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Today, I believe, is International Women’s Day. The significance of this day would have escaped my notice if it were not for the radio station in my car exhorting the listeners every few minutes to “recognize” the women in their lives by giving them flowers and jewelry because women love these for gifts. Okay!

Who comes up with these “Days” to celebrate one thing or the other, I wonder?

Google's doodle to commemorate International Women's Day 2013

Google’s doodle to commemorate International Women’s Day 2013

As far as I know, we celebrate days for particular reasons:

  • To salute the achievements of a minority. Um, last I heard, the world’s population is almost evenly divided between the two sexes.
  • To commemorate the memory of someone who has made a difference in others’ lives. Women have not yet become a distant memory. They are very much here. So, why not celebrate individual women’s achievements and legacies instead of asking everyone to celebrate the lump-sum of “women?”

 

  • To support a role played by a percentage of the population, such as that of a father or a mother. Hmm … women have not assumed the role of a “woman” at some point in their lives. They were born as such.
  • To bring an endangered species into the world’s notice. Women are not nearing extinction.
  • To share an emotion like love with others. Women are not an intangible emotion.

Besides, none of the women I know is holding her breath for someone to pat her on her back one day a year and say, “Bravo! What a great job you’re doing being a woman!”

Like everyone else around her — men, other women and children – she’s too busy keeping up with her life.

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As much fortitude as it takes to ride into the thick of war to defend one’s cause/nation, it takes as much courage to live through the daily details of one’s life under inhumane conditions. I can only imagine what kind of mettle is required to stand up and fight for what a person believes in, in these situations where hope for the future seems dead.

You may have heard about the 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai and her fight against Taliban’s ban on education for girls in the Swat Valley. On October 9th of this year, Malala was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban gunman attempting to silence her voice forever. She has made a miraculous recovery over the last few weeks, and her father assures the world that she can’t wait to get out of the hospital and resume her activism for women’s education.

I came upon another article recently about three teenage girls in Afghanistan who made a short documentary called Kabul Cards about their everyday lives in the country’s war-torn capital city. Their goal was to show to the word that there’s much more to Afghanistan than constant bombings, warring factions and unsafe living conditions.

When asked why they don’t emigrate to a foreign country where they could aspire for safer lives, 16-year-old Sahar, the youngest of the three girls, had answered without hesitation, “We want to see a changed Kabul. If the youth flees the nation, who is going to bring about that change? We are going to live in a safe Kabul, one that has been transformed by people like us.”

The words and actions of these young girls brought to my mind one word about the future: Hope.

I’ll leave you all with a poem titled “Where the Mind is Without Fear” by famed poet and playwright Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 
Where knowledge is free 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls 
Where words come out from the depth of truth 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

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Today marks the 143rd birth anniversary of an individual who was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and later was given the loving title of Father of the (Indian) Nation. He is more popularly known as the Mahatma, or enlightened soul.

October 2nd, Gandhi Jayanti or Gandhi’s birthday, is celebrated as a national holiday in India. And very well it should be for all that this petite (Gandhiji was five feet three inches in height) and unassuming man with a toothless grin has done for India.

He spearheaded India’s struggle for independence from the British, and all without raising one armament either in defense or offense. His weapons of choice? Truth, fearlessness, non-cooperation and non-violence.

I leave you all with a few quotes by world leaders who were inspired, directly or indirectly, by the life of the Mahatma.

  • In a world driven by violence and strife, Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century.

                                               — Nelson Mandela

  • Gandhi did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition.

                                             — Jawaharlal Nehru

  • The Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem in the United States.

                                              — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Gandhi showed how powerful change can start with one individual and spread to others.

                                              — The Dalai Lama

  • It’s time to heed the words of Gandhi: ‘Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.’

                                                — Barack Obama

  • Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

                                              — Albert Einstein

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I originally posted the article below close to two years ago, when I first spent a day at a State Music Teachers’ Association Convention. I’ve spent the last weekend at this year’s convention again. I was surrounded by hundreds of dedicated students of all ages putting their best feet forward. It was a fulfilling weekend, to say the least. So, I thought it only appropriate to re-post this article.

