A lesson in wildlife …

“I am disappointed in your response!””

“I am disappointed in myself, as well.”

Any guesses who I was carrying on this conversation with? My therapist? Not at all! My accountant? Not even close.

It was with Mr. Sadiq Ali, well known wildlife rescue expert here in the Nigiris. He was paying us a visit in order to rescue from my ignorance and fear, an inhabitant which had been living in the boundary walls of my garden for who knows how many years now – a rat snake.

Mr. Ali did his best to convince me that this species of snake was perfectly harmless and that it would in fact keep my extensive grounds free of rats. But to no avail – fear that my anxiety-ridden German Shepherd would not understand the social niceties of sharing home with other creatures underlined with a far more primal fear of snakes won out in the end. But after he bagged the snake and left, I collapsed on the lawn chair and howled tears of misery.


Misery at having driven away of God’s creatures out of its home, misery at not being braver and misery about fervently believing in human-animal coexistence but not being to practice it personally.

Data collected by the government of India showed that between 2013 and 2017 more than 1,608 humans were killed in human wildlife conflict cases involving tigers, leopards, bears and elephants. With human habitations, agricultural fields and construction projects like highways pushing deeper into forests, such rising conflict does not come as a surprise but augur very poor quality of life in the future. Loss of wildlife habitat means loss of forests, trees, rich soil, mountain streams, natural lakes, medicinal plants and many more types of natural resources, all of which are essential for avoiding extreme weather, pollution besides giving much required recreational space to humans living.

Some ways to reduce them are installing physical barriers between wild animals and people and having in place early warning systems, says Dr Dipankar Ghose, director for species and landscapes at WWF India. But eventually nothing will work unless human attitudes to these animals are improved, the need for saving their habitat is understood and affirmed.

Which brings this back to my decision to have the snake taken away. Being told that, late that evening it had been released in a forest, brought me some comfort but I was happier to see this photo, of his daughter handling the snake without fear and hate.

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So the solution lies in teaching humans to change their attitudes and what better place than to start with the young. At 42, I am too jaded to let go of my fears but at least I have not given into to murderous hate. Young adults can be taught to go one step ahead – to be more aware, better informed and practice true compassion towards all of earth’s creatures.




 “Once a year go someplace you have never been before”

Says the venerable Dalai Lama.

Such sound advice could only come from a great soul – to take a private vacation and cast your public face aside for a few days. More and more people are taking off time from home and work these days to check in with their inner self – to reconnect with their own half-buried hopes, priorities and aspirations by journeying through new lands and meeting new people. For those fed up of clocking nine to five – day after day, month after month – a vacation, once a year at least, works like that secret little stream up the hills, rumoured to possess rejuvenating powers. In order to reach it you have to log off from the world, take on a bit of physical rigour but when you scoop up its cool, sparkling waters in your palms, you realize it was worth all the effort. The rejuvenation of course lies not so much in the water’s magical properties but in the journey itself – in your ability to shrug off the self-created urgencies of the world, seek out a path known only to you and upon finally reaching, allowing the deepest core of your self to connect with the universe all around.


Explore, experiment

But not all private vacations need be reclusive. If the many wondrous sights, colours and cultures of the world draw you, by all means set off on a holiday to explore them. What better way to spend a summer than trying to spot the elusive lords of the forest on a jungle safari, sampling exotic dishes along country roads or marvelling at the architectural wonders of centuries-old civilizations! This is the perfect vacation for those who realize that there is so much more to the world than living and working in a miniscule spot on a map. There are enormous palaces ringing with past royal glory, vivid crafts glowing with the traditional skills of tribes and delectable dishes beckoning with tantalizing tastes. Amidst such a feast of sensual pleasures, is it ever possible to stay chained to a work-desk and not heed the call of lands far away!


Travel makes one feel truly alive! So, no matter what your exact reasons are, whether you like heading out into the unknown alone or with a companion – to experience the vastness, variety and vivacity of this world is to live in the real sense of the word!

The Old Man and the Sea – dreaming lions

It was not that difficult – when the next suggestion at our book club turned out to be that Hemingway classic, The Old Man and the Sea, I realized I would have to come out with the admission that despite a Post-Graduate in Eng Lit, I had not read it in college. But I need not have worried, for once I started, it took me just three days to finish the book. However there was this one aspect which I kept returning to – dream of the lions on the beach.

“When I was your age I was before the mast on a square rigged ship that ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening.”

The first time Santiago mentions the lions is when he is talking to the boy – here the imagery of the lions builds up the old man’s past of strength and adventure.  Later, the night before the big fishing trip he hopes will break his unlucky streak, he dreams of the magnificent beasts.

image courtesy: lily8sje.weebly.com

”He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.”

The lions are not just big and powerful but also playful and lovable– like the boy is now to him.

Later alone and locked in a silent exhausting battle with the giant marlin on the sea, Santiago says to himself, ”I wish he’d sleep and I could sleep and dream about the lions… Why are the lions the main thing that is left?”

Lions thus come to represent to Santiago all that is worth remembering about the past – his carefree days, adventurous spirit and of course his strength. Lions are also symbolic of pride and this turns out to be one of the old man’s tragic flaws as well.

To me however, the imagery of the lions takes on additional appeal because the animals are not set in their usual context – the jungle or the grasslands. Instead they are seen gambolling on the beach. This is what I think marks out great writing from clichéd ones.

image courtesy: marcallante.bigcartel.com

Finally after Santiago is back in his shack, tired and bruised, he sinks into a long restorative sleep and again – “The old man is dreaming of lions”.

But this time, the image evokes hope and even love – as Santiago is cared for and nurtured by the young boy to health and companionship.

3 questions to help you spot a frenemy

Friendships make up one’s bulwark against life’s many tumults. At the same time though, there are some attachments which seem to bring you down rather than lift you up. Here are 3 questions which can help you spot a toxic friendship, or as it is popularly known now, a frenemy.

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Are you wearing that?

“But then I suppose, it’s the best that can be done with your complexion” – and this after you have spent hours picking a dress.Compliments that demean are among the biggest red flags which should alert you to an frenemy. About your new guy, she may add airily that, “he seems so much better than the kind of guys you usually attract”.

Why don’t try that orange lipstick?

“But it’s something I personally would never buy.” Do you see what’s going on here? Your supposed friend is goading you to make choices just not right for you. On the face of it, suggestions about a pair of shoes or a date may seem innocuous but as soon as you make them, she would probably smirk and remark that she’d never wear something like or date that kind of guy herself. The reason that frenemy does this is to prop herself with a sense of superiority – never mind if in the process, her words are hurtful.


Really, is that a big deal?

You just told your ‘friend’ about a promotion at work, a degree you earned or a fabulous cake that you baked. But all she could do was come up with a question that made you feel foolish. Downplaying your achievement is one of the sure-fire signs that you are in a toxic friendship.

A one off snide remark should not send you scurrying away since anyone can be having a bad day. But if a companion keeps making you feel bad about yourself, repeatedly, you are probably with a frenemy.

Greatest Political Philosophers of the World

Which woman philosopher wrote about the Rights of Man before she wrote its famous counterpart for women?

Which Indian statesman came up with the art of foreign diplomacy a full 1700 years before an Italian nobleman wrote something similar?

In fact what is the origin of the word, “political”?

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Know the answers to many such interesting questions in the book, 20 Greatest Political Philosophers – a fascinating handbook that explores the lives and works of some of the most influential political philosophers the world has witnessed. It opens up a world buzzing with ideas, theories and practical wisdom, ranging from classical to contemporary, from Western Europe to east Asia. The result is an easy insight into the theories and thoughts that have had the maximum influence on political and legal institutions of the modern world.

Happy Reading 🙂

Moliere: The Would-be Gentleman

“You surprise me. So here I been talking prose these forty years and more without even knowing it! I am infinitely obliged to you for telling me.”

The above quote is from a hilarious play titled The Would-be Gentleman by one of the most famous comic playwrights of Europe, Moliere who was an actor as well. The speaker of the quoted lines is Monsieur Jourdain, a trader who has just made a pile of money and now wants to buy his way into becoming a “gentleman”. And so he fills his days with music, dance and fencing classes as well as lessons from a tutor who explains the difference between verse and prose and hence, Monsieur’s Jourdain’s moment of enlightenment in the quote above.

image courtesy: bangalore.afindia.org

On the surface the play is a witty take on the childhood fable Emperor’s New Clothes in which it takes the spontaneous outburst of a child for everyone to recognize that the Emperor is actually dressed in his underclothes and has been duped because of his utter vanity. That such vain people deserve to be cheated is also the running theme of The Would-be Gentleman who thinks that by merely paying for a few music, dance and fencing classes, he can acquire the refined tastes and real knowledge of the arts and sports that marks the true “gentleman”.


Moliere was of course the most celebrated comic dramatist of 17th century French Classicist period which valued artistic refinement above all other cultural traits and believed it to be a preserve of the titled, hereditary aristocracy. At the same time, like the best of comic dramatists Moliere was astute enough to see through the posturing and vanity that often passed for worth in society and beneath which the wealthiest man could actually be the biggest fool.


Strategies For Coping With Stress

Continuing with our lecture on Stress, here are two broad strategies to cope with stress:

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  • Changing the situation:

This is a task-oriented strategy, involving direct action to change the situation. This in itself includes 3 separate responses, each affecting the relationship between the person and the stressor which can be understood as the challenging situation.

Attack – confront the stressor, solve the “problem” by developing new resources, maintaining flexibility and sometimes seeking external support.

Withdrawal – when attack is not possible or feasible, exit the challenging situation and look for new opportunities.

Compromise – rather than attack or withdraw completely, replace the difficult goal with an easier, or more realistic objective or decide to fulfill part of the original difficult goal. The former is called substitution and the latter is called accommodation.


  • Changing the personal response

This covers all those strategies which you can use to change the way you personally react to a stressor. Muscle relaxation techniques, regular exercise, positive approach, enjoyable hobby, motivation, nurturing supportive relationships etc all fall in this category. Though these don’t diminish the stressor, they build your ability to cope.

According to some expert this approach also  includes certain Freudian psychological defence mechanisms like denial, reaction formation, displacement, projection, repression, regression and sublimation. These of course have their own problems when taken recourse to, too frequently. So it is better to cultivate positive, conscious practices of changing personal response to stressful situations.

