Monthly Archives: May 2017

Alone – Together

Alone – Together

Alone Together

The thought of this title has been playing on my mind for a really long time.  I see the above state played, replayed and lived almost every single day in almost every urban household. I am still trying to frame and articulate it aptly with equanimity and fairness, about what I see and what I feel about this life. We, “the urban and developed”, tech savvy generation have come to lead today; ‘Alone Together’.

 It all started when a couple of weeks back, we were enjoying a face time call with our cousin. He started with the lord of the house (my husband), exchanged a few pleasantries, and asked for me. I was in the same room, right by his side, distractedly overhearing every word, yet busy on my phone, texting someone else, on a totally different topic. So, the phone came into my hands and he was a little surprised that I was right by my husband’s side, yet absorbed in my miserable gadget. Then came our daughter’s turn, and to make matters worse, and drive the wedge deeper into my already bleeding heart; there she was; right next to me, on her I pad, watching some idiotic show! Trust our dear cousin to make note of this too and he remarked ‘Oh! you are the perfect modern family, alone together.’

That’s that, the final nail in the coffin! I have often complained to my better half about his being glued to the phone. The gadget barely the size of a palm is  his heart, the phone being his life partner, best buddy and I can go on…but that caustic observation from our cousin brought to light the simple truth we all are avoiding today. We all are uncomfortable alone and worse; we are unknowingly more uncomfortable together.

Technology has robbed us of the pivotal, key ingredient of life and living; comfort in togetherness. We send texts with ease, because the message is devoid of physical proximity. The true essence of the meaning that we wish to convey is at the mercy of the befuddled receiver. We post pictures on Face book of every possible occasion, and fearlessly share our treasured moments with strangers. The immediate family is the last to know, or may get to know from ‘following’ the family on Face Book. Speaking to our extended family and relatives have become a weekend ritual.  We are more connected on what’s app group chats and when must speak over the phone, we procrastinate, tentatively rehearse our lines, and hope that by some fluke chance we can postpone it to the next weekend.

On the other hand, we prolifically text friends, seek new friends on the net, bare our hearts, confess to some faceless friend of the moment, here today, gone tomorrow. The importance of family, togetherness, being able to speak to a person, face to face, these have become outdated and obsolete.  With family, we are walking on thin ice; with strangers, we are on solid ground. With family, we are afraid, snappy, irritable and judgmental; with strangers we are bold, pleasant, eager to please and understanding.

Secrets are reserved to be kept from family members; but world can know all about us, and we care two hoots. The family should be kept in the dark; that’s more important. The world does not judge us, and even if it does, we don’t go back to live with the world, do we? We return to the family; thus, the need to hide from the family and be in their good books is essential. It sounds mighty hypocritical, but isn’t this a fact? Maybe that’s why we are fidgety around the known, and at ease with unknown.

Long gone are the days when we used to have a family lunch, or a simple get together for no reason at all. The fact of being together and looking forward to enjoying each other’s company was the prime intention. Nowadays we do have our lunches together, but we all have our friend in our pocket, tucked closest to the bosom, and we seek umbrage almost immediately after the perfunctory greetings are out of the way. Of course, we all sit together and watch a movie, but we all also have the phone stitched to our palm or an I pad on mute playing some other random, personal choice video. That’s the togetherness we have today.

We make weekly calls to my mother in law who stays all by herself. However, the funny part is that her loneliness is a constant worry for my husband. She is  in fact cheerful, happy,and coping very well with her way of life. She is  perpetually busy with her huge circle of  friends and many social engagements. Yet, he worries for her. Realistically speaking, I feel she is more engaged and together inspite of living so far away. We are right next to each other, yet we are lonelier. Listening to the cousin and my husband’s worrying rant, the profundity of that phrase ‘alone together’ hit me.

