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.

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Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

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

Of stories that touch the heart and don’t let you go.

 

Our class teacher in school Ms. Nelson used to read out stories from the Bible to us, in the first hour called ‘Value Education’. I had very little understanding  of the Bible and don’t remember most of the stories, but I remember being enchanted when she used to read out about Jacob and Esau, David and Goliath. A short and plump Keralite christian, she used to wear more gold to school than my mom wore to weddings. When she sat there in the classroom on a wooden chair, sunlight shining in her hair from a window on the right, she looked angelic. The power of stories was manifesting itself through her.

I have been lucky to have had many people tell me stories. From contemporary books, from mythology, from their own works. My grandma often used to tell me stories of Shivaji Maharaj, as grandmothers often do – at bedtime. The dashing Hirkani who climbed down a dangerous fort in the dark of the night because her baby was alone at home at the foothills, ‘Gad aala pun Sinha gela’ story where Tanaji Malusare left his son’s wedding to go re-capture Kondana fort for Shivaji, how Shivaji cut three of Shaista Khan’s fingers in a skirmish and escaped and so on.  Bright, fierce and valorous stories perfect for a little girl. And the smell of my grandmother’s cotton saree and as I lay close to her.

Now in adulthood the stories continue, but are rarely fictional. Stranger than any others I have heard before, but true. A baby who died while taking birth because the family was opposed to a C-section, a young girl who gets bullied in the school because she is different, a teenage boy who slips into depression and doesn’t know how to overcome it, stories of long unhappy marriages, ungrateful kids and the list is endless. Sometimes there is a dark cloud hanging over me and I can’t see through it.

The silver lining to all this is my 2 year old child and the stories he tells. Of the plants he planted with his grandfather and how there was a bud which bloomed into a flower. Of Jugnu, the little boy from Vikas Khanna’s book who loses his rolling pin on the way back from school. Of fishes who are having a birthday party and giraffes who call him Daddy. Life would have been difficult if it was made up of only adults.

And then yesterday I watched the movie Room, adapted from a book by the same name. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I had read the book a year back and knew the plot, the ending, everything. But I couldn’t stop crying for the entire two hours of the movie. I struggled between abandoning the movie and going to bed to hug my sleeping child and watching this hauntingly realistic story of Joy and her baby Jack who were held in captivity for several years. Its a story of their escape and of finding themselves in this big world. There was one scene when Joy says to her boy Jack that she is not a good Ma. Jack without skipping a beat tells her ‘May be, but you are the Ma.’ You should watch the movie and feel it for yourself how that line pierces the most vulnerable part of your heart.

There will always be two types of stories in this world. The good and the bad. The ones which make you cry. With pain or with joy. Of little girls and strong women, of boys and their banter. The ones which make you recoil from the storyteller and some which will make you hug them. We cannot hide from any of them. All that we can do is listen with an open mind and be kind with our words. And make our own stories and tell them. So someone out there says ‘this too shall pass’ or someone else sees a light at the end of a dark tunnel on hearing your words. We have all been through it, in varying measures and different circumstances. But we are here, now. And that’s what matters.

Next month I will be visiting my granny, my only surviving grandparent. I am going to ask her to tell me a story. She will start with one where her old friend was abandoned by her son, but I will tell her to stop. Please ajji, not this one. Tell me one where everyone is happy, everything feels good. “You know too much about the world now to believe any of those” is what she will tell me. I will sigh and put my head in her lap. Lets go back to Shivaji Maharaj, ajji. And perhaps we will.

Rutvika

Going to school : Mom is more petrified than the child

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Arjun is two years old now. Which means he will soon have to start play school, nursery etc etc and get in the rigamarole of people telling him how to do stuff. Not to say that we don’t, but he barely listens to us and convinces – coaxes, pampers or ignores us and goes his own way. He has also learnt fake crying and does it with eyes wide open to check our reaction. But all of this won’t be tolerated in school. One playgroup teacher in fact even told us that she doesn’t let kids in her class use the toilet except in the designated break time. Kids need to learn discipline. I am not sure how she imposes this on snotty 3 years olds, but we excluded that play school from our (very)short-list.

