Sunday 28 August 2022

Dark Clouds, Disappear!

 The air is heavy, dense monsoon clouds hang in the sky, ready for the piercing rain to burst through. The mind is heavy with lots of thoughts too. It all feels so ominous sitting in an Uber on my way back from work. 1.5 hours of travel gives you a lot of time to introspect. New city, new job, old friends, life is good and there should be no cause to feel otherwise. 

But happiness tops the list of all things elusive. Counting our blessings does not come easily to humans. The grass is always greener on the other side. May not be jealousy always, but any materialistic purchase made by peers does induce a bit of guilt and pressure. Its a known fact how social media has only added fuel to the flame, but perfection is what we all have set out to achieve. Perfect bodies, outfits, homes, holidays, kids. Even if you are not guilt trapped by these, how many of us can say we are truly happy?

Relationships are hard - spouse, parents, siblings, kids - our happiness is intertwined with theirs. Someone says or does something which does not go down well with us, and we fall into an abyss of melancholy. Why do we forget they are all individuals in their own right, and their idea of happiness may be very different to ours. 

Nirvana is passe, Ikigai is the buzzword. We hear of Nordic countries ranking highest on the happiness index, and cannot really fathom the real reason: is it because they have better social security, or fully paid childcare leaves. Japanese secret to a long life is said to be a 'purpose' to which you devote yourself wholeheartedly. Maybe relocating to a 'developed' country will bring more joy. Or maybe we are just not getting the message.

As I age, my introspection leads me to believe, finding happiness within is the essence of life.  Philosophers and yogis have chased the idea for eons, but saying it is one thing, achieving it is another. As social beings, we are affected by events and people. A microscopic virus brought the whole world to its feet for 2 years, and we are slowly finding our ground again. Times are tough and will continue to be so. At the end of the day, we have but one life, the narrative is ours to write. 

Looking for small pleasures, breaking the routine, helps me.  Not picking up the phone for an hour seems like a victory. A good night's sleep is a premium. Visiting a new place is a bonus. Picking up a new hobby can be a life saver. Baking / eating a cake always helps.

Sunday 16 January 2022

What rocks your boat

 When did u last eat? Maybe just a couple of hours earlier. Chances are you weren’t ravenously hungry, but it was mealtime, so you had your food.

For the past two years, we haven’t gone out much, have not socialized or hung out with friends, but we had some time at home after what seemed eons of rushing through mad traffic commuting to and fro from work; and we have enjoyed this leisure, eaten to our hearts and eyes’ content, spending much of the lockdown cooking elaborate meals and feasting on them. Banana bread became a rage on social media, and even amateurs starting churning out perfect curries and desserts.

Kids were cooped up indoors, birthday’s were happening online, and cakes were mostly homemade, some less adept ‘bakers’ resorting to Oreo or Parle G cakes as saviours.

We found solace in food.

Lockdown started, and it was customary to watch the news hawk eyed to know the developments and announcements, cancel travel plans, make more video calls to keep in touch with friends and family.

Amidst all the personal heartbreaks we all suffered due to all social engagements getting cancelled, we were still employed and able to put food on the table, not having to cut corners, while witnessing  some less fortunate people losing their livelihood, having no assurance of where the next meal was coming from, setting out with their meagre belongings, on arduous journeys in order to reach their villages and hometowns, in search of work to earn a living. Some were bundled into buses by some good Samaritans and sent on their travels.

The haunting pictures of migrants walking for days in the scorching heat, with just a packet of Parle G biscuits and a bottle of water, 3 kids in tow with a starving mother, was enough to send shivers down our spines. It really put things in perspective for me. How privileged we are, even though we may not be business tycoons or some media mogul, we had more than enough of everything – clothes, shelter and food, the basic necessities to keep a person alive. We were afraid of catching Covid so we ordered everything online, concerned about how lockdown was affecting our physical and mental health, how we weren’t exercising enough, whilst the less fortunate said “If Covid does not kill us, hunger will”.

