Thursday, September 13, 2007

The other side of Parenthood...

I got a very funny email about the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a parent. The first half of the email was about the different ways to get prepared. A few snippets:

"Can you stand the mess children make? To find out, smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains. Hide a fish finger behind the stereo and leave it there all summer. Stick your fingers in the flowerbeds then rub them on the clean walls. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?"

"Men: to prepare for paternity, go to the local pharmacist, tip the contents of your wallet on the counter, and tell the pharmacist to help himself. Then go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office. Go home. Pick up the paper. Read it for the last time."

Of course, the last half of the email painted a much prettier picture of the joys of parenthood and how wonderful it is to relive being a child, with your child :). It's interesting that couples who want to adopt a child are made to go through a rigorous training and questioning and monitoring of their skills as a parent, whereas those who get married/pregnant never go through such rounds of questioning to be assessed of their skills as a good parent. Is it because it's assumed that people implicitly know to take good care of their own child as opposed to a child that was technically born to someone else? There is no doubt a stronger bond of love is implicitly born when you give birth, and the bond is arguably unique. But how much you love a child and how effective you are as a parent are not necessarily the same.

Having a baby is like getting a fresh batch of wet clay in your hands that is extremely impressionable with the most minute press of your fingers, and that hardens every hour, and you have only so many years and only so much time before you can mould it in "good" shape. You also need to know the and what defines a "good" shape. You don't want to shape them based on how you are shaped and later on hear your child complain that you are responsible for how they are today :(.

Bringing another being into this world carries such a thick tag of responsibility. It is true that no one can specialize being a parent before deciding to have a child, but it irks me to see babies being brought into this world just because two people are married, regardless of whether they are at a stage to provide for the child. At this current age, we have no pressing need to populate the Earth, so why not put some thought into what it requires to be a parent before plunging into it.

There should be an underlying meaning and reason to our decisions than merely following the routine, especially in a case where we are responsible for another being's proper growth and welfare. It is extreme to have a qualifying exam on parenthood before a wedding or childbirth, but I feel it is realistic if one sets some rules and engages in some form of introspection to evaluate how equipped and prepared they are.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

U? Genes? Yikes!

Eugenics -- the concept I've been pretty intrigued with lately. Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention. [Wikipedia]

Since I was old enough to remember, I've heard my mom say, "Our ancestors weren't fools. There is a meaning behind everything." But it's only now that the ingeniousness of such ancestors is slowly dawning on me. When parents talk of the ideal "match" for their children and go about digging into details such as caste/sub caste/the complexion of the bride/the education/the "family status"/the height/the "health" of the family/"bad" habits/not wearing "specs"/long hair/... (and substitute a million other such details), it is for a REASON. And the underlying reason being, "Can my daughter and your son successfully mate with each other to produce the best possible offspring/s to carry on the proud torch of our family tree and hereditary and thus improve the overall quality of human kind?"

Crassly put, but that's the philosophy that our ancestors started with and after a while people "forgot" why, but as is our custom, continued to blindly follow them. The basic core instinct of animals is to procreate and survive - Male instinct being to procreate and the females' to nurture and help survival. It is extremely interesting to take on a more "objective and intelligent" approach to making sure evolution works right and the quality of the human race is improved through Eugenics.

Therefore, a handsome man marrying a not-so-goodlooking girl causes a serious threat to the next generation being either not good looking at all, or mediocre - this is a setback to the race that begins with this new human being. A more serious concern for us is intelligence. A smart person marrying a dumb person causes a mediocre output. Whereas if the smart married the smart the output would be super smart!! And if such a super smart guy married another such super smart girl then the output would be Super dooper smart!! And so on...

Of course I have my opinions on this match making logic again... and it's a debate many intellectuals and scientists have been having. If only the smart should marry the smart, what about us dim wits? Are they doomed cruelly because of "survival of the fittest" rule? I would think it makes more sense for smarts and dim wits to be paired so the outcome would be relatively smart, than getting a pool of super smarts and an equal pool of dim wits struggling to survive and not contributing much to the progress the "super smarts" want to make. Such a huge disparity would be much worse to progress (my belief, with not much proof for now).

