Letter to my Child

My Love,

You are about 3 and a half years old now. You are growing up into this amazing little person. And I feel like our time together is so limited. In just over a decade and a half you’ll be an adult, chasing away your dreams.
I hope we are friends still when that happens. I hope you still love me and want to hang out with me even then.
My greatest fear in life is that I’m doing motherhood wrong, that I’m not giving you something that I should be giving you, not making you aware of my deepest affection for you. Or not giving you enough of my time.

I sometimes lose my cool. I try really really hard and you are the reason I’ve grown so much as a person. But I feel like I should have done all this growing up before and be more prepared. I should have prepped harder. You deserve the best. You are the best human being I know. You have made me feel so special with your love and I am so thankful that you are my baby. I just hope I can be someone you trust in all phases of your beautiful life. I hope you know that you can tell me anything and that nothing you say or you do could ever change the way I feel about you.
Sure there will be moments in our lives when we get on each other’s nerves, living together and being close to another person, caring too much for them, all these things can sometimes cross fire. But I hope our bond remains strong. I hope you and I, we remain strong. That would be my greatest accomplishment.

But I also don’t want you to have to do any of this. Feel like you have to talk to me and share. I want to be able to become your friend. Someone you want to share with. I don’t want you to be dependent on me and seek out my help and support because of that. I want for us to enjoy each other’s company, however limited our time together is.


I’m 31 years old but the fact that life is freaking short and it’s going really really fast has never been more apparent to me. I hope to never miss a moment of connection with you if it’s in my power to.
I love you so very much, my baby. Mommy loves you more than anything else in the entire world.

Our relationship is my greatest pleasure and I’m going to make it a point to prove that to you every chance I get. This letter is as much for you to hopefully read one day as it is for me to read every single day and remind myself of how clearly I saw things late one night. Cried my eyes out to the phone as I typed my letter and went in to kiss you.

My promise to you is that I will always be there for you, I will see you, I will hear you and will always hold space for you. You can always be whoever you want to be with me, you can always lean on me. There will never be any judgement and there will never be any expectations.

My hope is for you to live the life you deem worth living. Get the opportunity to be whoever you want to be. That you experience love and happiness. That you think deep thoughts and have amazing experiences. That you are empathetic and kind not only to others but to yourself. That you life is full in every way imaginable.

My hope for us is that there is an us that we both cherish, as long as I live. Our relationship is the most important thing in my world.

Forever in love with you,

Mom

Thoughts on gods & religions

I don’t exactly remember when I stopped believing in the idea of a god because for me it was a gradual process. The inconsistencies and the questions kept piling up until one day it stopped making any sense to me. One thing that greatly helped the transition was the awareness that I’m not alone in this feeling, that there are others who feel the same way and that they call themselves atheists and agnostics. I distinctly remember the first time I heard the word agnostic and learned it’s meaning, I concluded that I was one too. Embracing atheism took a bit more time for me though, as it involved reading a few texts to get confidence and clarity.

I remember feeling fear of the unknown. Well if there’s no one above watching over me, to punish the evil and reward the good, then what is the meaning of all this? It took some time to stop searching for a divine meaning and accept the beauty of life without it. I also remember not declaring my atheism to those around me for the longest time, for the fear of being judged as morally corrupt and wrong. After all, I was a kid raised in an extremely religious society. This very stance is still offensive and/or perplexing to most people I know, especially those who are older than me. This changed once I made new friends who could say it out loud, that they do not care for religion or for god. And I could say back, ‘well, neither do I’ and experience this feeling of a load being lifted off of my chest.

Voicing this for the first time may have been difficult, but once it was out in the open, the rebel in me took over. I started taking pride in being an atheist, considering myself smarter for having figured this shit out. For a brief period of time I even crossed over the boundary to land in anti-theist space. I considered religion as the root cause of all evil in the world. I have since then come to realize that no single ideology could ever be the root cause of all that is wrong with our world, even if it is as pervasive as religion, because our world is simply too complex.

Nevertheless, religion and theism as it stands today is powerful. Powerful enough, that it makes some of us who do not subscribe to the popular opinion hide ourselves, feel guilty or wrong or threatened, simply because we do not believe in the same stories as the rest of our race. In part, the moral superiority that some very vocal anti-theists display is also a rebellious reaction for making them feel this way.

I do understand the appeal of religion however, and my intention with this post is not to strike a debate on existence of god or the relevance of religions, but to simply document the evolution of my (non) beliefs. In any case, the debate on existence of god isn’t interesting anymore, at least not from where I stand. What’s interesting is if religion can indeed be done away with? And what comes after religion? I find this short video has captured this quite well.