‘The less you have, the more they are worth.’- This was a toast raised for friends, on some Television show, I forget the name. It has become defunct today, won’t you agree? With the advent of Facebook and other social sites, the world is replete with stranger friends. We have no dearth of friends, so the real worth of a friend remains a mystery. Secondly, the world is our friend, so the more you have the more the confusion as to who is worthier! ‘The more you have, the less they are worth’; bring us back to the title; we remain alone, together.

It is best of both worlds really, we are together physically. We live under one roof, we seldom argue, because we never talk to each other, about each other.  We talk about the world or still better, we don’t have to talk at all! That sense of commitment and belonging is missing. We nurse our pain and misunderstanding and heal ourselves through help from strangers. Together, we wind up embittered, vitriolic and want to be alone. And alone, we are unhappy maybe, but the world worries about us, and that pseudo concern makes us happy? I am not sure, this is my ruminative rambling. We seem to be happier alone together, and we want to leave it that way.

ME – WE: WE – ME

ME – WE: WE – ME

ME – WE: WE – ME

In every religion, marriage heavily emphasise on the ‘big shift’; making the big move. We are forced to acknowledge the imminent change in status, from ‘ME’ to ‘WE’.  Be it the Christian couple saying ‘I do’, or the Muslim tradition of accepting ‘Qubool hai’ or the traditional Hindu Saptapadi; they signify only one thing, I am no longer ‘Me’. From this moment on I take the big step and acknowledge the life of ‘We’.

Christian weddings have the tradition of hosting a bachelor party. Known as a Stag Party ( USA and UK) or Buck’s night ( In Australia)  which is held for the” to be married” groom, before he enters the  holy matrimony  to celebrate his ‘last night of freedom’ and bachelorhood. They have something called a Bridal shower for the soon to be married girl, which used to be a traditional ceremony. The girl received gifts from family and friends, things she may need in her future life. In this generation, even the girls hang  out with their gal pals and enjoy their last night of freedom. In this generation we tend to marry at leisure, after living a few years of independent working life. In the western world, almost everyone marries more than once, and almost everyone has a pre-nuptial agreement signed and sealed. The threat of divorce looms large, even before they make their vows of eternal togetherness.  All these pre-nuptial agreements, over enthusiastic ‘stag nights’ predict a failed marriage and gives this mind shift of ‘me to we’ a very small window of opportunity to fructify.

“Marry knowing that it is for love and not money. This prenuptial agreement (also known as a pre-marital agreement) allows you to plan how you will divide your current and future wealth between you and your husband, wife or partner should you decide to divorce or separate in the future. It will help you control your ownership of important assets such as your house, sentimental possessions and your business.”  Lawyers have this pre-designed agreement, offered to the clients for 44 Euros! Kind of preordained, right? ‘We’ has zero chance of survival because the ‘me’ is already cognizant of the ephemeral life of ‘we’.

I don’t think Muslims have a ‘stag party’ tradition.  Moreover, this religion accepts polygamy. Even the laws of remarriage for women are not very stringent. They have a philosophy and practice which is different from the rest.

Let me come to our Indian, Hindu weddings; we never had anything like a prenuptial agreement. I do not remember ever having a ‘stag party’ tradition either.  Our upbringing was such that the girls were prepared for this mind shift right from our childhood. My parents had the same advice for us sisters, ‘That’s your family now, your first home. What they believe and practice is what you abide by.’  Education, ambition all were cast away in the wake of upholding this one relationship. Despite having complete awareness of the trials and strife that came along with this mind shift, the ‘me to we’ mind shift was natural. In a married life, nothing stays hunky-dory for long, but jumping to divorce for every disagreement or difference of opinion was never the option.  We were taught to make it work, this was no longer a ‘me’ scenario. Everything automatically became a ‘we’. We agree to disagree and walk the middle ground. Except for exacting situations ‘we’ survived. We fight, come close to parting ways, we are on the brink of killing the spouse, almost everything one can imaginably think of, happens; yet me survive the ‘we’.

