Life

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you

I wonder if I am the only person who on a Sunday night has a ton of regrets for having wasted an entire weekend doing nothing constructive. Just me? Every Friday night I plan to clean less, fuss less, grumble with the parents about making the house dirty less, Netflix less (we can entirely discount the chill bit of the Netflix and chill because those of you who have read my blog know that there is 0 chill in my life. Pun intended) read more, relax more, speak to the friends more and actually learn a life skill like cooking more. Come Sunday and I have done none of those things. I have cleaned, scrubbed and dusted and sadly enjoyed every minute of it. I have not made an attempt to light the stove and have watched a ton of rubbish on Netflix and listened to Chris Young’s Getting you home one too many times. Sunday’s have gotten a bit more interesting lately and on Saturday evening I also vow to the friends that I will make an attempt to appear friendlier and less potentially cloistered nun like. On Sunday afternoons, messages are sent to the friends confirming that I have done none of those things along with the justification that ‘it was the black t-shirt again, girls. There is a whole spectrum of physical colours but one seems to only have 1 t-shirt in a non-colour.’ So aside from a dust free house, very clean loos and a growing problem with the black-brown combination, not much has been accomplished over the weekend.

And so on this Sunday night, after dinner I start to feast on the existential crisis for dessert. Is my job fulfilling enough? Does it challenge me? Will I be leaving the world a bit better by the work I’m doing? There’s a resounding no in my head as I typed that. Like most people, I always think I’m meant to do more- make a difference in some way. Any way. Thoughts are free and cheap so I push the idealism aside and hang on to the job because I like what gets credited to my bank account each month.  And thus the cycle of want never ceases. I rationalize it this way- what am I good at aside from this job? What is my core competency? Is it art? Unfortunately I did not inherit my mother’s art genes or at least I haven’t attempted holding a brush so I’ll never know. Is it teaching? Probably not. Snotty, screechy, whiny kids for 8 hours a day for 6 days a week for 40 weeks a year? Bleeghhh. I’ll pass. Is it writing? I could do that but then again I am the least imaginative person I know. Unless someone is willing to publish volumes about my mother and/or religion. Is it music? Now that’s a passion but then again 600,000 other people also have the same passion. I fancy the idea of leading the simple life, cutting back to the basics, having just what I need. The problem with this is that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. In my head, I can make do with just enough clothes so that I don’t have to repeat the same outfit in the same month. In reality, I have way more than I need. My head embraced minimalism in a big way. I regularly delete unwanted emails, messages, photos, videos, clothes and people from my life. But can I get by with the bare minimum? This time the father will say a resounding no. I also need to keep the non-AIDS/Ebola/Cancer curing job because I have discovered the thrill of travel. Now I’m not one of those ‘I’d rather have more stamps in my passport than things in my house’ kind of people i.e. I can’t sit on a mat wearing clothes from GoodWill with a rolled up pair of trousers for a pillow just so that I can backpack across Europe. Ergo, tech job is required.

There is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson which I love and today I’m going to use that as context for this post-

To laugh often and much; – Check. Probably too often and too much and a lot of times at all things and times inappropriate

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;- Check. The children part I’m not sure about because I do not have those around me. Ever. But I do work with and are friends with some very intelligent people. Then there is the mother and while I don’t know if she respects me, I’d like to believe that she at the minimum has affection for me

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;- Check. Although I wish the parents and friends were not so honest with their critique.

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;- Check and check. I appreciate beauty every Sunday. I’m not a fan of facial hair but I have risen above. If seeking out the nice looking face beneath the fluff is not finding the best in others I don’t know what is.

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;- Uncheck. There is no child. The garden is my father’s/Ramu’s doing and I don’t think this blog qualifies as redemption of anything.

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded- I know of people who can say this with absolute certainty-my mother for instance (surprise surprise that I would call her out) has made numerous people’s lives easier, my father by way of his work has helped the disadvantaged. So this is going to be a huge uncheck for me. But the goal is to love greatly, live gently and detach gracefully. For now, that’s going to have to suffice as  success.

