Encounter With Mamta Singh – Part 2 (The Other Side of the Coin)

The gentle evening breeze caressed her cheeks as Mamta sat in the balcony of her eighth-floor apartment, overlooking the Arabian Sea. This was the time of the day she relished the most, a time when she had the house all to herself. Her son, Sumit, was at his swim practice and her husband, Subodh, at the gym. The maids had left for the day.  The breathtaking sunset, the sea breeze and a cup of steaming masala chai was all she had for company. Today the chai seemed extra special though. The nostalgia of meeting a bosom pal had swirled into the warmth of the chai sharpening its spice.

What a pleasant surprise it had been! Bumping into an old friend. Mamta chuckled softly as she recalled the school days when the two friends had bonded, especially that dreadful day in the eighth grade when she had scored a zero on her math exam. A duck!  The anxiety of solving the Math paper had been so strong that she had completely blanked out. V had comforted her throughout the evening and helped her prepare for the next one. For the next two years since that day, Mamta had spent every evening before a Math exam at V’s house. After the X grade board examinations, the two friends had pursued different fields of interest and lost touch with each other.

Mamta had since come a long way from the anxiety ridden girl she once was. Now she was a manager at a multinational company. She loved her job and her life. She often sat in the mellow glow of the sunset, her heart basked in gratitude.  She could not have asked the One Above for any more. As the foamy waves lashed against the shores and receded back into the sea in front of her, her thoughts receded deep into the oceanic past, to the day it all began.

 

15 years ago

 

Mamta twitched nervously as she sat outside the principal, Mrs. Seth’s office, in her son’s school, waiting to be summoned, a crumpled note in her hand. The piece of paper, just a day old was worn out from the number of times she had folded and unfolded it, reading over the same words repeatedly while trying to get a cognizance of why it had been addressed specifically to her. Normally, teachers in the school addressed the notes to both parents of the child but this one had clearly stated that she be present to meet with the principal.

What had Sumit done wrong she wondered? Why did Subodh not have to be here? If Sumit had misbehaved, the note would have been addressed to both parents.  Or was it her, had she not been a good mother? Had he complained to the teachers about the time she had lost her temper and smacked his behind? Or had they noticed the day when, in the rush of the morning hours, she had accidentally switched Sumit and Subodh’s lunch boxes. Poor child had ended up with a tummy ache after eating a spicy roti roll with sprouts instead of his jam and butter sandwich. Or was it because she had turned in the permission slip for the field trip late?

Fortunately, before she could come up another plausible reason Mrs. Seth beckoned her into her chamber.

“Come on in Mrs. Singh, have a seat. How are you this morning?” Mrs. Seth smiled at her, peering over her glasses. The gigantic desk, the crisp pleated pallo of her saree, the firmness in her voice all gave Mrs. Seth an aura of reverence that engulfed Mamta’s meekness completely. She felt like a tiny rabbit trapped in a lion’s snare.

“I’m… I’m fine, thank you.” She stuttered weakly.

“Let me get straight to the point Mrs. Singh.”

Mamta felt her heart thump in her chest.

“The reason you are here… the other day at recess Sumit was sitting all by himself while the other kids jumped around and played. He looked sad, so I walked up to him and asked him what the matter was. He told me he was sad because you were too. He said you cried every night, maybe because he was not a good boy.

What is the matter, Mrs. Singh? Is Sumit right to say you cry every night? I do not mean to intrude but you know, a child can thrive in school only if things are well at home. It breaks my heart to see a five-year-old carry the weight of his Mother’s emotions on himself. Is there any way we can help?” Mrs. Seth asked gently.

The genuine concern in her voice touched a chord in Mamta. Tears welled up in her eyes. Not only was she sad but now jaws of guilt pierced their fangs into her heart too. How could she have let her emotions affect her child?

“I..I…don’t know what to do. Nothing I do is ever right” she said in between snifles. “The rotis are not round, the idlis are too flat, the dal is either too watery or salty. Nothing I make is good enough for Maa.

If Sumit does not eat, she says I don’t know how to feed him. Some days if he eats a second bowl of rice she says I will make him fat. If the child watches TV she says I am spoiling him yet she herself lets him watch all those dreadful TV serials she’s addicted to. If I make him study she says I am pushing him. I never seem to do anything right.” By this time, her sniffles had turned into sobs. “And Subodh is always traveling,”

“Mrs. Singh? Mamta? Can I call you Mamta?” asked Mrs. Seth tenderly. This could well have been her own daughter.

