Handwriting – should we even care?

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Why is writing such a matter of importance? Handwriting in particular. I’d send you a wats app message in a heartbeat. Yet, when my husband came back after a business trip, I had a hand-written letter to give him. By the time you reach the end of this article, you would not be able to ascertain if I was for or against this topic – truly, I’m quite confused myself. Yet, here I am, thinking about it, and wondering what it all really means.

Maybe it’s a good thing after all. I couldn’t imagine trying to spend a whole lot of time figuring out if a person meant ‘save’ or ‘rave’ in a hand-written message to me. It could completely change my interpretation of the message. I’m not saying that a text message would be a lot easier to understand. With the ease of the auto-correct, it’s difficult to get the write words across. But atleast there is more consistency in how the letters appear.

Most of us know (but often forget) that handwriting is not natural to human beings, like running or eating. We have to be ‘taught’ to write. Some people are good at it, and some are not. It is purely a motor skill that depends on muscle formation and movement. Through history we’ve been taught how important a good handwriting it. In fact, penmanship as it is called, defines character. Mahatma Gandhi quoted “I saw that bad handwriting should be regarded as a sign of imperfect education”. In today’s world, I find it difficult to apply this concept.

I grew up in the 90’s.. so while I wrote 20 pages of paper – all in my blue-inked handwriting for an exam, I now spend 10 hours typing away at my computer. I type out emails, meeting notes, documents or power point presentations containing corporate literature, articles for my blog and poetry. I type everything. My beautiful fountain pen sits on my table, taunting me. When i pick it to write, the weight feels alien, and the letters that I form are not as beautiful as i pictured them in my head. Well – i do not put that down to an imperfect education, but just a lack of practice. My education was quite fine. But like everything else we learn – like playing the guitar, or soccer, we need to practice an acquired art to be good at it. Handwriting to me is an art.

We no longer ‘need’ handwriting as the principle mode of communication – we have the text messages, Wat’s app, Facebook messengers…. I lost keeping tab. So handwriting therefore like painting and music has become a platform for self-expression – a true art form. Like everything else, when a new form of writing or communication develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. While I understand how technology works, and that with true progress comes the need to adapt, I am that hopeless romantic who loves a good old fountain pen – I call it the era of handwriting. But I would not give up the convenience of this digital writing space of mine. I warned you! This would be confusing.

 

A letter to an unknown girl in Mt.Sinjar

Hey! I read the news this morning and I thought of you. I know you’re out there. I don’t know your name, I don’t know your face, I’ve never met you before. But I know you’re out there. What they call Mount Sinjar; what they describe as the most horrific conditions to live in; that the cold gets into your bones at night; in this nightmare called Iraq.

Maybe you’re a late twenty something, just like me. And maybe you’ve been married for just under a year. I miss my husband, he’s away for an entire month on work. Maybe you miss your husband too? I shudder to think if that is because he went missing in the bombing and you just don’t know where he is. I shudder more and wonder if he is around at all.

I looked up at the sky last night because I read that the Perseid meteor shower was taking place. But it was too bright, where I live. I saw just the blackness of the sky. Maybe you looked up too. But you were not looking for a meteor shower. You were looking for supplies dropping out of a helicopter. Just a bottle of water, and a packet of biscuits to sustain you for another day.

I think about my dogs all the time. They still live in my childhood home. But I know they are safe, and that they are loved. Did you have dogs too? Nobody cares about dogs in a bombing. Atleast I never read about any missing dogs in the news. But if you had dogs and they went missing, I can imagine your pain. I hope for you, that they are in a better place.

My heart goes out to you everyday. I think of you often, and pray that this madness ends. I don’t know who you are, but you are in my prayers, and I hope that tonight, you feel less pain. I hope you sleep well and dream about the flowers in your old garden. Even if for just a moment in your dreams, I hope you smile. I hope you look up at the sky and find shooting stars. If I see one, I’ll make a wish that you are out safe soon.

Its friendship day, and I hate big parties, there’s nothing intimate about them!

