Volunteering is like A Pot of Milk

pot of milk

I am back after a long break from writing.   I have spent my time volunteering  for one organization or the other.  School PTAs, neighborhood HOAs and Religious committees just to name a few.   And in all those places I have noticed that there is a similarity in how people behave no matter what environment they are in.  Even though this week’s blog post is aimed at volunteering it can be true to any organization where a lot of people are involved.

So like all my other blogs let’s start with a story.  It is an old Indian story and I have heard it being said many different ways but here is my version.

There is this small village in a remote part of the country and in that village there lived a widowed mother of several small children.  She does some odd jobs around the village all day long and barely manages feed her children.  One day all the well intentioned charitable people of the village come together and decide that if each of them brings a cup of milk and pours it into a pot placed in front of her hut, at the end of the day the poor woman can feed her children.

On the first day one of the villagers decides that if everyone brings milk no one will notice that he poured a cup of water into the pot.  What difference is one cup of water going to make?  That evening when the poor women went to check the pot it was half way filled with water.  Apparently the entire villager had the same thought, and some didn’t bring anything thinking others must have already filled the pot.

So my friends any organization is as good as the sum of all the parts.  Every cup counts.  What if one person shows up with a cup of milk but the rest of the village brings water.  Now that one cup of milk is wasted.  OR Most of the villagers bring milk but one person brings a cup of sour milk and adds it the pot, now they have contaminated everyone else’s good work.

No organization can be successful without everyone one picking up a part  and when we do volunteer to do something we should do so whole heartedly with good intentions  and give it all our best so that we will not spoil the good work of others.



To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

Back in the 70s, in India they delivered the smallpox vaccine the traditional way, a bifurcated needle was dipped into the Vaccinia solution and the baby’s arm was poked multiple times. Each time the needle broke the skin, a small amount of the vaccine was deposited, and blisters formed. This leaves a scar like the one I have on my right arm, it is set close to the shoulder and it is about an inch in diameter.  I have a few smaller ones on my left hand for diphtheria, measles, polio, rubella, and BCG (for TB).  A lot of these diseases are supposed to be eradicated now, but I would still prefer to have the scars than not be vaccinated at all.

Both my children are vaccinated and they get extra booster shots, especially for Hepatitis because we visit India often.  They did not get poked with a bifurcated needle nor do they have any scars on their hands but they have a neat little record online that lists all the vaccinations they got.  Not only that, if they came up with a vaccine for every decease that existed, I would be lining up with my children to get it.  If there is way to avoid an illness for your children and for you, do you not want to take advantage of it?  I would think that it is commonsense.

I have read arguments that the measles vaccine causes Autism, based on some studies that were published a few years ago.  I think the parents of the Autistic children were so sad about their children’s condition that they wanted to blame something for it and when someone said that the vaccine is to blame they jumped at the opportunity to rise against the pharmaceutical companies and doctors for pushing these vaccines.  I am sure if more studies came out showing vaccines are safe more parents will be convinced to get their babies vaccinated.

The other argument I heard is that most of these diseases are eradicated so why vaccinate?  Now this is the same kind of logic found in the question “what came first? The Chicken or the Egg?”   The diseases are eradicated because we have the vaccines.  So if you do not use the vaccine does that mean the diseases are not eradicated anymore?    I hope the recent outbreak of measles has answered that question.  Even if you think these diseases are wiped off the face of Earth, you should still get the vaccine because you never know when you might come across that one in a million person that has measles and you might catch it.  Better be safe than sorry right!

Now finally the issue of freedom.  People think they are free to choose whether or not to vaccinate their children.  To that I quote Lincoln “your freedom to swing your fist stops where my face begins”.  There are many children that cannot be vaccinated; you are putting them at risk by not vaccinating your kids who can be vaccinated.  These children are either too young to be vaccinated or they are too sick, their parents did not choose not have the vaccine.  They would love to get vaccinated but could not because of various circumstances, why should they be put at risk in order to protect your freedom to choose? We do not live in an isolated world; we come in contact with people in numerous ways.  Weather it is in the waiting room of a doctor’s office or a theme park or just standing in line at the grocery store you are passing on your germs to other people without being aware of it.   So as a global citizen it would be the right thing to do!

