The psychology of bullying

Forgive me for writing about a deathly serious topic, I promise I have a funnier one lined up for this weekend.

As a child who was always bullied for being dark, not in my wildest dreams,  had I imagined, that this monster would come back to haunt me in my adult life too. Only this time, it is a different kind, more subtle, but enough to make me feel uncomfortable. It’s a feeling best described this way – imagine you are minding your own business, and this pesky mosquito keeps buzzing near your ear, and every time you try to swat it, the wretched creature of hell dodges away. It keeps singing in that monotonous drone –  mmmmmmm and bites you on an exposed part of your body, and you try to swat it, and miss again. Mildly annoying, but annoying enough to make you leave that room!

Thankfully, all the bullying I was subjected to, has always been verbal. As always, it took research papers (links at the bottom, if you’re a nerd like me) and a good, long talk with Akka, to come to the conclusion – bullies that use this form (verbal), are often passive aggressive. It also came to my notice that – it’s not what is being said by the bully, but how they make you feel that matters! So would general teasing qualify as bullying, you ask? Yes, if it is repetitive and the same goddamn thing every time, it borderline qualifies as bullying! Do not get me wrong, this does not mean I am intolerant towards general teasing and banter (I highly appreciate an intelligent insult or comeback, those definitely get a laugh out of me), but it’s quite easy to identify such verbal bullying/teasing. More often than not, the teasing will be unwitty. I mean, of course, the last thing to expect out of a bully, is eloquence. But that is a general pattern, and I have started to grow weary of it. Sometimes, bullies may also try to ostracize their victim. (Dear bully, if you’re reading this, I bet you had to Google what ostracize means).

I have always been an anxious person, but these days, it has gotten out of control and has made me vulnerable. I feel bullies have sharp noses and can sniff (vulnerable) blood like man-eating tigers. It’s like they are on the prowl, waiting to eat on their victim’s already draining energy. I am working on being a more composed person, and it is taking a lot of guts to open up like this, but yes, I am getting there, slow and steady, trying to maintain dignity. But to be honest, it is rather difficult, when more than half your energy is being used to veer away from these energy sucking leeches. It’s all about power for bullies, and sadly, they seek it from people they deem powerless.

I am not complaining, or moping, or trying to gain sympathy with this post. I am trying to spread awareness about this issue. It is rather sensitive, and needs immediate attention. If you are being subjected to any form of bullying/unfunny teasing that bothers you, you need to act on it. The first step of action is to avoid these people at all costs, it is no use trying to talk it out with bullies, bullies suffer from psychological issues and insecurities, and it is a matter of concern for their mental therapists, not you! Try talking to somebody close about this, somebody you can trust and knows you inside out.

Remember, you are only the victim if you allow yourself to be victimized. Stay strong, you are more awesome than you think, sending loads of love your way.

Links for my fellow nerds:

  1. http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/41730176/Types_of_Bullying_and_Their_Correlates20160129-8806-r79by2.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1492154350&Signature=uwVNZ7uAav20HMrqWOQ2xxv%2FDS4%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DTypes_of_Bullying_and_Their_Correlates.pdf
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqM0YqeRsOM
  3. http://bullyproofclassroom.com/do-bullys-have-low-self-esteem

What’s it like to lose a wallet

In one word, it sucks. It sucks big time. I am writing about it, while it is still fresh in my memory. I am generally very careful with my wallet and keep doing random pocket checks. During one such random check on my way to the BART station (San Francisco subway, stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit) this morning, I couldn’t feel anything in my front pocket.  I slipped in my fingers to confirm my worst fears, my wallet was gone!

I am going to come clean here, I suffer from severe anxiety and my first reaction was to hyper-ventilate. I managed to whip out my phone from my other pocket and dialed Akka’s number. Gasping for breath, I tried to tell her what had happened.

Akka is the most level-headed person I know. She is the Krishna to my Arjuna, the Tenali Raman to my Krishnadevaraya, the Chanakya to my Chandragupta Maurya. You get it, right? I basically turn to her for advice.

“Okay, first, BREATHE!”, she said. “Second, come right back home and take some cash from me, this is fixable”. “Kay”, I managed to say through all my incisive breathing. I looked around as I walked back home, a five minute walk took me 10 minutes to complete!