That said, it's not much of a surprise when our parents try to quantify "intelligence" with academic degrees and want to match a person with equal or higher number of degrees as compared to their girl. Why is it mandatory for the groom to have an equal or better degree? This could be seen as perpetuation of patriarchal ways of society, but looking closely a better "degree" translates to a "good job", and a good job translates to ability to "bring in more food" and provide a nurturing environment (the job the male hunter). Family status is again a measure of the family's ability to provide the right nourishment, opportunities and education for the child to cultivate the traits we look for.

I wonder if we humans still act on such core instincts. In reality human relationships/marriages are intended to last much longer than just bringing in the new generation, and it wields a complicated web of emotions and needs. Making a relationship work demands a whole new set of criteria, than relying on those deemed fit for the offspring/s that are born. I choose to believe that we have evolved to a state (after all these centuries) where our concern for procreation is probably being replaced by the need for companionship.

Yet, I'm not sure if at some level, our attractions to certain types of people whom we consider as good partners are related to the essential traits we want to pass onto our kids (the core female instinct of caring for the unborn offspring). Each of us have some basic requirements for choosing our life partner. Although it's not as explicit as us thinking of a child and then validating our partner's traits, subconsciously it may have seeped in. Do those core instincts still determine such decisions... as subtle as their influence is?

For example, I suck in Maths. I am so bad at it, that all through my life it has been my greatest sorrow and disadvantage. I have always thought that being good at maths/science was a great boon, you could excel professionally and comfortably take on a well paid job, as opposed to those of us who need to struggle and get used to their technical positions. And during these challenging times, I've wished that if at all I had a kid, s/he should be smart in Mathematics.

I'm not sure if that's why I undoubtedly get impressed with people who are good at Maths/programming/Science. I don't know if it's because I'm impressed with people who can do something that I struggle to, or if it's some other common quality that is the primary reason. But it's interesting nonetheless to ponder if subconsciously we take into account both the aspect of "companionship for a life time" as well as "how effective can the next generation get."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Chaos Theory

Of late, the meaning of life and the course of our destiny all seem to apply to Chaos theory to me. I would like to yell "Eureka" but not so much. This little bolt of enlightenment only left me anxious.

We are involved in playing the fate of so many people, and little do we realize the impact and the gravity of it all. Each person's tiny act starts like small ripples in a pond that grow bigger and bigger, until it is big enough to turn a person's course of life.

For example: A car mechanic is working on a car, he has removed its old parts and is assembling the new ones. His wife then comes in and nags about a family issue. They argue and yell and the mechanic forgets to tighten the brakes as properly as he should have. The car owner Y comes and gets the car and rides it. X usually takes the bus to go to school. He missed the bus since he woke up late. He woke up late since he came home late. He came home late because his colleague needed help. Since X was taking the bike to work, he took the same route as Y. Y realizes he can't use his brakes properly when X is in front of him. X is in front of him because the auto guy cut him, the auto guy cut him because he lost concentration thinking of something else.

So who are all to be blamed? The mechanic's wife, the reason why the mechanic's wife was upset, the mechanic, the colleague at work, the auto guy, or Y? Amazing how each apparently random act culminates and weaves into something huge. The consequences/impacts are endless, starting from the point of the accident... it affects Y, X, X's family, and the chain continues.

In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says "I am the beginning and the end." Can we trace back to the beginning of the afore-mentioned accident? No, not possible... its roots of origin are truly infinite. And the consequences of this impact, truly infinite. There was a Big Bang and the consequences still persist...

Amazing how all of us play a part in some stranger's life. In the above scenario, will all the involved people share a blame on the accident? Is it even possible to understand who all were involved?

My school friend passed away in a very tragic manner recently and hence the philosopher in me decided to wake up and talk to me. Each of us makes plans for the next 20 years of our life, not realizing what we have done today. Our mortality is one which pulls us back to ground state, drilling in the fact that we are transient and whatever materials we accumulate are as good as nothing.

I have started to believe that orienting myself towards positively affecting the life of another person everyday, is one step towards initiating a positive change that carries the potential to swirl into a tornado of good fortune in the course of time. Random acts of kindness integrated with the job one does, is as simple as our share gets.

