Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How much attachment?

A lot of the times, I think about how the human brain works. When we talk about 'mind, body and soul', which part of us are we really referring to as 'mind'? Is it the heart, the brain or something in between? The reason I am thinking about all this is because I want to know which part is responsible for developing emotions and nurturing them. Is it your brain directing you, because science says all your thoughts come from your brain. And the heart really is an organ for pumping blood. So why is it called heartache, when we don't know where these feelings are stemming from?

I still do not know what brings these strong feelings on, but I can say that sometimes they are really overpowering and can control a lot of aspects of your life. Just recently, me and my husband started looking for new apartments to move in and believe me, we must have seen almost every apartment place in the area, which must be at least 50. We even went a little away from our focus and started dreaming of having a bigger home. But, no matter how good the apartment was or how reasonable the rent was, once we came back home to our little 'home', nothing looked good enough for it. We went through this hunt for over a month, yet to no avail. At that point, all we wished for was to have an apartment in the same complex. You see, we have a single bedroom apartment and we were wanting to move into a two-bedroom. And each day, we explored new options for other places, yet in our heart of hearts, we wished hard to get a two-bedroom in the same complex.

What we had not really given a thought then, was the fact that even if we did find a house in the same vicinity, would it erase the uneasiness of moving into a new place? As we would soon realize, it would definitely not. We were lucky enough to get a call from our apartment system a week back and they said there was something we should have a look at. We went over to the office and couldn't believe how lucky we had gotten. The apartment was a perfect match for us; it had the same view, was much bigger, had an extra window and was sun-facing, which I loved. There was nothing in there, not to love. We looked at the apartment and knew without even talking to each other, that both of us would want to move in to this apartment for sure. We could hardly contain our excitement and started thinking about moving into the new place.

But a weird thing happened that night. I could not sleep at all, and images of the house started flashing in my mind. My journey of doubt began, I was not sure if we really should move into the house and I urged to see the house again. As soon as I stepped into the house, I started finding faults and flaws with the house and was not very happy with the house. My husband seemed to be fine. And when I asked him what he thought about moving in, he thought it was the perfect apartment and we shouldn't miss the chance. Then what was wrong with me?

And then it struck me? All these days, there was really nothing wrong with any of the apartments we had seen. It was my attachment with our first house that kept pulling me back. You have to face the fact that no two houses can ever be exactly the same. Yet we kept modelling our search on our present home, which of course was futile. Even when we found the closest match to our home, I thought there was something wrong. And it is not like our home had exceptional features. Had it not been already selected for me by my husband, I might not even have liked it as much. But, right now I loved it. I loved even the weird little oddities which could seem as hindrances to some, like the icicles in our window. And all this would be missing in the new place. No wonder, the house felt alien to me!!!

So how much attachment is acceptable and when does it become unhealthy? Do you ignore other considerations and only think about your emotions? And why isn't the brain stopping you from taking these decisions? Now, every time I look at out home, I think of what we are going to miss in the new house. I want to soak it in as much as possible. And as the moving day nears, I have to make myself tougher. I know I am not the only one having to move, there are so many who have to change houses often. Then how do they do it? Maybe, I have issues with letting go. I had them when I first moved to America, I did not want to let go off India and my home there. And today I don't want to let go off my abode. People say it is a blessing to have emotional strings and it helps to express your real self. But this attachment pains me and gives me restless hours. It is now that I wish I was not so vulnerable, because change is inevitable.

The way I look at it, you have to find ways to channel your attachments in a healthy way to handle change. And you don't always have to make a clean cut, but have to learn to carry a part of it with you and collate it with your new endeavors. I know I will miss this house and the times spent here, but I can look forward to recreating those in the new house and make it a home. All along, we were looking at houses and hoping for them to be homes. But, what I did not realize was,  it is people who make a home, not windows, closets or bigger rooms. My husband said the sweetest thing to me the other day, when I was in tears over having the moving day so close. He kept telling me it was going to be okay and said "I am sure you would make the new house a wonderful home, just the way you did for this." That motivates me to move on and embark on the sweet challenges of setting up a new home and bringing life to it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Driving Mania

Two days back, I stepped out of my break room for lunch, while at work and hoping to have a refreshing lunch with my husband, started walking towards the car.

