Saturday, December 20, 2014

The cycle of life

Our son Anish is now 5 months old. He recently started to roll on his stomach and pushes himself around a little bit. From the days of even barely opening his eyes, he now winks and smiles when we talk to him.

The last few years seem to have gone really fast. Akshara is already 5 years old. Very soon there will be a time when my kids will venture out of my shadow to build their own destiny. When I think of all this, my father comes to my mind. He would have gone thru all this and now it’s my turn.

This is for my son Anish!

He arrived as our second bundle of joy,   
That merry face made him an instant wonder boy.
With clinched fists and deep shut eyes,     
He looked like me in a smaller guise.

The arrival created quite a flurry,
Spinning our lives and filling it with merry.
Those joyous moments as we anticipate his moves,
A wink, a smile, for any growing up cues.                    

There soon will be a time when the kids move from my guise,                                        
To take on the world with their own grit, charm and wise.
I will step on the side walk, support and guide their way,
Like my father did, when I started my day.


~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Big head Small heart Syndrome

I pondered all evening to reason an incident that happened earlier today. I didn’t come up with anything fancy but what I want to call it should say a lot. I call it the ‘The Big head Small heart’ syndrome.

My daughter Akshara had been asking me all week to take her to the children’s play area in our apartment. I couldn't take her on a weekday and finally took her today. As we neared the play area I saw 2 kids playing there. Their father stood close by watching them. Akshara saw the kids and asked me if she could play with them. I asked her if she knew them and she said no. She anyway did not wait for my answer and ran off to play. One of the kid looked the same age as Akshara and the other one looked younger. She went to the 2 kids and it looked like they first introduced themselves and then started to play. They played the swing and the slides and ran behind each other.  They seemed to have good time. After about 10-15 mins, another father came with his kid to the play area. That kid too quickly joined the other 3 to play. I and the 2 other fathers stood at a distance and watched them play. Once in a while one of us would call our kid and ask them to be careful. Otherwise we 3 fathers did nothing but stand or look at our smartphones.

We were there for about an hour when it started to grow dark. I called Akshara back. The other fathers too called their kids and soon Akshara and I were back home. Once home, my wife asked Akshara if she had a good time. Akshara explained how much she liked to play the slides and also about her 3 new friends. My wife asked me if I had spoken to their fathers and if I knew them, and I said ‘no’.

Later in the evening, I thought about my wife’s question and realized all I had done was stand in the play area for about an hour and do nothing. I had not spoken a word to that other 2 fathers. It was not just me, I did not see the other 2 fathers talk to each other either. So effectively, we 3 fathers had spent an hour each doing nothing while our kids had introduced themselves and had a good time playing.

‘What is wrong with me’?

Agreed, it did not occur to me to introduce myself to the other 2 fathers and talk to them, but at least couldn’t I see and learn from my daughter? If a 5 year old kid could talk, make friends and have a good time, couldn’t I at least follow her lead? Do I now have to learn, to learn from my daughter?

If this is any consolation, with me there were these 2 other fathers who did nothing too. They did not initiate a talk themselves nor did they follow their kids lead.

I see 2 patterns here. The kids followed one pattern while we adults followed another. The kids spoke to each other, played together and had a good time even though they had met as complete strangers. We adults stood there either doing nothing or browsing our smartphones, without even trying once to talk to each other. I remember, I used to be like Akshara when I was young. I used to make friends and play. Something changed as I grew.

Think about this –
We pull out our smartphones the moment we enter an elevator full of people. We play games on our tablets as we wait at a crowed airport or a railway station. It’s not the smartphone or the tablets to be blamed. It’s just that we change as we grow. Our heads become bigger and our hearts become small. Making new friends or talking to people become difficult. This is what I call the “Big Head Small Heart” syndrome.

~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Full Grown Idiot

I was at the shopping mall this afternoon looking for something. My wife was on phone explaining the details of what I had to buy. As I searched the shop, I noticed this person who seemed to be overhearing our conversation. Trying not to judge from the looks, I walked to a different aisle only to find this person follow me there.

