Saturday, May 31, 2014

Did you miss your Eureka moment?

Vinita Dawra Nangia

All big things start small. Inspiration need not hit you on the head; it waits for you in everyday, mundane matters

All of us have our moments. But not everyone is observant or reflective enough to convert these into Eureka moments, as Archimedes did when he jumped out of his bath naked, to propound the Theory of Displacement.

Nor does everyone who gets knocked on the head by a falling apple, end up understanding the Law of Gravity like Newton. Most big things begin small; almost all major inspirations have been found in smaller things ­ everyday mundane matters, which may seem inconsequential, but upon reflection, form a meaningful picture.

What is critical is an observant eye and a mind that is constantly alert and ticking questioning, reflecting, discussing and understanding. It is important to be able to rise above the immediate and personal moment, and be able to look at it in a larger context, which helps us evolve as stronger, better human beings.

All of us find our personal triggers in innocuous everyday moments, which may have a deep emotional impact on us. The wish to repeat happy moments, or the desire to avoid repeating depressing, humiliating ones can be a powerful trigger. A child’s innocent smile and trusting eyes can be a huge motivator for parents to live up to the faith a child reposes in them. So can the adoring eyes of a lover.

Happiness experienced by a small generous act can motivate one towards consistent philanthropy. When a lady in Boston started leaving blankets anonymously on benches on cold nights for homeless people, it triggered a movement of random acts of kindness and generosity.

Sometimes your will to fight the big battles of life comes from small things.Take the instance of German Communist Alois Pfaller’s persistent struggle against the Nazis, recounted in Laurence Rees’ Their Darkest Hour ­ People tested to the extreme in WWII. When years later, Rees asked Alois what motivated him to stand up to the Nazis, despite merciless beatings and 11 years in concentration camps, he replied that all through childhood he had competed with his stepsister for his stepmother’s attention, but failed, since `a mother is a mother’. “And then I swore to myself, when you grow up, you have to fight against injustice, never mind against who, you always have to fight injustice… and with this, I had the ability to resist, and the ability to get through it ­ nothing else.“

And so out of a sense of jealousy and alienation came the determination to fight for justice. He converted his deeply ingrained sense of hurt into a positive when he decided to fight all injustice.

That is the sign of a great individual, one who is able to elevate himself above present and personal circumstances and rather than avenge personal slights in a narrow, vindictive manner, or allow them to stigmatise him, decides to lock horns with the evil itself.

Closer home, Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign against injustice and the momentous role he played in the history of India was triggered by a small incident, when he was thrown off a train in South Africa. Humiliated and smarting from the injustice and racial slur, Gandhi decided to fight injustice, later hailing this incident as his “moment of truth“. The trigger that led Kalidasa to becoming the greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist was skrit poet and dramatist was the scorn of his wife, Princess Vidyottama, for his ignorance and passion for her. When in 1871, noted Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata was denied entry into the all-whites Watson Hotel in Mumbai, he built the Taj Mahal Hotel down the same road.

The ability to take on negativity and turn it to a positive learning, to be able to look at little positives and use them to spur you on to greater goodness, and to observe everyday phenomena and find deeper, scientific or spiritual meanings in them ­ this is the stuff greatness is made of.

What are your everyday triggers? Are you noticing and reflecting upon how to turn these into your Eureka moments, or just sailing alongside, oblivious?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lessons from Auschwitz

Vinita Dawra Nangia

It is important to record the dark periods of history in order to understand all aspects of humanity, lest we forget and repeat mistakes

If you visit Poland, a trip to Auschwitz is a given. Warnings of an emotional onslaught did not bother me; I wanted to explore my own emotions in the face of one of the world’s deadliest mass killing pogroms.

And so it was an anticlimax when walking through Auschwitz felt more like a pilgrimage than a trail of horror, emotion or tears. A fellow tourist echoed my feelings when he said, “I expected Auschwitz to be much bigger, and I thought I would be affected far more than I was.“ He sounded disappointed, almost as if a little more emotional wrenching was in order! Indeed, Aushwitz has the look of a place that has exorcised all its ghosts.

