Remembering my father

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It is 11 years today since my father passed away.

My earliest memory is that of sitting on his lap as a child and having pomegranate kernels squeezed into my mouth. I also remember that when my ears were pierced when I was little, I was taken to a goldsmith’ and I was given the kernels to distract me. As I was smacking my lips and licking them, the goldsmith had a go at my ears!! I was too busy to notice the pain, as I was enjoying my favourite fruit from my father’s hand!

My brother and I made this video as a tribute to his rich and well lived life. It was played at his memorial that took place 10 days after his death.

What I learnt from my father were a love for life, a love for hard work, a love for people, a love for learning and a love for a laugh!

I believe that I will meet you again one day on the other shore.

Date A Boy Who Travels

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Date a boy who travels and …….. enjoys music……and better still….makes music!!!!!!

A Travel Blog

Since I solemnly declared yesterday, Lena Day, as the result of an overwhelming week, I urged each of you do some something that you love! I found myself in a Starbucks, inspired and whipped out this little ditty. You may have read, “You Should Date An Illiterate Girl” by Charles Warnke or the response “Date A Girl Who Reads” by Rosemarie Urquico, so I thought I’d bring you something same, same but different. Enjoy!

Date A Boy Who Travels

Date a boy who travels. Date a boy who treasures experience over toys, a hand-woven bracelet over a Rolex. Date the boy who scoffs when he hears the words, “vacation”, “all-inclusive” or “resort”. Date a boy who travels because he’s not blinded by a single goal but enlivened by many.

You might find him in an airport or at a book store browsing the travel guides – although he “only…

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Date A Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico

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(In Response to Charles Warnke’s You Should Date An Illiterate Girl.)

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent.  Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

Thanga Meengal (Gold Fish)

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I watched “Thanga Meengal” last Sunday. I resisted writing my two-pence about it for the whole of last week as I did not want to spoil it for my friends. But I guess I can safely say something about it now.

“Thanga Meengal” means ‘Gold Fish’ in Tamil. It is the story of a 7 or 8 year old little girl who is the apple of her father’s eye. The child comes from a reasonably well-off family, but the father is seen to be a loser, as he does not have a job that fetches him a lot of money. We are told that the father discontinued his studies past high school, and therefore cannot land a well paying job. Finally the father leaves hometown in search of a job, and his travails in raising enough funds in order to get an expensive gift for his daughter form much of the story.

I watched the film with many eyes. I watched it not only with my eyes, but also with my heart and mind and soul. For that is how I see any film. It is not essential that a film has to be logical. It’s not even important that the film has to have a pact with reality. No! It’s all about whether the film can tell a story with honesty. Does the film fundamentally fulfill the need in me to enjoy a story, because I love a good story?! And the story has to hum with my DNA. The cinematography, the take-home message, the actors, are all incidental, not essential to a film. How can I enjoy something if I cannot agree with something at the molecular level?? I don’t think a film maker has to make a film for me or with me on his mind. A film maker need not enter my world. But I need to be able to visit his world and go on a walk with him there on those streets, watching the sights and sounds as we walk. That’s when I fall in love with a film.

Films are like places to me. It’s like a city or town or village that we go on a visit. There are some places we like. We have an emotional connection with them. There are other places that you pledge not to visit again, if you can help it. It is the same with films. They conjure up emotions and memories.

For example, I love Madurai. I love Madurai, because I love the Ayira Fish Curry and Mutton Thala Curry that I ate at Amma Mess on one of my early visits to that wonderful city. I love it for so many other reasons as well, but the taste of the curry just lingers in my mouth, and when I think of Madurai, I cannot but be overwhelmed by the memory of the sensation of taste that flowed over my taste buds on that day. On subsequent visits I did not eat much. But that one trip did it for me. It was love affair with Madurai. Another city that I love is Vizag. I love it for the drive on an early morning as we ascended the Kailashgiri hills with a view of the sea clearly in front of us. The hills and the beach are like sisters living besides each other in unity. That road has become crowded and cluttered now, but for me, that memory is locked in my eye’s viewfinder and I can only think of Vizag with great fondness.

Every film is filled with surprises. Obviously there are so many elements and there is just not one thing that leaves an impression. But it is one thing or two that you carry back with you.

