31 December 2009

A short story

Came across this and felt like sharing.

Wish you all a very Happy New Year!

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.
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:)
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.
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.

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!

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