Sunday, December 27, 2009

So are you "Branded"?

"That's a nice watch," a gentleman remarked to me at a get together recently. The comment took me by surprise.
"Thank you," I replied, as I looked at my watch.
"Can I look at it?" he asked.
"What? Sure....," I said and held up my wrist for him to see.
He looked at it for a couple of seconds. "I was right," he exclaimed. "Its a Versace!"
I was astounded. "My watch is a Versace?! Really...?" my voice trailed off. I looked at my watch closely and saw the small letters under the '12' .....it did say Versace!
"If you don't mind my asking- how much was it?" the gentleman asked.
"Not at all. It was 25 something," I replied.
"That's not too much. Twenty-five hundred dollars for a Versace watch is a steal," he said.
"Twenty-five hundred? No...no....I meant twenty-five dollars. I got this watch from one of those carts at the local Dulles mall---"
"Yeah sure, doc," he chuckled. "twenty-five dollars...sure! They told me you are a funny guy," he said and walked off.
Later on at the same place, a couple of other people came over to see the watch. I guess the word spread. Nobody was ready to believe that I got the watch for $25 at the local mall, which is a fact.

We are all brand-conscious (myself included), some more than others. There is a general belief that having branded products defines a better social status. True? Maybe. A brand name does ensure quality, most of the time. We tag status and prestige onto the brand names ourselves. A watch is still a watch, no matter the brand. A designer watch is not going to stop the flow of time. But we (and again, I include myself!) do want to show off our purses, cars, shirts etc. These are things visible to our friends and peers. If BMW started making underwear tomorrow, how many of us would be willing to fork out an extra twenty bucks to have that designer brand? Not many. Because its tough to show off your underwear! However, if BMW started making shirts, they would probably sell faster. Because the logo on the shirt is easily visible.

We all have a passion for certain things that we love in life. Passion is a positive obsession, but obsession is a negative passion. I have nothing against branded products, but sometimes we do have a tendency to go over the top, which is an indirect indicator of self-obsession.

"If my significant other is my own self, I know I've gone beyond the normal limits of self-admiration and crossed over into the depths of self-obsession!" ~ Bill Maher

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ordinary people, extra-ordinary achievements...

This past weekend I was flipping channels on TV. There was nothing interesting on, so I started watching CNN-Heroes. These were stories of ordinary people who had dedicated their lives to help others selflessly, and in doing so achieved extra-ordinary things. Each story was inspiring. I was in awe of these people and what they had accomplished.

There was a veteran who took homeless veterans into his own home -- a Filipino young man who went back to the slums from which he survived with books & a message of education -- another twenty-year old young man, who lost his legs at 16 in a freak accident and now ran a foundation that helps children to get prosthetics for lost limbs -- and so many others. So what turns ordinary people into extra-ordinary achievers? I guess its circumstances, situations and having a "Can do" attitude.

These special individuals put others before themselves and wanted to help people, and did not want or expect anything in return. In each of their endeavors, they just kept plugging away. Spectacular achievements are often preceded by very unspectacular preparation. To have a "Can do" attitude, I think one has to be an optimist. You have to believe that things will go well. Both pessimists and optimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane, the pessimist the parachute!

Perseverance is the key to success in almost everything. With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, almost anything is attainable. Circumstances are often blamed for anything that does not go well. Those who are successful are the people who get up and look for circumstances they want; and if they can't find them, make them.


"There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream."

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Let your appreciation show!

Thanksgiving for this year is done and we are on to the holiday season. This year did go by fast, didn't it? Well, I don't know about you, but I say this every year! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Its about a lot of "F"s....Family, Friends, Food, Fun and of course...Football! I'm thankful for a lot of things and people God has blessed me with. My family, my friends and people I work with help me everyday in so many different ways. And sometimes, in the hustle & bustle of our daily grind, I overlook to say "Thank You." And I believe its so important to appreciate people who have touched our life in any way.

Is saying a simple "Thank You" difficult? Why is it that so many times, we find it so. Over a lifetime, a lot of people will do us favors, both big and small. Favors come in different shapes and sizes. The most significant are those which come without fanfare or preceding drum rolls. Then it's up to the person receiving the favor to recognize and appreciate it. People will quietly help us out, and most of them don't expect anything in return. There is no such thing as "Gratitude unexpressed." If it is unexpressed, it is simple, old-fashioned ingratitude. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it!

So whenever we appreciate a gesture, there should be no hesitation in showing it. Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.

"Blessed are those who can give without remembering and receive without forgetting."

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Destiny...Luck....or just Hard work?

This past weekend I went to pick up some food from a nearby restaurant. As I was about to leave, the manager insisted that a waiter help me take the food out to my car. He gave the bags to a young man, about 20 years old, who accompanied me. It was a couple of minutes walk to my car.
"What's your name?" I asked him.
"Arthik, from Bangalore," he replied.
"How long have you been here?"
"About a year. I work here part-time to help with my tuition," he said. "I am doing my Masters."
"Masters?" I asked. "In what?"
"Computer sciences," he replied. By that time we had reached my car. "By the way sir, you have a very nice car," he continued, as he looked longingly at the vehicle.
I looked at him and smiled. "You'll have a better car than this in a few years, It's just a matter of time," I said.
"I will sir, if I'm lucky and if it's in my destiny," he replied.
"You keep on working hard, Arthik and you'll be amazed at how lucky you get," I said.

That conversation has lingered with me for the last few days. I hope this young, hard-working man achieves everything he dreams of. We all know the relationship between hard work and success. The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. I haven't heard of anybody drowning in their own sweat. Hard work does spotlight character when it shows up in front of people-- some will turn up their sleeves, some will turn up their noses and some will not turn up at all.

Do you all believe in destiny? I do, but only to a certain extent. I think everything does happen for a reason. Sometimes we don't understand the reason, because only God is privy to the master plan. And what about being lucky? As Thomas Jefferson once said, "I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it!" Luck has a very strange habit of favoring those who don't depend on it.

"God gave us two ends-- one to sit on and one to think with. Success depends on which one you use. Heads you win, tails you lose!"


P.S.- Here's wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

"....but basically, he's a nice person."

At a party recently, a gentleman (and I use the term loosely!) had a little too many and was acting real obnoxious. That's the only way I can describe his behavior. "That guy is acting like a spoilt child," I remarked to one of my friends.
"Oh...he's drunk. But basically, he is a nice person," he replied.

But basically he's a nice person?! I hear this all the time. What in the heck does that mean, anyway? I'm more interested in what comes before the but! In my book, the story before the "but" decides whether the person is nice or not. A lot of times, people will say these words to give somebody a second chance, or to protect them. I think if a person is nice, he's always going to be nice, no matter what. So the statement -- "he's acting like a jerk now, but basically, he's a nice person" -- somehow doesn't ring true for me. He or she might be nice & kind on occasion, but being "basically nice"? ..... I don't know about that.

And for all you prominent personalities out there -- it's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice. It's always good to be ambitious, to have goals, to want to be good at what you do, but it's a terrible mistake to let drive and ambition get in the way of treating people with kindness & decency. Never look down on anybody unless you are helping that person up. Being kind and generous gives us the most satisfaction in life. Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out. And generosity is not about the sum given, it is about the manner in which it is given.

So if you want to be nice, be like that all the time, to everyone. Part-time "niceness" doesn't make one basically nice.

Never miss an opportunity to make others happy, even if you have to leave them alone in order to do it!

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Life goes on......

About 2 weeks ago, one of our friend's father passed away. This weekend we gathered at her house to comfort her and to pay respect to the departed soul. It was a coming together of friends & family who care for our bereaved friend, who wanted to be with her to share her sorrow and to give her courage to keep going on this road of life.

