Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 31 - Chandra

Chandra, a biography of S.Chandrasekhar by Kameshwar C Wali  is one of the most absorbing books I've ever read.  I've already spoken about this book twice this month (1, 2), and I promise this will be the last time I'm going to talk about it.  But this time, I'm really going to make a strong recommendation - do read it.  For several reasons.  My father has listed all his reasons here, and mine are more or less the same. 

The book is as much about Chandrashekhar and his life, as it is an account of several worlds, and the intricacies of how they work.  After you read the book, you are left with so much knowledge and understanding of varied things, people, establishments, societies. 

I find it both surprising and sad that the common man in India doesn't know more about this remarkable person.   The number of things he has done in his life will leave you dumbfounded.  And there are several tasks that he has taken on in tandem, each one of them a mountainous task of its own, and accomplished them all with elan.   

Such a determined, meticulous, organized person!  And what pleases me most that he commanded universal respect and affection from everybody he interacted with.

And of course, huge credit to Kameshwar C Wali, who has done a superlative job, writing intimately about Chandra and his life, making the reader feel that she knows Chandra personally.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, I got the feeling, "Isn't there a limit to what this man can do?"  And just then, the author writes about someone who says, "I've come across the term Chandrasekhar Limit quite a few times, but I don't think there is a Chandrasekhar limit."  Exactly my feelings!

Btw, I promise that you don't need to know astrophysics, or even physics, to appreciate this book!

And that brings me to the end of January's one-post-a-day.  I enjoyed it more this time than when I took on this challenge the last time, in June 2013.  And thanks for being by my side, and cheering for me. :)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 30 - Self-esteem, stuttering and romance.

Just happened to read this excellent article - Why should disability spell the end of romance?  The writer of the article started losing her vision in her teens, and writes among other things, about dating and romance for "disabled" people, and "nondisabled" people's views on the marriage-worthiness (or rather, the lack of it) of disabled people.

Many, many of her experiences were familiar to me.  Though I'm not "disabled" (I don't like that word!!) I stutter, which was enough for scores of people to decide that I wouldn't have much choice in choosing my partner when it came to marriage (that is, if someone would deign to marry me!)

In school, some classmates would pair me with another classmate who stuttered, saying, "perfect pair!"  and laugh and laugh.  "Come on, you'll be right for each other!" they'd say.

 Several times, in school and college, when it came to light that, say, X had a crush on me, even if X was not a very palatable character, some would urge me to "consider."  Would these well-wishers of mine have "considered" X for themselves?  Not in a million years!  But I?  I should consider him, because, you see, I had trouble getting my words out, and so I was less-than-worthy, and I would have to settle!

But all these comments didn't affect me.  On the contrary, I just looked at these people with a kind of exasperation mixed with sympathy.  But what was it that made me so confident about my worthiness?

For one, neither my family, nor my close friends ever made me feel I was different, let alone less-worthy.  It also helped that I was good at a lot of things, and this little matter of the stutter, though it gave me heartache at times, didn't really come in the way of my appreciation of myself.   Besides, during my teens, at the time when this self-esteem thing is so fragile, I actually had a little fan-following of my own, and many of the guys in this group were excellent, "eligible" fellows, some of them even quite "sought-after" by other girls.  [And I wasn't even "good-looking," if you are inclined to think that these boys were bowled over by my looks.]  As a result, very early on, I became aware that the fact that I stuttered didn't really matter to those who mattered.  And I went ahead with my life, and when I found S, neither did he "settle," nor did I!

But not everybody is as fortunate as I am, in terms of the people in my life, and in terms of how my life shaped out.  There are people struggling with their image and self-esteem, and it just doesn't help that "non-disabled" people are so inconsiderate in their comments.  The article I linked to speaks of several such incidents, and deals with a number of topics.  It is worth a read, and eye-opening on many levels.

P.S. Forgive me for all the phrases in quotes.  It is just that I don't like those phrases, but they are so appropriate for what I wanted to say!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 29 - The Glorification of Busy

Being busy has become a status symbol these days.  People wear it as a badge of honour.  "Oh I'm sooo busy" is a measure of how worthy you are, how successful your life is.

When I say that S comes back home early from work, and we play badminton, and he plays with Puttachi, brushes her teeth and puts her to bed - I am doing the poor man an injustice.  I should say, "Oh, he gets back early, but then he has call after call - he is busy the whole evening and into the night - even his weekends are full."  That is the measure of true success, you see.

But why?

This article resonated with me - The Busy Trap.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
I could see why people enjoy this complaint (that I'm too busy); it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon.

In a conversation with my aunt recently, she said, "People think that being busy is an aim in itself, but I thought that the point was to be busy enough to earn a living in as little time as possible, and then spend the remaining time in creativity and self-improvement, and enjoy life."

*Cue - Bow deeply thrice in said aunt's direction.*

I couldn't have said it better.

I'm not saying that one shouldn't be busy.  Life is short, after all, and there are so many things to do - so fill it up by all means - but why has busyness become so exalted?  I get many compliments about how I "keep myself busy."  Questions are also framed that way, when people realize that I don't go out to work - "So how do you keep yourself busy all day?"   Why should I keep myself busy?  Why should not being busy make one a less important person?  What if I choose to fill my days pottering about  my house doing nothing, and totally enjoying it?

Let's stop glorifying the business of busyness!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 28 - Unconditional love.

Before I go on to the subject of the day - please read my story "The Connoisseur" published on Women's Web.  It is a short story, less than 500 words long, written entirely in dialogue.  Comments welcome!


We know that we love our children unconditionally.  For us, it is as much of a no-brainer as is the fact that we do love them.  But, unfortunately, our actions and words don't always reflect it.

I'm not sure if I've written about this before, but this was brought home to me once when Puttachi was about 2 or 3 years old.  We were cuddling, and I just asked her a rhetoric question, "Why does Amma love Puttachi?"
She immediately replied, "Because I am a good girl."
I was aghast.  I said something like, "No Puttachi, I love you because you are you.  You are my daughter, and I love you.  Whether you do bad things or naughty things or good things, I'll love you anyway."