 

 

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Life, Religion

The Gods may throw the dice

Why do bad things happen to good people? A question that has plagued many a mind especially yours truly. I wonder how God does his balance sheet. How does he distribute reward points? But more importantly how does he determine when to smite and the quantity of smite to serve as appropriate retribution for one’s misdeeds? What I can understand are reactions for every action. It is pure, simple physics- each time you’re an ass, God sends you a warning to make you realize the offense, feel guilty and not be a repeat offender. I can even make my peace with the type of lessons if they’re directly proportional to the type of misdemeanor. Let’s say you’re the town gossip and you’re left friendless. That’s not God’s lesson, that’s just God’s gift of common sense to people you’ve interacted with. Or if you’re been awful to someone and in return someone else has been awful to you. Perfect symphony. What I cannot understand is people who have to suffer for no fault of theirs. Children left orphaned and homeless for instance. What could a child possibly have done to make that type of suffering justifiable? Or people struck down in the prime of life by a debilitating disease. Worse still if they haven’t been alive long enough to warrant that kind of distress.

The scriptures have provided little or no comfort in this aspect. Yes, God only gives you what you can handle. But why does he overburden some people? Being tested by fire is all fantastic if it brings positive change, but more often than not, adversity breaks people and sometimes turns previously phenomenal human beings into bitter ones because they can’t seem to catch a break. Then there are other Biblical verses that say that if God gives you suffering, he gives you the strength to bear it. But why give the suffering in the first place? First he/she has to take the trouble to give someone more than their share of suffering, then he/she has to make extra efforts to give them additional strength to cope with said suffering. That’s too much work even for the almighty. Hinduism hasn’t explained this well enough either. I get Karma in a single lifetime. Do something appalling, wham, you pay for it. What also baffles me is Hinduism’s Karma across multiple lifetimes. Or paying for the transgressions of a forefather. If one was a cow in a previous life (figuratively not literally), it is not fair to have gone through that life without consequence only to have to pay for it in the current life. The kind of calculations that have to go into arriving at the right opening balance for this life is again way too much work. I do the crime, I’d like to do the time. All in one life time. Because if I were to be reincarnated, I’d like to start with a clean slate. With a non-encumbrance certificate.  Equally discomforting is one having to pay for the sins of a forefather. If an aunt or granduncle is Dr. Evil, give them piles. Make them pay for it. It’s like if someone from one’s extended family is over leveraged, the banks come after me. It shouldn’t work like that. My penance can only be a reflection of my sins. Not a cousin’s or the sins of a grandparent. I’d very much like to be judged and to atone for my list of wrongdoings. However, great or small. That is justice. But one will never know how it works I suppose so all we can hope for is a. for God to believe we can’t handle much, b. not to have been nightmares in a previous birth, c. have saintly forefathers who’ve checked out after clearing their own dues.

PS: I’ve had a gloriously happy week so this isn’t a whiny rant about life and its lemons. It’s just a very general post about something I haven’t ever understood about life.

 

