My Daughters’ Mum : By Natasha Badhwar. My Book Report for September

https://www.amazon.in/My-Daughters-Mum-Natasha-Badhwar/dp/9386797003/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506913196&sr=8-1&keywords=my+daughters+mum

“I write for you and me and for a gentler, more just world.”

Catharsis is a word I avoid using in any context. Even when friends, well-wishers and experts offer it as an explanation for what they see happening with me. Or suggest it as a necessary step to deal with an issue. It is not because I don’t like the word or don’t believe in the process. Just the opposite, in fact. I treat catharsis as a sacred precious gift; the word carries so much value for me that I don’t want it made trite in the world of easy sound bytes and trending catch phrases.

So it is with a lot of thought that I call Natasha Badhwar’s debut book a cathartic read. My Daughters’ Mum is an extraordinary book in its candour. The author writes with such self-reflexive vulnerability that you forget you are reading another person’s writing. You feel your heart spill out on the page. Through tears and smiles, and heaving and sinking heart the book embraces the reader, cleansing many heartaches and allowing one to celebrate unspoken joys. You recognise memories you had dumped away, you reclaim parts you had been too ashamed to include in your narrative of self. You examine what you have known; you let yourself be drawn into speculating on the unknown.

The theme of coming home to a place in this world, and a place inside yourself is the big story of this marvellously loving collection of deeply personal essays. The theme holds together carefully curated sections from Natasha’s long running Mint Lounge column. As a regular reader, it makes me happy that the stories of the column, with their message of love, hope, inclusion and the vision of a different, kinder world now have another home with an even wider accessibility. The editor and writer have skilfully structured the collection in a way that feels like a seamless narration of an ongoing conversation.

Part memoir, part essay, part record of our times, there is nothing the book does not touch. Birth family, mothers and daughters, parents, nation, others, love, work, interfaith marriage, friends, grief, death, births, self-love, identity, nationality, changing times, family, in-laws, maids, working from home, road trips, childhood, college, siblings – it is all there, in Natasha’s warm and smart prose. No motherhoods preached, no rules that are claimed as fail proof. Just brave and honest sharing of personal experiences, insights and revelations.

Sample this, on parenting:

“I had never really felt so lonely. Clearly, I had spread myself too thin; the urban myth of the supermom had trapped me. I looked good, but I felt terrible.
All at once, parenting proved to be a test of loyalty. Was I willing to be loyal to myself? I didn’t have much practice in this area. It had always been much easier to be loyal to friends, trends and gadgets.
I had to come to terms with a few grand truths. For one, I would be able to raise our kids well only if I first raised myself well…I had also to learn to pamper the child in me – love her, appreciate her, make her happy.”

In the chapter titled A Technology Chowkidar At Home, Natasha takes head on the issue many young and not so young parents mention all too often as an obstacle to stay away from negative media.

“Despite my intense love for gadgets…I am the self-appointed watchman who moderates access to technology in family spaces. …We barely listen to each other. We are often way behind in keeping track of each other’s creative milestones…we all need some time to share our experiences with each other So we do things that may seem odd to other families. …I do not want us to be a family of Western-consumerist-culture-addicted-Anglophones. We do not want to find ourselves scavenging for comfort amid the clutter of shallow, raucous media content with limited shelf life. I want variety in our lives. Slowness. Pauses. Daydreaming and imaginary friends. I don’t want to prepare our children for the ‘real world’. I want us and them to have the confidence that we can create the world we want to live in. We don’t have to fit into pre-fabricated moulds. We are free to discover and relate to our inner and outer worlds at our own pace. We can pick and chose. This is real life.”

Natasha’s writing is always crisp, the chapters short and sentences light. Such nimble handling of weighty and gut wrenchingly loaded topics is a feat this slim book achieves with élan. I have a feeling that the author’s experience as a TV newsperson and filmmaker, and then coach has definitely helped her create the light as air feel for this warm as pashmina coziness of a book.

If like me, you are a dreamer who wants to persist on this path despite an often broken heart and habitually weary feet, go get yourself this dose of solidarity and encouragement. Keep the tissues on hand, and start reading. You will go on a journey of your life, I promise you. In Natasha’s words reflecting on the wreckage of a riot she watched as a young girl, “Our heart breaks and somehow we keep working. Lives are wrecked and people get back to building homes again. We lose hope and then we find a way to believe once more. We often despair that we are too cynical but we are all constantly creating, restoring, healing, trying to reassemble broken pieces. ” I like to believe she speaks for a lot of us

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Nothing Social About It.

My piece about the chawl themed new branch of the cafe and bar and co-working hub, Social, atCyber hub , Gurgaon. About design and its inspiration. About imitation and appropriation. About a mockery of others.

http://www.dailyo.in/voices/chawl-gurgaon-cyber-hub-social-mumbai-history-bombay/story/1/19563.html

Cyber Hub is a multi-outlet development in Gurgaon, with offices, bakeries, pubs, fine dining and shops spread surrounding a central avenue, along some very spacious spokes that lead like tentacles from the main hub. On the rare breezy day of monsoon and the more pleasant days of winter, it is a pleasure to be among the crowds in this postmodern version of a Milanese piazza. The cross-pollination of art, music, food, politics, thought, architecture and more has always been a sign of cosmopolitan urbanism, but the corporate globalisation of Gurgaon has little time for such organic development. It is a market of flash and newness, with establishments and ideas emerging every day, powering the “happening” factor and keeping the transplanted citizens proud and smug, and fairly insular.

Walking down the cemented promenade at Cyber Hub, my friends and I recently came across the bright façade of the newest outlet of the popular cafe and bar, Social. I had seen it on an earlier visit, and been bemused by its kitschy attempt to appropriate the film-poster-and-truck-painting idiom.

This time, upon closer inspection, it became clear that the design team had decided to be inspired by the idea of a Mumbai chawl as the icon for “Social” bonhomie. I suppose the intention was to be droll and edgy. To many of my friends and I, however, it looked like a poor case of misappropriation. The symbolic misplacement of bits of a city’s built history without any understanding of the context. Chawls are an icon of Mumbai’s past and present, and not for salutary reasons alone. None of that nuance or meaning is even remotely acknowledged or explained in the sanitised re-rendering at Social. Instead, we have a rootless hothouse romanticisation of the chawl as a symbol of socialising and community. A chawl is about so much more than being social.

We stared at the façade for a bit, and then brought ourselves to go inside. We were uncomfortably curious to see more. The design had achieved one of its key objectives – footfall. Once inside, the theme continued to make us feel conflicted. A board listed tenant resident names in Hindi. A cement-plastered wall was covered with a collection of old-style electric meters nailed haphazardly with trailing wires.

The wall paint peeled delicately on the exterior, but there were no riverine cracks on the interior walls. The lighting was dim but tastefully planned, and the flooring patchwork didn’t make us trip. The air-conditioning was perfect, unlike anything I have ever experienced inside a chawl. As was the silence, and the air-freshener suffused a scent of affluence. Of course, there was no damp.

Nation in a chawl?

In a nation that grapples with overcrowded poor quality housing in its cities, is this the best creative manifestation of the “social” that trained design professionals could come up with? How ironic that chawls – the built form that arose as a reluctant solution to the despair of homeless mill workers – a design that the renowned urban planner Patrick Geddes called “not housing but warehousing of humans” is the theme for a place dedicated to leisure, to the recreation of moneyed urban professionals?

Is the design meant to be an urban satire? Is the joke on us? Or were the designers and their client just plain ignorant, if not intentionally disdainful?

Besides being an eatery and a bar, Social serves that latest trend in the gig economy – co-working spaces. Small rooms with chawl-style barred windows and flaky doors lined the passage – like the gala of a chawl, leading out from the lobby.

