Thursday, May 30, 2013

All in a Day’s Work

Community Development is a passion of ours at MCIS Language Services. This can mean many things. I am speaking specifically about the opportunity to teach people a skill and to provide them with gainful employment. We love nothing better. In the past couple of weeks alone, we have recruited two full-time paid MBA interns from the Rotman School of Business, University of Toronto, two Coordinators, a couple of on-call back up assistants and several freelance interpreters and translators. We will be hiring at least 3 more full time staff within the next couple of months, besides interns, volunteers and Consultants for short term projects. Our mission at MCIS is to keep jobs in Canada, to enrich our population with transferable skills that endure beyond a career with us and to bridge global language barriers with all our local talent of language professionals and back-end staff.

When resources are in short supply, you have to find creative ways to get work done. Over the years, we at MCIS have fine-tuned the art of recognising talent among people who have had difficulty finding work, recruiting them, building their skill level and making leaders out of them. Several of our staff came to Canada with experience and credentials they could not easily leverage because of their lack of Canadian experience. Today, they are Managers and Directors at MCIS. If as an employer you are short sighted enough not to be able to look past a person’s fluency in English, you lose out on many talented people with immense technical skills that are hard to find and replace. The win-win from all this is grateful, loyal and committed employees and an employer who does not have retention issues. Today we have an HR department which is busier than an employment agency, filling up paid and volunteer positions we need, as we scale up and expand to serve our ever growing roster of public and private sector clients. Thanks are due to our amazing HR folks, Maria Ramirez and Rafaela Marchi. To explore opportunities to volunteer, work or do a placement with us, please email or

Friday, May 24, 2013

I am thinking of running for Mayor!

I am thinking of running for mayor. But wait - I would be too boring. No sharp elbows or wisecracking sarcasm. No hubris. No crack pipe smoking videos or outrageous ideas to finance a flagging City economy with a-hands-in- people's-pocket approach aka Casino revenues earned from constituents' gambling travails. I have never had the presence to shout curse words into 911 lines and bald facedly deny it ever happened. Or to verbally assault squeegee kids. No one could sustain interest enough to stay on my case and stay awake. So what's my cache? That I love my City, care enough to want to solve its problems and have some competence managing money, negotiating deals and applying the law? Precisely not the qualities that will get the attention of the masses, pre or post election as Mayor? I need a story and even more importantly, sound bytes. Not necessarily the kind that I flashed on twitter or that I had bulimia and alcohol problems, as is true of a couple of the 2013 New York City mayoral candidates, but that "I can stop the gravy train" as famously attributed to our dear illustrious Mayor Ford. This is because talk is cheap and does not have to actually mean anything. Thankfully we have a populace which is willfully blind to the "how" of bogus promises because they are mentally tired making ends meet and staying afloat. "Just tell me what I want to hear" they say, and "I will vote for you". Then do something scandalous and I will give you and the City my undivided attention. Do not try to reason with me or give me logical explanations. I don't have the bandwidth to stay on your message. I can focus on one thing and one thing alone.

Given this, if I do decide to run, I need a make-over. A propensity for putting my foot in my mouth, shooting from my hip, overruling democratically made decisions and stock phrases like "trim the fat", "leaner and meaner", "efficient and effective" and "measurable". I have to work on sanitizing myself of fuzzy words like "collaborative", "inclusive", "consultative" or "anti-oppressive". I had better start now. Refashioning my image, rehearsing the choice jargon, sharpening my elbows and getting in and out of embarrassing situations does not come easy to those who lack the natural talent for it. I need the time before the next elections to rehabilitate myself and to build the right kind of brand equity. Oh yes, I will hire Lindsay Logan as my coach!

