BALANCE YOUR CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE

For all the kids who are soon going to be entering adulthood, I just have this one advice. If you learn the art of balancing your circle of influence, you will grow up to be a really strong and mature adult.

This is something I learnt over the years of entering and maintaining adulthood. The range of emotions and experiences that an individual goes through while growing up is quite complex and the art of deriving learnings out of those experiences is not an easy task.

What is a circle of influence?

A circle of influence is a circle that constitutes all the things that can be controlled by an individual. When a baby is born, the circle of influence of that baby is really small – it constitutes crying for every survival need. That is all a baby can do. As the baby grows to be a child, the circle of influence grows. Now a child can control when he wants to walk or run or crawl or play. As the child grows up and starts going to school – he can further control his schedule, his habits, his relationships and many more things. The same child later has the freedom to choose his career and later his profession and his life partner. Life goes on and on increasing the circle of influence. 

The bigger the circle of influence, the higher are the stakes. Your circle of influence also depends on the kind of work you do. Shri Narendra Modi definitely has a much larger circle of influence than me because he can control the nation to a large extent. A number of social activists, politicians, industrialists have a big circle of influence. One must strive to increase his/her circle of influence to an extent that he/she can handle it peacefully. 

A mature human being knows two things 

  1. He has a defined circle of influence. He knows exactly what is within the circle and what is outside of it. He plans for the stuff that is inside and doesn’t stress over what is outside. This distinction is the key to happy and mature life. One who has the wisdom to understand the boundary of his circle of influence lives through every situation blissfully. When I was growing up, I was a much-stressed child. Everything used to make me nervous. The exams, my result, my image in front of people, my looks, my confidence and everything else. This is very obvious for a young adult. But over the period of time, I realized that I can only control what I can control. I cannot control people’s opinion about me. I can change myself in any direction but I need to decide the direction myself. Only this attitude turned me from a people pleaser to the person that I am today. 
  1. He knows how to grow his circle of influence at a slow and steady pace. He doesn’t want to grow his circle just in a day, if he does that – he knows that he won’t have the resources to control all that is inside the circle. He plans for it and slowly steadily expands his circle. While I was growing up, I was always in a hurry for making my circle of Influence larger. I was not aware of this concept but unconsciously I was trying to do the same. Many times I even made mistakes because I was in a hurry to influence the world. I lost friends and damaged relationships because I was in such a hurry to be a responsible person who is looked up to. These things take time. If we take our learnings and failures in stride, what we want will eventually happen.

People who fail in balancing their circle of influence usually make following mistakes:

  1. They don’t know how to control their circle. I have seen grown-ups who cannot handle their professions or their studies or their relationships. They get just too overwhelmed by things that they are expected to control. This is generally a disaster and leads an individual to all sorts of frustrations in life. These are typically the people who are depressed or have suicidal thoughts because escaping is eventually the only route they are left with if they don’t learn to control their circle. 
  2. They want a huge circle in a very short period of time. Have you heard of celebrities who grew up too fast and got too much media attention too quickly? Eventually they land up in some or other controversy just because they grew their circle too quickly and never learnt the art of controlling their circle.
  3. They cannot distinguish what is inside and outside of the circle. This is a very common problem that most of us suffer with. I know of few of a people who stress over every negative news that is sold to them on the News Channels. They get sleepless nights if our Indian Army men are getting killed at the border. They worry when they hear of robberies happening in broad daylight. They love the “crime patrol” kind of shows. I don’t want to say that you should not be aware of what is happening around the world or not have compassion towards people. But if you have over-compassion, it doesn’t help. It is something that is outside of your circle and it is best to let go off that feeling.
  4. They believe the emotions that they feel are outside of their circle. This is one of the key problem, many of us believe that a negative emotion that is stirred inside of us are caused due to something outside. “He made me angry or mad” or “She makes me feel really happy” – when we say such things, we give the responsibility of our emotions to others. We allow them to control something that should be inside our circle. The emotions that arise inside my head are supposed to be controlled by me. If I hand over my emotions in somebody else’s circle of influence – then I am practically like the baby with almost negligible circle of influence. 