Mamta nodded admist the bawls.

“Mamta, I presume you are talking about your mother-in-law?”

This time Mamta nodded vigorously.

“My dear… you need to get a few facts straight. If you think you are only as good as the rotis you make or the bhajiyas you fry, then you are so wrong. You cannot live your life according to another’s expectation of you. If you do that, you will always fall short and spend the rest of your life trying to be a good daughter-in-law, a good wife, a good mother…so many roles, so many different expectations. In the process, you are bound to lose yourself. What if you indeed made the world’s best round rotis but your mother-in-law took a penchant for square ones? Trying to be a perfect daughter-in-law is like trying to reach for the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow. You can never reach it.

It’s funny though. In our culture, we often wonder if the bride will adjust to her new family but the truth is often it is the groom’s family who are not ready to open their hearts to adjust and welcome another into their home.

Now, of course, I am not saying that you shy away from your responsibility of taking care of your aging in-laws but do it the with your essence, the way you can do it not always the way she wants it.

And its’ very important that you take time for yourself every day Mamta. To do something you enjoy. Maa is old and with age comes rigidity. Accept it and move on. Take her less seriously and yourself more seriously. Its’ very important for a mother to be happy Mamta. You see, children are very perceptive. They may not understand a situation but they can certainly feel the emotions. You are not helping your child by staying home and being miserable.”

“What can I do? Who will give me job, Mrs. Seth? I was never good at studies. I scrapped through school and college so my parents got me married early and I am not good at this either!” Mamta was sobbing uncontrollably.

“Who says you need a job to be happy? There must be some activities you enjoy. Maybe dancing or music? Embroidery? Did you have a hobby growing up?”

Mamta gazed at the wall to her right. The tears in her eyes blurred her vision, the sadness in her heart blurred her clarity of thought. The emptiness in her gaze was suggestive of a spirit dulled, lost in the maze of life.

Silence ensued. She finally spoke, “I used to enjoy painting as a child.”

“There you go! Just take a few minutes every day to paint. For those few minutes let it be just you and the canvas. That will go a long way in bringing you joy. Baby steps, my dear. Just do this and see how things change. And yes, remember it takes a village to raise a child. Its ok to ask for help. You cannot do it alone.”

 

Fifteen years ago, that was the day her journey began. That conversation in Mrs. Seth’s office sparkled clearly in her memory just as the sea waters sparkled in the soft glow of the moonlight, under the canopy of the night sky. The turn of events since then had only been pleasant. Mamta took Mrs. Seth’s advice very seriously. Every afternoon she poured her emotions on canvas and the results were brilliant jewels of art.

One fine day Mamta while emailing pictures of her works of art to a friend accidentally typed in neenarai@gmail instead of Neena.rai@gmail. What followed was serendipity. Prompt came a reply in her inbox,

“Dear Mamta,

Not sure if these pictures were intended for my viewing but I love them. I run a designer boutique in South Bombay and am currently looking for an artist to paint on silk fabric for my clients. Kindly get in touch if you are interested.

Kind regards,

Neena Rai.”

Mamta got in touch with her and very soon she was designing and painting beautiful works of art on sarees and dupattas for Neena’s clients. Neena encouraged Mamta to go back to school to do a part time masters in management. One thing led to another and brought Mamta to where she was today.

Everything Mrs. Seth said was so true. Mamta’s mother-in-law had passed away a few years ago but even in her last few moments she had a lot to complain about, the food being insipid was just one of them. Mamta had become more accepting and sympathetic towards her condition and did not let her mother-in-law’s sharp tongue affect her. She learnt that her son enjoyed swimming and both parents encouraged Sumit to pursue his passion. He soon swam for one of the best clubs in the country.

The doorbell rang to break Mamta out of her reverie. Once again, all she could say to the One above was Thank You for sending a couple of angels into her life.

Thus, ends the story of two childhood friends. Both on very different journeys who found joy in the belief that miracles happen to those who allow it.

Vidya

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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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A Woman’s World

She scrolled through the congratulatory messages that poured in from all over world  on her Samsung 74 , as she lay in bed that night. Her victorious spirit soared as if on a tequila high. Years of labor had finally borne fruit today, International Women’s day 2024. Congress had finally passed the ‘Equal pay for Equal work’ bill, one that she worked so resolutely on.As she looked back on her journey to this day, she realized that at many times along the way when she had clung on to her purpose by just a single strand of hope, it was also the wonderful men in her life- her father, her husband, her brother, her son, her friends and her colleagues along with her squad of women friends who had lent her ropes of support to keep her going along on the arduous climb uphill. They cherished her and it was this love that made her want to be an better woman, a better person each day.This victory belonged as much to them as it did to the wonderful women all over the world. This realization called for a tweet, she decided.

