RESTRICTIONS – BENEFICIAL OR DETRIMENTAL?

Early one morning a few days back, I got frantic messages on my phone from the mother of a ten-year-old girl. The issue in hand was that the little one who suffers from Celiac disease had gobbled up a whole big packet of wheat biscuits and two packets of cake the night before!

Those of you who do not know what Celiac disease is may just laugh out loud on the gluttony of the little girl. However, binge-eating is not the issue here. People with Celiac are gluten allergic. So they need to refrain from consuming those foodstuffs containing gluten, wheat being the chief gluten consisting ingredient. Consequently, the range of food items is much-restricted for them.

After painstakingly preparing all delicacies with gluten-free ingredients every day over and above the family’s normal menu and ensuring that her daughter doesn’t miss out on anything, the mother was understandably aghast at her daughter’s doing. And, what did the little one have to say about it all?

Mummy, I was so frustrated being tied down to dietary constraints for the last ten years, that I just thought to flout them and see what it is like to be able to eat normal food which everyone else eats!!

The explanation was, of course, no consolation to the mother who was desperately praying that allergic reactions should not surface!

Ask diabetics how easily they adhere to sweet and carbs restrictions, and there’ll be endless stories for you to savour!

Restrictions limit us from doing what we so feel to do, but should not/are not allowed to do for certain purposes.

I categorise restrictions into the following types –

The first category of restrictions that come to mind is the restrictions put in place by the Divine Lawmaker. The moral laws of the Divine Lawmaker are universal and absolute – with no space for relativism and slackness whatsoever. That is why making light of such restrictions is called nothing else, but sin.

You shall not steal.

You shall not covet others belongings.

You shall not kill.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not look at a woman/ man with a heart of lust.

You shall not dishonour or take the name of God in vain.

These are few of the many restrictions put in place for us humans by the Divine Lawmaker. Let me present the above-mentioned restrictions in reverse order. It would read somewhat like this –

You are free to steal.

You are free to covet and usurp other’s belongings.

You are free to kill.

You are free to be in an adulterous relationship.

You are free to lust after a woman/ man.

You are free to dishonour and take the name of God as frivolously as you feel to.

How do these sound?

Imagine a world with freedoms as the above!

The restrictions which God has put in place for mankind do not serve the purpose of portraying Him as an authoritarian theocrat but are wise prescriptions for peace and order among human beings on earth. The chaos we see all around in the world today is the result of careless disobedience, lack of adherence and deliberate non-cognizance of the divine restrictions.

The second broad category of restrictions is societal restrictions by the country/ society/ family. In the year 1999, Odisha (an east Indian state) was struck with a devastating super cyclone, the after-effects of which echo in some parts of the state even to this day. The casualties were very high, not to mention the loss of property. However, the state did not fail to learn its lesson from this heavy blow. Many cyclones have struck the state ever since, but with negligible human casualties, the reason being, the stringent imposition of restrictions by the administration – fishermen being debarred from venturing into the seas, timely evacuation of the inhabitants in low-lying areas, and many such well-thought-of restrictive measures.

Nevertheless, there are always a few people who resist these restrictions not wanting to leave their houses and livelihood for the sake of saving their lives. Imagine what would be the reality if these people were permitted to do as they wished without adhering to the restrictions!

Medical restrictions for people suffering from certain ailments, mobile phone usage restrictions during thunderstorms and lightning, lockdown movement restrictions, certain travel advisories comprise those in this category.

Ever been penalised for jumping red lights? A price to pay for making light of well-intended traffic restrictions!

The third category of restrictions that I can think of is self-imposed restrictions. These restrictions may or may not be aversive to the well-being of the individual and that of others. In his book My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi writes of his self-imposed restriction arising from a firm conviction to abstain from consuming milk. Such a restrictive dietary regimen worked well for him to the end he wanted to achieve.

People switch to vegan or vegetarian diets, give up going to the theatre/ cinema, restrict themselves to wearing certain types of clothes only or restrict themselves from socialising with certain types of people. Such self-imposed restrictions are specific to specific people based on the life principles they wish to live by. Flouting these restrictions would result more in one’s own emotional and personal discomfort, rather than cause major repercussions for mankind at large.