Achievement and Success

The other day I attended part of a very interesting workshop on Personal Happiness. And one of the warm-up activities had the question: if you had to choose between happiness and success, which would you choose and why?


This question got me thinking on what is happiness for me and what is success? And I realized that for me, both were inextricably tied at a core level. I shared my confusion with the expert and she elaborated that success would mean achievement with a degree of recognition from others.

This has in fact set me thinking on another line – why is achievement so important to some people. They have a name, actually – achievement driven personality, characterised by innate sense of their abilities, self-driven, goal-oriented, intensely focused on succeeding and ambitious.


There is another side however to the achievement-driven personality – anxiety, need to prove self-worth and if not given enough opportunities, a dangerous slide of self-confidence.

Such people are known to be driven by achievement motivation –a powerful desire to do something important which would result to a feeling of personal accomplishment. And the bigger the task, the better. You may have noticed something interesting – money, material benefits or even mere power over others does not drive this personality – he or she is driven to do something difficult and only that gives a sense of true accomplishment.

Restlessness and insecurity might be the nails of the cross that these people bear but then again they are likelier to be the visionaries and game-changers of our society.


A Review of Educated by Tara Westover

Yesterday afternoon, I turned the last page of Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. It took me a while to return to my own room.

Image courtesy: wamc.org

The book traces the author’s struggle to break out of the oppressive and even abusive shackles of her Survivalist family in which the father follows an extreme version of the Mormon faith. But what actually makes for a gut-wrenching reading experience is going through the torturous maze of the author’s own mind as she tries to find the door to sanity and deliverance.


The book indeed can be read at various levels:

  • as a study of the power structures of gender, race, fundamentalist religion and how they feed into each other, within the family. The Westover family is a vicious self-perpetuating system, few can break out of as it is the site of exploitation and abuse but also of identity.
  • as a powerful study of mental illness and abuse as well as their effects on the family.
  • finally to understand the liberating role that education can play in freeing the mind, psyche and body of not just one woman but – as the author’s study of Wollstonecraft and Mill implies – an entire gender that holds up “half the sky”.

3 Ways Transactional Analysis Can Help You

Transactional Analysis, introduced in the late 1950s, by Dr. Eric Berne, is a highly effective and accessible way of understanding our interactions with others. Here are 3 ways TA can help you:

# Speak from the Adult Ego State

Berne in his seminal work, Games People Play, defined an ego state as “a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behavior”. As far as possible, initiate your interactions from the Adult ego state, which means gather your data from the here and now, rather than falling into thinking patterns of the past. After getting your inputs from the present state, then respond calmly and logically. This prevents emotional baggage from the past clouding your present interactions.

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# Make for Complementary Transactions

Complementary Transactions are those in which the Transactional Response is from the same ego state to which the Transactional Stimulus is directed. So, if your co-worker is feeling frazzled during a stressful work day and comments, ” Will this day never end!”, understand that he/she is speaking from a Child ego state and is looking for reassurance. Instead, if you respond from your Adult or Child ego states, like “You will be free to leave at 6 in the evening, you know” or “You don’t see me complaining, do you?” respectively, communication will get difficult. Rather be compassionate and respond from your Nurturing Parent ego state like, “Completely agree – should I get you a cup of coffee”?


# Avoid drawn into Games

Berne’s Games People Play is fascinating for its accounts of the many psychological games people play in their relationships. Games here means, “recurring set of transactions… with a concealed motivation”. Analyzing your transactions with others can help you spot such repeated negative patterns which merely end in feeling bad and confirming unhealthy life positions. Avoid getting drawn into such games and instead, try to rewrite a healthier life-script.

3 Basics of Corporate Etiquette

#1 What you say

Verbal etiquette in the corporate context usually follows general workplace norms – like being polite, no gossiping, waiting for your turn to speak, following email etiquette and avoiding controversial topics. A veteran trainer says always speak as though someone from HR is listening! Though a bit extreme, the approach can be especially helpful for freshers to ensure your language and communication are appropriate to a diverse workplace.  However certain aspects like the use of first names vs. surnames, the protocol of approaching superiors as well as reporting lines can vary from one organization to another. So when in doubt, always follow your organization’s norms or find out from a mentor/friendly co-worker who has been around for a longer time, how things are usually done.


#2 How you appear

Body language, some experts would argue, is the most crucial aspect of corporate etiquette. How you dress, greet your clients and co-workers and even socialize in after-work hours could all impact your profile. Though the specifics of dress would vary according to climate and culture, aim for a smart turn-out which means clean, pressed clothes, closed shoes and minimal accessories. Don’t forget the fundamentals of a well-groomed appearance like clean nails, fresh breath and neat hair. Again introductions could vary across different parts of the world but a short, firm handshake is usually acceptable in the global corporate context while keep the hugs and hi-fives for friends.


#3 How you behave

During one of my training sessions, I spent some time pointing out the theoretical difference between ethics and etiquette. My then mentor gently added that, at the end of the day etiquette emerges from ethics. So no matter how cut-throat the competition in your corporate world, remember the most appropriate thing to do ultimately is also the right thing to do. So ensure that you do your work well, as a team and without harming anybody.

3 Lessons Tiffany Taught Me…

“They also serve, who only stand and wait”

Wrote famous Reformation poet John Milton after he became blind at the prime of his life and even before he had written the epic poem Paradise Lost for which he is largely known now.

Stand and wait? No, not Tiffany.

image courtesy: wef.org.in

Tiffany Brar is a disability rights activist, motivational speaker, trainer AND the architect of an NGO named, Jyothirgamaya Foundation whose mission is to empower visually challenged people to live with dignity and be part of the mainstream. She also conducts sensitization programmes so that society, its institutions and people realize the need to be more inclusive. She has been awarded the National Award for the Best Role Model by President of India. And oh, did I forget to mention she is just 30?!

Last week, Tiffany was at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Tamil Nadu to speak about her journey thus far – and here were my 3 takeaways:

# 1. You can help in more ways than one – Financial help is always welcome when through the bog of apathy, one has to drive an a NGO forward to help people with special abilities. But if you are reading this and are telling yourself, I cannot afford to give donations right now, bear in mind that you help in other ways – donate supplies, your time, your skill at Jyothirgamaya. And she adds, why just here, when you see people less advantaged or privileged around you, ask yourself what you can do. May be you can help a teenager who cannot afford tuition with Maths lessons. Or invite your domestic help to share your meals when you know she needs money for other things.

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Tiffany getting the National Award for Best Role Model from President of India

#2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude – despite all the wrongs done to you, the setbacks that have happened to you, be thankful. Of what you still have – maybe family, a sustenance, your health or just the fact that you wake up each day, alive.

#3. Realize your own dreams – After I told her I was a writer, she asked what books had I written. I replied, mainly biographies for young adults. She asked mischievously, “what about love, romance, your own life?” I tried to hold back the bitterness in my half-laugh, “But who will read that, publish it?” She didn’t answer directly, instead she shared, “I am writing an autobiography now, do you know?  I don’t know when I can get it published, but I feel this need to write my own story – so I do”.

Thanks Tiffany for teaching me not to keep putting off my dreams; if something is important to give meaning to your life, get on with it!

Attitude – Explicit vs. Implicit

I was rather unhappy with the way we had to rush through our discussions on Explicit vs. Implicit Attitude. Let us revise:

Attitude in psychology refers to a set of emotions, beliefs and behaviours toward a particular object, person, thing, or event.

Attitude can be explicit or implicit. Explicit attitudes are those that we are consciously aware of and that clearly influence our behaviours and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious but still have an effect on our beliefs and behaviours


Now let us understand the differences better:

Remember, we had taken the attitude towards a contentious subject as death penalty. Based on “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle, I probably hold the attitude of support for death penalty – believing that the most heinous crimes deserve death for the perpetrator. It is also likely some implicit attitudes are charging my emotional attitude subconsciously. So if most perpetrators seem to belong to a caste, religion or community that I dislike, such implicit attitudes strengthen my explicit attitude.

Implicit and explicit attitude can also come into conflict.

When despite our progressive outlook, we are placed in a situation of sharing table or sofa with a maid or domestic help – resulting in discomfort. Here explicit attitudes of equality are in conflict with implicit class-discriminatory attitude.

One of the most common contexts for the playing out of implicit attitude is a party or a social gathering where most guests are strangers to begin with. Who gets talking to whom, what draws certain people close, leads to exchange of phone numbers and seeking out company even days after the party will have a lot to do with implicit attitudes. Consciously we may interact better with those who share our own opinions, background, social mores ( explicit attitude) but sometimes subconsciously we tend to gravitate to people who mirror certain positive or nurturing models from our past or feel repulsed by those mirroring negative characters from our past. That’s implicit attitude at work.

Hope this helped 🙂

Thoughts on turning 42…

Woman at Writing Desk, 1898, Lesser Ury

More grey in your hair,

the lines on your skin

slight thickening of waist

this nagging within.

Do you have a penny to your name?

Four walls to hide your shame

A beating heart to call your own

Or do you exist unloved, unknown?

Now that I really think, perhaps not

since I have scratched and fought

with Life to let me hold on –

to let me taste its blood.

Perhaps I am but a shadow

whose grasp is half light, half air

but there is something more, I know

each breath, every pulse is rare.



What is Sexual Harassment?

As the ripples of the #Metoo and #Time’sup movement continue to be felt around the world, here is a quick refresher on what constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace.

Sexual harassment can be defined as any unwelcome act or behaviour of a sexual nature, whether direct or implied and includes the following:

  • unwelcome physical contact and advances
  • demand or request for sexual favours
  • making sexually coloured remarks
  • showing pornography or inappropriate content
  • any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
image courtesy: www1.nyc.gov

Based on the above, Sexual Harassment can be broadly categorized under the following types:

  • Non-Verbal – Gestures like staring or leering; invading personal space; Offensive content like pin-ups, pornography, inappropriate  publications; Offensive letters / memos  as well as Unsolicited and unwanted gifts
  • Verbal – Language of a suggestive or explicit nature ; Unwanted propositions; Jokes of a sexual or explicit nature; Use of “affectionate names” like ‘babe’ as well as Questions or comments of a personal nature
  • Physical – Deliberate body contact; Indecent exposure;  Coerced sexual contact Groping , fondling , kissing and in extreme cases, sexual assault.
image courtesy: guardian.com

While these make up the essential meaning and common manifestations of sexual harassment, bear in mind that every culture and legal system  may differ in the specifics.


