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Who’s your best friend?

“Who is you best friend mumma?” Aadyaa asked me today. It’s a recurrent question, one that girls her age seem to be particularly curious about. Today, she came back with an interesting story from the park, an incident that made me really think about friendships and what they mean to us. The story, whispered in my ear as it was a ‘secret’ goes thus….

“We saw V reading something in the park. Some time later, we saw her crying and going home. Later, we found torn pieces of paper lying around. We put them together. Her group of friends had voted and decided to throw her out of their group. We found a big piece that had everyone’s signatures on it also.”

She seemed intrigued rather than upset about this. The girls she was talking about are older than her and the world of their politics is currently fascinating!

To her recurrent ‘best friend’ question, I come up with different answers everyday. I also evade and distract every now and then because it is a difficult question, isn’t it? I’m never entirely comfortable answering it….

And yet, I know I’m lucky in the friendships I’ve made and been able to keep over the years. In a moment of nostalgia and emotion, I created this little collage of my ‘besties and me’ and sent it to them. Sharing it with you and hoping that the carefree spontaneity seen in these pictures is preserved throughout our lives till we grow doddering and old…. (the pics were taken at the same occasion, we’re all either subject or photographer here…)

Now, that’s what I call friendship!


The simple pleasures of Christmas!

It amazes me to see how middle class India has adopted the concept of celebration, of everything possible! Whereas in our childhood, Christmas was significant only to Christians or those of us semi-Catholics who studied in missionary schools, today it is a widely celebrated festival in urban India. Weeks before Christmas, the markets are filled with strange looking Christmas trees and pretty decorations and bakeries produce plum cake by the thousands every day. No matter who you are, if you can afford it, you will throw or attend Xmas parties, buy gifts for your kids, eat, drink and be merry! Even the cynical view that looks down at the the commercialization of festivals like Valentine’s and Xmas and even of traditionally big festivals like Diwali cannot deny that festival cheer is infectious and great for the economy as well!

Children, specifically, have adopted Christmas in a big way. And we can thank the myth of Santa Claus for this. A few years ago, when Udai was about three, it so happened that the two of us were in Galleria market on 24th evening and I was trying to figure out a way to celebrate Xmas with the family. So Udai and me took on the role of Santa and bought gifts for everyone, packed them and left them out on the dining table for the night! He was rather thrilled with the revelation that Santa did not really exist but we could all be Santa for each other!

This Xmas, Aadyaa was being her usual competitive self and demanding a tree for our home. I was in no mood to buy the scrawny paper trees I saw in the market, partly because I am not very good at packing and storing these things for the next time! So I decided that we would make do or Xmas decor at home, using whatever skills and resources we have! So we set to work bout ten days before Xmas and managed to draw, paint and cut out aย  Xmas tree from thermocol and make home made little decorations for the potted Arokaria plant. We also made a wreath using the plastic packing that comes with flavored yoghurt, aluminum foil and ribbon! All simple things that the kids could help me with, some imagination and lots of together time!

Home made Xmas wreath using waste plastic, al foil and old ribbon

Home made Xmas wreath using waste plastic, al foil and old ribbon

Xmas decor- the Arokaria and the thermocol cut out. Decors were little stars, candy sticks, bells, cup cakes and ribbons

Xmas decor- the Arokaria and the thermocol cut out. Decors were little stars, candy sticks, bells, cup cakes and ribbons

Aadyaa’s Santa myth was broken this year as well, when her school teacher explained that Santa is actually just the parents putting in gifts instead of Santa. But she is little and a bit reluctant to let go of Santa entirely. Yesterday, we had a carol singing session in the car while driving to a friend’s place- Udai, Aadyaa, Nupur and me. And I could see that baby Jesus and Santa were the central characters for her!

So imagine her absolute delight when papa became Santa for their kiddie Xmas party today! She couldn’t let go and she was amazed to see her friends go berserk screaming “Rahul uncle Santa”, proud and at the same time a bit confused about having to share papa with so many excited friends! What a long way small gestures can go with young children!

The making of Santa!

The making of Santa!

He looks so authentic, doesn't he?

He looks so authentic, doesn’t he?

Happy faces..the Vipul Greens gang!

Happy faces..the Vipul Greens gang!

