Monday, September 11, 2017

The Horror that was 9/11

I was nearly 10 years old when I noticed the hushed tones of my parents and grandparents. They were glued to the televised news. A plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.

My grandmother was frantically calling my uncle to inquire whether he was fine. Relatives were telling that they were safe. One of them had a meeting scheduled for later, a meeting that never took place. The towering structures were no more by that time.

By some childish curiosity and horror, I was watching the news silently. When the second plane hit the other tower, I yelped in surprise. It was a dark, obsessive compulsion to keep watching. As the flames spread, there was something in me praying for a miracle. At that age, I didn't have a notion of countries or any division. They were people trapped in a collapsing fiery nightmare. And that unsettled me immensely. When the first tower crashed, I was hoping, praying, somehow that the other one would be miraculously saved.

News started pouring in, of innumerable brave stories, of near escapes and tragic encounters. The story of Flight 93 was so touching, so brave and so unfathomable. Just like the story of Neerja, so many real people sacrificed themselves to save others.It was the first time I had heard the word "terrorism". At that moment, it had succeeded. It filled the ten year old, hundreds of miles away, with fear. I devoured any information related to it.  One distinct memory I have is the haunting image of steel scraps bent beyond measure.

We live in a world which is under siege by many natural disasters - and we seem to be creating more devastating ones by our apathy to climate change. In spite of all this, human beings are deadly. Any form of hatred or violence stems from resentment. Resentment from inequality, resentment from mistreatment - both real and perceived. If we spent less time filling heads with facts and figures and more time in empathy, friendship, love, compassion, humility and the ability to differ and still respect people genuinely - perhaps we'd have better peers, parents, teachers, society and governance. The world is so rich that there should be no poverty and we have enough food that there ought not to be hunger. Yet, power and privilege rule today's capitalist society.

This was just a general comment. What can I personally do? Try and be a little more empathetic and add to the love in the world. All is not lost. There are countless compassionate souls working for the betterment of society. News, unfortunately, is associated with things that went wrong that we do not know the good deeds done by others. Yet we know the latest controversy, suicide, murder, attack and all other macabre things happening.

With Gandhiji's birthday coming up, I am reminded of what he said - the heart that can be taught to hate, can be taught to love much more readily. I've paraphrased it. If I Googled it, it would become yet another "statement of purpose" I helped write ;)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

All About Teachers

Today is 5th September - traditionally celebrated as Teacher's Day in India. We cut a cake in our lab and that pushed me off the precipice and plunged me into pleasant memories.

Our first teachers are our parents. It's from them we learn language, life skills and even learning. I'm blessed to have had parents who never tired of my curiosity nor did they snuff it out.

I was also extremely fortunate to have wonderful teachers throughout my school life. It would be a grave injustice to any of them if I started naming them, because there were so many. For me, marks were a consequence of my thirst for knowledge. It was much later that I realized the flaws of the education system and how much of rote learning existed. My style of learning is such that I take a very long time to understand a particular concept but once I do, I do not forget the basis of it. Every student has a particular bias towards learning - some are visual learners, some are auditory, some are kinaesthetic, some are a combination of all the three and the best teachers have something for everyone.

Flashes of few memories do beg for my attention. There was a teacher in my fifth grade who assigned me to take tuition for a boy. She would let me not pay attention in class and prepare notes and questions for him. When he got full marks, I was the happiest sun beam on this planet. My mother would applaud my will power when I wrote exams through asthma attacks. It taught me a certain amount of grit. A cheeky disproving of my parents' understanding of eclipses are caused by shadows also resurfaces. I loved every subject from history to physics. That was only possible because I studied under teachers who taught us as stories and not as things we had to remember. In some sense, the story teller emerged as an amalgam of my experiences with my teachers. A teacher helped me overcome my stage fear by pushing me on stage at every conceivable opportunity. Ironically, a teacher's insult of my English catapulted my language skills into another realm and I thank her from the bottom of my heart as well. A teacher really close to my heart dragged me from the depth of depression and made me achieve my dreams.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher. Initially it was because I knew only three careers - engineer, doctor, teacher. A doctor seemed too demanding. An engineer seemed too boring. A teacher seemed exciting. As I grew up, I became more convinced I wanted to be a teacher. For me, it began with clearing doubts. I have seen some glimpses of hope that I may be a good teacher - I won a 'be a prof' event in college, I have dabbled in a few YouTube videos, I have been a teaching assistant with so much of soul satisfaction. I come from a family of teachers on both my mother's and my father's side, so I hope there is some genetic help as well. At the outset I did not realise it, but a teacher's job is as responsibly and morally demanding as that of a doctor. A doctor may save your life but a teacher teaches you to live it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Period Leave Debate

So as I start typing this blog, my mind is going -
Do you really want to type this out? What will "aunty" say?

Well I've disappointed many aunties in my life, so no harm done I say :D

The case: There have been many discussions going round on social media about a period leave policy which basically states that a woman can optionally take a day off on the first day of her period.

