A post-dated rant

For quite some time now, I’ve been thinking of the ways in which social media has changed our lives. There are too many things to it. One’s wishes and aspirations have gone from being part of a #bucketlist to becoming #goals set by someone else’s reality. Our morning read is probably a listicle or something ‘inShort’. All our outings are material for Instagram posts and may or will be used that way. We’re always discovering new ways to use social media, for new things to share on our handles – we’ve mastered the art of publicly exhibiting the finer aspects of our lives while keeping the more mundane ones under the darkness of convenient privacy settings. We’ve also been using social media to compensate for a certain thing called ‘being connected’, or maybe we’ve come to redefine it and we tell ourselves that that’s how it is these days, and that’s okay. Well, it’s all okay. Or so we tell ourselves.

I don’t mean to write this as a tirade against social media and probably, like the buzzfeed article on urban poverty that went viral and that got me thinking quite a bit as well, not everyone will relate to what I want to say, so may be I should write this in first person.

Maybe this is the impact of social media on my life. And my reaction to it. And my learning, too.

There’s nothing wrong with learning from others’ experiences or reading concise articles that sum up all the complex and crucial information that is always whirling around us like a hurricane, it is great to cherish all that is good and happy in our lives, but perhaps when there’s thought after thought, #lifegoal after #lifegoal shared flippantly on social media followed by no action plan to get there, or no intention, or worse still, no ‘time’ to get there in the first place, just a moment when we felt we could relate to the post, then we have a problem on our hands.

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A prayer

At times, the best form of prayer is gratefulness. Especially when one doesn’t believe in praying too much in the first place. This is my prayer. For the prayers that should have been.

I am grateful for the gift of memory – it reminds me that time and again, I have found myself lost and then managed to find my way closer to my dreams. Some times without detours, often with them.

I am grateful for the gift of patience – that I am slowly learning. It teaches me to recognise that a dream is seldom contained within the designation of a job profile or illustrated by the figure on the pay-check at every month’s end. It teaches me that while the big picture is important, it is almost always made up of smaller moments which one cannot be alive to unless one is free – free from unnecessary thoughts.

I am grateful for possibilities – they’re everywhere.

I am grateful for the human spirit – for whatever it is made of, because it has that wonderful ingredient that makes it impossible for one to slink away in defeat.

I am grateful for friends, family and experiences who feed this human spirit in me and keep it roaring. Some do it knowingly, some, in their own, well-meaning but pessimistic ways strengthen this spirit by challenging it to prove them wrong, or at least convince them in another direction.

I am grateful for my own sadness – it may pull a curtain over the brightness outside for some time, but when it is finally drawn, the world appears brighter for it.

A home for everyone

Sweety, all of fourteen, is the talk of her household. She paints and sketches with the ease of a virtuoso, she dances with the grace of a swan, her intricate needlework is shown off with pride to guests and visitors, certificates won by her adorn the walls, she aces her studies and every teacher at the convent school she goes to, swears that it is a pleasure to have her in their class.

And yet, when you meet Sweety at her home, she will not be sprawled lazily on the couch sipping lemonade and gloating over the latest addition to her expansive repertoire. Nor will you find her ensconced in a family scene with parents and siblings in the safety of a living room. You might find her, as I did, frantically arranging for new sheets of canvas for the next picture she wants to paint. And who does she ask the money from? Not from her parents, no. But from the Secretary of the home called All Bengal Women’s Union, where Sweety lives with around 200 other girls like herself.

                                    

However, there is much that sets her apart from the other orphaned girls who reside here. Sweety’s art has won the admiration of one Valerie Armstrong, a painter and photographer based in London. “Valerie is my sponsor.” Sweety declares, handing me a picture of a woman in her 50s. And indeed, this well-deserved sponsorship has enabled Valerie’s protégé to attend an English-medium school, be a Girl Guide, win drawing competitions and scholarships to sustain the expenses of her hobby which is fast transforming into a talent. “My drawings were published in the newsletter of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage).” she tells me and sings out the full-form as she hands me the newsletter, beaming.

Sweety also receives aid from an aunt, and aspires to become like Valerie, her sponsor, mentor and pen-friend from London. (She shows me all her letters.) Not everyone who lives here is an orphan, but they have all been orphaned; and not necessarily by the demise of their progenitors. For some, orphan hood came along when the fulfillment of filial needs became too expensive for their parents and parental responsibilities were butchered at the guillotine of poverty. Some were conceived when their mothers walked the primrose path; and who while giving birth, cut off much more than just umbilical cords to distance themselves from their unwanted progeny. They have all found a home here. Not as fortunate as Sweety perhaps, but they all have reasons to smile. A group of lithe, sturdy- looking girls is playing hockey with gusto in the evening sun, calling out to each other in fluent Bengali. Only a few days ago, they won an inter-school hockey tournament for the ABWU, which is also their school. Punishment for them, whenever required, is invariably to be disallowed this evening hockey ritual. It is very effective, I am told.

Dickensian stories of orphans and the lesser privileged are not unheard of, especially not in India and especially not in Calcutta. However, at the danger of sounding mawkish, I must add that there is something different about these girls. Their lives do not invite pity but a happy admiration. And I, who, in the safe cocoon of my gilded existence, have often glorified my struggles and underplayed my natural blessings, find a lesson here; for even in the open-plan bivouac of their lives, these girls have achieved a tenacious optimism that makes them laugh off the hurdles and keep a smiling, up-to-date census of their blessings, few and hard-earned as they may be. Even the youngest toddler here knows that she has a precious smile and is thoroughly exhilarated and ready to pose each time someone points a camera at her face.

[The All Bengal Women’s Union is a not-for-profit organisation in Calcutta that has been working towards aiding girls and women in the city and beyond. To know more about ABWU, click here. To get in touch with them, click here]