These co-working spaces can be rented by the hour, by office-less workers. So this is what the chawl idea was all about, we concluded. Except, again the symbolism is false. There was a modish, edgy charm to those little cocoons of private solitude and focus. The type of privacy and solitude, and facilities with worktables and food and drink on call that no chawl in history could ever offer. Not even the fairy tale version of the chawl in the Sai Paranjape film Katha, where there is no messy laundry hanging in corridors and the paint and varnish is all perfect.

And certainly never in the more realistic ones, as seen in other movies and books. If only Jaya Bhaduri’s character in the ’70s Barjatya superhit Piya Ka Ghar had found these cute cubicles of Social – with their shut doors and silencer walls – she could have saved her marriage some serious turmoil. But I guess all this referencing of history, books and movies is not the brief designers who work on projects in Gurgaon get. Nor do their clients presumably care.

Sitting inside the Chawl-themed Social

We moved to the area beyond the co-working space and the chawl theme suddenly dropped out in favour of the blast-from-the-past English-Parsi hybrid home décor. In the actual social arena of the dining and bar area, we were out of chawl territory and into the genteel sensibilities of another sort. The dance floor did have a festive bunting spangled courtyard look to it, which I found perfectly fitting for a common celebratory space. And there is nothing typically chawl about that. It is something the chawls too borrowed from the wider repertoire of celebratory symbols.

We came out and sat across from the establishment, on the lush grass-covered open amphitheatre of sorts – the sort of place a chawl resident would crave and not find across a real chawl courtyard.

While we waited for the clouds to make up their mind about raining, my friends and I examined our response to what we had just walked out of.

One of my friends was visiting from Canada, and has never been to Mumbai or anywhere near a real chawl. The other friend is from Maharashtra and familiar with the original model, which supposedly inspired the design team at Social.

I have lived long years in Mumbai, visited chawls and studied them too. We all agreed that we felt disturbed at the sort of disconnected insensitivity this design theme signalled to us. Kitsch does not offend my friends or me, though we may not be fans.

One of them is a clothes designer and sources handloom and crafts from all over the country to mix and match them in her creations. Borrowing idioms is, like I said, what makes for cultural cosmopolitanism. But Social’s channelling of the chawl theme is another level of blindness. Chawls seem to be treated by Social as something alien, and out of the realm of understanding and connection. And thus, an easy fit for misappropriation. They are another world, inhabited by others – in much the same way Hindi cinema depicted tribal women in ’70s Eastman colour films, like we joke about the “others” who we deign to be so different from us, who are hardly granted courtesy or dignity of respect. These others are so different that we cannot imagine any relation except of a voyeur and a taker with them.

My friend wondered how a real chawl resident would feel when faced with this Social. She felt offended. We know people who live in chawls or have family there, or those who once lived in chawls. Would they agree that Social had appropriately conveyed a sense of community and connectedness?

Or would they feel uncomfortable? In exoticising the chawl, we felt, the designers had robbed real life and real people of the dignity their homes deserve despite the despair, disrepair and dilapidation they cave under.

We asked ourselves, would we bring the chawl’s (as shown above) appearance or its way of managing limited space, its majboori ka jugaad, into our far more spacious homes?

Given a choice even a chawl resident would want to upgrade to a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen set-up at least. Even when he is not keen on shifting from the convenient location, he is all for the repair and betterment or redevelopment of the chawl into a block of modern flats with more privacy and status, while being attached to the community features and social benefits.

Nostalgia or living space?

Is the chawl a piece of nostalgia for a majority of those who left it or for anyone else? What comprises that nostalgia, if at all it exists? Memories of the people who lived there, of the interactions and the bonds formed? Certainly so, as is also true for all neighbourhoods, and all social networks that help us belong – those that support us.

Is there also an element of charm and beauty in its built form itself? Going by personal experience, scholarly research and documentation and films on the chawls of Mumbai, I think not. The chawl was by necessity a crowded housing solution for teeming middle and lower middle class workers and traders who needed to be housed near the markets or mills they powered with their hard work.

It was a functional response to a logistics problem, and while there are definite social benefits for residents, they are not symbolised by the clothes hanging outside or the lack of maintenance of the buildings themselves. Nor would there be any nostalgia for the rats, the roaches, the community toilets and the lines at the community water tap.

Remember the 1984 art house film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho about hapless chawl tenants, their internal politics, the games of rapacious promoters, landlords and lawyers? In chawls then and now, community living and conviviality happened as much because of the form as a function of other factors, like a shared place of origin, caste, workplaces, shared commercial interests and links forged as neighbours bound by similar circumstances.

And much like the rest of community life, social conviviality and “we are one big family” ideas are under stress everywhere, including in chawls, due to wider social, cultural, technological, political and economic forces coming from beyond the chawl. When one built form is being used as a theme to “inspire” another built form, one cannot stop at transplanting just the idea of social solidarity (forced, at that) as the only or the primary association with a chawl.

When dhabas and Warhol can be chic, why not chawls?

I emphasise on nostalgia and the quality of material culture because one might wonder if I doth protest too much. What about adorning our homes with mirror work from Kutch?

What about truck art inspired décor and navaar ka manji-s at Punjabi dhaba-themed restaurants? What about hanging phulkari duppatta as curtains in my plush duplex apartment?

What about Andy Warhol and the Campbell Soup posters?

And there lies the pointer to our ignorance, insularity and insensitiveness and false equivalence. There is a difference between cultural diffusion that happens naturally, and deliberately designed misappropriation, even when it is only an attempt at inspired imitation.

A phulkari duppatta is a textile craft artifact that has always been that, and using it as a curtain rather than as a duppatta is hardly an act of disruptive or disingenuous appropriation.

A dhaba is a robust part of the road transport network economy in the countryside, and most of us English magazine readers do not have any qualms about stopping and eating at a dhaba. Most of us also have rural homes of grandparents or of uncles and extended family where manji-s are a way of life.

It is a way of life that may have been left behind or was only occasionally encountered, but it is not something that was a mark of our majboori. Havelis and peasant homes all had manji-s, though the haveli would also have additional hardwood takhats. A dhaba is associated with a certain earthy purity because of the way it began and operates even today.

Just like Andy Warhol’s posters of Campbell Soup tap into the feelings of home and nurturance, and also call out consumerism and mass marketing, dhaba food spells the taste of the countryside, and also signals the travel-light quality of truckers’ lives.

Similarly, the manji-s we sprawl on are relics of a more leisurely time, of afternoons spent chucking mangoes under the courtyard tree and of things made by hand, by local artisans. The staple of all dhaba food, the ubiquitous ma ki daal – also found in all gurudwara-s, Punjabi homes and the five-stars and every north Indian eatery across the world – is something that has travelled well outside its home because it offers much to meet many real needs and serves practical functions.

What similar features can we say we aspire to or are happy to adopt from chawls – those chawl residents themselves would like to hawk to the world outside? Nothing that is distinctly chawl, I am afraid.

The equivalence of chawl living with the ultimate in social interaction is also lost on me. The chawl style of living was an adaptation to adversity. Are visitors to Social celebrating that? Or, to take a long flight of fancy, is it perhaps about je suis chawlwala? I just don’t know!

When a girl from a chawl topped the CA exam in recent years, it was big enough news for India Today to carry a photo feature. Nowhere was it anybody’s contention that she achieved this because she lived in a chawl. Rather it was noted that she achieved this in spite of being a chawl dweller. Do we hear of chawls being recommended as the ultimate aspirational residential product on the market because of her achievement? Is it anybody’s claim that Social is celebrating and acknowledging in its new theme the lives of its patrons who actually come from chawl kind of homes? That would indeed be about inclusive design and being an inclusive community that acknowledged all forms of social solidarity, as created by different built forms. But of course that is not how things are.

