What do you Want …

…when you have everything you Need

 

The fantastic thinking-feeling-behaving unit that the human being is, means that each second, we are a bubbling cauldron of myriad motivations, desires, impulses and compulsions. And one of the deepest frustrations is when you are well provided for physically but that does not seem enough. Despite having a cushy life, you feel dissatisfied, anxious and unhappy. Here are 3 lines of thought that can help you address the issue.

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Identify what to do

Check your interests and aptitudes to identify at a common subset. List activities that you are good at and find pleasure in doing. These could range from arts, gardening, coding, cooking, accounting, sports to working with animals, organizing events and much more. It could even be taking a course for the sheer pleasure of learning. Find opportunities for your kind of activities around you or on the internet – opportunities, that to start with, let you do what you want, rather than help you earn what you think you should. This is not to imply that getting paid should not be a goal. There is no judgement about wanting to make money – but do ask yourself if what you actually want is just to see your bank balance grow. Or is money a means to an end – like perhaps to travel or afford a good meal at a fancy restaurant. If the latter is the case, understand that you already have the resources to do so. Now, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to do what you are really good at and interested in? Depending on your specific situation, you can start monetizing your activities eventually and even if you can’t, look for intangible rewards – happy feedback from your college alumni after you have successfully organized a reunion party. Or perhaps the satisfaction of knowing that your mentoring helped your neighbour’s daughter cracking that promotional interview. Like many good things of life, rewards too come in many shapes and sizes.

Look outside

But without expectations. In other words, find a purpose outside yourself. It could be spirituality or working for a non-profit.  Ask yourself how your skills and experience can better lives of others. Volunteering consistently ranks as one of the most satisfying activities in human life. And if you are among the fortunate few who do not need paid work for your physical survival, what better opportunity to give back to your community. To give freely your time and expertise to others who need it, has helped many many individuals cope with listlessness, grief and given their lives meaning.  Give it a try before you decide it is not for you.

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Look within you

With honesty. If you are blessed with health, loving relationships, things to do and ample resources but still feel frustrated, perhaps it is time to revisit your definitions of a meaningful life. Ask yourself who decides what is Success and Happiness and why it need not be the same for you. Be aware of the continuous bombardment of consumerist lifestyle images in media that create hitherto non-existent wants, then disguise them as needs, thus trapping you in a perpetual state of discontent. If you feel particularly miserable, go to the root of your compulsions and thought patterns, asking yourself why you feel the way you do and what you can do about it – better still, do this with a trusted friend or counsellor to arrive at answers that makes sense.

3 Tips to Help Kids Study Better

Though exam season came and went amid a saga of ‘yes, no, maybe…’ that would do daytime soaps proud, results were uploaded with little warning, leading to quite a bit of excitement on part of parents and students. More so at this end, since my bright teen shone in all subjects, making us really, really proud. When someone who I like to think of my guide and mentor, asked me one lesson that I would like to share with parents of all school students out there, I wondered why not take it to three! So here are 3 tips, from my personal experience, to help your kid study harder and do better.

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Be a Role Model

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this point. Whatever you wish your kids to do, make it a point to do it yourself first. So pick up a book or go for a run, if you wish your child to read more or be physically active; Solve puzzles, discuss world affairs and research interesting phenomenon yourself if you wish to bring up a child with critical and creative thinking skills.  Naturally, you should not use this to pressurize your kid to follow your footsteps when it comes to choosing a college major or career choice. No matter how good you are with numbers, your child might have a richer spatial or musical intelligence and no amount of eulogizing the magic of digits may make him/her choose Accountancy as a major. So, rather than getting caught up with the superficials, focus on modelling good life skills and study habits.

Popularity is not paramount

Every generation struggles with its own challenges. If many parents had to give up youthful passions to earn a stable livelihood, their own kids have more support to follow their inclinations. And yet while we were spared of social media pressures, today’s kids are staring at unrealistic demands to be cool, special and perennially popular. As parents you have to set limits to not just social media use but more importantly determine priorities – is a party on a school night more important than an upcoming test? Will hanging out with the stylish set at the mall help your child to realize life goals better than going to his/her music/astronomy/soccer club?

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Marks only indicate potential

Between the extreme camps of those who believe numbers are not important at all and those who head to school to fight with teachers for half a mark more, I feel comfortable mid-way. Marks scored in tests are important in so far as they indicate potential and possibilities. If my daughter scores more than 90% in every test, I am not going to discount the hard work that has gone into it. Likewise, if a child scores 50% in a subject, it is time for parents and teachers to find out how he/she can be helped – in that very subject as much as in others. At the same time, I realize very clearly that a high score is not an end in itself. It opens up doors and boosts confidence for sure – but eventually it is upto the individual to work hard, persevere and realize those possibilities.

 

3 Quotes to Get Back the Faith – in You!

Who among us has not been through those times – when self-doubts ring louder in our own ears than the dismissive glances and silent mockery of others. Here are then 3 quotes on Self Confidence to help you get through such times – from the classic to the expressive!

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“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“If my mind can conceive it,
My heart can believe it,
I know I can achieve it!”
― Jesse Jackson

 

“People who repeatedly attack your confidence and self-esteem are quite aware of your potential, even if you are not.”
― Wayne Gerard Trotman

 

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“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves – or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.”

Ayn Rand

3 Feminist Movies for Millenials and Others

Given that discussions on gender and sexuality are repeatedly elbowed out of  the mainstream by the astrological merits of thaali-banging and eye candy visuals of celebrities baking in the lockdown, I am pleasantly intrigued when my teen forwards me links to the instauniverse, links that have young people debating questions like who needs feminism, who can do without it and whether there is such a thing at all beyond the feverish imagination of angry middle aged women who really should get a makeover, preferably with a man’s money.

All this chatter got me thinking about whether these bright girls and boys, who have quite some time on their hands since schools and colleges are yet to open, would not do well to go a little further back and explore how these issues have been represented and discussed in the past. And what better medium to open up conversations than cinema! So for the purposes of widest possible access, here are 3 Hindi movies talking about gender from a time in Indian cinema when some very fabulous work was done.

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Image credit: Filmfare

Arth – 1982

I start with this as it has faces that millenials and Gen Z just might recognize. Starring two iconic Art House actresses Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil, this Mahesh Bhatt movie used the familiar upper class urban milieu to talk about love, marriage, adultery, abuse and self-worth. When I first watched it as a teen, I was appalled that the jilted wife, after she has found her footing as a professional, would reject the love of the tender-hearted ghazal singer. Now I marvel that 40 years back, a Hindi movie ended with the female protagonist choosing to go it alone and to boot, bring up a child that was not even hers – something that even today’s mainstream movies shy of showing.

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Image credit: dhrupad.tumblr.com

Rukamavati Ki Haveli – 1991

This movie makes it to the list to show how it does not always take a man to bring about the worst excesses of patriarchy. Adapted from the Frederico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernada Alba, the Govind Nihalani movie pits the iron-willed female head of an aristocratic household against the simmering desires and rebellions of her five daughters. While the mother’s control of her girls’ hearts and bodies deprives the family of any joy and tenderness, even the attentions of the sole young male character – who interestingly never once appears on the screen – cannot bode well. His arrival, rather than freeing any woman, ignites the cauldron of jealousy, repressed desires, economic dependence, madness into a tragedy that is the natural result of the unrelenting, multi-layered dominance of the core ideals of patriarchy.

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Image credit: Filmigeek.com

Manoranjan – 1974

However the movie that I think was aeons ahead of its time is this remake of Irma La Douce that with the lightest of comic touches, exposes the glaring cross-section of interconnected patriarchal systems.  Nisha, named with rather heavy-handed symbolism, is what you would refer to diplomatically as a ‘lady of the night’. She is a friendly generous soul, enjoys her ‘work’, has fun making friends with men other than clients.  Directed by Shammi Kapoor, the movie turns upside down so many givens of patriarchal morality with irrepressible gaiety – the upright, male cop being taken in by a comfortably-off female sex-worker in an economic reversal of sorts and his later bumbling attempts to make an ‘honest’ woman of her – read: ensuring exclusive access to her body – which she shrugs off with delightful compassion. Though the movie goes on to weave multiple sub-plots in the manner of situational comedy, the underlying premise repeatedly asks who has made the norms, mores and ideals that we live by, and to benefit whom?

Can you think of more Hindi or Bollywood movies of the 1970s and ‘80s, on these lines? Let me know in your comments.

 

Yet Another Farewell…

It has been a while since I updated my blog – just as well perhaps, since today I have something significant to share. Some of my students dropped over today – to say goodbye before they moved on, literally and figuratively, to other destinations. And I realized with a lurch in my heart, that this moment stole upon me surreptitiously, rather unfairly – without much warning.

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Over the past years, we have had a proper closure to the course, ranging from a formal convocation with a certificate-giving-away parade at the college auditorium to a dressed-to-kill, fun-filled evening at the local pub. There would be umpteen posings for pics in the former and a steady stream of liquids flowing in the latter – all rounded off with earnest proclamations of never to lose touch. But this year the lockdown cheated us of the trimmings and left us to scramble up a farewell, as best as we could.

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And yet, like always, the impact has not softened. I have signed off from the course with a heavy heart, knowing that Friday mornings will never be the same again. For three consecutive years, I have learnt, shared, argued, discussed, planned and dreamt with my students. I have understood that I can only hope to teach someone how to learn, leaving the what-to-learn to individual goals and choices. I have become more flexible in my attitudes and expectations, knowing that what moves and drives me need not do the same for others. I have drawn succour from my students when feeling low and have found purpose when life appeared to pass by. What I take away – as I hope others have – is a perennial desire to grow and widen the ripples of inspiration.

Do I Know You?

For the privileged of the world, this COVID-19 enforced lockdown has turned out to be a time of reflection. Upon what we are missing, cherishing, dreading, loving and why. After the hectic days of cooking, baking and rushing to complete online courses, I too found myself soaring, gliding, floating and even diving in the realm of ruminations. This time, lesser known philosophies ranging from Epicureanism and Cynicism in the western tradition to Ajivika, Charvaka and Tao in the Eastern tradition engaged my thoughts – not surprisingly hours passed by as I went over and over my understanding of the world, God, ethics, afterlife, morals and the incredible number of conventions we assume to be “infallible truths”.