3 Stoic Lessons for Today

Recently I finished The Manual for Living by Epictetus, the 1st century Roman Stoic philosopher. Stoics in popular usage now unfortunately signify dour-faced, kill-joys, intent on adopting a long-suffering attitude of forbearance.



Image Courtesy: iamfearlesssoul.com

Nothing could be farther from truth, though. Stoicism actually is all about treading lightly through the minefield of human drama, taking pleasure in the simple fact of existing today without pining for the past, nor obsessing about the future. But while such equanimity holds good for all ages and places, here are 3 precepts by Epictetus that could light the way in this day and age.

  1. Use Reason – in these times when emotions run high on matters of food, dress, temple visits, movies and governance, no wonder we are quick to give and quicker to take offence. Epictetus advises to be guided only Reason and nothing else. This will help you differentiate between fact and opinion, truths and falsehoods besides training your mind to think clearly and for yourself alone.
  2. Avoid popular entertainment – in our times, this would cover the mind-numbing hours spent on social media, aimless party-hopping, futile shopping – all indulged in order to fill a fundamental vacuum in the spirit. Instead take charge of your self-development – read good books, practice music or a sport, support a cause or even travel to connect with other cultures and people.
  3. Decide who you want to be – if anything, today we are confused by too many choices. Do you want to be like that celebrity singer, scientist, entrepreneur, sportsperson – so many idols and options to choose from!
Who Do You Want to Be?

Which could be good in a way – even 50 years back, life, career and relationship choices were starkly limited for many people around the world. But unless you first define who you want to be, you will end up with indecision and many false starts. So identify your goals first, write down all that it would take to reach there, make a plan based on your resources and then – get moving!

3 Ways Gender Impacts Language

Unlike Sex that is based on immutable biological differences, Gender is all about traits related to the condition of being masculine or feminine as determined by culture and society. And such cultural constructs are built and transmitted by language.

Image Courtesy: timeforequality.org

So here are 3 major ways gender impacts language:

  • normalizing

What do nouns like mankind, history, humanity have in common. The highlighted letters indicate how words related to a particular gender represent the entire species. This leads to normalizing of the primacy of experience of one gender over another, eventually deciding for all people, no matter what their sex, what is normal, mainstream, usual.

  • Idealizing

Another way gendering of language takes place is when ideal conditions are related to a particular gender. So in the workplace you have the boss praising someone for being his ‘Man-Friday’ or the need to hire more skilled ‘manpower’. On the field, you are told to display ‘sportsmanship’ and while growing up, you are exhorted to practice better ‘penmanship’. If you feel such matters are too trivial to matter, consider that is how ideal qualities come to be associated with a particular gender.

Image Courtesy: nada.au.org
  • Symbolizing

This is when gender discriminatory terms and phrases pass acquire symbolic meaning and come to represent far more than their literal connotations. Idioms, proverbs, fairy tales, folklore, mythology and popular culture are some of the ways gendered language gain widespread currency and emotional power. So you have idioms like Drama Queen, mother-in-law jokes in popular culture and the image of damsel-in-distress in fairy tales. Proverbs either depict women as weak as the Hindi “Beti paraya dhan hoti hai” which means a daughter belongs to others or as a source of evil (for man especially) like the Roman “ A faithless woman is like a shipwreck to the house”.

What all this means for you and me, is that gender inequality, discrimination and stereotypes  continue to be constructed, disseminated and perpetuated through one of the most basic human processes – language as in speaking, writing, listening, singing etc.

Fortunately for you and me language can also be used to contest gender bias – but that is for another blog post 🙂



So much is discussed today about team building and ways to go about it most effectively. Among the earliest psychologists to posit a theory on team building was Bruce Tuckman who in his his 1965 article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” first introduced the 4 basic stages that a team passes through on its way to goal achievement. These are:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing


Later Tuckman added another stage called

  • Adjourning

This is the final stage in the team building cycle wherein the members are faced with questions about the future of the team. Having successfully achieved its stated goals, the team now has to take a call whether to disband it or continue with it. if it is the latter, there are be additional concerns like whether to expand the team, contract it or to replace any of its members.

A Team which was formed for the completion of a single specific task will find itself on the verge of being dissolved which is why in some cases, this stage has also been called the mourning phase. it can especially prove to be difficult time for members who have formed close interpersonal bonds or those who are more given to anxiety than others.

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For permanent teams on the other hand, this can be a time of reflection – going over their most recent experience to assess their performance, strengths and weaknesses. Finally the adjourning phase can be a time for reinvention and innovation whereby a team can decide how to change and prepare for future challenges.


Groups and Group Norms

A Group as we know is a collection of people known to each other and working towards a defined, common goal.

Group Norms

Groups operate under their own sets of norms which are specific codes about how members should talk, dress and behave towards each other and outsiders. Indeed these norms are only informally set – no one issues orders to bring members in line. Instead simple comments like “What a terrible dress she is wearing” or “That guy deserved a put-down for speaking out” can lead an individual to modify personal opinions and standards – leading him/her to follow group norms.

President JFK in office


Sometimes group members follow group norms so closely and going along with others becomes so important that there is no space for disagreement. This can significantly impact group performance since members consciously or sub-consciously go along  with dominant decision-making even though it might be faulty, unethical and contrary to deeper personal opinion. Psychologists have termed this group think and identified 3 characteristics:

  • High conformity – pressure to conform by dominant members or group leader leads to an illusion that everyone conforms to group decisions
  • Self-delusion – the faulty thinking that the group is right – irrespective of factual and ethical issues; it is usual when the group is insulated from outside information.
  • Feelings of invulnerability – groupthinking is common in close-knit circles in positions of power – like presidential advisers or royal court.
Image Courtesy: latinamericanstudies.org

In 1972, psychologist Irving Janis illustrated the concept of groupthink in a study of how US President J F Kennedy and his advisers embarked on the ill-planned and ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. Janis pointed out the decision was the result of group-thinking and was marked by all 3 traits. For example President Kennedy had just won the election against all odds and the group felt his decision to be invulnerable. Delusion of power prevented the group to deal with internal questions that was raised by one among them – Arthur Schlesinger who pointed out it was unethical to invade a small neighbour like Cuba. And finally just because the President along with powerful CIA pushed for the invasion, it appeared that everyone was agreeing to it.

In this way group thinking can have long term consequences on group’s decisions and performance.


How Kids Grow…Erikson’s theory explained

At a time when Sigmund Freud was the toast of the Viennese scientific society, a young artist quietly worked as a tutor for a family friend of the reputed psychologist. Known to Freud socially, this young painter could not help being influenced by the former’s psycho-sexual theory of the development of children. And yet Erik H. Erikson – the young artist – would fundamentally differ by placing more importance on the social component of childhood influences. The resulting psychosocial theory of development would eventually go on to become a highly influential, if not a rigorously researched, explanation of development of human behaviour.

According to Erikson, a person passed through eight stages of development through life – each stage was marked by contrary impulses and presented both an opportunity and challenge, that he termed ‘crises’. He theorized that an individual’s experience at each stage helped determine the broad traits of his/her personality in future stages. The five stages of childhood were:

  • Trust/mistrust
  • Autonomy/shame, doubt
  • Initiative/guilt
  • Industry/inferiority
  • Identity/role confusion


Erikson also differed from Freud in including the adult years also in his theory of development. These were marked by

  • Intimacy/isolation – the young man or woman who achieved a strong sense of personal identity and productivity in the previous teen phase now turns to forming stronger ties with others – especially intimate ones like romance, marriage but also others like camaraderie of young soldiers or workers. The failure to develop a sense of self during adolescence can result lingering role confusion, leading to a sense of isolation and loneliness.
  • Generativity/self-absorption – At middle age, the individual tends to develop a greater desire of contributing to future generations – whether their own growing children or taking mentor roles in workplace and larger society. The other side is a deeper self-absorption making the middle-aged person turn inwards – characterized by workaholism for instance.
  • Integrity/despair – Finally an individual reaches the stage where he/she pulls the strands of a lifetime together – if he/she finds only lost opportunities and failures, this last stage is marked by despair but if he/she sees success and a life well lived, this stage is characterized by integrity.


Recent social trends however has led to re-evaluating by researchers of the boundaries of “middle age” and “old age”. While advancing years do increase the likelihood of physical problems, modern developmental researchers emphasise that elderly humans can continue to develop.

Understanding Attachment Theory

The other day, I was teaching Inter-personal Behaviour and one of the theories that explained it was Attachment Theory. Considering how extensive and complex this theory is, I merely touched upon its meaning and passed on to others like Uncertainty Reduction, Social Exchange and Dialectical theories.


Here is then a little more on Attachment Theory.

According to proponents of Attachment Theory, the quality of the early parent-child relationship influences later social relationships of all kinds. Thus children with “secure attachments” – whose needs of hunger and comfort were definitively met – are believed to fare better in their adult relationships as compared to children with “anxious attachments” – whose needs are unfulfilled or under-fulfilled.

Children closer to mothers were found in some research to be comparatively more socially active. They were more likely to be sympathetic to problems of their friends, to make suggestions and even more sought out by peers. This led psychologists to believe that it was possible to predict future social adjustments by examining parent-child interactions during the early months of life – in other words the kinds of attachment individuals form at beginning of their lives with their primary care-givers impacts their future inter-personal relationships.

Image Courtesy: ckwsaxton.wordpress.com

Apart from explaining inter-personal relationships, Attachment Theory plays a significant role in Family Therapy – as in the works of John Bowlby who was actually the first to coin the term. In fact a variation, propounded by Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, also figured as a possible cause for schizophrenia.  However later psychologists have pointed out that the theory places the entire burden of social adjustment of the child on a single gender – the mother. Nevertheless Attachment Theory is often thought to be quite effective in understanding how adult relationships continue to be influenced by one’s experiences with primary care givers in early childhood.

So let me know more about your attachment styles and how it has played out on your relationships…


Self-Motivation Simplified

Motivation, at its simplest, can be understood as a set of conditions which activate, direct and maintain behaviour towards some goal.


Self-motivation is a little different – it happens when motivation is conscious and self-generated.

Here are a few ways to bring about a self-motivation spike:

  • Choose goals wisely – Make sure you keep working towards your goals by linking them to your core values. If you enjoy financial success, it will be hard to remain motivated by working for someone where you are paid less than the market standard. On the other hand if prestige and influence over people is important to you, then you can remain motivated in a position even if it doesn’t pay well.

