Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Work with what you have, not what you want

Like all mothers, my mum was a great cook too.
Or maybe, whatever a mother cooks always tastes great.

Most times, she would dish up amazing curries with whatever was there in the kitchen.
At a time when earnings were barely enough for survival, this meant being inventive.
It meant that her goal was clear.
That there would be good food on the table.
No matter what.

Her recipes were therefor dictated by what was available.
Not what she had to buy.
The peels, the stalks, the extra rice.
Appeared in new forms on our plates.

Life is like that.
Nothing is ideal.

Work is the same.
No mix is  perfect.
And to do things well in a perfect world is hardly challenging.

The skill and leadership lies in taking what we have and turning it around to make it worthwhile.
More than worthwhile.
To make it impactful.

Calls for resourcefulness.
And most importantly, belief and trust.

After all, mother always did this with a smile on her face.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why I love the #Newspaper

My newspaper today is Twitter.
I check  headlines.
Actually headlines come to me as tweets.
Get views.

I also click on publication apps which send automated feeds.
And then there are of course those views and news on Pheed, Facebook and more.

But my morning ritual starts off with opening the front door and picking up the rolled newspaper thrown mechanically by the newspaper boy as he moves from floor to floor.

Most of the time, I barely have time to even open it.
The front page is all I manage.
Before it goes to top the pile stored in the bottom shelf of a cupboard.

We reach out to that shelf many times during the day.
Newspapers are carefully folded out as kitchen shelf covers.
They are covers for my daughter's "rough books".
She also uses them for her home activities, crafts, cutting out shapes.
We carry them for our picnics and eat outs.Spread out on the grass, they serve as mats as well as improvised napkins and plates.
Birthday parties need them for newspaper dances.
Sometimes, in Mumbai, I would carry it as a seat cover in the local train.

My family lovingly wraps pickle and home made jam bottles in them and tuck them in our suitcases when we leave home.
The neighbourhood store does the same instead of using plastic.
The usual words- get me a few newspapers- ring out almost everyday.
In every home.

This goes beyond recycling.
It redefines value.
Value that has gone far beyond the intended usage.

Maybe that's why, long after we read the news on screen, the newspaper boy will still thump the front door.
Every morning.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Wedding Video

One of the memorable things in  Assamese weddings were the wedding videos.
( Am sure they are there in every wedding but speaking from experience here)

The process started with a briefing to the person in charge at his "outlet".
He would pull out a well worn register and note down the date, venue, time.
And the name of the bride and the groom.

On the wedding day, the cameraman and his assistant would arrive at the designated hour.
Usually on a motorcycle or scooter with a bag that held the camera, the wires and whatever tools they required.
Greeted by a male member of the family, they would sit on the empty chairs lining the wedding hall which would soon be filled with guests. Sipping tea from plastic cups and maybe nibbling a sweetmeat, part of the wedding spread, the assistant would busy himself setting up the camera and the light.

The first shots would be "test shots".
A little girl, dressed up in her frilly dress with matching ribbons in her hair.
A harrowed elderly aunt running around but stopping for a quick smile as she spotted the lens aimed at her.
The young tent decorators stringing up the last of the marigold flowers, under the strict supervision of a cousin brother given that responsibility.

Then the cameraman would approach the room where the bride was nearly ready,  with her close friends and family. The assistant would switch on the bright light, the cameraman would direct the bride to look at a certain angle, smile, gesture to her friends to move closer, pan the room lined with shy camera conscious faces.

As the wedding activity reached a climax, the duo always had vantage position, focussing on the wedding couple and the ceremonies. The veiled bride ( the assistant would call out to an aunt or friend to lift the veil up a little to capture the shy, happy face on the camera), the father performing the ceremony, the groom's family, the sacred fire, the flowers, and of course the guests.

In the wee hours of the morning, after the wedding has finally come to an end, and the chairs that lined the hall were empty once again, the cameraman and assistant would pack up the equipment and make their way home.

Two days later, a family member, usually the brother or cousin who had taken on this responsibility, would come home waving two or three VHS cassettes ( nowadays they are DVDs). The bride, now in her new home, the groom and the entire family would drag chairs, stools around the television. And then the videos would play.

