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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

10 things that changed me after the death of a parent

The relationships children have with their parents are unlike any other. They take care of us when we can’t fend for ourselves and provide encouragement when nothing seems to be going right. Unconditional love knows no bounds.

Relationship and life strategy coach Lisa Schmidt lost her parents and wrote a powerful tribute to what that truly feels like. She tells of how it’s affected her in the long run and in every day life. She also tells us positive thoughts she still takes away from losing her parents. Her vulnerable story and the wisdom within it are truly inspiring.

Read Lisa’s “10 Things That Changed Me After the Death of a Parent” below:

“I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you to lose a parent. It is a larger blow in adulthood I believe, because you are at the point where you are actually friends with your mother or father. Their wisdom has finally sunk in and you know that all of the [stuff] you rolled your eyes at as a teenager really was done out of love and probably saved your life a time or two.

I lost both of mine two years apart; my mother much unexpected and my father rather quickly after a cancer diagnosis. My mom was the one person who could see into my soul and could call me out in the most effective way. She taught me what humanity, empathy and generosity means. My father was the sarcastic realist in the house and one of the most forgiving people I have ever met. If you wanted it straight, with zero [filter]; just go ask my dad.

Grief runs its course and it comes in stages, but I was not prepared for it to never fully go away.

1. My phone is never more than 1 foot away from me at bedtime, because the last time I did that I missed the call that my mother died.

2. The very thought of my mother’s death, at times, made me physically ill for about six months after she died. I literally vomited.

3. Their deaths have at times ripped the remainder of our family apart. I did my best to honor their wishes and sometimes that made me the bad guy. The burden of that was immense, but I understood why I was chosen. It made me stronger as a person, so for that I am grateful.

4. I’m pissed that my son didn’t get to experience them as grandparents. I watched it five times before his birth and I feel robbed. He would have adored them and they him.

5. I would not trade my time with them for anything, but sometimes I think it would have been easier had you died when I was very young. The memories would be less.

6. Don’t [complain] about your parents in front of me. You will get an earful about gratitude and appreciation. As a “Dead Parents Club” member, I would take your place in a heartbeat, so shut your mouth. Get some perspective on how truly fleeting life is.

7. It’s like being a widow — a “club” you never wanted to join. Where do I return this unwanted membership, please?

8. Other club members are really the only people who can truly understand what it does to a person. They just get it. There is no other way to explain it.

9. Life does go on, but there will be times even years later, you will still break down like it happened yesterday.

10. When you see your friends or even strangers with their mom or dad, you will sometimes be jealous. Envious of the lunch date they have. Downright pissed that your mom can’t plan your baby shower. Big life events are never ever the same again.

Here I sit eight and ten years later and there are still times that I reach for the phone when something exciting happens. Then it hits me; [shoot], I can’t call them.

Their deaths have forever changed me and how I look at the world. In an odd way it has made me a better parent. I am always acutely aware of what memories can mean to my son and how I will impact his life while I am on this earth. He deserves to know how much he is loved and when I am gone, what I teach and instill in him now, will be my legacy.

(source: Inspire More)

Ruskin Bond reveals where he found the novels he wrote

As a novelist and storyteller, I have always drawn upon my memories of places that I have known and lived in over the years. More than most writers, perhaps, I find myself drawing inspiration from the past – my childhood, adolescence, youth, early manhood...

It is over sixty years since I wrote my first novel, The Room on the Roof, the story of a sixteen-year-old on a journey of self-discovery in small-town India – chiefly Dehradun.

But to talk of my early inspiration I must go back to my very beginnings, to the then small, princely state of Jamnagar, tucked away in the Gulf of Kutch. Here my father started a small palace school for the princesses, and I learnt to read and write along with them. I was there till the age of six, and I still treasure vivid memories of Jamnagar’s beautiful palaces and sandy beaches.

Some of these landmarks are preserved for me in photographs taken by my father, which I have to this day. An old palace with pretty windows of coloured glass remained fixed in my memory and many years later gave me the story “The Room of Many Colours”, which also inspired an episode in a TV serial called Ek Tha Rusty, in which that wonderful old thespian, Zohra Sehgal, excelled in the role of an eccentric, albeit fictional rani.

