Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Hoax SMS!

The ways of the world are often stranger than fiction! In a recent incident in which I was subjected to  a known person sending a hoax SMS about my health to a doctor friend was deeply perturbing and terribly malicious. People afflicted with the tendency to fabricate can  create terrible consequences from their actions. That it leads to a domino effect that causes panic is the rush of power that feeds such devious actions of these people who indulge in such senseless actions of spite.

Two evenings ago I received a call from my childhood friend, who is an eminent orthopedic surgeon, and who now practises in Delhi. He  told me that he had received an SMS message from a mutual acquaintance (who I  had just visited not more than an hour before that ), which informed him about me being unwell with a brain tumour! This led to my friend getting terribly worried about me, and when I didn't answer the phone (as I was driving), he called up another mutual friend who in turn called up another mutual friend.....all the while with everyone worried and anxious about my well being and scared that I was perhaps terminally ill.

When I got home and viewed my missed calls, I called back my friend in Delhi, and of course completely oblivious of this chain of events, prattled on about this and that without too much thought for his initial question about the state of my health. He then explained his anxiety about the message he had received, (personally sent only to him), about my being unwell with a brain tumour. I was so shocked at the intended mischief of this message, and so completely perplexed that someone I was in fact helping quite extensively since the last few months,  could behave in such a manner with me. The saddest thing was that this was not even meant to be some warped practical joke, but intended to create genuine panic for a laugh.

I immediately called up the person in question to ask why such a message had been sent. She initially denied it vehemently, but comprehending that evidence of a message from her mobile cannot be a figment of another's imagination, she confessed to it the next day by sending me a message apologising for her actions! She offered no explanation and I preferred to just leave this sordid issue without probing her intentions and merely replied saying: Thank you for the apology. I was extremely saddened by the false message you sent and the panic it created. Such unwarranted messages only hurt people and cause inconvenience. 

This unfortunate event reminded me of the numerous occasions when political agencies use similar tactics to destabilise communal harmony. The spreading of false stories that hold fear causes grave panic, and fuels a chain reaction that spreads incorrect information like wild fire. In the case of individuals being attacked and targeted ,  truth often gets appropriated because of the cowardice of those too weak to own up to their faults and mis deeds.

My attempts as a teacher is to insist on an exacting truthfulness from my students that may sometimes be painful in what gets addressed or confronted. But the lessons to learn from it are vital as it trains the mind and conscience to behave in accordance with a responsibility and accountability that is self governed at all times.

Why this lady in her late  fifties, chose to send a fabricated story to my doctor friend remains a mystery to all of us. However what  I do recognize in this lady's actions are the clear signs of a mischief maker at play. What she thought she stood to gain is difficult to know; what has occurred unfortunately for her is that she now stands exposed as a trouble maker. More is the pity that she has lost the trust of a person who had only her best interests at heart.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Amen to the new metrosexual man!

I read somewhere recently that a helpless man is considered most unattractive by women. Well I certainly endorse that sentiment. I find the male patriarchy of the feudal system that traditional societies desire to perpetuate, in which men consider any domestic work to be something they cannot get their brain around , to be absolutely absurd. It is for this very reason that right from his infancy, I taught my son the value of being a man around the house who is capable of doing everything as good as, if not better, than I could. I set high standards of work ethics for all that I do,  without any separating line that creates hierarchies of importance. All things need to be attended to, and attended to well! 

All things related to life and its survival are to be respected and comprehended as essential life skills for every individual to insist upon having. This must take in the entire spectrum of home management from stocking your larder, cooking, sewing, cleanliness and orderliness of laundry, space management and hygiene in the home, budgeting, health management, wise food and nutrition planning, maintenance of all appliances,....well the list is long! Above all there must be an understanding that living together involves collective consensus on all important issues and no autocratic selfishness. Factors like personal savings, efficient and effective banking, filing and maintaining tax matters amongst many other things,  all must be self managed and handled from ones young adulthood. Besides all this ones professional obligations must be met at all times, within which high standards of self application must be adhered to always. 