Those were the days when social media had not arrived.
When family albums were for the family.
When videos were just about movies and an occasional song and dance medley.

Being a part of the wedding video was therefore the first public camera appearance.
The video would start off with a super with the names of the bride and the groom.
Rashmi weds Rajiv.
With a cameo of the two together.
The track would start playing.
Mostly romantic numbers from Assamese singers like Jitul Sonowal, Zubeen Garg and many others.
Sometimes Bollywood made an appearance as well.
Dotted with some traditional wedding songs at key moments.

The tearjerker moments would be enhanced by Shehnai strains. Or a sad number about the girl, now a Lakshmi in her new home, bidding good bye to her mom.

The commentary around the room would be about how an aunt did not get enough camera time, or how pretty the bride looked, or the way the guests were relishing the sumptious spread.
Tears would spring up when the screen brought up a close up of the bride hugging her father and the rose bedecked car pulling out of the wedding venue.
A household help would reluctantly push her bamboo stool away to get up and make tea for everyone.

And then , after two and a half to three hours of edited footage, tea and biscuits, the video would end with another shot of the happy couple and a super, "Wish you a happy married life. From Rajul Barua Productions.G.S Road, Guwahati".

Relationships may at times be faded and jaded.
May even break up at times.
But the wedding videos are always a reminder that the weddings in India are also about families.
About vows.
About parents pulling out the last of their savings.
About being made to feel special about the fact that we are stepping into a new phase.

And makes us feel committed once again about love, relationships, weddings.... even if the one on the video no longer exists.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Children of the Oil Field

I write this after dinner as I watch two generations of family relax and reminiscence.
Two generations of lives spent in the Oil Fields of Digboi.

There is something special about the Children of the Oil Field.
It started off with the belief that everyone in the oil field township is family.
We got together for everything.

We felt and still feel a bond that will perhaps never be severed.
The urge to reach out and help if someone is in trouble.
Even if that person is now seven seas away and the last we saw of her was a little child in pigtails.

We love to see the pictures of the new generation on Facebook.
Husbands we would have loved to meet.
Wives we add to our Friends List even if we have never known them.
Children who feel like they are ours.

We have the uncles and aunties, now retired, blessing us on social media.
We don't miss parents we have lost because the oil field gave us so many of them.
We connect.
We trust.
We fall in love every time we see a picture of a tree, a shop, a lane, a bird... anything that brings back thoise wonderful years.

Truly, we are the Children of the Oil Field.
And that makes us special. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thinking on a rainy day

A Friday break.
Tapping away on my laptop.
From why is it raining today.
To how can one make a difference.

Making a difference is not easy.
Change is always subjective and related to many lives.
Perspectives differ.
Opinions are varied.

There is that tug.
Head and heart.
Popular and taking calls that may befriend.
Permissions and action.

Expectations from a leader.
The sandbox of operations.

How does one break out and yet take everyone along?

Maybe the answer lies in just doing what we believe in.
Taking those calls.
Inspiring at every step.
Collaborate where possible.
Take calls where not.

Above all, it is about conviction in oneself.
The belief that no matter what, you will always emerge a winner.
Of not letting short term conflicts deflect us from the long term relationships.
Learning. Doing. Taking risks.

Suddenly, it seems easy... possible...
Thinking on a rainy day does help.
Everything happens for a reason.
Maybe that's why it rained today.
To clear the clouds in our minds by shedding all inhibitions....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Room

There was one room in our grandmother's house that was different.
It was a big house with many rooms, big and small.
And each room was used by our family.
Except this one room.

The room somehow did not belong.
It was almost like it did not want to belong to the house.
It was big. So had its own entrance door as well.
And over time, the room with its bed, sofa, almirah, dresser became isolated and unused.

Till my  mother took over.
Every time we would visit , my mother would spend hours in the room.
Change the curtains. Move the furniture around.
Make the bed see the sunlight.
Keep the curtains drawn back so that the room could see the rest of the house.
And feel part of it.
She lined the entrance to the room with beautiful plants. So that the entrance looked like part of the house and not a divide.
She played music in the room and made us spend time there, sleep there.

Soon the room became our favourite.
The walls carried our childhood crayon painted memories.
We would have our meals there as well instead of the dining room, as a special treat.

