Tag Archives: personal

Of birds, pinks, and full circles

My parents came over to visit us for a week and a little more. During my occasional walks with them, I remembered I’d been wanting to take pictures of the numerous birds that inhabit our neighbourhood and show them to you. The desire is like that of a child saying, “Look, I can see that! Can you?”

A few days back, I did take the camera, but was able to manage only a few pictures that are postable here. Perhaps I’ll ‘win’ some more in the subsequent days and post them, too.

A family living close to us has placed these earthen vessels on their wall for the birds to feed and drink water from. Mornings and evenings, a huge flock of parrots comes and satiates itself. This picture is only of one of their kind, but you get the picture!

Right next to this parrot haunt, there’s a silver oak tree (it looks horrifically chopped because people chop off the tops in winter — it helps the tree, and provides firewood for homes). This big guy was looking down right at us, we thought. My mother told me to take a picture of him, too. I had my doubts that it’d come. Backlit setting and all. But she insisted, I took the picture and lo, we can even see his eyes!

Ready to move on, I saw this dried vine with its gourd-fruits. We use the dried up innards as loofah. Do you? I thought it’d be interesting to show you. My current loofah is about to say adieu, but then I have a spare one, otherwise I’d have been aching to climb up the electricity pole and get a couple of them. Climbing is such fun, I’d have done it without any fruit at the top. But then, sensible people would stop me. For all of these reasons, I took a picture instead.

Talk of sensible. This one had his back to us and didn’t show any intention of turning around, but then my father said something and he turned!

And gave us and eyeful, too! Sensible indeed.

This bird has been intriguing me for two years now. My internet search tells me it’s a magpie robin, but his call doesn’t match the recorded calls I downloaded. Whatever the bird, this one is elusive.

I had to walk around the tree to get more than his butt for you.

Here’s another, sitting on one of their favourite perches. I wonder why, when there are so many beautiful ones to choose from.

Isn’t it amazing how the most incongruous of things can flourish together? This never ceases to amaze me. Of course they don’t always succeed in coexisting, but whenever they do, it is nothing short of a miracle of effort, I feel.

I itch to know names of things. Animals, birds, people, flowers, plants, even microbes. I look at these blossoms and remember I don’t know what they will turn into. Pears? Plums? Peaches? Apricots? And then I remind myself that it doesn’t really matter.


As long as I can continue to look at their glory, and enjoy it, it probably doesn’t matter.

Especially when I go closer to the tree to take a close-up, and the family’s dog fails to feel welcoming.

As we walked on, my parents kept showing me this and that. Things I know I’d have overlooked. Birds I’d have ignored. Like these pinks without double petals.

Or these beautiful finches. They’re finches, I think. But then, what’s in a name? My father kept whispering “look at these pink ones here! Look! No here, on the hibiscus bush.” They were so far away and so difficult to see, I’d have missed them. 

Or missed this raven, whom my mother pointed out and said, “Why ignore him?” Why indeed?


Some associations remain for life. Like this woodpecker. We’ve learnt to call him Woody Woodpecker because of the story my father used to tell us when we were children. Whenever we see this bird, it’s always, “Woody!”

We were nearing home after a longish circuit of the residential colony, when we spotted parrots again.

Not just parrots, but a whole colony of them. Chattering, preening, jibing. These are a different variety. They have rosy heads. But they talk the same language. At least I think they do.

The sun was getting ready to set. But it would take at least an hour before it did. Thankfully, its light lit up the tree and the parrots just right to give us a beautiful picture.

Now that they have left, and I look back on those ‘walks’ I’ve walked with them, I feel grateful for all of those sights they’ve shown me. It is uncanny how parents have the power to show in the most tacit of ways. As I prepare for a little one of my own soon, I realise the baton is getting passed on. Or duplicated. For parents never really stop giving, do they?

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That Special Thing

There are some things you experience in life which enrich you beyond your understanding. That feed your soul even when you think it is hungry and parched, only for you to of a sudden realise that you were only being forgetful — help is at hand. Even if you’ll have to search real hard for it.

Dadiji and Dadaji (my father’s parents) are a couple of such people, who coloured my life in ways it is difficult to put in words. Memories can be narrated, but what they do to ones heart and mind, and how, is a thread that gets fogged with every attempt at an explanation. But I am going to try it.

Dadiji with the new-born me.

They had seven grandsons from their five sons before Dadiji became desperate for a Dubey granddaughter — a girl to carry on her family’s name. She prayed for a girl throughout my mother’s pregnancy. Her prayers were answered. When I was born, needless to say, she rejoiced. And showed a figurative tongue to my mother, who was certain it’d be a boy. That is, however, where her overt expression of a wish fulfilled ended. Never again did she show through her actions or words any preference for any of her grandchildren. Not so my Dadaji. He very clearly showed his love for my brother, Shonu. A man of meagre requirements and a strict routine, he didn’t quite agree with celebrations and parties, but he did insist for a big third birthday party for Shonu. How people behave and change, how their expressions differ from time to time is such a mystery, is it not?

Our meetings with them were fixed for at least once a year, when we went to Jabalpur for summer or winter holidays. We’d first go to Rajnandgaon, where my Nanaji and Naniji (mother’s parents) lived and then go for a longer stay at Jabalpur. Dadaji decided to shift to Jabalpur in a huff. Though his roots were from Raipur, he vowed never to return to it because of the strange ways of the people there. He was one of the first from his community, perhaps the first, to go out of the country and spend time in England. The people around him weren’t interested in his achievements, but in the fact that he’d gone and maligned the sanctity of their society. Perhaps eaten meat. Even touched a white person. Perhaps he drank alcohol and smoked foreign cigarettes as well? Blasphemy! So they sort of ostracised him, sure that he’d come and apologise to the powers that be. Dadaji didn’t think such a people worth his time and life, so he decided to remain in Jabalpur after he retired.

The decision was the most trying for Dadiji. Even though she’s spent most of her married life outside of Raipur, she’d looked forward to returning back to her people. She loved gatherings, gaiety, food, fun. Well, Jabalpur wasn’t going to stop her from enjoying all of that! She had friends in Jabalpur, too. Dadaji didn’t have any money to make a house, though. A well-feared collector, he often neglected the fact that he would need a place to go to after his retirement. Spending money on property was just not his game. No, he wasn’t a miser. Only a little impractical. But Dadiji came to his (and her own) rescue. She got a house built with the jewellery she had. It got completed just in time to welcome them after Dadaji retired. This house is where many of my childhood memories wander.

Dadiji with my mother, brother and a cousin with his newest pet

She had diabetes ever since I can remember. Though it made her life a little less than comfortable, I don’t remember her complaining. What I do remember is her grumbling that everyone took the doctors too seriously and denied her her two favourites — mango pickle and rice. She got her way with rice somehow (that’s a different story for a different time), but the pickle was never much of a hit with her sons and daughters-in-law, who continued to prohibit her from eating it. But little did they know, she had a comrade-in-arms. Me. I’d sneak in after lunch or dinner to the pantry, fish out a few pieces from the huge pickle jar, wrap it in layers of paper after sufficiently removing the oil, and hand it over to her. I knew how she felt, because it was my favourite, too. What’s more, she was alert enough to remove the evidence from under her pillow before someone discovered it. I can still remember her cataracted eyes twinkling with joy whenever I succeeded in getting her the loot.

My reward was more time with her skin. Wasted muscles  and vanished fat had left her with bags of skin in her upper arms. I could spend hours touching, squeezing, caressing the soft folds. And then moving my hand down to hers. Such a difference between the two! Hers was gnarled with time and hard labour. The skin pushed into the skeleton, embossing the green-blue veins. And yes, I could spend hours tracing the veins, trying to straighten her unrelenting fingers with my young, keen ones. Is there always a need for a reason for one to be fascinated with uncommon things? I don’t know, but I was fascinated without ever waiting to find out why. For years, I couldn’t bear to straighten my fingers as the hands joined for the school prayer. “But didi can’t do it, so how can I?” So mulish was I, raps from the PT master’s cane didn’t budge me, and the fingers promptly went back to being bent.

Dadaji and me. He has my favourite toy in his hand. But I probably have all eyes on my brother's birthday cake.

Dadiji wanted to marry me off soon as I turned thirteen. “But I won’t survive until when she grows of age! Get her married. I want to see her as a bride!” She’d try to reason with my parents. She knew she’d not have her way, but she tried. If my dreams of when I was thirteen were to be analysed, it’d become clear that I’d have supported her wish if anyone had bothered to ask me. I wanted to get married, dress up in beautiful sarees, wear vermilion. Like her, I didn’t think of the added baggage — a husband. “But you can always do the gauna (a child bride stays with parents until she becomes mature, then is sent to her husband — the event is called gauna) when she’s done her college!” Such wisdom. Or so I’d have thought then.

