… of Friends and Friendships, the Bonds of a Lifetime…

As Arnav and I browsed through the various friendship bands for his friends, I was taken back in time, when I did the same with much excitement. I remembered how the larger part of our day was spent with friends. A luxury we lose as we grow up. With a hectic work life and weekends devoted to household chores, unfortunately friends and friendship seem to have taken a backseat.

But this friendship day seems to have come to me with a message. This morning I was pleasantly surprised to receive a friendship day message from a friend who managed to dig out a picture and a card I gave him years ago! Yesterday we spent a nice evening with some close friends catching up on our lives, sharing our stresses and just relaxing. We must have met after many months – this, despite the fact that we perhaps live within 10 kilometers of each other – which is considered close in a city like Delhi.

From being someone who loved to make friends, as many as possible (I was never able to decide who not to invite for my birthdays!), chatted long hours on the phone, had day spends and night outs with them, I am now a person whose interactions with the outside world are mainly dependent on Whatsapp and Facebook. Real conversations with friends are far and few between. And I am not alone in this. I know most of us are stuck between the home and the office. And those of us who are not – are lucky. Or maybe that’s being unfair to them. They are not lucky – they have made the conscious choice to make time for their friends and reach out.

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But friendship is evergreen. No matter how much the distance or years between buddies, friendship always blossoms when friends meet. Our hearts do not know how old our bodies may have become, they instantly connect as the little children or teenagers we were when we met. A few months ago I met one of my school friends at her apartment and it was as if we had never been apart. The laughter flew as easily as it did in our classroom and after catching up we relished some of our school memories together. She and I spent a good part of our classroom time exploding into laughter or just doodling messages to each other. We did just that (except the doodling) when we met.

Or the time I met a college friend recently when I visited her city, nothing seemed to have changed since we last met. Or whenever I meet my best friend from school, our conversation always goes back to how we used to tease my husband (also a school friend!) and how the three of us had spent so much fun time together.

Like wine, friendship becomes better with age. I see that when I see my mum and her best friend together. They have been with each other through all stages of life and while their conversations have changed – from boys to husbands to children and grandchildren, their friendship has not. Recently mum was in Bombay for a month and she and her friend met almost everyday – except the last few days. It tickled my sister and I no end, when they both lamented about the days they couldn’t meet and how their conversations were still unfinished!

Last year when we went to the U.S. my mum met her school friend after more than 40 years! She brought along with her pictures of them together and those few hours were really precious. They had lost contact years ago and I remember that for years my mother had tried to trace her without luck. And apparently she had been trying to do the same. Social media finally came to the rescue when she managed to find her through Facebook!

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Talking about social media, I think it has played a very important role in bringing lost friends together. When I first joined Orkut (That’s what it was right?!), my biggest excitement was finding long lost friends from school and college! When my parents moved to Delhi, my dad was delighted to have traced many of his school and college friends through Facebook and they maintained contact through their Whatsapp groups, planning meet ups and excursions. Thanks to that we were able to gather a good number of his friends from school and college for his 70th birthday.

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But friendship is not limited to friends. It is a bond that transcends all relationships. Our family shared a strong bond of friendship – our parents were our confidantes, our friends. They were the first people, my sister and I went to in times of need. There were no secrets between us. They were always there to guide and never to judge. My sister and I were very close – she was the one I opened up to – no one else was privy to my deepest thoughts.

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And then there are cousins – they are the friends with all the insider info! The special bond that comes from sharing the genes and being scolded by two mothers at the same time cannot be compared with any other! I absolutely adored my cousins and desperately waited for holidays so I could go meet them. My classmates got tired of hearing about them as holidays came near! And as I was falling in love, it was my cousin who was privy to my innermost feelings and who got to hear all about the last time I met HIM!

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Many of you may know, that I married a school friend and I think we share a strong bond and mutual respect because of the years of friendship that preceded the romance. My sister also married a close friend of mine – and now the four of us share a bond that preceded our marriages. There will not be too many brothers-in-law who share such a strong relationship as these two do.

I feel very lucky to have found strong friendships at all stages of my life. And now as I grow older, I want to make sure they all continue to be with me. I know I have been busy and have not managed to keep up with all of them, but I promise to try more. And maybe so should you 🙂

Happy Friendship Day to you and call me when you can!!

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‘Maid’ for Each Other – My Elusive Search for the ‘Dream Girl’

You know I remember a time in the not so distant past when I was carefree. Those were the days, when my first thought after waking up was NOT whether the maid will come. I would wake up with happy thoughts of the lovely day ahead. AAh, the beauty and innocence of those days.

