Thursday, May 31, 2007

Whom do you trust?

What do you do when there’s a clash of thoughts between you and those of people who are really close to you? When your judgment of people or situations differs from those whose opinion you really value? When your close friends’ advise you, wishing well for you, but, somehow your gut feeling and your beliefs tell you otherwise? When you are in quandary, unable to decide which path to take, the one you would want to, the one you’ve believed in, or the one that people who are older, more mature and considerably “more experienced” are asking you to take? You would surely want to stick to your decisions, but a doubt arises, as to whether you are doing the right thing? Whether you should, instead, sit back and objectively think about the advice that’s been given to you? What if, inspite of that, you want to continue with your decisions? If you still stick to your decisions, you must be brave enough to face the repercussions, if any, take whole responsibility for your actions and above all, never look back and blame yourself. Are you “man” enough [such a MCP phrase! :D] to do that? What if you later on realize your judgment was “wrong”, that what you had believed in all along was “wrong”? Scary thought, isn’t it? But faced with such a situation, I would still go by what I believe in. All the advice that people give me is no doubt well-meaning. Maybe I am being foolhardy. But, I prefer to trust my judgment, my point of view over others'. And, regarding “right” and “wrong”, I would take a leaf out of Prati’s book and say there’s nothing “right” or “wrong”. Things are not always black and white. The opposite of one truth is, very often, another truth. Right and wrong is all depending upon where the observer is standing. And, to transcend right and wrong, to look beyond that, is the greatest achievement that one can have. It is best not to classify, to just experience, and, to move on. That is the highest state one can achieve, and, I shall aim for that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Role Playing

Contemplation seems to be the key word for me these days :D As I was mentioning in my last post, some words, some sentences have a way of coming back to me.. and, each time they do, I find myself interpreting them differently, finding a greater depth to those words. Such is the case with these words uttered by my English teacher in my 2nd BSc. We had to study the play Macbeth as part of the English course and we had the good fortune of having a lady called Sukanya to teach us. She was simply splendid, and, through her, the play nearly came to life. We could feel the transformation of Macbeth, from a consentitious soldier to a ruthless tyrant, the slow degeneration of his relation with Lady Macbeth, the way they go from being husband-wife, to partners in a crime, to the point where the mere sight of the other reminded them of the sin they had committed. Sukanya ma’am taught the play amazingly well. In this course, she brought up a few topics which were pretty unsettling.

One of them was the fact about role playing. She was asking us, “when are you truly you?” or rather, ‘who is the true you? Does the true ‘you’ ever surface?’ At college, we play the role of a teacher/student, outside, we are friends of someone, even at home, we do not stop playing the role of a dutiful daughter, a spouse, a parent etc. So, eventually, in solitude, do we relax completely? Or, are we so used to role playing, that even in solitude, we can’t stop? Do we subconsciously assume the role of the kind of individual we/others want us to be? These words were hard hitting and disconcerting at the same time.

At IIT, in a course called Environmental Science, in the module handled by Prof. Asolekar, one of the exercises was “role playing”. Here, all the students had to assume different roles in a given situation and argue for the cause from the point of view of the person whose role they were assuming. The debate was about banning motor vehicles in the whole of IITB. The Prof. took on the role of the director of the insti, while we students took on the roles of student bodies, mess workers, cleaners, faculty members, environmental activitists and similar groups that might be affected by such a ban. We girls together formed a women’s group [representing the wives of the profs] and we opposed the ban saying that such a thing would hinder all our day to day activities which involved bringing in groceries and stuff, also with dropping kids off at school and picking them up etc. Though our argument wasn’t really strong, we built upon it steadily, and managed to put across a strong view, stating inconvenience and also, safety as our main points. The point is that as we got caught up with role playing, I was getting more and more convinced about our role, and, also that if such a ban were to happen, the women would seriously be terribly inconvenienced!!

