Life Musings, Travelogues

Different But Still The Same

In Dubai the contemporary coexists with the bygone and as I sit here by the creek this morning, I’m reminded the same is true of me too ~ I’ve changed, and yet I’m still the same.

This used to really upset me (and some days it still does). I thought the whole point of growing up was to get rid of all those things about myself that looked like faults or that other people disliked. And on that score, I was failing badly!

I was reassured recently by a blog post by the Internet Monk. He uses a quote from Henri Nouwen and the story of Jacob to show that what I’m feeling is not unusual and that perhaps the best way to understand it, is to understand that flaws of character are not erased, reversed or covered up. Rather, the lines, blemishes, and imperfections that once make them appear unattractive slowly become set into integral marks of quirk, beauty and character.

It’s had me briefly reconsidering my assessment of myself and the ways I’ve changed and the ways I haven’t. In every case, the most profound changes have not come from eradicating these rough edges of mine, but have instead come from embracing them.

I still have a much greater need for solitude than most people find comfortable, but in embracing that and honoring that part of me, I have discovered that I have more to give when I am around others because I’ve taken time out for myself.

Yes, I am still too quick to “fix” and to “problem solve,” but embracing that tendency has made it easier for me know when to use that trait effectively and when to bite my tongue and let things happen the way they are meant to.

Yes, I’m still stubborn, but embracing it has allowed me to put that stubbornness to use in reaching my goals instead of trying to suppress it where it leaked out in shadow forms that got in my way.

I’ve changed, and yet I’m still the same.

I used to think of that as a failure, but now I’m thinking that perhaps the deepest transformation possible is that of learning to be who I am and to be ok with that—rough edges and all.

Travelogues

Armchair Wanderlust

She describes herself as ‘a petter of dogs, taker of naps, binger of sitcoms, aspiring writer by day and crime-fighting ninja by night’. But Shivani is so much more than just that!

Talk to her mother and she will tell you about the ‘thousand thoughts that buzz in her pretty head ceaselessly through the day’. Shivani is extremly reserved, immensely responsible, incredibly intelligent (***cue sounds of records shattering***) but most importantly, she has a compassionate heart of gold.

In the years that I have known and interacted with her, Shivani has consistently challenged the stereotype of the petulant teenager. In fact, in a world of carbon-copy clones, Shivani is so refreshingly different that she leaves fairy dust and wonderfully winged words wherever she goes. Check out @balladieroftheordinary as she takes us down memory lane all the way to Switzerland.

For the umpteenth time this year, the world is ending.

Stepping out of the house requires military level training but even while sitting at home, separated from everyone and everything, you have to stay aware of the fact that your hands are nowhere near your face.

One could say these are trying times, yes.

I’ve always been a bit of a homebody, but lately, I’ve missed travelling (Fate, thou art cruelly twisted).

So, I’ve been doing what any forced armchair traveler would do – go through photos from previous trips and whine about how much I miss those places.

One trip that I miss particularly is the one my mom and I took to Switzerland and France in May 2018. As is a rule with every time I travel, I was under the weather almost the entire time, but trust me when I say this – Not even the worst cold could have brought me down. I loved France, definitely, but Switzerland was BREATH-TAKING. One place where I’m certain I left behind a piece of my own heart was Ouchy-Olympique.

Not many people know about this small waterfront on the edge of Lake Geneva, which is good because we humans have a something of an Anti-Midas touch. Ouchy started off as a fishing village but was declared as an official port in Lausanne somewhere in the mid-19th century. And then, somewhere in 2018, it was also declared one of my favourite places in the world.

Ouchy is an ideal spot for cycling, roller-skating or even taking a boat ride along the lake. There is also a row of stalls selling irresistibly yummy food (think: ice cream, crêpes, sandwiches). I would not recommend going here on a full stomach. If you’re more of a sit-down-and-eat kind of person, Le Lacustre is the place for you. Literally translating to By the Lake, it’sis a beautiful restaurant located right at the waterfront.

