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Viewing Blog: Refracted Reflections by Sarah H Alam, Most Recent at Top
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Writing that tries to offer a fresh perspective on topics discussed. Boquets and brickbats welcome!!
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1. The Education Fraud

Today I was really riled up by Global Citizen's post : 'If girls would complete their primary education, maternal deaths would decrease by 70%'.
Someone please explain this daft statement to me because I cannot see how having completed high school will help a woman who has no access to a clean, well-equipped medical facility!
I think that is the stupidest oversimplification of a very serious social problem. What expectant mothers need is proper nutrition and support. They need medical care during and after the pregnancy, and during the birthing process. 
And that brings me to what I call the 'Education Fraud.' There has been this concerted effort by everyone in the 'do-good' field to make us believe that setting up schools is the answer to everything. From Malala's claims of how important education is to her country (it is, but so much more needs to be addressed before setting up schools) to people signing off parts of their paychecks to help some child learn his abcd's in a remote corner of the world, we all have bought into the concept of investing in schooling. It is great, but it is pointless if it is not predicated on more pressing priorities. And especially when we are already rethinking our entire learning system!
I was always irritated with Greg Mortenson's idea. It bothered me that he thought kids who were covering their frost-bitten feet with straw should be thrilled with the pencils he provided. The deprivation those children were experiencing, they would be thrilled with anything. Electricity, plumbing, water, maybe even chocolates.....? I will not accept that that the joy of learning something new (for it is a joy) is more important that basic human needs. And incomprehensible soundbites like the one that leads this write-up do not convince me. My cook's son goes to a school where where most of the students come from well-to-do families. Along with the theorems and grammar, he learns how disadvantaged he is and how different from his friends. He is a very unhappy child.
I work for an organization that sets up schools in under-resourced communities in Punjab. It is a unique model. All the children come from one community. Besides the basic food and clothing, we ensure that the children learn to express their hopes and fears. There is no set curriculum; the aim is to provide a safe nurturing environment for them to develop their potential. It is not schooling as much as it is nurturing and support. the concentration remains on what they need, not what we would like them to have.
Poverty is a much more insidious evil than a simple lack of opportunity for the affected community. It affects the mindset of a people, it affects the spirit, it affects their thinking. Recent research proves it affects both mind and brain. More pertinently, it results in markedly uncomfortable living situations and limits people's access to facilities that everyone has a right to. Poverty is a disease, and it, like any other disease, has to be given the proper antidote. I can assure you that that antidote is not a pencil or a blackboard. 
About 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world are suffering from chronic undernourishment. This is a 2015 UN statistic. Each one of these individuals, children and the mothers-to-be included, are hungry and afraid. Their main worry is how to fend off hunger pangs, where to get clean water from, and what livelihood to find that will sustain them. It is our collective responsibility to make food and stability a priority, for all people everywhere in the world. Education is only the next step. We should move to that step only after we have lived up to our humanity; after every individual in our race is safe from hunger and strife. it is not education but the freedom from hunger and oppression is the most basic human right that we absolutely must address. 

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2. Bits of Heaven

Most of us lucky ones live many lives on our sojourn on earth. We assay many roles, we experience varying circumstances. We Live. And we make amazing memories while we do that.
My dad was a very senior doctor in the Indian Railways, and we traveled a lot - always in British Raj style. Of all the memories I have of that life, the holidays are the sharpest, and the most beautiful. A snapshot of  explaining murals on a lovely temple in Orissa to him, eyes scrunched against the sun, is probably clearer today in my mind than it was then.
Travel is a wonderful way to expand the mind. It teaches you about the place you visit, opens your mind to other cultures and people, tells you you can move, change and adapt. It is an entirely positive experience in most cases. Everyone likes to travel, some in any way, to anywhere, some with more specifications. For me, I would travel less, but travel well... really well. Four stars minimum. The fact that I cannot  bring myself to shell out for more than economy-class plane tickets is bad enough. But elitist compulsions aside, I believe travelling is a must for personal growth. A person who grows and dies in the place he is born in misses out on a lot. A lot of pain, maybe, but a lot of fun too. 
But I digress. I was talking of the memories that travel engenders. A holiday is a separate space in our lives. It is a time when we take out time for the 'unnecessary', when the routine, generic parts of living are given secondary place to the special, personal part. Precious taking precedence over the pressing. That itself makes it sacrosanct.
When we create memories with people we love in a different place, we make a personal landmark in time-space. A special time is created, a bubble in itself, indestructible. 
A trip to Orlando for the opening of Harry Potter Park is an indelible memory, easily revisited. The smiles, the frowns, the heat, the conversation. The silly guitar photo. Nothing that happens or will happen can change that. A big party at home becomes one of many, but the trip will remain unchanged through Time. The first time I swam with  Manta rays is as fresh today as it was then. I can feel the cold salt water, the rough scaly fin as it brushed me, the slowing of time, the meaninglessness of the world outside the water. Another bubble I can retreat to anytime.
That bubble is a reminder of who we are, of what we do, of what matters. It confirms that life has to be more than our earthly existence. We get little pieces of heaven in our experiences as we travel, and those are what we tuck away in our hearts and minds. Because every time we experience something new, see something beautiful, taste something fabulous, we know it cannot be meaningless. We know there is more. And we know that a lifetime is simply not enough - certainly not in this miserably limited existence. 
So when we are all standing in front of our Creator on the Day of Judgement, and he opens the gates to Heaven, (after all, does anyone think they might actually go to hell??) I am going to ask instead for the 6-star resorts on the beaches and mountains of all the worlds to travel around with the people I love. And yes, with the full dessert buffet. And if he has to do a bit of recreating... well, that will be one hell of a memory!

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3. Do unto others as they would want you to do

So we are back to my favorite topic - charity. In a previous write-up, I discussed how giving away money from a stockpile of it is not necessarily noble. By extension, the concept also applies to giving away time when you have a lot of it on your hands.

But it is not so. Giving of yourself - effort, emotional attention and time - is much more difficult than writing a check, and requires real commitment. Our values are sorely tested when you have to take time out of an already full day to go do something to bring succor to someone else. It is easier if that person is someone you care about, so friends and family are a different story altogether. But when it is someone you do not even know, or even relate to well, it calls on every bit of strength in your belief system. It is also a great way to test your own commitment to a cause.

 As difficult  as it is to reach out to an individual you cannot really connect with, in sympathy or otherwise, it becomes just as important to accept them and their needs. And that is a crucial factor in philanthropy. I have heard the common dictum that talks of finding your own cause, something that you feel for. I think that is a really misguided notion.The cause should be where the need is most dire. Because helping where help is needed most is what charity is all about. I might think kids need to be in school, but what the kids really need is food and clothing first. I cannot give them a book instead of bread just so I can feel good about myself, or because I had that extra book to give away. That is a gift, not charity

Another important part is being non-judgmental when assessing need. Wondering why a needy family does not manage time better, or have fewer kids, or be less whiny is not a factor in deciding their need. Charity in its purest form must be unselfish, and that means your prejudices and opinions should be irrelevant to the act of giving.

I believe the defining nature of any charitable act is the establishment of a feeling of hope in the receiver. Hope is not just an optimistic wish, or a pleasant vision of the future. It is also a reflection of joy and satisfaction in the present. So when you fulfill an immediate need, or remove an imminent distress, it gives the person such relief that it translates to hope - hope in the present day for a better day tomorrow. And that is why it is imperative and unquestionable that we provide for the requirement, irrespective of what we think or have or want to contribute.

Altruism  is predicated on doing good for others. It does not include the right to decide what is good for them, or to classify their needs according to our priorities. Or to withhold charity because of the recipient's attitude. It was Mother Theresa who put it so lucidly, "It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving."  And how much effort, she may have well added.

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4. Paris #‎JeSuisCharlie‬

Here we go again. Another attack on free thought by three depraved, maniacal cretins. 

It takes a special kind of evil to shoot in the head a police-officer already down on the ground. And a disconnect from any and all things human to walk into a building with the intention to kill. There is absolutely no justification, no meaning, no sense in those horrifying actions that led to such tragedy. 

