Thursday, 3 October 2019

Standing Still

There's a life 
Without rush.
I want to be in it.
To stand still
And look at the 
World passing by.
I want to stare at the clock.
Count the minutes.
Lie down.
Watch the clouds.
Taste water 
On my tongue.
Close my eyes.
Count my breath.
Feel the breeze
On my arms.
The goosebumps.
The heightened sense,
That makes me alive.
I want to be,
In that life.
I want to be
In that life 
Without rush.
~ Shoma 
Artwork: Shoma Chakraborty

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The Lost Song of the Soul

The soul, knotted, frozen,
A leviathan waiting for winter to end.
Wakes up with a start.
Lost and disoriented.
It opens its eyes.
I shudder.
It cries.
The noise shatters my eardrums,
Chokes my breath.
I stop breathing,
Fearing the intrusion.
It thrashes, threatening to break free.
I shudder and clutch my heart.
My hands get drenched in blood.
Warm and gushing.
But, wetness of its tears weights it down.
Turns it cold.
Its transparency drowned in salt and water,
Senses nothing.
Just the numbness of a cryogenic winter.
I push it further down,
My fists covers its face.
Making it unfamiliar.
My limbs climb on its back.
Choking it into submission.
Tired, it slumps into a dark hole.
Cold, hungry, sad.
Its fight muted into submission.
I take a small breath.
Unclench my fists, crack my knuckles.
Hearing familiar sounds.
I lie to myself.
Life moves on.
One baby step at a time.
But, my heart still bleeds.
It knows,
That its only a matter of time.
~ Shoma

Thursday, 5 September 2019

AI – Rule Changer of the Future's Here

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The future is going to be right out of the fantasy sci-fi that you grew up reading. Why? Because with the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at workplace the basic manual jobs will most likely become redundant.

Not just that, even traditional trades are going to be taken over if they rely too much on data and analytics. In time perhaps creative ones that need twisted thinking could also go.

Age of Computers

Imagine your child reporting to a robot CEO 20 or 30 years down the line. Sounds like Doomsday Prophecy? It’s actually as real as the bitter cup of coffee that wakes you up every morning.  

Remember the scare when computers invaded offices in the 90s and mountains of files started gathering dust in the corners? Those who were unable to pick up ‘computer’ were shown the door or had to go through the indignation of learning ‘how to type’ at computer training schools. Only it was much more than typing.

The youngsters who came straight out of college took over and the old school, straight-backed wooden chairs were thrown out for recycling. Most people thought job markets will take a plunge but, it turned out differently. With the help of computers and human intelligence innovations were churned out every day. New jobs happened because new businesses came up. Jobs that were difficult to explain to traditionalists came and people quickly adapted to the new demands and grabbed them with both hands.

Birth of eLearning

With the new age jobs came the need for training. The elearning market took off like a kite that refused to come down as companies shifted every task on computer.

Soon, words like simulations, decision tree and enterprise learning became jargons that we threw at each other at the speed of light. At first reluctant of taking elearning as a serious training tool, most organizations soon changed stance when faced with the daunting task of retraining their existing staff that held so much collective knowledge plus brand loyalty. But, putting everyone into a training room to upgrade would brought production on its knees for days. Elearning turned out to be the only way to close the skill gap and not lose production time.

So, Subject Matter Experts who had all the knowledge in their heads were searched within the company, found and aligned with learning development organizations to help create a single platform of learning for both the new and the existing staff. Everyone was happy and productivity shot through the roof.

Rise and Rise of AI

But, for the last few years as we were getting cozy with Siri in our phones and starting to rely more and more on her for decision-making, AI crept into our computerized, file-free offices. It was faster than people had anticipated but, not altogether a surprise because everyone was already using various apps on their smart and savvy phones.

In the age of start-ups, many smart and young men and women realizing the potential of the new unicorn, started experimenting with AI and getting results. They found godfathers in technological giants who had ridden the computer wave successfully.

Microsoft announced publicly that it will be nurturing AI startups and Apple was a pioneer always thanks to its progressive thinking and future-predictive founder, Steve Jobs.  

Image result for future jobs

Keeping Jobs in the Times of AI

As learning development experts we need to up our game. There is no time to sit and wait. Why? Because there is no clear indication how organizations would integrate AI into their systems.

Like no one had predicted that a traditional job like law would go to an App. It was recently reported that JP Morgan had invested in an AI-based software that can read and correct legal documents thus saving them 400,000 lawyer hours! Imagine what happened to the army of lawyers on retainership with the company. 

