Sunday, February 26, 2012

Puffed Sleeves and Pattu Paavadai (55 Fiction)

Maya thought of the little girl. Her maid’s daughter, with twinkling eyes and a sparkling smile, whom she had promised a pattu paavadai with puffed sleeves. A flippant promise, long forgotten.

Today, her maid wept. A mother in agony. A life snatched too soon. Maya folded away the pattu paavadai. Nobody wanted it any longer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

ABC of Gratitude

I don't remember where I picked this idea from, but it's a brilliant idea! It involves listing down all the things you are grateful for, in alphabetical order. Gratitude is indeed a blessing- it brings joy and washes away worries. So here's my list of things I am grateful for:

Amma and Appa. What would I do without them!

Books and Blogs. I need them to keep my mind thinking, and to keep my 'creativity' alive. The former has been a constant presence in my life. I cannot remember a time when I never had anything to read. The latter has been a more recent discovery, and sometimes, it makes up for the lack of time to read books. Besides, (more importantly) blogs have given me a chance to interact with other blogger friends :)

Chocolate, Coffee and more recently, Caramel Tea. They are absolutely necessary to maintain my sanity :P

Dubai. I'm SO glad I have had a chance to explore this wonderful city, and still have the opportunity of going back there.

Earrings. Superficial, yes, but they are so pretty! :)

Family and Friends. I'm blessed to have an extended family- muthacha, amooma, valyammas and valyachas, elaiammas and elaiachas, family friends and of course, my dearest cousin clan. I may come across (sigh) as reserved to certain people. It's not that I'm an introvert or shy of talking- it's just that I tend to take time, before I can be a good friend. (You know, I'm trying to change!) As a result, I might not be popular, but the few good friends I have are treasured indeed. I'm very fortunate to have them in my life!

God's grace. Some people attribute their success due to hard work. Others, who are probably envious of them, believe that they simply were lucky. I do believe in the virtue of hard work, but at the same time, I trust in God. It's His grace that has taken me so far, and my faith shall keep me going.

Hilly Billy, my stuffed mountain goat. You'll find this silly, but this guy is one of my oldest stuffed toys. I got him when I was in grade 4, and ever since, he's accompanied me to most places. He's a reminder of my childhood, something that I continue to cherish to this date.

Ice cream. Especially chocolate and blackcurrant. :)

Joie de Vivre. Ever gazed at the flight of a butterfly? Basked in the warm winter sunshine on a sleepy afternoon? Watched the dance of the flames from a crackling bonfire? Tried counting stars against the inky black vastness of the sky? Stared at the beauty of the full moon? If yes, you'll know what I'm talking about!

Kerala. This might sound strange, since the longest I would have stayed in Kerala, where my roots lie, is a maximum of three weeks. But I have beautiful memories of my homeland, and I'm longing for the day when I get an opportunity to explore this lush sliver, huddled in the south western corner of the peninsula.

Lenses. Again, this might sound rather superficial, but I've been using spectacles for nearly ten years now, and lenses are a welcome substitute for them. Of course, you must ignore minor inconvenient situations like the time I nearly poked my eye, trying to remove a lens that was simply not there- it had slipped away, without me knowing, when I was trying to place it earlier in the morning. And the best thing is I never realized that I had worn only one lens!

Mountains. My ultimate dream is to live in a house on the mountains. If you're bored enough to go through old posts in this blog, you'll notice numerous references to the Nilgiris, the Himalayas, the Velliangiri Hills and the Hajjar Mountain ranges. Mountains remind me of the perfection with which this universe has come into being.

NUS. Looking back to nearly three years ago, before I joined the NUS Business School as an undergrad, I realize I have come a long way! NUS has given me an opportunity to move away from my comfort zone, become more independent, study in a different (and more rigorous) academic system, meet people from various backgrounds and cultures, and learn how to work with them. Sure, there have been several stressful seasons (there continue to be), but NUS has truly taught me that 'what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger'. I'd like to believe that NUS has helped me become a more confident person, backed by sheer determination and grit.

Oman. One of the most beautiful countries on earth; I've had the chance to visit Oman quite a number of times, and each time I come back, totally awestruck.

Purple. Anything purple teems with vibrancy and zest. Think of the burst of clusters of grapes in vineyards, the blossoming of lilacs, the sparkle of the amethyst, the brilliant purple of the sky at dawn and dusk... The colour purple rules my world!

