Memories: Grandmother Tales 4 – The Travel Edition

I guess I get my love for travel from my paternal grandmother, my ammama. She used to take off as the urge struck her and has travelled the length and breadth of the country. There are three such stories which I remember even today, two in which I star in and one which I remember.

When my sister was born, I was about less than a year and a half and because my mother could not handle a newborn and a toddler, my grandparents took off to New Delhi with me. Her daughter lived there with her husband, who worked in the Indian Air Force and they must have lived in airforce quarters. This would a when India’s then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency in the country. I was barely eighteen months at that time, so don’t have many memories of that period, but I remember the name Indira Gandhi used to be used to evoke fear, especially among children. So when I refused to do something, say eat my food, or drink my milk, I would be threatened by Mrs Gandhi. It’s a wonder that I didn’t develop any irrational fear of the government and especially Mrs Gandhi. But kudos to my grandmother, who at that age, (she must have been in her late forties or early fifties) took a toddler with her and looked after her for a few months. We returned to Bombay about three months or so later and by this time, my mum and sister were back home from my maternal grandmother’s house where she had gone for her delivery.

The next story is also from my childhood. I must have been around 7 or 8 and we were travelling by train to our ancestral village in the Tirunelveli district in the Tamil heartland. We were travelling with my father’s cousin for his wedding. My grandparents were also travelling with us but in a different compartment. After we reached Chennai, my parents, uncle and we children were supposed to take an overnight train to reach the district headquarters of Tirunelveli and my grandparents were to take the overnight train to the same destination. My sister and I threw a tantrum at the station and insisted we travel with my grandparents and not our parents. They had to give in, my grandparents giving in to us was a huge reason, and so we took the train. We were ticketless and had nothing with us, which was with our parents. I remember my grandfather talking to the ticket checker to buy tickets in the train and scrambling to find space for us to sleep in. They found space and we managed to get to Tirunelveli in one piece.

The last story does not have either my sister or me in a starring role. Around the time I was around 6, after my grandfather retired, my grandparents decided to go on an all-India pilgrimage. I don’t remember the specifics after all these years, but I do know it was led by a tour leader and was aimed at mostly senior citizens. They would take the train and maybe also travel by road and visit many of the important places of worship. The tour also included a trip to Kathmandu in Nepal to visit the Pashupatinath temple and other places of worship in that city. I do know they visited the temples of Badrinath and Kedarnath and from the north went all the way down south to Kanyakumari. I remember them making a stop in Mumbai during the trip and we went to the station to meet them. I have a memory of my uncle taking me with him to the station and then because I was so upset of meeting my ammama and then getting separated from her, he took me out and we came home quite late, after eating ice creams and chocolates. I remember this was during our summer holidays and because we reached home so late, I overslept the next day and was still asleep when my friends came to call me to play in the morning. From Kathmandu, my grandparents got me and my sister a beautiful chain with a butterfly pendant which I treasured for many years.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of my grandmother’s tales. If you want to read more about my memories of my ammama, here’s part 1, part 2, part 3 and one about my maternal grandmother.

Happy Birthday GG & BB!

GG & BB turn 19 today and as I have been doing for the past few years, I thought I will write them a letter this year too. Since they will graduate next year, I thought this year’s letter will be about how they can be financially savvy and learn about money.

Dear GG & BB,

As you start to look and plan your future, money will be a huge part of how you plan your lives. Money and the lack of money may be the difference between surviving and living the life of your dreams. So you must learn to manage your finances, and manage them well enough that you never have a day when you panic about not having enough.

If you think that financial planning is too tedious and can be put off to a later date, you’re not alone. Many of your friends and peer are too caught up with life to think about long-term finances. Plus, there’s always the misconception that you can only start growing your wealth after you earned your first pot of gold. However, contrary to what you might think, the best time to start planning for your financial goals is while you’re still young and have plenty of time to grow your savings.

Set goals early: Setting your financial goals is the first critical step. Putting down your goals in writing will help you establish a finish line to aim for and determine what you need to do to get there. To help to stick to your goals, keep them somewhere you can see them regularly and also review them at a pre-determined interval, so you can fine-tune your plans as life happens.

