Why is work life balance Not a Leadership principle in Indian Corporates?

Now, you might be thinking that why is she writing about leadership and related topics all the time? I have been reading a lot about some great leaders and also trying to decipher the leadership code by talking to colleagues, friends and people whom I consider leaders in their respective field of work. I have been bitten by leadership bug, not that I am trying to transform myself into a leader, but only my curiosity to understand this whole “hullabaloo” about leadership.

Wrong choice of word? Yes, I call it hullabaloo (fuss) for various reasons which I will probably explain in my next blog. Today’s blog is dedicated to a very keen observation that I have had over the years, working in Indian Software Industry.

A few disclaimers: This blog is not targeting anyone or any policy of any organization.

It was valentines day (Yes! yesterday). I wanted to leave early (read “on time”) from office. I had no plans for valentines day, but my car-pooling gang was waiting for me because I had told them that I would be able to leave early in the evening. Its a pain to get a cab in Bangalore during traffic hours and I didn’t want them to go through it.

As soon as I expressed my desire to leave early, a comment popup up, “Yes, we know its valentines day”. And we all laughed out loud. I didn’t try to clarify about my urgency to leave, neither was I asked. Anyhow….because we were done with other work, AND because of my repetitive reminders, I left almost on time.

However, another colleague (a male colleague) also packed his laptop with me, and got up to leave and immediately he got all the attention….”Hey man, where is the valentines day date”, followed by a roar of laughter (from me and others).

This incident for sure was a joke for everyone and it should be considered as harmless office humor. However, its also true, that personal life and choices are least valued in Indian corporate houses. I must also emphasize on the fact that men have more impact on their personal lives due to missing work-life balance because they have no right to leave early (on time). Women are excused mostly because “they have to cook” (pun intended). Men, sadly, have to compensate for their female colleagues who have to leave office “on-time” due to household duties.

Anyways, the whole idea of putting this incident on paper was to trigger a few thoughts:

  1. Why are our leaders not bothered or let’s say, do not respect their and our day-to-day work life balance?
  2. Why is finishing your work and leaving ON-TIME not valued?
  3. Why is staying late, beyond working hours, considered more competent and flexible?
  4. Why is a college graduate told during his/her induction to project, “This is the time you can learn, so don’t look at your watch or days, just stretch, work and learn”
  5. Why?

In this blog, I discuss some of these questions and I write mostly for my male colleagues, because again, “women have to cook”.

During my starting years of work life, when I was not married, I used to finish my work, including learning and implementation, with in my working hours. I was never addicted to tea/coffee/smoke and so, breaks were short, mostly water or washroom breaks. However I used to stay back for aerobics classes in office which was my stress buster and also my way of staying fit.

Once in a while I got to hear comments like, “Generation these days is not interested in learning, its a just 6 PM and floor is empty”. And I wondered, what kind of examples our managers wanted to set? I felt that an employee like me, would never be good enough because I left at 6 PM, I wanted to stay fit, I wanted to pursue a hobby, I wanted to be idle for sometime of the day.

It is sad, that Mr. Narayan Murthy’s beautiful message about “not staying late” in office has made several rounds on social media over the years, and still died without much impact on the working culture.

Moving on to middle years of my career, I got married and realized that aerobics had to be replaced with workout in society gym because time spent with my husband was important to build a strong foundation of our married life. So my 6 PM schedule remained.

But that does not mean that I was not flexible when there was an urgent release. I have worked late nights when I had WORK to do. I have learnt something new until whee hours of morning because learning is important, because I felt responsible for my work, not because someone was keeping a count of my “online” hours.

And now, when I have a kid, I still try to maintain the same routine, because, future of my child, and an entire generation depends on me. My duty is not only towards my work, but also towards the lives that define my existence and whose existence is dependent on me.

This was my story (so far) in short.  On the contrary, many male colleagues of mine gave up their personal life very soon, because they thought that working late and ignoring hobbies/friends/family was the key to success. For sure, their Linked In profiles prove, that they were right. However, I wonder, what kind of leaders would they be now? Probably, replicas of their own managers, wanting their team to stay late, ignoring their families?

A few days back, I had a chance to chat with a senior manager of a firm and he mentioned that, “It is so difficult to find employees with right attitude these days”. I can’t agree more with him, because over the years, WE have ruined the attitude, WE have created an impression to our next generations that dedication is not valued. Who is to be blamed?

Ironically, when we travel to other parts of the world and observe that how much “work-life balance” is valued there, we boost about it. In Germany, when an employee says, “I have to attend my daughter’s annual day”, he is encouraged to leave early because people there are aware of the fact that “happy moms/dads make happy employees”.  However in India, when an employee says, “I plan to leave a little early today, because my son has a rock music concert”, he is given a “don’t even think about it” look. How can we then expect our employees to not think of their jobs as “9 to 5 jobs”?

The other day, talk on the lunch table was about being a fit leader and how one might loose out on his progression due to fitness issues. The only thought that came to my mind was that, until 10-15 years of work life, everyone talks about working late, stretching at work and then everyone wants fit team members and leaders. Its similar to giving chocolates to a person until he turns diabetic and then asking him to give up on sweets.

Basically, I see the entire system collapsing, and any amount of perks and HR initiatives will not help our industry, unless WE re-define our leadership principles. Passion will be seen at work, only if a happy and content life exists, outside office premises.

So what shall we do? I thought of some simple ToDo list to start with:

  1. Reduce number of meetings, specially non-conclusive meetings. DO NOT name, unnecessarily long meetings as “Brainstorming sessions”
  2. Stop presentations. Microsoft power point is indeed a great tool, but do we really need a slide for everything that we have to convey?
  3. If you want to smoke, then smoke alone. Meetings over smoke sessions not only kill time but also people. Do you remember that passive smoking is more injurious to health?
  4. Keep the work bays lively and vibrant, not the coffee areas. A simple coffee maker & water dispenser would do.
  5. Learning is not an after office task. Plan tasks to include time for learning and innovation.
  6. Remember that we are human beings, the most intelligent life form on earth and not donkeys (bad use of words, can’t help it)
  7. Understand and follow that nothing (apart from nation) is more important than family.
  8. A bug not resolved today will be resolved tomorrow because it was created by you (I copied this line from a colleague)
  9. Trust (DOT)
  10. Valentine’s day is the day of love. Celebrate it and spread some love (I couldn’t help putting this one at the end :D)

And to sum it all, I will say, office is our second home, and let it not overshadow our first home.