A chawl as home is loved, as every home is, by its residents. All homes deserve respect in real time, not a caricature like Social, Gurgaon. How many of us can honestly admit that anything remotely connected to a chawl is an aspiration or a tradition for most of us who visit places like Social?

If you had a colleague who lived in a chawl and he called you home for a drink, would you go? What then is the imagery and nostalgia and material culture of a chawl that the Social design team has tried to imitate? Is it anybody’s contention that clothes hanging out to dry overhead as you sip expensive imported wine on a cast iron chair in the balcony at Social is a new aesthetic turn?

What is the point of the names board? Is it not a mockery then to use the chawl theme to denote community and the spirit of convivial socialising?

Andy Warhol wanted to make the public go with that “Mmm Mmm Good” feeling on seeing his Campbell Soup posters. What feeling is Social wanting to evoke? If it really was inspiration and admiration or even nostalgia – why only the façade and entrance area are done in that way? Why is the main eating and socialising area all done up with crystal decanters in teak-and-glass cupboard and off-white lampshades diffusing pools of yellow light, and plush sofas and soft curtains?

Never seen those in a chawl, have you? Oh, but then I forget, you have in all likelihood never been inside one. Borrowing existing elements and reappropriating them in new forms is a part of art, and human existence.

This how we retell old truths as new stories. But not all borrowings are beautiful or meaningful. Some are horrendous abominations, and to me the new Social design theme is one such miscegenation.

 

 

 

 

 

Gloom and doom everywhere

Life and Times in Bangalore

And what do we have to hold on to?

A journalist murdered, a child murdered in a school, rain havoc in Bangalore, climate change causing widespread natural devastation…everywhere one looks, it feels like things are breaking down.  And then the politics of it and politicians step in and just do us all in.  From mayor to minister to Chief Minister/Prime Minister…everyone is part of the same rot.  Anyone speaks up, do away with them…attack them verbally, ideologically but with personal insults, plant evidence and use official power networks – they ALL do it, all parties, power seems to irreversibly corrupt people even as they continue to mouth platitudes and quote Mahatma Gandhi!  Poor man, if only he could have seen the state of his country, something he laid his life down for in this state!

I can’t talk anymore of the negative stuff happening – every fiery speech blaming someone…

View original post 683 more words

To Stand and Stare

Don’t Listen To Those Who Say Travelling With Kids Is Stressful – Mindful Travelling

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|   Sep 07, 2017
Don't Listen To Those Who Say Travelling With Kids Is Stressful - Mindful Travelling
The Unhotel

Unhotel Guest Blogger Kiran Chaturvedi is a trained sociologist and worked as a market research professional with the WPP Group for many years. She now organizes creative writing workshops and runs a mountain home-stay in Garhwal . She writes on social and cultural topics, places, as well as occasional fiction and poetry. She is a nature enthusiast and is active in initiatives for sustainable, holistic and greener living. In this blog piece, she affirms the need for Mindful Travelling for Kids. 

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Time was, that travel was undertaken mainly as a necessity, fortunate or unfortunate.A lot of family travel for most of us now is a lifestyle choice. Children know the names of distant and once exotic locations as holiday destinations of their last or forthcoming vacation. Fridge magnets, maps and globe models have no charm when all the world is a click or a plane ticket away.

Our children have hundreds of pictures and loads of shopping to prove how thoroughly we ‘did’ a destination. But at the end of all these wanderings, do our kids feel a sense of connection and belonging, of being at home anywhere in the world? Do they feel they have grown as explorers of their interior self and of what is around them? Mindless rushing around, ticking places off a list and clocking miles to keep up with the Joneses is one way of travel. The other way is the path of mindful travel, and staying awake to a sense of wonder.

It starts with us – the parents

Mindful travel for children starts with the parents, of course. We set the example, at every step by how we plan, and how we act. Mindful travel is about fully feeling the journey and the destination, as a series of one complete moment after another. Being fully present to what arises, we drop a load of expectations and agendas. We hold space for experiences to arrive and settle into us, and for us to have the receptivity to absorb what each new moment brings. When we watch snow peaks dazzle before us, we do not rattle off figures of height and distance, but let the awe of the moment settle on us and into us. We let arise what comes as a natural expression of our sense of that encounter, and not rush in to impose given frames of reference. We listen to new stories and refrain from counter arguments and rebuttals and showing off our ‘superior’ knowledge gleaned from other sources. We focus on experience.

Be Present to Connect

We keep the phone out of it as much as we can. We look at each other, and around us, and within us, rather than at the screen and at through the viewfinder all the time. At Hongkong harbour on a New Year’s eve when no one wished each other a happy new year nor exchanged any smiles is when I had my own mindfulness epiphany about travel. I seek connection when I travel, and not of the virtual kind. Else why move out of my couch in my own home and city? We can work out the rules of social media time before we travel, and stick to them. We of course need to lead by example, as always.

Soak up the Local

When we travel mindfully, less is more. No rushing through six countries in six days, please. At least we cut down on the number of things to do each day in each place. Stop by the wayside of something looks interesting. Don’t be fixated on rigid plans. Pay attention to the journey, not being only intent on arriving at a point in the shortest time possible. It can lead to some interesting results.We stopped by to watch jaggery making at a sugarcane farm once,and my children decided they would  never again eat gud ( jaggery), seeing how many bees fell into the boiling sugarcane juice ☺ and then when the sugar factory stink hit their noses later, they changed their mind deciding that anything which smelt so bad being made had to be worse than bee contaminated gud. We also discovered the church of Lady Sumro, and got to eat fresh tart ambis from mango orchards.  Keep extra time in hand. Do not run a tight ship with every minute dictated by the clock.

Involve the kids

Involve the children in the planning. If we are going to Paris, and have two days in hand, give one day fully to their choice and cover it slowly. If it is Disneyland, can we do lesser number of rides and maybe repeat a favorite ride and fully enjoy that rather than rush through ten rides with a FOMO dread lying heavy over the day? Years later, what our children will remember is the quality of the experience and not the number of rides they had. If your daughter wants to pose with Disney cartoon characters, can we let her linger with her favorite for as long as she can, rather than rushing her to pose with all the cartoons she can spot? Ask the kids how the ride makes them feel, and why they pick some as their favorites. Let it be their own story rather than the one sold to the world in brochures and films. Take the rides the kid want, even if they are not the most popular or your own favorites. Let them talk freely without interruption about what they felt. Be mindful towards them. I recall standing in the humongous line to get up to Eiffel Tower right after landing in Paris, and losing my temper over my son’s constant ‘are we there yet’. Did we really need to rush to do the most iconic (and most underwhelming) feature? Certainly not! We could have also just as well lounged on the wonderful grounds at the base of the monument and watched the crowds and had a picnic.

Ideate and choose destinations with the kids

We can start picking places off the tourist grid to travel, at least for some holidays. Ask the children about the kind of experiences they dream of, not about destinations or specific places. Then start to ideate on where to go, what to see, basis what they wish to experience. Keep it open ended and free wheeling, with the flexibility to change. Every place has stories to give us, memories to imprint. We just have to have an open heart. Go for agenda less walk in the neighborhood of your vacation stay. Talk to the locals. Get invited to a local home and listen rather than ask all the questions. Let impromptu plans develop. Accept meal invitations from strangers. Be the source of the curiosity rather than casting a surveyor’s eye on all.