After a few months, in which I repeated this a couple of times,  I asked  her the same question, and then she said, "You love me because I'm your baaaaby!"   And when I'm upset with her about something, she asks me softly, "Are you angry?  Are you upset?  But I know, you love me anyway."

This is what I want for her.  But I also want to be able to show her my unconditional love without using words, just by actions.  But how?

That way,  my parents never ever told us that they loved us. But we knew anyway.  They are really chilled out parents - they accepted with equanimity everything that we did, or did not do.  I have never experienced fear or hesitation telling them about any of my misdeeds.  It is to this that I attribute the total security I feel about facing life.  I know that whatever happens, I can turn to them and they will just accept me for what I am, no questions asked.   It is this feeling of security that I want to give Puttachi too.

But I'm not sure how to do it with actions.  I try, but anyway, I use words too. That's a very western concept - saying it out in words, isn't it?   It doesn't come too naturally,  saying, "I love you, no matter what."  (It gets easier with repetition :))    Anyway, I do it because Puttachi must realize that we love her unconditionally.  We might be upset or angry or disappointed with her, but we'll love her anyway.  She should know it because I firmly believe that a secure atmosphere at home, where the child feels completely and unconditionally loved, is a must if the child should spring forth into the world with joy and confidence.

Your thoughts?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 27 - On realizing that introversion and shyness don't necessarily go hand in hand.

When we were in my teens, and first heard the terms introvert and extrovert, all of us rushed to fit ourselves into one category or the other.  The general impression we had about these terms at that time was that introverts were shy, and extroverts were bold, and liked to be around people. I couldn't put myself into either category.  I wasn't shy, but everything else about introversion seemed to resonate with me.  Besides, back then, to be labeled an "introvert" wasn't a compliment, you see, and so when I learned about the term "ambivert," I jumped at it.

The years passed, and my personality crystallized.  After I realized that there's nothing "wrong" in being an introvert, and when I read more about what introverts are, I comfortably slotted myself into the "introvert" category.  I had all the classic traits - I like being by myself, I prefer small groups to big ones because too many people tire me, I like quiet days as opposed to busy, social days, and after even an enjoyable social event, I need the rest of the day, and the next, to recuperate.

But - the shy factor was still bothering me, because I am not shy at all.  And then I read some articles that busted the myth - introversion and shyness do not have to go together.  And there you have it - I am a not-shy introvert.  And in case you are wondering, yes, there are shy extroverts too!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 26 - The joy of theatre

Each time I go to see a play, I come back with a full heart.  There's something about telling a story through drama that is very effective.   The real-time, spontaneous, interactive performances - especially in a beautiful, well-designed, intimate space like the stage at Rangashankara - it is such a complete, wholesome experience!

I haven't been to too many plays, but I've watched a fair number.  And it never ceases to amaze me how much drama groups can achieve just by the clever use of lights, music and minimal props.  Each play I've watched has thrown at me a particularly unique way of creating an atmosphere, communicating an idea, or bringing out an effect.  Induces goosebumps in me!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day 25 - Being nice

Don't be yourself. Be someone a little nicer. -Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)  

Yeah, very nice quote.  But what if one doesn't know how nice is nice, and towards whom one should target the niceness?  

Throughout my life, I have had trouble with being nice. I personally feel I'm not nice enough, but people who matter have assured me that I am sufficiently nice.  I'll believe them, for convenience's sake.    

But I do think I can be nicer at times.  But the problem is, when I've made an effort to be very nice to somebody, I've been stalked in return, or been given loads of unwanted attention, which I've had a tough time getting rid of.  Or else, I've been taken for granted, and my time has been imposed upon, or my efforts have been belittled. 

It has become like this - every time I find myself being nice, the thought crops up - is it worth being nice to this person?  And I've been distressed by that thought.  

So I tell myself, "Look, do what comes naturally to you, the repercussions be damned."  

And so, it continues.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Day 24 - Musical child?

When Puttachi was very young, I tried to find out if she could carry a tune.  It didn't seem like she could, initially, and it didn't even seem like she had a sense of rhythm.  I was prematurely worried.  I come from a family which loves music, and a sense and appreciation of music comes naturally to us.  So I was upset that Puttachi probably didn't have it.

In hindsight, I was probably comparing her to my cousin, the only one I had seen at close quarters at that age, who happens to be exceptionally talented.  Anyway, I expressed my doubts to my mom and she said, "Nonsense, just wait a bit."   She also told me that I probably don't surround Puttachi with enough music, and so perhaps she hasn't quite soaked in it enough.

My mother did have a point.  For a few years after Puttachi was born, I avoided music.  It was perhaps because Puttachi talked so much that we were involved in constant conversations.  As a result, my brain was constantly buzzing.  And so I craved for silence and peace, and the last thing I wanted was music to disturb the silence in my head.   [That stage is  past me, by the way.  I again listen to music while I work.]

So, anyway, I waited. Gradually, I saw that Puttachi could indeed carry a tune, and when I tried making her sing with a tamboori, she sang with the correct shruthi.   That gave me some peace.  Then I worried that she didn't have a sense of rhythm.  But that came too.

And then one day, we went into the badminton court, and switched on the lights.  The lights made that soft electronic hum, and Puttachi listened to it, and with that hum as the shruthi, she sang Sa-re-ga-ma-pa correctly.

I told my mother - "Whether she learns to sing or not, whether she likes to sing or not,  whether she'll sing another note in her life or not, it doesn't matter any more.  Just the fact that she sang the right notes with that random hum in that badminton court - that is enough for me."

I'm sure musically-inclined folks will know what I mean, and how much that means to me!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 23 - Bombe Ooru - Puttachi's parallel universe

Puttachi has, in her imagination, another world that her dolls inhabit. She calls that Bombe Ooru - loosely translated as Doll City.  But it is much more than just a city.  It is a universe in itself.

It is apparently a magnificent place, and doesn't follow any of the laws of physics of our real, mundane world.  Its biology is different, and so is its history.

