Chile Diary – 8

Today’s post, from my journal, brings in the lady who I mentioned in an earlier chapter; Mauricio’s mother. Her house was badly damaged in the big quake and with tremors rolling in at short intervals daily, it wasn’t safe for her to continue staying in the house. So, she shifted into the company guesthouse too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mauricio’s Mom

Last night we got to sit down and talk with Mauricio and his mom, the other people who shifted into the guesthouse. Since Mauricio knows English, he played translator and we were able to carry on a conversation with his mother. As it turned out she has a fascination for India and, surprisingly, was well-informed about our country.

She had a lot of questions about our customs, various religions, attire, indigenous spices used in our food, Hinduism; the river Ganga, the status of women with an emphasis on the girl-child, and even about historical monuments (especially the Taj Mahal), and political figures like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Answering her queries was very interesting for me as it took me back to my teaching days. I surprised myself with my ability to recall, with accuracy, many historical facts, folklore, customs of various communities, religious ceremonies etc.

There was a lot of exchange of information as she told us quite a bit about Germany, where she had lived for some years, and also about Moroccan customs she had learned about from a close friend who was a Moroccan. We had a lot to laugh about too and were generally enjoying ourselves when it happened.

I was the first to feel the swaying of the building. Seeing the panic on my face, Mauricio sprang up and took my hand. Ranjit had already taken my other hand. This prevented me from jumping up and running. It was a tremor. This was different. It carried on slowly for about 30 seconds in a slow swaying motion. Not again, I thought.

We sat it out. With four people around me, it wasn’t so scary. We thought it had been a small one but as it turned out, it was a 6.9 rocker with its epicenter in Concepcion. However, it broke the convivial mood and signaled the end of all conversation. We retired for the night.

I woke up late and felt tired. I barely had time to drink my tea when Gabriel arrived to take me to his house for the day and I had to rush without my breakfast. I wrote a bit, talked a bit to Roxanna. We were able to understand each other quite well through signs and a few words we understood. I rested in the early evening as I watched the latter half of Martian Child starring Russell Crowe. Roxanna had gone on a business call to Valparaiso.

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Yes, after a short break, I’m back at the keyboard. It’s 7.45 p.m and I’m here trying to capture the moment. But, I’m unable to find the spark. I feel drained. The evening signals a wan picture for me. It’s back to the guesthouse and I’ll sit alone while Ranjit and Manu see to things at the apartment. The laptop would have gone with them, not that it matters so much as there’s no internet in the guesthouse! They’ll bring dinner at about 10.30 or so.

Under the circumstances, I’m holding on pretty well, considering the food timings going awry, lack of sleep, complete disruption of my daily routine and suppressed longings for home, family conversations and my own bed and bathroom! Kudos girl, you’re doing great. It doesn’t matter what the others think or don’t think… Just keep the faith.

 

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Chile Diary – 7

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The vineyard

I’ve given a fair picture of the guesthouse earlier, so I’ll write a bit about the room and the bathroom I use. The room is small with a heavy, single bed on one side against the left wall. A foot and a half across from that is a big, heavy wood bunk-bed against the right wall. Between the beds is a small bedside table. The bunk beds are directly in front of the door which leaves little space at the entrance. So, if it’s dark and you hurry in, you’re sure to bang your head or break your nose against it! I did contemplate putting up a warning sign that read: ‘Peligro A 1 ft’ then dropped the idea.¬†

There’s a wardrobe on the south wall and a big window makes up the north end. It offers no view except for a peek into other apartments if their curtains are drawn apart.

The second bathroom, which I use, is at one end of the tiny corridor into which both bedrooms open. It is small. The shower cubicle is a two and a half foot by three-foot rectangle with a shower curtain to lend it some dignity! I’ve yet to shower here. In fact, after I left the hotel I haven’t showered nor washed my hair! My greatest fear is being caught off-guard by an earthquake while I’m in the shower. Yes, not only do you think I’m yucky; I’m feeling that way too. But hey, I do have a wash! Why am I telling you this? I’m trying to show you how fear generated by the big quake made everyday activities so difficult for me.

