Being A Parent…Being A Friend

A question that I’m asked frequently by a lot of people – what kind of a relationship do you share with your children? I often find it funny that parents ask me this question. What am I supposed to answer…I share a great relationship with my daughters.

I was pondering this question as I was recovering from a bout of viral the last couple of days. It struck me that the people who have asked me this question aren’t very sure about their own relationship with their children. I am no one to sermonize others on bringing up kids…I have had my fair share of doubts of being an effective parent versus a good parent. However, I have to thank my daughters, Urvashi & Urmila for endorsing time and again that I managed to be both on different occasions… 🙂  Parenting1

The thought process continued and it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who also has teenage children. My friend summarised our chat very effectively and I’m sharing some of those pointers here. Even if it helps one parent out there, I’m happy!

Communicate Easily & Freely: I have noticed kids respond to communication in any form. This is a process that must happen from birth. Communication means sharing. Very often parents expect their kids to come and talk to them, but, rarely share what is on their mind. Of course the child must be at an age & in a position to understand what the parents are sharing. This communication changes as the kids grow from childhood to adolescence…what’s important is to keep the process going on.

Allow Questions: I have been working with the youth on different projects. While addressing a batch of college students recently on their participation in the nation building process, I had the opportunity to interact with students and faculty. As usual, I noticed the faculty pushing the students to ask questions as soon as the talk was over. And, as usual, the students hesitated to ask questions in public. I don’t blame the students here. As a society, we do not encourage our young ones to ask questions. Children must have the liberty to ask…if we as parents are incapable of answering their questions, it is not the fault of the child. It is our problem…we need to find the relevant answer to satisfy the question.

Parents, go back to your own childhood…how many were encouraged to ask questions? What a child can’t receive, he can seldom give later in adult life. Parenting2

Encourage Decision Making: Both my daughters were encouraged to take decisions from their primary school days relevant to their age. The pros and cons were explained and they were told the consequences of not taking a decision. Even in adult life, most people are scared of taking decisions because they want their decisions to be right. My question to such people – if you don’t take a decision, how will you know whether it is right or wrong? Allow your kids the luxury of making their own decisions. They will automatically take responsibility and ownership for it. And even if it turns out to be a mistake, so what? Haven’t we made our share of mistakes in life?

Allow Them Their Mistakes: I have noticed parents constantly cautioning their children about situations, people, relationships in life. I understand that as parents we do not want our children to go through rough times, get cheated, ragged, bullied. Tell me, how much will you protect them? One day, they will have to face the world on their own! Then what? Children brought up in that environment have a warped sense of life and end up thinking that the world owes them everything. While as parents we know, that is a far cry from the truth.

Share Your Story: a lot of kids grow up thinking their parents are super heroes in the initial years. And then the teenage years descend on your off springs and their view starts changing. Erma Bombeck (one of my favourite authors) says, “Have you any idea how many children it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen Three. It takes one to say What light and two more to say I didn’t turn it on.” That’s what teenage years do. One thing that stood me in good stead was sharing my teenage years with my daughters when they had “curious” questions. It helped them to know that their mother had gone through similar experiences in life. I was declared “normal” by my kids… 🙂

The worst thing I could have done was to have a “holier than thou” approach in front of them…Jane Nelsen very nicely puts it, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” Parenting3

Finally, it’s not just children who grow. Parents grow with them. I have grown with my lovely daughters. As much as I wait to see what they do with their lives, they are also watching me to see what I do with mine. While I tell them to reach for the stars,  the moon & the sun…I am reaching for my own stars, moon and the sun!!!


