Friday, May 29, 2009

Shuffling through the Rush Factor

Have you ever thought of a sentence that sums up your existence at one go? I didn't till I stepped into another one of our interesting team meetings.

Shambhawi, one of my colleagues quoted a few lines from Cecilia Ahern's latest book Thanks for the Memories. stating,"Rushing, rushing, rushing. We are always rushing. Never have enough time here, always trying to make our way there. Need to have left here five minutes ago, need to be there now "

The funny thing, or maybe the serious thing, is that all of us could identify with that concept of rush as something that dominates our lives. One colleague said that sentence sums up his daily life. Another person stated that it pertains to all our lives. See what I mean?

Talk about relaxing and I remember an old treehouse in Malawi, where I grew up. I had a friend called Sophie. She was the prettiest girl in our class, so I was always in awe of her. Beauty isn't dished out by God to all and sundry as I very well know. She had it all, beauty, brains, finesse, manners, sweet nature, soft voice, it was just too good to be true.

The kids in our class used to be invited for summer holidays to her home. Her folks were very rich and she was the only daughter. She used to serve us tasty snacks and ice cold lemonade. It felt so good to just kick off our shoes, sit in Sophie's tree house that her parents had built for her and just feel the sun, the breeze and the trees all around.

Looking back now, what I love is that it had none of those annoying interruptions that clutter our lives today - cell phones, telephones, pagers, TV, all that crap that we believe we can't exist without now.

Most of the time we don't realize that when we step away from the ceaseless emails and technological gadgets for a while, there is so much peace inside. I am not suggesting that technology has brought forth the miseries and tensions of our life but the truth is that life and relationships were so much simpler and easier then.

What it really comes down to is priorities and finding balance. For example, I love Twitter. It is my personal wealth of writing resources and information and even inspiration but the frequent, minute-to-minute status updates, makes me pause just a little to wonder and ask myself, “When do they write?” or “How do they manage to get all their other chores done?”

I am not sure I have that ability to balance so many things at one go. This summer vacation, I’m going to find time for the people I love like crazy and limit my computer time a little. I don't plan to push aside my beautiful moments or shuffle around with my happiness. With any luck, the months ahead will put me closer to my endeavors to find balance and perspective.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Son's First Summer Camp


This is my son's first summer camp, with all its first time apprehensions, worries and efforts to learn and unlearn things, is more than just another camp. I realize that it is my son's first independent step toward independence from the tyrant in his life - ME.

Seriously, I have seen Adi's happiness when he is about to enter his summer camp place and it educates me a lot about letting him go the way he wants and not choke him with rules. The camp has a lot of kids and maybe he loves that too. After all, being a kid without siblings, he may really be wanting some company.

Adi has a fine mind too and he doesnt really need my rules to take him forward. Its tough for me to accept it but being responsible comes naturally to my three year old. He has traits that are really ones that grown up have. I am not saying that he is superior at all. I am just trying to understand his strong points. I dont know whether to feel happy or sad that my son's mind is far ahead of mine.

Yes, Adi values the security of my love but he tosses aside my rules. He is quick to question me when he is not happy with my decisions. He leaves me wondering, what happened to old parenting techniques? But of course, I am so glad he is totally loving his summer camp. I noticed that after his summer camps began, the squiggly lines on his drawing and coloring sheets have begun to assume shapes, like flowers, leaves and stems. I see his mind focus on what he is drawing, with better control on the lines that he is drawing.

At the end, he comes up to me with shining eyes and says, "Look, I draw." And that is my moment to look through his drawing, talk about it and encourage him. I know he loves it when I talk to him and ask him questions about his drawings.

Usually I am honest. I tell him, "What is this? I am bad at drawing. Can you tell me what it is? Why did you use this color and not that?" Maybe it sounds dumb to ask these questions but I can see how seriously he thinks about them and responds to me.

His eyes light up when he talks about his first bus ride. He says that he told the bus driver when they reached our building, "This is my home."

He says it with so much pride that I just hug him and say, "Yes, this is your home."