I closed the call and continued to search, all the while trying to ignore this person. Once he sensed I was off the phone, he came to me and said –

Stranger – Hey, I overhead your conversation. Are you from Bangalore?
Me – Yes I am.
Stranger – I am from Bangalore too.

We then introduced ourselves, spoke of where we grew, our schooling, work place etc. We had a long conversation. Though I spoke to him answering his questions and asking him questions, there was something about him that was bothering me. Rather irritating me. I think it was his initial eavesdropping which had put me off, but I was not sure.

Stranger – So how do you spend time here on the weekends?
Me – I just moved to this city. Everything is new and am still getting used to things around here.
Stranger – You can go to movies. There are some new Indian movies playing at theaters here. They sometimes play Kannada movies too.
Me – Is it… Ok.

Without me asking for it, he took a paper napkin and wrote some theater names which were playing Indian movies. He also wrote his email and phone number on the paper napkin and handed it over to me.

Me – I don’t go to movies often, but thank you! Actually it has been many months since I have been to a movie.
Stranger – What? You don’t watch even Kannada movies? How can you even say you are a Bangalorean if you don’t watch Kannada movies? (He started laughing).

His question was too much for me to take. I looked at him almost wanting to ask him if he was an idiot. What has watching or not watching movies got to do with a city.  Also I have lived and worked in 7 different cities. If I have to watch the regional movies of all different cities I have lived, then I have to quit working and just watch movies.

Me (with a smile) – You have to be a full grown Idiot to say I am not a Bangalorean if I don’t watch Kannada movies.

He smiled at me but didn’t say anything. Suddenly I realized what I had done. I had called him a full grown idiot, whatever it is supposed to mean. I had never heard anybody say that before, and I had actually rubbed that in my answer.

I bid him goodbye and walked out of the store. Even after I had walked some distance, I was still thinking about his question. I couldn’t tell what was it about him that had irritated me but his last question had sealed my thinking. I took the paper napkin he had given and without even wanting to see what he had written, I tossed the full grown idiot down a trash can.

~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The elusive destiny

We welcomed a new member into our family this week. It’s a baby boy! More than anybody, our daughter Akshara seems super excited! She has already chosen a name, a place at the dinner table, the color of the bike and a whole lot of things for her little brother.
My wife and I had together come up with a list of to-do things once the baby is born, starting with choosing a name. I went through that list today and half scratched one of the “good to have” items from the list - identify the Nakshatra (star) and Rashi (zodiac) and have the horoscope done. I “half” scratched this item because we might still get the horoscope done but what we don’t have to do is to find the Nakshatra and Rashi.

Before going further, let me elaborate on the horoscope part a bit; of course to the best of my limited knowledge. Nakshatra, Rashi, horoscope etc have been big for the Hindus since thousands of years. At the base, these are pure mathematical calculations involving time of birth, the position of the stars and planets at that time among other things. When correctly calculated it can uniquely identify a person, his/her ancestry etc. They are used to ‘predict’ a person’s future by deriving the effects of the different stars and planets based on the person’s birth star/planet. They also help arrive at a ‘compatibility’ number between would-be spouses. People who believe in horoscopes have their own reasons to do so, as do the people who do not believe. For my part I don’t understand much of this to believe or not believe and so I go by what my parents say.

If it’s all mathematical calculations what is there not be believe, you might ask. The answer is in the question. It’s MATHEMATICS (read this as complicated!) One incorrect input or one calculation error or one simple mistake in the formula is enough to arrive at a completely inaccurate result (horoscope). An inaccurate horoscope might sometimes mean taking a tree or a donkey as the first husband/wife before marrying a person! For someone who wears stones, an inaccurate horoscope would mean buying an expensive diamond over an inexpensive stone. You have a good number of people who believe and the believers list includes some of the best known sports stars, film stars, politicians among others.