Life is short and we need to live it responsibly, not just for our good, but to try and avoid initiating negative turns of events in another person's life. May my friend rest in peace.

P.S: July 2008 - One year later Kamal comes up with Dasaavatharam, a movie based on my ramblings :-). Wow, Kamal thought of it too, or did he snipe it from my post? ;)...


I was planning on having a nice debate in the class I am teaching on Usability Engineering. Anthropomorphism is the quality of human beings to attribute human-like emotions, behavior and thoughts on other objects. For example, imagining your car to be a person who can feel and think. In user-interface design there are many instances of this - having cartoon characters and fuzzy little virtual agents running around in the interface creates a sense of comfort, and minimizes intimidation. Icons that can smile, a word processor that greets you etc., create quite a psychological impact on the users. But there could be disadvantages as well... so my intent was to have a nice debate in class. But then, less than half of the class turned up, with more than half of those who came, yawing and struggling to stay awake. Either I'm a bad teacher, or it's plain Karma.

So anyways, this made me think on anthropomorphism in everyday lives and the advantages and disadvantages of it. As an extension to my previous post, it's always wise to not attach emotions on everything around us... it just leads us to further pain. And Vedanta preaches the same. But what could be the advantages? Apart from being cute and personal in naming our computers, cars and cycles, the main advantage comes in the way we take care of them. This is something I have seen with my father.

My father is passionate about electronic gadgets, and he views each gadget as a person with emotions. He doesn't name them, yet he treats them as if they were animate. I've been yelled at several times for not handling them the right way. I once heard him lecturing my mother, and that's when I understood his theory. For a while, my mom had been wanting a new fridge that had automatic defrost, and kept complaining about the old one. My dad said, "Technology changes with the day, and we can't keep affording to replace everything. More over, just because you think something is not good enough, you can't throw it. If you imagined the fridge to be your son, you wouldn't just throw it would you? Despite its faults and shortcomings, you try to fix it and do your best to keep it running. If you started seeing everything as being personal to you, you would be much devoted to fixing them and living with their faults, than trying to throw them away. You just wouldn't give up on them that easily. Once you learn to accept that nothing is perfect you are much happier and much satisfied."

It was like an eye-opener to me. No wonder he brings home old computer parts from the junkyard and tries to fix them. My home is an extension of my father's lab... we have around 10 telephones (each 10-20 years old), because they were cast away in his office for not working properly. And my father huddles them back home saying, "Just because one functionality doesn't work you cant throw it away! Who needs the call-waiting feature for domestic use? It's perfectly working, so lets use it". And there are some terminally ill gadgets at home still being fought hard by my father to revive and make them functioning again. His radio from the 1970s is one example. We can set up a museum of radios, telephones and computer spare parts. He literally feels bad and upset when a gadget fails to work... kind of like a doctor-patient relationship. My mom and I dread to inform my father of any gadget that stops working. The worst period was when our backyard tree was struck by a lightning and all plugged electronic gadgets died. Well, money was one aspect, but the pain my father felt was way deeper.

Jokes apart, I think it's a healthy concept, nevertheless. For example, who would have ever thought that a fridge from 1978 that completely failed to work, could still be used as a cabinet and cupboard! My father did, and it's quite handy in the kitchen to have one more cabinet holding spices :). Any emotional attachment in excess is of course going to lead to misery. Setting a balance is the philosophy of the Golden Mean preaches.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Gruesome fairy tales

Adam, his friend (whose name slips me) and I were having a different discussion over lunch. His friend made a casual comment on how kids should be monitored even while watching animations, cartoons and fairy tales... Hold on there!! Did he say fairy tales?? I quipped in with an emphatic WHY? His reasoning was that fairy tales were actually gruesome, and Adam joined forces talking about Snow white and poisoned apples, the witch in Hansel and Gretel who ate kids, and how the witch was pushed into a burning furnace at the end, Hansel and Gretel's parents who abandoned their own kids in the heart of a jungle!! Hmm.... I admit I never thought of them... they are sort of gruesome when you actually think of the story.

