Where has all the laughter gone?

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There was a time when limericks and humorous poetry made us laugh, when ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine!’ brought tears of merriment to multiple readers of Readers’ Digest, when PG Wodehouse was digested by youngsters by the dozen and when everyone loved a good laugh. There were no laughter clubs. There were no sleep clinics. There was spring and happiness and childhood…

That is how we grew up back in the 1970s and 1980s.

That was the time when bell bottoms were in fashion, people still listened to Beatles, Carpenters and Julio Iglesias; Agatha Christie and Perry Mason were mystery fare and people read only books with pages.

Then with internet revolution swinging into action, things changed. Things changed in a way that made living more challenging! On one hand communication was eased; on the other the tech savvy and the non-tech groups replaced simple divisions of caste and class. For some time, people could say what they liked across all borders drawn by mankind. And then power brokers made rules to regulate the flow of thought in the guise of curbing negative output online. Some of it was necessary, especially where people were inducing riots with Facebook exchanges, but some of it created borders in communicating ideas.

There were alternatives that crept up and people still found ways of communicating across borders with blogs and social media, though some governments banned even those. Voices were raised… but the tone had changed from one of happiness to one of darkness and challenge.

What was bad kept coming into focus over what was good. Laughter dissipated!

Limericks gave way to haikus reflecting the darkness of existence, which were rare earlier because people and ideas could not travel across borders easily long, long ago… fifty full years ago…

The span of time like our focus has shortened. Reading what others write has become a luxury. Writing what one has to say and publishing in social media has become the norm. Yet reading evidently creates an empathizing individual, an individual who can emote on behalf of others and spread kindness and smiles through the world. A research by Kingston University in London highlighted how readers make better and kinder friends. The report states: “Specifically, when broken down by genre, they (the researchers) saw that readers of comedy were the best at relating to people. Romance and drama lovers were the most empathetic and most skilled at seeing things through other’s eyes.”

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Sukumar Ray’s sketch

Perhaps, dwelling on the results of the research, we should look for not stand-up comics on you tube but for books that make us laugh, whether in English or some other language. I still cannot stop laughing at the nonsense verse of Sukumar Ray ( film-maker and writer Satyajit Ray’s father) and those are verses I have been reading for the last forty years or limericks or stories by Wodehouse. And yet, they seem to be rather out of fashion now. In today’s world, we are all writers and readers in the landscape of social media. Presidents ‘tweet’ as do Prime Ministers and Ministers! Social media has gone viral as did American Idol and a bunch of programs that cropped up around it in the early 2000s.

An article in The Atlantic explains: “Yet in many ways Idol … was ahead of the pop-culture game. It was one of the first shows that understood both the emotional nerve that connects people to music, and people’s innate desire to see others succeed despite enormous odds. It excelled at creating a personal link between artists and viewers, compelling the latter to take action by calling in and voting…In this sense, Idol foreshadowed today’s social media-driven society, where fans have the power to mobilize and impact the pop-culture landscape…”. Huff post came up with the heading “American Idol Made Us All Critics”.

And now, we dot the social media landscape with critiques and comments on everything possible from a pair of shoes to poetry (for those who still read or watch what has come up in a big way, Performance poetry in You Tube) or a new scientific development. Yet, are we all qualified to comment on everything? Is it right to give precedence to public outcry over expertise?

Looking at the current trends, democratization has taken over all oligarchic institutions. Democracy works but to what point? How democratic are we as individuals? Individuality is also an after all an important component of all art forms and now is much emphasised in the comments section of social media. How many of us flash our prettiest pictures on Facebook in imitation of models? Does everybody want to be a celebrity?

One of my friends, a simple soul told me that in FB everyone looked so happy and successful! Another told me he withdrew from FB due to all the flak he faced when he voiced his opinion. Perhaps, decency fell prey to democratization for some. And yet a third one suffered a stroke and a heart attack and was told by the doctor to keep off social media and internet as the content upset him!

While democratization helps masses come to the fore, inventions or creations are always that of an individual. When we traded privacy and dignity for equality, did we really think of the consequences?

IMG_0526I still recall the expressions of the statues in the Memorial of Early Red Army in Beijing. The statues looked angry and discontent. These people definitely did not enjoy limericks or Edward Lear’s funny poems, but they believed in what they were taught to believe. Was it right to have a revolution by people who had no vision but were influenced to have a vision by pressures of external forces and the thin booklet of communist manifesto which was a handbook for all believers?

