Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Let Your Light Shine

My parents once told me of one of the toughest decisions they had taken concerning me, the choice of the school I was to attend. My mom was especially insistent on sending her daughters to a convent school. She said that convent girls had a way of their own. Of course, I never understood exactly what that meant till I graduated from school and joined IIT. Unsurprisingly, one of the people in this place I best connect with, is another convent girl (as we like to call ourselves). Be it the inculcated sense of ethics or the ingrained fearlessness, I have, for some time now, held this belief that convent girls are a class of their own. We were taught to stand up for what we believed in, no matter what the world said. So whether it was spreading awareness to eradicate parthenium or unleashing anti-cracker campaigns, the school stood in support as we chanted together we can, and we will, make a difference. We were encouraged to break the traditionally set boundaries for girls; we were told we did not need to live up to conventional expectations of being docile, quiet and passive. We were pushed to question the known along with the unknown. Simultaneously, we were also brought up to be compassionate and empathetic. The school's idea of a day trip included orphanages and old age homes on at least as many counts as parks and picnic spots. But most important of all, the school taught us to be secular in the real sense of the word. Even today, I feel the same sense of strength and tranquility inside a chapel as I do in a temple (and frankly, the number of instances I have sought the same in  a chapel might be more, given that it was the place we used to turn to right before exams in school). While I was in school, I used to assume that our generation being secular was kind of a given, at least among the educated ones. I was pretty surprised when I realized that wasn't true. Trust me, I have seen educated elite in my institute who laud the massacre in Gujrat despite having borne eyewitness to those gruesome acts. Nearly all of us face that time in life when we think we have hit rock bottom, only to be handed a shovel. In one such  lowest of lows, one of the things that helped me pull through, was my friend telling me, "Remember, you are a convent girl". Its not just about the compulsorily knee-length tunics and plaited hair and chins parallel to the ground signaling that the world is our oyster. It is about how we see ourselves when we look in a mirror; it is about knowing that the world is our oyster.
I will always remember this trip to San Callisto Catacombs on the outskirts of Rome. Nitin and I, both missionary school products, will always associate those twenty minutes, spent three storeys below the grounds, with that strong spiritual thread that made us both remember our school assemblies, the values imparted, and our silent promises to always live up to them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Valentine Specials: Favorite Love Stories

Just like any other kid, I grew up on fairy tales. As my mother and grandmothers tucked me into my bed at night, telling me my favorite bedtime stories, I really did believe that Snow White would wake up when kissed by true love or that Cinderella's prince will certainly come to find her and then they shall live happily ever after. On a different note, though, I do wonder why all fairy tale love stories were named after the damsels and the princes' names weren't even mentioned. Anyways, as I grew up, I did mature enough to realize that there was more to love than a pretty damsel and a valiant prince and an evil stepmother/ogre. That love was not about happily ever afters but more a case of moving to the next set of merely happily while overcoming subsequent stepmothers/ogres. Of course, the love stories I now read were very different from the childhood fairy tales. It were these stories that shaped my ideas about this weird, inexplicable yet amazingly strong feeling called love and also kind of made me fall in love with the idea of being in love. Presenting my top ten favorite love stories (among the ones I have read, of course):
  1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: I read it first when I was thirteen. My very first understanding of love stems from this book. As I seem to have ranted on previously, Fitzwilliam Darcy was my first love. For the first time in my life, I came to understand love as something deep that develops over time, accompanied by admiration and respect, as opposed to the at first sight tosh fed by the happily ever after fairy tales. Ask any girl who has read it, she would swear by it, and by Mr Darcy.
  2. P.S. I Love You, Cecelia Ahern: There are some love stories that transcend life and death. This is one such story. Holly's life comes to an end after Gerry, her high school sweetheart-turned-husband of six years, dies following a battle with cancer. If only Gerry's love was weak enough to let her give up. Though separated in physical form, Gerry guides his love to adjust to a life without him, helping her live again, laugh again. Makes you realize that some memories might actually be enough to last a lifetime.
  3. A Walk to Remember, Nicholas Sparks: I remember crying buckets at the end of the book. But somehow, I cant recall feeling really sad at the death of the book's central character. The book somehow represented hope and strength derived from love, that doesnt cease even when the one you love ceases to exist. I still dont know what touched me more, Jamie's guidance of the lost soul that was Langdon or Langdon's making sure Jamie had everything she had wished for before she finally goes.
  4. Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul: A collection of heart-warming love stories, contributed by regular people around the world. Seems like every ordinary couple has an extraordinary story behind them. Losing faith in love? Go read any two-page story from the book. And you will find yourself believing in the power of love once again.
  5. 2 States, Chetan Bhagat: Does not qualify as a love story in the real sense of the word. Neither does it explore any kind of deep attachment or profound bonding between its protagonists. But it explores something that only Indians can understand, the whole concept of a marriage not being a union of merely two individuals but some hundred individuals comprising two families, Indian families, implying not just parents but also their parents and their siblings, to the dai ma who changed your diapers to the kaka who used to get you chocolates.
  6. Love Story, Eric Segal: Among the first mature love stories I read. Who has not felt a pang of pain for Oliver when he loses the love of his life Jennifer. That life isnt fair, after all they had so little time together. But what really brought tears to my eyes was the father-son reconciliation at the end of the book. A lot of people have categorized the book as as being diabetes-inducing sweet, but probably for the nostalgia associated or for the fact that I might still want to think of love as being that sweet and simple, it will always figure on my list of favorite love stories.
  7. Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare: Has any talk of great love been complete without a mention of Mr Montague and Miss Capulet? A love story that has been cited as an example for generations. Albeit ending in tragedy, the story gave the term till death do us part a totally different meaning. There was a time I used to wonder why they had to go to all these lengths just to be with each other and why Juliet could not simply settle for Paris. Well, I was a teenager then. Now I appreciate that better.
  8. Notebook, Nicholas Sparks: When I had first come across the words for better or for worse at an acquaintance's wedding, I used to believe it was kind of a given. Never had I understood how bad the worse could get and how deep would the love have to be to sail through a storm that you know can never end in happiness. I do wonder, though, how Nicholas Sparks manages to write love stories which end in tears but still leave your faith in this all powerful emotion cemented even more firmly.
  9. Twilight series, Stephanie Meyer: To what lengths would you go to protect the one you love?  Especially if the one you love could possibly be your favorite meal? And would you be willing to leave your soul behind to be with the one you love? Such has been the impact of Twilight and its sequels that one of my friends had once remarked, "Damn Edward Cullen! Why on earth do all girls demand an Edward-like lover?"
  10. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell: I read the book because my Mom told me that there was no love story as this one. Well, she was right. The book is painted in shades of grey and showcases the bitter side of love. With Scarlett's obsession for Ashley, Rhett's love for Scarlett, Melanie's faith in her husband, this book, set in the backdrop of the American Civil War, makes for a bitter love story, an all time great nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Shruti Di

