Saturday, November 2, 2013

This Day Again.




38 years ago, November 3rd, the day after Diwali my BFF passed away and left me wondering why. I still wonder why a young man of 52 had to leave so soon. My father is my hero. He was far from perfect, but he was my guide, my friend, my soft spot. He was predictable, very clear in his views, very strong and that is what made him my haven. I knew him well not because of any effort I had to make to understand him, but rather because he was as transparent as unpolluted air! He loved us unconditionally but that did not stop him from disciplining us assertively. :) He taught us right and wrong by practicing what he preached. 

I still remember how much he loved the idea of gambling, but he never over-indulged in it. A rupee bet on a horse here another on a lottery ticket there. The fun for him was the anticipation of waiting for the result more than the money he won in return. I learned self restraint from him.

He followed the clock and kept his word no matter how much effort he had to put to do so. Our neighbors would adjust their clocks to my father’s comings and goings. I learned the value of dependability from him.

My father did the most menial tasks with pride. He cleaned the toilets in our home, he packed our suitcases when we traveled, he polished our shoes to wear to school, he sewed the mosquito nets for our beds, he washed his car, he repaired his car, he even darned our clothes. I learned about dignity of labor from simply watching him live life. 

He gave us what we needed without ever having to ask or wait for it. He never gave us what we wanted without wanting to know why. If he felt it was important he willingly gave it to us; if he felt we should not have it he said no and explained why. My father never ever said, ‘because I said so,’ nor did he ever say, ‘I told you so.’ I learned about responsibility by listening to him tell me why.

If ever I had a question about anything, no matter how trivial, how embarassing, how shocking, Baba (I called him that) never avoided it. He always gave me a verifiable answer and never ever hesitated to say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s find the answer together.’ I learned self confidence and truth just by sitting beside him as he helped me find answers. 

He was a possessive man, almost compulsive about personal hygiene and very choosy about friends but everything he did had a reason he was pretty clear about. His decisions were made with conviction and he did not waiver once he had set out on a path. He believed in himself and so in us as his children. ‘I have faith in the way I have raised my children. They know right from wrong.’ This I heard him say when I was 16! It made me strong, confident and a person of worth because I knew he trusted me.

My only regret - I wish he had been there for a few more years for I would have loved for my children and my brother’s to have been fortunate enough to have spent some time with him. I only hope my brother and I have given our beautiful children at least a little bit of what our father gave us, for then his life is worth so much more! 

I love you Baba. You are always with me and always will be. You guide me today like you did when I came to you as a child, the only difference is that I could touch you with my hands then and now I experience you with my being. I do not believe I have another relationship that can touch the one I have with you - a relationship that only a father and his daughter can have and I feel blessed to have had you as the king to me your princess.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another Puja Gone


Durga Puja is celebrated all over North America in cities and towns, small and big. Anywhere there is a Bengali community, there is a Puja. Much planning goes into making it a fun event with the three staples of Bengalis - food, music and politics. On the sidelines, but no less important, are new clothes, a lot of jewelry, and a handful of men and women helping the priest to conduct the elaborate rituals of four and a half days of Pujo into one regular weekend. In most places Pujo is held on the weekend that is closest to the date as indicated in the almanac, as it would be blasphemous to consider taking time off from office and school for 4 consecutive days to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. After all such worship is only symbolic and does not really mean anything today. The celebration is just that, a celebration and has no significance other than a social gathering to have fun. A lot of planning and hard work goes into it but the true spirit of the sanctity of life is only fleetingly visible if at all. 

Our life has become about the pursuit of material pleasures, not just for today but for the future. There was a time when couples would raise their family with the intent to retire and go for pilgrimages to holy places and meditate and delve into holy scriptures. This had nothing to do with age but more to do with recognizing that living in the ‘present’ was important. The thought process was that fulfilling responsibilities of a family life required full attention and was service oriented. People made sure they passed on the right values to children by living a pure life, working hard; demonstrating compassion, respect, love, integrity; and disciplining children with the intent to teach life lessons. This is the method to raise successful and respectable human beings. Today our value systems have changed.

