Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ayodhya: the Right No

One of the thumb rules for solving most relationship problems is that you focus on present pain rather than the accumulated slights of the past. Forgiveness is inherent to healing: it is not to be misunderstood as charity. You forgive so you can move on and heal, you gain more from it than the other person does. If we had to go back and make every act actionable, we would find our very definitions of right and wrong, good and bad, human and divine, challenged.

The Supreme Court's decision to allow the Ayodhya verdict to come through on Thursday, brought forth a surge of emotions, not unlike any relationship knot. I am willing to predict what the verdict will be: and it will uphold the respect that our judiciary still deserves, despite its many afflictions. And it will bring with it a sense of patriotism that even my jaded self will not be able to overshadow.

What is the definition of an outsider, usurper? Does it mean migrants - to countries, places, areas, localities, homes? Does it mean assimilation - of cultures, languages, needs, expressions, fears, reactions? Does it mean identity in terms of time - days, months, weeks, years, generations? Who decides when and how we deserve to belong? Whether we add, deduct, embellish or deface: it is our territorial instincts at play, so in a way, we belong to even that which we hate.

The shastras, literally the 'sacred books' of Hinduism comprise of four classes of scriptures: Shruti (the 'directly heard' or 'revealed' scriptures - the Vedas), Smriti('remembered' lores such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata), Puranas (literally meaning 'ancient' allegories), and the Tantra (rituals and rites). As the incredibly wise Sri Paramhansa Yogananda aptly says, the shastras convey profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism. Never directly: always thought-provoking, letting your soul grow step by step with your free will.

Symbolism. That part of being Hindu that makes us at once pagan and nature worshipers, as it makes us perennial and primordial, to a time before language and culture, civilizations and its various architectural expressions.

The Ramayana has been remembered, quoted, embellished, misinterpreted and cherished for millenia now. Ram, the just ruler, symbolized how rulers/administrators in an ideal world should behave. When we cry for 'Rama Rajya', we don't cry for a Hindu government, we cry for justice, for democracy, for unity. Have you ever heard any Hindu asking for 'Krishna Rajya'? No: the Lord was many things, but he was not at able administrator.

By going back to who built, who broke down, who forced in, who chipped out: are we adding to our learnings from the Ramayana? Must we plunder and burn by placing our convictions on, not the lessons of a 'handed down by memory and recitation' text, but on its geographical interpretations? Who are we battling here? Ghazni died a 1000 years ago.

The right no on Thursday will be a no to Hindu fundamentalists. The right no will be a refusal to spend national time, tax-payers money and satellite feed on a bunch of hooligans who have been deprived of their fifteen seconds of fame. The right no will be to work, to commute, to live, to love and to fight, as always, regularly. The right no will be to make September 30 a regular Thursday. The right no will be making plans to show our children one of the oldest mosques in our beautifully diverse country.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lessons for the future

Etched in black ink, a time of my life that I will never forget. That newer memories will never wash away, so that I don't accuse my own short-sightedness for my pain.

A time when I destroyed, constructed and battled to preserve my soul, every day. A trinity of pain, relief and the spasm in between: and because this is a battle that I can win only if I lose some bits of me, I carve it on my body, like a birth mark, so I take its memories and lessons to the void and beyond. I may not take this body further with me, but this is the closest I came to actually marking my soul. Will I remember me still, then?


Nino is very excited about my new tattoo. He's seen the one on my ankle, but that has always been there. This one, this trishul on my back, is new. He's seen it bleed, he's helped me dress it, and rubbed vaseline onto it when the scabs began to fall off.

Why din't you just paint one, he asks me. Well, it'll wash off in the shower, no? I tell him. He watches me answer the many queries the tattoos get. Permanent means what, mama? he says. Permanent is what will be with you forever: it does not go away, I say, and before I can add an example to cement the meaning - that old soul in the toddler's body says, so Permanent is Painful?

