Thursday, November 27, 2008

Test of truth

In my previous post I said that we should not be too quick to judge. However, there is also something to be said about being too fair and this story (yes, another one) illustrates the point beautifully.

One day the great Greek philosopher Socrates (469 - 399 BC) came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"
"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Test of Three."
"Three?", exclaimed the student.
"That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"
"Oh no," the man said, "actually I just heard about it."
"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"
"No, on the contrary..."
"So," Socrates interrupted, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?"
The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.
Socrates continued. "You may still pass though, because there is a third test - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"
"Well it....no, not really..."
"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"
The man was defeated and ashamed. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.
It also explains why he never found out that Plato was having an affair with his wife.

So, maybe the middle ground is the best thing . What do you say??

Judge now, repent later

We are all so quick to judge, and more often than not inaccurately!We judge on the basis of colour, creed, caste, community, riches, poverty..... you name it.This was a story I recieved as a forward and it really appealed to me. Hope it makes anyone who reads it, think and slow down a bit before they judge.

There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judgethings too quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and lookat a pear tree that was a great distance away. The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in
summer, and the youngest son in the fall.When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they had seen. The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said no it was covered with green buds and full of promise.The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment. The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life.He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up.If you give up when it's winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall.

Moral:Don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest. Don't judge life by one difficult season.. Persevere through the difficult patches and better times are sure to come some time or later

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dinner gong syndrome

Want a room cleared in zero to 15 seconds?
Just announce to your family that it is time to eat and they all remember urgent chores. It works every time! At first I thought it was my cooking, but on exploring the issue, I realize that this is a common thing at a lot of urban homes. At least that is what my friends, mostly harried moms, tell me. I just have to say the'F' word (FOOD) and my son who would be rummaging through the fridge for some thing to munch on ( He periodically opens a full refrigerator, stares at all the food in it, and wistfully, in the voice of Oliver twist, announces that there is nothing to eat) suddenly remembers that he needs to ask a friend a homework assignment, my husband who is sitting on the balcony staring into space, has an urgent mail to send and the tween realizes he needs to have a shower before dinner.

Then each one will appear separately at regular intervals and ask me why I called only him(as if I am conspiring to waste his time), when the others have not appeared yet. Before I can offer any explanation or coax him to sit and wait while I gather the others, he will walk away saying 'Just a minute, I'll be right back'. We are back to square one with me screaming that the food is getting cold . (Of course, the one day the meal is not ready at the usual, you can be sure they are all waiting at the table like the hungry hordes from some starving nation.) So what do I do? Well, I have just taken to announcing meals when ever I want time to myself. I am waiting for them to catch on. Till then I am enjoying being left to myself (and the refrigerator door stays shut too).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

marketing your wares

Ever have someone try and sell you stuff that you do not need, do not want and had not even thought of? Who hasn't! We are all consumers in this world and have been the target market for products we did not know about...... till some savvy, smooth talking, marketer told us how much we needed it in our lives and how incomplete and unfulfilled our lives have been till the day we got the said product.

Now-a- days, with cell phones and the Internet, you can be reached anywhere (even the Loo, if you carry the cell phone) and there are calls asking you to invest your money (the news of the recession has not reached them yet) and there are calls for more add on services/ cards when you are pulling your hair out over terrible state of even the basic services.

Recently I was at the receiving end of an onslaught for taking on some MLM (multi level marketing) Products. Despite my repeated requests, that I was not really the right person, she refused to take no for an answer. Seeking to divert her attention, I called out to my husband to join in the conversation. After the usual pleasantries, my husband asked her about her line of work ( just what I was hoping to avoid!) and she launched into a description of how wonderful her work was, how she was excited about the products and how she was making so much money while meeting so many interesting people...."just the person i want, interjected my husband,You see, we have the place we are hoping to get rid of and I am sure with your contacts, it will be a cake walk for you". Stumped mid flow, she had no option but to ask for the details and promise to look into it. When she tried to start again, my husband gently told her that we were not really her target audience ( she should have realised that seeing our uncoloured hair and sloppy clothes). She asked us if we could give five names she could contact and he continued that our near and dear ones were somewhat uninspiring, just like us. With this she had to be content and with promises to look for a buyer for our property, she left. With that I learnt a big lesson... when someone tries to sell you stuff, you sell them something instead.