I am in my mid fifties now and as I look back I recognize that this change in value systems has been brought about largely by our generation. Success became a measure of financial worth and respect a measure of professional status. A leader today no longer leads - he simply has followers. A parent today is no longer a teacher - he or she simply provides. A mother no longer nurtures to bring out the best in her child - she pushes her to be better than others - in everything. Fathers are no longer ideal role models - they are just deep pockets. Good and evil are not absolute anymore which is so evident in the way crime and criminals are dealt with today. Justice is not about truth and facts it is about strategy and technicality. 

I am not claiming that all of this is new to our generation but we are definitely responsible for lowering the bar. The Durga Puja is a time for reflection for me, and each year I feel saddened by the fact that we continue to bring out the idols and decorate them and instill ‘life’ into them through rituals and then simply put them away in crates to be brought out again the following year. Instead why don’t we do away with the rituals and gather together to reflect on how we as individuals and communities have lived the last year and how we can raise ourselves to be better people in the next? Let us redefine right and wrong and pledge to increase the good that we can do. It will bring purpose to our lives, it will leave a positive impact on the world that is far more valuable than the large mansion and the bank balance we will leave for our future generation. Let us destroy the evil within us and let our inherent good emerge in all its splendor. That is my wish to all my friends and relatives for Bijoya. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Ugliness in Us


We, as a people, cover up our ugliness and put our best forward to others. Our lawns, make-up, fancy clothes & accessories, plastic surgery, dentures, manicures, shining cars, picket fences, are partly a reflection of this. Everyday, we put time and effort making sure that first impressions are great. We all know though, that there is another side to us that is not all manicured. We need to improve on that side, rather than covering up the blemish. We recognize and acknowledge it, so we should be able to change it, otherwise the ugliness grows and shows up at inopportune moments and exposes our deception. 

One such blemish is our need to be separate, distinct, better than others. Watching the Zimmerman case unfold, along with the dialogues that it has raised in the public domain has opened my eyes to a side of people in this country that I never acknowledged. I did not recognize it because it is veiled like the missing teeth and the rough hands. More importantly I could not see beyond the veil because I have not openly been discriminated against unlike many others who face it day in and day out. I know that being a woman I needed to work harder than my male counterparts in the workplace, and I accepted that as a challenge because I am up to it. I cannot imagine being discriminated against because of the color of my skin or the clothes I wear - discriminated against to the point where my life is in danger everyday or to the point of being feared or hated. The sad part is that many of us do not know that we are discriminating. 

“I am not a racist,” we say. “I have mentored ‘these people!’ I have many ‘Black/Chinese/White/Indian/American/Muslim/Vegan/Men/Gay’ friends.”

‘These’ people as opposed to people; ‘identifiable’ friends as opposed to friends. That is the face of discrimination peeping out from behind the veil. Our discrimination is hidden behind an outward appearance of broad-mindedness. Subconsciously there is a bias and it is not based on merit but on preconceived prejudices. The more we get to know ‘these’ people and mingle with them, the more we identify with them. When the gap is bridged we no longer need words that identify people as different from ourselves. 

Seeing ourselves as individuals is important for self development, and it is just as important to recognize ourselves as part of Family, Community, Country, World, Universe and beyond - important for self development. We are as limited as we make ourselves - inherently we are infinite. Opening ourselves to receiving others in, and giving others of oneself, only helps us broaden our view of the world. Information is powerful and the faster we stop depending on ‘beliefs,’ the more we blossom. 

Our unique personal experiences give us unique outlooks on life. It is impossible to experience everything; impossible to know the perspectives of all people. That is not what non-bias is about. It is about accepting that there are viewpoints outside my own. These are valid and as much a reality as my own are. We need to grow out of tolerance into acceptance. We tolerate those who are ‘wrong,’ we accept those who are different. ‘Wrong’ when compared to me being ‘right;’ whereas different has no element of right or wrong. What goes into acceptance is knowledge, tolerance is about belief. Every culture, every country, has a history with some privileges, some oppressions, some good, some evil, some that enhance and others that diminish - leaving an impression on an entire people. These impressions express as our differences and deserve our acceptance.

