Author Archives: deepa

Border Security Force – the true heroes of India

On a cold December day in 1965, India’s Border Security Force formally came into being. This was prompted by the India-Pakistan war which brought to light the weaknesses in the country’s border security. Until then the local police force used to also manage border security, but they did not possess the skills to handle this critical function. Since its humble beginnings in 1965, the BSF has grown from strength to strength and is today the largest border guarding force in the world. A fact that not many of us know. A fact that we must be truly proud of!

BSF personnel undergo one of the toughest training in the world and on completion of their training they are among the finest fighting soldiers in the world. This helps them not just to man the borders, but also to be able to survive for long periods in the hostile weather conditions around the border.

ceasefirem
India shares her borders with Pakistan in the North and West, Bangladesh in the East and China in the North East. In the North, closer to the Himalayas, the BSF soldiers have to manage in sub-zero temperatures almost throughout the year. In fact, the village of Dras, in Jammu and Kashmir is said to be the second coldest inhabited place in the world. Despite this, there is a very strong BSF presence in this region after the Kargil war which took place in 1999. We must also remember that our soldiers do not have permanent accommodation at the border posts. They live in tents or shacks or temporary shelters where no heating system is available. Under these cold, harsh and hostile conditions the soldiers have to keep their morale up and stay vigilant.

Along the borders in the North East our BSF soldiers have to deal with not just cold weather in winter, but also extreme rainfall and rugged terrain. While we do enjoy getting wet in the rain, isn’t it nice to head back home and get into warm, dry clothes? Imagine our soldiers out there standing in the rain all day, for months together, so that we can stay safe and warm in our homes.
BSF soldiers face another kind of extreme weather along Rajasthan border where temperatures soar to 47 to 50 degrees in summer. The blistering heat coupled with sand storms make it unfit for habitation. Yet our soldiers are out there in the heat and dust ensuring that no one intrudes into our borders. And, we already know, they do not have any comforts – like an AC – in their temporary homes. So the next time you complain about the weather or the AC in your home not working, think about the soldiers working in severe climatic conditions for us.

Now, imagine that you are away on a holiday. You M_Id_432010_BSFvisit many places and each night you may stay in a different place. While we enjoy the travel and sights immensely, we are happy to get back home, to sleep in our bed and to be surrounded by familiar and comfortable things.

However, the BSF soldiers do not even have this simple luxury. They have to live a nomadic life. For security reasons their place of duty is changed every day. Which means that they do not have the comfort to going back home to a familiar place at the end of a hard day’s work.

Moreover, due to shortage of soldiers, each jawan is given a large area to patrol. This means, even while on night duty, they must keep up their vigil. Imagine if they were like the night watchmen we employ in our buildings – who fall into blissful slumber a few minutes into their duty! How dangerous that would be for our country!

Due to the nature of their jobs, our BSF soldiers have to follow a very strict discipline and vigil. Even minor mistakes can result in serious punishments for them. This is because a small slip-up on their part can result in serious threat for the country. It is indeed a high pressure job with no room for errors.

So, what really is the role of BSF? Their job is to prevent trans-border crimes. They must prevent smuggling, infiltration and other illegal border activities. They must also be observe and report and unusual activities from across the border. During war time, BSF jawans act as guides to the Army as they are familiar with the local people and terrain. In addition, they help manage refugees, guard prisoners, perform raids…etc. When any kind of natural calamity strikes the country, BSF soldiers help in the rescue operations as well. For instance, during the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, BSF soldiers were the first to reach the affected area and start rescue work.

Is it all work and no play in the life of a BSF solider? Unfortunately, that is true! Each BSF soldier is allowed only 75 days of leave in a year. This is the only time they get for themselves and their families. The rest of the time they are working tirelessly. For us.

Let us take a moment today and every day to think about the jawans who are out there. These men and women of the Border Security Forces are our true heroes. Because unlike the Army, BSF fights an unending war and they never have what we can call a peace time.

I’m grateful to have got this opportunity to speak about these brave, unsung soldiers of our country. To be honest I knew virtually nothing about BSF, until I started preparing for this talk. So thank you once again for this opportunity. I leave you with thoughts about our soldiers. I hope you will join me in wishing them peace, health and happiness. Jai hind.

A school is a school is a school…not!

When we knew we were shifting to Navi Mumbai, my first concern was a good school for my daughter. However, I saw that the area we were shifting to, had a number of reputed schools, so I was reassured. I decided a school was a school was a school. Any child in middle school has to start working hard and it really did not matter which school she is in. I found a reputed ICSE school – walking distance from home and I was happy.