Both these things, what Sukanya ma’am said about role playing and also this activity that we had done at IIT came back to me in the weekend. And, I wondered – Isn’t it true? Role playing is so dangerous! The more you assume a role, the more you start thinking like a person, and the deeper you get into it, the more firmly you start adopting the beliefs of the character whose role you are assuming, And, after a certain point, your ‘astitva’ is lost. You no longer have an existence beyond the role. I have seen this happen to several women. They end up being daughters, wives, mothers, sisters of so-and-so and the person that they are totally loses existence! Such a scary thought! I don’t want to lose my identity ever and will stirve to maintain it !!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I am mine

If I had to name the people who have had a major influence on the way I think and who have helped to shape me into the person I am now, it would be Prati, Akka, Ram, Rash n Sume. But sometimes, some conversations I have had with others, some words uttered, have a way of coming back and making me think. This is one such conversation

I had heard of Priyadarshan Sahasrabuddhe [more popularly PD], heard him sing in Surbahar etc, but got to know him personally after the inter-hostel classical music competition in Jan this year. Soon after that, I bumped into him one day morn, in the SAC grounds. Somehow we got talking and talked for nearly an hour. He told me about the time he spent with tribal people in Maharashtra, as a part of the SEARCH program organized by Abhay and Rani Bang. This couple, both doctors, did their PG from Johns Hopkins. They began this movement called SEARCH in India, where they encouraged people to contribute towards the benefit of the society in general. They advocate that contributions to the society need not be monetary alone, or to bring about welfare of the under privileged, one need not give up one’s career and go and join an NGO. By doing what ever we are doing, be it science, business, medicine or industry, we still can use our skills for the betterment of the masses. And how to do so, is what they tell in their program. As a part of the seven day program that PD attended, one day was spent in contemplation. They were asked to ponder over questions like “Who am I?” and “Whose am I?” The latter question seemed poignant to me at that time, but I did not feel its full impact back then. Surprisingly, after that day, I never got to talk to PD at that length again. It might be over-inference, but, somehow I am inclined to believe that that particular conversation had some significance, some purpose, and was meant to have an effect in my life. Which is why it happened in a totally unexpected fashion, from a totally unexpected source!!

Anyway, coming back to the point, during the weekend, the question “Whose am I?” returned to me. Whose am I? Do I belong to my parents? Am I here to satisfy their desires? To fulfill my duties as a daughter to the T and give them all possible happiness? Am I indebted to my nation? Is it my duty to serve the people in my nation alone, to utilize all my skills to the maximum possible extent for the betterment of “My” people? Or, looking at the bigger picture, am I a part of the world? The world, where the division into countries is man-made, and where people are just the same all over? Is it wrong on my part to work for Science as a passion, irrespective of the place I was living? Felt my thoughts straying to the Pearl Jam song … “I only own my mind, I am mine..” Yes, I belonged to myself. I was here to live my life the way I wanted to. To fulfill my wishes and my desires primarily. I did not have the power to give anybody else happiness, because Happiness is just a state of mind, and unless someone opens themselves to Joy, no amount of effort on others’ behalf can make them happy. But I could make myself happy, by doing what gave me maximum satisfaction. As much as I had a responsibility to my family, I had a responsibility to myself as well. To try and realize my dreams and not let them get squashed, subdued and forgotten, only to go deep in my heart and stay there as bitterness. It was my duty to myself to try and make my dreams come true. If circumstances willed otherwise, atleast I would have the satisfaction of having tried. I might err, I may make rash decisions or judgments at times, but the mistakes would be mine, and I would have the satisfaction of trying to do what I wanted to do. Yes, I was mine. I belonged to me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Return to Innocence

Went to Prati’s place over the weekend. For those of you who don’t know, Prati is a very dear friend of mine, almost like a sister to me. She and her family are the most “real” people I have met, who give two hoots about the society, live life the way they want to, without the trappings of the niceties that have to be observed with so-called “relatives”. For all those who are scared that if you are radical, you would be friendless, these people are like eye-openers. They have an extraordinarily large circle of like-minded friends, all interesting people, a mere talk with whom leaves one with the feeling of having learnt something! Prati’s family lives in a farm in the outskirts of Bangalore, their home a beautiful combination of the old and the new. The house is aesthetically designed, situated at one end of a huge [nearly 20 acres] farm, built with eco friendly materials and methods, having a lovely “totti” [an open quadrangle] in the centre, stone pillars, red-oxide flooring, tiled roof – at the same time, equipped with all the modern appliances you would expect to find in a sophisticated place in the heart of the city! The house is very well designed, and, this together with the surrounding environment , make it very pleasant to stay, without any fans, even on the hottest summer days! And, in such a beautiful place, live Prati, her sister, her father and four lovely dogs!

