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I Look Back To Accelerate Forward

Some years, back I wrote a story where one of my characters was traveling through life with his eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror. I had referred to it as a character flaw because the man looked back to dwell on the negative aspects and developed a cynical approach to life.

Later on, I saw this in another perspective. Looking back is not a flaw, if one reviews the past with a positive attitude; with the intention of making changes in the present where changes are required; altering attitudes where alteration is needed, and learning from past experiences.

I’ve been driving on the highway of life with an eye on the rear-view mirror! But not so long back, my hindsight went further back than my personal experiences, thanks to a Bible story I was telling my grandchildren. We were reading about the exodus from Egypt. The children were aghast at the 40 year journey across a desert. One of them, the 5-yr-old, exclaimed that she never wanted to go to Egypt or anywhere across a desert as she’d be an old woman by the time she reached her destination! The elder one informed her that she needn’t “walk” across she could fly… and the discussion veered to, “Where was the Promised Land? Was it so far away that it took them 40 years to reach there?”

So, the focus settled on the length of the journey. “Why did it take so long for them to reach?” “Is it actually that far to reach?” “How long were their breaks?” “How could they break journey for years in one spot?”

After referring to some expert commentary on the topic, and keeping their young years in mind, I informed them that it should have been just an 11-day-journey to Canaan. But it took them longer because they began grumbling, rebelling against the rules, regretting leaving Egypt, not believing God, making statues of other gods to worship. They were ungrateful and disobedient. They didn’t trust God who was guiding them and providing for them along the journey. They became afraid. In other words, they kept going around the same mountain of worries, anxiety, dissatisfaction, infighting, rebellion, ungratefulness, complaining…So they stayed ‘settled’ in one camp after the other longer than they should have.

That explanation was enough for them. It seemed to explain and answer all their questions. But it spoke to me too, in connection with the way I felt, on my first trip to Chile, in 2010. It explained a lot about how I had stemmed my joy, increased my woes and made life more difficult for me physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It was a constructive and enlightening lesson. I suppose, any lesson that can get you out of a desert, faster and happier, in less than forty years of going around the same mountain has got to be a great one.

So how did an eleven-day journey stretch to forty years? I will attempt to summarize the main points in a layperson’s terms. According to the account as recorded in the Bible, the Israelites were an ungrateful, complaining lot. The moment a bit of problems or trouble arose, they’d begin the blame game, and in-fighting and grumbling would ensue. They would not listen to the leaders nor comply with the rules. This resulted in a breakdown of the law and order system.

During the tedious journey, it was apparent things would be hard. They were traveling through the wilderness. and the climate would have been harsh and there would have been a lack of basic necessities. And definitely, even depletion of resources. In all of this, they were so focused on their problems that they became blind to the presence of God, who was constantly guiding them, providing for them, and protecting them.

When at one point, they were without food and near starvation, He provided “manna” from heaven. Initially, they rejoiced that they had something to fill their bellies and sustain them. Then, when their hunger was satiated and they regained their strength, they began to complain that ‘manna’ was a poor substitute for the food they were used to eating in Egypt. They even began to lament their shortsightedness in following Moses. They preferred to be slaves in Egypt than to bear the hardships of an eleven-day journey.

Their attitude brought up delays in their movement and progress not only slowed down but it also came to a standstill at times. Thus, what they couldn’t bear for eleven days they bore for forty years! There are many examples of similar attitudes along the arduous journey. Without going into the philosophy and scriptural implications, let me come back to the point that is related to the lessons I learned along the way.

Going to Chile was a literal uprooting for me, from the place that had been my home for my entire life. It spelled the closing of a chapter in my life and the opening of a new one filled with uncertainty in terms of the future. It also took me out of my comfort zone; comfort of not only familiarity but also of creature comforts and the small luxuries I was used to. In a way, it was a takeoff on the exodus from Egypt. It was my lone departure to an unknown future. My sojourn would take me on a longer route with layovers at Johannesburg in South Africa, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and finally to Santiago in Chile, from where I’d have a road trip to Viña del Mar.

Not a frequent flyer, and that too a “lone” one this time, with mobility issues, to say I was nervous would be an understatement. I took the flight with complete assistance, wheelchair etc., and honestly, looking back today, I will have to admit it was almost hassle-free. I got through all the formalities aided by airline attendants. Yet, when I had long waits for flights, sitting in a wheelchair cramped, tired, and feeling a certain amount of discomfort and pain, I’d begin to moan and groan a bit to myself.

Fortunately, I had the “complain and remain” and the “go round the mountain” quotes getting me back to a more appreciative attitude. I could hardly walk by the time I landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil but I was thankful that I could sit up and also shuffle down the aisle to my seat. What’s more, I actually thanked God that I could use the toilet without assistance. Just the thought of it continues to keep me grateful.

Barely seven days in Viña del Mar, and the big earthquake rocked my world. The strongest ones I’d experienced and which had shaken me up in India had been between 3.something to 4.something! This one was like doomsday for me. Viña del Mar is in the Valparaiso region, so we felt it strong.

Refer Wikipedia: {The 2010 Chile earthquake ( Terremoto del 27F) occurred off the coast of central Chile on Saturday, 27 February at 03:34 local time, having a magnitude of 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale with intense shaking lasting for about three minutes.}

Since I had to move from our apartment on the sixth floor to a safer place due to my inability to climb down so many stairs to evacuate during the following aftershocks, measuring between 5-7 on the Richter scale, that kept tumbling in at short intervals after the big one. I had to stay somewhere that would be convenient to move out if required during a stronger aftershock or another earthquake. It took three shifts from a hotel accommodation to a friend’s place and finally to the company guesthouse.

The stress and extreme fear, not to mention the constant shifting from one temporary accommodation to another, took its toll. Not being an angel, I did mutter and kick myself, at times regret my hasty decision to travel here. But hindsight and lessons imbibed from it helped me keep looking at the silver lining that had constantly girded the dark clouds filling me with hope, trust and gratefulness to God – for life, suitable and comfortable accommodation provided by friends and my son’s company, and keeping me from injuring myself during these times. We were all safe and there was only minor damage to the apartment.

Such an attitude provided the ability to look for blessings in disguise, and a sojourn that should have spelled a disastrous pattern turned out to be a lesson in itself.

If I had continued to grumble, moan, and groan and pick at fate, God, people, and blame all for my predicament, I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I got to meet. I wouldn’t have made lovely friends there either. The innate goodness of humans would not have manifested itself, and I would have remained ignorant of the goodwill, humaneness, and the indomitable spirit of people that continued to survive even during calamitous situations.

The beauty of this picturesque city would have been lost on me and I would have marked it as “Hell.” Time would have moved painfully slow. But now, I have indelible memories of kindness, thoughtfulness, warmth, and friendship to carry along with me. The most important point is that it has underlined my belief in God and His presence in and around me at all times.

