Wednesday, 23 August 2017

No Child Is Incapable Of Math, And Other Lessons I Learned As A Teacher

As a passionate STEM educator, I have had the good fortune of teaching kids with diverse backgrounds, spanning a huge spectrum of ages, from preschoolers to adults pursuing masters' degrees in engineering. And trust me, teaching each age group has been a challenge in itself, and I have learnt a lot along the way.
I have had the support of some brilliant teachers, and each day I aspire to be like them. Teachers who are adored by children, teachers who create magic in their classrooms, teachers who persevere, who give a part of themselves every time they teach. These teachers strive for excellence, and tirelessly work towards making every student in their class understand and experience the joy in learning.
And in this journey, I have learnt a few things that I would like to share with you. Of course, your opinions may differ from mine, be sure to tell me yours!

1. I am yet to find a student who is completely incapable of doing math

I make this statement after having taught math to children who were just about making it through school. I also need to mention, none of these kids had any learning disabilities, so I cannot make such a claim for children with disabilities. You see, while math is essential to every human being's existence, it cannot be taught to every child the same way. Some have a natural ability with numbers, others, who are visual learners, need the aid of a lot of manipulatives in order to get the hang of things. These kids will test your patience, but they will also enhance your ability to teach in creative ways, making use of every resource that you have at your disposal, be it an educational toy or a grocery item. And trust me, it works. Patience, perseverance and creativity.
And gender definitely puts no limits on one's math abilities. The brightest mathematical brain that I taught belongs to a girl who would often stump me with questions that were much beyond her peers, and definitely motivated me to be better prepared for next day's lecture.

2. Children are pure gold, but parents often falter at giving them the right direction

All the children that I have ever taught were pure gold. I never had problems teaching even the most "wayward" of them. Eventually, if the child feels safe, and you have been successful in igniting the spark, they all come around and enthusiastically question, ponder, deduce. It is a magical feeling when this starts happening.
But, what has often put me off is the attitude of the parents. Some are too busy leading their own lives to show any interest in their child's. Others think that they are doing the teacher a favour by paying her fees, and believe their duty ends there. Then there are parents who are not open to taking feedback from teachers, or spending quality time with their kids.
And here's the irony: I have seen children from families where both parents are working full-time, families with discord, families facing financial and medical adversities, and yet at least one of the parents makes an effort to be present for the child, to raise him/her right. And I have seen children from houses where at least one of the parents is at home, apparently "taking care" of the kids, and yet they are emotionally and mentally absent from their kids' lives. They are failing as parents despite being physically present. One time, an angry, filthy rich mother called and threatened me for not fudging her son's attendance. He had attended a total of four classes in five months, and without a valid reason for his absence, was ineligible to take end-semester exams. If I had any thoughts about trying to reason with or help this kid out, they were immediately quashed after his mother's phone call. This mother had never taught her son to be responsible or accountable. He could get away with anything.
All learning begins at home, and parents are the role models that the child looks up to. Some parents spoil their kids by being too permissive, while some others mess them up by being too authoritarian, and pushing them to meet unrealistic expectations. With such parents, the loser is always the child.

3. Grandparents are invaluable

Grandparents are awesome. They have so many stories to tell, they are reservoirs of wisdom, they make sure that the child is well fed, and they love the child to bits. When grandparents are present in the house, there is also a certain degree of tradition followed, the child is probably getting exposed to more than one functional language, and the parents are also behaving better to make sure that the grandparents stay happy. Not only this, the child is learning valuable life lessons just by observing the adult interactions, and will probably look after you in your old age if you are doing a good job looking after your own parents.
Also, in cases where both parents are working, the parents find it far easier and much less guilt-inducing to leave the kids in the care of their family members rather than at a daycare or with domestic staff. It's a win-win for everyone. Of course there will be an occasional squabble, but that too is important. Children will learn the importance of making up after a fight, and not just giving up on people they love.
4. The best gift to your child is inculcating a habit of reading
Surround your child with books. Read to your unborn child, read to your newborn, get picture books for your pre-schooler, and gift encyclopaedias on birthdays. The single- most important habit that children who excel have? They read!
Reading makes sure your child has above-average vocabulary, is exposed to various cultures and points of view, and they have a safe place to turn to when the world around them feels dark. In my experience, such children are less likely to indulge in drugs and alcohol, or show anti-social behaviour. In addition, when presented with a question that they do not know the answer to, they will use their knowledge of words to figure out what a scientific term should mean, and fill in the gaps of their understanding to arrive at the correct explanation.

