Category Archives: Happiness

Poetry Pharmacy

(In tough times, one needs to seek solace in poetry. And that’s what I am doing. Almost 25 years ago, on an autumn evening, I found this poem on the wall of a friend’s home in New Delhi. My love for this poem was instant. Later on, I asked another common friend to write (rather copy) the poem on a piece of paper and give it to me. He was gracious enough to do it for me. Since then, I have changed cities, jobs and homes but this poem neatly written in my notebook has stayed with me. My attempts to search this beautiful poem on google have not been successful. Hope, you all will enjoy this) 

 

Everyone walks the way he can,

Some with their chest ajar,

Others with only one hand,

Some with identity card in pocket,

Others in their souls…

Some with the moon screwed in their blood,

And others with no blood, no moon nor reminiscence with them.

Everyone walks able or not,

Some with their love in grumbles,

Others hidden in altered skin.

Some with life and death beside,

Others with death and life astride

Some with a hand on some other shoulder,

And others on the shoulder of another.

Everyone is walking because he is walking,

Some hopeful with a person,

Others meeting none on the journey across,

Some through the door opening,

Or so it seems to the road,

Others with a door on the walls or dream on the air perhaps,

Some not having begun to live,

Others too not having begun to live,

But one and all walk with their feet to chains

Some on the road they themselves made,

Others on the ones they didn’t make and all those they shall never make.

——— Roberto Juarroz

 

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One way ticket…

(‘Desh’ (meaning country) is how my mother-in-law refers to Kerala whenever she talks about her years of growing up there. I always tell her, “India is your country. Why are you referring Kerala as your country?” But she refuses to listen to me. She shifted to Gujarat when she got married almost 50 years ago. This piece first appeared in an anthology titled ‘People called Ahmedabad’. I am sharing this here as we celebrate Gujarat Day on May 1. This is about leaving home, finding home and also about love and longing)  

mummy

(The Matriarch… )

More than fifty years ago, Sowbhagyabati Menon arrived in Ahmedabad from a small village in Kerala as a young bride. She started a whole new chapter of her life in this dusty city which is so very different from the lush green village of hers dotted with beautiful houses, swaying coconut trees and paddy fields. Today, she starts her day with a cup of tea and two Gujarati newspapers. And she loves her eclectic mixed neighborhood of Khanpur, in the walled city of Ahmedabad.

She looks back at her Gujarat journey with a sense of nostalgia and fondness. “It was my first train journey and everybody in my family thought that I was really going away too far. We all had heard of Ahmedabad only through news.The first house I stayed in Ahmedabad was on rent. It was a small house but I was surrounded by wonderful neighbors who wholeheartedly welcomed this young Malayali.”

Gujarati language sounded more or less like Greek or Latin to her. But she was hell-bent on learning the language. So, she sought the help of her neighbour’s school-going daughter. With a paper and pen, they moved around in the kitchen to note down the names of vegetables in Gujarati. Later on in the day whenever she found some free time, she diligently practiced on her own, saying it gently and slowly, “bataka (potato), dungri (onions).”

In Kerala, she was used to having boiled rice and in the initial days of her arrival here, she just couldn’t stand the smell of basmati rice in her friends’ houses. In the beginning, she stayed with her Gujarati friend for a couple of days. Her loving hosts were feeling miserable that their guest just refused to touch any of the Guajrati delicacies they offered to her. Then one day, her host friend went to a small south-Indian restaurant to pack a meal of masala dosa, idli, vada for her.Probably that South-Indian platter was more precious to her than any piece of gold jewellery she was wearing.

But she has come a long way since then. Today, she loves her share of thepla, methi gota, sukhdi, khichdi, poori-aam ras and undhiyu. In fact, her children and grand-children now especially ask her to make Gujarati khatti meethi dal and every Uttarayan, she gets up at 3 am in the night to prepare lip-smacking unidhiyu. From her kitchen now comes a regular spread of both Kerala and Gujarati cuisine.  

She loves being in Ahmedabad which has given her a home, friends and beautiful memories to go back to. With a sense of love, she says, “Gujratis are nice,warm people. They are affable and made me feel at home from the beginning.”

