Monday, 26 August 2013

The Birthday Wish-List

Today, I received a call from a college-friend asking me for my postal address. She said she needed it to send me my birthday gifts for this year! Now, all those who regularly follow my blog must be aware by now that I am a big fan of birthdays! However, with exactly a month to go before I turn 24 years old, I was a little surprised to find myself not feeling a bit joyous about it. My friend on the phone, perhaps noticing my indifference, remarked, “Are you upset about turning a year older?” I couldn't help but smile on hearing that comment. I always crib about turning old every year. However, this time, I don’t think that is the case. I haven’t celebrated my birthday in a grand, elaborate manner since the last three years.  If it weren't for a select few people who demand a treat, I’d probably be sitting at home on my birthday dressed in my PJs. As I told my friend how tedious I think birthday celebrations are, she was astounded, “You have changed so much post college!” I just smiled and told her, “I don’t have anyone like you here to make this day special for me!” She giggled and ranted on the phone about what she would do if she was in Mumbai for my special occasion. For a while, I was transported back in time as I heard her chatter. Before hanging up, she made me promise that I would make a wish-list because, in the words of my dear friend, “Even if I am not around, my best friend must have the time of her life!”

So yes, with just a month to go, here is what I wish for this birthday:
  • Happiness:  Happiness means different things to different people. I feel happy when I am valued. I think one never needs a reason to spread smiles. This birthday, I want to be happy by spreading happiness around me. I have decided to perform some random acts of kindness during my birthday month. If you have any suggestions on what these might be, feel free to send me your requests!
  • Love: Sometimes all it takes is a hug or a kiss or a concerned arm around your shoulder to melt all your troubles away. I feel we are living in a world, today, that is unfortunately characterized by indifference. On my birthday, if you wish to make a difference in my world, please do not hesitate from spreading love and brightening the lives of those individuals who you feel are special to you (and if I am a special person in your life, please note that I too need my share of love and affection!).
  • Acceptance: We all have a tendency to like people for the things they do that make our life special. This birthday, I want to be accepted for who I am. It may seem to be a rather humble request but when was the last time you were able to accept someone unconditionally? I have flaws just like you do but why let that come in the way of treating one another with non-judgementality and unconditional positive regard.
These are the three wishes I have. Three simple wishes, or am I asking for a lot?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Visit To St. Catherine's Home

A part of my job-profile entails that I liaison with different organizations (primarily NGOs) regarding fieldwork placements of students. This responsibility took me to St. Catherine's Home in Andheri (West), Mumbai on a nice, sunny Saturday morning. While I have visited several organizations in the past, this one, in particular, was a humbling experience for me.

St. Catherine's Home was started in 1922 to provide shelter to unmarried mothers but today it caters to more than 300 infants, toddlers, girls and young, unmarried women who have been the victims of deprivation, abandonment and abuse. The one thing that struck me the  most about this home was its emphasis on not just providing education and rehabilitation but also catering to the psycho-social needs of the individuals residing there and ensuring they are re-integrated into society when they are ready. I was amazed to know that they ensure their children go on a trip to the sea-side once every year!

As soon as I reached the home, there was a young couple there who were just leaving after adopting a ten-month old baby. It was a touching experience seeing the gleam of happiness in the eyes of the new mother as she was holding the child in her arms.
After the couple left, I had a conversation with Sister which made me open my eyes about many things that I was already aware of but I chose not to see. For instance, I was told that one of the major challenges they face when they put children up for adoption is that couples do not want to adopt dark-skinned babies. I guess it is because of such obsession with fair-skin that we need campaigns like Dark Is Beautiful. I was also told that no family in India wants to adopt a child that has any mental or physical handicap. In fact, they do not even want to adopt children who have any scars or marks on their faces. I was really troubled on hearing this! While the mind-set is such that we want our children to be perfect, does this mean that children who appear farther away from perfection have no place in mainstream society? Is only beauty deserving of love and affection? I found myself thinking to myself that it is probably because of this narrow mind-set that the couples were not blessed with a baby of their own in the first place - no matter how hard I tried, I found myself being quite judgmental when I heard these stories. Sister told me that all children with special needs are put for adoption in foreign countries. She told me about children getting adopted and living in Sweden, France, Belgium and U.S.A. and doing very well there.
Every time I hear politicians or some orthodox people condemning how the 'Indian culture' has gone for a toss owing to Westernization, I feel they should reflect on some of the ways in which the Western society is better; especially when it comes to the way it treats its women.

