Children

The real poor

What does it mean to be poor?

It is easy to describe poverty through the lens of money. Somehow that is the one definition that seems to stick across the spectrum. There are programs for alieviation of this wretched state. Governments are made and unmade on this topic.

But what does it mean to be poor?

On a summer morning, from a construction site that was fast making realty a reality, I saw a lady pass by. A hop now, a skip otherwise and a jump now and then.. In tow was her daughter. Playing with an empty water bottle and struggling to keep pace. On her hips, her little son cackling with laughter and undoing her hair.

She spoke in a language I didn’t recognise. But her tone was enough to tell me a bit about her love for her children and the richness of her heart. Atop her head were building material in a red basket with a yellow safety helmet sitting pretty. Like a crowning diamond on Her Majesty’s crown.

The bright red flowers on her saree sat easy with the glass bangles and matched her happy step. Her work shift was all set to start. The anklets on her feet seemed to announce that with every step she took. It was going to be some time before family time in their temporary dwelling that they lived in. The builder had given them one until the high rise that they were part of constructing, got done.

There was genuine happiness in them. All three of them. The daughter often stopping to pluck flowers and throw them at the wind and then scampering to catch up with her mother. They went about reaching out to the morning with a joyous spirit and a gentle sprint. So full of life and yet with tenderness and care. Oblivious to the stranger in me watching them walk by.

Are they ‘poor’?, I remember asking myself. A monetary lens will affirm. But look at it this way.

To walk by with a happy stride.

To carry a weight but not seem bothered by it.

To provide life in real terms to your children by exchanging your living moments for it.

To embrace each morning with  smile and all the possibilities that it brings in.

That is not ‘poverty’! Ask any rich man. Or the office goer. Observe faces on a Monday morning as they come out of trains, buses and cars. It often is a weary lost look and an impossible to miss sadness. Not in all, but in many. And even as you wonder why, remember to look into the mirror as well.

What are we chasing? What do we have to give up in order to be ‘rich’? Poverty, as they say, is a state of mind. So is ‘Richness’. To be truly ‘rich’ is to be mindful of ourselves and our choices being fully present to how we think of our state of the mind. The lady with the red flowers and the eloquent yellow diamond atop her dirty crown showed that to me. She is long gone but the happiness in her voice and the cheer in her children remain in my memory.

The high rise she helped build now is lit by big swanky cars, sophisticated scents and solemn looks. Especially so, on Monday morning. Often it takes me back to the laughter of the lady with the bright red flowers on her saree. We have choices

We have choices! Lets remember to choose a rich life.

Time graduates !



While I was there, I attended a graduation. Attended one. The brother in law was getting an MBA with some kick-ass project scores and some serious study.

Well, ceremony in itself was nothing short of splendid. It started on the dot and ending on another dot. The speakers, the pageantry and pomp gave order a new coat of glitz. The commencement speaker spoke with some purpose, perhaps taking her role rather seriously. That translates to “it was a rather long speech”.

People with knowledge of Six Sigma or stuff of that order perhaps facilitated the arranging of chairs. Students were at the best of behavior that had me wonder if they had been told that they better be at the best of behavior ‘or else’.

Three and a half pats, was all that I could give myself later. Beyond which it became a trifle laborious. For my hunch was right after all. Wikipedia says : “At the high school level, this allows academic administrators to withhold diplomas from students who are unruly during the ceremony”.





I know. I know. You are the ‘bullet train quick’ type who is quick to spot “but this is for high school”. Well, allow for some exaggeration. Will you ? Please adjust.

An overbearing black sea of gowns with borders of red / blue / yellow, well complimented by hoods, painting a rich tapestry of straight angles above the head. Ofcourse, you couldn’t miss the lovely garlands that adorned necks that seemed to have stuck out quite a bit to get this far !

Something that will definitely not miss the ear is the hoots and cheers from families. Families that seemed to have turned out in droves to cheer the graduating student, sometimes mirroring a mini product launch campaign, as names of individual students were called out. Much to my baffling, which you will empathise with, as you read on.



