulary, gives one a historical perspective etc. So much so that, those who read ordinary fiction as opposed to classics, were looked down upon. This is true for all literatures / languages.

During my adolescence I did read most of the classics. Some of them were part of the syllabus at school. But I've also been an avid reader of fiction, especially romantic fiction. I remember my dad reprimanding me during my teenage years for wasting my time on such novels. As with all teenagers, I was a rebel and did exactly what I was forbidden to do :)

To this day, I still enjoy romantic fiction even though I read serious subjects like philosophy and self-improvement too. Infact, even my mother enjoys them! She says that she loves to read about the different places, the cuisines, the cultures that are found in these romantic novels. One gets to travel to faraway places and enjoy the pleasures vicariously through their vivid descriptions and interesting conversation. I totally subscribe to this too - there is so much to learn even from such 'trashy' novels.

One of my all-time favorite books is by the queen of romantic fiction - Jane Austen. I thoroughly enjoy her book - Pride and Prejudice everytime I read it. The characters are so well-etched and their emotions described with such lucidity! Its about a romance between a gentleman's daughter with a rich, and seemingly snobbish, young man based in the backdrop of old-time Britain. Most people find this book boring - many of my friends, and even my hubby, are always asking me what I like about it. The very fact that, in the era of arranged matches in those times, a young lady actually turns down an eligible bachelor's proposal the first time round, and then proceeds to fall in love with him, when chances of him proposing again to her are next to nothing, was enough to hold my interest till the end. Also, a love match during the times when girls did not go to school, and did not work and so did not have any opportunity to find love, was a novelty. Besides, the conversations are the strength of this novel. The speech where the hero proposes to her, and the heroine's utterly civil rejection of his offer, is a highlight of the book.

Recently, in a novel that I was reading, a mother soothes her daughter by saying - 'A man usually says what's on his mind, he does not bother to be polite". This was regarding a young man in the daughter's life and spoken in the context of a man-woman conversation. On reflection, I found it to be extremely accurate. Diplomacy and tact are really woman's weapons, most men speak their mind - at least most men of my acquaintance. They learn to be tactful only after marriage! Another novel had this gem - "If a man understands a woman well, then there is some % of femininity in his character and vice versa." This too is so true and profound. If there is a man who understands women, he is bound to be a bit sensitive and maybe less macho. Women tend to ignore such men and go after the brawny, heartless ones. Ditto for men - they tend to steer clear of the intelligent, discerning and ambitious women and then regret their choice of the frivolous, flighty females they married!

I've come to realise that it doesn't matter what you read, or watch; it is what you are able to take away from it that makes a difference. If you only get a romantic thrill from a romantic novel then it is bound to be transient, but if its a piece of knowledge then the book was not 'trashy'.

29 December 2009

The last month....

Dec 2009 has been an action-packed month in my life. It started with a party - my birthday party in the first week and will end in a party too - New Year's eve. In between, there have been various celebrations - birth of 3 new babies among my friend and colleague circle, marriage of a dear friend, potluck at the workplace. There have been couple of travels too-Kolhapur and Bangalore. Also, a friend of mine visited us with her family. A mini reunion with college friends was the highlight of this month. We saw some good movies too - 3 Idiots among them. So, there is really a lot to write about, and frankly, I cannot decide on what to write about! So I decided to write a bit about it all.
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Got a wonderful gift for my birthday from hubby dearest. Also, a dear friend from my hometown showed up at my door on the morning of my birthday. It was indeed the best surprise of my life. Spent a couple of wonderful days with her. We chatted, shopped, cooked and chatted some more:)
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Felt very good to visit Bangalore and stay at a dear friend's place. It was as if the last few years when we were not together didn't happen at all - so instant was the connection :) But then, that's how it is with school and college friends, they say. Bangalore is a nice city. Didn't get to explore it much but loved the wide open spaces, parks, children's playgrounds and general ambience of the city. Fortunately, didn't get to experience the infamous traffic jams. The climate too is mild and even in December, it wasn't too cold. Mysore and Coorg were charming too. The drive was very scenic and made enjoyable due to our conversation and bonding.
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3 Idiots is an awesome movie. The message it portrays is potent though the treatment is humorous. Aamir Khan impresses yet again. He acts so effortlessly and every film of his has something fresh. The movie is about friendship, the education system in India, about thinking out of the box, about being courageous and following one's passion. So many different threads are woven beautifully into the fabric of a successful formula film! Even though its inspired by a popular book, the script is quite original and the characters very real. I learned quite a few new things too - viz. why scientists did not use a pencil during space travel and that a vacuum cleaner can be used to deliver a baby!

In all, a very happening month and a fitting end to this year full of travel and some travail.

23 December 2009

Moving beyond judgement

Many of us have heard people say "You are so different than what I had thought." I, at least, have heard this many times and have often wondered what they had thought about me earlier and in which way am I different? But, the answer always eluded me as I was not privy to the episode that led them to pre-judge me. I have been guilty of this myself sometimes.

Came across this article and wanted to share with you. Hope you find it as thought-provoking as I did.

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Moving beyond judgement
The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti remarked that "the highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating."

So ask yourself some questions. Are some of the people around you lazy, or do they just do lazy things? Are some kids you see stupid, or do they just do things differently from you? Are some of your co-workers uncreative or do they just approach tasks in a way you wouldn't? Are some bosses cold and calculating or do they just manage in ways you might not? Is your spouse or partner too independent or does s/he just have a different way of viewing a relationship?

Judging as the cause of disconnects
One of the major causes of disconnects between people - at work, at home and in relationship - is our tendency to not only make observations about their behavior, but to use these as the basis make snap judgments about their character.

When we observe someone and instantly label them on the basis of some behavior or other, we move away from seeing the wholeness and totality of that person.

Many of us engage in knee-jerk, judgmental reactions of others who, in some way appear "different from me." We are quick not only to point out the "bad-ness" or "wrong-ness" of another but to evaluate who they are based on observations of their behaviour.

So: Mary's lazy; John's a procrastinator; Julia's unhealthy; Susan's angry; Mario's a narcissist, Jane's aggressive; Art's a complainer.

None of these judgments is an observation. None of these criticisms points to a simple, objective behavior. All of these are judgments we feel we need to make about a person based on what we have observed.

The next time you find yourself making a knee-jerk reactive judgment, perhaps ask first, "What is that person doing or saying that makes me feel some sense of discomfort?" And then ask yourself, "Why can't I seem to just notice the behavior without needing to make a judgment or offer an evaluation?"

In fact, it would be interesting if during your day you could actually discern between your observations and your evaluations. Many can't, because the habit of observing and judging is so ingrained.

Why we judge rather than observe
When our ego, rather than our heart and soul, is left to do the driving, our GPS is based on looking at the landscape from a like / dislike perspective. Built into this is an evaluative process based on ego-based emotions, feelings, character, qualities, styles, etc.

So the more someone is "not like me," we more we feel a tendency to push away from them. All of this is based on our need, often unconscious, to "be right." When someone behaves – in thought, word or deed – in a way that does not tally with what we feel is right,, we feel challenged. And when we feel challenged, we feel the need to defend our beliefs, our "rightness". In doing so, we're looking to experience and support a psycho-emotional safety and security with "who I am."

Making judgments about others is how we defend our self. If we can make them "bad" or "wrong," then we're right or good. This dynamic is also the underlying foundation of bias and prejudice. And for many, it is characteristic of living in a world of duality – good vs. bad; right vs. wrong; intelligent vs. stupid, etc.

Moving beyond duality
The way we move beyond this dualistic tendency is to suspend judgment - to observe without evaluating. When we transcend our ego and come from a place of presence – simply observing - we can start to see the essence of another individual.

From this place we can suspend what we like and dislike and allow our soul to look at the truth (not ego-based subjective truth) – a deeper and intuitive sense of another person based on respect, tolerance and understanding, rather than judgement.

And when we're open and accepting of others, we start to find that we are similar; we are able to accept their personalities without discomfort, resistance, resentment, or difficulty – as we're relating on a level where love and understanding fill the space between us. Rather than making judgements, we acknowledge other points of view and respond with a "hmmm, that's interesting" and move on without reacting.

Not by 9:00 tomorrow morning
Being able to accept and understand like this isn't something that happens overnight, especially for those of us who have a deeply-ingrained tendency towards making judgements about others.

But there are behaviors we can focus on and develop to help us to accept others who push our buttons: patience, understanding, appreciating differences, recognizing the essential nature of others, and being open to, valuing and allowing the uniqueness of others.

When we focus on these behaviors, like and dislike stop being part of the relationship equation. Gradually, they will be replaced by compassion, empathy, acceptance and understanding.

21 December 2009

Online social networking - a boon or bane?

