Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review: Family Baggage by Monica McInerney

When I saw the nicely packed brown suitcase on the blurb of this novel titled, "Family Baggage," I knew I wanted to go on and find out what else is in the baggage. Some books are like that. They hint secrets in a simple, non-violent way. This book did, too.

Initially, I felt disaappointed. It seemed to be about Harriet Turner, a young woman in her thirties, who is taking a bunch of old people on a themed holiday tour that is based around a popular UK serial. It seemed to go into logistics of travel, not bringing the characters to life at one go. There were times when I wasn't sure whether I was reading a traval itinery but as the book progressed, it became a journey of one insecure woman whose family background is the baggage. Her relationship with her parents and siblings is deep but clouded by the presence of a dynamic, super confident foster sister, Lara. Lara is just perfectly poised and beautiful. Everyone adores her and the world seems to revolve around her, while Harriet tends to blend in the background, watching her parents and siblings worship her foster sister. The years of anger, jealousy and helplessness erodes Harriet's belief in herself and when suddenly, Lara dissappears without a word, Harriet begins to feel that her confidence is back again and she throws herself into working perfectly, as Lara would have done.

What comes later is how Harriet's perceptions about Lara change with a sudden crisis that rocks the family. The plot also tells us that sometimes we have, over the years, pre concieved notions about our cousins and family members because we don't really know their real story and if we did, our feelings towards our family members would be a lot different.

Though not connected, it also reminds me of something Baba always tells about relationships, "First understand, then adjust." He says that most people adjust without understanding and that becomes a constant source of friction later in the relationship.

This book too seems to emphasize that it is important to at least try and understand others' before we form opinions about them or make adjustments in our life for them with regret and envy than understanding and empathy.

I'd recommend this book as something you can read over a weekend or when you are traveling because so much of the book has wanderlust that will get you singing while you are reading it. Worth a try.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

5 Bizarre Things That I Did This Week

My life is seriously turning bizarre. Here 's a recap:
  1. I spend a whole day with a bunch of flirtatious young Italians who kept clicking my photographs while I was trying to talk some sense into them about India and they would keep asking me ridiculous questions to keep me talking every time I stopped talking. Finally, I gave a bow and walked away becafuse I was wondering whether they think I am mad. Not that India doesn't have mad people in the country, just look at us - the kind of mad people we elect to positions of power.
  2. There was a really high profile meeting in one of Gurgaon's five star hotels and I got to know about it pretty late in the day. So, here I go, wearing my worst looking orange-peach kurtha and jeans that look torn, to the hotel. Obviously, the people out there were dressed to kill but they probably thought I am fashionable because they talked to me like a normal person while I wanted the ground beneath my feet to swallow me up! Of course, it was worse that I was late and therefore when I entered, every eye was on me, questioning how dare I be so late when even VVIPs reached on time. Well, dear friends, VVIPs don't travel on metros. Working moms like us do:)
  3. I traveled by metro at about ten in the night all by myself after a meeting in Gurgaon. I was scared to death coz I was on my own. The best part was the metro was filled with hundreds of young girls who were very sweet to me and kept giving me advice about how to travel on the metro, considering that every time the metro stopped, I kept jumping up from my seat like a jack in the box. So, finally, a young girl tells me, "Don't worry, we have three hours to reach your station." That did it. I became paralyzed by just calculating at what time I'd reach home to my son and wondered what the hell am i doing!
  4. I have begun making a mental inventory of my real friends though there really is no such thing except for God, call me cynical if you must but I believe that my time and mission is precious. I dont want to waste my time with people who want to be losers by being mean. Some friends have misused my FB space to make up stuff about me and I can stand anything but deception from friends. Guess what I did? I hate to confess this but i have blocked them from FB because I'm better off without them in my personal space. I am not Mahatma Gandhi to turn the other cheek. I have feelings and I am tired of people who have nothing to do with their own time and therefore spend their time and effort on construing things about my life. Do me a favor, just check if we are still friends on Facebook.
  5. I never tell anyone these things. I did that, just now. Doesn't that seem bizarre in itself?

India's Demographic Dividend

The winter chill has begun to set in Delhi, early morning mist wraps us all in its cold. Feels great to wake up and have steaming hot coffee before the rush to work that paves the way for a very hectic, exhausting day.

In the last three weeks, I've met over a hundred people, top brass entrepreneurs, students, educators, academicians and so on. What strikes me about these people, irrespective of age, is their energy to make things happen and their passionate belief that India is on the cusp of a golden, super power era. 

Today's young teenagers and youths that we see around us are the nation's treasures. I'm not kidding. By 2050, no other country in the world will have such a young, vibrant and talented pool of youngsters. Most developing countries in the world are facing the problem of low youth population and increasing number of aged population for whom their governments have to provide social security and many other benefits. These governments are worried sick about how they would grapple with the youth crunch by 2050 while in India, this demographic dividend is what will enable us to become a super power. If only we, as a society, can encourage them to be what they want to be, help them dream big and reach for the sky, and teach them less and support them more, what a fine thing that would be. 