So, what has she enjoyed the most about her life in Ahmedabad? She says, “I feel a sense of freedom in Ahmedabad. Here, I move around freely with my friends, have gone for late night movies. There is no restrictions on movement like I had in Kerala and I have enjoyed the freedom to explore life. My neighbours have taught me the art of saving money. They have taught me the art of compounding interest. So, that has definitely made my life better now.”

“I have also enjoyed celebrating festivals like Diwali, Uttarayan, Navratri and Bestu Varash (Gujarati New year).  And yes, I was a true blood Malayali before, having my share of cooking in coconut oil. After more than four decades in Gujarat, I have lost my taste for coconut oil.”

Does she miss Kerala? “Oh, I miss Kerala’s magical monsoon. Even after so many years, Gujarat’s dry, arid long summer feels really tough. In these months, I long for Kerala’s rains. I also miss the fabulous celebrations of Onam in my village. Though I try to cook an elaborate sadhya on Onam but it just doesn’t feel the same.”

But then she trails, “Many of the people with whom I grew up in Kerala are gone now. The ancestral house of mine needs constant attention. Life in Ahmedabad feels much easier now. And did I mention about the uninterrupted power supply in Ahmedabad?”

Well, home is here only.

Humility

Last November, I got my flat renovated (I don’t live there.)  It was humbling to see carpenters, paintmen dirtying their hands, sweating it out to make a house beautiful in which they will never live.
Most of them are migrants from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Before they gave me the keys back, I went to my flat to treat them to chai, nasta (tea and snacks). It was my way to to express gratitude and say ‘Thank You.’  I have always admired people who create things or change things using their hands. It could be anything from cooking, gardening, pottery to stitching.
Seeing them sitting together and enjoying their share of tea and samosa was deeply moving. They all have families who live in far flung areas. They all are living alone in this dusty dry Ahmedabad — carving a life far from the land and people they call their own.  They are here to earn money so that their children can live better. They kept on asking me, “Didi, are you happy with our work?” All of them —one by one. It was truly humbling.
It is the rich and privileged who always carry that sense of arrogance about everything they offer/ give. Rarely taking a pause and asking “Are you happy with what we are offering/doing?”
And very few of them create things with their own hand.

For the daughters… I never gave birth to

(I have many daughters across cities, continents without giving birth to one. You don’t have to be a biological mother to share love, warmth, knowledge and kindness. On International Women’s Day, I am sharing a note I wrote to Simrita, my niece who turned 18 on February 15, 2019. She is as precious to my heart as many young girls finding their way in this world. This note is personal yet universal. Like love. So, here it goes.)  

Hi Simsi,

You are 18 today. If we were together today, i would have cooked a delicious meal of chicken curry and rice for you. Or probably would have taken you out for a coffee and walnut brownie treat. Or probably we could have talked and laughed over some silly jokes. Between you and I, we have so many years separating us yet connecting us in strange, warm way. As you are far away, I thought of sharing what my lived experiences and years of talking to talented, creative personalities from different fields (as a journalist) have taught me. I know, you will have your own list too. Some time I would love to learn from your list too and add more to my life.
*In spite of not so knowledgeable people leading many countries across the globe,   knowledge rocks. It’s cool to know about world affairs, science, literature, films, music. There’s no limit to knowledge.
* Health is wealth. No arguments or second thoughts on this.
* Aah, it’s so necessary to say NO when you feel like saying NO from within. If your heart says NO, be firm and say it. Standing up to what you believe is cool. People will respect you eventually.
* Cooking and driving are life skills (well, AI is yet to invade our lives completely). Let us not attach ‘gender roles’ to these skills. I am really happy that you are doing both. I can’t drive and still regret it though many people on the streets are happy and alive because of this lack of skill of mine.
* Money is an enabler, so it’s important. Earning money is important and investing money is more important. .
* Being surrounded by people/friends/mentors/family members from whom you learn something or other is very important.
* Lipstick and nail polish can be a mood elevator on some bad days. So, go for it.
* Develop your own signature fashion statement so that years down people will look at something and say “Wow.. that’s Simrita.” They will remember your style. It could be anything but your style should reflect your personality. Brands no matter how big don’t create personalities. Your own signature style does.
* Empathy always works. So also gentleness.
* Giving is as important as receiving. And vice-versa.
* Networking is a good word. Nurture your contacts.
* Stay crazy. Stay curious.
* Be punctual. Respect other people’s time as you would respect your own time. Amitabh Bachchan always arrives on time for an interview (speaking from my own experience of interviewing him). He can afford to come late being AB but he sticks to time.  .
* Goofing up sometimes is fine.
* So also being vulnerable is fine.
* Enjoy your tea/coffee slowly sometimes. Don’t always rush.
* Think of a  larger universe than your immediate one.
Enjoy life.
P S: How about savoring this strawberry cake? (Our gracious male colleagues got this for us at work today.)