Akka then instructed me to call the bank and cancel my card, while she worked on canceling my clipper card that was on auto-load. (For those of you who don’t know, a clipper card is a smart card, that needs to be tapped at the entrance of the subway. Most cards need to be loaded with money at vending booths, but I wanted my clipper card to be smarter and had linked my bank account to it, so that every time it ran out of money, the card would be automatically loaded).

I was pleasantly surprised when the Bank Teller told me that somebody had already called in to report that my card was missing. Mind you, this was just within 10 minutes of me losing my wallet and somebody had found it, and was considerate enough to actually call my bank to cancel my card! Whew! Humanity existed!

“So that’s all with all the immediate money, right?”, Akka asked. “Yeah! That’s it!”, I said, feeling much, much better after the call. “Being poor is great!”, I said to her, “I don’t have much to lose!”. I instantly regretted saying that. I mean sure, I only had under $4k in my account, but I had worked crazy hard earning that money. I had worked during Winter Break when all my friends had gone back to India to enjoy with their family. Heck, my mom had come over to SF and I couldn’t spend time with her. Why? Because I was busy earning money that would go towards my tuition…

I got to work feeling super low, because now I would have had to spend time re-constructing my wallet, and what saddened me most is that, the wallet itself was lovely and fitted in my pocket so nice and snug. Moreover, it was gifted to me by Akka. But here’s the thing, my wallet actually had the words “I’m feeling lucky”, inscribed on it. (Perks of having a sister working at Google – you got snugly fitting wallets as gifts), so I had this gut feeling that my wallet would find it’s way back to me.

I called up USF Public Safety to see if a lost ID was reported, but no luck there. By the end of the day I had lost all hopes, but then, around 4, I got an email from a person who claimed to have found my wallet, and had gotten in touch to confirm it.

I was blown by the astute detective skills! This person had managed to find my usfca.edu id. Maybe they got it off my LinkedIn? I can’t think of any other place I have mentioned that particular id.

Turns out, this person stayed in my neighborhood and had found my wallet on their way to the BART station. I picked up my wallet from their place and profusely thanked them and gave them a small thank you note and a bar of my favorite chocolate as a token of gratitude. They don’t make people like that anymore.

I had replaced most of the things in my wallet, including my USF ID card, but was just glad to have my wallet back because of the sentiments attributed with it.

This incident changed one perspective in Life. Sure, I would have also returned a lost wallet, but only because would have felt guilty and it would have hurt my conscience. The intentions thus far were purely selfish.  I am now going to return lost items not because wouldn’t be able to live with myself, but because the concerned person may have worked crazy hard for it…

My Guru

My Guru, Smt. Mythilli Raghavan, turned 70 this year. (She doesn’t look anything like it). She is a direct disciple of Rukmini Devi Arundale and has toured with her and independently to several countries. Here is something I wrote for my guru, which was published in a book titled ‘Guru’, to mark her 70th birthday. Now that the book has been published, I can post it here on my blog –

Coming from a typical conservative TamBrahm family, I did not have much of an option and was enrolled for dance classes at the age of 4. Although I started with Tanjore style, I only joined Academy of Indian Dances at the age of 10 in 2003. I think it took me forever to adapt to the Kalakshetra style, but Mami, as we all lovingly call her, was incredibly patient with me.

I’ve learnt life’s biggest life lessons from her – patience and perseverance. When Mami would teach us something new, she would make us repeat it about 10 times in class. Many of us would stand a little away from the front rows, because if we were to stand in front of her, we would have to put our thighs through the torture of sitting in impeccable aramandi throughout the entirety of the two hour class! “I have eyes like an eagle”, Mami  would say. And it was true! No matter where we stood or how we hid ourselves, nothing would go unseen beneath her nose!

Mami’s style of teaching changed my perception in life. She believed in  positive reinforcement. She would never say “Your hands are crooked” or “Your Aramandi is not what it needs to be”. Instead,  she would say things like, “Keep your hands straight”, “Sit down more.” She would emphasize on things we should do instead of the negative aspects.

Dance class was always filled with laughter, because Mami has a great sense of humour, her comedy perfectly timed! “Okay, 26th January flag hoisting is over, you may bring down your hands now”, she would say at a particularly bad Natyarambham. Aramandi looks like 3/4th Mandi, sit down more!”, she would say to a lazy student. She is downright HILARIOUS.