Quiet. In some ways, I am grateful for quiet time, because that is when your mind has the best clarity and that is when you can hear yourself the best. Think of the quiet solitude in a cathedral or the stillness that settles in after meditation...I finally finished reading William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, in a part of which he asks a Coptic monk why the monks prefer to dwell in the isolation of the Egyptian desert, rather than the city. After all, he argues, God can be found everywhere. To this the monk replied that indeed God can be found everywhere. But in the quiet harshness of the desert landscape, the monks can find themselves- 'And unless you find yourself, how can you find God?'

Rosewood beads. I was given a rosary made of rosewood beads, to help me in japa. I have not used it in a long while, but each time I look at the rosary, I feel blessed.

Sunshine. Every morning, as the first specks of sunshine reach my window, it brings in its midst new hope. And once again, it reminds me the perfect ways of the cosmos.

Teachers. Right from my primary school days, I have been blessed to have teachers, who have moulded me, guiding and inspiring me all along. Sister Ann, Sister Sheeba, Shyamala Miss and Priya Miss were probably my very first teachers, and I remember them all with deep gratitude. If I were to write about my middle and high school teachers, I could write a separate blog post on each one of them- even the words 'gratitude' and 'thank you' sound hollow when I try to put in words how much they have done for me. I'm grateful that my teachers continue to play an important role after school- at university, I have a chance to learn from some truly brilliant and inspiring professors!

Unconditional love. I had to think hard to come up with something for this letter. And suddenly, as I thought of my parents, I figured it out. A long time ago, I had a squabble with Appa, over which channel to watch on TV. When he didn't agree to my choice, I tried emotional blackmail- 'You don't love me!' And Appa explained to me that love with conditions attached is not love at all. Incidentally as I was thinking on these lines, I stumbled across this quote-
'Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth 'You owe me'
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights up the whole sky!'

Vacations. I cannot wait for my next one! :D

Wadis. A sudden burst of green in the form of a wadi in the vastness of the never ending desert is simply a miracle! Another sign of hope.

Xtra goodies. Each time I return to university, after my vacation at home, Amma insists on me taking a few goodies-usually murukku, unniappam, chocolate and cookies. In fact, when I once took a cab from the airport back to my hostel, the taxi uncle asked me whether my mother had packed in so many goodies in the suitcase- it was that heavy! :D

Yap Yap Yap. I might seem reserved, but that's just because I don't like to suddenly burst into conversation. I love to talk, and once I start, it'll be hard to make me stop. Talking makes me happy.

Zzzzzzz. There's never anything as good as sleep after a long hectic day, is there?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Roses and All That Stuff

I never thought I would end up writing on something even remotely connected to Valentines' Day- But, here you go, I finally have something related to the so called V Day! Growing up, my parents had always knocked common sense into my head whenever it began floating up in the clouds, and hence I find this concept of hearts, chocolates, roses and teddy bears rather silly. (No offence meant to those who like them! I like chocolates and teddy bears and all too, but seriously, not in this context.) Suffice to say, I find Valentines' Day quite over rated, and this year would be no exception, I thought.

The campus was filled with posters, beckoning people to buy roses and all the other stuff for their loved ones. Some girls were carrying flowers; some of them quite giggly and blushing away. This kind of mushy stuff used to make me go 'awwww' once upon a time. Not any more. So, after my classes, I decided to get a cup of tea and get some work done, before attending my group meeting later in the evening.

I sat in the cafeteria, with my tea and books for company. I tried to look at the text in my corporate law textbook, but my mind kept wandering to the quiz in accounting theory that I had taken a little while earlier. Unable to concentrate, I finally fished out my copy of William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain (which I'm still reading!). I was so engrossed, I didn't notice two people approaching me. When they said hello, I nearly jumped. They sheepishly apologized for scaring me, and went on to introduce themselves- two fellow college mates, from another faculty, they were part of a faith group on campus. One of them was a girl and she explained to me that today being Valentines' Day, they were just spreading God's love. I had no idea what it was all about, but before I could question further, she handed me a paper rose, beautifully crafted. And she said, 'This is just to remind you that no matter what, God always loves you'. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and after they left, I was touched. This V Day, my feelings have changed- from suspicion to admiration to pure joy! :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Darkness

Something in the news that caught my attention recently left my mind numb. A ninth grade student in a Chennai school, stabbed his Hindi teacher to death, perhaps provoked and outraged by the fact that she had complained to his parents about his dwindling academic performance. Complaints about a student's grades and study pattern are ubiquitous in any school- and it goes without saying that it is a teacher's duty to keep track of the same. Students do get irked when they are constantly reminded about such issues, but I simply cannot imagine what could have provoked this teenager to resort to such extreme violence and kill his own teacher! This, in our country that has long prided itself in being an advocate of the guru shishya parampara. This, in our country where the guru or the teacher is looked upon as a person who removes darkness and brings light to the student's life. The very word 'guru' is derived from two Sanskrit syllables- 'gu' meaning shadow and 'ru' meaning he, who disperses them. The Upanishads tell us that a guru is thus called, because he alone has the power to disperse darkness.

