Summer Camp – How to Handle LIFE as it Happens

There is no summer camp that teaches “here is how to handle LIFE as it happens”.

So, I resort to what Daddy did when I was very young. He taught me how to use the tools that he had around the house. He also trusted me to do many handy things around the house.

Kumar jokes that the hottest girl ever is one who knows how to use a spanner and a screwdriver when the plumbing is broke.

Well, I don’t think Daddy would like it said that way 😉 Nevertheless, I am sure he would be proud to see his daughter pass on his life-skills lessons to his grandsons.

Tell me about a small practical skill that you learnt that has come to use in your life. Or, tell me about a practical life skill that you are teaching yourself or your kids.

When all of Life seems Ablaze

Sometimes, all of life might seem ablaze.
Sometimes, you might find yourself in the middle of a perfect storm.

At that time, there is no need to be a strategist and navigate the boat to safer territories.
There is only one freakin’ thing to do.

Step 1. Steal your younger child’s cap and put it on.
Step 2. Glare at problems until they are so damn scared of you….that they decide to disappear.

Do you think that will work?

Seat of Speculation

This post is going to be very intense.
So, brace yourself. Grab a hot or cold drink and find a quite place to read it and take it all in.

I read a lot about the brain, emotions, people and more. I have had the most interesting curve balls thrown at me. Aren’t life and books the best teachers?

Through it all, I think the best teacher that I have had is Grandpa TVS. He told me very complex ideas in such simple ways. I was still a little child. However, I paid closed attention because of his charisma.

I’ll share Grandpa’s stories and ideas with you in the next few months and years.

Here is a couple of ideas…that contradict each other.

Lesson 1. Grandpa TVS said something in Tamil – “Dushtan kanda thoora velagu”. In English it means, when you spot a person who is trouble, move away. When I asked him what that meant and how do I know when to stay and when to flee, he said “You will figure it out as you go.” How brilliant! He didn’t lay out the ideas of what “Dushtan” attributes meant. He figured that my Dharma (RIGHT) will let me spot certain attributes as Adharma (WRONG)….and hence lead me to identify “Dusthan” traits. He also probably knew that life will eventually teach me when to stay and when to flee.

Lesson 2. Grandpa TVS also taught me about the Annam. Annam means swan. He urged me to “Live life like an Annam”. He said that if you mixed water and milk and gave it to an Annam, it would drink only the milk and leave out the water. Well, even during my young days, I had a very inquisitive mind. So, I badgered him with questions about whether he had seen an Annam seperate the milk and water and how the mouth of the Annam worked. He explained to him that it was a metaphor. The moral of the story was – “People are all kinds. When you meet them, give them the benefit of the doubt. Take and enjoy only their good attributes. Ignore their bad attributes.”

Do you see the contradiction between the two lessons he taught me? One says judge…the other lesson says give people the benefit of doubt and see only the goodness and ignore the rest.

After he passed away, I encountered many situations and struggled with many questions. I felt at a loss because I couldn’t ask him for clarifications on the lessons that he had taught me.

Should I ignore bad attributes?
Or, should I run from people who are trouble?
Should I see only the good attributes?
What should I do?
How was I to figure it out?
Anyways, life goes on. So, I learnt slowly and steadily.
I tried several techniques in several random orders.

I value relationships. So, for several years, I stuck with lesson 2 which was “People are all kinds. When you meet them, give them the benefit of the doubt. Take and enjoy only their good attributes. Ignore their bad attributes.”
In many cases that technique worked.
In some cases it didn’t.

I have had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderful souls on this planet.
Those experiences uplifted me.
I have also met the scum of this planet.
Those experiences scarred me and taught me several lessons.

My tolerance level is very high.
So, I tried to stick to it and tried my best to look past the faults and see only the good.
But, that kindness is often overlooked.
Then, I reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore.
Slowly, I realized that most people don’t change.
It takes a rare soul to be cognizant of life and grow through challenges.
So, with most people, what you see is what you get.
Well, not what you see in one interaction.
But, what you see over several interactions.

Let me give you ridiculously simple examples.

Let us assume that you notice that a person runs late consistently. Now, “running late” is not part of your Dharma. How do you deal with counterparts who run late all the time?

Here is another scenario. Grandpa TVS taught me that “your word is your bond.” I try my best to follow “my word is my bond” Dharma. But, even a bond is not a bond for some people. How do you deal with that?

