February 7, 2017

Why I root for the underdog?


It's one of the rare times that I find myself plonked before the idiot box, eager to watch yet another episode of  The Indian Idol. Good music and movies have the power to keep me glued, though. As the episode progresses, I feel my cheeks moisten with salty droplets that have ambushed their way out. While soulful renditions more often than not get me teary-eyed, this time it was the personal stories of the contestants that triggered an emotional response; the show shenanigans of playing melancholic background scores and deliberate freezing of expressions notwithstanding.

It's touching to listen to stories about modest upbringing, financial struggles, and the courage to dream despite or perhaps due to adverse circumstances. The fact that talent can get its due even if one is not from a privileged background makes a perfect poster for inspiration, hope, and motivation. Such real stories serve as lessons for someone who is ready to give up on the brink of success just because the last mile is most arduous and one wishes for that godfather that can make the final journey easier.

There's something about the journey of underdogs that does not fail to touch a chord with me. When someone least expected to win makes unprecedented progress, challenges the crowd favourites, and sometimes even pulls off a stupendous upset to become numero uno, I cannot help but applaud and nod in awe. (The important caveat being that the win is purely based on merit). I'm sure it's not just me who feels so because this feel-good factor has been milked quite a bit by the film industry. Needless to add, films based on such a premise hold a special place in my heart.

As a person who has, at best, been an average achiever, it's easy to see why I identify with parts of an underdog's life. I like to imagine that I'm no different from that person on stage or that protagonist in the cinema who wins despite all odds. At such times I allow myself to dream big; dreams about experiencing the satisfaction of having reached my full potential, finding my true calling and being on the path I was always meant to be on.

A late bloomer in life, I've questioned my capabilities at every stage. I've looked at schoolmates and college mates glide past me with surety and confidence while I wondered about what I wanted to do in life. With every step forward, there were several taken backward. Yet, it's been a decent climb for me, as I realize today.

The struggle in my case has always been an internal one. I could never see myself win. Actually, I've been more afraid of success than of failure. I fear not being able to replicate a win. I prefer to remain an underdog because then I have no pressure of fulfilling expectations. If I win, it's a bonus but if I lose, it isn't really a surprise and I don't have to explain. And, so I root for underdogs in the outside world and for the self in my heart.

****


January 23, 2017

Awaiting colours of change

Image Source

It's the morning rush hour. In between flipping the dosa on the steaming pan, I scurry towards the bathroom door, impatiently asking R to hurry up and finish his bath. I scamper back to the kitchen to finish packing the lunch boxes, feeling the pressure of the husband's temporary absence which would have otherwise let me concentrate on just one part of the early-hour circus at home.

"Amma, I'm done. Please get the towel," screamed R into the empty room. Finally, I mutter and stride back to help him get dressed for school. My hands work quickly in tandem, patting him dry and squeezing the moisturizer into my palms when I notice R's. They have a flaky white colour to them, the one that comes with the skin being in contact with excessive foam and water. I apply a generous dose of the creamy lotion over them as I gently rebuke R for using so much soap.

"But, I want my skin to be light. I like light skin not dark" he quips, in almost a matter-of-fact tone.

My hands stop briefly, the mind numb over how to respond; myriad thoughts flogging the brain. How and when did the colour bias make way into a child's mind? I asked him where he heard about the advantages of having a light-coloured skin. He replied that his friend at school had divulged about how having a fairer skin tone makes someone stronger than the rest.

I looked up into R's earnest eyes. I wanted to hold him and soothe him yet I saw that he didn't seem to be wounded by the racist remark. At this tender age, he took his friend's words at face value and only wanted to rectify nature's ways in a manner he thought possible. Even though there was no apparent malice behind the other child's statement, that a skin tone had to be dragged into a child's world made me wonder how these ideas were implanted in the first place.

With all the honesty I could muster, I firmly stated that the skin colour had nothing to do with how a person turns out to be. Strength, poise, dignity, attitude, are all attributes one had to cultivate and nurture from within and the colour of the outer skin has no roleplay in this, whatsoever. R nodded his head solemnly. I wasn't sure he understood completely. There was so much more to add and share, but that would have to wait for the time being. I had to rush.The bus was here. We hugged, said our goodbyes and I lingered a bit longer as the bus rolled away into the street.