 

cake

A story turns 10

#10YearChallenge : Few weeks back, my social media timeline was full of photographs with this hashtag. Well, here it’s a little different. I wrote this story for my niece Simrita in 2009 (She turned 8 then) as a birthday gift. Ten years later, in 2019, she is all set to join college in couple of months. Two days back, I found the story in my Gmail inbox when I was in a combative mood to delete old e-mails. I am sharing this short story out of love, affection and nostalgia. I am also realizing that how fast kids grow up. Simrita is all set to celebrate her birthday on February 15.

           *************     

 

A birthday to remember

Sui Moi is a beautiful little girl who’s just seven years old. And let me share a secret about Sui Moi — she’s crazy about her birthday (in addition to watching Tom and Jerry on television and eating large pieces of chocolate cake). She has always thrown big birthday parties for her friends. She loves to call all her six close friends and also three close friends of her brother Koko Moi who is six years old. Koko Moi loves his sister a lot and is always ready to think of new ways to bring in special surprises for Sui Moi’s birthday. Are you wondering when’s Sui Moi’s birthday? Her birthday is on January 15.

This year Sui Moi as usual had lots of plan in mind before bringing in another birthday. She along with her papa (whom we will call Papa Moi), mama (whom we will call Mama Moi) and Koko Moi had checked out the menu of a restaurant from where she had planned to order the food her party. And with every passing day, she was getting excited about her birthday. So also Koko Moi. He spent hours in painting a huge card for his sister.

baked birthday birthday cake blowing

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

But alas, sometimes things just don’t go right in spite of our plan. On 15th January morning, Papa Moi got a call from the restaurant saying that there had been a fire in the kitchen of the restaurant the previous night. Though no one was hurt in the fire but they had closed down the restaurant for some repair work. That’s why, they wouldn’t be able to deliver the food and they would give back the advanced amount. “Oh No, God can’t be so cruel to me,” screamed Sui Moi when she first heard the news and tears rolled down her cheeks. She couldn’t imagine what would happen to her party which she had so meticulously planned days in advance.  What’s a party without food? What will she do? There are just some hours left for the party. All these years, Sui Moi’s birthday parties were much loved among her friend circle for the decoration, food, fun and loads of laughter.

But as they say every cloud has a silver lining. And immediately there was a family discussion on what to do next. Both Koko Moi and Sui Moi wore a very sad look. But then came brilliant ideas from Papa Moi and Mama Moi who declared cheerfully, “Let’s cook for the party and as they say nothing tastes like homemade food. All four of us will be the chefs and the party will rock as usual.” Sui Moi at first thought Papa Moi and Mama Moi were joking. But seeing their determination, she and Koko Moi decided to go ahead with this sudden plan.

The first thing on the menu was something from Koko Moi. Well, you might think he’s a little boy but don’t forget that he’s our little champ. So, Koko Moi said with a big grin on his face and a packet of Gelatin powder in his hand, “I will make Jell-O sweets for everybody.”  Bingo… and Sui Moi said immediately “I am going to be Mama’s assistant and help her in the kitchen.” And immediately Papa  Moi said, “Hey you guys, don’t forget me. I am also going to have fun in the kitchen and make some delicious potato sandwiches. But before that let me rush and get the cake and of course some packets of chicken nuggets and pizza bases.”

With so much of enthusiasm in the air, everybody got into action. And Mama Moi immediately rushed to the kitchen to boil some potatoes so that Papa Moi can make the sandwiches once he returns from the market. And she asked her assistant Sui Moi to take out capsicum, mushrooms, tomatoes from the refrigerator.
Then Sui Moi said, “Well, Mama, how about putting some music so that we all can dance a little  while cooking.” Our little Koko Moi simply loved the idea as he’s always the first one to shake a leg. Even as Papa Moi went to the market (this time he went alone cause there are so many things to do at home and Koko Moi was too busy to go with him), Mama Moi braced herself to cut those capsicum, mushroom, onion for making pizzas. And Sui Moi then had a request, “Mama, can you make those lovely chilly egg fry which you made just a week back.” Mama Moi hugged Sui Moi and said tenderly, “Darling, today is your day. So I  will do anything for my dearest princess.” And she took out eggs to boil while Sui Moi watched her with a big smile on her face.
In the meanwhile, Koko Moi was all set for making Jell-O sweets. He added the powder to the boiling water given by his mother… and after that he put them into small containers to be put in the refrigerator.