I brushed that answer away quickly, saying silly stuff like my love for you is permanent, that tickle in Nanan's nose is permanent... but his answer shook me for a bit. Sometimes I wonder if I teach you the lessons of age too early in life, Nino.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Missing memories

If I told you that I forget things, you would probably nod with me, and say me too. If I told you that I forget things so completely, that when I do chance upon things I said, wrote, did or clicked, I feel like I'm looking into another person's life, you'd probably stare back, hard.

I don't know how or when this happened: I can only remember bits and pieces of myself over these 29 years,barring the mandatory sharp clear high points, or dull large low points. It has been that way in my relationships as well: I can tell you the firsts, but I cannot for the life of me, map the evolutionary trajectory of how things have come to be.

I spent Janmashtami last week with my folks, dressing up Nino as Kanha, seeking the familiar smells and sights of Mum's much loved silver diyas and jhula for the little God.

As with everytime I stay over, my father tires to pack off some of my leftovers from the house - books, diaries, photographs, letters. He handed me a beautiful spiral notebook that contained a massively long report of the time that I spent as a television production assistant in Mumbai: and I was startled to realise that I had pursued something with such passion once. The realisation was metallic in taste: not necessarily regret, but perhaps an awe of someone who was once me.

A few loose graph papers had angsty poems about love and longing and cigarettes scrawled over them... and again I marveled at this person who spoke her mind so freely, who caved under her feelings, welcoming her weaknesses. I leave you with one such poem.

The Guilt of the Audience.

I left the auditorium,
before you said all you had to say,
munched popcorn outside,
beside sound-proof doors
that closed out your cries.

I walk back in,
to see you gone,
flash-bulb lit empty stage
costumes on the stairs
and trees in the wings.

I can imagine the pain in your face when you turned
to face an empty hall,
the grimace on the face
as you pulled your best mask off -
Had you imagined me cry
as you prepared your part,
smiled as you anticipated my claps
and fierce attention?

I betrayed you then -
felt bored,
got up
stretched a little,
and walked out of the electrocution-chamber.

Monday, August 16, 2010


And so it seems, that the stars HAVE conspired to make life tougher than it is.

My father, very nonchalantly, tells me I've a 'ghatak shani dasha'. And that is as heavyweight as it sounds. 'Since you will continue to remain ill, perhaps seriously so, till the middle of 2011, you might as well develop some grace about it,' he says, without even looking away from the steering wheel. No, there's no chanting that I can do, no offerings, no certain colour clothes that will keep me safe. And do I believe him? Considering that I'm ready to try anything to understand why my body is acting as if it hates me, I'm tempted to agree.

Sigh. I've signed up for a membership with the local Planet Health chain. Might as well save some money.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

RIP Tejaswee

IHM (the Indian Home Maker) - a blogger that I have read intermittently - lost her daughter this week, in the kind of unfair, unexpected wham's that make no sense of life, or destiny, or purpose.
Her heartbreaking post, and links to her remarkable daughter's blogs, here.

RIP, Tejaswee, you have a beautiful smile. I hope it continues to light up your mum's world, as always.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wisdom and wit

What is stronger than a wall made of bricks and bound by cement and plaster?
A wall built of unheld conversations, bound by silences and regret. Impenetrable has a new definition.


Nino, Nino's Dad and Nino's Mum are in the rickety lift, late at night, returning from a party. Cut to sound of jingling beats, drums and voices in chorus, singing devotional songs. Nino's Mum to no one in particular, a rhetoric state of mind: Who's doing the jagran so late in the night? Nino, nonchalantly, in Gujarati: 'The flat where you will see a lot of chappals outside the door.'

Of all my endeavours and intents, raising a practical child was not on the list :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Of pain, and purpose

When Nino falls and gets an ugly black welt on his shin bones, he cries rarely, picks himself up quickly, and wears his scar with pride. Male, I mutter, disgust and awe and admiration all mixed up a bit, at a creature who came from inside of me, but is SO incredibly different from me.

But all my life I've met more women than men, who wear their scars proudly, looking down on those, especially of their gender, who break down easily. I'm married into a family that seems to be made only of these emotional amazons, and I've long faced the brunt of my own family's admonitions, that I suffer, because I am too emotional, too soft, and have a low pain threshold.

