Strength – Courage

Strength  - Courage

My dear son,

 

Growing up, I had a friend, a few years older than me. She lived three houses down from ours. We were thick as thieves.

She was crazy about animals; had two dogs and three cats of her own. Besides those, she looked after at least a dozen stray ones, every day. She fed them, nursed them back to health if they were sick, and even took them to a doctor when the need arose. She wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian and start a shelter for stray animals. You should have seen her when she was with her dogs and cats. It was like she was home. She was happy; no more the recluse she was, when with humans. She was a single child; and I suppose, to her they were the siblings she never had.

A few years later, we moved away from there. That was a world very different from yours, my son; a world before emails, Facebook and even mobile phones. In that world, once you lost touch with a friend or a loved one, you had to count on the benevolence of fate to get you back together again. Fate did get us back together, almost two decades later, at a social gathering. But it wasn’t quite the reunion I had always imagined it would be; because although I was there, she wasn’t. Not the girl I knew, anyway. Instead, I met a woman well into her thirties; still trying begrudgingly to fit into a life she had been handed. She was a chartered accountant now; someone had to keep her father’s practice going, you see. The practice incidentally, wasn’t doing very well since her father passed away, four years ago. It wasn’t like she wasn’t trying, but heart had just never been in numbers. The stress of it all was starting to show in her marriage too, she said. To cheer her up I asked her how many dogs and cats she had now. None, she said. Her husband cannot stand the mess.

Ever since that day, whenever I come across a stray animal in need of a shelter, I cannot help but wonder – do we really need someone to do our taxes, more that those animals’ need to be cared for?

I often wonder if her parents ever truly understood what they took away from her, in the name of giving her a ‘more stable’ career. A veterinarian is hardly even a doctor, they had said to her. And surely she could not go on wasting all her money on food and medicines for stray animals, all her life? She must forget all this as a childhood hobby and move on, she was told.

Move on, she did. Towards a life she doesn’t recognize as her own. Towards a future which is as bleak as her present. Towards a life which is now, only broken shards of what it could have been. It hurts me to even think whether the memories of her past – her happy time with her cats and dogs – are a source of warm comfort for her or a burning pain.

I wish she had fought for her dreams. I don’t know why she didn’t. I just know that many of us don’t. Perhaps because it can be very tiring. It wears one out, eventually; to bear the constant friction of the world sandpapering you into their approved version. So they just give up. But one has to wonder, if living a vanquished life like my friend is now, is any easier too.

The thing is, when it comes to life, nothing’s easy really. But having made the choices oneself, instead of having them dictated to you, only makes life’s difficulties worth it.

So go on, my son. Be what you’d like to be, what makes you happy. I wish for you, all the strength you will need. And then some more; to resist becoming, what they would try to make you.

 

Love, now and forever

Your Mother.

 

Family – Strangers

Family-Strangers

 

 

My dear son,

Affiliation, as I have come to realize, is an odd concept. So comforting in the security it offers; and yet at the same time, so suffocating in the boundaries it creates.

From the moment we are born, we are affiliated. To someone. To some things. To some place. To social constructs, we don’t know the roots of. To ideologies, we have been handed down. I cannot, and will not, rule out the luxury of having that affiliation, especially during our formative years. It certainly makes things easier. To carve an identity for ourselves is a heavy burden to bear. And we need to be strong enough first, before we undertake such an endeavor. But every man must undertake it, nevertheless. And the fact that so few bother to anymore, is I feel how the world has landed up where it has; a sorry state which keeps getting bleaker with every day’s news headline.   

Everywhere I look, unfathomable rifts seems to be splitting our world wide open; with the few bridges that we have left being burned away fast and no new ones being built. The smoke from those fires is fogging everyone’s views and judgments. Blinded, they are running amok; running into each other, knocking someone down or being knocked down, in the process. Starting up fights they never meant to. Suddenly everyone’s at war. Everywhere.

A lot of this can find its roots in the ill-defined concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’; and the notion that all that relates to ‘us’ is good and venerable, and all that relates to ‘them’ is bad and hate-worthy. Factionalism, to a certain extent is expected when the world is as large as ours is. And so it has always existed – on political lines, on religious lines, on linguistic lines, even about things that were meant to serve as pure entertainment, like which sports team is better and who is the real Bollywood superstar. But what’s gripping our world, currently, isn’t just some mild variant of factionalism. This is something far graver, far scarier. This is people forming cliques based on issues ranging from the most prejudiced to the most inane; and calling everyone else whose thinking is not in tandem with theirs, wrong. It is an epidemic of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us”; permeating to the smallest of issues one can think of.

The world is increasingly becoming binary. Definitions are being so tightly compartmentalized, that if you’re not ‘this’, then you must be ‘that’. You will be told that there are no in-betweens; there are no on-the-fences. That there are no atheists and agnostics in the existential matters of the world anymore. One simply must pick a side and fight for it. All these tactics are nothing but a way for them to build the walls around you, to make sure you never peer over to the other side.

