The best lesson…

My mom has taught me a lot of things… like every other mother does. Some she was vocal about and some by example.

1. When her mother was not well, she was there to care for her no matter what. Her selfless love towards her mother was a perfect example of how children should care for their parents in their old age. In this she taught me to be there for your parents.

2. She fought with the institution to ensure my brother got admission to Bishop Cottons. She urged the principal to reduce the admission fee, borrowed money to pay it and ensured my brother was enrolled to the school. He was 6, I was 11. She vocally taught me that it was important to be fair to your children and give them equal opportunities. What they make of it is beyond her control but as a parent it was her responsibility to be fair.

3. Every night we ate together, my father, her, brother, uncle and I. At that time it was just the norm for me. She cooked, I helped, we sat down on the floor, spoke about school or current affairs or anything and ate the meal. Now when I have a family I realize the importance of that simple act. At the end of the day the family comes together and shares their day or thoughts or whatever, but essentially what builds there is a bridge of communication. Everyone talks to everyone in the family.

4. She taught me the value of money. She told me the income and expenses and how to make ends meet. I was 12. I saw her struggle quietly at various things we never had. Money is essential, but not everything. She always said, a path will carve itself out, some door will open and a door always opened.

5. The relationships you make whether blood or not are to be kept. Blood does not make anything thicker. Having people around, you can turn to was the important thing. She respected every person who she came across, whether young or old. It was of utmost importance to treat everyone with respect.

But of all that she taught me the one I value the most is what she taught me silently when she passed, that I have no control over anything except myself. That lesson walked into my life when I most needed it. I cried after she went about the what-if possibilities, when my dad told me, that it was her time to go, and there is no point in any what-ifs.

The only thing I can control is my part of the relationship with another person, my reaction to a situation or to what another person says to me, my thoughts about a situation, my words that I choose to utter, my emotions. Everything else is not mine to claim or change. This simple but powerful truth has changed my life. And she is my teacher.

I love you Ma, Happy Mother’s Day!!

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D…

I was in Phoenix for a conference from work. Phoenix is home to a family who are very dear to my family. This is that form of friendship which does not need to see each other often but the bond runs deep. When we lived in California many years ago, this family moved to California with their few months young daughter D. My older son and she are a couple of months apart. We celebrated their first birthday together he in a blue shirt and she in a pink frock; their first halloween, he a pirate and she a princess. They went to daycare together and just ‘hung out’ together as babies.

D was a happy child, she smiled, laughed at the silliest of things. My son sat next to her smiling while she laughed away. She loved teasing him calling out his name, while he sat there unperturbed. He liked to sit in the stroller while she wanted to get out of hers and push his. He loved to eat while she liked finger foods. We had just one child each, but it was interesting to see two different baby personalities, one subdued and the other a warrior.

I have not seen D in many years. The last time I saw her was probably seven years ago. I have not spoken to her either. Have seen her pictures, spoken to her parents often. During my week at Phoenix I was excited that I would meet D, at the same time skeptical because she was not the baby anymore whom I could carry. She is a teenager and with one at home, believe me, I know! I thought if I get a hug from her that would be great. Maybe she wouldn’t have much to say to me, lest remember anything about me.

On my last evening in Phoenix, I planned to meet them at their house. I knew she was home. I rang the bell and was prepared to say ‘Hi…. D’, when the door opened and this tall girl sprung onto me and gave me the tightest hug calling out ‘Induuuu auntyyyyy’. I just held onto her and to that moment. She surprised me and blew me away. So much love in one moment from a little one whom I had not seen or spoken to in years, was so overwhelming. D has grown up to be a tall and beautiful girl. She has the most beautiful smile and still laughs at the silliest of things.

There are certain moments in life that fill your heart. A moment where you actually feel the happiness. You are not just happy on your face, but something gushes inside you from deep within and fills you. It’s a moment, it’s a gesture but it makes you realize happiness lies in the simplest of things. You can buy things you really want, travel to places you want to see on your must-see list, live in the best place on earth, but true happiness lies elsewhere. To receive this love, I am truly blessed.

Thank you darling D for such a beautiful moment.

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.

