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.

 

 

 

 

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Love

“Lie to me” – She whispered.

“I love you.” – He said.”

Sometimes, the lie comes in the form of diamonds, roses, wine, candle-light dinners, chocolates, cup cakes, a Little Red Dress, a tie, a linen shirt, a kiss.

And sometimes in the form of Facebook status updates.

It’s easy to lie and wrap it in myriad ways.

Love is an industry now. A globalized product. Love thrives in the market.

Interestingly, in the midst of all this, almost everybody craves for pure love. People spend their entire lifetime waiting to experience that intense love.

What did you say?

Today’s Valentine’s Day.

Wait for tomorrow.

Plan

SHE:  I have a plan.

HE: Tell me.

SHE: I want both of us to stay in a nice, beautiful boutique hotel. I will eat a delicious dinner of mutton biryani and polish it off either with caramel custard or rabri.

HE: Then?

SHE: Then I want to fight with you from 10 in the night to 5 in the morning. I have so much to fight .. for all the 25 years melted between you and me. When the sun rises, I will hug you tightly and then sleep throughout the day.

HE : Wonderful. But I will go hungry cause I might sleep off after such a nice dinner.

SHE: Fine. But I will eat. May be not much. But the dinner has to be nice. And I want to fight and fight with you. Nice food, nice fight.

HE: When?

SHE: When the time feels right.

(In her mind, this conversation has been playing like an intimate scene from a film. And today in the Parliament, the BJP government presented the Indian budget for 2017. Lovers, county, nation, governments all are planning )

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.

An aunt wishes happy birthday

gogol

(Wow. That’s what people say when I tell them that my nephew Sarthak’s birthday is on December 31.  For me, you are the ‘WOW BOY.’ )

It is difficult to be an Indian kid and have only one name. Even when you live in Atlanta. In your school, they call you Sarthak. Your aai (grandmother) used to call you Babu.  Your mom, dad call you Sarthu. Simrita, your loving elder sister dramatically calls you ‘Brother.’ For me, you are Gogol (named after the famous Russian writer Nicolai Gogol).  Sometimes, we also call you – ‘The thinking boy,’ ‘The little Buddha.’

It’s December 31, 2016. You will turn 9 today. I still remember the day when I received a call from your mom telling me that you have arrived. You and I live in two different time zones.  It was evening and I was in my office doing the pages for the next day’s newspaper. Suddenly, I felt as if I were in the clouds.  Deliciously happy and joyful.  Aah, the pleasure of having a nephew.

This is the first time you are celebrating your birthday in India. Here I am sitting on the balcony of the house which my parents and your grandparents lovingly built and writing this. In this house, we have a generation of memories (of your grandparents) tucked away in every nook and corner. And having you on your birthday in India makes me realize that we all are creating beautiful memories for the years ahead.

With your American accent, you now say, “I love India and want to move here.”  You even talk about doing home-schooling in India. In you, I see the magic called life. You take my breath away with your questions, sharp observations and your love for the wonderful world of trees, flowers, sea shells, fish and cats.  I wonder how seamlessly and beautifully you blend into the natural world. When your mother screamed after accidentally touching the tail of an overweight cat beneath the dining table, you non-chalantly said, “Mama screamed like a little gal and it was just a cat.”  When we put  fish in a water container, you said, “Look, look.. that fish is going crazy.”  You wanted a fish expert to come and rescue the female fish(es) so that they can have babies.

I am impressed by your knowledge. From the sparkling world of gemstones like ruby, topaz, sapphire to dinosaurs, you add so much to my knowledge. Talking to you, I realize I have so much to learn and unlearn too. Seeing me sipping my morning drink, you started talk about coffee beans, grinding of beans to make coffee powder. All that I can do is to look at you in amazement.

We talked about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. You told me about Donald Trump’s talks about building a wall. You vehemently said ‘NO’ when I asked you ‘Do you like Donald Trump?’ You said Hillary if elected would have been America’s first female President.

There are times when I see you lost in deep thoughts. You fit in so beautifully to the names we have for you –‘Thinking boy,’ ‘Little Buddha’.

I am amazed at how you turn away from anything that is excess. On a restaurant table full of dishes like rice, hariyali dal, mutton rezala, panner kalia, diwani handi,  chilli mushroom, green peas masala, I saw you happily savoring just butter nan, little spoons of rice and a tiny piece of chicken tikka (which came as a starter.) The overflowing table with dish after dish just didn’t excite you. To see you so happily enjoying that frugal meal felt so joyous. When we went to buy new clothes for you, you tried just one kurta and after that you were least bothered about how many were we buying for you. I marvel at your sense of minimalism. How far are you from this world of excess?  The world of excess which we adults are all mindlessly creating and feeling proud of. There’s so much to learn from you.  You reaffirm my faith that less is more. In you, I see a hope for this amazing universe.

You are an American citizen and many in this world would give up everything they have to flaunt that passport (more from Gujarat where I live). But in you, I see this ancient land called India. I know, the world is changing. India is changing too. Very drastically. There are intimate moments when I feel you are as beautiful, kind, compassionate as our fascinating, layered land called India.

When I gave you the bag of kurtas in the shop and told you, ‘This is your birthday gift’, you told me, ‘No, no I have seen this. There’s no surprise. You have to surprise me.”