Again be open to tweaking your goals as you move ahead. For example if the world           vacation that you had planned for your 40th birthday appears to be getting pricier,           rather than slaving at work for the next 10 years, adjust your goal to maybe 5 of                 your favourite cities in a continent. Naturally, goals are not meant to be changed                 entirely, just adjusted from time to time.

  • Enhance the journey – Begin the day right – perhaps with a stroll in the sun, a ten-minute chat with your plants or a steaming cup of your favourite brew without any disturbance. When the going gets tough, link the process of working to your goals to good feelings – like soothing music and pleasant fragrances.
  • Seek help -There are self-help resources galore these days – inspirational books, podcasts, online videos and of course blog posts like these 🙂 to keep you going.


  • Reward yourself – only when you have actually achieved a goal or perhaps a part of it; but ensure that your reward is commensurate with the goal.
  • Focus on the positives – appreciate your assets like good health or a supportive family; See far you have come rather than always worrying about how much you should have achieved by now.
  • Finally learn to differentiate between what is in your control and what is not. Be flexible about the latter and work hard to realize the former.


When Worth Meets a Wall – 3 Tips to Help You Bounce Back

Merit + Hard Work = Success/Appreciation.  Right?

Not Necessarily, actually!


One of the biggest myths of contemporary popular culture hinges on a direct causal relationship between merit and success. Shows like Big Bang Theory and movies like The Pursuit of Happyness would have you believe that even if you are socially awkward like Sheldon in the former or on your own like Gardner in the latter, eventually the world is compelled to recognize your worth and reward you.

Fact is, it always doesn’t work like that. If you are good at your work and wish you prove that at your workplace, your co-workers, boss and even the organization may not always be willing to give you the opportunity – no matter that it would benefit others more than anything you would make out of it.

Met with opposition, you prove your superior capability, turn on your charm and when nothing works, You push harder! Of course it all backfires. At best, you end up where you started and at worst, you are thrown out. Before you, even with all your genius and dedication, find yourself with a pink slip, here are 3 ways to meet rejection:

  • First out, do not take it personally. Realize that the organization is not yet ready for your innovation. Your boss may not want you to get credit for any good work while your co-workers may be plain jealous of you being better than them. The rejection is not always a reflection of your worth – it is the outcome of many different emotional and organizational processes.
  • Diversify – Remember the old adage, when a door closes, look for a window! Explore other organizations, mentors or even online platforms where your ideas and skills will be appreciated more. The road is bound to be long and hard but it is better than being stuck at one place. And you never know who might like your vision or where you might be a better fit.
  • Finally, do not anchor your self-worth in work. Be thankful just for the fact that you are alive. Practice gratitude exercises and appreciate all that you have been blessed with – perhaps a loving spouse, loyal pet, pretty home and other skills like baking or photography.


In 1984 the global computer industry was transformed by the launch of the Macintosh computer. But just the next year, the company fired the very man behind the major innovation – Steve Jobs. And yet he went on to design the most iconic devices and emerged as one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all times.

Whether or not you reach such heights, have confidence in your worth – Keep trying but differently!

Kuzari – Halevi and his defence of Judaism


Yet another medieval philosopher that I came across while researching for my book was Judah Halevi. he is best known today for his work, titled in English as Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised Religion or simply Kuzari which has come to be regarded as one of the most evocative works of religious philosophy in the history of Judaism.


I was even more interested to know that in Kuzari he offers a theory of human personality comparable to the ones I studied around a millennium later. There are three main types of influences according to Halevi that human beings are exposed to – firstly the influence of one’s parents and family, then that of environmental conditions like geography and movements of planets etc and finally that of education and learning. And it is as a result of the unique combination of these three influences that one acquires his/her unique personality.

Origins and Influences

Equally interesting is Halevi’s story of growth as a philosopher-poet, especially as a Jew in medieval Islamic Spain. Halevi was born c 1075 CE in a well-to-do family of Tudela in northeastern Spain that was ruled by Muslim powers. he grew up in an atmosphere of intellectual liberalism as determined by his education in a wide variety of subjects from both Arabic and Hebrew sources. Thus before he had even stepped into adulthood, Halevi had acquired an academic grounding in grammar, philosophy, theology, medicine, both Biblical and rabbinic literature as well as Arabic and Hebrew poetry.

The desire to see more of the world took Halevi to southern Spain where he made the acquaintance of celebrated poet Moses ibn Ezra and impressed the latter with his poetic prowess. Ezra convinced Halevi to accompany him to Granada where the younger poet thrived in the air of intellectual sophistication and wrote graceful poetry on secular themes.

image courtesy:Alchetron                        Judah Halevi                                                                                                                         

Conflicts and consequences

However with the invasion of Granada by the Almoravids, a violent Islamic sect from northern Africa, the refined cosmopolitanism of the city was destroyed and in its place grew hostility to other faiths and cultures. The Jews were worst hit in this religious and political strife which compelled Halevi to move to Toledo in search of a more secure livelihood. There he took up the practice of medicine – one of the few professions open to Jews in Christian society – and settled for some time to a life of success and respect.

Even then a life of perpetual wariness made him question matters of identity, culture and religion to which the Kuzari was a brilliant literary and philosophical response. Titled in Hebrew as Sefer ha-Kuzari, the work is composed of dialogues between a Khazar king who converted to Judaism in the 8th century and a learned Jew who answers the former’s questions about Judaism and in the process counters various accusations levelled against the religion by fanatical sects of both Christianity and Islam. But more than its topical necessity, the book encapsulates Halevi’s theological views especially related to the Creation of the World and nature of Man.

Later Years

With advancing age, Halevi felt the pull of Jerusalem growing stronger. He decided to leave Cordoba for the Holy Land but on the way was persuaded by many of his followers to stop in Egypt. Here Halevi was generously hosted by many wealthy Jewish merchants, judges and doctors. Inspired by the warmth of fellow-feeling all around him, Halevi again wrote a great deal of fine poetry during his stay in Egypt. And yet till the very end, he continued to dream of setting foot on his beloved land of Israel. Halevi died in 1140 still in Egypt where he was widely mourned by the Jewish community.

The significance of Halevi’s writings lies in the refined synthesis of Arabic literary style with the unwavering strength of his Zionist vision. He left an inspirational body of spiritual and sacred poetry as well as in Kuzari a powerful vindication of the lived truths of his people down the history of Judaism.



3 Freedoms for India

Each time I go back to Tagore’s famous poem, ” Where the Mind is Without Fear…” I am stunned into reflection on how vastly relevant it is now, more than a century later when it was written in 1913. After a morning of rumination on Independence Day, here are three freedoms that I believe India needs today.


Freedom from violence

This fundamental trait distinguishes life in a civil society from one in a jungle. Each citizen of India and especially  oppressed and subjugated groups in our country – across gender, class, caste and tribe – deserve freedom from violence. And by this I include violence directed at a woman for travelling in public transport at night, at a child simply for being an orphan, at a Dalit for drinking water from a well, at a tribal for demanding education, at trees and forests to make way for garish hotels, at historical monuments without which we lose our heritage ….and all such atrocities which are simply unacceptable in this age. And the cesspool which feeds this Hydra of Violence is naturally, Corruption – the most insidious, toxic and destructive form of violence perpetuated on the people.

Freedom to lifestyle

If I am not eating your food, wearing your dress, living in your home, playing in your yard  – then I should be allowed to eat, wear, pray, drive, run, sing, write, walk, socialize as and how I please. Work is a contentious issue made murkier by reservation policies – even then if I have all the skills, then my gender and origin should not bar me from working where I want to.


Freedom to opinion

That’s right – you have a right to your opinion as I have to mine. At best we can learn from each other’s point of view , at worst we can agree to disagree. Politely Please. No need to threaten me or my family members with rape. Of course this will be comprehensible only to people who know the difference between expressing an opinion and exhorting multitudes from city pulpits to violence. But there are legal experts who can hopefully clarify such trivial points for those devoid of Reason or Ethics.

There are so many other freedoms that can be added to the list. Can you think of more what India needs today? Tell me….

4 Habits to Give Up Today

Though they demand time and effort, bad habits can be got rid of and good habits learnt anew. So if you are struggling to adopt a positive healthier lifestyle, here is a handy guide to get rid of these 4 habits today.

Manage your Time

# Putting things off

One of the easiest ways to stop yourself from putting things away for a later date, is to break a big task into smaller, more manageable bits – for example if you need to write a research paper by the end of the coming week, start by drawing a conceptual framework, then write down your hypothesis and eventually get on with data collection etc till you arrive at results. Tackling the toughest bits early in the day, giving yourself a pep talk every now and then as well as rewarding yourself with treat like a pizza in your favourite flavours could be other ways to put an end to procrastination.

# Spending Beyond Your Means

The best way to stop overspending is to give up all your credit cards but one to pay only utility bills. Draw up a budget on paper so that you can see your income and expenses in black and white. Another useful tip is to sign up for auto-debit feature in your salary account, so that as soon as your pay comes, a part of it is swept into savings. At the same time, learn to be more aware of the power of consumerism so that you develop the inner resources to resist the lure of advertising.

# Not Moving Enough

39% of the world adult population are overweight and 13% are obese, according to WHO statistics which means that one of the most physically harmful habits is lack of exercise. In order to get moving, choose any activity that you enjoy – start brisk walking around your neighbourhood or lifting weights in the gym. Take a Yoga class or join the gorgeous gang in aerobics.

Affirm Your Self

# Putting Yourself Down

None of the above bad habits can be completely unlearnt if you do not affirm yourself. This simply means to separate your selfhood from your bad habits so that while you recognize the harm caused by your actions, you do not get into the vicious cycle of self-blame, negativity and then more bad habits. Make an effort to give yourself the gift of unconditional self-acceptance so that you are not only ready for positive changes but attain emotional balance and inner peace in the long run.

Crazy about Karaoke – 3 Ways to Get it Right

Whether it’s a night out with pals or a date with that special someone, doing karaoke makes for loads of fun. However if you are not a trained singer, the idea of being in the spotlight with a microphone in your hands can be a little scary. Here are 3 surefire ways to banish the jitters and get crooning with karaoke.

Crazy about Karaoke 

Your voice sounds best when the microphone is held a little away from your mouth. Actually imagine you are holding an ice cream cone for that perfect distance.

