Miriam James

zara-walker-58207-unsplash

Miriam was born in 1900, in a small town in Punjab. Her mother, a widow, had converted to Christianity before her birth. I do not recall her mother’s name, but since Miriam went as Miriam Shaw, I guess I’ll just call her mother¬†Mrs. Shaw!

Mrs. Shaw must have been a forward-thinking woman, an exception in that era when girls, in India, in most cases, were not allowed a formal education. Although she was illiterate, she was intelligent. She had a family to support and while she wasn’t poor; she was not a lady of ample means either.

To augment her income, she lent out money; loaning money at a fixed interest. She kept meticulous accounts although she had never been to school. Miriam was fortunate to be born to such a woman.

Mrs. Shaw decided that her daughter would have a good education. She sent her to study at a boarding school in Andrew’s Ganj in Delhi. Miriam completed her Matriculation there. Having studied in Delhi, she learned English too. This was an asset as her children learned the language even though they studied in small town Government Schools in Punjab.

Miriam’s education also served in getting her an educated husband. She married Bernard James, a teacher in a government school. Teachers, in those days, were highly respected members of society, especially in small towns. (And Bernard went on to become a senior teacher).

Their position as teachers also ensured that their larders always overflowed with the offerings and gifts of grateful parents and students. It would have been very rude to refuse the gifts of grain, ghee (clarified butter), fruit, farm-fresh vegetables which they brought to the home of the teacher. This was¬†“Guru Dakshina,” a¬†gift of gratitude from a student to a teacher and not a bribe for favors of any kind. It was unthinkable to attribute any such base motive to these gifts.

Miriam and Bernard had ten children; five boys and five girls. Owing to her mother’s precedent of not discriminating against the girl child, all of Miriam’s daughters had a sound education too along with their brothers.¬†The eldest daughter joined the Army; Women’s Auxiliary Corps – India (WACI) in the forties. Two younger ones became teachers, and both retired as Headmistresses. One died young, and the fifth didn’t work opting to marry a Naval officer and be a housewife.

After Bernard became a senior teacher in the Government High School, he moved to Mission Schools. He rose to the post of Inspector of Schools (mission schools). Their second child, Jason, was my father.

Miriam was a woman of substance. She had grit, determination, strength, perseverance, and all this coupled with her pragmatism made her one formidable force. To understand how progressive she was and how adept at adapting, I will have to recount this story I would make her tell me over and over again when I was a little girl.

Grandpa would be out of town often when he was on an inspection tour. This left Grandma alone with the children, and not safe and secure as their house stood by an orchard on one side and fields on the other. Times were a-changing and petty crimes like thefts were on the rise. Grandpa had already dealt with a few attempts of thieves to scale the boundary wall on the orchard side. But Grandma didn’t scare easy. She didn’t fret and rose to the occasion.

To protect the home and family, she devised a plan to have Grandpa always at home! Since keeping him back physically was not possible, it had to be a ruse. Whenever he went on a tour, that night, Grandma would wear his¬†“pagri” (turban), light the “hookah” (hubble-bubble) and sit up through the night until daybreak, smoking the hookah.

She hoped that the glow¬†of the embers and the silhouette of a turbaned person would mislead¬†anyone peering over the wall into believing it was a man. However, one day, some daring men decided to take on the ‘lone man’. Bad idea!

Grandma, ever alert, heard¬†the sounds of furtive movement and whispered voices behind the wall. Thieves! Before they could get a hold on the top of the wall and heave themselves up, she was waiting and ready, armed with a big, thick¬†“lathi.” The moment the first head appeared over the edge of the wall, she struck with all her strength and let out a full-throttled war cry! This sudden, ferocious attack not only took the men by surprise but also woke up my father and his elder brother.

Although they were in their early teens, both were tall and had robust physiques. They were quick to gauge the scene. Both were on top of the wall in a jiffy with lathis (stout sticks used for self-defence in India) hurling warnings and threats of dire consequences at the retreating backs of the thieves.

There were two outcomes from this strategy: There were no more attempts at theft and, Grandma became a regular hookah smoker!

 

hookah-75728_640

This is an Arabic hookah and not the kind my grandparents smoked. Theirs had a clay cup for tobacco and a brass water compartment at the bottom to hold the water. I couldn’t find a pic of the ones that were in Punjab at the time.

 

From then on, it became a common sight to see her puffing away at her hubble-bubble, not only in the night but in broad daylight too. She and Grandpa always had their lighted hookah between them and would take puffs alternately while they chit-chatted or shared their silences. I had the privilege to see them like this when we moved from the city and returned to our town. I was just a girl, but it impacted me.

It was such a wonderful sight to see. So much of togetherness oozed out of these moments. That grandma never felt the need to smoke the hookah in hiding and indulged in her newly formed habit with undisguised enjoyment, speaks volumes about her zest for life.

In pre-independence, rural India, Miriam was a rare gem in her class.