Having said all that, I want to hastily add that this place may not be one I’d choose to live in, but it has provided me with shelter when I needed it. I am grateful I wasn’t alone in the apartment on the sixth level when the tremors and the tsunami alert happened. It was easier for me to run out here. I have only three flights of twenty-three steps to climb down.¬†

Oh, by the way, the other bedroom and bathroom are many degrees better than the ones I’m using. All isn’t crowded and cramped in the guesthouse! Still, I’m glad I have the room I’m in. Surprised? Well, it’s because of the bunk-bed. Yes, the “peligro” one. Ranjit and Manu come down from the apartment to stay the night, and that’s so comforting.

This brings me to the Segura’s home in Miraflores. How I went there and why I went there has already been spoken about. But this is one place I cannot speak about as only a house; it is a home.

The Segura Home

This is a beautiful family comprising the mom, two sons, a daughter along with two dogs and a cat. Last but not the least is the nana or maid as we would say in India.

Roxanna, the mother is truly beautiful. By this I mean, she is attractive and also has a very large and warm heart. A quality she has imparted to the home and the children. She works as a manager with Avon and is very successful at her job.

Gabriel is the elder son and works with Ranjit and Manu at the Chile office. Although I haven’t interacted with him a lot due to his work schedules, he comes through as large-hearted, thoughtful and hospitable as his mother is. Javier, the younger son is doing his engineering in metallurgy. Since his college classes haven’t started yet, he’s usually at home and he knows a bit of English so we talk a lot. He’s friendly, caring and warm like the others. I like him.

Constanza is the youngest. She’s in school. I’ve only met her twice and then too for a few minutes. She’s as pretty as her mother. Daniella, Javier’s girlfriend, and I have spent an afternoon together. She’s a lovely girl; bright, lively, and pleasant. She’s studying to be a lawyer. The children here are brought up to be respectful of elders, a lot like it is in India.

This brings us to Mika, the bulldog. She’s one and a half years old, very cute in a bull-dog way and resembles a stuffed bolster. She loves to be petted and is jealous and demanding of attention.

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Martina enjoys a quiet time as the boys battle it out on the table.

The other dog is Benjamin (pro: Benkhameen), a six-and-a-half-year-old toy poodle. Very cute and exactly as his name suggests, like a toy.

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Mika and Benjamin wish to share space with Martina who is not comfortable with any intrusions into her peaceful moment…

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The canines gang up on her… Two battles (albeit friendly) carry on… Table Tennis and Cat & dogs ūüôā

Both the canines are friendly and I enjoy them. Martina, the cat, walks in and out at will. I was surprised by her friendly gestures. She gave me a good look before she approached my chair. Then she rubbed herself against my leg, hoisted herself on her hind legs while resting her forelegs on my thigh, she indicated she wanted me to pet her. I did, and she left satisfied a few seconds later purring softly.

Since I’m not particularly fond of cats, I figured she must have found some feline characteristic in me. Not very complimentary if I express it another way!!

The ‘help’ I’m told has been a part of the household for about twenty odd years. I can’t communicate with her very well, but she takes care of me when I’m alone in the house. A pleasant lady who reminds me of Lolita, my maid in India, and the way she used to look after me.¬†

The house is big and spread out with a spacious living room done up modestly and tastefully. There is a formal dining area which isn’t used by the family daily. There are three bedrooms on the ground floor and one on the first level; all done up well and comfortable.

The kitchen is big and also has the dining table at which the family eats every day. There’s a patio or covered verandah behind the house. The living room opens on to it. This area is a very nice place to sit; either on the garden ‘jhoola’ seat or one of the chairs around yet another dining table!