Getting back to where I left, you might think I ‘half’ scratched the task of identifying the Nakshatra and Rashi because I don’t believe in horoscopes. But as I said earlier, I don’t understand much of this to believe or not believe and I got by what my parents say; and my parents believe in horoscopes. (Feel free to blame my poor mathematics skills!) The reason I half scratched this item is because we don’t have to look at the Nakshatra and Rashi when my son was born as we (meaning my parents and elders in the family) had consulted and decided on the date and time for the child birth. My wife had to undergo a caesarean section and the doctors had asked us to pick a date and time among the ones they had identified. So the birth time, birth date, Nakshatra and Rashi were predetermined and were no more left to luck.

I was thinking about this and could not stop wondering how advancements in medicine have yielded such unrelated yet effective results. It means you no more have to worry about the birth date, birth time, Nakshatra etc. All these horoscope inputs are now completely in your control. You now have a choice to choose the best inputs for your horoscope.

Wait a minute. Did I say ‘best inputs’? Oh, so mathematics is still there. This means a wrong calculation using the best inputs might still mean that first marriage with a tree or a donkey.

Oh man…

~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Compliments with Complaints

I was recently at this transit airport waiting for my connecting flight. The flight had been delayed by over 2 hours. I waited at the lounge for an updated announcement. Next to me on my seating aisle were 2 gentlemen who I believe were waiting for the same flight as I was.

I had been traveling almost the entire day and was bored of sitting in the flights and airports. Wanting to start a conversation, I looked at the gentleman (GM 1) seated next to me and said –

Me – This is turning into a long day…
GM 1- yeah... And you know what, I have been traveling since morning
Me – ah… Same here. I started at 3 in the morning
GM 1 – oh... Sorry to hear that

I noticed that the other gentleman (GM 2) was looking at us almost trying to say something.

GM 1- Where are you traveling from?
Me – Bangalore
GM 1 – Bangalore? India?
Me – Yes

Suddenly the other gentleman pitched in…

GM 2 – You watch soccer? The soccer world cup. You call that football right?

I don’t know how he mixed soccer and Bangalore. I can make sense if it was cricket. But this is football, and football is not as famous as cricket in India. Also India is not playing in the football world cup. Maybe he too was bored and wanted to join the conversation, and he grabbed the first opportunity.

It was a good conversation from then on. We discussed about football world cup at length. The teams we supported, previous world cups, players etc. The conversation at some point shifted to cars and then into petrol and diesel cars.  Somewhere one of us brought in movies which were themed on cars and racing, and soon we were talking about movies. I think we had been talking for almost 20-30 mins.

We were on a momentary thinking pause, when an elderly gentleman (EG) sitting diagonally opposite to me, looked at me and said –

EG – Hey. You know... You talk a lot.

I was stunned. Suddenly my brain felt empty and there were no words down my throat. It took me a few moments to gather myself. We were talking in a low voice, there was nothing unethical in our talk, and so I saw no reason why he had said that.

EG – oh oh… I apologize. Please don’t take me wrong. I am really sorry.
Me – ok
EG – Actually what I meant was you spoke about a lot of things. You seem to know a lot of things.

Wow! What was that? Was that an appreciation or some kind of cover up? But it actually felt good. He then looked at the 3 of us and continued –

EG (with a big smile) – You all do. You all know a lot of things and I really liked the conversation.

I looked at the faces of the other two. They seemed equally stunned, and neither said a word. It was complete silence from then on. I didn’t open my mouth nor did the other two guys. Soon there was an announcement for boarding our flight. I gave a smile to the 3 gentlemen and walked towards the boarding area. Not a word was spoken.

It has been almost 2 weeks since that happened. I am still unable to make meaning of what had happened that day. Was that a complaint or a compliment? Either way it has left me thoughtful. These days every time I talk to somebody I subconsciously ask myself if I am talking to the point or if I have crossed it.

Compliments can make you feel good. Complaints can make you feel bad. But what about Compliments which start with a Complaint? Hmm... I am getting there.

~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What’s in a name?

We recently welcomed a new member into our family. It was a baby boy for my brother and sister-in-law. Once we settled after a day or two of wishes and sweets, it was time for us to decide a name for the baby. Meaning - time for cutie pie, sonu, gundu etc to be replaced by a proper name.

