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richasmukherjee.com

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Life

Ban the naysayers before the plastic!

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It is common human tendency to resist change. Whether you’re actioning it or witnessing it.  The most disconcerting part is the fear of the unknown, the unforeseen consequences of your actions or someones else’s, whether you have the tenacity or will to change things around. For what creature of habit likes to be inconvenienced right? I am no stranger to this predicament. But  important lessons of life are often hidden in the most innocuous places and uncontrollable circumstances.
The range of reactions to the plastic ban went from ‘yes this must be done’ to ‘isn’t there something else we can do which is easier’ to ‘this is all nonsensical and a way to harass ordinary citizens’. Whatever the public outrage/ empathy, I for one did not need to be convinced. I had always felt that plastic had its uses but callous mass production and inadequate disposal systems were helping it choke the earth. I was just too lazy to do anything about it and here was my chance. To be forced to do something I really wanted to do in the first place! Isn’t that wonderful?
What I didn’t expect though was the amount of resistance/ cynicism I would witness from people around me. Every attempt I made was met with a grunt, the most common objection being around statistical significance. ‘ What will a 3 member household accomplish by stopping to use plastic? ‘ Isn’t that a ridiculous mindset though? A small start is a start none the less. How will any movement or action achieve the desired numbers or action if this deterrent mindset is always in effect.
The comments bothered me for a while but then I shook my head like a regal stallion shakes off flies and insects and soldiered on! Trying, in every small way to make a change in my kitchen, the way we ate, packed things, ate out etc. Once you put your mind to it, there are a number of ways in which the plastic takeover can be controlled. Here are some of the things I’ve tried to do.
  • We have started carrying takeaway boxes and cloth bags where we anticipate that food will be packed or purchases will be made. Yes, paper is available but remember that we don’t want to put an extra burden on trees either and wipe them out in the haste to eliminate plastic. (This isn’t always easy and leads to some ‘looks’ as well but you just have to shrug it off!)
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  • I’m trying to transition all utensils and wares in the kitchen to steel or glass. A return to conventional kitchens!
  • All packaged goods use a lot of plastic. Till they can figure out a solution, I try and order larger units or then packs which have more recyclable packaging. Requires more planning but its better than seeing plastic skeletons all over the dustbin.
  • We have stopped purchasing any mineral water bottles. Whether it’s travel to work, school, entertainment, holidays, each of us has their own steel bottles. You have no idea how much plastic you will eliminate this way.
  • Unbeknownst to a lot of people, there are micro plastic fibres that blast out of and stick to all kinds of synthetic material when they are being washed. Now I know we can’t eliminate all such fabrics from our wardrobes, but it’s made me a more conscious buyer every time I’m at a store.
  • My daughter misses her straws terribly so I found her steel straws! The point is, research a little bit and you will find so many solutions out there.
My proudest moment came recently when I heard my 4.5 year old daughter calmly approach and explain to two adults (who were holding plastic bags) about how we must not use plastic. There’s a long way to go but I’m glad I’ve started small.

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter

An itch to remember

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Word count: 597

I have never prescribed to the popular theory of the ‘onset of weariness’ with respect to your spouse as the years go by. All the jokes about the ‘7 year itch’ and ‘Shaadi ka laddoo’ etc elicited a few appropriate and perfunctory titters at best, but their meaning was pretty much lost on me. Why? Because when you fall in love with your best friend, your soul mate, your brother from another mother, your 4 am friend, your gossipy girlfriend, all rolled into one and marry them, it leaves very little space for complaints about spending too many years with them. There, I’ve placed a cliche of my own before you now, possibly as soggy as the Parle- G biscuit you dunked into your tea this morning but I really am being sincere. No matter how much we fight over the most inane things, call each other names like children despite being parents and drive each other up the wall, that love, that oozey gooey brownie kind of love that sticks to the roof of your mouth always lingers.

Of-course being so in love with your hubby doesn’t solve many other worldly issues such as gifts. Yes they are a token, yes, you keep giving each other things through the year so how does one day matter etc but who doesn’t love finding the perfect gift. Seeing a flicker of surprise, happiness and appreciation is something every gifter craves innit?! I was one of this tribe, sitting on the eve of our 7th year of marriage (yes, the ironical significance of this ‘itchy’ year is not lost on me) wondering what on earth I could buy my husband that would make his day truly special. There was a romantic dinner planned but what else could I buy to bombard him with my love?!

