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Highlights of 2015 and hello 2016 :)

Last year was a lot of hard work and unexpected playful interactions when I least expected it. The highs were pretty high and totally awesome and the low points felt bottomless. My resolution for 2015 were several but the one’s that I did manage to stick to stood me in good stead.

I lost people in 2015 – one of them was a very good friend who was taken from us too soon. I still can’t speak of Cesare without tearing up, even when I laugh, there’s a deep sigh that comes up unbidden. I have lost people when I stuck to my resolution to treat people as they treat me. Some loved it, some hated it. It simplified my life. I lost the one’s who drag me down far more often then they pick me up.

2015 was the year that I learnt the meaning of what it means to be family. Most of us define the word family by the people we are related to by blood or marriage. Instead I learnt the following:

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Loyalty, honesty, integrity – in everything that I do, every relationship that I develop whether in my career or personal life, in my actions, words and thoughts continue to remain my guiding stars.

Through out the year as people and opportunities walked in and out of my life, I discovered that the one’s who genuinely care and want me in their lives will always prioritize and make time for me. My one month of working in Ethiopia gave me not only invaluable work experience, a totally different perspective on the role of aid in developing economies but also a family and new friends and colleagues whom I enjoyed immensely.

While 2015 ended in a bittersweet note, looking back there is nothing that I would do differently. In each moment I had made the best possible decisions, drew my line in the sand and stuck to my guns where necessary and it is that integrity and faith in choosing what is right that allows me to move forward without looking back. Knowing that I have done my best, given my best and I deserve the best.

I look forward to 2016 because this life is an endless journey were the scenery is constantly changing and along with the props, the actors change, bringing in new perspectives, lessons, knowledge, wisdom and yes, even love. There will be new countries to see, new cultures to discover, new cuisines to try, new friends to make, new ways of thinking that will challenge my current one’s, ideas to discover, challenges to conquer and victories to celebrate. I look forward to the highs and lows and while the first 3 months are already promising me to be hectic, full of travels and new experiences and learning’s, here’s a nod off to the highlights of 2015 🙂

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The power in letting go of regret

Regret… now that’s an emotion that we are ALL familiar with, some perhaps more than others. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case you do not have the brain function necessary to feel the emotions associated with ‘regret’. So anyway, I did a quick search on this blog and turns out I have written exactly eight posts were I have tagged ‘regret’ as a key word. It’s a word that I have associated with coming out stronger from adversary, in making life choices, with death, with honesty, with having more than others – a myriad of situations which on the surface are not related to each other.

But looking at these posts, basically I have associated it with any situations where I felt there was a choice (ok, death was not by choice but maybe I have survivor’s guilt). So even though we love the feeling of having options – unfortunately, the minute we make the choice – any choice (it really doesn’t matter what we choose) – we immediately open ourselves to the very real possibility of experiencing regret – for not picking the option we didn’t choose.

I was watching the movie “About Time” last weekend, and the main character in it reaches the age of 21 and discovers that part of his inheritance is the ability to time travel. Now I tried imagining that given this ability there would be events in my past that I would choose to erase (trust me, I have a vivid imagination). The thing is, just like in the movie, if the butterfly effects of things changed means that I don’t meet certain people, experience certain situations, fundamentally, who I am, would change. And surprisingly it turns out THAT is a choice that I am not willing to make.

I like me, I am me because of everything that has happened to me, through the years, with the people, in places and situations, which at the time I had thought were the worst thing that can possibly happen. Yet, there I was, slapped on the face with the realization that I don’t want to lose or change who I am.

You know what that means? I don’t.

I think it might mean that I am letting go of the regret I had felt at the decisions I had made through life. That I had somehow made peace with my choices. Now knowing me, before I make any choice, I do weight them on a scale (I am a Libra so that figures my obsession with the scale thingy). I do the whole exercise of columns and rows of alternate scenarios and in most cases, I had chosen, what I believed at the time, to be the best possible option/choice. I can be quite obsessive with having a plan A (for action) and back up plan B, C, D… you get the picture.

Now, if you watch the Ted Talk below you will notice that at 6.15, she outlines what people regret the most – or rather the choices that people regret the most and funnily enough these are related to – education, career, romance, parenting, self, leisure, finance, family, health, friends, spirituality and community – in exactly that descending order. And that basically means that we most regret the things where we feel that we had a choice and we could’ve chosen something else. But what if like me, you get to a point, where you realize that at the moment of choosing, you had weighted all your options and you had made the best possible choice you can?

Would you still then hold on to regret? Or would you let it go?

