Read THIS First ..

Read THIS First..
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Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The term called 'tolerance'

It was just an English word I knew, just like so many others I'm aware of, having read them somewhere or the other. Those are the words you realize you know when someone talks about them and it sounds familiar. I never had patience for dictionaries, even the online ones. Not that I'm proud of the fact; I wish I would have the will to pause and check out the proper meaning of a word before using it wherever it 'felt' appropriate, but so far, I'm only learning, and not very well either. Such words seem foreign at one point of time, when you read them associated with something, anything that hits your heart, and you realize you were simply treating it like a nobody while it held deep character all this while. One such word for me was 'tolerance'. 

Def: (Oxford dictionary online)
[Mass noun] The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with:
the tolerance of corruptionan advocate of religious tolerance

Before that, I'd heard this word in school. 'I'd not tolerate any nonsense!' the teacher would shout. She wouldn't take nonsense, so you better behave. 
I'd also read it in novels. 'It was hard to tolerate all the pain.' Something that'd be difficult to bear.

But was it something big enough to wonder about? Something to be taken seriously, because you'd start feeling bad if you didn't understand it or did something about it? No.

It was only a few months ago when I came across a short speech delivered by the famous author, Vikram Seth, titled 'Intolerance is Violence,' that I got a glimpse into another, more fundamental aspect of the word, and it felt like I've been wronged most of my life!

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A friend sometime mentioned, 'as Indians, we're quite racist' and it hadn't taken long for me to agree. We differentiate based on colour, religion, gender, social status, family background, etc even among ourselves. We teach it to our children, even when as kids, they're inclined to treat everyone the same unless they see their guardians treating certain people differently. We're proud of our heritage, even though we don't realize that we probably don't even deserve it, but oh, we're so confident of ourselves that we feel we're the best ever humanity could have. I think it'd be better if we faced reality: we've been provided marvelous lives, and the least we could do is be grateful about it. This isn't a sermon; I'm yet to understand and apply half these things myself, but what I do know is that my life would totally suck if I stayed in this bubble for long. Just so you know, it isn't self-created. It's something we're being born into and we don't even realize there's a world outside that bubble. Some thickheaded among us even guard the boundaries fiercely, lest it bursts, making other people who feel trapped inside, even more miserable. These are mostly the leaders, our supposed heroes sent out to let people escape their cages, but they end up doing the opposite, just because they're too scared to venture outside.

That makes different people live in different bubbles, never really trying to understand others' lives, their values and beliefs, thought processes, ways of living, or ever share their human nature. People eventually become comfortable in their own space and look at differences with suspicion, and sometimes, enmity. This is intolerance.

It takes an uglier aspect when it is edged with acts of abuse. Physical harm is only one form of such abuse. Making a sour face at someone else without even knowing them as people is also abuse. Asking your kid to stay away from the maid's child is abuse. Thinking a man in a turban would act crazy because he is a Sikh, is abuse. Think about how many people you've abused in your life and if you feel humbled even one percent, read on, or else I suggest you go back to your clique of high-profile, 'modern' friends who do no more than share a picture of the poor receiving a once-in-a-lifetime hug from some 'superstar', while throwing a callous, racist joke. I'd hope no more people like you come into existence. There are far too many already. 

I have this belief about authors churning out some of the best messages about life and society, and being daring enough to announce it to the world. It felt great when Vikram Seth did it. Apart from him, J.K. Rowling is someone who actively advocates tolerance and even seeks to send messages of tolerance through her stories. In one of her recorded interviews, she was asked what vice she most despises. Her one word reply: bigotry. The story of Harry Potter has lovable characters who're indeed different and in her own way, she managed to make younger readers have more capacity for tolerance. Need proof? Read it here.

