Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Weaker Sex??

Amongst all the jubilations and ecstatic outbursts over the freedom of Egypt from a tyrant, there was a blemish to spoil the celebrations. It was really sad to hear about a female American journalist being sexually assaulted repeatedly, before a group of women could free her. Is this the way men show their happiness and joy? It was ironic that the only way for them to enjoy their newly gained freedom was by having control over someone else's liberty.

What was worse were the reactions and statements made by some. When a woman goes through something like that, she would want nothing more than anonymity and respect of her privacy. Instead of that, she got nothing but disrespectful comments and debates on public websites like Twitter. It was some of her fellow reporters who had some ugly comments for something which she had no control over. People had a problem that her case would be given so much more importance just because she is a 'white' woman, whereas hundreds of women face the same world over and never come to the forefront because they have no voice. It is so unjustified to have a comment like that. Wronged women are just victims, they are not white, black, colored or anything else; they are just women. And it is equally sad when any of them are mistreated.

In India, where it is a taboo to talk about rape or molestation, many women never come out to talk about it, because of the fear of judgement. They fear the public scrutiny, which more often than once goes against them to hold them responsible for their fate. But, what took me by shock was, when the same things happened in a supposedly "developed" country like America. It was appalling to read irrational statements in tabloids, linking her past relationships with this incident. What a woman does in her life is her business. There is no way a horrific act can be justified by what her past has been.

We never hear of men being judged by what they wear or how they behave and then, being adjudged of deserving mistreatment. So, how come the rules are different for men and women??? During the same time, when reporters were covering the Egypt protests, two male reporters were hit and hurt badly. Why were they not judged? I did not read any comments about how they had brought this on themselves, or how their actions were responsible for the mistreatment.

We have supposed to have come a long way from the times when women had no voice, but to think of it, do women really have a voice today? Even if some women have a voice, do they have the liberty of speaking out, without being judged??? Judgement is the worst deterrent of courage and if it were not for that, things would have been a lot more easier. If a woman in a country like America, where women rights are pretty strong, had to face the wrath,  I can only imagine the fear women must go through in places, where there is no such thing as rights for women.

What was worse was when other women reporters, came out to say that all of them had faced ugly experiences. If it wasn't for the love for their job, they would not have gone back to this profession. Isn't is sad that in a time, when we give so much importance to human rights, women do not even have the freedom to chose their profession, without the fear of being aggrieved? What freedom are we talking about, when a person sometimes is kept from doing what they love, apprehending the consequences???

And do not be hasty to think that it is just this field that brings you face to face with such dangers. Women being ill-treated has got nothing to do with their jobs, what they do or what they don't. It is the twisted mindset that comes into play here and for which there have to be stricter rules. A perverted mind has to be nipped in the bud before it targets the "weaker sex". I fail to understand how something can be labelled 'weaker', when it takes nothing but exceptional strength to endure humiliation, disrespect and mockery and still champion the causes for others in need!!!

Education Vs Effort

The other day I was looking outside my window at the pretty white snow, accumulated in the parking lot, on the roads, everywhere. I was busy admiring the beauty of nature and the various forms it takes to awe us with it's fury. That is when this pretty picture was disrupted by cars breaking down and getting stuck in the snow. It is also when my eyes opened and went beyond the beauty.

However beautiful the snow looked, it did cause practical problems for everyone. And somebody had to take care of it. So, out came the snow plows, the snow blowers and all the heavy machinery. It was snowing so hard that one could hardly see across the street, it was so windy that the wind was cutting into the face like needles. Even with that, I could see maintenance workers on their snow mobiles trying to clear up as much snow as possible and getting stuck cars out into safety. Looking at all the effort they had to put in, and that too in such extreme conditions, I would think that they were really well paid. But this is only if pay was proportional to efforts. Unfortunately, today's society works in a way that skill outweighs mechanical labor.

It is sad to see that jobs requiring the highest amount of labor and physical strength, often pay the least. Because, according to some, those jobs don't require skill. Some of the riskiest jobs pay you just enough to sustain a family. No wonder, most of the youth aspire to become an engineer, or an accountant. Nobody aspires to be a fireman, or a maintenance worker or even an armed forces officer. Those who do, are great men with exceptional mental strength and grit. Because all of these jobs are either risky or involve a lot of physical labor and are not as rewarding as one would expect them to be.

So, how is the pay scale come up with, would be my first thought. How much menial work would be equivalent to talent and knowledge??? A lot of people work extra hours to get that extra income, and still do not earn as much as an engineer. How many hours would they have to put in, to deserve a good pay? I understand that education is being given importance and is considered to be an asset for high-paying jobs, and rightly so. But that does not give us the right to ignore the efforts put in for the less-paying jobs.