In college, a lot of seniors have these juniors who are like, well younger siblings to them, if not kids. You know, the ones you kind of dote upon,  the ones for whose achievements you feel way happier than you could possibly feel for your own, those kind of juniors. I have been pretty fortunate to have had seniors for whom I was such a junior and I have also had my share of such juniors. Given the placements semester and the speed at which it flew by, it had been a while though since I had caught up with them. When that finally happened, I learnt, within a span of four hours that one of them was in a serious relationship while a couple of others had started working out at the gym, seriously enough to wake up early on Sunday mornings. Well, suddenly felt kind of old and I felt this kids are growing up kind of feeling sweep over me. To top it all, I mentioned it to those juniors as well as to a couple of friends, only to hear that they were not surprised by my reaction and had often seen related flashes in me previously (that doesnt mean I'm entertaining any aunty jokes :-| ). 
When I told my mom of the same, she told me that I had forever been a Shruti Di. That was the name coined for me by most people I knew in the officers' circle. I suppose Shreyas and Tanmay would be the ones who ought to shoulder most of the blame, given they called me Di despite being just few months younger. Of course, then, there was my sister Surabhi, Shreyas' sister and my cousin Sukriti,  and Tanmay's sister, Soumya, who is pretty much like family, considering our parents have known each other for, like, ever. Given the amount of time the six of us spent together, owing to the fact that our three families  practically constituted one unit,  the infinite mehfils (bhopali equivalent of the insti fart sessions), movies, road trips and the like,  can possibly explain that turning into an intrinsically programmed Shruti Di  was, but, natural (that doesn't indicate any tolerance for Di jokes either).
Well, I realize I can't possibly feel complete without feeling that way. Life's simple little things :).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Save Our Tigers

Are we really going to be the nation that would have hunted its own national animal to extinction? Aircel together with WWF has launched a Save Our Tigers campaign hoping to mobilize public opinion in support of the big cat. While public opinion has served as a remarkable means of pressurizing the authorities to ensure justice in past instances, will it be sufficient in this particular case? Is it possible to generate a voice loud enough such that the government is forced to act? And with numbers dwindling at a rate as this, will their action be in time to undo what years of recklessness and greed have done? Having grown up mouthing Suhaib Ilyasi's Remember, together we can, and we will, make a difference, why am I afraid that it might be too late for together now? Why do I have a feeling that I wont be taking my kids to Kanha National Park the way my parents used to take me? That I would have to make do with the city zoo or worse, with documentaries on National Geographic to tell them what this part of their heritage was like. While here I am, worrying if my future kids would get to see what a tiger really looked like, what about the tiger kid whose mother doesn't come back home?