Laughter and the Sky

You laughed the stars
into the sky
And cried as the clouds
came floating by

Why did they block
the spectacular view?
Had they nothing
else to do?

You will the wind
to chase them now
Applaud as it turns
to take a bow

The moon takes on
a subtle glow
And the twinkling stars
complete the show

This poem is a slightly modified version of my submission to Cubby’s Prompt: Laughter.


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Growing Up

The idea for this piece came from a post that I recently read. Most people consider childhood to be the best time of their lives. I wish I could share that sentiment. While my childhood wasn’t particularly terrible, my feelings towards it can be best described as ambivalent.

When I started working, people asked me what I missed most about college. Without a thought, I’d say “vacations”. It’s the only thing that came to mind. I was a very lucky child. The first grandchild, a spoilt brat and the subject of undivided love till others came along. The first few years were spent without a care in the world. But that changed very soon with the burden of education. As a result, most of my years as a student were lost trying to meet high expectations. When school ended, there was college. Choosing to graduate in a field I wasn’t born for didn’t simplify matters. Exams were terrifying and the results even more so. I’ve lost count of the number of meltdowns over the years. So much so that my mother discouraged me from pursuing a master’s degree. So, yes, “vacations” was the most natural response.

That’s not saying that adulthood has been a walk in the park. Being “independent” isn’t all it’s made out to be. Career, money and relationships rule your life. The responsibilities don’t seem to end. Your words and actions are scrutinized and have serious repercussions. Sometimes, you just want to embrace asceticism and retire to the mountains. In these matters, childhood was not very taxing. Responsibilities were more personal than financial or social. People didn’t hold you accountable for what you said or did. The poor parents took the blame.

As a child, I was always riddled with insecurities and self-doubt. I never felt good enough. I was always conscious about what others thought about me. Following the crowd was the norm. Adulthood changed that. It provided a sense of freedom in making my own decisions. It made me financially self-reliant. It gave me an identity and self-confidence that was sorely lacking in my childhood. It enabled me to think for myself and form my own opinions. It brought me a seat at the table; it made sure that my viewpoint was heard and respected. I emerged out of the shadow of my parents.

However, there are some qualities in a child that I’ve lost and dearly miss. Innocence is the first. Unfortunately, I find it to be a casualty of our day and age. Children, today, grow up too fast. I will be the first to admit that I was a very stupid kid. But, looking back, that was not a bad thing. That is the only time of your life when no one is going to judge you for your stupidity. People will keep reminding you of it all your adult life. But the result will be more of a joke than a tragedy. The second is the wide-eyed curiosity. This is one that slowly fades over time. Things cease to amaze us. Maybe it’s the cynicism that comes with getting older. Maybe we just get jaded over time. Or, maybe, we are too worried about looking like fools when we ask too many questions. Third comes imagination. Maybe it’s just the engineer in me but I hold rationality responsible for its decline. When you try to find reason and logic in everything, it kills the imagination. Idealism is next. This one weathered quite a storm when the bubble of childhood burst. The harsh realities of life introduced practicality and the idealist in me decided to take off.

I will differ from popular opinion and say that childhood is overrated. When people rue their lost childhoods, it’s a case of the grass always being greener on the other side. When we’re children, we can’t wait to become adults. When we grow up, we cling to childhood. Maybe, it’s better to live in the moment and enjoy what the different phases of our life have to offer. The naivety that is part of childhood and the wisdom that comes with age and the understanding that life is not as simple as it once seemed are both worthwhile.

What are your thoughts?


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My Idea of Faith

My previous post on this subject dealt with the role of science and religion in our lives. This one is an attempt to share my thoughts on faith.