In the last two weeks, we have visited 5 playschools in our area. And rejected each one of them. For very peculiar reasons. The first one had a “counsellor” on board. They identify what problem your child has and direct them to specialist doctors on their panel. The administrator of that school proudly listed the kids whose problems were identified – ‘A has sensory problem’, ‘B has walking problem’, ‘C has talking problem’ and so on. I am sure they will find some problem with my boy – “not a party-goer, hates loud noise” might be topping the list. And while I understand that adults can sometimes need counselling, the idea to have a counsellor for toddlers rebuffs me. This nursery struck off.

In contrast to this one, we went to a traditional playgroup, the one which has been around in the same place for last 25 years. Replete with leaking taps and paint peeling off the walls. They believed in keeping it simple. And while it ensured that they had no hyper specialised doctors on board, I kept wondering if the carpet was damp with fresh water or umm, otherwise. Those guys need to refurbish to let in a lot more light and make it habitable. Another one neatly erased from the list.

The other two were tiny, looked like covered parking spots. Basically set up in place of shops on the ground floor of residential buildings. They were sparkly and bright with animal murals painted on the walls. A little play area with plastic slides and building blocks.  But I wasn’t comfortable with either of them. I can’t say why other than the fact that it felt I would be leaving my baby in a converted shop.

Perhaps, I am just not ready to let my baby go out into the world. I am wary of public scrutiny. If he is very active, has ten things up his sleeve, he will be labelled ‘hyper-active’, if he sits quietly in the room, he will be termed ‘anti-social’. Whatever he does will not be confirming to the usual standards of normalcy. And with that people will judge me. As a mother. Me and my husband as parents. And even his grand-parents because he spends a lot of time during the day with them when we go to work. Now I have read enough self help books and articles and TED talks to know that I shouldn’t let it matter to me. But how do I protect my boy from all of this?

But finally, this weekend we found a school which prima facie seems to be in line with our beliefs. More focus on books, less on gadgets; a teacher who didn’t squirm when Arjun refused to enter the school, one who wasn’t shouting instructions but talking softly, giving importance to sending at-least one fruit with the tiffin box, etc etc. In isolation these are little things, shouldn’t matter much, but the whole as a belief system matters a lot.

Like most babies, Arjun is a sensitive little dude. Cries when Jack fell down the hill, or Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. We have to make amendments in the song and assure him that Jack and Humpty Dumpty are both okay. He is the one with a lot of hugs, lot of Eskimo kisses and is constantly making us tea, cupcakes, dosa with his plastic kitchen set. He is currently obsessed with mannequins and wants to go and touch all of them outside the shops in the market. Tells us that the mannequins are not real but believes when I say that they sleep at night and we can’t go see them. He is weird that way. But I would go to any length to protect his imagination, his story telling and his firm conviction that his baby cream can cure anything in the world.

And I am sure eventually he will be a master in self-help and give gyaan to us, but for now, it is our responsibility to take care of this little Peppa Pig.

Love,

Rutvika

The Paradox of Choice : Choosing the best one, or the good enough?

 

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Yesterday morning I read a brilliant piece in The Atlantic about Choice Overload. A peculiar phenomenon of our times where we have too many options- optimising that choice and selecting the best one suited to us is nerve-wracking. I wish I had read it before, I would have been a happier person at Japur Literature Festival over the last weekend.

After 7 years of ‘I-wish-i-could-go-to-JLF’, I was finally there. For three days, attending about 6-7 sessions or panel discussions each day. It was all great, you must have seen a countless number of articles about JLF floating everywhere, I won’t go deeper into it. But my mind was constantly in a dilemma. I couldn’t sit still in any one session, couldnt concentrate on what was happening and as per the new terminology, I was always having FOMO (Fear of missing out, you guys!).

Two days before going to Jaipur, I sat down with a printed list of sessions, googled the authors-speakers and highlighted those I wanted to attend. Before going, I knew exactly what I was likely to attend. My first morning at JLF began with the ethereal Swanand Kirkire singing O ri Chiraiyaa, Baanwara Mann and I was moved to tears on a cold winter morning while sipping the kullad-wali chai. I felt at peace and ready for the next 3 days of literary delights. In the next session Gulzaar saab released his book ‘Suspected Poetry’ and read a few verses. Thats when it hit me for the first time. 20 minutes into the one hour session, I started fidgeting. If Gulzaar saab was only reading the poetry out loud, I could just buy the book and read it myself. I should have rather attended the panel discussion on ‘Understanding Indian Aesthetics’. There was no way to leave that packed lawn venue, neither could I sit back and relish Gulzar’s baritone, his urgency of words, the composition and the pauses. I was berating myself for not choosing wisely and not having gone to some other session to begin with.

