HEART LANGUAGE OR THE LANGUAGE OF THE TONGUE?

“How are your eyes, Amma?”, I asked over the phone.

“No Amma, we are not eating much rice these days. We have limited our diet due to health issues”, replied my mother-in-law.

It wasn’t that she had not understood my question. I realised that she had merely misheard my question. I repeated the query, this time with child-like clarity to which she replied appropriately and we continued the rest of our conversation heartily.

Its a joy to converse with my parents-in-law everyday though miles separate us and our respective mother tongues seem to pose barriers. But, we do not allow linguistic barriers to obstruct the unalloyed outflow of love that emanates from the deep recesses of our hearts.

On one of my visits, my mother-in-law and I got into packing goodies for relatives. At a particular point, forgetting that I am still an infant in Telugu, she gave me a series of instructions in Telugu. I kept staring at her, unable to decipher a word and then went on to do the things exactly the way I had been doing before. She stopped me unapprovingly and said, “Oho…no, not like that.” I looked at her blankly and then we both burst out into peals of laughter.

No doubt common spoken language helps articulate the message of the mind, but understanding the human heart resonates beyond the horizons of spoken and written language.

I enjoy my father-in-law’s hearty laughter each time I ask him, “How are you, Daddy?” The other day, I asked as usual. He replied in his usual style, “We are well, Amma. God has given us enough strength to go about our daily activities. That is enough for us.” “No, Daddy you are not well. What happened?”, I asked with concern. He seemed very surprised and asked, “How did you know?”, as he went on to admit that he was indeed unwell, having been out the whole day in the scorching summer sun the previous day.

The linguistic diversity across the length and breadth of India is one of its unexplainable precious assets that binds hearts and encapsulates the mind. Having had the exposure to people of many Indian languages, I didn’t think interacting with my South Indian in-laws would pose a problem for the East Indian me. We enjoy a bond of love that expands way beyond our linguistic limitations.

On one occasion, my mother-in-law said, “Please learn Telugu. I want to talk a lot with you.” “You can talk Amma, I can understand koncham koncham (little little),” I replied. She laughed and shared a similar experience from her job days when a team of Hindi-speaking North Indian supervisors had visited her workplace and started conversing in Hindi and she had replied in English, “I know Hindi thoda thoda (little little).”

I can go on sharing several such anecdotes as a testament of our bond of love, but I would limit myself to just these for now as I attest the fact that the language of the heart is nothing but the language of love, which when built upon creates unshakeable towers of relationships, but, which when nibbled at, gradually causes relationships to dissipate into thin air.

CHENNAI TALKS!

I was a kid when I visited Chennai. I spoke Hindi at home and English at school. The concept of learning more languages wasn’t popular till then. And even if it were, I would have never learned Tamil.

My father had tight business connections with Tamilians and visited Chennai twice a month. I was a Daddy’s Girl through and through, but the thought of learning Tamil out of sheer curiosity never appealed to me.

I have stayed in Chennai for three months, not in one go, but three month-long trips in three consecutive years. The adventures were as colourful and varied as an artist’s colour palette. The first time we stayed in a spatial guest house by the beach. Next to the house lived a rich neighbour in an exquisite bungalow. His name was Mr Kartik Narayanan. I don’t remember if he had a wife or kids, but he knew my father and invited us over for dinner at his place.

I accompanied my parents with utter fascination because the first luxury car I had ever seen was parked in his driveway. It was a Contessa. While my father talked to him in perfect English and we were served dinner, I never spoke a single word. I was so desperate to take a spin in the car that my stomach ached, and I could eat nothing.

Mr Kartik Narayan was in his mid-50s and was a very busy man, but when we were leaving his house after dinner, he told my father to wait, and he asked me in Tamil, “You love this car, don’t you?” I didn’t understand a word he said, but I caught the feeling.

I smiled, and my father laughed because he knew I didn’t know Tamil. He told my father to take the car out for a spin, handing him the keys. My father felt embarrassed to see me drooling over the beautiful car but accepted the gesture.

When we returned, he smiled and asked me in Tamil again, “How’s the stomach ache now?” Without understanding anything, I knew what he was asking and hid behind my father, blushing red.

The memory of the joy I felt while I took a spin in the car has faded, but I won’t ever forget the man—the benevolent, kind businessman. He understood a kid’s desire without having any conversation.

It was time for another trip to Chennai. This time we stayed in another guest house owned by the company. The house had a lawn, a kitchen garden, a back garden and a housekeeper called Appan. Appan was a poor local with no knowledge of English.