Have you ever rocked yourself in a rocking chair? Where does all that rocking take you? Nowhere! Focusing too much on the problems and difficulties of life is akin to sitting in a rocking chair. You stay stuck in one place no matter how hard you rock, you’re not going forward.

Looking back should not be a “rocking chair” moment. Hindsight should be used to find areas of change or improvement; a gleaning time for lessons. Such an attitude will see you walking ahead a wiser and more cheerful person. Why prolong misery by sticking with it?

My stay over there has given me deeper insights into my soul. I have discovered the various hues of my spirit that mark milestones in my growth as a person. And the three months I stayed there passed as a few days. Much can be accomplished with appreciation, gratitude, and determination. One needs to keep moving onward and looking for those “Kodak” moments and “ha-ha” and “ah-ha” situations. Yes, I found some ‘ha-ha’ humorous situations too, believe me. It seems incongruous in such scenarios, but I did find them and they relieved me of some tension and anxiety.

I’m sure there are many ‘exodus’ kind of stories in our life from which we can learn something… from the negatives and the positives…Life is a journey. We’re all traveling somewhere; towards something…a dream, ambition, destination, destiny… it’s good to look into the rear view mirror sometimes, and review the journey traveled.

I returned to India after three months. The lessons I had begun to learn, impacted me more when I was back on familiar territory. They went deeper into my life and the way I responded or reacted to situations and circumstances. In 2013, I finally moved to Viña del Mar, again. But this time round, I was happy to be there. There were many tremors all in the range of 4-6 almost 4-5 times in a month. And there were stronger ones between 6-7. There was a big one too, an earthquake, when I was alone while the rest of the family was out of the country!

refer Wikipedia: The 2015 Illapel earthquake occurred 46 km (29 mi) offshore from Illapel (Coquimbo region Chile) on September 16 at 19:54:33 (22:54:33 UTC), with a moment magnitude  of 8.3. The initial quake lasted between three and five minutes; it was followed by several aftershocks greater than magnitude six, and two that exceeded 7.0 moment magnitude.

This time, being alone, was the scariest thing, but my faith and trust in God’s help kept me sane though I was trembling.

This time, I was not grumbling, or muttering. My mind was clear and I was thinking calmly. I believe that when you put your trust in God, He will send help when help is needed. And that’s exactly what happened. But that’s another post for another day!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Water Wails

I haven’t had any experience of a ‘no water’ situation outside of India, except for once, in Chile. But that was during a massive earthquake where electricity and the water supply got cut off. While the electricity was restored quick the water supply took a day or two, I think. But in India, I’ve had a lot of water related headaches in Rajasthan.

In one city water was supplied for only about 2-3 hours daily. So we had to be on our toes. Store up drinking water, make sure the underground water storage tank was filling up. Then turn on the pump so water would be pumped up from the underground tank to the overhead tank at the same time. This way we could have full storage tanks and not worry. While this was an inconvenience, compared to the regular water supply, 24×7 running water, we were used to, it slowly became a part of our routine which ran smoothly without the initial hitches and glitches and mumblings and grumblings. Why, I even maintained a small garden with a lush green lawn. A thick row of red roses, many potted plants, and flowering hedges.

However, when we moved from this city to another one, we were shocked to learn that water was supplied every alternate day and here too, it would be for only 2-3 hours! And this city was called the City of Lakes! Our previous experience kicked in and soon we adjusted to the routine of storing up water on alternate days. In fact, it wasn’t even a problem in our daily life. It fit in comfortably with our busy schedules on weekdays. We never ran short of water. The overhead tanks were big enough to store enough. Of course, in both cities, we had to remember to store fresh drinking water as the stored water in the overhead tanks weren’t fit to drink. But, even here, I had a garden bigger than the other one. A lovely lawn and even more plants.

The initial shock and stress we felt about the water supply system in these places were just our thoughts. It was an unknown situation and we imagined all kinds of problems and more difficulty. In reality, it wasn’t something we couldn’t surmount and live with comfortably too. 

The most difficult one was in a town in a desert area of Rajasthan. This was at the in-law’s family home. There was no water supply at all! Rain water was harvested if and when it rained! Rain was scarce there in those day. But in the recent past things have changed and this place has been flooded too by incessant rain!

To come back to the water story, the rain water that would collect on the roof of the house was channeled to an underground tank that was as big and deep as a small room. This was our ‘well’ and had a heavy, thick wooden lid covering the opening. Water would be drawn out with a bucket attached to a rope. Since rain water was scarce, water would be bought. One could ask for a tanker of water which would drive up to the house and fill up the tank… half full or full, depending on how much water one had paid for.

Since there was no running tap water, water had to be drawn for bathing too. In short water was drawn and filled in buckets in the bathrooms for one’s various needs.

The same water from the tank, would also be used as drinking water! I recall whenever I visited, my MIL would get drinking water from elsewhere and this would be stored in a separate matka (earthen pot). This was because I and my little sons would get tummy infections. I never got to draw water though I was keen to try it! I was scared to lean over the opening of the underground tank, I’d feel dizzy. So, hubby dear forbid me to ever even try doing it.

Since I didn’t live here, it wasn’t a major hassle for me. Water would be drawn for me. Though, I must admit asking for water to be drawn more than once or twice in the day made me a bit uncomfortable. These were all experiences in the years from 1979-1992. I do hope things have improved since then.

Now, many years later, when I have forgotten all about these woes, I came across this post posted in 2011. It isn’t a similar situation but it is about a water problem in a bigger and more modern city than the ones mentioned above. It brought back the panic I felt, especially when the rain water flooded the balcony and threatened to flood the house too! I lived alone at the time and with some physical restrictions in bending, lifting, pushing, and pulling, I was going crazy knowing that there wasn’t much I could do on my own to stop the water from getting into the house.

I recall how I brought out bedsheets and tried to create a dam so the water wouldn’t seep in under the door. How I stood in the balcony yelling out at the top of my voice for help.

That’s water under the bridge now, thankfully.

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink…
August 22nd 2011

Hola! I’m back after one of those unscheduled breaks (from blogger) that keep happening despite my efforts at organisation and day agendas etc, etc!

The first thing that laid me low was a lesion in a lumbar disc, which I stupidly allowed to happen while I sat in an uncomfortable, unstable chair in a multiplex and refused to get up and leave because I was enjoying the movie so much (not to mention the money I’d paid) So bed rest it was….or so I thought!

The ongoing water situation (read: no water supply) which had started four days prior to my visit to the cinema hall, which the society supervisor had promised would get solved in three days, had not been fully resolved. However, complaints and necessity moved the people in charge to buy huge quantities of water every day. This came in water tankers and would then be pumped up to the overhead tanks. However they could not meet the desired level of need, so water was rationed and we had to be alert to fill up or then do without. Needless to say what happened to my back! The water situation continues, with hope gleaming on the horizon. A lot of drilling went on throughout last night…work is in progress, Hallelujah! I’m happy to report my back is doing better. I decided to leave everything on hold and fill water and rest…it worked!!!