Today morning, my son said that a kid said to him, "Dirty boy" and I was concerned, being the cranky mom that I am. So i said, what did you say.

The cool reply from my three year old was, "I am not a dirty boy, I am a genius like Aamir Khan." That is his favorite Bollywood actor.

I was speechless. What can you possibly say to that?

Sometimes knowing your child's emotions is critical because each child is so different and difficult to predict. You can't really 'set' them in a mould like they are cupcakes. The way parents try hard to 'set' them into a routine can itself lead to giving them a feeling of being trapped by rules. Rules are good but not to suffocate a child's sense of identity and power of discrimination.

A child counselor I met for the first time quite recently told me that my son is a natural decision maker. Making decisions comes naturally to him. She wanted to spend time with him to understand him better. I realize that sometimes I make the mistake of thinking that he is my baby. Others who observe are quick to point out his potential strengths. It makes my heart hurt that I miss a lot of these little details but as soon as I do spot them I talk it over with Adi. I know he loves our long discussions because he is an expressive child.

Not diplomatic but expressive and brutally honest. He doesnt mince words at all. I respect that about him. He doesnt leave me wondering what he is thinking. If he speaks about something, it is crystal clear that he liked or disliked something. His opinions are very strong.

The teachers at his summer camp have good feedback about him. They put him at ease and make him feel comfortable. I can see that it is a safe environment that has been a catalyst of sorts in fostering my son's independence.

True, summer camp is not real life but it exposes children and parents to a gamut of feelings, thoughts and memories that stick to the heart and soul, like feathers to a bird.

By the end of the summer camp, its not just the child who finds the way back home, but the parents too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Family Albums


Family albums are a great way to preserve moments from the past or present that are truly special to one's life, which is why I have a huge collection of family albums. It is not spectacular but it takes me back to moments that mean a lot to me. It could be simple, like a day out with my friends, a shopping event, a new dish that I tried out or a day out with my son. It is just a way of awakening to the fact that every day is a new beginning to do something differently and experience it differently.

When I was growing up, my dad took a camera with him everywhere we went. Our home was full of albums with photos that Dad clicked right from the day I was born. There's me flashing a toothless smile, there's me trying to walk, there's me looking displeased about something, there's me having spilled something, so many beautiful moments that I can go back to anytime I want.

My dad says its the best way to stand back in time and see your babies again and relate to that very moment. Like I always do, my dad is my god and I think I follow him in a lot of things.

Everywhere I go, I take my camera. I dont want to lose moments. I want to savor my life. I want to know that every little joy has been detailed visually too. I want to love each moment, embrace it with greed and experience what it was like again and again and again.

One of my Twitter friends posted this, "Realize deeply that the present moment is all we ever have." - Eckhart tolle

To me, that sounds like a good reason to cherish family albums. Every moment in the present slips into the past. We need to honor and respect many moments that come and go.

A good way to start is to maintain and update a good photo album. I like to keep mine in hard copy so that at the end of the day, I can browse through them and relive moments that I really want to. It is like going back in time and revisiting that exact moment.

When I look at old snapshots, I see myself in a new light and how I've changed from one moment to another, not just in the way I look but in a lot of other things too, that make me who I am.

"The only way that you can ever know if something is of value to you is by the way it feels as you are receiving it” is what Abraham/Esther Hicks said. When you take out your family album and pore through old snapshots, I think you will understand exactly what they meant.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sharing the Past, Learning from it

I realize that most of what I convey to my three year old son, Adi is borrowed from my own childhood. As I grow older, I feel closer to those memories. By sharing those experiences with Adi, I feel that he will understand who I am and why I believe in certain things that root me to my identity and view of life. Growing up in Africa was like being alienated from my motherland in every way. Initially, it was tough to survive in school because of obvious differences. Some girls would pull my hair and ask, "Why do you have such hair?" or "Why is your skin color different from ours?" or "Why do you worship weird looking gods and not Jesus?"