They mostly became redundant because a much cheaper system that has analyzed and stored knowledge of all old contracts that JP Morgan had made for clients over several years. Lawyers would now be needed to come down once the draft is complete to give it a once over. All small tasks like tweaking language and changing names on the contracts that used to be billed by these individuals would not be required to be done by them anymore.

Image result for future jobs

What Next?

So, if the corporate lawyers have no job what will they do?
Good question. How about learn a new skill that doesn’t so much need data analysis as creative or mental skill for example, a surgeon or a medical professional.

Sounds bizarre? That’s because it is. But, breathe easy because that was just a guess.

There is no knowing what would hit us in the future and we as learning professionals have to keep that in mind. Innovation and forward thinking are the only two skills that will set us apart.

Reinvent and Reengage

There is a popular adage, to beat the enemy, infiltrate the enemy’s camp. It’s time to do just that.

Learning professionals should start unlearning and re-engage with the new technology. If you want to experiment then, this is the time. Learn all you can about AI. Get familiar. Read, ask questions and understand how it works.

The knowledge you gather now, will help you become tomorrow’s leader. Because when AI invades office space and all the organizations will again be thinking of how to retrain their loyal staff, you would be able to guide them smoothly through the transition.

Clue: This transition will not be much different from the initial days of elearning and mobile learning when the machine that was supposed to eat up jobs became the host for retraining.
So, don’t wait. Get cracking!

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Time to Write Herstory

Love me not for I cannot be what you want me to be.
I cannot let you do it anymore.
I will not be the woman you want me to be,
Docile, subservient, voiceless, sacrificial.

It is time for me to unfurl the flag and shout out.
I am bleeding because of your cruelty.
I am suffering because of your indifference.
I am dying because of the gag you put on me.

I have to do this, reclaim my own.
For myself and for those who are at the tip of your gun.
Hanging from the broken ceilings they weep blood.
Their lifeless feet swinging in the fog shout for justice.

I will fight for them.
I want to see them live, to thrive.
They are all mine - women, farmers, tribal - my tribe.
I want to do whatever is taboo because you say so.

I will stand in the front of the line,
Face the bullets of those like you who fear me.
I will bathe in my own blood and fall lifeless on the asphalt,
With cracking sound of broken bones.

I will be dead but, unvanquished.
I will win because, you will finally see, 
the blood on your hands.
I will fall from the pedestal, lay crushed on ground. 

I will not let you live without a conscience.
History will judge you.
Generations will spit on your face.
It's time you knew what's coming.

Innocents will take what's their own.
They will take the bricks from the home you paid for.
The fire from the kitchen you ate from.
The love that you took for granted.

I will start the fire that will burn your fear.
The fear that makes you so vulnerable.
The fear that makes you forget that you are not alone. 
Fear that makes you put me up on a pedestal.

I want to be in control.
I want to decide destiny.
Away from your shaking hands holding a gun.
I will write my story on my own.

I am not afraid of those you doubt my ability.
I will rewrite history.
It will no longer be yours.
It will be Herstory or mine.

~ Shoma

Monday, 12 August 2019

In which I Pardon the Universe and Seek Forgiveness

Image result for letter to universe
Letter to the Universe

Dear Universe,

I am really appalled at your insensitivity. I fail to understand why you have to pick up only the negative strands and stupid things said in utter innocence in the heat of the moment and manifest them. It is mighty daft of you if you ask me and has played havoc with my life.

You seem to be like the matron in this super-strict boarding school that listens through the keyhole and hears only the absolute worst and then, takes action. It's totally unfair.

Often I say a whole lot of things just for effect - never meaning it to actually happen but, you seem to latch on to just those. Out of these also you seem to pick up only the absolute worst of the lot and go about making it a reality. Come on!

What about the zillion times I wanted great things for myself directly? Wait. You were not listening. You were busy listening through other poor victims' closed doors. Why would you listen to something that's not dramatic like, problems, miseries and heartbreaks. 

Like when I asked for fame and riches you were totally deaf to my entreaties but, the moment I said - for effect, "I need tragedy in my life to hone my craft," you were right there jumping in to fulfill my most gigantically stupid utterance till date. 

Sometimes you make me feel like we'd be better off without you making the wishes of the most vicious of villains through history come true while overlooking the collective conscience of a million victims. How do they get to you when the hordes of innocents like me go through life partially - read selectively or whimsically - unheard?

