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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A kaliedoscope of words

Photo coutesy: wikimedia

Over the years, I have come across people of varying personality profiles with different professional and hierarchical backgrounds. Needless to say, I had something to learn from each one of them. Something they might have mentioned in a casual conversation had a sustained effect on me. Here's such a list in reverse chronological order. I will add more as I remember them.

'Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do' - Forwarded by Lalit

'Some people never find happiness because they keep looking in the wrong places. And when all the while it might be lying just next to them, they spend their whole life looking elsewhere and complaining that they did not find it' - Ma

'Modesty is a virtue, but it's foolish to lie.'- Shashi ( Quoting Bobby Fischer on being asked who's the greatest chess player of his times)

'I saw the gaps but missed the points which could have formed the line'- Saikat Bose

'(Frankly) My dear, I don't give a damn! ' Rhett Butler. Gone with the wind

'Be yourself' - Candid Diary

'You will do it, I can almost see it written on your face' - Mr. Sinha

'Happiness is an attitude, it doesn't depend on circumstances' - Nishant

'The whole world is your abode' - Dad

'The world is a lot more than that appears from an open window' - Sunny

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I had a serious issue when I joined the afternoon shift in Holy Cross School, Agartala. Ma'm Sujata introduced me to Ma'm Padmakali saying that : She is Anirban's younger sister. I came home furious and asked Ma : Why can't they just say 'Aparna Kar'? Ma reasoned: They don't know you well enough. Your brother is a topper in the afternoon shift, and they have taken his classes, it'd be easier for Ma'm Padmakali to relate to you that way. Soon, they will know your name too. Her words came true sure enough. By the time I left school, teachers who never took my classes started calling me by my name, which was pleasant of course. That reminds me, in those days, I mentioned in slambooks- 'The happiest moment of my life: is when strangers to me call me by my name.'

Dada was five years senior to me in school, and there was never any scope of sibling rivalry, except maybe when we had to decide who has taken a bigger scoop from the butterscotch flavored brick ice cream. But the problem wasn't just that. My father was a well known figure and I was afraid that I'd grow to be in his shadows. But he explained perspicuously that no matter how tall your grandfather was, you always have to do your own growing. I remembered that.

Later, I had all the freedom I needed. I had to make my own decisions and I wasn't 'also someone's somebody' anymore. I was just myself. I made my choices. A few right and a few wrong ones. But I grew up. I became what I am today. And I am still learning.

Today, I look back with mirth at the anguish of a ten year old for being called 'Anirban's sister,' or ' Amitabha Da's daugther' or even ' Abanimohan Kar's granddaugther'. They all made their mark in their own ways. They did something that gave them a name to reckon with. When my younger cousins are addressed as 'Aparna's brother' at school, I wonder how do they feel? Do they have a desperate urge to break my academic records or set a new family tradition in some kind of achievement? Or do they look at those who address them that way with contempt?

Maybe I will try to find out next time. As of now, identity has assumed a new meaning. I wouldn't mind being called so and so's daugther. And I equally relish the moments I hear someone address Dad as 'Aparna Kar's father'. However, I would shun it if I develop a tendency to seek approval for my own existence from someone else.

We all need our space to grow. A little freedom to be ourselves. Freedom. What a delusive concept! You can't have your individual identity without the freedom to express yourself. Nonetheless, absolute freedom can corrupt. Imagine a world where anyone is free to do anything he/she pleases ! This invites the next factor: Self control. But that's a topic for another post. Till then, be yourself. Life is too short to be someone else.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Life means more...

SG1 said to me recently, happiness to him is sleeping - when the mind is blank and we are at our vulnerable most.

For me, it is waking up to realize that you can materialize your dreams. It is seeing yourself each day become what you have always wanted to be. Happiness is in being alive, living each moment, being yourself.

I'll borrow his idea of visibility of happiness though-> It's the total spectrum that matters. If you digitize it, you might find discrete packets which are not-so-happy, but the overall effect should be of the color of gaiety.

This reminds me of a poem I had read on a greeting card years ago, which keeps playing in my mind every time I make fragile efforts to define happiness:

"Each day has a gift to give,
Small joys and great ones too
Beauty to see and songs to hear
And wonderful things to do.
Enjoy each to the fullest;
For they add up to nothing less-
Than a life full of lovely moments
And a heart full of happiness."

What does happiness mean to you?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Girls' Night Out

I had gone to Medford to visit a friend last Saturday. How I know her is easy to explain but difficult to comprehend.

