Letting Go

Birthdays and year-ends, I think need to be a time for spring cleaning of some sort. The baggage we have collected over the year, the clutter we have amassed, it’s time to look at each item anew and decide to junk it or keep it. But letting go somehow is never easy. Even if it’s a horrendous outfit you purchased in a moment of madness or the ghastly lamp your aunt gave you, which you wish the dog will jump at, and break into smithereens!

We are hoarders by nature and keep accumulating possessions as well as emotions as every year passes, little realizing how they are weighing us down. The guilt over some oversight we committed, a grudge against an old friend, the insecurity about a failing we perceive in ourselves, a constant critic who is part of our lives, all become a burden we carry, unknown and unacknowledged!

As I get older however, I realize I have no patience with baggage of this kind and have consciously been working at stream lining it out of my life. So some years ago, I decided to get rid of all negative people in my life with one swift stroke. People who constantly complain, crib, whine about their problems or always find fault with the world, are no longer part of my life, however dear they may have been to me in the past. I don’t have the energy to listen to their petulant grievances nor the desire to help them. I wish one day they will get out of their misery, but I refuse to get dragged down while they wallow in it.

The next year I got rid of issues with my self-image. I am fine the way I am, thank you very much I decided. And so I am! The following year I got rid of my temper and irritability. Invariably and unfortunately we end up taking out our frustrations on our mothers. Just because they listen and never judge and just because they are there! So now I am quite calm around most things and never ever cantankerous around my mom. She deserves better.

And so one by one, I have got rid of the desire to follow the latest fashion or the fear I had of certain things and even of not being able to say no when I wanted to! I have got over not speaking my mind out, of wanting every one to like me and specifically of wasting time doing meaningless things like attending social functions when I can better spend it with people I like or with books I want to read or shows I want to see.

As I make my world lighter, it also seems to have become richer! So let go of that grouse you had against one of your closest pals, the feeling that your nose is too long or your thighs too thunderous, get rid of that person who always finds fault with what you do, and see the incredible lightness it brings to your life. Go on. Try it!

The code of Hammurabi

Approximately in 1772 BC lived a great Babylonian king in Mesopotamia called Hammurabi. He is famous for having evolved and enacted what is possibly the oldest code of law. Or at least the oldest code which was written down and still exists and has been subsequently deciphered.

Hammurabi’s code has 282 laws laid down in it and covers matters of contract, of household relationships, for example inheritance laws, and various terms of transactions like what is your liability if the oxen belonging to your neighbor dies when you have hired it for threshing.

It also has within its gamut the very famous ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ law of retribution adjusted suitably for, and graded differently, for the differing status of the people involved ; the premise being that obviously the eye of a slave was considerably less important than the eye of a nobleman and so forth.

In Hammurabi’s code , the death of a nobleman was punishable by death, but the death of a woman only obliged the killer to pay her husband or father half a gold mina and if she happened to be a slave woman , the price went down even further. In stark contrast if the eye of a man was injured, the liability was one whole mina of gold!

Justice ordained that the eye of a man was to be considered twice as valuable as the life of a woman.

No historian, evolutionary scientist or philosopher has been able to figure out till date, why in the hierarchical order between genders, men got awarded the higher position, but it seems to have been so in the annals of time as long as 4000 years back.

As all of us jointly attempt to bring things to a more even footing in the 21st century and get frustrated with the slow pace of change, maybe it is critical to recognize and be aware of the hundreds of centuries of baggage we are burdened with, on this particular issue.

It becomes even more important to keep pushing ahead in order to ensure that every step we take and every stereotype we break continues to chip away at the slowly collapsing edifice of gender inequality.

The walls; they will, come a-crumbing down one day -of that I am sure!

Apurva

Toilets for Girls

In the last two weeks I have been party to at least two drawing-room and one corporate conversation around building toilets for girls. So someone I know wants to build 15 toilets this year in municipal schools in his area. Another person wants to send money to an NGO specifically for this purpose and large corporate houses too are talking about donating for this cause.

Notably the conversations have also been around the sustainability and efficacy of these toilets. Who will maintain them once they are built? How will they remain safe for girls to use? What are the real challenges wherever toilets exist currently? And so on.

