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“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.”

-Vern McLellan

 The dawn of the New Year means different things to different people.

For some people, as the New Year approaches, there is always the anticipation of what the year has in store for them. These are the eternal optimists, who hanker after new beginnings and a fresh start. Regardless of the year gone by, they look forward to a clean slate and renewal of their hopes.

Their positivity and buoyancy may run out of steam pretty fast but come another New Year, they would be there cheering on the sidelines, the harbingers heralding in the fresh start.

Humanity in general is indebted to this lot; without their perpetual optimism and faith, the spirit of New Year celebrations would wane for sure. It is their assured expectations of the New Year, their steadfast mantra that tomorrow would dawn brighter than ever, that makes the festive spirit so lively and infectious.

We have very little to worry about this crowd; they may not be the realists but definitely they are the ones who keep the world spinning and spreading good cheer in its wake.

On the other hand, with everything having its yin and yang aspects, there is definitely another group on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. This lot live in apprehension of what the New Year is going to bring.

Hardly has the countdown finished, when their hopes for the New Year falter.  For some of them even before the last spark of the festive fireworks hits the ground, the anticipation soon turns into anxiety.  The celebrations quieten down but the voices of their disquiet continue.

Their crippling fears emanate not from the unknown nature of the New Year but from their known letdowns and disillusionments of the past year.  The year gone by is not the glorified sum of all its parts but only a blinkered version of the glossier highlights to them; the result being a year not well-spent. What if the coming year too speeds them by, leaving them with very little to remember and commemorate? What would they have to show for another year in terms of their living or their accomplishments?

It is perhaps the biblical parable of the talents all over again but why place such stringent expectations on oneself? Perhaps self-acceptance and not self-criticism is the key!

Not all of us can aspire to truly belong to the first group, but we can surely spare ourselves the despair of the latter. Perhaps the light bulb moment for most of us should be that a year need not be measured only by its zeniths. If a year had no alarming troughs or resonating ripples, isn’t that a blessing in itself?

Not all plans come to fruition but the fact that we are still around to greet another New Year with our near and dear ones in good health and wellbeing is a celebration in itself!

To the New Year and to us!

Mourning

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

As usual, every year around this time, I was getting ready to write my annual post about the festive season and the joys of living and celebration. A very upbeat post is what I had intended, as my Christmas posts normally tend to be!

But how things changed, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye!

Within 24 hours, my buoyant mood had disappeared and I am sitting here at the keyboard, numb and wrought with grief.  Today the Sydney siege is over but the country is still reeling from the aftermath of one man’s psychosis.

I cannot stop contemplating the fragility of our lives, nor can I come to terms with the injustice of such situations.  We would like to believe that our worlds are safe and buffered, that we can keep other external forces and terrors at bay, but the truth, at times, can be very far from it.  The reality is no one is really immune to the horrors of today’s world; our own safe perimeters can be breached anytime and our peaceful existences shattered in an instant. The Columbine massacre, the September 11 attacks, the Colorado movie theatre shootings are attestations of our everyday normal lives crumbling instantaneously.

We are not new to such catastrophes; we see such incidents unfolding everywhere but the shock of this particular tragedy is it happening in our own backyards. It is the outrageousness of the situation; where normal people like you and me can be taken hostages in a coffee-shop; where innocent lives can be cut short rather senselessly and so callously by the despicable actions of a lunatic is what makes it so unacceptable.

We all struggle to come to terms seeing such beautiful lives wasted in a second but yet that seems to be the decree of today’s life, especially in a world that’s punctuated by such irrational and abhorrent acts. The day is not yet over and even as I sit down to write these words, I am listening to yet another breaking news of 100 or so innocent lives lost in Pakistan to more evil that grips our world.

It is at moments like this our faith in humanity is shaken to the core but yet the festive season seems to be the testimony of our resilient spirit and the human race in general coping with such tragedies.

Life goes on and we will eventually move on too, but we can only hope that the lives and the heroism of innocent people killed in such senseless and random acts of terror are never forgotten.

As we move towards celebrating the festive season, let us take a few moments to remember and pray for the grieving families who are experiencing such devastating loss and crippling heartache.

Traditions

“What an enormous magnifier is tradition! How a thing grows in the human memory and in the human imagination, when love, worship, and all that lies in the human heart, is there to encourage it.”