Why should you harbour tolerance?
Because that's how it's supposed to be. Hatred never got us anywhere. Wars might be won, but millions of people die and that's the cruelest crime. Unkind words leave deep wounds, sometimes altering someone else's personality. You should be tolerant towards others and intolerant to intolerance. Someone hurt you badly? If you can't manage to forgive and forget, or let a just law take care of them, let it be. Don't go for revenge or bad-mouthing the person. You should be tolerant because generalization is wrong. It's not just bad, it's plain wrong. People are not defined by their backgrounds or looks and the sooner you realize this, the earlier you'd achieve a level of tolerable tolerance. You should be tolerant because you'd have a bright, wider outlook on the world, friends from the unlikeliest of places and it'd make you feel wonderful. 

How can you achieve more tolerance?
#1. By controlling your desperate urge to comment on any such post on Facebook where people are belittling others by categorizing them under religious heads. Hint, hint: read any post related to 9/11 or Kashmir floods and you'll know what I mean. It's horrifying to read hatred filled comments coming from the youngsters who'd supposedly help India overcome problems. Ow, don't tell me you really believe that? Because as long as we're stupidly guzzling any form of generalization made so prominent by businesses and media, we're only going downhill. You could vehemently go on opposing it, because you'd be long dead by the time other people suffer due to your mindlessness. 

#2. Stop generalizing, stereotyping, prejudicing and most of all, stop misusing the voice social media so easily provided you, to encourage any of those. I'm sometimes astounded at the minuscule number of people who'd agree on the importance of reading, so I wouldn't even go there, but if you think you're smart enough to churn out biased viewpoints and abusing people, even communities on social media, I'd have to admit that I think you're totally dumb. No, ignoring you is not the answer. Stopping you is. 

#3. Wait to know people yourself first before believing anything negative about them. Practice looking at people without the cloud of their background in mind and making assumptions; do that till you are able to look at anyone without wondering about their colour or caste or religion or finances or any other thing. Don't accept generalizations. They're bad. 

#4. Mind your own business. Seriously. Unless it affects you, and unless what you say or do will actually make a difference, keep your nose out of other people's business. Also, like mentioned before, your opinion on world issues is hardly relevant, so unless you have something useful to say, refrain. Then look at the world become a better place.  

Many Indian leaders before have talked about intolerance. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan spoke of intolerance as the greatest repressor of progress. There probably are a lot more ways for being tolerant and I'm hoping I'd understand and practice those too, while praying that others too know how important it is to not be swayed by radical assumptions and statements, to have the ability to accept the fact that people are different and that the world needs a lot more love than hatred.

A part of Vikram Seth's speech that makes sense to me:
'Intolerance is violence. And accepted intolerance is violence with the acquiescence of society.'

'You may as well be yourself, because really, there’s no one else you can be. We’re here for such a ridiculously short time, in this ridiculously trivial corner of the universe, that if we aren’t ourselves, what’s the point of doing anything at all? So I would say it all matters, whether it’s your profession, whether it’s your beliefs, whether it’s the person you love, you must go at heart with who you are. Not what someone else tells you, not what your clan tells you, not even what an unjust law tells you. Go with yourself.'

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Of verandah cricket and scooter rides...

I had been warned about a lot of things that happen in the 'real' world, things to protect yourself from, just like other normal kids who fear being carried away by a wolf if they venture outside the designated area. Or those who know the possibility of being squashed by a running vehicle if they toddle on the roads. I know, they don't really fear all this with conviction, being the little superheroes they believe themselves to be, but you have to admit that they'd possess a little bit of commonsense in between all that bratiness. (Chill. We're allowed to make up words. Shakespeare made over 1700 of them). Lately, though, I've been having misgivings about this assumption, especially when I take Scoot out. Roads seem to be a lot more safer than the narrow galis, because the children of today are completely convinced that no kind of moving vehicle can ever hurt them. If you doubt it, try riding a two or a four wheeler in a residential lane. Honking won't make them budge and giving them cold stares would make you feel ignored. 