(FYI, our side of modern Gurgaon uses groundwater. It seems that the original pump had not been drilled deep enough and in the eight years since then the water level had gone down)

I have also been on flood control duty…(hyperbole ha!) A few heavy showers during this period threatened to flood my dining room! The balcony, onto which the room opens out to, was getting flooded as both the outlet drains were clogged. Thankfully, help came in the form of the building supervisor and  one was cleared. Relief poured out as the rain water gushed down the drain.

I was worried about my potted plants. Rationed water left none for them…but the rains obliged so far. Let’s see how I manage to keep them alive and well.

I’ve visited a few blogs and will be reading the ones I’ve left. It’s nice to be back.

Well, some memory that was. Monsoon season, in India, can be punishing when it is in full swing. I wonder how many would relate to these situations. These are glimpses into different experiences we go through and how most are greater and more difficult in our minds. When we get to it, putting our fears and feelings of getting a raw deal away, we find that things aren’t really insurmountable problems that we can’t deal with.

In The Driver’s Seat

It's In The Tale

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For years, I had traveled comfortably ensconced in the backseat. I was never in the driving seat; never a driver. And I was not a ‘backseat driver’ either. That didn’t mean I had no voice or that I didn’t use the voice I had. However, the fact that I had a voice and voiced my opinions didn’t put me in the driving seat, simply because I knew what I felt, but I didn’t feel what I said.

No hypocrisy there, no double standards, just plain lack of confidence in my own abilities. Always an iota of doubt that kept me from taking the reins on my own. I needed a crutch all the time. Please do note, in my favor, I did not use the plural of the word – crutch. I walked but with a limp. If I drove I would be a leg too short for the accelerator…

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Cutting Down

I was going through a blogger’s post on how she was getting rid of the ‘unnecessary’ clutter in her closets and store. She was recounting how, over the years, her pain and sadness at giving away or discarding things that she was very fond of, attached to and couldn’t give away had died down with each declutter situation. If any pain or regret was left, it was but a mere twinge.

Her post brought back my not-so-dead feelings connected to this. I told her, “I get what you’re saying. I’ve had to give up many things with each move I made.”

My mind went back to our shifts within the country… it wasn’t so bad. The most important things I cherished didn’t get left behind. With movers and packers to move things, the only precious things that got left behind were my friends.

But the biggest “cutting” I had to do was when I moved to another country! That’s when some things I was loath to part with were either given away or left behind in (supposedly) safe keeping… the family albums and hundreds of loose photographs stored carefully, some personal items I loved and didn’t want to lose. But the albums and pictures…These were the memories of my entire life. I couldn’t take them with me. It hurt like mad. I consoled myself with the thought that I’d return and take them with me.

Little did I know that I wouldn’t see them again. Not because I didn’t return but because the people who had taken it in safe-keeping didn’t have them anymore. They weren’t even kind enough to tell me where or what had become of those things.

When I had just begun to accept the loss and look at it pragmatically rather than emotionally, I had to move again from Chile…

…to another country.

Now, more of the little I had, needed to be cut down further. It didn’t hurt so bad this time. Though, I admit, I was sad. Today, I think about it with a tinge of sadness, when my grand kids ask me about things I could have shown them. I sense an emptiness, but nothing that weighs too heavy on me. I’m still to get to that place where I don’t even feel that little twinge of regret or pain. I’ll get there!

Right now, I am at a place where I am numb inside. I have come to see myself as a gypsy…traveler… literally. While I think my situation of wheels- on-my-feet is ended and I will stay put, I have a nagging fear that whispers, “What if…?” My heart skips a beat. No, no more. I want to put up my caravan and stay. I can not take any more of cutting down.

It’s not about the material things so much now as it is about the intangibles… the memories, the places that hold significance in my life… the peace I might have found reading, writing, or just sipping my tea as I gazed out the window in a particular cafe. The familiar faces and the familiarity of surroundings. The daily walk routes, and the smiles or ‘hellos’ of fellow walkers I pass by more often. The sounds, sights and the flora and fauna that surround my dwelling and that I’ve got used to now.

I’m at a point where I am like a pendulum; swinging at the behest of time. I am slowly resigning myself to God’s will and my destiny which he holds in his hands.

In cutting down and clearing out the material things I had attached myself to, I have learned (not so painlessly) that I was also clearing out unnecessary attachment and value to a lot of replaceable stuff. Except for my photographs, now, I don’t think much of the other things. I am grateful for that freedom from attachment to replaceable material goods.

In retrospect, while I might have lost many material things… some of material value too… I have gathered experiences, insights, memories, connections that are of more value to me and my wellbeing. I have not just gone through it, I have grown through it.

It will take a bit more time for me to say, in all honesty, that the cutting down through the years doesn’t hurt me or sadden me at all any more. There are a few more itty-bitty cobwebs stuck in the corners of my mind! I’m getting there, that’s all I can say.

Fall On Your Knees and Grow There

At this time, more than ever, we need prayers.

Quote Unquote

“The shortest distance between a problem and its solution is the distance between your knees and the floor. The one who kneels to God can stand up to anything.”-Unknown

“The word ‘Prarthana’ in Sanskrit is derived from two words – pra and artha meaning pleading fervently. In other words, it is asking God for something with intense yearning. Prayer includes respect, love, pleading and faith. Through prayer, a devotee expresses his helplessness and endows the doer-ship of the task to God. Giving the doer-ship to God means  that you acknowledge that God is helping you and getting the task done. Prayer is an important tool of spiritual practice in the path of devotion.” -Geeta Vasudevan

“Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility…

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Questions?!

 
“Albert grunted. “Do you know what happens to lads who ask too many questions? Mort thought for a moment. “No,” he said eventually,
“What?”
There was silence. Then Albert straightened up and said, “Damned if I know. Probably they get answers, and serve ’em right.” ~Terry Pratchett
 
 
As a mother of two, I had a lot of “why,” “but why,” “how,” “when,” “where,” “what,” coming at me at home. And at work, there was no respite; I was a teacher. I faced a barrage of questions on a daily basis and not all of them were related to academics. Add to those, the ones I asked myself every day. My replies were mostly direct answers to the question, but there were the occasional evasive, vague answers that weren’t outright lies, though, they skirted the truth.
 
 
There were the silent answers; the ones that come from a piercing stare or a blank look, and some were convoluted explanations. There were also the “I don’t know now, but I’ll let you know,” frank admissions.
 
 
Questions need answers and not every answer is satisfactory or enlightening. People might say: “Give me an honest answer.” But often, an honest answer is not what they want to hear or it might be they are not quite mature to understand the truth. And then, there are the questions that we don’t answer because to do so would be more painful for us than for the questioner.
 
