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Sunday
Apr292018

Oh, India!

Recent media accounts of the rising rape rate in the Subcontinent are chilling. For me, born and raised there, they are profoundly distressing.

India is one of my favourite places on earth. When I step off the plane onto Indian soil there is a deep, joyous, visceral sense of homecoming that I don’t experience anywhere else, not even in Australia, where I have lived for most of my life, and where almost all my loved ones are.

My childhood in India was mainly an abundantly happy one. The generosity of people – sometimes the poorest people, was humbling. We had great friends. The sights, sounds and smells, the ancient buildings, the food, the colour and vivacity in the streets were magical. When we moved to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the early 1970s, I thought it was the dullest, greyest, most lifeless place imaginable.

But. Even as a child, I was aware of India’s dark side. In 1969, when I was ten, our home city of Ahmedabad was riven by communal conflict. Muslims and Hindus slaughtered each other in the street: many hundreds of people were murdered in a few days. It wasn’t until the army imposed a 24-hour curfew and shot anyone who broke it that the carnage ceased. Of course, the hatred, fear and mistrust went on for decades.

A few years earlier, my mother and I were on a long train trip that took us through an area torn apart by language riots – people in the south protesting the imposition of Hindi – the lingua franca of the north - as the national language. The train we were travelling in was stoned by rioting mobs.

And everywhere you look in India, poverty and disability are displayed. The homeless, the hungry, the breathtakingly disfigured, are all paraded in the street. The animals you see are often bone thin and cowed. For a dog lover, India is purgatory.

Currently, Islam and Christianity are the most criticised of world faiths, with militant extremism and child abuse prominent in our awareness. But every religion and ideology on earth has its dark side – has practitioners who distort or ignore its teachings in horrific ways. Mahatma Gandhi abhorred the caste system. Any belief or system – sexism, nationalism, racism or caste, that posits that some people are worth more than others, is twisted.  Good beliefs, healthy religions are the ones that grow our hearts, rendering us more compassionate and sharpening our awareness of injustice towards those outside our circle.

This was published in The Age on 23 April 2018

 

Thursday
Apr192018

The secret to happiness

I’m convinced that one of the secrets to happiness is understanding that you can’t control things.

At the end of one of Melbourne’s heat waves this summer, we had four friends around for the evening. We are all Christians, and we do this every couple of months – sharing food, checking in with how everyone is, talking about God stuff and how we try to live out our faith, sharing a simple Eucharist, praying for each other.

This particular evening, I was to lead a meditation, which I had prepared and timed to the second, as is my way.

And then the rain came.

At first it was tentative – tantalizing spits of half-hearted precipitation, and we willed it to pour. Then it started in earnest, and we stood together on our tin-roofed back verandah, speechless, gazing out in delight as the parched and drooping garden revived before our eyes.

Later, as we sat around the table, when one of our group was asked how she had been since we last met, she asked if, instead of listening to her, we could simply sit in silence and listen to the rain for a while.

This we did, eventually slowing our breathing, closing our eyes, relaxing into the moment but all the while listening intently to the drumming on the corrugated iron, the gurgling of pipes and gutters, the occasional rich growl of thunder, a car hissing past on the road outside.

I have no idea how long we sat like that. At first I fretted a little. How long was this going to go on for, I wanted to know. And how was it going to jell with the more formal time of silent meditation I had planned for later in the evening? Should I relax into this spontaneous gift of unstructured time, or should I keep half an eye open, to see what others were up to? Were they getting right into it, in which case I could follow suit, or were they as anxious and distracted as I was, half hoping this unexpected detour would wind up quickly?

I wasted a good few minutes with this kind of internal carryon, and then told myself to get over it and just enjoy the moment, however long it lasted. And the moment was sublime.

When we eventually brought our attention back to the candlelit room and each other, I said, with a contented sigh, ‘I think we’ve had our meditation’.

I’m a slow learner, but life keeps serving me up these lessons. It’s fine to make plans, but it is best not to be so invested in them that you miss the unexpected gifts that life delivers to those who are open to grace.

