Did I forget to count my blessings?

These spectacles suck.  My nose bridge where this pair of glasses sits has developed tiny dents just like the soft potholes on a newly constructed road.  To avoid further damage, these dents now get double dosage of moisturizer and two drops of imported olive oil daily but I know these stubborn marks won’t go away and will worsen with time.  A well wisher suggests light weight rim less frame or better still contact lenses. Wow, every problem has a solution!

‘Only far sighted people can wear contacts. You require only reading glasses,’ informed Dr Pallavi. Surgery is another option but that is expensive and no surgery is 100% safe. What if!! Thoughts of what if linger on in my mind and I give up the idea of an avoidable surgery.  That implies I will have to wear these thick horrible looking glasses all my life to even read the headlines. The day is not far off when like my 75 years old dad, I will be carrying two pairs of specks, one for reading the seat numbers on the ticket and one for watching the movie. Oh God, these specks make me look so old and it is so cumbersome to wear and remove them every two minutes. Reading is so much enjoyable if the glasses don’t come in between. 
Leaving my train of thoughts behind, I remove my glasses and rush to the meeting room. I have an appointment with one Mr Balaji, a gentleman in mid thirties who wants to meet me regarding financial assistance for his trust. When I enter the room Mr Balaji is already waiting for me. He rises from his chair to greet me when he hears the click clack sound of my heels.  ‘Good afternoon Madam,’ he says cheerfully with his hands folded in polite namaste. I plank myself on the chair opposite him and he starts off about the activities of his trust and how he wants to help other people. The office boy enters and keeps the coffee in front of him. Mr Balaji is so engrossed; he does not notice the coffee. After some time, my colleague takes Mr Balaji’s hand to the edge of the cup to indicate that it is time for him to finish his coffee and end the meeting.  All along Balaji looks in my direction but fails to notice the olive green color of my sari.  In between he turns his head to address others in the room; he brings his attention back to my face when the tiny bells on my earnings in the matching shade make a tinkling sound when I shake my head in affirmation or negation.  I keep the necessary documents in front of him to have a look. As an afterthought I take back the documents and read them aloud; Balaji could not read what I had kept in front of him. He was blind.
Balaji was not born blind. Glaucoma was detected when he was six years old.  Not the type to be dissuaded by such handicaps, he did his education till PhD and now he has formed a trust to help visually challenged people.  He uses public transport to commute. ‘The bus stop is 400 metres from my office,’ I had mentioned while explaining to him the directions. ‘Don’t worry, I always find my way out,’ he had replied politely. 
As I come back to my desk after requesting one of my colleagues to accompany Balaji to the bus stop, I make an attempt to visualize the daily routine of Balaji, his daily struggle for things which we take for granted.  I try to but I fail.  After a few thoughts, I give up. I pick up my glasses to look at my screen. 

Homage to Mahatma Gandhi

Today 64th martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi’s is being observed in our country. A number of functions and prayers mark this day where distinguished personalities and spiritual leaders emphasis on imbibing the values taught by the father of the nation. All the halal shops are ordered to be closed because Gandhiji believed in non violence. On this day, do not kill the hens which lay golden eggs. Martyrdom Day was also observed in all schools today.

Nestled amongst tall Eucalyptus  trees,  the children of this school  like their counterparts in other schools were asked to maintain silence for one minute with their heads bent down as a mark of respect towards the messiah of peace. ‘Observe silence to pray for the soul of Gandhiji. Observe silence in respect of Gandhi so that we imbibe the values of non violence for which he gave up his life,’ the principal had repeated thrice in the morning assembly. The bell rang at sharp 11. The children and the students got up from their seats. Those who were already standing froze in their places like statues. One 10th grade child had just stepped out of the classroom to walk towards the rest room when the clock struck 11 indicating observance of silence by all true countrymen.  All the children in the play ground stood still with glum expressions, annoyed for obstructing their game. This mischievous boy was a man in hurry. Not paying heed to the shrill noise of bugle he went about jumping here and there. As he walked, he tried to jump higher in his futile attempt to reach for the roof of the corridor oblivious to the fact that PT teacher’s spy eye was watching him.

