Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Children(ting) – what my son taught me at 4 years of age

Parenting is what parents teach their kids and how they handle them and hope to contribute to their upbringing and development in the childhood years. I last wrote an article on parenting and its conflict some time back but I think I made a mistake – if I take stock of the last six months (June-November 2017), my son, Ehaan has taught me more than I have taught him. Yes, I did introduce him to the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man. I did try to teach him Maths (2+3, 3+2) and yes, I have been trying to teach him how to be an obedient, respectful child. However, I think all this pales in comparison to what he has taught me – 5 key reflections of life as follows:

       Fear is to be overcome by ‘just doing it’: Ehaan is afraid of water – or atleast was till sometime back. His sister, Asya, is a very good swimmer and can do all kinds of acrobatics and strokes in water. He used to hate water – even water splashed on his face would make him cry. I often pushed him to go swimming with Asya, in India and then in Indonesia. He realized that everytime a swimming coach (or his father) push him to swim, they will invariably make him put his head in the water and force him to take out bubbles inside. He used to howl for sometime – and then suddenly, he just started doing it for 5 seconds at first, then 10 and now 15 secs. He is still as afraid of putting his head in water and of swimming without a float – he has yet to master the technique but he just ‘does it’. He knows resistance is futile and has now trained himself to do it before anybody tells him. He still shakes when water is splashed on his face during bath but instead of crying, he smiles and laughs it off, almost saying, “Bring it on, I am not scared”. Can I ever ‘just do it’ since there is no option and do it with a smile on my face? I will try to take the easy way out for sure!

       Fate hands you a lemon, make a lemonade and drink it: We have just relocated to Jakarta, Indonesia after staying in Mumbai our entire lives. My wife cribs and is often very upset given the unsettling this has done to our lives. This makes me guilty and I often question if I am putting my family through something that they don’t deserve. Everything is so new – we have no social circle, no friends, nothing. I cope up through my work but my wife is often left holding the can. Ehaan, on the other hand, has adapted – he does not refer to Mumbai but focuses on the pleasures that Jakarta/Indonesia has to offer. I can always rationalize that he is a child or maybe, he has not stayed in India enough to feel the difference. My daughter, does get nostalgic and talk of returning back when she is sad. Ehaan NEVER does that – he is focused on making the most of the situation he is in!

       Attachment through detachment: On a related note to the earlier point, Ehaan is very close to his nanny, who has taken care of him since birth. She has been with him for over four years and used to accompany him everywhere. The nanny came with us to Indonesia but got bored there since there was really nothing she could do, given the language barriers, lack of her family around etc. She decided to return home – for a few hours, Ehaan was sad. He refused to eat food, saying he wanted to be fed by her. In some time, he declared that from then on, he will eat with his own hands – here was a kid who had always been fed by his nanny or mother. He outgrew the attachment so quickly and now eats with his own hands (which is a separate blessing in disguise for my wife and me). Similar is the situation with his cousin, with whom he used to play day-in and out in Mumbai. He has accepted that his cousin won’t be around him always and never says a word. When we do video-calls, he joins to talk to his cousin but after that, it is as if the cousin never existed. Another remarkable pointer is his relationship with his paternal grandmother – when she is around, she is the centre of his life but when she is not, he does not miss her. He gives his 100% to the present – to the person or situation he is in and does not focus too much on the past or the future

       Compete with yourself, don’t over-analyze – just enjoy: Whether it’s a running race or any other competition, he does not focus on how strong or big his opponents are. He just does his bit, enjoys it and pushes as hard as he can. Hence, he is not hindered by self-doubt or the strengths of his opponent. He compete to win and just gets a thrill of doing it. Moreover, he never leaves the race midway, despite being way behind – if he started it, he will finish it, be it several minutes after the winner. I am not sure if I can ever do this…..

       Be curious – uncover the mysteries that life has to offer: He asks 100 questions an hour and hassles us completely. However, behind these questions is a phenomenal quest to understand the mysteries of simple things – why does a lemon taste sour but an apple doesn’t? Why does gravity pull us down – if so, is it ‘bad’? If God created us, why are some of us bad and some of us good? The list is endless… As I face his incessant barrage of questions, I often wonder if I have stopped asking many of these questions; if I have learnt to accept the ‘ways of life’ without trying to be inquisitive and be prepared to be surprised everytime with small things. Ehaan does not need a ‘play area’ to play nor a ‘designated time to enjoy’. He seamlessly converts a staircase into a play area and dinnertime to playtime (much to the exasperation of my wife and me!). If you are around him, he plays with you – if not, he creates a parallel world, with objects or without them – with just his imagination
I could go on and on but that defeats the purpose. Maybe this is not unique to Ehaan and kids are like this. Maybe it is I who am discovering these through Ehaan for during Asya’s time, I was too engrossed in ‘being with her’ that I forgot to observe and learn from there. Whatever it is, I am grateful to Ehaan for teaching me a few valuable lessons – I just hope he remembers them going forward!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Conflicts in Parenting


I am a parent – I have a 5 ½ year-old girl and 2 ¾ year old boy. This biological qualification suffices to be a parent.

