Thursday, April 10, 2014

Quarter of her life

I was 8. I was old enough to understand happenings around and form memories. I've seen my Mom go through her pregnancy and give birth to a beautiful little girl. I wasn't by her side when she was born, but went to see her in a few days. And boy, was I smitten! She was the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. Chubby cheeks, dimpled chin, rosy lips... She looked like an angel. Her dimpled smile would make anybody smile back. Still does.

Being old enough by the time she was born, I fed her once she started eating solid foods, helped her walk, talk and literally seen everything first of her. First step, first word, first dress, first birthday, first day of school. Everything! 

Growing up, she became my baby sister who'd sit in my lap in the school bus, and I was a big girl she'd turn to for help. We understood each other well, but both of us were closer to my brother who was more contemporary to both. But once she grew up to be an adult, the equation changed. We were more like equals, discussing important things in life like movies, weekend plans, TV shows, music etc. She could talk to me easily about her academics, friends and future plans.

Just as we were settling into a comfortable phase of life, we lost our closest confidant, our brother. Everything changed again.

She once again became my kid sister, whose back I'd watch every minute, make sure she gets to do the things she likes and guide her in life and career. At some point, the shared grief deepened the bond we share, we started understanding and acknowledging each other's feelings much easier than earlier and been there for each other at all times.

We've been through all phases of life together, and in a more civilised way than we did with our brother. Both of us being girls helped a lot, we could appreciate each other's thoughts a lot more because of that. 

She spent a quarter of her life with me, almost every single day. The little girl grew up to be an adult, made her own world, started building a career and now is a big girl, who I turn to at all times to share everything about me. She now goes to another country after she gets married, leaving all such wonderful memories with me. If I could choose my siblings ever, I wouldn't pick another. Wishing her the best in life ahead and looking forward to more exciting times ahead. Together. Always.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Abandonment

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. It's a nice thought that helps people develop character and makes them empathetic. You do exactly what you want others to do to you - care for them, support them in tough situations, be there at their beck and call for things small and big. And then one day you're not in a position to do any of these and need someone to do it to you in return, but they fail. The same people who you've been providing for all your life in one way or the other don't need you any more in their homes. What does that mean? What does that teach us about life?

At what point does one cease to think humanely? What blinds people to a loved one's pain and suffering? One can't build castles in the air without strong foundations. Abandonment comes so easy, shouldering responsibilities is what makes one human, one with a character, one with a heart. What example would one set for their offsprings when they stop caring for their own parents? 

I've seen worse in the past 3 years, but these questions seem ever so relevant and unanswered. An 80-year old man who worked till the minute he fell with a stroke is craving for some love and attention, while there are people who have everything they could ask for in life and yet crave for more materialistic pleasures. Strange are the ways of life!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cambodia - A trip to the past

We had just 2 criteria to choose a holiday destination - 1. It should be a place we explore on our own. 2. We should find as less Indians as possible.

Cambodia definitely fit into the 2nd criterion but we weren't sure about the 1st. We still decided to give it a shot because Angkor Wat can't be all that bad. If not anything else, Angkor Wat should mesmerize us enough. So we decided to go ahead.

And, boy! We weren't wrong. Not one bit. We spent the first 2 days in Phnom Penh. We stayed in a nice place called The Tea House in the downtown on street 242 - a quaint place with just 20 rooms and very friendly staff. We hired a 2-wheeler (they call it a moto there) as soon as we landed and decided to set out exploring stuff. But then, Nature always has other plans for you. It started pouring as soon as we checked in and it just wouldn't stop! So we decided to head to the royal palace in a tuk-tuk and reached there only to see waterlogged roads and closed palace :-( But since the museum was closeby, we decided to head to the museum.

We went to Siem Reap in a mini-van and stayed there for a day and a half. We should've planned for 1 more day :( Angkor Wat was a breathtaking sight at the sunrise, magnificent indeed!! We saw many people hiring a guide, but we just picked a guide book and set out to explore the temples. The guide books are quite detailed and give you a lot of info. The ruins are being conserved now in all the temples, especially Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is a beautiful place with silk cotton trees occupying the walls of the temple. Apparently most of these temples were discovered in such a state and they're being conserved now. India is working together with Cambodia to conserve Ta Prohm. We saw Bayon too, which is a temple of faces if I could say that :-) Most of the pillars had faces of Buddha sculpted on them. There were a few more interesting temples but we were too exhausted by then, and decided to call it a day.

