Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Tiny String Of Hope

At present, I am on vacation with my family in the United Kingdom. News about India, however, still continues to reach us especially updates of the status of the Delhi gang-rape victim. Facebook is flooded with messages of people expressing their shock, angst, fury, frustration, despair and wrath. Despite being a frequent user, I refrain from paying much heed to the content posted by people on Facebook. Somehow I doubt the sincerity of their desire to actually do something that will actually make a difference...For example, without meaning to offend anyone, I do not see how changing your profile picture to a black dot (apparently symbolizing how shameful the state of affairs in our country are) is going to make a positive difference!

Today, I received the news that she died. A part of me was dejected because somehow I had a tiny ray of hope that she, who had succeeded in awakening so many emotions in so many people would not, herself, rest in slumber. The tragedy of our nation or, perhaps, of mankind, in general, is that we all have short-term memories! Once a person dies, we forget about him or her in some days and our life continues with its usual monotony. I hope that the protests that have been happening continue until justice is delivered instead of fizzing out like many other such instances. We all seem to have developed the bad habit of only living in the moment. Once a tragic moment has elapsed, we just forget about it, move on and focus on the other moments that are more likely to be pleasurable.

The media has played its role in bringing to light not just how unsafe women in our country are but also the mind-set of many of the people in our country who continue to treat women as second-class citizens that need to succumb to whatever they are being subjected to - for women, survival should matter (it is all about "saving intestines"); dignity is secondary, if at all, important.

I am not a radical feminist. I do not think it is a crime to objectify women based on their looks and on the basis of the sort of clothes they wear; these days, even men are subject to such objectification (for example, John Abraham in Dostana) even if it is to a lesser degree.  Yet I would like to live in a country where women are treated with respect.

This is where, I feel, the problem lies. How do you teach someone to respect a woman in a country where everyone wants a son over a daughter? How do you teach a family of well-to-do,"educated" individuals to respect a woman for what she is and not for the amount of dowry she is going to bring to the household? How do you teach a man working at the topmost executive level of his firm that it is not acceptable to displace his anger towards his boss by beating up his wife?
From the time a son is born, he looks at the way his father treats his mother. He sees how partial the mother is in his favour between him and his sister? How easy is it to change so many years of conditioning? I am not sure if candle-light marches or setting up fast-track courts is where the solution to the problem lies...It is a much bigger issue at a macro-level that we need to address.

Even though she is no more, I hope her demise will bring about a change that will make this country a better place for women. Although the government seems unmoved and has to make use of tear-gas machines in answer to the protests, the cries of the protesters and their pleas are, hopefully, real and will succeed in bringing about some positive changes in our country. I hope it isn't a lot that I am hoping for...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Mumbai: The City That Never Sleeps

Mumbai has always boasted that it is the City That Never Sleeps. The city has been a witness of torrential rains, terrorist attacks, bomb-blasts etc. and none of these have succeeded in deterring the brave spirits of the Mumbaikars and their never-say-die attitude.

Having lived in Kolkata and Bangalore for seventeen years and three years respectively, where everything shuts before 1:00 a.m. and the roads are absolutely desolated with no one in sight, Mumbai was a welcome change as being a city buzzing with activity even late at night past 2:30 a.m. I think I am one of the fortunate ones who has never been chased by the police for being present at Marine Drive in the dark hours of the night.

Every time I am out at night, the ink-coloured skies of the city seem to be sparkling with the painted dreams of the people it inhabits. No matter how late it is, I have never found myself alone in the city - people are always present, be it taxi-drivers, food-vendors or people, like me, just strolling around.

Saturday was the first time I experienced the city shutting down owing to the death of Shiv Sena visionary, Bal Thackeray. It took my friend, Sanika, and I almost 2 hours to reach home. We had to resort to walking on foot since taxis and autos refused passengers. One auto-wala who did agree to drop us to the nearest station gave up half-way when other auto-drivers coming from the opposite direction approached us with their shattered windows and warned us that autos carrying passengers were being pelted with stones and the drivers were being charged with sticks. Trains were relatively empty, mainly because people had no means of reaching the station. While the passing away of a great political leader is indeed a tragic loss for many, it is not right, in my opinion, to force people to mourn his death by bringing the entire city to a stand-still. The city witnessed an eerie silence on the day of his funeral with thousands of his followers gathered at Shivaji Park while the rest of the Mumbaikars were stuck indoors on a weekend. Shops were closed. Restaurants were shut. Even chemists were not open. I was one of the more unfortunate ones: having just returned from Kolkata, my house was not stocked with any groceries and to make matters worse, my building ran out of water supply on Sunday. So, I was subjected to be under house-arrest with no food and no water just because the person who people claim had made Mumbai safe for women and everyone else was gone; and therefore it was not safe to venture out of the house for anyone! Am I the only one who sees the irony of this? In spite of all this, one cannot say that the city was entirely shut with trains still functioning normally.

Although it is the 'City That Never Sleeps', according to me, Mumbaikars are always in a state of perpetual slumber. Have you ever gone even one night without sleep? If yes, you will agree with me when I say that whenever you are sleep-deprived, you tend to be very indifferent the next day. You feel cranky. You do not wish to really talk to anyone. You just want to get done with your work and you want people to leave you alone. If someone is talking to you about their woes, you do not desire to listen to them; you keep wishing that they go away. This is how I normally act when I have not had my beauty sleep and I like to believe that everyone behaves the same way...It is because of this I say that while Mumbai is full of people who never sleep, it hardly has people who are wide awake...People in Mumbai are always on the move, desperate to reach their destination without caring much about fellow-travellers. I have a friend who always claims that in Mumbai you can do anything you like, wear whatever you want - people, here, will not stare at you! There are times when I find myself wondering if that is really a good thing...People in Mumbai do not have time for even giving another person a second glance - they are too self-absorbed and caught up in their own lives...The people, here, are just disconnected from one another and from the other person's reality. They are just interested in ensuring that their life moves forward...My friends often accuse me of being rather sensitive and advice me to be wary of strangers but unfortunately (or fortunately), I just cannot become a Mumbaikar in that aspect despite my love for the city.

People from Kolkata may be termed as 'nosy' or 'interfering' if you wish to see them through those eyes but by their very nature, people in Kolkata are helpful. Several cars sped past us on the Saturday we were stranded on the roads...If it was Kolkata, many cars (I am not saying all of them) would have stopped and offered a lift to some of the people on the roads. When I suggested that we ask someone for a lift, my friend found even that suggestion preposterous!

Death is a natural event. What surprised me is that the natural death of an important figure brought the city to a complete halt when the untimely deaths of several commoners could do nothing to stop the city from bustling with activity! The city of Mumbai finally fell asleep this weekend; unfortunately, the amount of sleep it needs to compensate for being up since several decades was, most probably, not enough.

On Monday, everything seemed to be going back to normal. Even Dadar, the hot-spot of the Shiv Sainiks, returned to its state of regular functioning. This is Mumbai. This is the City of Dreams. There are times when people may occasionally doze away but Mumbaikars will only rest when they sleep in eternal peace. After all, they are living in the City That Never Sleeps...

Friday, 9 November 2012

Home

It's 9:15 p.m. when my flight finally lands in Kolkata. As I am getting off the plane, I find myself heaving a sigh of relief as I breathe in the cool, pleasant air that is all around me - it feels such a welcome change not just from the claustrophobic air-conditioned space of the airplane but also from the humid breeze usually that greets me when I get off the plane at Kolkata. "The air-hostess was right when she announced it was just 23 degrees Celsius," I think in my head.