Scrubbed clean and almost antiseptic, the barracks that saw the torture and extermination of more than a million prisoners by Nazis during World War II, 90 percent of them Jews, have been wiped clean of the scent of fear and pain. The super sanitised environ is in sharp contrast with the depraved inhumanity and breach of human rights this site witnessed. But then you come to the rooms that house within large glass cases tufts of hair from the heads of more than a lakh Jewish prisoners, shoes, suitcases marked with their names, baby clothes and baby shoes ­ and the reality of the tragedy hits across the decades. These are the images you carry away with you. Indeed it is important to be able to feel. We wish to feel because we care. We choose to remember this tragedy and be affected by it as part of an unspoken resolve to not let it recur.

This is Dark Tourism ­ the appeal of sites associated with tragedy and inhumanity. Warsaw, with its history of battering at the hands of Germans and Russians, also has museums dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising and the Uprising of the Jews, as do most Western countries to record their dark eras. New York attracts tourists to Ground Zero.

In India, with our culture of blaming it all on destiny, celebration of life and moving on, we have a singular lack of sites that record the dark aspects of our history. We sorely lack museums that record the track of misery and suffering we repeatedly went through at the hands of invaders ­ museums that could serve as a constant reminder for the need to be sensitised to the possibility of recurrences.

As Prof J Lennon, who coined the term `Dark Tourism’ says in an article in The Telegraph, visiting Dark Tourism sites is a crucial way for us to learn the lessons of the past. He warns that not to record may encourage future generations to forget terrible periods of human history. “Dark Tourism, like our dark history, occupies an important part of our understanding of what it is to be human.“

To not record does not obliterate the fact that the horror did exist and as time goes by, more than an emotional journey, Dark Tourism sites are a journey of intellectual curiosity and a horrific, but necessary, reminder of the cruelty we are capable of. We go there to remind ourselves that this happened, and to sensitise ourselves to the need for preventing such atrocities.

Though we may reject the possibility, can we be so sure history will not repeat itself? The fact is, as historian Laurence Rees says, people don’t change, circumstances do. After all, technology makes it so much easier today to be able to perpetrate atrocities on fellow humans without having to look them in the eye, as you kill. And, then what? It’s too scarily like a video game… Just requires one kinky mind at the helm.

And so, it becomes exceedingly important to remember and empathise ­ else we repeat our dark history. Again, and again! Don’t we, in India?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let’s dance the marital foxtrot

Vinita Dawra Nangia
Step up the effort and manage expectations — whether you are a single looking for a partner, or a couple desiring matrimonial bliss There are those who give up on marriage even before they enter into matrimony, and then there are those who give up on it after a few years of wedded bliss. Both cases are equally sad.

Unable to find a partner and get married, some singles console themselves that they are better off without getting hitched. Having left it too late or set their standards too high, much like a case of sour grapes, they declare that their singlehood is a coveted, chosen status. The truth is that most of us have a small ambit within which we have to choose the partners of our liking. The choice is limited, unless we choose to widen that ambit by stepping out and making an effort to meet people from different walks of life. The more we step out and look, the wider the choice becomes, but there certainly has to be an effort and a determination to succeed. Most singles I know seldom make that effort; all they do is wait for the right person to walk along and ring the bell! In the meanwhile, they keep considering and rejecting those around, or feeling rejected in turn.

However just meeting people isn't enough; your motivation to get married too has to be high in an age when most needs are already met. Social networking sites help stave off loneliness and fulfil a need to communicate and participate, weakening the desire to step up our search for a life partner. Colleagues and friends at work take care of social needs, and most people do not wait till marriage to experience romance and sex. This distracts and delays the agenda of setting up a marital home. Striking a chord takes more time and effort than we are willing to give, and zeroing in and finalising a partner requires more courage than most care to display. And by the time we smell the coffee, it is too late. Seeing possibilities wane, we try to make the best of the situation and console ourselves that we are better off without marriage.