It is a known fact that college teachers are much well-paid as compared to kindergarten teachers. Now, any person who is sane, can obviously see which of the two requires more work. It becomes difficult for parents to manage their own children and yet a person who is taking care of 20 such kids, has their worth go unnoticed. I can only imagine how much stamina and patience such a job would require. As opposed to which, a college teacher has much more responsibility in terms of assignments and what not. But, she has the privilege of mental peace. And yet she gets paid more.

So are we saying that the only thing valued today is education and skill? If so, why can't we take better measures to make everybody aware of the worth and benefits of education??? In a country like America, there are all grades of people and every job is appreciated, but it is also true that appreciation cannot feed you. In a capitalist society like ours, it takes much more than appreciation to make lives better. It takes a better education, value addition and self-growth to make you survive the rat race for a better paid job. But has anyone thought, that the whole process of acquiring knowledge also requires a lot of money and that is where some are left behind unwillingly. It then becomes a vicious cycle. You will not have a whole bunch of money in your future, because you didn't have it in the beginning. So where does this end??

I think every person should be entitled to a good education and should be made aware of the perks, so that they can make a wise decision. And having said so, there will always be people who take care of the more exerting jobs, because if they didn't, we would have to do those ourselves. So, next time you see someone who makes your life easy by making theirs tougher, be sure to thank them. Appreciation surely cannot feed the stomach, but can feed the heart and bring a smile to faces. And sometimes, it is a happy heart that goes a longer way than anything else.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Need for High Entropy!!!

"Want perfect hair?", "What is the secret to a perfect marriage?", "The Perfect man/woman"...
Do you see how much focus is given to perfection these days and the idea of perfect?
Models strive to possess that perfect body, most people are in search for the perfect job, others are looking to attain the perfect life. But, isn't all that relative???

When women are flaunting their beautiful hair for the 'perfect' hair products, the hair type varies between straight or wavy, short or long, and these days there is a wide range of hair colors too. So who is to say, which one, amongst the so many depicted, is perfect? And is there really anything called as perfect???

This may come as a shock to the many people who know me and classify me as a borderline case of perfectionism and uptightness. But, I truly have started thinking of perfect in a different light. It took me quite sometime to understand that, when I expect something to be done a certain way, I can expect that only of myself and nobody else, because their definition of perfect is different and they are fulfilling it. For others, my perfect might not be good enough. So, why bother thinking about perfection so much? Why can't we have enjoy the imperfections too???

If everybody were to have a perfect marriage, imagine how boring and monotonous, daily life would be. Disagreements and arguments add spice to life, and make everyday a little different from the previous one. We look at the absolutely happy and smiling families and wish we could be more like them, but maybe they want to be more like us. Maybe they are tired of being the picture of joy and want to be the 'real picture'. We can never know what perfect means to different people. But, one thing I know for sure is that nature wanted us to be imperfect. If I remember some of my physics correctly, every particle in nature is supposed to tend towards higher entropy, which in the layman's terms, means that every particle moves towards a higher level of randomness.

So, my thought is, if every small particle was intended to behave accordingly, it would definitely be expected of humans, made up of so many little particles, to work towards disorder!!! Why waste energy in being perfect, when you were meant to be whimsical??? The fun part of life is all the craziness that being imperfect, entails.

Just yesterday, I was driving on a road with no bumps, no potholes, no honking and cars moving at a designated speed maintaining a perfect line. This is like heaven for drivers in so many countries, where driving is an adventure in itself. Can't say much about other countries, but just from my 8 years of driving in India, I can say that driving in the United States is much less taxing and exhausting as opposed to the feats we would have to perform in India, just to report for work. But, somehow, when there was utter silence around me and I could hear the sound of my own breath, I felt uncomfortable. I missed the horns, the stray animals coming in the way of traffic whenever they wanted, cows camping up right in the middle of the road, pedestrians and cyclists considering themselves kings of the roads, appearing out of nowhere and everybody else trying to win in the race to outrun everybody else. I missed the chaos. Where was the thrill? Not that thrill is always good, it could be dangerous too. But, those are the entropy levels, my body particles are used to and they are confused now, as to what I want of them: orderly behavior or the innate chaos!

I am not saying that we should stop trying to be better, but don't consider that the only important thing in life. Because, life is going to try to throw in some obstacles and create ataxia, so, put up a fight for achieving what you believe is organized and proper. Don't think too much about perfection, because imperfections were expected of us and we will be tested time and again for it. Embrace the disorder for a moment and start your uphill task of being the 'perfect you', rather than be the 'perfect copy' of someone else.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's with Indians and 'foreigners'???