I found the post from Mr. Narayan Murthy which is so apt, only if we could follow it.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/message-from-mr-narayan-murthy-all-infosys-employees-satish-babu

 

Image Source: https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-work-life-balance-image18087828

 

Leader or Ladder?

4 years back, I was travelling to Germany for an assignment. Lufthansa terminal was bustling with activity. I could see that a lot of Indian professionals were taking the same flight to Frankfurt.

I found myself a chair and took out my novel to read. It has always been a habit to read a book while travelling. There were two men sitting behind me, their back facing mine. I could clearly hear their conversation which went like this…

“Raman, are you also booked in Holiday Inn?” asked one of the guys in an authoritative tone.

“Yes, I am in 501”, Raman answered.

“Good, then as soon as we reach, lets review the presentation. I don’t like how the content is all scattered right now. I have some ideas in mind on how I would like to present this topic, lets align the presentation exactly to my thoughts”, said the authoritative guy.

“Sure”, Raman replied and discussion ended there.

I was surprised, it was one sided conversation, where in, Raman was just told to do something and he agreed. I wondered how experienced Raman was, may be he was just out from college and was not as experienced about business presentations as his “bossy” colleague.

Anyhow, boarding announcement happened soon.

As I got up, and turned to pick up my bag, my eyes met Raman and I tried to give him a reassuring smile and he reciprocated in the same way. After boarding, I realized that we were neighbors. “Its going to be interesting”, I thought to myself.

It took a while for the plane to take off and after settling in my seat, I took out my book to continue reading. Raman took out his laptop. I didn’t mean to pry but my curiosity got over me and I asked him, “Looks like you are going for a very important presentation, I heard the other guy talking to you at the terminal. Don’t you want to get some sleep? I guess you have to work as soon as you land in Frankfurt!”

“Yeah, that was my boss. It’s very difficult to please him, that’s why I want to work on the presentation and complete it before we land”, he just said, clearly in awe with his boss.

“Please him? I don’t think you were trying to please him. And anyways he is going to change your presentation as per his ideas, so why are you so worried about completing it?” I knew it was not a very professional comment but I was clearly not understanding his point of view.

“No, its not about completing, but if I put in a little more thought and make it as per his idea then I will be able to prove that I can think in the same lines that he does. That’s what leaders look for, team members who their vision”, he clarified himself.

“Really? So if you are able to make this presentation similar to your boss’ idea, the idea that resides in your boss’ brain as of now, you will prove yourself worthy of this job or whatever you are travelling for? Moreover, that’s how you will gain his respect?”, I was flabbergasted.

“That’s how it works in our organization”, he said as a matter of fact.

“Ah, and we talk about creativity, innovation, empowerment and leadership”, I muttered to myself.

This incident was one of the many that I decided to pen down today, which have got me thinking about corporate leadership. I write from Raman’s perspective. His boss was absolutely right about delivering a great presentation, because that was his job, to get business for his organization. However, was his behavior towards Raman justified? Was it expected from a true leader? I would have respected Raman’s boss, if he had given Raman an insight into his idea and then discussed about it, instead of giving an order and putting Raman into a self-doubt mode.

In my opinion, a leader is not someone who is given that title officially. A leader, according to me, is a person, whom we observe, interact, work with, are inspired by his/her actions not because, he/she holds the position of “more” power than us, but because his actions make us believe in his/her vision.

Great leaders, that I had a chance to work with, had one trait in common, “Humility”. They were all so modest about their knowledge and achievements. Over a period of time, I realized that this very trait helped them expand their knowledge base and achieve the most difficult targets. In none of the discussions, they ever projected that “I am Mr. Know it all”, or say something like, “leaders have decided” because true leaders don’t say that “they decide”, even though they do. Leaders show a vision and work towards it and their team eventually starts sharing the same vision. Its not by force or fear. In presence of true leaders, I never had to “mind” my words, or keep my opinion to myself, or have a moment of “what will he think of me”, because they were humble enough to listen to me and at times also learn from me.

Many a times, humility is considered as a weak trait of leaders. Many “leaders” assume that being arrogant means portraying a confident character. However, researches and studies are now revealing that humble leaders are most sought after and also achieve their goals faster and in most satisfying manner. Humble leaders have a self realization of their strengths and weaknesses and they don’t fear to seek support to bridge the gap. True leaders are not called “boss” by their subordinates.

Bosses like Raman’s tend to believe that, as a Leader, they hold the authority and right to intimidate their team members. However they fail to understand, that intimidation can only lead to an annoyed team which doesn’t take much time to collapse.

As the title of this blog suggests, there is a subtle difference between, being a Leader and a Ladder. A leader is a lone fighter, he doesn’t need people to follow him, but nevertheless, people follow him by choice. And when a leader transforms himself into a ladder, he just becomes a path, that people needs to take, no matter what, to fulfill their own ambitions. That’s when a leader looses his identity, work becomes less important and sustaining the Leadership title becomes highest priority. Hence the aim should be to build a ladder and not be a ladder.

Many organizations are driving themselves with leadership principles these days and I fail to see “humility” in the list. My limited interaction with top leaders in some organizations, tells me that  a lot of work is still required, if organizations want to become really great, in terms of business, numbers and people.

Its high time, organizations re-form their leadership principles and ingrain “Humility” from top to bottom, so that true leaders evolve and not transform into mere ladders of short term success for people. Whether leaders fly or not, they should give wings to their followers to fly high.

Coffee Beans…

Her manicured fingers caressed the smooth edge of the shining black granite top. She could almost see her reflection in the black stone. Her reflection wasn’t black though, it was shining, like a star.