We were a Double Income No Kids (DINKS) couple then. A cook and a cleaner were more than enough and who cared if they didn’t turn up! A good opportunity to eat out and the house could wait another day before getting mopped! All that changed with our first baby. The first few months of the maternity leave were heavenly, and the two of us were enough for the baby’s needs. But we did realise that we will ultimately need some help. A year later, my parents moved in with us, and our needs increased. However, with a regular turnover of part time help and a crèche for my son, we managed. And then all hell broke loose, when I produced two more babies!! My battered body, older parents, hapless husband were no match for two demanding babies!! All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were not enough! (mind you, it is not simple maths with twins – the effort is not doubled it is probably quadrupled, or quintupled or maybe hundred-tupled – whatever).

What we needed was some good, solid household help. But in a country of more than a billion people, it seems like an elusive search. The twins are 19 months now and we have still not found our dream girl(s)! But so what – we might not have found HER, but what we do have is some priceless experience from the last few years.

We have of course learnt a lot about hiring part time maids – we figured it is better to hire two cooks – one for morning and one for evening (chances of both maids taking an off the same day are lesser and so at least one meal is ensured), split the other household work also in the same logic, hoping at least someone would turn up. If you have fixed with them to come at 11 a.m., try not to panic if they haven’t turned up by 1, because you see, time management is clearly not an appreciated value here. But of course be prepared, that 6 to 8 days a month, they actually might not turn up. And even if you do have 6 by 6 vision, it is best to turn a blind eye to that dirty spot behind the door or under the refrigerator door. Better to wait for the weekends and get it done in front of your eyes – though be prepared, that they may also decide to have the weekend off.

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There was a time when agencies were cheap and honest (well at least some of them). Our first experience with an agency about ten years ago, led us to believe that this is a workable model. We realized our folly when one of the helps we hired left us on the pretext of a wedding exactly halfway through his contract (I realized later that this was one of the common scams); while another one literally ran away, because apparently she felt too hot in our house (we had only 1 A.C in our bedroom at that time – I assume it would have been a bit odd to invite her to sleep in our bedroom). After those fiascos, we decided to hire locally.

Once we hired this well dressed, bespectacled, seemingly respectable lady. We were fairly happy with her work (and thanking our stars) till we discovered Mr. Hyde behind Dr. Jekyll. We found out she had money disputes with her family and were horrified to hear her screaming matches on phone. Even our neighbours started to wonder what was wrong with us! We still managed for a year, till we discovered that she had falsely accused her husband of her own murder! We decided it was just safer to have a break up with her!

Oh and then there was this Mr. Perfect! A very highly efficient guy, who came home at dot 6 a.m. and did everything perfectly. We thought God is so kind till we discovered that he loved to take weekends off (which is when instead of resting, I ended up doing household chores). The last straw was when he cut his finger a bit and refused to turn up for about two weeks.

We also tried the straight from the village types, thinking they may be easier to mould and train (also cheaper) – but gave up quite quickly after realizing that training them was no piece of cake. Right from teaching them how to stand straight (and not lean on every wall), how not to clean dirty hands on the nearest curtain, how to sit on the western toilet, how to close the refrigerator properly and of course how to do the tasks they were hired for, we realized it is probably less stressful to do the work ourselves.

More recently we hired a Bengali lady (barely knows hindi as well as most of the housework) who also eats niramish (strictly vegetarian and no onion garlic) and that also became pretty nightmarish. Between having to explain multiple times to her what we wanted to get done, her slow speed and the three times separate cooking, we realized nothing was getting done. My mother was ending up looking after both the babies! We realized soon enough that this relationship was also not going to last.

And finally, I recently thought, I had found the ONE! A young girl, very pleasant, very nice with the babies, fairly efficient – what more could I ask for! This one was definitely a keeper! But god had something else in mind. My dream run lasted till I discovered that she had been robbing me behind my back! (chhann se jo toota koi sapna….)

And we are back to square one. But believe me when I say I am not promiscuous. I just haven’t found my dream girl. And I am not the only one. When a colleague told me that she went through some 20 to 30 maids in the last one year – I realized I am not alone. And I got strength. And I got hope. And I decided to restart my search with vigour.

And while you get some strength and inspiration from my words let me just go and clean my drawing room. You see another prospective “match” is coming to see (meet) me – please wish me luck that this time I get my dream.

Do like and share this post and tell me your stories too!

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Puddles and Rainbows, Reliving a Childhood

Looks like the monsoons have finally reached Delhi and we have some respite from this heat. Unfortunately though, monsoons seem to have become a double edged sword nowadays. Along with the rains and the cool breeze, come traffic jams, water logged roads, clogged drains, dengue and malaria.