“Bhaavam, Raagam, Thaalam” she said, “make you a complete dancer”. For those who don’t know, Mami is a trained singer and Veena player. Mami made it a point to teach us all not only the Chollu Kattu, but also made sure that we are able to sing all the songs we dance to. I was the only one in class to have learnt Carnatic Music formally and Mami supported my music and would give me special attention and compulsorily make me sing. Musician or not, Mami would encourage everybody in class to learn. “Except Aishwarya, everybody has to tell me what raagam this is”, she would say every time she taught us a new item. Mami  was not only my dance teacher, she was also my Paattu (singing) teacher, and would make me sing for juniors’ exams, rehearsals and for small programs too!

Mami has been nothing but supportive. I consider myself lucky and honoured to have been under her tutelage. Thank you Mami, for everything that you have done for us. I miss your angry, yet concerned voice-“Helmet potuko! Badhrama Ottu!” (wear a helmet, drive safely), your Vijayadashami day Sundal, your jokes. Thank you for some of my best memories ever!

 

Language woes

Ever asked a friend to teach you a phrase in their mother tongue? If not, you should try it, I do this all the time! But be warned, you will NEVER be able to use this phrase in a conversation because:

  1. Your friend will go out of their way to pick the RANDOMEST of phrases.
  2. Seldom will they make any sense.

Just the other day, I took Uber Pool (Yeah, I’m cheap! I also care about the Environment!) and the driver was an old, chirpy American woman. As a normal Uber ride would go, we got chatting and I told her I was from India. She said, “Oh! Back when I was in college at UCSD, all my room-mates were Indian and Pakistani! They taught me a little Hindi!”. “Oh wow! Let’s hear some of your Hindi, then?”, I asked. “Danda leke marungi!”, she exclaimed. “Arre bidu, sab chalta hai!”. She then paused and said, “I’m afraid, that’s all I remember”. I looked at her, and could genuinely feel the remorse she felt at having forgotten more such amazingly incoherent phrases. I decided I wanted to help and added “Patli gali leke cut le” to her dictionary.

When I tell my Desi friends, I predominantly spoke in Marathi and Hindi back in my hometown, the Marathi and Tamil phrases I get to hear make me forget what coherence is. Articulation goes for a toss too. “Shenaat pay ghatla” was the first phrase one of my very good friends was taught. “My boyfriend is Marathi, and he taught me this” she said. Roughly translated, it means “I put my foot in cow-dung”.

“Thayir Saadham!” one guy yelled, as soon as I told him I was Tamil. “Rombave Nalla”, “Naan oru dharava sonna, Nooru dharava sonna mari!” Now that last phrase right there, let that catch your attention. It’s a long phrase, has too many syllables and is of course, one of Rajnikanth’s popular dialogues. I was curious how this guy learnt that dialogue and rendered it with such impeccable ease! “I took a long long time to learn this, my friend was determined that I learn it!”, he said. This friend, clearly, had gone out of their way teaching our common acquaintance the most bizarre Tamil phrases I have heard in the entirety of my life! I don’t even want  to reiterate those here.

My own sister and mother are no better. At least what my mother taught me wasn’t as utterly useless as what my sister taught me. I feel, I am the only one in my family to speak the least languages, and pay dearly for it. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?”, she taught me to say during our trip to Paris, a couple years ago. When translated to English, it means “Will you sleep with me tonight?”. Amma taught me something less brutal. Amma speaks 6 languages, 2 of which I can only understand, but not speak. “Undal oranganom, orangiyal unnanom”, which in Malayalam means, “If you eat, you should sleep (afterwards), if you sleep, you should eat (afterwards)!” Of course, I am never going to be able to use them, but these are the phrases I use whenever I meet a somebody who speaks Malayalam or French. For my Telugu friends, I have a standard poem that I recite, mercilessly messing up the sequence of the lines and the pronunciations –  “Bujji meka bujji meka eda kelthivi? Rajagaru thotalona meta kelthini, Rajagaru thotalona emi chesthivi? Thotamaali kotta pona turr manthini!” Don’t even bother about the translation. Recite these exact lines the next time you meet your Telugu friend and watch them wince. Works every time. (Poem courtesy my mami, who is Telugu).

