I am a… Part 2

Okay, my previous post led quite a few readers to reach out to me and express their happiness of how well they identified and could relate to my situation. Thank you. That inspired me to delve one step further and clarify in my head what prayer means.

I think prayers are of two kinds, the standard one and the custom one. Let me explain. A standard prayer is printed somewhere or is carried forward from generation to generation, like the Lord’s prayer or Naamam as per Hindu traditions. The custom prayer of your personal outcry where the language is yours, words are yours, style and mood is what you define, an original piece of art. As a child I was never taught a standard prayer at home. I was that kid who came from Bangalore to central Kerala every summer with a suitcase and frocks in a taxi ambassador or Jeep. Cousins would gather to see what was in the suitcase, what frocks I had, and to hear about the magic of a distant land called Bangalore. Bangalore was the US of the 80s for most Keralites and I was privileged. So during one of those summer trips I found my aunt telling my cousins as the sun set to wash their hands and feet, light the lamp and pray. I followed them because as cousins you just copy each other. In my borrowed pavada-blouse (long skirt-blouse) I sat down with them. They started chanting the “Naamam” which is a prayer in praise of the Hindu Gods. I had no clue that something like this existed. I was surprised why my mother didn’t teach me these things. I just enjoyed the routine with my cousins, happy to wear the borrowed pavada-blouse and feel like a real Malayali.

My custom prayers almost always happened before the exam. My father told me to think of his deceased parents for blessings and write the exam, in the hope (he was sure) that they would help solve that crappy chemical equation or the long math theorem. Anyways I diligently obeyed prayed to them and aced my exams.

As I became more aware of the world, yonder world, souls, God, or to put it simply, as I increased my Spiritual knowledge, the magical Destiny kicked in. I started to believe that everything was destiny. If there was a supreme power that defined destiny, maybe. Until I read about and attended Dr Brian Weiss’s session. It was all about the soul. I still believe is Destiny but the soul and destiny define almost everything there is to life. So then going back to my original question, what is prayer? Are you really talking to God or the creator or the supreme?

No.

You are talking to yourself. To your inner conscience. When I “pray” asking for strength there is no magic happening where an ounce or pound of strength is invisibly pumped into you. I am telling my inner conscience to become stronger. Before all those exams I wrote, when I prayed to get good marks, nobody changed my answers on the answer sheet to make a 70, 95. What I had learnt and wrote got me the 95. Let’s take this example, you are going through a rough phase. You pray for help, strength, happiness whatever. 9 out of 10 times (unless your destiny is totally crappy) in a few hours or days or months the rough phase will pass. And you think, God made this happen, He turned things around. But really, did He? Look at it from the opposite side, good things were in store, so before that there was a low, that is how destiny plays out. Everyone can’t have good times all the time and everyone can’t have bad times all the time. So, did prayer do the magic?

So then why pray?

It is to create a layer above you. Otherwise we would simply drown in our ego. The layer you are creating above you is your conscience. It is your conscience that you should uphold at all times, irrespective of what you do. From times unknown or from religions created around the world, this layer has been called God. So we pray to God.

This is where the whole concept of custom prayer sky rockets way above my head. How can there even be a custom prayer? And that too loudly recited? Whose inner conscience are you reaching out to, your neighbors? Because the emphasis is not (most often) on feeling or meaning each word but play catch up. If you are slow you skip words to make the chorus sound right. It is funny and sad. People’s belief in custom prayers has blinded them from their inner conscience, is my personal take.

I am not an atheist. Atheist is one who does not believe in God. Do they believe in their inner conscience, maybe not is what I can guess. I am not sure. The only staunch atheist I know is my brother. Yes isn’t it a paradox that my father a staunch Brahmin and his son just the opposite.. 🙂. Having said everything I said above, I am starting to think that I am in between.. I believe in my inner conscience and I call that conscience God.

I want to teach my children to pray, so they believe in their inner conscience and can reach within for answers. That is what is important is my deduction based off what I wrote and read and spoke over the last few days. Not religion.. not practices.. what they decide to call this inner conscience and the practices they decide to adopt is upto them.

