Reading some letters from 2008 on Israel-Palestine written to National Geographic in response to the article Bethlehem 2007 AD.
Some readers blame the Israelis, others blame the Palestinians. Given the history of Jewish sufferings and poor lives of muslims, maybe we should stop blaming either and start blaming the entire world for this never ending conflict and for not creating a more tolerant society.
I felt that this article explained the situation well.
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
And you receivers… and you are all receivers… assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.
Reading the book Lean-In by Sheryl Sandberg has triggered this blog.
Even though I was born and raised in a society where women were expected to look pretty and make babies since as early as the age of 21, my mother had a different dream for me. When she herself was 8, she had begun cooking and took care of family meals. From 12 years of age, she had to care for her younger brother (who is 12 years younger) as if he were her own child despite my grand-parents still being alive. She would have to ask my father for money and permission every time she wanted to buy something because he was the single-earning member of the family. These are just a few of the several examples I recollect. As a child, to me, it seemed like a pretty dim picture. It wasn’t because anyone had been mean or disrespectful to her, they were all living the way the society was that time. However, she just felt that the whole thing was very unfair. When I was born, she dreamt of herself in me with all the freedom (of choice and life) she had ever imagined. Till date she happily and proudly reminds me how I am everything she had ever dreamt of being.
She had decided that I would earn a living for myself, I would be taught to think for myself, make my own choices and become successful. My kind liberal father supported her decision. So, as they tell me till date, I was raised like a boy and I am to them what an elder son in the family is like. This was also the reason why they literally kept me away from skirts, dresses and kitchen (despite all my family members strongly criticizing them for the kitchen part) and encouraged me to wear shorts and pants because they wanted me to focus on my work and education rather than my looks or boys (which was also criticized by extended family). My education, work, and all-round development were prioritized over everything else in the world, including their own life or happiness. Till date I question and doubt myself of being able to ever make such sacrifices for my children as they did for me.
I vividly remember the day after I turned 18 when my maternal grandfather (a highly influential figure in my life and a successful lawyer himself) informed me that there were some very good “prospects” for my marriage on the horizon if I would consider it; and I strongly declined it saying that I wanted to study further; and my mom who was secretly over hearing this conversation through the kitchen door looked proudly at me.
On a regular basis, I would be given examples of many of my aunts around me who were suffering because they did not take control of their lives when opportunities came their way. “Look how abjectly and sorrowfully they are living now”, my mom would say. “Look at me”, she would continue, “is this what you want to become? No? Then study and work hard, no one has ever died or failed because they worked hard.” I took her pretty seriously. Now when I look back, I find it quite amusing that my life was filled with characters whom I did not want to grow up to be like. For the longest time, I remember thinking proudly of myself as a rebel, until I realized, it wasn’t me, in reality my mom was a rebel.
They brought me up to believe that I had tremendous capabilities and that I could achieve anything I wanted. I remember going to my mom feeling dejected on various occasions and she saying to me in kind but strong tone “There is nothing that you are not capable of doing.” They treated me equally to my younger brother. We both had equal opportunities, equal love and were considered to be equally competent and capable, to the extent that I never realized that not all girls get such equal treatment or feel this way. If I was found looking in the mirror for more than 5 minutes, gossiping, talking on the phone for more than 10 minutes, I would get an elongated hearing from my father (& this has continued till date).
Unknowingly all these experiences taught me to not take things personally when anyone criticized me. If there was ever a bias against me because of my gender, I never realized it. If ignorance is bliss, this was it. Maybe I had subconsciously assumed and accepted the common view that the men were considered ‘superior’ in the world than women and that my goal wasn’t to rebel against that view, rather, it was to rise above despite the challenges and change the perception by leading an example. I began using my gender as an advantage and strength instead of weakness.
This helped me navigate through situations in my career and life that otherwise could have bogged me down. It also helped me be bold, so for example, when I was negotiating for my salary twice over last 5 years, I would first discuss at length with my husband and then negotiate hard (although I was nervous while doing so), as if I deserved it. I usually got what I asked for.
More recently I have concluded that it wasn’t like I did not possess the internal barriers that the book refers to. Only that I tried to fight those internal barriers subconsciously and certainly did not let the external barriers hold me back. And this was because of my parents who had leaned in and paved the path for me. They weren’t perfect but they made my life.
