Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Second Chance...or Third

I have often thought about how we obsess about life milestones, like passing class X (or O levels), scoring well in class XII (or A levels), graduating, getting a good job (and salary), getting married, having kids and so on. We give so much importance to these, yet achieving these milestones at the right time and as per the benchmarks is no guarantee against unhappiness. And people who fail these milestones are not doomed to unhappiness either. In fact, I have always found people who have had a few knocks early on in life far more energetic and alive than folks for whom life has rolled out a red carpet everywhere they went.

Never was it as obvious as yesterday, when I met a young man, let's call him Mat, who has certainly not followed the usual path in life, and would be deemed a failure as per a typical Singaporean's strict view to life. He dropped out of school after middle school and worked in his grandfather's hawker stall for a couple of years, helping him cook and earning meager wages in return. Then, he went in to do his National Service (NS), where he first realized the kind of stuff he didn't want to do, i.e. manual labor. So, after spending two years in NS, he enrolled in Institute of Technical Education (ITE), also derogatorily referred to as It's The End by status-conscious Singaporeans. He did pretty well in the computer course there, and because of that managed to gain access to an IT course in a Polytechnic. Now in the final year of poly, he dreams of doing creative programming for mobile apps.

Most Singaporean young men who choose to go to poly are done with it by the time they are 19, and then are in the job market by 21 after completing two years of NS. Mat, on the other hand, will be 25 by the time he graduates from poly. What have these additional four years taken from him? Perhaps that's not the right question. I should really be asking what these additional four years have given to him.

A lot. The look in his eyes when he looked straight in mine and spoke of his so-called failure early in life was worth more than any salary his peers would earn in this time. It was testament to his self knowledge and growth, more precious than any degree proclaiming academic knowledge. I have no doubt that a few years from now, Mat will be a very happy person, who would be making this world a better place for many people.

Can't say the same for the guy next door who scored six A's in his A-levels and averts his dull eyes every time our paths cross. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Perfectly Good Deal

I was reading a book review in New York Times and this piece caught my eye. ( 

But on a good day, he can frame his isolation as a blessing. “Today I can be in Delhi,” Ashraf says. “Tomorrow I could well be in a train halfway across the country; the day after, I can return. This is a freedom that comes only from solitude.”

This is exactly how I feel. I have a certain freedom that comes from solitude. That I can choose to leave this way of living and move on to another is easier for me because I don’t have a partner whose life plans I have to synchronize mine with.

That this freedom comes with a flipside, loneliness, is also captured in the book.

Ashraf’s obsession with azadi has a flip side, akelapan — loneliness. Friendships are treacherous in Delhi, and he longs for his childhood friends in Patna, “a group that woke up together, skipped class together” and felt hungry, happy, depressed in “perfect synchronicity.”

This is one of those buy-one-get-one-free deals. If you choose freedom, loneliness comes for free. On days like today, it seems like a perfectly good deal.

Ready to Believe

I am ready to believe that life has many surprises in store for me yet. I am ready to believe that there is a lot more in me than the world, and I, have seen. I am ready to believe that the best is yet to come. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Village Vet

As I was making an appointment for Anakin to see his very professional vet one last time in Singapore, I remembered Mr. and Mrs. Ghosh of Khanyara village and their pet dog Princess.

Princess was special. She was this well-fed squirming mass of love and affection, whose joy at seeing people was unbelievable. She just had to lick everyone and not once, but non stop. We also referred to Princess as Chaatbe Na (don't you lick) because of what Mrs. Ghosh would say to Princess every time she came near us.

A few years ago, while on our annual holiday in Dharamshala, we met Mr. Ghosh on our morning walk. He shared that Princess had not been keeping well and seemed to be struggling for her breath. Worried about her, he had taken her to the local vet the day before, who had checked her up and diagnosed her as having asthma. However, despite the Asthalin shot given by the vet, Princess had only gotten worse. Now asthma is a familiar adversary, so I was naturally very concerned about Princess.

A couple of days later, we met Mr. Ghosh again. Beaming, he told us to come over to his house to see the lovely little pups Princess had delivered. You see, Princess was not asthmatic, but pregnant! That straining to breathe- that was not wheezing, those were contractions!

Anakin my dear, you will be well taken care of by this vet. Just thank your stars you are a male! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012


At times I feel
Something wants to burst out from me
Some strange joy
That doesn't know how to be itself
That is not happy just being born 
That can't or won't be contained.

Sometimes I feel
Something pulling me in, snuffing me
Some deep sorrow 
That doesn't like itself
That doesn't want to be by itself
That won't or can't leave me alone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The girl who ate up all the leaves!

This post is dedicated to Sangeeta Sharma, aka Baby, who used to be our neighbor in Moti Bagh in 1970's. We lost touch some 25 years ago. I wish I could find her again. Maybe FB will do it's magic.