It wasnt just non-Indians who had questions to ask. If I spoke with African friends, I had Indian friends who told me, "Listen, they are blacks so dont mingle too much. Their culture is different." No offence meant, but I've lived all my growing years with African people and I believe they are really warm, caring and godfearing people. I can't say the same for my Indian counterparts with the same confidence because I believe hypocrisy - the art of saying one thing and doing the opposie - is truly an Indian trait. I dont know why and where it originated from but I see it so rampant that it is hard for me to mingle with my lot of people because its difficult to trust them. Of course I am very proud of being an Indian but I am not excluding myself when I say this: we assume we are the best moral police, so our whole existence revolves around jumping to immediate conclusions about other people's lives. In comparison, Africans dont do that. They respect privacy a lot and care about being helpful. Please note the thin, blurring line between the Indian idea of nosy-helpful and the African idea of helpful-helpful.

Gradually, I learned to deal with these questions with confidence by saying that I am an Indian and my culture is deep rooted in how I think and what I do. Think about it this way: You may cut the umblical cord but mothers and children don't stop connecting to each other with strong emotional fervor. In the same way, my roots stayed very Indian because of my parents. They understood the importance of helping me strike a balance between my life as a kid in Africa and my identity as an Indian girl. Not every one had it so easy.

In primary school, I remember a Korean guy in my class who never spoke a word to any of his classmates because it was his way of dealing with people who kept asking him about his 'different' eyes. He always kept silent. I used to imitate him for a day or two and then i got fed up because I could never stop talking. I had to always keep talking. During school holidays, my dad would teach me how to write and read Malayalam, which is my mother tongue. He would put on Malayalam music, explain the poetry and the lyrics and what the poets may have intended to convey. I was really small at the time but I soaked up all of it like a sponge.

At the same time, my dad didnt try to choke my individuality. He encouraged me to do what I believe is right and that continues. Its not about being forced into one's identity but about being aware of who I am and what my choices are when growing up in a totally different place.

When I came back to India as a teenager in 1992, it was very difficult to fit in but I think I managed the transition pretty well. I like to share most of my childhood and growing up moments with my son.

Recently, I got my son a picture Atlas book and showed him the map of Africa. I told him that this is where your mom grew up and went to school. So now, he really wants to know about it. When I show him the Pyramids, I tell him that this is a place your dad visited and he loves that place. Anytime we see anything resembling a pyramid, my son remembers that at once and likes to hear my husband talk about it. Sharing these memories we hold close to our heart becomes priceless when we share it and leave it as a legacy with our kids. I know that when my father talks about his childhood, it makes me feel closer to him. It helps me understand and appreciate him though it makes him very nostalgic. By telling our kids about our past, the good and the bad, I think they will respect us more even if they dont really agree with us.

When I tell my son about little things like what made me cry when I was a kid or how my dad took me for walks and perched me on top of an old plane wreck so that I felt like I'm flying that plane, I can see how Adi loves it. His imagination takes him to that spot in Africa because I describe it for him and he listens very carefully. I tell him these little stories so that it helps him understand me and the choices that I make.

I believe that it will make kids stronger and emotionally secure when we are honest with them about everything. Learning from the past is definitely a good way to start.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When HR became God

I hate to say this about any profession but my experiences with HR professionals in India have been disastrous. It has always left me wondering whether I speak Latin and they speak another language. I just don't get why HR say one thing and do another and when it comes out on paper, it takes a lawyer to read between the lines and charge a hefty fee to determine what could have been plain, good old English.

In my first job, HR was very posh, well spoken, suave, the wonder stuff that made you melt. Once I got into the rut of corporate office details, I got the point: beneath the suave stuff, there lies the danger of pitting one team leader against the other by leaking out details of pay packages, who got the laptop over whom, that sort of fiery spark that can get bitchy women become even bitchier and it works all the time. Whatever happened to HR confidentiality, I dont have a clue. Really sucks.

Yet another organization I went to had a very pretty HR whose lipstick looked fresh all the time. She was posh, well spoken, corporate female guru and all that but she was never in her seat. One had to pray and wait for her to appear, a Cinderella like situation. I tell you, I wished then that I was HR.