In the one month I stayed there, Appan gave me many memories that would last with me for a lifetime. He didn’t know how to make calls and used to hold my hand, make me sit on the sofa next to the landline and hand me a phone number, and he would gesture for me to make a call to his village. I used to make his calls and watch him talk in his colloquial language. The expressions on his ebony skinned face told everything he spoke.

My mother taught him how to make chapatis. He would roll out the dough, take the circular steel lid, and cut out the Chapati like a stencil. That was absolute fun to watch.

He used to call me ‘Amma’. I haven’t seen a more pure and innocent man in my life, or maybe I was never that pure and innocent ever again. But Appan used to make me omelettes and Maggie noodles and play with me. I loved him for that.

It was weird that I never felt that we didn’t talk, that we didn’t know a single common word except ‘Cobra’. Yes, as per him, at night, a cobra came into the guest house from the kitchen garden and slid into the place under the kitchen’s backdoor. He even claimed to have seen the snake’s prints on the wet soil.

I don’t know how he made me understand this, but I never once slept on my extra bed on the floor after that and insisted on sleeping on the bed, or the cobra would swallow me alive.


It was my third trip to Chennai, and we were staying in yet another exotic guest house. I remember it was overrun by lizards. But I had a refuge there. My father had a colleague, Mr G.S. Bala, who had a daughter just one year older than me, Deepa.

My father used to leave my mother and me at his house, and both men would drive away to the office while we, my mother, Deepa and her mother, were left together.

My mother and her mother had no language to communicate, but they used to talk through Deepa. Mom would say something to Deepa in English, and Deepa would tell the same to her mother in Tamil. Then her mother would reply to something in Tamil, and she would translate it for my mother in English.

But her mother was the kindest and most loving person I had ever met. She taught my mother how to make Dosas. My mother taught her to knit. She used to take us sightseeing at beaches, markets and places.

Deepa used to have a massive swing in the middle of her drawing-room, and I wanted to play on it. Her mother removed every piece of furniture from the room and gave it to us to play with for one whole month.

I used to sit with Deepa on the swing and tell her to take it higher and higher till our feet touched the ceiling fan. I don’t know how Deepa understood me back then, my English was bad, and I was too small. But Deepa’s laughter and Auntys’ fond smile are frozen in my memory forever.

Today I don’t know where are they, Appan, Mr Kartik Narayan, Deepa or Aunty, but their memories are still fresh in my heart, bringing tears to my eyes.

They all taught me a fundamental lesson.

When hearts communicate, language is not needed.”

I loved them beyond their colour, caste, religion, and social stature, and they loved me back many times more.

BROKEN BUT BEAUTIFUL

I was hurt, as he turned out to be a flirt,
I was in pain, as his behaviour was insane.
All my requests and petitions to him
Were nothing but all in vain.

I was in utter loneliness,
But he didn’t care to see my brokenness.
I was crying, but no-one heard me
Or could understand my the sign.
I was dumped, but he never cared,
I touched the rock bottom, the seabed.

I decided to finish my life,
To break free from all my strife.
Why to live when there’s nothing left?’
I thought as I planned my own fate.

But then, my inner human arose
From the depth of my soul,
It showed me the beauty of a Diamond
That lays deep down in the ugly mines of coal.

The blessings of that very moment,
Always stood firm beside me till my present.
After the passing of a devasting storm,
I, the sapling survived and life took a new turn.

BEYOND THE DEFENSE AND BLAME GAME

I am quite afraid of the “we need to talk” kind of situations in my personal life and at work, I am worried to see a meeting invite from the manager with just the subject mentioned as “Connect” and no agenda mentioned. Both represent not-so-happy communication, rather, it’s self-explanatory that it’s gonna be a difficult conversation. As one grows, one witnesses such conversations and there is no escape route.

Listening to negative things about yourself is not easy. Let me put it in better words. Listening to the areas of improvement in your work or behaviour is not easy and the first reaction is the defense. Most of us try to defend ourselves even before truly evaluating what we did. This does no good and then makes the conversation even more complicated. Next comes the blame game. It’s kind of easy to push the blame. Isn’t it? But does that make you clean? Think about it.

Over the years, I have been in such situations many times, and the journey from being a naive individual or professional to a mature and experienced one has given me a lot of learnings. And now, I have learned to look beyond the defense and the blame game. What do I exactly do?

While discussing the negative feedback the first and foremost thing that I do is accept the mistake. It’s hard but it’s the best to do! Then I talk about why it happened and what can I do to improve it. Trust me, this makes the conversation easier and short. Post this discussion, I reflect upon myself and disintegrate the feedback. I pick up what is useful and let go of what is not. Remember that not ALL that you get to hear is right or useful. Make your choice. Negative feedback or areas of improvement are not always a bad discussion if you learn to decide which part to keep and which part to let go of. Thus, you can actually turn these difficult conversations into something good.

