Finding my own meditation space.

 

A space where I can meditate.

There is a rain-tree in front of me outside the window where I sit and write in my mom’s house. It must be atleast 50 years old, towering six floors. It is my metaphor for life. Sometimes in full bloom, sometimes shedding leaves, the ups and downs resonate with my life too.

I have spent all my childhood study time here at this table, often daydreaming the hours away while looking at that tree, that mamma squirrel scurrying through its branches in search of food, the flaming yellow golden oriole perching itself close to some yellow leaves, the constant hoom-hoom of a Bharadwaj and the crimson forehead of the coppersmith barbet peeping through the green foliage of the leaves. There is so much activity going on there, but its still very peaceful. Very calm. When a sparrow comes and lands on the branch, the leaves dance, the branch sways a little and in just few seconds it regains its composure and stands very still, ready for the next bird to land on it. The squirrel sometimes tiptoes to the end of the branch and I worry that it will slip and fall down, but in the last 15 years, I have never seen that happen. I am sure it never happens, even when I am not looking, not worrying and waiting for her to go back to the stronger branches close to the main trunk.

My friend used to live in that building opposite ours, just behind the tree. Sometimes she would come to the balcony and we would wave at each other. It is quite far away, you can barely communicate with hand gestures, but I could see her smile. I would smile back, suddenly conscious now that she is looking at me. But that feeling of someone out there is looking out for you used to perk up my mood. She is married now and stays somewhere else, but I can still see her mom, doing her own things, oblivious to me watching her in a trance.

The home that I went to after I got married was on the second floor of an old building. Shaded by the branches of tall trees, it used to be very quiet. Then we shifted to another apartment, on the seventh floor. Now we are above all these trees and how we crave for their company!

Sometimes I still come here to my mom’s house just to sit in front of the window. In front of my tree. When work, the child, different opinions in my head make to much noise, I come here and sit. Meditate. Not that type of meditation where you have to forcefully focus on the inhale-exhale, but a more subtle one where you just have to sit and let each thought come, process it and file it away. Eventually the thoughts cease, there is nothing more that can be processed and then you become one. With the silhouette of the pigeon cleaning its feathers, with those powderpuff pink flowers you hadn’t seen earlier, the gracefully arching branches and those tender new leaves, their colour so different from the other leaves.

Every year around December- January, the tree sheds all its leaves. With every breeze, there is a rainfall of leaves. The bare tree makes my soul feel naked. As if a blanket was removed. The sun shines too brightly, the birds fly away, the sticks of the branches feel poky. But then tender new leaves sprout and within a week the tree is loaded. There is slight nip in the otherwise hot Mumbai air, the leaves are fresh, birds start to chirp and life feels full circle.

At times, I worry about the death of that tree. Someday someone will decide to reconstruct the building and chop down trees in the compound for more FSI, or my parents will shift to some other place and I will feel rootless. That space, my zen, my piece of mind are in some way all interconnected. One gets chopped down and I will come crashing down. I was telling this to my business mentor the other day, and he nudged me to work towards creating that space in my head. Imagining things so that my roots are firmly planted in my head. So that the comings and goings of the world wont affect me beyond a certain extent. I find it hard to do. It is easier to worship and have faith in a clay statue of a God rather than worshipping an abstract concept.

But for now I am surrounded by trees and plants and the people I love and need. We are branching out, nesting and growing. Spring cleaning, shedding off unwanted leaves and giving scope for new ideas to take root. And this is all that matters.

Cheers!

Rutvika

Aim higher but not very high.

When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.

When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.

Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.

Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right?  May be yes, or may be no.

My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.

MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.

MMI baking cupcakes

Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.

A business coach for life, or a life coach for business? Its quite the same.

Professionally, for the last year or so, I felt as if I am at the foot of a hill trying to climb my way up. I am trying to bring more sense and structure into our company and struggling to find time for fulfilling my dream of writing.

About 10-11 months back when we realised that the growing business needed to graduate from a family run enterprise into a more corporatised structure, we were confused where to begin. Suddenly everything felt as if needed to be over-hauled. Outlook had to be changed before bringing in any systemic changes. Our company Anchrom was started 38 years back by my father and mother-in-law and most people in the company are older than Akshay and me and have much more experience at Anchrom.You can imagine the reluctance of people to adapt to change, I am myself averse to it. But some things have to be done. I did not know where to start. Days and nights were spent worrying. Anxiety, acidity and heart-burn were not far behind. Thats when my father-in-law suggested that we talk to Mr. Uday Arur – his business coach and long-time friend and mentor. With 23 years of holding managerial position in pharma companies and then being a business and life coach for 13 years, we knew he was perfect for us. But what startled me was that during these 4 months of coaching, he pushed me to find the answers which lay within. He believed, like any good mentor should, that I am fully capable of doing the things that I want and need to do and that its only a matter of going towards it full throttle.

