Seeing the World as a Parent


“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” 

― Debra Ginsberg


It’s been over a year since I’ve paid any attention to my blog. It’s been a momentous year and a half. If I thought my pregnancy was eventful with the Graves’ Disease diagnosis, the last stretch was even more so.

The past year has been the tough. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, filled with love and tears, good times, great times, bad times, miserable times. If child birth and breastfeeding was painful, the post-partum depression broke me. As I fought to keep my grasp on who I am in my changing life, I have watched the world around me crumble and tear itself apart. Bomb blasts, killings, war, violence, I have had to stop watching the news for a while. My already fragile self found it hard to handle all that hatred. I could not bear to see more people suffer. But watching children die has been the worst. Little sparks snuffed out even before they could blaze. And every time, I find myself asking, “Why God, why does it always have to be the children? Why bring those pure souls into this world just to make them suffer the most?” I’m not a religious person. My idea of God is simple: Love for fellow beings. But prayer has been my refuge in times of despair. And how can I not? I have become acutely aware of every parent’s worst nightmare, losing their child.

Image of a parent holding the hand of a child
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Continue reading “Seeing the World as a Parent”

The Last Stretch


“I don’t remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.”

Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year


Just as Week 35 of my pregnancy began, I woke up that weekend to an attack of  horrible itchy rash on my pregnant body. The angry rash spread all over without mercy. I went to my doctor during the week, who put me on antihistamine and ordered some blood tests. When I asked her about relief from the itching, she said perhaps I could try cold water or ice? She sent me home with an appointment to see her the next week.

Those two weeks were the worst thing I have experienced. I couldn’t sleep, because I would wake up in the middle of the night to terrible itching, and sit for hours with ice packs over my raw skin, because nothing else helped. The antihistamine did not work, even though it came to a point where I was taking three tablets a day. I tried aloe vera gel, oatmeal baths, oatmeal paste, none of which worked for beyond a couple of hours. I’ve never missed calamine lotion more in my life. In the summer, I was cold and shivering most of the time, from ice packs and cold showers. This went on for about ten days till I found myself sitting on my couch one morning, applying another ice pack and crying. If I couldn’t deal with this, how was I going to deal with labour and motherhood?

The finishing line
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Continue reading “The Last Stretch”

The Way We Look


“Look upon the world with loving eyes and the reflection everyone sees will contain love.” 

― Bryant McGill


A: Yes, I went to their house to meet her.

B: Did you see her children?

A: It was late by the time I got to their house. So only the oldest one was awake. The youngest is just 3 months old.

B: Now that she has three children, is she fat?

I interrupted in an exasperated tone, ‘How does that even matter? She’s just had a child!’

Later that evening, as I kept playing that conversation in my head, it hit me: it’s things like these that make even a five-year-old child have body image issues.

A meerkat crowned for its looks by fellow meerkat judges, leaving out other animals
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Why?

Because when we define a woman by the way she looks, when we use words like “fat”, “too thin”, “sexy eyes”, “big nose”, “chunky thighs”, “ugly”, “big boobs”, “pretty”,  we are reducing her entire existence to be the sum total of her body parts, labelling each, as if she’s a specimen to be dissected. We are telling her that it doesn’t matter if she’s brilliant, smart and intelligent, it doesn’t matter if she’s talented, if she has a successful career she loves, if she’s kind and generous, it doesn’t even matter if she’s a good human being, because her one sole purpose in life is to fall within the purview of what others consider to be “beautiful”. And let’s be clear here, it’s physical beauty we are after. Whoever cares about what’s on the inside? The heart and the mind are just organs to keep us alive, right?

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To My Unborn Child


“Now may every living thing, young or old,

weak or strong, living near or far, known or

unknown, living or departed or yet unborn,

may every living thing be full of bliss.” 

― AnonymousThe Dhammapada


A pregnant woman with her hand over her belly and a butterfly on her hand
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To my little boy

Yet to be born

I do not care if you get my eyes

Nose, ears, or curly hair

You have lived in me

A part of me

My son

We will forever be bound together

The only thing I wish for you

What I hope you will do

Be a better man my son

Than what the world expects you to be

It sets the bar oh so low

For a boy to become a man

As if

That’s all a man can be

But you my child

Are a butterfly in the making

Spreading your wings in the cocoon I weave

Be everything you wish to be

You my darling son

Are born to a man

Who will show you how to be patient and kind

You are born to a woman

Who will do her best to teach you

That doing right is worth doing

You might hear ridicule

That’s what the world does

To souls that do not melt into the crowd

To the lion-hearted who stand apart

I’d rather you be different my son

Than be the man the world expects you to be

5 Stressful Things To Avoid While Pregnant


“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” 

― David Mamet


A stressed woman holding a cup with red frown
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1. House hunting in Oslo

It all started with an innocuous little idea of wanting more space when the baby comes. Much as I did not enjoy the idea of having to, once again, in little over a year, shove all my belongings into boxes and move them one by one to another place, which will be my baby’s first home, this should’ve been easy and simple, right? Turns out not so much, not when you live in Oslo.

The rental market in Oslo is awful, and I’m sure I’m putting it mildly. C’mon Oslo, I was willing to put you on the top of my list of favourite places. I was willing to dethrone North Wales for you. Okay, we both know the probability of that happening is rather slim. But still,  you can’t give me a home without putting me through the wringer? You are beautiful and lovely, but when it comes to renting flats, you have a lot to learn from London.

And for god’s sake, when you have so much space, trust me you do, put a second bathroom in your flats and houses already. Don’t look at me as though I’m fussy. I’m not. Oh yes, everything is expensive here. But I want value for my money, and good quality doesn’t have to cost a limb and a leg. And give me a break, will you? I’m trying to have a baby here.

Continue reading “5 Stressful Things To Avoid While Pregnant”

13th Week of Pregnancy – Graves to Hello


“You are the closest I will ever come to magic.” 

― Suzanne Finnamore


image of a baby's hand on its parents' hands
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Tuesday

When I went to the GP for the first time after I found out I’m pregnant, she did some blood tests. The results showed that I might have a problem with my thyroid. So she referred me to an Endocrinologist, who ordered another round of complete blood work. They took so many blood samples, when they were done and they placed all the tubes with my blood on a holder, it looked like a Ferris wheel! I went to see the Endocrinologist on Tuesday to get the results.

She walked me through it and she was clear about the diagnosis: I have Graves’ Disease.

Continue reading “13th Week of Pregnancy – Graves to Hello”

How Do You Tell People You Are Pregnant?


“The world was full of dangers now that she was pregnant: mercury in tuna, hot tubs, beer, secondhand smoke, over-the-counter medicine. Not to mention crazy baby-abducting fairy kings.” 

– Jennifer McMahon


Little toys in a crib
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Thirteen has always been a lucky number for me. It feels strange to say that because I don’t believe in lucky things or numbers. On 13th December 2014, I was far away from Oslo at my parents’ house. That morning, I decided to pee on a stick. It came out positive. I peed on one more stick, you know, just to be sure. That turned positive as well. I calmly walked up to my mum in the kitchen and told her I might be pregnant and I need to do a blood test to be sure. My mum told my dad who wanted to call the whole world that very moment. Fortunately, she talked him out of it.

I had travelled thousands of miles to my parents’ house so I could see my one-year old niece for the first time since she came into this world. My brother asked what was going on. I told him that the sticks I peed on say that I’m pregnant. He told my sister-in-law. We had a hug fest.

The person I wanted to tell first, the person I wanted to share the joyous news with the most, was the one person who wasn’t around. My husband. K was traveling that very day from Oslo to join me. Now you don’t tell a man over the phone that he’s about to become a father, do you? No, seriously, I asked that question. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was. Do I call him? Do I wait till I see him? It seems wrong to tell him over the phone doesn’t it? But how can he be the person who doesn’t know? After a lot of back and forth, and with a little encouragement from my sister-in-law, I called him. He was just about to board the plane from Oslo airport. He sounded excited to hear it. He said he was happy about it. I asked him later what he thought about during the almost 12-hour journey. Did he ponder over impending fatherhood? He is yet to give me a proper answer!

Continue reading “How Do You Tell People You Are Pregnant?”

Why are We Afraid to Fail


“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

― Maya Angelou


When I was in my early 20s, I made a list of things I wanted to do in life, sort of a bucket list. Right at the top of that list were two things I wanted to try at least once in my life – bungee jumping and sky diving. I wrote the list, put it away and didn’t really think too much about it, until recently.

This summer, my cousins visited me in Oslo. One of things we thought might be fun to try was the Oslo Summer Park. It’s a climbing park where you walk on ropes between tree tops at varying heights, following set routes. Some of the routes also include zip wires. You get some basic training before you get to try out the actual courses in the Park. So at the training level, I climbed up a short rope ladder to a wooden platform. I had a harness that secured me to the safety line above. I was a little over five feet above the ground. I stepped onto the rope. The rope shook violently and I froze. I couldn’t take one more step.

 

Image that says Do not fear failure
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Why Bother Writing


“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”

– Anaïs Nin


Four weeks back, I  realised something bothered me about my blog. I didn’t quite know what it was. So when I came across Jeff Goins’ free Intentional Blogging Challenge for 21 days on Facebook, I jumped at it. Each day he posted a blogging exercise that I needed to do. I’ll admit it was a struggle. It made me re-think my blog and I had to stop blogging to figure things out. During this Challenge, I learned about many things I hadn’t even considered before I started blogging. It helped me be more honest with myself. I’ll also admit that there are a few things I still need to work on. But I’m back and so are my posts.

The challenge started with rewriting my About page. So do have a look and feel free to leave your comments.

One of the challenges was to post a blog that shares the story behind my blog, why I started writing, why I feel I have to write and what I hope to achieve through it. That’s what this post is about.

Image of a girl holding a notebook
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How it started

It all started with a story. I make my own animations, but I was too impatient to get the story out of my head and writing seemed like the shortest way to get it out. Just goes to prove how little I knew back then. Now, if that was the only reason why I started writing, I would have written the story and moved on, and never thought about writing again. However, once I opened the flood gates, it was too late to stop the flow. Thank God, because I’m rather sure if not for that, if I didn’t write, two things would have happened: 1) I would have gone mental with the thoughts swirling in my head, 2) I would have never found my true calling in life.

