Tag Archives: children

Winning isn’t everything

I’ve often wondered where our urge to win stems from. What prompts us to want to come first? Why is coming second or third not good enough?

As a kid, I was always taught that winning isn’t everything and yet when it came to class tests or sports meets, my parents would set the bar so high that, sometimes, it was almost impossible to reach.

As an abstract concept it worked well, but in reality, not so much.

When the report card came, instead of congratulating me on scoring 92 percent in the finals, my dad would ask, “Who came first?” followed by “How could she score 95 percent and you couldn’t?”

Dejected and teary-eyed I’d head to my room.

Later I would be taken out to dinner as a “treat” and mom and dad would look proudly at me, encouraging me to study harder, nudging me to go that extra mile.

I was a bright kid — they didn’t want to see my talent go waste. And they knew that out in the world, coming first was going to get me places. No one cared if you were one of the top three, let alone the top five, they reasoned.

Some children cheated — took little “chits” to class, had their art projects completed by their moms, indirectly bribed the teachers.

Because winning meant too much.

And since everyone was doing it, it was somehow justified.

So much for the mandatory moral science classes all of us attended.

I was too self-righteous. And my mom was too busy.

Most of all, I couldn’t lie to myself.

Because at the end of the day, all said and done, you might have good grades on paper, but in your heart you know you’re a failure. You may have it but you know you didn’t deserve it.

I didn’t want sleepless nights.

I knew my parents had a lot of expectations from me, but I had decided early on that my best is all I could give it. And if it wasn’t good enough to earn me the best spot then so be it.

Even today I see my friends urge their toddlers to out run each other, to come first, to be better … nay, to be the best.

Because what good is second-best?

And every time someone says, “it’s all about participation,” or “it’s all about having fun” — they’re perceived as talking to the losers’ club.

But isn’t that really the essence of competitions? The ability to show one’s mastery over a subject or a sport with the help of an opponent? About enjoying yourself?

It’s not about showing the world that you’re the best, it’s about being the best you can be. There’s a distinct difference between the two.

That’s not how the world works, though.

Winning and cheating go hand-in-hand. We learn that there are moral, social, economic repercussions for those who cheat; that those people pay somehow, some time, somewhere…but when we look around us we find them getting better grades, more money, more power.

The hunger to win feeds corruption. It brings out not only the best, but also the worst in us.

Think about it the next time you feel dejected about your (or your children’s) less-than-desirable performance report.

If you gave it your best shot, be content.

This is an abstraction that when applied in reality will serve you well.

Read David’s well-written post on the same subject, especially the study [PDF] he refers to about bronze medal winners in the Olympics who were “simply happy to have received any honors at all (instead of no medal for fourth place).”

In the end it’s all about perception — the one you have of your self outweighs what anyone else thinks of you.

Go get ’em, tiger!

 

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Untitled

This one is from the archives. This poem holds a special meaning for me because of two reasons:

  • It was recognized by UNICEF as a literary piece spreading awareness about child abuse, specifically that of the girl child.
  • It introduced me to my life partner — this was the first piece of my writing he encountered and was touched enough to drop me a line. The rest, as they say, is history.

This poem is based on the right of a child to be protected from abuse and exploitation. I have not titled this poem because I want the readers to feel that just as a poem is incomplete without its title, childhood is incomplete without protection from the law.

Dark brown eyes that are red because of crying,
All hopes of escape and freedom are dying;

Clothes have been torn, hair is a tangled mess,
The face has lost all its childishness;
Hands and feet show marks of the whip,
Blood flows down from the cracked, parched lips;
Since the past three days no food has been eaten,
Her faith in God stands totally beaten.

Only seventy-two hours have passed since the time
There was laughter in life and bright sunshine
There were mother, father, and a lovely baby brother…
So what if they lived in a hut near the gutter?
There was dearth of money and they couldn’t eat well
But life was peaceful, and who had thought of such hell?

