Battlefield of The Mind- inner conversation with I, Me, Myself

I don’t know about you, but I spend time choosing what I’m going to wear… even if it’s only for my daily walk. I guess many would be doing the same or not… that’s not important. But as an example of “choosing” something for ourselves to feel good, confident, and comfortable, I think it is a very good one.

I look in the mirror, see myself in the clothes, accessories, and cosmetics I’ve picked to wear that day, and feel great; ready to take on the day; accomplish my goals. My self-confidence gets a boost. My morale is high. So what did I do to feel that way?
I CHOSE what I’d wear.

Choosing to ‘choose’ your thoughts acts the same way. But how can I “choose” my thoughts? you might say. “They just pop into my head”. Well, you can. Just as you may say an emphatic “NO” to something in your wardrobe or jewelry box. Or a shade of lipstick… anything that doesn’t fit right with how you want to feel.

Don’t we choose our attire according to where we are going? We choose according to the occasion. Or according to the weather. No matter how much we like some dress, jewelry, or footwear, we know that it wouldn’t be right for certain events or occasions or the weather, and select accordingly. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable or ill at ease.

Think about an examination.

Think about an interview.

How do we prep ourselves? Do we allow thoughts of failure to set the stage beforehand? Or do we go in with confident thoughts? With hope for a good result. And if we don’t get through as well as expected, do we give up and allow morose, depressing thoughts to put a roadblock in our way? Mostly the answer is NO! So what have we done… chosen to replace those thoughts.

That’s how our thoughts must be selected. Changing our thoughts will keep us from getting derailed from our purpose and aim. It will keep us on track.

It’s something you can do if you are sure you want to feel good… better than allowing your current thoughts to keep you in the doldrums. It will not be as simple or as easy as pushing away a dress or a pair of earrings or shoes, but it isn’t that hard either.

That doesn’t mean you stick your head in the sand and not face things. It means you face it boldly. Life comes with ups and downs; the road may, at times, be undulating, curving, and twisting; filled with potholes, and dirt tracks. But they are roads you can get through. The ride may be bumpy, slower than you’d like, but you’re going ahead.

Don’t host a pity party for yourself. Avoid people who encourage you to wallow in self-pity. Pity parties make one’s mind a morass. It sucks you in and keeps you bogged down. Select the right environment. It enables you to get into the right mindset with the right thoughts and replaces the ones that are pulling you down.

You will have to make the CHOICE of taking things in your stride with a constructive mindset, and choosing how you respond to the challenges. Are you going to choose to complain, moan, groan, and kill your spirit or are you going to choose better? Are you going to play the victim by allowing depressive thoughts to lower your morale? Make you feel like a helpless victim?

The choice is ours! Make the right choices with what you dwell on in your mind. The mind is the battlefield… 

Select your thoughts carefully and you will grow stronger with each right, constructive, productive, positive thought you choose.

Acknowledge your feelings whatever they are – sad, deflated, depressed, alone, anxious; accept the struggle. Then choose how you are going to deal with it and control your thoughts from spiraling into an abyss.
Thoughts are very powerful, filter yours. Keep the flame of hope going.

Visualize a better scenario; something that isn’t a fantasy but attainable, workable. Focus on the goal. What is it you want to achieve? If one road gets blocked, don’t give up and allow morose defeatist thoughts take over. Check to see if you are on the right track. Pursue your goal with diligence and faith.

Put your trust in a higher authority: GOD. Pray, believe, and move ahead. Select your thoughts. Focus on them. Gain strength from them. Choose right. Choose wise.




Zach-in-the-box – very short stories

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“Please Mama, don’t send me to school,” pleaded Zachariah.

“Zach, honey, I understand how you feel, but Grandma’s school is only up to Grade three. You’ve passed Grade three, remember?” said his mother patiently. This wasn’t the first time they were having this conversation.

It had been difficult for Zacharia to settle into the new school, and the repercussions were felt at home too. Zach was dyslexic and found it hard to keep up with the rest of the class. The impatience of teachers and sniggers of classmates didn’t help either. But a few months later, Zach stopped complaining much to the relief of his parents and ‘Gramma’.

“Oh no, Mrs. Sethi’s class,” sighed Zach as he took out his English Reader. Mrs. Sethi didn’t seem to understand Zach’s problem and would constantly intone, ‘Concentrate Zach, concentrate. You’re never going to learn if you don’t c-o-n-c-e-n-t-r-a-t-e!’

“No problem, I have my box” he whispered to calm his nerves. “I didn’t have to lug my box to Gramma’s school, though. How I loved going to that school.”

Then he got into his box just as Mrs. Sethi entered the class. Zach felt secure inside his box. He found it a a bit dark but that didn’t bother him much. It was better than trying to concentrate all the time.

‘I become stupid when I concentrate,’ he mused. ‘Why can’t people understand that? Mrs. Sethi thinks I’ll become clever if I improve my concentration. But I won’t! I don’t understand a word I read when I get all strained and tensed up. Concentrating makes the words jump up and down. It makes me stupid.’

“Zachariah!” Mrs. Sethi’s voice pierced his reverie. Zach jumped out of his box, startling the teacher and the students.

“Yes, ma’am,” he almost shouted.

“Did you find the Learning Tips we discussed helpful?”

“Yes, ma’am, very helpful. I’ll follow your advice,” Zach said nodding his head vigorously . “I’ll try not to disappoint you,” he added, wondering what she had discussed.

“Good!” she smiled, leaving Zach to go back into his box.

How many minutes to go? he wondered. He began to count… one…two… three…four…

Zach was eagerly waiting for the next two classes Art and PT (Physical Training). He enjoyed co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. He liked theatre workshops and Yoga… five… six… seven… eight…

Mrs. Singh never tells me to concentrate when I draw. She’s nicer than Mrs. Sethi, and prettier too! Mr. Basil is cool. He really helps me with my cricket and tennis. Ms. Dolly’s class is fun… nine… ten…eleven… twelve… The bell rang!

“Whoopee!” shouted Zach as he sprang out of his box, startling Mrs. Sethi once again.

“Zachariah! Don’t you dare do that again,” she warned him.

The teachers who understood Zach went on to become his mentors and helped him to develop his confidence. That meant, he couldn’t jump into his box whenever he wanted to. To say it was very difficult for Zach to not get into his box would be an understatement. But with their support, patience, and encouragement, he began to stay out of the box for longer periods.

They taught him that if he wanted to control his life, he would have to control his fears, and his thinking. He’d have to learn to be confident about himself. They guided him and helped him. He followed their advice to think, speak, and act as he wished to be, and then, he would be that which he wished to be. He learned to compete with himself; learning from his mistakes rather than running from them. He built himself into a concentrated dynamo of energy. He began to explore and discover new truths and their value to him. His creative imagination soared and his thoughts and emotions found expression on canvas.

The fear of failure often arose but he never allowed it to settle in. It remained a fleeting thought that didn’t take hold. It couldn’t dominate his competitive spirit. He was moving on and ahead in his life. Confident. Stronger. Doing things that he loved doing. Out of his box!

Zachariah became a movie star. A star who was recognized and acclaimed for his intense performances. So when he had had his fill of being under the spotlight as a brilliant actor, he decided to foray into the sphere of production and direction. Needless to say, his fans and friends and colleagues in the industry had great expectations. His first film, produced and directed by him was released following big hype by the media.

Zach was on tenterhooks when he arrived for the premier of his first directorial venture. He needn’t have worried. No one was disappointed. The audiences loved it. The critics praised it, and Zach himself was more than satisfied with it.

Stars On Earth, his film, was the story of a nine-year-old boy’s trials and his indomitable spirit as he dealt with dyslexia. The movie swept the box-office and garnered all the major awards that year.

Zach had sprung yet another surprise!

PS: This is pure fiction. The only facts are: that I wrote this based on my experiences of having a dyslexic student in one of my classes. Things he shared with me in the private chats I had with him to understand his problems in class. And also with input from one of my nieces who is borderline dyslexic. Both have done well for themselves in life.

This story was first published many years back on whisperingleaves.blogspot.com where I used to blog.

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Gratitude & Appreciation – attitudes to develop

Can one learn how to be happy? Yes, you can. Now, many would find that difficult to believe. But being happy is something you can manage to do with practice. By being mindful. By being aware of your THOUGHTS. By channeling your ATTITUDE and your ACTIONS.

Our thoughts develop our attitudes and our attitude governs our actions. In other words, if you harbor thoughts of resentment or envy, anger or bitterness, you will focus on acting upon it in the same way. It could be in the manner you speak or behave or in the way you react to a person or situation. On the contrary, if you concentrate your thoughts on achieving a goal, being successful in achieving it, this will drive your thoughts towards productive activity.

Your attitude changes as do your actions. If you focus on the negatives that will become your attitude – a depressive, pessimistic manner in which you go through life. You lose your joy. ‘Being happy’ for you, then, is almost like finding El Dorado… an impossible feat.

“As you think so shall you become.”

First, a thought. It’s our thoughts that lay the foundation for our behavior – what we do, how we do it, and how we speak. Our minds are filled with negative and positive thoughts. There are layers upon layers of thoughts. Positive and negative.

At times it’s like a monkey swinging from branch to branch trying to connect the dots into a pattern it perceives. From one thought to another and even straying at a tangent!

Sometimes, an old journal or events stir up thoughts on your past circumstances and current situations. Your thoughts trigger different emotions, which set the stage for your feelings and focus. This would be okay, provided they aren’t pulling you down or tearing you apart.

Unproductive thoughts should be checked before they get a hold of you. It is challenging to do this. But it is the training and discipline you need to train your mind to filter out such thoughts and motivate you to move towards constructive thoughts.

So how do you harness your mind?

BE AWARE

Be aware of your feelings: Upbeat, sad, angry, resentful, envious, anxious, defeated… and you’ll be aware of your thoughts. What is the chatter going on in your brain? What’s it doing to you? Is it constructive? Is it stealing your joy and peace of mind? Is it destructive and negative? Are there dark, dreary, depressing thoughts? There are many ways you can be aware of your thoughts. Some use deep breathing, some recommend yoga exercises, deep meditation, and so on.

I did not have the time nor the inclination to do these things. But, I did want to control my thoughts. I was not in a good place with the curve balls life was throwing my way. I wanted to regain my equilibrium and stop those negative, unwholesome thoughts from ruining my health. So, I found a simple way of taking charge.

Each time I found myself in any kind of frame of mind that was upsetting, I’d press my thumb and pointer of both hands together with the other three fingers outstretched. This was the action that made me aware that I had an unbridled horse running amuck in my head. And I would, consciously, identify it, rein it in and change the dialogue. It wasn’t an easy thing to do when I began. My brain was obstinate. The victim feeling wasn’t willing to loosen its hold. So I memorized some verses, like these, that I’d repeat out loud.

“Refrain from anger, and turn from wrath; do not fret – it tends only to evil.”-Psalm 37:8 (NIV)

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”-Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

Or, I’d sing any of my favorite songs, that I enjoyed, to raise my spirits. Some were peppy Bollywood film numbers, while some were country songs from my youth. It began to work. This simple action of pressing the thumb and pointers of both hands were signals to stop and take notice of the inner conversations, and it works wonders for me. You can adopt any way that works for you.

TAKE CONTROL

When I tried to visualize the word control, the word ‘harness‘ popped up with visuals of two horses: one free of any kind of restriction…

And the other of a horse with restrictions: controlled and guided.

Each one represented the kind of thoughts that run through our minds. Some have a free run and create havoc. They have free rein and take us on a rollercoaster ride. That is because we allow them to and then we cannot rein them in and they drag us wherever they’re going. The other one depicted how controlled and guided thoughts can go the way we want them to – moving ahead in a healthy and productive manner.

INTROSPECT

Whenever you feel burdened, anxious, worried, down in the dumps, sit down and take a break to introspect about the reason for your plight.

Why should we introspect?

Introspection is the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings. In Psychology, the process of introspection relies on the observation of one’s mental state, while in a spiritual context, it may refer to the examination of one’s soul. Introspection is closely related to human self-reflection and self-discovery and is contrasted with self-observation. (Wikipedia)

How do we introspect?

The usual approach in introspection is to ask, why we’re thinking what we are, why we’re feeling the way we do. However, the ‘why’ questions can mislead us at times. According to a study conducted by a British university, a group of students had to write why they felt the way they did about their grading. The result showed that they were depressed immediately afterward as compared to the control group of students. Asking them why they felt the way they did had made them focus on their problem and place blame instead of moving forward productively.

So if not ‘WHY‘ then what?

Yes, exactly so… WHAT!

WHAT can I do to BE Happy

There are things that MAKE you happy. There are people who Make you happy with their presence. Are you among those people who make YOU happy?

You may not always have those ‘happiness’ boosters with or around you. You may have just YOU to make you happy. And if your life is going around those hairpin bends and your head is in a spin, how do you maintain your inner peace and joy? YOU have to divert your thoughts. You’ll need to direct your thoughts to the Gratitude Drive.

Appreciation and gratefulness take your focus off the empty spaces of lack (of material things) and the ‘why me?’ victim mentality. It brings you to a place of thankfulness for what you have, and you begin to value them as blessings. Ask yourself, “What if I didn’t have even this?”

During this pandemic, especially in the first year and a half, many people lost their jobs. Two members of my family lost their jobs too. They have children. There were expenses, including house rent (they didn’t have their own house then) and all the other bills. It was a worrying time. Companies and businesses were going through a rough patch, and they were firing rather than hiring! At a point, savings had ebbed to an almost rock-bottom low.

A job came along for one of them. It was well below his qualifications and pay grade. Disappointment and lots of pondering followed. But that was the point of gratitude: A job had come up. What other offer did he have? None. What if he passed this one and another offer didn’t come up? Here was a job at a time when people were losing theirs. It was lower than their expectations, but it was a blessing. A stream in the desert! What could be better: a barren dry desert or a stream in the desert?

He applied. He got the post. If they had looked for what was lacking, in position and status and pay grade, and not applied for it, they would have remained miserable and the quality of their home life would have suffered too. Later in the year, he got another opening. A job that was still not requisite with his qualifications and pay grade, BUT, it was much better than the current stopgap job he had in both position and pay grade. He applied and by the grace of the almighty, secured it. Short of a year, he got a promotion. Blessings flow when you send up gratitude and appreciation.

Months passed, and the other one got a job offer! And this one was requisite to her qualifications and pay grade! A big moment of appreciation and gratefulness, indeed. But… there’s always a BUT. It was a six-month contractual job! What if they didn’t renew and extend the contract? Would she be able to get another job? She’d have to start job hunting once again. Here was a sea in the desert! Maybe just for six months. But what were they looking at for the next six months if she focused on the limited time? What weighed more, the gain or the loss, if she didn’t accept the job offer? The answers weren’t heartening. Deep gratitude flowed freely and washed away the fears. She took it and trusted the Lord to provide in the future too. And He did! And how! Beyond expectations.

At an early age, in my early forties, ill health made life miserable for me. The doctor I was visiting didn’t make the right diagnosis, so the treatment wasn’t working, and the problem escalated. I went through extreme pain. For a long time I could barely walk, stand, or sit for long. I couldn’t even turn myself from one side to the other on the bed. I had to have back support belt and a cervical collar throughout the day and night. I needed assistance to bathe too.

The physician told me that I had inherited this from my mother. She had had a terrible time. Her back had collapsed completely, and she was bedridden for some years. Her left hand was paralyzed, and her speech was impaired. She could do nothing for herself. She suffered pain and embarrassment because she had to use the bedpan and be cleaned, sponged, and dressed by someone.

I envisaged a similar future for myself, and trust me, it wasn’t a good feeling at all. The first thought that came to my mind was, she had Daddy to care for her. Who do I have? I became a single mom at the age of thirty-six. I had lost my husband to myocardial infarction. Immediately, thoughts sprung up, tumbling over each other. How would I manage? I had two kids. What would happen if I went through the same stage as she had?

God heard my prayers and led me to the right doctor and treatment. And I say led because that’s exactly how I found him and how my journey to recovery began. Read this excerpt from my post: https://theopenwindowweb.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/dont-be-afraid-of-change/

I had all but given up. A frail tendril of hope remained. I had to get out of this hopelessness. I had to change that. If I believed in God, I could not be without hope, faith, and trust. When had I lost that? Something awoke within me. The desire to overcome with God’s help.

I begged the Lord to heal me; to lead me to the right doctor and he did. I found an orthopedic surgeon, not in the big name hospitals I was visiting but in a small clinic. We passed it every day, and I wouldn’t go in even for a small first-aid need! Yes, I was choosy! 

But this day, I did. I made a detour and went in.

The doctor turned out to be the head of the orthopedic department in a big hospital (one of those I hadn’t visited). He was there to check if the camp for free orthopedic consultations was being well publicized. 

I almost missed him. The receptionist and some nurses around the place recommended I meet a certain doctor. For some unearthly reason, I didn’t feel he was the best person to meet. There was something about the name that didn’t sound right… yeah, don’t ask me why because even I don’t know why! 

So, I asked if there was anyone else. A nurse who was quiet all this time spoke up and gave me a name. She said he was a senior doctor and excellent but I should hurry to meet him because he would leave in a few minutes. The name sounded right. All the others advised me against it. But I went to meet him. This was at the fag end of the year 2007. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Long story short.

I began to appreciate that I was forewarned. I could take precautions. I could seek treatments. I had found out the condition before it had deteriorated beyond repair as it had with my mum. Medical science had advanced by leaps and bounds since my mother’s time. There were treatments I could access.

So, though I suffered the excruciating pain of a ruptured disc and a later case of lesions on another disc, I kept thanking God that I had the right diagnosis and the right treatment. What’s more, I had found the right orthopedic doctor I needed. And the biggest prayer of gratitude was that I could receive that treatment. It was a two-year long and expensive treatment, but God provided through the wonderful sons he had blessed me with.

I’ve mentioned all this to emphasize how we need to learn how to appreciate the little things we have and can do and be grateful for them. It keeps us in a positive frame of mind and boosts our physical and mental health. I had to consciously guide my thoughts to this end.

In my life situation as a young widow with a meager income as a teacher, I had every reason, it seemed, to feel life was being very unfair. My mind screamed: widowhood wasn’t my fault. Whatever I was going through wasn’t my fault. I could have given up and become worse. But I just couldn’t ignore the blessings that the Lord was sending my way. His promises kept coming up loud and clear. I saw the way he was providing and protecting us. As did all those who had abandoned us in our tough times. And they wondered. I needed that inner happiness that strengthened my spirit and resolve to go through whatever was happening with gratefulness, faith, and trust.

I knew being grateful in all that was going on was an inside job… my job.

And my happiness could only stem from a source of gratitude and appreciation. And this could only come if I acknowledged the blessings, big and small, that were coming to me. If I woke up to a new day, I gave thanks.

I’ve learned to give thanks for every little thing I have that makes my life better, easier, more comfortable than if I didn’t have it. It could even be a tiny pin or a pinch of salt.

I don’t bury my head in the sand in difficult times of lack or strife. Or complain and lament my fate. I face them from a place of gratitude. The place that strengthens me. That keeps my thoughts from pulling me down. That raises my hope and trust in the Lord. That helps me to take one day at a time trying, trusting, and waiting on His timing.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t stressful and tiring. That doesn’t mean I’m strong through it all and don’t come near the point of giving up.

What it does is give you the strength you need. Gives you the hope, faith, and trust you need. And in my case, gives me the patience I need to endure waiting for the right time in God’s timing… which at times comes later than sooner.

But it comes. And the timing is always right!

A Room With a View – from window to door

“Through the small tall bathroom window, the December yard is gray and scratchy, the tree calligraphic. -Dave Eggers

Autumn had almost gone leaving behind this “calligraphic” tree. Earlier, I could barely see the birds on its branches for its leaves in Spring. It looks beautiful from my window in all seasons.

I love to have big windows in every room, and until now I’ve been fortunate enough to have grand windows opening to beautiful views. A window with a good view keeps me from feeling claustrophobic in a closed room. But things change with time and moving from country to country and different residences, puts you in rooms with smaller windows, sometimes.  And that’s where, now, I sit or stand and dream or reminisce or capture joy by just aiming and shooting!

These are photos from 2017-18. All I had was an old iPhone 8. No swanky, classy or new camera!

It didn’t dampen my spirit – I love clicking pictures of things that captivate me, engage my attention, revive memories or just… seep into me. I love looking at them later and reliving the moment.

May 28th, 2017, new places, new faces.

“A smile is the light in your window that tells others that there is a caring, sharing person inside.   -Denis Waitley

Every morning, I find something or the other that’s click-worthy to me when I look out my window. So I click away. Mostly it’s clouds! My obsession! I might delete most of these photos later for very poor picture quality…yes, even my untrained eye can see a very bad click, lol.

Some days are rainy and grey and the window looks gloomy and there isn’t much I can see outside save for the tears of rain running down my window pane! Back from my school days, teenage years, come the notes of Mary Hopkins’ song, ‘Knock, knock who’s there,’ and I start to sing or hum, and soon slip into another old-time favorite – ‘Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain…’ and another and another. And my day gets set to a very romantic, lyrical note.

But gone away is the Spring, Summer and the Autumn… and the winter is here to stay, at least, for the next few months! We’ve had our first snowfall and I’m grounded! Well, not seriously. 

“People ask me what I do in winter… I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. 

-Rogers Hornsby

The seasons pass by as I watch the changing scenes through my window! Back to the present…in a new region; a new city. Bigger, busier, and bustling.

I miss the previous, comparatively smaller one. I miss my room with a view and my window that opened out to lovely views and open spaces. I hardly stand at my window now, in another place, which is more of a brick jungle. It’s better I don’t; It doesn’t afford me any great scenery through my window… this is not a room with a view.

Neither do my walks with buildings looming on either side of the sidewalk afford any breathing space for a person like me… a city girl, who gets claustrophobic in a concrete jungle if she has to live in it under these conditions!

That’s where my memories, like these, in pictures come to my aid. It helps. And I become grateful for the reminders of big mercies and wonderful moments captured in photographs. This puts me in a mellow mood and points me towards what is there rather than what is not.

And the small mercies are always there if we get ourselves out of the negativity and moaning. Some such ‘small mercies’ are the spacious deck and a lovely green grassy patch and a small garden in the backyard. It affords a lot of openness and fresh air. One can even walk on the grass that stretches from the side gate at the front all the way to the shed that stands way back by the rear fence.

So what if the backyard is bounded by tall fences on three sides.

So what if the double-storey houses outside these fences, on all three sides, block out the open view of the sky, the clouds, the trees, the open spaces.

So what if the only glimpses I get through my window are of cluttered backyards across the road from my room that’s front-facing or worse, a view from the windows and door of the dining room and family room into the interior of homes at the back whose windows stand with curtains undrawn or open blinds.

So what if I don’t have any window in any room, front or back, with a view worth gazing at.

I have something else…

I have a door with a view!

The big glass double door, in the dining room, that replaces the ‘window with a view’ and looks on the backyard and provides a lovely view of grassy greenery and brilliant colors of the season’s blooms. And the little creatures, feathered and furry, who keep me engrossed and amused as they scramble and flit around.

The feathered one that’s busy building a nest under the roof over the deck! And also its mate that hops around the deck pecking at something or the other.

And the ‘outdoors’ black cat, that isn’t ours but is a regular visitor in our backyard. It’s got to know about the nest and threatens the bird by sitting and gazing at it hungrily. Or then decides to be a peeping Tom!

The squirrels that run about and at times sneak into the deck.

It is a fairly spacious backyard. A patch of our own green, open space…flowers and birds. A few pine trees. What if all of these weren’t here?

But they’re here. And that’s something I appreciate. To have this in a big crowded city is in itself a blessing, all realities considered.

I can be miserable and moan and groan about things that are not exactly how I’d want them to be. Or appreciate what is here and be grateful for that good fortune. I can make the most of what is here and enjoy life or mope and make life miserable. I build my own happiness or misery. A window or a door? A room with a view or a room with no worthy view?

The choice is mine… pitiful or powerful?

Period.

The Slow Demise of Snail Mail

I love the rebelliousness of snail mail, and I love anything that can arrive with a postage stamp. There’s something about that person’s breath and hands on the letter.”

-Diane Lane

I switched with the times, and also because ‘snail mail’ was precisely what our postal system used to be way back in the pre-internet days… and perhaps even now since fewer people write letters these days. I began writing letters as emails. The same format as one would follow in a regular letter penned on letter paper. Typing was harder and slower than writing with a pen, but the strong desire to learn and get better at it was the knowledge that it would reach immediately at a click. Also, the anticipation of an equally quick reply spurred me on.

Snail mail usually brought news of welfare, someone’s illness or sought advice in some bleak situation. By the time your precious advice would reach, the matter would have been resolved for better or worse. And as for your queries about the latest developments in the illness and prayers for a speedy recovery, the person would have either recovered a month or so before and would be back at work in a recovered state of health or worse, had just expired! Within the country itself, letters would take weeks to reach at times if one lived in regions far away.

So, emails became my way of maintaining my love of letter writing.

And I wrote emails quite regularly to my dearest and nearest…did I get e-letters? Ah! now that’s a million-dollar question. Suffice it to say that, I just switched to WhatsApp when it became available. Not the same, but it works for me. It’s more like a substitute for the telegram than a mailed, handwritten letter… a supersonic speed telegram via WhatsApp!! (I wonder if they still use telegrams to communicate. Concise. Crisp. Succinct. The very dry form of communication)

I recall grandma telling us how she dreaded getting telegrams when my father was at sea during World War II. Letters were extremely rare. And once, when a letter he’d written arrived, it was after he’d got back! So if he would send telegrams whenever he could to inform them that he was well. Not that they reached as early as you’d expect they did. But definitely earlier than a letter would! Both my grandparents waited anxiously for news and yet dreaded it when the postman knocked on their door. Grandpa would laugh as he recalled how grandma would start crying even before the postman placed the telegram into her trembling hands… Only to end up drying tears of joy!

Back in those days, the postman in a small town in Punjab was more of a friend. Many illiterate people would ask the postman to read the letters out to them. And it wasn’t odd if they even asked him to write a letter for them as they dictated it. At my grandparents’ place, he was their tea and hookah buddy. No wonder letters were delayed more than necessary, they weren’t delivered in time!! And I say this with understanding and not as a rant.

I had the opportunity, much, much later to witness a tete a tete between my grandfather and the postman on one of his delivery visits. He was a storehouse of news. And my grandfather wanted to hear all the inside news about everybody! As did many others I suppose. Needless to say, I didn’t understand a word. Even though the postman had changed by then, the new fellow carried on the tradition.

I myself found snail mail wonderful – there was a lot of anticipation and the joy of looking forward to an envelope or inland letter bearing your name and address beats an email on your laptop or phone. There was pleasure in guessing from the handwriting whose letter it was before checking the sender’s name on the flip side to confirm. The handwriting was a personal touch. Besides pushing a letter into a letter box also held so much of hope and expectation… Something that is lost in an email.

I was thrilled when I received an unexpected letter addressed to me in the mail in April, this year. It’s been donkey’s years since I’ve received personal mail via snail mail. I was excited like a child! I tried to guess the handwriting from the handwritten address. But it wasn’t familiar. This piqued my interest even more. Finally I tore open the envelope and discovered it was a handwritten letter asking about my welfare and if I had settled into life in a new city. And wishing me for Easter. It was from our pastor and his wife in NB.

I have kept that letter in safe keeping. It meant so much to me that someone had thought about me and cared enough to not send a store bought card but write a personal greeting and letter. It didn’t matter that it reached eight days after Easter. The personal touch… what happiness it brings.

Not writing letters by hand is bad enough, but what’s worse, I discovered that I was finding it awkward to handle a pen. My handwriting wasn’t as neat as it used to be! With everything typed out, I found the pen an alien object. Anyway, I persist in keeping a handwritten journal even though I’m not regularly writing in it. Needless to say it seems like chickens have been running wild on the pages leaving behind their untidy scrawl.

Times change and we must change with it to keep up in many things. I’ll always miss the personal touch of a handwritten letter that held more than the identity of the person in the strokes, slashes and curls, and the cuts and the dots!

I’m Good! Meaning it makes it so!

‘How are you?” says the voice over the phone.

“I’m good! How are you?” I say cheerfully.

“Good! Good!” says the voice in reply. Not so convincingly.

Then, as the conversation carries on, somewhere, towards the end, Covid crops up. The tone changes from a hearty “good, good” to tiredness, frustration, worry, anxiety, and the lament – ‘when will this end! I’m so fed up. Even schools are reporting cases these days.’

Our worry for our little ones eats into us.

One sees the news report on the number of cases of Covid. We are all concerned about this virus that’s on a rampage all over the world. We go about our day some going to work and others working from home. WFH seems to be the mode for most working people.

The initial dread has lost its terrifying edge, no doubt, but the threat remains – very real and present. But, we do say we’re ‘fine’ and ‘doing great’ because we have experienced grace. It is gratitude for good health that makes each moment of each day great. We cannot take our good health for granted.

More than ever before, I am grateful each day that I am ‘vertical’ and well. Though the headlines no longer scream the new “cases” nor the numbers of those who have succumbed, we know that the virus is still up and kicking. We know there is something dreadful out there waiting to get us.

According to current reports, the virus is still around, a different variant from the last variant! We still need to wear our masks in public areas; shopping malls, restaurants, schools, and public areas. Schools have been reporting some cases too. People – adults, and kids, who have been affected are getting well, but senior citizens aren’t faring so well. And where kids weren’t catching it earlier, they are catching it these days.

A slight irritation in the throat or a stuffy nose becomes alarming. I start to analyze every little thing I experience physically. It could be a muscle pain – a sprain that I know has nothing to do with a virus! Or a sleepless night – yes, it could be stress and anxiety and not a virus! Or a stuffy nose that causes difficulty in breathing because I didn’t dress appropriately according to the inclement weather when we went out, and not because of the virus!

So yes, every day I get out of bed and am vertical, I have so much to be grateful for. I can no longer take my good health for granted. No matter how careful I am, no matter how often I take care to wear a mask, wash my hands, not touch my face, sanitize after getting back from a trip out… I can still become the next victim of this monster. Yes, I do feel great about being free of the infection, but do I really feel ‘Good’ inside?

I can keep saying out loud, and as often as I want, that I’m ‘Good’ doing ‘Great.’ But if I do not put the truth into the words, it will have little or no effect on how I feel inside. I do not get stronger hiding behind words I do not believe to be true. So I can be genuinely glad that I am not laid low or worse and feel great OR I can put on a show. Just a sham. Can it make anything better though? No, a mere show cannot change anything.

Unless the truth is in the words they cannot make a day good or better. By uttering empty, merely positive-sounding words and feeling fear or anxiety deep inside, you don’t change anything within you. You are not looking forward to another day with the enthusiasm and belief you just expressed.

But I’m not going to mope and make myself more miserable by being afraid and not live the life that I have. We have to face it and the best way is to take one day at a time with prayer and praising… raising ourselves; our spirit.

We must be strong. Follow the rules and guidelines for precaution and safety and leave the rest to God. Make it a good day by not just saying so but believing it to be so. Proclaim it as the truth you feel deep within. Put the bit of truth in the ‘horse’s’ mouth. By saying it with conviction, you make it so because YOU believe it.

Be Happy

Be happy.

Easy to say; not so easy to be. And that means that it’s possible.

So what makes it so difficult to ‘be happy’?

From my own little trials as a girl and bigger struggles as a woman, I’ve learned that most of the barriers were external factors and my own perspective of them and how they would affect me.

Conditioning? To a great extent, yes.

What Will People Think?

Growing up in a home with mixed cultures was confusing at times. Add to that my mother’s own confused cultural upbringing. She was born a Burmese, raised in a westernized family with Portuguese origins who had settled in southern India. She studied in a British-run boarding school. There was a big South Indian influence of friends and the surrounding community too. 

There was a lot of freedom at her home in contrast to the strict Christian discipline at school and she tried to balance her culture with that of her South Indian friends, to fit in. Then, she’d bounce back to her Anglo-Indian culture at home to fit in. As I said… a big mix up.

So we had this mix of Punjabi-Anglo-South Indian-Conventional Christian environment at home. However, she came with her own “What will people think” attitude. It seemed that everything she told us we should do or not do was based on pleasing an invisible group of people.

It didn’t bother me because I couldn’t see the “people” who would approve or disapprove. But, it stayed stuck in my mind. And when I ran into the people who thought they had a right to judge all that I did and said or thought, it kicked in with force. Their opinions seemed to be important. 

We kids developed our personalities in this very interesting multi-cultural environment. I found it easier to be happy because adjusting, I suppose, was easier for me. But it was not so for the rest of us.

I liked both my parents’ westernized ways and some of my father’s Punjabiness. My mother’s South Indianess, I left most of it to her, except for the food! I liked her SI preparations which she’d adjust a bit to suit my palate.

So I was a happy child.

Burden or Challenge?

With all the adjustments and difficulties, I was able to find things to do, learn, observe… things that made me happy. Challenges that brought out the best in me. That doesn’t mean I was this forever bubbly, smiling, laughing kid or teenager. I had my moments… even meltdowns. But what worked was that I knew only I could make myself ‘be happy.’

I didn’t rely on anyone, anything, or situation to change according to my wants; no she/he should not say or do this or that. Or blaming someone or something for making me feel unhappy. I guess a lot of it came naturally or then maybe because I was the fourth child, the baby of the family until I was ten. And also because I was influenced greatly by my father who gave me pep talks and examples of people, including himself, who had maintained a positive attitude in the face of grave difficulties, and had overcome them with a good attitude.

Being happy is an inside job. It starts in you; with you!

From being overly concerned about “what will they think” to “what they think about me is their problem, not mine,” has been a very long, tough, but enlightening journey.  This, however, was just one of the hurdles.

What were the others?

Big Changes In Life

Life was always full of transfers. In the Armed Forces, people get posted out often. In India, this means a lot of changes. Every state we moved to would have a different language, food, customs, and traditions. Besides, I would be leaving my friend circle and all that was familiar behind. But we adjusted to the changes because socially we had no changes. Academically, we’d have some problems because we’d have to learn a second language which would be the local language. But shifting home never shattered me or caused any negative impact until the last big move.

I was in my tenth year. It was a period of shattering change, especially at this age. Though I dealt with the physical shifts and the resulting changes, mainly the loss of friends due to the move.

This was a move to an absolutely alien environment! Going to a place that was a one-horse town in Punjab, in the mid-sixties, was a nightmare for us. Daddy assured us all would be fine, and Mummy didn’t put up much resistance either! Or perhaps, she did but to no avail.

I knew we would not have the basic amenities we were used to; the proper bathrooms, running water in taps, and neighbors not so different from us and who we could speak with, in a common language. I did not know the language of the region, I looked different from the other kids, and spoke with a different accent from the locals. 

I came to realize my horrifying reality at my grandma’s place: dry sanitation toilets, no proper bathrooms with running water in taps! There was a hand pump in the bathroom! No English medium schools nearby; the closest was eighteen miles away. I had to learn how to wash and iron my own clothes…and yes, washing anything, crockery, dishes, clothes hands, face… and a bath… was done with water pumped from the hand pump! This was fun for a while but on a regular basis, it wasn’t camping fun, it was our daily challenge.

We had no domestic help as mummy didn’t approve of any who came for the job. I know this might sound like the rant of a rich, spoiled child, but I assure you it isn’t. We were anything but “rich” as defined by society. To understand why this is a normal rant of any Indian family, in our day and in the present, you’ll have to know the Indian society and how it works. With a huge population, and a large number of people illiterate or with a meager education, many women work as domestic help. They are aplenty and their services are affordable.

We are used to having domestic help.

As kids, it became difficult to adjust to many things. We didn’t understand country life. We were city kids.

However, these weren’t the things that pulled me down. I got over the initial shock. These were the challenges I enjoyed. I was quick to learn and loved the newness of a lifestyle so different from any I’d known. What caused some damage was facing discrimination and biases.

Low Self Esteem

Mine went so low, it was around my ankles.

What made me feel less than came from the attitudes of some of our relatives from my father’s side, and from religious prejudices in society. This was new for me and I wasn’t aware that such things existed. No one had prepared me for this. In those days a ten-year-old wasn’t as knowledgeable as one today would be. I heard things like:

“Your nose is so flat. It’s a slave’s nose. We have sharp noses, we’re a higher class.” And this from an uncle; my father’s youngest brother!

Kids at school were no better.

“Your eyes are so small. Can you see properly?”

“Are you a scheduled caste? An untouchable?”

“If you are a Christian, you must be of low caste. My mother says so”

“No, I don’t want anything from your tiffin box. My mother told me not to eat your food because you eat all sorts of things. But you can share mine.”

“You aren’t a Punjabi. You speak English at home.”

I had never faced such queries and statements. But then, this was rural Punjab in the 60s!. I’d lived in cities and had never faced such prejudices and biases. All of a sudden, mummy’s “what will people think” made those invisible people real.

It was hard to not be affected by these almost daily taunts. My mother was no help in this matter, she told me not to listen to them… How? They were there all around me!

So, I spoke to my father. He helped me.

“There are all kinds of people in this world.” he said, “All have their own opinions. You can hear it with one ear and pass it out through the other. Don’t dwell on it. They are ignorant if they speak this way. Make friends with those who want to be friends and accept you for who you are. If you have even one good friend, you’re good. Numbers don’t count here. Don’t try to argue or defend yourself when they say these things. You’re there to get an education, yes? Well, this is a part of your education. Focus on learning, in the classroom and out of it.”

So I focused on my studies. I did well. I participated in cultural activities and sports and won many prizes and certificates of merit. 

Was I happy through all that? Yes. I never wanted to miss school even though it was a harrowing experience to get to school. And that was a major challenge.

The Long Bicycle Ride

In the first three years,, I and my brother, made that journey of 18 miles (36 miles to and fro) on a bicycle. Yes, two on one bicycle! I sat on the carrier that Indian bicycles had fixed above the back wheel. Given the extreme climate in the north, summers were blistering and winters were freezing, our journey was cruel to our bodies. Our cycle route took us along the highway and then, a shortcut, on a dirt road along a canal. Wide-open spaces and fields; it was burning hot in summer and freezing in winter!

The scorching summer sun would burn my skin. The freezing cold would numb my toes and fingers and the tip of my nose! There were days when we’d have icicles on our eyelashes and eyebrows by the time we reached school. This went on for 3 long years. Grade 5 to Grade 7.

Did I hate school?

Did I make a fuss to go to school?

Did I fare badly at studies?

Negative to all those questions!

I still wanted to go to school and I was active in my studies, cultural programs, sports, and athletics. I had happiness within me that made me happy.

I was growing up fast. Learning new lessons faster.

My antidote: Self-Compassion.

I saw myself through my eyes – warts and all; the good and the ugly. I saw myself as human as the next person. I acknowledged and accepted my strengths and my weaknesses. I liked who I was… a normal human being. A person who had nothing to do with physical appearances but sought to be kind, considerate, faithful, loyal, disciplined, hard-working, positive, caring, thoughtful…and forgiving.

Yes, I saw me for who I was and that was uplifting. My self-esteem went up. No, it isn’t narcissism. I wasn’t comparing myself to others and feeling superior. Neither did the rude comments bother me so much. However, getting to that point of acceptance took longer than it appears in these few sentences.

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I Don’t Want To Be Alone – Fear of being alone

I had left behind my friends. Here in this isolated existence, there was no way I was going to have friends in our neighborhood. The place I could make friends was at school. But they were judgmental, harshly so.

Following Daddy’s advice, I jumped into curricular and co-curricular activities, all of which I enjoyed. I was happy at school, and being basically friendly by nature, I did not reciprocate their initial feelings toward me. In time, the walls came down. 

I made friends.

I was on friendly terms with the whole class (the jibes had stopped), but I had just one good friend! And it took me from grade 5 to grade 9 to make that one good friend. Up until that year, I had classroom friends… class camaraderie and loyalty, that’s all.

Often, the fear of being alone drives us into less than ideal friendships. I preferred to be friends with someone who shared, if not all, some of my interests. A person who had the right attitude and looked towards sharing and learning, uplifting and also giving constructive criticism.

When Janaki V. and I clicked, I was content to have that one friend. I owe a lot to her for helping me to learn Hindi to the point where I liked the language. Decades later, I became a drama artist with AIR (All India Radio) for Hindi plays. The credit partly goes to her and more greatly to my Hindi teacher Mr. Mohanlal Kakkar.

It’s better to not have a friend than collect a bunch of girls who care tuppence about your friendship. I follow that principle to date. Many friendships, but a few faithful friends.

To Be Happy, Be Happy

So how did I ‘be’ happy?

I was a girl growing up amid all these harrowing experiences, yet, I was happy. I was doing well in my studies. I participated and won prizes and medals in sports and athletics. I participated in school plays and cultural activities. My teachers liked me. I was a happy person in school and back at home too. At the time I didn’t do anything consciously, I wouldn’t know the first thing about what to do or how one engineered happiness!

But as I look back, I realize, I was following what my father taught me to do, instinctively. I just did it.

I Took Charge 

Only I could make myself unhappy. So what did I have to do to keep myself happy? Take charge of my own happiness. That I did following Daddy’s advice that people would behave the way they were brought up. The way they were taught, the things they were taught, or according to their experiences outside their comfort area. This molded them.

I realized, the difference in my experiences here was that most of the kids in school were locals who had not been out of their small towns. I was a rare species, so to say! It made me laugh, and I learned how to take things with the proverbial pinch of salt. I did things I liked and which made me happy. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone in my activities, I cared less for what they thought.

I Kept A Positive Attitude

“Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.”~Dale Carnegie

“Never say die” was my father’s oft-repeated phrase. I took it to heart, and I never forgot that giving up was never a first option or even the last. There were moments when I’d want to just throw in the towel and say, “That’s it! I’m done.” But I never really could do that. It went against the grain.

The bicycle rides to school ended when I was in the 7th grade. Due to certain unexpected circumstances, I couldn’t continue going to school on a bicycle. So, I was sent to the city for a year in the 8th grade and then, I returned for Grade 9.

I started going to school on the local bus. I had to change buses in a town called Mullanpur, mid-way, to catch the other bus that would drop me off in front of my school. To reach in time, I’d have to catch the first bus which left at 5.45 am from our town!

You can imagine how, from the age of 10 years, I had to wake up at 5.00 a.m every day. Even during the biking days, I had to wake up that early. We didn’t have 5-day weeks then. Our weekdays were 6-day weeks! Just one holiday to rest on Sunday.

There were those horrifying days when the bus would be overcrowded and I’d be pawed or have hands brush me as I’d try to get off at my stop. I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hit the person or persons hard enough to break their bones. But, all I did was get off the bus, wait for the next, and get on with my studies. I’d self-talk myself into a positive attitude. I’d say good things for me could only come with hard work, perseverance, and if I gave up, what would I be looking at?

These bus rides went on for three interminably long years until we moved to the capital city of Punjab, never to return to this town again.

keep moving forward

Have A Goal

I believe the reason why I was able to keep going was that I had a sure answer to ‘WHY’ I had to surmount the hurdles and roadblocks. I knew nothing about goal-setting and stuff like that. But I did have a goal. An aim. EDUCATION.

It was very important to me that I get an education. I valued the life lessons I got from my father and grandma and teachers like Mr. Mohanlal Kakkar and Mrs. Jolly, and the academic ones too. This was a challenge, and because I had a strong reason, it kept the motivation high. I knew the only way to reach my goal was to deal with whatever would get in the way of achieving it.

Be Helpful

This is another important point. Some people are eager to help, but they expect favors in return. It’s good to be helpful provided you offer help without expecting anything in return.

Helping someone with the expectation of return favors is not being helpful. It doesn’t contribute to your happiness. This is just a bargaining chip in the guise of helpfulness. It can not make you truly happy because it is selfish.

The attitude of being helpful has come to me from my parents. Both of them were helpful,  helpful to the point where people often took undue advantage of their helpful nature. I was that way too until I realized that letting people take unfair advantage of my help was not a part of ‘being helpful.’

I had to learn how to say a big, emphatic “NO” to such people. It’s ok to do so. It’s the only way you can counter their selfishness and be happy deep inside. That spring of joy fills when you lend a helping hand to someone in genuine need.

Prayerfulness & Meditation

Start your day off right with God. The day is always better when you’ve talked to Him first. It gives you the assurance that whatever the circumstances, God is there to help and guide you. If He brings you to it, He’ll take you through it. Keep Him first.

This has been my mantra. From a young age, I’ve leaned on prayer. Needless to say, once again, Daddy was my font of wisdom in this too. To date, I rely on both – prayer and meditation on a daily basis.

These days, since I don’t go to work anymore, I have a Prayer Breakfast! Yes, it’s a solo affair in the morning. I listen to a message, say a prayer, and as I partake of food for my soul, I partake of food for my body too!

Maintain a Grateful Heart & Appreciate the Simple Joys of Life

“Learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want.”~Jim Rohn

One thing I am eternally grateful for is that I have a grateful heart. It’s not something I can take credit for. I was born that way. If credit is due, once again, it’s mostly because of Dad’s pep talks. He and I talked a lot. Right from a young age, he was my go-to person when I needed understanding, comfort, or encouragement. It’s the only reason I survived those early days of my education in Punjab.

I was grateful I had an English medium school to attend. So I survived the hardships.

I was glad I had a comfortable home to live in. There was no lack of anything inside our house that Daddy built within a year of our moving to his hometown. Once inside the gate, it was a haven. All my struggles and tiredness of the day would fall off at the first step inside.

I was thankful for parents and my sisters and brothers.

I was grateful for the big garden, my favorite tree where I’d perch on a branch and read a book…the little chipmunk I raised, the wildfowl chick I rescued, the chickens we reared… the flora and fauna all around me…for my grandma who told me wonderful things and from whom I learned many things.

Yes, I was grateful for every little and big thing in my life.

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The troubles existed, but gratitude towered above it, and with the simple joys of my life, gratefulness dwarfed the difficulties. I was able to surmount the hurdles I faced.

To be happy you gotta BE happy.

Memories – we hang on to

“Absent-minded professor!” That’s often how I am! I could walk from my bedroom with clothes to be put into the laundry basket, but en route, turn into the kitchen, open the lid of the garbage bin, and promptly drop the clothes in. Well, it’s happened just once, but that once has become a hilarious joke for me and my friends. The thing is, I had the lunch menu on my mind and a deadline to meet, and I had the less important task of putting my clothes in the laundry basket. And the kitchen door came before – get the drift?

Most times, there are two (or three) tracks of thought running through my head. And they tend to throw me off track if I’m too engrossed.

I’d have to think hard if you asked me what I had for lunch on a day where the workload is heavy.

Yet, there are memories from years back that I can recall quite clearly.

The greater part of these memories are of the times of happiness, fun, and enjoyment, and of experiencing and learning new things.

The not-so-good memories are there too. Of sadness. Disappointment. Fear. Loneliness. Struggles and hardships, etc. They are embedded in my mind. However, not all are stuck in the crevices of old memories. I realized this when someone would ask me if I remembered some incident or the other and my mind would be blank. Or then, the memory would be hazy.

How true! There are many memories that remain imprinted on our hearts, our minds.

And most often they are the ones of times, moments, experiences in the extreme… too sad, too scary, too painful, too happy, most difficult, exquisitely beautiful… memories that have impacted us; helped us, taught us, tried us.

Memories of people we have met, known well, or in passing.

And those who have been less than ideal people to meet or work with or befriend.

The strangers who became friends and the friends who became foes!

As time passes, I’ve seen that I’ve got a lot of them in all these categories, but I also realize that some of the mundane, too boring ones are also tucked in somewhere in the crevices along with some extremely bitter ones.

The latter don’t surface without context, and if they do then too it’s without the bitter, sharp edge and pain.

Just the learning point.

But rarely do I bring them up and refresh them.

They may not be totally forgotten, but they certainly don’t occupy front space in my mind unless I need them as a reminder of caution, alertness, in situations –

what to be wary of…

who to trust,

where to place trust,

and when to walk away.

When to be patient and not speak out and

when to not rustle feathers… kind of reminders.

The memories we visit often affect our mind. Our thoughts mold our attitude, our behavior, and our personality. We are built with blocks of memories. Our expectations, our hopes, our world view are all built through our experiences.

I accept the memories. The ones that have been instrumental in building my mental, and emotional strengths. The ones that provided unique experiences and insights into the attitudes, values, reactions, and responses of people with whom I connected socially, professionally, and even those within the broad area of family relationships.

I accept the lessons they carry. The wisdom they have imparted. The knowledge I gained. The joy they bring. The sorrow some carry. The bitter truth a few unveil. The honest truth that others bring out. The hard ones that show me my mistakes. The ones that strengthen my resolve to change what needs changing. The encouraging ones which boost my desire to keep learning and growing.

They are all a part of my life journey. I cherish all.

Gratitude springs for all – the best ones, which are in greater numbers, and for the hard lessons learned from the few worst ones!

Tele-Sympathy – Very Short Stories

From the archives: The answering machine, in this story, popped up in my mind when some of my calls were answered with fed-in messages on a couple of answering machines. It popped up as an ideal instrument and provided the answer to the protagonist’s dilemma!

Rrrrrrring Rrrrrrring. Susan waited for the ringing to stop.  She was thoroughly fed-up with the anonymous calls.

The bell rang insistently. She picked up the receiver and waited to hear the mocking and taunting remarks. Susan had retired from her teaching job and settled in this little hill-town, where she intended to start a Bible-School Holiday Resort, for school children. A place where they could come during their summer vacation, for a two-week program.

The concept was to approach the teaching of Christian values and principles with less legalism and preachy methods. She wanted Christian children to learn the practical way of applying God’s word to their lives so that they could enjoy being Christians while they continued to be in right-standing with God. Her friends had volunteered to contribute their cultural, artistic, and musical expertise to enhance the program. However, she wasn’t granted permission to open the resort as the locals opposed the proposition. They thought the resort was a cover to brainwash young minds.

Susan was disappointed. Then the anonymous calls began. Most of them were filled with taunts, jibes, and resentment. Susan was at the end of her tether. She had to do something about this. 

“Use their instrument but to provoke unto love and to good works,” whispered her inner voice.

Susan couldn’t understand how God wanted her to use the telephone. She decided to shift her mind away from this unpleasant situation. She called up a friend. No luck just the answering machine. She tried another and then another. Three answering machines later, she decided to go for a walk. 

Oh, God! Help me, she thought, and added as an afterthought,  at least YOU don’t put me on an answering machine! and she laughed. Then abruptly she stopped laughing. 

The answering machine, the answering machine! she whispered.

Without wasting a minute more, she hurried back to the town. A few inquiries, a few calls, and Susan returned home bursting with hope and great expectations. Finally, the answer to her prayers arrived securely packed in a cardboard box. With the help of a linesman working with the Telephone Department, the answering machine was connected and Susan waited.

All the calls were now greeted with a cheery message that said,  “Hi, I’m praying for you. If you have any problems, let me know, I’ll pray for that too. Thanks for calling.”

After a few days, the calls stopped. Was it the calm before the storm or “the peace that passeth all understanding,”  Susan wondered?

And then it came; a call; a prayer request made in a breathless, hushed voice. Others followed. Susan could recognize the voices of her five persistent callers, and she believed they were between twelve and seventeen years old. She had even given them names according to their attitude and tone and language so she could identify her anonymous callers.

Now she learned that Saucy Sue was exasperated with her parents’ constant quarreling, Giggly Gertrude wanted to run away from the orphanage because they sent the kids to work as domestic help during holidays. Stuttering Stewart didn’t like being teased, Arrogant Aaron didn’t believe in an invisible God or that one even existed, and Martyr Marty was always feeling the victim. Long conversations with each other led to a special bond of trust and faith between the two sides. This continued for some years. Susan never tried to find out their true identities.

That was fifteen years ago. And now Susan would meet them for the first time. Their visit coincided with the welcome reception her church had organized for the new pastor. Two happy events. She hurried to church eagerly that Sunday. To her surprise, Susan found Reverend Sushil Simon, the new priest, younger than she had expected.

She delivered her welcome speech and as she returned to her seat, a familiar voice said,  “Thank you, Susan, for such a warm welcome. It’s nice to come home again.”

Susan almost fainted. Arrogant Aaron! She was sure she had heard the voice that had argued incessantly with her about a non-existent God, almost to the point of making her give up.

She stood still. She couldn’t believe her ears. And was sure she wasn’t mistaken. 

“It is you!” She whispered. Later, when the formalities were over, Sushil walked up to her and smiled.

“I’d like you to meet some of the others,” he said. 

He introduced her to the others. All had done well for themselves. Susan looked at Arrogant Aaron (she still couldn’t call him anything else!) with a question in her eyes, which he answered softly, “1 John 4: 12, I finally understood it. Thank you.” (12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.) NIV

Susan couldn’t speak, but her tears spoke volumes, as she led her friends home. There was so much to say, so much to hear.

This was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009).

I Win the War, One Battle at a Time – weighty problems

Some of these ‘lost and found’ stories/articles that were entered in the challenge round on FaithWriters.com are a fillip to my soul. Like this one. I hope it speaks to someone who is going through something similar and can relate to the way I felt and it helps them.

I recall my orthopedic doctor telling me in his wonderful baritone, “Ma’am, the only way we can make any progress here is if you make a serious effort to follow my instructions and take the first step: LOSE weight.” I had osteoporosis and osteoarthritis was setting in. And the only way any treatment would work was when I reduced weight. It took some years to accomplish because of my attitude and reluctance to rise above my feelings. Years later, this article brings a wide grin and also a sense of pride and gratitude for God’s grace in what I achieved in the BATTLE of the BULGE against ill health. So here goes another from the archives with a spot of editing!

The original was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009)

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“Why don’t you join the WWF?”(World Wrestling Federation)

“Fat doesn’t suit you!”

“Oh my gosh! You’ve become soooo fat! I didn’t recognize you at first!”

These are just some of the painfully direct questions and reactions I get to hear nowadays. Till some time ago, I had enjoyed the compliments that generally came my way due to a slim, well-maintained figure and youthful looks, that had more to do with my genes than any effort on my part or help from beauty regimens. But that was many yesterdays ago.

Six years later and twenty kilos heavier, I find myself cringing at the disbelief I encounter along with the accompanying comments. The onslaught of cancer and the necessary hysterectomy (uterus and ovaries) which followed have defeated all my battles with the bulge and I watch helplessly as my girth grows.

While I labor under a 20kg (44.09 lbs) increase on a 5’2″ frame, it makes me realize how people who are overweight might feel at most times. To have been overweight right from the start is one thing, to become rotund after a lifetime of “slim” is an entirely different issue. It isn’t easy to be sane or practical when you see odd bulges and shapes reflected back at you in the mirror. No matter what you do, the plump face refuses to look anything but puffy!

I try to explain to myself that under all that ‘blubber’, I’m still beautiful because I’m the same person. But who am I kidding? I see my confidence disintegrating every time my husband eyes that pretty, slim, thing that floats by. I feel threatened by his smart, young secretary, and the innumerable slim ladies who walk in and out of his hotel. I hide behind loose, ill-fitting clothes that make me look even more hideous and bulky. And then, I sink into the abyss of “IC,” inferiority complex. (I remarried after six years of widowhood at a time when I was still slim and it’s been only five years in this relationship).

For folks at home and in the office, I’ve become the butt of their jokes. So I have learned to laugh with them. And the worse I feel the louder I laugh. I even make jokes about being a ‘heavy weight’ sumo wrestler. And since I always laugh at myself (in a good way) and joke about the slip-ups and silly things that I do, it appears normal. And I fool myself, too, into thinking that I’ve finally learned to live with it.

Then why am I so low-key? Why do I opt to stay at home so often? Why do I suspect my husband wants to have an affair with every thin woman he sees?!

Why don’t I drown in my tub of lard!!

I need to get a hold of myself. The ‘self’ that I am inside. I’m finding it difficult to live with this person I am becoming.

And then, something happens. I become a widow again! I am in the doldrums and my condition worsens.

As the days pass, thanks to my doctor, I get fresh insights about myself and a better understanding of the situation I am in. It has taken time, but my good humor is restored. I realize what being happy and content is all about. I can see that I am who I am, not because of the kilos my weighing machine records; nor the shape my clothes show off. It’s my attitude. The right attitude will finally win the day. Obese or anorexic-I need a positive mind to lift my spirit (low spirits)! I accept the situation and the reasons for it. And I know it is up to me to change it for the better. Better health – physical, mental, and emotional.

I look at what I have in my life and need to appreciate; be grateful for it.

I still have my family; I still have my friends; I’ve still got love; I’ve still got my job; I still love who I am inside – the real me – and ultimately that’s all that matters.

Postscript: And that’s how the WAR was won, one BATTLE at a time over many years- On low self-esteem. On dwindling confidence. On negative attitude. On self-pity. On ‘pity’ parties. On weakening faith, hope, and joy. On Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis from my late forties onwards. Today in my sixties, I can look back at this arduous journey and smile with joy at having removed the biggest hurdles to better health and a better quality of life.

If you are struggling in the same way as I did and have overcome your battles, I high-five you.

If you are not quite there yet, take heart. You have it in you. You can do it. Stay strong. One day at a time, one step at a time. You can do it.