I cannot even hold in my mind the image of a helpless, injured man, who took on the job to protect others, being shot by a murderous maniac. I cannot fathom what his family must be going through. I cannot even begin deconstruct the incident at the Charlie Hebdo office, where everyone was simply beginning their day's work. I cannot imagine the fear and pain the people in there went through.

But I can react to the chant of 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great) that the murderers made sure everyone heard. It infuriates me that they would even invoke God. It distresses me that God did not rip their tongues out before they called out his greatness. For they have no right to be associated with God. They have no right to be associated with God's greatness. They have no right to be associated with humanity. And they certainly have no right to be associated with Prophet Muhammad.

Muhammad had gone to the home of a woman to check how she was doing, when she did not throw garbage on him as she did everyday, and offered to bring her something she might need. Muhammad ignored it when Meccans regularly placed filth on his back as he prostrated to pray. Muhammad forgave Hind for killing his beloved Uncle even though he could not bear to be around her. Muhammad forgave the people of a city that were extremely cruel to him, so cruel that an angel offered to crush the entire city for him. Muhmmad declared that one cannot sleep on a full stomach if the neighbor is hungry. Not Muslim neighbor, or poor neighbor, well-behaved neighbor, or child neighbor. Neighbor. All kinds, every one. Those are the stories of my Prophet. That is the religion he conveyed to us.

Muhammad would probably have simply laughed off the cartoons himself. And be confused by the attention he was getting. A majority of Muslims do just that.
The Quran is even clearer on responsibility of actions. We cannot 'punish' those we think are doing wrong.We cannot dictate anyone else's behavior, let alone beliefs. 'Say "Unto you your religion, unto me, mine" the Quran exhorts.

So when those freaks declared "God is great", they better know that they belong to nothing in this world, and will belong to nothing nice in the next. And when they screech out- God is great, I will just say - exactly.

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5. Hold on tight!

So I was wondering what happened to those times when God parted the sea for Moses, when dreams instructed you on what to do, and things happened with one prayer? When God actually did respond, by speech or otherwise?
Now, communities pray together for relief but the world seems to be just getting worse everyday. Natural disasters, political agendas that lead to war, morally bankrupt societies, and really, really nasty people being admired.  It does seem like God has left us to ourselves, does it not?
That seems to be a very tempting explanation to accept, for it absolves us of any responsibility to try to be good, and to work according to our own nobler beliefs. Yes, if God does not care, why should we? 
It reminds me of a poem we had in school about God responding to man's complaint on why He seems so unresponsive and distant. God replies that the connection was cut by man himself, and He has always been waiting. I wish I remembered the poem. I knew even then that this would be an important lesson in my life. I believe that it is humanity that has lost the grip of God's rope, but it is still here, dangling right in front of our eyes (so to speak). We see miracles everyday. All we need to do is be cognizant of what we see and hear. Have you noticed how you hear from a friend just when you need something to ease your mind? Or how many times you narrowly miss hitting a car, or that kitchen knife that drops a few inches from your toe? The confluence of finding the perfect home and the resources to buy it? Good luck alone? I think not. 
We hear of a child being found 10 years after the Indonesian tsunami, we see a black man becoming a President in an inherently racist country, we see a neighbor walking her dog just when we need someone to administer the Heimlich maneuver. We see daily miracles everyday. But we have become blind to God's touch in our lives. I remember the first time I felt the direct connection with divine help. My daughter broke her finger and we went to this doctor who was professional enough to admit that it was too complicated for him,and put us on to the best hand specialist there is. He was close by, and had an open appointment! Her finger today is perfect. Sounds regular and routine? My friend's son went through exactly the same break . Same bone, same finger, same hand, but because of a different game. It took two years of treatments and he still has problems with his hand. So just serendipity? Nope.
My husband had almost decided to move to India. He was in India to sign his acceptance, when he changed tracks and opted to take up an offer in Seattle instead. We packed up and moved across the country, instead of across the globe. His cancer was detected within a year of moving. We had access to one the best cancer care centers of the world here. And finally, to the best hospice care. Not to mention the company he worked for out turned out to be more supportive than family! Through the pain and the fears, the blessings came too, fast and furious - every time we needed them, exactly what we needed. There is definitely a 'God's plan', unchangeable, irreversible, unimpeachable, even if we can never understand it. And if the plan entails that He gives you a terrible time, he gives you the wherewithal to deal with it.
Outside ourselves there is so much we can try to explain away - coincidence, good planning, no-other-option scenarios - but the things we take for granted within us are nothing short of inexplicably wondrous. There is so much in our own bodies that we do not control - breathing is involuntary, the heartbeat is involuntary, and the brain is still a mystery to neuroscience. So waking up every morning with your senses intact is a miracle in itself. It took me a while to understand this. Of course I knew the science behind it. But even knowing how it all works does not explain why it works. And that is precisely why cloning or stem-cell research does not bother me at all, and should not worry anyone with a belief in a higher power. Man can put together the cells, organs probably, and maybe even limbs but it will not be a person. Life is not structural. It is not even biochemical. It is... well, miraculous. And that is beyond the purview of man's capabilities. I will be delighted if we can just put together a clump of cells specialized enough to use to heal ourselves. 
But all that is physical, which is the most banal, most inconsequential aspect of humanity. Our emotions, our feelings, our spirit is what defines us. If we learn to accept that real self in us and others, we see more miracles than the unlikely cures and NDEs. We hear of people happy in terrible circumstances, we see a prisoner with an 'unconquerable soul' having no bitterness towards his oppressors, we understand why we immediately feel better in good company, we experience how laughter does actually heal the soul. We realize how hanging onto a hope actually makes what we hope for happen. And I am not talking of some vague abstract thoughts put across by a guru. These are events that have actually occurred. These happen everyday, everywhere. I know of them in my life, and see them in others'. You need to open your eyes to see it in yours too. Open your mind and heart, and hold on tight.
Hold on to that rope that is always just a grasp away. Just hanging on to His rope is enough. It will take us through lessons and trials, though joys and delights. It will carry us through the darkness to where he wants us to be. And that is not going to be a bad place.

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6. We Present Us

I have been hearing about extravagant weddings that make me wince. I know of vacations that create more stress than relaxation because the purpose was to be 'seen' on vacation. Our lives somehow get dictated by the kind of Facebook status we can whip up. Going to a fancy restaurant is more to 'check in' with friends than enjoy that great food and service.

I have noticed that the more people are fixated on appearances, the less they have within themselves to get to know. Once you look past that well-designed shell, there is nothing to interact with. And being fond of shoes or spas is not what I am talking about. We can enjoy the feel of silk in our clothes and delight in that exclusive piece of art we bought. That is one of the few joys of life. What is not right is when we do it only to be seen. We wear what we think other people think we should. We buy what we think should be in our possession. It must be a very stressful life when what we are is a constantly changing image of what we imagine others would like. The amusing part is that nobody outside actually cares. People are either too busy dealing with how they look themselves, or have grown above that. Either way, how you present yourself is not in their radar. There will always be that scum of society that is watching only to fault others, but that section of humanity (using the term loosely) requires another write-up!

It does not matter how much money we have. Once we are rooted to our values​, we are comfortable with who we are. And access to wealth, or cutting off from it, does not change us. Of course,​a change in our financial situation bring​s about major changes in the way we live. A reduction in income necessitates a cutback on things earlier taken for granted, and a substantial increase may bring about a lighter watch on the credit card. But it does not affect what we like, or what we want from life.

Warren Buffet, one of the world's wealthiest men, lives in the same three-bedroom house he bought early in life because it still fits his needs and wants. He lives in an average home, in spite of the wealth he has. And I still want to buy an island, in spite of my lack of wealth. :)

There is a distinct difference between buying something we want and buying something we think we should have. And understanding that difference requires a maturity that is not common. It is a maturity that comes from knowing yourself, respecting yourself, and accepting who you are. The best way to get to that state is to shut ourselves off from opinions of those who do not matter to us. We can learn to listen to our own real needs when we can disconnect with the clamour of the world telling us what we should want. When we present ourselves to the world as we are, the stark reality and uniqueness adds not only to our own worth, but also to the world's.