So, what could have caused such a thing to happen in our country, and specifically in a city like Chennai, which many people consider to be one of India's cultural capitals? (Indeed, when I was at high school, contemplating choices for college applications, Appa seemed most enthusiastic about colleges in Chennai- simply because it has still managed to preserve its cultural identity despite blending into a cosmopolitan 21st-century city.) Could it be attributed to the current films, news and games that our generation is exposed to, always rife with violence? Is it a sign of a 'Quick Fix' society- a society that is constantly on the lookout for fast, convenient solutions to their problems, regardless of the consequences of those solutions. Does it show that we, as a race, have become more selfish and careless, easily provoked, quickly enraged, by the slightest of things? Have we traded our values for the rapid development everyone likes to talk about? Have we lost our minds to this kind of mindless violence? Have we sacrificed our ethics, our sacred principles, at the altar of materialistic success? What kind of a society have we created? Is this (along with other examples that no longer shock us) a sign that Kali Yuga has finally arrived?

This is probably the first such incident of its kind in India, and hopefully will not trigger similar events across the nation. But dare we forget it? It has raised alarm bells, and the peal of those bells cannot be quietened by the passage of time. I do not have concrete answers, but I know for a fact, that we need to wake up and figure out what's going wrong. Change our education system? Remind students about traditions and values? Demonstrate to them the need to stick to morals and ethics while pursuing success? I really don't know. All that I can think of right now is a prayer that I've been reciting almost every evening, at twilight, in front of an oil lamp, lit at the altar. It goes like this:

Asato maa sad gamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mrityor maa amritam gamaya.
Om shantih shantih shantih.

The Sanskrit verse asks the Maker to lead us from untruth to that which is true, darkness to the world of light, and death to immortality. This world, going by the examples we see around us, is probably at its darkest stage. May we wake from our deep slumber, and rise to a world of light!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Birthday Wisdom

This post is long overdue, given that my twentieth 'birth-anniversary' (my best friend declared that the term 'birthday' is rather misplaced, given that it is just an anniversary of our entry to the world, and not the actual day of birth) was nearly a week ago. But I'm still feeling rather birthday-ish and so I decided to jot down all the wisdom I have gained in these past two decades, before this feeling wears off.

1) Be thankful. Gratitude can really work wonders. It makes you smile at life, and keeps you going, no matter what. Each time things seem to be going wrong, I try to count my blessings, and that definitely helps revive my spirit.

2) Take things in your stride. You are bound to make mistakes, meet 'failure' and sometimes, make a fool of yourself. Once in a while, you are bound to meet people who can bully you, put you down or are unreasonably mean to you. You shouldn't get affected by that. Last summer, when I was doing an audit internship, my manager was discussing how unhelpful and uncooperative certain clients could be- he told me that these clients, owing to the pressures of their job and the simple fact that their work is being audited, could be rude. But, he continued, the important point to note is that you should simply take it in your stride and move on.

3) Practise humility. My parents have taught me ever since I can remember to remain humble. Humility doesn't mean that you're being meek or submissive. On the other hand, it just means that you are not drunk with the power that success often brings. It means being firmly rooted to the ground, and not having your head high up in the air. It means being able to recognize other people, and genuinely appreciate them, and it helps to destroy ego. Looking back at certain instances in my life last year, every time I felt aggrieved or hurt by someone, I tried to remain humble. Let's say someone accused you of doing a wrong you have not committed- your ego is bound to be ruffled, and that in itself is a Pandora's box, releasing a whole series of further troubles. On the other hand, try to think of it as a lesson in humility- Explain calmly that the mistake was not your fault, but do not get unduly aggressive. Humility can indeed help you take things in your stride!

4) Enjoy the process; do not chase results. Well, this is something I have been trying to do for quite sometime. But invariably, I ended up running the rat race, furious in my efforts to be the best, the smartest, the most hard working, the most successful. I'm still caught in the rat race, but I have learnt that it's quite futile to chase results. When your sole goal is the result, you lose track of the process and in the end, you not only lose the goal, but also the way to the goal. Comparing my academic performance in the past years, I realize that I have done my best in those modules I genuinely enjoyed. In those modules, I did not think of the results, because I was too busy enjoying the lessons. It's time for me to change my attitude to certain modules, and make it a point to forget the results, so that I can extract the true essence of those lessons. This wisdom is the core of the Gita. The Lord told Arjuna the warrior, on the battlegrounds at Kurukshetra:
“Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani”
You must perform your duty, but you should not expect the results of those actions!