I mulled over the episode. I sighed. Not much had changed in the social conditioning yet I couldn't believe that such a discussion could creep in at such a young age. Who could be at fault here? The parents? Relatives? Media? Other kids? The society?

It's probably a mix of all of the above. Years of being slaves to the whites who are synonymous with wealth, culture, power, and for some reason beauty, we have unwittingly bent our knees to this rather foolish ideology of needing to discard the dark shades, albeit literally. If the common man and underdogs have a reason to fall prey, I wonder about the compulsions of the influential and the successful who endorse fairness products and have even undergone cosmetic overhauls to go from brown to white.

Images from my own past came back to me. As a young girl, I'd want to keep the back of my hands facing out because they were lighter in colour. I remember comparing my complexion with that of my mother and sister who are fairer than me and wishing I were not so dark. I recall clearly, from my early teens, that nasty remark from a playmate who called me a "coal". He thought he was being funny. The irony? His skin shade was several times darker than mine! I remember my mother telling me that I was beautiful and reminding me to focus on my talents. Still, those were impressionable years and there was an unmet desire to fit into the society's standards of acceptance.

As I grew up, I began to acknowledge my skills with the quiet realization that they had no relevance or relation to my skin pigmentation. I also learned to shove these demons at the far end of the mind whenever they threatened to corrode my confidence. Just as I thought I was fairly successful at accepting myself, I entered the matrimony arena where the colour of your skin took precedence over all your other accomplishments. The unabashed ask of an educated professional yet homely, good-looking and above all a fair-skinned girl for the 95% of the grooms listed was simply disturbing to put it very mildly.

For a condition inflicted largely by the society, it's rather unfair that the individual victims have to undertake the journey towards healing, rather alone. For, even though you might have the support of the immediate family and friends circle, it takes a good deal of effort to build your own resistance and inner strength. Today, I'm no longer impaired by my skin tone. The mirror no longer reflects just a dusky skinned person. I know that I'm worth far more than the outer layer. But, this hasn't come easily.

Moreover, today's incident made me realize that my journey hasn't ended. Even though R might potentially have it easier because all is still well with the dark and handsome theory, I believe the colours of change need to be ushered in. It's an opportunity for me and several others like me to re-set the agenda where the next generation is taught to reject such hand-me-downs thoughts and seek a better world for themselves.

****
This won the crowd favourite at the Yeah Write grid!!!

 


****
Have you had such experiences regarding the skin colour? 
Is your child a victim of colour bias? How did you deal with the subject?




January 20, 2017

When cousins count as siblings


It's rare to have cousins in the same age bracket as you are. Hence, when you do get lucky to have them so, cherish them with all your heart. This, I learned as I grew up with a stream of cousins. The sister and I gravitated, as a natural recourse, to the ones who were closer to our ages. Till date, my fond memories of my childhood are of those unlimited chatter sessions about sundry things that appealed to us at different ages and stages, of the to-and-fro camping in each other's houses during holidays, and of the excitement and anticipation of meetings after a period of lull. Indeed, cousins are truly a treasured species of human relationships.

Ever wondered why cousins fare better than your immediate sibling?

You get the best of both the worlds with cousins. When you're together, there's fun guaranteed. And, when you tire of each other, you can go back to your own houses! You're willing to share and quell the feelings of envy or anger because somewhere you know that these emotions are transient; lasting for only as long as the meet itself. The compromises and adjustments are not permanent; you can have your favourite toy or dress back the minute the cousin(s) leave. There's never the "you always favour him/her" thrown at your own parent. You can simply walk up to the other parent, the aunt or the uncle, and viola, the verdict will most certainly be drawn in your favour! You even get pampered by the cousins' parents. The sibling rivalry gets a breather till you meet next time, so you willingly extend the otherwise rare courtesy and don't mind donning the mantle of magnanimity.

When I see R and S together, it fills me with joy and satisfaction that they would know what it is to grow up with siblings even if they don't have each other's company every waking minute. Fights are rare and few between them. It's another thing that they complement each other very well and can almost read each other's minds when it comes to most things. S, for me, is like a daughter from another mother's womb. And, so is R for my sister. It feels great to have the kids grow up together even if we cannot always stay close by.

I guess it works for the parents too to have cousins as playmates for their kids. They're connected by blood yet not entirely your responsibility too. If a few caveats are met, then quite a win-win, I'd say.