So, here’s what I am going to be doing…. I am going to get myself tattooed this weekend and then be damn happy that I at least had the courage to do something that I had always wanted to get done. And if I regret my tattoos, then I guess I will learn to love my imperfect flawed creation 😉

The lesson that I ultimately learned from my tattoo and that I want to leave you with today is this: We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.

BTW, hindsight is always 20/20, so don’t bother looking back.. just keep moving forward 🙂

 

 

Is your life worth living?

 

Important reminder for days when nothing seems to go right or you feel like a hamster going fast, nowhere 😉

A hero & her heroism

 

While most of us, city-people, romanticize rural life. There’s very little that is romantic about it. Life is hard for people who depend on the land to make a living and even more so for the women. While women are discouraged from taking up work outside the home, it becomes a necessity ultimately when the responsibility of bringing up children falls squarely on them in the de-facto absence of husbands. Combined with the hardship of daily life, women ultimately end up working longer hours trying to make ends meet.

Children’s education, a luxury before, is now a necessity. But one that not everyone can afford. Monija, the lady who helps my aunt care for her domestic duty, brought her daughters over yesterday. Turns out that the one I had thought was her younger sister is actually her eldest daughter. Her husband worked in Sylhet for five years and while he sent as much money as he could afford, it became impossible for her take care of her 3 children in the village. She moved them to the city, to my aunt’s place where she has worked before.

It’s a big house with joint family so there’s always the need to have an extra pair of hands around. She found employment, has been given a house to live in and now sends her 3 kids to the Madrasa for education. I asked her why she didn’t send them to the government school, and she said that her husband wants the kids to get religious education. He wouldn’t hear of them going to mainstream school and she is tired of fighting him for every little dream that she has for her children.

Thing is the quality of education in Madrasa is far below par. Yes they will probably learn to read and write but the emphasis will always be on learning to read Arabic so they can read the Quran or perhaps just memorize it. However, for many others like her, this madrasa education is already a step up than what she had not been able to get and moreover, this is all that she can afford. She hopes that her 14-year-old daughter will do well in her Secondary School exam and if that’s the case, she hopes to be able to continue her education further to Higher Secondary level.

While I marveled at the thick bamboo clumps and the tall maize plants, I saw beauty while she saw danger. She doesn’t want to live in the village with her daughters. She fears that places like these are for girls to be taken away to and once they have been deflowered, whether forcibly through rape or willingly because they imagine themselves to be in love, no other man/boys in the village will want to marry them.

The collectivism of the rural life will not protect her daughters and it won’t let them or anyone else forget either. Since her daughter is now as tall as her, for villagers, she’s old enough to get married. Forget about the fact that neither the girl nor her parents wants her married off. If something happens, then the burden of it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the family and worst case scenario, they might even face ostracism from the community.

In places that has only a handful of people living in it, hardly a couple of hundred, everyone knows everyone’s business. Yet to not be allowed to interact, buy, sell or trade with these people can be a serious disadvantage. So she has chosen the path of individualism, living in the city, hoping to be able to give her daughters some education and delay marriage for as long as possible.

The lack of mobility is a serious drawback for the women of the village. While I am lucky enough to ‘whoosh in and out’ in a car, that is a luxury most people don’t even dream about. The highest aspiration in a lot of cases seems to be able to afford at least one bicycle – in fact that is quite frequently part of dowry demands. For women, whom no one would dream of giving a bicycle to, mobility frequently means the ability to walk for miles to get to the nearest town or even the village bazaar. The difficulty of making a trip to the doctor in illness under such circumstances is not something that I have enough imagination for.

When I think of heroes, these days, I always end up thinking of women like Monija. Women who somehow find the courage to continue in the face of insurmountable odds. Women who somehow still have dreams for their children even when they are struggling to put 3 square nutritious meal on their plates. Women who go from one day to the next without knowing what awaits them around the corner. Women who dedicate their life and all of their effort into raising a brood of children, hoping that they’ll be able to give them at least a little bit more of an edge in the race of life.

Anyone who can face so much and still persist in living & dreaming deserves to be capped as heroes.

Caught in between lies and half-truths

Perhaps one of the greatest paradox of human life is that while we profess to upholding the truth above all else, the reality is that we are all caught in a complex web of white lies, half-truths and out-right lies. We are indoctrinated into this lie at a very early age and we either do not question it at all or we have all kinds of reasons as to why this is so.

Who else but humans would be capable of creating such a rich web of spinning words that catches and holds you like the spider’s web?

We bring up our girls on a steady diet of Disney princess and first loves and true loves power. We bring them up to fall in love and get married and stay married. Our fairy tale prince’s are not perfect, in fact, they might be downright abusive, but the princess doesn’t leave. No, she stays and she works on him, till he is perfect (a la carte beauty and the beast).

Do we bring up our boys on the same diet? To be worthy of being a prince? To fall in love with one girl and stay with her no matter how imperfect she is, until their love is perfect? How many boys do you know who are obsessed with Disney prince, vis-a-vis, some other cartoon character like Ben 10?

We bring up our girls to be super-woman. If she wants to work outside, fine but let’s not forget that she must be a domestic goddess first. The domestic goddess maybe battered and bruised and exhausted from having to do with too little sleep on a chronic basis, but never mind, she can mind the house, the babies and her husband before she goes out and discharges the duties of her career.

Our boys worldwide are pampered. Unburdened of housework or even the simplest acts of picking up their dinner dishes from the table and washing it off, boys have their childhood extended into their adult life. The pampering that starts with mama, continues with the wife. If it doesn’t, hey, most major religions will allow him to beat up his wife until she understands and fulfills HIS needs. If not directly with fists, then the same results would be obtained with half-lies and emotional blackmail: “Yeah, you are a great wife, but if only you would….. “ fill in whatever you want that either caters to him, his children or his parents or his family.

Is it any wonder that our girls are disillusioned? Bewildered? Disheartened?

This is not how it was supposed to be… this is not what happens when you are taken away by your knight in shining armor, who rides in on his white horse to save you.

And then we leave them wondering – did no one love them enough to tell them the truth? To warn them of the reality? To stand beside them as they muddle their way through this foreign landscape of half-truths and lies?

And even worse are the self-criticism that we are so good at installing in our girls, the doubts. The ‘maybe I wasn’t good enough’ statements that can be added and applied like a condiment to almost any situation in life. And of course we add some more spark to that fire by expressing our displeasure at the fact that she has failed to make something work out. Failed. Like the entire burden of making a relationship or a career work out is solely on the shoulders of the girl.

Why do we bother giving our girls an education? Why do we tell her that she can do anything, while we subtly discourage her from pursuing interests that are not in line with her gender stereotype?

Why do we tell them that they can have careers, children, husband, all of it… if they would just work hard enough and then work them down to their bones? Until they have nothing more left in them? Until they are so empty from giving, that living doesn’t make any sense to them?

Why do we not tell them instead that they would need to make some hard choices and its ok to make them? That she needs to do what is best for her. When a girl questions her choices, what do we tell her? More lies and half-truths?

But let’s face it, as long as one out of every three women worldwide continues to face violence, as long as more than 90% of that violence is carried on by either intimate partner or someone she knows, as long as we resort to comparison with a man in order to validate a woman’s accomplishment with statements like ‘she’s the man’, we still have the problem of half-truths and outright lies.

Life is like that

Earlier this year a great video came out titled “Beautiful Bangladesh Land of Stories”.

What’s so great about it? It’s a snapshot of the best bits of Bangladesh, from rolling hills, serpentine rivers, marshes, mangrove forests to vast plains of green paddy field. It didn’t just showcase the land, it showcased the people, the culture, the traditional Baul singers, the madness of old Dhaka, the tea gardens, the tribal dances & celebrations, the somber 21st February to ecstatic 14th April Bangla new year celebrations.

The guy in the video is married to one of my colleague and the question she had to fend the most was “Where’s the million of people who always gather to gawk at you”?

It was asked in a half-joking, half teasing way. As a nation, we are very hospitable people and while we forgive our guests for their many guffaws, we also tend to be intensively curious about the people who visit us. Even though it’s a muslim majority country, I have had people who has lived here at least for 6 months, tell me that we are more secular and chilled out, then they had been led to expect.

Life is like that.

The movie version of your life, the story of yourself that plays in your head, the voices that govern your consciousness and guides your decision… are those of your own choosing?

Are you directing your own life?

Do you choose to see the good in you and others?

Or do you gravitate to the negative – holding on to slights, anger and hurt?

What are you shooting? What are you choosing to focus on?

If you could make a movie on your life – what would it be like? would you show the broken dreams, misplaced trusts, the hurts? or would choose to focus on the good things, the highlights if you please, like this video?

So that brings me to my next question – are your opinions your own or someone else’s?

Are you living an examined life? or just cruising through on auto-pilot?

If today was the last day of your life – what would you do different?

Too busy??

I know I am.