As I collect my luggage from the conveyor belt, I find my mother waiting for me at the gate. I can't help but smile...
It's been more than 5 years since I left Kolkata but in all these years, there hasn't been even one time when my mother has not come to the airport to pick me. While there are times when I would prefer a quiet drive home to her non-stop chatter, this was a time when I actually experienced a feeling of happiness as I sat with her in the car, listening to random updates about things, people, and life, in general.

"Home is where the heart is."
This quote has never made sense to me! I feel my heart is always in a million places - I feel I give a piece of my heart to any person I become close to or any place that I start to like...I definitely do not feel at home in all these places with all these people...Feeling at ease, feeling good, feeling comfortable - all this is not really the same as 'feeling at home' somewhere, don't you think?

I am very happy living in Bombay. I like the fast-paced nature of the city...I like the way the city just lets you be...It is the place where I get to deal with things my way! I am not dependent on anyone to get things done...It is the city where I am responsible for my own self. The past few weeks, however, have not been easy. My life is in a constant flux of changes and while almost all of them have been for the good, there are times when I feel myself grappling for some moments of peace. Even my mind is getting attuned to the fast-paced life of the 'City of Dreams' and seems to be working over-time without resting for even a moment...There are times I have found myself commanding my mind to just stop functioning and let me rest but it seems to be turning a deaf ear to all my pleas!

The funny part is that from the moment I have landed in Kolkata, I feel that my entire baggage of worries have been dumped behind in Mumbai itself. Here, there is nothing going on in my mind. I can sleep as long as I want to without worrying about any chores. I do not need to worry about the clothes that need to get washed or the food that needs to be ordered or cooked - here, all these errands get taken care of. In Kolkata, I can just laze around, watching my favourite television shows or movies, catching up with friends, and while I enjoy working, sometimes it feels good to just be totally free with nothing to do! Kolkata is the place where I experience 'joy' in each and every moment...

Today, I think I know what 'family' and 'home' mean to me...Family accepts you for what you are and loves you, with no strings attached. While there may be occasional complaints that you do not spend enough time with them or that you do not share much about your life the way you used to, the family does come around in the end and continues to keep hoping for what is best for you...My family has never given up on me even when there have been times that I have felt that there is nothing in life for me to look forward to! Home, according to me, is the place where you are allowed to act the way you want to act - it's ok if I am 23 years old but still want to feel like a baby, snuggling up to my mother; I am allowed to do that at home! While I may not be a 'Bengali' in the true sense of the term, I feel I can identify more with the culture of Kolkata than that of my roots of origin in Bihar...Kolkata is my home because it is the place where my family resides...Each and every time I feel lost, I feel that I discover myself in the 'City of Joy'. My family and my home are my stability-zones in life - while life can keep hurtling me with several changes, these are the few things that are going to remain the same, no matter what...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Your Turn Now!

I am a person who, forever, wears a smile on her face. I smile at people I know. I smile at strangers. I smile at, practically, everyone. A few of my friends find this rather odd but based on my personal experience, I have seen that every time I have smiled at anybody on the street, the smile has always been returned - it does not matter if the person was someone known to me or a stranger. The moment a person starts to smile, his or her mood automatically becomes happy. Even when I have been down in the dumps - and believe me - there have been many such times - I have experienced instant moments of happiness each and every time someone succeeded in causing my face to break into a smile.

A couple of months ago, I had heard about the Your Turn Now! initiative from a colleague of mine. I was told that in this initiative, people are issued 'Your Turn Now!' cards.  Whenever this card-holder does a deed of kindness, he or she passes on the card to the person who is grateful of the kindness so that the person can remember that he or she must do a good deed ahead, and the chain continues with the card getting passed on from one kind act to the next. I found this concept to be rather fascinating. If people actually become a part of this chain, there will be kindness, joy, and contentment everywhere because the entire city will be bustling with people who are on the look-out of doing good deeds for someone.

A week ago, my colleague and I received our stack of cards. I got a chance to pass on my card to someone the very next day! I was returning home from class, travelling in an unpleasantly crowded local train. A superfluity of nuns were also on the train. Most of them seemed middle-aged though a few of them looked quite old. They were all carrying heavy bags. As the destination neared, there was an entire swarm of women waiting to get inside so much so that it was difficult for the people to even get down. One of the nuns was just stuck and she looked petrified! I had got off the train safely and her reaction did not surprise me - the Mumbai locals can daunt the strongest of spirits if they are not used to travel and she appeared to be a hapless, old woman. I was reminded of my initial days of travelling and how uncomfortable it used to be on days when there were huge crowds...I somehow managed to break through the crowd and help the woman get down with her bags. As soon as she got down, she was surrounded by the other nuns who were comforting her. They all thanked me for helping her get down. Usually I would have shrugged it off and merely dismissed it as being a very small thing but I was, suddenly, reminded of the card in my wallet. I just handed 1 card to the nun saying, "Don't thank me. Just keep this card until you have done a good deed and then pass it on." The nun merely smiled. She thanked me again and blessed me.

As I walked back home from the station, I couldn't help smiling. Although I had helped someone else, I was the one who was feeling high on life! It is indeed true when people say that if you want your day to be bright, just go ahead and try to brighten up somebody else's! We all are extremely busy in our daily lives but all it takes is one moment to make a positive difference in somebody else's universe.

If you feel that this post has brought a smile on your face or inspired you in any way to pitch in for a good cause, do become a part of the Your Turn Now! movement and spread smiles everywhere! These cards are free of cost and can be ordered on their website: http://yourturnnow.in. You can also text your postal address at +919029602897 or email rushabh@yourturnnow.in to get your cards. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Choices


“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.

'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.” 
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The month of October has been a month of revelations for me in a lot of ways. I recently pursued a course on Integrated Spiritual Hypnosis. Despite not believing in the concept of past lives or abstract concepts such as foreign energies and auras, the course opened doors to some realities to which I had probably developed some sort of a blind-spot. 


I have always lived under the illusion that my life is perfect. It's not that I am not aware of my shortcomings or the things in life that I don't have, I just have a tendency to focus on the good side of everything because that is something that sprinkles my life with happiness. While doing this course, it dawned on me that perhaps my positive attitude does have its demerits - I tend to trust people easily and even when they disappoint, I choose to overlook that flawed part of them. I also discovered the way I always end up playing the part of a 'Rescuer', going out of the way to help someone in need. In reality, instead of accepting the fact that there are times when I have felt victimized and violated, I project the part of the 'victim' on the other person and try emerging as the Saviour. 


Today, people describe me as a person who is bold, straightforward and someone who never hesitates to speak her mind. I got a glimpse of two past lives during the process of past life regression therapy. While people from different belief-systems can argue over whether we have just one life or many lives, I am choosing to step aside from that debate and just talk about what I "saw" or "imagined" in that hypnotic trance. In both the lives, I saw myself as a helpless, young woman who was vulnerable, failing miserably to take charge of her life. Ultimately, that led to my downfall or doom. When I was discussing this with my friends, most of them were astounded at what I was like in the past and relieved that I am no more that person today. However, I still found myself having a lot of questions and at the moment, I have come to the realization that, perhaps, I am not that different in this life as well. I can put up a bold face in front of the whole, wide world but I know the dark shadows that haunt me when I am all alone, all by myself. 


If I were to draw parallels from my past lives to the present one, there are some strikingly painful similarities as if the stage and the actors are all set, once more, to play the parts they have already rehearsed for in the previous lives...When this realization hit, I found myself very disturbed and wondered what was the point of going on with life if I have no control over what is going to come my way. However, this morning, my friend, Mohini, was kind enough to share some write-ups with me, which reminded me that life is actually all about the choices we make. It does not matter if life is teaching me an incomplete lesson from a previous life-time or is bestowing a fresh lesson my way, what matters is the wisdom to understand the patterned regularities of one's behaviour and to break these patterns, if necessary. 


