Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What they think of me



They did a round of introductions recently at work and this is a little of what they said...

The dormant activist. Don't you dare offer her Coke. Or uphold the current Indian education system. If you do, you can be sure she has enough arguments to knock the wind out of you. A thinking person's favorite. She blends reason, wit and sarcasm into her copy! And of course, gets upset when clients cant appreciate either.

Hmm... so that's what they think. Dormant activist. Maybe true. I have been dormant mostly. What I feel I really should do is find a way in which someone would listen! Like I said in my previous post, every time I say something, people don't really listen. Is it the tone, the anger in my voice, too much passion, what is it? How do we make people listen?

We don't care

Every time I begin to talk about the environment, Coke's atrocities on the world's water, the situation of our education system, anything that I feel strongly about that I really think everyone should feel strongly about... I hear a "Ok...here she goes again...," or "Simmer down, it's ok..."

Why would anybody think that depriving an entire village of water to make Coca Cola is ok? Or the melting of the ice caps in the Arctic region, or the death of the polar bears, or the fact that it is really very hot in Bangalore right now, and the reason is global warming? Why is everything bloody ok?

The reason it is ok is the same reason we are in this mess. Most of us don't really care as long we have our conveniences, as long as we are not the ones being evicted from our homes because the whole village has flooded! As long as we get our water, and our food, and our clothes... we don't care if someone else has a well infused with pesticide, we don't care if children on an island are eating mud-cakes, we don't care that little children stitch the soles of our branded shoes... the hell with all that. We don't care!

And so we will go on... not listening to the voices that speak... not hearing the cries... not caring.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Killing's not the answer

Killing's not the answer
No matter what you say
Killing's not the answer
It isn't God's way

We all must get together
Try to help mankind
We must stop the fighting
Fighting makes us blind

- Jose Feliciano

Simple song. Powerful message. When will we hear it? When will we stop killing in the name of peace? The earth is drenched with the blood of her children. And yet we continue to murder. Our reasons - someone looks different, someone believes something other than we do, someone is blocking our way on the street! Life is too precious to take in one sweeping, unthinking act of hatred or fear. When will it all end?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free education?

Article 45 of Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution made it the duty of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to age 14.

The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act 2002 has provided for free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years as a Fundamental Right under Article 21A of the Constitution. Also, the Act provides under Article 45 that the State shall endeavor to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of 6.


A colleague of mine is trying to get her three and a half year old son into a reputed school in Bangalore. There has been some change in the way they do their admissions now. In keeping with the Ganguly Report they are following a point system. And, as some parents would think, the school was under just a little bit of pressure about filling their coffers with the sales of admission forms. Note admission forms – not fees, or donations, or building fund – just the admission forms. So they have done away with admission forms. Now all you need to do is buy the prospectus for Rs 300, which you need to refer to in order to write the letter requesting for admission. Hmm – so what was that about the admission form fee again?

The next issue one must talk about of course is the big F word – Fees! “Well last year it was Rs 43, 000, I don't know what it will be this year. “ 43 THOUSAND!!! My friend has been putting aside money since her child was born, timed the exact month and year and has her deposits maturing just so she can pay the institution a sum that could feed a family of 5 for... I don't know how long. All this for one year of schooling. Schooling that will supposedly prepare him for the big bad world, and equip him to enter the rat race. Well, maybe I shouldn't be too hard on the education system these days. Maybe there is something worth Rs 43,000 that they will be teaching the little fellow. Like the letters of the alphabet, numbers, nursery rhymes... and then weights and measures and so on. Yes... all very important and necessary.

Of course, through all this, the child will not be allowed to question anything, will have to simply follow the drill, will get lost in the crowd, will definitely learn his 2 times 2, and a whole bunch of other words, and sure enough make it through high school and go on to become a doctor... or an engineer perhaps. I'm not sure how much his schooling is going to cost my friend. And then there is college and a professional course, and a Masters in the States.

The trend seems to be that parents need to pay a great deal of money to get their children through a school with a 'name'. Whether it is the fees, the donation, or the other expenses that come up through those 10 years, not to mention gifts for the teacher and principal.

My cousin's 2 year old will start play school soon at Rs 17,000 a year in June. She wanted to send him to a Montessori school, but that would mean they would be dearer by Rs 35,000 so she chose the play school.

The State of course does provide free education in the guise of Government Schools. This would mean a lack of facilities and teachers, children dropping out early, girls leaving school to work, bad food in the mid-day meal, etc, etc, etc...