Hunger is one of the raw human emotions, if you fast for a day with only water, after 5-6 hours you end up with a splitting headache and a growling belly. People have been known to kill for hunger. We know that we evolved from a hunter gatherer lifestyle, when we ate only if we foraged or killed, and the little food that was found and shared within a community was enough for sustenance. Ayurveda says we should not eat after sunset, and keep our stomach only half full for proper digestion. But we have become slaves to the vice of gluttony, we stuff ourselves till we get sick.

Think about the aspect of the food industry, of Instagram worthy shots of delectable food and drink, of the excess food cooked and left over, and wasted, at homes and restaurants. Sentiments about food are very strong and polarizing. We feed animals on the road but hesitate to hand out food to anyone begging on the streets, so it requires a more planned approach to mobilise something to stop food wastage.  Organisations like the Robinhood Army are trying to collect the excess food from restaurants and donated by anyone interested and distributing it to the hungry. It takes a humungous effort, and I am inspired by those who are donating food or their precious time to reach out to the needy, and wish to contribute personally as well.

We can start with small steps like cooking smaller portions, not wasting leftovers, handing out excesses to those who need, teaching our kids to respect food and have a clean plate at the end of each meal. We are depleting the earth’s resources really fast, and turning to growing meat in a lab to satisfy out greed, so it is time to wake up and work towards better food habits.

Monday 28 March 2016

The Butterfly Effect

  Little things have huge impacts.
 In the past few days, a couple of incidents led me to believe in this phenomenon.

    Death affects us in different ways. Some become very quiet and reclusive after the death of a dear one, whilst others cry copious tears and move on. My maternal grandfather passed away many years ago, but till today my mother seems inconsolable, a part of life’s joys seem to have dwindled for her. I am more reticent in this respect, but I do miss few people terribly, who are no longer with us.
A month back, I saw my parents off at the railway station after a short stay at my home. I was sad, no doubt, but went on with the day’s chores and came back to a quiet evening with family. Suddenly we received a message and my husband rushed to the next building – one of our neighbors had been found dead in his flat. It was a silent heart attack. He was alone, his wife had delivered a baby boy 2 months back and was at her maternal home. We hardly knew the couple, just saw or greeted each other at social functions held in the society. But the incident seemed to disturb us at the very core, we stayed up all night talking about the implications for the wife and child, who would have no memory of his father. His wife was a homemaker, were her finances taken care of, would she be able to pay off the home loan. We talked of his smoking habit; he looked fit for his age – was he stressed and never realized it, or was it the lack of exercise and lifestyle problems that afflict every second professional these days. An over analysis no doubt, but realization of our own mortality really gives us perspective. For the next few days we talked about how we should eat well, plan for emergencies, get preventive health checkups, do some good for the society, and the like. It was as if someone had jolted us awake from a  deep  slumber.

Whilst we were contemplating how to prepare for the inevitable, there were more pressing matters at hand.

The daycare center where I have been sending my daughter for the past 3 years was closing down due to some logistics issue, and we had been given notice of a month to shift our children elsewhere. It was unimaginable to lose a place we trusted blindly, and they cemented our trust with their small and large acts of  compassion for the child's needs.Initially we did not worry much about a replacement, as new centers had been sprouting left, right and center in the neighborhood. So after a relaxed couple of weeks, we began the actual hunt. There were few rejections initially, and lots of discussion on a few, but none seemed to fit the bill. We were mostly looking at places wanting to make a quick buck from the hapless parents – some were unhygienic, some cramped, some not providing meals, some providing all the facilities but lacking a personal approach. For an issue as sensitive as leaving your child with total strangers for the entire day, no one seemed to have thought of how they would earn the parents’ trust. Or maybe they knew they didn’t have to, their centers would still be full. It is heartbreaking to be separated from a bunch of people so selfless and caring, and we are feeling incapable of moving on.However, such is life and within a week we must look for a new daycare, our hopes pinned on the unknown.