January 6, 2017

Rays of light #BARWoWe




When long periods of night
descend on paths unknown
keep going anyway
It's just a matter of time

Clouds of darkness 
that seem like an eternity
are sent way scurrying
with the first rays of light

In stealth always
daybreaks arrive
Working their way 
slowly first, a simmering fire
to restore faith, they aspire

flushed with passionate rage
Dawn bursts into flames
slaying demonic vestiges
defeating despair

*****


January 3, 2017

Stepping into 2017: the mind seeks!


I sit gazing at the screen of my laptop waiting for words to spill forth. A hundred myriad thoughts are crowding together, none of them coherent. They seem like restless school kids waiting to rush out of the gates with the ring of the closing bell. Which among these will first succeed in bursting the pregnant cloud of emotions, feelings, and introspection, to pour down as steady, restrained rain?

I look around and see happy, hopeful, energetic, determined posts about welcoming 2017. I wonder if I have anything similar to show the world; about my goals, plans, or a new word or resolutions. I realize I have none. Perhaps, it's the hangover of the New Year celebrations that I partake in each year; one that descends on your soul without being inebriated.

Mere words will not suffice to describe how the first day of 2017 dawned for me; soaked in divinity, drenching the fortunate gathering with grace, humility, and hope. Even though the celebrations remain the same each year, there's a new layer added to the experience and the only resolution I make then is to arrive in time every year to receive this benevolent offering and pray to the Almighty to make it happen.

Walking down the familiar lanes of the place where I grew up and lived until I got married seemed like turning the pages of an old picture album. Sepia-tinted, the characters grow older with every turn of the page. As I waited in the park watching R and S prancing about without a care in the world, I was automatically thrown back to the times when I was in their place. The neighbourhood mamas and mamis were the quintessential middle-aged saree-clad/dhoti-clad folks for my tribe then. An age and time that seemed far away from us; one that we were not in a hurry to reach. Today, I was them. Maybe not saree-clad but surely middle-aged. I wondered how did that make me feel. It sounds utterly cliched and fake but time had stood still for me in more ways than one. I was in a relative bubble where I was still the young girl who was perhaps at her parents' after a brief period of separation.

The enormity of age and its vagaries struck me hard as I sat with Amma casually enquiring after our acquaintances. Someone's spouse had passed on while a few I knew were no more. A handful had relocated elsewhere while some others were celebrating the arrival of the grandchildren. Life was coming a full circle. Time and tide waits for none and finally, only the memories would remain.

Trips back home, especially during the year-end, leave me more wistful than ever. And, my family isn't the only reason. The familiarity beckons to me even as I fly back to my own home, the one I have familiarized, created and nourished over the recent years.

As young fledglings, I longed to travel far, assimilate newer and richer experience in love, relationships, and work. However, as I strike off year after year from the calendar, adding those to my age, I sense a longing, for an anchor, a reason, a homecoming moment when I can finally say I've arrived in a true sense. Is it disillusionment from not understanding what exactly I'm after and hence orient myself accordingly or is this what one would call growing mature? I do not know yet.

My word for the year should perhaps be 'seek'.

*****
How has 2017 begun for you all? 

I wish you all a wonderful year, one in which you realize what your dreams are and are also able to sow the seeds to achieve them!

December 24, 2016

5 aspects of my life that top the gratitude chart in 2016

Original Image Courtesy

December seems to be vanishing into thin air just the way I had imagined. I can already visualize 2017 hiding around the block ready to jump out and startle me. Year-ends make me nervous and excited at the same time. I wait with child-like enthusiasm for the New Year to begin but there's also an unmistakable feeling of anxiousness, like butterflies in the stomach. On the one hand, it's a fresh slate, a chance to start anew. On the other hand, I'm apprehensive about any new challenges that may be in store for me.

Perhaps, it's the sign of the Universe that asks us to be in the moment and leave our baggage behind as we surge ahead.

As I look back on 2016, my heart is filled with gratitude towards the five major aspects of my life that bring me so much joy. And, today seems to be an opportune day to write that gratitude list because today I complete 6 years of blogging. It seems rather strange (but true) that I've hardly celebrated this day on my blog despite this space holding a special place in my life.

It makes sense to start my gratitude list with this aspect of my life.