Start saving as soon as possible: Starting to save at an early age gives you a longer runway to reach your financial goals and gives you more time to benefit from the power of compound interest. There is a formula known as the Power of 72 which allows you to determine how many years it takes for your savings to double at a certain rate of interest. In the Power of 72, you divide 72 by the interest rate to determine how many years it will take to double your principal amount.

Use the 50/30/20 rule when budgeting: A simple rule of thumb is to split income into three broad buckets to meet expenses and savings needs. In this rule, divide your monthly take-home pay into three categories where 50% will be spent on needs, 30% will be spent on wants and the balance 20% will be set aside as savings.

Set up a dedicated bank account for your savings: To ensure that you don’t spend money meant for your long-term savings, it’s a good idea to open separate accounts; one for your regular expenses and another just for savings. Arrange for the funds meant for your savings to be automatically transferred to the dedicated account the day you receive your salary. You can do this by applying for a standing instruction with your bank, saving you the trouble of having to make the transfer yourself each month.

Look for ways to cut costs: Financial stability is not just about savings or increasing your income, but also about reducing expenses. Always be on the lookout for ways to save money; whether it’s finding the cheapest place to buy groceries or taking advantage of dining deals on your credit card.

Focus on income, not savings: While keeping a lid on expenses is important to budgeting, some experts recommend that you should focus more on income. After all, there are only so many of your costs that you can save on, but your income has a far higher potential to grow in the long run. If you think you are good at something, try to have a side hustle so you can supplement your income.

Keep your debt in check: Having too much debt is a big obstacle to building your savings. For a start, you should ensure that you make at least the minimum payment on all your outstanding debts every month to avoid late fees and extra interest charges. You must also always pay off your credit card bills every month. Using a credit card is a great tool, but not when you incur interest in it. A good rule of thumb is that each time you use the card, you should immediately transfer the money to the account with which you pay the bills so once the bill comes, you are not in shock. You should also list your debts from the highest to the lowest interest rate and repay as much as you can on the debt that incurs the highest interest. Keep doing this till you are debt free!

Protect your personal information: Keep identity thieves from stealing your information. Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Avoid using public wi-fi for online banking and protect your bank PIN and shield the keypad from view when using an ATM. Review your financial statements each month to make sure there are no fraudulent transactions.

Always have emergency funds which are easily accessible: You must have at least two types of emergency funds which can be easily accessed in case of emergencies. The first should be a liquid savings account which should have about three to six months of living expenses. This is if something happens like losing your job, you can use it to get by until you are on your feet again. The second is what I call a Home Fund and this will especially be useful once you both have your homes. Try to put in a couple of hundred dollars into this account each month and maybe more when you have them. At home, things break down or you spoil and you may need to replace them. Things like a television, air conditioners etc and having money in an account meant for these things can help a long way in replacing broken items immediately without dipping into your savings.

Educate Yourself: If you don’t learn to manage your money, then other people will find ways to mismanage it for you. Some of these people could have bad intentions, others may be well-meaning, but not fully informed about your circumstances, so the best way to get the right advice for your particular circumstances and not rely on random advice is to take charge of your financial future and read a few basic books on personal finance. Once you’re armed with knowledge, you know what works best for you.

Start saving for retirement now: You may think retirement is at least four or five decades away, but you need to plan for it from today. I’ve spoken about the power of compound interest to you both, and this is the best way you can grow your money at a faster rate. The sooner you start saving, the less principal you have to invest to end up with the amount that you need to retire. Compound interest is one of the most powerful forces in finance because it grows your money exponentially, which means it can super-charge your savings, especially over time. The magic of compound interest for your retirement account is that it is interest on interest—literally. You earn interest not only on the principal which is the money you put in but also on the interest which is the money the bank pays you for holding your principal.

Remember, your finances are in your hands and you don’t need any fancy degrees or special backgrounds to become an expert at managing your finances. So go ahead and learn what you can while you are still young, so your later adulthood and retirement are not fraught with worry.

Happy birthday once again GG & BB! I know you will do great things in life and I am waiting to see you both reach your full potential.

