Sunday, October 27, 2013

Teaching your child to be environmentally aware

Good habits that are instilled in childhood are never forgotten. It is never too early to begin teaching your child to be environmentally aware. Each one of us has a responsibility towards Mother Earth. Although most schools do have environmental studies as a part of their curriculum, real education always begins at home.

While terms such as “carbon footprint” may be too complex to explain to children, the simplest way to teach children to be eco friendly is by making them avoid wastage of resources. It is good to explain to them that there are many children in our world who do not get enough food, water and other things such as electricity that we often take for granted. Parents can teach even young kids simple good habits like switching the lights and fan off when not in use, turning the tap off while brushing and not wasting food and paper.

Children learn better and faster when the learning process is made fun. Try to engage your child in fun activities like craft projects that make use of waste materials that you would usually throw out. With a little imagination you could use newspapers to make envelopes, carry bags and paper mache articles with your child. Old plastic bottles and containers could become interesting pen holders, flower vases, piggy banks,  miniature pots for indoor plants or herbs for your kitchen window. A cardboard shoebox could be made into a decorated jewellery box. Bigger cardboard boxes could become a dollhouse! A touch of creativity could make wonderful things out of simple thermocol that you usually throw out. Unused pages from old notebooks could be gathered and stapled together to make a notepad for drawing or writing.

When your child is old enough to understand, you could explain why trees are very important for the ecosystem. You could plant seeds together and watch the plant grow. This will  become an interesting method for your child to learn about how plants grow while teaching them to care for the plants daily. The sense of responsibility that your child will develop towards that single plant will eventually be extended towards nature in general. You could allow your child to select plants from a nursery and choose a spot in a suitable open area where they can plant it. Encourage your child to look after the plant and watch his awareness towards other plants and trees in the surroundings increase.

Use your imagination to give your child ideas. Have fun together by teaching your child to look at a piece of waste and imagine what it could become. In time, children will learn to use their own imagination and creativity. This certainly beats watching cartoons all day!

You could also browse the internet for fun craft projects that make the best use of waste articles. Such projects will enable you to spend some quality time with your child while doing something creative, productive and educational.

Children who are old enough to read can be given easy reading material about the environment and related issues. It would be good to read with them so that you can encourage discussions about the topic. You could discuss pollution, why it is important to conserve energy and water, how to avoid littering and other such topics.

 To increase a child’s interest in adopting and advocating an eco friendly lifestyle, involve their friends group by conducting a painting competition with an eco friendliness theme or spend an evening making the “best of waste” .

Use these ideas and watch your kids put their resourcefulness and imagination to use as they learn the concepts through creative projects. While they get to proudly display their talent, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have learnt good things.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Chase your dreams..they are all you've got

Do you remember the list of things you wanted to be “when you grew up”? Now that youre all “grown up”,are you everything that you wished you would turn out to be? Chances are, like grown ups usually end up doing, you made a series of compromises and traded off most or all of your dreams to become something that is far less than you wished to be as a child. But does it really have to be that way?
There may be a number of reasons why you discarded your dreams and settled for a “lesser’ life. I refer to it as such because if your life is nothing close to what you hoped it would be once you stopped taking your parents’ or elders’ advice about everything, you are actually living a “lesser” life.
A life that is presently not the life you dreamt of once upon a time, is a lesser life.
If you really sit down and think of what you really want in life, of what would really make you happy, you may have one definite answer or a list of answers that you could prioritise and still achieve – no matter what your current situation in life is. I’m addressing EVERYONE here. I’m talking to the teenager who hopes to be Miss Universe someday, the CA student who secretly wishes to be a cartoonist, a 50 year old who wishes to learn dancing and perform on stage someday, a salaried employee who wishes to be a millionaire someday.

Why do we let go of our dreams so easily…almost as soon as they are born in our being?
Unfortunately, your circle of friends and family members isn’t always the safest place for your dream to thrive. Often, well meaning advice or light hearted teasing could actually discourage a person from following their heart’s desire. For example, almost everyone laughs at the guy who openly says he wishes to be a famous movie star someday. The fear of such negative reactions makes people keep their desire a secret rather than have it insensitively shot down by people whose opinions really matter.

Napoleon Hill highlighted in his book, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.

Chase your dreams. They are all you've got.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My 'ghostly' experience!

I believe that ghosts exist. Spirits, rather. And I am more than happy to "live and let live" (I dont know if that is an appropriate expression in this case) when it comes to them. I dont believe they can harm us for no reason but surely, they like to make their presence known.

I say this because of the many stories I have heard. I myself have had one experience that I cannot put down to logic.

I think it was in 2006 or 2007, when I was working at Firstsource solutions. As usual I reached a long time before my 12:30 pm shift began. Our "floor", as we call it, had around 100 or 120 seats and systems - the PC, keyboard and headset in front of each workstation. I clearly remember I was the only person on the entire floor. I walked in and chose my favorite spot, not far away from the exit. The glass windows that were tightly shut at all times ensured that any noise from outside stayed outside.

