Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sonic nought

Not enough has been said about the power of silence.

Silence can speak more and louder than mere words. Words only hurt, silence can annihilate. Words may, at times, heal; silence embalms. Words have been known to persuade; silence can virtually seal.

Silence is a killer, decimating soundlessly. It can withhold and show largesse, all at once. Very much the Cheshire cat, watch it lend itself to innumerable interpretations. Crafted and wielded right, it can work where expansive verbosity fails. Delivered and timed well, it deflates egos, douses anger and poignantly so, break hearts. An unexplored, unchartered territory, the sound of the sonic nought has to be heard to be believed. It can be deafening, way beyond the decibel levels of the daily chatter.

There is so much ballyhoo over the verbal skills, has anyone flirted with the idea of coaching lessons in the use of silence? One wonders if it is indeed an aptitude that can be acquired or is it an innate ability, a gift; an inborn skill in the use of a human tool not many stop to think about, a talent I am completely in awe of, having none of it myself!

Watch it at work. Someone is lashing out at you in a no holds barred offensive; treat them to the shattering noise of silence. You are at the cusp of uncertainty and self-doubt, and your emotional upheaval is met with a dose of non-committal silence, you will grow to be the tougher, believe me! There are human expressions of fear, love, and envy, magnanimity, guilt, bitterness crashing into and falling around the wall of silence, all the time.

Is it any wonder that silence strikes such terror in human hearts? We do not like silence; it conveys anger, hostility, timidity, menace, disconnectedness, disagreement, danger, indifference, prompting us to rush in with our ceaseless small talk .The only time we will shut up is in spiritual confines that aim to achieve an inner silence, barring of course,  the audibly challenged  who live in a sound proof cocoon.

There are silences galore; the tautness of the hospital wards; the hush of the library; the still of the graveyard; the calm of the church, the echo atop a mountain peak, the desolateness of the desert and the deadliest of all, the silence of a loved one

Perhaps that is life, the occasional silence and an ability to judge the time for withholding and the time for letting go so that others can weather out their internal storms and pick up the pieces to move on. 

"Saying nothing....sometimes says the most", Emily Dickinson. 

Pics credited to Asawari

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Heal thyself

No race in the world can beat us at evading personal responsibility.

Floundering businesses, failed relationships, rocky domesticity, social disasters, unfortunate accidents, professional misadventures, follies of the heart and tongue….’kismet’ is always on hand to shoulder the blame. There is one issue though; missing in the list and more often than not, credited to people around instead of fate, for a change.

Have you noticed how ailing Indians seem powerless over their ailments? Of course there is old age, a genuine physiological malfunction and God forbid, even accidents but there is a remarkable disconnect between the sick and the management of their sickness. It is as though, their diseases have to do with everyone else around them other than themselves. Rather than take personal charge of their physical malaise, they will have the entire clan aligned alongside, one way or the other, fretting, fuming and fulminating in their morbid miasma.

In a pan-Indian, national trend, every Indian adult’s health and fitness is someone else’s designated portfolio. A wife is completely answerable for her husband’s physical wellbeing. The daughter-in-law better account for her parents’-in-law state of health. Every soul under the same roof will have the family senior’s health needs marked well within their purview. Indian sons are known to chart their destinies around their mother’s aching joints and daughters have spent endless hours caring for fathers who stubbornly refuse to follow the doctor’s orders.

It is understood and presumed that the diabetic will not himself watch his sugar intake. The asthmatic cannot be expected to watch her tolerance level for the out of doors. Who can blame the rheumatoid for not regularly exercising their joints? Instead, the immediate brood around have to take the blame and carry the guilt for actions or inactions of the suffering. As a matter of fact, in many families, the disease becomes a lifelong presence, cultivated and stoked and at times, even used to manipulate family dynamics.