When choosing tracks, stick to what works for your voice and what you are familiar with. That way you have got some chance of actually sounding like the song you are supposed to be singing. However if want to do a song whose words you are unsure of, avoid dancing. This will help you to focus on your singing and if you really feel the urge to move, gesture with your hands and keep your feet still.


Finally you can enjoy karaoke even if you are totally tone-deaf or unbearably shy. If so, head out in a group – that way you wouldn’t have to sing A) because there probably won’t be enough mikes to go around and B) the more confident singers would likely hog them anyway, so you can merely hum along as you soak up the experience.


Helping Heritage with INTACH

Did you know that beneath that luminous marble, is a core of bricks?

Seriously? The Taj Mahal? This fact about the most familiar monument to Indians, and many more such nuggets about our heritage took me by surprise. But then, I should have expected as much since I was at a workshop by INTACH or the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage of the Nilgiris Chapter. The location – the YWCA building opposite the Race Course in Ooty – was itself imbued with historical and architectural significance as Dr. Suresh, convenor of Tamil Nadu INTACH, explained in the end.

The newly restored Reference Section of the Nilgiri Library

Conducted over two days, 13th and 14 July,  the workshop sought to acquaint school teachers with the need of and skills for starting heritage clubs in their institutions with the ultimate goal of protecting national heritage.On the first day Ms. Purnima Dutt, the resource person conducting the workshop, used an interesting mix of talk, audio-visual media and games to give an overview on the goals, aspects and methodology of running a heritage club while the second day passed in a whirl of activities including a much-anticipated visit to Ooty’s heritage buildings like St Stephens Church, the Nilgiri Library and the Stone House built by John Sullivan, the first Englishman to arrive in Ooty and hence the founder of modern history of the famous hill station. The warmth and bonhomie evoked at the workshop venue served a cheerful counterpoint to the chilly breeze and slate grey Nilgiri sky outside.


Exquisite Stained Glass Paintings at the St. Stephens Church, Ooty


Satiated by a hearty lunch, as we began walking out of the dining room, hitherto unnoticed details like a jade green gravy boat on the  sideboard and a piano with candle-holders on decorative hinges caught our attention, taking us back to dining and partying ways of decades ago. This new heightened awareness of heritage took a while to sink in and as we left on our own ways, I am certain many of us were already thinking of how best to pass it on to the younger generation.



7 Football Fun Facts To Crank Up FIFA Fever

The other day, I asked my daughter about the official song of the ongoing FIFA World Cup. Turned out she was as clueless as yours truly. So in an increasingly rare instance of mother-daughter joint endeavour we looked it up together and found out that it was “Live it Up” by Nicki Jam, featuring Will Smith and Era Isterefi .


The exercise led me to dig up other facts related to football or soccer as the known in some parts of the world. Here are seven interesting facts about some of greatest names of the Beautiful Game:

  • Though he was eventually fully exonerated, Bobby Moore – captain of the only FIFA World Cup winning English team – before landing in Mexico for the 1970 World Cup faced arrest by the Colombian police on charges of jewellery theft.
  • David Beckham is said to suffer from ornithophobia or fear of birds! Actually it gets weirder – he also has ataxophobia which is – hold on – fear of untidiness!
  • Maradona – whose antics of elation on the stands this time grabbed more footage than Rojo’s match-winning goal against Nigeria – had to exit the 1994 World Cup mid-tournament for testing positive for drug ephedrine.
  • As a child, Messi was diagnosed with a type of hormone deficiency; when treatment in Argentina proved expensive for his middle-class parents the FC Barcelona club pitched in, impressed by budding footballer’s potential.
  • In his youth, Pele started a team with boys of the neighbourhood who couldn’t afford gear and thus were known as ‘Shoeless Ones’ – eventually this game of pick-up soccer took on his name and became famous as ‘pelada’.
  • For scoring a goal in his debut league match in 1991, Zinedine Zidane was gifted a car by his club chairman, Alain Pedretti.
  • Apart from South America and Europe, no other continent has produced a World Cup winning team.

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Table For One

In a Post-Truth world, I am wary of messages on social media. But a recent one has got me thinking for some time now. And having just watched  71 – a hard-hitting independent British movie about a soldier inadvertently left behind on the riot-ridden streets of Belfast at the peak of Northern Ireland conflict, I began to realize the enormous significance of hope in the midst of fear and violence.

A Still from ’71                                                                                   Photo Courtesy: The Guardian

At National Defence Academy, India’s premier training institution for young military cadets, the dining hall is a prime attraction for outsiders. Officially known as the Cadets’ Mess, it has a seating capacity of 2100 cadets at one time. But little do people know that just outside, stands a solitary table set just for one with its chair tilted forward. This arrangement is in remembrance of all those brave souls either Missing In Action or taken Prisoners of War.


On the table is a vase with a single rose indicating the love of the families who still hope for their return.  Tied around the vase is also a red ribbon to show solidarity with all who demand a proper accounting of the missing. The candle on the table is never lit, symbolizing lack of light and happiness in their absence.  A slice of lemon placed on the bread plate stands for their bitter fate while the salt is reminiscent  of the tears shed by their loved ones. Finally the glass is upturned indicating that they cannot dine with us tonight.

What a remarkable symbol of the sacrifice of all those who left to do their duty by their country but never came back!

POW-MIA flag

“Let the chair remain tilted

Let the lonesome table still be set

The candle keeps its dark vigil

lest we forget, lest we forget !”

When you have so much more…

The more I think about it, the more I wonder…How would it feel, knowing that you are not allowed to?

OK, then let me start from the beginning.


There was a time last month when we had guests drop in rather frequently for dinner. I found myself hosting three get-togethers within less than three weeks, I think. Fortunately I had help with the preparations since my exams were right round the corner. Though I prefer to cook for parties myself, having someone to peel, chop, grate, crush, mince, dice, julienne and such-like paraphernalia is a blessing. But something has been bothering me recently about those memories – how would it feel to handle meat, exotic vegetables, imported fruits and quantities of expensive ingredients, when you know you cannot afford them in your own home?

Even though we are not regular party-throwers, my insistence on a wholesome diet means that I often buy foods that ever-rising inflation places out of the reach of many families, like that of my help. So perhaps one day, searching for a spice, she comes across bottles stocked with dry fruits like cashews, walnuts and almonds. Or she may find herself cooking an amount of goat meat enough to feed a party of 15; Or she is washing up even she feels heady with the aroma of saffron-infused basmati pulao that I have just taken down from the gas range – what can possibly go on in her mind when her own children may not have had such stuff on their table for many many months. Then there is the  boiling of chicken, daily, twice a day for my dog!

Indeed, my train of thought began ranging further. How does it feel for a poorly paid accountant to  handle vast sums of money – especially in cash – when his own child may be suffering from lack of expensive medical treatment. Or perhaps for a night-shift nurse in a hospital  caring for patients when her own mother is old and alone at home, with nobody to pick her up if she stumbles in the dark room and falls.


Such morbid thoughts, you say…but just think, once, how much we take for granted!

Back To School

Let me get this straight

“You mean you are actually – willingly – doing this?”

Back to Studies

My daughter’s incredulity would’ve been funny had the scene been playing out on the TV screen, like in a Man with a Plan type of family comedy series where teens perpetually talk to parents with an arched eyebrow.

“Why should it be so strange that I might want to do a course?” I tried to keep my equanimity even as I felt fine tendrils of self-doubt uncurling in my heart.

“Who would want to voluntarily study, take an exam, go through this —?!” the last word was quite expressive of the hatred that kids have for exams.

As you may have guessed by now – this mini inter-generational drama was all about my signing up for a college course.  I had a sneaking suspicion my teen daughter’s reaction was actually resentment at the possibility of not having me at her beck and call for a few months the following year when I would be in the thick of my studies. But over the next few weeks my suspicions evaporated. I found her actually happy that she had a co-sufferer now and eventually my darling even began taking on the much-despised pet-related chores off my shoulders.

The rest of the family was just relieved I had found something to plug my intermittent whining about the absence of a ‘proper’ career.

Outside, my revelation was generally met with varying degrees of interest – from an off-hand “oh really” in the middle of a rambling description of shopping in Dubai’s Gold Souk to real concern that I might be subjecting my brain cells to more than it could bear at this age. Two reactions stand out in my memory – one:

“Really – But why? What possible good can any course do now – will you even make enough to cover course fees?”

And the second was, of course, what started it all:

“I see…if you are so interested in the subject, maybe you should go ahead with it – just find a way.”

Minerva and the Nine Muses by Hendrick Van Balen – Minerva is the Greek Goddess of Wisdom

Some words, uttered by someone, in a moment of pure congruence – you never know where it can lead you.


Lessons In Letting Go

Can it happen already?

I remember the first post written after I settled down in my cosy nook here, in the Nilgiris. There I had reflected on difficulty of uprooting oneself and changing homes ever so often.


And almost exactly a year later, I am back facing the same questions. Freshly moved to another house though still in these sylvan surroundings, here I go planning wall decor even as my half-awake mind seeks the familiar door handle at 3 in the morning when I have to let out my dog.

But most of all, my heart searches for the colours and blooms of the garden I have left behind. The burst of colours on the flower-beds, grass so green it would hurt the eyes and the perpetual humming of bees as they hovered over the hedges.

And yet I find myself embracing my new surroundings with some equanimity now. I roam its expansive grounds, feel the silken warmth of gladioli petals that bloom here in abundance and admire the gorgeous bougainvillea that embraces the porch.

But curiously I feel no desire to do more. No compulsion to impose my ideas of Beauty on these grounds, no need to recreate what I have left behind. I sit in the filigreed shade of the pine trees and watch my dog chase squirrels and rats. I know the boundary is secure but thankfully I have no more exotic flowerbeds to obsess over.


Am I moving towards the Nirvanic ideal of detachment? I’d like to think so…and turn towards an ancient Australian Aboriginal proverb for understanding,

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. We are here to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.”

A Trusted Travel Companion

I decided to play a little game –

With eyes closed, move my head around; stop randomly, open my eyes and then the first thing I notice – write about it.

Yes, writer’s block can make you do strange things.