Loving neighbors, all sweepers by profession,
Who cared, but were financially in depression.
City life was expensive and father wanted the best for his son,
So he came up with an idea that would give him returns;
The very next day he came wearing a new coat,
In his hands he held hundred rupees’ ten crisp notes;
Life changed its course from that very moment
But there was no thunder, no lightning in the firmament!

The door creaked open and light illuminated the room
That hulk of a man, that lubber, spelled doom…
The message was to ask her if she was ready to come,
A customer was waiting — his fear made her numb;
But she was too tired to resent any longer,
Moreover, the louts were much, much stronger,
They washed her clean and gave her a dress
How she looked, is anybody’s guess.
She was led to a room where she would spend the rest of her life,
A girl of twelve followed by a lecherous man of thirty-five…

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The “religion” of humanity

Note: Fair warning that this post might offend some people. You may find yourself outraged, but please know, I am not attacking your belief system, simply stating my own. I would appreciate if you’d extend the same courtesy to me when commenting.

Watching Religulous last night just made me realize how we give a lot of significance to things we know nothing about.

India, one of the most secular countries in the nation, is routinely shaken by communal violence. Headlines that rip your heart: “Thirty-eight people burnt alive, 12 among them were children.”

“Property worth lakhs of rupees gutted down to ashes.”

“Shops looted and vehicles torched.”

Vikram Patel, Swastik Mehta, Joy Lobo, Heeralal Shah, Brian Phillips, Iqbal Mehmood, Aslam Khan – casualties of a war they didn’t start.

Their names bearing no significance – becoming only statistics splashed in newspapers people eat paapri-chaat on.

And it’s no different anywhere else in the world – hundreds of thousands dead in the name of religion. Politicians and religious leaders use rhetoric. They instigate mass hysteria. And caught between this war of words, the common man suffers.

I’ve always wondered how we end up determining our religion. Who tells us whether we are Hindus or Muslims? Christians or Jews? Scientologists or atheists? Is it the blood running through our veins? Is it a chemical reaction in our brains? Is it somehow something we just “know” when we enter this world?

No.

It’s people.

Starting with our parents. Reinforced by our social circle. Validated by our priests.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation: if a child is born to a woman who practiced Islam and she dies in childbirth; no one knows how to ID her; a Christian couple adopt him, baptize him, take him to Church every Sunday; but he is raised by their devout Hindu maid who reads passages from the Gita to him all the time.

What is this child’s religion?

Is he Muslim by accident of birth? Is he Hindu because he bowed to all the gods and chanted the Gayatri mantra day in and day out? Is he Christian because that’s the religion his parents identify with?

Isn’t religion just an organized social club where membership is determined by birth? You meet people with the same “beliefs,” perform the same rituals, and bow to the same deity (or different “preferred” ones if you have an array of 300-million to choose from)?

People don’t understand most of the stuff they do in the name of religion but do it anyway because they “don’t want to make Him angry” or because “you just don’t question these things!”

I call this worshipping fear.

One would think that with all our technological advances and better understanding of the cosmos, we, as Earthlings, would acknowledge that religion was “invented” to build community, to give people something to affiliate themselves with. To try and explain the unexplainable.

In today’s world where we know how to reprogram skin cells into stem cells, when we’re inventing ways to turn water into fuel, when we’re  finding evidence of water and carbon dioxide on a planet outside our solar system, to still hang on to stories our ancestors made up to control societies …?

It just doesn’t feel right.

I vividly remember Bombay burning as an aftermath of the Babri Masjid debacle and witnessed gory scenes of communal unrest in Gujarat that followed a decade later. Countless children were orphaned, millions of national wealth destroyed, innumerable lives cut short unwontedly; and yet we fight over constructing a temple, a church, or a masjid.

Is the construction of any of these buildings worth a public massacre? Can these brick and mortar structures be rightfully called holy? Isn’t this just human slaughter in the face of religious superiority? And who is to say which section’s God is the all-powerful one?