From before, whenever I am very confused, I turn to Prati. She helps me see sense. She doesn’t advise much, just asks me the right kind of questions which help clear my mind, and sets me thinking in the right direction, so that eventually, I come up with the answer and set right the mess in my head. The previous week had been pretty tough for me, with few emotional scenes at home regarding my future career plans. My parents were confused and I felt all the more so. So, when Prati invited me over, I just went.

It was catharsis. We talked a lot- Prati and I – and, as usual, it helped. But, what I really carried back with me this time – was the solitude. The vast sky, the lack of any traffic, the jhoola [swing] on the trees – where one could swing till you felt your feet touched the clouds, the fields, the mogra plants teeming with fragrant flowers, the mango trees with fruit hanging so low that you could just reach out and pluck it off, the serenity of the place…. I spent a lot of time by myself.. just absorbing the feel of the place, till my mind felt devoid of any thought. Last evening, we just sat and watched the onset of the monsoon – the black clouds gathering in the horizon, their approach towards us, the distant thunder, the dazzling flashes of lightening – and then the downpour! Watched the plants rejoicing as it rained. Heard the soothing gurgles made by the water as it came into the house, into the stone paved totti . We just sat. We dint talk – there was no pressure to keep a conversation going, the silence was both comfortable and comforting. I was reminded a James Herriot story, where he spoke of these people who lived in this really remote farm. He spoke of observing them just sitting, Not watching the telly, not even conversing, but just sitting. We did just that yesterday. It was something I had forgotten. To be comfortable with myself. To be quiet – without any activity. To just be. The silence around slowly percolates within to create a general feeling of calmness. This wasn’t the kind of happiness you got in any group activity, This was an inner joy, which was longer lasting. I remembered the Enigma song “…look into your heart, my friend, that will be the return to yourself, the return to innocence” . That’s what it was. A return – to nature – to one’s roots – to one’s true self.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rain reigns !!

Had been to JNC last week, to just catch up with friends there. It was nice, going back in to the place where I had spent two lovely summers. Though there has been quite a bit of development [there’s a Mall coming up, and a Lakhme beauty salon has opened as well! :)] , there are some things that haven’t changed – and aren’t likely to change in the coming few years for sure! [like the awful bus service, dusty roads, rude auto drivers – who overcharge :D]

The day, which started off so well, left a bitter taste in my mouth as it ended. In the evening, I spoke to a friend from IIT who was feeling terribly depressed due to the fact that he hadn’t cleared any PhD entrances this year. He was feeling so low and he even said that he felt that he had wasted the two years he spent at IIT. I dint know how to console him, and, did the next best thing – just lent him a sympathetic ear. On the way back from JNC, Pearly messaged to tell me that she hadn’t cleared the IISc entrance. It was a replay of the incident of the evening. Again, I was filled with sadness – coz, I knew how important this entrance was to her, how much it meant for her career. And, yet again, I dint know how to console my friend, what alternatives could I suggest for her to look forward to. The possibilities seemed close to nil and I felt helpless, unable to aid her in any manner. Apart from this feeling of helplessness, there was another scary thought slowly creeping into my mind – "what if?" What if , the next year I am in a similar situation ? What if I don’t get an admit from abroad, and at the same time, being out of touch, what if I don’t clear Indian entrances as well? What if I am forced to drop another year? With each lost year, my PhD, and with it, my dream of becoming a prof would slip farther away from me… and, finally, I might have to leave it unfulfilled and settle for something sub-standard. What if such a situation arose? I was filled with apprehension. Insecurities about my future began to plague me and, steadily, I felt more and more miserable.

Returned home in the same gloomy and uncertain mood. Was just sitting about, unable to concentrate and unable to relax, when it began to rain. A gentle drizzle, with no rumbles of thunder to scare one out of one's wits. A gentle, cooling, calming, soothing drizzle. My first rains of this year. I went out and stood in the rain. Greedily gulped in the fresh water. Breathed in the earthy smell that arises from the soil when the first drops of water hit the parched land. Felt the rain run over my body. Felt the coolness of the water droplets hitting my face. Somehow, felt all my worries slipping away with the water, draining away from my mind, leaving me in a state of welcome emptiness. I smiled and drenched some more, enjoying the rain. Enjoying the thoughtlessness and the quiet in my head, after the innumerable thoughts and arguments that had run through it throughout the evening.
Hope blossomed again. I would succeed. There might be obstacles; there may be moments of low. But I would overcome these and I would succeed. In Karnataka, the rain is supposed to be a good omen, a sign of good tidings. It did do me good. It gave me back my belief in myself and showed me the Hope that I had turned my face away from.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

