When small, I was dead sure that an Sixty-three years old woman meant an extremely old woman; weak, fragile and sick who needed to be looked after. But today when I have turned Sixty-three, I don’t feel old at all. On the other hand I feel as if the real life is yet to start. I have so much to do. Our home is still under construction and once we complete it, I would like to do the interiors and the exteriors in my own way. I have thought of the paintings that I want to make and put on the walls. There are soooooo many books that I have collected over the years, which I plan to read at some free time, I am waiting for that free time to read those books. I had thought of penning down so many memories that are literally over-flooding my nitwit brain, all that still needs to be brought to life! And the closets and trunks overflowing with to-be-stitched clothes are another area that needs my personal intervention. As if all this is not enough, the personal bucket list is full of so many places I want to visit. The bohemian spirit that inhabits my body wants me to jump in any HRTC bus and go wherever the bus is heading for. To stay at any home in the wilderness, without any plan, to get lost in the wilderness wherever it may lead me to….Oh! The list is limitless as is my imagination. And for all that I have to be in good physical shape, can’t afford to fall sick. Can’t afford to be feeble both mentally and physically. With so much on hand, how can I ever call myself an old woman?
So I look forward to a very happening year ahead…a happening life ahead. A very Happy and Healthy wala Birthday to ME!!!!!
We all light diyas on Diwali and next morning put those diyas away…some in the dustbin and some, like me, store them lovingly for reuse the next time! I never wondered or bothered to think, even for a while, the life journey that the humble diya and the cotton-wick agoes through in an attempt to fill our life with light. It may be only for a night that it has a time of glory but it sure is a life-changing-experience for a nitwit like me to have watched critically its life story!
I prepared the diya, lovingly and carefully, for an onerous job that it was destined to perform during the black and dark Amavasya night. Could the diya, on its own, perform the arduous duty of lightening our life? No. It needed a baati—the cotton wick that would burn to lighten up our world. Taking the soft and fluffy cotton in my hand, I rolled and rolled it between my palms till it stiffened to have an elongated shape. Stiff but so flexible that it so easily took the shape to fit the small diya bottom. I thought about life…thought of the life of a girl, any woman, who would undergo rigorous life lessons to take up the desired shape to fit her life, her destined life with the diya. But it would maintain its flexibility and its proud existence though in a way that no ordinary eye would discern it. It would burn its very being to provide light to all those around it!! I lovingly stroked the cotton wick with all the love in my heart. I poured oil in the diya. The baati, immersed deep in oil, with Its top end, proudly, slightly out of the diya, was waiting for the fire to light it. The wick, too, knew its fate…the fate to burn in order to provide light to eradicate darkness! I lighted the earthen diya and there was light all around. Everybody was happy..jubilation followed the lightening ceremony and everybody forgot about the wick. I, too, forgot!
But there was more in store for me. Another lesson that life wanted me to learn from a simple diya and baati relationship! Later when I stood with my camera in hand to take a few pictures of diyas, I could feel the sudden gush of wind… the light flickered!
I extended my hand protectively to shield the baati from onslaught of wind. But, lo, even before I could put my hand to protect it, I saw that the flame of the diya steadied itself. It fluctuated a little but still got some strength to maintain its proud entity spreading light all around, once again!
I looked around to find the strength that helped the baati to regain the strength that the onslaught of wind had made it loose…there was none. Where this strength had come from…obviously from within the baati. It was the invisible hand of destiny, of God, that the combined strength of diya, baati and the oil made the light shine without any obstacle, whatsoever!
I was happy. Elated would be the right word or even ecstatic!! Such a big lesson of life taught by a humble diya, baati and the oil and of course the onslaught of harsh wind to destabilize harmony and tranquility of life!!
Enjoy Life in all colors that it come your way and be steady and strong like the Diya and Baati!!!