I like to believe that I am an informed & aware parent. In this age of information ubiquity, it is actually more difficult to NOT be an informed person. You always have too much information – google, whatsapp and their likes. So also with parenting. Now, on top of this information, you add the fact that my daughter goes to a prestigious school where the information available to one parent gets multiplied (or maybe exponentiated – if there is such a word; check Google!) based on the anxiety & insecurity level of the parents. This anxiety then gets transmitted (like a virus) onto e-groups, play dates and meetings to create multiple parental conflicts for me.

Classes or no classes – my daughter’s schedule post school hours is as complex as mine (sometimes even more so). Let me see, Monday is chess class from 4-5 30 PM, then is gymnastics from 6:30 – 8 PM. Tuesday has abacus from 4-5, skating from 5:30- 6 30 and gymnastics from 7 – 8 30 PM. The weekends are even tougher – there is story-telling, swimming and drawing also. Sunday is still free – and that’s only because I have put my foot down. I overhear eager mothers’ telling (or e-chatting) about the ‘wonderful Spanish teacher who will help explore linguistic abilities’ or the phenomenal swimming instructor who ‘really pushes kids to achieve their full potential’. Managing the logistics for these classes is a job that keeps atleast 2-3 members of my family busy. I see parents all around me, with different motivations – some with the best intentions of their kids at heart (of course, the road to Hell is also paved with the noblest intentions!); some do it because their neighbours do it and they don’t want Aaaryan to be left behind (this is a separate trend – 80% of kids have their names starting with A. The other letters in the alphabet are so clich├ęd). And some others do it to keep the kid busy so that they can have their uninterrupted schedule. Which parent will not want their kid NOT to succeed? Who has not heard of various childhood programming-linked psychology theories that the first 5-7 years will really determine the eventual character of the kid? Who has not heard the legends of sportstars who started practicing when they were just out of the cradle? Alas, my daughter is already 5 and can barely hold a badminton racket, cant concentrate beyond 15 mins in chess, can swim but very slowly and does all kinds of random gymnastics. Guess a career in sports is out L

Free time or no free time – often I find myself wondering how I can help my kids fill their time productively. How can I spend quality time with them? Should I use the time to inculcate the love of sports? Or should I tell them stories from Indian mythology to imbibe love for the country, patriotism and nationalistic values? Or better, should I take them to the Science Centre/Planetarium/Aquarium? Or should it be football and badminton? How to maximize one metric – ‘Return On Time Invested (ROTI)’? From dawn to dusk, how can I fill every unforgiving minute of theirs with 60 seconds worth of distant run (as per the Rudyard Kipling poem, If)? Whenever I see my daughter idle, I am always recommending a higher form of “living”, with my suggestions ranging from alphabets, painting, sports etc. Is plain leisure and relaxation wrong? Should one feel guilty if the child did ‘NOTHING’ for the day? There is no achievement or accomplishment so to speak of but just the fact that they are there and doing something? What is the balance and where does one draw the line?
Gadgets or no gadgets – today’s kids are so tech-savvy that I am already a tech-retard. They can adapt intuitively to any new gadget, phone and tech apparatus. The i-pad has become an indispensable learning device – heck, it has also become a Granny (my daughter listens to several stories on the ipad), a teacher (various instructional videos, coaching games), friend (so many Barbie make-up games) and playmate. Is this taking away from my daughter’s interaction ability in the physical world? Will her memory of childhood stories be those of the ipad or will she remember her parents & grandparents’ feeble attempts to try and recreate some magic through oral narrations (which unfortunately cant be as consistent, cant be paused etc) but do hopefully have more emotions than the ipad versions? On flights, I have seen parents hand an ipad or similar device to the kid and breathe a sigh of relief as the kid gets engrossed in it. In contrast, I remember bombarding my father with a 100 questions every time I got on to a flight with him (Who flies the plane? Why the belt? Where is our luggage? Is the plane a balloon). I don’t know how many answers he actually got right but what I do remember is the feeling that my father was so knowledgeable and caring. Will my daughter ever think of me like that or more as a ‘provider of the ipad’ which is more precious to her?

These are just a few of the dilemmas that keep haunting me. The ‘experts’ have the solutions to them of course – alas, no two experts can agree and one does not know who the real expert is. Till then, it is the one-eyed leading the blind!

The strange thing about these dilemmas is that there is no time to step back and figure out the answers. I thought I had time to experiment, ‘pilot out’ and try a few different things before finalizing the right answer for my daughter. Worst case, I still had my son so that even if something did not work out as per the “plan”, I could always course-correct. However, they are growing up so fast – time is not just flying but vanishing in an accelerated manner making me feel helpless. After all, I have a duty to be a good parent!

