Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Morning Musings: Powai, March 13, 2014

March 13, 2014
Padmavathi Temple and Powai
Sunrise in Powai

I was at the Renaissance hotel in Powai, as we were hosting an INK Salon at FICCI FRAMES conference. When I walked out in the early hours to go for a jog, I saw the sun rise over the Powai lake and saw the IIT campus at a distance. Nostalgia took over me and I decided to go to the campus for a walk. I took an auto and arrived at the main gate of IIT Mumbai. As I did not have an alumni card, I had to wake up a friend of mine who was faculty, to talk to the security to let me in.  It felt wonderful to be in the campus. I walked past the new H10, home to many more girls than the old H10 that I once occupied and that had now been demolished. I jogged to the stadium grounds, ran about 4 laps and continued jogging on the main road till the end of the campus where the dorm built by Nandan Nilekani stands.

Me and Varun
As I was jogging back, I remembered that my nephew, Varun, was in the Masters program, on a deputation from Indian Navy. I called him and he came over to the campus to meet me. We walked to the other end of the campus and he took me to the Padmavathi temple in Powai. He told me that this was a centuries old temple. I could not believe it. With a waterfront view and tall trees, the temple compound was serene and beautiful. I can see how this place is meant for quiet meditation. I was on this campus for over a year (many moons ago, I admit) and thought that I walked every corner of the campus. But, I did not know the existence of this temple. I loved this role reversal where my nephew was teaching me about a place that I thought that I knew well.

I am all prepared for the future, where my teachers are perhaps not even born. And those that are born are at least half my age and definitely twice as smart.  

Padmavati Temple, Powai

Friday, 28 February 2014

Morning Musings: February 25, 2014, Mumbai

One of the things that my friends in US comment about India is the obvious disparity existing side by side. You see an upscale skyscraper and a slum right next door. It feels as though you can never escape the poverty.


Then, there is the moral dilemma of what the rich must do for the poor, who live right next door. Why do we let this side-by-side contrast exist? Have we become blasé to the scenery that surrounds us, when we walk past it every day? I was confronted with this question within myself when I went on a walk in Mumbai where I walked past tiny homes as well as huge apartment buildings side by side. I observed the people coming in and out of the small homes kludged together with corrugated metal sheets. A lady walking out of a toilet, a teenager hanging over the flimsy balcony chatting with an aunt downstairs, kids walking out to go to school with parents in tow – if I took away the condition of the housing or the clothing that one was wearing, they could have been in any neighborhood. None of them were sitting around moping to be living in these conditions – they were all working, moving about their lives making the most of it. Sometimes I wonder what keeps a person living in a small house spare the rich that spend more on the petrol in one day than the poor person’s entire monthly salary.

As I walked by these homes and the large apartment buildings, I could not help but feel a sense of beauty in this obvious disharmony. Why should only those who can afford it inhabit a wonderful place by the sea? There is some poetic justice in sharing the view with those less privileged as well. Since you live next to each other, the one in the small home might not feel the urge to torch the sprawling buildings next door, merely out of neighborly grace.

I found another option that could make up for the disparity in a lady I met on my walk. I noticed a group of children gathered around her with their notebooks. I stopped by and asked her if she was running a school here. She is Mira of Navjyot foundation. She said that she comes there every morning 7:30 to 8:30 am to help local kids with their homework and other questions. She said that the NGO does not need money but they need people to donate time to join her every morning.

As I walked away from her and her volunteers being surrounded by kids, I was left with a sense of hope knowing that the neighbors care.

I feel that the obvious disparity that exists could depress me, but the efforts to bridge the divide certainly left me with a deep sense of hope.