Despite being in the software field (which means that I'm net-savvy), I'm a bit of a slouch when using online social networking sites. Part of the reason being that I'm wary of chatting with people I've never seen before. The other reason being that I'm a working professional who loves to keep busy during office hours and switch off the computer when I'm home. Of course, having been married early and off the dating/finding mates market meant that the sites held no special lure for me. Due to the above reasons I joined the Orkut and Facebook bandwagon pretty late. Infact, I was so put off by the deluge of 'friendship' offers on Orkut by unknown people that I went into online social hibernation for quite some time. A couple of friends had to literally coerce me into opening a Facebook account as they had shared some photo albums on it. Why? Well, here's the reason.

I quote here from an article I read on the web - "Facebook is a narcissistic distraction from daily life. It provides a cross between the mindless absorption of the TV set and the obsessive self-involvement of the bathroom mirror." End of quote. The minutia of the status updates, games, photos, videos etc. on Facebook gives one a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of countless, faceless friends on the web. The life patterns of people, whom we've known as our childhood friends or classmates, become predictable, and to some extent, pathetic. Familiarity breeds contempt they say and I agree that the mystery that is maintained through writing old-fashioned letters or even email to pen-pals beats the familiarity bred of online friendship. Catching up with long-lost friends over phone, or in person, is far more soul stirring than meeting up over Facebook or online chat rooms. This is the reason I seldom keep in touch with my closest friends over these channels.

No matter how many people claim the success story of their love lives to such networking sites, lets face the fact that these sites were basically created so that the average romance-hungry, lonely netizen can escape into the cyber world and search for his/her soulmate. For this purpose maybe, these channels are a God-send, although I've my doubts. However, for networking and friendships, the amount of information churned out is humongous! Why would I want to know what the family of my nursery schoolmate looks like? The information overload brought on by having to remember so many faces(family of online friends), significant dates, details of who is traveling where and who is going through which crisis or turmoil must surely take a toll on the functioning of our brain.

Also, the amount of time spent on these sites is phenomenal. If we add up the time spent by all the teenagers, college-going students, working professionals, every person seeking a mate on the net, the total amount of time spent is mind-boggling. One can't help but think if it could've been put to a better, more honorable purpose. And think of the cost of the network bandwidth or even employees' time spent on the net during office hours. We are definitely losing a lot due to this. Do the advantages of these sites really outweigh the disadvantages?

16 December 2009

A couple of movies...

Saw a couple of movies recently that left an impact.

Close on the heels of the Tiger Woods scandal, saw a golf movie on the idiot box - The Legend of Bagger Vance. Whether it was the glamor of the game, the dust swirling due to the Woods story doing the rounds of most news channels and newspapers or the fact that it was staged on the backdrop of Southern America of the 1940s - my interest was caught and held. Of course the costumes, hairstyle and dialogue was different and hence immediately eye-catching too. The plot - a disillusioned war veteran, Captain Rannulph Junah, reluctantly agrees to play a game of golf. He finds the game futile until his caddy, Bagger Vance, teaches him the secret of the authentic golf stroke which turns out also to be the secret to mastering any challenge and finding meaning in life.

Matt Damon plays the golfer and Will Smith his caddy. Must say the former looks very fetching :) Charlize Theron as Miss Adele Invergordon plays the savvy southern belle who pulls a coup of sorts by bringing together 3 unlikely golfing rivals to play in a tournament. Directed by Robert Redford and nominated for 10 awards, this 2000 movie is definitely worth watching, especially by golf enthusiasts.

The other movie I saw - this time in a theatre, was 'Paa'. Having seen the promos, and mails about Big B's look and makeup for the movie, and read about the disease progeria, I was under the impression that this would be a tear-jerker. I went armed with my biggest handkerchief and with my coolest friends, so that they could cheer me at the end of the movie. But much to my surprise, the movie is very light and actually makes you laugh! Auro's character - played by Big B is very well-adjusted and quite reconciled with his illness. Inspite of the many hardships faced by him and his mother, he has a very balanced approach to life. The dialogues are witty, the humor verges on the toilet kind, but not too vulgar. Its difficult to recognize Amitabh under all the makeup. He looks altogether too fragile and shrunk. Even his voice is different. Abhishek Bachchan and Vidya Balan have given extremely competent performances. Vidya looks stunning in the cotton saris with three-fourth length blouse sleeves and long braided hair. Infact they both look good together.

Hats off to R Balki on yet another brilliantly directed movie (after Cheeni Kum). He completely takes away the focus from the seriousness of the story and makes it thoroughly palatable. The movie reinforced the lesson that life is a game of cards. No matter what kind of hand you are dealt, what matters is how you play the game!

26 November 2009

Baby's day out

My aunt (mom's sister) and her hubby have one son. He is currently away from home in Delhi for studies. Ever since he left, they have been disconsolate and eventually my uncle got a parakeet as a pet to ward off the gloom. The bird is named Tom after Tom Cruise. Its almost a year old now, they got it early this year.

Tom is like the baby of the house. He wakes up everyone in the morning with his cute chirping - he chatters nineteen to the dozen. He loves to sit on the dining table when everyone is having breakfast, lunch or dinner. He is fond of rice and actually eats from my uncle's tongue! He even calls my uncle and aunt by their names.

He is a bit wary of strangers but once you feed him, and he has had time to know you, he will condescend to acknowledge you. If you give him your palm in the shape of a perch, he will climb onto it in a dignified manner and start making his way to your shoulder. If you are a girl, he will love to play with your chain, ear-rings etc. If you are a male, he will perch himself on your shoulder and go to sleep. Btw, did I mention that he prefers males to females? Other times he loves to walk(waddle) on the floor and if he sees anyone's feet, he will climb up and again make his way to the shoulder.

Tom doesn't know how to fly much as he was caged almost since birth, though at my aunt's place, is he usually outside his cage. Yesterday morning though, after breakfast, Tom went missing. He had apparently flown out the front door from my aunt's place. My aunt-uncle were frantic with worry. They live on the top floor of their building. Since Tom can't fly well, they were anxious about his landing. Perdators such as cats were a nightmare. They searched high and low for him. They alerted neighbors in their building as well as surrounding buildings, their daily help, and anyone they met to look out for their missing parakeet.

My usually stoic uncle was actually seen to shed a few tears. Both of them had had no food since breakfast. My grandmother arrived to give them moral support. She was the one who updated me on the events of the day. By late afternoon, they had given up all hope. My uncle was so disconsolate that he called the person they had got Tom from and asked them for another bird. They were about to set out to collect the other bird, when their chowkidar shouted that he saw a different bird on the third floor of the building opposite to their flat. My uncle hurried to the spot. And sure enough, there was Tom! He was sitting forlornly most probably repenting his flight. The moment he saw my uncle, he chattered non-stop and flew to his arm. There he was perched all the time until uncle brought him home. Once back in his cage, he drank and ate from his bowls alternately while his eyes were drooping with exhaustion . The little one was on the verge of dropping from hunger, thirst and the excitement of the day.

How happy my aunt and uncle were to have him back! Their baby had had a harrowing day out and so had they. Alls well that ends well.

24 November 2009

What's your Raashee?


Watched Ashutosh's Gowarikar's movie by this name recently. It is based on a Gujarati novel - Kimball Ravenswood by Shri Madhu Rye. It is about the much-debated topic of astrology that has suddenly gained popularity among the masses. Ashutosh probably wanted to cash in on this trend and ventured into hitherto unexplored territory(for him) of the rom-com. The protagonist - Yogesh Patel has to get married in 10 days in the arranged way and wants to meet one girl from each raashee to give him a chance to fall in love(as if!). This is the plot in which Priyanka Chopra gets to play 12 different characters - you guessed it- a girl from each raashee. Am still not sure if the movie was meant to be a primer on 12 astrological signs, OR a satire on how complicated women are, OR just a sad attempt at a suspense-ful romantic movie.

The less said about the movie, the better. About the raashees - well, I am a keen student of astrology myself and know some of the traits. I mean, just yesterday, I was in a conference room with some colleagues at office. Someone spilled some coffee from their mug onto the table. While most others ignored the small stain on the table, one of the colleagues quietly fetched some paper towels from the pantry and wiped the stain. I promptly asked him - "Are you a Virgo?" and he nodded in chagrin :) So you see, I do know my raashees.

Many of the cliched traits attached to various signs have been used in the movie e.g. Scorpio women love to dress to kill and can be fire and ice at the same time. Libra women are too level-headed almost to the point of being ..ummm... anal. Leo women love to be in the limelight and have pre-conceived notions. Pisces women live under illusions. Cancer women are the naive, honest ones who get taken advantage of, Virgo women are hypochondriacs - they see and fear disease all around them and Capricorn women suffer hardship from a very tender young age.

Though I have studied all the signs and guessing people's sun-signs is my favorite pastime; I sincerely feel that the world's population cannot be so summarily categorized into 12 zodiac signs. Having said that, I do believe that astrology is a powerful science and not something to be dismissed as nonsense. After all, if our wise forefathers spent so much time analyzing it then there must be some truth in the subject although no demonstrable evidence has been unearthed or documented yet. It is definitely not a simple matter of knowing one's sunsign/moonsign and reading up the traits for that. Its a complex subject where positions of all planets at the time of birth need to be studied and their positions relative to each other taken into account. When this is done, every horoscope chart is unique, no two are alike. Hence, every individual is unique and cannot be generalized under a category so easily.