This reminded me of the lawsuits that were against Tom and Jerry, claiming that the cartoon was getting far too violent with Tom treating Jerry in the most cruel, violent manners possible (trying to roast him in an oven, trying to skin him with a peel, dropping him into boiling water, trying to squash him with tables and bowling balls... ). The prosecutors were nervous that these animations portrayed the exact opposite of what kids are always being taught (i.e., to be nice and courteous and not to chase other kids with bowling balls). When these animations actually cast them in the light of humor, it seems to dispel the severity of such acts. Although Jerry is fine after being roasted in the oven and being squashed, that's not reality and we can't be sure if kids can discern between surrealism and reality. We don't want some bully to drag some child into an oven, thinking he will be fine.

When I first read about the lawsuits I was quite surprised. I mean, when I was young, my friends, cousins and I grew up watching Tom and Jerry and Walt Disney, forming the core of our childhood (at least for me). How come we managed to grow up ok? Was it our parents, the spiritual grounding we had? Or perhaps we were far too innocent (aka dumb) to try and replicate the acts, or we were far too smart (Of course!) knowing such acts were to be forgotten after the show.

But looking at contemporary cartoons, I am flabbergasted! If there were lawsuits against Tom and Jerry, where are the lawsuits now?? Cartoons have become far too violent and gross these days! Humor has become twisted - humor is constantly being equated to somebody else's misery, and in a far too vindictive manner than in Tom and Jerry. This gets us thinking of violence in everyday life.

Video games are another prime source of violence, becoming gorier by the day. I remember my cousin getting so involved in shooting and killing the bad guys that you could see him getting angry and worked up. Aren't such media only invigorating the baser violent instincts? After the shooting at VT, there was so much news and hype about profane essays the killer had written. The vocabulary and gruesome violence portrayed in his plays are something almost every guy I see around is capable of thinking... perhaps they don't have the guts to submit it to a professor.

There are many well educated and cultured people out there using gruesome video games of killing people and animals in the most gory manner possible, to vent out frustrations at work or just for pure fun. When these well educated, well mannered, apparently non-psychopathic people can display such traits, one wonders how acute should a warning be, to identify the ones in trouble.

The fact is that it's so easy for the mind to snap, and when it does, we call attention to so called "traces of evidence that led to the catastrophe". We see PLENTY of evidence and red flags among many in our everyday lives, but we literally don't do anything about it. A person is not born a killer or a psychopath... each of us have the potential to snap.

Violence has been encouraged as being part of our life and we mercilessly expose kids to violence from the very tender ages. And it's quite disturbing to realize that even cartoons and fairy tales are not spared...

Monday, June 18, 2007

I Believe in Angels...

As Abba sang, "If you see the wonder of a fairy tale.... makes you take the future even if you fail. I believe in angels, something good in everything I see..."

The child in me still believes in fairy tales. Cinderella and Rapunzel were not happy till the end of the tale, were they? They had cruel witches and horrible curses till Prince Charming rode along to rescue them. But the modern Cinderella that I like to see myself as, no longer believes in the Prince Charming part. No knight rescues damsels in distress these days.... damsels need to learn to rescue themselves. But just as Cinderella had her fairy God Mother and friendly little mice, Snow White had her friendly little dwarfs, and the Little Mermaid had Sebastian, the lobster, the ones to truly help these little damsels out of their distress, I like to believe in little angels. If you think about it, the knights/princes have only kissed and danced with these princesses in the name of breaking curses!

I watched an old episode of 'Ally McBeal' where a stock broker was fired as he was deemed mentally unstable for believing in seeing a unicorn. A person seeing something that others couldn't and believing in something that others normally wouldn't are prone to being judged as schizophrenic, and with good reason many times. But as the lawyers argued, religious beliefs are based on supernatural occurrences. If one claims to see Santa Claus or Krishna, he is revered, but when one claims to see unicorns or centaurs they are jeered. A nice example of hypocrisy.

Anyway the point I was trying to make is that, sometimes relying on the child inside of us lightens any situation we need to face. As a child, our hopes were alive and ever optimistic. Everything I saw as a child had a sparkle of imagination and magic to it. The gross frogs in the garden were seen as princes under curses, the nagging teachers were imagined as witches who would vanish when water was poured over them, my new shoes were thought of as Dorothy's shoes waiting to be clicked to transport to a different land, the loud noisy train turned into a magical rattling box.... adding a little pixie dust to everything around made the world so surreal and different. It makes us see the little angel that got out of Pandora's box - Hope.