Back to my fun experiment – my gaze had come to rest on a suitcase. Old but not too battered, roomy but without the works. The piece of luggage had been with me for almost eighteen years now but none too worse for the weather. It had accompanied me to different parts of the country, the most recent being my trip to Kohima but this was already after having breathed the cool climes of Landsdowne, basked in the southern sun of Kovalam, romanced the stone forts of Mandu in central India. This sturdy dame had done it all.


But, then I remembered with a shard of regret how it had also missed out on the Rhine cruise from six years back as well as the Seoul city tour from two. It was not deemed fast enough for the airport of Hong Kong nor fashionable enough for the luxury of Venetian Macao.


And yet, I have it still. When I have to zip across nearly two thousand kilometres to my hometown at two-days’ notice or worry that my snazzy luggage will my ruined in the grimy train interiors, or need to pack in so much of my Kolkata shopping that I have to sit on it for the lock to click shut – I fall back upon what else – my old trusted suitcase.

Not too pretty, a little frayed around the edges, understanding of my needs and the proud bearer of so many marks and stains that on the conveyor belt, it just cannot be confused with someone else’s luggage – that’s my trusted travel companion.

So here’s looking forward to many more journeys together !

Worry Woes – 3 Wily Ways To Fix Them

Dog’s appetite

no career

maid’s holiday

exam questions

garden weeds

daughter’s college fees

varicose veins

blueberry cheesecake

saree blouse designs

scratch on the car

party over the weekend

friend’s promotion


Can you guess what these are?

That’s right ! items buzzing in my overcrowded brain accompanied by much hand-wringing every day – leading to ridiculous waste of my time, mental energy and head space. So what do I do – here are 3 quick worry shooters that i have personally found helpful. And believe me, coming from a chronic worrier like yours truly, that’s saying something.

The Worry Bogey

Focus on the friendly 5

Simply focus on your 5 senses – what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel around you. And before long you will actually begin to enjoy the exercise. Like the warm envelope of a soft dressing gown straight out of a cold shower. Or the day-long bird chirrups around my Nilgiris home which I hardly paid attention to – or was thankful for – till i arrived in Kolkata in the peak of summer. In fact for me the faint earthy smell of a dog is truly comforting and i want to get as much of it now before her 11-12 years are up. Keeping your mind on the feast of senses works wonders to keep worries at bay. The catch is of course, that it takes practice before you get to see results. It is only too easy for chronic worriers to lapse back into picking mind warts. Indeed even unpleasant sensations can help you to keep off niggling worries – right now just as i started worrying about the dismal readership of my blog, I immediately shifted my mind to my uncomfortable writing posture. and well, it helped me to go on.

Ditch Products – For experiences

OK there goes my chance of finding sponsors for my blog – but really, retail therapy is one of the unhealthiest ways to deal with chronic worry. Buying something gives you a just a momentary mood spike but you can be sure the euphoria will wear away sooner than later. Even worse, if like me, you cannot afford unnecessary purchases, rest assured you have added another item – credit card bills – to your already long list of worries. Instead try and acquire experiences – like baking a batch of cookies, playing with your pet, calling your Mom, listening to rock music at an un-neighbourly volume!

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Fix a time

Chronic worriers may find it helpful to actually schedule worry. Sounds counterproductive, right – if not outright bizarre. But keeping aside a fixed time for worry will help you tell yourself, “ Hey, its OK – if worrying means so much to you, let’s find a time when you can worry without interruption. But then don’t do it at other times – deal?” And trust me, most of the time you’ll find yourself agreeing.

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Look for help

Finally, take care of yourself. If you find your worries getting out of hand – like interfering with your appetite, sleep or straying to thoughts of self-harm – get out and look for professional help. Life is the best gift of all – and nothing, absolutely nothing is worth damaging it.

But ending with a widely-loved quote on worry by, who else, Mark Twain:

“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened”


Kohima Chronicles

No, I didn’t spot a hornbill – nevertheless there was much to marvel in this Land of the Brave and the Beautiful.

The brave…


Sprawled across the slopes of Japfu range is the capital city of the state of Nagaland – Kohima. The city and its people walk with a calm balance – here sunny mornings can give way to sharp, gusty showers later in the day. gorgeous blooms of roses, geraniums and hibiscus grow in dusty pots, if not plain poly bags.


And the Beautiful.

Though the tinned roofs of the cityscape are an eyesore, the predominance of bamboo walls could be a lesson in organic growth to other Indian hill stations. There are no opulent bungalows and sprawling hotels but neither there are reeking poverty-stricken shanties. Apart from KFC, I didn’t notice many big brands but was elated to find so many shops selling musical instruments and plump succulents. Here is an attractive example of inspirational graffiti art:


I was warned that the Naga market with its raw display of meats was not for the faint-hearted yet I was found so many types of organic grown greens on sale. Then again despite the messy tangle of corruption, extortion and politics, people appear satisfied and self-contained. In fact my whining about the bone-jarring drive from Dimapur to Kohima was met with mischief-marked smiles – leading me to believe that they don’t mind the torturous access so much if it keeps crowds away. And yet over the first week of December, Kohima throws open its arms to the world for the Hornbill Festival.

Not surprisingly I returned with more questions about this land than answers…I would love to hear more from anyone who has lived and breathed its moist, mist-scented air!

New Market Matters…

Paisleys, stripes and waves dancing on royal purples, jade greens, ruby reds – a myriad colours, patterns and textures shimmering before my eyes. I lapped up the sensory feast though fabrics were clearly not on my shopping list.


But then, this was how one of Kolkata’s most popular markets made a lifelong follower out of you. Typical of the city’s paradoxical attractions, New Market continues to be called so, despite the fact that it is more than a century old. Built on the express initiative of Sir Stuart Hogg, then Chairman of Calcutta Corporation, it was inaugurated on 1 January 1874 as the first municipal market of the city and a much-needed destination where the colonial settlers could shop for their stationary from R.W. Newman or Thacker Spink or buy their dresses from Ranken and Company. Later the market was named Hogg Market but eventually came to be known as just New Market.

New Market in 1945

Today, I was interested in a bewildering spectrum of stuff – leather hand-bags, baking accessories, summer shorts, wine-glasses and finally biscuits from Nahoum and Sons, the only confectioners in India that I have come across who sell the Turkish dessert baklava on a regular, no-frills basis. Smoky Bandel Cheese is again one of the cherished offerings of New Market and might well be among the remaining traces of Portuguese cuisine in India outside Goa; just like delicious pork sausages that my friend tells me cannot be matched elsewhere in price and flavour.

Dripping in the humid heat, nevertheless we plodded on – she rolling her eyes at my “under-developed bargaining skills” and I guiding her through the semi-lit, steaming, maze-like lanes. Eventually when our arms could no longer bear anymore weight, we hailed a cab. Truth be told, I a little reluctantly, since my brain was still ticking off the items I could have still bought to take back to the Nilgiris.

Maybe a slice of hot, smoky cosmopolitan Calcutta to carry to my cool, hill-side home. Yes, I would have liked that !!

New Market now

Lasagna Lessons

A One-act play on human nature!

Yes, that is what unfolded last evening at the dinner table. At the heart of it all was the bubbling casserole of lasagna that I placed with quiet triumph. And my lesson at the end of the day was that there are roughly 4 types of human reactions to your success.


Be damned with faint praise

“Oh my! So you made lasagna today. Hmmm…very nice. Reminds me of Aunt Mildred and her amazing Sunday brunches. The table would positively groan under the weight of all those courses. And her lasagnas of course were the creamiest, tastiest ever!”. For such people, no matter how great your achievement, how much effort and time you have put into it – you are never good enough…

Focus on faults

If you were wondering how to respond to such high praise for Aunt Mildred at your dinner table, save the bother. This reaction would not even take the trouble of coming up with an unflattering comparison but cut straight to the faults. “Hmmm tastes good but maybe you can go a little easy on the salt next time? Don’t worry dear, you’ll get there. Eventually.”

The Royal Ignore

Did you really mess it up? You look for confirmation from another guest. Nothing. Not a word about your efforts. Instead conversation flows, “I told Susan to take that sorry excuse of a presentation and shove it up her…” You look at the big spoonfuls of lasagna she is shovelling in her mouth and wait for a response, “…Would you believe her nerve? And all this right in front of me, in my office!”. Yes. You do believe. That some people can have minds that are so small, so petty that a word of praise for another’s success can actually threaten their entire existence.

Pure Joy

Finally, you get the reaction that celebrates all those hours of effort. A broad grin that makes the eyes dance. Ecstatic groans that rise all the way from a satiated alimentary tract. “Mmmm…best lasagna ever…” By then you don’t need to hear any more. You are half-way through your own dinner.

And you know exactly how Success tastes !



October on my mind…

A week after its release, I finally managed to watch October – a finely-nuanced Hindi movie about love, loss and waiting for both. Director Shoojit Sircar sets it in Delhi – that rare Indian metro city where autumn is properly felt as a season and not just a transit between the humid summers and cool December. The title appropriately evokes the themes of near-death, near-love in the backdrop of near-winter.

October mornings in Delhi. Photo courtesy: DNA India

But this is not a movie review.

This is more about thoughts on what, ultimately, makes Life worth living? Having someone to love? Like a 21-year old daughter in coma who cannot even say ‘Ma’ but for whom the mother spends nights in the hospital and days earning the money needed to keep the life-support machines running.

Or maybe being loved by someone makes the real difference – like by the young man who daily checks her urine output and is the one to jumpstart the healing process by bringing her favourite flowers to smell.

October flowers – Shiuli

Perhaps it is those young interns who are actually right – having found the balance between practicality, carrying on with the business of living and still concerned enough about their hospitalized friend to shell out precious cash for her medicines and cover for the guy who wants to be there.

One might even wonder if the cantankerous uncle – who never stops whining about ballooning hospital bills and the prospect of lifelong paralysis – is nearer to the brutal truth of what physical and mental faculties actually define a quality life. Much as we would want him to shut up.

Who knows who is right, what is right ? Scriptwriter Juhi Chaturvedi does not leave us with easy answers. The movie and its questions linger long after the closing credits – much like the faint fragrance of Shiuli – the delicate, short-lived flower of October mornings.

An Idle Question

Now what??!!

The question accompanied the sinking feeling of having made a bad choice. The strawberries of course, sat in the bowl innocuously – shimmering in ruby red colours perfectly accessorized by their green tops.


“Too sour” – my daughter echoed what I already knew. And with her reaction, drained away the lukewarm hope that her teen palate wouldn’t mind the tart fruits. I had asked someone else to do the veggie shopping and now I heartily wished I had gone to the store myself.