I felt weakened, weakened in my resolve to fight the system as I looked at the face of my husband. Why should he suffer on account of me? I started feeling guilty—guilty of taking the cudgel to fight against the system when I had not realized the kind of problems it would land me into. I thought of retreating back—leaving everything behind and stand defeated. But would it make me satisfied when I would not be able to look at my face in the mirror when my own eyes would be asking me questions about my inability to stand up when it needed to be stood. I stifled my cries but tears wet and hot would run unabashed from my eyes. No—I thought, “I won’t cry.” Not anymore—and why should I cry? My husband, KS’s words reverberated in my ears when endearingly, getting hold of my wet face he had said, “Hold yourself— YOU have taught me to fight for my rights.” And caressing my back had uttered those words, “I am with you, don’t go weak.” I cried openly for being the cause of his worry lines that had become so prominent during these days. “We’ll fight it out together.” He said with a steely resolve in his voice. I don’t know when did I drift in the lap of sleep and when I got up it was already 6 a.m., another guilt feeling filled me up at not being a good wife to the man who provided support to me at all steps of life. Running to the kitchen I found the vegetable being cooked and KS was taking his bath. I had overslept and he had put the vegetable to simmer on the stove. How negligent had I become in my duties and the thought that throughout the week he would be cooking his food himself, killed me. How considerate he had, always, been. I prepared few chapattis for him and put tea pan on the stove. My head was throbbing with pain and my eyes red and swollen spoke of the uneasy sleep that I had had. Though I wanted to hide all those symbols of my state of minds but how could I as KS, my alter ego, knows me inside-out to hide anything from him. It was time for him to go as he had to leave early to his workplace. “Eat well and take your medicines regularly.” The care and love in his voice made me look at him with red rimmed eyes. “No, don’t cry—the cause is not worth your tears.” I hugged him close as I wanted to take as much of the positive energy emanating from him as I could. Looking back at me and waiving his hand even when he had started his scooter, KS drove away. The home was so silent and lonely. I was sitting at the window of the Living room and watching seemingly happy people going for a morning walk. Were they really happy? I wanted to ask them. I was tired of all these philosophical questions and wanted to get my mind clear of all these thoughts. I wished I could cleanse my mind of all these thoughts that made my life miserable. The quest for justice and fair play had taken the peace from my home away and now I wavered between the options whether it all was worth the cause? Shaking my head clear of all such notions, I prepared, with an effort, to face another grueling day among indifferent colleagues at my work place! The ringing of the phone, in the other room, brought me back to the world of reality. “Mamma” cried my little one. “Are you ok?” Could I detect deep concern in her voice? Had I become such a despicable being that even my kids thought me of an object of compassion instead of an object of strength that I earlier stood for? “I am perfectly good—don’t you worry” modulating my voice as well as I could to perfect normal I replied back. “Don’t let anything bother you. The time will pass away and the cause is not worth you Mamma.” A line of smile passed my lips as my little one had started role-playing as a mom to me. “OK, as you say.” I laughed a little. “Mamma, I heard you laugh after such a long time’” the little detective again started playing the role of a vigilant care-taker. Brushing aside her concerns so that she doesn’t burden herself with my “problems”, I talked normally to her. “Wear good clothes to your class and eat well, you’ll feel good,” was her parting advice to me. Smiling at my daughter’s motherly role for me, her mom, I got up and hurried to the bathroom. Looking at my face in the mirror, I could see the face of a strong woman who had taken the horn by the bull by fighting injustice at her workplace. I felt strong. Much stronger than I had been! I was not alone…I had my family with me supporting me, encouraging me to fight for a cause. It was not “my” cause…it had become “our” cause”! Walking towards my cupboard, I got out a fire-red outfit to wear to my Institute. I noticed that I was smiling while putting it on. I was wearing fire-red dress. Red colour helps you fight depression; I remembered, and smiled, once again. I was literally on fire! Beware, you all predators and perpetrators, out there! Ah, It is a new woman that you meet today, I am a new person. It is a new day, a new beginning and staring at you, today, would be a fiery red woman!
Dayanand Public School ( All these rooms were school classes)
I was wondering that how was I initiated into reading as a compulsive “disorder” and who all were the culprits responsible for it? And among others a name that surfaced in my memory was of Sood Ma’am…my class IInd teacher. A gentle soul she was but culprit by the standard that she was responsible in opening up me to the world of books. She was also responsible for making me believe in honesty and trust as natural ingredients for a civil society. I have often fallen prey to scheming people surrounding me as I always trust the basic good sense of other people…which sadly, many lack in.