‚ÄúTo all those who care,¬†You can’t forever.¬†
Time steals the years, And your reflection in the mirror.
But I can still see the story in your eyes, And your timeless passion that’s never died.
While your skin became tired, Your heart became strong,
The present became the past, And your memories like a song.
And though the moment at hand is all that we have, 
You’ve taught me to live it like it is our last.
Since two words don’t say ‚Äėthank you‚Äô the way they are meant to,
I’ll try all my life to be something like you.‚ÄĚ -Crystal Woods

 

bubble-49004_640

Advertisements

A Midnight Watch in Vi√Īa del Mar

road-2588726_640
She stood there, about two feet away from the curb, right on the road. I stood a few inches away from the window, partially hidden behind the curtain, and watched.
It was past midnight; half an hour past the witching hour. I had dozed through the serial I had running on my laptop, waking up in fits and starts, to reconnect with my longtime favorite character, DCI Tom Barnaby. He’s losing his hold on me it seems! I wouldn’t have dozed on a Barnaby serial two years back. Anyway, the murderer was found and another murder case solved in Midsomer by Barnaby, and it was time I dropped off to sleep.
As usual, I switched off the lights and went to draw the curtains a wee bit apart to allow light from the street to filter in. And as usual, I peeked into the street below my window.
It was a weekday, and I expected the street to be deserted, only this time I saw this young girl standing almost in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, trying to keep warm. It was a cold and windy night.
“Prostitute,” I pronounced.
I wondered why she was at this intersection. It wasn’t a section of the city frequented by streetwalkers. Besides, I didn’t think there would be much traffic down these roads so late into the night, in the middle of the week. But then I guess she knew better, and soon I did too, as the cars whizzed past.
On any other day, I would have forgotten about her before I reached my bed. But that night, sleepy as I was, I continued to stand and keep watch. There was something about her face and general appearance which caught my attention.
Our home stands at the corner of an intersection, so I had a good view of the four roads that diverged from there. And the streets are so brightly lit, I could see the girl clearly. She stood facing me and I noticed she did not dress¬†the way a woman in her profession does, neither was her face done up with heavy make-up; in fact, she wore almost no make-up: a light pinkish lipstick (no dark eyeshadow) and light make-up around her eyes. Her hair wasn’t curled, permed, frizzled or done up. It fell around her face, up to her shoulders. No unusual coloring; ordinary, everyday hair.
Her jewelry comprised a pair of modest danglers. Nothing about her: clothes, footwear, or hair was loud or garish. Her clothes were those of an office executive. She looked like one of the many smart, office executives who passed beneath my window every day. Her body language and posture did not support the stereotypical street-walker.
I do not know if it is politically right to say this, but then I’m not a politically right person most times. I had felt disgusted at the first fleeting sight of her. However, the initial revulsion I had felt when I first noticed her, dissipated. There was something about her that was so vulnerable. She seemed out of place in this scenario. Even when she stood and watched the cars whizzing past, and called out and waved to some who slowed down, she didn’t sound like the person I assumed she¬†was.
She was neither brash nor bold and didn’t look like a hooker; she didn’t sound like one either. This intrigued me because she was the antithesis of what I had read, heard, and seen of women who were streetwalkers.
Fifteen minutes passed. And then another five dragged by. I told myself I was being utterly stupid. At my age one doesn’t stand at a window, well past one’s bedtime, to surveil an unknown woman who knew what she was about. No amount of cajoling could coax my feet to walk away from my vantage point of observation to a decent night’s sleep. I had to watch, I wanted¬†to know more.
I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders, leaned against the glass pane, still hidden behind the curtains with a clear view of the girl.
I could tell that the night was getting colder. She stamped her feet; rubbed her hands to keep warm. Then she took out a packet of cigarettes from her coat pocket and lit up. She stood in one place, almost in the pathway of oncoming traffic. If it were daytime, she’d not be able to stand on the road without being run down or hauled away by the police.
Cars whizzed by. She stood and watched, turning to see if any stopped ahead. There were the cars with youngsters who shouted derogatory remarks and guffawed as they sped past her. She didn’t react. Her expression didn’t change. She maintained her emotionless demeanor. The only time a flicker of a smile played on her lips and her face lit up was when some cars slowed down as they approached her, some out of curiosity I suppose, most to avoid hitting her.
Then a car drove up right under my window. It stopped at the pedestrian crossing and I guess the driver gestured for her to come to him. She was like a child who’d been promised an ice-cream or chocolates or a day at the beach.
She ran across and this time she had a broad smile on her face. She was pretty, and young too. I could see her better where she stood, below my window, facing me, with the streetlight on the opposite side lighting up her face. 
Ah! Finally, she gets a customer; I thought¬†and didn’t like the way I thought¬†that. Don’t ask me why. I felt sad and sorry for her. There were many things going through my mind and it had all to do with how young and bright she appeared, and how sad that she was on the streets like this.
Anyway, I saw her talking to the person in the driving seat. Some words floated up through the quiet night. Negotiations, I announced to no one in particular. However, something wasn’t right. Her expressions and the way she spoke didn’t look like she was talking business. If I hadn’t been observing her, I’d have thought she was talking to someone she knew and exchanging small talk.
Then she made gestures and expressions that showed contriteness, helplessness, and if I’m not mistaken, she appeared ashamed… no, regretful! I realized the man in the car was in no mood to be a customer. He seemed to be talking to her about what she was doing and why. She wrung her hands, raised her shoulders in a sign of helplessness and slumped them in resignation. And I heard a lot of, “No Se√Īor. Si Se√Īor.”
It was a long, slow conversation of about five minutes, and she smiled a lot and nodded in agreement to whatever was being said. Then she stretched¬†out her hand to take something from the man, and I saw a packet. I thought, (awful of me) that’s a lot of money. “She’s a great negotiator!” I whispered with something like respect.
Then instead of getting into the vehicle, as I expected, she slipped something which looked more like money from under the packet and put it into her pocket. As she thanked the man, she took something from the packet and popped it into her mouth. She went chomp, chomp like a squirrel with a stuffed mouth.
The man drove off.
He had counseled her, in my over-positive opinion, handed her some money and a tit-bit to munch on. What! Can this be happening! I was totally awestruck. What a man! 
The girl finished what she was eating and stood for a while. Then she saw headlights approaching and sprinted right into the middle of the road, in front of the approaching car, waving both her arms wildly. What now, I thought, with bated breath.
This was so unlike her… since I had been observing her for some time, it surprised me. This was like a serial unfolding before my eyes. The car slowed, swerved but didn’t stop. She ran alongside a few paces, saying something to the driver. Then gave up as the driver sped up. She stood looking after it.
A few yards up, the car stopped. She ran down the road. I couldn’t see much of what was going on, I couldn’t make out her expressions or words. But I saw the door opening and the girl getting in. And then she was gone. “She’s taking a lift home,” I said with¬†relief. I wanted a good ending. I wanted a hopeful ending. Whatever my mind said to the contrary, my heart said: she went home.
I like to think the sudden, wild burst of energy and emotion had something to do with her encounter with the previous gentleman. I also like to think that she hadn’t been putting on an act for the kind man. I want to believe that one act of compassion had taken a young girl off the street for one night at least. I want to believe that goodness, kindness, and compassion still roam around the streets and linger around the corner, waiting to help someone.