5. Encourage your child to ask questions

Asking questions is a great sign. It means that your child is inquisitive, and wants to understand before he learns. Encourage this habit by taking the time out to give clear, scientific, age-appropriate answers. Also, ask relevant questions yourselves. Encourage your child to look for answers instead of handing them out. Convert them into small quests and reward them suitably. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative reinforcement.

6. If your child's school doesn't encourage lateral thinking, consider shifting

Many teachers, especially in India, have an extremely bookish approach to problem solving. If a student doesn't solve a problem using the exact methods taught in class, his solution is deemed incorrect. I see this as a limitation of the teacher and not as the student's failure. A teacher must take the time to analyse a student's approach to problem solving, laud him if he has invented a creative way of doing it, or patiently explain to him why it wouldn't work in all situations.
We, as teachers, need to encourage a spirit of enquiry and build an enthusiasm towards problem solving. So many lateral thinkers keep getting branded as errant folks who can't do anything right, whereas they are brilliant people using new ideas to solve old problems.

7. Aim for mastery, not marks

In a talk that should be a benchmark for all educators, Sal Khan points out how in our quest for completing syllabi and fetching marks, we do not wait to see if each student has actually grasped the concepts. We keep trying to build advanced concepts on weak foundations, thus bringing the whole structure down. This encourages sub-standard ways of getting marks, like rote-learning, and also results in an inaccurate assessment of a child's true potential. When we aim to teach for mastery, we are actually helping each student realise his/her true potential, and also evaluate their understanding correctly.

8. All work and no play makes kids dull

I cannot emphasise enough the role that sports and extra-curricular activities play in the all-round development of your child. Apart from keeping your child in good shape, they also ensure mental-emotional well-being right through adulthood. If your child's school doesn't offer enough options, make sure you enrol him or her in a couple of classes. But don't over-burden the kids, or else they might begin to detest the hectic routine.

9. Restrict your child's access to technology

In a world full of TV, internet, and smartphones, it is easy for us to lose track of how much time our kids are spending on them. Keep their usage as minimal as possible. Instead, channelise their energies into doing something more creative, more physical. Take the time out to play games with them, talk to them and understand them, so that they do not themselves feel the need to take the help of these things to get through life.

10. Allow your child some down time and independent space

Children must be left alone for a while each day so that they can discover their own creative worlds, their natural inclinations and hobbies, and generally try to figure things out on their own. Helicopter parents often cause a lot of harm to their kids by not allowing them to face reality and also thrusting too much of their own will on children. Your aim should be to raise kids who can shine on their own in this big bad world rather than academically bright but dysfunctional adults.
Children are little marvels who teach us something new each day we spend with them. When provided with love and the right direction, you will be amazed at all the things they can do. And it's never too late to start trying. Just watch the wonders happen.
This post first appeared here.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें ...

जीवन के व्यापार में,
दाम लगाकर बढ़ना सीखें,
दर्द छुपा मुसकाना  सीखें,
सर्प का दंश पी जाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें ।

बिना वजह ही हँसना सीखें,
बिन मदिरा के उड़ना सीखें ,
बिन साथी भी जीना सीखें,
गिरकर आप संभलना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

बिन आवाज़ भी लड़ना सीखें,
परिस्तिथि को अनुकूल करना सीखें,
कभी उसमें ढलना भी सीखें,
बिन ढोल जश्न मनाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

मस्तिष्क और मन का द्वंद्व हो जब,
मस्तिष्क को आप जिताना सीखें,
मन में जो उठे तूफ़ान,
उसमें ना बह जाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें ।

क्रोध और विलाप में ना हों लुप्त,
ऐसा धैर्य रखना भी सीखें,
प्रतिशोध की ज्वाला से,
खुद को आप बचाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

बिखरे हो जो रिश्तों के मोती,
पिरोकर माला बनानी सीखें,
यदि मिले शीश झुकाकर अमोल प्रेम,
अहम् भुलाकर झुकना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

अंत नही होती एक हार,
आस्था ऐसी रखनी सीखें,
हरी दर्शन हो सब में ही,
ऐसी प्रीत लगाना सीखें,
एक हुनर ऐसा भी सीखें।

