Friday, December 28, 2007

You Cant Always Get What You Want

The papers have been reporting a furore over the outcome of yet another reality show on television. The losing finalists have alleged that the result was unfair and have filed a police complaint against the TV channel.(
The fondness for 'reality shows' is symptomatic of a world in which it is believed that everyone is entitled to win; that anyone can become a star. That isn’t a very realistic belief, but it is fostered from an early age.
Parents allow their children to win every game that they play against them. At children’s parties they ensure that every child wins a prize for something or the other. No one is left out when the goodies are handed out. Losers don’t have a place in today's world. Winning is so important that it is facilitated in the make believe world, every time.
But it doesn’t stop there.
There are schools where every child wins the 'Best Student' award -- by rotation. Children who take exams and don’t get the marks they expected accost their teachers and demand a review of their work. Parents often join them in heckling the teachers and the school authorities. In one extreme case, the parents of children who'd failed an examination gathered outside the school and refused to let the gates open until the results were 'reviewed'. The school gave in and promoted half of the failed students. ( would those young people have learnt from this experience? That they are good enough to decide what they deserve and then get it by any means?
No one is willing to be judged by their capabilities or their limitations, but everyone wants to be accepted at their own valuation. How is it possible?
'Judge not, lest ye be judged' has given way to, 'Judge not me, for I am judge enough'.

Surely the adults who grow out of this kind of childhood will have expectations of winning everywhere. We are a civilization that is waiting for prizes, freebies and goodies at every corner; because we think we are entitled to them. We are unable to handle disappointments, or worse, defeat. Take a look at the raging mobs that take to the streets after lost elections or lost cricket matches. Take a look at the numbers of disappointed students committing suicide after exam results are announced. Take a look at the rising numbers of cases of depression.

The older religions preached acceptance. At its worst, their outlook was fatalistic, and human beings were perceived as helpless victims in the hands of the gods -- who were very often personifications of the elements. Life on earth at the time when these beliefs were taking shape, and indeed even much later, was a daily struggle for survival : for food, for shelter, and for medicine. Human endeavour often met with defeat. Tragedy strengthened the human spirit and the resolve to fight and win.

In an age when every material thing appears to be so readily available and within reach, it becomes difficult to accept that there is still much that can’t be bought or had for the asking.
Expectations are big, and so are disappointments. The new lifestyle gurus preach the old mantra of acceptance, equanimity and austerity. Will we ever learn?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rover:Circulating Library

When I met one of my great nieces, a charming three year old, I thought she was just the right age to have a pet dog or a kitten. Jaisri, her mother, told me how much she'd like it too, but she also said it would be very difficult to keep and care for a pet in their flat in London. It would be even more difficult to find someone to care for the pet when they went away on holiday.

Now that is a point. Who would take on someone else's dog for a few weeks?We had a friend, Dada, who kept a Great Dane. Dada's leave was due and he went to another friend Joy's place to ask him if he could take care of his dog for a month when he was away. Over drinks and dinner, Joy, a really good natured chap, agreed. Dada invited Joy around to make the necessary introductions. Joy took one look at the valued pet and told Dada that he, Dada, could stay with him for a month, or two, or even six, but as for the dog, well, why didn’t he just send the dog on leave instead? Joy told the story with great enjoyment, stretching his arms out wide to show us how large the Great Dane was!

There are some people who dislike animals and some others who swear a home with a cat or a dog smells distinctly nasty.It isn’t easy for dog lovers to understand how anyone can dislike, or worse, actually be afraid of dogs! I was terrified of dogs and swore I'd never have one, when I was in my twenties. My husband, Mohan, who doesn’t believe in wasting time with words, simply brought a pup home one day and made me forget my fear of dogs completely in a few weeks’ time. That was really gutsy of him -- had the experiment backfired, I wouldn’t have let him forget it in a hurry. It isn’t possible to do things like that in a big city where living space is limited, where all the adults go to work, and where a family travels a lot.

My Dad once propounded the idea of a sari library for ladies who believed in never repeating a sari to a party. That was a very long time ago. His term 'Sari Library' was a hit, and I remember how tickled his listeners were! Why not a Pet Library? How wonderful to be able to borrow a dog! To take a dog home for some time every day!