When the ‘Me-too’ controversies flared on FB, one friend told me that though she did not agree with the movement, she had not the freedom to voice her difference of opinion. If she did, external forces of FB would perhaps reduce her to pulp or jelly for daring to oppose popular opinion. A friend of mine speaking in favor of social media said it prevented bar room brawls. A good point. But it did not stop from inciting people to riot as result of which FB decided to take down posts inciting rage, hate and violence.

But has it been effective? A million-dollar question which yet remains to be answered with posts that threaten to unfriend friends if they do not paste the post the posters (not paper but people who publish on FB) have on their wall on their own (the friends’) FB page. Rather a complicated process to explain but you all are probably familiar with it. Perhaps people who avoid reposting prefer privacy and can continue without giving opinions. Should their hand be forced in the same way as my friend who was forced to write a post in favor of the ‘Me-too’ because otherwise, she would face social ostracization?

While ground rules keep evolving to mediate social media, one wonders if this has an impact on the dark overtones that have been coloring the literary world? Why is it writers feel that darkness needs to engulf readers before they change their way of thinking and become more positive in their output? Why has the world of literature been infected by dystopian literature that highlights the negative in the hope of a better outcome?

Haruki Murakami, a popular seventy-year-old Japanese novelist, whose books are often surrealistic and dark, says: “Only novels can make people feel through words that they went through actual experiences. Depending on whether or not people experience those stories, their thoughts and ways of seeing the world should change. I want to write stories that will penetrate the heart. I have a lot of hope in the power that novels hold.” Murakami’s books introduce “jarring elements to alter his characters’ lives, skewing reality and upending their worlds, to illustrate his recurrent themes of alienation and loneliness.” Murakami himself said: “Obsessions can help people survive this intense loneliness.” Is this loneliness what makes writers sense darkness all around?  Is this feeling essentially a negative one?

“His (Murakami’s) writing process requires ‘stepping into the darkness’, where he observes, remembers, and writes down what he sees. His early books, he said, originated in an individual darkness, while his later works tap into the darkness found in society and history.” Is that why dystopian fiction, which in itself is not the happiest read, came into being?

For an ordinary reader like me, happiness makes me feel fulfilled. I fall back on literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth century often. The pre-world war literature. Though time moves fast and waits for nobody, why is it we are not able to move on? Why are we still allowing the past, the holocausts that dot twentieth century history, to bind us into an everlasting aura of darkness?  Though the wars left us scalded and scarred as a race, why do we not realize that we need to move on to create a happier and more wholesome world for the next generation? That will be a world where sunshine is uninterrupted and children interact, laugh and reach out to each other as friends with the innocence of lambs. With a passion for such a future, I lose myself in the pages of a book and listen to the 1980s song from Karen Carpenter, Yesterday once more…

“Those were such happy times and not so long ago

How I wondered where they’d gone

But they’re back again just like a long lost friend”

 

— Carpenters

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Meandering to Machu Picchu on Morphine…

 

As I sped through the jungles of Amazonia, I could feel, hear and see the splash of grey green water on my face. My hair flew wildly in the breeze created by the speeding hydrofoil as blue, emerald and red parakeets flitted among the trees. The sky was almost invisible amidst the foliage. The creepers and huge palm like leaves on the banks of the river studded the bottom of the tall trees that sped past in a haze…Then I skidded down a long road with corn fields on both sides. It was a sunny day. The road was a blur of tar and white paint. The soil was brown and the corn, yellow. Could I have arrived at Peru? I had always want to go there to visit Machu Picchu, the amazing city of the Incas with wandering white Llamas…

And every time the monitors beeped me back to reality, to the fact that I was being revived after a surgery. Each time I came back to the reality of being on a bed and not a speedboat or a sleek race car. They anaesthetized me and later had me on a drip of morphine… which is why I had all these wonderful trips to places where I have never been and have always wanted to visit.

Doctors, dentists and nurses are nice to know socially… very kind, vivacious, people who can relate to all and sundry and all kinds of good things can be said of them… but at a professional level, I prefer giving them a wide berth. However, when I had this searing pain in my upper abdomen, I was rushed to the hospital. Then started the preparation for my imaginary trips to various places of interest.

First they put me on a drip. I had only had a toast with honey and chamomile tea at 6.30 in the morning. They wanted to do an ultrasound, they told me and I needed to be starved. I argued, I had ultrasounds through my pregnancies and had never been denied food. With a patient voice, the senior physician informed me that this time, it was the abdomen, the food churning machines, and therefore I had no choice. I was made to lie down.