It is then that I am reminded (not by the internet but my own memory) by Kahlil Gibran’s famous lines on Children,

You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might,
That His arrows may go swift and far


One often confuses that bow and the archer – the dilemmas in my mind have reduced a bit for sure J

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our second one!!! (Poem is inspired from Bob Dylan's "Answer my friend is blowing in the wind")


How many times must the pain be borne,
For the womb to be a home?
How many times must the eyes be wet,
For the tears of joy to flow?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a sono be done,
For its existence to be felt?
How many times must sleep be lost,
For its kicks to make a mark?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the push be done,
For it to make an entry?
How many times must the screams be made,
For a single wail to be heard?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 How many times must the hands be held,
For the bonds of love to set?
How many times must the cheek be kissed,
For the feeling of oneness to be sent?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the nappy be changed,
For the practice to be perfect?
How many times must the milk be fed,
For the lifelong connect to be made?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a child be born, For a man to be a Pop?
How many times must a child be born, For a woman to be a Mom?
How many times must a first come forth, for the second to come ahead?
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands,
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands

How many times must the pain be borne,
For the womb to be a home?
How many times must the eyes be wet,
For the tears of joy to flow?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a sono be done,
For its existence to be felt?
How many times must sleep be lost,
For its kicks to make a mark?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the push be done,
For it to make an entry?
How many times must the screams be made,
For a single wail to be heard?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 How many times must the hands be held,
For the bonds of love to set?
How many times must the cheek be kissed,
For the feeling of oneness to be sent?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the nappy be changed,
For the practice to be perfect?
How many times must the milk be fed,
For the lifelong connect to be made?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a child be born, For a man to be a Pop?
How many times must a child be born, For a woman to be a Mom?
How many times must a first come forth, for the second to come ahead?
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands,
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Canadian Odyssey

Someone once said that few people are born leaders, others are made leaders and a select few have leadership thrust upon them. I think the same can be said for ‘travellership’ with one addition – some people draw travel upon themselves! Canada must be 6000+ kms from India (who knows the exact distance but it is quite a long way as seen on the atlas and the world map). Victoria in the district of British Columbia is on the western frontier of Canada, which makes it even farther – it is to this ‘nearby destination’ that I had the fortune of visiting for 1 full day from Mumbai. I had a choice not to go but then, the lure of filling a full page on my 4th passport made it too attractive to turn down (BTW, I have just 5 pages left on this passport and I will soon enter the elite league of the Pentagon, the club of frequent flyers who hold five passports – oh you should see the look on the face of the Immigration officials(see footnote 1) when we slam down our ‘booklet’ and look at them with a smirk. The look is priceless – for everything else, I have my Visa card). Of course, the in-flight movies, free booze and day-and-night sleep made it a no-brainer decision. There was just one small catch – I had to make a presentation to a client and also appear quite knowledgeable about the topic, which I was going to present on [Sorry, I can’t talk much about my clients since consulting is like the CIA – if I tell you, I have to kill you]. Rest assured that a veteran consultant does not fear presentations on any topic (see footnote 2) just as the Green Berets do not blink at the prospect of a showdown in the jungles of Columbia at night, unarmed.

So I told my assistant to get me a Canadian visa – she promptly got me a form, which asked for very minute details including the birthplace and education of my parents. I never really understood the reason behind such questions – what if I was born to a carpenter in Wishy-washy Nagar or Foolpur (see footnote 3) ? How does that reduce (or enhance) my eligibility to go to Canada? [Another country that shall not be named (or my name will get into some important not-so-good books) also asks for details on your first girlfriend and reason for the split, the first time you were caught by the cops while speeding, the amount that you have spent in the last 3 years on certain psychedelic substances and such other questions]. Another thing that I have noticed is that all the embassies get paid a percentage of the revenues from the photography industry globally – each embassy has its own specifications for the photo (‘36*45 – white background with ears seen’ , ‘50*50 inch with no beard’, ‘100*27.5 inches with no glasses, ochre shirt, magenta background with one eye shut’) – why cant all the embassies standardize the photo specifications? This is one of those questions that need a session with the Dalai Lama to understand further (BTW, I have a long list of such soul-searching questions – why does my wife always want to go shopping when I want to watch a movie? Why do I always donate some piece of clothing to every hotel I stay in? How do airlines know that the day I am early at the airport, the flight should be delayed, etc etc – you get the drift). Anyway, I finally got my visa and was ready to go to Canada.