It’s a pity though. We seem to have forgotten the enjoyment and romance of the rains. Sitting in our AC offices or cars, living in flats with only small balconies to substitute for a terrace or garden, we don’t remember how it was to feel the rain on our faces, the happiness in our being and the fragrance in our mind. Ooh I just love the sondhi mitti ki khushboo! (FACT ALERT: did you know by the way that the fragrance is caused by the bacteria residing under the soil)

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As I idle with my cup of steaming chai with some hot pakori, my mind drifts to the days when rains were awaited with eagerness. I remember a particular day , a Sunday I think, when the family was similarly enjoying chai pakoda in our verandah, and the rains and breeze washed over us. I can still remember the coolness of the breeze, the slight chill from the damp clothes, and the warmth of the family sitting around. I think I had a cold so was not allowed to go dance in the rain and had to satisfy myself with dipping my feet a little in the running water!

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Another Sunday, lovely weather after morning rains, an impromptu picnic is planned. Papa, mummy, Aditi and I. We pack some quick food in a basket, pick some sheets and off we go! After a pleasant lunch in some park, we gaze at the clean and recently washed sky, hoping for a rainbow to break out. It doesn’t. We come back home, get on the terrace and a beautiful rainbow stretched across the Aravalis smiles at us! And then we notice a lighter one, just behind it!

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Yet another memory comes unannounced. I am four, maybe five, in Delhi and my cousin and I decide to race on the road, still wet after a sudden bout of rain. Perhaps we were impatient after being coddled inside home for long. We both run, I am trailing my cousin, and crash!, I fall. Crash again, and he falls as well!! Both of us return home, with scraped knees, a little limp and a smile on our faces. But I am jealous when I see his mother put some red paint on the bruised knee, while my mother proceeds to put some boring white antiseptic on me!

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Paper boats! Oh how can one not think of them while talking about rains. I think it dredges a special kind of nostalgia in all of us. After all, Paper Boat, a big brand now, has developed their entire marketing strategy around the nostalgia of our childhood! Renu, a friend from school, beautifully describes those days as young, dreamy and naive. She fondly remembers racing boats with her brothers and imagining the adventures her boat would have once it disappeared down the manhole! Little did she know that manholes in Jaipur never reach the sea. 🙂

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I am reminded of days when it rained during school hours. Getting wet, squelchy shoes and socks – both disgusting and exciting at the same time, sitting barefoot in class, examining swollen and wrinkled feet and fingers (still don’t what is so attractive about those), wet bag and hopefully dry books inside, my pink raincoat (not very effective in heavy rains) and red gumboots (I simply loved them!).

There is something about the cool breeze, the damp skin and young hearts, that makes monsoons the most romantic of seasons! I remember in the first year of our dating, Kapil and I were sitting on the porch of his college and it suddenly started to pour. Before I could react, he ran out in the rain like a little boy, feeling the rain on his face, getting drenched. I fell in love with him all over again. (Though in those days, anything could make me fall in love with him again and again!)

A more recent memory, perhaps when we were still innocent and carefree. They were Arnav’s first monsoons. The three of us spent a lazy day at Dilli Haat, which ended with a sudden shower. Totally unprepared we ran for cover, but by then Arnav was all wet. But that didn’t deter us from enjoying the day! (It is another matter that Arnav got his first high fever the next day!!).

But it’s been a while since I enjoyed the rains, really enjoyed them I mean. A cousin after reading my last blog told me to chill. And I think it is a good time to take her advice. Listing some of the fun things I could plan to do these monsoons. And so could you.

  • get drenched, (like isn’t it the first obvious thing to do?) and dance (ahem, that I definitely can’t do – you can try if you want)
  • play in the mud, make some mud pies and don’t forget to get dirty (hmm, I think I am going to like that…. need to find a park though!)
  • don’t forget the boat! make lots of boats, decorate them, make some rafts out of ice cream sticks…
  • go for a nature walk. bring out the gumboots (well I will have to buy some – the red ones won’t fit anymore) and go for a walk. bring back some earthworms and toads 😀
  • And carry the camera (or the phone)! everything looks lovely after a rainshower and one might be rewarded by a beautiful rainbow!
  • Jump in the puddles! you know I was such a goodie goodie – I have NEVER done that! Ya really. SO I must, I must, I must do this.
  • Find a nice monument or a beach or some cafe and just sit… and talk…and listen to the rain
  • Enjoy a wet kiss in the rain (mmmmm… sounds nice!!! DAMN, need to convince the stuffy husband for that)
  • if not that, at least convince him for a walk hand in hand!! (Ya I know, I wrote a long blog about our romance – but you must realise it has been 13 years since we got married AND more importantly I have a boring husband!)
  • end the day with some hot hot tea and piping hot pakoras!!

