Our tryst with the rising sun

Dawn heralds the beginning of a new day, a new opportunity, a new hope. For my family – my mom, dad and brother and me – the rising sun will always hold special significance.

*

I remember the morning almost 48 years ago when my brother a lanky teen and I an eight year old, had tagged along with our parents on their usual walk in the Hanging Gardens. A quiet solitude bathed the garden, the animal figures carved from hedges barely discernible in the morning haze. As mummy and papa took their customary five rounds, bhaiya and I hung around, examining spider webs, hunting snails and caterpillars, playing hide and seek, and then tired, sitting at the far end of the park, enjoying the view from our vantage point atop the Malabar Hills ~ the steep slope of the rocky hillside, the high rise buildings in the distance, the Arabian sea down below.

Little did we know that at that very moment, our parents were making decisions that would change the course of our life. That my dad would decide to work on his dream of making a thesaurus in Hindi, a vital resource for the language not yet conceived and created by anyone. That my mom would begin saving in earnest so that my dad could give up his job as editor of the film magazine Madhuri and devote himself full-time to the thesaurus. That we would move to our family home in Delhi to escape the high cost of living in Bombay.

The sun was coming up as mummy-papa joined us. Together, we watched the rising sun bathe the sky a purple-pink, turning the gulmohar trees on the hillside a golden tangerine and the sea a mass of twinkling blue in the distance.

Mesmerized, the four of us stood there, hands resting on the garden railing, silently taking in the vast expanse of openness around us… Looking back, I realize, the rising sun had been a harbinger of hope and hard work in the times to come… forging the paths of our lives.

*

Two years later. 19 April 1976. The day my dad wrote the first card of the thesaurus.

Since their decision in the Hanging Gardens, my parents had actively begun to give shape to their dream. Preparations were afoot ~ reference books purchased, cards for writing the words printed, trays for housing the cards customized… Papa decided he would launch the work in Nasik, a city in Maharashtra on the banks of the holy river Godavari, where his company, the Times of India, had a guesthouse. We could stay at the guesthouse, a comfortable bungalow with huge gardens and compounds, for the entire summer while papa began work on the thesaurus. 

Rising early that day, the four of us made our way to the Godavari for a dip. Everything seemed special that day. The glow from the rising sun, the near-empty banks, the pigeons on the banks, the ring of temple bells, the whoosh of wind in the trees, the sound of our feet as we went down the steps to the river… 

The water rippled as the four of us waded in. I slipped my hand into my mom’s… For a long moment, the four of us stood there, looking out at the river stretching before us till it seemed to meet the sun in the sky, and in that moment, the river became a molten gold, blinding us to tears. It was magical. A perfect morning to launch a dream.

Later, we bought a copper urn and had the date engraved on its rim. Returning to the bungalow, papa wrote the first card of the thesaurus (then titled Shabdeshwari) and all four of us signed on it, date and all. 

Though I would fully appreciate the true significance of that day only twenty years later, when mummy and papa presented the first copy of Samantar Kosh, the first ever thesaurus in Hindi or any other modern Indian language, to the erstwhile President of India, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma.

*

Today, forty five years later, I wonder: Was it fate? Or destiny? Or the will of a higher power that my dad’s dream became a family enterprise over the years? And that Samantar Kosh came to epitomize togetherness in its truest sense and became the binding link of our family?

Who would have thought that day on the banks of Godavari that papa would dedicate his entire life to Hindi, overcoming hurdles, physical, financial and personal, in his unabashed, undefeated and undeterred pursuit of a dream?

That my brother Sumeet would be instrumental in making papa’s dream come true. That he would organize funds for a computer, and despite being a surgeon, learn programming himself to create software for the database, and then teach papa how to work on it… and that he would become an integral part of all papa’s works for always.

That papa would not rest on his laurels even after the stupendous success of Samantar Kosh but continue to improve and update his database, and most importantly, link it to the English language making Arvind Lexicon the only bilingual database of its kind in the world.

That my mom would prove to be the ultimate partner in life and support my dad unconditionally through thick and thin. That she would be there alongside him ~ building the database, looking after his health, taking care of us.

That from a little girl who only comprehended that her father was working on a ‘book,’ I would take it upon myself to take papa’s work to the people. And that my husband Atul would encourage and support me completely in my efforts.

*

Last week, Samantar Kosh brought our family together once again. As part of our venture to document papa’s contribution to the Hindi language in a film, we came together at Rock Beach, Puducherry, a town where my parents and Sumeet spent many years working on the database. And the four of us, decades later, witnessed yet another glorious sunrise.

A cool breeze blew in from the sea as we made our way to the black rocky path jutting into the sea, the blue water stretching endlessly before us. And the orange disc of the sun becoming visible through the clouds above the water, tinting the sky a bright orange, outlining the clouds with a vivid pink. And brilliant rays of light fanning into the sky!

It was simply divine. 

Wordlessly, we watched as the magnificence of the moment filled us with wondrous joy, transporting us to another realm, drawing us still closer. It took us back in time to the sunrise at Hanging Gardens when the four of us had begun our journey almost five decades ago. We stood there now, each one of us silently acknowledging the vital forces of nature that had been inspiring us, guiding us, urging us, all along. Each one of us happily aware that togetherness along with devotion and dedication are key to realizing dreams, however unattainable they may seem!

We turned back, revived and revitalized, with another dream in our eyes, the vision of linking the Arvind Lexicon database with global languages to create a World Bank of Words… the rising sun our witness once again.

REBOOT @50

REBOOT @50

With every passing year, our circumstances change, our aspirations change, our priorities change… and life? Life adjusts accordingly.

At 20, I was a student looking to complete my education, begin a career, get married. At 25, I was married with a baby girl and working with an international NGO. At 30, I had crossed over from the field of health & nutrition to hard core consumer research. At 35, I was a mother of two and had given up my full time job to work from home. At 40, I took up my passion for writing, wrote on health for newspapers and magazines and authored a book on nutrition. At 45, I set up a firm for publishing our in-house dictionaries and thesauruses.

At 50, my children had flown the nest, and it was just me and my husband at home… We spent more time with our parents and friends, travelled, ate out, attended plays & exhibitions, binge-watched TV shows… a refreshing change from the time-bound commitments of earlier years.  

It also gave us a lot of time to think. To think about ourselves. What did we want as individuals? As a couple? As a family? What direction did we now want our life to take? More importantly, how could we prevent ourselves from sliding into a comfortable existence with only memories and remembrances to bring joy? How could we ensure that we had something to look forward to every single day?

This thinking-through process was especially important for me. I had spent the last 20 years working from home in the mornings and then being with the children when they were back from school. Now I had the entire day to myself. How could I make my days more meaningful, more purposeful?

It was now time. Time to review, renew, refresh. Time to reboot.

*

Something the American talk show host Oprah Winfrey frequently talks about finds complete resonance within me.

Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are, and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. That’s why you’re here.

Oprah Winfrey

Inspired, I dug deep within me. I asked myself: What do I really want to do for the next 10, 20, and 30 years of my life? What gives me true happiness? What aspects of my life do I need to change? What flaws do I see in myself? How can I align myself more with the world around me? And the answers set me off on a path of self-actualization wherein I have done the following:

1       I have reignited my spark for learning.

I have become passionately curious. I am all eyes and ears for news on politics, economics, technology, business, health, fashion… I realize that being up-to-date helps me understand the world we live in, it empowers me to participate in conversations freely and knowledgeably.

To stay intellectually alive, I try to expand my knowledge every which way I can ~ meeting new people; reading newspapers, magazines, and books; listening to podcasts and talks; watching YouTube videos, films, documentaries and TV shows; participating in workshops and master classes… I now seek to learn from each person I meet, every interaction I have, anything I come across. So that I never ever become outdated.

2      I have become more social.

Nothing de-stresses more than the company of people we like and vibe with. I have reconnected with long-lost friends from childhood, teachers from school, colleagues of yesteryears. I now mingle with them regularly ~ heart-warming interactions over coffee or a meal or on whatsapp. I do more ‘together’ things with them ~ zumba, dance, mah-jong, movies, short holidays and such.

I have also begun volunteering within our community, something unimaginable five years ago!

3      I have taken charge of my health.

I have – with considerable success – shaken myself out of my comfort zone and begun to focus on improving my eating habits, exercising seriously, resting adequately, getting health checks regularly and whatnot. And believe me, the sense of satisfaction is beyond description.

4      I have tried to become a better version of myself.

I have finally begun applying the self-help gyaan I have been reading over the last so many years. (Richard Carlson remains my favorite author till date… his Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series suggests simple daily changes for leading a more fulfilled and peaceful life.)

For instance, I am – slowly but surely – making peace with imperfection and becoming more tolerant; letting go and accepting others as they are; talking less, listening more; becoming more compassionate, more kind, more helpful…  Most importantly, I have become less rigid in my likes and dislikes and more open to change.

My self-improvement list is endless… but a beginning HAS been made. I now get along with the world more easily, more amicably.

5       I try to make every day count.

Every day is important and I try to include all that I consider essential in my day – work, fun, rest, exercise, socializing… so that when I go to bed, I can happily (and honestly) tell myself that the day had been meaningful and that tomorrow will be even better.

*

Given the improved quality of life and advanced health care in our times, I genuinely believe that the 50-70 year category is the new middle age. And this definitely merits a major re-think of our life as we turn 50.

Each one of us is unique. And the path we choose for ourselves will also be unique. But choose we must. So that the next few decades can be as full of energy as the decades gone by. With no regrets for the ‘roads not taken’.

The very fact that I have been able to identify my path fills me with great joy. The knowledge that I am moving along my chosen path fills me with an intense sense of fulfilment.

And I look forward to my next REBOOT@60!

Hello Aparna.

We don’t know each other though I have seen you on the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking. Something you said on the show has been bothering me for months. Hence this letter. Don’t dump it… read through please.

Your single-minded conviction to excel is impressive. You moved to the US with your mum and sis when you were a kid. Today, you are a young successful lawyer in Houston. Bravo! In search of a ‘perfect’ mate, you have networked with friends, tried dating apps, and now, hope to find one through the services of a matchmaker. And I sincerely wish you find your match soon!

And perhaps my ‘two-penny worth’ could help you in your quest? And who am I, you may ask, to advise you? Consider me a well-wisher who is happily married with two grown-up children and who would like to share her learnings from a life spent living with the same man for the last 30 years.

An interfering antiquated auntie? That I am not. DEFINITELY NOT!

*

You are right: we don’t pick our parents, we don’t pick our siblings, the only family member we CAN choose is our spouse. True. It’s a choice with lifelong repercussions. You seem to be a person with sound judgment; indeed, as you say, every choice you have made since the age of three has been great. Good for you. This will surely help you find the right man soon!

True. One can’t settle with just about anybody. And you have every right to reject men ‘because they haven’t fit with what I want in my life partner.’ But what really unsettles me is your single-minded steadfastness when you say that the person you pick has to fit into your life perfectly.

How does this happen Aparna? Is a perfect fit possible when two people come together?

You rejected one guy because he loved football and you hate it. You declared that you would never watch football with him, not live, not on TV. You didn’t think much either of the guy who had not heard of the salt plains of Bolivia or of the man who said he would like to visit Dubai and South Africa, both places you don’t think much of. You found it weird when someone expressed the wish to spend ten days on a beach, doing nothing. You were horrified by the prospect of going mountain climbing with another. Anyone with a sense of humor, according to you, does not take life seriously.