From “A Train To Pakistan” to “The Avatari”…

To lead life on your own terms till the age of 99 and to say, “I don’t know what to do with myself if I don’t write, I have lost the art of relaxation”…is every writer’s dream. This is how Khushwant Singh lived his life. My first exposure to his writing was when I used to read his columns. His book, “The End Of India” had a great impact…it became a wake-up call for me as a citizen concerned about her own future in the process of nation building. Khushwant-Singh

I had the opportunity of meeting him very briefly in my first job, when I was part of the media team for my organization. It is a meeting I will not forget. Khushwant Singh was charm personified and made me feel so much at ease with his chivalry & humour. Somewhere, he contributed very largely to my resolve of being a ‘writer of sorts’ that day.

Rest in peace is all I can say to a personality who impacted thousands of lives in his own inimical way & who wrote his own epitaph –

“Here lies one who spared neither man nor God.

Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod.

Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun.

Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”

It’s a pleasure to read more and more great writing by Indian authors. A staple diet of British & American authors in the early years of my life shaped the kind of writing I preferred reading. Then the world of Indian authors opened when I started reading Salman Rushdie & VS Naipaul. I know a lot of people out there will say, “But, they are not really Indian…:)”. My library expanded with books by Rabindranath Tagore, RK Narayan, Vikram Seth, Ramachandra Guha, Ruskin Bond (as Indian as he can get), Anita Desai, Shobha De, Chetan Bhagat, Ankit Fadia (one of the youngest Indian authors), Ravi Subramaniam, Jhumpa Lahiri & a few others.

The last three Indian authors I have read have given me more joy in the recent past. All of them quenched this thirst for a good read in their own way. Today’s blog is tribute to all of them. I have had the good fortune of meeting one of them, the second one has promised a meeting…I’m hoping to interview him soon and as for the the third author, I have written to him appreciating his book. I’m sure I will meet him!

“Billions Of Entrepreneurs” by Tarun Khanna talks about how China & India are reshaping their futures and along with that how our futures are also being reshaped. Dr Tarun Khanna is a Professor at Harvard Business School, teaching MBAs and executives there. He is also involved in multiple projects in different countries across the globe, working closely with entrepreneurs & investors alike.Tarun Khanna

On the ground approach to writing using everyday situations & challenges of running small & large businesses in both countries, Dr Khanna emphasises how differently entrepreneurial each culture is. New age business models coming to maturity from the shadows of the past, fluctuating political will, a dynamically changing society, a restless youth population that wants more & more in a faster way – these are highlighted so well in his book.

Having worked with a couple of companies Dr Khanna mentions, I could relate to a lot of situations he has written. The growth of mini Indias and Chinas across the world gave rise to a diaspora of entrepreneurs in various fields, most notably in the field of technology. It is this diaspora that influences & controls the emerging businesses in both countries. “Billions Of Entrepreneurs” is a must read for those who want to understand how India & China have embraced the world in their own way and how while ignoring the western world, businesses in both these countries are worth billions.

The title of the second book is as lovely as the author – “Lady, You’re Not A Man” by Apurva Purohit. Apurva is the CEO of Radio City 91.1FM. What caught my attention was the down to earth approach to writing, using everyday anecdotes & stories to bring out the essence of what every working woman goes through. It’s a book only a lady who has ‘been there done that’ could have written with such clarity & humour. Apurva Purohit

The book talks about acceptance as being the most important pat of solving any issue in life. The 10 acceptance lessons in the book become fundamental for day to day progress of any working woman. I love Apurva’s statement – “Adapt yourself to reality. And then you will be able to mould reality to what you want.” It makes a lot of sense!

“Lady, You’re Not A Man” addresses what every woman is looking for – work home balance. Her pithy tips hit the bulls eye…when she talks about how important it is for women to network, to accept that male subordinates or colleagues are wired differently, the choice of either being a victim or heroine of your own story and last but not the least, how important it is build a reputation in a career and not a CV. Must read is all I will say!!!