So the next time someone calls you and offers you the best thing since sliced bread... you counter the offer with one of your own and see what happens next!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

pet peeves

"The day we brought Dustin home, his feet did not touch the ground. He was hand fed every meal with everyone competing to feed him every hour, though the doctor had recommended four-hourly meals. No one seemed to mind that he burped stuff all over them and he was set down just to pee, that too, at my urgent hollering. In fact i had more children in my home than any other time, as the neighborhood kids were also at our place to meet him. Dustin was a bitter(a bit of this and a bit of that) puppy that had come home despite my reluctance. The second day, his popularity had dimmed a bit and like the matinee star on his way down, the favours (the food, in this case) was doled out more grudgingly and after i reminded them about it.The third day there were active complaints about the fact that one was missing his turn and leaving it to the other . The fourth day, each one flatly denied it was his turn and by the fifth day he was wholly my responsibility. Since i had bonded with the helpless creature by then, we did OK." This was a story narrated by a friend, who was brave enough to take on a pet on her children's' wish recently. While she went on to fall in love with the dog and it has a "happily -ever- after" ending, this is not always the case.

Many times pets are just abandoned somewhere. The more conscientious, try and place them with someone more 'pet-friendly' while some just turn them out on the streets. Why do people get pets without any thought and then abandon them or neglect them? Many times the enthusiasm to get the pet home is at an all time high, but a few days later the pet is just sitting in a corner and looking lost.

Who or what gives us the right to condemn another creature to such a loveless and pathetic existence? Human beings are proud to call themselves the most intelligent and advanced species on earth. How can we the most advanced, if we are not able to put the needs of other creatures on par with ours, if not above ours?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

every dog has his day

Mission accomplished!
Being an animal lover, I want to help instead of watching from the sidelines and sometimes it is not so easy. Recently I came across a dog (mentioned in my previous post on how looks matter) that had bleeding ears and very bad skin. Not sure about what to do ( i was scared about diseases... being human) I called my vet. (well, he is a vet who helps me with my dogs, two of them). At first, he told me that it was as easy as administering a simple injection, but the question was who would bell the cat..er... inject the dog... and how!


Making sure that a stray stays in one place long enough to take an injection is not an easy task, to say the very least. So the vet came up with the suggestion that we should administer an oral medicine, two doses one week apart. Sounded easy enough.... a starving stray should just wolf down the stuff mixed with some food, right? Wrong! Looks like in these days of instant gratification and demanding kids, strays have their own 'will and will not' lists. We (my kids age16 and11 who also get involved in such endeavours of mine) tried offering him some bread. He came happily enough, but refused to touch it. Then we offered biscuits,and after a brief perusal,(while we all stood with bated breath), he walked away. I ran home to get some milk to mix with the medicine,while my older son followed him to an empty plot where he lived in a pipe (the dog lived in a pipe, not my son).

Not being used to people making a fuss of him, the dog watched all our efforts to coax him into coming out and having the bowl of milk, with amused disbelief. Eventually we had to leave so he could come out and have the milk(which he seems to have done, in peace on his own time). The medicine seemed to be working, as he had improved the next i saw him. But now to administer the second dose... well, suffice to say, from finding him (strays never stay in exactly same place) to making sure he took the second dose, it was yet another adventure, but we did it. For that I am happy and feel good. Sometimes the things that make you happy are not big milestones, just small accomplishments. What I realized is that sometimes we just need to ask others (in this case, the vet) and you do get the power to help.

