Are you a helicopter parent?

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Two events that occurred within days of each other provoked this thought.

I had been addressing a gathering of 17 year olds in various methods to curb exam anxiety. Being one of the many who had faced severe exam anxiety during every math exam of my school life, I was vociferously advising the kids not to let their confidence levels dip, and teaching them different ways to relax, when one parent rather hesitatingly approached me and asked me to give him hints about how to make his son feel anxious about the approaching exams. He was worried that the son did not care enough!

Two days down the line, I had parents who had brought their son for counselling. This child who had been a ‘topper’ in his class till class ten, had suddenly on entering college become extraordinarily lax. He did not study despite repeated telling, pleading, begging or scolding! Moreover, he seemed to be interested in everything else apart from what was necessary. On the surface of it, both these seemed to be about children who had different problems and differing personalities as compared to the rest, but on deeper questioning, they were quite similar because they were brought up by helicopter parents.

Helicopter parenting was a term first used by Dr. Hain Ginott in his book ‘Between Parents and teenagers’ in 1969. Though not very common then, it gained prominence enough to be included in the dictionary in 2011! Reams have been written about this since then.This term refers to a method of parenting where we are so concerned about our children’s well being that we do not allow them their lives. Parents who hover around their children, cosseting, protecting, interfering and  helping them in activities that they are well equipped to do.

On first look, reading descriptions of such parents  makes us enter denial mode. We assure ourselves that we do not belong to that category and that we ensure a healthy atmosphere for our child’s upbringing. By which we mean that:

  1. We make sure that we know each and every detail of our child’s routine. (well, it is necessary in such times where crimes are rampant—but an unplanned break of 10 mins in a friend’s house makes us sweat buckets!)
  2. We make sure that our little one’s wish becomes our command. Sometimes even before the wish is expressed. We have to give give them the best of the toys, books, gadgets and clothes..(duh..they need to shine, right? And I have the money!)
  3. We need to be an integral part of every school project(by which we mean that we will personally scour every nook and corner of the city to find the best of stuff, sit up the whole night and put up a model which will definitely score maximum marks for our kid (school grades are important, arent they?)
  4. We believe that our kids are the best in everything they do and air these views to anyone who is willing to listen, and sometimes, even to the unwilling. We literally lobby for them.(Afterall, if we do not acknowledge their achievements, who will? And it is not called praising, it just statement of a fact!)
  5. We try to take every precaution to protect our kids from harm, including using bottled water to wash their hands, allowing them to play only where they wont get dirty and consulting the pediatrician every time the kid sneezes (We are responsible for their health)
  6. We have read all books under the caption of parenting and spout theories like mantras. And our kids have to, just have to abide by those mantras(you see, experts have believed that it is the way to go). We are professional researchers in the making.
  7. We try our best to stand ground during a tantrum, but finally give in to the child’s demands(we are tired after a long day at work, and its just a videogame)
  8. We choose which friend the child can have. Preferred ones are those who score in the top ten. If we do not like a friend, then he has no business to even talk to that person(good peers are essential for a good future)

Well, if this is you in a nut shell, then welcome to the world of helicopter parenting!

This phenomenon probably became visible, because of change in family patterns in the past few decades. Moving away from joint family systems to nuclear ones, restricting the size of the family with a maximum of two or three children, the sudden rise of educational capabilities of parents, also the increase in the financial prowess due to dual earning families, globalization and availability of the internet, misplaced guilt about not caring enough and finally the fact that every parent feels that children are figuratively and literally their biggest assets (they sure would have invested a lot of money and time on them). At the same time, parents who are the anxious type, those who had experienced negligence or abuse in their own childhood,or those with type A personalities complete the spectrum.

To argue contrarily, we read about the abuse that occurs in children, the influence of the media and a bad peer group as well the fact that if unmonitored, children have the ability to go haywire. This allows parents to justify themselves into believing that their helicoptering is doing good to the child. Different cultures also have different methods. Amy Chua’s ‘Tiger mother’ describes how typical Chinese parents consider it a norm for their children to excel!