At the end of one minute when the silence stopped and children were allowed to come back to normal, PT teacher pounced on the boy and whipped him with the long thin tail of the whistle. The louder the child wailed, the harder were the thrashings. Other children watched and looked at the PT teacher with a gratitude for sparing them. What waste if these big boys can’t stand still just for a minute and that too in respect towards the father of our nation whose values the schools are trying to instil in them. If they don’t understand now, these children will never learn when they grow up and the teachings of Gandhiji will remain mere teachings in the text books.  
Violence in the name of imbibing non violence!  Haven’t we heard actions speak louder than words?
What would have Gandhiji done to discipline this child?  

Overtly Sentimental Indians

Salman Rushdie cannot come to India because twenty years ago he wrote something against certain Gods.  It’s different that most of these self appointed guardians of God  haven’t read the book and those who had the patience to read  545  page volume need to be applauded for their endurance first .  These people are very angry with Salman ( I mean Salman Rushdie and not our Sallu). They won’t allow him to enter mere desh ki dharti even if he says sorry.  What is done can’t be undone.  We Indians never forget and forgive, and we are overly sentimental and intolerant when anyone says anything bad against our Gods. Ours is a secular and tolerant society, we can tolerate anything but when someone speaks against our religion, our language, our caste, our God or our state then our blood boils.

I tried reading the book twice but could not read beyond chapter 2 but forget about me; I am not the intellectual type. Let’s not digress from the focal point of this piece.
We ban movies because some scenes and dialogues in the movie hurt our sentiments.  We Indians are very sentimental you see!  MF Hussain was forced to die in exile because he painted Gods’ pictures and some people didn’t like what he painted.  We can ban books, issue fatwa against whoever we want , burn effigies, destroy anything and everything we can lay our hands on when we are angry and our government allows us to do it because ours is a true democracy… the largest democracy in the world.  Article 19 -1 –a of the constitution gives us complete freedom of expression. Complete freedom you see … simply express madi !  It’s our right to express anger, disapproval, and disagreement and how we express, that is also our choice. 

We also don’t shy away from showing our displeasure when outsiders want to settle down in our state or don’t speak our language, at least that they can do it.  Why can’t they go back to the state of their forefathers and live and die there as if anyone cares.  Article 19-1-e gives all Indians the freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India but we don’t care because we have the privilege to express our displeasure the way we want to, how we want to and when I want to ; after all we live in a free democratic society.

Since Satanic Verses is in news again. I will make another attempt to read it. I hope this time I can go beyond Chapter 3. 

On Turning 18

Turning eighteen comes with its own anxieties and stresses.  There is a constant pressure from friends and family to look and behave your age.  Eighteen is considered the age when one is supposed to turn into a responsible individual overnight. This is the age when one needs to start thinking about the future… blah blah. ‘Society expects certain decorum from you.   The family looks upon you.’   

Well, I am referring to the pressures and anxieties on the mother of an eighteen years old son!
Nikhil turned 18 yesterday. I am worried … because
·         I won’t get to drive my car.
·         I will have to get used to listening to dialogues like ‘I am 18, I know what is right for me.’
·       I will have to shell out a greater part of my salary towards  his pocket money because ‘No girl friends’ rule does not apply after 18
Birthday celebrations were a subdued lot to ensure Nikhil does well in board (read life).
A close friend called yesterday to wish, ‘It does not look that you are mother of an 18 years old!’  Not sure if this was a compliment or advice.

Lunatic in my Head

The unusual title of the book prompted me to pick this up.‘Two O’clock on an April afternoon the color of dusk.’ The opening sentence itself gives you a taste of poetic style of writing of  Anjum Hasan.

The book opens with the life of Firdaus Ansari, a college lecturer of English literature who fails to see any purpose in what she is doing.  Like Firdaus , the numerous other ordinary characters in the book Aman , Mr and Mrs Moondy, Ribor, eight years old Sophie who has discovered that she is an adopted child , Mr and Mrs Das, timid and insecure Aman who is a civil services aspirant  but has his heart is music, go about their lives wondering at the same time the very profundity of their lives.

