It’s Not Yours Unless You Take It

The first time I heard my manager say this to me, I thought he meant to encourage me to reach for my promotion. The next time he said that to me, we were discussing my team’s poor performance. The team was performing poorly due to the willful actions of a particular member of the team. This was dragging the entire team down. I felt that since I was the team leader, it was my responsibility. I tried to correct, teach, chastise even threaten that particular member, but to no avail. My manager felt that the person was a lost cause, and I should not waste time on him. In both situations, the same advice taught me to work for my ambitions, and let go of the dead weight.

Many years later, I heard the same advice from my friend when I complained about an insulting situation I had to face. She advised me that the insults were for me as long as I took them. Once I stop taking them, they are just words that hold no meaning to me. I thought that she was being just philosophical and not practical. Now I see the true meaning behind the words.

It is not yours till you take it, be it a promotion, responsibility, insult or praise. Be it happiness or sorrow, it can only affect us as long as we let it do so. A problem is ours to solve, only if we consider it as our problem. Responsibility is ours to carry only as long as we choose to fulfil it.

These words can be understood in two ways. It can be used as a way to either shirk responsibility or get rid of an unnecessary burden. To ignore good advice or to undermine praise. To brush off insults or to seek out blame. Which option we choose shows our attitude in life. When you feel burdened or stressed out in life, or if you lack direction and purpose, then maybe it is time to change your attitude.

Welcome 2021!!

I wish all my readers, fellow bloggers and friends, A Very Happy New Year!!

In the past, I would have wished everyone for an exciting year ahead, that was filled with travel, adventure and parties with friends. Considering what happened in 2020 and the new social norms, I have updated my new year wish for everyone.

I wish everyone good health, a safe home, company of your good friends and peace of mind.

For this New year, let us make a resolution to take care of our health. Be patient and tolerant with everyone around us. Stop judging people before we know the complete story.

Here’s to wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a Joyous year ahead.

2020: The Crocodile’s Feast

The first time I ever heard a Telugu proverb was from my grandmother. And every time she used one, my cousins and I broke out into giggles. Her choice of adages was quite funny, and when any of us stared at her with an expressionless face, she would immediately jump into explaining the story behind it. 

2020 has been such a bleak year. I am hoping 2021 will be better. Hearing about the vaccine, I was optimistic. However, I read a few stories about the adverse reactions and the virus mutation in some countries. Now, I feel the proverb that fits this situation best is:

“ముందుంది ముసళ్ల పండగ”

(Mundhundhi mussalla pandaga)

When translated into English, it reads: 

The road ahead is going to be a feast for the crocodiles.

In other words, it just means that there is more trouble brewing and what you have experienced so far is nothing compared to what lies ahead. 

This proverb always reminds me of the comic strip Asterix. In Asterix and Cleopatra, Cleopatra’s catchphrase is “…if not, I will have you thrown to the crocodiles”. Towards the end of the story, the narrator says that nearly everyone is joyful except the crocodiles. I guess the crocodiles were waiting for their festival to begin, but the promised feast never arrived. 

Despite all that the world has been through, there are still people who ignore the protocols of wearing a mask, physical distancing and hand sanitizing. They are inviting trouble.

Their fate can be described using the Hindi proverb:

“आ बैल मुझे मार!”

(Aa bail mujhe maar!)

It talks about inviting the wrath of the bull.

I think the crocodiles have feasted enough in 2020. They should go on a diet in 2021.

My Budding Love For Photography

They say A picture is worth a thousand words. We can easily convey our emotions and moods with images in situations where words fail us. This thought motivated me to take up photography as a hobby. I imagined that I could capture the complete mood of the scene through my lens, and I only needed to aim and shoot.

I bought a few books to learn the art of taking great pictures and practised with an old SLR camera that we had.  I diligently learnt about focal length, aperture, shutter speed etc. Read about how to use filters, different lenses for different effects. Tried to practice taking pictures. I encountered only limited success and became disillusioned by the process.