However, three months down the line, as we are cramming for first term exams, I’m plagued with guilt. I feel that I should have researched a bit more about schools in the area.
Not that the current school is bad. Everyone seems to think its ok.

I mean if you are extremely academically oriented, this school is perfect. But we have always favoured a school that offers a more all-round education. I believe, a school is after-all the microcosm of society. Children learn social behaviour, they enjoy their childhood and somewhere in the process they also gain knowledge. If you ask me, a child learns from every little experience. You take them to participate in inter-school culturals – they learn. You have a carnival in school and involve the senior children in organizing the event – they learn a hell of a lot! If you have debates and JAM sessions, they prepare for the topics with enthusiasm – and before you know, they have learnt a whole lot more without even realising it. Or how about you ask them to work out a drama on a particular topic they are learning…say in history…how much fun is that!

For me, formal, academic, learning at school is a by-product. Whatever else they learn is what matters more.

So, here’s a reality check. My daughter’s current school has 4 tests a week. Two on Mondays and two on Fridays. It essentially screws up our weekend (among other things). Then they have maths teachers who write sums on the board and ask the students to copy, without really explaining the concepts to them. Copious notes are given on every topic in every subject and students are expected to memorize and vomit! Whatever happened to students understanding and writing it in their own words? I’ll tell you what happened – the students in this English medium school cannot speak English. In grade 7 they are not comfortable speaking the language. So they need to be spoon fed the answers!

However, by doing so, the school is completely curbing any kind of independent thinking. The children are not imaginative or intuitive. They feel helpless to learn if they do not have the answers.

Ok fine. Let’s accept that for the moment. What horrifies me more is that they have exams for art, music, general knowledge and…wait for it…value education!!

I mean…what?!

Why can’t the kids learn art for fun? They are actually given topics to prepare! What happened to spontaneity? What if the kid prefers shading and does not want to use colours? What if the child has a penchant for abstract drawings? Or, what if, the child’s drawing abilities stopped at stick figures? If you have to grade the child at all, why not give them the freedom to draw or create whatever they like. Creative expression. Mark them for the thought behind the art – not for the artwork itself. The point of art is freedom of expression – right?

Ok. Let’s grudgingly grant them the art exam. But value education? This is not an exam subject. This is something, the child needs to imbibe and practice every single moment of their life. This is their foundation as human beings. As global citizens. However, in this school, they are given question and answers to memorise and write. In the meanwhile, outside the school gates, children unwrap chocolates and throw the wrappers right there.

General knowledge exam? How about making that a bit more fun? And having just a quiz and getting the kids excited about it a bit?

Music – kids are given a choice of 2 Hindi songs and one English song. They can opt for any one. And mind you, there is no like a ‘music period’ that the kids have during the week. These songs are sung during the school assembly. So if you happen to have learnt it…good for you! I mean, imagine a school with no music. Sad.

Wait. There’s more. So apparently when the kids are in grade 3 or 4, they are asked to choose a musical instrument. I’m not sure, but I think they are given a list of instruments like guitar, tabla flute etc and asked to choose one that they would like to learn. And then…wait for this…they have to LEARN IT THEMSELVES! So what the hell was all that select-your-instrument-process all about? What if I don’t want to learn an instrument from your list? What if I want to learn the Saxophone? Or what if musical instruments are not my thing. If you are not planning to teach in the school – why make the kids choose at all? I don’t get the point!

Now comes medical check-up. Firstly, I think every school must have medical check-ups. Every school I have been to, or heard of, has it. I remember my school used to have an annual medical check-up. A stern looking doctor and nurse would visit the school, make us stand on a weighing scale, check our height, make us stick our tongues out, pry apart our eye lids…and so on and proclaim us to be in good healthy, albeit a tad overweight or some such thing. But in this school, they give us the medical check-up form and we go get it done ourselves. What? Seriously? If I feel there is problem with my child, I will do it. If you are not doing it, why are you dictating that I must?

Ok, back to the academics. Right. If you are a wholly academic school, let me sigh and accept that. But then, live up to that name. Till date, my child says, they have not visited any lab in school. Not even the computer lab. And computer is such a practical subject! Instead they learn things like –
Step 1 – to open a file go to the top left corner of your computer, click on File and Click open
Step 2 – a new file will open. To save this file click on the top left corner…
Well…you get the drift! What’s the point of learning computer this way? They need to be hands-on don’t they? Fine, have the theory classes, but also take them to the lab and show them how it’s done! Seeing is learning – at least in case of computers.

And Chemistry. An entire lesson on physical and chemical changes. Not one visit to the lab. The teacher gave them the experiments and the results. Duh.