Anyway, I think I have come to terms with my inability to speak more than 4 languages. If you’d like to teach me random phrases in your mother tongue or any foreign languages you speak, I’d be happy to learn!

On turning 24 and what it brings along.

turning24

I just turned 24 a few hours ago, at least according to India time.

I am going to be entirely honest, I am positively terrified, apprehensive and perturbed by the prospect.

This (irrational?) fear triggered recently when I was contemplating on my life thus far, and what I expected of it and what lay ahead, in store for me. This thought niggled me for a while, until I decided to actually deal with it. I began by reading philosophical articles and blogs on the Internet. I happened to stumble upon a scientific research paper on human behavior from one such blog (I cannot find the link to the paper for a strange reason, so you have to take my word for it). The paper said, humans try to find meaning in life when they are about to enter their 30’s, 40’s, etc. After more such extensive reading, I was rather relieved to learn that it is human nature to assess and measure the meaning of life from time to time, to be more specific, when they crossed a significant milestone in life. And here I am, trying to audit life at 24.

To me, my fear made perfect sense. I mean, Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. So does that mean I am fast approaching the end of the first half of my life and have only 32 years remaining to achieve something significant? Steve co-founded Apple when he was 21. What do I have at 24? A student debt? I shared my perturbation with my elder sister, who is 10 years older than me. “I am 24 and I have nothing to show for it. Is it acceptable if one has lived an insignificant life?”, I asked her with a furrow on my brows. My Akka, the all knowing and wise person that she is, just smiled gently and directed me to this article.

Just to clarify, I am not as paranoid as the author is. Did I fear death? Not really, I just feared not living  a meaningful life. Doesn’t matter if nobody understands the meaning of my life, all that matters is, it should make sense to me! I have let go of the worries over things I cannot control. Can I control the H1B bill and prevent it from being passed? No! What I can control is, work on building my skill set so that I am a desirable candidate in the tech workforce, so that employers will be willing to pay me $130k.

Amma had a very practical take on this. “What are you going to feel when you turn 30 or 50? There is no way around this, everyone has to age. You need to accept the fact”. She went on to quote, “Parivartan hi sansaar ka niyam hai!” (Change is the only rule of the Universe).

All this pondering and introspection made me realize, I have a very hungry soul and I need to keep feeding this seemingly gutless, yet hungry monster. The only activities that seem to satiate my appetite are Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, writing, doodling, reading and learning new things. I have been pretty active on Quora lately, so at least my need for reading and writing are being fulfilled. I have been completely neglecting Bharatanatyam and music and have decided to take it up once more. One of my goals this year, is to perform here in the Bay Area. As far as music is concerned, I am trying to learn from Amma via video calls as much as possible, the fact that I am getting to sing is in itself satisfying. I am learning a lot of new technologies  at school and my Computer Science learning curve is becoming steep, so that department seems sorted too. I am taking control of things like this, and trying to give life some meaning. Hopefully, everything will work out.

That said, I may still take my time to come to terms with being 24 and continue to strive to attain meaning in life.

I appreciate all those in India who stayed up till 12:00 AM and beyond, to give me birthday wishes! It is rather exciting and thrilling to get so much attention for two whole days!

Golu time madness

GOLU TIME MADNESS

 

It would begin exactly a week before Navaratri. Amma would be the one to start it first always,until the rest of the house caught on too. The amount of cleaning done before Golu is actually more than the rest of the year put together! It was my job to bring down the boxes we stored the Golu Bommais in, and sift through them. This is the easiest, and the most fun part, until you realise that you shouldn’t have been lazy while wrapping the dolls up last year, and that you should have labelled them to begin with. picture1

We had lovely sets that my mother had collected over time. Our collection also contained dolls that were passed on to my mother by her mother and grandmother! I, for a fact know that the Mara-Pachi’s are older than Amma! We had the standard Chettiars.The paati in our set has a mortar-pestel in her hand and the thatha has a visari. I once saw this modern set, in which the paati had a mobile phone and the thatha had a laptop! A very interesting and ‘modern’ set we own, is a cricket set, and each of the players is Lord Ganesha himself! So, it’s Ganesha bowling to Ganesha with another Ganesha doing the wicket-keeping and so on! (The Umpire Ganesha has a noticeable paunch for some reason.) This set is a recurring favourite and I always used to get confused placing it properly. Another favourite of mine is a copper Kitchen set, Amma got custom made for the Kalyanam set. ‘Golu kutti podum’, My mother would say every time she bought a new set. Now that I come to think of it, I think we are Golu hoarders. Every time we go out traveling, we buy souvenirs because, “Golu la vekkalam!”

