Am I my brother’s keeper?


Earlier this year, I went on a trip that altered my perspective towards life irreversibly. I’ve been wanting to write about it ever since I was back home, but I just couldn’t find the right words. I gave up after too many days of staring at this blank screen. I didn’t want this post to be ordinary, because my experience wasn’t. But it’s been four months, and I’ve finally realised that if I keep waiting for the right words, then my story will never be told. So here goes.

My uncle and aunt serve as missionaries at the rural areas of Jharkhand. Dad, being a veterinarian, has been visiting the villages for ten years now, educating the people on how to rear goats and cows and make a living out of selling milk and meat. So he has a good relationship with the other missionary families there. The first time I visited the Malto and Santhal tribes was in 2011, right after my board exams. So this April wasn’t my first time there, but it was my first time getting up-close. Back then, I was almost like a tourist trotting here and there, just grazing the surface, when there was so much more to be seen.

This trip was special for two reasons. One, this was my first ever father-daughter trip, just the two of us. Two, of course, all the things I saw and the way it tugged at my heartstrings.

Our typical day would involve us getting on a jeep and driving to a village perfectly hidden miles away on hills. On the way to some of these places, I couldn’t believe that the paths could actually lead to an inhabited area. That was how rough the paths were, some not paths at all, just stones. For these people to come all the way down to access schools, villages, or hospitals is just too tedious. So the missionaries go to them instead. They spend days, months, even years sometimes, surveying an area, learning the local dialect, finding out how many families live there, stay with them, teach them basic hygiene, tell them of God’s love, educate them about malaria and how that could be prevented, set up schools and dispensaries, build houses, toilets, etc. Just because I packed them all in a sentence doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Now a little about the people. I literally felt as though I travelled a 100 years into the past. Negligence has left them leading primitive lives, not knowing some of the very basic things that we as “civilised” humans know. The so called “toilets” under the Swachh Bharat scheme are pointless, just three walls, no door, no closets, serve as perfect hiding places for kids playing. Mortality rates are so high that death in a family is just another happening to them. So obviously, they are not as receptive as we would like them to be. It’s not like you could tell them to dress, drink clean water, eat better, and expect them to change in a day. Change takes generations! Missionaries from the South and other states have voluntarily chosen to stay there, sacrificing comforts, leaving their children behind, to go serve the people, who for all they know would never accept them. I met some women who have undergone as many as 10 surgeries because of the poor living conditions and the poor food, but still choose to go back after every single surgery because that is what they are called to do and that is how much they love the people they serve.

To meet their educational and spiritual needs, you need to first meet their physical needs. High up in hills, I see humble school buildings where kids are sent because they would be fed. I see glowing faces at the sight of food, as opposed to the faces we have when we trash something because we don’t like the taste. After meals, it’s study time. Thanks to several decades of efforts, some locals have graduated and come teach their own people. I see a lot of emotionless faces too, of parents who come to leave their children. It’s difficult to decipher what goes on in their mind. But I do occasionally catch glimpses of smiles on their faces when the missionaries greet them and enquire about their well being. I can see joy in places where I least expected to. With the very little they have, the locals are more than content and find time to laugh and play. And even with so many difficulties like finances, poor funding, sick parents, or homesick children, the missionaries too are joyful and are always looking for more ways to give a piece of themselves.

I also visited a couple of animal farms that dad had helped set up, now maintained by the missionaries and the local people together. Dad walks around examining the animals and making remarks in Tamil, while our uncles follow behind translating. The people are visibly thrilled to see new faces and greet us with warm and firm hand shakes. Schools are set up near the farms so that while parents work, children can get some lessons. I also saw the parents getting together to worship and sing, in voices so beautiful that my heart melted. Who doesn’t like roses in a desert, smiles in troubled faces?

I can go on and on about the poor living conditions, tell you heart wrenching stories of life and death, show you pictures even. While on one side, I’m deeply troubled by how when some of us are so far ahead, our other brothers and sisters do not have access to even their basic needs, on the other side I am surprised by how privileged men and women like you and me CHOOSE to leave behind their familiar ground to come here to serve, give, and, sometimes even die? Men as young as 26 years old have come here, carried ailing villagers to hospitals, saving their lives, only to die of Malaria later. It’s not easy for the family back home either. I  met a little girl named Grace who will soon be moving to a hostel, as her parents decide to do more of mission work. She runs around her humble house, climbs on her father’s shoulder a million times a day, effortlessly switches between Hindi and the local tribal dialect and is full of cheer. It breaks my heart a little that she’ll have to leave all this soon. How much more will her parents be broken? They can just choose to go back to their hometown and pray and give money for missions. But they don’t. They give themselves instead. Why? And how?