The heavy school bag she has to carry is another Pandora’s box. But I do not wish to open it here. My child lugs a heavy bag (at least around 7 kgs) – up six floors to her classroom. Eeveryday. It breaks my heart. I would like the school’s director the try doing that for a day!

I really think this school needs to loosen up, have fun, allow its students to have fun. They are not allowed to talk – even during lunch breaks. It’s a school, not a monastery, dammit! The poor class teacher is forced to eat lunch with the kids – because, you know, she has to ensure that the children behave! I’m sure she needs a break from the kids and vice versa. I’m not surprised to know that the teacher turnover is very high in this school. All the good teachers leave!
Honestly, I’m really really really disappointed. I expected the school to be up to some standard. People always say education is better in the Southern states – and I thought that was a mindset. Until now. Now I wholehearted agree.

So hats off South Indian schools. Especially the top Chennai schools. You guys have got the formula right. You are the right mix of fun, learning, social skills, cultural grounding and sports. My daughter and I miss you immensely Chettinad Hari Shree Vidhyalayam, Chennai. You are truly one of a kind school.

A short story

THE ACTRESS

Raji took a deep breath outside Madam’s door. She knew Madam would chew her head off for bunking two days of work. But what could she do? How could she explain? She rang the bell.

Madam opened the door and glared at her.

“So you decided to grace us with your presence today huh?” She questioned as she stepped aside to allow Raji inside.

Raji just bowed her head and started to do her work. It was best not to talk now or give any excuses. Let Madam calm down.

While sweeping the living room she noticed Madam was watching herself on TV. She decided now was a good time…

“You look so beautiful in this serial madam. What lovely saris you wear and nice jewellery too.” She gushed.

Madam smiled slightly. But said nothing.

“Also such a tough role to act. I don’t know how you do it Madam! They should give you an award for this role.” Raji persisted.

“Actually…I’m getting an award for this. I got to know yesterday.” Madam said, grinning at last.

“Oh how nice Madam! You fully deserve it! I’m happy at least your life is going without problems…” Raji said in a voice choked with emotion. Tears welled her eyes and she dropped the broom to dab her eyes with her sari’s pallu.

“What happened…now?” Madam asked warily, though a little taken aback to see her tears.

“It’s my son… Madam, the naughty fellow was riding his cycle and showing some stunts, he fell down and got hurt so badly. So much blood! His friends came running to call me. I almost fainted when I saw all the blood.” Raji sniffled her way through the story.

“Oh dear….did you take him to the doctor.” Madam was immediately concerned

“Yes madam…I took an auto and rushed him to hospital. The first hospital I went, the watchman asked me if I had money to pay for the treatment…I said no…and he chased me away. Same story in the second one. In the third place they told me to deposit Rs. 5000. Where will I go for so much money madam?”

Madam was sitting up now, alert and horrified at the way she had been treated. “So what did you do?”

“What to do madam? I brought him home. Took him to our neighbourhood fellow. He just gave an injection and some yellow colour tablets. But my poor boy he cannot even get up and walk…” Raji broke down as she spoke.

“Oh no Raji! You must take the child to the hospital! I will give you the money…you take him right away… come later and finish the work.” Madam said and rushed into her room. She came back with Rs. 5000 and thrust it into Raji’s hands.

“Madam…how will I repay this…?” Raji muttered.

“Forget it. You don’t need to pay me back. Just get your child treated. Go now.” Madam said sternly.

Dabbing her eyes, Raji thanked Madam profusely. More tears welled up in her eyes as she praised madam’s kindness. Madam shushed her and sent her on her way.  Raji got out of the house, wiped her tears and hurried home.

On the way she saw her son cycling.

“Aye…you fool. Don’t be seen anywhere near my Madam’s house. I just told her that you had an accident and hurt your leg. Get out of here.” She yelled.

The boy scooted with his cycle.

As Raji entered her house, her mother-in-law looked up in surprise.

“What? Did Madam throw you out of the job?” She demanded

“Only your stupid son is capable of that. Getting drunk and beating up people at work and getting thrown into prison! No thought about the family and what we will eat and how we will manage…” Raji snapped at her.

“Now let me go bribe the cops and get him out of jail. Here’s some money, go buy some provisions and get some food ready.” Raji gave the surprised old woman a crisp 1000 Rupee note.

“Your Madam gave money to bail him out?” the old woman wondered

“Oh if I had told her he had got into a drunken fight again she would not have given me a single paisa! She would have lectured me about leaving him. Easy for her to say! What does she know how we live? I had to manage somehow.” Saying so, Raji rushed out towards the police station.