We will be a healthier, happier and more hopeful nation if we worked on the premise that one’s health is primarily, one’s own personal responsibility. If you have a urinary tract infection, the onus is on you to drink more water, not on your family to keep pushing aqua at you. If you are diabetic, please watch your sugar intake and don’t keep others on tenterhooks over having served a sugary concoction at dinner. If you are obese, stop blaming the wife for not serving enough salad as appetizer so you could stuff your face a shade less with the deadly stuff that you do, as a matter of routine.

Not for a moment am I recommending that we abdicate care of the indisposed at home. But they certainly need to drop the martyr mantle and actively start sharing the major portion of the load. The greatest love we can show our families is to take charge of our own pneumonias, bronchial issues, nasal allergies and fungal growths.

It is time to take the necessary precautions, exercise the required self-discipline and follow the prescribed medical schedules to the T. The great Indian family is always on hand for terrible and terminal sicknesses but how about shouldering some genuine, self-directed and concrete responsibility for getting well! How about emerging from the convenient, comfortable, cosy couch of helplessness with a new resolve to get whole, healthy and healed? 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The new Valentines

Within the Convent library I did my pre-senior school in, there used to be a shelf of romantic fiction books. I cycled home with one under the arm, every day. There would be maternal advice on how enough and more time would be available later in life to read up thus but the ravenous reading steam rolled ahead, no holds barred. The catalyst in this voracity was our friendly neighbour, Auntie Malviya! She had a son my age, was obviously married, must have been about 40 years or so but to my amazed bafflement, owned one fully stacked, wooden cupboard of row upon row of neatly arranged romantic novels, all beckoning with their brightly coloured ribs and drowsy, dewy, dreamy covers. I would wonder naively, “But she is married!”

Needless to say therefore, my early teens were a gluttonous haze in memory of all the Barbara Cartlands and Mills and Boons I gobbled up. Auntie Malviya, in fact, made me a birthday gift of my first ever, personally owned copy of one Barbara Cartland and one Mills and Boon. How was I to know back then that with every rapid read, I was digging my own private trench of future dissatisfaction and unhappiness at the real world of romance?! I had no way of knowing I was advancing towards an era that would, in time, be in dissonance with the world of those mushy books.

Without exception, the hero of those mischievous missives would be tall, dark and handsome. Cleft chinned and hoe shouldered, he would be sure of himself to the point of being arrogant.  Smouldering eyes, barely concealed impatience and the man about town air snapped but once in the story, well…when he pulled her close roughly and groaned with a harsh intake of breath at how small and soft she was!!  He did not speak much, but always managed to stay on hand for the grand rescue overtures.

She on the other hand, was designed as a packet of red haired obstinacy, kept together with an odd, wild streak. It made her a perfect foil for establishing his superior ability at eventually getting her to love, honour and obey him! Her financial security, sense of accomplishment and social status came from him. She was just that teeny weeny bit nervous of his power, almost in awe of him. The romance lay in his sense of authority and her dependent, attractively vulnerable status.

I do believe I grew up with this particular brand of romantic indigestion. 

Today, all those years later, with my daughters on way to becoming more educated than I was at their age, I wonder if  their Valentines will  be more equal; real partners in other words, men who will pitch in with their mates over housework and home and hearth, paying heed to their emotional cues, not threatened by their self-sufficiency,dependability and emotional stability.  

More Peter Benjamin Parker than Spiderman, if you will! More Clark Kent than the flighty Superman if you must. The new Valentines!

PS: My favorite romantic novel remained "Jonquil" by Denise Robins, notwithstanding all the mush guzzling!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Help !

Twenty five facts your child’s teacher may not have shared with you!

*When selecting children to represent the school, parental involvement is taken a hard look at.

*The child’s tiffin is a pretty accurate indicator of the care he/she is getting at home.

*Some children in her class, the teacher is just waiting to pass on !

*Even though the teachers advocate impartiality, they most certainly have their favourites.

*She projects students she wants to build up for future appointments in school.

*Teachers’ kids very often do better because their mothers are nervous of a poor self-reflection.

*An occasional note from home will be tolerated but a constant pitch is taken as a harangue.

