Your Way or the Highway?

Spread your wings

Or

Unfurl your cape

Take a leap

Or

Hop, skip and jump

It does not matter

If it’s the former or the latter

You can choose either way

Wizard or fairy or witch or fae

Know this

If you must have your say

You’ll get there in time

As long as you’re on your way.

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A Psalm of Life – #FridayFlashback #2

It’s been a minute since I announced the Friday Flashback Edition of my blog. In case you’re new to this space, you can read more about it here.

In short, on Fridays, as I put up my feet and sip on a well deserved glass of wine, I’d be curating some of my favourite poems for you. These will all be brilliant creations that have stuck with me over the years and I can, more often than not, recite them verbatim. For the sake of brevity of the posts, I’d be sharing one such poem a week. Every Friday (I plead guilty to the charge of not having followed this earlier but time has been a flighty mistress. I’m back on track now). They shall be shared in no particular order. I have always been bad at picking just one favourite. That might quite possibly be the reason why I love making lists!

Today’s poem is titled ‘A Psalm of Life’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is a poignant narration of how life is meant to be lived to the fullest and not as a mere counting of days till the day we lie in our graves. I am absolutely certain that almost all of you must have come across this poem at some point in your life. It’s very famous and highly celebrated. So much so that first time readers would be able to identify a lot of verses as commonly cited inspirational quotes that they’ve heard more than once in their lives. Without further ado, here’s the timeless masterpiece –

A Psalm

of Life

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act,— act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.”

I hope this poem inspires you in the way it has done for me all my life. I cannot possibly pick my favourite lines from this one because every single one of them is resplendent and overflowing with meaning. I hope each one of us is able to leave behind their footprints etched in the sands of time no matter how fleeting our lives might be. Here’s to not going gentle into that good night! (But I guess that’s for another post 😉)

I would like to thank you for your overwhelming response to the previous post in this edition featuring ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. In case you haven’t read it yet, you can do so by clicking here. I’d be delighted to know your thoughts on this poem and would love to hear your recommendations for further posts.

Thank you for reading.

Love,

Varnika.

Breaking the Mould of Peer Pressure

A question that sometimes drive me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?

Since as long as I can remember, I’ve been aware of the realisation that most of the time my likes and dislikes are quite different and distinct from the people around me. It would appear as if the whole world is obsessing over a certain fad at the moment while I’m unable to see any charm in that particular thing. More often than not, I absolutely abhor or despise it.

Time and time again, I’ve tried to ascertain the reason behind this discrepancy, because, like everyone else, I wanted to fit in or felt pressured to do so by peers. I failed to understand if I did not want to follow the beaten path merely because so many others were doing the same or was there some other factor involved? Would I have given the object/substance/matter in question a fair chance in vacuum without knowledge of the fact that people were going bonkers over it? It was baffling and somewhat disconcerting.

As of yet, I have no answer. Over the years it had become more and more difficult to define my own choices, to choose my own desires. It was easy to get swayed by popular opinion because of the tendency to be one of the flock. Any deviation from the ordinary is usually looked upon with scepticism and I really did not want to draw attention to myself. Was I being true to myself, however, was an entirely different question. All the lines had gotten blurry.

What I do know, today, is that it’s alright to be different. It’s alright to think differently, to choose differently and to decide differently. Peers are just that. Peers. They are not you. You’re your own person. It does not matter why your wavelengths don’t match those surrounding you. What matters is being unperturbed by their existence and concentrating on your own. So many children buckle under peer pressure. So many college kids get goaded into doing things they don’t like to the extent that it they end up ruining their lives. It is important to learn to say no. To put your foot down and draw the line between what is acceptable to you and what isn’t. No one can take the right away from us. All that’s needed is a simple assertion from our end. Within no time at all the notion of fitting in would look like the smokescreen it actually is. Sooner or later, invariably, everyone ends up finding like minded people. Thus, it is imperative to thrive in your individuality rather than to suppress it, to let yourself grow into what you’re meant to be and not what others would like to see you as.

At the end of the day, and also to answer the questions I posed earlier, remember the words of the good ol’ Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland – “We’re all mad here”.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

As I walk along the streets of my city, I see faces abound. Regardless of all their differences, I see them share a commonality. They all wear a harrowed, tensed and worried expression. It baffles me to see the time, energy and effort we waste in worrying over things beyond our control, since worrying in such cases can do no good. It saddens me to see people worrying over things that might very well be in their control – wouldn’t it do more good to expend effort into working towards solving the problem rather than worrying over it?

Now, I’m not religious by any stretch of imagination. However, I did study at at a catholic convent school and can sing hymns even in my sleep, if needed. A few words from one of those hymns learned during those wonderful, childhood years leap to mind in the hope that they might provide motivation, perspective or even some mood upliftment and, thereby, dispense with some of the worry doing the rounds.

Here goes nothing…

Do not worry over what to eat, what to wear or put upon your feet. Trust and pray, go do your best today. Then leave it in the hands of the Lord.

The lilies in the field, they do not spin or weave, yet Solomon was not arrayed like one of these.

The birds in the air, they do not sow or reap, yet God tends to them like a shepherd tends his sheep.

If you believe in a higher power, I needn’t say anymore. If you don’t, let me draw your attention to the lines “go do your best today”. Isn’t that all that we can actually do? Do your best, reap the results. Even if the benefits aren’t much, one would be able to sleep at night with the satisfaction that there was nothing more he could have done. Have faith in yourself. Trust your abilities. Push yourself and get ahead in life. Work towards what you want. When worry tries to knock you down, say “not today”. Live a happier life. Live a fuller life.

On a parting note, I’d like to leave you all a link to a wonderful song called Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. It’s had a permanent spot on my playlist since I was a kid. It’s bound to lift your mood in its own funny, peppy way. Give it a listen! And a very happy Monday to you all! (Sorry for making it a motivational one).

More than Breath and Bones

They will remember for a year,

They will talk for a month,

They will mourn for a week,

And they will weep for a day.

You’ll become a name

To be taken with a sigh

Till their minds are shattered

By another tragedy.

They might hold a wake,

They might create a memorial,

They might build a sepulchre,

They might even sing an ode to your sorrow.

Yet, in the end,

It does matter.

The life you’ve lived, the memories you’ve created, the love you’ve given and the love you’ve received.

You’re more than the sum of your parts. You’re someone’s hope, someone’s inspiration, someone’s support, someone’s desire, someone’s family, someone’s entire life.

So when you feel you’re falling,

When the future seems too bleak,

When you feel like giving up,

Take a long hard peek,

At the pages of your life,

At the imprints left by people,

At the threads interconnected,

At the lives interwoven.

Then pull upon the spirit of human resilience,

And show your demons

That they can’t get you down

Because you’re not alone in this battle,

You’ve got an army by your side.

Then rise,

Rise again,

From dust and dirt

Because you’ve undergone a trial by fire

And proven to be more than just

A whisp of breath and a skeleton of bones.

The world is still reeling in the aftermath of Chester Bennington’s suicide. I, for one, am yet to come to terms with the fact that Robin Williams, the quintessential joker, suffered a a similar end after battling depression. There are thousands of other souls who have given up or are in the process of losing their hold on life. Every day is a struggle, each moment, an insurmountable challenge. I wish I could do more to help them. I wish there was an instant cure, a remedy that could take away all their ailments. There isn’t. But what we, each one of us, can do is spread the word on the importance of mental health. Break the taboo surrounding mental illnesses. Uplift these tribulations to the same level of concern that our physical well-being is regarded with. Because, for lack of a better comparison, mental illness is akin to cancer, a tumour that gnaws at us from within. A parasite that lives within us and thrives on us. And in the end, it eats us whole. An early diagnosis and apt treatment, however, is still our best and safest bet. So reach out, recognise mental ailments, get their victims/patients the help they deserve. Do not undermine their pain, alleviate it. Do not make them pariahs, their own minds do that enough. Every step, be it counselling, therapy, or medication, helps. So let’s vow to open our eyes and gently, but surely, in the words of another troubled soul, heal the world. I am urging everyone because more often than not the victims of mental illnesses will be unable to identify their symptoms, but the people around them can very easily notice red flags. So let’s all do our bit and help our fellowmen.

To read more on the importance of mental health awareness and a poetic description of some illnesses and how they affect victims, click here.

I would also like to thank Christine Ray, who has a wonderfully inspiring blog – http://www.braveandrecklessblog.com – for the title and last line of this poem. “Breath and Bone” was a writing prompt challenge hosted on her blog and although I’m too late to submit an entry for it, I do wish to thank her for coming up with words than can be interpreted in a myriad ways and depict the struggles faced by us.

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A Way of Life

I came across a video on Facebook that gave me reason to pause and think. It was a commencement speech by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Now, you can agree to disagree but we all know that Mr. Trudeau is the gift that keeps on giving. What struck me however, was how his speech was a departure from precedent. He did not ask the graduating class, which is all set to venture out on its own into the big, bad world, to go out and make it big, to do great things or to become big names. No, what he advised them was to do small things in a big way.

To elaborate, he told them to donate an extra ten bucks to their favourite charity, to send a bouquet of flowers to their mothers on a day other than Mother’s Day, to strike a conversation with someone who looks completely different from them, to switch their cars with a bicycle when the son’s down. Just very small, presumably inconsequential things. Yet, he stressed on how that donation might enable a young girl to study, how that bouquet might make a mother’s entire week, how that bicycle might just save the environment. 

I know what he said is not something completely new, but we forget to see how it can be a very nice way of life. It is true that in our quest to achieve as much as we can as fast as we can, we tend to lose track of the things that actually matter. 

It’s the small things. It’s the meaningful things. It’s the unrecognisable, or rather the things that might not get you recognition, that leave a smile on your face at the end of the day. 

We all have somewhere to reach, and we’ll get there, eventually. Some sooner than others. Some a tad differently than others. Some might change tracks midway. Yet, whatever journey one chooses to embark on, it is imperative to remember that the journey in itself is an experience. It is, in fact, a destination in its own right. Let’s make it worthwhile so that we can grow while we’re still on our way. 

I will take your leave today by citing Murakami. 

Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money cannot buy”

In our rat race of a life, lets do small things in a big way!

Thank you for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on this so please share your views in the comments section down below.

Of mountains and burdens

We’re six months into this year now. Phew! Time really does fly when you ain’t looking. I’ve been seeing a lot of people reviewing this time or putting up posts about what they’ve learnt during the first half of this year. This got me thinking. I recalled a little post I’d written in January and realised it would still be pertinent today. It is a piece of learning that is a continuous process so I thought of sharing it again with you all. It is a journey into self assessment with an empowering route to realising self worth. Please give it a read below.

Moonlighting Scrivener

“These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb” – Najwa Zebian

Who amongst us has not felt the weight of the world laying on our fragile shoulders? Oh Atlas, I wish you could see how many kindred souls you have!

It is time to jettison all the extra burden that we have self-imposed on ourselves. Yes, self-imposed. No, no, you heard me right.

I agree we live in a fiercely competitive dog eat dog world in present times. No one is spared from an ever present, all consuming pressure to perform. Right from toddlers participating in fancy dress competitions in pre-school, to high-school students scrambling to be popular and cool, to suicide attempts on failing entrance exams, to attaining promotions over all other colleagues, the list is endless. Expectations from parents, from the world, peer-pressure, everything demands of us to excel, to be beyondSuccessful. There…

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“Not in my name”

With a sad heart, I bring to you some news today. Recently, my country witnessed a spate of public lynching taking place in various cities.
Yes, you heard me right. Lynching. No, I’m still talking about 2017. Yes, we still claim to be a civilised society. 

I believe these instances are nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism giving rise to religious fanaticism in the name of nationalism and hindutva. I can only hope the secular nature of our democracy will soon see this “trend” ebbing away.

Meanwhile, our brethren are getting brutally slaughtered, for lack of a better term, right, left and centre (not alluding to political wings here, but you’re free to interpret).

In the midst of such godlessness, because no one can tell me this is being done in god’s name, the most recent instance has been particularly heart wrenching. 

Junaid, a young teenager, was publicly lynched while returning home after shopping for Eid. A mob (of people? Or demons, I think) suspected he was carrying beef and decided to end his life then and there. I am sorry, I do not have the heart to reproduce all the glory details here.

However, I see a sliver of hope for us yet. 

A facebook post, by filmmaker Saba Dewan, against this lynching has spurred a powerful online campaign with thousands of citizens pledging to hit the streets in protest.

On 28 June, citizens’ protests will simultaneously take place in the cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram and Bengaluru under the banner “Not in My Name”. 

The people of India have decided they’ve had enough of the mob rule, and they will not condone such inhuman acts committed in their name anymore. They’ve decided to speak in one voice and let it be known that the right to life, personal liberty, freedom and equality are not mere words adorning our Constitution. They seek to reclaim the Constitution and to remind the country (and its leaders) that ours is indeed a secular democracy. Thus, no onslaught on our people in the name of religion shall be allowed any longer. 

If you too have a conscience, a heart, a mind, a sense of right and wrong, a moral compass and a voice, join our people in this protest and bring your friends along. It is open to all citizens, there just isn’t any place for party/organisational banners though. 

And if you’re coming, make sure to carry a banner stating “Not in My Name” as clear as clear can be. 

(It is true that our government is blind, metaphorically, and our people are dumb, again metaphorically, it’s not unless we roar would they be able to hear us!)

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A Game of Numbers

The number sizes on your garment

Do not define the size or shape of your personality.

The number scores on your mark sheets

Do not measure your worth.

The number of inches in your heels

Cannot determine your stature.

The numbers holed up in your bank account

Cannot increase your happiness.

The number of donations you make

Cannot diminish the darkness of your soul.

The number of times you’ve fallen in love and failed

Does not label you a slut.

The number of years in your age

Cannot limit the magnitude of your successes.

The number of times you’ve failed

Cannot prevent you from getting up and trying again.

Only the upturned numbers on a roll of the dice

Can make or break you.

Because life is a game of Russian roulette

Where numbers have no part to play.

 

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Kind words and kinder souls

A couple of years ago, I was vacationing in Singapore with my family. I happened to notice a lot of happy faces around. Not only on the streets. Even the janitors at the the various tourist attractions wore wide smiles. I still remember visibly how a 70 year old lady, while carrying her cleaning supplies, smiled and waved at me and wished me a very good day. Something kindled inside me at that moment.
On getting back home, I started noticing people subconsciously. All I got to see were impatient, aggressive, angry and stern faces walking down the road. No one looked happy. I wondered what secret the Singaporeans were hiding. However, based on my limited knowledge of countries, I didn’t give it much thought once a few months had passed.

Then I happened to visit two more countries, Indonesia and the US. Although people responded warmly when you greeted them, despite being strangers, the general vibe emanating from faces wasn’t happy in these places either. When they thought no one was watching, their faces said it all.

I was completely baffled. Not able to bear the suspense any longer, I decided to bring about a change in myself. I decided to smile a little more, to be more warm and to greet everyone I come in contact with. Right from the elderly ladies and gents who were regulars at the nearby jogger’s park to the auto-drivers whose fare I was for the day, I smiled, enquired after their health and then bid them a good day.

