Hopeless Romantic: Part 1 – Tokens


There was a time when I thought of myself as a hopeless romantic. Even as I wrote endless reports on Shakespeare’s villains for school or wrote about gruesomely severed heads to amuse myself, my secret ambition was to write a love story of epic proportions. And when no one was looking, I would let the facade crumble and write poems of love (which sound horribly cheesy now) on the lines of “I haven’t found you yet.”

All of this was before I became the hopeless cynic that I am now.

One of the reasons why I was a hopeless romantic was, I think, because unlike everyone else I knew, I was single (is single too heavy a word to be assigned to teenagers?), and the proverbial grass beckoned me like the glint of green glass. My grandmother and her sister firmly believed I was destined to die an old maid, and my academic achievements were therefore null and void. We are, sadly, after all, raised to believe that if you do not find a Prince Charming for a companion, you’re worthless. It took a lot of years for me to come out of that demeaning mindset, but the day they uttered that “prophecy”, I think a part of me believed all of life was meaningless, and everyone I knew had something that I did not. But I digress.

One day, while helping a friend choose a birthday present for another friend, I found myself looking at a greeting card. A simple one, no fancy fonts or glittery picture. All it said was “For you”. It appealed to the romantic in me, and I thought if there was a chance in hell that I wouldn’t die an old maid, then this would be something to gift whoever it was I hadn’t found yet. I bought the card, and kept it hidden in a notebook.

That was the first in a series of “tokens” I bought. My fairy tale idea of love was cemented with each token I bought, fed and watered by all the notions pop culture offered. More song lyrics, more secret poetry followed. All of it hidden in the same notebook with the greeting cards, quotes and sometimes, even old bits of gift wrapping paper, if they happened to have hearts on them.

That picture of me isn’t something I can relate to today, over a decade later. A few years ago, I was back home, in my old room, and decided to throw all the tokens away. I just decided it wasn’t me, and all those bits had no place in my life. Interestingly, I could not find the notebook. Maybe somebody found it, had a hearty laugh and threw it out. I can’t say.

Or maybe, it will turn up years later, when I’m older, to remind me who I used to be – full of wide-eyed innocence and dreams of impractical puppy love.





Classwork and Homework. Home… work?

I don’t support our cram-and-puke education system. Never have, never will. In fact, I almost did not want to send my son to school, instead wanted him to learn his ABCs, give him the education he needed and learn things as he went by – without the aid of textbooks. Yes, I am notorious for saying irresponsible things like that. But can you blame me when the education system does not encourage questioning or curiosity, only an unfaltering submission to syllabus-prescribed heavy loads?

A recent conversation with my son brought another question to my mind – one that has been there somewhere ever since I was in school. Recently, my son began showing a little hesitation to go to school. I, of course, mistakenly believed it had something to do with it being winter and early mornings are the time to be bundled up in many blankets. I also assumed it was probably because we recently started sending him on the school bus and he was uncomfortable with that. My son isn’t the “let’s open up about problems” kind, even though he is just four. But after a lot of cajoling and coaxing, he said, the problem isn’t the waking up or the yellow bus. It is homework.

At the beginning of the school year, when they first sent a note that they would be sending homework each day, I thought “Homework? For preschoolers?!” The very idea was ridiculous to me, but then, if you’ve read my previous post on schools (linked above) or even my personal journal entries from fifth grade, you’d know my views aren’t the kind that garner applause from other parents. It was one page of homework at first – write a letter, write a number. Of late, he has been getting three pages of homework. It may not seem like a big deal to us but it is to a four year old.

Before children start school, they are fascinated by everything, like shadows and bubbles. Now, I see that light of curiosity and wonder gradually declining. Where do you have time for shadows and bubbles when all you’re doing is writing and writing some more? Where is the time to do anything else? Why are these school syllabuses so tightly packed that what cannot be completed in school must be sent home? As adults, would you like your bosses to expect you to work from home after your office hours? You’d quit and then throw that laptop under a bus (do not do it. I don’t want your bosses’ rage on me)

My question is, aren’t kids under pressure at school already to perform and “study hard”. Why must they be forced to bring more work home, when they could spend that time playing, or indulging in activities or projects that would truly stimulate their minds, instead of repeating the same lines over and over. It is their age to play, after all. If schools are doing it to “keep kids busy and out of trouble”, why can’t they find more creative ways to do that?