The first book I read by myself was Alice in Wonderland, and it might well have been set in the palace gardens – rose bushes, privet hedges and croquet lawns, all at hand! But this fairytale world disappeared from my life forever when World War II broke out and my father joined the Royal Air Force.

I spent a memorable year and a half with him in New Delhi, then still a very new city – just the capital area designed by Edwin Lutyens and Connaught Place, with its gleaming new shops and restaurants and cinemas. We had to walk through scrub jungles to get to Humayun’s Tomb; take a tonga to get to the railway station at the other end of Old Delhi; keep cool with table fans and khus-khus matting well-soaked by the bhisti or water carrier, who came around at regular intervals. I saw Laurel and Hardy films and devoured milkshakes at the Keventers Milk Bar, even as the Quit India Movement gathered momentum.

I was seven years old and yet to go to a proper school. I would have been quite happy to never go to one, but my father took me to Simla (now Shimla) and put me in Bishop Cotton. While the best thing about Simla was the mountain railway, the best thing about the school was the library.

School life did not inspire much of my writing, but that well-stocked library gave me a solid grounding in the classics and the literature of the time.
I was barely ten when I received the news of my father’s death, and my life was turned upside down for some time. I had to adjust to my stepfather’s Punjabi home in Dehradun, and that took a little doing, as his main interests were shikar and second-hand cars. But Dehradun at the time was a pretty little town of some 40,000 inhabitants; today it is a state capital with a population nearing 17 lakh in number. These days, the lychee gardens have given way to blocks of flats. But the old Dehra, with its country lanes and rolling hills, found its way into many of my stories.

When I was seventeen, I was shipped off to the UK to “better my prospects” as my mother put it. Out of a longing for India and the friends I had made in Dehra came my first novel – The Room on the Roof – featuring the life and loves of Rusty, my alter ego. Two years and two drafts later it found a publisher, André Deutsch, who would later introduce VS Naipaul to the literary world. In those days, the standard advance was just £50 – but it was enough to bring me back to India.

In the 1950s everyone travelled by sea, as air services were still in their infancy. A passenger liner took about three weeks from Southampton to Bombay (now Mumbai), stopping for a day or two at Gibraltar, Port Said, Aden and Karachi.

After docking in Bombay, I took a train to Dehra, where I stepped onto the platform of the small railway station and embarked on the hazardous journey of a freelance writer.
Railway stations! Trains! Platforms! I knew as long as these were there I would never run out of stories. Ambala Junction gave me The Woman on Platform8, the Kalka-Shimla Railway route gave me The Tunnel, and a small wayside halt on the fringe of the Siwalik forests gave me The Night Train at Deoli.

In the 1950s trains still used steam engines, and there was a certain romance attached to train journeys, a romance that was captured by Rudyard Kipling in Kim and many of his short stories. It is over 130 years since AH Wheeler & Co. started their chain of railway bookstalls, and published many of Kipling’s early stories (written in the 1880s when he was a journalist with The Civil and Military Gazette) in their Indian Railway Library series – collectors’ items today.

I did not have Wheeler’s or The Gazette, but I had publications like Sainik Samachar, Sport and Pastime, Shankar’s Weekly, The Leader, The Statesman, Illustrated Weekly and others – all willing to pay a budding young writer anything from Rs 25 to Rs 50 for a short story. I wrote for anyone who would publish me, and I had great fun eking out a living for a few years.

Those small cheques enabled me to live off dhaba food, but what I badly needed was home cooking, so I ended up in Delhi, where my mother was living.
There I looked for inspiration in tombs and monuments and the ever-expanding city, but did not find it, and my productivity dropped. Then came an excursion to Shahjahanpur, my father’s birthplace, where the old cantonment hadn’t changed since 1857 – providing me with the background for A Flight of Pigeons, the mutiny story that was to be filmed later by Shyam Benegal, called Junoon. It had been recommended by legendary Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai, who also took a small role in the film.

Escape from Delhi had become a priority for me. I felt drawn to the hills above Dehra. On the outskirts of Mussoorie I found a small cottage, surrounded by oak and maple trees where the rent, thankfully, was nominal.