I like to think that across the length and breadth of India, there are several such conversations taking place around dinner tables, and the upper middle class Indian for whom these issues were at the periphery of his comfortable existence, has been jolted into wanting to do something. Even more importantly, I like to think that corporate India not only wants to donate financially to this cause but is also applying its superior intellect and vast creative resources in identifying ways to make toilet usage a sustainable and scalable initiative for our young girls!

And this is what Narendra Modi managed to achieve in one fell swoop and one hour of televised coverage! He had the entire nation listening to him for that hour and how effectively and fittingly he used that time. No political rhetoric, no promises nor listing of achievements or worse still endlessly droning on about our history and freedom struggle, a topic which has been fodder for all past PMs and their uninspired speech writers.

Modi talked of the future and in talking about the future laid out an agenda which was not political but socio-economic and more importantly moral. Equally he outlined in his speech, practical steps which were both directional and easy for us to understand and implement.

It is said that a great statesman has to have great principles, a moral compass, a vision and the ability to build consensus to drive that vision. (Dr J. Rufus Fears)

The vision is emerging, a moral compass is finally being displayed to the country at the highest level,it is required now for us to drive it ahead both by talking about it and doing something around it!

Let’s start by building toilets!

Pet Peeves and building Our National Character

I have just returned from the long weekend break which many of you, I am sure too took advantage of. The resort was lovely, the staff outstanding, the weather supportive and the natural beauty simply breathtaking. The only thing we didn’t contend with is that along with us, several generations of the Khannas and the Joshis and the Shahs had also decided to maximize on this opportunity.

So the hotel became the scene of extended family reunions where brothers bonded with brother-in -laws over beer and single malt and sister-in-laws giggled through various spa therapies and grandmothers coddled offspring’s offsprings and iphones on their laps with amazing dexterity!

Now having been brought up on ‘Hum Aapke Haain Kaun’ and its epic predecessor ‘Waqt’, I am all in favor of, and indeed very fond of the Happy and Huge Indian Family, as long as it is someone else’s, but I do have some pet peeves which I would like to enumerate and request these HHIFs to avoid, so that we can all build, as our very practical PM would say ‘Our National Character”. Briefly they are;

1 Shrieking Kids: Why do Indian parents allow their kids to shriek so much? Don’t they know a shrieking kid invariably grows up to be a shrieking adult who will continuously honk the horn in bumper to bumper traffic and play “Ye Duniya Pital Di” at the highest decibel level? Why so much noise? Why watch your kid throw a screaming fit and smile indulgently rather than give him one tight slap? Imagine if we just ensured our kids were better behaved? Think of the planet and the reduction in noise pollution!

2 Continuous updates on Facebook and Twitter : “My doll with my favorite woman; my mother” #familiesarethegreatest Click : Overweight and very pink baby in overweight and very green grandma’s lap next to pool. “Thank you for being by my side for the last 15 years” #mypartnermywife #notlookingadayolder Click : Woman of indeterminate age wearing her idea of ‘resort wear’, tight shorts and a frilly off shoulder top.
What is it with us? Why can’t we be in the moment? Maybe look at the birds around us which for a change are not pigeons or crows. Gaze at the softly flowing river. Enjoy the serenity of the here and now. I thought that is why we go on holidays? To disconnect from the real world for a brief respite?

3 Personal Space: It should be made mandatory that no human being will impinge on the 2.5 foot radius around another human being! At airports, at buffets, at marriages, wherever we stand in queues, we want to stick like a leech to the person in front of us! Why bhaiyya? Do you want to smell my perfume? Do you want to cuddle up with me? Does it give you a sense of security to practically hold onto my pallu? Do you see in me your long-lost-at-Kumbh-mela-sister?

Along with building toilets and teaching our sons to respect women and manufacturing what is currently being imported and not throwing garbage outside our homes , if we could add the above three points, I am confident it would go a long way in building a national character which we could all be proud of ! Please.

“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth”

I have an amazing sister who has taken it upon herself to fulfill the “Padhega India to Badhega India” directive as best as she can. So she teaches the household help of neighbors and friends in her building complex to read, write and speak English.

Recently I witnessed the ‘graduation’ ceremony of the students on having finished one session and before moving onto the next. 30 young girls and boys from the class had come dressed in their best, having spent the last many days nervously rehearsing the two- three sentences in English they were supposed to speak in front of the assembled guests as part of the proceedings.