This universe has been in the building for years.  I think it started approximately when she was 3-4 years old.  And each time Puttachi learns something new, this universe expands that much to incorporate that learning.

Her dolls, the inhabitants of that world, have their own language, calendar, number system, and they have unique ways of handling their fears, and excitement.  They have laws for crimes (what is considered a crime is also different in Bombe Ooru) and they employ a number of fascinating inventions.

To give you an example of how she adds to and modifies this world - When she learned about the revolution of the earth around the sun, she said that Bombe Ooru takes longer to go around the sun, and so they have a longer calendar, and so more months (and she named all the months.)  When she learned about gravity, she declared that the gravity is so less there that the inhabitants can fly.  When she learned about evolution, she said that those inhabitants are evolved from dinosaurs, because in their world, the dinosaurs didn't become extinct.

They also have different languages (all gobbledygook of course, but one little doll cannot understand a particular kind of gobbledygook, because it is the "Hindi of Bombe Ooru" and she is yet to learn it.)  They finish school at 2 years of age, college at 3, and then go to work at 4.  Their numbers are represented by shapes, and so Heart + Circle = Pentagon  is one of the usual calculations of that world.

When we in the mundane world are hit by a certain roadblock, she tells us about how people in Bombe Ooru have something to contend with those difficulties.  For example,  We have gone out and haven't taken a bottle of water with us, Puttachi tells me about how Bombe Ooru has an invention that ensures that you always have water with you - an attachment in the shoes which, in spite of the inherent unclean-ness of shoes, provides you with purified water at the touch of a button (and this button serves to fasten the shoes too)

They grow things in a different way (they don't need soil, and only need one-time-watering for plants to grow like Jack's beanstalk) and they have different events in their sports tournaments (convoluted but fascinating games.)  They don't need oxygen, they travel on birds, they  have multiple suns and moons,  they live in houses that are upside down or crooked, depending on her mood - it is a rich world indeed.

When she feels afraid of monsters at the window, she tells me about how the monsters of Bombe Ooru are lovable creatures who are friends of the inhabitants.  When she cries, she tells me about how the people of Bombe Ooru have a thread or something that can turn into a handkerchief to blow their nose with (or something similar)

It is neverending - I've perhaps given you  just a tiny window into this wonderful world of hers.  And like I said, it expands everyday.  The only thing is that it expands at very odd times. "Puttachi, put on your shoes, quick, it is getting late!"  And she starts chuckling softly to herself, and with the ends of a lace in each hand, she starts describing to me in a relaxed way that her doll is telling her that the people of Bombe Ooru have a contraption that ensures you never reach school late....

It makes me actually want to visit this place.  

Day 22 - Reunions

We had a school reunion a month ago.  Of course it was fun, of course it was lovely meeting people after years - hadn't met some of them since we finished high school.

But one thing that hit me the hardest was how I was comfortable talking to some guys with whom I'd feel awkward talking to before.  Yes, there were some guys who were friendly, and friends with us even back in high school, but there were a few I knew only as classmates.  I don't recall having exchanged a single word with them.  I don't even remember having looked them in the face, eye to eye.  

I was never the shy kind, and was quite willing to talk to anybody who would talk to me.  But many of the guys were, I think, terribly self-conscious and diffident, and would skulk away and do anything to avoid talking to girls.  Even if they did talk to us, they avoided our eyes, and walked away backwards quickly, as if we were monsters who would gobble them up

We'd had reunions before, one in 2004 and one in 2010 - and though the guys were friendlier at these reunions than they were in high school, it was only at this reunion that I really felt that comfort level.  I'm guessing it has got something to do with the stage we are in our lives.  We've mostly found our niches, we're married, we have kids, we're comfortable with what we are, we've accepted our "shortcomings" and embraced our "plus-points" - and we have seen life a little - and probably that's why the guys are now comfortable in their skins, and finally know how to interact with the opposite sex like we are human beings. 

I shake my head in a worldly-wise way at those poor confused teenage souls we were back then. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 21 - Discovering India's past

Recently, I read two excellent books - India Discovered by John Keay  and Ashoka by Charles Allen.

This is in connection with my current fascination about how India's lost past was re-discovered.  Both books deal with the same things.  India Discovered is a slightly dry, but very interesting account of how the British Orientalists gave India's history back to us.  Ashoka is about how India's lost Buddhist past, and the story of Ashoka, was re-discovered, again by British Indophiles.  [Can you believe that until a couple of centuries ago, absolutely nothing was known about Ashoka, arguably the most influential king of our past?]

Both the books are full of stories of how British officials serving in India on some capacity or the other, went beyond their call of duty, and indulged in studies of India's history, culture, art and architecture, dug into the past, made copious records, collaborated with each other to collate records, published books, and on the whole, pieced together India's past like a giant jigsaw puzzle - piece by piece.

And since this took centuries together, the first few people who set the pieces of the jigsaw had no idea what the picture would turn into.  Their successors followed, and they made the picture clearer and so on.

Because of these books, I have a new admiration for the British.  What they did in India aside, this is one of those areas where we are indebted to them.  Not only that, I am floored by the dedication, discipline, interest and single-minded pursuit of whatever they were studying.  These discoveries wouldn't have been possible without such admirable qualities.

And as if that weren't enough, these stories again had to be brought to us by two Brits - the writers John Keay and Charles Allen!

Day 20 - Storytellers!

My family is full of enthusiastic storytellers.  When we narrate an incident, we describe it in detail, and we even do the voices and expressions and actions of the people we are talking about. (And we do it well.)  I don't think we can even tell a story in any other way.e

And on the listening end, since we have thriving imaginations, when we listen to a narration like this, we can easily picture the whole thing in our heads.  Because of the actions and the voices the narrator does, we have no trouble in imagining how exactly the incident occurred, who said what, and how, etc.

And since interesting stories and incidents are narrated again and again and again in all families, after a few years, we start believing we were there when a certain incident took place.  And the thing is, we believe it totally.  "Oh the look on his face was priceless!"  - we say with absolute sincerity.  And when pointed out that there was no way we could have seen any look on anybody's face because we could not have possibly been around at the time the incident occurred, we become confused, and worried, and we say, "But I was there, I was standing right here....."

It is a very disconcerting experience.  But you know what, I wouldn't have it any other way!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day 19 - Losing weight

A couple of years ago, I lost weight.  Just a couple of kgs, but apparently, it showed up as a drastic slimming, especially because I was not plump to begin with.   The weight loss wasn't planned, it just happened.  And now, since the last six months, I've apparently lost another 1 kg or so.  

So why all this weight talk?

Because everybody who meets me, greets me with comments that range from "Haven't you lost weight since the last time we met?" right up to "Oh my God, what happened to you?  You look positively sick!  Oh my god, have you visited a doctor?"  And they hold my hand as if it is the last time they're going to meet me.

I laughed the first few times, but then it really got to me, and I got worked up and actually visited a doctor.  After the doc had laughed at me a bit, she prescribed tests, and thankfully all the results were normal.  But that didn't solve the problem, because everybody I meet has something to say about my weight.

I am not getting tired, I am not falling sick.  I eat well.  On an average day, I cook, clean, do the chores, run errands, pick up and drop Puttachi from school (walking,) go walking/do yoga, play badminton, and read and write and attend to Puttachi's needs - and I don't feel unusually tired at the end of the day, and I think that means I am alright.

And now, I am becoming conscious.  I was never conscious about my looks, except perhaps in my teens.  But now, I look into the mirror and think, "Am I looking thin?"  And I hate that I am doing this.  In fact, it has gotten so bad that when I learned that I have to attend a get-together this week, I cringed thinking of the number of comments I have to hear about my weight, and I started thinking about what to wear so that I look plumper.

This is so not me.  And this is something I have to overcome.  I have no idea how, though.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Day 18 - Life's goals

Occasionally, I am asked what my goals are.  Where do I want to be a few years from now?  But I don't really have answers to that. I'm not the kind of person who makes goals and works towards them.  I have a vague idea about what I want to do, and I vaguely saunter in that direction.  I do know that I want to stay happy and comfortable and fulfilled, but that's about it.

Not a sign of "A highly successful person," eh?

But recently, an uncle posted some advice on FB which made sense to me.  He said, on the topic of looking for long, medium and short term goals:

I've found the best way to do this is to draft your own obituary as you would like to see it. Make three versions, one assuming you die a year from now, second assuming you die 5 years from now and the third say for 20 years from now.

Slightly morbid, huh?  But you know what, it kind of gives a direction to my actions if I keep this in mind.

I haven't made a list or anything, but whenever I find myself spending too much time on a game, for instance, I alert myself with, "Shruthi, nobody's going to say in your obituary, "Shruthi Rao ran a million miles on Temple Run.""   Thus it helps draw me away from useless things.

It also helps to think about what people will not say about me.  For instance, right now, they'll definitely not say, "She was a highly organized, proactive individual."  And you know what, I would like that to be said about me.  And so I know I want to work towards that.

Funny, actually, considering that if there is indeed going to be an obituary, it wouldn't affect me one bit!   But still, I want this and I want that - Vanity, vanity!  Anyway, whatever works, huh? :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 17 - Lazy post

Interesting.  In my last blogathon, it was Day 18 when I put up the lazy post.  This time it is Day 17.  So, sometime after the first half of the month, my interest flags.  I have a number of topics lined up, but today I just don't feel like writing.  Or perhaps it is because I had a very full day, not conducive to thinking up and writing a decent post.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 16 - Music lessons

I've learned  both forms of Indian classical music - Carnatic and Hindustani, and while I'm far from being an expert on either, I understand and appreciate both forms.

A few months ago, Puttachi's classmates' moms and I were talking at the school gate, waiting to pick up our kids.  They were talking about how they were looking out for a teacher who would just teach the basics of Carnatic classical music.  Over the years, a couple of parents have asked me if I gave lessons, and I had vaguely thought, yeah, perhaps I could teach a few kids sometime.  But somehow, this time, something clicked.  On an impulse, I said, "If it is just the basics, I could teach them."

And that was it.  I have started giving music lessons.  It has been nearly 4 months now, and I am enjoying it.  Though it is tiring, and though I feel the need for peace and quiet after the class, I like it. I like it when my students make progress.  I like it when their eyes light up when they sing something right for the first time, and realize it.  I like it when they come skipping into our house for class - it means they come willingly and that they enjoy it.

I've learned so many things.  I learnt that sometimes you have to stop insisting on perfection and forge ahead.  Perfection will follow.  Or not.

I've learnt that I have more patience than I had previously thought.  I've learnt that I am not a bad teacher.

I've been surprised at how expertly I am navigating the paths of teacherhood, but then I realized that I've had years of opportunity observing my mother teach her students.  And unconsciously, I've grasped her methods, and am teaching my students in the same way.  And it is working.

It's good that I made the jump.  It has not been easy, but I'm glad I did it anyway.

Day 15 - High-resolution photos

Occasionally, a publication that is about to publish my work, asks me to send them a high-resolution photo of mine, and a bio.

Though a bio is painful, it can somehow be done after a lot of head-scratching. 

But the photograph is such a headache!  We're not big on portraits in our family, and all pics of me are group pics.  In most of them, I look puzzled or angry or lost.  And if I do find a photo I like and cut out my face from it, it becomes a little blurred, and doesn't serve the purpose of the publication, not being high-resolution.

So that means a sudden scrambling for photos.  I pull out Picasa and search for suitable photos and rue my fate again about how I married someone who doesn't care too much about  photography.  (I conveniently omit the fact that when the spouse does bring out a camera, I claim that *insert excuse here*, and refuse to have my picture taken.)  

And then, after an unsuccessful photo album search, S brings out the camera, and I wear a decent dress and comb my hair, and he takes a dozen photos of me looking woodenly into the camera.  I see them all, and reject them immediately. 