The other day me and my husband were enjoying 'bhel puri" and other tempting Indian snacks, when we saw an American couple come in to try some Indian food. They had been to this restaurant before too, but for lunch buffets, so this was their first time where they had to pick and chose for themselves. So, they requested for whatever best they could gauge from the descriptions. Now, the biggest question for them, when the food came in, was to decide how to eat the food. What went with what??? The owner there was kind enough to demonstrate as to what should be eaten how.

I was pretty happy to see them helped, because that is how I would want to be treated if I was in  their place. But, then the following sequence of events bothered me. The helper went out of his way, to get them extra plates, spoons and everything else. He was literally at their beck and call, whereas the policy there is that you have to get up and get everything you need yourself. So why the exception???

What I did not understand was whether it was out of kindness or this undying will, a lot of  Indians have, to please 'foreigners' (thats how they are known back in India). If it was an act of kindness, it is good to see people helping others. But, the fact that the other customers were completely ignored, showed me that it was something more than kindness.

It is amazing how history has an effect on so many things. For a long time, we knew of Western countries to be developed and thought of ourselves as underdeveloped, or in recent years, developing. So, many many years back, we thought of Westerners to be privileged and those in contact with them, automatically gained a place of importance. But, so many things have changed since then. India is leading the race for development, Indians are doing well world over and have made a name for themselves in fields of intellect, art, creativity and every other field you could think of. Then why do we still feel the need to get approved?

There have been so many times in India, when I see 'foreigners', as they are known in India, being given extra attention. I mean just this time, when I was on my way back from India, I saw some Kiwis on the airport, ready to go back home, after following their cricket team all over India. And the way they were offered free coffee and stuff just shocked me. I was almost ready to go upto the coffee vendor and ask what I had done wrong, not to deserve free coffee. But I already knew the answer.

So why do we really have that urge to impress Westerners??? If we were just making them comfortable, that would speak about our hospitality, but bending over backwards for them would just say that we are spineless.

And if it is about being foreigners being treated favorably, then we, as non-Americans would be foreigners in the USA and we are never treated with extra attention. I never see any Americans running around, to get us a cup of coffee, or to please us with their behavior. The thought itself is hilarious, to imagine Westerners feeling the need to impress us. And if you go by the dictionary meaning, we definitely are foreigners, people from a foreign land.

Then what is the difference? There is one bright possibility that Americans have gotten so used to seeing so many Indians, that they no longer consider as foreigners. But, I don't think even when there weren't many Indians here, we were given privileges. So, why can't people in India do the same? Why are we still so amused when we see Western tourists in India? It has a lot to do with history and the stereotype portrayals, I think.

India was oppressed by Western countries for a long time and even later we did not have a voice on the global map, until recently. Those conditions made us strive harder to prove to the world our capabilities. Everybody was working hard to earn a good name for their motherland and somehow, we needed the approval of the big guns, as they were known then.

What we need to accept and understand is that, it is a new era now. Everybody knows India for the great success stories and exemplary achievers. We have proven our worth globally and made the world take notice of us in a big way. Then what are we waiting for? Why are we still stuck with the age-old notions?? I say, we should shake those feelings out, and realize our worth. Being hospitable and having no self-respect are two very different things. Indians are known for their hospitality, so we should stick to that, but anything beyond that is sheer ignorance to the fact India has proved it's mettle. This fact itself is impressive and we should not be required to impress anyone else. Isn't the new age about treating everyone equally? Globalization in it's true sense will take form, when there would be no such thing as foreigners due to the high numbers of cross-overs. That is the day I look forward to, where nobody needs to impress anybody and everybody is just paid the due acknowledgment, for forwarding the cause of humanity!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cookie bags and much more!!!

It was on a flight, that the person next to me asked me about how I met my husband and how was it that we married so young. That is when I told her that we had known each other since school. And of course, she had questions like, "How long did you date?", "Did you date a lot of other people before you got committed?". To all of which, I tried explaining the dating scene in India. A little while back, there was no such thing as dating. Most of the marriages were arranged by the family. And even if it was a love marriage, so to say, you could not dilly-dally, you would pick one person and when you ask them out, it generally would be for long term. And even before you knew, parents, cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles and everybody you knew would be in the picture. So, you would be left with no choice but to start planning your wedding. Also, the courtship period would preferably be kept as short as possible, because parents would be worried about the fact that either of the partners would lose interest. After listening to all of this, with a bit of shock, my neighbor, if I can call her that, said "Sometimes, it is good not to have choices".

Such a simple statement, but it was like all of sudden, a bell rang in my head. It is so true. If you come to think of it, our parents made sense. When you start off in the courtship period, everything is rosy. Who doesn't love the attention, romance and sweet-nothings! And of course, everybody showcases the best in them. It is only when you are with each other long enough to get comfortable and  to be who you really are, the real problem begins. It is close to impossible that you like everything in every person and you get a perfect person built out of the mould you have imagined. Then what do you do? Do you keep running away, bouncing from one person to another until you realize that there is no such thing as perfect? And it is possible that it is too late by then. That is where I think, our parents use their experience for us. And I am in complete favor of them being involved in everything, so that couples are answerable to someone. The fact that courtships are short curtail the straying eye, and tie you down before you can explore more choices.

