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

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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 !

Monsoon Montage

Today is the third day.

Of a host of happenings – big and small – that announces the arrival of one of the most awaited visitors in the year. The rains – which in this part of the world is known as the monsoon. Originating from ‘mausim’, the Arabic word for season, these actually refer to moisture laden, seasonal winds blowing into the Indian peninsula from the Indian Ocean, over the two water bodies, the Arabian Sea on the west and Bay of Bengal on the east.

But any half-decent middle school geography book will tell you all that. Let me describe what the rains mean to me and my home…

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A sky awash with blues, greys and purples – a palette that evokes the earthy smell of fresh rains on thirsty soil even before it has actually drunk the life-giving nectar. The colours never outlined clearly in the sky but one blending into another – here a steel blue merging into slate grey or there charcoal cloud glinting with edges of deep purple. In these hills, I am not sure where rising mist on the green slopes gives away to descending damp clouds. One meets the other in swathes of moist breeze dancing, flowing, pirouetting till I – swaying on the verandah swing – am soaked in fine spray.

A scramble to yank off almost dried clothes from the clothesline before the rains drench them completely and half a morning’s work is undone. Usually we have just finished lunch and settled comfortably with the day’s newspaper, getting ready to welcome the noon siesta, when a familiar pitter- patter outdoors stirs us to action. And then its rush hour – pulling on jackets, stumbling over slippers, fumbling down the stairs, running on the grass, getting entangled with half-wet, billowing sheets and shirts – and all this with a dog barking madly, running wildly at our heels at the noontime excitement. If nothing else, this daily frenzy ensures that the usual rich rice lunch will go a little easy on the love handles.

A steady drumming all night long. The sound of rains as it falls on the tin roof, through the leaves of the dense bougainvillea shrub on my balcony, on the foggy glass window panes, across the moaning pines in the forest and on the welcoming earth. The sense of deep calm this sound evokes in me is so familiar and yet never fails to surprise me each time I lie awake, in the half-light of my room. My dog twitches in her dream at my feet, my daughter is snugly bundled up in her bed. Like Coleridge said in another time and of another landscape, in Frost at midnight,

‘The inmates of my cottage, all at rest…”,

and for that always, always I am grateful!

 

To choose. Or not to.

Early this century, a study on vacation choices among employees threw up interesting results. A group of employees were told that they had won a free trip to Paris; then they were told that it was to Hawaii. Finally they were told they could choose for their free trip between Paris and Hawaii. You would think that the destination selected as the result of a consciously made choice would have made them happier.

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But oddly enough that didn’t happen. The employees reported more satisfaction when told they had won a free trip – regardless of destination – as compared to when they were given a choice. Results of this study have led psychologists to conclude that too many choices may actually deepen regret illustrating a phenomenon nicknamed by Barry Schwartz as “the tyranny of freedom”

The birth of modern society is associated with growing individualism and the importance of free will. ‘I can make of my life what I wish to’, ‘I am the creator of my own destiny’ , ‘Life is all about making the right choices’ are mantras that have proved to be the building blocks for spectacular success stories. And they continue to offer much needed motivation to people who often start out disadvantaged in some way.

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But like all good things, any excess can have the opposite impact. Too many choices – whether of courses, careers, romantic partners or plain old coffee – confuse the mind and cloud decision making. When 19000 possible combinations from the Starbucks beverage menu are rattled out to you, it is quite possible that you will go home with a tried and tested favourite!

New Orchid Unfurls Indian link to the Orient

The other day a small news headline caught my eye. A rare orchid variety has been discovered in northeast India which scientists say is similar to a type found in Taiwan, Japan and Laos. The Indian discovery has been thus named, Lecanorchis taiwaniana.

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image courtesy: The Hindu

The new orchid is one of the smallest in size growing to a maximum of 40 cm high. Also it blooms for quite a short period of time, like barely five to six days. The flowering season is from July to September. Technically it is a mycoheterotroph – one of only 2 known parasitic plants that do not depend on photosynthesis for food. This also why it could have some herbal value, says Jatindra Sarma, a Conservator of Forests posted in Assam who headed the team credited with the discovery. The finding was published in the latest issue of Japanese Journal of Botany which praised it as a “new record for the flora in India”.

Not surprisingly this orchid adds to India’s vast wealth of this exotic flower species. India already has 1300 known orchid varieties – that’s more than 3 for each day of the year if you go orchid picking. As many as 800 kinds are found in the northeast, 300 in the Western Ghats and rest 200 in the Western Himalayas. What’s more the discovery is further proof of the deep interconnections that Nature has across the world – how species are related to each other and yet unique because of their specific local habitat. Some such connections of course have been helped by rather prosaic situations like colonization and commerce. So the famous Botanical Gardens of Kolkata was primarily started by Col Robert Kyd of the East India Company for the British rulers to grow plants of commercial value like tea and spices. The Ooty Botanical Gardens similarly planned as the British residents wanted to buy vegetables at cheaper rates.