To get to Ouchy, you can take a train or a bus from Lausanne Gare or, if you’re feeling particularly active (I was not), walk the distance.

Personally, I loved everything about this place. The view is breath-taking, the people are friendly, the food is simply delectable. Besides, there is a certain comfort in sitting by the waterfront, reading a book or listening to music and sipping hot coffee that the busy, bustling streets of a metropolitan town could never provide.

So, if you do ever visit Switzerland (probably not anytime soon), be sure to take a daytrip down to Ouchy-Olympique, home to the Olympic Museum and a small piece of my heart.

Teaching, Travelogues

Bringing Travel into the Classroom

This article was featured on the Innovate My School, UK website, August 2020.

I’ve always been obsessed with travelling. As a teenager I volunteered with my church group to traverse India working in villages, prisons, NGOs and hospitals. The experiences fulfilled me in ways I cannot fully explain and each year, I looked forward to doing more meaningful work and exploring my country every chance I got. As a young teacher some years later, I began organizing regular domestic travel for my students. I have such incredible memories of those early trips to forts and palaces in Southern India, ancient monuments hidden in mountains of the North and paragliding over sparkling waters in Goa. It’s quite possible that I had more fun than the kids on those journeys, but as I reflect on those experiences, I realize that they also allowed me the unique opportunity to see students developing an understanding of essential skills and it was pretty remarkable to me how a short break of eight or ten days could educate children in a way that classroom teaching never could. In fact, I am a firm believer that travel experiences can do more for character education and a sense of identity than any other experience in life can.

 

Over the last twelve years I have been to twenty-three countries and to simply say that travel changed me a little each time would be an understatement. Now, the philosophical world traveler in me feels the need to describe these moments as rich cultural experiences, but, truth be told, at first I was only interested in getting pictures for Facebook – the social and cultural education was a convenient bonus. Over the years, I have spent most of my time attempting to prepare children for life. I’ve learned from some incredible mentors, taken great courses, and had many professional development opportunities. Yet my travel experiences have taught me just as much and helped me become a better educator.

Shared-Learning

Sharing my travel stories with my students allows for intercultural understanding. It allows me to share my learning with them, inspiring and encouraging them to chase their passions and dreams. Personal travel stories allow me to address and hopefully debunk stereotypes, biases and presumptions towards cultures. They have the potential to awaken students to traditions and values of cultures, helping students recognise and value new ideas.

Making Sense of the Past 

I remember standing inside the cavernous hall of the Armenian Genocide Musuem in Yerevan and thinking to myself ‘Why didn’t we learn about this in school’? But when it comes to history, there are plenty of things we don’t know. More than a hundred years on, the impact of the Armenian genocide reverberates loud, and is echoed by the other atrocities that dot our social media feed daily. Too often despair stands in the way of action and knowledge leads to a sense of hopelessness. We cannot bring back to life the dead of the past or those who have been victims of political mass murder throughout the ages, but, through courage as well as knowledge, we can act to bring about a world free from the scourge of hatred. In committing ourselves to everyday things to create a world of peace, freedom, and mutual respect, we honor the memory of those who have fallen victim to the ultimate crimes. The genocide will soon turn 100, but the capacity to forgive is infinite. Mercy forsakes logic, math, numbers – I hope my students will always remember that.

Look Beyond the Textbooks

Some years ago, while travelling around Jordan, a friend arranged for me to spend 2 days at an orphanage school in Amman. The school was full of Syrian refugee kids trying to come to terms with their new circumstances. Recounting those experiences to my students, I realized that many of them admitted to knowing very little about the refugee crisis and the political landscape of the Arab countries. Before I began travelling, my Private School education too had actually taught me very little about it. Our curricula is sometimes so western-focused that we hardly really learn about the histories of people and nations in less developed parts of our planet.

