Saturday, 13 December 2014


There was a recent news story on how Charles Dickens had managed to convince the Council to install a post box outside his house and what a prolific letter writer he was.

Letter writing is a lost art now. My children find it difficult to write an application for leave in long hand simply because they generally communicate with teachers, friends and other agencies for extra curricular activities, work experience or retail through email and even if they choose to write a letter, the computer does all the formatting for them.

I recently did the unthinkable. I read the letters which my parents had exchanged over the years. They had been stored safely by my mother. I chanced upon them while looking through her things after she passed away. 

Reading them was a bit like watching an old film.

 A film which starts with two young people getting engaged. There is a separate bundle of letters, wrapped more carefully which were exchanged before my parents' wedding. Mum was in Darbhanga Medical college and Papa was in Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, studying hard for his Mining Engineering exit exam. I remember Mum commenting on the fact that his exam was simpler because of the semester system whereas as a medical student, you cannot not know about jaundice or anemia because it had been taught in an earlier semester!

Dad must have been 23 years old when he got engaged to mummy and started writing letters to her. He addresses her as Dear Miss Krishna and is almost apologetic about writing to her in the beginning. He tries to justify it by saying he would want them to get to know a bit about each other and encourages her to reply to his letters. Initially he requests and then he becomes emotional. When she eventually does reply, he is elated and reassures her that it would be very helpful for future. He says in his letters that "the charm and excitement of first meeting is intact" as they have never seen each other. There is humour too when he responds to her question about hobbies with "Your pen friend has not any hobby in particular except modelling. He takes interest in several things including "none of your business" of course. Rest of them to be named in next letter"

Mummy who must have been 21 years old, resists the urge to write back until finally she does in a very curt letter to say she does not like "courting" and that Dad should not sign his name on the letters as she gets incessantly teased by her friends about it. 

Then there is some discussion about the fact that she would want to pursue a career (going by the video about arranged marriage which has gone viral recently, not much seems to have changed in 50 years)  Dad says-"...I shall like to remind you that marriage is an institution and it stands on the will to get married and to maintain it" He also says "I do not want a marriage which will provide me only with suit, watch etc and to you ornaments, jewellery etc..." There is no mention of house, car, children's education....the main areas people today seem to earn and spend money for. The height of luxury at the time seemed the clothes, watch and jewellery!

Most letters are about normal things, career and travel plans, wishing each other on festivals and luck for the exam. 

The next lot of letters are written after they were married, when mummy was pregnant (she says in one of her letters that she is starting to resemble a drum) and Papa too is busy preparing for an exam. He keeps writing about the oh so familiar episodes of procrastination and lack of concentration with his studies! These letters are love letters describing the anguish of separation and one letter also describes how it was around a year ago the correspondence between them had started.

Then there are letters written from Papa's UK tour, when I was around 12 years old, my brothers 16 and 18. This was just after the time Papa supported mummy to leave home to pursue post graduation and apply for a specialist post. These letters are on letter paper which has Moghul paintings as design on the side and both English poetry and Bacchan's Hindi Madhushala quoted as a header.

He writes on 4th March 1980- "I feel like writing in English, probably because I am in England. However, it is my Indian heart pouring out my passion and love for you...Without you I feel lonely though we are a group of six. Everyone has come with queer idea to enjoy most. I don't know what enjoyment is it which they are seeking. I had my cherished desire to come to the U.K fulfilled. Yesterday I witnessed a scene which seemed to be very similar to one I saw in my dream...While I was going to post your letter in a post office open on Sunday (!!!) near Trafalgar square, suddenly I came across a thrilling scene. The day was sunny with clouds off and on but there was no rain. In Whitehall street in front of Buckingham palace a band party consisting of men and women was playing splendid music and marching in my direction. It was followed by men and women in civilian clothes. They had come to pay their respects to the Glorious Dead....I had my camera and took a lot of snaps. There was only one difference from my dream. In my dream the place was not a street but a palace garden.