The Journey

It feels strange to write those words. No, not the going crazy part, I always had an inkling that I was wee bit crazy, which I think adds to the charm :). I’m referring to the finding-my-true-calling part. Those are not words I would usually use. For a long time, I was the kind of person who knew exactly how my life was supposed to turn out, who had to stay in control of things – life, career, emotions, people. Somehow I had concluded that being in control would remove all uncertainties from my life. After years of struggle and some hard lessons learnt, I can tell you that there’s one thing I’m certain of: Uncertainty, though scary, is a good thing. Taking a leap of faith in life teaches you things that’s both exhilarating and enlightening. It not only opens your mind, but also your heart.

Continue reading “Why Bother Writing”

Cure For A Cloudy Day

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”

 ― Rabindranath Tagore

Ever felt like your day was beginning to look like an overcast autumn day? You know, the kind of day that makes you remember the time someone told you that humans eat eight spiders on an average every year and you wonder if you have had your year’s share that morning because your head is so full of cobwebs that every time you move your head it feels as if your brain is bouncing off stringy webs like an excited kid on a trampoline? Well, yesterday turned out to be one of those days. I was beginning to imagine the taste of that last spider in my mouth and trust me, you don’t want to try it.

I sat down to write and I could feel my brain struggling against the cobwebs. I wrote a few lines. I stopped. I read what I wrote and stopped. So essentially, I was stuck in a write-stop-read-stop-repeat cycle. Why is my tone all whiny? Well, the number of hours spent writing a few lines is inversely proportional to the irritating pitch that can only come from griping. As the day went by, I realised I had to find a cure. And I’m happy to report that I did.

So if you are in a similar rut, here’s what I did. Mind you, if this doesn’t work for you,  you should probably never come to Oslo. It wouldn’t do you any good, really.

I picked up my camera, a Nikon D3000, and walked through the streets of Oslo to capture the autumn colours. The chilly air nipped at my fingers. I walked along the coast, the water a murky grey with the wind sending ripples through it. I had no set route to follow, my head was too cloudy to undertake such planning. I just started taking pictures.

I could recite all the shades of green, yellow, red, and brown, but I’m not sure that would cover the colour riot I witnessed. Dry leaves littered every surface. The golden yellows, ochres, maroons, fading greens, they danced on the remaining rich green grass and the concrete pavements with equal joy, unfettered by where they were, untouched by the bleakness in the sky. A distant hill covered with trees, stood in stoic silence amid the grey water. It threw every shade of colour it could at me. As the slope rose towards the sky, its expanse seemed to heave with the vibrancy that only an autumn day can produce. That distant hill seemed keen to cheer-up the sky, as if goading the sun to steer clear of the clouds and show its bright face.  Another hill, much closer, loomed behind the white Opera House. The brilliance of the orange, yellow and apple green rendered even the the old houses with red roofs dull in comparison.

Image of autumn colours at Ekeberg
Looking up at Ekeberg
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of a hill with autumn colours
Look at those colours!
© 2014 Srividya K

I caught the last of the summer colours in scarlet flowers drooping from green leaves, purple flowers sticking out of nondescript flower pots, baby pink flowers blooming from dark vases high up on building walls, proof of summer’s defiance of making way for autumn. I looked up, and under the canopy of bright greens and yellows, I could barely see the grey sky beyond. Streets with mundane traffic looked as if someone had scrubbed it clean because all my eyes could see were the trees, sticking out their radiant branches as if they want to give everyone on the road a big, warm hug.

Image of a road lined with trees in autumn colours
What a cheerful road 🙂
© 2014 Srividya K

As I walked, I ended up in the grounds around Akershus Fortress. The last time I visited it, not too long ago, it was the poster child for summer. But now, it had switched its allegiance. Rows of towering trees rolled on as I walked through the grounds. One of the high walls in the Fortress was covered with crimson leaves. Between the lush grass peaking out of dry brown and yellow leaves, and the ancient grey stone walls behind, the wall of red seemed like autumn was flaunting.

Bright autumn colours at the Akershus Fortress
Autumn flaunts!
© 2014 Srividya K

As I headed back home, I came across these berry plants tucked away from the road.

Image of pink berries among purple and white flowers
Wish I knew something about these berries …
© 2014 Srividya K

I have no idea what they are, or if they are edible. But their medley of purple, white and green made me smile. And I realised, with each photo, a string of that maze of cobwebs in my head had come undone. The webs became wisps and melted away among the colours around me.

So the next time you have a cloudy day, take a walk among nature and irrespective of how the weather is outside, you will find the sun shining within you. It is that little ball of fire within each of us that makes us feel like a glowing star and that’s the sun that really matters. Because that sun can keep us going even in the harshest of winters. And everyone I meet these days keeps telling me “Winter’s coming”. So go out and stock up on your inner sun and kick those cloudy days goodbye.

What’s your cure for a cloudy day? Share in the comments.

Don’t Worry, Just Write

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” 

― Joss Whedon

The past couple of weeks, I haven’t been regular with my blog posts. This got me thinking. Because I’ve done this before – started writing a blog with enthusiasm, slowed down as days went by, and eventually I gave up on it. So perhaps I’m heading the same way again? That thought had me concerned.

Image of a man sitting on a bench as he writes
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The truth is I’ve been working on a story, a book that’s leading me into fascinating and unexplored territories, in my writing and in my life. And it’s taking up a lot of my time. This is probably the first time that I’ve ever mentioned writing a book in public. Except for a few people, no one knew about it. No, it’s not some secret mission. I’m taking it seriously now and it makes sense to tell people about it. As I’m juggling my time between a number of writing projects, I wanted to tackle the slack in my blogging by reminding myself why I began writing in the first place. And it turns out, it all began with worrying … a lot.

I used to worry about my career, about my life, about where I’m going in life. I love jigsaw puzzles. It’s thrilling to figure out how the pieces fit together. But in my life, when I couldn’t find a piece or I didn’t know how the pieces fit together, I would worry. My eyebrows would furrow and I would squint at the pieces with everything I had to find some connection, and I would worry. My imagination, though extremely helpful while writing, would take flight unbound, and I would worry. The result: a muddled mind filled with uncertainty. And I waited almost in a limbo to be sure, for things to be clear. When that didn’t happen, what did I do? I worried.

That’s when I started writing. I don’t know why, but that just seemed like what I needed to do. I wrote and pages filled up. Perhaps my imagination was preoccupied with writing, but clarity that I sought found its way into my life. So I wrote more. My writing improved. Strangely enough, I stopped worrying. I was happiest when I wrote. The words that appeared on the screen were like the magic wand that cleared the clutter in my head – I could finally label things. From a sense of feeling emotionally retarded, I could express what I felt with my writing. I had to write, for my own sanity. Writing became my catharsis and I know it’s going to remain so for the rest of my life.

Writing has brought me so much joy, I wanted to share it by blogging. The more I read why people write, I realised, I was not alone in using writing to face my fears and doubts. That’s how I found the courage to share my writing with the world. I didn’t know if anyone would want to read it. But once you have taken the leap of faith with writing, you want to jump as high and as far as possible.

I read this brilliant article on the benefits of keeping a journal, where writer Susan Sontag says, “Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts—like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.”

If you are unconvinced by the astute writers in that article, let me tell you, science agrees with them. According to a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, the researchers found that writing regularly can improve your health. The article, Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write, highlights several other studies which have found that writing helps people evaluate their lives and get through traumatic events, thereby reducing stress. In fact, one study suggests that blogging might have the same effect as running or listening to music by releasing dopamine in our body.

So here’s what I’ve learnt – don’t worry, just write. You don’t have to necessarily open your heart to the world. You can share as much as you are comfortable sharing. If you don’t want to share, that’s fine as well. It doesn’t have to be a blog or a book or even a story. It can be a journal, your observations or thoughts, or just a series of events that happened to you. But trust me on this, you want to write. You may or may not find that book in you, but I promise you, you will find yourself. You will be surprised, you might be puzzled. But if you keep at it, you will be amazed by the insights you gain, about your life and the world we live in.

In a world addicted to instant gratification, writing gives you a few precious moments to pause and think, to figure things out for yourself, so you are not blindly swept away by the ever changing trends and what’s “in”.

The beauty of writing is that it forces you to stay in the present, to live in the moment. Try as you might to dwell in the past or project into the future, you have to be here, in this moment, to write your thoughts down. In that moment of solitude, you are free, to see what’s important, to feel what you want to rather than what you think you should. You are free to be who you are, instead of all that you thought you should be. You find connections that you didn’t know existed, the common threads that bind our universe together. When you connect the dots, make sense of things in life that seemed meaningless, that appeared to serve no purpose, it’s a rush you are better off experiencing yourself. A word of advice, that leap of faith I mentioned earlier, you have to want to take it. You must be willing to launch yourself from solid ground into the unknown. When I started writing, I had to let go of many preconceived ideas I had about myself and my life. It was not easy. But it was necessary and it took me a while to see that. So take the leap, open your mind and jump into the unknown. Just … write.

How has writing helped you? Why do you write? Do you want to write but don’t know where to begin? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

Let’s Take Responsibility For That

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.” 

― Anaïs Nin

Image of a child holding a globe
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How did we get here

Become a society where

We know what we do is wrong

We do it anyway

We think that’s okay

As long as we don’t get caught

We complain of the watching Big Brother

Yet, we behave as if

Being watched is the only thing that

Keeps most us in check

 

Or we do the watching

Drawing some perverse pleasure in

Using others’ suffering

To feed our agenda

Make our point

Everything becomes about

“Just me and what I want to say”

Forgetting others’ troubles and pain

Trying to understand is too much effort?

 

The blame game

We’ve learnt to play so well

We shrug and claim

I didn’t do it

We point fingers at

The government

The media

Even our corner shop grocer

Everyone but ourselves

How do any of them exist

Without our support?

