Children too have stories to tell

A boy, around seven years old comes to my storytelling sessions. Bespectacled, with spikes for hair, he is all smiles but never seems to utter any word. Yesterday I took this beautiful book for my session. As I opened the book I noticed the wide toothy grin typical of excited kids on his face. He beheld the book with sparkling eyes, as if he was about to fly on a magic carpet. I could clearly sense that he had been waiting for this.

13710506_1127353183987654_3234161973356155522_o
In my storytelling sessions I have often found that children are natural readers. They gravitate towards books and stories, just as easily as they are attracted to say TV or other gadgets, provided these are not there in the first place. They love to listen to stories, to be read to and to read by themselves if the story catches their fancy. They are very open and receptive if you try to speak to them through the medium of stories.

But even more importantly they often have stories to tell of their own. I told them this poignant tale of two young children, two best friends who were separated by partition. They never saw each other again. After the story ended I fell silent, a lump in my throat. The lull was broken by exuberant voices.
“Ma’am I have a Christian friend. But their house has a tiger skin!”
“Miss I have five Muslim friends.”
“I bought khaki pants just like the soldier in the story for my Happy Barday.”

They told me so many stories, some were mischievous, some were funny and some were so warm and touching. They had captured life with the purity and innocence of their age. And it was so soothing, so refreshing.

We were not just exchanging stories, not just ideas. But love. Not between an adult and a child, but between two souls.

Advertisement

The last wish

I had never imagined that I would end up in a lab murdering tiny mice, cute enough to cuddle. As a child blood made me nauseous and now I had it on my hands everyday. On my yellow surgical gloves to be precise.

The sheer selfishness and horror had by now become a routine. I had sacrificed hundred’s of experimental animals, as they say in lab parlance until one day I heard a tiny squeak.

“Hello! You should fulfill my last wish.”

I searched around to see where the voice was coming from. But there was nobody in the lab. The radio was off. The barely audible voice spoke again, “Hey! I am here! I am here!”

Was I dreaming? The voice seemed to be coming from the cage where I usually kept my mice before sacrificing them on the altar of scientific inquiry (read publication greed).

There was no mistaking it. The mouse spoke again, “Everybody gets a last wish. I should get mine.”

“Whaaaat!” was all I could say in reply. I opened the cage. The furry creature was actually speaking to me. As I lifted him out of the cage, the mouse perched on my arm and extended its..hand? er…leg..ok…foreleg in a handshake.

All this was too eerie, too bizarre but somehow I knew this was real beyond a doubt. I managed to stutter, “What’s your last wish?”

The mouse sighed. He spoke slowly, very slowly. “I want you to exchange places with me for a day. Only a day.”

“You mean that I…”

“Yes you go into that cage and I get to wear those two yellow gloves with blood on them,” he completed my sentence.

I blanked out.

Habits of another kind

In any self help book that one reads there is one thing common- they all exhort us to utilize the gift that is our mind. That it is the mind that determines our happiness and success or failure in life. Or that thoughts are things and what we think is what  gets reflected in our life. I could go on and on…

So it seems very simple. The mind is a very precious tool and all I have to do is to unlock this key and have a dream life.

Then why is it so difficult? Making the mind work for us seems to be the most difficult thing to ever do!

Why is it so much easier to keep repeating negative thoughts day after day when I know that I should be thinking positive thoughts?

Why is it so much easier to be fearful when I know that the very thought of fear will attract what I am fearing in my life?

Then today morning I had the answer. And you know what it is…

It is called as HABIT!

Habits of thinking in a certain way repeatedly, day after day, night after night. The mind kind of like becomes an automaton. Any disconcerting event and the mind effortlessly starts playing out those mental habits. Those habits could be anything but generally seldom do we train the mind to build habits of positive thinking. It is often filled with one liners such as… I can’t- do- this…I-am-not-worthy…this-will-never-work…things-never-go-right-for-me…kind of thoughts.