And when you think about chai pakora – think of getting this awesome tea set designed by Kapil (Sorry, I know I am shamelessly promoting him – but isn’t that what a good wife should do?)

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Have a great monsoon and do tell me what you are planning to do!

Have you been Feeling Low lately? Don’t Ignore.

I am asking this because for some time now, I have not been in a great place myself. Those who know me personally or have been following my blogs would know that I have had a tough two years. A difficult twin pregnancy followed by premature birth, discovery of one twin having special needs and more recently my father’s passing. Before having had time to recover from one shock, I was handed another! Add to that multiple changes at the workplace, and the cocktail becomes lethal, with no safe haven remaining – neither work nor home.

At some level, I think I became used to a constant low feeling, sadness, anxiety, clenched insides and suppressed grief. But more recently, I also started becoming chronically fatigued, irritable, getting sick very often and basically unable to do much. That’s when the alarm bells rang –  I quickly searched signs of depression and was startled to note that I checked almost all the boxes! I finally realised it is high time I acted.

But why am I sharing all this here? For two reasons – 1. By admitting to my situation in writing, I am committing myself to taking action, but more importantly, 2. To reach out to those in a boat similar to mine and urge them to deal with this too.

While I was mulling about writing this blog a few weeks ago, some recent incidents really jolted me. I read the news of a young man, who was denied entry to the UPSC exam because he was 5 minutes late for it. He went back home and hung himself. I cannot begin to even fathom the state of mind he must have been in all those days before this final straw made him take his own life. Was there no one who he could have reached out to, in those moments of loneliness, fear, despair….? What led him to this extreme step? And this was followed by two celebrity suicides – Designer Kate Spade and Chef Anthony Bourdain. These were people who were envied by people like us. What happened? Clearly success is not correlated to happiness. But what is? In today’s times, stress seems a more easily available commodity than happiness. And constant, unrelenting stress can easily give way to depression. In the complex lives we live, how do we then ensure that stress does not take over our lives? Let’s look at some ways to do so:

Understand the enemy: A recent article in The Speaking Tree says that depression can be caused even by a very small trigger – so small that it may go unnoticed. But once it has been triggered the first time, the brain changes, and then in the future it takes smaller and smaller triggers to enter depression, until finally almost none is needed. This understanding is key. To me it means, that while we might not be able to control the triggers – we can and must control our responses. Because that’s what our brain learns. 

Recognise the symptoms: Check if your answer is positive to many of the symptoms below.

  • Feeling sad or low for long periods – lasting weeks or months.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
  • Poor concentration, slow thinking
  • Recurring unpleasant thoughts, feelings of guilt, being unworthy
  • Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of harming yourself in some way.
  • Loss of energy, appetite, sleep
  • Exhaustion, fatigue

Get your tests done: Did that sound funny? Actually, it isn’t. Physical and mental health are closely related.  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can not only affect mental health but may even cause of depression, anxiety disorders and low mood in some people. Vitamin B, D, iron, magnesium etc are vital for good mental health as well. I got my tests done, and not surprisingly ended up deficient on many of these. Hormonal disorders can also be a big cause of depression – especially in women. So please go and get your annual health check done immediately. 

There is nothing to feel ashamed about: Depression is common. One in three people will experience a major depressive episode at some stage in their lives. While most cases of depression are mild, about one person in ten will have a moderate or severe episode. Negative feelings are a part of life. We have all felt low, lonely, sad, depressed, stressed at many points in our life. It is normal and it is not being weak. It sounds perfectly logical – but I am also guilty of undermining my negative emotions – it is hard to admit them to myself, even harder to admit to others. But if you don’t admit to it, you won’t be able to reach out. Negative feelings bottled inside us cause more harm than goodtaking a toll both mentally and physically.

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Reach out to your close ones: I am totally guilty of this one and trying to get better at it. But remember you are loved – there is always someone out there who you can reach out to. (If there is noone else – write to me, I am happy to listen) If you are not able to open up to an individual – open up in other ways. Try to express yourself through writing, music or dance or whatever may appeal to you. Believe me when I say how helpful blog writing has been for me.