My hero this Woman’s Day

The dust has settled down on Woman’s Day tamasha. I’m not sure whether to be happy about this circus coming to town every year or not. What good does it serve really? Each year different NGOs and organizations pick women achievers and reward them. Elaborate awards functions are held. Everyone appears well dressed and happy. Pictures are taken. Happy moments are born. And so on. Well, clap clap, great show ladies. Now let’s move on.

I have nothing against awarding women achievers. Really. But on what basis are we picking these women? I see a pattern. The women who walk away with the awards are socially active, they are financially well off and they have supportive families. Not to belittle their achievements…but what and where are the odds they battled?

Each year, I like to pick my ‘woman of the year’. Last year it was a tie between my maid and my iron lady. This year, the lady I choose is truly special and inspirational. And here’s her story:

Until 2012, Shanti was like any ordinary Tamil Brahmin middle class woman. Her conservative tambram family was supportive within their limits. Her husband, very loving and caring. He was hardworking and preferred that she managed the home and their two lovely daughters. The future held hope and promise.

Then in October 2012, her little bubble crashed.

Her husband died in a really freakish train accident. With no work experience and virtually no savings, their future was a big question mark. On humanitarian grounds, her husband’s organization gave her a job. But with no prior work experience, she got in on a low salary and was expected to work late hours. The children handled it very well, but she was riddled with guilt as she had to stay away from home from 7 am to 7 pm or even later sometimes. And then to supplement the income she started taking Hindi tuition. This went on until 9 pm. By then it was almost bed time for the kids. Her in-laws took care of the children well, but threw veiled acidic remarks and barbs in her direction. Finally, one year after her husband passed away, she took up another apartment and her parents moved in with her. Her father, a retired 70 year old man, took up a part time job as a warehouse book keeper to support her. Her relentless running around continues to this day. In addition to work and Hindi tuition, she is now doing her MBA as she feels that her current qualifications will not help her much professionally. The organization she is working for is going through bad times and she recently revealed that she does not get paid for months together. She is looking for another job, hopefully one where her timings are not as erratic.

Yet despite it all, you will never see her without a smile on her face. She greets everyone with a big grin. Though her eyes tell you the story of her struggle and sleepless nights, I have not heard her complain about life even once. She takes it all in her stride. She does not compromise on her children’s happiness. She allows them to go on field trips, participate in programs (where one has to pay through the nose for costumes) etc. She is taking it one day at a time. And she believes that things can only get better. Her attitude and courage are an inspiration. She is an amazingly strong person and I salute her. In my eyes, she is a true achiever.

The Indian lecture culture

Being lectured. And lecturing. The two sides of a coin. We all hate being lectured to. Nothing more annoying than that really. On the other hand, we love lecblablablaturing. When we get the opportunity to lecture, we believe we are wisdom personified. We just go on and on. We don’t get (or maybe we choose to ignore) that the recipient of the lecture is getting pissed off.

I’m Indian and this article is from an Indian standpoint. I’m not sure at all that this applies to other nations. In India we grow up and age on a staple diet of lectures. Everyone thinks it’s their birthright to lecture us. We just don’t know the art of stating things smartly. We need to make everything sound like a lecture. It starts with our parents. They lecture us for everything. If you dig your nose you get a lecture. If you climb a slide backwards you get an earful. If you eat with both hands – God forbid – you’ll be lectured about the demerits of eating with your left hand, until your meal is digested and passed out of your system.

Then we start schooling. That’s really 12 years of unending lecture sessions. Every subject teacher thinks we all need a lecture on diverse topics ranging from tidiness, discipline, running in the corridors, doing homework, presenting work neatly, revising your lessons, handwriting, asking permission to use the toilet or to drink water, doing extra reading on the subjects we are learning, eating healthy food, coming to school on time, polishing your shoes, cutting your nails, how boys should have short hair and girls should have long hair and not the other way around, revising your answer paper before submitting it, how to avoid silly mistakes in exams…and so on. On any given day, teachers can find many exciting topics and they unleash a flurry of words on a captive audience of bored students. I’m sure they are well meaning talks, but the student’s space out and go about their business of drawing nasty cartoons of the teacher in their rough note. Not a word of what the teacher says registers in the mind. Which is a pity, really.

You’d think, we’d be done with lectures once we leave school. But no. It continues in college. Worse still, here even the teachers graduate to being called ‘lecturers’ and they live up to their name! College lectures cover pretty much the same topics as the school ones. Only they are longer and more intense.

hairpullYou graduate. Hurray! And you think you’re done with lectures. You’re about to get into the corporate world. You’re free to do what you like. Think what you like. You’re officially an adult – who earns. But the joke is on you my friend. Because the lectures now come from all your bosses down the line. They get nastier in fact as each one takes out their anger and frustrations on you. Tips on how to do the job right. Do’s and don’ts. Rights and wrongs. These days you get to attend concalls from clients abroad and you hear lectures in myriad accents – on interesting topics like how to plan your work better and meet your deadlines.