I’m looking at the (hu)man in the mirror, sang Michael

It’s up to us to make a change

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

We fight over

Causes misunderstood

We standby and watch

Starving children

Tiny palms scoop up diseased water

The only thing to keep them alive

Education a distant dream

Staying alive takes all their energy

When we don’t speak up

When we ignore and turn away

A conscious choice we make

To deny their fundamental right to live

With freedom, without fear

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

We hide behind glowing screens

Take false courage from being unseen

We hurl cruel words at each other

We think we don’t know them

Why care for the feelings of strangers

But not for a moment do our thoughts go

To the lives we burn

The irreparable damage we cause to bright young lives

Is consideration such a rare thing today

That we must remind ourselves

To be just a little human each day

When we post derogatory words

Threaten people for thinking different from us

A conscious choice we make

To spread prejudice

To pump more strife into our troubled world

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

A woman is abused

We hear in the news

We question her character

We judge her views

A woman is raped

We ask what she wore

Where was she when it happened

Wonder if it was her fault

We say we live in the 21st century

Yet our attitudes towards women are

Conflicted at best

Goddesses to be worshipped

Mindless virgins to be protected

Sluts to be slammed

Is any middle ground so difficult to imagine

When we get on our high horses

And victimise the victim

A conscious choice we make

To allow the aggressor

A free rein to continue his abuse

When he disrespects and objectifies women

We pat his back and say “we approve”

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

A loved one steals

A friend commits fraud

To buy a second or third house in an exotic locale

We say we aren’t committing the crime

Why not reap the benefits of someone else’s “daring deed”

We think we beat the system

We smile in smug  satisfaction

We ignore the people we harm

We deprived someone of their hard earned pension

A heart-broken father lost all his money overnight

He cannot afford to send his child to college

A single mother whose investments have disappeared

She doesn’t know how to keep a roof over her children’s heads

When we turn a blind eye

A conscious choice we make

To be as guilty and involved as the getaway car

To take from the innocent and feed the greedy rich

To let their “system”  make you the Grinch

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

The propaganda our governments feed

Killing thousands of innocent people in another country

They justify it with

We are better

We are bigger

We are threatened

And everything else under the sun

When we do not pause to think it through

Use our smart brains to know the truths

When we blindly accept what we are fed

Fill our heads with false pride and so called national interest

When we do not question their motives

Let them abuse power for their selfish dreams

A conscious choice we make

To let those power hungry people

Put human beings in a cage

Commit genocide and mass murder

And show the world a concocted image

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

When we make assumptions

We react with fear or contempt

All we see are

Gender,

Colour of skin,

Economic status, and

Faith

A conscious choice we make

To spread hate

To embrace the dark and shun the light

To not dig deeper for our true loving Self

Let’s take responsibility for that

 

When someone questions what we do

We say “They are doing it too”

Is that all it takes

To make us forget what we know to be true

Why the need to ape

Why bother about what others do and say

We cannot control how they see us

Let’s just  focus on what we do

What matters is the choices WE make

Let’s take responsibility for that.

— Srividya K

 

What do you think? Are we being responsible enough? How can we change things?  Share in the Comments.

One morning in Bergen

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

 

Bergen – The city of colours, the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway

As part of our trip to see Sognefjord, after we cruised through its scenic waters from Flåm to Bergen, we had one morning to explore Bergen, a UNESCO World Heritage City. You can read all about my Sognefjord trip here: To Sognefjord and back – Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea LevelPart 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana, and Part 3 – Through the Waters of Sognefjord and Back

What do you do when you have just one morning to spend in a city like Bergen? Simple, you walk around, stroll through its streets filled with history and colour, and soak it all up as much as you can. And that’s what we did. We stayed the night at the Grand Terminus Hotel, which is right next to the Bergen Railway Station. That proved convenient when we needed to leave our bags at the hotel and collect it before we caught our train to Oslo the next afternoon.

History

Bergen was founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre. Thanks to its harbour, it soon became a centre for commerce. In 1360 , it attracted the attention of the Hansas, the German medieval guild of merchants, who built their import and export offices on the wharf called Bryggen, the iconic wharf in Bergen. The rows of coloured wooden buildings with ancient gables facing the picturesque harbour are probably the most familiar attraction in the city. Though devastated by several fires, especially the Great Fire of 1702, which burned down the entire city, Bryggen was rebuilt on the original foundations and entered UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

Travel to Bergen

Here are some links to help you plan your trip to Bergen:

http://www.visitbergen.com/en/

http://www.bergen-guide.com/73.htm

http://www.visitnorway.com/uk/where-to-go-uk/fjord-norway/bergen/what-to-do-in-bergen/attractions-in-bergen/

Exploring Bergen

What many tourists may not know till they walk through the streets of Bergen is that colours, on murals, on buildings, and on flowers, embrace you at every turn. We saw some beautiful street art and art displays as we walked down from the hotel into the heart of the city. Shades of ultramarine blue, crimson, chrome yellow, fuchsia pink, purple, and orange, depict a different story on every wall. We even found a house with shoes stuck all over its exterior wall.

Image of a mural in Bergen
These are the happy blues!
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of a woman holding a cat
Oh, I see the lines of your life
© 2014 Srividya K
Mural of bird and flowers in Bergen
You keep strange company, birdie
© 2014 Srividya K
Mural of a flower in Bergen
Soaking up the sun, are we?
© 2014 Srividya K
Mural of people and things in Bergen
There’s a mural Star Wars going on here
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of a wall with shoes on them
The places people’s feet have been to!
© 2014 Srividya K

 

The bright colours gave the whole city a freshly washed look. We walked through a local market selling all things touristy. The prices though, were typically Norwegian (read expensive). As we had just a few hours to spare, we wanted to make the best use of it by taking the Fløibanen, the funicular railway that takes you to the top of Mount Fløyen in just eight minutes.

We caught the funicular at the city centre, not too far from Bryggen. As we stood in the queue to get out tickets and waited for our ride to come back from the mountain top, the dark surroundings made me feel as if we were in a cave and were waiting to be transported through tunnels to some far off place. The ride on the funicular was interesting, the compartment going up and down at an incline. But as it left the dark dungeon-like station behind, it opened up to breath-taking views of the city. By the time I knew where to look, we had reached the top. We streamed out into a viewing area overlooking the entire city. At around 320 metres above sea level, we could see every little detail of the city – the harbour, the fjords around the city, roads, the green oxidised copper spire of the cathedral we had just walked past on our way to the funicular, sea green lake in the heart of the city with a little fountain in the middle – and the spectacular cityscape gave up all its secrets with dignity and pride. The slender arms of Bergen stretched into the sea, creating strips of colour, the teal of the sea mingling with the lively hues of the city.

Image of view of Bergen harbour from Mount Fløyen
View of Bergen harbour from Mount Fløyen
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of view of Bergen cityscape from Mount Fløyen
View of Bergen cityscape from Mount Fløyen
© 2014 Srividya K

 

After a photo frenzy (obviously!), from every possible angle at the viewing area, we moved on to the exploring the nature trails nearby.

If the 360 degree views of the city were magnificent, the nature around the mountain top was out of a fairy tale. The green grass, trees and bushes were so vibrant, it was as if someone had just painted them onto the mountain surface. Thin gurgling streams were on their merry way under adorable little wooden bridges. Stone sculptures and interesting displays entertained us on our trail.

Image of a board on a tree which says "Don't insult the witch"
You heard them, don’t you dare!
© 2014 Srividya K

As we walked further into the forest around us, among tall trees, stony paths, fallen logs and cascading moss, I could see why the legend of trolls became so popular in the north. Nature and time seem to have sculpted the rocks into clear shapes and with the mossy grass tumbling down them like windswept hair, it’s easy to mistake them for trolls. I was so lost in its magic, I almost hoped I would see a pair of eyes peeking out at me from underneath some rock and I would quickly snap a picture before it vanished behind a tree to hide from prying eyes. Well, that didn’t happen and I had to settle for befriending a troll statue instead!

 

Image of a troll statue
I made a troll pal 🙂
©2014 Srividya K

We had to part ways with Mount Fløyen, thanks to the ticking clock reminding us of the train we needed to catch. We took the funicular back to ground level and took a leisurely walk one last time through the flower-filled streets of Bergen. We had lunch, collected our bags and got to the station just in time to find our train waiting to take us back to Oslo.

I will end this post with two displays I saw in Bergen. This one is from a shop display on one of its streets:

Image of a t-shirt on a shop window
Are you sure you want to be caught wearing this when the dolphin army comes?
© 2014 Srividya K

This sheer contempt for nature and other living beings, despite the city being steeped in nature, is just sad.

However, something I found on one of Bergen’s walls sums up the feeling I left with from this beautiful city:

Image of lights on a wall that says "There are a lot of good people around"
This is the Norway I’ve come to know
© 2014 Srividya K

Why We Need To Understand Our History

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” 

― George Orwell

On Friday, 15th August, India celebrated her 67th year of independence. Indians all over the world took pride in this day. But there was an article in a local magazine about the descendants of Indian freedom fighters. Most are struggling to keep the memories of their ancestors alive, as the sacrifices of those freedom fighters and their contribution to the struggle for freedom has been tucked into the obscure folds of history, their names long forgotten, their lives and acts of courage rendered invisible.

This freedom came at a huge price. Thousands of people, men, women, and children, sacrificed their lives so their country could be free, so that the generations that followed could live in a free country that has its own identity and enjoy freedom and rights that the freedom fighters could only dream about. They did not sacrifice their lives for fame or glory. But remembering them is the least we can do to honour their lives. Keeping their ideologies in our collective consciousness is essential to make their vision for the country become a reality. But how do you understand ideologies that are never mentioned in the history books? Journalist Shivnath Jha wrote a book that recorded the lives of 200 freedom fighters and their descendants. He said that while researching for his book, he interacted with schoolchildren in India and asked them about some of the relatively well known freedom fighters. The children were quick to reply that they are characters that certain famous actors played in films!

I’m not a history expert, but I’ve been trying hard to remember my history lessons from school. I remember reading about the freedom movement in India, about freedom movements in the world, about world wars and civil movements. But I could not remember beyond a few names and events. Few prominent people, whose entire life is summed up in a single grand event that changed humanity for good or bad. Even the people who do find mention in history books are limited to their association with an event or an incident in the past. Their individual lives, their thoughts, their ideas are never really understood. When I tried to remember the events, I realised their descriptions were limited to a few dates and a sequence of happenings. So we end up with single stories, and the various facets of those individuals and their cultural impact remains buried in time. If you think back to all the history you’ve learnt in school, you’ll probably realise as well, that our understanding of history is so myopic, we have no idea how we or our world came to be where it is today.

Image of a clock with faces
Photo Credit: Vincent_AF via Compfight cc

Our history education in school gives no cultural context to the events that are listed as a mere series of dates. Dates and events are meaningless and impersonal when you don’t understand how it has affected the society, both then and now, how it has formed the views that people hold today, how entire civilisations and cultures were shaped by the decisions made, especially when those decisions were made by the few in power.