Sometimes, I think of that room.
All it took was perseverance and belief.
To keep trying till the room belonged.
To make it part of the larger house.

Maybe sometimes we give up too soon.....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Close that Door

A quote from my favourite writer, Coelho, made me think.

We talk about opening doors all the time.
About opportunities.
Seeing that gap and leveraging it.

We use open doors as an inspiration.
Make it part of our voice when we want to make that point about success.

But what takes more courage is to close a door that has been open for us all our life.
Or for most of our life.

We are scared.
We hold on.
Find excuses.
Society. Obligation. "I feel sorry". 

And the door remains open.
But we don't use it.
So over time, there are weeds and thickets.
Nature takes over.
The wood rots.
The overgrown ivy blocks the entrance.

Yet we keep the door open.

Till one day, Evil Intent finds that gap.
And uses it.

When a door is not of use any more, it's time to lock it up and throw the key away.
Only then shall we see the other doors that have always been around for us to open.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Whenever the warrior draws his sword, he uses it"

A quote from my favourite book Manual of the Warrior of Light.
Paulo Coelho.

Thinking about this today.
They say when  a Khukri is drawn, you have to have blood on its tip.
Even if it means your own finger being pricked.

Or it could be a pen that writes to imprint, influence.
Once it is on paper, it cannot be restrained.

The idea is simple.
Empty threats are meaningless.

Life is about the open playing field.
Face to face interaction.
Honesty. Facts.

It is about completing what we set out to do.
It means thinking.

Think a lot before we act.
Listen. To both our mind and heart.

So whether it is the sword or a pen, we draw it when we want to make a difference.
And once it is drawn, it should go back into its sheath or case once we have made that .

As Coelho says," Do not diminish the force of a blow by talking about it".

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

We are all wearing the same Tee

Fridays are usually a great day at work in most offices.
For one, wherever it is permitted, T-shirts surface on this day.

It is amazing how a T-shirt can shave off quite a few levels of hierarchy.
You walk into a conference room with men and women in tees and you definitely can't figure out who's the boss. Usually.

Fridays are also a day when  the cafetaria boys at work also wear t-shirts.
Suddenly, the pale blue shirts and dark blue trousered uniformed masks disappear and they appear younger, brighter and yes, happier.

T-shirts are a big style statement for ( and sorry for using a demographic jargon) the lower SECs.
They are easy on the wallet and heavy on attitude. Low maintenance as well.

You get them  in all possible branding and bold statements.
From Eat, Love, Pay to Harley-Davidson ones which are a clear favourite, to  variations of  slogans with the word Cool.

In a somewhat class conscious society like us, T-shirts are indeed a great leveller.
They shave down divides of finance, position, society, the tie- brigade.
They showcase common values of someone who wants to look good and get on with life.

Maybe T-shirts can do what most of us have been wishing for.
Uniformity of life, without the shackles of a uniform.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Day for Mums

Haven never seen so many profile picture changes.
Black and white, sepia, colour... young mums, middle aged mums....

And no matter whose picture it was, it made me feel good.

While there are some who ask questions like why just this one day?
We love our mother's every day.
Why display our affection on social media?

I feel this flood of pictures on social media have behind them, a loving call today to mums, a lunch or dinner date if they are in town, a long distance gift or more.
I feel most mums who are actually on social media would have felt proud to see this expression.

That's what celebrations are for.
No matter how much we see celebrations can be every day, there are always special days where we set aside every thing else.

And though I know there are many who will deny this, I also feel that this day has become what it is for them and their mums, because of social media.
The effort of looking for a picture from an old album comes flush with memories of yesteryears.
You remember selfless nights and days of young mums , times when they were firm but gave you an extra hug at night, the smiles, the tears.
You feel good when you see others talking about how good your mum looks or looked.

You feel a stronger connection.
You make that call again.
You tell her she is special.
You look at that picture again and again every time someone hits a Like or keys a comment.
You feel good.
She feels better.
And special.

And for one day, the bonds are tighter than ever before.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mother's Dressing Table

Mother's dressing table came as part of her wedding furniture.
One long mirror balanced on a small low table, with a set of three drawers on one side.
A stool with matching "sun mica".