As for the idea of a personal god minus all the religious superstitions, or something like spirituality, I tried to explore that too for a brief amount of time, when I was still not quite ready to let go of god completely. While some parts of it are worthy, such as self reflection, practicing kindness and love, meditation etc. It is nothing than a good self-help text can’t offer and I fail to see why all the nice parts of religions or spirituality cannot simply be cherry-picked without surrendering oneself to the supernatural or having unconditional and unquestionable faith in some guru. Why does all guidance have to percolate through some centuries old textbooks or some supposedly enlightened soul? Maybe I have a commitment issue here, but I want to understand at least a few different schools of thought before making up my mind.

Moreover, it’s alright if something doesn’t have an explanation right now. Doesn’t mean we treat it as an act of god and close the chapter. It’s okay to not know a few things. It simply means there’s more to learn and more to discover. So that’s where I focus my energies now, on learning, reading and incorporating scientific inquiry in my life. Personally, it has been liberating to let go of all gods and religions from my life and I’m leading a guilt free and happier life because of it. I don’t ever see myself going back.

Story of my stuff

This environment day I want to make a case for re-using old stuff.

  • Globally, our collective consumption patterns are creating a huge amount of waste. It makes sense then to re-use whatever can still be used.
  • It if often cheaper to get something repaired or buy something second hand.
  • It requires somewhat higher effort to sell something used but donating something isn’t all that difficult compared to just throwing stuff away which is in usable condition.
  • Thrift shop finds can be classic, one of a kind pieces at extremely low prices.

Over the years I have bought, used and loved second hand items be it books from the streets of Daryaganj in Delhi, inscribed plate from a pop up market in Stuttgart, tea cups from a charity sale in Bangalore or my mother’s old clothes from her closet… to name just a few. We started our balcony garden from plants and pots given away by friends who were switching cities, and we still remember them fondly for it.

We got pre-loved clothes, baby carrier, toys, swing and what not when our kid was born and are passing it on or selling it forward as & when kid outgrows these things, which is every alternate month. We sell everything that is unused around the house or we don’t need anymore through one or the other online services. I have bought a couple of old tee shirts from street markets and regularly give away my used clothes to someone they’ll fit better or to a charitable organisation. And I have taken a pledge to not buy any expensive wedding clothes from now on but to rent them instead.  For the longest time we avoided getting a car but recently when we decided we do need one, we went ahead and bought a friend’s old car.

Because money is ample and exciting products just a click away, it’s easier to not think twice before making that shiny new purchase. But I urge you to take a moment and see if you can re-use instead. Ultimately, it’s just stuff and nobody cares how we got hold of it. And if they do, it’s their problem. There’s absolutely no shame in re-using things as far as possible whatever be your purchasing power, in fact it can be pretty cool and has the potential to become a fond memory. 🙂

 

Worst things about living with a baby

  • No matter how careful you think you are, know this: you will be peed on, pooped on and puked on. And that’s not even the worst part, that’s just the bad part. The worst part is that you will be okay with it. You will even laugh at this like it’s some sort of a joke.
  • Continuation with the point above, if you hated laundry day before know that every day is laundry day with a baby.
  • They will become the number one item on your priority list.
  • All your other relationships will take a backseat.
  • You are going to become that person who cries happy tears. If you were already that person, then prepare for the feeling to intensify a gazillion times.
  • The sleep deprivation is so real. You will feel like a zombie the first few weeks.
  • Sometimes babies cry for no reason. You can’t really fix it except keep trying to soothe them.
  • Prepare to be judged. By friends, family and complete strangers too.

Having a baby is like having a piece of your heart outside of your body. You can only protect them so much. Brace yourself for heartache.

P.S. Here’s my list of best things about living with a baby.

A little story on social conditioning

My partner is a creative cook. Kitchen truly is his lab and oh boy he likes to experiment. He’s always there trying out some new recipe he found on the internet involving some weird ingredient (often makes me wonder what the hell was he searching for that landed him there). And he’s also messy and careless (at least from where I stand) which can be a cause of irritation for me.

Now, I like to eat. And I’m fairly experimental in trying out new things too. But not when I’m hungry and this new recipe requires 50 mins prep time and mixes stuff that I know in my heart should not be mixed together. I don’t want to be disappointed you see. But not him. He’s disappointed if we ate the same dish twice in a week even if it tasted great both times.

One evening years ago when we had just started living together we were having this usual fight: him trying to make something new & me convincing him we are better off eating something which we already know how to make and can be made quickly. Along the course of this heated argument, I remember being fed up and saying something like “Leave my kitchen. You are not helping at all. From now on I’ll handle cooking alone.”

He simply replied, “This is not your kitchen. It is our kitchen.”