 
This brings to mind some situations which occurred and raised many questions in my mind.
 
 
Way back, in early 2000, I was a member of a well-known NGO in New Delhi, and also a member on one of their boards. It dealt with urban development: the development of street kids and the women and children in the slums of the city. One of the things the NGO undertook was rescuing women and girls from brothels and from domestic sexual abuse.
 
 
They had a shelter where these rescued girls and women were put up, but the longest period of an individual’s stay was fourteen days. After that, if their families didn’t accept them, or the NGO couldn’t rehabilitate them into society through jobs and secure boarding-lodging, they were removed to government shelters where, sad to say, their fate was no better than their previous life.
 
 
One day, one of the women, who had been rescued from a brothel, asked to meet us. She was one of those who could not get a job. One of the board members had assured the woman that she would find her a job as a domestic help. Unfortunately, the board member’s efforts bore no fruit. When the woman came in, the member spoke to her and apologized profusely.
 
 
The woman heard her out and then said, “Madam, tum mujhe kaamwali rakh lo apne ghar mein.” (Trans: Madam, you employ me as a domestic help in your house.”)
 
 
The lady was taken aback but she had to reply. We were the benevolent group who rescued women from abuse, and here was one of those unfortunate ones asking one of us to employ her. And, it was obvious the woman was waiting for an answer.
 
 
“Mere ghar mein already kaamwali hai, nahin toh main zaroor rakh leti.” she said. (Trans: I already have a domestic help otherwise I would have definitely kept you.)
 
 
If we thought that explained everything and closed the conversation, we had another thought coming. The woman wasn’t in the mood to let it go.
 
 
“Jo aurat tumhare ghar mein hai, usko kahin aur bhi naukari mil jayegi. Kaamwali ka bahut demand hai. Usko jaane do na. Mere ko rakh lo,” she suggested. (Trans: The woman working in your house will get another job. There’s a big demand for domestic help. Let her go and keep me.)
 
 
The lady member was cornered. We all turned to look at her wondering what she would say. The silence and discomfort was palpable. One of the ladies came to her rescue and explained to the woman that it would not be a practical thing to do and neither the right thing to do to the other worker.
 
 
We didn’t expect the tirade and the depth of anguish and desperation with which the woman poured out her feelings.
 
 
“Mere ko wahan se nikala, kya woh theek tha? she said wagging her finger at the lady. 
“Mai kamati thi, khati thi.
Ab mere ko naukari nahin, paisa nahin, yahan rehne ko nahin.
Yahan main theek hun, koi khatra nahin.
Par tum log yahan se bhi nikal rahi ho.
Jahan bhejti ho wahan bhi mera wahi hoga jo pehle ho raha tha.
Kya achcha kiya tum madam log ne?
Mere ko bachaya bola.
Ek se bachaya, doosre ko phenk diya.”
 
(Trans: You took me out of there, was that right? I was earning, eating. Now, I have no job, no money. I can’t stay here. I am fine here. I have nothing to fear. But you are sending me out of here. Where you are sending me, my fate will be the same as before. What good did you madams do? You claim to have saved me. You saved me from one to throw me to another.)
 
 
Randomly, she singled me out, and directed her question to me.
 
 
“Kyun madam, tum mere ko rakhlo.” (Trans: Why don’t you employ me, madam?)
 
 
My answer was a negative nod. She burst into raucous laughter. She wasn’t done with us.
 
 
“Ek last sawal puchegi tum madam log se. Mere ko kyun nahin kaamwali rakhti ho apne ghar mein? Doosre log se bolti ho isko rakho, lekin apne ghar mein nahin. Kyun madam?”
 
(Trans: I’ll ask one last question of all you madams. Why don’t you keep me as a domestic help in your homes? You ask others to employ me but you won’t employ me. Why madam?)
 
 
Before we could react, she had turned on her heel and walked out the door with her head held high.
 
Immediately, the members began defending and justifying their stand to each other. It didn’t matter to any one in the room what the other said. The person to whom it mattered had left the room.
 
 Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no fibs. ~ Oliver Goldsmith, She stoops To Conquer         
 
 
And more recently, four years back, in Chile, I was asked one of these don’t-want-to-answer type of questions by the grand kids’ nanny.
 
 
I was watching an old Hindi movie and Helen was dancing, as usual, a cabaret dancer, and she was such an elegant dancer and beautiful to boot. I loved watching her. There was nothing vulgar about her moves, or expressions. The nanny was surprised to see an Indian actress of the yester- years dancing with skimpy clothes.
 
 
The conversation veered to this type of professional dancing in India, and if it was a popular profession. I told her that these kinds of dancers are not considered ‘respectable’ by Indian society and so it wasn’t a chosen profession by ‘respectable’ girls. She was appalled.
 
 
“We have so many dancers here. I know a girl who is a pole dancer. These girls are just doing a job. Our society doesn’t look down on them. It is their livelihood,” she informed me.
 
 
I didn’t want to tell her that there was a section of Chilean society who didn’t think this kind of professional dancing was a profession to aspire to. It wouldn’t go down well with her, and I certainly didn’t wish to get into a useless debate with her. She was the argumentative kind and a proud woman.
 
 
Instead, I said, “But there are so many other jobs they could do.”
 
 
“But Senora, what if they don’t get any other job? What if they are single mothers? It is possible they are not educated enough or can’t do any other work. Many jobs have long hours and very low pay. How will she support herself and her child?”
 
 
I couldn’t argue with that and honestly didn’t want to either. I spoke to her about social taboos, and then summed up with the ‘every society has its own values and social norms’ talk. It was good, I said, that her society believed in the dignity of labor to that extent. Ours, unfortunately, didn’t even believe in the dignity of labor. She didn’t quite get that and I didn’t elaborate.
 
 
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that as a domestic help in her country, she enjoyed better pay, respect, and many liberties in her employer’s home than her counterparts did in India.
 
 
She shook her head in disapproval. Then she said: “I have a question.”
 
 
I told her to go ahead and ask.
 
 
She walked over to where I was sitting and looked directly at me and said, “I can understand that customs, traditions are different. But I am asking you if you too think these women are not respectable? Do you think that doing a pole dance in a bar is a bad thing?”
 
 
“Put in the scenario you described earlier, no, I don’t think I do.” I thought it was over but I had another Q coming at me.
 
 
“Would you be friends with a pole dancer in your country?” She waited for an answer.
 
 
Little did she know that being “friends” with a pole dancer was not even something we dared to imagine, not even in a middle-class society. And for some utterly comical reason, I tried to imagine myself going for a walk, eating at a restaurant, and even inviting a pole dancer friend to a house party! I saw my mother’s gaping jaw, my father’s grim face, and the rest of the family’s faces…It was so ludicrous, I laughed. She looked puzzled, not comprehending what was so funny about her question.
 
