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
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...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Quality Education For All

I have, recently, been appointed to work in a school as a Special Educator and Counsellor. At present, the summer vacation is still on and only teachers and other faculty members need to be present to ensure that all arrangements to facilitate education are made as soon as school resumes.

As the class-teachers were busy covering note-books and text-books, my colleague and I sat in the staff-room, chalking out our tentative schedules and devising different methods to cater to the wide array of needs of the differently-abled children. We did not really have much to do so we were making use of this opportunity to get to know each other better. Our random conversation was, suddenly, interrupted with a small girl arriving at the door. She was dark with long hair that was neatly tied back in a ponytail. She was dressed in her best clothes and she had a shy smile on her face and a mischievous twinkle in her eye. She knocked at the door and asked us if we were teachers.

I smiled at her and nodded my head. "What do you want, child?" I asked her.

"My mother and father...I don't have...I want to study. Please take me in your school!" she proclaimed and looked at us earnestly with eyes wide open. She spoke confidently and her voice was clear and sharp, devoid of any tremors.

I asked her if she had studied previously and she nodded her head. "I have studied till second standard. I want to study more...But I don't have money..."

"Why did you leave that school?" I probed.

"This school is nice - my friend is in same class but she knows more than me! I don't want to go to BMC school" the girl replied. 

This short conversation stirred in me a mixed array of emotions. I was a little startled to find a small seven year old girl walking in to school, all by herself, seeking admission. At the same time, I experienced a sense of joy to see this little girl trying to stand up on her own feet. I also felt proud that I was part of a school that imparted free education to all who were willing to learn!

I referred the girl to my supervisor. The little girl was asked to start coming to school once it re-opens after the vacation. She left the building with a big grin on her face and before leaving, she smiled at me and waved good-bye!

This brief incident instilled in me a deep sense of pride. My job may not be very well-paying  but I think each day, I get to learn a lot. The happiness one gets out of helping someone else cannot be defined in words. I feel extremely glad to be a part of an organization that does not deny access to quality education to anyone on grounds of financial and economic constraints. Children from all communities, of every social strata, the differently-abled - everyone - is welcome here because we, truly, believe that every child is special and we should help them develop their uniqueness in all academic and non-academic spheres. Children are the bright future of our nation and additional steps must be taken to encourage the education of the girl child. I am thankful that I am getting the opportunity of making a difference in whatever small way, and being able to touch the lives of so many others in a way that could, probably, not have been achieved before.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Mumbai Rains

I finally experienced the first rain-showers of the year...After an unbearable streak of draining me off my energy reserves,  the hot sun has, finally, vanished behind the clouds and the so-called 'gloomy' weather that the rains bring has actually cheered me up and lifted my spirits!

I love the rains - the growling of the clouds, the rumble of the thunder, the pitter-patter of rain-drops - all these sounds - bring a smile on my face. There are people in Mumbai who dread and detest the rains but I am not one of them. Of course, I am not fond of wading in murky puddles nor do I like getting soaked in the rain immediately after getting ready for work in the mornings but I love the earthy smell and the feel of freshness that the rains bring to my surrounding...

It gives me a chance to forgo all my electronic gadgets - my iPod, my mobile phone - and just spend some time truly alone. I have recently shifted houses and currently, I reside on the fourteenth floor of a building. The view from the top is great! I love sitting in the balcony and just watching the rains pouring down...

Having lived in Mumbai for two years, now, I truly believe that it is a city that never halts! Even in the torrential rains, people are up and about, finding alternate means to reach work on time...I think to myself, "Had this happened in Kolkata, everyone would have stayed home and celebrated the prospect of getting a holiday!" But Bombay is not Kolkata and in this City of Dreams, come rain, come storm, the work in the city will never stop!

Whenever I talk about my love for the rains, people in Mumbai often narrate nasty experiences they have had of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere because of the downpour. I may not have been a resident of the city during the Mumbai rains of 26th July, 2005 but I, definitely, have had my fair share of bad experiences thanks to the rains. I remember getting stuck on the flooded roads of Mumbai for more than six and a half hours and making use of all possible means of transport (train, bus, auto-rickshaw and a lift in a stranger's car) in an attempt to make it back home. However, these events have not really deterred my spirits or succeeded in altering my love for the rains. I understand that the rains do cause a lot of inconvenience but, then, so does the heat...

Rains remind me of the time when I was a child and we made paper-boats and tried floating them in the rain-waters...Rains were the time when my mother used to take me shopping to buy a raincoat of my favourite colour and design - we would then, all, go to school wearing our individuality over our school uniforms! I find this excitement absent in the children, here, and that is something that I do miss about the rains back in Kolkata...To all the people who are in Bombay, it is just the beginning - the rains are here to stay for quite some time...So, this year, instead of cribbing and cursing, take a walk in the rains and savour each and every moment - don't just get wet!