Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ordinary men or Superheroes?

Exactly one year ago, I was traveling with my parents to New York, with a connecting flight from Atlanta. We had had a horrible start to the trip, with overnight delays and a detour to North Carolina, due to thunderstorms. So, we were nothing but relieved to reach Atlanta and get on track for New York. When we alighted from the flight and walked through our gate, it really did feel like an achievement to have finally reached half way through to our trip, after two long days. As soon as we started walking, we saw a big crowd at the terminal, loud cheering and clapping. And we were quite taken aback, to say the least. I mean all the passengers on board our flight had had a rough night, but how would have these other people known?One look back, and I realized what the applause was for. There was a big group of young soldiers, possibly returning from foreign postings, and here were complete strangers who were cheering for them. We could hear the words "Welcome Home", "Salute to you, Soldier", and "America is proud of you"! My father was quite surprised to see this and just said, "Why can't we honor our soldiers like them?".

Of course, we went on to have a long discussion over it, and we realized that even though Americans despise their country going at war, as much as Indians do, they do not lose appreciation for their countrymen. They do not undermine the fact that it is these young men and women, who did not chose to participate in war, but had to follow orders. People who chose to make a career in armed forces do so, to protect their country and fellow citizens, not to inflict atrocity on others. So, why is is that a country like India forgets a major war, like Kargil and its uncountable heroes? The war, like any other, was unnecessary and brought on by factors, best, not discussed here.

But, the fact remains that it is this militia that saved a lot of civilian lives from being targeted by the infiltrators. It is easy for people to debate over why wars happen, why can't we leave peacefully, etc. But, what is so difficult about remembering the sacrifices made by so many? For whatever reason, wars and violence are part of human nature. Then, it becomes equally important for people to value the handful who risk their lives, knowing well that one day they would be involved in something as complicated as war. The reason I say, it is complicated is because there are so many angles to killing the enemy, than just sending a bullet through another person. The question that always comes up in my mind is 'Can any training in the world actually prepare you to shoot another fellow human being?'. You can be trained to be strong, physically; possess endurance and skill, intelligence and alertness. But, can you actually be trained to be guilt-free and emotionless?

I have some friends in the armed forces, and I wish they never have to make that decision of whether to listen to their heart or follow their orders. I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to be faced with a combat, and actually having to use ammunition on a live person, for the first time. Because they are just like us, people who like pleasant things in life, who want to cherish the small joys and who want to be with their loved ones. They feel pain and pleasure the same way we do. Then how are they expected to transform from being movie buffs, cricket lovers and jolly personalities to protectors of the nation overnight? How are they expected to carry the burden of leading so many men, and protecting several others? Of course, they are trained and they know what they were getting into in the first place. But, can you actually prepare someone to walk away from their wounded buddy (as they are called in Army Lingo) and put the mission on a higher pedestal? How can you train their mind to be untouched by emotion and keep going? How can they find the courage to walk in the line of fire? How is it possible to keep your anger aside, forget the way your fellow soldiers were treated and yet, treat the enemy's fallen with respect? What are these men made of?

All these unsettling thoughts bother me every time I watch a war movie. The Kargil War was an important landmark in Indian history, and it was necessary for our generation to understand that freedom does come at a price. The ailment of Independent India is that people have taken their freedom for granted and refuse to hold responsibility for anything. This war was a good reminder that a few chose to put the country and the lives of others above their own. As grateful citizens, the least we can do is to remember the valor and sacrifices made by these men and their families. It also means, that we do our bit and contribute to our country's progress and improvement, in every way we can. It could mean picking up garbage from the streets, minimizing child abuse or promoting literacy. Because it is for the country's future that these soldiers defend it from enemies. If we cannot secure a decent future for the country, their effort to defend the country goes waste.