But the effects of this type of upbringing is almost as devastating as the evils that we are scared of. Children of such parents  grow up to be anxious, lacking in self esteem, depressed, ridiculed by peers and have separation issues. They consider themselves as an extension of their parents often parroting what has been drilled into them rather than think for themselves. It kills creativity and independence. And worst of all, these children feel a sense of entitlement. That they are for the manor born. They expect their parents to do every single thing for them, starting from waking them up, dressing them and reminding them to study! I’m not exaggerating, these kinds do exist like the examples I spoke about in the beginning.

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Parenting is something we learn along the way. Parenting manuals help, but ther is no sure fire way of doing the right thing always. I feel that enjoying your child is very important. The more you enjoy your child the more you learn and the more the chilld learns. Listen, play and talk to your child/ren. Sometimes they are right too. Acknowledge that. Set them free, but be watchful. Trust them. Guide them, but let them choose. Let them make mistakes, but help them out of the mess and teach them again. Parenting is hard work, and it never ends, and does not give term end report cards for how you have fared. But, I believe it can be rewarding to see a confident, self assured child exploring things that you never dreamed of. That is definitely an A+.

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Iridescent Sri Lanka

the old and the new.. a Buddha temple between the lake and a skyscraper behind! a view of Colombo
the old and the new.. a Buddha temple between the lake and a skyscraper behind! a view of Colombo

The first thing that stuns you is the amazing natural beauty of the place. And second, the cleanliness. Though the feel of the place is very Indian, there is something distinct about Sri Lanka which endears it to you. The locals are friendly, the cities are clean (even the countryside) and the greenery is a feast for the eyes.

When we planned the trip of four days, we felt that it might be a tad too long, but I was mistaken. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see.

Sri Lanka is called the tear drop of India. Though not one among the most popular destinations for a family to travel as compared to Malaysia, Bali or Hongkong, it definitely has its own charm.It is comparatively unspoiled by consumerism like other tourist spots.

One of the most surprising and great things about Sri Lanka is its cleanliness. Through the trip we saw vast expanses of greenery and fertile land which, though inhabited by people, remained extremely tidy. No overflowing trash cans, no garbage on the roads, no spilling of plastic waste everywhere, no stray animals! This is true even in the most remote of the villages.

Our first stop was Colombo, the earlier capital of Srilanka, before it was shifted to Sri Jayawardhanepura kotte! I know, never heard of the place before, never saw it either! Unfortunately, it was not a part of the itinerary.

Sri Lanka became a democratic republic in 1972, and also at the same time, ditched its old name of Ceylon. ‘Sri Lanka’ apparently means ‘Auspicious Lanka’, which is the name preferred by the locals,  with reference to the Ramayana. Apart from Ceylon and Sri Lanka, this small island has many other names like Sinhaladvipa (Lion Island),Ratnadvipa(Island of gems),Tambapanni or copper water (signifying the copper color of the beaches), Zeylan (as called by the Dutch), Serendib(named by the Arabs, from which the word ‘serendipity’ – ‘happy discoveries by chance’ originated). Whew!

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Buddha, Buddha everywhere..

Colombo, home to about three million citizens of Sri Lanka, resembles most large cities. Chaotic, lots of traffic and people, with one side laced by long stretch of beach. The influence of Buddhism is seen everywhere. There are Buddhas of all sizes and shapes, gazing serenely at you around every corner. Apparently, Buddhism made an entry into the island in third century BC. The south of the island is populated with the Sinhalese who follow Buddhism,and the north (the infamous Jaffna strip, home to LTTE and Prabhakaran), is populated densely with Tamils.

elephants at Pinnewala, taking a bath break
elephants at Pinnewala, taking a bath break

Pinnewala elephant orphanage, is at half distance between Colombo and Kandy. It is the largest orphanage for captive and handicapped elephants in the whole world. It has to feed about 80 elephants every day, each one of them eating about 100 kilograms of food! The kids enjoyed the thrill of feeding milk in large bottles to elephants.

kids feeding elephants some milk
kids feeding elephants some milk

Kandy is famous for its Buddha tooth temple (Dalada Maligawa). It is home to Sri Lanka’s most revered relic -the tooth of the Buddha, which was smuggled from India in the third century BC. It is said that the tooth is kept on display only when the island is struggling with a bad drought. And every time that the tooth has been opened from its resting place, it pours rain within 24 hours. This has, according to our guide happened thrice in the past twenty three years!