We had been lodged in Central House Hotel in Central London. It is a small hotel but very clean and tidy. They serve morning breakfast to my liking, omlette followed by tea or coffee. Breakfast starts with fruit juice.I am in a four bedded room along with others. It is quite crowded. A plastic coated small cubicle as bathroom (en suite???) has been placed right inside the room with hot water. I wish you had been with me and we would have made the most out of it. There is an adjoining room with wash basin only. For latrine we have to go out. Walls and stairs are of wood at this place.Room corridors etc are centrally heated. But wollen dressing gown is very cosy. I have brought sufficient clothing it seems. They say winter has been cold this year. In parks and gardens lilies have started blooming. So I hope winter is on its way out.and I am sure I may not have to purchase any more clothing.

 Things are very costly at this place. ....The day we arrived, we had lunch of bread and milk, 36p for a big large bread which we finished yesterday in three sessions, 16p for 1 pint milk i.e slightly more than half litre, 45p for a bottle of jam,  6p for a pod of garlic but the size of the pod was three times the size of our ones and 6p for an apple of Golden delicious variety. These things are available close to our hotel. ....Sunday lunch was of peas, potato and tomato soup all tinned and bread. We bring the tins and put them in wash basin in hot water and eat them after 10 minutes. Afternoon we went round London on a bus ride spending £2 i.e 35 Rs. Then we saw Blue movie. It was an experience. I shall tell you more when we meet. We had sandwiches and tomato soup at Victoria Terminal Railway Station. Yesterday we were busy with British Council and NCB. Grand lunch was served by NCB and dinner was bread and jam."

The next letter describes a Meat and rice lunch and Dosa and icecream dinner at a very posh house of Indian doctor couple, who Papa suspects will never return to home country as they would have to abandon their luxurious lifestyle. He also writes about feeling out of place as others were drinking heavily.

The only thing which mummy seemed to have asked for, which Papa seemed to be having trouble finding, was a knitting album.There is advise about how to handle my younger brother, the rebellious one and strict instructions for my older brother that he is not, under any circumstances, allowed to drive the car, in Papa's absence. Papa seems to be upset that mummy went to Delhi leaving the kids behind, who he believes are all at an age when they could go astray.

He talks about how young girls and boys in England seem fearless, carefree and happy meeting each other. Often they are seen holding each other close at bus stops. Their kisses too seem very special. It all seems very natural and without any shame or fear. In this atmosphere, Papa says he misses mum a lot. He also says that in contrast to these carefree happy youngsters, the middle aged population looks busy and burdened with responsibilities.

He talks about feeling confident shopping and moving around alone. He also talks about the fact that people are good but don't want to mix around with coloured people. "Jobs of Bus drivers and conductors are not taken up by Britishers and are repeatedly advertised. There is a lot of unemployment, which causes racial tensions. African and Chinese students are quite visible, especially in the library, where I too get news about India from newspapers."

He writes about Barnsley as a small town with a 400 bed hospital, clean and neat roads, public toilets and big shops, all in a perimeter of a kilometre. The later letters speak of homesickness. He remembers the house in Dhanbad, where they (Mum and he) had seen their dreams take shape, where the winter sun was scattered all around the garden. He says in his letters that sometimes he feels the training is futile, as he is unlikely to be able to implement the changes back in India and also it is not going to land him a promotion. He is worried as Mum has not been able to postpone the job switch and house move and is having to cope on her own.

Mummy must have asked him whether it would be possible for her to come to England and do a clinical attachment and Papa responded saying he would have enjoyed the trip much more, had she been there with him and if his stay gets extended, he will work towards it and how nice it would have been if she could have come on a WHO scholarship for 6 weeks. He also wrote his weight and blood pressure for her in one of the letters. Weight was in stones and pounds!

On 21st April 1980 Papa writes- "My love, I thought this is the best way of addressing you in this foreign country. This is the way people call each other, particularly their near and dear ones. The old waitress who used to serve us breakfast in the morning at White Hart Hotel used to call us "my love". During Easter Holidays she was on duty and felt for me that I could not go home to family during holidays. She is a widow. Her husband was a deputy in coal mines. Yesterday we shifted to this place which has a very homely service in the centre of the town. It is  a desolate stretch of green farmland, away from the maddening crowd. Amenities are many. I am drinking morning tea of the hotel, while writing this letter. ....I am looking forward to the day when we will be together. In a couple of days, I will get to know the date of departure....Really we have traveled on this rugged round of matrimony with help of love for these 18 years. I am sorry I shall not be with you on our marriage's 19th anniversary. But I shall be glad to compensate when I return by end of June."

