Saris and an almirah

sari (2)
(Tonight is the first day of Navratri.  I started my day on a beautiful note by wearing my mother’s this crisp, beautiful ikkat sari. I feel a deep sense of love and happiness when I wear my mother’s sari.)

Every time I look at my wardrobe before going for a special evening, my standard dialogue is “I have nothing to wear.” I stand in front of my almirah with hands on my waist, look at it closely and shuffle through the items and repeat the same line again and again almost like a faulty gramophone. It can’t be more contradictory because the shelves in my cup board are choc-a-bloc with clothes of different designs, colours and textures and handbags collected from different places. Yet I end up complaining that I have nothing.
Even as I write this, my mind goes back to my mother’s Godrej almirah. The almirah was/is always sparkingly  clean. Not a single sari could ever be found in a crumpled state. The locker was in the middle and unlike the new-age cupboards available in the market now, the length of the locker was the same as the other shelves. The locker had my mother’s saris meant for special occasions. She called them ‘bahar ka sari’ (meaning the ones you wear when you go for a wedding, for an engagement ceremony, for a musical/dance performance or to pay a visit to a relative living in a different town). During my early childhood, I clearly remember there were exactly nine saris in this ‘bahar ka category.’ This collection also included her two wedding saris and she kept mothballs to keep the insects away and for that ‘fresh’ smell.
I have always seen my mother wearing only saris. Well, I find nothing extraordinary about it though today if I wear a sari and come to my office, colleagues keep on asking me, “what’s the special occasion.. birthday ya marriage anniversary?” “Nothing”, I say with a straight face. Pat comes the reply, “Come on, it can’t be true. It got to be some special occasion for you to wear a sari.” The best (sic) comment came from a senior male colleague when he saw me wearing a beautiful hand woven ikkat sari, “oh…today MTV has become Doordarshan.” Well, my mother had been wearing saris everyday with no special occasion attached to the day.
Her other shelves included cotton saris meant to be worn at home only. The saris were always perfectly ironed, neatly stacked up in a clean vertical line. There was a different shelf for her blouses and petticoats. And it’s not just about a wardrobe or her saris. It’s also about memories tucked away comfortably lovingly in her wardrobe. Her aging and slightly yellowing black and white wedding  photographs, letters written by me and my sisters, letters from my dad when he was away from her on work and cards sent to her on different birthdays of hers over the years, special Durgapuja edition of literary magazines, medals won by us for essay-writing or for being the best girl of the school—- the wardrobe has it all. The almirah also has her gold jewellery and no matter how much we persuaded she had resisted for long all talks about opening a bank locker for storing her jewellery. It was her complete world which was so very intimate to her and to her children and in the end she could just lock it up and sleep peacefully.
One of our favourite leisure activities was to tell her to open the almirah and then all of us would lie on the bed together to have close intimate awestruck look at her world. Every time I went back home during vacations, I loved sitting in front of my mom’s almirah and looking at her new additions and reveling in the old treasures which are my memory now.   Every sari has a story of its own. Every ‘vanity bag’ of hers has a tale to tell. The stories never got boring or repetitive. And her locker had many many more saris bought by her daughters from different places of India. To be fair, my dad also had a major contribution in adding vibrant colours and hues and of course numbers  to her nine-yard collection.
And now we have many  more wardobes and almirahs in our house. My sister definitely has a much larger collection of Baluchoris, Maheshwaris, Mysore silks and Banarasis. But the romance of intimacy lies in my mother’s almirah. Not in my sister’s.
And most importantly, times have changed. She left this world in 2013. But the almirah is still at the same place where it has been for years now. I have now some of her saris in my wardrobe. And these saris are my rich possessions. I carry forward the legacy of India’s rich textile heritage.  And every time I wear my mother’s sari and walk, I feel as if she’s walking with me.
But most importantly, unlike me I have never seen my mother standing in front of her almirah and telling “I have nothing to wear.” One day when she was fighting against cancer, I had asked her about those days of ‘nine bahar ka sari’ days and she said “It’s essential to be happy with what you have.”

(A longer version of this piece was published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Mother’s Soul)

 

 

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India, a million voices

(I love India.  Deeply and intensely. I can’t imagine myself living in any other country. I love India’s diversity, its delicious food from different regions, mouth-watering mithais  (I will always go for a plate of rabri-jalebi over a blueberry cheese cake), colourful textiles,  delicate craft, the soul-soothing Indian monsoon, the large-hearted Indian Railways, the resilience of the not so privileged to wade through life with grace and grit and endearing voices laced with humor.