*Most teachers keep a close track of what their colleagues are up to in their own class rooms! 
*Any stressful condition at home is immediately visible in the class room.

*Kids at times, do share confidential information with their teachers.

*It is good to pay heed to the teacher’s personal observation of your children, she is on their side.

*A good teacher works terribly hard, appreciation will encourage her to do more.

*Teachers love being remembered by old students, it is their chief reward.

*Parent-teacher meetings are not on her list of ‘best days’.

*It really bothers her when there is no response from the parents to her notes sent home.

*Students come into a class with a reputation and leave with a reputation.

*When across a child she has taught, she expects to be acknowledged ! 

*Your justification that the child does beautifully at home holds no water with her.

*Gifts are best avoided.

*Phone calls on her cell phone after school upset her balance.   
*It eases her correction work if the student reproduces her answers verbatim !

*A written complaint to the institution head has a lasting effect and not necessarily positive.

*The disrespect you air at home shows in your child’s attitude to the teacher in school.

*The pressure to go home with a ‘good’ or a ‘star’ comes up in class.

*The world is waiting to corrode them; we should let them be their natural, friendly and helpful selves in school.

Final word: Yes, there are some indifferent teachers, perhaps there have been some disastrous experiences as well but many teachers I know, want to do justice to their class. 

Parents can help them to help their kids.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Half the sky

She is a great Mom, keeps a tight check on the kitchen, stays just so in his shadow and is respectful towards his family. He works hard to provide for the unit, is a loyal husband and an indulgent father.

A perfect family portrait but for one latent difference; his portfolio stems from himself and hers from those around her. He is the centre of his own universe; the world around her is the axis she circumvents. His self-esteem comes from his personal capability and application in the arena outside home, her sense of self-worth depends upon approval from those she is related to. He is the doer, she is the pleaser. He has expectations, for her are mostly the adjustments. Marriage embellishes the life he already leads; it transforms her existence beyond recognition, shifting the very centre of her gravity with a fundamental change in the reason of her being.

And no, neither of them is the villain. They are products of a self-perpetuating social order that is so deep and time tested, it is taken as the given. Yes, there have been major shifts in gender based roles but the foundation stands, only the sheen has dulled and very nervously!

At the core of how we conduct the business of living our lives is the assumption that humans exist primarily for each other. There is no cultural recognition of individual autonomy and accountability for developing one’s own potential in our tradition. Salvation has been spoken of mostly in relation to masculine seekers of truth. The women have either not bothered or have been content to be a ‘Mata’ or a “Devi’ with supplementary and augmentative functions. There is no folk thread of a woman needing to or deserving to validate her personal evolution as a better, larger, wiser human being. Yes, there is an active encouragement towards getting an education and acquiring skills but only until she ties the knot. Thereafter, we can tolerate light weight hobbies but heavy duty notions like ‘wanting to make a difference’ or ‘realizing her own potential’ become ridiculous and offensively ambitious phrases in her lexicon. Of course, she will have to pitch in with her hard work and drive outside the four walls but only when the family needs it. For the most part, her role-book includes being a caretaker of her family in return for a secure home and socially acceptable status.

Nothing can be a greater sin for a woman than to want to authenticate herself. Who does she think she is, wanting to prove the point of her existence? Why, she ought to get all the meaning and fulfilment she needs from her family and the extended network. What more can there be to her?

That’s right. Women have come a long way. But until the day they begin to stop feeling apologetic for their existence, it is not far enough. The world will be a cleaner, more transparent, wholesome and happier place when it gives its permission and acceptance for self-realization to those who hold up half the sky. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Planners

Basic education done by 22, work for the next two years, Grad school over in a year plus,  marriage at 26, baby by 28 and time for reading, travelling, chilling and the occasional adventure.
This generation wants everything! And all of these subheads come under a more ambitious header called “Life’s passion”.
I fear for them. 