The entire family sat down to choose a name. My mother set a simple rule -   
Rule No 1 - The name should be short and easy to call.
We all suggested different names but none flew by everybody. I suggested a short name Anu for which I was asked the meaning. Neither me nor anybody else were aware of its meaning. This lead to the 2nd rule.
Rule No 2 - The name should be meaningful and should mean something good.
It can mean Sun or ocean or can be one of Lord Krishna's name, but it should be meaningful and easy to call. We all suggested different meaningful names - Anirudh, Rahul, Arun, Arnav, Kanha etc. Almost every name suggested was put down as there was always some related member in the immediate family or the extended family who had the same name. Now we had the 3rd rule.
Rule No 3 - There should be nobody in the known family circle who had the same or a close name.
This means we had to filter all names from my father’s side, my mother’s side, SIL’s side, my wife’s side etc. This was a big exclusion list. There was always somebody either in the immediate family or on my mother’s side or SIL's side or my wife's side for every name we thought of. After a lot thinking and filtering we finally agreed on a name which was short, had a meaning and there was nobody in the family with the same name. We were almost ready to finalize that name when my mother said that a villain in one of her TV serial has the same name. Though nobody had an objection, it was still too much for us to name the kid after a TV serial villain!! That led us to the fourth rule.
Rule No 4 - The name should not be of any villain in any of the mythological stories or TV serials.

As I sat thinking for a name, I felt we had put a lot of rules which was making things complicated. I agree with some of the rules. A short and meaningful name is fine. I have a long first name and have found people from other countries having difficulty spelling it. I once had a colleague in a different country who could not spell my first name. So I had asked him to call me by my last name and he had called me "Hoshi". I corrected him but later found that ‘J’ is actually spelt as ‘H’ in some places. So Joshi is spelt as Hoshi. I was ok as even I have found myself in situations where I could not spell things correctly. For example, I had once asked for Vegetable Lasagna, spelling Lasagna in the exact same way it is written. I realized much later that Lasagna is actually spelt as ‘La zanne’.

The first 3 rules were fine but I felt rule no 4 was an overkill and suggested to drop it. Not everybody in the house watches TV serials and there will always be in a villain in some serial which nobody watches. Also, anyway we were not going to choose a name such as “Ravana” or “Gabbar Singh”. So it was best to relax rule no 4 and everybody agreed to it.

After long hours of discussion, filtering and deliberation, we have now chosen a name which passes most of the filter criteria’s. It is not short but is meaningful and easy to call. Any further discussion to change that name should happen now as the date for the naming ceremony is fast approaching.

If you still have the question “What’s in a name?”, then please think again. Because the world is in a name.

~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The learning curve

My daughter came to me this morning asking me to help her make a paper boat. She already had a paper boat in her hand which her friend had made and wanted me to help her make a similar one using colored paper. I looked at the paper boat her friend had made and felt I too could make one as I used to when I was a kid.
We took the colored paper of her choice and sat down to make the paper boats. I tried to recall how I used to make them as I folded the paper. By two or three folds I realized I had forgotten how to make a paper boat. I called my father, then my mother and later my wife to see if they knew how to make it. Everybody tried different folds but none came even close to a boat. My daughter all the while waited eagerly yet patiently for me to make that last fold and show her the boat.
I was thinking of logging on to the internet and search for steps to make a paper boat when Akshara’s friend who had made that boat came to our house. She is a year or two older than Akshara and they usually play together. I asked her if she knew how to make the paper boat and she said yes. I requested her to show us how it was made and she immediately sat down to make a paper boat.
We eagerly watched her as she chose the paper, cut it, fold it and paste it to make the boat. Once she had the single colored boat, she cut small pieces of paper of other matching colors and stuck them to the boat. Soon she had a beautiful colored boat ready. She then looked at me and asked if I wanted to make one. I followed her steps and had a new boat ready. She looked at the boat I had made and said “Good job uncle” with a thumbs up!!
As I mauled over my paper boat learning's this afternoon, I realized I had not learnt 1 but 3 things today.
Learning # 1 - Learning for me will never end. There is something for me to learn from everybody around me, young and old.
Learning # 2 - Sometimes things that look seemingly simple can turn out to be the most complicated. So the next time my daughter wants me to help her with something, I have to think through completely before promising to help.
And learning # 3 – How to make a paper boat, thanks to that little girl!!!