@realPC Victory on #InternationalWomensDay  is as much for supportive men as much as for women.Thank you all.

‘Eh! Pretty lame tweet.’ She would have to reword it. So hard to condense the cascading gratitude she felt into 140 characters. Twitter was certainly not invented by a woman.

As she struggled to come up with the perfect amalgamation of brevity and emotion she could not help but dwell on the fact that in our fight for equality how easily some of the goodness in the world was overshadowed  by the bad. Though there were vast areas of the world, where extensive work needed to be done to bring women up to par with their male counterparts; war ravaged and poverty stricken regions where the identity of a women was limited to their role played in satisfying the male hunger for food and sex and in rubbing the lamp of the masculine spirit so that it gave birth to an over sized genie of the male ego; yet it was also true that there were societies in the world where extraordinary women were raised to magnificence by their fathers and supported to excellence by their partners.

Why at this very instance there were fathers  who worried about their daughter’s future and safety, fathers who sat up late to make sure that when their daughter’s walked in past curfew time, the young girls knew that someone was watching over them who cared enough to discipline them, fathers who proudly announced their daughters’ achievements on social media, who drove miles just to make sure their daughters in college were doing fine, husbands who drove their daughter’s to soccer games and sat through ballet recitals because their wives were at work, who proudly tweeted of their daughter’s achievements, who showed up for their little one’s Christmas recital even though she just was just a prop on stage to lend their support- the list can be long . She thought of the time when her husband had lovingly tended to his mother when his mother was ill or the countless times ¥∗earlier when her own son had helped her out with making dinner. These men deserved to be admired. They did after all succeed in breaking the shackles that confined the epitome of manhood to being just breadwinners and stepping up to do their part in raising children.Hopefully , being appreciative of them would lead to emulation of behavior in those echelons of society where equality was so skewed.

Ah! she would have to reword her tweet to send a concise yet powerful message.Knowing she had billions of followers, she could change minds and hearts with her words.

‘@realPC Historic breakthrough for women today on #Internationalwomensday. would not be possible without the unflinching support of so many men who worked to see this bill passed…. ‘

‘Gawd- more than 140 characters. This was hard. Maybe colleges needed to add Twitter 101  to their Creative Writing departments.

She turned on the television to take her mind off her unsuccessful attempts at tweeting. Pretty ironical that on one of the most successful days of her life, shes till  felt a slight twinge of failure.

Images of beaming women from all over the world flashed on the screen making her feel like her soaring self again. She thought about the same day, years earlier when women had protested the world over to make this dream into a reality.There had been so much of unrest and angst back then. Their angst had fueled her drive to make this issue one of the key points on her agenda. Today’s victory certainly made these women feel they got their due, yet would it succeed in bridging the divisiveness in society? Could we blame the dismal state of affairs in the world just on inequality between genders? As women, we formed a half of humanity so how responsible were we in the decline of ethos of mankind.Were women on the same page on various issues that plagued society? Not really. She remembered her own mother’s essay on’ Dowry and Abuse in India’.In so many instances there were mothers-in-law who had equal responsibility in abusing their daughters-in-law.In corporate workplaces the world over, it was not just men who tried to bring you down, there were other women too.Women sometimes did not support each other or each other’s choices enough. She had given up a successful law practice to be a stay at home mom for a few years and then later made her foray into politics. In both instances it was her mother-in-law who had chided her. The first time because she had felt sorry for her son who would have to be the sole earning member and the second time because she had felt her grandchildren would be neglected!

She remembered the time her friend Julia, a celebrity, had waved to the paparazzi and fans from her hospital room a day after undergoing a life threatening surgery. There was one particular reporter who wrote about Julia’s unkempt hair and that reporter was a woman!. How shallow to focus on petty matters like appearance when the reporter could have chosen to glorify the fierce battle Julia fought so bravely.