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7. For it is in giving that we receive

So here I was, in a lovely hotel enjoying a to-die-for breakfast in a city I did not like much. The buildings reminded me of New York, the people, of New Jersey. The city is a bunch of artificial things and even more artificial faces that seem to be at odd with its natural environs. Yes, I do not like Vancouver, Canada. Yet I was really content. Was good food all that mattered ? :) The answer struck me when I realized the flavor of the coffee was improved by the cup it was served in. It is not where you live, it is how you live that makes life what it is.

Unless of course you are living in New Jersey or New Delhi. One has rude people, the other has dehumanized animals who need to be shot. No amount peace can bring happiness in Jersey because of the mean aggression in everyone; and one, however rich, can never have even an iota of peace in India's capital because it is peopled by brutes.

But in general, the rule stands. Life can be good, or bad, anywhere in the world. It is the people you have around you, and personal accessibility to needed facilities that make your life what it is. Living in the fabulously lovely hills of Montana would be what I call 'peaceful postcard living' but one can enjoy that astoundingly clean country as long as one does not require the hospitals of major research universities that are within reach in the cities on the coasts. You could own a lake, but then if you do not have the time or ability to frolic in it, is it worth it? A house with a large ballroom and no parties to throw?

And by extension if how you live matters, and not where, should not happiness be in how you look at your situation, and not where life has brought you? So that large ballroom could make you happy, even if it is always empty, if you like to simply have it.

I do not believe in the sour-grapes theory that the wealthy are unhappier than those with less (they just seem unreasonably unhappy to those of us who can see how much they have!). Happiness is not predicated on how much of what you have. It is how much you like yourself, and how you deal with things that you do not like. Nasty people, illness, punctured tires, irate boss, whatever. It may be more comfortable to cry in Mercedes than on a bicycle, but the distress is the same. What matters is what made you cry, and how fast you bounce back. And that has no bearing on whether you cried in a Mercedes or on a bicycle.

 A TV show character said 'the purpose of life is to live as long as you can, as well as you can'. I actually changed the channel right away, it was so wrong. I cannot imagine a more purposeless life than one where the sole purpose is self-prolongation. So what, then, is the purpose of life? Of course one must enjoy it, but what exactly will bring you that enjoyment? Relishing a good pastry? Certainly. But it is more the sharing of that pastry with a friend.

I believe one has to realize that life is not meant to be prolonged, for it is defined by the fact that it ends. What one needs to do is make it count! Not by a greedy grabbing of everything. Just possessing, obtaining, 'living it up' never works. Try it for a day... do something you like to excess, and see how you feel by the end. Miserable. On the other hand, try giving a bit, sacrificing for someone, taking time out give someone a hand. If that does not help you feel better, I suggest you lie down and stop breathing because you are a psychopath.

We are mortal, and everything in the universe has a time limit. Simply 'going on' is hollow. But what you do while you go on is what matters. When I look back, the only regrets I have are the times I did not do something to help another. Yes, there are the "oh I should have bought that damn house when it was at such-and-such price" too, but the feeling of 'loss' is not as intense. It is with an implacable pang that I think of the girl who was walking down an empty road in NJ, and I did not offer her a ride because I had zipped past, and did not know how to make a damn U-turn in that stupid place. I still remember the beggar boy dipping dry bread in water. And that I did not cross the road to give him that useless money in my purse because I was feeling awkward with so many people just looking on (Yes, in India, everyone stares). When there is a fifty-fifty chance of feeling stupid or giving some relief to a human being, I will take that chance. It is a lesson learnt hard.

Chocolate cake, a good book, music, diamonds,comfortable shoes... all bring incredible happiness of course, but those joys are ephemeral. A kind act another does for us always stays with us. I have so many memories of strangers helping me out - people whose names I do not even know. Like the man in Hyderabad who stood with us quietly, till my uncle arrived, late in the night when my sister and I were stranded with a broken car. And what my friends have done for me, I cannot even begin to enumerate! All those memories sustain me. Whether we know it or not, it is the collective goodness of the world that we live on. And contributing to that goodness is what I think life is all about. Reaching out to each other to give joy and solace is not silly, or a waste, or even something you do when you 'have time'. It is an essential aspect of living. Not for the receiver but for the giver. That is an elemental truth.

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8. Gunning for the gun

Sometimes I wonder what a person was thinking when they come up with ridiculous ideas. Does not help my sanity, but I do wonder all the same. The guy who made the guillotine and the sadist who designed assault guns. And retarded parents like those who gave their 11-year-old a gun for protection. The kid used it at recess to threaten his classmates.

Everyone has voiced their opinions on gun violence. I have only one- get rid of the damn things altogether. Why do we need them at all? Those who want hunt - develop your damn skills to shoot and use a bow and arrow! You are doing it for fun anyway. Though what kind of fun it is killing something that is not bothering you is beyond me. Maybe the mental disease aspect starts there. I think there is only a very fine line between going into the wild to shoot unsuspecting animals and going into a mall and shooting unsuspecting shoppers. (Shooting kids is something too raw for me to talk about.)

I understand the need for protection. Unfortunately the same  things that we choose for protection are the ones that hurt and kill.  Why do we equalize protecting ourselves with hurting the person we need protection from? Offence and defense are two entirely different things, and must be kept that way. Of course there are cases when one needs to kill an attacker, preferably before he/ she gets set off. If we could redo things I would have no problem executing Adam Lanza. I would not have a problem incarcerating his mother either. It is criminal irresponsibility to have guns in the house with a disturbed boy.  But you do not need an iron contraption triggering little bits of metal at high fatal speeds to protect yourself. A well- placed kick, a Taser, pepper spray, a knife.....and according to airport security, nail cutters apparently!  I know my suggestion sounds simplistic, but evil will exist and we have to deal with it without becoming evil ourselves. Having more guns to offset the danger of ones that are already there is not the answer.

Guns make it easy to kill. The lack of direct physical contact with victims creates a disconnect which eases whatever qualms a psychotic lunatic might have.  (Yes, barring gun-totting on a job like in law enforcement, everyone in possession of a gun IS a lunatic. And even with responsible officers, we have too many accidental firing of guns). Pulling the trigger is simple, quick and horribly efficient. The only time for that proficiency is to prevent a heinous act or in the course of justice.

Nothing is perfect. We are flawed creatures living in an imperfect world.  There are defects and disease in our society and in individuals. But nothing ever was, or ever will be, solved by arming  ourselves. Guns are not recreation, and if you think it is you are one of those I have no problem putting in jail preemptively. Guns are not protection, they provide only a threat of damage, and that safeguards nobody. Guns are certainly not a deterrent. A deterrent to violence cannot be a thing that brings about that very type of violence. It is like the stupid idea that we should have nuclear weapons to prevent a nuclear war. ( No, idiots. The way to prevent a nuclear war is NOT to have nuclear anything) Guns are not a right.When driving is not a right, there is no reality in which having a gun is a right. We took away segregation, now its time to take away this ridiculous 2nd amendment.

My solution is drastic but needed. All guns, unless they are for law enforcement, need to be taken and melted to make, I don't know, decorative sculpture or train tracks. Let us get rid of guns, then maybe we will get rid of the idea that we need to be able to hurt to defend. 

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9. Missing Something ?

Have not all of us felt a pang of missing something so much it feels like a real loss? It could be a time in life, a place, a friend who moved away? The sweetly sad feeling of deprivation is equally strong whether it is a home you had or just something silly like a shampoo that was discontinued or a burger joint that closed down.

It leaves us sad, of course, but there is an underlying sweetness, a delight of having known that joy. And in line with that typical sadistic conundrum that life is, the sharper the joy was, the more painful its removal. The more something means to you, the more power it has to kill a part of you when it is torn away.

