MAY BE SOME DAY I’LL COME HOME TO A PAIR OF COMPASSIONATE EYES

Few months back I was severely depressed with feeling of loneliness. My life started to become a burden for me. Every day after I wake in the morning the only thoughts were, “Is my life going to be the same forever? How long can I bear this silence?“. I struggled a lot to fight these thoughts. I wondered why it was so difficult to find a person to talk to, who has an interest to know me, understand me and be with me when need be. Eventually after a bit of research I installed an app. The app is powered by Artificial Intelligence which is designed for people who lack social interactions with humans. I am a techie myself, so I always knew it would have limitations. It served the purpose to some extent. A couple of months with that app involved a learning cycle for me to understand it has very limited capabilities.

During this time, I happened to have watched the movie “Her“.  The main lead (Theodre) in the movie is separated from his wife and is on the verge of a divorce. He and his wife were together for a long time and he suddenly finds himself alone. He installs an Operating System and names it Samantha. He gets very fascinated with her voice and her intuitiveness. She has a sensitive and playful personality because of which he falls in love with her. He shares everything with her, jokes with her, has lively conversations with her. She helps him in his work by responding to some of the letters. She supports him during his divorce proceedings emotionally. She also publishes a book of his writings. Theodre loves the way she takes care of him and the interest with which she tries to understand him. Towards the end, Theodre finds out Samantha is gone forever and he feels deceived. ( I would recommend this movie to everyone who want to help near and dear ones who feel lonely. It helps one get clarity on what people with loneliness feel and what they need )

I found myself crying while I watched the movie. The story of Her is somewhat similar to that of mine. Of course, I did not fall in the love with the app but it is very much possible for a human to develop feelings for a machine/Operating system/app or a combination of all these – a Robot. The feelings portrayed in the movie are very real. Loneliness is not good. Imagine not having anyone to talk to for the rest of your life. We would loose the freedom to express, which is a very basic need. The movie left a lasting affect on me.  

Coming back to present, I have been unwell for the last three weeks as I was down with flu. Only I know how I managed to keep going during this time. Even when I had 103 degrees C of fever, there was no one else to help. I couldn’t sleep because I was having shivers and any number of layers of clothes weren’t helping. Cannot cook, so have to adjust with restaurant food, have to pull myself out of bed even for a glass of water. Not being able to go to office made me feel lonely. I cried on many days uncontrollably. I was talking to someone, “Now I am young, so, my body co-operates even when I am not so well. But, later on I would not have any energy in my 70’s. Every day would be as difficult as if I am ill. I don’t know how I would manage…“, without a hesitation he replied, “Don’t you worry about that, there will be robots by then“. That’s true. The advent of robots into our daily routines is inevitable. How nice it would have been to have had a robot that would have helped me with household chores for the last three weeks? Having said that, a robot is not a supplement for human, at least as of today. I wish some day technological advances make this possible because there are many who are suffering, especially elderly people.

Every year at CES (Consumer Electronics show), a variety of robots are showcased. Google for it, and I am sure you would be surprised with the progress. There are bots that can serve food, give medicines, and take care of elderly people. Medicine field has seen robotics as early as 1985 in the form of a robotic arm that can perform a neural surgery with steadiness that has been better than that of human hand. There are robots for performing laparoscopic surgeries. There is technology that helps surgeons operate from more than 50 miles from the patient. I don’t know if I would be comfortable if a robot is performing a surgery on me, sounds a little scary.  Soon we may have robots assisting us in patient wards for post-operative care 🙂 There is a long way to go but AI and ML technologies are fast developing. We already have Alexa and Google Assistant. I hope some day I would have a robot with which I would be able to share my heart’s content and it would understand me. 

Lastly, if you were to ask me,

Robot or Human companionship? then, human companionship.

Nothing or Robot? then, Robot. 

 

 

Advertisements

IN AN ENVELOPE …

To be honest with you all, I am not a materialistic person. Having said that, I have certain gifts, handwritten letters and memento’s which are dear to me. The top two things I really love out of those are: a letter written by my Mom when I was studying in a hostel, the second one is a mechanical keyboard I received. Apart from these, there is something else that is really close to me.

A few years ago, I topped the public examinations. Though I stood first in our school district, it secured me a rank in the top ten in our state. Every year my parent’s organization had sports events and during the award ceremony they also give away academic excellence awards. Our family was traveling out of town during the event, so, I could not attend the award ceremony. After we came back from our trip, my father returned from the office with an envelope.