Admiring the red nail paint on her slender fingers, she inhaled the enriching aroma of coffee beans. The freshly brewed coffee beans had just transformed themselves into a steaming hot cup of cappuccino. She couldn’t have asked for more, from coffee beans or from her life. She had it all.

Staring at her own look, from toe to tip, everything was just perfect.

Black high healed tiptoes, formal trousers and a business shirt, accompanied by a striped gray business coat, sitting on a high chair, she was an embodiment of women empowerment. A sense of achievement and satisfaction, oozed out of her personality, just like her steaming hot cup of coffee. Her coffee smelled of peace and contentment, because it had reached the most beautiful form of its existence. Sipping from her cup, she also felt the same peace in her heart and mind.

She was the epitome of success and happiness, a combination, rare to find in this miserable world. She worked in a place where everyone was running a race, to reach the top. And the participants of the race were not even aware of what was at the top! They ran for it, because they were told or expected to do so. They had never stopped, even for a moment to reflect at their own life and choices. Success was the target….but then, who defines success? There is always someone more successful than you.

She had her goals and ambitions, very neatly charted out in her mind and she was not running a rat race. She knew the path to the top by-heart because that’s what her heart wanted. And she was well aware that she could hit the bulls eye only when she was happy!

The door opened and her reverie of thoughts was broken by her colleagues. She greeted them with a broad smile and a cheerful, “Good Morning Ma’am”.

It was time to get back to work….”Do you want some coffee ma’am, sir?” she asked courteously.

The Pantry girl stood up to start her day and a Man was born!

Sunset

He looked on….the Sun was hurrying away under the waves of the limitless ocean. It felt as if the Sun was running late for a rendezvous. Was it a date with his wife? “Oh, is Sun married at all?” Avinash frowned. “May be he is, his kids might be waiting eagerly for him to return” Avinash smiled at his own imaginations.

It was his favorite time of the day. When dimming rays of Sun, reflected on the oceanic waves, Avinash reflected on his life from the garden terrace of his beach facing bungalow.

It had been 20 years since he moved to the city of dreams. How ironic was it that Avinash had no dream! He was content in his own world, no expectations from life or people. He loved the sea, standing on the beach, burying his feet under the sand and feeling the sand slowly moving away from his feet. This was how life was for him, like a natural wave, and he was like sand, flowing where the waves took him, without any complaints. How he wished, it had remained the way it was! But at an age of 19, he could not even fathom what was in store for him.

A dreamless happy-go-lucky chap was about to be transformed into an ambitious “never-stop” addict of success.

But here he was, not thinking about his success or next promotion, but staring at the Sun. Suddenly he remembered that Arhan, his son, wanted to play a game of Othello with him but he had calls to attend. “hmm….I missed playing with Arhan, will do it tomorrow”, he made a mental note.

Day after day, Avinash looked at the Sun and made a mental note of something which he had missed during the day, even simple things like hugging Arhan for an extra minute, paying attention to Arna’s (his wife) continuous narration about her day, his 5000 steps walk, spending non-mobile time at the dining table and so on.

Never a day would pass when Avinash didn’t miss out one of the things.

Sun was almost at the entrance of his home. Waves were getting higher and Sun was ready to take a plunge. “What a monotonous life Sun has, wake up at the same time every day, take the same route to sky office, burn till evening and rush back home. No flexibility!! But how is it different from my life? I do the same, day after day.  At-least Sun gets to be home with his family on time everyday! Sun probably doesn’t have any pending tasks at the end of the day” Avinash wondered with a feeling of melancholy.

Since few weeks, Avinash was miserably failing in fighting this pensive feeling. Any kind of success, big or small, was not motivating him enough to go on. His mind kept telling him that this was not the life he had wanted, but if not this, what else would he do?

Sun was home. Avinash let out a sigh, and turned back to enter his home. Another day had ended….

 

PS: An open end of the story is intentional. Lately, I have been meeting people who are fighting the same feeling as Avinash. Call it midlife crises or quest for survival, we are all trying to strike a balance in life. With this story, I just wanted to bring out the feelings that most of us keep hidden, because we can’t stop, what we had started. Answers and solutions are probably within or around us but I have no intentions to find those answers….atleast for now.

You are my Sunshine !

“Mamma, I want this! You have to buy me this toy Papa” Aman was shouting at the top of his voice.

Everyone in the store was staring at him and his parents, Simran & Sanjay. Simran picked up the toy box and checked its price.

She turned towards Sanjay and said, its just 2000 Rs, let him have it. Sanjay also did not have any issues, after all, his son should have it all. He immediately put the toy in their shopping cart and moved ahead. Aman was ecstatic.

As soon as they reached home, Aman tore open the cover of the toy and started playing with it. It was a block game, but an advanced version of it. He started making an airplane from the blocks. After few futile attempts of getting the wings right, he got frustrated and threw away the blogs in all directions. “What kind of blocks are these, I am not even able to make wings. I don’t want it” Aman started crying.

“Its OK baby, we will get you a new one, a bigger one” Simran consoled her only son. Nobody bothered to even pick up the scattered blocks.

In the evening, Aman & Simran head out for their park time. Aman was busy playing with his friends while Simran was walking with her friends. She told the block game story to me and I immediately asked her, “Why did you even buy that toy for Aman? I would never have done that? Kids want everything but as parents we have to decide if they really need it or not”

“C’mon, he is our only son and why are we working so hard? For him, so that he can have a comfortable life? If we can’t even buy him a toy that he wants, then what is the point in earning so much?” Simran retorted to my reaction. I wanted to fight back but decided against it. This is not the first time I have heard these words or seen parents becoming slaves to their kids’ unjustified demands.

Or rather parents are falling prey to their own childhood wishes. As a kid, I always wanted to learn swimming, and had no means because their was no swimming pool in our town. Today when my son somersaults in pool , I see myself in him and feel content. A friend told me that as a kid she always wanted to have a barbie doll and so now her daughter has piles of Barbies. Another friend always had a craze for crocs and so when he bought the first pair of crocs for his son, he felt as if his dream has come true.

