Monday, March 21, 2016

Go by your instinct and wisdom, and do not regret your decision...ever

Go by your instinct and wisdom, and do not regret your decision! You don't have to!

When there is all this talk of woman and her family or her job etc, I wonder how the child is taking it all. During one such conversation with my spouse much after I had left paid work, suddenly one day my teenage son said "Ma, most of the time the working mom does not know what is going on in the child's mind." He may be right, he may be wrong. One shouldn't generalize. For his case, when I had to dump him in a creche that he didn't like going to and later with grandparents he couldn't relate to and the two of us could spend only some time together, he had every right to feel confused and get upset. Just as he grew more independent and strong outwardly, he became more emotionally insecure and less empathetic, which only I was aware of, and maybe his teachers too who couldn’t say it upfront (I realized much later).

But then, there are cases, where the child takes to such arrangements like a fish takes to water, maybe because the child is very adjusting or inherently indifferent to such changes in her immediate environment (when the mom returns to full-time work) or maybe because the people she has been kept in company with are very understanding type and the environment is conducive to the child's growth. There are families where the mom is at home, but there is not enough communication between child and mom. So, we can never generalize. There are families where the sheer involvement of the mom is helping the child blossom consistently. And there are families where the mom’s absence during the day is wreaking havoc in the child’s life. Just as every child is different, every family is different.

When I saw things were not working out at all for the two of us, I quit paid work and now I'm glad I did it. Yes, I spent years feeling guilty of having saddened my mom, who had been very ambitious about me. When I found myself alone staring back at myself instead of poring over a computer screen in an air-conditioned office cubicle, I allowed time to teach me to take care of myself during those hours through extensive reading, writing and voluntary counselling to individuals. Of course, I still miss the handsome pay packet sometimes, particularly when the expenses shoot up for the kids’ education. I am also aware that I am at the bedside when any of my kids falls sick - I don't have to feel guilty for taking sudden leave from office when my team is slogging away or for not being there at home because a deadline has to be met at my workplace.

As Indra Nooyi famously said, one can't have it all.
If a woman strongly feels she must work, she should, else she won't be a happy mom. Similarly if a woman feels she should stay at home, she shouldn't be criticized or looked down upon. After all, her efforts are going to help create a better nation. When we accord respect to teachers for their noble work of helping children realize their potential, why do we forget the mom who is making it a bit easy for the teacher who has to work on many more children? Money is definitely very important nowadays, but does that have to overshadow everything, even when the child is continuously suffering? I’m told by a friend who runs a playschool and a creche that kids as young as eight and nine years old are victims of depression because they don’t get the mom’s company as much as they need! As a counsellor, I feel in such cases, the mom needs to pause and reflect over it all, while also involving her spouse and her extended family in it. Often, a stitch in time saves nine.

A woman is truly independent when she can take a decision after weighing the pros and cons and she is not under any compulsion and can silence a critic with polite but firm words. She also needs to be prepared for the consequences. A working mom will have to silence her urges to be with her child even when the child needs her badly and she can't be with him owing to demands of her job. A stay-at-home mom has to manage with a very tight budget. When a working mom turns into a stay-at-home mom, she has her reasons and the same is true the other way round too. A wise woman takes decisions as per the circumstances. And then she does not have to keep convincing herself or well-meaning relatives and friends what she decided is right. Sometimes I feel the media becomes too interfering in these matters.

The fact remains that time doesn't come back and we can't undo our actions. Just keep the consequences of your decision in mind. So, go do what your instinct and your wisdom tell you to do. And don’t regret it. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Don’t let strangers or anybody for that matter sympathize with you. At any point, if circumstances change and you need to rework on your decision, so be it. Because a woman has to think of so many different things before taking a decision, let us be kinder to women. Let us not put down any of them. Rather, embolden them more with a word of encouragement when you know that she is going by her instinct and wisdom and not by what society or relatives expect from her.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

When it rained dry leaves....

Leaves lose their green...dry leaves leaves spring up...and new thoughts flood me...