Then I go back to the albums, reject those again, and go back to the pics S has taken, and dislike them all again, claiming that I look evil in them. [I open my eyes wide and tense my eyelids to avoid blinking, and my smile is more like a grimace.]  I tear my hair out and roundly curse the publication, demanding to know why they want my pic and why they shouldn't be satisfied with a blank space next to my story. 

S again takes out the camera, and we take a few more photos, with him joking to put me at ease and make me smile a real smile.  And then I go through the new set of photos, and though I still don't like them much, my patience has worn out by now.  On top of that, S selects a couple and says, "These are good enough, perfectly fine, you look nice," etc and I am not sure if he is serious, or is just saying that to make me get off his back, and so we finally select one, and before I change my mind, I send it off.

And all this, after I've spent an inordinate amount of time on it.   I then think to myself, "I have to get a professional photo or something for next time, to avoid all this trouble." And then I say to myself - "Next time?  How do you know, dear girl, that there's going to be a next time?"  And then I skulk away.

Until next time. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Day 14 - Disagreeing with respect

I'm reading Chandra, a biography of S.Chandrasekhar by Kameshwar C Wali  [I recommend it highly, even if you don't understand astrophysics.  It is an absorbing story of the life of a great man.]

One of the most striking incidents in Chandra's life is when, as a young scientist, he derived a theory that was publicly ridiculed by Arthur Eddington. The theory was ultimately proven right after decades, and Chandra was awarded the Nobel Prize for this work.  But at that time, as a twenty-four year old in a foreign land, he was deeply upset and frustrated by Eddington's reaction.  Though Eddington's arguments were not valid at all, he was such an authority that none of the other astrophysicists even bothered to go into Chandra's studies and confirm who was right.  Those who did, agreed with Chandra privately, but didn't take a public stand.  So Chandra had to take the decision to abandon his exciting new discovery and concentrate on something else, because a cloud had been cast upon his work, and in that environment, he knew he wouldn't be able to progress.

You and I cannot possibly understand the level of his disappointment, but yet - Eddington and Chandra remained friends, dining together, going on picnics and bicycle rides together.  Chandra's letters show how deeply upset he was by Eddington's actions, and yet, he set professional discord aside and stayed friendly with Eddington on a personal level.  I can only marvel at this.

Ever so often, we are drawn into disagreements over minor things, and I've seen people take these disagreements personally, and things spiral out of control and degenerate into bitterness and name-calling.  I'm pretty sure you've all been in at least one such argument.  I know people who are afraid to disagree with people because they're afraid it'll break their friendship.  This is so sad!

I  personally welcome differences of opinion and disagreements, because it usually provides me with an entirely different POV.  But I'm very hesitant to start disagreeing with certain people because I cannot handle the venom that comes with it.  Hello, I'm disagreeing with your views, not your self!

My friend M and I have had such interesting conversations over our differences of opinion, with both of us putting across our points of views, and noting the other's view, and not taking it personally.  And at the end of the discussion, we still stuck with our personal opinions, but we knew why the other thought her way, and that was okay with both of us.   It was such a refreshing change that I remember actually thanking her!

If you're reading this, and if you're the kind who takes differences of opinions personally, please loosen up.  You'll benefit from it!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Day 13 - Gap-toothed girl

I never had my milk teeth fall out on their own.  I had nearly all of them extracted because they took too long a time to fall, and I had another row of teeth growing behind them, like a shark.  Nowadays, you are advised to ignore it, but in my era, the stubborn teeth were extracted.  So I never had the experience of wobbly teeth, and teeth falling out unexpectedly.  My teeth were all separated from me in a dentist's chair with evil injections on my gums and the metallic taste of dental tools and a crrrrack as the tooth came out, and a gush of blood, and a cotton wad in my mouth and paralyzed lips for hours... And the only silver lining - icecream.

So I am living the wobbly tooth experience with Puttachi.  Four teeth are gone and she sports the delightful gap-toothed smile which I find absolutely adorable in little ones.   There is something about the innocence that goes with that toothless look that has my heart melting.  :)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Day 12 - Overeating

What do you think of a day where you get to eat breakfast at your favourite idli-vada joint (Brahmin's Coffee Bar), and dinner at your prefered Dosa place (CTR?)

Yeah, I had such a day yesterday.  And all I can do is heave a sigh of contentment.

Actually the last few weeks have been like that - overeating.  The days of watchful and healthy eating flew out of the window, and I've been eating everything in sight.

This was my dessert plate at a buffet lunch at a restaurant a few weeks ago:

And no, I'm not proud of it.  (Though I did enjoy it!)

But my system is tired of this.  I'm now craving my favourite breakfast of oats.

Time to get back on track!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day 11 - Tiny Habits

There's so much info floating about on how to form habits, and how long it takes to form a habit.  21 days, say some, but recent research says it takes much longer, and varies for different things.

I recently heard about Tiny Habits and signed up.  But the week went awry, and I couldn't complete it.  I intend to sign up again soon, but I have two takeaways from what I read and learnt from it.

1 - To form a  habit, you need to start small.  A tiny step initially seems much more doable than a mountainous task ahead of you.
2 - Using another activity as a crutch to form a habit is really useful.  For example, instead of saying, "I'm going to drink a glass of water every morning,"  if you say to yourself, "I'm going to drink a glass of water every morning immediately after I brush  my teeth"  - you are using teeth-brushing as a crutch after which you'll do your water-drinking, and teeth-brushing is something you do every day, and so that's something you'll not miss, and so you'll not miss the water-drinking either. And soon, the water-drinking will become a habit by itself.

I've been using the second one especially, to do certain activities with Puttachi, and it is helping.

