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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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?

My little one

Your eyes filled with a million dreams

Tears that roll down your little cheeks

A scary dream about me shatters you

Lying down on my lap

Is your happy moment

When you are happy you have to share it

With me

When you are disturbed

Telling me reassure you

This trust you have in me

That I am there for you

How did you learn this my little one

Was it when I held you

As you took your first steps

Or when I fed you as your little tummy growled

Was it when I held you

Each time you fell ill

Or did it form deep within

Even before I held you

This trust is the strongest of the strong

That I strive everyday

My little one

To hold onto

With my every being.

Spark Joy

If you have heard of Marie Kondo, you know what ‘spark joy’ means. She asks people to look at every object and ask the question ‘does it spark joy’ before deciding to trash it or keep it. I had never heard of Marie Kondo or her Konmari methodology. I am faaaaar from the most organized person you will find. My place is not a mess, you don’t have to tiptoe your way into the house, decently organized, but not Marie-Kondo-Organized. My sister-in-law is big about keeping things organized. It shows in her house as well, everything neat and put away and perfect. It is a joy visiting her house, I am just not made out of that cut. Anyways, she asked me to pick up Marie Kondo’s book from the library and that is the first time I ever heard about this organizing diva. No, I am not a follower, I don’t think I ever will be.

My designer friend on the other hand had another opinion. All said and done, out of curiosity, I decided to watch the Marie Kondo series on Netflix. I watched one episode (well, three fourth) on Netflix and learnt her mantra of ‘spark joy’. I liked her concept and subconsciously if an object does not spark joy in us, some of us throw it away, donate it or keep it in the corner of the garage. The ‘organizers’ promptly get rid of it. When I pick a dress to wear, if I think I will look good in it, then it sparks joy in me and I wear it, if not, it stay on the hanger for months!

Thinking deeper, doesn’t this concept apply to people. Except that the question is a little different. Do you spark joy in others? When you meet someone, it could be your children you see everyday, or your colleague at work, are they happy to see you? Isn’t that what matters? If my presence does not make the other person happy or as Marie Kondo says ‘spark joy’ then that relationship is stale. Whether you throw it away, keep it there depends on your circumstance and a lot of other things. But this concept is so easy to apply to identify positive and negative energies in your life. I read somewhere that it is important to identify the positive and negative energies in your life, it helps build self-confidence.

I would not focus on thinking about does the other person spark joy in you, because relationships always begin with you. If you are good, its good enough. When I go to work, almost all my colleagues greet me with a smile. I know the genuine ones and fake ones. To the fake ones, I know I am not sparking joy. But the genuine ones harness a positive realm around you, making you want to go to work. My kiddos, when I walk into the house after any kind of day, they come and hug me. Thats a definite sign of me sparking joy in them, like they do in me. Applicable to all mommy-baby relationships, it’s all positive there. It’s all in the moment, why wouldn’t you want to make it joyous?

Recently I was on the same median turning left into Barton Springs Rd. A homeless man stood on the median. He knocked on my window. I looked at him with conflicting thoughts of, I don’t have money to give you, I wish I could buy you food, how can I help him etc. When I looked at him, he used his hand to gesture to me and mouthed the word ‘smile’. I instantly smiled. He said, ‘thank you, that’s all I need’. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was stressed that morning, so a stranger on the street asking me to smile, was a reminder to smile and stay positive. I felt worse that I could not help him. But, who sparked joy in whom?…

Next time you meet anyone, just give it a thought, are you sparking joy in that person? If you are, good. If you are not, do you want to? If you want to, how will you do it? The sum total of these sparks is this amazing journey we are on.

To positive vibes! To sparking joys! To Marie Kondo!

Coffee house…

“Hello Shalu…”, said the male voice on the other end. Shalini recognized the voice instantly. She had heard it many times before. The number was new, not what she had saved on her phone as, ‘Think before you pick’.

“Hello Gopal…”.

“I am in Trivandrum, shall I come over for sometime?”, he asked. She wanted to ask ‘why’. Common sense prevailed and she quickly got into the skin she had shed ten years ago.

“Okay Gopal. Let us meet at Coffee Day at Kowdiar”. Shalini had moved apartments almost every other year when the rent went up. With her meagre salary from the job at the library, she could afford only so much. She tried to live as close as possible to the library, so she could walk and get her legs move. It felt eons ago when she drove her Audi car into the driveway of the public library at Houston to drop off books. She did not want Gopal to see her current living conditions.

“Ok at 4.30?”, he asked.

She looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.30 in the afternoon. It gave her enough time to dress up and get an auto to get to Kowdiar.

“Yes, 4.30 is fine.”

Shalini seldom heard from Gopal, maybe two or three times in the last ten years. She had shut that door when she walked out of the house with two bags of her clothes and jewellery. She left everything behind. The sprawling house, the luxury, friends, her job, she had left it all.

She got to the coffee house on time and saw Gopal sitting at a table. He looked younger than she remembered. Life had treated him well. She thought she should have colored her hair, she was greying everywhere. The little make up she put on, did not conceal her wrinkles. She turned to look at the glass door and saw the reflection of an old woman.

“Hello…”, she said and sat down across Gopal. He looked up from his phone and smiled.

“How are you Shalu?”

“I am good, and you?”

“I am doing very well. How did you come?”

“I took an auto. Are you in Trivandrum for work?”

“No, my wife’s family lives in Trivandrum, so I came to visit them”.

“Oh!”, said Shalini and instantly regretted the reaction.

“I have been married for about three years. She is from Trivandrum, moved to Houston after the marriage…”

“You live in the same house?”

“No, I sold it. I live in another neighborhood now.”

“Are you happy?”, quipped Shalini.

“Yes Shalu. I am happy.”, said Gopal, looking down at this hands.

“Good for you…”, said Shalu, with a tinge of jealousy and self pity.

“And you?”

“I work at the library, live with books, write when I can. It’s going on… Why did you want to meet me, after all these years?”

Gopal was silent for a few minutes. The waiter came, we ordered our coffee and I looked up at Gopal, waiting for the answer.

“Shalu… I wanted to thank you…”, said Gopal.

“For what?”, wondered Shalu.

“For leaving me….”

Shalini burst out laughing.

“I realized that when you left me, you were giving me back my freedom.”

“And you realized that now? After ten years??”

“Took me a while… you know me…”, said Gopal coyly.

“Gopal… it was obvious to me like it was to you, that we were not meant to be. I don’t know why we decided to get married in the first place. I tried in my way and you tried in your way, but the puzzle never fit. I waited for a long time for you to leave. I understood that you were scared and I had to be the one to let go. It was not what I wanted to do, but I had to do, to give us both our sanity. I was getting sucked in my depression and you didn’t want to hear about it. The best thing was to stay away. I never met your expectations, you looked at every other woman and thought what a wonderful woman and wife she is. It is not that I am bad, it’s just that I was never enough for you, I always fell short… anyways, there is no point of talking about all that and digging the past… bottomline is you are happy now. I am glad I could give you atleast that.”

Gopal took Shalini’s hands in his, looked into her eyes and said, “I am sorry”.

The waiter brought their coffee. Shalini withdrew her hand and sipped at her coffee. She avoided eye contact with Gopal and looked at others who occupied the coffee house. They drank their coffee in silence deep in their own thoughts. When Shalini was done with hers, she got up, smiled at Gopal and left the coffee house, without looking back.

Now, it was truly over.