Balance your circle and if you can do that well enough – people are going to appreciate your maturity wholeheartedly. 

TRANSITIONING FROM UNMARRIED TO MARRIED WOMEN

Marriage is a turning point for most people in their lives. No matter the reasons for marrying, its an event that leaves a mark and becomes a starting point for many subsequent events. Religious texts and rituals all across the world have spent much time and thought dictating how and why two people should marry. Biological reasons aside, when two people come together, they are expected to think or and maintain each other as one joint unit. It encourages togetherness, tolerance, an adjustment that paves the way to cooperating and adjusting in society. Our societies do not appreciate individualism or staying alone and it’s the reason why parents trouble themselves over their single children to the extent that they are willing to sell or buy happiness for them in the name of marriage. No matter what you may name it – happiness, a financial cushion, or gifts, this practice is called the dowry system and it’s prevalent in every culture.

Historically though, only one gender has been geared up since infancy to make marriage their whole-sole occupation in life – Females.

Take any patriarchal society in the past or even in the modern world, every one of them has treated daughters as only a means of securing a connection with a ‘good family’. The prospect of shouldering the burden of a girl’s marriage is so bothersome that girls have been either aborted, murdered in infancy or married off while they were still too young. Things may have changed some but till she is married, collecting a girl child’s dowry becomes her parents’ sole occupation. She thus becomes a ‘burden’.

This burden dictates how the girl is brought up even in her own family. It robs her of identity because she is being brought up only to take on the identity of another. It robs her of agency, her claims, her voice and the right to choose because she must only belong, first to her father then to her husband. She has rights neither here nor there. Because after all, she is a burden that must be pitched onto another set of shoulders in the end.

The transition from an unmarried to a married woman becomes the only occupation of a girl’s life. She is constantly bombarded by reminders that she must soon be married off. From the cradle up, she is taught, mostly by members of her own gender, that she must learn to detach herself from her identity, her roots, her history and adopt that of another family without any backlash. A young woman aspiring to marry into a ‘good family’ is expected to excel at managing a household, being servile, anticipating the needs of others and repressing her own desires.

How many of you women were subjected to this while you were growing up? –

Don’t raise your voice.

Don’t mingle with boys.

Don’t disrespect or object to your elders.

That’s not for you to think/decide.

Stay quiet.

Don’t protest.

Society is not the only culprit of a woman. Pop culture, media and literature like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Uttaran, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Hum Saath-Saath Hain, and many other examples exhorting the virtues of female sacrifice serve as reminders to young girls that their acceptance comes from their silence and sacrifice. Its what they are fed, morning, noon and night. Education and women empowerment have done little to efface these degrading practices because the idea of a woman being a slave to the family is deeply ingrained in our Indian ethos. Parvati, Sita, Kunti, Draupadi, Padmavati… there are too many examples to quote here of women who gave up their everything only to retain a place in history earned at the cost of self-effacement. This notion of a married woman being the epitome of self-sacrifice has become the ideal of the Indian Bahu. If she dares to want another identity than the one idolized by society, she is forced to change, shamed, shunned, divorced and called names.  

In the Indian context, the transition is defiantly skulking several centuries behind the present times. The most obvious change that comes in a woman’s life is changing her last name which is a practice observed worldwide. But in some communities in India, women are encouraged to change even their first names and it proves that our societies are not comfortable with the idea of a woman having her own identity.

The minute a girl is married she is required to bid adieu to her former way of living. Because for some reason it’s unacceptable for her new family to stomach the fact that she has a different way of dressing up, different ideas, her own preferences in food, movies, songs, clothing, ideals and philosophies. I wonder that if sameness is all that is expected out of a married woman, then why not practice inter-family marriages instead? That would ensure that the girls of the family remained and propelled the ideas and practices of the same family. There wouldn’t be an issue of painfully teaching the new bahu the ways of her new home. Right?