The Kargil War had a casualty figure of 527 Indian soldiers and that is a huge number for a senselessly instigated war. We have to realize that there were a lot of soldiers in their early twenties who were juxtaposed into the war scene, having just received their first posting. I am not sure if experience helps and prepares you for war, but definitely the rush of youth could blind you and could you catch you unawares. Since, this war was largely covered by the media, there were multiple stories of engagements being called off, marriage plans postponed, and what not. Whether it was fair to have personal details of these soldiers being discussed, is a debatable topic. But, what I think it did, was give a face and a name to the unknown soldier. The war cry devised by Capt. Vikram Batra, "Yeh Dil Maange More!" is etched in our memories forever. What happens is, everybody knows a war is being fought, they mourn for the martyrs and eventually forget about it. But when there is a name attached and a story to tell, there is a personal connection. It becomes easier to identify with the person and then it becomes a personal loss. It is important to sense that feeling, because then the war means much more and hits home. 

Since this war was a highly televised one, the public became aware of the sacrifices these men were making; some even having to call off their weddings. It became evident that these men were overcoming huge personal losses and yet, braving the enemy. I knew then, that it must be tough to survive the extreme cold, but only when  I moved to a place with temperatures of -50C, that I developed a new-found respect for these men. It is torturous even to stand outside, with the biting wind, leave alone, get into a hike. It is thanks to the electronic media, who familiarized the public with the treacherous terrain and the dizzying altitude. The daily updates also introduced us to the lives of these soldiers in the face of extreme conditions, be it the tight rationing of food supplies, the unbearable cold or the lack of entertainment. It was also the acknowledgement that at such times, small joys meant a lot, and receiving letters from complete strangers was definitely among them. 

It has been 13 years and a lot of people have forgotten these heroes and their families. We have to remember that putting up names on marble memorials is not enough. Every once in a while showing gratitude and honoring these soldiers is important. For us, 527 is just a number, but for the families, it is 527 brothers, sons, fathers, husbands lost. And that is not something they can forget. So, why should we? After all,we were saved the trouble of defending ourselves, because of their acts of courage. To all the Vikram Batras, Saurabh Kalias, Anuj Nayyars, Vijayant Thapars and many unnamed heroes, 'We remember you, we are proud of you, we salute you and we appreciate your efforts and we are here because of you'! And to all the countrymen, who have forgotten the Kargil War and its heroes, who remember the 1999 World Cup more than the War, here is a rude reminder; it is not Sachin Tendulkar, but these soldiers who won us the bigger battle. It was disheartening to know that when today's youth were interviewed on Vijay Diwas, they had no clue whatsoever, of these war heroes, but were well acquainted with cricketers, celebrities, etc. I have challenged myself to pay tribute to all war heroes on this Vijay Diwas and find out more about the 527 men who lost their lives protecting our beautiful country and no longer let them be 'The Unknown Soldier'. How will you pay tribute?

Some resources that helped me find more about the fallen heroes and the stark reality of war:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How my school made me what I am!

Remember that very special day, the first day of school, that day when you first step out from your house, into an unknown world, a more disciplined world? Though, we do not realize it then, it is one of the most important days of our lives. Some embrace this day with open arms, as a symbol of adventure and fun and then there are others who cringe at the thought of straying away from their parents' protection. What none of us realize then, is the fact that this day defines our existence as a civilized individual. Once you step into school, your life is never the same. Every day is a learning experience, every step a rendezvous with your destiny. And that is why, school to me, is the key to any person's life map. 

A school does not just give you knowledge, but educates you on the wisdom to apply the knowledge appropriately. Every person cherishes their school days the most and looks back with fondness. It is the time of life where you are free as a bird and you are encouraged to explore and embrace life. It has been 10 years, since, I parted ways with my school, but it is a part of me that demarcates every step I venture into the school of life. I grew up with the school and it was equally pleasurable to see the school grow with us, getting new classrooms, winning national accolades, and basically making us proud to be part of this great institution. It has been 25 years, this wonderful school came into existence, and I couldn't be happier to know that it is growing leaps and bounds. Even though, I can't be a part of the festivities,  I can at least share my happiness with many of my fellow school mates, who feel the same way. So, just recounting a few reasons why my school's Foundation Day means so much and why I want to celebrate the existence of this establishment.

