Category Archives: Memories

Home is where the trees are

I am in deep mourning. I am grieving for all the beautiful, strong, not so strong trees we have lost as Cyclone Fani ravaged Odisha few days back.

I have grown up with trees. I have hugged them in moments of happiness. I have leaned against them in times of sadness. Sometimes I have taken their presence for granted. My most beautiful growing up memory is all about waking up in the morning and sitting quietly on the verandah of our then house (I have lived in different parts of Odisha) and just soaking in the ethereal beauty of swaying coconut trees, watching tiny birds jumping from one branch of the mango tree to another.

There are no gentler souls in this world than the trees. They give shelter even to those who come to brutally hack them from the roots.

Even as I grieve deeply, I hope we will soon plant more trees in Odisha and love them more deeply and pray for their longer life.

In their existence lies our future. For trees are life.

(This banyan tree belongs to the soil of Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital. I was mesmerized by its richness of life. Being with this tree felt like being with my ancestors… the sense of its history warmed the cockles of my heart. How can we become this large in our hearts? )   

PHOTOS : YOURS TRULY

 

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Anonymous,the most prolific poet

When I was a child, I used to read many poems in the text books ending with ‘Anonymous’ (as credit). So, in my little mind, Anonymous was the most prolific poet in this whole wide world. And for some odd reasons, Anonymous was ‘HE’ not ‘SHE’ (well, gender conditioning begins early in life.) I used to dream of growing up to be ‘Anonymous’.  Till one day, I discovered the truth behind Anonymous. And there died my desire to be … Anonymous

 

Smiles & Tears: The Big ‘C’ Lessons

February 4 is World Cancer Day.

I have spent six years of my adult life in caring for two cancer patients (my mother and my husband’s sister). I have lost both of them to this dreaded C. Caring for them, loving them and watching them putting up a brave show have been life-changing. Far more substantial than what I learnt in  JNU, India’s premier university. What are the lessons actually?

  • Health is wealth.
  • Family is fundamental. If you are lucky, your family members are your angels. More so when the going gets tough.
  • Money is important. Money enables you to have choices.
  • Small is beautiful. So, there is immense beauty in taking a shower by yourself, standing in front of the mirror and putting on your lipstick, enjoying a cup of tea or  cooking a simple meal of dal, rice and egg curry.
  • Physical pain can make you feel naked. It can be really soul-destroying.
  • Ordinary can be extra-ordinary if you know how to be mindful.
  • Hospitals can be terribly lonely even when they are crowded.
  • Enjoy the present moment. You don’t know how one biopsy test can change your life’s narrative.
  • Be gentle. There’s no substitute to being gentle. When you are gentle within yourself, you are a better care-giver.
  • Looking after a cancer patient makes you erase irrelevant elements from life  (This will happen if you listen to the truth within yourself). Somehow you start appreciating a sense of minimalism. Over the years, I have developed an aversion for anything in excess.
  • It helps when you have solid friends standing by you. Having a conversation always makes things lighter. Never say ‘No’ to a good session of laughing. And to a large extent, friends are outsiders to the situation. So, they can give you a better perspective. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • It’s very necessary to refill one’s inner self even as you are spending days and nights looking after a person. It could be a walk, conversations, a nice meal, good book, music, a new hair-cut, looking at the sky or just soaking in the Art of Being. You give better when you have something to give. For that you need to replenish your own self.
  • Be kind to yourself. Some days, you will feel as if you are losing the battle. Some days you will feel the warmth of sunshine. Don’t run away from feelings. If you want to cry, go ahead. Tears can make you feel lighter. Don’t feel ashamed. It’s fine to be vulnerable.
  • No matter how dark the night is, the morning will always break. And there are chances that you might feel a little better.
  • One day, you will be larger than your experiences. Till then, be open and compassionate.

 

 

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… 
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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.
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(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)

To Kerala, with love

It’s Onam today — Kerala’s much celebrated harvest festival. But how does one celebrate in the midst of loss, pain, grief and devastation? Kerala is going through a harrowing time because of the massive floods. The magnitude of this natural calamity is beyond anyone’s imagination. But then Kerala has a million stories of hope, love and generosity. Here’s to Kerala’s magical landscape and its beautiful, resilient people. Kerala, you will  always be close to my heart.

