An Alert From a Random Stranger

Why is it that we almost always mistrust our fellow human beings? Isn’t trust supposed to be central to human relations of all kinds?

Here’s what happened last week.

I received a random email from an unknown person who claimed that my photographs were being used by others in social media without giving the due credit. The man, as I deciphered his gender based on the thumbnail picture in the email, also advised I start watermarking my photographs. My immediate reaction was suspicion as thoughts of phishing, social engineering, data theft, and the like hovered over my head.

After a while, I decided to write back asking how he knew those photographs were mine. He responded back stating that he had visited my blog and read my posts. Based on that, he saw someone posting photographs clicked by me as their own in Facebook. He also provided the Facebook link. And, yes, the photograph in question was indeed mine. This kind gentleman even went out of his way and confronted the plagiarist by writing a comment. The plagiarist obviously denied the same.

That a random unknown person bothered so much is a great story to tell. More so in today’s world where nobody cares or even has the time. Made me wonder if I would have done the same.

We are almost always suspicious about people’s intentions. We always question the motive of someone doing some random good to us. We find it difficult to accept that someone can do a good just like that. This becomes even more profound with strangers and our immediate reaction is mistrust. Trust is one of the cornerstones of human connections, governing all interactions we have with each other. Yet, mistrust rules the world.

Our basic personalities may also have a role to play in how much we trust or mistrust. Some people can trust others easily while some are more cynical. By and large, I belong to the former category. While that has landed me in many a trouble, I do have several wonderful trust stories to tell. There’s no denying of the terrible things that happen around us, which only breed mistrust. As a result, instinctively we may have become more suspicious than ever. Is that a very good thing to happen to human kind? I can’t tell. Maybe not. Maybe we need to have the right balance. My experience says – when in doubt, trust your gut.

Well, trust needs to be earned and the least we can do is be trustworthy. Afterall, we can control our own selves, our own actions, and our own thoughts. We have no control over what others think, say, or do.

And, follow Shakespeare’s advice – Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

The Place I Belong to, Yet I Don’t

Shillong is my home. No other place, I can ever call home. Though I live in Bangalore now and have been here for the past 10 years, after having spent a couple of years in Kolkata and Hyderabad. Bangalore can be my second home and for two reasons at that – first, this is the longest I have stayed at any place outside Shillong; second, this place has given me a job and I have invested in buying a house here. My heart however beats only for Shillong – the place of my birth and the place where I grew up. My parents still live there.

But every so often, in different ways, I am told that Shillong is not my home. The reason being I am a non-tribal. More importantly, I am a Bengali – a Sylheti Bengali. Why? Because certain thoughtless leaders had decided my fate by signing some papers, years before I was born. They had conveniently divided the country into two nations, which later became three (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Everyone knows about the great partition of India that had happened through the two provinces of Bengal and Punjab. Hardly anybody knows about the third province, which was also affected by partition. The province of Assam. In this case the wrath of partition fell upon the Hindu Sylheti Bengalis. A lot has been talked about the sufferings of the people from Punjab. Not many are aware of the sufferings of the Bengalis from Sylhet.

Who are Sylheti Bengalis: The Sylheti people are a Sylheti-speaking Bengali sub-group which originated from the Sylhet region of the Indian subcontinent. Current population is divided between the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh, three districts of the Barak Valley and in the Hojai district of Assam in India. There are sizeable populations in the Indian states of Meghalaya, Tripura in North Tripura district and Manipur. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The merciless act of drawing a line across the map of East India affected the sub-community of Sylheti Bengali like no other. That the line was drawn by cheating the community at large, based on what suited the vested interests at that time, is a different piece of history altogether. While the country jubilantly celebrated its independence from 200 years of British Rule, this small community had lost everything. Hindu Sylheti Bengalis, belonging to Sylhet district of Bangladesh, were displaced from their homes and became refugees in their own country. Not only did they lose their assets like property, homes, and other material wealth, they had lost their identity. Their sufferings had just begun. Many of them had moved to the state of Meghalaya (part of Assam at that time), as that was logistically the easiest. Moreover, in many cases, friends and relatives were already living there. Meghalaya became a separate state in 1972. Just a few years later, trouble started with the indigenous tribes wanting the non-tribal Bengalis out of their state. The Bengalis suffered atrocities and alienation in many overt and covert ways.

The community, docile and meek by nature, silently accepted all the atrocities and humiliations hurled upon them. They never protested about being made to feel like encroachers in their own country. Instead, they chose to focus on the upbringing of their children, provide them with good education, and equip them with all they could for a better and brighter future. Fighting the stigma of being refugees and facing hardships with their limited resources, they were putting back pieces of their lives together as they tried to settle down. Starting life from scratch, some managed to buy land and built their own homes before the Land Act was passed (according to The Meghalaya Transfer of Land Act, 1971, only tribals are allowed to buy land in Meghalaya).

