Monday, September 22, 2008

Being Simply Happy

“ What do you crave most in your life? “ asked my friend, as we sat in leisure after so many years (15 years of married life), sipping tea at one of our favourite haunts of our past. “Well nostalgic moments like this one,” I promptly answered. “ I would always like to relive all such moments and every time it would be an equally delightful experience for me, because I feel happiness is something that you can get only out of things that are close to your heart.” I earnestly expressed. “Your material achievements, your professional success can surely give your ego some satisfaction and momentary joy, but these things fail to hand you pure happiness. At any stage of life, your ‘real natural self’ does not need big things to keep you happy. Only simpler things can see most of us in paradise.” I stressed.

My friend looked at me with surprise writ large on her face and I had to elaborate, “I really mean it, in spite of ascending on the exciting life ladder, simple things continue to remain my objects of happiness. The refreshing feel of a beautiful crisp, winter morning, the smell of the first raindrops hitting sun baked earth, percolating coffee, moments spent with family, nostalgic moments with friends, a romantic song heard far off, wearing an old favourite shirt, all such simple things make me very happy and hence happiness perhaps is always handy for me.” I feel that whatever I had expressed to her was applicable to most of us and not just myself.

Life is an evolution, where we evolve from a playful child to a bubbling adolescent and finally to a matured adult, but I think all this evolution is a state of mind, our heart continues to sing to the tunes of simple yet sentimental strings. My octogenarian grandma still finds her old age the happiest phase of her life for according to her; she hasn’t let the mischievous child, the active teenager, the romantic lover, the amicable friend and other ‘people‘ in her die with age. At heart, she still keeps close with all these ‘persons’ in her, and hence her happiness is still cloudless.

In our unbridled pursuit of pleasures and ambitions, most of us make our simple lives complicated, disturbing the ‘ecological balance ‘of our evergreen hearts. We spoil the very simple yet beautiful geometry of our hearts. We race for things that we feel can give us immense joy, and start grossly neglecting very simple things in our lives, which can unearth fountains of bliss for us. Life is simple mathematics where one plus one should always be two, but in our longing for more we try to make it twenty two or more; most of us end up with plenty of zeroes added to the end. We must learn to get this ‘beautiful two’ out of our lives.

Children are always ecstatic, because they have very simple definitions of happiness; they straightaway derive it from their routine child’s play. With the passage of time, most of us end up with ‘complex definition’ and ‘modified concepts’ of happiness. In the process, we lose our natural capacity to become simply happy. Unconsciously we become what I term as ‘joyless prone’ and ‘happiness resistant‘, so simpler things don’t give us felicity. We need to look for a long lasting happiness, which can only be drawn from the simpler things in life, simple yet close to our hearts. I feel true happiness is something we can only get through moments close to our heart. Let us try to gather and experience such moments. For all such moments should keep us ‘simply’ happy… forever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another Random Thought

Ok, it was another mundane day. There we all were sitting morosely wondering what to do as there were torrential rains pouring down. Then I got up to prowl the house restlessly as I was getting real fidgety. I passed by my eldest son’s room only to hear him mumbling. I knocked on the door and questioned him, “Are you talking to anybody? Is someone with you?”
“No, mom, no one, I was just talking to myself. Nothing to worry about”, was the response from his room. For a moment I thought it my right and duty to walk in and find out what was the matter with him. But second thoughts stopped me right in my tracks. Who was I to interrupt his privacy? Even I had running conversations with myself. The conversations go on and on for hours on end.

So I opted to settle down with my thoughts and a cup of tea. And it became all too apparent to me that we cannot stop talking to ourselves. It is impossible to stay incommunicado from one’s self. You have the liberty to talk to yourself any way you want to. Right from praising to pampering, patting to punishing, in a totally unique style that is all yours alone.
A galaxy of options came up at lightening speed. I had more reasons to talk to myself. The act of talking to self is so spontaneous that it starts even before we wake up as a continuation of our dreams. All it requires is any silly, daft topic or any event to start self- dialogue. It doesn’t come to an end when we fall asleep either. At times we are so clear about the dream we had in the morning and the endless dialogue we carried on in the entire time span. It would seem like we hold conversations with ourselves for at least 20 hours in the day. Amazing!! Yet, we still complain about not having enough time for ourselves or to our self!!!