Overall, this was one heck of a ceremony. Something to remember.

Flip a page.

There are graduations. And there are graduations.

The only graduation that I attended was at the end of the MBA. Once. Just once in life. That was many years back. If you are expecting a deluge of memories to inundate this post, well, no. Sometimes you are spared.

The strongest memory, however, of that ceremony was the distinct smell that rented robe brought along. My family was represented by one person : me. I don’t recall of any of my classmates turning up. They had already immersed themselves in newly found jobs in an emerging economy. Better ( or worse) still, no one bothered to find how the ceremony went.

I have no recollections of the speech. Goes even further, don’t even know who was the speaker. I have racked my brains and re-jigged my memory with no results to show, except perhaps five and a half strands of hair that the floor bears as evidence.

Ofcourse, those were days where a facebook update to let the world know that you have just had a glass of water, wasn’t exactly possible. So no trail remains. Digital or otherwise. Net net, nothing remains as evidence, which is disproportionately epochal to what the degree has brought me in life!

Looking back, it occurs that that those were the ages when you just wanted to get on with it. There was no celebration of ceremony. We had a future to make. A life to live and a livelihood to create.

Modern day urban Indian schools are now towing the US line. Ah, I forget. In the US, graduations galore. Everything from swimming classes to kindergarten have graduations. Unfortunately, I never could make it to any of those, but yet, have heard truck loads of stories of them.

Back here in India, many a school has graduation ceremonies. With robes and all that. When parents invite me and the missus, to a party to celebrate their son or daughter graduating from Kindergarten, we turn out in our best. The moment in time, when the kid graduates from mellifluous ‘child blabber’ to saying in impeccable English : “This school sucks”, is indeed a moment to savour.

While I am quite neutral on the graduation for kids. But then forcing them to wearing academic gowns and caps and such else doesn’t get better than the league of fancy dress. Both for me and the kids. But it is a wonderful revenue stream for the school and perhaps a good photo op for the parents.

I am reasonably sure that your suspicions of me being one heck of an old world twit have been proven beyond doubt. Perhaps. But then, I am someone, for whom the only meaningful recollections of a graduation are of a postman.

Yes. A postman, who brought a Post Card, during the height of every summer. The only word printed there : ‘Promoted’. That announced graduation to the next class.

Even as the card was entering the safe confines of a steel almirah, courtesy my dotting mother, I would be gone. To face the sun, and try to beat down the beads of sweat on the forehead. Cricket. Tennis. Or simply, attempting to stone the next odd shaped tamarind fruit. No robe. No gown. No ceremony.

Times. They change.

Perhaps, Time graduates !

Bringing up children..

We were at the Grand Canyon. It was almost end of day. Tired and exhausted. The muscles cried for some rest after hours of battling the sun, the heat and the height. Perhaps for the first time, the camera was whining too, with the batteries draining.

Attempting to take one last shot of the ‘depth’ of the Canyon, I ventured as far as daring would get me to and the missus would allow. It was a sheer drop beyond the point I was attempting to walk upto.

Earlier in the day, the bus driver had joked, ‘If you want to get to the bottom of the canyon faster than the bus, I recommend that you keep walking off that ledge. Beyond a point, it would take you all of 6 minutes”. And then he indulged himself into a shoulder-jerking-in-fits–of-laughter !

His words ringing in my ear, I took each step of the descent to the ledge, with great care. When I was about 5 feet away from what seemed like the end of the world, two important occurrences took place. One gradually receding and another getting more and more pronounced.

One, courage was steadily evaporating. Slowly but steadily. Leaving behind traces of the big sized occupant that it once was. For, from where I was, I could see the end of the stretch of land I was standing on, and the beginning of a sheer drop.

Two, from a distance, the missus was howling me to stop right there. Howling to the point of embarrassment. Anyone could have mistaken me for one of those greedy bigamists who was just running away with her jewels! There perhaps were two elements that powered her thought : One, she had heard the driver. Two, she knew me well !