Lots of love, hugs and kisses,

The Importance of Sleep

Where sleep is concerned, our household is divided cleanly down the middle. GG and I prefer a decent bedtime while BB and S can go on for a long time. While GG and I can stay up late, our energies are noticeably depleted and we prefer to sleep early so we are awake early. On the other hand, BB and S can go on past midnight working, playing games or watching television with no difference to their energy and wake up the next day, not as early, but not very late too. BB especially has the best of both worlds according to GG. He can sleep late like S and wake up early, bright as a button the moment he opens his eyes like me.

The past few months, BB and I have been having this ongoing discussion on why he should sleep early, especially if it’s a weekday and so I thought I should share my findings with you. Read on to find out why sleep is so important and that by burning the midnight oil, how we set ourselves up for failure.

A vital, often neglected, component of every person’s overall health and well-being, Sleep is an essential function that allows the body and mind to recharge, leaving one refreshed and alert when they wake up. Sleep is important because it enables the body to repair and be fit and ready for another day. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly and getting adequate rest may help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased illness duration which can impair the ability to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories.

An internal body clock regulates one’s sleep cycle, controlling when they feel tired and ready for bed or refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. After waking up from sleep, one will become increasingly tired throughout the day with the feelings peaking in the evening leading up to bedtime. This sleep drive, also known as sleep-wake homeostasis, may be linked to adenosine, an organic compound produced in the brain. Adenosine levels increase throughout the day as one becomes more tired, and then the body breaks down this compound during sleep.

Light also influences the circadian rhythm. The brain contains a special region of nerve cells known as the hypothalamus, and a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which processes signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light. These signals help the brain determine whether it is day or night. As natural light disappears in the evening, the body will release melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. When the sun rises in the morning, the body will release the hormone known as cortisol that promotes energy and alertness.

Once a person falls asleep, the bodies follow a sleep cycle divided into four stages. The first three stages are known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the final stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The first stage marks the transition between wakefulness and sleep and consists of light sleep. Muscles relax and the heart rate, breathing, and eye movements begin to slow down, as do brain waves, which are more active when one is awake. Stage 1 typically lasts several minutes. The second NREM sleep stage is characterised by deeper sleep as the heart rate and breathing rates continue slowing down and the muscles become more relaxed. Eye movements will cease and the body temperature will decrease. Apart from some brief moments of higher frequency electrical activity, brain waves also remain slow. Stage 2 is typically the longest of the four sleep stages. The third stage of NREM plays an important role in making one feel refreshed and alert the next day. Heartbeat, breathing, and brain wave activity all reach their lowest levels, and the muscles are as relaxed as they will be. This stage will be longer at first and decrease in duration throughout the night. The first REM stage will occur about 90 minutes after one falls asleep. As the name suggests, the eyes will move back and forth rather quickly under the eyelids. Breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure will begin to increase. Dreaming will typically occur during REM sleep, and the arms and legs will become paralysed, it’s believed this is intended to prevent one from physically acting out on their dreams. The duration of each REM sleep cycle increases as the night progresses with numerous studies that have also linked REM sleep to memory consolidation, the process of converting recently learned experiences into long-term memories. The duration of the REM stage will decrease as one ages, causing one to spend more time in the NREM stages.

These four stages will repeat cyclically throughout the night until one wakes up. For most people, the duration of each cycle will last between 90 to 120 minutes and NREM sleep constitutes about 75% to 80% of each cycle. One may also wake up briefly during the night but not remember the next day and these episodes are known as W stages.

For most adults, at least seven hours of sleep each night is needed for proper cognitive and behavioural functions with children and teenagers needing substantially more sleep, particularly if they are younger than five years of age. An insufficient amount of sleep can lead to serious repercussions. Some studies have shown sleep deprivation leaves people vulnerable to attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reactions, and mood shifts. It has also been suggested that people can develop a sort of tolerance to chronic sleep deprivation. Even though their brains and bodies struggle due to lack of sleep, they may not be aware of their deficiencies because less sleep feels normal to them. Additionally, lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk for certain diseases and medical conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health, and early death.