We are living in tough times in India now. India of 2017 keeps me awake in the night. I feel hurt, anguished at the way things are shaping up in our country. From being a multi-coloured, huge, rich, layered collage, we are being politically coerced to look at life in a monochromatic little box. I refuse to be a part of this little box.

My India is the land of Gandhi, Kabir, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, Raman Maharshi for whom there is no ‘Other’.  My India is large as the Bay of Bengal. As ravishing as the mystical Himalayas. Life is fluid here like the river Ganga, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Godavari. So also time. One doesn’t know where does time begin, where will it end.

The world is looking at India today as India turns 70 on August 15. Through a series on this blog, I am trying to look at India through my experiences. This is the first in the series) 

India is a country of voices. Silence is almost alien to our culture. Our temples are crowded. Our weddings are a lot about voices, giggles, arguments and counter-arguments. We love talking, haggling, bargaining, arguing. For nothing, economist Amartya Sen wrote a book titled ‘Argumentative Indian’. This is a collage of Indian voices which I am trying to weave into this piece. These voices are not related to each other. They are droppings from that caravan called life in India.

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We board the train from Ahmedabad, this train goes to Bengaluru via Manmad. After putting our luggage, we exchange pleasantries with our co-travellers. Suddenly all of us start feeling restless. And we discover that the AC is not working properly. Finally the coach manager is being tracked down. A lady passenger walks up to him and asks him to adjust the AC properly. The coach manager seems to be in an aggressive mood and he says, “This is how the air-conditioned coaches are like.” She gives him a stern look  and says, “Do you think that this is the first time I am travelling in an AC coach?” Well, the argument ends there. The AC starts to work in full swing. And we are all happy.

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This conversation is from my visit to Shirdi, a temple town. Everything happens around the temple. From a dusty little village few years back, it is now in the midst of a construction boom. There are hotels and there are hotels. We are walking on the main street in the evening. The sun is in a mellowed mood. Suddenly, my attention is diverted by cries of ‘Ramphal…. Ramphal’. This is the first time, I am seeing this fruit called Ramphal, it’s a much bigger version of sitaphal (read custard apple). Apparently, it’s only available in Shirdi.

And then comes a beggar woman and she probably takes a liking for me. She follows me and asks “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), please give me some thing.” Well, it definitely sounds endearing. But I am in no mood to give in. She is also in no mood to give up. Then she says, “Didi (elder sister), please give me something.” I keep on walking, pretending that I haven’t heard her. And then she says, “Madam (she gets into a professional mood), give me something.” I am impressed by her creativity and she knows her business. Even as I move forward, she walks behind me and says, “Mataji (O Revered Mother, please give me something.)”

At that time, I just couldn’t control my laughter. We are definitely a creative nation.

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There’s a young boy in my apartment who loves playing cricket. One evening, I see him walking with great confidence (wearing a helmet, pad and gloves) to play a game in the parking space of the apartment. I tell him, “Hello Sachin Tendulkar.” He looks at me,  “Na aunty, Virat Kohli.”  He’s in sync with time.

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I am in a mood to buy some traditional dolls in a local market in Ahmedabad. I ask him the price, he says “Rs 200”. I remember my mother-in-law’s wise words — “Don’t be a fool. When you bargain, just reduce the price to half and then subtract Rs 20.” I try to be wise and say, “Rs 80.” He doesn’t agree but still follows me and urges me to buy. I tell him, “Why are you following me?” He walks faster and goes ahead of me. And then tells me, “Who’s following whom? Me or you?” I start laughing and then the bargaining starts again.

 

 

 

 

The ache

rishikesh

I went to Rishikesh many years ago. I loved the cool flowing waters of the river Ganga. I love rivers, the stories they carry within themselves, the way rivers flow even as stories around them keep changing.  I found a kind of resonance with Rishikesh and its crisp air.

Years later, my friend went and stayed at The Glasshouse on the Ganges. I fell in love with the images of this beautiful property. I had thought to myself, “When I will have little extra money to splurge, I will stay at The Glasshouse with my mother.”  I wanted to indulge my mother. She had always indulged me in myriad ways. It was my turn to indulge her.