This isn’t an article approving incest or inter-family marriages. This is an article highlighting the unfair treatment of women who are forced to change their identities in the name of marriage.

I’m sure many women across the country have heard these barbs –

Your parents didn’t teach you even that?!

Bahus don’t laugh and cheer like that.

Change the way you dress up. Change the way you eat. Change your habits.

Change your company and don’t interact too much with your own family.

You can’t work after marriage. You’ll have to shift to our city/area. If you want to work, ensure that your chores are done before you go.

Why should we? What are you there for?

Who do you think you are without this family? Who do you think you are?

I’ve had to listen to ALL of the above. These are ALL my personal experiences. Surprised that an educated, forward-thinking, independent woman like me went through it? Like I mentioned above, education has done little to change the perception of women in this society. Education has become only an embellishment desired in an ideal bride. Often its women themselves who propagate the idea of being a slave to the married home and while out there, they might light candles and rave about unfair treatment of women, at home, they still want ideal bahus.

Some may argue that if women are trained for this transition since infancy, it should be easy to adapt to the married household. I’ll counter with a question –

“Can a plant from the tropics thrive in the tundra? Sure, it may survive; it must, because its being given the essentials to survive – earth, water, sun…but will it thrive?”

We’re kinder to the foliage we import from their exotic homelands. We create greenhouses, spend on keeping them moist and warm. We invest in the right potting mixes, worry about the soil being the right pH level. We’re kinder to the pets we adopt from other countries. The pet-food should be right, the water should have enough oxygen for the fish… the list goes on. And yet for a newly married woman, no one creates a greenhouse of her past life to ease her transition into the new one. The pag-phera ceremony, where a Hindu newly married girl goes back to her previous family, lasts only a day, after which she must come back to her new family. I did the same and did not see my family again for more than a year after that. Even when I did go back, I was told that I shouldn’t make the stay too long. I went only for ten days. So much for easing my transition!

I’ll pose a searing question to the families of the husbands now –

“When she came home, how long did you tolerate her ways of living before you or someone in your family told her to change them? Or did you do a barter – change this aspect of you and I’ll give you such and such thing or do so and so? Or did you allow her to keep her ways?”

This question will ruffle feathers. Some may even counter – we adopted her ways instead, or that, we gave her enough freedom. First of all, who are you to give someone their freedom or allow them to do something? That right must remain in their own hands. But I feel Democracy doesn’t apply to married Indian women. Some may have been generous in accepting their bahus’ ways, but I bet most didn’t. I wasn’t given much choice in whether I wanted to follow the customs of my husband’s family. I had to engage in practices I didn’t approve of. I had to teach myself to change or be quiet so I wouldn’t fan any fires. This isn’t an adjustment. This is coercion.

It is true that things have changed a lot for women. We have the vote now, a voice, we can dress up beyond ghoonghats and burkas. We can make choices in partners. We can choose to divorce, to work, to raise our children our way. But it is also true that while we can do all of the above, in many cases the choice is not in our hands. Or let me just put it this way, the circumstances surrounding us enable us to either make or drop the choice of making independent decisions. Often the choice is made for us and we are only to submit. If we assert independence, it’s not without resentment. Like I was asked, “who allowed you to study after marriage?” when I independently chose to pursue LLM post-marriage.

The message is clear – a woman’s choice shouldn’t be in her hands.

When I recall my own experiences, I am left with nothing but anger at how I was expected to change to fit into the lifestyle of my husband’s family. Subtle changes like changing when I used to wake-up or go to sleep, the kind of shows I must watch, the way I talked or laughed, how I dressed, preferring the company of certain type of people, chipped away at my own personality so much so that after a while, people I knew from my past life wondered why I had changed so much. The change may not have been expected overnight but it was definitely expected and while I did earn a lot of love and respect from my husband’s family, I often wonder if I received those only in barter for my willingness to change. I am left with a lifetime of bitter experiences that I wouldn’t want for my own or for anyone’s little girl.