Hope it helps you too.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 10 - The pleasure of being at the receiving end of good customer service

Yesterday, I took my sister to a shop that sells utensils and kitchen items.  I've been visiting this shop ever since my mom-in-law introduced it to me a few years ago.  It is always a pleasure to go there.  The salespeople are friendly, polite and they know their stuff.  They show you whatever you want with patience, digging out things from storage if necessary, and they don't show annoyance if you cannot make up your mind.  They pitch in with their opinion in case you are confused about something, but give you the space to think it out and make a decision.  If you just want to browse, they don't follow you around like a shadow, but they are immediately at your elbow if you have a query.   They are smart salespersons too - they are clever at suggesting appropriate items related to your purchases.   It doesn't stop at that.  The cashiers are friendly too.  They wear pleasant expressions, are professional and polite.  And all this is beside the fact that the shop stocks a large variety of things, and are also very enterprising when it comes to fixing things, or repairing loose handles, or replacing missing knobs on your idli stand, or providing you with the right fittings if you are buying a gadget to take abroad... you know, the works.

Now you would think that these attributes are a must for a successful commercial establishment.  But the funny part is that there are so few shops like this!  Bored-looking or lazy salespeople, surly cashiers, moody proprietors, lackadaisical sales skills, a laid-back attitude towards customers are so much the norm that the shop I talked about comes like a breath of fresh air.

And this is not even a posh establishment - just a local shop, with local people speaking your language, and being almost neighbourly with you.   I am not talking about the "Good morning, how can I help you today" kind of clinical politeness, and artificial friendliness.  This seems like a natural, inbuilt desire on the part of the shop to help the customer get what she wants.

Is this really so difficult to achieve?

Edited to add: The shop is Sarathy, in 3rd block Jayanagar. [Website]

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Day 9 - The story of a story

My story Kanchenjunga, which won a contest recently, was received warmly by a lot of people.  Some told me it touched them, some wrote to me to tell me how it stayed with them for several days after reading it.  And many people observed that my writing has improved since my last few stories.

It is this last comment that I treasure most.  Just because this improvement hasn't happened just like that.  It has been a long journey, and in many respects, the final version of Kanchenjunga embodies that journey. 

How does a story get written?  Not many people can start with the first word, and produce a perfect product at one shot.  Most of us need to rewrite.  Like James Michener said, "I am not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter."  I'm sure many writers will identify with this statement. 

So for those of you who think that I churned out this story in one effortless gush, here's the story of the story.

It began 14 years ago, when we visited Darjeeling from college, as part of an industrial tour (yeah right.)  We awoke at 3 30 in the biting December cold to drive out to the nearby Tiger Hills to watch the sunrise.  Watching the sun rise, and watching its first few rays slowly illuminate the Kanchenjunga was one of the most ethereal sights I have seen.  I have tried to express it in words several times (whenever something overwhelms me, it helps to write it down.)  but my account hasn't really done justice to that feeling.  Anyway, after watching the sunrise, we drove back to Darjeeling, and on the way, stopped at a momo shop to have the most delicious momos I've ever had.  And from this shop, we could see the Kanchenjunga, which was now bright white, and this experience, though not as sublime as the first one, was memorable in its own right. 

And then, 4 years ago, a writing exercise required us to write a story fragment in a setting that we were expected to describe in detail.  I chose to describe the momo shop, and then wrote a little story set in it.  The feedback I received was excellent, but I felt that the story seemed incomplete. 

So I abandoned it temporarily.  But it kept coming back to me.  So, over these four years, I revisited the story again and again, until finally, I struck upon an ending which satisfied me. I made the required changes,  and then I let the story be. I would visit it once every two months, and with whatever new knowledge I had gleaned about the craft of writing, I would modify the story.  Each time I came back to the story, I changed something.  Tiny things, but they satisfied me.  And sometimes I changed whole sentences - agonizing over a sentence for ages - until I got it down to my satisfaction. 

Finally, on one visit, I read it, and the ending brought tears to my eyes. And then I knew that I was ready to send it out into the world.

So along came this contest, and well, you know the rest.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Day 8 - The love of reading, not of books.

I've always said I love books.  With a lot of bibliophile friends, I'm getting to read many articles on the love of books.  And with this, it made me think - is it books I love, or just the act of reading?

The more I think of it, the more it comes to me that I don't feel any particular affinity towards books.  I don't go crazy when I go to a bookstore, like many book-lovers do. I don't care for book-fairs or book-exhibitions.  If someone says to me excitedly, "Omg, a book sale is on there, you going?"  I'll be all, "Yawn, I don't know..."   I don't spend thousands of rupees on books that just line my bookshelves, waiting to be read.  In fact, for the kind of reader that I am, my bookshelf is quite sparse.   I can go into a bookstore, browse for hours, and come back without buying a single book.   In fact, book-lovers who know the kind of reader I am will not believe me if I tell them that I haven't even visited several iconic bookstores in Bangalore.  It's  not that I don't want to go - it is just that I couldn't be less bothered.  

It could be the remnants of a childhood habit - we grew up with a lack of space at home.  Though I probably had more books than what all my friends put together owned, I never had enough for what I wanted.  But then the practical problems of lack of space and lack of money was brought to my notice quite early on, and the library became my best friend. 

So the habit of not buying books has become so ingrained in me, that I still do not do it.  And probably as a result of that, I've never really developed the craze for owning books.

All I want is a good book to read.  Whether it is an e-book or a physical book (though I still favour physical books) I'll read it.  Even if you hand me a sheaf of papers stapled together, I'll read it if the story hooks me.  I don't care for book covers.  I don't buy books looking at their book covers.  And I don't care whether I own a book or not.  I just want to read it.  I just want to get that story inside my head.  I want to make the contents of the book mine.  

And that craze - of wanting to read, just read.... of getting the book in my hands, turning the first page, and drowning in it... now that is an all-consuming craze. 

Day 7 - Bullied in the playground

It's tough to see your child being bullied.  Puttachi ran home last evening, sad-eyed, saying that everybody in the playground was throwing things at her.  This wasn't the first time - Puttachi has been bullied before, by the same set of kids. (6-year-olds, all)   But this time, she was even sadder because one of them was her best friend K, a classmate from school who has moved into our apartment complex recently.

Me: What were they throwing at you?  Are you hurt?
She: No, it was just those small colourful thermocol balls that you find at birthday parties.  But everybody was throwing it only at me.  I tried throwing some back, but everybody, Amma, was throwing it only at me.  I told K to stop throwing, and come with me, but she didn't listen. 

