Author: Tulika

If we were having coffee together – 8

If we were having coffee together – 8

If we were having coffee I’d tell you to pour yourself a cup and keep the kettle close by for this is going to be longish conversation. After all it’s been ages since we met up.

The Boards are Behind Us

If you’ve dropped by the blog over the last few months you’ll know the children took their Grade 10 Boards and came out fine. Even as we wait for the final results I cannot begin to say how happy and proud they made me. Exam scores aside, I was amazed to see that they handled the pressure calmly and maturely.

That said, I’m glad it is all behind us. 

It’s time for Junior College

If we were having coffee together I’d tell you how busy we’ve been sorting their junior college admissions. Choosing subjects, filling forms, scanning mark sheets and adhar cards, appearing for interviews. We as parents have also had to take interviews. One school wanted to know what school we went to, another asked for the marksheet of our last degree! That was strange.

While H is clear about what he wants to do, N is vacillating, still. Sometimes I feel it’s wholly unfair to expect a 16-year-old to know exactly what he or she wants from life. The Indian education system, inflexible as it is, with little room for changing streams or even subjects, frightens me.

I worry. A lot. What if I’m not giving the right advice to the children? What if a nudge in a different direction could prove life-changing? What on earth IS that right direction?

Uncertainty overwhelms me some days.

But then I have to remind myself to put it all away. I need to trust the children’s decision and mine even as I constantly assure them they have the freedom to take a different route any time they want, no matter the cost. In the end, it’s their happiness that counts.

A New Phase for the Children

If we were having coffee together I’d tell you that this will be the first time in their lives that the twins will be in different schools. Their timings are different too. It gives me a pang each time I think they will meet only in the evenings now.

I tell myself it’s a good thing. They need their space, they need to have different sets of friends and it’s time they forge their own different paths.

It truly is a whole new phase of their lives.

A New Phase for Me Too

If we were having coffee I’d tell you I feel as if this was a whole new phase for me too. I’m hoping, with their schools in order, my life can get back to some kind of a regular rhythm.

I have been exploring opportunities. I have to admit this change isn’t easy. Although I have been freelancing all these years, the twins have been a clear first priority for a decade and a half, specially with the husband being in another city. I find myself shying away from committing to anything full-time. I wonder if I will be able to strike a balance and be available if and when the children need me (which they won’t, one part of me reminds me, but the other me remains unconvinced).

I am allowing myself baby steps as of now and keeping my fingers crossed. Things have definitely eased out with the Husband coming home.

New Teachings, New Learnings

If we were having coffee I’d tell you how he and I have been taking turns teaching the children to drive a scooter. At 16, they are eligible to take to the roads although on smaller vehicles. We’re in no hurry since they still have two years to go before they can get onto a regular scooter but it’s fun, almost like the time they learnt to walk. One more step towards independence. While N remains cautious despite having a better sense of balance, H is, as always, sure of himself. They’re so different, these two, in everything they do.

If we were having coffee I’d wonder if you noticed how this post has been all about the children! That’s how much they’ve taken over my mind space this past month and that’s something I’m struggling to overcome. I really need to put the days of being obsessivemom behind me.

That’s it from me, for now. Tell me what’s happening with you. What’s been on your mind?

Jamuns on my desk

Jamuns on my desk

There are two types of people in the world – those who are fruit people and those who aren’t. 

I am the latter.

That’s not to say I didn’t sneak into the school grounds to pick bers and amlas like every self-respecting young person but that was more for the thrill than the fruit itself. And I like mangoes but those are more dessert than fruit, right?

The Husband on the other hand is a complete fruitarian.

(I have to stop here for a moment to marvel at the way God up in heaven gets his laughs bringing together people with entirely different likes and dislikes and then sitting down to watch the fun.)

But I digress.

So the other day we were passing a street-vendor with a handcart laden with jamuns. Obviously then, the husband had to stop the car. We hadn’t had them in decades. They show up for such a short while each year and then have to compete with mangoes. They really don’t stand a chance.

Back home, as they lay washed and dried in the colander, H came by and chucked one in his mouth. (Fact: H cannot pass by anything that looks remotely edible without sampling it).

‘Akhch!’ he exclaimed, ‘These aren’t grapes. There’s a seed!’ 

‘These are jamuns’, I told him.

‘I like grapes better, one doesn’t have to spit out seeds,’ he said settling at his gaming desk, shooting the seed with unerring aim right into the dustbin.