Listen, I believe sincerely that you are super-busy and therefore multi-task. But, you must understand that Shakespeare must not win. You know, the Brit guy they call the Bard of Avon. He said in his play written during Elizabeth's era (1500s!), about a delusional father who suffers for his own ego, 

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the Gods,
They kill us for their sport."

I sincerely hope that you are not trying to make that quote by old man Shakespeare come true. I am sure it was not a wish he wanted inflicted upon mankind.

Listen, I know you are overworked with this surge in population and taking care of innocent babies in the war zone that's the world today. But, I'd really appreciate it if you read this and not just listen through the keyhole when I am crying out that, humans need to be exterminated from the face of the Earth because they are killing the planet. Believe me, it's just a rant. What I really mean is that they should mend their ways and try save the environment.

I need you to read this post because I am going to do something really nice for you here - I am going to forgive you for all the sins you have committed against me.

Dear Universe, I understand your limitations in understanding anything indirect and covert. I also understand that you must be flooded with serious prayers everyday and the numbers are only rising. I also get it that with rising wars, terrorism, crime and wanton fly killing activities that humans are indulging in with more and more frequency as their numbers increase exponentially, you are becoming stressed and hard pressed to pay attention to  peaceniks like me who really don't matter because, "hey! I am not trying to poison the water tank and wipe out a whole town any day in like, ever."

So, I want to do something nice for you today. I want you to remember this when you do the Shakespeare thing on me next. I want you to feel good about all that you do and have done for me keeping my "wishes" in mind. I want to thank you for them. I want to thank you for family and friends and neighbors who care and love. I want to thank you for all the blessings that you have conferred on me like, good health, sharp mind, compassionate heart. I want to thank you for unconditional love that I get and for the roof over my head and food on my plate. I thank you for the education I received and continue to receive till date.

With this, I want to absolve you of all your past misdeeds and say, "I forgive you."

There. I have said it. I pardon you for all the hurt that has come to me because of your poor listening skills. I understand that it was also due to my poor communication skills. 

The fault in my stars is actually a two-way street and I am also not without a blemish. I promise to change my ways and void out all stupid and irrational utterances as soon as they leave my mouth. I will try and be more of a Zen-ist than a Satirist. More direct than dramatic. I hope you will also stop listening selectively once I do that.

I promise to think before I speak and treat myself with more respect and behave with more caution when it comes to you. I also promise to work hard on my communication skills to be able to improve my relationship with you.

Here, I want to let go of my anger towards you - whatever little there is of it and give us a fresh start. I know that you do not do emotions so, I am sure you are neither angry nor upset with my ranting which should be good for our future partnership. I plan on putting all the mistakes we made together behind us when I publish this blog piece.

I also most humbly would like to apologize for my own limited understanding of you and my frequent bursts of anger / frustrations at you for getting it all wrong. In so many ways the fault also lies at my own doorsteps. It's my own communication skills that make it so difficult for us to understand each other. I promise to work on that in the future for a more profitable partnership going forward.

Dear Universe, I am sorry and with this I want to turn over a new leaf in our partnership and start afresh. Please accept my humble apology and my absolve-sion of you for all the past miseries you have unknowingly inflicted upon me. 

From this day forward, let us live as best friends who communicate well and react to each other favorably.

Thank you for everything good in my life and lots of love to you.

Yours truely,

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Practice Self Love to Slay Moodswings

In the last few years I have had to stand face-to-face with sadness and depression a few times more than I would want to. While it turned out not too alarming but, it can. I have lost a few friends to it already.

I think the trick lies in understanding your feelings and being in touch with yourself. The minute you start feeling the downward gravitational pull, just hit the panic button.

Meditation has helped over the years with hightened awareness but, it also makes me vulnerable at times because it has pulled a whole lot of walls down from around me in a world that wears armor at all times.


Depression is the gnawing in your soul that makes the skin under your hands and feet crawl even when you sleep. That kind of sums it up for me. Depression is nobody's friend. I can vouch for that because I have lost more than a few happy friends to it.


Every time I feel sad, I turn to creativity even if it has to be by force. For me art and words are the two tools that bring stability in chaos. It may not be true for all. But, throwing yourself into serious work or even cleaning the house just makes it worse for me.


I love to cook when I am alone but, when I feel sad, I just think of eating. Pushing myself to cook works because eating the end result is always an uplifting experience.

The DIY Managing Life Changes List


May or may not work always. I try choosing reading material that promises happy ending or a solved mystery.


Movies also fall in the same genre as books. They sometimes work too well and push me into a creative mode but, at others, they push me into darkness and mistrust.