(I visited Kerala just a month ago i.e July, 2018. The pics are from my Kerala trip. )

 

PICTURE PERFECT

 

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UNDER A CLOUD… STANDING TALL

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BACKWATERS CALLING

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NET GAIN IN FORT KOCHI

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YOURS TRULY WITH KERALA’S TWINKLING STARS  

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LET’S GO QUIRKY

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The language that runs in my blood

odiyaI don’t remember the exact year. But it was early 1990s. My friend and I were going to Connaught place (New Delhi)  in bus no 615 (from JNU). We were talking in Odia (the language spoken in Odisha) and just before we alighted from the bus, a co-passenger asked us. “Which language is this?” My friend without batting an eye-lid said, “Italian.” We got down from the bus and laughed to our heart’s content. It felt exhilarating to be able to speak in a language that somebody standing next to us couldn’t understand.

I have always relished the fact that I can speak another language fluently other than English and Hindi. I love languages and love collecting words in different languages and write them down in my notebook, mobile phone, mind and heart. Odia is my mother tongue and that’s the language I first learnt to speak.

I remember spending beautiful evenings under a cloudy sky listening to Chittaranjan Jena’s soul soothing song, ‘Mo priya tharu kiye addhik sundar, ediki manoi jiha se…’ (There’s no one more beautiful than my beloved… but she is so moody that only when she’s in a mood she tells me that she’s mine) and Shekhar Ghosh’s ‘Hridayara ei sunayata ku’ (When I ask the emptiness of my heart). I learnt English before I picked up Hindi. I loved English as a language and always scored well too, making my father feel very happy. I was equally good in Odia and my favourite leisure activity was reading all kind of adult literature (mostly novels and short stories) in Odia. Some of the stuff I read, I didn’t understand at all. Nevertheless I just read the books. For the sheer pleasure of travelling through the forbidden territory. My mother had kept away one such novel far away from me in one of her secret shelves. The little devil in me egged me to hungrily finish that novel when she was fast asleep in the afternoon. I think I read that novel faster than a Sukhoi 30.

As a child, I never felt attracted to Hindi as the teacher was not that exciting. He was an old man who was lost in his own world and didn’t pay much attention to our young inquisitive minds. I wish I had somebody to teach me Hindi well in school. I love the sound of Hindi, I love the beautiful, mesmerizing world of Hindustani. I deeply regret not exploring the rich textured world of Hindi literature. But I remember the first Hindi word that left an impression in my mind. The word was ‘kachchi dhup’.   One of my friends had just shifted to Odisha from Bihar and she was good in Hindi. She explained the meaning of the word to me. I remember standing in our garden early in the morning and telling to myself, “Oh, this is kachchi dhup (tender sunlight) playing with me.”

For three years in school, I flirted warmly with Sanskrit and enjoyed listening to the Sanskrit news bulletin on All India Radio (AIR).  It was a highly pleasurable activity for me even though I didn’t understand much. The other day in the newsroom at work, we were talking about our childhood memories and then I started, “Eyam Akashvani. Samparti bartah suniryatam. Prabachika Deepika.(as they used to start the Sanskrit news bulletin on AIR). Everybody burst into laughing. The three language formula in school gave me enough joy to fleet in from one world of language to another.

Now my fourth language is Gujarati. For this, I owe a lot to Taraben, my cook. She didn’t understand Hindi when she became a part of my home and world. So, I had to make an effort to learn Gujarati and now I can speak Gujarati and manage to read it if it’s written in bold letters. I hope, one day I will be able to read a Gujarati newspaper completely. I want to push myself. I want to do it.

Language feels like a trusted companion in my personal and professional world. I feel lost without language. We need to embrace each other for my own sanity. Language is the lover I love spending time with. I need to hold language in my heart. I need an effortless relationship with languages. Languages are not just about words. Languages are about emotions. Languages have a feel of warmth in them. Sometimes, I feel the salty breeze of Bay of Bengal in my mouth as I speak to my childhood friend of 30 odd years in Odiya.  Sometimes I feel the taste of a lightly spiced fish curry and mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil, finely sliced onion and green chili, when I go through old letters of my mother written some twenty odd years ago. Sometimes it gives me a strange of comfort while sitting in my apartment in Ahmedabad, only I can relish the content of the letters written in Devnagari script. It feels very intimate and special.

As I flaunt my grey hair with gay abandon, I now look at languages with a kind of warmth and fondness. I remember my maternal grandmother who always carried a basket of Odiya proverbs with her. She was a tough lady who believed in dishing out a proverb or two at the right moment. She never missed a chance. She had mastered the art of firing proverbs with missile like perfection.