However, the rising divorce rates in our country today, tell a very different tale. The advice our parents gave us was always for the girls. The result is; disillusioned mothers egged their girls to fight for their own rights, demand an equal share and prove that they could compete with the boys. To make matters worse, we, as parents, failed to teach the boys how to behave or how to be a co-operative, respecting adult. Thus, men are clueless and women are outraged. Gone are the days when women accept or follow anything that is thrust upon them. They are independent and free spirited women capable of making a mark in this competitive world. They want to succeed in both the worlds and refuse to give up on their dreams and ambitions. Like for every other belief; even for marriage, Indians find the western culture more worthy and adaptable. We want a married life, but a life, preferably with zero encumbrances and minimum sacrifice too. Else, we are very willing to walk out of the marriage, the willingness to live the ‘me’ life is far more alluring than having to live a burdened ‘we’ life. Thus, the increasing interest in prenups amongst the youth of India, especially amongst the affluent citizens.  My master says, ‘Married life is all about heart and ego!’. It used to be about our hearts and his ego then, now it is all about ego, his and hers.

We have adapted very well to the ways of the west. We have bridal showers and stag parties now. We have started to draw up pre-nuptial agreements, maybe not as flamboyantly as the westerners do, but we are not far away. Today, with great trepidation and discomfort we give marriage a thought; and we ensure that we don’t give up on the ‘me’, ever. We are unwilling to risk the loss of ‘me’ at any cost. It seems to be a very big sacrifice, a steep price to pay for a life which we are vehemently running away from.

That’s what it is coming to today, we have stopped teaching our children a life of togetherness, sacrifice and acceptance, which is what a life of ‘we’ really demands. Instead, we teach them to fight for their rights, be unyielding, be bold and ambitious enough to choose the ‘me’ over ‘we’.  We have walked the whole nine yards; from ‘Me to We’ and today we prefer ‘We to Me’.

The above saga stemmed from my stoic refusal to learn driving! I miss out on many things because of my immobile status. I have to ask my husband to be my chauffeur. Incase he is busy or not in the mood to drive then I am stuck at home. I agree it is an inconvenience. I also agree that my husband will be the happiest person if I learn to drive (he can make me run his errands too!).  I am tempted too, it is a very freeing thought to be mobile and do your own things  without having to ask anyone. Yet, this dropping; picking and shopping together is probably the only ‘We’ errand we have today. The day I begin to drive this will also be gone, I run my errands; I don’t have to ask him and I may very soon stop telling too! He is busy with his life, I am busy with mine, children with their lives, and with a different time schedule and his extreme travelling, we have no common time, apart for these drops and picks! This is when we catch up on what is happening in our ‘me’ lives! I definitely am not risking losing out on this time.  He gets irritated, I get angry; we agree to disagree and it goes on… Still, no driving for me, ever!

Dublin Diaries – 6

Dublin Diaries – 6

Still Smitten

I think I am smitten by these affable people and the fascination gets augmented with each passing day. Why am I so smitten; what about the Irish fosters this feeling in me? This time around let me attempt a macro comparison. India – Ireland comparison make me melancholic. Ireland is a joyous place and so is India. So, I take a bit of detour this time.  Bitten by the travel bug, I can claim to be cosmopolitan. I have been in and out of many countries and transited through many more airports. I will limit this episode to my experiences at different airports. Practicing the ‘Last in First out’ approach I recapitulate my freshest anecdote first.

Last May, my daughter and I visited Vrads Sande in Denmark, for a meditation workshop. Our flight had a stop-over at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam; we had to pass through the whole immigration rigmarole and then board a different flight to Bilund, Denmark.