I started this post thinking I would list ten ways in which travel helps me inspire my students, and I could go on listing my reflections; but I must keep my terminal verbosity at bay, so I’ll just leave you with some thoughts to consider with students in your classrooms.

  • In a world that is constantly assaulting the senses, travel teaches young people the value of doing nothing and using time and space to unwind and make sense of their experiences
  • The last twelve years has also cemented the idea that learning doesn’t end with a high school degree. In fact, graduating high school can be like baby steps – true education happens while you’re living and experiencing life in the real world
  • Culture connects us all; despite having unique ways of experiencing the world, once you spend enough time with people you will realize that we have more shared humanity than we realize. The things that make us different, make us special, but the things which we share in common unite us too.
  • Until I moved to the UAE, world travel seemed like a distant dream; the kind that sits at the back of your head, but you never give it any importance because you doubt it will happen for you. Over the last twelve years I have gained confidence in the idea that dreams are attainable if you work at them. I know that sounds cliché, but it is true, and when I tell that to my students, I believe it; because that has been my own experience.

So there you have it, if I were to sum up everything that I am feeling as I type this, I would say that sharing my travel experiences with my students has helped me create a safe zone for learning about life. Students are always interested to know about their teachers’ personal lives and sharing my travel experiences with them helps me intersect the personal with the profound in a way that subject content might never be able to.

I hope that each of my students can have some degree of world travel experience. When I started wandering and wondering, I discovered things about the world I had not known before and through it, I discovered who I was. I hope they too have the wonderful opportunity to discover themselves and the history of shared humanity through the joys of travel.

Life Musings

Help

My eyes opened at 6:00 am, just as my phone’s alarm was reaching its crescendo. As I lay in bed in that half-asleep, half-awake limbo, I noticed that I had 40 unread messages on WhatsApp. New morning. Old routine. And so the arduous task began…

Message Series 1

Horrible images from the wreckage of the flight in Kerala with links to news articles I already read last evening. What is worse, every person on the group feels it is their obligation to respond with ‘RIP’ or insert an appropriate emoji into the ever-expanding list of replies. The tragedy moved me deeply, the robotic responses did not and so I scroll, ignore, and move on.

Message Series 2

Funny cartoon image accompanied with #justsharing, multiply by 20 responses and now some memes in response to the first image!

Message 3

Silly video of a cow wearing Covid PPE. (Comments added for a personal touch)

(I wonder who had time to edit this video? I mean…)

Message 4

A friend from another continent asking me if I watch Indian Matchmaking. I don’t and even responded with a thumb down emoji before going to bed last night. The message clearly did not register, for here on my screen are 17 quotes from someone named Sima. I roll my eyes, look beyond the sexist comments and pick out the flaws in her grammar before I roll out of bed and add an extra spoon of coffee to my percolator.

Unpopular Opinion Alert: If WhatsApp did not give me the convenience of communicating with my family on the go, I would probably choose not to use it. Sure, it is a useful application but it also offers a constant tirade of beeps and flashing lights; a constant stream of throwaway comments and thoughts that I must keep track of, read and (*shudder*) respond to!

I sip my coffee as I get back under the duvet and turn to my laptop to quickly read through the remaining messages. Beside me is the overturned novel I have been ignoring. I have not been able to turn past page 44 of the David Mitchel book by my bedside in the last three days; and this is not the first time I have laboured through a novel over the last few years. But where is the time for reading uninterrupted? Mitchel doesn’t stand a chance in this day and age and I will probably only manage a few pages after an extended period of blissful boredom one of these nights.

I am a lover of words, I study them, I collect them and store them away to be used when the right opportunity arises, words gives wings to my thoughts and so the irony is not lost on me. Words on WhatsApp have quite the opposite effect on most days. These words are fleeting. Momentary. Forgettable. Silly. Gone. Banished above the ‘load more comments’ button and lost into the ether. While the benefits of the application far outweigh the downsides, I am forced to question how much of the proverbial price I am willing to pay.