Then there is the debate regarding what is construed as the birth time? Is it the time when the baby was conceived, or when the baby gives its first cry after being born, or when the umbilical cord is cut and baby is completely on its own for the first time? Do the doctors or nurses note this time accurately? Hard to tell. So whatever time we know as our birth time, may not even be accurate. It is a vast and deep topic, more of a statistical study than a science. Hence, it cannot be deciphered in a 2-hour movie or a 2 month course. How can some so-called astrologers make a profession out of it then? Probably, that's why there is the notion of Western Astrology where they have signs by birth month instead of birth time. But, there is room for confusion even in that if we go by the various different calendars that are followed all over the world. The Chinese got it right (as usual!) by dividing the signs as per birth year. There is not much margin for error here. But the categorization is even more bizarre - imagine being put in the same league as your pesky classmate with the horrible teeth-clips !

One of my relatives has this annoying habit of calling me up and asking me - "Nilu, tell me more about my sunsign. Will I be happy? Will I get the home I always dreamed of?" Or when one of my friends is getting married, I get asked "The girl's raashee is so-and-so. Will we get along fine?" Its too late to warn by then anyway as all the plans are made and one doesn't want to be seen as a spoil-sport. I feel like a doctor, who no matter where she goes, is always accosted by people for their symptoms of something or the other. No rest for the doctor or the astrologer in this day and age!

Any guesses for which of the raashee's girl the hero hitches up with? Watch the movie.

30 October 2009

South east Asia tour- Diwali '09

For Diwali this year, we took the F7 tour of Kesari travels to south-east Asia. The trip spanned 11 days and 4 countries - Hongkong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The group consisted of 26 members - one 5-yr old, 3 teenage girls from ages 12-18, a single girl, a single guy, 3 young couples and several older couples. Thus, we had representation from all age groups. Our tour guide - Pramod is a rock-star! He, and the tour group, truly made the trip enjoyable!

It is difficult to list down the events, and impressions, of 11 days of such a colorful trip in a few words. However, I will endeavor to do so without taking away from the charm and wonder of a truly memorable trip:)

At the Mumbai airport, when I first beheld the tour members approaching our rendezvous, (recognizable from the scarlet Kesari hand luggage!) I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. I am a people person and generally enjoy in a group. However, the members seemed to be much older and one of the younger families had kids so they probably would not have much time for others I felt. Appearances and first impressions can be so wrong sometimes! Kesari impressed me there itself, when they thoughtfully handed us packets of dry snacks and Diwali 'faral', and also caps, at the airport.

Our first stop was Hongkong and we met everyone properly only when we landed at the Hongkong airport. Our tour guide had everything in hand and he introduced us to the local tour guide- Veronica. She spoke English in a thick Chinese accent, but she had a wacky sense of humor. We reached Hongkong in the evening and were given just an hour to freshen up before being taken to the Avenue of Stars. It reminded me of Marine drive of Mumbai in the evening. The laser show with lights shining in various patterns from the high-rise buildings lining the lake in tandem with music was mind blowing! I had never seen anything like it before. Dinner at the Indian restaurant was really good - it felt as if we were eating in India only. On the second day, we did a city tour and there was a brief self-introductory session in the bus. It felt good to match names with faces and find out more about our fellow travelers. The second half of the day was spent at Disneyland and the various shows- Lion king show, the Disney parade and the Fireworks show really made our day. Urged on by our group members, I somehow plucked up the courage to go on the Space Mountain ride which is a high speed roller coaster in the dark. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience as I plan on NEVER taking such a ride again:)

On the 3rd day, we left for Malaysia and landed at the Kuala Lumpur airport. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant again (excellent food!) and then went on to Genting Highland. This is a weekend getaway kind of place with casinos, and a theme park for day-time entertainment. After depositing our heavy luggage in lockers at the foot of the hill, we traveled the last lap to the top in cable cars. The panoramic view of the verdant, and almost vertical, cliffs from the cable car was breath-taking! Genting means 'in the clouds' in the Malay language, and we were literally among the clouds when we reached the place! We had to lug our overnight bags up and down a maze 0f escalators to reach our hotel. This had been by far the most hectic and tiring day of the tour and it was not yet over! After freshening up for an hour, we went for dinner at a multi-cuisine restaurant. This time we partook of other cuisines such as Thai and Chinese food.

Post dinner, we were taken to a casino where some of us tried our luck at the various tables. But apart from one lucky member, no one made any money. Our tiredness soon saw us trudging back to the hotel room for a much-needed shuteye. The next morning was Diwali day. We had been given the 'utna' (scented herbal powder) with which to take a bath. And we had been asked to don our best clothes as today there was to be a group photo session. So, after our elaborate ablutions, and a sumptuous breakfast, we headed out to the theme park at Genting. Now, I'm not a adventurous person when it comes to rides at amusement parks. There was a ride called as Space shot, where they take you up a tall tower and then just drop you from the top. For a few seconds, it feels as if this is the end, but then the free fall is checked and you reach terra firma safely. Everyone was singing praises of the ride and since I had not garnered the guts to experience it, I can only repeat from hearsay that this was the highlight of the trip so far :) After lunch at the same multi-cuisine restaurant, we headed back to Kuala Lumpur. However, our cable cars on the way down stopped for the longest, and scariest, half hour and we were literally suspended from the ropes with the cars swinging in the wind for that time. I must have hummed all the prayers I knew under my breath in this time!

After a city tour of Kuala Lumpur we finally checked into our hotel at 10 pm. A couple of ladies still had the energy to perform Laxmi pooja! We met at their room and at 10:30 in the night, all of us sang aartis and offered our prayers to Goddess Laxmi in Malaysia. The following day we started for Singapore, this time by road instead of by air. Our first stop after reaching Singapore was the Jurong bird park. We were fascinated by an astonishing variety of birds at this park. There was a bird show where birds actually sang, played basketball and flew through hoops held by random members of the audience. After that we went for the Night safari. We were taken for a ride through the jungles in a tram where we got to see animals in their natural habitat during night time. There was also an animal show where they introduced some animals and a snake was actually 'found' under the seats among the audience! This was part of the show, by the way.

The breakfast at our hotel was oh so good, I can still taste it:) Post breakfast the next day, we visited the Orchid park, the Gems gallery and undertook a river cruise through Singapore. I had never seen orchids in so many varieties and colors before. What's more, I discovered that orchids had a subtle fragrance only after seeing them there in full bloom. The life-like 'paintings' made of gems and precious stones in the Gems gallery was a novelty, though expensive. We went to Sentosa Island in the second half. This is well-known for its Underwater World, one of the largest oceanariums that has an 83m long acrylic tunnel for a spectacular view of marine life. We also visited the Images of Singapore gallery and then did the Louge ride which involved driving small cars down a slope with hair-pin curves and then coming back up in cable cars. The simulated roller coaster ride (Cine blast) and the 3D movie on Pirates were a blast. The final attraction at Sentosa was a light 'n laser show called 'Songs of the sea'. It was a spectacular show of water fountains, lights and figures & patterns made of laser beams over the backdrop of sea. On the way back from Sentosa to Singapore city we had an hour's halt for shopping at the Mustafa mall by popular demand.

The following day we left for Bangkok by air. After reaching Bangkok, we traveled by road to Pattaya. On that first evening, we were taken to see the Alcazar show, which had cultural dances by beautiful 'ladies' in colorful costumes. The songs were all in Thai, but there was one in Hindi which we could identify and understand. Later, the 'ladies' stepped out among the audience and posed for photos for a price. It was only after we left for our hotel that we were told that they were not ladies at all but 'ladyboys' and what we saw was a ladyboy cabaret. Dinner at Pattaya was a bit of a letdown. The next day saw us speeding in a boat to Coral Island for some water sports. We did parasailing and underwater walking to feed the fishes. The latter was a really interesting experience. We rode the water scooter and then shopped for souvenirs at the stalls on the beach. After a bath, some rest and a wholesome lunch, we set out for the Nong Nooch village on the outskirts of Pattaya. There we were entertained by yet another cultural show and then by some impressively well-trained elephants. Did you know that elephants can bowl, play football as well as paint? Well, believe me, they can! After posing with some interesting sculptures in the garden at Nong Nooch, we went for the much-awaited and anticipated Thai massage in Pattaya. The hour-long scientific massage based on acupressure was heavenly to say the least! We were all floating on scented air post the massage and all 'loosened' up to taste the night life of Pattaya:) The walk through the Night market was a sad sight as the flesh trade is so blatant and in-your-face. I felt bad for the ladies who were being openly solicited by their pimps outside bars and restaurants. The next day was the most relaxing one of the entire trip. In the morning we spent 3 hours doing some serious shopping at a jewelry gallery. Yes, we ladies celebrated a belated 'padwa' :) after which we had lunch and then proceeded for Bangkok. The hotel at Bangkok was the best and the hotel property was awesome. The view of the river with a bridge across it from our room was amazing. However, we could not spend much time in the luxury of the hotel as some members couldn't wait to explore the shopping at Bangkok. So off we went to the MBK mall. However, we got a good taste of the famous traffic jams of Bangkok en-route and were stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours! But we put the time to good use by playing a game of Dumbcharades and generally enjoyed the break. Having lost valuable time, we only checked out all the important stores at the mall for some serious shopping on the subsequent day. The next morning had us walking the most as we flitted from various shows(dolphin show, sea lion show, orang utan show and the James Bond show) in the Safari park of Bangkok. The wild-life safari was scintillating, but my ambitious plan of pulling the hair from the lion's mane was thwarted as they wouldn't allow us to alight from our bus :( We spent the latter part of the day shopping again and took an adventurous ride in the sky train, and later in a taxi, in crime-ridden Bangkok.