Equally sad is the case of married people, who after a few years of matrimony, drift away from each other and stop making efforts to improve their wedded bliss. They find it easier to give up on each other and start cohabiting, rather than living together. Bitterness seeps in and eats away at the innards, creating deeper rifts till pain and depression take over life. Here again, it is high expectations and low efforts that create the problem. Most people walk into marriage expecting to find a state of readymade permanent bliss. They fail to realise that perfection is not found in marriage, it needs to be worked upon. That is why many arranged marriages have a better chance of survival than love marriages. You enter the first expecting to work on the marriage and build up a relationship, while you walk into the latter expecting nothing but bliss.

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage or a perfect partner. One can have perfect moments or even perfect days in a marriage, and one can discover perfect aspects in the personality of a partner. Most of the time, it's looking out of the window that creates problems. Keeping an exit policy in the marriage contract, as Hollywood stars do, is a sure way to start ending the marriage even before it has begun. No wonder then that each of them has several marriages and kids, but is never settled or happy.

The role of passion and commitment cannot be overstressed in a marriage. Making a success of your marriage has to be a passionate commitment, a top priority. A couple has to be friends and lovers first all through their married years, no matter how old they are. Parenthood should not be allowed to push back this focus. Spending exclusive time together has to be scheduled as a mustdo. In fact, plan not just moments of togetherness, but also loving gestures, words and care; after a time, they become a natural part of life.

Having fun together, being loving and caring and large hearted enough to forgive and care again makes all the difference. Staying balanced in your relationship is of utmost importance. Fighting is normal, but one needs to know where to draw the line so as not to irrevocably hurt the other. We all know when we have overstepped; if you have done so, apologise and make up immediately. When you see your partner in an aggressive and unreasonable mood, learn to step back rather than let fly, and teach your partner to do likewise. Much like the foxtrot, as one advances, the other retreats, while still hanging on lovingly to each other — and that creates the perfect rhythm that the dance of matrimony requires.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why I Love Being a Woman!

Vinita Dawra Nangia

A woman’s greatest kick has to be the ability to balance her sense of power as creator and nurturer with her sheer indulgences as a beautiful creation herself!

The thrill is not just in being a woman, but being a woman in the right century! And in this day and age, there cannot be many women who do not revel in their sheer feminity and absolute power! As we all know, feminity and power, far from being mutually exclusive, are two sides of the same coin. Think Shakti, the divine, feminine creative power! The Power responsible not just for all creation, but the agent of all change as well!

I cannot believe any woman not feeling this great sense of empowerment and well-being that springs from within. The power to create, nurture and heal that is a part of her very being, endows her with unique abilities, positioning her as the centre of all existence and change around her.

When Lord Byron wrote ‘She walks in beauty,’ I’m sure he talked not just of the grace and deport of a woman, but was able to pierce through to her very core, which provides the majestic aura she walks within. To me, every woman who is allowed to grow unfettered, exercising her free will, is bound to walk in beauty!

What is it that a woman enjoys the most about being the fairer sex? I would say her ability to revel in her power, as much as the freedom to indulge her weakness. She is admired for being strong and loved for being frail and helpless; she can rave and rant when crazed with anger, and the next minute melt into a puddle of helpless love. She can enjoy her many moods and feminine aspects without having to abide by adages or the need to be strong all the time. A woman’s intuitive understanding of life and relationships, and her role as the great bonding factor in a family are unique strengths that she does not share with the opposite sex.

The depths of passion in her eyes, the wealth of caring in her heart, the power of resilience, of survival are all qualities a woman enjoys, growing more beautiful and understanding with the years.

