The world may have forgotten, but they have not

It was the morning after Christmas, my mom (who was visiting us for the holidays) and I were coming back from a walk on the beach. People were rushing outside their homes in panic. A photographer friend of ours, on his scooter, drove past us adjusting his lenses while trying to balance his ride. Reaching home, frantic calls from our relatives sent us shivers. A tsunami just hit the coast and it is hardest at the Indian Ocean.

Switching the news channels on, bulletin of the impending series of killer wave were being announced. Tsunami, a Japanese word meaning achennai3 series of long and high sea wave caused by an earthquake was like Greek to us. No one knew what it actually was. No one knew what to expect. No one knew how to prepare for what is going to come next.

There was calm after the first wave. People went back to their routine. It was a Sunday, so we prepared to go to church. Sitting at the pew seven rows from the altar, on the right wing of the Saint Anthony’s Seashore Shrine, we felt the thud. The priest stood motionless waiting for the next thing to happen, and then after a silent prayer, he requested all of us to vacate the church and move to safety. Curiosity kicked in the journalists in us. Grabbing his camera from the back of the car, my husband drove slowly, inching our way to a safe distance from the shore atop a hilly area where we caught sight the secondtsunami-621x414 big wave that washed a few houses away. The scene was nothing like I’ve seen before. People were in pandemonium. Everyone was in panic, hastily moving in all directions.

The next few hours kept me in shock. I didn’t know how many people were killed, how many people lost their loved ones, how many people lost their properties … but one thing is sure, I now know what Tsunami is and how devastating it can be.

Twelve years later. The day after Christmas, which happen to be a Sunday. Everyone went back to their normal chores. I went to office early only to be greeted with numerous “out-of-office” email replies. Did my work, checked out deadlines, and was free most of the evening. A few colleagues gathered for a chat until we decided to venture out for an evening cap. The choice was unanimous – Besant Nagar Beach for a seafood treat!

A friend and I were the first to reach the destination. Parking was difficult so I took the first free slot. Getting out of the car, we noticed that the beach was packed, there are people everywhere… but it was dark! Gone are the bright lights from vendors selling all kinds of snacks from bajjis to golas, masala peanuts to giant papadums, the seafood stand that we were planning to head to is nowhere in sight. Vendors and fisherfolks decided to refrain from doing business for the day in observance of that fateful day, in remembrance of their families and friends who perished from Tsunami more than a decade ago.

I stood in awe watching them as they offered flowers and garlands to the makeshift memorial displaying photographs of the vast tsunamidevastation brought about by Tsunami and the people whose lives were lost in the tragedy. The whole scene gave me goosebumps. Palpable sadness and grief can be felt everywhere. A few women were wailing, many were quiet … the entire scene is gloomy.

After a hushed prayer, we went on to join our friends. But I couldn’t fathom the fact that the world seems to have forgotten what happened twelve years ago, me included. I somehow felt a tinge of guilt seeing people like those in Besant Nagar beach who willingly let go of a chance to earn a living, during a busy day at the beach, in order to pay respect and pray for the victims of a past calamity. Millions like me, never even looked back as we get entangled with countless distractions of life.



(All photos are sourced from the Internet.)

Talk to Speak, Hear to Listen

An all-time personal favorite song of mine is Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. Many would not understand the meaning behind the lyrics of this masterpiece, but somehow I find very deep connotations in its every line and verse. To me, it is a narrative elucidating a conscious analysis of humanity in the modern world. I especially like the lines:

People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening.

These lines, to me, speak volumes. In this fast-paced world of modernization and technology, paying courteous attention to anything or anyone has become a rarity. People are blabbering without making sense and are exposed to clatters that are nothing but noise to them.people-talking

Having been in the field of information and communication in the last two decades, I have had a lot of experience about – and been exposed to – people who talk just for the sake of talking and people who listen in order to talk more.  My world is full of opinionated people whose opinion doesn’t really make sense, in most cases, but because they are in the industry, they are listened to and believed.

WE are the author of what we say and do. Working as editor (of a newspaper, magazines, books, and other types of publications) … for as long as I can remember, I have never had a writer, by-liner, or author who was not keen to see what I did to their article or manuscript. They would insist on seeing their copy before it goes to print. No one is willing to compromise their repute on what is going out with their name on it. It could be the “Sarojkumar” who writes about the neighborhood sorties, the doctor who sends in his regular magazine column on health and fitness, or the biggest name in the field of Psychology publishing a new edition of her book.

Pondering on this, I wonder why people are not bothered about what they say and do in their everyday lives. Drawing an analogy, I would say that there is no difference between something that is published and something that is said and done. Everything is traced back to the person who said and did it. The publication may be printed on paper, but the words and deeds are etched on the heart and mind of the person who heard the words and experienced the action. Ok, there are people who don’t remember what happened yesterday or what was said to them the other day. But there are people like me who can recall every word and recollect how it made me feel.