Friendship band

It’s the first Sunday of August, and it’s friendship day! As I started my day reading an article in the newspaper, I wondered whether we even really knew who a friend was anymore – virtually. I have a thousand odd ‘friends’ on facebook for example. A few of them, I really know and do consider my good friends, many of the rest are simply acquaintances or friends and relatives of my relatives and friends, and the majority of the remaining I don’t know at all. God knows how they landed as my friends on this online portal. Over time, it has become easier to simply ‘accept’ a friend’s request rather than analyze if I really know the person and decline accordingly. And with the mess that I have created, it’s difficult to maintain my news feed. So I end up knowing so many things about people I really just don’t want to know or don’t care about. It’s annoying. And of course it’s all my fault.

I remember how we celebrated friendship day when I was in primary school. It was really sweet, and it really meant thinking about a friend and doing something for him/her. I would braid a friendship band in the color of twine that I knew my friend would love, and give it to her on the following Monday. A considerable amount of time over the weekend was spent for the friend. It was really sweet.

By college, I had no time for friendship bands. I would simply wish a huge bunch of friends with an apt text message (that would invariably be a forward). Well at that time, the text messages were in vogue and I had a decent student text messaging plan. It was quite cheap to do.

Two years ago, I already had a thousand odd friends on facebook, and of course I had to wish all of them. I updated my status message to read “Happy friendship day everyone!” People could decide if they wanted to be wished by this very random and broadcasted message. I got a few likes and some replies even (and these people were not really on my mind when I sent that message out). I liked their replies to just let them know I acknowledged.

This year, I had had enough already. I refused to get onto facebook. Instead I picked up my phone and called three of my closest friends. That’s it. I wished them, had a nice five minute chat with each of them, and felt so much better. Friendship day felt fuller and had some meaning to it.

As it becomes easier to make friends – virtually, I wonder if we pause to think about what this word really means to us. It’s the next best thing to family, if you come to think of it. And it pains me to think that we have reduced its intimacy to an online portal.

As was quoted in the Great Gatsby “I hate big parties; there’s just nothing intimate about them”.

Book Review: Taliban Cricket Club by Tiwari N. Murari

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Love for a country, love for a sport and love for a man are what keeps Rukhsana going. When the Taliban regime is at its peak in Kabul, we see images of despair and longing through Rukhsana’s eyes. Despair, at the ruins that the once magnificent city has been brought to and longing for a life that is just normal. Normal enough for a woman to take her ailing baby to a hospital alone without running the danger of being shot down by the Talib fighters, normal enough for a woman to enjoy the evening sunset without having to ensure her escort was always around, and normal enough for a woman to just be allowed to fall in love. The buildings that are now pockmarked with bullet holes cry a woeful tale, and the main street of Kabul measled with beggars, whores and Talib fighters with AK47’s instead of fashionable Kabuli women, the aroma of fresh food and delightful Afghan music is what a child will only know.

Ruhksana is not allowed to continue her career in journalism and is ordered to a ‘woman’s place’, which is either in the house or in the grave, by the Talibs. As luck would have had it, the main Talib minister takes a fancy to this high-spirited, beautiful and brave Afghan girl and insists he will marry her. While she is burdened with caring for her terminally ill mother (a task she considers her religious duty to do), and finds out in due course that her long time fiancé is now married to another Afghan woman in the United States, she finds herself in quite a dilemma. However, her heart still belongs to Veer, whom she fell in love with while she in India pursuing her degree in Journalism.

Meanwhile the Talib have decided to get Afghanistan included as a member in the International Cricket Council! So much for considering the country to be a sporting nation! To make this happen, they announce a tournament, with an opportunity for the winners to be sent to Pakistan for further training. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity for escape from the country and the regime, Rukhsana and her brother Jahan, gather a team of cousins and begin to learn the game. Rukhsana expertly coaches them, owing her knowledge to her stint with the Delhi University. Of course, the only way she can do this is to dress up a man – and that’s exactly what she does. Rukhsana becomes Babur. This not only helps her stay outdoors but also helps to mask her identity from the Talib minister who is now frantic in his need to marry her.

