A mouthful of sky — from my window

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This summer has been brutal in Ahmedabad. The harsh sun of Ahmedabad forced me to put sun-shield screens on my window. The room looked dark even in the middle of the noon. You could not really distinguish between day and night. The air-conditioner and the frightfully expensive electricity bills somehow helped us to sail through this soul destroying summer months. All through the summer months, I dreamt of sleeping without an air-conditioner. I dreamt of waking up to a mouthful of sky. From my window. The window was shut 24×7. And the air-conditioner was on whenever I stayed at home. I felt gratitude in my heart for being able to afford an air-conditioned bed-room. But I was longing for a whiff of cool fresh air.

The season has got a make-over now. For last three nights, I am sleeping sans the hissing sound of an air-conditioner. My darling niece gifted me a really bad cold and throat infection when I visited her in New Delhi. I came back to Ahmedabad with a horrible throat infection and have been coughing like a 90 year old dadiji of a Hindi film of the 70s.

I gave my cup of Earl Grey tea a miss today morning. Instead, I settled for a cup of hot water brewed with ginger, basil leaves and turmeric. As I sat down in my room with this soothing drink, a mouthful of sky and a winged friend warmed my heart. A friendly world came inside my bedroom through my window.

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There was life outside – the Gulmohar tree was swaying lazily in breeze, the birds were chirping in full glory, the fleeting clouds were busy creating drama in the sky. The shaft of sunlight fell softly on the walls of the apartment standing tall next to mine. Windows can be exciting even when they don’t come with the signature of Microsoft. I felt happy, content in my own little world — all because of my humble window which has been kept open. And the curtains are not drawn perfectly.

Nature is the healer. The sky is a reminder of all things beautiful.

P S: Read this last night in a column written by my favorite Natasha Bhadwar : “Think of yourself as the sky,” she said to me. “Everything else is like clouds. They come and go. They are different shapes, colours, temperament. They pass. You stay.”

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Life. Zindagi. जूनून

Colours of life

I saw Rang Rasiya in November, 2014. Then I watched Piku in May, 2015. In between, I watched not a single film. My friend who thrives on a constant diet of Hindi films chided me for not reveling in reel magic. On skype, she told me, “Why aren’t you watching any film? What’s wrong with you?” I laughed and told her, “I am high on life. Life around me can put any Bollywood pot-boiler to shame.”

As much as I love watching film, I feel nothing can match the magic of living life laced with madness or as they say junoon (I love the sound of this beautiful word). Life is not monochromatic. Life is like a wild river and you never know when it will change is course. And for this only, life gives me a high.

Love, longing, pain, arguments, counter-arguments, voices, silences, brutality, tenderness, gain, loss — all sitting prettily on that canvas called Life. Or Zindagi. You never know how a surprise will show its face and from which corner. And bring a smile on an otherwise mundane day.

The other day I was coming home after meeting a friend of mine. Even a ugly city like Ahmedabad was looking nice in neon lights and a fresh spell of rains. There was a little girl on the street selling ballons. There was something about her sparkling eyes. I paid her Rs 10 and picked up the colorful balloons. She moved ahead  looking for another potential buyer. Soon, the red light turned green. The auto in which I was traveling inched ahead. As we took a turn, the little girl spotted me and gave a 1000 watt smile with a Thumbs up sign and screamed, “Thank You, Didi.” For some it could be Anurag Basu/Anurag Kashyap moment. For me, it’s life’s moment.

Low-cost happiness

When I booked my Bangkok ticket for Rs 48,000 in October 2014, my friends got into a collective mourning phase. So, for almost two weeks, they kept on telling me , “Oh, for this amount (and a little more), you could have gone to Istanbul, London, Paris…” Their never-ending list covered almost all parts of the globe other than Antarctica (that was really generous). And in typical Indian way, they never forgot to add, “This money is too much for Bangkok. You got a really bad deal.” Well, the Bangkok trip was done only to make my very close friend happy as she wanted to spend her birthday with me in a third destination. I am an old soul who doesn’t believe in always calculating, adding and subtracting in life.