Sleep needs vary from person to person, depending on their age. As a person ages, they typically require less sleep to function properly. According to the CDC, newborns until three months of age need 14 to 17 hours of sleep, infants between 2 to 12 months need 12 to 16 hours and toddlers from one to two need 11 to 14 hours of sleep. Preschool children between 3 to 5 need 10 to 13 hours while children between 6 to 12 years old need around 9 to 12 hours of sleep a day. Teens between 13 and 18 need to clock in 8 to 10 hours of rest while adults until the age of 60 need to maintain an average of 7 hours of sleep daily. As one grows older, sleep schedules change with adults between 61 and 64 needing 7 to 9 hours and those older than 65 need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily.

Work schedules, day-to-day stressors, a disruptive bedroom environment, and medical conditions can all prevent one from receiving enough sleep. A healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits can help ensure an adequate amount of sleep each night, but for some, chronic lack of sleep may be the first sign of a sleep disorder.

As well as the number of hours, the quality of sleep is also important. Signs of poor sleep quality include waking in the middle of the night and not feeling rested after an adequate number of hours of sleep. Some things a person should and should not do to improve sleep quality include the following:

  • Sleep for at least seven hours every day
  • Have a short nap for an energy booster if you need it during the day as a short nap of 10 to 20 minutes can help recharge energy levels and boost daytime productivity.
  • Exercise regularly as physical activity can help sleep better.
  • Relax muscles and release the tension in the body to help sleep better with some simple muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Establish a realistic bedtime and stick to it every night, even on the weekends.
  • Follow a bedtime routine. Grab a book, take a warm bath, or listen to some soothing music. A consistent routine can signal to the body to sleep at the same time daily.
  • Maintain comfortable temperature settings and low light levels in the bedroom.
  • Turn on the phone’s blue light filter. The night mode function filters out blue light, which inhibits the brain from producing sleep-inducing hormones.
  • Exercise during the day; this can help one wind down in the evening and prepare for sleep.
  • Keep the sleep environment comfortable by dimming or switching off the lights in the room or using blackout curtains or eye masks to help block out external light.
  • Refrain from using tobacco at any time of day or night.
  • Avoid sleeping in when one has had enough sleep.
  • Avoid Starving or eating a heavy meal before bedtime. It’s hard to sleep when one’s stomach is rumbling or after a large meal which may cause discomfort. Eat a couple of hours before sleep, or have a glass of milk before heading to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol at night. Coffee is a stimulant that promotes wakefulness while alcohol may cause drowsiness and impact the quality of sleep.
  • Avoid Using electronics 30 minutes before bedtime as using such devices before bedtime stimulates the mind, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

If one thinks sleep is just a period of inactivity, then think again. The nightly shut-eye allows the brains to consolidate our learning and memory so we can perform tasks better the next day. When one has enough sleep, they are less likely to overeat and crave junk, and make wiser food choices. Sleep deprivation makes one unable to concentrate, have slow responses, make decisions impulsively and even felt easily annoyed. So tonight, make sure you sleep at least seven hours (more if you are older or younger) because the quantity and quality of sleep determine whether you wake up feeling energised or like a walking zombie.

Universal Children’s Day

Celebrated in honour of children, Children’s Day is celebrated and observed on different dates across the world. In 1925, International Children’s Day was first proclaimed in Geneva during the World Conference on Child Welfare. The World Children’s Day is celebrated on 20th November to commemorate the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1959.

The first Children’s Day began on the second Sunday of June in 1857 by Reverend Dr. Charles Leonard, pastor of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Chelsea, Massachusetts who held a special service dedicated to, and for the children on a day he named Rose Day, though it was later named Flower Sunday, and then named Children’s Day. Children’s Day was first officially declared a national holiday by the Republic of Turkey in 1920 on 23 April and the day has since then been celebrated nationally since 1920 and the official declaration was made in 1929.

In Singapore, traditionally, 1 October is when the country officially celebrates Children’s Day. Another similar event celebrated annually is Youth Day, which is celebrated on the first Sunday of July every year, and is a school holiday for primary, secondary and junior college students. From 2011, Children’s Day has been celebrated on the first Friday of October.On Children’s Day, Kindergarten and Primary school students get a holiday, while secondary school and junior college students still need to go to school, with teachers often organising special events and activities so the older children could still celebrate.

