Feeds:
Posts
Comments

“I have the opportunity, once more to right some wrongs, to pray for peace, to plant some trees, and sing more joyful songs.” —William Arthur Ward

I know it has been a while since we last had one of those deep meaningful talks. So here I am.  Perhaps still a long way from admitting I am a bit weary of sitting on the fence.  Nor am I going to push the yearning for a security blanket to the forefront. I have no excuse to prompt this conversation so whatever it is or is not, I still hope You are as glad as me to have this parley.

It only looked like yesterday I was anticipating the dawn of 2013.  I don’t know where the year has disappeared but 365 days has most swiftly passed me by. In the blink of an eye, another countdown and another extravagant display of fireworks has come by to ring in the New Year.

Before I start on my wish list for the upcoming year, I cannot wait to tell You how last year has been.  It hasn’t been the slightest perfect, but even if my outlook and attitude has been found to be wanting in a lot of areas, I wouldn’t change an iota of any of the external influences or triggers.

The year is here to stay or so we think but just when we are lulled into this false sense of security, another countdown will begin. Like most people out there, I also seem to have very selective memory in remembering only the highlights and judge a year based on it.  But in hindsight, it is often the dreary, monotonous, everyday grind of our days that contributes to the true flavour of the year.  It is these forgotten moments also that moulds us and personifies us and perhaps what sets the tone for the next year.

Perhaps this year I am a rung higher on the maturity ladder; after all learning to live each year, which seems to be no more different than the previous year, with more stoicism and less gripe is what maturity is all about.  Guess Einstein has a different term to it, but I prefer to go with my version and consider myself allegedly mature than insane.

I know that You are tempted to remind me that what one takes to the year is what one benefits from it. I admit that I did not take a lot of optimism to the last year but surprisingly the year has been kinder than I had anticipated in quelling my angsts and above all, very illuminating.

In this materialistic world, success is mostly defined by the assets we gain and surround ourselves with; so even if you have made leaps in your self-knowledge, pushed boundaries and ascertained your self-worth, ranked your integrity above your bank balance and are standing with your head held high, technically you still haven’t made it as there is no tangible worth of these moral assets.

Candidly speaking, a tiny part of me might still care about this niggling fact but the majority of me is in celebration and in awe of the possibilities of this self-awareness and in sheer respect and admiration for those who live by this code.

I wouldn’t attribute anything spiritual or other fancy sounding abstract metaphysical labels to the year’s journey but merely a humble and simple understanding that one’s life is defined by not what we possess but what we are.

Occasionally I am plagued by self-incriminating thoughts whether I have made the best of the opportunities and the year given; all I can say is I haven’t had much regrets so far.  I do know that at times I am overwhelmed by life’s monotony and my perception needs frequent doses of rose-tinted glasses; however I wouldn’t trade my life for anything else.

Even though we don’t catch up that often, I am wholeheartedly grateful for everyone and everything in my life, including the ups and downs and for another year.  As the light’s brilliance is only appreciated best in darkness, I know that it is only moments of strife and trouble that highlight the blessings in our life.

I do have a long wish list but if there is one thing that I cannot do without in the upcoming year, it would be to have this new-found appreciation for life and everything in it continue and thrive.

To the New Year!!

Amen.

Picture Source: Internet

Back to Blogging

I am quite impressed to see how some bloggers despite their hectic everyday lives make it a point to blog every day.  Some of them even do a couple of posts despite the demands of their careers.  It is not just quantity but quality too; I am amazed at some of the engaging writing that occurs here on a regular basis.

A few others, even if they don’t seem to write much, still find the time at least to visit other blogs and leave behind their blog prints.  A simple ‘like’ and you have got the blog owner curious to see who has liked their post – and voila, the blogger has got himself a visitor.

In fact I see this habit more on the increase and even if I am not too fond of this rather underhanded method of attracting more readers, I still admire the fact that these bloggers take the time to visit at least a few new sites every day and like or follow other posts.  At least they are online unlike me!!

I got onto the blogging bandwagon three years ago and used my writing more as a cathartic release of my emotional state at that time.  Even though writing wasn’t an overwhelming passion of mine, I seemed to enjoy the release it brought me.

My blog had a limited readership, just friends and family and perhaps a few frenemies too who were interested in the goings in my life.  I never took any steps to attract more visitors and even dropped off from facebook through which I was sharing blog links.  The blog existed merely to satiate my need for an outlet – purely a self-centred exercise, a pandering to the self.

When I was asked to write for a local newspaper, I stopped blogging any original articles on this site and merely re-published whatever had been printed in the paper.