Since then my forty-five years in Mussoorie have been an epic in themselves, and have already filled several books. I do go away sometimes – to Delhi, Orissa, Rajasthan – but I always return in some haste to my small study with its window looking out upon the mountains and the valley.

I’m of the opinion that every writer needs a window. Preferably two.
Is the house, the room, the situation...important for a writer? A good wordsmith should be able to work anywhere – in a moving train, in a hotel room, on board a ship struggling against a typhoon, or under an erupting volcano. But to me, the room you live in day after day is all-important.

The stories and the poems float in through my window, float in from the magic mountains, and the words appear on the page without much effort on my part. I can see the curvature of the earth from my window, because there is nothing between me and the far horizon. Planet Earth belongs to me. And at night, the stars are almost within reach.

(Source: Scroll)

Lesbian escapes Russia by boat and sails to Canada to be with the woman she loves

You might think traveling a thousand miles or climbing any mountain might just be in the songs, but a lesbian couple proved there is no distance when love is a possibility.

A lesbian has shared how she escaped her homophobic family in Russia by boat and sailed for nearly a year to Canada, Prospekt Mag reports.

Elena is from Ivanovo, a city 250 km east of Moscow, was forced by her parents growing up to wear high heels and makeup to look like a ‘proper woman’.

And so as she reached her 20s, she agreed to her family’s wishes to get a boyfriend. A loveless and sexless marriage was her future.

But then online, she chatted with a Canadian woman named Meg.

‘Meg can do everything, she is a musician, she plays the piano, flies planes, sails boats … To me she was this incredible woman, she simply stunned me with what she could do, and, of course, I pretty much instantly fell in love with her,’ she said.

After six months, they decided to meet in Kiev, Ukraine.

Telling her parents she was leaving to go to the opera, she secretly packed a small bag to make her escape.

When Elena and Meg met at the Kiev airport, Elena told Prospekt Mag: ‘When I saw her, I saw she was standing in the crowd of people. I don’t know how to explain how I felt, but I think I was so excited that I could hardly understand what was going on around me.’

But as the days past in Kiev, she began to receive calls from her mother and boyfriend. And this time, she decided to be honest.

‘My mother was telling me to go back to Ivanovo and I was saying that I wouldn’t because then I would never see Meg again.’

Elena’s mother promised a civil discussion, who flew to Kiev.

‘I had no idea that my father would be there too. Meg and I just thought that we were going to see my mother to talk and that that would be it, but she brought my dad with her and they attacked us.

‘They grabbed me, held both my arms tight and brought me to a McDonalds near the train station.
My father slapped three tickets on the table and said “you’re coming with us to Ivanovo.” That was their ultimatum for me, and it was the first time that I ever disagreed with them in my life.’

A fight broke out, and all four were led to a police station. Unexpectedly, the police chose the couple’s side and, eventually, the parents went back to Russia.

However, Elena soon realized her passport was missing. Her mother had grabbed it before she left, so Elena was left stranded and the only option was home.

When a friend from work was able to retrieve her passport from the family’s home, she was able to bring it to Odessa.

In Turkey, Meg put a mortgage on her house in Canada and bought a sailing boat. Elena took sailing lessons. Two months later, they were in the open sea.

Crossing the Mediterranean sea from east to west, surviving a hurricane in the Atlantic, they sailed without stopping to reach safe haven.

After 10 months, the couple arrived in Canada in April 2007.

‘When we arrived, it was all very quiet, it was 2am, we simply parked the boat at the yacht club and there was nobody there. And that was the irony of it. We had completed such a huge journey for love but there was nobody to meet us. It was pretty silent. We didn’t actually need anything, we just wanted to sleep, to rest, and to start living our life.’

And they did. Meg and Elena live on the same sailing boat they bought in Turkey.

Elena has written a book titled Talking To The Moon.

(source: Gay Star News)

American trees are moving West, and no one knows why

As the consequences of climate change strike across the United States, ecologists have a guiding principle about how they think plants will respond. Cold-adapted plants will survive if they move “up”—that is, as they move further north (away from the tropics) and higher in elevation (away from the warm ground).

A new survey of how tree populations have shifted over the past three decades finds that this effect is already in action. But there’s a twist: Even more than moving poleward, trees are moving west.

