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Monday, 23 May 2011

Corruption - Root of all Evil

During my growing up days, getting admission in colleges was easy. We neither involved our parents in our admission formalities nor in selecting a college for us. The only criterion that was important was high percentage or a wee bit of friendly influence. I don’t remember paying anything extra than just fees which was affordable. Some of my friends were undecided in choosing their career and would hop from one college to another over the period of four years and after graduation, would choose a completely different line. Some were successful in life and some not, but none of them had wasted millions of rupees during their fickle-minded career hip-hops.

Things have changed. More people are educated now and most of them are sure (well, almost) what they wish to do. They have career guidance centers that help them choose the right track. The only problem (now-a-days) is that they need their parents’ help to escort them because unless the parents don’t co-operate to bribe the college faculty for their admission to a good college, they are not likely to pursue the studies of their interest. Corruption is deep rooted in our world today and those who cannot fight, join in.

I met one such parent who had a story to tell.

Sunita is the single parent, a widow, who is a mother to a bright twenty-two year old youth. Yesterday, she proudly showed me her new blackberry that her son had gifted her from his first salary. There were tears in her eyes, tears of joy, happy that she has an earning son. She recalls the day, two years ago, when she had tears of different shade. Those were the tears of fear and stress. She was so stressed out during those days that she would visit every temple, which were known to perform miracle. She prayed to Gods to help her fulfill the dreams that she and her husband had nourished for many years. She wanted some miracle to happen to save her from paying the bribe of seventeen lakhs that the management was asking for granting a seat in their prestigious college.

She was seeking admission for her son for MBA at management institute in Mumbai that boasts 'of professionally managed, multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted oasis of knowledge'. This institute with a mission to redefine the system of education believes that the most profound learning that they can give to their students outside the textbooks is the importance of value, the strength of upright character and an ability to make difference that can set them apart.

Before meeting the student, an interview with their parents is a ‘must’

Sunita, along with group of other parents, waited in queue for an interview with the director of the institute. When her turn arrived, she was asked to deposit her purse and her mobile outside the room. (Were they afraid that she might record the conversation?) She entered a posh room and sat opposite him, admiring the expensive rings on his eight fingers. This gentleman had good taste and to afford that kind of luxury one needs to earn an attractive salary.

“I am a single mom, can you reduce the amount by few lakhs, maybe fifteen?” she pleaded, “Seventeen lakhs is lots of money and I cannot afford that kind of donation.”

“I am sorry” he replied , "We cannot reduce it. We don’t even reduce it for those people who say that they are over-burdened with 3 daughters and that they need to save money for their marriage, nopes, we don’t bargain at all. It is the same amount for everyone.”

Unabled to speak more words, she sat quietly, staring at the blank wall with tears glistening in her eyes. The director moved uncomfortably in his chair, changing his posture..

“However, there is a solution.” He said, “We will be conducting formal interviews for admission next month; all the students who have applied in our college will be called for an interview, if your son excels in that interview successfully then maybe, he will be spared.”

The interview was held for 2500 students and only 60 students were selected from merit list. She was lucky that her son was selected on merit.

“Miracle, this was pure miracle, I just couldn’t believe it” she says “I had gone all the way to Navi Mumbai to one particular temple to pray, actually I went to many more. I am sure God listened to my prayers. I used to emotionally blackmail God to help me fulfill my promise to my hubby”

After finishing two years, her son has a job now and is earning twenty-five thousand a month. She had paid only five lakhs for the course, plus the transport and the food which might take another two years for him to cover the cost of his education.

Yes! He might make his mark in the corporate world (as was promised by the institution's capability to deliver professional education that meets the highest standards of professionalism worldwide).

BUT.....What about those students who did not make it to the list of lucky 60?

Those who were forced to pay the bribe of seventeen lakhs plus five more lakhs as tuition fees plus the expenses of text books, transport and food? What about those desperate ones who borrowed money to fill those greedy bellies of prestigious institutes? How many more years will it take them to earn back that amount?

