Caring and Sharing

The excitement began in the first week of March. What shall we do this year? Shall we have a theme? What about the lunch? Shall we order it or have a pIMG_20190302_112325.jpgot luck? Shall it be a particular cuisine or a celebration of diversity? And of course, it will be our Sari Day, but shall we have a colour code this year? Intercoms buzzed and Prepcoms were held.

It was the run up to Women’s Day at CEE! This was not the day to make a great political statement, nor a significant feminist event. It was simply a time to meet, eat, laugh and play together—a celebration of sisterhood.

For me this sisterhood was one of the many things that made CEE so special. What may have been the first link in the chain was a true “sense of belonging” to an organisation. But that was lengthened and strengthened by numerous bonds that brought the new and the old; the different tiers of formal designations, and the several generations that made up the ‘woman power’ of the institution.  It was the shared cups of tea and the lunch dabbas; it was the shared agonising over children, parents and in laws; it was the exchange of news and views, and the show-and-tell of things bought or made. This was a constant underground stream that flowed round the year, giving energy to our daily tasks at work. This seamless blending of many generations, and the mutual caring and sharing that made our lives so rich.

For us the Matriarchs, this sisterhood was the mainspring of our daily life. And we revelled in it as we scolded and moulded the fledglings; laughed and cried with our contemporaries; celebrated births and mourned the passings; bedecked ourselves for weddings, and planned office parties with much gusto. It was in many ways a time of innocence, a time when comfort and joy was derived from the feeling of going through life together. It was so much more than a coming together on a single day of the year.

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” Maya Angelou

In this week, we look back and remember with gratitude and love all the wonderful women that we had the fortune to have met and worked with, and who have enriched us in so many ways.

–Mamata and Meena

 

Balm Buff

Spoiler alert: We are discussing only pain balms, not wimpy stuff like lip balms!

I am an unrepentant balm sniffer. I cannot fall asleep unless I sniff some balm and apply some to my temples. The hint of a headache, and I reach for a balm. A niggling in the throat calls for a generous rub and copious sniffing.

My friends know a balm is the way to my heart. So I  actually have friends gift me bottles and tins, from Kerala, from the Himalayas, from travels to Southeast Asia. It is a balm story which defines ‘hostess with the mostest’ for me. A friend in Delhi with whom I sometimes stay over provides toothbrushes for frequent guests—they stay in colour-coded caps in the guest bathroom. But she really set the standard when she stocked a jar of my favourite balm in the guestroom, so that I could feel that much more at home!

I think the word unguent was made for balms. I have never heard it used in any other context: ‘a soft greasy or viscous substance used as ointment or for lubrication’.

But what intrigues me a little is that the definition of balm is: ‘A fragrant cream or liquid used to heal or soothe the skin; Something that has a soothing or restorative effect.’

None of my balms soothe! They sting. In fact, the test of a balm is that your eyes should water when you put a spot of it on your temples.

As far as I can make out, balms come in two types—the brown unguents, and the off-white ones. There are good ones in both categories. But as far as Tiger Balm (THE balm) is concerned, the brown one beats the white one hollow.

We balm buffs are sensitive to packaging too. You have the glass bottles (the best). Then the plastic jars (OK). The metal flat disc-like boxes (good too). And now the roll-on type (I know that a liquid too can be a balm, but I am not so convinced).

Why a random rant on balms? No idea, except that the weather is not very balmy (Meaning: ‘characterized by pleasantly warm weather’– obviously not from the same root), thanks to which people all around are sneezing and coughing, which makes me want to stock on my balms!

–Meena

Living Coral

So the fashion gurus have decreed that the colour of the year 2019 is Living Coral which is described as “an animated and life-affirming shade of orange with aIMG_20190123_112828 (1).jpg golden undertone”. This is the to-go-for colour for clothes and bags and shoes and accessories!

I was amused when I read this, and it also set me musing about my own year of Living Coral as it were.

