We’ve never seen her sit still. We grew up eating home made sheviyo (fine noodles cooked in multiple ways) and paapad (typical to Indian food, hard to explain but is spicy, made of pulses and eaten as an accompaniment with meals) made by her. We helped her make vaatiyo (baatis or wicker sticks for lamps) from raw cotton. And we swaddled babies and ourselves in godadiyo (quilts) hand stitched by her. Ajjee, my father’s mother, my beautiful grandmother, has been a constant in the lives of all her children and grandchildren and many many more of us.
Made usually of leftover pieces of cloth, Ajjee builds intricate patterns and designs, often a peacock or a cat for kids or a pattern of geometric flowers for older people or even a simple quilt made out of an old sari put together by a complex and even running stitch. Her talent and industry has been the stuff of legends. It wasn’t just family, she would make these precious quilts for anyone who came in to appreciate, ask for help and even those who made a simple, honest request (it’s getting tough for her now to be equally productive, but not for want of trying!).
This morning, the family proudly read her name mentioned in an interview in The Hindu with Patrick J Finn, who has just finished a book on quilt-making in India and I simply had to write this tribute to the most inspirational person in our family. Our very own rockstar- Hirabai Naik! Ajjee for some, Maee Ajjee for others, Ayee for many, a symbol of grit and determination, a beacon of kindness and love and hope. A person who rises above us despite all her human failings.
Always built small, Ajjee has become frailer with time but her spirit is indomitable. Today, even as she complains of feeling fatigue, her mind is still working on the latest designs. Beyond quilting, she is a master of re-use, making hundred of cloth shopping bags and gifting them to everyone. She doesn’t actively advocate their use, simply because she belongs to the generation that never made the switch to the plastic shopping bag! She just assumes everyone still carries their own cloth bags with them and I think it is remarkable that within her lifetime we have moved so far away from cloth bags and are now firmly marching back towards them, aided by supermarkets that charge us extra for carry bags in a bid to encourage some environmental sensitivity.
In small but fantastic examples like this, I increasingly see reasons for Indians to look back at the small things we are losing- skills, recipes, habits and ideas that make for a healthier, more responsible lifestyle that puts community and family first, but is also is eager to learn from others. To me, that (not religion, not ritual, not caste or creed, nor regional identity) is the essence of an Indian culture and I always look at Ajjee with amazement for all these values she taught me, without ever preaching but entirely by example!
I ushered in 2014 with a warm fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by love and laughter. From the party last night with all our closest family and friends (and many not in town who we missed hugely) to the picnic at Lodi Gardens today with college friends, I kept thinking about how my sense of well being is hugely impacted by the kind of relationships I have with the people around me.
Who we hang out with says a lot about us? What are the values that bind us? That’s the question on which hinge most of the relationships in my life that I have chosen to nurture. And because I am driven by people and relationships (including the one with myself), I find it important to introspect on these lines on the first day of the New Year.
Respect, honesty, loyalty, empathy and integrity. These are the five values that I feel most aptly describe what I have in common with my dear ones. I value the friend who can say the most unsavory truth to me, the one who can accept my silliness without judgement, the one who stands by me in my hour of need but also the one who seeks me out when she is in trouble.
A big thank you to everyone who has, in the past year, held me together when I fell apart, shared in my happy moments, been sensitive to my feelings and needs. To those who let me be, to those who held my hand, to those who pulled me into their lives. To those who cemented bonds that long stood strong, to those that forged delightful new ones, to those who dipped their feet into the pool of friendship.
I feel upbeat about 2014. I have never felt so sure about myself before (must be something about getting closer to the big Four ‘O’)! Looking forward to more work, more fun, more writing, more travel, more introspection, more outreach, more joy in the small things of life, more big decisions……
It’s always great when you see an editorial in the newspaper that puts your thoughts into words succinctly and accurately. Sidharth Bhatia’s op-ed in todays HT says it all when it calls for media to return to the basics and brass tacks in terms of the standard procedures of verification, cross checking and editorial screening of the content it publishes.
Well, the lack of screening is something that is becoming a rampant problem. And it’s not just media, its each one of us. Because we live in an age of instant access, when uploading information and sharing it takes a few seconds and gets instant feedback and attention, we often ignore our old values. Values that asked us to be sensitive, to verify the truth of something before we shared it, and that demanded a certain check of quality before we deemed something to be ‘final’ and good enough to be made public.
We’ve all stared at our Facebook pages and tried to make sense of something that reads like this: “Wndrng wht to do tdy. BFF out! 😦 :(” and the message coming up on my screen right now says “dost, n.joy the fun of chilli dilli wintrs”…..I am glad to say I don’t have too many people who write like that on my friends list, but we are all guilty of hitting that share button without whetting the content thoroughly from time to time!