Even though I have lived my life by the dictum that attitude matters more than facts and that the mind can bring about anything it visualizes strongly enough, I shudder at the audacity of the young life planners today. Are they being too wishful and unrealistic? Are they off mark in agonizing so much over discovering what it is, their heart hankers after? Are they right in trying to cram everything into one lifetime? What are the odds that they will lead their lives with a reasonable measure of happiness with so many conflicting needs? Are they setting themselves up for a lifetime of frustration with their ‘instant gratification’ theory? Is it them who have it wrong or is it us, with our jaded, apologetic and fearful tales?!

I can’t help but stoop to pick up my jaw every time I stand across a twenty something, holding forth on the milestones they see very clearly on their life’s journey. The predominant sense is of a worldly wisdom far beyond their years. It is as though life has fitted them with far seeing binoculars that ruthlessly filter all romance and airy, bubble views.
My response to the fifty year plans I hear is a mix of admiration, concern and a shade of what they call ‘blah’. Why this heart breaking awareness; this excessive need for a sense of control and order? While I marvel at their courage to follow their heart, I wonder if there is just that misstep between the plausible and the possible.

Of course we have a role to play in this ‘all or nothing’ theme song when we offer unconditional support to our young. It is we who bring them up to think all paths are smooth when we do not allow them to bear the consequences of their actions. Perhaps we spoil them by always standing by. There may even be an anxiety born of a relationship so open with parents that everything is shared, including misgivings and insecurities. And with so much generic alarm and mess around them, is it any wonder so many young people suffer from insomnia and depressive disorders. 

What an industry of guilt around parenthood we have built up, we dare not be anything but the most appeasing, reassuring, understanding, accepting, deep breathing Moms and Dads. I now believe there might have been a sense of reassurance, even security in our parents’ non-committal ways!

This generation ought to be whooping with joy. They are path breakers in that no other lot had their brand of educated, supportive and aware fathers and mothers. They are enviably poised to be able to have their cake, eat it and take some home too!

So grab it all with ten fingers, two hands, arms and toes kids, will you? And do us proud, in the passing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


The deadliest demons lurk in our heads. Like horned devils, they sit, picking the worst moments to spring up; those nasty pieces of work.

A human mind has to be the world’s most fascinating and complex contraption. One can never say when and how a connection will go short circuiting, birthing self-perpetuating hellions in that moment of mis-alignment, sowing seeds for all times of paralytic dins, at sadistic hours.
Have you been lucky enough, not to have made their acquaintances, those deep, dark aural clouds of self-doubt, guilt and inadequacy?! You are a fortunate one to have escaped the rogues and extremely lucky to have stayed whole and confident and upbeat and forward looking.

Unfortunately, this brand of personal wholesomeness is a myth. Most of us are engaged in beating down our anxieties, shynessess, and guilt, every single day. Some of the world’s most creative and successful people are hosts to their own versions of Mephistopheles. It is hard to say where these diminishing zealots sprout from. A childhood trauma, sibling rivalry, skin colour themes, overly critical parents, unrealistic expectations, financial insecurities, past life baggage which is to say, the list could be a ream long.

The good news is that far from feeling crippled in the presence of these goblin ghosts, humans are for the most part, programmed to draw strength from them. Much in the fashion of restless catalysts, their demons spur them on. They might be the very lessons the hosts have come to the earth to learn. And the fact that they know not where they are headed with these devils, is what keeps them going. In that sense, demons are empowering entities, giving wisdom and keeping hosts from tailspins.

But of course, demons defy. Demons debilitate. Demons dwarf. Demons dramatize. Demons devour and deny, leaving many of us too frightened to live and too week to flourish. Like narcissists Daimons, they feed on attention. The thing to do therefore, is to beat and drown them out with actions. Bring them out of the cranial lobes, draw strength from their stubborn existence, air them and puuuff...snuff them out. 

"You are no good, you are too dark, you are too tall, you are too challenged," these demonic little voices in the head and heart have to be used and exorcised in a channelized exercise.

That first leap from the bed in the morning has got to be one  of faith. 

The day has to begin with a firm resolve to last, no matter what or who the demon standing in the way!