This was the coral tree that stood just outside my office window and gifted me with hours of delight. For many years it was always there, and we took its comforting presence almost for granted.  But one year my window-sharing colleague and I decided that we would look longer and closer at this old friend. We realised that the coral tree itself changed form and colour with the seasons. In the winter the skeleton of bare branches was silhouetted against the blue sky; come February this would transform almost overnight, into a burst of colour with the brilliant orange crimson buds and flowers. And yes, it was indeed life-affirming. The tree became animated with the many visitors that came to feast and fest on the blooms. Drongos and tailor birds, koels and babblers, doves and parakeets—calling, cooing, shrieking, sipping–what a cacophony of exploration and satiation! Occasionally the feathered visitors would hop onto our window sill and gaze curiously at us, the creatures without wings trapped in glass cages. Other winged creatures—butterflies and dragonflies, bees and wasps would flutter and flit within the blooms. But as with all life, it cannot always be Spring. The flowers would dry and shed, and the crimson would be replaced by green pods that soon turned brown. And in that brown nestled the seeds of new life, preparing to reaffirm itself with the cycle of time.

A single tree, a single window and a glorious reaffirmation of life!

Over the year, Pankaj the artist and I tried to capture some of this magic in words and pictures. And a small book The Coral Tree was the outcome. Today as I sit at another window, I turn the pages and celebrate that coral tree as a truly living entity.

The company that promotes the annual Colour of the Year describes Living Coral as a colour that “welcomes and encourages light-hearted activity, and the innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits.” I feel somewhat sad that the joyful pursuits may be limited to looking through store windows, and shopping for clothes and accessories to keep up with the fashionistas.

–Mamata

 

 

Art Mart

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A dramatic 6’x4’ acrylic on canvas by Mahadeva Shetty

The first Sunday of January is marked down in every Bangalorean’s calendar as Chitra Santhe Day, the day when the busy Kumara Krupa Road is taken over by artists exhibiting and selling their works.

20190106_111151The Sunday just gone by was the 16th edition of the Chitra Santhe. About 1500 artists from 16 states of India were there, and 400,000 people visited!

As a regular visitor to the Santhe, it is something I look forward to. More than the art even, the festive atmosphere, people taking the time to look at paintings and talk about them, mothers and fathers discussing art with their children….

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Grateful to the organizers and the city for this opportunity. And since it is about art, less words and some pics this time!

–Meena

Stitch and Rip

I am clumsy and so often put rips and tears on my clothes, and break my buttons. I only have to look at food and I put on weight. Between these two tendencies, I need to stitch up tears, and let out clothes.

So the two most important ‘simple machines’ in my life are the Needle Threader and Stitch Ripper. Simple, but oh, what amazing inventions. For those who don’t know what these are, here is a brief.  And even if you are young and sharp-eyed and the super sorted-out, do not scoff at these, for the day will come when you need them!

Needle Threader: A needle threader is a small sewing tool designed to help pull a thread through the eye of a sewing needle.

When exactly the first needle threader was invented is unknown, but within the European context it is likely to be an eighteenth or early nineteenth century development. There were various forms of nineteenth century needle threaders. But the one most commonly in use even today is a late nineteenth century form which consists of a small plate (often stamped with a profile image of a woman), with a diamond shaped loop of fine steel wire attached to it. The wire loop is flexible and easily passes through the eye of a needle. The sewing thread is passed through the loop and the loop (with thread) is then pulled back through the needle eye.

A number of needle threading devices were patented in the United States in the early 1900s, including Herman Trzeciak’s model patented in 1924 and Carl J. Schuster’s design in 1945. The first automatic needle threader incorporated into a sewing machine was designed by Juki in 1978.

Seam Ripper: There doesn’t seem to be much agreement on who invented this but there is a patent application by Allie  M. Minter, from Petersburg, Colorado in the US and Canada, in 1903.

Seam rippers are an item designed for breaking or undoing sewn stitches, often on seams. A seam ripper is also known as a ‘stitch unpicker’, ‘quick unpic’ and a ‘quick unpick’. (I call them Stitch Rippers). Typically, seam rippers have two spokes, one sharp and the other blunt, connected by a handle, while the intersection is usually a sharp blade.