Get more, go slow

Travel also can turn more mindful when we go slow. See if you can break the journey. Can you drive rather than fly to places, and walk instead of taking the car once at your destination? Once arrived at a place, can you linger? Can you make time to stand and stare? Once, we had camped overnight at Devariyatal Lake after trekking up to it in the afternoon. The next morning we were to move to the meadows at Chopta and attempt climbing up to Tunganath. The morning had broken clearer than pure crystal. The peaks of Chaukhamba and Gangotri Glacier were vanilla scoops waiting for us to dig into them. Some of us were eager to reach Chopta and catch the views from the higher altitude there. Some others refused to budge. The previous evening had been cloudy and cold, and this sun soaked morning was a thing of utter bliss. It would be a shame to walk away. On the other hand, we would not be able to claim we ‘covered’ the trek to Tunganath we had all set our eyes on. Finally we all stayed back. The moment was here and now. Rushing off to catch the same view from another location or to count one more climb on a list would only make us lose what we already had and give us a very short window of time with the new location. We caught every change of light over the snow, and every changing shade of water in the mirror lake. We had an impromptu yoga session, and an extended round of breakfast and tea. Endless stories were shared at one and only dhaba wala in the vicinity. We caught shepherds going up the meadow and local women gathering grass. We lazed around and rolled down the grassy slopes. We dropped our agenda and stayed mindfully aligned to what was present, instead of chasing a list. We slowed down and soaked up so much more.

Watch that breath

Then there are the micro practices of mindfulness that are such a boon to help us and the children find a calm centre during travel. Have you noticed how clenched and tight our bodies are, at any given time? On your holiday, let go the habit of holding our breath. Sit on a bench and focus on your breath. Slowly watch the air flow in from the nostrils and then leave after replenishing our bodies. Children love this sense of connection to their bodies. Cultivate the practice of mindful immersion in experiences. Encourage children to pay attention to the local flavors. How about picking produce at the local markets? Let children touch, smell, feel the fruits and vegetables and local produce. Let them try cooking a local recipe. Let them get familiar with the aroma, and develop their own understanding of the local flora and fauna. Encourage a mindful practice when you are away from the rush of your daily routine, and it will travel back home with you.

Engage, Involve and Immerse with the kids

Children will pick up the art of mindful observation and mindful immersion when they see you practice it. Encourage your children to see, hear, think, with complete immersion. This is the natural way a child engages with the world, but our discipline and structured school education eats away at this childlike ability to connect with the moment. Help your children find themselves again, away from the influence of school syllabus and rigid daily routine. This means not engaging in judgements, labelling or sorting and ordering their experience. Do not be eager to feed them with the facts about a place at one go, or to constantly evaluate what is being seen and ‘learnt’. Rather, let them engage with where they are and what is going on, and their curiosity will bring up questions. Allow them to explore the answers. What they learn and conclude will surprise you. A thirteen year old I know came up with the idea of breast milk banks in hospitals watching farm animals feeding calves that were not their own. She asked a few questions to the local farmhands and arrived at her own solution for human babies lacking access to mother’s breast milk. A young boy watched miles of farms in arid Madhya Pradesh being tended to by aerial application of crop protection. Months later, that sight inspired him to come up with a model of a quick landing-short runway air taxi service for urban areas. When the clamor of learnt ways of looking at the world can be silenced, a path opens up for fresh creative perspective to emerge. For something new to rise up, the mind needs to be a blank slate. We can provide the time and slow pace for children to do this, by putting aside our own preconceived ways of looking at things.

At its heart, mindful travel is about how you see rather than how much. It asks you to slow down. To absorb. To create connection rather than consume pre-packaged experience. Childhood is a great time to get introduced to the practice of mindfulness, and travel is a great opportunity for its practice.

*All pictures are personal pictures of Kira

 

 

Reader Report: Driven to Distraction. By Edward M. Hallowell & John J. Ratey.

“I felt a Cleaving in my Mind –
As if my Brain had split –
I tried to match it – Seam by Seam –
But could not make them fit
The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before –
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound –
Like Balls – upon a Floor.”
Emily Dickinson
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This time I report on a non fiction book about the little understood neuro biological condition of ADHD. This report is two days overdue by the deadline I set myself. The only good thing I can say about missing the end of month to post this is that such behaviour is perfectly in synch with the book I am reporting on.
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (earlier known as ADD) is a controversial and complex issue about which doctors, psychologists, educators, counselors, neuroscientists and researchers are still figuring out the finer points of origin, causes, treatment and control. Not just that, even the existence of this, the validity of a diagnosis with ADHD and the various current modalities of coping are subject to conflicting views and support or the lack of it. I recently met a noted cardiologist friend and shared with him my son’s diagnosis and the casual way he told me not pay attention to it was astoundingly shocking, coming as it did from the medical profession.
Needless to say, the attitude towards the often common sounding traits of ADHD complicates the situation for those thus diagnosed or unable to access a diagnosis and those who live with ADD in their family or in close relationships. In this simple to read and easy to understand book two doctors give a very detailed overview of the basket of traits and behaviours that show up in ADD, through sharing a series of extremely detailed case stories, explanations and decades of clinical experience.
They describe and define, and explain the diagnostic criteria and the treatment methods. They delve into the different manifestations of ADHD in children and adults, and how it impacts other aspects of one’s life and relationships and performance and self worth. All of this is done with graphic, vivid, engaging write ups of cases, of correspondence from patients and their families, and the authors’ own life.
Through compelling and compassionate accounts of diagnosis and progress of treatment of their patients, the authors make a convincing and comprehensive case for the need for early diagnosis and consistent multi-pronged interventions.
The authors have extensive experience in working and researching ADD/ ADHD and also personally live with the condition, so everything in the book comes from close experience of their cases and personal life. The case studies used are wide ranging, and each case is unique yet typical in its specificities. The three key components of ADHD- impulsivity, distractibility and hyperactivity are displayed in minute detail and all shades of manifestation. The distinction between various similar seeming psychiatric and behavioural conditions is explained and made clear.
There are checklists and guidelines, making the book a helpful practical manual besides a great introduction to ADHD. There are references to other researches and books that cover the history and latest findings in the field throughout the text, for those who want to explore the topic further. In that sense this is also a great reference resource.
In their approach to ADD the authors are categorical in approaching it as a neurological, biological phenomenon but they also stress the need for a comprehensive treatment plan that goes beyond mere medication, and at times need not include medication at all. To quote, they stress ”how important a comprehensive treatment plan is, a plan that incorporates education, understanding, empathy, structure, coaching, a plan for success and physical exercise as well as medication. …how important human connection is every step of the way…see the human connection as the single most powerful therapeutic force in the treatment of ADHD….Human connection is indispensable..the other Vitamin C, Vitamin Connect. “
What worked for me particularly in this book was the straightforward and detailed descriptions of the many ways the ADHD presents in the lives of people, and the numerous helpful checklists and resources included. It is a highly empathetic work of professionals, aimed at making the general public and those directly affected by the condition approach the idea of ADHD with open minds and and hopeful hearts. The authors seek to go beyond merely identifying something as a pathology, to acknowledging the issue as a composite of its problems and strengths. Instead of fear and stigma and misunderstanding, they advocate for acceptance and action.

Jaanta nahin mein kaun Hoon? Or. Intimations of Adult Lawlessness in Childhood.

 

(All resemblance to anyone living and to any place you may be familiar with is completely coincidental).

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A group of boys were playing football on a cordoned off lawn, where new extra top soil has been laid and fresh grass planted. Huge potted plants were spread over the place to prevent the space being walked over and being used as a playground. In addition, there was the fencing with wooden stakes and rope. The boys had felled the stakes and walked over the rope. They had toppled some pots out of the way and were busy kicking the ball and running up and down across the field.

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In our country it is common for the law to be ignored, bypassed, subverted. not just by the overtly and obviously lawless outlaws. Seemingly/ self-styled law-abiding folks can be seen sidestepping the law smoothly, with a lightness of easy entitlement ever so often. We all know this, we have lived it and pass on that habit in our families. The rich and poor can all suddenly turn into a mobs of different shades and shapes, but all with the intent to impose their demands and wills over and in contravention of the stated rules and laws. Like when their leader- political or religious or cultural icon is ‘insulted’/ mis-represented/jailed/ convicted of a crime/killed/ dead. When their religion is the butt of a joke or a satire or scholarly study seems contrary to their opinion. When disagreements over parking space are settled by gunshots rather than by negotiations or by working at solving the parking space crunch through systemic change using the institution of community local self government or neighbourly co-operation. When gated enclaves on government land seek to cordon off themselves from the neighborhood problems by erecting iron fences and locking up public roads from all but a few.