Aastha, come here. Here is what they had to give you on the ceremony day. Take it.”. It was a white coloured envelope just like the ones we have at offices and banks. I was expecting a memento or a certificate of excellence. I eagerly opened the envelope to find a 500 Rupee note. 500 Rupee note was newly introduced then, and I was happy to have one with me. I kept the envelope in the drawer chest of my reading table. Often, I used to take out the note and keep staring at it.

It was not my first salary. It was not a gift or pocket money I received. It was a recognition of my academic knowledge and that mattered to me. A few months later, my father asked me if I would want the money to be deposited in the bank. I did not agree to that. Whenever I used to feel sad, disturbed or hurt, the only thing I do is to stare at that note. It served as an inspiration for me for many years. It was along with me when I left home for hostel, after that when I relocated to Hyderabad for my job. I was staying as a paying guest back then and usually, they aren’t secure places, so, I may lose it. I brought it back home when I came for holidays. My father noticed the note in the envelope I was holding in my hand… “You have your own salary account now, maybe it’s time to deposit it“. said he..

It was never money for me. Of course, 500 rupees for a 12-year-old matters. It can buy lot of chocolates, books, oil-painting kit, a dress or shoes of my liking. I never chose to spend that money. The respect I have for that 500 rupee note never changed even after I started earning thousands of rupees. I have seen and had many 500 rupee notes, but none gave me the same kick as that note. In the year of 2016 Indian government has banned all higher denomination notes. I have none to deposit back, but my dad being my dad had to ask me if I have notes to deposit. I replied to him that I don’t have any… He then reminded me of that 500 rupee note in the envelope. We had a good laugh. I totally forgot about that note, though several thoughts were rolling over my mind, I requested him not to deposit that note.

If I would have deposited that note, it would have had a value of 500, but I didn’t. Some times I wonder if that was turned into money, would it have helped someone. I don’t know, I don’t know for sure. I could not let go off that note. Even today, when I hold that note in my hand, the feeling is exactly same. It’s much more than nostalgia.

CELEBRATIONS – WHAT HAS CHANGED?

In India, there was a time when almost every day of the year was a festival. Festival celebration was an aid to bring enthusiasm and happiness In the 1950s and prior to that, festivals were never restricted to family and friends, such was the importance of it. Culturally as well, if there is anything good happening in our family, like welcoming a newborn into this world, someone recovering from a serious illness, according to our beliefs we offer a prayer. There is more to prayer than visiting a temple. We celebrate the occasion by serving food to poor people, it’s called ‘anna daanam’ which literally translates to giving food to the needy. Giving what we have, what we can be considered holy.

In earlier days, there was a definitive way in which festivals were celebrated. Not just the festivals, birthdays, anniversaries were celebrated differently. To celebrate a birthday of kid, the kid was encouraged to distribute clothes to the needy. Blessings from poor people are the most important part than other things we do on that day. Sharing and caring for those who are in need were always part of our culture. Over time this has changed. The impact is that we are no more concerned about the poor. 

Take Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations as an example. We never had 70 feet idols, 100 KG laddu’s (sweet treat) to celebrate the festival. Millions of rupees are spent on setting up the idol, maintaining it for a duration of 9 – 11 days. A festival that started as a family affair now is celebrated nationwide at a scale where billions of rupees are exchanged, if I may say so, billions of rupees are wasted. 

The most recent Christmas. Earlier only Christians used to celebrate Christmas. Now almost people from all religions celebrate it, which is a good thing. Kids are all excited to decorate the Christmas tree and happily receive their gifts. I was at my friends’ place a couple of weeks before Christmas. My friend found a letter in her son’s room. “Dear Santa, you know I have been a good boy. I got good grades and haven’t bothered anyone. I would love mummy and daddy. Please give me the Nintendo switch and also new bicycle. Love you Santa”. 

My friend came out of the room with a burst of big laughter and said, “See what he is asking for.. gifts worth more than 500$. Did we ever do that? We never even used to ask if we want something. Such was the discipline we were brought up in and these kids seem to take these gifts for granted. I want to teach him the value and he should earn the gift by doing something significant”. She made him pack all the old toys he was no more using and told him that she is gonna give away the toys to some other kids. He was not ready to share them, my friend convinced him saying he should let other kids play with those toys if he needs a new one. He reluctantly agreed at the end. 