1. Blogging and BAR: I've come a long way from my first tentative post on this space on the 24th of December 2010. Since then, my relationship with blogging has seen a lot of ups, downs, and long periods of inactivity but somehow we have survived it all.

Blogging largely thrives on self-motivation and discipline but it also needs external impetus from time to time. While I struggled with the former, Bar-A-Thon in August this year provided the much need external push and with that, I seemed to regain my passion for blogging. That's when I decided to put a stamp of seriousness by purchasing a custom domain for the blog. A formal space for myself in the wide world of the web is a motivation for me to blog more and write better.

That brings to the second aspect, the BAR. Before you let your imagination run wild and think of me as an alcoholic thanking my vital dose of inspiration, let me tell you this is a blogging group (although this can be fairly addictive too) I'm talking about. I re-joined BAR (Blog-a-Rhythm), a vibrant group of bloggers on Facebook after the Bar-a-thon in August this year. I was a part of the group earlier too but opted out of it because I wasn't blogging regularly at that point of time. There's a right time for everything in life. I've begun to believe in this adage more and more as I started to fit myself into a blogging/writing groove this year.

So, why a group and why BAR?

A blogging group can be an effective catalyst for a blogger's growth and success. As writers, it might suffice that we write to satisfy our passion but as bloggers, we love an audience.If you have been in the blogging space for a while, you would know that building a healthy readership takes a while but with the right network, one can really speed up the process.

Also, the life of writers/bloggers can get lonely at times and like in any other creative field,  is fraught with self-doubts, anxieties, and performance lows. We too need people who can step up and say, "hey, you know what? It's normal to feel like this. You'll be OK and we're here for you." And, while these words can come from people who are not writers, it makes a world of difference when it's your tribe that roots for you because that also makes you feel accepted and included in the league.

BAR provides this and much more. It has a great mix of experienced and new writers who are excellent in their craft. The camaraderie we share is infectious and a lot of fun too. It's heartwarming to see the experienced ones readily extend their support to others. There's a wealth of knowledge shared both in terms of technical as well as blogging skills.

2. Work: I have held part-time writing jobs ever since R began playschool. I can safely attribute my work opportunities to having a blog. My first ever stint in web content writing and then later technical writing is all thanks to Aparna who was confident that I'd deliver the goods.

While I was content and happy to be putting my time to good use and also earn a little (quite literally) money, I was thrilled when, towards the end of February this year, Shailaja called me to discuss the position of a writer with a popular parenting website where she's the editor.

The work I do here is close to my heart and I love the work culture. We are a lean but passionate and energetic team. Each one of us strives to learn and contribute towards a collective goal. Indeed, I feel thankful to be a part of a set-up that gives me a creative free hand while gently nudging me to do better than my previous best.

3. Family: Every phone call with my Amma and sister ends on a wistful note of how much nicer it would have been if I were living closer to them! While there isn't much I can do about the geographical distance, I'm grateful for the fact that they are just a phone call and a flight's distance away. I'll always cherish the moments we spend together each year. I also ring in the New Year with my family in a spiritual manner each year since the past few years and I'm grateful to be able to continue the tradition so far.

This year was special as R stayed away from us for the first time and chose to spend some extra quality time with my parents and sister. He and S always got along well and it's heartwarming to see the sibling bond grow thicker and sweeter with each passing year.

I'm thankful to be married into a family who gives me a lot of space, freedom, love and takes pride in my achievements. I've to mention how the husband is the rock pillar in my life. He believes in my abilities perhaps more than I do myself. It's encouraging to have someone who doesn't tire of repeating his five-point mantra. Even as I pause and hesitate at every point, he pushes me gently ahead and reinforces my own confidence. For every doubt in my mind (and, there are always many) about whether I should take the step forward, I only have to look in his direction and the doubts are dismissed with a wave of the hand. With such a person by my side, I know that I must give myself a chance and persevere no matter what the outcome might be.

4. My readers: While 6 years is a long time to be in the blogging community, I have been slow to build a steady and strong readership base for my blog. I partly attribute it to my own nature that inhibits me from networking and publicizing this space as much I should be. Secondly, the blog world was a more private space when I began, so I'm still coming to terms with the current trend and hope to adapt myself better with time. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that so many people from my circle read my blog.