Should schools do away with homework in its current form? I think yes.



Linking to #MondayMusings

Dragged Out Of Wonderland

Sometimes I think I am one of those grandmothers who live perennially in the past. Add to that, the million memes on social media that revisit snippets from the 90s (like the old Cartoon Network for instance) and remind you of what an awesome childhood (their words) you had. They are not wholly wrong. In fact, for one, they are a hundred percent right about Cartoon Network. The cartoons broadcast on TV nowadays – well, literally anything being broadcast on TV nowadays – causes me to lose a few brain cells. I tried to make my boy watch Duck Tales on my laptop (yup, I have it!) but he just turned his nose up in favour of a blue balloon-like-thing-I-don’t-know-what-it-is  called Doraemon.
Image: 90skids.com
But enough about cartoons. Growing up in the 90s was an experience to be cherished. It was the period of transition, it was the period of wonder and it was a window to the best of both worlds – the vintageness of the bygone era and the cutting-edge-ness of the era to come. It was the era when rotary dialers were being replaced by number keypads and it was the age of the 5 and quarter inch floppy disk – one you could play with even if you didn’t insert it into the computer! And the era of walkmans! Each day was a new discovery, so to speak.
I recently read an article that said teenagers nowadays are happier than those of the previous generation. It said teenagers are handed everything on a platter and unlike the earlier generations they do not have to demand or struggle for anything. How is that happier? If anything, in my opinion, that would lead to stagnation, saturation, terribly short attention spans, and, an utter lack of wonder in the beauty of life.
That is what kids today lack – wonder. They are born into a world bursting at the seams with technology that it may or may not need. For instance, what good is an Apple watch? Back when we were kids, a watch with a calculator was considered a hot gadget – and it really was,and hell, it was better than the Apple watch! It terrifies me that kids today wear bored expressions at such a young age. Books don’t hold their interest anymore. They will never know what it was like to wait for the next Harry Potter book. And the shock of discovering plot twists while reading it.
My first act of rebellion was at age eight when my group of friends wanted to plant some seeds in a nearby park. My overly-protective father (who, by the way, loves gardening himself) was convinced I would not wash my hands after playing in the mud, and fall ill. Overly-protective, but not really expressive, and as a result the way the message was delivered was, you could say, Amrish Puri-ish! I not only played in the like a kid in one of those detergent commercials (with one of those bogus people called “washing machine scientists”) but also would go to the spot every day to water it and wait for shoots to grow. It didn’t happen for whatever reason, but the waiting, and the anticipation is something kids today will never know, simply because they would rather grow an e-farm on an iPad (irrespective of whether or not you let them – because those are their mild acts of rebellion!) That’s about as much DIY they seem interested in. It does not help either that even schools nowadays show everything using a projector – kids are never going to breathe a dreamy “wow” when their teacher draws a flower on the board, and they will never be called to write on the board themselves. Remember how exciting that was!
I used to have a feature on my blog called “Slaves of Technology” which I stopped updating about two years ago. But from the title of the feature, you could probably guess it content! Truth is, I would give anything to let my son discover the world that is beyond the click of a button, to discover the sheer joy of pulling out an earthworm with a stick, to use a camera at more important places than in front any available mirror. And though he may never wait for Harry Potter (that was an exclusive privilege that the 90s kids had) I hope he discovers the joys of books and stories (without me influencing him, of course!) If he ever wants to go planting seeds, he has my full blessing – and a bottle of handwash.
This post is being written for the #BachpanWithFlinto blogger contest. Flintobox creates award-winning discovery boxes filled with fun exploratory activities and games for children in the age group of 3-7. If you wish to gift Flintobox to your child, niece/nephew, or friend’s child, use the exclusive coupon code WELCOME to avail Rs. 250/- off.