I grew up in a home with contradictory views on religion. My mother is very religious and my father is the exact opposite. It’s strange how they adopted such different ideas on faith. Both my grandmothers were terribly religious and superstitious. While my mother continued in her mother’s footsteps, my father went the other way. Growing up, my father’s job kept him away from home and my mother was a major influence. Worship became a part of our lives from a very young age. But, as we grew older, my brother and I started questioning religious practices. While my mother never discouraged this, most of her responses were, “I don’t know. I never asked my mother.” My father couldn’t care less about these rituals. I never saw him pray and remember asking why. He responded with, “I do pray. When I wake up in the morning, I pray for the well-being of everybody in this world. I don’t ask for anything else.” One thing my father repeatedly says is, “I believe in God but I don’t believe in godmen. And, I hate religion and rituals.”

Despite or maybe because my parents have such differing opinions about religion, we were never forced to choose one over the other. My parents may not agree with each other. But they’ve made their peace with each other’s choices. We, also, have discussions on God and religion. When my parents agree on something, we can be sure it’s right. We are lucky to be able to listen to arguments from both sides and form our own opinions.

Over time, we realised that religion has its limitations. My father may not indulge in prayer but he has some principles that he lives by. He says, “It’s okay if you can’t do something good for somebody but don’t do anything to harm them.” He forgives quicker than most people. Once, I asked him why he trusts so easily when so many have taken advantage of him. He replied, “I don’t dwell too much on such things. If I trust ten people and even one of them justifies my faith, I have gained a lifelong friend.” I wanted to know how he felt when people cheated him monetarily. He said, “In life, both good and bad things happen. Some days you gain, some days you lose. I only ask myself one question. Am I better off than when I started? If the answer is yes, then it’s all good”. This made us realise that you didn’t need to be religious to be a good person. My mother may not be happy to see us move further away from religion. But she accepts it, nonetheless. She, probably, takes consolation in the fact that we haven’t turned out to be terrible human beings. She has, even, been open-minded enough to give up some of her superstitions in the face of rationality.

My idea of God and religion has changed over time. It would be more accurate to say that my dependence on them has reduced. I believe in God but I am open to the idea that there might not be one. If there is a God, I try not to bother Him with my mundane problems. When I suffer a setback, I try to accept it as part of life. It is only when I am distraught and trapped on all sides, that I look to the Almighty for guidance and comfort. It is foolish to expect your entire life to be smooth sailing. Even more foolish is to expect that having faith in a higher power will ensure such a life. When we let go of such ideas, we learn to accept the bad with the good. In my maternal grandmother’s words, “When you get knocked down a few times, it makes you smarter. You don’t make the same mistakes again.” Devout as she was, her life was nothing short of a struggle. Perhaps, the only thing that got her through was her faith and the hope that her trials would mean a better life for her children.

I am convinced that God helps those who help themselves. Thinking that God will ensure that things fall in your lap, just because you are devout, is delusional. If this was true, most people would take the easy way out.

Many people accumulate wealth by cheating others. They, then, donate to religious institutions in the hope that their sins will be forgiven. This doesn’t sit well with me. I believe in karma; in “as you sow, so shall you reap”. If you do harm, it comes back to you. Regretting your action cannot save you. Only repercussions serve as a deterrent for the future.

Faith, to me, is personal and each of us has a unique equation with God. I don’t feel the need to prove my faith to others. Everyone has a right to decide what to believe in and I don’t have a right to impose my idea of faith on them. If God is everywhere, it doesn’t make sense for me to go to a place of worship to find Him. I prefer to talk to God directly without an intermediary. I think of God more as a friend or confidant than a fearsome entity.

You should never have to choose between faith and humanity because they are not mutually exclusive. The sole purpose of faith is to spread humanity. If it doesn’t, it’s not faith, it’s propaganda.

Ultimately, I have realised that it doesn’t matter which path you choose to reach your “destination”. As long as the road is not built at someone else’s expense and brings out the best in you. Religion, rules, spirituality or principle; whatever the name. I don’t need to listen to what someone else says or follow what someone else does. I need to find what I believe in and make my own path.