Effortlessly written and beautifully crafted, Lunatic is about the ordinary lives of ordinary people each one struggling to find its meaning.  The story unfolds emotion by emotion yet it is a fast moving book. The book virtually transports you to Shillong where it is raining and misty all the time. Anjum Hassan has reiterated that a good book need not always follow the conventional route of proper intro, gradually building of characters, body, conclusion and climax. The description, narration and the treatment given to the characters rule the roost.

There is no single protagonist in Lunatic. Only in the sequel Neti Neti Not This Not That Sophie Das emerges as the protagonist of the novel. The mistake I made, I read Neti Neti before I read Lunatic. 

A thought provoking book which leaves a bitter sweet lingering taste in your mouth making you wonder why most of us  fail to take control of our lives .

Home by Manju Kapur : Book Review

Home is the saga of a big fat Indian joint family of Karol Bagh. The Kahani Ghar ghar ki begins with Banwari lal , a well –to- do cloth merchant is proud of his humble beginning in Lahore in Pakistan. The novel depicts a day in the life of a conservative Indian family of yester years, their behaviour, the elements that guide their behaviour and other fine nuances of their psyche are depicted descriptively thus enabling the reader to actually experience their lives. The epic that spans across four generations portrays the stereotype roles – men have the responsibility to take the family business/ name forward and women to enable it by procreating sons and making sure that the house the men folks return to after a hard day is a home and not just a house. Each one is groomed about his/her role early in life leaving little scope for conflicts.

The story begins well with two sisters Sona and Rupa, former the fair and lovely wife of Yashpal, the elder son of Banwari Lal and the latter a dark plain jane married to Premnath, a junior level government clerk. Banwari Lal’s progeny …two sons and one daughter… Yashpal, Pyarelal and Sunita , their respective spouses beautiful Sona, practical Sushila and jobless drunkard Murli, third generation Raju, Nisha, Vijay , Ajay, Vicky, Pooja, Seema, Rekha , fourth generation Virat , etc etc… the story gets lost in characters. At times the reader finds it difficult to keep track. There is no central character, central characters keep changing.
Manju Kapur very adroitly brings home the crux of joint family structure; the family members stick together and support each other in spite of their differences and internal jealousies. The brothers not only take care of Vicky, their dead sister Sunita’s son , they marry him, perform all the ceremonies for his wife and child in spite of his being the black sheep of the family and an unwanted burden but he is still their own blood and family.

Nisha, the gorgeous only granddaughter like other women of the family is brought up with values that for an ideal woman home, family, kitchen and the children come first and rest everything is farce. Such values may not be relevant today with generation Y even in small orthodox towns. Nisha has to suppress her desires first to study English literature, then to marry the boy of her choice and then to set up her own business. The women are groomed to behave as per the expectations of the family, those who think of going beyond this periphery remain unhappy!!
Did the sexual molestation by Vicky leave a permanent scars on Nisha’s life ? What happens to childless Rupa ? Why does she leave her claim on Nisha to whom she has brought up like her daughter? Such questions remain unanswered. Published in 2006, Home is the first fiction genre by Random House. Overall it is good read, the language used is very simple and the scenes flow naturally and swiftly without giving readers a temptation to turn pages.

The Zoya Factor : Book Review

Zoya Singh Solanki, a young bubbly advertising executive is a typical dilli wali – aggressive and muh fatt but with a heart of gold. Her lucky charm is unearthed when once she happens to have breakfast with our Indian team (by default the word Indian team implies Indian cricket team). She was born at the exact moment in 1983 when the Indian team clinched its first World Cup. Her lucky charm is confirmed time and again when her breakfast with the team results in their victory and not having leads to defeat. Even before she realizes her own lucky charm , Zoya is not only declared the lucky mascot of Indian Cricket team but the onus of making the team win is thrust on her slender shoulders. She is cajoled to travel with the team to make the country win. Forget her advertising job, an all paid trip to the picturesque locations of Australia with the team for the World Cup is only a small sacrifice for the pride of the country. And apart from a sweet romance between Zoya and the handsome hunk Nikhil Khoda , the captain of the team, what follows is victory after victory. Hurray! By the time you reach the last page, like a true patriotic Indian, it leaves the reader with a lingering feel good feeling.