If some of you are smirking out there saying, you’re a home maker and these office politics don’t apply to you. Well, I have news for you! If you thought your mother was the lecture expert, your mother in law, takes over the mantle with aplomb and runs with it wholeheartedly. How to cook healthy meals, how to maintain a home, how to manage maids, how to bring up your kids…oh yes the list is endless.

Apart from these regulars, random people also lecture you:

The auto driver – if you dare to argue about the exorbitant fare he demands, he will lecture you on the rising cost of living.

The vegetable vendor – If you so much as raise your eyebrows upon reading the price tag on onions, the vendor will unleash upon you his theory of how the government deliberately hoards onions, increases prices and makes money on it.

The milk delivery man – If you go OMG about the milk prices – you will be subjected to the above mentioned onion like lecture on government atrocity.

The digital set top box repair guy – He will give you the works about how to use your remote and set top box right. So that it never breaks down and you never need his services ever again.

The family doctor – If you come down with the flu or something, then the trusted doctor will lecture you on how to take care of your health. What exercise to do, what vitamins to pop in so that you build better resistance.

Your friends – Oh yes. If you’re stuck with the wrong bunch of friends – they lecture too! If you don’t attend their parties. Or if you attend someone else’s parties. Or if you go off for a movie without them. Or you plan a trip with some other friends…then they give you an earful.

Your housemaid – The housemaid bunks work. It is her birthright. If you question her, she will lecture you about how you live in comfort and get running water in your taps. She has to pump water and carry them in pots and buckets to her home. This makes her sick. How dare you question her!blah_00033341

Your siblings and random cousins – If you forget to make those mandatory calls or write those emails updating them about your whereabouts…then you’ve had it!

Your yoga teacher or gym instructor – Oh boy! The lectures you get! Let’s not even get started on this…

All this while, mind you, the lecture from parents continue. In India, parents assume they need to keep teaching you to do things. Even if you are 60, your 90 year old mother will scold and lecture you on how to do things right.

The flip side?

By the time we are forty, we Indians are masters at giving lectures on any topic. And why not? We hear it every day from every possible source. So do lectures piss us off. Yes! Do we love to lecture. Yes! It’s a vicious circle. And we are well and truly trapped.

Note: Definition of lecture
– speech read or delivered before an audience or class, especially for instruction or to set forth some subject
- a speech of warning or reproof as to conduct; a long, tedious reprimand. verb (used without object), lectured, lecturing.
- instruct by lectures.
- to rebuke or reprimand at some length

 

Swacch Bharat. Possible? Yes!

People are skeptical. They discuss animatedly outside tea shops. India? Clean? Hah! Narendra Modi is dreaming! They say as they crush and throw down the paper cups in which they just had tea…

Once I was traveling by auto right after a heavy spell of rain. The roads were flooded. The auto driver was whining and telling me that he spent the entire night, draining water out of his home as the rains had caused sewage water to overflow. People throw trash on the road, he proceeded to explain, that goes and blocks drains. When will people understand this, he moaned. As he was saying this he spat out into the rain water and also proceeded to crush and throw some newspapers lying around his seat…

So, yeah…where does one start with this clean India thing? Doesn’t it look too far fetched?

But hang on. I have a theory. The clean India mission needs to be implemented psychologically.  Telling people to clean up their act does not help, because most of us are so used to our action, we don’t even know we are part of the brigade that’s messing up the place. So screening expensive ads on TV channels, if you ask me, will not help. People will nod, agree and go about their business. They don’t realize that when they crush that newspaper and throw it on the road, it goes and blocks the drain.

Now my point is stop talking and preaching. It’s time to show people what clean means. The human brain is a funny thing. When it sees something better it aspires for it. Like, you’re driving a Maruti Swift, but you aspire for that BMW.

So step one. Stop spending obscene amounts on TV ads. Instead, what I propose is, lets take the children of our government schools on a school trip to Japan (or ok, if thats too much to Singapore). SHOW them what CLEAN is. SHOW them how schools can be kept clean, how streets can be kept clean. SHOW them how no one, spits, urinates and throws things on the road. SHOW SHOW SHOW. Their brain will assimilate it all. Then they will come back home to the squalor and find it hard to accept it. At this point – tell them, they are the ambassadors of clean India. It needs to start from them. Their home. Their neighborhood.