Call me daft, but the science involved behind a good picture flew over my head. I ditched the SLR and picked up a DSLR, thinking that it would make things easier. I was initially met with limited success, and my shots were average. The lenses and filters needed to take great pictures were very expensive. I did not invest much for expensive equipment due to my weak photography skills. I tried to practice more with my existing equipment for as long as I could. Despite my shaky hands and limited knowledge of light and photography, I took amateurs pics like the ones below.

With the latest smartphones, I feel like a professional photographer now. They come filled with a wide variety of features and settings that do not require any filters and knowhow. Here are a few photos I took with my smartphone

It is safe to say that for me, photography is more of a skill than an art form. A talent, I am not able to master, yet I needn’t give up on my love for it as long as we have smartphones.

Being Straightforward Vs Diplomatic

This topic has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. Growing up, while in college, I always considered it better to be straightforward as against diplomacy. My friends and I were proud to be called a forthright person and proudly proclaimed it. So what changed now??

Well, life happened, and we realised that being straightforward is not suitable for everyone. With limited exposure in college life, we did not see the pitfalls of this attitude. As we were among equals, we spoke honestly, and there was a limited range of responses to expect. We either appeased the group, or we angered them. We either hurt feelings, or we invigorate people. Whatever was the reaction, we knew the response that we could expect. Things were simpler.

In the present day, I see people being straightforward and notice the same set of reactions as before. However, what has changed now is that I have become conscious of the emotional toll it takes on the listener. It is a different thing when you hurt a person and make them cry, the ones to take special notice of are those who get hurt and not express it. Either, they have accepted our remarks as truths and diminished their self-worth, or their hurt is getting pent up. It will express itself violently at a later time.

The same applies when we freely express our discontent and dissatisfaction. It causes the opposite person to become demotivated, disheartened and lose faith in the process. This would not matter earlier because there was much less stress in the society and the youth. Nowadays, everyone is so high strung that a small remark is enough to start an avalanche of emotions.

As compared to being straightforward, a diplomatic person manages to soothe or appease the fragile mind of the opposite person. Such a person is not necessarily a liar or someone on the fence. They just don’t forcefully express their views as compared to a straight talker. It may appear that a diplomatic person is not firm and steadfast in conveying their point of view or that they are people pleasers. However, I feel that there is nothing wrong with softly and sweetly relaying one’s opinions rather than being forceful. I believe that it is not worth hurting a person just to make a clear statement by straight talk.

What are your opinions on this matter? Do you agree with me, or do you oppose?

Are We Reading Too Much Between The Lines

Reading between the lines is a phrase that loosely means, to grasp what has been left unsaid, to uncover the truth behind the half-truths. In the past, it was an intelligent trait that only a few wise people possessed. The ability to read between the lines was a highly respected quality, people flocked to such wise ones for advice. By closely observing the body language, past history on the matter, the attitude of people involved and other socio-economic situations at that given point, one would make an educated guess about the intended meaning and unsaid story in a message.

The reason that I have raised this point today is that I have noticed that nowadays, we have stopped listening to what is being said. We see social media platforms abound with crazy conspiracies and theories that are based on seemingly innocuous interviews, discussion and press tours etc. Even mainstream media has stopped reporting facts and started producing conjectures and their analysis of what is said rather than giving us a chance to decide for ourselves.

We are so busy looking for the underlying message that we have stopped listening to what is being said. When we listen to someone speak, we closely observe every minute change in expressions, variation in pitch, tone of voice, line of vision of the speakers etc. Every time we see any fluctuations, we scramble to decode its meaning. We argue and debate to find an explanation. When we find it most of the time, it is the most perverse and unreasonable explanation we can think of.

As a result of all this ‘reading between the lines’, simple conversations are a thing of the past. Slowly reading between the lines got transformed into conspiracy theorizing. This intelligent quality got morphed into the petty and unhinged babbling of a conspiracist. You can visit any of the social media platforms and get 10 different versions and analysis of the same interview. While one site reads the meaning behind the message as a prediction of doomsday, another theorizes it as a ray of hope, and someone else says something totally tangential to both. Everyone tries to connect the dots to create different images while the viewer is left with a headache.