It got me thinking, why do we want our kids to have it all, the things that we couldn’t have? Are we trying to prove that we are more capable than our parents? Or is it the twinkle in our child’s eyes that makes us give them everything they demand. Or in our childhood we have so often yearned for something that we can’t stand our kids “longing for anything”.

Looking at my childhood, one day that was very special to me was my birthday. Ah, my birthday! Even the thought makes me smile. I was crazy about it. As soon as the calendar for next year would come, I would first check the day my birthday was falling. It gave me so much of happiness, not sure why, because we never had a birthday party. I always had mid-term exams on my birthday, but still it was a very special day for me. My parents and my brother would wish me, first thing in the morning, relatives and cousins would call and I was chirping the entire day, jumping from one corner to another saying, “its my birthday” at definite intervals. Mom would make my favorite food, Papa would come home a little earlier and my brother would just keep smiling at my happiness. There were no gifts wanted or given. BUT there was a lot of love, motherly love, fatherly love, brotherly love, name it and I had it.

All special occasions, festivals were marked with festivities and not shopping and gifting. On Diwali, my dad would ask us to go around to neighboring shops and offer sweets to everyone. On Holi, it was about making “tolis” and not about wearing white clothes and getting into colored swimming pool.

I still remember summers of May & June when I would cycle from school, carrying the heavy school bag, face red due to extreme heat and my parents were neither worried about the weight of my bag nor my complexion.

And only today, my son complained how heavy his bag was. He couldn’t even carry it from apartment gate to the lift which are hardly 20 meters apart. When I protested that he should carry his own bag, I got “what kind of mom is she” looks from other mommies and daddies. I gave in !!

Why are we underestimating our kids in all aspects of life? Whether its slight manual task like carrying schoolbags, emotional turmoil of handling fights or failures or yearning for a toy, we parents are always at their rescue. We do not let anyone (read anyone), scold our kids, or teach them the right thing to do. “Every child is different, we have to let them be” is what I hear from so many parents, who feel disciplining their child will restrict her/hers’ imaginative skills.

For me, bullying, bad language, troubling other kids, are definitely not imaginative skills. But again, I don’t have rights to discipline or scold any child other than mine. So I let them be.

Now coming to why is this change happening, in parents and kids? Kids are not to be blamed, because they are just exploring the options being given to them and who wouldn’t? So it all boils down to us, parents and I found some examples around me.

  1. Peace Loving Parents: These are mostly no-nonsense parents. Anything which is genuinely required is definitely bought remaining in a budget. Out-of-the-world demands, are a strict no, with an attempt to explain. However at times, they give in to child’s demands, for the sake of having some peace, under peer pressure, or under parent pressure.
  2. “Our Only Child” Parents: Parents in this category are victim of their self-made pity for child, “he is the only one, or he is alone”. “If we scold him then he won’t talk to us or confide in us. He will be emotionally unstable.” Such parents impose the duty of being a sibling, a friend, a caretaker, a punching bag on themselves. They forget the simple fact, that only being a parent is enough.
  3. “Scared” Parents: Such parents are always scared for their children, due to various reasons, like the child happened after many years and complications, or the child had a major accident in past, or too much in-take of “crime patrol”. Media, news, current state of crime against children, all play a role in forming of these parents. And they are not entirely wrong. However, when fear turns into obsession, it leads to major parenting problems.
  4. “Tech Savy” Parents: Such parents are highly technology oriented and cannot be blamed. Technology is our present and future. They make sure that their children have all types of comforts in form of gadgets. Feelings are given less importance. This is another reason of kids being glued to mobiles & tablets these days.
  5. “I don’t force my opinion on my child” Parents: I don’t need to explain much, however there is another side to it. Such parents get forced by their children’s opinion. In quest of allowing freedom and space to the child, they even move out of the “parent corner” of the child’s room.
  6. “Oh my poor child” Parents: These parents are always feeling bad for their child. Any discomfort expressed by the child makes them cringe and they can go to any extent to remove the pricking thorn. They don’t let their child experience the painful part of life at all. Child’s smile is of utmost importance to these parents.

Well I can keep writing….its again a vast topic. The way parenting is happening these days, it imposes serious problems for the future of our children, the same future which we are working so hard to secure. I once read an article that our parents had only one option, to work hard and make a life for themselves, so they focused on supporting their families. We had better options and financially stable background, thanks to our parents, and so we could widen our horizons. And our kids have an ocean to explore, but we are restricting them from taking steps, dreaming, yearning because we are too scared to loose them to the waves. In our quest to make our children’s life blissful, we are forgetting that “falling” is that essential part of life without which “walking” has no meaning.

For every mom & dad, children are their sunshine, but Sun shines only when it burns….are our kids truly shining like Sun?

Mars, Venus & Earth

“Hey Mansi, Paneer Tikka is delicious. You are such a good cook. I can never get the flavors so perfect!”, I exclaimed genuinely after tasting the Paneer Tikka, from the cooking dish. Mansi was all set to plate it in a copper tray.

Mansi and Manav, my college friends had invited us for dinner, over the weekend. Their love story had started in college, Manav was our senior (Mansi’s and mine) and programming language workshops had brought them closer. It was one of the few love stories that lived even after college ended.

“Thanks! I will accept your compliment today as I, and not my cook, have cooked this Paneer Tikka”, she giggled.

I joined her in giggling and started adding coriander leaves on Paneer cubes. It was perfect, in taste and in look.

“Can I ask you something Mansi?” I looked at her, there was a question in my mind for a long time.

“Shoot! You of all people, do not need my permission”, she gave her consent, not even looking at me, giving her entire concentration on plating.

“I have always seen Manav supporting your professional life and he also understands that if you have to work full time, then things at home will have to be compromised. But don’t YOU ever feel like taking a break? I see you work so hard, and you have a good social circle. You are always in office, and also manage partying over weekends. I know you need your “me” time but do you think its worth it? You have always been a feminist, even in college, but does feminism means, competing with your partner? If you can have a happier life by giving up your career then why are you so hell bound to work? Some time back you told me how Manav’s relatives taunt at you because of you working status and I have seen you getting frustrated as well. Then why are you still putting up with everything, is ambition more important than a peaceful family life?”