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A package

Last week as I was talking to my father about Father’s Day and what my sons were planning for my husband, I realized I should do something for him. I ordered a bag of Hershey’s kisses on Amazon India (my regular shipper of goodies to my father). I wanted to keep it a surprise so I did not tell him about the order. The norm otherwise is to tell him everything I order, I tell him when the item is due and he updates me when he receives the item. Just so he wouldn’t be alarmed while opening the box, I added a gift message ‘Happy Father’s Day Appa’.

This morning around 6am IST, I got a message that the package had been delivered. I did think it was an odd time for an Amazon package to be delivered and thought his alarm instincts would go up.

Like everyday, I called him on my way to work and immediately he asks me “did you order something on Amazon?”. I told him, I had. He said, since he was not sure, he did not open it. He went on to tell me that he had recently read in Mathrubhumi and Manorama online (his net-savvy newspapers for a few years now, since he became a netizen), that mysterious packages were being delivered which someone had not ordered. I told him to go ahead and open it. He opens it to find my small pack of chocolates. His relief at finding chocolates was quite funny. “Ooooh chocolate-aa?” He added, “the watchman said it was delivered at 6am, who delivers packages at 6am? The Amazon packing is not all that good either”. I asked him if there was a note inside the box. He did not find a note. So then I had to tell him, that I ordered them for him, for Father’s day and he was supposed to open it as a surprise and find a note saying ‘Happy Father’s Day Appa’.

So much for surprising my old man with a bag of chocolates on Father’s Day! His true happiness was when my kiddos called him and wished him a GRAND Father’s Day..

The little moments of a heart full of happiness.. tiny moments of immense love.. blessed!

He

His arms carried me as a baby

His arms bore the weight of my education

His heart celebrated my every success

His heart cried at my loss

His legs walked for miles for me to stand straight

His legs stopped for me to catch up

His eyes saw the now and fretted tomorrow

His eyes dreamt of my tomorrow

His words cautioned me of the world

His words strung a thousand stories for me

He is

My hero.

Day 6 : Life lessons – what our parents expect

It was around 9pm and I was pondering about what life lessons I should write about today. There were no obvious triggers during the day. As I was doing the dishes I thought about a particular family where parents and children are going through a strain in their relationship, primarily because the parents didn’t meet the child’s expectation. The parents are retired from professional life and the child is a grown up person. I am due to return a call to Uncle and Aunty and I got thinking of their not so happy days for the past few months.

As children there is no end to the expectations we have from our parents. When we are young we expect them to buy us that toy, that particular food, the specific dress, take us out and what not. As we grow up, expectations are different but they still exist in various forms. When I had my children I expected my mother to come to the US and take care of them. She did it without a second thought, six times. She made six trips across the globe with her Parkinson’s to take care of my children. At that time it was something natural, it was what all parents of children who live in the US, did. I just expected her to do it.

As parents get older the “density” of our expectation most often than not hits the roof, because now we expect them to “behave” a certain way. I am guilty of this as well, for many years. I wanted my mother to talk a certain way, I squirmed when she said some things in a gathering, which “I” thought were inappropriate. I expected her to spend money in a certain way, because by then she didn’t have her own income. I was a very bad daughter as a grown up, to her.

When she passed, in her passing, she taught me life lessons, like she always did. The biggest one being, all she expected out of me was to understand her. I didn’t have to do anything about it, but letting her know that I understood remains my biggest failure as a daughter. With my father, I expect “nothing”. He expects me to call him everyday and give him even five minutes of my time, just so he knows I am thinking of him. I give him that time and often more. When he goes on long distance trips with his friends I just listen and encourage. That is all he needs and expects, a few minutes of my time everyday and encouragement at his age. All he needs from me is to hear him out and understand him. He needs to feel that I am there for him no matter what and that he can depend on me.

I am blessed that my mother taught me this extremely important lesson as she left. But when I see soooo many men and women around me who don’t get this simple equation of life, I feel sad for the parents and for the men and women. Life can be so much simpler and happier if we as grown ups take that tiny effort to understand them. Do they really deserve a struggle during the resting years of their life, after they slogged it out for years and years to make us who we are today?

The daughter-in-law and son-in-law can easily mess up this equation, which is extremely plausible. But it’s not about how the daughter-in-law or son-in-law treats your parents, it’s always and only about how you treat your parents. Everything else is a bonus!

For the wonderful parents I have and for everything they have taught me, I am blessed, many, many times over!!