 
I was thinking hard; trying to choose my words; frame my sentences in a way that wouldn’t offend her sensibilities. But I guess what I was really doing was trying to find a way to wiggle out of answering her. She didn’t shift her gaze and waited patiently. I knew I had to say something. So I countered with another question.
 
 
“If you treated your dancer friend the way she would be treated by society in India, how would it be?”
 
 
Her answer was prompt. She replied she could never do that. I prodded her. Why couldn’t she do that?
 
 
“I would be treated badly by everyone, friends and family, if I did. Even my children would be annoyed with me. I would be ostracized by my society.”
 
 
“Well, senora, that’s exactly why I would not be able to be friends with a pole dancer in my country.” I was glad she didn’t ask if I would befriend one in her country!
 
 
I managed to get out of that one by making society the villain.
 
 
“Which would you rather be if you had the choice–divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?”
― L.M. Montgomery
 
 
But Q&As can be fun too…and some more so on hindsight
 
 
The most amusing Q&As were the ones that transpired between Mummy and I. As a kid, and a rather tomboyish one who got into all kinds of scraps and fights, I faced a lot of questions. I dreaded the questions my mother would ask. Not because I was scared, but because it was tedious. I found her questions wrong; she found my answers false!
 
 
She’d see a bruise or a wound on some part of my body and along with the first aid, the questions would start. Here’s an example of one of our question-answer dialogues after I took on an older boy who was in a fight with my brother. I was not invited to the fight, I just jumped in!
 
 
“Who did you fight with?
 
“No one. Someone fought with me.”
 
“Don’t lie to me. You must have hit first.”
 
“Um…I did hit him first, but I didn’t start the fight.”
 
“You struck first, you started the fight.”
 
“Why do you say that?” It was my turn to ask.
 
“Why else would someone fight with you? You hit a person, the person will retaliate.”
 
It didn’t make sense to me.
 
“Why would I hit someone just like that? There has to be a reason for me to fight.”
 
“Why do you have to fight? You play with your brother’s friends and act like a boy.” I didn’t get an answer to my question and the conversation veered off-course.
 
“Boys also don’t fight without a reason. And, I didn’t start the fight.” I emphasized.
 
“Stop lying. You know what happens to children who lie?”
 
“Yes, they get punished by their parents and by God also.”
 
“So say ‘Sorry’ now.”
 
“To whom? I am not lying.”
 
“But you fought, yes? I nod in agreement. “That is also wrong. So say sorry.”
 
“OK. Sorry Mummy.”
 
“Good girl.”
 
“Mummy, what is retaliate?”
 
“It means to fight back. To give tit for tat.”
 
“That’s what I did.” I said triumphantly.
 
She gave me a look and I ran off.
 
 
My conversations with Mummy were always like this and even when I grew older, I still couldn’t get her logic. But I enjoyed sparring with her, and I’m sure she did too!
 

To My Father…

They say that daughters are always daddy’s darlings. It wouldn’t be right to make such a broad generalization, though, because we know that, that isn’t always the way it is. Not to go off on a tangent pursuing that subject, I’ll just say, I was definitely Daddy’s pet. It’s been a hundred years since he died…allow me the hyperbole…I’m really missing him as I always do but especially on Father’s Day.

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In our day, way back in the 60s – 80’s, in my country, we never observed ‘Father’s Day’ or any of these now popularized and commercialized “Days.” So there was only his Birthday which was, in a way, Father’s Day for us. Now Daddy never made much of his birthday, he wouldn’t invite friends over or want much of a fuss. He wasn’t given to showing emotions. He was the stiff upper lip kind of man for most of his life. I only saw a chink in his armor a year or so before he died.

No, no, I’m not going to say he began hugging his kids or gave in to tears or anything like that. He just allowed himself to speak with more emotion; show regret, sadness, longing not only in his voice but in his eyes as well. These were the emotions he never permitted himself to show earlier…for the greater part of his life.

He had a commanding personality. “Tall, dark, and handsome” in his youth, he retained his handsomeness even with his shock of thick, white, wavy hair through to his early ’80s, when he passed away.

As a boy and through his youth, he had a fiery temper which could become volatile, depending on who did what or what was said or done or not said and not done, but that had simmered down to resignation with the growing years.

He was a man of contrasts.

He also had a happy disposition. He enjoyed a good joke and was a great storyteller. He could add humor to his tales without effort or addition, solely by altering his tone and bringing in nuances that made it funny. He loved to recite poetry, write couplets (in Farsi/Urdu).

He had a good singing voice but rarely sang. He used to play the harmonium and sing when the mood took over. He loved to play the ‘tabla’ on the table or any surface that provided a firm base when he heard some good songs or music.

He loved taking us on picnics. His picnics could also mean driving miles out of our city to some picturesque spot in another town or city. We’ve been on some ‘picnics’ to Agra from Delhi. Our picnic spot: in the gardens of the Taj! And at that time in the 60s, the roads weren’t as they might be today! It was a whole day program. We’d get back at night! Otherwise, we’d be picnicking at the numerous spots in Delhi. In later years, we’d be joining him on fishing-picnics! He and my brother would be fishing and we’d have a great time with our picnic by a river.

He was passionate about learning, teaching, preaching the Bible. He was an excellent orator and it was a pleasure to hear him preach at conventions or in the church. 

He had a flamboyant disregard for conventional things; social courtesies, customs, and such. But he was strict about table manners. It goes without saying, I, the youngest would invariably be checked for reaching across the next person’s plate for a dish or something.

“Ask for the dish to be given to you or ask Mummy to serve you.”  I’d quickly comply.

But then, I’d go again with – “Give me the dish of (whatever).” There’d be a super quick, gentle reprimand.

Please, pass me the dish of (whatever).”

I’d do as told. Take the dish, happy to finally be able to get food on my plate. But that joy and hunger would be put on hold for another minute!

“Thank you!”

“Oh, I forgot!” I’d say a quick ‘thank you’ and finally dig in. 

But that wasn’t my only ‘bad table manners’. It constituted much more… ‘don’t put your elbows on the table,’ ‘don’t talk with your mouth full,’ ‘don’t battle with your fork and spoon (or knife). Cut down the clatter!’ ‘don’t swing your legs under the table’ (this one was really bad because I’d be totally oblivious that I was either kicking someone’s knees on the other side or at the least, brushing them with my feet.

That paragraph may sound as if I had a bad time at the table… on the contrary, I had a great time at family meals. These corrections were taken well. I knew I was overlooking the rules. But I was so focussed on enjoying my food and sitting and talking, around the table, with the family, (sobremesa), I hopped-skipped-and-jumped over all the etiquette that was expected at the table.