Step two. Tie up with the fancy sanitary ware companies. Lets open really really swank, 5 star level public toilets. Full with lovely mirrors, citronella aroma oil, soaps to wash hands and so on. There toilets should be manned and by smart, uniformed employees. They must be polite, yet intimidating. Encourage the slum dwellers to use this facility. But sternly tell them to be kind to the next user and keep the toilet clean. Tell me who can make such a place dirty? It will intimidate them. Yet if they are welcomed, they will use it. And once they use it, can they ever go back to defecating in the open?

The problem I think is that we build for them these regular toilets, which look dirty the moment they are ready for use. The person manning them hates his/her job and could not care about maintaining it. When you privatize it, the name of the organization is at stake. What an amazing branding exercise for the private sanitary ware companies. If they pull it off, they will never again have to have a marketing and advertising budget! They will get all the publicity and goodwill for free! Everyone in the country will patronize them. It’s win win situation for everyone.

Also these two ideas can be applied, pan India. They are not language specific. I noticed that all the Swacch Bharat ads are in Hindi. The message is not reaching half the country!

More thoughts on this soon. Meanwhile, be good. be clean. Swacch Bharat is possible. We have to make it possible.

Final-Swachh-bharat

I’ve finally got it. I think.

You know what, I think I have finally got it. Yeah. This whole jamboree about life and purpose of life and so on. It hit me one day suddenly. What I think is – there is really no higher purpose in life. The point of life is to just be. Savor. Enjoy. And exit. It’s like a vacation. You go, you chill out and you leave. Period.

Now, how did I arrive at this profound thought you may ask. Well, just look at every other creation. They just are. They come to earth. Do what they are meant to do to maintain the circle of life and then they go. So basically, you procreate, enjoy and go. That’s it. There really is no higher purpose to be here. However, if you can lead a life that is useful to others, you get brownie points. If you believe in the Hindu theory of Karma – the brownie points help. It means that you either absolve yourself from another birth and find permanent residence in heaven or you’ve earned enough good karma to be reborn into a ‘good’ life. A chilled out life. The brownie points are also an investment into posterity. Which means your progeny will benefit immensely from all the good karma you have performed.  So that’s why you just need to be. And be good.

Now having arrived at this profound thought, I wonder what’s the point of all this power, wealth, working overtime, getting upset over no increments etc. Or what’s the point of making your children sacrifice their childhood so that they can study and earn enviable degrees and get fantastic jobs that pay them obscene amounts of money. You puff up your chest while they build large houses and own more cars than they can use. And then… the same angst. What’s the point of it all? Nothing. Really.

So the point I’m trying to make here is what you have in this life is really not important. What’s critical is what you leave behind. The memories people have of you. The positive after effects of your good karma. That’s what matters.

Ok chuck the good karma bit. Or the bit about doing good to others. How about you just be good to yourself? You respect yourself a little more and be aware of yourself and your actions. Now stop here a minute and check if you’re breathing ok while you’re reading this post. It’s amazing how many us hold our breath, or stop breathing, or breathe so shallow that we don’t send enough oxygen into the body. Every so often we need to focus on the breathing. Ok. I digress. Where was I? Ah yes… I was talking about being good to yourself. It’s alright to do that you know. Ummm…so what do I mean now? I mean, stop hurrying and eternally rushing to do things. Stop to smell the proverbial roses. To breathe. To hear the waves. To examine your thoughts. To exercise and feel your heart pumping more oxygen into you. To take care of yourself and eat food that’s right for you. To eat on time. To sleep on time. In short, all those things which we don’t think are significant. Before you run around in circles and try to fit ‘helping others’ or ‘social service’ into your already busy schedule – stop, breathe and help yourself. Be nice to your body. It’s the only one you will have in this life. I reckon, if each one of us focuses on being nice to ourselves, we’d be less stressed and we’d be nice to others anyway. This way the world will be a better place. More people will smile at each other. More people will remember us as the nice person who smiled a lot. Yeah. I can live with that. Or die with that, if you know what I mean.

Let me sum up all my rambling then. I think we all need to sit down and redefine the word ‘success’. Right now success is that elusive thing we run after. It’s like the horizon…we think its oh-so-reachable, and then we get to that point, only to find that we need to run some more to reach. And so on.  Success. Achievement. Victory. All these are subjective words. I think we need to understand them in terms of what they mean to us. Not something which compares us to others. I think more important words are contentment, respect and calmness. It’s more like, hey today I wrote a blog post. I haven’t done that in ages. That’s success to me. At my level. It makes me happy. Now, as soon as I post this, I will have a happy grin. That’s what its about, happiness in small things. And to just be, with no complicated, bigger purpose.