 

Our country is a democracy, with a written constitution and an an alive and active (often also activist) judiciary. And yet, a sense of constitutional citizenship is sadly a low priority for most Indians across the economic spectrum, in my personal experience. Why is that most of us seems to have not bought into the idea of an equal citizenship, or given up on its early promise at a some point?

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To go back to the evening of the football trespass. I happened to arrive at the scene a little after the footballers. I asked the security staff stationed nearby why the boys were on the field at all, when clearly the cordon and the placing of guards and the huge pots meant they were not allowed there. Additionally, there were also placards hung on the cordon that said ‘Kindly Keep Off The Grass”. The guards said the children refused to listen to them, and got abusive and aggressive if the guards insisted on applying the restrictions on ball play.

 

Ours is one of the nicest and better managed apartments I know of in this town. I have been a part of the RWA of the colony in the past. I also volunteer on various committees that help run the affairs of our little community. I started the composting project here long before Swachh Bharat became a PR business opportunity. I have seen very closely the abysmal level of resident participation in running the affairs of the colony, and the oppositional attitude many completely tuned out residents often have towards rules of community living.

 

The lawn usage issue has been contentious for the past couple of years. One the one hand are a minority of parents and children who insist on having a dedicated area for serious football practice. On the other side is the majority of residents who want a diverse land use policy for the open green space in the centre of the colony. To arrive at some sort of balance of claims, a resolution was passed in an AGM last year restricting ball play on the common greens- certain hours on certain days, subject to use of certain gear only. The rules have not been followed fully or even substantially. The common greens have become degraded and are unsafe for the general janta. Overstepping and subverting the rules seems to be the de facto way for them. I wonder what makes them behave so? Local self government in small communities like the RWAs is supposedly meant to be the training ground for democratic citizenship. What can we hope for, seeing how a simple matter of sharing open public space can turn so contentious, and children learn to flout community agreements thus.

 

Can we stop being cruel to kids?

Can we stop being cruel to kids?

Can we admit we have been guilty, without giving an excuse, and decide to never do it again? Can we please apologise unconditionally? Because it ends with us, if we decide to stop. With every child no more subjected to parental violence, with every parental cruelty accepted and apologised for, we make space for more grace and love, and allow something better in the world.
Can we also talk about this to our family and friends and at a public forum like this? Can we help someone shift out from being trapped in a cycle of cruelty?
This post is triggered by a Fb thread about that horrible whatsapp of the little girl pleading with folded hands to be taught ‘pyaar se’, while being scolded, shouted at and hit on the face for mixing up her number recognition, 1 to 5. She complains of a headache, she weeps and yet the teacher/parent is relentless in testing her and unforgiving for any slip ups.
A lot of us have been somewhere similar. As kids maybe. As parents, sadly , too. I also know many who really have been saved from this unfortunate misery.
I have slapped my kids, I have ranted at them violently. It does not matter how often, or for what reason. They were small, powerless and depended on me. Despite any frustration or lack of coping skills, I did have far greater power than them. With that great power should have come greater responsibility for self awareness and self-management. Sometimes, that did not happen. I have had to work hard at learning to cope, to skill myself to be the kind of parent I wish to be. It did not come automatically.
If you have also raised your voice or hand on your child, I guess you know what it is like. For the child, and for you. I know you want it to b different. You want to be different.
I’d like you to be able to stop. I’d like to say to you, it is possible to change the script. It does not, need not be this way. Acknowledging the deed is half of it. Do not try to make excuses for what happened. Just let it be a fact. It need not become all of who you are. Accept that you did hurt those you love. Apologise unconditionally, without any ‘but’ or ‘however it must be said’.
Let us be the change we want to see in this world. I am assuming we want to see a less hurting world.

 

Making of friends as making of self

I mostly made acquaintances and not friends in my 20s and 30s. On the matter of friends I was settled for life, I thought. I didn’t need new friends. Not the real, know you inside out type, at least. Deep intense friendships from high school and college were enough. Who had ever heard of grown ups making new friends anyway, back then? With the old friends we had wondered at the world and its puzzling, often scary ways. We had shared dreams and fears. We had been vulnerable and strong together. Now was the time to make something of ourselves in the grown up world. 

Most of my friends were not geographically close anymore, and I missed their constant unplanned presence in my life outside campus. I had moved homes and jobs. That made it harder to not miss my circle of close buddies. I did hang out with new people. There was the office gang, and a fun boss with whom I discovered so much of Delhi’s cultural heritage. There were the old college friends and new colleagues I went travelling impromptu with.

But something was shifting. The new connections had an adult formality to them. I made friends in the new neighborhood too. They were girls who had nothing in common with me in background or education. But we liked each other. With them it was all about learning to fit in and not stand out. It was nice to not be always alone but it was not fulfilling at all.

I call it the year of my anomie. It was horrible.

was buried deep in books, preparing for the civil services exam. And commuting hours daily in a chartered bus across New Delhi to another new job. I remember sharing my sense of missing the constancy of close friends with my best buddy from university. She had also been my co-worker at our first job. Now we worked in different places. She told me it was childish of me to hanker after old friends. I should focus more on making a career and not yearn for friends, she said, with some irritated puzzlement. In today’s parlance I guess she meant I had a lot of adulting to do. She herself was busy with a new job, an old boyfriend and an impending marriage and had no time for reflections on the lost rhythm of old friendships.

On a visit to an out of town college friend I met her new circle of colleagues and friends. Finally, after two years, here was the atmosphere I craved. The collegiate camaraderie. The company of people like us. The sense of home-coming was strong and seductive. And of course, delusional. But I had fallen in love. Suddenly it didn’t matter that all my friends were far away. Romance has that way of filling you up. The web of your connectedness feels expansive like the ever-stretching universe, complete with its own black-holes of no return. A misunderstanding around the new developments pulled a common friend down the vortex of non-friendship. New constellations were formed. Possibilities loomed.

I married and moved to another town after a tumultuous year of courtship. The only friends there were his work colleagues and their collective (mostly new) friends. The work of adopting them as my/ our friends began. From a very individualistic, one on one friend maker I tried to become good at being a part of a gang. Letters and then email and then mobile phone calls became a lifeline back to the ‘real’ friendships of a simpler more innocent time. For the first time I started holding back from sharing with my old friends, even while staying in touch. I guess I was hiding from myself in a way. A wifely loyalty and mother’s guilt fought to censor friendship’s candour.

Over time, across the world, I kept making up and and breaking up with more new friends. The ones who knew me only in the avatar of wife, mother, home-maker and corporate worker. For years, through my 30s I honed the art of making and keeping ‘situational’ friends. One of those bonds has lasted for over twenty years. But most served to fit in a specific sphere and time of my life.

In my 40s I reconnected with a lot of old college and high school friends. I found it was like we had not moved away at all. The years in between and all the highs and lows of life we had faced seem to make us like each other more. The acceptance seems to have turned more authentic, the trust stronger, the wish to stand by and for each other even more spontaneous. Even black-holes yield to the pull of friendships formed in one’s youth. After more than twenty years, friendship has triumphed over misunderstandings, strongly rejecting lies and meanness. Censorship has been put aside. Candour rules. You don’t fake it and you don’t make time or space for the fake-ness of others. 

In my late 40s I have come full circle about friendship. I have begun to make new friends just like I did in my high school and college days. By being just me, sans roles, sans reserve, sans censor. The most active churning of friends in my life is happening now. I am also finally my own best friend, which makes it so much more fun to be friends with others.