I am very emphatic that personal existence must be with the learnt abilities from a young age that make you truly independent;  and where we consciously cultivate skills that allow us to be  human beings who  have comprehend the true meaning of "living a full life" not merely theoretically but practically. Experience, observation, exposure and common sense must co-exist at all times as the guiding factors of learning.

What I will add to the starting point of this discourse  is that I find helpless women equally unattractive too! Women who flutter their eyelashes and feign round-eyed innocence about the realities and demands of the world of survival make me cringe. 

The problem in India is that we have no really respect for the dignity of labour whatsoever.  We  exploit the needy who we like to believe to be the "unskilled" labour force (which is untrue because they possess amazing skills that we depend upon).  We employ them as our domestic staff and then  refer to them as "servants" (!) despite pretending to have a political correctness about issues of discrimination! The farce is that we do not even acknowledge our dependence on these amazingly skilled home organisers,  who often remain faceless if not nameless people in our elitist worlds (!!); and whom we often keep "assigned" to the shadows when in fact they should be given their due importance. They offer us the comforts of a pampered lifestyle where we hardly ever soil our hands with the dust or the grime of all the various jobs that they do for us tirelessly; and the funny thing is that we assume we are doing them a favour by giving them employment, when instead it is actually we who need to be grateful for their services!!

Unfortunately it is to this example that we consign the formative years of our children, where they believe that no job around the house is for them to do. "Leave it for the servants to do"is the refrain like a bad chorus line, repeated too often in the homes where domestic labour is employed. With male role models who mostly conform to traditional stereo-types of helplessness on the domestic front, it is no wonder that we are a nation of messy cupboards and exhausted women!

Mithun is someone whom  I consider to be what a normal male should be. Fiercely house proud way before getting married, he is a great cook on a daily basis. Prudent with money, he is a smart saver who knows the fine line of balancing generosity and stringency, with finessed practise. Neat and efficient in every aspect of his life, he manages a home with his wife Samera with no fuss or calling undue attention to the effort of the consistency it requires.

I like it! This is the way it should be! 

I like the new metrosexual male and we should see more of them please. For this to happen we need to put out the right role models for our children to learn from, and break the stereo-typical macho image of men who leave their clothes in an untidy dirty pile on the floor for others to attend to, and who do not know how to look after a cranky baby or run a load of washing, or put a nutritious  meal on a table each day.

For me such men are down right boring and misfits in my personal world.
I think I speak for thousands of Indian women, don't I?!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A hint of a chill in the air...

Winter in Baroda is my favourite season. I say this faithfully every year when the winter peeks out at me from the dust and grime of my once grand city of Baroda, the centre of learning in the princely state of the Gaekwad's. I strut about our home these days swishing my sari pallav and filling the morning and dusk air with incense and the fresh fragrance of traditional galkota ka haar's (that most often are gifted to us by our spiritual children); and which hang from the old brass bells at the entrance, in our living room and on the stairwell landing that leads up to our bedrooms.

Perhaps old memories from my own childhood and stories narrated to me by Surendran of his; of lamps lit in the dusk in Bangalore and Kerala in both our respective ancestral homes, that cast flickering shadows and a divine glow that evokes the well being of the inhabitants of the house; becomes the magic that we unconsciously recreate as the emblems of home and personal traditions. 

When flying back from Kerala two days ago the night landscape of flickering city lights appeared like millions of tear drops glistening at me, as though grieving with me over the loss of our loved one. Home has those connotations that give to your heart what you desire, where even those run down spaces of your own existence hold the familiarity of comfort and solace and give to you a space of belonging that is precious and real.

I often keep my favourite photographs inside the books that I have loved reading. And so when I leaf through them again I chance upon these treasured images, and delight in the way they are brought back to my attention again  unexpectedly.