Having said all of the above I am sick and tired of hearing any more about vaccinations.  It is all over the news; the internet, social media and everyone from the president to the woman next door are talking about it.  Many insurance providers pay for all vaccinations and many countries provide this service to their citizens for free.  So people use commonsense before the government starts to mandate you to get your kids vaccinated, before doctors kick you out of their practice and schools kick your kids out of school!

The Invisible Woman

A few days before the Super Bowl I came across an article by Rhitu Chaterjee on NPR called “Mindy Kaling’s Super Bowl Ad: Are Indian Women Invisible?”.  But that statement is not just true for Indian women I feel like all women felt like they are invisible at some time or the other.

In the article Rhitu Chaterjee says that at times she was “overlooked” or her work was “underappreciated” because she is an Indian American women.  She then goes on to say that, after she moved back to India she didn’t feel safe in public so she wished she was invisible.  She concludes the article by saying “Only by persisting in workplaces and public spaces, and making sure we are seen and heard, can we hope for a day when women of all colors feel more visible.”

I totally agree with her.   As an Indian American woman who has lived in the US for close to 20 years I can say that – you make yourself invisible by not speaking up.  Women in general and Asian women in particular do not like to draw attention to themselves.  It could be because of the cultural taboos or because whenever they step out in public they get negative attention.  But that should not stop women from speaking up when they feel like they are being overlooked or underappreciated.  I have a few suggestions for all women who find themselves to be “invisible” at work and in social situations.

  1. At your work place if you feel like your co-workers are taking credit for something you did then call them out on it.  Be polite and tactful, but make sure they know that it did not go unnoticed by you and you will not stand aside and let them get away with it.
  2. If your boss passed you up for a promotion then talk to him/her and see why it happened. Make sure you have another job lined up so that if the conversation with the boss did not go as you planned you can quit with your head held up high.
  3. Make sure that you give your best to the job and leave no room for someone to criticize you. Bosses or managers do not like to upset their best workers.
  4. Be proactive and ask for more responsibilities, unless you put yourself out there as an enthusiastic employee they will not notice you.
  5. Stay at home moms don’t have to be invisible either, join the PTA or just volunteer at your children’s school. Let the teachers and the other parents know that you care about your children’s education.  If people think that Soccer moms are scary they haven’t met a PTA mom.  PTA moms are a force to be reckoned with!
  6. Get on your HOA board. Let the neighbors know that you care about what is going on around you.
  7. Join as many local groups as possible, charitable groups, non-profit organizations, local hospitals, libraries are all places that are looking for volunteers. That will get you involved in the local community.

It was not long ago that women had to fight for equal rights, the right “ to vote ; to hold public office; to work; to fair wages or equal pay; to own propertyto education; to serve in the military or be conscripted; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital or parental rights.”  There was a time in America when a woman could not open a bank account or rent an apartment without a male relative co-signing with her.  Women have come a long way from that but we still do not feel like we are getting the respect we deserve.  We don’t all have to be Indira Nooyi the CEO of Pepsi Co, or Hilary Clinton with aspirations to become president.  There are many women in powerful positions but I am talking about the everyday lives of ordinary people.  We don’t all have to be women’s rights activists in order to be seen and heard.  We can make ourselves visible in many small ways.  Just by saying ‘no’ or calling for help or simply by speaking up!



Should I stay or should I go…

The question is – should I remain a stay at home mom or go back to work.   I had a wonderful job.  Great pay, two weeks paid vacation, two weeks paid sick leave and a wonderful medical plan for the whole family.  It took an hour to get there in the morning and an hour and half to get home in the evening but I loved my job.  I would like to say that when my second kid turned one I quit my job to be a full time mom for my two daughters.  But it didn’t quite work that way.  The economy was down, they were letting go of people and I needed a change of scene, so I set my self-up to be let go.  I figured I could collect unemployment while I considered where to go next while spending some time with my daughters, 1 and 2 years of age at that time.  Well they are 12 and 13 now and I am still at home.

