My Sweetest Child

I was never the kind of girl, who would stop in the middle of a mall to play with babies. I refrained from being around those little chubby beings who usually ended up getting a lot of attention for just being themselves. I was too scared to even hold one.

A big part in me, changed when I found out there was a life growing inside of me. While growing up, I had to beat my brains out to maintain the rat’s nest growing on my head and ensure the nail paint stays well within its boundary. “What kind of a mother will I be?” I would imagine and feel sorry for my future daughter with messy ponytails. I often had nightmares. But thankfully, I was blessed with a son. And soon I realised it comes with additional responsibilities!!

As the maternal instincts started to kick in, I made a mission to learn new things in those nine months. I learnt cooking and read tons of articles about babies and child psychology. During those nine months, many women rubbed my growing round belly and threw in some great, not so great advices. It often sounded like, “If you do ….. your child will grow up like mine.”. Most of the times, my brains would go “ok!! I don’t like your children.” I was confused all the time.

Society looks with disdain on moms who don’t do everything perfectly. After the child is born, for most of the women its a dark, lonely, scary, and uncertain time. And of course the guilt creeps in when the journey is a little far from perfect ! 

I was given a big fat ‘F’ in this course called motherhood because my son was a little skinny (not underweight) and wasn’t fair (he had a wheatish complexion).

It went on till my son began to understand the words. I would fill with rage when few so called ‘cultured’ women, spoke about my son’s appearance in front of him.

Then I decided to take things in my hands. I never answered back to them. Instead I started telling my son stories of Nelson Mandela and racism. I engrained in his mind the concept of unconditional love and respect. I taught him the importance of good heart and an open mind over a superficial appearance.

My Sweetest Child !!

Once, over the dinner table, there was a comment passed by an elder about a woman looking older than her age. Jokes were made and after reaching home, my six year old son asked me, “Mummy, was that the correct way to talk about some ones appearance? I think that was very rude.”, I was proud. I knew I had done something right.

All the labels and grade, I was put in, suddenly disappeared and I hugged him very tight. He is naughty and does pick up fights in school. He is a regular boy and I let him be. He can become brutally honest sometimes. Well, I am working on that.

Since then, there have been numerous occasions where my son took me by surprise. Another incident took place when my friend came home with her daughter. She wanted to leave early, when I insisted her to stay a little longer she said, “My husband is going to yell at me if I am late”. After she left, my son said, “Durga maa (a Hindu Goddess) is going to be very upset with her husband”. He remembered the stories I would tell him about how women should be respected and their place in the society. He respects the fact that I work and appreciates me for my achievements. I never shy away from apologising to him when I do something wrong. So he is never afraid to tell the truth.

We cannot protect our children all the time. They will come across such atrocities at every turn as they grow up. I tell him stories about lot of different concepts. It does take time to frame the right words but in the end it is worth it.  I refrain from using adjectives like pretty, fair or slim. I don’t read him books where women are only pretty and men are only strong. I teach him to assess more and judge less.

I cannot change the world, but I can groom a boy to become a man with wisdom and do my part as a mother. 

A Soldier’s Agony

For an unemployed boy from a  poor family, it isn’t about ‘having a career’ or having a five year plan. It is about getting a job that pays well. The Indian Army provides such an opportunity to young men, who need not be highly educated but should be physically fit.

No soldier was ever born a patriot. The training they go through completely changes their outlook. The boys become stronger and focused men. This manhood exposes the fissure between philosophy and the truth. The cracks in this masonry of reality gets filled with the grout of love for the nation first, then the fellow men and lastly his own life. 

A boy who was raised with love is now in a war. The tourniquet is dripping red and fatigue in every inch of his body. This deracinated being, is now emotionally detached. He possesses the raw power to face the danger with grace, to follow every command and protect the motherland. He has to kill. He has to serve. And if at all he survives, has to feed his family back home. A soldier never kills a man, he eliminates a possible threat to his nation.

To honour these men, there are dedicated monuments, movies and many printed pages. Very often some candle marches are organised too.

Then what? What next?

The soldier climbs down the mountains where he once sprawled from exhaustion, to the society we call our homes. He finds people of his country fighting and arguing over issues like religion, language and caste.