As I type this, I realize that I do not really have anything profound to share and this has turned out to be an early morning rant instead. Just then another beep interrupts my thoughts. It is a message from a former student studying medicine in Eastern Europe, I click on her name and read…

What’s the opposite of ‘Dominoes’???

 Tired of thinking???

Well the answer is ‘Domi doesn’t know’

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is too much, ‘You’re better than this!’ I scold her, ‘this is what you send me, when you message after months of no contact?’

‘Chill!, she responds, ‘You sound like my dad!’.

I ignore the cheeky jibe and we chat for a few minutes before both of us realize we need to carry on with the day. Saturdays are for catch-up and my day goes by as planned. Chores done. E-mails sent. Checklist…checked. Coffee had. Plans with my brother finalized. Just as I sit down with my lunch and to watch some Hell’s Kitchen re-runs, another beep.

A message from another contact, in another part of the world.

What’s the opposite of ‘Dominoes’???

Tired of thinking???

Mind.  Blown.

***I cannot believe this***

***You have got to be kidding me***

***Slams phone***

***Bangs head***

Feels like an episode of Hell’s Kitchen alright.

I am (of course) exaggerating, but you get my drift. What are some of the ways you cope without offending your contacts? I could *really* do with some advice.

Life Musings, Writing

Joy in the Journey

For my last weekend in Al Ain I could think of nothing more fitting than a drive up to Jebel Hafeet. Over the last two-and-a-half years, escaping to the top of the limestone range has been my favorite pastime. I even chose my apartment because of its mountain view and I will always remember standing out on my balcony on winter mornings waiting for cloud-cover to rise and reveal the city’s iconic peak.

The view from the top of Jebel Hafeet can often be hazy, maybe as a consequence of the quarrying and cement factories that dot the area. But for me, the beauty has always been in the serpentine journey through hairpin turns, as I play hide and seek with the sun.

In November of 2017, I moved to the Garden City reluctantly as my head and heart continued to combat each other, trying to figure out how to coexist in unison. But the slower pace of life, small town vibes and simple routines grew on me sooner than I thought they would. My rhythm adjusted and the people I met solidified my feelings for my temporary home. Each person had a feel of calm and deep investment in making quiet connections…some private and some to share.

As we drove up to the top this morning, I could not help but marvel at how life plays out, pushing us in the directions that lead us to where we need to be. Thirty minutes into the journey we were making our way to the over-priced café and hoping to catch the sunrise one last time. God’s early morning, egg-yolk exposition did not disappoint.

I hope to return and see the sweeping views of Oman and Al Ain again someday but for me the drive and the anticipation of making it to the top will always be what makes this journey a beautiful experience. It is never about the destination but the journey itself. Just like life.

Writing

Type. Delete. Repeat.

When my high school English teachers told me to write every day, I took their advice to heart. I believed that they were offering sage wisdom gained by being fantastic practitioners themselves. From that moment on, I wrote almost every day, convinced I had found the key to being a good writer. As I look back, I realize that was probably not the best advice for them to have given me, also I never read a single piece of their writing, and don’t remember being particularly fascinated by their turn of phrase. As time passed, I learned this notion of writing every day was, in fact, common writing advice but not very impactful. Still, somewhere deep in my conscious mind is a little kid committed to that practice in the hopes that such discipline will make me a real writer, a good writer, a great writer, a respected writer.

When I began this blog, I would get home after a long day and sit at my desk, always in dim lighting, with mood music to boot, and write; just write – about my day, people I met, conversations I had and the writing, was not very good. (It’s all still available on here for anyone who has the time and the inclination to check. It might even make you chuckle) It was comforting, I suppose, to put so much energy into making myself feel like I was trying hard to improve my skills because I was certainly not having any success finding external validation. I would submit work to magazines and newspapers relentlessly and have that work simply ignored.