~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Misplaced ideology and retrograde thinking

I saw this new ad which has come up on the road side bill board, on my way to office. It’s an ad for personal loans offered by a fairly known finance company. The ad has a picture of a family comprising of husband wife and 2 kids, a boy and a girl, and the loan literature all around. Each person in the picture has a kind of comment callout which supposedly represents how the person could use the loan money. The callouts have “Money for a new car”, “Money for a new house”, “Money for higher education” etc. What caught my attention was the callout for the small girl in the picture which reads – “Money for marriage”. I first saw the ad on my way to office and could not believe what I had read. So I waited to reread the ad on my way back home; and, I had read it right. The callout for the small girl actually reads “Money for marriage”.

This got me thinking. Maybe the ad literature was a mistake, an overlook on the part of the person printing the ad, and/or the person who put the ad literature. But again what are the management folks of that finance company doing? Didn’t they review what is being put out? Or is it that they too cannot think beyond such dimwitted literature?

Before going any further, let me explain my stand. My problem is not really with that ad or the people behind it. My problem is with the stereotyping. Essentially, stereotyping of women as housewives, and keeping education lower in the women’s priority list. What else do I call this when the callout for the girl reads “Money for marriage” while the callout for the boy reads “Money for education”?

It might be totally unintentional but the fact is, it’s not seldom we find people with this kind of thinking. If this is the thinking of an educated elite who put up that ad in Bangalore, it’s beyond me to conjure up how horrible it is in the remote areas of our country. I think the problem is more deep rooted and can’t be fixed with merely correcting the literature. It also requires more than just education and stringent law. I think it needs a deeper correction of the mindset of our people. It requires a complete reboot of the mind.

I remember an incident which happened to me a few weeks back. I was getting ready to go to the office when my daughter Akshara asked me where I was going. I said office and asked her if she wants to come with me to the office. She said, “No, I will not; I am a girl”. I was confused. I asked her who told her this and her answer was “Does Mamma go to office? Does Ajji (grandmother in Marathi) go to office? No right? They are girls”.  This told me that her thought process was more an outcome of what she saw. I thought for some time and asked her “Does Ajoba (grandfather in Marathi) go to office?” Now she was confused. I then took time to explain to her the reason why Mamma or Ajji or Ajoba do not go to office; and that had nothing to do with girls or boys. Once I had done the explaining giving her examples of my bhabhi (sister-in-law) and others who go to office, I had asked her what she wants to become when she grows up. She had said, she wanted to build the biggest roller coaster. 

One thing became very clear in my head today. Kids and maybe even grownups, quickly pick things around them, such as the literature on that ad, and come to their own conclusion. So not talking about something might not always be the right thing to do. I can no more assume that I can show Akshara the right way by conduct or behavior alone. I also need to talk and explain what is correct and what is not. Only then will Akshara understand what is right and what is wrong.

~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Please, let the kids be kids

We had been to the annual day celebrations at Akshara’s pre-school. It was a neatly organized event with everything from the venue to the timings planned with the kids in mind. The program started with a small speech by the school principal followed by a quick felicitation ceremony. From then on, the kids ruled the stage. It was a treat to watch the toddlers and the preschoolers perform. They danced with equal flair for the patriotic, devotional as well as film songs. They even conducted a small skit. All this was done under the watchful eyes of the teachers who stood at the stage corners acting and dancing for the kids to follow.

As we sat enjoying the events, I couldn’t help overhear the conversation of a family who sat in the row behind us. I think their daughter was of the same age as Akshara or maybe a year younger.  When the event where their daughter was to dance was announced, the father and mother became anxious. They prayed loud that their daughter performs well without forgetting any step. As with all events, all kids in that event too danced well. I didn’t get to know who their daughter was, but once the event ended, the parents spoke with a kind of relief explaining how their daughter was shy of dancing on the stage and how relieved they were, now that she had done well.