Friday 21 August 2015

A Walk in the woods

Childhood is like a charm that fades away gradually, leaving us pining for the things we did as children, or places we lived in. We long for the protected and sheltered life, when we did not have a care in the world. We as a generation are trying to bridge the gap between the competitive and technology crazy life we have today, and the childhood we had, devoid of gadgets and not so intensely complicated. May be we are both blessed and cursed. We have lived the good life so to say. Where we had the undivided attention from our families and led less hectic lives than today’s kids do.

But as Bob Dylan sang, “The Times They Are A-Changing”, and we feel kids today are missing out on so much. The thought is of course mutual, where they see us trying to get the hang of devices they so easily operate as toddlers. This is normal for them, because they have not seen anything different, and such is the story of every generation, the circle of life if you may call it so.

I grew up in a very pretty hill station in the 80’s, and life moved at a very comfortable pace. Except for school and office goers, no one seemed in any hurry. And we walked to school. My father walked to office, we walked to visit acquaintances, and we walked when we went shopping. We never had or felt the need to own a vehicle. Public transport was cheap and comfortable, so any occasional journey that could not be taken on foot would be in a public bus or a shared cab. On our way back from school, our mothers who came to pick us up would chat with their friends, and we would hop, skip and jump all the way with our classmates, giggling and plucking wild flowers and berries. When it would rain, and it rained a lot (as we were in the region with the heaviest rainfall in the world), we clamored under our little umbrellas and walked as fast as we could, but got drenched anyway. Sometimes we had to carry our school shoes in our bag to avoid them getting wet, and walk to school in slippers. Although it was difficult treading the mossy and slippery roads in the rain, it was utmost fun.

I could go on and on in my soliloquy; so let me pause here and mention that this is what I feel children of today miss – the walks. The walk and all the pleasures associated with it. They have the comfort of a car or two-wheeler to take them everywhere. They hardly see any scenery, or get drenched in the rain. They don’t go anywhere on their own, because of safety reasons. They become couch potatoes and gain unhealthy weight. They suffer from image issues and other complexes.

So is it really a better world they have inherited?
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Wednesday 8 April 2015

Back to School

After a long hiatus, I have plunged back into the world of books, assignments and exams in order to pursue a post-graduate degree. Having got engrossed in 9 years of corporate life, it took me a while to figure out I really wanted to go for it. I have a 2.5 year old, so this was a very tough decision to make. I had always planned for this, but when I actually signed up for the course and paid the fees, I was at my wits end. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to study/ appear for exams, when I did not even have enough time to indulge in a long bath, with a demanding job and toddler in tow! It was a distance learning course, so thankfully I did not need to attend any classes, but it also meant that I had to do all the encouraging and motivating me, myself. It has been a year and I haven’t progressed as well as I expected to, but the experience has taught me a few things I can share for the benefit of people aspiring to go back to study after a gap:  

Opting for Distance learning instead of a full time course – I have been told that distance learning dilutes the essence of a degree or looks less valuable on your resume. But frankly, weigh your choices and decide what’s best for you. After a few years of work experience, you may have enough savings to quit your job to pursue a full time degree. But are your other financial responsibilities like EMI’s, school and daycare fees, annual investments, health or other exigencies, taken care of? Considering that women now are equal/almost equal/ larger (whichever applies to you) contributors to a household’s income, take stock of your financial health. Personally I did not want to let go of my paycheck and also added years in experience so I chose the distance learning option.

Which course/ specialization to choose – One may choose to sign up for a course in order to change their job description, while some may choose one that springboards them to the next level in their careers. I discussed a lot with my friends from different fields, and the feedback I received was that if you are going back to study after just a couple of years of work-ex, you may choose to learn something radically different from your current occupation. But once you have spent almost a decade in a particular sector, you should opt for something that adds value to what you are currently doing. This is because the next company that hires you will want you for the sum total of your experience/expertise, and not for something you claim to have learnt only through a 2 year academic course.

