An apology to Monali Mahala.

suicide-noteMonali is the name of the fifteen year old girl who committed suicide in Bengaluru yesterday.She chose to take such a drastic step  because she was suspended from school for inappropriate behavior. The behavior that was so labelled, included apparent PDA with a boy in school whom she was warned against earlier.

Almost every single day in my practice, I see Monalis of varying age groups and backgrounds, but brought for counseling with similar problems. That they were on varying levels of intimacy with boys of questionable reputations, and excessive usage of mobile phones. The parents are angry, defensive and would have tried everything in the book from scolding to physical abuse to emotional blackmail till nothing works and they decide to try counseling as the last resort. Schools take to vigorous punishments, strict rules, dress codes, lectures and seminars proclaiming the importance of our RICH Indian tradition which does not accept such interactions (but by the way, somehow chanced upon the kamasutra!) and many more such ‘disciplinary’ measures.

Whenever I read newspaper reports of such incidents or watch the Breaking News on prime time, I always wonder why we do not try to understand how such drastic rules came to be a part of schools in this age and time? After all, teenage crushes did not originate in this generation, and have been persisting from the time I remember going to school and probably earlier too. And handling such situations should have got better by practice and with time. Just like how we learn to deal with an irritating co worker or a pestering relative. You worry, you try but finally accept and get used to them and hopefully handle them with just the right amount of maturity. Why hasn’t that happened with such situations?

The most common answer that I get for such a question is that children now, are very precocious.That they would not think twice before taking the relationship further(by which I mean, to the physical intimacy level) and lose track of studies. True, but this again is something you have to accept,get used to and change slow and steady. With the right amount of concern and finesse. By trial and error. By guiding rather than pushing. By asking rather than assuming (the worst).Just the way we got used to any new change like the television, internet, cell phones and globalization, which we have no qualms about embracing, but needed trial and error to tell how much of it was just right. Not by bull dozing our concerns as didactic rules.

Whenever I have interacted with  teachers of children with behavioral problems, the primary emotion the most teachers express is one of fear rather than care.Fear that if something goes wrong, the responsibility will land squarely on their shoulders! The reason for this is the change in quite a few parents’ behavior whenever something is not happening as per their expectations. From issues such as not doing well in academics, to having bad friends to falling in love and elopement -all of which become the school’s responsibility. When parents do find fault, then often do it vociferously and drag the media along, who add a generous dose of sensationalism to the whole deal. And they are often looking to put the blame squarely on any one person’s shoulder. The person whom the complaint is against-which most often is the teacher or the school. I am sure, if the teacher in the above incident was asked why she/ he dealt out such an illogical or unwarranted punishment, this is probably the reason they would give you. It is NOT that I support what the school has done, but rather than just blaming the school, I think we should find out solutions so that this this does not happen again.Because after a while, Monali’s memory may fade, but the illogical rules will remain.

We live in confused times. We teach our kids to feel free to make friendships, but worry if they do make friends with the opposite sex; we teach them that they can share everything with us but become judgmental if they do share something which does not belong to our school of thought; we show them movies(and also often watch enthusiastically alongside) of how a couple goes against the world, falls in love and gets married to live happily ever after, but do not allow them the same yardstick to choose their spouse. We still do not discuss sexuality or growing up freely in our households. Instead, we spy on our children and give veiled warnings of what they would face in case of a bad grade or a bad boyfriend or both! Sex education gets a negative connotation, and hence, schools are wary of practicing it. We do not have clear cut reasoning to define why we are enforcing certain rules or the validity of it. Like why girls and boys are made to sit separately in high school or how banning girls from entering college libraries (as in Aligarh Muslim University) will prevent inappropriate behavior and increase grades!

There are hardly any school counselors whom the child can open up to, and most are worried whether discussing their love life with a counselor would actually be wise. Just this morning, an article in ‘The Hindu’, discussed the constraints students face when talking to school counselors. A girl who went to the counselor for sadness due to a fight with her boyfriend was advised by the counselor to concentrate on her studies instead. The irony of this was that, the girl had in the first place consulted the counselor because she was not able to study due to her depression!

In such a scenario, it is but natural that the schools (as in Monali’s case), parents(as in Aarushi Talwar’s case) and children themselves(scores of Monalis who grow up in confusion) over react to situations which are a part of a natural growing phase.