Mansi was intently listening to me. I knew it was not the first time, that, she was questioned about her choices in life but it was definitely the first time from me. We had been best friends since college and I guess she didn’t expect such traitor-ship from her bestie.

“Hmm…..so you are saying that I am not a good wife, mother, and a good daughter-in-law, because I chose to work, and because I party with my friends for “me” time?” Mansi asked me with a raised eyebrow.

“No No Mansi, I did not mean to say that. And you know it. All I am trying to say is that what keeps you going after so many adversities?” I clarified, knowing too well that how much it must hurt her being questioned by me.

“Its just like this Paneer Tikka, Paneer cubes, spices, coriander and this copper tray depend on each other to make the prefect dish. Let me explain, do you remember our programming workshops? Where we first met Manav?”, Mansi asked, testing my memory.

“Off-course, how can I forget? You were totally smitten by his demeanor and intelligence in the first class itself. And I also remember how you had made the first move. I was so surprised then, had never expected that from an introvert like you”, I winked at Mansi.

“Yes, I was an introvert and still am. Manav is different, there is something about him that attracted me then and now. I had not realized it then, we were young, not mature enough. Love was just a rosy feeling, it was more about dates, gifts, kisses and making out I guess. After about an year of our dating, Manav and I had grown very comfortable with each other. Trust was building in our relationship and one day he let off his guard. He told me about his worst fear.”

I just nodded indicating Mansi to continue.

“Manav’s father had an almost fatal accident when Manav was 8. And from that tender age, he had lived in fear of loosing his father. He had lived an insecure life worrying about his and his mother’s future, god forbid, if something happened to his father. The day he told me about this incident, I think he just wanted to share it with someone. He probably thought that I would understand. But to be frank, I didn’t. I didn’t understand his fears that day, because I always had a comfortable life. My father has always been healthy with a good job and my mother has always been deft at taking care of home.”

Mansi paused for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts. I am sure, if someone other than me had asked her this question, then she would have given an outrageous reply.

“By the end of college we were sure that we wanted to take our relationship further and after 3 years we got married. Both of us were working and there was immense pressure on me to quit after marriage. I still remember when one of his aunties mentioned about how I should change my priorities since I was married now and Manav immediately came to my rescue saying he wanted me to continue with me job. At that moment I felt proud of him, for supporting me and my ambitions. Life was blissful other than regular bragging from his relatives about me not being a good wife. And then 2 years later, I conceived. When I broke the news to Manav, he was ecstatic!” Mansi was smiling, she was lost in the memories of that moment.

“But after a few days, I felt he was changing, he was tensed, he wouldn’t sleep properly. He worried about his job and would sit making excels on how our expenses are going to increase after our baby came to our life. I was getting impatient and one day, I was trying to introspect if any of my actions had caused the change in behavior. Slight jitters were natural but Manav’s behavior was not OK. It made me tense and I didn’t want to be. Finally it struck me that his childhood fears were coming true. He was worried that his unborn child would have the same fears about his dad, since I was planning to take a break from work. And break generally becomes permanent. We all know that.”

“So I casually mentioned to him once that I am planning to continue working after my extended maternity leave gets over. That was it. And here I am, Yes, I work and I also party. I know you are still not convinced. You might be thinking that Manav should have been stronger, its his duty to support his family, how can he expect his wife to work because he is insecure, not all men have fears like this, but still their wives chose to have a career. And for that I will tell you my dear friend, that its not about insecurity. Its about companionship. In a marriage, husband & wife depend on each other and there is nothing wrong in it. Years back, some norms were made, due to the circumstances then, that husband earns and wife manages the house. It was indeed a perfect setup. I have been brought up in such a setup and I have enjoyed every bit of my childhood. BUT, now when I look back, I have also seen my dad returning from office, tensed about his work, whether he will still have his job next day. And, I have also seen my mother, struggling to fulfill her household duties when she had high fever and her body cried with pain and fatigue. Not that they were not in love with each other or did not want to support each other. They were just helpless, due to the norms of the society. Due to an in-built belief that this is how life should be. For me, its not companionship, its compartmentalization.”

“The time we live in now, as a girl child, we had an opportunity to make a career for ourselves, and boys learnt the art of home making in hostels if not from their mothers. I can’t blame the mothers, I know how difficult it is for a mother to get her son into the kitchen when entire family is opposing her. Anyways, thankfully, both men and women of our generation are capable enough to fulfill all the duties, financial or household. So why not do it? Why still live in the age old belief system and blame feminism? There is no competition my dear, its just what others perceive it as. And some day, even they will reach that maturity level. Until God bestows the light of wisdom on those others, shall we give up on supporting the only person who will be there for us till our last breath? I have always believed that change is the only constant, we can not live in a capsule that existed 30 years back. Its high time we realize that the capsule is broken and partners are free to depend on each other and have their weak moments. Regarding Manav, supporting me, he is doing exactly what I am doing, letting me depend on him. I know he is there. That feeling is out of the world. Believe me!” Mansi clasped her hands together and touched her lips, letting out a silent prayer.

“Yes, we have a cook and necessary support system. And what’s wrong it? In olden days also, women used to have female cooks. All i think about it that I am giving a job to someone needy. About my parties, very important point, have you forgotten about the kitty parties that our moms used to eagerly wait for? What about our dads, going out with their friends? If it was justified then why do we raise fingers now? You can draw parallels to every action of ours today, with previous generations or even dynasties. Its just that we are not willing to accept the change. For sure its a drastic change and so called “feminists” portray it as a war between men and women. Well, I will speak only for myself, for me its just depending on someone I love and trust and also being a pillar of strength for him. If I leave this job, I will for sure put my heart and soul into something else to be there for Manav. One more thing, having “me” time, doesn’t mean that “we” time is lost. Essentially, when a husband and wife fight with each other, all they are looking out are for is some “me time”, Mansi laughed out loud.