5) I believe that when faith is your foundation, you cannot falter. Looking at things from a deeper view, isn't life all about faith? For instance, we go to sleep each night, believing that we will wake up the next morning. In the same way, faith in the Creator is what keeps me going. 'Take pride (not arrogance) in how far you've come; Have faith in how far you can go'- this has now become my mantra! :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Heel That Gave Me Hell

When I came back home for the holidays, the first thing I noticed as I went around inspecting the changes made in my absence was a pair of absolutely elegant Marie Claire shoes, perched on the shoe shelf. Knowing only too well whose they could be, I decided to try them on- and whoa, they fit me like a glove! As soon as I tried them, Amma, who had been watching me, said 'They're MINE'. This is the problem when you have a mother whom most people mistake to be your older sister- I end up sneaking away her shoes, watches and at times, even clothes...till she realizes I've got her stuff on. This time, however, I had Appa on my side. He looked at the shoes and declared that they fit me the best- Amma, being a trifle shorter than me would need the next smaller size. Now, she definitely couldn't deny this and so, grudgingly, allowed me to use (use, not own) them.

I loved those shoes. They made me feel all grown up and professional. So, every time I went out, I would don those beautiful shoes. As I walked, listening to the clickety klack of the heels, I would actually feel important. It does seem rather shallow and superficial, but I really cannot deny that wearing those shoes gave my ego a boost. Then, as the holidays came to an end, I was presented with a dilemma- I definitely couldn't take back these shoes along with the others I had packed, so Amma and I reached a compromise- we decided to share the shoes, so I could use them only when I was back home.

Anyway, I had quite a bit of free time towards the last week of the holidays, and I decided to go shopping in Dubai, in order to hunt for a surprise gift for Appa's birthday. So off I set from my aunt's house and hopped onto the Dubai Metro. I got off at Deira City Centre, feeling extremely proud of myself, for not having lost my way. (I've been in the Emirates for the past 6 years or so, but really, exploring the city on your own is a totally different issue altogether!) As I walked towards the mall, the clickety clack of the shoes was beginning to annoy me a little. I was just thinking that it would have probably been a better idea to wear my flats instead, and at the precise moment, I felt my heel sink all of a sudden to the ground...

As I bent to pick up the shoe, I saw to my horror, that the heel from the right shoe had just come off! I meddled with it for a little while, till I caught people throwing curious looks at me. When you're caught in an embarrassing situation, you feel everyone is simply staring at you. And that's when you wish you could just pull an Invisibility Cloak and just vanish... But yes, coming back to my harrowing experience, I held my head high and continued to walk into the mall, with one heel and the other safely stashed away in my bag. I must have been hopping away like a mad rabbit.

At times like this, the craziest ideas come to mind. I was reminded of a lame advertisement I had seen ages ago, where a lady is running towards a room, waving her shoe in the air for its heel had given way, just like mine had. And she sought help from a super strong adhesive, and within minutes it was as good as new. So what did I do? I hopped away on one heel to Carrefour and got a tiny super expensive tube of super strong glue. Then I hopped away to the ladies and applied glue all over the shoe and the heel. And tried to get it stuck. That's when I realized I was stuck instead. Everything else stuck, except the heel that gave me hell. Trust me, I spent nearly a quarter of an hour trying to pull my fingers away from each other!

After a few futile attempts that left me exasperated, I decided to walk without the heel. To my horror, I began to feel the nails that held the heel from beneath the shoe. And that was painful. I had had enough. So... I simply went back to Carrefour and got myself a new pair of shoes :D Ha!

Then I headed to the still -existing Borders' bookstore and got Appa a book for his birthday (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.) I had read the review for this book a couple of days ago, and was delighted to come across it. Serendipity, indeed. I had forgotten about the heel that gave me hell, for wearing new shoes is a taste of heaven indeed. But, as I reached my aunt's house, I discovered that I was in for a serious dose of severe shoe bite. Now I understand perfectly well what Moses said on Mount Sinai centuries ago, 'You shall not covet that which is not yours'.

Post Script:
Looking back at this incident, I feel like laughing, especially when I think of myself hopping away like a mad rabbit. But at that time, it was not in the least bit funny. I've become wiser hopefully- I know perfectly well not to wear heels the next time I go shopping. And talking about wisdom, that's something we gather as we grow older. So, who just celebrated her birthday a couple of days ago? *drumroll* Yes, that's right, I turned twenty the day before yesterday. Wohoo, I've existed lived on planet earth for two decades! :D I have some birthday philosophy to share, but since I'm too lazy busy, I shall leave that for my next post.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Puffed Sleeves and Pattu Paavadai (55 Fiction)

Maya thought of the little girl. Her maid’s daughter, with twinkling eyes and a sparkling smile, whom she had promised a pattu paavadai with puffed sleeves. A flippant promise, long forgotten.