The final category of restrictions is what I consider as forced restrictions. These are restrictions that are forced down the throats of people by significant others, with threats of dire consequences if flouted. One example that I can think of in the Indian context is caste restrictions. Though inter-caste mingling has seen a sea change over the years with many of the restrictions having been done away with (largely in urban areas), restrictions on inter-caste marriages persist invariably. These forced restrictions lead to loss of lives every other day in the name of honour killing – just because some young couple chose not to adhere to these restrictions that were forced on them by elders.

Certain families restrict women from holding jobs outside the house after marriage. In certain countries, women are restricted from venturing outdoors without a male accompanying them. In a certain country, women are prohibited from wearing make-up leading to a thriving smuggling industry for make-up products.

Forced restrictions, though not necessarily sinful are definitely detrimental for the mental health of individuals and pose threats to the development of a healthy society.

Whatever be the category of restrictions, if they are well-embraced by people they do not cause many inconveniences. However, if they give rise to rebellion, there remain consequences to bear.

What happened in the case of the little girl mentioned in the beginning of this article, was a slow build-up of a pressure cooker situation. When the pressure was too much for her reasoning and rebelling mind, the lid simply blew off making her do the unwanted irrespective of the consequences that lied ahead of her.

All we need is a prudent mind to discern which restrictions to adhere to and which restrictions to speak up/ go against hoping to bring out well-meaning progressive changes in the society and the in the world at large.

AN ESCAPE FROM THE PREDATOR

She knew she had to run . . . run as fast as her dainty feet could carry her. “Oh! God, please give me the feet of a deer”, she spoke aloud in her mind as she fled from the predator.

“This is surely the end of me. Even if God gives me the feet of a deer, I can never evade the prowl of a leopard”, she muttered as she made her way through the thick green foliage.

“Lord, please send your angels to lift me up from this place. Else, I will surely die.”

She did not dare to look behind her shoulder. She knew the leopard was slowly and stealthily trailing her. She kept scanning through the length and breadth of the horizon for any means of escape.

In her fearful frenzy, she failed to check her steps and tripped over a log of wood. She fell and kept rolling down the slippery terrain for a seemingly indefinite period of time, till she banged against something solid and came to a halt.

As she lifted up her eyes, she realized that it was a door. Without wasting a second, she barged inside the open door to safety. “I think it must surely have been an angel who pushed me into this safe haven”, she thought relieved. Catching hold of her breath, she cautiously peeped into every corner of the room and tiptoed ahead inch by inch.

Lo and behold, what was she seeing! A whole corner full of books! A book-lover that she was, she raced towards the book shelves. A light that hung from the ceiling helped her finger through the titles of the thousands of books that were stacked in front of her. She knelt down to pull out a book. As she got up holding it close to her chest, she hit a nearby rack and off came the books from all directions tumbling down on her one after the other.

She ducked aside from left to right unable to understand what was going on. And then she heard it! The unmistakable noise of someone opening the creaking door to where she was!!

“You are sleeping here!” shouted my sister cheekily standing near the door to my room. I jolted up from my accidental nap and realised that there was no leopard chasing and no treat of a room full of books. But, what an adventure it had been! I looked up at the Cuckoo-clock on the wall. It was 11 A.M. – a nap of only five minutes had thrust me into a wonderland of hours!

 

 

 

SNIP SAFELY

When I was in the last year of school, my school introduced a new subject called Environmental Science for all students Grade II and above. We 10th graders heaved a sigh of relief that we had narrowly escaped the burden of an additional subject! Thinking of it today, I feel sensitizing children about the environment is surely a wise step to help them behave responsibly and prudently as adults.

This week as I share ‘My Bit for the Environment’, I must admit that it is a tiny bit in the face of the enormous task in front of the whole world population – but would contribute to make a difference, nevertheless. I also wish to state that the practice I’m going to share is not my own ingenious bit. I had read up about it and have been on it ever since.

