Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keep complaining

A wise man once said to me: "Never stop complaining, for complaining means you care enough to want a change. As long as you care, you will be able to make a difference. Either you can change things yourself, or you'll be able to influence others to invoke a change. A person who doesn't complain is not necessarily happy with everything. Nor does being quiet mean everything is perfect - because nothing ever is. If you don't complain, it only means you no longer give a damn. And that's bad - no, terrible - for you, as well as for your organisation, your team, your family. So keep complaining!"

That was not the first time I had gone to him with my youthful enthusiasm, with a bag of complaints, suggestions, recommendations. I used to have so many of them! I would begin by apologising to him for always whining about some thing or other.

I knew what he said was true when one day, tired of complaining and getting no result, I gave up trying, and lost my interest altogether. I no longer dreamt of changing things, I no longer complained, I no longer cared.

Now everywhere I see defiant faces - stony and uncomplaining. Their responses are limited to a rigid "Yes/No". They don't blurt their frustration out. They don't say "I need help." They're quiet, undemanding, stressed and suffocating inside. An implosion waiting to happen.

He was so right. This is the world that feeds the crying baby, not knowing that it is the silent, starving one that needs to be supported the most...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ATM Phobia

I have ATM phobia. All these years, I had kept that painful secret to myself, but now I am ready to let it out. I try to avoid facing the ATM. As far as possible I rely on online transfers, cash transactions, and anything that keeps me away from the dreaded machine. My life isn't as easy as it seems, people.

As I approach an ATM, I feel as though I am climbing the stage to make a speech (at the mere suggestion, my knees have begun to knock against each other). My heart begins to pound the living daylights out of my ribs. I brace myself for the inevitable, and open the door of the ATM cabin. I look around suspiciously. Is there anyone lurking around, to steal my money? (Not that I have a few crores in my account waiting to be stolen.) Will the machine confuse or refuse me? Will the door open again to let me out or will I be imprisoned for life?

I recently traced the origin of my fear. In the late 90s or maybe the early 2000s (when ATMs first became popular and I got my first ever ATM card), a friend informed me of a traumatic experience that one of her friends had. He went into the ATM booth, took out cash, and when he tried to open the door, it didn’t budge. He was locked inside. Mobile phones were not yet common those days. (Yes, those were prehistoric times.) With the help of a friend who fortunately was waiting outside, they contacted the bank and got the door opened. How can I not be terrified at the very thought? We don’t always have friends waiting outside when we go into this self-locking prison mechanism. The phobia must have begun somewhere there.

Matters did not improve when one day I went into an ATM where the display and keys were different from what I was accustomed to. Same bank, but different ATM. This time, when I shoved the card in and pulled it out, nothing changed in the display. It did not welcome me, let alone acknowledge my presence. It stood there, cold and indifferent and unemotional, while I slid the card in and out about ten times. Finally, I opened the door (luckily it hadn’t locked me in) and begged one of the men waiting outside to help me. The world of ATM cards was still young. No one knew what to do. Eventually, after two men tried their hands with my card, something happened and the machine woke up and welcomed me. Gratefully, I began to punch in my PIN, only to find the two helpers still hovering around. How could I tell them to leave, after all the support they had rendered?

I suppose these two incidents – though they happened well over a decade ago – left me with a strange fear of the ATM machine that I experience even today.

I consulted the all-knowing Google to see if this sort of thing was common – after all, the world is full of phobias – but Google could offer no consolation. It appears that I am the only one suffering from this strange affliction, after all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Evolution Takes an Unexpected Leap!

Scene I.
I was watching a movie in which three of the supporting cast were familiar faces - very familiar from some favourite movies that were watched more than once, though their names were not well-known. For an hour and a half, I sat before the TV wondering where I had seen them. I could not place them until the end of the film. I wasn't worried though, and didn't strain myself to remember. When it was over, I went straight to Google and found their names, but they didn't ring a bell. So on I went to Wikipedia to rummage each person's filmography, where - at last! - I found out the titles of those movies (how could I forget them!) that I had watched at least three times each on TV.

Scene II.
I used to have a cassette with some rare songs of Kishore on it. It had been listened to a million times that by the end of its life, it could only give out a few croaks in Kishore da's name. Then life just moved on, songs began to be available all over the place and I could find whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Some of these songs kept popping back from unusual places, bringing a torrent of memories with it. A few months ago, another song which had never surfaced in the last ten or fifteen years, which had vanished from my mind, unexpectedly came back to the top of it. The tragedy was that, apart from two words in the song, and the tune, I could recall nothing else. I googled, and perhaps for the first time, Google failed me. The words I remembered were probably wrong or mispronounced (possibly Urdu or some ancient Hindi). The Big G had nothing to suggest. Try some other beautiful Kishore songs, it said.

I was miserable. I squeezed and prodded my brain so that something more would emerge, a few more words to help me in my search. But none came. I could remember the colour of that cassette, the writing on it which had begun to fade. I could remember listening to it in a bright, breezy room. I could remember many, many associated things but the words.