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Do things you like, make yourself look good: Go out for a movie or a performance, sit by the sea, dance alone or with someone, eat your favourite food, play Monopoly or Scrabbles – do what you enjoy doing, even if you don’t feel like it right now. Push yourself. Find your stress buster – mine is a book, my husband’s is movies. Make yourself look good. Get a haircut (or a shave), put on some make up, wear your best clothes, change your appearance. I used to do this quite often – wear a bindi or kajal – so that at least the face staring back at me from the mirror looked pleasant! These are small things – but can go a long way in triggering a happy little feeling in your brain. If nothing else – find someone you can help. There is nothing better for our self worth than in being useful to someone else. (kisi rote huye bachche ko hansaya jaye – Nida Fazli/ Jagjit Singh)

Nourish your body: Remember the point above on the link between mental and physical health? A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Eat healthy meals (DO NOT skip any)  and drink a lot of water. Get some sunshine – apart from making you feel happy, sunshine gives you the all important Vitamin D. It is sad but true that most of us urban dwellers are deficient in Vitamin D. Exercise – do whatever works for you – I am thinking yoga – maybe a home instructor.

Nourish your mind – Think Positive: keep away ALL kinds of negative thoughts. Figure out the cause of your sadness/ depression and try to think good things around it. I started to read up all the hopeful stories about special needs children for example. I try to focus on my baby’s little achievements, rather than focusing on his delays. When work related stress gears its ugly head, I try to ward off the insecurities or uncertainties and try to focus on the work at hand. Challenge every negative thought, question it and resolve it. Focus on the happy things around you. when having self doubt, think of your achievements. NOTHING can be so bad it cannot be resolved. A friend of mine discovered she had cancer, soon after delivering her second baby. I can’t imagine many  situations that can be worse than that. What did she do? Succumb to her reality? No. She took it by the horns and fought it. Instead of despairing on why me, she found a gift – The Gift of cancer. Read her blog to see how she dealt so bravely with her situation.

Do not shy away from getting professional help: If you continue to feel depressed and for very long times, do not worry. There is lots of good, professional help available. Please reach out. If you feel you have been having suicidal thoughts, there are many helplines you can call into. Just remember – YOU ARE LOVED and HELP IS NOT FAR. You owe it to yourself to be happy.

Finally I mentioned above that at least 1 out of every three people would have experienced depression – so what about those other 2? I hope to follow up this post with another one on how to help someone who you feel may be in depression. Till then stay happy and keep others happy. And share your thoughts on how you countered depression.

 

The women who shaped me…my personal influencers

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a parent is to see your children shape up. How a baby starts to develop a character of her own as she grows up. As she starts interacting with the world, different facets of her personality start emerging. There is a very interesting interplay of her innate disposition, her upbringing at home and finally the social influences that ultimately shape her into the individual she becomes.

I grew up the same way. One of the stronger influences all through my life has been the women around me. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by strong women, by women of character. As a young girl, I looked up to them and knowingly or unknowingly absorbed their qualities. And the process of learning is still on – I continue to observe and emulate. Today as I navigate a tough world, trying to maintain a healthy work life balance between bringing up three boys, being a wife, running a household and managing a demanding job, these learnings stand me in good stead.

I believe that our foundation stones are laid at least two generations before – how our grandparents or maybe even their parents lived their lives trickles down to the kind of persons we become. I had grandmothers who were ahead of their times. My nani, a woman of grit, published her own magazine called Arsi back in the 50s and 60s. Unfazed by her husband’s untimely death, she took a strong decision to bring up her children on her own, not depending on anyone. My dadi, married to a renowned professor of political science, had a PhD to her credit as well as a number of collections of short stories and novellas. She was also the person who sowed the seeds of a lot of principles I stand by today. Her elder sister was the first girl in her district to give the matric exam. She was also the first woman in her family to take up a job – as a journalist with the weekly “Saptahic Hindustan”. My nani’s sisters – all highly educated, professors, doctors, etc. One of them was the first lady doctor in Rewari, which in the 50s was no better than a village in terms of facilities and worse than a slum with people waiting in long lines for water, garbage piled high. In those conditions, she delivered babies in their homes with lanterns as the only source of light, took women in labour to her clinic on thelas or whatever else was available– the list of stories is endless. Along with her husband, she went on to establish a full fledged hospital in Rewari. Her journey is nothing short of inspirational. These women, my grandmothers teach me to not be afraid, to blaze my own trail, and that once I decide to take a path, I will also know how to navigate the roadblocks.

We all know what a big influence a mother is. Not surprisingly, so was mine. I saw her, I listened to her, I observed her and kept imbibing from her. She emphasized the importance of prioritizing and taking the right decisions. She believes that everything has a time – and acting belatedly is like not acting at all.  She constantly reminded me about the importance of relations and taking everyone along with oneself. I also learnt from her how to survive under pressure and stress.