An enterprising young man came and beat my hands till the veins started to show and then he jabbed. They put me on a saline solution so that I could starve without getting dehydrated. My stomach started craving for food. But I lay there still, on a drip.

Around noon, they let me walk with hands pierced by the drip needle to the radiologist. I was asked to lie down on a narrow shelf-like couch that seemed to grow out of the wall, only it had a soft rexine-like finish. It could barely accommodate my ample girth! Then she asked me to relax. They always do… is it not? To avoid plunging into the depths of an abysmal chasms of frozen fear, I recited Wordsworth’s Daffodils under my breath as her cold scanner smeared a colder gel on me. Then, with due apologies to the great poet, she scanned and scanned but little thought what curiosity in me it wrought, especially when she put me on hold and ran out to get a full abdomen scan order from the doctor. And then, she did her stuff and let me go. I was sent back to the drip.

Every now and then, the needle poking young male nurse ambled in to check on me and offered me pain-relieving injections, which I politely refused. What would be more painful, a needle or the pain I had?

I tried to converse with the young man but the conversation always reverted to poking needles or starving me… he seemed to be obsessed with jabs.

At last, the senior physician came and said, I needed to go for a CT scan with a dye injected in me… How comfortable does that sound on an empty, rumbling stomach?! This time they did not ask but put me on a wheel chair. Again I was made to lie down on a long, narrow, plank-like couch that would go into a circular tunnel. Then they warned, it might hurt and they put a drip of a brownish liquid. The radiologist told me I could relax then and breath in and out as the machine instructed. She made me wait ten long minutes with my needle poked hand positioned above my head savoring the brown fluid coursing through my veins. The machine started talking and asked me to hold my breath in and out as the plank on which I lay moved in and out of the tunnel. I felt like I was going through a futuristic process and wondered if the medical investigations in Star Wars or Agents of Shield would be as intimidating in reality.

At last around 6.30 pm, I was freed off machines and told that I could eat. But by then, I had lost my appetite. Remember, I had been starved for twelve hours. I found it difficult to eat. So, they continued me on the saline and would not let me go home till I had a hearty breakfast and they took me off the saline.

The doctor gave me a three-day break to ready myself for a surgery scheduled for that Saturday. He said as it was a major surgery, he wanted to be relaxed! So, it would have to be the weekend!

On Friday, I had to go to visit not just the doctor but also the phlebotomist. In case you are wondering what the latter is, they have the jobs of vampires, except the vampires draw blood for the selfish intent of consumption and the phlebotomists do it for the noble cause of medical investigations. The lady phlebotomist was nice. As she drew vial after vial of blood, we chatted about our lives’ works…

The next day was Saturday. I remember, going to the hospital, being visited by the anesthetist and the pain doctor who explained to me how to use the morphine shot that would be given to me after my surgery, saw my doctor and his team mate, another surgeon. The anesthetist was kind enough to say I had veins like a lady as he found them difficult to locate and then it all blanked out.

I lost a whole day and woke up in the evening with my family at the ledge of my bed, bringing me back to reality. I was strapped to all kinds of machines and could barely move!

I could not sleep well the whole night at the High Dependency Unit for the beep of monitors. When the anesthetist came in the morning and I complained of lack of sleep, he told me that I was not meant to sleep but to wake up. I still had the morphine drip and shot when I was wheeled into my room.

I lay in on my high-tech bed with drips dripping saline, morphine and medication. Though I was surrounded by friends and family, again I found my bed encapsulating me and whirling me into outer space. I flew among the stars in my white and blue space ship and the machine that massaged my legs to prevent thrombosis became the controls of my ship. As I glided noiselessly in a dark vacuum studded with stars, I was drawn back to reality with the look of concern and affection on a friend’s face by my bed.

Next day I was taken off the morphine and my journey towards heading home started.

Now, I sit at home recuperating and writing. I had always wondered how ST Coleridge could write a description of Xanadu without ever stepping into China… His Kubla Khan written under the influence of opium made me a fan of Kublai Khan. I not only read on him but lived in China for eight years and walked the Great Wall four times, only parts of it, not all of it.

Now I wonder if my trip through Amazonia and Peru on morphine will take me to the real Machu Picchu ever… or, perhaps, the Egyptian pyramids on camel back…or maybe, to Easter Island among those huge rocks where like a shaman or a druid of yore, I could feel the elements tear at me and wrap me with their mystery…

 

Toothfully True

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With due apologies to Edvard Munch…

This is dedicated to all those who have sat and are likely to sit on a dentist’s chair, under the threat posed by drills, pliers, needles and jabs.

