Category Archives: Essays

Picture Perfect

What I write today may stir up emotions and ruffle a few feathers when you read but I think there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves, now more than ever.

 

Picture Perfect

A few years ago, after the horrendous carnage in Newtown, I actively gave up reading the newspaper and watching TV news channels. In my view, these platforms only spewed a constant barrage of negativity which affected me deeply. Though I realized withdrawing from them would not put an end to these bone chilling acts of hatred and violence, it was the only thing I could do to insulate myself from a cruel world. I needed an informant who would be a harbinger of good news as well as keep me abreast of current events. So, I tuned in to Facebook instead.

Every morning, I sat with my chai to scroll through the news feed on FB just as I had with ‘The Times’ during my growing up years.  I wished friends who had birthdays and anniversaries, congratulated parents on new births and children’s achievements, gave a thumbs up to loveable family pictures and also went through posts that socially conscious friends put up on global happenings. It felt good to see smiling faces in the morning and every time that I checked in through the day. Of course, I would be lying if I did not admit that there were instances when the green monster whispered into my ears, “Look at them and look at you.” Overall though, it was truly enjoyable and addictive.

Then one day, I posted a picture of my puppy, Leo, and me. While I napped on the sofa, my little fuzzball cozied up to me and took his siesta on my head. His white fur on my shiny black hair, the two of us with our eyes closed, lost to the world around us, made for a delightful snapshot my family could not resist capturing. It was one of those ‘Awwwwww’ moments that rang in quite a few likes and comments that were flattering. The photograph was captioned ‘Happiness’, though the moments prior, that had led me to take the nap were far from happy. I was exhausted trying to housetrain my furry munchkin. Just that morning, I had taken him on a couple of hour-long walks. While he bounced on the grass, sniffed the myriad smells that wafted through the air outside and chased butterflies, he chose to pee on my carpet. Each time we returned from our stroll, he would look at me , a defiant, naughty gaze,  that spoke “Thank you for the good time, ma’am but no spot in the world is as nice as your carpet” and pee right there. Darn! At that moment if anyone had remarked on Leo’s cuteness quotient I would be the one that barked, “Take him, please! I will even pay you the rehoming fee!” Right before I dozed off that day, I wondered why I had not just agreed, but insisted on bringing a puppy home.

So you see, the post ‘Happiness’ did not portray the entire story. It was a depiction of that one blissful moment in a chaotic scenario – a half truth. I chose to reveal only what I thought was appealing. If my family had taken a video of me – high-strung, nostrils flared running around the house with an Arm and Hammer spray and a tissue roll, shrieking “LEO, NO!” in a high-pitched voice, would I have posted it? It would have been embarrassing. That got me thinking. Wasn’t that true of so many posts out there? We are careful to showcase just the perfect moments on social media because we all deeply harbor the belief that feeling out of control is a sign of failure which in turn is an embarrassment.

Though when I look back at my life it is the very moments of frustration, failure and rejection that have toughened me up. That is when I have wandered through the deep chasms within my heart and discovered a treasure trove of strength. Dark times always stoke the warrior within a person then why we are so afraid of them? While we glorify and celebrate our triumphs we also need to acknowledge and accept our failure and teach our children likewise.

In the recent past, I remembered reading a post which was a poem that a husband had dedicated to his wife of 25 years on their anniversary. The poem oozed of the sweetness of their love. It was a beautiful and thoughtful gesture, yet I wondered if the husband had not professed his feelings on FB, would the nature of their love have changed? Not really, right? If the way you feel about someone you love changes because you post it on social media, then you are on rocky ground. If you have been married for longer than two months, you know that in a marriage, even a good one, there do come dreadful times when you wish you were Harry Potter and could silence your spouse with a flick of the wrist and the spell ‘SILENCIO!’  It is the way a couple navigates these turbulent times that defines their strength. Yet, we avoid these moments and always paint a rosy picture. Not that we need to wash our dirty linen in public, but we don’t always have to pretend.  When we flash our best smile for a selfie though we may be weeping within, we reinforce the message to our children that we need to put on a mask of happiness all the time.

Social media is a wonderful platform to reach out to people, raise awareness, connect hearts and rekindle friendships. I myself may not have found success as a writer if not for blogging, parenting websites and FB.  And we certainly do not need to stop sharing happy times.  After all, in this world we all do need our daily dose of good news. But our children also need to fail to grow and they need to know that they are loved despite their tantrums, their mistakes and their shortcomings. There is a growing obsession, almost a compulsive need, amongst the young to have fun and post it on social media. These children must learn the whole truth. Pleasure and pain, ups and downs, success and failure are two sides of the same coin and most importantly social media is a tool not the reason to live.

As for Leo, that was just one rough day. I now suspect that he loves me more than my children do so he is not going anywhere 😊.

 

 

 

 

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When Diwali met Halloween

 

When Diwali met Halloween – an Indo-American mother’s quest for meaning.