Like I said, she's been targeted before, but this time she was upset because her friend was there too. 

One - I have no idea why she is bullied - she is usually lost in her own world.  Perhaps that could be it - she doesn't actively join the other kids while playing.  And she doesn't really care much for group dynamics - if everybody decides they should do one thing, Puttachi doesn't necessarily go along with them.  I think she doesn't really care, and so she doesn't listen to the "gang-leader" among the kids.   According to K's mom, this is what bothers the leader the most.  And she instigates the others to target Puttachi.

Two - K is a very go-with-the-flow kind of kid.  I can totally understand that she had't even realized that Puttachi was upset.  K has obviously thought of it as a game and gone along with the others.  But since Puttachi is an intensely empathetic kid, she expects others to understand her pain too, and that is obviously not possible. I've tried telling her not to expect it from others, but she doesn't quite get it yet. 

So, she was walking around morosely.  I told her that  K probably was totally unaware that she was hurt, and asked if she wanted to call and tell K how she was feeling.  She cheered up immediately... and called her.  This is the conversation that ensued. 

Puttachi:  K, you were throwing things at me at the park today.  I didn't like it a bit, and I felt very sad.  Why did you do that?
K: But it was just a game.
Puttachi:  But you were all throwing it at me, for me it wasn't funny. 
K: I did not know.
Puttachi:  I told you to stop throwing, and come play with me, why didn't you do it?
K: Did you?  I did not hear you.  Everybody was shouting.  I'm sorry. 
Puttachi:  It's okay.  Please don't do it again next time okay?  I felt sad.
K: Ok I won't do it again. 
Puttachi:  Next time when everybody is throwing things at me, will you play with me?
K: Yes
Puttachi: Ok, bye, good night!

Puttachi felt much better after this conversation. But I later learnt that K was very upset about it.  She called again after a while, and apologized again, the poor thing.  

But I know this is not the end.  Puttachi will be bullied again, and she'll be upset again.  How do I handle it without getting involved, or how do I teach her to handle it?

Any ideas/suggestions?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Day 6 - Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta

About 80 km from Mysore is the Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta, a hill with a temple on top of it. This is situated in the Bandipur area.  Himavad in Kannada means misty, foggy, and the hills are covered with mist throughout the year, especially in the early mornings and evenings.

The sights from the top are impressive, and there are frequent sightings of elephants and recently, tigers.
We had trekked a bit on the top of the mountain when we went there previously.  But this time, we found that access has been blocked - you can't go anywhere else aside from the temple.  Not only that, you are only allowed to stay there for a little more than an hour.   I think if we'd known this before, we wouldn't have gone at all!

Anyway, here are a few pics.

It wasn't exactly Hiimavad when we went.... we planned it all wrong.  Anyway, the drive is quite beautiful.  There is another view I loved - but don't have a picture of.  You turn from the highway into the road that leads to the betta (hill) and then  you see the road stretching ahead of you, with the Betta beyond it - quite a breathtaking sight.  I had dozed off on the drive, and had just gotten up, and so I wasn't bright enough to take out the camera and click :(

The drive up the hill

View from the top

Another view

Bare trees against the blue winter sky.  I love winter skies - so clear and so blue!

I don't have good pics of the temple itself - you'll find some here

Location:  80 km from Mysore, on the Mysore - Ooty road.  Just after Gundlupet, you have to turn to the right, and the road takes you right to the top of the betta.  The road is ok, motorable.

Timings: Between 8 to 5 (approx)  

Entry: There's a checkpoint at the bottom of the hill.  Cars have to pay 50 rupees, and you need to be back at that point within an hour and fifteen minutes.

There is a restaurant, Pugmark, a part of the Bandipur Safari Lodge, on the highway towards Bandipur, just 7 km beyond the turning to the betta.  We ate a buffet lunch there - Wholesome, tasty, food.  Reasonably priced.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Day 5 - The Railway Museum, Mysore

The Railway Museum, situated next to the Railway Station in Mysore, is a fun place to spend a couple of hours, especially if you have train-crazy children.  

It is mostly open-air, with actual steam engines, diesel engines, coaches and bogies.   You can get inside coaches and engines, and get a feel of it all!  There are quite a few boards which explain each installation.

Forgive me for the quality of images - they were taken with a mobile camera.

Puttachi pretending to drive a steam engine.

 Awed by the size of the wheels - they were taller than Puttachi.

A crane-train.

An old Austin that was rescued from a British scrapyard, given railway wheels, and used to ferry inspection engineers.

An inside view of the coach of the Maharani of Mysore.  The entire coach consisted of the Maharani's bedroom, sitting room, servant's quarters and toilet, cook's quarters and toilet, kitchen, dining room, luggage room - all of which fascinated Puttachi.

There is even a toy train with a very short journey, but was enough to excite Puttachi.  Here's a view of the Mysore railway station from the toy train. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Day 4 - Something to think about?

A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly felt cold right after lunch (happens to me all the time.) I shivered involuntary, and grimaced.

Immediately, Puttachi, got up, went to my room, and brought my sweater to me.

Me: Oh thank you, sweetheart!  How did you know I was feeling cold?

She: Well, you shivered, and your face looked as if you were scared.  But then, you are not afraid of anything.  So that meant you were cold.  So I brought your sweater.

I gave myself mental high-fives.   "You've been a good role-model to your daughter, Shruthi! Not scared of anything indeed!" I told myself.

But then I stopped.  Come to think of it, that could also mean that I am not putting myself in situations where I could feel afraid!  i.e. I am not pushing myself enough.  Could that be true?

Food for thought!

Day 3 - Day trip to Chitradurga Fort

This winter break, we decided to do a day-trip to Chitradurga, which is a town 200 km from Bangalore, known for its magnificent hill fortress of the same name.  (Chitra - picturesque, Durga - Fort)  Built in the 15th century, the fort was the headquarters of generations of the Nayakas. There are seven concentric ramparts to this fort, and it is a really awe-inspiring place.