As you would expect, Veer finds Rukhsana right in Kabul and in her house. His timing is perfect because he can now fill in for the missing eleventh person on the team, play the match, hopefully win in, and then whisk Rukhsana away to safety. And as you would further expect, they do win the tournament. But the evil Talib minister never intended sending this team to Pakistan – he had his favorite team picked out already. The last few pages is an exciting description of theft, some genius thinking, an escape to safety and moments of love.

I loved this book, and it definitely is a must-read for anyone who has loved cricket. Extremely well-written, Murari has definitely created a page turner.

Why I quit my course on song-writing? It was online.

Of late I’ve been obsessing on education. And it maybe because I’ve been constantly reading articles on online education. I’m not against this concept – certainly not. In fact in a previous blog of mine, I mentioned that this induces creativity – everyone makes a course and everyone takes a course. You have to be creative to make an online course successful. Considering the long history of stale and uncreative education methods, this is probably a breath of fresh air.

Not so long ago, I took an online course myself on a well-known education site. The course was on the art of song-writing. I was intrigued. Well, to be offered a course as exotic as ‘song-writing’ for free was something I immediately fell for. I am not bad at this, and have written a few songs to my credit. So when I came across this topic, I thought why not enhance my knowledge on something I’ve already done and am familiar with. I started, and as you might expect, I dropped out in 2 weeks. It was a 6 week course.

Well for starters, I probably did not have the self-discipline to complete my weekly reading and assignments, and then upload it for grading on time. I fell back, and at the end of two weeks, it was easier to drop out than to work doubly hard to catch up.
Secondly, I just read ‘about’ my fellow course-mates. I never met them, did not interact with them. To me, a very important factor of going to school is the network that you build, the friends you make and the memories you create.

On day 1, I watched the introductory video and was taught about the concept of rhyme, time and length of sentences. It sounded like poetry writing to me. But I could have very well understood it wrong, because the course was clearly called song-writing. But as I progressed to day 2 and then day 3, I realized that all I had to do was write some prose, maybe 2-3 verses, and then submit that for evaluation. I religiously wrote down a beautiful poem the first two days. I was waiting for an evaluation – for someone to critique my work and let me know what they thought. It was different from just writing and posting on wordpress, than to write and expect critique. I was actually excited. But then of course, if I needed mine to be evaluated, I had to do the same to someone else’s. Moreover, I needed to evaluate a minimum of four works. It’s fair I guess. The first two days, I took great pains at being a good evaluator. I read the prose, tried to understand different perspectives and provided my genuine comments.
The next two weeks, I copied poems from my old collection and just gave them in for evaluation. Similarly on the evaluations, by week 3, I wasn’t so keen an evaluator. I skimmed through. That was the eye-opener. If I was doing this to someone else’s work, clearly someone else was doing the same to mine. That was not the critique I was expecting. It also did not help that I absolutely did not know the person whose work I was evaluating. I did not know if he or she was funny, or they had a story, if she was a mother, or if he had a broken heart. Maybe it didn’t matter, and maybe it shouldn’t have mattered. But if I had known, then I might have read their piece with a completely different perspective. I might have ‘understood’. On the first day of week 3, I realized I was not doing this right. Either I give it all my time and actually go through the course with integrity or quit.
So I quit.

But then I read about how successful these online courses are being, and how they are revolutionizing education world over. They make learning material accessible to millions of people – people who would not be able to afford to go to a physical school. They drastically bring the cost of education because they do not have to worry about teacher salaries, administrative facilities, high-tech libraries and building maintenance and depreciation. They have truly made education a matter of ease. Maybe if I wasn’t so spoilt in my education history, and if I hadn’t had the chance to meet and nurture some of my best friendships through school, I would not be so critical on this subject. But I did, and therefore now I am.

Don’t be nice to me – I don’t know how to react!