The garden and lawn cover the rest of the land behind the house. It could be a house in Gurgaon or any other city in India except that it’s built with wood. Reminds me of the houses in hill stations like Shimla, Nainital; especially those colonial ones where the British lived.

This home has given me so much peace and tranquillity at this time when my nerves are so jangled. I am so privileged to have met these people. Thus I see daily the way God has opened doors for me and has literally carried me when I was faint.

I almost forgot to mention the blackout on Sunday.

We witnessed another very unusual thing in the night while we were having dinner; a power cut! There was a power cut that blacked out almost 90% of Chile. Power cuts per se are unheard of in¬†Vi√Īa and this was unimaginable. Initially, we were worried that it had something to do with a quake in another region but immediately realized that if there had been an earthquake, we would have certainly felt it.

Later, we learned that there was some problem with the third grid, obviously a major problem. Given our experience in India, we were expecting to be without electricity for a day at least. We were proved wrong as power was restored in two hours!

I was glad the power cut coincided with our dinner time or else we could have been caught in the elevator as we left the apartment to go to the guesthouse. Now, that would have been frightening. We had returned to the apartment for a few hours and decided to have dinner in the comfort and familiarity of our home and that saved us. 

If I had voiced this, Ranjit and Manu would have listened with half a ear taking it to be the wild imaginings of a terrified mind. But as it turned out, someone we knew did get stuck in an elevator and had a horrifying twenty minutes!

Mauricio and his mom (who stayed a while at the guesthouse) were in an elevator coming down from the sixteenth floor when the power shut down. They had no idea whatsoever what had happened. The first thought that came to mind was there had been an earthquake. I can imagine what a scary situation it must have been in that dark enclosure, suspended at that height.

They began to pound on the door. Somebody finally heard the racket and they were rescued after twenty minutes. When the elevator door was pried open, they found themselves suspended between two floors! Getting out was an ordeal, but they were happy to be able to get out.

P.S: I did start having showers in that small shower cubicle a few days later and enjoyed it. LOL!

Glossary: 

Peligro A 1 ft………… Danger at 1ft.

Jhoola seat…………… A garden swing-seat made of wrought iron.

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Chile Diary- 4

This day was as scary as the day of the big¬†terremoto in Feb., even though it was lower on the Richter scale. It was bad because it came with warnings of a possible tsunami. What was worse… I was alone in the guesthouse and the kids were at their office in another town. It was not very far about twenty-five or thirty-minute drive away. But given the circumstances, the drive back took longer.

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Beautiful¬†Vi√Īa del Mar

The Chile Diary… chapter 4, March 11-12

 

Terremoto y Tsunami

Two earthquakes in quick succession; first a 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9, sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me were the other residents from the apartments above us. We stood gathered on the stairs not knowing whether to walk out of the swaying building or wait it out. The decision was taken out of our hands! 

Within minutes, the public address system blared out a tsunami alert! EVACUATE.

I didn’t know what to do. People began running, and all in one direction. I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand the announcements. I began walking down the sidewalk. It was a painful and slow walk. I was strapped with my back support. The collar supporting my neck was firmly in place as was the knee support around my right knee. The ’emergency bag’ which was rather heavy with; a change of clothes, passport and other documents, plus all my meds weighed me down. This emergency bag was always packed and ready and stood by the front door ever since the big one struck.

A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I shook my head and said, “No¬†espa√Īol.”

She pointed in the direction of the sea, then to the people, and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask, “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back.

There was pandemonium in the streets. People were making a dash for it on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.

My cell phone rang. It was Tintin, my son. His voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless about where to go. So he told me to look for his friend Reggie at the pub. I brightened up a bit.

I made my way, huffing and puffing, to the pub – disappointment awaited. The pub was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath. I called back to inform my son.

“Stand there Mama, I’m on my way.”

“I’m not standing here,” I said. “The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. Noone’s standing. I’m not going to either.”

Although I said that so firmly and decisively, I was not so sure where to move… where was this sea of people headed?