I do not say that there should be no options at all. I would prefer it if all the options were weighed out, before the decision was made. And some may disagree to this. But try looking at it this way, you are in a grocery store. And you want to get cookies, some may even know which specific flavor to get. But once you are in the cookie section, and you are swamped with hundreds of options. Now, most of us would even forget what we came for. And some of us might have a change of flavor and get something completely different!!! When you get back home, and calm down from the excitement of so many options, you might notice how much unnecessary stuff was bought. Somethings that you really don't like, but you just got excited and got them. Now isn't that wrong???

Also, look at this scenario. Next time you reach the cookie isle, you don't want to have your regular coconut, but some exotic flavor like hazelnut or something. You bring it home, by the evening no longer in the mood for hazelnut. What is one supposed to do, return the half-opened bag? I don't think that is possible. So why can't we look at relationships like cookie bags? It is human to want different things at different times, but how you work best around what you already know is working for you, is the trick.

Me and my husband had so many disagreements the first year, that it almost seemed impossible to even look at each other. But, once we realized that the choices were made by us, knowing that those would work well for us, things were easier. We waited for our sudden impulsive want of something irregular to pass, and worked past our disagreements, to realize that most of the times, our original choice was really what we wanted and what made us happy.

I try to look at life with the same attitude, the fewer the options the better it is. Does brand A really give you exceptionally better results than brand B? Once you know what your basic requirement is and if that purpose is being met, you can walk by it, enjoy the view and not stress over what could be, rather focus on what is great about what you have!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

40$ a week

How many of us could imagine a life with 40$ a week? And I am saying this, with respect to just the basic needs, not including the luxuries, of course. I don't think many of us can.

You might think of why I chose the figure of 40, but there is a reason to it. A new reality show called "Secret Millionaire" is going to air soon. I don't know how successful the show will be. But I sure liked the idea of millionaires being able to see what 70% of the world lives like. The idea is to allot 40$ to every millionaire and send them away to localities where people really live under such conditions. It is interesting to see the emotional trauma a lot of them go through due to the living conditions. Some are upset due to the lack of hygiene, whereas others worry about eating healthy food. And it makes you think that even such basic needs become luxuries, when you have to ration your resources and plan for the next day.

I have seen people worry about the future, pondering over if they have enough savings or not. But when you look at some people, you realize that one day at a time is the only future they can afford to think of. It is a very disheartening but real truth of our society today; the cheapest things are the unhealthiest. Do you think when you are on a budget, you would splurge on exotic fruits and vegetables, just because they are healthy or will you find something cheap that just fills your stomach??? That is the problem, everybody talks about lack of exercise and how not to get obese. But are the big companies thinking about what they are forcing people to eat??? I don't think so. The cheapest food is bought from fast food joints, that are famous for being unhealthy. So what should people do? I don't think health should be a luxury, and if it is, we are seriously heading in the wrong direction. Things are only going to get worse from here.

I haven't even started talking about the medicines and healthcare products. If you look at the cost of basic medicines for minor ailments like cold, headaches, etc., there is no way a 40$ budget could fit that. Who is to decide that which people deserve healthcare and which don't? It is a sobering thought and the deeper I delve into this, I am surrounded by darkness and grief as to what I did to deserve a good life, as compared to some others.

If I concentrated on that, this topic would be aimless and it would be better just to stop here. But that is not what I want to do. I want to mobilize myself and maybe others as to what can be done. Everybody can't always help others monetarily, whatever constraints they may have, but you can always share your time and use it to benefit others. A lot of the organizations that help people in need, are not as short of money , as they are for volunteers. A lot of the times, sorrow and grief can be lessened by just somebody to hold your hand, smile with you and share your thoughts. A deficient heart is more painful than a deficient stomach. Everybody needs hope, and that is one thing that doesn't cost money. Spreading cheer and hope could be the easiest way to help out others in need.

Instead of feeling guilty later, I would want to look back and proudly say that I could help someone. And it doesn't have to be a lot, even if you help one person, you get back so much from that. I want to start with one person at a time. I want to try, that even if health and medicine have become luxuries, smiles and hope don't. Some years back, I was naive enough to want to be very rich and successful, so that I could give more. But over the years, I have realized that however rich a person becomes, their needs increase proportionally. Charity cannot be weighed in terms of money, it has to be weighed as a matter of the heart. Only then, can we start channeling our thoughts in the right direction. It was 2 ladies Ellen and Helen who run an organization called "Love Kitchen" and feed almost 2000 people, who remarked that love could be in the form of food, a smile or a hug. That struck a chord with me and I saw that you just have to be ready to give what the other person needs, and for that you don't always have to be rich.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What do you see in it???