Why lose that child inside me, when it helps me see the world through tinted glasses? Borrowing Abba's lines,
"I have a dream, a fantasy.... to help me through reality. And my destination, makes it worth the while. Pushing through the darkness, still another mile. "

What did I lose?

I search and I search,
Eyes dry and red,
Mind racing and churning,
Hope rising and falling,
To find that which I lost...

I know I miss it,
I know I want it,
I know it's somewhere here,
I know my hands will spread far,
To find that which I lost...

I remember the feeling,
I remember the memories,
I remember the thoughts,
I remember the dangers that arise,
To find that which I lost...

Famished and weary,
Overwrought with fear and pain,
Thinning down with dwindling hopes,
I ask myself over and over,
What did I have, for me to have lost?

The Cliff-hangers

When we were kids (i.e, till the age of 18), life had hardly begun. We were carefully cocooned in our little safety zones, that little did we imagine life could get worse than preparing for mind numbing exams and putting up with crazy professors.

Back in those days (sigh), I remember a very popular question that people would throw at you, at the pretext of keeping you entertained during those long train and bus journeys to and from college (which was situated at the heart of nowhere). Such questions were termed as 'mokkai' by many , including me. An example of such a 'mokkai' , "Imagine that your mom, dad, sister, brother and friend are all hanging from the edge of a cliff. You have the power to rescue only one... just one! Whom would you pick?" When such questions were thrown at me, I would imagine throwing the brainy quizzer down a cliff, with a haughty smirk, "What a stupid question! Like there is ever going to be such a situation! And what is the point of this ramble, really? BTW, I have no brother or sister!"

But a few years later, I've come to realize,  a sad realization at that, that such situations do present themselves in life. The cliff is nothing but a metaphor. Life demands hard choices and try as we might, we can only pick one.... letting go of others. An average Indian woman with orthodox upbringing looks down a cliff with a bunch of people/things hanging from it.... mother, father, career, potential life partner, etc. And as the inventor of this game decided, you cannot save everybody/everything.

It's unfortunate that generation gap poses a huge rift between parents and children. These complications are somehow more acute to women than men. I fail to understand the panic attack that parents face in the name of getting their daughters 'settled'. Some girls eternally fret that they will be turning 25 soon, their reason being, "My mom says girls lose their beauty and charm after 25... after 25 it gets increasingly hard to find men". 25 seems to be a dreadful turning point in the lives of single women. The focus is to somehow get married before that age strikes you.... even if that marriage be devoid of love. "Love! What in the name of God has it got to do with weddings?!" - parents howl.... and that's how the rift starts.

The other day, I was asked by a frantic friend, "Hey, when is it too late for a woman to have kids? 30, 35? Hope its 35! I want at least two." So there we go, lets add a couple of potential babies hanging from the cliff too, shall we? Somehow there are far too many pressures-- coming from a traditional setting, the need to please parents is a major priority, but this conflicts with the fact that most of us believe in marriages to be born out of love, and not out of horoscopes and castes. As women, we need to stay beautiful till we get married, find a partner by 25 (whom we truly love AND our parents truly love), try to establish a career that not only satisfies us, but also satisfies our parents, and is 'compatible' with the career of our potential life partner, buy a house, a car too, and have kids by 30. Nice template ain't it?

As hard as we strive NOT to follow the template, we invariably are made to feel guilty and fail in one or more aspects... resulting in the metaphorical cliff, forcing us to make the toughest choices. We need to let go of something that we equally value in our life, in order to gain something. Reminds me of one of those dreadful 'Holocaust' stories... a woman being asked by a Nazi soldier, which child of hers she was willing to sacrifice to save the other. Although our situations are never as cruel, they are painful enough to make us realize that we can't get everything in life.