I have a friend who told me that she and her sister kicked dentists in terror of all the paraphernalia and the horror of being under the tooth doctor’s surveillance. In the last week, I too have had three sessions or three and a half hours of dental care. After the second session, I felt like wobbly jelly in a bowl till… I was advised by a co-sufferer to think happy thoughts. As I waited to be called for my third session, he suggested I think of floating or flying in the sky… I looked daggers at him…

However, when I sat on the chair, it started… I could not stop laughing while my mouth hung open in imitation of Edvard Munch’s Scream, my tongue stayed in place under a clamped rubber sheet, which under normal circumstances would have generated a fear of an asphyxiating death. As the dentist jabbed and drilled to her heart’s content, my stomach shook with laughter… and my throat gurgled in delight.

I was thinking what if Edvard Munch’s Scream screamed not for the angst in him but was holding his mouth open for a dental job… what if he floated up to the skies, as my messiah had suggested, and in a fit of dental angst doubled up with ‘laughing gas’, which is also a title by P.G.Wodehouse. Unfortunately, they do not use laughing gas on adults any more. My dentist said they use it only on children now.

As my stomach shook and I snorted masked and goggled on a chair, the dentist paused in concern, “Everything all right?” she asked in hesitation.

I struggled to keep my snort under control as I indicated all was fine. A1… as much as possible under a dentist’s drill.

Nowadays, they make the patient wear goggles while doing the job so that, they explained, the sprays of water etc do not go into their eyes or the bright lights disturb their introspective meditation of the toothy kind! My introspection took me deeper into the realms of uncontrollable mirth. I thought of what Wodehouse might say looking at all the paraphernalia, especially the x-rays. Those looked like equipment out of Star Wars or Agents of Shield. Maybe it was too post Wodehouse. But if the creator of Laughing Gas (the book, not the gas) had seen them, he would definitely have much to say. There was an x-ray machine where the doctor stuffed a film in a sharp plastic case in my mouth and told me to relax so that it would not hurt. How you relax with an object like that in your mouth held in place by knife like metal protrusions is a question only a dentist can answer if she undergoes a similar trial.

The other x-ray equipment looked intimidating. You stand with your hands on the machine and bite a plastic rod stuck to the structure as the x-ray camera revolves around your head on an extended white arm. You feel a bit like the solar system. You keep wondering if the equipment is going to smash your head as it draws menacingly closer and closer. The process continues for thirty long seconds after which the dental assistant comes cheerfully in and helps you out of the contraption. By then, you are hoping the most intimidating is over. And that happens in the first session.

In the second session, decked in sunglasses like Men in Black under the glare of bright lights as I sat with my mouth open in imitation of Edvard Munch’s painting, the dentist said, “ We need to use numbing.” Promptly, the nurse put a cooling gel and I thought, “Ah! Thank god… not a needle.”

Needless to say I am terrified of injections and stopped visiting dentists after the last one told me she needed to use an injection to numb my gums for further procedure. I gave dentists a break for half a decade but then, the pain started at the back again, a dull ache that persisted for days. So, I was compelled to amble into the dental clinic. This time the dentists said nothing about an injection till suddenly I felt a sharp jab hit my gum like a fat needle and it stayed on forever and ever. The nurse kept stroking my cheek with gauze and then my gums and cheek lost all sensations. I saw the dentist use something like a nail wrapped in some kind of sticky tape to jab my gums and pliers to pull them out…Thank God I had no sensation. That time, she was not using the rubber sheet so I could see her hands clearly and I did not have my messiah’s advise.

By the end of the session, I felt I must have spent a few decades on that chair and my left side where the jab had taken effect felt like a fat blob of quivering jelly! My whole being wobbled, shaken by the dental adventure.

That is why before the third session I was like a dish of green jello. Then under the guidance of my messiah, I found the best way to conquer fear is to laugh, to make fun of the situation, a bit like JK Rowling’s description of how to get rid of a bogart, a creature that takes the form of what you most fear. You make it look ludicrous by dressing it in funny gear and shouting out a spell that is a deviation on the word ridiculous! So, that is what you do at a dentist’s. Of course you do not shout it out loud or use a wand to wave around as they do in the movie, but you get the gist.

You sit and imagine… a bogart or Munch’s Scream with dental issues or Voldemort or Darth Vader or Jar Jar Binks on a dentist’s chair…

Now, I have conquered it all… and probably next time, not only will I be ready to battle a bogart in dentist’s garb but the real person… with my new found weapon.