But life on most occasions chooses its own path. By the time, I had little extra money to splurge on a luxurious Rishikesh holiday, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. And the travelling never happened. Because our journey had become a difficult one. Travelling itself had become a luxury considering the nature of her illness.

Now one of my close friends has gone to Rishikesh on a short holiday. And I can’t stop think thinking about the ‘Rishikesh holiday’ I so very wanted with my mother. The holiday that never happened.

Maybe I shouldn’t have waited for having a little extra money for a luxurious stay at the Glasshouse. Maybe I should have just gone ahead with whatever I had.

Maybe I am living with too many  ‘May Be(s)’.

A temporary matter

It is evening,
The street lights are on,
People are rushing back home
Some are on two-wheelers,
Some are in their cars,
Some are in autos.

Xxxxxx

They are in a cab,
One of them is going to a hotel,
The other one … Home
Sometimes homes feel like hotels,
Sometimes hotels feel like home,
Home.. Hotel.
All Temporary

He says He’s tired.
She feels his tiredness
She stretches her hand towards him.
He holds her hand,
Plays with her hand. Fingers.
He tells her ‘you have very soft hands’
She thinks ‘wish life was soft on our love.’

Uber Romance

She books a Uber cab.Even as the taste of the coconut-ginger drink lingers in her mouth. She feels happy that the updated version of the app is really working well.

Inside the cab.

He says he’s tired. She feels his tiredness in her heart. She can only offer her hand. He holds her hand. Plays with her fingers.

He tells her ‘You have very soft hands’

She thinks ‘Wish life was soft on our love.’

PS :The fare for that Uber ride came to Rs 161. She had to really look deep within her handbag for that Rs 1 coin.

Three years after my mom died…

It has been exactly three years since I lost my mother. October 18, 2013 is still there in my mind/heart like a photograph. Sitting on my computer today, I am trying to tell you a story. My mother was a wonderful story-teller. I always coaxed her to tell me stories. Again and again. I never got bored of her stories. No one now tells me stories the way she used to.  In the absence of the story-teller, I become the story-teller. Here’s my story of our story.

Love makes you do strange things. Without any struggle. I have never used a handkerchief in my life. But for the last three years, I have always carried this beautiful handkerchief of my mother in my handbag. This soft, humble cotton handkerchief with a pashapali (it’s called so because it resembles a chess board) print reflecting Odisha’s magical textile heritage is my constant companion. My mother never stepped out of the house without her handkerchief. Now, I don’t step out of my house without this handkerchief. My mother travels with me wherever I go.

handkerchief

Ma loved wearing glass bangles. One of my most vivid and beautiful childhood memories of her is watching her put glass bangles. Every now and then. The sight made my little eyes glow in awe. It made life colorful, magical and sensual. I now wear glass bangles to feel closer to her. I love the clinking of glass bangles as I keep on furiously typing on my computer. The sound makes me happy and comfortable..

glass-bangles

I have inherited some of the textile gems (especially Odisha’s ikkat saris) from her wardrobe. The smell, sight of her saris in my wardrobe brings in a slice of her life to embrace me. I love wrapping her sari around me. I feel as if our lives are entwined. Saris like memories have no  S, M, L, XL size. You just need to  wrap it around you with love. It never fails to amaze me how a nine yard cloth can hold so many years within it. So much of love and warmth.

Sari magic

Joy and sorrow are part of life. There’s a winter. There’s a spring too.

Grief breaks you. And grief also makes you. Grief makes you look deep within and discover something innately new and warm. To embrace newness, you need to be open in grief.  During the process of healing the broken pieces of my fractured soul, I have discovered the magic of Buddhism. On many evenings. I now sit quietly and listen to ‘Om Mani Padme hum’ even as light and shadow dance in a joyous mood in my home.  Last April, while travelling in Sikkim, a deep sense of peace and calmness embraced me as I just looked at the tiny prayer flags fluttering high in the air. Spinning prayer wheels at monasteries elevated my soul. The majestic  mountains with the cool, crisp air gave me an intimate feeling of being at my spiritual home. Somehow, it also made me feel that my mother must be happy wherever she is now. It felt as if I have made peace with my grief, loss. I could feel the rush of love in my blood. Even in the absence of a lover.

prayer-flags

My journey in the last 1096 days (2016 is a leap year)  has given me the gift of looking deep within. I now have little faith in this whole talk of rationality. Modern life is too obsessed with rationality/ rational mind. I believe, if you listen deeply to your voice within with a larger sense of love and compassion, you can actually feel the presence of those who have left you. The rational mind has not really explored the mettle of heart. When you listen deeply to your heart, you will find your own answers. There’s no need to be limited, fearful.