The dressing table braved many lorry travels from Jorhat, my grandparents house, to Digboi , Guwahati , back to Digboi and again back to Guwahati. The sun mica was replaced twice, not because it was worn out but because mother wanted a change.

The dressing table  had stuff which we don't see today.
Starting with a stand where mother hung her hair pieces.
"Khopa", as we call in Assamese.
In those days, hair fashion was a khopa with rolls and layers, stuck in place with a packet of hair pins.

Then there was a jar of "snow".
And Charmis cold cream.
An ornate "powder case" with a puff.
The puffs were replaced quite often, so they always looked fluffy and pink with a satin ribbon for holding.

A hair oil bottle surfaced once in a while.
The drawers had a few lipsticks.
Some of them had been used and the remnants were like a well inside the plastic case.
But mother never threw things till they were completely used.
She used a clip to scoop the lipstick out for a bindi.

I remember a lipstick she had years back with a green cake which was pink when applied to the lips.
Don't remember the brand now.

Mother would always sit on the stool, pull open the drawer, take out her "make up"- some foundation, compact, powder, lipstick etc.
I would sit on the floor next to her and watch her  as she transformed her tiredness into gorgeousness.

My dressing table looks quite different today.
Well, I have a mirror and a dresser in front.
The lipsticks are still there.
I have lip glosses and rouges and colour palletes.
And a moisturiser and sun block cream.
But nothing else remains from those days.

My daughter does not stare at me when I am in front of my dresser.
She is busy . But she also does not see any magic in the moment.
The TV, the games, the screens are more magical.

I guess  we took great joy out of little moments which seem so insignificant now.

As for mother's dressing table, it finally got carted out of our house quite unceremoniously a few years back.
Maybe it lies in an old shed, forgotten by all.
With memories of a beautiful woman turning gorgeous every day in front of it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When in Rome, (do not) do what the Romans do

It's time some of these adages are questioned.
Or not taken at face value.

Today "fitting in", or being overtly compliant  may be , unfortunately , seen as a weakness.
And personally, I believe, is a compromise on one's own personality.
And strengths.

There's always room for some adjustment.
Some nudges.
Creating space.

But just because Life brings us to a different place, or a situation, we don't need to feel out of place.
Noone can make us  unbelong.
Nothing belongs to anyone anyway.

Adjustment is a two way road.
Some give, some take.

If that doesn't happen, just be who you are.
Work on your strengths.
Build on what has been your drivers.
Never trade off.

Leaders are born not because they adjust.
But because they collaborate.
Without compromising themselves.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

EXPRESS and Lose!!

Before some of us jump at this as a comment spurred by conservatism, or some angst ( blogs really help express angst!), this is a thought that struck me this morning.

Weight loss was doing its early morning warning drumbeats in my ears, and I started thinking about ways that can be a part of life instead of a regime e.g gyms.

Which led me to the idea of EXPRESSING ONESELF.

Expressing means standing up ( no offence to a great creative from a coffee brand)
Means waving hands.
Furiously, Fast.
Walking. Pacing.
Energy. Vigour.
Walking up to people.
Checking out views.
Hands gesticulating to complement words.
Head thrown back in laughter.

A celebration at the end when the point has been made.

I mean, every time I think of someone making a great point at the podium or conference room, I see one word, besides the inspiration.
That's  energy.

Which is a great antidote to the stubborn layers.

Maybe we should try this out.
At least we will shed inhibition.
If not weight.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Milkmaid in our Kitchen

One of the things that we used to love as children was the tin of Nestle's Milkmaid Condensed Milk.
My mother had a ritual around it. Must have been a combination of economy, recycling and small treats for her family all rolled into one.

So the Milkmaid would rest on our kitchen counter and mother would make two small gashes. Small is operative here because it was about controlling the flow. The gashes were made  parallely to let in air and help the flow. Kitchen physics.

The tin was then placed on a saucer of water which soon had hapless and ambitious ants floating on their watery grave.

Mother was clear. Milkmaid was for making her amazing cups of tea. A concoction of fresh ginger , Assam tea  and the thick creamy milk. No sugar needed.

On Sundays she would make some rice pudding ( sometimes) and the gashes were made bigger with the kitchen knife being pounded with the "bellan" ( rolling pin).

