Friday, April 26, 2013

Just do it !

In our final year, each one of us was expected to present before the whole class a seminar on any (emergent or ancient, preferably something that is not part of the syllabus) topic related to our subject. Students from other classes were also invited to drop in. The first row would be occupied by the professors of our department. They would ask a couple of questions, a tiny smile playing at the corners of their lips - not too difficult questions usually, but enough to make sure we knew what we were talking about.

To showcase our superior knowledge of the topic, and to pre-empt dangerous questions from the professors, we also followed some valuable practices handed down by generations of seniors. One such was distributing paper slips containing questions to our classmates before the seminar. After we presented the topic, three or four of our friends would innocently read these questions out, hesitating and stuttering and gesturing at the right places so as to appear spontaneous (there would even be question-rehearsals before the seminar), and the seminar presenter would ponder and frown for a second and reply, a picture of confidence and poise, as though the answer had just occurred to him, only because of his profound knowledge of the subject.
The professors' smiles would widen.

Legend has it that generations ago, one particular student approached his professor and said, "Everyone is distributing questions to their friends and pretending to answer them on the spot. What is the point?" The professor's reply, as the story goes, was a shrug: "So? Did we tell you not to distribute questions?"

Everyone knew it was drama all the time, but it was done nonetheless, because it had always been, and because it served a purpose. The idea was to appear knowledgeable, confident, thorough, up-to-date,  competent and a number of other things. If drama was the order of the day, you better perform well. Besides, if no questions were raised by the students, the assumption could be that no one understood a word of what was said. Which would reflect quite badly on your seminar marks. Rather than have the students listen to the seminar (no one listens, anyway) and come up with real doubts, it was wiser to give good and safe ones beforehand. And finally, if everyone else did it and you didn't, you would appear odd, again not in a positive way, and who could tell how that would affect your marks?
This way, everyone was safe.

So what is the moral of the story?
I am not sure there is (or should be) a moral to this story. And no, it is not that you should pass slips to fool your peers and bosses or to get ahead.

Perhaps it could be read this way: Even though everyone knows you do something that makes you feel good or look terrific or become more confident or be inspired, do it anyway ( as long as it is nothing dishonest!! ).

Just do it. (Nike obviously knew what they were talking about.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mumbai Diary: Summer

Girgaum Chowpatty. Image by R R Pappadi

Heat, heat, heat.
The word circles within your head and ricochets off the walls of your skull. You are normally oblivious to everything else but the heat. It gets into your thoughts even when you are doing something a million times more important, and drives you crazy.

The heat hovers below your eyes when you read, slides off your nose while you watch TV, dances on your head while you work. It gets under your skin and squeezes out perspiration that could be collected in buckets. It seeps into your blood and boils until you begin to have hallucinations about blue swimming pools and breath-taking waterfalls and lashing sea waves and refreshing rivers, and you imagine jumping into them and vanishing into their depths where Summer does not exist.

You think about nothing else when you sit in air conditioned rooms: "God, how hot it is outside!"
You talk about nothing else when you meet acquaintances: "How's the heat, by the way?" you ask. They shake their heads and wipe their necks with their handkerchiefs or the edge of their saree, "Unbearable."
When you aren't thinking of heat, you occupy yourself with an abundance of worries on global warming and the vanishing ozone layer and the depleting water table.

Even when the next most popular summer obsession, IPL, is underway, the thought of heat floats like a halo around your head. "What a shot! Oofff, isn't it hot!"

If you are unfortunate enough to be on the road during the day, you get to witness dust hopping off the ground and heat waves rising from asphalt. Car and scooter seats left idle under the sun attain boiling point within seconds.

The sea, lapping up the Mumbai shores, tempt and tease people until they throw themselves into it.
Delicious mangoes and other fruits lining the fruit stalls provide momentary relief, but the heat still creeps up your skin and numbs your senses.

You wish to take a twenty-four hour long shower every day, and you emerge from the bathroom bathed in sweat as though the encounter with water had never happened.

Bottles of drinking water empty before your eyes, and you refuse to believe that you are the one who emptied them.

If you make the mistake of sleeping during the day time, the heat sneaks into your dreams and turns them into nightmares about people you had wanted to forget, exams you had written decades ago, places you had run away from, and images you believed were erased long ago.


But after a sizzling April-May comes the fabled Mumbai monsoon, the non-stop torrent that drowns the city as if with an apology for leaving it unattended while the heat devoured everyone, and sets everything right - or upside down? - once again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Flight

I'm prepared to fly,
My face against the wind.
The passion for the sky
Can't be kept within.

I'm prepared to sail
Deeper, unknown waters;
The joys of quest prevail,
The journey is what matters.

To soar among the eagles,
Sail beyond the seas,
Rise above the mountains,
Float amidst the clouds.

Wings are tired but steady,
Feet firm on the ground.
Stars shine in my eyes,
And raindrops in my hair.

There is a world beyond-
Across the frontiers unseen:
The sun never does set,
Nor the moon does wane.