Ok…now breathe deeply,,,(ha! bet you were shallow breathing right now)

 

A different kind of journey

There is yoga. And then there is inner yoga. We all start off at the first level. When we decide to go ‘check it out’…(psssst…and hopefully in the process lose some weight). But once we go there we realize that we don’t really sweat very much and then they make us lie down and relax. A lot. A lot. A lot. So much so that you can hear at least two people snoring in class for sure. Duh.

Many of us give up on our yogic journey somewhere at this point.

For those of us who persist, the real benefits of yoga begin to unravel. Quietly. One breath at a time.

That’s the road I’m taking now. It’s a really long journey and if I need to continue and reach the end, I need to shed a lot of excess baggage. The first thing I’m trying to load off is my inhibitions. You know, that horrid thing in your mind which tells you this-looks-tough-I-don’t-think-I-can-do-this. Yeah. That. Drop it. And don’t look back. You can do every asana there is under the sun. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not for another two years. But eventually, you’ll get there. Believe. And you will. The good news is this percolates into everything you do in life. There is nothing you cannot do, if you set your mind to it. It’s an amazing feeling, this quiet self confidence you develop within you.

There is a flip side to this as well. Don’t punish yourself. Don’t look at what others are able to achieve and develop a complex. This is about you and your body. Push yourself. But know when to stop. Listen to your body and eventually the body will give in to your mind. Be patient.

It’s amazing how this can be applied in life too. Sometimes we punish ourselves for being too thin, or too fat, or too dark, or too pimply or for having perennial bad hair days…well, it does not matter. Really, it does not. Perish those thoughts. Come to terms with who you are. As long as you are healthy and feel happy from within, there is nothing to sulk about. Stop worrying and feel at peace with yourself.

Another baggage I need to shed is my ego. This one’s a little harder. (Pretty much like the elusive padmasana and chakrasana!). It’s taken permanent lodging in one corner of my mind. Like an annoying guest who refuses to go away. It pops up unnecessarily and poisons my mind. If a client rejects my work – I feel anger. How could they! My work! I put my heart and soul into it! And so on and so forth. But fact remains that it makes me dive deeper, explore other dimensions and come up with something better. Rejection is good. Failure is even better. This is what I tell my ego. It’s not listening yet. But I need to keep trying.

There’s much more to learn. Much more to let go. I’m realizing that every day. With every inhalation I’m learning something new about myself. With every exhalation I’m realizing that there are things I need to let go. It’s a long journey. But I’m happy to have taken the first steps. Who knows where this is going to take me. But honestly, who cares about the destination. It’s the journey that’s invigorating. The destination will become clear one day.

Hopefully.

meditation

Dear Mr. Modi,

I voted. So I have earned the right to write this note to you. This evening is your big moment. You will be sworn in as the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy. What an honour that is! There’s a million people out there waiting with bated breath to see you take on that magic wand and wave it. The masses believe that the moment you wave that wand poverty will go away. Economic inequalities will evaporate.

The toothless old village bumpkin will smile. The village granny with thick, shell framed glasses will grin because she now has electricity. The home maker in a remote village in Andhra will cook happily because she now has water. The farmer in Punjab with sigh with delight as his motor chugs and water spouts into his yellow mustard fields. On a remote highway in Leh, the truck driver will smile because, hey, suddenly the driving conditions are so much better. The roads are good and well lit.

Ok so everyone is happy at grassroots level. Now let’s zoom into the city.

There are young women, wearing just whatever they like, fearlessly roaming the streets at 9 pm. There are no chain snatching incidents or even robberies. Everyone has jobs you see. Jobs that pay good enough. Also people have begun to respect law and order. Cops are no longer corrupt. They do not work in tandem with thieves any more. They cannot be bribed. Every crime is punished according to its gravity. For that matter no government official can be bribed any more. People fear law and order. Ah. How wonderful.

There are no city slums. There are just neat rows of lower middle class housing. They are not badly maintained, garbage strewn places, rather they are neat, dignified places to live. There is no garbage piled up on the roads. Your magic wand has made people act responsibly! They know their civic duties. People no longer treat the road as the dust bin. They neatly throw any kind of garbage into designated bins. (yes organic and non organic matter has separate bins). There is no pollution on the roads, no one honks, no one jumps the red light. Suddenly people have learnt the meaning of the word DISCIPLINE. Jeez what do you have in that magic wand! Oh wait, there’s more. No one spits, pisses or defecates in public places.

Tourists visiting our country are not harassed any more. They are treated with dignity and respect. There is no shady roadside character passing loud and lewd remarks on them anymore. They fear the law you see. And anyways there really are no more jobless people. Employment is rampant.