But more than learning from her lectures (as she likes to call them – and still hasn’t stopped giving them!), I learnt from seeing her in action. She is a textile designer and an entrepreneur. When I was 5 years old, she established The Institute of Design in Jaipur, out of our home. The institute grew and so did her reputation. (our neighbours once got a letter which just said – opposite Institute of Design!! – when I told a friend where I lived, he said excitedly – oh you live in Purnima Varma ki galli – and I dryly responded, yes, since I am her daughter!!). The Institute shaped my personality like nothing else. I learnt all my management lessons there, I learnt relationship management skills, I learnt about handling conflicts, I learnt about event management and much more. I can write a full blog on this, and maybe I will, but let me limit myself here.

It is hard to believe, but even irritating little sisters, can have an influence on you. Mine did. As my husband says, she provides me the foundation on which I stand. Despite being a good three years younger, she sensed my innate weakness – the need to be liked or loved. While that might have left me with a pleasant, open personality, it also left me vulnerable to hurt. I don’t think I realized that till much later, but she did. As I got ready to go to college, she showered me with advice on learning how to say no and how to put myself first. She kind of grew in my shadow – the quiet younger sister and the more bubbly elder sister. However, she has a resilient personality that I envy. Things, people or situations that can tear me apart have only made her stronger. As she likes to say, “things that don’t kill you, only make you stronger.”

Talking of sisters, an older sister is often a role model for little girls. I had one too. Unknown to her, my older cousin was someone I really admired and subconsciously tried to follow. A vibrant personality, winner of extempore debates (that was a huge deal for me), a confident, outgoing person, a lovely smile. When I started shortlisting colleges for graduation, I found that I had kept with me a copy of the LSR prospectus she must have got for herself – and while she didn’t join LSR, I did. I ended up going to the same postgrad college as her. And finally when she married a good friend – I wished fervently for such a friendship based relationship. Ended up following in her footsteps even there!

The lesson on overcoming obstacles through sheer will and grit is best taught by my mother in law. A teacher by profession, she almost single handedly brought up her two sons, since her husband worked away from home. I mean literally single handedly. Her right hand is deformed from birth. But that has not stopped her from doing anything – and unless you see her hand, you will never guess that she does everything with her left hand – and mind you, faster than most people. Drive a car? Make a roti? Peel vegetables? Tie a saree? Carry a baby? Maybe two? She can do all that and more. Her persona exudes I can and no one will ever doubt that. And today, when I sometimes fear for Anvay’s future, I am reminded that all I need to do is keep my will and grit and teach him the same – and good results will surely follow.

Professionally, I have also learnt a lot from two of my past bosses. Both represent a very strong work ethic, amazing attention to detail and exacting expectation of excellence from their team. Multitasking and always being on call, and carrying the team together, are some of the other things I have learnt from them. Both are non – Indians (one British and the other American) but took to India like their own country. My first boss is married to an Indian and they have together established one of the best firms in my sector. And, just a tip here,  when next to her, please do not try speaking in Hindi, assuming she won’t understand – I have seen many make that mistake and the shock on their faces after realizing she is as fluent in hindi as they are!!

The list does not end here. My chachi from Chandigarh, a gold medallist in bio technology, seems to have struck the perfect balance between her work and home life. A mausi, an ex IAS officer has continued to write and publish many books after her retirement – it tells me to make sure to keep at least one passion other than work alive. My bua, an excellent dancer in her younger years, teaches me to continue to spread love – her handwritten cards always reached us before time and her regular phone calls remind me to never forget loved ones. And while continuing as a homemaker, she took up study of dyslexia and published her work on it. Another bua, a cool dude, well into her sixties continues to direct and present her plays with a never say die attitude. My mami, a homemaker, an excellent example of keeping the family together. Thanks to her I know even her side of the family as well as mine. Also, almost a second mother to me in Delhi, she has cooked my favourite dishes, taken care of me while sick. My other mami, an entrepreneur, an outspoken person, never afraid to air her views, encourages me to do the same. And finally my taiji, who maintains an impeccable house, with extreme attention to detail, a teacher who brought history classes alive. Along with my tauji she has supported my family through thick and thin, making sure I remember the importance of relations and value them.

So while today people talk about social influencers, I prefer swearing by my personal influencers – the women who have shaped me.

photocredits: @photosynthesisbyaditi

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Soulmates, the Entire Universe Conspired to Bring Together

Remember Om Kapoor (Shahrukh) in Om Shanti Om, “agar kisi cheez ko shiddat se chaho to saari kaynat use tumse milane mein lag jati hai” or the original from The Alchemist “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

So what chance do you think a girl can have against a boy who decides at age 7 that she is his best friend and he wants to spend his life with her? Practically none. At least I didn’t. That’s our story – A match – the Universe conspired to bring together.