 

Many years ago…

I was a young mother who walked a tightrope to find the cultural balance between my deep immigrant roots and my widespread American branches. My endeavor was to imbibe and portray just the right amount of Indian-ness to be cool (aka Deepak Chopra) and to fit snugly into both the cultural spheres. Neither did I want to risk being labelled a boorish ‘Desi’* nor did I want my kids to grow up to be befuddled ‘ABCD’s.’*

In my naivety, I held the notion that a child who was a perfect blend of both the cultures would flawlessly recite at least a few shlokas* in an American accent, fluently speak their mother tongue and another foreign language, be skilled in a form of Indian classical dance or music while playing a sport and being part of the orchestra or a band in school. It was not enough that I nurtured my precious saplings to grow roots that touched a layer of their Indian heritage, they had to be deep enough to reach the layers of their South Indian, TamBrahm, Iyer core. And their branches, well they had to be strong enough to bear the crown of an Ivy league education. We celebrated Christmas, Pongal, Easter, Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri, Diwali, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Life was just a blur as I sped from one class to another, one event to another. Never once did I even stop to think if I was passing on the true essence of being human to the kids.

And then a few years ago…

Diwali and Halloween fell on the same day of the year. Two important festivals with completely contrasting rituals. One symbolized by all things bright and the other with most things dark. Yet, Diwali was the most important festival of the year to someone from India and that year in my heart, in the battle between the roots and the branches, the roots reigned. After all, cut the roots of a tree and you uproot it, cut a few branches, the tree still stands I concluded.

“No Halloween decorations this year, kids,” I announced.

“Why not?” my seven-year-old son asked, sullen and disappointed.

“We cannot have skeletons and cobwebs outside our house on Diwali. More so at a time when the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi visits us. The house, the porch and the yard must be clean. We need to have diyas*, lanterns and a kolam*on the front porch to entice the Goddess.”

“What do you mean visits us? Isn’t her idol in the Pooja room? Doesn’t Thatha* pray to her every day? Hey, you do a Lakshmi Pooja every Friday too, don’t you?”

“Hmmm…yes, the act of inviting the Goddess into our home is symbolic. Somehow it doesn’t feel right to have a skeleton hanging out on the porch on that day.”

“Heeyyy!’’ said my son, having a light bulb moment. “Maybe the skeletons and witches will symbolically prevent her from leaving the house! Then you don’t have to worry about inviting her in. Wait, does that mean I cannot go trick or treating either?”

“I’ll let you go for an hour. But not as a ghost or the devil or a blood sucking vampire. You need to be home before it’s dark and we light the diyas.”

 

“WHAT!!! That’s when the fun starts! And it’s just a costume, Mom. I’m not going to turn into the devil just because I dress up like one! Gawd! I hate being Indian! Do we have to go to a fancy Diwali party too?”

“Dude, maybe you can go as Raj from the Big Bang Theory. Kill two birds with one stone. You can wear your new Indian clothes and they can double up as a costume too,” retorted my eleven-year-old daughter with a sheepish grin. “And mom, maybe you can distribute ladoos* instead of candy to all the children who come trick or treating.”

“Are you making fun of me? Huh?” I turned red with anger. It wasn’t easy trying to find the balance.

“Mom, chill” said my daughter “I don’t really care for either Diwali or Halloween. I’m agnostic.”

‘Agnostic! Such a strong word for a child. Oh my, what a failure I was. One child did not believe in God and the other hated his roots. What would all my friends think? My kids had given up learning classical music a couple years ago. The shloka classes at the temple had not worked out and now this. What was I doing?’

That evening, I thought hard about the values I wanted to pass on to my kids. What did it mean to be Indo-American? Why did it matter so much to me that my kids were the perfect blend of two cultures? And the answer bitter and true came to me – It mattered only because I wanted the world to applaud the way I raised my kids. I imposed my way of thinking on my children just so that I would be known as a good mother. That night I set out on a quest – a spiritual quest in search of what truly mattered.

I ruminated on my own experiences as a child. Growing up, I had not visited too many temples because every time that I did, I had gotten the nagging feeling that this was not the whole truth. The occasional times when I did visit the temple, I rang the bell, did my namaskars and the pradikshinas* as I was supposed to though there was a sense of emptiness to the way I did it. There had to be more to God than just bowing down to Him occasionally at the temple or at home. Why was it that so many people who claimed themselves to be ardent devotees still had no grasp over their fears, their anger, their hatred or their pride? Why did some of the pundits who were well versed with the scriptures consider themselves superior? Wouldn’t having the knowledge of finding God make one humble? A lot of it did not fall into place for me but I was too busy being a teenager to dwell on it.

Once I got married, I did not question these ways. All I wanted was to be a good wife, daughter-in-law and mother. So, I took the kids to the temple and celebrated every Indian festival the traditional way not because I found divinity in our customs but because I believed this was what I had to do to play my role well. A good mother taught her children about God though in my case I tried to do so with a shallow understanding of it. Until that evening, when the nagging feeling came back – there had to be more.