-Thomas Carlyle

Every year on the first of December, I send a mail to my postgraduate classmates. We had met in 2008 from different parts of the world to pursue our Masters in Europe. Till then I hadn’t even realised such countries existed, let alone I would meet and make friends with people from all these places. At first, we had very little in common, except perhaps our mutual aspiration to study; however by the time we graduated, we had developed some genuine and long lasting friendships.

For the last four years, as soon as the festive month dawns, I initiate the email chain and await their responses, not without some trepidation. I know some emails will bounce as more and more people are getting off the email bandwagon and are actively pursuing other social media. Some others will disappear into cyberspace black holes with no responses whatsoever emanating from them. But I still persist and continue the tradition of writing to them, with my hope never unwavering.

Very soon within days of the first mail, the email responses start trickling in from all parts of the world, a tribute to our memories and the times together.  We pick up from where we left as if time and distance never matters. Funnily enough most of them are on Facebook and other social media, but still, they look forward to these emails.

Without question, everyone is greatly appreciative of the email I send to kick-start the annual cyber reunion but I remind them repeatedly it is not me who keeps the tradition alive but them. Without their reciprocated efforts to reach out and respond, my email will certainly not garner any responses. After all, it only becomes a tradition when a practice is revived and fortified through the synergy of the group.

I could have chosen anytime of the year to kick off my own little ritual but I always believe December is the apt month for it.  This is the most magical period when traditions come alive all over the world, gather momentum and turn into universal and compelling life-forces of their own.

When we look around us, we can see proof of their delightful existence in every single action of ours during this festive season. The decorations, the shopping, the gifts, the food, the celebrations, the holidays, the sharing and the list goes on. Every family has their own tradition of celebrating this season – some old, some made up, some quaint and some quirky too.  Whatever it is, every single ritual gets repeated year after year, perhaps altered in some small fashion but the true essence of it never losing its lustre or its fascination to the ones who truly believe in it.

Despite the over the top and frenzied commercialism at times, this season is the embodiment of not just our faith but our beliefs and our everlasting traditions.  We may not fully know the origins or the significance of most of our traditions, but we still continue to follow them; their sameness and their routine providing a sense of reassurance and stability in some fashion.

Without a doubt, these traditions, not only instil a sense of hope within us and give us something to look forward to, but are also the binding forces of our community at times, never failing to bring us all together.

Season’s greetings to all!

On wheels..

“The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles.”

  • Sloan Wilson

 

“My PE teacher must think it runs in the family; first me now him not knowing how to ride a bike.”

Despite my daughter’s potshot at our slack parenting skills, I burst into laughter. It was bike education week at school and my daughter was concerned that her brother was going to miss it like she did three years ago. Despite my giggles, I couldn’t help the twinge of guilt that we hadn’t taught our son to ride yet.

My daughter had taught herself two years ago but my son was a different story. Content to spending his time indoors with his electronics, he never showed any interest in his bike until now, when he wanted to take it to school.

As for us, we always had some excuse or the other not to go bike riding; if it wasn’t the heat, then it was the cold or the winds. Now another round of bike Ed was upon us and my son’s bike still had its training wheels on.

Growing up, like most kids in my neighbourhood, I had learnt to ride a bike on my own.  Hardly relying on our parents, learning to ride was some kind of initiation ritual that each kid went through. As bicycles were our most common and affordable means of transport then, it was more out of necessity than choice, to learn.

Not most of us even owned a bike then; we used to pool our meagre pocket money and hire a dilapidated contraption for a few hours from the nearby cycle repair shop. If we were lucky, the cycle would stand our hours of abuse while we often fell, scraped both our knees and arms and the hardly remaining paint on the cycle. But at the end of it all, at least one kid would have learnt to balance and ride while the rest of us watched in awe and of course, envy. The saga would continue on and off for the next few months till we were confident enough to raid our parents’ cycles.

My dad, more out of concern of saving his own ride from my hands, bought me a second hand cycle, once I learnt to stay on the bike without taking a tumble. It was probably a cycle’s version of a Frankenstein’s monster; no two parts were painted the same colour and certainly didn’t look like they belonged to the same cycle. However it was my very own set of wheels and I was attached to it for a long time.