With a heavy heart, I reached for my phone and Googled ‘sour strawberry recipes’. Apart from some pretty useful search results, what really surprised me were search prompts like, “what to do with sour strawberries”, “how to sweeten sour strawberries” and so on. Cheered up by the realization that I was not the only one struggling with the sour-strawberry-dilemma in this world, I sauntered to my garden – the culprit bowl in one hand, my phone in the other. The green lawn were lit up by a golden sun, the bees were humming around the honeysuckle hedge and I chose my favourite spot near the jewelled petunias to sit and go through the search results.


The tips were the usual mix: macerate the sour berries in a mix of honey, lemon/ fruit juice, bake them in muffins and cakes, blend them into a smoothie, cook them into a spicy chutney or just douse them with sugar and keep overnight. However my mind was already totalling the cons – honey would rack up calories and cooking would ruin the nutrients.  May be, I should take the easiest way out but as I glanced at the bowl to gauge the quantity of the berries, I was taken aback.

Only three remained – had I absent-mindedly been popping them into my mouth all this while? May be they weren’t so unpleasant, after all. I wish I had enjoyed them as well – the taste, texture, their luscious tartness with just the right degree of crunch…

So much like Life – we fret about what is not right, why we should have decided otherwise and how we can make it better – whereas all the while we are living it, spending it and forgetting to enjoy its sweet-sour moments !


Follow the harvest trail…

Today amidst the flurry of New Year wishes, one particular post on social media caught my attention.



The fact that we Bengalis – as a linguistic and cultural community undivided by international boundaries –  share our New Year with festivals in other parts of India invariably gladdens my heart every time April comes around. As we get ready to feast on kosha mangsho and payesh – must-haves on the traditional Bengali spread – Tamil Nadu is celebrating Puthandu, Kerala is enjoying Vishu Kani, Assam is swaying to Bihu, Punjab is rocking to Vaisakhi and Orissa is marking Pana Sankranti.

Interestingly, many parts of South and South-eastern Asia also usher in their traditional New Year around this time. Thailand, Laos and Burma are awash in the colours of Songkran, Pi Mai Lao and Thingyan respectively.  The Cambodian Choul Chnam Thmey literally means “Enter New Year” in the Khmer language and the Sinhalese New Year is known as Aluth Avurudda. The official calendar of Nepal, Bikram Sambath too is unfurled around this time. Indeed Bangladesh celebrates Pahela Baishakh  in a most spectacular manner with the Mangal Shobhajatra in Dhaka now being declared by UNESCO as a cultural heritage of humanity.

Photo courtesy: The Asian Age

There are many ways of explaining this concurrence of festivities. Astronomically, this time marks the beginning of the Aries zodiac known as Mesh in Sanskrit – thus countries which had been influenced Sanskrit/Hindu astronomy historically, for example as a result of invasion by the Chola dynasty, still follow its cultural observations.

What I like to think though is that all these communities are bound by ancient rhythms of seasons and agriculture. Not so long ago and still so in some places, harvests would be gathered in at this time, larders filled and prayers of thanks offered for Nature’s bounty. What else could explain so many rituals associated with rice, water and earth?

Today, with increasing urbanization, many of these harvest rituals are fading away. And yet, the spirit of cultural belonging remains strong. If music, food, art and nature help Bengalis push religious and national identities in the background to come together on Poila Boishakh, young Khmer girls dress up in all their traditional finery half-way across the world in Georgia, US.


What an amazing place is this world of ours !

Awash in Purple

It is that time of the year when the verdant horizon glows with splashes of purple!


That’s right – Jacaranda trees are aflame now in the Nilgiris, painting the landscape a deep mauve in places. The Wikipedia informs that Jacaranda is technically a genus of flowering tree that includes as many as 49 species of plants, bearing the signature bluish-purple blossoms. The variety most common in Asia and the one most blooming all around is the Jacaranda mimosifolia.


After a gusty night, the paths appear to be covered in a rich violet carpet. Indeed if you happen to walk through an avenue of jacaranda trees on a breezy day, you are likely to be greeted by a shower of delicate lilac-coloured petals – enough to make you feel as though receiving the most vivacious coloured benedictions from the heavens.


Jacaranda has lent its name to many a bungalow, lifestyle outlet and road in these parts. The visual extravagance of its blossoming draws tourists from the plains and in fact places like Grafton and Brisbane in Australia have their own Jacaranda festivals.

A good idea for the Nilgiris, really – and yet another opportunity to ruminate at length how these Blue Hills got their name…

3 Ways to Get Going

These days I have a powerful quote as my laptop wallpaper – and it serves as a highly effective motivating mantra



The only thing really to do is to start! Forget about being in the right mood to launch into that novel, the right frame of mind to update the resume or even the right weather conditions to weed the garden. If something is bugging you deep within, it is never the right moment – instead just dive into what you have been wanting to do. Remember how that annoying know-it-all uncle from childhood would drone on that you are never gonna learn to swim while splashing at the shallow end? Or how your older sibling would threaten to take out the training wheels from your bike? That’s right – you just gotta start – and then figure out, as you go along, how to do it better.

This though doesn’t mean that you cannot use a little help. Rope in positive people to keep your spirits up – apart from supportive family and genuine friends, it could be a former teacher, a kind neighbour or even that kind person at the deli counter who really listens when you dreamily talk about your longtime desire to go hiking in Bhutan. Since this kind of support is really not within your control, do what you can make it easier to get going. Just yesterday a few of us were discussing how playing our favourite music makes it easier to wash dishes and finish other such boring chores. Apart from music, lighting an energizing fragrance or sipping a cup of freshly brewed lemon tea could do the trick.

Finally, do what you can. Break up a difficult venture into small, realistic, regular targets which have greater chances of success because they seem less daunting. Reward yourself for each target accomplished but as we agreed in our life skills class – let the reward be commensurate with the goal. So rather than splurging on a new pair of shoes for finishing one chapter of your Research Paper, wear your fire-red lip colour or scarf to work/college that day. Keep bigger indulgences for major goals met.

And before you know – you will be raring to go!





Today Tell Your Story



-William Faulkner

How important is it to tell your own story?


Human lives are densely interwoven with stories – we are born as the result of intersection of two people’s stories, grow up listening to tales, acquire morals, warnings, inspiration through them and inevitably construct our own narratives – replete with sub-plots, twists and turns, climaxes and temporary resolutions till another complication begins to take shape. In fact I think our stories do not even die with us – they might figure as a prologue in our children’s or sub-plots in other people’s stories and anything else that we leave behind as a legacy.

And who best to tell your story than you?

A few days back our book club met to discuss Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Remember Liesel, and her inexplicable tendency of swiping a book wherever she comes across one? Even though in the beginning of the novel she cannot read ! Eventually Liesel moves beyond “collecting” books – she learns to read and most importantly, write. The act of writing her own story saves her –  metaphorically, as it imbues her life experiences with meaning and optimism and then literally in the end as she falls asleep in the basement while writing her book and thus escapes the bombing which wipes out her foster family.

And yet not all personal narratives need be positive. The theory of narrative therapy as propounded by Michael White and David Epston, points out how problem-saturated life stories can lead to unhappiness, worry, anxiety and such psychological issues. The way ahead lies in re-interpreting, re-framing negative events and episodes to construct a positive narrative and looking for “unique moments” or opportunities to bring about beneficial changes.

Writing your story can be cathartic when emotions and feelings are raging inside you, can give coherence when you can’t make sense of your life and finally closure, when you need to get over episodes or people to be able to move on. Finally, as one of my favourite poets, Maya Angelou says,

Image Courtesy: Brainyquote.com


The Elephant in the Quilt

A quilt shaking as though it has a life of its own, like an elephant in there – a pair of young female eyes  is struck into silence by what she sees…

This is how the 1942 short story, Lihaaf translated as The Quilt ends which was eventually hailed as a trailblazer in women’s writing about class, gender and sexuality in the Indian subcontinent. The author was a bold, irreverent 27 year old woman named Ismat Chugtai whose liberal upbringing and a keen awareness of patriarchal politics made her take up the pen. Later in life, her non-fiction work, Yahan se Wahan Tak would read, “The pen is my livelihood and my friend, my confidante…Whenever I want I can send for anyone via the pen’s flying carpet, and when these people arrive, I can say anything, make them cry, laugh or reduce them to ashes with my harsh words.”


It is this fire from her pen that charted a new kind of writing where women could use the form of the short story in Urdu to talk about not just female sexuality but about other kinds of discrimination, oppressions they faced on a daily basis. This however did not go unopposed by patriarchal institutions as stories like Lihaaf faced court cases and others like Angaarey were banned at various times in the subcontinent.


Apart from Lihaaf, Chugtai is today best known for her story collections like  Chhui Mui, Thori si Pagal, Aik Baat, Do Haath, novellas like Ziddi which was made into a hit Hindi move of the same title but most of all for the novel, Tehri Lakeer or The Crooked Line which was considered her magnum opus. Later her non-fiction work like essays and memoirs especially Kaghazi hai Pehraan too received much appreciation and renown. Official recognition came in the form of a slew of media awards including the Filmfare Award for best Story for the Partition classic Garam Hawa on which she worked with noted Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi as well as state awards, including the Padma Shri in 1976.

Chugtai died in 1991 in then Bombay but not before she had been successful in ‘Lifting The Veil’ – incidentally the title given to an anthology of her stories – from the reality of gender and class politics in the subcontinent and offered women writers to come, new avenues in literary form and style.

For my Daughter – On her Birthday…

It took me a while but eventually I found it !

The perfect poem for my daughter on her birthday

Titled “The Writer” and written by Richard Wilbur, the poem is a visual and finely-pitched exploration of a parent’s thoughts as he/she wishes strength and perseverance for the daughter to fight, learn and fly.



In her room at the prow of the house

Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,

My daughter is writing a story.


I pause in the stairwell, hearing

From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys

Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.


Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:

I wish her a lucky passage.


But now it is she who pauses,

As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.

A stillness greatens, in which


The whole house seems to be thinking,

And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor

Of strokes, and again is silent.


I remember the dazed starling

Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;

How we stole in, lifted a sash


And retreated, not to affright it;

And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,

We watched the sleek, wild, dark


And iridescent creature

Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove

To the hard floor, or the desk-top,


And wait then, humped and bloody,

For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits

Rose when, suddenly sure,


It lifted off from a chair-back,

Beating a smooth course for the right window

And clearing the sill of the world.