As I sit to write this blog the afternoon light falls on the wooden slates of the chattai in my studio verandah and the birds in the mango trees in my neighbours garden converse noisily, perhaps having a tea party I am not invited to! My studio fans whirl slowly and my adopted grand-daughter Aditi sits next to me immersed in her classwork preparations on the computer. My facilitator sits on the other side of me completing a task on the other computer, and of course Begum our cat snoozes on the chaise lounge replete and exhausted as usual from doing nothing other than eating!

The winters in India cover the most extreme contains of cold to the areas that remain hot through the twelve months of every year. I like the in-between zones where it is moderately cold in a cosy sort of way. Where bhajiya's and cups of steaming masala chai is the call of the hour. Where hot chocolate and cup cakes can be downed without pangs of guilt over calories. And where curling up with a book and a blanket is sheer heavenly bliss. Tonight I will sit out with my two spiritual daughters on our front verandah with the fairy lights blinking , and we will have  green tea and chat.

Small rituals that make memories of home and belonging.

Monday, 19 November 2012

End of an innings....

Devakiamma, my mother-in-law, passed away at 12.10 in the afternoon on Saturday the 17th of November in Onakkoor, as we flew the Mumbai-Kochi sector attempting to reach home as fast as we could.  However much you prepare yourself for the inevitability of death, it still never takes away the searing pain of loss you are confounded by when it finally does occur. 

For Surendran his mother has been the axis to his sense of belonging at home. He left home at the age of 17 to study, and  the space of his home holds his childhood and the influences of his mother as the dominant memories he treasures. 

 His life has been uniquely shaped by his mother's endeavors to raise a family of five children after the untimely death of his father when he was only two years old. The brave-hearted stories of Indian women are many, and my mother-in-law was certainly one of those amazing women who lived her life with the fortitude to succeed as a widow in bringing up a family single handedly. Proud and independent, she instilled into each of them the values of discipline  and the lessons of hard work, through sheer example and personal grit. Till her 80's you would see her, sickle in hand, tending to her land, turning a deaf ear to the requests of her family to ease her daily work routine. A woman of great strength cast in a frame of exquisite frailty, she held her own amidst the patriarchal feudalism of her husbands family, and never bowed down to accepting assistance from them despite her many hardships after the death of her husband that was sudden and unexpected.

Our own love-story and her unconditional acceptance of it speaks volumes of her ability to be open minded and progressive with her children, despite her rooting within a traditional society. Our last trip home as a family was to take our Samera to seek her blessings. She delighted in seeing them both and loved Mithun in ways that hold tender memories for him of his Muthashe. Perhaps the sweetest memory I hold of her is on her visit to Baroda  many years ago. She was quite enamored with my father, who in his typical quintessential military manner, was all booted and suited. He didn't seem to mind in the least that she didn't understand English nor that he knew not a smidgin of Malayalam, and happily prattled on conducting a monologue that held her riveted attention without asking for any interpretation for the entirety of his visit to our house! And my mother of course charmed her with her smattering of half a dozen words of Malayalam, and the present of a bottle of English Rose  eau de toilette, that she absolutely loved.  

To many she may have appeared brusque and matter of fact. But to those who knew her well,  her love was hidden in the small rituals of engagement she had with each of us. Surendran told me yesterday how she always insisted that on the day of his departure he had to loudly state before leaving "I am leaving mother". He never questioned her about this oddity but faithfully did it each time,  committing  to her memory the sound of his voice and the finality of the end of his stay at home on each occasion.  When I visited Onakkoor, I would have a bursting bag full of presents and goodies for everyone. She loved to rummage around in my bag to know exactly who was getting what, and all the goodies were always to be given to her for distribution. A present of money was given for Mithun, my mother and me on each occasion  either Surendran or I visited her, and she was to be duly informed that it had been given to each of them. 

As I attempted to console Surendran at the Kochi airport I was consumed with this immense desire to protect him from the pain of his grief. Though we know that a parent has journeyed well and must depart, we crave nonetheless to hold them to their mortality so that we can preserve our link of belonging that is indescribably potent in what it offers us as comfort and stability. 