So the best thing that you can do for yourself, my son, is to not to let them build these walls. They will try. Oh yes, they will. Brick by brick, word by word, prejudice by prejudice; they will try to ingrain in you how you are different from ‘them’. We eat this and they eat that. We live here and they, over there. We believe in this and they, in that. Knock down every single brick as soon as they put it up, before the cement sets in for eternity. Always keep looking over the wall; familiarize yourself with ‘their’ world as much as yours. Familiarization doesn’t always breed contempt. In this day and age it breeds comfort and empathy. And that’s what we need. To be comfortable with whoever is different from us and learn to empathize with what we do not yet fully understand.

Remember, affiliation with one, doesn’t need to become the reason of alienation with another. ‘Family’ can be a very flexible concept, if you let it be. And ‘stranger’ is just a powerless word; a bubble you can burst away with a touch of a hand.

So, reach out. Understand. Feel. And bond.

That is how you will make a real family. That is how you can make sure that no one is a stranger.

And when no one is a stranger and everyone is family, wouldn’t all the fighting finally stop?

 

Love, now and always

Your Mother.

 

Real Stories

Real stories are the most challenging to tell. (1)

My dear son,

 

What can a mother who is a writer tell you, other than stories?

Although this happened a while back; I remember it like it was just a blink ago.

I was working on a story while the maid sat nearby, chopping vegetables for dinner. I was writing a scene where a family is settling down to dinner. They are struggling with a recent and terrible financial crisis, and coming face to face with a paucity of any kind for the first time.  The head of the family realizes that there is hardly anything to eat that day except some boiled rice. He asks his wife to bring some pickles to eat the rice with.

I explained the scene to the maid and in the most inoffensive manner possible, tried to ask her which pickle did she think they were likely to have; i.e. which one of them was the cheapest to buy. That kind of detailing was important to the sequence because it would lead to an argument in my fictional family, which revealed a lot of other facts about them. Anyhow, I offered her a choice between chilies, lemon and mango; in my opinion the contenders for the cheapest pickle tag. She looked at me blankly as though I had posed a calculus problem. I, in an effort to simplify her problem and mine, asked her which one her family mostly buys or eats, thinking I could just go with that choice. She just shrugged nonchalantly. None. The answer was ‘none’. I asked her why? She said they could not afford it. I argued that I was under the impression that it is the cheapest thing to buy; at least lemon and chilies pickle, considering how cheap those are. She said, as true as that might be; oil and spices, which is what makes a good pickle, are not.

That shut me right up.

I struggled to find the source of that idea in my head. Why did I ever think that way? I searched through the recesses of mind and came across references, casually and frequently made, which may have led to that misapprehension. My grandmother often used to say, “Achaar se roti khaate hain, par fashion dekho,” in reference to people she thought were dressed beyond their means. (Literal translation: “They eat their meals with pickles because they have no money, and yet look at the way they splurge on fashion”). Some faint, grainy visions of a movie I had seen a long time ago, with the following dialogue, too jumped to attention, “Achaar se roti kha lenge par haraam ke pakwaan nahi.” (We would much rather eat our meals with pickles, than eat the delicacies bought with dishonestly-earned money).  On the whole, I surmised, this was an impression that has been built into my head over the years, through the echoes of how one particular stratum of society saw, and talked, about the other.

I remember feeling so dejected after that conversation with the maid, that I abandoned first that scene and then the story, altogether. What I was put off with really, was my ignorance of the reality and yet my over-confidence in thinking that I could pull off a realistic story like that. In thinking that I could deliberate on and bring to others’ attention to deliberate on, the trials and tribulations of a life I had never led and only understood very little of, and quite a bit of it wrongly, based on hearsay. How pompous and foolish was that idea? I remember not writing anything for a very long time after that.

I was reminded of an excerpt from Motorcycle Diaries; where Guevara writes about coming across some poor kids wearing slippers made of tires. It had made me feel the same way as the conversation with the maid. How would people like us, who are fast blurring the line between luxuries and necessities, understand the lives of those who do not even have the bare essentials? Is that kind of an assimilation of someone else’s reality, on the far end of the economic continuum from you, even possible?

Stories are meant to entertain, of course. But they – some of them at least – are also meant to enlighten. Awaken. Start a conversation. And hopefully, bring a change. It is not easy to write these stories, though. First of all because, as the anecdote above suggests, a lot of us may not know what the realities of those whom we intend to write about, are. We only think we do. And we are too complicit in our illusions. Besides, because once we do find out; we are too bummed out, too under-confident to write about them. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that these stories need to be told. More than the others. More than ever.

I hope those are the stories I write. I hope those are the stories we all write. Until a time, when there are no more stories like these left to be told.

Not all of them need to be written with a pen, though. There are people who have created far stronger and impactful narratives of social change, with their actions.

So, choose the medium you want. But do not ignore the stories that deserve to be told.

 

Love, now and forever

Your Mother.