But my friends’ constant talk of my Bangkok ticket did something to my psyche. So one of my bucket lists for 2015 was to experience joy, happiness at low cost. So, I chose to go to Jaipur to be a part of the much-talked about literature festival. And I decided to make it a low cost one. The natural choice was to go by the Indian Railways. I am challenged in many spheres of life (the list will be longer than UPA government’s scam lists).  With great difficulty, I opened an IRCTC account but I could never log in as it kept on telling wrong password (The password was a combination of my name and my ex love’s name. May be the Indian Railways found that it’s not ‘ethical’ for a married woman to have such a password).

But then there are always somebody or the other to come to my rescue. So, by the grace of the universe,  one of my colleagues offered to book my ticket from his account.  When he asked, “A two-tier AC ticket?” I said “No, no…book it in three-tier AC (I wanted to go slow on every penny).” The hotel in Jaipur where I stayed was definitely a drool-worthy deal. It’s a nice small heritage property (however, In Jaipur/ Udaipur, it’s very difficult to find a non-heritage property (every hotel’s name ends with ‘palace’ and this was no different). The highly involved owners of the ‘palace’ hotel make sure that it’s well-maintained. The only drawback is that they don’t serve non-vegetarian food. So, I missed having an omelette in the breakfast. But it was a small price to pay for a wonderful deal.

The organisers of Jaipur Literature Festival definitely deserve a toast for keeping it free. So, for four days I got to listen to writers/thinkers/philosophers/scientists from across the world on a variety of subjects without spending a penny. There can be no greater happiness than reveling in knowledge.

When you are in the Pink City, it’s natural to indulge in some shopping. I have a put an embargo on buying clothes. So, I bought a beautiful bed-cover, bangles for myself and my cook and ear-rings for my cook’s daughter who also works at my home. The shopping sojourn deserves another post which will give a slice of life in India.

I came back to Ahmedabad as a much happier person with loads of stories from the lanes and bylanes of the Pink City and of course from Diggi Palace (the venue of the Litfest). And all this did not cost me much. Who says happiness needs to have a big price tag?

Mysteries of life

I fail to understand why it works this way but it definitely does…. my friends also agree with me…

* On working days I feel like sleeping till twelve O’ clock and on my weekly off days I am up at 6.30 am and reading newspapers

* The day when I am in a mood to throw my mobile phone into the Bay of Bengal, the same day I get calls asking me “Tame kaun” (who are you)

* When I don’t need the scissor, stapler or any important paper,  it’s right there on my table. But when I need it desperately, I just can’t find it. It just magically vanishes into thin air to reappear once again mysteriously after hours of CBI like raids in my house

* When I go to a restaurant, the food served on the next table always looks much more delicious than mine.

* When I am in a hurry, the red lights on the road conspire against me. When I am not in a hurry, the green lights welcome me

* When my sister and me go for sari shopping, we choose our saris after much consultation, observation and analysis. But when we reach home, we always feel we should have bought that green/purple sari (which we dismissed as ordinary in the shop)

* I hate kaju katri but every Diwali I get lots of packets of kaju katri as gifts

* There are some days (rare though in a newspaper office) when I feel “Oh, we have all matter in place. It will be an easy edition and will be released much before the deadline.” Needless to say, something or other crops up and the edition gets delayed beyond imagination.

I fail to fathom these mysteries but I guess that’s why life is exciting.

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.

Mine or …..

At the end of the day, it’s a funny world where everyone is having a problem. And each one thinks his/her problem is the toughest one. Not having a problem is a problem itself. I look around and see friends,colleagues all talking of their problems. Here goes a list

* A friend’s cook is on leave and she just can’t whip up a simple meal not even an omelette

* Another one’s hairstylist messed up her uber cool looks by cutting her hair too short

* One feels devastated because her problem is that she can’t get a cup of frothy coffee in her office canteen

* One thinks he is aging too fast and now there are not many women who find him hot, sexy and attractive

*  A friend is suspecting her husband is having an affair…she’s trying to find his email password… and has not slept for long

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)