I knew our friend's father fairly well. He was a bright, upstanding, gentle and a very generous individual. I really don't understand what happens to a person's soul after the earthly journey is completed. But if there is such a place called Heaven, I know for sure that's where he is now. He will live in the hearts of his family forever. When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.

A lot of tears were shed today. I think it's good to let tears flow sometimes. Tears are our holy water, they heal as they flow. But as Robert Frost once said-- "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on." And it really does. The sun will shine every morning, the stars will twinkle every night and the flowers will still blossom every spring. The world will tick along as usual, as it has from the beginning of time. Are we human beings on a spiritual journey or are we spiritual beings on a human journey?

"If tears could build a stairway,
And memories a lane,
I'd walk up to heaven,
And bring you home again."
~ author unknown

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Childhood slips away fast.....

This weekend we celebrated the first birthday of our friends’ son. As the celebration went on, I reflected a bit. It didn’t seem too long ago that we celebrated similar occasions for our children. And “seem” is the keyword here. Our daughter is twenty and our son 14! So it has been a while but still doesn’t seem that long ago. Children grow up fast and sometimes precious moments are lost in the hustle and bustle of life.


In infancy and the early years, children follow their parents and look up to them. The kids are a step behind. That’s the stage when parents need to press the pause button frequently, in whatever they are doing in their lives, to turn around and cherish the little things that toddlers will do. Before you know it, children will be all grown and walking besides us. All we can do from there on is to try to keep up with them.


In the early childhood years, it’s important to enjoy our children. And the most important thing to remember—let them be children. Kids will do things that only kids will. They’ll yell, spill, scream, make a mess etc. etc. It’s futile to try to clean your house with a three-year-old running around. It’s like shoveling your driveway before it has stopped snowing! But there has to be a balance between what freedom a child is given and where to draw the line. But we always must realize that while we try to teach children all about life, they teach us what life is all about.


We worry about what our child will become tomorrow, yet we sometimes forget that he or she is someone today. In our society today, there is a tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are steadily expanded with lofty expectations, while those of adults are progressively constricted. And often this results in insecure children and childish adults! Well, that’s where parenting steps in. A child doesn’t come with a manual and bringing up children is a hands-on experience. That is the reason parenting is hectic and busy, but also rewarding.


“You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and stop telling you where they are going!!”


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Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Good Times" are a blur!!

I am late by about 48 hours for this post. But there’s a reason for that. You see, on Saturday, the 17th day of October 2009, my family and I celebrated Diwali. As did most people who are originally from India. “Diwali”, also known as the festival of lights, is akin to Christmas, with religious and social significance. So there’s a lot of praying early on in the day. But as we all know, life is all about balance. So to balance the religious zeal early in the day, there’s a lot of partying and dancing starting in the evening and extending into the wee hours of the night. And that brings us to the reason why I am late in writing this post. The hangover from the Diwali party hung over me for 2 days!


We went to a few wonderful get-togethers and finally settled for the evening at our good friends house. There was music, singing, eating, drinking and dancing, and not necessarily in that particular order. During the time I was there, I was lucky to interact with people of different age groups. From a lovely 2-year old girl to a distinguished gentleman, well into his seventies. The eight (!) hours or so that I was there, I enjoyed every minute and time flew.


And that’s the topic conversation veered around that evening. The feeling that time goes by fast, and this year really went by quick! But we all know time moves at its own pace, we are the ones who don’t slow down. We all have our own time machines. Some take us back, and they are called memories. Some take us forward and they are called dreams. But wherever we are in life, its good to slow down a bit and enjoy the present time, and the company of people that we connect to.

Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can't buy more hours. Scientists can't invent new minutes. And there are no rollover minutes in real life. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you've wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.


Time does seem to fly when we are having a good time. But we have a different perspective on time when the going is tough. For example, take the example of our basic unit in time—a minute.


How much is a minute? We all know its sixty seconds. But how long is a minute?


Now that depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on!!


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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Investing in "Hope"......

I generally don’t write about politics and related topics, but I couldn’t resist this one. So bear with me……

I think we were all surprised when President Obama was conferred the Nobel peace prize. As per the White House spokesman, the President was surprised himself. There are varied opinions on this award. He doesn’t deserve it, he deserves it, he shouldn’t accept the award etc.

We are all entitled to our opinion. I personally believe that Mr. Obama didn’t deserve the award at this time. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan and a supporter of our President. But I am not infatuated with him. Maybe the award would have been justified in the years to come. But a fact I hope everybody realizes is that the controversy about this award should surround the Nobel Peace prize committee that gave out this award, and not President Obama.

So far the philosophy of the Nobel award committee has been to focus on achievements. Not on what they hope the awardee will achieve. But in this instance they changed their perspective. They invested in hope. Hope that the President, with his tremendous popularity around the world, can swing the mood around the world towards optimism.

Now is that a bad thing? To invest in hope through one of the most popular public figures ever? Hope is not a conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. It is the anchor of the soul, the stimulus for action, and the incentive to achievement. Hope looks for good in people instead of harping on their fallacies; it discovers what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot.

"Hope is what led me here today -- with a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas; and a story that could only happen in the United States of America. Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have courage to remake the world as it should be." ~ Barack Obama in Jan 08

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coffee is coffee, isn't it?.......Or is it?

Well, at Starbucks, it just isn't simply coffee. It's Cafe Latte!

A few days ago, my wife and I went to Starbucks. I don't go to Starbucks much, but whenever I do, I am a little nervous when I order. I'm never sure of what size of the cup I'm going to get. They have their own Starbucks lingo about sizes. 'Tall' actually means small, 'grande' means medium and where the heck did they get 'venti' from? So what do they call their restrooms, as Dave Barry once asked--- 'aquaswooshies'?

You buy coffee in a regular coffee shop, it's 60 cents. But at Starbucks, Cafe Latte: $3.50. Cafe Cremier: $4.50. Cafe Suisse: $6.50. For each French word, another few dollars. Why does a little cream in coffee make it worth $3.50? Go into any coffee shop; they'll give you all the cream you want until you're blue in the face. And it's still 60 cents. You know why? Because it's called "Coffee." If it's Cafe latte, it's $3.50.

You want cinnamon in your coffee? Ask for cinnamon in a coffee shop; they'll give you all the cinnamon you want. It's still the same price-- 60 cents, that's it. But not in Starbucks. Over there, it's Cinnamonnier - and costs something like $6.50.

Now reading this, you all are probably wondering--"What does this guy have against Starbucks?" I have nothing against Starbucks at all. I'm just surprised how busy the stores are. I sometimes wonder if it's the brand name people are after or the taste? Do you feel special if you have a Starbucks coffee cup in your hand versus a cup from one of the run-of-the-mill coffee shops? Or is it just brand-consciousness that has percolated to our coffee cups too.

I was discussing this the other night with a bunch of friends. And one of them suggested that this was something in our culture. We feel good when we relate to a popular name. We feel even better when we own or use something that is considered elite. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we feel good about ourselves or our life by spending a few extra bucks, isn't it worth spending those few extra dollars? I think it is. Either way, I need my coffee in the morning to really wake up, as do a lot of you.

If we don't get our morning kick with caffeine, whether it be tea or coffee, a lot of us will suffer from A.D.D. -- "ALERTNESS DEFICIT DISORDER"!!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cell phones are great, but......

Now that's a big "but" to think about. The other day I was in my office examining a patient. As I was going through his medical history with him, his cell phone rang. In this day and age, I'm quite used to the patient's cell phones ringing. What I'm not used to is what happened next. This gentleman calmly raises a hand, a clear indication for me to stop what I'm doing. I was a little annoyed as it was a busy day and I was in a bit of a rush. But I stopped and waited while he answered the phone. But that's not all, listen to what he said next.
He cupped his phone and said, "Excuse me, Doctor. Can you please step outside? This is a personal call."
I was absolutely floored. He was asking me to step outside from my own office!
"Who is it? The White House?" I asked.
"No doc, more important. It's my girlfriend."
I just held up my hands and stepped outside.