About three-quarters of tree species common to eastern American forests—including white oaks, sugar maples, and American hollies—have shifted their population center west since 1980. More than half of the species studied also moved northward during the same period.

These results, among the first to use empirical data to look at how climate change is shaping eastern forests, were published in Science Advances on Wednesday.

Trees, of course, don’t move themselves. But their populations can shift over time, and saplings can expand into a new region while older growth dies in another. The research team compared a tree population to a line of people stretching from Atlanta to Indianapolis: Even if everyone in the line stood still, if you added new people to the end of the line in Indiana and asked others in Georgia to leave, then the center of the line would move nonetheless.

The results are fascinating in part because they don’t immediately make sense. But the team has a hypothesis: While climate change has elevated temperatures across the eastern United States, it has significantly altered rainfall totals. The northeast has gotten a little more rain since 1980 than it did during the proceeding century, while the southeast has gotten much less rain. The Great Plains, especially in Oklahoma and Kansas, get much more than historically normal.

“Different species are responding to climate change differently. Most of the broad-leaf species—deciduous trees—are following moisture moving westward. The evergreen trees—the needle species—are primarily moving northward,” said Songlin Fei, a professor of forestry at Purdue University and one of the authors of the study.

There are a patchwork of other forces which could cause tree populations to shift west, though. Changes in land use, wildfire frequency, and the arrival of pests and blights could be shifting the population. So might the success of conservation efforts. But Fei and his colleagues argue that at least 20 percent of the change in population area is driven by changes in precipitation, which are heavily influenced by human-caused climate change.

“This is a very cool study, with results that seem to raise more questions than they can provide answers for,” said Loïc D’Orangeville, an ecologist at the Quebec Forest Research Center who was not connected to the study, in an email. “West is usually drier in the study region, so although it’s been wetter in the recent decades, it’s still drier than the East.”

Where the center of population of tree species shifted between 1980 and 2015 (Fei et al. / Nature Advances)  
“I can’t really make up [for] that moisture attractiveness for trees,” he added.

The movement of conifers and other needle trees north makes much more sense. Conifers are already more vulnerable to temperature than flowering, deciduous trees. They also already populate the boreal forest of eastern North America, so they’re well-adapted to the colder, drier conditions they will find as they expand north in the United States.

Fei and his colleagues don’t know if the westward trend will continue. We may have already seen the peak of westward movement, and northward expansion may soon outrank it. “When the result came out that trees are moving westward, our eyeballs opened wide. Like, ‘Wow, what’s going on with this?’ The results seem to show that moisture plays a much more significant role in the near-term, which is very intriguing,” he told me.

The survey draws on the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program, a kind of continuously running census of the country’s tree population. The program, which stepped up in 1978 but which has been conducted in some form since the 1930s, surveys the health, density, and species mix of forested areas across the country. It examines not only the majestic, landmark tracts of untrammeled forest (like George Washington National Forest) but the humbler woods, as well: stands of trees near the highway, at the edge of housing developments, and in the middle of city parks.

“This is not a modeling exercise, there are no predictions, this is empirical data,” said Fei. “This study is looking at everything everywhere in the eastern United States.”

What concerns the team is that—if deciduous trees are moving westward while conifers move northward—important ecological communities of forests could start to break up in the east. Forests are defined as much by the mix of species, and the interaction between them, as by the simple presence of a lot of trees. If different species migrate in different directions, then communities could start to collapse.

“If you have a group of friends, and people move away to different places—some go to college in different places, and some move to Florida—the group is … probably going to fall apart,” Fei said. “We’re interested in whether this tree community is falling apart.”

“These results show contemporary proof of something we know has happened before and will happen again: that trees are highly dynamic organisms, constantly moving in response to climatic shifts like recent glaciations or other disturbances. Their actual range does not reflect conditions that are optimal for their growth,” said D’Orangeville.

Any tree’s range represents “a legacy of historical migrations and battles lost against other species or disturbances. With climate change however, their capacity to keep pace with the fast-changing climate is a major issue.”