And then on the last day of the trip, we visited the temples of reclining Buddha at Bangkok. It was a serene experience and the splendor and hygiene at the temple held us enthralled. We took a 360 degree view from the revolving deck on top of the Baiyoke tower of Bangkok which showed that there was a shady part to the city just like our Mumbai. The latter half of the day was spent in bargaining at Indra square market. On our last journey to the airport, we gifted a diary to the tour guide thanking him profusely for making our trip so comfortable. The speeches got a bit emotional.

And so ended our grand tour of south-east Asia. It was a much-needed break from routine, a refreshing change with hardly any head or heart ache and worth every penny we spent! I whole-heartedly recommend the destination, the tour as well as the tour company -Kesari!!

Small gestures that made some moments unforgettable-
  • Calls of 'Ganpati bappa moraya ' whenever we started for any trip in a bus.
  • Singapore guide Helen's naughty sense of humor on bird(butt) park.
  • 'Thumka' given by one of our senior lady members on a song during 'Antakshari'.
  • Dumbcharades game played on the bus.
  • Good natured ribbing of Joshua on his shoppaholic nature.
  • The camaraderie and looking-out-for-each-other spirit shared by all group members.
  • The uncomplaining and adjusting nature of the senior members as well as the youngest member, Soham, in the group.

06 October 2009

Cocktail

When I cleared my HSC board exam with better than average marks, my dad wanted me to be a doctor. I however had other plans. When I went to submit my admission forms, I was getting admission in both engineering and medical colleges. I opted for engineering. My dad was so mad at me that he didn't speak to me for a full week. Till date, he maintains that I'd have made a good doctor. I was reminded of his words recently due to the following incident.

My aunt's (mother's sister's) 24-year old son has been laid up with high fever for last few days. So much so that he had to be admitted to hospital for observation as doctors were unable to diagnose the cause of the fever. All pathological tests were negative. After 4 days at the hospital, with no specific diagnosis for his recurring temperature, he and his parents were understandably at their wit's end and very, very worried.

I had been a silent spectator while all this was unfolding. I tried to lift their flagging spirits with humor. Most of the seasonal and rampant diseases had been ruled out as one after another all the tests gave negative results. Finally, one blood test gave positive result - leptospirosis. It was heartening, as well as ironical, to see the joy on my uncle and aunt's faces at the positive lab result :) At least now the cause, and therefore, the treatment was clear. But I was not satisfied and told them as much to their chagrin. For this same test had given negative result a couple of days earlier. The only reason I could think of was that there was another virus(or bacteria) in his body which was still latent. That is why none of the tests had clear positive result. And sure enough, this morning, my aunt called to let me know that the peripheral blood smear sample taken a couple of days ago, and treated as culture in the laboratory, had shown signs of typhoid bacteria. So, it was indeed a cocktail of bacterial infections!

I remembered my dad's words and had a moment's misgiving that I'd missed my profession after all! But then, I consoled myself, I'm not doing too badly at my current one either.

01 October 2009

Life's lessons

We recently attended the birthday party of my husband's 3-year old niece. Now, this niece is among the first of her generation and hence a very well-loved child. She is the apple of her parents', grandparents', and yes, her great-grandparents' eyes! She only has to say something and everyone around her falls over themselves to do her bidding. To do her justice, she is also very cute and speaks in a charming manner. No wonder then that she has everyone jumping through hoops for her.

At pre-school, she has been dubbed as an intelligent, though adamant, child. On the occasion of her birthday, there were other little children present in her home who were playing with her toys. Whenever another child rode her favorite tricycle, she wanted to ride it just then! If someone sat on her dinner chair, she wanted to sit in it too. It was obvious that sharing her things, or even sharing the limelight, does not come easily to her.

So, it is a matter of some curiosity of how she would cope now that her mother is expecting again at the end of this year. It led to some speculative discussion among the old ladies present which I happened to overhear. The consensus was that the advent of another child on the horizon will invariably bring this niece down from her pedestal quite abruptly. This might in turn disturb the peace of the entire family for quite some time. All this however could have been avoided if the elders in the family had taken care to not pamper her with so much attention and adulation. Admittedly, there is a grain of truth in that.

The discussion led me to a philosophical line of thought. All of life's troubles are aimed at teaching one or more of us a lesson. The advent of another baby, quite possibly an accident, is for the reason to teach the joy of sharing to this child. Due to this, her parents and immediate and extended family might feel the pangs until she gets adjusted to the new arrival. So, even if one person in the family has a lesson to learn, the entire family and surrounding circle becomes affected.

This happened in my project at office too recently. We toiled hard for 6 long months and ran into all sorts of pressures and road-blocks before we could pull off the product release. The reason, as per my introspection, was because each of the key members in the team had a lesson to learn which manifested as various road blocks and the entire team was impacted. Thus, its best to look at life's struggles as a lesson; learn it humbly if it is aimed at us and wait it out patiently if its meant for another. No matter how unjust or untimely it may seem, it is there for a reason.

08 September 2009

Recession

I joined my current organization around 5 months ago. It is located in a software technology zone on the outskirts of my city. Infact, it is surrounded by verdant hills. In the rainy days, the drive to my office is quite scenic and the last lap especially is a climb uphill. Everyone however is not lucky like me to be able to drive a 4-wheeler to the office. Many commute by bus or rickshaws. However, the buses or rickshaws stop about a kilometer from my office at the foot of the hill. I see many of them trudging the last mile up the hill with heavy haversacks on their backs. Many times I stop to give them a ride to the office. And I am not the only one who does that.

Yesterday morning, I spied an old man walking along this road. He seemed to be in his sixties, and appeared to be sweating profusely. I stopped and asked him if I could drop him to the office. He accepted my offer gratefully and sat next to me wiping his wet brow. He then volunteered that he was going to meet Mr. Shaikh in my office. Said the he had been promised the job of a security guard there. He asked me if I knew Mr. Shaikh. I replied that I did not. He then asked, 'This is a big organization, no? Do you think they will hire me? I was specifically asked to come to this office today.' Frankly, I was a bit surprised for he did not look like a security guard to me. He caught my look and hastened to explain that he had recently been laid off from his factory. The owner had cited repeated losses and lack of funds for the termination of his duties. At his age, he had looked forward to retiring comfortably some years down the line. However, it was not to be. He was forced to look for a job at such a late age.

By now, we had reached the main gate and I had to drop him so that he could go through the entry formalities. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds at this point, but there was a shadow in my heart. I felt guilty for being young, wealthy and in possession of a secure means of income. I felt that life was really unfair and there was nothing one could do about it. One can only help one another in the struggle that is life and be the shoulder to cry on. One cannot remove another's burden, just lessen it maybe. I hope the gentleman got his job.

16 August 2009

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus

Recently I attended an interesting meeting at my organization. The focus was on empowering women in the organization. The participants were all female. Perhaps thats why we had an extremely uninhibited discussion. As with all meetings, I had gone with the perception that this might be a male-bashing session wherein all women rant about how they suffered in the workplace due to the insensitivity of their male counterparts. Surprisingly enough, I was proved wrong!

We ended up discussing how men and women both have certain preconceived notions about gender stereotypes. And how this hinders their understanding of each other as colleagues. Also, due to social psyche, women are sometimes ill-equipped to deal with workplace requirements. I know the feminists among you may already have raised their eyebrows hence some examples follow :)

  • Women do not have informal forums such as men when they go on smoke or tea breaks. There was a debate whether a woman should shed her femininity and follow her male colleagues on these jaunts or preserve her womanly grace and stick with other (much fewer) women colleagues only.
  • Women are more qualitative rather than quantitative. While appreciating someone, they will only say "Nice!", "Very good". There is no additional data such as "I appreciate that you did xxx particularly well". Also, they will approach their manager saying they just got married and have to move to another city. Hence can he do the needful for their transfer to the office in that city? The organizational expectation here is that the manager is only there to facilitate the transfer; the onus of making it happen is really in her hands by building a good enough business case for her transfer!
  • Women are used to being appreciated for efforts rather than results. At home, when they sweat it out in the kitchen trying out a new recipe and even if it doesn't turn out that well, their efforts are well applauded. They expect the same at office, but manager is more interested in whether a task was taken to completion rather than how much effort was spent on it.
  • Women are shy about taking credit or marketing themselves. They think that tom-toming about their achievements - whether at workplace or even in school/college is bad etiquette. However, men are used to this and rather expect this from their colleagues.
  • Men think that women are good organizers hence the task of arranging for a party or an outing usually falls into the plate of the woman in any team. Some women are actually really bad at this or even hate this and some men actually love doing this. Women should learn to be firm with a gentle touch and turn down such assignments with panache.
  • Women are not aggressive or assertive in workplace communications. The other end of the spectrum here is that a woman who has been aggressive in a meeting is never forgiven for that outburst by the men. She is labeled as "difficult" and it pretty much follows her everywhere. A man in her place is immediately given the benefit of doubt, however. Again, here the onus is on women here to lead with a gentle hand or wield the whip where required.