As civilization has evolved, there have been numerous inventions and innovations. Rules, regulations and manners pertaining to those inventions have followed, but after a certain lag. When we drive our vehicles, we follow certain rules. When we eat food, there are certain table manners to be followed. When you go to a social event, there's a certain etiquette to be adhered to.

So what about cell phones and texting? Most people are considerate, but some are downright rude. My biggest pet peeve is when people will suddenly start texting in the middle of a conversation, without as much as an "excuse me!" Unless you are texting the name of a life-saving medicine for somebody at the other end, the message can wait a few minutes. I know good manners sometimes simply means putting up with other people's bad manners, but there is always a limit to what you can, and should tolerate. Recently there was a study by a very reputable university to ascertain "Does texting, while driving, increase the chance of accidents?" Do you really need a study to prove that?!!

Now I firmly believe we all should t
reat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to us - not because they are nice, but because we are. But I think it is the responsibility of real friends to point out our shortcomings. If everybody around me is nothing but an ego-booster, I'm never going to improve and my shortcomings will worsen, to my own detriment.

Our manners and etiquette go a long way in defining us as a person. It reflects our true nature, our education and our upbringing. Bill Maher once said, "Give me 10 minutes with a person-- 5 sober and 5 after a few drinks, and Ill write an essay on his character."

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. ~ Emily Post

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Is laughter really the best medicine?

We've heard this over and over again for a long time. So is it true? Does laughter really improve your health? When we laugh, we generally are happy. And we are happy more often when we are with people we connect to, be it family or friends.

Research has shown that laughter is associated with higher pain tolerance and lower blood sugar levels in Diabetes. And laughter appears to burn calories too. A research group at Vanderbilt university conducted a small study in which they tried to ascertain the loss of calories while laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burnt 50 calories. While the results are intriguing, we shouldn't be too hasty in ditching the treadmill. One piece of chocolate has about 50 calories; at the rate of 50 calories per hour, losing one pound would require 12 hours of concentrated laughter!

Dr. Miller, Chief of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland, had research projects which concluded that people who laugh more are less likely to develop heart disease. He says the recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.

One of the biggest problems with laughter research is that it's very difficult to determine cause and effect. For instance, a study might show that people who laugh more are less likely to be sick. But that might be because people who are healthy have more to laugh about. Or researchers might find that, among a group of people with the same disease, people who laugh more have more energy. But that could be because the people who laugh more have a personality that allows them to cope better.

As Mark Twain once said, "There's one common denominator in people that I love -- they all make me laugh."


What I'm trying to say is if we enjoy laughing, isn't that reason enough to laugh? Do you really need a prescription?

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. ~ E E Cummings

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Think before you..... go "Organic"!

The other day, at our local grocery store, as I was checking out, the half a dozen bananas I picked up scanned for $12!
"I think your scanner is messed up," I said to the cashier. "A banana can't be for $2?"
"Organic bananas, sir. And these are on sale today," he replied. "You want them?"
"On sale? So what's the difference between organic bananas and regular bananas?" I asked.
He just shrugged. "More expensive..... and more natural, I guess," he said.
More natural? And regular bananas are synthetic? Churned out in a factory in China? Please... give me a break!
Then the same day at home, my wife was all excited because a friend of ours brought a bag of "Organic sugar" for her. So I asked him about the difference between organic sugar and regular sugar. I got the same answer that I got from the grocery store cashier -- a shoulder shrug, and "I guess its more natural than regular sugar!"
So what's all this talk about organic food? Do we get it because it's healthy or just because it's chic? Is "Organic food" just like any other brand name? All these questions came up in my mind, so I researched a little bit. There is a lot of information out there about the real 'organicity' of organic foods. And not all of it is good. I have nothing against organic food, but I think we should at least think a little before joining the bandwagon. A lot of us (including me, unfortunately) believe that if a product is more expensive, it has to be better than its cheaper counterpart. We have an environmental hysteria of sorts going on. I think a part of it is justified, but a lot of folks do tend to go overboard.

A lot of us also suffer from a belief we are so intelligent & smart, that as a consequence we don't even try to ascertain facts before forming an opinion. As Oscar Wilde once said in a lighter mood-- "I am so clever that sometimes even I don't understand a single word of what I am saying!" Always remember, that it is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.

So nothing against organic food, but please research, think and then make an opinion. The video clip below highlights what I have tried to convey to you all.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi3erdgVVTw

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Saturday scrimmage at Costco!

"Honey, can you go to Costco and get a few things?" my wife asked this past Saturday.
"Sure," I replied. "Give me the list." I was happy. I was relaxed . On Friday evening, we were at a mini-concert where we heard melodious, soft ghazals (love songs). The lilting music still reverberated and the mood was still with me.

I drove towards Costco at a leisurely pace, at peace with myself. And then I entered the Costco parking lot and was rudely woken up from my reverie. It was almost chaotic. I got a parking spot which was probably the farthest from the store. There were folks scurrying around as if there was no tomorrow, pushing carts as if they were in a race against time. There were cars following people with carts as they exited the store to their cars, to get that parking. I almost got run over twice.... by carts!.... one of them being pushed by a sweet old lady, whose head barely reached above the handle bars of the cart. And all this happened even before I got into the store!
"Is there something going on inside Costco?" I asked an elderly gentleman, just outside the store. "It seems crowded."
He looked at me as if I was from another planet. "Son, its Saturday and this is Costco." He then walked away, shaking his head. I had a very ominous feeling that time. I almost turned back. But what would I tell my wife? I got a cart and charged on.

If the parking lot was busy, the store inside was a madhouse. There were people and carts every where. People walked aimlessly, ogling at the merchandise, leaving their carts in the middle of the aisles. Then a cart shoved me and my cart hit a lady right in front of me. The lady turned and glared at me, I turned around and glared at the 11-yr old kid who had pushed the cart into me, the kid turned around and glared at his dad walking behind him. The dad was all of 6 feet 5, about 300 pounds and he threw the glare back at me. I looked away quickly and tried to disappear into the sea of humanity!
Then I ran into this line that extended about half-way around the aisle. "What's this line about?" I asked a young lady.
"Oh... it's the free food samples," she replied.
Are you kidding me, I thought to myself. People stand in line for ten minutes to get minuscule amount of food that would barely touch the palate of a chihuahua! And by the way, none of the people standing in line for the "free" samples had their carts with them. So where were the carts? Probably the ones choking the next aisle! Why is it that we just have to get anything that's free?

Anyway, I survived the Saturday Costco challenge. I'm already getting excuses ready for the next time my wife asks me to go to Costco on a Saturday.

Shopping is a women thing. It's a contact sport like football. Women enjoy the scrimmage, the noisy crowds, the danger of being trampled to death, and the ecstasy of the purchase. ~ Erma Bombeck.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Green is the color of 'Social Competitiveness'!!

Competition among siblings, friends and family is a part of our lives. And most of the times it's healthy, as it should be. The complex social environment we live in, tempts a lot of us to follow a more aggressive, unhealthy competitive streak. And the competition can be about anything under the sun. Cars, houses, jewelry, vacations, furniture(!)....... you name it, and you've got instant comparisons, comments and some serious competition! And none of us will ever admit anything like that exists, but we all know it really does. We all see it everyday amongst family, friends and co-workers.

And to be truthful, till about a decade ago, I used to be a part of the competitive social game. At that time, a close friend advised me not to compete socially. "Try not to compete for one month, but try it seriously. Just be happy with what you have. Be happy for people you love and celebrate their success." Well, I tried it for one month. It was tough, but I stuck with it. The experience was so exhilarating and I felt liberated. Life was more rosy, less stressful and much more enjoyable. And I haven't traveled that competitive road ever since.