Over the weekend, I visited a very famous art gallery and as soon as I stepped in, the first art form took me by shock. It was an artistic alignment of the human body parts. The artist was maybe trying to convey the beauty in death or life or I don't even know if he was trying to bring out beauty at all.

You know, artists are a strange bunch. They depict what their vision is, it necessarily need not be beautiful or soothing to the eye or pleasant. It is just something that catches their eye and they want to translate into art as their own perception. At least this is what I understand of them, but in lieu of the fact, that I did not understand any of the art at this abstract and modern art gallery, I am not much of an artist and I should not be commenting about how their minds work.

One thing I can comment about though, is the thought process of the common man, when they come across something as eclectic as this. The first thought that would come to our mind is 'what do they really see in this?'. Which leads to a string of thoughts, like what could have been the inspiration behind it or what makes them different from us that they see beauty and we draw a blank. If you are expecting me to give answers for this, thats not going to happen, remember how I told you about knowing nothing about such art.

Then you might think why I am wasting everybody's time and what am I trying to achieve by talking about it? It is just the perception of the common man on anything that deviates from what normal is supposed to be. We talk about artists being eccentric; great poets and musicians being unfathomable; scientists being geeky and what not.

So what is the norm, to not be successful, to move with the crowd, nod when everyone nods, applaud when everyone does? I don't know what it is supposed to be, but that is how it seems to work. But the biggest truth is that everybody feels they are 'normal' until that one little thing about them gets discovered. Till yesterday, I thought I was normal and I didn't understand why people had such unusual taste like weird art. But today when a friend exclaimed that he didn't get why people wasted all their lives studying about the birth and explosion of stars or the existence of some old dinosaur in some difficult-to-pronounce age, I realized that maybe I was not normal. Because, as embarrassed I was to admit it then, I did get it, I could understand how someone could get so fascinated by mystifying facts and be completely engulfed by it.

Am I not normal then? Now until yesterday, my husband was not normal because he gets excited with sci-fi movies and he imagines a world with regular time-travel and what not. But today, neither am I normal. So what's normal anyways??? What is the standard everybody is running by??? To think of it, I really can't bring myself  to point at set of rules that say this is what is expected.

To be eccentric or weird or whatever else people term it as, you need a goal. A goal that drives you towards it. A passion to understand something and reach that place where you can see everything clearly and where it doesn't matter what the world sees you as. I have come to realize that you set the norm for yourself. I see myself thinking about cures for cancer and I feel it is completely normal for everyday people to be lost in that thought, but it's not. Other people may find innovations in designing clothes a dream come true, but not me.

So does it allow me to call them abnormal? I don't think so, I can say for sure that I don't see what interests them, but that's all. If you really think about it, it is the other people not getting what you do that makes it exciting, It is the challenge that attracts you to it and that makes you different from everybody else. You might have others who share the same 'abnormality', but no two people can be similar enough to be excited by exactly the same aspect of the subject and that is what keeps us from becoming clones of each other. The universe is big enough and replete with minute details to fascinate someone, but be bland to someone else. Isn't that the biggest thrill of it all: everyone gets to have an obsession of their own. And that is something everyone will agree to possess, something that makes all of us 'normal'!!!!

Share the love!!!

On Valentine's Day, what else could I be thinking about, but love? I was thinking about the kind of love that I recently saw in the eyes of a young kid. And I was amused to see that love for a four-legged creature, a golden retriever with the most expressive eyes ever. It was my first time witnessing a "read with animals" event. And I completely fell in love with that idea.

I had heard about pets being therapeutic and motivational, but witnessing it was an altogether different experience. I could see how much the kids enjoyed reading stories to the dogs, and I don't know if it was just a figment of my imagination, but I could see the dogs reciprocating as though asking questions and nudging on the children to go on for more. I saw a Poodle relaxing and almost getting ready to sleep after what must have felt to her as a bedtime story! It was amazing how the dogs calmed the children and vice versa. I found it to be a very productive channeling of kids' energy. This is such good way of sensitizing children to these lovable creatures and to teach kids to give back the unconditional love they get back from animals.

Not just kids, I have seen people with terminal diseases leading a more cheerful life due to the presence of spirit-uplifting dogs. It is amazing how many things a dog can be. It can be a good listener, when you want to pour out your heart; it can be a mood-uplifter, when you need a few smiles; it can just look back at you with serene eyes and bring calmness to you; and most important it can make you feel wanted and loved, when you need a family the most.

