Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Thoughts, not Things

How many times have you been in a conversation that goes like this…

You know what happened last week?

What?

I had a car accident.

There are two ways a conversation like this can move ahead…

1.     Oh My God, what happened to the car?

2.     Oh Damn, are you ok?

While I know you would be thinking, that you always first ask if the person involved is ok,
but you will actually be surprised in reality that a lot of people inquire about the car first.

___

Last week, I really had an accident.

It was one of those heavy rainfalls and strong winds that caused it. A tree fell on my car and crashed the bonnet and the windshield.

Luckily most of the engine was untouched, the A/C etc wasn’t affected, and the damages at the garage were pretty manageable. I didn’t even claim insurance, as I didn’t want it to get complicated.

Oh yes, I forgot to tell you if anything happened to me.

I’m fine. Nothing happened to me at all.

You see, we ourselves put ‘things’ before us, many a time.

But kids are different...

Last week, when I did have an accident, the first thing Samaira asked when she learned about it on the phone was if ‘I’ was fine.

If “I” was fine.

She asked, not once. Not twice. Not thrice.

In spite of repeated assurances, that I was ok, she still doubted it, until she saw me fit and fine, back home that evening.

Besides me welling up, it also made me think, how are kids so sensitive?

And why, as we grow up, do we lose this sensitivity and get more worried about the things, in this case, the car?

Often, Swetal, my wife and I, have been accused of being not so great parents because we spoil and pamper our only child. Yes, we give in to her demands, succumb to her tantrums, fall for her emotional traps and still don’t learn.

On second thoughts is that a bad thing after all?

Somewhere I now felt, that when we fulfill small demands for things, we undervalued these ‘things’ altogether.

Things - like a toy, a candy, an extra ride on the Ferris-wheel, a new pair of shoes, missing a class for an extra hour nap in the morning.

If we fulfill these little demands by our kids they will sooner or later realize that these are not the actual things one should strive for. 

There are bigger, more valuable aspirations - than objects.

You obviously have to draw a line on this somewhere, but that's a debate for a different day.

Today, we all work hard so that our children can live a comfortable life ahead.

A life, where they are not yearning for necessities. A life where they can focus on their education, have a thriving career, doing good for the society and yes, being aspirational enough to even making our nation proud too.

In that kind of a life, what value do ‘things’ have?

The problem starts with us.

Giving too much importance to things.

Yes, I am guilty.

A spank, if they drop a cell phone and dent it.
A punishment, if they lose a pencil or a water bottle.
A warning, to be careful when they are wearing expensive clothes.

How many times do we do the same, when it comes to dealing with elders, with friends, with younger ones, with the environment, with natural resources…..and yes dealing with us, parents also?

Imbibing the thought of calling their friend, and not messaging, on their birthday.

Standing beside them at a funeral and not avoiding the situation.

Encouraging their peers when they have had a bad patch, without giving advice.

Respecting the choices their parents made for them, knowing and appreciating their sacrifices.

Thoughts, not Things, is what we need to make our children more aware of.

Not the brands they wear, not devices they own, not clothes, not anything that doesn’t add real value to life.

I’m not saying that I won't buy these things. If I can afford it, I will continue to splurge on the little luxuries. 

But will I continue to give the same importance? Maybe that part needs a rethink.


A drawing by my daughter Samaira (6 years), guided by my wife, Swetal)

I believe that if I can raise a child that can be sensitive to the poor, helps the underprivileged, cares for stray dogs and other animals, grows plants and trees, conserves the environment, improves our city,  works for our country's larger goals…
I will have achieved my role as a parent.

These are exact things that will matter when they all will grow up without the worry we have, of a good home, regular income, education, career etc.

The real wealth in days to come will be real friends they can count on, elders they can look up upon for advice, siblings that will lend them an ear, an environment that is clean and healthy, a country that they are proud of.

Coming back, (I'll give myself some importance now, and go back to the dramatic topic of death)

Imagine, if something did happen to that person in that car accident...

Would all those ‘things’ they have, matter?

Will a bigger house, feel emptier?

Will a faster car, have any place to go?