Being socially competitive is an inborn human trait. The bigger the ego, the more the competitiveness. Sometimes, it will lead to envy. Philosophers define envy "as a drive which lies at the core of man's life as a social being, an urge to compare oneself with others." Simply put, envy is the art of counting the other fellow's blessings instead of your own! It is a symptom of lack of appreciation of our uniqueness and self worth. Each of us has something to give that no one else has. There is no way to be happy and envious at the same time.

A person who is at peace with himself will seldom fall a victim to envy. People who envy you, will talk about you and the life you live. Pay no attention -- you affected their lives, let them not affect yours. The fact that they talk behind your back just shows that you are two steps ahead in the road of life. Unchecked and unbridled envy will lead to jealousy. And that's when social chaos ensues. Jealousy is simply and clearly the fear that we do not have value. Jealousy scans for evidence to prove the point - that others will be preferred and rewarded more than us. There is only one alternative -- self-value. If we cannot love ourselves, we will not believe that we are loved. We should take our eyes off others and turn the scanner within and put all the energy into building our own personal and emotional security.

"Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate." ~ William Arthur Ward

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

So what is your sleep number?!

Whenever I hear that advertisement on the radio, it makes me shake my head. The first few times I heard it, I really thought it was one of those corny pick-up lines! These days, we are coddled so much that we seek convenience and comfort in every conceivable way. I remember as a child, in India, we used to sleep under the stars. We were given a bed sheet, a blanket and a pillow. There were a number of charpais (beds) laid out on the terrace and you tried to grab the one nearest to the fan. That was it. And the generation today will grow up on sleep numbers! For those of you who don't know what a "sleep number" is; it relates to the softness or firmness of your mattress, on either side.

In today's world, we are used to everything good and great in life. Instant gratification is the essence of life. When we want something, we want it yesterday. And we want it with all the bells and whistles. If its a car, we want the "Limited" edition; if we want marble in the house, it has to be "Italian"; if we want a perfume, it's got to be "French". Have you recently been to the grocery store to get bread? There are twenty different kinds of bread, for God's sake. Well, now we are paying for our excesses to some extent and getting a much needed lesson about restraint. You always try to improve what you have, whether it be materialistic things or relationships. But the important thing is to be content and happy with what we have, rather than being miserable about what we don't. Yes, contentment can kill ambition. So it is important to strive hard towards what we want to have, but we should stay within the realms of reality and circumstances.

As Charles Dickens once said -- "Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess." There is something unnerving about the words "more than enough". When we have more, it is never enough. It is always somewhere out there, just out of reach. The more we acquire, the more elusive enough becomes. An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit.

"Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age, a great many of us are possessed by our possessions." ~ Thoreau

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Is Vanity all in Vain?

The other day, while driving to my office early in the morning, I observed something interesting. There's a stretch of about 2 miles that has about 6 traffic lights. At the first light, which happened to be red, I glanced at the car parallel to me and saw a middle-aged, tired looking lady in the driver's seat. She had a make-up box opened on the passenger seat and was frantically rubbing something on her face. The traffic was slow and we crawled to the next light, which was again red. The same car was parallel to me and I glanced at her again. She had another lotion that she was applying on her face. It did seem to make her face glow and now she decidedly looked less tired. Coincidentally, all the 6 lights were red for me that day. This lady's car was always next to mine at all of them and she was constantly doing something to her face and hair. By the fourth traffic light, she looked about 10 years younger and started to look familiar. By the 6th light, I knew who she was. She was actually the young secretary in the suite next to our office!

What a difference a few traffic lights and some make-up can make! She looked a whole lot younger and a lot more energetic compared to the middle-aged lady I saw at the first traffic light. Most men complain when their significant others take a lot of time to get ready. But men are vain too, maybe not to the degree that the fairer sex is. But if you can look a bit younger, more energetic and feel good about yourself by smacking a few lotions & potions on your face, why not? Maybe vanity is not vain, after all, if it stays within the confines of common sense.

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. Being too vain leads to arrogance, as some mistakenly believe that that their looks add to their stature.

"Love measures our stature: the more we love, the bigger we are. There is no smaller package in all the world than that of a man all wrapped up in himself."
~ George Elliott




Sunday, August 2, 2009

Silence is sometimes deafening.....

Recently, I was at the airport to receive someone. A fascinating scene unfolded in front of me as passengers picked up their baggage and met people waiting for them. A young lady, probably in her mid thirties picked up her bag and looked around for her loved ones. A gentleman of about the same age, went running by me to greet her. He swept her in his arms and hugged her. After a few seconds, they both took a step back and communicated frantically with each other in sign language. Then they would kiss and hug again...... and this went on for a few minutes. There was not a word spoken between them, yet there was so much said. I know its wrong to stare, but I couldn't help it. The silence of their greeting was deafening. As they walked past me, I stole a glance at the sticker hanging from their baggage and it read: "Hearing & Speech challenged".

Seeing them, I knew they cared for each other. Words, though important, are not always necessary to express your feelings in a relationship. Our actions, our eyes, our deeds can say much more than words at any given time. Being loud is not always convincing to get a point across. There's a common Sicilian phrase, that "The loudest person in a room is the weakest." I don't think this is always true, but an insecure mind does constantly seek attention. The only time we really need to be loud is when we defend our friends. As Martin Luther King Jr. said --"Hear no evil of thy friends, for after a fight, we don't remember the words of our enemies, but we do remember the silence of our friends."

It is important to be a good listener. The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.

Silences make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying, but the never needing to say is what counts.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

To eat or not to eat!!

That has always been the question. There's a constant "Battle of the bulge" going on in almost everyone's life. You know you are at the threshold of middle age when your middle starts to show. And oh boy, do we all work to get those extra few pounds off! I remember a few weeks ago, we went out to eat with friends. And while we were eating, somehow the discussion veered towards fitness, working out, weight control etc. Well, right after the generous dinner and dessert, everybody (except me...I was too lazy!) found themselves at the gym, working out at almost 12 midnight! That's some dedication. Then everybody goes on a diet, till the next dinner outing. I guess dieting is a ticket we pay for exceeding the feed limit.

I think it's great that a lot of folks these days are into exercise and fitness. But a lot of us have a tendency to go overboard. In an effort to look good, we sometimes overlook the need to feel good. Feeling good about ourselves probably helps us more to negotiate life, rather than just looking good. Attempts to lose weight almost becomes like a secondary occupation with some. As one of our good friends puts it -- "I try to lose weight all the time, but it keeps finding me!"

Another friend of mine told me the other day that he was on a seafood diet. "When I see food, I eat it," he says. He has a good sense of humor. Unfortunately, that's the first thing some people will lose when they start a diet. But as my wife says, "the second day of a diet is always easier than the first, because by the second day, you're off it"!

Be positive and have confidence in yourself. Appearance is only a part of the overall package. We should be comfortable with our looks. Whatever we feel inside will be reflected in our persona. We shouldn't judge ourselves through someone else's eyes. Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you. So whatever else you do, don't be stressed about your looks, especially your weight.

'Stressed' spelled backwards is 'desserts'. Coincidence? I think not!

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Nurturing Neighborhood

A few weeks ago, our 14-year old son came up to me and said-- "Hey dad, I'm going to dance practice."
I almost fell off my chair. "Did you say Dance practice?" The word dance and Simar (our son's name) sound strange in the same sentence.
"Yeah, dad. Dance practice," he said.
"So what kind of dance is it?" I asked hesitantly.
"It's a mixture of Hip-Hop, Bhangra and Bollywood. It's for the graduation party."
My jaw literally hit the floor! "Who convinced you to do all this?" I asked.
"Anything for a friend, dad. Anything... even dance!"