My assistant probably wanted me to really ‘experience air travel in its entirety’, which is why she booked me on the longest option possible to Victoria, via Frankfurt and Calgary – a total of ~22 hrs of flying time ONEWAY. So, when I reached the airport at 12:30 AM, I was really looking forward to the flight. Now, I have always maintained that Indian airports are a fantastic place to study anthropology, genealogy, zoology (you won’t believe the animals I have met there) and several other exotic sciences and arts. The moment I show my passport and ticket to the CISF guard at the gate, there begins a study in face reading – the guard tries to identify me from my passport photo (only difference being that I was not clean shaven on a Sunday night whereas in my passport photo, I surely was). Finally, matters were resolved (in my favour of course) and I stood in the Business class queue of Lufthansa (see footnote 4) (hope you noticed the class I am travelling on!). The conversation with the attendant was a case-study in purposeful, effective, receiver-oriented communication that went something like this:
Me: Could I have an Aisle seat please?
Her: Aisle or Window, Sir?
Me: Aisle, please
Her: Are you sure?
Me: Yes
Her: Just to clarify, you have requested for an Aisle seat, right?
Me: Yes, yes, yes – lock kar diya jaye please!!!
Her: I am going to give you an Aisle seat, Sir.
Me: Thanks so much, sweetie – you are a dream come true.
Her: Here is your ticket, seat 2A
Me: Err, 2A in most aircrafts I have travelled is a Window seat – is this a different aircraft (maybe a flying saucer where all seats are aisle and window simultaneously?)
Her: Ooops , I think I gave you a window seat. You wanted an aisle, if I am not mistaken.
Me: Yes, you are so perceptive and your memory is like that of Sir Rangachary Vishwanathan Iyengar (or some such name I must have blurted – the longer the name, greater is the impression and seriousness conveyed)
Her: Did he have a great memory?
Me: BOARDING CARD PEASE – I NEED TO RUN!!!!!!

Phew! Once this ordeal was over, I went into the immigration queue. There were 3 kinds of people who were being successful that night in getting to the immigration counter in time for their flight – the first kind were mathematicians who were calculating the time for each counter using some normal distribution fundae (or was it Poisson distribution? on a separate note, I always thought that distributions were so queer in nature – some were poisons, others were ‘chai square’, X etc). The second category were those who were following the Lal Badhshah principle (the Amitabh Bacchan movie seen by ~137 people in which Amitabh says, “The line starts from where I stand”). These people were just cutting queues – actually, the better ones were almost assuming that no queues existed (see footnote 5) . The third category were people like me – just lucky to be travelling by Business class (please note this in case you missed the earlier mention). So I cleared immigration and then stood in the line for Security check or rather jostled myself ahead as I would in a rugby match (not that I ever played rugby – it is an analogy that I was using to make you understand). By now, I was completely ignoring any concept of queues and just saying,” Excuse me, my flight is boarding – if you don’t mind”. I got frisked by the security and soon found myself in the Lufthansa lounge. Airline lounges are very interesting destinations – they are designed to make you feel inferior and practice all kinds of caste discrimination. Senator Class (just using a Lufthansa example)goes left, Predator class goes right, Sedator class goes straight. What is more touching is the way the staff tells you about it – “Sir, the lounge for Business class is straight and then to left. The one on the right is the lounge for First class – which obviously, you are NOT TO GO TO. Anyway, the First class lounge has better wine and almonds, which you cannot experience (tchik tchik!). Your Business class lounge has beer and peanuts, which obviously are inferior to wine and almonds!”. And then they smile to show their sparkling teeth. In such cases, I have a patented repartee - I almost feign ignorance and ask, “You have a first class also on XX airline? Wonder who in their right mind travels by it? Maybe demented and schizophrenic patients. Maybe because you are the only airline that goes to Goduttoria (or some such back-of-beyond place). Anyway, thanks so much for telling me that you have a First class, which I guess will be empty in most cases”. I wink and take my place in the lounge and start my night snacks – some cake, coffee, fruits and peanuts. Simultaneously, I start a reconnaissance of my surroundings – there is a Japanese lady and her small kid trying to use the free internet to its fullest. There is an Indian businessman who is trying to make sure that nobody can hear the details of his confidential deal – every second sentence (that all within 2 miles can hear) is prefixed with, “its confidential yaar – you know how things are with Mr. AXXXX but here is the high-level summary. Its known only to 7.5 people so far – we will do the media announcement next week, please don’t tell it to anyone…… of course, you can tell Reema and Kavitha, they are family obviously. But please please please don’t tell anyone that I told you this when I was not supposed to.”. There were a few members of the Pentagon Club also – I wanted to chat up the eligibility conditions and benefits of the club but I could not since they were sleeping blissfully and then suddenly waking up and proceeding to their flights, even before I could say anything. There were also the usual ‘jumping Jacks’, who would get up every 5 minutes and ask the lounge attendant if their flight boarding was announced – hearing the negative response, look very surprised (as if their flight was suppose to depart yesterday) and go back to their seats waiting to jump up again in another few minutes). I want to mention one specific ‘jumping Jack’, who was different from others – he would ask the same question to a different attendant each time, trying to check for inconsistency amongst responses. When one of the attendants said, “I think the boarding will be announced in 10 mins”, he got so delighted at having caught an error, that he almost pumped his fist and said, “…but that lady said 15 mins. Has anything changed? Am I going to be late?”. That attendant ran for her life and was never seen again for the time that I was in the lounge.