There were many such topics discussed but these were the ones worth mentioning most. They certainly opened my eyes. Even with many women stepping into the corporate world today, there are very few on the top. The differences between men and women start getting exposed most as they rise up the corporate ladder. There are no courses to teach some of these things to women and most learn through tough or bitter experiences only. By giving a platform to discuss such things, my organization really helped us learn from each others' experiences!

Get in touch with your Crayon Box


Note : The title and the concept of this post was inspired by "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch.

As children, we used to have so much fun with colors. We used to color anything and everything into a color scheme of our own. The sun need not be yellow or orange, the trees need not be green, and the mountains need not be brown. We were not restrained by any rules and had fun rendering the black and white lines in our coloring books to any colors that took our fancy. The only objective was that the page should have more colors than black and white.

Somewhere along the line though, we develop a penchant for the black and white colors. Everything is either black or white. If someone does this, he is bad. If someone does that, she is good. As adults, we become more judgmental and conventional. There is no room for more colors, they are suddenly regarded as gaudy, superfluous and distracting. Especially people like me, who are in computer science field, tend to see everything in binary - true or false! But over the years, I've learned to appreciate that a good crayon box might have more than two colors.

I still take a lot of pleasure in filling colors with crayons in coloring books. You may find this childish, child-like, quaint etc. but believe me filling colors in a black-n-white picture is very therapeutic. Besides, this activity requires so much focus that there is no room for any disturbing or stressful thoughts in your brain while you are coloring. The pleasure that one gets on seeing the finished picture full of various colors, is unparalleled. Those of you who have had their homes painted can identify with this. God created so many colors and gave us the ability to discern between them. We are partial to some colors, but we must remember that there are so many others to enjoy too.

14 August 2009

Flu, Fly, Flo, Flum...

Swine flu has taken my city - Pune, by storm lately. It had been in the news since May this year, and started making waves in the last month. Pune especially came into the limelight due to the high number of cases detected and highest mortality so far in the nation.

Every passing day the newspaper gives the score of how many more succumbed to the disease. The outlook is dismal to put it mildly. This is THE most frequently talked about topic everywhere, be it media, lunch tables, family conversations etc. A panic has gripped the citizens of Pune - anyone who sneezes or coughs even mildly becomes the victim of suspicious glares and nasty looks. Any rise in body temperature sends people scurrying to the nearest screening centre. There is a sudden and unprecedented demand for hand sanitizers, masks, preventive medicines and over-the-counter remedies such as eucalyptus oil, basil, vitamin c tablets, etc. Black marketing of flu medicine is rampant. Denigration of government's lack of responsibility in checking the spread of the virus is common. Life has come to a stand-still as schools are shut down and children are not allowed to play. Malls and cinema-halls are deserted. People huddle in separate corners of their homes trying not to worry about the fact that someone sneezed in their face during the day.

One good thing that has come about from this is that people have become more particular about hygiene and health. Its true that only when life is at stake do people bother to change their habits. Now everyone washes hands as frequently as possible. Spitting in public places has decreased. Smoking and in-take of alcohol has reduced; so has eating out as it plays havoc with the immune system. Sleeping and eating in a timely manner has taken precedence over work-a-holism and materialism. I wonder how long this will last?

The media has had a field day with daily news due to H1N1 but they've pretty much exhausted all the juice out of this story. People cannot live in fear indefinitely. Besides, fear is the greatest immunity downer. Soon, H1N1 will become another statistic and there will be other more interesting news hogging the limelight. Life has to go on. Ho-hum.

Thought of sharing a very cute pic that I received over email :)

02 August 2009

Papa kehte hain!

Like most girls, I've been a daddy's girl throughout my childhood. I wouldn't say that he and I share the closest father-daughter bond, but I certainly had more of an understanding with him than my mother during my growing years. The reason being that I resemble him more in looks and temperament than I do my mom.

Dad has always been single-mindedly ambitious for me and my brother to get the best marks at school. Everything else took lower priority as compared to studies - be it sports, extra-curricular activities, reading etc. He was the one who supervised my homework and progress at school. He used to be deeply disappointed if I missed the first rank at school. He even wanted me to top the university and wanted to see my photo published in the newspaper when I was in SSC! To be fair, his own photo had been published when he had topped in school in his native town and he had similar aspirations for us. For this, he discouraged us to be distracted by TV, friends etc. He told my mom not to expect me to help out in household chores as it would distract me from studies. He even insisted that I should not grow my hair as tending to it (washing, drying, braiding etc.) took away precious time! He frowned upon our participation is college functions and parties etc. were a strict no-no.

When I got my first job, he was always keen that I should do well in my career. He is most emphatic that he never wants me to quit work or give up on my career, no matter how much stress and juggling I have had to do especially after marriage. He even scolds my mom when she sometimes advises me to cut down on my job hours or quit it altogether since the hectic schedule sometimes takes a toll on my health.

By now, you must've got the gist that looking good, grooming etc. never really featured in my relationship with my dad. Imagine my surprise then, nay shock, when he commented on such a thing when I recently visited them. I had had a busy week at office and had dropped in to visit my parents in the evening. My mom commented on the dark circles under my eyes concernedly. And my dad quipped "Why don't you try the Garnier eye roll on?" My mom and I were both speechless! Then my dad explained that there was this ad they showed on TV where they show that applying this product got rid of dark circles. I was not even aware that my dad watched such ads and what's more they registered with him! He then said that its good that I don't yet have any grey hairs and that I should take care that I don't get them for another 10 years! I thought I would never live to see the day when my boringly ambitious dad would ever advise me on beauty products. It brought home the fact that my dad too is changing with age and experience (He is now retired and watches more TV). This has probably brought out the lighter and softer side in him. It is perhaps the beginning of an era where our relationship has taken a turn for a more comfortable and conventional equation where we can discuss anything under the sun with each other without inhibitions :)

21 July 2009

Pottermania

I was discussing the latest Harry Potter flick with a friend today. He has not read all the books, but summarized his interest(or lack thereof) by saying that it took seven books to finish off the bad guy! This comment incensed me so much that I decided to write about why I love the Harry Potter series. Ever since I read the first book back in 2001, I've been an ardent fan. My husband and friends used to laugh at my obsession with the books but humored my 'childish' whims by buying me books or tickets to the movie. But after watching the first two movies, my husband too got hooked :) By then 4 books had come out and he read all 4 over a weekend! How I used to wait with bated breath for the next installment back when all the 7 books were not out! And how much speculation went around for the ending of this historical series of books! I am grateful to have witnessed the publishing of these books in my lifetime for it is without doubt the most popular series of fantasy books ever written for either children or adults.

Full marks to JK Rowling for coming up with an extremely vivid depiction of a parallel wizarding world in contemporary times and making it credible too! Her writing skills, interesting character sketches and talent for continuity make the books unputdownable once you start reading. There was some controversy about the dark content in subsequent books, but apart from that there is little that can be found objectionable in the books. The concept is refreshingly original. The whole idea of having an entire syllabus of seven years for a school of wizards and witches is mind-boggling. The sheer imagination regarding various eccentric members of the school staff and different magical plants, animals and species is remarkable. There is even a sport and an entire ministry of magicians complete with dirty political agenda. As they say in hindi - "Isme action hai, emotion hai, drama hai aur comedy bhi hai!" No wonder the authoress is the richest woman in UK currently; such a book was bound to be a bestseller :) There are many life lessons to be learned too - Dementors sucking out the happiness from people and the Patronus spell that dispels the dementors reiterates the power of positive thoughts. The facts that one has to 'mean' the Unforgivable curses for them to take effect and that the soul is ripped apart when one kills someone are so true!

If you have reached upto here, am sure you are a fan, or at least an admirer too. Here's a small quiz to tickle your brains-
  1. How many goal posts are there on a Quidditch pitch?
  2. What is the name of Hagrid's dog?
  3. What form does the Patronus of Hermoine take?
  4. Ginny is the nickname of Ron's younger sister. What is her given Christian name?
  5. Who does Ron think he is in love with under the influence of the love potion?
  6. What is the last Horcrux and who destroys it?
  7. Who was killed by the Basilisk?
  8. Name the Hogwarts school flying teacher?
  9. Who teaches Harry how to play wizard chess?
  10. Which person was the first out of Voldemort's wand when Harry and Voldemort dueled?
Post your answers in comments!