The third book for me is the proverbial icing on the cake. This is a book I haven’t been able to put down easily, even to take a break. As I wrote to the author, Raghu Srinivasan, “There are certain times in life when you regret doing the mundane everyday tasks because they take you away from the book you are reading…my situation is like that today”. 45840_1419019520215_1791419_n

“The Avatari” by Raghu Srinivasan is that book in my life right now. I discovered the existence of this book when a very dear friend & I discussed good writing and what have you read off late? Thank you Sandeep Malik, for gifting me “The Avatari” & introducing me to Raghu. I always say it’s important to have friends who know you well enough to know your taste in books, music & whiskey :):):)

Ernest Hemingway said, “All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened”. Reading “The Avatari” brought home that point to me. The interspersing of the eras, the lovely way of describing the British countryside & bringing out the exoticness of Mongolia & India, challenges in Afghanistan & Pakistan, weaving the plot in a subtle way, bringing out historical & mythical stories that at least I want to believe…all contribute to making me want to curl up and continue reading…come rain, come sunshine.

Raghu’s style of writing reflects the amount of research he has done to get his readers to believe that a mythical kingdom existed & a deadly secret when revealed could threaten the fabric of human civilization. I felt it was a great combination of Archer & Ludlum….my brother added Matthew Riley to the list. Yes…I got him hooked on to it too!!! It’s amazing how many readers are out there who want to read a good book & are waiting for someone or the other to recommend.

I have not completed “The Avatari”…I’m hoping to finish reading it in the next three days. And then I know I will bask in the warm glow of having completed a fantastic read, carrying with me the quest for another good book…till Raghu comes back with his next!!!

Reading…A Lost Art

One of the biggest joys of my life…curling up on a comfortable recliner, rain pelting outside or snowing outside (depending on which part of the world I’m in), a cup of tea…and a book that engages me completely. I forget the world then!!! Image

I grew up with books around me…my parents encouraged me to read a wide variety of subjects. My father, a voracious reader himself was very happy to increase my pocket money when he realised that I was spending most of the money on books & music. Books helped me transport myself to a different world all together. What David Ulin says makes a lot of sense to me…“Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.” 

This possession by the author is so all encompassing that it has shaped many a lives. Definitely mine. I remember a conversation I had with my father, when I had read Mario Puzo’s “Godfather”. So influenced was I, that I declared in front of him, “I think joining the Mafia is a great career option. I would like to become someone like the Godfather”. An officer of the armed forces, my Dad’s reaction was great…”how do you think it will sound when people say daughter of an army officer is the new Mafia don?”

I have found reading books in my formative years help me develop an amazing range of skills. Today, I find it necessary to share those with my readers…especially because I find a lot of people changing their reading habits. It seems that each new media invention—movies, radio, television, VCRs and DVD players, the internet—inevitably affects the way people read and reduces the time they devote to it. What feels different about recent trends is that the web is still so new, and it is evolving so quickly that few people are stepping back to look at how it is changing us. 

One of the first things I realised books did for me was to help me imagine. Every author I read has allowed me to create my own world! I laughed & cried with the Famous Five that Enid Blyton introduced me to; I have learnt about how Ayn Rand looked at the “murder of human spirit” in her phenomenal book Atlas Shrugged. Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code took me through so many layers of Christianity & the world of symbolism. My imagination is fired with every book I read.

Books have helped me build my vocabulary & my knowledge  base. With every book I have read, I have gained more confidence to talk about a variety of subjects. I have been able to hold my own…and engage people in interesting conversations. This is a skill I find people not developing the way they need to. When I used to hire students from various campuses as part of the corporate hiring process, I found communication skills were sorely missing. How does one build communication skills – when you have confidence about what you are communicating. 

Before taking any action on anything, where did I seek for help and guidance? Reading is an essential way which helped me out. In today’s world, getting reviews and feedback from other people can make a big impact on your next decision, and the pros and cons of each choice. I read about how to cook a seven course meal; what is golfing all about; which place is nice for a scuba diving holiday…obviously all of them enhancing my levels of of information & understanding. 