“One more thing, I am not demeaning women who chose to be homemakers, they are also supporting their better halves and that should be respected. People who judge, need to come out of their cocoons and accept the change, there is no war. For sure, men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and some powerful celestial force have landed them both on Earth. The only option that we have is to support and depend on each other because there is noway to return to their respective planets…..for some more years at-least” Mansi ended her explanation with a wink. I was overwhelmed.

“Let’s go now, I can’t wait to see the look on Manav’s face when he eats this Paneer Tikka” Mansi picked up the copper tray, which held the perfectly marinated and baked Paneer Tikka, seasoned with coriander leaves!

Under 9

So , I was thinking what should I write on this Friday. Mind was brewing up a lot of stories but heart wanted to pen down some unsaid thoughts. Yeah, unsaid, for many years and will remain so !

When I was in school, I had a friend, a “Hi-Hello” friend actually. Our talks were mostly limited to greeting each other with a “Good Morning”, passing courteous smiles and waving “Bye” at the end of the day. She had her own “gang” of friends and I had mine. We belonged to very different sect of friends, behaviorally & socially. I will not get into the differences because it doesn’t matter….for this blog. May be some other day….I would write about that too.

During one of her weak moments, when she was outcast-ed from her gang, she confessed how much she hated her “so called” friends and was being forced to be with them. Yes, she was being forced, by her parents to be with “those” kids, because her parents wanted her to be like them. I was intrigued, because I saw kids being compared everywhere, at home, at school, at parties, at family gatherings and so on.

Today, when I look back, I find how many childhoods were ruined because of comparison. And I am thankful to those parenting articles which are creating awareness in new age parents to let the child be, a child. BUT, do you think it has stopped or even reduced?

No, a definite NO.

I was out for my evening walk the other day and was chatting with a friend, whose son takes the same class as mine. And she informed me that one of their common friends has joined a class and is being coached for “under 9” tournament. I had a sudden pang of a feeling that I can’t describe and said, “Oh god, so they are also stuck in the viscous circle of “under””!!! I have no doubts about the child’s capabilities, but all I can see is another under 9 child being pushed into a shark tank. And he has to keep floating, because his parents are tied to the same rope as he is and if he drowns, they drown too !!

When I was a kid, comparison was with cousins and friends, now its with 100 stranger kids, whom WE think are better. Why are we doing this to our children? I don’t have an answer. I am a culprit too. My son, once was passionate about a game, today also he plays, he wins medals and trophies too, but the passion is missing. I ask myself, why? Because we, parents, teachers and society, made him believe that he is capable, of doing wonders. And that belief was shattered, when he lost in games, again and again. He picked himself up after every lost game and played the next one with the same zeal, but for how long? Even the toughest of players have bad days.

So the new age term for new age parents is “under x”. Parents take pride in saying, “our kid is participating in under 7, or under 9 or under some tournament”. What they fail to understand is that, their kid is just under 9 and next year he wont be, so instead of pushing him or her to do something which he doesn’t want to or can’t, may be for once, let him truly be “under 9”.

Let them explore what a 9 year old kid should, let them engage in various activities, chose what they like and discard what they don’t. We as parents and our kids should learn to accept their natural capabilities and weaknesses. Because acceptance brings in a sense of satisfaction and also a sense of competition, with own-self.

My advice to all new parents, don’t succumb to the pressures of society, be a mom and dad to your child, scold him, stand for him, pat his back when he wins, hug him when he looses, but never ever say, “look…..your friend got a trophy in under 9 tournament, what are you doing?” Believe me, they will soon be under 11 and you wont even realize where those 2 precious years of their childhood vanished.

High Heels

Meher felt uneasy, she turned to her side, trying to shield her ears with her cushion. Words that fell on her ears sounded like noise. She tried hard to sleep. But the dreams that filled her eyes and mind were disturbing. She didn’t see her fairy angel this time.

She woke up startled, and started kicking, trying to grab attention. Like always, kicking did not go unnoticed. Meher felt the pat and heard those magical words, “hey baby, so you are awake. Don’t worry, mamma is here. Are you hungry?”. Meher kicked again. “I knew” a pat with a chuckle. “You know what, mamma is hungry too. Lets eat something sweet”.

Meher felt content, and she dozed off in dreams coated with the sweetness of her mother’s words! “Mother’s womb is such a beautiful place to be”, she thought. But what was that noise?

Meher’s entry to the world was marked with bitter and sweet moments. At the age of 2, she was judged for being short, like her mother. At 5, she was advised to practice wearing heels when she grows up, if she wanted to grab a good husband. At 9, she was made fun of, for being the shortest girl in her class. “Nobody can see you”, everyone would laugh at her.

She would come crying to her mom, “Why am I not tall like other girls mamma? Why is being visible so important?. Her mamma had no answers, she was advised to eat protein rich diet during her pregnancy to have a tall baby. Meher was judged even before she was born. All her mamma could say was, “Don’t worry baby, mamma is here. I will buy you a beautiful pair of heels and then you will also be visible”.

At the age of 12, heels became Meher’s best friend. She wore them like a pro, blocks, stilettos, cone…she adored her heels for giving her, that much needed visibility.

At 13, she was hit by lightening. Her heels would not be able to help her anymore. She was covered from tip to toe in a black naqab. “Why were they all so worried about my height, if all they wanted was to cover me up?” she complained. She wanted to rebel, but her mamma stopped her. “It will not help you Meher. Find your own heels, and then everyone will see you”.

She found solace in books and read as much as she could. Meher was a natural at stage, an extempore speaker. Her voice would wake up the most sleepy heads in an auditorium. The shortest girl of the class started representing her school in debates.

College was a dream come true, she took a bold step to change her naqab into a hijab, but heels still remained her favorite. Now she had a face and also those heels, to make her stand out in the crowd. She was visible enough. Meher became an integral part of drama and oratory club. Her dream was to be a great orator, and she chose an idol for her. “I would be like him, one day”, she promised herself secretly.

“Hey Meher, director is calling you”, her friend called. Meher rushed towards the director’s room. She had good grades and she was outstanding at extracurricular activities, so there was nothing to worry about. “May be, there is an event coming up and they want me to compere for it” she guessed.