Monday, October 27, 2008

looks matter

Saw a dog this morning... nothing special about that, we see strays all the time in India. What caught my eyes were the fact that his ears were scratched raw, bleeding and there was no hair over most of his body. not the most attractive dog, as you can imagine. The security guard did not even allow him to come anywhere near the society. The dog obviously used to such treatment, just turned around and went away without a whimper. Another dog, a sweet little stray, in good health just sauntered past the same man. When I asked him about the distinction, he said, asked me in disbelief "Did you not see bad the dog looks?" So here we have a dog rejected on the basis of his looks.
Heard of ' beauty with purpose' ? We have heard so often of how beauty is only skin deep that now-a - days, pageants have to use such terms to distance themselves from superficiality. In the evolved civilized world, looks are supposed to be immaterial. There is reams of research to prove otherwise. When you look good, things go your way more often than if you are not blessed in the looks department. Look into literature and you'll find that undesirable characters always have undesirable characteristics 'thin lipped, squint eyed, pimply faced, mealy mouthed etc'. Remember who the fairest of them all was? Of course, the wonderful Snowhite! We all all know about the wicked step sisters of the lovely Cinderella. Closer home, while Soorpanakha and Pootana could take on any form they chose, when the true colours were revealed, they were as ugly as sin. That reminds me, when we say 'ugly as sin', are we saying sin is ugly or that everything ugly is also sin??
So just tell me, does beauty with purpose mean that the purpose mean that it serves the purpose of being thought of as better than those who are not so beautiful?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

no shoes? look at the ones with no feet.

All my life I have been , to put it bluntly, overweight. A pleasantly chubby baby grew up into a pleasantly plump young woman and then with growing age, the weight grew too...Have agonised over it and tried a few things, but I seem to come up dry.
Recently a family moved in near our home and the lady of the house seems to have similar issues. A few days back, when I was visiting, she offered me an aerated drink, which i refused as I do not like them as a rule. Quickly, she asked me whether it was because it was fattening . Then she proceeded to astound me by saying that this must be the reason I was not fat.
Not fat, me??? when all my life I have fielded the comments , spoken and unspoken, from well meaning (!!!) relatives, about how I could afford to lose a bit of weight. (As if I go blind when I see myself in the mirror or see the weighing scale.)

Along with the realisation that she was not mocking me came another one that everything is relative, and since she had er.., larger issues, it was her perception that I was in OK shape. Reminded me of the story of the man who cried because he had no shoes till he saw someone with no feet! Why do we always look at others and feel envious rather than look around and count our blessings? We want more money than our contemporaries, more recognition than our colleagues, more marks for our children than their friends, larger homes than our neighbours? The worst part is we din this trait in our children too, by constant comparisons( yours truly is guilty as charged).
Comparisons are odious and yet I want to be a size zero too(Look at Kareena Kapoor!!!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No easy answers

My sixteen year old son asked me a seemingly easy question the other day. ' What is the purpose of life?' Seems like an easy one for a person who has two children, has travelled a bit and seen the world ( at least parts of it anyway) and also seen life. But none of my answers really worked for him. He wanted to know why he must work hard and strive for any achievements if at the end of it we all die any way. When i told him ( all the material benefits) that people would admire him, appreciate him and he could have power to do what he wanted to, it did not cut much ice with him. All he said was, 'then what?'

Then I tried the philosophical track and told him that it would make a difference to many people if he was good at something and could use his success knowledge and power if any, for the greater good. ' But at the end of the day they will all be gone too' he argued.
"You will have a comfortable life" i said. But it would still end at some point he said. So what purpose has my life achieved?
It is difficult to field questions that one has been searching answers oneself. Especially when they come from a person, who you believe has a lot of potential in the accepted sense of the world. Especially, when he refuses to accept stock material answers. So does anyone have any answers for a sixteen year old? I will learn something too.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brain drain

I was at a felicitation function for some class 10 and 12 students. The three speakers who were talking about career options had one main theme running through the whole evening. They wanted these kids to study hard and go abroad. It is interesting how we equate brains and success with going abroad. Yes, I am aware that a lot of professionals ( more than ever before anyway) are coming back to India. Yet, going abroad is looked upon as the ultimate feather in the cap. Admission to a foreign university or a posting in another country is regarded as the ultimate accolade. A true case of home made chicken being equal to lentils...... "ghar ki murgi daal barabar". And this even when we talk of India Shining.
Then we talk of brain drain.....

