When the mind cuts like a knife

In many ways, words become living beings in the course of our life journey. Words assume a life of their own when we listen deeply to our inner self.
She thinks of the word ‘Pining.’ And thinks of him. He taught her the word — through  his presence and absence.

Both of them feel they should have been together. It would have been wonderful to read, write, dissect, reflect and exchange ideas and world views. Night after night. In the midst of ordinariness of life.

Even though their  interests are different, they share a very strong sense of adaptive intellectual and cognitive connectivity. After all, all you can now only hear cacophony around you. There are so very people  with whom one can talk these days. Don’t get her wrong. She doesn’t believe in intellectualizing human relationships.

People think she’s flamboyant. They find her cool. But you see people see themselves differently. She feels the flamboyance is actually a kind of cover up for all the years of longing she has kept within her.  Lest the brutal world will shred her soul.

Over cups of black tea and Farida Khanum’s soul-stirring music, she tells to her friends, “Love and loss mean the same. I have loved only one man in my life and lost him so many times that in the process love and loss are intertwined.”

One friend asks, “What makes you stay attracted?”

“Tenacity and ability to look at the world like a sharp knife. It’s gratifying to see someone to cut the flab/the excess and hold on to the essence. Something like holding a knife and peeling the yellow skin of a mango.  A simple yet meaningful act. There’s immense beauty in it. Probably, that’s why I am always attracted to austerity, melancholy, bareness. Excess is vulgar.”

There was silence in the room. Silence can be sharp too.

 

 

 

 

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.’

The Art of Stillness

I enjoy reading Pico Iyer. The other day while trying to sail through the madness of the newsroom and stiff deadlines, I took a little break and ordered online a copy of  Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness. I decided to give my favourite Amazon a miss and chose another site (No, not Flipkart). Well, I chose this site  because it was offering me a price which was Rs 22 (when you convert, it’s far far lower than one dollar) less than the offer given by Amazon. The lure of saving money.

 

book

 

This was my first purchase from this site. My heart says it will be last too. Little did I know that this site took the title of my book  very literally. They true to the title of the book decided to be STILL for many days and weeks. They taught me to practice The Art of Stillness in real life. I waits and waited.

The stillness turned into movement when I received the book two days back after I had forgotten about it completely.

The slim book is a pleasure to read. I m not rushing through it.

Like slow cooked mutton biryani, I m savoring it.

Slowly. And slowly.

America. Too far

Even in 2016 that comes with near perfect internet connection, viber, skype, whatsapp, Gchat, I find America too far. I find it difficult to embrace two different time zones.

“America is far. When will you be back?” I asked him. “Distance is not an issue these days. By your logic, even Ahmedabad is far from Delhi,” he told. “No, America is very far,” I answered back. He told, “But your sister lives there.” I replied, “How will anyone understand the pangs of separation?”

My younger sister has been living in America since last 20 years. During the initial years, I hoped that she would come back to India. To Bangalore, Pune or may be Hyderabad. We often talked of her coming back to India.  Possibilities of walking into each other’s homes  without ever having to go through the visa, immigration procedures.

Times have changed. Years have brought in different realities.  We don’t indulge in such talks now. Our wrinkles on the face are becoming more visible.We know the reality. Her coming back to India looks as remote as Virendra Sehwag once again playing international cricket.

I have always hated the hours between my sister boarding a flight from Newark and arriving at Mumbai. These hours always make me  cranky, anxious. I  somehow make a listless attempt to sail through the day. I keep myself occupied by  cleaning wardrobes that look organized. I perk up when she arrives in Mumbai. Suddenly the anxiety just melts away.

It’s not even 20 hours since he left for America. I have started feeling the pangs of anxiety. I am writing this piece to sooth me, to calm me. I know, it’s not about him. He has gone there on a short visit. He travels frequently. So, it’s no big deal.

So, what exactly is it? It’s about my primary emotions. It’s about my sister living in America. It’s about my sister and me not being able to mourn together the loss of our parents. We could never hug each other when our wounds were raw and bleeding. We were too desolate in two distant lands. Yet we could find a meeting ground.

Life is strange, actually. Sometimes we don’t know whom we are missing. But we feel the ache deep within our heart. We feel the pain in our veins. Same is true of ‘being far’ too. Even in the midst all the internet trapping, I feel America is really far. The silicon valley guys will laugh at me. For talking about distance in 2016.