A loud noise, as if a tire had burst; the sound of metal hitting and being shattered; the screeching sound of brakes and the sound of somebody being asked if they were alright, stopped me in my tracks. I was not prepared for what I saw next. It was a big truck overturned and tipped over, with its driver side hit really bad. There was a smashed car in the wrong lane, which stopped just in time to avoid the oncoming traffic. It was a split second in which all this happened and I could not wrap my mind around it. I thought I should maybe call 911, but I just froze. This was the first time I saw a crash so closely and it shook me.

But, there were others who were faster in their responses. And I saw a lady literally jump out of her car, with a cell phone in her hand, running to the tipped truck, and kept asking the driver if he was alright. I was listening to her intently and I heard "No" twice. I was scared and had goosebumps all over me. What would happen now, how serious were the injuries of the person, was he/she going to be alright? To answer all these questions and to take care of the situation, it was within a span of 5 minutes, that all the emergency vehicles arrived on the spot. The police, ambulance, fire engines, everybody was there. And yet they could not get the person out. To complicate issues, there was gasoline leaking out of the tank and had surrounded the vehicle. The impending task at hand was to take care of that, to prevent any chance of fire.

I could see the medics at work for almost 30 minutes, but the only thing that kept bothering me was the safety of the driver. What was the complication that so many people could not get him out? Lunch was over and I had not been able to eat too much. With a heavy heart, I went in, not knowing what would happen next, but hoping that the driver would be fine.

Noticing my pale face, my colleagues asked what was wrong and I narrated it to them. Although very consoling, they looked surprised that I was so badly affected by it. I kept telling them that it was my first time witnessing a crash. But, was it really true??? It is not like I hadn't seen accidents in India. So, what was it about this that brought tears to my eyes and scared me so much? After digging deep, I realized that all this while, I was under an illusion; as organized and well-kept America is, it could not be untouched by the perils of driving. After driving in the chaos of the Indian traffic, such regulated driving as in America led me to think of it as a perfect world.

But was it really perfect??? It couldn't be; nothing can ever be, which I think everyone will agree to. Something that puts humans in control of such large machines with high speeds, could never be safe and perfect. Because humans are designed to make mistakes, and it could be the tiniest mistake that could make this huge thing turn back on you. And to top it all, everything is like a high-speed chase.

It got me thinking; in India, there could be accidents, but they would not be so major. But, it is also a fact that help sometimes comes in so late, that the little accident becomes fatal. On the other hand, America has some of the fastest cars, some of the highest speed limits, and it would seem as nothing but inviting danger. Yet, the response time is so quick for emergency services, that someone could be saved from the jaws of death in the nick of time. So how do you chose the lesser of the two evils? Is it better to have numerous small accidents in your lifetime, one of which could cost you more? Or is it better to have one scary huge accident, but stand a chance of being saved?

I kept telling my friends, that it was better to be driving in India because it wasn't as scary. But was it true? The Indian driving scene is chaotic, everybody thinks as though they own the road, there is no concept of "right of way", everybody is always in a hurry and everyone wants to win the race, but it is forgotten that the roads are not even that good. There are bumps, potholes, and what not. Just because the speeds are not as high, driving becomes manageable and danger is kept at bay.

So, is driving in America scary, just because of the high speeds? Should the fact that the traffic here is more disciplined and the emergency services much better, be ignored? Weighing out both the options, I could only come to one conclusion. Driving, or for that matter, anything else in life is always going to have dangers. What matters is, if you are ready to take the risk and still be in control of the situation. And it is human to make a blunder, so we always have to be prepared for not just our own mistakes, but also take in account the mistakes others could make.

Driving has to be synergistic, otherwise it could only spell disaster, if everyone was to think only of their needs. And if we cannot be responsible enough to wisely enjoy luxuries, maybe we should go back to the times when the only way to reach destinations was by foot or on horse-back. I don't think there were any crashes back then. It would be a good time-out for irresponsible and reckless drivers. We should be made to realize that luxuries come with a pinch of salt, and only responsible people can make the best use of them. Think about it...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Customer Service Nightmare

I have been working with customer service for sometime now, and this was my first experience in this field. What  I have realized during this stint, is that customers are treated like Gods in this country. And maybe that has spoilt them. The things they expect us to do are just amazing.