I know one thing for sure. There is no one that can hide anything from the other side of our self. If I am worried about something, it is the other side of me that helps me to find the solutions, means and methods. Consulting others is only for confirmation that the right path or option has been chosen. Every decision on every issue is taken after weighing all the pros and cons in grinding conversations with self. Some thoughts and conversations are so weird or so extremely personal that others can tell just by looking at your expressions but are too much for you to share them with anyone.

Try observing anyone when they are alone. Are they really by themselves? No. They are busy holding conversations with their selves. At times they are grinning like loons as a result of the funny thoughts or a joke belatedly understood. A grumpy face tells another story. Maybe the boss is unsatisfied; or, a good, loud argument, at the traffic lights. Some of the sitcoms or reality shows on TV give exemplary displays of self-dialogue and the resulting compliments or bombardments. Eminent personalities impress with their speeches and supply us with grist for self-talking.

Self-dialogue is totally personal and self-taught. The style and language is totally unique. It is free flowing chatter attached to your system from birth. There are no restrictions to the topics or line of conversation. A good healthy dialogue with one’s self is a much better solution than asking anyone else for solutions on how to handle our affairs or to take decisions for us. It is God’s gift that has been showered on every individual. Does any other man-made gadget offer us the same satisfaction?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Maybe I am not the only one. But have you ever noticed that all parents spend the first two years of their children’s lives teaching them how to walk and talk and then the next 16 years asking them to shut up and sit down?!! Is it not interesting how these turn of events occur?

Nevertheless, the first few years of a child’s life is what every parent cherishes and holds close to the heart. Their first word, their first step, their first day at play school are memories every mother carries with her for the rest of her life.

I remember the day my eldest son called me mama. There I was despairing that I would never hear that one word that would culminate the entire emotional rollercoaster ride of my pregnancy and birthing, because no matter how much I entreated the tyke to “say, mama,” all that I would get in reciprocation was “DADA.” Jesus, talk about being frustrated! Then one day while the furthest thing from my mind was to get Kyle to say mama, I heard it. Everything literally came to a standstill. I remember that day with crystal clarity.

There I was running myself ragged trying to prove to all and sundry about how strong and together I was. I was a young woman of 24. Born and brought up in the big, bad city of Bombay, suddenly transplanted in this little hamlet – to my way of thinking – all alone with a toddler to take care of, with a husband in the merchant navy, I was totally at my wit’s end because I could not stand the slow, plodding pace of the boondocks. To cut to the chase, the rope was fraying. So there I was sitting in my living room with my son cradled in my lap wallowing in self-pity and quietly weeping, lest anyone else heard me break down.

The little tyke must have sensed my inner turmoil, for he turned around caught hold of my shirt collar and dragging himself up shoved his inquisitive fingers into my mouth and uttered “mama.” Jesus freaking H Christ (forgive me Lord, for I have blasphemed)!!! My tears dried up faster than I could say, “Jack Robinson.” Yes, time can come to a standstill. I was jubilant!!

I was thrilled, ecstatic, overjoyed. However… my joy was short-lived. I soon realized that he would call everyone mama. The maidservant, the milkman – even my mother… and to worsen a mother’s joy would even look at my father-in-law and call him mama. I used to get so upset but taught myself to get over it and can now look back on it and laugh about it.

Children are indeed a joy to have around – from the moment they are born to pre-adolescence. The love that they spread and the joy they find in life’s ‘simple’ yet ever so important things, is something we grown-ups don’t understand because we have forgotten what it was like to be kids ourselves.

I remember another incident when my eldest was about 3 years old. It was the annual Anglo-Indian Christmas tree party. Games had been organized for the children and one was an 80m dash for the younger ones. My son and several other children were rounded up and made to line up. While they were made to stand at the starting line, Kyle spotted his father and me in the crowd of onlookers. The look of joy on his little face was priceless. He started waving out to us; the whistle went off and all the little wannabe athletes took off at top speed. But not my 3 yr old. He was in ‘wonderland’ as he continued to stand at the starting line, while the other kids made their way to the finish line! We frantically made signs to him trying to persuade him to run. However, nah, he just would not budge. He was more pleased to stand at the starting line waving out to us, watching the other kids run, rather than run the silly 80m dash himself! The look of bewilderment on his face when he realized all the other kids were getting candy and he was not, made us split our sides laughing. As I said, Kids are a constant source of joy.