 

The Fine Art and Science of the apology. My Review of “Why Won’t You Apologize?’ By Harriet Lerner

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Written by a psychologist who has worked for many years as a therapist and teacher, this is a self help manual in the best tradition of that genre.
A vexing topic that plagues almost everyone at some point of time is the how, why and when of apology. We are taught good manners and so saying sorry for mistakes and transgressions becomes almost a reflex in mundane day to day interactions. And yet it is also the most difficult thing in certain circumstances to be genuinely able to apologise.
Offering apologies that are meaningful and apt and not self-sabotaging can be hard for many people. Typically, these are circumstances that can poison relationships deeply and for long. The hurt of not being heard and not being given due redressal after being wronged calls for a healing touch. Oftentimes the parties on either end of the equation are ill equipped to do what is required.
So the hurts linger. The pain festers.
That is where a book like this plays a role. In making us understand what goes on in the minds of those who cannot and will not apologise. How it is the result of not taking responsibility and dodging accountability. How do some people get to be this way and how can one overcome such behaviour. All of these topics are dealt with In a straightforward way with examples and sans jargon or theorising. The tone remains anecdotal and engaging and light while the intensity of the phenomenon and its impact is fully examined from different perspectives.
“The need for apologies and repair is a singularly human one – both on giving and receiving ends. We are hardwired to seek justice and fairness )however we see it), so the need to receive a sincere apology that’s due is deeply felt. We are also imperfect human beings and prone to error and defensiveness, so the challenge of offering a heartfelt apology permeates almost every relationship.”
Reading this book is an act of healing and validation and being understood. Read it to know yourself better. You may be able to apologise where you need to. You may be able to also drop the expectations of apology from some people. Most importantly you will also be able to see why it is not always necessary or effective to forgive those who wronged us.
If ever you have felt an apology is pending to you, you must read this book NOW. If you have wondered how could you say sorry for what you did wrong, here is all that you need to know.

Missing the point: Period Leave Canard

The kerfuffle about the Period Leave announcement by Culture Machine Media Ltd. makes me wonder if we are even clear on WHAT is being offered and if there is anything to clap about?

If we are to be anything more than pawns in a marketing communication led consumerist world, we had better learn due diligence.

A little information is always a dangerous thing.

What are the rules of the new Period Leave policy? No one is saying. I tried getting this out of them and all I have since a day is a blank.

In the video on Blush Channel (run by Culture Machine) the women employees of the company are asked about how awful it is when they have to work with their period. It is a visible relief to them be able to say publicly that periods suck.

I get that. Such conversation is welcome. It helps make taboos dissolve.It also help build up the brand as such a friend of women. And why not. All very legit and fine.

Then there is a grand revelation. The Period Leave Announcement.Of course the women on camera are incredulously joyous.Win win, isn’t it?Or is it, when the claims being made for PL are not quite honest?

The PL remains a vague and unformed notion in the video. We never get to really see or know its full contours. Yet, in gushing declarations it is made into a grand and great gesture that the women swoon over. Without knowing what it is. Blind Tinder?

Why launch the PL idea in such vague terms and make it sound like more of a benefit than it is? Because maybe only a conversation and a fit to facts announcement does not quite have so much eye ball catching viral trending push to make the brand stick with the target women audience. Other brands are also doing ‘conversation’. You need to do more. You need to create a stir with something novel and out of the box. Tra-la…then, launch the Period Leave policy while never saying just what it is!

So while Culture Machine stays silent on my queries, here is what a deep dive with google pulled up. PL/ ML is all about making honest talking-truth-to-power employees out of us scheming lying workers, it would seem.

Honesty at the work place is laudable, any which way you look at it. Particualrly from the employees. The employers though can fudge their words and claim it is employee welfare? Like in these examples?

  1. About the PL at Co Exist, Bristol , a UK company. Turns out ito be not quite the real deal. ( Not that I want the ‘real’ deal!) :

“Right now, these women try to work through their symptoms, and as Baxter said, suffer in silence. ….they’ll lie about stomach pains, food poisoning or flu. All that official period leave will do is ensure these women can tell their employers the truth.”

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/period-policies-for-female-staff-arent-sexist—can-we-all-just/)

  1. Another clarification from another employer in UK :

“Employees would be expected to make up time taken off for period pain, but they could stay at home while they were suffering without having to produce a sick note. ”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/menstrual-leave-period-pain-womens-rights-a6907261.html

  1. And this how a Hyderabad based strategic consultancy puts it across:

“… “ML Request” …need to inform when they shall be compensating the leaves in the ‘succeeding consecutive weekends to complete the pending work. If the MLs are not compensated within the fortnight, they will be considered as paid or unpaid leave depending on the leave balance of the employee.’

(http://www.news18.com/news/buzz/indian-company-implements-menstrual-leave-policy-sets-the-ball-rolling-for-others-1284920.html

As for the unsubstantiated urban legend. Nike includes this type of leave in their code of conduct worldwide, since 2007, making it the only major company to do so.” , there is no mention of periods on the Nike website or their Code of Conduct. All it says under the heading of “Health” in the Code of Conduct is :

“…The contractor provides a safe, hygienic and healthy workplace setting and takes necessary steps to prevent accidents and injury arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of work or as a result of the operation of contractor’s facilities. The contractor has systems to detect, avoid and respond to potential risks to the safety and health of all employees”

http://s3.amazonaws.com/nikeinc/assets/48557/Nike_Code_of_Conduct.pdf?1445396121

A leave that is not really an additional benefit is being pitched to us as though it is some grand revolution. And we are gulping down the grand distortion. Without a pause to question the intentions.

Click Bait was never looked so enticingly benevolent.

By all means, let us hope for and demand workplaces and employer policies to be equitable, fair and just to the interests of all workers. Let us also hope for and demand better coping tools for the pain and drain of periods, which might include justifiably a real change in HR policies, and not mere tokenism. And let us not be fooled by gimmicks that have their own agenda. They are not always harmless, and have side effects we can well do without.

 

Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The most thorough review of The Ministry Of Utmost happiness that I have found useful. Besides the one written by Jerry Pinto. One which is as compassionate in tone as the writer of the book.
“The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies are now firmly the preserve of the fake-news expert, not the novelist.”

Till you can actually read the book, this is as good an introduction as any.

nilanjana s roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Arundhati Roy

Penguin Random House

464 pages

(A shorter version of this review is published in the Business Standard.)

In the same week that I began reading Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, published twenty years after her first, I came across an old interview between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Paris Review.

He says, “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”

The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies…

View original post 1,919 more words

It Ends With Us – A novel by Colleen Hoover. A Review.

My April Review. Kind of late, but still within my target of the month. Triggered by some things read recently about the abused wife of an Indian-born Techie CEO in USA.
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“Why did she not leave him?”

“Why do you stay on?”

“If you take it, you deserve it.”

We have seen statements like those above. In the media. We have heard them from friends and in the family. We may have made them ourselves.

Judgments. Opinions. Rarely based on personal experience or insight. Rarely made with any degree of compassion. Often, a one up-manship. Or, a satisfied smugness, born of a safe place. Or, a resentment, born of denial.

Colleen Hoover is a New York Times best selling author who writes entertaining, contemporary novels about a certain kind of people in a certain milieu. ‘It Ends With Us’ though, is a very different kind of book from her; a work of fiction that derives directly from her own life. It has a message and a life lesson woven into the plot. With this book her avowed goal is to help people see things in a different light, and possibly find a way out.

This was not a book I had particularly wanted to read. It happened to be the selection of my book club group for March, and then they changed their mind. I already had a copy, and had started reading it when the change happened. So I carried it with me on my solo holiday to Kerala, not really intending to read it, but to give it away to a friend I would be meeting there.

And then, one night while it was raining and a rough high tide rolled up on the beach across my room window, I picked it up with a vague idea of studying the author’s plotting technique. I had a notebook and pencil ready.