Working at a library has brought me face to face with a wide range of people. Starting from toddlers to elderly people, each set comes with different issues. We have to agree though, that most of the people are nice and appreciative of the service extended to them, but then, there is that exclusive category of snobby people who feel they own us.

And things just get worse when there are emergencies like the December blizzard and the recent snowstorm. Just because machines take care of some stuff, people forget that it is humans who man the machines. And staff face the same difficulties as normal people do. You wouldn't believe the kind of calls we get on such days. One person called in when the snowstorm was at it's peak on Sunday, and asked the most ridiculous question "So, you are saying that the library is open for now, but what happens if I am on my way and you decide to close? Can you tell me for sure that you will be open till 5?". For one, you just go back home and drive through the bad weather, just like we did. And two, we are not mind-readers to know what the authorities are going to decide as to when to close.

People just forget that we are human too and it is not like we are an emergency service. And I understand that some customers might have impending things to be taken care of, for which they might require the computers or online services of the library. But it is when people call in for petty issues like returning a book or being late by one day. Do you think a 30 cent fine is more important than the safety of so many staff members??? At such times, it is necessary to humanize the situation and question yourself if you would like to be in that position? If your answer is no, it very well means that the other person must not really be enjoying being there, since, after all everybody is human.

Leave apart emergencies, even on regular days, the things we get inside books, the condition that books are turned in, are nothing short of nasty. We have had bobby pins, credit cards, bills and what not inside the books. And the worst part, is when they come running to you and want you to retrieve a credit card from inside a book that they can't even describe. Once books go through machines, they just land in their respective bins. It is not as if the machine detects credit cards and unwanted material and magically places it in an exclusive bin. This is a real world , not  fairyland. And when you try explaining the poor odds of finding their lost property inside the book, you become the bad guy and you get those looks of contempt and disgrace. But, you move on and smile at the next person, hoping that they are better.

If we were to hold a grudge for every ugly and dirty book that we handle throughout the day, we would be frowning all day. Books come in with coffee stains, sticky lotion, dog hair, bite marks, water and snow damage and everything else imaginable. If the book could speak, I am sure it would narrate us of the adventures it has had. It is almost like people have lost value for public property. Why doesn't anyone think of a simple thing, would you want to check out such a book? If you wouldn't, why would someone else? And why should other people be expected to take care of the results of  your neglect and irresponsibility?

It is like people have lost the respect for public property, and are taking public service for granted. Though unpleasant, I am glad that I got a chance to be on the receiving side, because I can perceive better the ordeals of others in the customer service industry. So that, when I am a customer at other places, I am able to show much more appreciation for what they do for us. Because I know how nice it feels, when people send in chocolates and sweet "thank you" notes; when people appreciate your efforts. Days like those make up for the other horrible endeavors with customers and helps us gear up for the nightmares coming our way!!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

How do you know???

So, the Oscar season is almost coming to an end. And going through all the great movies, I still go back to last year's winner 'The Blind Side'. A great performance by Sandra Bullock, you could really feel the power and strength of her character, at the same time relate to her sensitivity. It was only when I saw a feature on the real family who opened their doors and hearts for Michael Oher, that I realized that the real Leigh Anne Tuohy was much more more stronger and tougher than her on-screen portrayal.

I can only imagine how much courage it takes, to open your house to a complete stranger and that too, when you have young kids. And I am not talking about courage, just because of what your friends and neighbors would say. But courage to take that chance and be open to someone who really needs you. How many times have we heard about people just coming from troubled neighborhoods and inflicting the same violence elsewhere? Definitely more than once. That is the reason I say it must have taken a lot of courage for her to be able to trust and bring in somebody she didn't know much about.

You hardly know what is going on in your neighbor's mind, leave alone a lonely, hurt, homeless youngster on the street. You do not know if he is vulnerable or violent. Then how do you make such a big decision. And it's not just you who is involved, you are exposing your whole family to the consequences of your instinctive decision. In this violent, gun-wielding world, how do you know to trust somebody??? When do you know that you are bordering away from charity and moving towards danger. And it is not even about trusting the person in front of you. This person could seem completely trustworthy and deserving of being part of a wonderful family. But, you are inviting his past, his acquaintances and you never know what that could bring to you. In the movie too, we see the gangs sometimes threaten Michael and Leigh Anne. And that there, was a scary thought for me.