The way I see it, no one wins.

Religion only makes us lose touch with humanity. With what really matters. The symbols, the edifices, the nomenclatures – they’re just things we, the people, created.

When a child wails, do you hear Ram, or Allah, or Jesus?

No. You just hear a human being crying for comfort.

All we need is compassion. Empathy for each other. Peace within ourselves.

And for that we need to look inward.

Think about it before passing judgment.


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To let: a healthy womb

Two recent cases on surrogate adoptions have had me thinking the last couple of days.

I’ve learned from the experiences of two very close friends that motherhood is almost like a rebirth for a woman.

It’s more than just a physical rollercoaster ride – it’s an emotional voyage that springs new life.

For the better part of a year, a woman nurtures a new being within her womb – thinking about, speaking to, and bonding with this unseen fusion of sperm and egg … her child. Her flesh and blood. Her own creation.

For nine months, she waits in anticipation for that one moment when she will be able to see her baby, feel the infant’s breath, touch those little fingers – make that connection come alive in a very real sense. That one precious moment that surpasses everything else she has experienced thus far.

And then she has to give it away. To immediately render all that she’s experienced for three-quarters of a year, a memory. To give “her” child to someone else.

Of course, it’s an arrangement she entered knowing full well the implications of the transaction. But did she really know? For a first-time mom, could she have anticipated the emotions she would go through? Could she have guessed what it would really mean to separate herself from her newborn?

I have no maternal inclinations except for the general fact that I like kids — the kind who go back to their parents after two hours of play time. Despite that objective stance, I cannot entertain the thought of giving away “my” child to somebody else.

Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe the emotional toll something like this would take.

Yet some people would rather take this route than consider adoption. As much as it commodifies children.

Most people deep down would rather pass on their genes than adopt as they simply don’t know the background of children they adopt. Plus there are so many tests you have to go through, to prove you are a decent parent, it is enough to put anyone off adoption or fostering. Going for surrogacy suddenly appears appealing in comparison…..

Naomi Canton, Expat on the Edge

To me, it just seems a lot to ask for — just for the sake of passing down your genes. Or for the sake of “convenience.”

Whether she does it for money or as a gesture of love for a relative or friend, I don’t think any woman can be ever thanked adequately for first nurturing a life and then disowning it.

Thoughts?

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Face your fears

Darkness.

Heights.

Water.

Caves.

Earthquakes.

Lizards.

These are just a handful of things I’m afraid of. There was a time when I couldn’t even look at a body of water at night.

I’d imagine that darkness and water would join forces and swallow me whole.

I’d close my eyes when walking over bridges (‘coz then it was a triple whammy of height plus water plus darkness!). It was foolish. And I don’t know where I acquired such paranoia, but it was debilitating.

As I grew older, I learned how to mask my fear … but internally I was still crying, “Help me!”

A couple of years ago, as my husband and I were on one of our post-dinner walks in Iowa City, I tugged at his hand a little stronger, closed my eyes, and tried to stay in step with him. He turned around and asked what happened … I shook my head, opening my eyes ever so slightly and mumbled something about this being romantic.

“Romantic?!?!?!”

He was on to me. “What are you hiding? Are you afraid of something?”

I nodded meekly, still not having the courage to acknowledge my surroundings. We were on a bridge — let me be more specific — smack dab in the middle of a bridge. All I wanted was to cross it.

He insisted I open my eyes. Having known him long enough, I knew he wasn’t going to budge. We’d spend the night here.

So, I figured if I continued holding on to him, I’d be fine. Slowly I opened my eyes, focusing intently on his face. “There,” I said boldly. “Now can we walk?”

He shook his head, “No. Look around you.”

Grudgingly, I did — empty streets, moonless night, a couple of stars mocking at me.

“Now, let’s look at the water,” he said approaching the stone wall of the wretched bridge.

Here I was, a two-year-old in the body of a 20-something woman. If only I could disappear.