The last set of letters are when Mum and Dad are grand parents, dad is retired and baby sitting my daughter in UK and mum is running her entrepreneurial venture, Mrinalini Nursing Home at Dhanbad.

At some point of time, they graduated to emails. One printout remains

25th Dec 2000-

"...I am reading a book titled The Richer Way by Julian Richer. Author is owner of a chain of 200 shops in UK named Richer sounds selling Hi-Fi electronic equipments and a management consultant. He has wonderful radical ideas of running a successful business. I intend to suggest three ideas for Mrinalini

1) Mission of Mrinalini to be put up at reception on New Year's day
2) Questionnaire regarding suggestions and complaints to be given to each customer to fill out.
3) Name badges for each of your staff.

It has been an emotional journey for me reading these letters and experiencing the bond my parents shared.....But it also highlights to me that the hopes, fears, aspirations and challenges in relationships in every age are similar. The ever dynamic balance between career and family, ego and love, care and discipline, society and individuality... has always been there and the top and bottom line is that love does make the world go around. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Mom at Gorleston



It was nice seeing Mom, the kids, Ajay and myself in that short family video we shot the other day. It seemed to be a fitting finale at the end of Mom's stay with us here in Gorleston. She looked happy, expressed her wish to stay longer and may be come again, which was so nice to hear. Ever since mom's illness I do live fully in the present especially when she is around.

It was nice to be around her once more, feel the pulsating tension in the air as she followed day after day a strict regime of waking up at 4.15 to do her breathing exercises (pranayam), going for a walk or doing the school run, sleeping early, eating correctly ( i.e. eating a citrus fruit with an iron containing dry fruit, that too at a decent interval from the time she had had a calcium containing meal), doing her set chores around the house while also making time for playing with the children and watching her favourite programs on television.


Needless to say, that if she followed a routine, and had her watch adjusted to the second of BBC time, she had some expectations from the kids and the rest of us, in terms of how we utilized our time optimally. But she was not that strict and uptight a grand mother, as she had been a mom, I can vouch for that.

It is indeed very surprising that a laid back person like me is not only her genetic daughter but I have also been brought up in this same atmosphere of discipline, love and respect for the clock, for a good 23 years of my life. I often think I must have inherited my need to "do nothing" at various points of time, for the sake of my own sanity, from my Dad.


My Dad would rise early and go to bed early but there were some excellent rules he followed. One of them was - Never wake up a sleeping child. My mom's rule was- Never let a child sleep after sunrise. It is no surprise who was more welcome in our bedrooms in the mornings on holidays but Dad wouldn’t even wake you up if you requested him to, on the day of the exam. Mom once woke me up half an hour past midnight, mistaking her watch to be saying 4.30 am, which was the time I had asked her to wake me up. Thank God I refused to wake up.

I think we got a good balance of encouragement to focus and work hard to pursue goals while enjoying the freedom to appreciate the good things in life because of what each of our parents believed in, and no wonder we have turned out fine, or so I would like to believe.

Mom really enjoyed the flowers in the UK. Armed with her mobile phone and digital camera, she was a resolute sight in all her gear (shoes, jacket, and sometimes the hat) carefully picking her steps while looking at the ground to ensure she didn’t step on anything. She wouldn’t shy from leaning over into people’s gardens to frame and capture the images of the beautiful creations of the ultimate artist. She even shot videos of flowers nodding in the breeze. It makes me think about what Swamiji said in his discourse after havan the other day. He said appreciating God's creations is equivalent to singing the Lord's praises and is usually the essence of all prayers.

We attended the havan on the second Sunday of this month like most months but after a long time we were not accompanied by mom. Vandana’s mom was there which was a very comforting sight. It is nice to see elders out here in pardes. They are a warm presence and make the community which gathers, feel complete with representations from all generations and ages. Mom used to enjoy just as I do, the ritual of lighting the fire amidst Vedic chants, the singing of devotional songs and the socializing over lunch afterwards. It is a gathering even the kids look forward to and wouldn’t dream of missing out on. I felt proud of 7 year old Aditya who participated whole heartedly by pouring ghee quite accurately and without creating a mess, with a long unwieldly spoon into the fire, along with other rituals and chanting of gayatri mantra.