College was a time when I was busy wondering what I was doing anyway. Confused about future, boys, career, pimples and cellulite, I didn’t have time for anything less important. So, my letters to Dadaji became less frequent. He’d been alone for almost 4 years after Dadiji’s death, and had become more insistent about getting his letters. He still wrote back. He was nearing 96, his words on the paper were like determined prints by a magpie with inked feet. It took us minutes to decipher them, but we eventually did. This was a welcome project we were given at least thrice a month.

That day, he asked me on phone whether I’d written to him. I mumbled a guilty no and promised I’d write that day. He laughed. And said, “What’s the use now?” He died the next morning. His housekeeper said that that morning, he went out for his walk after weeks, came back and demanded a glass of milk. Joked with him the housekeeper and told him to make paranthas for breakfast. Paranthas? He’d not eaten them in years! But then there’s always some room for change, he said. Sated, he went to his room, lay down, and must’ve gone and met his Ram sometime in late morning.

I don’t remember how Dadiji died, and I am not interested in asking anyone. Was it at home, or in the hospital? Did she suffer? I don’t remember. What I do remember is that I immediately thought of how she would miss my wedding.

There are so many memories of them, so many ways they make me feel warm and cared for — even today. I suppose this is what you call enrichment.

I wish for an awareness of beings in people. I wish we noticed life more. How I wish I am able to write letters to my grandchildren when I am 96 without my written words turning into magpie footprints more than they already have with lack of use forced by a weak will and a stiffness caused by endless hours at the computer. How I wish my children and grandchildren are better than me in being patient with the limitations of age, that ill-mannered slurping of Bournvita milk because the lips are losing their grip, that frightening smell of old age. That they know the value of that glint of an eye, that slap on the thigh with sheer amusement, the love.

The picture on top is Dadiji, Dadaji with one of their great grandsons.

Nostalgia

This evening, when I found an old CD with photographs that got hidden in the cobwebs of time, I found nostalgia. The joys it brings, the memories it rummages are precious, don’t you think? The times in these pictures are all gone, the moments but a frail memory. Some people in them are gone, too. Just like that, with the next grain in the hourglass…

Allow me to indulge a little in nostalgia today with this etheree.

Continue reading Nostalgia

For months now, I have been wanting to write about people around me, who make a small difference. Some make small, almost invisible differences in their own lives, some in those of the others. All, however, make this world a better place — the one in which laughter has a place, and so does love and security. I kept postponing this post, because there were so many other things I wanted to talk about, too. I kept telling myself: “Next time; they’re not going anywhere.”

But for me, this post is now never going to be the same – whenever I write it – because one man I wanted to mention in it died this morning of a heart attack. He was 55, and raring to go.

Vinay Mama, one of my mother’s four brothers was a man of his own principles and sense of honour. He was a man of indescribable compassion and care. He meant to us children of the family much more than just an uncle.

Leaving the traditional (and safe) path of a salaried job, he decided to cultivate the land of his forefathers. That was two years back. Today, his farm is teeming with bananas and vegetables. He had got it going, despite the warning of most. People try to tell you it can’t be done, because they cannot do it themselves. Mama was among the few, who proved them wrong. Juggling between a job and farming wasn’t easy, but he did it. The bank he worked for officially released him for retirement yesterday. He was now going to have all the time in world for taking care of his dream. But it was not to be.

Vinay mama.

To him I dedicate this day. To you, I introduce a man, whose story I shall tell when I come back to blogging. Until then, please keep loving, and showing it. And pray for a soul, who could have given a lot more here on earth, than many others put together.

Vinay Mama with his wife, Rashmi Mami -- proud owners of this banana farm. This photo was taken last July on a monsoony morning.

Crossing Streams

Before you know its worth, the incident you thought was just another drop in the ocean becomes part of an irretrievable history. And all you can do is to wonder if you’d lived it differently, would you still be the same.

If we had not been forced that day to go to a picnic of sorts with our parents, Chaitanya, my now dead brother, and I would never have crossed the stream to enter a different world. Shergaon, we discovered with time, was an example of a place where people don’t bother with inane things like time. A hamlet about 20 km from Tenga Valley, our home-of-the-year in one of the Indian states called Arunachal Pradesh, it lived a life quite removed from what we had ever seen.

Almost 30 years ago, I was just as reclusive as I am today, and just as awkward in forming human ties. I preferred a book, or a pine needle instead. Even a newly-legged toad would do. One of these attractions was precisely why, I think, I turned down my parents’ offer to picnic that morning. Well, no, it wasn’t an offer, it was an instruction to get damn well ready for it. They won, I sulked.

It was the same story with Chaitanya. (We call him Shonu affectionately.) Shonu was interested in playing cricket with his friends. But who was listening? We were sure at that time that they, our parents, were the worst anyone could be lumped with. How cruel they were! We were asked to get moving, get ready, and climb up the Jonga (an Indian army issue jeep-like vehicle) jolly well before they lost their top. Who’d heard of a picnic where the picnickers wanted to be elsewhere? And what fun would a village be anyway?

It was a tense drive. Our parents chattered aimlessly (so we thought); while we looked out of the window, wondering if there was a way out of this time-out from hell. Who’s to teach sense to an eight or eleven year old? A twenty-kilometre drive on most mountains in India takes about an hour. It seemed to me like the pine needles would turn brown sooner than we’d reach there. Papa’s “They’ve even got apple orchards!” “And there’s the Lion and Peacock dance this afternoon!” were all met with only Mummy’s enthusiastic exclamations. The target audience was busy looking out of their windows, and, yes — sulking.

Looking out of a car window at the distant mountains is the best antidote to imposed gaiety, trust me. It helped me then, it helps me now.

As we neared Shergaon, the purple-indigo mountains at a distance that could make your head spin at the thought of your tininess began to look more interesting than we’d admit at the time. “Look, that’s China,” Shonu informed me generously. If I were the current me then, I am sure I’d have heard my parents’ collective sigh. Their child — at least one of their children — had woken up! “Hrmmph. China’s not so close,” said I, even though the obvious distance and height of those giants were making my head spin. And I am sure, Shonu’s too.

Perhaps that’s why the conversation began rolling.

We talked of the orchards we were going to see, the butter tea we might have, the children with pink cheeks and dripping-with-the-thickest-possible-goo noses, the slightly scary looking lions with funny legs in the Lion and Peacock dance… Before we knew the time, we’d reached the stream that shhhd along the edges of two different worlds — one that made you do things, and the other that made you want to do things.

I don’t know how it is now, but when I was 8, you had to drive through a shallow stream to reach Shergaon. And it made all the difference. The road we had left to reach the stream went on to even more distant lands — those of monasteries and valorous soldiers, and strawberries-under-the-snow. This road ended in a stream, and then went on to kiss the feet of a whole new world — that of blushing green apples, pea fields, houses on stilts. It was awesome. It was so awesome, I can even use the now-exploited word for it. Eyes agog, Shonu and I transformed along with the air. It was as if we could breathe magic. The dirt road was flanked by green fields; the houses were all made of wood painted red, or blue, or green. Or, left in a splendid naked. And their stilts! The people of Shergaon were wizards, I was now sure! I knew it was all because the magical people understood that the houses had to have some means of running away, should the lions decide to stop dancing. The gompha stood like the sole guardian of the valley. Everywhere we looked, we found stuff that makes memories. It was wonderland.

We went to a miller’s small house (it wasn’t on stilts, but had the most impressive carved wood rafters). He made us sit on a cot and offered us something that looked like gooey halwa. We forgot the taste that was so strange to our tongues because we finally saw some cute, apple-red cheeked toddlers lolling about in the courtyard. They all had dripping-with-the-thickest-possible-goo noses. Splendid!

As the morning turned to noon, we walked through the fields (I  don’t remember the crop) to reach the massive wooden courtyard at the back of a red building. I think it was the gompha, but it could’ve been a wizard’s palace.

Shonu ran away to climb up a stone wall to go to the courtyard. We were to sit there to watch the dance. Then the butter tea came. It had the power to bring down the rush of a newly-discovered wonderland, the taste of the brew was such.

But we were adamant. We, Shonu and I, had made up our minds to have the best picnic of our lifetimes. And it wasn’t difficult. We sat there, mesmerised, as the dance began; the tea bowls in our hands, we knew no other way to spend time. The dance, the drums, the smell of wood and incense all joined in. Staccato drone and thump of the drums made our heads all woozy with Shergaon. Well, it wasn’t just the drums.