Aparna, each partner brings his or her own likes, dislikes, interests, obsessions, strengths, weaknesses into the relationship. Every individual is unique. Even congenital twins. So how can a spouse be exactly like you? Does one marry a clone?

My husband Atul and I are poles apart. He loves anything and everything to do with business, economics, politics, crime, war ~ be it news, books, movies, shows, documentaries. I am into nature, history, travel, space, art, literature, sci-fi and romcoms. I love shopping, he does not. I am crazy about movies, he is not. I love meeting people, he is unusually shy. He loves to eat out, I am a cook-and-eat-at-home person. He is committed to golf, I am not. I can go on and on about how different we are as individuals… Yet, our relationship resonates with happy togetherness.

Each one of us has learned from the other, experienced new things, widened our perspective and I seriously believe, grown into better individuals with time. And isn’t this how it should be when two people share a life? And this togetherness has taken days, months, years to nurture.

I request you Aparna to approach the matter differently…

Don’t be categorical about what you like and what you don’t. Instead, next time you meet a prospective match, ask yourself: Do I connect with this man? Because if you do, you can carve out a shared vision for your life together.

Communication is key. In all relationships. To talk, discuss, argue. To share your thoughts, to express your viewpoint. To sort out differences, to bridge the divide, to be able to reach an agreement. Especially since each partner brings his or her unique ideals, experiences and expectations into the marriage.

And once you do settle on a match, commit yourself wholeheartedly. Marriage then can be a wonderful journey where both of you grow without growing apart, without changing the other, without resenting the other.

*

Another thing on the show bothers me. The matchmaker Seema Taparia reiterates, time and again, that marriage is a compromise. I disagree.

Compromise implies giving in, relenting, resigning, succumbing, suffering, doing something against your will. Marriage is not a game of one-upmanship. You and your spouse are a team. If changing one’s ways helps the team, it is NOT compromise. It is charting a path with mutual agreement, even when at times, it may not be entirely suitable or convenient to one of them.

A married couple creates (or rather, needs to create) a life where strengths and weaknesses of one complement the other. Somewhat like Atul and me. Where his ethically motivated choices complement my aesthetically motivated ones such that, I am the action to his vision. He is the clarity to my clutter. I am the how to his why. He is the thinking to my feeling. I am the anchor to his industry. He is the contemplative to my reactive.

And it is this complementariness that secures and strengthens our relationship. That keeps us warm and secure in happy times, in trying times.

*

This letter has begun to sound like a sermon… forgive me Aparna. But I HAD to write it in the hope that it sets you thinking anew. And when you do find your special someone, remember: No decision can be de-risked completely, however much you think, deliberate, analyse. And once you do decide on your mate, will you be happy?

Well, who knows?

MY Social Dilemma!

MY Social Dilemma!

It all began with the coronavirus lockdown.

As the lockdown kept getting extended, we as a family went completely online. Finally. I began to make all payments online – water, electricity, phones, house tax, staff salaries. The list of daily essentials would be Whatsapped to the grocer and payment transferred. Amazon and Flipkart sent us all the stuff we needed ~ sanitizer, face masks, vitamins and zinc, writing pads, shampoo, house slippers, walker for my dad-in-law, bindis for my mom, dog food, plant manure… even raakhees.

A simple swipe. For anything we needed. Any time of the day. From any device in the hand. At discounted rates. Guaranteed delivery. No driving, no parking hassles. No haggling, no physical contact.

Buying stuff had never been so convenient, so easy. And online shopping never so addictive.

*

Even as the city unlocks, my first instinct now is to check availability of things online before I venture out to the market. The wonders of online shopping have not been lost on Makku, the young girl who helps me around the house. She sits me down to buy things I am too lazy to shop for ~ microwave cover, shoe polish brushes, buckets and mugs, toilet caddy, ice cube trays, oil funnel… It is another matter that in the process, I have also bought an artisanal tea pot, milk frother, meat tenderizer, non-stick pans, makeup… other splendid stuff.

Late one night, I found amazing satin tulip pants on Instagram; one click, and they were home the next afternoon! It is an Aladdin’s cave out there… and I am bewitched by its treasures!

And then I saw the documentary film, The Social Dilemma, on Netflix (see note at end of post) that warns me: The wonders come at a price.

*

Big Tech experts in The Social Dilemma confirm allegations that have been around for some years: Corporations track our behavior on social networks. Every time we share feelings, ideas, thoughts and experiences on social media, each time we like a post or upload a pic or watch a video or tweet or do anything online, it is tracked. Every single thing. Our likes and dislikes. Our opinions. Our quirks. Our preferences. Our leanings. All are monitored and recorded. What gets our attention, how long we look at it, how we react to it, all is tracked. Anything and everything about us that helps social platforms learn what makes us tick.

But why would anyone want to understand us?

Because we are consumers. Potential buyers. Selling is the most difficult thing on earth and if the seller can understand and predict what we are likely to buy, they can position their stuff with sure-shot success.

*

Understandably, profit is the key motive of any commercial enterprise. The internet today is one big giant mall, a market place that did not exist until a few years ago. What makes the current system damaging is that the business model is disguised in the garb of social media.

We may think of social networking as the best way to connect and share our life with family and friends; the reality is quite menacing. All our data on social networks is fed into giant computers and analysed using algorithms. As technology advances, these algorithms are becoming better and smarter in selecting and showing us posts that will attract us, interest us, captivate us. It is their job to find out how they can catch our attention as much as possible. And it is this attention, this mindfulness of ours that social platforms sell to advertisers. This is how these corporations make money and are the richest in the world today. This is why we get FB and Insta and Twitter free because… someone else (the seller of goods) is paying for us.

We are unwittingly laying our lives bare on social platforms and this information is being mined to produce marketable predictions about what we will do/read/buy/believe next. It is a surveillance system that is, in the words of some experts, “extracting and exploiting what’s inside our heads” and controlling what we see. We remain unawares as our behavior changes, ever so little, ever so gradually. It is this imperceptible change in our behaviour that the social media platform seeks. And we happily let them do it.

Innocuously, we are being manipulated. And it is a part of a well-thought out conspiracy.

*

Their strategy is simple.

They first attract my attention.

My phone chimes. The notification bar blinks, and I, almost always, leave whatever I am doing to scroll down photos, invites, current events, messages, FB posts… I can’t seem to help myself. Precious minutes go by as I check new posts, respond to comments, send birthday wishes… until my attention is caught by something I like. I explore the entire category, marking things, checking out sizes… I scroll down and see fascinating stuff like the innovative toilet brush that scours out germs from the farthest reaches, the DYMO label maker that syncs with a smartphone…The onslaught continues. By design. This is how social media hooks my attention and keeps me engaged.

Then they begin to coax me. When I show interest in a product – be it dresses or ice cream or reflex balls, the same brand appears on top of my Facebook feed, my Insta feed the very next day… I must have watched the 30 second video for the expensive toilet brush at least 15 times! If this is not enticing me, what is?

Then social media tempts. With discounts. With emails from Amazon that urge me to place the order right away. Uff! Transparent, double-sided tape at 40% discount! Shoes at 20% off! Cash back rewards!

It’s human nature. When I see the same stuff again and again, day after day, I am likely to give in to the temptation. I finally bought the toilet brush when I saw a large discount on it the following week. Without me realizing when the seduction became coercion and the relentless pursuit led to my capitulation!

Which the social media platform knew and intended all along. This is persuasive technology at its best. These companies have spent billions of dollars in understanding our psychology; they know how to tempt us, how to persuade us, how to get us to do something they want us to do, and have built it into their technology. These companies are behaviour change geniuses. And we thought insurance agents are best at it!

*

My screen time on social networking sites over the last week was almost three hours per day! For a person who professes to be busy and always short on time, this is a horrifying revelation! And nothing short of hara-kiri!

Enough to shake me out of my stupor and ask myself:

Why am I checking out new posts on social media ever so often?

Am I a puppet in the hands of these corporations? A lab rat? A zombie?

Why am I becoming so materialistic? When did I lose my sense of objectivity?

Which leads me to the more worrying questions:

How good will my willpower be in resisting the lure of social media?

How can I hope to retain my sanity against supercomputers and their exponentially advancing artificial intelligence?

I suppose realization is always the first step.

*

PS: Would you like to share your experiences with social media?  

*****

About the new Netflix release The Social Dilemma

This docudrama explores the rise, over the past twenty years, of social platforms such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, WeChat and other services like YouTube, Quora, Snapchat, Pinterest, WhatsApp and many more. The film discusses, simply and succinctly, the impact of these social media from the viewpoints of technology experts, researchers and analysts from Silicon Valley, universities and think tanks.

The film also explains how, with its far reach and complete understanding of human psyche, social media has been able to bring like-minded people together and program them to behave in the nefarious interests of certain individuals; how it has affected real world emotions, moulded views, and triggered desired behaviour without ever triggering the users’ awareness; how easy it has been to radicalize society on the lines of race and religion, pursuits and preferences. 

An Eternal Quest?

Imagine reading a story 5000 years old. And then to realize that despite the millennia gone by, we face the same dilemma today and the solution remains as elusive as ever!

*

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one such story. The earliest surviving work of literature, the epic fictionalizes the reign of brave Sumerian king Gilgamesh who ruled Uruk in modern day Iraq around 2600 BCE.

In the story, King Gilgamesh is two-thirds divine and one-third mortal. He is young and handsome, energetic and athletic. Also cruel and arrogant. When the oppressed people of his kingdom appeal to the gods, they create Enkidu, an equal in brute strength, to humble Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu engage in fierce battle. Gilgamesh wins; the two acknowledging each other’s might, become friends. On one of their adventures, they incur the wrath of gods who decree Enkidu’s death.

When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is inconsolable. He calls upon the mountains, forests, rivers, animals, and all of Uruk to mourn for his friend. He clings to his dead friend for days until he sees a maggot drop from the corpse’s nostril. Disgusted and appalled, he realizes that one day, he too will die. And he resolves to overcome death.  

He sets out to find Utnapishtim, the only man granted the gift of immortality by the gods. He travels for days under the mountains, over the oceans, until he finds Utnapishtim.

Utnapishtim asks Gilgamesh to first conquer the ‘little death’ of sleep for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh is unable to pass the test. Utnapishtim then instructs him to fetch a magical thorny plant from the ocean’s center which rejuvenates and ‘makes an old man young’. Gilgamesh fails again.

A dejected, depressed Gilgamesh returns home, as mortal as ever but wiser with the revelation that “death is the inevitable destiny of man and man must learn to live with it.”

*

Like Gilgamesh, we accept death as inevitable. We live our lives knowing that in the end, we will leave everything – our bodies, our relationships, our material possessions – behind and become one with the elements. Yet, our innate instinct to survive keeps us searching for the key to youth and immortality.

The quest continues to this day.

*

Till the early 1900s, people could reach, at the most, middle age.  People died from poor health due to insanitary living conditions, inadequate nutrition and lack of medicines, surgical treatments and vaccines. Today, we can hope to live about 70-80 years which may increase by a few more years as healthcare improves. But even under the most ideal circumstances, the shelf life of our species cannot exceed 120 or 130 years. And living up to a fantastic age of 200 years or longer remains the substance of fiction, legends and myths.

*

Recent scientific advancements have given a modern fillip to our pursuit of eternal life. The fields of biology, genetics and medicine have come together with engineering, nanotechnology, computing and artificial intelligence to make the war against death more relentless than ever. AND we may be successful sooner than we think.