With all these memories rushing back, I longed to own a bike again. However, given my regular spats with the region’s weather and retreating indoors for the larger part of the year, I didn’t want to buy one only to have it wasting away in the garage. I decided to do the next best thing and teach my son to ride instead.

I was determined he was at least going to push his bike to bike Ed this year. As it was only a week away I didn’t have much hope for him learning to ride by then. I was prepared for weeks of agonising tumbles and scrapes before he learnt to sit upright on his bike.

However to my pleasant surprise, he was sailing confidently on his bike within the hour. I don’t know who was more chuffed when he rode his bike to bike Ed but now I am one content parent when I see my son racing outside after school to ride his bike every day.

Be it any generation, it is no doubt an evergreen and special ritual learning to ride a bike.

Originally published in November 2014:
http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2014/11/19/riding-high-after-learning-to-cycle/

Curve balls..

“Just when we think we figured things out, the universe throws us a curveball. So, we have to improvise.”

-Grey’s Anatomy

 

“When life throws a curve ball…..”

Perhaps one of the most clichéd sayings out there, but nevertheless a phrase that’s been in my mind lately.

Life isn’t smooth sailing; it is one of the premises that most of us have been raised upon. We are perhaps coached right from a young age to expect nothing but the unexpected and yet when life throws a curve ball at us, it certainly knocks the wind out of our sails.

Most often when we see someone around us undergoing a sudden trauma or an unexpected personal tragedy in their life, our heart goes out to them.  Beneath the multi-fold layers of our genuine concern and sympathy, even if we don’t admit to ourselves let alone others, at times we have felt the tiniest slivers of relief that it is not us walking in their shoes.  It is at such moments that even the ones most distanced from any kind of divinity, perhaps, might be grateful for the blessings in their own lives.

It is not that we become any less humane in experiencing such feelings.  One could say it is our highly honed sense of self-preservation kicking in or perhaps our inherent fears surfacing that we may not be strong enough as the next person to handle such experiences.  Whatever it is, it most certainly leaves us more appreciative of our own circumstances.

As for the hapless, victimised by life’s sudden turns, any semblance of normalcy or stability soon becomes yesterday’s story. Yet, some of them seem to withstand such unfortunate happenings in their life, remain positive and still come out winning, never failing to amaze us with their fortitude and resilience.

Personally, I have always wondered if these people were born with such an attitude or was it a serendipitous outcome of their enduring spirit.

Despite coming from both a culture and a personal background that stresses on caution and restraint and frowns heavily on straying far from the sidewalks of life, I have to say it has still left me unprepared to deal with the unforeseen wakeup calls of reality.

The irony is in the face of curve balls, any kind of preparedness falls short as one is never prepared in actuality to see our lives upturned or unravelling at the seams. Even our best laid schemes of risk management are thwarted in the face of unwanted surprises that life seems to whack at us, especially where our health is concerned.

The good news is life still goes on and one is not given the luxury of freeze framing such moments that redefine our lives or analyse it pixel by pixel. Out of nowhere, we are compelled to find the strength to soldier on, to dredge up the buried reserves of optimism and continue on our journey hoping that tomorrow might bring us better news. If not, at least leave us better prepared!

And that’s when we realise we have unwittingly conquered some of our fears and perhaps are on our way to joining the ranks of those whose stoicism and strength we once admired and even coveted.

Originally published in October 2014:
http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2014/10/16/trying-to-deal-with-lifes-curve-balls/

Teacher’s Day

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

– Henry Adams

While visiting India recently, I tried to reach a friend on her mobile. On the rare occasion when I attempted to call people of my own volition, I was having trouble reaching her. Anyway she returned my call later and told me she had been busy as it was Teachers Day celebrations at school. It was then I remembered the date and its significance.

There are days for almost everything now, that one loses count.  However, growing up, the only days we had celebrated as typical school functions were Teachers Day and Children’s day. On Teachers Day, students usually go to great efforts to organize events and programs as a mark of respect and appreciation for the teachers at school.

As for me, Teachers day meant very little for me in terms of recognition or gratitude for any of my teachers. I only looked forward to the day as regular classes were ditched. Even though I fared well in my studies, I had an intense dislike for school and found it hard to bond with anything related to my classes, including teachers. I might have liked one or two but in general I was wary of authority figures and hardly acknowledged or credited anyone with shaping or guiding my early years. My lack of regard and perhaps gravity for anything related to school and university later, had perhaps discoloured my opinions about teachers and mentors. I regret that I never gave them due credit even for the few who genuinely deserved it.