It works like a dream but, in the long run, it is a downer. Avoid sleeping. Instead binge watch a sitcom or all the seasons of Sex and the City (if you can lay your hands on it).


In my case, aimless walking works but, exercising behind closed doors makes me lazy afterwards. I love to think I am moody but, I know now that it is not true. I tire easily in structured environment and it is highly probable that the lethargy I feel is more mental than physical. So, choose your exercise regime with care.

Stay Healthy to Stay Happy this Winter


That works amazingly well for me. I plan itineraries and make up speeches I am going to give when I am famous. It immediately changes my mindset, lifts my mood.

Social Media

Is lethal unless it is a space / platform like Pinterest that allows creation of boards full of things you would like to do one day. I would put it under planning. Under any circumstances stay away from WhatsApp and Twitter - they are toxic mostly.


It works like magic. Sleeping next to your mother at night, no matter how old you are are a sure way to feel happy but, it could backfire as well. Remember parents love to make things "right" for you and seeing you unhappy can pull them down as well.

Beat Stress without Breaking Sweat


That's another lifesaver but, I have to push myself to get things going. Journal writing helps immensely because it allows venting as well as planning. 

The idea behind writing this digital post is selfish. These posts act as reminders every time I feel the force of gravity on my mood. I have gone back to writing physical journals. I use pens, colors and imagination on diaries that I can read later and feel proud of. 

Yes! Self love is absolutely important and we must keep patting our backs at all times. It's the surefire secret to a lifelong high.

Anatomy of Depression


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Memories of Ma's Guru of Knitting

My mother is the most graceful and ladylike person I know. There is not an iota of tomboy in my ma. She is always poised and has the right expression for most occasions except when she is scolding me for being the exact opposite of her.

Portrait of my mother
Photo: Shoma Chakraborty

My mother is also a very complex person to understand. A child of the partition she had spent all her life telling us stories about their ancestral home in what is now Bangladesh. Though I could never imagine the sheer magnitude of that house but, the house in north Calcutta that she grew up in is a huge thing covering two lanes with openings on both sides. All her girlhood and early youth was spent in that cavernous building with latticed varandahs and stained glass windows and green Venetian blinds surrounded by family and relatives. She had scores of uncles, granduncles, aunts and grandaunts not to mention a zillion cousins. 

From a joint family of eight siblings where everyone was good at somethings and would help the others with their skills from school syllabus to culinary and fine art and knitting/ sewing she was married and had to start her own household in Delhi all by herself.

Suddenly in her late 20s my shy mother realized that she was knocked out for a six. Married and moved to a city where no one spoke her native language, she started from scratch to reinvent the proverbial wheel. From learning to cook with the vegetables and fresh produce available in north India to learning how to explain even the smallest of things in sign language to hoards of people everyday who were mostly uneducated like the vendors, cleaners and shop keepers she decided to learn everything from the language to sewing and taking care of one overweight and over-indulged over-energetic toddler (moi).

By the time she hung up her spurs, she was teaching Hindi along with Social Sciences in school. 

Her stories of how she picked up the skills are not always cute. Some reek of helplessness and others were sheer grit. Some like reading and writing Hindi happened because she had to help us with homework. Cooking is something she was always great at and her cooking was always healthy even before it became a fad. As an old school friend recently told me, "your tiffin was always great tasting with no oil running even when it was okra and your rotis were thin and even." She should know because she is a food Nazi these days.

But, it explains why all of us have stayed the same size through the decades.

Anyway, a few days back we recalled this really cute story about her learning how to knit - a skill she puts to great use every year though her skills are absolutely rudimentary - no purls and chains in her stuff but, lots of practical cover and tonnes of love.

Here's the story of her learning knitting.

As a young woman with a leaky toddler in the 1970s she needed a lot of sweaters because even at age -1 I was always hungry and ever eager to either throw up or pee and since there were no modern diapers, it meant her changing my clothes several times in a day.

So, my poor parents were buying mini sweaters by the buckets to keep me warm and clean because my ma couldn't knit. 

The house we lived in was divided into four flats and there were two more Bengali families with five teenage kids who were always taking turns to pet me like I was a little furry animal. Not to say that I did not lap it all up. Till the age of five we stayed in that house and I was the cynosure of all eyes - the happiest toddler ever.

However, among the five was this young boy who was very sweet, slightly crazy, artistic young man with a golden heart and a wicked sense of humor. He was in sixth standard and was very attached to my mother because she allowed him to eat from her kitchen all day. He too - like me - was always hungry.