Who would not like to be a good samaritan and help others in their hour of need? But for me, the difficult part is to know when you are going over the line. But I guess, the way a good person is defined in our history, is somebody who puts other people ahead of themselves. Does that mean you put your safety behind you too??? I don't mean to be too suspicious, but the stories you hear about the increasing crime rate does take a toll on you. I would love to give somebody a home, give them the love they need, give them a family to call their own. Just that, I don't think I am strong enough. I brought strays home all the time, but those were dogs. And let's face it, humans are much more dangerous than the animals. Because humans have much more devious ways of hurting you.

It saddens me to think what some dangerous persons have done to us. Have we, as social animals become incapable of trusting anyone??? How can we expect to be social if we are too cautious and are scared to let our guard down? I don't know what the answers to these questions are, but what I know is, there are thousands of people out there, who need compassion, shelter and open hearts. The glaring fact is that there are needy people around us all the time, and a wary eye is just going to keep us from reaching out to them. I salute the courageous, like Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family, but I have to admit that I am not amongst those people. As much as everybody would like to see fairy tale endings for troubled kids like Michael, it takes more than a loving heart to take that huge step. That does not mean and it should not keep us away from doing what we can, without hampering our own safety. There are many other things we could do, that do not entail exposing ourselves. Working with charities to help homeless kids, trying to be a caregiver, is a very rewarding act. And that is something I could do, before I gather the courage to take bigger steps.

But, what if there were no such kids??? Wouldn't it be nice if there were no dysfunctional families and nobody in need of foster families. It is a far cry from reality, but that is one thing all of us can definitely do, take care  of our families and make sure they never need to rely on the charity of anyone else.

To be or not be!! (a citizen)

It was a surprise when a few days back, I got a call from the U.S. Navy about some job openings. I was so excited, given the fact that I had been job hunting for a long long time. At this point, I would have been thrilled to get a call from just anywhere, but a call from the U.S. Navy topped it all. And here, I would also like to mention my great fascination for the armed forces, which started with the Kargil war and has, to date, stuck with me. Now, given this background, I was simply ecstatic and had hardly any of my attention towards the content of the call. I had already imagined myself in the uniform, picturing myself on the receiving end for all the awe and respect. I was floating in this imaginary world of mine, when I was brought back to reality with a question about my citizenship. Obviously, someone serving the U.S Navy would be expected to be a U.S. citizen first, a simple fact that I had very foolishly overlooked, before entering my fantasy world!
So, I did not fit the bill, since I had an Indian citizenship, and down the drain went all my dreams. But, there was an alternative, and my spirits uplifted. The option was given to me for applying for an American citizenship. At that point, I somehow didn't feel very exhilarated. I did not understand why I wasn't happy when I still stood a chance. And it had got something to do with the avid trait of patriotism, inherited by me from my father. I don't think I was ready to give up my citizenship. Something held me back from spontaneously agreeing to take up a different citizenship. That is when I thought, did citizenship really matter that much??? What was it, but just a word on your passport???

After much thought, I realized that to some, it really could be just a piece of paper. But to me, it was my identity. How could I wipe off the last 25 years of my life? I was born an Indian, and was supposed to be one. I could not think of myself as anything else but Indian. Though, we are living here in America, we like it a lot here, we know what problems India has; all that doesn't change the fact that we love the traditions, the small joys associated with so many festivals and many other Indian stereotypes. We miss those a lot and we survive here, only because a visit back home revives all those pleasures and the memories from it keep us afloat. You know, there is a reason we call it "back home", because one feels most safe and at peace only in one's home. Whatever the luxuries of living abroad, nothing can replace the native spirit and mindset. Although, in America, you are welcomed with open arms, you still feel like an outsider, you feel that you don't belong here.

I fail to bring myself to imagine what it would be like to be called "American". And the more I think about it, I cannot comprehend why that would bother me so much. Gradually, I am realizing that it is not so much , the American part, but 'not being the Indian' part, that troubled me. I am visibly Indian, and yet how could I call myself American?