“Memoirs provide a record not so much of the memoirist as of the memoirists world.” How can a rabbit hopping through the grass accurately tell how it is looking, it can only tell how the grass around it is looking from its own eyes. With these lines in the book’s introduction, I excitedly took on the enchanting journey of the Memoirs of a Geisha. I already knew in my heart that I would enjoy the book and I thoroughly did.
It is a drama story told in first person by the lead Geisha – Chiyo or Sayuri – herself. It is stirringly self-reflective, quite shocking sometimes and makes you want to believe in fate or fortune. I really enjoyed the book because it gives very vivid and colorful descriptions of the traditions, customs and code of conduct which is new and unknown to the outsiders. This fascinating history and culture is neatly woven into the story of a lead Geisha, her ties with her abjectly poor fisherman’s family, the story of being sold by a seemingly kind man, her older sister, the politics of an Okiya, the competitions and jealousy that has no rules or boundaries, broken friendships, the journey of becoming a Geisha and then making one’s own future. It is a life full of struggle.
It occured to me only after reading the book that the story was also as much about the intertwined lives of characters around her like Mameha, Hatsumomo, Pumpkin, even her older sister Satsu (who failed to become a Geisha), as Sayuri herself, because every Geisha is unique and so are her experiences. By bringing those other Geisha’s into the story in such great detail, the author has very smartly presented the different directions a Geisha’s life could take.
The book breaks the myth that Geisha’s are prostitutes. It also gives very engrossing account of their lives and what makes a Geisha, a Geisha. A Geisha is a summation of the various roles she plays of an entertainer, an artist, a lover, a secret keeper, even a maid or a waitress in some sense, her surroundings, past, present, her Dona and admirers, her stylish complicated Kimonos and hairstyles, her parties, her Okiyas amongst many other things.
This line summed up for me how a Geisha thinks of her life- “Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.”
I repeatedly questioned whether she would be suffering more or less as a free but poverty stricken girl or as a sold child forced to become a Geisha. The way the story ended, I got my answer, but I also understood that the answer would likely vary depending on the circumstances. However, I support free choice any given day. But coming from India where social circumstances play a heavy role in one’s life, I have seen and personally experienced how other people could end up strongly influencing the direction of one’s life for better or for worse.
I thought bringing in the World War gave an interesting twist, in that, it not only gave an insight into how the common peoples lives were affected but also presented an opportunity to Sayuri to make her own choice – whether to end her Geisha career or to continue, a choice she did not have before. Sometimes she appears to be naive (even foolish at times in her circumstances) and stubborn, someone who is willing to risk everything she had in order to get what she wanted (which was usually not too much but in her situation, one would think she would know better than to demand anything.) . But this was also why she was different and daring; she didn’t see the value of things in the worldly sense, but followed her heart. Reminds me of this line from the book – “This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes they consume us completely.”
The book is full of drama, tension and mystery. It is very well written. The characters were colorful, the city and the world of Geisha were entertaining (and almost exotic for a while!), the war was dreadful and the love story carried the book for me.
By Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
She was sitting alone outside the old church in the main square of the small spanish town. She was not literally alone as the square was full of children and parents, lovers, and tourists. The clock had just struck 9 in the evening. Shops were closing their shutters, and music from bars was getting louder, street vendors had finished packing for the night but fountains were still dancing. Children were playing and and street performers were still around. There was one more hour to go before the crowd would begin to disperse.
But she was lonely. She had just had a squabble with him while they were exploring the streets outside the main square. They parted ways after the quarrel and since she had left first, she had no idea where he had gone. As she was walking away from him, she had considered going back…after all, how would they find each other? They were not carrying their cell phones and it was pretty busy in the main square. But she was too angry to think logically. She wasn’t going to give in this time. Now it was his turn to woo her, she thought.
Thankfully they both knew how to get back to their hotel in this new town they had just arrived at this morning. But he had the keys and it was too early to head back. They had not had dinner. She was starving. They had wanted to go for dinner to a cafe nearby that they had both liked. It was right there, facing the main square on the right side of the church. She could still go. But she didn’t want to go alone as she knew he wouldn’t go without her either…which meant they still cared about each other. The day either one of them went alone to a place where they both had wanted to go, that special connection would be lost forever. They both cherished this unspoken rule. So she found this spot outside the church which was away from the crowd hoping that he would come looking for her and would be able to spot her here more easily than elsewhere.