Today, her maid wept. A mother in agony. A life snatched too soon. Maya folded away the pattu paavadai. Nobody wanted it any longer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

ABC of Gratitude

I don't remember where I picked this idea from, but it's a brilliant idea! It involves listing down all the things you are grateful for, in alphabetical order. Gratitude is indeed a blessing- it brings joy and washes away worries. So here's my list of things I am grateful for:

Amma and Appa. What would I do without them!

Books and Blogs. I need them to keep my mind thinking, and to keep my 'creativity' alive. The former has been a constant presence in my life. I cannot remember a time when I never had anything to read. The latter has been a more recent discovery, and sometimes, it makes up for the lack of time to read books. Besides, (more importantly) blogs have given me a chance to interact with other blogger friends :)

Chocolate, Coffee and more recently, Caramel Tea. They are absolutely necessary to maintain my sanity :P

Dubai. I'm SO glad I have had a chance to explore this wonderful city, and still have the opportunity of going back there.

Earrings. Superficial, yes, but they are so pretty! :)

Family and Friends. I'm blessed to have an extended family- muthacha, amooma, valyammas and valyachas, elaiammas and elaiachas, family friends and of course, my dearest cousin clan. I may come across (sigh) as reserved to certain people. It's not that I'm an introvert or shy of talking- it's just that I tend to take time, before I can be a good friend. (You know, I'm trying to change!) As a result, I might not be popular, but the few good friends I have are treasured indeed. I'm very fortunate to have them in my life!

God's grace. Some people attribute their success due to hard work. Others, who are probably envious of them, believe that they simply were lucky. I do believe in the virtue of hard work, but at the same time, I trust in God. It's His grace that has taken me so far, and my faith shall keep me going.

Hilly Billy, my stuffed mountain goat. You'll find this silly, but this guy is one of my oldest stuffed toys. I got him when I was in grade 4, and ever since, he's accompanied me to most places. He's a reminder of my childhood, something that I continue to cherish to this date.

Ice cream. Especially chocolate and blackcurrant. :)

Joie de Vivre. Ever gazed at the flight of a butterfly? Basked in the warm winter sunshine on a sleepy afternoon? Watched the dance of the flames from a crackling bonfire? Tried counting stars against the inky black vastness of the sky? Stared at the beauty of the full moon? If yes, you'll know what I'm talking about!

Kerala. This might sound strange, since the longest I would have stayed in Kerala, where my roots lie, is a maximum of three weeks. But I have beautiful memories of my homeland, and I'm longing for the day when I get an opportunity to explore this lush sliver, huddled in the south western corner of the peninsula.

Lenses. Again, this might sound rather superficial, but I've been using spectacles for nearly ten years now, and lenses are a welcome substitute for them. Of course, you must ignore minor inconvenient situations like the time I nearly poked my eye, trying to remove a lens that was simply not there- it had slipped away, without me knowing, when I was trying to place it earlier in the morning. And the best thing is I never realized that I had worn only one lens!

Mountains. My ultimate dream is to live in a house on the mountains. If you're bored enough to go through old posts in this blog, you'll notice numerous references to the Nilgiris, the Himalayas, the Velliangiri Hills and the Hajjar Mountain ranges. Mountains remind me of the perfection with which this universe has come into being.

NUS. Looking back to nearly three years ago, before I joined the NUS Business School as an undergrad, I realize I have come a long way! NUS has given me an opportunity to move away from my comfort zone, become more independent, study in a different (and more rigorous) academic system, meet people from various backgrounds and cultures, and learn how to work with them. Sure, there have been several stressful seasons (there continue to be), but NUS has truly taught me that 'what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger'. I'd like to believe that NUS has helped me become a more confident person, backed by sheer determination and grit.

Oman. One of the most beautiful countries on earth; I've had the chance to visit Oman quite a number of times, and each time I come back, totally awestruck.

Purple. Anything purple teems with vibrancy and zest. Think of the burst of clusters of grapes in vineyards, the blossoming of lilacs, the sparkle of the amethyst, the brilliant purple of the sky at dawn and dusk... The colour purple rules my world!