As I logged in to the PC, I could hear what sounded like someone typing on the keyboards at the farthest end of the room. I turned and looked at that row of PCs. There was nobody there and I couldnt help remembering what my friends used to say about that row of PCs. It was where our Quality Analysts sat, and  there were rumors that those last two rows of PCs were 'haunted'. People doing the last shift often said they heard typing sounds from that row even when nobody was there. Poor Quality Analysts are overworked as it is, perhaps the weary keyboards kept working even after they left? It wasnt something we thought much about.

I dismissed it as my imagination and concentrated on my PC, although hearing that typing noise getting louder I did feel very nervous. Now I just wanted to open a of the necessary applications quickly, lock the PC and leave. I was standing as I opened the notepad, typed in the passwords for a few appliucations..I'd run away as soon as I was done!

I noticed the sound stopped. Atleast it seemed that way to me. Thats when it happened. I heard a distinct 'Shh shhh.." from that last row. The kind of noise you make to attract an unknown person's attention. I froze. I kid you not, I FROZE. My mother had told me once, it is said that in such eerie situations when you hear a noise like that or hear someone calling out your name, you shouldnt turn back to look. But what the hell, when you know there is nobody else in a sound proof room and still hear such a sound, you WILL turn back to look. It is just mindless reflex action1 Besides, isnt that what the actors in horror movies do? They turn to look. And they see the ghost. Only, I didnt.

I looked hard, almost as if straining my eyes would give me some supernatural power to see ghosts. I didnt see anything but I felt really cold. I think It happens when you are shit scared, all your blood rushes to your brain or someplace else and you feel cold. I could hear my heart pound as I softly pressed Ctrl-Alt-del to bring up the screen to quickly lock the PC and get out of the 2 seconds that it took for that screen to come up, I heard that sound again, VERY CLEARLY and as if it was MUCH CLOSER to me, maybe a row behind me.."SHH SHHHH"..

Thats it..locked or not locked, I quickly walked towards the exit with that cold feeling, as if I was wrapped in a blanket of cold. I cant remember why I didnt run, but the exit which was only 15 steps away felt like it was really far away. I didnt turn back this time.

As soon as I stepped out of the floor and the door closed behind me, I felt warm again and I rushed into the canteen to be amongst human beings again!

I found my friend having lunch (Shreya, if you are reading this) and the words wouldnt leave my mouth faster as I narrated my experience to her. She dismissed it as nonsense, of course. You never believe such things until it happens to you.

I have thought about that experience often. No matter how many times I think of it, I cannot justify those sounds. They were just too clear to dismiss as some coincidence. I know I wasnt imagining things. And I know I wont dismiss ghost stories as nonsense ever again!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The wife and the TV

At 4 pm her mind alerts her, "I should keep the house beloved will be home in a few hours".
With a tune on her lips she begins cleaning the house. Surely her maid couldnt add the 'touch of love' that only the woman of the house can bring to an already clean house. A woman who loves a house and its inhabitants makes it a 'home'..she makes it  heaven.

While spreading her care and love to reach corners of the house where even sunshine cant, she tends to her sweet child whom she loves more than her own self. "Little baby..your darling Papa will be home soon, tired and weary. He works hard for us, sticking to a job he dosent enjoy. Just so that he can provide for us. Lets make the home beautiful and welcoming. Let this home welcome him and embrace him with our love.."
Time flies soon as she makes her house a home.."Its 5 pm, an hour to go for our beloved to come home. Let me prepare some snack for him to eat.."

There..its ready. Oh look at me..I look like a mess. Let me make myself presentable and dress baby up as well..
Its 6 pm now..what is keeping him?
Its 6:15 pm..did he miss the bus?
Its going to be 6:30 pm..oh there, the doorbell rings..My love is home!
8 pm...his favorite movie is on.
8:45 pm..I'm sure he has seen this one before.
9:00 pm..Have I become that boring? Is he plain used to me?
9:30 pm..I wish TV would interest me as much as it interests him..
9:45 pm..I wish I were as interesting as the TV..
10:00 pm..let me just have dinner and go lie down with my thoughts.
11:00 pm..I wish I were as interesting as the TV
12 - I wish I were as interesting as the TV..
12:20 I wish I were as interesting as the TV..
8 am: I wish I were as interesting as the TV..

4 pm.. her mind alerts her, "I should keep the house beloved will be home in a few hours".

Sunday, May 19, 2013

E Cigarettes – no smoke, all fire?

E Cigarettes – no smoke, all fire?

Everyone offers their two cents to the smoker looking to quit the habit. Well meaning advice could range from taking up a hobby to chewing nicotine gum or wearing a nicotine patch. Electronic cigarettes may prove to be a useful aid to slowly wean smokers who have tried and failed at quitting cold turkey.