Saturday, 1 July 2017

When You Accuse The Delhi Golf Club Of Being “Classist” I See A Hypocrite

You, yes you... the one posting angry social media posts about Delhi Golf Club being classist. Does your domestic help eat in the same glossy china as you do? Who are the steel plates in your kitchen cabinet for? Oh, for the poor ones who come from outside? You never know what kind of germs they are bringing, right? What with their dismal living conditions, poor access to sanitation and hygiene, and widespread contagious diseases. Your rich visitors are clean as heaven, aren't they?
Oh, and how does your brain justify to itself that ₹1000 is pocket change when you buy movie tickets, but the same amount becomes enormous if you have to pay the medical bill of one of your workers? And I'm very sure the young maid who looks after your child while you have dinner at a fancy restaurant almost never gets to enjoy a hearty portion of the same meal with you. Maybe it's just the money talking. Research claims that the richer you get, the meaner you become. Having wealth makes you much less compassionate.
Do you know, the manager of a fast food restaurant gave a good scolding to some poor kids after I asked them to accompany my friends and I for lunch? They weren't stealing. Their meal had been paid in full and they were sharing the table with us. But no, the manager couldn't have his premises get filled with such "filth." Of course he made sure that we had walked some distance away before he started his tirade.
Did I also tell you, just a couple of weeks back our maid was refused entry in an elite club of a small city whose name I will not reveal here. The incident was singularly humiliating, not just for the maid, but for us as well, who treat her like a part of the family. She "looked" like a maid, was their argument—the exact argument that the Delhi Golf Club made when they asked Tailin Lyngdoh to leave their premises. We were part of a large group in a formal setting and hence didn't feel it was appropriate to make an issue out of it. But we were angry and put off by such condescending behaviour by the club. The Delhi Golf Club incident was like déjà vu and it certainly became a topic of discussion for us.
Now you see, it would be wrong to single out just elite clubs and call them "classist." The class divide runs deep in our culture. The distinction between "master" and "servant" is clear among all sections of the society. Our servants don't sit at the same table as us. No matter for how long they have been serving a family, they are never allowed to forget their aukat (status)Dignity of labour? That happens only in foreign countries. And God forbid if the concept of minimum wage got enforced in India. The entire country will be out on the streets protesting against a basic human right. The poor aren't recognised as humans in India—you see, they are just rodents.
Elitist institutions like the Delhi Golf Club and the Gymkhana Club thrive on the master-servant divide. They ensure that their rich members never lose their sense of being powerful and superior. How could they ever justify a ₹7.5 lakh waiting fee if they couldn't cater to the class divide?
The problem lies with us, not them. We the people. Each one of us is guilty of pandering to our lust for power and greatness by treating our servants like vermin. We have a long way to go before the class divide ceases to exist. Until then, people will get evicted from elite clubs for "looking like a maid." So when someone accuses the Delhi Golf Club of being "classist" I see a hypocrite. Don't you?
This post first appeared here.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Why The Suicide Of A Phd Student At IIT-Delhi Didn't Surprise Me

When I first read the news of a 27-year old PhD student taking her own life at IIT-D, I felt tears prickle my eyes. I didn't know her personally, and yet I could feel the pain she might have felt, what might have compelled her to take this extreme step. I suddenly thought, "You know, this might have been me..." At that time, I didn't know that she was being harassed for dowry (as is being alleged by her parents), but I knew the kind of stress that research scholars at premier institutes are under, having been one myself. I will not make any comment about her personal life, as I'm not qualified to do that, but I definitely will highlight some issues faced by doctoral students, which, I first thought were the likely reasons for her suicide.

Graduate students pursuing a doctorate degree pay a very heavy price for attaining that degree, and only someone who has been in the system can understand that. No one wants to talk about this price. It is just widely accepted in academia that this price must be paid. Why is it that the loss of a young, bright life does not shock us? Why this apathy? In my time as a research scholar, I have understood a few sad truths, and some driving factors that lead so many PhD students to depression and mental illness, and I've tried to deconstruct them. I really hope some important people are reading this, because there is a lot that needs to be addressed in our academic system. This attitude of acceptance and apathy towards mental illness in the academia has to change.