The Wound Teaches You To Heal [#Cherished Blogfest]

Adolescence is a hard time to be alive. In my teen years, I knew at least four people who were convinced they were unloved and unwanted. Reality, for most high-schoolers, is a bubble of depression. If you pick up a newspaper, or even a Chicken Soup, you’ll know what an alarming number of teens commit or attempt suicide.
I also went through bouts of feeling unwanted, and have cried into pillows at night. That behaviour had been unfamiliar to me, but what happened with a friend I once called my “best friend” is what tipped me over the edge of teenage sanity.
For the longest time, she and I had been “Us against the world.” Then she developed a crush on this guy, another classmate. I tried to help out, in the way you help out a crushstruck friend– delivering anonymous notes and all that. Wonder of wonders when the guy reciprocated. I was happy for her, couldn’t be anything less.
But the aforementioned crush had a problem with me. Don’t know why; frankly, never cared either. But it affected our friendship. I don’t know if she did it consciously, but she was “removing” me from her life. Knowing I was no longer wanted, I took a step back. I stopped talking to her. Something petty I did was returning all the presents she had ever given me.  Everyone in class wanted to know what went wrong between us (our friendship was, you could say, famous). There were people discussing rights and wrongs, others (even teachers) trying to bring about reconciliation.
On my birthday that year, she still gave me a present. Of all the presents I received that year, hers was my favourite. It was a snowglobe; inside it, was a clown attempting a somersault. That was the first time I had seen a snowglobe; it fascinated me! I told her she shouldn’t have. She smiled. Attempts to reconcile the two of us were still on, but while she was cordial, her stance on the matter hadn’t altered – it was either him or me.
Looking back now, I don’t regret her ending our friendship. She is married to him now; I am happy for her. I still have the snowglobe – it’s in my mother’s house. I keep it as a reminder – of many things:
  1. Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes friendships end. Even if it has never happened to you, there could be a first time. Cherish the good times.
  2. Unless you come out of the shade, you can’t enjoy the sunshine – I got to know some of my wonderful classmates only after I came out of the shade of our friendship.
  3. Adolescence is a turbulent time. To any and all teens reading this, don’t worry, it’ll get better.
  4. It heals. You move on.
  5. If your crush is dictating who should and who shouldn’t be in your life for them to be in your life, well, if I were you, I’d rethink.

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Little Big Man With His Little Big Presents

If history has taught us anything, it is that every generation has firmly believed that the generation before it is silly and ignorant, and the one that follows it is too cunning and smart for its own good! I often heard the phrase “When I was your age bla bla bla” while growing up, and I heard it every now and then in between as an adolescent (about those who were younger), and now as a parent, I often find myself thinking it (I’ve never said it out loud) as my son surprises me every day in ways only he knows how. One of those being – he’s decidedly more sarcastic than I – the immature child in me is shocked, having been nicknamed “the queen of sarcasm” once upon a time, but the mother in me is secretly proud of his witty responses, and the easy charm with which he pulls himself out of sticky situations. I’ve even described in my earlier post, Going From Technologically Superior To A Parent how, like every child is superior to his or her parent when it comes to learning new technology, my son too has made an early start in his own way.

But my three year son isn’t only about sarcasm and charm. Nor is he only about beating me at games. What surprises me the most is the little ways in which he shows me he cares. He intuitively knows if I need to be cheered up, and proceeds to do just that.

He usually spends his vacations with his grandparents. He returned home after his previous summer vacation a little over a month ago. He coming home was enough to cheer me up – I was in between jobs, and sitting at home all day had begun to take its toll on me. A few days after he returned, I had been particularly worried and gloomy one afternoon. He asked me what was bothering me. I maintain a grown up policy of honesty with my son – I hate dumbing things down for him, and I hate lying to him. I don’t know if I am wrong to answer his questions as truthfully as I can mindful of his age; motherhood doesn’t come with a how-to manual, there’s no one right way and you learn something every day. I told him I was upset as I didn’t go to office like I used to. He listened to me with an expression I can only call totally grown up, totally patient, and then said, “Wait.”