I’m a different kind of writer today. Reflective, pensive even, easily moved by everyday things but cautious with how I express my feelings. I still write two to three times a week but on so many days, the writing is questionable. My wasted words, I call them. They never make it to my blog or anywhere other than the trash bin on my computer. At the end of a long day I sometimes scroll through twitter or read the news or try to answer a few emails. Then I remember I should be writing, so I open up a Microsoft Word file and tap out a few lines. I procrastinate. I tap out a few more lines. I tell myself I have written for the day and have, therefore, done as I was counseled to do so long ago.

What I crave deeply is the luxury of those few times when I start to write, and though I don’t yet know the shape of what will come, I write my way forward. I remember the joy of those moments so vividly. Stolen pockets of time – on a bus travelling between Paris and Engelberg, at the grave-side of a teenage student who had died tragically, as I watch my mum and dad carry out their household chores in domestic bliss, listening to a busker playing a Coldplay song on the high-street in Goadilming and sometimes even just as I stare out at the red taillights of cars lined up end-to-end on a highway between Dubai and Sharjah.

Writing everyday is akin to building muscle (so I have been told) – the muscles get stronger with time. Perhaps I am my own greatest critic, nothing about the writing I produce or the work I do, fulfills me completely. I am always looking to get better. Do better. Be better. Maybe I am meant to be the kind of writer who writes best when I least expect it. A writer without consistency. A writer stealing from everyday experiences and hoping that some day the words will come together more beautifully than they usually do. Until then I will type, delete and repeat. Bear with me.

Guest Posts

Caught in The Web

 

WhatsApp Image 2020-07-19 at 08.47.00I first met Rituparna Mahapatra some years ago and got to know her better through her writing which has now found a new home on her blog. Since then, I have been waiting to get her to write for ‘Frankly Speaking’. Rituparna is at present, editor-at -large for Kitaab.org. Her features have been published in India America Today, The Deccan Herald, The Telegraph, Borderless Journal and Odisha bytes amongst others. She taught English literature at Sambalpur and Delhi Universities before she became a full time writer; today she continues to teach writing in her free time. Rituparna lives in Dubai, with her husband, two kids and her golden retriever Hiro.

decorative-line-break-29

On checking the data for my phone’s screen time usage, it says 8 hours (in the last week?). I am perplexed as to how this can be; I hardly get time to breathe these days. But my phone clears all the dark clouds and shows me the time I have spent on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, chatting, reading, writing and browsing online. The data is out there, broken down to its tiniest measure of time and everything is crystal clear. I stare at the screen for a while – this is a revelation to me ‘about me’.

I have never known the insides of my mind, as well as my phone, does. It’s as if this 6 by 2.5 inch piece of living metal knows what I am looking at, what my desires are, the people I dislike, the ones I love, my happiest place, my darkest fears; all of it. It knows about the diseases I suffer from, my ovulation cycle and my mood swings. Eerie.

It seems like we have forgotten to feel our emotions without documenting them. Our date nights are spent clicking pictures of the flowers on the table to the food on our plates and sending it out there. Yes, we hold hands and smile but only to keep a record. Memories are not made anymore, we just store them to never visit again; unless Facebook reminds us.  Imagine everything ‘about us’ being out there, whirring in the universe of a never-forgetting web. Everything that we have ever done virtually is archived somewhere. Our private chats, our photos, our google searches, our 4:00 am calls, our food preferences, our favourite celebrities, our secret accounts, who we have muted, who we have blocked, who we are stalking…Every. Single. Thing.

I secretly envisage the threat this carries – of exposing us, our real selves.  This unravelling of our lives, layer by layer, stripping it of any vanity that we may have proclaimed, bringing our perfect lives to dust. To make matters worse, as I was thinking this, my Instagram flashed pictures of ‘Electric Kettles ‘ directing me towards stores selling them. How did ‘they’ know I needed one? Then I remembered that when my kettle crashed yesterday I searched frantically for a replacement on Google. I forgot about it soon after, but my phone remembered.