Imagine a person living blissfully on a lovely island, never having had sushi.Would he or she have cravings? Or feel deprived because they do not have the latest Gucci shoes? Someone was telling me the other day that the Prophet broke his fast with a date. Well, he hardly had much choice. There were no gulab jamuns or samosas for him. And it bothers me that people do not see this. People grow face fungus mostly because the prophet always had a beard. Well, he also traveled only by camel, so why not just take a camel to work? But that is another topic. Whatever your monetary status,say, in the 12th century, you would not have known what a car was. Today money can buy you a Fiskar or a Lamborghini. Of course, like the people in the aforementioned 12th century, I do not miss having either because I have no idea what it feels like to ride in, let alone own, one. And that is perfectly alright with me.Like my father said, when you upgrade be sure you do so to a level you can reasonably maintain because getting used to something new and better is fun, but getting used to not having it again is sometimes not possible. It is very much like sleeping on the perfect mattress for a few days- you will never be happy with anything less.

I think a lot of people today are discontented not because they lack, but because they know of stuff they do not have. With the information world exploding around us we know so much more, and that opens our eyes and hearts to possibilities of what we could have,and then what might want, and then, if we are not mature enough, what we must have. Of course there is a solution. There always is,and usually one just has to really want it to find it. What we need to do is accept that the world is full of lovely things and lovely places,and find joy in just knowing it is there. I am not pulling the solution out of thin air. It works. I know there are those gorgeous islands I will not be able to go to, but I feel joy in seeing the pictures. There is that Cartier necklace I will not buy ,but it is such a thing of beauty, I am happy to have seen it. Of course if  I could pass by cupcakes with the same joy of just looking instead of hogging on them, my size might be different, ( and some old woman in some hillside Chinese village may never know, and therefore never want a cupcake)! 

With knowledge and information exploding around us and world becoming so much smaller, the number of things we do not have seems to grow everyday. Information is never a bad, too much or too little. It is how we use it that matters. If it increases our dissatisfaction with what we have, it also propels change. It shows people what could be, what they could do, and what they could have. The drive for freedoms from dictatorships would not have been as strong if people could not see, and know, what freedom feels like. Movies, media, internet everything conspires towards change, whether personal ( that university abroad you apply to, or that Facebook friend who opens news doors) or national. ( the 'Arab Spring')

Sometimes we miss something because it was with us, and sometimes we miss something because we know we could/would/might have had it. Whether it is as inane as a disgustingly expensive purse you see in some silly fashion magazine, or hear of the fabulous healthcare system in another country, you could always use the pang to drive yourself to better your situation. Enjoy the fact that it exists (or existed), or work towards getting it ( back) for yourself.

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10. Propriety and props

This has been festering for a long time. This frustration that I feel when institutions try to police individual behaviour. It might work in elementary school, when children need the guidance for right and wrong, but not in adults! When governments begin to tell people what they should do with themselves, or not do, it is the worst kind of dictatorship there can be, for one does not need a dictator per se to oppress a people. It can happen in a democracy if we let it. We see the far-right Republicans forcing their morals and beliefs on everyone else. (Morals that, I might add, they do not generally possess themselves!) I believe forcing everyone else to follow what I believe to be right is just so.... well, wrong. Freedom only exists when people have the freedom to choose both right and wrong where their own selves are concerned, as long it does not hurt anyone else.

I see very little difference between Republicans asking  for  repeal of a woman's right on her own body and the draconian Saudi 'moral' police. The Saudi excuse that tightening official control will result in better individual behaviour is ridiculous. The way to enable moral rectitude is not by removing opportunities for imagined offences, but by enlightenment; by educating minds and opening dialogue. Bad will do bad whatever and whenever the chance comes up. And in trying to avoid giving a chance for 'bad' to happen, we curtail the space even for good. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi, presumably to avoid giving them the opportunity to 'sin' (very Republican, I think). This simplistic form of control probably only stopped the flowering of women scientists, entrepreneurs, writers. And it certainly prevented a whole lot of mothers going out with daughters, or friends meeting over coffee. It saddens me to imagine the things that may have been. Because by eliminating chances for exploration we eliminate chances of progress. And frankly, the women who want to march to a different moral beat, do so even now! The tangential topic of men and their freedom and what they do with it would need a book, not a blog.

Of course I believe in government. We need law and order, we need the structure of bureaucracy, we need the infrastructure government provides, and I am very appreciative of social security. But that is what government should be doing:  governing the civil and financial aspect of society. Period. Not dictating morality, or biology, or sexuality, or religion.

Speaking of unnecessary moral policing, where do people get the idea that social networking is a step towards the breakdown of society? I have heard people say 'they divorced because of Facebook' - apparently that is where the unfaithful husband met his new love interest. Seriously? He would have been a gem of a guy if there was no Facebook? Why do people blame something so abstract for an act that is  based entirely on individual will? Can we really believe that the woman who had an extramarital affair with someone she met in an online chat room would not do it with someone she met in the supermarket? or at the PTO meeting? The child who got lured by the abuser actually physically went to meet the pervert. Simply keeping the contact online would be safer.There are a  whole lot of other, more important dimensions at work here. Let us not belittle those dangers by blaming it all on the Internet.

All I am saying is that behavior is always an individual choice, dictated by personal situations and choices. It is predicated on personal principles not societal laws. Propriety that needs legal props is neither proper nor stable. It is pompous officiousness to try and have it regulated.

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11. Birthday thoughts

So I think birthdays are overrated. If the day you are born is the one you need to celebrate OVER others, then it is a sad life; and maybe one you should not celebrate anyway.
Every day that one is blessed with is a special day, and if most days go by without some acknowledgement by you then making a huge deal on the anniversary of taking a first breath is meaningless.
So why celebrate? Life' s days are the same, right? Wrong. Life holds meaning every time a sunset takes your breath away, every time a friend makes you smile. Your birthday should be important to people in your life, and if that is so, then celebrate every day!!

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The sun rises, glowing anew 
Into the day I drag my feet 
With my heart so bruised and blue 
I cannot another challenge meet. 
Each breath I take weighs on me 
Like something I have that I deserve not 
In my life for all to see 
Is a world by dying dreams wrought. 
\And yet I smile and walk and talk 
Struggling on in a wild belief 
Waiting for Opportunity's that one knock 
Tiny hope always alleviating crushing grief. 
For this I know and this I will state- 
Life will not pass by those who wait.

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13. You, Now

It is ironic that it is after I wrote an article about how life tests you, I am thrown one of its biggest trials. And like I had said in my write-up, it is not pleasant. I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to be told you have an advanced stage of a deadly disease. I do know its horrific enough to hear it for someone you share your life with.

All of us know we are mortals. Actually everything, including the universe in all probability, comes with an expiry date! We all know we are, after all, born but to die. But when we are faced with a definite and specific likelihood of how life is ending, it is traumatic, and unbelievably, it is shocking.

It was not easy trying to make ourselves get to deal with my husband's advanced lung cancer. It seemed for a long while that everything was WRONG. But it is not wrong. It is just the way it is. It is human arrogance that makes one believe life is not going to get tougher for us. 'Not me' is as escapist solution, but it does work while it does. If we begin to think of all that could go awry, we would be immobilized by fear. I believe we need to concentrate only on what's right, right now. And then it is not that bad, after all.

We are dealt a hand we can deal with, or rather we learn to deal with because nothing prepares you for the worst trials. So how do we rise to meet something we are just not prepared to deal with in any way? Something we really do not WANT to have to deal with?

- Learn from others. I have a dear friend who has been struggling so quietly and so bravely with this goddamned disease, I felt stupid collapsing into despair or fear. Then there are those at the cancer center who joke about the weight of their health files. Men and women who dress their best, and smile as they walk in to take their infusions.

- Know it's not the end. The intimation of bad news is not bad in itself. You still have the same things you had before you knew. In my husband's case, things got so much better after a harrowing chemo week, that it was easy to see the positive.

- Have Faith. The one thing you CANNOT do without. Faith in God's goodness and His mercy, faith is the support of friends and doctors. It is the most important thing you can have. Faith that life never gives you what you cannot handle. Faith that things do turn around, you just have to get through them. 