 How to plan study (slow and steady) – The aim for taking on a course is to learn something, but mostly it ends up being a cram and spit exercise to clear the examination. There are days when you have ample time and can study for longer hours and days when you cannot even spare a minute to look at your books, especially if you are working in parallel. I manage to study mostly on weekend mornings and evenings, with chores/outings/rest taking up most of the day. Weekdays are so full of travel/office work/household activity that I cannot spare any time to study. So on weekend mornings, I just try to revise what I learnt on that weekend. It obviously means I spend more time on a subject than estimated by the course, but the steady learning ensures that I have better chances of retaining the knowledge for a longer time. I choose to complete those subjects first with which I have some familiarity by virtue of my experience, that instils confidence and I can tick it off the assignment/ examination list quicker.

Balancing work, life and study – It would be unfair and unprofessional if you neglected your job because of the course you chose to enrol in. Also, your year-end appraisals would suffer. Your spouse/ children would also want your undivided attention and time, and spending quality time with them will help you relax and refresh. If you don’t indulge in a little ‘me-time’ or pursue your hobbies, you will feel drained out and exhausted. It is no doubt a tightrope walk, but a day spent with loads of activity and challenges is anytime better than a dull day. Years later, when the course is over and its benefits start coming through, it will bring a great sense of achievement.

There are just 24 hours in everyone’s day, but how one chooses to utilize them can make all the difference in the quality of life. Joining a post-graduate degree after a long gap has not only helped me get rid of the guilt of not studying further after my engineering course; it has infused a new zeal in me of seeing this through to the end, like any other successful project.

Wednesday 28 May 2014


Let me begin by assuring all weak-hearted souls that this piece is not about the movie.

I am not sure what qualifies one as a feminist, but I believe that truth, however bitter, should be spoken and even uncomfortable questions need to be asked. This is about one of such questions - Why do married people (mostly women) need to wear some kind of sign indicating marital status? I will speak only in the Indian context, as social dynamics and values are a little different in other countries.

There is no doubt that a woman looks beautiful in her wedding finery, jewels and makeup. The red dot on her forehead, the bangles, anklets, toe rings and nose pins. The rituals also invoke a relationship for seven births, and are made complete by tying a sacred thread (thaali/mangalsutra) around the bride's neck in some communities, or by applying sindoor (vermilion) to the parting in her hair. Rings are also exchanged between the bride and the groom. While he may choose to excuse himself from wearing the ring claiming discomfort or simply personal preference, that would be blasphemy on the lady's part. For one, she would get chastised by her mother/ mother-in-law and other females relatives for not taking the signs seriously - "It will bring harm to your spouse if you do not apply sindoor/ wear mangalsutra. For most of us it is taken for granted that we wear these symbols of marital status. Obviously these are very old customs and I share Wikipedia’s take on the topics.

Quoting from Wikipedia page on Vermilion and Mangalsutra :
"The wiping off of the sindoor is very significant for a widow. There are many rituals associated with this practice. The most common being the mother-in-law or older sister-in-law wiping off the sindoor when the woman becomes a widow. The widow will break her bangles and remove her bindi as well. Many Hindu women will remove their nose ring and toe rings as well. The parting of hair is symbolic of river of red blood full of life. When the sindoor is removed then the river becomes barren, dry and empty. This custom is prevalent in rural areas and is followed by all castes and social ranks."

"According to Hindu cultural ethos, the mangala sutra symbolizes the inseparable bond between a husband and a wife. During the wedding ceremonies in southern parts of India, the bridegroom ties the mangala sutra to the neck of the bride uttering, “May you live long by wearing this sacred mangal sutra, the reason of my life”. Married women are led to wear a mangala sutra throughout their life as it is believed that the practice enhances the well-being of her husband and family. It is also believed that the mangala sutra protects the marriage from any evil. Three knots symbolize three different aspects of a married woman - the first knot represents her obedience to her husband, the second to his parents and the third represents her respect for God."