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offerings for the Buddha
offerings for the Buddha

We next journeyed on to Nuwara Eliya, which is the highest town in Sri Lanka. It is home to old colonial buildings remniscent of British rule, a temple where Hanuman landed first in Lanka, another temple where Hanuman’s footprints are etched in a boulder near the temple. There are many references to the Ramayana everywhere. When asked how the Sri Lankans consider Ravana—we were told that he was a good king and kept his citizens happy. He was neither given an exalted status nor labelled a villain. His foibles were just considered a part of the excess which almost every rajah is supposed to have!

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tea estates, water falls and wonderful weather
tea estates, water falls and wonderful weather

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a break for tea
a break for tea

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Climbing down the mountainside swathed with picturesque tea estates, beautiful and bountiful waterfalls at every turn and vast expanses of farm land filled abundantly with colourful plump veggies, we reached a quaint tea house. It gave us the view of a water fall and had fragrant Sri Lankan tea served in a house with white picket fencing straight out of an Enid Blyton novel and a perfectly manicured garden. Loved it!Tea, samosas and french fries never tasted better! Somehow most of my favorite moments center around food and nature.

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In Bentota, at one end there is fresh water..
and one end is the sea
and one end is the sea

Bentota was one the place we got unlucky. Supposed to be the epicenter of beach tourism and water sports, we were met with a heavy downpour-screeching winds, torrential rain and swaying coconut trees—a little creepy and somewhat scary! What little time we got when the rain subsided was spent on the beautiful, unpolluted beach and building sand castles!

how often do you see a railroad, pavement and highway, next to each other and just jumping distance from the sea???
how often do you see a railroad, pavement and highway, next to each other and just jumping distance from the sea???

All in all, Sri Lanka threw us many surprises. I realized there was much more to see in this land filled with contrasts. In times of stress now, I close my eyes and picture the lushness of Sri Lanka and let out sigh of peacefulness.

we somehow zeroed in on this quaint, culturally as we1ll as geographically diverse land.

Can we get some respect, please?

Philippe Pinel removing physical restraints from a mentally ill woman in La Salpêtrière,France
Philippe Pinel removing physical restraints from a mentally ill woman in La Salpêtrière,France

There are a few illnesses in the world which resemble Voldemort! They exist but cannot be named or accepted. And mental illnesses top this list.Both the patient, as well as relatives, seem to be in a state of denial. In my practice,I have seen a range of behaviors which constitute this stigma. People sitting in front of me, suddenly getting a call on their cell phones, hurriedly pick it up and coolly proceed to tell the caller that they are in a cinema hall or market while making pleading faces at me; patients requesting to be seen urgently because they spotted a fellow villager entering the neurology section of the hospital (which makes him a patient with a respectable illness); or a mother who gets the child to the clinic without informing the father or grandparents!

The word  stigma, apparently originated in Greece. In Greek society, stizein was a mark placed on slaves to identify their position in the social structure and to indicate that they were of less value. The modern derivative, stigma, is therefore a distinguishing mark of social disgrace attached to patients in order to  identify and to devalue them. Stigma occurs in two different ways. One, wherein the general public, family and friends of the particular patient happen to discriminate the patient, and two, where due to this discrimination the patient himself begins to demotivate and hate himself.

There are box full of myths all over the place about the cause, nature as well as cure of mental illnesses. Hence, patients are feared for their potential violent nature, lack of will power and apparent genetic heritability of the illness. Stigma in any form is obviously painful and causes a lot of stress and loss of confidence in the person, but the amount of stigma faced by women having mental illnesses is really demoralizing.

I had a 25 year old girl, recently married who had had a relapse of psychotic illness(in which she behaved abnormally, got angry, aggressive and tried to assault the mother in law). This girl was our patient for the past two years and was completely stable with medication. Some time ago,the mother cautiously broached the topic of whether they could get her married. As is the custom, I took time to explain to her that it would be better that the prospective groom come for a counseling session; that he be in the knowhow of her illness and how it was quite harmless; that I would try and dispel myths which he may be having. If he did not agree, then it would ok.  She could get married to someone understands her illness and still accepts her!