It wasn’t till I started my career that I was in a position to appreciate how personalities can be shaped by effective mentorship. On my first day of work in Australia, fresh out of university with literally no work experience, I came across my first mentor. Staff introductions were completed and I had just arrived at my desk when my team leader handed me a heavy user manual and a task. He told me that all I needed to complete the given task was in that book and to get cracking on it.

I had moved several companies after that and found that on day one people are usually given documentation or other equally exciting (not) tasks to trawl through but never put to actual work as I had been in that workplace.

Even though my team leader said he was available for help and quite often checked on me, his words implied I rather complete the task on my own.  It was still early days for Dr Google so the manual and a very reticent (and mildly annoyed) work neighbour, apart from the team leader were all the resources I had. After a rough start with a new computer language and work environment, I persisted and finally presented the solution at the end of the week to my team leader.  He hardly said anything at that time but months later admitted that I had passed his challenge with flying colours.

He wasn’t perhaps the most organised or meticulous or necessarily the expert in his area, but he is always the one I remember as laying the foundation in moulding me to be the self-reliant professional I am today.  I have had other mentors who have continued and still continue his work and taught me several valuable lessons in my career, but he tops the list as the one who taught me the true meaning of working independently.

As I always say, life’s valuable lessons come from the oddest teachers.  I now recognise mentors in all aspects of my life and I am more than grateful for these people who have contributed to my growth as a person and hopefully for the better.  I may no longer remember Teachers Day but I most definitely have a cherished spot for all these mentors in my life.

Originally published in September 2014:
http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2014/09/24/mentor-thanks/

“You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.”

– Alan Moore

 

The other day, I was reluctantly dragged into house cleaning duties. Not the ideal way to spend a weekend, especially in winter with the constant lure of sleep-ins.  However, with another rental inspection creeping up, I had very little choice.  Anyway while I was unleashing my usual ‘binning’ prowess at the bottomless hoard of my children’s toys, out fell this Venetian mask from my daughter’s closet.

It was one of those cheap trinkets that you see everywhere, but still there was a delicate elegance to it that I couldn’t overlook.  I guess most people are taken in by the appealing looks of these masks especially when worn in en masse at the carnivals.  While some may find their stony, lifeless expressions eerie, I generally find these cultural props quite alluring, especially with their elaborate ornate design.

While I was dithering whether to bin it or keep it, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us wear our own version of these masks in our everyday life.  Perhaps not such elaborate bejewelled masks, but I guess we do pretty good with our ‘poker face’ masks in our so-called carnival of life.

How many times have we masked our true feelings, burying our emotions and putting our deadpan expressions on display?  How often have we bit down on those searing truths waiting to explode on our lips?  Even if it weren’t for propriety, decorum or political correctness that society imposes on us and expects us to conform to by keeping a rein on our lesser emotions, we sometimes resign ourselves to bury our candour out of best intentions.

Many a times, we are held back from voicing our true thoughts out of concern for others and fear of offending others.  We would rather weave a web of false platitudes and embroil ourselves in insincerities than speak our mind which may perhaps shock, hurt or even anger the recipient, however well- deserved these truths may be.

Often it simply boils down to our well-honed sense of self-preservation too.  It is perhaps an effort to mask our vulnerabilities and to keep the world at bay, rather than expose the chink in our armour.

However, imagine how refreshing it would be to be candid and call a spade a spade! But instead we don our ‘social’ masks and choose to put up with insufferable personalities, tedious company, unreasonable demands, irrational behaviour, insensitive acts and everything else that leeches our time, energy and emotions. And on top of it, the battering our personal integrity takes when the masked imposter pops up is the icing on the cake.

However this very same caution that we exercise judiciously in wearing our impenetrable masks in public doesn’t seem to extend to our own near and dear ones.  At times, it seems like for all the careful camouflaging that is maintained outside of home, there is regrettably no holding back, especially with lesser emotions, within the confines of our own walls.

Centuries after the tradition’s origin, the masked intrigue continues even in today’s modern world……

Originally published in July 2014:
http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2014/07/30/masking-what-we-really-think/
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