Giving up a harmful habit is easier if the process is less stressful. E cigarettes are made to simulate the experience of smoking without the harmful effects of actually inhaling smoke. While some users report that the seemingly better alternative has helped them battle their craving for a smoke, it is yet to be proven that E cigarettes are a completely safe replacement for cigarettes.

So how do e cigarettes work?

E cigarettes basically work using a battery operated heating element that turns the liquid contained in a cartridge into vapor. The liquid comprises of an array of chemicals alongwith nicotine and small traces of the same substances found in a normal cigarette. The cartridge can be replaced as often as required.

Conventional cigarettes vs E Cigarettes

Nicotine is the main cause of addiction to conventional cigarettes. While using less harmful replacement methods such as a nicotine patch, for example, may take care of the nicotine craving, it does little to address the behavioral aspects of the addiction. Smokers miss the entire smoking experience, not just the nicotine. E cigarettes aim to satisfy the nicotine craving while emulating the feel of holding and experiencing a conventional cigarette.

Since e cigarettes involve vaporization instead of combustion of nicotine, the tar deposits in the oral cavity and lungs of a smoker will not be found in users of e cigarettes.

The repulsive smell of tobacco and second hand smoke are other issues that e cigarettes do away with. E cigarettes offer their users the flexibility of choosing different concentrations of nicotine in the cartridges. Users can gradually phase out their dependence on nicotine until they are ready to completely quit the addiction.
While e cigarettes do contain varying levels of nicotine and other chemicals, the main ingredient is  propylene glycol which is used in beauty products, food coloring and other products in safe quantities. It is believed that the exposure to chemical and nicotine vapors from an e cigarette is hardly as detrimental to health as the smoke that emanates from a conventional cigarette that burns a  concentrated mix of nicotine and over 3000 chemicals.

In the long run, the monthly cost of replacing the cartridge of an e cigarette works out to be considerably lesser than that of the number of boxes of  cigarettes bought to last a month.

According to a study by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health, 31 percent of respondents surveyed reported successfully stopped smoking for a six month period using e cigarettes. Even traditional nicotine replacement therapy products such as gums, lozenges, patches and puffers only had a success rate of between 12 and 18 per cent.

The downside of using e Cigarettes

Young people who are not allowed to smoke conventional cigarettes may be unwittingly drawn to e cigarettes as they seem harmless due to inadequate health warnings and regulation on their sales.e Cigarettes are available in many flavors as well, making them even more attractive to youngsters who may be unaware of the nicotine content in them. It may in fact, be the a youngster’s first step towards smoking because however negligible, e cigarette cartridges still do contain nicotine.
There is an acute lack of empirical evidence backed by scientific and/or medical research to determine how safe or harmful e cigarettes really are. Until this issue is addressed, it is really a case of ‘buyer beware’.

Innovative devices!

Those futuristic devices you saw in Star Trek and the Jetsons are no longer wishful thinking. We take a look at some intelligent, innovative e-devices:

‘Inhale’ delicious desserts to skip calories!

Based on studies which prove that the sense of smell triggers feelings of ‘fullness’, which in turn reduces our appetite, Vaportrim inhalers are an innovative way to satiate cravings for delicious desserts by inhaling vapors of different desserts. Around 75 percent of what we taste is actually smell. Users can take advantage of this unique taste – smell connection to inhale flavored vapors and indulge in tasty treats without piling on the calories.

Your own robot maid!

Cleaning tops the list of most mundane and tiresome chores that we just have to do. Cleaning robots are a dream come true. Leave the vacuuming to  robot vacuum cleaners that have in built sensors to move away from obstacles and continue cleaning.

A spoon that monitors your sodium intake

The Salinity Monitor Spoon will prove useful for people suffering from hypertension or health conscious people who want to keep a tab on their sodium intake.
The electronic spoon works like a thermometer and displays the sodium content of food. It can be dipped into hot or cold food like soups and sauces, within the temperature range of 60 - 8080°C. The LCD display on the spoon flashes three ranges of sodium content: 0.6–0.8 percent, 0.9–1.1 percent, and over 1.2 percent.
E-cigarettes – the preferred alternative to conventional cigarettes
E cigarettes simulate the experience of smoking a conventional cigarette while replacing carcinogenic tar smoke created due to burning a cigarette, with vapors of nicotine. These vapors contain far a far lesser amount of the harmful chemicals and nicotine than the smoke emanating from a cigarette. E cigarettes can be used by those looking to kick the smoking habit slowly.
E cigarettes use cartridges contain the liquid which turns to vapor when the device is used. These cartridges are available in various flavors and containing different levels of nicotine concentration. In the long run, the cost of these replaceable cartridges works out to be far lesser than the cost of packets of conventional cigarettes.

A syringe that takes the ‘bite’ out of bug bites
CLICK is a non-medical device shaped like a syringe that functions with piezoelectricity – the generation of electrical currents by the compression or expansion of quartz and similar crystalline substances.