Maybe this is what love really is. Maybe we’ve diluted the whole meaning of love, putting it in small shiny boxes to give away ONLY to our close circles, and to people who would give it back to us. The times I’ve cried over a friend’s betrayal or unreciprocated love now seem so trivial to me when I look at these men and women who lay down their lives consciously. The times I found forgiveness hard to give now seem so stupid to me. The times I’ve sulked over nothing, the times I’ve complained, the times I held a grudge for too long, all of it now look like absolute nonsense. No, I don’t mean to say I’m magically a better person now. But this experience does make so many troubles seem so small.

I’m reminded of the Good Samaritan story that Jesus narrates in response to the question “Who is my neighbour?”. These men and women, I believe, are living examples to this story. If only we could keep our eyes and arms wide open and not pass by our neighbour!

Am I my brother’s keeper? I most certainly am called to be.

 

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Can’t be her.


The world celebrates mothers today. I am heart warmed by all the pictures and words that I see. Cool moms, loving moms, moms who are best friends, sacrificial moms, so on and so forth.

I’ve never really taken fancy pictures with my amma. I wish her on Mothers’ day, but have never sent her paragraphs of why she is the best amma ever. Haven’t penned poems for her. Maybe once or twice, anna and I have signed greeting cards for her. But that’s about it. She doesn’t sit down to tell us she loves us either. We don’t surprise each other on birthdays. Big fat celebrations don’t exist in our family. We don’t take yearly family trips to exotic locations. Heart to heart conversations are a rarity. We’ve hardly said “I love you”.

But this woman I call amma, I am sure she’d lay down her life for us, if she has to. In fact, I think she does that everyday, wearing herself out to the point of exhaustion for her family. There’s love in the hot cup of tea that awaits every time I visit my hometown. She didn’t spare the rod when she raised me, out of love. She has rebuked me so that somebody else wouldn’t. She has both rejoiced in secret and cried in secret for me. She is the most overworked and under appreciated woman I know. 29 years of serving people by caring for and treating their animals, as well as their troubled souls. Even after retiring, her hands always find work to do. It’s like she whispers every morning, “Work, wherever you are, I will look for you, and I will find you.”

Three years away from home and I’ve inherited nothing from her. I can’t cook like her. Can’t keep the house spot-free like she does. Can’t fold clothes like her. (How on earth!) Can’t come back from a long day of travel and go straight into the kitchen like her. Can’t wake up in the middle of the night just to check if everyone’s sleeping tight and if the blankets cover us well. Can’t pray like her ignoring the aching knees and the thinning disc. She’d even put off going to the doc because she’s scared they’ll ask her to rest. “I can’t afford to rest, Pearlyn.”

And oh, can’t love like her. She would never hate me but even if she were to, that hatred would be more loving than the highest level of love I can give her. Now, that! That just blows my mind. Even more unbelievable is how she would blame herself when something goes wrong in one of our lives. No way.

She’s not like the well-dressed, glowing mothers they show on TV. When I think of my amma, I think of how she’d run around the house in a sweat drenched nighty, how she’d cry every time I came home with a scraped knee or a bleeding face, how she’s up early in the morning reading the Bible and praying for her family, how she’d look at her wrinkled face in the mirror, worry for a second and then move on. These are not necessarily beautiful scenes, yet there is no greater beauty than this. She deserves a perfect child, but here I am. And surprisingly, she’s okay with me.

Can you live with it?


Train journeys have become my routine. Once a month I travel from Chennai to Tirunelveli, a 12-hour overnight journey. No matter how uncomfortable they can become at times, I would always prefer trains to buses. What do I say? Love is blind. 😉 Or should I say, love is long suffering. 😀

I embarked on one such uncomfortable journey a few days ago, where I had to share a single berth with a co-passenger due to non-confirmation of tickets. It isn’t much of a big deal, except that both of us will end up waking up tired with the space constraints and awkward sleeping positions. But if we are lucky enough, some berths may clear up along the journey as people get down at intermediate stations and we’d finally get to stretch. Unfortunately for us, berths cleared up only as we almost neared the destination. But something is better than nothing, eh? So we gathered our belongings and made a move. I was just moving to a different compartment in the same coach, so I figured my suitcase could stay where it was.