Letting go isn't something that has ever been easy for me...While there are people and things I have been able to discard from my life in the wink of an eye, when I look back, I realize that they didn't mean anything to me. People in life who I deeply care about are people I can never give up on - no matter how many times they disappoint or hurt me. I am always scared of letting go because I fear the emptiness that will be left in my heart if I truly let go of that emotion or that person. Mohini, once again, reminded me that Nature abhors vacuum and something will certainly come and occupy that empty space. With this powerful thought embedded deep in my mind, today, I have started walking on the path of letting go of my fears and inhibitions and simply walking the road of life with my head held high. I do not know where my destination lies but I am determined to enjoy the entire journey. I am hoping that this choice that I have made is a healthy one...

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Jigsaw Puzzle

As a child, I always enjoyed solving jigsaw puzzles. The entire process of attempting to arrange the separate pieces of a puzzle in the correct manner to ensure that they form one complete picture was an amazing journey! Even at the age of 23 years, jigsaw puzzles continue to fascinate me - of course, instead of solving a picture made up of 200 pieces, today, I try solving a puzzle of 5000 pieces.

I feel that my world is nothing but a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece of me is what helps in the creation of the picture of my world. There are some pieces which show my likes. Similarly there are pieces that show all the things I do not like. There are some pieces I proudly showcase before the world and there are those pieces which I always try hiding in a corner. Some pieces are easy to join and they just seem to fall into place correctly. In the same manner, there are some things in life that come to us very easily.

There are some pieces which we feel belong to one particular area and actually we may end up fixing them in the wrong place. This happens to us at so many junctures of life. We keep fixating on a particular desire and we keep getting restless if it remains unfulfilled. At this point, we feel stuck because we are not able to progress towards the completion of the picture. Our life comes to a stand-still and we start operating from a tunnel-vision where all that matters is fulfillment of that desire. In the process, we start moving away from the process of actually living our life. We stop the process of completing the picture because we are just not able to remove the piece from that area.

It is important, at this juncture, to note that the piece by itself is not wrong. It is alright to have wishes and desires. The trick is to balance our attention in such a manner that we are able to focus on other things in life as well instead of just getting fixated at that spot. With time, as we keep fitting various pieces together, the number of missing pieces will automatically lessen.

Completing a jigsaw puzzle with 1000 pieces itself takes me more than 3 days. The puzzle of life has millions of such pieces - many of the pieces still waiting to be discovered. We do not know each and every aspect of our personality. If we knew all the secrets, all of us would be enlightened souls! Not all of us have a complete picture of life - to have the complete picture could take us several lives. Therefore, the true joy does not always lie in completing the picture - sometimes one can experience joy by simply being at peace with the missing pieces.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Street Food Of Mumbai

It is only when one visits Mumbai does one truly understand why it is referred to as 'The City That Never Sleeps'. No matter what happens, nothing ever stops. The fast-paced life of the 'City of Dreams' is something that strikes you from the very moment you set foot inside Mumbai. This aspect of the culture of Mumbai can very obviously be seen depicted in terms of its food as well.

People in Mumbai are always on the go and eating out on the street is a daily ritual for many of them. No points for guessing, therefore, that among a lot of other things, Mumbai is also famous for its street-food.
In the wee hours of morning itself, whether you are at a station or passing by-lanes, you will see hawkers selling cutting chai and omelettes or egg bhurji with hot buns or paos. The cutting chai is usually sugary sweet unless you are fortunate enough to get a chaiwallah who makes it slightly 'kadak' or 'strong'. You may also come across variations being sold in the form of 'elaichi wali chai' or 'adrak wali chai'.

As far as Mumbai is concerned, ‘pao’ is like the undisputed ruler in street food. It would be safe to say that vada pao is the face of Mumbai street-food. For many people, that piece of vada squashed inside a pao is an actual meal and not just a tidbit you grab on the way. There are several other versions of pao - you have Bhajia Pao which is a pao stuffed inside with oily onion rings; Anda Pao which is a half-sliced boiled egg enclosed inside the pao; and Samosa Pao in which you have an entire samosa stuffed inside that one piece of pao! There are also Usal Pao, Misal Pao, Kheema Pao and paos of numerous other varieties. Pao bhaji is another item that is very popular in Mumbai.

Visit any beach in Mumbai - Juhu or Chowpatty - and you will come across several hawkers selling ice-golas, kulfi and a wide range of 'chaats'. If you are from Kolkata, you may find Bhelpuri to be similar to the 'jhaal muri' that is abundantly sold on the streets of the City of Joy, and you may also feel that pani puri is no match to the 'puchkas' that you get; but you can still try out other 'chaat' items such as Dahi Puri, Sev Puri and Ragda Pattice.

Walking down the sandy beaches licking an ice-gola made of one or more flavours of your choice (mango, orange, kala khatta, rose, khus, etc.) or savouring a mixed plate of malai, kesar pista, chickoo, mango or strawberry kulfi is one of the many joyous moments you can experience out of being in a city located so close to the sea. Even if you are someone who loves cleanliness and the dirty beaches strike a chord of disharmony in you, do not give this experience a miss.

Mumbai is also famous for its 'frankie' which is nothing but a roti wrap that comes with a wide range of stuffings from paneer to chicken to vegetables to eggs.

Since Mumbai is close to the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, it comes as no surprise that the city has a wide chain of South Indian stalls, restaurants and lunch-homes serving different kinds of dosas, idlis and vadas. In many places, you may find the sambhar to taste a tad bit too sweet but you won't usually have any complaints about the chutneys that are served as accompaniments.

It is not an uncommon sight to find hawkers selling fruit-plates on the streets of Mumbai. While you can always question the freshness of these fruits, do not hesitate to try fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and sandwiches from any of the stalls in Mumbai. These items from the roadside kiosks usually taste good.
As the sun sets and the evening arrives, you will find stalls beginning to grill skewers of various meat kababs. The kababs that you get from these small roadside joints are almost always finger-licking good - if you are adventurous, you could try items like bheja fry; or you could just stick to the safe side and enjoy seekh kabas and chicken tikka kababs amongst several others. 

Mumbai is a tourist hub and it has many sights and sounds to explore. However, taking time out and feasting on the various delicacies that the streets of Mumbai offer is an opportunity that every person who comes to this city should experience at least once.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Happy Teachers' Day!

I know that I have been away from the blogging circuit for quite some time now...I have been up to a lot of things and at present, I am spending some time with my family in my home-town, Kolkata.

Today is September 5th - all over India, this day is widely celebrated as Teachers' Day.

I am not very comfortable with the concept of assigning a particular day of the year to the celebration of a particular relationship. For instance, I find it really awkward when friends wish me 'A Very Happy Friendship Day' on the first Sunday of every August. I like being with friends and spending time with them but I do not feel it is necessary to celebrate that beautiful relationship on that one particular day. The creation of a day poses other problems before me - for example, there is a limit to the number of people that I can meet in a day; it is not possible for me to meet my entire bunch of friends on one Sunday just because it happens to be 'Friendship Day'. I also do not like being subjected to emotional blackmail by the use of sentences like, "You met her on Friendship Day but you could not find even half an hour to meet me!"

Teachers' Day, on the other hand, is a fairly simpler day. I just wish some teachers and thank them for all the things that I have learnt from them. This was the first time I got messages from my students and I was quite overwhelmed after reading some of the messages. It always feels good to know that you have made a difference in someone else's life in a positive manner. However, I realized one thing: while my students have learnt a lot of things from me, there are things that they have managed to teach me as well!

