Monday, February 13, 2017

And so, it Began

Prelude to Part I

December 2005
The sky was a dull shade of light inky blue. The earth flurry as it lay covered in sheets of silvery white ice, after the first snow of the season. The trees were bare with none but tiny droplets of cool melted snow. He was sitting in a tiny room inspiration-ally self-named the “Chamber of Secrets” hidden behind rows and rows of wooden cupboards that housed an array of untouched books in the library of the Victorian Primrose Hall now known as Primrose Local Academy. The room like its occupant and nature lay bare; a table with four chairs and the sparse ivy on some windows the only adornment to the faded yellow stone.

There was nothing striking about him at first glance, he was an ordinary guy of seventeen with nerdy looks and a silent smile. Yet he was someone who enjoyed the soft camaraderie within his circle of friends. Being a rather quiet day with nothing much to do, he immersed himself in the world of John Keats in a world of romanticism and introspection; letting the piled up stress from weeks drain away.

She was trying to be inconspicuous as she made her way to the small alcove but the slight tapping of her feet on the wooden floor gave her away. No sooner did she invade the serene room a sheepish smile tugged the corner of her lips, having stumbled upon him. Not really embarrassed but surprised to find him there of all places.

“Fancy seeing someone here!” she exclaimed abruptly.

“Not really surprising assuming you are a placid soul like me, who loves to escape from the cacophony of the classroom every once in a while”, replied he.

“True, though I guess retrospective would be the more apt word to describe me”, she responded before continuing “I don’t always come here seems like I always have to search for excuses to get away from my gang of girls, fifteen year olds’ can be utterly nosy when they wish to be.”

They were strangers in a sea of familiar faces, from her age he guessed her to be his junior although he was stunned to know he didn’t know her. Being based outside the outskirts of the city beyond the small town of Shimla, their academy was relatively small where everyone knew everyone making privacy an alien concept. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to fill the gaps and converse, to get to know someone from the scratch. He continued,

“Life is a riot of emotions where I ended up drifting from one shore to another gliding with a gamut of ideas only to realize, life is blue. I love the colour blue; to me it means abundance, loyalty and prosperity. However, I learnt it carries within itself a sense of trust," saying this he paused for a while, not knowing how to put to words his feelings. Feelings that were buried in deep. It was strange that she didn't try to fill the silence with words, but continued to wait. Wait patiently until he began speaking again, " Trust that once gained should not be dwindled but multiplied like prosperity. It is hard for me to open up to people, let alone trust and yet here I am on lazy winter afternoon being open to a stranger.”  

She settled herself in the chair opposite to his and ruminated his words for a long time. Brooding over what he said, trying to organize her incoherent thoughts. Unlike him she was an extrovert or so she thought, until she shifted locations and settled in this tranquil place as opposed to the fast paced city life she was used to. Contrary to him it was appreciation and admiration that she craved.

“All throughout my life blue was a source of serenity but with the passage of time gloom has started taking its place. People drift away, leaving memories. It's not their fault it's just the way it all works nonetheless certain reliance fades. Trust and trustworthy, do you suppose they are mutually exclusive events despite originating from the same source?”

“Nostalgia can be a gnawing ache hard to let go”, he returned his gaze to the now dark skies pondering.

He resumed a few minutes later, “How can one be trustworthy if one doesn’t believe in the concept of trust? Trust is like a secure blanket that surrounds us in a place that we consider our safe haven whereas trustworthy is assuming someone to not break our trust, our cocoon and guiding us.”

 A non committal shrug was her only acknowledgment to his response.

She was feeling stupid as if a layer of her had peeled off with just one random conversation. She stood up abruptly brushing the non-existent lint on her jacket; she spoke in a hopeful yet guarded voice “I’ve always desired a friend with whom I could revel in quiet companionship, until now I didn’t think my wish would be granted. I liked this time we spent together in soft solitude Yasin”, said she his name gleaming from the head boy batch pinned on his chest proudly.

He gave her a genuine smile, as she introduced herself as Ayah and they walked their separate ways.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Is Honesty Overrated?