- Learn. I think that is probably one benefit we really do not see, an advantage we do not add to ourselves. The cliches of misfortunes making you stronger is utter nonsense; nothing makes you stronger. It is how strong you are to begin with to take the chipping off of your soul. Your strength of character is something that you have always had. But what changes is that you learn life. Things become very clear once the trifling nonsensical little things are peeled away - time schedules, unnecessary, fawning people, things that you do because of others, things you tolerate out of politeness. And you also learn what is really important to you. The big painting that still gives you joy, the trinkets that give you solace, the family you could not have survived without, the friends who prayed for you. The people you reach out to at such times are your real 'family'. Period. You know where everyone stands in your life. Those you seek out in your h

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14. Enjoy that test

Every entity in this world goes through a test period - an individual, an organization and even relationships.
We may not recognize the 'tough time' that is a trial of our character for it is only in retrospect that we  see how it has defined our path, and sometimes the very structure of our life. It is a forging by fire.
The success of that forging, and annealing, lies not in the outcome of the situation but in how we come out of it. Is it a more bitter person or a more patient person? Is the new you more empathetic, or more judgmental? I have seen people who have only contempt for anyone going through pain because they have gone through 'worse'. But the  only reason it seems worse is because they look back from a lower level than when it hit them. If we rise above the situation, it becomes just that - an experience, a situation.You may loose the company, or break the relationship you were fighting for, but how you have grown, and what you have learnt and ingrained in the process measures the success of that test.
Unfortunately, the tests are usually unpleasant experiences. Ah if only we were all tested by a lottery win! But it will more likely be a job loss that will enable the soul-searching and, yes, the requisite soul-searing. Sometimes just carrying ourselves with dignity through a sudden change of fortune defines us. 
Dignity in distress, and even in delight, is not easy to achieve. It is sometimes just a matter of  taking one day at a time, one moment at a time. I think it was Winston Churchill who said ' the only way through a difficult period is through it'. It is easier to pass through when you can cull some lovely moments and enjoy them. A stop for Starbucks coffee could be a big joy when you do not have the time or money. But I can promise you you will never enjoy it as much when you do get back on the wagon you are chasing. And every cup of coffee after that will remind you of the time when you did  that extra stretch to give yourself a cup. The best part is that it usually is going to be a memory for those you are sharing that coffee with too.
My point: enjoy that cuppa you are rewarding your self with. Whatever the slump you are going through, getting through it is the only way, and how you go through makes the slump a crest in itself.
People say life is not fair. It is not, and that is it's beauty. Can you actually imagine a smooth life, with no problems? There would be nothing to look forward to, and nothing to look back at! And then, without the tears how would we cherish the smiles?

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15. Being Loyal

When Greg Smith exposed how his company was bolstering profits by giving clients wrong advice, everyone on that conscience-deficient Wall Street immediately denounced him as 'disloyal'.

How would you define loyalty? How important is loyalty on the landscape of life? Sure, it is great to be loyal to your country, but then even the Mafia demands unequivocal loyalty.That quality of being faithful is very restrictive. Loyalty to one entity by definition excludes others. When one chooses one value over another, it is then the mettle if a person shows up. Smith chose honesty. I am not surprised that it is Wall Street that is touting the 'loyalty line'. It takes a rampant kind of moral decrepitude that allows such a distorted versions of values. Loyalty over honesty? Certainly not copacetic.

Loyalty, by itself, may be the least honorable of the noble values. It is self- serving by it's very nature. Loyalty actually says 'me and mine are above you and yours'. And that cannot be acceptable. Loyalty is appropriate as long it does not infringe on an other values . It is an honorable value only if it is in conjunction with other higher ideals like love,honesty, kindness, or justice.

I cannot think of any other quality that engenders groupism as much as loyalty does. White collar groups, corporate executives, the police 'blue wall', feminism... the list goes on. Everyone thinks they are doing the right thing by banding in a  group they belong to. Great, but not at the cost of truth, or even openness. It bothers me when women band together for no other reason than that they have a different chromosome. I do not support Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, I support her because she is brilliant.  I do not cry for victims of acid-throwing because they are women, I cry because of the injustice and pain. And would shed the same tears if it was a man whose face was burnt. Women who add the cause of  feminism to issues like this are negating the horror of the crime itself.

I am sure Iranians are being loyal to their country by calling us the Great Satan but it is both untrue and mean. Dick Cheney was being loyal to his shareholder friends by sending young Americans to an unnecessary war, and that certainly is the opposite of every human ideal we can imagine! I am sure a lot of us have been a loyal friend by supporting or ignoring something wrong the friend is doing. Oppressors all over the world get away with their crimes because of teams of people who are simply being 'loyal' to them.

Being loyal to friends, family, and country is admirable of course, but eventually loyalty to your own moral propriety is all that matters .

1 Comments on Being Loyal, last added: 3/29/2012
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16. The end or the means?

Today Shakespeare really irritated me. 'All is well that ends well'. He picked such an inane platitude as a title for his play. By that yardstick everything in the world is rendered meaningless because everything- and everyone - actually ends! The end should not be an issue at all for it is the path, the journey, the process, and how you go about it that matters. And just as it is the living that is important not the dying, so also it is the means to an end that is the all-in-all, and the aim is quite immaterial.

Ancient wisdom has always guided us to live in the moment and not think of what is to come. This does not mean 'live it up now' and everything else be damned. It simply means that one must live each moment in the best possible way. The Gita says that 'the fruits of work should not be your motive'. The end result should not be our concern, for it is the doing of our duty that defines us. Our duty as friend, spouse, sibling child, fellow human.

If it is the aim to be a doctor, it is a poor, sick choice. If it is the process of healing, the living as a doctor that matters, then you have got it right. If you are going through the grind of college for that degree, seriously, it is not worth it. The 'grind' of education is exactly what should have meaning for you, or there will never be any learning involved.

Finally, and completely, it is only the doing that matters. What and how it is done. Steve Jobs gave us some wonderful iPhones. Great goal, good result of course ( I am an Apple fan). A month before the launch of the first iPhone, he insisted on changing the cover from plastic to something 'unscratchable' . Wonderful idea, most certainly. But waking up scores of young Chinese workers in the middle of night and handing them a cup of coffee and a biscuit for a mandatory 12-hour shift is simply not the right way to go about it. Does it make getting the right product ready at the right time worth it? No one with a head that works will say yes. They say success comes naturally to those who do what they love doing. But that is not enough. I believe what you love doing should also be done right.

It brings me to a related saying 'the ends justify the means'. So, if the end is good, whatever the means are applied to that 'good end' are acceptable? In what kind of perverted universe would that be fair? Can you go about lashing people so that they learn how to behave? Can draconian laws be in place because they offer security? Or you can bribe your way to a public office because you will be doing more good in that position?

Going about things the wrong way, morally, ethically or legally, can never, ever be justified. Period. The world is not worth saving if even one person has be hurt intentionally for it. We have enough pain going about in the world without people starting to use silly phrases likes 'the ends justify the means' to add to it. For any noble end, the means have to be equally noble.

The conservatives in the US want to prevent abortions. Though personally I cannot fathom how anyone has the dimwitted meanness to make a public issue of such a personal decision, even the end of saving a "life" has been made into a disgusting joke because the means they are adopting. Forcing women to undergo invasive unnecessary procedures is just a little less bad than legislating away their right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

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17. Who you are should be what you are

For once I could follow up on time on the tragedy of the plane crash in Russia that killed young hockey players. The investigation revealed pilot error. That was just a euphemistic way of saying that the pilot was cocky and overconfident, and the copilot was drunk. The cockpit recordings revealed that the copilot was actually egging the pilot to go ‘faster’, and the pilot obliged. Then they made the rash decision to land even though visibility was close to zero. A trained pilot and navigator making a peurile, immature choice. Making silly decisions is usually born out of arrogance. That brings us to my question – how far can training override personality?

I believe that when times are tough, and in stressful situations, it is only one’s character that matters. You either have the wherewithal to do it right, or you don’t. It is not training that inculcated that ability into you; it is a lifetime of learning, most of it being unconscious and involuntary. What a person learns specific to the job he or she is doing can be ingrained only as far as it is aligned with the principles the person already has. Of course the pilot was trained to fly, of course he had experience, of course he knew the warning signs of all defects in the craft. Of course he believed that he could go faster and be safe, that he could certainly land the plane. What he did not have is the sensitivity to realize that he had to be overly cautious because he was literally carrying 50 lives.