Are you surprised, with not knowing how to react when a random person is being nice to you? Do you even go so far as to wonder if that person has a mischievous motive behind that niceness? And do you take a step back and decide to be cautious, and not respond back with niceness, lest it being taken as a sign of weakness?

It happened to me today. Firstly, I have two dogs that take me for a walk – yes, they pull, strain, demand that I take them where they want to go instead of the other way around. I’m being a bad master this morning because I’m seeing these adorable beings after a gap of 5 months, so I have no choice but to spoil and give in to their doggy demands. Well, I’ve often been given a stare down or even been offered not so nice a comment when my dogs charge down the road, and happen to scare the older people who are going about their morning walks at that hour. Bubbles and Cuddles really don’t want to scare anybody else, let me tell you. They are super excited by being out, by all the extraordinary smells of the morning, by the vast number of poles and plants against which they need to urinate and mark their territory. There is just so much to do! Believe me, scaring anybody is not on their mind at all.

Despite all this, I still get those looks and comments I mentioned earlier. I’ve come to ignore them, and just carry on. But this morning was different. Bubbles and Cuddles were charging on as usual, and rushed past an older man, stooping in his slow drawl of a walk, wrapped in a shawl to keep the Bangalore morning 28 degree C coldness at bay. As I rushed past, always terrified that I might slip and fall, I was expecting the usual disapproving clicking of the tongue, or a comment “keep them under control, don’t let them bite me”, or maybe a stare down. But no, instead I was greeted with a cheerful ‘good morning’! I was shocked and managed to turn around to wish this old man with the same greeting. And in reply, he said “they are so much faster than you!” What did that mean? I immediately turned away, muttered a ‘yes….’and just walked on, for once thankful to Bubbles and Cuddles for being so impatient and tugging me along.

I immediately wondered why he wished me good morning, and why he was being nice. Did he want something? Did he have some motive in mind? Did he want to distract me and then rob me? I almost felt foolish immediately. Maybe he was just being nice – and for no other reason. Maybe some people like that still exist. Do they? But on an early Saturday morning in Bangalore with two misbehaved dogs, I don’t know how that feels.

Don’t be nice to me – I don’t know how to react.

Think outside the box; stay within the lines

Of art classes I went through
Still young and impressionable at school
I have memories only of a scolding or the cane
For coloring outside the line.

It was a 13 year long schooling education I went through, and another 3 years after that for my under-graduation. Most other Indian students went through a similar regime. Every year it was the same – read, assign to memory, reproduce in an examination and then forget. If I ever got creative in an answer, I was penalized. No, straying outside the line was just not the way to answer. You had to stay within the lines.

I tried hard to induce creative methods of learning – but hey, just for myself.
Chemistry was never a favorite subject of mine, and I devised creative methods to remember the valency chart. I memorized a mnemonic, and then made it into a song. I never forgot, and in fact can rant off the valency chart even today. It’s another thing that I’m a certified accountant and a valency chart is probably a waste of memory space – but what the hell. I remember it.

Today, as I spend my waking hours in the corporate world, trying to make a difference, I am repeatedly asked to ‘think outside the box’. Sometimes I am surprised. They never taught me to think outside the box at school – they penalized me for it. When I tried to show off my creativity – I was stumped. And now, all I should do is be creative and think outside the box – paint my piece by straying outside the line.

Of course, it’s easy to whine here, but I know that education is changing around the world. Newer methods of teaching have been adopted, and kids are praised when they are creative. Online education – what is that?! Everybody makes a course, and everybody takes a course. So I bet you have to be very different and creative if your course had to be chosen.

Nothing makes me happier, because that’s exactly what we need. To not be afraid when you are born creative, to not be afraid to let that creativity grow along with you, and above all to never be penalized to be different and creative when you are young. Because as you work hard to stay above it all when you’re grown up, there is no choice but to be different and creative.

Some lessons I’ve learnt

As you grow older, time seems to fly by faster. I think and ponder, and try to reason why – but the best answer I have is that; as you grow older, life becomes less simple, less carefree and less perfect. It leaves you little time to stand and stare as you busy yourself with un-complicating things that surround you. Time flies by.