Last month, I simply tried it again, typing the words in all possible ways in Google, throwing in some random ideas, and there it was, a single result hidden in some obscure corner of the internet world.

More than the happiness the eventual discovery of the song and listening to it gave me, I was intrigued by the misery that the lost song (and the fear that I will never find it) had invoked.

When was the last time I had experienced the "tip of my tongue but I can't grab" sensation? Or the "I want to kick myself for not being able to remember" feeling? Not in a long, long while. There was always Google to help. (And now, Facebook and Linkedin store the names of the people in our past, the ones that we are supposed to forget in ten years' time.)

Many of us have lost the power to forget and remember: we have lost the power to feel lost. We no longer know the miserable longing for a thought that completely evades us. That struggle to recall a favourite song, a name, a face, a quote. We pull out our phone and type it in and it works faster than our fading memories. Most of the time.

There is going to be no remembering, because there is no forgetting.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the next phase of evolution, where memory becomes redundant, obsolete - you do not have to keep your past in your head any longer, you could carry it inside your gadget (and pray that it does not crash) - a detour The Origin of Species could never have foretold. We are already on that path (having taken the exit without realising it), storing everything about ourselves online from where we can pull and grab them out when we need, in a few clicks, not using the extract-and-archive power of our own memory to its full potential, not stretching our brain to its extremes, giving it nothing to do.

We're going to wipe our mind clean of all the drivel it holds; nay, we are going to erase memory itself from our heads and place it in our hands.

And if memory does not exist the way it is supposed to, if it does not flex itself and work the way it is expected to, any guesses on where the species is headed?

Friday, September 5, 2014

The height of Optimism

And yet, in the end, strangely enough, it was optimism that killed her, though perhaps not literally; but it could be said that optimism did lay a very strong foundation. She was the kind who always figured out how to float; others would say she knew how to fall on four feet, like a cat. Not unnaturally quickly or anything, but when others took years and never recovered, she found ways to convince herself that “it could have been worse.” It always worked, even in the tragedy of her son, when no ordinary person could ever imagine how it could have been worse. She had been dealt the worst, but again, though gradually, her optimism found a way around it, that while some people are given many misfortunes, she was given this one. And yes, it indeed could have been worse, if she really thought about it. Often, she wished her optimism would vanish for a while and depression would take over so that she could be at peace in her own misery – for she wanted to indulge in it. But it didn’t. Every morning she woke up with a strange hope, a positive energy which she knew not where it came from, a memory of a song on her lips. It would stay for a few minutes before she would wonder to herself why it was that she was not grief-stricken.
She would try to kill it: this kind of bursting optimism was unreasonable and probably not good for health. She should be sad, she should be contained, she should even implode and self-destruct for the sake of normalcy. Instead, she found that her sadnesses were short-lived, or rather, she always managed to rise above them, even when the pain tormented her. Over the years, she had consciously or otherwise trained herself to be positive, to see the silver lining rather than the cloud; and it had flung her to the other extreme. It was almost as bad. One could also die of too much optimism.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Daily Race

From the moment we open our eyes in the morning, we're running: we are either just in time or a few minutes late. Sometimes, a few hours late.
There's always that mad rush - to finish. Chores, tasks, responsibilities, neverending duties. The list of items that come at us one after the other, or a few together. We puff and pant, we splutter, we catch our breath. Quick, quick, quick! In the next five minutes!

Traffic drags us back. We begin to panic. Time is running out! The backlog looms before our eyes. We could have finished three tasks in the time we were stuck on the road. We try to get ahead, by working in the vehicle: making calls, delegating, distributing, and making promises we can't keep.

At the end of every day, in our tasks list, despite the mad rush to get everything done, there are still a few that are not. That's okay, we tell ourselves. They're low priority. I got the high priority ones done. I will tackle these, maybe during the weekend. If we don't, either we fail someone else or we fail ourselves.
And so the weekend continues to be a rush too.
Satisfaction is getting up to 80% of the tasks done.

We flop before the TV to relax - we have thirty minutes before the next race begins. We're timebound - our life is boxed. Each task in a box.
Vacation is boxed too. You're allowed two weeks to get away and do what you want to.
WhatsApp gets a few minutes between boxes.

Somehow we proceed from one day to the next, shoving each hour out of the way. If you aren't running, you might be a social outcast or something. Or maybe you are wealthy enough not to be partaking in the race. Or you have a real reason, which we don't want to hear about.

Is life supposed to be this continuous race, or are we doing it wrong? Or is it that we do not have a choice anymore?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No one's Conspiring

I hate to say this, my friend;
I hate to break your bubble:
But I see your dangerous hope,
I sense your deadly expectation...

There is no universe conspiring,
There's no miracle in the making;
Your hardwork sometimes pays,
But mostly, much of it doesn't.

You see, the way it works-
The universe has much to do,
It has crowds to take care of:
Others appeal to it like you.

You get it, it's human too!
(I know that's ridiculous.)
Friend, you know what I mean.
They sometimes call it Chaos.

The universe cannot conspire
To give everything everyone wants;
If it gives you yours, then
Someone else is denied theirs.