A small note: Below it wasn’t my intention to say that there’s anything wrong with being goal oriented. On the contrary, I believe it’s a necessity to have a target in mind before anyone sets off on a journey. My lament is that adults are rarely able to retain their original enthusiasm and passion for the task, as kids often do, while pursuing their goals.

– ** –

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to be exposed to some honest determination and old-fashioned faith in human effort. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I spent a Sunday at a convention held by the state’s Music Teachers’ Association. For the whole day I and six hundred other listeners kept company with children – anywhere from six years old all the way up to seventeen – who enthralled us with their incredible piano playing skills during several different programs.

Again, last weekend, I attended a traditional debut recital of a classical Indian dance form (called Bharatanatyamwhich is believed to have been in existence for over 4,000 years now) of a friend’s daughter. The girl has been practicing the dance form for over ten years tirelessly to get where she is now.

So, what do the two days have in common?

The diligence and determination with which the children practiced the art form (for hours and years on end) they have adopted as their own.

Children are generally not known to be forward-looking. So, how did they happen to get into something so grueling and time-consuming when they very well could have been watching TV or playing video games?

The majority of them probably got into it because their parents suggested it to them or just plain registered them in a class at the beginning. Soon, however, the child got so involved with the art form that he/she made it his/her own crusade.

Do any of these children ever sit down and think about how all those hours of dedication, nervousness before a performance, missed birthday parties convert into something useful for their lives later? Most probably not.

Do they ever mull over what kind of results will be produced from their steadfast effort? Most likely not.

Then why do they do it?

Because they began to love the art form for the sake of itself.

They do it from the blind faith that they are supposed to do what they enjoy the most.

Is there a wiser or more mature outlook in life?

This realization both humbled and inspired me. And it also raised some questions inside me:

  • When do we give up the grounded belief that we need to do what we believe in, basically what we enjoy, and that we need to leave the results to a higher power?
  • At what stage of growing up do we begin to get so goal-oriented and obsessed with results?

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She encourages, she cajoles, she lures. She commands, she hustles, she coerces. If all else fails, she won’t think twice about using threats and bribes to get me off my back side and to work.

Who am I talking about? My ultimate taskmistress, Spring season.

This is the longest lasting spring in my 15+ years of living in this part of the world. The season usually lasts, at the most, for measly three or so weeks, and leaves behind faint memories of early morning dew and balmy afternoons in its wake.

Each year, I keep hoping that spring – however brief its existence –  has a mellower effect on me. I’d love to recline in a hammock in my shady backyard snacking on a lovely mystery novel, a glass of pink lemonade sweating on a table next to me.

Yeah, right! Every year spring becomes a stricter taskmistress than the year before.

She wrinkles her nose and says, “Look at your garden, weeds choking my poor seedlings. And don’t even mention the hedges! A disgrace to even call them by that name.”

I can’t so much as admire the flowers in a neighbor’s garden without Miss. Snooty jumping at me. “If only you spent some time on your flower beds, you wouldn’t have to turn green at the sight of someone else’s flower patch,” she admonishes.

So, this year, hoping to stem the scolding from the bossy lady, I gave myself a head start. Winter being a mild one – which meant a happy reprieve from sudden April frosts which nullify any premature gardening efforts – I started early this year. I began making rounds of the local nurseries as soon as March rolled in; and I was weeding, pruning and planting by the middle of the month.

As my new plants settled in, I began to anticipate the arrival of Miss. Slave Driver with barely contained glee. I was sure I’d one-upped her this year – she’d pat me on my back and applaud my resourcefulness.

You think?

Miss. Spring sashayed into my yard a couple of weeks ago, knotted her eyebrows at the budding annuals and perennials in my flower beds, and refused to utter one word of encouragement, let alone praise.

I would’ve somehow gotten over her lukewarm response towards my earnest – if modest – efforts if only she’d left it at that. No sir! She then stalked into my kitchen, shoved the pantry doors open and muttered, “Oh my! Is this the best you can do? I expected better from you.”

That’s when I threw in my shovel and scrambled after her. I hurriedly mixed a fresh drink of Mango Lassi, hoping to distract her before she took it upon herself to shed light on any more cupboards and closets.

You see, I desperately wanted to keep some of the murkier corners of my house hidden from Miss. Perfect; until inspection next year, at the very least.