What kind of a person would take that lightly? That is precisely what I am trying to point out. It is eventually the only thing that defines our work – the kind of person we are.

I remember the captain of our British airways flight refusing to take off from Mumbai even though the mechanical glitch had been fixed and the plane certified to fly, because he was not comfortable taking off in the craft in a repaired condition. British airways put us all up in a hotel for the night till the new craft came in. That was a good pilot of course, and I am sure a great man too. He exhibited a simple, yet all-important, value called responsibility. Training and experience may make a good pilot out of an irresponsible person , but when that irresponsibility does show up, it does so, sadly, with deadly effect.

It strikes us viscerally when people lose lives because of simple character flaws of another, but we do see – and often ignore – this phenomenon in all walks of life. Professional ability rarely overcomes character. We know of doctors who do not care, we know of accountants who play the books, we know of Presidents who never had the brains or the heart to lead. Sometimes the world gets lucky, and these inadequate people finish their tenures and move on. However, when a crisis does strike, everyone involved suffers.

Whatever you are, a hot dog cart puller, or an ambassador, it is the ‘who’ you are that matters.
A woman who can override personal issues to help a friend will be the same woman who can be a great first responder, or a successful CEO. Silly girls will always be silly, whether they are rich housewives, working to support themselves, or studying to better themselves. We cannot change who we are by adding course work, or even a degree to our portfolio. We change when we experience, and learnimbibe life’s lessons.For better or for worse, sometimes life does not bother to test, and thereby teach, some of us.

It is said that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Unfortunately when the required strength is not available, the going just goes tragic. India is what it is today because when the going was really tough, we had Gandhi to guide us (oh yes, it takes great moral strength to be non-violent!). However, at the other end of the spectrum we have many countries wallowing in chaos and oppression because the people who lead them are not leaders in any other way but in their position.

So, do we wai

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18. Back home


Written when we had 'decided' to move back to India. :/

I remember a British neighbour I had befriended when we moved to New Jersey. We were both feeling our way around in this country, getting licenses and discovering stores. She left within a year. She said it was “too different”, and that people here “do not even understand English”. I was amused. But I now realize how significant what she said was. Different cultures have different languages, however similar the script and words are. It seems disorienting when other people understand a thing differently because of what their cultural compass dictates. So here I am today, struggling to make sense of my own confused feelings. I really do enjoy the ease of life here in the developed hemisphere. But I am also aware of the thrill of sheer joy that courses through me every time I think that I have to start packing for India. I have been a weasel and have accepted the citizenship of USA. But happily that has had no effect on anything within me. I had always assumed that taking the oath would reset my DNA in some insidious way. I go back to India on a reduced status of PIO, or its glorified version of OCI (it does sound better with the word ‘citizen’ in it!).

However, what is confusing me is a sense of déjà vu, a feeling of distancing myself again from people I love; of starting anew again. I have no home to start off from, and it is a new city. I am leaving friends that have filled the void of family and leaving a country whose founding ideals I cherish (Freedom does ring here, not correctly all the time, but it does ring). But I am so content!

Is being born in a country enough to permanently make you its own? I doubt it because, I know of many who moved to the West in adulthood and have that disgusting, warped personality of a tree, that neither knows its roots nor its flowers. I cannot call them Indian, and I am sure they do all they can to avoid that association.

I have lived here like an outsider, which I am. I have enjoyed it, most certainly. I have learnt about different cultures. But most importantly, I have learnt about myself. I think every Indian should be sent abroad for sometime to develop patriotism! You realize what a phenomenal country we are, and how resilient and progressive we are. I have learnt more about what it is to be Indian than I did in India itself. I think if you are proud of your heritage you will put your best foot forward when you stand as its symbol, and then the best becomes a part of who you are. Also, I have made friends for life from all over the world. But all those friends, each and everyone, is loyal to the country they were born in. I think that has unconsciously been a make-or-break issue with me. My Indian friends, of course, envy me for going back home! My American friends think I am crazy to be going back because, to them this is the ideal place to be. My Egyptian friends think it would be understandable if I was going to Egypt because that is the best place in the world. And I admire them for that. They, in reality, in their own way, understand perfectly why I want to go back. Home is always the perfect place to live.

So what is it that I love in my country? There is dirt, power cuts, corruption, a severe lack of civic sense, language changes from state to state. But life is so much more than matter of convenience. It is living to be yourself, to live your hopes an ideals and work towards to your goals. It is living when your day has meaning for yourself, and for others. And you cannot come into your own unless you live somewhere you can call your own. A place is your own where you find that sense of belonging I spoke of in my blog. It is a place where people share one’s values. Who understand your jargon, who need no explanation for what you wear, or why you cry.

To be specific, what I love is that ability to stop the car and just ask anyone on the road for directions. What I love i

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19. Women and work

I am trying to figure out why women are generally such an unhappy bunch. I think it is because we have drifted so far away from our natural selves that every day has become a burden. We are unhappy because we never seem to achieve what we need. We do not achieve what we need because we do not seem to know what we want. We do not know what we want because we have our priorities all confused. And we have our priorities confused because we have lost track of the reason we were made: as WOMEN!

The role of women, and men, was designed by our genes. Our gender differences, aptitudes and weaknesses are dictated by our very beings. And whether it is a bane or a boon, the capacity to bring forth the next generation was given solely to women. A power much higher than our limited intelligence put that into effect. God, aliens, or selection by natural evolution if you must : the result was THIS. The primary responsibility of bearing and rearing children was given to the female of the species. It falls in the natural order of things that it is the female who is the homemaker too.

I believe that it is disservice to humanity if we belittle or dismiss a woman's role. It is even more destructive if women themselves denigrate their real purpose in life.

For the life of me, I have never ever understood where the glory lies when riding into the sunset of our lives trying desperately to match a man's career path. A man can never be another man, why then should a woman try to be a man?

I have inveighed against women and careers before - "Woman, be thyself!" But that does not mean I believe we should all be doormats or wallflowers. I am, of course, all for independence. If we look for independence outside ourselves we will only be following a mirage. The only independence that matters, that emancipates and strenghtens, is that of the mind. It is wonderful if you are learning, or earning. There is no substitute for either of them. Financial independence if always empowering. But do it for yourself, not for parents, or husbands, or friends, or fashion. I respect the woman who is out funding herself, or providing the necessary income for her family, just as I respect the man doing the same. The operative word here is necessary. And an extra car, a bigger bigger house or a backyard swimming pool certainly does not qualify as a necessity!

Real emancipation comes from confidence; a recognition of one's own strength, an understanding of one's function. However, the belief that women need to go out and compete with men in exactly the same fields, in exactly the same way, just because it is a male bastion, reeks more of subjugation to me than of liberty. It seems to me that women again are succumbing to pressure from society, which has always leaned more on us. We have always borne the brunt of the confines of societal rules. Women have been required to bring in a dowry that would determine their worth; now it has not changed to assumptions that women should bring in, if not the bread, at least some cake! We are, all over again, being forced into a mould that is not to our benefit. It is a facile proposition that self-actualization is dependent on a career. If the need to 'work' is predicated on a lack of self-esteem, or a desire to 'prove oneself', then even heading a multinational company is never going to be satisfying. We can not be free until we are free to think for ourselves. And adhering to images that others have created for us, and expect from us, is not liberation. I can understand throwing away corsets for a more humane form of undergarment, but then do we have to throw off all our clothes in the process? I value freedom and liberty more than anything else in life. It should apply to all aspects of life, to all strata of society, to all ages and gender of people. Women's liberation is not something as trite as burning bras, or arm-wrestling contests. It is

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20. Live your values

I signed in today to see if I should just close down my blog. It's been one of those weeks where everything seems pointless. As far as I can tell, I have done no major memorable thing. Thankfully nothing bad, but sadly nothing good either. It reinforces a deeply held belief of mine - life is meaningful only when you do something for others. But this week's rut of work, work and work (at home and school) has not given me time for anything else. One thing is certain - this is no way to live. But then, busy or not, should not I be able to live my values if I value them enough? Should not our morality compass be strong enough?
It is difficult to carve a life for oneself where you live as your core values dictate. With increasing demands of simply living, we tend of discard those little, very important things that make life worth living. I believe a successful life is one where we have been able to incorporate our values into everyday living.