My first encounter with the female-perpetuated philosophy of 'threshold of pain' came in middle school, with my first period. For a year, I would have five days of near-insanity, with vomiting, hallucinations and excruciating pain. My mother, who has had the easiest hormone cycle perhaps possible, could only look at me in sympathy, as my father nursed me and my sister took days off from her school to make sure I din't die... because trust me, if you could die of pain, I would have.

The 'threshold' got invoked again and again, by female friends and female relatives and female in-laws for the small things like my inability to get waxed, to the 'big' things like how I wouldn't let my cervix open so that Nino could have a normal birth.
It dint' matter that my body too revolted against pain: waxing gave me allergies that lasted for days, so I've shaved almost all of my teenage + adult life, and that perhaps I was too emotionally disturbed when Nino was in the process of being born. My 12 hours of pain, were brushed aside as 'not real labour', because frankly, I did have to be operated later. It was a character badge that I was not worthy of receiving. Adults = Pain bearers, and therefore I remain immature.

I've always felt that my physical pain mirrored a mental state, that the two were complimentary if not conjoined. Over the last two months, living through crazy-ovaries related migraines, and hot flashes, unending lower back pain and vertigo, to a series of incredibly painful abscesses (all first time incidents with me), I'm now questioning what message my body is trying to give me. If it is trying to increase my pain threshold, perhaps it may have moved up a notch or two under the constant onslaught at new kinds of pain. If that is so, I wonder if I'm being prepped for an emotional calamity of sorts - because don't the elders say that you only carry the cross you can bear?

As I spend my nights in pain, crying in the quiet of a room where no one hears me, at an age that by default denies me of sympathy or caring or nursing, I rage against both my pain and my inability to beat it. It follows me everywhere, even inside the recesses of my soul, like a shadow I cannot shake off. And if I hate it so much, how will its purpose make sense to me?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sweat the small stuff.

When one is young, one rages against secrecy, sealing love with the promise of no-secrets, all dark nooks and corners revealed and inspected.

As one grows in time, and gathers more nooks, corners, crevices and cracks, some darkness escapes the torchlight of words and intent, and bores itself inside your soul, so deep, that somehow sharing seems like a task unto itself. And maybe perhaps, because with time, the ears that sought your secrets out, change too.


The symbolism enjoyed by pebbles in our collective cultures is intriguing. One of my first symbolic references to a pebble was that of pain: I remember reading in 'moral science' class at the convent I studied, about how Jesus stopped a crowd that was stoning 'a prostitute', with words that forced them to reflect before they act. I did not know Mary Magdalene then, but when I discovered her through Jose Saramago, I often wondered how harsh, the smooth pebble must have felt like, for Jesus.

Whether for anecdotes about how full or free to keep life (friends and family are the pebbles in the jar, work is but the smooth sand around it); to how to be more giving or adapting; from images of smooth pebbles skipping over tranquil waters; to being symbolic of a Zen state in life, the pebble is both humble, and primordial.

Did you know that when Nino was in my belly, and I saw him (at that time I did not know the baby's gender) the first time during sonography, I though he looked like a pebble, one smooth surface, one part rough. He was called Pebble by friends and family for the rest of the pregnancy.

And now, as I sit typing this, next to a glass jar filled with white, grey and black pebbles that Nino has picked over his years, everything, every symbol, every anecdote has come rushing to my mind, tugging me along, making my path.


What stories have the pebbles made for you?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Did-too list

The past tense to my to-do list for the month.

1) Watch-ed lots of movies.
Curious Case of Benjamin Button (super). 3 Idiots (all over again). Inception (crazy. intriguing. tad over rated). Salt (from the first row at that, the crink in the neck was worth the second half though). The Last Airbender (need to have a chat with m night shyamalan, and rap his knuckles). I Hate Luv Storys (the first time I saw Sonam Kapoor on screen. Pwetty girl. Pwettier Imran Khan). Kung Fu Panda (love it every time). A dozen more, maybe. Also, every single James Bond movie ever made.... seriously. (courtesy the Bond film festival on Star-Movies every night at 11:00pm. With Nino's Dad, this construes part of our couple time. He's a Bond addict, and our arguments are largely Roger Moore versus Daniel Craig versus Sean Connery.