The tea-kettle had kept me busy in the kitchen. I walked down to the balcony with my steaming cup of tea to give a few hints for some tough math problems to my daughter who was poring over her work-book on her study table. A sudden rustling sound prompted me to look outside. It was raining leaves – dry leaves. And all very abruptly the moment of realization came. 

Here I was, a neighbour of three trees that have given me company during my lonely hours in the day when the kids are away since the time I quit my corporate job. Always enjoying the cooling effect and the beauty of the green foliage they have been adorned with, I had taken them for granted for years. Today, they stood magnificently, glowing with an entirely different kind of beauty. A significant part of each of them had almost lost its green attire as a mix of brown, yellow and orange draped it. The other part of each was close to bare, with only a few brown leaves hanging delicately, ready to be blown away by the next gust of wind. A few completely bare branches waved as a light breeze again shook a bunch of dry leaves off another few.

As the trees kept changing their look with every gust of wind, I stood still, marvelling at the beauty of the rain of dry leaves and the multi-coloured look of the trees, all the while wondering how I could have been blind to this all. My eyes wandered from one branch to another when they stopped at one that went high up and far away from its trunk. Tiny, new reddish leaves sat at its tip, soaking in the golden sunshine. When had those new lives sprung up?

When you admire sunshine, would the sky be left behind? The oh-so-blue spring sky peered down at me with all its grandeur as a few white clouds sailed by. Another shower of fluttering dry leaves brought me out of my reverie. A tiny dry leaf was slowly dancing its way down to the carpet of dry leaves rich with many hues. The last few green leaves shook merrily when I suddenly felt a tug at my heart. I am one of those green leaves basking in the sunshine of love of my family and a few friends, all the while enjoying the wind of changes and transformations in and around me. A time will arrive when old age will shake me off the ‘tree’ of life. Shall I dance or limp my way to a world not known to any yet? The trees have been my companions for long. Their leaves have gifted me with joy and happiness for long. Before I bid farewell to this beautiful world, will I have given happiness generously to my loved ones just like those leaves have?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

New mothers around the world deserve a decently long paid leave from work

New mothers around the world deserve a decently long paid leave from work - it is for the sake of the well-being of the society as a whole, not for the new mothers and their young kids alone.

This link (How America fails new parents and their babies) to a Tedweb talk argues that the paid maternity leave to new moms in America is very short.

The scenario is not very rosy In India either. I was of course lucky to have got longer paid maternity leave than what is mentioned in the video. But with no facility of creche-at-workplace, I could not continue and quit soon. When I went back to work, this break did not go down well with my new employer (ambitious women NEVER do that "mistake" because they know going back after a break is an uphill task) and I had no salary negotiation power obviously. There were two kinds of guilt I suffered from during those days - the guilt of having had left work for two years (it didn't help that my new employer and my parents, relatives and friends silently ridiculed me for that) and the guilt of dumping my little son in a  creche with no warm-up period for getting himself acclimatized to the new environment. No wonder he changed overnight and was seldom understood by caregivers. It was a fight with my emotions and feelings of guilt that I fought alone. Sadly, the world neither listened nor empathized.

Many a time the media projects a working woman who has worked her way up in the organization, after having sacrificed many joyful family moments, as a strong personality. This has slowly but surely changed societal attitude towards women who have reluctantly quit jobs because things were not working out at all for them owing to scant or no support system for decent childcare even after their valiant efforts. They are taken as faint-hearted or unambitious or over-attached to their kids (ironically even by many working women). The aftermath of it is that such women blame themselves for no offence they have committed and also that many women who have hung on to their jobs after attaining motherhood have quickly silenced their strong urge to speak up and ask for a decent period of paid maternity leave from the employer, all along convincing themselves that it is a good thing that they are not being sentimental and that they need to continue to be strong.