Then there is the time when I was returning home one day with my second son Kirk from play school. On the way out, I got talking to this adorable little girl and I asked her about her day, and all that she had learned.( Now before I go any further, English is the language everyone here aspires for his or her child to learn as everyone speaks in Hindi here.) She said the teacher was very nice and had taught her a-b-c. Very enthusiastically, the little girl asked if she could say them for me. I half-heartedly said yes and prepared myself expecting her to refresh my memory of the alphabet we all learnt on our first day in nursery school. But, oh dear Lord! I almost tripped over my own feet when I heard her say; A for apple, A for ball, A for cat, A for dog

Was I dreaming? Had I heard wrong?! So I asked her to stop and start over and this time I was certain I had heard right… A for apple, A for ball, A for cat, A for dog. Oh, it was so hilarious I was hard pressed to keep a straight face!! Now, I’m not sure of b,c,d but on her first day of school, she certainly did learn that it was not ‘e’ but ‘a’ for ‘everything’!!!

These are just a few of my most cherished memories. It is what puts a smile on my face on the days I do not feel my best, or down in the dumps. What are yours?

Monday, September 1, 2008

My Obsession...

So alright, I have this one obsession. So what? What I'd like to know is: who in their right mind doesn't obsess about this? What am I talking about? Any guesses?! G'on... take a pot-shot. Make a wild guess. Need a hint?

Yeah. I'm talking about money... wealth. Something that brings smiles - along with a big parcel of troubles. That which always, always, seems to be less - no matter how much of it you possess. That which is dear to everyone, sometimes even superceding family and friends. That which every individual yearns after wanting it to stay with them. Alas. Like similar poles, I always repel wealth. Damn. Why does that always happen with me ?!!

I once squandered an entire day pondering over two questions: "How do I enhance my prosperity?" and then, "How do I get my freaking bank balance to overflow?" I thought they were really interesting questions. From pondering this, I proceeded to have a daydream. There I was, this female version of Richie Rich, no! Uncle Scrooge. I was taking a ride on this motorised mini cart in one of my immense mine- like vaults filled with gold, old masters, immense piles of jewels. Everywhere I looked I was confronted by immense wealth. Hmmm.... it was soothing... refreshing... relaxing. Truly noble thoughts.

So... does prosperity really lie in waiting for everyone? In this age of lifestyle gurus many suggest that you close your eyes and visualise whatever you want and you're sure to get it. I wonder about this. How is it even remotely possible? Just imagine - I sit in a dark, quiet corner of my house, close my eyes and visualise that I am playing with snowballs on the Swiss Alps. Or that I am rappeling down the sheer Dover cliffs. No... I'm scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reefs. Just then this gigantic octopus comes up and grabs me in its tentacles. I grapple and fight with it and claw my way desperately up to the surface of the ocean gasping for breath. My eyes spring open ! Thank God !! Whew !!! I'm in the safety of my home safely ensconced on my sofa. No more closing my eyes and visualising ! Enough is enough...

So what went wrong with my dream? I realised that while walking along the positive path I tripped and fell on the negative one. So then, damnit, how do I achieve what I want? How does my bank balance overflow?!

Thinking is the first step towards achieving. The subconcious mind needs to be trained to believe that one deserves to be happy and successful. Often we only grouse, complain and remain morose so that is what is ingrained in our subconcious. Once it learns to be happy, man, there is no holding or turning back. To my way of thinking, leastways.

Happiness, satisfaction, success, prosperity - all of this is connected. Much like the cogs of my grandfather's wrist watch. And the winder is one's thought process. The task is to think about what one wants for the self. Once the thought is there, it pushes the next wheel which in turn pushes the next one. The entire mechanism is set in motion, gains momentum and soon you will be happy.

But the most important factor here is that one must have a totally positive outlook towards prosperity. If you're only dwelling on the thought on how empty your cup is rather than filled then only the negative wheels move. Prosperity is basically in our minds rather than our bank balances. Some people are happy with their meagre belongings while others have no peace of mind from running after more. You just have to feel happy about whatever you do have.