There's many a slip between the cup and the lip

Came back last Tuesday. Had come with foolproof plans of what to do in this year's break. According to me, I would return home, relax a bit, give GRE, go to mumbai, finish the paper and the convo, come back to a year's training at NCBS, app, and go for a PhD.
Came back. Dial up at home sucked. Tried to take a broadband connection. Thousand and one vignas [obstacles] to getting one. Then, paper also seems a bit doubtful, till I put in active effort and fight for it. Udgaonkar hasn't replied, so, looks like I've gotta rule out NCBS. Rest of the plans are still waiting for something to come along and upset them.
Well, as Burns says "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley" So, was feeling somewhat trepidacious today, unsure of what to do if this idea of taking an year's break back-fired and I was left with no position in hand, India or abroad. Then, managed to shrug off that idea and tried infusing myself with confidence, told myself that I wasn't so hopeless and I could sure work out something. Anyway, getting scared and just sitting isn't going to get me anywhere.. I would be better off working my ass off for something worthwhile :D
Anyway, even earlier, when my plans backfired, when I tried for something, wanted it badly, and dint get it, God has always given me something better. If some obstacles cant be surmounted, atleast we can go around it, or find another path :) So, no broadband at home, prob for sure, but found this nice iWay cybercafe close to home, which gives fast net for reasonable rates. If not NCBS, I can atleast try IISc. So, lemme see what will happen eventually. Till then, the mantra is to keep plodding. Karmanyeva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Yup, I am back in Bangalore [Sorry, Bengalooru] now :) Left IITB on the 7th after finishing my MSc . I don’t want to turn this post into Meghadoota –II and write about my separation pangs at being away from the place and the people with whom I spent the two most beautiful years of my life. It is sufficient to say I miss it all the time.

Attended Rashmi’s marriage the day after I returned. Was confronted with weird emotions – felt myself unable to picturise my friend, my school-mate, a girl of my age – getting married, settling down to take on all the responsibilities of being a wife, a daughter-in-law and what not!! Especially, found it difficult to fathom how she could agree to marry a guy she knew only for a couple of hours!! Though their families knew each other, each person is an individual, and knowing the family doesn’t translate to knowing the person with whom you plan to spend the rest of your life!! Even after years, sometimes you wonder if you truly know a person!! Maybe all the cock-n-bull story about a guy and a girl being made for each other is true.. else, how can one explain such spur-of-the-moment-decision marriages turning out so successful!!

Started going on morning walks to Lalbagh with Poorni. Met up with old friends at a Ganahoma at Soumya’s place. Got together with Akka and watched “The Paycheck” on the comp.. it was so like the olden days, when we would watch a movie together, and then compare our criticisms of it . Made ‘Odi’ [called ‘Sandige’ in Kannda, a sort of papad like thingy, but smaller and spicier, made of Saabu daana] with Amma. Was reminded of my high school days when we both would take the radio up onto the terrace, and spend hours, talking about stuff in general, the radio in the background, and I would ruefully compare my deformed Odis with Amma’s beautiful, uniform sized ones. Must say mine came out uniform this time :) Went out with Annu, ate Batata wada’s at our favourite roadside stall with home. It was a lovely reminder of my childhood days. Somehow, it is comforting to know somethings never change, and, I can hope that after few years, when I return after my phd, the roadside stall would still be there, making the famous bataata wadas and, inspite of all the cholesterol awareness, there would still be a huge crowd around it :)

The sky was turning a lovely hue of red while Annu and I were returning today. The evening had a sort of dry dusty feeling to it – though there wasn’t any dust flying about. A kind of stillness in the air, a faint red spread in the sky, which seemed to pervade through the air, imparting a rosy hue to the houses, to the streets and, to my mind, even the faces of people about me! Somehow, dusk in Mumbai was different. The tinge in the sky - even the weather was something I have always associated with the dusk, summer and Bangalore. Yes, I am back – I have come home …..