Plastics are a known menace to the environment by now. We see and hear campaigns and advertisements to avoid the usage of single-use plastics. Most of the shops in India (with just a random few exceptions) are no longer packing goods in polythene/ plastic carry bags as before and have switched over to biodegradable alternatives. This is a huge step, if the cumulative results are assessed.

But, there is one very easy step which each one of us can take inside our homes and elsewhere too when handling plastic packets – milk packets, noodles packets, biscuit packets, chips/ wafers packets, and such others. When opening these packets, we normally tear off or cut off a portion of the packets. What then happens is that these tiny portions become difficult to be segregated by the garbage collectors and ultimately get added up in the cattle/ animal fodder. Research on dead cows, goats, deer, and other free-moving animals has shown kilos of hazardous plastic bits stuck inside their intestines. Even if these small pieces are segregated to an extent, they cannot be recycled.

What can we do about it at our level?

When cutting open plastic packets, do not severe them into two. Just cut enough to open the packet, while the end remains attached. This way, when you dispose off the packets after emptying the eatables or any goods for that matter, you will be doing your bit in preventing the release of small plastic bits into the garbage load.

Image Source: Google

I have been practicing this act with intent since more than a year and would encourage all the readers to try making this simple hassle-free contribution to the purity of the environment a part of everyday routine.

The pristine environment was the best gift of God to mankind. With inevitable progress of civilizations, our environment feels choked now. Though environmental activists and policymakers have been working relentlessly to devise charters and protocols to save the environment, it is ultimately the responsibility of each one of us to do our bit for the environment. Laws, no matter how well framed they may be, fail if they are not obeyed to the letter and spirit.

Climate change is irreversible. (I’m not stating anything pessimistic, just putting a fact out without delving into statistics and research studies for the purpose of this article.) Having said so, I would go ahead to say that it is definitely within our control to slow the process of environmental decay in many ways.

Let’s do our bit for the environment!

 

IT SPELLED HOPE!

Prompt: He opened the library book and found a photo in it…

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(Image Credit: Google Inc.)

He opened the library book and found a photo in it. Koshi smiled with a light sigh as he realised how the photograph spoke to his present situation.

The letter that had greeted him that morning read thus –

“The management deeply regrets having to inform you that your services stand terminated with effect from the first day of the next month. You will be adequately compensated as per the conditions of service.”

It left him speechless. He felt his hands and feet go numb. As a lump formed in his throat, he mustered enough strength to walk out of the office building into the library across the road.

He didn’t intend to read anything that day. He couldn’t.

With thoughts ricocheting within his head, he grabbed a book from the topmost shelf and opened it to find a fascinating photograph of a rainbow in a cloudless sky.

It spelled HOPE!

 

 

VANITY OF VANITIES!!

The meaningfulness or meaninglessness of anything is a highly subjective concept. What means something for one, may not mean a thing for another. So, whether we talk about the meaning of life or of an event or of any given thing – it all depends upon the subjective interpretation thereof. There can be a rare few objective interpretations of this.

While abstract painting and modern art expound volumes for an art lover, they may be mere meaningless blurs of lines and a mishmash of colours for another.

While the symphony of music and dance forms may add sur (tune/ intonation), taal (tempo) and lay (rhythm) to every moment of living for many, they may just be incoherent cacophony for several others.

A week on a luxury cruise ship may be the definition of ‘the most meaningful holiday ever’ for someone, whereas, it may be an asinine wastage of resources for another.

Over the ages, the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of things have intrigued the human mind and they continue to do so even today for those who care to pause and ponder.

The Existentialist, Victor Frankl who was a Holocaust survivor writes thus –

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”

We are born, we live and we die. In the course of our life span, we study, work, forge relationships, pursue passions, fight for our rights, struggle to fulfill our responsibilities, desire for pleasure, aspire for power or are simply pushed and pulled by ebb and flow of the tides of life.  Is there any meaning to it all or is it a meaningless saga of random cosmic probability? Or is it a mega melodrama orchestrated by some unknown incomprehensible power?

Renowned philosophers of the world have delved deep into this mystery and have propounded some of the famous theories on this subject. We have Naturalism, Supernaturalism, Nihilism, Stoicism, Cynicism and many such isms attempting to extend meaning to certain things and captioning them as ‘meaningful’ and to detach meaning from certain others rendering them ‘meaningless’.