But my emerging world view is not what I want to discuss here. In the thick of these ruminations, I happened to get chatting with a dear friend, who for various reasons, I have not seen for a decade and a half now. Each of us has gone through life-defining experiences and keeping them in mind, we agreed that “we are hardly the same people we were all those years back”. After the chat, I got thinking again – what if this is more than a verbal cliché? What if we are really different people now, from who we were decades back…

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One of the many self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, depicting among other things, our multiple selves

Think about this – you would not disagree that experiences shape our being. What we encounter – illnesses, traumatic episodes, grief and injuries leave not just physical imprint on our selves but also change our psyche. Remember the extraordinary story of Phineas Gage who after a massive brain injury exhibited a distinct change in social behaviours. Depending on what we have gone through, we become more or less anxious, confident, social, aggressive, experimental, passive, spiritual and so on. So if, day after day, month after month and year after year, we are changing in all these ways – since we are perpetually going through different experiences – how can it be said I am exactly the same person I was 10 years back?

Indeed, science suggests that we might not even have the same body from a decade back. Because of the continuous cellular death and regeneration happening in all parts of our body, it can be said we get a new body every ten years or so. But if you think all this is incredible, wait for the implications – if I am not the same person from fifteen years back, does it mean I cannot be held accountable for choices made by that previous ‘me’? Does this imply all contracts, relationships, affiliations entered into decades back should rightly be up for scrutiny now? What would such a state of affairs mean for institutions like family, marriage, law, economy, citizenship…!

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Girl Before A Mirror by Picasso

But the centre still holds – however tenuously. I found out that some body parts like tooth enamel and eye lenses are never replaced over the human lifespan. We are born with and die with the same genetic blueprint. More importantly the brain cells are not regenerated as you age – though recent studies say that cells in the hippocampus, the part responsible for memory, can regrow. And if the brain is the seat of all mental life, suffice to say that psychologically we are the same person throughout our lives. Also Trait theory of personality says that traits like openness, conscientiousness, extroversion and neuroticism are stable across time.

So yes, I am and you are – a mix. Of light and shadows, of body and mind, of genes and situations – we are a mix of the changeless and the changing, of the Past and the Present and all the moments in between.

Hygge Your Way Through the Lockdown

Amid all the suggestions on how get through an extended COVID 19 enforced lockdown, I suddenly remembered the Northern concept of hygge. Pronounced “hoo-ga”, the term refers to the practice of passing long, harsh Nordic winters with a cosy appreciation of the joys of life, all the while remaining indoors. I first came across the word in Helen Russell’s book, The Year of Living Danishly. Hygge actually covers a wide spectrum of activities ranging from snuggling with your dog and favourite book before a roaring fire to slow dancing with your loved one and further, enjoying the company of close friends over good food and wine. Above all, Hygge is a philosophy of life that cherishes experiences over things, that savours homely delights over extravagant commercialism and goes beyond clicking social media pics to make meaningful connections.

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So is it possible to transport this ideal across half the world to other places and context? Naturally the socializing aspect of hygge has to be left out – pun intended! – in these lockdown times. We cannot have close friends and neighbours sharing our smorgasbord, but what about other joys? Can we learn to relish the experiences of cooking, eating, cleaning, listening to music and playing with pets if only because they imply that we are blessed with resources that ensure our physical survival. Can we set aside some time and space – indeed jazz it up a bit – so as to enhance the experience of being connected with our loved ones? Can I not fret about ruined plans and instead remember to be thankful for the sheer fact that I have options? Naturally an open fireplace in the peak of summer is suicidal, but surely a few fragrant candles, some soothing music and the absence of intrusive phones can make more than one lockdown evening, special!

 

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Final day of the Lockdown Diaries

Straddling the last day of Lockdown 1.0 and the first day of the Bengali New Year, the familiarity of the old ways and the strangeness of the new normal, I write my final post of the Lockdown Diaries.

For a while now I have been used to taking ownership of my own happiness. And so when a couple of evenings back, the prospect of the ushering in the Bengali New Year in a lockdown stared at me, I was far from being unfazed. Instead I breathed a sigh of relief for the whole coconut in my pantry and the remaining bit of fish in my freezer – both typifying our tradition of faith and food.  It was only when the I began measuring out the fragrant Gobindobhog rice for the payesh this morning, I realized how unusual this day is going to be – without family or even friends. Yet I continued to scoop more palmfuls of rice, as though all the places on my dining table would be filled up. Food – the planning, the preparing, the tasting and the sheer gratitude for its presence on our plates – turned out to be my emotional anchor – food that not just nourishes the body but sustains the soul.

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Indeed that is how the day eventually filled up for me –  with calls to loved ones, with cooking all our family culinary favourites, with my Festive playlist blasting on my speakers and with laughter as my daughter fooled about with my dog. In the evening, as the dough for Mughlai parota rested, I treated myself to the mellow flavours of Malibu and the mellifluous strains of Ghulam Ali. It was the perfect setting for some contemplation – what shape will the future take, where will the limits of our footsteps be drawn, when will half-opened plans get on their way, how to spot the life lessons here and then gather the courage to act upon them. An apocryphal saying came to mind,

“May you live in interesting times !”

But before I could smile in recognition, I remembered what it is popularly known as:   the Chinese Curse. COVID-19, anyone?

Day 19 of the Lockdown Diaries

Lockdown Parenting Tips…

A routine chat with a family member set me thinking about how kids and their parents are coping with the lockdown. With study and sports schedules, home and hobby routines gone haywire, kids must find it all very frustrating. Not to mention harried parents, who while managing irregular work schedules and added chores must now also keep devising new ways of keeping kids engaged. So I did a little digging today and here are 3 lockdown parenting tips that I came up with:

The foremost challenge I imagine is providing kids with an outlet for their physical energy. If you are lucky to have some combination of a garden, yard and pet, just playing a game of tag, throwing a Frisbee for Fido or mucking about in flowerbeds can use up a bit of that pent-up energy. If you are living in an apartment and the common play area is out of bounds, I guess the simplest strategy is to make your kids a partner in your own fitness routine. It is fairly easy to rope in young kids to a spot of Yoga and Zumba and older ones can even have a go on your treadmill under supervision. If nothing else, dedicate around 15-20 minutes to dancing like crazy – believe me there are only few joys for kids that can compare to the sight of their parents make a fool of themselves to music!

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Image Courtesy: parentedge.in

Better still, involve kids in housework. In India, where dignity of labour has traditionally been lacking, the lockdown can be a great opportunity to teach kids to pitch in for the family. And my favourite part in all this is that you get put in action all those gender sensitive parenting tips you have been collecting in your head. Mind that they don’t do just their own bit – picking their own clothes, books, toys is all very fine but just like Mummy and Daddy are working for the whole family, the kids should do too. And I firmly believe that there is something that kids can help out with at every age. Shower your pre-schooler with praise for setting the table and he/she will probably want to do it every day for this is the time when they are most eager to please their parents. Get your middle-schooler to do the dusting, load the washing machine for the whole family or to put away left-overs after a meal. Teens can easily do dishes and vacuum the house – or in the Indian context, pick up the broom. The trade-off is of course to make all this fun. For example when my teen was doing the dishes, I was gladly listening to Dua Lipa and Twenty-one Pilots, though it is anybody’s guess how much I understood of the songs!

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Finally, try for a balance of structured and unstructured time for kids. By all means plan creative projects for them, bake cookies with them and scour the internet for age-appropriate Sudoku for them to solve. But avoid pushing yourself to a point of mental and physical exhaustion by jumping up everytime they whine, “I am bored”. Let them find ways to keep themselves occupied, better still to hum, stare out of the window, doodle, read and day dream even. Learning how to wind down on your own is a crucial life skill that will save them as adults from many meaningless evenings out just because they have not learnt to enjoy their own company when young.

 

Day 18 of the Lockdown Diaries

What do I smell in here…

What with the season’s celebrations and the lockdown-enforced leisure, I find baking a huge hit with my social media friends. Add to this the unpredictable supply of sliced bread at stores and you have all the makings of heavenly afternoons/evenings when the aroma of freshly baked bread wafts through the home. Not surprisingly, this is one of my absolute favourite smells and from what I see in the global media, it consistently ranks among the top 3 best loved smells in the world as well. In cultures where bread is commonly baked at home, the smell clearly has associations of warm comfort and cosy safety of childhood. But why should it matter to me, I am not sure since my very middle class Bengali upbringing meant breads always came from stores. Perhaps it was a reverse effect – since I gorged on buttered toast, I began liking the olfactory evidence of what led to the taste – baking bread. But this is only fanciful conjecture and I would love it if someone can shed more light on the matter.

Indeed the sense of smell is in some ways, the most intriguing of the human sensory capabilities. It is quite clearly related to the sense of taste and can conjure long forgotten memories and half-recognized emotions. In fact even scientists are yet to fully understand the finer points of olfactory working in the brain. Nevertheless, here are two more of my favourite smells:

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Rain on dry earth – the inclusion of the word petrichor practically marks a milestone moment in the lives of many kids around the world. That is when they find out that such a familiar smell – at least in monsoon lands like India – has such a weird name and even more bizarre cause,  for this distinctive smell is produced when actinomycete bacteria found in soil is released by the touch of water. Be that as it may, for me it is evidence of the power of smells to trigger nostalgia as petrichor evokes memories of school vacations, mangoes and cool relief from the heat of baking summers that Indian plains recognize so well.

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Finally I come to an acquired favourite – the smell of coffee. Research suggests that the smell of coffee – made up of over 1,000 compounds – can actually give you a boost before you even take that first sip, What began as a study aid that would help me get up – and stay up – at unearthly hours and then a fuel for my working hours has turned into a morning friend. Above all, several years in this hill station has made me seek out the heat of coffee as compared to the mellower warmth of tea. Yes, I still need my morning caffeine shot to wake me up fully, but now I look for ways to lather the indulgence – and a favourite Sunday morning ritual has turned out to be a topping of good ol’ Bailey’s Irish Cream!

Day 19 of the Lockdown Diaries

Is it that time of the year again?