Quiet. In some ways, I am grateful for quiet time, because that is when your mind has the best clarity and that is when you can hear yourself the best. Think of the quiet solitude in a cathedral or the stillness that settles in after meditation...I finally finished reading William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, in a part of which he asks a Coptic monk why the monks prefer to dwell in the isolation of the Egyptian desert, rather than the city. After all, he argues, God can be found everywhere. To this the monk replied that indeed God can be found everywhere. But in the quiet harshness of the desert landscape, the monks can find themselves- 'And unless you find yourself, how can you find God?'

Rosewood beads. I was given a rosary made of rosewood beads, to help me in japa. I have not used it in a long while, but each time I look at the rosary, I feel blessed.

Sunshine. Every morning, as the first specks of sunshine reach my window, it brings in its midst new hope. And once again, it reminds me the perfect ways of the cosmos.

Teachers. Right from my primary school days, I have been blessed to have teachers, who have moulded me, guiding and inspiring me all along. Sister Ann, Sister Sheeba, Shyamala Miss and Priya Miss were probably my very first teachers, and I remember them all with deep gratitude. If I were to write about my middle and high school teachers, I could write a separate blog post on each one of them- even the words 'gratitude' and 'thank you' sound hollow when I try to put in words how much they have done for me. I'm grateful that my teachers continue to play an important role after school- at university, I have a chance to learn from some truly brilliant and inspiring professors!

Unconditional love. I had to think hard to come up with something for this letter. And suddenly, as I thought of my parents, I figured it out. A long time ago, I had a squabble with Appa, over which channel to watch on TV. When he didn't agree to my choice, I tried emotional blackmail- 'You don't love me!' And Appa explained to me that love with conditions attached is not love at all. Incidentally as I was thinking on these lines, I stumbled across this quote-
'Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth 'You owe me'
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights up the whole sky!'

Vacations. I cannot wait for my next one! :D

Wadis. A sudden burst of green in the form of a wadi in the vastness of the never ending desert is simply a miracle! Another sign of hope.

Xtra goodies. Each time I return to university, after my vacation at home, Amma insists on me taking a few goodies-usually murukku, unniappam, chocolate and cookies. In fact, when I once took a cab from the airport back to my hostel, the taxi uncle asked me whether my mother had packed in so many goodies in the suitcase- it was that heavy! :D

Yap Yap Yap. I might seem reserved, but that's just because I don't like to suddenly burst into conversation. I love to talk, and once I start, it'll be hard to make me stop. Talking makes me happy.

Zzzzzzz. There's never anything as good as sleep after a long hectic day, is there?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Roses and All That Stuff

I never thought I would end up writing on something even remotely connected to Valentines' Day- But, here you go, I finally have something related to the so called V Day! Growing up, my parents had always knocked common sense into my head whenever it began floating up in the clouds, and hence I find this concept of hearts, chocolates, roses and teddy bears rather silly. (No offence meant to those who like them! I like chocolates and teddy bears and all too, but seriously, not in this context.) Suffice to say, I find Valentines' Day quite over rated, and this year would be no exception, I thought.

The campus was filled with posters, beckoning people to buy roses and all the other stuff for their loved ones. Some girls were carrying flowers; some of them quite giggly and blushing away. This kind of mushy stuff used to make me go 'awwww' once upon a time. Not any more. So, after my classes, I decided to get a cup of tea and get some work done, before attending my group meeting later in the evening.

I sat in the cafeteria, with my tea and books for company. I tried to look at the text in my corporate law textbook, but my mind kept wandering to the quiz in accounting theory that I had taken a little while earlier. Unable to concentrate, I finally fished out my copy of William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain (which I'm still reading!). I was so engrossed, I didn't notice two people approaching me. When they said hello, I nearly jumped. They sheepishly apologized for scaring me, and went on to introduce themselves- two fellow college mates, from another faculty, they were part of a faith group on campus. One of them was a girl and she explained to me that today being Valentines' Day, they were just spreading God's love. I had no idea what it was all about, but before I could question further, she handed me a paper rose, beautifully crafted. And she said, 'This is just to remind you that no matter what, God always loves you'. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and after they left, I was touched. This V Day, my feelings have changed- from suspicion to admiration to pure joy! :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Darkness

Something in the news that caught my attention recently left my mind numb. A ninth grade student in a Chennai school, stabbed his Hindi teacher to death, perhaps provoked and outraged by the fact that she had complained to his parents about his dwindling academic performance. Complaints about a student's grades and study pattern are ubiquitous in any school- and it goes without saying that it is a teacher's duty to keep track of the same. Students do get irked when they are constantly reminded about such issues, but I simply cannot imagine what could have provoked this teenager to resort to such extreme violence and kill his own teacher! This, in our country that has long prided itself in being an advocate of the guru shishya parampara. This, in our country where the guru or the teacher is looked upon as a person who removes darkness and brings light to the student's life. The very word 'guru' is derived from two Sanskrit syllables- 'gu' meaning shadow and 'ru' meaning he, who disperses them. The Upanishads tell us that a guru is thus called, because he alone has the power to disperse darkness.