The more you read, the more you understand one thing: the A to Z of a thing. Let me give an example here: reading allows you to learn more about crocodiles and their habits. That you need to be aware of places it usually lurks for, the purpose of staying away from being harmed or bitten. Or perhaps you can try by real life experience, in approaching the crocodile, to see what happen. It can also help you find out the truth of something, right? Reading also increases the understanding of the rules of life, in order for you to adapt, adopt and accommodate into the society better. To play well in a game, you first need to understand the rules well. 

Charles Eliot very nicely put it by saying, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” Image

We are becoming a society of people who rarely allow ourselves to slow down enough to think and contemplate. It’s difficult to spend time reading a book when Facebook and YouTube and last night’s episode of Lost are calling for your attention. It requires a strong will to force yourself to read something longer than a few hundred words.I respect David Ulin, the book editor of The Times, when he says it is becoming increasingly difficult to read these days…there is a lot of noise out there…and reading requires silence. To make books a part of us we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know.

I have also found relationships flourish better when reading is a common passion between a couple, parents & children and between friends too. And finally, let me wrap up by saying three most important people in my life find me interesting, engaging and fun to be with only because I am armed with a library of more than a couple of thousand books. 

Go on…pick up that paperback, switch off the television & the internet, relax on a chair or your bed, a bedside lamp throwing its light on the pages of your book…transporting you into a world you create for yourself!!! Happy reading!!!

Music – a passionate outburst of the soul!

One morning I woke up to the strains of “Sounds Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel…one of my all time favourites. It brought a smile to my face, a spring in my step as I hopped out of bed, a lightness in my heart & gratitude for hearing such melody at the break of dawn.This music was coupled with the chirping of the birds (one doesn’t hear too many of them in the city) and thankfully no sound of any traffic.Music1

It reminded me of a poem I had read a long time ago in school, by Lord Byron…

There’s music in the sighing of a reed;
There’s music in the gushing of a rill;
There’s music in all things, if men had ears:
Their earth is but an echo of the spheres.

All deep things are song. It seems somehow the very essence of us!!! When you take away words from a conversation what remains is silence & music to fill that silence. I have always felt that movies capture this beautifully. The background scores in movies add to the drama of life. How many of us have wished for those background scores in our own lives, in different situations. Life would be infinitely more bearable I guess.

It is said that to live and experience life completely we must use all our five senses. Sure, we must…the eyes are the windows of the soul, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The sweet scent of flowers, aromas of food or the familiar perfume of  the person you love can all cause attractions & desires of different kinds. The touch of a hand or an all encompassing hug can create feelings of warmth & affection. Yet I feel hearing is the doorway to understanding emotions.

All our fives senses have the power to change our emotional state. But if you were to ask me which is the single sense that has the power to change the way you feel more deeply, more completely and more quickly that the rest, I would say it is the sense of hearing. Hearing allows you the luxury of understanding and accepting another person’s emotions…the soft caress of his/her voice, the loving tone, the teasing lilt all evoke emotions instantly in us. However, the most powerful thing of all is…music. Music

Music has the singular ability to move people in this universe like nothing else has. It can change anyone’s emotional state in a matter of seconds or minutes. Music alters the meaning of our experiences radically. Certain songs bring back very strong memories for all of us. My personal favourites are Islands In The Stream ( Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton),Take My Breath Away (Berlin), Temple Of The King (Ritchie Blackmore), Something Stupid (Frank Sinatra) and a whole list of old Hindi songs. Each one of these has a memory associated with it…and happy ones! They all bring a smile to my face and elevate my mood straight away.

Plato says music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. Music is the real mediator between my spiritual & sensual life. Music is to the soul what water is to the body…my recommendation take a music bath everyday. Your soul is refreshed & re energised…at least mine is! And like Auerbach said, music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

Listening to Bette Middler sing You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings at the Oscars I was transported to another world all together. It reminded me of a song by ABBA that is a complete tribute to song & dance…

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me.

Go on…create that playlist, make your own music, revel in it, celebrate it…for music is the easiest way to set your soul free!