Gandhigiri: Reality of the big talk

Thanks to Lage Raho Munnabhai, we now have a term, Gandhigiri, that is on everybody’s tongue. The term that conveys how its pays being nice to the others — remember turning the other cheek! Overnight, Gandhigiri clubs have mushroomed. A popular TV programme even had a spoof on it; it showed how pickpockets preferred to target those going to see this movie, as they were more generous and less prone to resist or act heroic.

Gandhigiri has rekindled the hope of underdogs and brought us out as nice people, willing to bend for the good of other. We can all forget the ugly picture painted by a firang magazine recently that showed Indians as being rudest in the world. So far, so good.

But I have had my experiences that put to test Gandhigiri, and would like to share them with you. Recently, I was caught in the rush-hour traffic. At 6:30 pm it was the worst possible time to get stuck. My normally well-behaved car decided it was time to act up. It stopped and no amount of cajoling, coaxing or spirited turns of the key could even elicit a whine, leave alone get it to purr.

I was alone in the car and getting delayed on my way to pick up my 11 and 16-year-old boys. Those who weaved around my vehicle and passed by, gave me accusing looks. There were one or two irritated honks as well.

A push start seemed my only option and I stepped out of my car, in the hope of getting some help. I approached two men who on hearing the request, looked at each other, raised their brows and shook their heads. Taken aback –this was my first such experience and that too post Munnabhai! I smiled (after all, it was their prerogative) and walked over to two small shop owners and repeated my request. Without batting an eyelid, they refused.

By this time, I was truly flustered and decided to approach the local law for help. The traffic cop was just watching the vehicles flow around him. He looked suitably concerned. I felt relieved and when I was just about to point out my car, he said, “If only there were some hamals(labourers) around here – all these people are educated – how can I ask them?”

I had been a fool. I was ignorant of the fact that education ensures you never have to bother about helping someone in need. I always was led to believe that education meant a broader vision. Obviously, my education was wasted. I made a mental note to tell my brother, a doctor, and my husband, a software professional, never to respond to any pleas for help ever again!

Seeing that the law was as helpless as I was, I decided to move on – across the street where I saw a driving school. In the hope that there may be a couple of driving teachers or even car experts, who may solve the problem, I approached a person who was sitting at the table. I repeated my plight with little hope of any help – after all, if the policeman was right, people learnt to read and write just so as not to help anyone. I was pleasantly surprised when he got up from behind the table and asked me (in English too!) where my car was. He gathered a couple of others and helped me on my way.

While I do believe that one should have the right to choose what one does, we are all brought up with the ideal of helping others.

Popular culture would have us believe that it is the lower classes who have a “heart of gold” to compensate for the lack of the yellow metal and wealth. Yet, almost every man I approached declined help. A lot has been said about Indian good nature and helpfulness, etc – why, it has been waxed eloquent about how our material poverty is inverse to our wealth of character? I, too, believed in it. After all, this was the land of Gandhi (and now Gandhigiri!)

I may be wrong, but with all the cultural diet that we are fed, on dignity of labour (Gandhiji even got wife Kasturba to clean toilets), the movies with the rich hero having no problems doing anything menial, the glory of the farmer who tills the land finding his way into umpteen works of literature, we seem to think that a college degree absolves us of any need to do anything that remotely is outside the AC’ed office (or now the AC supermarkets/shopping malls).

