Friday, January 31, 2014 15 comments


There was a time in my teens and  twenties when being forty seemed like being really old! I had this feeling that it was an age meant only for parents, professors, bosses, uncles and aunts. I was sure that I would  die before I was that “old”!! But strangely I am alive ( and kicking!) today and not feeling all that “old”!

In fact I would say that being forty and plus is a wonderful age to be!  For starters, you are not worried about things that bother you in your twenties- your looks, whether people like you, whether you are wearing the right clothes, saying the right things. You are at this stage where you are ready to tell the world ( and your inlaws) to get lost if it (they)  is ( are)  not willing to accept you for what you are. You know who you are and that is the most important thing. 

By the time we hit our forties, we know what are our strengths and weaknesses. We have had our share of success and failure – professionally and personally. We are clear about who our friends are and we no longer waste time cultivating relationships that we know for a fact have no future! 

As a woman, being forty plus has made me completely unselfconscious. I am very surprised when I think back to that  time in my twenties and thirties when I used to be terribly embarrassed to be seen using a toilet by someone male ( don’t ask me why. I suppose I wanted to convey the image of being someone who was devoid of bodily functions).I think at some level I consider myself “desexed” now . I have worked in all male environments/ teams and these days I find that it hardly bothers me that I might be the only woman somewhere. But people tell me that this feeling of having transcended gender might actually be dangerous because I might just think I am safe in some place while in reality I might be vulnerable as a woman to the same dangers.
I guess life has the ability to either build our confidence or smash it depending upon how we cope with what it deals out to us. A lot depends on the people around us and the support they offer. I have been very lucky in this regard that I have had a family that was supportive whenever I was down and this has helped me develop the confidence that I have now. 

But it is not just confidence that we develop in our forties. We also learn patience and tolerance which makes life easier for us. I have learnt to suffer fools gladly and pick my battles. There used to be a time when I would lash out at anyone for anything. But today I think if it is indeed important to waste my or energy on such a person? People tell me I have “mellowed” down. I would like to treat it as a fact and not like the compliment that it was meant to be.

The forties are also the stage in a woman’s life when she starts exploring possibilities that she had never thought of until then. It is actually the time that she starts thinking beyond home and kids. The number of women my age who come to the gym that I go to is a sure indication of this fact!  It tells us that we are willing to invest time and resources towards our good health and fitness. There are many women who switch careers in their forties, some women become entrepreneurs at this stage while others might do something that they had never had the opportunity to do when they were younger.  It is not just the time that many of us might have now in our hands. It is also the confidence that comes with having lived life for four decades and more. I want today to do  things that I never thought of when I was younger- I want to climb mountains, do paragliding, learn to dance the salsa and write a novel. My daughter is completely embarrassed when I talk about this ( "Dance the salsa! With whom" ? ) because I guess she is now at that stage in life when being forty is like being “old”. 

However it is not as if the forties are without their share of worries. We worry less about ourselves and more about our children. Will they make it is one question. We try to ensure that they do not make the same mistakes that we did. But it is not easy to get them to understand that. They  have to make their own mistakes and (hopefully) learn from them- but that folks is another story in this circle of life!
Monday, January 27, 2014 9 comments

Pride vs Embarrassment – Celebrating the 65th year of the Republic!

Today we celebrated our 65th Republic day. Like every year, I switched on the television to watch the  parade. It never fails to give me a sense of pride to watch our armed forces salute their Supreme Commander- the President of India! My eyes fill up when I see respects being paid at the “Amar Jawan Jyoti” and I absolutely love the tableaus from the various states depicting various facets of our culture!

I have been seeing these celebrations for over four decades now but I never tire of it! It has a strange nostalgia value for me. I associate it with the cold winters and foggy mornings of Calcutta when I used to go with my father to the Red Road to watch the Parade. I have never been to Raj Path but ever since the advent of television I have always watched the parade there, taking in the little tidbits of information about the various regiments as they march past.

I sang along as familiar tunes “Sare Jahan se acchha” “ Kadam Kadama badhaye ja” were being played by the bands . Finally, as the national anthem began to be played, I automatically stood up! I was in my living room with my daughter. She seemed surprised. I had to tell her “ It is the national anthem playing” . Her logic- “ But it is only on TV”.  I had the feeling that she was rather embarrassed with all this display of what she considers my “patriotism”.  Needless to say, I am embarrassed by the lack of pride and a certain nonchalance that I see in in her generation when it comes to the nation!