But what if there is no mistake done by you and yet you get a mouthful from your boss, spouse, or parents? It happens, right? And what’s the immediate reaction of most of us? Yell back? Or revert in an aggressive way? Does it help? Definitely not! What do I do then?

Again, this didn’t come to me naturally but I have learnt it on my way to growing up! I stay calm! Sometimes so calm that it calms down the other person. We all know that one word leads to another and in no time an argument can flare-up. So, staying calm really works in these situations. The next thing that I do is the person what makes him believe that needless to say, in a very controlled tone. Once you know the source, it’s easy to clear the air. In most such situations, the misunderstanding is cleared but not all situations and people are the same. So, after considerable effort, if I feel that the other person DOESN’T want to understand, I end the discussion by saying “LET’S AGREE TO DISAGREE”.

Now, what I do after that is even more important. I shed off all the inhibitions about how good or bad I am in the eyes of that person. Again, this didn’t come naturally to me but I have learned this over the years. Someone has truly said that don’t let the negative feedback DEFINE YOU. You are much more!

So, take it with a pinch of salt and move ahead. Negative feedback can actually help you only if you learn how to deal with it. How do you cope with negative feedback and difficult conversations? Do you reflect upon them? Does it drive you to do better or do you break down? Do share your experience and tips and tricks!

OF SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

“I wish I was a deaf and dumb person! If I was deaf, I wouldn’t have to listen to all the derogatory things said to me. And if I was dumb, I wouldn’t talk stuff that irritate others. Better still, I think I should die. That would be the end of all my problems.”

An excerpt from a 10-year old’s chat which I received last week after she received a mouthful from well-meaning, but frustrated parents.

As adults, many of us have learned in the course of time to give a deaf ear to the harsh words of others or to mend our ways after getting a dose of constructive criticism which might not necessarily be music to the ears. But, is it the same for children?

There were times when spanking wasn’t really frowned upon. Rather, it was considered to be one of the corrective measures needed to discipline children. There were times when severe scoldings from parents, teachers, and elders made children rethink their actions and mend their ways. At least it was true for a majority of the population, with only a few scattered here and there who took the rebel route.

But, times are different now. We have highly observant children now who don’t hesitate to talk back. Call it genetic evolution or the influence of media or civilizational progress, children today are sharper, argumentative, rebellious, curious, independent, and thoughtful than those of the previous generations. They are not as compliant and submissive as most parents would want their darlings to be. To top it all, they are so very touchy!

There are numerous pieces in newspapers of late, of suicides by children who were either reprimanded for a wrong or refused access to gadgets – all which parents thought are measures of disciplining their children. But, the consequences proved to be disastrous thereby imparting strong messages to society and numerous amendments in Child Laws at the cost of precious lives.

So, what do we do? Give in to the whims and fancies of our children? Stop disciplining them? Use only sugar-coated words and ignore their wrongs? Keep worrying about their feelings and emotions all the time without caring for their holistic development? If our children are always kept in an aura of positivity, how will they learn to take negative feedback in their stride?

These and such other questions are bombarded by worried parents. Well, the approach to negative feedback is different for children and for adults. I will not dwell on those in this write-up. While adults are not expected to be childish in their response to negative feedback, children must also not be expected to behave in overly mature ways in response to criticism.

‘Sensitivity’ and ‘sensibility’ are the two words I want to leave behind for all to ponder upon. Criticisms, negative feedback, reprimands – all are parts and parcels of life. The way they are accepted depends most of the time on the way they are delivered and the outcomes they generate.

THREE SISTERS LED THE WAY

It’s a story of the reunion of a man with his daughters. A man had three daughters from whom he got separated. He was leading a miserable life, until one day when the three girls reached his house and asked for shelter, as they were tired of playing. As it was dark outside the man decided to let the three little girls halt in his house.

The darkness was so terrible and threatening. The darkness was an invitation for the robbers to intrude into the boundaries of the house. They slowly started digging the foundation of the house. Their purpose was to crash the house and loot. As the walls trembled in that dark night, so was the man. This is not new to him. All his life he was under constant attack of burglars in the veil of night. He lurked in the darkest corner of the house to save himself. The three sisters were sleeping in the corner where he hid. He tucked himself into a shell, hoping that the violent blows to his house and self recede somehow.