…when flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping to attract mates, the snakes are nesting. No, that’s not a typo – you read it right. In this corner of Nilgiris, this is the time when rat snakes emerge from their winter hibernation and get ready to join the timeless rhythms of life. All this was told to me by Sadiq, the popular animal rescue activist in the Nilgiris, who caught an immense rat snake last year from my garden to release it into the wild. At the time I had promised to be braver next year and sincerely give peaceful co-existence a shot. This after all has been the original habitat of the rat snakes, the bisons, the mongoose, the Malabar squirrel and I have spotted them all in these grounds.

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So, today when Ginger began barking in that I’m-gonna-defend-my-territory-to-death voice, I sort of knew who had showed up. I guess, it is a member of the same rat snake family, looking for a comfy nook in the wall across the garden to lay eggs. I grabbed my phone to capture the movements which had sent me to paroxysm of terror last year.

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Only later would I marvel how Ginger, resting with me inside the bedroom, had the ability to sense that noiseless presence more than 50 metres away. With a leap Ginger was down my bed, across the balcony, leaning over the ledge and shouting down the neighbourhood.

I am told rat snakes are timid, non-poisonous creatures, that they would rather avoid any kind of meeting – with humans as much as dogs. I certainly hope we can continue with this respectful relationship from a distance.

Day 17 of the Lockdown Diaries

Last time I checked telecom services, including broadband, was part of Essential Services that the government claims has been functioning in the lockdown. But not so at my end. The BSNL broadband has not only been defunct for the past 4 days but repeated complaints have proved futile – the supervisor says they have been told not to visit residential areas – where presumably the problem of faulty wires lies – while the centre manager says she can’t help if her subordinates refuse to carry out orders and most interestingly, not to bother her since she is retiring next month !

Anyway, the inability to stream music videos, follow online courses and download movies – the JioFi is patchy at best – had us at a loose end when I reminded my teen daughter of the book I had been nudging in her direction for quite a while now – Crick Crack Monkey by Merle Hodge.

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It is a delightful coming-of-age novel about a young girl Cynthia but most of the time known as Tee, who is initially brought up by her paternal aunt in the village and is eventually sent to the city to get an “education”.  The book teems with unforgettable characters, ranging from the irrepressible Tantie Rosa, the easygoing Mikey to the propah Aunt Beatrice with voice like “high heels and stockings” and of course Tee herself – by turns prankster, pensive, self-assured, confused and questioning the immense divide between the raucous, earthy village life and the civilized, arid city life. Unable to fit in either space, Tee in the end gets ready to explore wider horizons in the form of a scholarship to England.

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I first came across the novel as part of my Post Colonial Lit paper in my Post Graduate curriculum. Merle Hodge’s exploration of loss of identity that a subject of the colonies goes through is rich mining ground for discussions and exam questions. But today, I was more interested in experiencing with my daughter the sun-drenched Trinidadian village setting, the rambunctious exploits of Mikey and the kids, the colourful Creole scoldings of Tantie and Tee’s own eventful journey. We have just started the book but I hope by the time we are done with it, my daughter will have savoured the rough and tumble of another girl’s passage to adulthood.

Trivia Alert: The title refers to the call-and-response technique, usually at the beginning or end of story, that is a staple of many oral narrative traditions, including Bangla folktales. In the Trinidadian culture, the narrator says, ‘Crick’ to which audience replies, ‘Crack’ – indicating mutual awareness of the fictionality of the story.

Day 16 of the Lockdown Diaries

While most of the world has been under lockdown to protect people from the COVID-19 virus, one of the unintended but serious consequences has been varying degrees of psychological stress. Here are three such common situations with which people across the globe are grappling with:

Collapse of plans

It is part of human functioning to have a course of action, at least for the immediate future, if not the long run. Work, education, health, finances, travel, leisure, life events and myriad other aspects of the contemporary citizen are densely interwoven with plans. And to have them suddenly disrupted with no immediate solution or foreseeable clarity can be highly disorienting, leading to worry, insecurity and even anxiety and panic in extreme cases.

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Feelings of abandonment

For students stuck in foreign universities, the elderly forbidden to stir out of homes and individuals under quarantine, isolation has extracted a high cost. With real time social interactions no longer possible, feelings of abandonment and depression are very real dangers. Family members may start blaming each other for not foreseeing the lockdown and failing to get dependents to the safety of their homes while partners may find it easy to accuse one another for wilfully staying away. Needless to say, all such scenarios can create extreme stress on relationships – even stretching them to breaking point.

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Too close for comfort

However the most distressing news which has been doing the rounds of global media has been a sharp surge in cases of domestic abuse. Closeted with abusive partners – day in and day out – with significant sources of emotional support like friends and family cut off, women and children are especially vulnerable now. Moreover frustration over job loss, pay cuts and lack of recreation may have made abusive family members more violent than usual. Indeed some forms of abuse may not even involve bodily contact – piling up of additional domestic chores, continuous verbal criticism and denial of access to food, clothing and hygiene products are insidious forms of abuse that women are particularly susceptible to, as a result of highly discriminatory gender roles.

There are of course many ways to cope with such emotional and psychological stress – on individual as well as institutional levels. But the first step to inclusive wellbeing is recognizing these implications and that the reality of cozy family time, that is being touted as the lockdown advantage, is not the only reality – indeed not even the dominant one, by far !

 

Day 15 of the Lockdown Diaries

It has been raining.

Not just bad news about the lockdown – that it might be extended – but really raining, as in the meteorological phenomenon. I am not sure what to make of it – on one hand, my lawns are going to look greener but on the other, the ground floor could get muddier and that is not good news for my poor arms that try vainly to sweep and swab the home into order every day. I tell myself that I am better off in these cool environs, rather than sweating it out in the plains, where I would’ve been by now, had not the lockdown intervened. Then again, the extension simply means more excruciating uncertainty of all family plans…

As these half-hearted oscillations ticked through my mind in that semi-awake state that usually prolongs an afternoon siesta, a curious thing happened. The sun broke through the cloud cover and sent a few slanting rays on my balcony seat. Not one to miss this opportunity, Ginger ambled over and plonked herself in that mild patch of sun. I am still not sure if the moment – for momentary it was, the clouds soon took over the sky – held any meaning in its fleeting embrace but I flailed wildly for my phone and tried to capture it.

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Also having run out of bread, I baked a small loaf this evening. Though it was planned for tomorrow breakfast, now suddenly it seems worth enjoying it with some of that remaining pound of butter.

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By the way, I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that somehow the two situations are linked…

 

Day 13 of the Lockdown Diaries

One of the consequences of the lockdown has been that it has enabled so many of us to get in touch with our homes – not just as a place to eat, sleep, work and entertain but as a living entity almost, with its own moods and whims, generous in some rooms, uncomfortable in others, bare or cracked at some places and dressed up elsewhere.

So as I was going through one of the many reacquainting processes with my home – a.k.a dusting – I re-noticed an ornate mirror that adorns one of my living room walls. The frame is of dark shisham wood carved in floral motifs with the distinct mark of Jodhpuri craftsmanship. I remembered how one of my students had remarked on its beauty to which I had wryly replied that when the package had arrived from the online retailer, it included just the frame – the mirror had broken in transit. Sure I was reimbursed for the loss and ordered a new mirror locally but this is how I prefer to love this object d’ art – through the frame of the damaged and reborn.

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This is a favourite frame of mine now – literally and metaphorically. Yes, I like natural, warm feel of wood but more than that I like how it is possible to survive a loss through the act of reframing. This is a highly effective technique in the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in which you take an event or action which has been bothering you and look at it from another frame or perspective to give a more positive meaning to something that you cannot change. So for example this lockdown has resulted in missed projects, low business, extra chores and so on. But “look at it another way” – it means you get to put your own health above every other concern, your family’s well-being before everything else. Reframing is not just seeing the plus points in a situation but looking at the very situation from another angle, so that you understand it more positively.

So, as long as my frame remains beautiful, I think I will like who I see, when I look in the mirror…

Day 12 of the Lockdown Diaries

As India gets ready to show solidarity with the nation-wide battle against COVID-19, here are some interesting rituals from around the world that evoke the primeval power of light.

  • December 13th in Sweden is celebrated as St. Lucia Day when the oldest girl in the family dresses in a white robe with a wreath of candles on her head in a symbolic attempt to dispel the darkness of what is traditionally believed to be the longest night of the year.
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    St Lucia choir; Image courtesy: wantedinmilan.com
  • Loi Krathong is an ethereal festival from Thailand where on a full moon November night, people fill a banana leaf vessel with a candle, three joss-sticks, a coin and some flowers. After lighting the candle, this vessel is set adrift on the river with the hope that it will take away bad luck, making way for new, good days ahead.
  • The Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival of African Americans in which the kinara or candle-holder plays a significant role, reminding the participants of their ancestral origins in Africa. One of the culminating rituals is the lighting of seven candles or mishuma saba to commemorate the festival’s seven founding principles.download (16)
  • The Las Fallas festival in Valencia region of Spain originated as a springtime commemoration of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Traditionally carpenters would burn their wooden candle-stands or parots along with old wood chips, in anticipation of longer summer days ahead. Now however festivities revolve around spectacular fireworks at night and the burning of huge puppets or Ninots believed to symbolize the victory of good over evil.
  • Not all celebrations of light have hoary origins. Among the newer events, is the Berlin Festival of Lights during which historic buildings and landmarks are transformed with artistic illuminations.  Over ten days, the city gleams and glitters as one giant canvas blazing with a unique fusion of classic and contemporary art.

Now that you know a little about these interesting rituals, how about using your lockdown days to learn more about cultures from around the world?

 

Day 11 of the Lockdown Diaries

I woke up this morning to a lovely message from a dear friend, complimenting me on yesterday’s post, also adding that though she may not always follow my updates with a comment, whatever I write makes its way to her heart – every time. This got me thinking about who I write for and why? Going by FB pics and videos which get thousands of likes, definitely not for popular approval, going by my offhand reflections and personal logic, certainly not to make an academic point. With no advertising banner on my page, clearly not for money. So today, past the half-way mark of the COVID-19 lockdown, here is who I write for:

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I write for you my dearest reader who marvels how I can put into words, all those thoughts, feelings and ideas that rise from the heart like bubbles – utterly beautiful in their vagueness, rainbow hues and their heart-breaking fragility.