Such is the story of our neighborhood, and particularly its children. Sometimes, it literally feels as if we all have a bunch of kids instead of the two or three of our own! They roll in and out of the neighborhood homes as an entourage. They play together, eat together, argue & fight as kids will, and most importantly, defend each other. In other words, they have each others back. For the last 3 weeks, they practiced sincerely, sometimes 2-3 hours a day. Our daughter made special trips from UVA, whenever she could to practice and help. And the results were evident on the night of the party. The kids were just fabulous in their dance routines, colorful and coordinated. They were seriously involved in their performance, not because they wanted accolades for themselves. They just wanted their friend's graduation party to be memorable.

Friendships like these are generally life-long associations. These kids will soon be carving their own paths as they forge ahead into a promising future. I'm sure they'll always be close to each other, no matter where they are physically, because they'll have poignant memories of growing up together in a nurturing neighborhood. Friendships and associations, formed in childhood and early youth are food for the soul, for an eternity. The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.

The first rule of life is to cherish your family and your friends as if your life depended on it...... you know why?
Because it does.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Take charge of your Attitude!


The other day I met a couple whose life turned upside down because their twenty-two year old son got seriously ill and is now severely handicapped for the rest of his life. What amazed me was their positive attitude.
"I could feel sorry for myself, but it's not going to do me or my family any good. So we have decided, as a family to meet the challenge God has given us. We'll see where it leads us," the husband said.
"But I'm sure you are a little angry... or frustrated at the turn of events?" I asked.
"I was, initially," he replied. "But not anymore. This is our fate, our destiny. I only wish people realize that life is much more than what you own. Life is all about your attitude towards it."

I guess it's the way you look at things. The more I think about it, the more I realize how attitude impacts life. Attitude is more important than the money, the past, the education, the failures & successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a relationship.... an association.... a family. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every single morning regarding the attitude we are going to embrace for the day. The past cannot be changed, we can't control how certain people will behave. But we sure can control the way we think and behave. So wherever you go, no matter how the weather is, bring your own sunshine.

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't grumble that roses have thorns, be happy thorns have roses. Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.

Let me throw you all a question:

Attitude is contagious. Is yours worth catching today?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Looking for that elusive "something"!!

"So what are you up to this weekend?" a friend asked me, before the long weekend.
"Nothing much," I replied.
He was aghast. "You mean you have nothing planned!"
"Not yet," I replied.
"But it's a long weekend, yaar. You should do something."
I smiled and promised him that I would try not to disappoint him. So here's how I tried to do 'something' for the entire weekend!
Thursday evening: "Honey," I said to my wife. "We got to do something special, it's a long weekend."
"We definitely will, but later. Let's go to the movies now," she said. And off we went and caught a wonderful, new movie. After the movie ended, we went to a nice place for dinner.
Friday: My wife got a reminder call from a dear friend in the morning, bright and early, for a class at the Gym. So we went to the gym and after that I tweaked in a little time for the Golf driving range.
"We got to do something," I said to my wife when I got back. "It's a long weekend, you know."
"We sure will. But the kids want to go to the Reston Town center now. Let's hang out with them," she said. So with our children and some friends, we went to the Town center and spent the afternoon there --- eating, joking, laughing and 'chilling' in general. After we came back, we caught another movie.
"Can we go to Busch Gardens tomorrow?" our kids asked me, after the movie.
"Sure...we have nothing planned for tomorrow," I said.
Saturday: At the theme park, we had a great time and ran into more friends. There were some spectacular fireworks there, almost forming a canopy over the entire park.
Sunday: Got back from Williamsburg and just relaxed the rest of the day. The same friend called Sunday evening.
"So did you do something?" he asked.
"Well..." and I went over my weekend. "Does all that qualify for 'something'?"
"So you saw 2 new movies, ate out a couple of times, went to a theme park, saw some spectacular fireworks, hung out with people that mean the most to you.....I think you really did something!" he laughed.

I guess he was right. Sometimes, doing unplanned things works out. So if you are stuck on a weekend with nothing planned, be spontaneous and go with the flow. It will generally end up being special, if you are around family and friends. "Spontaneity is the essence of all pleasure."


"Call it family-time, call it quality time, call it bonding time. Whatever you might call it, whoever you are: you need it." ~ Mark Twain



Sunday, June 28, 2009

A team defining "Teamwork"

I started golfing less than a year ago. I'm surrounded by friends who are not only great golfers, but also good teachers. They've helped me come a long way. Last week, I was told I'm part of a "team".
"What team?" I asked
"Golf team, to compete in a championship," my friend's wife said.
"You got to be kidding me!" I said. "Are you serious?"
"This is no joke. You will be competing in a Golf championship this Sunday," she said.
"And we'll give you a ceremonial Indian battle send-off before you go out to compete," my wife joined in.
I felt a little weak, and my anxiety level inched upwards.
"And instead of the traditional sword, we'll give you golf-clubs," my wife said, smiling.
"The sword might be a better option," I muttered. "At least I can scare some competitors away."

I practiced a bit for the next few days. The big day finally arrived. The organizers did a wonderful job at the Goose-Creek golf club, looking out for every little detail. And then I was fortunate to witness some spectacular golf played by the veterans in our team, who were incidentally, the defending champions from last year. There was some powerful hitting and some exquisite chip shots. And on top of that there was some unbelievable "putting" by a certain physician turned golfer! Although I was the weakest member of our team, I was never made to feel that way. "There's no 'I' in team," our team captain said. Anyway, our team won the tournament by five strokes. But there was still more to come. The tournament organizers also had a raffle. As the the winning ticket for the grand-prize (a wedge set) was being pulled out of the bucket, one of the stars in our team suddenly developed a sixth sense. He started from his seat. "That's mine," he said.
"We haven't even looked at the ticket yet," the official said.
"Well, go ahead and look. It has my name on it," our team member said.
The official looked at the ticket, and indeed, it was his name!! And I have no explanation for how that happened.

Extrapolating this to the real world, it is so much easier to navigate life, with all its trials and tribulations, if we work as a team with people that surround us. And this is true in our professional, social and personal lives.

"If we know we have people by our side with whom we share implicit trust, we meet life honestly, courageously and with integrity. That is how character is built." ~ Eleanore Roosevelt

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Staying eternally youthful!

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if hair-color had not been invented? Let me be more precise--- What would our friends look like if there was no such thing as hair-color! Let me think..... well, my friends would look exactly the same, as none of them use any dye because they've all discovered the fountain of eternal youth (wink, wink!!). Here's the answer to the first question. If mankind was not blessed with the invention of hair-color--- caps, hats and all sorts of headgear would be extremely popular!

Anyway, I have nothing against hair-color. If the results make somebody feel good, go for it and more power to you. Age and aging is a lot of perception and is relative to any individual person. When I was in my twenties, anybody close to fifty was real "old." I am forty-seven now, and fifty seems relatively young to me!

Even if we all stay young at heart, the physical limitations do catch up. And sometimes its hard to admit that fact. I was at a get-together recently where the guests had to sing along in a chorus and were handed pieces of paper with written lyrics in small print. The guests were all about my age, give or take a few years on either side. What followed was mass confusion as most people couldn't read properly and everyone was too "young" to ask for or pull out their spectacles!!

I really think age is a number that gets too much attention. Youthfulness of a person is not proportional to his or her age. We get to middle age when "a broad mind and a narrow waist begin to change places." So staying mentally and emotionally youthful is really in our own hands.

Youth is really not a time of life, its a state of mind. Youthfulness does not leave us, its the other way around. Getting up in years does bring in some degree of maturity, although with a wide range. You see, in the cycle of life, growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. We all know people who are up there in years, but still have a lot of growing up to do!