One day earlier this month, dozens of bees and Monarch butterflies swarmed the Holly shrub in our yard. They buzzed and flitted about for two days. Then, probably after they've had their fill of the nectar, they disappeared as suddenly as they'd appeared.

Can you detect the bees toiling away among the flowers?

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Have you watched these commercials on T.V?

  • Sunny-D Orange juice
  • Fiber One cereal
  • Johnsonville Chicken sausages

What do they all have in common? They claim that the products they are advertising are good for our health.

Not only that, but each of them shows a mom/dad getting the kids used to the product via subterfuge. At the end of the commercial, we see the parent in question say (in more or less similar words): “Will I tell them it’s good for them? Of course, not!”

ARGH! Can you tell these commercials drive me up the wall?

When you think about it, these adverts are only one symptom of a bigger epidemic raging around us right now. This disease is called “I-am-too-cool-to-admit-to-choosing-right-openly.”

Man: Why are you breaking out in hives suddeny?
Woman: I'm allergic to the knowledge that once I enter that store, I'll be surrounded by things that are good for me.

Take Sunny-D, for instance. I doubt that any juice (even if supposedly sugar-free) squeezed a few days ago and made to sit on a refrigerated shelf is as good for health as it is advertised to be. That apart, why con the kids into drinking it? Why not explain to them how it is good for their long-term health and then have them decide whether they wish to drink it or not?

Is it because this option’s considered too nerdy?

Or is it because we, as parents, want to keep our children dependent on us so badly that we won’t teach them to make the right choices consciously?

 We won’t give our children the benefit of open dialogue and conscious choice; we’ll simply coddle them for as long as possible.

The result? When they have to come to their first major decision as an adult, they are more than likely to stumble.

And then we’ll be right there to cluck our collective tongue and label the entire generation “useless.”

Not perverse at all, are we?

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“Aren’t all beginnings new?” asks one character of another in a book I read recently.

I guess they are and they aren’t, depending on how you look at it. As an absentee blogger for the past few months, this is a beginning of sorts for me. Again. Would this start be considered old, then?

What better season than spring to contemplate beginnings, old and new? Tuesday the 20th of March marked the Spring or Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere of the Earth: essentially, the first day of spring season.

All around me I see signs of new life: pale green leaves unfurling, bulbs pushing shoots out of rain-soaked earth, birds shedding downy winter coats, the skies newly scrubbed and polished.

Most cultures around the world celebrate the arrival of spring in different ways. Where I come from—the southeastern part of India, where people follow a lunar calendar for observing religious days—spring means a fresh start. We usher in the season with a New Year’s festival called Ugadi (the word translates to “Beginning of a new age/era”).

Hinduism believes that a human life is full only if it experiences the gamut of emotions in the right proportions. On Ugadi, everyone—child and adult alike—begins his/her day by eating a mixture or chutney made of six ingredients:

  • Jaggery, (similar to brown sugar, made from sugar cane) which is sweet, signifies happiness
  • Bitter neem flower petals stand in for sorrow
  • Thinly sliced hot, green peppers remind us of anger
  • Savory salt takes the place of fear
  • Tamarind paste (which is sour) marks revulsion or hatred
  • Tangy pieces of unripe mango emphasize surprises

This chutney—a delicious explosion of bold flavors and textures—essentially is a reminder that life is a fusion of experiences. This tradition encourages everyone to accept what is doled out to him/her in life with equanimity.

Tomorrow, which is when Ugadi is celebrated this year, I intend to begin my day with a few spoonfuls of this chutney.

Do you celebrate the beginning of spring or the end of winter? If yes, please share the details with us!

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Things have been piling up on my schedule for some time now, so I have finally caved in. I’m going to be on a break from blogging for the next few weeks.

Have a happy summer (or whatever season it is in your slice of the globe), everyone!

P.S: The pictures have nothing to do with a break or summer. They all just remind me of “good times.” Since summer has always translated to sunny, happy times for me, I thought I’d brighten this page up using them :-).

 

 

 

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Posted originally on April 14, 2010.

Finally! Spring is here – there are signs of new life everywhere around me. 

Having said that, for the sake of honesty, I also have to mention that where I live spring usually lasts for a whole day. 

