Thoughts on decisionmaking

When you need to decide between the better of two evils, which do you choose and how?

For me, I put off my decision-making till the last minute possible, (I do give myself a logical and feasible deadline till which to put off, though) think over it, dream about it and sleep over it…..then let instinct take over. That is because I mostly have the luxury of time. I realize not many people have that. I have always had a lot of respect for decisive people, those who look a problem in the eye and decide to do something about it.

I wonder what people do when faced with difficult decisions. Probably says a real lot about who they are as people.

Writing Ideas from a Digital Photo Frame

Too much of technology in our modern lives: from the cell phone, the MP3 players, the media players: there is just too much input to process, at least for me.

But there is one piece of technology I have come to really appreciate in the last few days: and that, surprisingly, is the Digital Photo Frame.

As one picture follows the other within its sleek contours, I am transported to different times, different places. Pictures of friends, romantic moments, sheer fun, of incredible beauty— all captured at different times of my life, and now displayed in a timed, unbroken chain.

Lines and snatches of writing ideas start coming to me, unbidden, out of nowhere.  Who knew a piece of digital technology would prove to be such an inspiration? But so it is.

So much for the United States of America!

Yesterday my father-in-law moved into intensive care all of a sudden, and is still in a critical situation. I am thousands of miles away from the family, in Singapore.

Unfortunately, my husband also had just then taken a flight to Chicago from Hong Kong, a long 14-hour flight.

I called Chicago United Airlines, desperate.

A computer answered me, which is normal. It understood human voice, and when I said Help, Agent, it directed me to an agent. So far, so good.

I finally managed to get thru to a human being.

But I realized, this one was not much better than a robot. She sounded like a dragon lady, silently put me on indefinite holds without telling me she was checking or whatever, was unfailingly rude, and finally told me her computer did not have any data regarding my husband…she needed the ticket number to confirm his existence on the plane.

I called again, armed with the ticket number.

Second dragon lady, just as winsome as the first one, who again put me on various silent holds without telling me what was going on. She finally came up with: He is on the flight, but we do not have the means to pass him a message on the flight. Can pass it once he has landed.

No matter how I requested, I was told that a message cannot be passed on board the flight.

The supervisor who came on line was a little better trained (actually uttered the words I am sorry for the difficult situation you are in etc.,) but said the pilot can only be contacted if there is an emergency threat to the plane: FAA regulations and all that.

But he promised that the message would definitely be delivered once my husband landed in Chicago.

I was disappointed. But I thought, fair enough, they are doing their job, thanked them and hung up.

I waited up till 2am in the morning so I could call my husband, and after a few dozen calls finally found him. He had not got any message so far, so I told him about his dad, and he hung up so he could call his family.

I talked to him now, a few hours later, and realized no one from the United Airlines ever gave him any message.

So much for United Airlines.

For all their snobbish, holier-than-thou and patronizing attitudes, none of the agents did their job.

Welcome to the real United States, I told myself.

I had so far only met very nice, compassionate and extremely competent American expats, and my view of America and Americans had been largely shaped by them.

But with this one experience over the phone (during which I paid full international call charges between Singapore and Chicago for over an hour), I began to have a completely new and different view of the country and its people.

I don’t think individuals realize how much their actions count in the image of their country.

For now, I have this much to say: So much for the United States of America!

Some days, you write

Some days, you write. Other days, you simply cannot.

Today is one of those days, when I have a dozen things on my mind, most of them not so cheerful.

After years of writing, I have come to accept that some days you write, other days you don’t, and that is how things are. Today is just one of those “other” days.

Running to win

I can see the park by the bay as I write, and it is so amusing to see all the joggers early in the morning. There are those that amble along, dragging their feet, barely awake. Probably been dragged out of bed by unforgiving spouses and shoved out of the house to jog for health reasons.

Then there are those who would jog bare-bodied, no matter how puny their bodies, heart monitors stuck across their chests and on the arm. ( A lot of Singaporean men are undeniably puny). And when they pass a woman they puff up their chests, oh, just a little. I know this because I have seen them in action when I used to be a regular morning walker myself.

There are also the athletic types, who  probably run marathons, in their very fancy nike and adidas, both men and women, their ipods letting them set their pace. They look different, even from a distance.

And it is with them that I see the most interesting dramas played out everyday.

There would be one casual jogger or another who would be running along while these chiseled marathon types effortlessly passes him or her by. Most take it cool, but there are some that take it as a personal affront. (Women somehow never seem to take it personally, perhaps because they are not as naturally physically competitive?)