28 June 2009

Living in each moment

In an organizational training program once, our trainer had asked us to contemplate over the last good meal that we had had and write down our feelings about it. Very few of us could wax eloquent about it. The point of the exercise was that life has become so busy for us that we rush through many experiences throughout our day without savoring them. The simple pleasure of a well put together meal escapes us as we are worrying about catching the bus or the train for office. We miss the delicate rainbow on the horizon while driving to work as we are intent on the traffic and news on the radio. There is no time to stand still and observe the beauty of nature, fragrant pastures, tasty offerings, chirping and twittering of birds and bees.

Ever since I attended that training, I've made it a point to savor each and every moment of my day. I appreciate a tasty meal now and can remember its taste for days afterward. I take the time to enjoy the scenery while driving to office. I stop to smell the fresh scent of the earth after the first rain. Or of the flowers in bloom. I can distinguish between the various moods of the speaker on the phone, especially of my family. I can sense when my maid is not feeling well and is getting ready to ask for a day off! Ditto for my colleagues at office.

And what is the result of this you might ask? I feel that I am truly alive now. I am more in touch with my senses and can know what I like or do not like instead of just going through the motions. I now know why I like certain foods and why I don't like others. I can bond easily with others as I can sense what they are feeling and react accordingly. When I see a breathtaking view, I thank the Lord for making me able to see it. When I see a baby giggling, I can wallow in the pleasure of innocence. When I am folding the laundry I love the fresh smell of the newly washed clothes. When I meet people who are slow, I no longer feel impatient. Instead I can appreciate the fact that God did not make all of us alike, else life would have been very boring! I thank the slow person for slowing me down from my hectic pace. When I read a good book, I take time to think about what I liked about the book. I thank the author for taking me through a great experience through book. When I stumble or make a mistake, I laugh and say "it happens". I've become humble, grateful, and yes, enlightened.

A woman's life

"A woman’s life is more than marriage and children" - heard this dialogue in a movie(Miss Potter) on TV. This is in such direct contrast to what we have been taught or heard since childhood(especially in India) that the gears of my brain started spinning. I remember my grandmother telling me once that her parents had drilled into her that "baiche aayushya mhanje phakta chool aani mool"(A woman's life is all about the stove and her children.) But my grandmother was made of sterner stuff. Inpsite of being married off at the age of 15 and having had her first child(my mother) at the tender age of 17, she completed her studies and eventually got her graduate degree in BA. By God's grace, she was blessed with 5 daughters(and no sons), most of whom have had a career alongwith their married life. Having a father who believed that his daughter should walk the same line as his son helped me become the independent woman that I am today.

But I see many of my peers, who worked hard during school and college and started off with promising careers, succumbing to this school of thought either wilfully, or in some cases, against their will. Somewhere along the line their ambition got stifled in the domestic drudgery. Or in some cases, a break in the career ended up being the end of it out of sheer inertia. Or perhaps, current financial stability lulled them into a false sense of security. Of course, work is not just about the money it brings at the end of the month. It is about making judicious use of the valuable education each of us underwent. It is about having a life apart from taking care of our husbands, children and home. It is about having an identity and a sense of purpose. It is about having that extra bit of income we can call our own, which we don't feel guilty about spending on frivolous things such as expensive accessories, lavish gifts for family, cosmetic products to maintain our youthful looks or spending a couple of hours a month pampering ourselves in the parlor!
It is also something to keep us sane from the boredom of when the children are grown and ready to fly from the nest. Working for our living makes us more decisive, confident and empowered - in control of our destiny. This of course leads to happiness for the woman as well as her family. I've also read somewhere that a woman who deals with the subtle politics of a work environment, soon learns to be street-smart. She can pass on this knowledge to her children too so that they can start their lives with an advantage in this fast-paced world.

I have seen friends give up flourishing careers in pursuit of the perfect balance between time for oneself and one's family. And I've seen those same friends regretting their decisions in these times of recession. I myself have been guilty of feeling so frustrated with the responsibility of running a perfect household and doing justice to my professional committments that I've contemplated giving up work many times. Thankfully, my parents and my husband have always encouraged me not to get bogged down by little frustrations. With a little help from the spouse and other family members, it is always feasible to enjoy a good balance between work and family life.

I have also seen women who work because they need the cash. In such cases, the work is just a necessary evil that has to be got through and hence they never excel at what they do or learn on the job. Such work fails to give them any satisfaction, confidence or independence - thereby reinforcing a feeling of entrapment. They think that they have to work in order to keep the house fires burning whereas other women get to laze around the house all day. All this martyrdom eats away into the happiness of the family. If these women start enjoying the work that brings them their financial freedom, they would feel so much happier.

I know of many women who are not married, or married but single now, but lead fulfilled lives through successful careers. Infact it is turning out to be the norm for this generation as more and more women value their independence over marriage and kids. However, I believe that a woman's touch is not only essential to a home, but it is vital to a woman's happiness to be the pivot in a household. Her natural management and nurturing instincts are best exploited, and satisfied, when she is running a household or any other kind of establishment. Also, who better to pass on one's talent and knowledge, but to one's own kids! In the words of my maid - "Bhagwan bina mandir nahi aur aurat bina ghar nahi!"

Thus, where the adage of woman's place being in the kitchen was true once, times have now evolved to the extent where men are taking up their share of the household responsibilities. A woman need no longer restrict herself to her home or shy away from working for a living. Nor need she think that marriage and kids are the end of a thriving career or waste of a good education. Being a woman is about marriage, children, family and oh ...so much more!

20 June 2009

Rain, rain, don't go away!

Having waited all month in vain
Of drought, there is a scare.
But oh, the promise of rain
Has brought a smile everywhere!

Clouds gathering in the darkening sky,
The wind threatening to rip my curtains,
On a lazy afternoon, has made me spry
As I hasten to protect my home from the rains.

Dashing from room to room,
To shut the doors and windows,
As it thundered with a tremendous boom,
I hoped that there'll also be rainbows!

I rushed out onto the terrace,
To feel the first precious drops,
On my flushed and excited face,
Taking instead the watery wallops.

I watched the children gathered below
Drenched to their skin in the downpour
And trees swaying in a graceful bow
Lapping up the water to their roots' core!

Rain, rain, please don't go away!
Amid inconveniences like mud and potholes
The people of India want you to stay
And pray for your stay with our hearts and souls!

07 June 2009

All about salt

What a strange topic to write about you might say! Well, today I observed a fast on account of Vat Savitri puja- the ritual practiced by married Hindu women for the well-being and long life of the husband. While consuming the saltless fasting food, my train of thought was directed to all things salty :)

I was reminded of the childhood story of the king who wanted to know which of his four sons loved him the most. After hearing exaggerated claims from his 3 elder sons, the king was quite taken aback when his youngest son told him that he loved him as much as he loved salt in his food. The king was quite crestfallen at this. But then the son made him eat food without salt. It was only then that the king realised how critical salt was to the taste and edibleness of food.

Salt is the common name for the substance sodium chloride (NaCl), which occurs in the form of transparent cubic crystals. Although salt is most familiar as a food supplement, less than 5% of the salt produced in the United States is used for that purpose. About 70% is used in the chemical industry, mostly as a source of chlorine. Salt is also used for countless other purposes, such as removing snow and ice from roads, softening water, preserving food, and stabilizing soils for construction.

Did you know that the Romans paid their soldiers an allowance of salt called a salarium - hence our word salary and the phrases 'worth one's salt' and 'true to one's salt'? And if you 'salt a mine', you add valuable ore or something similar to make potential buyers think that they're getting something worthwhile. Here is some trivia that I came across on googling on salt-

Salt of the earth - No, this is not the famous movie or the song from Rolling Stones album. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 'the salt of the earth' is used to describe 'a person or persons of great kindness, reliability or honesty'. What was the origin of this phrase? Well, in the Moroccan city of Fez, the Jewish quarter (Mallah) is very old and was home to Jews who did a lot of salt mining. They were considered very useful to the community, and it is claimed that the expression 'salt of the earth' originated here.

Salting an account - It means when you put such a high value on something that you raise its market value. Of course, salt is traditionally a mark of social worth.

To sit below the salt - It means that someone has low social standing. It comes from an old custom of placing the family 'saler' (salt cellar) halfway down a long dining table. Those seated furthest away were the lowest rank. And people of distinction sat 'above the salt', near the head of the table.

Take with a pinch of salt - This expression, from the Latin cum grano salis, means that there's a grain of truth in it, not too much.

05 June 2009

Its a small world !

I completed my graduate degree from a city in Gujarat. After graduation, I took up a job in a city in Maharashtra. I lost touch with most of my graduation batchmates after that. Many of them left to pursue further studies in the US. Others took an indirect route - they got married to NRIs. And a third bunch of folks went to make hay while the sun shone in the dotcom boom in the US. I too joined the last bandwagon post my marriage, alongwith my hubby.

