of thoughts in ebb and flow

Archive for the ‘Life in action’ Category

And Baby Jesus smiled

So the three wise men set off with gifts for Baby Jesus. Gifts!! The little eyes around me shone with excitement. “What gifts did they take?” asked one. “Toys” “Clothes” “Sweets”… voices yelled. “Nah” I said, “They took gold… and frankincense… and myrhh” The faces fell. They were not impressed. What silly gifts, the eyes said accusingly.

The littlest one piped up sadly… “Baby Jesus will feel cold without clothes”. Her slightly older, slightly wiser friend came to the rescue with “Oh! I know! They can cover him with hay. He won’t feel cold then.”


          Original Image Credit – Webweaver

Another had been pondering a life without sweets and said in a less-than-convinced but hopeful tone… “He is too little to eat sweets. Maybe someone will give sweets later.”

“But without toys how will be play?!” they chorused. They looked at each other, stumped. Wise little one burst out excitedly, “Arre, his father is a carpenter! He will make toys out of wood!!”

Everyone went “Oh! Yaaaaa…

Crisis averted. Happy faces. The sun shone again.  Baby Jesus smiled in their world – covered in hay, happily clutching a wooden toy. The three wise men stood in a corner with their big-people gifts.

Life with `surround-sound’

We are a loud people. This is brought home to me almost every day. But of late it is being brought home in a very literal sense.

I sit down to breakfast, newspaper in hand, looking forward to this quiet interlude in the cadence of the day. And suddenly, `Ye re manaa..manaa..ye re manaa…’ floats up from the terrace below mine… “hmm..kaku’s classical training shows …nice…” I think as she sings along to the record being played.

The song ends. …and begins. Again. She continues to sing. When she does it a third time my thoughts about her are not so charitable. Don’t get me wrong. I am not averse to listening to Hindustani classical music. But I draw the line at listening to the same song over and over with live voices joining in … for well over two hours and counting.

Even while she is giving it a go with full gusto for the fifth time I hear the beats of the mridangam picking up speed. Looks like mama, over in the next building, has begun practice. Gulp. The irregular beats his students are hammering out merge with the ye re manaa and I try drown out both by nosily slurping my tea.

But wait, I am not alone in misery.. a plaintive cry `Jab koi baat bigad jaaye, jab koi mushkil pad jaaye…..’ issues forth from my next-door neighbour’s television set. Ye re manaa, the thumping of the mridangam and Kumar Sanu pleading `tum dena saath mera o hum nawaa…’ all merge into a crescendo. No one is giving saath to anyone here. That’s for sure!

I take a deep breath, drawing on my hard-earned reserves of good-will and calm (one hour of early morning yoga and meditation, no less!). The perils of living cheek-by-jowl. One’s brand of music becomes  OPM..Other  People’s Music. Sigh.

But I shall have my revenge. Soon.  When the son practices his singing I shall exhort him to be louder and make sure the windows are all open. Ha!

What to do? We are like that only! 😀

Of telling stories with `morals’

I have nothing against `moral’ stories. I grew up listening to them, reading them. Every story invariably ended with the moral of the story is… and here is where I would dis-connect from the story. The moral seemed as much fiction as the story itself. An ideal world that did not resonate with what I experienced around me. The Lion and the Mouse, the Ant and the Grasshopper, Cinderella, Snow white….

Now, I am on the other side of the story-time. The story-teller. And am faced with a dilemna. Some days it is easy. When David kills Goliath it was easy to go with the `We should never say I can’t; we should always try’ that one child proffered.


Original Image Credit padhokhelo.com

But, when the tortoise wins the race against the hare, `hard work always succeeds’ raised a sense of unease in me. Just as it had done all those years ago. When I was a kid their age, listening to the story. I had suspected then that hard work did not always succeed.  Today I know it does not. Not always. Tough luck. Deal with it.

It is all very fine in an ideal world where rules are fair, they are transparent, they are followed and are impartially enforced. Would the tortoise win in the real world? Should it not have played smart rather than plodding along to defeat (except in the story, of course)? Shouldn’t THAT be the moral of the story?

Will telling these stories with unrealistic morals set these kids up for dis-illusionment?   Are we preparing them to handle it then? When they `adapt’ their behaviour to the requirements of this world will they be left with a vague sense of unease, of being `bad’? Is that okay? On the other hand, is it good that they have the moral compass these stories shape even if they can’t live up to it all the time?