When this was discussed within the family, it was met with strong opposition. The family felt that telling anyone would spell doom, not only for the girl, but for her younger sisters who were also of marriageable age. Hence, the mother carefully un wrapped the medicines from the wrapper, made different boxes and hid it in the girl’s clothing so that she could consume it as stealthily as possible. Unfortunately, post marriage, the girl discovered that the wardrobe given to her was in a landing where anyone could walk in any time, and hence started missing doses to avoid being discovered. This led to a relapse, the groom’s side discovering the tablets and blaming the girls’s side for cheating them.

Now they were sitting in front of me, the sulky husband, the fire brand mother in law to one side, the teary girl in the middle and the defensive mother of the bride to the other! And to take the matter to its logical conclusion, there were about 10 panchayat members who had tagged along!

The boy was unwilling to take her back, the Mom in law said, “If they lied about this, there may be other things too”. The mother who had spent heavily on the wedding, alongside a fat dowry, was livid.“Well, she was fine in our house. It is your fault she is this way. And if you want us to take the girl back, you may as well pay us back all the dowry and expenses of the marriage”. The panchayat members were cajoling, “Think about the girl. Who else will marry her? You have to give her a life. Take her back. She will listen to whatever you say and live like your servant!”(Well, this was supposed to be in support of the girl!)

In between all this, the girl was sitting eyes downcast and teary. It made me feel so low and depressed to imagine how she was facing this. She was unwanted by her own family, a burden which was now someone else’s responsibility. Otherwise, she would have to be kept at home and taken care of unto death. The husband, understandably felt cheated, but looked willing, if not for the mother in law who was already making plans for his second marriage and a second dowry! The panchayat felt that the deed had been done and it was now the girl’s fate to suffer at the hands of a spineless husband, and a tyrant mom in law!

This does not happen to be an individual instance. Whenever men develop a mental illness, we find the parents almost magically find brides for them who are willing to “adjust” to being with a husband suffering from an illness or disability. We have seen instances of husbands convincing wives (who are mentally ill) to agree to their second marriages, wives taking domestic abuse of aggressive, alcoholic  husbands with resignation and accept their husband’s infidelity with a pinch of salt. All the while feeling that either their children, or parents or the husband may feel bad if they desert them!

Parents of young girls are devasted when they hear of their child or relative having a mental illness. They take great pains to hide it from near and dear with the fear that they may spread word and spoil her future marriage prospects. All thoughts of education, job etc etc just fly out the window, and the only question that looms large is whether their daughter will get a good husband. Immediately, she becomes a second class citizen.

But reverse the picture, men seem to think that it is impossible to adjust with anything other than perfect. The minute their wives are diagnosed with a mental illness, there are barbed comments, outright disgust and a permission to insult their spouses any which way they please. Everything becomes their fault.I may be over generalizing here, but the ratio of men and families being nice and supportive to women suffering from mental illness is impossibly skewed in the wrong direction.

And the women themselves, in between suffering from an illness that shakes their very core, have to deal with a hostile world. No wonder, many of them relapse repeatedly.

Spreading awareness about mental illnesses, bringing up our girls to develop a sense of self worth, teaching them to fight back and not take crap( I mean, if the husband does accept the girl back, how could she live with him knowing that he did not even stand up to her??) may be over simplified solutions to a very complex problem. We have a long way to go. And a lot of awareness to spread. And a lot of confidence to build. Till then, there are thousands of those who suffer indignity in silence.

Indian woman mourns death of her relative killed in tsunami in Cuddalore

The Great Punjabi food trip!

The tone of the trip was set by our taxi driver ten minutes into the trip. When asked whether there would be places offering palatable and sort of hygienic food (the hygiene part strictly for the sake of my daughter) along the highway and in the countryside of Punjab, he replied, in a typical Punjabi accent ”Madamji, no one ever goes hungry in Punjab. We love our food and make sure our guests are happily stuffed!You will not find anyone going hungry any part of the day or night!”.We spent three days in Punjab, and came back a couple of kgs heavier and very much happier! I have truly seen food heaven!

Punjab was one of those places I dreamed of visiting since when I was a teenager. Being an avid hindi film buff, the portrayal of Punjab in our movies, the countryside with picturesque mustard fields, the concept of Sikhism, the stories of partition, the joie de vivre and hearty laughter characteristic of Punjabis, their accent and the fact that I have had at least one extremely dear Punjabi friend all through my educational career had made the prospect of visiting Punjab very exciting.