It was a lovely and sweetly touching ceremony where each person came up; spoke their name, the village they had come from, and a line on their favorite activities. For many of them, their favorite pastime was playing with the children they were the minders of, indicating both their attachment and involvement with their young charges!
I gathered later on, that for those 30 seconds of going up on stage, they had rehearsed for hours, sometimes in the few precious moments they get to call their own and sometimes in groups. They had borrowed a toy mike to learn how to hold it right, the correct way to collect the certificate while shaking hands and also how to look into the video camera which was recording the event. Each had voluntarily contributed Rs 200 to ensure that they got a CD of their moment of glory! And when they managed to complete the sentences in perfect unbroken English the triumphant look on their face was utterly reminiscent of the look on the faces of our sporting heroes at the Commonwealth games on procuring a medal.

At the end of the ceremony while I was complimenting them on their desire to learn and to progress, because that’s what I saw in their tremendous effort, it was my mother who hit the nail on the head when she stood up to praise them on the fact that they had overcome what is considered to be one of the greatest fears human beings have – of speaking in front of an audience!

For these boys and girls who are forever in the shadow of their employers, who typically never speak unless spoken to, whose lot in life is to patiently stand and serve; for them to have demonstrated the courage to step out and speak on stage in a public function, in a language that was alien to them, showcased a rare courage that is worthy of the best soldier in an army. Salutations to them and the confidence only education can give us!

Comfort Vs Style

In my entire adult life I have struggled to find fashionable stuff to wear which is also comfortable or to put it another way, comfortable wear which is also the high fashion of the moment!

The two however don’t seem to coexist anywhere in the world at all! For some reason being fashionable necessary entails suffering from discomfort of the extreme degree – think skinny jeans (in which both my breathing and blood circulation seem to stop, even if I do manage to struggle into them, that is) or high heels which immediately give me vertigo and severe palpitations since I suffer from a fear of heights in any case!

All the clothes that are classified as high fashion expect you to first wear Spanx under them (for all the good boys reading this, Spanx is the equivalent of being mummified and wound up in a tight plastic bandage which prevents you from breathing while presumably also preventing any roll of flesh from making its presence felt). If you can get away from Spanx you end up wearing clothes which have various wires surreptitiously and cleverly entwined in the outfit, to hold various parts of your anatomy up or down as the case may be; which embarrassingly start beeping loudly at every security check you go through! Since this obviously replicates the effect of a bomb strapped to your body which you are trying to smuggle into the airport, all the security personnel milling around immediately jump up and watch you with narrow eyed suspicion until you sheepishly wind your way through the entire proceedings!

I thought I had finally found nirvana, at least with respect to the high heel problem, when I woke up one fine day to find out that while I was sleeping the erstwhile bathroom slippers had suddenly gotten invited to the top of the fashion world’s table! And everybody who was anybody was walking around in embellished Havianas of all colors and designs, with quite a few having an entire flower patch or a fruit salad concoction decorating their feet! It was indeed a joyous moment for me and I broke the bank buying up slippers of all colors until just as I was swanning about feeling very cool and happening AND comfortable for a change, in a jiffy, women switched to strutting around wearing 10 inch heels!

After being stared at snootily by the various stylish women in my office over several occasions, I had no choice but to replace my beloved Havianas (which had become even more comfortable through constant use by then) with footwear which vaguely resembled stylish heels. Cleverly I have taken to carrying the beloved H’s with me to slip into at anonymous places like airports where you can very easily ignore the stares of Ms Stylish standing next to you, but it’s not the same anymore I can tell you!

And of course when I gently ask people in the apparel industry; some of whom I know very intimately, as to when they will make comfortable jeans for women like me (who by the way Dear Apparel King have pocket loads of money to buy your wares unlike the skinny and anorexic teenager whom your designer is obviously targeting) I am told that ‘Mommy jeans’ for middle aged, overweight women like me are soon being made available! Mommy – jeans? Excuse me?

Through this blog I openly challenge all designers to exercise their creative brains, and marry comfort with style and then see their cash registers tinkling all day long! Till then I would urge them to at least not give rude names to the clothes, we of the voluptuous variety wear? Thank you!