I miss the good old days when news channels only reported news and left the analysis to us. They stated only facts and the storytelling was left for grandmas. I miss the days when only a few wise souls could ‘Read between the lines’.

The Festival Of Lights

There are many festivals in India, some are specific to a region, some specific to a community etc. Different people celebrate different festivals with varying degrees of enthusiasm and pomp. But there are a few festivals that are celebrated throughout India and the most important among them is Diwali, the festival of lights.

There are different mythologies associated with Diwali in North India and South India. However, the importance of the day is constant. One group celebrates the day as the return of Lord Rama back to Ayodhya after his victory over Ravana and his subsequent coronation. To another group, it marks the defeat of the evil king Narakasura at the hands of Satyabhama. Anyway, I am not here to give mythology lessons on Diwali. I just want to reminisce fond memories from my childhood.

The day before Diwali, it is a tradition to wake up before sunrise, have a bath and get ready for puja. We all gathered at our grandparents’ house for the aarti to pray for our siblings. It was also a time to collect gifts from them. As children, this was the best part that we all waited for, The Gifts. Next all of us cousins could pool our money and buy extra crackers for the evening and start bursting them. On the day of Diwali, since my grandfather and my uncles are all architects, we did special pujas at the office and then started to burst crackers. This is where all the fun happened.

I remember that I was a wuss when it was time to burst noisy crackers. I just enjoyed the sparklers and flower pots. The minute anyone lit up Laxmi bombs or rockets, I would run and hide behind the next tallest person. I had to bear the brunt of ridicule from my cousin’s for it. But we forgot all about it when we saw the bright colours light up the sky. Though it has been a few years since we consciously stopped bursting crackers, we spend that time on our terrace safely watching the fireworks at others house.

Here are some snaps of Diwali this year:

The Tricky Job of Disciplining Children

Disciplining children is a tough job that not many of us can master. Correcting them can go wrong even if our attitude is critical or laid back. The problem with this task is that you do not know what went wrong until it is late. While one style of disciplining works in the present but leads to a fractured future, another ensures a better future but does not seem to work in the present. I have never needed to correct or discipline children, but I have seen some interesting ways of punishing them.

As I have mentioned already, I do not have much experience managing children on my own. I have tried to babysit my nieces and nephews, but it is not the same. If things get out of hand, we can always leave it to the parents to handle the fallout. I remember an instance when my niece refused to eat lunch. There was no one at home to convince her. I convinced her that she became invisible. And no one could see her or hear her unless she ate food. She was petrified at the thought of no one giving her attention. Luckily for us, she did not think of misusing the situation.

Of all the elders that I have observed around me, each had a different style of managing children. While my aunt would give her kids a free rein and not correct them at all, my mother was quite strict. Another aunt of ours micromanaged her children in such a way, they did not get a chance to misbehave. On the face of things, it always appeared that both my parents were strict and rule-bound. Yet, they both had a very different approach to checking and correcting children. They did not tolerate indiscipline or mischief and punished us in unique ways with psychological games. Nothing sinister about it, but let me give you a few examples.

As a child, I always daydreamed and never concentrated on studying. As a result, my grades were either inconsistent or low. My mother did not have time to sit with me and coach me every day on every topic, so she took a different approach. She sat me down and explained to me that since I was not studying well, I would not get a cushy office job. I would have to either work as a daily wage labourer or a municipal worker or a vegetable vendor. She then ticked out daily wage labourers from the list of potential jobs stating that I was not physically strong enough and also lazy. Thus, it was not a viable option. She moved to a municipal worker and explained that even those people require a certain level of educational qualification. And I had to work just as hard on the job. She told me that seeing my current situation, a vegetable vendor was the best I could manage. She then went on to explain the maximum earning I can expect and all the luxuries that I would have to forego with that job. You can safely guess my reaction to that talk. I was scared for my future, I even observed a few vegetable vendors in the following weeks and imagined myself in their shoes. I was too scared to daydream after that because all my dreams were of me pushing vegetable carts, or trying to hawk cheap goods.