Day 4 : Life lessons – Companionship

Companionship is the ultimate requirement, objective, end state of all relationships. I have seen this in my own life and in people whose paths have crossed mine over the years.

Yesterday I was talking to my dad who has been living alone for over three years now after my mother passed. He was telling me that when he sits alone and reminisces his earlier years with my mother, he wonders why he did the things he did or why he said the things he said. He added when we are together we just want to prove that we are better than the other, it’s when you lose the companion you truly understand what companionship meant.

I read a literacy contest winning short story – Mrinalini. A lady leaves her family, children, grand children to find her old self. After several years her family finds her. When her husband sees her, he asks her if he could spend a few days with her. To which she replies – the loneliness is wonderful but one still needs a companion to share it.

There is my friend who got married to a guy from her college, one year senior. I have always marveled and watched in awe, their companionship after sixteen years of marriage. I know for a fact that they are the couple who will grow old together, sit on a bench by the sea, many years down the line, laughing about their early years. They talk to each other probably three to four times a day. He calls her at lunch or she calls him at lunch. It’s probably not lovey-dovey messages after sixteen years of marriage, but the need to talk to each other AND the need to listen to each other. That is marriage, love and companionship.

I have seen companionship in my children as well. The older one walks in after school and his first question everyday for the last so many years is “where is Kevin?” The things they share with each other, the constant talking, discussions makes me feel blessed. There are many things my older one knows about the younger one. It’s not my unavailability, but that’s the companionship they share.

There are friends, there are acquaintances, there are relatives, there are siblings, there is family, but there is only one companion. This is the person where you have no filters, you step in and out of their soul like your own. This is like wine that only gets better with time.

Companionship is probably just another word for soulmate, the one who complements you, completes you. These just get better with age, life experiences, life lessons and so on. For my companion, my husband, I am truly blessed. Having him with me, physically or mentally means, I am home.

My first and forever love..

My childhood resonates with him. If I sit down to reminisce about childhood, most memories are about him. As I pick them up one by one, I realize that he is the one person I observed almost all the time. Every movement of his is a distinct memory. Maybe because I am a daughter, that I took my mother for granted and hero-worshipped him. My father.

When I was very young, my aunt’s family and we were close knit. My cousins called my father, uncle, mother, ma, their mom, mummy, their dad, daddy. Although its an embarrassing confession to make, I called my father ‘unkel’ for many many years. I did not mean ‘uncle’ in its literal meaning, but that is how I addressed him. I’m sure I was corrected, but I stuck to ‘unkel’ for a long time. As strange as it sounds to me now, the word echoed every sentiment I had for him. For some time now, he is ‘Appa’.

I distinctly remember his routine during my school years. He woke up around the time my brother and I did, ironed our uniform, tied our shoes and pretty much did anything that was required to get us ready and out of the door when the autorickshaw guy aka ‘automan’ was at the gate. While my mother handled the breakfast, hair he went through anything that would propel the purpose of every school day morning, getting my brother and me to school. After that he carried water in plastic pots from the ground floor tap to the second floor where we lived. All the water we needed for the day. For many years, since we did not have water supply at the second floor, this was the only way. At 9.45 am sharp, he left home for office. He walked the two kilometer stretch from home to Visveswaraya Museum on Kasthurba Rd to be able to sign in at 10am.

Promptly at around 5.45pm he walked back and got home. There were days when he was late, when he had to get something done. If it was raining, he walked in soaking wet. He is more of a walking and bus kind of person, owing to his allergy to petrol and our means. If he had some work at Majestic, he would occasionally bring three masala dosas parcel from Kamath. If he went to Commercial Street, it was four samosas from Bhagathram’s. If it was a birthday – two times a year precisely, it was a cake from Nilgiris. In those parcels that came in plain plastic covers, were some of the most delicious food I have eaten (apart from my mother’s meals).

On Sundays he did his share by doing the laundry. My mother and I helped (as I got older) but it was his chore. My most favourite memory of childhood and my father is when KSEB (Electricity board) decided to cut the supply to our neighbourhood. We put out folding metal chairs, bright blue in colour, in the verandah (aka patio) and talked or played games. Most often the game was names of places. I’d say the name of a place, my brother then had to say a name of a place with the last letter of my place and so on. My father came up with names outside our geography text book and we would end up finding his place on the atlas when the electricity supply resumed. If it was not a game, it was some childhood story of his. I could write a whole book of the stories he has told me and continues to tell me today.