As I stood exasperated, still perched on Scoot, observing with near-amusement the group of small boys and girls on bicycles, giggling and calling each other names, choosing to ignore Scoot inches away from them and its unnecessary honks, I couldn't help thinking of my own childhood and what comprised the world for me. Probably it was a lot more simpler, what with the lack of smartphones and what-not, along with managing school on our own instead of feeling miserable in a tuition class. In any respect, I'm sure we all adore our childhood, however we might have enjoyed it. When I think back to those years in the 90s, vivid memories of various forms of enjoyment seem to be those I cherish the most. It feels somewhat remarkable, and sad, to know that we probably never would do the same things again. What's a better way than to write it down, so that even after years or decades, we can go back to them without having forgotten sweet memories? 

Pic credit: Self
My brother and I were among the minuscule number of kids in our colony, so we were each other's closest playmates. That was probably what ignited our protective instincts for the other, along with developing a habit of hardly ever talking to each other without sarcasm. Till the time G was tiny and didn't know he was supposed to rebel the fountain-like or tiny ponytail hairstyles we made him have, he agreed to be the student when I proudly used a chalk on the small, rough blackboard. That was also when we collectively played with our toys, tiny dolls sitting on top of Anand Cola trucks and vehicles, falling off the tops repeatedly as the trucks swished on the floor. G was not to be restrained to make-believe games for long. He soon found a keen interest in cricket and games involving more physical activity. Having amazing powers of conviction mixed with cuteness, he managed to involve me in any and every sport or game he wanted to play. 

Cricket was something I never said no to. It had soon become a family sport. The narrow lane in front of our home with the park having overgrown grass surrounding one side of it was not an ideal spot, since the ball (that dad later started calling the do dinn wali ball, apparently because it lasted two days before it got lost) was quickly lost, finding its way in an overgrowth or a gutter. Our dad was our favourite playmate, apart from each other. He moved our game indoors and the thin strip of our verandah became our pitch. He acted as the referee and mostly as the batsman who would hit the ball at just the perfect angles for a whoop-inducing catch. I loved catching the ball the most, just a little less than batting. Since the verandah was really narrow, it did not afford space to score by running, so we made our own rules, the most flexible of which I found the one-tip-one-hand rule. If there were more than three balls I hadn't got to catch, I just needed to gesture to dad and he would make the next one an easy catch thrown my way. 

I miss that tiny verandah space the most. It was where G and I had stood because mom wouldn't let us in. Of course, if both of us were ghar nikaloed together, it would hardly matter, for we would start playing any game G would invent. The harder bits were when it was either of us who had been the naughtier one and hence, accorded that punishment. The only solace in that moment when we cried bitterly, lay in the fact that soon, our sibling would find a way to let us in. Sometimes it was G using his convincing skills, or grandmom feeling sorry for us, or the best of all, the alternate door to the house. We soon found a way to overcome our problems by simply, stealthily opening the lock to the alternate door and let the other in. The only hard part would be those minutes, or even hours we'd have to spend hiding under the dining table, cutting the hours till the time we knew mom would be opening the door to let us in. 