1. People with a higher IQ are more likely to get depressed
I'm going to go with the assumption that PhD scholars generally have a higher than normal IQ. While this high IQ is useful in obtaining good grades, it is also their curse. An article in Medical Daily claims that over 30 studies have linked high intelligence and mental illness. People with a higher IQ tend to overthink and overanalyse, and may also be highly emotional and sensitive. They do not take failure lightly, and tend to beat themselves up if things are not as perfect as they want them to be. A study at Berkeley found that as many as 47% of PhD students are depressed at a time, compared to an average of 6.7% in the adult population.

2. The age at which they do graduate studies
Most people I met at graduate school were aged between 24 to 30 years of age. In the prime of their youth, when other people their age are out and about climbing the ladder in their careers, dating, getting married, making babies, the research scholars are stuck in room full of scientific literature, unable to see the beauty of the world around them. They lose the best, most vital years of their life to research, and there is little they can do to recover from this loss. Many students, especially girls, are under tremendous pressure to get married and start a family. Some of them who do get married during this time now have a slew of new problems to deal with, grappling with a new marriage, or staying away from their spouse, in addition to the stress of being in a PhD program.

3. They are suddenly lost in a crowd of super-achievers
I would like to believe that people who pursue a PhD program at a premier institute have an illustrious academic profile (though exceptions abound). People who were toppers, gold medallists, best teachers in their past lives, who used to stand out in a crowd suddenly become lost among many such people. Their academic achievements are no longer a cause of wonder, and they must be exceptional in a group of super achievers to be able to stand out again. The atmosphere is that of critique, competition and secrecy and not an encouraging or transparent one. This is often a cause of immense distress and may make people feel like a failure, as if all they have achieved until now has been a fluke.

4. The inherent uncertainty of research
Research is inherently uncertain, which makes it extremely difficult for even the best minds. There is no guarantee that the problem that you are working on will have a solution. You could spend 10 years working on a problem unable to find a solution, but someone else might miraculously be coming up with results on a different problem every year. If your problem happens to be a hard one, you may be driven to a point where you no longer feel yourself to be competent or worthy of living. Your research problem becomes all consuming, and you are unable to see beyond the failure that you are facing in this moment.

5. The immense loneliness
Most PhD scholars lead extremely lonely lives because their research depends on their hard work. Don't get me wrong, I personally have forged some very deep, meaningful friendships in the years that I have spent as a research scholar, but I cannot say that I have been able to do them justice. I could hardly ever go out or enjoy with my friends like other normal people did. In a PhD program, you spend most of your time alone trying to crack the code, waiting for a miracle to happen, which will fetch you an international publication, and eventually your degree. You can't really make time for friends or family, which again adds to your stress.

6. Power lies in the hands of a few
In a PhD program, your supervisor(s) is all powerful. True, there is a committee in place, but it doesn't intervene unless there is a huge call of distress from the student. In case of failure, it is always the student's fault, and not his supervisor's. Consider this. On the one hand, you will constantly suffer from anxiety, if your supervisor is too tough, which may lead to a break down. On the other hand, if you get a supervisor who is too laid-back or nice, you will find it extremely difficult to get your work done, again causing you to have a breakdown. If you are lucky, you will get a supervisor who is dedicated to research and determined to see you get your degree. And yes, abuse of power does happen. Just like it happens at any place where one person becomes all powerful. It may be 1% of people who indulge in this kind of stuff, but students suffer immensely if they have been assigned a supervisor from this category.

7. Lack of good, transparent counselling services
While most institutes offer counselling services, students are afraid to seek help. They fear that their grievances might get conveyed to their supervisor who is likely the driving force behind their anxiety. They don't have a reliable shoulder to cry on, and no one they can open up to when they need it the most. Many foreign universities offer aid and professional counselling services to their graduate students free of cost. Such services, with proper confidentiality clauses must also be made available to graduate students in India.

8. The very poor financial condition of a research scholar
Research scholars might be the most qualified but the least paid in their age group. How is a PhD student to feel good about himself when he is constantly taunted, "Even a BA pass clerk has a salary better than you!", or "The brightest child of my family is earning the least amount of money," or, "No girl will marry a guy who earns 18K a month! How will you feed your children?"