Interestingly, modern scientists have an entirely different take on death. They view the human body as a system run by tens of thousands of biological processes. The body is at peak performance in the early 20s; thereafter, it keeps becoming slower, weaker, and more prone to infection and disease. What if we could maintain optimal biological performance indefinitely? What if we could strengthen the body’s ability to resist infection and ward off disease?  What if we could regenerate or replace damaged tissues and organs in the body? What if we could remove all glitches in the system? What then could prevent us from leading a healthy productive life forever?

Sounds improbable? But then, so did treating injuries and infections two hundred years ago!

*

Government institutions, private organizations and academic institutes all over the world are exploring different routes to slow down aging.

Genetic engineering – wherein genes are edited or removed/ added/ activated/ inactivated – shows the most promising potential to extend life. While 15 genes have been manipulated to extend the life of worms, flies and mice by almost 50 per cent, similar bioengineering in humans will be many times harder. But not impossible.

Antioxidant therapy to remove free radicals – toxic elements that accumulate in the cells with age – has been able to extend the life of fruit flies and worms, and made rats more physically and mentally agile. Will consuming antioxidant-rich supplements then delay aging for us humans too?

Particularly promising is the development of a class of drugs called senolytics which destroy cells that stop dividing and secrete compounds that damage surrounding tissues in old age. Or will deft manipulation of declining levels of hormones and antibodies do the trick?

Another approach reduces caloric intake in diet to slow down aging. Since humans are unlikely to starve themselves to prolong life, efforts are on to develop drugs that trick the body into thinking that it is on a drastically-reduced diet… could these mimetics do the magic for us?

Latest research at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine claims to have identified synergistic cellular pathways that amplify lifespan in tiny nematode worms called C. elegans by 500%! In terms of humans, this would be equivalent to a life of 400 or 500 years!

Also it may soon become possible to generate tissues from the patient’s own cells to replace defunct parts. Or to insert inorganic implants to replace damaged organs. Or to insert nano-robots into our cells to repair them or to open blocked blood vessels or to fight viruses and bacteria or to eliminate cancerous cells… Or perhaps to link our bodies inseparably with inorganic parts to modify our abilities, desires, personalities and identities?

Scientists sincerely believe that a combination of therapies will be required to remove all glitches in our functioning to give us an indefinite lifespan with good health. How soon? They cannot tell.

*

Anti-aging research is serious business today. The latest to enter the race for eternity are ultra-rich Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and technology innovators who are investing billions of dollars in anti-aging research be it Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, X Prize foundation founder Peter Diamandis and many others. Most of the companies and foundations set up by them are working in stealth mode and have not yet revealed concrete achievements.

How long will the quest for immortality take? 100 years? 500 years? 1000 years? Who knows… Perhaps we will be proven to be wrong all along. Only the future will tell.

Living in the FUTURE

Living in the FUTURE

This is an introduction to a new category on my blog ‘Living in the FUTURE’ which explores latest innovations and developments happening in our world today.

We humans are an inquisitive lot; and it is this trait that compelled our ancestors to venture out of Africa and overrun the entire world. We are also an acquisitive race, which is why we continually seek and strive to better ourselves and everything around us.

Over the last 70,000 years, we have driven all other strains of the Homo genus into extinction to become the sole surviving human species on earth. New ways of thinking and communicating and cooperating heralded the agricultural revolution, and led to the building of kingdoms, empires. We invented writing, created religion, introduced money to take our story forward; and in the last 500 years, have gained unprecedented power through scientific discoveries, industrialization and global trade. In more recent times, we have forayed into the realms of nuclear power, information technology, robotics and artificial intelligence. No longer limited by the boundaries of our planet, today we seek newer worlds in the infinite universe.

We sure have come a long way. What new frontiers will we conquer in the next 50 years? 500 years? 5000 years?

Science fiction writers and movie makers have been telling us fantastic stories about superhumans, intelligent machines, time travel, space missions, extraterrestrial civilizations, alien invasions, invisibility, and all that can be possibly – and impossibly – imagined! Perhaps the future will have some semblance to these far-fetched wonderful tales?

***

Undoubtedly, the future will be shaped by technological breakthroughs happening today. While it is difficult to look further than we can see, one thing is for sure: the future will be very different from what we can anticipate today. And my foremost thought, laced with quite some anxiety, is: How will I adapt to this new future?

When I look back at the last 10, 20, 30 years, in fact all my adult years, my life has changed phenomenally. Computers, smartphones, flash drives, search engines, Google maps, YouTube, social media, cloud computing, Bluetooth, electric cars, 3D printing, e-readers, online shopping… are an integral part of my life today… and I, like others in my generation, often catch myself thinking, “How on earth did I manage without them?!”

And the breakneck speed at which science and technology are advancing in our 21st century is mindboggling! Disruption is a tsunami taking down the old order furiously… The future is already happening ~ every day, everywhere. AND we need to ride the furious waves of change. Otherwise we will be left behind ~ outdated, outmoded, outpaced.

I shudder to think of a time when I wake up to an alien world, disoriented, disabled, defeated. Overcome and overwhelmed by the changes around me. Changes that leave me feeling irrelevant and inconsequential. What meaning will my life have for me then?

To survive such a fate, I need to become a part of the change. I need to keep my fears under control. I need to become less rigid and more willing to accept new ideas. I need to update my knowledge. I need to sharpen my ability to learn new things and hone new skills. Only then will I become a natural resident of the new world. Most crucially, I should never allow my AGE to become a barrier in my endeavors.

The future is here. And we need to live in it. Now.

The Amygdala Hijack!

The Amygdala Hijack!

I am tense. I am racing to meet my report deadline before I can get dinner started… the doorbell rings. Vexed at the interruption, I get up hurriedly. The tea spills. I rescue my papers and start mopping the spill… The bell goes off again. And I… lose it. I shout at the delivery guy, the bag breaks as I grab it, potatoes and tomatoes tumble out. Kicking them aside, I slam the door. Hot and bothered, raging and fuming, I get back to work. I send the report finally. As I get dinner going and lay the table, I am not too happy with myself. I am troubled by the realization that I did not handle the situation well. Why did I get so angry? Why did I shout at the man? Why did I create such a ruckus?

Because I let myself get hijacked by my amygdala.

Amygdala is the lower part of the brain that kicks into action when something evokes intense emotions within us. When I heard the doorbell ring, a wave of emotions coursed through me ~ irritation, annoyance, anxiety, anger, frustration, panic… My amygdala, conditioned since times immemorial to evoke the fight-or-flight response in the face of threat, made me react impulsively and intuitively, without giving me time to weigh all possible options and their consequences. A response which I much regretted later.

***

Quite a few of us get easily bothered. When anything goes any other way than we expect, we fly off the handle. We lash out. Sometimes, we sulk and withdraw. Why? Why do we hop on to the emotional rollercoaster at the smallest of things?

When all we need to do is: PAUSE. Take a deep breath. Count to 10.

When we press the pause button, we get precious milliseconds to take in what is happening and track our feelings and thoughts. Slowing down awakens the pragmatic centers of our brain so that we can thinkingly respond to the provocation rather than unconsciously react to it. As celebrated psychotherapist Victor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When the bell rang, I could have paused and accepted the fact that I had no other option but to attend to it. I could have gotten up quietly, taken the groceries calmly, and gone back to work mindfully without letting the interruption play havoc with my mind. And I would have felt great about completing my work on schedule.

***

I have to admit, I easily tend to ‘lose it’. And every time, it leaves me distressed. And also horrified by the kind of example I am setting for my children. What will they learn from a trigger-happy mom?

Fortunately, my children understand me and my weaknesses and point out when I go overboard in my reactions… Mom, there was no need to shriek at the maid when she came in late or holler at us when we didn’t clear the table or thunder at the telemarketer or burst out when that man jumped the queue…

And I realize that it is entirely up to me. The ball is in my court. I have to change my emotional irrational self into a sensitive thoughtful one. For me, this has become top priority.

So I have defined a protocol for myself. Admitting my weakness to myself has been the first step… But instead of filling my mind with negativity and indulging in self-defeating inner talk, I have made a commitment to myself: that I will be less easily bothered, especially by small things. I have taught myself to recognize the triggers that make me go at the world with a dagger. The moment I begin to make a go for the kill, I pull myself back sharply with a “There I go again!” And once I am able to delay my outburst and give myself time to think, I automatically react sanely. Needless to say, my sense of achievement is huge.

And though I still ‘lose it’ once in a while, I am sure my family has noticed (and appreciate) my progress in the right direction. As for me, I am calm, collected, in control. AND Happier.

Golgappa Goals!

Corona times. Lockdown. Social distancing. Limited outings. No going out for golgappas. And my craving for them intensifies day by day.

In my mind’s eye, I picture the guy behind the counter handing me a donaa (leaf bowl) and stirring the huge pot of cool tangy mint water with a long ladle. He then takes a roundly puffed crisp golgappa, crushes a small hollow in it, stuffs it with the spicy potato mixture, dips it into the pot of freshly stirred mint water, and then, as I extend my hand in happy anticipation, places the delicious dripping golgappa in my donaa!

And I feel the crunchiness of the golgappa combine with the saltiness of the potatoes, sweetness of the tamarind chutney, sourness of the mint water, and sharpness of the spices to explode into a bomb of flavor in my mouth!

***

We Indians love golgappas! Golgappa or paani ke batashe as we call them in the North or phuchka or phuska as they are known in the East or paani puri in the West, they are the most popular street food and fast food and fun food all rolled into one! There is a golgappa stall at every corner, every nook of the country, and we can eat golgappas any time of the day!

For me, golgappas are precious moments of joy stolen from routine. Six golgappas leave me refreshed, energized, ready to take on the world! And the best part is that our children acquire the taste very young. Four year old Tanvi, her tiny mouth stuffed with a golgappa and tears running down her cheeks is a memory I hug close to my heart. Even today, a quick round of golgappas is almost always the unspoken agenda when we are out!

Though I have my favorite golgappa guy in the local market, I am willing to try them out just about anywhere, any street corner, any market, any mall! I can eat them on a shopping trip, when running an errand, waiting for a friend or simply on spotting a golgappa stall! However hurried I may be, I manage to find 10 minutes for golgappas!

***

Google India reports that the search for golgappa recipe went up by 107% during the corona lockdown. No wonder I have seen so many videos of people flaunting their golgappa genius at home!

Making golgappas, though time consuming, is possible. One can fry the shells golden and blend the coriander-mint-ginger-green chilli-lemon-spices perfectly , but assembling them yourself and eating them at home is no fun. No fun at all.

Because the golgappa experience is much more…

Putting golgappas together is an art. And no one can do this better than the golgappa guy. The taste is not only in the constituents, it is in the mix! It is in the style in which the golgappa guy serves the golgappas. It is in the way he makes it a point to serve the golgappas just as each one of us likes it. It is in the manner in which he goes round the semi-circle of people around him serving golgappas at the right speed, giving us just enough time to relish them before becoming impatient for the next one!

And I realize, it is not just the golgappas that I miss. It is the entire golgappa experience.

***

And my goal this year, once we start eating out again, is to finally have a no-limit golgappa-eating contest with my friends, something I have been dying to do for so many years!

Here’s to my golgappa goals!

My favorite scene from the movie Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi ~ the golgappa eating competition

A Ha-Ha-Happy Family!

It was evening by the time we were done with the ceremonies and celebrations of our daughter Tanvi’s wedding. The day had begun early when Garvit (the groom) arrived with his family and friends; breakfast, the formal welcome, jaimala, pheras, and lunch took up most part of the day; and now it was time for the bride and groom to leave for their family home in Jaipur, 200 miles away. Tanvi hurried off to change into her going-away dress, accompanied by her aunt Malini.