"If the Will, Imagination and Vigor of our Emotions stays strong, the vibrancy of youth is ours to keep." ~ ac

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

One year and counting......

It has been a year since I started writing this blog. I am pleasantly surprised at the following it has developed over that time.

Each one of you has had a role to play in encouraging me to keep writing. So I thank you all for reading and sharing. A little extra gratitude for a lot of you who take the time (and have the courage!) to express your thoughts as comments or E-mails to me.

The Internet has truly made the world a "global village". I've had E-mails from Canada, India, Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Panama and England, among other places. I've discovered new friends and reconnected with some that I had lost touch with. The conversations that I have with some of you on Mondays following a new post (in the form of E-mails, comments and phone calls) draws me closer to you. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I'm always surprised at the depth and magnitude of the response these posts elicit.

I pen ideas and thoughts that I feel are relevant to my family and friends. As we travel on this journey called life, we all build little worlds of our own. We form complex social circles that interconnect with each other. We compete, celebrate, fight, love, help, argue, dance, laugh, party.....all at the same time!! And that makes life interesting.

My posts have nothing new. I just put in words, the thoughts and feelings we all harbor inside us. A big THANK YOU to each one of you......... as long as you keep reading and interacting, I'll keep writing.

"If what you read with your eyes is a reflection of your heart, it will awaken your soul." ~ ac

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

A matter of the "mind"!!

Have you ever had a situation where people "mind" (sulk)? In other words, when people get upset or angry as a result of "something" you said or did? But you have no idea about what that "something" is?!

So I was asking my friend the other day about people "minding."
"You got to be careful what you say, my friend. It's very tricky," he advised.
"It should be easy," I replied. "Around people who are a little more sensitive, just be quiet. Don't say anything."
"Aha," he said. "But there's a catch."
"A catch?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said. "You see, people can "mind" about something you say or do, but they can also "mind" about something that you don't say or something that you don't do!"
"So where does that leave a guy like me?" I asked.
"For a person who generally speaks his mind -- in a no-win situation," he said, smiling!
"That's no consolation," I said.
"People who really know and understand you will not get upset, no matter what you say, because they know where you are coming from," he continued. "They will talk to you, let you know what's bothering them rather than minding (sulking)."

Now that did make sense to me. When we are around people who know us, we can speak freely without the fear of somebody "minding." Around folks that we don't know well or vice-versa, restraint might be a better option.

But I know its more complicated than the simplistic idea coming forth in the lines above. We all live in a complex social environment where relationships, occasionally, will lose their definition and purpose over a period of time. Sometimes, social engagements become more about saying and doing things as per protocol to boost egos, rather than a celebration of true feelings and real emotions.

I agree with the essence of the quote below, although it might not always be practical in the "real" world.

"Speak your mind freely, for people who matter don't mind and people who mind, don't really matter." ~ Dr Seuss

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A "moving" experience

Whenever I visit a university town, I feel rejuvenated. I feel younger, maybe because of all the nostalgia that floods me and my mind jaunts to the days when I was in college.

A couple of weekends ago, we helped our daughter empty her dorm room at UVA and move her stuff back home for the summer. The drive to Charlottesville is very scenic, especially this time of the year with the trees showing off their fresh green foliage. And then as we arrived in Charlottesville, as it happens every time, I "feel" the town.

That day was "move-out day." Our daughter is a young lady now, mature and in control. She had all her things packed and ready to load.
"The first 2 bags," she said, pointing to the sea humongous black trash bags, "are shoes and the next two are hangers."
"Your shoes are in two bags?" I asked.
"Yeah, just two. Most of my shoes are at home. These are my winter & spring shoes."

As I was carrying two large trash bags to our SUV, one filled with hangers and the other with shoes, one of the parents I crossed on the way smiled at me.
"Yours must be a girl," she said, pointing to the bags on my shoulders.
"That's right," I smiled back.
"Ours is a boy and his entire stuff is in one bag," she smiled. And I could see that she loved being there, helping her son. As were we.... just happy to be with our daughter, spending time with her. Kids grow up and carve their own path. We see less of them as they get older, but the "family thread" binds us together, wherever we are. So whatever time we get to spend with them is a blessing. That is what makes a family, being there and creating beautiful moments, so that we have wonderful memories to look back to. Here's a definition of family.....

Families are a unique little band of characters trudging through life sharing colds and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, borrowing money, locking each other out of rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that binds us all together.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weighed down by obligations

Every once in a while, we are all faced with a dilemma of choosing between doing what's right or what is popular. On the face of it, it is a simple question. And of course, doing the right thing is the obvious answer. But sometimes, it's not as easy as it sounds.

If, as in most situations, the right thing to do is also the popular sentiment, the choice is easy. A true test of our character is when the right choice is definitely not the popular thing to do. For an individual who always sticks to his principles, this is not a hard decision. He or she would do the right thing, not being unduly worried about the consequences and let the chips fall as they may. Sometimes, sensible and mature people will knowingly choose the popular path, even though its not on the "right" side of life. And this is generally because of the weight of obligations and social pressures, which can make even a thoroughly steadfast person falter. But always remember that relationships based on obligations lack dignity.

So how much obligation should a person take? Socrates, the Greek philosopher, credited with pioneering thoughts about values and morals of modern society, had an interesting take on that issue. He said-- "Only take an obligation if you know you can (and will) repay it one day soon. The more obligations you owe, more twisted are your morals, ethics and principles." I guess what he's saying is we should try to keep our backbone to ourselves and not lend it to people to whom we owe favors!

Favors come in different shapes and sizes. Some genuine and some with ulterior motives. The latter mostly in the form that satisfies our materialistic desires. So I assume that if our materialistic desires are less, we really would not need favors, would we? Let me end with another quote that should give us some food for thought--

"I hold that to need nothing is divine, and the less a man needs, the nearer does he approach divinity." ~ Socrates


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The "Chai" delay!

The weekend was busy. Let me run you through a part of it -- the Saturday night party at our friends home.
9:30 pm -- Our arrival time. (a wee bit late, the official time was 7:30 pm!) We start to mingle, have a few snacks, drinks.....
10:30 pm -- The socializing is more vocal and vociferous as a few drinks have made the rounds.
11:30 pm -- Dinner is served! The food was great, so there is a brief lull in the conversation. (a very, very brief lull.... after all its a panjabi party and we just luuuvv to talk!)
Midnight -- Rumblings of "let's go" start. My wife comes up to me and says -- "We should leave soon, we have to wake up early in the morning." (We had to drop our daughter off at the airport at 6:30 in the morning.)
So I call out to my son-- "Hey Simar, we leave in a few minutes."
"Have you had chai (tea) yet?" he asked.
"Chai? No... we are not going to have chai."
"Whom are you kidding, Dad." And he went back to his video games.
12:30 am -- Good-byes start.
1:00 am -- People who've already said their good-byes to me, suddenly have chai (or "cha") in their hands! Now they are drinking chai and saying good-byes at the same time (And among those people is my wife!) The conversation doesn't seem to end.
1:30 am -- One of our friends comes up to me. "Have I said good-bye to you already?"
"I stopped counting after the third time," I said.
"Well, what's another good-bye among friends," he says and we go through the process again.
2:00 am -- People are milling around the hallway now, everybody knows its time to leave but nobody wants to. Murmurs of another round of chai start floating around. The younger kids are getting tired now.
2:30 am -- Finally, the kids put their foot down and want to leave because they are really tired. There's a sudden flurry of activity with Moms & Dads hurrying around collecting shoes, jackets and sleepy kids.
2:45 am -- Absolutely final good-byes and we are in our car. I avoid eye-contact with my son!

