Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What is so holy about matrimony?

I live with a high degree of objectivity in most everyday aspects of life. On the other hand, I also live with a high degree of romanticism about certain things -  nature, friendship, purpose and poetry. Marriage falls somewhere in between the two where the lines of romanticism and objectivity meet.

On one side there is romantic love. It is unconditional and selfless. It does not have an ounce of materialism but tonnes of spirituality. It is organic, flowing and boundless.

On the other side, there is a 'ritualistic project' that has an objective of showcasing  the union of two families to the world, or at least those who they know in the world, on a scale that appropriately projects the image of the two families. Henceforth, I will call this project a marriage for the ease of reference.

Being five months away from my own marriage, I am facing a tough act juggling the two - my firm belief in romantic love and the 'ritualistic project' that is my marriage itself. I am inherently biased towards the former because of its appeal to my subjective spiritual self and biased against the latter because of its lack of sound reason. My family thinks otherwise, which means I have to constantly check the weight I assign to my beliefs in making choices for the ceremony itself.

Some say the wedding day is one of the biggest days of our lives. It is a day when the fate of two families are intrinsically bound with each other for the rest of their lives. We will tell stories from this day for the rest of our lives. However, is an Indian marriage actually focused on us - the bride or the groom? Again these proponents of a traditional marriage would yes. I differ in my views.

The actually ceremony itself is a one to two hour long ritual that does not require anyone except the bride, groom and their parents, along with a priest and some basic ritualistic material. If the believers of traditional Indian weddings  were right, then they would stop there. The wedding would still be the 'biggest day of our life', stories of which we could share for years to come.

However, we complicate matters a little - just a little. Since it is the 'biggest day of our life', we need to look good. To look good, we need fancy clothes. With fancy clothes, we need jewellery. Since its a marriage, not any but only authentic gold or diamond jewellery would do. To capture these moments for life, we need a photographer. Now that a photographer is going to be hired, we need to ensure our make up is professionally done, so all our flaws are artificially concealed - not that we look hideous but it is important to look perfect.

It is not only the biggest day of our lives but also our parents (probably because I may be their only son or daughter). In order to share their 'happiness', they need to celebrate with others. We need to call everyone whose wedding they ever attended. Phone and e-mail are impersonal - we need to make invitation cards that will be personally handed over to each and every guest.

We need to book a venue that can seat all our guests. Since they are going to be with us for a few hours, we need to serve them food. To make the atmosphere feel like one of a celebration, we need to decorate the venue - again only real flowers can adorn such an important gathering.

We don't stop at just the  marriage - there is a reception, sangeet, mehandi, cocktail party, bachelor's party - among other things. Yes, we need to click a picture with whoever was present at the wedding. Yes, we need to announce our love story to the world by distastefully dancing to the most cliched love songs that are played at every wedding. Yes, we need the world to see how henna is put on our hands.  Yes, we need to get drunk and dance with random relatives. It is after all "the biggest day of our lives." Not really - they are now the "biggest days of our life."

Logistically, we require money and time for everything we choose to do. The money we spend could be used for many other useful things - like buying a house, a comprehensive insurance plan, higher education or a rejuvenating holiday. While these things may not bring us lasting happiness, they will at least improve our personal well-being in the long run. If we have enough for our own needs, rather than spending it on a marriage, aren't we better off helping people in need? On the other hand, it is also probable that the money we spend is not even our own but borrowed, but we will borrow because it is the 'biggest day of our lives'. The alternate use of time is something I don't even need to get into - but think about everything we could do in 3 complete months of man hours given back to us.

We are social animals and we need to live within the norms of the society. We need to share our happiness with others. However, is there no other way to do it in a manner that is more meaningful? Is the magnitude of the celebration worth the hype? Is it truly the biggest day of our lives?

No, marriage is not the biggest day of our life. The logical argument to this is as follows. If marriage is the biggest day of our life, what about the day we found love? What about the day we have our first child? What about the day we lose a loved one? Another way of looking at it could be that if things go wrong on the day of our marriage, would we mourn the day we got married as we would celebrate every anniversary? If our marriage fails, will not the biggest day of our life become the biggest mistake of our life?

Marriage is a means to an end, which is a union that is socially and legally compliant. In our endeavour to live up to our own societal image, we unnecessarily scale up and complicate this act of compliance. Instead of celebrating everyday of our lives together after the marriage, we make a big deal of this one day and spend the rest of our lives reliving its memories.

Happiness is nothing but our achievement minus our expectations. If the difference is positive, there is happiness, otherwise there is regret. The very nature of human happiness is such that it can never be attained. We may be happy for a few moments or days after attaining a goal, a milestone or a materialistic possession, but eventually we will start craving for something bigger, better or newer. Think about the last time a new cell phone gave us a lasting high. A marriage is something very different, yet the high it gives us is similar to that of a new cell phone. How can one spend so much time, effort and resources on something whose effects on our personal well being and happiness are ephemeral?

