Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Inspired

There will be death. There will be illness. There will be failures - tonnes of them. Any narrative that does not acknowledge these can only be partially true, at best.

We're no longer inspired by brilliance that has faced no setbacks. Heroism that knows no doubt. Success that has encountered no roadblocks. People who experience no longing. Happiness without misery. A God with all the answers.

We're inspired by weaknesses. By failures. By repeated disappointments. By abandonment. By depression. By a series of mistakes. And then by a spark that has to be blown on for minutes, for hours; that has to be protected against excessive wind and rain until it bursts into flame.

We're inspired by oceans that have no borders, by the land that we lose sight of, by the water we swallow while we are drowning, by the strength of will that survives in spite of impending doom.

We're inspired by the smallness of our world, the largeness of our hearts, the blueness of the planet, the greenness of nature, the darkness of our deepest feelings, the enormousness of a man-made structure, the expanse of the Universe.

Quite simply put, we are inspired by those that we chose to be inspired by.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A welcome reprieve

​​Let this peace continue!
The one that has appeared
out of nowhere
When least expected.
​A welcome​ reprieve​
From the struggles
Of a million years.

The shift in perception-
Almost overnight;
Truth laid bare
Before the eyes:
The path forward, and
The road taken;
The mist has cleared.

Caught between
The urge to impress
And to follow instinct...
A desire to do
the right thing
And throw dreams
To the wind...

I've strayed too far
Into the woods
Seeking, searching
And sometimes finding.
There's still fear...
There's still fear
And nightmares.

Swimming across the flood,
Often against it
Or flowing with it.
I place a hand
on the shore...
A stop, but-
Not the destination.

There's stillness
In the air,
As if in anticipation
Of the next turn of life.
What's meant will arrive.
In the meantime,
May this peace continue.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

We all need appreciation

At the end of a work-related conversation, I said to my friend, “What you did regarding [a certain task] was great. Good job.” 

It was not a rehearsed statement; I had just remembered it in passing. Perhaps it was my unconscious intention to end the chat on a nice note. I was about to move on, when she stopped me and said, “No one else had said a single good word about it. So, thank you.”

I was taken aback. Half-hearted though my appreciation was, it obviously meant much to her. I would have ignored what she had done, just like everyone else did (it was her job, nothing more), if we hadn’t had a reason to talk that day. I wasn’t planning on the appreciation; it had slipped out.

Everyone needs appreciation. I know I do. But do I give it away as much? I doubt it.

It would not be too far-fetched to say that people turn to social media in search of appreciation in the form of Likes and comments, for some form of approval and validation that we do not get in real life. And generally, they find it there too – because it is easier for most of us to hit a ‘Like’ or post a happy emoticon than to call them up and say, “Great job.”

Why do we find it so much easier to shower appreciation on little children? Their beaming face, their eager, proud eyes, and their efforts to impress us again? As children grow up, they consciously lose these tell-tale signs and learn to confine themselves to a stiff “Thank you”, as though appreciation means nothing to them. They – we – also decide that some people are worth appreciating; others are not. We become stingy with the congratulations.

An experienced writer I used to work with asked me once if I liked a recent article of his. I said in surprise, “Of course, sir.” It was a reader’s delight, as all his pieces were. Nothing short of expectation. Outstanding, as usual. “Then why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. I had no answer. I stammered something about he being a great writer and who was I to make comments on his writing, and so forth.

He took a deep breath and said kindly, “You must say it. If you like it, whoever the person is, however famous, you need to tell them. They need to hear it.”

Everyone needs appreciation. This statement is worth repeating. This is a note-to-self as well as a reminder to anyone who reads this.

Today we blame the social media for taking us away from real relationships and real connections. But what if, we were already withdrawing into ourselves that the arrival of social media was exactly the medicine that the patient needed? It was the door that opened at the right time for us to vanish into.

There is a recent advertisement on TV in which a couple sit together to watch a film on a popular movie app. Soon, each realizes that the other had watched the movie alone, earlier. I probably shouldn’t read between the lines (it is a cute advertisement), but it seems to be exactly what we are doing these days – confining our world to our palm. Television used to be a family activity. But it was only a matter of time before that too became part of our aloneness. We are all so used to hiding behind our screens that the only sights we can appreciate are the ones that exist within the bright rectangle of our handset. We can see and communicate to each other only through our gadgets. (Except old people and very small children, who still prefer real company of real people over anything else. Let’s not forget them.)

These days, there is a great deal of talk about mental well-being. An alarmingly large group of people are on the verge of – or already drowning in – depression. Feeling worthless is a major cause. “Whatever I do, however I do it, goes unnoticed. Why do I do it? For what purpose do I exist?” Which in turn leads to, “all my doors are shut; there’s no way out”. I am not fantasizing. It is the truth.