I sometimes have nightmares of a gangsta (or a lady older and clumsier than me), holding me up with a gun (or pair of knitting needles), and saying “Your Needle Threader or your Stitch Ripper”. I have thought this horrific scenario through. I will part with the Stitch Ripper. One can substitute a safety pin to do this function (albeit a bit clumsily). But for the Needle Threader, there is no substitute!

–Meena

 

 

 

 

Talk Time

All through school and college, one of the best parts was the ‘night-spend’ (before it was called ‘sleep-over’!) at a friend’s place. The high point of this was staying awake till very late, sometimes even till dawn, simply nattering the hours away. Though well past our school and college days, for myself and my friends, this continues to be so, even today!

We never seemed to run out of conversation. Conversation was comfort, it was catharsis, it was heart-to-heart and tête-à-tête, and more. Conversation was face-to-face communication.

It was not just with friends–face-to-face communication was a way of life. Families caught up with doings and happenings/news over daily meals, and at family get-togethers; colleagues exchanged views over a cup of tea; housewives met at the corner for a chinwag to exchange neighbourhood gossip, and senior citizens bemoaned the state of the world as they took their constitutional in the park. We communicated daily with the shopkeepers, the domestic help, the essential service providers like the milkman, the presswalla, the newspaper supplier, and the auto drivers.

Today we are told that the world is “connected” like never before. We are in constant communication, as it were…Through the press of a button we can order our groceries and daily requirements; we can book tickets for movies or order in food; we can upload pictures of our latest travels; we can stream live the family wedding from the exotic destination; we can open our hearts to the BFF through Twitter and Instagram…and we can even text our children in their bedroom to say that dinner is ready!

The world is “connected” 24/7. Time saving, effort saving, technological marvels we say.  But somewhere in all this, have we not lost something precious? Something that is a basic human need–Face-to-face communication, an ancient and abiding human gift? Are we losing a vital connection?

“When you speak a word to a listener, the speaking is an act. …Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. …And it is a mutual act: the listener’s listening enables the speaker’s speaking. It is a shared event, intersubjective: the listener and speaker entrain with each other.  …When you can and do entrain, you are synchronising with the people you’re talking with, physically getting in time and tune with them. No wonder speech is so strong a bond, so powerful in forming community.” (Ursula K. Le Guin in a piece titled Telling Is Listening.)

Perhaps the next time, before we sign up for “Unlimited Talk Time” offers, let us see if we can make real Time for Talk.

–Mamata

Living Together in Peace

In 1900 the poet Rabindranath Tagore dreamt of a world that has “not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls…a world where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.” Several generations of students (including yours truly) recited the stirring lines with passion.

In 1971 John Lennon imagined a world where “There’s no countries…Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.” A whole generation of young people (including yours truly) joined the chorus in a spirit of optimism and hope.

Sadly the world seems to have gone in the completely opposite direction. Today people seem to exist in a state of war…not just a war between nations but an insidious war between every kind of difference imaginable—colour and creed, race and religion, gender and age…what you wear and what you eat… Anything to kill or die for.

What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.”  Albert Einstein

Imagine—the United Nations has to dedicate a special day (16 May) as the International Day of Living Together in Peace. And to remind us that living together in peace is all about accepting differences and having the ability to listen to, recognize, respect and appreciate others, as well as living in a peaceful and united way.

Peace Poem

If there is to be peace in the world

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities

There must be peace between neighbours.

If there is to be peace between neighbours

There must be peace at home.

If there is to be peace at home

There must be peace in the heart.

Author Unknown

 

If only…..

 

–Mamata

A Soft Pause

I like the comma! It is perhaps my favourite among the punctuation marks! Many years ago when I started out as an editor, it was a comfort and joy to work with Kiran, my “commarade”, who an equally ardent follower of the comma! Over the many years of copy editing since then, I am finding that the comma is increasingly dispensed with (as are most punctuation marks, as emoticons take over). Most people see no use or value in it, or maybe they haven’t ever paused to think about it!