For: First of all, it's nice that nobody is sweeping discussions around menstruation under the carpet and talking openly. Secondly, for many women, the first day of the period is notoriously uncomfortable. It is nice to give them a dignified holiday, rather than forcing them to take a sick leave. This is because you are acknowledging that the woman is healthy and that it is her time of maintenance.

Against: Women have fought to fight in armies. They have come a long way in their fight to equality. Why should they need some frilly privileges about an obscure discomfort that happens so rarely? Doesn't it make a woman appear weaker in comparison to a man? It is already hard for a woman to get a job - she is judged whether she is married, pregnant, will have children, has small children. Why do we need to add a corporate HR approved reason?

I am for the leave policy. Even if I were to rationally put aside the fact that I would be a beneficiary, I find it to be a good idea. There are two categories of reasons why people oppose it - one is the fear of losing opportunities and the second is ignorance.

As mentioned, a woman gets into the workforce after a lot of preconceived notions that may be acted upon. So rest assured, that the woman who stays will be an ambitious one - an asset to the company. The leave will be optional - she would not leave a meeting for this. But on a lean day, she may prefer the rest. 12 days a year is 24 half days. For all you know, women might be using their sick days for this alone. Hence, as an astute company looking for pure talent will not lose out. In fact, by letting your ladies have the option of resting, they would be much more efficient the remaining days.

Ignorance is that many people do not know how debilitating it is for a large chunk of women. As it is considered shameful to talk about periods, talking about pain is a bigger taboo. It is supposed to be hidden, non-existent - so how will anyone - even other women - know what some healthy women suffer during their periods?

At the bare implementation level, I really don't care if this policy comes through or not. In terms of benefits, I might as well use my sick leave. I've met women who bring their baby to a meeting and everyone agrees because they are indispensable. I believe men and women are different but men and women are equal. Both of them perform tasks differently - there is no right or wrong way. There are countless number of women who have broken the glass ceiling. This policy is not going to make a difference. But it is encouraging to note that people are talking about this vocally.

I do not think this provision makes a woman appear weak. For the well trained mind - a day of rest during a period gives time for a woman to re-equip herself. Don't you think we ought to give her that choice considering it is but a small down time for a system that is responsible for significantly perpetuating the human race?



Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Price of Perfection

It's no big secret that I am a perfectionist. I'm driven by results and I'm stubborn until I get it. I get complimented many a times for being a dedicated and hard-working person.

But is perfectionism good?

To answer this question, I felt it is pertinent to analyse the reasons that watered this certain characteristic in me. I feel our education system has made me ruthlessly competitive. Over the years, the social approval that came associated with academic success fueled my desire to study hard. I enjoyed the process and everything was rosy and nice.

However this came with its drawbacks that I have been noticing only lately. This attitude came with subtle messages that I did not realize even existed. It has sowed tendrils of doubt and a deep fear of failure. I treated failure as an obstacle that is to be quickly crossed by redoubling effort. It had strongly bound my happiness to quantifiable success. If not quantifiable, at least by the approval of others.

There came a moment in my life where the Universe I carefully constructed with hard work came crashing down like a pack of cards. The societal approval disappeared, the results evaporated and all my efforts were in vain. I could feel the haunting fear in the pit of my tummy that failure was imminent. I increased my efforts so much that it bordered on desperation. I learned later that there is some wisdom in the phrase "haste makes waste".

Soon, in every facet of my life I was facing failure, be it personal or professional. As far as the eye could see, there was only darkness. Who am I, if not for my results? What do I believe in?

I was struck by an identity crisis so clear that I felt like a bleak helpless baby once again.

Thankfully, in the 21st century, every individual has a lot of tools to help themselves. I'm grateful to my friends, family and the Internet for pulling me through. I don't see the light yet but I feel I'm getting there.

Part of the healing comes with the acceptance. This blog post is my way of accepting my flaws and working with them.

Perfectionism is not bad as such. Without it, I would not be where I am today. However, when it developed low self-esteem and the craving for validation due to external mismatches of expectation, it became a monster that devoured me.

So next time I see failure approaching me, I will not bulldoze it with hard work. I will face it, bite the bullet and learn from it. My life is not a statistic. When life is firing cannon balls at me, it's better to build an armour of self love than let it batter my soul.

Dedicated to every lip biting perfectionist out there - you are enough :)


Monday, February 20, 2017

For the Love of Me

"What is emotional branding?", the voice of the instructor thundered across the class. The glint of her immaculately starched saree in the brightly lit room caught Lavanya's eye. "What an oxymoron", she thought. How could marketing ever be emotional? There is no ethics in business. A business exists to sell itself. A detached voice describing something "emotional" in an austere manner did nothing to impress her about the topic.

As this seemed to be the buzz in marketing, she thought she should take her training seriously. But her scepticism got the better of her. How can one be forced to be emotional to cater to making money? This form of marketing seemed to rely on poetry that cannot be commanded.