My father was born a Shastri or to the brahmin class of people who perform rituals at the temple. His eldest brother was given an acre or so of land by the king surrounding the Shiva Temple at Shivapuram, a town near Mattanur in Kannur. His family of six brothers and one sister moved from Puthur, Mangalore to Shivapuram and have lived there ever since. At school he wrote novels, worked on the school magazine and leaned towards the creative side. After losing out on academical brain pounding, he left to join his brother who wrote sign boards in Mangalore and subsequently Bangalore. A few years and he landed a job at Visweswaraya Museum. It is here that his tryst with the camera began which went on to become his ultimate passion.

As a child, I saw how screen printing was done. He did it at home. I helped lay out visiting cards, letter head sheets for drying, carefully so that the wet ink wouldn’t smudge. Every card and paper costed money. Wastage had to be negligible. We were probable Six Sixma compliant :). Once in a while he allowed me to lower the screen and run the rubber edged piece of wood along the screen. The excitement of achievement at printing a visiting card or a letter head. I saw him build the screens. Hammer the edges of the board, cover them with screen, nail them in tightly, mount them on the table with metal clamps, mix the ink, align the card or paper to precision. The fun part was gathering up the cards after they had dried, count them and stack them up in those light green plastic boxes. When the orders were high, we put them out to dry all around the house and we tip toed till they dried up.

In my sixth grade we bought the first computer. The CPU was about three foot high and three foot wide. I do not remember the specification but it was exciting. That is when my parents established ‘Typograph’ a desktop publishing company with my father, mother, and me as employees :). When we had to type a lot, we employed a typist for a short term. Unfortunately that company did not grow leaps and bounds, but it helped me through engineering college. I went with my parents to get orders, typed, learnt Coreldraw to draw the chemical compositions of Methane and what not. I never new what those C, H, O meant at that time. My father got softwares from friends, Pagemaker, Ventura, Coreldraw, got a book and asked me to learn and teach him. Wow! those sessions were hilarious.

Almost all my school projects of posters were done with his help. He taught me how to use the compass, set square, draw, layout text, cut pictures appropriately, what glue to use when, in those projects, much before engineering drawing. He always helped me, I do not remember a single time he made an excuse when I needed him.

He knew the concepts of chemistry, physics biology, maths, but did not have the academic know how to help me at school work. A long look at the report card and he would always ask about the marks I lost. If I got 98 on 100, he would ask what happened to the two marks. If I got 85, he would ask why I did not get hundred. At that time I was definitely irritated as to why he couldn’t appreciate what I had got, but now when I do the same to my son, I know, he was just pushing me further.

All this may sound like close to perfection. But that is not true. He had his lows. But through all of those he was honest with us. He told us how things were, he made a deal with me that I would pay for my brother’s education once I got a job, because he had drained out his resources on me. He taught me the value of money and why it was valued. When times were bad, he along with my mother taught me how to survive, that truly made me believe that there is a road at the end of the tunnel.

All his acquaintances tell me about how he is as a person, some are good, some are not so good. I understand that that is their version of him. My version of him, what he is to me, is my personal experience which nobody else can understand or feel. I saw him at his lowest when he battled cancer a few years ago. It was a nightmare. He lost his weight, his zest to live, his humor. Five years down, he lives with the devil, but beat it, to get back to what he was before he was struck by it. I got back his humor, his stories and love.

At 71, he has his pangs of i-am-at-the-end symptoms but nevertheless most days its current affairs, old stories, laughter and love. A few hours after Father’s day this year, he is setting off to the trip of his dreams, to the Himalayas. He always said, he would get away from everything and go to the Himalayas. I have never once discussed or even mentioned Father’s day to him. I did today, and he asked me, so what are you giving me for Father’s day. I said ‘your Himalaya trip’! Being able to provide him with most of what he needs is my biggest happiness for the last so many years. More than the materials, its the call from me at the end of the day that we both treasure the most. And almost everyday he tells me a story either from his childhood or mine.

Happy Father’s Day! to my first love and forever hero, my appa!

Appa