Well, with nothing more interesting to do, I decided to send a few work emails, reminding my colleagues about the work that they had to do so that I could then edit their work and send them more work to do – life is after all, a highly interdependent circle, said some Chinese philosopher. (actually, this was one of my friends advice – when in doubt about a quotation, always say it was either a Chinese philosopher or Barack Obama or Lindsay Lohan who said it – if anyone actually dares to ask you which Chinese philosopher, you should just look shocked and mumble something like, “…gosh, look at the ignorance around me, truly it is the Age of Kali that has dawned upon the planet”). With all the work emails sent (and replied to), I did the ‘that’s terrific’ responses to all the emails that I had got in the last 2 days. This is a highly effective work technique I learnt some time back from one of my senior colleague (I wonder why he has not got the Noble Prize for something yet, probably Physics – he has invented this idea which is so effective in saving time and effort). The gist of the idea goes something like this:

Mail 1: I think XX should talk to YY and sort this out. What do you think?
Response: That’s a terrific idea.
Mail 2: ……………hence the CEO was really upset. I think you should talk to him tomorrow
Response: That’s a great idea.
Mail 3: Would you want to have coffee in about 15 mins?
Response: That’s a fabulous idea
Mail 4: …..so I have asked him to make a presentation. You should join the discussion that day
Response: (What else! – a synonym like fantabulous, outstanding, distinctive, superlative, genius blah blah blah)

Finally, the boarding of my flight was announced. This was quite uneventful since there was a separate queue for us B-class people and I walked right up to my seat, looking sympathetically at all the hapless E-class passengers standing silently in the queue. Hope these souls know what the great Milton had said, “They also serve, who only stand and wait”.

After a whole host of announcements (in 3 languages - English, Hindi and German), ranging from ‘Welcome on Board’ to a detailed demonstration of the working of a highly complex body device called the Seat belt (which is a combination of mechanics, electronics, robotics, pyrotechnics and metallurgy) to extremely interesting details like the altitude we will reach, the temperature outside, the pressure outside, the route that the aircraft will take etc, we finally took off. Actually, I never realized when we took off since I was wondering why in the name of Orville and Wilbur Wright are such details announced at all? Are we going to be allowed to put our hand outside to feel the temperature or pressure? Is there going to be an emergency landing at one of the destinations on the way? By the way, on a Mumbai-Delhi flight, I once had an extremely courteous pilot who mid-way, offered an extremely profuse apology for telling us that we would be cruising at a speed of 1400 miles per hour when indeed, we were doing 1550! He spent almost 5 mins on this apology. What a gentleman he must have been (like Abu Ben Adem, may his tribe increase!).

After putting the seat flat, I slept for the next 5-6 hours and woke up in time for breakfast, and for watching an episode of Mentalist, the terrific thriller serial (yes, how I love this word!). Then I noticed that in the great movie and serial collection that Lufthansa Business class had (sum total of 16 movies, 12 English, 4 other languages), there was also a movie called Fearless that had Salman Khan on the front. When I clicked on it, I was enlightened that it was Dabangg! – I then finished the full movie in a fast forward mode, focusing on only the most important dialogues (e.g., Chedi Singh, hum tumhare andar itne ched karenge ki bhool jaoge ki saans kahaan se leni hain or XXX (see footnote 6) kahaan se). For the next hour, I spent time eating breakfast and communicating with the German airhostess on what I wanted and what I did not. German efficiency is such that there is a set process and routine to everything – even if you ask for water, the request will be processed via a complex request-taking algorithm that optimizes for the age of the requestor, the quantum of item asked for, the current pre-occupation of the staff¸ the number of passengers on board, the day of the month, the number of unoccupied laterines; I am not joking – some of my requests were complied with immediately, others after 15 mins and some were mildly turned down – like my request for wheatflakes instead of cornflakes). Finally after 7.5 hours, we landed at Frankfurt Airport – or more precisely, the Franfurt Airport maze. One keeps walking, turning and walking again for atleast 15-20 mins before reaching somewhere ‘directionally close’ to the desired destination. I am convinced that airports in general are designed to confuse people and make them walk a lot (see Terminal 3 at New Delhi? I hear that the heart disease rate of travellers using Delhi airport has dropped by 7% since the launch of T3) but Frankfurt is in a league of its own. I am inclined to believe that the chief architect was probably a direct descendant of the guy who designed the labyrinth for the Minotaur whom Perseus, the Greek hero slew. Just as Perseus had a ball of wool to show him the way, I had numerous display boards that kept flashing my gate number. After a long walkathon, I reached my gate and boarded my flight to Calgary with a slightly dejected heart – I did not have the time to go and gorge on the free food in the airport lounge. But then, one cant have it all in life – after all, life is full of choices, said another Chinese philosopher!