But sadly somewhere between then and now, writing became more of a chore.  With deadlines to meet and the subtle pressure to write on more palatable subjects without causing any undue ripples, I started feeling that my articles were becoming more and more stilted and rather bland, lacking the vibrancy that once used to define my writing.

Well, looks like the articles I churn out are still good enough as I still have people coming up to me and saying that they enjoy my columns.  But then I couldn’t help feeling like an imposter!!  I was finding it harder and harder to continue writing when I wasn’t deriving any satisfaction from it.  So finally I caved in to the desire to write for myself and decided to take a break from my column-writing.

Even though this is only a temporary respite, I have decided to make the most of this break and self-indulge in some unadorned and candid writing that might spark my dormant passion for blogging.

Having said that I am still not going to find the time for blogging like some of my peer bloggers that I admire but hey, small steps eh !!

 

To defend one’s home and fields and ancestral graves against invasion seems a right. But to claim unique possession – to compound the fact of settlement with the aspect of a landscape into an abstract of eternal and immutable ownership – is a joke.”
― Neal AschersonBlack Sea

Despite not being an avid fan of wild-life documentaries, I am totally fascinated by the migration patterns of animals and birds.  It is rather majestic to see a herd of wild beasts or a flock of birds on its migration route.  But what’s even further amazing is that the migrating fauna have this innate ‘homing’ instinct to come back to their home grounds.untitled

One then wonders why is that human beings alone, by all accounts higher on the evolution scale, would want to spend their lifetime away from their own countries of origin?

It is indeed an individual’s choice to migrate in most cases, but then for most migrants, this choice comes with a heavy price to pay.  Who in their right minds would want to get out of their comfort zone, away from their own natural habitat, separated from their loved ones and step away from their cultural upbringing and every single aspect they have been raised with?

We all have our reasons and even if most of them are founded on economic motives and may not sound highly convincing to an onlooker, they are crucial enough to kick-start the migration process and the ensuing displacement; every single reason is heavily underlined by the desperate need to survive in a world better than what we have known.

I always claim that first generation migrants have it far difficult and their work cut out for them. Sadly, the majority of us no longer fit into the country we left behind nor do we develop the sense of belonging in the new country that we have adopted.  We live like beings in transit with this overwhelming sense of temporariness and displacement, forever being the new kids in the block. What’s worse is the stamp of migrants stamped on our foreheads for the rest of our lives!

If this is how someone who has intentionally migrated feels, I cannot say I can even begin to understand what it means to be in the shoes of a refugee or even worse an asylum seeker, who is driven to seek refuge out of conditions over which they have no control.

I recently happened to see “Mary meets Mohammad”, an insightful documentary about Tasmania’s first detention centre and the journey of one of its inmates.  I have only been hearing good things about this movie, since its initial screening within Horsham.  Finally, thanks to a friend’s insistence, I managed to see it last weekend.mary1

I have to say it is mostly unlikely for anyone to stay unmoved by the unfolding of the stories of the asylum seekers on the screen. The film is highly perceptive and skilfully crafted presenting all sides to the story, leaving the discernment to the viewers.

And discerning, we most definitely are, but sadly backed with half-truths and myths and having our judgement clouded by our prejudices, biases and sometimes even our ignorance. It is highly impossible to label everything into neat little boxes, turning a blind eye to the subtleties or complexities of a situation.  Life for sure isn’t black and white and it is sometimes inhumane to strip the emotions out of a situation and view it under the bleak lens of objectivity or sometimes even lesser emotions like paranoia or ignorance as we are forced to at times especially with asylum-seekers.

This movie couldn’t have come out at a better time when asylum seekers are constantly featured as headline news.  It is definitely hard on countries to deal with the symptoms without addressing the root of the problem which is at times beyond their control.  As much as I understand the government’s prerogative in stopping the “boat people” in light of heavy casualties at sea, I am at times exasperated and weary of seeing this issue constantly played to the hilt as a political agenda and a convenient red herring.

But perhaps it is in helpless situations like this that such documentaries can sow the seeds of awareness and influence the attitudes of individuals and even communities, bringing about the acceptance and the much needed understanding around asylum seekers and perhaps even facilitate future policy changes.

No doubt the situation is bleak and will continue to be given the growing number of refugees and displaced people around the world.  There is no definitive solution on the horizon but at least we can endeavour to understand the desperation that pushes these people to endanger their lives in their last attempts at some semblance of normalcy.

After all, the basic instinct of human nature is survival, isn’t it?

Images Source: Internet

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily”Zig Ziglar

Some months ago, I was invited by a very persistent salesperson to come along to a personal development weekend.