Even today, when I look back, I love the memories. I also am glad someone took the pains to teach me. Day after day, very patiently, Daddy would check me gently about something I said or something I did that could have been done differently and properly. Most of these would be on how to respond to Mummy’s disciplinary actions! He’d repeat the same things, kindly and softly, to remind me. He knew me very well and he understood that I wasn’t flouting the rules in defiance or rebellion. He also knew that his gentle correction would imprint on my young mind lessons for life. He remained my guide, mentor, and confidante, even when I was a mom myself.

He wasn’t known to write letters to anyone unless necessary. But, I received his letters quite often when I married and moved to another state. I would be thrilled to see his almost illegible (but neat) handwriting on the familiar inland letter he used when he wrote letters. Mummy would use letter paper and envelopes!

There’s so much I’ve profited by having such a father. I would have failed miserably in the biggest test of strength and courage I faced in my life if I didn’t have his teaching to fall back on. I fell many times, but each time his words, lessons would pick me up, give me strength, build up my flagging faith in God, and set me on my way. His counsel to “trust in the Lord, and don’t despair, he is a Friend so true, no matter what your troubles are Jesus will see you through,” has brought me thus far safe and sound. I am blessed to have had him as my ‘Daddy!’

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On this Father’s Day, I celebrate my guide, my mentor, my strength… Daddy, you were the best dad, and I thank God you were mine!

 

 

Why Stories?

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“Reports convey information. Stories create experience. Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space, and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there.” ~Roy Peter Clark

A Tool: Stories as illustrations to drive a point home are important tools. They make it easier for people to understand the message and are more interesting, so they’re remembered better. They can be used for simple or complex issues and are effective in bringing about behavioral change or in highlighting social and environmental issues too.

As a tool, such illustrations can engage people in a manner that drives belief and goes deep into their minds and hearts. People are more likely to recall points of information or lessons when it is given to them in the form of stories. 

Recall: It is easier for the audience to recall the events and other details in a story. They can draw parallels to the experiences in the story to what they are experiencing, or have experienced themselves.

Relatable: An illustration, in a story form, about individuals or about similar situations and circumstances an audience can relate to has a great impact. If people can identify with the events in the story or the characters – their experiences, values, culture, socioeconomic status, social norms, geographic locations, then the story becomes their own. So the message becomes more powerful and influences their beliefs and future behavior, bringing about the desired changes for the better. So stories are effective in bringing about changes in individuals and in social groups.

Jesus preached through parables. 

Parables: (a usually short fictitious story on a simple, common subject that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle).

Even Jesus used stories to teach spiritual lessons. He simplified profound spiritual truths and wove them into parables or stories that were relatable.

Mathew 13:1-15 (The MSG)

 1-3. At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.

3-8. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up, it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

9. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

WHY TELL STORIES? 

10. The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

11-15. He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state, they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.

Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.

The people are blockheads!

They stick their fingers in their ears

so they won’t have to listen;

They screw their eyes shut

so they won’t have to look,

so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face

and let me heal them.”

 

Metaphors, Allegory – Putting it together: In the parables, we can see that it is up to the listener to put two and two together and read into the hidden meaning of the story. These illustrations leave space for the readers or listeners to piece the story together.

Think of some moral stories – or a great movie or book you’ve liked, the moral of the story, most times, is not explicitly stated. It is shown through the experiences of the characters, and the scenarios.

Visual Language: The best illustrations paint images in the listeners’ minds. As in this story of Eeyore and Pooh, the narrative creates vivid pictures in the mind and it also makes the situations and characters relatable.

The Compassionate heart

Many of you would have read Winnie the Pooh stories. So here’s one with relatable situations and characters. Pooh is an adorable bear. In this story, however, a side of his nature, that he’s unaware of has been highlighted.

In one story Pooh is walking along a riverbank.

Eeyore, his stuffed donkey friend, suddenly comes floating downstream, on his back, and he appears quite worried about the possibility of drowning.

Pooh sees him, but is obviously unperturbed and calmly asks if Eeyore had fallen into the river.

Trying to appear calm, the miserable donkey answers, “Silly of me, wasn’t it?”

Pooh fails to respond to the pleading in Eeyore’s eyes.

Instead, he admonishes Eeyore saying that he should have been more careful.

Eeyore, though desperately needing action more than advice, politely thanks him for the advice.

Pooh, still persists in talk rather than action. He points out, “I think you are sinking.”

The drowning Eeyore sees this as a hint of help and asks Pooh if he would mind rescuing him.

So, Pooh pulls him out of the river.

Eeyore humbly apologizes for being such a bother.

Pooh, still apparently not shaken by his friend’s predicament, courteously responds, “Don’t be silly…you should have said something sooner.”

Isn’t this situation relatable? Do you see yourself in that story? Do you, at times, react like Pooh did when someone is in need?

Do you start to point out the obvious, “Looks like you are sinking…you should have been more careful!” at a time when your first response should be action- help?  

Do you wait for others to beg you for help?

Is your attitude reflected in this response… 

“So, you’ve got problems? Well, so does everyone else. Suck it up!”

Does that sound like the right attitude to you? Would you like to hear that from a friend when you are in a tough situation and in desperate need of help?

Being in a bad situation like Eeyore is what most would have been in at some time: drowning in debt, worries, anxiety, medical bills, ill-health, loneliness…  And having a friend like Pooh, who points out what’s obvious and gives you advice on what you should have or should not have done, instead of offering help, is a side of Pooh’s behavior that many might relate to, as well.

On the other hand, many would find themselves in Pooh’s reluctance to help until help is asked of him, even though he knows his friend needs his help, wants his help. It holds up a mirror to those who relate to that role in the story. It brings us to realization, introspection, and correction; a change in attitude.

Stories that use narrative techniques turn the printed descriptions into pictures. They create vivid imagery that transforms into “moving pictures” in the minds of the readers.

Stories that are written and narrated well, using visual language, bring the problems/moral points clearly into focus, and it also gives the possible solutions. It pushes the mind to think about whatever they are experiencing and to change that which needs to be changed.

Visual language takes an abstract concept and makes it tangible by creating a train of visuals – picture after picture in the minds of the audience. One of the most impactful uses of this technique has been the way Martin Luther King, Jr created visuals of what ‘Freedom’ would look like in real terms.

He drew a visual of an abstract term and made it tangible: “…One day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers…” and “…on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The visuals allowed people to imagine what a fair, nondiscriminatory world would look like. What freedom would look like for them!

Illustrations of Creativity. Radical Methods.

A pastor was walking along a river one day when he came across some boys who were fishing. But this was no ordinary way of fishing, because to the surprise of the onlooker, they were casting a tire into the water. The result? They were hauling the fish in by the bucketload! As he started walking away the Lord seemed to say to him, “It’s radical methods of fishing that will catch souls.”

This illustration is inspiring. The lesson is quite clear here. One doesn’t always have to stick to one way of doing things. One can be innovative and use what’s available to get the best results. You learn how to see the possibilities in things and in methods of doing things differently.