We had picnicked to remember.

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It is Rakshabandhan today. A festival in which sisters tie a string of love around the wrists of their brothers. The string is called rakhi — The Protector — urging the brothers to protect their honour and integrity. Rakshabandhan means The Bond of Protection. I tied rakhi to Shonu for 26 years. It’s been eleven years since he’s gone to, hopefully, a wonderland of which I know nothing yet. He’d have been 38 this Rakshabandhan (also called Rakhi to simplify matters).

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Pronunciations in the order of appearance:

Chaitanya: Cha (as in charity) – I (as in indigo) – Tuhn – Yuh

Shergaon: Shar (as in shame) – Gaa – Ohn (n nasal)

Tenga: Tan (nasal n) – Gaa

Arunachal Pradesh – Uh – Run (as in Cameroon) – Aah – Chal Pruh – De (as in day) – Sh

Shonu – Sho (as in show) – Noo

Jonga: Joh – N – Gaa

Halwa (sweet-dish made of flour or cream of wheat): Huhl – Wah

Rakshabandhan: Ruhk – Sha – Bun – Dhuhn

Rakhi: Raa – Khi

A bonus:

Priya: Pri (as in primitive (!!)) – Yaa

All images, except that of the stream have been taken from the internet. The photo of the apple orchard is from a random search — it is not of Shergaon, but the trees resemble the ones in mind. The gompha is in Rupa, a place very close to Shergaon; and the stream at the end flows in a land very, very far away from Shergaon.

All I see is rain

I have finally succeeded in writing a complete story. And also found the courage to make it public. Be gentle, reader. In your reading, your criticism, your dismissal.

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“Oh, damn!” Jack almost dropped the five-rupee note on the chai wallah’s wooden cart as he heard the train toot its departure. His love for the Indian tea had often put him in a tight spot, but nothing as life-threatening as this. The door to his coach was steadily inching away from him. “Run, run, saahib!” The chai wallah looked less than impressed with Jack’s hesitation. Run to catch the train? Or miss it.

His beloved tea spilled outside of the earthy terracotta cup in mud-coloured splashes; he ran.

A man in clean white kurta and pyjama was standing at the door of his coach. The smoke from his cigarette confusedly swirled towards his glasses, and drifted away without any warning. He held out his hand for Jack to grab, “Come on! It’s not that difficult. Just hold my hand and put a foot on this step here.” Jack, panting and holding on dearly to the chai kulhad, grabbed hold of the smoker’s hand, and climbed up. On a normal day, he’d keep his nose valves on slow around a smoker. But it wasn’t a normal day, was it? As soon as he heaved himself up, his eyes met the smoke-yellowed ones of his saviour. And though Jack was preoccupied with plenty, he found that his vision had moved down to the brownish teeth smiling their delighted smile at him. These much-abused set of sufferers were in all likelihood unaware that they emitted a clawing whiff of air riddled with smoke. “Hi, I am Joyodeep. JD.”

“Jack. Thanks for saving my life there,” managed Jack, breathless at 57 years.

“Not a problem. Going all the way to Jabalpur?”

“Yes… Yes,” Jack breathed back.

The train was almost out of the Habibganj station. It looked like it could rain.

Wanting to check on his luggage and drink his tea, Jack decided to go inside the air-conditioned compartment.

Shivani had finally settled on her seat next to the window. She always made sure she got a window seat. If she did not, she shamelessly reasoned with the person at the window to give it up for her. There was no need to do it today, and it was just as well, because she didn’t have the strength.

She hoped that the seats next to her would stay empty. But more than that, she was hoping the tomato soup vendor would come sooner than he usually did. The hot liquid might wash down the lump threatening to betray her otherwise indifferent appearance. She liked the too-sweet tomato soup and the oily croutons they served on this train. They reminded her of the ever-embracing life with too much of everything.

At least one of her wishes was not going to be answered today. A visibly tired-looking man in purple khadi kurta and faded blue jeans came and sat on the aisle seat. “He looks like a European. An American would never have that air.” Shivani looked away. The slums had begun to thin out. It was greener and wetter outside.

Jack had a habit of clearing his throat before he said anything after a long gap. “I accidentally kept my newspaper there in your magazine slot. May I..?” He pointed at the newspaper, not sure whether she’d know English.

“Sure,” said Shivani, but still took out the paper before he could reach it.

She looked at the kulhad in his hand and wondered if he would manage doing both at once —read and drink. He didn’t. He neatly re-folded the paper and inserted it into his slot. And began sipping the tea.

The soup wallah would take time to come. Shivani decided to look out of her window. Mud huts drenched in last night’s monsoon shower stood steadfast against the elements. Or were they scurrying away? Each moved out of her vision before she could decide. She was aware that Jack was looking out of the window, too. Her window.

On a normal day, she’d have initiated a conversation.

On any other day, Jack would have drowned himself in the newspaper.

“Are these neem trees?” He wanted to know.

“Hm? Yes. Oh yes,” smiled Shivani faintly.

“These are sacred here, aren’t they? Like the peepal tree?”

“All trees are sacred,” she turned to look at him, wishing he’d melt away.

It had been an hour since they’d left Habibganj, and no one had come to sell any beverage. Shivani decided to go looking for them. When she got up, Jack got up, too. He apparently didn’t want to be discomfited when she edged through the tiny space between the two rows.

She couldn’t find anyone from the train’s pantry car. By the time she got to her seat, and made him get up again, the lump in her throat had won. She was crying when Jack accidentally lifted his eyes.

The behemoth chugged on its rails through the teak and sal forest, defiant against the menacing arrows of the monsoon rain. The windows of the train were blurred with insistent rivers of raindrops. Time slipped by quickly, much like the landscape around them.

“Hey! Did you see that? I am sure it was a sambar!” Jack was determined to do something. He didn’t know what, but he couldn’t just sit there and let the woman cry. So he tried to distract her by pointing out an imaginary deer in the sal forest.

“No.” Shivani’s voice was noticeably dead.

“It wasn’t a sambar?” Jack persisted.

“I didn’t see. All I see is rain.” Shivani did not believe in pessimism, but today was different.

The soup wallah entered the compartment with his gleaming stainless steel dispenser.

“And all I can see is endless life.” Jack was not an optimist, but he was willing to change today.

Shivani turned to look at him. She had a strange depth in her eyes, Jack noticed.

“Bhaiya!” She waved at the vendor. “Ek idhar.”

“What’s that?” Jack wanted to know.

“Tomato soup.”

“They make it too sweet.”

“Yes. And the croutons oily.”

“I’ll have one, too,” Jack nodded a yes to the vendor.

He winced at his first sip.

Shivani laughed.

“It’s not for everybody. Especially when they’ve had chai just before it.”

“I like the crouton, though,” munching at the fried bread square in obvious delight.

“Really? I thought you’d stay away from all of that.”

“Why? I love pakoras. And samosas.”

“How long have you been in India?” Shivani looked pleased, and yet surprised.

“My aircraft landed at the New Delhi airport last week. I have been in India almost all of my life, though. Figuratively.”

“How so?”

“My parents were missionaries here in Jubbalpore.”

“Jabalpur.”

“Jabalpur. I was born here, but was taken to Brooklyn, New York, when they died. I grew up listening to their stories.”

“Who told them?”

“My grandmother. Mother’s mother.”

The forest was getting denser. The lights in the train seemed more meaningful now. The rain had let up. If a sambar showed up now, Shivani would be able to see it.

“So, are you going to Jabalpur to see your parents’ place?”

“Yes,” Jack looked out of the window with a strange depth in his eyes.

“Why now? Why after so many years?”

Jack turned slowly to look her in the eyes, and asked instead, “Where are you going?”

“To my parents’ cremation.”

“Oh. I am sorry.” He waited for a while, and said, “Alone?”

“My husband couldn’t come. It was so sudden. Their car hit a rock while trying to avoid a rogue truck.”

The rain must have been chasing them ardently. The forest had given way to a modern-ancient human settlement. But the rain covered it indiscriminately. Just like it had done the forest. The buildings were standing next to wilting trees; the people were travelling to chase time. They could almost hear the blaring horns; smell the stench of struggling humanity.

They had finished the soup, but she wanted more. And Jack was surprised to notice that he did, too. This time, the vendor obliged quickly.

“It is a little over an hour to Jabalpur now,” Jack didn’t struggle much with the newly learnt pronunciation.

“Yes.”

“Is someone coming to pick you up?” Both said together, and then smiled.

Shivani said, “Yes. My uncle. What about you?”

“The son of my father’s friend. I’ve been in touch with them all of these years.”