After eating multiple varieties of South Indian made Punjabi looking(but most times, non Punjabi tasting) food in our so called “North Indian restaurants”, I was curious as to how the real non adulterated stuff actually tasted. I am a self confessed foodie, and hence names like baingan ka bharta, sarson ka saag, amritsari dal, halwa……always had more potential to induce drool than say a Ryan Gosling or Hrithik Roshan!And therefore, our driver’s words made me very happy.

Punjab by way of being very close to the border and also being very fertile, has been invaded and influenced by many cultures Greeks to Mughals to the British.Through all this, the ethos, the culture and especially the cuisine of Punjab seems to have retained its uniqueness.

Chandigarh, on first sight looks like an upmarket place where you need to mind your Ps and Qs. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when we were exploring the city and happened to find that people love street food, and how! Shastri market,in Sector 22, is a mind blowing place. Mind blowing in all senses and in the sheer idea of the stuff involved. The roads are filled with people who are shopping in such a frenzy that you worry whether there would be anything left for you! The street vendors sell everything from cello tape to sweaters to pajamas to hi fi handbags! And in between all the haggling and screaming, people are tucking into varied varieties of street food with shopping bags dangling in one hand and food in the other. There are ATMs between tiny street shops where you draw money, shop, eat and then repeat the cycle! What fun! Through with our small amount of shopping, we decided to try the eating!

the chana to stuff into the kulcha
the chana to stuff into the kulcha
punjabi burger
punjabi burger
dahi balla
dahi balla

We tasted channe ke kulche, which has a soft totally non oily kulcha which is cut into half and stuffed with some concoction made out of chanas. Really tangy and yum! There were huge tavas with ragada patties(small boiled potato patties) to be shallow fried and eaten with masala chaat. The sizzle in the tawa, being the added attraction to stand as close to the cart as possible, so you can ward off the mild chill! There were Punjabi burgers, with huge dollops of amul butter in between!You got full just looking! Even boiled American corn had a special masala on it to make it ‘chatpata’!End of the day,I definitely knew how a stuffed turkey would feel, would it be alive!

yummy breakfast
yummy breakfast

Next day, we traveled to Amritsar after a hearty breakfast of aloo paranta, daal, curd, pickle and you guessed right, amul butter!

multi colored cotton candy
multi colored cotton candy,never seen any other than pink till now

Amritsar is a place which makes you calm despite the chaos around you.The golden temple is located in the old part of Amritsar whose congested lanes contain tiny but awesome smelling tea stalls and saffron jalebis. Once inside the Golden temple, a sense of awe descends on you. Though it is filled with thousands of people, you do not feel the rush, and there is a sense of calmness which prevails. All the sounds of the external  world wash away, and you only get to listen to hymns being sung on the loud speaker.The sparkling white external edifice, the contrast of the gold, the tranquil lake-all make for a wow experience! I have never felt so much at peace before. I can vouch for this, as my usually fidgety daughter was surprisingly quiet for the entire one hour that we stood in line to enter the gurdwara, and meekly agreed to cover her head with the head scarf given(given that on regular days, it’s a battle to even get her dressed for school!).

chiilis in vinegar, given with every meal!
chiilis in vinegar, given with every meal!
road side fresh salad bar
road side fresh salad bar

The prasad in the golden temple consists of a mouth watering halwa made of semolina, sugar and enough ghee almost to drip down your fingers! Any number of times that you ask for the halwa, it is given with equal grace and no zero irritation!The langar of the temple apparently feeds about 30,000 people on any given day! Despite hordes of people sitting and eating their roti, kaali daal and ghee rice, there is no noise or chaos. In a time where we discriminate based on caste, religion and status,it feels good  to see people of all types, colors and faiths sit together and receive their meal with  humility and reverence.

imli lollipop
imli lollipop

Of the two disappointments I had in Punjab, the first was not being able to sit and eat in the langar, because we were short of time to reach the Wagah border and Jallianwallah bagh. Jallianwallah bagh is about 10 minutes distance from the golden temple. The minute you enter, you feel all suffused with a sense of patriotism which you did not know existed in you. One minute sad, and another really thankful for our independence and democracy, however corrupt it may be!