1. Entered a child, exited an individual
When you start school, you are already a little person, with traits that define you, but it is the school, the teachers, the principal, the help, who carve who you could be. They have the capacity to encourage the good, and eliminate the bad. If you think of it, unless you got stars for being neat, or got sent to the corner for being dishonest, how would you even know what was right and wrong. Small gestures that changed our lives took birth in school. Not that parents don't teach the same, but there is something about teachers, and getting either appreciated or reprimanded in public that had a larger effect. The qualities that you pick up over the years, makes you the person you are. So, if I get a good employee evaluation and it says, "Meticulous, sincere and honest", I have my school to thank for it.

2. Home away from home
An extension of the previous point, school is where you spend most of the time of your formative years. If  there is a place children are as comfortable as being home, it is only school. The sense of routine, of seeing the same faces everyday, of being greeted by the same cheerful teacher, is what gives a sense of family to your experience at school. How many of you remember standing up for your classmates in a squabble with children from another grade? I do, not only the standing up part, but also feeling proud for being able to help out your class. And like family, you also gradually learn that you don't always have to be extremely fond of everyone in the family, but just staying connected, being civil and being there for each other is enough. This is the place where I learnt the basics of social living.

3. Found a career
Although a school gives you much more than just formal education, it does eventually direct you to your career goal in life. In the 12 years that I was at this wonderful school, I changed my aspirations many times, but it is the right kind of exposure and open discussions with teachers that helped me realize what I was passionate about. Hosting radio talk shows, book reports, debates, elocution, poetry writing contests, one creative venture at a time, pointed me towards the most satisfying experience of being able to write, and  to freelance for magazines and dailies. It was also the same school that taught me that I need not follow the norms and just pick one profession. My Biology teacher was encouraging me to pursue a career using one of my favorite subjects, and she was the one to make me realize that I could balance both my loves at the same time. Securing highest marks in both of my favorites, just made it more clear; I did not have to give up one for the other, but just take the best of both. So, today if I am able to claim that I am a Microbiologist and can  write technical articles with credibility, it is because my teachers knew what was right for me and pushed me to challenge myself.

4. Love for sports
I can only thank my school for having a great Physical Education program. As much as studying was important, there wasn't a lack of physical activities to keep us up and running. I still feel that there are many more options for the students now, but we were still given the best possible, at that time. The reason I can claim to be active today, is only because early on in life, I was introduced to the pleasures derived from the adrenalin rush, only playing a sport can bring, Today, I know that the adrenalin releases endorphins which gives you a sense of pleasure, but back then it was just a part of school curriculum. And I am thankful to all my physical education instructors to not only have taught me how great it feels to enjoy the sun and put your limbs to good use, but also for the great lessons in team work, leadership skills, sportsmanship spirit and mutual respect. I can't say I am really good at one particular sport, but those lessons push me to set out on new adventures in the form of camping, hiking, horse-back riding, scuba diving and many more.

5. Well-rounded personality 
As goes with sports, the 'trying my hand' at different art forms like drama, dance, music, arts and craft, has opened my life to fulfilling experiences. The reason Greeks valued the Arts so much was because they thought it made for a well-rested, more satisfied and healthy clan. Arts as an expression of the mind and soul has really been my reprieve on a lot of occasions and the reason for me being able to state that I am a well-rounded personality, on my personal statements. Finding solace in books and making wonderful friends with the characters is also thanks to the wonderful library system of our school. Science fairs, study tours and other interactive ways to embrace knowledge has helped me be a better teacher, today too.

6. Friends for life
Something I am eternally thankful to our school is for the opportunity to forge wonderful friendships. The home away from home, that school is, life's closest confidantes are found here. There was never a more exciting time than to embark on new beginnings and to simply grow up, with friends who had so much to share. You not only shared your triumphs and downfalls, you shared those wonderful moments of life that are cherished forever. You went on picnics, enjoyed socials and disclosed dreams and aspirations. School is where I found my most loyal, kind and generous supporters, and I can only hope that my friends could say the same about me. And it is again teachers and the school who inculcate the necessity of finding great friends in life, by assigning study partners, making us share our benches and basically teaching us a lesson in having an open mind. It is at this time in life, that friends are the whole and sole of your life, and you never find stronger bonds than the ones created then, and for some like me, you also might find a future life partner in your study partner!