He also had a soft corner for me and my mother and so would keep an eye on me when my ma was busy with chores or had to take a bath or use the toilet. He would bring his books and sit next to me doing his homework while ma finished her personal chores and tasks. I remember spending a lot of time with him even as a toddler. My ma also helped him with his studies because he was not too good on his own and there was no one else to help him because all the other elders in the house were working. 

So, the legend has it that one day he asked my ma in confidence why she was buying so many sweaters because all the other women knit for their children. It was the done thing and he himself had never worn anything off the rack. He was really outspoken for his age and no one minded it because their was no use asking him to mind his own business.

Hence, my mom broke her silence on the taboo subject and let him into her little secret. She told him in strict confidence that she didn't know how to knit. 

That sad confession must have really touched his heart. Imagine a mother who cannot knit for her child! It was a huge scandal. He had fodder for a big gossip but, his kiddy heart was not inclined to abuse the trust of the elder who was actually helping him with his studies and who trusted him explicitly to let him look after her infant and fed him scrumptious stuff everyday.

Instead he decided to change the situation. He could because he had the power to do so.

So, the next day - weekend, he asked her to meet him at the rooftop in the afternoon and leave me with my father.

My ma agreed without asking why thinking maybe he wanted to learn new English words like always.

The next day they met on the terrace. Everyone else was enjoying a siesta after a mutton lunch - those were the days without TV and Internet!

So, the two co-conspirators got to work. He had stolen a ball of wool from home and had brought it up with a couple of sticks from the bathroom broom. 

He had learnt how to do basic knitting watching the women in the house and since he was a little guy who was always crafting  something they never even bothered to tease him. Most were scared of pulling his leg because his sense of humor would tear them to pieces. 

With that one stolen ball of wool and two coconut leaf sticks from the broom he initiated my ma to the art of knitting and taught her whatever she knows today. Hence becoming her knitting guru.

My ma who learnt quickly never looked back, though she didn't try increasing her repertoire by adding designs and styles.

Just last week, when my mother was knitting a small yellow sweater for my toddler niece who wants - "verrrrry loooseee sweateee!" My father suddenly looked up and chuckled, "each time you pick up the knitting needles, you should take a few seconds and thank and bless your guru."

They both laughed and I felt warm without a sweater.

Memories are the most beautiful things and this one melts my heart. 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

A Piece of Sky and a Roof Over the Head

It is a truth universally known that you have not arrived if you do not have the key to your own home in your hands - at least here in India.

I do not agree that an arrival of any kind is heralded by the ownership of a house but, I do concur that it feels damn safe to have a place to call your own when you retire and want to hang your boots up and not worry about eviction or bankruptcy.

Unlike many countries in the West, where the rents are so high that it is better to buy, we in India have it the other way round. The rents are not as crazy as the EMIs that you end up paying for a gazallion years - not unlike farmer's local loans in old Hindi films. Like in those farmers in the ultra-Left black and white films, the homeowner lives in the fear of eviction if - God forbid - a few EMIs are missed because of a loss of job or limbs. 

On the other hand, posh private banks that fall over themselves to graciously offer exorbitant amounts on a platter to mega-rich industrialists with almost zilch (if you consider the amount borrowed) collateral are not even interested in considering you although you have no intention of skipping the country using the same money that they gave you in all gullibility and glibness almost throwing it at you so that you can run and apply for a foreign citizenship thus, never paying even the amount borrowed forget the interest. 

Also, as it has happened with a lot of my friends, they bought a house in a city thinking of settling down happily ever after but, soon found themselves living far away in another city because, job and paying rent as well as EMI for the aforementioned house. 

The crux of the matter is that with no joint-family to fall back on and no fixed incomes due to 'safe' government jobs, buying a house on single income is almost as scary as volunteering to be a wanna-be knife thrower's assistant for a middle class person. 

Renting is a nightmare for single women who are often denied rentals because of their singlehood (for lack of a better expression). If she is a divorcee or a single mother then the stakes could be worse or none. Airhostesses and hotel staff or even call center employees who keep odd hours have it difficult too. 

Bringing in friends and even siblings to stay over is often looked upon with a frown and even prohibited.

Since our country has the second largest population in the world and considering that every 7th person in the world is an Indian I assume that all that is because the vigilantes don't want more kids to be born (tongue firmly in cheek) - at any cost because to be honest, even single men face the same firing squad when they go looking for a place to stay.