Monday, May 13, 2013

At a Gurudwara in Croydon

I believe in the power of prayer. I love chanting too. I used to pray to alleviate anxiety or towards some such end, but now just to quieten the mind and to experience that contemplative state that prayer brings on. It's a first person encounter with my own divinity. I am not partial to any religion or God in form or formless. I love the ritual of prayer, so wherever i am in the world I chant the Vishnu Sahasranaman and Lakshmi Ashtothram everyday, read Mother Mary Novenas on Wednesday, visit the Durga temple on Tuesdays, fast to be in communion with Shirdi Baba on Thursdays and practice yoga while observing my sensations and responses to this worldly life at least 5 days a week. I often get teased that I have left out several religions and need to increase the diversity of my contemplative practices.

Recently, I had the opportunity to do just that. I was visiting a close friend in the UK and accompanied her to a Gurudwara to mark the second anniversary of her father's passing. At 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, we drove twenty minutes to one in the town of Croydon, a suburb in Greater London.

With few people around at that early hour, we reached the modest premises in 15 minutes and squeezed our car into the tiny 4 car lot. We covered our heads with our scarves and scaled a small stairway to reach the meditation hall. We were beckoned at the entrance by the mellifluous voices of the Shabad Kirtan singers rendering the verses from Sikh religious texts in song, interspersing them with interpretation for advice on worldly living. They played the tabla and harmonium, as they sang. In that long hall covered with immaculate white sheets devotees sat on the floor with eyes closed taking in this divine music. The sound had a simple purity to it in the silence of the morning when not much life had stirred in this part of the world. We were among the privileged twenty or so, blessed to be in this place at this time. We walked the length of the hall to where the holy book of Sikhs the Granth Sahib lay covered in a bright brocaded turquoise cloth. We bowed our heads and made an offering into the collection box located in front of the altar, as is customary, and then sat among the women on the left hand side of the room.

The singing had a light classical quality and the cadences varied with the verses, some slow and melodic perfectly synchronized with the harmonium, others fast paced and rhythmic with greater emphasis on the tabla. I had listened to this music often in the Yogi Bhajan inspired kundalini yoga teacher training course I had attended. Awash in this music, I was transported to a place of serenity and mental quietitude. I envied the Sikhs who had grown up in this religion, where the worship was marked with simplicity, was devoid of rituals and included such divine music. I could have remained there for hours! Alas the service ended in about half an hour with blessings, giving of thanks to the many volunteers and patrons and distribution of a sweet made from wheat, and oozing ghee.

After the service we were invited to partake of a simple yet delicious meal in the dining hall located downstairs. The volunteers who had prepared it served us as if we were cherished guests in their home. Cardamom flavoured masala chai complemented a meal consisting of fresh hot rotis, potatoes cooked in a tomato and curry sauce and vermicelli sweet pudding, all of which had been prepared earlier that morning by the volunteers. We left there with a smile on our faces, our bellies full and our spirits lifted. I have now added the Gurudwara as another venue for contemplation. I only wish I had not waited 50 years to visit one. I urge you all to visit one if you have not!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In praise of extraordinary mothers!

When I think of Amma, many thoughts come to mind. Her immense physical beauty, as a young woman, which none of us girls inherited. Her brilliance in the way she, to this day, assimilates complex ideas, and her prodigious memory. I often joke that she remembers every saree in my closet in Canada better than me. However, her most endearing quality is her generosity with everyone and especially her children. I have come to associate these traits with motherhood and am often shocked when I encounter petty, mean and competitive mothers.

Our two most poignant bonding experiences as mother and daughter, surrounded two of the most important individuals in our lives, my daughter and her beloved husband.

I was 23 when Uttara was born. During the months leading up to her birth, I stayed with Amma, having come home from Malaysia where we were then posted. In those days, my husband worked long hours and I knew no one well. So I travelled to Chennai and Amma looked after me through horrific morning sickness which was followed by a comfortable and joyful pregnancy. She made me all my favourite foods and indulged my every craving. She was a rock through my emotional highs and lows, tolerated my fierce determination to study for my Masters exams, which were days after childbirth, and took me to music lessons, so the baby would have a mother who could sing lullabies to her. She was only one present, with the medical staff, when Uttara was born and the first one to carry her. Then came post partum depression, in all its ugliness. With the onset of panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, I became reclusive and despondent. My father, a soft hearted man, who could not see his daughter suffer so, broke down. Amma stayed calm and worked hard to give my life purpose. Over several months, she talked me out of my state, with stories of real women who have triumphed over great odds. These were women from her village who had committed small acts of heroism to carve out their independence from their oppressors. Great women from the Indian freedom struggle. She recited Bharatiyar poetry and Bhaja Govindam, resorting to philosophy and “meaning of life” parables when I was really low. She read to me. Through all this she also looked after the baby with single minded devotion. I don’t know if I have ever told her this, it was not the women in her stories but she who has influenced me the most.