When Surendran desired to come to Baroda to do his post diploma at the faculty of fine arts, his mother sold a tree for his education. Some people are uniquely special though they never call attention to themselves. My mother-in-law was one such person and her influence will always remain as part of our lives.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi- A role model for the ideals of non-violence

I caught, quite by chance, Aung San Suu Kyi's televised lecture today at New Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan. Unfortunately the entire lecture was not telecast....mores the pity that we cut short moments of historical relevance to accommodate  trivial news items that could very well be put on the back burner or be junked quite honestly!

Listening to this diminutive lady with her trade mark flowers tucked into the side of her hair, speak with measured precision from the experiences that define her political will, held my consciousness captive. From the late 80's when she became a public figure by choice within the political landscape of her country, I have been following her struggle to bring democracy to the people of Burma.  India did very little to aid her movement for democracy, turning almost a blind eye to the excess of the military regime that kept her under house arrest for many years, and which flaunted a corrupt system of governance for all to see.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela have been political freedom fighters who have lived out a philosophy of faith that supports human dignity, human rights and the ideals of freedom in ways that are without pretense or posturing; and without the rhetoric of self righteousness. As a result whenever I have heard then speak they hold my heart still with the simple truth of their words that bring the essence of their faith up close and palpable.

Aung San Suu Kyi talked about being expelled from her party by her own party  whilst under house arrest and narrated that this taught her the valuable lesson of  how essential it is to work together inspite of differences. She said that she observed this from the relationship Nehru shared with Gandhi and that despite the differences they worked together.

The truly great leaders of nations have been those capable of personal sacrifice without deeming it a virtue.  Aung San Suu Kyi has done this over the last two decades and has paved the way for a nation to finds its courage to  holds its own future with the faith to believe it possible. 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Family pride!

Our Samera is the new face of Dove in India.....
We are so proud of her many achievements.
Congratulations baby!

Monday, 5 November 2012

When the spirit weathers the storm...

Over the last 27 years Surendran and I have always kept our home open to friends and family; to visit and be with us as house guests despite whatever crazy schedules of work we have.  This has provided us with some wonderfully rich experiences and some treasured memories. It also taught our son Mithun the ideals of sharing, and gifted to him the spirit of generosity that places others before the self.  However we have also had our share of rather bizarre experiences that have equally been spaces of learning for as a family, when those  invited into our home have  transgressed the lakshman rekha of hospitality extended to them, and become inquisitive, invasive, demanding, judgemental, opinionated,  and often down right rude!

It is interesting that people who declare themselves to be private and who insist that they value their own privacy often ask the most invasive questions. In a recent instance of such transgressions with house guests,  not only were the immediate family subjected to crass inquisitiveness, but so too were our artists in residents in the Collective Studio, our adopted grand-daughter and her mother,  as well as our friends who would drop by! It became hugely embarrassing when petulant temper tantrums erupted as we attempted to explain the boundaries we would like respected,  and it took all our dignity as a family to insist of ourselves that our personal etiquette didn't falter as hosts in the face of such provocation.

Indian hospitality is special and unique; and it is something within our cultural traditions that I hope we never lose, either collectively or as individuals. But often ones patience is sorely tried; and it is such moments where one begins to question whether the true spirit of giving within the areas of hospitality received, is completely understood by the recipient. It is also essential that the art of receiving love and generosity with the appropriate comprehension of its true value, is a lesson learnt. Because the casualness with which anothers efforts are sometimes viewed, and the ability to take for granted the thoughtfulness of gestures received indicates how selfish and insular people can be when attention is focused on them. The training we give at The Collective Studio includes an emphasis on inter-dependencies that are about respect and acknowledgement at all times. Egos are a fragile commodity but so are egg-shells.....! The long and the short of it is that sensitivity can be claimed if it is given in equal measure.

Our home retains its spirit of inclusiveness by choice.  And though we are faced with some occasions that test our patience and the collective ideology that guides our lives; where we are disappointed that  our energies have been squandered -  we still continue to hold fast to the traditions of Indian hospitality that have for generations been the social practise of both the rich and the poor equally, and which in many ways is the hallmark of what being Indian is all about!