It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life or death, as I had forgotten.  I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.

(From New and Collected Poems, published by Harcourt Brace, 1988. Copyright © 1969 by Richard Wilbur. All rights reserved)

Many thanks to this page at poetry.org where I found a collection of evocative poems on daughters – the love, joy, youthfulness and hope they bring into their parents’ lives, the strength that they display through life’s challenges but also their differences with parents which eventually mark them out as individuals in their own right.

Mummies of Egypt – an ancient science and a lasting wonder

Of the original Seven Wonders of the World listed by ancient Greek travellers like Antipater of Sidon and Philo of Byzantium, today only the Great Pyramids of Giza remain. Egypt though continues to draw travellers from across the world for a related attraction – mummies.

The Egyptian God Anubis attending the mummy of Sennedjem

Ancient Egyptians believed that earthly death was the beginning of the person’s journey into the next world. If the person was to live in another world, the body had to survive and to this end was invented the science of mummification. This was a process of preservation of the body – all the internal organs of the dead were removed and put in canopic jars. The body was next covered with a mixture of salt known as natron to remove all moisture. Then the body was wrapped in thin strips of linen, decorated with protective amulets and placed in mummy case or coffins.

Because of the highly expensive and lengthy – the mummification of a single body could take up to 70 days – the process was reserved only for the rich and powerful. However , all Egyptians in those days would be buried with certain goods essential to make the supposed journey to the other world – these would include food, household objects like bowls, grooming tools like combs and other trinkets. The wealthy were of course were expected to make the journey into afterlife in style and hence were buried with jewellery, furniture and later with certain symbolic objects like shabtis and scarabs.

A complete set of canopic jars

No matter how elaborate the burial arrangements, the living however could not expect their responsibilities to diminish – they were  supposed to continue to visit the tomb of their deceased relatives with food and prayers –  talk about the dead not giving up !

Gossip, Interrupted

There – I had managed to do it! It had taken some concerted effort on my part, but I had stuck it out, held on to my guns and not given up. In case you wondering what all the self-congratulation is about, I shall give you one word – Gossip. and I had managed to survive an entire party without giving in to its temptation.

 Oil on cradled Panel titled ‘Gossip’ by Eugen Von Blass, 1903

In his best known work, Faerie Queen, Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser, described Slander as a Blatant Beast who wreaks havoc, less by brute physical force and more by sneaky rumour-mongering. Indeed the wounds inflicted by the Beast in the lengthy poem turn out to be almost incurable since they not just physically hurt the victim but destroy him/her psychically.

Seems a bit fanciful today, doesn’t it – after all, everyone indulges in a little harmless gossip now and then. And yet, is it really harmless?

A snide remark here, a loaded suggestion there. Rolled up eyes and a meaningful wink – so many weapons to shoot a reputation down, attack a person behind his/her back. And oh, this kind of arsenal is gender neutral – men use it as much as women to strike.

Is this why people gossip – to bring down others? Is this the only pay-off? This word is actually a loaded term from Eric Berne’s Games People Play where one of the psychological games described is Blemish. In fact, he really classifies it a classic Party game and yesterday, as I was revising Transactional Analysis for my students, I realized with a jolt, how often have I seen it played out before my very eyes – and daresay at times, participated myself!

“ ‘Blemish’ players do not feel comfortable with a new person until they have found his blemish,” says Berne “… It has internal psychological advantage of warding off depression, and the external psychological advantage of avoiding the intimacy which might expose the player’s own blemishes.” (from Games People Play, Eric Berne)


As I pondered on the pay-off, a more contemporary metaphor came to my mind – maybe not high-falutin’ Spensarian allegory but I wondered if gossip does not act as a drug! You start with only this amount to get a high – the Bernian pay-off – and then proceed to increasingly higher doses to attain the same level of pay-off.

But as Berne also points out, a script can be changed – rewritten too if driven by awareness and enough volition. And as I think back on all the exciting conversations I had at the last party with guests other than the gossipers, I realize that I had managed to beat back the Blatant Beast – take that Gossip, I don’t need you anymore !!

And yet I am aware that this requires hard work and will-power –  after all tomorrow is another day, another Party…


PTSD – How to help

On a day that our guest lecturer dealt with the topic of Stress and Trauma Management in a highly impactful way, I came back home and started pondering on PTSD. Standing for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is a psychological condition that affects those who have suffered a major trauma to the psyche and/or the body.


Actually I knew nothing of the acronym or what it meant the first time I saw it in action – in an Oliver Stone movie, Heaven and Earth where Tommy Lee Jones plays the role of an American soldier who returns from the Vietnam War not only with a wife but also inner demons which eventually drive him to turn the gun on himself.

Courtesy:Warner Bros

If your loved one is suffering from PTSD, here is how can you help:

Know the symptoms

Ideally, the person should be seeing a counsellor as part of his/her recuperation process from the traumatic incident. If that has not happened, watch out for unusual behaviour. Signs that can alert you to a PTSD victim could range from apparently minor ones like sleep disturbances and a tendency to avoid social situations to extreme ones like intense fear, anxiety, helplessness, hypervigilance and even hallucinations. If such symptoms have been continuing for a month at least, it is time to look up a doctor for the right diagnosis.

Get Help

See that he/she continues with treatment which could be therapy, medication or a combination of both.  This is because though symptoms can vary from apparently mild to obviously debilitating, they can quickly take a turn where the affected person can put their own selves or those of their loved ones, in harm’s way.

Really Listen

Be available when the victim wants to talk about the incident or about anything else. Avoid arguing and interrupting him/her but when you are concerned, wait your turn and voice your feelings clearly. Above all, don’t offer advice – rather ask what you can do to help.



Finally, offer your complete support. Invite him/her to accompany you out of doors for some time everyday – like going for a walk, feeding the ducks in a nearby park or some such peaceful activity. Encourage him/her to take small steps to get back to family and friends but never rush a victim to “snap out of it” – recovering from PTSD is a complex process and both the victim as well as his/her loved ones like you need to give it time.


RUMI – The Mystic


The other day I managed to beat the alarm.

After lying in bed and staring at the darkness for what seemed an eternity, I decided I might as well enjoy some coffee.

Now fortified with caffeine, I was raring to go. But rather than diving into work, I wanted to do something different – “let me use the early hour”, I thought. As I stared at the wallpaper, I realized a change was long due – soon I was browsing for a suitable replacement.

Rumi has always been a favourite voice for inspirational quotes and images. While I have quite a few of these on my phone, I hunted for an image of good resolution for my wallpaper.

But first a little about the person himself. Jalal-ud-din Rumi was born sometime in first century AD in Balkh – a flourishing centre of arts and learning in Khorasan, north-eastern Iran. Like his father, Rumi became highly respected as a teacher and philosopher, even before he turned 30.


But soon his life was to be turned upside down. At 37, he met a wandering dervish named Shams al-Din Muhammad bin Ali Malikdad Tabrizi and was deeply influenced by the latter’s mystic teachings. However Tabrizi’s fame earned the jealousy of many and the seer left without telling anyone. Though heartbroken at Tabrizi’s disappearance, Rumi was inspired to write Divan Shams Tabrizi, now considered his greatest poetic work. Eventually all of Rumi’s teachings and philosophy came to be compiled in six volumes of Mathnavi, by his loyal disciple, Hesam al-Din Chalabi.

Today Rumi’s words quite often find their way into lists of inspirational sayings and quotes. One reason why they are so popular could be perhaps that even when taken out of context, they do surprisingly well. Then again their essential mysticism means that they lend themselves to varied interpretations – depending on the inner compulsions of the reader. Finally the natural imagery, fluid verses and a sparse symbolism means that despite being translated from Persian, his words glow with hope and generosity across time and space.


When disaster strikes – what you can do

Many places in the world yesterday went to bed disturbed at the news of a horrifying shoot-out in Christchurch, New Zealand where four people opened fire on people gathered at two mosques for their Friday prayers.

I will leave the hows and whys of the incident to political analysts and sociological experts. Instead I will outline three ways of psychological assistance in the immediate aftermath of any disaster, natural or man-made.

image courtesy: abcnews.go.com


Stabilizing emotional arousal

– the key to offering psychological first aid in a disaster situation is not to rush in with your arsenal of therapeutic weapons. Rather the first thing to do is to stabilize acute emotional arousal. In plainspeak, it means to remove the person away from provocative cues like disturbing sights and sounds. as far as possible, delay impulsive actions like self-harm and harm to others. Providing distractions and a task to complete are other effective ways of stabilizing acute arousal.

Mitigate acute distress

now fortunately, everyone of the scene of a disaster may not be in a state of intense psychological dysfunction. A majority will be just stunned and distressed – these may need just some support to get back to regular functioning and taking care of their dependents. simple explanations as to why the disaster happened, normalizing the victims’ distress, stress management techniques, reframing the incident and correcting any mistaken notions – like “it was God’s punishment for something I did or did not do” – are proven ways to mitigate acute distress felt by survivors.

image courtesy: hindustantimes.com


A couple of days after you have provided basic intervention, a follow up is needed to check how the survivor is doing. If you think your measures have worked, leave it to the power of natural human resilience to do the rest; if you think the victim needs a little more support, offer it and then plan to meet again shortly. However if a third follow up seems necessary, then it would be better to refer the survivor to other resources which need not be only psychological but could be medical, financial, logistical or even spiritual.

A song by Tagore

The philosophical mood continues…The other day I heard one of Tagore’s most thoughtful songs on radio. And its quiet optimism seeped deep into my soul. So for this week’s update, I decided to attempt a translation of the song titled in Bengali, “Ki paini, tari hishab milate…”

Windy Day at Narin.    Image Courtesy: Stephen Bennett Studio Gallery

What I did not get, let that balance be.

my heart refuses to go down that arid way.

Instead, drawn to yonder path filled with light and shade

it sways to the lilt of a hundred flutes.

Have I not loved this Earth, her myriad moods?

And so I embrace her memories,

of all those springs that showered

my basket with the southern breeze.

Do you look for my tears?

They lie deep in the layers of my heart,

secretly nourishing the rigours of agony.

Yet, every now and then

did they not break a few strings of my lute?

But why unleash all the pain

since even then, again and again

they wrought some exquisite melody

and that is what remains with me today.