Life

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth

My school is celebrating 130 years and I was asked to write a few lines about my time there. Toughest 3 lines I have ever written. It is not that I hated the place, it’s just that I didn’t love it. I spent an awkward 4 years at the school. I was probably the only girl during my Class 10 graduation who thought ‘Right, let’s get on with this and get it over with’. No tears were shed and I left in Class 10 as indifferent to the place as when I joined in Class 7. As adults we forget that school isn’t just about learning. That’s the easy part. Also something I was good at. It is the stuff outside of accumulation of data that most of us struggle with in school. I was painfully shy and was surrounded by extremely confident, boisterous girls who at the time seemed so worldly and ‘with it’. I always felt different. Starting with my name, everything about me was different. School is hard enough but when it’s an all-girls school, it makes it a bit worse. At home my parents never gave my looks much focus. And rightly so. I was not the nicest looking tween. I was stick thin and looked like a poster child for the World Bank and Unicef. I had the worst possible dress sense and spent ages 12-15 swaddled in clothes 2 sizes too big. The fact that it was by choice made it worse. I’d like to think this is the reason I have personality. I was forced to obtain one to compensate for the lack of physical appeal. Thankfully the phase ended as soon (at least I hope it did) as I hit 16 but I will always have the soul of an uggo.  Growing up I found it much easier to keep myself company than make the effort to acquire friends. Maybe it was because I had no siblings or had no one my age to hang out with. I remember struggling to relate to girls my age. I was and still am an old soul. I couldn’t do the silly or the giggly or the boy talk. I do not remember liking a movie star and I’ve never had posters of a celebrity on a bedroom wall. I can also truthfully say the Josephite/Cottonian lot did nothing for me. As a result throughout school, I felt I did not belong.

The school like most in Bangalore had a few good teachers some of whom I remember fondly to this day. And thankfully they remember me the same way I’m told. But it also had plenty of not so great ones. Teaching should be the way David Chatterjee taught. With passion. Maybe a bit too much passion if one has to ask every Josephite he taught. On second thought Dr. David Chatterjee because so God help anyone who forgets his PhD. He taught me to balance equations at 6. It is because of him that my love affair with the sciences continues. He might have been terrifying to his students but to me he was indulgent and kind. Every time he visited, I’d ask him if he thought I was smart and he’d twinkle at me and say that my IQ was way above the average level. He was a fantastic Chemistry teacher. But he could teach Biology, Physics, History and Literature. He had the finest brain of anyone I’ve known. Unfortunately there was only one Chat and after God made him, he broke the mould. My school did not have its own Chat. And so what I learnt, I forgot once that exam was over. I disliked Hindi as much as I loved Chemistry. Both because of the people teaching it. I do not recall my Hindi teacher’s name and vaguely remember her face but all I remember is that feeling of dread each time we had a Hindi class. I have also exaggerated her evilness in my head- she was sarcastic all of 3 times but with my ego (even as a child), that was 3 times too many. All these years later, I still have not taken a shine to the language although I now realize that it might do me good to view it with less hostility.

Even as a child I could never kiss tushy, not with my teachers and not with anyone. Time has still not taught me that skill. I could never give a teacher flowers or chocolates because I always thought that an extra chocolate should not change my grade-if it did my grade was not worth it. That heady, youthful combination of idealism and stupidity. In retrospect, my indifference might have been viewed as arrogance and maybe it was.  Teachers are meant to convert the data in textbooks into knowledge. Few have that capability. As a child in India, learning by rote is more important than understanding why or how to.  Teaching like medicine and religious orders is not a profession. It is a vocation. It isn’t just an 8-3 job. Teaching cannot be a last resort sort of a job- it is not a plan Z. It cannot and should not be made a career when the alternative is unemployment. Teachers should strive to break down a child’s insecurities and not their spirit. They should build on their strengths instead of highlighting every weakness. Teachers have to realize that they’re shaping young lives, hopefully into adults that they are proud to have taught.

Travel

Sotter Celo De Roma

A friend asked me today why I hadn’t written about Rome as yet. So brace yourselves, what follows is going to be one mushy love fest. Rome like my mother and MTR’s Khara bath is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Rome can turn someone like me into an illegal immigrant. Is it obvious that I love Rome muchly? No? Rome is not just a city, it is an experience. One which I highly recommend. And so I will produce unsolicited travel advice for one blog post on what must be done to relish everything that is the eternal city-