So it's just fine, your optimism,
If you're prepared to wait forever:
Your chance may or not come
In this life, or it may never.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

SuperMoms and SuperWives

"Breakfast main kya loge?" asks the mother.
And from different parts of the house emerge shouts of "Dosa!" "Upma!" "Rava Idli!" "Vada!"
The mother cheerfully springs a few pairs of imaginary hands and sets to work, and within no time, all these yummy breakfast items are ready on the table. (Not to mention the chutneys that go with vada, sambar that goes with the dosa and whatever it is that goes with upma.) Did I mention that the mother is smiling all the time?

I can't speak for all mothers, but I know that many bristle at this advertisement. (In defense of the ad, it does convey that these easy-to-make breakfast items are very easy to make.)

There is another breakfast ad featuring the gorgeous Madhuri Dixit. While we all love the way she looks (we so missed her all these years!) when she works out with her family, I (we?) can't help but wonder, how can a mother be so stress-free? How on earth does she look so refreshed? Does she have no worries or has she learnt to get past (rid of) them? Did she not have to work late last night? Does she have no deadlines today? Isn't her boss sitting on her head? Are her children so perfect that they get up and work out so well with family without whining and have a "healthy" breakfast without grumbling? Do they do their homeworks on time by themselves and help their mother keep the house clean? Do they (Heaven forbid) do their own laundry? And does her husband behave and do as he is told? What in the world is she so excited about? (Is she high on something? Does yoga or meditation keep her so happy? The string of questions keeps on going long after Madhuri and her entourage have vanished.)

Oh, come on, it is an ad, you say. There is no truth or sense or fact in it. Just watch and forget. Buy their product, if you like.

But this does give wrong ideas to people - that mothers are or ought to be like these moms in the TV. (We already know the power of ads.)

Have you noticed that the mothers in the ads know everything? (Except for that one mother who is surprised when the doctor talks about oral hygiene. Cavities? she asks, as though she is hearing it for the first time.)

I must mention another ad featuring Rahul Bose in which his wife lazily says "I will make tea in a while" - 'lazily' being the key word. I can't explain how relieved that makes me feel.

Mothers try to convince themselves that they are not supermoms, and that they can only do what they can. But with this type of competition (people like Madhuri, for God's sake!) they have to at least pretend to be 90% super. I am not saying there are no supermoms. I know a few (though they do not know it themselves. They almost kill themselves managing everything and are happy when they do it.) But the pressure it puts on the rest of us is considerable. It takes all my willpower to convince myself every day that "there are things I can do, and there are things I can't. For the latter, I have to seek help without considering it a weakness or a failure. For the former, I should be proud of myself." It is by no means easy. I have to go through this self-convincing routine for a long time; it is an effort in itself. I can't explain how many times I had to face the caustic response when I said "I do not enjoy cooking". The listener immediately assumes that I starve my family. (How can a mother say such a horrid thing??)

Someone recently told me that all comedy shows, movies and TV shows invariably have at least one wife who makes her husband's life miserable. There: you see her nagging him, finding fault with everything he does, shouting at him, jealous about him, never supporting him - that you feel so sorry for the poor, wretched man. "There must be some truth in it." How many scenes do you see where the situation is reversed (except when the husband is the main, evil villain of the story)?

So we struggle to not "nag" even though a worry has been gnawing at our hearts for days or weeks that we need help with. We try not to complain, even though we feel we deserve a little more support or compassion. We try not to shout even though the splitting headache on top of everything is making us to. In the end, the whole thing accumulates and piles up and causes a suffocation that transforms into an atomb bomb that is merely biding its time. (And then comes Madhuri with her family dance and all hell breaks loose.)

What we see is what we believe. Our systems are tuned that way - if that's how it is on TV, it must be true, in general. We subconsciously arrive at the conclusion that we are so incomplete, incompetent, inconsiderate, below-average. There must be something wrong with me if I cannot be at least half of what those mothers are. I must be so nasty and evil if I am at least a fraction like those nagging wives. If I am not a failure already, my plane is definitely headed there.

So what do we do to find some steady patch of earth to stand on? We pretend that we are supermoms and perfect wives like the ones on TV. It is a survival tactic. Darwin must have written about it.

To all those who will say "it is better to be yourself", my answer would be, "It is much easier and safer to pretend otherwise. It is heartbreak either way, but at least when you pretend, you don't make it to the family gossip."

Monday, August 18, 2014


The cage is open; but the bird does not flee:
She's bound by reasons that seem strange to me.

Torn is her heart as she peers at the sky;
Mountains and meadows invite her to fly.

No one nor nothing compells her to stay;
Why does she dither, why not fly away?

The trees and the rains, the wind of her dreams;
The temptation fails to entice her, it seems.

If she spreads her wings, she'll never be free:
The burden along will she have to carry.

A lump in her throat, in her thoughts as she wades,
Her choice is made; in her eyes the light fades.

What her heart yearns for, she cannot choose;
What she's been granted, she cannot lose.

She takes a step back, she closes the door;
She won't look again; be tempted no more.

Her faith in herself - therein her strength lies;
She's content; though some call it... sacrifice.