My father adorned stars and our national emblem on his shoulders. I have not stayed in one place for more than 2 years. I have spent my childhood in more than 8 states with all different languages. My mother has collected handicrafts from all over the country and her recipe book has recipes for mutton rogan josh to vangi bhaat, from dhokla to rosogolla and the Assamese dish, fish tenge. In the process, it didn’t make sense to love just one state, speak just one language and embrace just one culture.

But, today when I attend the parties where the polished educated lot, sit with their champagne glasses, I am judged more than often for not knowing the local language and a few call me an outsider. Am I an outsider in the country for which my father went to the battlefield?

I have an eight years old son. He knows about the Bhagwan Gita, the Holy Quran and a little about Jesus and Guru Nanak ji too. I wish he grows in society where he is not questioned about his caste or what language he speaks. I wish he is celebrated for his kindness and not his financial status. I don’t want him to go to a foreign university because I want to be sure that opportunities are present in my country. For freedom of opportunity is the foundation for all other freedoms. 

Many warriors have bled to keep our country safe. But if our thoughts don’t change, every soldier who died ; died for nothing. Every sacrifices made are in vain. Mothers lost their sons for whom? For us, who are too busy vandalising the country’s property in the name of religion. Let’s make a nation where we are able to live happily and prosper together because we belong together. Let’s make the world of that limbless soldier or that war widow a better place and making their sacrifice worth it.

ALTRUISM

A prairie dog whistles to warn others of a hawk attack, so the hawk swoops straight down to eat the whistler. A mommy bear protects her cubs from predators risking her own life. This is an example of a concept that seems to be working against natural selection, called altruism.

Altruistic acts are considered acts of self-sacrifice, and therefore, they are generally regarded as the opposite of self-interested acts. In other words, its opposite of being selfish. 

I first came across this word, ‘altruism’ while reading a book called, “The Virtue Of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand. Although I didn’t  agree to most of her philosophies when I read the book ten years back, today, few do make sense. Whatever the moralists can disagree about, they will agree on few arguments I am putting forward.

Why is it that a son, who shifts to a different country to pursue his dreams, becomes the one who ‘abandoned’ his parents? Why is an ideal mother is always pictured as the one who has stays home and sacrifices her career to nurture her family? Why is a father considered great when he spends only on his family and not himself.

People’s moral judgments are often driven by emotion and like the emotions, well that changes a lot.. with convenience !! Aristotle, did not consider ethics and values to be an exact science. He based the ethics on observations and consequences of the choices we make.

Ethics is a code of values that guide a man’s choices. There are always alternatives to choose from. When the motivation to make a choice is  based on self interest, it is usually termed as ‘selfishness’.

The girl, renounces her parent’s house and title because she has accepted that as a moral duty. She believes that that is what she is supposed to do. The boy, chose his goals to exist as a productive being. The mother, stepped out of the house, with a heart full of love for her child. The father wished to have a life, according to his taste. All those choices did not make them selfish, because the choice was made under the guidance of reason that don’t clash with the greater good.

People try and live two lives. One is a mock version where they try to please others, want a huge gang of followers and friends. Later in life, comes a time where they learn to value themselves and their relationships. They finally identify that in order to give more to the world they need to have more inside of them–knowledge, experience, insight, love, wealth etc. And the more they look after themselves, the more they can contribute to the world.

To untangle this moral dilemma I believe that self-love is simply forgiving yourself for the past, being present and grateful for who you are today, and being optimistic for your future. The past choices should be considered a lesson and less of a regret.

Defining Your ‘COOL’

“Being Cool is being your own self,not doing something that someone else is telling you to do.”

I read this quote in a magazine long back. Yes, the time when social media and meme culture did not exist and hence the magazines. I belong to the time where we loved Bryan Adam’s summers, Shakira’s hips never lied and Enrique was our ‘hero’. We listened to sad and broken women singing barely comprehensible words about flashlights and feeling their way around in the dark. Then there were these quintessential bad boys with jeans so low, their behinds would advertise their underwear brand. And of course, the accompanying finger show was cemented as a part of our cultural lexicon.  All that because everyone wanted to be cool.

The most popular teens weren’t usually the ones with well adjusted personalities, kind natures, and sensible life goals. They were the ones partying too much and making others feel bad about themselves. Adolescence can mean facing the emotional challenges of adults for the first time. Due to higher testosterone, they use their prefrontal cortex to rein in their emotions. Then there is a pea sized insula, tucked away in the cerebral cortex, which is partly responsible for all the seemingly disparate things because it facilitates our concept of self-awareness, the awareness of our bodies and emotions and the desire. It lights up when they are compelled to accept any changes around them. It gives them a high when, they are famous (even infamous) or are loved by their peers and when juniors look up to them. At that age, they love to imagine that they are in control. But more often than not…the changing chemical composition of their brains control them.   