WILL G.

I don’t know how many of you have watched or are watching the much lauded CBS series, The Good Wife.

Loosely based on the Bill and Hillary Clinton story; with a philandering husband, an inherently strong woman who discovers her powers of resilience post the trauma, some political intrigue and many legal stories entangled in the main story line, it has captured the heart of millions across the globe.

I think it especially resonates with the 40 + women, since they obviously empathize with Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) and her ability to face the challenges life has unexpectedly thrown her way. The fact that for 15 years, despite being a top notch student, she dedicates her life to being a good mother and wife, and only when forced by circumstances, gets back into the corporate rat race, is a story line which cuts across all types of working and non-working women, in the one case it is aspirational and to the other, their own story line, sans the philandering husband, I should quickly add.

Egged on by doting children, a remorseful husband, a new best friend (played brilliantly by Archie Punjabi) and fortified by some incredible designer clothes (one of the big strengths of the show is the high quality designer wear worn by all the key players) Alicia sashays, albeit tentatively at first, into a law firm run by an ex- boyfriend and overcomes motherly guilt, a sniping mother-in-law and loads of office intrigue to become one of their top notch lawyers!

However this post is not about Alicia, fond as we are of her, but of the second man in her life – the erstwhile boyfriend Will Gardner (played by Josh Charles).

A very large reason why Alicia Florrick occupies such a huge place in our hearts and we all secretly want to be her, apart from her incredible wardrobe of course ( oh those shoes!) is her boyfriend . Only after George Clooney have we met someone who is so universally liked by so many women and equally disliked by all their husbands. The slow smile, the drawl, the sportsmanly avatar and that deep stare; which looks straight into our souls is toe curling to say the very least. The fact that he lends her his whole hearted support viz a job and a shoulder to cry on, and subsequently many more forms of caring(!) when she is her most vulnerable and with self-esteem issues, makes us love him even more.

Will Gardner epitomizes for all of us the romance that never saw its culmination, becoming through its non- fulfillment, an idolized dream; and thus one which can never compete with prosaic reality.

That is why Will G will always remain eternal and beloved of so many.

PS – This post is dedicated to Rachna K and Nidhi L ?

Foodelicious !

The husband wants to relocate to Cochin!

Why you may ask? Has he discovered communism? Does he perchance like the climate of Cochin? Or maybe he is enamored of their 3 day weeks (the balance days are spent in strikes or bandhs or in general drinking and merry making I am told)

Well, the answer is none of the above. What has occurred is that on a recent market visit to this estimable city he has discovered LULU Hypermarket! Spread over some 80,000 sq. feet it apparently is supposed to be the largest hypermarket in all of Asia. AND, to add further joy to the entire proceedings,it has a 20,000 sq feet kitchen where everything from fried chicken legs to Delhi Chaat to Hyderabadi biryani is made, in garganomous proportions and with assembly line precision!

Added to that is a fresh market with, at the very least, a hundred varieties of fish and an equally large range of mangoes as per husband’s worshipful description. This of course is a delightful gastronomical, physical, psychological and sensorial overload of experiences for any foodie and since husband is the Emperor of foodies, he has decided that his spiritual home is Cochin; as close to LULU Hypermarket as possible.

25 years ago my mother told me to marry a man who loved and enjoyed food, which according to her, was a metaphorical equivalent of loving life (as you can figure out, she is a foodie herself) and he would keep me happy.

I certainly am having a very pleasant ride as far as the matrimonial bandwagon is concerned, and there are huge collateral benefits in marrying a foodie viz some great meals at home, a platter of the best fruit of the season being lovingly cut and given to me every morning (the love is for the fruits not me, in case the reference confused you) and some outstanding encounters with Michelin quality restaurants in different parts of the world.