And that really made me pause. Kitchen was not my department alone and he wasn’t there to help me out and be my sidekick. He was there to cook the food he wanted to eat, just like me. And not only did he win this argument, with one little statement he managed to break my social conditioning too. Growing up, I had never seen men in my family cook food, let alone consider the kitchen as theirs. Most men in my family hardly ever take their dirty dishes to the sink, let alone clean the vessels. Somewhere inside I still felt like the kitchen is primarily my responsibility and I felt irritated that he wasn’t following my rules in my domain of work. All of this when I do not even like cooking everyday!

Of course all of that is behind us now. We have a little system in place where he usually picks out the recipe based on what we both are in the mood for eating, and we both cook it together in our kitchen. 🙂

 

Best things about living with a baby

  • Can sniff their heads whenever you want. Oh that delicious baby smell!
  • You can watch them smile in their sleep and feel your heart melt away.
  • Loads and loads of cuddles. ❤
  • You can have those brief moments of intense eye contact and wonder about what they are wondering about.
  • Sometimes they wake up all confused about their surroundings and then they see you. The change of expression on their faces, the instant relief and laughter, the pure joy they show because you exist around them in that moment.. This stuff is to die for!
  • Tiny baby feet and fingers. Tiny baby clothes. Tiny everything!
  • Watching that baby tummy go up and down as they breathe during their ever so peaceful sleep.
  • When they gently clutch your finger or pull your clothing.

There’s an endless list of ‘firsts’ with a baby. Every little human behaviour which is so routine for us is a whole new experience with them. Something about watching a tiny human struggle and then finally succeed in doing a mundane thing such as roll over is exhilarating. Babies are magic!

 

P.S. Here’s my list of worst things about living with a baby.

My privilege

I am a privileged human being in a lot of ways.

  • I had the opportunity to get educated from one of the finest institutions in India. I got the chance to be able to do it. Roughly 7% of population in the world is college educated.
  • Getting good education does not always correspond to getting a good job, but in most cases it does. I’m no different. My pay should put me in top 10% of the world population economically & top 5% in India easily. It might even be better than that.
  • I can read, write and speak in English fluently. Something only ~10% of Indian population can do. But this percentage is likely to improve a lot in coming years. It’s so important because it makes knowledge accessible.
  • I have a loving family. I had a happy childhood. And I have amazing friends.
  • I have never been poor, never seen poverty, never slept hungry.
  • Living in India in my economic class means access to cheap labour in abundance. At various points in my life I have had the pleasure of employing people to do just about anything for me, from watering my plants to ironing my clothes to applying oil in my hair and giving me head massages.
  • My partner and I split house work and share the load equally. I couldn’t find the exact stats on it, but a number of articles suggest this is not the norm in most homes.
  • I have a healthy body and a healthy mind. I haven’t been gravely injured or suffered a traumatic experience in my life.
  • Even though I’m an atheist, I was born into the dominant religion, Hinduism.  That too upper caste.
  • I’m heterosexual.

These are just few of my privileges which I got either by the accident of my birth or through pure luck, both things being entirely out of my control. I find it important to keep a track of my privilege, it helps with the attitude.

Also makes me wonder if I’m using my privilege well and what would be good ways in which to use it. 🙂

 

Can we do better?

This was the question our algorithms prof. Sathish Govindarajan always asked to make us think. His lectures almost always went like this:

  1. He posed an algorithmic problem. And invited the class to think about it and propose solutions.
  2. People’s hands shot up and we’d hear some solution.
  3. He then posed questions on the solution, making us think if it worked.
  4. He then asked us the cost of this solution (how long will it take? how much resources it will consume).
  5. And then he asked his golden question: can we do better than this? (Can we do it smartly, in a shorter time?).
  6. Finally, he’d ask us to prove that it can’t be done better than this (this was the part I struggled with the most and still do).

I find myself using this approach regularly, often while trying to find solutions for problems that aren’t strictly algorithmic. 🙂

Skewed Society

Recently, a friend shared an interesting probability problem, the solution of which led me to a horrific conclusion. The realization that struck me isn’t new, we all have read about it in newspapers & social studies text books. But somehow figuring it out like this when I wasn’t expecting to, helped me really see it. So here we go:

Problem statement: Imagine a hypothetical society where there’s a preference for male child (not that hypothetical). In this society, a family continues to have children until they have a boy child and as soon as a boy child is born, people stop having any more children. What will be the ratio of boys to girls in the population of such a society?

Assumptions: Probability of a single child being a boy or a girl is like a fair coin toss, 50-50. Only one child is born at a time.