I caught hold of N and got her to try one too (Fact: N has to be waylaid/wrestled/bribed before anything at all, specially a fruit, passes her lips).

She ate it, wrinkled her nose scratched at her tongue with her teeth and ran to the mirror to look at it saying, ‘I can’t feel my tongue.’

What kind of children are these, I wondered, who could not accept a jamun for what it is — a delicious, juicy fruit, the daddy of their favourite kala khatta and one that came with the added advantage of giving a technicolour tongue?

When we were young, summer would bring with it special offerings, jamuns being one of them. It also brought a bunch of cousins who stayed for one whole long glorious month.

Our grandfather babuji/nanaji (as applicable) occupied the bahar wala kamara (the room on the outside) of our house that opened right onto a busy street where vendors plied their wares.

We’d know it was jamun season when we’d hear the cry of:
‘Kale kale hain, bagiya wale hain’ 

(Loosely translated: They’re black, they’re straight from the orchards)

As soon as we’d hear that we’d rush out to our grandfather’s room who would have already hailed the man.

The vendor would make a cone of jamun leaves, put a handful of fruit in it and sprinkle on it his secret spice. He’d then cover it with another leaf-cone and shake it all together. 

We’d watch with ill-concealed impatience, saliva surging already. That wait was interminable.

Finally, the cone was handed to us with the rich ripe berries bursting out of their skins coated with the delicious masala and they were gone in minutes.

At school, we had a tall jamun tree by our throwball court. The fruit would drip down onto the court making it an accident-prone spot. A careless step would find one slipping and sprawling on the plump fleshy seeds. One would then have to spend the day with ones sky blue skirt stained a stubborn bright purple.

When we shifted to our house in the University Campus we found the bungalow rich with a variety of rare fruits. The Campus stood on the grounds that were once an orchard of the Nawabs (even our address read Badshah Bagh). Kadamb and kamarakh spread out their thick branches among the mangoes and of course large lanky jamun trees .

While my grandmother who was diabetic, would collect the seeds, wash and powder them, saying they had medicinal value, we simply enjoyed the fruit. We even had a resident snake that lived high up in the tree. I don’t quite remember ever spotting him but we all knew he was there.

Once I moved out of home I lost touch with most seasonal fruits, including jamuns. Also, the strawberries and blueberries, avocados and dragon fruit elbowed it right out of my memory. 

But here it is, after all these years, delicious as ever with the added sweetness of nostalgia.

Of Exams and Results

Of Exams and Results

Imagine your favourite person in the whole world in a boxing match. It’s an important bout and you’ve tried to prepare him the best you can — got the best trainers, the best gloves, directed him to the best resources; done everything you could possibly do.

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Of painting nails and learning to focus

Of painting nails and learning to focus

Last Sunday morning, after making the public announcement that everyone was to fend for their breakfast on their own, I found myself happily free.

I thought some self-care was in order and I fished out the bottle of nail paint bought a month ago waiting to be inaugurated. Now, I could do a whole post on how I paint my nails but I’ll quickly sum it up here: 

  • First, I clean my nails. 
  • Then I apply nail paint. 
  • I end up painting my cuticles and the entire area around my nail 
  • I clean up as best as I can with an earbud
  • I hope I can scrub away the rest in the next day’s bath.

It’s a longish process. 

So I set up Netflix and browsed for something I could watch/listen to while I painted my nails and chanced upon an interesting docu-series titled The Mind Explained. The episode I happened to pick (I swear it was utterly random) was called How to Focus.

Less than five minutes into the episode as I was struggling to keep the nail paint within the confines of my nail I heard the narrator pronounce: 

‘We are not wired to multitask’

I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention had it not been so ironic. The VoiceOver went on to say that humans cannot multitask. When we try to do two (or more) things at a time, we switch from one task to the other and each time we do that, we lose a little bit of our cognitive self. 

Another podcast I heard went on to quantify this saying we function at 40 per cent of our capacity when we multitask.

That boggled my brain.

Here’s another interesting bit:

According to studies, our ability to pay attention hasn’t changed since the 1800s, so all talk of our attention spans having declined over the years is rubbish.

Low attention spans have less to do with what is happening around us and more about what’s going on in our heads.

When I was working in a newspaper office, I could find my focus despite the din. We had open workstations with no privacy whatsoever. People would be talking to each other, multiple phone conversations would be in progress, someone would be asking the canteen boy for tea, some days the TV would be on too and yet I could turn out my piece.