I followed a while later to check on them… and found Malini frantically trying to unclasp Tanvi’s silver anklets… Hurriedly, I joined in… the task becoming a Herculean one for two overweight ladies in heavy silk sarees and high heels, our contact lenses making it impossible to focus on the tiny clasps…

Thankfully, Akshay, my son, walked in just then. Akshay got into action immediately. Placing Tanvi’s foot on a large stool, he bent to examine the anklets, resting his knee on the stool while I and Malini, precariously balanced, held up the folds of Tanvi’s lehenga for him to see better… when the stool broke knocking the three of us down to the floor!

In stunned disbelief, we looked at each other, and then! Burst out laughing! We laughed and laughed and laughed giving vent to the hectic busy-ness and excitement of the day! We rolled on the floor laughing our heads off, forgetting, for those few wonderful moments, that everyone was waiting in the hallway to send the bride away! And creating a precious memory to remember and laugh at again. And again.

***

The sound of laughter is the happiest sound for me. And I love to laugh… loudly with all my heart, and often, hysterically till tears roll down my face (much to the embarrassment of my family)!

Scientists say we learned to laugh in groups much before we acquired the ability to speak… no wonder laughing is so natural, so instinctive for us. Infants begin to smile and laugh within months of being born, children find humor in the simplest and smallest of things. Adults, though, in their struggle to cope with daily concerns and hardships, somehow lose this spontaneity… Come to think of it, can you remember the last time you laughed? Really laughed? Whereas it is precisely after a tough day that the need for a good laugh is most urgent…

Because something special happens when we laugh together, doesn’t it? We feel good when we laugh. Sadness, anxiety, anger disappear. Laughter fosters closeness, diffuses conflict, eases frustrations and tensions. Humor helps us cope and deal with disappointments and difficult situations.

Victor Borge, famous comedian-musician, says, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Laughter signals that we are in it together ~ in good times and difficult times and that we accept each other as we are, faults, weaknesses, shortcomings and all. And the happy feeling remains long after the laughter subsides.

When I laugh, I feel myself coming alive with joy and energy and everything around me feels just great. They say laughter is a great work out for every system in the body, and that it lowers sugar levels, improves blood circulation, releases feel-good hormones, boosts immunity, and helps us sleep… what better medicine than laughter? And what better stuff than laughter to bring home?

No wonder healthy homes are filled with sounds of laughter. After all, what would life be without laughter?

***

There is no reason why we should not laugh many times a day. Laughter runs riot in homes where moms, dads and kids jest and jive and joke together; when they rib each other or play pranks; when they revisit funny incidents from the past; when they tease or trick, when they pass witty remarks and ripostes; when they have boisterous pillow fights or roughhouse it; when they act out comic dramas and spoofs; when they share funny videos and memes or when they are simply idiotic!

One person who almost always brings happy laughter into our home is our son Akshay. A keen observer, Akshay has the amazing knack of relating small everyday things in a manner which has us in splits instantly. Even Atul, my husband, who usually takes time to see humor in a situation, can never resist a hearty guffaw at Akshay’s amusing portrayal of life.  

I myself don’t mind being silly or poking fun at myself or giving a crazy response as long as it makes my family laugh… and I am inordinately pleased when exaggerated tales of my foolishness bring unrestrained laughter at the dinner table!

Here’s to bringing joy and delight into our homes!

PS: And in case you are wondering what happened to Tanvi’s anklets, well, we just left them on her feet, and Tanvi went jingling and jangling all the way to Jaipur!

I can do MORE…

“I could have done more.”

No person should ever have this regret at any point in life, especially in the later years. Not one of us should feel pangs of remorse for time lost, things not done, opportunities foregone, chances not taken. While we still could. But didn’t.

I am not a philosopher. Or an enlightened soul. I do not understand why I have come into this world; I do not know what will happen to me after I die. The only thing I know for certain is that I am alive. And that I want to make the most of my time on earth, that I want to lead a life that is meaningful. So that later when I look back, I can truthfully say to myself, “I made the most of my life.”

***

Life is a collection of days. And every single day is important. What we do each day, little by little, shapes our life. And we need to do as Robin Williams famously says as the English teacher in the 1989 American film Dead Poets Society: Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys! Make your lives extraordinary!

Yes. Every day matters. Every moment counts. Because it is only right here, right now, that things get done. The past is long gone, the future is yet to come… Only the present exists. The present is in our hands, the present is all that matters, and soon… the present too shall pass.

The present is like the dewdrop… and will be gone soon, as if it had never been.

***

So then why do we spend so much time of the day lost in our thoughts? When our body works on autopilot? When life passes by in a haze?

For instance, did you note, as you made your way to work today, the freshness in the air after last night’s rain ? The lilies bordering the sidewalk? The trees dappling orange gold in the evening sun? The happy laughter of the kid next door?

This autopilot mode when we go about the day’s work unaware of the present is what Psychology Professor Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University calls ‘mindless moments,’ moments when one is so trapped in thoughts that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what is happening right now. When we become a victim of time and our mind is everywhere but ‘here.’ When our thoughts are on what has been/could have been or what can be/will be. And we become so mindless, Dr Langer explains, we stop paying attention to things around us.

Can one enjoy the weekend if our mind is already thinking about Monday? Or laugh gaily with a friend if we keep remembering how she let us down last year?

Whereas we need to do the opposite. Because only when we are engaged with the external world and its sights, sounds and smells, and pay attention, at the same time, to our innermost thoughts, feelings and sensations, can we enjoy what is happening NOW. Only then can we hope to find happiness in life.

***

A profound concept. But difficult to follow as our monkey mind vaults from thought to thought constantly. And we have to wrench it to remain focussed in the present. So that we can enjoy every moment, relish it, savor it, luxuriate in it, delight in it.

Only when we let go and lose ourselves in the moment, can we enjoy it. See how it relaxes us, how woes and worries melt away, how uncertainties and insecurities disappear, how self-esteem and confidence return, and we can interact with others positively and productively.

***

Life in the moment moves quickly — and I try not to miss it. I try to pay attention to the ordinary things around me. I try to stay focussed on the task at hand. Consciously. With total involvement.

When I wake up, I peep out and take in the dewiness of the morning; as I walk in the park, I direct my attention to the loosening of my back and stretch in my muscles; as I hold my tea, I note the warmth seeping in from the cup; as I cook, I keep my thoughts trained on the cutting, chopping, stirring and serving; when I bite into my sandwich, I feel its texture and savor its flavor; when I write, I block off all external sounds and focus on translating my thoughts into words… When I notice my mind wandering, I repeat to myself, “Now. Now. Now.” And pull myself back.

And I try to carry this mindfulness through the day while watching my daily sitcom or listening to music or discussing plans with others or playing with our golden retriever or shopping or simply relaxing. I go along with the experiences ~ pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad ~ simply because that is what is present, that is all there is, nothing else.

And when I lie down at night, I let go completely. I feel my body sinking into the mattress and appreciate how good it feels. I breathe deeply. And realize that all the happiness is right here, right now, in the present moment. I tell myself: Today was a day well-spent. Tomorrow will be a new day, a day when I can do as much, when I can do MORE.

Into the Wild

Very few films touch a deep chord within us… Into the Wild is one such film. I watched it last weekend and it has been on my mind since. The film has affected me profoundly and I need to share my thoughts…

Into the Wild tells the real life story of a bright young man Chris McCandless from a well-heeled family in Virginia. The film, adapted from Jon Krakauer’s book by the same name and brilliantly directed by Sean Penn, is narrated by Chris’s younger sister Carine aided by notes from his journal.

After graduating from Emory University in 1990 with good grades, Chris severs ties, in one swift move, with the life he has known until then. He donates his savings, destroys all traces of his existence, rechristens himself Alexander Supertramp, and goes hitchhiking across North America.

Inspired by the wilderness tales of Jack London, and the reflections of Henry David Thoreau on living simply in natural surroundings, Chris sets off to find ultimate freedom as a child of Earth. With a firm belief that money and power are an illusion, his eventual aim is to travel to the wilds of Alaska, far from the trappings of modern civilization, where he can kill  ‘the false being within’ and become ‘lost in the wild.’

***

Chris finally makes his way to the rough Alaskan bush in April 1992 and sets up camp in an abandoned bus which he calls ‘The Magic Bus.’

He lives simply. He hunts and forages for food, reads books, maintains a journal of all that he sees and thinks and feels and does. He finds joy in the isolation and beauty of his surroundings, each new experience assuaging his spirit beyond words. At long last, it seems, Chris’s quest for peace and happiness is complete.

***

As the story unfolds, we learn that Chris and his sister Carine have had a troubled childhood marked by their parents’ sordid and abusive relationship. His father’s volcanic, hair-trigger rage frequently erupted into vitriolic verbal outbursts and physical assaults on their mother; Chris too being the recipient of his dad’s derision and disparaging remarks. His parents’ unhappy marriage and the hypocritical life they epitomize, their deceit and lies, their unhappiness and discord with each other leave Chris heartbroken.

Things come to a head when Chris visits distant relatives in California and learns that his father has a son from a previous marriage and that he had still been married to his first wife when he and his sis were born. His father’s infidelity and the inference that both he and his sis are ‘bastard children’ affects him deeply. He feels his family is founded on a web of lies… Soulfully, he paraphrases his idol Henry Thoreau, “Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.”

My heart weeps for young Chris when he says, “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.” And this is what he does… he removes himself from the toxic situation at home and disappears into the wilderness… never to return.

***

But…

Isn’t home that one place on earth where we are (or rather, should be) the happiest? Where one is the most loved, the most cared for, the most comfortable, the most secure?

The shelter that remains constant in life and free from all negativity? The space where we feel the best about ourselves? The umbrella under which children thrive and grow into happy, balanced and confident adults?

And…

Isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to create such a haven for their children? To invest time and energy into their marriage, interact with mutual affection, appreciation and admiration, and resolve their conflicts prudently so that their children see their togetherness and grow up to raise happy families of their own?

The volatile relationship of Chris’s parents could hardly have created a loving and caring atmosphere for the McCandless children. Throughout the film, we see snippets of his dad ridiculing Chris over small things, discouraging him from trying new things, and criticizing him for the smallest mistakes. And we can only imagine its harsh impact on Chris’s self-image and self-esteem.

Any wonder that once Chris graduates, he escapes the harm within his home and sets out to seek happiness in the empty spaces of Alaska? He sees himself not as homeless, but as a man freed from home.

***

Chris spends almost four months ~ 113 days to be exact ~ in his ‘magic bus.’ Soon after his arrival, spring arrives. However, finding game or edible roots and berries becomes increasingly difficult… Chris grows leaner and weaker day by day…

He realizes that nature can be harsh and uncaring too, and after a couple of months, tries to go back to civilization only to find his route blocked by the swollen, raging river…

Back in the bus, Chris resigns to his fate… As his strength ebbs, he records: Happiness is only real when shared… a realization which runs contrary to his earlier conviction that joy of life does not necessarily come from human relationships. Finally he realizes that life has meaning only when we can share it with someone… something he finds out far too late.

As death looms near, Chris finally acknowledges his true identity ‘Christopher Jonathan McCandless’ in his farewell note. Lying in the bus such that he can look up at the open sky, he sees himself home again, happy and smiling, running up to his parents and embracing them.