I knew he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Feigning courage, I peered over the wall and looked at the gushing river beneath.

Black water. So alive. So agile. It could leap up and take me with it in a flash.

I felt his hand around my shoulder. “So, what’s scary about this?” I couldn’t put it in words.

There I was. Looking fear in the eye. And the more intently I gazed at the water, in this darkness, from 10 feet above, the less fearful I became.

The idea of “fear” was more concrete at that moment, than the fear itself.

A couple of months later on our first vacation to Honolulu, we decided to take a moonlit stroll on the beach. All the fearful ideas came swarming back. But as I lay under a starry sky, feeling the wind in my hair and the sand between my toes, I stared into the vast blackness of the ocean.

For the first time in my life, I saw beauty. I could look at the shimmering water, the silver surf, the oneness of the sky and sea, this whole mass of black — and not be afraid.

I still wouldn’t agree to swimming in the ocean at night, but I won’t entirely run away from the idea of taking a dip in a well-lit pool. 😉

As with darkness, heights, and water my other fears are simply figments of my imagination. Seeds that were sown sometime in my childhood, perhaps. Seeds that grew into full-blown trees that took root in my mind. Gripping me strongly.

I’ve learned that the first step to overcoming one’s fear is to acknowledge it. Just doing that takes a lot of courage — it’s a reflection of one’s weakness. Vulnerability. Lack of control.

But once you’ve accepted it, you can take steps to overcome it. It all boils down to what you want: to live a life of fear and regrets, a life of limited experiences; or a life full of opportunities waiting to be grabbed.

I want to be able to enjoy snorkeling. I want to taste the freedom that comes with paragliding. I want to marvel at fireflies in caves. I want to know what it feels like to be on top of the world — literally.

I want to escape the security of a nine-to-five routine. I want to embrace the unknown. I want to be free!

Life is too short and I am in the sweet spot where my desires far outweigh my fears.

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The festival of colors

It’s been more years than I can remember since I played Holi — the festival of colors — celebrated all over India regardless of caste, creed, religion, social status. The festival has strong religious undertones but that doesn’t seem to dissuade Christians and Muslims from celebrating the onset of spring with literally colorful exchanges.

Or throwing each other in tanks full of colored water.

I always enjoyed playing with the water colors more than the dry ones — you could squirt them on unsuspecting folks with a pichkaari (water gun) and mix colors to create your own trademark shade.

I didn’t have any siblings, so I used to gang up with the kids in my building … a group of 10 of us itching to engage in colorful combat. That was one day I would wake up before the alarm went off. Take care of my morning routine without any nudging. Demand breakfast before mom even had a chance to make the first cup of tea. And wear the whitest white clothing I could pull out of the closet.

I imagine every kid in our building could tell the same story.

We couldn’t wait to get outside and douse each other in color amidst a lot of shrieking and laughing. Running up and down the stairs, with no regard to the walls, doors, or vehicles. Everything, and everyone, was a shade of green, orange, pink, and red.

The picture on the right was taken when the boys in the building (there were seven of those little monsters) had broken my pichkaari. I wanted to pull their hair, rip their clothes off, slap them left and right, but all I could do was stare. I knew I was no match for them. I also knew that no matter what I did I wouldn’t get my pichkaari back — the one I had spent hours shopping for and even more hours cleaning and adoring. Thanks, dad, for capturing that moment of silent rage for posterity.

The only thing that could lure us back in after four to five hours of nonstop color-loaded mischief were the savory gujiyas. All the moms had the kitchen to themselves and they would solicit the help of their respective maids to create this absolutely heavenly concoction of crispy and sweet deep fried pastries.

The picture on the left shows my obviously upset mom who was pulled out of her kitchen at the time of gujiya-making by insistent adult revelers. Not a pretty sight. Note also the sprayed wall in the background. That was all us — no adult help required. 😀

We’d sun ourselves dry relishing each bite of the flavorful delicacy … and listening to the one song Holi was not complete without: “Rang Barse!” [watch below]

And then it was time to clean up.