Days, weeks, months went by. I spent a lot of my time listening to lectures by spiritual greats. I listened to Sadhguru while folding the laundry, T T K Rangarajan while chopping the vegetables, Sister Shivani before going to bed. Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nat Hahn, Louis Hay and Paulo Coello had long replaced John Grisham and James Patterson on my bookshelf. I meditated regularly. Slowly, the layers began to peel off and I saw myself for the befuddled mess that I was.

Though I could not bring myself to follow any one guru, I borrowed from each one’s arsenal. The deeper I delved into my quest, the clearer it got. Though each guru’s background, experience and their way of imparting knowledge was different, their message was the same. Divinity resides within each of us. No one was greater than the other, no religion or tradition was greater than the other. Maybe that is why the emptiness I experienced earlier made way for a sense of calm and completeness when I meditated, when I sat in silence and looked inwards. This was the real thing. Nothing else mattered. Everything I saw around me was a manifestation of divine energy. Every creature, every flower, every tree…And then when I looked at life in this new light I was spellbound. I found beauty in the call of the Azan, the prayer of a priest, the chants in Buddhism and Sanskrit shlokas. Though I still haven’t visited too many places of worship I have no doubt I will find the same sense of peace in a temple, a gurudwara, a church or a mosque.

Looking back, I also realized that I have experienced the grace often in my life. When my daughter as a one-year old had to undergo a difficult surgery, when my mother underwent a series of serious health issues and at many other troubled times. Though at those times, I was looking at faith as as a belief in a big, miraculous entity outside of myself.

And these days…

I know faith is a seed sown within oneself. I understand that rituals are meaningful if done with a deeper sense of understanding and I am fascinated by the science behind some of our ancient customs. In a way, I learnt it backwards though I also truly believe that a simple prayer said from the heart is far more effective than the habitual recitation from the scripture. I do not have all the answers yet and will probably not in this lifetime but I know I am on the right path.

As for the kids, the only thing I will pass on to them is that the essence of having Indian roots is to have a great deal of tolerance and the essence of being American is to have freedom to be who you are. In a nutshell, the essence of being Indo-American is the same as being human – to have compassion for and to respect another. The rest, the kids could learn in their own way on their own spiritual journeys through their own life experiences.

Kahlil Gibran was right when he said we can give our love to our children but not our thoughts.

And if in the future…

If Diwali and Halloween fall on the same day, I will light diyas to symbolize the divine light within each of us that can extinguish ignorance, I will allow my son to wear his scary costume with the hope his fears of the unknown are banished and as for the skeleton, he can stay alongside the kolam and pumpkins to signify the death of a dreary tiger mom.

  • Vidya Murlidhar.

 

* Desi – a person of Indian descent

*ABCD – acronym for American Born Confused Desi

* Diya – earthern lamps.

*Kolam – A geometric pattern made with rice flour in the courtyard or porch thought to bring good luck

*Thatha – grandfather

*Ladoo – an Indian sweet that could be made from various different flours and shaped like balls.

*pradakshinas – walking around in a circle around an idol, circumambulation of sacred places.

 

 

If you have reached this far 🙂 I write this knowing that not everyone will agree with my reflections but I do hope it starts a meaningful discussion in what does seem right to you.. Do share your musings in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Encounter with Mamta Singh

 

 

 

One of my favorite things to do when I visit my home town is to go for a walk to the nearby ‘Baniya’ store- Glory Center. The walk is pure nostalgia bringing back memories of the joyful times my teenage buddies and I ceremoniously gathered together every evening and trudged to the store. Often, there was not much to buy yet we walked to the store and back cheerfully conversing with each other about the happenings of the day. As they say it is the journey that matters, not the destination. On our way back we would sit on small stony structure, aka ‘The Rock’ where we spoke to our heart’s content on things that truly mattered to us then – boys, college, dreams, food, movies -wait-did I mention boys?

On one of my visits to Mumbai, I was on my nostalgic walk, the day before I had to return to the US and that’s when I met her- Mamta Singh. This time I was alone, humming a happy tune and wishing for some more time in this place I loved so much. Suddenly I heard a shrill, nasal voice call out to me. That voice- it could only belong to….

“Mamta?”

“Hiiiiii..” she said grinning. “Wow! So nice to see you re. You haven’t changed a bit. You are just I like I saw you the last time we met!”

“Thank you.”  The last time we met was 25 years ago. Images of a skinny fifteen-year-old me in two oily braids and clothes picked up from ‘Fashion Street’ came to my mind. (Fortunately, braces were not as common then or else I would have had them too.) I shuddered at the image. I hoped I had changed for the better or else it meant that I had not aged gracefully. She, on the other hand, looked ravishing. Was this the same anxiety ridden Mamta who spent every night before an English or Math paper at my place crying and worried she would fail? Now she oozed confidence and grace in her stylish blouse, snugly fit trousers and chunky bracelets.

