Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When it hits closer to home

Couple of months back we visited this idyllic college campus, a peaceful small University town, nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah valley. We loved the campus and talked about how laid back life must be if one was a graduate student there. We met some students and professors in the Engineering department. And we thought it was one of the nicest places to send one's kids to college if one lived in the DC Metro area.

And then, this horrific thing happens.

As I watched the tragic news unfold on TV in utter shock and disbelief, trying to come to terms with what happened and why, and figuring out if all the people we know who go to Virginia Tech are okay, I couldn't help but feel a strong sense of helpless anger at the people who put guns into the hands of crazy, mentally unstable people, capable of such barbaric acts of violence. And deep inside I know inspite of all the outcry and media attention, this too shall pass and people will forget and move on. And we'll still be able to go out to a store and purchase a gun to go kill a few more innocent kids in school. It makes me sick.

For the people of Blacksburg, VA and the students and faculty at Virginia Tech, for the ones who lost a child or a friend or a classmate, for the ones who will be scarred forever with the images of the massacre, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Update: A very nice post that echoes my thoughts can be found here.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What else are we missing?

Okay I know you are a little surprised to see a new post so soon after my last one. In fact the truth be told, I'm a little surprised myself. I mean, I did say that my blog posts would be few and far between. And that wasn't so long back, was it? But then again, I said a lot of other things that I had a hard time to adhere to. Therefore, you cannot hold me to that.

Anyway the reason for this rather hurried post was this article that I read in the Washington Post in the morning (Hat tip: Mohit). The first time I read it, I went through the whole thing at an incredible speed, devouring every word in absolute disbelief. It seemed preposterous that something like this could happen. In the heart of D.C. During rush hour with hundreds of thousands of morning commuters filing past him. I was shocked to say the least.

To quote bits from the article that caught my attention:

It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened. Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

"At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change."

This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

"The awkward times," he calls them. It's what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn't noticed him playing don't notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgment. So Bell just saws out a small, nervous chord -- the embarrassed musician's equivalent of, "Er, okay, moving right along . . ." -- and begins the next piece.

And the interesting bit:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

And the reason?

People just said they were busy, had other things on their mind. Some who were on cellphones spoke louder as they passed Bell, to compete with that infernal racket.

"Couple of years ago, a homeless guy died right there. He just lay down there and died. The police came, an ambulance came, and no one even stopped to see or slowed down to look.
People walk up the escalator, they look straight ahead. Mind your own business, eyes forward. Everyone is stressed. Do you know what I mean?"

The conclusion:

We're busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.


If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?

I have since gone back and re-read the article atleast five times. Poring over each word. Checking out the video clips. Watching the way people were reacting. And asking myself the million dollar question. What if I had been there? I have passed the station a hundred times at least when I used to commute to work by the Metro. Would I have stopped in the middle of my mad morning rush when I heard a familiar tune? Would I have recognized my all time favorite artist even if it seemed like the most impossible thing in the world? Would I stand there in awe and disbelief and be able to talk to Joshua Bell? Up close and personal. Seems too good to be true. But it actually happened. And as I write this I am convinced that I would know him. Anywhere. Even in the middle of L' Enfant Plaza Metro station on a weekday morning.

But then again. We will never know, shall we?

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Monday, April 09, 2007

"This part of my life is called"....

....the pursuit of happiness.

Couldn't be more true for me.

And if you haven't seen it yet, please do.

"And it was at that time that I thought about Thomas Jefferson writing that Declaration of Independence.
Him saying that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And I thought about how he knew to put the 'pursuit' in there, like no one can actually have happiness. We can only pursue it.

Makes you think.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Dear Mummy,

For as long as I can remember I always wanted to look exactly like you. I hated it when people said that I looked like Daddy. Daddy was short and dark. I didn't want to be short and dark. I wanted to be tall and fair and pretty. Just like you. And I also wanted to be strong and efficient. Just like you. But I fell short in most every way.

And I don't think I've ever told you how much I have wanted to be like you. And that I think of you often. And although I never tell you how much I love you and miss you, I hope that in your heart you know that. And how much I've always wanted to be like you.
Just like you.

From my treasure-chest of memories:

I am 3 years old. I'm playing on the kitchen floor with my brightly colored pieces of Lego. And you are at the kitchen counter making a trifle for dessert. I hold out my hand and you give me some of those edible sprinkles that you use to decorate the trifle. You keep the little bottle in a drawer that is way out of my reach. I love eating trifle.

It is my first day in school. I watch you leave and I start crying. Your heart is breaking to walk away while I stand there at the window sobbing.

Daddy is taking me to school. You wrap up two chocolate cookies for me in a tissue to take with me. I fall down a slope on my way to the car. You watch me fall from the kitchen window and come running. You wipe away my tears and kiss the pain away.

We are going out. You dress me up in a dress with white frills and red polka dots. You make me wear red socks and I hate it. I still have a photo from that day.

We are out shopping and I am tired. I ask you to carry me in your arms. You say 'no'. You tell me that I am a big girl now and you cannot carry me any more. I wish that I had not grown.