A truck driver thought that he’d take a short-cut. He came to a bridge. But his truck was slightly higher than the bridge clearance above the road. This caused a traffic jam. With traffic stopped, engineers were called to work out how to remove the jammed truck and minimize further damage to the bridge.

A little girl in the traffic jam wound down her window and simply said:

“Try letting the air out of the tires.”

Well, it worked, and we can see from this simple story an illustration of how a radical solution can help solve a problem.

While we were in school and even later when I started teaching, there would be a “Moral Science” class for primary classes up to grade 8, which used to be the 1st class of the day. In Catholic schools, this would be a Catechism class for the Catholic kids, while the others had Moral Science. All the Moral Science lessons were in story form. There were illustrations on honesty, discipline, bravery, kindness, thoughtfulness, sharing, and caring… about patriotism, loyalty, community building, and there were stories on the negative fallout of doing things that were destructive. It is easier for kids to remember details and lessons when they are presented as a story.

No wonder we had stories, with a moral, when we were kids. I grew up on Aesop’s Fables and other similar stories. Sunday School provided a lot of spiritual lessons through stories, as well.

Illustrations, as examples, are indeed an important tool to help readers or listeners connect the dots. They augment the discipline of research and study. Illustrations help the audience to understand abstract concepts or deep philosophical and spiritual thoughts. If one must get one’s message across in a way that is understood and effective in bringing about a change for the better, it serves to use illustrations and examples in your writings, lectures, sermons, classes for better impact and better understanding.   

 

 

I Got Mail – Jacqueline Kennedy Replies

During my big moves from one country to another, thrice, I gave away, sold quite a lot of my personal belongings, and also lost quite a bit. No, not because of lost baggage, that’s not happened yet, thankfully. It was through leaving behind, in safekeeping, some of the stuff that I cherished and valued. All that just disappeared. When I asked for it, they said they didn’t know where it was! Without going into too many details, let’s just say I resigned myself to the loss, and after a few more queries off and on, I accepted the fact that I had lost my precious things. The most precious among those were all my photographs! Heaps of loose ones and many in the albums. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not a pity party, I just wanted to show how thrilled I was to discover two very old envelops among some of my original documents. They happened to be two replies from Jacqueline Kennedy (on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy!) to two of my letters sent to her. Why did I write to her?

Honestly, it was only because I was moved by the assassination of JFK and the pictures I saw of a bereaved Jackie and the two little children. I couldn’t care less that he was the President or what the implication and situation of this unforeseen incident would be. I was just 8 years old when I wrote that first letter of condolence!

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This was the first reply that arrived almost 4 months later. 

The memory of that morning, when the news flashed across the world, is tinged with humor because of my reaction. I can clearly recall how Daddy read the headlines and exclaimed, “Oh no! They shot him!”

I dashed to the room in consternation and dread not knowing who had been shot. The memory of my uncle getting shot in a hunting accident popped into my mind.

“Who? Who Daddy? Who got shot?” 

“Kennedy. John Kennedy. They assassinated him,” he said crestfallen and obviously emotional. That was something we never saw. He wasn’t a man who showed his softer emotions. 

I thought John Kennedy was a fellow officer in the Navy, or then one of our neighbors in the Defence Officers residences.

“How do you know? Did you see it?”

“Everyone’s shocked,” said Mummy, “you can see people outside talking about it.”

“Did you see him, Mummy?”

“Yes,” she said and went off to see to whatever it was she was doing. 

I dashed to the balcony behind and leaned over to see… but I saw nothing that I thought I would see. I had expected to see a body and… well, you see, I was an over-imaginative little girl, all excited about a shooting, and I had these pictures in my mind of one of those cowboy movie scenes. I guess I expected to see Kennedy sprawled on the street with a bullet hole in his head, dead center!

“Where’s Kennedy? There’s no one outside except Major K and Squadron Leader G and some others I don’t know,” I was disappointed. “You said you saw Kennedy, Mummy, you said you did.”

She burst out laughing. “I was talking about the pictures in the newspaper. Kennedy is the president of America.”

“I want to see them too.”

I walked away and saw the newspaper photos. I was disappointed! Nothing as dramatic to see as I had imagined.

Later, Daddy called me and sat me down. I heard how he was shot and that his wife was sitting beside him when it happened. He explained who a President of a country is; and how important the President of America is, and he showed me the pics of the children and spoke about how small they were and how sad it was that they should lose their Daddy so early. Then he showed me Jacqueline’s photograph. JFK’s pics. I fell in love with both of them.

“She’s so pretty. And he’s so handsome.”

And automatically, the drama was created. From cowboys to fairy tales my mind conjured up a tragedy… I felt really sad. I was heartbroken for her and her lovely kids.

I opened my heart and spoke about my feelings and Daddy listened quietly. I have no recollection of what my 8-year-old mind was thinking and expressing, but I do still recall how my heart was aching for them.

Finally, when I was spent, it took a day or two, Daddy asked me if I would like to write Mrs. Kennedy a letter, “Let her know how sorry you are for her and her children’s loss,” he said.

And that’s how I wrote a two-page (notebook pages) letter to her. I introduced myself first and then went on to say how sorry I was to hear about her loss. I showed it to my father, who read it, said it was very nicely written and then, without any editing or corrections, he sent it off. The letter had a long way to travel and in those days, it took anything between 3-4 months to reach an overseas destination.

Expressing my grief in writing was cathartic. I guess that is why my father had suggested I do it. I soon forgot about the letter until one day, they handed me an envelope with Mrs. Kennedy’s name on it. I was ecstatic. Not even in my wildest dreams did I expect anyone from there to respond to an 8-year-old’s scribbled condolences. But, they did. I held the black-rimmed card in my hand unbelieving that it was actually a letter addressed to me on her behalf.

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It didn’t matter to me that it was one of the hundreds that must have been sent out all over the world. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t written it or that she wouldn’t have even read my letter. Yes, Daddy explained that to me. I understood that she couldn’t have done it herself. Besides, “she must be so sad,” I thought.

That letter addressed to ME was satisfying. And that it came in response to mine, was even more gratifying. After all, I was just a little girl who didn’t even know what the president of a country meant. It was just the horror of the assassination and the genuine sadness that I felt and in some way understood. I felt a deep sympathy for them.

The incident was soon forgotten as many other things occupied and hogged the attention of this 8-year-old. We changed residence and I had to make new friends, get used to using the school bus, and also the new class in the new session. Time went by and soon it was nearing Christmas. As I made a list for Santa Claus, I thought about the Kennedy kids. Would they be making lists for Santa? Would they be celebrating Christmas?