The year was 1962. I was six years of age and was studying in class second in Dayanand Public School Shimla. It was at that time called Lady Irwin Girls’ School But what’s in a name…rose even if called by any other name would smell as sweet!
She was my teacher, the teacher who influenced me a lot during my childhood. Sood ma’am had an unspoken rule in her class. Whenever a child would do well in any subject in her class, she would give the bunch of keys, displayed on her table, to that student. We all looked at those keys. What was so special about those keys? One of the keys in that bunch opened up the world of magic kept under lock in the almirah of Sood ma’am. She would hand over the keys to one of us each day but we had to qualify to be the chosen one. The almirah was in the hall. I would always be trying to be the one who could get those keys. Walking to the hall, with keys in hand, where that almirah was a feeling which I can experience even now when I am all sixty-one years of age!!
With excitement I would open her almirah and straight way go to the heap of storybooks securely kept there. The world of Nandan, Parag, Chanda Mama, Loat Poat, Inderjaal Comics would stare hard at me. It was a treasure house of books. The chosen student would be free to get one storybook from the heap and take that home for reading.
The almirah had some other stuff as well—toffees, biscuit packets and other such stuff but no-one, mark my word, no one would ever touch it. It was ma’am’s prerogative to distribute that stuff to the students if she so wished. But getting one, stealthily, was out of question!
Sood ma’am had not gone to any business school, was not an MBA but the way she managed her class was superb. In kids of the age of around 6 years, she instilled so many good habits. One had to excel in studies to get a storybook from her closet. And the child would be given the key to the closet and make a selection of the story book that she wanted to read. The child would not touch any other thing kept in the almirah despite the allurement of openly displayed toffees etc.
We learnt that leisure time comes after hard work!
We learnt that trust is the basis of all relationship!
We learnt that reading opens up a new world to you!
On this Teachers’ day…I thank you Ms. Sood for instilling, in a vulnerable child of 6 years, some traits and habits that have withstood the test of time, bravely and successfully!!
We love walking a lot. So when we were comfortably settled in the new abode at Eindhoven, we wanted to stroll around—initially near to the place of residence so that we may not lose our way back home! It was difficult for us to remember the name of her apartment as Dutch names are difficult to remember and much more difficult to pronounce. So we were a little worried of the uncertainty that loomed in our mind but still chose to stroll about, keeping close to the vicinity.
We watched a lot many youngsters biking happily on the cycle-path. Some great hustle and bustle seemed in the area. Out of curiosity we walked closer and found some celebrations on what seemed like a campus of an educational university. I remembered my daughter telling us that just a few meters at the back of our residence is the University of Technology located in Eindhoven. I remembered her telling us, jokingly, that noting like “getting lost” could happen to us, “If you ever feel that you have lost direction, just ask for directions to Technical University and you would be able to find my apartment!” I was sure that we were at the entrance to the park of technical University. Not very sure of whether to walk inside the campus or not, we stood for a while at the gate and then stepped in, still not much convinced.
But my inquisitiveness to find how students in a Technical University celebrate their cultural events and to compare them with how we celebrate back home took over the hesitation. But once inside; all the hesitation vanished away. People of all hues and colors were having a gala time. It was some sort of food food festival going on.
The aroma of the various food items emanating from food stalls, the sound of the music, the clatter of the young crowd, the clamping of small running feat added to the ambience which spoke of cultural amalgamation. Age, color or class had no barrier here. There was music and young people, the students, were dancing to the beats of music. Small kids were running around. Old people sat on the chairs or grass watching the life-at-its-best in the surrounding.
