A memory from a few years back popped up when I and the twins were talking about understanding dog “language”! And they were trying to fit words to different barks, grunts, groans, growls, and whines… it was fun and I had tears running down my face as we rolled with laughter. I recalled having posted in WP something about a dog and its owner at an amusement park we had visited about three or four years back. Sharing it here as the memory brings a smile and a chuckle back again.
“We’re going to an Amusement Park this Saturday,” piped the twins.
“On an island.”
“Yes. It’s not too far. We’ll be taking a ferry ride.”
“Okaay… How do you have an island with no sea around?”
“It’s a river island.”
Clicked this from the ferry as we approached the Amusement park at Centre Island.
Satisfied with this info, I wondered what I’d do at the amusement park. To see me on a normal day, of which, thankfully, I have many in the continuum of ‘good’, ‘not-so-good’, ‘better’ days, you’d wonder why I was skeptical about the amount I’d have to walk and the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the outing.
Well, my condition is quite unpredictable. I could be walking, bending, and doing things normally… and then, just like that, I’d be laid down with a lumbar disc issue which would leave me unable to walk, sit up or even turn myself on my side in bed; not to mention, the excruciating pain. And then, not to be left behind, are a cervical disc and knees that like to surprise me now and then. So every action, even though I am careful, can trigger terrible consequences. Although I am careful, things can go wrong with the most simple turn or bend I make.
So, I decided I’d be the official photographer and resort to people watching to keep occupied and humored. I wasn’t disappointed. One encounter with a young couple and a grandma with her little grandson makes me laugh even now.
I was sitting on a bench and eating nachos while the rest were doing the rounds of a few rides that they had still to go on. A young, Indian couple with a cute little dog, a 5-month-old pup, sat on the bench behind me. I picked up a conversation about the pup. Soon, a granny, whose grandson was crying sought the pup as a good diversion for the little boy; it worked. He stopped crying and she swapped stories with the couple about their respective pets. I returned to my nachos.
Just as I lost interest in their conversation, the grandma turned to leave, her purpose in speaking to them being achieved. The pup began yapping at her as she walked away and she turned and waved to it. It wagged its tail. Then she turned to leave again and it yapped. This drew my attention back to them and I eavesdropped on the conversation that followed. I admit I’m glad I did… I was getting bored!
The young man apologized for his pup’s incessant barking and thought he should explain it like this:
“He doesn’t want you to go. He wants to talk to you.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” she said, graciously but eager to move on. However, the young man was not done yet. So she lingered a while longer as he continued.
“But he can’t talk, you see,” he explained, as if he were imparting some unknown fact, “that is why he is barking.”
‘She knows that silly!’ my mind said. I was enjoying this little scene that was playing out before me.
“It seems he likes you and doesn’t want you to go. So sorry,” the young man continued. And tried to pacify the pup that was getting shriller and more agitated.
I wondered, ‘why are you going on and on playing interpreter? It’s a dog. It’s barking. Period!’
“Yes,” chipped in his companion, grinning broadly, “he can’t talk our language, no? So he’s talking in his language.” I thought she was done, but she wasn’t.
“We can understand his language,” she said with a broad grin, nodding her head from side to side, “but everyone can’t understand, you see. So don’t mind that he’s barking at you. He’s actually liking you.”
The smile on the lady’s face was no longer amiable and a glazed look replaced the warm one. I could see that she wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Were they daft or did they presume she was daft? She opted to say nothing.
She nodded her head briskly and walked away with a quicker step dreading, I suppose, that he’d drag the inane conversation further.
I was indeed at the Amusement Park and I’d had a quiet laughter ride with no risk of injury!
“The words that a father speaks to his children in the privacy of home are not heard by the world, but, as in whispering-galleries, they are clearly heard at the end and by posterity.”
I lugged the picnic basket up the little hillock. It was a bit heavy and big for a puny six-year-old, but that didn’t matter. After all, it contained our “victory treat.” I just managed to keep up with my brother and father, who were carrying our prized kite and the paraphernalia that goes with kite-flying. My father had clubbed a picnic along with this kite-flying event. I was flushed with excitement. We were going to “finish off” all our contenders that day with our daddy-of-all-kites. It was “biiig”!
It was a beauty with reinforced string, called ‘Manja,’ painstakingly made by dad. Why all this trouble? Why not just buy a kite and string as usual? This was in response to our lament that we never “got the better of the others.” We usually got cut off (literally) and would trudge back home disappointed that we didn’t even get to enjoy just flying our kite for a longer time.
Looking back, it was indeed a day to remember. A victory crafted for us by Daddy.