In our society, usually, festivals aren’t celebrated if a death occurs in the family during that year. I was sad once again for the Kennedy family! So, I wrote another letter and handed it to Daddy. He read it and nodded his head in approval. “Is it ok to write a letter now? Will they read it?” I wasn’t sure if it was the thing to do. I just wanted to share their sorrow. Anyway, my father thought it was the right thing to do and sent this one too on its way.

I forgot about it. The months passed. And once again, I was surprised by a familiar envelope. This time around, I didn’t even harbor a sliver of hope for a response. My letter had been just a letter of love, hope, and caring. Something one would write to a friend or family. Who was I? Just a 9-yr-old girl from faraway India. But, they did reply on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy.

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This time receiving a reply taught me something. Courtesy, formal etiquette, and consideration. My letter could have been ignored or worse not considered worthy of a reply. Another thing I noticed was that each envelope was addressed by hand and the thought of the sheer numbers of envelopes that had to have addresses written on them zapped me. Some effort! This time around, it wasn’t a black-rimmed (mourning) letter paper.  

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I’ve carried these around with me for 55+ years! Every time I look at them, I wonder at the little girl who felt so deeply for the tragic loss of this family and expressed it of her own accord. It surprises me more because I was a shy girl. I wasn’t outgoing nor so open with my emotions with strangers or extended family. I could be open and free only with my immediate family. So, yes, it was a hidden part of me that released itself much, much later in life… some decades later! #oldletters #memorabilia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Home Schooling

It’s been some time since the lockdown, and homeschooling is on in our home as it is in homes across the globe. With a WFH schedule for the adults, schooling three kids with ages ranging from 10+ to 3+, it’s quite a challenge. Add to that some activities to keep them engaged, entertained, engrossed, and not 24×7 on the iPad or iPhone (10+ girl), or watching TV!

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5-yr-old M did a great job in this fill-in-the-blanks test! She did it in a jiffy too! Now, she’s keen to move on to the table of 3.

Then, of course, there’s the looming threat of a hangry’ outburst. They need food to chew on (perpetually) before they bite off each other’s heads! So I dash to the kitchen, my head in a swirl. Peanut butter sandwich…as I spread the butter I re-run a passage I was working on…editing… “that part needs a rewrite”… “What could be a better word for…” I switch channels and get back to the food one… ok, a ham and marmalade one too…and what did Z want? And these are only the in-betweens, there’s lunch beeping, “what’s for lunch?” in another corner of my head!

Keeping their hunger pangs down with this, that, or the other something light they can snack on between meals, without losing their appetite for a proper meal is a daily challenge. There are days when I’m just a breath away from climbing the walls. I let off steam by deep breathing and muttering mantras (I’m doing good. I’ve got it under control. I can do it. I’m patient…) under my breath so they can’t hear, and I do the best I can. 

We’re all trying to do the best we can! These little ones must find it even harder to adjust to being locked in, away from friends, and school with its activities and community. This thought helps me to rein in the frustration and sail on even keel even in choppy waters. But I have my human frailties and limitations too. So I need to accept and acknowledge my feelings of inadequacy that overcome me, at times, and the fatigue, both mental and physical.

I love having the kids around. I am closer to them and am a part of their life more than ever now. We share so much more… conversations, jokes, games, and camaraderie! And I do love doing their lessons with them and teaching them some new things too.

This brings me to the subject of this post… Math… the bane of my life 🙂

I’ve been getting 5 yr-old M to do single-digit addition sums and made a small step into single-digit subtraction. She’s learned her two tables and can max her revision tests: oral and written. Just the other day, I gave her a written test with blanks and she did very well: All correct answers!

As I watched her excited and loving her numbers; sums, tables, and tests, I thought of a 6-7-yr-old me and how I disliked arithmetic. And how tables tripped me up when I was quizzed in an oral test! As she rattled out her answers in her oral test, I compared it to the picture of me and my orals in the same two-three tables. It was funny and I found myself laughing. It was such a contrast in every way – the teachers (me Vs my mum), the students (me Vs M), and the love of the subject (me Vs M).

A foray into my journals threw up this short entry:

Two times Nine is…..umm…is…er…

I think I should add a few incidents with Mummy. Daddy’s been hogging all the space till now. Not that there’s much that transpired with her and me together…..I was always a Daddy’s girl…a tomboy. Anyway, Mummy was (as all mummies were in their homes) my teacher at home. Very bad really, for me, when it came to Arithmetic because she was short on patience and I was short on memory, especially when it came to multiplication Tables. By the end of an interminably long study hour, I’d manage to finally get through one Table and escape.

Oh yes! Escape it was. For my face, which would be burning with the tight slaps she’d land so precisely on my small cheeks, and the small palms that got whacked with a ruler, or my legs that got thwacked with a ladle or whatever was in her hands. Getting away was the greatest relief of the day.

Poor thing, she must have been relieved too! When I think back to the almost stupid way I’d stare at her, while I stumbled and hemmed and hawed my way through the same old Table day after day, my heart goes out to her…..any one would go crazy. So I had to find a method to remember my Multiplication Tables and avoid being slapped. And what a way I devised!!

I’d generally wait till she was in the kitchen instructing the cook and doing odds and ends. I would stand against the door jamb, in the pantry, and my elder brother would stand behind me hidden from her view. Then I’d very quickly and very loudly say the whole Table and hey, without a mistake! Jasper’s prompting got me a lot of praise and shorter study hours, till the day she decided to quiz me. My prompter failed me. Ah! It was back to the grind and a good slapathon and copious tears.

I couldn’t get why she got so impatient and exasperated. She, I guess, couldn’t understand why her bright daughter, good in all other subjects, cultural activities, sports, and discipline was so daft with numbers.

The slapping didn’t last long, though. I sobbed my heart out sitting on Daddy’s lap and convinced him that I was scared of her punishments and so I couldn’t remember anything. He must have spoken to her. She must have understood or found it a huge relief that she was off the hook if I didn’t fare well in the exam 🙂 Whatever, the punishment went back to a longer study hour or Time Out. Grounded. No playing outside with my friends or even my brother. I didn’t mind that because my brother and I found enough of recreation and fun things to do inside the house too.

My grandkids, four of them from 5-10-year-old, are good with numbers… brilliant, in fact! For some reason, that makes me happy!

PS: I still dislike Math! And I’m totally against slapping!

PPS: Just for the record:

1. Mummy was an awesome teacher in everything else. I’ve learned a lot from her. Her love of writing poems, rhymes instilled a love for words and writing. Her expertise in cooking. Her energy and spirit in tough times. Her resourcefulness. Her talent in singing (she sang alto), sewing, and embroidery. Her jovial nature and the laughter that always hovered behind her lips. Her helpful nature. There was so much I had to take away from her to build up my strengths. Her presence, in the house, meant a lot to me.

2. It was not considered as abuse, in India, in those days, to slap a kid and corporal punishment was allowed in schools too. And many kids, even girls, must have got a slap or two or three or more from their moms. Luckily, things have changed since our days.