Using CLICK like a syringe, the user can reduce local reactions to insect bites. Itches, burns, pains and swelling can be reduced in minutes by the reduction or inhibition of histamine.
CLICK requires no battery or other energy source and does not release chemical substances. It is an eco friendly solution to alleviate the effects of any irritating or poisonous substance introduced under the skin by an insect bite by applying pressure to render them ineffective.

A headset that converts noise into energy

Noise cancelling headsets are nothing new anymore. But the Green Noise Bluetooth Headset will make you sit up and take notice because of its ability to actually convert high decibels into usable energy. Now not only can you block noise, you could harness it to power your headset!

WiFi Plant Sensor to make gardening effortless

The Koubachi indoor WiFi plant sensor allows you to feed and water up to 27 household plants. Forget worrying about when, how often and how much to water your plants. Koubachi can calculate a specific care plan covering specifics like water usage rate, light and temperature needs. It allows you to check on your plants using iPhone or Web App from wherever you are.  You no longer need to depend on neighbors to water your plants while you’re away!
Process contactless MasterCard payments using a wristwatch
Watch2pay is a wristwatch that makes contactless MasterCard payments possible. The in-built 'break-out card', which is a MasterCard PayPass prepaid card enables you to hold the watch to a shop’s card reader to make a payment in all places that MasterCard PayPass is used.
This intelligent device gives you freedom from carrying wads of cash. It comes with a free MasterCard PayPass prepaid card that is valid for 2 years. Once the card is activated online and you have credited cash into the account, the watch is ready to go.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hennes & Mauritz plans to spend 130 M to open chain of stores in India

Hennes & Mauritz, a Swedish multinational retail-clothing company,  plans to spend around 100 million euros ($130 million) to open a chain of 50 stores in India. The company’s interest in India’s potential market is fueled by India’s growing population and rising incomes.

 A sizeable section of the population in Asia's third-largest economy now has the spending power to catch up with fast-changing fashions.

The plan to enter the Indian market is a part of the company’s larger expansion plans. Fredrik Olsson, head of expansion at the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, said in an interview that the Swedish group would continue a rapid rollout of stores across the world as it aims to stand up to larger rival Inditex.

H&M has been able to hold its own even in a faltering global economy by focusing on bringing catwalk styles to the mass market at a fraction of the price.

H&M has around 2,800 stores in 49 countries and about 80 per cent of sales come from Europe.

According to Olsson, H&M had made an investment application to the Indian government, adding the figures were just an estimate. He did not give a time-frame for the opening of a first store in the country.

Speaking to Reuters at H&M's headquarters in downtown Stockholm's shopping district, he said, "It is a very interesting market with a huge population and a growing middle class."

Lately  H&M has been adding other brands to its core H&M chain, such as & Other Stories, to broaden its customer base.

H&M would start selling with the core H&M brand in India and has applied to sell nine different product categories.

Many  international retailers, including Swedish budget furniture chain IKEA, are eager to expand into India after its government moved last year to allow foreign firms to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries in the country.

Indian retail consultancy Technopak estimates that the textile and clothing market in the country would more than double to $141 billion by 2021, from $58 billion in 2012.

IKEA waiting for the green signal to tap the Indian market

Will India finally have the world famous Swedish retail IKEA stores?

Tomorrow, the IKEA's Rs 10,500-crore proposal to set up single brand retail stores in the country is on the agenda of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

The brand has been interested in the Indian market since the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) cleared the investment plan of the firm to open single-brand retail stores in the country, earlier this year.

FIPB can only clear foreign investment proposals worth up to Rs 1,200 crore. Since IKEA's planned investment is higher than this, the proposal needs to be  cleared by the Cabinet.

The Rs 10,500-crore proposal of the Swedish company includes stores and cafeterias. IKEA had applied to invest the amount for setting up 10 furnishing and homeware stores as well as allied infrastructure over 10 a period of years in India. 15 more stores will be subsequently opened.

IKEA has been sourcing many products from India for the past 25 years. This  would be the largest investment in the single-brand retailing ever since the government has allowed foreign investment in this sector.

Earlier this month, President Pranab Mukherjee, speaking on the occasion of Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said,“Today India is the third largest economy in the world in purchasing power parity terms."

A PwC report states that the spending power of Indian consumers is projected to be more than $1 trillion by 2021, driven by rising prosperity of emerging middle class people, whose population is expected to grow to 570 million by the time.

Swedish multinational retail-clothing company Hennes & Mauritz has also submitted a proposal to spend around 100 million euros ($130 million) to open a chain of 50 stores in India. The company’s interest in India’s potential market  is fueled by India’s growing population and rising incomes.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

From TRYING to be a 'good' girl, to raising one

Gender bias starts at home. Why do we blame society for treating women as second class citizens, when really, the way we treat a daughter and the way we treat a son is glaringly different? By saying this, I know I will be chastised by mothers who will say that they are just being protective for their daughter's sake. Sure they are. In these horrible times if my daughter were old enough to go out on her own, I'd keep tabs on her whereabouts and safety - perhaps every hour, until she gets annoyed and maybe hangs up on me. Then I'd go snoop around and watch her from a distance to know she is safe. I'd be ready to unleash my wrath on any unfortunate creature that posed a threat to her well being. If you talk about paranoia, I am the queen of paranoids. Yet I feel that when it comes to bringing up a girl child, atleast Indian parents blur the lines between 'acting out of concern' and bringing up a daughter the way girls 'should be brought up'.