I write for you my dear reader across many miles who nurses past hurts and is unable to see these words as my weak efforts to reach out and start a dialogue, though stuttering and halted, yet perhaps leading to a place of healing.

I write for you my young reader who feels a simmering rage with all the wrongs around us passed off, indeed justified as worldliness, so that you draw upon your courage, strength and your future to make it right for those who need a helping hand.

I write for you who is confounded by all this need for self actualization and fairplay and right to live with dignity for you can’t see anything wrong with the bars around you just because they are made of gold.

I write for you my detractor whose words dipped in poison fall like petals at my feet for my calm scares you, lest my selfhood shine through your fog of fear as a beacon of strength.

Above all, I write for you – you who are reading now so that even after you move on to the next moment, you carry with you an aftertaste of these crumbs on my notebook!

Day 10 of Lockdown Diaries

Does anyone else get the feeling that it is getting increasingly harder to stick to a schedule during these lockdown days? While I may have started with a sense of adventure, setting out to negotiate uncharted waters with new habits and indoor routines, over the past few days I often feel I am kind of losing my bearings – time either seems to be stagnating or rushing by. The former, when chores pile up, meals are yet to be cooked and the grocery vehicle is already sounding its fearful horn, threatening to leave if I don’t hurry.

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Ennui circa 1914 by Walter Richard Sickert

On the other hand, afternoons and late evenings feel laden with ennui. Getting out of covers after a siesta takes unbelievable effort just as switching off the television past midnight even though the same COVID-19 news has been beaming on a loop. My daily yoga routine and music practice have been the first casualties of this lop-sided journey through the day, with blocks of time seem to be lurching like a drunk from one lamp-post to another. Is it happening because now that I am entirely isolated, I don’t have to adjust my routine to anyone else’s and so can give in to the whimsicality of doing nothing as long as I please? But at the same time, the human rhythms of getting up, eating, sleeping remain which in turn demands structure and that ABC action be completed by XYZ time.

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                                            Ghost Cities; Image courtesy: nbcnews.com

So, when Time itself behaves strangely, we know that – to modify a Platonic quote – “Strange times are these in which we live…”,

Day 9 – Lockdown Diaries

Three headlines in today’s newspaper caught my eye. Two of them talked about young male sportspersons enjoying a ‘welcome break’ from training and how ‘all days are practically Sundays’. Just when an indistinct feeling of something-not-right-ness began hovering over me, I came upon another which talked about some men taking ‘tonsorial challenge to beat the lockdown blues’. Apparently they have been shaving heads not only because hair-dressers have shut shop but, because really, what else is there to do?

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All eye-catching reports on how men have been enjoying the COVID-19 enforced lockdown break. So what have women been doing – the papers have nothing to say about that. So I moved to social media and was promptly swamped by pretty, Photofied images of the act of mainly decorating – bodies, cake-stands, nursery walls, kitchen shelves, balcony gardens and all that.

Curiously, real conversations paint a different picture. Female friends, colleagues, relatives explain how no paid help means that the burden of housework has come upon them. Add to this work-from-home schedules which means the dog is getting tangled up in the charging cable, kids at home who demand snacks and distractions all day long and of course spouses who are bored to their gills with ‘taking a break’.

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Now before eyes roll, consider the impact of representations. It is not that women should not celebrate dressing up or that men should not lounge around, but should these be the only images splashed about? Surely there are many husbands pitching in with the dishes at home just as there are women going out stock up essential supplies for their elderly parents. Consider what determines which pics you choose to upload and why? Are they really describing life in a lockdown or just rare moments of leisure and that too as they are supposed to look?

How about we see more pics of girls and boys both learning to sew a button and boil an egg, selfies of families enjoying a karaoke night together, a man hanging out the family washing, a woman doing daily push-ups to keep fit. It is only human to want to look at what is pretty and unproblematic – but is it truly beautiful? Beautiful like the rainbow, each colour setting off others into a richly-hued, meaningful whole??

 

 

 

 

 

Day 8 of Lockdown Diaries

For the first time since the lockdown began, I felt I was losing control. As the sole person responsible for a dog, a teen, a sprawling bungalow and my own safety, today I felt pulled in different directions, all the while racing against the clock. Add to that a Skype call with my editor slated for 3 pm, and I thought I would never get things done.  And all this in the background of terrible news that the COVID-19 infection had arrived in the Nilgiris.

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Eventually the dishes were washed, the floors swept, the garden watered, dog walked, lunch made, reports mailed….Ok, I’ll stop. Point to remember was that I came perilously close to a meltdown today but then my support system saved the day. All remotely, of course. Calls were quickly made across at least three geographical points to ensure certain crucial supplies would be restocked while I enlisted my daughter’s help to keep the dog out of the way during my con-call!

For now, the centre holds – but not sure what is in store tomorrow. In the wake of 4000 plus members of a religious sect – with many infected members – having dispersed from Delhi to across the country, is India staring at uncontrollable, community transmission of COVID-19??

But these larger ruminations are interrupted by a question that can only be resolved by me  – That’s right Ginger, time for your supper!

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Day 7 – Lockdown Diaries

One week over – another two to go

This pan-India lockdown put in place to combat the community transmission of COVID-19 has ended up meaning different things for different people. For many harried school teachers, perpetually struggling to stay on top of corrections, it has come as a pleasant break. Editors and software developers on the other hand continue to work online – just from home now. For consultants like yours truly, the suspension of projects has freed up time for hobbies and upskilling opportunities but for the hospitality and wellness sectors, business is bad. While some kids are already getting bored of late nights, Netflix binges and sleep-ins, the postponement of board exams has meant uncertain times for others like my daughter. More time at home may have brought some families closer or showed up differences to be irreconcilable. Travel plans have been delayed, cancelled or benefited from a chance to be remade.

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Image Courtesy: rfi.fr

For maids, drivers, gardeners in full-time employment, the lockdown has come as a breather knowing their pay won’t be docked but for millions of contractual labourers and daily wage-earners, these are fraught times. Pushed out by communities that don’t want them anymore and barred by states which won’t let them in, they are caught amid fault-lines of social, political and economic high-handedness. Above all, it is a time of unflinching dedication to duty for thousands of health workers and essential services staff who continue to see to it that the fundamental framework of civic living does not crumble – and all this often in the face of potential hazard to their own well-being. Best of all, the sky is bluer, the chirping of birds clearer and turtles get to nest on beaches in peace.

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In all, a mixed bag of results – as it always is!

Day 6 – Lockdown Diaries

Do you know what sort of a person you are?

Let me elaborate – are you the kind of person who draws out supplies till they can be replenished;  who uses the bare minimum everyday in an attempt to make a favourite jam or lotion last as long as possible. Or are you the type who will continue to consume your regular stuff in the regular pace till it is over – and then decide what to do.

Indeed the lockdown has landed me enough opportunities to check out personality traits in action. So if you are the former type, in the above instance, you are probably more risk averse, wanting to stick to the familiar, the tried-and-tested. On the other hand if you prefer to live at your usual pace and think of crossing the proverbial bridge only when you come upon it, you probably more open to exploring options and taking chances.

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Image courtesy: verywellmind

Similarly, you can use this lockdown to check where you stand on the Extroversion spectrum – are you going out of your mind not being able to socialize or are you just thankful for an excuse now to refuse all those boring party invites. How about Conscientiousness – are you particular about not grabbing from the grocery aisles any more than you need or do you swear silently – “to hell with who needs what, I am going home with my 6 egg trays”! Neuroticism is perhaps the easiest to spot – are you obsessing about how much bother the lockdown is causing, all this wariness, uncertainty, plans-down-the-drain. Or are you just coasting through the balmy summer days – if you can’t change anything, why worry!!

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Umm…here is what my evening tea looked like today. Rather darker than usual since I am measuring out the milk with a stingy hand till my preferred cartons are back in the store. But yes, taking pleasure, in my limited-stock, ginger-infused jaggery cubes to add that Nilgiris pizzaz to my tea. So – now, can you figure out my traits….it’s never really that simple, is it??

Day 5 – Lockdown Diaries

For those like me who are not exactly transported to paroxysm of fulfilled womanhood when doing household chores, there must be something playing in the background to compensate for the drudgery. Usually it is ear-drum-almost-ruptured music but today, five days into the lockdown, I decided to put on my hip lime-green earphones and resume the audiobook, Flights. This 2018 Man Booker International Prize winning book by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk is a most unusual work – brief fictional accounts generously interspersed with mini-essays and micro-travelogues, with no single major plotline or even a “hero” and “heroine”.

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My own passion for travel had prompted me to choose this from other Audible titles to download but as I journeyed through it, entirely new vistas opened up before me in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic. Voyages across space and time are tracked in the novel and now I find that air travel has turned out to be prime means of transmission of this COVID-19. The novel explores the territory of human body through fictional vignettes of the paralysed and the amputated, the history of anatomy, of the science of preserving organs, even venturing into an intriguing aside of how Chopin’s heart -submerged in alcohol – traveled to Warsaw in his sister Ludwiga’s baggage. Compare this to the unfolding history around me today that charts COVID-19’s ever increasing ravages against the human body in grim statistics of the infected and the dead but also hopeful numbers of the recovering. Flights is not an easy read and definitely not your everyday fiction, but in these times of unpredictable intersections of travel and human body, definitely worth a take-off.

Oh, by the way, the chores were finished quite some time back. But my ear-phones are still on…

Day 4 – Lockdown Diaries

We are all taught that Time is made up of finite, exact units – 60 seconds make a minute and 60 minutes, an hour. Then why does it seem that Time has the ability to stretch and stretch to fill up days where there is barely anything to do – like something plastic which melted in the heat of purposelessness keeps getting elongated, thinning out and yet not breaking. But then you would remark – Time has always been felt as subjective, slipping away when one is having fun and standing still, when one is waiting.