And then we Laughed!

I was listless and well, yes, bored and also aching to write something but of all the million topics that buzzed in my head, not even one appealed to me in this mood.

So I went through my cache of photographs and illustrated quotes. One jumped at me and made me smile…a broad smile that raised my cheek muscles and my spirits.

1294364_519239651498077_1390308621_o

It’s one I designed a long, long time ago with pictures of my family – their broad grins held their mirth over the years and kindled my sagging spirits. I come from a family that laughs a lot…jokes…and teases. And I have this gift of being able to laugh even in the face of my biggest challenges and pains. I’m not saying I¬†don’t feel the pressure; the stress,¬†disappointments, pain or even anger. I do.

“I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.” ‚ÄĒ Viktor Frankl

However, through it all, I find the little moments of humor. Small things: the way I said, did or reacted to something or someone. The manner in which something occurred. Mostly, it’s in my situation and my responses. I see the brighter side, I see the worst that did not happen. I laugh and make others laugh with me.

When I feel immense pain… emotional or physical, I find something funny about something {even in the situation!} and lighten the burden.

I recall how many years back we, as a family, had gathered at my eldest sister’s place for the funeral of her elder son. He was a young Captain in the Army and had been killed fighting insurgents in a trouble-torn area of the country. We were weighed down with immense grief. Each one had their own pain and was trying hard to lend moral support to the parents and the brother of our hero.

He was given a martyr’s funeral with full military honor. Flag-draped coffin, gun salute… a funeral service conducted by the bishop and a large turn out of people {we didn’t even know}, journalists from newspapers and TV channels. Afterwards, we returned exhausted; emotionally and physically spent. The shock of his unexpected death had not worn off.

“As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.” ‚ÄĒ A Jewish Proverb

As we sat in the living room sobbing quietly, unable to look too long at each other as it sent us into fresh bouts of crying, my sis mentioned how much he loved life and how active and enthusiastic he had been – a live wire even as the leader of his commando unit. A true leader who inspired his men!

Soon each one added their memories of him as a child, teenager, young man. Before we knew it, unknowingly, we were all recounting the most hilarious incidents, and there were many. And then we laughed! Our tears of sorrow mingled with our tears of laughter as we shared our memories, and our sorrow too. It lightened each one’s agony and changed the atmosphere of gloom in the room.¬†Read here

The sound of our laughter was heard by the neighbors who were appalled.

We had just returned from a funeral.

We had lost our precious loved one.

Had we all gone off our rockers with the grief?

Sometimes laughing or crying are the only options you have and laughing felt better at the time.

In our country, this was not only an unusual response to grief but also an unacceptable one. My sister had to explain to the neighbor (who knocked at the door to ask if all was well) why we were laughing and about what. How we were honoring him through our memories and also the way it made us deal better with our immense pain and shock.

“Laughter lets me relax. It‚Äôs the equivalent of taking a deep breath, letting it out and saying, ‚ÄėThis, too, will pass‚Äô.” ‚ÄĒ Odette Pollar

Needless to say, it helped and we were able to think about what we had to do next. With the whole family there and all from different parts of the country, there was a lot that had to be seen to.

Laughter is more than a bridge between people. It does more than just connect, it improves health. How does this work?

According to research, laughing doesn’t just lighten your mental load, it induces physical changes in your body.

Laughter stimulates organs. Activates and relieves stress response. Soothes tension.

When you laugh your pulse and heart rate increases and you breath faster. It enhances your intake of oxygen.

Stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles.

Reduces stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and DOPAC (from a study in 2008)

Laughter produces positive thoughts and feelings and together they soothe tension.

Reduces Pain

Laughing causes an increase in endorphins, natural painkillers. Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system and pituitary glands. Endorphins inhibit the transmission of pain signals and could produce a feeling of euphoria.