“Please, Mama, stay put in one spot. How will I find you if you move around?”

I could understand the panic my son felt by my decision and decided to stay put. But, once again, the decision was taken out of my hands. A carabinero on a bike called out to me to keep walking. That’s when I noticed the bike-borne policemen on the roads getting people to move and not stand. All in one direction! Highground; further away from the coastline.

I started walking down the street in the direction the whole world seemed to be going.

“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up; not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness.

I began to catch hold of people to inquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I was in. I repeated portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon,” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.”

It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.

“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which hung precariously on the edge tumbled down.

“Tranquila, tranquila,” she said softly, over and over again, as she gently stroked my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like ‘tranquil’ and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.

“Yes,” I replied drying my eyes.

“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English and her hand pointed to the heavens above.

“No, Jesus is here,” I emphasized the “here” with my pointer and managed a smile. Sub-consciously, I had corrected here. Once a teacher always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.

“Okay. Now I going.”

“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.

“I have…go to… umm… my room friend,” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.

I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But, the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched. My mouth was dry and I was choking and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding.

All of a sudden, I realized I had come to the end of the road, and it was a long road indeed. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte so I crossed the main road it joined and stood at the traffic light on the divider of the two main roads. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my aching back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. The noise on the roads was loud and irritating.

I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that bothered me. It happens a lot and all the time in India; the noise pollution on the roads! Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on¬†Vi√Īa’s roads. An occasional honk of an impatient driver would make people turn and stare at the driver disapprovingly. Today was an exception. Just then, I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking toward my traffic light!

“Hola,” she beamed.

“Hola,” I responded, surprised to see her return to find me. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking. She joined me and a few others who were standing there as well.

“You know… where you stay?”

“Yes.”

“I stay with you.”¬†

“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and took it to mean that she’d stand with me. Since she continued to stand with me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.

“Come, I go with you,” and she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come. I was walking even slower now.

She realized I was exhausted and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. Later, I understood how wise it had been for us to keep stopping at the traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by the people looking for you.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that I didn’t even know her name and asked her.

“Magdalena.”

“Joy,” I answered and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion, she hugged me and kissed me on my cheek while I kissed the air around hers!

“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would be easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I continued and pointed to my lumbar support around my waist.

“I know. I see it. I am… a… a physiotherapist.”

OMGosh! I stared at her surprised. “Your angel?” my incredulous mind queried. I shushed it.

We had moved on to another traffic light and she struck up a conversation with a youth who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English. Fortunately, he did and better than hers.

She asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wondered why she kept telling me that. It made me uncomfortable. But I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. I was also uncomfortable that the boy, who she had shown she didn’t know, didn’t seem like a stranger she’d just met. So I told him that I could make my way back home now and didn’t need them to walk me home.

Before she could say anything, Reggie, my son’s pub owner friend who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena didn’t seem too pleased with this. She shouted out something to him in Spanish and he retorted brusquely. And once again, Reggie told me to wait where I was. She asked me if I knew the man and how well I knew him. After she learned who he was and that he was a-okay, she dropped the topic. I was relieved.

We exchanged email Ids, phone numbers, and she wanted my home address. Once more it unsettled me, however, reluctantly I gave her my ‘home’ address; the guesthouse add. and we parted when Reggie returned.

This was a strange encounter! A total stranger picks me out of a milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus’ cards after she found me. Whoever she was, whatever her intentions, she provided me with the support I needed at a very difficult time. And no harm was done. I was grateful then and I remain grateful to date. Besides, when I didn’t require her assistance anymore, a friend appeared to help. Strange are the ways of God!

I didn’t see her again and neither of us called up or emailed each other. If she visited the guesthouse, she’d have known it wasn’t my home! Reggie told my son that he was glad he found me when he did. It seems that during times like these, a lot of petty thieves are on the prowl. That boy we chanced upon midway who without my permission joined us, didn’t augur well, according to him.