Observing this, an old man asked if I am sure about leaving it there and if there were any valuables at all inside.

“Oh, just clothes.”

“If you were to lose them, can you live with it?”

*awkward silence* “Yeah uncle, I can.”

I mean, I did think about how much the suitcase was worth, if I had any of my favourite clothes inside and all that, but at the end of the day, I could live with losing it.

“Well then, you have nothing to worry about.”

Ha! Random stranger offers me words of wisdom. If I can probably live with losing something or not getting something, then there’s actually no point worrying about it. This can be my material possessions, my job, my friends, just about anything.

This really doesn’t mean I can go about being careless about every other thing of mine. But if there isn’t something I can do in my power to safeguard it, then I might as well give up worrying.

If I were to lose the most precious thing I ever had it would break my heart, but I can live with it. If I were to be judged several times by strangers, well I could live with it. If I were to be judged by friends and family? Ouch, yet I can live with it. If I don’t get the attention I sometimes yearn for from dear ones? They have their own struggles, so I can live with it. Strained relationships? I need to get myself together first and try my best to fix it, but at the end of the day, if it still doesn’t work out, I should accept it and live with it. If I were to face issues at work, I should try my best to deal with them or look forward to what I can do, but still it’s just a job and not life itself and so I can live with it. Aging? Lol, I have to live with it! Worrying about any of this is just pointless or more subtly, fruitless.

But, there are some things probably you and I cannot live with. Hurting someone you love with quick words. Doing that one act of selfishness when you could have just been considerate. Saying things you will regret later. Doing something impulse driven. Going to bed angry. Giving up eternal joys for temporary pleasures. Trading heaven for the world. Now these, these are the very things I cannot live with. And probably the only things I should be concerned about.

2017: The year that was.


2017 was the year I travelled the most, and travelled the farthest too! It was not some resolution I ticked off, in fact I had no idea I would even embark on half the journeys that I did. But they happened and I gratefully embraced them. Each of them was a different and beautiful experience in itself and I am surprised how I never came to write about them! So here is a round up post of the four amazing trips I went on this year.

Gangtok and Darjeeling

What a way to start 2017! This is probably the trip we anticipated the most. Planning began as early as November 2016 with the excitement building up each day. This being a cold region, most of our conversations were about warm clothing to carry and precautions to take. Of course all of us dreamed about the hill rides, animal spotting, sunrise views, local shopping, and umpteen other experiences that would ensue. Though sadly, I was down with flu just before the day we had to start, I still had so much fun and braved the weather. Thank you dear self for being strong. 🙂 And guess what? It snowed! And why exactly do I sound hyper? Because we come from a tropical region where the average yearly temperature is 28 degrees on the Celsius scale. 😀 So to experience temperatures as low as -8 degrees and actually see flakes of snow was surreal. It took a good while for us to snap out of it. Another unforgettable experience was watching the sun rise over the Kanchenjunga mountain ranges from an altitude of 8482 feet. It was crazy amazing that we had to hold back tears.

Hyderabad

This was the one time I travelled for friendship. 🙂 I was blessed enough to meet Ramengmawii, who I call Rami, during my college days. We’ve been through so much together and our friendship has stood the test of time. We exchange very few words but I don’t think anyone outside my family prays for me as much as she does. As she hails from a state that is 2400 miles from mine, we didn’t think we would get chances to meet after college. But fortunate for me, she moved to the South to take a few classes and I knew I had to go see her. A whirlwind trip to Hyderabad was set in motion. 🙂 Her very friendly roommate joined us too and we roamed the streets of Hyderabad like the happiest women on the planet. But more than any of that, what I enjoyed the most was my time with her and even the occasional moments of just sitting next to her and being silent, knowing how much we love and hold each other dear. She makes me feel blessed beyond what I deserve. And of course, we broke out in tears, when I had to leave.