We love our daughters as much as our sons. Perhaps a little more. But there is an invisible rule book that we go instruction manual put together by past generations to tell you how to bring up a girl child and how a girl belonging to a 'decent' family should behave. In the volatile teenage years, girls will insist that such an invisible code of conduct exists and you will spend years denying its existence. Sometimes when you can no longer deny that she has clearly figured out her brother has a whole lot of privileges that she dosent, you will invariably hide behind the "its all for your own good, for your own safety" line.

I had a 7 pm deadline when I was growing up. Once, for reaching home at around 7.30 pm, I was greeted by the intimidating sight of my mother and brother sitting facing the front door to start the verbal bashing I deserved for being out with friends enjoying street food. The damned vendor who only opened his shop at 7 pm. Of course I knew I'd be in a little trouble but I decided to take the chance because damn, that guy's stuff was GOOD!

The way my mother glared at me, you'd think I was a 17 year old careless teenager sneaking into the house at 2 am, smelling like pot, dressed in a micro-mini and an itsy bitsy tank top that screamed 'cleavage", (of which I had none at the time, believe me!), occasionally flashing my G string - which, till date, I dont understand the point of. 

Nope. I was a 13 year old awkward, timid girl dressed in a full-sleeved, LOOSE, fully buttoned top and a skirt that would rather taste the earth than expose my ankles. Whatever little skin was exposed below my ankles were covered by shoes that you'd see nuns wear. I used to wear glasses that covered half my face and there was nothing my entire image that would merit a second look. 

First thought - Uh oh..i SHOULD'NT have been greedy. I'm in trouble now.

Second thought - They're going to do this together as a team..Did she finish cooking dinner early just to catch me walking in after my deadline?

Third thought - Ok, what's my attitude going to be, "sorry puppy dog look" or "Yeah yeah just yell at me like you always do and lets all get on with our lives quickly"?

Before I gathered my thoughts, she shot the first arrow - "Do you know what time it is?"

Of course I did. I was a whole 29 minutes late. At that age, figuring out which question is a rhetorical one and which one she actually wanted an answer to was the golden key to choose whether I wanted a small but painful lecture or a full length sermon with history added from my past "misdeeds". Unfortunately, I always got it wrong and answered the rhetorical questions at the wrong time. It always extended my misery.

I stood planted in the spot with my head hung down in shame for not obeying such a simple rule. She weaved into her narrative a few past instances of how I had caused her utter misery, how I dont help around the house at all, how she behaved when she was my age, how stubborn, hopeless, difficult and ungrateful I am etc etc. After a while it was all the same old lecture really, so I'd patiently wait for it to end. Sometimes it would end with a warning, sometimes with an angry "GO!" like you'd say to a misbehaving pet dog.

This sermon lasted around an hour and fifteen minutes. Moral of the sermon was that an ungrateful creature who ate paani puri with friends while my mother slogged alone in the hot kitchen to make dinner for us.

A few days later when I could no longer shut the inner voice that always landed me into trouble with her, I asked her, why does my brother not have a deadline? Not that he ever stayed out late. But why? Her answer disgusted me. She said, "Because he cant get pregnant.".

Of all my classmates, there were only TWO guys that I interacted with. That too, only to exchange notes or reference for homework. They were only interested in me because I was the first ranker. The one whose notebooks were complete, neat and reliable. To the rest of the class, apart from my girl pals, I was the snooty gulf-return student who thought too highly of herself to even look their way. They felt like I treated them as lowly creatures. I came to know that from friends. Reality was that I was lost when after attending an all-girls school for years, suddenly I had to adjust to moving back to India and becomeing a part of the co-ed system. Back in Sharjah I'd hear how a tenth grader Head-girl got expelled for sneaking into the boys section to meet a boy student of the same school. And now here I was, still recovering from the shock of having to sit next to a BOY in the classroom, dressed in half pants. What was normal for kids here was a big culture shock to my senses.

So when I was told that I had a deadline because I could get pregnant - to me it was the most insensitive reply put across in the crudest manner. It reeked of her lack of trust in me and exposed how little she knew me. I'm not talking about morals here. I am talking about the fact that she didnt know I was struggling hard to adjust to even just being around guys of my age. She didnt know how awkward I was around guys and how I behaved like an alien around them.