Anuja’s writing is very young and peppy, totally in sync with the current times of generation Y. Cricket being Indian universal fever, the book appeals to all age groups and genders. Ample serving of humour and generous sprinkling of local language and slangs like Kaali Peeli transports you to nayi dilli ki sadke and ajmal kham road ki galia. Will India clinch the world cup this time even if Zoya has returned to her Rohtak road wala ghar leaving the team players to fend for themselves? The minus point of the book is its length, 507 pages. It’s an unending wait to know what happens to Zoya , Nikhil romance – she the damsel in distress and he an knight in blue standing in front of her with a cricket bat in hand – how romantic! It’s the perfect setting for a Hindi blockbuster. Our Hindi film industry thrives on it. Zoya factor is soon to be a major motion picture by Red Chillies Entertainment. It’s any one’s guess- Nikhil Khoda , the handsome hunk will obviously be played by our 43 + but ever charming Shah Rukh Khan but none of our current heroines fits the role of vivacious Zoya .
As you turn page after page with huge font, it is not difficult to picturize Zoya ; she is so much like her creator Anuja Chauhan. The back cover of the book with a chirpy black and white picture of the author ; for sure SRK is already thinking of auditioning Anuja for Zoya’s character.

No more Secrets

Just finished reading Secrets and Sins by Jaishree Misra. The theme is quite in line with what I wrote in my previous post, the reason I was tempted to read this book to know ‘what next?’ Jaishree is churning books with the speed unmatched. Her debut book Ancient Promises was the most gripping ; her style of writing is great, she has command over the language and the transition is impressive. But… but… but all the themes sound more or less the same; I can very well predict the story in her next book… secret and sins, secret and lies and now scandalous secrets or something like that …what’s the secret in sticking to the title secret, may be it is the s word. No doubt she is a promising writer provided she cuts down the details and come to the point. The book is too …too long; patience is the key if you want to read the entire book from cover to cover. I left a few pages in between as I wanted to know ‘what next?’ Secret and Sins is of course well edited but there is a typo on one page …doesn’t go with the image of Harper Collins.
Taking a cue from Jaishree’s books, I am now on word deleting spree in my debut book (still a manuscript). My original word length of 130000 words has come down to 94000 but the target is to bring it to 80000, let’s see if I can without killing any characters. There was a time not so long ago when I rejoiced on crossing every 1000 words , now I rejoice when I delete 1000. Didn’t I tell you, it’s all about your state of mind.

Some relations change and still they remain the same

Boy meets girl. They are the best of friends but neither of the two comes forward and proposes. They adore each other but don’t know their own hearts; exactly the way it happens in Hindi movies. At the right time, both find their Mr and Miss Right and live happily ever after. They live their own lives happily with their respective families …girl with her adorable husband and children and the boy with his lovely wife and kids oblivious to the existence of each other. The past is behind them because there wasn’t any past between them.

One day many many springs later, destiny stage manages to bring them face to face. They meet like two acquaintances trying to give each other a peek into their lives in few hours that they are together. They talk about their aspirations and inspirations. No romantic overtones articulated. Nothing happens but the sparks do fly haywire causing the hearts to flutter in anticipation and desperation. For girl, he was everything she had wanted in her life partner. Subconsciously , he had always been her inspiration. And for him…

Both of them realise they were always meant to be together. What next?

Toastmasters Speech 2 : Organize your speech

Art of Parenting
There was once a mother who had a school going son. One day the son came back from school and showed a beautiful pencil. The mother asked, “From where did you get this?”
The child replied “Someone had dropped this in the school, I picked it up”
Mother kept quiet. After few days it again happened that he brought home something belonging to someone. The mother again did not say anything. This saga continued in high school, even when in college. One day it was money, next day it was a cell phone. Mother did not bother much though she realized it was not the correct thing to do. Once he was caught while stealing something and taken to police station. When his mother was informed, she rushed to the police station. She was in rage. She gave him a hard slap on the face. The son kept quiet. After few seconds he replied, “I wish you had given me this slap when I brought that pencil home when I was 6 years.”