Puttachi has long been fascinated by the story of the brave woman Obavva, who discovered Hyder Ali's soldiers trying to enter the fort through a secret chink in one of the walls.   She stood next to the chink, and as the soldiers crept through it, she hit them on the head with a mortar, killing them all.  She is known as Onake Obavva (Onake - mortar) and the chink is called "Obavvana kindi" (Obavva's chink.)

We were eager to see the kindi, but unfortunately, we had gone on a day when half of the schools of Karnataka had landed up at the fort for their annual school picnic.  So it was extremely crowded, and Obavvana kindi, being the most popular sightseeing point of the place, was so full of people that we could hardly even spot the kindi.  Fortunately, Puttachi took the disappointment in her stride.  Since we couldn't even get a good picture of the kindi, I'll guide you to google's images of the kindi.

This is the view as soon as you enter the first rampart.

From within the first suttu (outermost rampart) - a part of the fort, a part of the town, and hills and windmills beyond.

Entrance gate of one of the concentric ramparts.  

One of the many, many temples inside the fort. 

 Picture above - On either side of the bridge are two lakes, used for rain-water harvesting.  The fort has a series of interconnecting lakes, and according to the information Hyder Ali got from his spies, the fort always had sufficient supply of water, and could withstand drought for 12 years! (And this, remember, is a very, very dry, barren area)
Picture below - another tank just outside the fort.   The outflow of the inner tanks collects here.  And apparently, there is one more tank in the marketplace into which the extra water from here collects (called Santhe-honde)

View of the Hidimbeshwara temple (Legend has it that this is where Hidimba and Hidimbi of the Mahabharata lived)

Monkey inhabitants.  Lots of monkeys are around, but they aren't aggressive.

When the fort was built, the  massive boulders on this hill were cut, and the temples and other structures were built with them.  Notches, and holes were cut into the boulder, and iron pegs were inserted into these notches.  Then the boulder was gently prised apart.  Water injected into these notches made the splitting easier.  You can see the notches and holes in the next two photos.

We found the traditional game Navakankari etched on the floor of one of the temples.  Puttachi was thrilled.  One of her favourite games!

This awe-inspiring structure is the Maddu Beesuva kallu, or the Grinding apparatus where Gunpowder was made.  The architectural complexity and immensity of this structure is jaw-dropping.

Visitor information:

Distance from Bangalore - 200 km.  A day trip is completely possible.

Time to drive - 3 hours (without any food/rest stops)  The road is excellent - NH4, the Bangalore-Pune highway, via Tumkur.  And the only place you need to stop are the Toll gates (lot of these on the way!)
We started at 6 30 am, reached at 9 45 am.   Started back at 1 15 pm, reached Bangalore at 4 pm.

Food - Not available inside the fort.  Shops outside didn't seem inviting.  We had taken packed food from home, and we ate it inside the fort.   I didn't notice any dustbins, so please take your own trash bag.

Water - Take lots of it. Hot, dry place.

Best time to visit - The summers are very hot and dry, so winter should be better.  Though we went in December, the sun beat down upon us.  But the wind was cool, and so we didn't feel hot.  (I say wind, not breeze, mind you!)  Take caps, hats, sunscreen.

Is it easy to go around?  - There isn't any hiking as such, but there's a lot of climbing up and down. The steps are steep in some places. So you need to be a little fit to do this.

How much time will it take?  - 3-4 hours is sufficient.

Guide - Guides are available.  We didn't hire any, though.  I had read up quite a bit about it previously, and there are boards here and there explaining what you see, how the fort is designed, etc.

Edited to add:  Here's an informative post with great pics.

Mail me if you have more questions!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Day 2 - Looking back at 2013

2013 was a vast improvement over 2012.  Though 2012 was a momentous one in many ways, I wasn't in a good space mentally.  2013 changed all that, and it showed in my writing.  I wrote and published quite a bit. [Full list here]

13 non-fiction articles published in The Hindu, Deccan Herald and Women's Web.
2 short stories published in online magazines.
1 short story accepted for an anthology
1 short story won an award.
1 picture book for an underprivileged child.
Lots and lots of content written for websites.

Apart from this, I've worked on many short stories - visiting some of them scores of times, and scraping, whittling, fine-tuning, polishing them, and yet, haven't been satisfied enough to send them out into the world.

I've also completed four online courses.

Think Again: How to Reason and Argue -  Duke University - Coursera.
The Science of Gastronomy - Hong Kong University - Coursera
Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets - Brown University - Coursera
A Brief History of Architecture - MIT - EdX

I've particularly enjoyed the last two, and they have led me to read a lot about India's history, particularly about how India's lost history was rediscovered by the British.

Now that's quite nicely done, even if I say so myself.

In 2014, I wish to write more of fiction, along with all the non-fiction!

But while my writing life is doing well, I've still not scaled up to handling my life intelligently.  Managing finances, being organized, shouldering responsibilities and being pro-active - there's a lot to be desired.  Ask S, he'll tell you.

I also need to learn how to deal with people more wisely.  I've to give more of myself to those I love, and I've to learn how to handle people who are using me as a doormat. :)

I've also not been too successful in handling the new, grown-up Puttachi, and I think I've made several mistakes while dealing with her.  That's something I need to work on.  And I'll share my learning with you, of course!

That's a lot of work!

So what do you have in mind for yourself in 2014?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Day 1 - Happy New Year!

"One admits that this artificial demarcation of the ever ebbing tide of time is unnatural, strange... But it helps to review the past and look with bright hopes forward."
                             - S.Chandrasekhar, Astrophysicist and Nobel Laureate.

[From a letter to his father, picked from the excellent book Chandra:A Biography of S.Chandrasekhar by Kameshwar C.Wali]

This quote echoes exactly what I feel about the new year.

I hope you have a wonderful year!

January is going to be another month of A-post-a-day, so wish me luck! :)

[Read the previous A-post-a-day posts here]

And I'll leave you with my latest article - on MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses, my current favourite topic!    Read it here.

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