“Why now?” Shivani persisted.

“How old are you, may I ask?” Jack evaded the question again. Or seemed to.

“Thirty-seven. Does it influence your answer?”

He looked away for an instant, and seemed to have made up his mind, probably thinking she had seen enough years to understand.

“I was trying to experience life before I came to see where it began. This way, I wouldn’t have to change my process of experiencing it. Do you understand?”

“I think so. Does it mean that you have now stopped experiencing it?”

“No. It means I am now ready to live it.”

This was the train’s last stop before Jabalpur. People came here to visit the numerous temples it housed. Shridham. The Home of the Supreme Being.

“Were you close to your parents?” Jack wasn’t sure it was the right question, but he asked it, nevertheless. Shivani seemed to be open to questions, he thought.

She took a while in answering. It surprised her that her eyes didn’t well up for yet another time since yesterday.

“Yes. Very.”

“Does it bother you that your husband couldn’t come?”

“Yes. A lot.”

“Are you married?” she asked in return.

“Yes. Cathy couldn’t come either.”

“Does that bother you?”

“Yes. A lot.”

“I am surprised at these temples (we call them mandir). Why do they keep them so dirty, when they are so sacred?”

“Like why they cut trees, if they are so sacred?”

“Yes, a lot like that.” She closed her eyes and rested her head on the back rest. Jack assumed she did not want to talk anymore. Disappointed, but willing to let her have her way, he tried to read the newspaper.

Before long, though, Shivani opened her eyes.

“I don’t know your name. I am Shivani,” she held out her hand.

Jack took it and said, “I am Jack.”

“Jack, if you need anything, any help in Jabalpur, call this number. It’s my uncle’s.”

She took out a small note paper from her bag, wrote a number and a name, and was giving it to Jack, when he said, “May I come over for the cremation? Will that be all right?”

“Yes,” she said, ” Yes, I should think so. Here, I’ve written the address. They’ll leave at 12 noon today for the ghat.”

“They?”

“Women don’t go for cremations. I might stay home, though I wish to go. We’ll see.”

The Jabalpur station was approaching. Jack felt he wanted to say more. Like most times, though, he did not know what he wanted to say.

“I am glad I found you on this journey. Five hours is a long time to read a newspaper.”

“Thank you for talking with me. I needed to talk; just say anything,” Shivani said.

It was raining in Jabalpur. The train’s windows were blurred with insistent rivers of raindrops.

“Look! Did you see that monkey crossing the road?” Shivani pointed at a blur.

“No. All I see is rain.”

“Oh? All that there is, is life.”

—————————————-

New words in their order of appearance:

Chai wallah — Vendor of chai, the sweet, oh-so sweet and milky Indian tea

Saahib — It has a complex origin, but in the current Hindustani, it means ‘big man’, or ‘sir’.

Kurta and pyjama — Kurta is a loose-fitting long shirt with slits on the side, pyjama is a loose pair of trousers with drawstrings. Seen often in the Indian subcontinent, worn by both the sexes.

Chai kulhad — Kulhad is a terracotta cup, usually used to serve tea or sweet curds/yoghurt and some other sweetmeats.

Joyodeep — Masculine name meaning Light of Victory.

Jabalpur — A city in central India, among the Satpura hills.

Habibganj — A suburb of the capital of state of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal.

Shivani — Feminine name meaning Female Part of Lord Shiva.

Khadi — Fabric, and clothes, made of natural yarn in handlooms. Usually associated with cotton khadi.

Neem — A tree found in the Indian subcontinent. Use in medicines, and ayurveda.

Peepal — A tree found in the Indian subcontinent. A ficus. Considered sacred.

Sal – A tree found in north, central and south India.

Sambar — A kind of antelope found in the Indian subcontinent. It moves in herds that are different from the other deer herds; in that, usually, the mother sambar, her youngest calf, and a subordinate female make the herd, instead of the normal large numbers other deer species have.

Bhaiya — Older brother. But women normally call a male stranger this way, too.

Ek idhar — Literally, “one here.”

Pakoras — Fritters. Most common ones are made of black bengal gram flour, onions, potatoes, and vegetables such as cauliflower.

Samosas Savoury snacks. Fried in oil; flour triangles, usually stuffed with a potato stuffing. These days, they are available with all sorts of stuffing, vegetarian and otherwise.

Jubbalpore — The spelling and pronunciation used by the British when they were in the Indian subcontinent as the rulers.

Ghat  Cremation ground, also called shmashan ghat

*****

Fulcrum

My parents's morning tea mugs.

We dreamed big, Shonu and I. Sitting under the shade of a tree similar to the Australian bottle tree, we’d dream of becoming small. We’d pick up one of its pods that looked a lot like a boat and imagine a miracle that would make us tiny enough to fit inside it. We’d plan to rip off a part of his shirt (it was always his shirt, never my frock) to make a sail of it, and sail the nearby watershed. Or, when the monsoon was gone, we would dream of sitting atop the very tree we used to be sitting under. Right where the birds sat. And look at the world from the eyes of a being that Saw It All. It was a big dream.  At least we thought so at the time.

Colouring courtesy, Val Erde of Absurd Old Bird. She had coloured these images a long time back. It took me that much to finish this post.

The three years between us was just the right distance. At every age, he was old enough to save his little sister, and I was young enough to satiate his sense of responsibility. I was a bungling, confused, irritable little girl and he was naturally suave and charming. But we were both incorrigible recluses. Quite a twosome. We laughed at the world, protected each other from it, learnt the tricks to rope in the moon just a little closer. Yes, we were great together. Perhaps that is why, despite having the usual friends at school and around home, we never really did need a special confidant for a tête-à-tête, or a best friend to chide us when we did wrong. When we grew older, we shared common beliefs. If one of us got past the other in overcoming a hurdle, the other was never left in the cold to wonder about the confusing labyrinth, for there was always a hand to chalk out the path. It was beautiful. We were old enough to call each other best friends of a lifetime, when he died.

Writing about a loved one gone is sometimes threatened with the prospect of the words sounding like eulogy. Please remember while we traverse through some of these memories I have of him that this is not a eulogy, it is a love note.

He called himself "Little Papa". That's exactly how he wanted to see himself.

When I was born, my mother tells me, he would stand at her room’s door in the hospital and refuse to come in. He would just keep looking at this tiny bundle from a distance and probably wonder what it had done to his mother. He was in the habit of sleeping only if there was a strand of our mother’s long hair across his lower lip. I had come in between him and that strand. When they brought me home, he kept his distance from both our mother and me. We were with my grandparents at the time. The whole household was worried that he wasn’t accepting me well, and such a delightfully pleasant boy, too. A couple of days later, probably tired of sulking and dying with curiosity, he agreed to come to my crib-side. When he did, I grabbed his fingers, I am told. He grinned for the first time in days. That must have been the beginning of a relationship of mutual delight and support.

Through heartbreaks, failed cycling attempts, Rambo I – First Blood stories, climbing guava and mango trees (only to get stuck at the highest branch) and shoddy academic performance at school, he continued to hold my hand. I slipped and fell often, guided by my rebellious, confused ideas. In such times, he first did what I thought I needed the most. He saved me from my mother’s acerbic remonstrance, in turn saving her and, sometimes my father, from the agony of having to say difficult things to their much loved but annoyingly headstrong daughter. And then, in private, he gave me a piece of his mind. Ever so gently.

The Dal Lake in Kashmir. Shonu taught us the joy of palming the water in a moving boat.

Our father had to be away often for months together on military exercises or deployments. We all missed him, of course. Mummy and I would tell him as much on phone. Shonu acted the man of the house, hiding his frustration when he needed this or that answered, or just wanted the dining chair next to him to be not empty. To keep us a little happy, my mother kept a picture of my father on the television in one of the bedrooms. She began to notice that on some days, the picture was turned down flat on the T.V. Blaming it on her own failing memory, she thought she sometimes forgot to put back the frame after the dusting. One day, she happened to be in the room when Shonu was going to take a bath. The bathroom was right next to the T.V. While going in, he turned down our father’s photograph. Curious, she asked him what he was doing. “Papa’s looking at me. When I come out, there will just be a towel around me,” he said shyly. “I sometimes forget to put it back up.”

But his gentleness was selective. And extremely biased in favour of those that he loved. I was 13 when I began to notice the attention from the older boys at school. I told my brother one day about this guy who’d buzz around my friends and me, exhibiting his newly discovered hormonal surge. He was the school’s newest, much-feared ruffian. The next day, this buzzer came to me and my friends, head bowed down, and said, “Sorry, sister,” and walked away. My brother was standing at the far end of the school quadrangle, watching. When I asked him what he’d done, he said, “Why would I do anything? He must have seen sense.”