I was six years old then, but six-plus decades later, the memory is as fresh as ever. There are myriad memories painted on the canvas of my childhood about the fun things he did with us and mostly all to do with activities outdoors. And many more that taught me and molded me; gave me the strength to push on; determination and perseverance to “never say die” when the going got tough. To know what to pursue – wise choices. He inspired me and instilled in me the importance of never giving up hope.
The youngest of four children, my younger brother came much later, I wasn’t docile nor girly and tried to copy my elder brother and his friends. This aggravated my mother especially since my other siblings were docile and quiet. It didn’t help that my father had a big hand in my bold pursuits. She’d lecture him too about it pointing out that the stories he regaled us with were a bad influence on me. Of course, he didn’t see how it could be so, and kept me hooked!
The tales of his boyhood rivaled Tom Sawyer’s and fired my imagination almost to the point of setting out to explore the world at the ripe old age of eight (mum set that right!); getting into scrapes with bullies who picked on my brother; creeping through the underbelly of a rail cum road bridge, on a narrow metal plank, over the backwaters of the Arabian Sea below, until I was a good way over the waters.
Here I would sit to cheer my brother who had gone ahead; had jumped from the plank and grabbed the side iron railing supports, positioned himself securely, and thrown down his fishing line and hook. We were ambitious kids trying to catch a whale (even a baby one would do!) with a fishing line made of thick twine and a ‘big’ fishing hook. Big as in bigger than the ones we used to catch fish closer to the shore.
Or getting pumped up by a bunch of our friends to jump across a duck pond after some of my friends’ brothers, a couple of older girls, and my own brother too, jumped over and convinced me it was easy and doable. So, I did. And landed…
…with a splash in the middle of the pond. The ducks flew out quacking wildly at me for disturbing their peace while the humans clapped and laughed at my expense. As appeasement, my brother didn’t find it worth the fun after we got home and he had to face the music. And, I had my laughs and song and dance as he scowled.
Or then becoming the ‘test’ parachute jumper for my brother and his friends (once again!). The dare was to jump off a ledge that was nine-ten feet above the ground. They knew the only way they could get me to do tough or daring things, I knew I shouldn’t do, was to say that girls were too weak and scared cats and couldn’t do anything. I found it hard to ignore their dare. I mean, I was just a little girl who was fiercely defiant of any boy putting me down because I was a girl.
This dare came about after I and my brother showed them a parachute we had made out of an old tablecloth. It drew a lot of praise but there’s always one person who has to poke a hole into your balloon.
“All that’s fine. But does it work?” piped up one kid.
“Yup,” quipped my brother in defense.
“Show us,” retorted the other.
My brother looked at me. He had made me try the parachute, that was the truth. But where and from what height? I had jumped from a tall laundry basket… we had those tall wooden ones where you threw in the dirty clothes from the top of a wooden box with a lid and no bottom. It was open below and sat on a lower box with cane trellis work sides offering air through the holes to the clothes collecting below. The lower airy container had a door from where one pulled out the laundry for wash. The clothes on top would fall in and take their place. Yeah, so having successfully tested the parachute, from a height of say five feet, and qualifying as an experienced parachuter, I became the default test jumper.
Now, from where was I going to jump here? They decided that the best place would be the ledge protruding over a window. This would have been about 9-10 feet above the ground… and the ground was a concrete side path running along the wall. I was scared to death.
Jumping off a laundry basket and jumping off a ledge that high with a parachute made of a tablecloth! No way I was going to do that. I was just a seven-year-old, and a small build girl.
“Well,” said the bull-headed boy, “you’ll be the youngest para-jumper at age seven! That’s a record.”
“Do it, otherwise they’ll make fun of the parachute.” whispered my brother.
“You do it. you’re bigger and taller,” I whispered back.
“You’re lighter and smaller and the parachute will open better with you.”
“The ground is too hard.”
“Remember to keep your knees flexible. Not stiff. Bend them when you land,” was his parting shot.
Long story short. I jumped. I bent my knees. But not before the jarring pain shot through. Thankfully, there was no serious damage. My knees ached for a few days. And I decided that I would no longer get bullied into being their stooge. Jumping off a nine-ten feet high ledge onto a hard concrete floor was not something that made me brave. I felt anything but that.
I suspect Daddy liked the firebrand element in my nature, for he never reprimanded me nor criticized my escapades. But over a period of time, I suspect he found my mother was right and I needed to get involved in other activities. He was getting alarmed. He never pulled me up or checked me, but spoke to me gently. Soon, I was introduced to music, classical Indian dance, drama, drawing, and painting. He began taking us to visit museums and historical monuments, and he encouraged my interest in history and art.