According to Dr. Dunbar of Oxford University, laughing reduces pain, and laughing with other people than alone is better at relieving pain.

Boosts Immune System

Some studies have shown that stress has a negative impact on health. It decreases natural killer cell levels, these are the white blood cells which attack cancer cells. Laughter helps to reduce stress and increase the white blood cells that fight infections.

This is why Patch Adams advocated laughter and humor in hospitals. Laughter clubs are becoming more popular in countries like Japan and scientists are conducting clinical trials to see if there are any changes in physical well-being or psychologically as a result of mirthful laughter.

So don’t ever let a day go without a smile, a laugh; without humor! Laughter may not solve the problem but it dissolves the stress and tension and helps in boosting your health.

‚ÄúAlways laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.‚Ä̬†
‚Äē¬†George Gordon Byron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over A Cup Of Hot Chocolate!

Christmas bade a cheery adieu. The New year crossed the threshold. And I forgot about my scribbles until I opened my little book to pen a few notes today.

The last entry took me by surprise because I had forgotten how I felt and what thoughts were galloping through my mind that evening, on December 7th as I sat over a cup of Timmy’s delicious hot chocolate!

Isn’t it interesting how we move from various stages of emotions, thoughts, and expressions and how writing it down works as a release button?

Whatever the feelings – anger, frustration, regret, sadness, joy, nostalgia, a sense of achievement, gratitude, hope, whatever – writing is cathartic… therapeutic.

Desktop

A cup of hot chocolate, a pen,¬†and a small notebook.¬† ¬†It started with a walk… a stop at Tim Hortons… here goes ‚ÄĒ

“How Great Thou Art!”¬† That’s the thought playing in my mind. I’m always gobsmacked when I consider my plight; my circumstances in January 1992 when David died and left me penniless and totally bereft of any support, shelter or¬†sufficiency.

I was not in the place I am today vis-a-vis confidence, ability, capability, wisdom, and information and knew nothing about fending for myself. I was a big zero in that department; na√Įve, ignorant of the way-of-the-world in a practical sense. All my knowledge lay¬†in theory. I¬† believed it would suffice!

Was I in for the biggest shock of my life! It was time for Truth & Dare.

No, not the game we play with our friends but the game life plays with you when the only thing you can do is: face the truths and dare to do whatever you have to do; even if your knees are knocking, your heart’s in your throat and you’d rather be the heroine in a fairy tale than in the story of your life. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed in life.

I learned all about endings and beginnings.

I had been cocooned far too long, it was time to crawl out. And that’s what I did… crawl out.

“Change is about submission.

Once you submit to change it happens,

whether you are awake or asleep.

This is what the caterpillar told me” -Joy Clarkson

It was a heady experience. Dread, anxiety, anger, fragile self-confidence, bravado, strong will, determination, strong¬†faith, hope and trust in God, self-pity, defensiveness ‚ÄĒ a cocktail of positives and negatives at its best and worst.

That’s how I stepped out on my own: Single, alone, and lost.

I was a toddler again; still not steady on her feet; tottering, falling, getting up, and stumbling and falling again. But through this, I learned. Not always in the best way nor with the right attitude. I viewed the world with distrust. Was always on the back foot Рand defensive. A single mom trying hard to be both mom and dad.

I became the sole provider, and it was scary. I wasn’t earning enough as a teacher. My salary, which David called “a drop in the ocean,” now shrank into an even tinier drop in an ever-growing ocean of expenses. But that’s all we’d have to survive.

But God had been working to prepare me for this day.

About three years before tragedy struck like a bolt from the blue, I felt an urgent and strong need to further my education, even against opposition from my husband.

I got my Master’s degree, a second Bachelor’s degree {this one in education} and also auditioned for and then worked, ad hoc, in the drama division of All India Radio.

The degrees would ensure a better position as a senior teacher with a higher salary. The drama hobby at AIR didn’t pay much neither was it a regular thing but I did it because I love dramatics. That’s what I thought the urge to join AIR was!

I didn’t know it then but all these came to my aid in a bigger way than I had imagined.

I completed my MA in Eng. Litt. but had only cleared the entrance test for the B.Ed. degree course when he died.¬†My Master’s degree put me in the senior teacher category and I moved to teaching the secondary and higher secondary classes.¬†The acting hobby paid off as they selected me as a higher grade artiste, so there were meager improvements in our finances.¬†

Although the money coming in turned out better than if I had not upgraded my qualifications for the job, it was still far from enough. But definitely, more than I could have expected at the time!

The Principal of the new school I joined, when we shifted back to the¬†hometown, was kind enough to offer me the complete basic¬†salary of a fully qualified senior teacher ( I was in the middle of my teacher’s qualification B.Ed. so he couldn’t add in the benefits).¬†This was more than I had expected and I hadn’t even asked for it!¬†

The Station Director at AIR assured me of at least one drama each month, sometimes there’d be two.¬†I had not asked her either.¬†

God was at work here!

None of this was as easy as it sounds. Not being a confident person I found myself in a quandary at this difficult time. It scared me and I hid my reticence and ignorance under the cloak of bravado. But with God on my side, I picked up the courage to fight my battles.

I dared to step off the cliff.¬†Dared to dive into deep waters.¬†I didn’t know how to fly nor how to swim but I had a life jacket and a parachute: FAITH!

I survived the buffeting waves and raging storms.

Was it smooth sailing and a smooth flight? Far from it.