Not everybody is lucky to have a family or loved ones with them, but I believe everybody can change their luck by just taking shelter in the warmth of an animal. It is just one loving stroke of yours that could get you a friend for life. And a friend, you will never regret having. My father being a veterinarian, I grew up around animals, and it was very early on in life, that I realized the good effect of pets. If I thought my parents were being unfair in scolding or punishing me, it was these pets who would listen everything about how I was right. And the best part was, that they were never judgemental.  They didn't care if I was right or wrong; as long as I was there for them, they loved me back with everything they had. When I look back on my childhood and even the kind of person I am today, I think it has got to do a lot with being around animals. All those days when I was upset, they helped me vocalize and talk about it, they looked back at me with soothing eyes telling me everything would be alright. And for all those days, I know today that things are not always going to go my way, but I have to talk it out and make it better. Keeping it inside me would have made things worse and who knows, I might have ended up being an angry person!!!

I could go on and on about the "things I learnt from my dog", but nothing exemplifies this better than a success story. Recently I came across a NGO, that works with homeless children and abused dogs. And it has worked wonders for both the parties involved. What a wonderful way to turn the hurt into love and appreciation for all living forms? I think this program is a success because the children could relate to the dogs and extend support for them. The kids get a purpose, a reason to feel wanted and with the dogs, they make a happy family, just the thing everybody needs to make the healing process easy and fast.

I have seen guardian dogs give their owners everything they have; love, care, strength, support and many other little things, only people with guardian dogs could describe. And though every dog does not wear a badge labeling it as a guardian, my personal belief is that your dog is like your guardian angel, watching over you for weak moments and being there for you to fall back on. This is one love if you invest in, that will pay off for sure and enrich your life on the whole. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Second Chance

How many of us in life wish for a second chance, to prove ourselves, to do better at something we desperately wish for, or maybe go back in time and erase our wrongdoings??? I think every single one of us. And now, let us think of it in this way, how many of us are ready to give others a second chance to do any of the above??? Not many, I think.

That is the biggest flaw of human nature; we want to be trusted, but when it comes to others, one mistake is enough to make the person untrustworthy. India is known to be a soft nation, forgiving criminals, terrorists and antisocial elements, by keeping the sentence term as minimal as possible. But, that is not the second chance I am talking about. People committing petty crimes or even having served sentence for a while are never looked at the same way. Their existence in the society becomes taboo. Nobody wants to employ them, nobody wants to befriend them or even be acquainted to them. So should these people be given a second chance?

If someone was on the suffering side due to the person in question, their answer would be a blatant no, and understandably so. But, if you were to look at it from a neutral perspective or even put yourself in their shoes, wouldn't you want to know what caused the error in judgement? I would, because I know it is human to make mistakes and expect everything to be taken care of. I would want to know what caused that person to act in unacceptable ways. And this I say, when it is a genuine mistake. I would not like to be in the shoes of people who feel no regret for their actions.

I had read about Dr. Kiran Bedi running social development programmes for inmates and providing them with  vocational training to be able to sustain themselves once they are released. For that, and for many other reasons, I have great respect for such a strong and visionary lady. I can never forget what she said, in her address a couple of years back. She questioned how much the empowerment would be really worth, if the society was not ready to employ the inmates and give them a second chance? And that thought has lingered on in my mind for a long time.

It was only put to rest, when I realized that a lot of the prisons here run a programme for inmates with minimal criminal offence. They refer to these inmates as "Productive Day Workers" and these people are assigned jobs at different union firms like libraries, museums, etc. They are given designated shifts and are paid for it, so that they can gather some money for when they are released. I know of such internal ventures in Indian prisons too. But, the fact that Productive Day Workers are given an experience certificate, helps them to procure a job later.

I really value and appreciate the thought behind giving them this second chance. A chance to live life normally, to right their wrongs, to repent and to be a better person. The Productive Day Worker at my workplace said that he was charged with drunken driving and has ever since regretted it. It was one night of miscalculated moves, which luckily did not harm anyone. And that made me think, how many of us have had a weak moment where we could have done some wrong? Would we not want people to forgive us, to give us a chance to prove that we are really better than that??? Life rarely gives people second chances, as to making a mistake and not having to face a regrettable consequence. But when it does, who are we to stop them from using this chance to their benefit.

We have to think of where that person is coming from , what he/she went through to come to that point. And maybe then, we would have a better perception of their actions. And to our shock, if we thought in depth about it and applied the same conditions to us, we might find ourselves doing the same things. Give it a thought, what would you want society to do for you then??? Give you a second chance or maybe make you bitter enough to go against them (once more).........

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Recycled thoughts!

What I love about being in the United States is the fact that I can give back to nature. How, a lot of people would be wondering. I mean America is known for their wastage and overuse of plastics, cans, and almost all resources. However late it maybe, they have realized the importance of recycling and minimizing the use of such non-degradable products.