2) Raise-ed a big family
I'm mothering three boys right now. 13, 8 and 4. Over the weekends, I play mother to an adorable five year old girl too. The first two boys are not mine, and neither is the weekend angel :) The two sisters-in-law and a bunch of cousins are tripping over Leh like perfectly post-card Gujju tourists (khakhra and snack boxes and bottomless shopping prowess!). So we're holding the home fort. Between the questions, and the pillow fights, two school car-pools and the trips to the doc for a patch-up or a stitch-up, it's been entertaining :D

3) Play-ed tennis with Nino.
Not the game. The to and fro of the ball. First he gets viral fever. Then I get migraine. Then he opts for ear infection. And I choose dysentery. Then it's his turn for a bad cough and cold. Then mine for tonsillitis. Now he's at laryngitis. And I'm waiting for my turn.

4) Start-ed working again.
Freelancing from home. Translates into crazy hours and alarmingly little money. But also means a little sanity, and 'private space' where Nino can't scream at me!

5) Post-ed on the blog again.
Did-too, din't I? :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Hungry Brown Tiger

Our teenage nephew who lives in the US is currently visiting us: and as with every year I weave through what India means to him through the fast onslaught of his accent, questions and many appointments.

Just a while back we were talking about the inherent 'hunger' in the Indian psyche, that which fuels our economy, keeps us sustained through half-hungry stomachs and parched farmlands. This rush, this hunger is not something he understands very well: but he is a patient listener, and I'm a persistent talker.

Our collective aspiration is a unique and incredible phenomena, perhaps the one thing that is common to the millions that live here, a common ground that has come nearly a hundred years after we found the first one: the thirst to be free.

Wanted to share this blog post by Shekhar Kapur, one that touches upon the entrepreneurial spirit that is beginning to assert itself in a generation that has broken free of their parents 'successful employee' oriented mindset. Good read.

A Blackberry addict discovers grassroots enterprise in India

A greater ‘hole in the wall’ you cannot imagine. A small fading sign on the top saying “Cellphoon reapars” barely visible through the street vendors crowding the Juhu Market in Mumbai. On my way to buy a new Blackberry, my innate sense of adventure (foolishness) made me stop my car and investigate. A shop not more than 6 feet by 6 feet. Grimy and uncleaned.

‘Can you fix a blackberry ?”

‘ Of course , show me”

” How old are you”


Bullshit. He was no more than 10. Not handing my precious blackberry to a 10 year old in unwashed and torn T shirt and pyjama’s ! At least if I buy a new one, they would extract the data for me. Something I have been meaning to do for a year now.

‘What’s wrong with it ?”

‘Well, the roller track ball does not respond. It’s kind of stuck and I cannot operate it”

He grabs it from my hand and looks at it

“You should wash your hands. Many customers have same problem. Roller ball get greasy and dirty, then no working’

Look who was telling me to wash my hands. He probably has not bathed for 10 days, I leaned out to snatch my useless blackberry back.

” you come back in one hour and I fix it’

I am not leaving all my precious data in this unwashed kid’s hands for an hour. No way.

“who will fix it ?”

‘Big brother’

‘ How big is ‘big brother?’

‘big …. umm ..thirty’

Then suddenly big brother walks in. 30 ??? He is no more than 19.

‘What problem ?’ He says grabbing the phone from my greasy hand into his greasier hand. Obviously not trained in etiquette by an upmarket retail store manager.

‘Normal blackberry problem. I replace with original part now. You must wash your hand before you use this’

What is this about me washing my hands suddenly ?? 19 year old big brother rummages through a dubious drawer full of junk and fishes out a spare roller ball packed in cheap cellophane wrapper. Original part ? I doubt it.

But by now I am in the lap of the real India and there is no escape as he fishes out a couple of screwdrivers and sets about opening my Blackberry.

“How long will this take ?”