 

 

Relationship manager

I was on my desk at work. A tall, lanky man came to meet me. I thought the visitor had some press release to share with me. Journalists can’t think beyond news/stories.

I looked at him curiously. He looked at me and told,  “I am your relationship manager.”

I told him, “What!!!! most of my relationships are screwed up. So, what exactly are you managing?”

He was taken aback with this outburst of mine. Most finance professionals are too seriously involved with numbers, profit margins and the like. Humor doesn’t come to them quickly. Humor comes easily to poor journalists like me.  He then blurted out, “I am from your bank. I am there to manage your account. ”

Money, relationship, finance … all now seem entangled together in a liberalized, market-driven India.

You see, I was born in pre-liberalized India. I am as clueless about all this as I was before.

 

Love. Pyaar. Magic.

Duniya bahut saari hoti hai, par pyaar ek hi hota hai. (There are many many worlds… My world, his world, her world, rich man’s world, poor man’s world, peaceful world, volatile world, hostile world, friendly world.. the list goes on and on. But there is only one love.) You can never replicate magic. It just happens once and once in a lifetime.

Just embrace the magic. The magic called love. And be grateful for it.

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Of checks and cross

.Image I call him Kitty these days. The world also calls him Sarthak or Gogol. He is my five year old nephew who lives in Atlanta. He came to India during this summer. He has a unique way of showing his love. If he loves you, then he will give you a check. And if he’s upset with you then he will give you a cross. Some times he draws it on a paper and puts it in your hand. On most occasions, he will draw the sign on your hand, palm or cheeks. That’s his way of showing love or disappointment.

I told this to my husband and showed him how Kitty does it. And my husband kept on giving me loads of ‘cross’ —- sometimes a little hard which felt like mild pinching.   Now I have banned this ‘playful’ act at home. May be I should have just told him about drawing it on the paper. There’s always something innocent about a kid’s way of doing things. Till he/she grows up.

Locked door, closed windows

I am wallowing in grief. Because the door of the house in which my aunt and uncle lived is now locked and all the windows are closed. For me, this three bed-room apartment is home to a collage of wonderful memories. I will hold it close to my heart till I breathe my last. Everytime I went to Bhubaneswar on holidays, I loved being in this sparkingly clean house. It was a house where I could walk in at any point of time even without making a phone call. Five star hotels could have picked up a few lessons in house-keeping from my aunt. Not a single magazine/newspaper was ever misplaced in her house. For years, my favourite way to relax in her house was to lie on her absolutely comfortable bed and read an Outlook or India Today.  Every now and then my aunt would come to me with a cup of tea/coffee and a plate full of mouth-watering snacks. The tea always came in a different cup and on a different tray. I felt like a princess soaking in the love and warmth of my aunt and uncle. Pampering a niece came naturally to them.
Without ever saying, it was understood that it was a home where I was always welcome. I could just put my feet up on the couch and ask my aunt to give me a visual account of all the sari-shopping she did when I was far away. She would then open the cupboard and take out feather-like soft silk and cotton saris in bright colors. In between looking at the saris, I would cast a glance at myself on her dressing table mirror. Life felt like sheer poetry.
I spent languorous moments watching my aunt applying powder on her face after her morning bath. I loved the quietness that ruled the morning air. I loved the way time stretched its arms even as my aunt and me laughed, talked and drank cups of tea. It was love and affection that brought me back to this wonderful house year after year. It was a second home that gave me a chance to escape from existential realities.
I was looking forward to savour that slice of life once again in October. But destiny had willed it otherwise. My aunt passed away on the wee hours of July 17. Last night, my uncle moved to Bengaluru to be with his eldest son. From now onwards, my uncle will divide his time between Bengaluru and New Jersey. The house that once smelt of my aunt’s lip-smacking bread-pakoras, elaichi tea and chicken curry is now locked. Warm memories of laughter laced moments spent with my aunt now fill up my eyes with tears. Sooner or later, dust will settle on my aunt’s pebble like smooth dining table. The colourful teacups that line her kitchen shelf will long for a lip. Every time I think of the locked house, images of my beautiful aunt moving graciously from one room to another haunt me. I still can’t come to terms with the thought that next time when I will be in Bhubaneswar, I will not actually see my aunt pottering around the house like a butterfly. Like my aunt, the house will be as far as the distant horizon.