To me, words are to be treated as gold. Not that I am the quietest of the lot but I try and follow a dictum that tells me not to speak up unless I have something nice to say, less I hurt someone’s sentiment. It is NOT easy at all. There are times when I had to pinch myself and kick my leg jdalai_lamaust to stop saying something that I am sure to regret in the end. As I have said, it’s not easy! Many a times, I end up blabbering something stupid that puts me in trouble or made me look like a total fool. So, like writers and authors, I vow to speak only when necessary and speak only when it would make someone happy or at least, not feel bad.

Words of wisdom tell us that in life there are four things that we cannot take back. A stone after it is thrown, word after it is said, action after it is done…and time after it has passed. Think before speaking and ruminate every action.  We are the author of what we say and do, and when things go wrong … we have no one else to blame but ourselves.

Listen to understand, not to respond. The modern times allow us to learn and experience new things that would not have been possible a decade ago.  And we are all so eager to talk about it. Listening as another person speak, our thoughts run wild with all the things that we can talk about when our turn comes. But are we actually listening or are we just hearing while busy formulating our own stories to tell? Conversation is a two-wayconver process, and that process involves understanding each other in a way that leads to knowing the other person better. If we are simply hearing the person speak and do not actually understand what he/she is talking about, we are not in conversation. In order to be a good conversationalist, we need to be a good listener. A good listener actually listens. Show interest in the person and to what he/she is saying. Ask thoughtful questions. Follow-up on their responses. Focus on the way things are said as it could give a more interesting view of the person you’re talking to. Understanding what the other person is saying gives an insight on how we should speak in return. And lastly, conversation is not a competition. It is not who can talk more with an intention of impressing the other. Conversation should pave way to better understanding and sustained interest in each other.

Just like with speaking, we must take responsibility on how we hear things and what we choose to listen to. The way we listen can actually give an insight on what kind of person we are. In everyday life, people tend to gravitate to people who they know will listen to them and try and understand what they are saying and not merely to respond and jabber about themselves. Let us speak instead of talking, listen instead of hearing. Otherwise, we are better off giving company to the sound of silence.

The Art of Receiving

I love giving more than receiving. Ok, don’t get me wrong here. I am no Mother Theresa nor am I a rich pigletmaiden who has everything in life that I no longer have wants and wishes. I am as normal a person as the one sitting next to me. But I would rather give, than receive. I like festivals, I like occasions, I like birthdays, anniversaries, and even those days people say were invented by Hallmark in order to market their greeting cards – doctor’s day, houseplant appreciation day, secretary’s day, daughter’s week, national hat day, maid’s day, love-thy-neighbor day – I love them all, for these, according to me, are opportunities to appreciate the people and things around us.

Every morning, as I wake up, I receive the gift of another day and for that I am always grateful. Knowing that I have roof on my head, clothes to keep me warm, and footwear to make me comfortable, sure that I have food to eat, a vehicle to drive me around, and a job to take me through months … are more than enough reason to be thankful, and more than enough reason to feel the obligation to share. This is where I am coming from. This is why I like giving.

Growing up we didn’t have much and because of that I always cherish that wonderful feeling of receiving something – be it a candy or a plastic doll, a 5-peso pen or a small notebook. It is such a nice feeling that I want everyone to experience and feel. But then, that feeling can only be felt when the person receive with gratefulness.

I have been reading a lot on the subject Art of Appreciation and realized that we have a lot to be grateful for but we always choose to focus on what we want more. The old proverb tells us that it is better to give than to receive but people are wary of giving because of the prevalence of ungrateful and ungraceful receivers.

Giving does not mean material things alone. It could be time, effort, or simple words or gestures. And when it is given with utmost sincerity, flowera small amount of expectation from the receiver is in order. Another proverb tells us to give without expecting anything in return … this one I don’t agree. It is not that we are expecting a return gift from the person we give to, but what we are talking here is gracefulness of acceptance on the part of the receiver.  Many are just delighted to receive but they do not know how to receive gracefully.

Gratitude need not just be heard, it must be felt. Saying a simple “Thank You” is more than enough when said with all sincerity.  These two words can connect people in manner we may not understand, but it can pave the way to a more sustainable relationship.  Sincerely uttered, this expression of gratitude is more than enough to give back to the receiver. There are thousands of ways and words that could be used in expressing someone’s gratitude for what they give or do for you. Those simple acts and phrases can actually change someone’s life and make a person’s day a lot more pleasant. A simple greeting of “Good Morning” could lighten up your security guard’s day. A swift “How are you today?” could make your garden sweeper feel a lot more important that he thinks himself to bety. A modest “Thank You” to the young man who serves coffee in the office could lighten his heavy load. A meek smile as you send your maid off could revitalize her weariness. Doing these little things is certainly not a requirement on your part but they are little ways of showing gratitude to people around us who makes our lives a lot more comfortable.