Most of us must have seen the movie Dor, where the young and vibrant Ayesha Takia is asked to wear indigo garbs as mandated by custom when she loses her husband, and made to lead an austere life, which she tries to forget from time to time by flouting some rules and listening to music, which she used to enjoy when her spouse was alive. For a man who is a widower, there are no such rules.

I am not opposed to these signs, neither am I a stickler for them. I follow what I like and discard what I don't. I just think that no well-meaning spouse ever wishes that any harm should come to the other, whether they wear their wedding ring or not. I just feel that this should not be an imposition but left for the individual to decide. And it also should not be a scale to judge someone's character. Just because one does not wear these talismans does not mean they consider their marriage unimportant. One may not be fond of jewelry; vermilion may cause an allergy to others. 

Many malpractices like Sati have resulted in misery of Indian women for generations. Widows banished to Varanasi by their families recently played Holi for the first time in their lives as color was forbidden for them; they could not even eat to their hearts' content once they had lost their husband and caregiver. Even the West is not free from rampant incidents of witch-hunting in ancient days. These illogical rituals are now less prevalent, although we do get to hear of isolated incidents.

To conclude, women have been meted out with injustice and unfair treatment from times immemorial. With our progressive outlook and educated family backgrounds, we may want to look back at traditions we follow blindly and allow mature people the freedom to choose what is best for them.

Friday 16 May 2014

Shillong - My Home Forever

 It pains me like the loss of a dear one, as if someone left without an answer, never to come back again.I have traveled to many places, seen many beautiful towns, but that longing doesn't seem to leave me.My family is leaving Shillong, my hometown, this month, and even though I haven't lived there for the past 13 years,it has been a part of my life and conversation would always come back to it, like an old lover about whom I cannot stop speaking.
  What is it about the place that mesmerizes me so, and holds me back like a toddler tugging on to its mother's dress.Is being born there the only reason? - No, its got to be more.Of course everyone shares a special bond with their birthplace, but Shillong exudes much more warmth, so much that even those who lived there for a couple of years have fallen prey to its charms.And believe me it is true love, for even though the youthfulness and beauty of the city have long faded,and in its place the concrete and more botoxed facade is visible now, in the end, it is always more about the attitude than the looks.
  I am still not used to crowds, pollution and the busy life of the metropolis, I miss walking to school, the market and everywhere else.I miss beautiful flowers and incessant rains, when I walked to school in slippers and carried dry shoes in my schoolbag.I miss eating berries in spring and living without a fan in my house.I miss the wooden buses, the Chapel in every school,the rock music playing from neighbors' house on weekends, the community cleaning drives and the quintessential chicken chow.I miss the pine cones lying on the hill slopes,eating oranges sitting in the winter sun,the unique fruits and vegetables found only in hills.I miss wooden floors in my home,the tiny springs jutting out from rocks and the green moss on the corners of stairs.   Hills have a character of their own, and the people are different.Although it would be lying to deny that we did not face any tough times due to communal tension, curfews and the like,in the end there is a reason behind everything, a long history of exploitation.No country or city is averse to that.But I'd rather forget that.What I cannot forget is travelling the winding roads from Guwahati waiting for that cool fresh air to hit me on reaching Barapani.Of the surprise of seeing multiple new shops jutting out, brands pervading my tiny city, bamboo crafts interspersed with hip-hop casuals at Glory's Plaza.Those tweed clad ladies, and lads in leather jackets,those warm smiles emanating from kwai(betel) stained lips.Steaming momos, and chilly winds.
 What I have written may not make much sense to those who have never been to Shillong, but for those who know - I have never known (read loved) a city better, and never will.