Maybe this is a millennial delusion, a picture of a dystopian world, all of which is a result of living in continuous surveillance of the ‘web’. I type ‘how’ and the search engine throws up ‘how to speak with more confidence’; mocking me, showing me my deepest fears; which I have guarded diligently and prefer to battle on my own through dark, sleepless nights. I don’t want to be reminded of it now; when I am with my friends sipping iced tea at the cafe and planning on our next trip to the organic store that sells the best ‘truffles’. By the way, I was searching for ‘how to cook with truffles’ too.

I cannot touch my teenager’s phone anymore; the biometrics inform him every time it is touched by anyone other than him. Since then, I have added another prayer-point to my list, ‘to keep him protected from the web always’. I worry for my younger one too so now I insist on surveying the faces and lives of her virtual friends. I feel guilty about stalking them, but I do it nevertheless. The fear of ‘the unknown’ that our children are exposed to and what they are becoming is far greater than everything else.

Our parents are not safe either. There are stories I read every day of senior citizens being robbed of their hard-earned savings. I call my mother hurriedly and ask her to wait till she can go in person to the bank. She tells me, our small town is tense with an underlying threat of simmering mob violence, between two religious sects. I ask how will they know ‘who’ is ‘who’? She reminds me of the details they had filled up on the digital voter card; they know exactly ‘who’ is ‘who’. They know how many people live in each house, how much they earn and how much they spend, which places they visit, thanks to the online check-ins. My belief that God controls everything is shaken, our lives are flow charts for programming codes, in the end, we are just data to an algorithm.

This Pandemic has been a wake-up call for us on many fronts. It has brought out the lies, deceits, greed, the corruption of governments, the breakdown of societies, the evils of systems. It has shown us the fragility of the human mind; how it can crumble despite our best efforts and how relationships can break at the slightest provocation. It has taught us that there is always a possibility of hiding behind ‘Incognito’ mode, and pretend that all is well

Maybe the internet emerged as a coping tool for all this chaos; a safe place for each one of us, initially. One that seemed non-judgmental, comforting and sensitive. You could speak more freely here, explore fearlessly; unmindful that it was using every byte of your mind to build its kingdom. Spinning its web. What began with awe and allure of a simple ‘Mario’ or ‘Temple run’ game, has taken demonic proportions. Have we given too much of ourselves to this internet by clicking on too many ‘ I agree’ buttons without reading? Have we offloaded too much personal data into it.? We live a different life online.  Is it only a matter of time before we are forced to bear the brunt of living in this binary existence?

As I write this, my ‘Healthify’ app reminds me that I am just one cup away from consuming my optimal ‘water intake’ for the day. It gives me the option of drinking chamomile tea instead of water, promising a good night’s sleep. I click on the teacup image and google for the best organic chamomile tea even though I know I should delete that app and go out for a walk, to get a goodnight’s sleep.

Soon, hopefully very soon.

Life Musings, Writing

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone – Little Foxes

I was never a diehard fan of Sushant Singh Rajput and I don’t claim to have seen all of his work. I have watched a couple of his films and some interviews and to me, he always came across as honest, authentic, down to earth – the underdog who beat the odds in Bollywood. It helped that he was a musician, a reader, a truth seeker, a star gazer – there was so much more to him than the average ‘hero’ and that’s perhaps why I liked him more than some of the other actors who have graced the screen in recent times. But, I did not expect to feel the way I do, ever since I heard about his passing this morning.

Some losses feel more personal than others even when there’s no real reason for them to, and it’s not difficult to see why. The science is simple, we invest so much in the lives of larger than life characters that they become part of our lives. Over time they rent living space in our thoughts, our conversations and our daydreams.