 

The same feeling kept creeping back throughtout the entire day. No matter what Mridula Koshi was saying about volunteering and her community library Deepalaya in Delhi, or when Shubha Vilas was explaining the difference between ananda and sukh, or when Nassim Nicholas Taleb was talking about disruptions and the black swans currently in the society, I was  frantically checking my printed list of sessions to see if I should leave this one and sneak into another session, or which one to attend next and so on. I was supremely exhausted at the end of the day. I wonder if it was from listening to so many peope in a day or from trying to be in many places at the same time.

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Next morning I accidentally landed up in Nandana Sen‘s interactive book release, because I was drawn towards her. Her persona, how beautifully and articulately she speaks and how gorgeous she looks. There were about 15 kids on the stage with her and she read out from her children’s illustrated book – Not Yet!. Watching all those kids and her on stage made me miss my baby boy back home so much, that I decided to get that book author-signed for him and read it out aloud just like Nandana was doing. Jumping like a monkey, crawing like a crow – all inane acts but they filled me with joy. I was sure missing Chandrahas Choudhary moderating a discussion on how the page is mightier than the screen, but so what?! Monkeys and giraffes and little kids are way more exciting.

After that I grabbed a bowl of steaming hot Maggi and sat on the steps watching multicolored paper fans put up near the entrance. I was constantly telling myself – ‘Relax, be at ease. This is not a competition to hear the most ideas. Take in a few and let it sink in.’ And saying so I ran to hear the author Rob Schmitz read from his book ‘The Secret of Eternal Happiness’. Left it mid-way and ran back to hear Amitabh Kant talk about Incredible India. Oh the pains of having too many interesting things to do all once.

I thought something was wrong with me. Days like these where you can indulge in yourself are rare once you have a baby. May be I was trying to pack it all in, really did not want to miss out on a single minute. I wished I did not have so many options to begin with, I wished there was only one auditorium/lawn venue that you could attend for that day and you had to sit through it. Without any other alternative. And thats excatly what I did for the third day.

There were two beautiful lawns at the Diggi palace and the weather was brilliant, so I picked the lawns over sitting cooped up in an auditorium. Simple. I attended 3 sessions in each lawn, got the best seats since I was already there and got to hear a wide variety of topics. Some even outside my comfort zone. From demonetisation to nutrition of the girl child to the art of writing a novel and creating fiction. I was composed, took a lot of notes and generally felt much better. Inspired and confident.

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A rollercoaster 3-day ride, it was difficult to articluate what was happening. Until I read the article from Atlantic. I was trying to be a “maximizer” trying to find the best session for myself. Instead it’s so much better to be a “satisficer”, select a good enough session and enjoy whatever is in front of you.

Different things work for different people, but I know for sure that this one works for me. How about you? Do you thinks it is okay to be a satsficer or is it essential to be a maximiser? Or as my father-in-law always says : “Yes and No. Depends.”

Cheers,

Rutvika

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Oh baby, don’t grow up so fast.

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Arjun, my almost two year old boy is at an age, where he can make sense of the little things going on around him. He can explain , argue, try to convince or throw a tantrum as the last resort. Many times he says things to us which we have previously said to him. When I hurt my finger with a kitchen knife, he came running with his baby lotion and told me to apply it and it will get well very soon. When his father coughed during a meal, he quickly pointed out that he should take smaller bites and eat slowly. Stuff that we tell him sooner or later comes back at us. He knows which clothes I wear to work and which clothes on the weekends. So last Saturday when I wanted to go meet a friend for lunch, I told him I am going to office and you take a nap with your baba. He looked at my jeans and gleefully exclaimed that I am not wearing office clothes, so I can’t go to the office. It’s hard to say anything to that when you feel half proud about your child’s supposed intelligence and half stupid to be so simplistic that a 2 year old has already figured you out. But that’s what it is. Many times we have to talk in spellings now, because he knows his mother tongue Marathi very well, and can also pick up on most commonly used English words. Often you will find us talking like this – ‘Should we take him s-w-i-m-m-i-n-g in the evening?’ or ‘Don’t bring that a-p-p-l-e in front of him till he finishes dinner’ et cetera.