(Source: The Atlantic)

Like the IPL, Indian sports journalism is a boys’ club with a sexism problem

The Indian Premier League (IPL) draws to a close today (May 21). Yet, a moment will stay with us for years. No, it was not a wonderful piece of skill on the field. Rather, an unseemly incident which passed away without much hullabaloo. Notwithstanding the largely muted reaction, it was another reminder of the parochial attitudes which lurk at every corner in the world of sport.

In case you missed it, here are the details. As the umpires walked out to officiate the clash between Kolkata Knight Riders and Rising Pune Supergiant at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, on May 4, a woman in a black gown awaited them. She stood next to a box of apples with the match ball nestled between them.

Once the umpires approached the lady, she picked out an apple and offered it to them in a suggestive manner. After one of the officials, K.N. Ananthapadmanabhan, refused the fruit twice, she then picked out the white ball and everyone carried on as if nothing had happened.

So, where does one begin? A woman being unable to identify the cricket ball from a box of apples seems like a good point. For a tournament that makes a play of attracting all kinds of viewers, it was revealing to see how it perceives women. Then, of course, there is the question that why the abhorrent sketch should even be allowed to exist.

But the incident was not out of place in the IPL. In fact, it is another low point for a tournament that actively reinforces sexual stereotypes. Indeed, back in 2013, the business head of the official broadcaster was quoted by Wisden India as saying, “The focus is on fun and entertainment and not on serious cricket. The girls are not chosen for their knowledge of cricket.” He added that the women presenters change every year because they need to be “younger and fresher.”

But whatever has come the IPL’s way as criticism in this regard has certainly had little impact. The pre-match show cannot do without cutting to studio dancers at least 20-30 times during its broadcast, the on-field female reporters are expected to carry out inane interviews and the cheerleaders are overwhelmingly white. The last of those issues was addressed by a cheerleader two years ago, “I hate the racism. Why is my team made up of 99% white girls? Why do Indians feel it’s ok to dress white girls up in skimpy outfits but they won’t let their fellow Indian women do it? It’s messed up.”

But any criticism of the IPL needs to understand the space afforded to women in popular sports media and the obstacles they constantly battle. The franchisee cricket tournament, one could argue, is only the tip of the iceberg. Sports journalism, like the IPL, is among the most male-dominated of spheres. Although more women enter the profession now than before, its perspectives remain overwhelmingly skewed in favour of male athletes and media professionals. Male perspectives on sport abound, the national team almost always signifies the men’s national team and women are often relegated to the status of second-class citizens.

Yet, the light does seep through the gaps in the wall. When it does, it shines brightly. In the sports media industry, women feature prominently among the best sports writers and TV journalists. A conversation with some of them opens one’s eyes to the discrimination which exists and how it is overcome.

Sharda Ugra, now a senior editor at ESPN India, has been a vocal critic of the sexism within the IPL. She believes that women who enter sports journalism today face greater pressures than when she began in the late ‘80s.

“I started working with Mid Day, which was an afternoon paper. My job was to find stories that were not in the morning edition. But, I would really struggle today. There are greater demands with the use of social media and access is much more difficult. It is simpler in other sports but not cricket.”

When it comes to the IPL, she sees major contradictions. After all, it is among the very few cricket tournaments to give space to ex-women cricketers as commentators for men’s matches. “It is a very strange thing in the IPL. Melanie Jones had been a commentator for 10 years and did not call a men’s match in Australia… There are two things at operation. One lot puts the commentators out and one puts the Extra Innings (the IPL show) staff together.”

It is a contradiction that continues to flourish seemingly unabated. But even the IPL has not been able to change the perception that television commentary is still a ‘man-den’. NDTV’s Rica Roy points out that women commentators still do not get a gig at major international cricket tournaments. There will be no women commentators for the Champions Trophy which begins in England next month. The sanctity of the gentleman’s club is only subjected to cosmetic threats.

Roy’s opinions about the general state of affairs for women in sports journalism only reinforces the point that women have to work doubly hard to justify their position within the profession.

“Men consider they belong here. Men tend to think what would a woman understand about sport? I began working at the age of 17 but people did not take me seriously as I didn’t have a press pass. I was once asked why would I require a media pass? But my work has changed perceptions.”