I finished another movie on the Calgary flight (Once Upon a Time in the West) – brilliant classic full of cowboys, guns, horses and background music. I cant remember who the hero was (a famous guy, whom everybody would know, I suppose!) but the Director was definitely a long-lost twin of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, our revered ex-Prime Minister. The gap between two dialogues, two scenes and even two bullet shots was almost 45-60 seconds – if the bullets did not kill, the suspense and the waiting definitely did. Nevertheless, I liked the movie a lot and made a few notes to convey back to my Bollywood friends regarding a few stunts and fights, which I found to be quite good, though not in the Rajni class!(see footnote 7). As we descended into Calgary, I realized that I was completely unprepared for the minus 25 degrees weather in Calgary, and was wondering if this would be the case even in Victoria, my destination. However, luck was with me and I was told that Victoria would be a pleasant 5 degrees. I spent about 45 mins deciding if my jacket and sweater would suffice for this kind of ‘pleasant weather’ and concluded that I would probably never have to go out on the road (airport to hotel, hotel to client site, client site to airport – but how, wrong I was!). During this while, I noticed that my flight from Calgary to Victoria was delayed due to reason no.2 (ha ha! got you there – unless you are a member of the Flying Quadron (see footnote 8) Club like me, you wont understand what reason 2 is). Let me elucidate this for mere mortals – there are 5 reasons why a flight can get late – any delay in your flight is probably attributed to one of these reasons on a randomly selected basis (Note: I hear that whenever its flight is delayed, which is almost on a daily basis, a very famous airline, which I cant name obviously, throws a dart on a board containing these 5 reasons – whichever number the dart lands on, that is the reason they give to passengers)
Reason 1: Delay in arrival of incoming aircraft (translation: not our fault – just sit back and enjoy the airport scenery!)
Reason 2: Poor visibility (translation: we have neither upgraded our aircrafts, nor trained our pilots – hence we can’t fly and land on time whenever there is a slightest hint of fog, snowfall, rain, hurricane, tornado, typhoon and tsunami)
Reason 3: Air traffic congestion (translation: Several aircraft are delayed – others are not complaining, so why are you?)
Reason 4: Technical reason (translation: Even we don’t know why but cant tell you so)
Reason 5: Unforeseen emergencies (translation: The pilot and the co-pilot are drunk and we are trying to locate their replacements OR the airhostess and the pilot have run away together OR an important VIP is delayed and we have to hold the flight for him)

Finally, our aircraft took off and I landed in Victoria, my intended destination at the other end of the Earth, looking forward to my Canadian Odyssey. The fact that my luggage arrived 30 mins late and that the driver supposed to pick me up was almost going to go back (due to the slight 2 hr-delay, he had given up any hope of me coming that day), instantly made me feel ‘at home’ in Victoria. This was obviously a place I would relish given my extensive experience of places where time is a vague notion and punctuality is measured on the calendar, rather than the clock. However, what actually happened in Canada is a story for another day – needless to add, it was as one of the great English authors said (I think it was Dickens but am not sure since English literature was never my strong point (see footnote 9)) said, “It was the best of times and the worst of times”.

To conclude, I am reminded of a Sanskrit saying which is the moral of my travelogue thus far, (what a polyglot am I – so many languages to choose from)! :
Travelling makes a man wise, travelling more, makes him wiser (well, this seems quite obvious to me but then, sayings and aphorisms are nothing but common sense said in a deep voice, full of gravitas)
Au Revoir (this is French for the polyclods)


Footnotes:
1. Immigration officials are selected for their ability to ask extremely boring questions repeatedly and still be amazed at the response. The final selection test probably involves asking questions to a brick wall and responding. The caliber of your subsequent questions and the enthusiastic attitude shown during this interrogation determines your selection.

2. One of my fellow consultants once delivered presentations on ‘Effective Cost management’, ‘Leadership and Hockey’, ‘ Cooking for Dummies’ and ‘Macro-economic implications of policies undertaken in the post Vikings era on Scandinavian geopolity’ in the same day. Hats off to such great souls.

3. There is a Phulpur in India – for proper nouns, spellings don’t matter, pronunciations do.

4. I had a choice of another airline, whose pilots have a record for going on-strike at any time, sometimes in mid air. Since I had missed my last 3 parachuting lessons, I decided not to risk this and settled for Lufthansa. But if you are in the mood for adventure, I would not recommend the stolid, steady Lufthansa. Its frankly, quite boring.

5. I think these people were inspired by Neo Andersen from the Matrix Trilogy – the whole world is but an assumption – so you can make it what you want it to be. So if you believe that there are no queues, THERE ARE NO QUEUES!

6. This refers to a certain action that results in a foul stench spreading in the air surrounding the perpetrator.

7. This class has only 2 people in it – Rajnikanth from India and Chuck Norris from US. Even God cannot dare to be in this league, though there is some talk that a few people like Sunny Deol and Superman have tried – they have all failed of course.

8. You need to have 4 passports, missed 40 flights and know all the airline logos correctly to join this club, of which I am a member. I almost missed the membership when I could not identify the logo of Shenaniganland Airways correctly but I was forgiven since the airline (and the country) have both collapsed

9. Actually, what my ‘strong point’ was, was something of a mystery that my school teachers were never able to find, much less agree on.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

ABCD for my little devil

Baby, Baby; Yes Daddy,
Are you awake? Yes Daddy,
Staying awake? Yes Daddy,
Want a lullaby? Yes Daddy!

A for “Angel” that’s what you are,
B for Badness, the world is filled with such,
C for “Cutie” that’s what you are,
D for Daddy, who loves you very much.