Outside of this place, there are again loads of street shops selling imli lollipops(tamarind and sugar lollipops), fritters of moong daal and channa, boiled sweet potatoes with a dash of lime juice and lashings of imli and chilli chutney and multiple varieties if bhel puri which seem to be popular. What is amusing is that one the one hand if there are people who are thronging to these vendors and eating, in between all this there is Macdonalds, Dominos and Pizza Hut which are eually crowded and thriving despite the only vegetarian menu. I had no trouble believing that punjabis and the visitors to punjab, do really love food!

the chatpata chaat corner
the chatpata chaat corner, a place to sell at least 50 types of saunf to eat after your meal
yummy tummy.. you stole the words right outta  my mouth
yummy tummy.. you stole the words right outta my mouth

The second disappointment was the fact that though we reached the Wagah border to watch the ceremony of “Beating the Retreat”, we were not allowed in to the stadium owing to an enormous crowd of 40,000 who had assembled before us! We hence used the time to have a stroll in the fields of mustard a’ la Kajol in DDLJ and have some popcorn and later had our claim to fame when we clicked snaps with black cat commandos and their AK47s. Seriously, I have never been that close to a real gun before, and it gave me goose flesh!

We finally had a fantastic meal of true Punjabi food in one of our friend’s home on the last day. A fitting finale to our food, oops good holiday!In a way, probably not getting to see the border or eat at the langar was God’s way of letting us know that we would come back to Punjab again…hungry and hopeful!

and bhel..from rags to riches...for everyone ther'es something!
and bhel..from rags to riches…for everyone there’s something!
donuts
donuts in a pattiserrie

these are a few of my favorite things…

Today, I am feeling nice. And also have a serious case of writing diarrhea (like the verbal kind)! I have wanted to blog for so long, that now I just cant seem to stop writing! It was a hectic week at work, and now the long awaited weekend. So just a light hearted post for the weekend.

All of us have favorites in life. A favorite in my definition is someone or something which has a highly reliable index to get you out of a funk almost always.  This morning, I was humming the famous song from the movie “The Sound of Music”, where the governess to the seven children sings a song about how raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens happen to be her favorites. Out of nowhere, I had an inexplicable urge to put down a list of things which constituted my favorites(at least to check out whether they were as poetic as hers were!).

The list of ten was difficult to make because I am notoriously undecided. I feel like including a zilllion things which would probably be irrelevant. So I have cut it down to things which I define as giving me a feeling close to euphoria, some things which calm me down and invigorate me at the same time and do not lose their charm even after being repeatedly used as my favorites. So here goes…

  1. Drinking cold water after long hours of work/coming back from the market/after exercising.The burst of cold air that cools my face when I open the fridge, and the anticipation of my thirst ending..I feel like Katrina Kaif in the slice ad.. ecstatic!
  2. The smell of wet earth after the first shower of monsoon.. wish I could capture that fragrance and store it for a time when I want to feel nice! Wonder why no one has ever thought of a perfume of such a kind!

rain

3. Palak paneer, rice and coke with a nice mystery read!

4. The first bite of dairy milk silk….yum!

5.The feeling I get when I get to speak to my close friend after a long long time

6. Unexpected but well deserved (I think)praise

7.A particular note of some songs…it may be a line with some lovely lyrics, or the way             the singer has worked the words with her voice or a particular line of music which                 sticks in my mind and remains a favorite. (I have a lot of these,and have a habit of                digressing, hence will not elaborate)

8.The smell of a book and bookshops- always!

9.When my children smile in their sleep—I take a lot of pics of these, so I can look at                them and feel soppy!

10. When I get lot of traffic on my blog..he, he just kidding… the last one but not the                   least is when I see nature in its unspoiled state. I would rate this the best. I just love             to sit and stare for hours when its rains hard or when I am travelling through                         jungles. The sense of calm that it gives me is enormous.My troubles just fade away              and I get clear headed.

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The best part about making the list was that, just remembering all these things have made me slip into a great mood. Therefore thought I will share this with you… do let me know about your favorites too…have a great weekend!