Parents do their best to ensure that daughters get the best possible upbringing while being as protected as they can from the 'predators' circling them all the time. We want to be extra careful and would rather be safe than sorry. Someday I hope we can embed GPS chips into our babies in a procedure that is as routine as getting them vaccinated. just so that we can rest assured that they are safe, no matter where they are. In case they are in trouble, we would know exactly where to fly to, to swoop in on the bad guys and beat the daylight out of them and bring our child back home safely.

But in our attempt to shield them, do we knowingly or unknowingly tell them what they can and cant do, just because they are girls? Dont we use 'concern' as an excuse to mould our baby girls into the socially acceptable form? In all the lectures I was subjected to, alongwith being chided for being disobedient or plain foolish, I was always given ideas of how 'good' girls should behave. 'Good girls' helped out with housework, did well at school, didnt ask questions, dressed to appeal to others' idea of decency and did not question anyone's authority within or outside the family.

'Good' girls couldnt get too pally with guys. I was sure I was doing ok if I managed to treat them just like I treated my girl friends, but thats not how 'good' girls were supposed to behave. Being friendly with boys would give me a bad name. Without ever being told to avoid letting any boy classmate coming home to pick up notes or books, I already told my two geeky guy friends that they were not welcome at home. In college when a huge mixed group of classmates -  nearly 30 of them, planned to watch a movie while their parents thought they were studying hard, I came home and asked my mother if it was ok for me to go. I was older, hopefully more sensible. I was telling her where I would be and was sure to be home by 5 pm. Surely she would allow me to go? Nope. I was given the reason at the age of 13. Dare I ask again.

Being a mother to a baby girl makes me doubly sensitive to the horrible crimes being committed against women more boldly, more frequently and more intensely nowadays. I already worry about how I ensure her well being and safety as she grows older. Its likely that I will improvise my mother's sermons and belt them out to her when she walks in past her deadline some day in the distant future. But I hope to do so without stripping her of the traits that would make her a unique individual just to get her to conform to society's idea of what a girl brought up in a 'decent' family should be like. I hope I will be able put across my concerns as concerns NOT evidence of my lack of trust in her, so that she gets a chance to put my mind at ease with an assurance that she would never do anything to break my trust. 

I hope I will be able to always clearly define which of my actions are out of concern and which are out of  the wish to mould my girl into an individual who will take their skewed ideas of morality into the next generation.

I hope I can burn that invisible book of rules, that instruction manual on 'the right way to bring up a daughter'.   If nothing, I hope I can modify the same set of rules to apply to raising a son too. So that I am not raising a son or a daughter, just a child. A child whose clear conscience will be enough to guide her/him throughout life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Finding the strength to 'pull on'

Recently a Facebook friend confided in me that she has been putting up with domestic violence for a while now. She has been married for around 6 years and has a 3 year old child. Although she is qualified enough to get a job and fend for herself, she understandably feels lost when it comes to thinking about getting a job after being forced to give up her career soon after marriage because the in-laws saw it as a disgrace to their affluent selves to let their daughter in law go to work.

Marriage is such a gamble. You never really know what you are getting into, because some people change drastically after marriage when a relationship demands more than showing up on time for dates or looking good for each other. Love makes perfectly logical people complete idiots. It makes an educated, capable woman set aside her career goals and her financial independence. Blame it on love, which makes her believe that her needs will be taken care of, forever. Blame it on blind trust, that to her, a child that they bring into their ‘world of love’ is a welcome addition in their lives.She may never understand that to her husband, their child is another ‘responsibility’. Another weight on his already burdened shoulders.

My mother is the strongest woman I know. I may never really understand the pain, the heartburn involved in bringing up her children singlehandedly because her husband never did enough to provide for his wife and  family.  Some day I will get around to writing a lot more about her, to capture a few fleeting moments of glory for her and the way she brought us up against all odds. Far too many women like her live and die without being adequately appreciated.

She has told me several things about a time when we were living in Sharjah and my father had no steady job. We kids grew up seeing our parents bicker all the time. I never agree with people who say that the world gives money far more importance than it deserves. Because I know the true power of money and have seen how the lack of it can wreck a person’s home, family and spirit.

My mother used to work as a secretary at a law firm. Her salary wasn’t enough to feed and educate the four of us, pay the rent AND pay off the debts that my dad constantly piled up. I wish I could understand his thought process but from the face of it, he probably believed that taking loans from every friend and colleague to manage expenses at home and take more loans to pay off old ones was still a way of ‘providing’ for his family.

She had cut off the wires to the calling bell because everytime the bell rang, her heart would pound with fear of having to face angry people asking where her husband is and when he would return their money. We kids would find a corner to sit quietly in and watch from behind the furniture while she stood at the door, unable to answer for her husband’s actions.

On many nights when she felt there was no hope for us she started plotting a way of escaping that life – killing all of us when we were asleep and then, herself. She didn’t want to leave her kids to the mercy of an irresponsible father. She knew he wouldn’t be able to deal with the responsibility alone. So she began planning how it should be done.