PS Needless to say, there’s a pleasure, joy in the physical world — the world of touch, smell, voice,  beauty, warmth,  sensuality. The physical world is deeply fascinating and it can be soul-elevating too. My mother’s absence in this physical world hurts me.  I terribly miss her physical presence in my life.  For years, my morning ritual was to make a phone call to her. Sometimes with my eyes half-closed. With traces of deep sleep defining my voice. I now miss making that phone call early in the morning.

I miss her food very much. In her absence, food just doesn’t taste the same now. I miss everything about her food – the texture, the color, the variety, the seasoning, the rich, delicious mutton curry with huge chunks of potatoes, finely sliced aubergines fried and then gently put in a bowl of thick curd (seasoned with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaf),  piping hot pakoras that could give tempuras a real tough competition,  potatoes cooked in a mixture of puppy seeds and green chillies, her signature dish of scrambled eggs cooked in mutton gravy and lots more.  I try to recreate her magic by pressing the rewind button my memory.  But, as they say, it’s not just the same.

 I really find it amazing to see how people around you maintain a stoic silence when you talk about a loved one who’s no more. People try to play with their hair, ear-rings, mobile phones when you talk about your memories of a loved one.  They smile uncomfortably, most of them look like  unhappy stock brokers.  To all those nervous, fearful souls, I would like to say, look higher, look within. it’s not about death.  It’s about love and more love.

We ruminate and savor memories of those only whom we love deeply.  So, join me today in celebrating memories of  togetherness, joy and love between a daughter-mother.  There are always love stories in the world to warm the cockles of your heart. 

Aren’t these flowers beautiful?  So, smile. Just smile.

flowers

Tea

I love tea. I presume tea too loves me.

Tea slows me down. Tea makes me move forward. Tea gives me company. Tea makes me reflect.

Every morning, I drink tea in the same beautiful blue ceramic cup. It’s my own little tea ritual.

Sometimes when I am too sad, I stay away from tea. Sometimes, when I am too happy, I drink cups of tea. One after another.

Tea brings back memories of my loved ones.

teaSometimes when I visit people’s homes or offices, I lie about tea. I say, “I don’t drink tea.” The reason is I am very scared of having over-boiled, sweet, milky tea.

I love my first cup of tea at work. Not in a paper cup but in my own ceramic cup   At 11 am. It makes my day unfold.

I am in mood for a cup of tea. Right now.

This post is an expression of that longing.

Have a cup of chai/tea on my behalf. With love. .

Home

life

Rinchenpong is a beautiful place in West Sikkim. We were staying in Yangsum Heritage Farm (Pictured above)

It was late evening. There was stillness all around us. It seemed as if we were far far away from civilization. There were three of us– sitting on the grass. Making an attempt to discover more about each other. In Rinchenpong which was not home to any one of us.

I suddenly asked : “What does home mean to you?’

My friend S said, “I carry home with me.” The previous day, she was telling about how she misses home when she travels for a long time. I reminded her of the sentence and asked her, “If home is within you then why do you miss home?” She agreed with me, thought for a little while. She said, “Home is where my bookshelves are.” She laughed, “There are times when I travel for long and I miss my pillow. So, home is actually where my pillow is.”

K is a bright, articulate young tourist guide who is constantly on the move. He lost his parents when he was very young. He said, “Home is where my grandmother and sister live. Home is where I just don’t have to do anything. I get my tea while sleeping under my quilt. The comfort of knowing that you are with your loved ones.”

He then added, “I don’t like this quietness. There’s no television here. I have no news channels to watch. I don’t know what is happening in the world outside this place.”

“I love it when I am home. I just lie on my bed and keep on watching TV news. It feels so nice.”

We all laughed and then added, “So, home is where the TV is..or to be more specific where you can watch the news channels.”

They asked me the question I was asking them.

I said, “Home is where I can be naked… physically, emotionally.” Comfortable in my physical skin. Comfortable in my emotional skin.

The evening was achingly beautiful.

