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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.

Release me..


I could always tell when you were unwell, even when I was in another city.

I always knew when your heart was broken, you didn’t say much but I heard the tiny cracking sound it made.

I felt your nervousness, every time you were preparing for an exam, whether inside the classroom or outside.

Every time you stumbled, every time you picked yourself up, I danced with delight.

Will you forsake me now, only because you can’t see me?

Can you not feel my misery every time you push that plate of food away?

Don’t you feel my tears mixing with yours as you cry into the night?

Haven’t you heard my silent scream every time you say you cannot go on?

Can’t you hear me struggling to breathe when you shut the world out?

What pains me more than my empty lap is seeing you fight life everyday.

I am gone, but why do want to join me now, is there no other way?

Live my dreams, live my life, live my happiness and sorrows.

If you can’t find happiness inside, learn to steal, learn to borrow.

They say I can’t feel much but I die a thousand deaths seeing you suffer.

Release me my little one, tomorrow is a new day, and then there will be another..

A grand love


She ran to you and nuzzled her nose in between your knees, shutting the world out.

You caressed the fluffy tuft of hair on her head. She looked up and gave you that smile.

The smile that’s reserved only for you.

You smiled back and shut out the world that existed beyond the both of you.

I wanted to lock this moment in my head and throw the keys away.

So far away, into the depths of the ocean,

Where no one could touch this memory, nothing could change this moment.

Not age, not distance, not the cruel talons of time.

I’ve looked deep into those small twinkling starry eyes many times.

When they open, they search for you till they can find that old familiar figure extending an unwavering hand that is always searching for hers.

When they become heavy with sleep, they push and fight to just drink in one last smile , one last picture of you.

When they dream, it’s always a sunny day where a head full of silver and a tiny black one, Bob up and down along the beach, holding hands and exchanging fantastical tales and silly jokes with equal fervour.

The dreams have travelled a lifetime now, from my eyes to hers.

But the common and the constant is you.

I will never know your secret games, your endless conversations, your special communication even when no words are spoken.

But there is one corner of my heart which will forever be lit up with the memories that I have locked away.

Of an old man and a little girl and their little world.

Vanish


What will happen on a day when you want to be nothing?

Not a frustrated employer with repetitive instructions.

Not the earnest employee trying to save the world from nuclear catastrophe by shooting off that one last email.

Be gone the anxious wife constantly casting the web of a healthy diet onto a reluctant soul.

Be gone the constant mother with that constant spoon full of food, running that daily marathon.

Be gone always the little daughter, terrified of what might take them away.

I don’t want to be a friend , foe or relative today.

I don’t want to make phone calls, I don’t want to be devout and pray.

I’ve shed my skin, and with it all my responsibilities for the day.

I want my world to be restitched with a blanket, stormy rain, a piping hot mug of coffee and an old tattered book.

I’ll cover myself from head to toe, and imagine myself perched by a murmuring brook.

I was whole, but I know little pieces of me that my ‘everyday’ took.

I am nothing today but I’ve found my old self, even if for a moment, nuzzled in a cozy nook.

Little lessons

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It felt like a day that should be forgotten, quickly.
Nothing made sense.
I looked at a wall, and upon this vast canvas I painted and projected all my contemplation.
Then suddenly you crawled into my lap. I hugged you and breathed in your tiny soft curls.
I will never forget that smell.
It was a heady mixture of baby powder, happiness, innocence, trust, joy and peace.
It carried me away on a cloud.
I was weightless, drifting, with your tiny trusting fingers wrapped around mine.
You gurgled and burped. This amused you so much that you toppled over laughing.
When was the last time I had embarrassed and entertained myself this way?
Back on the ground you crawled over everything that came your way, never losing that smile.
I wish I had thought of your resolve and tenacity when I needed it recently.
When you wrapped your tiny finger around mine, I knew I had to trust in my instincts as well.
For all the fancy schools and colleges and miles upon miles of books,
Some of life’s simplest lessons can be carried in the tiniest hands, you just need to know where to look.

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