Recently I received a wedding invitation which clearly mentioned - 'we request your valued presence on both the days and request presents in blessings only.'
A couple of days before the wedding, I received a call from another friend who had also been invited and she wanted to know if we were planning for a gift as a group. I pointed out that no gift was needed as their preference was stated quite unequivocally in the card and that we ought to respect it. But this friend was shocked that I intended to walk in empty handed and insisted that we check with the rest of the group. Finally I decided to take a bouquet as a compromise and it turned out that almost everyone had come with some gift or other - it seems that no one really believes that the couple mean it when they say something like that in their invitation.

Most of us know from our experience that there is nothing called a perfect gift for someone else unless it is close family or friends and you know exactly what they would like. Many times we end up picking up decorative pieces without even a clue about what their house looks like. I assume most people would prefer doing up their house according to their personal taste rather than be compelled to use assorted gifts that have been randomly picked driven by someone else's budget and taste.And in any case there are too many vases and clocks and tea sets after a wedding for one family's needs and they need to be given away or re-gifted.
So why do we insist on wasting money when someone has clearly requested not to bring a gift? We feel embarrassed to be empty handed when we go up to the couple to wish them. And we also know that no one else will take such requests seriously (as it happened at this wedding I was talking about) and you may end up looking like a fool.

So how do we make people stop this? How do we word this request so they know we mean business? One couple I know had stated that all gifts would be donated to charity and they would prefer if cheques were made in favour of a particular charity. Apparently there were two boxes at the entrance to the hall and everyone dropped their gifts/ cheque in the appropriate box and walked in empty handed to wish the couple. Brilliant idea, I thought. I don't know what others thought especially the ones who had insisted on taking expensive gifts. But I guess you have to do something like this if people do not understand simple instructions in plain language.

In case you are aware of any other effective means of communicating that you really want only their presence and blessings, please share them with me.

P.s: While on the topic of gifts, Paul has a lovely post here (actually all his posts are lovely and thought provoking) please check them out.
I tried connecting to the net earlier this evening when I noticed that the link and data indicators on the modem were off.It has happened before and when reported the guys at customer support asked me to switch it off , wait for a while and switch it back on and it was back to business. I pride myself on a being a smart computer user and prefer to fix known problems myself where possible. I tried switching the modem off a couple of times but the problem this time seemed more complex. So I called customer support. After dialing 1 for English and 2 for Internet related problem and 2 again for modem problem, I was informed that I was about to be connected to a service executive and that the call was being recorded and may be used for their internal training purposes. Finally a human voice was heard enquiring politely about the nature of my problem that had caused me to brave the call. I get frazzled dealing with pre-recorded voices. Basically I am the type who, when faced with a problem, likes to dial the number, state my problem and have it fixed asap. Not for me an IVR system - 'if this, press this else, press that' and so on. (It is actually worse with telebanking where you have to enter 13 digit account numbers and card numbers apart from having to listen to an enthusiastic voice telling you about all their innovative products which you most probably don't need)

Anyway where was I? Ok, I finally got a kind, human voice assuring me that it was all going to be fine but only if I would permit him to place me on hold while he went away to investigate the problem. As if I had a choice! And so he went away while I was being enticed with possibilities of a ticket to Bangkok or a new smart Swift car if I paid my bill on time. After I had heard this over 20 times in continuous succession, there came another human voice thanking me for waiting and repeating my problem in accurate detail.
Am I speaking to Mrs so and so from number such and such, modem model such and such and is this the nature of the problem you reported?
(What next? will I be asked to swear on the Bhagavad Gita?)But I only said "that's correct."
This was the conversation that followed:
Voice at other end (VOE): Are all the four lights on the modem on?
Me: No, the link and data ones are off.
VOE:Did you recently make any changes to your computer and modem connections?
Me: No.
VOE: Other than the modem do you see a small white box?
By now he was speaking to me like a fireman trying to rescue a three year old locked inside a bathroom with a gun. Clearly enunciating every word so there is no misunderstanding.
I wanted to ask "you mean the ADSL inline filter?" but I was beginning to enjoy this so I played along. "yes, the white box, it is there."
VOE: can you see that there are three points for connection?
Me: (without even bothering to look at the box) Ya line, modem and phone.
(if only he knew the number of times I have plugged and unplugged these while moving the laptop and modem between rooms)
VOE: Now please don't remove anything but just check and tell me if there are cords leading from all three lines.
Me: (Hey, stop being so condescending. Don't you make allowances for basic intelligence when you deal with customers? Check if cables are connected indeed. what next? check if power is switched on?)
Bending under the table,pulling out the white box and staring at it in shock, disbelief, shame in that order.
(into the telephone)The cord connecting to the modem has fallen off.(possible suicide attempt? fallen off, ha!) I've connected it now. Thank you very much.
VOE: ( displaying no obvious emotion) please connect the modem and tell me if all the 4 lights are on and confirm that your net connection is working madam.
Me:(very subdued and distracted) yes, I have, they are, it does. Thank you.
VOE: Thank you for calling customer service. Have a good day.
And I bet they filed the recorded conversation for the training session titled "customer may always be right but not always bright."