So when I sat with Udai this morning to cajole him into finishing the homework that had piled up all week, I was in no mood to tolerate shoddiness! He had done an hour of work diligently, but then he was lapsing into strange sentence constructions, poor spelling and bad handwriting…and it wasn’t the mistakes that bothered, it was the fear that he would think its ok to let things go, ok to not aim for perfection, ok to not better himself. It’s a real fear. I’m working on keeping the faith!
I can be a literary snob, turning up at my nose at people who read Sidney Sheldon or Danielle Steele. But I have my bestseller favorites as well. Jeffrey Archer certainly is one. A master story teller, he never fails to create stories that keep you hooked. I finished reading ‘Only Time Will Tell’, the first book of the Clifton Chronicles on Diwali day. Amid all the madness of Diwali, I found myself stealing time to take in a few pages. What is it that makes some books so addictive and engrossing?
Archer’s formula appears, to me, to play on our close identification with certain values that we consider admirable, that evoke warmth within us. Values and traits like moral uprightness, bravery, sacrifice, loyalty, humility and I could go on and on, conform to our sense of ‘right’ or ‘good’. Archer creates a central character who is disadvantaged in some way (in this case, Harry Clifton is a fatherless, poor child). Then he builds another set of characters who play key roles in helping the hero overcome his difficulties (in this book, he uses the character of Harry’s mother to deliver a strong commentary on motherhood, female strength and the ability for the poorest and weakest to dream big). The negative character in the story is also human, in the sense that his scheming and meanness are all born out of certain explainable circumstances and of course, that famous English concept of ‘weak character’.
Add to this compelling set of people who push all our right emotional buttons, Archer sets a strong historical and social context. The 2nd World War is about to begin while the English are still reeling from the people they lost in the first. The play off between the upper class and working class backgrounds of the people in the book adds layers to the story (friends, lovers, colleagues from the two opposite ends of the social spectrum) and people everywhere in the world can relate to the conflicts this sort of situation creates.
And finally, Archer absolutely excels in using simple English, sticking to short sentence constructions but never boring the reader. In fact, brevity is something I really admire in him for we know too many authors who ramble on and on! Cannot wait to get my hands on the 2nd book.
Sherry Turkle has been thinking about the social and psychological impacts of the Internet and that makes this session super exciting. Technology is having a deep impact on us, changing who we think and even who we are. Is it taking us to places we don’t want to go? What are the ethics of advancement? Questions we ask all the time. Are we humanizing tech while we dehumanize ourselves? Robots become men, men become machines. This is her life’s work. Eager to hear what she has to say!
Hackers gave her a clue that humans now see their minds as a computer. Change in the way we evolve. Changing our identity. Initially celebratory about these changes, Sherry is now not so optimistic. As a psychologist, she thought it fascinating that people could experience playing with identity and learn from their online lives to live better real lives. The situation has turned darker now. She saw in the ‘90s that mobility changes. Transitions between computer identities and real connections become faster. We were never completely present to our reality. Another phenomenon was sociable robots. A new kind that doesn’t try to be smart, but tries to make you think it loves you. By using the right gestures, this robot pushes your Darwinian buttons to make you feel someone is home. Fascinating! We nurture it, we love it. She began to study these bots used in Japan for eldercare and to be nannies. Strong attachments to computers that do not deserve our love and that we never leave ourselves alone at all are disturbing trends we need to be aware of.
Why would we rather text than talk? Because it gives a larger sense of control, which is seductive. We can hide real feelings. Tech allows us to have the illusion of companionship without the demands and intimacy.
So does tech make us lonelier? All those of us addicted to technology, are we actually keeping the real people out? The real relationships away? I wrote about this recently. One of the wonderful things about being here at the Thinkest is to hear experts and researchers take forward my tentative musings about how we live life. That’s why so many of us are back to this fest.
People text at funerals, mothers in the park are texting…Are we losing the sense of human attachment? I find that scary, concerning. Why do we want to be elsewhere when we are somewhere? Why do we go there at all? I don’t want to be this sort of person, who forgets the difference between conversation and mere connection. The person who forget nuance. But yet I love what technology makes possible as well. When we have sessions at Shikshantar where my kids go to school, we often are told about how texting during dinner is not a great thing to do. We roll our eyes, hate the lecture! Well, Sherry used the exact same example today. Children deserve to grow up feeling they are important enough for us to set aside even something as important as technology. And I agree.
We need to set rules for ourselves that will help us achieve some sort of balance. We need to make a better attempt to really connect, with ourselves and then with people around us, then also with issues and events. Many levels of connection make life exciting.
What is reassuring is that Shirley thinks the younger generation is more likely to be able to build a tech Sabbath, build in breaks from technology. We, who came to it later, appear to be completely smitten! Kids might stand a better chance to achieve the balance. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that when children are little, say pre-teens and teens, we adults who ‘parent’ them (I say that in a larger sense) have the opportunity to give them a real sense of how important human contact is. We can love them with all we have got, reach out to them, involve them. Give them a legacy of humanity so that they can use technology to their advantage without being emotionally consumed by it.