Cambodia is very similar to India in culture and we could see this clearly in Angkor Wat. The Ramayana, Mahabharata and Sagaramathanam carvings on the walls of Angkor Wat look not so different from those on Indian temples. My husband and I love history and this place was a treasure for us!

The most powerful moment for us was when we went to The Killing Fields and the genocide museum. The descriptions and exhibits there were too tragic and we had knots in our stomachs thinking of the atrocities people had to go through then. The most striking part was that Pol Pot's atrocities happened as recent as the 70s and 80s. We left those places sad and depressed.

People are extremely friendly in Cambodia, everybody smiles at you as soon as you look at them. We had one experience which made us feel overwhelmed with their attitude. We borrowed the moto for 1 day and had to deposit our passport for guarantee. We gave back the moto and needed to hire it 3 days later. But the company wouldn't lend us the moto and the receptionist said other companies don't have a moto too. We were quite surprised and when we pressed him further, he informed us that the company doesn't lend moto to Indians and they lent it earlier only because they didn't know we're Indians until we submitted the passport!! Reason is that an Indian borrowed a moto sometime back and ended up in an accident that killed a person. They had to go through a lot and pay money to get the moto released from the police.So they don't lend to Indians any more :-/ But since we needed a moto, the receptionist sweetly offered his moto and didn't even ask for any money. He even got the rear-view mirrors fixed for us. We were very impressed and paid him $2 more than what we paid the moto company.

It's not that we find only nice and honest people though :-) Wherever you go in the local markets, you need to haggle - from fridge magnets to trousers! You need to discount the price by 3-4 times as they quote very high prices. My husband honed his bargaining skills quite a bit with this :-D

A guest at Tea House informed us that we get guide books outside Angkor Wat for $10. One girl walked up to us on our way to the sunset point Bakheng and told us she'll offer this book for $20 though the stores sell it for $25. We had that $10 in mind and asked her to give it for $8. After a long bargaining session, she did give it for $8 but with a sad face. We go to Angkor Wat the next day and we discover that there are people selling the same book for $1!!!!

Food woes for vegetarians :-( Almost all places have very few vegetarian dishes, but one good thing is you usually find pizzas and omelettes everywhere. So if you don't mind eating egg, you're saved a bit. We found this restaurant called The Vegetarian in Phnom Penh downtown which is a vegan place. And imagine my joy when we discovered this place! :-D Food was out of this world at this place. They even had Indian masala tea, which means HAPPY ME!!! :-D

Even the smallest of eateries and most public places in Cambodia have free WiFi. We could communicate with our family without spending a paisa, thanks to this!

Most of these temples and genocide related areas have notices requesting people to dress modestly to respect the Gods and those who've lost their lives. All they request for is to cover one's shoulders and knees. There are no strict implementation procedures, but a general guideline. You see this advice on maps, websites and any generic information source on Cambodia. But still, we found a lot of people wearing spaghettis, shorts and minis at these temples and museums. Wonder what will drive some people to show respect where it's needed!

In general, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are planned cities with decent infrastructure (there are potholes, but not as bad as in India), good access to public transport, good eateries and numerous massage parlours (we needed them the most in Siem Reap!). Fantastice place and people - we wish we planned the trip for a couple more days. Definitely worth visiting again!

Oh, by the way, on the second criterion - yes, we were right on that part! We saw just 4-5 Indians in the whole trip!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Remembrance


Remembrance is a sequel to Anurag Kumar's Recalcitrance. We follow Chote Bhaiya as he moves on in pain of going away from Farheen. He accepts it as his fate, marries another woman and continues on his war for independence.

We're introduced to his muse Ulfat Jahan in Lucknow, who congratulates him for his bravery during the Great War and generates interest in Chote Bhaiya. He's gradually charmed by her and falls in love with her. But he's torn between being faithful to his wife and acknowledging his love for Ulfat Jahan. 

At the same time, he joins hands with Ahsanul Mulk and his team to assassinate Governor General. The plan goes kaput due to various reasons despite them being fully prepared and alert. Chote Bhaiya realizes how close he has come to death and this affects him psychologically. Also his grandmother's deteriorating health and his family situation influence him into assessing his future direction.

We also get to see how Farheen's life has changed after Chote Bhaiya leaves her and goes away. She's obliged to marry an old but well-to-do man, who eventually dies trying to retrieve his money from a debtor. She and her mother are again left to fend for themselves along with her 2 kids with her husband Ahmad Husain.