” Six minutes ”

This I have to see. After spending the whole morning trying to find a Blackberry service centre and getting vague answers about sending the phone in for an assessment that might take a week, I settle down next to his grubby cramped work space. At least I am going to be able to watch all my stored data vanish into virtual space. People crowd around to see what’s happening. I am not breathing easy anyway. I tell myself this is an adventure and literally have to stop myself grabbing my precious blackberry back and making a quick escape.

But in exactly six minutes this kid handed my blackberry back. He had changed the part and cleaned and serviced the the whole phone. Taken it apart, and put it together. As I turned the phone on there was a horrific 2 minutes where the phone would not come on. I looked at him with such hostility that he stepped back.

‘you have more than thousand phone numbers ?”


‘backed up ?’


‘Must back up. I do it for you. Never open phone before backing up’

‘You tell me that now ?’

But then the phone came on and my data was still there. Everyone watching laughed and clapped. This was becoming a show. A six minute show.

I asked him how much.

‘ 500 rupees’ He ventured uncertainly . People around watched in glee expecting a negotiation. Thats $ 10 dollars as against the Rs 30,000 ($ 600) I was a about to spend on a new blackberry or a couple of weeks without my phone. I looked suitably shocked at his ‘high price ‘ but calmly paid him. Much to the disapointment of the expectant crowd.

‘do you have an Iphone ? Even the new ‘4′ one ?

‘no, why”

‘I break the code for you and load any ‘app’ or film you want. I give you 10 film on your memory stick on this one, and change every week for small fee’

I went home having discovered the true entreprenuership that lies at what we call the ‘bottom of the pyramid’. Some may call it piracy, which of course it is, but what can you say about a two uneducated and untrained brothers aged 10 and 19 that set up a ‘hole in the wall’ shop and can fix any technology that the greatest technologists in the world can throw at them.

I smiled at the future of our country. If only we could learn to harness this potential.

‘Please wash your hands before use’ were his last words to me. Now I am feeling seriously unclean.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Free book

There's nothing like a free ride, my husband assures me, and although most practical logic does rarely apply to the realm of the written word, I'm tempted to state that I haven't read 'The Choir Boats' yet.

But it's free for you to download, seems interesting enough (if you're the kind that finds young fiction interesting) and has a beautiful cover. Oh, and Pratham recommends it too.

Quote - The Choir Boats by Daniel A Rabuzzi has been described as 'vibrant' and rich with 'verve and wit'. It is a seagoing fantasy yarn that is like Gulliver's Travels crossed with The Golden Compass and a dollop of Pride and Prejudice. - Unquote

For downloading a free pdf of the book, go here.

I'm staring to read it now, so tell me if you like it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Return to Innocence.

I saw an extremely interesting movie last night: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. About a man who is born old and dies young. It was an intriguing movie: one that touched upon so many concepts that have at one time or the other eaten away at my soul - and the most incredible solution that the movie offered: would it be easier for us, and for the ones that we loved, if we grew older in our minds, but younger in terms of our bodies, as time passed?

There's a dialog that Brad Pitt says in the movie, when he returns to the place that raised him, technically his home, after nearly a decade. Everything is the same, he says, the way the place looked, smelt and felt. What's different, is that I've changed. Reminded me of this home, this blog.

I'm back to writing my 'me-mail', the diary that I'd abandoned when I found this blog. Wanted to leave an excerpt here:

July 19, 2010.
Everyday, a better person and mother. Maybe I’m not ready to be a better wife yet. ‘But I just want to do masti’ Nino's accusing voice and tears still ring in my ears. And I wish for more from him, just as I wish for more from me. Should I work on the more from me part before it is fair to expect it out of him? Or should I acknowledge that both more’s are against what we are, naturally? Motherhood is not easy: childhood even less so.

Hope you're well. Love.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Childhood rhymes

This post was like time-travel, inspired by the Tullika blogathon, where I've entered Nino's favourite bath-time rhyme.

My favourite one is this: A rhyme that I'm sure is as old as Yashoda and Krishna, one that my mum sang to me, and one that she sings to Nino, still. A popular lullaby too, it is both proud and poignant about all that a child means to a mother.