The foundation of their education was corruption and we should not be surprised if they will fight back with more corruption.

There is no end. me thinks OR Is there?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Real Beauty is Skin Deep

I, like millions and millions of people around the world, found my own mother the most beautiful woman in the world. Mom was a widow for last 40 years of her life and she only dressed in white.

Many years ago, when I lived in Surinam, Parimaribo, one of my friends invited me for a wedding ceremony. I asked my mom to accompany me. She wore a plain white silk sari, her hair rolled up into a small bun, and no make-up at all. For jewelry there was just a pearl necklace, 2 gold bangles and her diamond ear-rings (that she wore all the time). My friends were impressed. Next day when they met me, they told me that my mom was the most fashionable lady they had met. My jaw dropped. Fashionable? I thought my friends to be crazy. How could they call my mom fashionable when she was dressed so simple? She had no make-up on, no flashy clothes, no fancy handbag and no matching shoes. I looked closely at my mom to try to figure out fashionable element in her and discovered that my mom wore grace and a smile – maybe it was that what they perceived as elite. Who-so-ever met mom were always in awe with the way she carried herself.

Real beauty is skin deep, which is cliché but undisputable fact. One status I read recently on FB said “Search for truth and you shall find beauty, search for beauty and you shall find love, search for love and you shall find God, search for God and you shall have them all”

There are hundreds of ads on TV that show products that promises beautiful body, smooth and clear skin, long flowing hair, a group of admirers who will go ga-ga and drool over our physical beauty. I have met many people who fall for these products and who will swear that they will strive to be beautiful. I envy them when I see them dressed in most expensive finery that the money can buy. I know I cannot afford those things and even if I could, they won’t suit me. Every time I look into the mirror, it puts me into a pause mode. Not having a perfect figure is the big disadvantage. My mind drifts back to one nagging question “What will people think?” or maybe, I get conscious that some may feel sorry for me that nothing really suits me and am still trying so hard to keep abreast with fashion fads, which results into even more depressing mode than looking at the ugly figure in the mirror. I cannot change that so I stopped trying. I decided if anybody needs to see the beauty in me, they need to know me because I will continue to maintain the inner beauty instead.

Beauty has different meaning for different people, like in the video of Gul Panag, where she talks about women empowerment, of respecting oneself, which is also one facet of beauty, of building one’s pleasant quality.

Some time ago, one of my friends’ #FF me on Twitter as ‘beautiful people’ asking her followers to follow me. I was flattered. Now this friend is my virtual friend whom I have never met, (and not sure if I will ever meet her) so naturally she is not likely to learn about that image that haunts me everyday from the reflecting surfaces. For her, I am the person whom she knows through my writing abilities, through the range of my work with mentally challenged, through my choice of my friends’ circle, through my lens at photographs that I post on my walls. I have never tried to make any impression on anybody but sub-consciously, my thoughts get translated and interpreted into the messages that reach out to people who care.

A beautiful face can easily be Photo-Shopped on virtual wall, it just requires the right kind of tools to brush away the scars and blemishes but can our thinking and beliefs be hidden from the real world?

What kind of beauty is that if we wear it with an attitude? When we show no compassion for our fellow human being and are so occupied with our own self that we just don’t care?

We may have walked the red carpet with a crown on our head, have brought home thousand of gifts from our admirers during the beauty pageant, or even hosted ‘Get Gorgeous’ shows, but the fact is that besides being beautiful, we need to be draped with beautiful habits too. We throw away the dirty cotton swabs on our dresser after cleaning our face, the lipstick cover is missing, the talc powder is sprinkled everywhere and we wait for somebody else to clean our mess? Cleanliness is next to spirituality. If we cannot keep our environment clean then the bad vibrations that surround us, results in bad temper, restlessness and unstable mind. The bad mood seeps out of our thick face-pack showing the ugly chip of our character.

However rich our finery is, however expensive our cosmetics, the real beauty will never get a chance to shine its worth if it lies burried under the layers and layers of our bad attitude; the ugly lines of bad manners will continue to crinkle our face.