My first time at Davis Square and I immediately liked the young, restless crowd of students at the park in front of Somerville Theater who had their conversations richly punctuated with words like "fucking", "shit" etc that made English sound almost like an alien language. Reminded me of my undergrad days where shouting profanities in the street was considered cool. SS suggested that we go to J.P.Licks and have Kahlua. Having an ice cream on a cold winter evening is also my idea of having fun. She showed me a newspaper and asked if I can find a recurring theme. I observed : 'It seems to be for transgenders.' and added that Massachusetts was the first US state to legalize marriage of same-sex couples.

We aborted the idea to get into a pub because neither of us was carrying a passport or proof of age. We took a bus to Arlington Street and then walked to Sharon Street where she lives. I got introduced to her roommate SG2 who is pursuing her MS in Occupational Therapy and had an interesting conversation about Dyslexia, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism and other spectrum disorders. I tried to explain what Strategic Consulting means and sang a song about MBTI profiles and Jungian philosophy.

It was dancing to loud peppy numbers like hostel days again. And someone else cooking for me. Which felt good for a change, of course. We played 'Truth or dare?' , an old favorite till around 2:30 in the night and retired to bed promising that the one who woke up earliest would rouse the others. It was 11:49 AM by my watch when I opened my eyelids dreamily on Sunday morning.

SS showed me the snaps of her ex boyfriend who was my classmate in middle school. I hadn't seen him since a long time. Incidentally, he called up the same evening and I got to talk. It was awkward. I knew what had transpired between them, partially from a friend and now I didn't know whether to completely avoid it or say something. Personally, I don't like people intruding into my private affairs and I'd hate myself if I have to do it some time. But when I saw her face lit up when he had called and the fondness with which she was showing his pictures to me, I wished to say : 'You guys look great together' but I bit my lip and kept quiet. I hope that they get to be together again but I don't really know what is the best thing to ask for. She reminded me of who I was, about an year and a half ago. Lost, wanting a way with life, and very much in love with memories. I got over it. And somehow she assumed that I did.

I was reading 'Interpreter of Maladies', the Pulitzer winning short stories' collection of the then débutante Jhumpa Lahiri. Her language is not artful but she has a knack of scribbling down minute details which gives life to the pages. In "A Temporary Matter' for instance, she writes: Shukumar gathered onion skins in his hands and let them drop into the garbage pail, on top of the ribbons of fat he'd trimmed from the lamb.

I appreciate lucidity of expression even if it is an intense book. But profundity coupled with simplicity comes naturally to probably a mature writer. If not in biological age or in volumes of published works, at least, in perception.

I wish to know a lot more people than I have already known. Feel what they feel. Empathize with them. Notice what makes them sad, and more importantly- what makes them happy. I believe that what makes you smile defines you more than what makes you weep. You can cry when in agony or in pain or when insulted. But you can laugh at them too and more. Also, there is no greater put off than misplaced humor.

In truth or dare, SG2 asked if would I ditch a guy if someone better came along. I said 'No" laconically at first. Then I expanded : It takes a lot of time to build something but hardly a moment to destroy it. I'd not want to ruin something which we both invested in. Not until things go really wrong. The greatest human tragedy is not people falling out of love with each other. It is one falling out of love with oneself.

The girls' talk continued, encompassing guys and their flimsy ways to win over a girl, how the other sex has better culinary skills nowadays, where is a good shop to have a bargain, where threading can be done instead of waxing eyebrows etc. Typical, and enjoyable. Something you can never have with a guy sticking around. We made pancakes in the morning and it was my idea, SS's provisions and SG2's execution. SG2 asked us to have them while she made them hot, we insisted we would wait for her to join us too. It led to the collective confession of how much we felt that we are becoming more like our moms , viz the joy in 'serving hot' to others while we are in the kitchen.

I guess my mother did not rest satisfied about my domestic abilities until my brother and friends called her up to give me certificates of merit. Sometimes I think it is strange - it feels like another world where I was not even allowed to fetch a glass of water for myself (Jal gariye khaoya in Bengali) Now, from grocery to laundry- everything has to be done on my own. Not that I despise it- it is just a way of life here. And I have got so used to cooking everyday that I got back in the afternoon to cook something because I felt as uneasy as I'd have if I hadn't brushed my teeth in the night.