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Loss

Where do you go,
how do you mourn?
When you lose someone
you call your own

The storm tears
your world apart
And scatters pieces
of your broken heart

Images from the past
flood your mind
Can you leave
them all behind?

Words unspoken,
things unsaid
Robbed of goodbyes,
filled with regret

What won’t you give
to get back what’s lost?
Whatever it takes,
no matter the cost

You cling to memories
for as long as they last
When there is no future,
you hold on to the past

The grief and anguish
eat you up inside
A part of yourself
has also died

Every new loss
reminds how you feel
Of an old wound
that refuses to heal

Can you rise
above the pain?
Knowing you’ll never
see them again

Where do you find
the strength to go on?
When the one you loved
has left you alone


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A Comedy of Errors

I apologise for borrowing the name of Shakespeare’s play for this post. But while it may not be the most original of titles, I found it to be the most appropriate. I hope, in this one instance, imitation will be considered as the sincerest form of flattery.

Life isn’t all smiles and roses. And, all moments in life are not worthy of being captured on camera. At least, I hope no one is waiting to “immortalise” the moments when I don’t land on my feet, both literally and figuratively. Embarrassments are an inescapable fact of life. We don’t want them but, try as we may, we can not avoid them. And, alongside the happy moments and the miserable ones, these incidents are forever etched in our memory, much to our dismay. So, I thought, why not laugh at them instead. Here are some “bloopers” from my life.

At my first job, I’d start for office at the same time every morning and catch the first bus to the railway station. Because of the routine, most days, I ended up catching the same bus. On one such day, I was late by a couple of minutes and was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss a bus. On exiting the building gate, I glanced back and noticed that a bus to the station was arriving. The stop was some distance from the gate and there was no way that I would’ve caught the bus. So, I resigned myself to my fate and prepared for the uncertain wait for the next bus. But the bus came up and rolled to a halt beside me. I had not tried to hail the bus but the driver recognised me as a regular and stopped. And, I was extremely grateful. And, as any grateful individual would, I thanked him as I got off at the station. From then on, every time I boarded the same bus, I would smile in acknowledgement at the driver as I alighted. When winter came, the bus driver started wearing a balaclava. One day, as I was getting off the bus, the driver was looking the other way. As he turned around, I smiled at him only to realise, to my extreme horror, that it was someone else. I was not in the habit of smiling at strangers and was embarrassed, to say the least. I expected the same driver because he was wearing an identical cap. My expression changed from, smile to shock to frown in a matter of seconds. Looking at my face, the driver must have wondered what he had done to deserve that scowl. But, this incident put me off smiling instinctively for quite a while.

Well if you enjoyed the first one, here is one more to tickle your funny bone. When I had started my first job, leaving at 8:00 PM was the norm. Bag checking was a regular security procedure when leaving for the day. One day, on reaching this checkpoint, as I opened my bag for the check, the security guard said, “Good Night”. Without thinking twice, I replied, “Good Night”. And then I heard him say “Sir”. That’s when I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw one of the training faculty members behind me and I realised who he had been greeting. If the place had been well-lit, he would’ve seen my face turn red but it wasn’t. I tried my best to appear composed and pretend as if nothing had happened as I left the exit behind. But, my attempt at damage control had been a big failure. From then on, whenever I left the building, that security guard would wish me Good Night with a big grin on his face. What’s worse, it’s likely that the guard had narrated the story to his colleagues. As a result, all the other security guards started greeting me. So, whatever the time, whoever the guard, I was always wished Good Night on the way home. Looking back, I guess, it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. In fact, it always brought a smile to my face as I left for home after a long day’s work.