At long last, he ceases to hate them, forgives them, and in doing so, finds peace… and as he breathes his last, the sun breaks through the clouds and shines on him.

***

Long after seeing this spell-binding film, I am filled with deep regret. Grief at the futility of it all. Anguish for all that could have been.

As a mother, my heart bleeds for young Chris aching for truth and love and understanding. If only he could have had a home which was truly ‘sweet.’

If only.

Ready… Steady… Let Go!

Ready… Steady… Let Go!

Early morning every day, Richard, our golden retriever, and I set off on a mission. To reach the park before anyone else does. Even if that means leaving at 5 am! So that Richard can run… unchained, uncurbed, unchecked.

Richard loves every minute of it. The moment the leash is off, he takes off at breakneck speed, tearing down the track while I walk at a more sedate pace… chasing squirrels at lightning speed, hounding mynahs looking for insects in the grass, tracking cats that sometimes stray into the park. And when tired, simply rolling in the grass or lapping water from the birdie’s basin or nibbling a jamun from the huge tree in the centre, all the while watching me from the corner of his eye!

This ‘letting loose’ is the most joyful part of Richard’s morning walk. The only time of the day when he is a free spirit. And this makes me think: Don’t we all yearn for our own letting loose moments in life?

When there is not a care in the world? No schedule to adhere, no rings to attend, no emails to revert, no reports to file, no work to do, no timeline to meet, no meals to cook, no stuff to clean? When we can eat, sleep, drink and do whatever we want? No role to fit in, no rules to follow, no compulsion to be nice, no comments to tolerate, no judgments to suffer. No worries, no reminders, no restraints?

When we are away from the mundaneness of routine. When we can stop taking life so seriously. When we can pardon our self for not doing anything.

When we are answerable to no one. When we don’t expect anything of our own self. When we can just be our self. When we can think about our self.

When we can simply live in the moment. When we can be our true Self. When we can stop looking for happiness and just be happy.

***

Each one of us deserves such precious moments of freedom, of free will, of free choice. On a regular basis.

A husband needs this time away from his wife, the wife from her husband. Children from their parents, parents from their children. Staff from their bosses, bosses from their staff. We all need some time, some place, away… far away from everyone and everything. We all need to simply let go!

We need to set ourselves free.  We need to set our loved ones free. For an hour, a day, a week, a month… for as long as it takes. Alone or with family or friends. At home or far away.

So that when we come back, reassembled, repaired and renewed, we are ready to meet life as it comes.

Walking the Walk!

Becoming a parent is a joy.

A challenge. A learning. A sacrifice. An experience which is exhausting, humbling, rewarding… and much more.

A child emerges from the womb like molten glass from a furnace, says historian Yuval Noah Harari, and can be spun, stretched and shaped freely. And as the first caretakers of the baby, parents play an unparalleled and unforgettable role in laying the foundation of their child’s beliefs, attitudes and behavior.

***

Children watch everything their parents do. They are watching us when we meet others, they are listening to us when we speak with others and they know exactly what we are thinking… And they learn from what we do. The younger they are, the more cues they take from us. Our ideas, our inclinations, our actions become integrated into their being. Our good behavior gets picked up. So does our not-so-good conduct. Whether we like it or not, our children see our example as a pattern for the way life is to be lived. So what we do matters. It really does.

***

I know that my habit of meeting people, even strangers, with love and warmth and open acceptance comes from my dad… as does my instinct to hurl anything within reach in blind rage! From my mom, I have learned to be content with whatever I have without feeling deprived… She raised us on limited savings while my dad worked on his dream of creating a thesaurus in Hindi for 20 long years. When I am worried, when I am in turmoil, a feeling of calm practicality pervades me because, thanks to my mom, I truly believe that things will be fine in the end.

My daughter often complains about the time and effort she puts in when she has guests over. And yet she does. Willingly. Because she has always seen me do the same. Come to think of it, I remember my mom-in-law going out of her way to make her stuffed karelas for my dad or get my mom’s favorite cookies when they visited. Even today, in her advanced years, she goes the extra mile to make guests feel especially welcome. And in all likelihood, my daughter’s daughter will pick this habit from her!

The truth is, at every moment, we are setting some kind of an example for our children. Actions, they say, speak louder than words. Our actions, both good as well as not-so-good, are seen and factored into our children’s consciousness.  That is why children of happily married parents have a greater chance of finding the same satisfaction in their relationships. If parents abuse alcohol or drugs, their children are more likely to be addicts too. Disrespect, carelessness, aggression, unruly behavior, greed are all learned from parents as are honesty, compassion, generosity, dedication and sense of responsibility. How our children handle stress and frustration in their life, how they respond to problems, how they treat other people or deal with responsibilities and mistakes is modelled on our approach to life.

“Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk,” remarked legendary psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He knew you can’t simply tell your kids what to do—you must lead by example. Any contradiction in what we say and what we expect is easily picked up by our children. For instance, how can I demand that my son pay attention to me when I myself keep interrupting him all the time? Or ask him to quieten down when I am always hollering at people? Or get my daughter to go to the gym when I don’t look watch my weight?

One successful strategy my husband and I have always tried to follow is to create the right milieu in the home for desired behaviour. For example, we have always wanted our children to be avid readers ~ we have kept them surrounded by books, journals and magazines, and both of us read a lot… and true enough, by and by, both our children have taken to serious reading!

***

Indeed. Parents are a link – a vital link – in the process of life. The way we have seen our parents live and conduct themselves has greatly influenced the way we are as also the manner in which we have brought up our children. Our children, in turn, will, by example, imbibe the same in their children! Parents shape the family legacy for generations to come! A huge responsibility indeed.

Here’s to being the role model our children deserve. Cheers!

Hey Nate, How’s Life?

 

“Hey Nate, how’s life?” raps singer-songwriter NF as Akshay drives me home one day…

Akshay, can you put on some Hindi music, one song please? Mom, listen to this one, it’s very good… and resignedly, I sit back as the popular American rapper pelts out words from his latest album The Search. And, surprisingly, it begins to make sense…

 

The song is all about Nate Feuerstein (NF) as he examines the relevance of his existence and goes on a  ‘search’ for peace. He seeks to renounce fame acquired from endless shows and yearns to find hope and peace on a journey which he knows will be long and painful. Moved by his intense story, I realize that I have quite enjoyed the song, almost as much as Akshay.

And this is how it has always been. My children, Tanvi and Akshay, now 29 and 23, have introduced me to films, music, shows that I would never have considered watching in my wildest dreams. In fact, I would have remained blissfully unaware of their existence if not for them!

***

I am filled with nostalgia when I remember watching their childhood favorites ~ The Lion King, A bug’s Life, Baby’s Day Out, Sound of music, The Parent Trap… and then later, Tanvi’s romcoms ~ You’ve Got Mail, Wedding Planner, He’s Just Not That Into You, Sweet Home Alabama and soooo many others… and Akshay’s obsession with the Pirates of Caribbean series (he made me watch the first one six times!), Harry Potter, Batman and Avengers!  And surprisingly, they became my favorites too! Now, years later, I revisit these movies on my own and enjoy them all over again!

Avril Lavigne to Shakira to Beyonce I have heard them all; C21’s ‘You are stuck in my heart’ seems as poignant and melodious today as it did twenty years ago; Linkin Park’s In the End still fills me with despair with its haunting lyrics ‘I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter…’ I remember shedding tears with Akshay when the band’s lead vocalist Chester Bennington died suddenly and shockingly in 2017!

We have sung the theme song from “Phantom of the Opera” at the top of our voices, music effects and all; we have hurled abuse from Pirates of the Caribbean “You scurvy dog!” at each other in jest and in temper; we have wondered whether Leonardo is still orbiting in his dream or has woken up…

***

To be honest, I can’t say I loved everything we watched together, or even most of it. Many a times, I would be woken rudely if I fell asleep during an episode at 2:30 am or scolded for asking questions during the movie or reproached for forgetting minor details… Yet, I will always be thankful because it fulfilled a larger role: it gave me the opportunity to forge common ground with my children.

As our children venture out and their interests go beyond ours, one of the ways to be in sync with them is to watch what they watch, sing what they sing, and do what they do. Or at least be an active participant in whatever interests them. When I think back on the time spent together discussing story lines, analysing characters, picking out flaws, speculating about sequels… I realize that it gave us common stuff to think about, talk about, joke about, wonder about… it made me a part of my children’s world. It helped me appreciate the way they think, the things that influence them, motivate them and sway them; their inspirations, their aspirations.  It helped them understand me better.  Our togetherness created a lifelong channel of open, uncritical and non-judgmental communication between us.

After all, isn’t the highly lamented ‘generation gap’ nothing but the inability of parents and children to find common ground?  And their failure to look at things from the other viewpoint? A communication gap that creeps in with age and time, inevitably?

A gap that can be bridged when parents enter and see their children’s world… as I did?

Here’s to being a part of our children’s life! Cheers!

bridging-communication-gap

 

 

MOMMY DIARIES ~ It’s Raining!

RAIN_0

It’s raining this afternoon. As I sit writing this, my mind goes back to the times when both my children, Tanvi and Akshay, were growing up in the early 2000s. Afternoons were nicely busy ~ lunch, homework, milk-time, Small Wonder on TV before rushing down to play with friends and then coming home to dinner and bed…

Monsoon afternoons were especially beautiful. As the skies darkened and thunder rolled, as Gulmohar flowers blew past our windows and rain began to fall… we would shout out: Let’s Go!

And we would rush, through the balcony, up the spiral staircase on to the third floor terrace… And there we would be in the rain: the three of us, faces upturned, hands widespread, taking in the sight and sound and smell of rain all around! Akshay jumping up and down, Tanvi pirouetting, I singing…

Not a soul in sight, not a care in the world. The thunder, the lightning, the drenched trees, the green lawns and the road a long stretch of puddles and gulmohar petals! We would bathe in the deluge, coming in only after the last shower.

I would quickly change, put on some masala tea, and rush out for samosas from the shop at the corner… and the three of us ~ refreshed, rejuvenated & restored ~ would end our happy tryst with rain with hot samosas and chai!

It is these moments of shared joy that live with us forever, binding us even when we are far away from each other. It is such memories of love and togetherness that cocoon our children and keep them safe and secure and sure of themselves when they are out in the world at large.

And as parents, it is up to us to make warm memories with our children. The children may probably not remember what we say to them, but they definitely recall things we do together ~ the pillow fight, the Batman movie, the silly song we sang in the car, the jaunty camel ride, the mad pub-hopping spree, the tickling session in bed, the impromptu picnic in the park… When we create such moments, our children themselves experience and become capable of sharing the same with their loved ones.   

Here’s to creating happy memories with our children! 

Solitude by chance

We are surrounded by people all the time. Even when alone, rings and pings of the phone keep us bound to the world outside. Moments of quietude are rare… and longed for longingly. I found my share of true solitude in southern Italy last winter. Unexpectedly.

Atul and I had set off to explore the Amalfi coast which is a series of cliffs that plunge steeply into the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea. We drove along the mountain edge, the narrow road curving in and out, past small towns with their pastel-colored houses and piazzas, the blue sea on our right, deep down below us.

The coastline is dotted with numerous caves partially submerged in the sea. Small openings in the walls allow light to enter through the water and flood the cave with amazing shades of blue and green. The Grotto dello Smeraldo or the Emerald Cave, our first stop, is one such cave. A hundred odd steps took us down to the jetty from where a boat would take us into the cave. Winter being off-season, the jetty was totally deserted and the ticket man went off in search of the boatman.