In India, Children’s Day is celebrated on 14 November as a tribute to the birthday of India’s First Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Known as Chacha Nehru among children, Nehru advocated for children to have all-rounded education that would build a better society in the future and considered children as real strength of a nation and foundation of society.. The day is celebrated across the country to increase awareness of the rights, care and education of children. The day has been celebrated since 1956 and before Nehru’s death was celebrated on 20 November, the Universal Children’s Day.

World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on 20 November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare. It was on this day when the in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child as well as the date in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The theme for this year’s celebration is Unite to reverse the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on children. The theme highlights the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that all children irrespective of their status and situation should enjoy their rights to Survival and Development as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003.

Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals, as well as young people and children themselves, can play an important part in making World Children’s Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations. The World Children’s Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children. UNICEF and partners are calling on governments to adopt a Six Point Plan to Protect our Children which include ensuring all children learn, including by closing the digital divide, guaranteeing access to health and nutrition services, and making vaccines affordable and available to every child, supporting and protecting the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence, and neglect in childhood, increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change, reversing the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all and redoubling efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement.

So tomorrow, take some time out for the children around you and really talk to them and understand their concerns and issues. You could also sponsor a child under the ageis of many reputable organisations and put a child through school and make their life.

International Day of the Girl Child

Girls play multiple roles in the household, society and the economy. They go to school, help with housework, work in factories, make friends, care for elder and younger family members and prepare themselves to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. While today, in many countries, the right to basic education is ingrained in their constitutions, there are many countries where girls are denied this right and even when girls are encouraged to continue their education, they face major challenges that make it difficult for them to attend regularly, sometimes receiving an unequal share of the household tasks due to customary practices in many regions of the world. Though life for the girl child is steadily improving, many are still subjected to horrific practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference – often resulting in female infanticide – as well as child marriage, sexual exploitation and abuse. Girls are also more likely to experience discrimination in food allocation and healthcare, and are often outpaced and outranked by boys in all spheres of life. It is under this backdrop that upholding the rights of a girl child is not just important, it is absolutely essential.

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child which is also known as the Day of Girls and the International Day of the Girl and was first observed in 2012. The day supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender including areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage. The day increases awareness of issues faced by girls around the world which do not include or consider girls and and their issues become invisible. The Day of Girls helps raise awareness not only of the issues that girls face, but also of what is likely to happen when those problems are solved.

Around 33,000 girls are married off every day around the world, focing their bodies and mind to changes in ways they are just not ready for. An estimated 340,000 girls and young women are infected with the HIV virus every year and currently more than 3 million girls and young women are living with the virus all over the world. Around 44% of the girls between 15 to 19 years of age think it’s okay for a husband to beat his wife. Girls between five to 14 spend more than 28 hours doing labor, which is twice the time spent by boys and do more unpaid child labour and not astonishingly 96% of human trafficked individuals for sexual exploitation are girls and women.

The theme for the 2021 edition of the International Day of the Girl Child is Digital generation. Our generation. In 2021, the Generation Equality Forum launched five-year commitments for bolder solutions to gender inequality – just as the world entered the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic has accelerated digital platforms for learning, earning and connecting, some 2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still do not have internet access at home. Girls are more likely to be cut off. The gender gap for global internet users grew from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019. In the world’s least developed countries, it hovers around 43 per cent. But the gender digital divide is about more than connectivity. Girls are also less likely than boys to use and own devices, and gain access to tech-related skills and jobs. Only by addressing the inequity and exclusion that span geographies and generations can we usher in a digital revolution for all, with all.

So why is this day important? It is important because it empowers girls and works to eliminate deep-rooted gender-based issues that have have been passed on for generations and have made gender-based discrimination and oppression threateningly common in every household, particularly in developing countries. An empowered girl grows up to be an empowered woman. The adolescence is a critical point in every person’s life and determines the trajectory of girls’ lives, which is why caring for girls in their youth benefits all. If they are empowered at a vulnerable age, they can mature into liberated, wise women of the future and when this happens, as a society, we all win. Investing in girls is the smart thing to do because when women and girls earn an income, they are likely to reinvest 90% of their income into their families. So empower girls around you, so they can grow up to be empowered women who will be an asset to society.