9. The apathy of academia to mental illness
I find that depression is treated as "normal" in academia. Even those who are not in academia are accepting of the fact that people who are in a PhD program will go "mad" due to studying too much. This attitude needs to change. The suicide of a bright, young scholar must shock and surprise us.
Doing a PhD is hard enough. If, along with this, a young woman is facing mental, physical and emotional torture for a reason as 18th-century as dowry, I can only imagine how broken she must have been. It is only when a person sees utter hopelessness, do they feel like death might be a better option. My heart goes out to her family, and to the families of all bright, young scholars, who took death as a route of escape.

To anyone grappling with their PhD and/or personal issues, I want to tell you that this will get better. That you will do wonderfully in life. Nothing is worth taking your life, neither studies, nor a cheating boyfriend, nor an abusive husband. There are much better things that need your attention—your health, your family, your spiritual journey. That you will emerge stronger and a winner. Please, for heaven's sake do not allow your hopelessness to consume you. You are loved and wanted. Your life has immense purpose. Please don't give up on it.

This post first got published here.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Precautions while taking a selfie

If you are a selfie enthusiast, you may have often found yourself in awkward or life-threatening situations. Here are a few precautions you must take so that you can happily pursue your adventurous pastime.

1. If you intend on taking selfies while walking, make sure you aren't heading towards the stairs or the end of the cliff.

2. If you are taking selfies while facing backwards on the escalators, take note that they might end sooner than you think.

3. To avoid being beaten up in a movie hall, please switch off the selfie flash when the lights in the hall dim.

4. Remember to gloss over the tiles behind you. Almost everyone can recognise a public bathroom.

5. When taking selfies in the shower, ensure that your naked butt isn't visible in the mirror behind you.

6. Be careful how much you contort your face. You might be resembling an animal more than yourself.

7. Employ safe practices when taking selfies in a moving car. You do not want to fall out the window or hit your head on a tree.

8.To get a desirable value of likes, limit the number of selfie uploads to four a week, or fewer.

9. Carry some extra money for times when you drop the food that was meant to be eaten. Also make sure there's nothing stuck between your teeth before you post the selfie online.

10. Avoid taking selfies with people or animals who don't share the same passion for your art. They may bite you.

This was an inexhaustive list of guidelines to keep you safe while taking a selfie. I hope you are having a good day. Happy clicking!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A few good men

I am, and always will be a staunch feminist. But I am also traditional in many ways, rooted and God fearing. And as I grow older, I see the lines between the binary blurring, with many more shades of grey than just fifty. It is difficult being a woman in India, but it is not easy being a man either. And while feminism is a great ideal to pursue, we must not forget to acknowledge the good men who stand by us, and help us in our fight for gender equality.

I have, for long, been itching to write my views on feminism, but given that there are so many written already about it, I feel this is something that takes precedence over it. We feminists don't acknowledge our men enough. And that is not nice of us. It doesn't do us much good.

I was raised by two very educated parents who were working full-time. We always had the luxury of a cook and a cleaner at home. My mother, though a good cook, was not expected to spend long hours in the kitchen. If the cook was on leave, everyone pitched in, including my father. He used to make the most scrumptious breakfast, and would gladly be our teacher in the kitchen. On days when my mother had to leave early for work, he would patiently braid our hair, which were very long BTW, and make sure our tiffins were packed. Many times, he would attend to his patients with our younger brother sitting on his lap. He was super proud of his girls, who were star performers at school, and he never had a doubt that we would be career women. He would wake up at 5 am many days to tutor us, and emphasized that getting an education was top priority. He ensured that meals were served on the table, and talked to us about our day, about science, about the news, about religion and philosophy. Since we are practicing Sikhs, there was never any restriction on our entering a place of worship. Menstruation was not a taboo subject, and I always told him upfront the exact reason why I was feeling unwell. I feel lucky and privileged when I say, that he had as much contribution in my upbringing as my mother.

It should not take you long to realise that this is an unusual kind of a father by Indian standards. Most fathers in India contribute little to the house except bringing a paycheque. It dawned on me pretty late that my friends and colleagues weren't raised by men who believed in gender equality, and this was an exception rather than a norm.

In a country ridden by sexism and patriarchy, in which women are as guilty (or even more) than men, in keeping it alive, must we not be grateful for the good men? Must we not acknowledge their contribution in our lives. There are many things that privileged feminists take for granted, and easily dis, and it's not doing them any good. Don't get me wrong, I have been careless too, for I didn't know that the things that I thought were normal, others had a hard time perceiving.