When will our children be given their rights?

Monday, February 18, 2008

I must fight my own mediocrity

I must fight my own mediocrity
Battle with it and drive it
into the abyss

If I am not
What I want to be
I am to blame

There must be struggle
to become

Phototramping

I was looking at a photography site (in my endeavor to educate myself on this fine skill) and came across Maciej Tomczak and his site phototramp.com. Maciej calls the site an "online forum dedicated to budget-travel photojournalism."

The man apparently goes around the world, documenting his low-budget travels through photographs. And the pictures are something else! I especially like a close up shot of an animal he took in Alaska, I can't figure out which animal it is, though by the cold blue eyes I can tell it must be rather menacing. Black head with blue eyes and the focus is on the eyes...sent a shiver down my spine but I had to keep looking at it. When else would I get to look into the eyes of a predator?

He also offers tours that interested folk can take with him. Think he might be on one now in Asia. Would be a fantastic thing to do sometime - once I have a decent camera, and the money!

Grilled Vegetables for those who don't cook



I don't cook much. Having to make three meals a day, everyday, throughout the year weighs me down. So much can be done in the time it takes to prepare food on a regular basis that is consumed in approximately 15 – 20 minutes, often with very little conversation to accompany it. Still, one must do the things one must do I guess.

For those of us whose culinary skills have much to be desired here's what I did with some vegetables, olive oil, and an oven.

Chop a bunch of interesting vegetables like red, yellow, and green bell peppers, some mushrooms, baby corn, broccoli and onion. Add some tofu to it and the dish is even better. It's probably a good idea to give the baby corn and broccoli about 3 minutes in the microwave each. Now ideally I think grilling vegetables will have to be done one kind of vegetable at a time. The onions get done faster than the mushrooms, the mushrooms faster than the bell peppers, the bell peppers faster than the baby corn, so you might either end up burning the onions or under-cooking the baby corn. Still if your family is not too picky, and you don't have then time, I say put them all in at a time!

So, once you've got all the veggies together, add some olive oil, basil, sage, salt and white pepper (before putting them in). You could use other herbs as well depending on what you have at home. Mix em up and put them in the grill section of the oven at about 180 degrees, on low heat. You will need to keep a look out, and turn them around a few times so you don't burn them too much. It takes a bit of time, but the result is great!

Use a nice bowl/ platter, place a bed of lettuce on it and place the vegetables and you have a rather pretty looking, and tasty dish.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Inspired by Mattie J T Stephanek

I had not heard of him before. This is my loss.
I found Heartsongs at a local book fair and so found him on the internet.
I had not heard of him before. And this is my loss.

I have read his book now and read about his life.
I have heard about him now. And this is my gain.

If you haven't read his books, or heard of him. You should. It will be your gain.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Have you seen the old man?

We were out to dinner. Before we went in we met an old man, wrapped up in a blanket waiting for someone to drop a couple of coins in his hands. I did, and we went in to eat. The restaurant was filled with young people, eating, laughing, enjoying their time and meal together. A child slept as her parents picked on gobhi manchurian, another couple looked like they were having a fight, and the burly looking man who served us talked of Valentines Day. The old man sat on the street, looking in. He carried his life's treasure in a huge plastic bag, handles tied together with a cloth.

How must it feel for someone to sit on the outside looking in at people who spend hundreds of rupees on one meal, when he couldn't afford one. What had this man been through? Did he have a family, children, what was his life like? When you sit on the street, a brand, the latest phone or computer, the finest cuisine, the fastest car... none of it matters. When you need to sleep on the footpath it doesn't matter if you're wearing Victoria's Secret...

We got him some fried rice. He accepted like he was receiving prasad and said, "Thanks ma" and nodded his head. How much one meal must mean for those who are hungry. How much a blanket must mean for those who are cold. How much a smile means to those who have no one.

I was reminded of an old song yesterday. Ralph McTell's Streets of London sums up the experience.