This Indiblogger contest is what kick started my thoughts on ‘real beauty’
Note: This post is written as a part of What does real beauty mean to you?? conducted by  Yahoo!! Real Beauty in association with Dove !!

and this is what I received as a gift hamper as a token of appreciation
Thank you Dove and Indiblogger.....

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Mother's Day celebration - 2011

All day long, since last two days, people have wished each other mother’s day. Two days before the big day a message was posted on friend's profile that said "In honor of Mother's Day let's change our profile picture to a picture of your Mother and keep it there till May 9th.I did and so have several others. If you will and like the idea, please repost as your status, so everyone gets the message and see how many Beautiful Mothers we can get on Facebook." It was a nice thought and I quickly added my mom's picture on my FB. The face-book was full of mothers’ picture and it seems quite nice to see all them on every friend’s profile.

I am not sure when Indians started celebrating this day; I don’t remember celebrating this day when I was in my teens or in early twenties. I don’t even remember buying my mom any gift or flowers to show my appreciation. When did this day become a day to celebrate in India? When did this idea travel to India?

On Google search it's said that Mother's Day was first suggested in the United States by Julia Ward Howe in 1872 as a day dedicated to peace after the Franco Prussian War. The holiday gained its popularity majorly due to the efforts of Anna M. Jarvis, who began a letter-writing campaign to garner support for its celebration.

I became aware of this day when I migrated to Spain. “Dia de Madre’ is the big day in Spain and is celebrated with much affection. The streets are full of shoppers and people get busy buying flowers and gift for their mom. In every coffee shop you see the bond, the glimmer, the affection. When I lived with my brother’s family, we would buy gifts for my mom and brother’s children would buy gift for their mother, while yours truly received none. (not even a tiny rose), my nephew waited for aunt's day so that he could buy me a gift too and often questioned why there was no 'Aunt's Day' to celebrate.

That is the pain of not mothering a child of your own. You remain an aunt to thousand kids but they have no reason to celebrate your existance.

You may have the best of qualities of bringing up your brothers’, sisters’ or cousins’ children, showering them with all the affection that you are capable of giving, by singing them nursery rhymes till your throat goes dry, inventing stories to keep them amused while their real mother is pampering herself with a spa, or listening to their sob stories when they are unable to sleep and are sharing your bedroom because their parents' privacy is more important, sometimes you may have even spent your extra cash on that brat for a computer-game which his mother had refused to buy for him, but on mother’s day it is strictly ‘real biological mother’ and even if they wished you with a soft peck on your cheeks, it will be out of politeness, but it just doesn’t seem real.

I visited my sister on mother's day and her unmarried sister-in-law complained that her brother’s sons failed to bring her any presents and that all her life she has doted on them but still the children only remember to get gift for their own mother. I told her to buy herself a gift instead of waiting for somebody to gift her. Expectation is the mother of bigger sin and the root cause of many disappointments. it is better to stand in front of a huge mirror and wish the hour of the day. The smile that reflect back at you is the true smile.

During the family chat with my cousins on blackberry, I off-handedly wished all my cousins ’A Happy Mother’s Day’ expressing the notion of how lucky they were to have children, my cousin wrote back these beautiful words which felt good to read. She wrote back “You don’t have to give birth to be a mother; you just need a heart that loves unconditionally, that’s when you are a mom, so here is to you, a woman with a heart full of love who mothers so may tender hearts and fill them with wisdom”

Yes it is true I have loved all the children, (I still do). I have enjoyed great moments with them, cooked their special meals, stayed up all night when they are sick (even wiped their runny nose) and have mothered them unconditionally but to expect them to wish me on this day, and to be disappointed if they fail to include me on this special day is like loving them ‘conditionally’.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Tenerife - My holiday home

Flowers grow wildly here, creating a colorful tapestry on the edges of the road; the dividers on the express highway have different shades of green dotted with colorful specks of tiny flowers. One side of the motorway runs parallel to the bluish sea while other side slopes upwards towards the green and brown hills. I have lived in the North of the island of Tenerife for ten years, and during those years all I have dreamt about is to come back to Mumbai, I could never adopt that place, although I cannot deny that it is one of most beautiful cities in the world but still, Mumbai has a special place in my heart and staying in any other part of the world does not hold my fascination. Whenever I had expressed my desire to my guest of moving back to Mumbai, they would always lecture me about my foolishness and implore me to change my mind and live comfortably there forever, but I just couldn’t. I found my peace only when I moved back to Mumbai.