The world is physically coming closer through developments in travel, technology and education; it is time now for us to understand and empathize with each other, so as a people we come closer together too. I feel strongly that the intermingling of cultures through friendships, partnerships and marriages is an essential part of closing the gap. We need to talk more, visit more, get to know each other more, adapt more so we can break through the barriers of bias. 

Knowing oneself is important. It leads us to acknowledge that we are a part of a much bigger Universe. Self knowledge reveals that we are not only part of the Universe but that the Universe is a part of us. When we hurt, insult or even ignore others we are hurting ourselves. Bias is not a reflection on the person we are differentiating against - it is a reflection of our own ignorance. Ignorance is ugly, discrimination is about fear and cowardice. Education needs to be about knowledge, so love and acceptance replaces fear and insecurities. Knowing about every thing inanimate only tells us about the world outside, it is only when we learn about the animate that occupy this Earth can we know our inner world, the one in which we are all One. Where love is the driving force; where kindness is the first choice; where acceptance is the only way.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sad!


I am saddened by the verdict on the George Zimmerman case. Not that punishment was what I was looking for - that would not have changed the event that took place on 26th of February 2012. The sadness comes from the fact that the system we have, makes it possible for a young 17 year old to be killed by another person. The message the system sent out was that our society is okay with such events. We all know that we are not, and simply because wise lawmakers chose to write and approve laws that make it not just possible but probable, more innocent lives will be lost.

I saw the court case as it played out. A lot of the graphics and language could not be shown on TV, but from what I did see it is evident to me that the jury had no option but to give the verdict they did. There was more than ‘reasonable doubt’ in my mind as  the case was heavily favored towards Zimmerman - only Zimmerman’s perspective of the whole story could be presented. Where was Trayvon’s whole story? There wasn’t one because Zimmerman pulled out a gun and shot him dead. He did not choose to shoot him in the leg or in a place that could have stopped him, but to shoot him through the heart. If Zimmerman did not have a gun on him that night, he would not have been following Trayvon. He would have called the police and gone straight home - especially since he was aware that he had zero fighting skills - considering he was a 0.5 on a 1 to 10 scale after 18 months of MMA training. We told him it was okay for him to have that gun - our laws gave him permission to shoot Trayvon dead and then confirmed that he was right to have done so.

All that is needed is for one to feel threatened of bodily harm to take the life of another. That is how self-centered we are being made out to be. I am not that person. I do not want to be that person. I am neither that fearful, nor am I that hateful towards my fellow men & women. That is where the sadness comes from. The outcome needed to say that every one has the right to be walking on the streets of the country and unless there is proof of wrong doing one cannot be treated like a criminal. We do not have the right to simply look at someone and presume he/she is ‘a problem.’ Suspicion based on conjecture cannot be excused. In my opinion Trayvon should have been afforded the right to defend himself for being targeted - the benefit of the doubt should also have been his. If two people are defending the same right why is one ‘justifiably killed’ and the other ‘justifiably not guilty?’ 

The whole truth never came out. We are not truth tellers. We as a race are known to twist words, omit others, stay silent and manipulate our capacity to speak, simply to protect our selfish interests. A 17 year old died and we have no way of knowing if the 28 year old man who chose to shoot him is telling us the truth. We do not know if he knows the whole truth and chose not to tell it; if he does not know the truth as Trayvon saw it and so could not tell it or if he knows the truth and is telling it. Even if he is telling the whole truth about what ‘happened’ - he could not have felt what Trayvon was feeling when the altercation happened because he had not lived for 17 years in Trayvon’s body and head. Yet the dead boy and his family received a horrible punishment while the killer got his gun back along with the permission to repeat what he did to Trayvon. There is something wrong, something sad, about such a lop-sided system. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Attitude

Attitude means a settled way of thinking about something. Attitude can therefore be good or bad, right or wrong, open or closed. It means the same attitude may prove to be right in some circumstances and wrong in others. The underlying factor that decides my attitude is therefore very important. Knowledge and experience are the key. Limited information means limited perceptions. The more I know about a subject, the better my attitude towards issues that arise from it. Gathering knowledge and experience both require an open mind and the capacity to think outside a box. It is easy to know what I know, the challenge is knowing what I do not know. There are multiple ways of gathering knowledge if the mind is open and must be availed of to be a successful decision maker, whether at home, at work or in communities. Good attitude is developed from taking an open minded approach to every challenge. The moment I limit my capacity to 'what I know' I limit my ability to grow and be productive. Pre-supposing that the perceptions of others have no basis, or need to be changed to mine, is the marker that sparks the need to open my mind and gather more information. 