I am a…

Growing up I was told we were Hindus. My father born in a Brahmin (priestly) family staked claim of how superior we were. My mother kept it neutral, her father was a Namboothiri (priestly) and mother a Nair (not priestly). None of this deterred them from sending me to Bishop Cottons a Christian School. Here I recited the “Our Father in heaven”, every working day for ten years of my life. Teachers read from the Bible, we learnt the hymns and it was all Christian. Irrespective of the faith your family followed, every student followed the same Christian rules.

My family’s Hindu-ness was limited to the corner of the kitchen adorned with photos of Hindu Gods, a lamp was lit everyday and the yearly trip to Guruvayoor (a Hindu temple). There was absolutely no other show of religion in any manner. So I grew up amidst the Hindu believers at home and Christian believers at school which I think just neutralized the whole concept of religion in my mind. Was I divided? I don’t think so, it didn’t matter much. I prayed before an exam, before I got my marks, or to win a competition. That summed up religion for me.

Muslims were a different category altogether. My father has been blessed (pun intended) with the skills to identify a Hindu from a Christian from a Muslim and immediately tag them with certain behavior. I am glad that my mother kept me grounded and taught me to respect the person first before their religion. So wading between these beliefs and catching up on Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bible on the television shows aired on Doordarshan, I grew up.

Fast forward a few years and I ended up marrying a Christian. Nothing was new to me because I had said the Lord’s prayer for ten years of my life. I was baptized in order to get married in a church. At that point love was blind and bigger than religion so I said, why not? So I crossed the bridge and tried to adapt to new ways and all of those religious accessories that come with the conversion. A few years along I wake up from the dream, the love is there but not blind like the dating days and I tell my husband that I am going to cross the bridge back. To my good luck his belief in religion was also on an as needed basis. So he let me choose what I wished to follow all along. Although some of the extended family had strong beliefs, we sailed past those with some manouvering.

Now I am the mother of two teenage boys and the last thing I want to teach them is religion. They know in theory what these religions and their beliefs are, but then, what’s the point? This world is heading to a place where religion has taken precedence over humanity, so I ask myself, shouldn’t I be teaching them humanity? Based on how independently teenagers think, I don’t think ten years down the line, religion will be upheld the way it is today. Everywhere you hear news about sexual abuse in the churches, which I see the”informed” generation rejecting. There is a ton of gold and money donated to Hindu temples and I wonder why? Shouldn’t that be used instead to feed hungry children, give them an education? Why does this world need any more temples or churches or mosques or other centers of worship when one cannot uplift and uphold the human within?

I am not against religion, but dead against the belief of religion that divides people. By the law of nature there are only two categories of humans, the XX chromosome and XY chromosome combination. Every other divide whether it’s based on religion, color, race are created by some person. I am tending towards believing that the only religion that should exist is humanity. Abolish every other religion, practice and belief. Every XX respects XY and vice versa, that’s all that needs to exist to make this a better place. I know this is wishful thinking and the world and it’s people are so segregated that all they can think of is either themselves or their small community.

Is it too late to look at the larger picture?

The fellow..

I have written about various people in my life but I don’t think I have ever written about my sibling, my brother younger to me by five years but looks and thinks otherwise. The story of his birth is one of my favorites. When I joined Nursery at Bishop Cotton’s I am supposed to have come home and complained to my parents that every one has a brother or sister except me. And so the stork carried this light skinned baby boy to our house who was the apple of everyone’s eye.

Fast forward few years and like almost every first born I felt my parents were partial to him. The feeling of why I don’t have a brother changed to why do I have a brother, pretty quickly. So amidst favoritism we grew up fighting for the remote, grabbing things, hitting each other, annoying each other, the usual sibling stories. Like most families it was I who took the blame. He was the younger one and I being the older one was supposed to adjust. Our mother had no two rules about who got the beating irrespective of who started the quarrel. She gave it to us equally, like she was watching a tennis match, one here, one there, repeat, with a red plastic spatula.

He didn’t want to compete with anyone in his class at academics, all he wanted was to beat my grades, which he did most times. He developed a passion for basketball just to grow taller than the rest of us at home, we are a short family otherwise.