7. Responsible citizen
Establishing community work societies and groups was one of the best things that our school could have done. Though as young children, who think planting a tree is a waste and don't realize the significance; as grown-ups today, we realize it was one of those lessons whose importance you learn later on in life. Leading by example and donating a certain percentage of the salary towards the Kargil Fund, our teachers made an indelible impression and imparted a lesson no book could have taught. It was then that we were encouraged to send letters of appreciation to our soldiers on the front, and to this day, there is no action I feel prouder of. Irrespective of whether it did reach in time or not, there is nothing that makes me feel good about being human and being there for others. Hats off to our educators, to have pushed us to be reliable and dependable citizens, who one day, would give back to the society, by helping one cause or the other.

8. Cultural Values
The soon to become extinct cultural values, though not part of the curriculum was also included in our journey as a student. I remember forming a single file queue and walking to the post office, with hand-made cards for parents on Diwali, Christmas, etc. Till date, I can never forget the value being imbibed in us to be thankful and appreciative of wonderful parents who worked hard to give us life's big and small pleasures. With the same fervor, we would also participate in celebrations for major festivals. It still amazes me as to how tactfully our teachers got us interested in the wonderful fables and tales behind each tradition, and that is something that long after, we still relate to that occasion. And of course, to top it, who could forget the delicious sweet boxes distributed to celebrate such occasions. Relevant or not, in the process of celebrating Diwali, Christmas and Id, we learnt a lot about culture and history and the acceptance of each religion for what it is.

9. Sense of Belonging
To say the least, my school gave me a sense of belonging, and along the years, if there is one thing that I have realized is important for a self-image, is being attached to a group, a clan, an institution, something you can call your own. Being the social animals that we are, it is pleasing to bond with people over a common piece of history, and what better thread than the place that harbored you for the most significant part of life. Being successful doesn't matter as much, if there is no one you can make proud. My school has given me that motivation to do well in life, to make it as proud, as I am of it. 

There are uncountable ways my school affected me, but these are the ones that made me who I am, and as thankful as I am for being a part of this magnificent school, I couldn't be grateful enough to my parents, for making the right choice for me. My school turned 25 this year on July 12th, and I can only wish that wonderful citizens bring back the laurels for this school as alumni and create a place for this institution in the pages of history!

P.S. My thoughts are echoed by the most memorable song School Chale Hum!, that I woke up to everyday, before going to school. And no other movie could explain better the friendships in school than Shala.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Identity Tresses!

"So which one of these lovely ladies do you think deserves to win the Miss Beautiful Hair Title?", addressed the Master of the Ceremony to the some 1000 NDA cadets. And on that cue, all the girls turned around, and swirled to flaunt their hair. There was one with beautiful, curly locks like Preity Zinta, another with swishing, sultry hair like Sushmita Sen, one with wavy, brown hair and one with beautiful bangs framing her face. At one end of this line-up was one girl, with waist-length hair, black and thick, but in a braid. Now, she was not even sure she should have been up there with all the girls with their trendy hair styles. But, her friends had made sure she went up there. 

As each girl came into the spotlight, a cheer from the crowd was used to judge how popular the certain contestant was. When the tall girl with the long braided hair came up, there was a huge roar even before she answered the question: "So, what special treatment do you use for your hair?". Now this was a girl, who had never been to the saloon for a hair cut or styling. She was in a fix as to what her answer should be. But, almost instinctively, the words popped out of her mouth, the words that she didn't have to make up, but simply came naturally, "My Mom! She has taken care of my hair all along and she is the secret to my healthy hair. Oh yes, and coconut oil". And even before the winner was announced, it was pretty clear the term 'coconut oil' had won the heart of the Kerala Crowd. But what she had also won that day was the confidence that to make your place in the world, you don't have to be like someone else, get trendy, cut your hair short or do something that is not you. She won a special dance, two movie tickets and some vouchers. She felt like a princess and was actually treated like one; after all, it was the NDA Ball, and if you could count on one thing from the NDA cadets, it was to be gracious and gentlemanly. 