We care so much for where we live. We find places which fit into our way of life, or at least a place where we can fit in the existing way of life. I do not mean just the geographical location, but also how we situate our beliefs and values vis-a -vis our environment.

I believe it is easy to hold onto your values when your surroundings match them. It requires no great strength of character to be, say, Islamic in your bearing when you study in an Islamic school, and all your friends adhere to the same belief. And its even easier if you shun all that to not conform to that set. (That is not Islamic, or logical, or natural - and also, that is another topic.) But the ease of living your beliefs does not contribute to its strength, or to the required emotional maturity to hold onto them. My daughter was told by a friend that she is missing the fun of getting drunk. It is a statement of her maturity that the friendship continues undamaged even though she decided not to try the "fun". (I would have been sorely tempted!!) How can we equalize the depth of these values with those of someone who has not faced an opposing, easier and more "fun" way of life?

Real emotional maturity becomes evident only when we live in an environment that is not familiar, and may even be slightly hostile to our set of core values. The depth of our values and the strength of our principles is demonstrated when we hold onto them because we believe in them, even though it may not exactly be convenient or 'cool'.

And when our values become that much a part of ourselves, then we can try and carve a life that will facilitate living those values too.

1 Comments on Live your values, last added: 4/24/2011
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21. Rasha' s essay

Civility is kindness, compassion, decorum, and propriety of action and expression. It is the best of virtues in all its forms. Aristotle once said “It is not enough to know about virtue but we must try to have and use it”, and so it is with all facets of civility. Everyone knows what is right, but not everyone practices it. Just as it is enough for good to do nothing to allow evil to win, all it takes to be rude is to not be polite. I believe that we are defined not by our background, education or occupation but by our behavior. Human society is based on interactions – social or otherwise – and civility must be the basis of all such interplay. I try to maintain this civility in all aspects of my deportment, from my tone of voice to my responses to strange queries. It is one of the most important principles of my moral compass.
Our society today is disturbingly rude. It is a sad comment on ourselves that we see so many unsmiling faces, even those familiar to us. Aggression is looked upon as strength, and politeness is considered akin to weakness. However, the real weakness is an appalling ignorance of the power of civility. Politeness does not mean that we should not hold a view; it only means that that view should be expounded without giving another person reason to be offended. What courtesy adds to the argument is that little magic that makes certain the opinion will be taken in the best way possible, because it is delivered in the best way possible.
Rutgers is a large family. It is like having a last name one can connect with. I feel this bond wherever I go – while at campus lunching with other rushed students, or at the airport chatting with the immigration officer who recognized my Rutgers sweatshirt, or feeling a connection when I see the red “R”s on cars I share the highway with. If we cannot be civil within this family, then there is something greatly lacking in our education. Once we have also learned to “practice respect, restraint, concern, and benevolence”, as P.M. Forni says in his book Choosing Civility, then we have inculcated proper behavior for the rest of our lives. And that is the most important thing we can carry to the rest of the world (Forni, P20).
But to be able to carry it to the rest of the world, we need to have imbibed it within ourselves. Like everything that is genuine, civility begins from one’s soul. Our actions have to be predicated on thoughtfulness. Civility has to have deep meaning for ourselves to have any significance at all for someone else. Even regular etiquette is derived from intent to please. Proper placement of forks on the table becomes a facile facade if it is not to make its usage easier. Decor becomes ostentatious if it is more for exhibition than for pleasure. Similarly, our behavior has to have bearing to our own conscience, for only then will it have any meaning to the outside world.
Civility ensures that our social environment is pleasant. At its very basic, civility is being considerate and unselfish. It is the proper decorum of greeting people we accost. It is saying thank you, please or excuse me. It is holding the door for the person following us into the mall. It is a show of genuine gratitude for favors asked and unasked, or a concern for acquaintances close and distant. The rules of civility require that we show our companions respect, whether they are present or absent, and consideration for those around us. Civility also demands that we accept another’s style of living. The maturity and magnanimity needed to recognize that this is a shared world is an integral part of being civil. For not only must we understand that there are myriad kinds of people living their different kinds of lives, we also need to respect those very differences.
At its most developed, civility is tolerance, understanding, and altruism. It takes a highly developed emotional intelligence to be able to put what one must

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22. Belonging

One may be at one place for years, then decide to move on without even pang of loss. So how did something that did not even warrant a fond reminiscence hold one for so long?

There are many things that make a person bond with an external entity- be it a place, organization or another person. We find ourselves feeling a kinship because of a common culture or background. We associate easily with people who are on the same wavelength of thought and growth, who are intellectually compatible.

But the strongest bond anyone can feel is an indefinable feeling which I will call a 'sense of belonging'. No other kind of linkage or association has the same compelling strength. Not love , not money, not convenience. We automatically identify with things that we believe we belong to. Whether it is parks, memories, people, books or institutions - they become an integral part of our selves. Nothing else can measure up to the strength of this bond, because it connects with our intrinsic nature. The only thing that splits that firm connection is the loss of that indefinable feeling of belonging. One may work at a company for the money and the perks, but then all one needs to leave is a better opportunity, or even sometimes just a change of scene. And then there are those who work far below potential because one finds somewhere/someone there that is more aligned to their moral compass. It may be the people they see everyday, or it may be what the work ethic of the organization, or it may be the elemental business of the organization. What makes us commit is that we see there what we have in ourselves too.

I think a sense of belonging is also crucial in determining the quality of human relationships. A marriage works only when belonging applies both ways. This belonging is defined by feeling belonged not that one feels the other belongs to them. And that is the crux of the power of belonging. If you want you spouse to feel a sense of belonging in the relationship you have to give of yourself. That 'compromise' everyone talks about? That is basically empowering your partner to be herself or himself, to be able to bring to the relationship something meaningful to him/her. The 'compromise' is actually the acceptance in your own life of something that may not be an integral part of your internal compass. We all know that the more core values shared in a relationship, the smoother it makes life for those involved. I believe it is because that engenders a feeling of belonging more easily. It is a connection between core psyches.

And that is the connection a successful organization makes the employees feel . When one can decorate a cubicle, it is a small value, but when your principles match (as in a common charity), it is a considerable one. Belonging would exhibit in one feeling that one is an extension of what one belongs to, or that that is an extension of you. When you start using 'we' instead of 'them' , you belong.

I think the strongest display of the sense of belonging is our dwelling. One can feel belonging at home more intensely if there are things in there that reflect one's likes and values. We put into our homes things that make us comfortable, things that say what we want them to portray. It is what envelops us with calmness and contentment we need in our place of repose. And that is precisely why we can come from the most gorgeous resorts back to our houses and still say "Home Sweet Home". It is misconstrued that home is important to us because it belongs to us. It is important because we belong there.
1 Comments on Belonging, last added: 6/19/2011
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23. Strong Ideals