But this baby boy is wary of loud places and crowded rooms. Any new people make him nervous and he starts saying he wants to go home. When I took him to a Mentor Me India meeting a few weeks back because no one was at home to baby-sit him, he cried non-stop till I quickly called an Uber to go home. But as soon as I showed him that an Uber was on the way, he stopped crying. A fellow mentor asked him that if you understand what is happening then why are you crying? Arjun replied with a wail to ensure that I don’t cancel the cab. He was uncomfortable there for whatever reasons, and he was communicating it to me in the best way he could. Now so many times it happens that I want to literally and figuratively run out of a place. Especially dark rooms with small windows. I have yet not been able to articulate why. Then how can I expect him to do that? But nevertheless I feel exasperated at times and wish he was more ‘social’. More like me than his dad who also needs a lot of alone time.

Currently Arjun’s grandma has gone to the USA for a few weeks to spend time with her granddaughter. Naturally he is quite upset that his beloved ajji can’t be seen anywhere. Without any frame of reference of a month or a week, I was worried how to tell him that she will come back soon, but after many days and many nights. He cried for the first two days but now he tells himself every morning that ajji has gone to US to bring his cousin Sara to Mumbai so that they can play together. Suddenly he misses her less, because it’s for a special cause. It is so that he gets back not only ajji but also Saru-tai, his cousin. Poor baby Arjun is set for another heartbreak in a few weeks, but for now he is waiting. And valiantly assures me that ajji will come back soon when I say that I miss her too.

These new generation kids are really smart I tell you. Making sense of the world faster than us. My two and half year old nephew can unlock any cellphone, take selfies and photos. And if there is no password, he can even play his favourite Youtube videos! My friends’ similar aged son can identify cars whizzing by. His toy cars include a Lamborghini, Bugatti, Ferrari etc. And I can’t even recognise my white Activa scooter without seeing the number plate. I often wonder how can we match up to these kids? How do we keep them stimulated without binding them to dozens of activity classes? If you have any tips, I am very keen to hear.

And of course things are not so sensible every day. There are times when Arjun is crying unconsolably because he wants to wear the same soiled diaper from the dustbin or he has had a bad dream at 3 am and wants to go to the park right now to see the horse or some other absurd idea at an ungodly time and I want to disappear from this life. Wake up in another era when I had my brain to myself and was not muddled with concern, worry, and a whole another individual. But then that’s why parenting is a two person job (mostly). Akshay takes over and asks me to shoo away when I am running out of patience. It true that it takes a village to raise a child. If it were just the baby and me I would have gone crazy long back.

End of this month little baby turns two, he just switched from rear-facing baby car seat to front facing big-boy seat. I cling to his baby ways of doing things, his sweet smell, the way he asks me to pick him up and hold him, the way he wil hold my face in both his hands and prevent me from talking to anyone else. Because it won’t last long. Soon his non-stop chatter will turn into reserved one-word sentences. Cuddles will be hard to come by and the grown up air will surround him. I better enjoy each moment now, and go give him a nose-to-nose Eskimo kiss. Right now.

Xoxo.

Rutvika

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Thanksgiving in San Francisco. 2015.

Last Thanksgiving was a first of many things for me. The first time I ate turkey, celebrated Thanksgiving, Arjun – my little baby boy’s first US trip, the first time Arjun and I took a 24 hour flight just by ourselves, meeting my baby brother (he’s 25, but for me he is still a baby!) since he went to the US to study, winning money at a poker game, a miraculous reflex catching Arjun mid-air when he fell off a high table, another night when he rolled under the bed and my heart skipping a beat when we couldn’t see him for a second, eating ice cream on a cold windy Californian day, drinking beer in a park, listening to Thanksgiving speeches where my young brothers-in-law morbidly thanked the turkey for dying so we could feast on him, 80 year old grandmother feeling thankful about being able to travel to US from India, the first time Arjun and Sara- my baby niece played and fought with each other, and the first time my heart felt thankful for the days of our lives that are filled with family and food.

There’s a lot to be thankful about. I agree that the world is full of mishaps, there are too many wrong-doings and doers which can be agitating, difficulties big and small interlacing the fabric of life. But the fact that we are here, you and I, physically healthy and mentally fit, thats enough reason to be thankful about.

We are teaching Arjun to say thank you when someone does something nice for him. He has taken it very seriously. Each time, he extends his hand, tilts his head to one side, smiles and says Thank you. Thank you grandma for the delicious breakfast, thank you dad for wrapping me in two towels after the bath so I don’t feel cold, thank you grandpa for letting me pluck flowers from the plant (and his grandpa thanks him for not plucking the buds yet to bloom), thank you momma for reading that Peppa Pig book for the 5th time in the last 2 hours. He even goes on to say thank you to the flowers for blooming, Lata Mangeshkar for singing his favourite songs and for his stuffed toy Bobo for pooping in the toilet! Kids, I tell you, they can warm even the coldest hearts. And patiently take soft toys and plastic fishes to the toilet so they can pee and poop.