I wish you health, knowledge, love for nature and people from all walks of life. And may life always spring up happy surprises for you.

I will wait for the day when you will grow up and read this blog and realize you have been a real wonderful and precious gift to all of us.

We love you deeply. Happy Birthday, Sarthak.

The secret banks of our moms and grandmoms

Honey, it’s all about money now in India. All of us are talking about money. In offices, homes, cafeterias and during morning walks too. And out mothers and grandmothers are  talking about it too. In a little different way. Sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with a little reluctance. Thanks to recent demonetization in India, many people are discovering the interesting relationship their  moms and grandmoms share with money.

After the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, many households are now seeing something which is really ‘note’worthy. My friend’s 82 year old granny has just handed him over her priceless Rs 23,000 to him so that he could deposit in the bank. My friend tells me with a sense of utter surprise ruling his voice, “Never knew aai (in Odisha, we call maternal grandmother as ‘aai’) had so much of money with her. Now, I understand how she always managed to give us (her grandchildren) money to eat aloo chop and rosogulla or to buy new clothes for our birthdays.”

Just two days prior to the demonetization, when my friend’s father had asked his wife (my friend’s mom) whether she had some extra money with her, she had refused point blank telling she had no cash lying with her. And when the demonetization process was announced, she had no option but to reluctantly hand over a stack of crisp Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes to her husband as the scrapped notes need to be either exchanged/deposited in the banks.

Well, I am a great admirer of mothers and grandmothers who manage their households with great caution and loads of charm too. They can put any finance minister to shame. Not many of them earn a regular income.They manage to save the money from their household budgets. They save the money the receive from their loved ones on special occasions.Their saving smells love. And their precious savings is put in their secret little banks tucked away carefully in cupboards, in between silk saris, in little pouches or purses. That gives them the freedom to pamper their daughters, sons, grandchildren, domestic helps in myriad ways and once in a while for their own shopping too. Thanks to their secret wealth, many of us have enjoyed loads of chocolates, ice-creams, samosas, new clothes, shoes and the like.  Aah, the pleasure of receiving money from your mom, aunt or grandmom. No salary slip can match that pleasure.

Even as I am writing this, I am fondly remembering  my mother’s secret bank. A couple of days after she passed away,  while arranging her wardrobe I found many little purses, colorful envelopes containing cash. If I remember correctly, I found cash worth Rs 32,000. And then I also remembered  how my mother used to give me cash during my annual visits to buy something for myself and my husband. Giving me money was one of the many ways to express her love for me.

.So, let us celebrate the secret banks of India’s mothers and grandmothers. Homes will not feel the same without this fabulous wealth. These little secret bank makes us feel so rich. And so loved too.

My little story of Rs 100

I have my little story of Rs 100. It was early 1980s, I was a school girl. We were living in Cuttack, a town in Orissa. My father was a professor of chemistry and we lived in a beautiful campus. Cuttack is famous for (among many other things) Bali Yatra. Bali Yatra is about a huge fair that is organised to celebrate the memory of Orissa’s brave-hearts who used to sail to Java, Sumatra and Bali (South-East Asia) eons ago for trade and commerce.  It is now part of our maritime history. As kids, we used to wait for days together to go this magical fair which had giant wheels, swings, stalls selling lip-smacking food, artisans selling indigenous crafts, clay toys, dolls and the like. It felt simply magical to be there.

These crowded fairs were also notorious for pick-pocketing. I had gone to the fair with my parents, sisters and an elder cousin too. My dad, as a safety measure, was  keeping his left hand on his shirt pocket which had his wallet and I was holding my father’s right hand and taking my measured steps.  While finding our way through the jostling crowds, in a nano-second somebody picked up my father’s wallet. And the wallet had Rs 100. My father lost his precious hard-earned money.

We all came back home with lots of disappointment.  I remember my mother didn’t eat her dinner that night as she was mourning the loss of Rs 100. I also remember my father urging her to eat her dinner as the money would not come back. But feeling of loss and logic don’t really go together. The memory of my father losing the Rs 100 note in the fair and my mother not eating her dinner has somehow always stayed with me. And somehow that memory of  my mother’s grief that night has always made me treat money with respect.  It gives a me a deep feeling of where I come from. And how I should sail through this world. Not succumbing to mindless consumption.  To respect what I have on my table.    

On November 8,  Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi told the nation that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 will cease  to be legal tender from the midnight. All hell broke loose on the virtual world. My phone kept on ringing, there were endless chats on whatsapp and the like. I sat in front of the television watching the press conference by the Economic Affairs Secretary (an articulate man). And then I sat down to take out the Rs 500, Rs 1000 notes from my wallet.

I have been privileged to have couple of  Rs 100/ 50/ 20 notes to sail through. To manage my daily expense. I am yet to stand in a queue to withdraw or exchange money. I stood in solidarity with one of my colleagues when she went to the bank to exchange money.

I have been extra cautious in my spending for the last three days.  At the same time, I must confess that I am privileged to have debit cards and access to net-banking (I have a credit card too but I don’t use it.) unlike many others in this vast, diverse country.

I want to push myself. I will wait for 2/3 days more. The Rs 100 notes in my wallet give me a kind of strength, pleasure and a deep sense of my roots too.

I wish that the banks will keep a separate line for senior citizens and differently able. That will make their lives a little better in these tough times.

 

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

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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