Solution: So in this skewed society, a family can have the following number of children:

1 Boy, 1 Girl + 1 Boy, 2 Girls + 1 Boy, 3 Girls + 1 Boy, … and so on.

What we get is each family having exactly 1 boy and either 0, 1, 2, 3, … number of girls.

Ratio of boys to girls = Total number of boys in the population / Total number of girls in the population

Given X number of families to start with, we know that each will have exactly 1 boy child. So,

Total number of boys in the population = X

So all we need is the total number of girls in the population to find the ratio, which can be calculated as follows:

Total number of girls in the population = Number of families having 0 girls * 0 + Number of families having 1 girl * 1 + Number of families having 2 girls * 2 + Number of families having 3 girls * 3 + … and so on.

To calculate number of families with n number of girls, we need total number of families (which is X) multiplied by the probability of a family having n number of girls. When a family has n number of girls, they have n+1 children, last one being a boy. Probability of any child being a boy or a girl is 1/2, so this probability is 1/2 * 1/2 * … n+1 times.

So, total number of girls in the population = X/2 * 0 + X/4 * 1 + X/8 * 2 + X/16 * 3 + X/32 * 4 + …  = X (1/4 + 2/8 + 3/16 + 4/32 + …)  [Equation 1]

Let S = 1/4 + 2/8 + 3/16 + 4/32 + …

Then, S/2 = 1/8 + 2/16 + 3/32 + … [Divide both sides by 2]

S – S/2 = 1/4 + (2/8 – 1/8) + (3/16 – 2/16) + (4/32 – 3/32) + …  [Subtract the two equations]

We get S/2 = 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + …

S = 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + … = 1 [Multiply both sides by 2 and we get a famous example of geometric series.]

Plugging this back into Equation 1 above, we get:

Total number of girls in the population = 

Aha! Since number of boys in the population is equal to the of number of girls, the ratio of boys is to girls is 1:1. This means that the population is still going to have 50% boys and 50% girls. In fact, since the probability of any one child being boy or a girl is 50%, no matter how many kids people choose to have for whatever reason, it can be proven that the population will always have roughly equal number of boys and girls. Neat!

So here’s the horrific conclusion: female infanticide and sex selective abortion of female fetuses is real. It’s so damn real. Anywhere there’s skewed gender ratio, you can bet that they are intentionally stopping girls from coming into existence.
It means that even with all their preference for a male child, the gender ratio will still be close to 50-50 if they just let the girls live. Just let them live.

 

P.S. The problem of female infanticide and sex selective abortion is often reported in the media under the headline “Missing Women”. The issue exists world over, but is more prevalent in China, India and Pakistan. Read this brilliant piece for it’s consequence here. Read more about the India specific problem here.

* I regret having to exclude non-binary genders from this post. The problems assumes binary gender and I understand it’s non inclusive.

Compassionate Non-vegan

You may understand the message: that we can live well enough without harming and abusing animals. Yet, for whatever reason, you don’t think it’s possible for you to be vegan. In this post I want to highlight ways in which you can still help the cause, even if you’re not vegan (yet) & even if you’re not trying to be vegan (yet).

  • Do whatever you can do.

Labels are important. They convey the message in a more crisp way. But labels are not the end goal. It’s horrible the way we are collectively responsible for torturing and killing animals and the end goal is to be better than that. It’s to let animals be free. If you can’t be fully vegan, then don’t be fully vegan. Be as much vegan as you can be. Make vegan choices. Sign petitions. Foster/adopt animals. Donate to charities fighting the good fight. Educate yourself. Educate others. Keep trying to do whatever you can.

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Personally, I did not turn vegan overnight. And it’s great if you can, but if you can’t, then know that you can still help. Being receptive to the message and bringing in small changes in your lifestyle works too.

  • Support vegan alternatives and vegan businesses.

One of the main reasons people feel like they can’t go vegan is because they feel that there’s a lack of vegan products in the market. You can choose to buy vegan products & food items and help support ethical businesses grow. It may sound small, but has the potential to cause shift in the industry. You also end up eating more vegan foods and using cruelty free products in the process, which is a great thing in itself.

pay-to-support-animal-abuse

  • Support vegans you know.

One of the other main reasons people don’t go vegan is because they perceive it as socially awkward. People don’t want to stand out and be mocked at by their own friends and family or judged by total strangers. It’s strange how contributing to causes, taking a stand, is always applauded once it becomes mainstream but ridiculed & laughed off if it’s in minority. Being vegan in this very non-vegan world requires one to be tough & headstrong. Your support & accommodating nature can help vegans & those on the fence to be vegans with a little less effort. Of-course if a vegan is being an ass you are free to treat them however you want, just don’t take it out on other vegans. Remember, vegans are as diverse bunch of people as any.

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