When I was a young girl growing up in Moti Bagh in New Delhi, we had a neighbor called Sangeeta. She was a year or two older than me. Her pet name was Baby. Her brother Raju was a good pal of my brother and sister. Our parents were quite chummy too. 

Baby was my mentor, or more aptly, I was her follower. I did what she did. And she did plenty. She was into wearing shiny lehngas and pinning chunnies to her head. I followed suit. She was into putting on whatever makeup we could lay our hands on (which was not much), including bindis around our forehead like Indian brides. I followed suit. She was into making up dances using dance steps we saw on Chitrahar, which the two of us then practiced under the Sheesham tree in our garden, wearing mommy's satin's petticoats. She was into biting things too- she once chewed big holes into my mother's chunni which she had borrowed for one such a dance practice/show out in our garden. I tried chewing a chunni too and liked the way it melted in my mouth, but stopped when I saw how upset it made mom. (I took to chewing my hair instead.) Baby once made me wish a neighbor "happy kanjakain" just so that we would get invited to her house and get goodies. I got laughed at by Baby's dad for doing that, but I didn't understand then why it was so funny. 

Like a true leader, Baby walked her talk. And I, a true follower, walked her talk. 

But try as I might, I could never get myself to be as bold and defiant as she was. Once when dared by a neighbor (perhaps one of my siblings), she went around our entire garden eating one leaf out of every plant there. Point to note is that my mom was majorly into gardening and there were a LOT of plants in our garden. Baby started in the front, taking a leaf out of each of 50 or so flower pots and after 20-30 minutes of chewing various leaves, reached the side kitchen garden. There she went through all types of veggie plants until she reached bhindi (okra) and had a bite of its rather fleshy leaf. It was at that point that her body said it had enough, and she vomited copious amounts of green stuff right there. That single deed, especially the vomiting at the end, won her the respect of all the sporty guys and girls in the neighborhood, who until then had labeled us as super sissies. I never managed to accomplish the same feat (of gaining their respect) in the 14 years I lived in that neighborhood. 

When she was about nine or so, Baby and family went away for a few years to Mussoorie (I think). There, she studied at a fancy school. I met her again a few years later, but by then she was all posh, which meant she could speak fluently in English, while my English vocab was still limited to yes and no. We gradually drifted apart, briefly getting together when I was invited to her New Year party in 1983 in Vasant Vihar, when I was crazily 17 and posh enough to be popular in the dance party circles (rolling my eyes). After that, I lost complete track of her. 

Baby, if you read this ever, get back in touch. My little girl is into dressing up and putting on makeup and heaven help me, chewing leaves! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

H se Hammer, P se Powerhouse!

As a parent, I make great efforts to understand my kids and to empathize with them. Most of the times, I am able to predict their reactions to difficult situations and therefore prepare them to handle such situations better. Even then, there are certain things about my kids that catch me totally by surprise. I am currently totally surprised by Aloka's reaction to the move to a Dharamshala school and the need for her to learn Hindi.

I expected teaching her to read/write Hindi to the level expected for UKG in India to be an uphill battle. I was feeling sad and anxious for her (empathy overload) and was readying all parenting and instructional techniques to help her learn. It was one of the major adjustment issues I was prepared to deal with.

Last week, I asked Aloka to come to the bedroom to study, as is our routine every evening. I was planning to have her practice her favorite English spellings and subtraction, with one Hindi letter thrown in. She jumped up from the daybed, switched off the TV and said "Only if we study Hindi!".

In the last one week, she has learned to write 18 letters of the Hindi alphabet and read about 25 of them. Current problem is distinguishing between the letters that do not have equivalent letters in English (as in the difference between sounds/letters for dawai and dhanush, damru and dhakkan, tarbuj and tamatar). And these problems are getting resolved day by day- she can now say dhanush albeit accompanied by a lot of spit! She also struggles a bit with unfamiliar Hindi words for objects, such as hathoda for hammer. It helps that both the English and Hindi words for the object start with the same sound!

First attempt at the letter M

Not satisfied with learning to read the alphabet alone, she insists that I read her stories in Hindi and she points at simple words that she can recognize. When I think she has done enough for the day, she insists on doing just one more. This morning, I gave her homework to practice writing the letters she had learned yesterday and she says "No that stuff is easy peasy. Teach me how to write M"! At this rate, this little super-charged peanut of mine will be reading Hindi before we get to DS!

Instead of facing the struggle and drudgery that I was preparing myself for, I get to see looks of absolute joy and pride when she masters something new. Instead of an uphill task, we seem to be gliding down a gentle slope on roller skates- of her making! How wrong was I about this plucky little daughter of mine? Totally totally bowled over by this little child. Totally totally humbled by this powerhouse.