The need of the hour is - understanding and cooperative employers. Women too need to recognise the emotional trauma they are going through. They need not put up a brave face when they are actually crying inside. They need not go around telling themselves and making the world believe that everything is almost fine at home-front and will soon be fine. They need to know the psychological damage quietly occurring to themselves and their young, vulnerable kids. Working women turning mothers need to speak up boldly without any feeling of guilt about the turmoil going on in their  minds. They need to tell openly that they deserve a longer paid break from work to bond with their young kids who are the future of the country. For this they need not feel that they are asking for a favour.

The world is changing. Higher the emotional quotient the better the person fares at workplace. And for that, the person himself or herself should have enjoyed a stable and secure infancy in the relaxed company of an empathetic mother with loads of time to share with her kid and with no tensions from thoughts of how to bring back financial stability to the family or equally disturbing thoughts of how soon she can join the workforce again with a decent salary without getting significantly exploited for having taken a break for her young kid.

Quit job or not, women have proved time and again that they are strong, much stronger than they are believed to be. 
A woman who does not quit a job is strong enough to face her tough boss and work through the day even after a sleepless night next to the infant. 
A woman who has quit her job is strong enough to do many chores at home even after spending long hours on demanding and stressful childcare through the day and night as well as face the silent ridicule of friends and family and ex-colleagues for having kicked a job because she believes that bonding with the infant does matter a lot which she is going to cherish decades later. 

It is time women stood up for themselves and pointed out the true picture to the society.
It is time women who have not suffered because they have reasonably good support system (parents/parents-in-law/dependable nanny/excellent creche) for satisfactory childcare empathized with each of those women who have suffered and are suffering (either by quitting great jobs or by being forced to ignore certain emotional needs of a young child because of stressful, long-hours jobs they continue with).

It is time men stirred in their cosy office chairs and thought about this.

It is time employers (men and women) listened and did something.

Women who have suffered with their kids and have managed to be still there at the workplace and have broken the glass ceiling could bring this burning issue to the table and get it sorted out. They probably wouldn't like their daughters to go through all that hell that they themselves or many of their colleagues long back had gone through.

Is anybody listening?

Women! Go, get inspired here...40 Years After Women Went on Strike in Iceland, Here's What Gender Equality Looks Like

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

To give time when the child needs it and wants it is not so easy after all

It is a very personal quit or to not quit a job when the baby arrives.

For some parents, the company of the child matters more than the paychecks [and the rewards (freedom and glory) associated with it], though the latter is definitely something important to them, particularly to women who have toiled and worked their way up in the workplace. It is just that they would miss being there for their children when the kids need them emotionally if they (usually moms) continued with their jobs. They would miss it more than the paychecks. They had to make that tough choice because both were impossible to attain at the same time. They also know that focused attention to the child during the week-ends cannot usually make up for the time they can afford to spend with the kids over the week.

Can a child be expected to wait to share her deep wounds till the time of return of her parent from the workplace? A child often does not even realize that there is someone out there whom she can turn to for that emotional support. Having said that, I'd add that a mother need not and should not solve all emotional problems faced by a child. Just the reassuring knowledge of her physical presence makes the child forget many such wounds. A relationship builds over time and it cannot be bought by gifts. Neither can it be created overnight nor can it be created through time spent with the child when the parent is free instead of when the hurt child needs the parent.

As a counselor, I have had many conversations with people. Over the years I have gathered that people who grew up missing the solid emotional support and love of a permanent family member know completely and deeply the value of it all and try their best not to let their children too miss it.

I have also seen kids who manage it well under supervision of old grandparents or nannies or the creche. Without any major hiccups, the mother rightly does not feel the need to quit her job.

Again, it is a very personal matter and I have seen many stay-at-home moms taking up long-hours jobs to tide over the depression they went through just as I have seen many working moms quitting jobs because they could not battle the guilt arising from not being there for the kids when they needed them.