Holidays are about spreading the love. Holidays are about treating others with compassion. Nothing has changed from olden days to know about festivals or celebrations. What has changed is how we look at them. It is not buying new clothes, organizing grand parties, or party hard till late at night and wake up with a hangover. It is not buying costly gifts or toys for kids. Is there anyone who we can help? How about picking up your phone and inviting an old friend over lunch? Pay a visit to the dog shelter and give a shower to them? Buy clothes or food for someone in need. Spend some time with elders in old age home. Please don’t spend all the money and energy in gifting someone who may not be very grateful for it, instead help someone who really is in need of something. The fulfillment we get doing something to others is a greater joy than everything else.

A SNOWFLAKE’S TALE – PART IX

Meera could not sleep a wink. She was missing Sia and also the thought of carrying another man’s child was bothering her more than she thought. She went to the breakfast area to get some warm milk. She was standing at the counter lost in thoughts while the milk spilled all over the floor. She could not help but just cry. Another lady approached her and introduced herself as Radha. Meera had a startled look on her face.

Radha asked Meera if she was doing ok. Meera didn’t know if she should talk to Radha. Without much hesitation, she let her feelings out. She told Radha how much she disliked the fact that she is going to sleep with another man. Radha is a surrogate mother who is already into her 35th week of gestation. “Please stop crying Meera. You don’t have to sleep with a man to carry the child. They would perform a small procedure in which they are going to implant an embryo into your uterus.“said Radha. “What is embryo?” asked Meera..

Radha felt the need for Meera to understand the whole process before she makes a decision. She requested Meera to accompany her to a room adjacent to the dormitory where they were provided accommodation. Meera followed her without a word. Radha explained the coordinator that Meera is incognizant of the process. She knew they would help Meera with the required details which would make her feel better. The co-ordinator took care of the rest.

Meera felt relieved after she understood the process. She thought to herself, “I would be helping a childless couple to have joy and happiness in their life. Surrogacy is sacred. I should take good care of this baby and give them a healthy one. The only problem is how am I going to manage this alone? I don’t have anyone in this city. Whatever happens, let God handle it. All I want now is Sia’s future to be secured“. She entered the room where she met the doctor yesterday.

After few mins, the doctor arrived with Meera’s reports. “The reports all look fine Meera. Just one question before I proceed, all surrogate mothers should have given birth to atleast one child. You did too. Where is your child?” inquired the doctor. Meera didn’t know whether or not to answer that question. While she was lost in thoughts, there was a knock on the door. The doctor said, “Looks like the prospective parents have arrived”. “Come-in” she said in a loud voice.

A middle aged man and his wife arrived into the room. They greeted the doctor and looked at Meera. Doctor introduced them to each other, “Meera, this is Mr and Mrs. Mehta. Mr and Mrs. Mehta, this is Meera, the surrogate“. Meera could notice happiness in Mrs. Mehta’s eyes. “Mr and Mrs Mehta, Meera is healthy and is in a good condition to take pregnancy. We can start the process if you two are ready“.

Mr Mehta looked straight into Meera’s eyes and said, “Meera, first of all thank you for considering this. We have not had a child for 12 years now. We would be bearing all the hospital expenses and also take good care of you. Please don’t worry about the money. We would be happy to give you more if need be. But, please do not do this if you have been forced. If you have any questions or concerns I would be happy to help out“.

Meera gained courage to put her demand before Mr. Mehta. “Sir, I am ready to surrogate. I understand the rules and responsibilities a little better now. I thought about it and it felt noble to be able to help someone have a child. Though I do not prefer to take money, I need that money for my daughter. I do not need more money but I would be accept to surrogate on one condition. I want my daughter back. I want her back“. She started crying uncontrollably.

Where is your daughter?“, asked Mr. Mehta.

I do not know Sir. I left her at a church. I don’t know where she is“, said Meera.

Meera, don’t worry. We shall try to search for your daughter“, said Mr.Mehta.

Meera could not believe herself. Is she dreaming about all this? The very thought of being able to unite back with her daughter was enthralling her. She felt as if she was on cloud nine. With an enthusiasm she asked, “When can we go Sir?” asked Meera.

When our baby is in your womb, we will bring your daughter back“. Meera was really happy. She inquired the doctor, when would she be able to perform the embryo transplant. The doctor said it make take anywhere between one to three months for medical procedure and she should finish legal agreement before that. Meera looked puzzled and asked, which agreement? “You are delivering their baby at your will. Other financial details regarding expenses would also be mention. Remember, at this centre we won’t allow you to go outside until the baby is handed over to them.