Then they put everything they have into their run, and cross the athletes with a superior look. After a hundred meters, they are huffing and puffing, and have  to stop soon afterwards. The athletes pass them by without a second glance.

Not unlike in school or office, where I have seen everyone always running for the first place.

Running to win is all very well, but it cannot be done in a day. The athletes did not peak their physical condition in a day and nor can anyone else.

But this is a truth we often forget, I guess, not only while jogging, but in life itself.

Writing from a dream

Writing mostly surfaces from the subconcious, and dreams are our window to our subconcious. Some of the most wonderful ideas can strike you just as you begin to wake up, ideas not necessarily practical, but with undeniable potential to develop into a story.

From the cusp of sleep and awakening it is possible to pull out skeins that can become anything you want it to, a poem, a flash story, a short story, a novella…. the sky is the limit.


I always keep a pencil and notebook handy beside my bed, and on mornings I wake up from a memorable, yet already half-forgotten dream, I make a few notes. That is where I get most of my imagery from, even sometimes for some of my most everyday articles. I was checking the internet for people who write dream journals, and I found an interesting one that reminded me of so many things about my own dreams.

Turning dreams into reality can work out even in the most literal sense.

To write a story, look for one in your dreams.

On the lingering fragrance of old letters

I was cleaning up one of my study drawers (because I was trying to find a piece of paper and could not find it, story of my life) when I happened on an envelope full of letters from my family when I was away at college.

They were lying there forgotten, having been dutifully carried as I moved from city to city, country to country.

Writing letters was a necessity then, phone calls were expensive and nobody had heard of the internet.

I held up the folded sheafs of paper filled with my dad’s neat handwriting, my aunt’s occasional scrawls and my sister’s quick scribbles and sifted through them one by one. A turn of phrase here, a word of love and longing there, scattered about in those aging pages. The letters smelt of home: of mum’s cooking, of dad’s garden, my sister’s hugs—they were all there, pressed within the folds of those precious letters, a sum-total of my teenage and youth.

I have moved on since then, I call my parents across the seas and exchange emails with my sister. But the exchanges float away in ether. As I grow old, I’m afraid I would have only the fragrance of these frail old letters to take me back to those times long gone.

Writing about love: Phoenix


Phoenix is a month-old puppy.

Phoenix cannot walk.

Phoenix was not born that way.

Dad went and picked him up one cold night, after a neighbor left him near our home. Phoenix’s mum was apparently a stray, and the neighbor’s son had picked up the puppy.

The son broke Phoenix’s back, and so the father left the puppy near our home hoping “its mother would come and pick it up”.

My dad could not stand the puppy’s crying at night and picked it up….only to discover the broken back in the morning. The vet said the puppy had permanent spinal nerve injury, would never walk and it would be best to put it out of its misery. My dad, trying hard to be a realist, agreed.

The puppy was euthanised, and the vet gave it a dose that would kill a Rottweiler, because it kept waking up.

My dad left the bag hanging outside, and went to find a spade to give the poor mite a decent burial.

But when he came back, the bag was moving……and a groggy pup was peeping out! So the name Phoenix was born.(The vet nearly fainted when he saw Phoenix at his clinic the next day.)

Phoenix is full of beans and tries to drag himself everywhere on his forelegs. My dad has found a new occupation in his retired life: how to keep a handicapped puppy clean—because Phoenix pees and poos and rolls about in the mess with gay abandon, and does not act handicapped at all.

He has to be restrained with a soft cloth, because the vet says dragging himself around would give him a dangerously sore butt. Not that Phoenix cares.

My dad who had never done much to keep his own progeny clean, is found hovering over Phoenix all the time. He puts the pup in warm water to try and make it swim, massages its lifeless hind legs four times a day with medicines, takes it for a nerve injection everyday(the vet treats Phoenix for free and refuses to take money after being asked a dozen times) and so on.

Dad is extremely proud of Phoenix because he licks up the medicine without complaint, and has a wolf’s appetite for milk-soaked biscuits. (When I think of sheer will to live, I can’t think of anyone stronger than our tiny Phoenix:).

phoenix eating

Phoenix has now started wagging his tail in greeting, and moving his hind legs very, very little, which has Dad in absolute throes of happiness.

Love has created many miracles.

Though the vet is not hopeful, I have a feeling Phoenix would walk—he has already come too far not to.

Phoenix to the vet

Writing about love

I went for a walk today, because had to make a call and the phone gave up on me. It was early, and people were out to get their bit of exercise, sun and companionship. As I sauntered along, I saw this rather serious looking old couple, straining to keep pace with each other, both actually walking very slowly, hand in hand, both definitely past their seventies.I do not know the secret to their success, I do not know if they thought of it as such a success, biding their time one day after the other, hand in hand.