This was the last real Holi I played … took me two hours to get the color off and even though my skin was wrinkly after those many hours in the shower, there were still some shades of stubborn blue and green that refused to be wiped into oblivion. They would serve as my badge of honor the next day in school … 🙂

We’d compare notes, sneak in some remaining color, spoil our uniforms, get chided by teachers and parents, but it was all in fun.

I was in my teens now and most of my childhood playmates had left the apartment complex … Holi then became just an excuse for the neighborhood boys to come and grope members of the opposite sex. I was no longer allowed to go out.

Just a simple tikka ceremony where mom, dad, and I placed a red dot on each family member’s forehead and then I’d help mom in the kitchen, or watch TV, or read a book — the festival lost its charm as soon as grown-up inhibitions emerged.

I lamented for a couple of years, but then moved on. I had had my fill for almost a decade. It had been a good run.

Now Holi comes and goes without any special celebration. Just a couple of phone calls to relatives in India and friends in the States … exchanging e-cards and e-mails … wishing people through status updates. And maybe something special for dinner.

I miss the squeals of laughter, the  joyful spirit of free abandon, the camaraderie, the sense of community the festival built. What I really miss is being 10 again.

Even though Asha organizes a Holi celebration at Stanford University every year, I’ve never attended the event. Not for lack of company … it’s just that playing Holi as an adult doesn’t compare to enjoying it as a child. It doesn’t even come close. Now I am too conscious, too inhibited, too “aware” to engage in a festival that requires physical proximity with strangers … to actually enjoy it.

And I don’t want to create any new memories of Holi that will overshadow the ones I have. So, this is my homage to the festival I once enjoyed.

A time of unbridled happiness.

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More in sickness than in health

As I lie in bed coughing, battling body ache, and trying to kill that monster playing ping-pong in my head with Advil, I think of mom and dad.Twenty years ago, I’d be smothered with care and affection. Soup, fruit, hot meals, sponge baths, loving fingers caressing my messy hair … needs met before I even had the chance to articulate them.

It was good to be a child. Even better being an only child. Not that I was pampered … but I could revel in undivided attention. I was the queen of the house. Mom would deny me the title by saying “little princess” instead, but both of us knew.

I wasn’t one of those sturdy,healthy, bouncing babies. More of the wimpy, frail, sickly bambino requiring a lot of nurturing. From what I remember of my childhood, I was sick every time the weather changed 15 degrees; every time we came back from vacation; every time I was around other sick kids. My immunity was always taking a beating from an assortment of viruses and bacteria. I was used to downing pills and syrups, sticking the thermometer in my armpit or mouth depending on the age, and called our family physician, “Dr. Uncle.” Still do.

Teenage years were a tad better, although they were fraught with their own set of mental anguish.

And then came those two years in Iowa City where it hit me for the first time what being sick by oneself really meant. If I needed food, I had to get up myself and make it. Water? Plan ahead. Keep a bottle next to the sleeping bag I called my bed. Medicine? Trudge slowly to the bus stop, haul myself on the bus, go to the clinic, then the pharmacy, and drag my sorry feet back home.

Amid classes, midterms, a foreign country, and many acquaintances but no real friends, falling sick in the first semester was a real eye-opener. I missed my parents a LOT then.

And I miss them today — despite my loving, caring husband, who makes the best daal-chaaval when I’m sick; and friends whom I can count on for anything … I miss my parents’ devoted caregiving. And even though I say this, I know that if they were here today, I’d be acting all grown up and adult-like refusing to be taken care of. “It’s just a sore throat and some body ache, ma,” I’d say refusing her repeated requests to stay still in bed and keep the laptop away. “Stop treating me like a baby!”

If only that were true…

Sigh.

Better will my “adult” body into going downstairs and fixing some lunch now.

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