Rameshwaram

A quick weekend trip again with few of my friends from office. Such a serene and peaceful experience. This is a small and humble town in Tamilnadu, its beauty often overlooked. We drove to the point where the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet. This was such a joy watching, with one side roaring with waves, and the other still and calm.Our drive to this point was through an abandoned town called Danushkodi that was washed out years ago by a deadly cyclone. The remains stand as an eerie reminder of the catastrophe. My favourite part of the trip was taking a train ride over the Pamban rail bridge. Where do I even begin? This rail bridge is built on top of the sea and feels so close to it, that it almost seems like travelling in a ship, only better! And the views, the smell and the colour of the sea, the wind against your face, all these are to die for! I definitely intend to go again.

Chicago

Here comes the biggest and most unexpected trip of all my life! My first overseas trip and guess what? It happened on my birthday week. 🙂 This was a business trip, but we sure had lots of time to explore the city. Each day was an experience in itself with so many new things learned and memories made. We took a ferry ride over the Chicago lake, watched Halloween and the glorious colours of Spring unfold, even tried octopus(!).  I also had a couple of days all to myself where I went around and visited new neighbourhoods and tried new cuisines. I’m still drooling over Budlong Burgers, by the way! What amazed me the most was how friendly the people were, always greeting you with a smile and willing to help. So the best part of this trip? Watching my first live Broadway- School of Rock. I am on top of the world every time I even think of the play. The kids were super amazing, so were the lead adults. My favourite song was “Where did the rock go”. So heart tugging! I had several first time experiences during this trip, including the scary VISA process. 😀 I will cherish this all my life. 🙂

Check out my Instagram if you want to see more photos!

And folks, that’s a wrap. And here’s one thought I am finishing 2017 with: What am I that He is mindful of me?” ❤

Let’s see what 2018 holds.

Dear Reggie uncle, thank you!


A numbing news made its way to me on Sunday evening through an SMS. Honestly, most of us knew this would eventually happen but just refused to be prepared for it. Dear Reggie uncle had passed from his temporary home after more than a year of fighting  cancer with much grace and patience. I’m pretty sure he was ready because cancer or not, he always lived life one day at a time and never wanted to plan far too ahead.

Being a professor, a writer and a wonderful human, uncle had touched the lives of many, and gently influenced mine too. I wanted so badly to bid farewell to uncle and see his face for one last time, but couldn’t make it. But I did go on a quick trip home to meet his family and friends a couple of days ago in his thanksgiving prayer gathering. My, what a blessing it was. I’m sure everyone carried back not just great memories of him but also lessons for a lifetime. This one line that uncle’s sister-in-law mentioned while talking about his life and death has stayed with me.

Reggie, you showed us how to live. Now, you’ve also showed us how to die. What more can we ask for?

As I was struggling to find words to comfort his wife, dear Caroline aunty, I was once again amazed by how gracefully she handled everything, though it was too big a loss for her. She said, “Pearlyn, I’m so glad you are here. I was even thinking about making you talk today. But with lots of things going on, I couldn’t coordinate.”

Oh aunty, how I wanted to talk, not exactly before a gathering, but to uncle himself. How I wished to sit and talk with him and tell him how he not only has a way with words, but also a way without words. How he was not only a great teacher in the class, but outside the classroom too. How I never finished the letter I started writing for him when I knew he was sick. Oh how I wish.

As I reminisce moments with uncle, here are the ones that stand out. His beautiful “Hello,ma” with which he has always greeted me. His soft yet authoritative voice was to me a perfect oxymoron. Our conversations were limited but rich. I had what I would call the honour of translating one of the articles that uncle had written. He had strong diction over both Tamil and English, but still, uncle and aunty were always supportive of up and coming writers, and hence my chance. Uncle had such brevity in his writing, with the right amounts of humour infused in it so as to not dilute the essence. It was a huge challenge achieving the same in my translation, but I was so very excited. I put my very best into it but I was also ready for uncle to tear it part by part, because how else will I learn? But what he did was beyond my understanding. He printed out my copy and edited it with a pencil and called it suggestions, not corrections. He could have very well taken a red pen and made the corrections even without consulting me, but he didn’t. He treated it as if it were my own piece, though it was just a translation. His words of appreciation were more than what I deserved. Uncle was an encourager all along.