Tame maara dev na didhel cho,
Tame maara maangi ne lidhel cho,
Aavya tyare, ammar thai ne raho...

You are the gift of the gods to me,
it is you that I've always seeked/wanted/asked for,
and Now that you've come to me, be here forever.


Edited to add, the lullaby that Papa preferred :)

Raate vehela je suve,
Vehela uthe veer,
Bal, buddhi ne dhan vadhe,
Sukh ma rahe shareer!

Roughly translated, it's the Gujju version of Early to Bed, Early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grace is a matter of perception too, right?

Whatever happens in your life,
Is nothing but My wish.
So do sit back,
And do not question My will,
For I always take care of you at the end

This is my divine message for today. And although it feels good to read it on a day that has been trying and tiring and frustrating, I'm oscillating between thanking God for reading the sub-text to my trials, and raging about the fact that He is, more often than not, a high-handed feudal landlord. But as T would say, any conversation is good news, right?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A year older, and wiser

There was a list of things I'd jotted down, eight years ago, giddy with youth and possibility, the things that I wanted to do before I turn 30.

Yesterday as I turned 29, I realised that while I still have most things on that list unchecked (except this one), I'd experienced somethings that I'd never imagined. Things on my checklist that say, sistah, big plans don't always work and that achievements can come in unexpected disguises.

So here goes, a list of the cool things I DID NOT plan on doing, before I turn 29.

1) Being a wife.
2) Being a mum - and this includes everything: cleaning someone's poop with utter love, early mornings, upside down schedules, merged identities, et all.
3) Attending my kid's graduation day. (Honest! Nino graduated from pre-school yesterday!)
4) Being gifted something in size L and feeling good that I'd shrunk to an M.
5) Having girlfriends galore. Okay, this thing needs an explanation: I've had several good guy friends, and a couple girl friends, but never the whole girl-gang-goes-giggling jingbang. I have that now, and man, have I missed something! I adore my girls and I've giggling prowess I never knew of! The therapeutic effect of a good 'bitch' session is undeniable!
6) Being friends, as in the soul friends category, with people I've never met :) Some of the most incredible blessings in my life are people I've met through this blog, it's an in-your-face sign from above that's like a life-buoy.
7) Having an absolute random stranger write me a song! An adorable young thing yesterday, sitting across our table at a cafe, penned me a beautiful verse in Hindi, wishing me a happy b'day and a happy year ahead and it was an awww and hilarious moment at once, because I felt totally flattered and felt like mothering him, all in one go!
8) Catching up with old school friends, along with our kids
9) Writing this list. Being an adult rocks :) hahahaha!


While I scrummage the husband's drawers for that original to-do-before-30 list, tell me yours. the to-do and the din't-plan-to-do as well. :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Zen and the Art of Nesting

Long before the pigeon finds a mate, she begins to check the nooks and crannies of towering skyscrapers, spending a few days at seemingly appropriate locations, waiting to find out if the servants shoo her out or if the children in the house are too hands-on.

Then, when she has found that Shangrila in concrete, she begins a journey that is instinctive to her. Drawn to certain twigs and sticks and leaves, she picks them, painstakingly, not yet knowing that that choosing and discarding would be called love in another language, ready to build a nest. She builds it herself, before she finds a mate, before her babies come calling. This need to build, this building, this trust in a promise not yet made - is a fulfillment of a inner need, a craving that is part physical and part spiritual.

There will be many trials: many broken nests, trampled eggs, trappings and hurt, and the pigeon knows of these, but her routine never wavers, guided as she is by a need so personal, a meant-to-be that brings a wisdom unlike any that she has learnt.

For me, this need for nesting has come after I found my mate, and made my baby. My twigs are not made of wood or bark, but I still choose and discard, painstakingly, building a nest that is not tangible, and yet one that is real enough to shelter and nourish, and strong enough to help set free. My trust too is not dependent on promises made.

"Your life is your practice," says Zen writer Karen Maezen Miller. I build and I savour my efforts and my mistakes, the knowledge in my weary bones and hopeful heart that I'm building something I needed to.