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Baby steps in Meditation

The decision to give meditation a shot came when I saw an image in Pinterest that said, “You’d never know what you are missing in life until you meditate 20 minutes a day.” It was the beginning of January when I was eager to clean up my act so I thought “Why not?”

I did not exactly take to meditation like fish to water. I was (and am) suspicious. So here is what I learnt.

The beginning was the easiest. Pick a place, wear comfortable clothes, dim lights to a certain extent, make sure you are happy with the fan’s speed and the air conditioner’s settings and off you go to the land of deeply breathing in and slowly breathing out. You breathe slowly and all you think is “Woo hoo, look who is meditating” but with a calmer quieter inner voice. This is simplicity itself. I was sure that this is one of those things that I just did naturally well. The next day was even better but I was getting slightly aware that my lungs were not used to this workout and was asking me what the hell I was playing at.

But soon the power of concentration and meditation decreased. I don’t quite know why this was so. Maybe I was not approaching meditation with sufficient reverence anymore. I started getting hungry during meditation time. I hardly found the time and when I did find the time, it did not feel good anymore. I was losing the meditation mojo I already had.

I had to add a few more rules like light snacking before meditating and not attempting meditation when too sleepy. But what are the tangible benefits that I can speak off? Is it really worth my time to spend close to 20 minutes?

Frankly the main point of meditation seems to be that you are not checking Whatsapp messages or twitter feed or Facebook feed, so instead of the outside world telling the mind what to think, the mind is permitted to be itself. At this time my mind doesn’t become less active. It becomes more active and reviews the parts of my life that needs more thought. I remember friends I need to catch up with, I remember that it is high time I visited my dentist and I remember that it has been some time since I returned blogging. But I also get time to reflect that what someone said was probably not what they meant. I take time to read between the lines. Delightful parts of my childhood pops in and in this process the thoughts get in line and the innards of my mind appears to be clean and dust free.

Is there any practical use? Yes. As I was saying, commitments you have been procrastinating and pushing aside will haunt you more and you will get more done. You’d review yourself and that will result in small changes. Perhaps you will find that you consciously drink more water or that you consider keeping away from someone who has been a gossipy presence in your life. Or may be you’d decide to enroll yourself in a Karate class after all these years. I am not sure what you will change after you start meditating. But something will change.

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The dog-lovers and the rest of us

I was listening to a conversation between a mother of a 3 year old daughter and the owner of a 3 year old dog. The conversation was held most amicably but I could see how different their stances were. I was not a part of that conversation but could identify strongly with one of them. If you think your dog is like your child, here are a few things that I would like to tell you.

Firstly, I teach my daughter to behave herself and teaching her manners was not easy. She learnt to say hello, please and thank you when appropriate when she was very young. If your dog non-verbally displays similar manners, I will pat its head and be nice. If not, admit that you are a bad parent/owner. I have seen very well-mannered dogs that will understand the guests and come to cuddle only if invited. Teach your dog that. Child-rearing is not about buying toys and cutting birthday cakes and running on the beach sand. It is about helping the child make sense of the world she is brought into and if you are a dog-owner, the same is expected out of you too.

Don’t say “Dora is not a dog”. Of course she is. She is a canine. She barks and howls and has four legs and a tail. You love the dog like a daughter and that is your right. That does not mean that the barking is a cute sound or that the growling dog has to seem less than intimidating in my eyes. The dog does not become an honorary child in the view of the world and it doesn’t have to. Dora probably likes being a dog.

Don’t feed the dog with your hands; it freaks the rest of us out. Tell the dog that begging for food at the dining table is not a decent habit. Think how you’d feel if I did the same with a komodo dragon and expected you to be cool with it. That is the extent to which dogs freak us out.

I can’t talk on behalf of the rest of the non-dog-loving population, but I personally do know and understand that dogs are intelligent and sweet and loving. Anecdotes about how Dora loves nail polish and begs for it will not make me an instant dog-lover. It is possible to expect a decent distance even after appreciating the complexity of canine (or feline) behavior.

Think twice before you say “Children are more annoying and I hate them.” I understand that you love your pet like a child and most people are not going to give heartfelt condolences when you lose your pet to old age or illness. They will not understand if you take the day off when the dog is sick. But just don’t say “I hate babies” to a parent of a human baby. It is incredibly rude.

Maybe it is different in other countries, but I think here in India we have neither got the hang of managing our own pets nor respecting the pets of others.