My brother could lie too.

A proud gunner with his regiment's catapults

At his interview for joining the Indian Military Academy, the interviewer asked him how he rated honesty. He said he couldn’t possibly think of being honest all the time. “How can you tell a bride on her wedding day that you think the look is not quite right?”

Twenty seven years is a lot of time to leave memories that may last a lifetime, and more. Which ones do I type? What do I tell you to tell you how this absolutely brilliant individual changed my life forever? In his life, and with his death.

This vicissitude in our lives, my parents and mine, after we lost the one strong anchor that had helped us home in to the Goodness, has left us struggling to find a footing somewhere. But he wouldn’t know. He’s probably up there sitting on this tree-top outside my window, grinning his usual grin. Yes, he had a way with his grin.

About the title: Had he become a pilot, as he had wanted to, he’d have wanted his call name to be Fulcrum.

Little Shonu
The helipad was right behind my parents' house in Gangtok. Shonu (in the dark dungarees) used to often run to look at the choppers. I wasn't born then.


Goa. Always the protective big brother. I wish I could have given him more.
With friends and fellow subalterns
At Lieutenant Chaitanya (Shonu) Dubey's Passing Out Parade luncheon (Graduation Day for the cadets); Indian Military Academy

Boy-Man

2010

If a boy of fifteen can catch an angry bull by its horns and force it to bow down to him, he must be something. And if the very same teenager, changed into a benevolent leader of sorts in a school hostel a year later, silences bullies-to-the-weak with just a look, he effectively tattoos his path of choice for the rest of his life. The path of Selective Toughness. This boy, now a boy-man, is Bhartan. My husband.

Bhartan is proud of his machismo; and justifiably so, I hear. The boys of yesterday have passed his legends on to those of today. The narrow streets in the tiny Nainital, his home town, sometimes witness a whispering huddle, talking of his triumphs with unabashed awe. Still. After all these years of his having become a reluctant adult. It makes me chuckle in amusement. And swell with pride. But I confess I see more in him than the valour and physical strength. I shamelessly admit that I find that More more disarming than the punches he’s capable of.

At four, he went missing. He used to play in the market square in front of the house and used to be back before sundown. That day, he didn’t come home. People rushed around, search parties were sent. He was found 500 metres away in an elephant camp, sitting next to the animals. Just sitting there, being with them. The next day, the mahout offered to give him a ride around the then sleepy Nainital on top of his best tusker. Quite a sight it must have been. And such a thrill for Bhartan.

His fascination for beings doesn’t end in just wonder. It begins from and develops into care. When he was about six years old, his mother has related this story to me a number of times, he went with his parents to visit an aunt who kept a cow. He heard its calf mooing in distress, because it was tied at the other end of the shed. They needed to milk its mother. It bothered him for a long time, the calf’s call. When no one was watching, he untied the little one. It drank to its fill. That day, little Bhartan was the happiest in that house.

What about the bull-fighting macho, you might wonder? Where does that fit in? His father told me this story of when he and Bhartan were walking through the jungles of Nainital on a narrow footpath. A bull, who apparently saw them as intruders, charged at Bhartan’s father. I don’t think the bull knew what hit him next. Or grabbed him. Before long, the beast was pinned on the dirt track — the calm, still boyish, boy was holding him down with its horns for having put his father in discomfort.

2011 Some things never change.

The many unannounced strengths my husband has somehow take a back seat for me, because this unfaltering love for all beings, including humans, is a virtue with which I am quite content. It will make him do no harm. And when he does wrong someone, he will make up for the mistake with  a natural logic and precision. He always does.

The boy you’ve just read about hasn’t changed even after all these years. Through national boxing championships, boyish ego duels and immature need for a macho image, he has retained the sincere child in him, who will rush to pick you up if you fall, and never laugh at your misadventure. His love for life and its creatures is unfailing, and honest. His honesty, in fact, can be disconcerting. At least for me.

I used to drink wheatgrass juice in those days, when we’d just met. During one of our walks at a stage of our friendship when an infatuated man is normally inclined to please his love interest, he stopped me from cutting wheatgrass from the endless fields the villagers grew close to where we were. “You have no right,” he said.

He was twenty nine then – a boy much beyond seeking the pleasures of a ‘manly’ show of strength; grown up to become a boy again. And back to looking at the world with a wonder reserved for the innocent and the wise. I like to think I was the same, only, thankfully, a girl. This shared wonder must have been the thing that made us run away whenever we could from the boarding school campus we taught in. We walked the hills, felt the desert sands, biked to the remotest village for a cup of tea or drove to the faraway city to eat pizza. The wonders never cease, they say. For us, it was just that, an Endless Wonderment. Perhaps with one difference in the way we saw it. He soaked it in. I rattled on about it. And it’s still the same.

During our trip to Narkanda, a beautiful village in the Himalayas at 11,000 feet. It rained that day.

Five years later, however, our time is filled with hurried love. There’s work to do, dogs to care for, more work, parents to think of, and again, unfinished work to go back to. It becomes a little too jet-setty at times. But that is how I see it. Bhartan seems wisely unfettered. He talks of the love nest we have created. Of the richness of loving and giving and receiving. I try to see it from where he views it. However, my selfish desire to just be with him and get his undiluted attention makes it a little difficult. In his strangely gentle way, he reminds me of the fact that we are together, and want to be, too.

Only love

Generations in a family love and hate. Usually, it is the love that makes it to photo galleries.

It is only love. Or is it? I would never say ‘love’ and ‘only’ in the same sentence. Or allow ‘only’ to come any closer than two paragraphs. Never. Because — it is an emotion that punches you at a point (still unknown to science, philosophy, religion, and whatever else likes to blow its trumpet)  with such heart-numbing, heart-stupidifying precision that you see stars, feel winded enough to wonder whether you had ever in your life breathed at all, smell heaven from wherever you are, cry bitter tears, and sweet too, see hell everywhere else, or right here — all at once. An emotion like no other. Only? I am not off my rocker.

Why in the world am I writing about it, then? Something that can’t be quantified, judged or in most cases, expressed in words? No, not because it is Valentine’s Week, as the retail market is wont to call it. (Today is Promise Day, by the way.) Perhaps it is because I feel obligated to continue the sequence of emotions I have promised myself to cover in this category. And probably because I love. And so do you. Same pinch. (Or punch).

But I confess there is no purpose, no message to give, no angst to release, no thoughts to share. At the end of this post, you will be right where you started. Some things still have to be done, however. So, for all these reasons, and my love for sparring with the undoable, I am going ahead.

Our dogs' love for killing the grass takes precedence over our love for a breathtakingly green patch. Such is life.

The beauty and horror of love could spin us around a million times over, and back. In fact, it has! Heartaches float invisibly, acting like catalysts to give birth to music, paintings, photos, sculptures. The Wheel, even. And there are even more healed hearts to revolutionise art and science and sports and religion. And the retail market, as we all know. Haven’t you noticed how they fuel all of our planet’s existence, demise and rebirth?  Isn’t it justified, then, to think that it is so, so very empty to try to express it through a card, send in chocolates or big diamond rings? And yet – surprise of all surprises! – it is so meaningful to express it through a card, send in chocolates or big diamond rings. Whatever the choice.

The horror begins when things come to choice, actually.

You simply love biking. And you love your spouse and children, who’d rather sit in the garden and count the bushes. You love counting the bushes and you love them, too, of course. But you have to choose. Bike or Bush. (The latter with your family thrown in as a bonus). Choose both? Choose one? Choose none and run away with a tattoo-maker? Like everything else in the 21st century, there are options galore! (In fact, I suspect it must be for the love of things and misery that we’ve decided to inundate our closets with options. And throw the skeletons out. We have evolved, Darwin.)

So, back to love options. They do cause hyperventilation of all kinds, don’t they, now? And yet we go on. It is a many-splendoured thing, after all.

A tacit understanding of trials and past glories could be love, too. My brother's fascination for sharks must have come from his belief that he was on the Titanic in his last birth and was eaten by a shark on his way down. I believed the same, except I thought I had drowned. We discovered our common belief much later, when we were adults and found it all right to share our hitherto hidden nightmares. After we'd talked about it, the words 'shark' and 'drown' never had the same meaning for us again. And though there is no glory in being eaten by a shark or in drowning, there was love in the understanding.

It is the phenomenon that makes people understand without having to use language. It is the energy that can make a person rise up and say, “I am alive, because I love. And am loved.” It is the lovesome succor for the soul that makes people get up in the morning to make bed tea for their loved one. Or do something else that is their cup of tea. Love, not surprisingly, needs no words to understand. And yet, surprisingly again, words make so much difference. Or gestures. Perhaps love cannot survive without a carrier, regardless of what it is.