Istanbul

istanbul 2

(Hagia Sophia, Istanbul at dusk. Pic David Spender (Flicker)

 

Istanbul is my fantasy. Istanbul is the lover I have never met. But I have loved wholly and substantially.  I have spent long nights reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul. I have spent hours day-dreaming about Istanbul. I have longed for Istanbul.

Istanbul has been too near yet too distant for me. All these years. On a sizzling hot May night this year, I had booked my ticket to Istanbul. For a week long visit.

And then the bomb blasts happened in the city killing 11 people. I hoped things to improve. Then the massive airport suicide attack happened sending shock waves across the world. Still I wanted to go ahead. And then couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called up very early in the morning telling me about the military coup. And then as they say, rest is history.

Few days back, I cancelled my ticket.  The cancellation money for the Istanbul ticket got deposited in my account much sooner than I had expected. This is one ticket cancellation that brought tears in my eyes (Aah.. and I thought I m inching towards detachment).

I feel, places are like lovers, You might be ready for them, but they might not be ready to embrace you, let you to explore their inner soul.

My young colleagues decided to cheer me up and gave me a little note saying, “Istanbul told us — it’s seeking you too. Just wait.”

Yes, we are all actually waiting for one thing or another.  In transit, always waiting. Waiting for tomorrow, happiness, love, sometimes death too.

I am waiting for Istanbul. Till it’s ready to embrace me. Inshallah.

istanbul

I want to hug the Bay of Bengal

I woke up today morning, telling my husband, “I want to hug the Bay of Bengal.”

The Bay of Bengal is an emotion for me. An intense emotion. It’s much more than an ocean. I have grown up with it. I remember crying as a child when the rising waves took away my little shoes. My mother consoled me by saying, “The sea will not take anything away from you, it will give you back your shoes. Remember to always love the sea.”  The sea returned my shoes. The love lingered.

Both my parents loved the Bay of Bengal. We immersed the ashes of my father in the temple town of Puri which is home to the Bay Of Bengal. I feel, parts of my parents’ soul now remain in the Bay of Bengal. So, I feel at home with the rising waves, the falling waves, the rolling waves, the mellowed setting Sun suddenly disappearing in the horizon leaving no trace of its existence till the next morning and the cool breeze that strokes your cheeks as the dark nights become darker.

Years ago, I spent a mildly cool December morning all by myself on the shores of the Bay of Bengal to clear the cobwebs in my mind. My heart was full of agony, hurt and pain.My mind was a cluttered one. I had lost my way. I was afraid to grab tomorrow. I sat down to just look at the waves even as wild thoughts moved in a synchronized rhythm in my mind. I just sat there looking at waves. I didn’t know then anything about the ‘Art of Just Being.’ By the time I left the waves behind, I was clear in my heart and mind to move forward. The Bay Of Bengal gave me the strength, the wings to leave the ruins of the past behind and embrace the light of a journey ahead.  Sometimes the sound of waves on an otherwise silent morning gives you strength to listen deep within.

I go back to the ocean now to feel the presence of my parents. I go back to revel in the memories of my mother buying me delicate shingaras (known as samosas in masculine parts of India) filled with little cubes of potatoes with their almost silk like smooth skin, melt-in-mouth sweets that go by the name of Madanmohan, fiery, salty, seductive jhalmoori with a dash of mustard oil and cups of coffee which sometimes carried a faint smell of kerosene. I loved the sight of my mother taking out the money from her purse and then indulging me with these lip-smacking delicacies. The fiercely independent career woman within me took a backseat as I soaked happily in that moment of tenderness. I happily let myself to  become a little girl.  The ocean was a witness to the unconditional love that defined my world.

ocean

 

Sometimes, the universe feels the thread of emotions that run deep in our hearts, deep in our veins. The universe comes like an guardian angel to hold us, comfort us, soothe us. As I was longing to roll in gay abandon in the wild embrace of Bay Of Bengal, I received a photo of my niece holidaying in Florida in the company of Atlantic Ocean. The photo soothed me. She’s a 15-year old bright, intelligent, creative girl. In the pic, she’s enjoying her solitary moments with the ocean. Albeit a different ocean, I grew up with. I don’t know what thoughts are running in her mind. But she’s having her moments of solitude. By the waves, by the shore. It’s necessary to have your moments of solitude. Certain emotions are universal. And certain legacies are always carried forward. Even without any realization.