Their choice of selecting meekness to aggression did not quite work in their favour and the ghosts of partition continued to haunt them. Over a period, in the hope of finding peace and to protect themselves, many left to other parts of the country. Those that had to leave their own houses and property lament that they lost everything for a second time just in two generations. Many preferred to stay on, still facing alienation and humiliation, as that is home to them.

It’s been a little over seven decades now. The ghost of partition still rears its ugly head every now and then. The Hindu Sylheti Bengali remains displaced forever. They are Indians that are strangers in their own country and have no place to call their own. The community continues to struggle in their 3rd and 4th generations down the line.

Recently, I came across a couple of blog posts that are individual stories of this marginalized community of people. I will share a couple of them in the hope that some of you will care to read even though you might not completely relate. They’re written by other bloggers, but they are my stories – stories that I would have told.

Click the links below to read the stories:

An AC Hospital Experience

The New Normal…

At the entry, a security guard approached me probing the purpose of my visit. Besides gloves and masks, he sported a special kind of head gear that covered his entire face and neck with a transparent shield. The kind I had seen mechanics sporting in welding workshops. It’s called a face shield, I learn later. White squares were drawn on the ground at appropriate distances, where people waited for their turns.

Just before the entry door were a series of tables, again situated at appropriate gaps, that had forms and pens. There you need to fill in responses to specific questions pertaining to your personal information, like, name, gender, phone number, and generic health related questions. At the entry door, there were people wearing the same kind of welding headgear with a thermometer in their gloved hands. You hand over the slip, your body temperature is recorded, and depending on the reading you can proceed towards your destination.

A little bewildered, I stared at everything in amusement. I had seen such images in the Internet and in television news snippets. So, it wasn’t like I was seeing all of it for the first time. But, like everything else, experiencing something first-hand gives you a whole new perspective.

I was at Fortis Hospital yesterday where I had an appointment with my doctor for a certain health issue. The hospital is just 2 Km. from my home and it’s been my go-to-place for anything and everything for a very long time. This was the first time I was visiting the hospital in AC (After Covid-19) and every single thing was different and weird. Needless to say, it felt like I was in a Sci-Fi movie setting.

As I walked past the doorway, I cast a glance at my right where the reception is located. A transparent plastic sheath acted as a curtain between the ones providing the service and those seeking the service. I went to the basement section where the Out-Patient-Department (OPD) is located. Similar scenes there as well. You wait for your turn at the reception and billing on marked white squares. A transparent plastic sheath forms a barrier between you and the OPD reception. A small opening allows you to make the payment.

Outside the doctor’s chamber, the line of chairs for the patients to sit was no longer there. The alignment of the chairs had changed. There were very few chairs waiting in isolation placed at a distance from one another.

When my turn came, I went in to find my doctor sitting inside a transparent plastic sheath that formed an enclosure around her desk and chair. A small opening allowed my arm through for her to check my blood pressure. She asked me to lay in the examination bed for further investigation. The same transparent plastic sheath enclosed the bed. I accessed it through one end, which remained open. Again, a small opening allowed the doctor’s hands to examine me physically while the plastic sheath formed a barrier between us.

It was a very strange experience. Felt weird, like a dream. But no dream this was!

Rambling Mind & Office Meetings

There are these office meetings where you have nothing much to do, many of you would surely know what I am talking about. You suppress your yawns that invariably appear as your eyes water, you fidget with your pen/pencil, or doddle away on a paper pretending that it’s your way of concentrating.

And, if you have ever been part of such meetings virtually, you know how that feels like. It only gets worse. Though you may argue that it is perhaps better as nobody’s watching and you are free to yawn or do whatever you wish. But remember, you are in isolation, limited by your laptop screen. Boredom strikes, your mind wanders, and if your name is suddenly called out when you aren’t paying attention, well then……embarrassing it is…

Now, if you happen to be in India working with a global team, it’s as torturous as it can be as most of these meetings will happen late in the evenings. A good lullaby to your half-asleep self.

Last week, during one such boring office meeting, I opened a Word doc and started scribbling. I didn’t pay much attention to what I was writing as half my mind was listening to the meeting conversations. I read what I had written later and it was yet another dark poem. Not again – I told myself. Why does this happen? I am not particularly unhappy or depressed. Rather, I’d like to believe that I am a very positive person. Sometimes, my enthusiasm about certain things in life drives my family and friends up the wall. Hence, strange that these poems become dark.