I had lessons to learn. Faith is a teacher. When you walk ‘with’ faith, it teaches you many things and the first thing I learned was that faith doesn’t support foolishness, foolhardiness, and arrogance.

These were tough lessons.

They were foundation lessons.

Lessons that gave me a strong platform on which to stand firm. Today, it looks as simple as a hop, skip, and jump! Yes, a shaky hop, a daring skip, and a scary jump.

I made terrible mistakes: Regrettable decisions, wrong judgments, wrong actions. Actions that were not thought out. I did not consider the repercussions of what I was doing; the negative fallout which would harm or hurt me more than anyone else.

Yes, I learned some hard lessons. I made mistakes, but I learned from them. That was the saving grace! Making mistakes is not the mistake or the problem. Not learning from them is. Not taking home the lesson and working on it is. Not changing, not growing is.

So how do you know what is wrong?

How do you know where you’ve gone wrong?

And how do you know why you’ve gone wrong?

At which point do know you’ve got to change?

When do you ask yourself, ‘how do I change’?

Questions and more questions. I searched for answers. I prayed and sought wisdom in God’s word. I listened to teachers and spiritual leaders. I read articles, messages, and books. I argued with myself… I fought. But when you seek you find. What you seek you find. The best lessons came back to me down the years; Daddy’s lessons. I recalled all that he had talked to me about. All that he had taught me. That’s how I grasped the most important lessons and started the process of change that would pull me out of the rut of despair.

I squirmed, groaned, and moaned. Disappointments, let downs, depression, despondency, anger are formidable opponents. It takes a strong will to change and humility to accept that you need to change.

Desktop1

This marked the end of a significant chapter of my life and the start of a new one. A chapter that would see the birth of a new person and a new tale, in the sequel to my life story before January 1992!

bubble-49004_640

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Father Christmas

IMG_8106
A heartwarming letter to Santa written by Benedict Cumberbatch. I came across this on the internet. I hope I’m not infringing on any copy write. Here are excerpts from the letter that touched a chord in my heart.
(Benedict Cumberbatch, is a British actor best known for his role in the BBC television show Sherlock Holmes. He has also appeared in Hollywood films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, Star Trek: Into the darkness, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and The Imitation Game.) 
Dear Father Christmas,
So my friend has asked me to write to you…I must confess it’s been hard to know what to say. Mainly because like most adults I feel preposterous asking anything of you because our time with you is done.
 
Now, we get our presents, control our own fates, take responsibilities for our own actions, and live in the world we have created….so it’s not for us to turn around and plead for your help with the environment, the migrant crisis, the NHS, education food banks, human rights, fundamentalism and wars. Though God knows we need all the help we can get with all these man-made problems and more.
 
And it’s not that you aren’t compassionate and full of joy. You’re great. Inspite of you being changed into different colours for corporations and being bastardised to represent materialism gone mad – despite probably originating in some season based pagan druid ritual a million thought miles from requests for spontaneously combusting hoverboards…kidadults cynically pointing this out after having their moment of belief in you are wasting everyone’s precious time. Because you are not for them. You are for the children. Children who need some magic in a world where the borders between innocence and responsibility, playful imagination and cold adult obstacles are continually shrinking.
 
This is what I’d like to ask you to help with. A little more time for children to be children. Stretch the moment of magic and playfulness. Distract them from the realities of a world gone mad so that they can laugh with their breath rather than sob with their tears. Especially those caring for family members, or suffering illness, hunger or poverty. Especially those hiding in buildings as bombs rain down¬†or be handed shaking with fear or cold into a boat to escape environmental disaster or war. Please help to light up their worlds with a moment of joy and hope
 
Spare a thought too for those millions who want to write to you but for illiteracy can’t. Hear their words and help to give them the time and chance to learn to read and write so they can better their lives and escape their impoverished beginnings…..
 
I feel a little sorry for you. And I guess I’ve done exactly what I said I wouldn’t….asked you to help with adult problems and solve some of the greatest worries we have for our children. I promise to leave some extra Port and mince pies for you.
 
Lots of love,
 
Benedict x

 

I think¬†it’s a beautiful ‘prayer’ and one I would say to God. I feel this request for our children is so urgent and more than toys and eats if one were to ask for anything, it must be for a safer and better world for them. Compared to when we were kids, and then when my kids were young, it’s scarier, more unsafe, and an unhealthy place for our present generation – in terms of the environment, safety & security, and war.

 Wishing all of you Happy Holidays! To those who celebrate Christmas Рhave a Merry and Blessed Christmas.
bubble-49004_640

 

Little Things Are Big Things

“There are a lot of little lessons that can be taught around the home without sitting a child down and boring them to death with your philosophy of life.”¬†-Helen McRoy

Lot has changed from the time I was a child back in the late-fifties until now! Put down in years like that, I feel ancient!¬†But that’s the point, it makes me all the more thankful for a childhood which was less materialistic, and people had an abundance of time to do whatever they had to do.

In our time, parents didn’t substitute quality time with the children by overloading them with presents. At least my parents didn’t. One can argue that we weren’t ‘rich’ but again we were not ‘poor’ either. And neither did they try to compensate their absences with gifts or promises of making it up to us by taking us somewhere or treating us with some goodies we relished. We took their absences in our stride. They explained that they had to do things that required their time and attention so we would have to be ‘good’ and listen to Mary or Teresa or Ammachi or whoever was the nanny at the time. And that’s how we came to understand that occasionally our parents would have to take time out for themselves too. We accepted, cheerfully, the time we had to ourselves.