Anyhow, the truth is that I never stirred up courage to buy a house and as a result I pay rent every month for a shelter from where I can be evicted at a month's notice at any time and where I have to increase the rent after every 11 months - just like that - whoever came up with that clause had no idea what a disservice they were doing to the rental market. Today, spaces on rent command prices that have nothing to do with the situation that the property is in either in terms of maintenance or area it is situated in. As a renter you have no choice but to cough up whatever the "going rate" is and it gets worse for women because, they need some modicum of security where they live - hence more money.

Recently, I started wondering if this phenomenon was native to India or are there people across the world who were struggling with this problem.

I started looking up sustainable living ideas and budget homes on the Internet when I came across this whole world of Tiny Homes. It is a great concept and a tiny home does not always have to be trailer trucks. I have seen small houses that are built in as much square acreage as a two bedroom apartment but, built efficiently to allow it to have tonnes of natural light and fresh air. Some of them allow the owners the freedom of hooking their homes to a truck and move if their job moves or they want to go and try living in some other town!

What I found amazing was that it was a movement that is prevalent across the West and up to New Zealand but, bypasses Asia!

In India where shanty towns take up millions of acres of land and illegal constructions with no ventilation provide housing to millions of people with voting rights we need to look at the reason why it just does not suit those with vested interest to allow something like that to be taken up by the middle income group. 

When my sister had gone on a holiday to Europe some years back she came back pretty depressed because she realized that our so-called expensive flats were actually tiny compared to Western homes. It took me many days of taking her through our Colonial history and systematic plunder to pacify her but, her point remains that if we are paying through our noses for accommodations that are small and not even properly ventilated then why do we have to pay mega-bucks and enslave our entire working lives to own one.

And frankly after having seen the size of single bedroom apartments in Bombay, I think they are no better than glorified tiny homes and the same can be said of the Janta flats in Delhi.

Here, please don't start blaming the population. I have personally seen gigantic apartments in Gurgaon that are weekend homes for couples who live in Delhi. These houses are fully furnished and functional though seldom used. 

Also, the majority of the population that lives in super tiny rooms in Delhi and Bombay and in all other cities across the country has ration cards, Adhar Cards, Election Cards and live in illegal colonies that get 'free' electricity and water and please don't ask me how? We all know how.

Going by the fact that houses have been getting smaller and smaller by the year, I think, I don't mind retiring in a tiny house far away from the city lights and growing organic vegetables in the corrugated tin-enclosed backyard. 

Now consider people with farmhouses - which are no more legal than the slums - who are holding large tracts of land in what is now within the cities. They should be allowed to be cut off into small pieces and sold legally and only using white money. Same for the umpteen plots sitting for prices to rise in industrial areas - we all know how many of the 'offices' or 'factories' have fully running homes in the upper stories where families live lavishly defying every norm in the books.

It's about time Leo Tolstoy's story, "How much land does a man need?" After all, with all its propaganda of 'dumb' declarations of 'equal opportunity' socialism is not as 'demonically' against economic progress as capitalists would like us to believe. 

Why when the Republic of India that has millions of 'nationalists' staking claim to it cannot retrace its steps back and seek another bhoodaan movement? Why not fix land ceilings and usher in land reforms that are not mired in red tape? I say, why not make it an agenda and a reform to help everyone buy a home of their own and not just the "poorest of the poor" because, I am not saying free housing here but, affordable housing or low cost housing. Even sustainable living in communities. Why not seize assets of the unscrupulous builders who have run away or declared bankruptcy after collecting money for building flats and let those whose money they have usurped get a roof over their heads.

The answer to affordable homes is a transparent system that wants everyone to live safe from the huffing and puffing big bad wolf but, wait... Here I would like you to look up who are these builders, dig deep and check who holds the property business and I assure you that you will know why the people with "below the poverty line" cards and the super-rich industrialists will always be the beneficiaries of 'schemes' and 'deals' and why the tax-paying middle class will always have to enslave itself to put a roof over its bowed head.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Hipster and her Cuppa

All through my teens and the twenties, I followed all the (Indian) hipster or arty traits - wore handloom, went for plays, had hot political discussions, read thick life-changing books, studied literature, watched avant garde cinema even carried a jhola but, there are two things that I never did - I never wore a fedora and never drank tea.

I have not worn a fedora till date but, tried on other kinds of hats and caps and though I worked as a journalist for the first part of my career, I didn't have tea till I left journalism, left the city of my birth and my family behind and replanted my self into another place.

I have always believed that I came of age in my very late 20s and early to mid 30s. I was a late bloomer or plain dumb about life till it hit me with a ton of bricks on my face.