There was also this one time my writing got published in a national daily. We met many months later, when he remembered and expressed how happy he was to see my name in print. He said wonderful things about the piece and insisted that I keep writing such satirical pieces. “I read your article to my class as an example of a great short piece. You should definitely keep writing, we need people like you. And I started typing a long mail to send you. But I never got to complete it, but good that we’ve met in person now”, he said. I wish I could read his half finished mail now, just like I wish he would read mine.

I’ve also observed what a loving husband and father uncle was. He was the unsung hero who always pushed aunty to do more for Christ and also supported her along the journey. When I used to volunteer at their office, uncle would get us lunch along with his favourite chicken and also hot and fresh snacks for the evening. His hospitality was overwhelming, yet he did it so subtly and without attracting attention. I’m filled with a blend of emotions right now. Of course there is sorrow, but I am also immensely happy and grateful that I got to learn from him.

Dear Reggie uncle, thank you for mirroring Christ to us. I know you wouldn’t like us saying that we want to live like you, but we really do. Thank you for all the love and appreciation. Everything I ever write, I attribute it to you. We will try to live a life worthy of heaven, so that one day, we will meet in Christ and worship together.

Bobby Pins


My mom and I do not share our dressers. Actually, I do not have one. Mine is typically a big cupboard where I throw in all my stuff. So each of us has our own set of pins, hair clips and the like that we don’t usually share. During rare times when there is a safety pin crisis, borrowing happens but we don’t care about returning them. So, I found it really funny when my mom asked me to carefully bring back her bobby pins that I was using that night. While dressing me up for a Easter play, she preferred to use her bobby pins as they would better secure my shawl to my hair than the usual pins I use. I’m pretty sure she mentioned at least a fifty times to not lose her bobby pins. I kept saying how senseless her attachment to them was. But she wouldn’t budge. She repeated the chant as I was about to leave. During my ride, I was pondering over why she would be so hysterical about losing her favourite bobby pins. I mean, those are not irreplaceable, though she believes they are! She is very much convinced that no store would have that particular type. Is there more to this obsession, I thought. Why does she hold on to such small things and fear over losing them? She has given me far more valuable things and not care if I spoilt them. She would give up her favourite saree if I wanted to cut it up and stitch a salwar. She would give her rings and earrings up if I happen to like them. She would let me have the only pair of slippers she is comfortable with, if I fancy them. She would give up her portion of the ice cream for brother and me. Why then would she want me to return her bobby pins?! Is it because she has no control over bigger things that she holds on to the tiniest of them? Is it because she has pampered and taken care of others for so long that for once, she wanted to be pampered and treated special, with her definition of special being returning her bobby pins? I don’t know. But all she ever asked me was to be careful with her bobby pins. Just bobby pins. And I failed.

Dying one final time


When shorthands become too short


Shorthands. Some blame it on the character limits on texts, some on conforming to the trend, some on sheer laziness, some on the inadequacy of time itself. And this is not even a teen or an young adult thing anymore. When my “Take care, grandma” was responded with a “K.Tx.U2”, I knew, this thing just got real! Seeing that text, I thought, “Poor grandma couldn’t handle multiple tabs, she typed the captcha text in the wrong screen.” Or, did she just give me her password? I would not have taken a second look, if not for the fullstops.
 
 
There is enough ramble going on already about how irksome and utterly confusing shorthands have become. Honestly, I’m tempted to do just the same and add noise to the chatter. But for a change, I thought I’d look closer and find patterns if I were lucky enough. And lucky I was. One thing short hand enthusiasts do is, they get rid of all the vowels. Their firm belief is that, the English language can, and in their world does exist without vowels. The only times they can be allowed to stay are when they are the first or the last letters in a word. If you can manage to dispose of even that, then great! Why would you type “exam”, when you can just say “xm”? But things can get worse. When my friends shorten my name to Pearl, well, that’s cute. When they choose to go all lower case, I pacify myself saying, “No big deal. They are comparing you to the real pearl. Chill.” But imagine my dismay when I see something like, “Hpy bdy prl.” Prl? I think things have gone way too far. So what do I infer from that? Parallel? Peril? Oh, a peril I can really be!
 
Observation number two. No repetition allowed. Letters aren’t meant to be repeated. Not for emphasis, not for stress, not for anything. Just cut it out. “Bel”,”bles”,”les”,”adres”,”coment”. This is beginning to sound French!
 