Get Involved with the Navjyot Foundation: Contact Mira Mamnani 
[ Phone: +91 9004390819, +91 9819421398, +91 2226409348; Address: 52, New Silver Home, 15 New Kantwadi Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400050 ]

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Road Not Taken Part 2

Just a few days ago, I was in Jaipur and saw a road less traveled by and wondered if it was safe for women to take the path. I lamented on the fact that we even have to think twice about it. And I found my answer this morning. I went on a long walk with my neighbor Bharti. She is part of a team that just completed doing a 100K walk and I wanted to check on my own ability to walk. Bharti and I took off at 5: 30 am and walked for about 3 hours through the villages that surround our gated community. She had a GPS device and was trying to map out a route. Along the way, we got off track and kept walking anyway. We walked through small communities as well as empty fields. And we DID come across two roads that diverged in the woods.  And we took one of the roads and did not even worry about our safety, as we had each other.

So, I felt as though I found the answer for my own fear. The way to take the road less traveled is a matter of taking others into your confidence and being there for each other, instead of doing everything by ourselves. May be in our sharing, we become stronger individually, as well as a community. I thoroughly enjoyed my long walk and will continue dreaming of the 100K walk next year.
Bharti and me

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Road Not Taken

There are about half a dozen poems that shaped my life. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is one of them. I find the image of a lane leading to an unknown destination, especially a lane that looks quiet, empty, devoid of any human presence, truly desirable of exploration. When I travel, I walk through different neighborhoods, taking in the sights and sounds of that village, town, or city - be it in India or anywhere else around the world. I love the quiet time and the feeling of not knowing what to expect. I love to walk by homes of all sizes and shapes, and watch people go about their lives. A glimpse of someone brushing their teeth, or another reading a newspaper, or someone bargaining with the vegetable vendor, or even the stillness of a silent home -- all of these give me a unique insight into the lives of those who inhabit this Earth along with me. The purpose of these walks is largely to stay fit, just so that I can keep up with my energetic and curious 10 year old, but the icing on the cake is the opportunity to observe how others go about their lives, and perhaps the occasional conversation, or a new friend I may pick up along the way.

I was in Jaipur last week and as usual, I stepped out of the Le Méridien hotel to go for a walk. I turned right on the main toad and walked along the main highway with trucks and cars whizzing past me. After walking for a while, I saw a group of women turn onto a lane off the main highway. They had this purposeful, quick gait and were chatting enthusiastically as they walked. I decided to follow them, walking a few yards behind them. One of the women turned to me and asked me to join them. She wanted to know why I was walking alone; she said that I should always have a walking partner and that I should not be by myself for my own safety. This woman explained to me that all of them were farmers and that they were all going to their fields. She added ", Maybe doing the walk will help you reduce some weight!" I loved her honesty, her simplicity, and a sense of chiding me to do the needful to get into shape! I took a photograph of that lady in red and turned around to get back to my hotel.

The lady in red

As I continued to walk, her comment about needing someone to walk with stayed with me. Has it become so dangerous that a woman has to think twice about taking a morning walk alone? Maybe we all need to think of going in groups, of having someone with us. It is not the immediate solution that worries me. The next day on my walk in a different direction from the hotel, I saw a lane that was quiet, like the road not taken. Somewhere in the back of my mind, what the woman said rang out and for a moment, I hesitated to take that road. I forced myself to take the road because I did not want to succumb to that fear. I felt that it is this constantly cautious state of mind we are asking women to adopt could be preventing them from developing their full potential in the long term.  But how can I guarantee my own safety in the short term?  I am “allowed” to take whatever chances I want to take with my life, but what right do I have to give that guarantee to someone else?

What if our young women cannot take the road less traveled for fear of their basic safety? Taking that road has “made all the difference” to me. Will the young girls of today be denied of that difference? That would be a truly tragic day. For now, I keep taking that road and support anyone else who wants to do the same. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Capturing happiness

I love writing. I feel as though I go into a different world when I write. The world becomes tiny, contains just me, my laptop, and my fingers that move on their own accord converting my thoughts into text on screen. With increasing responsibilities of running a startup, my writing has become rare. My friend commented that I seem to be writing only when I lose someone I love. When I looked at my last few blogs, I realized that she was right. I wrote when I lost my aunt, or my adopted dad, or when something made me really sad. That got me thinking about where the inspiration comes from. I realized that I have been writing only when the pain has been so great that there was no other escape except through words. I feel that I need to find the same inspiration from happiness as well. Else, there is a danger of mistaking pain as an essential ingredient for inspiration. 