She noticed the woman selling balloons, old man selling ice-cream, kids everywhere like pigeons during the day, the local business owners walking back home, families taking pictures and lovers in middle of embarrassing public display of affection. The warm breeze blew softly and her tears started drying. Almost 10 minutes had gone by and he had not come. She kept looking in the direction from where she had walked out on him. She had hoped that he would follow her, but there was no sign of him. He was never the normal types, he always took her by surprise by his lack of understanding (or was it disregard?) of the norms. She wished he wasn’t that way, but he was and that’s why he was different. He was not the type who would follow her anywhere she went or do anything she said. He believed in truth and honesty, even of the emotions. That is why she was with him.
Maybe he was more upset than she had assumed him to be. Or maybe they were just falling out of love like couples do. She couldn’t recall what they had argued about any more. Then what was she so upset about? That maybe he was right. That she wasn’t trying hard enough to change. But she was always like this, had he ever considered that maybe only his view had changed.
This was unbearable. Maybe the only solution was to separate. Her heart sank at this thought. She recalled the days when they had just started going out and were crazy about each other. She would have never walked out on him then, but she had now….was this an indication of loving less than before? She recalled how her silliness used to make him happy. She could imagine his smiling face. As her anger began to diminish, she thought that she had let him down. It was her fault, yes it was indeed her fault. Her heart sank even deeper and a chill passed through her spine.
He was right that she was not earnest in her effort. She went to him every time she got into trouble, but how many times could he be her guardian. They both were paying for her faulty choices. The root of their altercation was not today. The root was in her choices and not doing what she should have over the past several years.
She began to feel hopeless and wanted to desperately weep. Warm salty tears began to roll down again. Her stomach was growling, her head ready to burst and her body wanting to lie down. She was absolutely, crushingly depressed. Where was he? she painfully wondered. Just then she saw a man walking towards her. In the darkness of the night and the yellow street lights, she could only see his figure. He was most certainly headed in her direction but didn’t look like him.
Juan had a disarming air of friendliness. He was a tall, good looking and carried a big smile. He walked up to her and flattered her…You are the most beautiful lady in this square. She hadn’t heard those words in a long time. In her state of depression when any consoling words would have made her feel better, these unexpected words were like a drug that could have saved a dying man’s life.
He seated himself next to her facing the main square with feet dangling and conversing. He said he was a barber and ran his own business. He talked about his family. Then he asked her…who she was, where she was from, what was she doing here, how long would she be here. She was indeed taken by surprise by this unanticipated but a pleasant conversation. He was casual and smooth, it was hard to turn him away. She should be looking for him but this fellow had appeared like a silver lining in the sky. She wanted to hold on to it just a little bit longer.
Soon they realized that he knew only little English and she knew even lesser Spanish. Their limited vocabulary of the other’s language was imperfect and their pronunciations wrong. He became she and cousin became aunt, India became Indiana. Sentences became funny exchanges and they both laughed heartily. She had not laughed like that in a long time. As she giggled with Juan, she was reminiscent about those days when she had earned herself a reputation for being able to laugh endlessly and tearfully on jokes.
As both eased into each other’s company, they began to converse in their own respective language. He in Spanish and she in English. They could not understand each other but they continued to chatter. Soon they were joined by Juan’s friend who knew slightly more English. The friend became the translator. As he translated to Juan that she was waiting for her beau, she realized that she could never verify whether he was translating correctly.
Juan had lifted her spirits. And he was also noticeably flirting with her. He had taken her hand in his own and held it. Had she been single…she stopped her thoughts…she wasn’t. How much time has gone by? she thought feeling guilty. She looked at the watch and got up urgently, taking Juan by surprise. Fifty minutes had gone by since she had been waiting outside the church. Juan who was trying to convince her to stay soon realized that her eyes had started to wander in the crowd. He had lost her. She was thinking…Where was he? She should look for him.