Will a flashy cell phone, wait for a call from ‘Papa’?

A world where every child grows up to be thoughtful will be
a world where everyone might not be rich, but where every one of them will be wealthy.


Bolo Baba Aleem ki Jai!

Jai....

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why are you Daddy's Lil Girl?

The thought “if something happens to me” props up once a while in everyone’s mind and I am no different. 

But the thought of “If something happens to me, you would never know that I wanted to tell you…” is even more disturbing.

If something does happen to me, there is one thing I would always want my daughter to know, and that is WHY she is and always will be Daddy’s lil girl.

While a lot has been said and written about father-daughter bonding, I have a completely different perspective to the reason why daughters will always be that special girl in a man’s life. 

Something that probably not many people have spoken about (because of the backlash that would follow) ;-)

Since this is a public blog, if you are a woman and if you are married, it is essential that you read this piece as a daughter and not a wife.

Read it like it is about your father...

If you are a guy, no instructions for you.

_____________________


There are 3 women before a daughter, in a man’s life that shaped him.

His Mother. His Sister and His Wife.

A mother is someone who nurtures him. She is kind and yet strict. She teaches and she corrects. No one can replace the role of a mother in anyone’s life because that is immaculate. But a mother’s job is also to prepare you for the real world. So she reprimands where necessary. Not only does she point out your mistakes, she also helps you correct them. She makes sure you put on a brave front in difficult situations. While she is always there for you, she is also the one who will leave your hand so you can walk on your own. Even after marriage, she tries her best to ensure that you are in good hands.

A sister plays no small role in a man’s life too. She teaches you the importance of sharing and caring. She guides and learns at the same time. She grows with you and sometimes outgrows you. From her, you learn to give respect and you learn to earn respect. You learn to fight and you learn to make up. You understand boundaries and you also understand how not to cross them. She is the one who will teach you to ride a cycle and she will also be the one who will quietly take her hand off from the seat so you balance on your own. And in that moment she will break your trust with the sole intention of building your confidence at the same time. She is the one who you learn to keep secrets with, to keep secrets from and then probably learn to confide in later too.

And then comes a man's wife. The epitome of all his relationships. The one who will help him settle down and yet always push him to fly. The one woman who loves and accepts him the way he is and the one who still not take anything for granted. The one woman who will help him achieve his full potential and also remind him of his usual pitfalls, for his own good. A wife will love him, care for him and stay with him no matter what and at the same time fight with him and then turn around and cook his favorite meal for him. She teaches him what stability is in unstable conditions. She walks his most difficult path with him and yet helps him look at the wonders that come along the way. She becomes his best companion, friend, guide, and partner and when the going gets tough, she helps discover another reason to be tougher again.


And then comes his Daughter… (long pause)

Samaira's Drawing
(Illustration by Samaira Merchant when she was 5 Years)


The little wonder that wraps her hand around his finger no matter how soiled it is after a hard days work. The girl that will jump from the highest point and trust that her father will not let her fall because she doesn’t know what falling is, but knows what trust is. 

The one who will blindly follow his footsteps no matter where they go. She never complains about the situation he keeps her in, and in fact, keeps them in her heart as the fondest memories of her childhood.

She makes him her first superhero.

Her first idol.

Her first love.

Her first mentor.

She grows up a bit and says that she will never marry anyone and will stay with him forever (and she means it with all her heart).

She's the one who raises her eyebrows and smiles, impressed when you dress up in a business suit and without saying a word, says so much.

She's happy when all he got her from the store is a candy and she still loves him when he tells her that he didn’t carry more cash to buy her what she wanted.

She hugs him at night when she has a nightmare and sometimes when she doesn’t have one too. 

His advice is the one that she relies on most. His opinion is the one she counts on most.

Thick as thieves when caught in a prank and she knows he won't tale-tell. The one she winks at when she’s up to some mischief. She’s the one that helps him discover his childhood again.

She teaches him so much without actually teaching anything.

And that’s the difference.