 A marriage is full of materialism where as love is spiritual. A marriage is all about pleasing the ego - our own and that of others - where as love is selfless. A marriage is governed by the norms set by the world but love is governed by the voice of the heart. A marriage is a tangible event, love is an unending journey. A marriage, in its current form in India, can never be a celebration of something as pure as love. At the most, it is only a willfully, forcefully or ignorantly accepted contradiction of love.

PS: This is not an account of my own experience. However, parts of it may be true and applicable to my own case. Please read with discretion and focus on the intent rather than actions.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Letter to Humanity

Dear Humanity,
Congratulations. You have successfully shifted gears in the journey towards self-destruction. The events of the last few weeks have absolutely convinced me that there is nothing much we can do to slow things down. You have adopted a multi-pronged approach in ensuring we moving faster towards the goal of annihalation of our race. Whether it is conflict over a piece of land (in Gaza and Ukraine), whether it is fighting for religious supremacy (the Shia-Sunni war in Iraq and the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria) , whether it is killing for power over civilians (in Syria, Egypt, Somalia and Sudan), whether it is demonstrating the superiority of the male gender (rapes in India, including the rape in school) and whether it is carelessness in handling deadly epidemics and their carriers (Ebola, MERS, screw up - for the lack of a better word- by CDC), you have done it all. Like an icing on the cake, the collateral damage of your endeavours has even included the death of 298 people on a commercial aircraft that was hit by an unknown missile.

I am not saying I know who is right and who is wrong. I am not saying I know the answers to your problems. I am only wondering about your actions in response to what has happened. No matter what the truth is, nothing justifies the death of thousands of people because of your deliberate choices. I am disgusted but no longer shocked at the way you are responding to these problems.

Your actions keep reminding me that the problem is of an epidemic proportion. Your choices keep sapping the optimism that I have about the world changing for the good. It is hard to swim against the current of negativity to stay afloat in this battle for survival.

As a teacher, I praise my students for their correct choices and chastise them for their wrong ones. I spend hours teaching them the benefit of imbibing and acting with values as well as advantages of learning to act in a peaceful and orderly way. I do this in the hope that they will develop the wisdom to filter out all the negative stimuli that their world is filled with. I do this in the hope they will become a ray of light in the darkness that engulfs them.

However, for everything going wrong, there are somethings going right, that are worth celebrating. Everyday in the school, I see acts of speaking the truth, showing kindness and care, demonstrating self-control against provocation, leading by example and taking a blow for the team, winning with humility and losing gracefully. I see friendship. I see love. These moments are all worth cherishing and holding on to.

If I observe with equanimity, I know there are many more positive moments than negatives ones in the day. It is about what you allow to get to you. I may not always be the candle to light up a dark room, but I can always be the mirror that reflects it. After all, darkness is nothing but the absence of light.

Yours truly,
The Illuminator

PS: Here is some great advice I read in an article on  being positive:

  • Remember that there are two kinds of pain: pain that hurts and pain that changes you. 
  • Everything in life is temporary. 
  • Remember that true happiness begins to arrive only when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have. 
  • You can’t make the scars in your life disappear, but you can change the way you see them. You can start seeing your scars as a sign of strength and not pain. 
  • You will realize that the struggle is not found on the path, it is the path. And it’s worth it. So if you’re going to try, go all the way.
  • Do what makes you happy and be with whoever makes you smile, often. 
  • You might not end up exactly where you intended to go, but you will eventually arrive precisely where you need to be. 
  • When you feel like quitting, remember that sometimes things have to go very wrong before they can be right. Sometimes you have to go through the worst, to arrive at your best.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

What I learnt from Master Shifu

Entry two - 5th July 2014

I had the first movie time of the year in school. I showed my kids the movie "Kungfu Panda", which they absolutely loved. They have come to realize that movies are no longer just fun time. They will have to think and they will have to write. At the bare minimum, they will have to apply the skills they learn in comprehension and listening, they will have to make connections between the movie and their own life and they will have to think about values of the classroom every time they watch a movie.

After the movie was over and we finished discussing the characters and their qualities, the big idea and the examples of values shown in the movie, we moved on to discussing what we could learn from it. I asked my students to write it in their diary so that we could share it with the class. And as is the case with every time they write their diary, I write my own blog.