Now I am the sort who runs miles away from life-coaching, not because I think I am perfect or need no altering.  I simply believe that change needs to start within oneself and not prescribed by others especially by such companies who have not the slightest vested interest in our success or happiness. I also believe there is no ‘one size fits all’ overnight remedy for life’s problems.

However tired of the incessant marketing calls, I finally gave in and said ‘yes’, more to the lure of the city and its finest restaurants and some “me” time than any attempts at self-improvement.

Besides life coaching is the growing trend in today’s world, be it business or sports or personal lives – more and more people seem to be either having a life-coach or turning into one.  Even with a fair insight into what can happen at these sessions, I was still naturally curious to experience it first-hand.

So with another friend in tow, I finally arrived in Melbourne for the workshop at 8 am.  Never a morning person, I was already full of resentment for losing my beauty sleep on a Saturday morning.  When I saw the rather eclectic crowd gathered there, I almost chickened out and started berating myself for not being more assertive with the salesperson.

I couldn’t peg the crowd into one slot, there seemed to be people from all walks of life. From the snatches of conversation I heard here and there, I found there were some like me, coerced into the workshop.  However, most of them were there hoping that they would get something out of that weekend.

For the usual sceptics out there like me, there wasn’t anything extraordinary about the course. There was the typical overzealous coach who made you want to covet her protein shake hoping you would experience the same energy buzz, the boisterous team of volunteers who left you more annoyed than grateful for their weekend volunteering efforts and time, the usual pep talks and games designed around kinaesthetic learning, the motivational clips that were crafted to get your tear ducts working overtime; yes there was all the ingredients necessary for an inspiring and motivational weekend, including the most unimaginative catering that left one in a perpetual state of taste deprivation.

But then even hard-core scepticism gets breached; even the most blinkered and narrow-minded people have their psyche rattled after such weekends.  Surprisingly so for me it wasn’t the emotional sweating, the cleansing rituals or anything I mentioned in the above paragraph that left me altered; my own moment of realisation dawned upon me when I was looking at the people who had taken part in that weekend.

Each one had a story to tell, of course some reeking of desperation, some of addictions and mostly of despair.  But then the beauty was they were there, turning up at that weekend against all the odds stacked in their lives to give themselves another chance, another beginning.  It was their resilience, their hope, their belief in themselves and their optimism that they can turn things around that struck me the most.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learnt not from the course provider but from the participants was never to give up on oneself.  What truly matters is how far people can bounce back from their setbacks!!

Having said that, I would not write-off the benefits of any personal development course hereafter. Of course I would still insist that there isn’t anything magical or extraordinary about the sessions in themselves; however such courses give us the much needed time for self-reflection and insight that we ignore to give ourselves in our everyday life; the nudge that we need to remind ourselves that our lives are more than the daily grind. Most certainly, the emotional detox helps one to get more clarity and focus to continue on one’s journey.

I am not a total convert yet but I believe I got more than I bargained for out of that weekend; if nothing at all I believed that the weekend gave us back the ability to believe in ourselves and in our dreams.

Education

I can’t read a computer screen and never use a calculator. It’s all in my head and by hand.
-
Simon Reuben

Every now and then, I have nightmares of sitting for an exam, unprepared and totally petrified at the sight of the question paper. Of course I wake up with a start and reassure myself that my dreadful exam years are in the past.

I wonder if it is just me or every other person with an exposure to the Indian education system that is plagued by such recurring nightmares throughout their lives.

Exams, entrance tests and high scores have been the bane of not just my childhood but most students and even parents too from middle class families in India.  The mind numbing pressure to excel academically has been drilled into us at such an impressionable age that education in the end is all about grades and very little to do with seeking knowledge.

Ever seen a sugar cane juicing machine in action, especially the flat, lifeless crushed cane stalks after the juice has been extracted?  That’s how I think most children and their parents must feel once they have been through the merciless grind of the Indian education system.  Given the cutthroat competition for limited slots to quality education and professional jobs, there is very little one can do differently.

After migrating to Australia, I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to subject my children to an upbringing striving at academic excellence.  Even though it is second nature for most Indian families to push their children with additional home coaching and tuition, I decided to stick to my decision; however tempting it was to emulate other parents.

 I was thrilled that the Australian education system encouraged independent thinking and practical knowledge and still believed in a childhood not weighed down by excessive homework.  Mostly I am content to allow the children to progress academically as per the school’s curriculum.

Occasionally I would feel a twinge of guilt at my easy parenthood, especially when I come across my child’s appalling spellings or grammar and around national assessment testing at school.  Perhaps the children needed some extra help at home but I would pacify myself that academics excellence did not get me any extra perks.