And all the credit goes to the lovely host couple for creating an atmosphere and ambiance that made everyone feel at home. And that's how most of our parties end --- not because the adults want to go home, its the kids!

"To invite someone is to take charge of his happiness during the time he spends under your roof." ~ Mark Twain

And our host couple did that and more!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Being fashionably late!

The other day we had a little get-together at our house. One of our good friends didn't turn up and I called him.
"Hey," I said. "It's 8:30, you were supposed to be here at 8:00. Are you busy or something?"
"Well...no. I'm not busy."
"Is your better half ready too?"
"Yeah."
"So why aren't you here?" I was getting ticked off now.
"Let me step out of the house for a second......" A short pause. "Now I can talk. My better half says that if we get there on time, people are gonna say that we have nothing else to do."
"But at this time, you really don't have anything to do!" I said.
"I know, but we have to be fashionably late. Oh... she's calling me. I've to get back in the house now. And this conversation never took place." And he hung up.
I stared at the phone and couldn't help laughing.
So we are sometimes late, on purpose? To give the impression that we are very busy?!!

I have to admit that being late to social events is ingrained in Punjabi culture. Most of us (not all of us, lest I offend the few punctual people!) have the utmost disdain for being on time to a party or a social gathering. We even an acronym for it- IST. It actually means Indian Standard Time, but we all define it as "Indian Stretchable Time." If you want to have people over at your place, sometimes its a challenge to get everyone there at the same time.

So if we plan to have a get-together at 8 PM, for our punctual friends the time given is 8:00. For our punctuality-challenged friends, the time varies between 6-7 pm, as the lag time is generally 1-2 hours. Now you all can imagine the confusion if we cris-cross the timings on the invitation. And that has actually happened with us.....that our punctual friends were at our door at 6:00 pm (when my wife and I were still in our shorts!) and our timeliness-challenged friends started trickling in around 9:30 pm!!

We had to go to a party recently with a group of friends and I asked one of them about the time we were leaving.
"The party is 8:00 pm. So we should definitely be there by 9:30 pm," he said.
"9:30 pm?" I asked. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," he replied. "We don't want to be late."
And it made perfect sense to me!

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The strength within....

A couple of weeks ago, we visited a beautiful town called Staunton. This small town has cobbled streets, a Presidential Library, American Shakespeare Center and a quaint downtown. We happened to be there because of our son's basketball tournament. His team went into the tournament as a top seed and promptly lost the first game they played. The coach had a team meeting right after the game. He didn't yell and he was not angry. He just said three lines.

"You guys know you are better than what you showed in the first game. Look within yourselves and recognize the mistakes you all made in this game. Then find the strength to improve in the next game and play as a team."

After that, we all went to grab a bite. The team was quiet. The expression on the 14-yr old faces was different from whatever I have seen before. I guess I could call it resolute. They all knew that if they lost the next game, the tournament would be over for them. Well, they won the next three games and went on to win the tournament!!

So what happened? The 14-year old boys found the strength within themselves to realize their mistakes. So why is it so tough for grown-ups to admit theirs? Is it ego or is it complicated social situations? Or both? It takes a brave and mature person to admit that he or she made a mistake. We all make mistakes and we all have flaws. Nobody is perfect. (although a lot of us really think we are!) We should accept people as they are and be flexible in our approach to life.

"Blessed are the flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape!" ~ Mark Twain

Anyway, our weekend was a perfect family getaway. In between, we were able to squeeze in a trip to the University of Virginia, to watch our daughter's scintillating dance performance. The four of us were together in a beautiful town, on a picture perfect day and reinforced an important, basic lesson of life ---

"If we make a mistake, we should find the strength within ourselves to admit it, learn from it and never repeat it."

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reconnecting to our roots....


For me, traveling to India is always exciting. The moment you near your hometown, no matter how long its been since you were here last, your heart races a little bit and a thrill traverses your inner self.

I met a lot of my friends and relatives on this current visit, some that I had not seen for the last 10-15 years. And the connection was instantaneous. It was as if I had always been here and had been a part of their lives all these years. Its good to renew bonds & relationships, it makes you feel more at peace with yourself.

Everyone is born into a family. There are no options for a newborn to choose a family! So I guess after Life itself, Family is the next most important gift from God. As we grow in years, our families grow too. This results in varied personalities, divergent views and different values. Occasionally there will be friction and a clash of ideas. As a result, family members sometimes drift apart. Aren't we then distancing ourselves from one of the first gifts that God gave us? Well, that's just my perspective. I think the strength of the "family thread" should be stronger than any divergent idea, value or faith.

Friends, on the other hand, we choose. Friendship is a gift we give ourselves. As these relationships develop, sometimes the distinction between friends and family becomes blurred. And that is a blessing. Here's an interesting paradox..... "We look for friends amongst our family, and something akin to family amongst our friends." If you consider some friends to be like your family, then for you, it is your extended family. It's more fulfilling if the feeling is reciprocated, but it should not matter if it is not. One measure of friendship consists not in the number of things friends can discuss, but in the number of things they need no longer mention.

The deeper we know our roots, the stronger is our personality. A person who does not appreciate his or her roots, is like a ship without moorings.

"Seek out your roots and you will find your life" ~ Winston Churchill

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jai Ho, India!!

On my current visit to India, I boarded a train for a short trip. A gentleman was struggling to hoist an obviously heavy suitcase on to the overhead luggage shelf above the seating area. A uniformed gentleman, presumably a railways Ticket Collector(TC), hurried over to help him. Both of them managed to get the big suitcase situated onto the luggage shelf.
"Thank you," the passenger said to the TC. "You were very helpful."
"You are very welcome, sir" the TC replied, scribbling furiously on an official looking note-pad. "And here's your challaan (monetary fine)." The TC tore off a sheet of paper from the note-pad and held it towards the passenger.
"Challaan? For what?" The confused passenger asked.
"For putting your bag on the luggage rack. Its too big," the TC said.
Now the passenger was really confused. "But... but you helped me put it up there!"
"I sure did, as any responsible citizen would help a fellow citizen. But as an official of Indian Railways, I have to penalize you rupees 200 for putting the bag where it doesn't belong." The TC was very polite.
"I have to give you 200 rupees fine for something that you helped me do?" The passenger was clearly irate now. All of a sudden, other passengers joined in. Vociferous opinions flew thick and fast, mostly in favor of the now fuming passenger!

As the heated discussion went on, a overhead announcement blared-- "A 1-yr old child traveling on the train has become suddenly ill, so if there is a doctor on board, would he or she please help in Coach 3, seat number 15?"
So I got up and the TC looked at me. "You are a doctor?" I nodded affirmative.
"Please follow me, Doc sahib." He started to walk away, looking back at the passenger. "I'm going to come back to collect that fine."
"We'll see about that," the passenger replied. "You look after the child first."

As we got to Coach 3, there was a crowd of people standing around the sick child and his parents, all giving their opinions as to what was wrong. As far as I could make out, none of them were even remotely connected to medicine. And there was a lot of advice being directed at the parents of the child including never to travel by train ever again, the color of clothes to be worn while traveling, to hold the child upside down, the type of food to be given to the child before, during & after travel etc etc.

This is India. Situations that are exasperating and amusing at the same time, occur everyday. Everybody will give you advice on everything, it really doesn't matter whether you asked for it or not. But the indefatigable spirit of the people and their overwhelming faith in a higher power never ceases to amaze me. The eternal optimism, the hospitality and the abundant energy of a billion people overshadows the corrupt politicians and as a result, India ticks along.

Jai Ho, India!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sophistication is all in the mind!

Recently, we were invited to a "Sophisticated" party.
"So I guess jeans won't cut it then?" I mentioned to my wife.
And she gave me one of those looks. "Jeans?" She looked heaven-wards and walked away, shaking her head. "And you better be prepared to slow dance at the party."