Then, came another incident. It had been raining for days together. I was nursing a sore throat and the weather was not helping matters. I’d been drenched on my way to work that morning and then, again, on the way to the canteen for breakfast. My condition had exacerbated to a level that if, and when, the words came out of my mouth, it sounded as if a frog was croaking instead. I, then, realised that I would have to step out again for some other work. If that was not enough, the rain showed no signs of abating. So, armed with an umbrella, I proceeded to the elevator and braced myself for another battle with the rain. The elevator I got into stopped on another floor. A client I didn’t know got in, smiled and greeted me. Now, after the previous two incidents, I’m sure you can understand my hesitation. After recovering from the initial surprise and looking around to ensure that he was not addressing someone else, I made an attempt to reply, as common courtesy would warrant. But, as I reciprocated, my voice stayed trapped in my throat. I felt like a person who was lip-syncing with the audio input missing. Any polite greeting requires an immediate response. Any more attempts would’ve seemed like an afterthought. At that moment, I wanted to dig a hole right there and bury myself in it. But considering that I was in an elevator, that wasn’t such a smart idea. I wonder what he must’ve thought about my manners. He might’ve stopped being courteous to people altogether and the person to blame would be me.

The following experience proves that lack of awareness can lead you to make a fool of yourself. A while ago, I was having breakfast in the office canteen with a couple of friends. One of them casually remarked, “I heard Osama’s getting married.” The other replied, “Me too.” On hearing this, I said, “But, doesn’t he already have three wives and several children?” I was not prepared for what came next. They stared at me for a few seconds and, then, burst out laughing. And, for the life of me, I had no idea why. Then the explanation came. They weren’t talking about Osama bin Laden. They were talking about a batchmate from our training days who had been nicknamed Osama. Now, how in the world was I supposed to know that? But, I should’ve because everyone else did.

These are a few of the many “goof-ups” that have been an indelible part of my life. Some have managed to overshadow the others over time. I guess it’s never too bad to have a laugh, even if comes at your own expense.


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How I landed my first job

I’m sure all of us have had unique experiences when searching for a job. For me, the road to my first job was paved with surprises.

It was just after my sixth-semester exams at college. Vacations were on but there was little time to lose. The final year was looming ahead and efforts were on to finalize projects. Then, a few days into the break, a notice was put up for a campus recruitment drive to be held three days later at another college.

Shouldn’t you remember the day you landed your first job? Strangely, I don’t. Guess I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations. I had good reasons. I already had one failed attempt behind me. A company had come just before the exams and I had not even managed to crack the aptitude test. My résumé was what one would call a “work in progress”, made in a hurry for the first shot and, thankfully, not required. Truth is, even if I had cleared the test, the interviewer would have been shocked at my mess of a résumé.

My first task was to get my résumé in order and, after a few hours, that was accomplished. I inquired with others about what to expect for the aptitude test and was told that the general practice was questions based on mathematical ability and data interpretation. So, I armed myself with a book on Quantitative Aptitude. But thanks to the project, I couldn’t do much to prepare. The college was a good hour away by bus. I decided to utilize the time to look at some long forgotten mathematical formulae so that I wasn’t completely unprepared.

The process was to begin at 9:00 AM and I reached a few minutes early. On entering the auditorium, I met a few classmates and we settled down into some seats as the company presentation began. The presentation lasted for about half an hour with an overview of the company, the work environment, what the company was looking for and what it had to offer. As the presentation was drawing to a close, the presenter informed us that as part of the recruitment process, the aptitude test would be conducted first followed by an extempore, then a technical interview and finally an HR interview. He then mentioned that the test comprised Visual Based Matrices and asked whether everyone was aware of what that was. I had absolutely no idea. I am sure I had a blank look on my face. I thought, albeit mistakenly, that there might be others like me, and turned to look at my classmates only to find everyone around nodding. I felt like a fool for being the only person in a room of two thousand students who had no idea what the test was going to be about and was too embarrassed to ask. Believing that I would make a bigger fool of myself by asking someone, least of all the presenter, I kept my mouth shut.