The parent has the power to take decision and the child has to obviously adjust accordingly. The crucial decision to quit or not should be well-thought-of and an educated one, taken over a period of time and after some analysis of one's mind and circumstances. Whatever is the decision, the decision-maker has to face the consequences boldly and the family members too can be explained in advance. So, when a working mom ceases to be one, she has to be mentally prepared for a not-anymore-so-good lifestyle and for being dismissed by society as unambitious or complacent about life (unfortunately that is the societal attitude). A working mom  has to accept it if the child turns out to be less sensitive to others' feelings than a child who has a mother around to share her feelings with. Often, moms decide to wait and watch and keep noting the overall growth of the child without the mom around and accordingly take a decision. All children are not equally strong emotionally and cannot be expected to handle challenging situations in life with a degree of maturity that can be expected from the adult parent.

A child is the parents' responsibility first and it would be good if the parent takes an educated decision, without being swayed by pressures from society, parents, relatives, friends and media. One may well keep in mind that every child is different and so the needs too are different. Children are the future citizens. We can expect an empathetic society later with more confidence when the feelings of the children are empathized with, as much as is possible and is healthy. Most of the time, the parent can empathize most.

Decades later, the parent has to face the adult child and it would be good if the parent can do so with satisfaction and pride and not guilt.
You may also visit The Hindu's Just for kids .

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ever thought a short-cut to memorizing drab facts could exist...

A taste of a different kind of learning through Bloom's taxonomy-flavoured questions!

It was during a brief stint as a teacher in a school (I had to quit for a family emergency situation) when I had my first brush with Bloom's taxonomy. Put simply, it is a kind of thinking encouraged in certain schools in the world through skilful questioning. It helps to develop comprehending, analysing, recalling, applying, synthesizing and evaluating skills right from the early years. When these skills are routinely developed through questions flavoured with Bloom's taxonomy, learning turns into an enjoyable experience and memorizing of essential information begins to happen easily and spontaneously. Learners begin to see for themselves how a topical learning is actually being translated to real-life learning that can be implemented!

Encouraged by the responses of parents of some students and some colleagues then, much later I took time out of my busy schedule of parenting two kids and part-time voluntary counseling, and came up with this question set. If it stimulates you, you may drop a mail with your thoughts at A sample file for downloading as a .pdf document for the images too to be visible -

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Madikeri trip was an eye-opener

It had been months of captivity at home with the shackles of mid-term exams of the kids not allowing me complete peace of mind for sometime. So when it all ended and the annual festivities of Durga Puja began almost immediately, my mind, revelling in the joy of visiting puja pandals scattered across the length and breadth of Bengaluru, also pined for the refreshing calm and rejuvenating quiet that only a hill station can offer. There was sudden sickness at home and my long-held desire to run away for a weekend-long respite from the city I've been calling home for much more than a decade almost came under the threat of getting nipped. However all was well just before the long-awaited weekend arrived and a Friday morning saw us driving away towards Madikeri in Coorg district of Karnataka.

Before long we were zipping forward merrily on the highway, soaking ourselves in the special charm of a morning away from the city unfolding before four pairs of hungry eyes. The cloak of negativity recently built around me from frustration at being unable to realize where exactly my heart lay amongst a set of part-time constructive activities I have been engaged with and a series of unflattering recent experiences involving me directly and indirectly fell off from me gradually. The freshness in the air and the sunshine streaming in gently and generously acted as the perfect balm for our jaded minds and exhausted bodies. With a sumptuous, nutritious breakfast from the famous Kamat Lokaruchi in our satisfied stomachs, our car took us through cities and villages and towns and finally on the hilly road towards our destination, gifting us with long stretches of views that our thirsty eyes feasted on actively.

Oh! The temporarily-forgotten beauty of paddy and sugarcane and millets growing in fields flanking our winding path, joy of watching azure sky looking down at us and horizon of forested hills began working their charm slowly on our nerves! What is this magic hidden in these treasures that swiftly replaces the exhaustion and pessimism in the human minds with freshness, vigour and the-usually-elusive peace of mind? I assume it is because our race, uncountable years ago, originated in the forests. The sky was the roof, the trees formed the walls and the kitchen depended on forests and rivers. It is another story that, our ancestors , harassed by the unpredictable weather and threatened by wild animals, got fed up of the regular picnics and changed their way of life. To speak honestly, even now life in the hills is actually not as thrilling as it would seem to city-dwellers, what with the lack of many basic amenities and the excitement of malls and cinema that most city-dwellers cannot think of missing for long.