The words "slow dance" are enough to make any grown man cringe. You know, regular dance I can manage. You shake a leg, move an arm.... and the strobe light takes care of the rest! "Slow Dance" is a different animal altogether.

So what does sophisticated really mean? Am I sophisticated? Are you? I don't know about myself. I really don't. I guess its the people I know, people I work with, my friends who should decide whether I am sophisticated or not. Well, one catch here though..... the person who makes that judgment, better be sophisticated too. It's a catch-22 situation!

So what makes people sophisticated? Is it the way you dress? Talk? General behavior? Education? A bit of everything might be the right answer. I know from personal experience that it's definitely not money!

I think every section of society, every social circle, sets its own bar regarding the threshold of crossing into their own elite world of sophistication. We are all drawn towards that world instinctively as we grow in years. Consciously trying to act sophisticated never works. Here's how the dictionary defines sophistication :

"Having acquired worldly knowledge or refinement; lacking natural simplicity or naiveté."

Anyway, I survived the "Sophisticated" party by just being myself. There were no major gaffes on my part and I seemed to blend in with the elite crowd without a problem. And the slow dance..... it was a piece of cake. Just simulate ice-skating in slow motion!

So I think..... "Sophistication is not how you look in fancy clothes, but how the clothes look on you. Its not about how much expensive jewelry you carry on your body, but how you carry yourself. Its not about how much money you make, but how humble money has made you."

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

The food is always tastier on the other plate!!

I've noticed a couple of things when we go to a restaurant with close friends. As we march in, there is a rumble in every stomach and we order food like kings. Bring on the drinks.... we'll have this....and that.... and of course the other. And "you betcha" we're going to order dessert tonight after our dinner!

When the food is finally served, after we all have overdosed on bread or tortillas (depending on which restaurant you are at), everyone is more interested in what the other people have on their plate. Nobody even looks at their own food! There is a sudden flurry of activity of hands armed with forks moving around and across the table to get a "taste" of everybody else's food.

Compliments like "Umm..... very tasty," "Yummy" are generously thrown around. By the time I get to my food, the hunger pangs are gone, the anticipation is over and the food, though good, never tastes as good as my neighbor's on the table. Maybe its because of the initial round-the-table food tasting frenzy. Sometimes I am tempted to switch my entire entree with my neighbor!

And now for dessert.... or maybe not! "I'm sooo full, I can't even think of dessert," is the general line going around the table. Then comes the check and there's a polite scuffle, as everybody wants to pay. And then some of us will go over the bill.... "Did we really have six daiquiris?" "Did we order two of these?" I guess we did....we were hungry!!

One thing I don't understand is why the bill is called the check. Maybe some of you can enlighten me on that. And then as the popular saying goes..."A good dinner is only as good as the talk that follows." And talk we can! Recently, at a dinner outing with friends, we were literally escorted out of the restaurant as it was past their closing time. So we hopped to another restaurant nearby (for coffee) that had late hours, and after a couple of hours we were escorted out of there too, as our conversation flowed well past their closing time!

One last thing, as we are talking about food & drinks. The other day I went grocery shopping and picked up lemonade. The label on it said--- "Made from artificial flavors." The next day I found myself in Home Depot to pick up furniture polish (I think it was "Pledge"), which also had a label on it--"Made from real lemons"!

Shouldn't it be the other way around?

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

A "Slumdog" underdog!!

Last night's comprehensive sweep of the Oscars by "Slumdog Millionaire" culminated an improbable dream run of the feel-good movie. It won eight out of the ten Oscars that it was nominated for.

There was some criticism of this movie because it was "not balanced" and that it brings out only the destitute face of India. I respectfully disagree with that view. If you want to see India, go take a vacation and visit the places that you want to see. When you go to see "Slumdog Millionaire", concentrate on the story, the direction, the acting and the message of hope that evolves as the reels roll. It does depict extreme poverty and the resultant brutality of people who scavenge on the victims. But it is fiction, a movie and not a documentary on India. And by the way, lot of the things seen in the movie are indeed true.

As I watched the Oscars with some wonderful company last night, it felt good that an underdog had prevailed. The icing on the cake was seeing the two youngest actors, who actually are slum dwellers in Mumbai, on the stage as a part of the team for the best movie. The rags to riches story of the movie will hopefully replicate in real life for these two kids.

So why did this movie do so well? I think the answer is that its an exceptionally well made movie with a relatively simple story line. Its a feel-good movie in these hard times. And it was also the underdog movie. Its human nature that if we don't have any stake in a contest, we will root for the underdog. Why is that? Why do we instinctively favor the underdog, be it movies, sports or life?

Maybe because we can relate to the underdog. In our lives, we all have been underdogs at some point or another. We know exactly how it feels when life doesn't seem to go our way. Those tough times are a constant reminder and a source of strength for us on this journey we call life. We can distinctly remember who stood by us during those challenging times, who our real friends are and sometimes we surprise ourselves with the strength of our character that surfaces in the face of adversity.

Our true character is reflected by how we behave when nobody is watching. And this movie is all about character, adversity and hope........hope that sincerity & love will eventually prevail in the long run.

"Sometimes our destiny has bigger plans for us than the ones we have for ourselves."

Had to share this with all of you........

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Valentine's bash....

I received a phone call yesterday (Sunday) morning from a friend.
"Do you still have my camera?" She sounded a little worried.
"Your camera?" I was confused, the hangover from the Saturday night party still had my brain frazzled.
"From last night's party?" she said.
"Oh. From last night?" Now it was my turn to get a little worried. The party had been great, in fact, memorable. The host couple had done a wonderful job on Valentine's day, which also happened to be our gracious hostess's birthday-eve.
"Remember clicking pictures? Standing on the chair and all?" She continued.
"Really? Was I standing on a chair? I was probably trying to get a good view." I didn't sound convincing, even to myself. Did I have that much Vodka?!
"Yeah...yeah....sure. So do you still have it?"
"No...no..." I tried to shake off the cobwebs. "I think you or your husband took it from me."
"I've looked everywhere. We don't have it. I'll call around," she said.
I washed my face and thought about the pictures on the missing camera. Then I went over last night's party, frame by frame.
I remembered the squeals when two best friends saw each other at the party, because they were wearing the same dress. Not similar. It was the SAME, like in ditto. They both acted surprised but I still think they got a "Buy one, get one free" deal!

My brain flashed briefly to the professional photographer our generous hosts had arranged and the couples posing in their exquisite outfits-- some confident, some embarrassed and some both. I was too busy showing off my wife! I recalled another lovely couple walking by, the husband holding on tight to his wife's hand.
"Very romantic," I remarked to the lady. "He's not letting go of your hand."
"Oh, that's because he's drunk," she replied, very matter-of-fact!

My mind then freeze-framed another picture. A prominent member of our community, deeply involved in the administration of a local revered Temple, (Baba ji to our neighborhood kids) putting on moves on the dance floor, with a bevy of beautiful young ladies. We don't want that picture floating around. We really got to find that camera!
Another picture that stuck in my mind was of the blissful look on a gentleman's face, who crossed continents coming back from India and slept at airports, so that he could make it home on Valentine's day to be with the love of his life.

But the most important picture that my mind captured from the night before was the true adoration between couples. The ambiance created by the hosts with candles, rose petals, lighting and music was such that cupid's arrow flew around, searing hearts.

The phone rang again, getting me out of the reverie.
"I found the camera." It was the same friend again, sounding relieved.
"Thank God! Who had it?" I asked.
"Well... it was in my husband's jacket," she said.
Aha, I thought to myself. Didn't she say an hour ago she had looked everywhere?

So I was not the only one with a hangover!

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