Never thought sports would teach my daughters these FIVE life lessons. Seriously!

I love Table Tennis

Both my daughters, Anaga (16) and Ananya (12), are avid table tennis players. They love the game, take it as seriously as possible and try to never miss a practice session or a tournament. Well, at least most of the time :-). Of course, I would not classify them as top notch players, but they do their best and that is the most I can ask of them.

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An affair too pedestrian to remember

Yesterday, I had the chance to walk down from Kadavanthara junction to my house in Vyttila. The reason why I had to walk is too complicated to enumerate here – just let it be understood it was not of my own wish, and I did not have a choice. So, I walked roughly 2 kilometers through one of the busiest roads in Kochi, and at peak time too – around 6 PM.

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Daughter’s bake sale for charity raises Rs 2400 for Girls home in Kakkanad

The poster for the Charity shop
The poster for the Charity shop


It all started 3 weeks ago, when we were in the thick of exams. Anaga was preparing for her 10th and Ananya for her 6th. In between answering questions on Ashoka and Buddhism, Ananya was busy scribbling down a menu card. “What are you doing?”, I asked. “Mummy, this is for the charity sale for Easter. Shika and I are getting it ready.”

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The “Call It As I See It” content marketing update Google must adopt. Now.

Alternate title for SEO:  “Rants from a content marketer about content marketing”

Cartoon from

It was bound to happen. Content marketers (the good ones, that is) spent time and money creating quality content while content farms went laughing all the way to the bank. Then came Google (hero/villain depending on which side of the SEO fence you are in) and turned these content farms out of the playpen. All is well with content marketing.

But Google’s work is not done. Panda, Penguin and other wild animal updates have not touched the real issue in content marketing today. To cut a long rant short, is it just me, or are content marketers looking to make things as complex as possible? Have we ended up creating a hyper- demand for content, and thus become the victim of our own scam? Are we creating content for the sake of creating it?

So here is my update to content marketing that I insist everyone (including Google) need to adopt. Immediately. Presenting the “Call it as I see it” update. Drum rolls please…..

  • Content will no longer be classified as tweet, FB update, LI status, blog, case study etc. All content will be classified based on the purpose – to hoodwink, to sell, or to bore you to death.
  • If content is not original – that is, not rewritten from at least 3-5 different “expert” sources – please call it rehashed.
  • If content is really original and relevant, and cannot be copied, lifted, rehashed, or plagiarized, don’t bother. We marketers see no use for it. Go write a book. And win the Booker.
  • Move over Google. Bing and Yahoo too. We are tired of you dictating what we see. I want a new search engine that brings me only 1 result – exact answer to what I asked. If I ask “When is the next full moon day in January 2013”, why in heaven’s name do I need to see 350,86,456 results in .00002 seconds? Just give me the frigging date for God’s sake.
  • And no, when I ask this question, I DO NOT want to see ads to “Orgy at Newcastle on Full Moon day”. Nor do I want to see “How to create a new full moon?”, “Tired of the current full moon and want a change?” and a list of news, information, images, and events related to full moon. I know I am stretching here, but you get the point, don’t you?

What say, mate?

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No means No. But what are we thinking?

My grandmother had these bunch of homelies that she used constantly to curtail my childish rebellion. One when I wanted to go out and play after dusk – the Gandharva will kidnap you. Or when I did not want to part my hair –  You will not get a handsome husband. But the one that really irritated me no end was the one about being safe – Does not matter if the flower falls on the thorn, or the thorn on the flower, the flower will always get hurt.

Growing up in an extremely close-knit family, where every thought (let alone word or action!) was scrutinized and whetted against an unwritten “Moral Code for behavior set by our ancestors”, I would relegate all these aphorisms as orthodox and behind-the-times. In my mind, my grandmother and my parents lived in an old-fashioned time where a girl could not venture out without her morals questioned.

Such aphorisms are not relevant any more (I would counter in my mind). Men are modern now, more educated and sensitive, and respect a woman for who she is and what she does. The modern man really understands that “No means no”.

Looks like I am wrong. Totally. Especially when when I read newspapers nowadays. While my grandmother, if she was alive, would have been troubled and saddened,  she also would not be surprised – this is bound to happen to girls who cross the line.

Looks like it does not matter how developed we become as a nation. Or educated. Or liberated. Our mind continues to dwell in pre-historic times where men can do as they want, and women need to toe the line.

So here are the top 5 homelies that I am going to drill into my daughters as they grow up in “Modern” India, amidst educated and modern men.