It is a choice like so many other choices that parents make.  I am not one of those moms who can juggle work, home, kids and a whole lot of other things like superwoman.  When I worked I felt very conflicted, I couldn’t concentrate on my job because I was wondering what they were doing and then worried that I am not giving my all to my work.  When I got home I would so tired from the nine hours I spent at work and the one and half ours of drive that would i wished they would both just go to sleep so that I don’t have to deal with two toddlers after cooking dinner and cleaning up.

There are a lot of factors to consider.  Can one afford to stay home economically?  Fortunately for me my husband makes enough money that we can manage on one salary.  That is not the case for many households where two incomes are necessary.  Some women just do not like staying home; they feel like they are more productive at their jobs.  There are those who feel that kids with two working parents are more independent as they are forced to do a lot of things on their own.  As I said it is a choice and each camp has it’s own advocates and critics who strongly believe that their choice is right. What upsets me most is when people look at stay at home moms as second class citizens who are not smart enough to go to work.  I have two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and I worked as a project manager for a software company before I made the choice to stay at home and take care of my kids myself.  Just like they made the choice to go to work and send their kids off to a day care or school.  I don’t judge them for not being there for their children.

I did not want total strangers to take care of my precious daughters and I wanted to be there when they crossed all the major milestones.  I wanted to experience all the joys, trials, and the heartaches of being a mother.  I took them to the park, story time at the library, swim lessons at the YMCA, play dates and little gym when they were toddlers and I thought I will go back to work when they started school.  But when my older daughter started kindergarten I signed up for every volunteer opportunity that came around so I could be at her school and see her as much as I can.  I worked in the library once a week, the cafeteria once a week and I was there for very school party, award ceremony and school function.  I thought they won’t need me when they are in Junior High but now that they are in middle school I am not at their school as much but I do what I can from chaperoning a field trip to baking cookies for a bake sale.  I am home when they come home from school and they also know that I am there for them whenever they need me.  I do so much with them and for them that I am sure we will all miss our time together if and when I start working again

I would be lying if I did’t say that there are days I miss having a job and crave for some meaningful work.  In seven months my older daughter will be going off to high school and I think it is time they were more independent. So I am thinking it is finally time for me to look for a job.  Well we have to be prepared to pay for college after all!

I am not Charlie

As a Hindu, whenever I buy something new I have to get it blessed by a priest.  When I bought a new car I took it to the temple so that the priest can perform the blessing there.  He said a short prayer and proceeded to draw an OM, a Sri, something that looks like the Star of David, and a Swastika on the hood and the doors of my brand new car. Erasable of course, and it was dark when I sheepishly drove the new car home and washed it immediately.  They are all symbols of good fortune and blessings in my religion, but I was not going to drive around town with a Swastika drawn on my car; I will get egged, arrested or killed.  More than that I have too much respect for my Jewish friends to pull a stunt like that!  Although I would love to practice my religion I use discretion and a sense of responsibility when symbols of my religion offend others.  That is the reason why I can never be Charlie Hebdo.

I am truly sorry for what happened to him, his colleagues, the cops and also the people who were killed in the kosher market.  Their deaths were a tragedy and those responsible were cowards.  I do not condone violence in any way or form.  But I also believe that freedom of speech is not absolute.  You cannot scream fire in the middle of a crowded building and cause a stampede.  That would not only be irresponsible but also criminal.    The French Revolution paved way to religious freedom in France, the idea was to separate the church from the state and give people the right to reject the constraints of Roman Catholic Church, or any religion for that matter.  Not just freedom from religion but also freedom to practice any religion you choose.  But journalists like Hebdo seem to toss out that baby with the bath water. In order to express your freedom from religion you don’t have to insult the beliefs of others.  Journalists are in a positon of great power when it comes to influencing the state of mind of the general public.  But in the words of Spider Man’s uncle Ben “with great power comes great responsibility”.  They could use that power to send a positive message, instead of instigating hatred.

I was also very impressed at the avalanche of support that followed after what happened in Paris.  The heads of state coming together for the parade and showing solidarity was huge step in the right direction.  I would like to have seen a fraction of that outrage for the 273 girls that were abducted in Nigeria, or the 132 children that were killed when gunman attacked a school in Pakistan, or the countless other victims of terrorism all over the world. 