Mom cherished the walk to the seaside. She enjoyed the climb, the uphill road and insisted that the seaside air made her feel good for the rest of the day. It was a pleasant experience walking to the beach with her. I enjoyed it. The wild flowers on the grassy banks, the gently playing waves, the flat shimmering expanse to the horizon, the birds struggling to keep their height and direction in spite of the strong wind, the view of the pier  and the changing colours of the sky. These were beautiful sights, but the presence of little children making sand castles, boys and girls skating, cycling, wind surfing and water boarding, men and women walking hand in hand or calling out to their equally excited canine friends, made the sights more lively and colourful. It is strange but the British people tend to be more cheerful and friendly on a sunny day which would usually be the weather, when we decided to venture out to the beach.

Children must be missing their grand mother. Yesterday Aditya wanted to know if I had enough time to comb his hair with the nit comb. I realized that his nan would have done it everyday, without fail. Thankfully the exercise which was undertaken after nearly a week did not result in anything to get concerned about, which was just as well. He also pointed out to me that we were not eating soaked almonds anymore. I just acknowledged the fact without making any comments. Mom really enjoyed being with the children. At one time the two kids and their nan were behaving like a gang in a crime. They found an obscure place to indulge in their favorite pastime of playing cards. They had a whale of a time watching movies as well.


Like all things this blog and my mom’s stay with us have come to an end. We seem to be busy socializing as the days have become warmer and longer. Life goes on as we plan and execute from one weekend to the next.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

University education- does it really make you better?

The recent controversy about the new Human Resource Minister's educational qualifications has only managed to make me more sceptical about the value of University Education and the burgeoning amount of money required for University fees for my teenage children. How many of us use what we learnt at University? And does a few years of student camaraderie, late night clubbing and weekend pubbing have to come at this enormous cost to me, the parent?

BBC recently reported that student complaints against Universities were up 10% since University fees went up. The reason has been stipulated to be because students considered themselves consumers and demanded more in value for the money.

One of the opposition leaders said about allowing private players in higher education- "American dream has become an English nightmare" Huge debt, low standards and poor attendance.

Poor attendance is not surprising. Not a week went by for me in college, without bunking an afternoon lesson to catch up on sleep, which had been lost chatting, watching movies, attending college festivals or at different times studying last minute for a tutorial.

 With so much information now available on internet in the form of articles, videos, presentations, podcasts; surely the way education is imparted and the way it is imbibed has to be different to create value. Why would you opt for sitting in a huge lecture hall with a few hundred students if it didn't actually make a difference! It is not surprising then that many Ivy league Universities are running online courses, which are oversubscribed.

It has always been fashionable to talk about how cheaply we (the older generation!!!) seem to have acquired professional education, as opposed to today's highly marketed, website advertised expensive courses, which don't seem to live up to the promises made, a lot of the times.

Mums and dads wonder why courses are stretched over three years with weeks worth of holiday in between, when they could have been made more compact and thus less heavy on the parent's purse as the cost of accommodation in University towns ends up being barely covered by the student loan and even after summer jobs, most parents have to shell out quite a bit for living costs.

But then the question is why do so many of us need degrees? I know Bill Gates and Dhirubhai Ambani are exceptions, but look around.

Look at how the lawyers and their degrees have made society into a mistrusting bunch of people paying out loads and loads of cash for motor insurance, health insurance, professional insurance, travel insurance etc etc while the lawyers laugh their way to the bank.

Look at the doctors, who were over run by the vested interests of the pharmaceutical companies, devices, scanners, diagnostics, with the result that most countries are struggling to provide a safe and effective health service at a reasonable cost and litigation costs are skyrocketing.

Then there are the Engineers, who are creating the tallest buildings, fastest cars, most luxurious aeroplanes and the most violent video games, even as natural resource rich countries  become poorer or are engaged in corruption and armed conflict. The world's growers of food have been worst hit, have become the victims of climate change and environmental destruction.

There is a crisis of values today. University education with its incumbent costs reinstates the crisis of values and perpetuates the same consumer mind set in people receiving it. It does not and will not make the world a better place, if the only aspirations we have are bigger pay packets, bigger cars and bigger houses.

Sadly nobody gives out degrees in values, ethics and responsibility. And anyway, why would I incur a student loan to get a degree which wont buy me the world, which I can then proceed to destroy?