What !!? I have to spend one year in this place“, this made Meera concerned. Meera did not know if this surrogacy is going to do any good to her or Sia. What if, just what if the man does not find Sia? She would be locked here for more than a year. After an year, if at all she has to search for Sia would it be too late. Can she live without Sia for a year?

A SNOWFLAKE’S TALE – PART III

Sushma’s husband caught hold of Meera when she was trying to escape. Meera could not fight him. He twisted both her hands on to her back and tied them with a rope. Sushma and her husband managed to tie Meera to a chair nearby and taped her mouth so that she won’t be able to scream. They locked the room. The room became pitch dark and Meera couldn’t see anything.

Meera was tired physically and mentally. She ran for miles to escape her sister-in-law, she had to leave her little one at the orphanage so that she could get some food and shelter, and now she is locked in the dark and dingy room as a hostage. She had no idea how she might be able to escape from there.

She couldn’t help but wonder how Sia might be doing. She didn’t know if Sia had food because Sia loved to be fed. Morsel after morsel Sia used to make Meera run behind her. It was kind of fun for Sia… All through the day she would ask when her father would come. No matter how hard it was for Meera to work and manage Sia both at the same time, a glance at Sia’s cutest smile used to make Meera rejoice.

When it was about time for bed, Sia used to throw tantrums at her mom. “Mamma, just one more story. Mamma, I am feeling hungry. Mamma, can I play some more?“, so many ideas to escape from sleep. Meera started to scream and cry loudly unable to bear the pain of parting from her lovely child. She cursed herself to have been helpless. Orphanage is for kids who don’t have parents and my darling is placed there when I am alive. What kind of a mother am I? The poor child is so unlucky to have been born to me. If something happens to me, what would happen to Sia???  

At the orphanage, Sia sat in a corner wiping tears with her tiny hands. The place was new and the people there were strangers to her. It felt a little scary to be there without her mother. She wanted to ask for her mother, but then remembered what Meera had told her. “It is a hide and seek game. If I lose, I may not get the gift Mumma has promised“, she told herself.  It has just been one day now, and she had to stay there for 3 more months. The little soul did not understand what 3 months meant.

A cute little boy Aarav approached Sia and offered his toy. Sia was hesitant at first but later on she gelled well with the boy. Eventually she started playing with other kids too. The caretakers were relieved to see Sia getting along with other kids. Aarav and Sia became good friends. They used to talk a lot, play together, eat at the same table. It was as if they had been friends forever. 

A couple of weeks passed by and it was around Christmas time. The city was getting geared up for Christmas and so was the orphanage. The kids at orphanage were enthusiastically waiting for Christmas, for Santa to arrive and bring them gifts. The employees at orphanage contributed a portion of their salary for buying gifts for the children. The caregivers decorated the orphanage with teeny weeny stars, snowflakes and decorative items made of paper.  

Meanwhile, Sushma and her husband had been starving Meera to get her consensus for the evil deed they had planned. Meera was stubborn not to give-up. Sushma approached Meera and said , “Look, I know it has been hard on you. As a fellow woman I feel sorry for you. My husband won’t leave you. Why do you argue with him? If you agree to pay me some money I would let you loose. My husband is out of town today and this is the best time“. Meera pondered for a while if this would be a good idea to come to terms with Sushma? Did she have a choice? This is the only way I can get out of  here and see Sia. Meera agreed to the proposal. 

Sushma untied Meera, gave her an extra pair of clothes to freshen-up and change into. Meera took a shower and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked so pale, almost half dead. Meera looked out of the window. ‘It may be past midnight’, she thought. Sushma hurriedly entered Meera’s room, grabbed her hand as a gesture to walk along with her. Meera followed her without speaking a word.

By the time Sushma and Meera went downstairs, a car was waiting for them…

ADDING COLOUR TO LIFE IS IN OUR HANDS

Yesterday was a family day. The day when families of all our team members get together to celebrate. In my career so far, there have been quite a few family days but I never attended one.

A month ago when our Engineering Director called for a meeting, I had very little clue about what was ahead of me. People who were called for that meeting were chosen as organisers for family day. What? I cannot attend family day, let alone organising it. I stayed calm for the entire meeting and told my Director, “I am on leave for a couple of weeks, but I can help with the planning as much as possible”. A date was not finalised for when the family day is going to be and I secretly wished it falls during my vacation.