It’s been a great Christmas for us. Friends stayed over, we spent time with loved ones, the children are happy and content. The world is a wonderful place…….This is what festivals are about. They remind you of the joy and security we derive from human relationships, they remind you that we should be there for each other in times of happiness and in times of need, they help you demonstrate respect, love and affection. These are all vital for our survival as humans. For me, in the light of all the madness of this past week-rapes, protests, anger, frustration, negligence and a desperate pursuit of hope in dark times- Christmas must be about reviving empathy, tolerance and love. Let’s resolve to have positive thinking pave the pay way into the New Year!

Weekend get together with friends! Felt so good...

Weekend get together with friends! Felt so good…

While we caught up, the older kids played in the park and the younger ones cuddled with nani inside the tent!! Out on the lawns....

While we caught up, the older kids played in the park and the younger ones cuddled with nani inside the tent!! Out on the lawns….

At a friend's place for an Xmas eve barbecue..such a super excuse to meet friends and enjoy the winter!

At a friend’s place for an Xmas eve barbecue..such a super excuse to meet friends and enjoy the winter! This is a triple decker btw ๐Ÿ™‚

A whole bunch of us fooling around after the barbecue...

A whole bunch of us fooling around after the barbecue…

Nail on the head! English Vinglish and life’s bittersweet truths- Oct 5, 2012

For those of us who grew up admiring the versatility of Sridevi, English Vinglish does not disappoint. Of course, she shows her mettle as a fine actor, her only weakness, the quivering voice with poor dialogue delivery, actually becoming a strength in this story of her search for identity and sense of achievement in a world that runs her down for being unable to speak English, a world that judges her and puts her down while barely appreciating her talents. What is particularly hurtful here is that while the outside world is accepting, her own family is constantly critical, making her an object of ridicule and hurting her self esteem.
The script, however, is the undoubted star in the film. With repeated pungent jabs, the dialogue and situations expose uncomfortable truths of India’s rapidly urbanising society, of changing family values and the undeniable importance of self-esteem, self-preservation and self-love.
Over the last few days, an email conversation has been carrying on among our group of girl friends from college days. And a lot of it has been about how hard it is to find yourself in the flurry of activities and commitments that life becomes. No matter how loving and supporting out husbands, and most us have married men we knew and sort of understood before we took the vows, we women feel cornered into roles that demand selfless devotion to our home and family, while as intelligent and educated individuals, we crave active and satisfying work lives as well. Equality is something even we emancipated women work towards constantly. With all due credit to our spouses!
The movie brilliantly illustrates that it is easy to slot people into roles that we find convenient. We stubbornly cling to preconceived perceptions. And how much it hurts when your family and close friends are judgemental about you, we’ve all experienced that sometime in our lives. I know I live with expectations of financial security and protection from my spouse, while love and respect should be my focus, for instance.
Equality is a dream because we are born to believe that the world thrives on inequality. To be in an equal relationship, it is vital to see everything from the other persons perspective before forming opinions or expectations. And women need to take on that challenge just as much as men do.
Is this possible? Are we not already too conditioned by society to be able to do that when we enter a relationship like marriage? Or can we unshackle ourselves from these burdens somehow and take a simpler view of relationships and life?
English Vinglish sends out simple messages that address complex problems. We need to help each other in times of trouble. Appreciation, sensitivity, positivity, respect, being non judgemental, trying to communicate, expressing love and concern. These are the simple building blocks on which relationships are built. We need to remind ourselves everyday that envy, competitiveness, hurtfulness and revenge have no place in a mature relationship. Not everything can be resolved with a candid conversation. Many a time, clarity in our head as an individual and making positive behavioural changes and above all, helping ourselves rather than waiting to be helped, can take us forward when all else seems lost.

Stuck in my teens! Need a new grow-up strategy- Sep 18, 2012

The results of the Fortis Healthcare Survey on teens have been making news since they came out. Adolescence, as all of us who have passed through it, is a phase of extreme highs and lows. For parents, happy teens are a source of not just joy, but profound relief. If you’re lucky, they might even have some focus in their lives!

Hold on, though, all you adults and think, are we really out of the teens yet? I strongly suspect many of us hold on tenaciously to patterns of thought and behavior that we acquired in our teens. Reflect on the phrases that the survey dwells on- low self-esteem, poor social problem solving, perfection and hopelessness were ones that struck me particularly. Many others, like a tendency for depression or other psychological conditions or external circumstances like parents being separated or death in the family or even low socio-economic status would need to be addressed on a case by case basis.