We were allocated rooms for the test and I proceeded to the room with apprehension and a sense of dread. The papers were distributed and we were instructed not to open them until everyone had a copy. The suspense was killing me. When we could finally start the test, I opened the booklet and realised that what I’d read that morning wasn’t going to help me. It was some sort of jigsaw puzzle. But, thankfully, I was able to put some of the pieces together.

After the exams, began the long wait for the results. And, then, came the doubts. The test had been easy. And if a person who’d never given a competitive test in her life thought that, it must have been a cakewalk for the others. At lunchtime, I saw my classmates studying programming languages. I had no software background. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wondered what I was doing in a recruitment drive for a software programmer. Seeing them study made me aware of my lack of preparation. But I knew that studying a new programming language at the eleventh hour was a lost cause and decided not to try. Besides, I had to clear the aptitude test and get through the extempore before the technical interview. As I entered the auditorium after lunch, I saw some students scribbling away. I didn’t know it at the time but they were preparing for the extempore.

The test results were announced and surprise, surprise, I was shortlisted. We were divided into groups of twenty and asked to proceed to different rooms for the extempore. The assessor told us to select any topic of our choice and speak about it for about a minute. Here, I was caught off-guard for a second time. I expected them to provide the topics. But I was wrong. Picking a topic was going to be hard enough. In addition, I had to speak for a minute. A minute might seem like a short time but it’s surprising how much can be said in that duration. What’s more, we had only five minutes to come up with both. I knew I was in trouble. Five minutes were up and I hadn’t even decided on the subject. Thankfully, when others were taking their turn, I managed to come up with something.

When my name was called, I stood up and proceeded towards the platform. I have a serious case of stage fright. The thought of standing in front of a group of people with everyone staring at you and hanging on to your every word scares the living daylights out of me. What if I couldn’t remember anything? Somehow, I pulled through the minute that seemed to go on forever. I was shaking but the gestures that accompanied the speech masked the trembling of my hands. After everyone had their turn, the results were announced. I had made it through again.

We were asked to make our way to where the technical interviews were being conducted. When it was my turn, I was ushered into a room. After a few questions, the interviewer realised that my software fundamentals were nonexistent. Then began the awkward part; the part where she was trying to figure out what questions to ask. She was a software programmer and, I, clearly, was not. However, she made an effort to find some common ground based on my past projects and internships. Twice, during the interview, she expressed concerns about my ability to work in software. I replied with more confidence than I really felt. After the interview, I was asked to wait outside.

Before my interview, I’d seen a coordinator enter the room after each interview to get the interviewer’s feedback. He would then inform the interviewee about the decision. But, after my interview, the coordinator was nowhere to be found. It was evening now. I was tired and the wait was agonizing. I just wanted someone to tell me the outcome and put me out of misery. As the minutes ticked by, I began to worry. I didn’t realise how stressed I looked till the person who was serving tea to the interviewers arrived outside the room. He looked at me and asked, “Are you next?” I said, “No, I am done. Just waiting for the result.” He smiled and said, “Then, relax.” I couldn’t help but smile. The coordinator appeared shortly and asked me to proceed for the HR interview.

We were asked to fill out an employment application form after the aptitude test. This form had a lot of questions but had to be filled in a hurry. One of the questions was, “Why do you want to work for this company?” I hadn’t done any research about the company which, though I was not aware, was a big mistake. At that moment, the only thing I could remember was the presenter talking about how the company encouraged the all-round development of its employees. So, that’s the reason I put down. Unfortunately, my HR interview was conducted by the same person who gave the company presentation. After the initial round of questions, when he looked at my response to the question, he smiled and said, “Where did you hear this?” I calmly said, “From you.” He was amused by my frankness. After some more questions, the interview concluded. I was told I was done for the day and that they would get back to me.

A few days later, the list of selected candidates was put up on the college notice board. To my surprise, my name was on the list. And, that, is the story of how I landed my first job.

Please share your fun and unusual experiences in the comments section.