Yes, you read it right! It happens when you least expect it, and then it’s gone. Hot, scorching dog days of summer take over. But die-hard spring fans like me hang on to the euphoria left behind by that one glorious day. 

This is what Spring means to me: 

  • Oxygen, oxygen everywhere. The minute I step out of the house, I have this constant urge to expand my lungs and fill them with as much of the fresh air as possible.

  

  • Longer drives via circuitous routes (the usually impatient, task-oriented me goes into a brief hibernation) to wherever I’m headed, just so I can enjoy more of the unfurling buds and leaves.

  

  • A compulsion to clean out the whole house – thankfully, it never lasts for too long.

  

  • Ideas exploding in my head, pulling me in a dozen different directions at once making me truly addle-headed.

  

  • Watching the bulbs in my garden begin to sprout soft, green shoots that prod out of the earth at an amazing speed.

  

  • An attack by the melancholy thought of “So much to do, so little time!”. I know that it is very much against the concept of a new beginning, but somehow spring always has this effect on me.

  

  • Sitting outside at night and counting stars. At least, I try to count them; guess I will have to move to the countryside first to be able to do it effectively. The only stars I see now (being in the middle of a big city) are those that blink constantly and keep moving to the west of my house. See, one of the busiest airports in the world is about twenty miles, as the crow flies, west of my house.

  

  • The romantic in me getting even more vicious – can’t hear a beautiful song without sniffling and tearing up. Most embarrassing when in public, I tell you!

  

  • Baby bunnies scampering in my yard, making me groan. They are cute, I’m not saying they aren’t. But my neighborhood is infested (yes, seriously) with them. One evening you lovingly water the plants in your garden, hoping to see them bloom the next day. You wake up the next morning and go out to the garden in a rush of anticipation — what do you see? A patch of pathetic-looking denuded stalks and a pair of long ears disappearing around the bend. Argh!

  

  • Pollen everywhere, unfortunately. Makes my eyes itch and my nose twitch just at the thought of all those microspores floating in the air.

  

What does spring mean to you?

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During my trip to India, I took a delightful detour to a medium-sized bookstore in one of the cities I visited.

Owing to its unassuming name — Jyoti Book Depot — I entered the store willing myself not to get my hopes up too much. (I know, shame on me for judging a bookstore by its name!)

The store had probably just received a considerably large shipment; the entire space was in delightful disarray, adding to the store’s charm and quaintness.

The shop assistants were busy tearing open crates and boxes of books, layering the air with the delicious scent of ink and new paper. It heightened my sense of adventure to be navigating through and carefully stepping over the teetering mini-towers of tomes both in English and Telugu. (Telugu is one among the 17 official languages of India.)

Since the shop was not too intuitively organized, I had to butter up a harried assistant or two to look up the books I had in mind, but then the results more than made up for it: I had to try really hard not to hyperventilate when they conjured up some of the more unusual/elusive titles that I hardly hoped to find in that store.

I have finished reading some of them; the others, I admit, I have been hoarding as a child would a stash of precious toffee for a rainy day.

Here are some of the English titles I bought:

  • Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh.
  •  Bookless in Baghdad by Shashi Tharoor.
  • Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • Collection of Short Stories by Shashi Deshpande.
  • The Binding Vine also by Shashi Deshpande.
  • Comics: Series of Panchatantra and Jataka Tales, Stories about Tenali Raman, Birbal Tales and a few others.

I also bought a few novels for children, including some by Enid Blyton :-).

Can you guess how much I paid for all these beauties together? A little over Rs. 3,000/- (Rupee is the Indian currency), which amounts to less than $70/-!!

Recently, here in the U.S, I went to one of the larger bookstore chains looking for a style guide that promised to improve my grammar and whip up my writing into better shape. Just one book. It was priced at a whopping sixty-five dollars.

Why, oh why, are books so expensive in America?

Do you make it a point to stop by bookstores while traveling abroad?

Like me, do you come back home mildly depressed about the cost of books in the U.S (if that is where you make your home)?

Note: This post is not meant as a rant for/against the publishing industry in the U.S. (Nothing wrong with such a discussion, it’s just that I’m not in the mood for an involved debate just now.) Rather, it is an honest lament from a self-confessed bookworm :-).

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