Now I know, how it must have been for some of my acquaintances who had to give up the Indian citizenship for the American one. I am not sure if they went through the same dilemma, but I assume it must have been difficult to accept the facts. How can you stop being one thing and then start being something else, just in a day? It is like, you wake up being a rabbit and go off to sleep being an elephant! The thought itself is amusing. But, it is happening everyday to lots of people all over the world. People are adopting all kinds of new citizenships, owing to globalization. And very soon, it might not even be a huge issue.

But, until then, it still makes me think; what would it really mean if I was to adopt a different citizenship? I would still look Indian; it is as if someone called me by a different name, but that wouldn't change who I am. Similarly, if I was to have a different citizenship, printed across my passport, that would not change my innate characters, my Indianess, my love for the weird little things in my country, my wonderful past, enjoying being an Indian. For now, that satisfies me, because I am not faced with such a situation. I do not know if I would still feel the same way, when I would be taking the oath and committing my allegiance to a country different than my motherland. As much as that thought scares me, I do not foresee that happening for sometime, and till then, my heart goes out to all my fellow Indians, who have to make this tough choice almost everyday.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What is the real issue?

It is funny how often me and my husband debate on what to watch on television. And after so many arguments, we have still not come to a conclusion. The thing is while we are arguing, the person with the remote control is changing channels, and somewhere along the line, we find something that interests the both of us. During one such, channel hunting spree, I came across the program 'Biggest Loser' and much against my husband's wishes, I hung around for a bit. Which, with past experience, my husband knew, we would end up watching, if I lingered there for some more time. With his protests in the background, I was trying to understand what was happening. It was elimination time and the person with the least weight loss would have to go home. It was at this time, when  one of the contestants spoke about how they would feel if they were going home today, and broke down in tears.

This silenced my husband for a while, and he looked at me, then at the television with utter shock. His next question was "Why are people crying so much, and that too, the ones that are not being eliminated?". I did not try explaining anything or answering his question, but thought over it later. Why really were those people so upset, when they thought of a life away from the exercise terrain??? And more so, why were the ones not being eliminated, so emotional about the ones going home???

Luckily, I have not had major weight issues, but I have known people, struggling with their weight. I know that sometimes being overweight is not just an eating disorder; deep down, it relates to something else. I have looked at so many obese people, and thought that most of them, would need to enter a competition like the Biggest Loser. But, what I have failed to understand is, how someone could not see their increasing weight, how they could not foresee the health hazards they were inviting? It is not as if being so big, would go unnoticed. Then what was it that triggered the over-eating???

It took me an Oprah show feature to realize what it really was and as she says, I had my "Aha" moment. It opened my eyes to the world of obesity. My earlier doubt, that it all related to something else, turned into a stronger thought, when I saw people talking about why they neglected their health. It really had got nothing to do with high or low metabolisms, or eating right or even feeling hungry. Eating became more of a compulsive habit for most, due to some turn of events in their life. Some ate because, they were engaged with eating and wouldn't have to think about the bad things in life; some did because they wanted to be oblivious and just be the fat kid, nobody talks to; some did because they thought they were not appreciated and just wanted to walk on a path of self-destruction. Some did it in rebellion, some did it for attention, but everyone was attached by one common thread and that was their pain over something that had hurt them.

Of course, there are some people who have a tendency to put-on and are not careful enough. But the seriously obese generally had an underlying reason to their senseless damage to self. During the course of the interviews with Oprah, I understood that there were deeper issues and eating was just a cover-up to hide the pain. And these people were not only hiding it from the world, but from themselves too. A lot of them said that they found comfort in eating and felt secure. Now for a common man, that is something imperceivable; how can somebody feel secure with food?? It is just a piece of food item, it is not as if it can talk or say comforting things.

But, what we also cannot imagine is the place they are coming from. In a household where everybody has critical comments, a scared child would want nothing more to be in a place where nobody would say a word. How many of us have had great food and forgotten about the pressures of daily life, during that time??? Nobody can deny the satisfaction derived from a wholesome meal, topped with a luscious dessert. What we feel during one of those special treats, is something that is more of an escape from their troubled lives for most of the obese people.