What do you think?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Putting Compassion into Practice

I watched Anjali, a Tamil movie directed by Mani Ratnam. Raghuvaran, acting as the father, is brilliant. The film also has actress Revathy's finest performance as a mother oif three children. A mother who struggles to explain to herself why she has a child who is not normal  and yet she loves this child more than the other two. And yet she finds herself unable to express that love easily. It's a film that parents and children should watch together.

                                             [Image: Gratisography]
The movie's story revolves around a happy married couple with three children. They live in a respectable society, have a good life and yes, part of the typical young middle class. The rude awakening to their stable life comes in the form of a child. That is just the beginning. Their youngest child is not 'normal' (starring Shyamlee aged barely 2 years at the time this movie was filmed). 

All the kids in the building including the siblings of this child dislike and avoid her because they recognize that she is not one of them. A number of people in the building ask her parents to move out because they are all 'respectable' and they don't want their kids moving about with a 'mentally ill' child. 

As a film maker, this is perhaps Mani Rathnam's most 'from-the-heart' movies. So real is the pain and helplessness of Anjali's parents, something we can relate to only if we are able to look beyond the comforts and taken-for-granted blessings in our life. 

This movie strips away the so called disguise of social respectability that we like to wear because beneath the facade, we can be just a bunch of hypocrites, eager to laugh and scorn other people's pain and problems as long as they are not our own. 

We talk big about causes and say that we care about handicapped children.  

The question is: When do we put compassion into practice?

The answer lies within.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

When I began reading, The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, the pure beauty and brilliance of the language coupled with the all too powerful narrative of two women from two different worlds stopped me in my tracks. One part of me wanted to devour the book because it seemed like a confluence of literary-cultural fusion but the other part of me wanted to savor every moment of the book, make it stretch to sweetness and pain, as much as possible.

The story is about an illegal Nigerian immigrant who reached England, in search of an English couple, Andrew and Sarah. The emotions, thoughts and conversations that continue buzzing in her head make her as real as you and I. When she lands up at the door of Sarah, it is the day the Englishwoman has just turned widow.
“Most days, I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming…A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind.”

What brings one woman from the African continent to the British Empire? What could possibly be the depth of emotion that brings forth such an impossible journey? The plot unravels, slowly and beautifully, through the contrasting perspectives of two young women.

Another paragraph that caught my attention, the way it was written,
“Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter and warm, strong and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. Also, it vanishes – the taste of it vanishes from your tongue while your lips are still hot from the cup. It disappears like plantations stretching up into the mist.”

For many Africans, the following para is sure to make sense and bring forth a gush of pain because it echoes the throes of exploitation:

“The future is my country’s greatest export. In my country, the future exists in gold nuggets hidden in the rocks or it collects in dark reservoirs far underneath the earth. Our future hides itself from the light but your people come along with a talent for divining it. In this way, fraction by fraction, our future becomes your own. 

To me, a good book offers me a journey. I am packed, ready and set to travel with the protagonists in their journey of life. That is how involved I am with a good book. It consumes my thoughts and fills me even in my dreams, especially the pain of the protagonists come alive. Somehow, somewhere, I feel indebted to such fine, brilliant writers because they continue to inspire me and help me experience the world differently.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Diwali Greetings

Happy Diwali to all of you, dear friends.

At my end, we did a quick lighting up of the house with decorative lights, and watched our kid's eyes light up and that was just the best feeling in the world. He played with his friend (neighbor's kid) called Ansh till ten in the night and enjoyed a lot.

Today, we will light the diyas together. I have a fetish for candles and diyas and bought a beautiful collection of assorted types from the market that is nearby. Evening will be for lighting the diyas, giving gifts to adi's friends and of course, doing the Lakshmi Puja which I like to do myself.

So, dear friends, I wish you a very Happy, Prosperous and Joy filled Diwali.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Answer Is......