There was an incident that took place when I was in high school. My parents and I were invited by a family, whose son was a senior in my school. I met his parents and his grandmother. My first instinct was to touch the grandmother’s feet, because that’s what my parents have taught me all my life. The next day, I was the laughing stock of the school because touching the feet of elders wasn’t cool unless you were trying to impress the boy!!! This shook the very core of my belief. Very soon, I was termed a ‘nerd’ and ‘behenji’ in the school. I felt miserable for a while. When I look back to the time, I realise, there were just a few children, who liked being rude and others some how appreciated it and tried to emulate the same kind of behaviour. 

The world is full of disappointments, and sometimes people let you down. You can’t just run away. But still, many of us are permanently scarred by the experiences of our adolescence. There are little girls whom I know were bullied for their speech and avoided school for a long time. Just think of all the people you see on social media desperately trying to come across as the most popular. I have come across some college children, who gang up against smaller groups of students who speak a different language or belong to a different state and, find it very cool because it somehow makes them feel superior.

Vulnerability isn’t the opposite of strength. It’s a necessary part. We have to force ourselves to open up, to expose ourselves and stand up for the right. Some people are bullied for being dark skinned or being overweight, judged for not having a sense of humour etc. What is cool and what is uncool, is a perception of our mind. Too often, people stand by and do nothing for the people who suffer and I think, it’s time we change that. I have often heard people say “This is how it is”  or “Who cares?”. It has become easy for everyone to accept and succumb to despair and readily accept what is wrong. Since when is it OK to be rude or OK to laugh at someone for their problems? It only becomes “not ok” when it happens to themselves.. Why? Just because, “Kyunki main meri favourite hoon?”. 

For many, there comes a tumultuous time when their appearance,emotions, failure become such a bane of their existence. Let such talks stop.. Let’s be kind.. Let’s love more, appreciate more and accept more. Because there are no insults that are bizzarrely hilarious.

Is that your goodbye !!

Every now and then, comes a storm. The trees get uprooted, the windows are shattered, roofs are blown off, the birds lose their home and we are left in darkness. Bad things happen !! We have to move past it. We need to leave it behind, sooner the better. Or else, it is going to eat away at you and stop you from moving forward.

A failed business, unsatisfied parents and a broken relationship are basic triggers that have made a few people lift a blade and mark their body with a scar. In my profession, I get a chance to interact with lot of young minds. I usually love these moments because I learn about the human psyche. However, hearing about the suicide attempts by an intelligent, promising young girl, set a gray tone I couldn’t shake. She expressed a continued “sense of loneliness,” and some days suicidal.

Suicide in teens is usually correlated with factors such as depression; anxiety; school pressures and exposure to violence, trauma, mass media and cyberbullying. Even television has been suggested as an influencing factor. After the release Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, a show about a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves behind the 13 reasons she did it, Hannah Baker was a name I heard a lot in the usual chit chat in between my class sessions. Since I wasn’t aware of the show, one day I intervened in a very serious conversation happening within some students about it. When I heard about the theme of the show, I was taken aback. Not because I found the theme atrocious, but because my teenage students were actually justifying the reasons of the suicide. One said to me, “Ma’am, she didn’t have a choice. You have to see it to understand”.

I didn’t utter a word. I read the plot of the show online. I did feel sorry about Hannah Baker, but I certainly did not find my Hero in her. Not somebody I would look upto. May be I would copy her hairstyle. Life gives you 1300 reasons to give up. We struggle and moan. We end up hurting ourselves with the fear within us.

I was slut shamed in college, was made fun of because of my frizzy hair, was body shamed by relatives in a family gathering and failed in my catering business. It ripped me apart for a long time. After a while, I remember not worrying.

Hope is recurrent thing for me. No matter what happens it will creep in back into my life and give me a reason. It feels good to get rid of things. I feel powerful to strip down all that crap to first survive, and then, thrive. I love to try harder when the barriers are a little higher and the odds are low.

After all the destruction that has happened and the winds have hushed, the rain has stopped, the sun will still come to give you hope. You will have your silent moments to pick up the broken pieces after which, you will emerge stronger than ever.