Once again, I was reminded that one of the secrets to happiness is accepting that you can’t control everything. And in the moments I can’t control, I might just meet God.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 15 April 2018

Friday
Apr132018

Putting away summer

Autumn is almost half over, and daylight saving has come to an end, as all good things must. But the forecast for the next few days includes more than one 29 degree day, so it’s clearly not yet time to put away the accoutrements of summer.

These are the post-Easter, seasonal tasks in our household.

Re-ignite the pilot for the heater in our family room, hoping it doesn’t smell too pungently of dust the first time we use it. Pack away the trusty pedestal fans that make sleep possible all through the summer months. (I slip bin bags over the fans before storing them in the attic; they look like a sinister gathering of Ku Klux Klan members or something gruesome from Abu Ghraib.)

Open the blinds in the morning to let warmth in, rather than shutting them to keep it out. Bring in the garden furniture and harvest the last of the basil, converting it into enough pesto to keep us going well into the colder months.

I cover my legs for the duration. From October till April my lower limbs are unconfined; shorts are my weekend garment of choice, and at work it’s frocks. My legs need to breathe, and get claustrophobic in pants or tights unless the weather is decidedly chilly.

My reluctance to drag out the winter wardrobe doesn’t mean that I don’t like the cold weather though. Indeed, winter is my favourite season, when Melbourne comes into its own.

There’s the footy, of course. But for those of us completely uninterested in that particular brand of religion, winter is the time for fires and robust soups and creamy hot chocolate. A time for reading and watching fabulous television series (of which there seems to be a never-ending supply) without feeling guilty that I’m not outside enjoying long summer evenings. Winter is for experiencing hygge – that Danish word for cosy and so much more – for being early to bed and snuggling under the doona.

Winter is a time for live music gigs in tiny, grungy Brunswick bars where they serve mulled wine, for forays into art galleries, for movies and concerts, for all the indoor things that Melbourne does so well.

So yes, I do love winter, and I enjoy the clothes associated with the season too – beanies and scarves and gloves, jackets and jumpers, jeans and boots and furry slippers. But I can wait. This year, we might be into June before my summer wardrobe goes into hibernation. Before I put away my summer things and batten the hatches for the cold ahead.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 8 April 2018

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr052018

Women, men and saying sorry

It seems to me that elite sportsmen are often among the least evolved human beings on the planet, so I was surprised when Steve Smith’s recent public apology moved me profoundly.

There have been too many apologies of the, ‘Okay, I’m sorry if I’ve upset anyone,’ variety from sportsmen discovered doing less than honourable things (and in my book, sexual abuse is a far graver offense than ball tampering). The impression these blokes give is that they are sorry that they were caught, or that they have been told it is in their best interests to at least mouth the sorry platitudes, to keep the politically correct brigade happy.

Many would agree that Kevin Rudd’s finest hour was when he said sorry, on behalf of the nation, to the stolen generations. The spectacle of a powerful man apologising with apparent sincerity was startling and seemed to bode well for the future. Maybe we could look forward to the day when men would learn to apologise more often, and woman would learn to stop over-apologising.

My husband, a deeply decent man who is both personally and professionally (he’s a man of the cloth) convinced of the transforming power of confession and forgiveness, will say quite openly that it took him 20 years of marriage to learn that his partner would not think less of him if he admitted he was wrong. The culture he was raised in (school, media, advertising, literature, sport, the legal system, the worlds of business and politics) all gave the impression that to admit culpability was a sign of weakness. For my part in this deeply flawed system, I grew up imbibing the assumption that for a female, relationships were the most important thing, and we were responsible for them. If this meant always placating, peace keeping and saying sorry way more than necessary, so be it.

As a couple, over decades of commitment, communication and good will, we have learned that a man’s willingness to apologise is a sign of strength, of true manhood, just as the ability of a woman to say, sorry mate, that’s your responsibility, and I’m not going to fix it for you, is a sign of inner resolve and confidence.

I note that the young men I know best are not afflicted with the pathological fear of the ‘s’ word. I hope that Steve Smith’s genuine devastation at what he did might model a humbler and less belligerent pattern of behaviour to generations of boys and men.

 

Tuesday
Apr032018

Dog porn

We were in no doubt that the dog had to be put down. Somehow, he had escaped from our place and caused havoc followed by injury in the local park. But oh we miss him! He was a rescue dog, a handful, but we were training him conscientiously and he was getting better every week. And he adored us – a big, warm, cuddle-machine of an animal.

It’s ten weeks since he died. And we are nowhere near ready to replace him. But that doesn’t stop us looking. Our guilty pleasure, these days, is checking out dog rescue websites.

It feels a bit like looking at porn. My husband and I confessed to each other, in hushed tones, the very same day, that we had started looking at dog sites, even though we knew it wasn’t good for us, that we would be tempted into a relationship we weren’t ready for. We are sneaky about it. I catch him, furtively checking out strays on his iPad, and I join him. ‘Please, can we just watch that clip again, just once more, you know, the one with the puppy in her paddle pool?’

We’re aware, at this point, that it needs to be look, don’t touch. We know, from experience, that once you ring up with an expression of interest, you’re committed to visiting the creature. Once you clap eyes on them, you might as well sign the adoption papers right away. Once they look at you with their pleading eyes that say, ‘You’re the one, you alone have the power to rescue me from this hell and restore my happiness,’ you’re a lost cause. That’s what happened with our last fellah and look where that got us.

‘You guys,’ sighs our older daughter, herself a passionate dog lover, ‘Just stop it! You know you won’t be able to resist!’

She’s right of course. And our life, post-dog, is so much less complicated. Liberated from his outsized paws, the garden is flourishing. We can get away whenever we want without making complicated arrangements. Ongoing health issues are easier to manage without a dependant creature waiting at home.

But love conquers all. Sooner or later, we will succumb to the allure of a pair of melting eyes, a warm, muscly body, a cutely wagging tail. We are dog people; we can never stay dogless for long. Till then, we’ll just have to get our sad jollies sighing over dogs on the internet.

 

We were in no doubt that the dog had to be put down. Somehow, he had escaped from our place and caused havoc followed by injury in the local park. But oh we miss him! He was a rescue dog, a handful, but we were training him conscientiously and he was getting better every week. And he adored us – a big, warm, cuddle-machine of an animal.

It’s ten weeks since he died. And we are nowhere near ready to replace him. But that doesn’t stop us looking. Our guilty pleasure, these days, is checking out dog rescue websites.

It feels a bit like looking at porn. My husband and I confessed to each other, in hushed tones, the very same day, that we had started looking at dog sites, even though we knew it wasn’t good for us, that we would be tempted into a relationship we weren’t ready for. We are sneaky about it. I catch him, furtively checking out strays on his iPad, and I join him. ‘Please, can we just watch that clip again, just once more, you know, the one with the puppy in her paddle pool?’

We’re aware, at this point, that it needs to be look, don’t touch. We know, from experience, that once you ring up with an expression of interest, you’re committed to visiting the creature. Once you clap eyes on them, you might as well sign the adoption papers right away. Once they look at you with their pleading eyes that say, ‘You’re the one, you alone have the power to rescue me from this hell and restore my happiness,’ you’re a lost cause. That’s what happened with our last fellah and look where that got us.

‘You guys,’ sighs our older daughter, herself a passionate dog lover, ‘Just stop it! You know you won’t be able to resist!’

She’s right of course. And our life, post-dog, is so much less complicated. Liberated from his outsized paws, the garden is flourishing. We can get away whenever we want without making complicated arrangements. Ongoing health issues are easier to manage without a dependant creature waiting at home.

But love conquers all. Sooner or later, we will succumb to the allure of a pair of melting eyes, a warm, muscly body, a cutely wagging tail. We are dog people; we can never stay dogless for long. Till then, we’ll just have to get our sad jollies sighing over dogs on the internet.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 1 April 2018