I feel I have learnt something from every person that I have met in life. Each interaction with a person has always taught me something new. I have learnt from the accolades of praise that I have got but I have also learnt from criticisms. I have learnt something from every emotional outburst and I have also learnt from something as simple as a personal opinion, which may have been very different from my own perspective of looking at the same thing. We are always in the process of learning things - we just do not realize it, and even if we do, we only tend to acknowledge the formal institutions of education. Learning is an ongoing lifelong process and on this day, I would like to raise a toast to cheer the teaching spirit that is present in each one of us.

To all the people whose blogs I read and to all the people who are reading this, I wish all of you A Happy Teachers' Day and I thank you profusely for all the knowledge you have consciously or unconsciously bestowed upon me. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Maharashtra Nature Park

When I was in college, I often travelled to Bandra by bus to meet a friend. One evening, as I was returning home, a lady sitting next to me pointed to a vast stretch of green on one side of the road and said, "This is the Mahim Nature Park. Have you heard of it?"
I shook my head indicating a 'no'.
"It's a pity that people in Bombay are unaware of the green spaces that exist...They just complain about the pollution and the cramped spaces but they do not take the effort of finding and visiting parks and gardens that are around," she grumbled.
I did not tell her anything but I decided to pay a visit to this place whenever I get time. Since we were relatively free from work this week, Sanika and I decided to explore this nature park. It is now known as the Maharashtra Nature Park. The location is particularly fascinating - it is situated right in between the over-populated, crowded slums of Dharavi and the highly industrialized area, that is Bandra-Kurla Complex.


Reaching the park is not a hassle - you can take any bus that goes to Dharavi Depot; or you could commute there from Sion Station. As soon as I reached the place, the words spoken by the woman on the bus echoed in my mind - apart from the two of us, there was only one other person present. The Nature Park is not very big - one can see the Mahim Creek alongside it. There were lots of butterflies and many flowers in bloom. It was fun chasing butterflies and trying to capture them on camera! I really felt like the child in me had awakened!
 
 
  
There were bushes that had wild berries. We discovered an oil tree and a peepal tree.We even spotted a reptile which, according to Sanika, was a chameleon. We did not spot a lot of birds but towards the end of our trip, as we were walking out of the gates, we found a few storks. 

  
Later I came to know that in order to spot a lot of migratory birds, one ought to visit the place between October and March. The park also has an open-air amphitheater, an audio-visual hall, a library - all these are powered by solar energy. There were also four friendly dogs who continued to follow us wherever we went.
The Maharashtra Nature Park is only open till 3:30 p.m. I wish it would remain open for longer hours. It is a place which I would recommend to all nature-lovers and people who are fond of photography. Just be sure to rub a lot of Odomos to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes!

This week I enjoyed visiting some new sites in Mumbai - it was a lot of fun and it rekindled my love for exploration and travelling. I hope to continue this journey of discovering new destinations all around me - what's the point of touring the world if you are clueless about the beauty that is already around you?

The Dolphin Fish Aquarium



There are so many places to see in Mumbai and, in these past two years, I have never managed to find the time to cancel off some of the items on my bucket-list. This week, I decided to awaken the touristic spirit that was sleeping inside me and set off to explore those parts of the city where I had never been.



I had come across a list of #41 things to do with your child in Bombay (malls not included) and the third item on this list had caught my attention - The Dolphin Irla Aquarium. The name really fascinated me - I really thought this was a place in Mumbai where there were dolphins and I wondered why no one had bothered taking me there! I was even more surprised to learn that no one knew where this place was! Despite a number of Google searches, I could not get much information about this place except an address. Finally, Sanika and I decided to just set off on our own and uncover what this place is really about!

 Reaching the place was an adventure in itself! For starters, even though we were in the vicinity, not a soul knew where the Aquarium was - even the auto-walas had no idea where this place was! My gMaps application was also not helping much! We tried calling on the number listed on the site which had the address, and we were fortunate enough to get the correct directions to the place; although, in hind sight, we were luckier to, finally, get an auto-driver who knew where the aquarium really was!


 It lies tucked in a corner, away from the madding crowd. There were no dolphins there - thankfully, I had unravelled this bit of information a day before setting off for the aquarium; hence, I was not too disappointed!     The Dolphin Fish Aquarium has a boating pond and an aquarium in the middle of the pond. In addition, there are lots of ducks, some rabbits, white mice, turtles, love-birds and even emus! We even found some glorious cats and a friendly dog named Twincy!
The collection of fish is not magnificent - you'd probably find more variety at the Taraporewala Aquarium - but it is a place that children will definitely love. They can ride the toy-train, go boating, and the animals and birds will not fail to amaze them!

I really had a marvellous time and, if I get the chance, I would love to go there a second time. It's a pity such serene places are not known to the public - most people spend their weekends in malls or movie-theaters!

So, all those people who live in Mumbai, do visit this place. It is at Tanaji Malusare Road, Irla Chowk in Vile Parle (West).

Are there any places in your area that you love visiting? It need not be a popular tourist-site but I am sure we are all surrounded by places that are spectacular even if they aren't very well-known. Let me know - I would love to pay a visit!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Marine Drive

Lately, there has been a lot happening at my end. In the course of a week's time, my life has changed gears drastically. Whenever I find myself in the midst of a lot of turmoil, I rush off to Marine Drive to seek refuge. Last night was no different except for the fact that there were hardly any people in sight...

I walked down the road and sat down at my usual spot. As I sat there, I observed the waves lashing against the rocks. The sea is always in a state of disarray, all the time creating bubbles and ripples...I stared at the sea and found that it was talking to me. It pronounced something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; and no matter how hard I tried, I could not make out what it was that the sea was trying to say.

I have always been in love with the sea. I love the smell of the salt-water. I love the fact that the sea has the potent power to make me thing things I like to think about...I love the fact that the sea makes me believe that I can achieve all the things that I want to achieve...The sea is my friend - whenever I feel restless and disturbed, I find the sea to be as disturbed and as restless as I am.

After some time, it started to drizzle. I allowed the little droplets of rain-water to fall on me - I made no attempt to wipe them off. I looked at the sea again. This time, the sea reminded me of a wild beast roaring and raging in its den. It reminded me of my everlasting efforts to be free and how some of the struggles had been in vain. There were times when no matter how hard I tried, I always ended up being just where everything began. This time, I hoped, things would be different...

I tried thinking of the times when the sea is peaceful. On some sunny afternoons, one finds the sun rays brightly reflected in the water while the waves create gentle ripples. At Marine Drive, the land is always well in sight even if you sit with your back turned to the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced city behind you. I never realize the immensity and awfulness of the sea when I am there - the vastness of the sea never appears to be a threat to me. The buildings, the lights, the people sitting and walking around - all of them are different, integral parts of a glorious, joyous, glittering scene.   

Marine Drive is one of the places where I always feel alone even if I go there with a good friend of mine. It is, however, one place where I never feel lonely. Whenever I am feeling agitated or distressed, I am most likely to be found sitting at Marine Drive - sometimes with a book in my hand and headphones plugged to my ear...Marine Drive gives me a sense of belonging...It is my cure for all the ill happenings in my life...It is the one place where I always am at peace... 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Friendship

Friendship is one relationship that I never get tired of writing about; so much so that I wrote my Masters dissertation on this topic...The sole credit for this most probably goes to the numerous friends I have made at different stages of my life-span...