We waited at a prominent place where my son found us a short while later. He was with a colleague, Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second, I thought I should turn down the invitation as I didn’t know how I’d communicate with the family. They were going back to the office. But, I’m glad I went to his home.

The home was warm and hospitable. Besides, it was full of people so I wasn’t jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out, Tintin and Manu stayed with me. Though I did jump out of my bed in the middle of the night or perhaps the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep.

My body was aching in the morning. The previous day, I was in shock and didn’t realize the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story… it hurts.

I’m spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my day stays in the Segura’s casa in Miraflores; the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miriam James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Little Things Are Big Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was quality time for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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It Takes a Certain Kind to be Unkind

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It had been a beautiful day. A great picnic, at an incredibly scenic place. Lush greens, woods of oak and other trees I don’t know of, a lake, a hundred-year-old hacienda, a cottage with roses growing all around. Marvellous people, an extravagant potluck lunch, bonhomie…and then it was time to wrap up on this high note of pleasure. But nothing perfect lasts forever – forever? This didn’t even last through a picnic!

As I gathered my things: crockery, cutlery etc and put them back into my bags, one of the bags – the bigger one – toppled over knocking another smaller one off the bench on which some of us had placed our stuff. I was engrossed in what I was doing, getting out my medicines which I had to take at that hour, and I didn’t register the sound of anything falling off. In my favour, I could add that in the cacophony of many voices, about thirty odd people talking, I didn’t notice what had happened. That is until a rude, strident voice cut into my reverie – if reverie it was.

“Look what you’ve done! You dropped my bag!”
I snapped out of wherever my mind had been and saw this rather heavy woman stomping up to where the bench was, looking like a thundercloud.

“But I didn’t!” I said wondering what she was talking about.
“Yes,” she insisted, “you did. There look,” she retorted hotly and pointed to the ground.

“oh! I didn’t know. I’m so sorry,” I added with genuine remorse.

I proceeded to pick up her bag, which was a difficult task as I had to be careful not to hurt my back and also my left arm and shoulder which were recovering from an injured tendon.

“And all my cutlery and glasses too…You dropped everything!” she continued.

It took a lot of self-control not to talk back to her. I was on the edge by that time. Her attitude was accusatory, her tone was derogatory. I shifted my mind to a small prayer for patience and self-control. I needed help!

I picked up her bag and handed it to her, and also the tray under the bench which was the only thing that had any cutlery and a couple of glasses in it. The spoons and knives were dirty as were the glasses.

“The cutlery is dirty!” I said.

“That cutlery isn’t mine,” She spat, and grabbed the bag, stared daggers at the tray and its contents, “And neither are the glasses.”

“Well, ok, I’ll just put it back where it was. So it appears nothing fell out of your bag! And I didn’t deliberately drop your bag, but still I’m sorry about it,” I said and continued calmly with whatever it was I was doing before her rude intrusion.

I wondered later in the day when I was back home, why people like her were so rude, unkind, and demeaning. And I also wondered what would have happened if I had spoken to her in the same way. Apart from ruining the entire day, as she almost did mine, it would have caused bad relations which would have triggered much negativity into the group. Invariably there would have been a side that thought she was right and one that supported me¬†though I admit the ones for me would be a minuscule¬†group. I don’t really ‘belong’ here. I am the foreigner trying to adjust. While almost everyone is extremely nice, friendly and helpful I am quite sure if it came to taking sides, I’d not have many on mine. I understand that. One stands with one’s long-standing friends and colleagues.

I’m so thankful I didn’t react to her in kind. It would have triggered an outpouring of unwanted vitriol. That’s how hatred, bitterness and resentment brew. It was better to respond with courtesy. I don’t know her story so I can’t say I know where she’s coming from, but from experience I can say I have an idea. We can only give out what we have inside of us. It takes a certain kind to be unkind with no apparent cause.