In her own life, she remembered the times when she had run for office when other women had passed snide remarks on the way she had looked. She had a fiery spirit but was not physically well endowed. Some women had been pretty relentless in their comments about her appearance, that made her feel she was not good enough..Color of the skin mattered as much to women as it did to men. Even though there would be no more protests to fight for equal pay, there would continue to be little typhoons in our hearts as long as we battled other women- mothers-in-law v/s daughters-in-law, stay at home moms v/s career moms, planned parenthood v/s pro life supporters, red v/s blue. If women accepted one another without judgement, they could be the strongest pillars of strength in each other’s lives. She was fortunate enough to have friends with whom she could be completely at ease and fall back on in times of need. It is impossible to agree on all issues yet we need to make space in our hearts for other women who are different from us and we need to give them space in their lives to be themselves, respect them for it. Black,white, brown, yellow, tall, short, fat,thin we are all equal in the eyes of God.As women, we each need to step up to our own power, take responsibility for it and be humbled by the power of another. Every woman has a right to choose and should not be judged by the choices she makes. No change would come about if we continued to see ourselves just as weak victims of male oppression and not forces of change..

Sigh! That was  a subject for another tweet. First she had to finish the one on gratitude.Maybe some amazing words would come to her in the wee hours of the morning that she could tweet about in all caps. Twitter was a fun trend started by her predecessor that she intended to continue.She could try to bring about change one tweet at a time. After all, she was the 46th President of the United States.

-Vidya.

Dedicated to the biggest cheerleaders of my writing, my father and my father-in-law. Thank you!

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Mr. Fisherman and Mr. Brown

Mr. Fisherman, HELP!

I am Mr. Brown,

Lend me a hand, quick,

else I will drown.

I swim alone,

in murky waters of hate,

Waves of terror rise,

they do not abate.

Hurry Mr. Fisherman,

The sun sets soon,

And shadows of evil

around the horizon loom.

The terrain is treacherous,

just look around,

fins slice through the seas,

Great whites abound.

Menacing teeth, jaws open wide,

my pores soaked in dread,

I am terrified.

Please Mr. Fisherman, reel me in,

drench me with warmth

make me feel safe within.

 

WAIT! WAIT! Don’t shoot me,

I am not a shark,

That is my arm, not a fin

though it is just as dark.

(OH, but Mr. Fisherman,

Why did I ever ask for your help?)

Up close, The disgust in your eyes

tells me what is true,

The murk in the waters,

is just a reflection of you.

 

_Vidya M.

 

This poem is dedicated to all the victims of hate crimes, the innocent who have dedicated their lives to this country and are frisked, questioned because they are colored, children who have known no other place as their home and have been asked to go back to where they came from. Yet this dedication would also be incomplete if I did not mention all the beautiful people who have welcomed immigrants with open arms, embraced us and our culture and who make want to be an integral part of this great country. We all know not every person of color is a terrorist and not every white person is a supremacist. Every day we come across people from all walks of life, from different backgrounds who are truly wonderful. Doctors, teachers, actors and leaders who fight for what is right.Then why do we hate? Together if we rise we will be able to conquer every evil force in the world.Our leaders need to use words that evoke the Grillot and destroy the Purinton within each of us. Fear is never the key.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Oasis

I dedicate this post to all my lovely friends in Charlotte. When we moved here four years ago, I was naive enough to think my heart was full with strong friendships… I did not need any more. You guys have woven your way into my heart. Truly grateful for your presence in my life. Happy Thanksgiving all…..

Oasis

 

I imagine this world, ours,

a golden globe of bliss,

classy, opulent,

perfect.

 

No tears of sorrow flow

no wounds of heartache fester,

no bullets of hatred stream

no shrapnel of deceit remains.

no sadness…

Maybe this is what Heaven feels like?

 

Heaven just replaced Northern lights

on the bucket list, of

places I wish to see.

I pick up the knife.

In that dark moment

I hear a whisper

“Would you know joy if there was no grief?”

I would not.

 

Only an imperfection can give birth

to the idea of perfection.

In lack, do we value abundance

Only in the angst of loneliness

do I appreciate the laughter of company?

In moments of pain I am vulnerable.

It is in that vulnerability

I value the beauty of my lover’s touch,

my friend’s words,

a stranger’s smile,

my child’s hug.

a pet’s nuzzle.

 

In the barren winter land

I value the summer when

rose bushes are in bloom.

In the blaze of the summer heat

I find comfort in the nip

of winter air.

Just like one would appreciate

an oasis only in the desert.

In fleeting times of pain

countless blessing do I find.

Blessings that matter to the heart,

that are otherwise dim specks

overshadowed by the sheen of opulence.

 

My Heaven is right here.

I pick up the knife

to cut a slice of the apple

crisp, succulent.

 

-Vidya.

 

 

 

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