When I was 42 our father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A healthy active 78 year old, who, walked 6 km a day and expressed feeling invincible, was felled down in one swell swoop when the results of an endoscopy revealed advanced stage 4 oesophageal cancer. I immediately took an indefinite leave of absence from work and flew down to be with them. A week after I landed he was admitted to the hospital for what would become a palliative stay till his passing 6 weeks later. During those 6 weeks which were wonderful and awful at the same time, I slept on the floor between my Appa’s and Amma’s beds, witnessing the extraordinary love between them and watching the evil forces of death tear him away from her. Amma and I were there together, witnessing those days and nights of Appa’s delirium, his high fevers, his painful moans and his call for a merciful end to his suffering. We had no place to go but to stay there bonded, as we helplessly watched him slip away from us. This time the roles were somewhat reversed. My sisters and I provided her succour. I had never seen Amma depressed and low until that time. She did everything in her power to care for Appa, but was dull and listless. Amma and I were the only ones present in the final moments of Appa’s passing, when he opened his eyes wide as though to take one good look at us before going motionless. The experience was utterly surreal. It took about a year for the spark to return to Amma’s eyes.

If I am a good mother it is because of you Amma, and if I am not, it is because I did not learn well enough from you. Both my sisters are better mothers (and humans) than me. I also learn from their example, every day! In praise of extraordinary mothers!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Ode to Emmy

Emmy was our maid for as long as I can remember. Later her niece replaced her as our maid, but she worked in other homes in our colony. Although she lived elsewhere, Emmy always hung around those quarters from dawn until late, a familiar figure, her body the colour of polished teak, her hair held up in a careless, frizzy and unkempt bun and her gap tooth smile showing her rotting teeth. Over the last decade or so, Emmy's spine could not hold her up straight and she walked around hunched over. I don't ever recall Emmy sitting down. Single, she dedicated her life to raising and supporting her brother's family,bringing them all to Chennai and helping them with their education and or securing jobs. With her meagre earnings, she put at least 3 children through University, never wanting her lot of menial housework to befall them. She worked in several homes in that colony, her day jam packed with physical toil. But if you thought she would rest in her spare time, you were wrong. Early each morning, Emmy, a Christian, would pick flowers from the garden for several Hindu families so they could make floral offerings to the Gods. If we were not home, we would find a little recycled plastic bag on the door jamb with flowers. She never took a day off from this chore or any of her other paid duties. Amma often remarked that Emmy had secured a place among the Gods just for this one selfless act. She expected no payment for it. Similarly she swept all 3 floors of each of six buildings everyday. She swept the garden, turned on the motor and did gofor duties. The first word on everyone's lips, when they needed something done, was "Emmy". She loved those buildings and that colony more than any other. She guarded it with pride, maintained it as best as she could and offered unconditional physical help to helped all its denizens. She flitted around it with much pride and propriety. This was her kingdom and she it's humble and devoted servant. Every time we landed in India- Emmy would come running and with all the love in her heart utter the words " neenga ellarum kadavul Asiyoda nallairrukkanum" ( you should all be well with God's grace). Sadly, we are all well but Emmy was ill-treated and left homeless by her family, in her last years. Our families tried to intervene and help, but to not much avail. She passed away yesterday. Emmy, I am well because of your selfless blessings. Thank you for your example - your life was a job well done! Your spirit lives on in our colony in Besant Nagar, Chennai!