Complement each compliment with poised graciousness. We Asians are very uncomfortable in accepting compliments to the point that instead of acknowledging that someone is genuinely in approval of the good we have done, we try to downplay by saying that the person is just being polite. There are ways to graciously respond to compliments without sounding too perturbed.  If someone complimented the changes in your appearance due to a weight loss, smile and say, “It’s nice of you to notice the hard work I put in!” If your boss applauds your impressive presentation, say, “How kind of you to acknowledge that!” If your husband raves about your cooking, say “I am grateful to you for saying those nice words!” If a friend praises your choice of wardrobe for a party, say “You made my day!” If you are still too shy to say more, a simple and earnest “Thank you” will do.

Write it … keep it … go back to it! One of the things I like doing is keeping a journal where I write all the things I am thankful of/for. Some people may find it silly because my list contains the most mundane of things. It could be the beautiful sound of the chirping birds outside my bedroom window, a piece of candy handed to me by my office colleague, an ever-smiling cop managing the traffic, a hand-written note from my daughter, a steaming cup of coffee, a call from my mom, a pack of my favorite garlic peanut, a photo of my nephew, a new mousepad, a scoop of ice-cream that my husband brought home for me, a crunchy masala vada, a message from my receivingsister, a scratch on
my car, an unexpected visit by an old friend. To me, this is life’s abundant blessings that make living a lot more worthwhile. Going through my list at the end of each day, I feel lucky to be in a position where I don’t want to be at the receiving end but instead, I want to be giving more.

Vardah – the devastation is real!

Just as Chennai is getting back from the harsh effect of last year’s flooding … just as gutters are cleaned and streets are relayed … just as homes are fixed and vehicles are restored to running condition … Vardah came. On December 3, Vardah was just a low pressure area near the Malay Peninsula until it was identified as a depression on December 6th and finally declared a cyclonic storm on December 8th. But it was not until December 11th when we get to know who Vardah really is. The name means Red Horse. And when it started galloping toward Chennai with a landfall that shook the entire city, he made sure his name will be etched on our minds and memories, forever.

It was a Monday. I was keen on going to work since Monday is always a busy day for us in the publishing 6industry. But my husband prevented me from going because it has started raining heavily and the news channels have already announced the time of Vardah’s landfall which is around 2pm. I quickly checked on what our “Tamilnadu Weatherman” is saying, and bang on! He was just warning people not to venture out as this cyclone may prove to be stronger than expected.

I thank God I listened to my husband and decided to work from home that day because as the day progressed, the wind became more intense and it became more and more apparent that Vardah is no ordinary cyclone.

I began moving my precious bonsai plants to a safer place, checked on all windows, and gathered some candles as I am quite sure electricity will go off. My husband and I thought of going out to stock on provisions but then we decided against it because going out, even to the closest store, could be tricky. Thank God for Maggi noodles and Marie biscuits we had stocked.

A little after 1noon, the wind showed its prowess. The tree in front of our house began swaying in a manner we have not seen before… and as we checked, it was just 67 kph. The news announced that it would get worst, and it did. At around 3pm, I couldn’t take my eyes off the windows watching how our trees are moving wildly. It was like someone is slapping its face from all direction. The wind was moving at 130 kph. Battered, tired, and hurt, a number of them fell on the road as the winds took a break around 5pm. The second spell came, more trees fell, electricity went out, and darkness enveloped the city.

We woke up the next day with the sun peeping through dark clouds. Opening our windows, the sight of those lifeless trees tore our hearts. Wires strewn all over, metal scraps from we-don’t-know-where, broken fences … destruction everywhere. We are disconnected from the outside world — electricity has not been restored, internet connectivity was cut, phone networks ceased to work … and we could not even open our gates to go out! Literally trapped! And so, we spent another day indoors not knowing how the rest of the city is.

Wednesday, I HAD to go to work. It has been two days and work surely filed-up and emails were waiting to be replied to. Thank God for Good Samaritans who moved the fallen tree in front of our house, giving space for the movement of pedestrians and two-wheelers. With great difficulty, I managed to take the car out of the garage. And as I inched through the maze of fallen trees on the way to work, I realized that the devastation is real. It was like Apocalypse.

Along the ECR, some residents were standing on the road as the roofs of their house were taken away by Vardah. Passing through the Taramani Highway, the usual b2uzz of vehicles were not there. The four-lane highway was reduced to a single lane where v
ehicles had to carefully thread through the spaces in between big and small branches scattered all over. Climbing the flyover gave me the visual horror of seeing how IIT, CLRI, and Anna University lost most of its green covers. Crossing Raj Bhavan, I prayed for those beautiful deer and other animals in the compound, they must have been terrified! Going through Anna Salai, I saw how even the biggest of building were not spared. Shattered glass windows, cracked walls, smashed metal structures, damaged roads, all very difficult to look at. Reaching my office, which is surrounded by huge trees, I was just relieved that I could safely park my car. The building did not have any d4amage, but the trees surrounding it bore the brunt. During the day, news of people who lost their homes, cars and buses that flip over, damaged crops, missing pets, accidents …

That night when I drove back home, I was stuck in traffic for almost two hours. But I did not have the heart to complain. My family and I have a lot to be thankful for.