The splendours of love. Who’s to count them? And how? And more importantly, why? As long as love for one is there, floating through the mists of life, at once illuminating and relaxing, never tugging at a love for another, there is hope.



Only embarrassment

It is only embarrassment. Ha. Easy for you to say. It was me, however, who endured Aparna’s and Nupur’s cruel giggles. We were 16. The age is considered to be ‘sweet’ for some strange reason.

The occasion was Aparna’s sister’s wedding. While I was getting dressed, I discovered to my horror that my favourite black velvet high-heel shoes had an issue. The left one had separated from its heel. But I had to wear them! So, I stuck the heel and the shoe together in what I thought was a 2-hour safe plan. The adhesive I used was a trusty thing called Quikfix. It didn’t last 30 minutes. They, the velvet killers, were sitting at the opposite end of the room, beside the marigold decorations, staring at my velvet dream and snorting (aka howling in resplendent, cruel delight). The witches.

What stays with me to this day is not the excruciating pain of seeing the left heel peeping askew from beneath the shoe, but the superlative excruciation of seeing those two idiots cackling at the sight of it. Blood rushed to my ears and cheeks. It felt hot. I had to get up and go. I got up. The nearly shoe-less heel knew nothing better than to wobble beneath my weight.  The crescendo of the Indian drums singing praises of the bride coincided with the now-peaked squirts of dolorous, heart-breakingly amused laughter. The last sounds I heard in that room were of my pride being slaughtered at the hands of those, arrgh, the names are too embarrassing for weak nerves. Let it rest.

The point is that embarrassments are never too minor. Ask the one at the receiving end. Ask yourself. Could you call that ballroom scuffle you had with your charming date ‘simply nothing’? When your feet experienced unexplainable magnetic attraction towards your partner’s left big toe each and every time you waltzed?

My sentiments exactly.

To do justice to our superior intellect, however, let us explore the possibilities of overcoming the urge to fall face down on to the murky waters (or whatever else is available, as long as it keeps the  trauma of distressing feelings safely zip-locked) and hide. The importance of overcoming this urge is just one. To relieve yourself of the intense desire to smash the heads of your tormentors. You don’t want to go to jail, should your wishes be granted, do you?

So, what is the best way to overcome debilitating embarrassment?

I don’t know.

I’d say sock ’em on the face and walk out. But what if they are Mike Tyson and Batman?

Or, remove the cause of embarrassment. If you are a red leaf among the gold ones in a Christmas wreath, stop being red. Possible? Nah.

Or, stop feeling embarrassed.

Is it worth a thought? To not feel a deep sense of shame at a situation you have no control over? All right, agreed you allowed your shimmery dress to ride up to your waist at the posh party; every one was too embarrassed on your behalf to tell you; and you discover it only when The Queen is set to honour your (more respectful) doings. We will heartily laugh at your sad predicament. But you can choose to laugh, too! And learn the importance of smoothing out that shimmery dress.

Super-humans.

My parents with the tree they've planted in my brother's memory

“Papa, can you drive this car with one hand?”

“Yes, of course. I can even steer it with just my little finger. Here. See.”

—————————————————————————————-

“Priya, you’re taking out the candies again.”

“No I am not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I am not, Mummy! I just came in to keep this comb back.” (Priya thinks: “How could she tell I was stealing them? She’s not even in the room.”)

There were many such instances that deepened my belief that they, my parents, were super-humans. That my father had unexplainable motor abilities and my mother apparently had X-ray vision brought them quite high up on my esteem. Even when I grew up from my child-like fantasies, they continued to be invincible for me. Even when I realised they are, in fact, not super-humans (She came to know of my candy stealing because she could hear the rustling wrappers from the other room. And she knew me well. It dawned upon me much later in life. About the driving, well, you know.), I continued to see them as such. A pity. Because that’s expecting too much from humans without the proverbial ‘super’. But, somehow, they’ve rarely disappointed.

Though the picture above this one is my favourite, if my father sees it, he's going to ask me why I did not use an image that shows the garden greener. The way it is now. This image is all I have right now that shows them, and a greener 'Chaitanya* Upavan' (Chaitanya's (my brother) Garden). And lest I forget to mention the furry friend, let me introduce FooChoo, The Cool Guy. Layla The Cool Gal is out there somewhere in search of bees. *Chaitanya means Consciousness or The One Who is Awake.

Like everyone else’s, most of my childhood experiences have some relation or the other to my parents. Out of those who have either influenced my mould or impressed me enough to remember them, my parents remain the ones with the most remarkable impact. What made it possible is perhaps they’ve been the ones who’ve had tremendous faith in me. Always. Mummy and Papa, as I call them, are people who have given me immense sense of fulfilment, warmth, intense misery and anxiety. That completes the picture of a normal human being, I suppose.

Let’s begin from the now.

After having lost their son when he was just 27, my parents have continued to live. Some things, however, have influences over lives that are simply so decisive, that they change the course of everything. Arun and Neerja, my parents, are people who have bravely faced setbacks and lived on. Relentlessly. Much like the names their parents gave them. Arun means the Redness of the Rising Sun. He, my father is the warmth that engulfs you after a long, dark night. Neerja is a synonym for Lotus, the flower that blossoms in slushy mud. Ever fresh, ever pure.

Grief has a certain strange quality to it. It either makes you walk into a closet and shut the door, or, if you choose to sit in the drawing room and laugh over friendly jokes, it makes your deepest weaknesses surface like never before. Ten years along the path of living as grieving parents, they have succumbed to their weaknesses, which were formerly just an addition to their very normal being. That’s where my misery and anxiety surfaces, just in case you were wondering in one of the paragraphs above. My undying faith in their super-humanness began to wobble a little, when nothing I said or did made them like they used to be.

But, when I think of those countless memories of a child much in awe of her parents, I feel a sense of  wonderment at their immense patience with my failings. How could I feel exasperated with them, then?

I was a flighty child with flighty moods and convictions. While my mother was the firm hand, my father provided me the much-needed warmth. When I faltered and suffered, they held my hand like I could never expect from any other individual. And all this without ever saying ‘I told you so.’

My mother had been regularly warning me about my latest infatuation. Voicing her misgivings. Like I always do, I followed my heart. On the Day My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again, I came back home and sneaked into my room, sobbing to my pillow. My mother came in, lay down with me and cradled me until I fell asleep. There were no questions asked, none answered. I woke up a few times in the night, and was vaguely aware of her form still hugging me. She must’ve begun her share of crying when she had made sure I was asleep. I don’t think she slept that night.

There have been many Days My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again. I just had to remember that night to know she, my mother, would never let me suffer alone.

No, it wasn’t all love and hugs between us. I hated my mother deeply when I was an ‘independent individual’ during my teenage years. I hated her. I am glad, in a way, that I did, too. Because when I stumbled through the stones I’d created for myself, everything she had said that I had thought would undermine my independent, free spirit came back to me in a rush. I needed that.

It was different with me and Papa. I always loved him. Always thought of him as my best friend. When I flunked maths, when I wanted to know what ‘fuck’ meant, when I wanted to back-bite my mother. Unlike my mother, he does not question my failures. Like her, he has never made me feel insufficient. But he did and still does demand that extra from me. When my brother’s body had arrived, we decided to cremate him in the clothes he had been wearing. But they needed to be washed. “It’s your brother’s blood, Priya. If you won’t, who else should?”

Papa has made sure that I got everything, but taught me to never demand what is not rightful. He has been trying to teach me the value of being assertive, but has failed miserably. Not a super-human after all, eh?! My loveliest memory (or one of the many) with him is as a six/seven year old. After dinner and some moments of this and that, I’d pretend to sleep on the couch. He’d pick me up to take me to my bed and tuck me in. When he’d picked me up, I’d open my eyes and stick my tongue out at my mother and brother, happy. I suspect he always knew I wasn’t asleep, but played along.

My parents created the mould for me, but deliberately kept it pliable and supple, so that I could make my own choices.

After all, they have always been game for ‘Up, Up, and Away’ towards here the moment they hear an S.O.S. from this end.

And it is only right that I end this post by telling you the meaning of my name as well. Priya means the Loved One. What else does one need?

How much does it take?

I am grinning from ear to ear as I write this. Waiting for B to get us some rum. It’s been a trying week. A challenging assignment I enjoyed doing, but since it involved more brain-work than usual, I am feeling drained. The reason I am grinning is because my radio just played Allen Karl’s Tonight Carmen. I’d never heard him, so his voice came as a surprise.