I was in an introspective mode when I put up the following update on my Facebook update:
You all know me so well coz u r my friends, yet sometimes you know me not at all. Here is a question: Who's the most important person in my life? How do you know?
Nothing would have prepared me for the interesting responses I got from my friends. However, only my dear friend @ksekher from Mumbai got it right instantly. Sekhara, u r a genius:)
Most people chose my four year old son Adi and/or Sri Sathya Sai Baba as the most important person in my life. Even those with whom I don't speak about Baba seemed to choose Baba as the most important person in my life.  Many of you gave me logical, correct answers. Fact is that you forget I am a simple, sentimental woman. All that logic goes over my creative head. All that I know is to love and write. So, here I am, sharing my thoughts with you on a query that I got so much interesting, insightful feedback on.
To a great extent, that is true but the thing that is overlooked is that I have been such an inconsistent devotee that it tells me I've not given so much importance to Baba after all because out of say ten things he emphasizes on, do i even follow one consistently? Is it that I love him less? 
Nope, its just that the effort and the level of importance is not urgent enough in my materialistic mind, so what is the point of me saying that He is the most important person in my life when I don't do anything He says? Same applies with my dad. I adore and idolize my dad but I've never done any of the things he would have been proud to see me do. Same reason, I guess. 
With Adi, I think while I am crazy about the brat, I am aware that a child is God's gift, you are given this gift for a while till the time God wants Him back for His own purpose and grooming. The relationship that is based on unconditonal love is like a rented home. You have to remember that anytime, you have to let go and our kids have to go out there for a brighter future not because we want them to go but it is their destiny to do so.
It is difficult for me to document all the responses that I got and I hope my friends will bear with me for picking out a few that seemed to have insightful inputs.  I liked the fact that all my friends made an attempt to share their opinions, freely and frankly, and yes, they seemed to know me well enough while doing so, even Jay Menon who cited "Your dad" and then to "Paachakulam Vasu" in his typical witty style.
My dear friend from Kochi, Seema Lal, wrote, "all are equally important... each situation makes each person more important :D safe answer right! :D"
My sister in law wrote, "One tends to love their dad and mom the most becoz they are the first people who you fall in love with. But in your case it is your dad who was holding that position for the longest time until your son's arrival. Now the love you have for y...our own flesh and blood whom you carried for nine months and who you gave birth to makes him more special than probably even the love you have for your dad. But the eternal love you feel for Baba, i am not sure whether it is stronger than these two bonds. So i am totally confused. Or else to you all these three people have their special position in your heart just as any other relationship is to you. But the three mentioned people might be dearer than the rest."
In this context, yes, I must confess that my love for Baba surpasses anything I have ever felt or experienced in life. His very name and form fills me with love that is inexplicable and one that people who know Him not fail to understand. In fact, as a teenager, I have been bullied and been subject to so much ridicule because I always dared to say that He means the world and more to me. However, having said that, I will not dare to say that He is the most important person in my life because that would be boasting an empty claim. I have never practiced even His simplest teachings and therefore, I fail to say that He is the most important person. If he truly was, the manifestation of it should have showed in my conduct and actions. 
Just to speak a few words about my mother because I rarely do - The reason that I place so much importance to my identity and freedom to be me stems from the way my  mother gave me complete freedom to be who I want to be. That freedom, she told me, is based on equality and for that reason, she always insisted (my dad is conservative, in comparison, prefers his daughters to be gentle home makers than career-oriented, independent professionals) that my sister and I should be professionals, financially independent at all times and be very clear about having a good career. She felt that way because she had always been a house wife, in the background of a very busy, professional husband, and therefore,  she always felt that she hadn't had the advantages that we have today - the right of making a career related choice was not open to women of her time, at that point. She always wanted me to do law and I completed law only for her. She had always wanted to be a lawyer when she was young but of course, it was socially taboo and she inspired me to go for law. 
Whereas my dad, while I adore him, prefers his daughters to do something that is more conventionally acceptable. In fact, my dad doesn't approve of me working at all. He likes me to spend my time with Adi and take care of my family. Career, according to Dad, is secondary. For mom, its the opposite. Her two daughters having good competitive job growth and career is of utmost importance to her.
To get back to our story, another friend Pooja Mohan from Kochi wrote, " it has to be YOU, cos if not for a mentally and physically healthy you, you wouldn't know who is important or how to love...Ur dad, ur son, ur husband, ur mom, in-laws, and ur lord all will fall into that category of specially improtant people."
Another friend Suma agreed with Pooja. Logically, yes, it makes perfect sense, but alas! I am not a logical person yet. I am still an eccentric, creative person to whom relationships and emotions define everythingelse.
Truthfully, though it may sound corny or right out of a cheesy love story, the answer is Sanand.
Years ago, when I turned 18, I met him and fell in love with him just like that. We were and are exact opposites but I still feel the same way. Every poem and story and book that I have written were for him and still is. I can't go ahead writing unless he reads and gives me his suggestions. He has always taken the time to read and encourage me to write. Without that kind of encouragement, I doubt whether I would even attempt to write or have faith and confidence in myself.  Everything that I do, I believe I do it because I love him. 
His importance in my life is so understated and unspoken but the truth is that without him, I would never be me, because right from the time we met, he changed my life, redefined my perceptions and turned my world into something more intense and meaningful than I could ever imagine it to be. If i am still eccentric, it is because I have the space to be me and i choose to be. Vice versa.
He gave me a sense of direction about my identity, insisted on giving me the space and trust that I always grew up with and gave me the freedom to always be what I love to be. 
Most importantly, Sanand understands me better than anybodyelse in my life, even myself. That understanding stems from years of friendship that has withstood great storms, tribulations and tragedies. Together, we have seen our world turn bright with rainbows and then crumble, leaving only rubble in the path and yet we tread, believing it would be all right because no matter what, we are together in it.
That, of course, is the compassion of God. But I have answered your questions, haven't I?


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