Monday, January 31, 2011

PERCEPTIONS

“We don’t see people the way they are, we see them the way we are.” Great quote I said to myself. “Applies,” I added absent-mindedly, wondering if the vanishing distinction between obese and fat and ‘pleasantly plump,’ as I had started calling myself lately, was related to it in some way. I mean when I weighed fifteen kilos lighter I saw people as obese, fat and even tubs of lard (forgive me!) but definitely not ‘pleasantly plump.’ As I said it was just a half thought which hardly registered at the time. I filed it away under ‘Later’ and forgot about it.



But I suppose when you label something ‘Later’ it’s bound to come up sooner or later! One day a lady who knows me quite well, commented on my life with a sweeping statement that had more pessimism and defeat as a basis, than truth. She said, “Jis ki barbadi likhi hai, woh lakh koshish kare toh bhi kuch nahin hota. Sab kuch ujjadta rehta hai.” (If it is your fate to be destroyed, no matter how hard you try nothing will come of it. All your efforts will be in vain) In other words, what she was saying was that I was doomed to be a failure! That hit hard and I must have been gaping at her stupidly while I gathered my wits, because taking my blank stare for incomprehension, she began to elaborate. I twisted and turned as she wrung out my life underlining all my losses; my roller-coaster life, unsuccessful efforts, blah...blah...blah. What about the successes, the small victories...I wondered. Were they real or not? I figured out they weren’t to her. So I resigned myself to listen.



I listened to her theory in awe. According to her reckoning, I would not find success in anything and it would be a waste of time, effort and money (which I did not have much of anyway!) to try to fight fate. I was wondering which path to take; get into a useless discussion with her to defend myself or let her walk away happy that she had imparted some knowledge and sound advice to me. I opted for the latter, it was the easier way out. Besides, she had a right to her opinion. After all, she was viewing it the way she was. Ah! The quote was back.



I am sure she went away feeling very nice and fuzzy-wuzzy inside after passing that (dubiously) prophetic statement and commiserating with me. I felt relieved that in some way, that conversation had made her feel good and I got out of an unwanted discussion. She had a right to her opinion, especially, when she refused to see the brighter side I presented.



I realised at this point how we saw people not as they were but as we were. This lady is highly superstitious and uses superstition to justify any kind of failure or loss. She likes to be a martyr and is happy only when she imagines herself suffering. A chance “how are you?” will elicit a long list of ailments and problems she has to bear. Often I would tell her in jest, “Look at the doughnut, not at the hole.” So it would have been impossible for her to see the positives, she was too used to seeing the negatives. It was one of those contradictions where her happiness stemmed from her misery and I suppose the miseries in another’s life.



I was feeling quite light and enlightened by the co-relation I had discovered through our conversation and wondered if I would meet someone else with an equally strong perception and who would be equally eloquent about it. As it occurred I did. And unfortunately or fortunately I was once again the subject.



Another close acquaintance called me. I cannot recollect how or why the conversation took a turn to me being the subject, but she began praising me and telling me how much she admired my grit and perseverance. I was a bit embarrassed, and laughed it away in an effort to make small of my struggles. This did not throw her off the topic, on the contrary, it stoked her fervour further. So once again, I had to hear the same list of the known challenges I had faced and how I had done so well despite it all. What a change in perspective! Once again I realised the best way to end the discussion was to agree. I am sure she felt better that day having praised me and for having passed on some positive energy my side. I must admit I felt good about it.



I found I had agreed with two women who had entirely opposed views about me!



In retrospect, I am glad I had both those conversations. The attitudes and perceptions of both the women were a direct reflection of who they were. Both had the same information and knowledge of my circumstances but one saw me as a failure; a victim preordained by fate and the other as a fighter; a survivor, a victor.


Perceptions!



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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Our Indian Christmas

I've finally finished taking down all the decorations and the Christmas tree! I took my time and worked at my own pace, unlike the frenzy almost a month back. I was desperately trying to pack forty-eight hours into my day. There were so many things that had to be done in preparation for Christmas. Cakes to be baked, gifts to be bought, traditional sweets and savouries to be prepared, decorations to be put up, furniture to be upholstered, carpet to be replaced, party to be planned...it was endless. Oh yes ! The salon, how could that be left out. The last thing I needed on Christmas was bad hair, dull skin and rough hands.


How I love Christmas. The whole world seems so beautiful and happy in its preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Personally, I feel more charitable; more forgiving; able to overlook the meanness of people and truly meet it with joy and love. Whether you are a believer or not, nevertheless the spirit of Christmas embraces you with love and a feeling of caring and sharing.


The malls are decorated. Santa caps sell like hot cakes. People like to strut about with these red caps. The church is open throughout the day for people of other faiths, who come in a continuous stream to pray, despite the cold, even at midnight on Christmas Eve.