Flash forward to 6 years! She was married now, half way around the world and busy managing work and home. But, one thing still hadn't changed, her long, long hair. It wasn't as beautiful as before and was getting weak, but it was still an asset to her. She missed her mother's gentle brushes and craved to get her hair pampered by her mom. But that happened only once a year now,when she would visit her parents in India. She was getting tired of brushing her hair, and seeing it fall, was killing her. Her hair would break, and especially in the harsh winters, it would just come of from the root. And with her work, it was getting impossible to have a set regime for her hair.

One day, she said to her husband, "I am just sick of this, as much as I like to wear my hair long, I hate that it is thinning out so much. It is decided, I am going to get a hair-cut!". Her husband, who adored her beautiful, long hair tried making sense with her and finally asked: "How short?". And pat came the reply,  "Just up to my neck. All my friends get to have hair styles, and all I do is braid my hair. And, anyways who has long hair these days. It is more stylish to have short hair. And I don't want to be the odd one out!".

Her husband was quite astounded at this outburst, and realized it was best to just leave it at that for then. He kissed her on her head, and remarked, "Whatever makes you happy!".

She was getting late for work, and left hurriedly, but with a determination that she was going to go through with it, this evening. She spent the rest of the day at work, looking at women with different hair styles and trying to decide which one would be the best for her. As she was wrapping her work up, she got a message from her husband - "When are you going to get your hair-cut? Do you want me to come with you? We could go together after dinner! Tell me what you think". It was a little strange that he was taking so much interest, but to be fair, he had always been supportive of her decisions. Just that this one was hard to digest, because he had made it clear many times how much he loved her long hair, and would hate to see it get cut. 

Surprised as she was, she thought it would be a good idea to have him for second opinion, when deciding on what style to get. So, they went home, prepared dinner, and there was a little envelope waiting for her in the kitchen. It had a bunch of pictures from her school and college, and a page from her diary. She had a smile on her face looking at pictures from special occasions like her convocation, her fun days from college, her 18th birthday, her wedding and what not. What remained constant was her long hair, initially in two plaits and then a single braid. The diary page had a note from her college friends that started with "Dear Baalon ki Rani". She was beginning to see the point her husband was trying to make. All her life, she had been associated with her long hair. And it had been an essential part of her journey. 

She glanced across at her husband, and said, "You are something, you know that, right?". He shrugged his shoulders, with an expression that said he had no clue what she was talking about. She ranted, "But, I still want to have my hair short....". To which, her husband said, "I am not saying that you shouldn't, I am just trying to remind you that every person has an identity, and yours has been 'The Girl with Long Hair' and not that it is your only identity. But you have some unique experiences and stories just because of your long hair. Every individual etches out their distinct life story because of their experiences, and that is what makes them different from the crowd"

That made her rerun her life events. And she could hear her husband, in the background, "I mean, how many people can claim to have shattered a 500 ml Volumetric Flask, just with one swish of their braid? And fewer so, could claim to have been hanging upside down on the Burma Bridge, because their braid had gotten stuck in a tree". All this brought a smile to her face, and she started reminiscing these moments. She excitedly said, "And how many could say that their braid was as thick as their horse's". Both of them broke into laughter at this remark.

The point that her husband was trying to make was very clear - there were a lot of wonderful memories associated with this asset of her's, and she had to decide if she was okay with moving on. She had been complimented about her hair a lot of times, it had helped start a number of conversations, and yes, that was the first thing people noticed about her. That was also what set her apart and made it easy to identify her in a crowd. It was of course, a symbol of her external personality and once people knew her better, her hair would just be one of the things that would be added to the list of things that defined her. The question was whether she was ready to part with it. She would still have her other defining features, her smile, her fierce nature, her love for animals, but one would be missing!