Our parents encouraged us to play outside more than inside the house. They had nothing to fear if we played outside Рin the garden or with our friends or if we went cycling down the street or skating in the skating rink nearby. Our playtime got divided into Рoutdoors and indoors. Indoor games were fun. We had a collection of board games that we played competitively quite often.

Today, adult supervision is a must at all times even if the kids are playing in the front or backyard. Besides, children nowadays possess too many gadgets to keep them holed up inside the home. The times, they are a changing!

Reading story books, general knowledge books became a¬†bedroom pass time and discussing what we read or learned or didn’t understand became talks around the dining table at mealtime – Sobremesa.¬†Sadly, I don’t get to see much of this these days. Everyone is either in a hurry to eat and vamoose or then, watch something on the TV, iPad or smartphone while they eat instead of talking to each other and sharing their day or experiences.¬†

Our conversations remained light,¬†humorous, interesting and informative without being heavy. With the great meals, mummy served us, we’d get a good helping of stories and food for thought from daddy. We never hurried.¬†

It was quality time for us.

Materialism wasn’t as big a thing in our day. Today the ‘things’ one owns define who you are – your social status, the rung you’re on… and that has formed value systems. It wasn’t funny how someone told me that I had “middle-class” values! A ‘fresher’ in college, I had no exposure to this whole new world outside our traditional upbringing and social milieu. To be honest, I didn’t quite get what they meant by ‘middle-class’ values!¬†

I imbibed my values from my parents, teachers, church, and nobody had tagged any of these as ‘middle-class’ values. I learned a new thing. Values had different levels or standards. I observed the differences that marked the values of the various social strata.

The reason, I found out, was that we weren’t the members of any social club, liquor was a no-no, swearing was a no-no {my father a Navy guy would say ‘ruddy’ when he wanted to say ‘bloody’. Yes, even ‘bloody’ would raise my mother’s eyebrows up to high heaven! Ours was a very traditional ‘Christian’ upbringing influenced by European missionaries.¬†

We weren’t allowed to sing certain songs that had even the slightest reference to anything with sexual undertones. And ‘sexual’ undertones’ for my parents¬†could mean “lipstick on your collar” or “1 and a 2 and I love you let’s play the game of love!” The list was long. Singing wasn’t banned, however. We could sing and trust me there were many songs we sang. But the music that kids my age were listening to wasn’t what we listened to at home.

It was the same with dressing. Mummy had her own ideas how we should dress as ‘young ladies’. And though, I didn’t tow the line always, I stretched the limit, but I wouldn’t go that far as to create a scene at home. I refused¬†to accept invitations to any place my so-called friends invited me. Our middle-class values kept my necklines higher, my hemlines lower than theirs. No, I wasn’t granny-ish! Only a ‘different’ fish in their kettle.

Suppression gave way to expression as we grew older. We became assertive and things relaxed but it also brought in hypocrisy!

We learned to have dual lives. We wore many masks! One for church on Sunday. One for all church parties. Another for school, an upgraded one for college. You see, by that time we had moved from our one-horse town, in Punjab, to the Capital city. Life, as it was, transformed.

Schooling from grade five onwards had been in a public school in a small Air Force station. However, in the eleventh grade {Higher Secondary as it was called then}, we moved to the city. Not that the capital city was modern by any ‘city’ standards. It was a bigger and better life in terms of civic amenities, and infrastructure and other provisions, but attitudes and mentalities were yet to broaden as they have today. Whatever, for me it was a huge difference –

  • Academics: better quality of education because of a better teaching staff.
  • Social: I was meeting kids more to my liking and interests and I had a social circle outside of school. We had a church where the services were in English and I could understand what was going on. And a youth group!
  • Opportunity: Better colleges and university.
  • Environment: Huge differences all around.

Situations, circumstances, and needs change with time and there are many new demands that come with change. So it was with us too. However, looking back, I realize what a great part these restrictions played in my life. The strict discipline on how I had to walk, talk, sit, stand, express myself especially while talking to elders inculcated respect in us. Please, Thank You and Sorry were words we learned to use in abundance. 

Everything had a time and a place and everything was done in time and put in its proper place. Because we had servants, this was a very important lesson we learned. We could not fling our things about for the servants to pick up after us.

Discipline, not only in the way I conducted myself but also in my daily routine has seen me through the most difficult periods of my adult life. Time management, prioritizing, organizing came to my rescue when I needed it the most… and with ease. No surprises here, it had always been a way of life for me!

All the times I was checked for not saying ‘Thank you” and showing my gratefulness¬†when I was a small girl, taught me gratefulness for the littlest things that someone did for me; to be thankful for the little things I have instead of miserable for what isn’t there. This lesson on gratitude that zoomed over my head as a girl {I said ‘thank you’ because it was expected of me!}, seeped into my heart and I realized what a wonderful lesson it was!

I realized, much later, what my parents wanted to teach us about living with discipline, values, and boundaries. Precepts are the guidelines for a good life and provide a solid foundation on which to build our lives. 