So when I spill coffee in the morning and consequently run late for work, not a very negative event in itself, but my mind starts thinking all those negative thoughts that come so naturally to it! And why not – I have trained my mind that way. And then when I tell myself to calm down and think bright happy thoughts, my habit is so strong that it overwhelms any positive thoughts that I am trying to think.

It is believed that to form a habit it takes eight long years! I guess moments of wisdom can come in a flash but really there is no shortcut to success.

The killer roads of India

How-to-cross-an-Indian-road

Whenever I step out of my home to go out there are a few constants. Some of these are utter disregard for safety, the  bursting, maddening crowd and honking vehicles. Since these irritants are present every day, most Indians have learned to ‘adjust’- the quintessential Indian quality! But for me somehow I am unable to ‘adjust’! I keep wondering at the strange transformation that happens to most Indians on the road. I keep asking that why are Indian roads so deadly and dangerous? Why are the number of human lives lost in road accidents the highest in India as compared to the world?

Maybe here’s why….

1. Battleground – for most Indians roads are not driveways but battleground. The vehicle in front, back, side, or anywhere is the enemy. On roads most Indians start to feel some sort of godly supremacy and even the slightest provocation or challenge can result in dashed cars, choicest abuses, physical outbursts and even death. It appears that the doting father, hard working worker, fun loving friend, all metamorphose into egoistic pig heads! Rash, negligent driving is applauded as machoism. Overtaking recklessly is a sign of your masculinity and power.

2. Drunk driving – in India drinking and driving not only mix, it is the litmus test for proving that you are a man. Several hoardings declaring that drunk driving is a punishable offence point out the civic administration’s good sense of humor!

3. The ubiquitous mobile – this commodity can be seen in abundance on the roads, usually the user is seen delicately balancing atop a moving bike, head craned to one side with one hand dexterously holding the phone and the other hand busy navigating traffic. Wonder which side of the brain they are using then or it is out of reach?

223597-riders-on-cellphones

4. Traffic rules – Indian roads only have one rule – the law of the jungle! To keep moving at any cost, no matter who or what comes in front of you – pedestrian, crossing, signal – that is the only road etiquette to be followed. If you manage to reach your destination with everything intact, consider yourself successful and fit to survive the Indian roads.

5. Safety is not a priority  – can you guess what is the cheapest thing in India? Salt? Sugar? Mobile talktime? No, you are wrong. It is human life. If you don’t believe me just come and see people driving. You will find men hurtling past at break neck speeds on their motorbikes without a helmet or protective headgear. Pillion rider in India means the entire family on one motorbike, the youngest kid on the fuel tank, papa as the driver, the oldest kid in between mommy and daddy and another kid in mommy’s lap- all on one bike as one happy family! And don’t be surprised if you see some vehicle zooming towards you in the opposite direction on a one way road. Consider yourself lucky if he does not give you a scowl.

6. Public toilet and trash site – Indian roads are multifunctional. One can not only use them to go from one place to another but also pee and spit anywhere on the road in full public view. Actually more the public view, the better it is since you are asserting your Indian identity then. It is our national birthright. Somehow our founding fathers forgot to enshrine it in the constitution. So the next time you see a car door opening and someone spitting paan on the road, remember they are just exercising their fundamental right.

7. Holy ground –  we Indians have a big heart.  The poor, downtrodden and holy, all are welcome to sleep on the road. No discrimination. Cows and bulls can sit in the middle of a busy road and nobody has a problem. And they don’t mind the traffic either. They just sit there and silently bless all passerbys, praying that their vehicle does not collide with them. And if some do, they attain salvation since cows are holy!

traffic-jam

8. Parking worries – Ha! You can park anywhere, so what is there to worry about that? Who cares about the ensuing traffic jam!  So only 50% of the road is functional and the rest is parking space. All you need is a vehicle and you can park left, right, centre, anywhere and everywhere!

9. Women drivers – this species of drivers needs special mention. ‘Militants on the move’ – that’s what you would describe women drivers on the roads going by their dress. It is partly to protect them from the sun and pollution and partly to guard them against typical Indian double standards. Their numbers have a correlation with the sunlight, lesser the sunlight, the less you will see them on the roads.