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Toughest job- Being Mum!

I was asking my daughter, an accomplished photographer in my limited opinion, to take a photo of me, since I was in my brocaded Indian finery, all dressed up to go to a Diwali dinner and dance. She was looking increasingly exasperated, as I consecutively rejected the results of her efforts, with words such as- "My double chin is showing" "I look too broad at the waist" "why don't you go further down the room and take it" "The light is not right" "My smile doesn't reach my eyes."

My children like many others I am sure, are sick of my obsession with the Facebook, the only social media I seem to be addicted to. Its funny how I seem to live my life, thinking about what I can post on facebook. Sadly my attempt at baking a cake today, has not had a photogenic enough result or else it would have been on facebook for everybody to see!

Kids are into instant messaging and for us all to be on two screens at any given moment is the norm.
The only parenting I seem to be doing is battling this onslaught of screens in our life.

My nani used to tell us how my masi's (mum's sister's) parents would pace up and down, outside the room where masi would be getting hit while being tutored by her granddad. But masi's parents would not dare to go into the room, confront their father/father in law and rescue their only daughter from him! It was just not done. The old man would hit her everyday and the parents watched helplessly.

This scenario is completely unheard of today. I get upset even if somebody decides to raise their voice to my child. My in laws would after much thought comment on my childrearing but never do anything like scold or hit my children.

I do at certain points of time, when repeated asking, ordering, threatening does not bring desired results, do feel like hitting someone, but all I end up doing is something akin to hitting my head on a wall!

The train of communication is usually- "Can you switch off the TV?" This then becomes- "Do it, just now", which then used to go on to things like "I am going to withdraw my consent for your school trip" or "no sleepovers for you" or "you can stay at home for the new year"

But over time and as I have graduated to becoming a mum of two teenage children, I realise that it is a pointless, tiring and losing battle of wits!

I read elaborate psychological analyses on parenting styles. You can be a helicopter parent- someone who is constantly fluttering over them, micromanaging their schedules, deciding what is best for them, helping them in school projects, organising their parties....

On the other hand you can be a laid back Consultant parent, someone who is there when the kid decides he or she needs advice, help or a bail out!

You can be Authoritarian (I pay your bills, hence you do as I say and not as I do) or Permissive (you are the apple of my eye, you can do as you like, I trust you!)

You can be Instinctive and let your children be free range (read wild), like chicken roaming the farm, feeding on insects!

I can't say which parent I am! Needless to say, I do think in that moment- "I am right, this is what needs to be done"

My daughter once accused me of being an "Indian" parent- believe me, they are a class of their own, probably only beaten by the "Chinese" I have a Chinese colleague at work and we like sharing notes, its interesting. So if I ask- does your son practice? He will say with a shrug of his shoulders- "He has to", while I look at him with amazement and wonder! I have newfound admiration for a man who can make his child do what he wants!

Coming back to my daughter's view on Indian parents, she said- "If I ask you anything, you say google it, find out, look at the globe, look up the dictionary,

Yet....without any input from your side, unlike other parents who actually help with revision, you will expect top grades, that's how you Indian parents are- Results! you are only interested in results!"

I felt a bit guilty for two days after she said that, and tried my best to help only to be told- "Mum, you can't suddenly change, leave me alone, I can do this"

However, I have realised I adapt, I change, I innovate....I am authoritarian one day, permissive the next, instinctive with one child, helicopter with another yet I constantly feel I am fighting a losing battle, I don't know if I can do better!

For all new parents or parents yet to enter the kingdom of  Heavenish hell- Welcome to the commandments of parenting which are impossible to follow!

"You have to be strict" "You will only encourage rebellion" "This will spoil them" "This will make them dependant" "You have to respect their individuality" "They have to know the boundaries"

Damned if you do, damned if you don't! Basically they just grow up inspite of you, not because of you!


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Rituals- Reassuring and comforting

Carrying out routine tasks like cleaning, cooking and tidying can be, not just relaxing, but therapeutic. However, more importantly there are rituals which one gets used to, routine things which become a source of reassurance and comfort.

Everybody has memories of such rituals which evoke nostalgia.