This is a struggle that is not alien to sportspersons either. Shooter Shagun Chowdhary spoke for many others when she told, “More than anything, it’s stressful and slow to be a professional in an industry that is dominated by men.”

Even when women do stellar work, they are often subjected to patronising feedback. Aakriti Mehrotra, a freelance sports writer in New Delhi, spoke about her experiences with ‘mansplaining’.

“I’ve been told constantly that my interest in sports is ‘surprising for a girl’, that my knowledge of football is ‘great for a girl’. I remember a piece I had written after an ISL match. Someone told me why my facts were entirely wrong, when those same facts/stats had been used by everyone to write their reports. It was an opinion piece! Online criticism of men is about the sporting issue, then why is most of the criticism women face about their gender? We want to talk sport!”

Yet, sport continues to be seen as a space which women should not ‘infiltrate’. As Mehrotra added, one man once told another woman on Twitter, “Sport is where he goes to get away from women.” The last time I checked, there was no asylum for his troubles.

But it is worrying that such attitudes are not rare. Even when similar opinions are not articulated, female journalists are constantly aware that they are functioning in a space which remains more male dominated than others. Dressing for work can become a task fraught with challenges. Ugra spoke about how she sought to be as ‘invisible’ as possible in her early years, not preferring to stand out in the crowd. In fact a women’s dress may go on to decide how seriously she is viewed, as Aakriti Mehrotra recounted in an anecdote.

“I have been made aware of the clothes I’m wearing, a few times. Funnily enough, a female colleague of mine, who has been in the field for the longest time, said to me that she has a whole collection of formals because in her position, people take women more seriously when they wear trousers etc and look like the equal of a man. I wonder if I will have to do the same in a few years.”

However, Roy is adamant that she does not “want to be like a man.” She adds that, “Dressing is about breaking barriers. I did get stares when I wore a skirt in the press box.” But she stuck to her choices and let her work speak for herself.

However, when one’s attire is supposed to signify one’s commitment to the job at hand, it should worry all of us about the culture of work that exists. Star Sports presenter Mayanti Langer is aware that she is, at times, judged by different standards. “Social media puts me in that box. People define me by my clothes and how I look. You can’t change the way they think. But that is certainly not the case with male anchors.”

Public perception challenges women in unexpected ways, even when they continue to set high standards for work. Indian Express’s Shivani Naik, who refuses to entertain any gendered expectations that people may have of her, talked about the backlash she received for a piece.

“Twitter had a field day when I called [P.V.] Sindhu ‘pretty’ and wrote about her hair. My three years of painstaking following of her badminton, writing a 100 pieces on her badminton, all the thread-baring of her game was tossed aside to pick up on my description of her as ‘pretty’… I’d rather write on my hardy rugby blokes – no one seems to mind my detailing of their beards and unruly hair which I routinely do. But I loved writing on Sindhu and will continue to sneak in details and if needed, call her gorgeous. Twitter can’t kill my enthusiasm for descriptive details.”

This can be said of every journalist who was gracious with her time for this piece. The IPL may present women in an inappropriate light, the sports media industry may systematically exclude or sideline women but their desire to provide perspectives which enrich our understanding of sport still thrives. If anything, there is a need for media professionals to counter the culture of public silencing or unfair criticism of women.

Some suggest that the conditions will change when female journalists take more senior roles in newsrooms. The implicit understanding is that ‘women’s issues in sport’ will get a fairer airing then. However, that would miss the point. When Sindhu wins an Olympic medal in badminton, it is not an occasion for only the women to rejoice. Female participation in sport and the interest we afford to it should not depend on the number of women who write about sport. The skewed coverage owes much to the same culture that privileges a ‘pretty face’ over her knowledge of cricket.

But if we are going to argue for a change of outlook, there is a need to understand what sport means to us. Playing and writing about sport is, worryingly, seen as something that men do. We need to challenge sport’s description as a male bastion. Countless times I have been told by women that they do not really care for sport. It is, arguably, reflective of what sport has come to signify. If women feel excluded from it, perhaps it is sport that we need to redefine.

Of course, it will help if a woman is not shown as someone who cannot pick a ball out from a box of apples. How do you like them apples, you ask?

No, seriously, put them away.

(Source: The Wire)