Going by the subjective interpretation of events what all seem of no significance to me, give me no sense of purpose, fail to engage my interest and do not motivate me to any extent are those that are meaningless. I can say this looking at the limited purview of my world, my interests and my purposes and those of a significant few (if I expand my latitude of acceptance). This holds true for every individual. 

With this understanding, each of us can chug along the course of life. We can enjoy each pleasure and defy each pain and define our goals.

But what about the big picture – visualising ourselves as teeny tiny dots in the vast cosmos? What holds meaning and what is meaningless, then?

I am reminded of the wise words of King Solomon of Israel who was famed to be the wisest and the richest king of his times, so much so that kings and queens of other kingdoms used to visit him to see for themselves the splendor of his wealth and the brilliance of his wisdom. Having accomplished all that his heart desired, having acquired all that he aspired to, having indulged in all possible pleasures that the human heart can yearn for, he wrote thus –

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity.”

Though there is meaning in all that we say and do, there isn’t much meaning in the precision of things and events when we look at it all from the perspective of the big picture of the entire universe.

For example, whether you were wearing red or white or blue on the day you received a particular good news may be meaningful for you, but if examined from the perspective of the whole cosmos, it is meaningless.

So yes, while attaching meaning to our lives and life events keeps us hooked and going, the big canvas matters as well!

 

SUCH BAD BOIS!!!

When the ‘Bois Locker Room’ news flooded the media, it raised many eyebrows and caused many hush hush whispers. Perhaps most parents were probably thinking how bad and out-of-control those other boys were, maybe even questioning their upbringing and shaking their heads at the poor parents who had to put up with the shame. Some may have felt their hearts skip a couple of beats wondering what if their own children were into similar discussions without their knowledge! Let me ask a question right away, irrespective of whether or not you are a parent.

As a parent, how would you react if your son was one of the boys in that chat group?

Defend him?

Consider it to be a phase of flowing hormones which would ebb away with time?

Spank him black and blue?

Cut all access to mobile phones and computers?

Blame yourself for having given birth to such a son?

Blame technology, peer group or lockdown confinement?

Ground him for some time?

Do not let him be alone at home any time from now on?

Accompany him whenever he steps out of house?

Ask him why he let you down?

Weep uncontrollably and refuse to speak to him?

Shame him before others?

Act normally as if nothing of the sort ever happened?

Talk it out?

As a parent you could respond in one of the above or a combination of the above mentioned ways as an initial reaction. If you are like most parents who want to see their children lead value-based lives, your reaction to such an incident involving your son would be soaked with disappointment with the present and deep concern and anxiety for the future.

Let us dig into such incidents a bit to see where our boys go wrong and how can such future episodes be prevented.

What drives pre-teens, teenagers and adolescents to cheap sex discussions?

(I use the term cheap here, because the nature of conversations in the Bois Locker Room chat wasn’t mere curious sex talk. It was way more than that.)

The driving factors can be sheer curiosity gone too far or pornographic addictions or a desire for that occasional dopamine kick that their now growing bodies beckon them to or simply to appear cool in a peer group. Behind these surface triggers however, lie some much deep-rooted issues – skewed gender role stereotypes, societal objectification of women and poor role models.

In a largely patriarchal country like India, most households are comfortable with the age-old division of labour between men and women, i.e., the man earns the bread and the woman cares for and nurtures the family. Except for a handful of exceptions most households religiously follow this functional pattern. No problem to this. However, what contributes to the disturbing trend is the exclusivity thereof. Involvement of a man in household chores does not make him any less of a man. Neither does participation of a woman in the competitive workforce rob her of her femininity. Women very easily slip into myriad shoes when the need arises or out of personal ambitions/ choice. But, what makes most men stick to the cut-out-roles that they perceive to be theirs? Why is it that most often a tired man returns from work only to freshen up and relax, while a woman tired from work starts right away with snacks or dinner preparations and looking after children’s homework, at times even scarcely getting time to sit on the couch and sip a cup of tea? Such skewed stereotypic gender roles create the notion that a male is expected to boss over women and that females are made for male recreation and caretaking. Our boys grow up with these skewed impressions. That brings me to my next point.