While marriage is a transition that impacts both genders, it must be said that it impacts a woman more than it does a man. Would it be too hard on the ego of a husband’s family to let a woman be her own self while she becomes a loving, caring member for her new family? Would it be too hard to accept her family as part of your own? Why is it unconscionable for a woman to stick to her own ideas and philosophies in life, or to carve out her own path, or to be part of major decisions in a family, or to wear the pants in the family? Afterall, she is equally responsible for the well-being of the husband’s family, if not more.

Why must acceptance come at the cost of changing herself only for a woman?

If marriage is the merging of two families, let both families change to a better way of living, accept each other’s flaws and work around the differences to reach a consensus. While adjustment is a must in all relationships, setting limits on a human being is nothing but a form of slavery.

Coercion brings only a temporary change,

but it sows the seeds for a lifetime of resentment and hate.

Should that be the foundation of the family?

You decide.

TO THE MOON THAT WATCHES OVER ME

Hey there,

I may not say it always but you do mean the world to me. Had you not been there with me during those nights of despair, I would have ended up doing something really wrong.

You know everything about me. Don’t you? How often you saw me sitting aloof, fearing the failure, losing my trust over friendship, bidding goodbye to the one I had always looked up to? Messy hairs, teary eyes and red face is how you caught the glimpses of mine when I used to visit the terrace at 3o’clock in the morning. I wish cuddling your own self could have been as pleasant as gazing at you.

Unlike the people I am attached to, you don’t force me to share what is it that hurts me or what is it that makes me laugh. For you know that I can laugh for absolutely no reason and can cry too. You never judge me for whatever I do. After all, you understand the silence of mine. I need not think if what I am going to share might hurt you or put any of us in trouble I just share. I need you at every phase of mine not just to vent my pent up emotions but also be saved from the selfish world of us. With you, I find solace and share the dark secrets, worries and sorrows of my life. With you, I rejoice and decipher the boundless beauty of nature. 

More than just a friend you have been a life saviour to me. I wonder had you not been into existence, how the things might go? Could I ever believe that there is something so beautiful even in the darkness?

Truly yours,
Vipra.

CAN NEVER THANK ENOUGH

Dear Babai & Pinni,

There are days when you simply can’t express yourself good enough. There are only two reasons for that situation, either nothing much to say or so much to say that you find yourself amidst rare numbness and words simply don’t find their way from heart to mouth. I identify myself with the second reason. And I feel I will be in this situation till the end of my life : Can never thank you both enough for how you impacted my life at different stages and phases.

Babai, I have never seen a person as emotional and straight forward as you are. I have always been in awe of how far you have gone for the people you care for. Since the time I started understanding relationships and their beauty & importance in human life, I have seen you as a rock who stood by your brother (my father) in his thick and thin. At the times when relationships are motivated, made, twisted and broken by money, thanks to you we never saw such moments in our family. I saw how you would never take it lying down whenever people hinted disrespect towards my father. Your sibling love gave our generation sibling goals – to love, support and respect our siblings unconditionally. Thanks for making our family an epitome of brotherly love for the world to see, it isn’t an exaggeration.

It’s a popular belief that to make or break a family, the responsibility lies with the lady of the house. And I can proudly say that I belong to a family that got amazing women who no matter what makes sure that family bonds are not severed. And leading from the front is you, Pinni (Chachi/aunt). Babai’s (uncle’s) love for us can be understood by the linear nature of relationship we had – brotherly love. But you are the support system of Babai who always stood by his decisions. You embraced us as your own kids. You have always been my idol when I think about strong, independent woman. A woman with strong values who values family, wisdom being your second name, love and compassion is your identity. I am fortunate enough to share the same date of birth (same date, same month) with you. You have an immense impact on how a woman has to take charge of her family and bind it. After 11 years of marriage if I can relate to happiness and sorrows of my extended family from my husband’s side, its because of a wonderful lady like you. Thank you so much for all the love, motivation and inspiration you have showered on me and still doing it. And before I forget to mention, it’s always great to spend time with you, it’s fun second to none.

