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. 

Cookie Memories

To unwind, after numerous attempts to achieve the sales target, my team and I would go for chai and poha in the late afternoon. On an usual afternoon, we stepped out of the office building to find a new place set up just outside the premises.  ‘Shivis’ read the brand new board. The beautiful paintings on the lilac walls were so inviting. The place looked expensive but, we wanted to give it a try.

After all, how much a plate of poha could cost!” We thought to ourselves.

We entered and ordered our normal snack. Poha and a cutting chai !! We saw a middle aged man with a huge head full of dark hair reading a book at the cash counter. I couldn’t help notice the lines on his face. It seemed like, each line, spoke a different story of his days, sang a different song of his victory. I squinted to see the title of the book, “The Wealth of Nations”. I remembered reading the book in college.
I went up to speak to him. “Hello” I said.
He replied with a smile, “Hi.. How may I help?”.

His voice was heavy and his speech had a slight accent. “I love the book you are reading.” I said. 

“Oh its my favourite too. I love the author’s outlook about the modern economics. It makes sense even in today’s world.” We ended up having a very long chat about our favourite books and movies.
This man is a delight.” I thought to myself.

Days went by, ‘Vishal Bhaiya’ and I became great pals. He was once married to his high school sweetheart named Shivani. He opened this place for the love of his wife. But the marriage didn’t last for more than 6 years.

My friends found our friendship to be bizarre because of the age difference. From my experience I can say one thing for sure, friendships with older and younger people help broaden your perspective. From elders, you will always get great advices, because more likely than not – they’ve already experienced them.

We would have our meals together. To my surprise, he was a wonderful chef. He learnt baking in his 20’s. He baked the best chocolate fudge cupcake, I ever tasted. He taught me how to bake cookies and he ate my half burnt cookies with the same zeal. I knew I was evolving personally and emotionally.

Many times, I saw him popping colourful pills from a box. I never thought of inquiring about it. Once after lunch, I just blurted the words,

“Are those multivitamins to keep you younger”, followed by a hysterical laughter.    

“Oh! these, are just to keep me alive a little longer”, he said with a wide grin on his pale face.

 I couldn’t really process that information. My laughter turned to a distraught expression. 

“I have been wanting to tell you this from a long time now”, as he started to speak, I knew I didn’t want to hear the words that followed. 

“I am HIV positive”. 

My heart stopped and I found myself rooted to my chair. I found out that he had come to terms with his imminent death. His calm and cool look, concealed his pain and the fact he was shunned by his friends and family after the virus was detected. His grieving wife, left when she could not handle the pressure of being married to an HIV patient.

Stigma of this virus has its own pathway; it starts with labelling, separation, status loss, and ends up in discrimination. To see the HIV stigma flaunt itself in the mainstream – after so much effort, and so many years dedicated to overcoming it – is depressing indeed. People are facing social ostracism, while many are increasingly facing the situation with fortitude and courage.The virus turned off his immunity but the society, made him immune to love and care. But one thing I know for sure, the kindness that resided in his heart, made him forgive everyone. 

Death of a friend is like losing a limb. The pain and the anguish goes away after a while, but the feeling of loss still lingers forever. Sometimes, it feels like you’ll never get over the grief. It can feel all-encompassing. It’s funny to think, that best friends attend each other’s birthday, anniversary but never the funeral. 

Sometime friends separate due to job priorities, family etc. But when they see each other after a long time, the conversations start right, where you left the last time. For true friendships, the connection isn’t very difficult to reset. 

My friend left me behind. In my case, I wish I could unpause the silence. I looked for him in the crowded places. I knew it was impossible, but grief, is never governed by logic. The misery often takes away the happy memories, but is it worth it? I needed closure. It took some time but I, came up with a copping mechanism. I cherished every memory of his, I celebrate his birthday every year since then and I tried to become more like him. The scar he left behind is deep and so was the bond we shared.

But I will always carry his love and all that he taught me in my heart. How lucky am I to have someone, who make goodbyes so hard!!

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.