Even as India surges ahead on the path of globalization, we need to protect our languages. It still amuses me when I see upwardly mobile Odia parents speaking to their children in English or Hindi at home but not in Odia. Years ago, a young man asked me “So you speak Odissi at home?” He was then studying in a prestigious college in New Delhi. I looked at him and said, “I speak at home. I don’t dance.” (For the uninitiated, Odissi is a form of Indian classical dance.)

As I indulge myself in English literature, conversations and music, I feel I need to move a bit closer to my mother tongue now.  I can no longer write a poem in Odia. The language is in the process of distancing from me as I am not nurturing it with tenderness and dedication. I have been an inconsistent lover. The touch of ‘sahitya’ is missing in my mother tongue. I am losing a slice of my love. I can’t remember when did I write a letter in my mother-tongue? May be a decade ago. But I now feel the desire to do so..

Now I listen to Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosale, Mohit Chauhan, Elton John,  Cat Stevens, Mariah Carey, and Adele.  I no longer listen to Akshaya Mohanty, Chittaranjan Jena and Prafulla Kar. They are childhood memories carefully tucked away in some corners of my heart. Their songs are on a pause mode for me. Their voices no longer waft through my home.

Most importantly, I express love in English. On rare occasions, I do it in Hindi. My love has a language that was never in my blood. Never in my vein. I express love in a language that has been far more global than mine actually. A language that has a limited vocabulary  for fire, water, earth and sky. Leave alone love. English makes it easier for me to write a love letter. It enables me to shed my inhibitions. To create a different world than the world I am familiar with.

In strange ways, I now stay connected to the language I first spoke. I speak in Odia to the visiting pigeons who come and happily sit on my balcony wall and sometimes wander aimlessly in my living room. I ask them in Odia, “Are you paying the rent? Why are you going and banging yourself against the glass window? When will you have some intelligence?” I make a mental note of my ‘TO DO’ lists in Odia. When I am desperate, .I talk to my late mother in my mother tongue asking her to make things easy for me. I tell her, “Why did you go up there when I want you to be here? If you are not here, then at least make life easy for me.” I feel a sense of peace and resonance when I talk to her in the language she taught me to speak and encouraged me immensely to explore. And unknowingly, she gave me a chance to discover adult literature when I was very young,  She gave me an entry ticket to the wonderful La La Land called ‘Imagination.’ I will be eternally grateful to my mother for introducing me to Dr Kunjabihari Das, the doyen of Odiya language and his seminal works on proverbs, Lok katha.

Right now, I am feeling a lot more closer to the language that runs in my blood. Even though I am writing this piece in a language that is not mine. Some emotions or memories always stay true and authentic even though you express in a language that is not actually yours.

 

WE ARE 25

(In times of instant noodles, coffee and dating apps— we turned 25.  This togetherness is beyond any structure, legality or shared surnames)
1. All the cups of chai I enjoyed with you and all the chai I had thinking of you.

2. All the e-mail notes I wrote and all the phone calls you made

3. Crispy fried chicken from Nirula’s and also enjoying a Manhatten Mania ice-cream while walking from Vasant Vihar to the last range of Aravalis (figure out what’s)

4. Gulzar’s ‘Katra Katra’ from Izzazat — still playing on

5. Our mutual love for poori-aloo ki sabzi

6, When Moonlight samosas and jalebis were bought with love and affection

7. Learning to make chicken curry and actually doing it well with a desire to cook a nice meal for you.

8 Living up to the image of ‘Argumentative Indians’ in front of each other

9. To perspectives, experiences and discovering

10 For all our grey hair and all the love that come with it

11. Long sleeve white kurtas and blue jeans you wore

12. Conversations that continued in the stillness of the night and finally waking up

between fantasy and reality

13. For the India within us, the India we are dreaming of

14 Our deep love for Gandhi and his thoughts

15. To that extra-ordinarily beautiful rainy night on the rock. Not many are as lucky as we are.

16. 236 Jhelum — bare walls, mattress on the floor yet it felt so complete

17. Politics — wholly, partly but substantial too

18. To that unexplained feeling that this relationship will survive against all odds

19. For not tying my hair even though you wanted me to do that (rebel without a cause)

20. Sitting on the verandah of the Sabarmati Ashram with you by my side (my spiritual home in every sense of the term)

21. Longing and belonging — in between sunrise and sunset

22. Love and affection — beyond context and structure

23. All the ear-rings you bought for me, my love

24. Marx, Gandhi, Rumi, Kabir — discovering all of them in one life and then embracing and celebrating

25. To the clock that has ticked diligently for the last 25 years even as we loved, laughed and fought occasionally too.

Here’s to LIFE