We had dared to travel without any advance booking but found a decent homestay in less than an hour of careful search. Tea-session over before five, we were free from having to think of our tummies till eight and so, no longer satisfied with charming view of forests through our room windows, set off on a stroll. Through narrow paths adorned with plants and trees, rich with leaves and flowers of varying sizes, shapes, colours and shades, our eager feet took us by a stream and to nerves-and-eyes-soothing stretches of vegetation that grew denser, darker and quieter by the minute. The next day was spent in driving down to Abbey Falls, watching and listening to the waterfall rapidly rushing down mammoth rocks and trudging back again to snatch a glimpse of Raja Seat.

In this three-day-two-nights trip, the icing on the cake was Mandalapatti. On the last day, after an hour-long drive that made half of our family extremely giddy and almost made us all consider giving up and returning to our temporary home, we reached a place from where only jeeps ferry people to the "best" point there for a "breathtaking view" (as the Internet said). My daughter and I, the "easily-feel-giddy-delicate-darlings", preferred to trek in the hills nearby while my son and husband took the rough ride to the "best point". So, while those two were gifted with a precious-thirty-minutes-stay loaded with awe-inspiring panoramic view from the last-accessible-hill, we two were delighted and fully contented with self-paced walk along the rough road alternating with trek on the hills rising next to us. We had the freedom to pause, absorb the beauty of the nearby hills - some carpeted with grass and some crowned with forests, and the lure of the faraway misty bluish hills, admire the beauty of never-seen-wild flowers on our way and contemplating on the changing, enthralling views.

Later, we exchanged our stories of walk-pause-relish the sight and the silence-resume walk-trek-walk AND quick-and-rough-jeep-ride-followed by -breath-taking 360 degree view from the last hill that could be reached there.
Almost simultaneously, I couldn't help but compare the 
feeling of relaxation we were immersed in during the hours we spent in the homestay, watching the forests on the rolling hills or listening to birds' calls with rapt attention AND the feeling of excitement we were awash with every time we went to a new unexplored point in Madikeri!

It was right then that this dawned on me very suddenly - this journey of life too is like this! Some of us prefer to keep galloping and some of us prefer a self-paced walk. The former love to run towards difficult-to-reach-targets while the latter enjoy walking, running, pausing, relishing every bit of this life journey, resuming the walk, sometimes sprinting, and on the whole cherishing the whole set of experiences of everyday living. 

Where does your heart lie - in the charm of sometimes-slow-sometimes-fast journey or in the thrill of arriving-fast-at-the-faraway-destination? Both have their own basket of unique gifts!

(The snaps are not in any particular order).

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bengal and Himachal in Bangalore, India in USA

A festival that was part of childhood is part of youth, part of our mid-life, now an integral part of our life – that special something that helps us recreate Bengal away from Bengal, Himachal Pradesh away from Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat away from Gujarat and so on, somewhere within India or somewhere as far as Europe or America or Australia.
Just the other evening, did you see a mother having a very late lunch at a Durga Puja pandal with her family and within a few hours biting into an egg-roll and then again a vegetable chop and also a plateful of momos and later biriyani? Well..who was she? None other than me in Koramangla. It was also another mother in BTM. And yet another mother in Whitefields. And someone in Ulsoor…Someone in Jaymahal…Someone in Sharjapur…it doesn’t end. What were all these ladies doing? Celebrating Mahashaptami of Durga Puja with their families obviously, with ‘good’ food – food that is always looked at with suspicion except during these tumultuous, chaotic, quick five days of Durga Puja when the kitchens shut down and ‘khichri’ and ‘aloo bhaja’ and ‘chutney’ taste better than the best dishes of the world and diabetic husbands get a free run. When ‘tantuja’ cotton scores over silks and when the young mother turns a blind eye to the little children missing their afternoon nap because puja-pandal-hopping becomes the priority.