I remember a neighbor in Calcutta narrating to us the story of the Chittagong armory raid of  1930. All of us listened spell bound and I could feel goose pimples as the story hit its climax. Though his narrative abilities were not very great, we somehow felt that we were there and we had watched it happen. There was a movie made on this event a few years ago. But it was a miserable flop! I guess that is a pretty accurate indicator about what the present generation feels about our history. Yet, we seem to remember and re live rather unpleasant parts of our  history like the communal riots during partition! 

While not denying the fact that the India of today is at a completely different development milestone when compared to where she was during my growing up years, I still feel that the absence of pride in ones nation is inexcusable. And it is not just pride in the country that is missing but there is also a certain lack of knowledge about it that pains me.  This is particularly ironic in these days of Google and Wikipedia! For many children in their Xth standard the major Iron and Steel plants, the Multipurpose projects across the country are just information to be memorized and regurgitated. The Southern kids struggle with words like Sundargarh and Jharia while the northern kids might be struggling with names like Vishveshwariah !  These are not places that mean anything to them. For many who may be in schools affiliated to the state board these may not even be places on a map because for them their history and geography education begins and ends with their state! 

I think over the years there are a few things that have made the country insignificant in the minds of the current generation. The first reason being a certain lopsided focus of school education which has relegated history and geography as insignificant subjects! This is really sad because it is these subjects that help a child develop knowledge and pride in the country.  The second reason I would say are parents.  Most parents today of my generation are not really bothered about the country. Those who have not physically abandoned it already by migrating to other countries spend their time telling their kids that they should study well and “go abroad” – the message being “ there is no future here for you” ! I find this later attitude difficult to understand because India today is actually the “place to be in” !!! And  the other reason being a certain narrowing of focus where each state is unable to think beyond its boundaries. This is particularly true of states like Tamil Nadu which refuse to integrate with the rest of the country in spirit using the excuse of its Dravidian identity to keep itself distinct failing to understand that in India we have both a Unitary and Federal system of government. The leaders of these states assume such a larger than life status that the President of India or the Prime Minister pales in comparison! People living in these states have more knowledge about the United States than about the neighboring states. Their aspiration is to join the IT sector and go for “off site” ( or is it “on site” ?)  jobs in the US or Europe, live in ghetto like situations mingling with only those from their respective states. 

I remember my father telling me “ Yes, life is difficult here but it is up to us to make it better. Running away from the country is not going to solve its problems”. He had been offered an opportunity when he had graduated as an engineer to go to Canada. However he wanted to stay on and participate in what he calls “nation building”.  It took him far away from his state but he always maintains that the entire country is his home. It was this feeling that he instilled in us and we have felt similarly.. loving every place in this country that we have lived in! Every language was our language and every culture was ours. We have never felt chauvinistic about “our language” or “our culture”!! 

As a widely traveled  Indian of  my generation, I can tell you this, there is nothing like living in a country like ours. We may  have our problems but we are also free in expressing our dissatisfaction with the system openly without the fear of persecution. Democratic systems are still operational in our country. Our mighty armed forces have never tried to take over the reins of governance. The Judiciary still commands respect and there is complete freedom of press. The citizens have the right to protest and question and in many cases answers have also been forthcoming. We have eradicated polio from our land and literacy rates of women are on the rise. We do not have to depend on food aid from any external sources. We have also perfected rocket science! And all of this we have done in just over six decades!  Isn’t it something to be proud of ? 

Why is not “cool” to be patriotic? Why is joining the armed forces not seen as an interesting career option? I was proud today to see so many girls and women marching along with the men and saluting the President! Isn’t it an indicator of the options that are opening up for all? Is a salary the only thing that is important? How about the pride that comes with wearing a uniform and protecting your country? How many Indians know that during the Republic Day Parade while the entire armed forces salute the President, it is the President who salutes those who have won the Param Veer Chakra?

I guess as the country progressed over the decades, our values have also gone for a toss! We like to call ourselves citizens when it comes to demanding our rights but why is it that we are ready to divorce this identity when it comes to defining our identity vis a vis the nation. After all, we are not different from our country. Ours is a democracy – government of the people, for the people and by the people!

 ( Wishing all my Fellow Citizens a Happy Republic Day)