After a small period of silence, she quietly said, "I had gone to the saloon this afternoon, even before you had sent your message, and I couldn't go through with it. I was thinking of the same things that you said, and I wasn't sure if I was ready to move on. I even had a small nightmare, where with each lock, a part of an important time in my life was being snipped off. There went my convocation day, and to the left fell my horse-back riding days...". Her husband couldn't help, but laugh, to which she said, "No, really!!! It was very scary to have the cause behind my wonderful memories being sheared away...." 

Her husband gave an all-knowing grin, which said that he had seen this coming, all along, and then said,  "Now, now you don't have to be so dramatic, nothing of that sort will happen, even if you decide to cut your hair. This is not a TV show, where such small things make the climax of our lives and are blown out of proportion. It is finally just an extension of you, not the complete you!". Then he said, "I have a surprise for you, I saw this commercial on TV, and I thought it might help you. It says it helps strengthen your hair and prevents hair fall. I don't want you to do something in haste, out of helplessness. If you cut your hair, I want it to be your choice, not because of a lack of choice". He then handed her the Dove Hair-Aware App, and added with a smile, "Of course, it might not take care of  your hair as well as your Mom did, but this is the closest, I guess"

It has been 2 years now; that girl still has long hair and is blogging about her story, "Well, my husband's gift  surprisingly worked well and that was the end of my hair problems!"That gift held more meaning than I ever could have imagined. I still don't know if I could cut my hair just at the spur of the moment, but I know that I don't have to. I have to be comfortable with myself and my identity, irrespective of what it is. And that does not mean, things should never change. It is normal to resist change, and if and when, I decide to snip my 'Identity Tresses', I will be assured that I would still have all those wonderful memories associated with it, and that is something, no pair of scissors can nick!!

This post is an entry for the contest 'My Beautiful Hair Story' on Indiblogger.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tacit Moments!

You and Me!

They ask, "What did you do today, how did you celebrate?",
I think, ponder and wonder "What did I do today?",
Deep in thought, I look back on the day,
And realize, I have nothing to say!

How can I not have anything to say,
I felt fulfilled and ecstatic,
Exultant, content, full of life,
and yet had nothing to say!

I nudge my precious, and ask him: "What do I say?"
He smiles at me, and says "Just tell them you enjoyed your day!"
I know I had a rapturous day, 
But I have no clue what to say!

Ripples, gleaming sun, wind in the sail,
Things you can't articulate,
Memories shaping along the way,
Yet there is nothing to say!

Holding hands, gazing in the sun's heart,
Toes dipped in the cool water, 
Watching the fish at play,
What could you possibly say?

Bills, jobs, chores, left at bay,
Dreams, aspirations, hopes led your way,
Imbued with the wind's libretto,
Still nothing to say!

A bed of sand, a pillow of grass,
The scent of wildflowers,
A heart-warming paddling of ducks,
How do you use words to say?

Cheery voices, little feet pattering,
Eloquent notes on the harp, your intertwined fingers drumming,
A rendezvous with bliss itself,
Trying to put words together, to say!

Freedom, elation, euphoria,
I could say,
But is that something you illustrate in words,
Or let your eyes, your silence say!

Elements of nature, 
A sense of calm, they endow,
Moments of retrospection,
You think, but could possibly not say!

Voices drowned in traffic, T.V. and computers,
The soul drifts astray,
An abode then you find, for your quintessence,
But know not what to say!

Now and then, enjoying the sun,
Feeling the water, cherishing a posy,
Admiring the hinterland,
Leaves you astounded, with nothing to say!

My mind out of miasma,
A grin on my face,
A twinkle in my eye,
I know exactly what to say!

"With the ardor of a companion,
Gratified for the wonders of life, 
I am happy as can be, ready to embrace both, the beauty and the beast!"
Is there anything more to say?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wild, Crazy and Fierce: Who, me???

"Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation." - Jo March

For anybody who knew me when I was growing up, they would know for sure that Josephine March was one of my greatest role model. She was that one person I was in awe of and yet, felt like someone I could relate to so much. Like her, I would wake up in the middle of the night with the excitement of the adventures I had embarked upon with so many new friends. It felt like I was on a novel journey everyday, because unlike many others, my mind would constantly be conjuring images even during short afternoon naps. And all this was before I had even read Little Women, the greatest book ever written about how there are so many different types of species in the spectacular creation, called women. 

So, imagine my amusement, when I read about this girl, who sounded like me. Once I had read the rest of the sequels, there was no looking back. I was so sure, I wanted to be nothing in life, but Jo March. And to this day, I don't know if I tried to mirror myself to her, or I was already in her shoes. All I know is that, when I was younger, all I would think was "What would have Jo done?".

And it is not that there weren't any similarities: both of us longed for an older brother, loved books, were a little awkward, maybe not very lady-like, our best friend was a boy and the most obvious one, had long hair. That made me really believe that her story was the guide to my life. Josephine March was the first woman that I truly believed was a dynamic lady, and for the staunch feminist that I am, nothing was more impressive than that. Her fierceness, her passion, her free spirit, her wonderful words, her wildness, everything just felt like stepping stones to an exciting life like hers.

All along my childhood and teen years, I have thought a million times how much fun it would have been to have such great sisterly time, such magnificent capers with a friend like Laurie, to travel to a new city, and establish your self. I wanted to be a part of all those crazy adventures and be so spirited that life would never stop being fun. I wanted to be so passionate about something that nothing apart from achieving it would matter. I wanted to break the cliches of womanhood and be a rebel. One fiery statement from her held the crux to so many misconceptions in life. Equality, nobility, rationale all tied together in such a simple reply:

"I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country."

Needless to say, Little Women and its sequels formed a very early impression on me of women in their varied forms. And not just women, but the different personalities which are not necessarily good or bad, just so different and unique in themselves. Jo is not very fond of her sister Meg's husband-to-be, who is such a gentleman, but according to Jo is "as dull as powder". The uniqueness of characters and yet, the way they blend together just speaks so much about perceptions and judgments, based on who we are and what we like. 

And among the many lessons imparted in this wonderful book, the best I learnt were from Jo, She was that one character I wanted to be like, made me want to be part of all the drama in a book. She made me believe that passion does drive you towards greater satisfaction and more importantly, that it is okay to be different. I would not say I was a tomboy, but I was definitely not interested in shopping or dressing up. And I felt something was missing because my mother and sister would bond over those things. I would rather go horse-riding or play a sport or even watch a serious talk show. Some of my closest friends were boys and I was much more comfortable with them.  And I did not know what to think of that. But, it was the Jo inside me who told me it was okay, that my family would love me for who I was. Sometimes, I wanted to be a tomboy so bad, I would wonder why my name couldn't be shortened for a boy's name. Childish as that sounds, today I see the real characteristics that I loved about Jo. And as much as I like my individuality, I would love to be Jo and hope to borrow her goodness: be as invigorating, feisty, intelligent, generous and loving as her. 

"I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all some day.” 

It was Jo's love for writing that unknowingly transcended the pages of her book into me. Although, I want to do something new everyday, one thing has stuck with me and I think I might have found the means to astonish my loved ones :) If I don't write something that is on my mind, I get restless and finicky and the minute I am done, I am jumping up and down. Though, I do not have a Writing Cap like hers, my husband would very likely describe me like Louisa May Alcott described Jo:

"Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.” 
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women 

Some other books that made me want to be a part of them:

These books and many more are my greatest treasures, and writing this blog, just makes me want to go back and relive each of the stories with those wonderful characters. For all the book lovers, I am sure there is a book that means a lot to you and a character that inspires you. What character would you want to be?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Web Glue!