She though the best way would be to set the house on fire so none of us would escape. She would douse the bed and then the whole house in enough petrol to ensure nothing was spared and then set the bed on fire while we kids were asleep.

She told me it was impossible to get enough petrol to do it without arousing suspicion. So she would have to buy and stock small quantities of petrol until she had enough. The best way for her to do this was to buy small amounts of petrol from the petrol pumps on the way home from work. She took a taxi home everyday, so she planned to stop far away from a petrol pump each day and walk towards it with a container that would hold a decent quantity of petrol. She would wear her specs to look like a serious, professional woman and tell the attendent that her car ran out of fuel on her way home so she needed just enough to fill the tank to get her home. She’d make it sound like the car is parked a little away from the petrol pump so that nobody would suspect she is making it all up.

She told me she spent many sleepless nights planning to do this. I do not remember what reason she told me for not going through with her well thought out plan. I think it was because she managed to land a better paying job that would ease the noose around our necks just a little…just enough to manage a little better.
My mother was a meek, frail, undergraduate who couldn’t speak English. She thought she could give up the struggle of being a working woman and just look after her husband and kids. Life mocked her simple plan and threw unbelievable challenges her way. She went on to work for a renowned Lebanese lawyer, handling all the office work including legal documents better than a management graduate would.

 When I ask her in awe, how she managed to do it, she smiles and says she just did. She sometimes says that  when God gives us burdens, he also gives us the strength to bear them. However she may have done it, at the end, what matters is that she did. And  if she could, every woman should TRY.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The making

I must have been four and a half years old then. Although my mother says its impossible to have a clear memory of things that happened at that tender age, I strongly disagree. Because I know how clearly I can see that incident in my mind. It still gives me goosebumps.

My brother, who is five years elder to me, wasn’t very fond of me as far as I can remember. That particular day he took sibling hatred to a new level. I have a deep scar at the back of my left hand as a reminder of his hatred. The scar his hatred inflicted on my heart as a child, not even five years of age, never really healed. Why else, would I be writing this now?

Our parents were away at work and our elder brother and sister were at school. The four of us, aged between four and a half to around seventeen, were left to ourselves until our parents reached home at night. My mother worked very hard to make ends meet , shouldering responsibilities that my father should have done but couldn’t be bothered to.

The day of the incident, we were ‘playing’, if you can call it that. I am yet to find a word that adequately describes a situation where everyday after waking up, I’d be in constant fear of when my brother will start picking on me for no particular reason. Some mornings I'd pretend to be asleep till I could no longer lie in bed doing nothing. I’d be constantly afraid of what I may do or say to trigger his hatred filled cruelty. Each day it was something new..I have varied memories of ways in which he expressed his hate..from throwing stones at me as I walked in front of him, to telling me he spit in the water he brought for me to drink, to yelling at me at the top of his voice until I would shiver and cry uncontrollably and cling to him hard instead of running away from him. Because he was the only living thing in that terrifying, big house – too big for a child to be alone in.

I keep digressing as memories flood in. Back to the day of the incident, he lit a candle and we were burning things like paper and other stuff. Him, because it was somehow fascinating to him and me, because I had no choice but to join in to be ‘on his side’ so that he wouldn’t turn his attention to making me the subject of his amusement.

He picked up a small blue plastic car and began burning it. It melted and as I was watching drops of molten blue plastic pull away from the illl fated toy, he held my hand under the bubbling, melting plastic and before I knew it, a big blob of molten plastic fell on my hand.  Its all in slow motion then on, as most painful memories are. I don’t remember whether I screamed for my life or ran crying. I cant really remember my reaction or his, in the moments that followed. All I remember is seeing that huge drop of molten plastic embed itself in my hand, burning through my tender skin and flesh, turning a darker shade of blue than the toy car originally was. The drop solidified almost instantly and was just stuck there in my hand, lifeless. As if it had always been an odd extension protruding from the back of my hand.

I remember one thing clearly - he wasn’t scared after what he had done. If there was any fear or remorse he did a good job of concealing it because  all he said as I cried in pain at the horrific sight of plastic burning deeper into my flesh was that I should let him remove it. I remember yelling, “No, I will show this to mummy today”. I remember saying that because for me it was a daring act of defiance. Everyday he’d threaten me that if I mentioned any acts of his cruel behavior towards me to our mother, he would beat me up even more the next day because surely our mother would go to work and we would be alone again.

Every day at the dinner table as we ate I’d think of telling our mother everything he had done that day to make me cry and he, almost as if telepathically reading my thoughts, would catch that quick nervous look I had on my face a few minutes before I mustered the courage to announce at the table how cruel he had been to me all through the day and as far as I could remember. As my eyes met his, his stern message was conveyed to me with a quiet but powerful force that made me sink back into my chair. My carefully gathered thoughts that had nearly become words and finally become strong enough to leave my lips any minute returned to my heart, taunting me that I would NEVER have the courage to speak up. Mission accomplished, my brother’s stern look would disappear as if it were never there and in its place would be a triumphant grin. A content look of satisfaction that he was safe because I was too much of a coward to rat him out.