But there has to be a secret. And I knew I had to write about it, if only because writing it out would sort out some things inside my head.

I thought about my parents, the things they tried to tell me, the stories they passed on. But by the time we begin to realise that our parents were so right in some of the things they said, we have our children already who disagree with what we have to say. That is the way of the human race, I suppose, of our evolution. But I wish there were certain recipes we all learnt, as unbiased, axiomatic truth.

I wish we learned that there is no replacement for human compassion and understanding, and ultimately, love. I wish we learned how to put others before us sometimes and not always think of ourselves alone. That, being human, we all need a tangible expression of the love people bear us. That all of us need consistency from others and the only way to get it is to be it.

I somehow cannot imagine love being born. To me, it is like an endless river flowing into itself.

All life forms drink from it. All of us drink from it, and some of us do so in excess. Becoming drunk, we want to flow with it. Some of these drunken spirits become Christ or the Prophet, and some Romeo and Juliet. But the human frame of body and mind is not capable of handling the excess, so we crucify Christ and let Romeo and Juliet perish.

I realize that intense relationships have to mellow down with time or are else unsustainable. To survive, they have to end in parting or as in the extreme and well-cited cases end in demise of one or the other.

A mating of souls does not allow the bodies to survive for long as these are used up as candles to the flame, and the flame is never stronger than when the candle is at its shortest.

So we cannot all have intense loves in our daily lives; not all of us are bestowed intensity and that is good for the survival of human beings as a race.

Imagine all of us being twenty-one and killing ourselves for love!

We cannot survive it to our eighties and still be madly in love, without the aid of some form of tragedy or deprivation.

So what do that bent old man and the upright lady beside him feel as they walk side by side?

Is it a form of habit? Is it getting used to the other person as one gets used to one’s favourite armchair? I would love to ask, I but am sure there are no correct answers that hold true for each one of us. We have to inividually work out our answers, our desires, our ambition, our wishes, our fondest dreams.

For me, I for sure hope I get to walk with someone I have cherished when I am eighty and the sun on my back seems younger than I am.

Writing from memory

Time obliterates, and one of the first things it alters is memory.

Writing from memory is a good exercise if current inspiration is in short supply. You hope that the elusive “muse” or whatever it is would come back, hand in hand with bits and pieces of old memories.

I was sifting through the pages of my memory and wanted to write about something bright, bursting with unalloyed joy, warm and full of light. And then I thought of when I saw dolphins for the first time in my life.

So here goes an attempted description from memory:

It was a bright sunny day, almost too bright under the thin Australian air and there were kids and adults of all shapes and sizes lathered in sunscreen, clad in shorts, t-shirts, caps and dark glasses milling about me at the entrance.

The air was balmy but somehow charged, or maybe it was just my anticipation getting away with me. When we made it to the low stadium where the dolphins perform (it is a semi-circular enclosure with a huge man-made lake instead of a grassy expanse, and a small island on the opposite side), the place was alive with people, with ice-cream and popcorn vendors, occasional squeals from the dolphins themselves, and the squawks of a few gulls as fights broke out between them.

(These gulls are very dainty, all white with red beaks and toes, but their behavior strongly reminded me of the crows back home. They are shooed away just like crows, and I was possibly the only one there who took any notice of how good looking they were).

The dolphins were excited too, they clearly associated the gathering of people around their area with show-time, and of course, with being fed. They kept coming near the shallow shore and giving us the eye, checking us out just as much as we were looking at them, bouncing around like so many excited puppies, racing each other around the perimeter or leaping clear out of the water just for the joy of it. I had forgotten to breathe and gulped in huge amounts of air as the show began.

The trainers kept flicking their fingers and tempting the dolphins with fish, and there, in front of our eyes was a whole show, just exactly how I had seen before on-screen.

But this time the spray kept hitting me, this time was for real.

The dolphins swam and jumped in tandem, waved at us with their tails, “walked” on the water, balancing their bodies on their tails, and even pushed their trainers ahead with their noses, carrying them short distances.

As I watched these creatures jump out of the water in unison, mouths open, like laughing children, falling back with splashes, showing off by doing things they hadn’t been asked to do, I felt full somehow, emotion pushing through my eyes and trickling down my cheek. I was giddy, lightheaded and for a time was completely alone in the crowd. I have always loved the idea of dolphins and now that I had seen them, I fell in love all over again.