The whole sentiment of “as long as it is not in my back yard” does not work.  It did not work before World War I, it did not work before World War II, and it certainly does not work now.  What is the solution?  I don’t know.  But antagonizing people is not going to bring any peace.  We should not be insulting other religions; we should be trying to understand them and with understanding comes respect.  And with mutual respect we might see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Smart and Wise Women of the19th Century

I love watching Downton Abby.  There are a number of strong female characters on that show, but my favorite is the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley played by Maggie Smith.  Smart and wise, as women had to be in a time when women were considered inferior socially, economically, or politically.  She is a woman who lived in that world and managed to not only maintain but also assert her freedom of thought and her strong personality.  This is evident in some of the things she says.  I would like to quote everything she ever said, but I will stick to the current season’s first episode.

She says to Mrs.Crawley “There is nothing simpler than avoiding people whom you don’t like. It is avoiding one’s friends, that is the real test.” Later in the same episode she is at the dinner table when she says “Principles are like prayers, noble of course, but awkward at a party.”   There is so much controlled intellect and wisdom in those short sentences.  She reminds me of Jane Austin’s heroines so much so that I had to dig up some of the impressive things they said.  They also lived in a time when women were not given any credit yet they managed to get their views across.

Everyone knows what a strong minded character Miss. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is.  But there was one thing she said which impressed me most.  Mr. Darcy asks her if her friend Charlotte was happy to be settled within fifty miles of her family and friends, fifty miles of good roads.  She says “The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances.  Where there is fortune to make the expense of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil.  But that is not the case here.  Mr. and Mrs. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow for frequent journeys – and I am persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance.”  Who cannot be impressed with such logic?

Fanny Price of Mansfield ParK is a different kind of character.  I don’t think she has a strong personality like Miss. Bennet, but she is smart in her own way.  Fanny, Miss. Crawford and Edmund are discussing the temperament of Dr. Grant and his choice of professions when Fanny says “We need not give up his profession because, whatever profession Dr. Grant had chosen, he would have taken a – not a good temper into it; and as he must either in the navy or army have had a great many more people under his command than he has now, I think more would have been made unhappy by him as a sailor or soldier than clergy man.  Besides, I cannot but suppose that whatever there may be to wish otherwise in Dr.Grant, would have been in a greater danger of becoming worse in a more active and worldly profession, where he would have had less time and obligation – where he might have escaped that knowledge of himself, the frequency, at least, of that knowledge which it is impossible he should escape as he is now.  A man – a sensible man like Dr. Grant, cannot be in the habit of teaching others their duty every week, cannot go to church twice every Sunday and preach such a very good sermons in so good a manner as he does, without being the better for it himself.  It must make him think, and I have no doubt that he oftener endeavors to restrain himself than he would if he had been anything but a clergyman.”  I want her on my debate team!  Psychologists would spend years researching to get to the truth in those words.

I feel sad for the current generation of readers who have to contend with heroines like Bella, Tris, and Katniss and never know the strong female characters of the 19th century.

Which 19th character are you impressed by?

A Critique – Part Two

Once upon a time there lived a king who had seven sons.  One day all seven sons went fishing and brought back seven fish.  They laid them out to dry.  When they came back to check on them the seventh son’s fish did not dry.   He asked the fish why it didn’t dry and the fish said “Because the hay bale was in the way”.  He asked the hay bale why it was in the way and the hay bale said “because the farmer did not feed me to the cows”.  He asked the farmer why he didn’t feed the cow and the farmer said “Because my wife did not give me lunch”.  He asked the farmer’s wife why she didn’t give the farmer any lunch and she said “because my 2 year old son was crying”.  He asked the son why he was crying and the boy said “because the ant bit me”.  He asked the ant why she bit the farmer’s son and the ant said “What did he think will happen if he sticks his hand into an ant hill?”

When I was younger all parents told this story to little kids, mainly to distract them enough to get them to do something they don’t like.  There is no moral to that story.  Unless you consider “If you stick your hand into an ant hill you will get bitten by an ant” as the lesson to be learned.  But the fact that the king had seven sons and that the seven sons went fishing does not have anything to do with that lesson.