And then after 45 minutes, Papa Moi came back from the market with packets of chicken nuggets and pizza bases and a huge chocolate cake (which he had ordered the previous evening). Everything went off smoothly and with music in the background, cooking for friends became almost like a picnic at home. So, in the end the guests at the party had : Delicious crusty pizzas, potato sandwiches with oregano, chicken nuggets, chips, cookies, colorful Jello-O sweets. And of course they had chocolate cake. It might sound funny but some of Sui Moi’s friends just couldn’t get up from their chairs after polishing off such a delicious home-made meal. After taking rest for a little while, they all danced like crazy and screaming at the top of their voice, “Sui Moi’s party rocks.” Ha ha, what’s new, didn’t we tell you before?

Are you wondering, what all Sui Moi got as B Day gift:

* She got story books, toys, cookie packets, nice colourful stationary sets, a beautiful necklace and a lovely beaded bag.

 

Home

I had just walked into the coffee shop of a five star hotel in Ahmedabad. I settled down on my chair and put this purse on the table. Then I saw the young woman who worked in the coffee shop rushing towards my table.

purse

 

“Did you go to Bhutan?” (She asked)

“No, I didn’t go. My friend got this gift for me from Bhutan.”

“You know, I am from Bhutan. I am so happy to look at this purse. It reminds me of my home, parents, my brother. Right now, I feel as if I am there and enjoying the cool air, the mountains.”

“You must go to Bhutan. Bhutan will love you and you will love Bhutan. Please let me know before you go,” she told in the same breath.

In less than five minutes, I felt she travelled from Ahmedabad to Bhutan.

We exchanged mobile numbers and she really took care of us that evening. With her charming smile and grace.

Home is a feeling. Home is not just about physical space. And you never know, when and where home will pop up and make you happy. And at the same time leave you with a sense of longing for home.

I am yet to make that promised trip to Bhutan. I will definitely go there for Tara’s sake if not anything else. For the time being, a slice of her home is always travelling with me in my handbag.

What can be more precious than home?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People called Kerala…

This narrative has lived within me for almost four months. I feel, there is always a right time for the story to travel. From my heart to the world outside, In between experiencing the story and telling the story, Kerala has seen worst of times in terms of devastating flood and loss of human lives and property. Now, Kerala is back on its feet.
In India, it’s now time for celebrating Diwali. Diwali, the festival of lights is all about joy, happiness, love and light. This narrative is all about celebrating that light. How dark would be darkness without this light… 
diwali
Hussain:  The navigator, the philosopher
Hussain drove us from Fort Kochi to Palakkad. He also took us to Arakal and in the beginning of the journey, he told us, “I will take you to such a place that you will forget Ooty.” Hussain is the symbol of my India — liberal, secular, quirky, gentle and caring.

He has six friends and he tells us they will stand by each other no matter what happens. Before marriage, he told his wife, “You don’t need to adjust with my parents but you need to do so as far my friends are concerned.” He talked about his wife in a gentle and caring way. He makes sure that his wife has her share of fun and enjoyment. “Just because we are men that does not mean that only we will enjoy. A woman is a human being first and she must enjoy.”