And what they do not notice is, that this disorder takes them farther away from happiness. They miss onto the simple pleasures of life, because their bodies cannot permit it and this leads them to a darker, deeper place of loneliness. They cannot participate with their families in a lot of events and are forced to lead an aloof life. So the answer to my husband's question would be : these people had emotional outbursts because weight loss was not just the aim, there were more complex issues to be dealt with. And the ones crying for their friends, had tears in their eyes, since they could relate to the pain and the hidden motives behind the weight gain. Inside everybody, lived a hurt person who was using food as a defense and wanted to get rid of the addiction. The triumph of even one person with their inner battles meant that the others could do it too. And the failure of one person, would bring the spirits down for everyone. In the end, they were all in it together and inspired each other to face the demons, hold them by the scruff and hurl them out as hard as they could. If not such strong emotion, what else could evoke tears???

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To carry your hurt or to move on???

The cricket fever is back with the World Cup and whether it is interesting enough, is another debate. But, what bothers me is whether all of the players are really passionate for the game. That sent me back to the image of Saurav Ganguly hurling his shirt in the air when he led the team into winning the Natwest Trophy in 2002. Though a much debated action, it was a moment in cricket history, where for the first time a football-like aggression was witnessed by true fanatics of the game. There was a captain who really valued the victory, but more than that, he was a player, a sportsman who truly put his heart into the sport. And his passion for the game was evident in his uninhibited actions.

It is almost 10 years since that act of passion and now, when I look at him in the commentary box giving out critiques and analyzing the game, I know he doesn't belong there. He has received much flak for his abilities as a commentator, and as hardcore a fan of him as I am, I have to admit that he isn't very good at it. But what impresses me is the fact that he just doesn't give up. One way or another, he tries to keep coming back to the game. What happens when someone is kept away form doing what they really love??? There could be 2 options, there are some that are disheartened, who mope over it, but eventually get over it and move on with life. And then there are others, who claw their way back into achieving their dreams and getting back to their love. And you know what makes the second category different from the first. It is the fact that they really want it so bad, that it hurts more than anything when they are away from that dream. It is their will to turn that hurt into aggression and motivation, to lead them on.

That is what Saurav Ganguly has done. He was bid farewell from captaincy most disgracefully, he was accused publicly of putting himself ahead of the team, he was forced to opt for an early retirement and when he tried coming back with whatever form of cricket possible, he was made to face nothing but humiliation. It takes a lot of courage to face such ordeals. Only someone who desperately loves the sport, would do so much to come back and be accepted. Only someone who looks at it not as a source of earning, will find a way to be associated with it. That is the only reason he is back, trying his hand at something new. He knows he might not do very well at it, but it's his willingness to learn and start from the basics that affirm my belief that there is a fighter in him.

You have to surrender yourself completely, when you love something. You have to keep your fear of being accepted, aside. You have to ignore the humiliation you might face. You have to just concentrate on the goal and think of these blows as the little price you pay for ultimately getting that peace of mind, which you derive from giving it your all.

And I know this, because I have a passion. I know how it feels to be not able to make it, but still wanting to work at it so badly, that nothing else matters. Writing for me, is the ultimate source of happiness. My friend asked me the other day how I came up with things to write about. And to be honest, I really don't know. Writing is a like an extension of my thoughts, it is an ongoing process. I look at something, it strikes to me as interesting and evokes a chain of thoughts. And I know that I have to express it.

For years, I have contributed articles to newspapers and magazines. And only I know how difficult it was to get your piece published in the first go. I faced a lot of disappointments in many different ways. I wanted to be a journalist and write for a living, but there were some deterrents and I decided against it. For a long time now, I have been envious of people who were in this business. I nurtured my hurt and sorrow and completely turned away from writing. But I longed to be back; back to where I was me, and where I was satisfied. I would have that sudden spur of inspiration. And I was still looking to be published, to get success out of it. That is where I went wrong.

I recently realized, that nobody can keep you from doing what you love, but you! I was my obstacle. The minute I decided I am going to write because it gives me pleasure, the fear of being approved of, disappeared. Today I don't regret that writing is not my profession. Because I don't look at it as something that I have to do, because my career depends on it or because of any other serious implications. I look at it as something that refreshes me and rejuvenates my existence, it is my secret place where I can find comfort. And for that, I am thankful to the many fighters like Saurav Ganguly, who proved to me that there is nothing called too much or too late, when you do it to achieve your dream.
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