I’d finish my meal quietly, unlike any child of that age you may have seen. This always went  unnoticed because in my family dinnertime was far from those happy mealtimes we see in movies where family members love each other and cant hear enough about how each person’s day went. Dinner times were the only times that our family sat together. Yet for us, it was a matter of getting it quickly done and dusted so that we could sleep. Our mother would serve us, quickly and quietly. There was no question of fussing about whatever dish was served.

I realize now how tiring it must have been for my mother, to cook dinner for six within an hour or so of reaching home from work. I don’t remember her ever sitting down to relax for five minutes after returning from work. I guess with four hungry children around, any mother would forget her own comfort and jump right into cooking and serving dinner.  Even as kids, we all knew better than to hassle her with our petty issues.

That day though, I felt it was very important for me to be the center of my mother’s universe atleast while I told her how I have been suffering. I wanted her undivided attention and hoped that she would resolve the matter for me, once and for all.

 After the molten plastic drop solidified on my flesh I ran and hid under our huge dining table and refused to come out from there for my brother to pull it out of my flesh. Whether he wanted to destroy evidence or get sadistic pleasure from watching me suffer the pain of having my flesh torn away with the plastic, I don’t really know. But I swore I’d show it to mummy and hoped he would get  a sound spanking  that day.

I don’t know how many hours I sat there or how I managed to wait until my mother was home. I don’t remember where our elder brother and sister were after they returned from school. Did I show them what had happened? Did they try to help me? I cant remember any of that. What I do remember is choosing a safe moment to come out of hiding to run to mummy in the kitchen. I remember dodging my brother as he pounced on me to have me reconsider whether I really wanted to complain to mummy and face him the next day.

I remember crying my eyes out as I stood there looking up at mummy, holding up my hand for her to see what her son had done to me. I remember being in her way as she rushed from the kitchen table to the stove, with some ingredients in hand that needed to be quickly added to whatever she was cooking. I remember saying, see what he did to me today and just as I came in her way, she yelled at me without looking at my outstretched hand,” Go and sit in the hall room, out of my way..”. I don’t remember whether she told me to ‘sit in the hall room’ or ‘go and play elsewhere’ ..but I remember it stung like a slap. It felt like the confirmation of what my brother told me everyday without fail..”she loves me more than you..she dosent love you..she hates you..she never wanted you..we were happy before you were born... You were a mistake..I am their pet..”.

He had probably been watching from outside the kitchen because just as I stepped outside, he did a little victory dance and confirmed for me, “I told you, she wont care”.

The only consolation was that he went easy on me the next day. I wasn’t the same inside. Something had changed. I was still a coward. I still hugged him when he yelled at the top of his voice to scare me. I still cried sitting by his side when he pretended to be dead. But I never thought about complaining to my mother again.

Maybe this incident and a series of others made me the way I am now..Today I despise any show of helplessness or submissiveness in women. Maybe because it reminds me of the coward I was. Even as a child I hated myself for being unable to gather the courage to fight back or speak up. The anger, even disgust that I feel for women who quietly tolerate injustice or being ill treated is actually the disgust I feel for myself, for the way I was. Even though I was a child, I am still unforgiving about how meek and scared I was and how easy it was to put me down.

Maybe these memories make me react just a little more strongly than most women would, to hear about instances of women being ill treated.

I spent a good part of my teenage years trying to convince my mother that all these incidents werent merely instances of sibling rivalry. She spent all those years trying to convince me that I am super sensitive.. that her son only behaved like any child of that age would behave. She kept telling me that all brothers and sisters fight and I kept telling her that not all brothers would suffocate their seven year old sister with a pillow, hoping she would die so he could be the family favorite again.

Years ago we stopped talking about it because my mother and I feel like we are talking to a wall when this ugly topic rears its head occasionally.

Today my brother and I have our own families. We politely interact as much as is necessary.  Though I can say for sure that I don’t hate him, I still search for an answer when I ask myself whether I truly love him as much as any other sister would love her brother despite all the childish wars that form an essential part of growing up.

I remember something that I said to him ages ago in a rare moment we were talking about the past, “You could have been my best friend, the first person I’d turn to for help when someone at school bullied me. You could have protected me. Instead, YOU were my greatest fear. And you continued to scare me knowing that I had nobody to turn to.”

Today, some seventeen odd years later, as I look at the scar at the back of my left hand, those words still hold true.  That scar dosent look as horrible as I thought it would. The one on my psyche probably does.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cant take it anymore?

The thought "I cant take this anymore" is a turning point, whether you decide to let it weigh you down or use it to propel you to dizzying heights.

You just wont remain the same once this thought sinks in. 

What does it feel like, to be standing where you are in life?

There are really only two ways to go from here. Up or down. You cant even stay where you are forever, because life will change and drag you along. On all days, down will always look like the easier option. Because falling down takes no effort.