Do you enjoy the popular item songs of movies? May be some of you have even performed on a few of them in social functions or competitions. No matter how melodious the music, there is no denying to the lechery evident in them, the irony being that there is a female lisping and dancing to those songs. How many of us have taken determined decisions neither to sing nor watch lewd songs with obscene lyrics and vulgar dance moves? We don’t even hesitate to use and popularize derogatory phrases such as ‘item girls’ for the heroines performing the ‘item songs’, and we lament how on earth can our boys talk cheap of women!! When women don’t hesitate to objectify themselves, where do you think our boys would learn to hold women in esteem? I don’t buy into the argument that objectifying women is an essential part of certain characters, scenes and roles. There definitely are other successful marketing strategies! What would happen if sensual scenes are censored from our movies, daily soaps and advertisements? I am not saying that by such steps, our boys would start according women the dignity they deserve, but they would definitely be saved from an erroneous depiction of females that restricts them to being mere erogenous objects. Women are neither ‘mast cheez’ (good objects) nor ‘classy maals’ (classy products), just the way men are not too. Females do not add colour to social gatherings so that men can have free access to ogle at them. Once the societal of objectification of women is largely addressed, our boys will learn to respect women for ‘who’ they are and not enjoy them for ‘what’ they are.

And this needs to start from home. How a man treats his wife will show his son how a man needs to treat women. Most boys who speak cheaply of females are those who are exposed to ill-treatment of women (mostly their mothers and grandmothers) by men. In rural India most of the Sarpanchs (village heads) are women, because they fetch more votes when contesting against male opponents. But, that’s where their role ends. After the election results are out, the baton belongs to their husbands (either by happy free choice or by coercive humiliation). What role model does this set before the boys who are witness to such societal patterns? Very few rural women raise their voices against this. Children do what they see you do, more than doing what you tell them to do. As a father you may tell your son to treat his mother with love and respect, but the day he hears you abuse her, your years of teachings are wiped off clean.

So yes, let us not blame parents alone when their children (sons in this context) go wrong. We as a society have a cumulative responsibility in what generation we are raising to leave behind. We cannot on one hand hold on to mindless practices which glorify males at the cost of the self-esteem of females, in the name of preserving traditions, and yet expect the younger generation of today to treat females with equal dignity. 

Men and women turn each other on. It is a fact! That is how we are designed. And this ‘turning on’ begins right from pre-teen years – now-a-days even much before, considering the media exposure. How we train ourselves and others to respond to the stirring of hormones within, is crucial. The jostle of hormones and neurotransmitters is normal. To suppress the natural development by oppressive disciplinary measures is to pave way for abnormality. Also, to think that the activation of such hormones before nuptial ties is premature, is foolishness. For this reason, helicopter parenting doesn’t work in this issue.

The one best way to help our boys, or for that matter even our girls have the correct gender descriptions before them is to talk it out with them and live it before them. This serves as both the preventive and punitive response to issues such as the Bois Locker Room chats. You cannot lock up hormones, but you can train yourself and your children how to deal with them. Sex education has always been and is much more now the need of the hour. Children know and discuss way more than adults think they know. When we allow our children to be exposed to all types of information, then why not start conversations on this vital topic? When we leave our children to discover sexuality on their own, we extend towards them the scope for cheap chats.

How many women suffer because of the sexual acts they are forced to perform by their husbands, boyfriends or partners! These are bedroom stories which maim many women internally for life while they continue functioning pretty much normally on the exterior. The origin of all these start from childhood. And so, while the onus lies heavily on parents, it does not lie solely on them. To be vigilant is our collective responsibility.

The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

But, what would you do if he does depart from the right way at an older age? Train him again.

Though we cannot stop certain shows from running or certain people from behaving the way they do, we can train our children to exercise discretion while we are still with them. Having done our part well, if they still choose to commit deliberate blunders, the consequences alone will be their best teachers.