Growing up is fun!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Masks We Wear

Carl Jung said : Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist Scott Peck observes that we build the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality.

Clinical insanity, can therefore , be defined as a reduced inclination/ability to face reality. A man abandoned by his father at a young age may claim that he is dead. A bereaved child might find it easier to believe that the parents have gone on a long trip. A loyal wife might turn a blind eye to the promiscuity of her husband, clinging to the delusion that he is still in love with her. A love that he has traded for the flesh of another woman. All these make-believe can ease the pain of facing the truth momentarily. But nourished with time, the substitute itself becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid.

It is very difficult to say "I am a survivor" or show one's wound in public. In another extreme case, the subject might take an egomaniacal interest in exhibiting it in front of others. Both are, if not neuroses, strong contenders for eccentricity or at least unhealthy attitudes towards life. I can't appreciate the average. But trying to make peculiarity your USP is vulgar.

Drugs, fornication, excessive sleep are just a few forms of escapism. ( Watch The Libertine to see the decadent 17th Century society in London under the reign of Charles II ) What is it that can help us lead a balanced life? History directs us that any self indulgent society will fall prey to objective decline. The ancient Rome is a conflagrant example. I guess the same holds true for an individual or an artist. When we see our joys or sorrows to be bigger than life itself , or pretension elevates over effort or talent, it pronounces decay. Something worse than instant death.

I started a private blog to keep a record of my dark secrets. But was pleasantly surprised to find that I am a brighter human being than I give myself credit for. I could not scribble one word of spite or of vengeance. In fact, I found that I was filling my pages with my dreams, with happy moments or simply with my aspirations about my career.

I suppose that we all are beautiful in the inside. No matter, how much we feign ruggedness or indifference on the outside. I have found myself falling in love with some of the least likeable people. A teacher at school whom everyone steered clear of or a colleague at work who was infamous for her caustic remarks- each had a reason to be unhappy. And their unkindness was not the disease - it was just a symptom. Once, I walked past that, I could see the core of the person - a lot more adorable than the popular chums.

I don't dream of a world where everyone loves everyone else. Or a society that is free of social prejudices. We will have our differences- in colors of skin, in languages, in food habits, in what we perceive to be music to our ears. We will also believe that our taste or culture is superior to those who are different. And those different from ours will think the same. We are being similarly decadent by refusing to embrace what is not our own. What we believe is not our own.

I have heard great many a lofty word about the Western culture corrupting the young minds in India. The saffron brigade thinks that holding hands or kissing in public is the negative effect of media and the policemen have a gala time blackmailing such couples. While the truth is, some of these self-styled guardians of morality rape their own wives behind closed doors. I have nothing to say about the sexual preference or perversion of people about my father's age. But consider this- I know of a family whose daughter was not allowed to wear "western clothes", which I think are convenient when you are running behind a bus or a train, because that was not in their "culture". She was never given a chance to develop her own taste in her attire. What would you call this?

A country where hypocrisy is an art, needs a lot of growing up. I am not unpatriotic or an assimilationist trying to uphold one moral environment over another. I am not even trying to justify what I am trying to say here. My claim for the day is: Give us individual freedom. The right to be ourselves; to judge what is good or bad for us. We don't need to live the life of someone else or spend a lifetime taking dictation from our fathers/husbands/brothers. I am not a feminist. I am not trying to ask for equality. I am defending that we deserve to give it to ourselves.

Now, don't rush to the nearest Victoria's Secret's outlet to show how liberated you are or have an affair with a random guy on the street to say you are not 'tied down' to your husband. Look at yourself and see what you lack. Why do you seek affirmation from others? Why can't you respect yourself? Why let past experiences haunt you? Why not burn the old bridges and start afresh? Why not begin now?


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Happiness is : a boxful of crayons

I read this story as a little kid, about a boy who heard that a treasure lies buried where a rainbow meets the Earth. When he saw rainbows, he would run hither thither to find the fortune. Needless to say, he never found one.

Somehow that child lives in us. All our lives, we chase what we believe achieving will make us happier, better, stronger... but the list of comparatives is as delusional as the treasure. We never attain it. We spend a lifetime preparing for a lifetime. The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. Happiness is where you are. (John Burroughs said: "opportunity" )

I bought colored pencils to fill my scrapbook and I am having the fun of my life being a kid again. It might sound silly but you will be surprised to know how effective it really is.

You have the colors in your hand. Go, paint your sky.:)

Photo courtesy:,