My definition of a friend has always been simple: a person with whom I have a good time, whenever I am around him or her, is my 'friend'. I have a lot of friends - and believe me - when I say 'a lot', I mean A LOT! I may have had a conversation with someone for just 10 minutes while waiting for my turn at the doctor's clinic; or I might just have exchanged pleasantries with a person at a random party; but I would have no qualms in acknowledging them as a 'friend' the next time I get a chance of interacting with them. It is perhaps this trait of mine that makes people describe me as being a very friendly person.
Of course the levels of attachment and comfort would differ from one friend to another but I don't think that level depends on the amount of time I have known them. Unlike some of my peers, I have never had a person who has been a constant feature in my life - even when I was in school, I think I was friends with different people at different points of time. In college also, I never really belonged to one particular group and had quite a mixed bag of friends. Like everybody, I made friends in school, college and neighbourhood. Apart from that, I have online friends, friends that I made on a plane journey; and I am even friends with the dogs that I met, fed and played with on my college campus!



I do not know if it is a flaw but I have never managed to maintain friendship with someone for a very long time. I have a tendency of getting bored easily - sometimes I think that the concept of permanence just does not exist for me. I change organizations if I feel the place has nothing new to offer; I get bored of eating the same kind of food - and for each meal, I demand variety; I have never lived in one place for a very long period of time and that is something which does not even bother me because I like changes and the entire array of things that come with any change excite me. Sometimes, I wonder if I outgrow people in the same manner in which I outgrow things...In school, I think I had a new 'best friend' every academic year! Of course in college I managed to have a stable set of friends with whom I still keep in touch - though not as frequently as I would like it to be...
I am definitely not a person who has even had or been a 'Friend Forever' but I value my friendship with each person...While the quality of interaction differs from one person to another depending on a number of factors, I really feel that with each friend, I am a different person because each of them have been exposed to different sides of my personality. The conversations that I have had with each one of them is special and it is this uniqueness that makes me appreciate each person who has been a 'friend' to me - even if it was for a span as short as fifteen minutes or as long as seven years.

There was a time when I harboured rather idealistic notions of friendship until reality played its part and made me realize that not everyone functions the same way or perceives a relationship in the same way as I do. I may have had one perfect friend but that does not mean the rest of the friends I make are also going to be perfect! I make mistakes and so will the others...At the end of the day, it is all about accepting the person as he or she is, and looking beyond the flaws. If the flaws cannot be overlooked, it is probably best to part ways because harnessing false hopes and unreal expectations only causes hurt to both parties.
Like every other relationship, friendship is also built on trust and lots of love. When there is a betrayal, it is as painful and tormenting as is the case in any other relation. People focus a lot on issues in the family and in their romantic relationships but the issues in a friendship are always sidelined. I do not know the reasons for this peculiar phenomena - perhaps, I am the only one who over-analyzes this relationship!

Having lived away from home for a period of over five years, I rely on my friends immensely for a lot of things. In the short course of my life-span, I have made a lot of friends - with some, I have just lost touch; some are people I manage to catch up with on and off; there are some I meet frequently...Then there are those friendships which just did not last - there were some where I made mistakes; others where I felt betrayed and let down...I have had friends who have made my life beautiful and there were some who struck terror in my life while they were there a part of it...

Carl Jung had rightly said, "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
It does not matter if it was a fleeting friendship or a permanent one...It does not matter if someone was a 'good friend' or a 'bad friend'...With each person I have interacted and spent time with, I have learnt something and it has helped me become the person I am today - be it good or bad. We may have only been friends for a few weeks or our friendship may be going strong since seven years and counting, but I would like to thank each and every friend of mine for shaping my life the way it is today - thanks to them, my life is beautiful!

Monday, 23 July 2012

I Have Lived...

I was chatting with one of my colleagues, today, during lunch. Her brother will be appearing for his tenth standard board examination in the following year. "He is very confused about what stream to select. Since you are a counsellor, can you help him in selecting his career-path? He is a very intelligent boy and always fares well in his school examinations...Even I don't know whether he should pick Science or Commerce," my colleague stated.
"What about Humanities? Is he not at all interested in Arts?" I asked.
"I just told you he is a bright boy! Why would he need to study Arts?" my colleague cried in protest!
I could not help but smile at her exclamation.

In India, the moment an individual passes the tenth standard examination, he or she is expected to make the first significant decision of his or her life - which stream to choose? Arts, Commerce, or Science? Usually, students who excel in academics are expected to pursue a career in Science and become an engineer or doctor. The average students are encouraged to take up Commerce and pursue careers like Company Secretaryship or Chartered Accountancy. The remaining students who are labelled as 'weak in studies' or 'low achievers' have to take up Arts. And, no matter which stream you have selected, these days, it has become a fad to ultimately land up doing an M.B.A. degree; otherwise, you are believed to be nothing!

I startled my entire family by selecting Humanities as my future stream despite scoring well in my board examinations! It has been more than 7 years since I made that choice; and, today, if someone were to ask me whether I regret that decision, my answer would be 'no'.

I may not be earning as well as some of my peers but I do not regret choosing the path that I selected to walk upon. I see people around me who are dissatisfied and unhappy. They constantly seem to be running behind something - the tragic part is that they do not even know what it is that they are chasing!

I have always been living my life. Most people seem to be living the lives of others. They never knew who they were back then; and, even now, they have never managed to find out what they are. While I was living a 'fairy tale', people were absorbing the darker, grimmer realities - today, my life is filled with bright colours. The others are still seeing things in black or white...

People may call me a slut because of all the wonderful, pleasurable experiences that I have had. But I prefer travelling the forbidden path and relishing the fruits of my labour instead of dying with a mind exploding with virgin thoughts. There have been mistakes that I made but I have had the courage to move past those errors. It has not been an easy ride, I admit. There are times when I have not known where I was going and when I had no idea what was heading my way. But, in order to find ways that no one has discovered before, one does need to get lost! I may not have lived the 'ideal life' as some of my peers but I know that I am living my life in the best possible way that I can while others are busy following in the footsteps of others...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Tattoo Girl!

My Supervisor was arranging some books on the shelf when I happened to enter the room. She smiled at me and asked me to pass her the books that were lying on the table. As I handed her the books, she suddenly glanced at my wrist and exclaimed, "Wow! Is that a permanent tattoo?"
I nodded my head to indicate a 'yes'.
"Oh!" she said. "You don't seem to be the kind of person who would get herself inked...Was this long ago?"
I was a little annoyed by her caustic remark so I merely shrugged and replied, "Not too long ago...I like tattoos. I, actually, have more than one."
Before she could ask me further questions, I excused myself saying that I have some work to do and I would talk to her later.

Even though my Supervisor was not the first person who had asked me these kind of questions, I must admit that I was quite flustered after this brief incident. In the past, I have experienced people labelling me as 'rebellious' and a 'wild child' merely on account of the fact that I have tattoos. There are some people who do not openly express their disapproval  but ask me questions like, "What will happen when you get bored of it later?" or "Didn't it hurt? Why would you go through so much trouble for that?" It surprises me that most of the time, I find myself getting amused at such questions instead of getting irritated. .

I still remember the day when I got myself inked for the first time. It was three years ago in the month of May, 2009. I had spent almost an entire evening with the tattoo-artist finalizing a design with two of my friends. The next day, I went and got myself inked. It's been more than three years since and today, I have four tattoos on my body and I am open to getting a few more if I want.

Many people do not see the sense in getting tattoos but to me, each tattoo of mine means something. I have the symbol of my zodiac sign - Libra - tattooed on the inner wrist of my right hand. Libra is represented by the scales and Librans are believed to be very balanced individuals. I have tweaked the symbol a little bit to define myself in a better manner. I always believe that I am someone constantly striving for balance but there are times when I feel that I tend to get biased instead of weighing both sides from a neutral standpoint.
Hence, my tattoo is a symbol of scales which are not balanced but tipping to one side more than the other.