The fact that God has designed males and females in such a fascinating way needs to be celebrated, not misconstrued to the peril of society. As adult men and women, we can start with ourselves by resolving not to participate in flirtatious conversations, functions, deliberate male attention-seeking behaviour, laughing at demeaning adult jokes that degrade anyone for that matter. Humans are the crown of God’s creation. Each one needs to be treated with esteem. To belittle a female is to belittle God in whose image she is created!

When our bois understand this, their locker room chats will definitely be different.

 

 

MEMORY GAME – II

One glance, and Neha stared at the patient with dilated eyes and her mouth wide open. The hand that had held the plate involuntarily sprang up to cover her mouth.

Shikha came rushing to the doctor’s chamber on hearing the sound of the crashing plate.

“I’ll call for the housekeeping right away to get the place cleaned. Meanwhile er . . . Sir, please if you could excuse the doctor. This is his personal hour as I had insisted before when you wanted to meet him. This way please, Sir”, said Shikha as she led the patient away by his arm, who though headed for the door, kept turning his head back again and again blinking in confusion as he looked at Neha.

Now that the two of them were alone, Neha quickly closed shut the floodgates of her mind through which memories had started to trickle in and threatened to gush in any moment. But, she was at a loss how to react? It was him, no doubt! Or was she hallucinating? All she wanted was to do was run away from the doctor’s chamber and get a grip of what she had seen and heard. Her head started spinning and Rajan’s face blurred before her eyes. In a moment she blanked out and fell as Rajan stretched forth his hands just at the right time to prevent her from crashing onto the floor where the broken pieces of the plate were strewn.

“Shikha, call for the stretcher boy quickly”, shouted Dr. Rajan over the intercom as he eased Neha into a sitting position in his chair.

“I should not have started off with my story when she didn’t want to hear. I should not have allowed just a strange patient to intrude on our private time. Neha is right! After all, this is the only hour that we usually get to ourselves. I should have just allowed her to de-stress herself. She does so much for the family without a grumble. She must’ve been really fatigued, though she came in sporting her vibrant smile as always”, Dr. Rajan thought out aloud.

The stretcher boy rushed in and helped shift Neha from the chair to the stretcher. Dr. Rajan instructed him to wheel her into the doctors’ resting area. Though he was tensed, he was sure that it was nothing serious and that Neha would be up in minutes. He had seen Neha slip into and out of consciousness in the initial couple of years of their marriage. He had been a good friend to her then, unlike many a cribbing husband who want an all perfect wife for all purposes.

It was only when Neha felt comfortable and trusted him enough to share as to how her love relationship before marriage had come crashing down with the sudden death of Rishi, that he understood the psychosomatic manifestations that she was going through.

Being the compassionate doctor that he was for all his patients, it didn’t take him long to treat Neha with his daily dosage of love, trust, understanding, patient hearing and sparing the personal space that she needed most. It was difficult for him, considering the expectations of his large family from the new daughter-in-law. But, then that is how he won her trust, by rendering his unconditional support to Neha and taking her side often before his parents.

It had been years to this day since Neha no longer slipped into sudden spells of unconsciousness. So, Dr. Rajan didn’t get alarmed about it.

Thankfully, the doctors’ resting chamber was empty as probably all of them were on duty. Rajan sat patiently by her bed, gently stroking her hair.

An uncanny feeling gripped him as he saw the same pale expression on Neha’s face as he had seen in the initial few years. He rubbed her palms softly hoping that she regained consciousness soon.

Just then his mobile buzzed and he walked two steps away from the bed to answer the call. Two minutes into the call, he heard Neha’s mumbled voice. He excused himself and disconnected the call immediately and stepped back to her bedside.

“Neha, I am with you. You are alright, dear”, whispered Rajan softly into her ears even as her lips moved with her eyes remaining closed. Rajan caressed her cheeks gently and kept assuring her of his presence.

“It is ok, dear . . . don’t try to speak. Rest for while and then gradually open your eyes. I am by your side. Nothing to worry”, said Rajan. Neha’s lips stopped moving for a few seconds.

And, then just as Rajan took his hand off from her forehead, he heard her speak.

This time it was clear but too faint to make out –

Issshi . . . Rrrrishiii . . .