“Mamta, you look gorgeous!” I said as I wrapped my plumpish arms around her slender frame to give her a hug. She looked at me adoringly for a minute. Her expression quickly changed to one of surprise.

“What happened to your hair, Vidya? It used to be so lustrous and thick- Dimple Kapadia and Crowning Glory types!”

Oh no! Did I look like a balding fifteen-year-old?  At least I did not the last time that I had looked at myself in the mirror which was not too long ago.

“Childbirth”- I grinned. “I lost a lot of hair after my son was born and they never really grew back.”

“You need to take better care of yourself,” she admonished hinting at the muffin top belly peeking out from over the belted trousers.

Che! I should not have worn these old low waist jeans today.

“So what do you do? You live in the States right?”

“I am a stay-at-home mom.”

“You stay home? But you were such a good student. I always came to you for help?” she smirked.

I remember that.

“I stayed home for a bit after my son was born. It really got to me. The cooking, the cleaning…. work at home never ends and everyone takes you for granted. Seemed like such a waste of time. I realized any maid would gladly do all of the work I did at home for an additional 2000 bucks so I went back to work. I head the design department at M&S now.”

And just like that she dismissed my life. Three C’s- cooking, cleaning and chauffeuring were the story of my life. Was my story worth just a few thousand bucks? There had to be something more.

“Er…I write, sometimes” I murmured as an afterthought.

“Really? Have you published anything?”

“Not yet but I have been working on a children’s picture book.”

“Oh! ” she said not very impressed “You remember Leena Patel from class XA? She is in California. She’s a doctor and she has a nanny to take care of the home front. You should do that too.”

She gave me a quick embrace. “Chalo…I’ve got to run. I had a little time so I just dropped in at mom’s place to say hello. My son has a swim lesson and the driver has to drop me off at home before he takes him for the class. It was so nice seeing you. You take care. Let me know if your book gets published. And get a nanny” She said wiggling her finger.

As I trudged back home I wondered, ‘Had I just wasted my talents, abilities and time the past eighteen years by not pursuing a career? Mamta was right when she spoke of the never-ending chores and being taken for granted. What had I based my life choices on? Did I stay home because I did not have a choice or was it because I had grown up in a culture where motherhood was the embodiment of sacrifice and I believed that was what a good mother did? Had I lost myself, become complacent and lost the drive to succeed? What was I doing with my life? Sigh, I needed to sit on the rock to dwell.’

To my dismay, I realized the space where our beautiful rock used to be had been converted to a parking space. I trudged some more and sat on the stairs outside the apartment I grew up in. As I dwelled on the subject it dawned on me that the problem was we measured our worth by how successful we were. While jobs, promotions and perks defined a woman’s success outside the home, there were no tangible standards for a mother to measure her worth at home which is why she often based her worthiness on how well her children performed. How often have we heard a mother quip, ‘ I must have done something right’ when her child wins an award of some kind or beat herself up if her children fumble in life or make mistakes Yet, it does not always work to measure yourself based on how another’s life shapes up and it is is so wrong. Every child comes into this world with his own Karma, with his own purpose to carve his own destiny that really does not depend too much on whether his mother stays home or chooses to pursue a career. What does matter though is how happy the mother is with the choices she makes. A mother who is fulfilled will be better equipped to address her child’s needs. If she chooses to stay home because it is the noble thing to do but is frustrated because it does not fulfill her enough, her choice seems like a huge sacrifice and often then she would probably push her kids to achieve her dreams to make herself feel worthy. Not a good scenario to raise children. On the other hand, if a mother chooses to work because she thinks she has to prove herself but feels guilty, she exhausts herself trying to find the balance and do more than is necessary for the kids just to overcome the guilt.  Another unfavorable scenario.

A woman then needs to choose a path that feels right to her, not one that is defined by societal expectations. You see, the essence of every moment is the same. Every moment is a divine gift. A life is truly worthy if these divine moments are used to bring joy to oneself. What you do with your time does not matter, how you do it, your attitude is what makes it worthy. Mamta was right in pursuing a career if that is what she loved to do and outsourcing the chores she detested but would that choice have worked for me?

I asked myself what drove me every morning to wake up and go about my day?

There was silence for a minute and then came a clear reply – I simply loved the way I spent my time! I loved cooking for the people who mattered to me -the spices, the flavors, the colors, the aromas coming together absolutely made my heart tingle. I experimented wildly in the kitchen with various cuisines, various grains and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Would I be happy then as a chef in a Michelin starred restaurant? Absolutely not! Cooking for my loved ones was joy, cooking for people I did not know seemed like a chore.