Parenting…dreams

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During my younger son’s eighth grade graduation, the principal gave a fabulous speech. He asked the youngsters to dream big dreams, to reach for the moon and in case they missed landing on the moon, they would fall on the stars. He asked them to ignore laughter and taunts that might come in the way of realizing their dreams. I loved the speech… thought it was one of the most inspiring I had ever heard. It reminded me of something one of the biggest and most imaginative dreamers in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, said,

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

I have always been a person who believes that having big dreams is the first step to realizing them. And to me the biggest tragedy is when a child or youngster says he or she has no dream. To dream, to believe in a dream is the first thing that I tried to inculcate in my children.

For us, it all started with stories. One of my sons wanted to fly like Peter Pan and have dustbin dump truck birthday cakes. Another wanted a sunshine cake on his birthday and to do so many things together… he is still trying to concretize his dream. My five-year-old niece believes I have fairies and a balloon tree in my house and I can make magic dust to fly to Never-Never Land… she even wants to know how many people I know in Never-Never Land. The little realist in her also longs to read because reading brings her closer to things of which she dreams… fairies, magic dust and happiness. She saw many books in her fourteen-year-old cousin’s room and said, “I cannot read all those now.” Her cousin, brought up to think that all dreams are achievable, told her, “But you can eventually…” And  eventually she will realize her dream and pursue her passions. But the first step the little girl is taking towards growing up is to learn nothing is impossible. No dreams are too big. To dream or to find ones dream is the biggest adventure for a child. Their dreams will not just be a reality but something that will shape their lives, their existence. Of course, my niece will like my sons realise as she grows up, that Peter Pan is a myth but by then other dreams would have replaced the need to fly to Never-Never Land.

The thing we as parents need to do is to handle the transitioning of dreams with a light touch, with a sense of humor, and not get lost in the intensity and forced materialization of a dream. If a child wants to be an Olympic champion in swimming, but later wants to move on to being a businessman, we need to humor him till he has steadied his own mind and intent and is older. My elder son at a point wanted to be a neuro-surgeon, a space scientist and a bunch of other things… we humored him till he felt he found his dream… and now he pursues it with a passion… though there is still more of it to realize. The concretization started only when he was completing his teens! But he was allowed to dream and dream on the impossible…

As parents, many of us like to push our children towards pragmatic goals, the easily identified and achievable ends which will put bread and butter on the table and bring home enough cash. We urge them to give up their own dreams to come to terms with reality. Our parents might have told us the same when we were trying to find our dream. How many of us gave up our dreams, our romances to settle for the practical and we consider ourselves blessed and happy because we have the mundane; money, career, houses, cars…. or whatever it is that is important to you in your circle… could be clubs, travel, yatchs… However, these are what I would call ‘things’ as opposed to ‘ideas’. To me pursuing ‘ideas’ is more important because that is what makes mankind move forward towards civilization and progress. I would rather have an impractical dreamer who, as he grows up trying to materialize his dreams, moves towards a more pragmatic reality and blends his vision with the needs of mankind, to contribute to a more positive future.

If parents say their children have no dreams, no ambition except for playing online games or partying or watching YouTube videos, maybe they need to know their children better. Perhaps their children’s dreams lie wrapped in the things they are doing and the parents are too wary to acknowledge the unconventionality of their child’s dream. Some children also may take longer to materialize their dreams… but they all get there at some point if you let them be themselves and don’t impose your own fears and insecurities on them, including social acceptance… Of course, everyone will not be a star but at least let them try to be themselves, give them the tools to flourish but the blooming has to be theirs, not the parents…

Often parents talk of bringing up children with good values, make them focus on practicalities and destroy their dreams altogether and the children become part of the faceless workforce that live to earn and earn to live and accept anything that comes their way as long as they have their material comforts. Is this what we look forward to as a bright future? To me a bright future is not a life of ease and plenty but a future where a child feels fulfilled and happy, where a child will feel he has a purposeful life. To this end, it is important that the child pursue his own dreams and not that of his parents. Perhaps it is time to change our mindset, to start believing in the reality of dreaming and letting dreams exist. Perhaps we need to believe in what Einstein said,

“We cannot get to where we dream of being tomorrow unless we change our thinking today.”