That brings us to the third and final observation that I would like to record. This is more than just a shorthand practice. This is pure humility. The absolute denial of self. The strong opinion that “I am not important.” So why put myself in caps? I shall rather be addressed “i.” Whether I start the sentence, appear midway or am right at the end, let me be made smaller. Quite a conviction, right?
 
I believe there are so many more. But the Grammar Nazis out there would have already died a thousand deaths reading this. So, I digress. Or rather, i dgres.

Camouflaged


Plagiarism is no longer an undiagnosed disease that silently creeps in and kills. People are more aware than ever of its deadly impacts that they would do anything to keep it off. With plagiarism being one of the most talked about topics today, I would do no good to the reading community by jotting down another 400 words about it. While the blatant copy, paste plagiarism has been chased and thrashed and flogged, there are other subtle and equally deadly forms of it that never see the light of day. Yes, they lurk in the dark. And the reason one of them thrives? Because it is done with mutual consent.

What if the person is ready to give away a work of theirs willingly to be used in somebody else’s name? I know, I know, ghostwriting is an industry in itself and as long as writers don’t mind somebody else being credited for their work, who can blame them? But what if in this seemingly harmless process, someone is actually harmed?

College competitions are a great way to pave the platform for your talents. They could, and they have been in many cases, what you call stepping stones for a person’s work to gain recognition.  I believe the best way to hold such college writing competitions is to do them impromptu but just so people should turn up, they could be announced before hand. The topics however should be given on the spot to judge how well a person could write off the cuff. But I guess my seniors thought that giving a set of topics ahead of time would help competitors group their thoughts and decide what they want to write on. Fair enough. They must have felt that 18-20 year old boys and girls would never get someone to ghost write for them, learn it by heart and lay it down on paper just so they could score. So just imagine my sheer disappointment when I came to know the winner herself won this way!

tough

For someone out there, his/her much deserved victory has been denied and that according to me is sad and unfair.  It actually comes down to personal discretion. Can we even call this plagiarism? I would say plagiarism in camouflage. You judge.

P.S: Soon after I knew it happened, I discussed the incident with the person involved directly. She regrets it very much and from what I know of her, she would never do it again. Here, I am addressing the issue, rather than the person. 🙂

Savouring the unpredictability of days


Six years ago today I registered with WordPress, with no clue of what this is all about. But the idea of writing to the world thrilled me enough to make me take the plunge. Looking back at my Hello World post, I can’t help but laugh. Too much excitement written all over it. Messy grammar, thoughts, words. Six years ago, I did not think the blog would last this long.

Three years ago, when I tried my hand at homour and rambled about my disappointment with modern restaurants, I did not think it would make it to the pages of a nation-wide newspaper.

Three years ago, when I was placed in a software company for a hard core coding role, I did not think I will ever get to write again.

Two years ago, as I moved to the shiny Chennai city for my internship, I did not think I will ever fit in.

Two years ago, when I, with some sort of magical courage, requested for a role change, I did not think this blog would be convincing enough for my employer to trust my writing abilities. And I did not, for a moment, believe that I would be given the new role.

Two years ago, when I published my first and jargon-filled post on the company blog, I thought technical writing is what I will be doing in the coming days and was content with the same. I did not think things could get better than this.

One year ago, when I was thinking of ways to talk about a feature, I did not think a technical post would blossom into a beautiful little story.

9 months ago, when the idea for this blog post was conceived, I was not sure if I would be given the space to attempt such a thing or if this piece would ever see the light of day. I did not think that literature and business could blend beautifully if we get the portions right. And never did I think that exactly six years from the day I started blogging would I actually publish a company blog piece with as much passion and excitement as I would a personal piece.

All these years, if there is one thing I have observed, then it is that you never know what lies ahead. You never know what new adventures can present themselves. You never know what will happen if all you ever do is what you have been asked to do, but with passion and love. You will never know when the streak of monotony will end. But it will. And you will know how interesting your trail has been only when you finally reach a milestone and look back. Until then, let you and I just savour the unpredictabilty of life, as it comes, one day at a time.


And finally, six years ago, I did not think my sixth anniversary blog post would be made from a mobile phone. 😀