Which of course means that the population has been magically controlled. No one has more than two children. Government has enforced the one-child rule. There are many benefits and tax exemptions if you have just one child. There are heavy cash fines imposed on those who have their second child. And it just gets heavier as you have more children. To save the citizens all this trouble, in hospitals, they just operate and ensure that you cannot have more children.

It’s the golden era for India. Neat, clean, cultured India, that is once again proud of its heritage. We do not deface our monuments any more. No one scribbles “Rahul loves Paro” kind of things on the walls of Ellora caves any more. People understand that this is part of their culture. These historical monuments define who they were and who they are. Which idiot will then go and scribble on it?

Out past is protected. Our future is bright. What a fantastic magic wand you have Mr. Modi.

But wait. What is that you say? You have no such magic wand? How is that possible? We believe you do. That’s why we voted for you.

Damn!

An ode to special friendships

There are friends. And then there are friends. Some who are fun to be with, so you always like to call them over for a drink and have a good laugh. There are the long distance ones – friends with whom you can take off where you left the last time you spoke. Then there are friends who are selfless and genuinely loving. Who do things that touch your soul, without really expecting anything in return.

This here is my tribute to a few of these wonderful people. Some who are, sadly, no longer with us in this world. And some with whom we have lost touch, yet we remember them everyday and wish them well wherever they are.

 Sujatha Rao. A terrific human being. A great cook. Cheerful, caring, loving. They don’t make them like her any more. We met during a holiday to Masai Mara, Kenya. Sujatha’s warmth and big smile drew me to her. We spent 3 exciting days with Sujatha and her husband Kiran. They were such a great couple, full of life, love and laughter. Kiran had a witty repartee with everything we said and there really was not a dull moment with them around.

After the holiday we kept in touch. I still remember the happy dinner invitations to their house. In fact, I can still smell and taste the most amazing Bisi Bele Bhath made by Sujatha. Also, once I travelled alone, and had a wonderful overnight stay at their home.  They made me feel loved, wanted and so very safe. It was like going home to mom.

We lost touch thereafter. A baby came along and life got into a regular routine. On 1st May this year, we got a call from Kiran saying Sujatha is critically ill and may not live very long. She passed away peacefully in her sleep a few days later.

I hope you are happy wherever you are Sujatha. I know we did not keep in touch. But I can never forget your smile and the warmth you exuded. You are one of the few genuinely nice human beings I have met. I will miss you.

 Giri. When I think of you Giri, I remember your happy chuckle. The smile that lit up your face. Your roly poly walk. Your fascination for watches and fancy gizmos. Your love for simple food. Always rasam with raw banana curry – diced into small cubes and roasted to crispy perfection. Or your second favourite – ladies finger mildly spiced and roasted to perfection. I love the time you spent with us in Muscat. You helped me pack and shift my home. And pampered me with great food and attention. Those were happy days for you too when your health and your family were with you. Life was not kind to you thereafter. Your failing health, your bad luck with jobs and your agonizing personal life may have taken away that happy chuckle. I don’t know. And in a way I’m glad I did not see you so ill and unhappy. In my mind now you’re always happy, chuckling and smiling. I did not know how ill you were and it came as a shock when I got a call one morning saying you are no more. What really broke my heart was the sight of your mother smiling bravely and telling us that she was glad you will not suffer any more. Perhaps she is right. Life here was not kind to you. I like to believe that you are happy wherever you are. Surrounded with people who love you with the same selfless intensity as you are capable of.

 Izzy. I remember those days when you were young and penniless. When you came to live with us because you could not afford to pay your room rent, I was suspicious of you. Turns out I was so wrong about you. What an amazing human being you are! Extremely intelligent, caring and capable. You surprised us by marrying a French girl and then further surprised us when your marriage survived many years despite all odds. It was amazing to see you handle your two boys. You really are such a great father to them. I would be such a bitch if I forget how you took care of Ravi when he was convalescing in Gurgaon after an ankle fracture. You kept him on a diet of spicy gongura pickle, rice and beer. It did wonders to his spirit (yes, pun intended). He had such an amazing time with you and I’m eternally grateful to you for taking such great care of him when I could not be there. Now, sadly, we’re not in touch. I know your fragile marriage has finally broken down. I know that you are somewhere in Paris, hoping to release your first book. If I know you well, you will beat the odds, surprise everyone and rise up beyond expectations. I hope you are out there living your dream and I hope one day soon we will meet you again…

This one’s for you dear friends. Your love and friendship holds a special place in my heart. This one is a prayer that you are happy, living your dreams and spreading joy, wherever you are.