“Hello Sir, did you call me?” she opened the shaded glass door of director’s room after knocking once.

“Yes, Meher, please come in. I wanted to talk to you about an event”, director declared.

So she was right. She sinked into the chair and listened attentively.

“We have a special guest coming in next week and we want you to plan out a 2 hour program. It should be based on nationality, challenges of current generation and the changes that your generation want to see around you. I want you to take the lead. You can plan it as a drama or musical but you should speak about a topic. You will be the first student to meet our guest and also take a short interview”.

“Sure sir, who is the guest? I will prepare the interview questions accordingly”. Meher inquired.

“I can’t reveal that as its confidential. Don’t worry, I am confident that you won’t have any trouble framing your questions as soon as you meet him”, director smiled and indicated her to start with the preparation.

The Day

The college was buzzing with activity. Meher chose to wear sleek golden stilettos for the occasion. Guest had arrived. She hurried towards director’s room and knocked, “May I come in Sir”.

One look at the guest, made her go weak in her knees. She stumbled in her heels, getting engulfed in his aura. Her ankle twisted bringing her back to her senses, and she said, “Sorry Sir, I mean, Hello sir, its a privilege to meet you”. Interview went on for half an hour and she felt captured. Captured in his enigma. Her idol was sitting in front of her, answering her stupid questions.

“You have a great voice Meher. And you are extremely well informed. You would be a great orator one day.” he paused for a second and they said, “And your heels are beautiful”, he laughed out loud.

“Lets go to the auditorium for the cultural program sir”, Director said and Meher followed them.

She had to make an opening speech, the topic she had chosen was close to her heart, about her favorite heels. Meher walked on to the stage, stared down at her feet and stepped out of her stilettos. 4 inches shorter Meher stepped forward and opened her speech, all eyes curiously glued on to her.

“Hi everyone, can you hear me?”. A loud uproar echoed in the auditorium.

“Can you see me?”, audience burst out laughing.

“Never mind” and Meher continued.

It was her “Mitron” moment!!!

 

Chasing the Rainbow

“Its too hot in here, when are they going to fix the air conditioning?” cursed Sid, loosening his tie. He had flown to Delhi in the morning, for a customer meeting. As soon as he reached the client office, he was informed that minimum ventilation is available due a major power breakdown. Electrical team had been intimated and were on their toes to fix the issue ASAP.

Sid, a passionate engineer, worked in a multi national company as a senior executive. He had landed in Bangalore, the IT capital of India, soon after completing his engineering course. It wasn’t difficult for Sid, to find a job of his liking, He was a star performer in his university and a sucker for technology. As a child, he would see his cousins living in cities, use mobile phones and it fascinated him to the core. His dream was to invent and innovate. Numbers excited him and he fell in love with binary as soon as his eyes fell on it. There was no looking back or going back. He was hell bound on making his life a success. He grew up in the corporate ladder like a shark attacking its prey, unstoppable and unbeatable. Travelling in business class and breathing the conditioned air had become a norm. Anything below was derogatory for Sid.

And there he was, in a carpeted, round table conference room, sweating in front of a pedestal fan. He gasped for breath and rushed out of the building. Scene outside was no different. His Burberry sun glasses were seeking shade from the scorching rays of the sun. He wished that it rained !

Was it his dream vision? No! Clouds surfaced, blinding the sun. Mild breeze, blew Sid’s hair. He closed his eyes and let our a sigh of relief. Breeze suddenly transformed into a wind storm.

“No, No….don’t take the clouds away”, pleaded Sid.

“Your wish is my command”, breeze blew into his ears and it started pouring. Sid ran under the patio. Smell of the mud, being tickled by the drops of rain, reached his barren heart and he got lost in the reverie of thoughts.

Sid saw the cracks in the land in front of him, the land which yearned for water. Eyes filled with tears, but those salty tears could only make the land even more barren. His father’s quest, and the defeated look on his mother’s face when she served only a spoon of rice to him and his brother. Amar, his elder brother was so different. While Sid was always fascinated with the life beyond farms and village, Amar had a strange connection with his fields. Even though he was good at studies, he never tried to look for a life beyond his farms. They had seen their father struggle and that had transformed both the children in a different way. Sid hated the struggle and Amar challenged the struggle.

The drought had lasted for 2 years, but when it rained, it brought prosperity and rainbow! Sid would run across the fields and chase the rainbow. “Its not an achievable dream Sid, don’t run behind something that you will never reach”, Amar used to tell his kid brother. It did not deter Sid’s resolve.

“Hey Bro’, you were wrong, I caught the rainbow”, Sid looked up at the VIBGYOR in the clear sky. It wasn’t hot anymore.

A week later

“Heavy rains since last 7 days have disturbed the lives in northern parts of India. Farmers struggle to save their crop! Rivers are overflowing and villagers have been alerted to move to safe places identified by rescue teams. Help is pouring in from all parts of the country”, news flashed on the TV. Sid stared at the name of his village flashing on the screen. Gates of the dam near his village had been opened to save it from heavy pressure of water building up on the other side. He looked at his smart phone, which obeyed by unlocking itself. “Amar” was the first number in his address book.

“Beep beep beep….the number you have dialed is not in the network coverage” Sid heard the message over and over again. “Where the hell is this guy?, he threw his phone on the sofa.

“Amar, where have you been, is everything OK? I saw it in the news. How are Baba and Maa? Just take the next flight and come here, I will book tickets right away!” It was 3 AM in the morning, Sid was woken up by the shrill of his phone ring and all he could think was about “Amar”.

“Beta, its me. Amar gave his phone to me in case I needed to contact you for emergency. They are not able to find him. Gates were opened and we all were moved to neighboring village. Amar was trying to arrange for cattle to be taken to a safe place. Nobody saw him after that”.

Sid did not know if he couldn’t hear anymore or if his father had stopped speaking. Phone slipped from his hand and fell on the floor, shattering the screen. Light from his night lamp fell on the shattered glass, forming a rainbow and Amar’s name twinkled on it.