All of us 'busy' folk who don't find time to go to church throughout the year, can be seen in the front pews on Christmas in our Sunday Best.


" Seasonal Christians," whisper the hoity-toity regulars, and then don their church faces.


I smile and bow my head to thank God for making it possible for me to be in His House to share in the joy of His birth.


" I'm a seasonal churchgoer but a regular Christian," I whisper to my neighbour, who raises her eyebrows as we all rise to sing.


I've never been able to outgrow the excitement and pleasure of buying and receiving Christmas gifts. The hunt for the right gifts, the mental arithmetic as you try to adjust everything into your budget, the minor disappointments, the major delight in giving and receiving " just what I wanted " gifts.


An overflow of this feeling is also present in my culinary pursuits. The most arduous task is making salt meat. The entire process takes about ten-twelve days. And the beetroot wine takes longer. However this is a simpler preparation which only needs time to ferment. The successes and disasters in the kitchen, as the goodies get in and out of the oven and the fry pan, fill the home with laughter and much consoling too.


Decorating the house and tree is a family affair. As each one pitches in. At times it does run into mild differences of opinion, which are quickly resolved....That's the spirit of Christmas. The flower rangoli is designed and diyas placed at the entrance as well as a wreath on the door! Tea lights are put on the balcony wall. Candles of various shapes and sizes are a part of the decor. The ubiquitous star is hung from the ceiling in the balcony.


Finally when all the baubles, tinsel, lights, tree, bells and bows are in place and the cakes, sweets and savouries are done --- It's Christmas Eve and the refrain of 'Silent Night, Holy Night...' wafts through the house as we light all the candles and switch off the lights. The star hanging in the balcony is lit and it swings in the breeze casting dancing shadows on the walls. The wind-chimes pick soft notes. The carol is the only other sound as it plays softly...." All is calm, all is bright, Round yon Virgin mother and child.......Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace..."


A transformation takes place; Such peace descends on each one; A peace that passes all understanding.


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NOTE: Rangoli: An artistic design made on the floor with flower petals or dry coloured powder.

Diyas : Small earthen lamps.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ring Out The Old, Ring In The New

Shivering, yes I was shivering inside of me. Partly from the cold which resulted from an unusually freezing winter for our part of the country, but it wasn't only the cold the wall clock told me as it merrily ticked in the New Year. I couldn’t understand it. I was experiencing a mixed bag of feelings as I hugged a few friends who had especially driven up to wish me, knowing that I would be all alone. My heart was like a huge jumble sale, there was every kind of feeling bunched up there...I just dug in a pulled out whatever I needed; a warm glow, a radiant face mask, just the right gestures or an appropriate answer...anything! So while I was aware of gratitude for a year of God’s grace, thoughtful friends, relatively good health, blessings showered on our family, I couldn’t be free of the lurking “something” that I couldn’t identify. Whichever way I tried to explain it, I wasn’t really putting my finger on a satisfactory explanation. Finally, I gave up and decided to just be.


At my keypad the next morning, I typed out: “What I want right now is a long itinerary of fabulous places to travel to – confirmed tickets (executive class) reservations complete at each destination in comfortable resorts/ hotels/ home-stays...whatever spells beauty, leisure, fun, goodness, fabulous! Money enough and more to not worry about how and where; a travel companion with loads of humour, travel experience, confidence, thoughtfulness, patience, gumption and no fiscal problems; a person of honour and excellent character...in short a fairy tale being!!!!”


Travel seemed to hit a key. Restlessness, I needed to move. I don’t seem to belong to any one place – I belong to all places. I think that’s the only way I can fit into this world and its peoples. Was there a gypsy ancestor? If there was, I haven’t heard of it! But if facts be faced I’ve been a gypsy since I was born in a hospital by the sea-side; numerous moves due to dad’s postings, hubby’s job transfers, single parent on the move with job and residence shifts, trying to make a go of it, and every effort to settle down going in vain. I am a gypsy and by no conscious design. That’s all in a light vein!


Seriously, it takes on the garb of transformation in a different, more interesting way in these lines by Elizabeth Gilbert in the novel Eat, Pray, Love:
“I find the Augusteum so reassuring, that this structure has had such an erratic career, yet always adjusted to the particular wildness of the times. To me the Augusteum is like a person who’s led a totally crazy life – who maybe started out as a housewife, then unexpectedly became a widow, then took up fan dancing to make money, ended up somehow as the first female dentist in outer space, and then tried her hand at national politics – yet who has managed to hold an intact sense of herself throughout every upheaval.”


I have not been chaotic. However chaotic circumstances and situations have brought about “changes that nobody, least of all I, had anticipated.” Time has been the gypsy moving through my life. And I still wouldn’t like to say: “Time you old gypsy man will you not stay? Put up your caravan just for one day...?”


It definitely is going to be a very fruitful, satisfying year!


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