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It was to break this reverie on Time that I decided to get up and do something to ensure it regains its structure and substance – and what better way to do this than by an activity that is actually measured by minutes – you guessed it, baking! With some lovely orange-red grated pumpkin lying in my fridge, I decided to attempt a moist pumpkin cake. And yet, as I began arranging the ingredients, an old lesson on Needs and Wants began buzzing in my head. On the outside I was separating the wet and the dry ingredients but on the inside, I was wondering how the same stuff can be both a want and a need in the same situation. Here I am in a COVID-19 triggered lockdown – everyone would agree that right now pumpkin cake is a want, right? And yet, consider the ingredients – eggs, flour, oil, vitamin-rich pumpkin – are they not really needs for a nutritious diet in days when going out for groceries is a health hazard? Does it make sense to douse all these items with sugar and ruin the vitamins with high heat just because I need to tame Time somehow?

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As the ingredients went back to the pantry, I felt a little sad – as much for my tastebuds as for my brain which now would have to hunt for another project to get its purpose-fix. Wait a minute, here are chocolates – dark, Swiss, sinful….Oh boy, am I looking forward to dinner already !!!

Day 3 of Lockdown Diaries

Getting a bit tired now, of all the advice on how to spend the lockdown. Videos and text messages tell you to get involved with nature, crafts, baking, grooming, spirituality, knitting, concocting infusions and chanting sounds with supposed telekinetic global healing powers.  To escape this deluge of social media forwards, I decided to head out today. No –not to break the law but on a genuinely pressing mission – to fill up my monthly prescriptions from the clinic and then get my dog vaccinated. Yes, this is the time of the year she gets her shots and after a lot of internal debate, I decided to get the most crucial ones out of the way.

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Deserted roads

The roads were largely deserted, shops shuttered and even the street dogs – who Ginger is fond of glaring at through the car windows – seemed missing. A few grocery stores, selling essentials like vegetables and milk were open and we spotted a few private vehicles moving warily along. Police presence at barriers gave us a sense of security rather than evoking fear while grave looking store-owners cautioned customers to keep the mandatory 3-feet distance among themselves.

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Look who came out for a walk…

Returned home with relief and after a good head-to-toe scrubbing, settled down to a hot cuppa. What a strange feeling! I reflected on the unusual scenes on the roads and contrasted them with the panic, mayhem and straight-out tomfoolery happening elsewhere that is beamed on my TV screen as I watch the 9 pm news. Certainly, I shall pray for the multitudes battling COVID-19 but before going to bed, I will not forget to breathe a word of thanks for this peaceful, sensible small hill community in the Nilgiris.

Lockdown Diaries: Day 2

Ok…so the deserted streets and barred gates were not really a nightmare – the COVID 19 lockdown is still on.

As I wandered in my lawn – now jade green in the morning sunlight – I stopped for a while to take in the beauty all around me. Usually in the bustle of the working day, all this grandeur steals silently away. But today I am going to hang onto its blazing purple coattails…

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After a balmy day came to a close, I made the much-needed trip to the pantry. I stood there stupefied for a while – so much food lying here and yet so little that would nourish. Bottles of cola, packs of biscuits, semi-forgotten carton of icing sugar and assorted chocolates. I knew that there are many who would be grateful to have on their kitchen shelves all that is here but at the same time I could not help wishing I have been more mindful in the past. I wish I had been more careful to stock healthier stuff like nuts and whole grains and less of processed, high-sugar junk. Thank God for the eggs, at least ! Wait – do I spy that bottle a Teacher’s there ??

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Wonder how many more surprises in store – literally and metaphorically – now !!

Lockdown Diaries

Day I

Woke up to a sense of wry curiosity about what would happen now

But first a bit of background. Last night the Prime Minister of India announced 21 days of lockdown in a nation-wide effort to break the cycle of COVID-19 infections. With the kind of population density that this country has, social distancing is the first, final and only bulwark against a tsunami of infections and deaths. India has neither the healthcare infrastructure nor the social services net to absorb the devastation that would be caused by community transmission of the dreaded coronavirus. Hence, the lockdown…

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Ginger keeping vigil!

So this is Kailash, a beautiful two-storeyed tiled roof house in a picturesque corner of DSSC, Wellington – inhabited by a bright 16 year old girl, a spoilt 7 year old female German Shepherd and 43 year old yours truly. With all the staff away, we three women have the run of the place – sprawling, singing and eating wherever and whenever the fancy takes us.

Once the euphoria of all this privacy wore off, I spent most of the day counting and re-counting how many days would my stock of milk, eggs and most importantly chicken last since Ginger eats nothing else. All the calculations gave me a headache and so I ended up making some hibiscus tea and thought I might as well tackle the intricacies of Raag Jaunpuri.

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Musical relief!

Will continue with my calculations tomorrow…

Of Elephants and Cheese at Acres Wild

Stories spilled along the way – about the time the elephants came rampaging and helped themselves to bounties of sugarcane, banana and corn while leaving the patch of “English vegetables” like rocket leaves untouched! Then again how one evening  a young leopard was spotted resting on a stone ledge – a la Pride Rock. But woven through all this, was the underlying narrative of patience, hard work and unceasing optimism, needed to coax a soil impoverished by tea plantations back to fruition.

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Image courtesy: lbb.in

Yes, that is what Acres Wild Farm, tucked away in one of the verdant folds of Nilgiris is all about – reclaiming from the destructive grasp of monocropping, land as is supposed to be – where grows a diversity of plants, crops and trees while sustaining a lively cheese business as well as an eco-friendly farmstay, all under the impassioned supervision of Mansoor Khan. A successful film director and producer in another life, he is now at the helm of affairs at Acres Wild. Only an offhand mention of star cousin Amir Khan lets a peep into his illustrious filmi family – most of the times, he wants to be known as the man who is letting Mother Earth breathe!

Eventually we arrive at the Cheese Cottage – a structure of handmade adobe bricks perched on the slope. Level One has gleaming utensils and contraptions where milk is curdled, mixed with the rennet and then the moisture extracted through various stages. All this is powered by the ‘gobar gas’ obtained from the farm’s own cowshed. The well drained cheese then waits in the semi-dark cellar where only the strong of stomach may venture.

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In the wood-panelled dining hall

Finally it is time for the long-anticipated tasting which would’ve been over in the blink of an eye – just two crackers with a thin slice of cheese in between washed down with a small tumbler of tea – had it not been for an exciting complimentary book signing by Mansoor. He discussed his latest work The Third Curve – a trenchant critique of the philosophy of Growth. Ably supported by facts and figures, the book is detailed analysis of how it is impossible for Nature to perpetually feed this civilizational hunger for Growth – and soon will come a time of reckoning!

As the vehicle lumbers up the steep slope, I look back for a last glimpse at Acres – a fledgling Garden of Eden living by the wisdom of Nature – just as God intended!

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View of the valley from Acres!

More on Public Speaking

In one of the posts, I discussed 4 common goals of public speaking. Today I will cover a few tips on how to hone this skill. Public Speaking is:

  • talking in front of a group of people, usually with some preparation
  • one of the forms of group communication
  • less interactive, media-rich than group presentation

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Here is are few tips on getting it right:

  • Make your topic relevant and interesting to your audience
  • Select appropriate style – formal, humorous, anecdotal, sentimental etc
  • Take steps to minimize anxiety by breathing deep, pacing your speech appropriately and above all, practicing beforehand – in front of the mirror, before close friends, a bigger group
  • Stress the key words in a sentence which carry the meaning
  • Pause –  after many of key words – and at the end of a sentence.
  • Take care of your body language by standing centred, making eye contact with the entire audience and keeping your gestures controlled
  • Avoid slouching, rocking from side to side and looking at the ceiling, at the back or at just one person
  • Finally get feedback during your practice sessions – from peers, instructors or even technology; for example you can record your speech as you are practicing before the mirror and then play it back to find out how you’ve been doing.

Now that you have all the important tips on Public Speaking, seize that mike and own the crowd!

 

What to Avoid to Help you Heal

Much has been written about the Kübler-Ross model of 5 stages of Grief, named so after the Swiss American psychiatrist famous for near-death studies. Reviewers have reminded us that Kübler-Ross originally saw these stages as reflecting how people cope with illness and dying rather than of how people generally grieve. Later Kübler-Ross herself qualified her model saying that the grieving people need not pass through each of these five stages in a linear, set pattern but could experience them haphazardly and unpredictably. Nevertheless if you are journeying through your own heartache haze, here are 3 compulsions – imagine them as 3 people –  that you need to avoid:

Personalization: Get out of the habit of making what has happened to you, your own fault. Stop thinking about what you could have said, done, wore, eaten, sang, danced, prayed, cursed, loved or hated to avoid the tragedy that has befallen you. Indeed as you feel a little less unhinged, make a conscious effort not to blame others even. I know this is difficult, especially when your grief has factually been caused by someone else – but the sooner you are able to break out of the blame game, the earlier you can set yourself up for healing.

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Pervasiveness: Recognize that this grief is only one experience among many, many others. Call upon your rational faculties to dig into your past and bring up previous instances of achievements, love, celebrations. Remind yourself all that that you can be thankful for now – your health, a roof over your head, the regard of someone who looks up to you – rather than what you have lost. This will help you see that you have not always been a loser nor has everything in your life been a disaster.

Permanence: Cliches are maddening when you are hurting. But the thing about maxims is that they are also sort of true. So really, the grief that is making your life unbearable right now, will pass. Just like the good days didn’t last, neither will these dreary nights. All you need to do is to keep a window open – to watch the dawn break, to newer, better possibilities!

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Sarees for Seven Occasions

Little did I know that my love for sarees will be put to test by one of my students! When one of them  quizzed me about the right saree for a beauty pageant, I began wondering if I shouldn’t expand it to include varied contexts – just to show that this quintessential  Indian feminine wear can rise to every occasion!