It just amazes me at how many efforts they put into making their community go green. They could have stopped using plastics completely (like we did in India), but they exerted more to find a solution to the damage caused and the foreseen damage due to their actions in the future.That is something I like about the mindset here; they don't cut off their luxuries, because it might cause a problem, they just go one step ahead and find a solution. I don't know if that is the right way, but it is certainly better than ignoring the issue altogether. It is good to see people take responsibility for their actions.

My workplace has almost 50 bins, each assigned to recycling either paper, plastics or cans. I thought people here were obsessed with going green, but it has brought a sense of awareness within me as well. Today, before throwing anything in the trash, I think for a minute if it can be recycled. The best part is that you at least have the infrastructure to be able to save the earth. But, it hurts when people in India want to do something and are limited due to the resources. It is not like they don't think of minimizing wastage. If you come to think of it, selling papers to the "raddiwala" is nothing but a way of recycling!!!

And you know, it is not like I am being introduced to the concept of recycling and saving the resources for the first time too, but you have to have that one moment of sudden realization, when you feel you owe something to the society. For me, I did have the realization, but didn't know how. It was one little message in a cafe' that showed me how a simple step could make a big difference.Next to a stack of tissue papers, it said "This paper was made from a tree" and that's it. No instructions, no public awareness announcement, just a plain fact. But that stopped me in my tracks. Just like that, I had found a way to channel my thoughts in the right direction.

I think I am a better person for it today and I am trying to spread the message wherever I can. I am not thinking of changing the world or anything, just the communities around me. Because change happens one step at a time.

People say, "You should take care of the environment to preserve it for the next generation", but let's be honest, the way things are going, nature may not stay the way it is, even for when we grow old. So, don't do it for anyone else, but at least for you, because let us accept it, it's only a handful that put the needs of others above their own. I would say, be selfish and think about your comfort, but not just for today, plan for your future too!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Should Egypt thank Mark Zuckerberg???

For 18 days, the whole world was looking at just one country, the media moguls were caught up with just one man, but the common man was busy tweeting or facebooking (if thats what you call it), relaying their pent-up anger across the world. This revolt touched all corners of the world and struck a chord with the oppressed human spirit inside everyone.

This day made me think about a lot of people, Mahatma Gandhi for one and the more surprising person, Mark Zuckerberg. If the Mahatma was alive today, he would have been pleased to see the flag of non-violence soaring high, and that too in a country where he didn't introduce it.

And I am sure Mr. Zuckerberg must be proud to claim that the revolt kicked off on facebook. Even before the actual revolt took form in terms of protests, it had already gained momentum on facebook with people conveying  their intentions and inspiring many others to take the roads. So much so, that the only way out for the government was to cut down the internet and complete access to SNS. But by then, the damage had been done. 

It would be wrong to attribute the success of the uprising to facebook and twitter, but it will also be difficult to ignore their presence in the roots of the rebuke. Words can inspire the soul, but it is a waste where there is no courage. It was the undying courage of the commoners that they could say "Enough is enough". Mark Zuckerberg just provided them with a platform to express their views. 

That is the great thing about SNS. Almost a decade ago, you had to be powerful, rich or famous to be heard or talked about. But today, twitter, facebook and blogging has given people that via media to express themselves. And a lot of the times, they get noticed by eminent people. Even if they don't, the feeling of oppression is less felt, when you have a voice that can go across and be acknowledged by others.

Facebook might have started as a way to keep college students in touch, help them realize their fantasies in the form of virtual games; but it has unknowingly taken form as a significant dais for the youth and their aspirations. The constant urge to be updated and in touch with what's happening has brought the world closer than ever. Internet may be the most breakthrough invention, but it is SNS that has changed the face of human interaction across the globe. The fact that Ghosni tweeted as soon as he was released, speaks volumes about the preferred method of keeping people informed. The information and broadcasting industry is witnessing a change like never before. 

Mark Zuckerberg was rightly named "Person of the Year" by TIME for the sheer genius of his invention, but is he responsible for Egypt winning back its freedom? Not many would think so. It is a great day for Egypt and it is a day to be celebrated for the triumph of the human spirit. No one can take away the credit from the Egyptian people and Mr. Zuckerberg can just revel in the glory of being in the public eye AGAIN!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

I smell something.....

It's amazing how many smells we come across just in a single day. Savory food smells, the scent of a hundred and one perfumes (not that all of them are good-smelling), the antiquated smell of old books or for that matter anything that your nose can pick up.

Another thing that surprises me is the way our brains are wired to the smells we encounter. In many ways, we are very similar to Pavlov's dogs!!! For those wondering what those are; these dogs responded to a bell by salivating, because over time, they had realized, that the bell was followed by food!! It is interesting that a human being during the course of his lifetime becomes conditioned to different things and reacts to it based on his previous encounters.