Both of you have cared for me and my brother like your own children, a rarity in these selfish times we are living. You hold the same place as our parents in our hearts.

And it would be so insensitive and wrong on many accounts if here I don’t mention about my sweet little sister, Divya. As a child she used to be our favourite for she used to be super cute and we used to look quite lean (famished wouldn’t be appropriate😂😂). I will always be grateful to God for giving me such a wonderful person as my sister. She is an exact replica of Babai when it comes to emotions. The way she cares for people and bonds, so invested in them wholeheartedly I have never seen anyone else in this practical world. I have a great camaraderie with her and my brother. Summer vacations, late night talks under star lit sky, silly fights, sharing clothes, dancing till we dropped, watching movies in the front row of cinema hall, keeping secrets, breaking down, building up each other – I can literally go on. Technically we were in nuclear families but literally we grew up together (with and on each other). Thank you is a small word for the support you have been to me.

I may not have vast materialistic fortunes but very fortunate to have you in my life, it’s a blessing to have such a loving family, wonderful strong people guiding me at every step, shaping up the right ideology to look at life in a positive perspective, heaping up treasure of memories. Though I don’t like to repeat myself but can’t help today – can never thank you all enough.

Yours lovingly,

Daughter .

AN UNPOSTED LETTER TO A MAN OF FEW WORDS

Dear Dad!

I don’t know what to write and how to express my feelings for you. The number of lessons that you have taught me when you were amidst us was unexplainable in this letter. But they are all so rooted within me that I can train myself as well as the people around me.

You had slapped me only once in my whole life. And I wept so bitterly as I wasn’t expecting it ever from you. I took you for granted that this man can be teased and bullied in any manner but he won’t say a word. I know, you never had touched me afterwards till the end. I was a kid that time and that slap was a souvenir for me. 🙂

But I am sorry, I could not be like you who always had stayed quiet, wearing that gentle smile on your face when you were teased. I don’t know how you must have been feeling, how much pain you hid it behind that beautiful smile of yours. I retaliated at times and bashed those who tried to tease me or bully me.

I am sorry, I could not be as happy as you were when you had very little. You were happy even when you had earned a small salary, ate whatever was given to you, and led a very simple life. You never demanded, as I sometimes demand.

I am sorry, I could not tolerate like you did whenever you suffered physically. You endured all the time till the pain becomes unbearable and the wounds are visible or prominent to someone else other than you. I am no match for your endurance.

I am sorry, I could not be as aloof and peaceful as you were when you were not included in any one of the important discussions. You never flaunt around announcing your presence amidst all. You either sat or walked away quietly.

I am sorry, I could not share my belongings with others as you did in your lifetime. You never said that – “this is mine”. You always used to share what was yours with us and others; whether it is your share of food or anything else. I miss this the most when you used to share your food with us and we used to scold you to take your food back.

The amount of patience and resilience that you had taught me through your life that I could not learn from any school or college or from anyone else. It is because of your gene and your blood I stay strong and be patient against all the taunts, insults and bullying in the name of this and that.

You taught me the simple way of growing in Christ’s likeness which sometimes I find so difficult to follow in my life. Our saviour did more than saying a lot of words. You followed Him as best as you could have with all your simplicities.

Dad! I was sorry about many things that I could not practice what you showed through your life when you were in your physical body but I am so very grateful for being an example as my father. I thank you so much for the lessons you left for me in stacks to understand, learn and practice them one after the other till I mature more in His ways.

I hope to meet you soon 🙂

Your apologetic son,
Chiradeep

A NOTE OF GRATITUDE TO MY ALMA MATER

My dear Alma Mater,

I entered inside your huge gates as a tiny tot of three and a half, holding my parents’ hands. The sudden familiarity and comforts of the home were soon replaced by strange faces all around. I never could understand why my parents had to leave me with you every day and then pick me up after some time. As the A-B-C-Ds and the 1-2-3-4s started sinking into my mind, I realised that it wasn’t that bad after all to spend some time in the company of strangers!