"Sukhakarta Dukhaharta Vaarta Vighnachi, Nurvi Purvi Prem Krupa Jayachi..."
Even as I was ringing the silver bell in my hand and my husband held the Arti Thaali, we could hear the chants of the Ganesh Arti from behind us. The voices were coming from the laptop, and no it wasn't a pre-recorded Ganesh Puja! It was my parents singing the "Arti" with us on Ganesh Chaturthi. The laptop was strategically placed so that they could see the Ganpati idol and actually be in front of the Lord. Even though we were thousands of miles away, me and my husband in the US and my parents in India, the great invention of video chat had enabled us to actually celebrate this festival as a family. It felt wonderful to be able to do that and to virtually have our parents with us. 

You see, every family has small traditions that help them bond over things that other people might not understand. For some, it could be a particular restaurant or type of food, for others, it might be a favorite movie. No matter what that common thread is, every family has a unique glue that keeps them together. For our family, there have been lots of small things that made my childhood so memorable. But, there are some that just stand out. Since, ours is a multicultural family, we celebrated almost every festival. Be it Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, Diwali, Gudi Padwa or Sankrant. Apart from the glee over the fact that we would have a day off from school, the preparations for the small or big festival, as a family, is what has lingered on with me even today. I fondly remember the traditions associated with each festival and the family time we would spend over it, trying to get everything perfect. Making the rangoli, preparing sweets, the flower garlands, all of it made that day so much more special. I have a distinct memory from each festival: visiting all the Ganpati Pandals around town to see which was the biggest, most colorful, most beautiful idol in the city; driving up all the way to the biggest Durga Puja procession on the first day of Navratri, with loud drums sounding over the silent city; getting ready with water balloons for Holi; running downstairs to our bicycles, and later our Scooty and Dio, to clean them up on Dusshera. 

Irrespective of the festival, all I can remember are happy faces and the wonderful feeling of togetherness, that can only come from being around family. Today, even though my sister, me and my parents are spread over the world, these festivals, preparing for them and even virtually being a part of each other's celebrations, ignoring the crazy time zones, is what has kept us together. Reminiscing over how we used to do it, and carrying forward that tradition gives us the feeling that we still belong together, even with the physical distances. It is human nature to want to feel like we belong somewhere, that is when we feel most comfortable and are unguarded. 

Apart from these festivals, there are many other anecdotes of our family time together. Summers would be the best time to bond, since we didn't have homework or anything to worry about. Once done with dinner, we would step out for long drives, pick up some coconut water, and put on songs, which me and my father would sing to, word-by-word. That is how good we were at going over and over these songs, until we had them memorized. Even today, if a song that we bonded over, plays in the background, we can't resist from singing the whole of it. What is amusing is, this happens even when I call him overseas and still we can sing out the words and have a good laugh over the memories. I love that we have these little things that make me feel so close to my parents, that I almost forget I am half a world away from them. 

It is things like these that make it easy to pick up where you had left, when you go back home on vacation. The fact that I can watch Marathi serials with my mom, is only because we talk over it even when I am not in India. It is these little quirks that keep the comfort level going and doesn't change anything, no matter how old you have grown or how far you have flown. I am glad that unknowingly these little traditions have stuck with me, and me and  my husband have adopted those to be a part of our routine, like going out for long drives as my family did; or playing cards once a week, like we did as children in the summers. It is natural for us to try and repeat those things that brought us joy, since we associate happiness with those activities. And I for one, can assure that doing family things even if you are seeing them after years, never fails to bring on the smiles. When my parents visited me and my husband last summer, we did all those things that were trademark of our family, and it was surprising that these little things eased my husband into becoming a part of the family too. 

I am sure, every family has wonderful little memoirs of their together time, but I only wonder, how different things could have been, if not for this great invention of internet, which has given us social networking sites, video chat options and the possibility of staying in touch all the time. Internet has given us a lot of blessings, in terms of easy access to information, e-banking, etc., but I personally, consider its ability to tie the family together as one of its biggest innovations. 

This blog post was written as a part of a contest on Blogadda about family memories, but I ended up sending a different entry. So, just revisiting an old post!

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