The difference is that she accepts him as the most perfect man in the world. The one she wants her life partner to be like only because there was nothing wrong she saw in him.  In spite of his faults, shortcomings, misgivings, and mistakes, she never makes him feel that there is anything wrong with him. The room in her heart is so huge and beautiful for her father that small specs of dirt are never noticed.

There are days she will fight with him. There are days where she will not agree with him. There is the one day he fears most when she will leave him for another man.

_____________________

And so… if something does happen to me I would always want you to know that you are Daddys lil girl because you are the one who accepted, loved and cared for me the way I am, and you never ever did anything to change me.

You are the one who “didn’t” complete me. Because you didn’t feel the need to.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

My Daddy (is not the) Strongest

In an advertisement or a film, a father is normally a good looking, healthy, fit, fair, well groomed, sometimes rich, in a suit, with a massive bungalow and a fleet of cars, with naukar-chakar and the works.

But in the real world, Dads are different. 

Dads, just like me. Dads maybe like yours too. 

Some are short or dark or podgy, paunchy, or partially balding. Not always rich, rather making ends meet. 

Most of us don't always fit the description of clever, intelligent, shrewd or a sharp businessman with a towering personality. 

___

When my daughter had just learned to talk, I had trained her to complete the sentence, when I asked her...

"Papa the….?" and she had to reply “Greatest". 

Some weird joys we fathers get.

___

One day, we were going through a couple of my old college photos, and she said, 

“Papa, you are so short”.

Ouch! That hurt!

I suddenly felt that maybe she now thinks that her Papa is not the greatest. I am not the superman that I wanted her to believe I was. I am not the one who she would look up to rescue her in times of need.

Maybe she had seen a lot of her friend’s fathers and she preferred them to me. Some were taller or better looking, stronger, richer, and more fun to be with, more intelligent, kinder, nicer….  Aarghhh!

I mean what was I thinking. Just because I run a marathon (with 1000 others) and get her a medal home (because everyone gets one) I would become her Hero?

Or just because I get her a cheap toy from the store, and sometimes a chocolate when she throws a tantrum, I would be her knight in shining armor?

Just because I tell her that I go to office to earn money and we can buy whatever we want, I would become her Idol?

I don’t know what made me think that I was even capable of being good enough, forget great?




It was a pleasant summer day, we were all in the pool, and having a good time. She was playing in the shallow, where she could comfortably walk and didn’t need a float. 

Suddenly her foot touched the point where it sharply slides to the deep. She lost her balance and was about to tip over. I still remember the look asking for help, she gave me just before she lost her control. Out of reflex I just caught her and put her back on safe ground. 

Insignificant story actually. 

She went on to playing her game. Neither of us said anything, and continued what we were doing. But then she just turned around and gave me a glance, and her eyes said more than she could. 

That moment I realised that fathers are not about being tall or short.

Fathers are about being there, about showing the way, about guiding, and encouraging.

Come to think of it, in the real world, it's actually these kids who are stronger. 

First day at school with strangers in a room cannot be compared to a social function where we can simply hide our faces in a phone or rush to the loo as an excuse to not wanting to blend in. 

A School Sports day cannot be compared to a registered marathon where the points don't matter and neither does your rank. You arent expecting a podium finish anyway.

Their dance at a school function cannot be compared to a office presentation considering the pressure we put on the kids and the sheer number of people watching. 

Examinations and school assessments cannot be compared to client review meetings knowing that even if we make a mistake we can simply pass the buck. 

____

So it may be a nightmare, when all they need is a hug.

A remark from their teacher, and they needs someone to tell them that it’s OK.

Something they fear doing and they just need a helping hand.

So here’s a promise from a father. 

No matter what you need, when you need it, and how it needs to come to you. 

There will be this short fellow, with as of now a receding hairline, who's not the best looker, not so rich, or clever,  with various shortcomings...always there for you to ensure you don’t tip over. 

No matter how tough the situation is, he will bail you out, and it does'nt matter that your daddy is ‘not’ the strongest.

Whats matters is that your mother, you and I, are together and nothing in the world is stronger than that!

Happy Father's Day...to me, for playing the role, in this super-hit film called life. 

Now someone please call the casting director... and fire him!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

5 Stories for Parents of Different Religions




I am lucky.