My dad had a different approach. One summer, all of us kids were gathered at our house for a sleepover. And one of us scribbled all over the wall. We did not know who it was. No one would own up. My dad decided that we should play detective and try to recreate the scene of the crime. I walked us through the incident in a dramatic way about how a person stealthily scribbled on the wall without anyone noticing and almost made them appear heroic. He then conducted mock interrogations and acted out how the perpetrator committed the crime. As he expected, one of us slipped up and corrected my dad on the sequence of events and how they actually scribbled. The best part was that we did not even realise that one of us confessed to the mischief. He went on to embarrass the ‘perpetrator’ with all the loopholes in the plot. He even got the elders involved in a fun way. He made the whole incident appear like a game and made us point out all the mistakes made thereby, making my cousin who did the mischief appear like a fool. No one made mischief at our house again.

Both my parents used different tactics to correct us while making it seem like we chose the right way ourself. It is all fun to recollect now, but I wonder how they thought up the idea during those incidents. I can only hope to be half as smart as them while handling children. Do you have any such fun stories to share? You can put them in comments and have fun.

Image courtesy Canva.com

Be The Change You Want To See

I have not coined this term, ‘be the change you want to see’ however, I want to endorse this statement. If you are a sceptic, we can rephrase the term as ‘Practise before you preach’. Motivational speakers will say, ‘Lead by example’. Religious people might connect to the statement, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Whichever way you choose to word it, the meaning remains the same. If we want to bring about a change in this world, it starts with us. 

Anyone who observes the current situation in the world today, we can all agree that we need to change. We need to change our attitude, outlook and approach to viewing, handling and resolving issues. The issues we are facing are not new and unsuspecting, they have been brewing for quite some time without any signs of abating. Until now, all our efforts to resolve have only served as bandaids on a fractured bone. We have missed the mark one too many times. One of the reasons that the same issues continue to fester time and again is the lack of change. We need to make fundamental changes to the way we approach the problem, change our perspective. 

As a party to this conflict, our perspective, opinions, solutions often, tend to be biased, one way or the other. Asking an oppressor or an oppressed for their opinion will yield results coloured by their experiences. To correctly identify the root cause, we need to see the problem with an unbiased set of eyes. This unopinionated set of eyes are the most difficult to come by. 

I know that some of you are thinking that the only unbiased set of eyes can be that of aliens 😜because everyone else has already picked sides. There is, however, another solution, be the change you want to see. If you wish for the oppressed to stop complaints and be thankful, then you start practising it. If you expect the oppressed to stand up for what is right and speak up at the right forum, then you practice it. If you want to see tolerance in this world, then you be tolerant of people who disagree with you. If you desire to see friendly faces, then you smile and be open to friendship with strangers. 

I hope my message catches you in good spirits, that you see my perspective too. Have a great day

Image Courtesy of canva.com

Dishwashing

I was reminiscing on my childhood while washing dishes, and naturally, all the memories triggered were related to dishwashing. During the 1960s in South India, the main ingredient used for washing dishes was ash and the scrubber used was coconut fibre. The same was the case with my grandmother. Ammama (grandma) had a tin container filled with the dried coconut fibre that she collected every time she used a coconut. (In India, they retain a portion of the coconut fibre as it is used in all households).

She had a big copper water boiler that supplied all the hot water required for a daily bath. She used a combination of charcoal and Pidakalu (dried cow dung cakes) as fuel. She purchased these items from the local market. The water boiler itself is an antique piece, it is a pity we did not save it. Once the fuel burned and the water heating was done for the day, she collected the ash from the bottom tray and stored it in a separate box.
If at any time, the housemaid complained that she is unable to scrub the burnt food with the coconut fibre, my Ammama gave the maid a piece of tablet foil. Tablet foil??? If you are wondering, back in the old days in India, almost all tablets were packaged in metal foil. We never saw tablets packed in plastic until much later. She had a separate collection of this rare item, the tablet foils. She rarely used medications as she relied heavily on her home remedies.

For particularly greasy dishes, some flour was sprinkled generously and scrubbed and removed. The flour absorbed all the grease, and the utensils were ready for the next round of scrubbing.