First, there would be training; in this case not for the dogs alone but for the people who wanted to take them out. A trainer would teach you the basics of caring for dogs, and you might have to clear a test before you became a regular member. There could be a short term issue scheme, where a dog could be taken out for the evening, just to play with, for a few hours. Then there could be a scheme – for advanced readers -- where a dog could stay with a family for a few days and nights. It could be brought to their home every day first, and then be fed a meal, in its own bowl, over there. It could then be moved in, with its own bedding, for the number of days settled upon. A trainer from the Library could look in once a day to see that all was well.Experts would be on the lookout for additions to the library, and they would pick up little pups to train to go 'visiting' once they were old enough. (Even the new additions to this library would be, well, dog-eared!)

The Pet Library could also work well for people who wanted to find temporary homes for their pets when they were away on holiday, and for those who just wanted someone to walk their dog in the evenings!

I hope someone is enterprising enough to pick up this idea and make it work!I can only foresee one problem and that is of a child, or children, refusing to return the pet to the library! How would one explain the idea of temporary ownership of a dog to a child? That would call for some thought. Parents, work your way around this one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reflections of an Evening

In Delhi, in the seventies, we used to look out for sunsets in the monsoon and post-monsoon months of August and September without fail. In a big and dry city like Delhi, rain was incredibly energetic. It was always a bonus; it brought high spirits, and it spelt romance. Spells of rain never lasted too long, and when they ended by evening, we got the additional treat of a sunset to enjoy and remember.

Evening curfew for a young girl like me in those days was lighting-up time. As soon as the street lights came on, I had to be home. What lovely late evening twilights we had. The light would fade slowly and grandly out of the sky, lingering until the clouds and trees were dark silhouettes. In my imagination, those banked up clouds on the horizon, black and purple masses, were mountains. The return home at the street light hour was followed by prayers in the back verandah. The puja was in the store room that opened off it. The back verandah would be lit only by the fading daylight and the storeroom was beautiful in the dark. It was comforting and yet exciting, and there were many smells that filled it: the sharp smell of the scrubbed brass villakku or the smoky smell of burnt oil wicks, the scent of goodies stored in big biscuit tins, and agarbatti, which dominated, and then took over my senses with its calming effect so that my troubles -- homework undone or a test the next day-- would be washed away. Only the comfort and the safety of my parents' home would remain.

It was remarkable that one could connect to nature in such a profound way in the heart of Delhi.

That was a long time ago, and the habit of enjoying a few quiet moments gathering one's thoughts at the end of the day remains. On some evenings, the day seems to die, and it has a melancholy feel. On other days, there is only a feeling of peace. Today, I was sitting outside our house and looking at the Bhutan Himalayas, purple and black masses against the Northern sky, and I dreamed they were the clouds of my Delhi childhood. One peak stood out sharply defined, perfectly symmetrical, and in the foreground, a gulmohar leaf swayed in the silent breeze. It could have been a calendar picture of Mt.Fuji with a leaf etching in front.

It rained all afternoon after an incredibly hot and sticky morning. The thunder was deafening and it was a really dramatic, high intensity storm. It cleared the air magically. By four o'clock, the sky was washed blue and the hills stood out in clear relief. I walked down to the National Highway -- a straight road leads to it from my house - at about five o'clock, with my head turned right to see the hills. They were silhouettes; I couldn’t see the trees on them at all, but I could see the ranges layered out distinctly. Where the sky met the hills, it was a lighter blue than anywhere else; almost whitish, and luminous. The silence that settled around this spectacle made me imagine it was a pre-dawn scene, as if something big was about to happen soon.
Back from my walk, I sat outside on a swing, with our patient and undemanding dog Simba at my feet. There was a gentle breeze blowing. Birds had returned to their nests and fallen silent. A truck rumbled past on the highway, but it wasn’t an unwelcome sound.

The sound of children playing somewhere in the distance was missing today. It is a typical evening sound. Once I was among children who played in the evenings out in the open, watching anxiously for the lights on the lampposts. Then, as a young adult, I remember sitting and daydreaming on the front steps in the evening and listening to a sad song about a lonely man watching the children play. I sit alone now and the children who played in this garden when they were little have left home. Home and childhood may seem very far away to them too. The complete tranquility and simplicity of those childhood years is lost for ever, but at moments such as these, one can recapture traces of it.