There are the rich and famous who seem to think nothing of driving over few pedestrians. The children going to decent schools seem to have forgotten how to greet their elders (I do not believe in feet touching but a namaste or a good morning/evening would be nice!). I field enough calls from my son’s friends (age 16) to feel like a telephone operator and yet I rarely hear a “good evening aunty” tagged on. Mostly its – “is he there?” not even a “may I speak to…”.

So what exactly are we? The rudest people in the world or the ones who welcome the ideals of Gandhiji with fanfare and fervour? Then again, are we implementing Gandhigiri in real life? After all, talk is cheap!

Confessions of a mother from the 10th fast lane

Kya aap Dasvi pass se tez hain?

No, no, this is not a new show on the TV. It is a reality, as old as the education system in our country. Then again it is more interesting than any show and has all the ingredients of a best seller. There is blood toil and tears sometimes for more than just that one academic year, the tension of the exams, excitement of the results, the thrill of achievement, the disappointment of falling short , the sorrow of failure, and occasionally the terrible tragedy of suicide. There are the heroes (without a gender bias) who conquer the mountain of merit lists and there are the villains who cheat and hope to get the seal of ‘tenth pass’. There are the eternal mothers or MAA, who make endless sacrifices and fathers who have noses to the grindstone in order to pay for the best extra coaching that money can buy.

There was a time when ‘tuition classes’ was just a whisper heard by those who were genuinely weak at one or another subject. One rarely mentioned that one was part of such a class for fear of being ridiculed as dumb. Cut to today and there are coaching classes that are as difficult to get into as IIT. They are advertised as loudly as any other consumer goods and market the classes as aggressively as a cola. Woe betides any who do not toe the line and skip coaching.

How do I know this? Well I was one of the teeming numbers just this past academic year.
A mother with a cause… mine to do or die, not to reason why. I was expected (so I was informed, by any and everyone) to support my son’s quest for the holy grail….er…Class 10 certificate.

I was advised to cut cable TV. It was not enough that my son controlled his TV viewing, we as a family had to make this sacrifice too was the earnest advice from a battle scarred mom, whose son had been going for coaching for two years and had scored 89% the previous year. So did I do it? Not at all… my son watched matches and movies and was keeping up with “star world” as the real world spun around at a dizzying speed.

During the X-mas vacations, one of my concerned friends called up to find out how my son was coping with the pressure. When I told her that he had gone out of town on a short break, she almost split my eardrums with a high decibel shriek. As if that were not enough, she proceeded to give me an earful on why I should have just kept him at home for the holidays.

Another mom gave me diet counseling. (It had nothing to do with me being overweight) ‘Nothing but simple home cooked meals’ she said, wagging her finger in my face. Keep him fit…. nothing wrong with that…… except that she also told me not to feed him too much at night. ‘Make sure he is not full, it will keep him awake’. Ah, so the secret is starvation. When I put forth this idea to my son, he agreed in principle that he should give up dinner, but asked me to stock up on chips and biscuits and snacks. Just what I wanted-- a junk foodie!
In a mothers meet, I was listening to tuition class stories being swapped. Thinking that I was a shy wall flower, one of the moms kindly tried to draw me into the conversation by asking me where my son went for classes. When I hesitantly told her that he was not going anywhere and that I thought the school was doing a great job, there was a shocked silence and you could have heard a pin drop. When one of them finally found her tongue, she asked me (in a tone reserved for a mentally slow person) why I did not force him to go, even though the school was good. On discovering that I was supporting the class boycott by my son, she stared at me, shook her head and hasn’t spoken to me since.

Being an outcast wasn’t too pleasant, but I stuck to my guns in the face of a lot of such advice – why I did not give him the latest wonder drug for memory, why I let him play, why I went visiting my mom, why I had any parties at home…..( the only other time I have heard so many suggestions is when my son was born and I was a fresh off- the- maternity- ward- mom). However, looks like I am with the “IN” crowd again. The phone has been ringing since yesterday, since I learnt that my son scored a wonderful 96.2% in his board exam.
(Incidentally this was my article in a pune mag Intelligent pune)
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