Now, even when I shut myself inside a room, each tiny sound distracts me. I can vaguely hear the children arguing or looking for stuff, the maid coming and going, the doorbell ringing. Each of these is a distraction breaking my chain of thought, pulling me away from the laptop.

I cannot mentally disconnect from everything that’s happening.

Even if we find the quietest corner of our home, wear top-quality noise-cancelling headphones, shut ourselves in sound-proof rooms it wouldn’t be much use because we are our own distractors 50 per cent of the time. 

The trick is to control the mind

And that comes with practice. Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Practice learning to sit still.
  • Practice focusing on your breath.
  • Meditate.
  • Doing skilled work with your hands also seems to help.

Each time your mind wanders bring it right back.

Strengthening the attention muscle is the key to successfully remaining focused on your work. It works better than getting rid of distractions.

Do make time to watch the series. It’s quite an eye-opener.

Note to self: If I focus solely on applying nail paint I’d probably do a much better job of it.

Does Free Will Really Exist?

Does Free Will Really Exist?

I was reading this piece here on how the author thinks the festival of Karwa Chauth is regressive yet she fasts each year. Perhaps, she reasons in her article, the conditioning is so deep she cannot not keep the fast.

She goes on to say, ‘the bottom line is that it is my choice’.

I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. As long as the choice is ours, we’re not being regressive.

Then I saw a tweet where someone mentioned he loved the food cooked at home on festivals like Karwa Chauth. He went on to say the women cooked happily, out of ‘choice’.

That irked me. (More perhaps, because it came from a man).

Tell me, does it seem at all logical? Would someone truly enjoy spending much of their day in the kitchen without a sip of water through the day? Even if they otherwise enjoyed cooking?

And yet I know of women who do just that. My mother does it. And that made me rethink this whole thing about ‘choice’ and ‘free will’.

I was reminded of another piece I read on Sudha Murthy. Quoting an excerpt here:

In 1981, (Narayan) Murthy realized his big dream and it was the beginning for Infosys, one of the biggest names in software consulting (In India). But before making any decision, Murthy gave her (Sudha Murthy) the choice. He said that both of them could not be at Infosys together, so he gave her the choice of joining Infosys, but she chose to pull back.

There it was again — the bit about ‘choice’, that made her decision acceptable.

Here’s a question, though — what would have been Narayan Murthy’s choice had Sudha Murthy put this same question to him? Would he have made the choice she did?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. We’ll never know.

It did feel logically wrong that a brilliant woman, who had been a trail-blazer all her life, would choose to stay away from a dream project such as this one.

Unless, she (like many other women) was conditioned to do so.

The two pieces made me wonder if the choices women make, could really be termed ‘free will’ conditioned as we were to act a certain way. When women choose to give up work or education, or to eat after other family members, or to wear head-scarves, is it really out of free will?

It holds for men too, although in a whole different way. For instance, would a man, or let’s say, would most men ‘choose’ to give up careers even if they had the choice to do so? They’re as bound by conditioning as women are.

That brings me to the question: Is there anything like free will at all? Can we ever escape our conditioning?

The answer is NO. We cannot. None of us can ever hope to do that.

However, we can be aware of it and try to rid ourselves of it, interestingly, by conditioning ourselves to do so :-).

As someone brought up by a feminist mother, my mum, modified her fasting and included fruits and juices in her diet while also easing off on the cooking.

As the daughter of a feminist mum, I could give up Karwa Chauth without guilt.

We were both conditioned by our respective mothers to modify traditions to suit our lifestyles.

But this isn’t just about Karwa Chauth. Nor am I saying we’re free of it all. I’m sure there are a hundred ways in which we continue to do things we know we shouldn’t be doing, but cannot give up.

That said the only way to move forward is to condition ourselves and our children to constantly question and to reason, to be open to changing, adjusting, reshaping customs, traditions, our entire thought processes.

Last thought: I am more than aware that when it comes to human behaviour, logic is often tempered by many many factors, conditioning is just one of them.

On my other blog: Beat About The Book

The Switch by Beth O Leary #BookReview

The Switch by Beth O Leary #BookReview

The Switch traverses the thin line between cute and corny, between engagingly simple and boringly predictable. I can see how it could go either way for a reader. For me, it went the cute way. I liked it despite its very obvious shortcomings.