And the cliff scenario is recursive. Each one of those cliffhangers in one's cliff has a situation of their own... their own cliff with me as one of their cliff hangers. As agonizing it is to watch oneself being let down, it is equally excruciating for the 'rescuer' to make that decision. Is it ok to let go of the cliff to save ourselves the pain, or is it just cowardice to do so? For better or for worse, I can live with the fact that I chose to let go of something, than go through the rejection of being let down.... or is that just an excuse to cover up insecurity?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Eternal joy of Parenthood...

Parenthood is one of the most fulfilling experiences... a wonderful galore of emotions of love and pain, and a lifetime full of rich memories. But it's never easy to let go of a child on its own journey to explore life... young ones leaving the nest is not taken lightly by mamas and papas.

We remember the times when our parents were our universe....their warmth and affection were all that we wanted. But we humans, unfortunately evolve over time.... our thoughts, our views, our attitudes go through a gradation of transformation, leaving our poor parents baffled and disappointed. Generation gap as they say, only seems to grow with every passing year. Parents never want to let go of the joy of parenting...and children seem to suffocate from it when they feel they have outgrown.

I am not a parent yet, but I am close to one now... I am parenting a fish. My dear little Bubbles. When the eerie, heavy feeling sinks at the pit of my stomach as I leave him at my friend's house before I head out for a vacation, I remember how my mother would have felt seeing me take off. As I repeatedly remind my friend how to feed him, I see glimpses of my mother over-protecting me. When I dream of Bubbles dying and drowning (a fish drowning!), and keep calling my friend to check on him, I realize how my mother goes through paranoia about me and ends up getting yelled by me. When I worry myself sick over his infection and his pale ill face, I realize how my parents would have felt hearing I was sick in another continent. A little fish made me realize the parent in me... and made me realize what parenting is.

But you see, contrary to us human children getting all the more rebellious with time, pets turn all the more loyal and obedient to us with the passage of time. Bubbles eats what I feed, with never a word of complaint, he comes where I go, doesn't argue with me on when his water needs to be changed, what plants he will have in his home, where his tank is to be kept... and which female buddy he can have (once he gets well). Bubbles doesn't disappoint me in anyway... unless of course he dies after all the mammoth effort I have been expending to keep him alive.

Pets like him are ideal for parents who never want to let go of parenting. And such dedicated loving parents deserve the reciprocation of a faithful, sincere being. No matter how you treat them, they always come running to you with no word of complaint. The term 'unconditional' love is truly applicable to pets. No wonder people get so attached to pets, and many in western lands prefer pets over babies :).

So the next time you see an old man inviting you to the birthday party of his little puppy, don't judge him, don't smirk or laugh at the idiocy of it.... realize that both the old man and the puppy deserve the party more than any one of us. The next time I meet my parents, I'm going to gift them a pet... so they can experience the eternal joy of parenthood. They truly deserve it...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are there 'Female-Friendly' Jars?

The kitchen is supposed to be one place where females should normally have no difficulty surviving by themselves, or is it true? We all come to this phase when we start pondering on how independent we really are. Is it true that I can live by myself with no dependency on anyone?? And of course, the mid-20 crisis looms in front of me, haunting me day and night with the question, "Do I really need a man?"

With mood swings becoming part of my core trait, I was near to tears with anger, frustration and a bruised ego that I couldn't even open a blasted jar of pasta sauce, with the spaghetti almost done and my stomach having the sensation of a little dragon roaring and fuming inside. Why not make your own sauce.... I was out of tomatoes. Why not get some tomatoes... the store is 15 minutes away. Why not use another sauce.... the other jar is impossible to open as well. Why not eat something else like bread.... the jar of marionberry spread has been sitting on the counter painfully reminding me that I have been trying to open it for a month now... the jar of jalapeƱo spread cries the same woe. Why are jars so damn female unfriendly?!!!

As an engineer and as a normal being, I've tried alllll possible methods. Twist and turn, run under hot water for ages and tilt upside down, then twist and turn, bang the head against the counter, twist the lid with a knife to release the air.... but no!! None would work. My able and efficient room mate who has always been my aid in such times, failed too... crying that her palms were bruised.