While the home is doing a commendable job despite being short of funds, the fact that it exists is proof that we are living in a society that is in no ways safe for the people who have the XX chromosome. Every day, news of molestation, child abuse, gang-rapes continue to be hurled at the public through newspapers, radios and televisions. I wonder what happens after the sensationalism is over? No one is ready to take any responsibility. We wish to blame the government, the police-forces, the judiciary, the media, the politicians, the organization but nothing really comes out of this blame game. I just feel that it is now time to take matters in our own hands and be responsible for our own safety because expecting this country to be a safe place for women is like a Utopian dream.

Towards the end of the visit, the words of Sister that remained with me were, "Count your blessings! Our children, here, would gladly exchange places with you right now. You have food, shelter, clothing and so much more - be thankful to the ones who provide them for you. Parents are always taken for granted and never appreciated for all the things they do because after all you feel it is their 'duty' to do so." She gave us instances of fathers molesting their own daughters; mothers selling their daughters; uncles making their nieces work in the flesh-trade and all these stories just gave me goose-bumps. The trauma one feels when one becomes aware of the fact that the one who is assigned the job of protecting you and taking care of all your needs is the one who is subjecting you to exploitation and oppression is one that can be extremely heart-wrenching and something that no one can understand unless and until you have been in the same shoes. At the end of the visit, I just felt grateful for having so many privileges, luxuries and comforts - while I never have issues expressing my thankfulness, today was one day when I felt a simple 'thank you' would just not do.

To all the people reading this, I reiterate Sister's message and request you to make a list of all those things in life you are grateful for and express your heart-felt thanks to those people who have blessed you by providing those things. It will not only help you look at your life from a different perspective but you will also be making a difference in the lives of those who you hold in special regard. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

In Search Of Light

Have you ever seen a sea in the sky? Have you ever seen a void in that sea? Have you seen a world in that void? Have you seen a light above it all? That shimmering ray which sparkles a glimmer of hope...It is alright if you haven't. There are days when even I can't seem to find it...I keep walking in the dark hoping to bump into someone holding a flaming torch to guide the way ahead. I find myself getting lost in the dark. I never seem to reach the end of the tunnel and find the light. Thankfully, this does not last. I usually manage to shake myself awake from these nightmares.

However, on some days this is not possible. How do you wake yourself up when you realize you were not sleeping in the first place? What do you do in those moments when you feel that the entire purpose of your existence is like the tip of an unsharpened pencil - completely pointless! What do you do when you find the very ground on which you stood, resting your faith, is crumbling to pieces and you have no place to ground yourself. In those moments, can you patiently wait for the universe to shower your life with happiness and meaning?

Like many, I too had dreams and the will to chase them with the hope that one, fine day, they would become a reality. Leaving behind the luxury of familiarity, I entered a strange land with dreamy eyes and elaborate plans. I wanted the tree of life but only grass and weeds lay on my way. I searched for people who would dare to be different but no matter where I looked, everyone was just like the others.

I sought solace indoors and hid myself from the world. I no longer wished to participate in their worldly affairs. I wanted to get lost so that I could be found. I waited and waited for someone to miss me and come looking for me but no one knocked on the door. I stared out of my window and looked at everything happening around me. Nothing stopped because I wasn't a part of it. What was I to do next?

I stared at myself in the mirror. I could not recognize my own reflection. I still stepped out of the house hoping that the world would accept and accommodate the new "me" even though I wasn't at peace with myself. I really had nothing to worry about. The world did not notice any difference - it treated me in the same manner as it always had. I did not know whether to be hurt or whether to breathe a sigh of relief.

Yet not everything remained the same. I started noticing things I had never laid eyes on before. I could see the sadness in her eyes no matter how hard she tried covering it up with a big smile on her face. I could see the way he crossed his fingers nervously even as he portrayed himself as the perfect picture of confidence. And then it dawned on me! People are forever tenderly wrestling and negotiating with their own shadows, making preemptive strikes on their personal share of the world's evil, fighting the good fight to keep from spewing their darkness on those around them.

In moments of darkness, we have to look for the light within us for there is nobody else to illuminate the path for us. The realization that there is no "you" was quite a liberating experience for me. It means that succumbing to institutionalized relations of 'family', 'love', etc. is merely a struggle to keep the illusion of an "I" and a "you". In reality, there is only the "other" and nothing else. Therefore, by refusing to associate with another, I am really just liberating the "other" as a consequence of destroying myself.

Sometimes I feel that I am the moon that removes darkness from people's lives while never revealing my dark side; and just like the moon gleams because of the light from the sun, I too shine because of the light from another source - I just don't know who my source of light is. Hopefully, someday in the future, we will meet. After all, what is life without hope?