Another time was when I got a fantastic job offer with terms set out and all that in black and white, but I thought about it very seriously and turned it down. At that time, I suspected I couldnt fit in with the say-one-thing-do-the-opposite regime, I shot off my regret in not taking up the offer. Guess what? I got an email that says we dont know what you are talking about, which job, what offer and hey, when did we even offer you a job? That was from HR in charge. I can't tell you which scum wrote it but i think it told me a lot about corporate tactics that HR professionals snap up to keep their jobs afloat. I dont know why that got me really mad at HR professionals for a long, long time.

But I think I revised my opinion when I met a wonderful person. I dont want to name him as I dont have his permission to do that. Let me call him Boss, for now. Well, I met Boss by chance, long back. A professional HR expert, my life changed the moment I met him. Age wise, he is old, but at heart, he is younger than me. With silver hair, regal features, a booming laugh and welcoming smile, I was totally bowled over by his charisma and insight as he served me tea and cookies like we were best friends meeting after a long, long time.

I've handled all kinds of queries and questions without flinching but he asked me ruthless questions that nearly made me cry and think more seriously than I ever had about my life. The conversation still stays in my mind whenever I need to take an important decision. He told me that he loves his work because he transforms the lives and choices that young people rush into, without thinking. He said thats what he loves about what he does. By the end of our discussion, I knew he was right. He transformed me without a magical wand.

Summary of what Boss told me: You have a brilliant mind but a restless spirit brimming with too many ideas. There is so much I know you can do but you dont get to do them because you are a people-person but ideas keep on flowing and you get restless when you toy with one idea because dealing and helping people and learning new things fascinates you more than anything. So you dont have the patience to take a specific idea to completion. You are like a child because you have too many things running around in your mind that you can't store them so you lose them and you focus on building other people and learning from them. So think about what makes you really happy and then decide what idea to pursue and what to let go of.

Rooted to the spot, I told him right there that I havent met anybody like him. He understood me better than I understood myself. Whenever I think about any idea or alternative, I think very seriously about Boss. Recently, after a very long time, we sent mails to each other and I told him that his advice had really helped me to focus on what gave me happiness and he said, in his typical humble way, that he feels happy to hear that. In a way, I think and wish I could do what he does: transform the choices that others rush into and make a real difference to their life. Of course, that would make me God, wouldnt it? In that case, I think I am ok being me. Its so much easier to handle:)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

It was Mother's Day yesterday. Twitter was full of greetings and I had never felt so close to memories about my mother like I did yesterday. I thought a lot about the concept of 'Mother' and felt thankful to God that I have a wonderful, loving mother who helped shape and ignite my ambition to excel at work. My mother had spent most of her time with us till I was a teenager and then she realized that she wanted to do something very meaningful in her own private space. It was not about leaving her duties but about discovering what she was good at and working to hone those skills. I really admire that about my mother.

I went to a school full of rich kids. They carried foreign chocolates in their bags, carried expensive perfumes and accessories and showed off their lifestyles. It made me feel quite plain. At the time, I remember my mother telling me, "Being beautiful or rich is not as important as believing in God and doing the right thing. Those who are proud or arrogant should think of God and be humbled. Your professional career is more important than anythingelse. Your work proves your identity, tells the world what you are capable of and that is what is most important in life."

I believe that I am focused about my work because of my mother's words and insistence that I excel in my own way. I will never stop thanking my mother for her simple, priceless wisdom. Her values and teachings have always influenced me but she has never ever forced her 'rules' on me.

When I got married, she didnt cry and nor did I. We knew that marriage cannot change the love that already is there since the day I was born. We felt happy for each other that the unconditional love we share shall always remain. When my son was born, she cried like a child because she said this was God's gift to her.

No matter what I do, my mother has never questioned me because she always believes I will do the right thing. Mummy always loved my friends, whether they were boys or girls. She treats all my friends with equal love and respect. She has never been a nosy mom. She always has amazing confidence in me and believes that I will never betray her trust in me.