Now I am a staunch believer of conversations and the fact that talking can help sort every difficulty. Sometimes is in the form of talking to my mom/husband/best friend or sometimes it is introspection or writing in a journal. Or sometimes talking to a mentor/ a coach who will guide you through it. While doing CA or while even growing up as a young girl I never wanted to work in my own business. Coming from middle class salaried background, I always wanted to do a job, where monthly salary is guaranteed. But life as we know it – always has different plans. I fell in love with a guy I knew from school, got married and started working in our own group of companies. And I terribly enjoy it. The process of building something together is exhilarating for me. But it comes with its own set of challenges, a very different working environment. My father-in-law, the MD and founder of the company, always supports Akshay and me in the decisions we take and gently guides us if we are not seeing a side of the story. Still, I always self-doubted my decisions. I lacked the confidence to make rules and implement them. But Uday sir convinced me that I should go ahead with full authority. He asked questions to make me delve deeper, consistently kept on asking me to examine where a particular fear was coming from, sometimes listed to my rants about misogyny for hours, took notes to make sense of my ramblings and constantly pushed me one step further towards believing in myself. I see that I am a new person now. I dress up well while coming to the office (even though it is just 5 minutes away), I don’t feel shy about being assertive. I also find that people have started taking me seriously, my staff and colleagues seem to be more forthcoming. Do they see the clarity in my head or is it that I just feel they do because I believe in myself now? I don’t know yet, but I love being in this positive frame of work and plan to leverage it to our benefit.

One day, Uday Sir bluntly told us to not take our acidity and stress as a badge of honour. It is in-fact something that needs to be worked on and eliminated to be able to work most productively. And ever since I stopped believing that high amount of stress = high productivity, I have stopped having headaches. I feel calmer and poised. I find time to write, follow my passions and still steer the company in the direction we want it to take.

A few weeks back, a fellow mentor from MMI asked me to recommend her some books to navigate through a rough patch of life. I am going to urge her to find a mentor, a coach who will help her. Who she can talk to without being afraid of judgements. Who will help her find a way for herself, because as we all know, some of the most sticky problems in life get sorted only by looking inward. The answer is right there, someone just needs to show her a way to unravel it.

Meanwhile, I would love to hear your stories of your favourite mentors.

Take care,

xoxo

Rutvika

Getting mad makes me more productive!

Scowling.jpg

This is how we scowl.

Anger is good. Occasional bouts of suppressed anger makes me a very productive person.

This weekend I was mad at the husband for some silly reason and look at what I accomplished! Cleaned my cupboard shelves, sorted and gave away a stack of clothes that I don’t fit into anymore (and gave up hope that I will fit into them ever again), re-arranged the stationery drawer, discarded chipped cups and saucers, cleaned the fridge and threw away all expired masalas, read through the articles which I have been marking ‘to-read’ for over a month and now I am producing this blog-post. So you see how insanely beneficial anger is? And all of this done in utter silence. Beneficial for the husband too.

Earlier when I got angry, I would study. Take notes vigorously. Solve difficult accounting problems with lightning clarity. In fact one of the main reasons I cleared CA final in the first attempt was because of a heartbreak which had left me angry beyond belief. And hence I studied. Cut away from the rest of the world and study all the time. With a zeal that calm often cannot bring.

Before that, as a teen, anger used to manifest itself by shouting and ended up in crying. Poor mom used to be at the receiving end and would patiently wait for me to sort it out myself. And offer a lap to cry eventually. But once you get married and have children of your own, you realise that resorting to screaming is not really an option. So all those emotions simmer inside and the brunt is faced by cupboards, windows et all.

The husband in this case is a very peaceful non-fighting kind of a person. And I have been told often that I can get nasty and personal when I fight. Doesn’t seem to be the case in my head, in fact, anger gives me the courage to say the things I wouldn’t have said otherwise. But may be some things are not to be said. Ever. Anyway, the best course of action I have realised is doing something else and letting the anger pass. Keeping my mouth tight shut till then and not collapsing into a heap of tears in front of the child.

Last weekend at the Mentor Me India group mentoring session, as an exercise in self-awareness we were asked to share one incident when we were very angry. My 12 year old mentee Gauri very seriously told me she hates it when her family prefers boys and have no qualms in saying it. Boys better than girls. Wishing that they had a boy child instead of two girls. The male cousins get money for books, sweets immediately and the girls have to make do without it. Etc. etc.  Thats a story many Indian girls will identify with. Some families are subtle, some more direct. But one time I got really pissed off in recent times was when the nurse where I delivered my son told us to give her more ‘baksheesh’ since it was a son. When its a girl, they don’t bother the parents, but in case of a boy, we should please include the nurses in our joy. Well, I wanted to smack her. In my delirious post-delivery state that is one thing I regret not doing.