We were the only Tamilians in our lane and which is why this event would be very popular.

picture2

*Translation – Random mami : Sing a song, child!”*

Amma would even invite a Marathi Bhajan group who would sing Devi songs in Marathi and Hindi! We would of course have the Tamil Mamis come over and there would be at least one Mami who would sing the typical Mamavathu. Which is why, Amma made it a point to learn unique Devi songs every year to avoid repetition. “Adhe adhe same same, bore aghurdhu!”, she would say. I, obviously, wasn’t spared. Amma would begin this quest for “new” songs approximately 2 weeks beforehand and I had to help her with the research.

I enjoyed Saraswathi Pooja day as a kid, because that meant that my Harmonium, Salangai (and especially my Math text book) were to be kept dysfunctional. As Akka and I grew older, Amma insisted that we keep our Laptops too. Considering both of us are CS Engineers, it got inconvenient. (All the kumkumam on the screen didn’t help either.)

Vijayadashami day is actually the busiest, because that is the only day in the year that my moped would get a wash and also, that day meant, that I would learn something new at Dance Class! After I got back home, Amma would also teach me a new song. In the evening, after the Arti, she would move the Kalasham slightly and put the dolls to sleep (I am sorry, I did not find a better translation for “padukka veppa). This would be followed by a few days of an upset tummy, because I would literally only eat Sundal through the entirety of the ten days.

This Navaratri, I am very far away from home and hope to continue the ‘madness’ that Amma passed on to me, when I have a house of my own.

Being a Marathi TamBrahm

doodle1As weird as that sounds, I am exactly that, a Marathi TamBrahm. I was born in Pune, but raised the TamBrahm way. I speak fluent Marathi and Tamil and also know Hindi, of course. It’s amazing to be a pakka Puneri mulgi who speaks Tamil and mavali Hindi all together, at the same time!

Being raised the TamBrahm way, my mornings started with “Kaushalya Supraja Rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe“, minus the filter coffee, because both Amma and I are chai-persons, so our davra-tumblers were filled with tea instead! I was enrolled into Bharatanatyam classes at the age of 4. Amma and Thatha taught me Carnatic Music and have trained me to identify raagas within the first 10 seconds of the song. My Akka and I  were made to  by-heart a ton of Shlokams that are deemed necessary for survival. (Imagine having the Vishnu Sahasranamam committed to memory?)

But we were assal Marathi people, we used “shengdanecha kooth” instead of coconut in our Bhaji. (Yes, not Subji, not curry, Bhaji! Deal with it! ). Chapati-Bhaji was our staple diet, but what good is a Tamil house-hold if its refrigerator is devoid of dosa-maavu? 

Festivals were all celebrated the Tamil way, hands down. There would be a padi-kolam out our doorstep even on gudi-padwa. Heck, Amma even drapes a Madi-saar that day! Ganpati was celebrated for 1 1/2 days instead of the 10 day Maharashtrian way. Puran Poli used to be Neivedhyam majority of the time. We always have a grand Golu during Navaratri. Of course there would be a lot of mami’s coming over and me going all around our theru collecting Sundal( and consciously trying not to repeat the same Devi song as last year at the same mami’s house ) but every year, Amma called Mrs. Gulawne’s Bhajan Party, who would sing beautiful Abhangs, Powadas and Gondhals. Such fun!

Someone asked me what I called myself when I casually said something in Marathi once, “You are SO Marathi, accent and everything!“, they said, “But you also speak Tamil and Hindi. I don’t get it!” I couldn’t help but laugh. It is confusing for the others, yes, but I am really proud and glad that Amma brought me up this way, she instilled in me the best of what both these cultures have to offer. Now that I am so far away from home, I find that this is all I have with me. These Marathi-TamBrahm Values are what make me, me!

Jay Maharashtra and nandri for reading this all the way through!