The history we learn in school glosses over collective trauma. Our view of our past and present is based on our limited knowledge of our history. The traumas that nations and people have gone through are never put under a magnifying glass, because a closer look may reveal darker moments of humanity and will force us to look at our history in all its shades of grey, instead of the reassuring view in black and white. In his essay, These Men Must be Monsters, history teacher and researcher Alexander McGregor describes it well.

“The problem now is that we have created a binary paradigm wherein the past must be squeezed into our all-prevailing Good versus Evil worldview. History becomes myth. But fighting an enemy that is evil does not make you good. That someone acts monstrously does not make him or her less human.”

In his article, McGregor gives examples from history and sheds light on how cultural context would change our perspective on those events and on history in general — certainly worth a read.

What about the role of women in history? Why is history about the “brave men who fought wars”, “the great leaders who rallied those brave men towards freedom”? When the cultural references to role of women in history comes in the form of Game of Thrones, where women being treated like objects and being raped does not even raise an eyebrow, how do we create a current view that sees women for the much bigger role they have played in history?

Of course, some will argue that those interested in such details can pursue higher education in history and study it in detail at college or university level. The problem is that by then history has already lost the interest of intelligent young minds in schools who have no idea how their society has come to be the way they see it. When they don’t understand how it came to be, how are they supposed to participate and contribute to it? Why should they care about wars fought way before their time? How are they supposed to appreciate the value of freedom and rights, when they already have it and don’t know who and what made it available to them? How are they supposed to connect with people who are still fighting for those rights and for freedom?

Isn’t it strange that our school education doesn’t give us enough in-depth knowledge of the cultures and societies of the world so we can form a complete worldview? Imagine if we really had a deeper understanding of history, of how our world was formed, of what actions in the past have led to the conflicts we see in our world today, would we so easily succumb to the truth-twisting tactics of the politicians, or the one-sided stories revealed by the media? Would we be so afraid of our own world, of our neighbours, of our fellow beings, who, just like us, have been victims of historical ignorance? Because if we understood our history, we would appreciate the story of the person who opposes our worldview, we would recognise why and how we both came to be here in this moment in the collective history of humanity. We would realise that both our stories are not about who wins or loses. Such knowledge brings the desire to fix the problems, to go deeper to the roots of issues and difference, instead of merely treating the symptoms, and develops tolerance and compassion. Understanding our history brings solutions instead of knee-jerk reactions that exacerbate historical differences. It’s time we make an effort to understand out history. As Ray Brandbury says,

“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.” 

11 Lessons About Writing I Wish I Had Learnt Sooner

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

– Sylvia Plath

 

 

Image of a pen on an open dairy
Photo Credit: Olivander via Compfight cc

 

I was speaking to another writer and I realised how much we writers deal with doubt. But as I talked to her, I found that I have learnt some valuable lessons since I started writing, lessons I wish someone had shared with me when I first decided to string some words together to tell a story. So I’m sharing some of them in the hope that it will help other writers.

 

1. There’s no perfect time to start

There’s just one way to be a writer: You write. There’s no point waiting for the muse, or sitting at your desk staring dreamily into the future where you see yourself winning the Man Booker Prize, or arranging your writing space till all your pens and pencils are perfectly aligned. If you want to share your words with the world, if you want to be a writer, start now. Make time each day and write. Bum, chair, write. You are welcome to change that sequence to suit your needs.

2. Learn how to tell a story

Whether you are writing a novel, a short story, or a blog, storytelling is an essential skill and it’s a skill that can be learnt. There are a number of books you can read that will give you valuable pointers on what makes a story work and how to write it, such as On Writing by Stephen King, Hooked by Les Edgerton and The Writer’s Journey – Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, which is based on Joseph Campbell’s book, The Writer’s Journey.  If you want inspiration and motivation to write, follow Jeff Goins’ blog, where he generously shares his insights on writing and life.

These are just a few drops in a sea of advice that you can find on writing and storytelling. But remember, these are not strict rules, they are merely guidelines. When you search google maps or any GPS navigation device for routes, it usually gives you a number of route options. Whether you use  one of them or a combination of them, you can still get to your destination. You can be as adventurous as you want to be. It’s the same with writing.

3. Use your imagination

You know how people tell you to “Write what you know”? Well, if everyone wrote only what they know, world would be full of boring books, and the fascinating and thrilling books would all be written by sociopaths and killers. Yes, writing what you know is a good place to start. But don’t stop there. Explore and research. Dig deeper. Find out things you don’t know, little titbits of information can trigger a story. Use your imagination, we writers have been gifted with a vivid imagination. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be writing. Cultivate your imagination. It’s simple really. Take any dull situation and apply ‘What if …?’ to it. Say you are falling asleep at work or at a class in college, what if your boss or teacher turns into a dragon? What if he disappears right in front of your eyes? What if, in the middle of a meeting/class, he can’t remember who he is? Or what if he gets attacked by a ninja, drops down dead and people look to you to go after the ninja? I could go on like this whole day. It’s a lot of fun. But please, do be aware of where you do this and who is around you. You can be Walter Mitty if you want to be, but don’t blame me if you get fired trying to save your grumpy boss from an imaginary ninja.

4. Call yourself a writer

Go on, do it. Say this aloud, ‘I’m a writer’. Say it again. Remember these words. Keep repeating them till you find yourself saying it in your sleep. Remember them when you are full of self-doubts and you think you can’t write. Tell yourself this every morning when you wake up, irrespective of what your day job is, whether or not you believe it. Soon, you’ll believe in yourself and your abilities as a writer. And you will write better because you’ll make the effort to ‘be a writer’. And remember, like Spidey says, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Well, Uncle Ben Parker said that, but Spidey makes it sound so much cooler … at least the way I hear it in my head.

5. Listen to criticism

Find some writers you can trust and ask them to critique your writing. When I say critique, I mean constructive observations intended to improve your writing and story. Bullying or putting some one down is neither constructive nor acceptable. Don’t get defensive when someone tells you something isn’t working in your story. Hear them out. Whether you agree with them or not, that’s completely up to you. But if you turn a deaf ear to criticism, you’ll never learn. Writing requires learning, constant, persistent honing of your craft, like a sculptor chipping away at a chunk of stone to find that masterpiece.

 6. Read a lot and learn

These days when I read a book, I not only enjoy the story, I love figuring out what makes the story work. Things I like and don’t like become learning tools. I think about how I would have told the story and how different it would have been. And I learn from every book. You don’t have to necessarily do this. But read, a lot. As much as you can. One day when you are stuck with a plot in your book, you’ll find a way to fix it by remembering something you read in some book. Our minds have amazing ways of storing things, including books. Use it.

7. Don’t let someone tell you how good a writer you are

Perhaps your English teacher told you that you should never write another word, ever. But you think you’ll be a good writer. You try and churn out some stories. But the face of your old school teacher looms in front of you every time you sit to write. Do you give up? Well, that’s completely up to you. How much effort are you willing to put in and how  badly do you want this? There will always be people who think you can’t do the things you think you can. Don’t do something just to prove them wrong. Do it because that’s the only thing you can see yourself doing, because you are willing to wake up on a cold morning, sit at your computer, and write for the next ten to fifteen years. Write because you have something to say and you need to say it. Learn everything you can about writing, and practice, a lot. Persistence is the key to being a great writer. It’s not enough to want to be a good writer, you have to do your very best to be a great one. Doing the best that you can is the best thing you can do. And don’t ever let anyone tell you how good you are at writing or in life. Only you know how good you can be.

8. Speak to other writers

I made a recent post about why art shouldn’t be lonely pursuit. We writers think we need to sit in our bat-caves to write “good things”.  But we forget that there are people out there, going through similar experiences, facing similar problems and difficulties, people who share our passion for writing and understand the frustrations that come with it. The idea that sharing a problem makes it easier to face applies more than ever to writers. We need to share, that’s fundamental  to who we are and what we do. So reach out and connect with other writers. You’d be surprised how generous your fellow writers can be, how willing they are to share their process or give advice on how to solve that pesky plotting problem you are having. No one expects you jump right in and pour your heart out. Take your time but don’t hide behind your computer, typewriter or notepad. Meet other writers and speak to them. There’s no reason you have to do this alone. And you never know, you might end up getting some amazing ideas or meeting another kindred spirit who could be your writing partner. As a writer, it’s very easy to stay in a cocoon. We need it sometimes to dig deeper into ourselves. But you need to come out at some point. You know what happens to the caterpillar that doesn’t emerge in time from it’s cocoon as a butterfly? It dies – cue in dramatic music.

9. Be generous

As an aspiring writer, your views on sharing can be split into two categories. One, people will steal my ideas. Two, I don’t know anything.

There are a lot of ideas and stories to go around. Even if someone is following a similar idea, there’s only one you. Find your unique voice and no one can take that away from you. That doesn’t mean you prattle on about the brilliant idea you have for a story to anyone and everyone. As a writer, you should know when to talk and when to listen. That skill never grows old and is always useful to have.

Don’t let your insecurity come in the way of sharing what you know. And trust me, you do know something. When you are just starting, your thoughts usually revolve around, “I don’t know anything”, “I don’t want to say something because people will think I’m stupid”, “I don’t want to ask for help because they’ll know I don’t know anything”. Say you are an engineer and another writer is working on a story in which the protagonist is an engineer and she wants to know what that really involves. She would be grateful for the information that you can share with her because you have the real life experience of being an engineer.  So don’t shy away from sharing what you know. And before you start saying something on the lines of “a story about engineers would be so boring”, people probably said that about archaeologists before Indiana Jones.

If you are still afraid someone is going to steal your ideas, write them down and put them in a vault. Don’t forget the combination for it though, or your ideas might never see the light of the day, literally.

10. First drafts are crap

So you’ve written your first draft to that mind-boggling novel or short story. You’ve left it for a few days and now you are ready to sift through it and polish it. You sit down to read it and it hits you, like a truck, full of smelly manure, all tumbling down on you  – every word is crap. What do you do, sit crying and rocking in the shower for hours because you can’t get rid of all that smell? Oh the drama! All that would do is give you a cold, make your bum sore and waste a lot of water. So when you are tempted to do something like this, remember these words: first drafts are almost always crap. And yes, it happens to everybody.

Most people feel this rush seeing their words flow on a page. That’s good. But the real work comes after you have finished it. It takes a lot of editing and rewriting to get a polished story that works. It’s part of the process and you’d have to be daft to skip it. And the fact that you recognise what makes your writing good or bad just proves that you have grown as a writer.

