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richasmukherjee.com

love, laughter, pain, joy, life and its lessons, one word at a time

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inspiration

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!)
PLASTIC-BAN-GRAPHIC
  • 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.

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Conquering worry is the most life changing gift

Happy celebrating winning success woman sunset
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been what I like to call a ‘muller’. This does not mean that I am unhappy, or that I don’t have a normal functioning brain, capable of clear decision making. It just comes with an immense inbuilt bandwidth, to think excessively about an action, its consequence, its origin, which leads to another unrelated thought, bringing with it some anxiety and before you know it, you’re at the bottom of this confused vortex where you’ve done a run through of issues from problems at work, to your daughters health to your holiday expenses, to possibly the future of the economy of Ghana. What is meant to be a mechanism that should help plan and deal with life better becomes a deterrent to just that. It’s like having an unnecessary unproductive cobweb in your mind that you’re constantly wanting to get rid off.
Let me help you with an identification process here, to help you understand whether you fall into the same trap. I just read somewhere that thinking too much means that you are more intelligent, that you have the capacity to absorb and process more. I tend to think a bit differently here. The minds of great thinkers, philosophers, and all the most important people in history who have made an impact, must have been a complex and masterful web of thoughts and decisions but I doubt they could have done any of that without clarity of thought and peace of mind. No revolution, no dreams, no great acts can come from a pre occupied mind that is ‘stewing in its own pot’ so to speak!
Where and why have I attained this mental nirvana you ask me? To be honest, I still struggle with it on bad days and as I analytically tell my husband, I’m still in a batter state, far from being baked in the mould I desire! But in the last year, so much has happened around me, to me,  that I was forced to make a decision to stay sane. If I wanted to have a peaceful mind, not have it become a permanent residence of the chattering monkey, I would have to make some changes. The environmental factors would not change and were not in my control, but my mind and body should be.
Here is a very small snapshot of what I believe you must remind yourself once everyday to banish that worry.
– By worrying, neither does the problem change, nor its resolution. You are the one that suffers mentally.
– If you keep worrying, you will open your body to countless diseases in the future. This is a promise. Leading research has proven over the years that elevated levels of worry and stress are directly co-related with several common to life threatening diseases. They were right when they said you can worry yourself sick. You really can.
– When you are worrying, ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? Once the worst of the consequences is clearly in-front of you, you’ll feel less dread and think more clearly.
– When you’re overanalysing and not being able to reach a decision, take to pen and paper (should be easy for you guys since you belong to this tribe:-) eh?) List out pros and cons. Sounds childlike in its simplicity but sometimes it really helps putting things in perspective.
– Take out one hour everyday to do something easy, where your mulling and your mind can relax. I turn to physical exercise very often. Sometimes I’ve gone into a workout with drooping shoulders and come out with a fantastic solution to something I’ve been obsessing over.
I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg here but I do hope it helps someone in some way. It is such a liberating feeling to unshackle your mind from fear, dread and over analysis. Try it and you will breathe like you have a new pair of lungs!
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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.

silver hair Valentines

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.

the art of being fine

I guess I’m fine

I’m always fine

When your warm hand slipped out of mine after an entire life of holding on and became cold, when I didn’t want to live anymore, they told me, don’t be like this

You’ll be fine soon they said, so I was fine

I think it’s been so long since you’ve gone that I should feel fine all the time. But to be honest, everything feels lacking, a bit sub-par

I eat all the same things we used to but all of it tastes a little bit different you know, like its missing some salt

When I look up at the sky, I sometimes see your face in an odd shaped cloud floating by. That does make me feel better for a while

No matter how many times I make your side of the bed, it never seems right. I think I mess it up myself, just so that it can look like you’ve slept in it

I try to keep myself busy but ever so often, silly things, little things flood my head with you,

A smile I see yours in, someone slurping tea like you did, a nervous hand tapping a table that used to drive me insane

Once I had to berate myself quite severely, when I saw your rusted razor and I cried for days

Don’t worry I’m better now

I have to feel better don’t I? There’s no choice

I try and go for long walks but lately I’ve been forgetting the way back home so I try not going too far

I go to parties but I feel even lonelier sitting all by myself in a corner of the room

I can understand. I don’t blame them. I don’t hear too well and have nothing much to talk about either

So you see? I’m living my life. It’s not much of a life without you, but I live it.

I always lay out an extra plate for you, every-day. It looks empty, just as I feel inside, but I know that one day we will hold hands again

And then I shall truly, truly be fine

An heirloom

 

I owe you so much little one
I’ve tried to repay this debt in tears, patience, lessons, hugs and kisses
But there is so much more I want to show you before this world implodes and consumes itself
A million crimson sunsets, where you can just hear that slight thud when the horizon gets greedy and gobbles up the fiery spheres
Beautiful rivers that carry hopes and goods and people, up and down, like the tides of life
Mute verdure mountains awash with the beauty of simplicity
Kind people who help everyone in their paths like gentle streams rearranging pebbles along their way
Gestures that are laden with hope and happiness, not reciprocity
Long drives taking us to new places, new people, new experiences and sometimes to nowhere
This basket that I’m weaving for you is full of small, simple, happy things
I’ll cover them all with a blanket of hope as I pass them on to you
I know you will look back and wonder what there is left to love in a world packed to the brim with hate, violence, blood and sorrow
But that is when I want you to sit with this little basket and see the wondrous world that was, and still could be, through my eyes

Remember…

International Women’s day was a few days ago. Even though I always harbour mixed feelings about this day, it definitely reminded me about some very special women in my life who are my pillars. Even strong pillars can lean and might need some help. This goes out to my special women and to each and every woman out there. You’re perfect and an inspiration.

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I’ve held on to your hand for as long as I can remember.
Lovingly guiding me over life’s pebbles and embers.
But now it’s time for me to sit you down.
Listen to these words I say. You will never drown.

Every time an opportunity is lost, remember there will be another. Breathe.
Every time you are overwhelmed, remember there is the day after. Breathe.
Every time an unkind word is spoken, turn and walk away. Breathe.
Every time you yearn for lost pieces of your soul, remember forever in your heart they will stay. Breathe.

Every time you question your worth, remember who you are.
A daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, need I say more?
That spirit blazing inside you is like an infinite beacon of light.
It can love, it can cherish and show the way, but it will never die without a fight.

Life will still inundate you with the questions of where, what next, where do you stand?
Each time it does, shut your eyes and reach out, that’s me holding your hand.

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