Remembrance is a smooth sequel to Recalcitrance, and gives us some more glimpses into how revolutionaries operated then and planned for attacks on Englishmen. It also comments on the social scenario then predominantly through incidents in Chote Bhaiya and Ulfat Jahan's lives and a few other situations like Narenderlal's father's illness and redistribution of land. Overall, an interesting plot with a simple narration. There are parts in the book where I was slightly confused as the context wasn't elaborate, but the flow of events compensates for it. Like I said for Recalcitrance, go for it if you love Indian history and would like to know how life and society was pre-independence.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Life goes on..


Life goes on.. no matter what pains you go through, no matter what achievements you have, life goes on. It has to. But not the same way. Plans get shattered, hopes get thrashed, people lose strength, yet life goes on...

There are a lot of changes - changes in everything we do, the way we think, the way we live and the way we talk. Some changes for the better, some for the worse. Days passed by without our stopping by noticing earlier, now each passing day makes its impact. 

Life will go on.. plans have changed, hopes have changed, but the will to live doesn't die. That was something I learnt from him, something he personified, and I'll never give up on that. No matter what, live in the moment, aspire for future and keep dreaming!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Where there is a way, there's often no will



Yesterday, my Dad was having an argument with the watchman and his wife. They wanted to go to their native place for some personal work and asked for a leave and when asked about when they'd return, both of them gave contradicting answers and didn't give a commitment clearly. This upset my Dad and he told them not to give vague answers since he's not stopping them from going but just asking when they'd come back so we can plan for the work with other people.

This is a recurrent problem with any watchman he hires and other staff from that economic level. Dad has dealt with people from almost all classes and I've seen him tackle everybody else quite easily despite some misunderstandings and arguments occasionally. But when it comes to the daily labour, it gets difficult. They quit very soon, sometimes without even informing. Often for a minor increment and sometimes because of sheer laziness. Yes, we've seen people who quit who needed the money but quit simply because they didn't want to do so much work. They don't want to hang around long enough to benefit from the professional relationship and seek a hike or growth.

One of the guys that Dad hired had an infant boy, and my parents made sure he was cared for well. His father was a drunkard and wasted money on drinking all the time. Mom used to feed the boy nutritious food because his Mom would rarely give him anything good. He grew up in my house for a year, taken care of by all of us. But again, his father couldn't stay long because it was too much work and moved to an apartment as a watchman. When we saw the kid after a couple of months, he was malnourished and didn't have the energy he had when he was at my place. He lacked the enthusiasm and didn't eat properly.

Whenever I think of populist schemes like NREGA, this is what comes to my mind. There are a lot of such people who need to be incentivised to work, to earn and respect themselves, to provide better for their next generation. Instead, they take the easy route of banking on populist schemes and claim victimhood most of the times. Agreed that a class of society was entirely neglected for centuries and the rich exploited them, but the current form of correction harms in the long-term rather than benefit them. These people need skills and respect from others, which comes only when they know their craft and earn their livelihood. As long as they can get stuff cheap without hard work and without any contribution, they have no incentive to move out of that state and aspire for more. You rarely see any aspiration in that strata, if at all, it comes from those who are street vendors.

I know there will be arguments about where such populist schemes have benefitted the poor. I don't deny that, maybe there are cases where the poor benefit from these schemes and are lifted out of poverty in a generation or two. But to a large extent, all we see is youth without a direction, which is being wasted in drinking and other addictions. If this continues, honestly I think we'll only end up with more 'useless' population which will continue to claim victimhood no matter what opportunities we provide them. A whole generation (or even more) might end up being a burden on the country.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Numb


Another young man died in close family circle. As sudden and shocking as my brother. Left me quite shaken and unsettled. The thought that some people's lives change altogether for their entire life with something that happens in a second is somewhat unnerving to me.

An entire family loses direction and feels a loss of purpose for a long time when a young life departs. A couple lost their eldest son, siblings lost their eldest brother and a woman lost her very recently married husband. Life seems cruel at such instances, leaves me with a lot of questions. 

I've seen and been through a lot in the past 2 years and the best lesson I've learnt is to keep your grief to yourself. It hurts when someone belittles your feelings in an attempt to console you. Not everybody understands what is it that you've lost and why can't it be filled with anything/anyone else. After a lot of depression, rage and helplessness, I felt one thing - not everybody can share your grief. And then you go numb. Just numb.