Within a year, I was made to understand that you were to be a part of my life for many more years. Though it was difficult to fathom what that actually meant at that time, the picture became pretty clear when I saw the Report Card at the end of each year.

I am grateful to you for all the sweet and sour memories that I have had with you that have played a crucial role of shaping me into what I am today. It goes without saying that I am grateful to you for having such expert teachers who instilled the subject knowledge into me. I still remember some of those difficult formulae of Maths and those experiments in the Chemistry lab which would invariably end up with someone breaking a test tube resulting in severe reprimanding.

And yes, these days when I see people going crazy for physical fitness regimens, I often remember the compulsory PT (Physical Training) classes each week, which we would often look for convincing excuses to skip (but could hardly ever succeed to escape from the vigilante team that were assigned the task of exposing such escapists). I find many of those exercises I did at school then, in the fitness training modules today. A salute for incorporating such ageless fitness regimens!

I am grateful to you dear school, for training me in three languages so well. I can vouch for every student that our English, Odia and Hindi speaking, writing and reading abilities are among the best. It is such a misconception in our country that English-medium schools compromise with regional languages training. But, a school like you wonderfully dispels such doubts by churning up multi-lingual scions.

I am grateful to you for the discipline and values that you have imparted, that actually made you one of the best in the city. Rules were a bit too harsh, I must admit. But, they have moulded and made me.

As I am grateful to you, I am so much more grateful to my parents for introducing me to you – one of the best decisions they have taken for me!

I can go on writing letters running into pages to express my gratitude, dear School, for what you have been to me. But, more on it when I meet you in person in the Alumni Meets!

Gratefully yours,

Rajnandini

MERCI BEAUCOUP MON AMIE!

Dearest Shruti,

Hi. Won’t ask you about your well-being and the quintessential things people ask in a letter; we have smartphones for that. But I would say things that are difficult to speak on the call, but they are simpler to write.

We are school friends and are still going strong, despite the miles spread out between us, you are closer to my heart than most people living near me. I am writing today to thank you for being my friend.

We don’t call each other for months on end, but your welfare and well-being are always on my mind. I know the same goes for you. We belong to the era when we didn’t need FB or Insta or WhatsApp to stay in touch. We used to visit each other.

You have stood by me through my thick and thin. You were always so easy to like, love, be around and me, just the opposite. You are still an outgoing, extrovert, people’s person. I am still the same shy, introvert, loner person. We were poles apart; I think that is what pulled us together like a magnet.

I still remember your dog, Fuzzy. And your wacko but awesome dance at your birthday party. You always kept me close, making me a part of your world. I was so thrilled to have you as my friend that a couple of girls from our school asked me if I had a crush on you.

It sounded indignant at that point of time, but today, I can say, if not crush, at least I had always admired, adored and loved you so much.  Maybe I wanted to be like you, lighting up the entire room with your energy and vibrant aura, pulling everyone in the current of my cyclone, making them a part of your joyride.

You made those years special with your pranks and practical jokes, sassy humour, and bold words. I still laugh at the lizard prank you pulled on me. The week you spent at my place was one of the very best times of my life.

You are a gifted and talented person. Your art always represents the wild child in you. You are such an enigma. Multi-tasking and doing several things at one time. I look up to you, your brushes add colour to every life you touch.

The most beautiful thing about our bond is our mothers. Mine loves you and yours loves me. Your family has always been my extended family, and I miss it all. Whenever I see something bold, colourful and out of the box, I think of you. You are the beautiful mess that gives an order to my chaotic soul.

But the thing I cherish most is your faith in me. You never lost faith in me. Thank you so much, my friend, for always believing in me. Thank you for carrying me in your heart and making me feel special, even it was two days late. :))

Thank You, Sweetheart!

Your Friend,
Saakshi

P.S.: Coffee never tastes the same without you.