Monday, May 25, 2015

Her dreams and their expectations

The visit was long overdue, and finally I got time one evening to drop by my friends' house.

Let's call them Sithesh and Sarah. They are bank executives, and they have a daughter Sangeetha who has just completed 12th.

One flip side of a bank job, is the transfer. You are liable to be moved from one to city to another anywhere in the country. And when both husband and wife work in banks, it can sort of wreak havoc with the family life.

Sithesh and Sarah have had their share of the problem, which proved to be quite troublesome especially after Sangeetha came. They had to be in different cities for years. Somehow, they have managed to pull it off, thanks to their parents and friends.

As soon as I landed up in their house, we launched ourselves into a non-stop conversation. There was so much to catch up.

Some half an hour later, Sangeetha came in. She had gone to her neighbour's house. It's about two years since I last met her.

In a while, she too joined our conversation. She spoke about her school, her teachers, her strict headmistress and her friends. Quite an opinionated girl, she had her own views about topics as varied as our education system, corporal punishment, dress code, traditions, taboos etc.

A little later, she brought a book in which she had drawn beautiful pictures; some of them pencil sketches, some them water-coloured drawings. There were images of landscape, objects, people --  a wide variety of the life we see around us. As I turned the pages, I could sense her eagerness for my nods of approval.

I was immediately reminded of what she had told me when I had come to their house the last time -- her ambition to make it big the world of design and arts. As she turned the pages of the scrap book of her creative work, she told me how she had read up on successful people in the field, the courses she could pursue and what lay in store for her in the profession.

When I told her that her work was good, it was neither by way of mere encouragement or blind flattery. I had meant it, for her works were stunning.

It was dinner time. While having the sumptuous spread that they had prepared, her parents spoke about what they made of their daughter's interests.

For them, it was merely her hobby, a pastime, or even a waste of time, as it was cutting into her study hours. She would be reading some article on design and art, instead of reading something related to school work, they whined.

I summoned my diplomatic skills, and merely nodded in approval, as a debate on turning hobbies into careers ensued. I took my own example, of how I consciously chose to do a post-graduation in Journalism though I had got admission to PG courses in Bio-Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Applied Chemistry.

But, I had to be careful here not to infuriate my hosts, after all it was a sensitive subject; and it should not appear that I was trying to "wrongly" influence my friends' daughter.

Both Sithesh and Sarah want Sangeetha to be a doctor. They have their own reasons.

"She is good in studies; even top scores in biology. There are so many children who want to be doctors, but their parents don't have the money to educate them. But here there is no such problem. Sangeetha is so lucky to have everything. Children of 12 Std need to be guided to the right profession; and not allowed to choose one based on someone's recommendations or based on what they read on the internet. Parents know their children well, and therefore they are the best people to guide them to the right profession." They went on and on.

Now, I couldn't help making murmurs of disapproval. Without sounding crass or cut-and-dried, I gently suggested to them that though it was the duty of the parents to guide their children through the right path and give all support they need; after all, it's the children's career and life, and it should be left to them to take the final call.

Soon it emerged that the parents were opting the doctor's profession not just because Sangeetha was good in biology, but it was as a safe choice (for the parents), and given her academic brilliance, it almost looked as if Sangeetha's career in the medical profession will be stellar success.

There might be good career prospects in design and arts, they agreed with me. But why take the risk, why mess with life?, so went their argument.

I felt a bit sad, when a little later Sangeetha told me (without her parents hearing) that she would pursue medicine, because that is what her parents want. "After all, they have to support me in my education; it's not practical to rebel against them, when I am dependent on them."

She will soon be writing entrance examinations to medical colleges around the country. Knowing her, I am pretty sure that she will pass with good marks, and ultimately choose a good college (on suggestions from her parents, rather than anyone else), and do well in the medical course too.

However, I wonder if she is making the right choice. Should she pursue her passion or merely follow what her parents want her to do?

How will it all pan out for her when she is done with academics, and steps out into the real, hard world of patients, doctors and hospitals? That's the time your passion will be the only driving force. At that time, will the dormant interest for design and arts rear its head and spoil the chances for Sangeetha?

I don't know.

As of now, I can only wish her well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review - Kashmir: The Unwritten History by Christopher Snedden

Kashmir: The Unwritten History
I have for long been wanting to read this book, since Kashmir issue has intrigued me.

While many divisive problems around the world have either been resolved or are slowly inching towards a solution, this has defied one. Every time someone makes an attempt, ironically, it only seems to get worse.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is not sure of what the Kashmir problem is all about, especially its genesis.

The author, an Australian politico-socio researcher, provides an alternative history of the region.