As I proceeded to think about the other activities that filled my day it dawned on me that I enjoyed most of them. I meditated every day, baked frequently, read on topics that fascinated me, penned words from my heart, did a little gardening, took dancing lessons with a bunch of wonderful people and spent a lot of time talking to my teenage kids. The monetary benefit of these activities equaled zilch but the happiness they brought me were incomparable. Though, of course, investing so much time at home truly did not translate to my family being perfect. We were just as flawed as any other family. They did take me for granted at times but that did not take away the fact that I loved what I did. There were no world changing or lifesaving inventions to my credit but I contributed by adding one happy person to this troubled world.  I had certainly not lost myself in raising a family. In fact, I had found myself so this path was right for me.

I was also fortunate that I had the choice, we were financially comfortable. We had a beautiful house that offered me the space to do everything I loved. Going to work would bring in more moola, more branded stuff and exotic vacations but it would also take away time from doing the things I enjoyed.

Someday the kids would leave the nest and I would have more time at hand. Someday then my book would be published and maybe even feature in Oprah’s book club. Someday…. but for now, things were just perfect.

Pondering done, I stepped into my childhood home to the warmth and happy faces of my parents and my older brother. Here were three people who had taught me what a loving family is all about and I would be forever indebted to them and to Mamta Singh for kindling the search within.

-Vidya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Young Ones

This is an insight into teenage anxiety and depression. I am no expert but do hope this article will throw some light on the illness that plagues many. This is a complex issue and what I have outlined is just a framework that I hope will get people to start difficult conversations and help children and families they know without judgement. I may be wrong and if I am please feel free to correct me and carry on the discussion. We need to take away the stigma that is associated with mental illness as it affects far more children and families than we think and it does not have to be this way.

The Young Ones.

Ah!!! The glorious days of teenage…. Of fun, frolic, first loves and fast friends. Of being footloose and carefree. However old you may be while reading this, does not the sound of the word bring back the image of a young John Travolta swinging to foot tapping music, a beautiful sixteen-year-old Liselle going on seventeen or the boyishly dashing Aamir Khan dreamily singing ‘Pehlaa Nasha’ to the glamorous Pooja Bedi? An age that could completely be described by the stars in Archie’s eyes and ‘BOING’. An age in our timelines when hours idling around with friends filled our lives. When going to college to get an education was expected of us yet it did not consume us.  When we laughed wholeheartedly, not a care in the world, we ate to our heart’s content, not a worry in our hearts. When walks to our school were as important as the learning we did in school and heartfelt conversations with buddies were as important as homework. An idyllic life….

Are you all warm and fuzzy on the inside, friends? Maybe some of you are even humming ‘Summer Holiday’ or ‘Yellow Submarine’. Now that you are all cozied up, let me proceed to tell you the real reason behind penning my thoughts.

Sadly, like the dinosaurs who once roamed the earth, teenage as we knew it is now extinct. Today our children go through a phase of life that could better be described as teenache. A recent article in the Times quotes that there at least 3 million adolescents in the ages of 12 to 17 who have had at least one major depressive order in the past year and 6.3 million teens aged 13 to 18 who have had an anxiety disorder. These numbers maybe representative of the US population but it is a well-known fact that children across the globe are angst ridden. Not knowing how to deal with this agony within, more and more kids now resort to drugs, alcohol, cutting themselves and suicide. Heartbreaking, isn’t it? At an age where our kids need to experience the feeling of ecstasy that stems from living in the moment without any worries, they are infusing themselves with drugs to mimic the joy. What troubles them so? What are they anxious about? What is the root of this sadness? Here is my take on it….

One of the factors is the fact that we place too much emphasis on the analysis and production of geniuses. Children have an innate curiosity and an ability to learn spontaneously from the environment. Give them a blank sheet of paper and a few colored pencils and a child will produce a work of art that’s straight from the heart. A simple stimulus will produce a natural response. Yet these days we give them complex doodling mechanisms that promises us parents that our children will be young Picassos by the age of three. We give them toys that proclaim that if our children just push the right buttons on them, their brains will develop like Einstein or Mozart or Rembrandt or better still all three. We overstimulate and have altered the way they learn. The pressure starts here, my friends. Even as babies we send subtle signals to our children that they need to perform.

By the time, they are older and are enrolled in kumon, ballet, karate, art, sports and music, the signals are very clear. Though these classes exist to enhance their lives, in reality they are a fertile ground for breeding competitive parents. It’s not enough that the kids are learning a skill, they need to amount to something.  A child no longer swims just because he likes to or plays the violin because he wants to. He does it to make it into varsity teams or national level orchestras.