One thing I find most disconcerting about Non-Indian airports and comforting about Indian airports is the people! If I have a doubt or a question all I need to do is tap someone’s shoulder and ask! There is people everywhere and all have time to listen and assist. Anywhere else I am forced to read the whole notice board, look at signboards, follow the arrows, am sure you get the drift of my predicament here. This cautious following of arrows is very stressful and with another impending departure to my destination; these immigration lines are harrowing and unnerving, always. So, after dutifully following the labyrinth of arrows and notice boards my daughter and I were standing in this Schiphol Airport immigration line. I freeze at the mention of looking at maps and finding directions; my mind goes blank; hence I won’t describe my state of mind again.  

The officer looked at the passport, then looked at me, and again looked at the passport. I smiled, a natural reflex for me, even though I was inordinately nervous. He looked past my smile, unmoved and asked, ‘You are going where?’

I said, ‘Vrads Sande.’

Officer, ‘How long?’

Me, ‘Two days’.

Officer (with a very skeptical look), ‘You going back to India in two days?’

Me, ‘No, I am going back to Dublin, Ireland, which is where I am presently living.’

Officer, ‘You Indian, here for 2 days ONLY…. Let me see your return ticket!’

Now, his scrutiny and his unreasonably cold voice was getting on my nerves. I was getting a bit miffed with his looks and highhanded attitude too. Yet I calmly pulled out my return ticket and handed it over to him. He took his time scrutinizing and reassured himself that we were really returning! He asked my daughter also, the same set of questions.

I felt as if my integrity was being questioned. I was merely transiting and this person was making me feel distinctively unwelcome. I calmly took my stamped passport, mentally making a note to tell my husband NOT to book any more transits from this pricy place.

I was still simmering from the recent experience in Amsterdam when we stood across the Bilund airport immigration check. The officer was not as stiff as the Schiphol officer, but equally cautious and took her time inspecting my passport, Visa stamp, return ticket and all. In the span of just 3hours I felt unwelcome and totally robbed of my dignity.  I am sure, they were doing their duty.

These two episodes were like a déjà vu. I remember feeling the same way when we went to Singapore, at Changi airport, years ago.  And worse when we went to Adelaide, South Australia. Singapore, I did not mind that much. The queue was too long and most of the people before me were having language problem, understanding simple English in a different accent is a huge headache if you have frayed nerves and are tired from a long flight.  It was tempers galore and I was happy to just be done with it.

Adelaide is a different story. It was a long uncomfortable flight. Squashed in the middle seat with my seven-month-old daughter on my lap for 9 hours, was, needless to say, a one torturous flight.  We were going to meet my sister. It was Christmas time and my first visit to Australia. I had painstakingly bought gifts for every member of the family and carefully gift wrapped and named them.  Secondly, travelling with my seven- month daughter; the packing had only two sections; carefully wrapped gifts or my daughters milk powder cans, diapers and other accessories.  I was glad when we landed at the Adelaide airport, I would soon be able to stretch my legs, change my daughter pooh loaded nappy!

This is the only airport where I have seen sniffer dogs. Every suitcase is ripped open and every item searched thoroughly. This again is procedure, I agree; yet, having all my gifts getting ripped open and commented upon, left a bad taste in the mouth. Obviously, they found nothing suspicious. I kept requesting them to check through a few items; I had a screaming, restless 7month old in my arms, but to no avail. They stringently did their duty. When all was done, the opened bare suitcase was cast aside and I had to bundle everything back into the suitcase and shuffle out. Weary and exhausted I was almost in tears.

Now coming to Dublin airport.  We have been here a year now and been in and out of that airport about a dozen times.  The immigration officers are smiling and very friendly, that’s the first distinctive difference. They make you feel at home. They also ask all the necessary questions; the tone and attitude is not menacing though. My husband travels a LOT; lives more at airports than at home! The Dublin immigration officers recognize him and remember his name.

After checking my passport, the officer asked me how long we will be staying in Ireland.

I said, ‘Maybe three years or so, not very sure, sir.’

The officer smilingly said, ‘That’s great! Welcome, and hope this country treats you well!’.  

Now, that was the first time I was being welcomed so lovingly! Now you must forgive me if I continue to be smitten by this place and its wonderful people.