As the man was consumed by his struggle, one of the three sisters woke up due to the commotion inside and out of the house. She saw the man struggling, she rose to help him. She peeped from the window, she could see some light in the distance. Also, she saw how exercise to weaken the security that man had was being carried out. She had a plan in her mind “If I could take this man to that point I will be able to save him”. She tried to pick him up, but the weight of the man was crushing her. She gave a call to her elder sister and immediately she grabbed the other hand of the man. He slowly picked himself up with the help of the sisters and made an advancement towards the door to get out of the darkness surrounding him.

But the saga of fear was still not over for the man. His feet were stumbling over the hurdles placed across his path in a bid to stop him from reaching the light. As the sisters held the man and they were occupied, they called their eldest and strongest sister. She came, fought, and conquered the plunderers, paving a way for the man to make a safe exit from the darkness. The fight wasn’t easy. The attackers kept coming back to attack the man from different sides, the other sisters were slowly crumbling under the fatigue of carrying the man. But the one who was fighting was nowhere close to extinguishing or exiting. She was gaining impetus as she was blowing away her counterparts and a part of her energy she was transmitting to her sisters too. It was a long night before they finally made it.

With the help of the three sisters, that man reached his destination. When he reached the enlightened spot he recognized his estranged daughters and embraced them. He vowed to never ever part from them as they released him from the haunted place he was dwelling in. And they happily lived ever after in the land where the sun never sets in.

End Credits (cast of the story):

Sisters: Youngest Sister – Will; Second Sister – Action; Eldest (strongest) Sister – Knowledge

Man: The Human Soul

Weight: Self-doubt

Thieves: Vices like greed, lust, anger, hate, etc.

Hurdles: negativity and pessimism in the form of harsh comments, blame game.

Light/ Enlightened spot: The happy space where the mind is in total control of its actions and not affected by the actions of the villains surrounding.

Moral of the story: It takes the three sisters of Will, Action, and Knowledge to accompany a man (figuratively) to cross the hurdles of vicious backlashes and the fear of failure.

HOW TO MOVE AHEAD WHEN THERE’RE NEGATIVE COMMENTS ALL AROUND?

People, mostly those who are associated with us in some way or the other pull us down in our life. A random stranger will never do that to us without having a valid reason and when someone we know does that, feels all the more pathetic.

There are three major ways how they treat us to pull us down or be an obstacle on our way to proceed ahead. I call them The ‘S’ Treatments.

Silence: Have you ever gone to your boss and asked him something that you have planned and waited for his response for hours? Later you are made to understand that you have been turned down by him. He used Silent Treatment on you to display his disapproval of your proposal. I don’t know these behaviors of the bosses are prevalent in the corporate sector or not but in small organizations, it is very common. I have gone through it a number of times when I was working.

Even I have this experience at my own home. My elders simply avoid or change the topic or stay silent till I lose my patience of waiting for a YES or NO. It literally kills your spirit.

Sarcasm: Comments or remarks like: “Oh, she will definitely top the class this year” for a girl who is an average student; “He earns so much that we need not work anymore” for a man who’s still searching for a job are called sarcastic comments or sarcasm. Sarcasm has never helped or built anyone. It has only hurt, degraded, and made people angry. And mostly our own family members, our friends, and colleagues use sarcasm to pull us down.

I always share this incident of my life with all. My Nanaji (Maternal grandfather) reacted when I wanted to buy a guitar and learn when I was a kid. He said, “Will you be a bandwala?” And today I can compose songs but I don’t know how to play a single musical instrument. He succeeded to stop me that day and I failed to move ahead. He was a very loving grandfather, he just had this prejudice about musicians.

Sentimental: This is the more dreaded weapon our elders use against us, to stop us. “If you step out from this house, you will never see my face again.” Have you ever heard such emotional or sentimental statements made by your parents? Maybe the above statement was too filmy but there are many such examples that we know that stop us from moving ahead or doing things our way.

At times, we face all three treatments applied against us at different points of time. People try their best to be a hindrance.

In my life, in certain instances, I have let them succeed in their mission of stopping me from doing something that I had ever wanted. But in other cases, I just did what I had to do and felt like doing. If I introspect and retrospect all those instances together, I regret thinking “Why did I let them stop me?” Definitely, we can’t predict our life but when we wanted to do something good in life, we should not be suppressed by these ‘S’ treatments.

Remember, we can defuse the effects of this Three ‘S’ Treatment with another ‘S’ Treatment from our side. And that’s called, “STANDING FIRM“. Standing Firm on our decision doesn’t mean that we will have to be rude, rebellious, and arrogant. We can stand firm humbly as well. Our this attitude will definitely let a person speak out if he is silent, stop him to be sarcastic for long and soften his heart to accept our decision at the end.