Parenting

 

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Mother and Child… Kruger, South Africa

 

When I was in my early twenties, my grandmother threw a gauntlet at me. She said, “You have grown so used to studying, working and being out that you will never be able to live as a fulltime homemaker or mom!” I was twenty-three then. A little over two and a half decades down the line that is who I am… a full time homemaker and mom.

As I review my life after completing more than half a century, I have no regrets over the choices I made.

Parenting has been the most daunting and challenging experience in my life and continues to be so. I grew up in a home where all the mothers had careers. My grandmother was my chief caregiver. She was the most unusual woman I have ever known. In the early twentieth century, she was a gold medalist in math and art, an unusual thing in our country then. She completed her schooling and then she married a man to who she remained devoted for life. My grandfather also loved her to distraction till he died. She said she could not die because I held her back by my needs. My sense of security and wellbeing was linked to her. And I think she died proud of me more than a decade ago, telling me, “You proved me wrong and I am happy to see you as a wife and mother.”

I had my children when I was touching the third decade and through my third decade. After more than two decades of parenting, I will say that this has been a more challenging and satisfying experience than interviewing miners in mafia areas in Bihar or winning awards or publishing books.

While I see young women around me revel in their careers and grow beyond the confines of their homes, I have a fleeting sense of regret for what they are missing out with the choices they make. Two decades ago when my friends and I were entering motherhood, we were jubilant about the babies we had. I have friends who were very successful professionals, like economists, teachers, journalists, engineers and management personnel, and opted to be full time mothers. For most of us, mothering meant a better future for our children. We were lucky to be married to men who supported our decision. Maybe, we would have been monetarily better off if we worked and had careers full time. But does money make love grow?

Does money make children grow?

To an extent money is necessary to put your children through a good education and a good life. But ‘how much’ is what parents get to define. How much money does fulfil your child’s needs and how much is used to fulfil your own needs? Do you need the kind of money and fame Bill Gates has to bring up a child well? As a parent, one has to put a hold on ones needs and discipline oneself before one starts to discipline a child.

My learning as a parent has been immense. My children have been my true educators. I found that I learnt to control my temper because my children were upset every time I got angry and shouted. They felt they did not want to see me demean myself. I have learnt to restrain my temper to some extent. They also taught me to be above biases. If I exhibited biases and made any statements that reeked of race, religion or nationality, they would be at my throat. Two huge learnings as an adult and for which, I am truly grateful to my two young men.

I had discovered parents need to work as a team through first hand experiences as a child. Otherwise, the child gets torn between the two. And it has served me well in my years as a parent. Though, I had a funny experience based on this learning. We had told my four-year-old son that his father’s word was the law in our home. One day he asked me,  “When can I be a father?” I asked him why he wanted to be a father that early in life, and he replied, “Because fathers are most powerful.” Of course, there will be those who will refer to biases created about male domination but, to me, it was an effective tool for enforcing rules. As parents, one really needs to transcend the male- female battle. You could have mom laying the rules. In our home, daddy laid the laws after discussions with mamma; mamma and son followed the law. But the ultimate decision was basically based on our child’s welfare needs. It was easier this way because daddy was working and not around to discuss the rules with the child. Persuasions by the young gentlemen were pointless. Whereas mummy was always around and, therefore, more open to persuasion.

We also discovered as parents we had to do what we wanted our children to do or emulate. I learnt that my children loved to ape my husband or me. After all we are from the extended ape family! One day, my sons pointed out to me that as my husband and I had a sedentary life style, it was unfair to expect the two them to be into sports and have an active lifestyle. We tried to be more active after that but it was already too late, I felt. I have an Italian friend who wanted her sons to avoid fizzy drinks, sugared juices and alcohol! So, she and her spouse took to drinking only water at mealtimes. If you want teetotaler children, perhaps you need to lead by example…My friend firmly believed children learn by example, not by advice.

In my years as a mother bringing up her children in varied cultures and countries, every now and then a parent in my children’s schools would ask me, “ How is it your child loves to read and study on his own?” I would respond by shrugging and smiling to be polite and to avoid sounding didactic. But the reality was we tried to create an atmosphere conducive for studying and dreaming. And believe me the dreaming and playing part is very important. It develops the child’s ability to think for himself or herself, to learn by themselves. If you have tutored play, it develops a child’s ability to follow instructions but not his ability to think. Some amount of both is necessary.

To create an atmosphere conducive to studying, we read ourselves at home. We stayed home on weekends. Luckily, we all love reading and dreaming. We held ourselves responsible for what our children did, critiqued our own parenting and made sure that the environment at home was relaxed and happy. Working and studying were not relegated as chores to be completed but as a way of life to be enjoyed, a part of relaxation. This was something my helper could not be asked to do. We also stayed more at home to do things we liked. When we did travel once or twice a year, it was with children and most of the time, we tried to include activities of their interest.