(As a learning designer, all I can say is that no learning strategy compares with the power of an inherent motivation to learn.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Becoming Better People

Went to see Argo with Atreya earlier this week, but we almost didn't go- because Atreya had this major guilt  trip about leaving Aloka at home! I had to shake him out of it and tell him to focus on me for a change. Ever since he has gone to NS, I have no movie companion and have missed out on many good movies. I suggested an alternative: instead of staying home all evening doing separate things, the entire family did art and craft together and then the two of us left to see the movie around her bed time. She didn't complain- she is more practical and reasonable than this boy.

Photo: Mommy mommy put one dollar for my ride please!!! (What this boy won't do for a $5 bet!)The movie was great- very funny when funny, very tense when tense, with exceptional acting and direction. But what I enjoyed most was Atreya's laughter. He laughed more than usual, even when it wasn't called for! Like he wouldn't stop laughing when the guy sitting in front of us rushed out after squirming in his seat for a long time- obviously he had to go the loo, but what's so funny about that? At one point, I didn't catch what Ben Affleck had said and finding Atreya laughing asked him what the joke was, and his response was "no clue"! As we were getting out of the mall, I dared him to sit on the kid's ride (for a $5 incentive) and he did it without much coaxing!

In the last 3-4 months, there is a sea change in Atreya. He has loosened up a lot, not as wound up as he used to be. He appears confident and in control. And super calm, as if nothing will shake him. But that doesn't mean he has become passive. After all, he convinced me to walk all the way back from Ang Mo Kio hub to home- a good 3 km at midnight!

On the way, we talked and talked and talked- he about his army experiences (both good and bad, and what good he sees in bad), and I about the current difficulties regarding my future plans. Talking to Atreya is never without its rewards, never without a certain sense of fulfillment. We usually agree on issues, but when we don't, he helps me think of things differently, always more positively. And I can almost always relate some or the other experience in my life with what he is experiencing- bringing context to new thoughts and concepts he is forming.

Because we hold up a mirror for each other, it is so important that we become better people every day, for ourselves, but mostly for each other.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ghost Town 2

(I had several visitors to my blog today, because I shamelessly advertised it on FB. But only 1 comment! So I am republishing an old post- because it is needed dammit!)

I read in a blog post today that a post without comments is like an abandoned house down the end of your street. Sounds sad no? By this measure, my blog is an abandoned city, a ghost town.

So come on folks, party a little here...leave comments once in a while!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


The only way to survive this is to become devoid of passion and heartless, to accept that nothing extraordinary is going to happen, and to trudge through this swamp of valueless activity without a grudge. Ironically, the only way to survive is also to be passionate, to be full of heart, to be ready for a miracle every day, and to fly through moments of extreme creativity and flow.

I am foxed. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Mute Sky

Dharamshala, Nov 9, 2012

Why is the night sky, resplendent in all its glory, so quiet? And all these stars, closer than ever, devoid of tales?

I can spot Orion, but who are its neighbors? What is that big one there, and that petite sparkling one over there?

I, who used to know a lot (or so I thought), am clueless. The sky, which I associated with incessant chattering, is mute. I, always a child of the stars, feel like an outsider. 

Where are the men who used to bring the sky to life for me? Where are their big warm hands, their knowing eyes, their magical words? I miss seeing the sky with their eyes and hearing its voice in their words. I miss Atreya, my new teacher of the skies. And I miss Arun, who first opened my eyes to the sky and its wonders.

The sky is as lost as I am without its navigators. It is as voiceless as I am without its voice bearers. This mute sky has brought to surface the loss, of past and future, that I would rather keep buried. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Laughing Heart

As I seek light, life and ways out, this poem by Charles Bukowski comes my way.

Laughing Heart
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

By Charles Bukowski

So many ideas in this poem strike a cord. I have been thinking about the signs the Universe is showing me for taking this leap of faith, and here Bukowski talks about being on the watch and taking chances that gods offer. I feel suffocated and as if I am dying each day, and here Bukowski talks of not allowing life to be clubbed into dank submission. I have come out of the jaws of death into a life that I question, and he talks about beating death in daily life. I had started doubting and here he reminds me that I am marvelous! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Deep Breath

Talked to Atta after five long days. Hearing his voice is like taking a big gulp of fresh air after holding one's breath for a long time. 

Stories in a Small Town

Every time I visit my mother, I come back with my head abuzz with stories. Everyone we meet has a story associated.

That guy whose father was so difficult that his wife left him. That woman whose adopted son was taken care of by his birth mother after he was in bad accident. That girl whose brother made the father sign off the property to him, leaving her with nothing. That lady whose first husband burned her badly but another man offered to marry her so she could keep his house. The drunk graduate who now is a garbage collector. The old woman whose daughters are in the hanky-panky business.

Everyone we meet is a walking talking story, as it should be. I am sure I make a pretty interesting story too!

Where do stories get lost in big cities?