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image courtesy: roamchina.com

Such transnational journeys of plants have been wonderfully represented in Amitav Ghosh’s  remarkable novel, River of Smoke. The ship named Redruth and owned by Cornish botanist Fitcher Penrose, is on an expedition to collect rare species of plants from China. At the end of the novel, his work is set to be continued by a vivacious woman botanist Paulette Lambert nicknamed Puggly, herself the daughter of a French botanist but raised by Bengali ayahs. Paulene now takes up Penrose’s search for the rare Golden camellias. Who knows, perhaps a similar undiscovered flower is breathing in the moist forest air of India, this very moment !!??

 

Magicians of colour, light and line

Most of us are familiar with a few famous painters and their iconic works or dramatic stories – like Van Gogh who suffered from acute depressive phases. Or Da Vinci who painted the intriguing Monalisa. But even while battling his personal demons, it is astonishing to see how Van Gogh moved from painting in greys and browns to vivid blues and yellows in bolder brushstrokes. It is this impulse towards innovation – whether as a result of personal experience, or of engaging with their own
social or other cultural forces – that I am most interested in highlighting in my newly released book.

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Read about twenty of the most brilliant visual artists in history and how their innovations with line, form and colours led to new movements and showed people to look at the world anew.

Don’t forget to post your reviews 🙂

Turkish Delights

How often does a place let you straddle two continents – Istanbul does exactly that. The cultural capital of Turkey is not just throbbing with fashion, nightlife, attractive people and food,  but comes alive with the beauty of swathes of tulips, the opulence of its palaces and above all the depth of its multi-layered history. The ancient Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans are only some of the civilizations that made this place home and contributed to the wealth of its heritage.

For an even closer look at the magnificence of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, head out to Ephesus where remains of the imposing library, ornate temples and an immense amphitheatre recall the glory of its wealth, architecture and sculpture. Faith and spirituality equally shine through at the shrine of Virgin Mary where she was supposed to have spent her last days.

In all, an unforgettable journey through a land where continents collide!

A lesson in wildlife …

“I am disappointed in your response!””

“I am disappointed in myself, as well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHY WE TRAVEL

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

Says the venerable Dalai Lama.

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

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Explore, experiment

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

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

The Old Man and the Sea – dreaming lions

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

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

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

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image courtesy: lily8sje.weebly.com

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

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

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

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

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

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image courtesy: marcallante.bigcartel.com

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

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

3 questions to help you spot a frenemy

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

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Are you wearing that?

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

Why don’t try that orange lipstick?

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

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Really, is that a big deal?

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

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

Greatest Political Philosophers of the World

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading 🙂

Moliere: The Would-be Gentleman

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

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

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image courtesy: bangalore.afindia.org

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

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

 

Strategies For Coping With Stress

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

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  • Changing the situation:

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

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

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

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

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  • Changing the personal response

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

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

Achievement and Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Review of Educated by Tara Westover

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

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Image courtesy: wamc.org

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

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The book indeed can be read at various levels:

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

3 Ways Transactional Analysis Can Help You

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

# Speak from the Adult Ego State

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

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# Make for Complementary Transactions

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

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# Avoid drawn into Games

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

3 Basics of Corporate Etiquette

#1 What you say

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

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#2 How you appear

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

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#3 How you behave

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

3 Lessons Tiffany Taught Me…

“They also serve, who only stand and wait”

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

Stand and wait? No, not Tiffany.

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image courtesy: wef.org.in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attitude – Explicit vs. Implicit

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

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

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

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Now let us understand the differences better:

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

Implicit and explicit attitude can also come into conflict.

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

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

Hope this helped 🙂

Thoughts on turning 42…

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Woman at Writing Desk, 1898, Lesser Ury

More grey in your hair,

the lines on your skin

slight thickening of waist

this nagging within.

Do you have a penny to your name?

Four walls to hide your shame

A beating heart to call your own

Or do you exist unloved, unknown?

Now that I really think, perhaps not

since I have scratched and fought

with Life to let me hold on –

to let me taste its blood.

Perhaps I am but a shadow

whose grasp is half light, half air

but there is something more, I know

each breath, every pulse is rare.

 

 

What is Sexual Harassment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3 Stoic Lessons for Today

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

 

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Image Courtesy: iamfearlesssoul.com

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

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

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

3 Ways Gender Impacts Language

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

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Image Courtesy: timeforequality.org

So here are 3 major ways gender impacts language:

  • normalizing

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

  • Idealizing

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

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Image Courtesy: nada.au.org
  • Symbolizing

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

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

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

 

5 STAGES OF TEAM BUILDING

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

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

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Later Tuckman added another stage called

  • Adjourning

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

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

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