Ever noticed you were all independent and didn't wish to be dependent on others? The reason, you knew some people don't really care or they will leave you all alone when you need them. And then a certain someone comes along and everything in your life rejuvenates. They make you feel loved, cherished and cared for. You start thinking of them as your one true friend and then you realise. It was all just a lie.

Good morning Toastmaster of the day and fellow seekers. Memories, they are like time machines, taking us to places once known. I have always been an extrovert. Someone who doesn't have trouble striking up a conversation with strangers. I could meet you today smile at you and be myself with no ulterior motive. So let me rewind and take you a few years back in time. I was a good to be with, loyal honest and partner in crime. I still am. But I was too innocent and trusting then. 
This is a conversation between Apurva someone who is my best friend from class 6th and me. We are currently in our first year of graduation nearing May.

Apurva: Hi Fatima. How are you?
Me: Hii apurva,  I'm good. How are you? 
Apurva: I'm good too. Hey listen the reason I called you is me and Neha are meeting up for lunch so thought of asking you too. 
Fatima: Err actually I have exams in a weeks time but I could join you guys for one hour max. 
Apurva: Excuses! God knows why we were expecting something from you. And hung up the phone. 
And I kept on wondering I didn't reject did I?  So what happened?

Needless to say we did meet that day and that was the last time. It left me thinking what wrong did I do? Was it a crime to be honest and that too with your bestie. What was the point in me taking out time and going to meet when it was supposed to be the end of our more than 7 years of friendship.

The answer came to me. It was the honesty that made me drift away from my friends or maybe as I now look at it, so called friends. It was this blunt nature of mine that actually left me alone and with a void. Too much of mind flipping drama i tell you ! And so I started weaving lies to hide my pain. 
Creating a web of illusory events where I was the reason my friends left me, eventually making a brilliant fiction that could win an Oscar or at least an IIFA Award. And all because I started believing honesty was overrated.

But deep down I knew relationships cannot survive on lies. That it was time to stop lying to myself that the people I hung out with truly cared. It was time to accept the moment I am honest with them, they walk away. And not because I was honest but because they were never.

It was almost like I did not have the right to be myself. You know friends there is a saying, 
'There comes a time when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn't even jump puddles for you.' And the moment I accepted that life gifted me people who are worth it. Who were genuine, who didn't shy away from the truth, both listening and telling.

People say being too honest can break relationships, but I say it doesn't rather it makes them. It was then I realised honesty is not overrated. What matters is can you handle the truth. So friends what will you do next? The next time you face a situation where you want to be honest but your mind and heart say hey if you be honest here, your friends might not understand and it will backfire. What will you do? 
Many a times you might compromise and not tell the truth. But be true to yourself, don't hesitate please be honest. If you have a true friend, a true lover they will understand and the relation will become strong but not break.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Void Within

There was a faint chill in the warm May air and a calm that bought a feeling of change; a change as ancient and intangible as time. 
I was lying on my bed in a pale yellow nightdress staring into the dark space. Million thoughts, one after another kept floating in my mind. Dead silence and a deep settling void were my only companion besides the empty black sky. And all I wanted to do was break free.

Good morning madame Toastmaster of the day and fellow dreamers. The year was 2010 and I was still an engineer in making. A profession I so hated that I was ready to do anything to escape it. However, there were 3 things I realised then
1. I wasn't a risk taker
2. I didn't want to disappoint my parents 
And 3. Drinking mountain Dew doesn't really help. And so the struggle continued, internally. Being in a college where everyone was happy to pursue their dream I felt like an outsider. With no one to befriend I started recoiling in my shell. Have you ever felt that? An hankering need to have a companion? A friend with whom you could be yourself, and yet they won't walk away from you. I needed that friend as I was slowly falling in the whirlpool called void. Days turned into months and December arrived, the month when I was supposed to go to my college Industrial Visit up north. I was afraid, how would I enjoy? During my two years of blogging I ended up making a lot friends. It was then for the first time ever that I talked to one on phone. 