I wandered down the last few steps and looked out at the sea. The sun was already high in the sky, shining down on the waves as they lapped gently against the rocks. I settled down on the last step, enjoying the pleasant warmth of the winter sun.

The water stretched endlessly before me, sunshine turning the blueness of the sea into molten silver. Time seemed to stand still. I sat there lost watching the play of the sun on the waves, barely aware of the faint sounds of cars on the road above. Immersed in the moment. Unmindful of time or thought. In sync with the sea and the sky and the sun… the elements coming together with my inner self, binding us forever.

I hugged the moment of complete solitude to me, wonderfully alive, filled with unexplained joy.

***

Back home, many months later, the memory of those moments comes unbidden to me… I see again the sea stretching in front of me, the waves moving, the light dancing… and I am alone once again filled anew with remembered calm and peace. With renewed energy, I turn to engage with the world over again.

an unexpected moment of solitude

PS: Would you like to share your moment of solitude?

Love… Inside-Out

 

One evening last week, my husband Atul related something profound about Warren Buffet, a man he admires greatly for his business acumen as well as philosophy in life. The fourth wealthiest man in the world, ninety year old Mr Buffet says that the greatest measure of success at the end of our life comes down to one word: Love.

I was immediately interested. I looked up the quote. Mr Buffet, speaking to students at Georgia Tech, revealed that the ultimate test of how you have lived your life is the number of people who actually love you. Because as Mr Buffet says: You can’t just write a check for a million dollars’ worth of love. Love has to be earned. And the more you give love away, the more you get.

The thought touched a deep chord within me. I am a firm believer in the concept of love. Love for All. Not just the people who are close to us but the larger band of people we come in contact with in life.

Sounds idealistic? Not really.

*

Love is a powerful emotion. The most positive. The most magical. We love our family. No one teaches us to love our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins… it comes naturally. And once we step out in to the world, we meet new people on a daily basis. It is estimated that we meet as many as 10 thousand people in our life; others project as many as 25-30 thousand!

There are the people we work with, our neighbors, teachers, classmates, business associates, friends of friends, gym buddies, shop keepers, vendors, handymen and support staff. Others we meet briefly ~ when we travel, at the theatre, playground, restaurant, even peddlers at intersections! With some of these people, we build cherished bonds that last a lifetime; with others, the interaction may be brief and not that important, but a connection is made nevertheless. A role that is fulfilled, a function that is realized.

Every connection is valuable; every interaction meaningful. Even if it as routine or as mundane as waving at the guard when you drive past the gate. Life is one big co-existence. And how we connect with others defines the way we relate to our own self and the world at large. And determines the life we build for ourselves.

*

When we interact with a person, we look at his expression, gestures and posture, take in his words, and listen to the tone of his voice. We take it all in and form our own assessment of the person and his perspective… Our judgment then defines our relationship with him. That is, most of us, usually, use this Outside-In approach in connecting with people.

What if we love Inside-Out?

What if we were to meet people with a heart full of love? All people. Everyone. People we live with; people we meet for the first time, second time… nth time; people we meet briefly or with whom we do not expect to form long-lasting relations…

Because when our heart is full of love, our entire being is positive. We exude a warmth, a willingness to listen. An unvoiced acceptance and appreciation for the other. Mixed with a degree of caring and compassion. This unspoken communication of unconditional love creates an inter-connectedness that sets the stage for a meaningful exchange, however brief.

*

Celebrated psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl in his 1946 memoir Man’s Search for Meaning reiterates, “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the essence of another human being unless he loves him.”

And it’s true. By giving our love first, we create a psychologically safe environment, an atmosphere of peace and well-being that is non-threatening and brings out the best in others, that allows a person to blossom into his own self without fear of retribution. When leaders display practical love, people love coming to work and they return the love back in full force. Mr Buffet seeks to create, and attributes the high performing success of his company, to this culture of unconditional love.

Closer home, Munnabhai, the protagonist of the 2003 hit film of the same name, taught us the power of love in another dimension. When Munnabhai walks up to the grouchy, grumbling sweeper in his college and hugs him, the old man is overcome with emotion; Munnabhai’s hug conveys kindness, compassion and gratitude all rolled into one leaving the old man (and us) tearful and smiling!

*

When we give our love freely without expecting anything in return, we experience the same within ourselves. Whether it be lifting up a colleague with encouragement, helping develop an employee under our leadership care, or infusing deep meaning and purpose into someone’s work role, love comes back in full force.

The power of love is held within each of us. And we hold the key to its release. The choice is ours.

Try it. Once. Just once.

 

heartbeat

 

 

In search of Happiness…

nicole_Happiness_Workplace

Idle curiosity last summer made me post on FB: Happiness is…

Because aren’t we all looking for happiness? The reason why we get up every morning, work, love, have a family, buy stuff, socialize, study, exercise, entertain, travel, play… As the Dalai Lama puts it: The very motion of our life is towards happiness.

My friends’ insightful responses made me pause, ponder, and explore further…

Sure. Great films, amazing food, meeting friends, good books, all leave that pleasant warm glow within us we call ‘happiness.’ Which makes life worthwhile. For me, there is no greater joy than sharing golgappas with my daughter or watching an Avengers film with my son or simply sitting with a cup of tea. Yet, these moments are brief, short-lived. Isn’t happiness something greater? Something that pervades our soul on a more sustained basis through life?

*

My friends definitely think so. They say happiness is a state of mind. A sense of well-being. An appreciation of life.  That it is in the mind and comes from within. And that nobody can come and give us happiness… we have to seek it… on our own. That happiness is a choice we make, a decision we take. AND. We can train our mind to learn happiness! We just need to be aware of where and how to find it.

Money did get mentioned as a prerequisite to happiness. Of course, money IS important; money buys us comfort, safety and freedom in life. However, falling into the more you have-the more you want trap can cause even more UNhappiness! So once we have enough to keep our heads above water, swimming towards happiness is entirely up to us. Otherwise, the not-so-fortunate could never be happy!

*

Going over my friends’ responses, I realized that happiness means different things to different people. All agree that happy people are content, satisfied and see happiness all around them… put together, their answers paint a rather happy picture of happiness!

Happiness is… making others happy

When we help others, support them, be with them, we are happy. Happiness means loving others AND telling them so. Genuinely acknowledging the support of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, helpers, fills us with inner peace and confidence. Having people whom we can turn to for affection and understanding gives us the strength to survive health challenges better.

Happiness is… total acceptance

We Are What We Are. Happiness means being yourself. Accepting yourself as you are.

They Are As They Are. Accepting others, without trying to change them, is essential too.

It is as it is. This phrase brings out the essence of optimism perfectly.  All we can do is accept life’s quirks and carry on.

Sounds like a tall order but accepting ourselves, others and circumstances is, my friends say, the path to contentment and happiness.

Happiness is… loving ourselves

We are always busy. 24 x 7 x 365. When do we take out time for ourselves? To do what we like? Taking out time for our own self is the primal need of every human being. Being alone gives us breathing space, a chance to think quietly, to put our life in perspective, to be at peace.

Happiness is… being fit

When one of my friends commented that “happiness means being able to fit into old clothes” I am sure she was not jesting. Happiness means being fit – in the body and in the mind. And exercising does both.

Happiness is… getting the job done

Happy people do the things they like to do. AND. Enjoy things they don’t like to do too. After all, isn’t our sense of fulfilment the greatest when we accomplish something we didn’t like, didn’t want, to do?

Each of us needs to devise our own mechanism to achieve the completion of daunting tasks. For me, the thought of having a cup of tea at the end of a gruelling task is the biggest motivation for carrying on!

Happiness is… ‘Is-ness”

Is-ness: An apt term coined by a friend for living in the moment. Because the present moment is the only moment we have. The only moment we have to be happy.

Living in the present keeps us focussed, helps us concentrate better on the job at hand. This is the ‘flow experience’ described by psychologist Csikszentmihalyl ~ the experience when one is totally involved and immersed in a task to the exclusion of all thought other than the work at hand. The resulting sense of achievement, ecstasy, serenity is surely happiness?

Happiness is… finding a meaningful purpose in life

Perhaps this is the most important aspect of happiness: recognizing the things which give meaning and purpose to our life, and then, doing them wholeheartedly.

For me, this means carrying out my role in this world to the best of my ability ~ my role as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, colleague, friend, neighbor, citizen… and above all, as a human being. And enjoying every moment of it. Without the fear of not succeeding in it.

*

The most striking revelation for me was:

There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.

We all set out to achieve a happy life ~ a good job, a great relationship, a bigger house ~ firm in the belief that happiness awaits us in the future…  As a friend points out, happiness is not something in the distance, to be achieved over time; it is HERE, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. So smile, laugh and live life to its fullest… THAT is happiness.

 

PS: A message I received on Whatsapp seems apt in these unprecedented corona times: Happiness is viral. Go infect someone.

DOGGIE DIARIES ~ Musings of a Mom

No!


And no means NO.

This had always been my answer whenever the kids asked me for a pet dog. Who will look after the dog? I would ask. We will mamma, they would say. Okay then, list down all the chores for the doggie and who will do what and when. Give me a proposal and I will consider. They never made the proposal. The dog never came.

*

Both children grew up… Tanvi went for her Masters to the US and settled down on the West coast. When Tanvi left, the idea of getting a dog for Akshay did occur to me. Because he would be lonely without his sis. But Akshay was in class XI juggling his time between school, tuitions, friends and sports… He never brought it up, and I (thankfully) dismissed the idea.

Soon, Akshay too left for his undergrad in the US. Four years later, he was back home settling down to life at home with family, friends and colleagues. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine him harbouring any thought of a pet. So I was completely taken aback when he said, Mom, I am thinking of keeping a dog. No, I replied.

The No was automatic, and I must admit, quite autocratic. But Akshay was no longer an eight year old. I should have realized this. Please note: he had not asked me for my permission. He was expressing his intention. I tried to reason with him. Who will look after him when you go to work? When you travel? When we go for holidays? Dogs need lots of space… how can he adjust in an apartment? How will we cope with all the chores? How will I work from my home office? And so on… But Akshay had a logical response to every concern of mine.

Unable to handle the situation, I said, OK let’s discuss it with daddy and Tanvi. And so, after dinner that day, the four of us (Tanvi on Skype) deliberated and examined the pros and cons… In face of my extreme reluctance, Akshay grudgingly agreed to hold off ~ at least for the next two months. I heaved a sigh of relief, certain that things would blow over.

*

No such luck. Akshay brought up the issue much sooner. Mom, I need a dog to come home to… I am making a new life back in India… I have my friends but still, when I come home, I need something of my own… I need a dog to welcome me when I come in, a dog to take care of… I have even thought of a name: Richard…

Oh my God, he hasn’t forgotten! He is still keen! How do I take his mind off the dog?! What should I do to divert his attention? This is becoming a nightmare… In desperation, I tried to come up with a firm refusal.

Akshay was continuing in earnest. Mom, your ‘yes’ is very important since you will be taking care of him the most…

I looked at him in fearful apprehension. He meant it. His eyes implored me beseechingly. His voice entreated pleadingly…

All objections died down my throat. At that moment, I could not bring myself to say a firm NO. How could I say no to him? How could I be authoritative and veto him down? It would be like saying I am the boss of the house and You cannot bring a dog into My home. After all, it is his home too. Every member has equal rights and each one of us can do what he or she likes – even if, at times, it inconveniences others… How, then, could I assert myself over Akshay?  That would be totally unfair…

It was time for a family discussion again.