Here’s what I had written:

Rambling Mind

Into the never-ending dark abyss

The mind twists and turns

Worries and doubts and uncertainties abound

I had shut the gates, didn’t I?

Creepy creatures that they are

Ugly monsters that dwell in the dark

The mind, restless and edgy

One tiny slim ray of light, powerful and strong

Shimmers, gleams, and pierces through

They melt and dissolve, those creatures of the dark

The light was here, right here, just yesterday

I had seen it, didn’t I?

Vanished today, out of sight

The bright and powerful light, could it still be here?

Stuck with the nasty and the noxious

The mind that sometimes refuses to try!

Reminiscing 2019 – The Unintended Year-End Post

Those Suppressed Emotions

It’s already the end of December!

This year too has passed off in the blink of an eye and as always I really can’t fathom where all the time went.

There’s something significantly different about the year end this time. The melancholic way in which the year is drawing to an end is not something I can ignore. The incomprehensible sadness and heaviness I feel in my heart weighs me down. Sometimes to the extent that I feel ill-equipped to handle it in a way that would keep my sanity in place.

I am just an ordinary citizen of the country and matters of politics has never affected my peace of mind. However, all the things that has been happening around the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) has been a different story altogether. I never thought this would impact me personally so much. Belonging to the community – a Hindu Bengali from the NE – that has been in the eye of the storm, this has directly affected me.

The events and happenings of so many years that I had chosen to forget came back with a bang. The feeling of being a stranger in your own home is impossible to comprehend unless you are in it. Growing up amid curfews and bandhs, living in apprehension and fear, facing discrimination and humiliation are not things one would like to remember. I would rather recall the green hills, the whispering pines, the freezing cold, the incessant rains, the warm wooden homes, the myriad coloured orchids, the chattering birds, the gorgeous butterflies, the cascading waterfalls, the gurgling streams, and every other beautiful thing of the place I call home. And when things had just started looking up in the past 6-7 years, there came another blow.

My grandparents and parents lived a life of apology and shame, being reduced to refugees in their own country after having lost all their wealth and property to partition. They silently suffered for no fault of theirs and accepted their fate without complaining. Historical wrong doings for satiating political gains has left an entire community of people suffering for generations. As a 3rd generation of that community, I thought I had left all that behind, so what that I still struggle to settle down to a comfortable life and that feeling of belonging nowhere comes in to haunt me now and then.

Is Shillong my home? Oh yes, it is. I am born and brought up there and no other place I can call home, my favourite place on earth………BUT………

My heart bleeds and I can explain my feelings to no one – nobody is ready to listen. I am the outsider, the encroacher.

Well, I don’t intend to be negative in my year-end post. At the same time, I have never felt this emotional in my entire life.

Note: I was writing my usual year-end post but emotions took the better of me and I landed up writing something else. My year-end post will follow.

Malicious Thoughts

art fingers foggy hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark clouds spread across the sky

All romantic and gay, you’d think

Gloom and grey was all that was there

The mind strides into a world of its own

Spiraling thoughts jumble up from nowhere

Like wisps of curling strands of smoke

Rising from recesses deep within

Awakening from their silent slumbers

Creeping up, their wretched ugly heads

Thoughts that I struggle to leave behind

Wickedly they smile, mock my being

With renewed strength and new-found vigor

My strong self looks away, makes no eye contact

Their presence overpowers, grips me tight

I fall prey for the thousandth time

To their malicious intents and roughish ways

Alas, the dark clouds that filled the sky!

Etched

Life was peaceful

Running at its own pace

Riding the waves of the good

And the not so good

Drawing comfort from the equilibrium

I had found my own happy home

With checks and balances in place

Like a painting carefully laid out

Carpeting the cold tiled floor

Along came a ray of sunlight

Bursting the painting with joy unknown

Every colour sprinkled alive

Sparkling bright in their own glorious ways

Just then the season changed

Drops of rain dribbled from nowhere

The colours ran into each other

Helter skelter, here and there

Streamed onto the cold tiled floor

The painting could hold no longer

Remnants of the jubilant colours

But refuse to fade away….

Lighting Up the Mind at Diwali

A couple of years ago I received the famous spiritual book “Autobiography of a Yogi” as a gift from a friend. I wasn’t delighted and my immediate response – why have you given me this; what am I supposed to do with this; I am not interested; maybe when I am in my 60s – was well camouflaged behind a polite smile and a thank you.

However, things changed much sooner than I had expected as I discovered not just this book but also many others. Each book that I read influenced me deeply and left me yearning for more. Thankfully, I did not have to wait until in my 60s.

This weekend I attended a Satsang (a spiritual discourse or gathering), which was conducted by the author of one of the books I had read. I had never attended a Satsang before, at least not one that I remember. I might have casually been to one two but I really do not recall attending any deliberately. It was a wonderfully spent three hours spread across three day leaving behind a sense of peace and clam.