Our children today do refer to us as supportive parents… to me that is a big praise. Of course in their more fun filled moments, they remind me that my personality type matches that of Hitler! But, I take it that they can make the comparison only because   they feel free with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To tweet or not to tweet…

Earlier, when one spoke of tweets, one thought of colorful little birds frolicking on trees, gardens, flowers and nature. One visualized flowing rivers and meadows and picnics and walks…

Now when one talks of tweets, one thinks of Donald Trump, blue eye shadow and “ A Merry Christmas but a Happy New Year”. Social media has reduced the twittering of birds to twittering of words across electronic devices to connect or disconnect minds, great or small across the oceans and into the jungle of cities, wherever Internet has cast its intricate web.

I have never taken to tweeting because, one, I am not a bird and with my enormous weight cannot be mistaken for one. Also, I have a passion for words… many words not a few. I believe tweet was earlier limited to 140 characters. Last year, it was doubled to 280! Such succinct conversations leave the wordy speechless!

Talking of speechlessness, Instagram has altogether done away with words… unless it is the speech in videos. It was started to share photographs by what I have understood less than a decade ago. Last year, it stretched its limits to a ten-minute video. Again despite appreciating good photography, I have not had the pleasure of experimenting with this mode of social media. Many, I believe, cannot live without these… I still breath, eat and live happily.

And then there is of course the grandparent of all social media, Mark Zuckerburg’s baby, Facebook, which started in 2004 as a way to connect Harvard students. Fourteen years down the line, as of January 2018, it had 2.2 billion active users! The world population is 7.5 billion, of these some may not be able to read and some may have eluded the web woven by social media altogether as they might be living in areas beyond the reaches of internet transmission and hence have become non users of social media. Of course, there are certain adamant non-users who refuse to use social media despite having access to the internet. Some of my closest friends belong to this category, I discovered.

However, I joined the cadres of Facebook users to keep in touch with old schoolmates. That happened and more. Facebook keeps updating itself! There are some updates, which came as unwelcome surprises. One day, as one scrolled through the Facebook on ones mobiles, videos sprung to life. Imagine, how embarrassing it would have been if in the middle of a speech to keep oneself awake, one scrolled on the Facebook and it voiced out a puppy barking or a person singing or an advertisement for slimming pills or green coffee! People would turn around and stare. Of course one could have the alternative of turning your phone to silent and reducing the voice level to zero… but these are things that one thinks of in afterthought. Now, I know you can change settings so that the video does not start singing in the middle of a speech.

Then, there are those who regard the Facebook as a substitute for newspapers of the juicier kind… sometimes a new thing called ‘ fake news’ (a triumphing Trumpian term popularized by the current media) finds it’s way to the heart of Zuckerberg’s baby. Sometimes, people post content that one would rather not see… political rallies, violence, pictures of diseases, partisan information, hate videos… one can report them but why would you want to see them in the first place? A disconnect from negativity does help one’s peace of mind. Why would people share pictures of a diseased body or a malnourished child or a dog crushed by a car or a prejudiced, partisan banner or poster or video?

To maintain my peace of mind, I prefer taking a walk, reading, talking, playing a game of Sudoku or Scrabble now to surfing the Facebook. I have become vary of posts that create a sense of disharmony.

Then there are posts by women whose posed pictures on Facebook could put Elizabeth Taylor or Meena Kumari, two most beautiful actresses, to shame. That makes me wonder… how beautiful are we on the outside and inside? Is it enough to look beautiful in a picture? Some Facebook users have taken to sharing their children’s outstanding results in exams… perhaps for blessings from their friends but what about those whose kids or who themselves have not aced in exams? Perhaps, the FB posts by now would have desensitized them and helped them reconcile to a more philosophical approach.

Of late, Facebook seems to be evolving a life of it’s own! Not only has it opted to choose to turn on videos if you do not change your settings or suggest posts and FB friendship birthday videos (a concept that did not exist back in the good old Facebookless days), it also has taken to deciding firmly what photographs it will publish with your post. A blog with pictures linked to FB does not have the option of choosing which visual can go with the post. Facebook with it’s own mind decides on the picture. Even if the blogger wants to highlight another visual, Facebook in it’s unique style, decides what is good for the blog! This does sometimes cause distress among bloggers… but they are fewer in number than the majority and therefore not important.