  • Do not step out without a proper escort – ideally 3-4 male and female members of your family – or else the gandharva will kidnap and rape you
  • It does not matter if you part your hair or not – men will always look at you as a piece of meat they can eat any time, any how
  • No dates, no bars or discos, no going to the movies or to shop after 6 PM, no malls, no restaurants, no beaches, no colleges, no education, no career, no nothing. Forget women’s lib – those fairy stories exist only in the farthest recesses of a paleolithic woman’s mind
  • To heck with good touch and bad touch. From now on, NO TOUCH rules. This rule extends to all male members of the family. Including the uncle who loves to pinch cheeks. Instead of asking my girls to behave nicely with strangers and guests, I will insist that they treat everyone with suspicion.
  • Whether the thorn falls on the flower, or the flower on the thorn, you will get hurt. So listen to me.

And grandma, you were right. I wish every girl had a grandmother like you.

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Our annual pilgrimage to Amrita Preventative Wellness Center

Last week was our annual pilgrimage to Amrita Hospital’s Preventative Wellness Center for our routine check-up. Those of you who hate visiting hospitals, sick or not, will find Amrita’s Wellness Center a pleasure. I hope that at the end of this blog that you are not only encouraged to have your annual check-up, but also insist on Amrita for it.

My husband and I have been going to Amrita since 2006 for our annual executive check-up.  We missed 2009, which means we now have 6 visits under our belt, and therefore qualifies us to recommend it wholeheartedly. The biggest surprise this year was that Amrita had shifted their entire wellness practice center into a new building, all departments in a single floor. No more rushing around to different departments on different floors, no more waiting for the rest of the people in our batch to complete a test before going to the next one, and more importantly, no more sitting next to patients who may have active viruses waiting to use you as their next host. Instead we entered a completely clean, efficient, and healthy environment that came close to that of a 4-star hotel.

For Rs 4200 per person, we get a complete check up that includes Chest X Ray, Ultrasound, TMT, ECG, Urine, Stool, and Sugar test, BMI and weight check, Pulmonary fitness, and two interactions with the General Physician (at the beginning of the day around 8 AM, and towards the end (around 3 PM or so), who will advise you based on your test results. And did I mention a vegetarian breakfast and lunch buffet while you wait around for your test results to come in?

Instead of getting into absolute details (their website does that!), here are the Top Five things I observed (and reflected on) when we were there from 8 AM to 3 PM.

  1. No matter how educated and informed we are, preventative health care is not ingrained in our mental make-up. We prefer to hold off visiting the hospital until we are really sick, dying, or unconscious!
  2. I watched both young and old alike walking around stiffly with stool samples and urine containers! They were so embarrassed – shifty eyes, looking anywhere except at these ‘objects of repulsion’, and rushing to get rid of it. Imagine how the lab technicians must feel when analyzing it! Thank God for such angels..
  3. Keralites have a highly developed sense of personal hygiene, but as this wise senior next to us remarked, we are pretty bad when it comes to social hygiene. We saw people dump their plastic bottles into huge green containers that had “BIO-WASTE ONLY” written all over it, strew toilet paper all over the floor even when there were trash cans in every nook and corner, and mess up the cafeteria with food waste.
  4. All of us are paranoid when it comes to our health. And it only gets worse as we grow older. Even though both Mukund and I knew there was nothing wrong and we are relatively healthy, until Dr. Sivakumar went through the entire list of reports and remarked that all was fine, we were in a state of tension alright!
  5. For a country that has given the world the Bhagavad Gita with highly advanced theories of reincarnation, karma, and the infinite nature of our soul, we  absolutely hate talking about death. And incredibly uncomfortable (and terrified) when that subject comes up.

So, how can I jump from this topic of regular health check-ups to theories on spirituality and dying? Because they are all inter-linked. You can either be proactive about your physical health and ensure you follow the basics (eat right, exercise regularly, and have annual check-ups) or resign yourselves to FATE (no matter what I do, I cannot fight my genes and my karma), but end of the day, our spiritual make-up defines our physical health.

Here’s to health and well-being in the New Year and beyond – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Cheers!

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The trials and tribulations of working from home

Work from home? Easier said than done. No matter how many smartphones, ipads, laptops, and wifi you arm yourself with, nothing can make working from home easy. That’s because we forget a small factor called “Life”.

Think I am exaggerating? Hmmm, methinks an illustration is in order.

9:30 AM: The Palak lady – Spend 10 minutes searching for 18 Rs – she needs exact change, and since neither my cook nor the maid has any, they invite me into this. At this point, since my laptop is starting up, I don’t mind the invite.