* The whole “I hate babies” brigade should probably be a separate topic. So many people like to say that they don’t like babies, that it is almost a trend now.

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The acid question

I recently noticed this. Whenever I have the mildest disagreement with a man and then go ahead and discuss it with a woman her response is always, “Please be careful, he might turn spiteful and throw acid on you”. I don’t mean a specific woman but women in general.

I am almost always amused at this reaction. It can make sense if I had a huge public row with the man in question and insulted him in such a way to hurt his pride or if he has shown any evidence of having obsession towards me. But often this is about very mild disagreements the way a human person disagrees with another human person.

Have we really gone too far in teaching women that men should be kept at a safe distance? Do we vilify men too much? Where do we get the “Aiyayo ethavathu pannira poraan” from?

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Judgments and other things

I have met a certain type of women who seem to go all out for male attention. It may be because of the conservative circles that I typically move in, but it is almost always never done by revealing skin or the physical touch. It is done by implying to the men that they are the boss, that they are actually the gentler sex and that they are much more reliable than women can ever be. And it is also done by actively avoiding female company, judging them “bitchy”. It is done by turning a little bit mean in the presence of women and changing oneself into an angel when the first man walks in. It is kind of like how Sridevi’s daughter in English Vinglish was a sweeter person when the dad was around. But these women apply this to more than just one man.

Then I heard the term “Daddy Issues” and though I was initially loathe to let that term become a part of my vocablary, I invountarily applied the criteria to these women to check if it threw light on the people these women have turned out to be. Initially it was a near perfect fit. The women in question had absent father figures. It was almost as if that judgemental term was the answer I was looking for to explain what was initially completely incomprehensible to me. And sometimes it was the opposite. It was more regarding the father having been too present in the girl’s life to the extent that the girl started to see the father in a much better light than her own mother. I also saw that the male equivalents (Mommy Issues) existed in droves too. And sometimes the family seemed quite alright from where I was standing. In short, on good scrutiny, the theory did not hold as much water as I was initially crediting to it. Slowly I started to learn to keep myself from wildly making judgements on families that I hardly knew. A hundred judgements made, a lesson learnt.

This entire episode happened within my head. I did not discuss this theory saying mean things about people’s parents though the opportunities were a million. Also, the judgement would have been simplified by the minds of those who were listening to me gaining color that did not initially exist in my own theory. My problem was not against those who have more friends of the opposite sex. This was a different, more specific sort of attitude. But what if someone did not fully understand what I had to say? Would that not make me sound like a particularly mean-spirited person?

Something to this effect is what happened to the terms Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Cool Girl and yes, the judgements are almost always on female behaviour. In fact, the archetype I am describing above may be a sort of “Desi Cool Girl.”

But my question is this. Is it possible to become a unjudgemental person without ever taking a shot at a few quiet judgements initially? Is it wrong to navigate our world by making a few presumptions about people based on our own prior knowledge?

Are we using the words “Judgemental” and “Disapproving” interchangeably? If so, why?

Note: Check out how the “Cool Girl” described by Rosie Waterland and Gillian Flynn aren’t too similar. I may be judged a Cool Girl by Rosie but not by Gillian.

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Those who know how it is done

I have a met a few people who seem to have done things just right.

You got married at 24 and they at 27? They ask you “why so soon?” and immediately turn to ask someone a “why so late” if they weren’t tied up by the golden age of 27.

They know that couples should ideally have an age difference of two or three. It goes without saying that men should be older and thereby earn more. It is REALLY recommended that men are taller so that the photos look good and the men are darker so that the women look fairer. Did I mention that men should pass an extra post-graduation course as men should always have that extra degree? Never mind if that MBA course is not going to be useful at all.

They know the exact number of children a happy person should have. Two. And though they know that you can’t choose it, they believe that a boy should come out first and the girl should follow three years later. That, apparently, is the natural order of things.

“Remain in the first company for 2 years and the second one for 3 years and stick to the third company forever”, they tell you. Yes, that is exactly what they did. Didn’t I tell you that they always get their stuff right?

Such planned lives. I am glad this works for them. But I also wonder. Do they know that there are other ways of going through life?