You might have read about writers who spew gems in their very first draft. They are the exception. Yes, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be one of them. But when you are just starting, it pays to learn as much as you can and be humble. In fact, it always pays to be humble, no matter how many books you have sold.

11. Live your life

There are many writers who have spent their life in isolation, crafting literary masterpieces. You could be one of them. But is that really what you want, a life of solitude, without the support of family and friends, without experiencing the beautiful world around you, without having walked on dew-covered grass or soaked yourself in the first rain of the season? The more you live your life, weather the highs and lows of life, the more enriched will your writing be. Travel and see new places whenever you can. It doesn’t have to be expensive trips. You will gain vast life experiences. You will draw inspiration from them and from the people you meet. Since I started writing, odd bits of conversations that I hear inspire me to write. I’ve found story ideas from words I thought I heard someone say. With my imagination, I hear the wildest of things and it has resulted in some fascinating stories.

The added bonus of living a full life is that instead of being a depressed writer leaning towards self-harm, you will be happy and alive to share your writing with people who enjoy reading it 🙂

 

Share your tips on writing in the comments.

Writing For Peace

“We hold our own,

Within fences and walls,

Their only fault,

They walk tall,

When we want them to crawl.”

 

Image of a heart-shaped balloon floating at the end of a road
Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn via Compfight cc

For the past few weeks, I’ve been surrounded by news of violence, past, present and future. The Israel – Palestine conflict in Gaza is escalating with inhuman consequences, while Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last week killing all the 283 passengers on board. Two days back, on July 22, it was the third anniversary of the Breivik terror attack and mass murder here in Norway. And today, I woke up to the news of warnings that Norway might be the target of a terrorist attack in the next few days. There are times I’m not sure how to make sense of all this violence. So I’m writing for peace.

This poem is for all the people who have lost loved ones to violence, who have suffered or are suffering in violent conflicts all over the world. My heart and prayers go out to you.

 

We hide from the dark,

So we hide from the light.

If one is too deep,

The other is too bright.

The perfect world, where is it now?

Look around you,

This one we have, it still has life.

 

Arms we bear,

But what do we fight?

A thin line separates,

Justice from pride.

Right is wrong,

When innocence is lost.

Whatever the cause,

Does every life matter not?

 

Oh, the wretched irony,

Wielding violence for peace.

All that it leaves are,

Shattered lives with hopeless dreams,

Broken bonds buried in bloody memories.

 

Who is to blame,

We ask again and again,

The answer is plain,

Humans kill each other,

We just give it different names.

We hold our own,

Within fences and walls,

Their only fault,

They walk tall,

When we want them to crawl.

 

Divided we are,

By who owns what,

The land we won is already lost,

With rotten flesh and congealed blood it’s clogged.

Blinded by fear, we spew hate,

Like a forest fire burning all in its wake,

We search the skies for the unseen noose,

We shoot down wings just because it moves.

 

How do we soothe,

The hearts that cry?

How do we cope with,

The senseless death of countless lives?

It’s time we face our mistakes in the past,

Make amends for the crimes of our species.

Rip the infected skin of violence,

Cleanse our souls with lasting peace,

Kindness and love,

The balms to heal our wounds,

Perhaps the scars will remain,

But let them be,

They’ll remind us of the truth we lost,

That the weapons’ cure only spreads the disease.

© Srividya K

To Sognefjord and back – Part 3

Story so far: We travelled from Oslo to Myrdal through Finse, the highest station on the Norwegian rail network. From Myrdal, we boarded the Flåmsbana. Read Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea Level. The Flåmsbana took us through the most idyllic scenery that resembled Tolkien’s Rivendell – they even had gelato! And I had to resist the urge to move to Flåm 🙂 Read Part 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana.

Part 3 – Through the Waters of Sognefjord and Back

“Bad, or good, as it happens to be, that is what it is to exist! . . . It is as though I have been silent and fuddled with sleep all my life. In spite of all, I know now that at least it is better to go always towards the summer, towards those burning seas of light; to sit at night in the forecastle lost in an unfamiliar dream, when the spirit becomes filled with stars, instead of wounds, and good and compassionate and tender. To sail into an unknown spring, or receive one’s baptism on storm’s promontory, where the solitary albatross heels over in the gale, and at last come to land. To know the earth under one’s foot and go, in wild delight, ways where there is water.” 
― Malcolm Lowry, Ultramarine

At Flåm, we queued up for the Express Boat to Bergen. It was supposed to leave at 15.30 but we were still on land. Soon people boarded the boat and within minutes we were off on our five-hour boat ride through the magnificent waters of Sognefjord.

Our Express Boat, called Vingtor, was divided into two levels. The lower level had two sections of seats in the front and the back and a little café with snacks and drinks. The upper level had lesser number of seats. But it more than made up for it with a large open deck at the back, which quickly filled up with photo hungry travellers.

The boat spewed tonnes of foamy water in it’s wake as we left behind the emerald slopes and distant ice-covered peaks in Flåm. The Norwegian flag on the deck danced in the wind, proud of the beauty it represented. The sun reflected in the waters with such brilliance, we had to run in and fetch our sunglasses. After a photo frenzy, we settled in for the long ride ahead.

We realised that Flåm is close to a number of other scenic locations. Right next to it, is Aurland. The Aurland Shoe Factory there has been producing their distinct kind of loafers since the 1930s. It’s about a one and a half hour bus journey from Flåm. If you would rather bask in the glory of nature, then not too far from there is the Stegastein Viewpoint, a viewing platform about 650 m above sea level. The platform is 4 m wide and 30 m long and it’s made of laminated wood and steel. It extends 30m out from the mountains with spectacular views of the Aurlandfjord. You can reach it through Aurlandsvegen, a scenic mountain road that runs between Lærdal and Aurland. It’s also known as the snow road – it has snow along the road most of summer. Along with bus trips and various tours, there are plenty of hiking, cycling and adventure sports options available in this area to explore the Aurlandsdalen valley. We even saw some paragliders swooping over the mountains near Aurlandsvangen.

Image of view from the express boat on Sognefjord
Through the waters of Sognefjord
© Srividya K 2014

 

View along the Sognefjord
Those white roofs match the snow-covered peaks so well
© Srividya K 2014

As the turquoise water and forest green mountains rolled beside us, the boat took us through a number of stops along the way. Cabins and houses were little specks on the mountain slopes. The deeper we ventured into the fjord, the terrain changed with the sun. The places where sunlight were hard to come by, the rugged mountain surface jutted out looking all craggy. But when the greenery reappeared, it was the brightest shade of green, nature’s very own golf course. Faraway ice peaks returned to keep us company. Wind howled on the boat deck. Waterfalls peeked out from jagged rocks often. It was amazing to look at the broad views as the boat travelled through the fjord. There were layers and layers of mountains, each a different shade of green and brown, all bound by the shimmering water. We made stops at places such as Lærdal, Balestrand and Gudvangen. The Magical White Caves near Gudvangen sounded magical. The Jostedalsbreen National Park, which is close to Balestrand, has tours to walk on a glacier!  But alas, we had to leave them to another trip.

Image of Balestrand
At Balestrand
© Srividya K 2014

After some time, as the boat stopped and introduced me to little villages tucked away from anything remotely frantic, the photo monster in me calmed down. I still took many pictures, but it became more about spending time with the fjord in silence. I saw hills on islands that reminded me of the Shire that Tolkien described. The undulating greens were just the right size and shape for hobbits to live on. I almost expected to see Bilbo and Frodo’s round little door peeking out from behind a lush green hill. That’s when I realised that throughout the trip, I’ve been making references to Lord of the Rings. Other than being a proof of my geekiness, it sums up how fantastical the trip was. Luckily, every time I mentioned something Lord Of The Rings related, my husband understood exactly what I meant 🙂

Image of green hills along the Sognefjord
The Shire on the Sognefjord!
© Srividya K 2014

Though the sun was far from setting – it’s not in vain that Norway is called the Land of the Midnight Sun – the wind became chilly and we soon had to wear our thick jackets. We decided to venture into the front of the boat. Well, it was so windy that standing in a single spot was impossible and I was worried I might fly away with the wind along with the hood on my jacket, which refused to stay on. Oh, and did I mention that when your hair is as curly as mine and gale-force winds hit you on your face, the sensible thing to do is run back through that door that you thought might be fun to open and explore just because it leads to the front of the boat!

I must confess when I started writing this post, there was a moment when I thought my words would never be able to do justice to the beauty I witnessed on that boat. I could use adjective after adjective to describe them and run out of them. To truly understand it, you have to experience it. The boat roared through the waters, it was full of people. But all I could hear was the calm of nature. Philosophers advice that inner peace is only the peace that truly lasts. But for most of us, it takes a lifetime to achieve. But the journey through Sognefjord is one of the best ways to experience the peace nature provides.

After five hours on that boat, we reached Bergen, also known as the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway. We spent the night in Bergen and caught the train back to Oslo the next afternoon. Bergen deserves to have an entire blog post of its own and that’ll be my next endeavour 🙂 By the time we reached Oslo late at night around 22.45, I knew I would have to find a way to go back to see the fjords again soon.

But next time, we’d prefer to walk/hike/ cycle through the mountains and perhaps drive down to the nature trails. Though we enjoyed the trains and boats, what I saw made me want to get a closer look, to walk through those ancient mountains, touch the icy waters, and experience the breath-taking views from some rock high up above the fjords. I would like to say I want to ski through the snow there, which, considering I’m yet to learn to ski, is highly ambitious. Hmm, I think I’ll go work on a plan to do that right now!

To Sognefjord and back – Part 2

Story so far: We travelled from Oslo to Myrdal through Finse, the highest station on the Norwegian rail network. From Myrdal, we boarded the Flåmsbana. Read Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea Level

Part 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana

 

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

 

The moment the Flåmsbana pulled into the platform at Myrdal, I was transported to another world. The train and all its interiors had an old world feel to it. The roof was curved with wooden panels. The lighting was soft. The only thing that made the vermillion seats modern were their ability to fold up when no one was sitting on them. There was a video screen near the exit on each end of the carriage. It showed the route the train takes and gave us updates on where we were on the route. It also gave details of every village or stop we passed by.