As usual, my Facebook friends (I appealed to only women) had interesting insights to share. Each one of them loves being a woman and with one exception, they all want to be reborn female! Madhulika Dash applauds a woman’s “sense of compassion…... and the ability to infuse life into whatever we touch...” Anjali Bhargava says, “The sheer strength a woman has… epitomises the completeness in a being. I revel in the sensuous, intoxicating power of being a woman!” Deepika Sahu wouldn’t trade her world as a woman for anything else – a world “so very full of colors, variety, ability/desire to give without calculating, love, sensuality, tenderness, sensitivity… and of course gorgeous men who make me feel like a queen!”

Pramila Maheshwari quips, “Shiva or Sati? Always the fairer one is the choice -- she is happening, life, creation, nurturing -- all activity is at her end.” Madhu Kamath says, “We are an unprecedented intricate, beautiful and unique piece of creation!!” Harmesh Khanna loves the “fact that we don't have to hide our feelings or keep a stiff upper lip at all times...our ability to keep going in the toughest of times ...of being ourselves, of getting pampered.”

If you need to hear what the stars say, Katrina Kaif loves the fact that she can be “soft and feminine and yet a successful working woman”, Sonam Kapoor loves being a woman because of “the ability to create life.” Marilyn Monroe said, “I don't mind living in a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it.”

A naughty friend says, “Chuck all that, I love the fact that I can get the strongest man down to his knees in a puddle of desire if I set my mind to it! Why would I want to be that man?!”

Why indeed! And to support her, here we have it from the Father of all politicians – wily statesman Chanakya, “The world's biggest power is the youth and beauty of a woman!”

Need we say more?

Why can’t a man be more like a man?

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Who needs whimpering men trying hard to connect to their emotional side? Studies show that men are just as sensitive as women, and they don’t need tears to prove that!

How often have you heard a man say, “I fail to understand, why is everything my fault?” This intimidation, to me, is the reason most men refuse to let their guard down around women! A guy feels he is always under a microscope around a woman, being examined for various flaws! One wrong step; a mismatched outfit; an insensitive word; the slip of an eye or tongue; a delay, or just the wrong facial expression – he can be blamed for anything, any time! Sigh! I do believe sometimes women are rather tough on guys! They intimidate men with their over analysis. Men on the other hand, are becoming more suspicious of women! As women make strides, men become ever more protective of what they consider their domains. The female accusation, “Men are so out of touch with their emotions!” has become almost a macho flag that every man carries proudly, “I’m not good at emotions – what do you expect, I’m a man!” But is that really true? A man may talk less about his emotions, but does that mean he feels any less? True, women are four times more likely to seek counseling than men, but that’s because a woman finds it easier to talk about her problems. She seeks opinions, like-minded discussions, peer advice and then processes the information before deciding what to do. A man’s first instinct, on the other hand, is to go for action. Evolution has geared him for that, and action is the language he speaks and understands better than discussion. His primal hunting instinct urges him to act fast rather than sit around discussing! Maybe for the same evolutionary reason, there is a neurological explanation to why men don’t indulge in dissection of feelings. It’s a scientific fact that the area of the brain that connects the left (rational) and the right (intuitive) hemispheres is larger in women than in men. As a result women can think and feel at the same time, while men need to separate the two activities. A group of Stanford scientists put this to the test by examining through MRI the brain activity of 12 men and 12 women when they were shown some brutal pictures. Nine different areas of the women’s brains showed higher activity, while in the case of men, just two areas were affected! You may imagine this is because men are less sensitive; but that’s not true. Men are just as sensitive as women and feel just as deeply, but they are programmed to react differently to the same feelings. In fact, another research shows that boys had higher levels of stress hormone in their bloodstreams than girls did upon hearing a recording of a baby crying. However a man’s threshold for feeling deep emotion is lower than a woman’s and emotional arousal may end up giving him health problems. Men are more vulnerable than women to health risks at every stage of their lives. If action counts more with men, when a man takes over paying the bills and dealing with the work around the house, what better way to show he cares about your convenience and safety? When he tells you not to slog it in the kitchen, it shows he cares about you even though he may not actually say it. He may not repeat declarations of love, but if he drives you back and forth from work every day without complaining, need he say more? I wonder how many women really appreciate men who are “in touch with their feelings.” Speaking for myself, I would rather not have my guy dissolve in helpless tears; I need him to be strong and action-oriented. Let me hasten to assure all diehard feminists, this is not to say that I am the wilting, helpless types myself! However, I do propagate understanding and appreciating the basic physical and physiological differences between the genders, and attempting to balance them to form a complete circle of power. That would benefit us all far more than harping, a la Professor Higgins, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Or even, why can’t a man be more like a woman!!