I'm prepared to fly
Seeking newer meadows;
The past within my grip,
The future within reach.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Walking Backwards

We are all like that chap going backwards on a horse in the Old Spice ad. We move forward, but our eyes are always on our past. We face our future and plan for the morrow but our thoughts are in the yesterday. We join the dots from the day we were born, and hold on to that thread as we journey into our destiny. If the thread breaks, we cannot reconnect the dots again; we are lost.

Every night and every day in our mind we replay scenes from the days that are gone. Every new person we meet reminds us of someone else we used to know - either they are so alike, or they are so different. Every dream, every nightmare is a mix of our experiences so far in life. Every new sight reminds us of those that are behind us.
Something I did yesterday.
Something that had happened to me in childhood.
Something my child said when he was two years old.
Something our parents taught us in our teenage.
Something my mother said had happened to her in her childhood.
"I remember the time..."

The past is our reference book, our almanac, our dictionary, our thesaurus, our diary, our handbook, our newspaper.
It is the railings that we hold on to for dear life.
Without it, we cannot go on, we are unable to connect the dots of our present and future.
The present slips so quickly into those pages, adding to the infinite source of our memories, punching another dot in the thread, providing guidance as we travel on...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Child's Life

I wonder why people say children have an easy life.

I don't think my life was easy as a child, a teenager, or an adult. I kept hearing this statement from elders that my life is 'easy', and I thought either there is something wrong with me, or my easy days are right behind the corner over yonder, and they will be here any moment now. They never arrived.

I disliked homework, I feared exams, I had nightmares about boys and girls who bullied me, I was terrified of some teachers, I dreaded lunch hour, I hated the kids who mocked me, I was jealous of some others, I was afraid my friends would abandon me, I... Well, the only good thing I can remember is the vacation, but they always ended too soon.

Life isn't easy at any stage. It's just that when we look back, it seems easier.

I don't think my son's life is simple either. When I pull him up from bed in the morning, he snuggles deeper into the blanket and says, "let me sleep some more." I would have to pull and prod him out of it, get him to wash his face in cold water and make him swallow a little something before the school bus arrives. When he was in Kindergarten, I would watch him struggle to manoeuvre his pencil (with his tongue sticking out) to make a 'C' or a 'D', and do you know how tough a 'G' is! He would almost give up and say "I cannot do it". Ask him if his life is easy.

He has to learn multiplication tables, he cannot play with some friends because they are "not talking to him today", he cannot play football in the position he likes because someone else (usually an older boy) has taken it first. He has to wash and eat and sleep and read whenever he is asked to, even if he wants to play or watch TV, and if he doesn't come back home after play at a certain hour, well, he knows what will happen.

He cannot eat what he likes because it is 'junk', he is forced to eat what he thinks is bland. He has to write with pencil when the rest of the world uses pens. He cannot sit late watching TV (though his parents can) because he has to 'get up for school early tomorrow' and in the morning he cannot crawl back into bed and say 'I will call in sick today' or 'I will tell my teacher I am on a half-day leave' or 'I will go one hour late because we follow flexible timings at school'. When his teacher asks him to do his writing in class, he cannot say, 'I will work from home tonight and finish it.'

He is expected to participate in drama, arts, sports, music, even though he doesn't fancy some of them. He wants to play football twenty-four hours a day, but he cannot because the adults around him expect him to also learn the alphabet and numbers and addition and subtraction and the solar system. When he wants to do paper-cutting he is asked to do homework, when he wants to watch TV, it is time to go to bed. He looks at the word 'building' and reads it as 'duilbing' because even at seven years he is confused between 'b' and 'd', thus giving everyone a chance to laugh at him.

And this is only a glimpse of the iceberg that a child's life is. Now you tell me whose life is easier.

Tell a child about loans and he would ask you, "Don't you have  a job? Don't you have money? Just pay the loans, what's the big deal?"
Tell him adulthood means many responsibilities and he will ask, "If responsibilities mean things you have to do, why don't you just do them?"
Tell him about relationships and he will say, "Be friends with them if you like them. Don't talk to them if you don't like them."
Tell him about the pressures of managing a career and he will stare at you: "You mean it is as bad as homework?"
Tell him about the travails of parenthood, he will say, "It looks easy enough to me, you get your way all the time."
Tell him about your worries and he would ask, "Are you afraid of something that resides in your head?"

Remember, the little ones have not even heard of the late night parties and hangovers that adults employ to tide over the agonies of life.

But I do see why forty- or fifty-year olds keep insisting that a child's life is easy and that they would like to return to those days. The keyword here is 'return' - I had missed it totally.

They want to return to Kindergarten as adults, plant their big bodies amidst the real Kindergartners - the little ones battling with 'C', 'G' and 'D' with their tongues sticking out - and they can show off their writing skills to the wide-eyed four year olds and win with their hands down. They will be the class toppers, they will be the bullies, they will be champions, they will be the masters of the group. Yeah, that would really be the kind of return (and easy life) we can hope for.

But be a child again and learn how to hold a pencil and combat the alphabet and tackle the multiplication tables and learn the days of the week and be bullied, start it all from scratch?
I don't think that's easy at all...
So the next time you look at a child and sigh - think again.