For example, what is popularly known in India and Pakistan is that it's the raid of Kashmir by Pashtoon tribesmen from Pakistan, immediately after Independence, that forced the Maharaja to join India. But Snedden, with extensive documentation, says there was already widespread discontent in Poonch and Mirpur against the Maharaja.

He also talks about the communal polarisation in areas like Jammu and Poonch.

Besides the anti-British struggle for India's Independence, there was a parallel anti-Maharaja agitation for Kashmir's independence spurred by the sense of Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri pride).

Add to these, the creation of Azad Kashmir.

Given these and many other complex ground realities across the province (a lot of them, not widely known, which the author elucidates very clearly and elaborately), the decision for the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority province (to join India or Pakistan) wasn't an easy one. He dithered and dithered; until he had to take a decision, to join India, in October 1947.

This book probably has the most number of appendixes: the entire second half of the book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 17, 2015

An afternoon of food, books and friends

I am part of a Facebook group of bibliophiles. When I saw a post a week ago, about plans for a get together, I had mixed thoughts running through my mind.

Images of striking up conversations with, and getting to know people with whom I had interacted only online, began flashing. That's exciting for me. Moreover, I have always felt that bonding with people having common interests is easier, than randomly saying Hi to a stranger and striking up a conversation.

But another thought seemed to be weighing me down. After all, they are strangers. Nowhere it's said bibliophiles are also the most affable human beings on earth. (In fact, I know some with airs of huge diameter around them, and attitudes that poke you everywhere.)

Fighting off skepticism, and with fingers crossed, I replied to the post, telling the organizer to count me in.

On the appointed day, yesterday; a few minutes after the appointed hour of 12.30 pm, I landed up at Toit, a popular joint on 100 ft Road in Indiranagar. As I reached the 2nd floor, I was guided to the far corner, where tables had been booked.

I was neither the first to arrive nor the last. But the body language of the few who were already seated seemed to convey the impression that they knew me or recognized me (obviously via the FB profile photo.) Broad smiles, shake of hands, and self-introductions. As everyone else trouped in, the protocol carried on for a few more minutes.

We took out the books we had brought for either exchange or giveaway, and spread them on the table. The focus quickly shifted to that as each one of us lounged forward to pick them up, flipped pages and exchanged notes. Ice had broken even before we realised. Comments about how possessive we are about our books ... jokes and banter ...

Before landing up there, I had thought no one would find me interesting to talk to, and I would myself be struggling to make conversations with strangers. (My social skills are pretty bad.) I was completely wrong. We found many topics (besides books) to talk about. In fact, I was talking so much, I wasn't eating; so had to shut up and focus on food.

The best part, some of them were friends of my friends -- two of them are good friends of my ex-colleague; and the cousin of another is married to my schoolmate and family friend. What a pleasant surprise!

As the drinks arrived - from water to cocktails to beer - the conversation centred around how Indian and western cultures look at drinks... And, when the food - broccoli, pasta, pizza, burger etc - started landing up, the focus shifted to vegetarian vs non-vegetarian. How beef is Kerala's "favorite food", and what would happen if it were banned in Kerala.

Meanwhile, I realised quite late that it had been raining cats and dogs. A gentle reminder was the few drops, which found the gaps in the ceiling, falling on me. O, by the way, toit in French is roof.

At the end of it all, around 4 pm, the most remarkable takeaway was the bonhomie: I didn't feel anyone was a stranger. The only flipside, if there was one, was that the seating arrangement at the corner didn't make it quite comfortable for all of us to move around and mingle with one another as much as we would have wanted to. But we all had resolved to catch up, and keep in touch.

As the evening gave way to night, my Facebook notification pings wouldn't stop buzzing, with friend requests, posts and comments in the group.

So long. ... The buzz now is that the next meet-up will be a potluck party.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trials and tribulations of life

Life takes its own twists and turns. Not everything is in our control. Probably, very few things are in our control.

For some, life is a steady journey, with not many ups and downs. But not all are so lucky.

But irrespective of how big each one's ups and downs are, for each one of us, the hardships we endure are very severe, and challenging. As they say, everyone bears his own cross.

I chanced upon this blog piece on NDTV - My Mother Doesn't Know My Name Anymore - by the familiar news anchor and reporter Um-E-Kulsoom.

It made painful reading. It must have taken enormous effort and courage to share the trauma. One can imagine the pain and hardship they all must have gone through. Hats off to their courage with which they have faced it all.

I was also reminded of similar instances.

Here's one of them.

It would be unfair to wish for a problem-free life. So, The least we can do is to face the challenges life throws at us with equanimity.