I am going to see my cousin after a long time today, and spend hours chatting with her. Followed by 2 weddings in two days and a getting some shopping done for a big fat family wedding next weekend. Hope you all have a great weekend too, whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving. I am sending some gratitude your way for reading these posts and for dropping in some kind words. And to the cosmos for showing me the light when it gets dark.

Say a thank you to someone for me, will you?

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

Feminism : Its just about women having choice

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And that there is my first writer crush! Long before Sapna Bhavnani appeared in Big Boss or in movies, she used to write a kickass column in Bombay Times. Way back in 2002 when I was a 16-17 year old girl trying to figure out the ways of the world. Internet was patchy then and articles which came in newspapers had to be saved – cut and paste manual way- if you wanted to re-read them. And thats what I did. For 2 years, every Monday I would look for the BT and read her wonderful words. What a delight to read those emancipated ideas of freedom and doing whatever the heck you want to. Sapna Bhavnani did not disappoint me. When I finally saw her talk in person at a Feminist Conference last Monday, I felt a flutter of joy. Things which I believed all those years back are still true.

And yes, you read that right. I was at a Feminist conference organised by SheThePeopleTV. 20 people from different areas of life talking about feminism. What it means to the world and to each one of us at large. I was enthralled. So many things that we see around us were put into words. Everyday, everywhere we see patriarchy in different forms telling women what they can and cannot do. You telling yourself that certain things are a woman’s domain and that to keep your family intact you have to do those things, or not do so many of them. As a society there are certain rules to live by, but the minute those rules change for men and women, there is misogyny. I am myself guilty of many Feminism Lite things as Chimimand Ngochi Adiche says in her article, I was accepting equal rights for women with conditions. But I can’t raise my son with that thought. He has to know that women and men are equal and he should be respecting them and their choices completely.

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There were some eye openers for me in the conference. How we women act as gatekeepers limiting the stuff we or our husbands, partners can do. I have forever remembered my mom telling my dad that he does not do the housework as it should be done.  And what is the definition of how it should be done? Its the way in which she does it. It resulted in him helping her very little with the chores at home, that led to a feeling of resentment in my mom that she had to do everything. She also used to give me and my brother rigid instructions on how to do a particular thing. Micro-managing. But what was really happening is that she was preventing anyone from helping her, by setting the standards so high. The same thing happens when my friend refuses to leave her baby with her husband saying ‘he won’t feed her well’, or ‘he won’t clean her bum neatly’. And well and neatly are entirely decided by her. So if women want more freedom, more opportunities they have to stop being their own hurdles. Stop being their own gatekeepers. My dad can clean the house as much as mom can, it’s his house too. My husband can and does take care of our child as well as I can. He is an equal parent. When I realised all these things, it made my life so much easier. And isn’t that the truth? Stereotyping that women can cook and men can understand technology better, woman needs to take care of the house, man needs to earn a living for the house etc. etc. only limits the opportunities we have.

But increasingly, as I read more, as I see and understand more, the angrier I get at how women and their rights have been marginalised for so many centuries. My husband, hopefully in jest, asked me if I am turning into an angry feminist. I told him that I already am a feminist. My mom is a feminist, my mother-in-law is one and even he himself is a feminist. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here doing what I am doing. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to get education, to work or even to get an evening off for myself if I did not have the choice to do the things that I want to, that I wish to do. He is my biggest supporter. We work together in our family business, he is the CEO and I am the CFO in our company. When any banking or financial decisions have to be made he never second-guesses my action. Point blank tells the people looking at him and talking to him to talk to me as I will be making that decision. He urges me to find time to write, or to do another baking course in Le Cordon Blue in Pairs and that he will take care of our child. My parents in law, are equally encouraging of both their daughters-in-law as much as their sons. And they take pride in our achievements. So yes, all of these wonderful people around me are feminists too. They believe in equal opportunities. They believe that their daughter, wife or daughter-in-law is no less than any male counterpart and I hugely respect them for that. Its time that they start taking credit for it and pushing other people to do so by example.