I have been too busy to get enough sleep and since I can’t sleep, I either lack appetite or I just eat because I have to and I eat whatever I can get my hands. Now that’s the worst kind of disservice really that I can do to myself.

I have been too busy running from office to university. Too busy keeping up with work and assignments to focus on quality. Too busy to pay attention to the fact that half the year has already gone by and I am suddenly faced with the realization that I have only six more months to go before the year is over.

 

I have been too busy.

You know I am starting to hate that… being too busy. I want to be ‘not busy’, not running to class or to work or to keep up with some other commitment which I had made. I long for days like today, when I can wake up in the morning knowing that this day can be anything I make of it because all the hours in it are mine. I can read, write, nap, meditate, listen to music, engage in some self-love to revitalize myself. Days like this … I finally have time to improve Me … my thoughts, my life, my health. To concentrate on who I am and who I want to be, to evaluate whether or not I am in the right road for it.

These past few months have also taught me humility. I am a nerd who has trouble accepting anything less than A grade on my papers. My grades are in par with full-time students, youngsters who are not worrying about paying tuition, mortgage or getting forward in a career that spans nearly 2 decades. In my striving to hold on to A grades, I have stressed, worried and freaked over papers, assignments and never-ending exams. In moments of despair, I have thought of a blind guy in my class and asked myself if he can do it, why can’t I?

While all this striving undoubtedly expands my horizon, it has also taken away the joy I had in learning. And days like today I realize that it is not my commitment that I have to change, it is my attitude to my commitments that I have to change. I have to learn to be ok with getting something less than A on my grades, I have to reconnect to life on a higher level than this to truly enjoy each day to its fullest.

And I think it’s high time to book my next holiday 😉

Habit

Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.
~Saint Augustine (354-430)~

What is a Habit? and what forms a habit? Wikipedia defines habit as a routine of behavior that is repeatedly regularly and tends to occur unconsciously. IF all habits are acquired patterns then why do we find it so difficult to implement new habits (e.g. exercising regularly) or giving up old habit that no longer serve our purpose (e.g. smoking). While the internet is full of helpful articles on how to break an old habit or create a new one, this post is not about that.

In an attempt to live a more contemplative life, a conscious one where I am not simply gliding across life’s highway on cruise control, I find myself often stepping back to gain a little perspective on the things I do on a daily basis. I ask myself questions like:

  • What is the real reason as to why I am choosing to embark on a particular journey?
  • What do I really hope to get out of it?
  • Did I articulate my thinking, my expectations, my underlying assumptions clearly to everyone who has a stake in it? or can affect its outcome?
  • Like a rubik’s cube, did I stop to consider all sides? think 20 steps ahead?
  • Am I doing this because I am afraid of the consequences of what will happen if  I don’t?
  • Do I want to operate out of a place of fear in my heart?

I suppose all these questioning for me is easier in a sense because being an introvert having thought processes running quietly in the background in my head seems quite natural to me. The habit that I did have to work on changing though is choosing my train of thought carefully and conciously 🙂

So what are you doing about your habits? Do you question them? And if you do want to change something, where do you start?

Now who can resist Captain Jack Sparrow & his sayings 😉

What if the world turned on it’s head?

What if the world turned on its head and you woke up one day to a society like this.

What would change for you?

as a man…

as a woman…

as a human being…

Wise men say before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoe. Yet we specialize in jumping …. to conclusions, to forcing others to live up to what we expect from them, what society expects, what religion expects, tribal laws, family laws/customs or whatever else we can drum up…… ever stop to wonder what they expect from themselves?

Have you ever asked someone what they want for themselves and REALLY listened?

This is not an invitation to debate, it IS an invitation to stop and think. Take a moment, take a breath and reflect.

Of convictions and contentment

I met Frankie today. A very interesting Austrian woman who happens to be here for a little more than a week on jury duty for an International Film Festival that is taking place here in Dhaka. We went for a long walk around Old Dhaka today and had some rather interesting discussion. Frankie and I have been born world apart, in the same year, in completely different societies. Our upbringing and lives have been in that sense rather different too. Yet we connected on so many different levels and had such animated conversations that none of us wanted it to end. At one point during our conversation though, she said something that made me stop and ask her to repeat herself again, just so that I really understood what she was saying.

Here’s what she said: “You are full of convictions and yet at the same time you are also brimming with contentment”. 

I kid you not, I did a double take when she said it. I was sure that I heard it wrong, which is why I asked her to repeat herself again.

My convictions that she was referring to was about my views on religion, life, goals, my child and what I want and don’t want for him & me etc. My contentment apparently stems from the fact that I can very easily declare that I love my life. That its easy to see that the work I do is something that I love very deeply.