In my lifetime I can recall reacting on social media to the untimely passing of Chester Bennington, Nafisa Joseph, Jiah Khan, Kushal Punjabi, Robin Williams and now Sushant. There were others before social media became a thing who left behind shattered families, scores of heartbroken fans and communities left questioning ‘why?’. Sadly public memory is notoriously short-lived and before you know it, the next big headline will steal the space where tributes once took pride of place. Already today, news anchors are diverting our attention to stories of presidents, protests and prejudice. Everybody moves on. Public sentiment is re-set. We go back to our default setting.

While the pressures of fame are not everyday concerns for most of us, the effects of isolation and despondency are, they are universal and that’s why a loss like this, resonates so loud. Every time I hear of a suicide, I go reeling back to that Wednesday evening, circa 1998. I had just returned from choir practice when my ma sat me down to give me some news. I could tell from her eyes, the timbre of her voice and the way she held my hands that the news was not going to be good. A few minutes later, I was trying to digest the fact that *******, my friend (just a year older than a fourteen year old me) had taken his own life. ‘Pills’, they said, I didn’t even fully understand how that was possible.

Even today I can close my eyes and re-live everything through a blend of disjointed memories. I remember going to his house, his mother clinging to me as she wept. Tremors passed like waves through her frame, everything around us shook. Sobbing. Wails. Faces in the crowd I had never seen before that day. Suddenly I am at a funeral home. I’m staring at the skylight above us instead of the White coffin below it. My gaze is fixed upwards, I am stoic but I steal glances at my friend resting peacefully a few meters away.  First, confusion. Then, Calm. The riff notes of ‘I Surrender All’ linger on gloomy air as a Pastor reads from the scriptures. The hard-wearing scents of Eau de Cologne and Rose petals make it difficult to breathe. ‘Dust to dust’ the crowd reads at the cemetery. Mud, more mud. Flowers. Muffled voices. Incence. Crows cawing nearby. The end, of my friend’s life.

What haunted me then for weeks after, is what makes me most uncomfortable today in Sushant’s passing. How did we let it get to this? Why did he feel so alone, so isolated, so helpless; as if there was nobody, not-a-single-person-in-the-whole-world who could have helped him, or to whom he could turn?

For weeks I felt guilt and regret regarding my relationship with ******* like there was something I could have done or said. Weeks turned to months, but I was still regretting unsaid words and ruing silly arguments; wondering if things would have been different had my actions been any different.

In retrospect, ******* was clearly going through mental struggles he could not articulate. We didn’t have the vocabulary for it back then. Nobody knew his pain in 1998 and nobody knew we would wake up to this news today. Nothing has changed. Not enough people seem to care if you have a mental illness. They might even call you names like “crazy” or “addict,” and perhaps never look beyond those labels. My friend was the “victim” of a suicide. Maybe that explains it better. He was a victim of a mind that turned against him and system that couldn’t help either.

All these years later, everything is still the same. Most people with mental health issues still struggle alone and fight their demons unaided. I wish ******* had known that there are people who do care. I wish those people had told him so. I wish Sushant had known his death was going to send shockwaves through our communities. That he has millions of wellwishers and mentors who regret their absence from his life. That supporters would come out of the woodwork for him. That demigods and luminaries would eulogize him. That people respect him. Admire him. Love him.

Did he know that people care? Would it have made a difference if he did?

 

Books & Reading, Writing

The Road to Leadership with Hercule Poirot

As Agatha Christie’s world-famous detective turns 100 this year, it’s worth taking a leaf from his book for some real world applications too. This article appears in The WKND Magazine, June 2020.

The quarantine life has affected people differently. Some have taken to baking, others to exercising and some are exploring latent talents. I don’t fall into any of those categories but I have binged my way through potentially all of Netflix’s crime shows and was left with what I call, whodunit withdrawal symptoms. There is always something about crime shows and not knowing the unknown that is intriguing and stimulating to the mind.

While contemporary shows really refine the genre and elevate it to a new level, I still love going back to the ones I grew up with. I know I am dating myself here but, shows like Street Hawk, Perry Mason, Columbo and Agatha Christie’s Poirot series with their red herrings and high-stakes intrigues were the original ‘binge-worthy’ shows way before the notion of bingeing became part of popular culture.