I am born to parents that are from different faiths. My dad is a Muslim, and my Mum a Christian. My wife is a Gujarati, Jain.

We have a 5-year-old daughter.

If my mother were alive today, my parents would have celebrated their Golden Anniversary soon. An interfaith marriage that long back was a rarity, unlike how common it is today.

This article in intended to share my first-hand experience as a child born with the confusion, a father trying to resolve it and to give clarity to those parents who would be worried about their own child’s dilemma, as they grow up.

The article is not intended to open debate, spark an issue or answer questions on what one should do or not do when in the situation.

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________

There was a time when my mum would pray in front of an Altar, in her bedroom, my Dad would pray with a tazbih in the living room and my wife would be reciting the Navkar mantra in our room, all at the same time.

There is a drawer in my house where the Bible, Quran and Bhagwat Gita are kept together in peace, and they don’t step on each other’s toes, instead exist in the same beautiful fragrance.

And I have best friends from all faiths, Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Jews - you name it.

And the good news is my tribe, of multi-faith children, is growing.

Like other kids who are born from parents with similar faiths, this is something that multi-faith children were born with and not something they chose.

It was something that was given to them even before their name.

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________



There are 5 true life stories I would like to tell you.

1.     “Values get wired, not religion”

I was 5 years old, and it was my first day in a Jesuit (like convent) run School. After the first two periods of English and Maths, I eagerly awaited the next session.

A young teacher walked in and announced, “All catholic boys proceed to the church, and all non-Catholic boys stay in class, for Value education.”

As mentioned earlier, my mother was a Catholic, and my father was a Muslim. Every Sunday morning, my mother would take us to church to attend Sunday mass, and we would go in happily. We knew the church prayers, the hymns, the stories from the Bible and we even celebrated Christmas and Easter at home with all grandeur. 

My father, was not a big fan of his religion and the only part Islam we followed, was on Eid, when we would have relatives come over, and we would celebrate with sumptuous food and also get some Eidi (Money given to kids as a gift on Eid). 

Coming back to the classroom, there I was, a confused kid, not knowing which class to attend. 

The one for the Catholics?

Or the one for non-Catholics?

So I walked up to this new teacher, introduced myself (Just my name - Aleem, gives a lot away about me) and explained her my dilemma.

She asked me what my father was, and I said – Muslim.

Sit in this class; it’s for boys who ‘follow’ other religions.

“But teacher, I go to the Church and follow Christianity”

For the next 10 years in school, I was a student of the Value Education class.

Many years later, coincidentally a similar thing happened, there came a time, when my daughter was 3 years old and it was the holy month of Paryushan, a festival followed by Jains, like her mother. All Jain parents had written a note to the teachers, on which students will be eating Jain food.

My wife too wrote to the teachers and asked them to include my daughter in the Jain list.

That afternoon, when we went to pick her up, the teacher was curious to know why we had included her too in that list and felt we had made a mistake.

On learning that her mother was not only a Jain by birth but the fact that both practised the religion was a pleasant shock to her.

I later learnt that my daughter convinced the teacher herself that she would be eating Jain food during those days.


Sitting through these situations, I realised that the world judges based on your name or surname, and not what you followed.

I learnt as I sat in the value education class, that the teachings in that class and the teachings of the church, and as I went on in life to follow teachings of most religions too, that they all are beautiful, and teach similar things.

So while you think there’s nothing new to this what I am trying to say is deeper.

Today I am as comfortable inside a Mosque, Church, Temple, Derasar, Gurudwara, Synagogue or Shrine.

Multi-faith kids like me realise that all religions are equal at ‘a very early age’, and that gets rooted down to their souls. They become more tolerant, understanding, and emphatic to people.

Isn’t that a wonderful thing for the world they will live in?

A world, where national integration begins at home.

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________

2.    “Learn all and pick the best of all”


One day when my daughter was about 3 years she asked me, “Papa, why only boys watch Avengers and girls watch Barbie and Princesses?”

My first reaction was because Boys like action and girls like beautiful things.