I recently nominated myself for the Orange Flower Awards initiated by Women's Web. The final nominees and winners for the various categories are to be partly decided by a set of esteemed jury members and partly through popular voting. I announced my nominations and called out to my readers on my Facebook page to vote for me tentatively without any expectation. It was then I realized how much I had undermined my own writing and this space. I was overwhelmed with the number of friends, family, and even distant acquaintances who reached out to say that they read my blog and voted for me. Some even went as far as trying multiple times to vote since the voting site underwent technical glitches and couldn't register their votes.

I extend my warm and humble thanks to each one of you. You perhaps silently follow my blog but you all mean a whole lot to me because I know whatever I write holds more meaning now.

5. A social community: However much I spend time online, I need my offline social engagement too. The apartment where I stay is a fairly new one and it has taken a while for all of us to mingle and come together as a single unit. This year was particularly a memorable one as we celebrated every festival with gusto and enthusiasm. As someone who takes a while to make new friends, I was glad to find like-minded company. Together, we let our hair down during the various celebrations. These are memorable memories for me.

*****

It's been a pleasure to fill out this post of gratitude and I hope the New Year ushers in peace and happiness for all of us.

And, if you've been reading this far, a big thank you! See you all in 2017.

*****




December 17, 2016

To a boy who turned seven

Dear R,

The days stretch on but the years fly past. This is what comes to my mind when I see you, my little boy, who's not so little anymore. You turned seven last month. In so many ways, you are growing to be an independent person and need me less and less. When and how did the baby and toddler I knew morph into this mini-adult who talks nineteen to the dozen and is already a treasure trove of trivia?

"Amma, please don't do it for me. I can do it by myself"  
I get to hear this all the time. And, the pride on your face is unmistakable, to know that you are capable of doing all that I would do for you until not very long ago. Yes, this also means you get to hear a lot of follow-up questions like, "did you clean your ear lobes, or did you flush and remember to wash your hands?" and a whole set of sundry instructions such as to use the stairs while going down to play and to come back at a particular time. Talking of time, you now know to read the clock but you have no sense of how the time is running out before we have to push you out of the doors for school because you take your own sweet time to get started.

You like to roleplay and often pretend to be on stage, performing an act, perhaps a magic show or a pilot addressing your passengers. Be it recitation or narration, you do it with passion. I realize you love to be in command. Yet, you more or less tend to follow your friends at playtime and get overpowered by them. It makes me sad to hear how you get bullied at times but I know you'll learn, in time, how to assess your friends and to assert yourself.

Even though you are our flesh and blood, you are different from us: more vocal, confident and sure of your choices. It could be the exposure and the generation gap. You are doing well at school and are amongst the popular kids too. Your teachers tell me how you love to fill in for a free period by telling the class stories you picked up by reading or even just randomly. Would I think of you as a show-off? Perhaps, not but I can say you're not shy about showing what you know. Understand that that can be a great trait if laced with empathy.

Which strangely brings me to my pet peeve (or one of the few?) about you. Your favourite word these days is "I know". And, that puts me off many a time. It seems as though you cannot accept or are afraid of accepting that you don't know. I want you to know that it's OK to not know at all times and the worst habit one could develop is a defiance to learning and remaining smug with half-baked knowledge.

While you like to chatter away without restraint, you can be perfectly silent and on your own too. While, in the past, the silence would invariably mean mischief, it now usually means you have slunk away with my phone to watch origami videos or are reading a book. Oh, well, I'm not really complaining here.

I had read about how the sevens can be the best phase of parenting and I'm inclined to agree. It feels wonderful to hold meaningful conversations (mostly) with you and have you notice something new about my dress or cooking. You still enjoy and allow me to cuddle and smother you with kisses and I'm savouring these because I know the time is not too far when you will resist. I love our bedtime ritual for that's when you become my baby again. Amidst admonishes to settle down and lullabies, we snuggle and whisper secrets. In that angelic moment, before you drift asleep, I find that vulnerable child I want to crush under my insurmountable love.

I often wonder how do I bracket myself as a parent, a mother. I do not gush about motherhood, nor am I the fun parent likes to do a craft activity or play with you in the playground. I'm often rule-oriented and perhaps restrict more than I indulge. Yet, I want you to know that I enjoy my time with you in my own way as I've always since your birth. I do hope when you look back at these days from your childhood, you find memories to smile about.

- Your loving Amma

****