I have a star tattooed on my body. It is a symbol of how special and unique I am as a person. It also reminds me that at no point of time in life must I get complacent because every time I should aim to reach for the stars! The star is blue because that happens to be my favourite colour!

I have a butterfly tattoo on my left arm. The butterfly, according to me, symbolizes change. The egg that hatches into a caterpillar; grows into a pupae; and then, finally, metamorphoses, into a butterfly is a beautiful miracle, in my opinion. The butterfly tattoo on my arm reminds me that in the course of my life, there are going to be a lot of changes. The tattoo is a reminder that change is inevitable and even if things appear to be horrible at any particular moment, it does not matter because that horrid moment, too, shall pass.

Finally, on my leg, I have a fairy tattooed. The reason for getting a tattoo on my leg was more for beautification purpose than any other - I had burnt that area of my skin which had resulted in a rather ugly white patch. I had foregone all attire that displayed by legs for almost five years. The reason for choosing the design of a fairy was to remind me that life is magical and no matter how old one grows, one should always continue to believe in the power of imagination and fantasy. For five years, I had covered my legs with full-length jeans and leggings. Today, I flaunt my legs with pride over capris and knee-length skirts. Yes, there was a time when I had body image issues - today, I may not have overcome them all but this tattoo has given me the strength to let go of some of them. Today, I feel beautiful not just from the inside but from my outer appearance as well.

I know that there are some people who completely detest the idea of a tattoo. While everyone is entitled to have an opinion, I think getting a tattoo is just a matter of trusting yourself and understanding that while there will be changes ahead, it is alright to make some moments of your life permanent and forever etch it on  your body...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

As Real As It Gets

This article of mine appeared in the 'Augmented Reality' issue of the 'Digital Natives with a Cause?' newsletter on Page 13. Here is the link:  http://cis-india.org/digital-natives/dn-newsletter-may-2012.pdf
I am posting the unedited version here - I think my original draft had fewer grammatical mistakes! I hope you enjoy reading this and I look forward to hearing what you have to say...


When I was in standard XI, I broke my leg and was confined to the bedroom for more than three months owing to my inability to walk. It was at that time of severe boredom and extreme loneliness that I stumbled upon the wonderful online world. I have never labelled myself as a ‘tech-savvy’ person. My visits to different sites that the Internet allowed me to access had, earlier, been limited to checking my e-mails periodically and using MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger to chat with my school friends or family members. After my fracture, I discovered that there is a limit to things one can watch on television and there is only a certain amount of books one can possess and finish reading at one point of time. My friends were busy with school-work, tuitions and suddenly I was no more a part of their world. I could only spend time with people if they chose to come home and meet me. At first, I had a lot of visitors but gradually, their frequencies and numbers started dwindling. Desperately looking for ways to spend time and maintain some contact with civilazation, I launched Google’s search engine and stumbled upon the world of online discussion-forums and groups where people from all across the world meet to talk on subjects pertaining to their common interest. From that day onwards, it seemed that my Fairy Godmother had waved her magical wand and suddenly time had started flying for me! I could while away time chatting with new people – it gave me an opportunity to know more about the view-points of people from different age-groups, different locations and different life-styles. I have always been fond of writing and it was an online friend, who, one day, introduced me to the world of blogging. Blogging not only gave me a platform to share my thoughts with others but it also gave me a chance to see what others had to say about them. Soon, I became a regular visitor of this online virtual world and some of the people I met, there, I ended up meeting in real-life as well.

I am not sure that I can call the world of the Internet a ‘virtual’ world. I am a real person and even when I am online, I would like to be considered as someone with a real existence. As I write this, I am reminded of Jacques Derrida and his statements on multiple realities. Derrida had questioned the very notion of what is reality – according to him, the very history of Western thought was based on opposition: good v/s evil, man v/s woman, mind v/s matter, black v/s white. Moreover, these oppositions were hierarchical with the second term being a corruption of the first. But how appropriate are these oppositions?  The opposite of good, in my opinion, is ‘not good’ – if we cannot define a person as being ‘good’, it is not necessary that the person can be labelled as ‘evil’. The opposite of evil is, therefore,  ‘not evil’ – a person may not be evil but he need not be good either! In the same manner, I feel it is wrong to juxtapose the real world against the virtual world.

For argument’s sake, I am going to use the terms ‘real world’ and ‘virtual world’ to explore the various facets of these two different realities. The so-called virtual world, today, is a society of its own harbouring a wide web of social interactions and relationships. Just like we are surrounded by all kinds of people in the real world, there are people of various backgrounds inhabiting the virtual world as well. In the real world, we meet people, exchange ideas, spend time together, talk about the incidents of our daily life…We do that in the virtual world as well! With lack of playgrounds in the urban centres of our country, children and adolescents restrict themselves to playing indoor games and today, online gaming is a popular phenomena with more and more people having access to gaming consoles like XBOX 360, Playstation 3 and Wii. In the real world, we all try garnering contacts to get work done, look out for jobs or get any kind of help; the virtual world is no different with people making use of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and many more to gather more human capital in the name of friends, followers and business contacts. People exercise their Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression in the real world by saying what they feel like in front of people. They do the same online on different platforms and are able to reach out to a wider mass of audience. Just like there are certain norms and values in the real world which the people are expected to follow, the people who are accessing the virtual world are also expected to adhere to a certain code of conduct. As time passes, the needs of the people change and if a society is not able to meet the changing requirements of the people, it crumbles and falls and is replaced by another. We see a similar trend happening in the virtual world as well.
At this point I would like to pose the question: Exactly how different is the real world from the virtual world?

I am a person with various identities – I am a woman; I am a counsellor; I am a resident of Mumbai – there are so many things that define me. I have many relationships; to name a few - I am a loving sister, a faithful friend and a dutiful daughter. We all have stories to share about how we met a particular person. We meet people at book-stores, in classrooms, at work…Similarly, we meet people online. Why is it that only the section of people who we met online get labelled as ‘virtual friends’? Isn’t our friendship with them as real to us as our other relationships. Do all ‘online friends’ have no significance at all in our daily, everyday life? Haven’t we at some point of the day or the other - say, on our way to work - thought about a particular friend and what he is upto even if he is someone we know in the virtual space. I, personally, would not like to have a non-real existence in the life of another person. I do not like being thought of as a virtual entity. I am no ghost who just lurks around in the online spaces from time to time! Why, then, would I deny somebody else a real place in my life?

So, is there really a distinction between the virtual world and the real one? Well, not for me, at least!

Friday, 6 July 2012

And The Award Goes To...

I did not really expect to see my name featured in the lists of a 'Very Inspiring BLOGGER Award' or in the 'One Lovely Blog Award' and I would really like to thank Uma for bestowing upon me these honours:





It really was very unexpected! It's just been a month since I have started blogging here and I am very grateful to all the people who visit my blog, drop in their comments, share different perspectives and appreciate my writings. Thank You All!


According to the rules, I need to state 7 random facts about myself. Being a person who loves talking about 'me', this is going to be a piece of cake! Here goes:

1. I hate French Fries. I do not understand why people like them!

2. I love the rains - not just getting wet when it is raining but I love watching the rains fall down from my balcony. I love sipping hot chocolate and watching the rains from my window.

3. I am a Grammar Nazi. I cannot stand grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors.

4. I am always colour-coordinated. When I dress up, everything has to match! And when I say 'everything', it includes (but is not limited to) jewellery, bag, lingerie, wallet, footwear and hair-clips! I actually change the display theme of my mobile phone every morning based on the outfit I am wearing!