The train left Myrdal station at 13.27. As it picked up speed and began its downhill descent, so did our cameras. Snow covered mountain-tops stretched into the clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds and they followed us throughout our journey. The large windows in the train could be lowered from the top, which really helped when we wanted to take pictures. I had my face near the window and as wind brushed my face, I began to understand why dogs feel so happy sticking their face out of the car window 🙂

Flåmsbana is one of the steepest train lines in the world. The maximum gradient on the journey is 5.5%. It takes you from Myrdal, at 863m above sea level, to Flåm, which is at sea level. It’s a branch of the Bergen train line that connects Sognefjord with the mainline and goes through the picturesque valley of Flåmsdalen. The train runs along the Flåmselvi river down to the Flåm valley. As the train tracks turned and twisted over the mountains, we got a glimpse of the old carriages rattling along the rugged terrain. Though we went through 20 tunnels along the route, the greenery and the mountains never stopped. Bright red cabins stood out among the fresh green trees. We saw rivulets and waterfalls flowing down the mountains at every turn, the melting glaciers still at work, sculpting every surface they touch. Deep valleys and sheer cliffs surrounded us.

We made a stop at Kjosfossen, a waterfall with a free fall of 305 ft. The thundering waterfall from green moss-covered mountainsides frothed and created turquoise hues as it flowed beneath the bridge we stood on. While we took pictures there, a haunting melody echoed through the area. As mist from the water covered our eyes and lenses, a woman in red appeared among the ruins of a stone structure beside the waterfall, dancing to the music . When she disappeared, another woman emerged from the wet rocks further below, dancing close to the water. The music gave us a feel of the bygone times and people who might have lived there.

As the river winded around the floor of the valley, so did the train. We kept close to it. The water was so clear, we could see the bottom of the river from the train. The colour of water changed by the minute in the warm sun. Only nature could mix those shades of green and blue to such perfection. Water, like thin threads of confetti, poured from the peaks at every turn. Water seemed to live in every nook and corner of that valley. A few red cabins were scattered around the valley. We even found a group of campers with their tents set up by the river bank and they waved to us as the train passed them.

I felt lulled by the serenity around. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the train came around a bend and there it was, the Flåm village, with the river flowing through it with little white ripples. The village was a collection of colourful houses and a little bridge across the river. The video pointed out the village church which has been around since 1670. In fact, it was built there to replace an older church that existed on the same sight before it was destroyed in 1670. There were roads and farms. Grassy river bank, with clusters of trees and bushes. The sun shined so bright on the valley, the only darkness and shadows were high up on the mountains. It was so picture perfect, I wished I could jump out and walk through that idyllic village. If I ever thought that the world of Elves that Tolkien wrote about could exist on Earth, then that valley and the village would be my Rivendell. But we were on a train and it had to keep moving. We followed the river to the railway station at Flåm and to the end of our train journey for the day.

 

Image of view of the Flåm village from the Flåmsbana
Flåm village – my Rivendell!
© Srividya K 2014
Image of view of Flåm village from the Flåmsbana
One last look at the Flåm village as the train left it behind
© Srividya K 2014

If you want to hike or bike around those mountains, or explore the area more, Flåm has some amazing activities and experiences to offer.

The station was right next to the harbour. We had some time before we took the boat through the waters of Sognefjord to Bergen. So we walked around the area. No words could do justice to the views there. When I saw cabins line the mountains around the harbour, the writer in me wanted to move there. I imagined a beautiful cabin, waking up to those views everyday, and writing among such natural beauty – what more could I possibly want? What more could anyone possibly want? I started pointing out cabins that I could see myself living in. My practical husband – thank god one of us is – quickly reminded me about the lack of jobs and grocery stores. Where is that portable food replicator when you need one?

Image of scenery from the harbour at Flåm
View from the harbour at Flåm
© Srividya K 2014

I think my husband was prepared for it. The last time we were around water and mountains, we were in North Wales among the tall peaks of Snowdonia. We had travelled to Wales by car. On our way back, just as we crossed into England and the plains became flatter and less green and I couldn’t see anymore woolly little sheep, I told him we should move to Wales. Even now, everything and anything from Wales makes me go all dreamy-eyed and I sigh wistfully. I’ll soon have to write a separate post about that trip and revel in all things Welsh.

You might think it’s crazy to compare Tolkien’s Elf world with a real little village and its surrounding valley. But to me, a Tolkien fan, Rivendell is the best possible description I can give of the beauty I saw before me. The imaginary world became real. And the fact that they had gelato there only made it more appealing.

Next week: Part 3 – Through the waters of Sognefjord and back

To Sognefjord and back – Part 1

A first-timer’s tale in 3 parts

Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea Level

 

‘I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy”.’

― Sylvia PlathThe Bell Jar

 

I feel like a hobbit sometimes. Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with my short stature, much as people like to remind me about it. I could easily see myself living the simple quiet life in the countryside. Perhaps it has to do with adapting to the easy pace of life in Oslo. But come summer in Norway, even hobbits would want to go on adventures … em … if we had any hobbits in Norway, of course.

My call to adventure started when my family made plans to visit us in Oslo. We all agreed, ‘It’s summer. Let’s go see the Fjords.’

There are more fjords in Norway than you can count, each breathtakingly beautiful. We researched many of them. The result: I now have a list of fjords to visit and the very thought of visiting each of them makes me skip around my house in joy. Some useful links if you want to get yourself some fjord: Norway In A Nutshell; Visit NorwayFjord Tours

We discussed how long a trip we wanted to make, what mode of transport to take, which hotel to book, where to book the hotel … As the questions piled up, we were running out of time. Over many Skype calls, emails and exchange of links, we finally decided on our adventure. We were going to Sognefjord for two days!

Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord. It’s 1308 m deep and 204 km long. It’s the second longest fjord in the world and is considered one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world.

Trivia: The largest fjord system in the world is Scoresby Sund in East Greenland, which is more than 350 km (217 miles) long.

We went back and forth between taking a train and renting a car. Renting a car is a much cheaper option. But we are yet to try driving on the “wrong side” of the road in Norway – driving on the right side of the road here will take some getting used to – and we had to wave goodbye to the idea of a long road trip for now. So we chose the train. We found the Norway in a Nutshell tours helpful. This was going to be our introduction to the fjords and we could not have picked a better way to get introduced, despite the expensive tickets.

A note to those new to Norway: Everything is expensive here. Constant griping about how expensive everything is in Norway is not just expected, it’s rather appreciated. All the locals do that. So just join in. It could earn you some friends.

On a Thursday morning, we boarded the Bergen train from Oslo. We were travelling on it till Myrdal. The train left Oslo S at 08:00 in the morning. The journey from Oslo to Myrdal was a precursor of natural bliss we were to experience on this trip. The weather gods were kind to us. As the train rolled on, so did the lush emerald green hills and shimmering lakes and gurgling streams. Dots of yellow stood out in those green farms, as though they were showing off a pretty polka dress. I took photos after photos, unwilling to miss a single scenery, each a painting waiting to be captured on some artist’s canvas. Soon we saw snow covered mountains at a distance. Tall trees on gentle slopes were replaced by rugged mountains. Yet, we saw a scattering of bright coloured wooden cabins all along the route, houses oblivious to the solitude around them. The water turned aqua green, a lovely contrast to the rocky terrain. Mountain sides garnished with ice against the blue sky with puffy white clouds reminded me of scoops of chocolate sundae in a deep blue bowl.

View of snow covered mountains and partly frozen lake at Finse
The view from Finse Railway Station
© Srividya K 2014

The train made a few stops during the journey. But the most memorable was the stop at Finse, which gave travellers an opportunity to take in the picturesque sights around the station. Finse is a mountain village that sits at a height of 1222m above sea level, which makes it the highest station on the Norwegian railway network. The mirror-like clear waters of lake Finsevatnet seemed to reflect the soul of those ancient ice-covered mountains. A handful of tiny cabins and lush green grass littered its shores near the station. Despite the ice, the sun warmed me to the core. The train blew its whistle and I had to drag myself away from the lonely village which seemed to bask in its own silence, disrupted only by photo-mad tourists like me.

After Finse, Myrdal wasn’t too far. As the train went downhill, the spectacular sights went past too quickly. Myrdal station, at a height of 863m above sea level, is a junction on the Bergen Line. We got off the train at the station around 12.40 in the afternoon and went into another photo frenzy. We had over an hour to catch our next train, The Flåmsbana. In sixty minutes, the Flåmsbana transported us from Myrdal to Flåm, along with haunting music and mystic dancers, through such panoramic views that certainly made me feel like a hobbit on a quest.

Next week: Part 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana

Why Art Shouldn’t Be A Lonely Pursuit

“An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.”

– Darby Bannard

 

This week I met up with some fellow writers from my writers’ group, The Oslo Writers’ League. We sat in the beautiful green surroundings of Frogner Park. We feasted on strawberries, chocolate truffles, water melons, cheese and crackers, and more picnic goodies. As we relaxed on the lush green grass, we got our creative juices flowing with a micro-fiction exercise where each of us would start a story, pass it on to the person sitting to our right. That person would write a middle for the story and pass it on again. The third person to the right finishes the story. At the end of the exercise, we read out all the stories. We even had hungry seagulls and sparrows as our feathered inspiration! You can read our creations here.

Since I joined this group, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing. This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a writers’ group. The support and encouragement I’ve found in the group is amazing. We have writers of all levels and we inspire and motivate each other. I’ve even got ideas for stories from conversations with other writers in the group. This experience has only reaffirmed my belief that art should not be a lonely pursuit. The image of an artist toiling away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere may sound idyllic. But how long can someone sustain that?

Image of a solitary man sitting with a book with a sculpture behind him
Photo Credit: Nick Kenrick . via Compfight cc

 

“Putting out something that’s new in the world requires temporary removal from it.”

– Sarah Lewis

 

Writing, like most art forms, requires intense concentration and persistence. Writing a novel or a story when you are distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and family commitments can be exhausting and annoying. Just as you lift up your head to answer a spouse’s queries about dinner, you catch a glimpse of the tail-coat or skirt hem of your muse fleeing away from your mundane life. You make a desperate attempt to grab it, but it’s too late. The idea is gone, your spouse is upset because you snapped at them to chase that fleeting idea/muse which they obviously cannot see, and worse, you have to move on to make dinner. Easier to just live in a hermit’s hut you think? Trust me, that doesn’t work.

We humans are social creatures and art is a means of communication and self-expression. So who are we communicating with if we don’t want to be around anyone? Temporary isolation is essential for an artist. But the problem with complete isolation is that we give up on having a support system. Artists are prone to depression, self-doubt and self-loathing because we have been led to believe that we can do our best work only in absolute isolation. Being social does not mean you should stop in between your painting or writing to tweet. You don’t build support systems that way, you only manage to procrastinate. What sustains us are meaningful relationships formed with supportive and encouraging people. The alternative: You run out of ideas, inspiration, and life, while you wait in that idyllic cabin on your own to create that all elusive masterpiece that refuses to happen. And you end up alone, without anyone to listen to you gripe about it.