10. Band- Baaja and traffic jam – religious processions, marriage parties, election rallies, dharna, there is space for everything on the roads of India. Never mind the serpentine queue of stuck cars, trucks, motorbikes and autorickshaws. Most Indians think that endless honking of the horn will magically clear the traffic and so thats why India is never silent even when it is stuck in a traffic jam.

Seeing the immense perils of navigating Indian roads, I feel it is a miracle everyday that I return home safely without a scratch. I wish people would drive more safely and prevent the tragic loss of lives. More awareness and stricter implementation of traffic rules can go a long way in disciplining the unruly Indian commuter. Till then, we will have to depend on God!

Wisdom Pills From A Hospital

Image

I always dread going to a hospital. It brings upon me a nightmarish spell of fear and gloom. The sight of sick people, the multitudes of anxious loved ones, the all pervading but silent spectre of death and despair, the peculiar smell of sanitation and sickness – all this is enough to make me want to run away! But then there are times when one has to endure all these and put on a mask of unaffectedness and meet a suffering friend or relative. Last week I had the opportunity to put on this mask and go all smiles and encouragement to meet a friend of mine. She had been operated for a tumor in her uterus and the doctors had removed the tumor as well as the uterus.

The moment I stepped inside the hospital my fight or flight reflex began operating, so I had to consciously shut off my mind and focus on meeting my friend. Suddenly the word hypochondriac made sense to me. I was certain that if I stayed on longer in the hospital than was necessary, I myself would start exhibiting some symptoms of it!

I greeted my friend who was lying prostate on the bed. The operation had gone off well and fortunately everything was fine. She looked pale and weak but in good spirits. We chatted for some time where I tried my best to keep my eyes off the paraphernalia surrounding her, like the bag collecting urine, the injections and syringes, the bottle of saline hanging beside her bedside, the multicolored medicines. Our conversation revolved predominantly around the operation. She spoke at length about the discomfort she felt after the operation and how she was fully awake during the surgery since she had been anesthetized below the waist and not given general anesthesia. For once I wished that my super active imagination was dead, for whatever she was speaking my mind was quickly visualizing.

I wished her a speedy recovery and offered her words of hope and strength, though secretly I was thankful that I was not in her place. Everything about the hospital felt unnatural and stressful. On the way back home I was glad to be out of the hospital. I could not help but notice the fear that a visit to the hospital espouses in all and sundry. I was amazed at the huge lacuna in the current medical system which does not focus on the role the mind plays in getting well or not getting well. Too often I have heard from cancer patients that it is not the cancer which kills, but rather the treatment.

What makes us well? What makes us unwell? How do we get well? How does will power affect our healing? I had so many questions in my mind that day. These days a lot of alternative healing modalities have come into practice. And then there is the age old wonderful tradition of Ayurveda. These systems focus a lot more on holistic health and empowering the patient. They believe that it is ultimately the intelligent life force of each person which causes healing. Fear is considered a big impediment in healing. Wouldn’t it be great if the current care giving system took into account the intimate connection between body, mind and soul? Perhaps instead of making distinctions such as alternative healing, allopathy, homeopathy, accupuncture, energy healing etc, wouldn’t it be more useful if there was an integrated approach which combined the best of each practice?Or maybe a deeper understanding of the how and why of healing.

Image

After last week’s visit the fear of visiting a hospital is still intact but I was wiser on several fronts. I realized that no matter whether an operation is successful or not going under the surgeon’s knife is traumatic and it takes tremendous courage and grit. But more than grit, each patient is exhibiting a deep sense of faith. Faith in not just the doctor, but in himself, in his ability to recover and get well. And then more than faith or courage or healing, hospitals are witness to one of the most beautiful feelings of human life – unconditional love. The deep love and care of our families and loved ones are no more so starkly evident than in the sanitized environs of a hospital. Hospitals embody the perfect dichotomy of life –  one can witness enormous suffering and celebration of life at the same place.