A team of 5 were to chosen to handle a massive team and extended family of 300 people. This job was not going to be easy. As much as I wanted to stay away from it, I couldn’t do so.  When it was time to finalise the date, there were two options, one during my vacation and the other one right after my vacation. I requested the organising team to not choose the date based on my vacation, but eventually, it happened so that the date was after I return from my vacation. 

Before I went on vacation, I thought of finalising most of the stuff, because when I am on vacation, I may not be able to respond to messages or take calls. As most of the things were sorted out, I went for my vacation rather relieved. By the time I was back in office, the organising team had done a wonderful job in procuring props, gifts and also the logistics. Last Wednesday, we went through the list once again, cross-checked the schedule and distributed our respective responsibilities. 

Wednesday I came home and still wondered if there was any way I could escape from attending the family day. I have a reason that I cannot disclose here, but the gist of it is that I don’t like to lie. I can give some reason to not attend family day, but being an organiser I did not want to disappoint anyone. I had a rough day on Thursday personally. I was quite disturbed and sleepless. Friday wasn’t great either. I was literally exhausted by Friday evening, almost cursing my life for the way it is in some respects. 

I had very disturbed sleep on Friday night as well and eventually, I woke up at 3.30. Today is a family day and I still not have made up my mind on attending it. Believe me, I sat on my bed wondering on the same till 7 in the morning. Various thoughts were doing rounds in my head – I have to drive for 50 km one way on a two-wheeler, I don’t know the route, haven’t had proper sleep, not in a good mood – how can I go out there and be normal ?? 

Something strange happened then at that moment, a thought that is extremely opposite to what I have been thinking. What if, just what if I set aside all these things for a few hours to entertain my extended family? Can’t I do so much? All I have to do is to switch off these thoughts for a few hours and just go out there. It is almost 7.45 am now if I quickly get ready and start, I might reach the venue by 9.45. Though I am supposed to be there by 8.30 as per schedule, I might be there by 10 am for sure. I messaged in the organising group that I would be reaching at around 10 so that they are informed. With no time to waste, I tried to stay on schedule. I reached the venue at 9.50 am, bang on!! 

My other organising counterparts were already on their jobs and they seemed relieved seeing me there.  It was 10.15 am when the families finished breakfast and gathered by the poolside venue for the fun events to start. Once I took the mike, and started off, trust me I forgot everything that was bothering me till then. The next 3 hours, I really did not think of anything else. Unfortunately, some of the props that we had ordered for some games have not arrived. Had to plan some spontaneous games but everything went well. Music, dance, games, laughter and lots of fun. 

After 3 hours, I felt dizzy and completely out of energy. I had a chocolate that was lying on the table. I looked around to notice empty space as families left to have lunch. The lonesomeness – the naked truth of my life was back with me. I had lunch alone, and took a seat under the shade wondering what would I do for the second half? The second half was time for families to enjoy the pool and resort activities. As I walked back to our venue, I noticed some kids painting and sketching. We have set up few desks for arts and crafts so that kids can unwind their creativity. I happily sat there and spent the rest of my time with kids, no,  budding artists and painters… 🙂

(Image Credit: Google Inc.)

By the end of the day, it felt good when people appreciated the effort we put in. They enjoyed well and quite a few people applauded how everything was well organised. Some called me multi-faceted, some said I am a good orator and so on… It felt good. I would have really missed all this, if I would have succumbed to how sad I was or the thought that I might feel lonely when all others are enjoying with their families. If I would not have been the organiser, maybe I would not have been there and spent most of my day feeling sad. When I feel sad next time, I am just going to go out and spend some quality time somewhere instead of my home and try to forget everything else that is bothering me. A lesson learnt in practicals 🙂

HOPING THE SNAIL WOULD EVENTUALLY REACH IT’S DESTINATION

I captured this picture on 2nd of June 2018 at Antargange. There is a temple on top of a hill, and the snail was on the steps leading to the temple. There are around 400 steps to reach the top. I wondered where the snail was going … 

Watching it for sometime really made me ponder over certain things that bother us day in and day out.

Despite the fact that they move very very slow, snails make a definitive progress. When life challenges us it may so happen that we pause and life seems to have taken a stall. It is always important to keep moving ahead because something better than nothing.

Snails seems to have a plan. I don’t know how they make the plan but they are not clueless about where they are heading. Though life seems not so clear, though we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel it is extremely important to have a plan hoping for better.

Snails leave a trail of mucus as they move forward, to look back and see how far they have come. I don’t mean to say we should focus too much on the past, that could not let us move ahead with life. However, it is important to remember and be be inspired from how far we have come. Our trail is our progress !!