Tenerife is now my holiday home and I visit it whenever I need to relax.

The day I reach the island, I take a walk down the street where my brother owns a store. People are very friendly here and I have known them for many years. Whenever they see me, they come out from their shops to have a friendly chat with me, they try to talk to me in broken English and I in broken Spanish, its fun when some of them will even cross the road from the other side of the road to just plant a peck on my cheeks and a big warm hug, a great feeling! yeah!

This is a small town called Icod de Los Vinos, My brother has a tourist business very close to 1000-years-old tree called ‘Drago Millinario’ (a dragon tree). Just opposite my shop is a plaza which has beautiful plants and trees with the botanical name printed under each tree. There is a small church and also a small cafeteria where they sell cortado, a strong coffee. During my regular walks in this plaza, I am always fascinated by this tree.

While in Mumbai, I suffer the most during the month of May, when not even the AC  can bring me any solace and it is during such moments that I miss Tenerife the most, its’ mild, spring climate with an average temperature of 20degrees centigrade throughout the year. Outside my balcony in Spain, I can see the mount Teide on one side that rises to more than three thousand meters and remains snow-covered for most part of the year and on other side of my house are the grapes and cabbage plantations that slope down gradually towards the ocean. Every evening I watch beautiful sunsets behind my kitchen windows, inbetween my daily chores of cooking and washing dishes.

Tenerife is the city of siestas and fiestas. Our shop opens at 9am then closes for snooze and lunch from 1pm to 5pm and then work a bit more, the day is done by 8pm. This sleepy town comes alive only during festivals which occur throughout the year. Spanish people just need a reason to celebrate, to dress up in their traditional clothes, carry their musical instruments, sing their folk song and dance till late nights.

Tenerife has more than 30 different festivals with Carnivals being the biggest event. The streets come alive during carnival season which lasts for more than 20 days, moving from one pueblo to another within the island. There are parades on the streets, with children and adults, all in festive mood enjoying during the selection of carnival queen in every suburb, drinking, dancing and partying at every lane. Another big festival that we all look forward to is Reye, when people go crazy shopping, and children are made to believe that three wise men had dropped their gifts for them on their way to bless baby Jesus. It fall on 5th of January and the business that we do on these days can cover our yearly expenses. Besides these there are many more festivals like Corpus Christi, when the streets are decorated with colorful sands and flowers creating a carpets on the road, San Andres, when every slope is occupied with youngsters sliding down on wooden planks, ´Dia de Candelaria´ when pilgrims all over Tenerife walk or trek to a shrine of Virgin Mary at Candelaria and many more festivals celebrated in different suburbs of the city. Cristo de calvario is the festival celebrated in my pueblo.

When in Tenerife, I would enjoy the most when my family would visit me. Many evenings we would walk down Puerto de la Cruz, near the portside and have hot chocolate, Sometimes I would take them to Santa Cruz de Tenerife for shopping and sight seeing and sometimes to South of Tenerife to enjoy the marine sports and night life.

There are many places of interest where one can enjoy with family and friends all day. Many holidays, we would get together in a bigger group and spend all day at the beach or at the park.

Yes, we did have fun and life was good. But then I wasn’t born there, so for me Tenerife will always be a holiday home.

How to get there:

Spain’s national airlines ‘IBERIA’ have regular services to Tenerife. Charter services are also available, any reputed agent can advice you. There are two airports in Tenerife. ‘Los Rodeos in the North and ‘Reina Sophia’ in the south of the island. Frequent buses ply from airport to different parts of the island. Tenerife is also linked to the other six Canary Islands by jetfoil services.

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