As it turned out, Atul, my husband, too began to like the idea of including a pet in the family. Tanvi had always wanted a pet and though initially she had sided with me, she well understood Akshay’s need. The decision had been taken. Three to one.

Now only providence could come to my rescue.

 

Three to One!


Akshay was happy. The family had agreed. We were getting a dog.

I reconciled myself to the idea of having a pet. I knew my life, as I had built it, would soon be a thing of the past. I would have to adapt myself, my home, my systems, all to the dog. I suppose this is how a mother feels when her son gets married? My heart sank lower and lower…

Despairingly, I looked around and tried to imagine how things would be once Richard came…. I had given up office life 25 years ago to be home for my 4 year old daughter. Since then, I had been happily balancing work with family ~ working from home in the mornings and then being with the children once they came back from school.

When the children left for college, I was happier. I was a free bird. I could now work longer hours, travel with my husband, visit my parents more often, socialize more…  All this would now end. I was sure. My independence would be jeopardized. Once the dog came, I would have to look after his feeding, bathing, playing, training and whatnot. My routine would change. My perfectly organized home would become messy. My help, already stretched, would quit.

Why should I be subjected to all this? Just because I work from home, why should I be made to go through all this? Especially when I have done my bit over the years? Why now? For a dog?!

I groaned, I moaned, I sighed! I gave an ultimatum: if the dog comes, I will move to our other apartment! No one, not my husband, not my daughter, not my son, paid any attention. Resentment, anger, betrayal welled up within me… I would wake up at night and worry for myself…

Much as I tried, I could not ready myself for this intrusion.

*                                                                                                                                                             

Meanwhile, Akshay had been speaking to the breeder. He had decided: we would get a golden retriever.  Mom, they are very friendly, intelligent and devoted. They are sooooo beautiful. You will love him.

Every day, he would send me videos of golden retrievers and I would honestly tell him that they were very cute. But did we need one? That was the question.

*

And then one day, Akshay sent me a pic of a pup on Whatsapp. Mom, this is the pup in question. What do you think? Should we get him?

WhatsApp Image 2020-06-16 at 11.31.47 PM

I looked at the photograph of a pup held high in the breeder’s hand. He’s so small, was my first reaction. He fits into his hand easily… I looked more closely. Why is his expression so sombre, I messaged back. 

Akshay called immediately: Mom! He is a babyyyyy… he is probably feeling scared being held up like this. And Mom, he is of the champion variety… the breeder says he will train more easily! Shall I say yes to him?

My son’s enthusiasm, his eagerness, his joy, beamed over the line… At that moment, like a flash of lightning, I realized that my son really, really wanted a dog… his entire happiness seemed to depend on the pet. Then, why couldn’t I support him willingly? Surely, his sense of fulfilment would be far greater than my fear of impending doom?

At that moment, I truly reconciled to the idea of a pet in the family. At last, it was All for One.

 

All for One


It was love at first sight.

Puppy Richard came home on a very, very cold Sunday morning in December. He had been travelling the entire night from the breeding farm in Ludhiana to Delhi, reaching us at 7 am in the morning. Barely a month old, he was hardly visible as the breeder lifted him up from a small basket.

Akshay rushed to fetch his bed and the man placed him in it. Richard moved gingerly on the soft bed sinking into the space between the cushion and side of the bed, chin tucked in. The bed seemed so huge! We crowded round, each one of us trying to touch him… He looked up at us, blankly, trying to focus.

And we fell in love. With Richard. All of us.

RICHARD COMES HOME

Akshay had been preparing for Richard the entire week. He had been talking to friends with pets, reading up on the Net, and had spent an entire morning at the pet store… he came back and excitedly showed us the fares: a bed, sweaters, coat, blanket, chew toys, rope toys, cuddly toys, feeding bowls, shampoo, brush, training sheets, puppy food… He even made space in his cupboard and stored the stuff neatly. We were all set to receive our baby Richard, bed and all.

And now, Richard was home. Finally. The breeder gave a few basic instructions, handed us some puppy food, and left. I panicked. How would we look after baby Richard? He was barely a few weeks old. What did we know about taking care of such a tiny pup? Despite being a mother of two, I must admit, I felt absolutely helpless. And protective.

*

Akshay doesn’t quite remember why he chose to name our puppy Richard. He says the name just popped into his head one day, months ago, even before he had broached the subject to us, and though at first it sounded odd, the moment we saw Richard, we felt the name was just right for him!

Richard is now one and a half years old, the youngest member of our family. He spends most of his time with me ~ snoozing under my chair as I work, following me around the house like Mary’s li’l lamb, and waiting patiently by the window when I go out. I can honestly say that I have come to love him as much or as little as the others in the family.

Sir Richard has definitely become the Lord of our hearts.

family lalls2

PS: It would have been good if we didn’t have a dog in the house. It is GREAT to have Richard Lall in our home.

The Money Mantra

 

Ever realized it? We are slaves. Slaves of our needs, our wants, our desires. Slaves of money. Only death can free us from this bondage…unless we humans, blessed with the ability to recognize our predicament and the intelligence to work our way out of this trap, do something before we lose out in the race to earn money, more money and still more money.

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It all began ten thousand years ago when our ancestors stopped hunting and foraging, and began growing crops. Food became plenty, the population grew, villages came into being. The fields required long gruelling hours of back-breaking work; grain had to be protected from theft, insects and vermin; cows and goats had to be tended; household chores had to be completed… In short, life began getting more and more complicated…

…and continues to this day. Every morning, millions of us around the world wake up, get dressed and leave for work. We work 50, 60, even 70 hour long weeks; come home, eat, and go to bed, only to begin the drill once again. Most of what we earn is spent on food, housing, education, health, entertainment. The fear of not having enough  money forces us to work more and more; the desire for better things pushes us harder and longer; caught in this web of fear and desire, we have become our own slaves.

*

In the modern world, money has come to control our emotions, our lives, even our souls. So unless we give up everything and leave for the mountains, we WILL have to work ceaselessly to earn money till the day we die. Right? Robert T Kiyosaki, author of the book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, disagrees.

I chanced upon the book on my son Akshay’s shelf. And found it very insightful… According to Kiyosaki, Money is Power. BUT: It should not control us. Rather, it should work for us. Only then can we gain power over money. Only then can we cease to be ‘highly paid slaves’ – a term he reserves for most of us caught in the humdrum of routine life.

Young millenials who are starting out in life can truly learn from Kiyosaki’s notions on how money works, and more importantly, how money can be made to work.

Kiyosaki’s mantra-tantra for making money is simple.

The Mantra: Learn how to manage money and make it work for you. The learning can take up to an entire lifetime.

The Tantra: Build assets. Reduce liabilities. Continue building the asset base till expenses get paid by income from assets. Then quit the rat race and work for joy.

Sounds simple. But easier said than done. So I explored some more. Let’s begin at the beginning.

*

Kiyosaki says: To make money, spend your life buying or building assets. AND avoid notching up liabilities. Acquiring assets has a cumulative effect. Accumulate assets as you go on in life…Asset building makes prosperity achievable, for now and for years to come.

So build assets. From Day 1.

Most of us lead life just like everyone else. We begin work, get married, buy a house, a car, have children, travel; when earnings increase, we give in to our temptations ~ latest gadgets, bigger house, branded clothes, expensive jewelry… the spree carries on unceasingly. Our expenses take up all we earn, never allowing enough to be saved, to be invested in assets. To build wealth, one has to break off from the herd and channel a part of our income into assets.

But what is an asset? Quite simply, an asset is something that puts money in the pocket. It could be investments in financial markets, real estate (Note: the one which give returns), small businesses on the side, and anything else that produces income, or appreciates and has a ready market.

Most of us have been brought up to believe that a house (or an apartment) is the biggest asset one owns in life. We spend a large portion of our young working years saving up for that dream house, usually taking a huge loan… little do we realize that buying and maintaining a house can become a huge liability because it drains resources ~ resources which could be better and more productively deployed to generate money through investments. Kiyosaki warns against investing in liabilities which you think are assets!

This does not mean that one should not buy a bigger house. The decision needs to be deferred till one has sufficient returns from assets to pay for the house EVEN if this means waiting for a few years.

*

Kiyosaki also talks about investing in assets, which to most of us, may not seem like assets. Our mind. Our single most powerful asset. When trained well, it can create enormous wealth.

Reading books and journals, joining training programs, attending workshops are all investments in developing our mind. Building our knowledge and skill set definitely helps to get a better job, invest better, and retain wealth better.

Inculcating self-discipline is equally important. Breaking off from the herd and foregoing material temptations requires immense self-control. Overcoming laziness, ousting arrogance… are essential too for our endeavors to succeed.

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Relationships are also assets. They may not directly put money in our pocket but can be a crucial link. Investing in relationships requires time, energy and money… so surround yourself with people who are more intelligent than you and experts in their fields so that you can access their knowledge and advice when required.

*

Prioritize wants.

Nowadays, everything can be bought on credit ~ mobiles, laptops, equipment, bags, clothes! Anything can be ordered at a click of the mouse ~ even cars! After taxes and loan premiums, the month’s salary vanishes in paying for expenses, both essential AND nonessential. At times, one may actually need to take additional loan to get through the month. The question then is: how does one build assets when income barely covers expenses?

A common hindrance is the preconceived notion that buying assets requires a lot of money… but as the saying goes, little drops make the mighty ocean…

With limited income sources, building assets will need you to cut down on expenses. For the time being. So that money, little by little, becomes available for buying small assets. And then some more.

Don’t give in to desires! Finding strength of mind to forego things is key especially when others around you are ‘enjoying’ life. This should not be interpreted to mean postponing happiness for later… but redefining and realigning our priorities. As Kiyosaki says, the rich buy luxury last; the poor and middle class buy luxuries first. The rich build their asset base first and from the income generated from the assets, buy luxuries.

Once the assets start giving results, reward yourself with a luxury, but only then!

*

Continue building the asset base.

Continue maximizing assets, minimizing liabilities. Continue investing income from initial assets to buy new ones. Continue keeping expenses less than income and sooner than we think, we are on our way to becoming rich.

By now, you will have the courage and self-confidence to look at more speculative investments and take calculated risks. This gives asset building and income generation a quantum boost. And remember, winners are not afraid of losing. Mistakes are actually good things if we find the lesson. People who avoid failure also avoid success.

*

Work to learn.

Soon income coming in from the assets will begin to pay for expenses. According to Kiyosaki, prudently bought assets can take one to a stage when the income from assets pays for expenses entirely! AND also contribute to further building the assets! This, he says, is the point where money is working for you effectively!

The best thing about money is that it works 24 hours a day and can work for generations.

Now is the time to review and reassess your work situation. Tweak it so that it becomes even more commensurate with your purpose in life. More essentially, Kiyosaki recommends working to learn. Not working for money. He recommends young people to seek work for what they will learn, more then what they will earn.

*

Be a generous giver.

Kiyosaki reserves this profound advice for the end.

Because giving brings joy, long lasting inner joy. It could be money, advice, or support in any form, or just about anything that can make us useful to others.

Giving gives us the opportunity to look beyond our own world, a perspective that can become one of our best investments. As the Chinese proverb goes: If you always give, you will always have.

Try it! It works!