We Love Only Once! Really?

It was a memorable night for Sandra as she was finally marrying the man of her dreams. Krishna and Sandra had met at a business meeting by chance, and instantly got along. Friendship that had started with casual meetings, soon became a strong bond with confessions of love and desires.

Sandra was a charming person, everyone loved her, and many were smitten by her infectious smile. She had an opinion about everything, a liberated woman in true sense.

Krishna, on the other hand, was quite, but with an amazing sense of humor. He loved Sandra for her carefree attitude, which was so hard to find in women of his family. Sandra loved him for his composure and the fact that he could her make laugh without the slightest of efforts. They were poles apart, but belonged to each other.

Being a part of modern world, it wasn’t tough to break the news to her parents, who were more than happy for their daughter. After all, who finds true love in this world anymore! It wasn’t easy for Krishna though. Having grown up in a conservative family, even thinking of an inter-religious marriage was a sin for him. But, there are moments when you just know that “she is the one” and that feeling kept him going and his parents finally gave in to his only wish!

Marriage turned out be a fairytale wedding for Sandra, a private beach wedding in Goa. When Sandra walked the aisle in her maroon lehenga, her favorite song playing in background, and her eyes were glued on to Krishna’s. They couldn’t get enough of each other. At that moment, she realized that they were soulmates and no matter what twists and turn life had in store for them, she will always love him. Krishna couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was the girl of his dreams and he made a promise to himself, to be always be on her side, no matter what!

He had insisted on a Christian wedding, but it was her idea to blend the two cultures. She looked stunning in her maroon lehenga. He stepped down, and helped her on to the stage, taking her hand. They stood hand in hand while exchanging vows, and performing rituals of both the cultures!

It was now time for Sandra to join her new family. It was a happy yet sad moment for her. Krishna didn’t leave her side even once while she bid goodbye to her family and friends. But, her eyes searched for someone, as if a part of her was still left behind. She saw, Sebastian, Seb as she fondly called him, standing in a corner, smiling at her.

Krishna left Sandra’s hand and prompted her to go ahead. He knew when he had to step back. Sandra walked towards Seb and cozily melted in his arms. They held on to each other for what it seemed like an eternity to Seb. “I will see you around,” Sebastian said and let her go.

Krishna wondered if Sandra will ever get to know of Seb’s feelings or rather her feelings for Seb. He considered himself lucky enough that she had chosen him over Seb.

Sebastian was Sandra’s childhood buddy. Born 11 days before Seb, she would always bully him saying, ‘I am elder!’ They were together in school and then college. Seb was with her always, when her best friend made a new best friend, when she broke up with her boyfriend in college, when she got her job, and when she first confessed her feelings for Krishna.

When Seb and Krishna were first introduced, it wasn’t difficult for Krishna to guess how Seb felt for Sandra. He couldn’t help and asked Seb, “Why did you let her go?” Seb just said, “She doesn’t know it yet, and now I don’t want her to know because it will break her. She adores you Krishna”. That confession defined the end of Seb’s and beginning of Krishna’s love story.

Sandra’s charm worked on Krishna’s family and everyone eventually accepted her. Krishna never tried to contain her adventurous spirit. She had never felt so content and happy in her life before. Her married life was a blend of love, passion, and a balanced family.

Sebastian eventually moved to Canada for his higher studies and got a good job offer there. That’s when he told Sandra about the love of his life. Sandra was furious! “How could he? All these years, he could never tell me anything, while I told him each and every detail of my life”. She was almost in tears when she gave the news to Krishna. Krishna laughed out loud, “He is getting married Sandra, why are you so angry? Do you feel that he will not be there for you anymore and that makes you sad?” “I don’t know, let him do whatever he wants,” she didn’t want to discuss anymore.

She was confused, the emotions that she was feeling were tearing her apart. She wasn’t sure of her own feelings, how could she discuss it with Krishna. Seb asked her to travel to Canada and help her with the wedding arrangements. She did her best to sound cheerful and readily agreed to help him. All she wanted was to be with Seb and to understand her own feelings. Was she just jealous?

Time in Canada made her feel better, she visited new places, and badly missed Krishna. Only if he could come here earlier, it would have been an exotic vacation for them. Steffi, Sebasitian’s fiance, was a lovely girl and Sandra was not jealous anymore. Sebastian and Steffi were madly in love with each other.

Sandra was always thinking about Krishna and texted her whenever she could. He was also missing her badly. This was longest time they had spent away from each other. It gave her immense joy to think that the spark which most married couples search for after a few years, was still alive for her and Krishna, even after five years of marriage.

Finally, the day had arrived and Seb was ecstatic. Steffi was supposed to spend the night with her girlfriends and collect as many coins as she could. It was a tradition!

Seb and Sandra decided to have a quiet evening, drinking wine and eating pizza. It was like old times, memories of childhood, and college. Seb teased her about how much she had cried when her boyfriend had broken up with her in college, that he had to give his shirt for dry cleaning! Sandra, fondly started talking about Krishna and how much they were both in love with each other even after so many years and Sebastian couldn’t talk enough about Steffi.

“Why did we never fall in love with each other?,” Sandra asked. She was already feeling a little tipsy. “We are so perfect for each other, we have practically lived together, then why?” Seb was just looking at her! At that moment she knew, what was bothering her all these days.

It would never be same again. “Can you hug me?” is all she could say and once again, melted in his arms. They held on to each other, not wanting to let go.

That night, Sandra knew that she was in love with two men. She loved Krishna and Seb, both selflessly. She was drawn to both of them for different reasons, which made her complete. It wasn’t a broken or bad relationship that made her realize her feelings for Seb. Sometimes, it just takes forever to know that you can fall in love again. Sandra was always in love with Seb and yet, she fell for Krishna and yet again, for Sebastian.

The question is… whether this twist will be accepted? But, who cares… Sandra, Krishna, Sebastian, and Steffi are living their happily ever after!

PS: Variation of this blog was first published on http://thelhour.blogspot.com/ and also published on www.momspresso.com