He rushed to my mother’s room, came back after a moment and said, “I got you something from Ammamma’s house.” Ammamma is what he calls my mother.

A lot of children, adolescents and even adults maintain collections – of stamps, coins, or whatever catches their fancy. As a teenager, I had a collection of paperweights. I had quite a few, a traditional spherical one, and some other shapes, sizes and weights. Some were gifted to me, some I found here and there, and some I bought. I kept them safe in the drawers of my study table, and they survived our frequent transfers, given that I guarded them so religiously, like they were dragon eggs!

We let go of these little tokens, these reminders of who we used to be as we grow older. And in the midst of all that, when your little one brings you back a bit of your childhood when you’re sad, you can’t help but be stunned! He placed one of my paperweights in my palm and told me how he’d found it in my old drawer and asked my mother if he could bring it for me. It was such a sweet gesture that you wouldn’t believe how moved I was.

I stared at the paperweight for a long time. I had forgotten about it, but seeing it again reminded me of how I had first come by it – on a rainy day, in the middle of the street. We are taught not to pick things up from the street for our own safety, but this was a rule I often found hard to adhere to. The paperweight was simply too pretty to be ignored, it had many crystals inside (impressionable teens reading this – do NOT pick things up from the street; I was a stupid person, who was just lucky to never have come across a shiny bomb – do not be me!)

As instantly as I was transported to that day, I returned to the present moment. I was as cheerful as I could possibly be – not for the paperweight so much, but seeing that my son felt it was important to bring his mother back something from her childhood. I don’t know what intuition taught him that.
For all his mischief, his subway surfing, and his sarcastic responses, he’s my little big man.

This blogger contest is supported by Kid Social Shell, a unique digital parenting platform with 11 gaming-learning apps. Use it play 3D nursery rhymes, counting number games, shapes games, fun math worksheets, coloring games and more!

The Butterfly Effect

If you have been following my blog since the very beginning, you’d find multiple posts where I have made snide remarks about my college. College was traumatic, to say the least and when a lot of people describe it as the best time of their lives, I feel a tinge of envy. Despite all the subtly placed commentary on my college life in my posts, I never spoke about why I hated it. Perhaps I should. Perhaps it would be a catharsis of sorts. Or perhaps it would be an utter disaster. I don’t know which. Why am I talking about it now? Because someone recently remarked that it’s about time I put it all behind and move on. That I let go of all the anger inside.

I don’t want this post to be a rant fest, but if I am to do it right, I should probably start at the beginning – I studied in a wonderful school right before college. I have studied at various  schools in the country and have been a part of various friends’ circles, but Sreepuram, Kannur was the only school that made me cry on the last day. Our class was more wonderful than you can imagine – we were united like India before a cricket match, and strangely, got along like a house on fire even with most of our teachers (even when they were angry at us about the sorry state of our test scores).

College on the other hand taught me one thing in the four years that I was there – trust no one.

School was the age of innocence – however crude our jokes were, however depressing we thought our problems were, however tough that integration problem seemed to be – it was still the age of innocence. College was a rude eye-opener. I don’t know what it was but I was always on the wrong side of the wrong place at the bloody wrong time. I had merely walked through the tall wrought-iron gates and it just seemed like everyone had an opinion on me. I walked in, unfortunately, wearing one of those Kareena Kapoor-esque 3/4th kurtas and bell-bottom pants that were a rage during those times, but rather unheard of in the sleepy town where my college was situated (the natives call it a “pure land” but you know, whatever) and suddenly I went from Sreesha, one of the class toppers to “that slutty bimbo in first year.” Yep. All for a kurta that some moustached seniors couldn’t handle.
Oh wait, did I say seniors? Then I missed one important character in this story – an ancient chemistry teacher who looked at me once (just once) and said, “Soo… You are here to flirt with boys?”

With all due respect for your age, Asshole, I just got here.