These values helped to build up our¬†character so we’d not get blinded or mislead by the bazillion theories, advice, suggestions,¬†and influences we’d meet on the journey through teenage years and young adulthood.¬†

In hindsight, I see how stupid it was for me to have felt the way I did, it wasn’t necessary.¬† My friends were fine with me and those who didn’t¬†accept me couldn’t be my friends, anyway! Not that clear or simple to a naive sixteen-year-old then. Instead, I allowed myself to feel ‘less-than’ and lowered my self-esteem. So I resorted to donning hypocritical masks. The dichotomy created cognitive dissonance and my life did not go the way I wanted it to. Not being me, troubled me.

One day, just like that, I decided I didn’t need masks. I am¬†not ashamed of who I am nor do I want to fit in by being someone else. Standing for my¬†values and convictions mattered and what people assumed about me, didn’t matter, and if I didn’t stand for something, I’d¬† eventually fall for anything.

I discarded my masks and relieved myself of that unwanted burden.

These little lessons imbibed in childhood, the snippets of memories that strengthen and reinforce the learning are the really big things in life. 

1294567_537657749656267_325885103_o

 

Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.‚Ä̬†
‚Äē¬†Mahatma Gandhi

 

bubble-49004_640

 

 

 

 

Daring To Be Vulnerable

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness we will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Dr. Brene Brown

The best things; people and places, friendships and companionships never lasted long – at least not as long as I’d want it to. ‘Goodbye’ seemed to come around too soon. But I was young – a little girl- and the exuberance and expectations of youthfulness; ¬†the¬†hope of new and more exciting experiences helped to blunt the pain of loss and too many changes.

As the years rolled by and friendships began to mean more – there were stronger bonds of closeness and dependability – moving away became harder. We were not in an era of such high technology as we are in today.

One wrote letters, snail-mail, and soon the frequency of writing and receiving mail would peter out and finally die. Old friends became a vague memory as new ones took their place. But this transition was not as easy or smooth as I consciously thought it was. Somewhere at the sub-conscious level I was taking it harder and reacting to it in a very wrong way. To avoid the pain I was slowly developing a shell of protection. I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So I would never give a hundred percent of myself to any relationship.

I liked my friends, and I made friends easily but there was always something lacking because I did not get too close to anyone. I was guarded in my relationships, not open. This distance I maintained distanced them from me. They took it personally and our friendships, though warm, never developed into life-long ties.

While I felt bad about it, I also felt better because our constant moving from place to place didn’t affect me emotionally the way it did earlier. I wasn’t breaking down inside anymore. My heart and my mind were intact; I was not vulnerable anymore. I was slowly becoming distant – ‘arm’s length’ is how I’d say it: ‘Keep at arm’s length’. I don’t know when or how I built these walls around me but walls were surely rising and imprisoning my soul.

Saying bye to someone you love is painful. Especially when you know you aren’t going to see them anytime soon or probably never meet them again because chances are, you’re not going to return to that place again.

The first pangs of farewell pains that I experienced were when my two elder sisters left for boarding school. I must have been six yrs old and it was terrible. I can still recall how it hurt so much, even though they would be away for less than a year, coming back for their long holidays every summer. I’d dam the tears that welled up as soon as the railway station came into sight. Then I’d let the floodgates down and let them flow and flow long after the byes were said and the train had chugged out of the station. Long after we were home and I was in my room. The emptiness would seep into me and I’d sit on the floor, take out my tea set and dolls and bawl my heart out. I still remember that! And this was how it was in the following years; I’d hurt so bad with every departure!

I also remember that as the years went by and both of them had finished with school, yet, they were never at home. They’d come for a short break and go back to wherever they were at the time. But what had changed was: I no longer felt the wracking pain of my childhood. Not that I was so grown-up but because I had learned to “put a stone on my heart” as the saying goes.¬†We were brought up to keep our emotions in check. A stiff upper lip. So no matter how much my heart ached, I held my head high and went about living life as usual. If I needed to vent, I stuck my head in a closet and cried or buried myself under the covers and wept copiously on the welcoming foam of a pillow or then, took out my journal and wrote, wrote, wrote until I couldn’t see the page through my tears. I had learned this by the time I turned ten!

I had learned this lesson so well that when I said the most painful farewell I would ever say in all my life, I was still holding back – still pulling on the reins to keep a check on myself. I wanted to scream, shout, bang my fists, grieve, but all I did was shed a few tears, in fits and starts, and try to maintain a calm and cold exterior. The biggest love of my life had gone forever! An unexpected, shocking departure from life and those who loved him so well. A life truncated in its prime.¬†¬†Yes, my husband had died of three successive, massive heart attacks in his thirty-ninth year, and I couldn’t let my guard down. I had to maintain a show of strength – emotional strength.

I thought it helped in keeping me from crumbling; from losing my sanity. I was so focused on being strong; on not making a public display of my inner-most feelings, not letting my young sons see me weak and devastated that I didn’t dwell on my personal loss. In hindsight, however, that was bad for me. I suffered the agony for years. For years I remained angry with my husband for dying and leaving me alone. For years I rolled up into a fetal position and wet my pillow with muffled sobs; so great was the pain.

The worst was, we had not said our final goodbyes! He died on one of his tours. He came back cold and dead. The best was¬†when he was leaving home, although we had said our casual bye-byes, he turned back and with a rare, broad grin waved a bye to me again. I almost missed it because he never did that ever before. Once he was out of the gate he’d just drive away, our¬†‘see you’ being said. It took me by surprise and I did wonder for a second, ‘what was that?!’ But it made me happy and I saved the moment. This image came to my rescue every time I felt desolate because it was his ‘final farewell’. And what a memory it was!