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  1. Crepe Commute– Since the biggest gripe about wearing a saree is that it is just plain impractical for a hectic commute, let me deal with this at once. If I had to nominate a saree to wear for commute, it would be the comfortable crepe. Easy and quick to drape, it can be your valiant ally against the crush of commute and the racing clock on a busy working day. Bonus tip of the day – wear your saree a little higher than you do for leisure wear and you are less likely to trip.
  2. Boardroom Gadwal – To continue with workwear, I cannot overestimate the elegance of a cotton Gadwal with a silk pallu. I first witnessed this amazing combination at an academic conference where a senior colleague appeared in a cream and turquoise vision. Since then, I find that the crisp cotton body of an ivory Gadwal perfectly complements the formality of workplace context while the silk pallu in a contrasting colour adds that touch of class.
  3. Banarasi Wedding – Nothing spells opulence as much as a silk Banarasi woven with gold or silver zari. You can select from an heirloom piece made with antique gold thread or modern creations sporting abstract motifs and pop colours. Just ensure that you avoid boring, assembly-line powerloom stuff and patronize the bespoke precious handloom!
  4. Brunch Lehariya – For those Sunday club brunches, you cannot go wrong with a breezy lehariya or an ombre-dyed chiffon in pastel palette. Don your saltwater Tahiti pearls and you are ready to turn heads.
  5. Batik Soiree – Complement an evening at the concert or a night out at the theatre with a hand-painted Bengal batik. Bask in the glow of flowing wax-made patterns as you take in Ustad Rashid Khan’s mesmerizing taans or the nuances of Lilette Dubey’s performance.
  6. Malmal for muggy noons – Lest you think, that saree is just for the outdoors, try a pure malmal as you are rustling up kadhi-chawal – or a macher jhol, like me – on a hot summer afternoon. The fine natural fabric absorbs sweat like magic and soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom feel is just what the doctor ordered to keep cool. Contrast the pleasantly bare midriff of the saree drape to a closed kurta/nighty and you will be sold! pc
  7. Sequin Sizzle – Personally I have struggled with this one – can one ever wear a saree on the dance floor without appearing to push a point? But one look at India’s very own Pee Cee, a la Desi Girl, and you know you can blind everyone with your sequinned sizzle.

So what are you waiting for – bring out all your six yard treasures and stride forth like a Queen!

Perception – how it impacts your behaviour

Perception can be defined as the set of mental experiences that arise when your brain processes sensory data from organs like eyes, ears, skin, tongue and nose. Here are 3 important ways Perception may be impacting your behaviour:

  • You dismiss other people’s choices

Because the processing of sensory data takes place in your own brain, your perception of the same stimulus can be quite different from someone else’s. This is true even of a stimulus like sound whose properties like volume, pitch and tone can be scientifically objectively measured. So now you know why you find it unbelievable how some people find music in rock concerts whereas you perceive it as only noise.

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  • You attribute other people’s behaviours to their character

In psych-speak, this is called fundamental attribution error – when you ascribe the same behaviour in others to a character trait – usually a flaw – that in your own case you would excuse as resulting from the pressure of a situation. A typical example is jumping a red light on the road – in another driver, you would perceive it as evidence of a rash and dangerous personality while if you do it, you would excuse it arising out of an urgent situation like being late for work or a need to reach home quickly. This is an example of social perception at play since rather than processing just sensory inputs – as in perception – the brain here is processing information about other people from their physical appearance, verbal, non-verbal communication to arrive at certain impressions about those people.

  • You fall prey to stereotypes

People tend to perceive what they expect to perceive. This is because while growing up, each of us acquires a perceptual set – a tendency to perceive a stimulus in a certain way based on previous experience. The Rat/Man drawing is a popular example in explaining perceptual set.

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The same figure on extreme right can be perceived as a man as well as a rat. This is because it is presented as part of a set of related items – human faces in the upper set and animals in the set below. Translated into social situations, such perception biases can lead to stereotypes. So if you have been brought up to believe that certain communities have specific ways of talking, dressing and behaving, it is quite likely that you will stereotype a member of that community even before you know him/her fully well.

It is important we remember how perception works so that we can avoid biases, stereotypes, prejudices and work towards effective communication and better relationships.

3 Ways That Can Help You Say NO

Among the core skills of assertive training is the learning say ‘No’. But this is particularly difficult in a regular social life which is based on a complex network of favours, returns, privileges and obligations. However there are times when you need to be able to say ‘No’ to prioritize your own well-being. Here are 3 ways:

Use the negative

Ideally say it straight out with phrases like ‘no’, ‘cannot’, ‘not possible’ – rather than dropping hints, hemming and hawing or starting with lengthy explanations. If the negative phrases sound rude or brusque, you can contextualize the ‘no’ – for example if your teen ask you if he can have a night out or an expensive gaming console, you can specify, “over this weekend, no”. Or “till your next birthday, no”.

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Remain focused on yourself

This especially works when unreasonable or expensive requests are entwined with emotional issues – like appeal for a large sum to a charity when you have several essentials to buy for yourself or your family. Or perhaps a heavy suggestion from a partner to take his/her mother around town when you have work deadlines breathing down your neck. In such cases, do not forget what the issue is at hand – your own mandatory expenses and professional commitments. Remind yourself that you do not hate koalas in Australia or your partner’s mother but it is just your resources are limited and you have to put your well-being first.

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Come up with a solution or a question

If the ‘no’ you are about to say is to a person who has substantial power over you, think of a solution beforehand. For example if you are already struggling with several projects and your boss asks you to take on more, you could say, “not possible on my own, but maybe by next week if I can be assigned  a team”. Or lob the question back to your boss’s court: “I already have x,y, z on my plate – now with a and b too, which one would you like me to do first?”

These are only a few ways to say ‘no’ in common situations. The subjective nature of a situation means that only you can come up with the correct response. Nevertheless being assertive at the right time and place can save you a lot of hand-wringing in the long run.

3 Occasions When You Might Want To Press Pause

In these dizzying times of speed dating and instant messaging, there is often an unsaid pressure to come up with quick replies while communicating. Immediate responses are often mistaken for expertise and confidence; people prefer to rush ahead rather than think carefully for fear of lost opportunities. But here are 3 occasions when it might be a good idea to press the Pause button in your communication.

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image courtesy: john biewen-transom

When you are feeling emotional

If you find yourself caught up in an emotionally charged situation,  avoid saying or doing anything that you will probably regret later. Such emotions can range from obviously harmful ones like anger, jealousy and hatred to more ambiguous ones like feeling insecure, put down or even feeling flattered and passionate. This is because in the grip of intense emotions, you are not thinking logically and you don’t want to take a position or make a commitment that is contrary to your long term goals.

When you do not have all the facts

This one seems rather obvious but it is quite unbelievable how often we allow ourselves to react and reply without having all the facts in hand. Consequences might range from being embarrassed at best, to ruining relationships and opportunities at worst. So it is always a good idea to pause till you have all the information relating to a situation and then respond appropriately.

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When you are not sure

It is OK sometimes to pause if you do not know what to say or do right away. I have heard the best professors – who are expected to have encyclopedic knowledge about their chosen area – saying that though they don’t have the answer now, they will come back to it. And the fact that they eventually did, only added more to their credibility and professionalism! Personally I am rather wary of glib replies to complex questions – to me it smacks of facetiousness and imitation. I would much rather trust a person who takes a moment – several if need be – to come up with a well-thought out response. So unless you have an impatient interviewer, pause if confronted by a difficult question or situation; think wide and deep for then you are likelier to come up with a more effective response.

 

 

 

5 Common Conversation Bloopers to Avoid

There are many ways of gauging the effectiveness of one’s work; in case of my Soft Skills sessions, my favourite is when the participants keep coming up with comments, observations, objections and questions despite the ticking clock. So since I got a couple of queries on “Conversation skills” even while walking down to the car park, here are 5 Common Conversation Bloopers that non-native speakers, tend to make:

Myself So-and-so

When introducing themselves, many tend to just prefix myself with the name. Apart from smacking of laziness – the least you could do is come up with a full sentence! – it is plain wrong grammar. You don’t have to go the cumbersome way of, “My name is So-and-so”, just stick to “I am So-and so”. Keep the smirk-laden “the name’s So-and-so” for those with the licence to kill!

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I belong to ABC

Unless you are a cow or a bike, you do not belong to anyone or anywhere! When someone asks “Where are you from”, just say, “I am from ABC”. In case you wish to specify your hometown, you could add, “ I was born/raised in ABC but now I am working/living in XYZ”

I am fine, thank you

This mistake is rather innocuously made by non-native speakers – after all, one was asked, “How do you do?” Well, English is a strange language that way and if you thought its grammar was puzzling, the spoken conventions can be positively maddening. In this case, the correct response is simply to return the question, “How do you do?” Fortunately this is used in a very formal context and is on its way out. The more commonly asked, “How are you?” may be replied with a very brief, “Good/fine” but definitely followed by “how are you?” in return.

How did you like the movie/book/game?

What if I didn’t like it, in the first place? If you are asking someone’s opinion of a movie, start by asking, “Did you like the movie?” and then go on to pry further “What did you like/dislike about it?” More often than not, you are simply making conversation so in that case, just keep it simple, “What did you think of the movie?” and then let your listener take over.

I shall be taking your leave

When you are about to depart, you say, “I shall be taking my leave now”. Theoretically you can say, “I shall be taking leave of you now” – but it sounds a bit awkward, doesn’t it? In any case, this is what I am going to do now – saying Goodbye – but looking forward to many more such observations on conversation conventions in the comments box!

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Image courtesy: Medium/John. P. Weiss

 

 

Are You Playing Games?

While theorizing Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne explained a psychological game as “an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome.” On the surface, such transactions or social exchanges appear to be plausible since communication continues. And yet because they conceal hidden motives, they are bound to be unhealthy in the long run – often adopting the dynamics of power play and control. So if you wish to avoid initiating or getting drawn into games, here are 3 questions to ask yourself:

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  • What state am I functioning from?

Games are ulterior transactions. This means that though they might appear to be taking place from Adult to Adult ego states, actually others – Parent or Child ego states – are involved. Practice being aware of the ego state you are functioning in – if you find yourself slipping into a covert critical, manipulative or fearful state, make an attempt to return to your Adult ego state.

  • Has this been happening too often?

Games are specific patterns of transactions. You may not be playing the same game with same person – for eg “See what you made me do” with your spouse – but ask yourself if you have been playing the same game with different people like a sibling or a coworker or variations of the game like “You got me into this” with your partner. If so, break the pattern like taking responsibility or putting it squarely where it belongs.

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  • What do I get out of it?