I don’t understand what’s with some of these parents. Will the earth end if a 3 year old forgets a dance step? For God’s sake, these are 3 year old or 4 year old kids. It might be the first time on stage for many of them. At that tender age, if a kid wants to pick his/her nose or just sit on the stage, he/she will do it and will not care how many thousand people are watching. So appreciate the kid for the effort rather than judging their performance on stage. And to those parents who stood in the audience gallery and danced for their kid on the stage to follow, I suggest they go on the stage and dance, and allow their kid be the audience. But No, parents want their kids to dance like film stars.

 It not just with this. Many parents often expect great things, almost miracles, from their kids. They want their kid to be almost born with expert knowledge of mathematics or science or grammar. And if not by birth, then they want the kids to become experts by the time the kid is ready for first year preschool. This is just the beginning. Once the kid goes to school, there will be a comparison of the kid with other kids in his/her class.

I decided to give the parents behind me, a piece of my mind.  Don’t steal the kids’ childhood. Every kid has a unique talent. So don’t compare or put them through a performance bell curve. Let them enjoy and learn as they grow. Show them the right way and guide them where required, but don’t force your wishes on them. If every kid grows into an astronomer, then who will enjoy the beautiful earth?

In the meanwhile, they announced the next dance event. Akshara was a part of that event. I turned to tell my wife that Akshara will be coming on the stage, when I noticed the folded hands and anxious face of my wife and my mother. That’s when I realized what I should actually do - Before I advise the parents who sat in the row behind me, I should first share a word with my own family.

~Narendra V Joshi

Friday, February 21, 2014

The result of an honest feedback

I sometimes stop at this road side tea stall for a cup of tea. He carries different flavors of tea and I prefer his elachi tea. In addition to tea he also sells coffee, kashaya (or khada - a preparation of different herbs, used as a medicine), light snacks, bananas etc. I prefer this stall as the tea is decently priced and given its location, if need be, I can grab a cup and quickly be on road without spending much time.

Today, as usual I reached the stall and ordered a cup of tea. Upon drinking I felt the tea was a bit different. It felt watery, or maybe the tea powder was not sufficient. I did not say anything but when I was paying, I felt that I should tell him about the problem so that he can fix it before others complain.

Me - The tea was not good today. It lacked flavor and felt watery.
(I handed him the money and waited for him to return the change)

Stall owner – What? No. It’s the same. I have not changed anything today (looking at me in complete disbelief)

Me - Ok. Maybe you need to add more milk or something. It’s not good.
(He returned the change)

Stall owner - do you see this flask? (Showing me the flask which held the tea; just as I was about to leave) (I could sense a change in his tone)

Me - Yes

Stall owner - We have been making tea in this same flask for years now. We use the same amount of milk, same quantity of sugar, same quantity and brand of tea powder.

I was really not interested to hear all that. Actually I did not care what went into his tea or how was he preparing it. More importantly I was not asking for an exchange or a refund for the bad tea. So there was no reason for him to explain all that.

Me - Ok (showing total lack of interest)

Stall owner - Do you know what is the problem today?

Me - No

Stall owner - You (I suddenly became all ears. I was like “What??”)

Stall Owner – We didn't change anything and so there should be no problem with the tea; which means there is some problem with you as you did not like the tea.

Me - What do you mean?

Stall owner - If nothing has changed in how we make tea, and only you complain, it means you have a problem.

(I was staring at him almost wanting to ask if he has gone mad)

Stall owner - I suggest drink this Kashaya. It will help if you are not feeling well. (His tone went soft. Something like how doctors talk to patients)

I was really angry but didn’t say anything. The way he spoke would make me look like a culprit if I raised my voice. So I smiled at him and got back on the road.

It took me like a few minutes to digest all that. All I did was to give an honest feedback about the tea which I PAY to drink. And what was his response? That I had to drink his dark green concoction of herbs to rid my body of any ills and calm my mind. Wow. I decided never to have anything from him again, even if it means I have to spend extra time waiting at the nearby restaurant for tea.

~Narendra V Joshi