The challenge, with having an open mind with the intent to learn, lies in not being able to act. This is anti-productive and impedes the ability to bring ideas to a tangible fruition. Here too attitude plays a major role. Disciplining myself to act decisively comes from my acceptance of imperfection in myself. This acceptance makes it possible to move forward and make adjustments along the way. Imperfection is a functional by-product of an open mind, that helps me strive towards perfection. Knowledge can become wisdom which can then be the insight needed to do what is necessary to live a fruitful and purposeful life - imperfectly maybe, as the field of knowledge is after all infinite. 

When working on a challenge alone there is only a single person's attitude to deal with. When working in a team it is very important that we encourage people with different attitudes to express their viewpoints. Every person has value, in that they represent a perspective that challenges decisions and processes being undertaken. Strategy and tactics must be developed, up front, based on the personalities within a working team that makes it possible to produce tangible and useful results. Without this important element ideas will never take visible shape. It is just as important to picture the design as it is to put it on paper and to buy the material to build a functional home. Anyone can design a room with four walls but it takes creativity, knowledge and a sense of proportion to decide where the doors and windows should go, how high the ceiling should be, where functional partitions should be placed based on the needs and the resource limitations of the people who are likely to use the home. It is always beneficial to have a team to collaborate to build such a home.

Good leaders understand, respect and encourage the characteristics of each team member. This helps the leader to deal with each person as an individual, to treat that individual with respect, and to develop a cohesive and productive team. It is incumbent on the leader to communicate what needs to be accomplished and leave the how to be developed by the team. The leader sets the timeline but leaves determination of time management to the team. The leader listens to the team with an open mind while always keeping the eyes on the goal. The road to the goal must be built by the team. Good leaders know how to both give and receive communications well. They are the ones with the most open minds. Leaders dream big and know that only with collaborative effort can a dream become a reality. They must earn respect by giving respect and by allowing the potential of each member of the team to flourish. An organization with a leader who has the attitude of acceptance not tolerance, cohesion not adhesion, development not expansion, integrity not answerability succeeds at every level. 

Everyone of us is an 'organization' with a 'team' inherent within us. We work cohesively - every organ accepts the other and lets it work autonomously within the framework of the needs of the individual. When one part hurts our general health suffers - no matter how healthy the rest of us is. Yet it is possible to be functional if the mind - the leader - is stable.The more I gather knowledge about the world within and the world without the more courageous I become. There are limits to every organ and it is incumbent on me to work with that limitation and yet let the infinite potential within me to shine right through at every moment. 

Many today are comfortably talking about their own death simply because they have accepted it as part of life - not as an inescapability but as an evolution. This too comes from development of an open, objective, receptive, detached mind - one that breeds an attitude that honors every other aspect of what comprises 'me.' I am sometimes right and sometimes wrong and that is what makes me think and want to know more before I undertake anything and on the way to meet every goal. It allows me to let others into my mind so they can place their views forward and help me grow. This is only possible if I am open minded and willing to accept that I am an extension of everyone else just as they are an extension of me. A difficult concept but one that is possible to experience by remaining silent and inactive in the mind. Live life performing every duty of every role assigned to me, without letting the mind wander where I am not. I am here in the now and therefore my mind needs to be with me. The mind does not control me, I control the mind. Attitude is mine to develop, maintain and use to live my purpose. My purpose is to express gratefulness for the gift of life by leaving a trail of goodness, kindness, compassion, love and truth. Death will come when my gratefulness has overwhelmed my need to express it.