Whether you are initiating a game or responding to it, chances are that the real goal is not finding a solution but what Berne calls a “pay off”. For example by playing a game of “Kick me” with your boss, you experience a racket of negative emotions like humiliation and low esteem. At the end of the game, you use these emotions to confirm your role as the Persecuted and the life script of a loser. More likely you will use your negative feelings to start another game like “Why does this always happen to me” with someone else (who in turn may be playing “I am only trying to help”!). It is only when you are honest with yourself about the real reason for playing the game, that you can change your transactions and have healthy communication.

 

3 Long Term Ways to Manage Your Anger

Anger, whether directed at a person, situation or even your own self, is a corrosive emotion. Like hatred, it damages you from within and has the potential to hurt others, including loved ones. Latest research shows that screaming, hitting out or other ways of venting anger may lead to exact opposite of the intended effect – actually leaving you angrier than before. This is why mental health experts suggest you practice certain breathing and mindfulness practices that enable you to step out of a volatile situation. But while such methods can work temporarily to cool you off, in the long run you need to address issues which are making you fly off the handle. Here are 3 ways that might help you:

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Work on your Self Esteem

The most regrettable moments of anger are when we react to barbs and insults, whether real or perceived. Working on your self esteem will prevent you from taking offence where none was ever intended. Even if someone is clearly trying to put you down, if you are assured of your own worth and capabilities, you are less likely to be riled into anger. Building self esteem in itself requires sustained practice but the results of getting out of your comfort zone will be worth the effort.

Decide what is and is not within your control

This forms the founding principle of Stoic philosophy. Once you are able to recognize hurdles and unhappy situations beyond your control, you will find it easier to control your frustration. Of course this does not mean you give up reaching for your goals and adapt yourself to others or prevailing situations every time. It just means that you develop the wisdom to discriminate between what is in your power to change and what is not – remember the Serenity Prayer?!

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Learn to say no

Finally a lot of our self directed anger comes from our own inability to say ‘no’ to requests, demands and commitments that use up our time and energy that we can ill afford. Practicing assertiveness and saying no politely but firmly will ensure that we do not take on more than we can effectively handle.

Anger is just another emotional response to stressors. Indeed it is all around us – animals snarl when attacked and birds squawk in fury when their young ones are threatened. The challenge is to manage our anger so as to regulate our emotional responses since at the end of the day, this is what makes us human!

Laugh with Limericks

The other day while brainstorming Eng Lit project ideas with my daughter, we came upon the Limerick. And after much investigation, we agreed to put on paper that this was a type of poem composed of five lines, with a strict rhyme scheme – AABBA –  and chiefly humorous in nature. But then we realized that this hardly did justice to the rollicking, cheeky and occasionally bawdy humour contained in limericks and so we decided to dig deeper.

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We found that Limericks in the English language go as far back as the fourteenth century and the earliest were actually anonymous. Indeed even Shakespeare included a limerick – though they were not known as such then – in his tragedy Othello:

‘And let me the canakin clink, clink;

And let me the canakin clink:

A soldier’s a man;

A life’s but a span;

Why then let a soldier drink.’

The strict rhyme and metric pattern is one of the identifying marks of the limerick. The limerick usually follows the anapaestic metric style which means two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one. The first, second and fifth lines rhyme together, are longer and have three such metrical feet while the third and fourth lines that rhyme with each other are shorter and have two metrical feet.

The Victorian poet Edward Lear is chiefly credited with developing the limerick in the English language as a distinct poetic form in his book A Book of Nonsense (1846) . Later eminent versifiers such as Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling as well as the irrepressible Ogden Nash popularized it further.

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Here Comes the Sun…

First, the swing came out. Then a load of washing and finally I plonked down with my cup of coffee. All this in the wake of the Sun which deigned to make an appearance – after a week of incessant rains – on the the Nilgiri sky.

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Flowers simply soaking up all that glorious sunlight

I had a pile of errands to run but the gleaming rays streaming into my backyard put me in the mood for an entirely different course of action. I scraped away the peels of all the oranges in my refrigerator and decided to get on with my plan of extracting orange essential oil – something that I had been putting off for quite some time.

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Orange peel drying in the sun

To the tune of Boney M belting out “Brown Girls in the Ring…”, I also dusted off my ‘Fudgy Brownie Recipe’ and then headed to the larder.

Ginger of course was having the time of her life – chasing squirrels through the glittering lawn, surreptitiously munching grass and then lounging in her toasty bed.

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Ginger panting in pleasure

With the doves cooing in the rafters, cotton wool clouds drifting across a Cerulean sky and a most scrumptious aroma from the oven, I looked forward to a long, golden day, stretching out in peace and pleasure…

Greatest Self Made Entrepreneurs of the 20 C

Did you know that Forbes has a Self-made score that it has been giving each member of The Forbes 400 since 2014?

The criteria for ranking high on self-made score range from being born an orphan, into poverty or low-income family to crossing hurdles such as low-paying jobs, or facing discrimination and even abuse.  At the middle of the self-made rankings are entrepreneurs who start their ventures from scratch but get advantages early in life like a good education and a supportive family. Low self-made scores are reserved for those who inherited family fortunes and businesses already doing well.

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Read more about 20 Greatest Self Made Entrepreneurs which includes fun trivia like:

  • There are 86 LEGO bricks for every person on earth !
  • Warren Buffet first filed his taxes at the age of thirteen on which occasion he claimed his bike as a $35 tax deduction!
  • Despite driving a silver Mercedes most of the time, Steve Jobs never had license plates put on them!

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When the Goddess is a Daughter

Every autumn in India, the Goddess Durga is celebrated in different parts of the country – in some places as Vanquisher of the Buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura but more generally as the symbol of victory of good over evil or the bestower of well-being and prosperity. Indeed in some places, the festival Dussehra has less to do with the Goddess and more to do with the dramatization of the victory of mythological hero Ram and his brother Lakshman over their arch enemy, Ravan as narrated in great ancient epic, Ramayan.

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In Bengal however, the Goddess Durga is celebrated in a very special way – as a daughter who comes visiting her parents’ home for five days which make up Durga Pujo. And mind you, not alone, but with all her children in tow – two daughters, Lakshmi and Saraswati who are the Goddesses of Wealth and Wisdom respectively as well as two sons, Ganesh and Kartik, Gods of Prosperity and War. In fact preparations for the arrival of the Goddess Durga begin 10 days ahead with Agomoni songs in which her mother reminds Giriraj or the father to go and fetch her. In this avatar, the Goddess is Uma, the beloved daughter raised with all comforts and now married to someone whose home is in the stark, cold heights of Kailash mountains.

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For five days in the month of Ashwin, the Goddess is pampered, decked up, fed and celebrated lavishly as the daughter who has come home. There is sensual offering of heavy incense, fragrant flowers, glowing diyas, heady camphor all accompanied with ringing of the conch and joyous ululations. She and her children are fed with bhog of the most aromatic rice, richest milk and choicest of sweets. Everyday is a celebration of love – divine and expansive.

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And then all too soon – it is over. The daughter is bid farewell with smearing of auspicious vermilion, touch of betel leaf and sweets to her divine lips. Hearts break as she and her family leave and release is possible only through the ecstatic dance of the Bhashan or immersion. Chants of Ashche Bochor Abar Hobe – Next year, Again – ring in the evening air in determined assertion of never letting go of her lotus feet. “Who is she – Goddess, Mother, Daughter – or the Shakti that resides within each of us?” I wonder, as my daughter and I arrive, after our four-hour flight from Kolkata and a two-hour journey up the Nilgiris, to stand before our home – also named Kailash!

 

Why you need Feminism – more than ever

One of the biggest challenges facing feminists has been how to convince younger generations of its continuing relevance. The long demonization of feminism in popular culture  – as shrieking harridans, bra-burning troublemakers, ugly, uncouth banshees – has been rather effective in turning away younger generations of women from the movement who like their Jimmy Choos and their Hermes satchel and so don’t want to mess up their look by jumping into activism. Ironically it is this generation which has grown up reaping all the advantages of centuries of feminist activism – like opening up of education and employment opportunities to girls and women. But now they balk at identifying themselves with a movement which has demanded nothing more than that women be allowed the same equal opportunities, rights and treatment as have been enjoyed by men since the beginning of civilization.

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But by its very definition, feminism is pitted against patriarchy which enshrines the rule of the Father. This puts in place a social system where the eldest male holds power in the family and by extension, in all social institutions like law, economy, government, police, healthcare, education, military, religion and so on. Clearly if women are demanding their rightful places in all these institutions, the rule of the Father is threatened. “Why do girls have to get educated and become difficult?” “These women are taking away all the jobs”, “Working women are breaking up the family” are some of the common bugbears conjured up so that the systems can continue to run as they have been doing for centuries. Any woman asking for her human rights in family, school, temple, workplace, court, hospital, police station, media is pointed out as annoyance at best and a villain at worst.

Matters are more complicated because large sections of women have themselves been enjoying the privileges of patriarchy as mothers and wives of successful men and hence do not want to see their positions challenged. Then women of privileged sections have been getting some pay-offs at the cost of racial, class and caste inequality – so a professional mom is not getting any help from her professional husband in child rearing but both are happy to pay a maid to bring up their kid.

Despite this seeming impossibility of all women getting their due in the patriarchal system, some feminists have not lost heart. Writers and activists like Bell Hooks point out that

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Patriarchy not only devalues women but younger men, gays and those men who do not fit masculine stereotypes. So we have stories about men facing discrimination if they want to be a dancer, a nurse, if they are comfortable expressing emotions or wearing the colour pink. Feminism demands equality not just for women but respect for all choices – in education, employment and lifestyle. And this is why, it continues to be relevant, indeed necessary !

Public Speaking – Plan first

The 2014  Chapman University Survey on American Fears, which examined anxieties of people in the country found that the fear of public speaking ranked at the top, with 25.3 percent of the people surveyed saying their biggest fear was speaking in front of a crowd.