It worked well for me that life in lockdown also coincides with the 100th anniversary of Poirot, which has given me a chance to binge my way through David Suchet’s perfectly helmed episodes.

I started reading the Poirot novels when I was around 10, and as I grew up, I began to understand his character better. But re-watching the episodes against the backdrop of a global pandemic has been something of a revelation. For weeks, I have been discussing with colleagues and friends the importance of leadership and leadership styles; and while there is potentially every possible style currently displayed on the world’s stage, Poirot too (it occurred to me) shows us some characteristics that are perhaps more important today than they have ever been.

Poirot prioritised relationships and deep listening. He embodied the saying ‘To see clearly, listen more’ and so, in many of his cases, it is simple words, an off-hand remark, or a turn of phrase that actually leads him to answers. It is his understanding of human nature, tones and gestures, expressions and body language that helps him connect with people.

Poirot, as I recently observed, was also a spiritual man. In The Triangle at Rhodes, it was his observance of spiritual practices and deep-seated notions of right and wrong that led him to find and prosecute the murderer. As long as the guilty person was not identified and punished, he believed a shadow would hang over the lives of everyone else. Poirot believed closure was vital and that murder was never justified.

In Lord Edgeware Dies, Poirot read upside down during the case to understand the killer’s mindset and, through the series, comes across as someone who constantly upscales his skills. Here was a man who knew himself well and understood that expertise was not optional. Studies suggest that the best leaders know their domains well and while Poirot was by no means perfect, he was humble enough to learn and practise what he did not know.

As we all come to terms with current events, it is perhaps an opportune time to look inward at our own leadership characteristics. It is also the perfect time to reflect on who we choose to lead us. True leaders put people first, prioritise relationships and have the ability to inspire, to take others along on their journey, and be credible. They are able to make people sit up and listen, then follow – not by shouting the odds, but through the power of logical persuasion and a clear sense of purpose.

How wonderful it is that, in fiction, we are able to find a poignant and timely message for the real world. The climate of our times demands leaders who are not just intelligent, but wise; leaders who formulate strategies that target the greater good; leaders who are fair. Poirot, without trying to, can remind us that the more we choose such leaders, the better off we will be.

Life Musings, Writing

An Abundance Mindset

This whole week I have been forced by circumstances to think about the constant tug-of-war between abundance and insufficiency. My mind has been marinating in things I have heard, read and discussed with people and I learnt quickly that I was not alone, perhaps because of the climate of our times.

In most people’s minds, there is a battle between two perspectives: abundance and lack. These are almost like two roads that we have to walk but sometimes without a choice, each giving us vastly different experiences of life.

Abundance often correlates with positivity with the core belief that there’s enough out there for everyone. By carving our niche and claiming our little successes, we are happy to bask in the realm of possibility. On the other hand, when we think from a perspective of insufficiency, we could be filled with fear and questioning. We think pessimistically, are highly attuned to what we don’t have and what won’t work, as well as the deficiencies of our situation. Everything is either black or white.

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Rhine Falls, Switzerland

While I have been questioning so many things lately, my predominant state is that of gratitude. Abundance doesn’t come from resources alone, abundance is a mentality, no? I am reminded of the majestic waterfalls across the world, some of which I have been so fortunate to see personally. It amazes me how that much water can continuously flow at such speeds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for thousands of years. To me, this is symbolic of a never ending abundance that can come only from a power greater than our little minds can imagine.

The natural world has a lot to teach us if we pay attention, no matter what the present circumstances feel like, it is alive and well and ongoing. My prayer for myself is that I would focus on the abundance instead of all the things that seem so far from reach. And, if you haven’t seen a waterfall, I’d like to share this one with you in the hope that it will remind you to live in an abundance mindset, no matter how difficult it might feel at the moment.