I have read too many “huge” books, books with anywhere between 600 to 1000 pages too see that whatever the author wanted to say could have been said in less than 300 pages.  The rest was just fluff and fill, beating around the bush to make one point.  That one point is a good point, but he/she did not need 600 pages to make it.  The narrative just goes on and on about mundane things of life or a long journey or some unrelated incidents that have nothing to do with the actual plot.  I have learned to do selective reading in those cases.  I read the first line of the paragraph and the last line, if those seem important than I go back and read the whole paragraph.  Sometimes you can skip an entire chapter and not miss anything related to the plot.

There are two points that I am trying to make here:

Do not start with a lofty idea like “The king had seven sons” to teach a lesson about not sticking your hand into an ant hill.  If you have a point to make then make that point.  Do not create a completely unrelated story and then try to work your point into it.

Sometimes a story is just a story, noting more, nothing less.  It is there to entertain the reader or to distract him from his daily life.  Do not try to teach a lesson where there is none to the taught.

The Benefits of a Long Walk

Mediation is good for the soul they say.  You sit in a comfortable position, sit very still and try to push all thought out of your mind.  Go to a place where there is no happiness or sorrow, there is just you and nothing else.  What you experience is pure contentment and peace. You could achieve that during deep sleep as well.  But when you meditate, you are consciously pushing everything out of your mind to attain that inner peace.

It takes a lot of practice and will power to mediate like that.  But meditation is not the only way you can achieve that state of mind.  Every person has their own way of getting there. I recently talked to my neighbor’s dad who likes to iron clothes; he says that it is therapeutic for him.  I watched him iron his grandchildren’s pajamas and underwear for a while and I can see what he means.  Shelling peas does it for another friend of mine; she also says that a good aerobics class where she repeatedly counts all the steps helps too. Any mindless monotonous activity will do the trick .

Walking is my meditation.   I can walk for hours and for miles by myself.  I like doing this alone, with my music on.  Actually that is the only time I get to listen to music that I like, since my kids have monopoly over the radio and the CD players in my car and at home.  A number of people walk with a friend or in a group and they chat the whole time.  But I am not afraid to be alone with my thoughts.  After a mile or two the thoughts begin to leave as I enjoy the scenery around me.  Depending on what time of the day it is I could take some beautiful pictures.  I am very fortunate to live in a place where there are miles and miles of walking paths and some beautiful parks to walk through.  After a while there are no more distractions and there is just peace.

It is good exercise of course, but the benefit to my soul is immeasurable.  I can lose myself on a long winding path with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company or no thoughts at all. Just peace of mind. There are times when my mind is so full of a particular thought that I end up writing a complete article in my head.  I compose and edit a post that I plan on writing and all I have to do once I get home is to type it up and upload.   So pick an activity that works for you and you will be surprised at what wonders it could do for your soul.  Who knows you might get a book out of it.

A Critique

A Critique

I got a call from my daughter’s pediatrician’s office.  An automated voice asking me to take a survey.  It said “please answer the following questions based on your last visit, your last visit ONLY”.  That is not fair.  Our last visit was actually very pleasant, unlike all of our previous visits.  We didn’t have to wait long; the nurses and the doctor were very cheerful.  Spent a lot of time with us and answered all our questions.  Not at all like our visits to the doctor’s office before, but no one called us with a survey then.  Now that I got a chance to answer some questions why not tell them how horrible our previous visits were.

Because it does not work that way.  Whenever you are reviewing anything, music, books, movies, products or even doctor’s visits; especially when you are reviewing a service,  you cannot base your review on your previously made up mind.  Each incident, song, movie or a book has to be reviewed for its own merits or demerits.   Now if you are talking about an author or musician or an actor you can consider all their work as a whole.  That is exactly why I gave 5 stars on “goodreads” for a short story by a new author and 3 stars for Paulo Coelho latest book “Adultery”.  His work in general is very good but this particular book was not appealing to me at all.