I remember the awe and wonder, with which we marvelled at the tape recorder, when it arrived in our house in the 70s. All of our voices were recorded and played back to us. One of the things I remember listening to on the tape recorder, was my grandmother (nani) chatting to her brother from the village. It was a long conversation about the crops, the trees, the relatives, the friends and the neighbours interspersed with events, conversations and people from the past..

Nani, as we knew her, at the time, was a bustling busy woman, feeding us pancakes, ghee parathas, puris, phirni, halwa, nimki, thekua....etc. We always saw her going from one chore to the next and if she was sitting down, she was usually cleaning a leafy vegetable like spinach or coriander or cleaning rice or pulses before the age of polythene packed clean grains; or she would want to oil my hair (she could not see the vanity behind flying dishevelled hair) or oil massage the child's leg closest to her, one she could get her restless hands on.

Therefore the unhurried pace of the unwinding, relaxing and happy conversation about everything which nani, a child bride, had left behind in the village, was indicative that it was a ritual, she obviously looked forward to. It was something which made her feel connected. The memory of the conversation which somebody had recorded makes me wonder how much we took her for granted and how little we knew of her dreams, her wishes....

Similarly I always remember my parents' morning tea ritual. They woke up early. Their attire and their early morning chores differed depending on where we were. Mummy graduated from sari to  salwar kameez, while  Papa stopped wearing pyjama kurta and graduated to t-shirts and trousers when we moved to Delhi. Both were avid gardeners and hence either we had a big garden, which needed tending to, with some help or just some potted plants. We always seemed to have a dog or two dogs who needed to be walked (for some time we had an unmanageable three)

But they had at least two if not four cups of tea in the morning, while juggling the gardening and dog walking. Initially our live in help, with ever increasing words of protest and reluctance, would obligingly continue to make additional cups of tea but soon a truce was reached.

For a long time, tea was made and kept in a flask and then mum and dad kept pouring it and drinking it. My mother an otherwise Type A personality with routines, to do lists and watches which had to be correct to the second...synchronized with the radio and later the television; strangely, did not find the early morning tea ritual, something which she would class as a waste of her time, something she would want to do without. It was a comforting and reassuring thing that we all saw until Papa passed away....morning spent in each others company drinking numerous cups of tea.

Having just read about the devastation which wars and weapons cause in Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns" I realise how comforting a simple ritual like having a cup of tea with someone can be.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Thought management formula!

I chanced upon this interesting classification of the thoughts we think, the vibrations of positive and negative energy we generate.
So the GREEN box consists of positive thoughts. These are positive thoughts about ourselves and positive thoughts about others. Thoughts which reinforce ourselves to be peaceful powerful loving beings, who send out similar vibrations to other souls.

When faced with failure or at other times when we are drowning  in self pity and believing ourselves to be powerless, it becomes difficult to summon up even one positive thought about oneself. "I did my best under the circumstances" is the least we should be able to think!

On the other hand when faced with injustice, dishonesty or betrayal, it is nearly impossible to think anything positive for the people, who one believes are responsible for destroying one's faith in the goodness of mankind. The landlady who did not return the deposit, the undermining senior colleague and so many more....

If you believe that thoughts are actually the "transmitted energy of the soul" and that they are responsible for creating your destiny, you will no doubt realise that the  mind should be a green box full of good positive thoughts. Thoughts are also incompressible, so the brain can only think one at a time. Hence if you are thinking positive ones, there is likelihood that there will be less space for the amber and red, hopefully.

Lots of people would classify the negative thoughts as RED rather than AMBER. But I think I am less likely to have downright negative thoughts like- "May you rot in Hell"....for a sustained period of time. Maybe because I don't believe in Hell and maybe because I believe in the cycle of Karma or the universal rule of "good begets good" and vice versa.....Don't know.  Usually I find reasons for people's behaviour. "The house wasn't getting sold, she was short of money, her husband was off for stress etc etc.." or "He/She must have a miserable personal life to feel victorious after putting me down" etc etc.

 However, the MOST (hence RED) thoughts I think during the day are "WASTEFUL", regrets about the past, fears about the future...."I wish I had or hadn't..." "What if this/that was to happen..."