5. I breathe books! I love reading and I am a very fast reader.

6. I am a dreamer. I am often late because I spend too much time admiring the sights and sounds on the road instead of focusing on walking and reaching my destination faster.

7. Waiters seem to be very fascinated by me! I have got discounts and complimentary dishes served at my table by waiters. Recent additions to that list include bus-drivers and conductors who have given me free joy-rides and saved my time by dropping me closer to my destination instead of the actual bus-stop!

Well, I need to pass on these awards. I am still new to this space but here is my list:

Ellen

Sanika

Chatty Wren

Pygmalion

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Busy Bee

A few days ago, one of my friends was cribbing about how she has no free time and is always busy doing something or the other. I was being the good listener and trying to empathize with her when, suddenly, she commented, "If only my life was as free as yours is...It would be so wonderful to have all the time in the world to do all that you wanted!" I was really irked by these statements but I remained quiet.
She continued, "I only get one day off...I have to sit in my office from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sometimes, I have to stay back if the work is not complete...These days I reach home by 8:30 p.m. and my parents are really irritated...You are so lucky you don't have to work so much!"
I was royally ticked off and I was bursting with indignation and irritation. I felt like retorting, "I have to be at work at 9:00 a.m. sharp which means I wake up before 7:00 a.m. almost everyday. Unlike you, I do not live with my parents - therefore, I do not have the luxury of simply waking up in the morning and taking off...I need to take care of some household chores as well! I stay at work till 4:30  p.m. While you sit at your desk, I am running behind hyperactive children, trying to observe and manage different classrooms, and doing remedial work with a few children. I agree I do not generally need to stay over-time but try spending fifteen minutes in the fifth grade classroom and you will not tell me that my job is not a stressful one! Moreover, I return home and then I need to give tuition and work on some other projects that come up on a freelancing basis. " Nevertheless, I did not say all this. I simply replied, "My job is not as easy as it looks and I am not as free as I seem to be!"
"Of course you are! You have time to do so many things...And you are in touch with most of us! You have a lot of time to spare!"

I shut my mouth and merely changed the topic. These days I feel that being busy has become a fashion! Children in school are busy juggling academics, tuition, and extra-curricular activities - they are as busy as grownups! In college, one is busy with assignments and, therefore, has a "genuine" reason of keeping away from family functions...And let's not even get started on what happens when one enters the world of work! You meet deadlines instead of meeting friends...Your social life takes a backseat and you are, forever, juggling between your household and work responsibilities.

I often converse with a friend of mine named Su. She always complains, "I get bored! I have nothing to do! You are so lucky! You have so many things to keep you busy!"
Looking back at these dialogues, I realize that there are certain people who appreciate those who are always busy. There have been times when I wished I could be one of those people but no matter how hard I try, I am never successful! Even if I am working from 9:00 a.m. in the morning to 8:00 p.m. at a continuous stretch, I still make it a point to regularly stay in touch with my near and dear ones. I meet them as frequently as I can - even if it means getting less time to relax after a hectic day of work! I agree with people when they tell me that they have no time to do the things they wish to do. There is never enough time to do all the things one wants to do. But you need to make time! I enjoy my work and have fun at the work-place but that does not mean that my work does not tire me out! Even I can just go back home, eat dinner and fall off to sleep. I choose not to do just that! I do not want to be a machine who has a mechanical, mundane existence and goes about leading life by merely  following routines and doing what society thinks I should do. There are friends who wonder why I use up my casual leaves for simple events like meeting an old friend or watching a movie.I know in the short term, spending time reading, sightseeing or being with my close friends will make me happy but in the long term, it would benefit me to focus more on work and become successful. However, I know that in the very long run, what will make better memories...When I die I do not think I will regret the fact that I could not complete some report on time. I might regret the fact that I did not get a chance to spend enough time doing the things I wanted to do or being with the people I wanted to be around...I wish to live a life without regrets and, therefore, I balance my social life and work life extremely well.

Life is too short for one to be busy! I feel people keep evaluating their life from an economical lens and do not invest time and energy doing things that interest them or being around people they like because the returns one may get from doing all that is not tangible!
The only time I immerse myself in work is when I am upset and I do not want to think about my current situation. I wonder if getting engrossed in work is everyone's path to existential escapism from the sordid realities engulfing their world...If that is the case, we, indeed, have a reason to worry about where the world is going!

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Year Of Surprises

Birthdays have always been a special event for me. Being a person who is not very religious, I regard birthdays as the only day worth celebrating in the life of every individual.From the time I was a small child, I have always had my birthday celebrated in a grand, elaborate manner. Of course, over the years the extravagance has sublimed to quite an extent, but my birthday is still a day which I enjoy spending with my near and dear ones.

My sixteenth birthday is one which I remember very clearly - that year I had broken my leg and was confined to the bedroom. Despite it being my birthday, I did not have a cake to cut nor any visitors who were coming home to meet me. My brother was in school and my parents had gone off to work. I was all alone at home and rather dejected. My friends were busy giving exams which I had been exempted from writing owing to the fact that I could not attend school. As I lay in bed reading a book, I got a call on the intercom that two of my friends had come home to meet me! I was so surprised! It was completely unexpected and thanks to both of them, I had a happy sixteenth birthday after all.

It may strike you as strange but despite this pleasant experience, I have never been fond of surprises. I do not think that receiving a surprise enhances pleasure. I agree that I was happy to have two unexpected visitors dropping in to celebrate my birthday but I do not think my happiness would have been less had I been prepared for their arrival. In hind sight, being aware that they were going to come would have resulted in me not having a miserable mood even for half a day - I would have been impatiently anticipating their arrival instead of brooding over the fact that no one seemed to be taking any effort for making this occasion special.

I happened to stumble upon this quote while writing this post:

"Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable."
- Jane Austen
I remember having a conversation with my friend, Su, on the topic of getting surprises on birthdays. She told me about an incident where one of her friends had planned a surprise party for her on the evening of her birthday - this friend had instructed others to not wish Su at midnight or the entire day. Su was unhappy at midnight when none of her siblings or family members wished her on her birthday. Throughout the day she continued being upset because none of her friends had bothered remembering her birthday and wishing her - even her oldest childhood friend seemed to have forgotten that it was her birthday! It was only in the evening when she discovered the party did she cheer up and celebrate. But was it really necessary to make her go through all that misery the entire day, we, both, wondered?

My best friend had once attempted to surprise me on my seventeenth birthday and failed to do so - he had just moved to the city where I was residing at that time and had decided to not share that information with me - the news was going to be my birthday surprise! Unfortunately for him, I found out much before my birthday that he was in the city and I was furious at not being informed. I took it to mean he did not wish to meet me and I was quite cross!

I have neither been too fond of giving surprises nor fond of receiving them! With time, I have tried keeping an open mind and practicing this growing fad. One day, I sat and introspected and realized that what I don't like about surprises is keeping a person completely in the dark and making him or her feel glum on his or her special day. I realized I don't mind surprising my friends at midnight! I remember dropping into my friend's office at midnight while he was busy working with a basket of goodies and cake. He was pleasantly surprised because he was only expecting me to wish him on the phone at that time - he did not really think that I would drop in at work just to wish him on his birthday! The look on his face was priceless and I could sense that he was happy as he told other people on the phone about how his friend and another colleague managed to surprise him!
Earlier this year, I had surprised another friend in another city by sending her birthday gifts at her hostel - since I had received her postal address from her brother, she was not at all expecting to receive something and, hence, was pleasantly taken aback on the morning of her birthday!