I watched Thanga Meengal as an ordinary film viewer. Like one who is in sync with the 300 other people seated along with me in the Cinema hall that are sharing the movie experience with me, I gasped and exhaled and chuckled at all the places that they did. I loved the film. I believe that this is no ordinary film. It talks about a subject that is not in keeping with the routine song, dance, fight, sentimental hotch-potch that popular Indian cinema commonly represents.

I watched the film wearing the hat of one who was a special child myself and as one who shared a deep and a beautiful relationship with my own father. I also watched the film as a Pediatrician who spent much of my adult life working with and caring for children, most of them vulnerable children from very difficult backgrounds. I was unable to decide whether I liked the film or not. I both loved and hated the relationship that was depicted in the film.

On the one hand we have authoritarian teachers and parents that stifle a child. On the other hand we have parents that overcompensate with overly permissive parenting that does not teach kids about limits and self control. Research shows that both extremes are damaging to a child’s ability to regulate emotions and form healthy relationships as adults. They are prone to mess up later in their life. A father should be able to set fair and clear limits on unacceptable behavior  while allowing choice, and at the same time hearing and respecting the feelings of a child. That’s a healthy balance. That balance was missing in the father-child duo in Thanga Meengal.

Every child has a birth right to being pulled out of a schoolplay/sport; undergo rejection in some measure, and fail. It’s called growing up. There is nothing pathological about it. Parents have to stand by and navigate children through these times, intervening occasionally, instead of feeling defeated and rejected themselves.

I didn’t like the condescending manner in which this father talks to his daughter. If only he had been half as sensitive to his wife as he had been to his daughter, he would have been a better role model as an adult, and I would have loved this character more. I think he was a selfish and confused loser father, who wanted to prove something to himself at the cost of his child. It was more about him, than about his child or family. I think with this film we are going to legitimize the raising of a generation of little girls who will not take no for an answer.

But the film has been going on in loops in my mind all week. Any film that evokes such a strong emotional response is definitely a winner. I wish the makers of the film, including my friend Gautham Vasudev Menon all the best.

A Miracle called Hearing

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I was listening to music when my friend Asma and I chatted over the Facebook last night. Something she said made me tell her about the marvel called ‘hearing’ and  the gift of music and the ability to enjoy it!

Sound waves enter the human ear at a speed of 1087 feet per second and pass along a tube to the middle ear. Stretched across the tube is a thin membrane, the eardrum. The sound waves hit this tissue and cause it to vibrate. It can detect sound frequencies that flutter the eardrums as faintly as one billionth of a centimeter ( a distance one tenth the diameter of a hydrogen atom). This vibration is transmitted into the inner ear by three bones familiarly known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup. (Yup! There are bones inside the ear! Incidentally these are the smallest bones in the body.)

When the frequency of the middle C is struck on a piano, the piston of bones in the inner ear vibrates 256 times a second. The bones are connected to another membrane called the oval window. As the oval window vibrates, it generates movement within a small spiral passage, the cochlea, which is filled with liquid. Imagine it as vibrations that set up waves within the fluid, which proceed to the back of the room, down the stairs, and to the front oval window!  Within the cochlea these vibrations are picked up by some 25,000 auditory receptors which rock back and forth and generate an electric potential which is transmitted, by means of the auditory nerve (with its 30,000 nerve fibers) to the brain. The brain receives these vibrations (up to 25,000 per second) and interprets them as a musical tone. The brain can distinguish more than 1,500 separate musical tones. These tones when they are arranged in a particular complex order, in all their various characteristics of pitch, timbre, loudness and emotion, we hear and enjoy the sensuous pleasure called music.

These tiny vibrations also tell us when we listen to the voice of a loved one that comforts and reassures or the sound of the grinding machinery that was laying the road outside my window that kept me awake all night. This complex system that conveys sound and emotion is nothing short of amazement and is the ultimate limit of design, performance and efficiency.

Amazingly, the inner ear, is no bigger than an almond (badam), and contains as many circuits as the telephone system of a good-sized city.

So whenever I hear someone describe “man” as nothing but a DNA cocktail or as protein molecules, I say to them “Oh yeah?! Then why don’t you check out the cochlea!”

Music is the evidence for me that there is a God who not only created sound but also life. And the Cochlea!