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Questions that deserve answers

Have you seen starry eyed moms (and sometimes dads) talk about their fast-growing quick-learning bundles of joy? More often than not, I hear about their questions. You know what all he asked? “Why do cars need petrol? Why do we feel hungry? Why children need more sleep than adults? Why fever? Why vaccination? And why fever immediately after vaccination? Why soap? Why shoes and why not chappals to fancy places? How do birds build nests? What is a stray dog and how is it different from other dogs? Why do beggars choose to beg outside places of worship? What were the British doing in India? Why this and why that.”

I hear the questions and usually presume that answers would have been given. But it is when I actually hear parents converse with their children that I realize that the children almost never get the answers to the innumerous questions they pose. In the great rush of parental pride and joy they forget that they have not explained to their child why cars need petrol, why we feel hungry and what the British were doing in India.

The child receives inadvertent answers. “You ask nice questions but there are no answers”, “You are more intelligent than I am”, “You ask silly questions that are worth a good laugh but it is not worth my time to answer them” and the worst of them all, “You are an arrogant child and these are not questionable things. You just do as I say without questions.” Heck, some of these answers are sometimes even verbally given by tired adults.

I do understand that some questions really don’t have convenient answers and are too amusing to not chuckle at. I mean, who gave Chithalai Chathanar his name and why? Did they mean it as a joke or was it a trendy name during his time?  I don’t presume to know and don’t know anyone who does. But usually a question raised by a child can be answered by a sensible adult without too much difficulty. It is just that most of us are too clueless about the world of dinosaurs, uncomfortable about the traditions we pretend to believe in and pretty much unhappy about our own thoughts and stances about important issues. Constantly bowdlerizing our replies can get exhausting. But do we not owe our children sensible answers? Is there any point in placing the blame on the teachers when parents should play a significantly big part in the development of our child’s morals and standards? And please, do not give them circular answers like “It should not be done as it is wrong.” When you deem something wrong, have an honest reply to what is wrong about whatever you are talking about. It maybe something small like using your left hand to accept a gift or it may be as big as doing recreational drugs. Be clear and specific. “I said so” is not the answer to important questions.

Do not teach the child that accepting adult behavior and aping it cutely is a sweeter thing to do than questioning and exploring and being willing to think. It is nothing of that sort.

Opinions

She felt weak at the knees

Romance novels seem to have an infamous reputation. Some people seem to think that they are the female version of porn. It is and it is not. Most of these novels are not as explicit as most non-readers assume them to be. They are just as much wish fulfilling junk as porn is, that is all. Most romance novels are not steaming hot.

I frequently read these books from the age of 17 and went on till 21 but I was never voracious in my appetite. But I did give these novels a fair chance to impress me. I only knew them as novels for adult women and did not know that they have the same reputation as soap operas. Hell, I did not even know that soap operas had the reputation that they do. I don’t have the actual count, but let us say I have read about 40-50 of these books and let us take a quick look at the must-haves of the quintessential romance novel.

Ka Ching

As a young girl I was amused that the first romance novel I read had a rich man and a poor girl as the protagonists. Most of the stories I had heard/seen/read until then were from Tamil movies and we all know that the woman is almost always from the more privileged background. Whether it is Jayalalitha singing “Unnai naan santhithean” or Vaijayanti Mala singing “Raja Magal Roja Malar” the pretty women were always filthy rich. So if it is a woman’s fantasy the equation gets to be reversed? I thought it was hilarious that my first Mills and Boon novel had a secretary (of sorts) falling for her boss. Now I see how stupid I was. ALL romance novels are about secretaries falling for their bosses… or nurses falling for doctors…  or nannies falling for the widowed father of a cranky child.

And the more high-minded classic novels are not exempt from this, pretty much all of Jane Austen’s novels and those of the Bronte Sisters fall dutifully under this category.

And please don’t think they are desirable men who just happen to be rich. The wealth of these men is central to their perceived attractiveness. Sample these titles taken from here

Number Title Author Date/Year released
# 3683 The Millionaire’s Daughter Sophie Weston January 2002
# 3698 His Secretary’s Secret Barbara McMahon April 2002
# 3700 The Corporate Bridegroom Liz Fielding May 2002
# 3702 The Doctors’ Baby Marion Lennox May 2002
# 3703 His Majesty’s Marriage: The King’s Bride Lucy Gordon June 2002
# 3703 His Majesty’s Marriage: The Prince’s Choice Rebecca Winters June 2002
# 3705 The Tycoon’s Temptation Renee Roszel June 2002
# 3706 The Nanny’s Secret Grace Green June 2002
# 3708 The Tycoon’s Takeover Liz Fielding July 2002
# 3709 The Prince’s Proposal Sophie Weston July 2002
# 3711 The Boss’s Daughter Leigh Michaels August 2002
# 3726 A Royal Proposition Marion Lennox November 2002
# 3729 The Tycoon’s Proposition Rebecca Winters December 2002
# 3730 The Fortunes Of Francesca Betty Neels December 2002