Ah commas, these often overlooked tiny squiggles that lend order, and often sense, to a sentence. While a full stop ends a sentence, a comma indicates a smaller break–as a soft pause that separates words, clauses, or ideas within a sentence.

Indeed that is what it was always meant to be. The word comma itself comes from Greek word koptein, which means “to cut off.” The comma, as we know it, was introduced by a 15th century Italian printer Aldo Manuzio as a way to separate things.

While word lovers like us value the comma, it takes a master word-crafter like Pico Iyer to eloquently express these sentiments.

“The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said — could it not? — of the humble comma. Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprived of a resting place. Yet still the comma gets no respect. It seems just a slip of a thing, a pedant’s tick, a blip on the edge of our consciousness, a kind of printer’s smudge almost. Small, we claim, is beautiful (especially in the age of the microchip). Yet what is so often used, and so rarely recalled, as the comma — unless it be breath itself?

(In Praise of the Humble Comma. Essay in Time Magazine 24 June 2001)

So there is the humble comma, and then, as I discovered, there is the Oxford comma! The Oxford or ‘serial’ comma is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list: We sell milk, cheese, and icecream. It is known as the Oxford comma because it was traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press.

While this may seem not so important to worry about, this little squiggle before an ‘and’ can create hilarity, or confusion. For example if you write ‘I love my parents, Amitabh Bachchan, and Mary Kom’ without that little squiggle before the ‘and’, you may end up, unwittingly,  being the offspring of AB and MK!  

A comma, then, is a matter of care. Care for words, yes, but also, and more important, for what the words imply!

–Mamata

 

 

How-to-be-Happy Curriculum

Psyc 157: Psychology and the Good Life is reported to be the most popular course ever offered at Yale University. Within a week of registration being open, nearly one third of Yale undergraduates had signed up for the twice-weekly lectures. What is the course all about?

Basically about teaching college students how to be happy! In an age where “getting there as quickly as you can” and “excelling” are seen to be the key indicators to success, it is sad that young people who are just about entering one of the best phases of their lives—with so many journeys of exploration and discovery ahead of them, need to take a course that teaches them how to lead less stressful, more satisfying lives. Such is the irony of the times we live in.

I think back to my undergraduate days as the most enriching, exciting, and yes, some of happiest years of my life. Ok, so I did not go into the ‘pressure cooker’ of an IIT or a medical college (I was “one of those Arts types”) but I did get into an Indian equivalent of an ‘Ivy League’ college. For someone who had never enjoyed her school years as much as many seemed to have done, stepping into college, was from day one, a joyous journey that lasted three years. It was indeed a time of the opening up of the mind, not just in terms of the curricular, but more so in the extra-curricular. It was the Film Club that opened windows to different ways of seeing; the Hiking Club that opened up unforgettable vistas of nature; it was the invaluable exposure to music and dance and theatre, all of which we always had time for.

Even more precious it was the making of friends that have remained so for almost fifty years! This was the gang for hanging out with in the canteen, with laughs and giggles, and the pouring out of woes. It was the bunking of classes to go see the morning show, or catching a bus to go all the way to centre of town just have a lassi between classes, and the book fairs at which entire wholly satisfying, and oh-so-happy days were to be spent.

College was indeed the cradle for what was later to be described as the “all round development” of the personality, for which today there are Life Coaches and Grooming Gurus (not forgetting the ultimate go-to-Guru Google!).

Sadly college life today sounds different—unhealthy competition; the pressure of justifying the sky-high fees that parents are shelling out; the continuous looking at how to ‘plan’ one’s future career; and the dangerous encroachment of politics into campuses….and news that young people are ‘burning out’ at an age when they should be blossoming into vibrant human beings…What a tragedy indeed!

To top it all we need a Yale Professor to remind us that feelings of happiness are fostered through socialization, exercise, meditation and plenty of sleep! How sad is that?

PS: I am proud to be an LSRite!   (And yes, intercollege rivalry was healthy and produced excellence rather than antagonism).

–Mamata