For instance I was communicating with my son on his mobile during a school trip and suddenly there was no reply to my texts for 24 hours. Even though I had heard from other sources that the boys were safe....My mind was a flurry of uncontrolled thoughts. While earlier I believed his phone must have run out of charge, when a whole day and night had gone by... I started to ponder- His mobile is stolen, poor boy....first school trip...what an awful experience....he had clicked so many photos....all lost...wonder if he is crying....he will be in a bad mood for the rest of the trip. I even imagined him looking lost and longingly at all his mates clicking photos and playing games!

I am sure all of us are familiar with this spiral of clearly, totally and utterly wasteful thoughts! Turns out it was on "airplane mode", my son's mobile that is...and don't ask me anything else because even I don't know and I don't care.

Guess the safe bet are mundane thoughts- "Need to go to the supermarket" "Have to put in the cheque for the coach fees" "Have to book the guitar lesson...........

But the mind makes very quick and stealthy escapes to the "what ifs" and "wish I had beens"

So the remedy is SOS!!!!

S for STOP....Just stop thinking negative and wasteful thoughts

O For OBSERVE......Just be the observer and see how tired, unenthusiastic and unenergetic the negative and wasteful thoughts make you feel!

S for SWITCH, STEER, SWERVE.............Replace these thoughts with positive ones. I am answerable only to myself. My honesty, respect for others and compassion are what make me who I am...

Worry, regret, criticism and fear should be quickly replaced with constructive positive thoughts which in turn will create a positive destiny! Or so we would like to believe! It is definitely better for health, sleep and well being in the short term, even if we don't believe in the long term view that Thoughts create destiny!

Friday, 31 January 2014

Does knowing English create a class barrier?

George Bernard Shaw said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

In India though, English, which is not such a common language everywhere, creates barriers.

When you arrive in England, you realise knowing English just means it is easi..."er" to communicate, but it doesn't automatically place you in an elite group of people, who share a different aspiration in life, whereas in India it does.

My brother had related a story to me, about the conversation which followed when he reached his lodge, where he was staying in Patna while he studied in Science College. The conversation was with his lodgemate (if that makes sense), who was not from an English medium school,  and it was after brother dear reached the lodge, having watched the blockbuster Deewar.

Lodgemate: Humko to nahi samajh me aayegi?

Brother: Kyun? Deewar kyun nahi samajh me aayegi?

Lodgemate: The War...English hogi na?

Apparently he had concluded that my brother must only watch English movies!

Similarly I have watched people (friends, relatives) become tongue tied in social interactions simply because they feel that the expectation is to speak in "farratedaar" English.

People start teaching their kids even before they are born and in the endeavour whole households seem to be speaking in English all the time and their need to speak in Hindi becomes confined to speaking to servants (a class apart). Don't know if it is true about other Metros but Deceptive Delhi, definitely.

I have been at the receiving end of this snobbish condescension, since the time I arrived in South Delhi to attend for the first time, a co educational school; from a little known small town in Bengal with oiled hair in braids, having hardly ever listened to any Western Music, having no sense of fashion whatsoever (I realise that hasn't changed at all since those early school years) and having just my tenth marks as my claim to fame.

I soon learnt about painful and painstaking measures of female grooming which are now deemed essential, started listening to Sunday requests on the radio,  became aware of the fine balance of "come hither" and "get lost" looks pretty girls gave to chasing boys. And yet, I still feel judged and inferior when face to face with a name dropping, designer clad, well heeled, articulate and fragrant member of homo sapiens- male or female!

Needless to say, I am sure I have been guilty too of making others feel this way. However, as I have grown older and wiser, I have come to realise what a load of rubbish "class" is. I am sure all of you read about the world famous violinist who played anonymously near a train station and nobody except pre-schoolers paid him any attention. I wonder if dogs listened, our dog was usually a good judge of character!

I remember as kids we used to have our favourite relatives, people who we were usually in awe of, people who were young; seemed smart, articulate, well dressed; people who smelt nice, told us stories and brought us gifts. Our parents always taught us to be grounded and therefore we also saw how my dad bathed and tended to a poor far off relative from the village, only because he was a distant cousin of mummy's, was sick and needed treatment. We were taught the basic values of courtesy, respect and care but...

When we grew up and when my parents wanted to go on bride hunting sprees for my brothers, I was the most vocal in saying we needed life partners who we could connect with, who we had a lot in "common" with, people who we had "got to know", people we could watch "English movies" with.

I was young, energetic, idealistic, eager to take on the world; the ways of which I now realise I had little idea about.