Mishti: What's up Fatima. How are things going on? 

Me: Hi mishti Travelling! Out on a trip from college currently in Corbett heading to Nainital. 

Mishti: Wow did you see tigers? So must be excited? 

Me: Haha no tigers. Excited yes content no, I'm travelling with a group yet I'm all lost and alone there seems to be a void. 
Mishti: Try to at peace even when your emotions are bubbling on the surface. You're travelling forget mean classmates, explore the place. At the end only these moments matter, they are the ones that bridge the gap between you and I and what fills the void within.

And just like the winding roads that connected places, a connection was born.
She, I felt understood me. Instead of abandoning me, chose to stay. It's not about someone making us happy. Friends it's about who fills the void within, the emptiness that surrounds.

Times changed, I graduated, did my post graduation yes in engineering. And started working two jobs six days a week to dedicating half the Sunday to Toastmasters yet something was missing.

In spite of the fact having decided to not follow the rat race and turn into a money making monkey, I turned into one. It felt like a cat and mouse game where I was happy yet not truly content. At that moment when I was again drifting apart Toastmasters came to my rescue in form of Confluence 2016.  I  realised connections are not always supposed to be the ones that give you a high. Sometimes a connection is that soothing feeling that brings in peace and makes you feel at home. Just like the ocean was breathtakingly beautiful with the wind, stars and moon as its companions.

I found the connection within myself and in turn with everyone from MTM, I got a chance to connect to the real you Namrata, Pankaj, Prashant, Harsimran, Ravi and others outside MTM. I had gone to Goa to escape but what I found there is something which can't be expressed but only felt.

Friends remember this, "Life is a series of hits and misses and sometimes there are only dark days at a stretch. Don't lose hope or let the void overpower you, hold on. Just like the sun, that shines after a long dark night!"

P.S: Won Best Speaker Ribbon for this speech.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Make a Difference

Local trains are the lifeline of Mumbai, where we come across different types of people. My experience though is confined to the ladies compartment both first and second class. It was during one of my journey's some years ago that I saw a group of ladies forcing a young kid selling notebooks to get off the compartment as it was the first class. It made me question what was the child's fault?  why the second hand citizen treatment?

Good evening Toastmaster of the day and fellow Toastmasters.

Has it ever happened to you like it did to me that a particular incident shook you to the core? Blurring the lines between black and white, making you question people. How do they help in the progress of their society? That giving charity to the underprivileged is not the only thing they need, that there is more.

Let me share with you all a story that is very close to my heart. I graduated in the summer of 2013, though I felt elated and free there was a void in me. A void no matter what I did, didn't disappear. It left me pondering; I had everything for comfort a roof over my head, meals three times a day, education and my family but what about those others who struggled day in and out. I was bursting with energy I wanted to give back to society, to the people who help in making our lives comfortable on the expense of theirs. I had heard donating money is the best help you can give to people.

However, I wanted to do something that was more than momentary, something they  could use. And the opportunity presented itself. I was recruited in an NGO called MAD, Make a Difference as a teaching volunteer. Every Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. starting from the month of August I began visiting my assigned shelter home St. Francis Orphanage in Borivali. It was no cake walk, it should be shouldn't it after all, all I taught those kids was English for two hours at the most. It wasn't the teaching nor the commitment that was tough it was the connection, the social gap that was there. Each Sunday was a revelation.

I was assigned four 8th std kids and one of the biggest hurdles I had was connecting with those teenage boys. At first it was difficult they were too mischievous and troublesome for my handling especially those initial days when I had no buddy. Half the time it was like police and robbers game where I was the one chasing them to sit in one place and eventually at the end I was the one left tired and they laughing at me. I used to get irked easily those days but later on I realised this was the only time they could laugh and enjoy. With the passing of time we grew closer though not as much as I would have liked as they were with my buddy Omkar. He was the cool teacher and I was the one they turned to when they were down or too energetic.

There were moments of intense joy and downright sadness with all those emotions that were directly linked to what happened with them over the week. And eventually the year came to end.