It's only when I came in contact with women from myriad backgrounds that I realised how tough life is for most women in India. Despite being educated, a lot of the women aren't able to pursue a career or chase their dreams, because their husbands don't allow them to. Of course, independent women don't need anyone's permission, but how good can life be if two people living under a roof disagree all the time. Imagine how miserable my gynaecologist mother would have been if my father insisted that she always cook him three hot meals a day, or that braiding hair was not a man's job. Not even once in her life was my mother told that she couldn't have the keys to his cupboard, a reality that millions of women live with everyday. I was aghast the first time I got to know that men like this exist. The petty things they do to feel powerful, and suppress their wives. Most women have no say in the financial decisions of the house, even if they are earning themselves, and a vast majority are expected to provide details of how each penny is spent. Men portray themselves as Gods for being the 'breadwinners', while the women are treated no better than a bonded labourer. Many deal with domestic violence on a regular basis.

There was a recent post on the 'Humans of Bombay' in which the lady questions why does the society place men on a higher pedestal? As she rightly says, the husband is as responsible for the child's upbringing as she is. But you see, the truth is, it takes a good man, a courageous man, in a patriarchal society, who will agree to attend a PTA meeting, which has traditionally been the mothers' domain. If he got a round of applause from the other mothers, he deserved it. For, just like it takes a woman of grit to foray into a man's world, it takes a man of substance to foray into a woman's world. Please applaud him. Encourage him. So that others around him feel encouraged to do the same. So that he has something to look up to when someone shamelessly calls him 'Joru ka ghulam'. Why must we not be grateful that men like him exist?

So, my dear ladies, if you are a homemaker who is loved and respected by her husband for her contribution to the house, please acknowledge the good man. If you are a career woman, who can balance work and family with the support of her spouse, please take a moment to know how lucky you are. If you are a young girl who is encouraged to pursue her dreams by her father, please be grateful for his presence in your life. For it is good men like these who are helping us in making gender equality a reality. For these are the men who help lay the foundations of a society in which feminism is not a bad word.

With love and thanks to the three most important men in my life - Papa, VA, and PJ. Who have been real pillars of support, and never questioned my choices in life, no matter how ridiculous they seem.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

As March marches on...

March has typically been a high significance month in my life. It has always brought with it trials, endings and new beginnings. Sometimes, the trials of March would mark the completion of one thing, which meant the beginning of a new one-progress-as you may call it. Like when there was a change of class or a place of work. At other times, these trials of March brought with them intense grief and hopelessness. Like the time when you lose someone you love deeply, or when you decide to give up on a cherished endeavour, and the vast emptiness of life stares at you unblinking. The knowledge that things will never be the same hereon, and the fear of the deep void that you may plunge into without them. One March forever filled my life with joy, when I got to know that I was going to be a mother, and a big scare when I almost lost it in a freak accident.

March always brings out the most contemplative, philosophical side of me. This year too, it seems, will be no different. A part of me is completely dejected and mourning, as a task that I have put my heart and soul into, seems unable to reach fruition, and a part of me is super excited, wondering what all I could do when I start over on a clean slate. The realm of possibility that an empty canvas offers. A part of me is broken thinking of failure and 'what now', and a part of me is eager to let go and hop on the next bus to life's adventureland.

Every time I have wanted something desperately, God has tested me. No matter how much I struggle, burn or pray, God has played games and taken it away from me. Maybe I just wanted the wrong stuff. My effort though has never been in vain. I have emerged stronger with each loss, and learnt some very important life lessons along the way. And most importantly, I gave it my 100%, so I am left with no regret that I didn't try.

But, then, it always makes me think. What is the definition of success or failure? How much must one struggle, and what is the cost that we are willing to pay for it? We sacrifice our health, well-being, family to earn more money, get famous, achieve higher professionally. So that everyone can see our success and applaud. So that our egos stay fulfilled. What if my definition of success is being present for my children, and ensuring that my family is happy? What if my definition of success lies in raising myself spiritually and reaching a higher level of consciousness? These are not the things the world can measure. But  I can. Do you think Robin Williams was feeling successful the day he decided to commit suicide? I'm pretty darn sure he wasn't. What then is the price we must pay?