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No wonder then that Public Speaking makes up one of the most coveted skills at the workplace and in society. So if you are planning to speak in public, one of the first things you need to do is to see whether your speech serves the occasion and purpose. Here are 4 major goals of public speaking:

  • To persuade – This is the most common purpose of public speaking where you are trying to convince your audience about the merits of your view/position/ product and trying to motivate the people to a particular course of action. Campaign speeches by political candidates and inspirational speeches by a general to his soldiers are common examples.
  • To inform – This is when you are mainly interested in sharing information or insights to an audience; for example the company CEO’s speech at the Annual General Body meeting or the Principal recounting the school’s achievements at the Annual Day function. In many cases the purpose to inform may be followed or complemented by the secondary purpose to persuade the audience into a particular course of action – for example an environmental activist may speak on the harms of plastic pollution to get people to switch to biodegradable products.
  • To entertain – This is the kind of public speaking which is more generous with jokes and funny anecdotes since its purpose is to see that the audience is enjoying the occasion – like the best man’s speech at a wedding.
  • To celebrate – Such speeches are given to felicitate, commemorate or to honour an individual or event like the speech that introduces the winner of an award.

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So the next time you have to speak publicly, think carefully about why are you giving that speech in the first place – getting a firm grip on the purpose and context will help you plan better and take up the mike with greater finesse !

 

 

Give me some lovin

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For centuries now poets and musicians have sang paeans on love – about how it is an extraordinary feeling and best experienced when lavished on another. However in recent times, the Self Care movement has claimed that if anybody deserves your sincerest TLC, it is you. Here are a 3 ways to practice Self Love:

  • Smile at yourself –while getting ready in the morning for school or work, look in the mirror and then generously smile – like you know some delicious secret about yourself and are grinning at the knowledge. You may feel a bit foolish at first but it is sure to put a spring into your step for the rest of the day!
  • Look your best – While you need not break the bank for a makeover, do follow grooming essentials on a daily basis and take efforts to look pleasant – this will make you feel ‘great’ about yourself and by extension, about the world.
  • Practice self kindness – This could range from buying yourself a quiet cup of coffee when in the middle of a busy work day to telling yourself that it is ok to slip up now and then, provided you learn from your mistakes. Ever so often we are own bitterest critics which is why we could do with some self indulgence too.

Finally Self love is not to be confused with vanity or worse, self delusion. The easiest way to tell them apart is through Self Awareness – but that is a topic for another post 🙂

 

Citizen Journalism – An Overview

  • JFK shooting – Abraham Zapruder home camera
  • 9.1 Mw magnitude earthquake and tsunamis in Indian Ocean islands of 2004
  • Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt

 

What do you think is common to the above? That’s right – these events were captured by ordinary citizens on phones and cameras and disseminated significantly before professional reporters. The JFK shooting was for example recorded by Abraham Zapruder on his home camera. In other words, all these are fantastic examples of impactful citizen journalism.

What is then citizen journalism?

It can be defined as the collecting and reporting of information via social media, public platforms, and traditional news outlets, either by non-traditional sources or the public. For example even police officers or government clerks could operate as citizen journalists if they were to release information about an incident. So the defining characteristic of Citizen journalism is user-generated content.

The concept originated in early 1960s though the term and the practice crystallized in 2000 with South Korean online entrepreneur Oh Yeon-ho saying “every citizen is a reporter.” Now of course it is widespread with the rise of smartphones as well as social media and other online content sharing platforms.

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Like everything else, Citizen Journalism has its pros and cons.

Some of the advantages are :

  • Community-focused
  • Breaking news – streaming as it is happening
  • Help in activism
  • Challenges or revises mainstream media, dominant narrative

Among the disadvantages of Citizen Journalism are:

  • Biased – one side of the matter
  • Fake news – no prior verification
  • Whipping up mob hysteria
  • Disempowers those without access to tech

 

Can you think of more??

 

 

3 Ways to Achieve Self Actualization

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love”

This powerful quote by Sufi mystic Rumi illustrates self actualization in action – that drive to achieve your full potential, that path towards peak experiences resulting in self fulfilment. The concept was popularized by Abraham Maslow and continues as one of the fundamentals of the Humanistic school of psychotherapy. In a world that is overwrought with anxiety of keeping up with appearances and obsession with the superficial, self actualization can help you realign with your true self and clarify your ultimate purpose of existence.

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Here are 3 simple ways to achieve Self Actualization:

  • Self understanding – You can start by understanding your own situation – professional, financial, personal, social and spiritual. Once you identify what you are doing or not doing to contribute to your less-than-satisfying existence, it is time to develop greater self awareness.
  • Self awareness –  Find out your talents, skills and strengths. Ask yourself what you love doing best and what brings you greatest joy, regardless of what others are doing and getting.
  • Holistic action – Once you have attained true self awareness, it is time to prepare for action that will help you reach your real potential. But take care to do this holistically – see that you do not hurt others in the process and that the action enhances both your physical and emotional health. Self actualization is just not about being rich, successful and famous as the result of your actions – it is about finding satisfaction in your action and being the best version of yourself.

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How do you say Goodbye

Yesterday I had tea with a very, very favourite person. I thought the setting would make for a serene, cosy moment to say goodbye since she is soon to leave. But we ended up chatting about so many other things; time flew as I just basked happily in the glow of her gracious, wise presence. All too soon, she was getting up and I just couldn’t say what I had planned to.

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Frank. H. Desch, Two Women Having Tea

Later, following this train of thought, I came upon a very interesting passage by aviation pioneer Anne M. Lindbergh on different words that mean ‘farewell’. She writes in her memoir, North to the Orient

“For Sayonara, literally translated, ‘Since it must be so,’ of all the good-bys I have heard is the most beautiful.

Unlike the Auf Wiedershens and Au revoirs, it does not try to cheat itself by any bravado ‘Till we meet again,’ any sedative to postpone the pain of separation. It does not evade the issue like the sturdy blinking FarewellFarewell is a father’s good-by. It is – ‘Go out in the world and do well, my son.’ It is encouragement and admonition. It is hope and faith. But it passes over the significance of the moment; of parting it says nothing. It hides its emotion. It says too little. While Good-by (‘God be with you’) and Adios say too much. They try to bridge the distance, almost to deny it. Good-by is a prayer, a ringing cry. ‘You must not go – I cannot bear to have you go! But you shall not go alone, unwatched. God will be with you. God’s hand will over you’ and even – underneath, hidden, but it is there, incorrigible – ‘I will be with you; I will watch you – always.’ It is a mother’s good-by.

But Sayonara says neither too much nor too little. It is a simple acceptance of fact. All understanding of life lies in its limits. All emotion, smoldering, is banked up behind it. But it says nothing. It is really the unspoken good-by, the pressure of a hand, ‘Sayonara.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient

 

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Samuel Palmer, Farewell to Calypso

20 Greatest Revolutionaries

Who are the people who rise above the status quo to make History? Are they born with more than the usual human share of courage and practical sense? Or are they forged by their circumstances and influences till their inner conviction glows like fire and lights revolutions along the way?

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Image Courtesy: Rupa Publications

This book takes up such 20 greatest revolutionaries of modern history and goes through their lives to understand a lot of things – how they rose to positions of power and how they inspired masses to follow their ideals, sometimes with personal charisma, dreaded force and at times equipped with nothing more than an unwavering faith in the Truth; how they shaped not only the history of their country but at times, even that of the world. And yet more interesting is the legacy of such revolutionary figures which for many, has waxed and waned along with the tides of changing ideologies on the horizon of time.

In studying these 20 greatest revolutionary figures, I have tried to understand what goes into the making of a leader, a mass uprising and how such movements have impact the world we live in today.

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Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix

Bark Basics

I’ll tell you what this post is not about first – why my dog, or any for that matter, barks. You have dog psychologists, psychics and whisperers for that sort of thing. Mind you, not dog doctors, no siree, they can only tell you why your dog poops in purple and such like esoteric facts. If, after a fortnight of sleepless nights and threats from the town council to evict you and your dog, you end up, racoon-eyed, to a vet asking him why the hell your dog insists on leading a dog-chestra every night, he/she ( wake up, it’s a gender-neutral world now!) would merely shrug a shoulder and mumble, “ perhaps it ate turnips for supper”.

While you are still scratching your head to spy the concealed wisdom in that reply, let me tell you what this post is about – what my dog’s barking reveals about people. Thaaat’s right – the kind of human responses I notice when my dog barks at every passerby from her perch on the sofa. The other day I was on a con-call and one participant’s dog kept barking throughout the meeting. I was silently cracking up – for once, it was not my dog on the line – like, literally!

But first a caveat – my dog is the quietest of her species indoors. That is until some innocent soul – could range from a friend or electrician to a courier or cable guy happens to approach our gate or even pass along the lane in front of our house. Ginger then remembers her breed and realizes if she does not respect its supposed ferocity, no one else will. So she will go full steam barking and snapping. But the real drama is unfolding elsewhere – centred around the person who is the object of Ginger’s ire. Here are 3 main responses to my dog’s barking and what each says about people –  I think…?!

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Ginger: My German Shepherd beauty
  • What a jerk” Ok so this is the personality type when met with any opposition or difficulty in life, assumes always that the other person is stupid at best and a villain at worst. It is always the other person who is to blame, never the situation and God forbid, never himself/herself.
  • “That dog doesn’t like me” This is the kind that will personalize every given situation; it is always because I may have done/ said/ thought/ written/ heard/dreamt/spat something – never about things going on with other people or complexities of their situation. Objectivity and perspective taking are unknown in this person’s planet.
  • “Good day to you too – but I gotta go” This is the coolest response I have seen and naturally, the rarest. Meet politely, respond positively – which is not about agreeing with everything the other person says –  and then if things don’t click, move on!

Moët or Bordeaux? Ask Pushkin

wine

Yesterday we discussed Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin at our bookclub. How gaily the verses flow, how softly the gentle satire touches upon bitter truths and then lightly moves on to that eternal drama of love and longing. Pushkin’s novel appealed to me in many ways – with its rich literary allusions, the well crafted rhymes and his astute gaze that misses no foible but is imbued with compassion at the same time.

However one of the passages that appealed heartily to my oenophiliac self was the comparison of the charms of Moët and Bordeaux…

“Champagne is like a mistress,

Sparkling, lively, and capricious,

Wilful, wild, but empty too…

To Champagne I’m no longer true,

But you, Bordeaux, are a friend

In misfortune, and in sorrow,

Ready to serve, today, tomorrow,

Always faithful to the end,”

(Chapter 4: 46: transl by A. S. Kline)

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Not surprisingly Pushkin made me reach out for my well-cooled bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon !