Message In The Sky

A pic I took some years back from the kitchen! I heard the sound of a plane or planes, perhaps. One doesn’t usually hear that much sound close by. It would be a rare sight of a helicopter, at times, and its drone that identified it. One saw commercial aircraft flying way up but one didn’t hear them. So out of curiosity, I peeked out. I loved what I saw. The plane/s had left two smoky trails that formed a V. So I stepped out the door that opened onto the backyard and clicked this beautiful picture. “V for victory”, I said to myself. It was as if this message was written in the sky, especially for me. I needed it then. I hadn’t gotten over my lock, stock, and barrel moves, two of them – two countries within four years, and the insecurity that I felt because of feeling ‘rootless’.

Pic: joy Clarkson Titled: V for Victory

Yesterday, I came upon this picture while going through my cache of photographs. And it spoke to me once again. The same way. I needed this reminder. A nudge that helped me to recall all the ups and downs I’ve dealt with (alone) face-on and come through, if not with flying colors, all in one piece and without losing my sanity or never-say-die spirit. The highways and trails of life are not always ideal, straight, smooth, easy, wonderful, or even safe, but sometimes, our journey just has to be on such paths. And I’ve traversed almost all of the categories – good, bad, and terrible. It was only my faith in God and the trust that He walked with me and went through every high and low, and even unsafe stretch with me that brought me safe and whole this far. I trusted my GUIDE. So when I saw this photograph once again, it echoed what I had said back then when I first read the message in the sky: ‘V’ for VICTORY!

I hope it speaks to someone else too!

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.




Your Word

Recently, I came across a quote on ‘commitment’ that reminded me of another one I had read many, many years ago, and which has stayed with me since then. The recent one was this:

“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do, long after the mood you said it in has left you.”

-Unknown

It sounds great, very strong, however, it left me with a feeling of ambiguity. It does not convey the whole message. The stress on caution was missing. In the spur of a moment, caught up by a wave of emotion, we may commit to something without even giving it a second thought. What are we committing to? The reference to “the mood” is ambiguous. The mood could have been anything: frivolous, drunken, even just a dare or vicious, bitter or vengeful. What message is it conveying exactly? To a narrow mind, a narrow perception this message could be misleading. Before we make a commitment; a promise, we must be careful before we give our word.

The message seems to justify any commitment made in any “mood.” While commitments must be kept, it is important to know what we are committing to. Is it violating our value system? Is it going against the law of the land? Is it the right thing?

The value of commitment was written on my heart when I was in grade five. It was the year my father decided to put in his papers and take early retirement from the Navy to devote his time wholly to the “Lord’s Service.” After the formal send-off by his department, he was invited by the Chief of Staff, Admiral B.S. Soman, to a private dinner at his home. My elder sister promptly gave my father her autograph book for the Chief’s autograph. Admiral Soman obliged with more than a signature. He wrote these wonderful words of caution and wisdom:

“There is nothing more valuable than your word, so be careful.”

I read it. I re-read it. I liked it. It sounded profound. I didn’t get it.

It was too profound for my limited intelligence in this area. So, as always, I had to ask Daddy. And, as always, he sat me down and explained it to me, supporting it with simple examples and some biblical references too. I nodded. It all made sense, but I still needed to think more about it. I mulled over it and then so many other matters of change occurred in my life, that I had no time to ponder over such things as my word. But, neither the words nor the lesson was lost on me. I remembered. It was ingrained in my mind. This small sentence with a huge message has stayed with me ever since; nudging me, poking me, stabbing me so many times during the years of growing up. If I thought I had learned it well, I had another thought coming. Some lessons have to be learned and re-learned as long as it takes to get them. Even today, it kicks me hard, especially when I find myself caught in a maddening situation of honoring a commitment foolishly made.

It is better, any day, to say an emphatic ‘No’ (or a mild one!) but a definite NO, rather than lie outright, make lame excuses, or give outrageous, ridiculous reasons to wiggle out of keeping your word on a commitment foolishly and hastily made!

Would you like to be known for the commitments you never kept? Or by the ones that got you into hot water? I guess not. So be careful to whom or to what you give your word.

Your ‘word’ is valuable.

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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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Travelers In The Sky

The clouds in the sky don’t always come out to blackout the sunlight, sometimes they come to hug the sun.” -Joy Clarkson

I gazed at the clouds floating above. They appeared so light floating high in a cerulean sky. Carefree and free of the weight of fears, worries, anxieties: no burdens!” -Joy Clarkson

“I love to stand at the window and gaze at the clouds in the sky. They remind me that everything changes. Life changes. Situations change. We change too!” -Joy Clarkson

“Cotton balls or wooly sheep? I thought. They traveled on steered by the wind. They have no choice but to go where the wind takes them. The shepherd wind and its flock of sheep.” -Joy Clarkson

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.

Domestic Goddess! She’s all that and more – Very Short Stories

“Hurry up darling, give me a fresh towel, please.”

“In a minute Raj. Here you are honey,” she smiles and turns to go back to the kitchen and anxious raised eyebrows replace the smile. She hastens to check on an omelette getting cooked in the pan.

“Did I lower the heat?” she mumbles to herself. “I better run!” She quickens her pace and as she enters the kitchen, she hears her son calling out to her. She’s needed again! A quick check. The omelette is fine.

“Mom! Are you listening? I can’t find my socks. I told you not to tidy my room.”

She opens her mouth to retort – ‘Take a deep breath before you answer,’ says her heart just in time.

“Okay, Kirit, I’ll remember if you remember to tidy it yourself. Your socks are in the second drawer on the left-hand side,” she said on the go and was just in time to take the omelette out of the fry-pan, before it burned, and place it on a plate. The filling, the filling.. quick!.

‘Now for the filling that “gets folded in after and not cooked”, she is amused, and flicker of a smile plays on her lips. She stretches her hand to pick up the grated cheese…Raj didn’t like the cheese as a filling cooked inside. He liked it folded in a hot-off-the-pan omelette; three-fourths-melted; a filling “not cooked”. She grabs the cheese…

“Sweetheart, Where’s the blue tie? The one with the diagonal stripes.”

The cheese can wait. Run baby. Run.

“It’s right here Raj with all the ties,” she says holding back her exasperation. She makes a dash for the door.

“While you’re at it, please keep a fresh handkerchief out too,” grinned her husband.

“Sure Hon.” She takes out a hanky and makes good her escape.

Back in the kitchen, she moves like a whirlwind getting packed lunch and breakfast ready for the family. Omelette and hot buttered toasts for Raj. Banana pancakes and milk for Kirit. Lunch packets for both. Green tea and a cheese-marmalade sandwich for herself.

“Darling, I’m running late today, could you hurry up and give me my breakfast,” said Raj as he sat down at the table and opened the newspaper.

“Hi Mom, can I skip cornflakes, today?”

“No! What’s the big deal? You’re a growing boy and you need proper nourishment.”

“That’s the big deal. Can I have an omelette too?”

“NO!

“But why not?”

“Just in case you have forgotten, you have a working mom. That’s why!”

“So…?”

“So I don’t have the time to whip up an egg and…”

“Chill Mom,” Kirit interrupted, grinning. “I don’t want an egg. I’ve had my cornflakes anyway,” he laughs impishly. She gives him a whack with her napkin, which he dodges and runs off to the bus stop.

“Darling, just listen to this.”

“I can’t sweetheart, I need to hurry too.”

“Babes, you’re going to end up getting sick if you stress this way. Relax.”

“Yeah. I’ll do that Hon.” She zips off to change into her office clothes.

“Hey, you didn’t even kiss me,” she hears him calling out.

“If you can wait fifteen minutes, you’ll get it,” she calls back.

She hears the door close and the car starts up. She’s dressed and dashes off to the stop where the office cab picks her up every day. After a few minutes, she realizes the cab isn’t coming. A quick call to the office confirms her worst fear. She looks at her watch, she’s five minutes late and has missed her cab. The time had changed for pickup. How did she forget!

‘Got to get a cab,’ she thinks and begins to walk. The cab stand is a good ten minutes walk.

“You’re late Neera,” said her senior colleague, in surprise.

“I’m sorry! I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she smiles, managing to be apologetic and charming!

“Hurry Neera, we have to be in the Conference Hall in ten minutes.

“I’ll be right there, you get going.”

She brushes her hair. Checks her lipstick. Picks up her laptop and a few notes she had scribbled on the way. As she walks to the conference hall she feels a nervous tension building up. She has to make a presentation for a very important client. It was a big deal and clinching the deal meant a lot for the company.

Her mobile phone rings.

“Hi Sweets, forgot to tell you, we’ll be having guests over for dinner. Think of some nice Mughlai dishes and let me know what you need to cook up your famous dishes. I’ll get it for you on my way back.”

“Raj,” she says trying hard to keep a cool head. “That’s breaking news! You should have told me earlier. Sorry baby, you know how tied up I am with work. You’re great, you’ll manage very well on your own. Talk to you later, bye!”

She’s at the door of the Conference Room.

She pauses. Takes a deep breath and says, “Here I am Lord! What I am, and what I’m not. Take my natural self and add your ‘SUPER’ to it. I need it today.”

She enters the room with a small smile on her face, exuding utter confidence and calmness, like one who is sure of victory.

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In this ‘challenge’ topic, ‘SUPER’, on FaithWriters.com, I combined the experiences of working wives and mothers who were my colleagues or friends, as shared with me, and a bit of my own too, through the mid-’70s to the early ’90s. Things have changed a lot (for the better) since then on the home front and for the working wife and mom.

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

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!

The River – Very Short Stories

This story is fiction loosely based on a true incident. I have woven it around news and true incidents of floods and flash floods that occur at many places during the monsoon season. Read more about it at the end.

The river had always been there. It had been a part of every phase of Nandu’s life. His boyhood was spent cooling off in its cool water during the hot summer afternoons. And of course, the fish which was their daily meal came from the river. The river was their lifeline.