From my own experience, being on the Honours list or winning scholarships seemed to be empty accomplishments in the long run.  At times, it is pointless to have put in all such efforts in striving excellence at academics and having very little to show for it in terms of a career or the monetary benefits associated with it.  So I have learned to quell any voices in me urging otherwise and conditioned myself to breeze through my children’s education.

But lately I have been questioning myself if I am doing the right thing.  I normally would not let such incidents sway my decision but at times observing the teenagers manning the sales registers who struggle with simple math calculations, I wonder if parents can afford to stay as passive observers in their children’s education.

The other day at a major chain store, I found three junior sales assistants struggling to do a simple 30% discount calculation as they had no access to a calculator.  Nobody resorted to using mental arithmetic or even simple paper and pen to do the math; one of them was even amazed at my mental capacity to do sums that I did a double take and started questioning my own mathematical aptitude and the complexity of the calculation in question.

Given the intrusion of technology everywhere, children today rely more on spell check and calculators that they seem to struggle even with the simplest of calculations and spellings.

Perhaps it is time for parents like me to invest some time and effort into their children’s studies and not simply relinquish their responsibility. Gonski or no Gonski, it becomes essential for parents to work alongside with schools towards a solid foundation of knowledge and skills for everyday life without the aid of technology crutches.  Perhaps that way we would instil a healthy appreciation for technology rather than a blind reliance.

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

-          Mary Angelou

 A friend at work presented me a book on Aussie slangs and idioms for last Christmas.  Given my rather slovenly attempts at a clean desk, the book lay on my desk for some months. Doubtless it attracted a fair bit of attention and only emphasised the fact that sayings and idioms regardless of the culture they originate from are quite a fascinating read for most people.

My own affinity for sayings and proverbs stems from my childhood.  Most cultures have elders punctuating their conversations with proverbs and sayings which impart insight and wisdom to the younger generation.  My mother was no exception at it.

Like all children adept at pushing their parents’ buttons, I too was an expert at incurring her wrath more too often. Now my mom, more bark than bite, reverted automatically to sayings when she had a go at me. Be it an admonishment or a pep talk or even simple re-counting of everyday happenings, her speeches were always peppered with sayings and anecdotal analogies.

More engrossed by the sayings and less by the dressing-downs, I have to admit I hardly felt the sting of her expletives; little effect they had on me other than instilling in me an awe for words. Even today, I still remember fondly a few of her regular sayings, often used when reprimanding me; this one when I usually couldn’t find what she wanted me to fetch “If one cannot spot a cow in daylight, how can one find a buffalo at night?”

Another one flung at me whenever I had any excuse for my shortcomings was “One who cannot dance complains the courtyard is uneven”.   I found this one not only had an English equivalent “A poor tradesman always blames his tools” but was also popular in a few other cultures like Polish, Chinese and Filipino.

Another one of my mother’s regurgitated pearls of wisdom, when harping on getting me more self-reliant was “Packed food and words of wisdom from others don’t last more than a few days.” Yet another witty and insightful saying I remember about contagious yawns – “A young woman can go unaccompanied but never a yawn”.

 Given my own experience, I then asked friends from different cultures to recollect any sayings that they grew up with. Coincidently enough my Romanian friend had a similar upbringing to mine but unlike my case, the proverbs had a profound and positive effect on shaping her budding character.  In her own words “the growing pains of my young character were dulled repeatedly by the few pearls of distilled ancestral wisdom that were used like mantras around my household”.

 Of the few that she sent around, the ones that fascinated me were “The Lie has short legs and the Truth always catches up with her from behind” and “The person with a bad mouth is like coal- if it doesn’t burn you, it blackens you”. Simple words of wisdom, more likely to stick in one’s head than the callous and insensitive words that parents of this generation like me are more prone to cast upon their kids.

 On the other hand, the one saying that irked my Polish friend a lot when he was admonished as a kid was “Children and fish don’t talk”; however he cracked up every time he heard “The rooster was dreaming about Sunday and he lost his head on Saturday.”

 A Filipino saying that I have grown fond of and wouldn’t mind reiterating it in front of my own kids is “While the blanket is short, learn to curl to fit in it” especially the next time they start whining and refuse to make the best use of the privileges they take for granted.

 I have hardly skimmed the surface of this vast ocean of common sayings but from the brief study I have done of the sayings collected from different friends, I found that most of them have found their way into the English language or vice versa.  However, a few of them were still new to me and quite astute like the Chinese saying “A straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe” or the Indonesian one “No matter how good a squirrel can jump, it will fall eventually”.