It is easy to fall into an abyss when you are struggling and everything seems to be going against you. But, we have all been equipped with a spirit that takes a lot to break. If we can find this spirit and detach ourselves from the outcome of our efforts, we can survive a lot in life. Never give up. Things will get better. We may not know it, but some things are not meant to be, and for a good reason. I'm sure you have at least once, looked back and thanked God for a wish that didn't come true. What a disaster it might have been. For a long time now, I have even stopped praying to God for specific things. I mostly just ask for good health for my family, and to do what is best for us. I do ask for strength to deal with it though ;)

Success and happiness are mutually exclusive. Being happy is a choice you can make everyday, whereas success is ephemeral. And in my experience, there are three things that are primal in staying happy. First is having minimal expectation from those around you. Then, everyone will be exceeding expectation, leaving little room for disappointment. Second is an attitude of gratitude. When we focus on the haves rather than the have nots, there will be much to be happy about. And third is to not compare. Social media has propelled us to a state where we are constantly comparing ourselves with the beautiful life of others. It's impossible that everyone has everything great in their lives. You do not know the struggle behind the smile. So stop comparing and start living.

And also, when we stop caring about 'log kya kahenge?', life becomes much simpler. Life is much so much more than that. So show the world a finger, and start living a life that makes more sense to you than it will ever make to anyone else.

To endings and new beginnings... Cheers.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Crazy little thing called love

Love is, in my understanding, one of the most universal of languages. It is something that every creation of God understands. Even your plants respond when you talk to them lovingly everyday. It is the basis of all life, and apart from hope, it is the one thing that really makes the world go round.

And yet, love is often the most misunderstood of all emotions. It is sad, how people are often driven to the edge when their love is not understood. I find it strange, how in the name of man made things like religion, caste, 'border', 'honour', 'sexuality', the purest of emotions dies a cruel death. How is it that people do not see love that is overflowing, brimming, bursting at the seams, waiting for the moment when love will unite. Pure, unadulterated love. How is it that love is called dirty? It is the most natural of all emotions. The first thing that a child experiences when it is held by its mother.

Yes, there are perverts and paedophiles and sociopaths. But that is not love. Those are diseases. Love is not a disease. Love is 'ibadat'. If you are praying everyday, but find it difficult to see love around you flourish, then you are not praying at all. You are only uttering words to satisfy your own ego, your need to appear great by being religious. Religiousness and Godliness are two separate things, but that is a discussion for some other time...

Love is not a disease, but it is crazy for sure. It makes people do weird things. There are those who will cross oceans to be with the one they love. There are those who will put their career on hold. There are those who will leave everyone else to be with the one they love the most. And there are those who will wait their entire lives looking for love. Some of these decisions will be regretted later for sure, once the hormonal surge of love has died down. But still, if you have loved truly, then the regrets will be few.

And love, in its most conspicuous form, the most celebrated form of amorous love, is not the only love around. Amorous love is only a part of a sea of different kinds of love. But it is the most celebrated because it is the basis of procreation. It is biologically important to us, and hence, our systems are hardwired to value it more than anything else. And even though it is emotionally so overpowering, it is only just one form of love.

People often think that if they found their 'soulmate' they would have found all the love they will ever need. But, I find this idea rather naive. A human needs many kinds of love to feel complete. And the absence of one cannot be made up for by the presence of the other. If you have had issues with your parents, your lover will not be able to fill in the void left there. If you are in a bad marriage, your child cannot make up for a bad husband. There are different compartments in your heart. Your child may occupy a large one, but it will not be able fill up the one left empty by your spouse/lover/parent.

But there is one love, above all love, that I personally feel is what keeps us going. It is self-love. A love that makes us love life. A love that keeps us together when everything around us is falling apart. The love you need when you feel abandoned by your parents. The love you need when your lover departs. The love you need when your children have left the abode.The resilience that picks you up after you have fallen down.

So this Valentine's day, try to find some time to love yourself too while you are busy loving everyone else around. There is no one who could have done a better job at being you than what you are. And there is no one who will come to your rescue except yourself when life looks really dark.