It was while commuting by bus in the initial days of my stay in bay area, California, that I met a classmate. "Hi, Nilambari", thus greeting me as if we were still in our class in college, he breezed into the seat next to mine. What were the chances of that?! Surely higher than that of bumping into the same classmate some months later in Disneyland of LA on a crowded weekend while waiting in the queue of a ride!!

I met yet another classmate, this time on the commuter train to my office in San Francisco. She was sitting right across from me. I didn't recognize her at first in her new hairstyle and new -er- personality. She used to be this demure girl in college, with a single oily braid and dressed always in punjabi suits. But she had metamorphosed into this confident, professional lady in a trouser suit and a chic hairstyle. She however had no problems recognizing me; am not sure if that is flattering or not :)

There was another incident where yet another classmate called my name across a crowded aisle in a department store. The meetings were not always co-incidental, they were planned too sometimes. We were a close-knit group of 6 girls in college - all serious and scholarly and boringly sincere. 3 of us moved to US after marriage, 2 to UK and one stayed on in India, but moved in different cities in India. We made it a point to meet each other whenever possible. Infact, I've met one of them in 3 countries so far - US, UK and India!

In the past six months, I've had the good fortune to meet three of my very close friends from college in my current city in India. My hubby has been born and brought up in this city and keeps bumping into someone or the other in cinema halls, department stores, cousin's weddings etc. I have always envied him the facility to be able to call his batchmates and meet them at will. Infact, many of my colleagues go out for reunion lunches, or dinners, with their batchmates. But I've realised that being spread out over the globe is no reason to lose touch or feel isolated. Not only has science made transport, or communication, amazingly easy and affordable, but people too have become more global. No more is it a chore or a financial burden to visit a friend in another town or even in another country. I felt so happy when I took my parents to a college friend's house-warming ceremony recently and my mom commented on how I've kept the candle of friendship burning with my friends from college! Thank you, dear mom, you made my day.

03 June 2009

Marathi movie - Me Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy

I finally saw this much-hyped marathi movie recently. My mother and sister-in-law(bhabhi) saw it recently and wouldn't rest until they made the entire family see it :) So much so, that they almost bit my head off when I commented in jest that the name of a local mall should be changed as it was too ghati and did not match the sophistication of the mall itself. I regret my words after watching this movie, however.

The movie is so popular that it has been declared tax-free in cinema halls all over Maharashtra. Inspite of being mired in plagiarism controversy at the onset, this film picked up momentum over time and is a raging success everywhere. True, it does borrow the concept of Lage raho Munnabhai loosely, but it is definitely not a copy or even an inspiration. And it does not preach Shivajigiri, like Lage raho teaches Gandhigiri. Its simplicity and inspiring message for ALL Maharashtrians is what has made it a hit among students and middle-class Maharashtrians.

What I liked about the movie is that it has taken a progressive stance on Raj Thackeray's 'Marathi manoos' by including the people from other States who have settled in Maharashtra for decades. The film is not about spreading regionalism. Infact, far from denigrating people from other States, through the historical figure of Shivaji, it takes a rather grim appraisal of why marathi people have been left behind in the rat race. It not only derides the marathi businessmen for taking pride in the fact that they have no branches anywhere (something to be ashamed of really), but also reproves the meekness and laid-back attitude of the middle-class maharashtrian.

The director has woven the character of Shivaji and his right-in-command - Raiba very cleverly into the plot. How the protagonist applies anecdotes from the life of Shivaji to his own life and resurrects his self-esteem, and even his own identity, in the process, is what the movie is all about. Admittedly, it is shamelessly didactic, but its been done with so much finesse, and yes, even wit, that one can easily forgive the lapse. The dialogues and performances by Sachin Khedekar(protagonist) and Mahesh Manjrekar(Shivaji) are the highlights of the movie. The film demands respect for the much misused title of Ghati attributed to Marathi community in general. Says Shivaji that like one has regards for communal sects of Sardar, Shetty or Thakur, the tag of Ghati should be equally acceptable to all and, to start with, the Marathi Manoos himself.

A thought-provoking, feel-good film. Definitely worth watching!

10 May 2009

Feeling hot, hot, hot...

They say that when people don't have much else to talk about, they talk about the weather. However, this is not the reason for my post. Its just that the extreme heat of this Indian summer warrants recording the general feeling about it.

The Mercury has been steadily rising over the last couple of months. Pune has never been this swelteringly hot, and that too, for this long. All over India the temperatures have attained record highs, even if the stocks and the economy have not. For the first time, Pune has seen temperatures in the range of 41 degrees celsius for weeks together. In Maharashtra, the power situation being what it is, load-shedding for upto 3-4 hours makes it difficult to be even inside one's home. Air-conditioning is no more a luxury but a necessity. Same goes for 4-wheelers. I sometimes wonder how we used to play during summer vacations during school days. What has changed in the ensuing years that it is unthinkable to even step out of doors during summers? In some districts, temperatures have ranged from 47-49 degrees, surely not conducive to habitation and life!

All the chores are now governed by the scorching sun. If you can get things done outside the house before 10 AM, great! Else, better to leave only after 6 to do them. The single most essential item I have to carry with me these days is my bottle of iced water. Water parks and swimming pools are packed to the brim in this season. Tourism to hill stations and resorts is booming too, so its not bad news for all.

Its true that we are doing much better financially as compared to the previous generation. However, we seem to be spending most of the dough on cooling our homes, cars and offices. If this is what global warming is all about, its frightening to imagine what our children will be experiencing a generation from now. Perhaps it is not yet too late to bring the earth back to a more tolerable state than it is now.

25 April 2009

Mango mania

It is that time of the year when every self-respecting home or restaurant in India boasts of mango dishes or drinks. Yes, the mango season is almost here. An advertisement on TV brought a smile to my face the other day- a man is crazy about mangoes. He has planted a mango tree in his yard and keeps nagging it to give him mangoes. He sports a printed shirt with huge mangoes on it and is heard to mutter 'Aam' all the time. And then his son brings him 'Mazaa', a mango drink, to end this mango mania. I bet many Indians identify with this mango-lust. They love mango-pulp (aamras) with lunch or dinner, they love to slice and eat mangoes, or just suck them, eat with icecream or have mango-flavored milk-shakes or sundaes.

Call me quirky(after all we all have ours)but since childhood, mango has never agreed with my system, so I've stayed away from them. Infact, I'm immune to its so-called lure and fail to appreciate this all-consuming thirst for mangoes the moment the mercury starts rising in March every year. I remember that when I told him this, my husband had looked at me as if I had grown a horn on my head right there! When we used to live in the States, my husband missed the mangoes there.(US was not importing mangoes from India then) Seeing how much he craved the fruit, I once bought ones imported from Mexico. It was only after seeing the disgust on his face on tasting them that I learned that Indian mangoes, especially of the Alphonso(or Haafus) variety, are something to die for. For those in the US currently, there is good news. US decided to import Indian mangoes in 2008. Since the US prefers irradiation to get rid of an insect pest mango seed weevils and fruit fly from the fruits; paving the way for safe mango exports this year, the irradiation facility of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre(BARC) at Lasalgaon in Maharastra's Nasik district has begun its operations this April.

However, when my brother visited the UK a couple of years ago, he had an entirely contrasting experience. He is another mango maniac and I had actually toyed with the idea of sending him a crate of mangoes last summer. However, he informed me that he was enjoying the best of mangoes in the UK - infact he had bought a basket for 7 pounds and it was the best money he ever spent! Looks like UK has no qualms importing the succulent alphonsos from India.

Cutting back to the motherland, a friend of mine always makes it a point to drive to Devgadh(7-8 hours drive) in the sweltering heat of April every year to get the best rate on Alphoso mangoes. For the uninitiated, Devgadh alphonso is the king of mangoes and eating it is regarded as a status symbol among many. It is also the most expensive and hence the sojourn to get them cheaper at the origin. Last to last year, he got no less than 30 dozen mangoes, of which he sold about 5 dozen to friends and consumed the rest with his family!

OH the fragrance, the color, the firmness, the TASTE of the Alphonso! The mango season being delayed on account of untimely rains in March, some people have actually stooped to eating other varieties(poor cousins of the Alphonso) such as Badaam and Langda this year. How the mighty have fallen! But soon, the king will arrive in all majesty and then all the kings will not hesitate to become 'aam aadmi' :)

On doing nothing

When I was in school, I remember having a lesson in my English textbook titled - 'On doing nothing'. I also clearly remember thinking that the author (I fail to recall who) was a lazy bum who had made a virtue of his natural sloth. Please don't misunderstand me - I've been brought up by two hard-working parents, for whom idleness was the biggest vice in the world. My mother was the epitome of busyness; she got up early to cook our breakfast and lunch. She then got us ready for school and left for work herself. In the evening, after a relaxing cuppa, she slogged in the kitchen to put our dinner on the table. Evenings she spent watching her favorite soaps on TV - but even then, she used to cut, or clean, vegetables to be cooked for lunch the next day! Indeed, I remember my mother ordering me to dust the house, help with the cooking and drive her to buy groceries etc. whenever she thought I had no other work to do(esp. during school vacations). So much so, that when I see today's youngsters get away without having to dirty their glossy fingernails in the kitchen until they get married and move to the States, I am filled with a blend of distaste and pity.