So, what could have caused such a thing to happen in our country, and specifically in a city like Chennai, which many people consider to be one of India's cultural capitals? (Indeed, when I was at high school, contemplating choices for college applications, Appa seemed most enthusiastic about colleges in Chennai- simply because it has still managed to preserve its cultural identity despite blending into a cosmopolitan 21st-century city.) Could it be attributed to the current films, news and games that our generation is exposed to, always rife with violence? Is it a sign of a 'Quick Fix' society- a society that is constantly on the lookout for fast, convenient solutions to their problems, regardless of the consequences of those solutions. Does it show that we, as a race, have become more selfish and careless, easily provoked, quickly enraged, by the slightest of things? Have we traded our values for the rapid development everyone likes to talk about? Have we lost our minds to this kind of mindless violence? Have we sacrificed our ethics, our sacred principles, at the altar of materialistic success? What kind of a society have we created? Is this (along with other examples that no longer shock us) a sign that Kali Yuga has finally arrived?

This is probably the first such incident of its kind in India, and hopefully will not trigger similar events across the nation. But dare we forget it? It has raised alarm bells, and the peal of those bells cannot be quietened by the passage of time. I do not have concrete answers, but I know for a fact, that we need to wake up and figure out what's going wrong. Change our education system? Remind students about traditions and values? Demonstrate to them the need to stick to morals and ethics while pursuing success? I really don't know. All that I can think of right now is a prayer that I've been reciting almost every evening, at twilight, in front of an oil lamp, lit at the altar. It goes like this:

Asato maa sad gamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mrityor maa amritam gamaya.
Om shantih shantih shantih.

The Sanskrit verse asks the Maker to lead us from untruth to that which is true, darkness to the world of light, and death to immortality. This world, going by the examples we see around us, is probably at its darkest stage. May we wake from our deep slumber, and rise to a world of light!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Birthday Wisdom

This post is long overdue, given that my twentieth 'birth-anniversary' (my best friend declared that the term 'birthday' is rather misplaced, given that it is just an anniversary of our entry to the world, and not the actual day of birth) was nearly a week ago. But I'm still feeling rather birthday-ish and so I decided to jot down all the wisdom I have gained in these past two decades, before this feeling wears off.

1) Be thankful. Gratitude can really work wonders. It makes you smile at life, and keeps you going, no matter what. Each time things seem to be going wrong, I try to count my blessings, and that definitely helps revive my spirit.

2) Take things in your stride. You are bound to make mistakes, meet 'failure' and sometimes, make a fool of yourself. Once in a while, you are bound to meet people who can bully you, put you down or are unreasonably mean to you. You shouldn't get affected by that. Last summer, when I was doing an audit internship, my manager was discussing how unhelpful and uncooperative certain clients could be- he told me that these clients, owing to the pressures of their job and the simple fact that their work is being audited, could be rude. But, he continued, the important point to note is that you should simply take it in your stride and move on.

3) Practise humility. My parents have taught me ever since I can remember to remain humble. Humility doesn't mean that you're being meek or submissive. On the other hand, it just means that you are not drunk with the power that success often brings. It means being firmly rooted to the ground, and not having your head high up in the air. It means being able to recognize other people, and genuinely appreciate them, and it helps to destroy ego. Looking back at certain instances in my life last year, every time I felt aggrieved or hurt by someone, I tried to remain humble. Let's say someone accused you of doing a wrong you have not committed- your ego is bound to be ruffled, and that in itself is a Pandora's box, releasing a whole series of further troubles. On the other hand, try to think of it as a lesson in humility- Explain calmly that the mistake was not your fault, but do not get unduly aggressive. Humility can indeed help you take things in your stride!

4) Enjoy the process; do not chase results. Well, this is something I have been trying to do for quite sometime. But invariably, I ended up running the rat race, furious in my efforts to be the best, the smartest, the most hard working, the most successful. I'm still caught in the rat race, but I have learnt that it's quite futile to chase results. When your sole goal is the result, you lose track of the process and in the end, you not only lose the goal, but also the way to the goal. Comparing my academic performance in the past years, I realize that I have done my best in those modules I genuinely enjoyed. In those modules, I did not think of the results, because I was too busy enjoying the lessons. It's time for me to change my attitude to certain modules, and make it a point to forget the results, so that I can extract the true essence of those lessons. This wisdom is the core of the Gita. The Lord told Arjuna the warrior, on the battlegrounds at Kurukshetra:
“Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani”
You must perform your duty, but you should not expect the results of those actions!