Like a possessed Juliet, I made some time and ran to the mall and a few stand alone stores, sifting through everything from practical to romantic gifts, from chaddis, to perfumes to watches to desperate measures like spa vouchers. It was all done and dusted (well, except the spa vouchers of course) nothing appealed to me and after 4 hours of driving myself nuts I was sitting dejected, at a coffee shop, lost and licking my wounds of defeat.

My mind was wandering but my anxious social media seeking fingers went from one post to another till I landed up staring at a poem. ‘I carry your heart’ by E E Cummings. I sat at that coffee shop for a long time, savouring every word, feeling happy and nostalgic and melancholy and grateful, all at once. That poem took me through my own journey, making me remember how we had we met, how we fought to be with each other, how we had made so many precious memories together and how we would make so many more in the years to come. On that eve of our anniversary, I sat in that coffee shop and had a pre-celebration all of my own. Of-course, once I pulled myself out of my trance, I rushed to a late night service where I printed this poem out and gifted it to my husband over our special anniversary dinner. That is the thing about words. They made the stoic, warrior-hearted husband’s eyes moisten up and reach for my hand and he held on to it through dinner. That poem and that evening are still emblazoned in my memory. The day I found those words. Rather, the day that they found me.

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR NOVEMBERSCHILD IN ASSOCIATION WITH KALAMPEDIA – QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE”

Giving back. One word at a time..

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I have always struggled in one respect for as long as I can remember. How can I help someone else in need? We were raised on a steady diet of compassion and giving back. Even as a child I remember my mother dipping into her hiding places (often the strangest ones from grain canisters to under the mattress to a big wad in a worn silver box in her cupboard.) All saved for a rainy day but when there are four children milling around the house, rainy days are often around the corner. Even amidst the steady depletion of these treasures and day to day expenses, there was always enough food for whoever came to the house, delivery boys, maids, needy neighbors, visits from my fathers colleagues with their gigantic families in towe, kids coming to collect their errant balls. My father always had enough kind words for whoever he bumped into and it continues to this day. From sweepers on the streets, to shopkeepers, to attendants at clinics, to liftmen and security guards who everyone passes by as they blend into the world, invisible. He is a great listener as well and he always told me that at times the greatest service you can render to humanity is just to be a good listener. We are surrounded by people, daily, who are going through so much, who feel lost, who are miserable. They have no one to turn to. The joy you will give to someone by just lending a few minutes of your time will be visible on their faces. That should be the reward. Compassion was also ingrained within us in the way we were taught to treat each other within the family. Of-course four girls will always find a reason to be uncouth, fight, pull hair and beat each other up, but we saw with the passage of time that all that we had seen while growing up, without ever being preached into it, was naturally imbibed and became an integral part of us.

Of-course I have always tried to be kind whenever an opportunity presents itself but in this busy, insular world, even these opportunities have to be dug out I feel sometimes. Isn’t it then easy to just keep donating online, or give money to beggars or find some such way to appease your need to be kind and good. Each to his own. I don’t judge as this is a very personal action but I certainly was not happy as I was unable to make a visible difference in anyone’s lives, to add value to someone’s existence even in a small way. It rankled inside. Till one day I decided to take my father’s advice and listen. I was on a call with a temporary maid in our society who had finished her tenure with me and was seeking another job. I was trying to guide her towards a prospective employer in the other building and she was so uneducated that she wasn’t able to remember a name, a building number, any of the details. So she asked her son to call me later to note them down. A small incident but it got me thinking about the scores of women I had met within this compound itself who were struggling to either sign their names, fill a form, open a bank account, struggling with a bill as they couldn’t do basic math and were lacking basic language proficiency. It just struck me then and there that i could help them and it made my heart dance! Finally I had found a need gap that I could try and fill.