The last song of desire

October, 2008. Life seemed perfect. Every night I used to sit on my dining table, typing out furiously on my mint-fresh lap-top. I was working on a novel set in the beautiful intoxicating bougainvillea laced world of JNU. Just a month back, I had gone back to JNU after years, a place which gave me knowledge, passion, love, music and most importantly a perspective to live and die for. As I wrote like a possessed woman in love night after night, I felt complete. And then came a phone-call from my sister telling me that my mom had a thigh bone fracture and she needed to have a surgery. At first I thought it to be a case of osteoporosis and booked my ticket to go to Bhubaneswar.
When I arrived on a rather cool October Tuesday, I saw her sitting on the bed, with her leg stretched. The bed had suddenly become her universe. I took over from my sister to look after my mother. I had no idea of what was coming ahead till my mom’s biopsy report told us in no uncertain terms that she had multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow). And when my sister told me this, I sobbed inconsolably. Four years ago, I had seen my sister-in-law fighting a year long absolutely bitter battle against cancer and finally succumbing to it. The memories of that lost battle came back to me like a movie.
But then sometimes life doesn’t give you the luxury to sit quietly in a corner and read even a two page medical report. As the chill ran down my spine, I wiped away my tears and entered into my mother’s room to give her a glass of milk. I made sure nothing could give her an inkling of the storm trying to overpower my essence. I learnt to coat my utter despair with humor. I could have been an award-winning actor then.
The following days involved innumerable painful tests and more tests which were even difficult to pronounce. She groaned in pain everytime we put her on a stretcher and took her to the hospital in an ambulance. And unknowingly I developed my phobia of an ambulance (little then I knew that one day my father would breathe his last in an ambulance). I remember walking all alone into the doctor’s room for having an open discussion on the line of treatment. I remember him looking at me from across the table littered with little notebooks, pens and pencils and then saying with a straight face, “You are sitting on a time bomb.” I listened to him carefully concealing my emotions like a sandwich wrapped in an aluminum foil, made mental notes of days that will see us together putting up a fight a battle against the most feared yet strangely mysterious disease mankind has ever experienced. As I walked out of his room which smelt and looked like any other air-conditioned hospital room after listening to him for almost an hour, I could feel the shaft of sunlight in every pore of my skin and yet I found a strange overwhelming darkness enveloping me.
After being with her for six weeks, I came back to Ahmedabad to resume my work. Cancer has the ability to rip you apart — mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. It can wipe off your bank balance in no time. For the first time, we as a family got into a long discussion on money. I came back to pick up the threads of a life I had put on hold for six weeks. I felt as if I have to relearn the art of living once again. I had to relearn meeting deadlines in a newspaper, writing a story and most importantly to connect with people around me. In the midst of all this, I looked around and realized the fundamentals of my life game had changed. I had no option but to change the strategy of the game to survive the game. Even if it’s not meant to win the game. I did exactly what Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote later in 2010 in his seminal book titled ‘The Emperor of All Maladies (A biography of cancer)’, “When you erase everything irrelevant and think of the fundamentals…. you know it’s not an ordinary battle. It’s a battle against cancer.” I learnt to erase. I started erasing mobile numbers of people who no longer mattered to me. I started blocking people from my G chat list. I chose to be with people who mattered to me following that life-changing six weeks of my life. I chose to move away from a very very intimate relationship which had been the core of my life till then. I chose to move away from intense love which had enveloped me completely and absolutely all my adult years. I chose to do that because suddenly that kind of all consuming intimacy seemed irrelevant to me. From my mother’s bedroom, he with all his brilliance and a fine analytical academic mind, looked  too distant.
Like a maniac, I spent silent dark nights on the internet trying to make a sense of why my mother got what she got. What role her genetics played in this? I tried looking for answers in her side of family’s medical history. I made desperate attempts to understand what was happening within my mother’s body which brought me into this world. And when her first line of treatment completely failed after long grueling nine months (a rare case in medical history), my sister broke down over the phone as she made a long distance call to me.  And that night, for the first time in my life, I felt scared. I kept the lights on throughout the night and waited for the morning to break. As the first soft rays of the morning sun sneaked into my room coyly, I realized that everything evolves, changes in life. The night becomes the morning, the sunrise becomes the sunset. And sometimes intense love also turns into indifference. Simple things become complicated. A daughter learns to face the Damocles’ sword hanging on her mom’s head. Behind the closed doors of my room, I burst into lonely tears.                                                                                                                                  ‘Pure bad luck”, the doctor put it simply and emphatically when I called him up the next day. In my desperation, I asked him, “Doctor, tell me how long will she live? Six months, weeks or a year? Should I quit my job to be with her?’ He understood my desperation and tried to comfort me. I am grateful to him for that moment of hope in the midst of desperation.