I’ve found that being a part of lovely group of fellow writers (or artists) has many benefits. You have others who go through similar struggles as you do – trying to find time to write, fixing a plot or characterisation problem, searching for references for a historical or scientific fact that you want to include in your story. They understand, and they generously help and share their wisdom.

It can be terrifying to trust other people who do what you do and open yourself to criticism. I’ve met some artists who avoid talking to other artists because their biggest fear is that someone would steal their ideas. It’s sad that we are constantly told that we live in a competitive world and the only way to “win the game” is to not share what we know with others. Of course, there are people who do steal others’ ideas, who like to put down others to make themselves feel better. But they are not the norm. They don’t realise that it’s much more fun when we share what we know. Sharing knowledge helps us learn from each other, learn from each other’s mistakes.

As a writer, it’s great to have people who can poke holes in a story you’ve written and be objective about it. It’s certainly helps to find problems in your story before you approach an agent or a publisher who really don’t have the time to help you learn. The benefit of having a fellow writer read your writing is that they don’t just read as your audience, they read it as a writer. So they can tell you about ways to improve it and they give you a different perspective, which adds depth to your writing. Since I’ve joined the writers’ group, I’ve had more “Aha! I didn’t think of that” moments than I can count. I get to learn and I get to share what I know. And I’m glad that I have people to help me, and I don’t have to do it alone.

Are you an artist who likes to interact with other artists and how has it helped you? Share your experiences in the comments.

The Value of Silence

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 

and rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

 

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.” 

― Rumi

We live in a world of noise, of constant chatter. Everyone has something to say and everyone wants to be heard. If you were to stand in a crowded market and everyone talked at the same time, would you be able to hear anything that made sense? But, if you were silent and you tried to listen, you might catch glimpses of conversations, meaningful words that convey someone’s thoughts and feelings. Silence is probably the most underrated thing in our world. We confuse silence with lack of voice. We think being silent is the same as not speaking up. But that’s not the case. Silence, in the right context, is more powerful than the loudest voice.

 

Image of a man walking in silence along a lake and mountains
© Srividya Sridharan

 

When we shout at someone with anger asking them to “Shut Up”, what we are really saying is that we don’t feel heard and we just want that person to listen. Listening requires silence.

When we say we want some peace and quiet, all we want is some space to ourselves so we can shut out all outside noise and listen to the inner voice within that tells us what to do.

We feel peaceful listening to waves or watching the sunrise because those are the times we are quiet and we hear nature at its best. We lose the sense of “I” and become a part of nature and we communicate with it in silence.

When we sit in a corner by ourselves and read a book, we see other worlds and other lives. We give ourselves the chance to see beyond ourselves and silence is the only way to immerse ourselves completely in that experience.

When we are silent, we listen. When we listen, we understand. Understanding leads to acceptance.

 

 “Who tells a finer tale than any of us. Silence does.”

— Isak Dinesen

There is a reason why some of the best writers and artists in the world work in silence. If we are too busy listening to all the voices around us, how can we hear the voice within, the muse that prompts us to write, paint, sculpt or sing? When we peep into the creative pool within, silence eliminates the ripples and we get to see our clear reflection, our true self, which gets lost in the endless chaos that surrounds our everyday life.

Beliefs are important. But when we refuse to be silent for a while and listen to other perspectives, we put ourselves in a cage of rigid beliefs and deny ourselves the freedom to grow and learn, to know ourselves and become better people.

 

“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.” 

― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

The true measure of a relationship between two people is not how much they can talk. It is how long they can sit in comfortable silence, without feeling the need to use words to communicate their love and understanding.

When someone is silent while we throw our words at them, we usually assume that they do not care or do not want to talk to us. Their silence might just be their way of trying to understand how they feel or an attempt to stop themselves from saying something that might hurt our feelings.

Silence does not mean we don’t speak up for causes or beliefs that deserve a voice. Silence is not submission and it’s certainly not a weakness. It’s about listening, and expanding our minds and keeping it open. It’s about making space for other voices that help us learn and understand our world and ourselves better.

What does silence mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

18 Reasons #YesAllWomen Must Keep Going

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 
― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Someone online wrote that #YesAllWomen is dying out because “people are running out of creative stories to tell in support of it”. Well, here are 18 reasons why #YesAllWomen must keep going.

Image that says thinks women as people
Photo Credit: sajbrfem via Compfight cc

1. Because when I was in college, two men on a motorbike thought it would be fun to race past me really close when I was riding a scooter. They hit my scooter, and it and I went skidding across a busy bridge. I had a broken ankle, several bloody wounds, and was just lucky not to be run over by another vehicle approaching behind me. When people found out, this is what they had to say:

‘You came back late to the hostel the previous night. Those men must have followed you. That’s why the accident happened.’

‘Where were you going? To a play rehearsal? Girls from good families don’t act in plays.’

‘Why were you out in the first place? You should have just stayed in your hostel and studied like a “good girl”.’

It took me six months to walk normally again. The scars from the wounds are still visible on my arms and legs. If not for the helmet I always wore, my jaw and head would have been smashed  – my helmet got several dents from my fall. There was no police report and they were never caught, because no one noticed them. No, it was no accident. They tried to run me off the road because it was fun for them to intimidate a woman. And no, none of it was my fault.

2. Because no woman deserves to live in fear or die because she uses her right to say no.

3. Because the other day I was watching Sherlock Holmes on BBC and a woman was the “fetcher”. She fetches files, stands by looking pretty in a business suit and fetches the coat for the man. Why are women always the “fetcher” in most media representations? She fetches food, she fetches clothes, she fetches papers, her only role to serve others. What’s worse is that it’s so common, we hardly notice it or take offence to it. I’m sick of it. Aren’t you?

4. Because it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a celebrity or an ordinary person, what race you belong to, what’s the colour of your skin, whether or not you are “pretty”, what clothes you wear or which country you live in, if you are a woman, you have experienced harassment or abuse in some form. What does that say about the world we live in?

Proof: When Kate Middleton’s skirt flies up because of the wind, the paparazzi, waiting like vultures, snap a photo of her bare bottom, and sell the picture. Magazines print it “because people want to see it and it sells”.  So how is this different from porn?  It’s just as exploitative. Selling parts of a woman’s body as if that’s all she is – a sum of parts with nothing more to her. And some woman actually wrote an article online, suggesting Kate Middleton should change her wardrobe choices so this doesn’t happen again! Blaming the woman’s clothes for opportunistic, soulless people taking advantage of her vulnerable situation – sounds oddly familiar doesn’t it? And she is the wife of the future King of a not so insignificant country.  #YesAllWomen.

5. Because every woman is constantly compared to other women in magazines, in video games, in films, on TV, in ads, and every form of media, as though the only way we can prove our worth is if we are better than someone else. We are enough as we are and we don’t need anybody’s permission to be so. We are in no way obliged to meet the standards set by a male-centric society.

6. Because advertisers spend billions every year to tell us what to think and how, and more often than not, they tell us to think of women as sexual objects.

7. Because people keep saying in a matter-of-fact way that it’s difficult to be a woman in this world, because women have to live in fear of being abused, harassed, raped or killed. How can you be calm when you say that, instead of fighting it? That’s just not acceptable.

8. Because when people know a woman suffering in an abusive relationship, they ask her why she’s still in the relationship. But when they know a man who abuses a woman, why don’t they tell the man to stop abusing?

9. Because when a woman says no, it’s not a negotiation or “playing hard to get”.

10. Because misogyny is so well hidden in our society that even men, who normally consider themselves liberal and would not just watch a woman being ill-treated, don’t always understand how and why some of their actions are a result of misogyny.

11. Because even women themselves don’t realise that when they are bringing up a son, they need to teach him to respect women, treat women as equals, and not look at them as the “inferior or weaker” sex.

12. Because even today when parents have a boy and a girl, they tell the boy not to play with dolls or take interest in “girly” things, like dance, arts or cooking, while they tell the girl to “stop climbing trees and behave like a girl”.

13. Because women are expected to learn to cook, take care of the house and take their husband’s name when they get married. How many men learn to cook because they are about to get married? Because it’s the woman’s job to make sure her family eats healthy food? Because men aren’t smart enough to learn or care about health? Men are never even asked about taking their wife’s name after marriage. Women aren’t sheep to be owned or herded.

14. Because the arguments against abortion are invariably made by men who want to control women’s bodies and paint women as a “child killer”. I read a news story where a 10-year old girl in Senegal was raped and forced to give birth to a set of twins as a result of the rape. When asked what she wanted, she said she wanted the man who raped her to be killed; because  of him, she can’t go to school anymore. Her innocence was killed and nothing was done to help her because of Senegal’s anti-abortion laws.

15. Because when the female half of the world population has to live in fear of the male half, even though they came wailing from the female half, it’s just sad.

16. Because it’s true #NotAllMen are abusers or rapists. We need men to openly declare that they truly believe that all women deserve respect. We need men to become more aware and speak up for all the women. This is not an issue we can afford to be divided on. A woman does not have to be related to you for you to care whether or not she is treated with respect. In fact, when men stand up to their fellow men and tell them to stop abusing women, that sets a powerful example. #YesAllWomen is a call to action to all those men who do care and respect women.

17. Because the point of #YesAllWomen is that we want a world where women are not abused anymore and don’t have to be afraid when they walk down the road alone, a world where women can live without fear. Too many people are dying waiting for that day and we are tired of it. We can’t wait any longer.

18. Because equal respect, equal rights, equal worth and equal share of this world is not a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a right every woman deserves. It’s a right every person deserves.

So to all those people who don’t take this seriously, who make jokes about this, who feel threatened by this, who want this “to stop already” – go on, fix these issues, then we’ll stop.  #YesAllWomen

Million Man March Poem

Image of Maya Angelou
Photo Credit: zsrlibrary via Compfight cc

Maya Angelou, the brilliant writer, storyteller, and a phenomenal woman, passed away yesterday. With Million Man March Poem, she gives her hope and courage to all of us. May her soul rest in peace and may her words make us rise again.

 

The night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,
I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.
Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,
You couldn’t even call out my name.
You were helpless and so was I,
But unfortunately throughout history
You’ve worn a badge of shame.