I ended up reading the book over the next few days, carrying it with me to a fisherman’s home, to a beachside diner and around the hotel grounds. While Colleen Hoover plots smoothly and writes in a breezy, witty, chatty, easy to read style, those are not the reasons I kept reading this book. To me, the book is worth reading and worth reviewing for the compelling story it tells about the pernicious cocktail of love and abuse. And it is told with sensitivity, insight and honesty, coming from the author having lived that life, and her generous and kind decision to come out in public with it.

In her twenties, Lily bloom is trying to find her place in the word as an independent professional adult. She has come a long way from a childhood spent watching her mother being abused at home. The story starts right after the funeral of her father, whom she hated. She has refused to say anything in his praise at the funeral. It pains her that her mother never had strength to leave her abusive husband. She has her own past sorrows, and a journal where she has recorded her teenage turmoil in letters (never sent) to TV host Ellen. She is sure her life will be different from her mother’s.

Lily comes to live in Boston, works hard, falls in love, dreams of marriage. She is a girl with spunk, and a sensitive and kind heart. She is a girl who once sheltered and fed and fell in love with a homeless teenage squatter. She sticks to her ideals and values herself and is a loyal friend. Life seems to be finally offering her all her wishes on a platter- her dream of owning a florist shop comes true, the handsome, rich and brilliant neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid agrees to ditch his aversion of a committed relationship to get engaged to her. She can start to put her difficult childhood behind her.

Typical to a bestseller’s arch, and maybe real life, this is all too good to be true. There are horrible things that start to happen. Shadows emerge. Past secrets get exposed. Trust is broken and fears have to be faced. The present seems to resemble a forgotten nightmare. Love is put to cruel tests. There is a price to be paid, sacrifices to be made. What will you stay true to – to the one you love, though they hurt you, and let the cycle of abuse and indignity continue? Who has to take responsibility to heal themselves? Does being in love mean giving up responsibility for your own integrity? Does being in love also allow for boundaries? When do you know it is time to back out? How do you deal with the fear of losing all you craved for and have found?

The author takes you through the tortured back and forth of a relationship that stumbles from extremes of passion and commitment to jealous rage, mistrust, violence and regret. Lily starts to find a new understanding of her mother, once she finds herself in the same shoes. She can relate to what, as a child had seemed sheer cowardice and a shameful lack of spine. She can understand why her mother had stayed on. And she has to ask herself- can she be the person who will be different? Can she muster what it will take?

The author does a commendable job of presenting both sides of the picture, when it comes to the perpetrators and victims of abuse in loving relationships. There are no pure black as sin villains, no pure white as driven snow victims. Just real people with real problems, real hopes, real personalities, who are making the best they can of the cards dealt to them. People who decide they have a choice, to change the way they play those cards. Or not. And we are made to feel like we can see why each of them does what they do.

Lily comes into her own finally with her brave choice. And for that, she is willing to pay the biggest price. Because, somethings cannot be allowed to continue, no matter how much you love what they bring to you, and how much it pains to let them go. Therefore, the title, It Ends With Us.

Colleen’s skill is in making a story about the most painful choices in life seems like a feel good read. There is no shying away from the gore, and yet, there is a happy ending. The only issue I have with the way the book is the way the story ends. Lily’s bravery and her difficult choice seems less of a stand-alone act of strength with the twist at the end. In the novel the author has clearly tried to make things seem easier and rosier for her fictional characters than it was in the real life inspiration for this book. Most people in such difficult situations stay on because they fear the unknown outside the walls of the known hell. They keep hoping the better moments will prevail more often. They cling to every kind word, every positive thing that happens. They cannot imagine being on the other side, which looks like an even darker void. I wish the author had not gone for a neat tying up of all lose ends, and left Lily unclear about the shape of her future, yet firm and clear about the choice she made for the present.

Except for this one cop out at the end, I still think It Ends With Us makes a very important point. That we are the only ones who can chose to break legacies of abuse – as the ones who heap it on others, or as the ones who are its targets. It is never our job to be another’s punching bag, or to keep hoping against hope that their ‘better nature’ will prevail in the face of all proof to the contrary. And while making this point about taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions, the book also shows us why so many of us caught in situations of abuse in intimate relationships are helpless to break out of the cycle of enmeshment. It shows how difficult it is to gather back a sense of self, when enmeshed in toxic love. It lays bare in beautiful excruciating detail the guts and self-discipline required to honor one’s own dignity, the fears to be dealt with on the way. It brings a lot of insight and wisdom and empathy of a survivor to a topic laden with much judgment and prejudice. By sharing her own life story as the starting point for this novel, Colleen Hoover offers redemptive hope for all who dream of a better tomorrow in their intimate relationships.

I hope this book makes many more people feel brave enough to decide that It Ends With Us. It must.

Friendship, like Wine

 

Its has been said about me, in various shades of approval, praise, judgment, criticism or condemnation that I make too many friends, and too easily. I can only see this is a blessing. Friends have been my go to for too much for too long. Friends across all spectrums of age, interests, personality and life situations have played a big role in all I am.

Friends come in all types, and friendships come in all shades. Some last for a few fleeting encounters. Some are seasonal. Some come unbidden, and leave of their whim. Some seep into you like breath. While I like and enjoy all connections, I cherish most those bonds of  fondness that last beyond situational exigencies and fleeting personal tastes and trends. Friendship that can hold its centre when time and circumstance make past certainties unfamiliar, is an elixir.

I have been told forever that I am an introvert. I live a lot of my life in my mind. I do not belong easily to groups. I am not a party person, certainly cannot be a social butterfly. But when I meet with an old gang of familiars, it is not just another social formality to structured around small talk. A shared past breeds comfort. It reaffirms acceptance.  There is support offered, trust treasured, help given and help taken, fears faced and courage acknowledged. Co-travellers on this journey of life, we look out for each other. We walk different paths but we seek similar destinations. It is a bond that holds tighter with time, even while it uses no ties at all. In its maturing mutuality we each find recognition and a reflection.

Almost all the good things I learnt outside of what was taught to me by family, books, school and college, have come to me via friends  – gardening, cooking, health support, alternate healing, investment advice, even business help, mentoring and networking. But the maturing of old friendships has brought the biggest treasure of all. The gift of acceptance.

So this is my salaam to all old friends. For looking out for me, listening to me, sharing your lives with me, and holding me in your acceptance. Yes, you are a blessing.

Next up at Write & Beyond

https://wordpress.com/post/birdsongblogdotcom.wordpress.com

This time we are having a reading workshop. Yes. One has to know how to read, in order to write well. To read not for entertainment, not for getting to know a story or a load of information. But to study the craft. The structure. To connect with the aesthetics of someone’s creation.

It takes some doing, and we are offering to get you started on this practice over a weekend. As always, a great time is promised, with lots of intense intimate interactions, learning, insights and reading and writing.

Register and book a spot soon. Thanks for being with us.

An Open Letter. In the open season on women.

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Dear lady speaker on Women’s Day program, and those multitudes who wondered ‘how could she’, when she came on the scene,

This is in reaction to statements made by the first, in public, on the occasion of a media event to mark International Working Women’s Day. Statements which I feel owe something to the said lady being once picked on quite publicly for her choices on personal matters.

I wonder lady speaker, what made the media geniuses invite you to be a speaker? What are your credentials as a Working Women? Or is being a woman enough? Or being a privileged homemaker, wife and mother of a few months? Or being a star wife? I guess the point of it was to have you speak about …women, I suppose? How  women must be themselves and do their own things… like, maybe, reach for their dreams, and so on? Only, I do not see you being yourself. I see you mouthing platitudes unthinkingly, unless you have really given careful thought to what are the ideals and tradition you speak up for. At age 20, seriously? You are wiser than most humans then, I suppose. I know, I am being so ageist, no?

