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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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MOMMY DIARIES ~ It’s Raining!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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In search of Happiness…

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.