I realize that a lot of people will not like being compared to a dog and would be like "SO whats your point?". To them I ask, how many of them have smelt home-cooked meals and been reminded of their mothers or their childhood homes or just their childhood for that matter??? I have, and I think always will be. And for someone who has an extremely strong sense of smell, I would say it is difficult for me to stay in the real world, because every time I smell something, I am transported to that time and place of life. Just yesterday my one of my coworkers used a mango scented hand lotion, and I was already thinking about the hot Indian summer. I closed my eyes just for a minute and believe me when I say, that I was back to my childhood, visualizing the mango juice dripping down our chins and the huge mango stains on all our summer dresses. I could envision my mother and aunts enjoying the pickling process for raw mangoes. It was a few minutes before I realized where I was. And its not just mangoes, if you think I am obsessed with them. 

Everybody knows how it rains in India and how the monsoons are. No matter how much we crib about the flooding and the potholes, no one can deny saying that the first drop of rain on the dry, scorching ground smells like heaven. It is that first rain of the season that leaves you with a refreshing aroma of wet soil. I had never thought that I would be cliched enough to talk about "apne desh ki mitti ki khushboo", but i can't help being reminded of those wonderful rainy days, whenever I smell dust and soil getting wet. Those days enjoying "chat, bhutta, samosa and yaari-dosti at the chai ki tapri". Although, I will admit that its not the same here, since there isn't a speck of dirt, and for once, I have longed and longed for dust, just to experience that exhilarating feeling of a drop of rain on dusty grounds.

Now that I have proven beyond doubt that I have an overly sensitive nose, I think I have said enough to prove my point. I think life is all about stopping to 'smell the roses' as many people say, or for me "just stop to inhale the wonderful smells" and make wonderful memories out of it. Because years later, when you have forgotten all about that moment, it will be that smell which will take you down memory lane and give you that warm, fuzzy feeling of being a child, of being young again, of being surrounded by family, friends or just your countrymen. So, next time you visit a library, enjoy the smell of old, yellowing  pages; or next time you open a new book, take a moment to soak in the fresh smell of new ink on paper; and it will be sure to take you back to your childhood when getting new books, brown paper and labels was like an event for the family. Enjoy the little joys in life and the bigger issues will automatically fade away, with the scent of happiness, if I may say so!!! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Whats my profession???

Do you remember that time when you were 18 and you had to make that huge decision of what you were going to do for the rest of your life? I don't.... it seems like such a long time ago.

But what I clearly remember is not being sure. When you are 18, the world seems like a plethora of opportunities; it is a bright, happy arena where everybody is successful, satisfied and happy. And then a few years pass by, and you get a blow in your face " Hard luck champ, life is not as rosy as it seemed".

Lets backtrack a few years and think. Every little child is asked who they want to be when they grow up. Parents get them the toys and see children emulate their grown-up jobs. I mean, how is the kid expected to take his career seriously if he started off looking at it as his entertainment!!!

And you know, what is so great about that stage is the fact that it is just role play; you could be whoever you want, whenever you want. It is not monotonous like real jobs. You don't have to go through the soporific routines day in and day out. If you come to think of it, no job is boring by itself, but too much of anything is dangerous.

That is what happens to all of us....we go through the drills, get the job, slog as much as it takes to get the perks, and just when you are about to retire, realize that this is completely different from your imaginary childhood job. That is a scary thought. No one wants to have regrets in life and everybody wants to look back with satisfaction. So what do you do to get that?

Do you find satisfaction in your work or do you work towards being satisfied??? This is the biggest dilemma for me....

I mean I could pretend that I am satisfied and then come face to face with reality a few years later, pining over wrong decisions, thinking why I didn't do something when I had the time. Or I could try to find that child in me today, do something new everyday and enjoy the tingling sense of not knowing what is coming next. I believe there are multiple facets to every person and there are so many things to learn and do, that a single lifetime isn't enough. Then why not explore your real dream, your true profession, the explorer, the wanderer? One of my friends looked at a 'Books to read before you die' list and commented, "There are so many books out there to read, that I cannot die anytime soon".

That is when I realized, I will not be happy with what I have; that is the minimalist's outlook. Everyday I want more from life, and for that I am going to put in more. Not much might change with  my job, but a lot will change my outlook. After all, it is just a job and once thats done, I can be whatever I want. I could be a skydiver, an author, have an ice-cream shop, or whatever else my imagination concocts!!! And that is when I will not have to go back in time to think if I made the right choices. That's when I will not have to think about what my profession is, because I would have known by then that my profession is to set more milestones and enjoy the ride trying to reach there.

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