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Dealing with Conflict

My husband and I belong to two different schools of thought when it comes to dealing with conflict. The other day a man tried to jump the queue in the supermarket. I was about to intercept him and ask him to get back in line when my husband stopped me. He asked me to let it go. He said, “There is a difference between humans and animals. Some people are uncivilised and have no manners. If we fight with them, how are we any better?” Though that would not be my natural response, the explanation made sense. So, I didn’t push the matter any further.

Lately, confrontation has been my way of dealing with what I perceive to be a lack of regard for rules. I wasn’t always like this. For a long time, I would let these kinds of transgressions slide. Maybe, it resulted from being part of a society where the tendency to “not create a scene” is pervasive. And, phrases like “leave it be” and “anything goes” are particularly endemic. Most people think “It’s not my problem” or “There’s nothing to gain from this” and move on. But, one incident changed my perspective.

I was still in school. It was a weekend and, at around ten in the morning, a group of young men and women were talking in the building premises. There were four of them, probably, in their early to mid-twenties. The conversation, soon, turned loud enough to attract the attention of people living in the building. A few minutes later, one of the men started punching a woman from the group in full public view. The punches then turned into kicks. While there were several people observing this whole incident unfold, including the building security, not one of them said a word. I am ashamed to say that I was one such mute spectator. At this moment, my mother came to the window. The second she saw what was going on, she shouted, “Hey, what are you doing? Stop! Security, stop that man and call the police.” The assault ceased. But, now, everyone was looking at my mother. I was standing next to her. I pulled her back and said, “Why did you have to do that? No one is saying anything. Why did you have to intervene?” She told me, “He was kicking her in the stomach. Think of the consequences. Who is responsible?” At that moment, I realised that when you see someone doing something wrong, you must act to stop it. If you don’t, it is as good as condoning or, worse, partaking in the act. This made me realise that people, who have scant respect for rules or law, are bullies. When they are not opposed, they are enabled and emboldened. The reason for the assault wasn’t clear. But the degree of violence should have warranted immediate intervention.

But, the grocery store incident brought forth another perspective which also made sense. My husband believes that the best way to prevent arguments from escalating is to not indulge in them. He thinks that when someone in front of you loses their temper, the best response is to be silent. If you do that, they will eventually calm down and the situation will diffuse. I must admit I have been at the receiving end of this silent treatment several times. But, the irony is, the results haven’t really been to my husband’s liking. When I am all fired up, I don’t lose steam easily. My philosophy, on the other hand, is to give as good as you get. Living in Mahatma Gandhi’s country hasn’t brought out my peaceful side.

My mother recently told me about an incident. She and my brother were travelling by car to the market. Due to some misjudgement, the car brushed against a pedestrian. My brother, who was driving, immediately apologised. The pedestrian was unhurt but he started raising his voice and said, “If I slap you and say sorry, will you be okay with it?” My mother stepped out of the car and calmly said, “If hitting him will please you, go ahead.” The person was lost for words and just left. She told me that if she had argued with him, things would’ve escalated and gotten out of hand.

So, what is the best approach? When a conflict arises, is it better to be passive or to be aggressive? I suppose the answer lies in the situation at hand. The pros and cons of each approach need to be weighed to determine which one will yield the best result. Would wars be fought if the powers that be had carefully considered the cost and consequences? Would slavery be abolished if there was no revolt? Conflict avoidance may be the best solution in some situations but, in some situations, peace can only be achieved by conflict.

History has numerous instances where the initial strategy had to be changed to achieve the desired outcome. The anti-apartheid movement started out peacefully before resorting to an armed struggle to achieve its objective. On the other hand, the Indian independence movement began with violence but became largely peaceful towards the end. Many conflicts would be resolved if the right approach was adopted at the right time. Personalities of people involved also matter. Aggression is likely to escalate conflicts with megalomaniacs. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a classic example. Patience may not yield results with stubborn individuals like Stalin. No one size fits all.

So, which side are you on?

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