A couple of incidents from those times have stuck with me over the years. Since my long working hours left me with almost no time to meet people, my interactions were mostly limited to the auto drivers who drove me to and from home. Thus, both stories relate to them.

Once or twice while going to work, I’d ended up hailing the same auto. The third time, the driver recognised me himself and drove upto me so that I did not have to wait for a ride. Hence, as a goodwill gesture, I paid him a tad more that day. Nothing significant. Just 10 rupees more and that too because I told him to keep the change. One other day, when a number of drivers were scrambling to get my attention on a very hot and particularly slow day for them, I had identified and chosen him (no, we don’t have a queue system for taxis at a lot of places in India). This was the extent of my relationship with him. If he was around when I had to leave for work, he’d silently come up to me and I’d slide into the backseat without a word.

Then one fine Monday, on reaching office, I realised I’d forgotten my wallet in the handbag I’d used the previous day and had not transferred it to my office bag. I apologized to him and told him to please take double the amount whenever he sees me next. Not only did he refuse to ask for the amount later, he expressed concern over how I’ll get through the day and back home without a wallet. He offered to lend me money and enquired what time I got off from work so that he can be there to take me back home. This was a poor man showing more care, concern and heart than most people I’ve seen. Of course, I didn’t take his money, I borrowed some from my colleague to pay him instead. Yet, I can never forget the kindness showed to me by a stranger. Some days later, I asked him indirectly what made him do so. He responded by saying that I always asked about his health, family and his day with a smile. The least he could do was make sure I wasn’t sad and inconvenienced that day.

Another time, I was traveling back home at night and my auto driver, a different one this time, was quite visibly sick. His skin was burning so much that I could feel the heat radiate from him till my seat. He was obviously suffering from viral fever. He also had the flu. I asked him if he was alright. He told me he’s been sick for two weeks but had to work that day because he won’t be able to pay his child’s school fees otherwise and he’d already spent a lot on medicines so he wasn’t taking any at the moment. I could not even begin to imagine the level of depravity a family had was enduring if they were forced to choose between school fees and medicines. Then he very politely asked me if it was okay for him to take a slight detour so that he could give his wife some of the money he had earned that day so she could buy vegetables and make food. I agreed, of course. While he went inside his house to change his sweat-stained shirt, I asked his kid how much his school fees was. Then I quietly slipped enough money to cover his fees, his father’s medical expense and a little more to make up for the loss suffered due to his illness. Then he dropped me home, oblivious to what I’d just done.

One night, I got off from work quite late and I had three pieces of luggage with me since I’d returned from my hometown that very morning and had gone in to work directly from the airport. So I could not walk far while lugging all that extra weight. The street was mostly deserted but was dotted with certain unsavoury drunks. Some men were letching and leering. I was scared out of my wits and did not know how to get out of the nightmare I was experiencing. Then, out of the blue, I heard brisk footsteps walking towards me. Just as I was preparing to ward off an unwanted advance to the best of my ability, I saw the man’s face. It was the same driver. Not only did he carry my luggage and safely escort me to his auto while throwing a menacing glare at every man who dared to look at me, he also dropped me home and refused to take any payment. I also happened to notice that he did not leave till I’d reached inside the gate of my apartment building and was safe from harm.

I am not sure how I want to end this narrative, my thoughts are slightly scattered on having recalled those encounters. However, what I’ve learnt is that a little politeness and kindness goes a long way and definitely comes back around. It’s the butterfly effect. Starting from when that Singaporean janitor passed a warm smile to me, it’s still continuing.

Be kind with your words and deeds and you’ll see so many kinder souls around you. Take some time out of the busy schedule of your life to live a little, to notice people, to care for them and to spread a little cheer. Even if it doesn’t come back to you soon (since every deed needs an incentive in the world we live in), I assure you that the warmth that ignites inside your heart when you treat people nicely and see them smile is its own kind of sweet reward.

Remember, my friends, that even the Grinch saved Christmas. Can’t we save some smiles atleast?

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