The sweets (‘rasgullas’ and ‘bonday’) and ‘samosas’ have to be eaten from different stalls at the different pandals at the oddest hours. The images of Goddess Durga and her children (Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya, Ganesha) across pandals have to be offered prayers and their beauty with the innovative themes behind the pandals have to be compared and discussed! Durga Puja has been an essential part of childhood for all these Bongs and despite the years rolling on, the enthusiasm hasn’t died down. The festival celebrated with vigour during childhood brings us face to face with childhood once again with love and without a trace of regret of those years gone, because Durga Puja is something the Bongs identify themselves with. This major festival is something we link ourselves with since we grew up with it as a part of our life every year.

A festival brings back some beautiful moments before us to relish, to get nostalgic, to greet yesterday’s children as today’s youth, to realize the years have rolled by but the festival hasn’t lost its charm. The spirit of celebration slowly seeps into the children to help them relive these days after three decades when they in turn will be celebrating with their children, maybe together, or maybe over phone or maybe over the Net or who knows over what (with technology taking giant strides, anything could be possible)!

Whether it is a Bong celebrating Durga Puja, a Punjabi celebrating Lohri, a Tamil celebrating Pongal – a festival helps us remain firmly in touch with our beliefs, our culture, and the little things we grew up with, that all became part of us and no matter where we are in the world, we don’t feel rootless and find our own ways of living each day of the festival. It could be capturing the white beauty of autumn’s ‘kaash phool’ growing abundantly in far-flung Europe for sharing on Facebook with friends in India or worshipping Durga Puja in USA or freaking out on ‘samosas’ and ‘jalebies’ and ‘shondesh’ or watching dance dramas enacted on stage or listening to Rabindrasangeet sung by ladies in their fifties or tapping your feet to modern Bong songs belted out by some new band from Bengal even if the music is louder than the song, or Mahalaya songs filling the Bong home with endearing tunes or top honchos from MNCs taking off from work to serve “bhog” to the endless streams of visitors to puja-pandals.

A festival that was part of childhood is part of youth, part of our mid-life, now an integral part of our life – that special something that helps us recreate Assam away from Assam, Kerala away from Kerala, Gujarat away from Gujarat, somewhere within India or somewhere as far as Europe or America or Australia – through rituals, through traditions, through food, through greeting friends and relatives, through oblations, through prayers, through wishing and bonding. That’s how a festival runs across states, across countries, across continents and across generations. It’s something that helps us feel and stay rooted even as we grow as global citizens. It’s something the children today will imbibe as their parents did decades back and instill, in turn, into their children years later.

A festival is a parent – a balm to the stressed-out mind, the link between childhood and the rest of the life - as it helps the present to bond with the past. It is a strong thread that binds me with my grandparents who raised me and parents too and would bind me with my children. 

Years into future, when my children could be in far-flung places, it is a festival that would ring the bells and would prompt us to get in touch. It is a festival that would help them get in touch with their roots, even if for a day. And it is a festival again that would bring their childhood back to them once again, year after year. The memories would bring tears of joy and nostalgia - happiness and sweet sadness. It would be a mix of rays and rains.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

At a Rehab Centre - Why do they throw away a life that was going hunky-dory?

When one life begins to change, there are other lives too entwined with it that change. 
There could be a distressed mother waiting for her only son to give up drugs and substance and take charge of life. There could be a distraught father in his twilight years hoping his alcoholic son would again rise from the well of despair and bring stability and warmth to his life.
Let us not turn away disapprovingly from someone just getting up on his feet again after valiant efforts. Let us create a positive-thinking full-of-optimism society.
For some parent, when it keeps 'raining', a warm, encouraging smile from us when the adult child 'rises' from a life of nothingness and despair, could be the 'ray' of hope.

The first part of this series appears at A basketful of experiences at a rehab.

Most of the time an addict is conscious of his folly and yearns to return to his previous way of life. In the regular group counseling sessions at the rehab centre I visit now and then, I’ve come face to face with facts that are as much startling as they are thought-provoking.