But its always going to be a mixed bag. How do we ensure our girls and women are safe on the streets? Do we tell them to not go out alone at night, to wear appropriate clothes etc or do we tell them to do what they want to do and that we will take care of it if something goes wrong? My 12 year old mentee, Gauri – how do I explain her that she is as precious as her male cousin when all she sees around herself is that the girls are considered worthless? How do I tell my son to react if someone makes fun of him when he is baking a cake? Or if a girl hits him, who do I tell him to do? All of these are complicated questions with no simple answer. But as Chimimanda Adichie says, I have to consider the premise. And believe and make other women believe that they matter. Equally. Not ‘if only’ or as long as’ but that they matter. Full stop.

Of course all of this is for a us, urban, educated, independent women. So many women around us are still trapped in their own homes, suffer and continue to live with abusive philandering husbands, in dead-end relationships, abort girl foetuses, get their daughters married off at twelve, fifteen and never know any life outside of that. But there is hope. When my grandma started working 65 years back in a government organisation or my husband’s grandma got a graduation degree 60 years back, there has been hope.  And things will continue to improve, one bit a time.

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 promise to myself.

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My writing table at mom’s house

I am constantly surrounded by a cacophony of sounds so much so that the thought of staying alone in my own house feels alien. Not that I loved being alone even before Arjun was born, but now with a little baby and working full time 5 days a week, moments of silence are hard to come by. My idea of solitude is limited to sitting in a corner of the room and perhaps doing some thinking, but the rest of the people need to be in the house. When there is nobody at home except me and Arjun, I take him out to the park or to meet relatives, friends. In a typical Indian joint-family culture, alone-time is never an option, and strangely I am glad for it.

But to write, I need to sit in one place and think and put those words out on a screen or a paper. So today when everyone was going out too attend a family function, I opted to stay at home and write. And all I could think of was my baby, the fight husband and I had last night, then all of the conversations I am missing out while I sit here in front of the laptop and everyone is chatting and laughing and doing all sorts of fun things someplace else. I admonish myself and get back to writing a short-story I want to send for a contest. It’s about complex relationships and family etc and thats when I start thinking about the stuff to pack for my brother-in-law who leaves tomorrow to go back home to Michigan. Palak parathas are to be made, oh wait, but do we have palak in the house? No, I should ask my maid to get some on her way. The almond pistachio cake I baked yesterday for him is slightly burned at the edges, I should bake one more. And my little niece, I have to get some chudidar and kurta and may be even some bangles for her. And so the list goes on and on. And while I stayed back home to write, all I am doing is not writing.

It makes me wonder if I am cut out for this solitary task which is writing. But reading those words on paper, which a few minutes back were only in my head – gives me pleasure. So may be I should write, albeit in different surroundings. When Arjun was born, I resumed writing in a month, as soon I had recovered from the shock of child-birth. Most of my blog-posts in the last 20 months have been typed on my iPhone notepad. Writing and scribbling while I am nursing Arjun or later feeding him roti-sabzi, making edits when I am trying to make him sleep, and publishing straight from he mobile app at times. The output has not been enough, not as much as I would like it to be. Then I tried the 10-minute technique. Writing non-stop for 10 minutes without pondering too much or without editing. The thinking part of that 10 minute writing happens when I am playing with Arjun , or in the shower etc. But all of that is not sufficient. If I want to call myself a writer (oh, how badly I want that), I should devote more time to it. Not be afraid of being MIA in some places because thats a conscious choice I am making.

I was talking to my aunt – who I whole heartedly admire – she has published 3 books in last 3 years, is an incredible mom to two teens – I realised that like any other craft, writing requires a lot of discipline. She is my aunt by marriage, and so I do not have her genes, but I have her guidance, which is valuable. And so I must sleep a little less, utilise my time efficiently and sneak in atleast half hour of writing every day. And that does not mean reading articles about writing or scrolling through Facebook for ‘inspiration’, but actually shooting out words which make sense.

In an article I read recently in The Atlantic, there is a line which says – ‘What aspects of life (a bigger family, marital stability) does the artist sacrifice for his work?’, I realised that being an artist entails sacrificing something. What and how much is each one’s to decide, but it is sure not a rosy path.

And thus, today onwards I will write each day. Pitch ideas to different publications, participate in online writing contests and write in my journal.

This is a promise I make to myself and as we tell Arjun – a promise is a promise is a promise.

xoxo,

Rutvika