However I do assure you that this obsession sometimes becomes a bit too much to handle. So at any cross road, in any part of the world, at any time of the day or night, if we happen to see a cartload of watermelons, oranges, ground nuts, etc , we HAVE to make a pit stop regardless of how much the fridge may be overflowing! Before networking with the CEO next door or reconnecting with a childhood friend he first builds up an enduring relationship with all fruit-wallahs, fish-sellers and meat vendors , in a half kilometer radius around the house when we move to a new location. In fact the umbilical cord he found the toughest had to break, was the one with his favorite fruit wallah in Mumbai who had been supplying fruit to him for years, at horrendous prices, thereby building a palatial house for himself with the spoils!
Both of them, for very different reasons, wept copious tears at the parting and have promised to remain in touch forever (I suspect the first number on husband’s speed dial is still of that fruitwallah)

Nevertheless in the long run the balance sheet has worked in my favor, so I am quite happy to submit myself to the smorgasbord of culinary delights that come my way as a consequence .

Now can anyone connect me to a good broker in Cochin ?

Reputation Building – Public or Private?

Recently I faced a lot of issues with my credit card and was finding dealing with the bank’s support system, including my relationship manager, extremely frustrating, irritating and useless and time consuming. I am sure all of you have faced and know exactly what I was going through! In any case and finally at my wit’s end, not knowing what to do, I tweeted about the issue. And lo and behold, within the next few minutes someone got in touch and within the next two days, an unresolved issue of over a month got solved!

While obviously I was thrilled to finally have the entire mess laid to rest, it also got me thinking on the fact that the bank got moving and sorted my problem only when I raised it in the public domain of Twitter, whereas as long as only I and some mentally challenged call operator knew about the problem it remained unsolved for a month! So the wherewithal was there but action only took place when it became a matter of “public reputation” for the bank. And that unfortunately is how many companies and many of us live our lives!

So the question we need to ponder upon is – Is reputation building a public facade? Is it built based on what we do, when someone is watching? Or are reputations built when we do what our internal moral compass tells us to do at all times regardless if anyone is around or not? If the bank was genuinely serious about its promise of excellent customer care and hopes to build a brand around that promise, shouldn’t their customer care department and call centers have the ability, the processes and most importantly the desire to deliver on that promise? Or will it get delivered only when an irate customer tweets about it and the whole world gets to know?

As a result aren’t we then building a culture which acknowledges that public shame will result in a positive outcome and not a self- motivated internal desire at organizations and at an individual level to excel?

HR departments often talk about the need for managers to praise people publicly and scold privately. Unfortunately in my experience, the other way around seems to suggest a more efficient and effective way of getting the job done!

Scamper

Scamper is our 13 year old cocker spaniel. He is extremely good looking and though not very bright he is charming and high spirited with the strong conviction that he is part of the human race. The last sentiment I am sorry to say was inculcated in him over the years by a string of maids who mothered him and by my son who treated him like a sibling and my mother who baby sat him in his growing up years.

With the consequence that Scamper refuses to talk to any other dogs and walks past all of them with his nose disdainfully in the air, he wants to sleep on our bed preferably with a soft pillow tucked under his head exactly in the same angle as ours, he eats chapattis only if they are smeared in ghee and refuses to touch them, if, by mistake we use oil, and is quite unequivocal in his preference for the company of humans over any animals of whatever ilk.

When Scamper came to us as a 3 month old baby, much fuss was made of him at home and he gamboled, grinned and guzzled his way into adulthood with not a care in the world, surrounded as he was by an adoring family, a personalized diet-plan, a soft bed and various attendants to bathe and brush him, play ball with him, and generally be at his beck and call.
However now Scamper has grown old, he has become blind and can’t see to play with his beloved ball any longer, his stomach is not able to cope with any of his favorite foods and all he can eat is a bland mix of dog food, much to his chagrin! He doesn’t quite care for the kids who want to play with him in the building and prefers instead to lie down in the sun and snooze peacefully for long hours.

Through all these past years as he steadily started losing his eyesight what has stood shining out for all of us to admire, is his great attitude. It is apparent that mentally Scamper refuses to accept that he can’t see and therefore continues to jauntily venture everywhere without a care in the world. Unleash him and he is off like a shot, the inability to see where he is going notwithstanding. He has fallen into swimming pools, into ditches, almost run onto a busy road but nothing seems to faze him. Restrictions imposed by his affliction are treated with scorn; the limiting tentativeness of not being able to see is not for him. Confidently and courageously, without knowing where he is going he leaps, and if he stumbles, he gets up and starts once again with exactly the same enthusiasm and the same vigor.

I watch him in admiration and wish that all of us who are part of his adopted breed were more like him.

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