Although we fought quite a bit my feelings for him took a complete u-turn when my son was born (my older son looks like him by the way). He felt more like a son than my brother. It’s a strange feeling and I mix up their names even. One of my personal achievements that I feel fortunate about is that I was able to support him at various stages to better opportunities. And to me that checks off a major portion of my responsibility of the relationship. At the end of the day your sibling is your pillar of support whose foundation runs deep. There could be a few cracks but those heal magically, your parents already put in pixie dust in the cement.

He is going to rofl reading this, shower me with choicest words, making mincemeat of my emotions, like he always does, I know this. My father too is probably going to read this say brother-sister too much love, wonder when you’ll start fighting.. But the bottom line is that I love him and it’s an amazing blessing from the angels above that we now live a mile apart. The last time we lived under one roof was twenty years ago. Blessed, blessed, blessed!!

At the movies..

I am a movie buff.. I love everything about the movies, specifically Indian movies. I am that person who will watch a movie in any language reading subtitles in English. Sometimes I watch the movie twice, like a Bahubali, once to read the subtitles and the second time to just watch the magic on screen. I have always watched movies. During childhood it was two movies a weekend via a rented video cassette tape from the video library nearby. Pick them up on Friday and return on Saturday or pick them up on Saturday and return on Monday. My brother got to pick a Mithun Chakraborthy movie while I got to pick a Jayaprada one. As hilarious as it seems now, yes there was a wave of these actors once upon a time. My parents got to pick a Malayalam movie once in a blue moon.

I grew up watching the sanskari-type (Indian culture extravaganza) or the bad guy-good guy type dishum-dishum movies. My brother had an array of toy guns imitating the heroes of these movies, shooting down the villian. Once in college, my mother and I took our craziness to the theatres, buying tickets in black, sitting in the first row, second show, you get the grind. She was my movie-pal.

As I grew out of my last teens, like most other girls my age, I fell into the traps of the lovey-dovey type, dreamy eyes boys, frock clad girls “variety” love stories. An ancient version of today’s chick flick! Meaningful cinema happened somewhere in between where classics like Bharatham, Mr and Mrs Iyer etc crept in. This was when I started watching a lot of Mohanlal movies.

Langauge has never been a barrier to enjoy a story. And well, stories are my thing 🙂. Alaipayuthey steered the way into Tamil, Aparna Sen into Bengali, Kannada was what we spoke at home and went with neighbors to theatres, Malayalam was mother tongue so parents influence, Telugu was from Sagara Sangamam. Every Sunday Doordarshan played a national award winning movie around 1 pm after the news for the hearing impaired. This round lady with heavy lipstick sat in the corner of the TV screen reading the news in sign language. I remember staring at her trying to make sense of sign language. So coming back to movies, Oriya, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati blah blah movies aired during this time. All of them were award winning and slow, which gave me ample time to read the subtitles. I guess that’s where I picked up the subtitles-reading habit.

I shouldn’t miss to mention the umpteen Suraj Barjatiya and Karan Johar type films which I watched over and over again for absolutely no rhyme or reason. A colossal waste of time but pure no brainers, where a dog or a cat or a mouse would win over common sense!!

My young woman years delved into the deeper off-the-shelf romance adventures like Ijaazat, Sindhubairavi etc. Feeling the film became a big thing where I would wake up the next day with a hangover from the film. The characters stayed with me for a few days and that became the yardstick of a good movie. If the characters stayed with me, I had had a wonderful movie experience. There are a few films like Pursuit of Happiness, Life is Beautiful, Fashion, Arjun Reddy, Mahanati, Iti Mrinalini, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Vikram Vedha to name a few; which elevate you to a different level.

Then there is ’96!

The feel the movie created is like it went right into your body and gave your heart a warm squeeze! I don’t think there is a more beautiful and rustic narration of destiny in a movie. It simply says that if two people are not destined to be together, it just will not happen. Period. The subtleties, nuances, every touch has a meaning, every look says more than the words uttered. The music carries you in the sway, like drenching you in a drizzle, like the wine slowly soaking your gut.. like they say in Tamil.. sema feel!!

To life like stories and narrations, cheers always!!