Social media steps in. Virtual adulation is the thin straw that we clutch at, to drag ourselves out of the darkness. 50 Likes. A handful of “wow” smileys. Some of it may make us feel better. No, it is not as shallow as it seems; it might be a life-saver. “Maybe I am not so worthless, after all. Maybe there is something worth living for.” But what happens when social media ignores us as well?

Let’s say a good word when we can. We have nothing to lose. We do not know whose life it is going to save.

You ask me if I practice what I preach? 

I’m trying, my friends, I am trying.


Monday, May 8, 2017

The Writer

Across the mountain she saunters,
Her silhouette against the sun.
Slow but determined, on and on,
Her chin raised, shoulders erect.

Down the valley she ambles, not
Stopping to smell the flowers;
The twigs across her path don't sway her
Nor the thorns break her stride.

Her intent is firm, her resolution final
The day has arrived, a note has been left.
A hundred years hence, I follow her trail
I'm where she was, I pursue her course.

Oh writer, I know what brings you here
And what you must do;
Your struggle against the tide, I feel it too
You gave up the battle, and some day so will I.

At the water's edge, you take a deep breath,
A sparkle of your tear, glides down your face.
You have no regrets, no second thoughts.
Your mind is made up. Your eyes are open.

It's now time for me to turn back.
But I'll return time and again
To the river's edge, on a different night,
I'll make my choice, again and again.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A world of make-believe

She tries too hard, poor child!
She tries hard to fit in; and fails.
She wants to join, but they call her
A square peg in a round hole.

She feels the rejection,
She knows she is different;
She hopes no one notices
How lonely she is.

She makes up stories
That astound her mates;
They crowd 'round her, asking
Her to tell them more.

She loves to see the shock,
The awe, amazement, and
What she thinks is admiration
On her friends' faces.

Soon they realise, her
Wonderful fairy tales are
Merely fantasies cooked up 
By her overworking brain.

And in their little world
Of make-believe and stories
Her fancy no longer has a place.
She's really all alone.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Regret

The face jumped out at me while I was flicking channels. I froze and quickly returned to the news I had just passed, where two images were still displayed on the split screen. The reporter announced in an uninterested tone that the death had taken place that morning. It was sudden. Heart attack. “He was forty-eight.”

The image on the left showed a man with salt and pepper beard, pensive, looking outside the frame of the camera. The right hand photo was from a performance on stage, with the orchestra behind him, his eyes half-closed, his brow lined and lips parted in song. “Award winning singer and composer,” continued the dry voice of the newsreader. The images slid away and she came back on screen, talking about something else. But I didn’t hear another word.

Those were familiar pictures. I had seen them, even when not intending to. Even when I tried not to. These snaps always popped up. He was famous. But he was not, when I knew him.

That faraway look in his eyes in that salt and pepper photo always brought a pang of guilt. Was there a sign of something lost long ago? Was it the remnant of an unexplained, never-understood phase in life that had hardened over time?

At some point in time, should I have called and explained?

Through the years, I had always wondered. Maybe I should have. As time passed, it became difficult, and then impossible. Twenty years later, what guarantee was there that he even remembered?

Of course he remembered. Probably not word to word, probably not to the last tiny detail, and definitely not as vividly as I did. But oh yes, he remembered.

And I remembered because though it seemed the right thing to do at the time, it came back to me day after day, reminding me that I had not handled it well. My decision was justified, my action was not.

I should have explained. If not right away, later, when I came to my senses. Or much later, after things had cooled down. Or maybe, when the first wave of retrospective wisdom washed over me. Perhaps years later, when we met again briefly.

I never did. And now I never will.

Strange how the moment you think nothing is happening in your life, something completely unbelievable turns up. Strange how no matter how hard you try to foresee all possibilities that could happen in the next twenty-four hours, something comes up, totally unpredictable. Every day is unexpected, even when you’re prepared for all kinds of eventuality.

We all know death would come, by and by. We even imagine our lives without the important people of our life. A separation. Grief. Unbearable longing. But when it happens, every preparation seems inadequate. There is a void where a person was. A clean cut. There are no more conversations, no more laughter, nothing more. There are only memories. Everything that you had planned to do with them will not happen, ever.

I could have called.

I should have called.

And now it is too late.

*

Regret

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jealousy

I know jealousy.
I have met her
long ago,
in the guise of Death.

she climbed all over,
clawed at my heart
and ate my brain
for breakfast.

I travelled far;
carried her across,
and returned
with her on my shoulder.

I let her roam,
I let her win.
I savoured the bitterness
she left behind.