 It is indeed sad to realise that such little gems of practical wisdom and wit, that once were the grassroots of any culture, no longer hold the place they once did. Children of this generation are hardly exposed to such sayings and the charming insight behind these words.

 If we are to go by the crass tweets or the social media blunders of today, then most definitely the modern world has indeed forgotten its cultural legacy and the subtle art of wrapping wisdom, wit and even ridicule in metaphorical sayings.

“Do we only give because we want an ego boost from knowing we ‘did good’, or only when we get tangible proof that our gift will be put to ‘proper’ use? The beauty of unconditional kindness is that we may NEVER know.”

- Chelle Thompson, Editor of Inspiration Line

 This happened a long time ago, in the first year of my living in Australia but it is an incident that has marked me forever.

 Like most migrants, I too had come a long way with fast food within just a few months of entering the country.  Having readily fallen under the thrall of the golden arches, I had already made the transition from “I don’t eat beef” to “but I eat cheeseburgers” by the end of my first year.  So one evening, after a long day at work, I had ordered a couple of burgers at McDonalds and had sat down to eat when I caught a whiff of something very unpleasant.

Unwashed body odour, stale and unpleasant wafted near me and to my discomfort I found the owner taking his seat right beside my table.  A homeless man, seemingly old and covered in layers of grime eyed the extra burger on my plate.  I saw him lean towards me and even before he opened his mouth, I simply handed over the burger and made haste to leave the place.  There was nothing altruistic or commendable about my action; my charity was compelled – out of duress, to extricate myself out of an unpleasant situation.

A few minutes later at the bus-stop outside, I was accosted by the same stench and to my dismay I found the man near me.  Despite my blatant attempts to ignore him, he held out something to me, pressed it into my unresponsive hands, mumbled something and disappeared.

This took place 15 years ago and yet I still remember the searing shame that scorched my cheeks for being singled out in the crowd.  I hesitated to look at the nearby passengers, appalled by the amusing glances I imagined I was getting for being accosted by a smelly, dirty and perhaps senile stranger.

I was young, immature trying to settle in a new country without much support and making my own rules at survival.  I had to yet become comfortable in my skin.  I usually tried to blend into the background and avoided looking people into their eyes for fear of unwanted provocation.  Moreover my primary concern was self-preservation subsequently resulting in disassociating myself from anything or anyone who might discredit me in my attempts to belong.   My reaction was perhaps justified but yet, I knew undeniably that I had failed my moral compass test that day.

Later when I looked at what the old man had thrust into my hands, I noticed it was a sticker, a strikingly clean and grime-free picture of a blue dolphin.  Perhaps one of his very few possessions, but given to someone who would least appreciate the significance of the gift.  The essence of giving was totally lost on me on that day.

Over the years, I have been reminded of the incident with various emotions gnawing at me- shame, guilt and even remorse at my pettiness, my concern over outwardly appearances and my rather shabby treatment of the old man.

However, life being the greatest teacher, had on several instances, taught me what it was to be in the old man’s shoes and experiencing  the pain of having one’s gift of giving wasted on unresponsive ,disdainful  and even undeserving recipients. It was on such occasions that I fully understood the significance of the old man’s rather paltry token of gratitude. Of the two who had practiced giving that day, I understood who had truly given.

We all practice giving, almost every day, within our own circle of friends and family.  Most of us delude ourselves that it is selfless and unconditional giving, especially what we practice within the boundaries of our chosen relationships and attributed roles.  But in reality we are pandering to our own self-interests; a conditioned response in the arena of human relationships.

However the kind of giving that leaves me humbled and amazed is at the opposite side of the spectrum – the giving practiced by volunteers all around the world.  It requires a different kind of strength to give to totally unrelated people, to give making oneself vulnerable, to give in the face of rebuffs, rejections and denials and above all to give without any expectations of material benefits or accolades.

A week ago I was at the Volunteering Western Victoria recognition awards and I couldn’t help but be moved by the diligent and tireless efforts of giving practiced by groups and individuals within the region.   It is mind-staggering to see how much the world relies on volunteering and on such noble and benevolent acts of giving.  Having said that, not all volunteering efforts are visible or even recognised; at times some of their labours may end up being unappreciated and unacknowledged as the old man’s gift but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to give.  There is no doubt a cost that most volunteers are forced to pay in the face of such demanding selfless and truly altruistic behaviour, but fortunately for the society and community at large, that does not seem to dissuade or discourage them at the least.

It is that absolute essence of giving that the old man taught me to respect and revere albeit belatedly; life’s lessons do come from the oddest teachers at times!!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: