Perspectives- #3 Chris Huntington

All of us go through rough times in our lives. We battle it out, every time as if that is the last ever battle we fight. Sometimes, we feel tired and let it pass. I am reminded of this quote by Robert Frost that I used to tell to myself during tough times.

The best way out is always through

It is also true that every person who crosses our lives teach us something. It could be something simple or major, but they do it, knowingly or otherwise. It is on these lines that this post talks. The post is about a person who goes to a prison to teach the inmates and ends up learning a lot from one of the inmates.

The author shares his angst as a parent, who has adopted a son. He expresses his sadness on the fact that the boy would grow up oblivious to his own culture and roots. There is this truth that though the boy is better off with the author in terms of material wealth, he would still lose the old charm of his native. The author seems to realise this truth, which is surprising. In a time when people migrate in search of better material lives, not shying away from forgetting their roots, this author ponders on the value lost. It was fresh and strange to me, both at the same time.

We all have seen or experienced brain-drain at some point or the other. We also have this raging debate of our native languages dying out without anybody bothering to save them from extinction. It makes me think how much is all of it worth? Are we turning more selfish as days go by? Are we just bothered about ourselves and our families? Somewhere in the equation, aren’t we losing out on the bigger picture? I am not sure. These remind me of a poem by Bharathidasan, that I learnt during my high school.

“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு 
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன் 
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன் 
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“

The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,

kids, food and wealth,

is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,

useless to anybody else.

We are becoming obsessed with our own happiness and fulfillment that we tend to undermine one major truth of life. Everybody is fighting their own battles. For each, their sufferings and issues form the crux of their existence. They go about those issues in a Do-or-Die mode. One just cannot blame them. It is the same fear of losing out that keeps them going. In a way, it has become a matter of survival of the fittest.

The author shares with us, one of the major lessons he learnt from one of the prisoners, Mike.

Be the best prisoner you can be.

This statement is a compassionate one if you think about it. It does not underestimate the struggle of other people. In a way, it acknowledges that one need not be similar to another in terms of problems and that all of us have certain limits and boundaries within which we may have to restrict ourselves in dealing with our issues. The statement gives credit to that component and implores us to put up our best show wherever we are and whenever it is. The author is right when he says that not everybody can do everything in life. In fact, even on an individual level, it might not be possible to do everything that one might have wished for. In such cases, the author tells us to live our best life, in any circumstance we may find ourselves in.

It is rare to find words of compassion around us. We all are in such a hurry that we fail to see the presence of another person near us. We do not really know who our own neighbor is and what they do for a living. For all we know, we might be sharing a wall with a serial killer, who is perennially high on LSD! (Just saying). We do not care anymore for such things, do we? There is one angle of people becoming sexually frustrated and do horrible stuff to kids, I agree. But we must realise that we would probably be the last generation who practically grew up, eating the same food as our friends in the neighborhood since all the families adopted us as their own, without any bias. We would also be the last generation who celebrated festivals together with the entire apartment sharing crackers and good wishes.

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Perspectives- #2 Frank Bruni

This New York Times columnist is a revelation to me. His writings are smooth and provoke me to think emotionally. I happened to read two of his pieces, both fine ones, and it left me going back in time to look into my own life and my relationships with my father and sibling.

I have supportive parents. When I say supportive, I don’t mean someone who would go to the extent of sharing a drink with me, but someone who actually were available when I wanted to talk something or confide in them. May be that is what enabled me cruising through my troubled teenage without much of an issue. Even with such parents, I found his piece on his father relevant. I saw my life with my father when I was reading that piece. I will explain.

Fathers in many Indian homes are silent warriors. They strive every moment to ensure that there is food on the table and that his family is comfortable and not lacking anything. He might slog for long hours, do jobs that he doesn’t really like or having issues with his friends or colleagues, but we are not shown that side of his life. We are rendered blissfully unaware of those.

Growing up can do a lot of things to you. In many homes, girls grow up to move closer to mothers and boys to their fathers. This might be stereotypical and could even have stemmed from the set gender bias norms in our country, but that is how it worked for a lot of people I knew. This was in fact reiterated by my father when recently he called me up to tell me that until the age of four, I was extremely close to my father, such that I didn’t really fancy staying with amma. He mentioned this while he was trying to highlight that these days I am closer to Amma than I am to him. How I wish to tell him that nothing has gone wrong or it is not out of deliberation that I am closer to amma and that it was just how it happened. How I wish I could tell him that there are certain issues which would be better if discussed with someone of the same gender. Sigh!

There were times when I was told that my father had confidence and faith in me and my choices. Even if he did not highlight that himself, amma always ensured that she conveyed it to me. His confidence in me is what amazes me till date. Believe me when I say that I did not know it the moment when I was born. I took my own time to realise it and see it, all by myself. Till then, I had thought may be my father thought I was a dud head, who was confused about her life and who didn’t know the evil ways the society worked. He was and is a silent warrior. He suffers in silence and rarely speaks out what he is going through. That is how in fact we are cultured, isn’t it? Men are supposed to be macho and steely all the time while women are allowed the privilege to cry their hearts out. Men crying is seen as a sign of weakness. This generalisation actually is adopted as a vicious circle. Fathers don’t cry and seeing them serious all the time, sons avoid crying too. This goes on and on because, for any son, their father is their hero, their invincible emperor who is out to rule the world. My brother considers my father that way, I am sure.