This year, my friend, Sanika, was turning 23 years old. For her birthday, I surprised her by organizing a treasure-hunt for her - I had hidden her gifts in various parts of the house and some time before midnight, I gave her clues that would lead her to them. The hunt was planned to end at 12:00 a.m. sharp with her discovering her last gift that would lead her to her cake which was in  the shape of a girl on the moon (being a Cancerian, she fancies herself as the Moon Maiden). Things went as planned and, if I can say so for myself, I think my surprise worked out well and she did have a good time.

At present, I don't think I am still keen about the prospect of getting surprised on my birthday - I'd prefer knowing whatever it is that is going to come my way. On the other hand, surprising those who like surprises (or at least claim to like surprises) is something I am comfortable with, and, as I have recently discovered, something that I enjoy doing. I am good at planning surprises and ensuring that they are executed successfully but when it comes to being at the end of receiving a surprise, I'd still say, "Thanks but no thanks!"

Thursday, 21 June 2012

From 'Joy' To 'Dreams'

Twenty-two years ago, I was born in the City of Joy, Kolkata, on a rainy September morning. Kolkata is my place of birth and it is in this city that I have spent seventeen glorious years of my life...Having spent joyous years of my childhood and adolescence, here; I associate Kolkata with warmth, friendliness and lots of colour! It is a city that not only boasts off a rich cultural heritage but also of being a foodie's paradise. It is a peculiar mix of tradition and modernity. You will find people across all age-groups preferring ethnic wear over Western wear. Women draped in colourful cotton sarees and men wearing kurtas, dhotis and lungis is a common sight. Kolkata is one place that teaches you not to judge a book by its cover - no matter how traditional the attire of the people is, most of the people in Kolkata have a modern outlook towards life - the birth of a girl or a boy is celebrated with equal pomp and festivity; equal emphasis is given by parents on, both, academics and extra-curricular activities; and parents are more liberal than those in other parts of the country in terms of acceptance of romantic relationships (no matter how short the duration)...Kolkata is a place of funny contradictions - living expenses in Kolkata are not much and you can treat yourself to a hearty meal for just thirty rupees! There are small 'dhabas' or eateries in narrow, dingy lanes but be warned! Even if you are sitting in one of these cheap eating-joints, you will be expected to adhere to the same code of conduct as you would follow while dining in a five-star restaurant. If you do not wish to follow table manners, eat the street-food off the roads! You can visit shopping malls but you will not be allowed to sit outside on the steps of a mall in Kolkata - that is a privilege you can enjoy only in Mumbai or Bangalore...In its own way, Kolkata is a funny mix of being cheap and, at the same time, being elitist...It is a city that exudes vibrance along with a laid-back attitude.

I lived in Bangalore for three years. I went there as soon as my school-life was over.Bangalore is the 'Garden City of India' and, the initial few days in Bangalore made me fall in love with the weather and the lush, green spaces... I was looking forward to a new phase of my life in college but Bangalore, to me, came as a culture shock when I actually ended up living in the city! Every city exposes its true nature when you put forth your vulnerable side before it; and I found Bangalore to be rather voyeuristic! Girls, there, were busy smoking in public, discussing what to wear while going partying, displaying the latest accessory they had bought or showing off their new phone! Bangalore never became a place where I felt I was at home...Apart from being the Garden City, it is also the I.T. Hub of India of our country...The college in which I studied made us follow a strict code of rules and regulations and towards the end of my third year, I actually felt like I was training to become a robot - a mechanical entity programmed to behave in a certain way to suit the technological environment of the area...I also got to know why Bangalore is the infamous 'suicide capital' of India -I associate Bangalore with being a city that has a whiff of reckless air of irresponsibility around it which ultimately gets to you (at least in my case, it did!)...

Ultimately tired of my robotic existence in Bangalore, I moved to the City of Dreams. I have been in Mumbai for more than two years now. It is similar to Kolkata in terms of climate and having friendly people. However, life in Mumbai is extremely fast-paced when compared to the lazy life of the people in Kolkata. Standing outside Kurla station in the peak hours of morning and watching the people move like an army of ants is indeed a very fascinating sight! Marine Drive is one of the few places in Mumbai where I escape to when the rapid life of the city gets to me - there is something about the salty waters that always instills in me a sense of tranquility. Just like Kolkata has areas like Dalhousie that are proof of its British association, South Bombay has a few such areas of magnificent British architecture...There are many more similarities between the financial capital and the cultural capital of our country but on days, when I miss Kolkata and its old-world charm extremely, visiting Banganga does the trick!

Over time, I have realized that in order to occupy a place and to have the place occupy you, you need to get intimate with it! I love talking and for me to feel at home in a particular place, I need to know the language. Being able to converse in Bengali fluently and being able to understand Marathi has enabled me to warm up to these places sooner than I would under usual circumstances - in the case of Bangalore, I was totally unfamiliar with any of the South Indian languages and apart from my love for South Indian food, there was nothing in the city that made me feel like a local there...

Mumbai is a city that appears familiar to me and I have adapted myself to the life-style and work-culture here. Becoming a part of this has ensured that the city will not forget or abandon me. I will not be cut off from the activities of the city...

I think I was a happier person in Kolkata than I am at present. Now, I am a romanticist and more of a dreamer. I dream of a perfect Utopian world and aspire to achieve it...Of course, reality is very different and there are times when my idealistic notions are crushed...In those times, I have friends to fall back on...No matter how troubled the times are, I always believe that tomorrow comes with the promise of being a better day and the start of a fresh, new beginning...From the innocent, joyous wonder years of childhood, I have moved to a more adult world without shrugging off my dreamy-eyed expression...The world continues to amaze me and each day, I learn something of some significance...I have moved from 'joy' to 'dreams' and the hope is that one day, my dreams will turn into a beautiful reality!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Write Your Own Epitaph!

"If you were to die today, what would you want written on your epitaph?"

The first time I was asked this question, I was a little startled. I am just 22 years old, perfectly hale and hearty and I still have many years to go before I can think of dying! But then, Death does not visit only those who are sick and old. There are times when you can be busy carrying out the activities of your daily life when Death can creep up stealthily from behind and take you along with Him...

No matter how young you are, you always have the potential to achieve great things! Looking back on my life, I wish to have lived a life with no regrets. If I were to die today, I don't want to regret the fact that I was not able to do the things I wanted to do because I was busy with the mundane tasks of the day! I want to live life to the fullest. I don't want to keep making bucket-lists of things I want to do and end up doing nothing because I am waiting for the right time...I believe in seizing every opportunity that comes my way and making use of it to gather new experiences!

The one reason I fear death is because I fear oblivion! I don't want to be forgotten. Even if I die, I want people to remember me for certain unique qualities.
At the same time, if a stranger comes across my grave, I don't want him or her to merely read:
Divya Srivastava
1989-2012
Even if the person did not know me at all, I wish that he or she would get to know me a little better by reading what is inscribed on my grave-stone. I strongly believe that Death is not the opposite of life but it is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal. Death, according to me, is merely an event that marks a transition between incarnations. When our soul is born, it travels from one body to another depending on the soul's karmic requirements. On my epitaph, therefore, I would want written:
" She is a part of life
 But not just a tiny bit;
 She is life itself -
 She is the whole of it!

The physical part of her soul - the body - is what lies here. Her soul has been set free and has already embarked on its quest for adventures to newer lands."
 Writing your own epitaph can be an extremely emotional experience. This activity helps you gain a perspective on your current life and the way you are living it. Now, I ask, "If you were to die today, what would you want written on your tomb-stone?" What is your reply to this question? Do spend some time and reflect on this question. If you are comfortable, I would really appreciate it if you can share your epitaph on this space...