After enjoying the ambience for some time, we walked back to our apartment. We got to talk about the college fest and compared it with the fest on campus back home. The first and foremost observation that came to my mind was about the sound level of the music system kept within bearable limits. More surprise awaited me when I talked about it to my daughter. She told me that before any event on the campus of Technical University; residents of all the neighborhood apartments get a notification about the event informing them of the event, the timings and also the invitation. I quote from one of those notifications about the parties on campus that I found in her apartment mailbox:
“Dear neighborhood resident:
…Because you live relatively close to the campus of the TU/e, it may be possible that you hear some noise from the parties and the campsite. Halfway during the evening, the sound level will be considerably lower than before, since the music from the parties is directed away from your house…we will do our best to minimize the negative consequences…to make sure the neighboring residents will have as little as possible negative effects…Of course you are more than welcome to visit both tournaments.”
And after the event some groups of students seek feedback from the neighborhood residents whether they were duly informed about it or not and whether they were disturbed by it or any other comment that they wanted to make!
The civic sense is promoted by all the stakeholders and the students learn not only the course work but, more importantly, how to be responsible citizens. We sure could learn a thing or two from these seemingly small acts! Could we learn some lessons from Dutch society to raise our level in “happiness” index!
The clear blue skyline welcomes a visitor to most of the European countries at this point of the year. It is summers time… no more of grey and black colour to be seen anywhere. Summers have rejuvenated life of all living beings. The green plants are shining at their bestest green shine! The young, old and children are in their flowery and colorful summer dresses. There is colour everywhere…the colour of life. There seems to be no place for grey colour in this ambiance of summer. But something that I find extremely disturbing is the grayish smoky ambiance taking over under the clear skyline of Eindhoven! This gray doesn’t seem to gel with the overall ambiance of the Summers!
And when I observe that the young and old damsel are contributing to this grayish smoky ambience, I am , all the more disturbed. I am sure that I have inhaled so much of smoke to my lungs in the past three days as would suffice me for life time. Or is it that I am being, too, harsh in my observation. It is not just the skyline that is turning gray with the smoke of the cigarettes but the grounds and roads, as well, are strewn with cigarette butts. Wherever you look around you, the butts of cigarettes stare hard at you—the cigarette butts that have had adored the lips of young and old alike but trampled under feet having served their purpose, stare hard at me. They seem to seek a respectable goodbye from people who have enjoyed when they burnt their life to give sensory pleasures to the users. The least these cigarette butts deserve is a decent burial…or is it too much to ask for.
The Netherlands is a clean country. The Dutch have such keen sense for cleanliness so why such disregard for strewn cigarettes butts adorning the, otherwise, clean grounds and roads.
Cigarette smoking is such a common sight in Netherlands that after a while my eyes had become accustomed to watching people smoking freely.
Though the Government is doing all that is within its power to curb the menace of smoking. The legal smoking age in the Netherlands is 18 years old. The sale of tobacco to children under 18 is illegal. People that are 25 years old and younger have to show an ID at the cashier. It is right that I have not come across any young child smoking even surreptitiously but of what use it is if they end up smoking once they get the license to smoke. And in return for a short-lived pleasure derived from cigarette smoking get some ailment.
Michel Rudolphie, KWF director, said in a press release: ‘It is often said that smoking is good for society from a financial perspective because it provides the treasury with tax revenue and smokers die at a younger age so do not use their pensions’. This research proves the opposite. Anti-tobacco initiatives would not only promote health but also contribute financially to society. Meanwhile, a Dutch woman with terminal lung cancer, Anne Marie van Veen, is putting together a group criminal case against cigarette producers for allegedly ‘deliberately damaging people’s health.’
I was really worried about the cigarette smoke that must be affecting even the non-smokers as these people are as much exposed to the harms of smoke as are the smokers. That is something on the down-side that I would rate Netherlands on! The more disturbing for me was a child’s bike and an empty cigarette pack lying side by side near a tree. If on the one hand I loved the child to be learning biking as a healthy life style as such an young age, on the other hand the empty pack of cigarettes heralded the danger of acquiring smoking when the child would grow up to be an adult.
The Netherlands sure have to find a way to cut down on cigarette smoking!