E for Excellence, for which you always strive,
F for Family, in which you will thrive,
G is God, who made you come alive,
H for Happiness, you brought in my life.

I for India, our proud nation,
J for Joker, my little creation
K for Karate, dhishum-dhishum-dhishum
L for Love, the grief-healing lotion

M is for Mummy, whose body-part you are,
N is for Nanny, who gives you all the fun
O is for Orangutan, the monkey that you are,
P is for Peace, the virtue No.1

Q is for the Queen that you are,
R is for the Race (of Life) that you’ll run,
S, my dear, is for the big bright Sun,
T is for Trouble, oh naughty one!

U is for Uganda, a country, faraway,
V for Violin, the instrument, you’ll play
W is for Water, what makes you wet,
X is for Xerox, that photocopies the set

The last 2 letters, Y and Z,
Y for Yes and Z for Zest,
One means Ho, the other means Hooray
Now, little one, CALL IT A DAY!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nine random questions at the end of nine months:

Nine months of wait,
Of torment and hope,
Of joy and pain,
Of seeking and salvation,
Could any lovers’ meeting be so eventful, ever?

A woman sacrifices everything for this,
Her physical form – obese and unattractive,
Her movements – restricted and uncomfortable,
Her aspirations – curtailed and ‘glassed’,
Is it worth it – today? Ten years from now? Forty years from now?

I see my wife in front,
Tears in her eyes,
Stress on her face,
Love in her heart,
Was I a mere spectator, an audience to this miracle of Creation?

All signs of the coming,
The stomach – enlarged,
The pains – intense,
The affection – unbound,
Is the umbilical cord linked to the stomach or the soul?

I wait in the labour room,
The doctors – in control,
The nurses – efficient as ever,
The ayahs – obedient to the tee,
What am I doing here – being reminded of my duty in the times to come?

She finally arrives, resplendent and radiant,
Crying and curious,
Calm and calamitous,
Comforting and comfortable,
Then why do I detect an uneasiness in my heart?

The child is born and several people are made,
A mother,
A father,
A whole host of relations,
Have the creators been re-created by the creation?

She is very similar to me,
My blood and my genes,
My line and my family,
My present and my future,
And yet, why do I feel very different today? Very, very different?

I will remember this time for years to come,
Her look frozen in my eyes,
Her voice etched in my heart,
Her existence embedded in my soul,
Will she reciprocate? Does not matter really, does it?
Her birth was for us, her life is for her – will I remember this always?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

“Two-Face” of Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes (my experience with nursery rhymes and kiddo poems)

I just love Two-Face, the schizophrenic villain in Batman – he actually has the ability to dispassionately analyze each issue to death before coming to a course of action; how I wish, I would have been able to do this on several occasions before jumping to conclusions and forming opinions. I was recently reminded of Two Face as I listened to a few fairy tales and nursery rhymes – now why on earth would I do that? Since my wife is expecting our first kid, I was catching up on a few rhymes to be able to recite them ‘when the time comes and I have to live up the duty of being a father’ (as usual, I believe in preparing well ahead of time – which is why I am also weighing the pros and cons of different schools and colleges aka Two Face). Moreover the pre-pregnancy counselor told us that we, as would-be parents, should listen to a ‘few good songs, stories and inspirational tales’ on a daily basis since these would have a profound impact on the neurological and spiritual development of the baby! (On a separate note, listening to all the 1740 things that ‘good, responsible parents’ have to do, from the pre-pregnancy counselor, made me wonder how mankind ever brought up babies for the last 1500 years without such angel-like advice – but this is a topic for a separate discussion and lets not mix it here).

As I heard the different rhymes and tales, I started reflecting on their meanings and found myself becoming more cynical than I normally am (and this is a big deal since I can spot calories and cholesterol when my friends and relatives are going ga-ga over home-made, pure-ghee sweets). For instance, the story of the hare and tortoise is an immortal classic for all kids and toddlers – the story is meant to tell you that ‘Slow and Steady wins the race’. As I heard a song-version of this story, my hyper-active, cynical self started speaking, “Which race can a slow and steady person ever win in life? You have to be fast – Fast is Best – fast food, fast cars, fast s**. Anything that is fast is better, say for example, a super-fast train is better than a slow train and you only have to look at the jam-packed fast local trains in Mumbai to certify the illogical meaning of the saying. Moreover, one has to be fast to be ahead in queues, fast to book tickets for super-hit movies, fast to rise up the corporate ladder blah blah blah.” As one mind started giving rise to these thoughts, another mind started saying, “Lets see what the hare did – yes, he lost the race but in the process enjoyed the beauties of Mother Nature, ate fruits and berries and had a great nap in the shade whereas all the tortoise did was slog, slog and slog to win the ‘race’ – so who was able to enjoy the race fully? Who was able to have a great ‘work-life’ balance? Who was able to (in the words of W.H.Davies) go against the grain of ‘What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ and take in the full breeze, smell the scent of the roses and lilies and then go on to complete the race”. Why would the fairy tale ever declare the hare the loser? The answer is obvious – it was written by somebody who wanted to encourage kids to gear up for the rat race! Victory, in this context, has been defined in a narrow sense – that of crossing the line drawn by somebody else and you are supposed to feel elated only after crossing the line. So long as you have not crossed the line, you are supposed to feel incomplete and continue slogging. And yes, kids carry on this subliminal tendency throughout – not just in school but also through college and at work and in life, at large. Having heard this fairy tale several times over in the formative years of childhood, I now wonder whether I would have lived differently had I known that the “winner” is not one who crosses the line first but one who has enjoyed the race the most? One last thought crossed my mind as I moved to the next story – the tortoise had an unwavering focus to win the race and it won, whereas for the hare , could the purpose have been to maximize the experience of life itself? Alas, all of us have ingrained this story to such an extent that during weekdays we are intent on crossing the line first without caring for several other things – and then, on weekends (like today, when I am writing this article), we try to be like the hare. To me, this tale is the reason for my own ‘life happens on weekends’ syndrome.