Anyone for a training on making a complete idiot of oneself while leaving evidence in a recorded conversation?
"If it ain't broke don't fix it "- Sound advice which I have followed with respect to everything I own including my body. I managed to add 12 kgs to my normal weight without so much as a clue until my legs protested about the excess weight they had to transport. Even when the doctor showed me the counter on the scale, I demanded proof that his scale wasn't faulty.Well, the same goes for my skin and other body parts too and I have a good excuse for this negligence - I am allergic to most products in the market.

Recently I got a good lecture from my sister on my negligence with supporting evidence in the form of dark patches on my back and arms, apparently caused by exposure to sun and extreme dryness. She decided to take control of the matter, went and made a mix of gram flour and turmeric. I was supposed to mix this with curd and apply on all the tanned parts and I was led to believe I would become like Aishwarya Rai. I did as instructed, waited for a few minutes before washing and looked. I looked again. No change. I turned to her with a gloating smile and told her: "see, I told you, nothing works." She gave me a look she reserves exclusively for champion idiots (and me) and explained that I had to keep doing it until the tan disappeared. She packed a kilo of the stuff for me to carry to Bangalore. She reminded me to use it daily and as a motivation reminded me of an impending family function where I would be wearing saris when I might wish that these dark patches were not there. This is serious , especially when one has relatives who start conversations with comments on one's appearance ( 'have you lost weight?', 'you look bloated, menopause problems?' 'have you been sick - your skin looks terrible') Oh no, I must do something about this. And pretty soon. Cannot ask them to postpone the muhurtam until the patches are gone.

So every morning I make the paste and smear it all over and sit on the stairs ensuring that the paste doesn't leave tell tale yellow marks and ensuring that Munni does not have access to me - she loves curds and starts licking the paste off my arms. It is a messy affair but I endure with patience and persevere. As Bertie Wooster would have said, "I'm not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare--or, if not, it's some equally brainy lad--who says" that a thing of beauty is a job forever or something close.

It has been a couple of weeks now and when I scrutinise areas under treatment they seem to preserve status quo ante. Forget looking like Aishwarya Rai; I'd be glad if i looked like her mother in law! On the contrary, I seem to have gained a few pounds. Any expert out there who can confirm my suspicion that it is all due to the absorption of all this fat from curd? Actually you don't have to be an expert: just confirm. I just need an excuse to fend off my meddling sister when she gives me the third degree for having discontinued the treatment. And if anyone mentions the "black" patches at the function, I am going to use the "racist slur" trump card.
Most of us need external validation for our usefulness and we measure it by something tangible which may range from a simple heartfelt 'thank you' card to a big bonus and promotion. One's professional life affords more opportunities for feeling useful and one does feel a reduction in one's worth when one has given up employment. I mean who thanks you for a meal well- made and served timely day after day or for just staying in the house and attending to the dhobi, courier, mailman, veg vendor, carpenter, plumber, electrician while they roam the world doing worthwhile things? The only recognition you get then is by being identified "Mrs. So and so" or 'so and so's mom'! I have personally felt rather useless since I gave up my job and there are times I have judged myself deadwood. It can be quite frustrating when you don't feel you are contributing anything to society and that you are nothing but a consumer of goods and services provided by others. One doesn't realise that it is possible that one can still make a difference to others by just by listening, by being supportive or by being non-judgemental - by just being there. So it was quite a surprise when someone recently explained to me how I had made a difference to his life when he had hit rock bottom. I was confused and asked him what I had done to deserve this kind of gratitude and he said "you were there, you did not crtiticise me and you did not give up on me."
He was thanking me for NOT doing anything - I had no idea that you could make a difference to someone simply by not doing anything. A bit like "They also serve who only stand and wait."
And the irony is that he did not realise how much he had boosted my sagging self worth by telling me this - He made a difference to me too!