He loves making money and also living life king size. He says, “What’s the point of making money if you can’t enjoy money.” Once in a while, the seven friends meet, enjoy a drink and eat a nice meal of rice and mutton curry. And the icing on the cake is after a drink or two, they all philosophize about life. So what will he do if his wife falls in love with another man? “The only answer to the question is to love her more,” said Hussain.
His friends are from different socio- economic backgrounds. Some of them are government officials, some of them are businessmen. Some of them are earning lots of money and some of them are not. But their bonding is all about love and memories. If they are all together and one friend says, “I am just going somewhere and I will be back in five minutes.” Even if he comes back after two hours, nobody asks him, ‘why did he come so late? Where did he go?’ There are no questions asked and they just take up from where they leave.
Once they all had gone to watch a movie after buying tickets at a high price (and with lots of struggle).  And when they were just about to enter the movie hall, they got a phone call  informing them about someone’s death. They all had a quick discussion and decided that ‘the person is already dead. So, even if we won’t watch the film, he won’t come back. So, it’s better to watch the movie.”
They all seem to see death from a different perspective. Once all of them had gone for a funeral and one of them cracked a philosophical joke about life and death and they all broke into a smile. And then somebody came and told them, “Do you know where are you?” And then one of the friends said, “Listen brother, tomorrow if someone dies in my family, you can come and crack a little joke about life and death. We won’t mind.”
Hussain loves the beautiful landscape of Kerala. He has a warm, loving relationship with Kerala’s swaying coconut trees, its backwater, waterfalls and the mesmerizing monsoon  “Only if you have something tender in your heart and mind then only you will love nature. Otherwise, you will end up buying things at the malls only.”
I asked him about his friends’ religious background. “We all are from different religions — Muslims, Hindus and Christians.” When I told him, “God bless you.” He told me, “No, no, say something more.” I told him, “May nature bless you.” Hussain broke into a gentle smile approving of my statement this time.
Hussain being Hussain has his own theory of people of Kerala going crazy about football teams and forming groups like, “Argentina — fans of Kallepally. Hussain says, “Byakitya nehin hai.. (They don’t have a personality of their own and that is why they are becoming part of the collective.)
Najeeb — The quiet soccer-loving man
Our meeting was accidental. My friend Lekha and I were taking a morning walk in Fort Kochi on a lazy Sunday morning and on an impulse we just went to check out a kiosk which had a board about daily trips to Alleppey or Alappuzha.  And we somehow liked the deal and decided to go there. Najeeb took us to Alleppey. When I expressed my desire to have coffee at the quintessential India Coffee House, he enthusiastically took us to one. We were in Kerala when the FIFA World Cup 2018 was at its peak. You got to be in Kerala to believe the state’s soccer mania. As we were all taking pictures of those huge cut-outs of Messi, Ronaldo standing tall in small, clean villages of Kerala, we wondered about Najeeb’s soccer love. And then when we were inside the car, we asked, ‘Najeeb, which team are you supporting?” He kept quiet and pretended not to hear. But when we persisted, he said with a tinge of sadness, “Germany and imagine they are out.” But the moment he uttered the name of Germany, we all broke into laughter. He also joined us. In his quiet dignified ways.
In no time, he understood our taste and stopped at beautiful churches so that we could admire its wonderful architecture. He took us to beautiful beaches so that we could revel in sunsets.
Gulab — For whom time waits
Gulab is beyond time. He doesn’t wait for time, I have a feeling time waits for him. He took us in his auto from Kalepally to Kalpathy, a heritage village in Kerala. As we were roaming around in the village, Gulab told us to give us a call once we were free. He insisted that he would take us back home ( Earlier in the morning, Gulab was really kind enough to wait at a pre-primary school when we just wanted to spend some time with the kids.)
We had only heard of Gulab’s ‘time sense’ before. That day, we experienced it. Every phone -call to Gulab was met with the standard answer, “I am on my way.” The shopkeepers, the autorickshawallahs, the vegetable vendors were all amused to see three of us sitting comfortably on the verandah of a dilapidated house without a nameplate.
While waiting for Gulab, I suddenly had this intense urge to have a samosa. And my friend Ayaz immediately bought one for me which came on a plantain leaf (you see, South India is a little nicely different from North India). The samosa was really tasty. And thanks to our smartphones, three of us happily indulged in some photo session too. Even after all this self-indulgent acts, still there was no sign of Gulab.
samosa
(While waiting for Gulab…)
In that state of mind, every auto-driver looked like Gulab. But you know, life is not actually that miserable. So, suddenly we saw our Gulab coming and then as they say, time stopped for us.
Living in cities, chasing deadlines at work has made most of us very impatient. We are always in a hurry, always trying to manage time. But for Gulab, time is something else. It moves or stops as per his wish. Gulab is the ultimate boss.
Ordinary city mortals like us can only wait for Gulab.
As the state was trying to cope with the tragedy,  we made phone calls to find out about the well-being of Hussain, Najeeb, Kumaran, Gulab and their families. They were all safe)