Until and unless  we think of a comprehensive system where we as parents, learn to communicate without inhibitions with our children; teachers and schools first respect and care for their children before becoming judgmental about them; the system and the government realize that any amount of drilling about Indian tradition would not curb hormonal development, movies stop showing unrealistic romanticized versions of teenage life and the media becomes responsible rather than sensational, we may end up losing many more Monalis for no fault of theirs.

Sorry Monali, we owe you bad! Sorry that we as a society, were so confused, that we could not save you! RIP.

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Hustling bustling vacations

vacation

Post the holiday season and resolution making, life has got back to normal. Just a few days into this year, I am already craving and nostalgic for a holiday.

Travel has always been on my ‘most favorite to do’ lists. I have never been a victim of the horrible nausea that  people experience in the name of travel sickness, no queasiness over different kinds of food, ability to tolerate extended durations of ghaas phoos(raw or boiled veggies and greens- the only option available for vegetarians in a lot of countries abroad),no tiredness post travel and an ability to walk miles(a slight exaggeration) if something appeared interesting enough.  And a lot of my growing up years have been spent poring over magazines like National Geographic,Outlook Traveler etc. The most recent additions to the list have been blogs related to travelling ( the Wanderer, Laxmi Sharat’s blog) and various Instagram accounts. Luckily, my family is equally crazy about travelling, though their concept of the whole thing slightly (and I use the word with care)varied from what is shown in TLC and Nat Geo Life Style channels on TV.

Being a part of a large extended joint family,our travel plans almost always involved about a bus load of people of all ages, sizes, shapes and mindsets. The first hurdle was choosing  the place. It needed to be somewhere close but not too much, have something to interest everyone, include a few Indian meals at least and something which would suit everyone’s time frame.

Therefore, all trips involve a hectic pre trip workup, involving last minute renewal of passports, cancellations and additions in the number of passengers,continuous maddening calls to the travel agent to ask about inane things like how many extra beds would go in whose hotel rooms, to herding people together into the bus at the right time so we reach the airport before the plane flies. Somewhat akin to the first scene in the movie ‘Home Alone’. In all seriousness, I think our travel agent takes a break as soon as we board the flight!

This is followed by an activity filled, rushed “been there, done that” kind of a trip where we see everything at break neck speed (because we have to cater to tastes of everyone ranging from age three to seventy five!).

I have been a part of holidays like this since my childhood, so the concept of lazy,ambiance soaking vacations, where you stroll along the ocean hand in hand with your spouse, watch the sunset, go for a long swim impromptu, drink coffee from quaint little coffee shops over a book, discovering hole in the wall shops selling antiques and basically getting the flavor of the place, as is described in travel magazines, were concepts alien to me.

If at all, our holidays were like work outs- in one word, strenuous! You had to be up by six coz you had to share a bathroom and get ready by seven, so that you could stuff yourself up to your nostrils at the breakfast buffet (you see, most foreign tours would give you bed, breakfast and dinner as part of the tour, and you had to rely on yourself for lunch. Well, stuffing yourself was one way of making sure you stay full longer!) In the late 80s and early 90s, you were only allowed to take a limited number of dollars out of the country, and so these had to be stretched to accommodate our food and loads of shopping for all the people we left back home).

Once into the bus, we had the smaller kids often dozing off on long drives(thanks to waking earlier than during school times), to be woken up umpteen number of times whenever we landed at any given photo point.All the couples, bleary eyed kids and the group had to be photographed religiously in front of every monument, as if to assert to the whole wide world that we had been there(and done that)!

Afternoons were spent in the park or in the van, eating bread with a variety of assorted pickles and jams which would appear like magic from huge handbags of mothers and aunts. The drivers and our tour conductors would be our aunties and uncles for the duration of the trip. After visiting every single tourist point and museum, we would crash into bed late at night only to repeat the same next morning!

When I am writing this, the whole thing sounds so exhausting. Growing up, I used to vow to myself that when I plan, things would be different. We would go on trips where we could explore one small nook at a time, at leisure, taste the local cuisine, get to know every small alley of the place that we decided to visit. Somewhat like in ‘Eat, Pray and Love’.