What if you walked in beauty?

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Do beautiful environs ensure a beautiful life? It is orderliness rather than scenery that lends beauty to life!

I sometimes wonder what it must feel like to live surrounded by natural beauty…to wake up every morning to Nature’s myriad moods, each more beguiling, more awe-inspiring than the other! What if I woke to the murmur of an ocean and the sight of miles upon miles of aquamarine blue? What if my home was surrounded by folds of undulating emerald meadows, just kissed awake by the rising sun, nightly dewiness still clinging to their cheeks? What if majestic mountain chains surrounded my home, or silent snowflakes fell outside my window? Would I be a different person if I lived surrounded by beauty? If, instead of the chaos and ugly urban structures my eyes rest upon all the time, they were rested by the sight of emerald greens, aquamarine blues, stormy red or heavenly blue skies? If instead of miles upon miles of traffic and angry horns, I saw verdant greens and heard the silence of Nature? Just thinking about it gives me a sense of peace like nothing else! Are people who live in beautiful surroundings actually happier than rest of the world? The world’s happiest countries, according to the 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index, also happen to be some of the world’s most beautiful ones – the Happy 10 being Norway, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands and the US. Is that merely a coincidence? The measures used to arrive at the happiness index of course did not include the beauty of natural environs, depending rather on indicators such as health, wealth and education. But, is there some manner in which natural beauty contributes to the happiness and success of a nation and its people? Or, do people always surrounded by beauty become immune to it after a while? Difficult to imagine, but maybe beauty and silence grate on their nerves as much as the cacophony of hectic cities irritates ours! After all, you could get used to just anything! Says a friend, Manasi who has lived in both beautiful and ugly surroundings during the course of her work, “Beauty of surroundings certainly helps one feel happy, gives confidence and improves self-esteem. But it is order in surroundings that adds to the beauty and happiness. Like law and order for instance? A feeling of safety and well-being. Can a beautiful person also be the happiest? Similarly, can a beautiful town need not be the most livable in every sense of the word!” She is indeed right. Basic amenities, an ordered existence and comforts are important to one’s well-being. You cannot live an entire life just looking at beauty and reflecting! If you are fearful for your safety and that of your dear ones, beauty cannot touch you. If you are struggling to eke out a daily living, your beautiful environs cannot impact you positively. Another friend Jyotirmaya, who now lives in beautiful Sweden, says, “Beautiful countries that are also the happiest have actually harnessed their beauty and maintained it well through human effort! In Sweden people are happy because they have taken care of two things that most bother humans. One is money; the other is burden of society, religion and convention. This is a supremely liberal, though rule-based society. So people are very happy and cheerful always. And no, they are not immune to the beauty that surrounds them. If you grow immune to beauty, it means you have stopped growing emotionally. Just yesterday a colleague was talking about the sensuality of feeling fresh snow under one's feet…” So, while Nature soothes and relaxes, the lesson to be learnt is the orderliness, the pace, the dependability of Nature. It’s not lack of natural surroundings that irritates those bound to urban areas, it’s a lack of orderliness and beauty in our daily lives that has been proven scientifically to restrict our ability to focus, making us irritable, distracted and less productive. You don’t have to necessarily be born in the lap of Nature in order to be happy. Nature can be invoked and cajoled to strike roots wherever, and her lessons implemented anywhere. If it is orderliness, neatness, rule of law and liberation that we miss, why not create it for ourselves in the very place we live? And be naturally happy! Next time I watch Richard Gere pause to look at an aquamarine ocean in a movie, and move on unaffected, I will try not to angrily think he doesn’t deserve to live amongst beautiful surroundings. For, that is where this column started…

Love is indeed blind!