Anyway, coming back to tea that has become my best friend somehow in the last decade or so. I never drank tea because I was brought up on milk. I loved milk. I could have milk any time of the day and feel lucky. My friends hated me for that because, I would go to their homes, turn down their mom's offer for a cup of tea and ask for a glass of milk instead - even in college! This not just embarrassed my poor friends but, also got them huge lectures on how they should also drink tea like me - facepalm and sorry everyone I did this to. I was too selfish and too much in love with milk to be any better.

It is almost surreal to think that in my avataar as a cub in the newsroom I was in-charge of 'making tea' for a whole year for the entire team because, I was the youngest. I knew exactly how much sugar or milk each person in the room wanted and if someone wanted none. We used to get a pot of tea with separate sugar and milk with cups and dishes every 3 hours on a silver platter - literally. It was a luxury that stopped at that. The serving had to be done by the people themselves. So, according to some crazy old tradition, the serving had to be done by whoever was the youngest in the room till someone younger than them joined the team. I was stuck with serving for more than a year!

Anyhow, while making tea for everyone even in the coldest of winter evenings in Delhi, I didn't feel like taking a sip myself. It was simply a matter of taste.

In my new avataar in a corporate company in a new city by the sea full of tinsel dreams, I was happy to skip winter altogether. For the first couple of years I didn't care for tea even when I settled into Bomaby. However, I tried out some raw and Darjeeling tea with friends at coffee shops because, coffee is  another drink I don't indulge in - I still don't. By now there was no one I knew who didn't drink tea or coffee. Life had changed by 360 degrees.

I think it was in 2005 that I started having black or raw tea in the  mornings as an experiment. I tried it with sugar, strong, with honey and then, light and without any condiments. I could not have warm milk by then because, I had developed lactose allergy - Sigh! 

With time I started experimenting and found out the various blends, about the aroma and even different flavors and herbs that go well with tea. It has been a great journey is all I can say. In the last several years we (tea and I) have come a long way. I drink it with salt, honey, sugar, nothing and still love it though milky tea is still a big no. 

Now I cannot imagine mornings and evenings without tea or reading a book or watching Netflix or bad TV at my parents' without a cuppa. 

Tea has this endearing quality like water. It makes you feel full and hydrated, it takes away pimples - the villains from teenage years, it gives you warmth in the coldest of days and keeps you from being thirsty on a hot day. You can drink it hot or cold and as a fancyass drink at a high-end cafe.

Since we started our journey together, tea and I have traveled back to Delhi, taken highs with lows and gone through life as best friends. I have written poems and clicked enough pictures of my teacups from across India to stand testimony to our love. I have felt it give me support and warmth in the coldest of situations and let me breathe when the dementors came to suck my happiness. It has been my Patronus and light in the darkest of days - sorry for the Potter references but, somehow there's no other way to explain this better. 

Tea may not be someone's whiskey but, it does better. It gives you courage and strength by letting you regroup your thoughts. It doesn't addle your brain and it does not judge you for being poor. You can still buy your cup of happiness from the local stall for 5 bucks.

Tea may not have made me rethink my life but, it has given me courage to face it without fear on winter mornings when the world is freezing but, you have to drive 35 km one way in the fog to reach work and come back in worse light. One cup before leaving and thinking of another waiting for you when you get to your destination is enough to keep you going. It is like Birbal ki Khichri really. It lets you survive the worst. (If you don't know what I am talking about, please click on the link to read.)

I think Indians should make tea their national drink because it reminds me of Birbal ki Khichri when I see the crowd around a tea stall in winters - people with little hope and kids with almost no warm clothes hold on to their small plastic cups tightly to let heat seep into their hands and let their imagination take over. 

Imagination is such a big champion of the will to continue when reality looks like death on testosterone. Tea lets you dream that you are warm, among friends and at home - the aroma, the warmth and the smile that it brings to your lips on a cold winter evening or when you are completely soaked by Monsoon rains and have bone aching fever. In your imagination tea changes the bleak and the drab to something possible to surmount because there is still love all around you. Tea is magic in a cup. I am glad that I found it when I did because, as a child I never lacked magic in my life but, as an adult I was desperately in need of some that did not make my mind hallucinate chemically.

And no, I wouldn't want to mix tea with politics because look at where it has taken America. They now want a Wall like the Chinese. I believe tea is more of an icebreaker than a wall maker and the country that started its journey with a tea party and the country that introduced tea to the world both threw up politicians that believe in walls for safety. Come on guys where's your heart? Sometimes I worry that with a chaiwallah as a PM, India too maybe heading for a wall - or maybe not.