At about this time, he also began talking to me about the values of life and religion. Not as one would with a child but as one would with a teenager or young adult. Needless to say, there was much I didn’t comprehend. This would be the drift of our conversations in the future. A lot was going over my head. I didn’t get it, but some of it stayed with me. I remembered it.
As I grew older, all that had been above my understanding, finally went into my head and my heart. I grew in years and understanding. He was my idol. A signpost on my path.
His Quirks and Failings
I have to tell you about one of his quirks. He loved to sing and even in public, as he walked, much to my mother’s embarrassment. He would burst out into song while walking down a street causing passersby to turn and stare. Oblivious to my mother’s scowl, I’d clap and laugh and join him, if I knew the chorus for those were the songs he sang. I joined him as long as I was a little girl. As I grew older, I’d smile shake my head and let him enjoy himself.
His favorite one was – Trust in the Lord and don’t despair, He is a friend so true. No matter what your troubles are, Jesus will see you through. Sing when the day is bright. Sing through the darkest night. Everyday, all the way. Let us sing, sing, sing.
Then, marriage took me away from my hometown at the age of twenty. And widowhood brought me back. This sudden turn of events unleashed years of turmoil and struggle. I saw many friends’ and relatives’ masks fall off. And my idols (Dad was one of them) topple from their pedestals. Until that time, I had never bothered to observe my father apart from our relationship where I was a pampered daughter and he was my idol. His public image had dwarfed all else – a great orator; a powerful preacher and a storehouse of biblical knowledge.
Until that time, I had never observed the ‘walk’ behind the ‘talk’. It was a painful discovery to learn that he didn’t practice all that he preached. There was a lot of talk but a bit less walk. More preaching than practicing. I’m not saying that he was a hypocrite. It’s just that he, at times, practiced only what was convenient and not too demanding.
Bereft of comfort and support, I found myself falling back on all that he had taught me. My trust and faith in God grew stronger with every onslaught of misfortune. Was it surprising then to find myself singing – “trust in the Lord…” as I wearily lay my head on my pillow? No. It wasn’t. It was my dad again.
My IDOL had toppled from its pedestal, not my DAD.
The man who was my father was just a human with the frailties and faults of humankind. I had made him an idol. He never claimed to be above and beyond the ordinary. He might not have walked the whole talk in his personal life, but he put signposts up for me to follow. Even if I strayed or took a wrong turn trusting in my own judgment, I could always find my way back.
I could face the challenges. I could overcome them. I could walk alone – because I learned to walk in faith, hope, and trust in God from him.
The initial pain of being abandoned by my parents had given way to a deeper understanding and forgiveness. When I look back today, it is with immense gratitude to a parent who gave me a goal and showed me the path to tread.
I’ve come a long way Dad and I want you to know, that I am proud of you. And so grateful for the life lessons you taught me. So appreciative of the time you spent listening to me when I came to you, as a child; a young teenager; a young woman; with a million questions and arguments against things I couldn’t understand and hence wouldn’t accept. You kept your cool with me even though I know you were never very patient with arguments against your word, especially if it came from a source of utter ignorance!
A short time before he died, I had traveled back to my hometown to visit my siblings and dad. And out of the blue, he did something so alien to his nature.
I just stared at him in disbelief. Dumbfounded and not sure I had heard right.
He repeated the last line again, looking directly into my astounded, wide eyes – “I truly regret not holding your hand and standing by your side… not staying with you in Rajasthan.”
It helped that he realized much later how he had failed me. And apologized for not being there when I needed him the most. And true to the man he was, there were no ‘because’, ifs or buts sort of reasons or long explanations to justify himself. He didn’t make any excuses. He accepted what he realized was a failing on his part. I was surprised as I didn’t expect it nor did I hold it against him. I had forgiven him a long time back in my heart and told him so again. But he said that he had to say it.
About four months later he died suddenly of a heart attack.
The man I had turned to for guidance; the man who made up ditties with my name and sang them joyfully for me; the man whose teachings and guidance had steered me through the years encouraged me and motivated me to carry on when everything seemed to be bearing down on me and life was falling apart; the man who had put up signposts for me along the path had gone on his own journey. And in leaving left me the greatest message, a gift in his apology.
So, I gather all the love, respect, gratitude, appreciation, pride and joy I’ve always held in my heart in being your daughter in these three little words…. I love YOU.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
Can one learn how to be happy? Yes, you can. Now, many would find that difficult to believe. But beinghappy 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 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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.
“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.
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?
“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 agood 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?”
“But why not?”
“Just in case you have forgotten, you have a working mom. That’s why!”
“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.
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)
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