5) I believe that when faith is your foundation, you cannot falter. Looking at things from a deeper view, isn't life all about faith? For instance, we go to sleep each night, believing that we will wake up the next morning. In the same way, faith in the Creator is what keeps me going. 'Take pride (not arrogance) in how far you've come; Have faith in how far you can go'- this has now become my mantra! :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Heel That Gave Me Hell

When I came back home for the holidays, the first thing I noticed as I went around inspecting the changes made in my absence was a pair of absolutely elegant Marie Claire shoes, perched on the shoe shelf. Knowing only too well whose they could be, I decided to try them on- and whoa, they fit me like a glove! As soon as I tried them, Amma, who had been watching me, said 'They're MINE'. This is the problem when you have a mother whom most people mistake to be your older sister- I end up sneaking away her shoes, watches and at times, even clothes...till she realizes I've got her stuff on. This time, however, I had Appa on my side. He looked at the shoes and declared that they fit me the best- Amma, being a trifle shorter than me would need the next smaller size. Now, she definitely couldn't deny this and so, grudgingly, allowed me to use (use, not own) them.

I loved those shoes. They made me feel all grown up and professional. So, every time I went out, I would don those beautiful shoes. As I walked, listening to the clickety klack of the heels, I would actually feel important. It does seem rather shallow and superficial, but I really cannot deny that wearing those shoes gave my ego a boost. Then, as the holidays came to an end, I was presented with a dilemma- I definitely couldn't take back these shoes along with the others I had packed, so Amma and I reached a compromise- we decided to share the shoes, so I could use them only when I was back home.

Anyway, I had quite a bit of free time towards the last week of the holidays, and I decided to go shopping in Dubai, in order to hunt for a surprise gift for Appa's birthday. So off I set from my aunt's house and hopped onto the Dubai Metro. I got off at Deira City Centre, feeling extremely proud of myself, for not having lost my way. (I've been in the Emirates for the past 6 years or so, but really, exploring the city on your own is a totally different issue altogether!) As I walked towards the mall, the clickety clack of the shoes was beginning to annoy me a little. I was just thinking that it would have probably been a better idea to wear my flats instead, and at the precise moment, I felt my heel sink all of a sudden to the ground...

As I bent to pick up the shoe, I saw to my horror, that the heel from the right shoe had just come off! I meddled with it for a little while, till I caught people throwing curious looks at me. When you're caught in an embarrassing situation, you feel everyone is simply staring at you. And that's when you wish you could just pull an Invisibility Cloak and just vanish... But yes, coming back to my harrowing experience, I held my head high and continued to walk into the mall, with one heel and the other safely stashed away in my bag. I must have been hopping away like a mad rabbit.

At times like this, the craziest ideas come to mind. I was reminded of a lame advertisement I had seen ages ago, where a lady is running towards a room, waving her shoe in the air for its heel had given way, just like mine had. And she sought help from a super strong adhesive, and within minutes it was as good as new. So what did I do? I hopped away on one heel to Carrefour and got a tiny super expensive tube of super strong glue. Then I hopped away to the ladies and applied glue all over the shoe and the heel. And tried to get it stuck. That's when I realized I was stuck instead. Everything else stuck, except the heel that gave me hell. Trust me, I spent nearly a quarter of an hour trying to pull my fingers away from each other!

After a few futile attempts that left me exasperated, I decided to walk without the heel. To my horror, I began to feel the nails that held the heel from beneath the shoe. And that was painful. I had had enough. So... I simply went back to Carrefour and got myself a new pair of shoes :D Ha!

Then I headed to the still -existing Borders' bookstore and got Appa a book for his birthday (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.) I had read the review for this book a couple of days ago, and was delighted to come across it. Serendipity, indeed. I had forgotten about the heel that gave me hell, for wearing new shoes is a taste of heaven indeed. But, as I reached my aunt's house, I discovered that I was in for a serious dose of severe shoe bite. Now I understand perfectly well what Moses said on Mount Sinai centuries ago, 'You shall not covet that which is not yours'.

Post Script:
Looking back at this incident, I feel like laughing, especially when I think of myself hopping away like a mad rabbit. But at that time, it was not in the least bit funny. I've become wiser hopefully- I know perfectly well not to wear heels the next time I go shopping. And talking about wisdom, that's something we gather as we grow older. So, who just celebrated her birthday a couple of days ago? *drumroll* Yes, that's right, I turned twenty the day before yesterday. Wohoo, I've existed lived on planet earth for two decades! :D I have some birthday philosophy to share, but since I'm too lazy busy, I shall leave that for my next post.