It was Saturday…the weekly markets’ day in Eindhoven. We had gone to do groceries to the Farmers’ Market. Walking in the streets of Eindhoven, we came across many old people. They were making purchases at the market, putting them in the trolley bags and pulling them with all the power that they had in their aging limbs. I admired the way these people were “living” at the fag end of their life. More than the colorful clothes it was the colorful expression on their seasoned and wrinkled faces that brought a spontaneous “Hello” on the lips on everyone that they came in contact with! What a way of life these people were living, I wondered! And why were they alone? Didn’t they have anyone to look after them? Where were the kids that they might have raised to be young men and women? Questions and more questions clouded my mind which were offset by the carefree and happy mode and mood of life that these oldies carried!
In the evening we, once again, went to the city market. This time we were on an easy mood…strolling and enjoying window shopping. My daughter pointed towards a corner where a lot many old people were sitting outside—gossiping and enjoying chilled, fresh beer!
“Come, let’s sit here!” She said.
Watching some hesitation on my face she smiled and coaxed me: “All these sitting there are oldies of your age!”
Though a little reluctant initially but I sat on a chair at the corner of the eatery. My daughter ordered beer—fresh beer. It was served by a smiling woman seemingly in her sixties. I was curious. The group of oldies sitting outside were enjoying life as much as the persons serving them. I wanted to have a look inside the eatery. Another old person, on his own, was playing, a game of Pool!
And the two persons manning the shop—a man probably in his seventies and a woman in her sixties, happily, serving the customers! All,of them, mark my words, ALL, were happy. I thought of the World Happiness Report 2017.
The research is published by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network and aims to show that ‘well-being and happiness are critical indicators of a nation’s economic and social development, and should be a key aim of policy’. You don’t need any research to prove that Dutch are happy people.
And when elders of any civil society are happy, there must be a reason behind it. The “live” life, not just drag it! The people behind the counter and in front of the corner were “living” at the fag end of their life. I wondered at the carefree attitude that these people had in their life. I was curious. A little inquiry revealed that it is state sponsored pension that helps all persons beyond an age to live their life. As a rule, everyone who has reached the AOW pension age and lives or has lived in the Netherlands is entitled to an AOW pension.
There are 1.5 million people over 70 in the Netherlands, of whom a third are living alone, usually after the loss of their partner. According to the latest household forecast by Statistics Netherlands their number is expected to increase by more than 40% in the next 20 years, from the current 571 thousand to 819 thousand in 2020.
If you receive an AOW pension but have little or no other income, your total income will probably be less than the applicable minimum income. In that case, you can apply for AIO supplement (income support for people who have reached the AOW pension age). AIO supplement is paid under the Participation Act.
The Netherlands is the sixth happiest country in the world a rating that some attribute to the welfare state developed after World War II. The Dutch welfare state assists residents in the domains of labor, income, education, unemployment, and disability, engendering solidarity between healthy and capable people and those who are not, and resulting in general protection against extreme poverty and lack of care.
At 16%, the proportion of people aged 65 and older in the Netherlands is lower than the European average (17%) and the German and Italian average (both 21%) (Eurostat, 2013), but higher than proportions in Australia (14%), the United States (13%), and India (5%) (Population Reference Bureau, 2013). Surprisingly, almost 95% of all senior citizens live independently.
I was living in a world inhabitated by happy people. But was I happy? Indian had only 6% of population aged 65 and above (% of total) in 2015 according to the World Bank Report whereas Netherland had 16% of population aged 65 and above. Can’t we, a country so big, take care of mere 6% of our elders?
I thought of the countless old people back home who don’t even have a respectable way to die leave alone live happily! I thought of some wrinkled faces back home and the joy on their face when they would receive Rs. 300/ per month as old-age-pension. These old people have to spend this money to maintain themselves for a month with this meager amount that is if they have no other source to maintain themselves. I thought hard.
I asked my daughter: “How much a glass of beer cost here in Netherlands?”
Surprised at my question, she replied: “Around Rs 300/ in ‘your’ currency!”
I compared the price of a glass of beer in Netherlands to the monthly age-old pension amount. Ironically, it was the same amount that oldies back home spend on their upkeep for a month! I imagined some of them holding a glass of beer in their wrinkled hands and having a smile on their faces while sipping it coolly! Some imagination indeed!
My India, sure, needs many welfare schemes, not on the papers, but implemented in right spirit!