  1. Fly Alitalia- They might lose your bags but their inflight music is Volare. Just before landing in the Fiumicino airport the pilot will choose to provide all passengers with an aerial view of the Vatican. Maybe it’s that heady combination of Volare and the Vatican but if your heart does not skip a beat, are you even alive?
  2. Get a hotel with a view of that glorious dome- There is no better sight to wake up to each day and fall asleep to each night than that magnificent Cupola. If you’re Catholic, it will speak to your soul. If you’re not, it will speak to your soul.
  3. Skip the gelato- Gelato like Italian pizza is over rated. Maybe I never ate the right gelato but hold onto those Euros, find a Baskin Robbins and invest in a mint chocolate chip. Or go to Pubbas in Mangalore for the best ice-cream in the world.
  4. Give the pizza a miss- Unless you like your pizza to have the malleability of a chapatti with mozzarella (could I get more Indian?) I’d suggest steering clear of Italian pizza. And as for their vegetarian sandwiches (Focaccia with mozzarella and tomato)? Barge pole distance must be kept at all times.
  5. Binge on Cornetti- If nothing else, travel to Italy just to eat their breakfast. Almost every café makes the most delicious Cornetti (the croissant’s healthier Italian cousin). The filling is chocolate or lemon cream. Always get yourself a cup of Cappuccino to go with the Cornetto. Ignore the judgmental glares as you top the Cappuccino up with a bit more milk and a lot more sugar. Don’t be a hero. No one except my father can drink coffee that strong.
  6. People watch in Piazza Navona- the overpriced, tourist trap type coffee notwithstanding, spend an evening in Piazza Navona. Find yourself a nice spot to sit, preferably with a nice Ciambella from the bakery at the end of the Piazza and watch all the tourists (always American) strike the same pose as the Tritons in the Moor fountain- why they do that will be anyone’s guess.
  7. Tear up in St. Peter’s Basilica- nothing will prepare you for the jaw dropping, speech robbing brilliance that is St. Peter’s Basilica. Visit more than once if you can. Possibly each day. More than once a day. Never leave. Brace yourself for long queues and airport type security. It will be worth it. Carry with you a tissue for when the emotions come rushing out of you at the sight of the Baldachin. Eyes will fill up. Voices will choke. Lips will quiver. If none of this happens to you as you enter the most beautiful of places, know that I am silently judging your stone cold heart.
  8. Feel ignorant in the Vatican museums- Forget the audio guide. And the guide book. Do not sign up for a guided tour with the rest of the tourists. Put on some comfortable shoes, take a long swig of red bull, pop in some multi vitamins, look up art history students who also play private tour guide and prepare for a crash course in history and Bible studies. Ditch the camera and turn off the mobile.
  9. Go to Tuscany to get it out of your system and off your bucket list- Like the gelato and pizza, massively over rated. Stay in a renovated castle, preferably one that has history ex. A castle owned by the Pazzi’s where they plotted to take out the Medici’s. Take a wine tour. If only for Instagram and to come back and eat people’s ears off about it. If you want to delete Tuscany from your itinerary, it would not be the worst thing. A drive from Whitefield to BIAL via Budigere on a sunny afternoon provides the same landscape.
  10. Ladies (and some gentlemen if you happen to be of the persuasion) stay alert and keep your eyes wide open- Italy has more eye candy than a Calvin Klein fashion show. As someone who doesn’t generally get worked up at the sight of the other gender, I giggled more than my share of Mama Mia’s in Rome. God has not been kanjoos in the looks department when creating Italian men. He kept the kanjoos for the Indians (certain bespectacled ones removed). Italian men give you enough attention to flatter but not so much that you need to get out the pepper spray.
  11. Do not have a packed itinerary: One does not need to visit the Basilica, the Trevi fountain, the museums, Colosseum and Naples all in one day. Rome and all her Renaissance scrumptiousness should be savoured, moment by moment. Take your time with that tiramisu in one of Rome’s trattorias. Walk around with no particular destination in mind and just take in the sights and the smells of the city. If smell is high on your agenda, then avoid the area around the Tiber. Rome should not be explored on an empty stomach and a heavy heart. If the husband/father/kids are being pains in the posterior, dump them. At least whilst in Rome. And maybe outside of Rome if you’re so inclined (I cannot give mother mine any more hints).
  12. And finally you will utter the saddest of phrases- Arrivederci Roma and hope that the Gods will be so kind so as to allow you to meet her again.
Life, Religion