But, whatever it may be, with wall or without, here's saying cheers to chai!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Seven Ways to Sleep Well

I must have been a vampire in my last lifetime. Yes. I must have been. There is one clear reason why I have often think of that and no it's got nothing to do with my desire to plunge my teeth into your luscious neck and sneak some blood out. No. It is all because I love nighttime and my brain is automatically set at thinking up great thoughts when the rest of the world is busy dreaming.

I know that it's just my grandiose-inspired belief system that wants to think of me as an ageless vampire because, hey, if I was a vampire I would not have to, (a) die and (b) worry about my soul all the time.

But, the crux of the problem is that between the hours of 11 pm and 2 am my brain is at its fertile best and that is when I get a whole lot of thinking done. It's not just me. I several others who have this tendency. We think best post-dinner.

But, all glamour aside, it is a bad habit. Period.

I will not go around glorifying this trait at all because I have realized over the years that the rest of the population does not work like that. School, college and offices work only through the day and most of your family doesn't get your fetish for sitting up like a night owl and burning electricity - a case in example, my father all the years I stayed with my folks.

I have therefore over the years tried several ways to get past this problem. Here are some,

1. Early Dinner

I will start from the bottom and therefore dinner first. Having an early dinner has a whole lot of benefits that have been discussed threadbare across the Internet. I started the practice around a decade back and have realized that it not only keeps me light and attentive but, also makes me fall asleep on time. I think because, by the time 11 pm rolls in, I have been up after dinner for almost 3 or more hours and therefore the mind is probably ready to rest according to its pattern of staying active for 3-4 hours after dinner. There's no scientific proof of it but, it works for me.

2. Put the Phone on Mute

Ever since Facebook and WhatsApp took over my humble phone, it has been ringing all through the day and night because, I have these loads of friends living all over the world. So, they start posting or chatting whenever they wake up - their time. It used to keep me up all night answering them. I have now broken the pattern successfully. Put the phone on mute and face-down when your head hits the pillow for uninterrupted sleep.

3. Thinking Happy Thoughts

One thing that keeps everyone awake through nights is the future. Believe me when I say that I don't worry so much for the present as I do for the future. It's a strange obsession for most living things. What will I have for breakfast tomorrow? What to wear to work in the morning? Should I call the client? Do I take the doctor's appointment tomorrow for my folks? Will it rain? Will I get an A in the exams? The list goes on. While, you cannot do away with worries I have decided to focus on what happened today and to count my blessings. It is hard at times especially after bad days but, becomes easier with practice. Think of all the good things in your life, the people who care for you, the roof over your head, the food in your stomach, books in your personal library, the beautiful prints or paintings on your walls, the chocolate in your fridge, your kids, childhood, generous neighbors... whatever makes you #instahappy. Even if you don't have much to look forward to, you will start feeling lighter and drift off after a while into a dreamless sleep.

4. Set an Alarm and Get Up

The trick is not just in setting the alarm but, in waking up when it rings. I need 8 hours of sleep. Any more including any during the day keeps me up till later at night. So, I count eight hours from the time I go to bad and set the alarm. I wake up within 15 mins before or after the alarm rings. I try avoiding sleeping during the day. That does the trick at night.

5. Walk through the Day

Walk if you don't have the time to exercise otherwise. Walk as much as you can and do physical activities like walking up and down the stairs, doing yoga (even if it is for 20-30 mins in a day). It not only keeps you fit but, also makes you tired enough to fall asleep on time. 

6. Read in Bed

It started when I was in school and used to study late around exams. It ran havoc with my sleep cycle and I could not sleep on time even after the exams got over. That is when one of our teachers suggested "reading the course book you hate the most to fall asleep". She of course meant it as a joke but, I tried that night with Physics and the next with History textbooks. The firsts day, I just took a few minutes to sleep and the second day, I stayed up late into the night. I tried Chemistry the next day and it worked like magic. These days, I am not dependent too much on boredom to put me to sleep but, I do read till I doze off with the phone on my face. Yup! I have succumbed to Kindle. But, reading works. If you are a non-reader, try reading political news on your phone - snoring guaranteed.

7. Wash yourself with Warm Water or take a Shower

This was something I picked up from my father. I always wash my face and feet with warm water before hitting bed. If there is enough time, then I prefer taking a bath before hitting bed. You can only do it if you have your dinner early. If not possible, then washing with warm water works well too.

These were some of my tried and tested ideas for falling asleep. What are yours? Do share with me and I will give it a try.