I had to start with a name. Even if for no one else but myself. To excite and instill a sense of ownership, I came up with a name. My ‘Bai-lingual’ classes! (I stuck with it despite a lot of jokes from my husband) Now I am no teacher. And what was on offer was very basic math and language proficiency. But I had to learn how to teach! So I started reading about teaching aids, pulled out my daughters stock of slates and alphabets and books as she looked at me strangely and started preparing myself. Then came the price of benevolence, time! Where was I to find time for this noble activity between work, home, a young daughter and my writing schedule? I decided to take an hour out each week to begin with and then let that slot evolve as per their requirements and their work. the biggest hurdle though was the recruitment. My proposal was met with suspicious looks (where they possibly thought I was mad or a drug dealer) and ‘How much will you charge?’, ‘ I am too old for this’, ‘I have things to do at home’, ‘My family will laugh at me,’ , ‘I don’t have time.’ All of this made me realize that it was a bigger stigma for them to opt for education at this stage of their lives rather than being coined illiterate. It was a sort of battle for their rights vs their mental and societal attitudes.

I can’t say it’s been easy. I’ve managed to finally recruit two helpers. 4 more have been on-boarded. And I am hoping this army will grow as I learn with them. It’s strange but I feel like a jilted lover when someone promises and doesn’t show up! But what thrilled me the most the other evening was when I passed by my daughter playing downstairs, while walking to my kickboxing class. She was busy recruiting two maids who had come down to the playground with their respective wards, telling them eagerly to come home. ‘My momma is very nice. She doesn’t get angry. She will teach you with my class things!’ As tears pricked my eyes, I smiled wide! At 4 years of age, compassion and caring for others was making a home in her little heart. This is the additional reward. To let my child see the importance and happiness of giving back. In however small a way. For there is no greater joy.

Every change begins with a small step, whether it’s a change within your family, or the whole country! India’s hero, Padman, had its digital premiere on ZEE5, on 11th May. Don’t miss this inspiring true-life story, only on ZEE5. Download the app and subscribe now. For every subscription, ZEE5 will donate Rs. 5 towards the personal hygiene needs of underprivileged women.

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The biggest and most genuine love stories can sometimes be found in one’s own backyard. I have found one tucked away in a corner of my home and heart. No, I have no salacious details or a scandalous story. This simple heartwarming tale is about a 75 year old man and a 70 year old woman, who could not be separated by distance, grief, needles, pain, suffering or wrinkles. Their bond, much like the heavily advertised Fevicol one on TV, has stood the test of time and troubles to emerge unbreakable.

For as long as I can remember, they have been inseparable. There were many ‘typicals’ in their past. A typical arranged marriage, a typical dramatic and torturous mother in law, a typical life full of four children. But while growing up, we never felt like we had an average life, nothing typical about it. We always felt special and well taken care of, primarily because we saw the love and bonding between our parents which cemented our foundations with comfort, confidence and trust. And mind you, this was never the expressive or overtly evident kind of love. there was no hugging or kissing or hand holding or date nights, which the current generation views as obvious hallmarks of a healthy marriage or relationship. But it was clear to all of us. Everytime their eyes were searching for each other when troubles came knocking, the way our mother used to hang off the balcony every evening at 6:30 pm, waiting for him to appear around the corner, how she carefully ironed all his handkerchiefs and rolled up all he would need the next morning, the way they stayed up nights, together, for years, trying to ease away our pain and suffering, remembering how lost they looked whenever either one was traveling alone, how she would wake up at 4am to pack fresh parathas when he was leaving for a tour. It might seem that she was busy making all the valuable contributions while he was just wafting around. But despite being in a full time and very important government job, our father managed to fulfill all his duties and shower us with all the love we needed.

Years have passed. We all are married and grown up with our own children. But in the last few years, I have seen a more evident and feverish sort of love emerge between our very own Romeo and Juliet, bordering on reverential. And the tables have turned. After years of silently working and slogging away as the core of this family, my mother’s wheels are now a bit rusted, her pace has slackened and she has almost come to a standstill by the side of the road, literally run over by an onslaught of diseases. And the unsuspecting, unassuming Romeo has emerged as the hero. The setting of this love story has changed as well. Even the props are different. There are multicolored medicine boxes, tubes, wires, injections, walkers, sticks and everything that could unhinge the strongest hearts. But his trembling hands are firm when she needs to hold on. His false teeth are always ready to widen into a cheery smile everytime her tears start flowing. There are cobwebs in both their minds but he fights much harder so he can be clear and steer her through her everyday challenges. This humbling and debilitating ‘new normal’ rips our hearts out on days when we are feeling weak in our resolve but every other time, it makes us proud and melancholy. For we secretly pray for a similar love story in our own lives. Hoping that when the world chugs on around us and we slow down, there will always be one set of feet, slowing down with us, with a silent promise that we will never walk alone.

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