Have you seen the old man
In the closed down market
Kicking up the papers with his worn out shoes
In his eyes you see no pride
Hands held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper, telling yesterday's news
So how can you tell me you're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something
To make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags
She's no time for talking
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags


In the old night cafe at a quarter past eleven
The same old man sitting there on his own
Looking at the world over the rim of his teacup
Each tea lasts an hour, and he wanders home alone

Have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with the minor ribands that he wears
In our city winter the rain cries little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world which doesn't care

So how can you tell me you're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something
Thank will make you change your mind

Jose Feliciano in Bangalore

Yesterday we were at the Johnnie Walker One Tree Music Festival 2008 featuring Jose Feliciano. The concert of course was brilliant and everyone had a great time. What I can't get is these guys who show up at concerts and make a whole lot of noise, shout requests like they are at a common bar with the local band playing, make sure their comments on music, the band and anything else that crosses their minds. Yesterday a guy shouted, "We love you Jose! And I like you're band too, it's a good band." Oh yeah...thank you for your approval mister! And then there were people whistling and shouting while they were performing! What joy is there in listening to music like that? I understand people are excited and everything, but I think what we lack is a sense of respect for the musician, and the music, and the audience. These are not a local wedding band that you can shout out requests to. After all the years of playing,the genius that the man is, the legend he has become, why would he want to stray from an obviously well planned and rehearsed performance just to make a little whiny, loud, disrespectful person feel special?

PS It reminded me of the young kid who shouted requests at the Frank Gambale and Maurizio Colonna concert in Bangalore a few months ago. The kid said, "We want some blues" and Mr Gambale said, "That was blues man, where were you?" So the kid, again said,"We want some more!" To which Mr Gambale replied, "Well, we're gonna play what we want to play so there."

Hope

I stood at the window of our 6th floor office, Maurizio Colonna's classical guitar playing on my shuffle. It's a cool day today. Reminds me of the Bangalore I used to know. The soft breeze, the kind that brings a chill with it, but not something that makes you cover up. The kind that tingles on your skin, and caresses your face, and makes you feel like you could fly. Add beautiful classical guitar music to that breeze and you experience weightlessness. I look to the left and can see the trees also taken up with this feeling of flight. They dance in the breeze, swaying to the wind's tunes. The sun is not harsh on them today. And then I can see school children on their playing field. Little girls in uniform, and school bags, running, laughing, talking...it all seems so beautiful. I looked out the window, and felt that maybe there was hope for the world. That maybe, just maybe, we could change the effects of global warming, devastation, and the misery we have brought on to the earth. Maybe, we could enjoy those beautiful cool days we once knew, and children would still play in open fields and trees would give us shade.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Getting water



We stopped to get some tender coconut water on our way back from Coorg near a village and this little girl was there, filling water. Notice her scraping off the meat of the coconut. It's not one she bought, but something she has picked up from the many that were discarded by passers by. Like us, others had stopped in their big cars, enjoyed the cool drink, haggled maybe about the price, eaten the white fruit, and carelessly thrown the shell...for a little girl from the village to come at noon, and scrape the remains.



As I watched her, she protected her pot of water like it was her life! Even shouted at the older women who tried to get to the tap before her. Like others, this ten, or eleven-year-old will carry two, maybe three pots of water home for her family to wash, cook, and bathe with.

Washing



Same village, to the right, this little girl washes clothes. The rights of the girl child...???

Camera woes

So, right now I'm taking pictures with a Fuji Finepix, 3x zoom digital camera. Looking to buy a good one... have been recommended a Sony DSC H7 but not sure if that would be the best thing for me. Have to make up my mind soon!

Taking pictures




Took this picture in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India. Fresh honey! We unfortunately didn't have time to chat with the man who was selling it, or even buy some. I don't like the taste of honey but am always fascinated by the honeycomb.

So much to do, so little time


Now that I have opened myself up to life and all its possibilities I am a little worried that I will not live long enough to experience the wondrous joys there are. I have to take a moment and read that sentence again. For about 24/25 years I have been a true pessimist. Today, for me to say that I actually want to live life to enjoy it, is almost absurd! Anyone who knows me would be surprised, I know my husband will be overjoyed (even though he knows the high will come down sometime and then I will want to die all over again), but I think it is important for me, and my friends to know that I do have times when I revel in life!

Blame it on the Sleeping Beauty Ballet Suite I am listening to now, or my husband's optimism and love for life that probably got me started anyway. Either which way, this is a good feeling!

Now I can only think of all the many things that I could do with my life right from gardening, to sewing projects, to learning about art, and music, to travel, to education, to dancing, to activism, to writing... the possibilities are truly endless!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Moonlight Sonata




I am listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and I remember that I used to play this piece – a simpler version I am sure. I started off with piano lessons when I was ten. I even did a Grade I with honors, and worked on pieces at the Grade 4 level, but never took exams after that. My piano teacher, a dear old Anglo-Indian woman whom I still love very dearly, thought it was better for me to not take up the exams. She thought it would simply lighten my parents pockets, especially since I was not going to take up music seriously. I guess she was right. Or maybe the attitude didn't really help me. I didn't practice much at the time. Not one of those children who was drawn to the toil and struggle that becoming good at one's skill involves.