While social media has taken over socializing across a coffee table, people in a metro, a party or a bus no longer chat. They sit with eyes glued to their devices, chatting only on social media or scrolling the Facebook and distributing their emotions online with emojis( which some fear will affect the use of language), likes, loves and hates!

Are we moving towards an impending reality of isolated existence? Will Asimov’s Solaris become a reality where there is no human interaction but only interaction through screens under robotic supervision and tweeting in dictionaries will first highlight social media and somewhere down the line, an archaic usage for bird calls…?

 

 

 

 

Sleep, Sleep…

IMG_0246March 16 th 2018 was declared World Sleep Day.

This could have been the day when Kumbhakarna of the Ramayana and Rip Van Winkle of the Sleepy Hollow might have been eulogized as role models had the movement started a couple of hundred years ago.

But the movement took off only in 2008.

Through this day, awareness for the necessity of sleep in our lives is said to be raised. Essays and papers have to be written beforehand. There might have been some whose nightly slumbers were interrupted due to the cogitations they faced while writing papers on sleep but they could not dose or indulge in what they wanted to recommend for others, as then their thesis would have gone unrecorded. My take on sleep has been written after a good night of somnambulant ramblings. I believe sleep deprivation has become a modern day syndrome because we have always regarded Kumbhakarna and Rip Van Winkle as eccentric personalities.

The thing to do now is to idolize these two characters.

If you fancy being Kumbhakarna, this is what you start doing. You sleep and you sleep…. but you cannot snore like he did because if you snore while sleeping, it is considered unhealthy. Perhaps a series of conferences to discuss how to sleep without snoring will be held soon. And then, a course to teach you to sleep without the interruption of snores will be started. Somebody posted on Facebook that three different kind of snores were being researched and the third one was life threatening. So, you could die snoring … perhaps they will harness the power of the deadly snore as a weapon eventually for wars between different powers, the little “guys” who like to shoot missiles hither and thither in playful abandon and the “not-so- fake” politicians who can press a button and annihilate a city between spoonfuls of chocolate cake with visiting dignitaries.

In my childhood, I had heard stories of Kumbhakarna’s snores while he slept. However, none of his snores were described as deadly but his appetite was! He was said to devour humankind by the dozens when he woke up from his six month long slumber, much like weapons do mankind. If you idolize Kumbhakarna, you can sleep for six months in a year and wake up when elephant hordes rumble over you. Outwitted by Saraswati, the goddess of learning and wisdom, Kumbhakarna asked Brahma the creator to grant him sleep instead of the ability to destroy the devas or the gods from Indian mythology. Perhaps he was wiser than we think… maybe he had the foresight to see that in the future mankind would suffer from sleep deprivation and he was not really tricked but actually, it was he who conned Indra, the king of the devas, and Swaraswati into thinking he had been outwitted! Kumbhakarna knew his day would come… and, perhaps, that is why the 32 nd highest peak in the world has been named after him. It lies in the vicinity of the Kanchenjunga. And is not an easy climb…

If, however, you want to follow in the footsteps of Rip Van Winkle, you need to sleep longer. He slept through the whole American Revolution under the influence of faerie liquor. To sleep through a whole revolution and beyond, for two whole decades without snoring (no one has said good old Rip was given to snoring), is a skill that victims of current day crisis would do well to imbibe. Maybe, if the victims who succumbed to bomb violence had slept peacefully without snoring all the while, they could not have been victimized, be it in towers, homes or villages. Of course, given the current invasive weaponry, they would have had to conduct their somnambulant venture inside a bomb shelter! However, they might have evaded all the controversy, displacement and violence and be still living as was good old Rip was in the Catskill mountain by the Sleepy Hollow. That time there was no weaponry to annihilate people by pressing buttons, shooting missiles and jumping with glee.

To celebrate their greatness we now we need to build monuments to these two giants, the two super sleepers. Hopefully, the construction of these will not start another raging controversy among adherents of the two different legendary sleepers.

The other thing that concerns me is the fate of one of my favorite songs…

 

“ Sleep, sleep! I couldn’t sleep tonight

   Not for all the jewels in the crown…”

 

This song sung by the lovely Eliza Doolittle in My Fair lady of Hollywood make would perhaps have to belong to the restricted section of an audio library! Or, maybe, the lyrics could be altered from

 

“ I could have danced all night”

 

to

 

“ I could have slept all night…”

 

Or, could it be, horror of horrors, banned forever?