A score of us sat in a circle in the dormitory. It was the routine group counseling session that happens every day of the 365 days of the year. A young twenty-something surprisingly shared very matter-of-factly how he is assured of a life of “a bed of roses”, of course only if he allowed his love for alcohol to be replaced by love for work. His father, a rich, successful builder has chalked out everything for his son to follow and flourish. The young man knew if he didn’t mend his ways soon, his would be a from-riches-to-rags story. His voice had the desire to become “clean” and a tinge of helplessness. A nice guy from a nice family, his good manners from a good upbringing showed in the sessions.  A silent struggle raged on inside him as he couldn’t nail any event or anybody as a pretext for having fallen victim to alcohol. He wasn’t keen to know when he would be allowed out of the rehab. Nor was he sure about how much self-control he would have then to be at an arm’s length from liquor bars. It’s because even a single visit to the liquor bar would mean going-back-to-square-one. With a decent education behind him he knew the chilling truth that life doesn’t give chances indefinitely to an idler and that time was running out.

It was a group counseling session and I talked about transformation. What was over was gone, and was no longer in our hands. Instead of mulling over the past, each one of us has the power deep inside to stop looking back and be fiercely determined to stay positive and do something constructive with our life. Having an ambition is a healthy sign, but let that not lead to a great hurry to do things too fast, so fast that your dream cannot materialize and you give up and go back to your old ways. The mantra is to take things step by step.  He was one amongst some of the score of counselees seated there in a circle who began thinking about what I said gently but firmly. On one hand there was a bright future as a builder and on the other there was this bottle he was slave to. His was a clear case of how an idle mind could wreak havoc on one’s life. He was sure about not wanting to “end on the road as drunkards do”, but wasn’t sure of how he could tame his mind.

The rehab has its strict schedule of making the inmates follow a routine every day, 365 days of the year. The day starts as early as five, ending before ten in the night. In between meals, there would be time allotted for tasks in the kitchen or elsewhere, group counseling, individual counseling by counselor/psychiatrist, medical check-up, self-introspection and diary-writing, brief interactions with other inmates, confrontation with family as and when applicable followed by introspection in isolation and yoga, not necessarily in that order. There is no special treatment accorded to anyone. It is indeed a humbling experience for those who come from the higher strata of society. But that is how it is meant to be. Whoever comes there as an inmate, has to go through the same regimen. That is how it is supposed to be an eye-opener for all, particularly for the ones who have it all but throw it away for the sake of alcohol or substance.

When I left the place, I had this uneasy question in my mind – Once he is out of the place, who would win in this tug-of-war - His conscience that is still talking with him or his carefree, lazy self that is threatening to overshadow his inner self? But I was glad that he was still very clear about reality and conscious of his tendency to forget about it all suddenly. This strict timetable would take care of him and give him the badly-needed jolt to begin taking charge of his life without his “Dad” having to run around looking for ways to bring him on track. 
A new world is beckoning him. He would work on himself, I knew somehow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

To compare or not…

How many of us like to be compared?

Through experience, as a mother and as a counselor, I’ve learnt this extremely significant truth – More often than not, comparison erodes our self-esteem. It does not spare children either. When the going gets tough the trick is to take it bit by bit and just keep moving. When things go swimmingly, compare one’s present with one’s past in the relevant area.

Here goes a real story of how years back comparison was about to spoil it all when good sense prevailed over a mother.

My eight-year-old rushed down the steps in his swimming costume, a mass of energy and enthusiasm, my husband in tow. After an hour, the father returned, looking happy and satisfied. In three days the smile vanished! Within a week my son began coming home with a glum face. What was going wrong?!
“You’re not following Sir’s instructions properly,” the father grumbled to which Dev said meekly, “But I am.”
“He is not concentrating during the class,” my husband complained the very moment I opened the door to the duo next day. My little daughter Vini had been keeping me busy and so I didn’t really know what was going on in the pool. Forever patient with his children, I had no reason to doubt my husband was wrong in judging Dev’s efforts to learn the art of swimming. I didn’t take it very seriously though, and said some words of encouragement. But I thought he didn’t really need that because he was most likely not focusing enough but would be compelled to do so by the trainer soon. There wasn’t any significant change in the next few classes though. Time was running out, because there were to be around twenty classes in this session. Now I felt I had to be a little firm.