How do I apply Grandpa TVS’ lessons?
What stage of progress (aka chaos) I am in?
Here is what I do to role up Grandpa TVS’ lesson 1 & lesson 2.
I give everybody that I meet a fair chance.

Now, don’t message me with the following: “Ambal, given your mathematical and analytical mind, I bet you have a rating system? Where am I on your rating system?” or “Gosh! Fair chance! Good Vs bad attributes? Are you doing anything conceited?”
I don’t want you to get worked up. Relax.

Trust me, you are doing you own “give fair chance” rating system all the time. You are marking up people. You are putting them in buckets. You are keeping some and chucking some. You have got your own algorithm going. Only thing…you are not telling anybody about it.
Am I right or am I right?

So, on to the story about my algorithm.

I give everybody that I meet a fair chance to start with. What that means is everybody gets a fair start. From there on, I let their behavior drive my marking. I still tolerate BS a lot. Although, now, I am old enough know to spot it from a zillion miles.

If somebody is going up in the rankings, I let them know with words of appreciation.
If somebody is going down, I still give them my best “tolerance” shot. Let us assume somebody is in the far red and they have fallen beyond my “Can’t take this BS anymore” bright red marking.
Then, I decide to hit the eject button. It was painful the first few times I did it.

I am still learning.

I hope somewhere up in heaven, Grandpa TVS is having a field day because he realizes that I am finally getting there.

“You will figure it out as you go.” – Grandpa TVS

Experience Moments, One by One

It just seems like I took Adi to the first school concert ever almost seven years ago.

Tick. Tick. Tick.
I could hear the last few moments of the last middle school concert pass me by.

So, as the clock kept ticking on me yesterday evening, I tried my best not to pay attention to it. I tried to be pensive and soak in the moment.

Because, now, I am finally grown up enough to understand that all the sad and happy moments will pass me by.

How much ever you and I try to capture the beauty of time as it passes by, we can’t.

We can only live it.
We can only experience it.
Moment. By. Moment.

Nostalgia Reminds us that some Beautiful Moments are Past Us

Sometimes love arrives in a carefully packed zip lock bag after traveling 10,000 miles across oceans and continents.

Nostalgia is defined as the “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The feeling can sometimes be evoked from music, a pleasant memory of the past, or any sensory perception that was crystallized in time by a fondly experienced moment.”

Nostalgia. Has is struck you how nostalgia strikes when you least expect it? A whiff of a perfume as somebody passes by. The smell emanating from somebody’s cooking. A voice that reminds you of somebody long gone or somebody far away. A face that looks so familiar.

I met Subha in Trichy during Fall 1993. We became fast friends really fast. I got to know her family. They are the kindest and sweetest souls. Whenever we visited her house, her mom fed me and my friends. Over the next three years, I slowly acquired the acquired taste for mahali kizhangu pickle.

My grad school friend Rathna once told me that there is a quota for everything. Eating mom’s rasam has a quota. You don’t realize the quota is done until it is done.

I didn’t realize my quota for mahali kizhangu pickle was done until it got done. My four year stint in Trichy ended in Summer 1997 and so did my quota of Suba’s mom’s mahali kizhangu pickle.

After two decades, we remain good friends.

When I visited her in Summer 2014, mahali kizhangu was on the menu. I teared up and (as usual!) laughed my way through it with some dumb jokes.

This weekend, she sent me a zip lock bag full of mahali kizhangu pickle with her family members who were visiting Austin. Thank you to her family for bringing the goodies.

I opened the ziplock bag today evening and nostalgia hit me hard. My senses took a ride through a time long gone by. My mind was transported to Tiruchy. The hot weather. The dryness. The cold curd rice her mom served with so much love. I can almost hear her dad’s voice “Ambal, Nalla sappadu di. Innum konjum mahali kizhangu pottuku. Unnaku piddikama di.” (English Translation: Ambal, eat well. Take some more mahali kizhangu? You like it, don’t you?)

I wish I could go back to those days. Relive them. Relive them more fully.

Alas, I can’t. None of us can.

But, here is the beauty of nostalgia.

Nostalgia reminds us that some beautiful moments of life are past us. It reminds us to live this moment. To live this moment more fully.

Because, there is a quota for moments that we have. As Rathna said, you don’t realize the quota is done until it is done.

I’ll go back now and eat some more of those cherished mahali kizhangu pickle.

I hope this post rekindled your memories of a day long gone by. A taste long gone by. A smell long gone by. A person who is special to your heart.

I urge you to pick up your phone and call that old friend and start by saying “Remember when we….”.