Yup! It's true. Everything that glitters is not gold. Yearning for more will just keep you running throughout your life, whereas counting your blessings will give you the satisfaction and stability to carry on with your lot. It is the key that makes you see the silver lining to every cloud.
So.... my bank balance is over flowing - with spiritual stability.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why Settle for Less

“Mama, come quickly!!" my eldest was calling in an excited voice. He wanted to show me something, I could tell from his voice, seasoned mother that I am! I rushed out to the courtyard. We have some trees with some wild fruits that are home to a large number of birds, many of them quite exotic in spring. They flock together, sometimes are solitary, taking pleasure in the succulent fruits.
Being a home bound woman in the boonies, from a big city where I had spent all of my life, I have an absolute fascination for these migratory birds. To me, they seem to be having a great deal of fun. To see the different terrains, to live with the glorious uncertainties of yet another day, to maintain the faith that a better fruit awaits them tomorrow... as they soar to unknown territories...... must be so exciting!!!
My son's excitement was justified, as the bird sitting with regal grace was really a gorgeous one. I often see birds with fluorescent yellow, orange red and green in the cool greenery. Had it not been for the presence of a big white kite entangled in the branches.... we would have missed the beauty. It had a sea green body, rust coloured wings and a jet black tail, with just a dash of fluorescent blue at the junction of the wings and the body. It was simply gorgeous!!! I marvelled at the beauty of the creature. Courageous; exotically beautiful and vulnerable. What more could you ask for...... to be spell-bound, to feel its beauty clutch at your heart.
How could its mother let him go? (It had to be a’ him’ because of the brilliant colouring.... survival of the species depended on his plumage.) And here stepped in my imagination..... this bird must have listened to stories from his grandfather about how they prepared for flight, how they fattened themselves to sustain the rigours of braving the cold winds, how to use the sun for directions, to determine their flight path. Did they romanticise their adventures like we humans do, forgetting all the trials and tribulations of such travels?!? This one looked like a love bird. Did it travel at night- which holds it's own perils- to elude the birds of prey? Would he pay the price by losing his life for this adventure?
Didn't he get tired of endlessly roaming? Will it miss the young ones, the sick ones and the old ones left behind? As a child, I would lie looking at the clouds scudding by and dreaming of being able to soar the infinite sky like a hawk, to never, ever land, to be able to see the snow queen and find incredible adventures and endless treasures.
Migration, it is said, is a step in evolution born of necessity for survival and not for better pastures in lower animals. Animals keep moving till their needs are satisfied, and return home when they know conditions are favourable. Are we humans like this? We, the supposedly higher animals, move for greener pastures in life, and more often than not never return. Why not instead, transform the place of birth to what we want it to be like? Is this thought regressive? Or simply a tougher option?? Is it settling for less? Humans are the only migratory being to have this option of being in control of his surroundings with the ability to change it. The migratory birds after all never have a place to call home. We certainly do.
So make a difference. Don't settle for less.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The fragility of respect

The other day I happened to read an article in the papers about respect that started me thinking. What is respect, in actuality? Is it really so easy to lose the aspect most relationships are built on? It seems so. It’s scary, but true. We all, each and every one of us hide behind masks. The regard we hold for people is built over time, through many ups and downs, we excuse those people for almost anything. But sometimes, just a word, a sentence spoken at the wrong time, a response or the lack of it…. And it’s all over. Just one unfeeling word or action, and it all falls down like a house of cards.
Disillusioned and surprised at the face you see, at the entity that lurks behind the mask that you thought you knew so well. Is this the friend you trusted with your inner-most secrets and shared your laughter with? Is this the lover, your partner, that you gave your all to with spontaneity? Is that what they actually are, so at variance with your self-perception? Is that what they think? Maybe….
Yes. And it hurts. I lost all respect for a friend when I told her that I suspected my husband of infidelity and she turned around and told me, “All men do it”. What I heard was, “Deal with it, there’s nothing you can do”. Words once uttered can’t be retracted. I lost all regard for my husband when he turned around and told me, “I have been asking around, and everyone I have spoken to agree that I have every right to raise my hand on my wife”. He had justified his actions to himself. He condoned himself for torturing me physically and mentally, for trying to break my spirit. That one sentence shocked me out of my wits and I lost any shred of respect I held for him. It was at that moment that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to respect myself if I took what was happening lightly thinking that he will at some point see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I walked out.
We all at some point get negative thoughts, about even the ones we love the most. Sometimes, at unguarded moments, it may well slip out. We reveal our inner-most, darkest selves to a loved one and there’s no turning back. Sometimes we say things in self-defense or attack a well-wisher when cornered, with verbal knives that we may later regret, but can’t take back the words or actions. It is only under extreme pressure that our true character is revealed. Each of us is very well aware of who we really are deep down. However, that does not mean that those closest to us are privy to that self or to our deepest thoughts.
Is respect such a fragile thing? It’s certainly not something that should be taken for granted, because, yes, it is fragile. Respect, unlike regard, is something we need to keep working on maintaining. For it can snap, like a strand of thread. When we have a high regard for someone, it is maybe because of whom they are, or the tradition surrounding them. One has regard for an aged person, a teacher or a learned person. Respect on the other hand is what we develop for a particular trait in those that we observe and interact most closely with, those closest to us. Thus it is important to maintain the aspect of respect because that is the basis, quite often, of most relationships.
My elders always exhorted me to think before I spoke. Yet there are times in all our lives where we have spoken without thinking and lived to regret it. Time was when I used to think that one had to weigh one’s words so as to not hurt another. It’s only recently that I have come to the realization that the greatest harm we do when we speak without thinking is to ourselves!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Parent or Friend