But when when I did grow up and took over the planning, as though genetically, I migrated towards going with huge groups of people, and planned equally hectic trips, alternately whining about the rush and enjoying myself all at once.

Thinking back, travelling in a group was the most fun thing that has happened to me. There are always shared memories and jokes to remember, weird things that happened that would be included as family legends, and a sense of bonding which is difficult to disentangle. We learned to tolerate shortcomings and quirks with grace and grew up with the idea of sharing and caring. When we would go on trips, we would regularly see other groups like the Chinese, Japanese and Gujratis traveling like we did and feel normal.

Though I would not recommend such vacations for the faint hearted, writing this has made me itch for a busy, bustling, frantic vacation all over again!

He is different!

Curtis

“I think the sky is the most highest place,

Which I want to see;

Clouds, birds, aeroplanes so free.

But what if the sky falls?

It may crash to the lands,

Plains, hills, deserts and sands.

Whether it is a disaster or

Something grand?

I don’t know.”

These are part lines of a poem written by one of my clients. The person in question is just 10 years old. The poem is quite profound and poignant at the same time. Why would a boy young as this write about the sky falling, I wonder. Because, it is. For him.

He was brought because he was troublesome in class, quiet at times and very brash otherwise. No one could gauge what he was thinking. Called ‘expressionless’ by some who did not take the trouble to find out why it was so. Shunned by classmates, because he was not boisterous enough. Causing worry to parents because he was not fitting in well. Irritating to teachers because he would switch off in the middle of a class and start staring out the window. Basically a loner. Who stutters and fidgets. But his eyes give him away. They are deep and and look back nonfearingly at me. Why me? Is there something wrong with me, they ask. And the sad answer is no. But there seems to be everything wrong with us!

In these days of intense academic competition, never mind the age of the child, kids who don’t fit into our norm or schedule of ‘study well, play just enough and then pander to your creativity’ are often the butt of our ire.  Although all of us want children who excel in everything (almost), when we do have a child who is creative, gifted and hence different, we do not have a clue of how to handle him/her. We often label them or segregate them into feeling ashamed of their ‘differentness’ (if I can call it that!)

Browsing through a bookstore, I was drawn to a book which was titled ‘Raising your spirited child” written by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. The word spirited was  unique and hence led me into reading it. The book aptly describes children who are different by our standards and intense in their reactions as spirited rather than bad, stubborn and exasperating. It also describes different but simple psychological methods as to how to defuse a potential disaster situation when these kids are around. Just the change in label put on the behavior has caused a difference in the way I think of my difficult but creative young clients.

What started as a an interest read, slowly started helping me in parenting my kids better. Whenever children throw tantrums, we immediately become defensive. We feel that our authority is questioned and that the child is oppositionally defiant. But we fail to remember that the child also has a strong mind of its own whose dictates the child tends to obey. And gifted children have a way of thinking which is dependent on their creative urges rather than regular drudgery.

Now,when parents  complain that their child does not listen to them or creates a ruckus when asked to follow and obey, I try and put myself in the child’s shoes. Why? Why would a child want to be bad? Is there some thing troubling him or her? Or is the child upset and unable to express it in a way that we understand? Is there something that the child is hiding? Is the child scared and depressed?(Oh yes, children who are depressed can also throw temper tantrums)Or is the child giving in to his creative urges, hence upset when disturbed?

The way we think usually reflects in the way we behave and hence, surprisingly, this little shift gives massive results. I tried it on my daughter, who may or may not be gifted, but is surely stubborn. Whenever she decides on a particular dress for the day, it is difficult to budge her decision. If I try to, almost always one of us ends up pulling out our hair in exasperation! I tried thinking why she was predisposed to certain kinds of clothes. The color, the texture or public opinion? So the next time we had a disagreement, I decided I would not scream. I pulled her close, hugged her through her tears and told her that it was ok to fight, and loose and then again cheer up. I told her the pros and cons of why we had chosen to make her wear that dress (it was winter, so she is not allowed sleeveless) and asked her if we could give it a try my way tomorrow. Strangely, it worked. It took me half an hour to get through this song and dance, but it was totally worth it. She was happy, I was calmer and felt more in control, though she won. We compromised and she wore a sweater. But next day, there was no ruckus. She wore what was agreed upon and that was it! After this experiment, I started reasoning out with many of my young clients and wonder of wonders, even the most youngest could sort of understand!