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Romantic love can happen only when you close your eyes to everything, including sometimes, the object of your affection!

Rose-tinted images of happily-ever-after in fairytales and romantic fiction spoil us for the real thing. Pre-conceived notions and expectations ensure disappointment even with the best. So sharply focused are we on expectations that we sometimes fail to objectively evaluate or appreciate reality. So, if you have been brought up on the raging passions and sky-rocketing Big Os of Mills & Boons, or on stories of a Prince Charming who carries girls away on white steeds, your real life romance has fizzled out even before it got a chance to sizzle! However don’t lose heart. This is not to say that love cannot happen. It can and does, but only to those of us who believe in it and make the effort to build it for ourselves. Note, not find love, but to build or create it for yourself! Most make the mistake of looking for that ‘one’ man, or that ‘one’ woman, who is perfect for them. There is no such concept of the one perfect soulmate – there could be any number and so long as they fulfill your basic criteria, all is good. The critical part is recognizing one of those who cross your path and then to fall, or rise, in love. Research has shown that it takes between 90 seconds to 4 minutes to decide if you are attracted to a person. 55 per cent of your decision is influenced by body language, 38 percent through tone and style of speaking, and just 7 per cent is dependent on what is said. Rest is all a matter of intent and application. The one thing to remember is that most of the time you need to close your eyes to build your world of romance. Romance is certainly not going to happen with eyes wide open! Romantic love can happen only when you close your eyes to everything, including sometimes, the object of your affection! For, love and romance is more about convincing yourself than anything else! You can fall in love with someone and choose to remain in love for as long as you like. And so long as the object of your affection doesn’t do something unpalatable to break the illusion, nothing would go wrong till you decide to get bored or move on! Start off with the belief that there can be no one person who is perfect in all respects. We all have our good and bad sides, and one person’s evaluation of you could differ dramatically from another’s, depending on body chemistry and shared experiences. We all know people who are fond of us and others who do not like us. If we choose to focus on the bad side of someone, we are bound to build up negative feelings against the person; however if we choose to ignore the negative for the positive, we will appreciate the same person. The power of imagination is helpful for lovers. Use your imagination to believe you are totally in love with your beloved or spouse. Whip up the passion, feel it, let the rose-tinted glasses fall in place and then turn the love-laden gaze towards your partner. Even if it doesn’t always kick start your hearts into overdrive, it will definitely keep the love going strong! A friend who is a mother of two has this habit of looking adoringly at her husband, giving indulgent smiles and stroking his cheek often. Believe it or not, the man is in a state of constant adoration for his wife! I refuse to believe that in their decade of marriage, they haven’t had problems, or haven’t seen the worst of each other. But they have chosen to focus on what they love and expressing it openly, rather than trying to improve what they don’t like! And it works fabulously for them! Most marriages that last are those where couples have chosen to reaffirm their love by giving positive strokes to each other and have built up spaces and activities where they can share togetherness. Leading researcher on love psychology, Ellen Berscheid, talks of how new lovers magnify each others’ virtues and explain away flaws. It doesn’t need rocket science to explain that continuing to do so would ensure lasting love; indeed, love needs to be blind! And to prove that falling in love is quite easy, New York psychologist Professor Arthur Arun asked subjects to find a complete stranger, share intimate details for half an hour and then stare deeply into each other’s eyes for four minutes. This resulted in most of his subjects feeling a deep attraction for each other. Reportedly two of the couples even got married later! Next Week – How To Fall in Love