I still wonder what makes you a speaker to dole out opinions on IWWD.

It befuddles me.

Maybe the media felt they had to balance the act, after printing all sorts of things that were not always complimentary to your decision to opt for an early arranged marriage? That was stupid of the multitudes who said ‘how dare she’. Why? Because it is her life, her choice, people. It was none of your business to get at her in public, whatever you may think of her choices personally. It is a tough world out there, and we all need to support and wish each other well. Even those who might not easily understand what we do, and in their narrow minded self-absorption, not realise the gaps in their views.

Celebrity bashing, and paparazzi interest in their weddings and babies and so on…it doesn’t catch my interest, much. I ignore it. I felt bad for you, but I put it down to the down side of being a star-wife.

But pronouncements to run down serious socio-political causes on a public forum from a celebrity does become a big deal. People listen. It has impact, so it is important to hold it to high standards of examination.

Is it really your reasoned choice, lady speaker, to decide and declaim publicly that unless a mother can be there full time with her baby she’d be better off with a puppy? Does every working mother have the luxury to stay at home? Does every stay at home mother want to? Not everyone’s dreams are the same, just as their reality is different, as are the options available.

I know about the life and times and work of the feminists who gave us this Day as a marker, and what they did, and stood for, makes sense on every count of humanity, justice and peace. I am sure you would say you believe in these values, and perhaps wanted to use the opportunity your privilege gives you, to speak and share your views. Many young and not so young, impressionable and not so impressionable women listen to such messages, and many of them do actually try to take meaning out of them, and use those words and claims as lights of direction in their own life. It is a huge responsibility to use a public voice. I wish you had used it to say what might not cause harm or reinforce self-defeating cultural indoctrination.

I have some more questions for you, lady speaker.

Did you ever consider reading up, understanding the issue of IWWD before agreeing to be a public speaker on this occasion? Did you read up anything on the term Feminazi before using it? Did you mean to be abusive? Or does you privilege just make you blind and insensitive to others’ reality?

Do you have any idea at all why 8th March is important to the women’s empowerment issue? Do you even have a clue about women empowerment? Were you told to play by a script?

Imagine a scenario, in your own life, which is not entirely about you. Imagine your cleaning maid had a baby. Imagine your cooking lady too had a baby around the same time. Imagine how much you wanted them back at work. They both delivered human babies. Not Puppies. Yet they come back to work after two months of un-paid leave which you generously gave them. How could they do this? Why did they have the babies at all, if only to leave them to come to work? What are they chances they will not have their jobs for long if they keep taking days off? Not all women can afford to stay at home when they have babies. It s not only dog mothers who need to get food home.

To defend your personal choice of, and bliss about marriage and being a homemaker and mother at a young age, in the face of some misguided judgement, will you abuse a just cause? Why not stick to speaking up for your choice, and telling the critics to mind their own business, or engage them in a debate, to call out their unfairness as you see it? A fair fight, won’t you say? Why throw out the baby of feminism with the bathwater of judgement you were washed with, as it were?

Imagine another scenario. Nothing to do with you at all. Another girl your age gets a job with a multinational company after working very hard through her college course. Her parents are lower middle class people. She does well in her job. She gets posted abroad. She helps take care of her parents. She buys a home for herself. She marries. She has kids. She manages both roles with the help of her parents, and her company HR policies on maternity leave, paternity leave, child care leave, day care facilities and health care and health insurance. You know what made a lot of these things a part of the organized sector? Feminism. The education and employment opportunity she had access too. Even the right to buy property. The right to take care of her parents. All of that.

Ask this girl, though, Mrs. Smug Star Wife, why did she have the baby. Why didn’t she wait till her ‘responsibilities ‘ were taken care of , to build a career? What responsibilities were you referring to , when you said once you are done with them, you have your whole future open? The responsibility of bringing up a baby with all kinds of support and facilities? Not everyone has that luxury and privilege. A lot is needed before many more women can talk so comfortably as you of being able to prioritise things so glibly and smoothly. It is feminism that called out the change needed, and showed the way to that change. Just because you happen to be safely up the ladder, as you think you are, is no reason to kick the ladder and make it useless for others.

How much time do you think Karan Johar, as a single working father, will be able to devote to his new born twins ?  Are Roohi and Yash puppies or what?

What the Puppy mother will have to say to this, is another matter. Or any puppy pet-owner.

70,000 babies are born everyday on average in India. You know how many of those mothers can afford to just sit around with a baby, take selfies and look cute, and talk about having their future ahead of them, wide open? Are they Feminazis, out to wreak destruction on this world order?

Most women have hard working lives, whether in the home, on the farm, on a road-work or construction site or an office or anywhere else. You know how many of them want a better deal? MOST.

Ask yourself, what would make their lives better? Try to see who speaks for them. Yesterday, our Parliament approved a bill to raise the benefit of maternity leave to six months from three. You realize it is years of slog by feminism that leads to changes like this? And that this is still just a tiny blip, because the majority of women and men who suffer because of unjust systems are not working in the organized sector where these rules apply. So there is still along long way to go, and a lot of work to be done. Statements of ignorance like yours are harmful, biased and abusive.

I am happy for you, that you get to bask in the warmth of newly wedded bliss and motherhood, which must be even more wonderful when it comes with the trappings of wealth, luxury, glamour and privilege. Such as yours. Maybe you do feel humbled and thank your lucky stars. Maybe you take it for granted. You know, people will say all sorts of thing to individuals, for their luck, their choices, for whatever happens or does not happen. But to take personal criticism to heart, and then to attack a critical and vital human rights movement is short-sighted and narrow minded.

You are lucky. Why stretch your luck by being judgy about others who make choices different from yours? Or those who have no choice?

Why do women with all the privilege like you fear the F-word so much? Do you know the term you used – likening a feminist to someone who supported the mass murder of millions because of their identity, is a slur of the worst kind? Why would you want to use such a term, and then speak of it in a warped context? Do you realize you owe your own relatively ‘safe’ position as a wife and mother without a job or the qualifications for one, to the hard work feminists have put in for women’s rights in marriage and annulment of marriage? Feminism is the reason those like you can still hope for a fair settlement in case your marital bubble bursts with infidelity or abuse or worse.

So please, dear young blessed girl with stars in your eyes, go use the reading and comprehension and thinking skills that your very elite education and background might have instilled in you, and study these topics. Understand that you made a choice and so do others and there are valid reasons on both sides of the fence, and that defending your choice does not have to be at the cost of dissing the very very vital forces that in fact help keep you safe and empowered. The personal, after all, is also political. We live in social systems. What goes on around us comes home to roost.

Respecting diversity of choice is a foundational belief of feminism and of any call for equality. And choices can only be made by the powerful. And power has to fought for, earned, built up, when the starting point of the game is highly skewed towards one party. As is the case with those who speak up as feminists. Someone has to speak up, fight the good fight. You may not want to, and that is fine. But you will enjoy its fruits. So know that the warriors, the radicals, they all work for your rights too, and you would have not much without them. When the status quo of power is shaken, there is always backlash, and some of it takes the forms of abuse. Terms like Feminazi come up, and are mistakenly adopted by some who have not cared to learn any better.

Grow wise, be informed. And then maybe you will not let derogatory slurs pass your pouty lips so casually. Do not demonize a struggle for basic human dignity. It is denied to too many. Please do not let your youthful lack of perspective  and good fortune make you gloat. Do not look down on what you have not much idea of. Do not abuse. Be Woke. Go look that up, because you have no idea what it means, I am sure.

And those multitudes, can you leave people’s personal lives alone?

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

How beautifully and simply Pullman puts this need for art in life.

“It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives… Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.

But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before…Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; … it almost breaks their heart. … welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience …they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.

That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. “

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…

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