It was also the safe space for skating, something I'd learned to love. Although my first independent 'walk' on wheels had been in our drawing-cum-dining room, the verandah had witnessed thousands of tiny rounds when the uneven road outside was deemed unsafe. It then became our basketball court when we got a small basketball, complete with a red netted basket. Cricket though, won over the other sport, being something we enjoyed the most. The verandah saw our first, horrific falls. It was surrounded by a low wall with a broad base where it met the gate. That piece of wall was the perfect spot to perch on, looking over to the narrow lane, the park and the main road beyond that. It was also easily accessible thanks to a cemented base doubling as a resting-stool-stuck-to-the-wall. When I had first fallen off that wall, G had not yet been born and I had made the drop towards the outside lane, fitting my small self into the thankfully dry naali. G's fall, a few years later, was on the inside. Nevertheless, it was our favourite spot. We would sit there in the evenings without electricity, playing games. 
There was the letter-box opening in the cemented wall, through which G and I would shoot our water guns at passersby two days preceding Holi. The only scary moment was when one lady didn't seem to have liked it and had suddenly turned towards our house, angry. It was terrifying as we had quickly ducked and like little soldiers, made our way to the metal door leading into the house as fast as we could, the lady's accusatory shouts ringing in our ears as our hearts thumped madly. A few years later, the verandah was witness to and a participator in making me have my first stitch-requiring-injury. We were playing aankh me choli. It did not occur to my super-smart brain that it'd be better to move slowly and I ended up banging my head on a wall. I thought it was okay once I had paused and pressed my hand to the painful spot and the pain had seemed to recede. G was standing stock-still just where he had been and when I had removed my hand and smiled up at him to suggest that I was okay, he had called, 'hawww! khoon!', looking horrified. The next moment I felt a trickle of liquid down my face, the drops landing in red on the floor in quick succession and I had started shrieking at the sight and unnaturalness of it. 

There was a tap right next to that letter-box opening and our perch, which was used to fill up water balloons and store in the bucket on the mornings of Holi. We would excitedly hand over balloons to dad as he sat on his haunches, filling up those water balloons and depositing them in the bucket till G would declare them enough. We spent most of our childhood Holis spraying coloured water on each other in the lane outside the gate, after mom and grandma would go back inside and dad would supervise the game, or click pictures. Balloons were mostly for ourselves, until we were joined by a couple more neighbourhood kids and we realized that there's more to those water bombs than we had imagined. 

Then there was school, of course. I never liked school. It was full of bullies and stupid children who cheated on tests and never left an opportunity to make fun of others. Either this, or the compulsory lessons on classical dance: something or the other was always a flop in my idea of school. I remained in my own world nevertheless, having to come out and act smart only when G started accompanying me to school. We used to make a single-file line even on our bus stop (I still can't believe how they managed to instill that kind of discipline!) and G would sulk, or worse, cry, if he wasn't the first in line. It became a ritual of keeping an eye out on the road as we hurriedly dressed for school at 6.15 in the morning, rushing out to be the first to start the line. I was usually the first one to get ready, so it was an added responsibility to reach the stop earlier to avoid anyone else getting there first, because the not-so-appealing alternative would be to manage an annoying G all the way to school. 

During this time, afternoons were usually monotonous, especially when we returned home. The perks were when we could see our grandmom at the gate to our house, waiting for us. An even added perk was finding our dad along with her. Our little hearts were filled with such enthusiasm at the sight of them that we'd quickly hold hands and cross the road, before G's hand would leave mine and he'd jump over the low wall of the park, cross it and reach dad before I could. Ever since we know, he's always had work in shifts, so we hardly ever knew when he would be there to receive us. If we would be feeling really excited, we'd chant 'scooter pe round' and dropping our bags in the verandah, we'd plant ourselves on the scooter and enjoy the round he'd give. I loved sitting facing backwards during these rounds that probably lasted five minutes, but made us happy for the entire day. Even though I was a preteen already, I don't think I even for a moment considered it as something ridiculous. It's fun, really. It was rather a let down when I badgered dad into letting me sit facing backwards a few days ago and he actually did not move more than a short distance because it was embarrassing. -_- See? That's why I say we need to cherish such things because they're mostly possible only during childhood. :')

There are a lot more stories surrounding childhood, most of which relates to things that were so important to us. Play time was not time pass. It was absolutely essential. It was an important part of our life growing up and made us learn a lot more than watching TV or playing video games ever could. We did succumb to computer games later in the years, but there was always, and still is, that special place reserved for sports or actively engaging games. It's not just something to cherish, but also something to be passed on. It's somewhat disturbing to find kids the same age as we were back then, recklessly driving gear-less scooters in the lanes, or being callous enough to not even consider a motor vehicle coming towards them.  

Do you remember such games or special hangout spots of childhood? Aren't those just too precious? :')


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