Being a teacher, what I learned from Kungfu Panda is the teacher can have no favourites. Master Shifu once had a favourite student called Tai Lung (the leopard). He was so dear to him that he raised him with the dream of becoming the dragon warrior (a super duper awesome Kungfu practitioner). However, when the moment came, Tai Lung realized that he was not the one who would wear the crown. He couldn't accept the reality of being deprived from the honour. His arrogance turned into anger. His anger into hatred. His hatred into violence of the highest order, so much so that he had to be put in solitary confinement. He escaped to return to Master Shifu to seek his revenge. Fortunately, in this case, fate favoured the truthful and brave Po who helped Shifu defeat Tai Lung.

As a teacher, I can have no favourites. The favouritism could forever boost the ego of the student to the level of arrogance. This arrogance could further lead to many negative emotions in their minds which will take them away from their primary goal. Moving away from their primary goal will only cause further negativity in their minds. The favouritism, thus, will send students on the path of self destruction instead of encouraging them to do better.

I get scary reminders in class itself, when my students place their self above their team and their egos above their goals. They spend undue amounts of energy and time on quarreling over petty issues instead of utilizing them on work.

Sumaiya and Mehak, the two leaders who represent the class in front of the school and  handle the role of Central Ministers, acted in a manner that led to the loss of a beautiful opportunity for their class today in the Science exhibition. They were so dejected that they simply gave up on each other and the competition. I was saddened to see such a weak display of values by the leaders of the class. Clearly, I have not held Sumaiya, Mehak and the rest of my class to the same expectations in class, which is why they couldn't demonstrate leadership and teamwork when they were put to the test.

I have to learn from Master Shifu's example, give my kids their dragon scroll and show them what they can truly become. There is no secret ingredient, only the truth within them. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A Little Bit of Sunshine, A Little Bit of Rain

With the effects of Vipassana reducing and its practice ceasing in the last few days, I realized I was becoming more and more irritable at work and at home. I have to find someway that doesn't necessary require me to practice meditation in silence everyday but yet acknowledge the state of my mind and body with equanimity. Hence, I will start blogging with notes from the day everyday - trying to focus on finding a little bit of sunshine in what could also be a miserable day. Additionally, this will serve the purpose of the daily diary I read out to my kids in class.

Entry One: 2nd July 2014
Today was a special day. The monsoons came back in their full splendour to the city. With them, they brought their share of smiles, laughter and some much needed relief from the heat of the extended summers.

As is the case with every  monsoon, I was excited to step out and play in the rain. However, I couldn't because I had classes to take and meetings to attend. I had thought I will have some fun in the rains once I am back home, but unfortunately they came back a little too late in the day. "Some other day," I said to myself, "The monsoons are here to stay".

Nonetheless, some of my kids ended up having my share of fun. They ran out in the break and purposefully soaked in the heavy drops of rain that were quenching the thirst of the parched Earth. When they returned, I chastised them despite knowing the joy which monsoons bring to our hearts.

I scolded them not because it is wrong to play in the rain, but it is wrong to do so without taking adequate precautions. Someone could have slipped. All of them could catch a cold because they were all wet to the skin and none of them had a change of clothes or a towel to wipe themselves dry with. More importantly, the first rains wash away a lot of filth that has accumulated in the surroundings, which means the chances of catching  a bacterial or viral infection are extremely high.

I felt awkward because a part of me that is the monsoon-loving Mumbaikar wanted to let them be and have fun and a part of me that is a teacher wanted them to be aware of the risks and its implications on their learning.

Though I didn't get wet in the rains, I clicked some pictures with my phone that captured the atmosphere there was. Those pictures made me happy.

I hope the rains go on for at least three months now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Letter to the Team

Hi Guys,
I am writing to you because you are essentially my school team for all inspirational purposes. I have been focusing on optimistic realism after Vipassana and this mail is one of the many exhibits of that.

Despite the unending stream of challenges, the constant burden of planning and executing, a massive achievement gap and the constant lack of external motivation, we have set ambitious targets for our kids. We have taken these targets because we genuinely believe things can change. We have taken these targets because we know that it will be too late for the kids if it is not now. We have taken these targets because we know if we get anywhere close to them, we will probably draw inspiration from this one year of our life forever.

This will not be easy. There will be days we feel low, there will be assessments where our kids and our confidence is shattered, there will be students who will make us want to give up on them and there will be times when things are in turmoil on the personal front. On those days, I want us to be there for one another. To remind each other that we won't compromise on the dream or give up on a child. To give one another a day of rest and a shoulder to cry on, but then again come back the next day, expecting excellence within the classroom and in the conduct of our students.

We do this despite and in spite of what is happening in the classroom next door.  We make our students see the difference their choices make every single day.We make our children self-reliant so that they can guide the incoming fellows. 

This is of course not to overwhelm one another but to change what the benchmark of efficiency and effectiveness is for a Jafari fellow. We will all be there to support one another all the time. Together, I know we can do it.

Compassion and Courage.