Fellow Toastmasters and dear guests, Parenting is very challenging responsibility. More challenging in these times when the adage Spare the rod and spoil the child is a cliché and no more relevant. Parenting styles vary from culture to culture and time to time but there are a few principles which remain the same. I have learnt these principles of art of parenting from my children which I am going to share with you today.

When Nikhil, my older son started going to school, he would return from school in the afternoon and go to his room and start playing. I used to get very bugged, I wanted him to come to me, tell me about his school the way all children do but he would simply not talk. One day I asked him, “When you come from school you don’t talk at all, why you don’t tell me what happened in your school. All your friends come home and tell lots of things to their mothers but you don’t”
His simple answer was ‘You can also talk’. I was taken aback listening from 6 years old. His innocent face when he said this is still in front of my eyes.
That was the first lesson I got, I realized why can’t I talk why am I waiting for him to start. My child could be different from other children, why I have to expect the same behavior from him as other children.
All children are different; every child is not an achiever. We should not forget that we as a parent are also not perfect so why hanker after perfection. Every child gives a different experience.

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.

The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them how to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.

Teach your child to take his own decisions in life and be responsible for it. Movie 3 idiots had lot of take aways for parents as well as children. Let them carve their own path in life, we be only the mentor and navigator and not the path finder. We should not impose our decisions on them. We as parents should expose them to multifarious faculties so that they broaden their vision and deepen their roots.
Every child comes to this planet with certain tendencies and basics which cannot be changed. Encourage them to dream but let’s not give them false hopes.

In spite of lecturing them day in and day out there was a time when my children were not very docile and I will have to repeat everything at least three times before they listen. Once I told the younger one, ‘when daddy tells you something you listen immediately where as I keep shouting at you the entire day and no one is bothered.” He replied, “When daddy threatens us with some punishment, he means it but you keep saying but don’t do it so we are not scared of you, we know you only give hollow threats.”
Your child will teach you how you need to discipline him.
That was the time when I had to discipline myself first. Disciplining is a value which is as much required in childhood as much as in adulthood. If you were not disciplined as a child, you cannot be disciplined when an adult and you will have a hard time organizing yourself in life. Discipline is like a fixed deposit; you pay now and reap the benefits through out life. Discipline is not an antithesis to freedom. In fact only a disciplined mind can be free. I have understood this with my 27 years experience in parenting that disciplining does not come with preaching.

If I have to raise my child all over again
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.

We need to practice first and then preach. Walk the talk at home. Children hate sermons. They believe more in action. You cannot say I can do this because I am a parent and you cannot do this because you are a child. You can’t preach “exercise daily, get up and go for jog where as you are happily sleeping.
Good or bad, whatever parents do, children end up adopting many of those habits unconsciously.

My mother had been a working woman all her life. When sweets were distributed in her department on some occasions, she used to bring her share of sweet, divide into three and give to us. It was not we could not afford it but she used to say, I know you like sweets so I didn’t feel like eating without sharing with you. We three sisters used to criticize her ‘why can’t women think about themselves, it is always husband and children.’
Twenty years later when I am a mother and a working woman, I have kept a small box in my desk. Whenever we have a celebration and office boy comes and puts a piece of sweet in front of me, I quietly put in my box and take it home for my two boys to eat. I always think of my mother when I do this.
I realize how children copy parents when they grow up even if they don’t like a part of their behaviour.
If I have to raise my child all over again
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.

I saw some eyes blinking in disbelief when I mentioned that I have 27 years of parenting experience. Yes, you got it right, it is 27 yrs. My older son is 16 years and my younger one is 11. Raising each child is a different experience.

Childhood comes only once, the parenthood also comes only once. Responsible parenting is the best gift you can give to your child. Right parenting determines what your child be in adulthood. Parenting is a great responsibility and we should do whatever best we can to make our children responsible citizens.