I have not settled on any answers yet. But my story telling sessions are becoming a little more `grey’ on the learning bit.

In an episode of Friends, Phoebe tells stories to little children at a school. The parents are horrified by her stories but the kids – they lap it up and come looking for more from the `lady who tells the truth’. I would like to bring a little, just a little bit, of that truthfulness into my sessions.

When Vaman crushes Mahabali one voice piped up – the moral of the story is that bad people will always be punished by God. I groaned inwardly. One voice asked ` So was Mahabali bad?’ I clutched at it like the proverbial straw by the drowning man. `What do you think?’ I countered. `He gave so many gifts to people’, `But he was so proud’,`He wanted to rule all the kingdoms’, ` He fought God’,  `The people liked him that is why they want him to come back every year’. Confused faces. No clear single answer. We settled on  ` He was not bad. He did some bad things. We all do bad things sometimes. But God punished him so that everyone knows it is bad to be greedy. And proud’

I am not entirely pleased. Not even entirely sure what message this story can convey to eight year olds. But I am happy because I think moving away from labeling someone bad to recognising the good as well as the bad in their actions is progress.

What do you think? Do you know stories that serve as good springboards for nuanced understanding of the world? Do tell…..

Joy is just a phone-call away

“I can guess who you were talking to on the phone” my husband said, “without hearing the exact words” In response to my raised eyebrow he ventured a “ That was xyz right? Your friend from childhood right? Right?”

He was too. Right. “Your tone of voice changes, your entire demeanour does.” I reflected. Yes, it does doesn’t it? With every person or set of persons we have a different equation. That reflects on our behaviour. Even on a phone call!whatsapp-image-2016-09-30-at-1-44-10-pm

But this `from childhood’ has a far more noticeable effect. Especially if you lost connect with them as you grew up and even now talk to them only intermittently. When you do talk to each other you fall back, effortlessly, into the rhythm of those earlier days. You relate to them the way you left it back then. The banter, the leg-pulling, the liberties you take…. it is like copy-paste-zoom-forward-in-time. All the life that happened in between melts away and you reclaim the you-that-was for a brief moment.

It is refreshing, it is invigorating. It reminds you of your hopes, your dreams, makes you look at today with the energy you had yesterday. Here’s to old friends! Want to pick up that phone today?

Amazon: Earth un-centric?

Amazon says it seeks to be the earth’s most customer-centric company. I am a customer..today. But I am not sure I will continue to be one for much longer. Because …


Amazon – can you move towards being earth-centric too? Please?

Do you buy from Amazon? Does this bother you?

The Un-intended Seduction of Modern Retail

Much has been written about organised retail and how it has been a game-changer. Or not. Depending on which stakeholder the writer is focusing on. As I did my shopping the other day I realised that for me it has been a BIGG stress-buster. Not in the sense of retail therapy but simply how easy it has made things for me.

Say I am out to buy vegetables. Earlier, I would go to the street which has a high concentration of sabzi-wallahs. I would walk down the entire length of stalls noting who had what from my purchase list. Then I would run a little linear programming process in my mind to arrive at the minimum number of vendors such that the list was completed, quality was maximised and price was, hopefully, minimised.

Having arrived at what to buy and from who,  I would then join the meleé around that vendor and try to catch his/her eye and veg sellerask for the price of the chosen vegetable; then I would pretend to be shocked and try to push the price down with statements like “अरे पिछले हफ्ते तोह ….” or “वहाँ तोह इससे काम में मिल रहा है ” or “यह तोह fresh  नहीं लग रहा फिर भी इतनी कींमत!” ..which is always a slippery slope for me because I never, ever, remember prices.  Nor do I know what the fresh version of the vegetable really looks like.

Running the risk of being ridiculed I would choose one of the statements that seemed best and make a weak attempt at appearing the knowledgeable purchaser. All this while I would keep an eye out for an opportune moment to snatch one of the plastic baskets that are always in short supply. Those ones you put your veggies into and give for weighing.

Then the process of bending/reaching/almost falling over the spread out baskets of produce to reach for the desired vegetable and once again, battling with other customers, to catch the vendors eye for getting it weighed and bagged.

Process repeated for as many veggies as I needed.