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We started school together – in class 1. Our families knew each other and therefore so did we. As far as I was concerned that’s the reason he was invited to my birthday parties. We became close friends in teenage and stayed so till end of school – at which point he decided to come clean with his real feelings – which were quite strong and took me by surprise. (As always like the clueless girl in movies). I was however, quite sure that a) this is no age for a relationship and b) he was definitely not the prince charming I wanted – quite the opposite in fact. (NOT tall, NOT dashing, NOT the extrovert, actually nothing that I expected!) He was more of the guide who advised me on boys and relationships (not surprisingly he always warned me off any of my crushes!!!) (also now I realise, why he advocated the merits of marriage when I was in the “marriage is bad” phase.)

So long story short – I said Sorry, this is not the time and you are not the one I am looking for. BUT we can remain friends, if you want. (Only now I realise how traumatic friendzoning is!) So sure was I that he is not the right guy, I told my dad that IF EVER I fall for him in the future, my dad will remind me and tell me not to marry him!

And then both of us went to Delhi to our different colleges, with a promise to stay in touch. I realized too soon that this fake sort of a friendship wasn’t going to work – it just made him feel worse and so we decided not to meet anymore. And I thought that is THAT!

But what I had not accounted for was the UNIVERSE. The universe that was conspiring behind my back. After two years of not meeting, not talking, we met by a chance. And then he said those magic words, (No, not I love you) – he said, “I have gotten over you”. This sentence had a profound impact on me and I felt like a free bird after years. The guilt that had enveloped me, evaporated instantly.

Next, we met at a friend’s place those summer holidays and to THIS DATE, I don’t know why I told him that I would like to be friends again. We travelled back to Delhi together, with a promise to meet again. And by the time we met the next day, I had fallen in love. (I know, this sounds ridiculous even to me, but that’s how it was – when it is the universe, you can’t really question it).

And that was the start of a relationship so deep and intense – I had not known anything like that before. Busy with our studies, we did not have the luxury of time, and met for a few short hours. These meetings were desperately awaited – and I remember the instant grins that covered our faces, as soon as we sighted each other. Even now, whenever we meet, we cannot hold back the grin!

There was so much to say and so little time! I started to write to him in a notebook, pouring in every little feeling and thought, which I would read out when we met. Emotions so raw and pure and that I find it difficult to read that notebook again. He expressed through his verse. He would give me scraps of paper he wrote on and I would painstakingly copy it out in another diary, dotting it with little flowers and leaves I habitually collected. The two notebooks are now our little treasure – a souvenir of the first year of our relationship – both written in Hindi. Hindi – I know now, is the language of my heart – and English the language of my brain.

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After that one year of pure bliss we had to face the reality of separation – I had to go for further studies. So on I went, both of us realizing that many relationships do not survive the distance. And there were many friends who assured us, this would not last. However, we survived and not for one or two years – but for all of six years as we studied and worked in different cities. And now today, we celebrate our thirteenth Wedding anniversary.

After years of separation and longing, finally we started on our marital journey. (to be fair, my dad did remind me of my earlier wishes!!) As our love matured, we also realized that we were two very different persons. In fact one can say entirely opposite! Starting from food, to choice of entertainment to our right and left brain differences! He loves eating out, I am the daal roti person, he prefers to act on impulse, I can barely move without planning, being on time is sacrosanct for me – an inconvenience for him, he loves to shop, I only bother when I really need something, he likes to spend, I prefer to save, he loves the room chilled, I prefer being warm and cozy (except, on days I want lower temperatures, he is mysteriously feeling cold!)

But we adjusted to each other – adapting and respecting each other’s view point. Our differences and our ability to think beyond them has become our strength. We have, I believe become the wind beneath each other’s wings. Looking not at each other, but towards the same direction.

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I was always pretty sure of never marrying an entrepreneur. But when he decided to tread the tough path of an entrepreneur, I supported him and my job brought the much needed security. When I was offered a good role in Mumbai, he was the one who insisted I take it and that we could manage living separately. Even now, when I think about international positions, he is the one who says go ahead, we will manage. Despite being a compulsive planner, I am learning from him that once you tread a path solutions may follow. The lack of an answer should not stop us from moving ahead.

Our differences make us a stronger unit. When we heard Anvay’s diagnosis, it was he who lifted me. His ability to take it in his stride, brought me out of my sorrow. When he cried bitterly at my father’s passing, I held him and when I wept alone for my father, he held my hand.

Like any couple, we have had our share of differences. In fact we irritate each other all the time. My father used to say that we are like two daggers always pointed at each other – except that the daggers are made of butter. We have also had some big fights. But at the end of the day, when we met after work, neither could suppress the grin that suffused our faces.