Anyway, the combination of those two factors got me to stop moving, at the speed of light. Perhaps faster. I stopped. Waved back to her. Indicating that I am not moving an inch further, and she stood right there, in a distance, crossing arms.

In that moment, there was transformation. Of the howling scare on her face, transforming into a solid stare, perhaps indicating what would happen if I did. These of course are moments of silence and depth in our marital life!

As a consolation, I pulled out my camera, and started clicking.

Which is when this young mother walked past me with her kid in one hand and the camera in the other. I was aghast. She walked right past me, straight to the ledge. Got her kid to sit down, she sat down too. Two steps to her back or one step to the left would mean she would go down thousands of feet ! A concealed squeal escaped my lips.



She pulled out her camera and started taking pictures ! I stared in awe. I turned to gesture to the missus to see whats happening only to see that she her face was buried in her palms, not wanting to see what was going on.

That is end of the story. Obviously the lady, after clicking few pictures, stood up, looked around and walked away. Impervious to all the hyper pumping that she caused in at least two hearts.

What we didn’t know was that this scene was to take several avatars and play itself out many times over during our trip. The settings were different but the theme was the same. Parents that seemed inclined to expose kids to what could be called, a certain ‘spirit of adventure’.

Which took me back to how kids are brought up in the households of neighbours / friends / relatives and colleagues back home here. For instance, would anybody let their kids go that close to a ledge? Am not so sure. ( You would notice that I am conveniently side stepping the angle of ‘Would anyone go close to a ledge’).

Which is when the mind darted to a comment that an auto rickshaw driver made some time back, while discussing seat belts. The sum and substance of what he said was this : Daily life in itself was such a challenge, adventurous and risk-prone.

He spoke of his kids who were about in their pre-teens years old, who carry the satchels, cross the highway, take a public bus, at peak hour just to reach school. Everyday. For the past several years.

Now, quite obviously, crossing a highway will not be at a zebra crossing but just looking at and dodging traffic and rushing through. The public bus perhaps has all of four inches of feet space available. Of potholes, the less said the better.

With an arid tongue and matter of fact tone, he said, ‘This safety & risk business is for soft people like you who live in high rises. Beyond a point, nothing matters’. The rest of the journey was populated with such conversation laced with moments of silence.

Quite often, I wonder how kids are brought up here. Forget risk. Do kids in modern day metro go out and catch fresh air, throw themselves at nature, run with gay abandon…? Like we used to ? I am not sure.

Ofcourse, I wonder what you think..


The merry-go-round deal !

Children scream. Half concealing a laugh and a spirit that seems to come alive when the man with big biceps heaves all his might on to the ‘merry-go-round’.

For 25 paisa, there they are, sitting on red cars. With stationary wheels that spin in air and a steering wheel that needs no steering. The man with the big biceps moves them well ! For two minutes or for such time till the man with the big biceps gets tired, the kids spin around.

In seemingly countless whorls. Seemingly in control. Giggling. Screaming. Some crying. Some closing their eyes in sheer fear and great fright. And there they go. Round. And round. And round.

When their turn is done, they alight.

Slightly heady. Perhaps longing for more. Sometimes looking at their parents for ‘one more round’ ! This merry-go-round is a prominent feature of local fairs and any decent gathering in the villages.

The name says it all. Merry-go-round ! Be merry while going around. Wind in the hair. Screams. Laughter. And all that. For as long as the man with the big biceps desires. Generally its equitable. Sometimes he gives some kids a few more turns. Thats part of the deal.

The merry-go-round deal. The man spins the kids around. As new kids climb on to old cars. Cars with wheels that dont run on the ground and a steering wheel that doesn’t steer.

The same deal, that gives kids a heady high, to think that they steer while knowing that they dont. The same deal that the man with big biceps plays along. The ‘Merry-Go-Round’ deal !

Think about it. Merry-go-round. Man with big biceps. Heady high. Spin. Scream. Scare. Loss. Seeming control. Joy. And so on.

Life.

Isnt it ?

Life…seems to me, to be one big merry-go-round !

Whatsay ?