She's come and gone
several times hence;
but we've never
become friends.

At the corner yonder
I've encountered her again.
She's climbed on
for another ride...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The gender equality debate

My article, published in The Hindu:

When I was younger, I thought I knew everything there was to know about gender equality. It seemed so straightforward: “If a man can do it, a woman can do it as well.”

Much later, I realised there were entirely different angles to the issue than I had imagined.

A story I recently heard (source forgotten) went like this: In an argument between a man and a woman about this world-famous question of equality, the man said, “If you want to do what a man does, go climb a coconut tree.” Without missing a beat, the woman retorted, “Why don't you go climb one and show me first?” The debate went no further, naturally.

Another incident, this time from my own life. A few years ago a colleague called me up on a Sunday morning and began discussing work. There was something urgent going on. There always is. I listened for a while and said, “Look, it’s a Sunday. I have so many chores to catch up. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Every household task I had left unattended during the previous week was glaring at me. The work week had already been quite hectic, and all I wanted to do was get some sleep.

My colleague replied, only half in jest, “Well, if you want gender equality, you got to work as hard as I do.”

Wait a minute. You mean all the household chores and mommy duties aren’t hard enough? Don't get me started, Mr. Colleague. You aren’t even married yet. He wasn’t worth the argument, anyway, so I left it at that, because if I get launched on the topic, not even I can stop myself. No doubt he gossiped with abandon about my reluctance (as well as his delightful willingness) to work on a Sunday.

When the mother of a five-month-old was eyed with sarcasm because she had to leave “early” (around 9 p.m.) while the entire team worked round-the-clock to manage a crisis, I was unclear how equality was supposed to work in the circumstances. The crisis was a crisis and it had to be resolved at all costs before the dirt hit the fan, but the technical lead could not stay to see it through because there was a different crisis brewing at her home.

“If there is equality,” asks one person, “why do women scientists or entrepreneurs get so much attention? They should be given just as much coverage as any man. Don’t run newspaper special reports on ‘the women behind the success.’”

“The answer is in your question,” I reply. “We aren’t there yet. We’re still on the way. Right now, we focus on the women who stand out, so that more and more are inspired. Then one day we will stop and complain that there are too many women on the scene.”

In my childhood, there were not many lady doctors or women drivers, so every time I met one, I was full of admiration for them. As time passed, we started referring to ‘lady doctors’ as ‘doctors’ — an important transition, because it was no longer necessary to specify whether it was a man or a woman. Drivers are still referred to as a ‘women drivers’ especially if she has parked the wrong way, or if she does not drive fast enough, or if she takes a wrong turn, or if she shows any other kind of incompetence on the road. If it’s a guy, he gets an obscene gesture, that’s all.

I had been too young or too naïve to understand that the roles of men and women are not always interchangeable. Women can do most of the things men do, but not all. And vice versa. I doubt if you would find a man getting pregnant or

giving birth to a child any time soon, equality or no equality. Nonetheless, there’s a middle ground where equal opportunities make sense.

Which is why, later in life, when I saw men being appreciated for “staying through the night at office” (with no mention of productivity) over women who had to leave every evening because they had a family, I knew it was unfair, but I did not know what the solution was.

We have come a long way, though. History tells us that barely half a century ago women were mere shadows, their duties confined to keeping the species from going extinct and keeping their men and children happy. Though there are still places in the world where things haven’t changed much, elsewhere, today, women can vote, and dare to have an opinion, and fly airplanes, and have the freedom to shout or dance in public, and dress as they please (on second thoughts, strike that; let's leave the dress topic for another time).

So far so good.

All this while, in my mind the abstract idea of “a woman can do what a man can” was translated to, “a woman can be as good as a man.”

Wise people have long, long ago figured out what occurred to me merely a few years back. As always, the unexpected wisdom came from a popular television medical drama. A family of five was brought to the hospital in very critical condition. The family members were either dead or unconscious or unable to recall what happened — in other words, apart from the fact that their car shot off a bridge and plunged to the river, no one knew anything. After an emergency surgery performed on one of the patients, one doctor says to another, “The dad was drunk. He must have driven them off the bridge.” The other doctor snaps indignantly. “Why? You don’t think a woman is capable of drunk-driving and killing her family?”

The laddoo finally burst in my mind. Of course! Women can be as bad — or evil, or crooked — as men too. That’s what equality was all about. Not just being “as good”.

One evening a few months ago, when my son and I were returning home in a cab through a bylane with no streetlights, we passed a woman driving a scooter, with one hand off the vehicle, talking on her mobile phone. Yes indeed, if they can break the law, we can too. Whoever said equality was confined to the good things?