Strangely, in my case, I learned the joys of doing nothing only after my marriage! My husband is the past master of 'doing nothing'. Don't get me wrong; he is a gold-medalist and therefore must have worked hard to achieve it. Its just that since achieving it, being idle is his next ideal. On our days off from work, while I'm busy catching up on accumulated housework - dusting, vaccumming, washing and ironing laundry, he loves to relax with the newspaper or in front of the TV. In the early days of our marriage we had a tough time adjusting to each others' level of er..idleness. Over the years we have worked a comfortable distribution of tasks. Which means that I have now learned to relax doing nothing. I recently took a short break from work. Everyone, including myself, thought I'd be bored silly. Strangely enough, I never once felt bored. I loved puttering about the house, tending to plants, cleaning closets, cooking dishes that I never thought I'd have the time and energy to cook. And of course, reading and writing, my favorite pastime. I did not have to stoop to watching soaps on TV, or gossiping with the neighbours, or taking long afternoon siestas. I used to sit on the sofa reading the newspapers or browsing through magazines, filing and polishing my nails or just burying into the soft, deep cushions contemplating the climax of the latest novel read by me.

I must say that I should thank both my mother and husband for helping me achieve this mix of keeping busy and doing nothing. My mother made me self-sufficient and taught me to love doing things for myself and my family. My hubby taught me that it is not necessary for one's self-esteem to keep doing something all the time. He taught me to be comfortable with my weakness of giving in to laziness sometimes, to empty my mind of all thought and just be comfortable in my skin.

Today, I look forward to spending time on my own, doing nothing. I have friends who dread going home as they have nothing to do. They will not venture home if their spouse, roommate or some other family member, is not at home. Or even if they are, there is no 'work' such as cooking, shopping etc. to be done as its all taken care of by others. Many of them have called me to go for dinner or a movie at such times. And it always makes me wonder why they don't feel comfortable to be alone and doing nothing in their own homes.

Today, I have tremendous respect for the author who wrote 'On doing nothing'. It is indeed an elusive art that most do not learn till it is very late.

19 April 2009

The power of thoughts

I have been reading a lot lately. I finished 2 books recently - 'You can heal your life' by Louise Hay and 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne. Both books talk of more or less the same thing - the power of thought. The former says our thoughts affect our health and happiness, and the latter emphasizes that in order to get what we want in life, we need to focus our thoughts in that direction.

Lets talk about the former first. The first book has the following philosophy -

1) We create every so-called illness in our body.
2) Resentment, criticism and guilt are the most damaging patterns.
3) Releasing resentment will dissolve even cancer.
4) We must release the past and forgive everyone, including ourselves.
5) When we really love ourselves, everything in life works.

The above is evidenced through a chart that lists all illnesses, ranging from common cold to cancer, the probable cause for that and the new thought pattern that can cure it. For example, people with knee problems have stubborn ego and pride. They are not willing to bend or give in. The thought pattern to overcome them is forgiveness, compassion and understanding. 'I bend and flow with ease and all is well.' When I tried to relate this to people who suffer from knee problems in my immediate circle, it seemed very true!

Now consider 'motion sickness'. It is caused due to a fear of losing control. I myself suffer from this. I have realized that I love to be in control all the time and whenever a situation arises where I don't have control, I feel most uncomfortable. The way to circumvent this is to keep repeating - 'I am always in control of my thoughts. I am safe. I love and approve of myself.'

Overweight - Need from protection. Running away from feelings. Insecurity, self-rejection. Seeking fulfillment. New thought pattern - 'I am at peace with my own feelings. I am safe where I am. I create my own security. I love and approve of myself.' Sound familiar?

The second book talks about the Law of Attraction. Not the one between opposite sexes! But it says that our thoughts are like a magnet that attract all those things in our life about which we think constantly. So basically, we are each responsible for all our life experiences. There is a saying which was heard in the Hindi film 'Om Shanti Om' recently - When we want something badly enough, the entire universe conspires to give it to us.' That is the philosophy of this book. When we want something really badly, we should never entertain any doubts or misgivings about getting it.

Ask - Know what you want and ask the universe for it. This is where you need to get clear on what it is you want to create and visualize what you want as being as 'real' as possible.

Believe - Feel and behave as if the object of your desire is on its way. Focus your thoughts and your language on what it is you want to attract. You want to feel the feeling of really 'knowing' that what you desire is on its way to you, even if you have to trick yourself into believing it – do it.

Receive - Be open to receiving it. Pay attention to your intuitive messages, synchronicities, signs from the Universe to help you along the way as assurance you are on the 'right' path. As you align yourself with the Universe and open yourself up to receiving, the very thing you are wanting to manifest will show up.

Some people are 'lucky' enough to get what they want in life. This is the secret of their 'luck'. We can all be lucky if we only apply the secret. Yoga, meditation, Reiki - they all talk about controlling your thoughts and thereby focusing your energy on what we want. It is a simple enough philosophy, but awfully tough to practise!. Perhaps that's why so many sadhus and gurus are raking money out of it.

08 March 2009

Mother

After writing a poem about daughter in my last post, it seems natural to move on to the subject of 'Mother'.

I saw a movie called 'Mother' on HBO today. It was an eye-opener in many ways.

The movie is about a mother and her 2 sons. One of them is 'well-adjusted' - married with kids and with a thriving career. The other one is a struggling writer with 2 failed marriages behind him. The writer son and the mother share a difficult relationship - they exchange insults at every possible opportunity. Although the mother speaks gently, her words are like barbs and the son feels he is being criticized all the time. The other son is mama's boy; he video-calls her everyday. He is quite put out when his mother cancels a weekend visit due to her other son visiting her out of the blue. His wife accuses him of not understanding his mother any better than his brother, but that he's just more clingy.

The mother stays alone in the family house. The writer son decides to come over to stay with his mother to work over his relationship with her. He is quite surprised with the objections put forward by his mother to his plan. His room has been converted into a sewing room and he cannot just go back to his life with her as a boy. Their conversations basically serve as an exercise to put down the son by the mother and to willfully misunderstand the mother by the son. The mother even has a 'male-friend' and the son is quite baffled by this knowledge too. Eventually, the son comes to know that his mother wanted to be a writer. However, her husband quashed her ambition of publishing her writings early in the marriage. The son concludes that that is why his mother was always critical of him; as she is resentful of the fact that he was a writer. The other son was safe as he didn't write hence he was 'closer'. The mother too realises that this could be true and they work out the tension in their relationship.

Apart from the unravelling on the mother-son relationship enigma, there are a couple of things that struck me after watching this movie.

First is, how we love to stereotype our parents, esp. our mothers! While attending a soft skills training session at my organization recently, I came to know that conversations are basically of two types - 'first-order conversations' and 'second-order conversations'. The former is a statement such as 'This is my mother'. The latter is nothing but a discussion around the first order statement viz. mother is a person who loves unconditionally, who you can trust the most etc. Most perceptions are built due to second order conversations. The origin of the word mother is someone who gives birth. However, we have stereotyped this person as the possessor of qualities such as unconditional love, trustworthy, dependable, good cook, always affectionate etc. And then we are disappointed when our mothers fail to live up to this image. We forget that she is an individual with needs and wants beyond that of her children. I myself have been guilty of judging my mother in this manner.

Secondly, like the son in this movie, if we take the trouble to analyze our troubled relationship with someone we love, we too can come up with such eye-opening analysis which will help improve the relationship. If only we take the effort and time to go through this. Most people I know simply accept the way things are thinking that nothing can be done about it. They tend to either continue with status quo or they prefer to sever the ties with the person, be it their parents, sibling or partner. Neither is a very healthy way to live.

21 February 2009

Daughter

She beheld her brand-new baby-girl
With eyes brimmed with love,
Couldn't believe this miracle
That fate had deigned to bestow.

It was as if the gates had opened
To let joy and cheer come in,
She lived to see her darling girl smile
And wallow in others' compliments and preen.

From infant to girl,
From girl to adolescent,
The years flying by
Made the joy effervescent.

The gradual shift from mother to friend,
The branded clothes, the summer vacations,
She now had to jostle for space
Among her darling's many occupations.

Still content to be on the periphery,
She was there to support her girl
Through adolescent crushes & exam fever
How the years passed by in a whirl!

Soon the girl turned into a lady,
And wanted dearly to fly,
Further studies and career ambitions
Her luck she craved to try.

With a heavy heart but always smiling,
She cut the apron strings,
And let her baby soar
On newly-acquired wings.

Soon her nest was empty,
For the bird had flown forever,
With not even a tear for her mother
So caught up was she in her fever.

New challenges beckoned,
And never a dearth of suitor,
New places to visit,
Who had time for the mother.

But never a day passed
When mother did not miss her girl,
Tears were now a part of life,
The smiles had departed with her pearl.