There is this unspoken understanding that true creativity comes from pain, bad relationships, occasional drugs, and definitely a painful childhood. Does this mean that those who have regular lives, who had an uneventful, happy childhood cannot be creative? NOT TRUE. So, here is what we regulars, who want to belong to the “creative” class, need to do. We need to learn to derive as much inspiration from happiness as we do from sadness. The issue with happiness is that we take it so for-granted that we don’t let it overflow. I think that we need to record every moment of happiness and let it stick. When I look back at what I record, I don’t want to have memories of only what gave me sadness. I want to record those happy small moments that go unnoticed in the same way I record my moments of sadness. So, here is one such moment for me...

I was driving my car and noticed that the tire signs were lit, which means that something is wrong with the tires. The first thing that I wanted to check was the air in the tires. I have a confession to make. I have been driving for almost 30 years but I do not know how to even check the air in the tires. I pulled over at a gas station and asked a young man, who was working in the garage to help me. He asked me to pull over at the Full service station, checked the tire pressure and pumped in some air and made sure that I was okay. He went out of his way to help and did not make a big deal of it. As I was digging into my purse to bring out some money to tip him, he gave me a wonderful smile and walked away to his work. It’s not that he did not want to wait but it did not even occur to him to ask for a tip. In that moment, I felt really grateful for finding someone who was so gracious. It is such a small moment that it would have totally been lost in another day or two. But, by publicly recording it, I have given it a permanent place to boost up my happiness quotient.

Aging gracefully

There are supposedly four stages of life – childhood, young age, working age, and retirement age. Many books teach us what we are supposed to DO in each of these stages. I think that the most important thing to learn is what we need to BE in each of these stages. As a child, we are expected to be naive, inexperienced; as youth, we need to seek knowledge, learn the ways of the world; in our adult working years, we need to maintain the enthusiasm of a child, and at the same time be responsible for the world that we create around us. It is in the final stage of our life, when we are expected to retire, we are supposed to be severing our ties with the material world. In the old days, one would be expected to disappear into the woods or the Himalayas. In today’s world, we need to stay home and in a place like India, most of the older people stay with their families. My father always used to say that you need to learn how to give up the control of the house and let someone else make the decisions. This is the hardest transition for most of us.

In this stage, each of us could be the child that we once were. My father became a knowledge hungry student. He read every newspaper, book as though he was preparing for an exam. He would analyze, interpret, and write his own articles and books. He stayed mostly with my sister and brother-in-law in India, but visited me. He let me drive him around, introduce him to my friends, and integrate him into my life as a mother would integrate her son. He asked for books he wanted, made me take him shopping for his favorite kind of shoes (off-white shoes with Velcro instead of shoe laces), books, and different colored pens – simple stuff that a kid would want. He did not interfere with my day to day life but was always there when I wanted to cuddle or discuss something that troubled me.

And my aunt became a child who wanted everyone around her. She would call each of her kids and grand kids on a daily basis wanting to know their routine, she would play along with her grand daughters, and laugh heartily reminiscing old times. She lost her eyesight for the last few years of her life, and yet did not lose her sense of humor. She would let her grand kids dress her up and take photos. She went along being their favorite baby. Her granddaughter Syama would dress her up as a dacoit, or a little girl, or any type of a character, and she always played along.

In her life, she experienced many injustices but was always strong. She was passed over for a promotion to be Head Mistress just because she was a woman. She did not get mad and walk away but stayed and showed the management that they could not ignore her. She ran it with authority, grace and integrity. As an aunt, she was affectionate as well as strict. I remember her hearty laughter, but the person that I saw with her grand daughter was a person I did not know. I loved the way she developed even a greater sense of humor and enjoyed her time as a kid who would be happy to let others dress her and have fun. Even when she could not see, she let others see her in the best form.

My aunt as a pirate


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