The utensils used back then were all made of metal. Ammama had copper utensils, iron pots and pans, steel serving plates and cutlery and some aluminium containers. Not a single one was made of plastic. Ammama’s house was built in such a way that there was a separate area designated for washing dishes that was almost like the back yard. Dishes were never washed at the sink in the kitchen.

Later on, as years rolled by dishwashing powders dawned in the market. Sabena dishwashing powder was popular. Vim powder also used. The next stage was the use of dishwashing soap cake. Today the market has a plethora of dishwashing gels to choose from. The coconut scrub is long gone. Instead, we have all kinds of metal, sponge and plastic scrubbers to choose from.

Today one need not manually wash dishes, it can be done by a machine. Even if you do the dishes by hand, it is not such an unpleasant experience like yesteryears. However, I am not sure if we made a change for the better.

Where does all this soap water from the dishwashing go? Obviously, we are polluting the environment we live in. The second question is, how can we be sure that all the chemicals from the soap are 100% rinsed out from the dishes? If any soapy filmy residue stays on, then that goes straight into our body. There are some anti-bacterial and antifungal agents used commonly in dishwashing soaps that are harmful to our health. The other chemicals used in these soaps are said to cause skin rashes and allergies.

Bringing back Ammama’s methods of dishwashing is not possible for various reasons. Our kitchens consist of a lot of plastic and non-stick containers, we don’t have access to ash and coconut fibre.

Even though back then, through the eyes of a child, the process looked quite unpleasant, today I appreciated how much safer those methods were and how environmentally friendly they were.

Do Not Judge Based On Appearances

Near my house, an old lady lived in an old house. That house was the ancestral home of her family, so she wanted to keep up the tradition by living there. The problem was, the house was old and ugly. The backyard was overrun with shrubbery, the front yard was not well kept either. The main building in itself was strong, but it needed urgent repairs. The windows were broken and needed replacement, the paint was peeling, and the house had an eerie look to it. The old lady of the house added to the weirdness of it all.

Growing up, we called it the Haunted House of the neighbourhood. We told stories of strange movements and sounds from the house. We were all scared to pass by the house on our way to school and back. If any of us dared to get closer to that house, to check what was wrong, the old lady from the house would shout at us, and we would scramble from there. We lost many cricket balls, footballs, and toys in the yard of that house. Sometimes the balls accidentally fell into that yard, or sometimes a stay animal ran away with our toys and hid in that yard. It is safe to say that as kids, we all hated that house. We wished for it to be torn down, we prayed it would be demolished. Yet, nothing of that sort happened, we grew up and learnt to ignore that ugly house.

Recently, on a bright and sunny morning, there was a flurry of activity at the house. We were all surprised to see life and movement in that house. Nobody bothered about it for all these years until now. Over that week, we saw movers come in and remove furniture and objects from there. Later construction crews started to demolish the house. All the trees in the yard were cut down. All the waste from the yard was set aside to be disposed of. In that waste, we saw many of our old toys and more than a dozen balls too. We were all relieved to see the house go, but at the same time, we wondered why it was being brought down now.

Later we got to know that it was because the old lady had died. As long as she lived, her children did not demolish the house out of respect for her. Now that she passed away, they were free to remove this old building and build a new and swanky bungalow. We were all happy to see the change, but we also felt sad to see the old house go. Our joy was dampened after getting to know that the old lady of the house died. That was the reason for demolishing the old house. We wished for that house to be torn down without realising its significance to that family. To us, the house was just an ugly old building that was a nuisance and eyesore. But to the family, the house held a whole world of memories, heritage and nostalgia. Just because we did not like the building, it did not mean that the building has no value.

Isn’t this the case with life in general? Many times, we disregard, shun, or insult people, things, books and such, just because they do not live up to a certain standard. We refuse to dig deep to find their importance, we just discard them as waste. By doing this, we lose many people, things and items of value, we recognise their worth only after it is lost. In the story that I narrated up here, the house did not have any importance to me. Just because the house was in a dilapidated state and looked ugly, I was quick to judge its value. I have learnt my lesson. Don’t let this happen to things and people that are important in your life.

Image Courtesy Of Canva.com