Diwal11

The place of these sessions was substantially far from my house and I surprised myself with the enthusiastic anticipation I had each day. The ill-famous Bangalore traffic, which is always a big put-off, also did not seem to bother me. Stuck at a traffic signal, I wondered if someone would have asked me to do something like this even two years back I would have snapped back giving them a piece of my mind thinking that they are out of their minds.

It’s amazing how times change faster than we think while often times we continue living in the illusion of permanence.

Concentration and focus are not easy to find today with all the distractions at our fingertips. However, I found myself mindfully present, consciously aware, and very carefully imbibing every little message that came along with the stories and anecdotes. Ever since I have been feeling very positive and happy.

The Satsang also reminded me of a time in office when I was part of a team that was designing leadership trainings and one of those was about mindfulness and the neuroscience behind it – how our brain responds to positivity and mindfulness. The nuggets of knowledge that I had gained during that time stayed with me and I have practiced many of those effectively in my daily life. It is the connection of science and spirituality in a well-meaning way and the very little exposure I have had makes me feel immensely grateful.

With Diwali celebrations underway there are lights everywhere, I thought how wonderful it would be if we could ‘lighten’ our minds as well! With this thought in mind, I am jotting down five key takeaways from the Satsang that I hope I can implement in my everyday life:

  1. Differentiate between good and pleasant. Always choose good over pleasant. While some good things will be pleasant as well but not all pleasant things are necessarily good.
  2. Lead a life of awareness and strive to remove the ‘I’. Be aware of yourself – aware of everything you say, do, or think.
  3. Practice mindfulness and do everything you do with complete focus and concentration.
  4. Set aside 10 min each day to sit quietly and do nothing. Reflect and practice thoughtlessness during that time.
  5. Live a life of moderation and aim to touch the divine essence in you, that which is limitless, that which is real, and that which lies within you.

Thought Provoking Rants

The hurt isn’t going away. It’s been more than a year but it keeps coming back, often provoked by some random happening – a photograph, a memory on Facebook, some mention of them by someone, and so on. Probably we were too close, perhaps more than we should have been.

Their behavior and the choices they made hurt me so much that I wish we were never part of each other’s lives. I wish I could erase all the memories. Most importantly, I wish I could get over this feeling of hurt. And this age of social media doesn’t allow things to be forgotten.

Surely they have their reasons and one hand cannot clap so there has surely been misses at my end too. Life is short. Why does it become so difficult to let bygones be bygones and move on fresh and anew? Human relationships are complicated and as they say once there’s a scratch, it will heal but the mark will remain.

I am trying to be a more spiritually oriented person. If that’s the path I want to follow why is this getting so difficult for me? Is this my ego? I am not sure, as the pain I feel is real. It keeps coming back to me how alienated I had felt; how I was pushed to one corner when I needed them the most.

I thought we were very close friends, so much so that they were part of me….but they didn’t care….they were ruthlessly insensitive and displayed no empathy. They judged me, judged everything I said….blamed me of unnecessary whining when I shared my feelings of desolation and loneliness. They even tried to associate a negative psychological condition with my state of affairs.

I thought I was sharing my intimate feelings with my very close friends. Aren’t you supposed to share such kind of things with friends? Aren’t you supposed to support your friend even at times when they are not very likable – if at all that was the case? Perhaps being an open book is not a good idea, even if it’s with your closest friends. It just makes you vulnerable.

Why did we allow things to go disarray? When things went so wrong why did they resort to chat-messages? What stopped them from giving me call and clearing things upfront? Why did they gang up and resort to Social Media instead? We’ve had disagreements many times in the past but it was just a matter of time before things would settle down without a trace. However, this one was different.

I am a very social person and have a couple of other close friends. So, ideally I shouldn’t miss them but I do. I remember them often, both in good and bad times. They have left a dent in my heart, a deep one that I am unable to heal. Today they connect with me to talk, again through text messages, about mundane things, perhaps in an effort to fix things. Not sure if they realize the hurt is really deep and I am still not able to overcome it. I respond whenever they connect while consciously maintaining a distance, sometimes just answering what they ask. I cannot be myself with them ever again. I can’t share my intimate thoughts and feelings with them anymore.

At the same time, I tell myself why can’t I?  We are not here forever and friendships are precious. But again a contradictory thought strikes – perhaps it’s better to move away from people who let you down and who have no regard for your feelings, especially when they have been your close friends who you have loved so dearly.

Yet one question haunts me – Why did we let our decade-long relationship collapse?

All said, time is the biggest healer so I am hopeful!

Provoke