But the biggest, the mother of all challenges,is yet to come –  arriving at the total bill. I have a fairly easy-going relationship with numbers, especially the single-digit ones and am happy to do what is called `mental math’ with them. But the typical  Indian vegetable vendor math that involves two digit numbers called out in the local language, weights in multiples of quarter and half-quarter kilos and ten-twelve such line items?  My head swims. I usually pretend I have it all figured out and the final amount she demands is exactly the sum I had arrived at myself  :p

Then comes his छुट्टा नहीं है , let me add some chilliies/ curry leaves / ginger etc to round it up etc etc . Who knows if I am getting my money’s worth. “ठीक है ना ?” he asks. I have given up long ago. I nod dumbly. ठीक ही होगा .

Now to repeat the cycle with another vendor for the stuff that remains. Gr..o.oo..aan!

At the end of the trip I always feel like I have emerged from a battle – scarred and not sure if I had won or lost or even done okay. I clutch my emotionally high-cost veggie bag and unsure-if-correct-balance in it purse and head home.

Contrast this with the modern-day, organised retail outlet. No jangled nerves, no feeling of being a loser for not bargaining well. Just row upon row of items you can peacefully pick to the sound of music. And for the math-challenged like me, the bar coding, weighing and price-labeling machine are supreme inventions that deserve Nobel nominations. For that alone I am willing to live with the less-than-perfect quality of the produce and the abominable selection of songs that play in the background.

And no more handling cash and trying to figure out the right change! Plastic saves the day! All I need to exert to remember is the PIN for the card!!!!

The modern retail environment has made shopping a breeze for the likes of me.  As a child I remember learning addition and subtraction and how to handle money on visits to the market with my mother. I remember repeating the process with my kid.

Soon we will have a whole generation that has no need to do mental arithmetic for simple daily tasks. Perhaps technology will slowly make sure they never need to do it. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. Perhaps.

We will slowly forget how to do 13 x 15 and we won’t have to remember what we have run out of because the fridge would have already made that list along with stuff that’s past its expiry date and still sitting inside it. And soon we may not need to even go to the modern retail store because the fridge would have already sent in the order for replenishment to the store. We won’t need to talk to humans at all. The machines would do all the talking .. to us and to each other.

Hmmmm…..  😦

I think I’ll go to the sabzi mandi this week.


Eenie Meenie Miney Mo

I am on the horns of a dilemma… Hmm… that’s an interesting phrase. Wonder where it comes from. Was there a bull named dilemma and the rider is not sure whether to jump off while the going was good or… Sorry, I digress… as I was saying, I am on the horns of a dilemma.

Just a half-hour ago I was all clear-headed.. no horns.. no bulls… I was looking ahead with eager anticipation. I have days ahead that are full of ..nothing… no deadlines.. no travel..no nothing. Finally! I can renew acquaintance with the bookshelf, I said to myself. Yaaay!!

There’s Parva…. its eight-inch thickness had daunted a time-stressed me earlier. I can take it on now! Wait a minute.. I can first finish the India after Gandhi that I had abandoned. Nadine Gordimer.. Gosh.. I started that long ago. Oooh ..here’s Herriot.. ..why not set the mood with re-reading him. I pick each one out of the bookcase. My eyes fall upon the brand-new book on Service Design. I really ought to read that one 😦  But today is not an ‘ought to‘  kind of day, today is ‘want to‘! Perhaps tomorrow.

The pile beside me grows and grows. Idea! I will create an area in the bookshelf to keep all the ‘to-read’ books together. Yesss!

I spent the next hour selecting and de-selecting books to go onto the to-read now shelf. Lovely! All sitting next to each other.. so neat, so inviting. Kahneman jostling with Saki, fighting for space with Rumi. Perhaps I should arrange them by genre.. or should it be by book size …. or colour of the spine….

Aaargh! The morning has sped by …. what to read first..what to read first  .. I am on the horns of a dilemma…

Wait a minute. I know.. I will do what I saw at Blackstones. The oldest (?) bookstore in Oxford. They had this brilliant shelf for the `dilemmaed’ ( I know, I know that word does not exist. Don’t quibble.Believe me, it’s not the right time).

The books were all covered in brown paper with a verrry small hint on what was inside. And they said..Don’t judge a book by its cover. . Why not try our lucky dip?..


That’s what I will do! Tomorrow. Today I buy brown paper.


Tag Cloud