Being a migrant in an English speaking country is a great leveller too. I still can't sometimes understand the jokes going back and forth in the operating theatre. Culture, education and background...they can be used to create barriers when people choose to, but positive energy is able to dissipate most barriers

 The older and wiser me realises the essence of the words- "its the thought that counts". I have realised how the things which matter most are vibes, thoughts, actions which speak louder than words in any language. I realise how the simplest people can look so beautiful and all the designer clothes can't inspire the energy which a brave and loving person's actions can. I realise that you need to have nothing in common to be friends and certainly very little in common to be life partners and love does make the world go around!

Sunday, 19 January 2014


Earlier, living abroad meant festivals would come and go in blissful ignorance, as it would just be another working day. Unless there was a function organised over the preceding or following weekend by the Indian community, life (festivals) would just pass us by.

But with the advent of the Facebook and smartphones, one is very aware. Best wishes start pouring in from the day before, animations and cards followed by photographs and videos of the actual celebrations in the community or at home, in India and abroad; makes us all feel  a part of the festivals like never before.

Festivals have a special flavour in every region of India. Yes I would like to go to Brazil during their carnival, but nothing can beat the lure of Durga Puja in Kolkata, Dussehra in Mysore, Dahi Handi in Mumbai, Navratra Dandiya in Ahmedabad, Holi in Mathura (not so sure I would want to be there)....and probably many more.

On 14th January 2014, I saw pictures of the International and Local Kite festival as part of the celebration of Uttarayan in Ahmedabad (on Facebook). Beautiful and creatively crafted Kites of all shapes and sizes took to the sky amidst cries of "Kai Po Che". I learnt for the first time what the name of a very famous movie inspired by Chetan Bhagat's book, meant- A victory cry when the opponent's kite is cut! And of course all festivals have to have their share of some special cuisine, which is eaten together. 

For us as children, we always knew the menu at Nani's house on the day of a certain festival. So the night before Holi would mean a treat including Dhuskas- a savoury deep fried circular snack made from equal parts of semolina, gram flour and rice flour! We always knew whose mother would bake a cake for Christmas and also where the different types of sewai would come from at Eid and which Aunty would make Sondesh for Bijoya.

Just eating together was not enough, on Kartik Purnima, we as an extended family would eat on the terrace. Kheer or rice pudding with Puri was usually the menu and the Kheer was left uncovered to catch the amrit/ambrosia being shed by the moon that night. Did it make us immortally healthier? Emotionally and socially, I now realise festivals do have a role to play.

The people in England today are not religious, hence the only time street parties happen, people get together on the street, are for events like the Queen's 85th Birthday, the Olympics, the Fireworks at New Years and other charity events like Race for Life (Cancer Research) or closer home, the school fetes.

When Nani performed the Chhat Puja, we would be involved and would get up early to drive her to the little lake for the sun salutation in the water. It would be cold! The best part for us of course would be the special Thekuas made of jaggery and wholemeal flour.  But in later years, even if nobody in the house was actually performing the Chhat Puja, somebody in the neighbourhood or amongst family and friends would be and we would receive the Thekuas as Prasad.

What we took for granted when we were little, one longs for now. Hospital accommodation in NHS did allow for gatherings and exchange of Prasad and Sewai during important festivals of North and South India as well as during Eid (we had neighbours from Pakistan and Bangladesh at various points of time) but festivals like Christmas, New Years, Diwali and strangely even Valentine's day, especially in the Metros have become commercial exploits more than coming together of people and families.

All I remember about Raksha Bandhan or Diwali in Delhi (Mega festivals for the city) is the TRAFFIC!!!!!

Another unusual festival, I have had the fortune of being witness to was the display of Holika a day before Holi in Jabalpur. Jabalpur, my sasural is an interesting place, where snake charmers still walk the streets to get money on Nag Panchami. My husband, an artist at heart says he used to be involved in decorating Ma Durga's idol as much as the Tajia at Muharram, for his gali (street) as a young man. Coming back to Holika, who is burnt in bonfires there were many versions of her, I saw. One of the idols depicted her on a vegetable sellers thela, selling vegetables in a Maharashtrian sari whereas most were dressed in Western clothing- skirts, bikins, hot pants, shades.....artististc and religious licence or sculptor's fantasy?