But what gave my sister and me great joy was sneaking into the kitchen, tilting the Milkmaid and gulping the milk directly from the tin. The tin was held just above our open mouth and we waited for the slow thick trickle.

Years went by and Milkmaid now had recipes printed on its label.
Mother carefully cut them out and we had a Milkmaid recipe book- kheer, cakes etc.

Don't remember her baking so much but do remember the recipes.

Without us realising it, one day the Milkmaid  disappeared from our lives.
Maybe we started having more of black tea.
Father had diabetes so no desserts or cakes.

And Life weaned us off Milkmaid.

I miss the lady with her buckets , on the kitchen shelf.
Think it is time to get her back.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Partners Day at Work

I don't think we could have managed our work lives without the support of our partners.
That morning cup of tea together.
The early morning kitchen rush to pack lunches and have the breakfast out on time.

Being a sounding board to office woes
Suffering the tension of increments and more
Celebrating success
Calming us down when we want to call it a day

The smile we have every morning when we walk into the work corridors is sparked off with that goodbye wave and hug

Supportive partners in our lives - whether it is our parents, our other halves, a make work a better place.

Maybe we should celebrate this.
Have a Partners Day at Work.

Where they walk in and see our work stations.
The softboards where joblists jostle for space with happy pictures
The colleagues
The seniors
The canteen boys
The terraces and balconies

When we give them an ovation over a coffee and snacks
And thank them for making work a better place.

Like someone said- know the lives of your team when it comes to concerns and celebrations.
It makes us more humane.
And creates a great work place.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Promises are made to be ...

This thought struck me in the morning.
Was looking at the array of hair products I use religiously to give some body to my amazingly limp hair.
Each one with a promise that made me rush to the cash counter with new hope.
Active hair. Volume. Shine.
Haven't seen any obvious difference.
But I still hang on to the brands.

It's in fact so much like the promises we are used to in Life.
Mom saying- one day we will go to the Himalayas. ( For some strange reason I always wanted to go there)
I believed her. While knowing that there were no plans to even remotely suggest that this would come true in the near or distant future. When income is limited, the Himalayas are not exactly the most sought after holiday destination.

Or what I myself say to others.
"Yes I will make it happen".
Don't worry, we will get that next week".
"We will celebrate your birthday next year".

So many promises.
When we ourselves break them every day and assume it is fine in the course of Life, why worry about brand promises and whether they are always absolutely true.

In fact, I love promises. Brands or Life.
A promise is about hope.
It helps us move on , do things, get active, because it is a reward. Of some kind.
Even if it does not always come true at the end, we ourselves do gain  in some way because of a promise. There is some benefit. Some recognition. Some motion .Some achievement.
And some happiness along the way.

So promises are best when kept.
But even a broken promise or a half met one can work wonders at times.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Art of Happy Breaks and Mash Ups

Like millions of other wives, mums, professionals  home-makers across the world, I have learnt ways to lead a life of balance.

Where nothing is a trade off.
Professional responsibilities co-exist with personal passion.
Spend time with my family.
Have great conversations with my work team and colleagues, even outside of work.

Some of the ways I have managed to do this are just a smart mash up.

Spreading my entitled leave  over 12 months in short bursts  instead of one long break.Utilise weekends and holidays in a way that the leave can be stretched.
The mash up I often do is combine something close to my heart with these breaks.
My teaching sessions in management institutes.
A two day course on writing in a city or country I would also love to holiday in.
A Harley Ride across the country.
A book launch . A workshop on blogging.
Tea with someone I have been inspired by.
An art journey.A culinary trip.
A wine and cheese appreciation.
Or just write a piece that I have been wanting to.

Could be anything.
I come  back rich - not just with pictures  and memories of a lovely vacation , but also enriched with some new learnings and experiences.
Which help me immensely back at work.
And as a person.

It needs some hard work.
Teaching means intense prep work.
Attending a workshop means pre-reads.
Even meeting someone who I have looked up or an art journey  means some amount of pre-work.

But then, that's what Life is about.
No pain, no gain as they say.

Today, I feel so proud and happy at the way things pan out.
No compromises on any front.
More effectiveness.
A sense of being complete.
And of course, happiness and good cheer.
Which, I have realised, is pretty infectious as well.
Both at work and at home.

So here's wishing everyone happy breaks and smart mash ups.