But these four issues seem like they should be tackled through education and the home environment in the formative pre-teen years. They are also issues that we must continue to work on as adults throughout our lives. As such, each of needs to develop a unique strategy to tackle these ugly demons, that tend to rear their heads occasionally, even though we might be happy and balanced individuals most of the time. When they do appear, these demons can seriously derail our lives, affecting work (low self-esteem takes a severe toll on everything, but especially at work) and relationships (inability to solve social problems). A pursuit of perfection (which means unrealistic expectations from ourselves) andย  a sense of hopelessness (usually a lack of faith in something that will pull us through the current low period) together puts us under extreme pressure. I am experiencing all of these four conditions at this time. It’s not like life is coming to an end, but yes I am grappling with conflicting career and personal commitments, forging a new identity at a mid-career sort of stage, resolving multiple images that I have of myself and managing expectations.

I am working at that strategy to understand myself better and believe in my own ability to pull through. I think if I have something in place, I might be able to do the ‘growing up’ that has been a long time coming!

Independence is not lack of dependence- Aug 14, 2012

Yes it is cliched to write a blog post on independence on the eve of our country’s Independence Day. What is the sort of independence we aspire to, as individuals, as groups within society, as a nation?
Personally, independence has always been a struggle. While I have strong opinions and can be quite self centred, I know I am far from independent. I live the stereotypes I have been fed, like most of us, since we were children. I thrive on relationships, the typical ones- spouse, mother, kids, grand mums, mother in law, close friends, extended family. I think I derive the most satisfaction in life from these. Every so often I find myself holding back from something I love to do, for instance, because I perceive this as being in conflict with these relationships and the person I am in their context. I sacrifice independence for peace.
Independence, therefore, is not a point won. It’s not the annihilation of dependence. It is far more nuanced. It is about balance, about the right amount of compromise, about weighing options, prioritising and taking chances.
Interdependence among citizens and our ability to come to reasonable means to live in harmony is therefore the main goal for an independent nation like ours. We have no higher power to tell us what to do, who we must listen to because we don’t have a choice. We do. But we must choose to exercise reason, build relationships, accept the dependence in order to truly enjoy independence.

To friends who filled in the ‘bhaiyya’ shoes! Aug 3, 2012

For someone who has no siblings, Raksha Bandhan has been a festival of observation rather than participation. Back in the good old Lucknow days, it was quite a crazy festival though. We usually had school on Rakhi day. So we all got ready fifteen minutes early. I was the only girl in the entire row of houses, so the boys stood in a line while I tied rakhis on their wrists and collected a modest booty. Akshay, Kabir, Samir, Ajay, Sujay formed the line up, with Sujay the youngest mostly trying to run away from the teeka and the mithai being stuffed into his mouth! Beautiful memories, unfortunately I don’t seem to have any pics at all of this annual event.

There is also a rather embarassing memory I can share, with advance apologies to the friend in question, Akshay. As typical a teenager as any, there was a point when I fancied I had a huge crush on Akshay, who had been one of my closest friends and confidantes on the SGPGI Campus. It was a silent crush, manifested as an obsessive admiration and certainly not as romantic love. So I agonized for weeks about whether I should tie him a Rakhi and how would I manage to not tie it without confessing to this crush (which even I knew was a temporary thing). My problem was solved by a tattling Samir (Bubu, where are you! I miss your excellent advise on all matters personal!), who blurted all out to Akshay, who in turn summarily dismissed the entire deal and demanded his Rakhi come Raksha Bandhan. And so that awkward moment passed and our friendship was further cemented by this humorous incident. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cut to 2004. Neel and Tushar assumed the role of my mentors during those first few stressful and exciting months at the School of Planning and Architecture. One weekend, when things looked particularly low (I broke up with a boyfriend, design feedback from faculty hit the rock bottom, etc), Tushar whisked me away and drove me home to spend a weekend at his parents’ home in Roorkee. We visited his family home in Bijnore. We spent a lot of quality time and a lifelong relationship was created. He has been Tushar Bhai since and is a firm part of what I consider my extended family.

So we ‘only children’ find family even if we weren’t granted siblings. I’m not one given to collect ‘muh bola bhais’, but I am not averse to the phenomenon either. Certainly, adopting brothers has enriched my life ๐Ÿ™‚


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