Knowing nobody in our apartment complex , we cradled the three jars in our arms and walked across the street, in search of three Indian men to aid us. On the way, we were contemplating on a back up plan... what if they aren't home? May be ask those men BBQing for help, in return for a kiss from my hot roommate?? Randomly knock on somebody's doors, two poor Indian girls with jars in their arms? But thank heavens, one of them was home and we dumped the jars on him.

He tried twisting and turning.... his face puffing and his arms trembling with the pressure, but no it wouldn't budge. He ran it under hot hot water and banged with all his might on the counter, but no it wouldn't come. I felt sorry for him... I don't understand much about men. But I do know their egos get bruised easily... especially with two girls watching them as they struggle with opening a jar. I interjected, feeling very bad and asked him to give up... "you know we should return this... this is sealed far too tight. I even tried twisting the lid with a knife to release the air, but it's so tightly jammed". At this, a bulb seemed to glow above his head, "It's air sealed! Of course!" Saying so, he took a knife and with all his fury jammed it on top of the lid, punching a triumphant hole that hissed out air and popped the lid.

You see, the 'brain' is always mightier... he was a true PhD candidate :). I also feel much better. Of course I can punch holes to open jars... that's within my capacity, and for now I can surely call myself independent... that is till the time I find a spider in the bath tub. Hmm.... it gets tricky to define 'independent'.

Monday, April 09, 2007

On a Little Garden

Cascade of black streams
Brushing twin buds of a flower.
They open and close with dew aplenty,
Perched on a long stalk.
Petals on a pink rose,
Merry leaves dancing to the breeze.
All on a little garden.

The bark of a tree,
Bearing nests for young ones to rest,
Spreading two wide branches,
Fruits to feed the hungry.
The roots hold strong,
To give shade and comfort,
All on a little garden.

The scent of the flowers,
The sound of the rustling leaves,
The taste of the fruits,
The music of the flowing streams,
The touch of the carpeted grass,
The shade of the willowy tree,
Are all that is truly me – all on a little garden.

Too good to be true??

“If someone is too good to be true, they probably are” – whoever coined this bout of wisdom, ought to know how deeply it’s ingrained in me. I don’t consider myself a pessimist, and maybe not a quixotic optimist either. But I am fairly sure that I fall somewhere in the middle. So I have sufficient belief that I don’t view the world as a dreary, black place. Yet it so happens that I always chance to meet people who evoke this gut feeling in me – “maybe too good to be true??”..

I am as averse to stereotyping as a cat is averse to dogs. And gender stereotyping has always made me breathe fumes of fury (since I have been on the receiving end). I also ‘pride’ myself on being aware and tolerant of different kinds of people, and wax poetic on the uniqueness of each individual. Yet I must admit that I find myself fitting a person into the generic template of their ‘fellow counterparts’ and frowning if the parameters extend beyond the ordinary. Worst yet, the frowning is inevitably followed by a brutal judgment – “too good to be true”. What happens after this is, me placing the unfortunate person under a metaphoric microscope to extensively analyze them, till smoke comes out of my brain. Ok, that’s an obsession I can do without. But what I can’t do without is, viewing this extremely-good-to-be-true person as a possible wolf in sheep’s clothing.

A very helpful lady once offered to carry my stuff in her jeep to my new apartment, when I was literally an alien in a new land. I was touched by her kindness, and was angered by whoever told me that people minded their business and wouldn’t offer to help strangers in a new country– that too a colored foreigner at that. I was full of gratitude to this lady whom I’d met at the community church (it’s a different story as to why I went to a church). But surprise, surprise – after a week she called me home for dinner. I go and there and see 10 other international students listening to Rev. XYZ talk about Jesus and how one needs to be Christian to go to heaven – and how much the Christian missionaries had helped poor countries like India see light and God. Hmmm…. I guess she was too good to be true.