MOMMY DIARIES ~ Jab I Left

It was with a heavy heart that I boarded the United Airlines flight in fall 2012. I was returning home from the US, alone, leaving Tanvi, my daughter, to begin school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The last two weeks had been hectic: settling down in the apartment, completing formalities at the University, browsing stores in neighboring Walnut Street, exploring the city with its quaint bridges over the rivers… The day I left, we had a typical American lunch at our favorite diner ~ burgers and fries with Coke. For a mother-daughter pair who chat all the time, both of us were unusually quiet… Soon I was boarding the blue Shuttle for the airport and Tanvi was waving me goodbye. As I turned my head to look back at her, a blinding thought flashed through my mind: Today. Today, I am cutting the umbilical cord. She is on her own now.

I cannot say I was sad. There was no reason to be sad; rather, all the more to be happy. Our daughter was moving on to a new phase in life, an important milestone for the family. Yet, I sat at the shuttle window, silently. I could hear others chatting around me but felt no inclination to join them… At the airport, I sat, reading, waiting for my flight to be announced.

The flight was quite empty. There was only one person at the window seat. I settled down comfortably for the short flight to New York from where I would take an Air India flight to New Delhi.

*

I noticed her when the air hostess came with the drinks. The girl at the window seat, a young American about my daughter’s age. She had been sleeping fitfully since take off… now, she looked at the drinks trolley and refused. Something in her expression made me ask, “Would you like a drink?”

“Do I have to pay?” Obviously it was her first flight abroad. As we got talking, I learned that she was going to France for a two year course in the Arts. The first time away from family. The first time in a new country.

Instinctively, I warmed to her. The uncertainty I had sensed in her came to the fore as we chatted. New school with unknown people… how much time would it take for her to settle? She wondered. I realized the extent of her insecurity when she showed me the address she would be staying at, uncertain how she would reach it… I was glad I could guide her. We chatted all the way to New York becoming more and more animated as we talked about our families and our countries, her education, her Arts course in France, her career prospects…

I could see her tension ebbing as we spoke; for my part, I was surprised how easily I had come out of my melancholia, how soon my dejection had disappeared. Helping her, a girl embarking on a journey abroad just like my daughter, even in a small way, had been oddly comforting.

*

At JFK, I caught sight of her as she walked towards her gate, quite confidently I thought. Turning, I moved towards mine, a warm glow around my heart, happy and secure in the feeling that my daughter would be just fine.

 

 

 

I still can see your smile…

Remember the movie Kal Ho Na Ho? And Shah Rukh Khan trying to teach the ever-uptight Naina to smile? We know why Naina is always distraught, but WHY does SRK want her to smile?

Because he knows that smiling will bring her hope and good cheer. Sounds difficult to believe but true. Happiness gets us smiling, sure. The other way round works too. Smiling does feed into optimism; it elevates the mood and helps us see the lighter side of things.  When we smile, we feel positive, happier, in control.

So what is it about a smile?

A smile is magical…

Every time we smile, happy hormones rush through our blood and we relax, our mood lightens and our face brightens instantly… The impact on others is equally indelible.

Everyone likes being smiled at. A smile conveys warmth, openness, friendliness… and we feel rewarded. This is why we are naturally drawn to people who smile. And the reason why Madhuri Dixit, Julia Roberts and Jackie Chan are so popular. One glimpse of their wide, carefree smiles enslaves us immediately!

A smile is infectious…

A smile says: I like you. When the other person smiles, we smile. Unconsciously. Automatically.

It is human nature to want to return a smile. Indeed, it is difficult not to react positively to a smile. Smiling helps us make friends. And diffuses unpleasant situations. Remember the time you went to “have it out” with the neighbor? The neighbor opened the door and smiled… and you forgot all your harsh words! Research shows natural smilers are more likely to be promoted; they appear more confident and successful.

Try smiling at strangers as you walk down the road. I have often tried it, and it works: after the initial hesitation, almost all return the smile. When I smile, the world smiles back.

A smile spreads happiness…

We are all born with the ability to smile; even blind kids who have never seen a smile can smile.  Babies smile in the womb; after they are born, they continue to smile, especially in their sleep. Yet, somehow, as we make the transition from childhood to adulthood, we forget to smile as much as we used to. When you try to remember how many times you smiled today, you will be surprised how little you did! Was this because there was not a single moment of happiness or amusement during the entire day? If joy could not be the source of your smile, then, as Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, let your smile be the source of joy!

Smile and laugh more often. If you’re feeling down or notice that you’ve not smiled in a while, fake one. The brain does not know a fake smile from a real one; it still signals the stress to go away immediately. And the more often you fake a smile, the more likely it is that a smile will begin to come naturally.

A smile is forever…

We definitely need to smile more… It makes us realize that things are not all that bad. Everyone likes being smiled at. And the best part is, it never ever hurts to smile. My everlasting memory of my mom-in-law will be the welcoming smile she greets me with when I return from work.

Popular Cuban-American singer Gloria Estafan delightfully expresses it thus:

‘Cause when I close my eyes
I still can see your smile

It’s bright enough to light my life
Out of my darkest hour…

PS: A smile in corona times…

In corona times, when social distancing is the norm, can we really afford not to smile at the few people we do happen to meet? For instance, wouldn’t smiling help the sour-faced scowling couple I see in the park every morning? Wouldn’t it bring more joy into their life if they smiled? Should I, like Shah Rukh Khan, tell them to stand in front of the mirror and go eeeeeeeeeee…? Or should I simply smile at them every time I pass them? After all, a smile CAN be more contagious than coronavirus!

Just… Imagine!

 

“Papa, then what happened? What did the fairies say to Rajkumar? How did he swim in the river of pearls?” and my dad would add yet another twist to his enchanting tale of Rajkumar and the Wishing Ring until I fell asleep! Years later, my children would listen mesmerized as I spun yarns of Milaa, a boy-orphan from the past ages, and his accomplice, Milee the squirrel.

Why do we tell stories?

Tales of rags to riches, victory of good over evil, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy and rebirth fascinate us as children and stay with us well beyond childhood. And they continue to captivate us as adults even when we know that they are unreal and unrealistic. How else can one explain the abject despair all over the world when the avenger heroes die in the movie Infinity War? And the impatient anticipation for the sequel?

Undoubtedly, no other species on earth can spin stories or tell them or understand them or learn from them like us! And why not? We have been doing so for a hundred thousand years!

When our hunter-gatherer forefathers first began linking sounds into sentences, the stability within the tribe increased dramatically. They could now talk to one other and share information and experiences; they could discuss dangers and threats and ward them off successfully; they could work in groups and cooperate effectively… Amazingly, they could now talk about things they had never seen, touched or smelled, and also people who did not exist at all!

They would let loose their imagination around fires in the evenings and create fabulous tales of winged horses, man-eating birds, many-headed serpents, forest sprites, belligerent giants, ferocious demons, weapons of thunder and lightning and all things conceivable! And this is how stories, legends and myths were created…

As humans spread over mountains, deserts and seas, they carried these stories with them; events were added, new characters introduced, and adventures invented as stories were told and retold down generations making them an integral part of every culture in the world.

So what is it about stories, anyway? Why are we so hooked to them?

Storytelling is what makes us human. Stories invoke imagery and engage our curiosity; they move our hearts and minds and allow our imagination to run wild with them.

For the young child, fairy tales simplify the world around him; they mould his values, beliefs and ethics early on in life and teach him how to relate with people, animals and things in the environment. And surprisingly, adults too use stories to make sense of their world… a world where billions of people pursue life within the limits of widely accepted norms. These stories guide us to live together, work together, and cooperate with each other…

Indeed, our unique ability to spin stories has made humans the most dominant, most powerful race on earth. Come to think of it, what are human rights? Religion? Money? Trade? Laws? Justice? Social norms? The Constitution? The company you work for? The United Nations? Capitalism? Democracy? Legends. These are all legends invented by us. They exist only in our imagination. And yet, because all of us believe in and accept them, we have been able to build cohesive and cooperative communities all across the globe.

Without these ‘stories,’ societies would quickly descend into chaos. No other species or for that matter, no other human species before Homo sapiens, has been able to achieve this ever!

We imagine, re-imagine, and then, re-re-imagine!

Our genius also allows us to re-imagine our own stories. And we can, and have, altered them from time to time… Faced with challenges – social, economic, political or environmental – mankind has collectively modified the narrative from time to time to create alternative imagined orders. Survival of the human race is undoubtedly attributed to the genius of our imagination and re-imagination!

In present times, in corona times, we humans are on the verge of changing the story yet again. The contagious epidemic spreading unabated and uncontrolled across the globe has altered our lives in the moment; uncertainty regarding its future course is likely to change, once again, our life forever…

And we, the indefatigable humans, are ready to meet the challenge head-on. No matter what comes our way in this incredible journey called Life, we will rewrite our story, we will refashion the future.

We have to: Just… IMAGINE!

 

A small beginning to change

Perhaps my biggest achievement during corona times has been developing the habit of walking regularly, something which I have always tried, with marginal success, to make a part of my life. And I must say, I enjoy it immensely. It has become a part of my daily routine and I hope to keep it this way… forever.

It all started as a chore, a chore born out of necessity: that of taking our golden retriever Richard for his morning walk. In a lockdown-no staff scenario, this chore landed on my list! And so, one early morning, Richard and I set off for the mandatory walk. To avoid stray dogs, we chose the tiny park about a 100 yards from our house. A park which no one visits, a park with the smallest track imaginable ~ 215 steps cover it in precisely 2 minutes! 10 rounds in 20 minutes – perfect! Quick and easy too! Both Richard and I would be back home soon!

Richard had different ideas though. Every pigeon, every squirrel, every butterfly he saw had him straining at the leash… finally, spying a cat in the distance, he took off across the grass… and since the park was empty, I let him be. While I walked, Richard amused himself exploring around, and at times, running at breakneck speed on the track.  The sight of him running towards me with unbridled joy, ears flying, tail swinging, hair glinting golden, filled me with deep joy… perhaps, these moments of gay abandon for Richard brought me back to the park the next day, and the next, and the next. And the 10 rounds became 15, then 20, and now, 50 days later, 25!

How many times in the past had I had to force myself to go for a walk?! I remember I would rationalize to myself: so what if I don’t go for a walk today? I will still be out of shape tomorrow… another time, I would begin on a burst of motivation, it would become a hassle soon and I would slide back into my on-off routine. Today, what began as a compulsion is a delightful, meaningful feature in my lockdown routine!

The joy of watching Richard enjoying himself, the spring in my step, the flush of achievement… these small satisfactions motivate me to rouse myself at 5:30 am and walk in the park for a straight 50 minutes, every day.

And this is how it is with habits. Small wins, most of the times unnoticed, multiply as we repeat them and accumulate into something much more over time… I realize that my earlier approach had been wrong: my entire focus had been on becoming leaner and fitter. The immediate small gains – energy boost, mood uplift – were ignored and the fact that even a 1 per cent gain is a gain in the right direction, unrecognized. I was in for the big win only!

And this is why I failed. I was focussed only on the result, forgetting the various processes, the various small steps, the various small improvements, that would lead to the result. Since the outside world only sees the powerful outcome, I had lost sight of the many actions that were required to precede the larger change. I forgot that it is the work done over a long period of time that becomes evident later, much later. All these years, I had been trying to change the wrong thing!

Today, I am a walker. Walking is an integral part of me, a part of my identity. It has become a habit for a lifetime (fingers crossed.)

Becoming a walker has renewed my belief in myself. Life is, after all, a series of commitments and accomplishments. I am now ready for the next habit: Making healthy food choices!

For me, from now on, it will always be: Lage Raho Munnabhai!