If this sounds a bit like the chicken soupy stuff that you receive in email, it was indeed an email from a friend this morning that provoked me to write this post:
A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. She called each student to the front
of the class, one at a time. First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class.

Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters, which read, "Who I Am Makes a Difference."

Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community. She gave each of the students three more
ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up the results, see who honored whom and report back to the class in about a week.

One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons and said, "We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like you to go out find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened."

Later that day the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius.

The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, "Well, sure." The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart.

As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, "Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else? The young
boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people."

That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of
the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine. He thinks I'm a creative genius. Then he put
this blue ribbon that says: "Who I Am Makes a Difference, on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to
honor. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you.

I want to honor you. My days are really hectic and when I come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!"

The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn't stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom explaining why I had killed myself and asking you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just didn't think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs.
I don't think I need it after all."

His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain. The envelope was addressed, "Mom and Dad."

The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. The junior executive
helped several other young people with career planning and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his being the boss's son.

And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are DOES make difference.

Send it to all of the people who mean anything important to you, or send it to the one, two, or three people who mean the most. Or just smile and know that someone thinks that you are important, or you wouldn't have received this in the first place. Remember that!
I give you a blue ribbon.


So why am I posting this here? So you all know that every time you read my posts and take the time to share your thoughts, opinions and comments you make a difference to me. Go pass the blue ribbon to someone else.
I spent a few days with my aunt last week and used this time to learn as much family history as possible from her - the geneology, eccentricities, family traditions as well as all the juicy gossip and scandalous details which were kept from us as children and young adults. She had her fun by recounting some of my childhood gaffes and embarassing moments. It was disappointing how little I remembered of my childhood. Although childhood amnesia is commonly associated with early childhood, most people are able to trace their earliest memory to the time they were 2 1/2 or 3 years old. Granted that my memory in its current condition doesn't retain details of what I had for lunch yesterday but with a little jogging, I can usually remember the broad outline of pages from past chapters in my life. But here I was listening to her as if she was narrating a fictional story to me and then she turns around and tells me that I was the author and hero of the story. I wish my mother had a mom blog - or may be not considering some of the things I allegedly said/ did as a child.

So I spent all morning trying to chronologise my memories and to get to my earliest memory. It was tough to separate real experiences from second-hand memories. This usually happens when you have heard others recount events from early childhood even though you yourself have no memories of these. Thus, for example, I now know things I am supposed to have said when my sister was born even though I was just 2 at that time thanks to other adults recounting the same to me. And then there are photo album memories. One has seen photos of what one did as a baby and imagines one remembers the experience.

My earliest memory is of death - that of my paternal grandfather. I was three years and a few months old.I remember my father holding a paper( telegram) with a serious look, and flash images of a sudden flurry of activity ,quickly packing and leaving for the station. I remember where and how his body was kept and my aunts sitting around the body crying. I remember following the funeral procession up to the end of the road - women and girls could not go beyond that. As we walked back to the house, I remember turning to look at the body and an aunt who was crying asked me not to. And then, Nothing. No more recollection of anything that happened then.

Strange how I seem to have retained such a vivid memory of this - perhaps this was the first moment of intense emotion that I experienced around me and hence the impact. I did not know what death was, I do not remember crying for my grandfather or feeling sad. Perhaps my mind recognised it as something important and captured the images and stored them away to be processed at a later date. Too bad that it is the only memory I have of my thatha.

What is your earliest memory? How old were you then?