This image brought relief because it became ‘our’ final farewell. Down deep I still ached because I knew I’d never see him again, but whenever I thought of him, this last image spoke volumes to me; it still does. The pain will never go but I have accepted it and it has become bearable.

I thought I had dealt with my unexpressed anguish and loss very well. Unknown to me it had a negative fall-out that carved out a new me. I became scared of loving anyone too much. I was afraid if I showed too much of love, or clung to anyone they would leave and I didn’t want to be hurt so bad again. I refused to love with all my love. I was afraid to show too much love towards my kids too.

The years went by and there were many farewells to friends and family as we moved from one place to another. It wasn’t a good experience but I no longer hurt so much… I missed my friends and family but it didn’t pain me as it would have before. Then along came a little bundle of golden fur. She was called Heidi.

Heidi was a golden retriever pup just a month old and she stole our hearts. Something inside me began to melt. The walls began to crumble and slowly I allowed myself to bring someone close to me. So close that she became my companion and confidante. She was not a dog for me, she was a person, my friend. I became defenseless; vulnerable and experienced so much of love from her.

She understood me when I spoke and even when I was quiet. She knew my silences, she felt my every feeling and responded to it. If she saw me with my face in my hands, she’d be there sitting in front of me moving my hands from my face and trying to get on my lap. She knew even if I was crying quietly. She’d come to my side and cuddle and lick my tears. She was the one who brought me out of the abyss of anger, self-pity, and the victim mentality. I was reluctant to get out of there. Heidi won this round.¬†Letting go of my anger against David for dying and leaving me bereft was a life-saver for me.

56039_372272556194788_1412230100_o

Heidi did indeed bring a ray of sunshine and literal warmth with her soft, furry body. And then when she had become my sturdy pillar of strength and emotional support she got cancer and died! That she had to be put down didn’t help the situation. I was devastated and, even now, when I think about her leaving the house on her way to her own ‘execution’ I am moved to tears. She went away trusting us – Moreso me. I hugged her and kissed her and let her go. I was against it but that doesn’t count, I acquiesced ultimately.

I was back to square one. The old me was doing a victory dance and whispering maliciously: ‘I told you so, I told you so’!

This was when God responded to my desperate cry for help. It’s not that He wasn’t on call before. I would pray and have my daily chats with Him. He’s been my BFF for a long, long time. But I used Him as my sounding board. And one who rendered help and protection when I needed it. I rejected the solutions He offered to my problems and stubbornly clung to my shadows, my walls, and wallowed in my misery: my fears, insecurity, and anger.

This time, however, I listened to Him instead of Him listening to me. It was the beginning of my new walk with God. The beginning of a new understanding. The understanding that to experience the wholeness of loving and being loved, I had to keep myself vulnerable. I had to let down all barriers and love wholeheartedly and even allow myself to be heartbroken, if at all that happened.

That’s what I had done with David, that’s what I had done with Heidi, that’s what I did with my kids – I had let down all barriers and let myself be open to giving and receiving love. I was vulnerable; I got hurt, let down, disappointed and sometimes desperate and frustrated but I always overcame and bounced back. These were the closest of bonds and I knew I could rely on love to set me free from my self-imposed imprisonment.

I had known love and the unique friendship David and I shared in our marriage. ¬†I made beautiful memories to sustain me when I needed love the most and it wasn’t there. Maybe no one was there but the memories of happy times, good times, loving and caring times were always on hand to pull me out of the doldrums. I am grateful for these everlasting moments. Now it was time to come out of my shell.¬†So, I let myself be open to the possibility of being hurt once again and in return, I strengthened my existing friendships, made new friends, and began liking the person I was becoming.

That’s what I relearned… to break down the walls and let love flow.

“To share your weakness is ¬†– to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” -Criss Jami

It was the best thing I had done in my life: open myself to love and be loved. Love taught me it was okay to grieve for my loss; it didn’t make me weak, on the contrary, it made me normal and helped in the recovery process which in turn made me stronger.

I grew in my closeness to God and understood His love in a new light. In my walk with Him, I realized that I have good reason to make close ties even if it meant being hurt or that the ties would be eventually broken. We will all meet again in the sweet by and by. The fear of separation or loss must not keep us from feeling the great love that God has placed in our hearts and from sharing that with our family, friends, neighbors, so we might shine for Him.

Being vulnerable has brought more love into my life. I have grown stronger with the walls down and the protective shell removed. It has made my friendships worthwhile and long-lasting. I have learned that it is in giving love wholeheartedly that we receive more back. My best memories are of the times when I had opened my heart, unreservedly, unabashed, unafraid; the times when I received so much of love and care.

Love {and the vulnerability it brings} taught me forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, patience, self-control, understanding, humbleness, caring, sharing, resilience, thoughtfulness, and gratitude. It also kept me grounded. How poor was I when I kept my heart in a tower, safe and unbroken! How rich I am with a wealth of love and old friendships that have endured time and hardships and new ones that have enriched me no end and a family – sons, daughters-in-law and the most beautiful grandkids – love brings it all together!

“With each passage of human growth, we must shed a protective structure {like a crustacean}. We are left exposed and vulnerable – but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” -Gail Sheehy

 

bubble-49004_640