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love & faithfulness

I love Pope Francis. I think he’s the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church. He’s been the most liberal and open minded leader that we’ve had in a long time. Yet he tends to be very conservative on one thing- abortion. The Church was always pro-life and vehemently anti-abortion in any circumstance but given how different Pope Francis has been from his predecessors I assumed that he would take a less conformist stand on abortion. It was a little disappointing to read today that he compared people aborting fetuses with abnormalities to Nazi eugenics. It is clearly not something the Church has thought through. We all agree when the Church says that every life is precious, every life has been created by God but to expect a mother to carry that pregnancy to term knowing full well that not only will her life be infinitely more difficult but she will bring forth a child only to have it go through unimaginable suffering in its lifetime. How is that humane? To say that a mother is aborting a fetus with abnormalities because she wants an easy life is not only trivializing what the mother is going through but terribly unfair to that woman. Not every family has the resources-monetary and otherwise to care for a child with special needs. Not every family has access to decent healthcare to provide that child to make his/her life a bit easier to bear. Aborting a fetus with severe physical or mental abnormalities in such cases is not selfishly wanting an easier life, it is just doing the right thing by the mother and the child. There is no point bringing a child into this world only for it to have the worst quality of life.

When we say that every child deserves the right to live surely we mean the best possible life he/she can have- a childhood of laughter and games, of scraped knees and bruised elbows, of learning and discovering the world around them and of promising futures. So is it fair to judge a woman who after discovering that her child will be born with severe cognitive or physical limitations takes the not so easy decision to terminate that pregnancy because she knows that the worst thing she can do for her child is for it to be born and be confined to a vegetative state for the rest of its life, where the only prayer she has as a mother is for that child to die before her, because that is the only way she can guarantee that the child will be cared for as long as it is alive? That is not very Catholic in my view. Now this is not to say that parents who have children who then God forbid develop a limiting disease should dispose of those children. That’s murder and completely different- that child has breathed, that child was a person who by some stroke of miserable luck gets a disease no child should and when a child, any child is born, the parents undertake an unspoken covenant to love, protect and care for that child.

As a Catholic, one thing I have never been able to wrap my head around is the Church’s fixation with suffering. Yes, Christ bore tremendous physical suffering and died for the salvation of mankind. But that is Christ. That is the reason we worship him. We are not Christ. We endeavor to imitate his goodness. We might even attempt to bear our suffering with grace and dignity. But we do not have to embrace nor rejoice in it. So this rather nonsensical to-suffer-is-Christian is something I’ve failed to understand.  So many of the clergy and nuns likening any tribulations one has to go through to Christ on the cross is doing disservice to the very concept of that cross. Christ did what he had to do so that we wouldn’t have to. I’d like to believe that God created us to be inherently happy, the goal of our lives being a constant strive towards happiness. Therefore God is love. I do not subscribe to the idea of a menacing God who is so insecure that he/she needs people to constantly suffer just so that it is a constant reminder of who’s the boss. The other thing I’ve had trouble coming to terms with is the Church being seemingly contemptuous of anyone who wants a good life. This is an extension of the fascination for suffering. To want the best possible life is not wrong. To want is not wrong. There would be no point to this life we’ve been given if we floated around with no wants, no aspirations and no dreams. Want is not always greed. Those with wants are not always evil and those with limited wants are not always the best people.

Maybe this is why I’ve never finished reading the Bible. The God I know and am so deeply fond of is so frightening different in the Bible. I have never feared God. Didn’t God himself say that where there is fear there is no love? In my mind, God is very much the indulgent parent who dismisses minor transgressions. Surely God is not going to deny his graces to those of us who put humanity before canon law. Bernini got it right when he designed St. Peter’s Square to depict the arms of the church which are meant to embrace everyone, and as the name suggests, universally. What would be really great is if the Church and her workers did that as well.