This is not a gloating post.

Tomorrow will mark the 2nd year anniversary of the day I almost ended my life. I was in a deep dark tunnel that had no end, stuck in a life I felt powerless to change. Simply put – I hated my life and could not find the answer to the question, “why should I take another breath? or live for another day”. I didn’t have an answer. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I planned for posterity (that would be the type-A personality in me). I planned my will, bequeathed what I own to the people I care for as carefully as I planned out exactly how I was going to end it.

I will tell you what saved me that day – these quotes from the Bible and the Quran and my best friend.

Frankie asked me this today and I had to think for a moment before I answered – am I religious? I think not, I think I am spiritual. I believe in something greather than us, a grand designer, creator of the cosmos if you will. I do believe in humanity.

I have been incredibly fortunate or lucky to see quite a few miracles in my life. At the same time I have also seen the worst face of human beings. It’s like the highs are real Himalaya kind of high, while the lows have been the pits of hell. That in itself would be enough to either rattle someone to their very core, or get them diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Turns out I don’t have that. Trust me, I did analyze myself and get a second opinion. (yes I am talking about mental health issues here, if you are not comfortable, this is not the blog for you).  What I do have is incurable, inexplicable – optimism and faith.

When I had forsaken the religion that was being shoved down my throat, I decided to find out for myself what religion meant. I went everywhere I could think of – churches, temples, gurudwara, synagogue. I read up on philosophy, debated religion with people who were open minded enough and knowledgeable enough to have an intelligent discussion. Let me tell you this – the ten commandments hold true no matter what religion you follow, or which God you worship. The name may change but the devotion felt is the same and at very core of it lies humanity. This gave birth to my conviction on religion – to each his own, his own action, karma, life and choices.

So back to two years ago, I was stuck in a dead end life that was not what I wanted or needed but couldn’t figure out how to get out of. See the trick there? I couldn’t see the how, the silver lining, the end of the tunnel. That’s were faith, optimism and my best friend kicked my ass in. I had to let go of the need to control the how and shift my attention to the why.

Ok, so I was not happy – why? what do I need to change about my life to be happy? What can I no longer tolerate in my life? What do I actively want to manifest in my life? What would change my life to the point where I do not feel the need to question the why of my life.

The more I have let go of the ‘how’ and concentrated on the ‘why’, the more I have achieved and the happier I have been.

It’s really been as simple and as difficult as that.

When my motivation to undertake something is not at the core of my being, my passion, my time is wasted. When it is, my time is invested. A simple example – people have told me for years that I should do my Masters. I couldn’t see the reason as to ‘why’ I should do it. The reasons that people usually gave to the ‘why’ was not for me. I don’t need that certificate or the salary bump that may come from it. Both of these reasons are arbitrary and while they may be true for most people, I already made more money than most people my age and I have worked my ass off to get where I am, so that didn’t really apply to me. However, last year, when I got bitten by the bug to know more, when development aid ignited my passion, I finally conceded that I do now want to do a Masters on Development Studies.

The problem with my life, as with most women and men’s, was that I was living a life that is prescribed by someone else – our family, society, expectations. The invisible iron chains that bind us down into making choices that has nothing to do with our individuality. It doesn’t stop to take note of the machines that we become, the dreams that we kill, or the aspirations that we suffocate to death. It takes no note of the zombies we become, like actors on a stage, in a play that they do not desire to be part of but cannot leave either.

This journey of becoming an individual is not an easy one. Neither is it for the faint hearted. If you crave love, attentions, affection and confirmations, then this is not the road for you to take. You will not get accolades for your efforts. Neither will you be cheered on your journey. The road to transformation is a long and lonely road – because no one else will see the destination that you are trying to reach. When you reach your destination, you might be the only one at the mountain top. Others might congratulate you for scaling another peak, for another success. But it will be your own blood and sweat that you will shed on this lonely journey.

Then again, in your travels, you might find a kindered spirit in someone else. Recognize yourself in someone else. You might even stop in your path to lend a helping hand. If you are suffering from depression, if you can’t see the end of the tunnel – the psalm 23.4, really helps. It will remind you that you are not alone. And when you get tired of fighting for what you believe in, your dreams, your goals – the Surah Al-Kafiroon, really helps. It will shore your belief that just because others can’t see things from the same perspective as you, it does not invalidate your dreams. You have every right to be YOU, while they have a right to be themselves.

Contentment? Yes please, I will take a double helping of that 🙂

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