I read an awful lot of books.  Books of all genres, non-fiction, fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, romance, mystery, thriller.  I will read anything that is written down.  But there are a few things I do look for in my books.

  1.  For me what differentiates a good book from a great one is a little bit of modesty.  I like the main character to be flawed, he/she doesn’t have to be self-deprecating but please do not insult the reader’s intelligence by being condescending.  Nothing will put me off a book than to read sentence after sentence about how perfect the main character is, physically and intellectually.
  2. Do not give me lessons on how to make things.  I have read books where the author goes on, in intricate detail for pages, about how a sword was made, how a doctor conducted a surgery, or built a complicated sculpture or performed a chemical experiment.  Unless it has any bearing on the main plot I don’t need to know about this stuff.  Just move on and finish the story!
  3. Don’t change your mind in the last chapter!  This does not happen often but I have read some bestsellers where the author spent 500 pages building up a line of thought and changed his mind in the last 10 pages and ended the story.  WHAT?
  4. Edit, edit, edit.  Nothing is more embarrassing than to have a book out there with grammatical and spelling errors, repetitive words or the chapters are all out of place.   Get an editor, and if he/she makes any suggestions please follow through on those.
  5. A little bit of humor goes a long way.  It will not hurt to throw in some well placed, tasteful jokes.  Call it comic relief to keep the book from getting boring and monotonous.
  6. It is always good to remember what Alexander pope said “Authors are partial to their wit, ’tis true, but are not critics to their judgment too?”  While it is true that everything an author puts in the book is straight from his/her head and hopefully from his/her heart, but once it is published every Tom, Dick and Harry will have an opinion on it.  So stay open to criticism.

So what about you?  What do you like or not like in the books you read?

The Christmas Tree

We have a Christmas tree!  It’s plastic, six feet tall, pre-lit and I got it in an after Christmas 80% off sale for 19.99.  It is beautiful; my kids bring it out every year after Thanksgiving and decorate it.  Mostly with ornaments that they made.

We are devout Hindus and we celebrate all the Hindu festivals, our kids even go to a Hindu school every Sunday to learn about our religion and the country their parents came from.  Does putting up a Christmas tree mean that we are betraying our Hindu Values?  No, I think it makes us more Hindu than anything.

Both our kids were born in the US.   Since they were able to watch TV, from Thanksgiving to Christmas they have been bombarded with images of Santa Claus and presents.  From the time they went to preschool they have made an ornament every year until they started Junior High.  The secular school system does not allow for a Christmas celebration on campus but they have some kind of celebration to mark the start of the holiday season.  In Kindergarten they had a Polar Express day when they read about the North Pole and how Santa Claus delivers presents to all the “good” kids.  We even spend hundreds of dollars buying presents for the teachers.  Am I to explain to my kids that Santa Claus skipped our house because we are Hindu?   No, instead I told them who Jesus was and what Christmas means.  I told them that even if we do not go to church and celebrate Christmas we can still have a tree and they can get presents.

As a child I went to a Catholic school and later I went to a Catholic College.  Complete with nuns in habits and a chapel on campus.  We had a Morning Prayer assembly everyday where we said our Lord’s Prayer, sang a few Hymns and the National Anthem, and then ended it with the Pledge of Allegiance.  That did not make me less of a Hindu.  In fact it taught me to be more tolerant of other religions and respect them as much as I respected my own religion.

Hinduism is not just a religion; it is a way of life.  You don’t just blindly chant the mantras from the scriptures you put them into practice.  They tell us how to lead a good life.  Rise above love and hatred, likes and dislikes; See God in everyone and everything.  Lead a fruitful life, “producing more than we consume and giving more than what we take”*.      If we went by these set of rules Jesus would be considered the best of Hindus.  The goal of every good Hindu is to lead their life in such a way that when they die they become one with God or the Universe and not be re-born.  Basically it means you keep coming back until you get it right!  Being tolerant of everything you come across is an integral part of this way of life.

What will teach tolerance more than to have a Christmas tree in our house, buy presents for my kids and have them buy presents for their friends and teachers?  Celebrate the season of giving. May be we can light candles for Hanukkah and fast for Ramadan next year.


*A line from the Chinmaya Mission pledge