My tryst with learning the keys kind of ended when I was seventeen. I must say however, that I had a great teacher in the last couple of months of the journey. Rohit, a young pianist, who now plays and teaches music somewhere in the States professionally, changed the way I looked at piano lessons. I practiced more, was interested, thought the piano was cool, and actually enjoyed it! Till then, my lessons were more of something I had to do on my parents insistence. Unfortunately, those lessons didn't last long and there ended my association with the piano. Not motivated enough I guess. Also, the fact that when you're young your parents want to show off your skills and ask you to play each time someone comes home does not really help.

Today I thought, why didn't my first teacher play these pieces for me before she taught them to me? I mean, I had no clue what the music was supposed to sound like. Rohit on the other hand, fished out the music we were learning, played it for me, let me take home the tape and really got me interested in what I was playing. It made such a difference.

Many years later, I enjoy listening to classical music. I wish I could have started off by listening. Maybe then, I would have wanted to play!

Then again, nothing to stop me now.

Where's my return gift?


Over lunch, a friend of mine narrated her horrendous experience of managing her 5 year old nephew's birthday party. Her sister had invited about 30 children and 40 adults to her only son's big bash. After an interesting puppet show for the kids, it was time to cut the cake. Song sung, candles blown, pictures taken, my friend and her aunt decided to save themselves the trouble of carrying the cake to the floor below, and carrying it all the way back up, so they went ahead and began cutting for distribution right there. The poor things. One must never cut cake in front of 30 excited young children, and definitely not a Superman cake!

“I want his head!” “I want his left boot!” “Give me his cape!” The cries surrounded them. I could only imagine the chaos as she narrated the soon-to-turn sordid tale. Little eyes staring at the sweet treat, little hands groping to get their share, little voices getting louder by the minute! Lord help! The children descended like a swarm of angry bees protecting their queen – in this case a 7kg Superman cake that each one wanted for himself, and yes, herself.

My friend and her aunt did they best they could to contain the mob of 3 foot monsters, and cut cake, and serve, and bring children water, and bring them tissue, and try to stay calm. Then the kids gorged on Superman's body parts, drank a lot of water, and of course did not want to eat any dinner.

After a generally rambunctious two hours, the kids were ready to leave, and the adults ready to drop! Then we have the clincher. They came up to the birthday boy's mother and said, “Where's my return gift?”

At this point in the story my jaws really did drop! I have not heard of kids demanding for return gifts at birthday parties. I mean, don't parent's teach kids to be well mannered anymore? Agreeably the adults could have done a better job of handling the whole cake affair – basic rule, take the cake into a safe place, cut it up into equal-sized pieces, and serve them on paper plates with napkins. Also, we can say that the kids were excited, too much sugar, mob mentality and all that... but still! I remember we had 40 kids at our birthday parties and nobody pounced to take the head of the little ginger bread man! Now don't get me wrong, I love children and work with them all the time. Probably another reason why I'm so worried about them.

And what of demanding for return gifts? Now, when seen as an isolated incident, it may seem funny, even cute for children between the ages of 4 and 7 asserting themselves, and getting what they want. But I really worry about the state of aggression and materialism that has crept into our children these days. Apparently return gifts are mandatory at kids parties and children will ostracize a child, if their party didn't have any. So in the grand social circle of 4 year olds, it's really important to have a 'happening' birthday party.

God help us all!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why did Eve eat the fruit?

In my Sunday School Class today we were talking about Hearing God's Voice. We were looking at Genesis 2 and how the first humans, though they had understood what God had said to them about not eating the fruit from the tree, still listened to the voice of the snake. As we talked about how Eve was able, until then, to actually speak with God, have the most real relationship with the Creator, have a great life, had understood perfectly well about not eating from the tree and still chose to go ahead with Satan's offer, one student said, "Maybe she did not know that 'Satan' was in the garden. Maybe God didn't tell her about Satan, so she really did not know that she had to be careful."