In all these years, believe it or not, my mother has never raised her voice to me. I have never raised my voice to her. We've been with each other in silent love and she has always been my anchor to the right kind of values and principles. She gave me freedom when I needed it and not advice, which I dislike totally. We don't verbalize these feelings. We know and respect the fact that it's there, binding us to one another.

Even though I have become a mom myself, my mother still calls me, 'her sweet sixteen girl' and she is very proud of the person that I have become.

Looking back, it occurs to me that some of my most valuable lessons in lif were shown to me by my mother and not said. Like her faith in God, her compassion to those who are in difficulty, her ability to love those who are not 'socially acceptable' and her simple, sacrificing nature. All along, she has been my role model in ways that she can't imagine, in words that I can't tell but through her, I learnt all that is important about being a good woman.

A few things my Mother instilled in me from her own actions:
1. Hard work is the best education you get.

2. Wealth is just a necessary evil. Don't focus your life on wealth. Focus on learning.

3. Pray everyday for strength to face the tests that God puts your way everyday.

4. Selfishness is as great a sin to God as cheating or lying. Think and feel for others around you.

5. Kindness and compassion are greater than any religion.

6. Call God by any name but if you can't love those who are poor, needy and helpless, there is no point in calling out to God.

Friends, Happy Mother's Day to all of you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mommy Guilt and 24 Hours a Day

Having a job that I love, staying in sync with amazing people and friends on Twitter, Facebook and Blogger itself takes up all my time. That's why I can understand Barbara Miller's statement when she says, "As a mother of five active children, an owner of a growing business and a habitual volunteer I find myself testing scientific theory and bending and stretching time to unheard of limits. " (resource:The Impossible Stretching Woman: Prioritize to Return to Normal Size http://tinyurl.com/co9w28)

Let me talk about this in the context of an Indian woman whose way of life is radically different. A typical contemporary Indian woman cannot come back home and expect to relax, read the newspaper and watch TV or just gossip on the phone or simply idle away time at the end of a very hard working day. In my world, it doesnt work that way at all.

Countless details need to be checked that requires focus, commitment and detailing. My mother is a working mom. I've never seen her relax or spend time for herself. She is working or worrying about things that need to be done. Without her, I cannot imagine my dad managing his day efficiently. She looks into a thousand countless details about his patients, their records, their history and knows each of his patients by name.

Mummy looks into other things too though she cannot spend as much time as she would like with us. Is dinner ready? Are the kids fed? Did they do homework correctly? Did they eat well? Do provisions have to be bought? Are the clothes ironed? Did kids have a good versus rough day? Did hubby's day go well? Does something need to be prioritized for the following day? Did you call your parents, or others whom you need to be in sync with?...etc.etc.etc.

Now I understand how much my mom has worked to keep her identity by making a different choice of not being a 'home maker' but a bit of both. I think I've never seen her complain or say she's had too much stress even at this age. She never pampers herself because she has to prioritize her time really well so that it helps another person in dad's sphere of work. She works for the sheer joy of it. Not because of duty or anythingelse. I think that in itself is amazing.

My father, on the other hand, is perhaps one of the most hard working people I've met. I think i get my inspiration from him. He says, "work is worship" so he loves his work. Being a doctor is taxing enough but I've never seen him stop smiling. I've seen him work over 24 hours at a stretch. He is not so young anymore but he works harder and longer than I do, not because he needs to but because he loves to. He holds his work as sacred. It is not always about money but about the difference that you can make to another person's life. That human touch of love and compassion is something I've inherited from my dad. I'm indebted to him for that, among a thousand other wonderful things.A lot of my friends and colleagues have told me that my best traits are my ability to feel for others and to show compassion naturally.

Some one recently told me that i am his 'Guardian angel' coz I take care of him like a mother. A lot of people have told my dad that he's been a guardian angel to them. So this compliment I got takes me closer to what my father taught me to believe in, that work is worship, the best way of reaching God in a meaningful way.