Parents advise kids never to talk to or trust strangers. It’s extremely hard to stay truly independent in a new land, with hardly anybody you know. You are left to decide on your own instincts to trust people who come forward to help you. All the “protective” men in my life have warned me to be especially careful with a stranger who happens to be a man/guy (discrimination I agree – but it has some truth to it). When such a man portrays the impression of an impeccable gentleman, next to the ranks of Sir Gallahad (or maybe it was someone else), speaking out these idealistic statements of his impressions on life and girls, you stop and ponder. Experience would teach all girls that you need to wish on a million falling stars to meet a man who is as idealistic as every girl imagines. When you do meet such a person, it’s skepticism all over. Proof that women can be complex and very hard to please, I guess. Just because the men in my life have painted a picture of the general populace of average men, it doesn’t mean there can’t be some with all those idealistic qualities, that are deemed nonexistent by others. Have we lost hope on feelings such as genuine affection a man can have on a girl, without any undercurrent of anything more? Have we progressed to a state where a man calling another girl his sister, is laughed hysterically at, with the sheer incredulity of it?

But how do you know when a person is stretching his limit in taking you for a Miss. Softy Pie who would buy something that is totally ridiculous? How do you know he isn’t cheating and he does belong to that magic 1% when he calls you his sister? At some level it is incredible to me because no man can be so idealistically angelic. Do I really know so many men to know that for a fact? So what if my guy friends vouch that no fellow man can be so? Is their influence so strong on my thought process?

All of this just brought to light the nagging stereotyped images that really corrupt the mind and plants notions involuntarily. It’s hard to shake them off. But it’s a sad plight that gender precipitates such judgments. I earnestly discuss this with friends and close ones, and they only reiterate my beliefs. This is extremely sad. Have we lost hope on humanity that a genuinely nice and helpful person runs the risk of being looked at with a skeptical eye? Has it become so difficult for a person who is radically different to be taken seriously by others, without being compared to his native template? It is equally sad that each of us have invariably had bad experiences causing us to question such instances.

It’s ironic that we keep complaining about the absence of good will and kindness among people – but such qualities in excess seem to scare us to the extent of distrust. Being too idealistic and too perfect is equated to a mirage. I guess we have ‘progressed’ to the state of realization that some evil has to reside in all good.

Stranger in the Mirror?

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and wondered who the reflection was? Maybe not. That’s good… it’s a sign that you don’t hallucinate and see things. But the next time you do catch a glimpse of yourself, do look into the reflection’s eyes and wonder if that’s you. Would that reflection be the definition of who you are? Would that suffice?

What sound is to an instrument, is what life is to a body; just as sound defines the instrument, it’s that life within you that defines you. What is that life within you? What is that fleeting speck of life that you experience when you dream? With all your senses fast asleep, you still feel the velvety rainbow on which you walk, smell the magnolias from a far away tree, see the bright green grass, taste the soft berries, and think of it as real – and still remember the people in your life, and the exams you need to take. Scientists name it as the Subconscious. But none have been able to even fully understand consciousness, leave alone sub consciousness. Is it a term to classify those aspects of the mind that can’t be explained? A classified part of the mind that can borrow on all the senses, the consciousness and cognition to understand, reason and remember – sounds complex, almost as if explaining a little part of yourself, within yourself.

Two schools of thought exist on where thought and cognition arise from – some say it’s the “brain” and some say it’s the “heart”. What is the mind then? Supposedly, the mind is that collective expanse of consciousness and cognition that the brain supports. All average healthy adult brains are physically the same. They stimulate the same neurons that activate similar reactions stimulating the mind to mature. Then why don’t all people think the same? Environment they say. Hmm…. What about brothers and sisters? Difference in gene pool combination they say. So would it mean that how we think and what we are, is nothing but a jigsaw puzzle of various bits of genes from a multitude of ancestors, exposed to a certain type of environmental inputs? The permutation of it all is what makes us different?? Maybe so, but how we act on those acquired genes is unpredictable, and that brings about an element of uniqueness.

Isn’t it boooring to get to the bottom of so many details to know about our inner-self. In the end, it is more of an anti climax to know that our originality is but a fraction of our genetic framework and the environment in which we are brought up. What is that little fraction? It is that part of you that is truly unique, truly the definition of who you are. It is that energy which defines your presence, and makes even a tiny creation feel your presence, and distinguish you from a million other energy bundles similar to you, and it is that essence of you which people remember long after you leave them. Science has tried its best to define us. But doesn’t it become much more meaningful and far simpler when you are asked to feel your soul, when you look into the eyes of your reflection...