I have never thought about that before. Why did God not warn them about Satan? Why didn't He not only give instructions about the tree, but also tell them that evil would be lurking in Paradise. I don't really know... and maybe we are not meant to know. But it would be interesting to find out.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dying well

The other day my husband and I were talking about how life has changed so much for people we know who have lost their spouses. After years of marriage, being single again is almost crippling for many people. And in India, for a woman to be widowed sometimes takes away any reason to live! There's a lot to say about the plight of widows in India, but I won't go into that for now.

I really want to talk about what my husband said during the conversation. "We should prepare each other for death." This may seem a bit gruesome, but it's a very good idea. Everyday, as we live, we also need to prepare for death. After all, we are getting closer to it. But don't get me wrong, this is not a morbid preparation where we begin to grieve right away!

I think preparing for the death of our spouses, and our loved ones, will only make us love them more, to show that one act of kindness, to hold them a little closer at night, to let go of the silly little things that irritate us about them, to not raise our voices, to go the extra mile and do something for them - even if it is inconvenient, to put their needs before our own, to cherish every moment we spend with them, and to live life to the full.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wait!

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord -Psalm 27:14

I must wait for the Lord to speak. This is because I have been on somewhat of a silent, distant relationship with Him for a while now. Sometime in the beginning of last year I got the feeling that I had to take care of myself. That really, there was no one who could actually look out for me, and this included God. Somehow, I got the feeling that God was not really around much. Illness, and death of loved ones can do that to you. How many times have I cried and pleaded with God to heal. It never came. After the burials, prayer became harder. I was standing at a door, banging and banging and He wouldn't let me in. At least, so I thought.

Anyway, I decided I would have to do this on my own, so I changed my job, counted my pennies and did what I had to do. It's hard being an adult - fending for yourself, looking out for your family and other people. It's tiring! And might I add, I was very busy with the house of the Lord too! Like my SS teacher said, "You are in your Fathers house, but you just got busy with the housekeeping!" That is only one side of the story. It's not that simple.

So, the end result - frustration, anger, resentment, disappointment, sadness, grief, hurt.... All of it.

The thing is that I know I have so much more to offer but I'm holding myself back because I am afraid I will not have enough to eat! Or enough to wear, or a roof above my head, or a car to drive in. I am worried my children will have the same hassles and that I won't be able to pay for their education. And the best part is, I don't even have kids!

"Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear..."

I should have thought of what the Master said a little earlier. I should have believed Him.

So now, I have worked for close to a year, doing something I really did not want to do in the first place, and I have eaten and gotten bigger, bought some nice clothes, driven around in a car and added to the pollution, and who knows what else!

But I have also learned, I have explored, I have extended myself, I have been enriched.

It's overwhelming how God lets you do these crazy things like be upset with Him, or not really converse with Him, and yet, He continues to work in your life, and continues to take care of you...it's really quite incomprehensible!

And yet He does it and so here I am. Back again... forgiven...embraced...loved.

Giving up meat

This year I gave up all red meat and chicken. It's been a whole month and I don't miss it at all! I do eat fish and egg whites - for the protein and Omega 3 fatty acids. But it's been good to give meat up. I think I lost a kg... :)The benefit is that I find it quite refreshing. After all these years, I felt light after a New Year's lunch! When we go out now, I need to find other things to eat rather darting straight to KFC, or choosing the barbecued spare ribs at a Chinese restaurant. So it really is a whole new experience and I'm enjoying it.

Taking control

I've been fighting weight for as long as I can remember. My dad used to wake me and my two brothers up at 5.30 in the morning to take us jogging. I hated it. Twenty odd years later I struggle with weight...am Grade 1 obese... and don't feel too good about the way I look. Being over weight has had many implications on my life, and really has defined how I look at myself.

Anyway, without more moping... the reason I began to write about this whole thing was that today I made a positive move in my thinking towards weight loss. I got so sick of sitting on a chair in the office that when I came home, I went out for a walk! It was a short walk - don't know if it did me any good on the calorie front but it sure made me feel much better. I even kept moving after I got home, danced around, did some stretches...honestly, I didn't want to stop! This is a big thing for someone who normally takes to the television for evening recreation.

As I exercised I thought that I should write about this... I intended to keep a diary but then... what's blogger for huh? So ... I'm gonna talk about this right here.. and who knows...maybe we can share ideas and stuff.

For me... this is not only about losing weight. This is about taking a hold of my life and saying, " I will do what I want with my life...I will be who I want, I will become who I want, I will live my life on my own terms!" Phew... It's great just saying it!

This is the start of a beautiful journey... I just know it!