Another type of fairy tale is that of the beautiful princess and the handsome prince, who has to do several courageous feats to win her hand. As I became the Two-Face for this archetype, I realized that there is no fairy tale in which the princess has to do any ‘acts of bravery’ to win the prince’s hand in marriage. All she has to do is wear pretty dresses , cry a bit (probably due to the misery she is under since she is locked away under some spell or kept in a dungeon by the big bad demon) and then smile a bit and live happily every after. The questions going through my mind are, “Is this what we are subconsciously imbibing in the minds of baby girls, who after several years, realize that the world is very different, realize that even they have ambitions beyond the home and the hearth, realize that they can be the prince after all or even worse, realize that the prince is no-good?” There are several sub-versions of this tale but what is quite interesting to note is the kinds of actions that the prince and princess have to do to redeem themselves – the princess has only to kiss the frog to turn him into a prince whereas the prince has to battle a hundred demons to win the princess. All the princess’ actions are gentle and ‘ladylike’ whereas the prince has to ‘win the trial by fire’. This, in my view, sows the initial seeds of gender discrimination, which the girl-child has to face throughout her life, whether as a daughter, a wife, a mother and across various walks of life.

There is a third type of nursery rhymes which advocate or perpetrate certain traits, albeit inadvertently. In Marathi, the most famous nursery rhyme is ‘Ye re ye re pawasa’, in which the small child requests the rain to come – in the very next line, the child offers one paisa to the rain for coming. Isnt this an outright form of bribery? There is another poem titled ‘Sang sang Bholanath’ (in which the child asks Lord Shankar if there will be rain the next day so that his school will be closed) – I often wonder if the ‘great Indian tendency to shirk work’, whether due to public holidays, bandhs or the slightest disruption of normal life, stems from poems like this?

Lastly, there are fairy tales which I think have lost their relevance in today’s world. An illustration that fit this category is ‘Ba ba black sheep, have you any wool?’ Have urban kinds seen sheeps that give wool – my most common early interactions have been with goats (and that too dead ones, at the mutton shop, which I used to frequent with my father on Sundays). The first time I saw a ‘wool-giving sheep’ was in Scotland several years after my childhood had long ceded. Another example is ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water’ – in today’s times, why would anybody go up the hill to fetch water (and that too, only a pail)? Yes, maybe if it was from the water tanker parked up the hill, then it would have reflected some semblance of truth. Similarly, there is a popular Marathi poem ‘Lal tanga gheoni ala Lala Tangewala’ (meaning that the red tonga came, driven by the driver whose name was Lala) – tongas are becoming extinct in towns and cities and wherever they are still running, one just has to look at the plight of the horses!

Does this mean that we have to review every poem and fairy tale from a psychological standpoint and correct it? Should we eradicate those that either don’t reflect reality or are likely to ‘sow the seeds of some deep-rooted emotion that could prove extremely dangerous to humanity’ (wow, I just love the serious language used – reflects my sessions with the pre-pregnancy counselor!). Now, don’t get me wrong – I am just demonstrating the Two-Facian approach. I, myself, can easily argue that nursery rhymes and poems should be left untouched for they are nothing but ways to incite the child’s imagination and enable some form of communication with the child. Hence one need not impute too much meaning and question every line (this is what I call the Da Vinci syndrome after Dan Brown’s book - when I visited Paris just some months after the release of the best-seller, I found tourists trying to find meaning in almost everything in the Louvre. Hence, simple sentences became cryptic clues to the Holy Grail, number of steps up and down became codes and the shadow of the sun falling on the Eiffel tower became the ‘directions to some lost secret of humanity that must not be revealed till ‘the time comes’). There maybe nothing and no more meaning to fairy tales and nursery rhymes beyond being just another way of connecting with infants. I also don’t want to be accused of spoiling the fun of nursery rhymes and fairy tales (and be a critic of the multi-million dollar kids entertainment industry which thrives on fairy tales) but then, Two Face, will always have his doubts…