This is a brilliant generation of kids, my friends. Their ability to grasp and multitask is remarkable. Doesn’t it awe you when you see a child with tiny fingers deftly navigating a smartphone, a four-year-old effortlessly playing Bach on the piano or a thirteen-year-old teeing off with professionals on the golf course? There is immense talent yet this is a generation caught at the crossroads of cutting edge technology and our traditional ways. They need to excel in traditional academics and the arts while polishing soft skills needed to keep up with social media. They must be confident and know how to present themselves in the real world while being tech savvy and photogenic in the digital. The pressure on them is enormous. Have you noticed how children these days resemble beasts of burden as they carry their gigantic backpacks to school? It’s not the just the size of the books but the enormous content of the various subjects that weigh them down too. From literature to calculus, information is fed to them not only from the textbooks but various online platforms as well.  Could Information explosion be weighing them down?

To top it all, children of first generation immigrants are said to be ‘good’ kids only if they imbibe the culture of the place their parents migrated from. Nothing wrong with staying connected to their roots, but the connection should be natural, not imposed. Countless regional societies have sprouted with the intention of creating a pseudo-environment of the culture parents grew up in. It is truly wonderful to expose the richness and diversity of the fine arts and literature of our ancient cultures, but to think that just by learning the music or a dance form or attending weekend get togethers will make them think like the way we do or ‘desi’fy them is wrong. It will not work because these kids are growing up in an age where the entire world is their playground. The boundaries that define their identities are hazy. We grew up in the pre-internet era, isolated from the rest of the world. Our identities were closely tied to the place we grew up in, the way of life in that region, the kind of food made there and the language spoken. When I was growing up, burgers were food that only symbolized Jughead and America. Now, McDonald’s is a household name in India. You could now live in India and lay tacos on the dinner table or live the US and have paneer tikka for dinner. A high school child of Turkish immigrants watching ‘Anime’ or listening to K-pop does not see himself as any different from his neighbor, a child of Japanese immigrants watching and listening to the same thing and better still, a young girl in the US watching Priyanka Chopra on ‘Quantico’ sees the same role model as does a teen in Asia. Picture a geek and the cast of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ comes foremost to the mind of every kid in any part of the world. There are no borders.

That is also the reason why these kids feel the impact of events happening on the other side of the world. The Iran-Iraq war raged on for much of my childhood but it did not affect me greatly. What your eyes cannot see, your mind does not know. Yet today, the mob molestation in a major city in India evokes fear and rage in the mind of every young woman halfway across the globe. The picture of a little boy battered and bruised in the war in Aleppo stirred sadness in many tender hearts around the world. Every day the world gives our kids a reason to be sad.

Our kids have open minds and open hearts and an ability to accept people as they are. Much of their anguish comes from the duality in today’s world. What they feel in their hearts- a connection to people who are physically distant and what they see- adults fighting over color, race, religion confuses them. The divisive and bitter nature of our politics, the hatred in the words and deeds of adults in the name of God angers them. As if this is not enough, in all the chaos we repeatedly make the point that they need to stand out and carve a niche for themselves. As Time magazine rightly says, ‘If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it.’

Well, how do we undo what we’ve done? Technology is here to stay but our mindsets need to change.

  1. We need to start thinking like our children with open hearts and open minds. Accept people as they are. Do not judge people on their origins, color, race or orientation. Our children don’t.
  2. Love our children for who they are. Let them know that having a perfect 4.0 GPA does not define them, the sparkle in their eyes and the lilt in their laughter does. Let them do things that they love not to add to their resume but because they enjoy it. The Beatles were right when they sang ‘All you need is love.’
  3. Take a vow together to take life less seriously. Let them be goofy and take a few minutes to laugh with them each day. Every day the world gives our kids a reason to be sad. Hold them tight and let them know there are plenty of reasons to be happy too. A mind capable of producing sadness is equally capable of producing happiness.Exercise, meditation(if they are open to it), spending time together or mastering the fine art of doing nothing are great tools to be happy. A teen who feels loved will not resort to harming themselves in any way.
  4. Pursue excellence, not perfection. Each day that you grow as a person and work on stuff you are passionate about, you are excelling. Perfection does not exist.
  5. Do not worry about the richness of our culture getting lost. The Internet has opened its doors as never before. Recently, I saw a video of Dutch children reciting verses from the Bhagvad Gita. It does not get any better than this. Spread the wonder to whoever is willing to learn. Teach your children your language, your art as you would to any other child, to enrich their life and not because you want them to grow up like you did.

Life is beautiful, my friends. Neither you nor your children need to be in pursuit of achievements or fill up your calendars with a must do list to add value to your life. As the wise men say ‘You are enough.’

I leave you with the words of a beautiful song I grew up listening to- ‘The Young ones’ by Cliff Richard.

“The young ones

Darling we’re the young ones

And young ones shouldn’t be afraid.

To live, love

While the flame is strong

For we may not be the young ones very long.

Tomorrow,

Why wait until tomorrow.

Tomorrow sometimes never comes

So love me,

There’s a song to be sung

And the best time is to sing it while we’re young.”

 

-Vidya.

 

 

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The Gift

 

 

Dedicated to my beautiful children Nidhi and Varun, my adorable nieces Aditi and Saatvi and my lovable nephews Adi, Giri and Shashi. Love you guys!