I had gone there to teach to make these kids a part of the global nation but it was I who ended up learning. I taught them English they taught me the language of emotions, of understanding, of true joy, contentment and hope. They do not crave charity a hundred or so odd others give them that, what makes them smile is love,  time and effort freely given. In an age where we run behind materialistic things looking far ahead at the bigger picture we often times forget the small pixels, the ones when joined together make a spectacular picture. On an end note all I would say is "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." 


Monday, September 19, 2016

Women Stereotypical.. Really??

A wallflower,  a doormat.  One who doesn't have a voice, no freedom no life! If, this is  our first impression about 'her'; it is not she but us who need an education.

Good morning Toastmaster of the day, fellow Toastmasters and guests. I a modest woman of the 21st century pose to you a grave question.  Are all women stereotypical? Some of you may agree, some disagree. Further down the line maybe you'll debate on their ethnicity. Asians may say middle-eastern are oppressed. The middle-eastern might pity the western women who are free and yet bound by clutches. While the west may have a similar opinion on the Asian counterpart. All lost! Every change in the vicious cycle of categorising women, sometimes by women themselves . But hey, have you ever bothered knowing what's beneath. Beneath the skin irrespective of colour, caste, religion and creed. There's a heart just like yours that beats.

Indian woman. What comes to your mind when you think of an Indian woman. A god fearing, head bowed down to respect men obedient and homebound, waiting to be freed of the age old philosophy. Or an uneducated village girl or a modern girl from city who idolises the western society. To each his own. Unless you are totally ignorant or a foreigner,  your impression of Indian women solely relies on the media. What the media shows is not always the complete picture. True,  villages are the heart of India but not every village woman is uneducated or backward. If that were the case there would have been no woman teachers or sarpanch. What the media shows is a twisted image of the condition of women sometimes for some political agenda other times simply for the sake of gaining sympathy and viewership.

On a more global and personal level, there are two imageries that are the most common ones; picture a muslim woman and the accompanying image comes with a burqa or an hijab that's the headscarf. And if the lady in question doesn't wear none then lightly put, she's more than likely to hear wow! You're a different liberal woman. Hello my dears!!! Is the outer covering or the lack of the only thing that describes me as a woman? She is covering herself she must be a religious conservative, shy and a victim of male domination.  Poor soul doesn't even get a chance to voice her opinion. Oh my God isn't that harsh? Isn't that again stereotyping? How do we know she's all those things? Did we find it out first hand or like everyone else our first impression was made with the media image? Not everything is as it seems, true 10 % may fall under this convention but what about the rest? Take time to think before you reach a conclusion.

Another recent example of this can be the condition of certain women in the European countries. Let's take France for example, I'm sure everyone hears the news. The latest burkini ban! Duh what is that? It's just a term coined using burqa and a bikini, a beach wear designed for hijab and burqa clad ladies. India approves it, after all burkini beats bikini here any day. Alas! Peace is always short lived, there is always some or the other ban taking place somewhere in the world. Ban the hijab, ban the burkini, ban woman from voting yes yes it's the Vatican City, ban woman leaving home at night and ban the bikini too. Oh no no,  the last one is okay, it's nothing to worry about. But in the 50s even woman donning bikini's were stereotyped as loose morals and banned by the church. Are they truly?

Why 50s even now when women wear short dresses or something that is not 'society' approved there is an uproar. So miss X was raped,  it's her fault why was she flaunting herself to him and travelling alone at night, women are supposed to be in bed by 9. Or she had completely hidden herself in her veil,  I'm a hot blooded man obviously I was curious,  it is all her mistake. So much for woman liberation and equality where people judge us on the way we dress!

Stop double speaking,  stop judging woman by what you see what you hear. Next time you see another woman, whatever her colour or attire be. Stop that brain of yours from wondering about how she is, you might be wrong. There's a saying 'Don't judge a book by its cover',  so 'Stop judging and start embracing.'

Note: Speech is made out of facts and figures researched from the Internet. (Topic required a little research)