I wrote for the Viewspaper recently about youth and its idealism. The strength of an upcoming generation lies only in its idealism. It is that which drives its energy, it is that that gives it its identity.
But this very characteristic that seems to be the evolutionary material for society, the stuff that ensures progressive betterment of the world, is lost somewhere along the years. As youth matures the idealism is not concretized to action, but turns into a jaded dream.
So how is the world going to move on? What we need is the strength of character in youth to push their ideals through to their 'age of reason'.
I believe all of us are born with stars in our eyes. It is the adults around us, sadly, that make us look only at the ground on which we need to trudge. Of course I am not taking into consideration the inexcusable and unfortunate conditions a large part of the world is in. Those born in strife-ridden, war-torn areas, and in debilitating poverty. Sadly, all their emotional and physical resources are tied up in simply surviving. It is a resounding indictment of us all that such dire predicaments exist at all - but that is for another blog. :)
But for those of us who live in relative comfort, it is even more imperative that we recognize our responsibility not to flitter away our lives, when we are blessed enough to have the chance to dream. And I do not mean the aim of getting into that fancy school, or to be in a position to earn a five-figure salary. That is not what I would classify as a dream. How is that any different from wanting an expensive purse or getting a nose-job? It has nothing to do with your emotional intelligence! Sure, go ahead and be that CEO, but do it because that is what you feel like doing, not thinking of being. Do it because you want to make a difference like Iaccoca or Ford, not to make a mansion like Ambani. Because if position and power are your driving force, it is just a step away from swindling people - like the Enron executives, and like doctors who operate' simply because they do not know what else to do! If that happens to be the dream, then one is simply a waste of oxygen for this planet.
So for that rare young person who is out there somewhere wanting to do something to make difference not only in his own life, bit in at least one another. How would you hold on to that idealism? For it is imperative that you do.
One way of course is perseverance. I have never believed in 'try until you succeed'. It is rotten nonsense and a waste of time. Give something a shot twice at the most. Then move on. What perseverance should be is akin to preserving. You have to continue to believe in those principles. And that you can - as you certainly can - move the world. Anywhere, anytime, anyhow, just by being who you are. Just by living that dream in any small way everyday. You may not be able to open that orphanage, but you could talk nicely to a kid you see on the roads. You may not be able to send chartered planes of food to Africa, but you could volunteer in soup-kitchens. It is exactly the same, because it will give exactly that same sense of purpose, and more importantly a sense of triumph. A life of meaning does not have to be big. Idealism does not have to be flashy or glamorous. It does not crave to be acknowledged. It need only be honoured and fostered by the person holding those ideals.
The kids working for teach for America/ Teach for India do not do it for recognition. It asks too much of commitment for people to do it just for 'look good' college application. It is tough, em

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24. Thoughts on Terrorism

It seems to me that terrorism is always front page news nowadays. Whether it is bomb blasts in Mumbai or a man throwing acid on a woman’s face – the horrific stories continue.
Terrorism is defined by Dictionary.com as: 1) the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purpose; and 2) the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism. By its very definition terrorism comprises any action that terrorizes – even if it frightens just one person. The identification of ‘evil’ is not predicated by who the perpetrator is, or what the reason behind it is. When people say an act is justified if it is government-sponsored, or if it ‘has to be done’, what they are also saying is that the act is unacceptable if it hurts them and understandable if it hurts others. Arguably, any action can be rationalized by the offender but certainly not by the victim. And the same goes for the facile “the ends justify the means” theory. If water boarding and other forms of torture sit comfortably on your soul, you cannot discount whatever ‘means’ the other person thought justified too! Causing harm, or creating fear, irrespective of who the culprit is (or who the victim is for that matter), is terrorism. How do we fight this spreading malaise if we are doing exactly the same? What right do we have to complain if we cannot hold a higher moral ground?  Recently in Indonesia, a crazed mob violently attacked people of a different sect. These vile murders were definitely terroristic. What bothers me equally is that the courts let the criminals go. They were not even charged with murder! I am more terrified of such a judicial system than I am of the bunch of thugs who got away with it!
The events in the U.S. on Sept 11 were heinous and unprecedented, but then so is the process of Rendition. We do not (as we should not!) try to deconstruct why Osama bin Laden turned into the beast he was. And so also we must not try to absolve the actions of the men and women posing happily with their victims in Abu Ghraib prison.
And though the media has targeted Islam as its harbinger, the truth is that terrorism is too widespread over time, places and people to be slotted into any one cause. Fear has been a potent weapon for all power-hungry dictators and political parties.  CNN’s Fareed Zakaria pointed out: “The European Union's 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report had some fascinating findings. It showed that of the 294 terror attacks committed in Europe in 2009, only one was conducted by Islamists. That's a third of one percent. The most recent statistics show that there were 249 terror attacks in Europe in 2010. Only three of those attacks were carried out by Islamist terrorists.”  
It will be our loss if we continue to dismiss terror attacks that do not fit into our preset bias. We rail and shout for action if a crime against humanity is done by a swarthy, turbaned guy. But we are quiet when Robert Mugabe orders the murders of his opponents, ensures that his countrymen live in fear of starvation and violent repression.
However horrible the actuality of an act of terror is, I believe what is equally terrible is the frenzy whipped up all over the world while we are ‘expecting’ it.  Doubtless we need to do all we can to avoid any terrorist act to come to fruition. But living in fear, untrusting and bitter, is as much succumbing to terrorism as whatever heinous act was planned.
It annoys me when people are afraid to use the “T’ word unless there is a dark haired, bearded man involved somewhere. The media has been reticent to use this label for the blond, blue-eyed man who went on a rampage killing children in Norway. It is easy to identify evil with something that is unfamiliar because it allows us to distance ourselves from what causes distress and angst. But if we cannot come terms with the reality of this growing cancer of anarchy, we are not going to be able to get rid of it.
Conducting something that causes or threatens physical harm is cla

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25. Travails of travel

They say travelling opens the mind. I drove across northern USA from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. And I know for sure it does nothing for the mind. It does a lot for the heart.

The drive, as it may be called for want of a better word, was not a vacation as much a celebration of a new start in a new place. We human beings do need to feel a 'new beginning' so many times in our lives, we tend to forget that each sunrise is a miraculous new beginning that heralds new experiences. How do we forget that no two days can ever be alike, unless we make it so?

Like all journeys,our odyssey (yes, in an Odyssey too!)began with pangs of separation. Leaving friends that have been the scaffolding of my sanity and the joy of my heart was more frightening than sorrowful. It was so heartening to hear each one of them tell me it was for the best, and remind me that distance is never an issue between friends. Because if even one had said 'Oh no , why are you going?' I might not have made it. Of course New Jersey was far from perfect, but my friends there are perfect by far.

Everyone does need a change, a break, a vacation. It could be a TV time-slot, it could be jog around with your pal, it could be a few month's hiatus from routine. A change recharges our mind and invigorates our soul.

I do not know of anything that could re-enliven you like a trip to a totally new place. Not with a tour guide, or with five star bookings, but on your own steam, and on your own time. What makes it refreshing is not the change of scene, it is the stripping of paraphernalia we collect and the provisions we deem essential. We really do not need the gold, the crystal, or the fancy crockery. What we need is food to fill us and water to quench and clean.

And of course petrol to fill the car! One of the most terrifying moments of my life was up in the mountains that we did not expect to climb, and realizing that we were out of gasoline,not knowing how far we had to go, and my husband rolling the car down the unfamiliar steep slopes on neutral gear to conserve gas. An experience like that redefines stress. Now if someone tells me they are 'stressed' because of their kids' extracurricular schedules I am going to choke laughing! Stress is not that rushed feeling when you have planned- well or otherwise- on things to happen. Stress is the feeling when you cannot take a breath in (or out) because you do not know if you can deal with that 'worst case scenario' if it does happen.

We managed to descend from the mountains without incident, and reached this adorable little store/ home /gas station in the middle of nowhere. (Town of Emmet- population 10). It was the quaintest, sweetest ramshackle cabin out of a fairytale. Had to have been angels. God does not test the unprepared.

Of course we were unprepared! We had the route mapped roughly, we had the iPad, we had overnight reservations in nice hotels and lodges. The rest we would take as it came. That, we thought would add to the experience. I do not much care for what it did add! A lot of nervous checking of signals on the cell phone,rechecking navigation, realizing that we were not mentally conditioned for long roads through deserted lands, and the nagging fear of what if the car..( God forbid, here!). Though it ensured our comfort, and did really, really well, the Honda Odyssey van is not made for cross country roughing it out. Small roads at edges of waterfalls, or after sunset drives across Grizzly country are not exactly comforting unless you are driving a humvee and have OnStar.

Of course I would rather drive across the US than any other country. The blessing of GPS on the iPad is worth more than words can express. The rest areas give a traveller not only a chance to get the blood moving into parts of the body that have lost feeling, but also gives the chance to interact with other people. Some states of course have a better hospitality: South Dakota had scenic rest stops, Idaho rest areas offer fr

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