Within weeks, I was back in Bhubaneswar as her condition deteriorated rapidly. My younger sister along with her kids flew down from Atlanta. As a family, we decided to be together while clinging on to hope. The doctor told all of us to be prepared for tough days ahead. I was in Bhubaneswar for a week. Her cancer had become much more aggressive than what it was before. We had no option but to choose an immensely painful advanced and final line of treatment. In that one week, I did not sleep for a minute. I was looking after her in the night in her ground floor bedroom. I saw her collapsing like a pack of cards on the bathroom floor and I quietly watched her crawling to the bed (the cancer had affected her neuropathy and that resulted in her collapsing any moment).
Seeing my 5 feet 5 inch once strong mom collapsing like that on the floor deeply humbled me. It made everything look so small, so trivial. I died a million deaths in those horrifying long nights. But I also had a reason to live. I wanted her to emerge victorious. And that time something deeper emerged within me. I became a different person. As I took the flight back to Ahmedabad, I checked in at counters like a machine. Her painful gut-wrenching screams haunted me, followed me to my humble two bed room apartment in the stillness of night. It did not help that we were almost 1500 kilometers away from each other. I just couldn’t sleep in my bedroom. The twitching of her body in great pain and agony did something to my physical being. For one whole year I had lost interest in my physical world. It did not matter to me whether the yellow cushion cover in my living room was gathering dust or the flower vase on the dining table had flowers wilted for long. I couldn’t bring myself to soak in physical pleasure. Suddenly the intoxicating feeling of making love felt like cold meat. I could very well live without it. Entangling of bodies in pleasure seemed distant, grossly meaningless. I had lost the sense of warmth in a body. For a year, I felt like an outsider in my own world. I had lost all tender sense of belongingness, physical intimacy, the ability to hold a person’s face in my hand.  I had subconsciously embraced pain in my existence. That pain humbled me. It cleansed me of all trappings in the world. Like clarified butter, I learnt to shed the burden of arrogance of knowledge I have been carrying within myself since my student days. What JNU did not teach me, that dreaded ‘C’ word taught me. I suddenly felt much more aged than what I was actually.
It’s April, 2012 now and  sometimes I look back at my life like an outsider and think ‘is it real?’ Last year, my father passed away ending years of companionship for my mom. There are times now when I talk to my mom about the years that have passed by, the collective struggle that we have gone through as a family, my personal quest to find an intimate sense of love and longing and of course her aspiration, her sense of hope and most importantly her desire. Believe it or not, all that she desires is that she should be able to comb her hair and put buttons on her blouse herself.  And she should be able to whip a dish for me when I visit her. What you, me and many others in this world take for granted has become her desire, aspiration, goal. That’s what cancer does to you.
And last time, when I was there with her at home to observe my father’s first death anniversary, I so very wanted to put my head on her lap (like the way I used to do as a young girl). But then she looked so frail, so fragile that I could not bring myself to do that. Lest I hurt her physically. Instead, I just chose to lie down next to her in her bedroom which has not changed for years. The dressing table, the wardrobe, the music system— all have remained in the same position. Lying next to her, I closed my eyes. I thought of my father, my earlier fun-filled holidays, my loving friends who have stood by me like a rock, my lost love and most importantly that unfinished file titled ‘book’ in the ‘C’ drive of my lap-top.
I know I can never go back to my novel. Cancer makes or breaks relationships. Even as my mother was fighting her battle, I was fighting my battle to wean myself away from relationships which I thought were ‘Mine’. I can’t go back to a broken relationship. I don’t have it in me to finish that novel. Like my mom can’t go back on time machine, I can’t go back to the nights which saw me completely lost in the world of words and passion. I turned around and I could see my mom’s chest moving slowly in a rhythmical manner— up and down. Almost like a musical note. And then I realized that cancer has taught me to find a way between fantasy and reality. I walked out of her bedroom silently. Tip-toeing. As I used to  do years ago. As a school girl.

The Ice must melt now…

When I was a child, on hot summer afternoons one of my favourite activities was taking ice-cubes from the ice-box. And then I used to hold it in my hand and see it intently even as the ice-cubes were changing their shape. My father every now and then saw me doing this and when he used to ask me about this particular activity, my standard answer was “I am watching how it’s melting and changing its shape.” My mother always scolded me for doing this but my father never.

It has been years since I actually held an ice-cube in my hand just for the purpose of seeing its shape change. But then as they say everything changes with time. We leave something behind, we pick up something new. And in this constant reshuffling between the old and new, many summers passed by. I grew old so also my father. And then he left my world for ever on January 3, Monday. Today it’s exactly five weeks. I dread Mondays now because I got that chilling phone call that day.  For last five weeks, I have not written a single word. I have been looking at the blank screen of my  lap-top for days and I have not been able to type a single word. Out of restlessness,  I keep on reading poems by Rumi, Pablo Neruda and Amrita Pritam. On worse days, I keep on logging on to  Facebook to see what people are writing as their status message.

I am yet to grieve for my father. I have not been able to cry. Cry inconsolably. Cry without anything to hold me. I want to cry so much that I will just collapse and sleep out of sheer exhaustion. It’s strange —- I continued working in my office on that fateful day even as my sister called up to say that “Baba passed away.” I did so without crying. I called up my travel agency to book my tickets for the next morning. I had a meeting with my team-mates regarding the following day’s work. Earlier in the day, I had fixed up meeting with some people and I had no option but to continue. I didn’t feel the need to tell them the reason to cancel. I thought it will be a betrayal of my core. So, I continued. Like my desk-top. In a mechanical way. I continued working even as the little green dot against my name in G chat was very much there showing my presence in the virtual world. Even as I was carrying on with all these work at my office in Ahmedabad, my eldest sister was lighting my father’s funeral pyre amidst chants of Gayatri mantra (the conditions at home were not favourable to keep my father’s body overnight). My father’s last remains were then being consigned to flames in far away Orissa. Within few hours, my beloved father just turned to ashes leaving no physical trace of his curly hair, his shapely hands and twinkling eyes.  And for the rest of my life, I will only have his photographs, letters, his colourful neck-ties, a stylish Indigo blue jacket for comfort and a sense of belonging. I only have my imagined images in my mind that still play hide and seek with me how his final  journey was. I prefer to push it away but I am not yet successful.

I was almost like a trained soldier even after I arrived in Bhubaneswar. The following days were so grueling that it never gave me a chance to sit down to mourn my father’s death. There were hundred phone-calls to be made; there were things to be arranged. The guests visiting our home were to be taken care of. When his students, colleagues came, we all fondly talked about him.  But the tears never flowed freely.

Even when my sister was doing the rituals of the final immersion of the ashes, tears welled up in my eyes  but I didn’t break down. Along with those few bones and ashes of my father, I quietly put a letter to him and a photostat copy of a piece I  wrote on him for the Chicken Soup for Father’s Soul book in that strangely calming water. I asked for forgiveness if I had ever hurt him unknowingly and I also wrote that he was the best dad in the world and I loved him deeply. I came back to Ahmedabad a day after the immersion. At the Mumbai airport, I kept on looking at people and their world even as the realisation that a part of my world has died for ever was constantly nagging me deep within.

For the outside world, I am back to my old self. Occasionally people now do tell me how strong I am actually. And yes, I crack jokes and laugh at other people’s joke too. But in the midst of it, I am feeling as if  I am carrying a huge really huge iceberg within me. Like a Merc or a Spanish villa, grief is a luxury not many can afford.  It’s all so concentrated that I feel burdened under the heavy weight of it. There are nights I keep on looking at my lap-top thinking that I will again go back to the world of words— a world which my father always encouraged me to explore in myriad ways. But those desperate attempts  only ended in blank stares and an equally blank screen.

Today, on a Monday— I finally gather courage, the strength to go back to the world of words. The ice must melt. The pain must find its way through words though it will change its shape and probably take a different shape on each day from today.

Yes, the ice must melt now. And of course the words must also flow now. Without effort as it has been till now. And if I fail sometime now, I will always go back to my father as I used to as a child while finding a difficult word in my English text book. But can anybody tell me now how long it takes a titanic Iceberg to melt and leave no trace of its original shape?

(This is the first piece I wrote after my father passed away.)

(The earlier ones in this site are the ones I  wrote for my previous blog site)