Old-world and somehow soothing, it boomed through the speakers, and I began grinning. It is like watching an unexpected flower bloom after living in a dry, dry land. Working on an assignment that makes you happy and absolutely irritable at the same time does seem like cruising on a very, very dry land.

Sometimes you need just a little to turn it around.

Have a beautiful time today. And I, I am going to drink rum with B.

Loving, and how.

 
 
 
 
 

I discovered Etheree at Dan’s blog a few days back. It is a concept so beautiful, I am still in raptures. And the name? Etheree. Wow. To make matters more delightful, Dan’s poem added such calm, petal-like softness to its already simple beauty. Perhaps this is what encouraged me to write an etheree myself and see if I have it in me to make it a regular in this blog’s Poesie category.

 

Leave

the cup

and come here

closer to us,

me and the fire bright.

Walls are warm, my heart too.

Close that door behind you, do!

Look, the fire’s ablaze with the wind

the door’s let in oh-so shamelessly.

Come now, the cup overflows so, my love.

An etheree comprises of 10 lines. It begins with a one syllable line, increasing one syllable per line until the last line of ten syllables. The syllable count of the entire poem is 55. The syllabic structure, therefore, is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, and is unmetered and unrhymed.

Intent is everything.

If I can get up in the morning with a feeling of excitement about much to do, I know I am doing good. Many times, the much-to-do is unexciting in more ways than one, but if I can accomplish the difficult task of seeing beyond the unexciting and looking at the consequence my action is expected to have, I will be able to still feel that very-welcome excitement. For even the most unpleasant tasks, if done with the right intent in mind, (seemingly) magically result in something pleasant.

Only grief

It is only grief. After all. Picture yourself walking an endless walk, mulling over what was. And hitting a lamp post here, tripping over the grass tufts there, missing the beautiful glow on the baby shuffling around you. All because you are mulling over what was.

Some like to blame it on extra-sensitivity. It is quite a mean thing for a person to say they are more sensitive to emotions than others. All are as sensitive, really. But what makes some smile through the heartache? How are some people able to have room for happiness in their hearts even though there is  tremendous grief invading its being? I daresay it is their willingness to accommodate more. There is no way to deal with a loss, physical, emotional or of any other kind. How could you tell the person who’s just lost their son to get on with life? Or what about the woman who has lost her man-forever to another woman? Grief does invade hearts. Most live through it. Some walk the endless walk, the others walk the endless walk with a smile.

A friend who is currently living alone in the big, unforgiving Mumbai is going through a divorce she initiated after 3 years of being thrown around physically, mentally, emotionally by the man she loved. It isn’t easy to sleep the night alone. Though I’ll wager it would be more welcome than having to live with him. But she loved him, you know? And he treated her in a way no one deserves to be. In her own way, she’s getting out of it. Some very impractical issues crop up in her way, though. She’s been doing up her tiny new spartan flat to make it more homey. I called her while she was in the midst of planning the decor of the small living room/dining space. After endless discussions on how to best accommodate both a cozy living area and a dining space without making it too overwhelming, we were exhausted and hung up. In a eureka-like moment later, I sent her some pictures of cute-looking dining tables for two. For two. “Who’s going to use the other chair?”  What do I say to her about that? She confesses that besides the anger, there is an endless, relentless agony of being let down. Of loneliness that finds its way under one ruse or the other. However concerned, I cannot do anything. If grief were a tub full of stinky, slimy maggots, I would pull her out of it, regardless. But it isn’t.

Another friend, a good twenty years my senior, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a young girl. Nudging fifty (or nudged it already), she has physical complications relatively healthy people like me will not even have nightmares about. I first met her when she was a newly-wed. My brother Shonu and I loved her to bits. She even had a cuckoo clock. And played Smooth Operator for us whenever we wanted. She showered us with love and affection we never forgot. She’d always known she couldn’t have children of her own. But she’s walking the endless walk with a smile.

There must be grief stories in every heart. Life isn’t so rosy, after all. Losses come and go (or stay forever). People haughty enough to think they can label things label some losses as ‘grief’. Some losses, however, remain unnoticed. Or worse, unsympathised. Like emotional blankets, as if blocking out fresh sea breeze on a sunny day; and making people smile smugly, saying “Must be crazy. Wearing that blanket, I ask you.”

It is alarming how people assume they can generalise the path to a healthy, grief-less life and cater advice. A friend once told me how funny she found shelves full of self-help advice in bookstores on making lives better. There is no way you could understand why I am crying at the loss of my old, worn out sweater, could you?

So how does one find the resilience to tide over the Invasion of  the Unhappy Heart-Wrenchers? To each his own, I think. The friend undergoing divorce is getting there, living each day. I just told her today she’s gleaming in her latest picture like she used to. I am sure she grinned with delight at the other end of the phone, knowing she’s getting there. The friend with debilitating diabetes talks and laughs and makes people around her smile. She makes them feel happiness. She probably is the Secret Happiness Generator. Life must be hiding some of these Generators in Her scheme of things. Otherwise we’d be inundated with grieving people.

Grief isn’t to be dealt with. It is to be lived with. With a smile.

Jack? Master? or Nothing Much?

B the Wise One and I, his inadequate wife have been at each other’s throats. No, don’t begin thinking “oh there goes another cute couple” already. We’re quite okay otherwise, thank you very much. The problem is, he is the kind of guy who will do anything to block out all that threatens a dialogue with his passion. The current one or whichever. But passion. While I, the Inadequate One, like to say “Bring it on.” One? Two? Ten? I have numerous passions. “How can you give everything your all? There can only be one passion, anyway. Or two, perhaps”, he states with supreme (and unusual, mind you) ignorance. He finds it very difficult to believe I want to spend my time making the just right tea, paint a just OK painting, keep the house as ‘warm-looking’ as possible, remove all hair from everywhere, passably bake breads and buns and cakes, make very spicy pickles and ginger ale. Blah. He doesn’t even get time to say phew. “Wouldn’t you like to do one thing the best possible way?” he said.

And that’s what stopped me from drifting away to the cineraria I’ve been trying to sprout.

I do not know best.

Maybe that’s what makes me flit between numerous things in day, week, month, or even a year. Someone once told me a long time ago about people choosing to excel a trade or remain mediocre in it and many others. Choice of being mediocre. Who’d choose that anyway? Well, yours truly, does in fact. Though I can’t say I’ve not dreamt of (or don’t still do) being cordially invited to an Oprah Special. It would be fun and quite a treat to my existing vanity. Not that being OWN’s special guest will essentially make me the best. But her show does invite successful people, I’m told. Masters in their profession, of their difficulties and what have you. So, I do dream of doing very good at whatever I choose to pick up. But if that restricts me to just one (or two) things, I’d rather pick mediocrity. Where’s the spice tray, man?

I am straying from B and I, though. B is a dog lover. Since this post is turning out to be without a picture, I’ll showcase our two devils (and then get back to passionate entreaties in favour of mediocrity).

Here’s Bulu.

Meet Moti.

I love them too.

But I can see the Alaska cruise, as well. We’d promised each other, B and I, that we’d take this trip someday. We adopted dogs instead. And will never leave them in a kennel to explore the world. B is blissfully passionate about them. I am too, like I said. But, for the lack of a better means of differentiation, you could say I am the Passion Jack. while he is the Passion Master. He could spend hours sitting, looking at the dogs. Being with them (and me, if I’m allowed to break the reverie). And talk of Great Dane legs and Pug eyes and Bull Mastiff height. Does he come across as a dog freak? Well, he is, but not as crazy-like as it may seem. He does get up from his reverie, make coffee, write the stuff he’s writing, walk the dogs. Did the word ‘dog’ come back? Yes it did. So, this person I’ve met and married, who likes to keep his passions simple,  never really wanders too far from this love of his. He dotes on them, gets up excruciatingly early to walk them, ensures they get very clean water, raw meat diet, and an indulgence in ruining my garden. And much more. For a person who lives his passion, my interest in that beautiful saree there or the awesome photo frame here or the latest bread-baking tip to get a result you don’t have to shove under your rockery is mind-boggling. Why this division of labour? And how come similarly excited responses to painting as well as photography as well as embroidery and volleyball?