“Mom, did you happen to see this article in the papers?” asked my eldest son, with a deadpan expression on his face. (And FYI he’s pretty savvy.) I didn’t even glance at the article and thought to myself – what a chip off the old block he was. Not! I figured that it was yet another article on the nastiness that some parents dole out to their offspring in the guise of parenting. “What a cruel father! Isn’t that right, mom?” chipped in the second son while my third looked on with a cherubic, butter-won’t-melt-in-my-mouth expression. And sure enough! I had surmised correctly where the conversation was veering. “Father jailed for pulling child’s ear and calling him stupid,” was the offering of my youngest son to the conversational gambit.
I fully understand the message implied: that I have to toe a careful line in dealing with my sons. This dose of intimidation is meted out to me on a regular basis, lest I forget who the actual boss in the equation here is. My eldest, after scanning the entertainment section of the newspaper (his favourite), skims through the other pages looking for articles like that. News of that genre, he perhaps (nay, surely!) thinks are extremely potent weapons in his arsenal to keep me under check. Perhaps I am the only one in my household under the mistaken impression that I am a fairly doting mother. My cruelty is now limited – as I am recently separated from my husband and doing the balancing act on Damocles’ sword – to making them get up at an unearthly (for me – as I am definitely not a morning person) early hour in the morning (they won’t if I don’t, LOL) so that they make it to school in and on time.
The unearthly hour, though, is for my benefit. And that is because of the daily soap opera that unfolds without fail every morning at 5:30. I won’t go into it. It’s enough to drive most sane people to drastic acts of cruelty! My most cruel acts (in the eyes of my children) are to get them to clean up the myriad messes they create and to help with daily household chores, or to make them get down with their homework. Sigh! The travails of parenting!!
I have always endeavored to be a friend to them – along with cracking the whip when I deemed it to be a requirement. But it is they that break this fragile bond of friendship the moment I request them to turn off the TV and study. It is they that snap it the moment I tell them to brush their teeth before going to bed or to go for a shower when they return home sweaty from playing outdoors.
Then there are the lectures (for them), motivational talks (for me). I try to keep them succinct and contextual (after having rehearsed them countless times before the mirror) -MAJOR stumbling block in our friendship. My inability to get them their preferred mode of transport – all terrain bicycles – at this juncture of my life, along with other amenities which are pretty important for boys their age, perhaps also contribute towards quashing any overtures of camaraderie with my sons. I console myself by repeating the mantra: boys will be boys.
They reciprocate my friendship a tad if I give them some pocket money and increase it when they demand citing inflation. To my way of thinking, rising inflation should result in a decrease in their pocket money. After all, I have to run the house with my constant, limited ‘salary’ but rising costs. But my sons have a different logic. They need a hike because the rates of ice-creams have risen and the cyber cafes charge more for the games they want to play; besides, other children get more. I try to explain the new situation to them, but it is their logic that prevails while mine fall by the wayside!
Then…I am deemed to be a good mother when I keep my cool when they come home with poor results. They appreciate me if I believe all their BS – nay, excuses – for doing badly in their exams without batting an eyelid or losing my shirt. They rate me as an ‘acceptable’ parent if I relent to their excuses for playing truant from school. There are umpteen other such acts that would make me worthy of their approval and coveted friendship (duration not guaranteed) but I fail to make the grade time and again.
I struggle to ensure that even my well-intentioned behaviour with my children does not lead toward any long term damage to their psyches. If my children are to march to the beat of a different drum, then darned, if I’m not ready to procure that drum and learn to play the beat myself! I have no preconceived notions, but find the response elusive to date.