I use my work to reach out to my team members and increase their learning. It isnt a one way point of communication because every day, every moment, I learn invaluable lessons and ideas and perspectives from them too.Reading Barbara Miller's article really made me think seriously about my role as a mom so I have to thank her for this article.

Like her, I too experience 'mummy guilt moments' in my life. When Adi, my son uttered his first words, I wasnt there to hear it. When Adi took his first steps, I didnt know it. It is a painful choice that I made because what I do at work is invaluable and losing that opportunity is equivalent to losing my identity. Still, there are no excuses for choices that you make about work.

I am there for my son when he wants and needs me. I dont want to suffocate him with my love or sense of control over him because I grew up with freedom. My parents never trapped me with conventional rules that you must do this and you must do that. They told me their perspective about something and would tell me, you think about it too and do what you think is right.

Till today, I do what I believe is right. I don't take anybody'else's mantra into my work or life.

If I believe something, I will do it. I think that is why I am confident of my work and the person that I am. I want the same for my son but I think when it comes to independence, Adi has always had a mind of his own. At six months, he would decide what clothes he wanted to wear. I tried persuading him with my choices and he would never agree. He always made his choices right from the age of six months. I think I want him to have an independent mind of his own like I always did. It has brought me far in life and I would like the same for my son too.

I dont want to be the conventional mom who shows right from wrong because I think each person must learn what is right and wrong on his own. No bodyelse can show or teach you that.

Some truths and some mistakes are yours to find. When my son is ready to move away, spread his wings and fly with the wind, I want him to have no fears. That day, he will know and respect the person that I am and the confidence I gave him to be what he wants to be.

But now he is perhaps too young to understand and I try to be there for him and if i can't, I try to tell him how deeply I love him and would like to be there and not miss what's important for him.

I think we all need to think about such moments and relationships in life because we need to take ownership for the choices we make and how it treats our loved ones.

Nowadays, I try not to push myself over the edge. I try hard to stay fit so that I feel relaxed and playful while I spend some precious time with Adi. I spend my time doing meaningful things that i love, like reading, writing, tweeting and blogging. The kind of amazing and supportive Twitter friends I have, well, I can't put it into words. Really, they make me smile and think in ways I never had before.

Still, there are lots of things that I want to do but I don't have the time to right now. I know that one day, I will make time to do things that mean a lot to my existence. One day, I plan to do all those things I've wanted to do. Not now, coz I have far, far to go.

Till then, I realize that there are only 24 hours in every day but I do feel contented that I make every hour truly meaningful and precious for not just myself but for a lot of others whom I learn from and who are bound to transmit the little that I know to another two generations. That makes me proud of what I do in 24 hours a day. I tell myself, "Wow, you're awesome" coz if I dont cheer myself, nobodyelse will.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Day I shook Hands with the President

(President Kaunda Dancing with Margaret Thatcher, resource:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5099962.stm)

If there's one thing I love doing apart from writing and listening to music and dining out, it's shopping for gifts, especially for loved ones. It can take me a whole day to do that. Of course, whoever has the misfortune to accompany me is ready to jump off a cliff by the end of the day but I'm ever ready if and when it is shopping we do.


Today, I went shopping the whole day and thought why not write about it. On the way, I picked up Outlook magazine which featured an exclusive interview with India's most talked about dynastic icon, Priyanka Gandhi, grand daughter of the late Indira Gandhi. The interview excerpt was very interesting. She talked about how she tries to live an ordinary life with her kids by taking them shopping or going to Khan Market to buy them cupcakes. Somehow, reading that reminded me about two incidents when I was growing up in Africa.


Looking back at my childhood, I can say I did very little shopping unlike today's kids, my own kid for that matter. I was the elder kid in my family and we lived in Africa for about 14 years of my life, the growing years. So, of course, my only shopping time was when we went to the bookshops.


I remember a particular shopping incident. My parents and i were in Central Bookshop, which was one of the well known bookshops in Zambia. Suddenly, all the customers were asked to leave by cops. I was a kid and I didnt understand what was happening. My dad kept tugging at my arm, saying the cops have asked everyone to go. But I wouldnt budge or let go of the stackful of books my dad and I had decided to buy. Books were the only luxury shopping we could afford at that time.