Now, as someone who was never “accused” of “flirting with boys” (hell, the boys at school thought I was one of them!) I was pretty shaken. Insulted on the very first day with a rather unfounded statement. Before we go any further, let me just tell you, this man should have been booked for harassment. He could not speak to a single girl student (and on one occasion, to my mom) without literally coming so close to her, that their noses almost touched. Conversations with him looked like the Bharat Matrimony logo, only more creepy. But like I said, I had just come from the land of innocence to this, and in any case, I doubt that that college had any sort of harassment policy in place.

This man made this statement in the presence of students from four first year divisions, and I am not sure how many seniors. Regardless of whether there was anyone present or not, as a professor of a known, some might even say reputed, college he had no right to say that. No right. There’s no other way I can be delicate about – he had simply no right to say it.

Now the corollary of the above statement – regardless of what my professor said, my seniors had already formed opinions about me. For the same reasons – they couldn’t handle the attire that, to their eyes, was alien. One might think it was the male students who looked at me like “I was easy.” It wasn’t. Yes, they were definitely looking at me like that, but it was the female seniors who behaved way, way worse. We live in a world where there are protests when a lawyer blames a rape victim’s clothes. These protests are lead by women who say clothes must never be a reason to rape someone. And I agree. But in my college, it was the female students who said (my batch as well as seniors) “Look at her clothes! The slut! She’s asking for it!” Asking for what? What are you claiming I am asking for?

Baseless accusations of the kind often have a terrible impact on a seventeen year old, who has never seen anything in this world but sugar, spice, and everything nice. And to be labeled a slut because someone felt my attire (presentable, acceptable and even welcomed in every other college in every part of the world) was improper is the most soul-crushing thing that can happen to anyone. I withdrew into a shell I did not know I had, and the previously chirpy little girl vanished into a desperate shadow created to keep everyone’s attentions off. My mobile number was passed around in chits all over the state of Kerala. I had to change my phone number every six months because I was simply tired of having random guys calling me up on my phone asking me if I was “available” and tired is not a word that can do justice to what I felt.

Needless to say, this affected my studies. I went from being class topper (in school) to someone who barely made it. It did not seem to matter. Nothing did. I just wanted to leave, go home, bury myself under a rock and not ever come back. I knew how everyone was looking at me, what everyone’s opinions of me were. There was nothing I could do to defend myself, and if I did, I am sure that it would have been rather pointless.

A few years later, I went through a phase of depression. I do believe that the seeds of it were sown right there in that college. Most people love college to such an extent that they cannot imagine how it was for me to bow my head and walk, for fear of someone seeing me, or to not laugh at anyone’s jokes, because someone might hear me. And then point and say, “Hey look who it is! It is that girl. With the 3/4th kurta. *wink**wink*”

When I went through my phase of depression, I could trace everything back to me joining that college. I just kept pouring piles of regret on an already mountain-high pile. If I had not gone to that college, I would have devoted more time to write. If I had not gone to that college, I could have secured a better job. If I had not gone to that college, people who have never met me or spoken to me wouldn’t call me a cheap, slutty, seductress, only because they had heard of me from an acquaintance of theirs who had heard of me from one of theirs. If I had not gone to that college…

“If” is a very small word. “If” is a big, loud, mind-shattering word.

With all those lines of regret converging to the point where I chose which college I would study in, all I wanted was to turn back time to that one moment and instead of saying, “This is where I want to study,” I would have chosen a college closer home (forgot to mention – this college was 6 hours away from my hometown). I know that if I had that one option of turning back time, then everything would be different. I don’t know whether it would be for good or bad, but from where I am standing, and from the lens I am looking through, the grass is greener on the right side of the right place at the right time!!!

If I could talk to my seventeen year old self, I would tell her, “Sweetie, the world is a shitty place, but there are less shitty ways of learning that than dragging your name through mud for eternity for crimes you did not commit.”

I know this is not a conventional blog post. I know I am just inviting a lot more shit by “putting up all that drama on social media.” But I needed to let this out.