I am studying in the evening. You sit with me, helping me when I get stuck. It is a hot, sticky summer evening and there is a cool breeze coming in through the open window. A cockroach comes flying in and I scream. You scream too. We both run away. We find Daddy to kill the cockroach.

I just come back from a Math test and give you my question paper with my answers written next to each problem. You find out that I made silly mistakes. You are devastated and you cry. I promise myself that I would never ever make you cry again.

I come home from an Art class and show you tubes of water color that I took from another girl because I did not like crayons and wanted to do water colors like the big girls. You scold me and tell me that I cannot just take something from someone because that is called stealing. And if I ever want something I should just ask you. You get me a whole box full of Camel water color tubes. I just fall in love with painting.

We get off a tram and you realize that the person behind you just pinched your purse. You confront the person and demand that she return the purse. The person freaks out and runs through heavy traffic and boards a running bus. We cannot chase her. You lose your purse. But I think you are the bravest person to go up and confront someone like that.

I have a science project at school. You show me how to sketch. You show me your old lab notebooks. With diagrams that you did when you went to school. I think it is the neatest and most beautiful lab notebook that I had ever seen. I try to draw like you. I even try to write like you. You have the most beautiful handwriting. You tell me you learnt it by trying to copy Dadu.

You learn how to drive. So you can drive Dadubhai to work every morning. And drop me off at school too. We stop at a railroad crossing everyday and I laugh when the car rolls backwards on the slope. You tell me that it stresses you out everyday to get over that slope.

We are in a boat in Nepal. The person who is rowing the boat is about 6 years old. You are scared to death. You don't know how to swim. You are convinced that the boat will sink and you will drown. Daddy takes a picture. We still laugh about how scared you looked that day.

You tell me about growing up. About adolescence, puberty and sex. I listen wide-eyed and decide that it will be our little secret. When friends talk about sex I just listen and never tell anyone that I already know.

Daddy answers the phone. A guy is asking to speak to me. My first ever phone call from a guy. Daddy is confused and gives the phone to you. You say 'hello' and the guy hangs up. We laugh about how Daddy freaked out.

I tell you about all the guys who are after me. The ones who send me cards, the ones who hang around my school gate, the ones who follow me from tuition, the ones who call up and profess undying love. We talk about how silly guys are. I think you are totally cool.

We are in a bus and a strange man is trying to molest me. I tell you and you shout at the man and he is forced to get off the bus. I am so embarrassed that I wish I had not told you.

We are buying cards at the Archies gallery and you call me by my name from the other end of the store. I pretend not to hear you. You ask me what is wrong and I tell you never call me by my name in public because everyone turns around and stares. But you don't get it. Because you do the exact same thing another day. I give up trying to explain.

You want me to stop chewing on my nails. You tell me if I quit then you will buy me every single shade of nailpolish that is available on the market. I still haven't managed to stop biting my nails.

We are practising a duet. Tumi aamar Ma aar aami tomar meye originally sung by Sandhya Mukherjee and Srabanti Majumdar. You start crying as you sing it. I don't. Now, even thinking about the song makes me cry.
As does this song we learnt while we were in school.

You buy me dahi-phuchka from a stall in Deshapriya Park during Durga Puja. You tell me not to tell Daddy because he will eat you alive for having exposed me to a sure-shot case of cholera. I never tell him. I didn't get cholera.

I come back from a three week trip that I did with my Dad. You couldn't go because you had to take care of Dadubhai. I burst into tears when I see you at the airport. I missed you so much that I vow I'd never go on a trip without you. Ever again.

You never tell me that I have to top my class. You never tell me that I have to be a doctor or an engineer to be successful. You just tell me that I need to grow up and have a career. And be proud of what I do. I learnt that I got through the Medical Joint Entrance Examination the day you had your 25th wedding anniversary. You told me that it was the best present ever.

I tell you that I want to live together with my partner before I decide to get married. You ask me why. We talk about pre-marital sex and I think you are a little shocked. But you do not judge me or try to reason with me or tell me that I am wrong. You just tell me why you think the way you do and let me decide.

I tell you everything. Every little thing. You are my best friend. But I don't tell you about one thing. That I have fallen in love. And I lie to you for the first time to cover things up. And I keep on lying. Because it is easy. Because I don't want to share this secret with you. And I think we start moving apart. I think I am hurting you. But I am too self-engrossed, too blind to even realize that. You know I am lying. You know I am hiding things from you. You hurt. You feel alone. You cry yourself to sleep at night. You keep praying for me.

We talk about my relationship and where it is headed. I say things that I don't mean. I hurt you because I think you don't understand. You are no longer my friend. You are my mother. You are being judgemental. And I resent it. I make you cry.

And yet, through it all you keep on loving me. You keep on giving. As always. And after all these years I want to tell you that I am sorry. For hurting you. And that inspite of everything, I have always wanted to be exactly like you. And in my efforts I have realized that I can only try. But there will never be anyone quite like you.
I love you Mummy.

Happy Birthday!

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