I’ve never wrapped up my lessons for the year before – and while my birthday is more than a week old now, I want to write things down, get it out of my way, put things back into perspective, and begin my next year with such serenity and love for the world that I’d have no time to worry anymore of the past.

1. Always listen to your heart. Things may seem not very simple to extract yourself out of; there may be many people including loved ones who would hurt by your decisions, but that leaves no option to remain unhappy and unsure. As much as the mind stabilizes little follies of the heart, it’s the heart that eventually keeps you happy. Always listen to your heart.
2. Sweat your blood out when you have to work, sweat it out when you party. Give your best in anything that you do – it will show.
3. Plan to have fun – you will never regret it.
4. Failure is ok. The trick is to allow yourself just enough time to feel self pity and get back to the groove. Failure is ok, as long as you know exactly what you must do to never let that happen again.
5. Good and bad might be subjective. But a universal code of good and bad also exists. So if something seems good to you, but falls under ‘bad’ in the universal code, then it must be bad. While it’s important to listen to your heart, it’s also very important to allow your mind to decide if what the heart is feeling is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
6. If something makes you happy, but you cannot let people know about it, then it’s probably the wrong thing that’s making you happy.
7. The mind is so powerful that once you make it up, it can change your world.
8. Friends are the only people who will see you through life’s toughest moments – never forget to let them know how much they mean to you.
9. Family will do its best to never allow you to reach those tough moments. And if you do, they’ll be there for you no matter what. Love them and let them know that you love them.
10. Spend your money on what you love – you might not have it tomorrow.
11. If you can afford to do something you love right now, and not postpone it, it’s a good idea to do just that.
12. Lastly, go with the flow. As much as you can plan for life, it’s more beautiful to live a spontaneous day.

The irony of a social life

I was dying, a slow but sure death

No time to replenish, no time to fight

Caught in this disease we call routine

I lost my password, I lost site.

And as I woke to an exhausted Friday morning

I made a decision, so strong

I updated my profile, my presence was restored

I live now, I march along.

Alone

Just the other day I was waiting at a restaurant, where a friend and I had decided to catch up for lunch. She was late by 45 minutes, and I waited by myself, without an iPad, without a smart phone, without a book to read. Just me and my thoughts. I could have worked myself up with frustration, but it was just one of those good days when I was kind to myself, and everyone around me. The fact that this gets a mention and also some thought is because being alone with nothing to entertain oneself is a rarity these days. Something that people are afraid of almost. I go into a coffee shop and chance upon plenty of people who have decided that they are going to spend some ‘alone’ time. What they are actually doing is reading a book, browsing on their iPad, or listening to music with colorful earphones stuck to their ears. What is ‘alone time’ then I wonder?

Here a a few things I consider ‘alone time’; things that I absolutely love doing because it teaches me to become comfortable with myself, helps me uncover my innermost wants, realize what truly makes me happy and what matters to me. Spending time with myself and being conscious to my thoughts is the real eye opener – and it has taught me more things than reading a ‘How to find your dream’ or ‘How to be happy’ book. The answer always exists – you need to spend time with yourself to listen for it.

1. Spending an hour everyday doing yoga. As cliched as it sounds, it calms the mind, and forces the mind and body to be aware of each other.

2. Drinking my tea on the terrace and watching the sky. It shows me how easy it is to find a calm place. Anywhere – just look up.

3. Early morning walk without my iPod. The beauty and crispness of the morning air is just never matched by music, except of course when the birds sing.

4. Sitting on the beach alone when on a holiday and watching the sun set. The most gorgeous experience.

5. Travelling alone – You have to do it atleast once. It’s startling how much you learn about yourself and the confidence that  it gives you is unmatched.

6. Writing – It allows me maximum invasion of my mind. Sometimes I surprise myself with the thoughts I think.

7. Doing laundry without the TV running in the background or listening to music. Sometimes a mundane routine can be enough for the mind to relax.