I have a brother, who is like a baby to me. Even if he is 40 years old and I am 49, he would still be my baby. There are times when I have ruined his dreams when I joked about him being a marine engineer and a tea-master (Of course I did not know then that tea had strange strings of fortune with it). He has, in turn, made my life full of fun and laughter. I would have been a lonely, miserable kid if it was not for his presence in my life. We have tiffs even now. He seems to have a strange super power to gauge when I would be asleep and he could call and ruin my sleep. Hell breaks loose if I ignore his calls. Period. There is no appellate authority to plead to, for this heinous crime, FYI.

These write-ups, left me thinking if I would even stop to think about people and their actions twenty years down the line. The power of having an open communication channel, the significance of trivial bonds, the leniency that we are supposed to give our parents etc are usually under-rated. I wonder why. Is it because we are not afraid of losing these relationships? After all, it is our own family we are talking about. So what about the other working relationships? Are they working mainly because we put in that extra effort to maintain and nurture them? We could ponder over these issues for many a sleepless night, and I am sure we would be awed at the amount of taking-for-granted that we do.

 

Perspectives- #1 Chimamanda Adichie

This series, ‘Perspectives’ will have everything that I learn these days, which I feel I could share with you all. It could be well-written pieces, small things that I felt were significant enough, awesome articles or books that I stumbled upon etc.

I am fortunate to be a part of an amazing group of students, who never cease to amaze me with their thoughts and opinions. Even better are the teachers who introduce us to something new every day. That said, I would like to pen down my perspectives about a particular piece that supposedly took the West by storm when it was published. This piece is by Adichie describing the way the West chooses to portray the Third World.

I am sure we all would be familiar with the way India is stereotyped in the West by the West. We are vividly reminded of Slumdog Millionaire and Rajesh Koothrapalli from the Sitcom The Big Bang Theory. We have joined our American friends in laughing at the idiosyncrasies of Rajesh while reminiscing fondly about our days in India. More often than not, we might have also wondered if whatever we saw on screen was in any way reflecting the reality of the country we came from. But then, hey! That was only for representational purposes and must be taken in a comical sense. Similar is the image of SRK dancing to the tunes of Lungi Dance, singing about mixing lassi and coconut. Leaving aside the blatant fact that the lungi is different from the veshti (which is white or off-white in colour) the song and that particular movie was an abomination to the portrayal of Tamilians (please note that I am not using the terms Madrasis or South Indians, because I recognise that South India is more than just Madras). Owing to the above internal and not-so-internal conflicts of thoughts, I found the piece by Adichie relatable.

This piece is an attempt to bring to light the realities of what Africa, as a continent is. She is honest when she says that Africa is a group of many cultures and nations but then they are also strikingly similar in many aspects. Very much like India, right? A land that is a melting pot of cultures and languages. So much that India has a dance form that is unique to every state.

She talks about being expected to defend or be aware of something that happens in Egypt while she is from Nigeria. That is what we get to do in India. Many a time, I had wanted to pull Rohit Shetty and Honey Singh and slap them hard for the way they lacked in research while claiming to portray something. More so, especially because Shetty also took the name of the city which he claimed was instrumental to his story (or the lack of it). We also have such stereotypes in India. Madrasis, Settu, and a couple of other colorful names form very much a part of these stereotypes prevalent in India. Don’t even get me started on the North East India angle of it. While this mixture of cultures and languages might be common to insiders, the outsiders seem to be ignorant about these. Honestly, even insiders take geography for granted at times, but moving on.

Adichie then moves on to Madonna, who had adopted a child from Malawi. It is surprising how celebrities do a lot of things for the sake of symbolism or making a point, without actually intending to make a difference. This act of making the news somehow seem to have irked Adichie a lot. It irks me too, to be honest. The most recent example that I could think of is how our own Superstar keeps us on our toes talking about politics and the apparent system. The point being that there are many other ways, which are way better, to mean well to the people whom they say they care for, that would actually make a difference in their lives. Adichie goes on to tag such actions as ‘Cringe-worthy’. I felt she was justified in doing so. How big an impact is that if one child of Africa is given a better life in terms of money, health, and education? Isn’t these clear examples of giving them fishes instead of teaching them how to fish? And how is it good that the child grows up, in total oblivion to its own culture or identity?

The Western media portrays Africa as a perennially impoverished region. It seems to the viewers as if Africa is synonymous with poverty. In a way, they seem to glamorise the concept of poverty. The author takes a dig at this by calling out their hypocrisy when it came to wealth hoarding and appeasing and supporting of weak African leaders. She seems to imply that the cause and effect of such atrocities are the West itself. I feel the West has always had a major role in almost all the internal conflicts that are happening in today’s political world. Typical of someone who practises the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

Taking a leap to the above-mentioned idea of portrayal, I wondered how true it is that when someone says Africa, the immediate image that we get are that of thick jungles, malnourished kids, unclean streets, and chaos. This applies to almost all the third-world countries. Are we really the land of the snake charmers? By the way, I found India lovely and charming in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend. But these form just a minor aberrations from the usual.

Do we take the effort to think beyond what is shown to us? Do we realise that there is much more to any place than what is portrayed by words or visuals? I think not. This is the author’s anguish as well. She seems to be thoroughly annoyed by the showbiz symbolism that Hollywood is famous for at the cost of her people in her own land. I found that anguish justified. There are many sides to any and every story, they say, and I second that fact with all my heart.