But I was glad I took my time to respond, because she immediately asked me if it was ok that she liked Captain America also, and if a close friend of hers who was a boy, liked Elsa from Frozen.

Darling, you are free to like whichever character you like. Not only that, you must watch the movies of all the characters and you never know which part of which character you will go on to like.

And religion too isn’t too different.

Celebrate all festivals. Visit all religious places. In India, and around the world. You will experience endless joy throughout your life. In that way, you will learn to respect each other’s religion.

Imagine a world, where we all learn, respect, adore and enjoy each other’s faiths with no presuppositions. Take the best of it and make it your own. Like a movie, where a princess falls in trouble and Captain America comes and saves her.

We mix-breeds are lucky that we get to “learn all and pick the best” and make our own, and not those that are dictated by a person, a book or a ritual.

These beliefs are well thought out and by us and that makes it more rational and practical at times.

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________


3. “Belief in God is important, not religion”

Many children wake up in the middle of the night due to nightmares. And parents will always coax them, comfort them, and then ask them to pray to God. But in doing that they also mention ‘which God’ to think about. 

In my case, my daughter had a strong attraction to the Lord Ganpathi. It wasn’t something we taught her, it’s just something that she got hooked on to very early. 

I clearly recall one night she woke up really scared and whispered in my ear that she had a bad dream.  I asked her to pray to God to give her peace. After a few minutes she went off to sleep, and while I was tucking her in her quilt, I saw that her hands were still folded, so deep was her faith and belief.

The point I want to make is that one must always know that even in the toughest situation, God is someone you can always hold on to.

In my growing up years, I went through a patch of being ‘too cool for religion’. In a bid to avoid being asked which religion I followed, I used to say I was an atheist. A non-believer of God. But as I went on to grow up, and experience difficult phases in my life, I realised that when there was nothing to pull me out of darkness, when there was no hope, there always was God you could pray to and ask for help.

God forbid, but life does throw nightmares in the real world too, and in those times we must hold on to God.

And it doesn’t matter which image or prayer you hold on to.

You must be thankful to the creator, and once again we are lucky because we have multiple visuals to choose from. Take your pick. 

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________

4. “The Openness culture”

When we moved into our new office in 2016, we challenged one norm.

Business inaugurations are normally done in the Hindu ritual. It's something someone never questioned and no one really had a problem with. It’s just something that was done for centuries. 

But coming from where I do, and seeing that we had people from all faiths in our office, we decided to have an inter-faith opening prayer ceremony. And with mutual respect, we had staff conducting prayers from all faiths blessing our office. The vibe was so good, and the feeling of positivity was so high, that I strongly believe that it was one of the best ways to start something new.





This credit goes to the tolerant upbringing I grew up in. And the thinking of such ideas comes when you open up your world and your eyes.

Such ideas can help these children build a better world.

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________

5.  “Affirmations over memorised prayers”

Here’s a video I really liked of a father teaching his daughter an affirmation. I’ve typed the words and placed it in our home. I like the fact that my daughter can read this once a while, and it reinstates her belief in herself.




At some point in time in life, one gets too busy and has no time for God, religion, or prayers. But then again, what are mugged up prayers anyway.

Prayers are and were intended to be a way to reach out and communicate with the creator and sometimes with yourself.

There are beautiful affirmation statements you will find if you search.

Download anyone you like, print it, laminate it and paste it on a mirror in your home.

And every day before you leave home, just glance at it and encourage your children to do the same.

______ ______ _______ ______ _______ ________ _________ _________

And at the end of this, what I am trying to say.

I believe that celebrating and following multiple religions, just like following a single religion can enrich and strengthen families and greatly benefit children, our country and the world.

Being both is not simply a compromise or a negotiated settlement, but a path to a positive, inspirational life.

So if you are a parent in an interfaith marriage and reading this, feel privileged that you too are raising a child that will be a good citizen of the world, if groomed well.

If you are a child, of interfaith parents.

You are lucky, just like me!

Please Note:

The objective of this blog is not to hurt anyone’s sentiments, faith or beliefs. We all are equal and each one is subject to their personal opinions. If anyone is hurt with any of my thoughts or words.

Michammi Dukadam.