And remember, when all else fails, there's always chocolate :)

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Bad Wife

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I don't know how to cook,
But I can be quite a delight,
With a coffee and a book.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I just don't like to dust,
But if your folks are coming to town,
I'll do it if I must.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I ain't got no sanskaar,
But I can tell you the engine specs,
Of our latest car.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I can't tie the perfect saree,
But I can tell you that you won't get bored,
If you come with me to a soiree.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I'm not always in the mood,
I won't mind if you want to go instead,
Bar hopping with your dudes.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I really like my wine,
But it makes me all giggly and fun,
You won't hear me whine.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I like to wake up late,
But I can make an exception dear,
If you will take me on a date.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I can't dress to the nines,
But I'll make sure that my clothes are clean,
For me that works just fine.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I know my science and math,
But I can't haggle with the tamatar-wala,
Over the price of that.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I'm terrible with tact,
But I won't have you keep guessing things,
I'll be upfront for a fact.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I'm no drama queen,
But if someone steps over a line,
He will see some red and green.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I demand some respect,
It's not an unreasonable thing,
For a woman to expect.

Guess I must be a bad wife,
For I can't kowtow to your ego,
But you will have me by your side,
There's no where I will go.

P.S. - this poem was written rather lightheartedly with no offence to anyone. In reality, I know that most women, including myself, try their best to fit into the traditional roles of a good wife, bahu, mother, etc.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The sad thing about Dangal

As Aamir Khan's Dangal goes out and about breaking more and more records by the day, there is this thing about the movie that has been nagging me for a while now.

Let me just start out by saying, I totally looooved watching it. It is a cleverly made movie that uses all your emotions in just the right way to make sure that you are thoroughly engrossed, and living each moment of the film. Not to mention the amazing soundtrack. Yeah I totally did soil a few handkerchiefs, stood up for the National Anthem and gave a rousing applause when Geeta won(No, I'm not ashamed of expressing myself in public). It is evident how much effort has gone into the making of this movie. The fights appear authentic, and the village scenes real. Each and every person involved with the making appears to have put in his/her bit in making this movie worth a watch.

And it does a good job sending out the message that girls are no less than boys. A father standing up to an entire conservative village for training his girls to be wrestlers is a feat that is not commonly heard of in Northern India, where Khap panchayats still rule the roost. It also does well to show our nation's apathy in supporting any sporting talent other than cricket, leave alone that involving women.

But no, this is really not a movie about women empowerment, nor about breaking the patriarchy, as many have made it out to be. This movie is about a man, Mahavir Singh Phogat, and the lengths that he will go to to have his dream of an international wrestling gold fulfilled. It is just incidental that his progeny happen to be of the female kind. He probably would have done the same if he had boys. I do not know what the real Mahavir Singh Phogat wanted to do, but the one in the movie certainly didn't want to break any patriarchal norms. This movie is about his blind ambition and his devotion in trying to fulfill it. Patriarchy was just getting in his way.

Frame by frame, this movie is a dedication to the acting prowess of Aamir Khan, the perfectionist. The female actors, though significant, never really come out of his shadow. This is mostly how movies starring Aamir Khan are made. He towers over everything else. But, it would have been nice if for once, the actual gold medalist, Geeta Phogat had been given more credit.

The thing that saddened me the most was the 'sanskaari' undertone of the film. The thing about Indian culture, where parents must not be questioned. Where children have, as a rule not much choice in how they want to dress, what career they want to choose, who they want to love.

It was just sad to see how everyone reacted to the fight between Phogat Sr. and Geeta when she came back from the camp. As a parent, and as a teacher, I would be very disappointed if my kids did not come up to me and told me that 'look mom! I can do this better'. If they grew up to be yes men, unable to ask me "but why??'.

It saddened me that Geeta's exploring of her femininity by wearing longer hair leads her to lose matches. Is that not a form of suppression? The same kind of suppression where women who explore their sexuality become whores or those who wear make up become brainless bimbos. The same mentality that makes people believe that a good looking, successful woman must have slept her way up.

It saddened me that Geeta was so helpless without her father. Isn't it a gross injustice to the talent and hard work of the real Geeta Phogat? To make her look worthless if she has to do it on her own. That a woman of her caliber must be portrayed as a failure if not for her father. And the cheap theatrics employed by using a caricature of a wrestling coach.

It is my job as a parent to raise kids who can lead a good life on their own. They must work hard, take their own decisions, make mistakes and learn. There is no other way. It would be a sad sad day in my life if I had a prodigy of a kid who spent its life just being my protege, and never really could make it on its own. Sad indeed.

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