 

The Gift.

I was overwhelmed. The holidays usually did that to me. There always came a time in the frenzied activity around the planning  for the perfect getaway or a perfect get together, the perfect holiday family picture, buying the right gifts for the right people, putting up the lights and tree and doing our bit for charity when I had had enough. Strangely, this year it was not the feeling of being ‘Queen Bee’ that got to me. Quite the contrary, a feeling of emptiness flooded my heart.

A few events on the personal front (call it life, if you may) over the past few months had usurped my time and sapped my energy. Before I knew it, it was Christmas eve. We had not put up the tree. There were no lights, no gifts, no parties, no picture and there definitely was no vacation. The holidays were going to be a train to Nowhere land for my children. Was I a lousy mother? I had let myself get so preoccupied with the changes in my life that I had forgotten to plan the fun.

My children were teenagers now. I had wanted the few years before they left the nest to be filled with memorable bonding times.Memories of a sparkly, inviting home, days spent on an unforgettable cruise and lavish parties needed to be engraved on their minds. Times they would look back to fondly, when they were older. Of course, since they were teenagers, they would be equally content if they had just their phones around. All the more reason for a mother to plan constructive activities that sealed family ties and grounded them into reality. Yet here we were, faced with the possibility of nothing fun to do in the most happening time of the year.The thought of creating holiday  memories of just watching TV and playing video games irked me.

As I sat in my living room replying to holiday messages, pictures of families with smiling faces in fancy places that flooded social media made sure I  did not disembark at any point while on my guilt trip. To top it all, my daughter had come down with the flu the day before. Last minute shopping or an impromptu get together with friends was out of the question too. My holiday spirit was dead.

I moped around for a bit before I warily (moms with teenagers will relate to the wariness) entered my daughter’s room to check on her. She looked much better than before. She beckoned me in with a smile and handed me the iPad. “Here mom, watch this. This lady is sooo funny.” The lady was Superwoman aka comedian Lily Singh whose YouTube videos had garnered a few million views. Boy, was her take on her Indo-American heritage  hilarious!

Our guffaws drew my son into the room too. He came in carrying a batch of cookies he had just baked. Yum!! I had been so busy moping earlier, I had not paid attention to the pottering sounds that had emanated from the kitchen. As we dug into the crunchy sweetness of the gingerbread cookies, we discussed the vagaries of immigrant parenting, the likes of tiger moms and the absurd success of the arranged marriages of our generation. The conversation that ensued felt open, heartfelt and funny. The laughter eclipsed the emptiness I had felt earlier and reignited my dying spirit. I felt a simple yet strong sense of connection to my children and I know they felt it too. For in the days that followed, they often congregated on my bed to opine about people from Queen Latifah to their elementary school teachers. I learned new age scrabble words from them as we played ‘Words with Friends’ and they learned about some of the games their father and I played as children growing up in the streets of Mumbai.. And fortunately for us, our budding baker continued to bake a few more scrumptious treats.

What a blessing the days with nothing to do had turned out to be! This year would forever be etched in our memories as the year where I learnt the art of just being, our prodigal teenagers crawled back into our bed and my son discovered his passion for baking. I was grateful for these spontaneous joyful times that entailed no meticulous planning.

This past week, in a home devoid of the frills of traditional holiday rituals and festivities the spirit of the holiday-of gratitude and togetherness, throbbed in our hearts stronger than ever.

-Vidya

Wishing all my readers a very Happy New Year. Deeply thankful for the opportunity to reach out to a few hearts and make loving connections.

 

 

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Dear Mr. Bachchan

Dear Mr.Bachchan,

On behalf of all the daughters in India- Thank you for your beautiful and inspirational message. Though I do deeply feel, Sir, our ability to empower our daughters would be incomplete unless we address the other side of the issue our society faces. Are we doing enough to raise our sons so that we can extend the privileges of following their heart to our daughter-in-laws’ too?

You see we have reached a delicate state of affairs at present. Most parents now do raise their daughters to be the powerful forces they were meant to be. That is why we find successful women in all walks of life even in arenas that until recently were dominated only by men. Yet do we teach our sons to accept these forces as equal partners in their life?

While we dream with our daughters and teach them to reach for the stars why is it that as soon as they are wives and mothers we tweak the rules. We then expect them to expertly balance the home with their careers single handed. We have great pride in our daughters who have broken barriers and reached great heights yet the image of a good daughter-in-law deeply ingrained in our mindsets is of one who serves her family. Do we teach our sons that they need to share the burden on the domestic front, that it is not right to drop their bags and lounge on the couch when they come home from work? That their children’s success also depends on their own involvement in the kids’ lives? It does not matter if she has made excruciatingly difficult decisions at work, as soon she’s home, a woman is usually the one who has to deal with the decision of what is for dinner. The heart of every single woman who works outside her home throbs with pangs of guilt because she wonders if she is doing enough to nurture her family and kids. At the same time stay at home mothers, do question themselves as to whether they contribute enough to the family. Either way they beat themselves up because though we have taught our daughters to walk in a world of men, we haven’t done enough to relieve the enormous pressure on our daughter-in-laws’ to be the perfect caregivers.