Suddenly, a ring of cops surrounded us and I clung to Dad, wondering if we were going to be thrown in jail. Even as a kid, I loved drama. Well, what happened was a tall, dark, fine looking, well dressed African man stepped in. I recognized him at once.


President Kenneth Kaunda, the first President of Independent Zambia and a renowned statesman of great repute all over the world. His eyes were warm, kind and twinkling. He asked the cops not to scare the 'child' and told them to break the ring surrounding me and my dad.


He shook hands with dad and asked him, "Sir, what do you do? Which country are you from?"


Dad said, "I am a doctor from India. I work here in Lusaka."


"Good, good. I studied in India. I love Indians." He smiled in a very friendly way.
By then I was playing the drama queen role. I knew Africans curtsy to their President and bow. I wasnt sure if i should do that since I wasnt an African. I debated doing a 'Namaste' but what if the cops thought it was a kung-fu move and throw us into jail, where they dont have books for me to read? Well, then, I decided that I would play safe. Do the decent deed and shake hands with the President.


My turn. My little heart was galloping with so much tension. Alternatives of decorum were running out by then. I wished i had worn my favorite navy blue and white dress with polka dots and a red bow ribbon.


The President looked down into my eyes, shook hands with me and asked, " What's your name?"
"Swapna Raghu."
He asked me the name of my school. I said it.
He said, "Do you like this place?"
I said, "Yes, my dad brings me every week to this bookshop."
He laughed a little and said, "Thats good. I meant do you like my country? Is there something you would like to have here which you can't find right now?"
I thought very seriously. Then I said, "I would like a bigger bookshop so that I can buy more books."


The President laughed out and ruffled my hair. He said to me, "Good girl. It was my pleasure to meet you."
Then he told the owners of the book store."They are my guests from India. Make sure they are happy and comfortable." In a second, he was gone. I was kid back then but even now I remember the love, warmth and gentle way in which he spoke. Truly, He was a real President. He loved his people, cared about them and about those who stayed in Zambia. He was very concerned about the safety of Indians.



Another incident is when Indira Gandhi died. I didnt know about it of course. My class teacher came to me and said with tears in her eyes and called my name. I wondered if she knew I hadnt done my homework. It wasn't that. She said to me. "Today and the next two days are holidays for Indian children."
I asked why. I felt suspicious. Could they be dismissing me?


She said, "Something terrible has happened. I want you to be brave."
I was sure that something had happened to my parents. I felt tears springing up in my eyes. I felt ready to die.


"Who is the Prime Minister of your country?"


I stared at my teacher. Was she mad? What a stupid question when I was facing a life and death situation? As if the Prime Minister is my next relative or something?


I said, carelessly, "Indira Gandhi."


The teacher burst into tears and hugged me. She said, "Darling, go home. Our President has declared mourning for Indians for three days. Your Prime Minister was shot. Please be brave and go home to your parents."
I stared at my pretty Zambian teacher and cried all the way home. I couldnt believe that everything was ok. I thought my world had nearly collapsed because of that stupid teacher. It wasnt so. I cried with relief that I could go back to my parents.


Later, my dad told me that President Kaunda had been one of the first dignitaries to have rushed to India to help the Gandhi family in those most painful moments. His education in India had been sponsored by Nehru and further extended by Indira Gandhi. He looked up to the Gandhi family as his benefactors and it seems when Indira Gandhi visited Zambia, he would personally escort her to all places and not even sit as equals with her. I can imagine him doing that because he had always been a kind, compassionate man more than a politician. Perhaps that is why I still remember him after all these years.


Now I realize how selfish i was, I didnt realize that a country's destiny had been affected at that time, that a family had lost its most important person and that so much would change in my country thereafter. Somehow, an African President understood that while I had cried out in partial relief and joy. Reminds me to say, C'est la vie.

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India is my Country & my Pride