But mostly otherwise I function like a well oiled steam engine when mad. Huffing and puffing, but going forward at full speed.

Any vishesh tippani? I would be happy to hear.

xoxo,

Rutvika

 

 

A new role in life : Mentoring a 12 year old girl

MMI school

At the school with MMI mentors and mentees

I have a little piece of news to share with you.

A couple of months back, I interviewed to become a mentor for a 12 year old girl through Mentor Me India (MMI). I got selected, went through two induction programmes and soon a new relationship in my life began. I was nervous before the interview and really wanted to get selected. Then I was super anxious the day I met my mentee, Without any prior experience with kids that age, I bit my nails worrying if she would like me and I would like her. But the guys at MMI are awesome, they tried to match the mentor mentee pairs in such a way that we would have some common interests. I fell in love with my little young girl the minute I saw her. I am not romanticising it, but do you know that unexplained tug at your heart when you meet someone for the first time and feel a connection? This little girl, Gauri, came right towards me and held my hand. All my anxieties flew out of the window.

This mentor mentee program is designed on the lines of Big Brother- Big Bister program in various countries, where a brother mentors a young boy and a sister mentors a young girl over the course of minimum one year. These relationships go beyond a year once the mentor-mentee pairs get involved in each other’s lives. But the initial commitment is for a minimum one year. MMI ties up with schools working in low income communities and the school is the meeting ground for first few months. These mentees are from an economically poor background and most people around them are employed at unskilled jobs with very less or no education. To have a mentor in life is to have some didi or bhaiyya who can show them what they can achieve with right education and awareness of the world. With professional guidance from MMI team, I am sure all of us mentors can make some difference in the lives of these mentees.

Gauri and Rutvika

Left – Gauri’s drawing of me. Right – Me drawing her.

On the second day after I met Gauri for the first time, I got a call from an unknown number. It was her calling me from a PCO. She had taken my number but her dad doesn’t have a cellphone, so I didn’t expect she would call me right next day. She said that she missed me and was thinking about me a lot. I can say I miss you to someone only after careful deliberate preparation and here this little girl easily told it to me- her didi who was non-existent till yesterday. The enormity of the situation struck me. These girls and boys have hardly anyone who take an active interest in their life. Their parents, who are overworked themselves can provide the basic necessities, but hardly anything more. Sure there are exceptions, good and bad, but generally these kids are one among a lot and neglected most of the time. So when a didi/ bhaiyya seems to be interested in them, they are drawn like magnets. We were appraised about all of these factors at the induction and the MMI handbook is very handy, but in a real life scenario, you are on your own.

I told Gauri on the phone that she should concentrate on her studies and that I will see her the next weekend.

Cut to the next Saturday, all the little girls whose mentors were not going to come that day, or all those whose mentors were late even by 5 minutes, were crying. Literally crying with a flood of tears. The teachers tried to placate them, but still Ganga-Jamuna was free flowing from their eyes. The boys on the other hand tried to show how they were unperturbed and continued to monkey around. I was late by 15 minutes (Note to self : never to be late) and Gauri told me that she thought I would do ‘khaada’ which means an ‘unexplained absence’ in Marathi. I told her I would never do a khaada, if for some reason I am unable to come, I will tell it to her in advance. She accepted it, but oh how do I reach her since she does not have access to a cellphone?! God only knows. Thankfully, one MMI co-ordinator is always available on call to help me reach out to the mentee, so we will have it covered.

Last Saturday it was mentors-meet-parents day. I met her grandma, her mother passed away a few months back in an accident. When she told me about her mom, this little girl of 12, she was very upset. I was at a loss of words. I am a mother to a toddler and often have nightmares about being in an accident and imagining what my son would do without me. Even the thought makes me dizzy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am paired with this girl. Maybe I can understand her situation better, but pray tell me, how do you understand something that is your worst fear?

Her grandma has taken charge of the household since Gauri’s mom passed away. She spoke fondly of her daughter-in-law. Later they also took me to their home, a cozy, welcoming house with several photos of different gods stuck to the walls. 2-3 of her cousins, similar to her in age, came to ask me if they can get a didi and bhaiyya too. I told them that I am Gauri’s didi, but the school along with MMI can get them a didi/ bhaiyya.

It is wonderful being a part of something larger than our self and little circle of things. I hope the time we spend together can be of some value to my mentee and that we grow together.

Meanwhile, if you know how 12 year old girls behave, what activities they like, what stuff to do with them, good economical places to show them, will you let me know?

Thank you!

Rutvika