Interests are about making choices. No one says there is only one interesting thing in the world. But most choose a manageable few and concentrate on them. Not me. Back in college, a friend of mine used to joke about not asking me for my choice of food or restaurant or movie, because I’d say that I’d enjoy them all anyway. No particular choice. It tickled her to see I didn’t want to make a choice. I was equally thrilled about all the options. (Well, fear not. I’ve mellowed considerably, especially after having ordered bamboo shoots in oyster sauce and having to surreptitiously close all the valves inside my nose when the dish escaped the kitchen, carried out by the very proud chef. Our heads turned in slo-mo to see its steam wafting all over the eatery, almost killing everybody with its exotic, well, smell.  It was all my friends could do to keep a straight face. Or when I cringed on the very comfortable chair at a home theatre after having insisted my companions chose the movie. We watched a movie called Kidnapped and it turned out to be soft porn. My companion watchers were an eclectic collection of very conservative relatives, who knew not about the American Film Industry. Since then, I have no qualms in sharing my knowledge here and there. And making choices, too.)

But I am, generally, very thrilled about many things. I’ve tried many of them out. Like making stained glass collectibles, and selling them. Or doing several things as ‘hobbies’, growing junipers on rocks, sketching little girls with coloured pens, I could go on and on with the list. The point I’m trying to make is, even if I’ll never reach even close to perfection in any of them, I will have tasted a bit of their wonder. Isn’t that, in itself, perfection? Tasting various wonders. Perfect life, no?

Reliving

I was six, I think. It was Deepavali. Preparations for ushering in Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, involved my favourite part. Collecting diyas (terracotta lamps), immersing them in water so that they didn’t soak more oil than they burnt. Sunning them. Putting cotton wicks, oil. Placing them on a thali (a large platter with sides turned up) and waiting for sunset for Ma to offer Puja (prayers). And light the diyas.

Diya at Lakshmi's symbolic feet

 

But there was a part that I didn’t look forward to at all. I was frightened of firecrackers. Even sparklers, if you can believe that. But believe it or not, it is true. Thankfully, there were other attractions. Like diyas. The new clothes. The first nip in the air. Yummy food. Colours. Light. Reminders of love and joy.

Coming back to firecrackers, I had secretly hoped my parents and brother didn’t invite me to try my hand at it. To distract myself from sheer desperation to fly to Mars, I shuttled between the kitchen and the rooftop. The kitchen was the source of powerful smells of love. Puri, Kheer, Pulao, Aaloo ki Sabzi, Bara… Thankfully, Ma concentrated on a scrumptious dinner rather than on deep-fried snacks (except Puri) that would lose their charm the next day. The hot meal after the Puja was something else.

And the rooftop had diyas. The small bits of light that lit up not only our home, but also warmed our hearts with unequalled joy.

So, diyas had dried, were ready to be lit, Puja was done, Bhog (food offered to God. It is believed that such a food has been tasted by God, and is hence sacred) was ready. Was it time for dinner? No. How about a little hand at firecrackers, then? And I could’ve flown (to Mars, yeah). The sound of exploding bombs, the teeny bits of fire falling on my hand left me no choice, you see. But my dear, insistent mother, took my hand, walked me out, asked my father for a sparkler. And gently told me to hold it. “I am with you. I am holding it too.” I held the sparkler, shrieked with fright at the angry bits of fire on my childish skin. She held on, and I did too.  They have a picture of me, screaming in fright. But my mother, her sweet smile, gently holding on to the sparkler with me. We , or rather I, got through the first one. The next picture in our family album shows me smiling with another (burning, sparkling) in my hand. Joy on my face.

Why this particular Deepavali? I’ve lived and experienced 36 of them. This one is special for another reason.

Akashdeep

That was the only Deepavali Pa bought an Akashdeep, The light in the sky. A lantern, to give a more inadequate translation. It consumed my childish curiosity. It was shaped just the way the above akashdeep is. And it burnt away all my fears. Brought more colour than I could manage. For some strange reason, all of our subsequent celebrations were without any. Pa never bought them, we never asked about them. (Busy with diyas and firecrackers and food, perhaps).

This Deepavali, yesterday, I saw a small boy selling these. And got reminded of how all my other Deepavali’s have slipped by, without this light from the sky making it more special. I bought two. And put them up at our two doors.

Akashdeep, finally

And called up Pa to tell him how I neglected to ask for it all these years. How that one stayed with me all these years. And how this one after such a long, long time is my light in the sky.

The six year old has grown up. And has her akashdeep. And is no longer frightened of firecrackers.

There are angels, after all

The grand-whistler

A little while back, a beautiful black and white bird came unannounced. And stayed, much to my delight. We notice it everyday in the mornings and afternoons, flying to various corners of our garden and calling out in its sweet, oh so sweet voice. I don’t know its name. But I do know I wait for it everyday.

Among the chorus of several other birds, this one lets out a honey-coated whistle that permeates deep within. It is like a reminder of goodness in despair, path-finder in celebration. Simply put, I am in absolute love with this bird.

It first came at my home office window when I was struggling with a particularly dull piece of text for translation. Uncannily, it looked at me (or so I like to think) and whistled. As if telling me to get a move on already. I did manage to finish my work, drudgery forgotten. You could call me a silly fairy-chaser. Or an impractical fool because I look for symbols, preferably natural ones. This bird has come as a blessing. For I  like to think of serendipity and angelic messages in the same breath as doing dishes.

The window where it all began

Sure enough, the little whistler was there just a few minutes back, when I, for the umpteenth time, considered sacking my extremely unhelpful house help. (Unfortunately, this time I am not sure whether it is encouraging this decision or sending signs of warning that I am going over-the-board with my disapproval. More about that in another post).

So, regardless of dubious advice, I am quite fond of this little honey-stirrer. It livens up my daily life, giving it that extra bit of sweetness that is always appreciated.

Only fear

It is only fear. Not a big deal, if you think clearly. No, I am not forgetting that when you are afraid, something inexplicable happens to your think-clearly cluster of grey matter. But, strange as it may seem, it is the very key to getting rid of all your angst. Think clearly, reason and drive the vile thing out.

Why get rid of fear? Well, not just because you get tagged a wimp, but also because of darker, scarier places it locks you up in. That should suffice as an answer. If it doesn’t you probably belong to a group of people who believe fear is positive for motivation. Well, not always. And this post is about those other times.

That brings us to the question of how thinking clearly will help. It is very complicated to even begin attempting it, very simple to talk about. I am picking the easier of the two, and writing on how I believe you can stop fear from savaging you.

I have always believed that my set of fears (yes, I admit here and now, there is a set of fears in my secret box) have accumulated over the years because I am too afraid of telling them to get the hell out of my life. They get collected, without my knowledge, mostly. And when I do notice the latest addition, I am too smashed under the load of others to yell “Get out”. What disturbs me the most about fear is what it makes you do, at times. If you look deeply, almost every action you scorn, laugh, scowl at in others (or, if you are brave, in yourself) is a result of some sort of fear. Let me explain with examples. I am told I use semantics, and vaguely, too.

Example 1. Ms. J

Behaviour: Nasty, irritable, hot-tongued

Fear: Afraid someone will someday tell her on her face that she was wrong about her claims that she would make a great entrepreneur. She’s not an entrepreneur. She sits at home and makes life miserable. For everyone.

Connection: She would die before hearing about her failure (a failure possibly only she sees) from others. Preempting people’s reactions, she acts and reacts to imaginary pointing fingers. Frustrated with her fear of failure and consequent embarrassment, she is all set to rock people’s boats before they do hers.

Is anyone interested in rocking her boat? No. Sadly, she’s doing it herself.

Example 2: Mr. F

Behaviour: Constantly ‘in-touch’ with people, volunteering running errands, giving advice, hosting meals.. an endless list

Fear: Of loneliness

Connection: This one is quite simple, really. He doesn’t want to face a moment without ‘someone’ to make him feel wanted and appreciated. He is running around with his bag, collecting camaraderie. Sometimes it does help. Sometimes it makes him an obsessive fool, afraid to be with his own self. The loneliness doesn’t go, because as people say, you must be friends with yourself first.

Could Mr. F shake hands with himself? No. Sadly, he’s more lonely than he ever was.

Fear makes me shudder.

I’ve handled some of my own, mind you. Well, my lily liver is not watery all the way. And the only thing that has helped me get past  these… things is the knowledge that

a. I am afraid

b. I don’t need to be

I may not be much of an expert on this, but this page proves I am not alone when I talk of the importance of points a. and b. above.

So, my mantra for shooing away weeds of angst is taking the first step of admitting there is a certain fear. Of coming early for an appointment, of painting the worst painting of the century, of turning around and seeing my Maths teacher grinning at me.. Oh there are plenty, still.

You see, the moment I accept there is a certain fear, its consequences flash very succinctly in my head. That’s when I am able to (mostly) choose “You won’t get me.” over “Yes, master.”

Yeah. One day my set will be non-existent. I am getting there.