We need to understand that one third of our personalities are made up of temaperamental traits which are inborn. We can mold them, but they tend to stubbornly pop up in between. Eg. Distractibility (called hyperactivity by us), persistence(called stubbornness), adaptabilty (called impertinence), sensitivity(dubbed cry babies) etc… As always there are two sides to the same coin. If we understand the child’s temperament and think accordingly, we bring out the positive side of each temperament.. like quick(rather than hyper), diligent(rather than stubborn), very outgoing and social (rather than does not know how to keep his mouth shut) and can understand feelings and empathizes well (rather than cry baby). These lead to better understanding and less pigeonholing! And finally letting them be. If we(parents, teachers and therapists) lend them a helping hand and allow them their quirks, rather than force them to conform, children generally become open to compromise.

Children tend to put up their best front forward if they know that quiet look of appreciation and acceptance in the parents or teachers. A pat of the head, a smile of pride and a hug usually do the trick. Bad behavior also, if understood and accepted with the same level of patience disappears easily. After all, we as kids were also not perfect!

Finally,gifted kids don’t have it easy. They think higher than their peers, appear and may be behave differently and hence are treated differently. If we use and understand their spirit and creativity better, we may have geniuses who can freely express their talent rather than feel so stifled in their school and home environment that they end up in front of a psychiatrist!.

Art for the soul

art 1

Wishing  all of you a  very happy and happening 2015. And heartfelt thanks for being regular followers of my blog and giving valuable feedback. It has been a very productive blogging year for me and something which gives me immense pleasure, so thanks again for making it happen.

Any form of art has always fascinated me. To do something which affects another other person’s life positively is exhilarating. I mean, we as doctors, try to do it on a regular basis. An illness has a well defined symptomatology, a specific set of diagnostic procedures and finally a text book prescribed treatment. We do tweak the treatment a little based on the individual patient, but we rarely do anything out of the box. But yet, when the patient goes home fine, we feel a sense of pleasure that makes us go on for hours without getting tired. Therefore, I always was fascinated by artists, who can create the same magic, or weave dreams and cause the same effect on a large mass of people with something innovative, new and never thought of before concept. It may be a good book, a new movie, some music or a painting. The way of thinking is so unique that the simplest of the things can transform into something magical.

It is said that great art forms happen when the artist works for himself and not for the masses. When his art is pure, passionate and honest. When it is an expression of what the artist is feeling and what he wants to say to the world. By which, it makes art the only thing where something done for purely selfish purposes gives someone else great amount of solace and pleasure! Strange, isnt it?

This year, one of my new year resolutions was to pursue and attend events which have always been on my wish list but always procrastinated! There are a lot of these, owing to work, kids and a million other things.

And the first in the to do list was to attend Chitra Santhe in Bangalore.

For the uninitiated, Chitra santhe is a programme put up by the famous Chitra Kala Parishat in Bangalore.Chitra kala parishat(CKP) is   is an art institution and cultural organisation located in the city ofBangalore, in the state of Karnataka.Its main aim is the promotion of art and culture and it is well known for the various art exhibitions that it conducts both at the state and the National levels. It has very many museums and has the distinction of having paintings of Himalayas by the famous Nicholas Roerich on permanent display(these were donated by the artists son). The institution also has an academic structure where various subjects like visual arts, direction etc are taught.

The best part about it is the ambiance. Even though it is located right in the center of Bangalore, once you enter the campus, the noise of the traffic fades away. There is a large banyan tree encompassing a huge part of the campus below which you invariably see someone or the other engrossed in painting or sketching.

Once a year, CKP hosts a fest where in artists from all over India can come and display their art around the campus and along a one kilometer stretch on the road. This year, we reached the campus quite early to avoid the crowds and found that there were many more who had probably had the same idea! The place was teeming with people and artists. All things art were on display. It was a visual feast.

A few glimpses of chitra santhe:

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cloth paintings on display

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i liked these best. marker on acrylic by an artist called sunil from bangalore
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buddhas..
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the center piece
kids coloring away for a competition in the midst of the santhe
kids coloring away for a competition in the midst of the santhe
the banyan tree
the banyan tree
the young art enthusiast
the young art enthusiast