It’s time we also teach our sons to be nurturers, to be women. It’s time we teach them that if dinner is not ready on time they are responsible too. That a pile of dirty laundry lying around the house does not reflect on the woman’s incapability but on the incapability of every one at home who does not share the burden with her.

If our daughters have learnt that they need to make choices in the light of their own wisdom, then our sons need to learn to accept and respect these choices. Every woman has the innate wisdom to know what works best for her family, her situation so she deserves to be respected for her choice whether she chooses to work outside the home or stay home to be with her children.

Our sons need to know that to exert control over the people you love is not what makes a man but to loosen those reins of control and create a space where the family can express itself without fear is what makes a truly great man. If we teach our daughters to marry for love, then we need to teach our sons and daughters what is love. It is a shared space where each person can be who they truly want to be.

You are right Mr. Bachchan when you say that the length of the skirt does not define a person’s character. After all, clothes are just a covering for the beautiful temples that house our spirit. But as a mother I do worry that if the clothes my children wore had necklines that plunged too low, hems that rode up high or were low waisted rather no waisted pants that revealed a crack, then what society would see when they looked them would probably be just a size, a figure, a body type not the budding talents or gentle souls that they are. It would take away from the magnificence they hold within. Jab tak puri duniya apni soch nahi badalti ,“log kya kahenge” is easier said than done.

And lastly whether they are sons or daughters we need to teach them to each take responsibility of their own health, well-being and happiness. They need to know that their life is a creation of their own thoughts, that unless they are happy with themselves they will never be happy with another.

Maybe,Sir,  you could in your beautiful words write a letter to all the grand sons too.

Thank you,

Vidya.

 

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Trust

TRUST

 

Trust is a dwindling virtue these days, do you say my friends?

At a time where competition and greed run rampant we do each live like tiny islands isolated, carrying the burdensome baggage of loneliness, feeling we have to do what we need to on our own. A boss is overwhelmed because the duties he delegates do not bring in results fast enough, a mother is overwhelmed with the task of constantly monitoring her boys’ internet surfing, a young wife is overwhelmed with the idea of living up to the expectations of the people around her, a senior wonders if he will wither away alone, a teenage child would rather get advice from unreliable sources online than trust his parents or peers about his heartfelt turmoil, a husband would rather turn to alcohol than confide in his companion about his insecurities. So lost, so alone and so misunderstood we trust nobody, often not even ourselves.  It is an over populous world. Should not just our whispers be enough to cause a ripple effect and reach our voices to the other end? Yet we plague ourselves with the incessant need to stand on rooftops and scream out our worth and sadly find nobody listens, nobody understands us.

Maybe my friends, it’s because we are looking at the virtue of trust all wrong. What do we mean by saying we trust somebody? When a wife tells her husband she trusts him or a mother tells her son she trusts him she usually means that she knows what they do with their time when she is not around. When a boss tells his subordinates he trusts them he means they will deliver exactly what he expects of them. When a friend tells another she trusts her what she means is the matters they have discussed will not be a topic of conversation elsewhere. So you see in almost every scenario the trust we place in people is linked to our expectations of them. We conjure up images in our minds of what we think all the people in our lives should be like and if by chance they warp the picture we’ve created, well…then they have broken our trust and there is hurt and blame. Trust, as we see it, loosely translates to unmet expectations.

Instead my dear friends, how about we tweak our perspective a little? How about we fill ourselves with a little understanding that there is a gentle, powerful energy that permeates all our beings. An all knowing, ever loving dynamic force that resonates in all our hearts and knows what is best for each of us. Instead of sketching mental images of people yielding to our influence to build our basis of trust, sketch a picture of oneself placing our belief in this power within.

Then my friends, it will dawn on us that trust is a knowing that in the grandiose scheme of life, all is well, always. It is a knowing that there is never a perfect time, perfect place or perfect person. Everything is perfect as is. Trust is a knowing that our spouse, our kids, our friends and the all of the people in our world are souls on their own journey and truly cannot be controlled. That they each have their own destinies and purpose. It is a knowing that you cannot change anybody but yourself. Trust is surrender to the grace that will permeate our every pore if we let it.Trust is knowing you are enough yet never alone; we are always looked after, no matter what.

And the next time we tell somebody we trust them let us empower them with our love and faith in their ability to tune in to their own intuitive FMs and do what is right. Let us truly respect them by supporting their decisions even if it is not what we think it should be. Let us be little linked islands of hope, not tiny isolated islands of despair.

 

-vidya.

Inspired by a beautiful series of videos on relationships by BK Shivani. Truly eye opening.

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