So I live comfortably in the knowledge – till the grin remains, we are doing fine.

 

Why is it SO Important to Know and Understand CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The number of child abuse cases coming to light seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour, 4 children in India suffer from abuse. Often, in the same day’s newspaper, more than one child abuse incident is reported. Moreover, these cases are not restricted to a particular gender or economic class. In fact, contrary to popular perception, young boys are at a higher risk of sexual abuse than girls.

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No parent feels secure today. Many parents are worried when they leave their child alone even in safe or secure places. I have an eight year old son, and whenever he goes down to play in our apartment complex, one part of me is always worried. This is despite the fact that I live in a gated community, where strangers are not allowed in without permission and small children are not allowed to go out on their own. This is in such stark contrast to our own childhoods, where we played outside our homes fearlessly and our parents were assured of our safe return.

Living in such times, the FIRST THING that we as parents should know is WHAT CONSTITUTES CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. Most people erroneously believe it be only physical abuse. Inappropriate gestures or sounds with sexual intent, making a child watch objectionable content, all come under the category of abuse. It involves mental, physical and emotional abuse of a child through overt and covert sexual acts.

The NEXT most important thing is to MAKE YOUR CHILD AWARE OF ABUSE. Even a small child can understand the difference between private parts of the body and good and bad touch. I attended a workshop on sexuality during my college days, where during a session on child abuse, someone shared a very interesting anecdote. One of her friends had taught their young child about private parts and told her that if anyone other than her own parents touched her there, she should just yell, “Don’t touch my booboo”!!! Admittedly, it led to some fun and embarrassing moments, but the parents were at least secure in the knowledge that their child could scream out if required. Next, tell your child not to keep any secrets from mommy and daddy. This is important because typically, the perpetrator convinces the child that this is a secret between the two of them. Finally, parents should always keep channels of communication very strong between them and their children. It is only then that children will feel secure sharing their fears or negative experiences and emotions. For slightly older children – preteens and teens, it is important that parents start discussing sensitive issues such as attraction, crushes, relationships, sex and abuse. Children need to know that they have a right to say no when they are not comfortable in any situation. And also to not give in to peer pressure.

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THIRDLY, be able to recognize any signs of sexual abuse in your child. I think it is important to be aware of any cues the child may be giving – any change in behavior, refusal to go to any particular place or meet a certain person, any kind of pain or any bruises on the body should not be ignored. Other symptoms could include insomnia, bed wetting, a clingier than normal child, or a child who is withdrawn. Guilt and shame or confusion are very common feelings a child might go through. A parent, sensitive to the child’s subtle changes will be able to recognize such feelings more easily.

It is also important to be aware that the ‘abuser’ can be lurking anywhere – in our homes, in our housing complexes, in schools or in public places – in the form of friendly uncles, household help, guards, conductors, even friends or older peers – you name it. It is well known that most cases of sexual abuse happen with people whom the child knows.

In this scenario schools and day care centres become very important in partners in children’s safety and security. A child spends more time at these institutions than at home. It is natural for parents to want to ensure that the safety measures being taken are sufficient. There are a number of things that schools can do safeguard their students against child abuse.

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The first and foremost and also the easiest is to put in place physical infrastructure that can prevent abuse. Simple measures such as CCTV cameras in various parts of the school can be an obvious deterrent. Ensuring that support staff such as drivers, conductors, administrative department etc. are not allowed access to the school wing and have facilities that are separate from those of the students can also go a long way in enhancing security. Ideally there should also be a separation between senior students and the younger ones. Many young teenagers can also become perpetrators. School buses can also have CCTV cameras and any change in bus staff should be duly informed to the parents. A lot of the newer schools already have many of these facilities in place. Many day care centres allow parents access to live footage of the babies. Moreover, schools should have a no tolerance policy in cases of child abuse.

Secondly, it is important to educate both teachers and students about sexual abuse. This should be taught in all classes and children should be encouraged to reach out to an elder in times of difficulty. There should be anonymous helplines in place as well as counsellors in school. Schools should also put posters across the school, so that the issue of child sexual abuse does not become taboo to talk about. Teachers should also be trained about recognizing potential perpetrators as well as how to respond if a child approaches them or they observe a case of child abuse.

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Finally, as a society, it is important that we act in a concerted manner against the menace of child abuse – be gentle and responsive parents, alert citizens and responsible educators and care givers. It is important to break the silence around the issue and mainstream the discussion so that more and more parents and therefore their children become aware of child abuse and prevent such cases. As a society we should be able to raise confident and secure children, children who live in safety and are free to reach their true potential.

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This article was first published in April 2018 issue of The Education Insights