“Why aren’t you observing Sir’s movements? Why don’t you be a little sincere sometimes at least?” I asked, peeved. This was because he indeed was a playful boy and his school report card often mentioned that along with his good qualities. “If you aren’t interested, you can pull out,” I said almost angrily, for what was so tough about learning how to swim at this tender age (when the learning curve is at a high in almost anything), that too when a professional was there to teach? He is just not being sincere enough, both of us concurred. Dev’s scowl disappeared as he said “OK, I’ll pull out”. Now that was not something I had seen coming because it was he who had got fascinated
watching his friends swim. I became quiet, hoping he didn’t actually mean to stop midway through his training. 

Nevertheless the comparisons began.

“Riju has learnt quite a number of tricks, why don’t you?” Understandably, the father was frustrated because he was the outdoor games kind of man who had a good sports record during his college days. Dev winced at the comparison.
At this time or in this case, this comparison won’t help, it’s only making
matters worse, I felt. He was no longer looking forward to the swimming
classes and worse, his confidence in himself was dipping. (Was it a mother’s
sixth sense?) And I could not watch this silently.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Only if he had got paternity leave

My friend’s mom had told me how decades back her husband had participated in the caregiving of their infant daughters that was a blessing considering that she had no parents or in-laws near her to bank on. (It was possible because of her husband's job profile and the unbiased mind he owned). The scenario, strangely, is not like what it was in her case even today in India, particularly when the husband is working in the IT. Paternity leave (for a reasonable period of time) is still a new concept!

Gender equality as a topic of debate has been there for quite long by now, like feminism. Without going into all that, doesn’t it sound right when we hear of a new father doting on and caring for his new-born as much as the new mother is?

My husband was the pillar after my son’s arrival to the world. Suffering from colic, my first-born routinely cried and screamed, turning red, as I clenched my fingers and thought hard if there was anything we could do to alleviate his pain, tormenting me every time his face was racked with pain. It was my husband who began taking us out in the car, baby and me, driving round and round the neighbourhood during those times (colic pains visited our son mostly after sundown) and miraculously the crying would stop, providing the much-needed relief to my frayed nerves! All thanks to Internet where he had searched to come up with such novel ways of handling colic attacks. And when within a week, our little Dev was found to have dust allergy with even the cotton mattress inducing severe cough, it was the father again who sat sealing the mattress inside a plastic cover with stitches all along the border, till the wee hours of the morning, I supplying with only little help, intermittently.
The new father, delirious with happiness, would definitely have loved to lend a hand in the regular baby-care matters like feeding and preparing his feeds (Dev could not suck properly initially and often ended up being half-fed by me), only if he had got paternity leave. My husband made up though by religiously dedicating the evenings to baby-sitting no matter how tired he was after the long drive from his office through traffic-congested roads.
When my daughter was born, the born-again father was now a much busier man, but managed to give me enough support at the hospital and once again, after a gap of six years, devote the evenings to the new baby with the same, familiar dedication. And this time he even played a mother to our son (who felt more left out than thrilled with the arrival of a sibling, a girl to his dismay) by taking him out and treating him to zoo visits and restaurant food just the way I used to before I got heavily pregnant with our little Vini. Well, that was definitely a big leap from the times of my mother-in-law whose husband visited her at the hospital two days after their first child was born, lest he earned the label of ‘a too-doting father’ from their neighbours!

When a baby arrives, a father is needed as much as a mother is – not only for the baby but also for the new mom who too needs to adjust to her new life as much as the baby needs, in fact even faster.

The rest is in my book Rays and Rains (e-book available at a much lower price).