Nandu used to make and sell marigold garlands to the devotees, who thronged the ‘Ghats’. They were people who bathed in the river, believing it would wash away their sins

The river was holy for those who believed. For Nandu, it was an extra buck. The more the people, the more garlands he sold, as these were used in the ritual of offering prayers and other religious rites.

Nandu was an orphan who would have met a watery death in the river if it hadn’t been for ‘Nani’ (Nani is the Hindi word for maternal grandmother). Mary, who was called Nani by all and sundry, wasn’t his relative. She had picked up the abandoned baby from the riverbank. She was the only family he knew. She was poor but had a heart of gold; uneducated but wise. Very early, she taught Nandu the importance of the river in their lives.

He remembered how fascinated and scared he was as a child, when he saw the river in spate for the first time, during a rather heavy monsoon downpour. It swelled and overflowed its banks and the angry swirling water threatened to flood the town.

“Nani, where does the river come from ?”

“From a very big mountain, high up in the Himalayas,” she replied.

“Where does it go ?”

“Very, very far. To the end of the rainbow.”

“What does it do there ?” asked Nandu in wonderment.

“It goes up the rainbow and returns to the mountain.”

“Nani, does the river never end?”

“No, it goes on forever.”

He thought for a while, then turned to Nani again.

“But Nani, why is it so angry?”

“Because you have been very naughty.”

“If I say I’m sorry, will it stop from flooding the town?”

“Well, it’s always good to say you’re sorry,” was her circumspect reply.

“Will it forgive me?”

“That’s for the river to say. I cannot speak for it,” was her gentle reply. “It does what it has to do, goes where it has to go. It is controlled by external powers that often overpower man’s superior and scientific mind.”

“It scares me when it is in fury, like this,” he said. “I fear it will wash me away too. It will carry me away to the rainbow.”

“Don’t worry about that. You weren’t destined to be carried away.” She said that with the confidence that only comes with knowledge.

“How do you know that Nani?!”

“The river takes only those who belong to it,” she replied quietly, “those whose life purpose has been fulfilled. Only they flow to the rainbow.”

Nandu sat quietly, contemplating that information.

Mary’s life revolved around Nandu. Their need for each other arose from a deep-seated pain within, which grew out of rejection and abandonment. Nandu’s adoration and respect for Nani grew as he watched her slog from dawn to dusk, to keep him clothed, fed, and educated. Mary would take up any work she found. Sometimes it would be breaking stones, where a road was being built, or carrying mud and bricks on her head at a construction site. But she was always full of warmth, comfort, and love.

Her face was sunburnt and her hands were rough. She was strong. Nandu was in awe of her especially when she got into one of her tempers. Her eyes would blaze and her tongue would lash the recipient of her ire.

One day, Mary came home with Paul, whom she had met at the site where a Christian hospital was being built. Nandu and Paul sat talking late into the night. That day Nandu learned about another river – the river of life that flowed from the Rock of Ages.

Paul began visiting them often. Nandu’s curiosity led him to question and debate all that he was learning about the “great Fisherman”; His life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Day by day he grew in the knowledge and love of Christ. He would read passages from the Bible Paul had gifted him, and listen intently as his new friend explained the mysteries of the Word. Mary watched with immense joy and contentment. Her life’s work would fructify in Nandu and flow like the river, beyond the rainbow to salvation and everlasting life.

One day they gathered at the river and Nandu was baptized by a visiting pastor. That night dark clouds gathered in the sky. There was a mighty crash of thunder as a cloudburst over the town took the people unawares. Before they realized what was happening the deluge engulfed and destroyed everything in its path.

Nandu awoke in a hospital ward. He was disoriented and confused. Paul, sitting on a chair by his bedside, silently watched him.

Nandu shut his eyes and slowly it all came back.

The flash.

The roar.

The deluge.

It wrenched his heart and his body convulsed with bitter sobs. The only vivid memory he had was of Nani being carried away by the devouring water. She didn’t fight or try to save herself. She seemed a part of the river — She was the river, flowing on forever.

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(This was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009) Under the title ‘Beyond The Rainbow’. I’ve edited it a bit and changed its title.

This story was inspired by a true incident where someone I knew, an affluent lady, adopted the girlchild of a laborer she saw while driving down the hilly, undulating roads of the place she lived. The woman was on work as a part of the paid labor working on repairing the hill roads. Her baby girl, about a few months old, was in a hammock made out of cloth and hung from branches of trees stacked up to hold the hammock with its tiny load. She agreed to give up the child who was the youngest one of perhaps 4 or 5 kids! She already had two girls and was only too happy to give this one away. This little girl grew up in her new well-to-do, non-Christian family without any knowledge of her birth parents. She was educated in a prestigious Christian school.

Much later, when she was a young woman, like Nandu in the story, she embraced Christianity. I learned about this last development recently. Another similarity, like Nandu, she lost her mother, my colleague, when she was still a young schoolgirl. It was an untimely death and came as a shock. When this story was written, I never imagined in my wildest thoughts that the little girl my colleague had adopted would turn to Christ since the family followed another religion. So I was quite surprised at how this story merged in some points at the end.

The rest is all fiction.