Lavanya's position in the company wasn't great and she knew it. She had to pull off the hair-oil commercial as soon and as effectively as possible. What could make her pitch stand out?

There are few typical ads that the brand already had - the dramatic visualisation of hair and the promise of spectacular results(with appropriate disclaimers in fine text as well). What could she possibly do to impress them? What would make their brand linger?

She contemplated stressing on the the minimal use of chemicals. Perhaps that would appeal to a wider audience.

As these thoughts had strayed into Lavanya's mind, the instructor was sternly looking at her, though she was oblivious to it. After a few goosebumps, Lavanya jumped out of her reverie and pretended to take notes.

After the session, she stepped out of her glass prison for a break. She hated her work. She was tired of failing every pitch. As she walked into the canteen, she was flooded with offers for Valentine's day. As if she needed anything else to ruin her day! Married to a job she did not love, she had no time for relationships.

She moodily bought her food and sat alone in a corner. In this consumerist era, how could she pitch an ad that connected with someone? She herself was so irritable that it seemed impossible that she had the capacity to make any other person happy, let alone millions of viewers.

A curl of hair fell on the table. No matter how disconnected she was with fashion, hair was her weakness. If at all anyone can pitch an ad for hair oil, it had to be her. When she was a child, her biggest nightmare was to wake up with no hair.

Perhaps it was the nourishment that was firing her brain cells. She thought about how superficial society had made her feel about hair. The fact that the loss of hair was something mortifying seemed laughable logically.

She finished her solitary meal and walked to the wash-basins. As she caught herself in the mirror, she couldn't help sighing at the sight of her new hair-cut. It was supposed to give her confidence but it changed nothing about how she felt about herself.

Confidence. There is so much of beauty in confidence and self-love. She had grown old with fear and disappointment. What would she not do to be the happy and cheerful person she was a few months ago?

Confidence. For centuries, women have been sold upon the idea that looks equal confidence. Lavanya knew that wasn't true. How could she use her ad to make someone feel confident?

And suddenly, the story line for the ad came in one glorious moment of inspiration. What if she confronted her fears, took away the superficial and came up with an idea that oozed with confidence? What if someone could feel good and hopeful seeing her ad? She was nervous about the idea but she felt some inkling of hope. She started liking herself more for coming up with the idea.

Thus, she came up with an ad about a cancer survivor who returns to work, bald and proud. Her own insecurities helped her come up with an endearing screenplay that helped her win the pitch. It helped her regain her confidence little by little and love what she does to the best of her conscience. So this Valentine's day, she realised she has begun falling in love again - with herself!

***

This post was written for Chennai Bloggers Club February Contest in association with woodooz and Indian Superheroes. I was paired with marketing tech professional - Subhashini who wrote the technical details of marketing here. Go watch the ads there! 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Story of how I Began Cooking

I find someone's views on cooking to be the litmus test of whether I can see eye-to-eye with a person or not. For example, a very good friend of mine commented that he found it odd that a group of female room-mates had a cook. I was speechless. I'm not going to bother arguing that statement because what is wrong with that is absolutely apparent. So every time some one asks me whether I know how to cook, I always say no because it makes the conversation much more interesting :)

I contemplated long and hard whether to write this post :P

I was addicted to packet soups and noodles. Nearly every day I used to have them. Obviously, that did not bode well with my health. I developed a stone in each kidney when I was 21.

After that, there was a blanket ban on any of these "instant" items.

But, winter was coming.

I tried. I made do with rasam for a while. Sometimes, just hot water. But I was an addict. I was having withdrawal symptoms. Something had to be done fast :P

So, I swallowed my pride. And I asked my mother to make a soup from scratch.

This led to an hour long monologue where my ungratefulness over two decades was stressed. It ended with the usual statement referring to the fact that my age is that of four donkeys.

With no other option left, I wrestled my ego and placed my right foot inside the kitchen. With a smart-phone connected to YouTube, I attempted to make an onion soup.

The searches were so contrived.

Chop onions finely.
How to chop onions finely?
Saute onions till translucent.
What does saute mean?

After half an hour, I tested it on my family for possible poisoning. To my complete amazement, they liked it. Or at least pretended to. I started dusting the china at home and taking out soup bowls that my parents hadn't used since their wedding.

Then, there has been no turning back. Soups, pastas, appetisers and anything I don't get at home were experimented and burnt and re-attempted and arranged beautifully for photos on Instagram.

Because that's what's important isn't it?

In conclusion, cooking isn't a big deal. The trick is in the recipe. There is no magic secret that you need to know. If you love to eat, you'll love to cook as well :)

This post was inspired by my weekend experiment to make potato chips at home.



P.S. To those of the unlikely people interested in the recipe that's available everywhere on the Internet, you cut potatoes very thinly, keep them in water for at least half an hour and then dry them thoroughly and fry. I microwaved them.