10:15 AM: Caretaker – to give receipt for the check I had written that morning. Ordinarily he does not ask for me, but the receipt is incorrectly worded, and he wanted to check if that is okay. I say, fine. And then spend 5 minutes chatting on the issue of finding good gardeners and security guards and iron men. (of the ironing kind, not the WWE)

10:20 AM: Call from courier service asking for the exact location of my house. Spent 7 minutes describing the location from every possible direction, since he was not sure where he was going to come from. Sigh!

11 AM: Call from my daughter’s school: Report card is posted online, please check before coming for Parent Teacher meeting on Friday. Additional appeal for donations for the local musical that the students are planning in January. I try, very ineffectively, to prevent my cash outflow, but end up promising to to do “something”.

11:AM to 11:15 AM: Rushed online to look at my daughter’s report card. Could not log in initially, and once I did log in, the report card was not updated. Sent an email reporting the problem.

12:30 PM: The caretaker again: He had corrected the receipt (even though I had assured him that the earlier one was fine) and wanted the other one back. I had already balled it up and thrown it in the trash can, so had to retrieve it, dust it, smoothen it and give it back.

1:30 PM: I call my cook, tell her to tell anyone else who calls or rings the bell that “I am not there”

2:30 PM: My daughters rush in, one excited as I was working from home, the other equally disappointed since she cannot watch “Grey’s Anatomy” on Star World. After explaining in minute detail of their escapades at school, they rush off for their lunch and bath. Time to really get my work done.

3:30 PM: The cook rings my room bell from downstairs, and when I come out of my room, she asks loudly – “Madam are you there or not? The courier man is here.”

I switch off my laptop, sign the courier receipt, join my kids for lunch, and launch into their homework, table tennis, yoga, and music lessons the rest of the day.

Please do keep in mind that the above schedule is in addition to the multiple bathroom breaks (I am a firm believer of the “2 liters of water a day” school), snack and chai breaks, and stretching my legs in front of the TV. Also do keep in mind that not all days are like these. There are worse.

Still think I should work from home? Hold on, there’s the door bell. I’ll be right back. But don’t hold your breath.

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Lessons from my flower seller’s daughter-in-law

When the bell rang at 6:15 am on Monday morning, I sighed. It was my flower seller again. At least her daughter-in-law. She has been ringing the bell at that ungodly hour for the last 3 days with one excuse or the other – which flower do you want, when am I going to get paid, you forgot to keep the puja plate for the flowers. I desperately wished for her mother-in-law to come back from her vacation soon. She never bothered me about such details, and accepted money whenever I paid, without even checking the account book I maintain.

As I held my temper and opened the door, she stood in front of me with the usual jasmine flowers. She dimpled and asked, “Do you want a couple of lotuses also for your Krishna?”

The surest way to my heart is to talk about Krishna, and here she was offering lotuses. Ignoring the possibility of my kids missing the bus and going without their hot lunch boxes, I smiled and extended my hands greedily.

I showed her my new Krishna idol I had purchased just the week ago from Guruvayur, and then asked her if she sells in that temple town. (Her husband buys flowers in bulk from Coimbatore and sells to nearly most of the well-known temples in and around Kochi). She said she would love to, but she does not have the time.

I asked her how she could not have time when she finishes her door-to-door selling by 9 AM. Her schedule for the rest of the day shocked me into sitting down on the doorstep. She wakes up at 4 AM, starts her door-to-door selling from 5 am, wraps it up by 9, then boards the inter-city train to Coimbatore at 10 AM. Reaches there by 2 PM or so, then starts buying up flowers, loads them into an auto, and reaches the station by 6 PM or so.  Boards a return train to Kochi to let herself into her home close to midnight.

Why do you work so hard, I asked. What about your children? Don’t they help out? Her first daughter is doing her final year (Bachelor of Science) and wants to go on and do her B. Ed. and get a lecturer job in a good college. Her second daughter is doing her second year Engineering, and her youngest (a son) is doing a Diploma in Engineering. “I do not want them to work the way we do. I am doing all this for them.”

By now my second daughter was reminding me about lunch boxes and I hastily thanked her for the flowers. She smiled back and went her way.

I have not stopped thinking about my flower-seller’s daughter-in-law since then. Sincerity, hard work, love for her children – these were the easier lessons she could teach me. But her attitude (no expectations of anything in return from them) and her sense of duty and responsibility?

It put to shame my daily grumblings. It exposed my ignorance of a “real day’s work” in the real world. It touched me in a way no status update, tweet, or email from my friends or family could.  It taught me that life’s real lessons will hit me when I least expect it. I wonder how many of these real lessons have passed me by as I huff and puff my way through a day’s work in my world-class office inside an IT park in urban India?

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