I have to forgive myself for all the years of regret.

I have to let the ghosts of Adi Shankara Institute Of Engineering & Technology be laid to rest.

Edition 66, Indispire: Have you ever wished there was an undo button in real life?

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The One Where Gandhiji Turned In His Grave

Children have a way of embarrassing their parents. It’s just one of the many adorable services they offer. As a child, I also had my own way of embarrassing my parents. And it all began with a certain catchy jingle on television!

When I was three, there was no cable television; there was just Doordarshan (for those who don’t know or can’t remember or simply don’t switch channels when the cable dies – that’s this ancient TV channel where every show was preceded by a sad soundtrack and a montage of the Doordarshan logo being formed like dosa batter being poured onto the tawa (every show, except the news, which had a surprisingly upbeat and sinister soundtrack!)). While my parents watched the shows in the evening, like the rest of country, in an era with no Twitter, I sat with them for the adverts! I loved them, and I loved everything about them! The jingles were way catchier than anything I had heard so far (I had not yet been told that Jack and Jill fell off a hill and died). Which is why one day when my mom’s closest buddies said, “Sing for us, beta,” this happened: Mala-D Mala-D lalallalalallalala.
I can only imagine how mortified my mother might have been in front of her friends! As much-needed damage control, my mother taught me nursery rhymes, and the jingle from a lozenge ad (might have been Vicks). So like, every other Indian kid ever, I sang those to entertain my mother’s friends (unpaid child labor, I tell you!)

Anyway, so apart from displaying my (now-failing) amazing memory to you, I have also shown you how much I love and observe ads. A bad ad always gets to me, even today (I mean, seriously, WTF is a “washing machine scientist”!). Don’t even get me started on IIN, cos technically, more than the ads, it’s the idea that’s bad (woah, that pun was totally unintended, I swear!)

Funnily enough, a bad ad gets talked about way more than a good one. Once, while we were in school and learning about Gandhiji’s Dandi march and all that, this beautiful brand decided to give us shit with a pinch of salt. There was a new salt brand in the market and they decided to show us their entire salt-ing process in their advert.

This was, hold your breath: DANDI NAMAK!

They had an ad so long that it seemed to last for eternity while time stood still and you forgot to breathe because oxygen supply seemed so limited cos the atmosphere is just so filled with pollutants and other microorganisms that you –

Yeah, kinda like that.

Seriously, they just rambled, and showed us a lot of machines and… and I don’t know why the hell I still remember this, but like I said – bad is always more talked about than good. For days, this ad is all we talked about – at school, amongst cousins… I think my grandmother even made a bedtime story out of it (which was still shorter than the ad)!

I tried to search for ad on YouTube, but you guys are just lucky; I could not find it. I even searched for “Dandi Namak bloody long advert”; no luck. But imagine this ad playing before the video you actually want to watch on YouTube, and imagine there’s no Skip Ad button. Yeah, that was life before YouTube. We belong to a generation where we don’t spend 30 seconds on an ad on YouTube, and the 5 seconds before the Skip Ad button appears are excruciatingly long. When the Dandi Namak ad aired, we were that generation – in-the-making.

The ad made some comment about drinking less tea and paying for dandi namak instead (again – why do I remember these painful details!) I agree, namak is important. A gravy without namak is so bad that even the lovers of continental food wouldn’t look twice at it. But do you know what all recipes say about salt? Add Salt – To taste.

This ad turned out way too salty.

PS: I don’t remember this correctly, but I think this ad had Aman Verma in it. He later went on to barge into clean people’s toilets in Harpic ads.

I am joining in on all the Pepsi IPL action in my own style with the #CrashThePepsiIPL activity at BlogAdda.” (and I had fun writing this post)!
This Pepsi IPL, it’s not just about cricket. It’s time to crash with your own ad! Make your own Pepsi ad & if it’s chosen, it could play on TV during Pepsi IPL! And hey, it doesn’t end there… Even if you’re chosen as a finalist, you stand a chance of winning a prize amount of Rs.1 lakh! So what are you waiting for?