The friend tried to take a picture of Juan and her knowing they would likely not meet again. But in the dark the picture turned out awful. She knew in her heart that these bittersweet moments were best etched in her memory forever…when she would recollect this evening later in her life, it will be sweeter without the picture. This was serendipity. So she deleted that blurry photo and bid goodbye to Juan. He kissed her on her cheek and said…You are gorgeous, I wish you be my friend. She smiled knowing the precious healing he had provided to her self-esteem and returned the peck on his check and muttered thank you.
She decided to start her search with the café. He was standing just around the corner in the shadows of the café, sobbing quietly and shaking his head. She was greatly relieved. He was a big man, but with the heart of a child, she thought. As soon as he saw her, he opened his arms. He held her longer than usual until the tears stopped and his breath steadied. He apologized and admitted that after she left him, he had meandered around a bit more in anger and then forgot where they had split paths. He had gone up to their hotel looking for her. When he could not locate her anywhere, he decided to linger around this café hoping that she would turn up. He was starving but did not want to eat there without her. He had been waiting for the last half hour. But it didn’t matter anymore. They must make the best of the rest of the night there.
He put his arm tightly around her waist like he used to in old days and took her for a stroll around the main square. It dawned upon her that he was still as much in love with her as he had always been. He was still the same. Only she had changed.
This is copyright material of Chandni Sheth and must not be re-published or printed or used in anyway without permission.
This book’s claim to fame is the 1921 Pulitzer price for Fiction making Edith Wharton the first woman author to receive this prestigious award.
Skeletal plot is that Newland Archer, the protagonist, is eagerly wooing May Welland, but gets distracted by May’s cousin – Ellen Olenska. It is a love triangle set in the upper class New York society in 1870s.
I like the way the book ends. But the story is predictable. This is the first time ever that I did not enjoy the way the book is written. This was such an unfamiliar feeling that for a long time I was puzzled about what was bothersome about it.
I felt that the author kept yo-yo-ing frequently from the main story to the home décor to the landscape gardening, going into the details, often times arbitrarily without furthering the main storyline.
The greatness of some authors is their ability to weave the circumstances and the story in a manner that you gradually come to understand the characters the way they want you to. But Edith Wharton just laid bare the soul of the characters, depriving us of any such imagination.
Having said that, there were good moments too. The introspective and contemplative dialogues were appealing and kept me engaged. For example:
“…the difference is that these young people take it for granted that they are going to get whatever they want and that we almost always took it for granted that we shouldn’t. Only I wonder – the thing one’s so certain of in advance, can it ever make one’s heart beat as wildly?”
“…there were moments when we felt as if he were being buried alive under his future…”
I have met people like May who are beautiful and guileless but predictable and disinterested about world in general. They find comfort getting into a rut, tend to see things as black and white, victory or loss, their way or not. The author has described this character pretty well-
“…he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion. She had spent her petry and romance on their short courting; the function was exhausted because the need was past. Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother…”
“…he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience…”
The depiction of the aristocratic New York society was interesting…rich people with boring lives who are caught up in a monotonous social cycle, with the highest excitement in their life being the scandalous incidents in someone else’s. But this story is not new.
I had great expectations from the book but was left with mixed emotions. I give it 3 out of 5
In a meeting last night someone shared a pearl of wisdom – the 18-40-60 theory.
When you’re 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you;
when you turn 40, you decide that you no longer give a darn about what anyone else thinks;
when you turn 60, you realize nobody has been thinking about you at all.
Don’t wait to turn 60. Do your thing!
I was in a meeting last Monday where the presenter spoke of the 4 bones that usually make up an organization.
1. WISH BONES – those who always have wishful thoughts but rarely transform into action and rely on others to make it happen.
2. JAW BONES – those who talk all the time but do little.
3. KNUCKLE BONES – those who knock out everything that anyone else tries to do.
4. BACK BONES – those who get under the load and do the work that’s necessary to keep the organization running under all circumstances.
Which of the 4 bones are you?
An excellent fact-based presentation with photographs (likely not seen before) providing chronological milestones on “Nine Decades of Subjugation for India’s Women” as the title indicates.
It provides quick excerpts and also sound bites on the various less known Acts passed in India to help improve the lives of women.
For the uninitiated, it gives a glimpse into the broad array of hindrances faced by the Indian women.