 

Note how the women in the titles are nannies or secretaries and men are tycoons and royals and bosses. There may be Mayors, Kings, Sheikhs, Billionaires, Princes, Dukes, Aristocrats and Barons. And this is just the title. Trust me, the heroine may run away to a distant island to soothe her aching heart and the hero will charter a helicopter to get there. The engagement ring is surely going to be impossibly big. Don’t be deceived if you see the word ‘Princess’ in the title. The odds are against her being a blue blooded princess. She is probably princess as a prince fancies her or she is referred to as a princess for no apparent reason. It is actually very unlikely that she is a rich person.

The other attributes of the man in question

The dude is handsome. He has had a rocking sex life until the virgin heroine batted her eye-lash at him. He never goes after women but they throw themselves at him. He never had to go hunting, you see? Every girl is begging to marry him or is willing to dump her husband if he wants her to.

But he has never known love, the poor thing. All the pretty women and the fancy dating and the rocking sex but to what end? No love in his empty life. No chirping in his empty nest. Don’t fret. Our girl will show him the power of innocence. Everything will be hotsy-totsy very soon.

The female best friend

Our heroine’s best friend is a foil to our very own virgin heroine and so you can bet your last rupee that she is no virgin. But no, she is no vamp. She is a normal youngster with normal quirks and normal libido and normal heartbreaks and has not found true love due to normal men being normal jerks and everything is SO normal about her. She looks normal in her blue jeans and white t-shirt and her hair is the normal length and she is normally out every Friday night on a normal date that ends in normal sex without any abnormal orgasm. She is the side-kick. She is the perfect foil. My heart weeps for her. It really does.

The male best friend

If things are sad for the female best friend, they are worse for the male best friend. He is someone who would love to pair up with our heroine and make sweet cuddly babies together. He is attentive, kind, decent and normal. No wonder the heroine friend-zoned him. I should probably write a detailed post as to WHY men of this sort are friend-zoned a lot for I am often asked this question. The reasons in real-life can be quite complicated. In fiction he has one job – to make our heroine appear very attractive.

This man may eventually find another nice girl and marry but he will never really get over our heroine.

The other woman

More often than not, there is a fashionably plastic rich woman who is going to go all “Oh, I told Mitch that he can sow all the wild oats he wants before we get married sometime next year, but he should not pick too innocent a doll to play with. I hope you had a nice time, dear, but I also do hope you don’t get too hurt.” on our poor innocent heroine. And chances are that our heroine is going to believe this yarn and believe that it was only a fling on the hero’s part and he could never take her seriously. This is in spite of very good evidence that the hero can’t stand the sight of this vamp right from the opening line of the book and is openly hostile to her, every bit of the way.

Our very own incomparable super special snowflake

The most special thing about our heroine is that she is not very special at all. She is not witty or intelligent or interesting, but she will be told that she is. Looks-wise, she is boringly normal in her own eyes and a breathtakingly beautiful in the eyes of every other person she meets. She will not do particularly brave deeds, but the adjective will find its way towards her anyway. In short, she is just as spectacular as the reader. So she is the honest Hamam soap that a millionaire falls for as he is sick and tired of all the Lux soaps around him.

The Romance, the passion, the … climax

Did I mention that our heroine is inexperienced? Hmm… I thought I would have, but that is because she had not met this dude before. She is a volcano and erupts and keeps erupting for an unnaturally long time. No she did not lose temper, silly, she is passionate. She accelerates from 0 to 100 in 5 seconds and that is probably why she is as desirable as a Ferrari.

Apparently rape enters into the picture of many of these stories, but thankfully I never read any. For some reason, it puts me off. Anyway, it is mostly consensual even if they are sneering at each other.

Other things happen. Like they may crack a mystery code together or save a puppy or write a book on archeology but none of this matters. What matters is that she gets pregnant and settles in her particularly lavish nest with a roaring lion that recently started to coo to her after slipping a ring on her finger.