I say, the night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark
And the walls have been steep.

But today, voices of old spirit sound
Speak to us in words profound,
Across the years, across the centuries,
Across the oceans, and across the seas.
They say, draw near to one another,
Save your race.
You have been paid for in a distant place,
The old ones remind us that slavery’s chains
Have paid for our freedom again and again.

The night has been long,
The pit has been deep,
The night has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

The hells we have lived through and live through still,
Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.
The night has been long.
This morning I look through your anguish
Right down to your soul.
I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.
I look through the posture and past your disguise,
And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.

I say, clap hands and let’s come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let’s deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, let’s leave the preening
And stop impostering our own history.
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.

– Maya Angelou

The Purpose Of Education

“Education should be the process of helping everyone discover his uniqueness, to teach him how to develop that uniqueness, and then to show him how to share it because that’s the only reason for having anything.”

– Leo Buscaglia

(Read more about Leo Buscaglia on Education, Industrialized Conformity, and How Stereotypes and Labels Limit Love )

Ask people who have had the opportunity to go to college and get a degree what that means to them. Their answer would range from “It’s just a piece of paper” to “It changed my life.” That’s because with the current education system, who we are seems to matter less and less.

 

Image of child holding alphabet blocks
Photo Credit: sciencesque via Compfight cc

 

When I was starting high school in India, the school I studied in had four “packages” (it certainly seemed like that) and I needed to choose one to decide my career: 1) science, where you studied subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Maths and languages; 2) science, that added Biology to the rest of the Science subjects; 3) arts, where you learnt History, Literature and languages. Few other schools also offered a fourth package, commerce, where you learnt accounting, economics, business management and languages. I decided on studying commerce (seemed the best of the lot at that time). But my school didn’t have that option and my family was going to move soon. That, plus various other reasons, and I ended up taking science. I might have been rather good at it, but the problem was, I hated it. I had some horrible teachers and that didn’t help either. So when we moved, I went to a new school that offered commerce. I told the Principal at this new school that I would like to join the commerce classes and since it was just the beginning of the school year, I wouldn’t have missed much and I was very confident that I can make up for the missed lessons. The Principal looked at my grades from previous years and said, ‘You’ve done very well in science. That’s what you should do. I can’t let you change your subject. You’ll have to stay with science.” And that would have been the end of my dreams and my future life. She labelled me as a science student because, according to her, “I was intelligent enough to study science. So why would I think of studying any lesser subjects?” What I wanted to study did not matter. What I wanted to do with my life was not for me to decide. So for the first time in my life, I did terribly in school. I failed in every class, except for Maths and English, and that made me miserable. I saw my entire life crumbling before my eyes. Luckily for me, I had an amazing English teacher who pulled me out of the ground and encouraged me not to give up. With her help, I moved to another school. I studied commerce and did extremely well in it. I learnt a lot about myself from that experience. I know for a fact that who I am today would have been completely different if I had followed the path forced upon me and I would have lived the rest of my life regretting that path and hating the person I would have become.

 

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” 

― Heath L. Buckmaster, Box of Hair: A Fairy Tale

Instead of identifying and nurturing a person’s natural abilities, education has become all about putting people in an existing box and neatly labelling them. It is wiping all traces of individuality from people and conformity is considered the norm. Our innate ability to be good at certain things is ignored for the sake of education that teaches everyone the same things and expects everyone to excel at all of those things. We go through life earning a degree, pursuing a career that earns us money, fame and success, because that’s what we are expected to do, and we never find time to understand who we are or what we really want from life. Our thoughts are myopic and never go past what we think we need, to be “successful in life”. When life is going smoothly, that’s not so bad. But when we face difficult choices, when we have to make life changing decisions, how we think, what choices we make and what lessons we choose to learn from our life experiences are the true measures of how educated we are.

 

“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.” 

― Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

 

Education has come to rely solely on intellectual analysis and arguments. We are so focused on creating our “perfect world” outside that we don’t take time to think about what’s inside. Instead of directing our thoughts and our mind, we end up being directed by it. The difference is the same as living life consciously and deriving meaning from it, as opposed to going through life in a trance, without any sense of purpose, being tossed between highs and lows, feeling lost and alone.

Education is not just about morals. It’s about the ability to create a sustainable belief system. By sustainable, I don’t mean throwaway beliefs, ideas that you can easily replace in order to maintain. I’m talking about strong beliefs that can stand the tests of all that life flings at us. Why is it important? Imagine you have to make a difficult decision about doing something unethical, or illegal even. Other than the fear of the law, what will give you the courage to do the right thing and be really happy in life? Your top-notch college degree that feeds your ambition to succeed by whatever means necessary, or the strength of your own beliefs that tells you what’s right and what’s wrong at every turn of your life consistently and the self-confidence that comes with it?

A word of warning though, it’s easy to confuse educated confidence with arrogance. Dogmatic religious ideologies are a living proof of it. Keeping an open mind is just as important a part of education as the spirit of conviction. Blind beliefs are dangerous. They make us so arrogant that we lock ourselves away from anything that could make us see the chinks in our belief-armour. Faith in the broadest sense is not meant to keep the world out and make us prisoners of our own beliefs. It’s meant to keep us free and unaffected amongst the chaos in the world. Yes, it might be simpler to remove ourselves from the world. But how will we ever learn anything by doing that? How will that possibly ever allow us to really LIVE?

Writer David Foster Wallace, in his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address, talked about the real value of education and how it teaches us to think. He started his speech with this simple, yet profound story:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

(Read the complete transcript of his speech)

That’s the purpose of education, to be acutely aware of realities that are hidden in plain sight. That’s why true education is a lifelong pursuit. It teaches us the ability to stay awake everyday of our lives and to choose the things that are really worth pursuing, to choose the thoughts that go beyond the knowledge that the obvious world presents before us, and as Wallace said at the end of his speech, to remind ourselves to be like the older fish in the story and constantly tell ourselves that “This is water”.

Where Do We Belong?

“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

When someone asks me where I am from, I hesitate. My answer varies depending on what I think they really want to know about me. Sometimes I say I’m from London. Sometimes I add that I grew up in India. When I meet someone who is familiar with India, the next question they ask is where am I from in India. I pause. I hum and haw. With an embarrassed smile, I tell them it’s difficult for me to answer as I’ve lived all over the country and I couldn’t really call one place or city home. Now I’ve moved to Oslo and it’s not getting any easier to answer. And just yesterday my husband asked me if I’d ever want to live in New York!

Though I grew up in India, I’ve moved so much there, I’ve never felt a sense of belonging anywhere. I’ve studied in over five different schools and lived the longest in a city I got used to but never really loved. I’ve nursed a secret envy for people who have childhood friends, the ones they’ve known since kindergarten. As a child, it was easier to think of our move as a game. I got to see a new place, meet new people, learn new languages and experience new cultures. What’s not to like? I got to learn so much everywhere I lived and I’m eternally grateful for that. And somehow, never once did I question where I belonged. “Nowhere” seemed like a perfectly good answer.

When I moved to London, for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I missed my parents but I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to my new life. It’s not meant to be that easy, is it? Perhaps because I was in love and I got to enjoy life as a real adult (you know, living in your own house, cooking, working, paying bills) and I got to share my life with someone great, everything felt right. I guess I had fine-tuned myself to jump from place to place. I was right to question the ease I felt. It didn’t last long. The crash came soon enough when I struggled with my career and was drowning without a sense of belonging. The flood gates I had held tight shut were thrown open when I least expected it. The waves kept hitting me and I shattered under it’s force. I could not avoid the question anymore. I had to brave finding an answer or face the risk of losing myself completely. Slowly and painfully, I sifted through my life and I realised that the sense of belonging I was looking for does not come from a place or from certain people. It had to come from within. Rather than belonging to a place, I found that when I was happy with myself, I belonged – with my life, with the people I love and who love me, with everything around me. That feeling of love and contentment within made me feel secure. That is home after all, a place where you can be yourself and feel safe.

So when we thought about moving to Oslo from London, the decision to move was a leap of faith that my husband and I decided to take. We wanted to experience living in another city and Norway is great for work-life balance. We knew Oslo would be a big change from London. But, Oslo surprised me.

Book cover of All the Ways Home

There is a notion that Norwegians are not friendly and they are reserved and not open to new people. I don’t know how true that is but since I’ve moved to Oslo, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve lived in London for years and hardly seen my neighbours. The day we moved into our flat in Oslo, every single person who passed by were friendly and welcoming. I joined the Oslo Writers’ League – a writers’ group predominantly made up of expat writers from all over the world. Some of them have lived in Norway for many years. I met fellow writers who are warm, encouraging and generous. As luck would have it, they were in the process of publishing their second anthology. And the themes for the anthology: Crossroads and Identity! So I submitted my poem, “Vulnerable”, and it was included in the anthology. On May 20th, we had the book launch for the anthology, All the Ways Home ( available on Amazon US, Amazon UK and The Book Depository). I heard some of the writers speak about their writing process and their story or poem in the anthology. I was surprised how much all us have in common. Each straddling different cultures and homes, all bound together by our passion for writing. Some called two different cities home, while some, like me, realised that living in different places has changed them in so much that they don’t feel like they really belong in any one of those worlds perfectly. Fitting into a single world is not meant for us. As our editor very wisely put it, we are figuratively homeless and we search for identities and homes that extend beyond a place. For some, home is where the heart is. But if your heart lies spread across countries, a firm sense of “This is where I belong” becomes a journey of exploration.

I read the book and every tale took me on such a journey. A woman who had a miscarriage and felt relief that she could finally have a career, a poet who paid tribute to a friend who had committed suicide, a writer who saw her life as chapters split between Lebanon and Norway, a writer who never felt at home anywhere – the stories kept coming and I was drenched in their emotions. And when I finished reading it, I knew I wasn’t alone in my search and that I had others to share it with. In life, it doesn’t matter where we start or where our destination lies. The journey is what matters. Our identities are not bound to a single place. It’s decided by our experiences and how we see ourselves through them. It helps us learn more about ourselves and who we really are. And with every lesson, we find our sense of belonging within ourselves.

All the proceeds from the sale of this book is going to Utdanningshjelpen, a charity in Norway that sponsors education for children in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and Ethiopia. Everyone who was involved in the making of this book, volunteered their time and talents to make it happen.

So go ahead and buy it, because the stories and poems in this book will change the way you look at where you belong.